Stronger Than Ever
There is something stirring in the hearts of girls today. For all the discussion about “mean girls” and “body image issues” and “false media messages”—none of which I discount to exist and be a problem—my experience in nearly a decade of working with teenage girls has shown me that some- thing has changed. Something is different.
In a world that tries to weaken the inherent strengths of women, in a world that wants to turn girls into sexual objects at a young age, in a world that promotes the antithesis of that Young Women Theme introduced more than 25 years ago, I see a world where young women are stronger than ever.
I began talking to girls at firesides and via e-mail and on Facebook. And I began having a much different conversation with them. Instead of teaching them what I thought they needed to hear, I started asking questions that let me see what they already knew. I wanted to learn how they viewed themselves and how they viewed their Father in Heaven. And I loved what I was hearing. They “get it.” They really, really do.
In a recent survey, I asked 40 LDS girls a series of very simple questions. The responses confirmed my experiences with girls this past year.
1. Do you really believe you are a daughter of God?
2. Do you pray every day? If not, how many times a week do you pray?
3. Do you want to be married in the temple?
4. Do you think that you will?
5. List five words that describe you.
6. Do you believe you have a life mission? 7. What do you want to be when you
8. Do you want to be a mom?
9. Are you happy? Why or why not?
Seventy-eight percent of the girls said they prayed every day.
All but two of the girls said they wanted to marry in the temple.
The girls easily came up with five words that described them, and they were all positive words.
Thirty-eight of them believed they had a purpose in life.
Thirty-nine out of 40 of the girls wanted the privilege of motherhood and many listed that as what they wanted to “be” when they grow up (other answers included national guard, florist, architect, doctor, photographer, baker, teacher, pharmacist, chemist, veterinarian, artist, cosmetologist, dental hygienist, interior designer, surgeon, a person that helps people, singer, translator, author, dietician, news reporter, graphic designer, actress (“perfectly moral, of course”), something worthwhile, and nurse).
All but one girl said they were happy.
Those responses say a lot about our teen girls today, and my experience would not lead me to disagree with one bit of it.
And the question that was answered the same by all 40 girls is the foundation for helping these girls move forward in their progression. When asked: “Do you really believe you are a daughter of God?” every single girl said “yes.”
After 25 years of repeating the truths of the Young Women Theme, I think it might be safe to say that these girls, most of whom have mothers who first learned that theme, have the concepts of being a “daughter of God” woven into their DNA. They get it. They believe it. That is not to say that they don’t struggle at times with insecurities or peer pressure (something that they will likely never totally outgrow— do any of us?), but those struggles do not define them.
It is true that teen girls today face a myriad of challenges perhaps unlike any other time. Some of these girls find them- selves consumed or overwhelmed by those challenges. But, as I’ve met with girls all over the U.S. and talked with girls in other parts of the world, I see small armies of girls everywhere who seem to know who they are.
Take Parnward Maleerat, “Mink,” as one example. Mink started meeting with the LDS young women in Pak Kret, Thailand, when she was 14. She knew this was a group of girls she wanted to be a part of.
Finally at the age of 16, her parents gave her permission to be baptized. In Mink’s world, she is the “small army.” “I’m the only LDS member in my family, and it’s sure hard!
I sometimes doubted in my ability, but as I’ve learned that my Heavenly Father loves me, I’ve learned that He trusts me enough to be the pioneer and the blessing for the next generation. Living the gospel makes me happy and feel alive and full of energy.”
Mink feels the power of being a part of something bigger than herself. She doesn’t have the benefit of being in a “typical” situation but has the benefit of understanding her identity. And that is what I see in girls from all over.
Now this is not to say that they do not need to be reminded from time to time about their identity. Surely we need to combat messages that try to confuse their identity. But we must be careful not to spend so much time talking to girls about things they know that we don’t take advantage of the opportunities to invite them to do something as a result of what they know.
These girls are strong; these girls are poised to do more good in the world, not at some future day when they “grow up,” but today. Now.
They are ready for great things—and we need to help them know how they can accomplish them.
So, what can we do?