Saturday, August 9, 2008

Troubled Years, Triumphant Years

The teen years are filled with pressure. Everyone who has been a teen remembers that well. If you're raising a teen, then you're feeling, like I am, a whole different set of pressures. I also work with the teen girls in our church. I hear their conversations, I watch their interactions, I notice the nervous insecurities in their body language, and I know lots about them that they don't know I know. I feel this calling inside of me to be an advocate for them, to help them find their voices in this crazed and chaotic world of mixed messages.

We have a teen at Church who is now pregnant. It's no surprise, really. She liked to listen to other girls brag about their escapades, and she liked to shove her own in everyone else's faces. But I heard something much different than that when she talked to me. When she talked to me, she said sadder things like, "I've never heard my dad tell me he loves me."

"Never?" I asked.

"Not once," she said.

"I'm sure he does love you. Maybe he shows it in other ways because saying the words are too uncomfortable for him," I reassured.

"How hard is it," she countered, "to say three words to your own kid?"

She had me there.

I don't know. There is no excuse good enough. So, sure enough, she went and found some guy who would tell her. And now she'll have a baby to love differently than she was loved. And she had to veer her entire life off course in order to achieve love. Love that at least for now is going to keep her from graduating from high school, going to college, finishing out her youth, and coming to marriage and motherhood prepared.

I have my eye on another girl, who lets some guy leave his mark on her neck, so that she can feel chosen. I do not pretend to not notice. I don't believe girls like her need people to not notice. On the contrary. If people would notice them, maybe they wouldn't have to go looking for validation in the arms of some hormone-driven young male.

There's another girl who is toying with the idea of bulimia. Not on my shift. I'm arranging a tour at a residential eating disorders clinic so that she and the other girls can see what "skinny" gets them. I watch my own daughter obsess about her weight and everything she puts into her mouth. I've been hearing for years about her father's concern about her weight, and his praise of the ultra-skinny babe, and his monitoring her food choices and portion sizes to the point of her tears. I have a very close eye on her. I remember those days.

I have a big, bold mouth, and I feel like part of my job is to ask big, bold, tough questions. And I do. I have discussed everything from alcohol and drugs to porn and masturbation with my teens. I am not afraid to say any word, or to be honest with them about any subject. I can't afford to be afraid! What they don't learn from me, they will learn from someone else incorrectly. Someone else who also deals with acne, hormones, and their own self-interest at the expense of my children. I made a deal with them that they could have any information they wanted, if they just come and ask. And they do. I want to hear it all.

I want my kids, and every other kid to feel empowered in life. I want them to know who they are--children of God! I want them to know that they have every opportunity right before them, that they can actually and literally construct their own lives, to their own liking and dreams if they will but make some concrete choices for themselves and then take back the reins. I am willing to help them yank the reins out of someone else's hands and give them back to them. They are beautiful! They are powerful! They are influential and can make a difference! They cannot afford to act like everybody else acts. They have every reason to hold their heads high and stand up straight, and give other people around them the liberating permission to do the same.

I must go tell them again. And I will add, looking into their eyes, those three easy words.


Annette Lyon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annette Lyon said...

YW is one of the hardest callings in so many ways, because your heart is so wrapped up in these girls who are the precipice of their lives.

About two years after I was released from YW the first time, I saw one of my former Beehives pregnant. It about broke my heart. And of course, I kept wondering if there was something more I could have done as her leader that would have prevented her going down that road.

Best of luck with your girls. It sounds like you're exactly the leader they need.

Jeri said...

I want to be like you... I hope that hope I can be the person my daughter can learn from and come to, but just in case there becomes a rift there - I hope my daughter has a leader like you.

(ps - my good friend and her hubby have been trying (actually medically trying, not just physically trying) unsuccessfully to have children. - if your sweet YW decides to go the adoption route - I can give you my friend's blog site and you can let her check them out.)

Wonder Woman said...

Let me just say first that I love the way you write. It's beautiful.

