By Melissa Stefanec MelissaStefanec@yahoo.com
What would you say if you were asked to finish that headline?
Would you say difficult? Or maybe 13 going on 20? Dramatic? Not fun? So much harder than boys? Trouble? A nightmare? Filled with attitude? Defiant? Grouchy? Mean? Instead of finishing the thought, would you roll your eyes?
My guess is a lot of folks would fill in the blank with something less than kind.
Almost everywhere I go, I hear folks freely criticizing adolescent women. Mothers, fathers, relatives and other adults all have commentary to offer, and it isn’t usually kind or constructive. I can’t imagine this commentary, which is often said within earshot, does anything good for these young ladies’ developing psyches.
As the mother of an almost 12-year-old daughter, I am going to make an unpopular assertion: The world isn’t terribly kind to adolescent girls, and we adults are the ones who need an attitude adjustment.
Sure, adolescents have complicated emotions and intense reactions stemming from those emotions. But, the nearly constant criticism and negative tropes are hurting our girls, and they deserve better.
If us adults had to put up with so many negative stereotypes, tropes, reactions and treatment, we would likely be hurt, angry and disengaged. And, we would feel all of those feelings with our fully formed brains, a decent amount of self-esteem and some tried-and-true coping mechanisms.
Maybe, adults should pause and ask ourselves: Why do we expect our girls to overcome such negativity when they are dealing with so many complex things? Why don’t we start praising young women for all the ways they are amazing? Maybe, if we did, we would have the courage to help us girls grow into adulthood instead of making them endure our negative projections.
So, because young women deserve plentiful support from their communities, here are some reasons I think adolescent girls are awesome.
They are funny
By the time they hit double digits, most kids are catching on to adult wit and humor. Girls have a special kind of wit. Sure, most of them find fart jokes funny, but they also make keen observations about the world around them, often with hilarious results. The more I engage with young women, the more wonderfully amusing I find them to be.
They keep us on our toes
Some of their remarks may be a little unfiltered or surprising. But I’m thankful the compliant little girls I once knew are growing into discerning, free-thinking, righteous little rebels. I would rather have a young woman keep me on my toes than blindly follow every order I give her. The world needs strong and assertive women.
They are finding themselves
When we’re young, so much of what we do is directed by our parents or guardians. When girls start thinking about who they are, what they want, what they like doing and what they don’t want, it’s actually beautiful. Finding oneself is a lifelong experience. Watching young women set off on that journey is a privilege I embrace.
They nurture their friendships
Sure, it can be frustrating when your daughter wants to spend all of her time with her friends, but she’s invested in her tribe. Isn’t it cool when people find common ground and take pleasure in each other’s company? I admire the way young women nurture their friendships and watch out for one another, even if they get in occasional disagreements.
They are athletes
As someone who was once a young, female athlete, I’m going to let you in on a little something: adolescent girls are tough. The grit young female athletes possess is nothing short of impressive. They also understand the importance of teamwork—something us adults could take a cue on. Most adolescent girls I know are stronger, faster and far more coordinated than most adults I know.
They are scholars
Remember middle school, high school and junior high? Remember going to school all day and then studying for much of the evening? Remember how much you were expected to memorize and learn? You did all of this while you were navigating the social and societal hardships of late childhood. It hasn’t gotten any easier for today’s girls. The fact they can excel academically while dealing with a lot of nonsense is pretty impressive.
They are talented
Young girls do things like play in bands and orchestras. They are in literary clubs. They build robots and small businesses. They are engineers and coders. They make beautiful artwork. They write songs and poetry. They sing, and dance and create, often beyond the abilities of many adults. When they invest in their talents and passions, that’s amazing.
They are willing to try new things
We fuddy-duddy adults are often stuck in our ways by the time we hit 30. Young girls are open to trying new things. Whether it’s new food, new music, new sports, new books, traveling, new friends, new clubs or new experiences, young women are ready to explore this world and be amazed by it (even if they roll their eyes to hide that wonder). The fact they consistently step outside their comfort zones is something us old people should admire.
So the next time you find yourself wanting to say something negative about adolescent women, pause and think about why you want to say that. Ask yourself if you’re helping or hurting young women. Then, challenge yourself to say something nice. Be a narrative influencer. That’s the sort of influencer our daughters actually need.