If I had to sum up teenage life for most girls, I’d describe it as a thunderstorm. Now…a thunderstorm, from my perspective, is beautiful. In all of it’s splendor, the sky changes rapidly, and there is a clattering of natural events that leads to a commotion. A quiet stillness follows, leaving behind a rainbow and everything refreshed underneath. For teens, the wind rolls in with the onslaught of academic demands and pressures to perform, and the hail comes down as social changes seem to come from nowhere and without warning. The clouds hover with hormonal shifts that seem to be daunting and often dark, and the rain pours down with new experiences, relationships, and discovery of oneself, one’s ambitions, and one’s idealism. Sometimes the rain is refreshing if met by sunshine through the clouds, and other times it is exhausting and brings with it hopes of a rainbow to signal the storm’s end.
Let’s face it. Teenage life is not what is portrayed in our favorite tv shows. What it is, is a time of discovery. It is when our girls realize that the world can be a beautiful place and simultaneously a dark place. They learn that people can choose to be friends despite differences, that it is okay to be oneself and not fit the mold, and that through the attitudes, dislikes, fads, or betrayals that can accompany social life, one must value true and authentic relationships and hold them dear. It is a time of learning that God’s purpose is often not what we envisioned, that God builds us through hardships and refines us in trials to realize the beauty He created within us. It is also a time when He shows us that grace, mercy, and an outpouring of kindness is greater than approval from others. It is a season of pursuit of idealism, of what one’s hopes and dreams are, and a season to reconcile with limitations and move in the direction of strengths. As parents let go, girls learn to leave the protection and shelter they’ve been safe under and learn who they are standing in that storm, what God is building them for, that ultimate safety lies in Him. He reveals who they are and the unique beauty they possess.
That storm…for some can be milder, and for others’ more harsh and tougher to weather. Let’s take the storm apart, piece by piece, and go over some tools to get your child through it, so that what she sees in herself when the clouds clear is beautiful and she realizes her value to God has always been and always will be priceless.
Winds of academic pressures
Before high school, academic rigor is picking up. Entering high school, it is often a steep learning curve with more demanding material, a faster pace of learning, and mounting homework. Meanwhile, parents are expected to step back from academic supervision and allow teens to step up to the task of keeping track of all that is expected and following through with responsibilities. For some, this comes easily. For others, learning can be difficult with the faster pace and richer academic content. If your child is struggling with grades, it is important to find out the root cause. Is it difficulty focusing and paying attention? Is it with memorization? Organization? Processing information? A specific subject? Look into this sooner rather than later. If you aren’t sure, it is always a good idea to seek out professional help. Your school psychologists will be able to provide educational testing to best help identify areas of strengths and areas of struggle and to help provide recommendations for your teen so that she can feel positively about performance.
Many teens begin to feel the pressure of competing with peers on academics, and this can be difficult to bear. Encourage your child to do her personal best rather than to focus on matching peers. Help her find learning areas she is passionate about and focus on the fun of learning rather than focusing on the grade. When we feel passionate about work, and confident in ourselves, we perform well. When we focus on enjoying what we are doing, where we are headed, and what our long term goals are, we strive harder and have greater internal motivation. If we just focus on a grade, and getting that grade to match a parental expectation, we don’t discover the internal motivation that should drive learning. The gratification of success is rooted in others rather than in ourselves.
Teach your teen that people learn differently. Help your child discover how she learns- it will equip her for life. Find supportive teachers to help her. Maintain a good relationship with teachers and encourage your child to find courage to ask for help when needing it.
Much of high school is about learning how to deal with the challenge of a broad range of tasks, learning to seek out help appropriately, learning how to get needs met in a group setting, knowing how to overcome fear of learning new things, working with others well, learning that failure happens and it is about how we go forward, and managing responsibility. These real life lessons are often overlooked as parents focus only on grades. Praise your child’s strengths in all of these areas, and broaden her focus to see that high school isn’t all grades.
Hail storm of social changes
How a young woman feels about herself often begins realistically with how she compares herself to images in the media, girls around her, and the image that the childhood mirror has reflected. Girls begin to feel pressure to be thin, to look pretty, to have perfect hair and skin, and to dress in a way that is in style. The hardest part is, regardless of how much effort girls put in, they are at the mercy of peers who approve or disapprove, often based on whim or fancy. You want your daughter to develop an internal dialogue that is positive, not reliant on others. You want her to look in the mirror and love who she sees, not think of who she wants to be. You want her to feel confident in the face of peers who will often vacillate daily on who meets the top of the popularity contest. How can you help build that strong young woman who can be self- confident in who she is and not bruised easily by the barrage of possible torment from mean girls?
