Young women today want to be part of the conversation. They are anxious to talk about what they know and how they feel. They really have been listening to what we’ve been trying to teach them, and when we treat them as if they have something to offer and something to share, they step up to the plate.
Try something the next time you are with a group of teenage girls: Instead of teaching them what you know, invite them to share with you what they know. Have them talk about how they see their Father in Heaven and what they think He thinks about them. Invite them to relate a recent experience of having a prayer answered. Ask them to tell you how they know of their divine identity and how that knowledge makes them feel. Let them tell you how they see the world. Have them identify the messages in the media that they don’t agree with. Give them chance to define who they really are. And then invite them to do something as a result of that knowledge.
I often talk to these girls about the truth that young women who believe they are daughters of God live completely different lives than young women who don’t. Then I challenge them to find one thing they can do (or not do) to show they believe that truth. Invite them to do something different in their lives. Challenge them. They’re ready for it.
Standing up to the challenges these girls face in the world today can wear a girl out. Oftentimes what appears to be a lack of interest or a slump of apathy is nothing more than a bout of exhaustion. An encouraging word or note, a little text letting them know you are thinking about them, or a “shout out” on Facebook can go a long way. Let the girls in your life know they are not alone. Pray for them and talk about the fact that you are praying for them.
Let them enjoy a break from their lists and responsibilities and extra commitments. They need a “time out” just like the rest of us, and they need to see and feel what good fun and recreation is. I’ve often told people that I feel like one of my responsibilities in life is to introduce girls to the world of Jane Austen. And I take that role very seriously! Few things are more enjoyable than watching Emma with a group of girls for the first time. Creating an environment that provides an escape from the difficult challenges of life can be very encouraging to girls today, and that kind of encouragement opens up dialogue. I’ve had many conversations about the important matters on a girl’s mind after she just had a chance to catch her breath and take a break in a wholesome environment.
The most powerful result of encouragement comes when you talk to these girls as if they are already stronger, more committed girls than they might currently be. Dr. Wendy Watson Nelson refers to this as the “as if” principal. If you have a girl you’re worried about, talk to her “as if” she is a stronger girl than she maybe thinks she is currently. Sometimes they just need a little reminder of who they could be, and then they live up to being that girl.
We can’t underestimate the powerful influence of example. Every single one of us could likely name a person that has had a profound impact on our lives. Outside of our parents, this person might be a teacher or a youth leader, an aunt or a parent’s friend.
Girls watch their adult counterparts. They listen to conversations. They pay attention to testimonies. They observe what we wear and what kinds of movies we are watching. They also notice how we spend our time. If we are inviting and encouraging a teenage girl in our lives to “step it up,” we need to be “stepping it up,” too.
Girls today don’t need more best friends. They aren’t looking for adults to dress and talk like their peers. They are looking for something more. They want to have interesting conversations about things that really matter. So, they need adults who are willing to lead them to those things that matter.
Once these girls get experience following adults they can trust, they become leaders themselves for other teens around them. So don’t be afraid to be the adult who leads.
Learn from Them
While most of my experience has been with teenage girls, because of my professional responsibilities, I also often have the chance to meet with my peers. And I find
it interesting that the topics are often the same. This has forced me to ask a few simple questions: Are we adult women really that different from our younger counter- parts? Do we really know more than they do? Do we understand any better who we are and what we should do because of that knowledge?
Life does something to us as we get older. On one hand, we do know more and we do understand better—life’s experiences help create deeper wells. We’ve likely had more reasons to get on our knees. We’ve have more instances of receiving spiritual help in our lives. But we’ve also known more disappointment and more heartache. We’ve had more time to make mistakes and beat ourselves up. We’ve failed more because we’ve attempted more.
Teenage girls are just at the beginning of learning some of the things we already know, but they are also just at the beginning of a life full of hope and dreams and joys that some of us think we have already lost. They see a bright future ahead of themselves. They have expectations of making a difference. They absolutely believe that they have unique missions to perform in life. They are hopeful about their future. Few things are as energizing as being around that kind of hope.
And so, perhaps that puts them in a position to teach us a few things as well. Don’t be so anxious to teach them everything you know that you miss the opportunity to benefit from learning what they know, too. These are smart girls. Learn from them.