A recent UK survey of parents with children over 18 years of age revealed that 14-year-old girls are considered the most difficult to parent. Kathryn Crawford, co-editor of the website that conducted the survey, said:
New parents live in dread of the ‘Terrible Twos’, but parents of teenagers will tell them that the worst is yet to come. Ironically, many toddler traits surface again when children become teenagers, but often become even more difficult to deal with . . .
The general consensus is that the teenage years are beyond doubt the worst.
India Knight, of the London Times, felt compelled to write a defence of teen girls:
They’re funny and sparky and interesting, intellectually curious, with a big appetite for life and new experiences (if not so much for food, alas, these days) . . .
Most teenagers aren’t difficult at all. They are pains, which is a different thing. They’re just trying stuff out, experimenting, kicking against boundaries in a way that may be exasperating but is hardly much more . . .
She resists the demonisation of teenagers that has got to the point where many people’s first instinct upon seeing a group of girls at a bus stop is to steer well clear of them.
Ms Knight, I couldn’t agree more. I unapologetically love teenage girls. And yes, I really do mean love. In my book, The Butterfly Effect, I talk about the feedback girls give us after Enlighten Education workshops. They say they loved the way we made them feel; they loved us; they were inspired by the power of the love we showed them.
At first I was surprised by how often they use the word love. Now I believe that it is the fundamental secret to Enlighten Education’s success. Without big, bold in-your-face love, there can be no connection between us and the girls we work with. Our love gives them a safe place from which they can explore their world.
In a society saturated in sex, shopping and self-centredness, ironically the one thing that can still truly shock and delight girls is simple, old-fashioned love.
Too often we assume that our daughters know that we love them; that our love for them is instinctive and so needs no explanation. But as this survey shows, rather than receiving messages of love from adults, teenage girls often get the message that they are hard to handle, troubled, unlovable. Too often we talk about the teen-girl years with a roll of the eyes, as a time that we must simply endure. Teen girls are Queen Bees, Wannabees, Bitchfaces, Princesses, Divas, Mean Girls, Drama Queens.
They may be some of these things at times. Yet they are also so much more. When I look at teenage girls, I see:
- The 16-year-old who is my friend on facebook, whose profile page declares her to be a fan of Blu-Tack, Minties, Dory the fish from Finding Nemo and Bubble O’Bill ice-creams – and also features her reflections on gender differences and learning Italian.
- The 15-year-old who had a baby, as a result of being raped, and turned up at the school carnival the next week to join in sporting events and cheer on her classmates.
- The 14-year-old who sends me copies of her drawings of a fantasy world she has created, and badgers me for contacts in the publishing world as she wants to create her own line of products, ‘beginning with a book series and then obviously working my way up to films and merchandising’.
Try not to let the slammed doors, angry silences or adolescent sarcasm blind you to your daughter’s essential lovableness. Don’t be distracted by the toxic culture our girls are immersed in, for there is a risk that it can blind us to an even more important reality: the lovableness of all girls.
Don’t be afraid to show your daughter you love her.
You can show your love in such simple ways, in everyday moments, just as the parents of these girls have:
When it’s really cold and rainy, I come home from school and she’s got a cup of hot chocolate and pancakes made for me and my PJs ready to get into. Then we sit under a nice blanket and watch movies all night. Gemma, 16
My mum writes me little surprise notes and sticks them in my lunch box sometimes. I love them so much, I stick them in my school diary. I’ve never told her that I look forward to seeing them so much, as she’d probably do it all the time then and somehow that would spoil it. When I feel sad during the day, I look at the letters and smile. Michelle, 14
I love when me and my mum go shopping together, and after buying many things we will sit in a cafe and just talk. I feel comfortable to talk to her about my life, friends, etc. and it just makes me feel better that I can trust my mum and have that time with her. Steph, 16
I talked to Kerri-Anne on Channel 9 about all of this recently. My hope is that it helps a little in banishing the myth that teen girls are nothing but trouble!