Strengthen her home base. Keep those surrounding her most closely in her life and beef up affirmation, support, and communication. Increase family time and keep it regular so she feels affirmed where it matters. I often tell parents of teens, let your one voice be louder than the world’s ten thousand voices. Your child will internalize the positive messages from home and be less likely to internalize any negative messages from others.
Process at the end of the day. Be a safe shoulder to lean on, someone who always enjoys her and makes it known, someone to spend time with that is edifying and enjoyable. Make time at the end of the day to have a warm drink together, watch a tv show, take a drive, or catch up. Make it a minimum of 30 minutes daily. Teens tend to talk most at the end of the day before bed. It is a great time to catch up and help her to wind down and process the day’s events.
Help her to find her strengths. If your child hasn’t found her “thing”, the activity that strengthens her, bolsters her confidence, or centers her and provides an outlet, help her to find that. For some teens, it is a sport, dance, or community service activity. Find what centers your child away from the drama and make it a habit.
Pray together. Pray with your teen, thanking God for who she is out loud, asking for God to be with her and to comfort her, to build her up, and to strengthen her. Your child hears what you pray, and listens to your words. Trust me, it matters. It models closeness to God, moves mountains, and shows your teen how much you care. Words of affirmation are internalized in the process.
Clouds of Hormones
Your daughter’s hormones went from mucky and all over the place during puberty to now settling down and becoming more regular. Her menstrual cycle will begin to become more cyclical and normal, though she will still emotionally be adjusting to the changes. Be mindful of the week before her period and the week of her period if you see mood changes, heightened stress, or anxiety. Help by increasing calming and centering activities for her during this time, helping her to learn to manage stress through healthy outlets and relaxation, eating healthy, and exercise. As she learns to care for herself more and more, she will find herself feeling healthier and stronger in all arenas. Help her to eat a diet high in vegetables, fiber, protein, and low in processed sugars and fats. However, don’t become a parent who fosters guilt when she wants to eat treats or head out with friends for burgers and fries. Young women are prone to developing eating disorders due to negative self image. Teach balance. Eat well and exercise for good health as a foundation, but let her know it is okay to indulge at times and not feel guilty!
Rain showers of new experiences and self discovery
As teens develop an understanding of the world around them, and their identity begins to solidify, they begin to develop an outlook for what part they want to take in the big picture. Some become idealistic, some realistic, and some more cynical. They find where they fit, who they want to be, and what they want to give back. This is shaped by their experiences, their quest for truth and knowledge, and their relationships.
Many teens will go through heartbreaks with a friend or romantic relationship for the first time. Friends will sometimes depart friendship groups and do so based on interests. Your teen will have some friendships that drift apart and some that stay close, and this creates a lot of feelings that she will need to process. If she is isolating and having trouble making friends, you can help by becoming involved in community service with her, joining a youth group, or getting her into a new activity.
Keep communication clear and open, be more of an active listener versus an advice giver. She will need your listening ear to process what she feels. Your daughter will need you to talk with about sex and relationships. Be a sounding board, help her to know her value, and encourage her to be mindful of how God sees her- beautiful, worthy, and loved. Help her to know the importance of guarding her heart. Help her to filter through the things that happen during her day.
Be mindful of social media and continue to be aware of who your teen is talking and engaging with. If your teen shows an interest in a particular subject area, encourage her to pursue opportunities to explore it more. For instance, if she loves animals, encourage and facilitate a part-time job at the vet. Encourage your teen to begin working part time if her schedule allows. It will help with confidence and teach her how to manage money and save for the future. Equipping her with life skills will keep her out of drama and give her the right foundation and focus for the future.
Rainbow of promise
Just when you least expect it, time will have flown by. Graduation will roll around. You will look back at the past 18 years and see that it passed within a blink of an eye. Cherish your time with our daughter. Pause work, pause obligations, pause all the things you think you have to do….just cherish the time.
From here, your daughter will be transitioning to adulthood, to life in the real world. You will look back and see how you were part of a child turning into the woman God created her to be. She will possess the qualities God wants her to, she will be in the process of discovery of the journey that God is laying out for her, and she will be ready to embark on the pathway that God will use her on. Her unique character make up, her experiences, her childhood, her family, her strengths, her talents, her gifts, and her wounds- beautiful all alike. She will be under the rainbow after the storm has passed, refreshed and ready to fly the nest and onto what life has for her.
“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12