I recently read the book “Be True to Yourself: Daily Affirmations and Awesome Advice for Teen Girls” by Amanda Ford. As the parents of two daughters who are two years apart, my wife Diane and I survived their adolescence. And this was decades before our global pandemic, which has made everything more challenging for teenagers and their parents.
It was still a rough ride for all of us. It’s even harder for parents now.
I’m not sure who had a more difficult time — Diane and I, or our kids. Like all parents, we worried about them 24/7. I never fell asleep until I heard the door open when they came home at night.
My youngest daughter, now in her mid-30s and a mother of two, threatens to tell me all of the things that she got away with when she was a teenager. Trust me, I don’t want to know. It will just make me feel bad. My oldest daughter, also a mother of two, suffered from an eating disorder which she didn’t recover from until she was out of college. Like many parents, and despite being psychologists, we were blind to our child’s pain until it screamed out to us.
Teenagers — boys and girls alike — struggle with discovering who they are as separate individuals from their parents. They’re on an emotional rollercoaster without fully developed frontal lobes to help them sort out, evaluate and override (sometimes) what they’re feeling.
This is one of the reasons why teens are so impulsive — they don’t have the hardware yet to consider the impact of their actions. Our job is to help them make the connections between feelings, actions, consequences and choices. This dialogue helps those neural connections grow. They learn how to make judgments through evaluating past experience and applying that knowledge to the present.
Ford wants teenage girls to accept and love themselves for who they are, without needing to be someone else — the popular girl, the slender girl, the girl with straight A’s or the athletic girl. Her message comes in bite-sized daily affirmations and advice that a teenager can chew on and slowly digest. Teenage girls will be inspired by her words.
For Day 53, she writes, “Your body is perfect. Your body is beautiful. Perhaps you are rolling your eyes right now, ready to list your flaws. The truth is, however, those ‘flaws’ are not flaws at all. It’s our culture that’s flawed. Social media is flawed. So much of what we see is false and fake. True things are the beautiful things. Your body is real and so it is beautiful.”
It’s so hard for teenage girls to see themselves as beautiful and whole as they are. They are always trying to fit into the social picture of the “perfect” girl just as we aspire to be the “perfect parent.” Comparing ourselves with our friends, who seem to be happier and better adjusted, just creates suffering. Teens want to please their parents and their peers, but often they don’t know how to make themselves happy.
For Day 205, Ford writes, “It is possible to love yourself and like yourself. To be your own best friend. It is possible to hold steady and rise above. It is possible to comfort yourself and soothe yourself and heal your own wounds. It is possible to live a full and complete life, even if your wounds do not heal. It is possible to feel compassion, kindness and tenderness to yourself. It is possible to love yourself and like yourself. To be your own best friend.”
We all struggle with negative messages that we give ourselves. It’s as important to be kind to ourselves as it is to be kind to others.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/health-wellness-library.html.