I have a friend who studied city planning and the purpose of bridges.
She explained how bridges are needed as a city grows and expands. They connect one part of a community to another and offer a safe passage.
We related this concept to raising teens – and why bridges matter in the parent-teen relationship. As a child grows up, their world expands and separates them from their family and familiar territory. They need bridges that take them home and safely back to the people who remind them of who they are.
As a writer for teen girls and a mom of three teen daughters, I’ve long looked for ways to build bridges between their hearts and mine. I’ve seen how disconnect begins when we try to give guidance without awareness of their thoughts, desires, and feelings.
Teenagers don’t care what we know until they know that we care, and one way we earn a voice in their lives (and build bridges that last) is by listening, empathizing, and putting ourselves in their shoes to understand what it’s like to be them.
So how do we tap into that inner world? How do we unlock the mystery of a teenage daughter? Clearly, every girl is unique, but as I surveyed girls on what lingers below the surface, they agreed on some common things they wish their mothers knew.
I was pregnant with my third child and waiting to see the doctor.
In the waiting room, an older woman asked me if I knew the baby’s gender. As I told her it was a girl – my third daughter – she and two ladies nearby exchanged glances and moaned. They all had adolescent daughters, and with despair in their voices they told me:
“Just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re really in for it!”
I’d heard this cliché before, and I chalked these mothers up as Debbie Downers and forgot about their gloomy forecast until I started to hear this script again…and again…and again. You see, when you have four daughters like I do now, that is the #1 narrative that older moms share.
For years my goal was to prove them wrong. I promised myself, My daughters won’t be like that. We’ll always be close, and I will not look like these stressed out, strung out, exhausted moms in the throes of raising teenagers.
This goal seemed doable until my daughter started middle school and we started to fight – and I became the stressed out, exhausted mom of a teen girl. From the back of my mind, I pulled out the narrative that I’d heard too many times to count.
Those moms were right! Everyone has warned me about teenagers, and now their predictions are coming true! The answer, I assured myself, was to navigate this new teen territory by digging in my heels and firmly taking control. Otherwise, this daughter and her three sisters would walk all over me.
After all, it was my daughter’s attitude, moodiness, and sass that had disrupted our once loving dynamic. If anyone needed to change, it was her, not me.
Years ago, I spoke to some fifth grade moms about teaching our daughters to build each other up.
I’d just been to a University of Alabama gymnastics meet, and what stood out to me was how these gymnasts cheered as their teammates did crazy acrobatics. Every time a girl nailed a tumbling pass, her teammates went berserk on the sidelines, screaming and jumping up and down. All I could think was how different our world would be if girls could always join forces like this and see themselves as part of the same team.
One mom, a successful entrepreneur, raised her hand when I finished my spiel and said, “Ladies, we’ve got to teach this to our daughters now. I have 50 female employees, and we just had to have a big pow-wow over this very issue. These are grown women who can’t get along, and it creates a very unpleasant work environment.”
It hit me then why it’s essential to teach our daughters early how to deal with drama and conflict. Little girls who can’t get along become big girls who can’t get along, and as they get older, the problems and stakes rise higher. How well we coach our daughters through the ups and downs of relationships has long-term consequences. It could make all the difference in whether they succeed or fail in their friendships, their marriage, and even their careers.
Through my work, I meet a lot of moms and daughters, and one conclusion I’ve drawn is that every community faces the same issues. The most common dilemma I see and hear about is the deep pain that evolves when girls hurt other girls.
“Love is not affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” C.S. Lewis
Only a person without a conscience could watch the video and not feel horror, anger, and heartache.
Only a person with a hardened heart could witness the evil done to George Floyd and adamantly deny that racism still exists. Feeling sick to my stomach I asked myself, How often has racial injustice occurred without video proof? How blind have we been to the reality of prejudice and reckless disregard for life?”
George’s dying words, I can’t breathe, are impossible to unhear. They woke us up, and, like Saul on the Road to Damascus, whose heart converted as he heard Jesus’ voice and went from persecuting Christians to joining the disciples to preach the gospel and changed his name to Paul, they made the scales fall off a multitude of eyes.
The Holy Spirit has been at work, convicting hearts across America of the grave injustices that mark our history and the unjust realities that still exist. In massive numbers, we’ve felt sadness and regret that has galvanized our commitment to righting the wrongs from our past. As my wise friend Toni said, “Only God could give us the same feeling at once.” Only God could take this act of evil and unite us in a movement for change.
