Remember that little girl who bounded through the day wearing a bikini, a glitter-frosted tutu, a superhero cape, a fire chief helmet and rain boots – all at the same time?
She was ready for anything. Nothing got in her way. She could stomp a mud puddle dry and twirl like there was no tomorrow. She thought she could fly – with or without her cape or those fancy fairy wings she flounced around in.
Somewhere along the way, she tossed aside the cape and tucked away those wings. Heaven help you, mom, if you think it would be cute to show her friends a photo from those days. Especially if there are any boys in sight. And NEVER should you EVER even think of posting a photo from those days on Facebook or other social media site.
(“It seemed like a good idea. Ten years ago today, you know – look at how precious you were!”)
Precious then ‒ and precious now ‒ but your tween or teen daughter doesn’t see things that way. Your high-flying, ninja-fighting, ballerina/firefighter/frog-catcher suddenly seems sidelined by embarrassment, humiliation and self-doubt. She feels invisible, or like everyone is staring at her because of her braces, her nose, her complexion or her ridiculous clothes.
(“It’s true, Mom. You just don’t understand. You were one of the popular girls! You have no idea what it’s like!”)
No, we haven’t bugged your minivan. This conversation, or something close to it, takes place somewhere every day, probably every hour. Getting through the adolescent and teen years without such a meltdown seems highly unlikely.
There’s no question it’s a pressure cooker out there. Many girls feel they need to have “that hungry look,” and set unrealistic ideals to look Photoshop thin. They may “play dumb” to keep from being labeled a brainiac or suddenly shy away from their favorite subject because they don’t feel smart enough to handle it. It’s a world populated by power players, pretty little liars and impossible dreams. Not to mention, prom.
So how do you get past this stage unscathed? How can you help your daughter guard her self-esteem and build it even stronger?
These years are a delicate dance for parents, as they learn to stay involved in their teen’s life while also letting her assert her independence. The trick is knowing when to step in, according to
the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which notes that parents may need to seek professional help for their teen if they see any of these warning signs:
- Excessive sleeping, beyond usual teenage fatigue, which could indicate depression or substance abuse
- Difficulty sleeping, insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Abandonment or loss of interest in favorite friends or pastimes
- Unexpected and dramatic decline in academic performance
- Personality shifts and changes, such as aggressiveness and excess anger that are sharply out of character and could indicate psychological, drug or sexual issues
- Unexpected weeping or excessive moodiness
- Eating habits that result in noticeable weight loss or gain
- Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Paranoia and excessive secrecy
- Self-mutilation or mention of hurting herself
- Obsessive body-image concerns
- Excessive isolation
Don’t ignore it, if you notice these or other indicators that your daughter may be suffering from more than typical teen angst. First and foremost, talk to your teen.
Some parents swear by one-on-one talks when they are driving their teen home from school or running errands. Perhaps teens feel comfortable knowing your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road. This can create a built-in buffer zone, where you can’t smother her with a hug or get up in her face.
If talking it out doesn’t relieve your concerns, the AAP suggests discussing things with your family physician, who can offer a medical assessment and refer you to professionals for counseling or other treatment if necessary.
Rosalind Wiseman, who wrote the New York Times bestseller “Queen Bees & Wannabes,” offered another guideline for when to seek professional assistance: “When I believe it’s too uncomfortable for my daughter or the issues she’s tackling are making me so crazy that my input will only make the problem worse,” she explained, in a chapter on communication.
Wiseman’s book, which was the basis for the movie “Mean Girls,” also suggests watching teen-centric movies with your daughter as conversation starters about issues they may be dealing with. Titles she suggests include “16 Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Legally Blond” and “Ten Things I Hate About You.”
Journal writing also can be a powerful tool to help teens make sense of it all while strengthening their sense of self, clinical psychologist Mary Pipher wrote in her book, “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.”
“Once they have discovered their own true selves, I encourage them to trust that self as the source of meaning and direction in their lives,” Pipher wrote. “That sense of self becomes their North Star that helps them stay on course.”