Monday, 18 May 2009

Guiding Teens On The Rocky Road To Womanhood

In this article, I'd like to discuss a topic very dear to my
heart- guiding teen girls into womanhood. Why do I feel so
passionate about this subject? Well, I was one once many moons
ago and I can't believe I made it out alive and am now a
well-adjusted, mostly-healthy woman. One of the things I say to
teen girl clients a lot is, "I hope there's no such thing as
reincarnation because I wouldn't want to have to come back and
be a teenager all over again!"

I'm sure you're sitting there nodding ferociously thinking, "I
hear you, sister!" And I'm also guessing that your teen years
were far from easy and idyllic. I'm also guessing that whether
you're a mother, an auntie, a teacher, a counselor, or just
plain `ol friend of a teen girl who is near and dear to your
heart, you'd love to be able to give her something, anything,
to make her journey along the rocky road to womanhood a little
less difficult.

"But what can I possibly give her?" you ask.

My answer: MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW.

Why do I say this?

Because having worked as a therapist with teen girls and women
for over a decade, I have learned one very valuable thing: teen
girls need guidance from their `elders' (that's you and me!) in
order to navigate their way through the myriad experiences and
choices that face them in their adolescent years.

I think that we, as women, constantly negate what our gifts are
and what we're capable of, and being a role model to a young
woman who needs help and guidance is no exception. I have
experienced this first-hand with my 18-year-old sister (huge
age gap between us as you can figure out). When she was born, I
had never felt a love so deep and so great. Our bond was
immediate. I can still remember holding her little 8-pound body
in my arms at the hospital and looking into her face and
realizing that this little person was a miracle.

Because my mother was on her own and I still lived at home, I
became a sort of `second mother' to my little sister. We were a
family of three girls (and still are!) and I cannot say enough
about the bond we all have with one another- three generations
of women with similar genes, great intellect, compassion,
beauty, and elegance (I'm saying these things in order to
encourage you to also sing your own praises and those of the
women in your family- it feels really good- try it!). However,
we are all very different and unique and have learned how to
honour our differences and even celebrate them in ourselves and
each other.

How is this possible? Well, I believe that it has a lot to do
with the fact that all three of us are highly inquisitive,
open-minded, loving, and thoughtful women. And then add that we
all see the virtue of learning from one another. And while a big
part of this involves learning from our `elder women'; it also
goes both ways. I know for a fact that my sister is one of my
greatest teachers, and that I am also one of my mother's…and
vice-versa. That's the beauty of it- it flows in many different
directions.

I believe that this phenomenon is as natural to girls and women
as breathing, but somewhere along the way, we lost it. We are
however, en masse, reclaiming this beautiful style of learning
by the evidence of countless rites-of-passage ceremonies for
girls and women being performed and added in many spiritual
faiths.

As well, there are some fabulous books out there which speak to
this innate need to both initiate, and be initiated into,
womanhood and there are too many to list here, but I urge you
to check them out and find the ones that speak to you and the
teen girls in your life.

One that I have recently completed is based on this concept
entirely, featuring 20 women's stories of their teen years and
the wisdom they have gained since then. It is called, "What
Your Mama Can't or Won't Teach You: Grown Women's Stories of
their Teen Years" and can be ordered at:
http://www.guidebooktowomanhood.com

I want to leave you with something to get you started on the
path to guiding teen girls in a positive way.

"Esther's 10 Tips to Being a Guide and Mentor to Teen Girls"

1. Make room in your life for at least one teen girl who you
feel a bond with and spend time with her regularly.

2. Let her guide your interactions and conversations and don't
assume that you need to be in control. In fact, the more you
let her control the time, the more empowered she will be to
take charge of other areas of her life.

3. Remind her often of her wonderful qualities and attributes
and PLEASE focus mostly on who she is as a person; not what she
looks like.

4. No matter what she says or does, love her unconditionally
and release the temptation to judge. If she even sniffs a hint
of judgment coming from you; you run the risk of losing her
trust.

5. Never tell her what she SHOULD or SHOULDN'T do- when you are
with her, leave your preaching at the door and just be a friend.
(A caveat to mothers of teens- you can't really expect to be
your daughter's friend but it still helps to not "should" her.)

6. Wipe the horror off your face if and when she reveals things
in her life that freak you out (trust me, there can be many).
Instead, practice the Zen concept of "loving detachment" and
just "be" with her without reacting (this can be most
challenging even for those of us who meditate everyday!)

7. Share stories of your own teen years with her, even if it
makes you uncomfortable- she will probably learn a lot anyways.
Remember, this is for her; not you. Girls need to hear what
other women did in similar circumstances and situations in
order to make informed choices.

8. Be critical of the media and it's representation of women
and encourage the teen girls in your life to do the same. If
you want some help with this, get the book, "All Made Up" by
Audrey Brashish- it's fabulous and it's written especially for
teen girls.

9. Do fun things with her that you both enjoy! Let out your own
"inner teen girl" and have some fun! Teens are usually quite
good at this and you'll both have a hoot (and a holler if
you're lucky!)

10. And lastly, RELAX and be yourself when in the presence of
said teen girl. You can lower your standards and be imperfect,
fallible, and even downright goofy if need be. Girls don't need
"perfect" role models- there are enough of those out there who
lead them to starving themselves to death and other dangerous
behaviours. Be real. Be authentically you. Be genuine and proud
of who you are. I can't think of a better role model than that!

About The Author: Esther Kane, MSW, Registered Clinical
Counsellor, is the author of "What Your Mama Can't or Won't
Teach You: Grown Women's Stories of Their Teen Years" available
at: http://www.guidebooktowomanhood.com. Sign up for her free
monthly e-zine to uplift and inspire women at:
http://www.estherkane.com