A few years ago, I started to see research that says a girl’s self-esteem peaks at 9 years old.
Sadly, that is third grade.
While I’m glad to hear that little girls feel good about themselves, it breaks my heart that big girls do not.
What causes the shift? There are many factors are involved, but I believe a big one is self-consciousness. As little girls grow up, they become keenly aware of what people think. They begin to tune into cues and reactions, caring deeply about people’s opinions of them.
And since relationships are very important to girls (and friendship is essentially oxygen to them in the teen years) girls often sacrifice what they really like – or who they really are – to fit in or belong.
It was a crazy thing to do, especially considering the events of that morning, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.
The urge to go back felt incredibly strong, and it descended from out of the blue. Since I had two daughters with me saying, “Let’s do it, Mom!” after I voiced the idea out loud, I gained courage. I felt like it might be healing.
It was February 6, 2020, and at 6:45 that morning, my mom passed away. It had been a highly emotional week as my dad, my siblings, Mom’s caregiver, and I kept vigil around her bed after hospice said we were down to a matter of days. Around lunchtime, as my daughters and I started our drive from Tuscaloosa to our home in Birmingham, we got off the interstate exit that led to my childhood home.
For years I’d toyed with the idea of revisiting this place. It’d been a happy home for our family, filled with love, laughter, late-night antics, big family chaos, and countless friends over the course of 30 years. My parents moved after I graduated from college, and because I loved their new home, I rarely thought about the old one.
But as time marched on, and my mom’s health issues intensified during her final 4 years on earth, a nostalgia grew inside me that I couldn’t shake. I felt my childhood tugging me back, making me miss and long for the past.
This past February, one day before my mom passed away, I opened an email from my five-year-old preschool teacher.
She’s now the directress for a church, and she expressed interest in having me speak to her community.
Immediately I thought of my mom, who was in the room next to me, yet unresponsive. With all my heart, I wanted us to laugh and discuss the irony. You see, I was the shyest kid ever,
I will never forget the email a middle school student sent to their school corporation bravely admitting that he or she could not stop thinking about suicide.
Because the student used an anonymous email address and couldn’t be identified, the superintendent shared the email with the entire school community in hopes that someone might recognize their child in the words.
A reader of my blog, whose child was part of the school system, reached out to me for help. She said she thought of me as someone who knew what to say to hurting children, and she asked me to draft a response she could send to the anonymous student.
After reading the original letter, I provided some words of encouragement and information that I thought would be helpful for this hurting young person. It was a very difficult letter to read, of course, but … there were two statements I couldn’t stop thinking about: “I can’t tell my parents,” and “I really need someone to talk to.”
Since many parents were frightened it could have been their child who wrote that letter, an outpouring of affirming messages were sent in reply to the anonymous email. The outcome of this particular student’s situation is unknown, yet I know that the community of parents was forever changed by this young person’s courage. They were inspired to connect with their kids in ways they hadn’t before.
Many parents, some for the first time, saw the vital importance of offering unconditional acceptance and undivided presence to their children, regardless of their age.
First of all, let me say how no words can alleviate the pain you may feel right now. It is real, it is raw, and it is perfectly understandable.
Of all the worries that you and your parents have had over the span of your life, having your senior year disrupted by a global pandemic was never a blip on anyone’s radar. In fact, if you’d written a fictional English essay about this just two months ago, your classmates may have laughed because it sounds far-fetched. Yet here we are, dealing with a reality that is stranger than fiction.
My heart breaks for you because my daughter is a high school junior. It’s easy for me to imagine how we’d feel in your position. In short, you’ve been sucker-punched, hit by a curve ball out of left field, and no plan B can compensate for how cheated you may feel to lose the final 2 months of your high school career.
Years ago, I sat in on a conversation between two young widows. One woman had just lost her husband, and her friend – years ahead in her grief journey – shared what another young widow once told her.
“When you grieve,” she explained, “you’ll often grieve in advance. You’ll feel sad because of what would normally happen this Saturday, yet won’t happen now because he’s gone.”
In many ways, this principle applies to you. You’re grieving your senior year – and every highly anticipated milestone. You’re mourning what was supposed to happen but no longer will: prom, awards day, senior banquet, senior trip, championships, banquets, senior skip day, college T-shirt day, touring your elementary school in your cap and gown, and – of course – walking across the stage at a May graduation.
