The Crisis of Teenage Girls

Hands down, one of the best books I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it to any parent of girls or to anyone who spends time around little girls, teenage girls, or young women.

It will change everything you think about our culture with regards to female, in crucial ways.

There is a reason that almost all adolescent girls seem to somehow be swallowed by turmoil when they reach that age. It’s because American culture is one that is toxic to adolescent girls, in several ways.

Ultimately what happens when young women come of age is, they must contend with and are placed face-to-face with our culture’s incredibly narrow, unhealthy doctrine of what it means to be “female” in this culture. Thin, always beautiful, ultra feminine, quiet and permissive, “popular”, sexy but not sexual, etc.

This puts immense pressure on girls to either conform and thus, become a false self in varying ways. Or, they can push back and refuse to go along with it, though often at great cost (such as ridicule and becoming outcasts).

Our culture thinks it has a right to define women by how they look. This is still seen all the time today. Women still internalize the message shoved down our throats that our worth is in our weight and looks. That if we are not beautiful, we are both worthless and invisible. That, to be female, it means one must be physically lovely. That if one might hope to find love and acceptance, they must bend and twist themselves into various narrow configurations in order to fit the homogenized, absurd, unhealthy “beauty” ideals of our culture. Girls learn early on how important appearance is in defining their social acceptability. Magazines emphasize diet, fashion, makeup, and working out. All of it revolving around the theme of how to attract and “keep” a man, as though this is a woman’s sole purpose in life. The message is on looking good, while inner character is almost entirely ignored.

To totally accept the cultural definitions of femininity and conform to the pressures is to ultimately kill the self. Girls who do this are the “Barbie dolls” with hair and smiles perfectly in place, though with a deadness underneath. They tend to suffer from an anorexia of the soul. These women become thin, shiny packages that are outwardly carefully wrapped but inwardly are a total muddle.

The cultural messages to young girls are: be sexy but not a slut, be attractive at all costs, and be who others want you to be.

“Girl Power” is a slogan often used to sell makeup and diets.

YouTube Stars and celebrities often models the smallest possible of souls into the most sexualized of packages.

A 2007 American Psychological Association study found that girls were highly sexualized in virtually every form of media, from toys to clothes to moves and the internet.

Social media is also dangerous in that every post and selfie is essentially an advertisement of oneself. Women frequently become sexual objects online. Social media urges and encourages young women to ever be seeking outer validation. It bombards young women with images of seemingly happy, popular, perfect bodied girls and keeps viewers caught in a falsely contrived twenty-four hour whirlwind of comparison, self-hate, and negative self-talk.

Young girls tend to react to all of this pressure to become a certain way by either: conforming, withdrawing, becoming depressed, or getting angry. Ironically, it is the bright and sensitive girls most at risk for problems, since they have the mental equipment to pick up on all of this toxicity, they are intelligent and insightful enough to notice it, all while they don’t yet have the cognitive, emotional, or social skills to handle it. They will then struggle to resolve the unresolvable and to make sense of the absurd. This is where great parents come in with guidance and support.

The other issue with social media and cell phones is that they are consuming young women’s lives and robbing them of precious time to just be. Young women are spending more time at home and on screens rather than with friends in person. They spend an average a day of 6-hours online. They are ever connected electronically, yet, they are more depressed, anxious, and suicidal today than ever before. It is rare that young women today are ever truly alone with their own company.

Twenty years ago, young girls might sit in their rooms and read a book, or write in their journal. They might look out the window, or draw, or play pretend games with their siblings. They might have gone outside and ridden bikes. They may have sat in their rooms and daydreamed. This rarely, if ever happens today. Instead, young women (and young men, and even adults) are almost constantly on their screens, when they are not surrounded by other stimulation (school, work, homework, television, their families). This comes at grave cost. People who do not have time every time, completely alone and without distraction, in order to self-reflect suffer for it. Time alone to think (and this means without a cell phone, without television, even without a companion to talk with), just you solo, is crucial for creativity, resilience, and pondering. People who spend some time along each day, just for reflective thought, tend to be more emotionally mature and insightful than those who do not. Time every day for self-reflection creates self-reflective people.

There is much, much more to be found in the book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, Ph.D. (get the updated, revised edition from 2019 though, as that one includes social media and cell phones). This book will change your life and the way you think about, support, and interact with young women in significant and wonderful ways. It may also change the way you think of yourself as a woman.

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