Teenage girls...full of drama?
Updated: Jun 11, 2019
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood. Lisa Damour, Ph.D. (2016). New York: Ballantine Books.
Let's be real. When it comes to girls in high school, what's the first thought that pops into our mind?
* They are full of drama
* They are mean
* They bully
* They are senseless when it comes to boys
* They gossip
* They are clueless about their future
* They don't know better
* They are melancholy
* They are jealous
* They are bossy
* They act like princesses
* They are timid
* They have waxing and waning friendships
Young girls, although not quite fully and consciously cognizant of their own development, are not immune to the impacts of social influences such their friends' definition, and the mass media's portrayal, of the "cool kid." The social influences also include the stereotypes. This culminates in certain behaviors such as dating for social status. Date the guy in varsity. Be the most popular girl in school.
Girls struggle with
* don't draw any negative attention, but also like attention;
* want to speak up but don't want to come across as bossy;
* want to be independent but don't know if they are doing things right;
* want to be accepted by peers, but also found themselves not really liking certain peers
* want to be mature by not needing their parents, but found themselves still needing their parents
Now scientific research is pointing out that girls, compared to their male counterparts, have thicker corpus callosum, the part of the brain responsible for communication between the left and right hemisphere, which means that girls tend to be more receptive to multiple sources of social elements. They are more susceptible to a variety of social impacts, including parents, friends, and teachers. Have you ever seen a girl who meticulously wants to make sure that they do not hurt other people's feelings? "They are thinking of some things, but they don't say it." "That we wish girls could be more like boys who are more straightforward with things." Does this ring a bell?
Good news, the differences in the thickness of the corpus callosum eventually even out between boys and girls as they enter adulthood. However, girls continues to suffer from the impacts of these gender stereotypes. We are not doing girls justice when we continue to label them in a certain way without understanding the contributions of the differential neuro-development.
My work as a juvenile hall counselor in the girl's unit turned out to be the most unforgettable and rewarding experiences I've ever had. They contended with my authority every week when I first started my work there. They argued with me on every single little things. When they did not argue with me, they gave me this look that "you should be grateful that I am in a good mood today and too lazy to fight with you today." My friends are sending their "condolences" that I had to work with the girls. This all changed one day when I got down to the floor with them. A shut-down of the entire juvenile hall was called because the boys in the next unit got into a fiscal altercation among themselves. Staff from different units in the hall were all called to the unit of altercation to assist with separating the boys.
Due to the temporary shifting among the unit staff, a shut-down is called to make sure there is no more commotion requiring further attention from the staff. The juvenile hall youths were all required to either return to their room or get down to the floor when a shut-down is called. I was in the middle of running of my girls' group when a shut-down was called. Not knowing that I, as a counselor, am considered as part of the staff that does not need to follow the rule, I got down to the floor with the girls. The girls and the staff burst into laughter. The girls shout out to me: "Ting-Yi! You don't have to get down to the floor. That rule is for us." The girls teased me afterward: "See, we told you. You are such a square." I later joked back with them: "well, you girls are not that interested in what I have to say in the group anyways. I might just as well get down to the floor with you and chill." After this incident, girls opened up. They shared their struggles. Sometimes, I have a solution for them and sometimes I don't. Same thing with advise. We cooperates with each other in making sure that our group time is the time where they can reflect on their life challenges. The girls in the juvenile hall have taught me many things and wisdom that I did not expect when I first started. They have taught me:
1) They are not contending with adult authority (even though it looks very much like it). They are exploring the extent of their own authority as an emerging adult. Thus, they talk back, trying to get others to listen to their opinions. This is why many therapists would advise parents adjust to "negotiating" from "dictating" when raising their teenagers.
2) They want to "matter" to people. Teenage year is a formative period of personality. When a teen is constantly being dismissed, such as "you are still too young to understand;" "you have no idea about how dangerous the world could be;" they learn that their opinions do not matter. It culminates in self-doubt. In the event of disagreement, girls do not need adults to brush them off. Teenage girls benefit from adults curiously listening to their analysis of their thoughts, passionately reasoning with them about the pros and cons of their intended actions, and respecting their decisions even if we disagree. I am not saying to let your daughters do whatever they like. I am saying to allow them freedom to try out their intended actions as long as these actions do not incur any negative consequences on their physical and mental safety or lifelong development. Teenage girls do not get mad or turned off by disagreements. Rather, they shut down the moment we try to impose our ideas onto them at the time of disagreement.
3) Teenagers see our flaws. They do not take things merely at face value anymore. Teenage girls are particularly observant. They notice what we do. Therefore, it is no longer about instilling the values we want our teenage girls to have by speaking it to them over and over again. It is about practicing the value we preach. For example, when we emphasize honesty, but then we speak positively about a person that our teenagers know we dislike, the effectiveness of our instilling the virtue of honesty will be compromised. Actions do speak louder than words. So if we want our teenagers to work on their self-esteem, we as the parents also need to work on our own self-esteem. We need to practice acknowledging ourselves when we do a good job in parenting. We also need to practice being comfortable when we get called out on our flaws without getting defensive and feeling shamed or angry, but striving to improve it. When our actions and words synchronize, our words would have a bigger impact on our teens.
There are many more points about guiding teenage girls I would like to highlight, but am noticing that I have written more than I originally planned to for this blog entry. There is no one correct way of parenting our teenage girls. In the journey of parenting, we are all learners. If you are currently concerned about your relationship with your teenage girls and need extra support, I welcome you to give me a call to discuss how talking with a therapist and parent educator can provide that extra support you need.