Working with young writers has shown me we have so much to learn from teen girls
Young girls are often not taken seriously. Too often.
As women, in general, we still have a long way to go before we’re given the respect we deserve. Our voices are dismissed everywhere, from workplaces to the Supreme Court — and this is especially the case with teen girls all over the world. Adults — of all genders — often tell teen girls that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or categorize their points of view as youthful idealism, immaturity, naivety, etc.
Recently, teen girls were defended by an unlikely source: Harry Styles. When a reporter asked him (in a super judge-y way, in my opinion) if he was worried about reaching a more “mature” audience, Styles defended his current fan base:
He is right, of course, and not just about music. We all have a lot to learn from young girls.
Four years ago, I began volunteering with WriteGirl, a creative writing and mentoring non-profit organization in Los Angeles.
The idea was that I would be one of the women writers mentoring the teen girls in the program. The truth is — while I was happy to lend guidance and support, and most importantly, to be a listening ear to the girls — I was the one learning from them.
This year, my education got even deeper. I was part of a group of volunteers and staff that helped edit and produce the WriteGirl anthology Sound Generation: The Resonant Voices of Teen Girls,
I spent several weeks immersed in the poetry and prose of over 150 girls from across Los Angeles.
Piece after piece, line after line, I was blown away. There was a rawness to their work that we often don’t see in the words of adults. I began to question my own writing, my own use of my voice, my own way of looking at the world. And through the process of questioning myself, I learned some important lessons from those teen girls that everyone should be paying attention to.
At what point do we begin to stop feeling so deeply?
For many of us, this actually does begin in our teenage years, either because of peer pressure, or because we don’t have the right support or mentors. For many of us, it happens in our college years, or when we first join the workforce. It’s a very real thing. If you look back at how you felt so deeply in your teenage years compared to your adult years — when you’re rushing from one meeting to another, one errand to another — it’s shocking. In our busyness, we ignore what it feels like to be alive, and we miss out on so much.
In that same vein, we start to take a lot for granted. The more we see and experience, we tend to find less wonder. We stop reflecting on the world, stop seeing how incredible it all is — so we forget how incredible we are as humans. Changing this requires effort: Making time and space to reflect, whether it’s through writing, art, travel, or reading.
My biggest takeaway from reading the girls’ pieces was their honesty.
We must be honest. Don’t censor yourself because of what “you should be” or what “adulting” requires, or because others might poke fun at how you feel. These teen writers feel the world, they feel their feelings, they reflect on it all, they find their perspective — and then, when they share it, their words comes out true and unapologetic. We all need to be more in tune with our feelings; they matter, and it’s important to connect with them.
It’s important to question who you are and who you want to be when you “grow up.”
I was reminded what a deep process this was for me as a teen. And though we all hope that we will figure this out one day and reach a decisive answer, our search for our identity is actually a lifelong process. It isn’t just about what we want to do, but who we really are, who we want to be.
Creativity is worth our time.
Young girls often make time for activities, like poetry, that adults don’t. We need to make more of an effort to find creative outlets in our lives, “after-work” activities (just like afterschool activities), and prioritize them. Tapping into creativity will help us connect to our feelings, and be honest, and explore our identities — and that will improve other aspects of our lives.
Believing in great possibility isn’t being naive.
To be sure, as we grow up, we understand more and more the injustices and unfair limitations in this world. But what we can keep with us is that feeling of possibility, that feeling that we are the future; we can push things and change things. This isn’t naivety. It’s a very actionable thing. It isn’t ignoring what’s out there — it’s believing in yourself, specifically, and your ability to make things better.
Mentoring youth is necessary, and it works. When I was young, I had two big sisters who were my mentors. They were eight and nine years older than me, and I have no doubt of their influence on my life — they let me know that my voice mattered, and that I could do anything.
So many young girls and boys do not have two big sisters, or even two parents, or even that one inspiring teacher.
We all need mentors.
All of us need someone a bit older, a bit more experienced (which isn’t necessarily linked to age), a bit wiser — not only to guide us, but to remind us that we are important, that our voices deserve to be heard.
When we find someone to mentor, we should also find someone to mentor us. Maybe, in that way, we can all reach our potential and stay in tune with our inner teen girl, true and limitless.