I’m walking down the street with my daughters, aged six and nine. They’re laughing and singing and giggling and generally enjoying the heck out of life. “Your daughters are darling!” says a 50-ish woman passing by. “But just wait until they’re teenagers…”
Talk about your joy-killers.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard similar sentiments when my girls were small. “They’re going to be a handful!” “Enjoy them now while they still like you!” And, most gallingly, and usually to their father: “You’ll have to keep the boys in line when these two grow up.”
Why would you ruin a (likely exhausted) mother’s moment of joy by presaging pain and suffering? That’s just mean.
But more to the point, why are we convinced that teenage girls are miserable creatures who make everyone around them cower in fear? And at the same time assume they won’t have the presence of mind, or the strength of will, to hold their own against teenage boys?
I recognize that the myth of the teenage horror show is, like most stereotypes, based in some amount of truth. Adolescence is hard, and angry outbursts and snide remarks aren’t exactly surprising. But I’m here to tell you #notallgirls.
Girls Get A Bad Rap
It’s not news that we treat girls with disdain in this culture. When they stand up for themselves, they’re bratty or dramatic or obnoxious. When they’re the victims of abuse, they’ve brought it upon themselves. They’re demeaned and ridiculed (and worse) no matter what they do.
Admittedly, adolescent girls do seem to lead with their emotions, which are not subtle.
“Updates to the limbic system heighten the brain’s emotional reactions with research indicating that the feeling centres beneath the cortex are actually more sensitive in teens than in children or adults.” In other words, teenagers feel things more strongly than the rest of us. Boys may be more conditioned to stoicism, but girls tend to let it all hang out.
This might be the source of a lot of drama, but it’s also where you’ll see girls developing passionate attitudes about the world, and taking action to make it better. Think Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez and Malala Yousafzai.
As a culture, we tend to think of passion and analysis as opposite ends of the spectrum. If you’re emotional or mercurial it follows that you can’t be thoughtful and insightful.
This couldn’t be more wrong.
I’ve spent a lot of time with teenage girls, and I find them curious, brave, brilliant and hilarious. Are they sometimes aggravating, sarcastic and contemptuous? Absolutely. But in my experience, the wonderful qualities far outweigh the flashes of annoying behavior.
How do we retrain ourselves to recognize the glory of the teenage girl and remember that her outbursts are just that – moments? Language and expectation.
Let’s Watch Our Words
Think about how we talk about boys. Rambunctious, high-spirited, boys being boys. Contrast that with melodramatic, moody, and manipulative – the words used to describe girls. Not that we think that adolescent boys are always a joy; we malign them too. But we tend to give them a pass on unpleasant behavior while holding it against their sisters.
If we, as a society, could reframe our language to describe teenage girls in their entirety, instead of focusing in on some of their negative behaviors, we’d expect the kind of happy, silly, ebullient conduct that would bring us joy instead of angst.
I believe in the power of expectation. Tell girls that they’ll be insufferable and that you’ll have no patience for them, and you’re bound to get a lot of bad attitude. Let them know you understand how hard things are for them and that you’re ready to listen and you’re likely to get a lot more communication.
Girls are the greatest! Let’s keep reminding them, and ourselves, that we’re lucky to have them around.