Teen Girls and the Illness I Call Pleasing

Sugar and spice and everything nice. That’s what little girls are made of.”  Have you heard this rhyme before?  It’s an oldie, but one that is still repeated.  It’s probably fair to say that everyone likes sugar and spicy food is pretty popular these days, but the idea that girls are still meant to be “nice” at their very core is clearly different from the message about what boys are made of (“snips and snails and puppy-dog tails”).
How this translates into contemporary life is that girls still carry the burden of always feeling like they need to please others, a habit that can then carry over into adulthood and keep girls from fully realizing their potential. Another offshoot of this is the intense pressure of trying to be “perfect” – an impossible task.  Pleasing others means avoiding conflict; pleasing others means making your own needs second to what someone who you might not even care that much about wants; and pleasing others means means diminishing your individuality to fit a model of sweetness that denies you have a right to feel anger, to own your choices, and to speak up about what’s bugging you.
What many people don’t realize is that always pleasing others and not prioritizing your own needs has long-term repercussions for self-esteem and for leadership skills.  If you are taught that it’s more important to put others’ needs first and to be liked how will you learn what you really want?  And feel that it’s valued?  How will you run a big corporation one day as CEO if you’re worried about making a decision that might cause others to dislike you?  It’s impossible to do both – and that’s where girls suffer from contradictory tensions that can’t be resolved without breaking the model of what girls “should be” — people who put others’ needs first.
It’s time for a new rhyme – one that lets girls realize that their own voices need to be heard, and while meanness is never a positive value, recognizes that anger, respectfully expressed, is okay.  By figuring out what your own individual needs are, and speaking up about them, rather than pushing them down in order to please others, you are tapping into an inner power that can reframe the picture of how girls are “supposed” to be in our society.  Not being “nice” doesn’t mean being unkind – sometimes, it just means being your honest self – and allowing your individual needs to be heard and seen.
The next time you hear yourself going along with what someone else wants, despite feeling a wave of discomfort in your stomach (or anywhere else in your body) because you know it’s not what you want, try speaking up.  You can be friendly and you can be kind, but be honest.  You might be surprised by how good it feels to put your needs first and how glad a friend or family member is to really hear what you want.  Take a deep breath and focus in on what you really want and then say it without apology.  Start small and remember this feeling of asserting yourself.  Think about how your mom or another woman you know says “no” when something else is clearly more important.  Being involved in your school’s debate team is another way to practice debating and even have fun while learning the art of arguing well.  Pick a cause that means something to you and work on its campaign.  Expressing your passion about this cause to others is a great way to speak up for something you believe it, then translate that to your own personal needs.  Remember every time you say “no” to some one else it also means there’s a “yes” saved for your own priorities.
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The 20% Teens Don’t Tell Their Parents

I have to say, one of my favorite questions to ask a teens is “What percentage of information do you not share with your parents?”  I get a lot of surprised looks from teens when I ask this question, but none of them refuse to answer. If fact, just the opposite. They want to tell me. Usually they take a moment, and with a smirk on their face…..they say “20%”.  Now this 20% usually relates to one of more of the following areas so parents take note.

1) Friends- Do you know all of your teen’s friends? Probably not, but I’m sure you are aware of the ones getting good grades and playing on the soccer team. What about the other friends…. the ones smoking, getting kicked out of school or passing out at the party. These are the friends that your teen knows that you wouldn’t approve of and so they don’t tell you about them. However, these friends are highly influential with your teen.

2) Drinking/alcohol- I have yet to hear one story from a teen where alcohol was NOT at the party.  Your teen may or may not choose to drink, but the alcohol is ever present.  They are usually attending the parties because that is what one does to be “popular” in high school.  If they don’t want to drink, the smart ones designate themselves as the driver, so they don’t get peer pressured into a drinking game or a bottle of beer.

3) Stress/anxiety- Kids today are stressed out.  I’m not really sure how or when this happened, but they are all constantly talking about how stressed out they are. Their anxiety usually relates to school and getting good grades if college is on their mind. Or it’s related to  being well liked by their peers and socially accepted by those in class or on their team. Plainly put….being popular. This anxiety occupies a lot of their time.

4) Boys- Girls worry or “wonder” about boys. It’s a fact. Having a boyfriend, not having a boyfriend and the expectations from boys these days. Many girls are seeking advice, but don’t know where to go.  Even if your teen tells you that they don’t care, trust me…it’s on their mind.

5) Body image- I’d say at least 90% of the girls I have spoken with, wish they were thinner.  At least 50% of those same girls also have experienced eating disorders at one time. Many feel a silent pressure from media, friends, and/or family about being disciplined, staying thin and not over indulging.

Teens today don’t want to bother their parents with these issues. They see their parents as too busy, stressed out, working late and don’t want to burden them.  So, they are constantly saying that “everything is fine” when in fact, it’s not.  They are worrying about a lot of things on the inside, but you would never know it. Why? Because they don’t want you to see.  In the words of one 16 yr. old teen that I interviewed, “you can hide a lot behind a smile.”

Parents, take the time to sit down with your teen and talk to them. Don’t let them off the hook so easily when they say “everything is fine.” Let them see that you care about this 20% and that you are there for them.

The 8th Deadly Sin, Peer Pressure

A few weeks back I saw a tweet posted by a teen and it said “the 8th deadly sin, peer pressure.”  I was intrigued by the concept so I hit “reply” and asked him if I could write a blog on the topic of peer pressure today as a deadly sin. He agreed.

We all know the story from the Bible, which created a classification of vices told to early Christians as a way to educate them about  sin.  The 7 deadly sins are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. However, nowhere in the story does it mention peer pressure of any kind. Or others forcing their opinions or actions on you in a negative and detrimental manner.  The vices are all related to excessive internal wants or desires, but why doesn’t peer pressure make the list?  It’s just as damaging and can lead to very destructive behaviors. Daily, I talk with teens where peer pressure is the number 1 issue they want to discuss.  In their words “it’s everywhere” and it seems to occur constantly.  I can honestly say that I have never had a conversation with a teen who was concerned about wrath, but peer pressure–yes!  Peer pressure is so ugly and harmful to our well-being. I’m sometimes concerned that if we hear the word “peer pressure” too often in the news or media that we will become desensitized to its meaning and impact.  Trust me, peer pressure is alive and well and can be just as deadly.