My husband and I are contemplating adopting a 10-year-old girl. We have 2 toddler boys, but DH is feeling strongly that this girl needs us. I feel like I have so much to offer a daughter, but am scared stiff at starting with a 10-year-old. That's when all the issues you discussed start. Body image, friends, feeling loved, school...-sigh- It's a lot.

You sound like an amazing leader. I think I'd be more prone to not say anything about a hickey because I don't want to make anyone feel "uncomfortable" or that "I don't like them." Very stupid reasons when it comes down to what she's doing and what could happen. I'd better get over that.

Thank you for being bold. For talking to your kids and the YW you serve. For taking your stewardships seriously. Sounds like you're where you're supposed to be and doing what you're supposed to do.

The Fear Fam said...

This post was beautiful. Those girls are truly lucky to have you as a leader.

Right now my girls are very happy to ask me anything they want, and I am happy to answer them to the best of my ability. I hope they continue to ask as the teen years approach, and that I have the courage to be bold and honest in my answers. Thanks for the encouragement.

Sarah said...

Jenna...this post reminds me of our visit that night at the Vance's house. You had mentioned a book that you read and recommended about how to discuss these kinds of things with your children. I don't remember what it was called or who you said wrote it. If you recall the one I'm talking about, would you mind emailing me with that info? I've meant several times to ask you, but am usually not near my computer when the thought crosses my mind, and forget by the time I am! I would totally appreciate it!

Love ya,

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I'm printing this off and putting it in a new folder titled "Things to Remember As Kids Approach Adolescence." You are such an incredible example to me, Jenna.

Lesley said...

I think bold is the way to go with teens. Sometimes you need to be in their face with what they need to hear. I truly think they respect that (if not at the moment, then later on). You sound like you're very intuitive to the girls' needs, and they are very lucky to have you, as are your own children!

Garden Anywhere Box said...

Jenna, I love reading your blog posts. This one about YW is espeically poignant. Your observations are right on. These yw need someone to listen, to notice and to call them on their behavior. I served in YW for two years and just recently got released. I am still not over it. I dreaded the calling because I worried how I would deal with "mouthy" girls. My fears were unfounded. These yw were the best! I still ache over one girl who chose to go inactive. We tried to get her to come back, but she has to choose for herself.

Your yw are lucky to have a leader like you.

Raelene said...

Hooray for you!!! Lyndsay is beautiful, and NO ONE has the right to belittle or nag you or anyone about his or her appearance, especially family (they need to take a good look in the mirror w/regard to their own lives, and how they have lived them). Those words are so destructive. Being healthy is A#1. It is so hard in today's world to feel accepted, or that you fit in the mold. Anorexia and Bulemia are frightful illnesses. You are a true and compassionate leader and mother!

templework said...

Bless you for loving and "seeing" and having the courage to speak up!!!

Josi said...

Can I send my teenagers to you? Or do you offer courses? I'm just getting into those years of mothering them, and I'm trying hard to be that woman you describe, but so far they don't want to hear about it. I force them, of course, but I'm hoping in time they will trust me enough to bring things up.

How lucky your ward is to have a leader like you. I've never served in YW, and I read things like this and know why. I'm not sure my heart is big enough.

Angela said...

Love the post Jenna! I to am bold about what I talk about with my YW and sometimes wonder when I will get a call from a parent. But so far so good! We can't dance around what the girls are facing right now.. we have to bold and not afraid to say the words that make so many parents uncomfortable. My mom was the same way with me and I am so grateful she was so open and honest about everything.

Lyndsay is lucky to have you.. what is her dad's number I want to call him! ha ha.. She is beautiful and has a perfect shape!

Kathy said...

Hey...I got to your blog from Hilary Weeks Blog...this post is so great! You are very wise and your children and young women will learn much from you. You impress me!

Ritsumei said...

You say things so well. I teach Sunday School for the 16-17 year olds: Gospel Doctrine. I also try to pull no punches, to be able to say what needs to be said, to invite the questions they haven't been able to ask elsewhere and answer them fully. But you just say it so poetically.

Anonymous said...

First of all,I absolutely love your new blog design! Secondly, I hope I will be as bold as you are with my kids when they are teenagers!