I’ve never been one who readily embraces change.
If anything, I like to stick to the plan, stay focused, and make it work.
But right now, we’re all changing plans. We’re canceling, re-prioritizing, and uniting to save lives in a global pandemic. What sounds like a plot out of a grossly exaggerated Hollywood movie is shutting down our society, and the strangest part is, we have no prior experiences that even halfway prepared us for this predicament physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially.
Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring – much less next month or next year. And while I spent the first few days of this crisis panic shopping and spending hours online to read articles and stay informed, I quickly concluded that I don’t want to live through this history-making event feeling constantly panicked, scared, and anxious.
I don’t want to be so glued to the news that I miss this extra time with my family as we hunker down and help flatten the curve of the COVID-19.
Everyone is worried about teenage girls today – and with good reason.
In short, they are struggling. From epidemic levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness…to a mental health crisis that’s starting younger and younger…to a suicide rate that’s hit a 40-year peak…to the stress of technology and a promiscuous culture, girls face challenges and trials that pain us and haunt us as they flash across headline news.
Like teenage boys, they’re growing up in a fishbowl. They’re scared to death to fail because perfection is the bar. They juggle insane workloads and intense pressures to succeed, and they feel anxiety over realities like our country’s current quarantine, which has quickly ushered in a new era of fear. They’re the first generation of teenagers to be more stressed than their parents.
Today’s girls feel overwhelmed emotionally – yet unsure how to talk about it. They get bombarded by images that make them feel inadequate, and rarely do they get downtime because technology and social media create an intoxicating pull to constantly connect with friends.
The fear of writing may never replace spiders as the number-one phobia. Yet as a teacher, I’ve met many parents who feel uncomfortable – and yes, a little afraid – when it comes to writing. Some confess their dread of sending me an email, half expecting me to return it marked in red.
The problem intensifies when their children struggle with writing. How can parents help?
Sure, you can hire a tutor. But here are 8 ways you can improve your child’s writing.
I remember the early days of social media, when everyone was happy and just excited to share space.
Back then, we couldn’t get enough of each other, and we spent hours catching up and reconnecting with old friends.
Today, sadly, a lot of that congeniality is gone. After years of sharing life highlights, we think we know each other better than we do. We speak without filters and struggle with envy or comparison. Rather than act like family, we act like jealous siblings. Spending too much time together, with no parents to referee, has begun to take its toll.
We are different people than we were a decade ago, and more drastic than changes on the Internet are the changes in Internet users. Generally speaking, we’ve grown testy and dismissive, quick to write off or tell off anyone who doesn’t agree with us 100 percent or who rubs us the wrong way.
The problem, of course, is that no two people see eye to eye on everything. Even best friends have opposing opinions, and that’s okay if they’re respectful. On social media, however, we get to skip the real-life challenge of trying to work through differences or bite our tongue to not be rude. Instead, we can join tribes of like-minded friends who second our opinions and make us bold in speaking our mind. While tribes can be beneficial, issues arise when tribes become echo chambers where every voice and story heard only affirms the group mindset.
In these echo chambers, pride grows, minds shrink, and tribes fall under the illusion that they are always right and the rest of the world is wrong. They forget how even a broken clock is right twice a day, and how every human being has something valuable to teach us.
My late father-in-law enjoyed college football, but he never let the outcome dictate his mood.
In fact, he often joked, “Don’t let your happiness depend on 18-year-old boys.”
That is easier said than done, right? Especially here in the South, where football is like a religion, victories and defeats can dictate moods for weeks or months on end.
Why the obsession? Why is football a billion-dollar industry? I find it interesting (and kind of crazy) that Americans will pack stadiums and pour money into a sport that revolves around one ball. Many people care more passionately about who dominates that one ball than they do eternal matters.
Yet God’s genius is that He can use anything – even one ball – to speak to us. He meets us where we are and often tells epic stories in stadiums and arenas. Through both lows and mountaintop moments, we can experience Him, learning lessons about life and character that can only be taught through exhilarating, high-stakes events.
“Except for during the summer months, today’s teens now, for the first time, feel more stressed than their parents do. They also experience the emotional and physical symptoms of chronic tension, such as edginess and fatigue, at levels that we used to see only in adults.” Dr. Lisa Damour
I was saddened to hear it – yet not surprised.
