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.