The cry of the teen girl’s heart is complicated and deep; she is in pain and confusion, and she is calling for help but does not know where to find it. This is a series of articles addressing the “cries” or questions that are common to girls who struggle in their teen years.
Cry #1: “Am I pretty? Am I attractive? Am I okay?” These may be some of the deepest cries of a teenage girl’s heart. Deep down she needs to know she is not just normal but beautiful in her spirit (1 Peter 3:4) and in the way God made her, and that she has all she needs to grow up and come out all right. The main responsibility for making this happen is the dad. It is amazing how many dads are unaware of the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of their own daughters. Because for whatever reason they have not invested in their daughters over time (i.e. spent TIME with them), they do not understand them and often make some of the most cutting and hurtful remarks to them out of pure ignorance.
Criticizing her looks or clothing or making fun of her (“you are too fat” or “what’s wrong with you?” or “why can’t you be like everyone else?”) absolutely rips open her soul. From these wounds she develops an unhealthy self-concept which then creates doubt, anxiety, and tentativeness in all she tries to do, including making friends—the one thing she needs at this time in her life. Very often, to compensate for her low self-concept, she will fall into a perfectionistic trap where she then tries to “prove” her worth through her performance in the classroom or in athletics or whatever. Dads who demand unrealistic standards in grades (“Nothing less than an A is acceptable”) or in sports (she has to be the MVP) unwittingly play into this perfectionism, creating further inner unrest in their daughters.
Antidote: Teenage girls need to hear lots of encouragement and consistently positive good news a hundred more times than they hear criticism. They also need to spend a lot of time with their dads, who should look for ways to enter their daughter’s world so that they can understand what their girls are going through and help them find solutions to the problems their daughters are unable to solve. It goes without saying that a teenage girl’s concept of God as Father will be based mainly on her experience of her earthly father!
Cry #2: “I feel so alone!” This cry has a number of offshoots such as: “Why don’t I have any friends?” and “Why don’t I fit in or belong?” and “Why do my peers ignore me?” and “Why are they so hurtful and mean to me on Facebook?” This is at root a cry for belonging, for connections, for meaningful relationships, for simple friends. But it also could be a revelation of the way she is perceiving herself. An unhealthy self-concept may have formed because she has lacked affirmation, sincere praise, and unconditional love from mom or dad. Hormonal and bodily changes add to the anxiety and insecurity even more. When encouragement, affirmation, and love are missing, self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-hatred will fill the void. And then a whole range of self-destructive behaviors (nervously plucking eyebrows, anxiety episodes, cutting, promiscuity, suicidal thoughts) are not far behind. A vicious circle gets going: insecurities and hurtful comments cause her to hate herself and feel much anxiety. So, she starts cutting to relieve the pressure, but that causes her to feel shame and more self-condemnation, which makes her now think she is bad, and therefore no one would ever wish to be her friend and on and on and on.
Antidote: A healthy functioning family is the place where two vital needs are first met: the need for unconditional love from parents and the need to belong, both of which secure a child’s identity and self-concept. Through healthy families, teen girls must know they are loved and have a place in this world—that they have both value and a role to fulfill. Once again, dads are critical to making this happen. Teen girls need to know that dad thinks the world of them, cares about them, prays for them, and desires to spend his time with them, that he cares about what concerns them. Teen girls need to know they are not secondary or an item on dad’s “to do” list. Teens with loving fathers will have a strong sense of self, high confidence when confronting challenges, and the ability to make friends because they have been made secure in their dad’s love long before they engage with the world.
On the other hand, teens whose parents go through relational struggles such as a divorce suffer a great deal with abandonment, feelings of rejection, and depression—there is no getting around this. The damage is there. Girls who experience the breakup of their parents’ marriage and the loss of their home and way of life need to guard against looking for that lost love in boyfriends, sexual activity, and in the unreal world of social media. Instead, they need to work through the tangled feelings, extend forgiveness, and receive care from those who are willing to walk with them during those difficult times. Here the presence of a strong, loving surrogate father figure (uncle, friend) is invaluable.
Cry #3: “I can’t talk to my parents!” When a teen girl makes this statement, relationships with her parents have broken down long before. Her statement is actually a desire to bond with them, but she feels she cannot because she believes her parents either do not understand her world, or they are too busy, or they are out of touch because they are detached or preoccupied with their own interests. Not having this connection, she feels all alone and does not have confidence that she can find solutions to the many daily issues that come up in her life—not being included in groups, struggling with loneliness, dealing with hurtful words from peers, dealing with hormones or changes in her body, struggles with teachers or classes, and the like. So, she struggles alone and she suffers alone. Her problems remain problems because she is cut off from the wisdom of those who really can help. Or, what is worse and all too common, she consults popular culture for answers. She discovers comfort through the illusion of friends on social media, listening sympathetic ears on various websites, and “wisdom” in the lyrics of popular songs or teen films.
Antidote: Dads and moms need to frequently take the initiative to enter their daughter’s world. Once again, this is sacrificial: dads and moms will lose time, but the knowledge and wisdom they can gain from just a single walk down the street, or an hour going out for ice cream, or watching a movie together will be worth more than gold. Dad’s job is to listen—just listen—so she can get the words out. She needs connection more than a solution. Knowing that her dad cares and is willing to listen more than lecture or scold means the world to her. By the way, the first few times dads try to do this will be awkward, especially if dad and daughter have not related to each other in a while. But this is where dads need to break through the barrier, letting it be awkward until, after many times together, trust is restored and the daughter feels safe in sharing all that is locked up in her heart.