According to the American Psychological Association, today’s teens are the first generation of teenagers to feel more stressed than their parents, at least during the school year.
We saw it coming. We’ve read the heartbreaking stories. We’re seeing the dire consequences, how young people today are lonelier than senior citizens and report poorer health. How rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011, when smart phones became ubiquitous, and the suicide rate among teen girls is the highest it’s been in forty years. How iGen is on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades.
What is provoking so much stress? I believe it’s a perfect storm of many factors.
One interesting dynamic of life is the universality of what feels most personal.
Those hard feelings deep inside you that hesitate to admit? That inner wrestling you do in your quest to find peace? The pain that keeps you awake at night in bed, tossing and turning as your mind spins restlessly and relentlessly?
It is all part being of human.
God planted in us a desire to be with Him.
Friends, I’m thrilled to share a guest post from Sissy Goff, author of Raising Worry-Free Girls, which releases this week! Sissy has counseled teen girls for almost 30 years and is one of my most trusted sources of parenting advice. Sissy read 23 books on anxiety as research for Raising Worry-Free Girls, so it is packed with wisdom and hope. Grab your copy and share this message with friends. Thank you, Sissy, for being a gift to today’s moms!
I once read a parenting book that frustrated me.
The wisdom was amazing, but it felt like the author was saying, “I raised great kids, and here’s how you can, too.” There were many 1 + 1 + 1= 3 insinuations like:
Taking kids to church + studying God’s word + surrounding them with godly people = godly kids set for life.
I believe in intentional parenting, and I believe it’s really hard to love someone you don’t really know. For our children to know, love, and understand God, it’s important that we take them to church, share Scripture, cultivate character, and encourage healthy relationships.
But what some parenting books ignore (or skim over) is the fact that even the best parenting doesn’t guarantee results. Jesus was the perfect teacher, yet one of his disciples betrayed him. His perfection could not override the free will that God gives to everyone.
Additionally, a child who looks like a role model can be more distant from God than a child whose life is in shambles but who has a deep, desperate faith. A young adult who thrives in their twenties may self-destruct in their forties. There is no guarantee that any child is set for life, no matter how well-adjusted they seem as they leave home or enter the real world.
It takes a thousand good choices to get where you want to be in life.
Every choice has a consequence and creates a trajectory for your life that can launch in a meaningful direction or take you down dead-end roads.
Even small choices you barely think about – like the choice to get out of bed, the choice to go to school or to work, the choice to study for a test, the choice to show up for a family member or friend – matter tremendously by impacting the future.
In his best selling book Make Your Bed, Admiral William McRaven shares life lessons he learned during Navy Seal training. McRaven says if you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people – change their lives forever – you’re wrong, because he saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan through the choices people made.
He says the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime, and if each of us change the lives of just 10 people, that could add up to big numbers.
The choice of a young Army officer to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad, for instance, saved the driver and his squad of 10 soldiers from close-in ambush.
In Afghanistan, an officer sensed that something wasn’t right and made the choice to direct an infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.
McRaven points out how these choices saved not only the soldiers, but also the unborn children of the soldiers, and their unborn children too. Generations were saved by one decision – by one person.
A mom of five kids (all teenagers) once told me that something they discuss a lot in their home is RECOVERY.
Her husband’s big question to their kids is, What will your recovery be? He tells his teenagers, “You’re going to make mistakes, and hard things will happen, but what will your recovery be? How will you respond when things don’t go as planned?”
I love this concept because it’s so relevant, especially to teenagers. More often than not, this is the season of life when adult-sized problems, disappointments, and heartbreaks begin to manifest.
An accident they didn’t see coming.
A romance that ended with tears.
A mistake they’ll always regret.
A dream that didn’t come true.
A curve ball that changed their plans.
A setback that felt like punishment.
“My daughter told me I need to get a life,” my friend said, and we laughed because her daughter is in sixth grade.
Like many kids her age, she is pulling away from her family. She is craving more time with friends. She adores her mom, yet she’s excited about her budding independence.
Chances are, you had a rich and interesting life before you had children. You had passions, interests, and the energy to stay awake past 10 p.m. on a Friday night.
But having a baby shifted your priorities. You became perfectly content nesting at home and marveling over your miracle. As your baby grew up – especially if siblings came along – life became a circus. Some days your only goal was survival. You had to put things on the back burner to conserve energy. You sacrificed things to make room for a new calling.
I have a confession: If I had to choose one audience to write for – adults or teenagers – I would choose teenagers.
Why? Because they’re easier to influence. They are moldable in ways that adults are not.
I first discovered this while writing an article on teen depression. At the time I was blogging for parents, but during my interview with the doctor, she made a remark that stirred in me a desire to help a younger audience.
“The reason I love working with children and teenagers,” she said, “is because they’re so resilient. You can change the whole trajectory of their life. Early intervention is key. It’s a lot easier to intervene effectively when they’re young instead of years later, when they’ve been depressed so long the illness becomes incorporated into part of their identity.”
In short, adults are hard to change. We are more set in our ways, our beliefs, and our mindsets. Children, on the other hand, are still forming their identities and mindsets. They are what parenting expert Haim Ginott once called “wet cement.”
“Children are like wet cement,” he said. “Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
When my daughter was 6, she showed an interest in art. Since I’m not artsy person, I did what non-artsy moms do: I signed her up for art lessons.
At one camp, they told us to send to kids in old clothes they could get dirty. After picking her up the first day and noticing the paint splattered everywhere, I understood why.
The art they created was unique, and when I told the teacher how innovative her work was – and how my brain didn’t think that way – she told me the secret to making art is to not be scared of making a mess.
Immediately a bell rang in my head. I knew exactly what my problem was, why I couldn’t make great art with my kids at home.
Because I don’t like messes.
The root of this is a perfectionist personality, a mindset I acquired as a teenager and will likely spend the rest of my life trying to overcome. Honestly, I think many women and girls share this mindset with me. At some point, we’ve bought into the allusion that life should be perfect – and anything less is wrong or not good enough.
I learned a lot about art, imperfection, and finding beauty after destruction while visiting Greece last summer with my family. Words can’t describe how breathtaking this country is, yet its beauty is not the shiny, polished, and perfected kind we’re used to seeing in America. No, in Greece there is a natural beauty that has evolved over time. Its charm and allure come from age, character, and a rich history.
Chances are you’ve heard of Santorini, one of Greece’s top tourist destinations. You may have seen the jaw-dropping pictures that look unreal, yet I can attest: the photos aren’t fake. Santorini really is this stunning.
One of my best friends in the world initially intimidated me with her beauty.
It sounds silly now because she’s incredibly kind and humble, but before I knew her and all I could base my opinion on was her exterior package, I was wary.
I met Mary Alice as a newlywed. I was a new girl in a new city, eager to make friends.
And when I saw her one night at a party – this tall, thin, gorgeous blonde surrounded by friends and family who were celebrating her move back home – I jumped to conclusions. She was so pretty I assumed she must be full of herself, a blonde snob who I’d probably have nothing in common with.
But as fate would have it, our husbands were fraternity brothers. And when she and her husband invited us to their home a few weeks later, I agreed to go for my husband’s sake.
To my surprise, that night was an answered prayer. Within two minutes of actually talking to this gorgeous blonde, I realized I’d pegged her wrong. I immediately fell in love with her sweet nature, gentleness, and self-deprecating humor.
For months I’d prayed for a friend who I deeply and easily connected with, and little did I know, she’d be the one. She’d be the new friend who felt like an old friend thanks to that priceless gift called chemistry.
A mother told me about an incident from her college days that could have ended tragically.
She didn’t drink in high school and was naïve as a college freshman, so when older girls in her sorority took her and some pledge sisters out and gave them each a pint of vodka, she obediently drank it.
Hours later, she passed out behind a dumpster. The girls who gave her the alcohol were nowhere to be found. Thankfully, a guy friend from high school was walking by and saw her. He picked her up and carried her back to her dormatory.
Another college girl was not a big drinker, yet her brother’s friend noticed her stumbling outside during a party and wandering off alone. He took her home to make sure she was safe, and only the next day did they realize that someone drugged her drink.
Then there was the college girl who needed a ride home from an off-campus party. She waited 45 minutes, and as she tried to get in the car of that night’s designated driver, a strong hand pulled her back.
It was a guy she’d taken to a formal, who told her, “Don’t get in that car because I saw that guy doing cocaine earlier.” This girl didn’t feel like waiting for another ride, but this guy insisted, so she stayed. On the way home, the designated driver hit a tree and severely injured his passengers.
What saved each of these girls was a guy who chose to do the right thing. A guy who knew them and felt compelled to look out for them like a sister.