Last week, we talked about the emotional world of teenage girls. Here are just a few of the statistics:
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Illicit drug use has declined significantly since its peak years in 1996 and 1997
- Alcohol use among teenagers has also decreased since that time
- Alcohol, however, is still the most widely used drug among young people
- Marijuana and tobacco use have remained the same since that time
- The use of prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Vicodin and OxyContin have increased
- The use of inhalants has increased
From Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. (ANRED)
- The Journal of Abnormal Psychology reported that 14 to 39 percent of adolescents participate in some kind of self-harming behavior
- Eating disorders affect almost 5 percent of young women in America
- 1 percent of female adolescents are anorexic
- 1 to 3 percent of middle and high school girls are bulimic
- 15 percent of young women have unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about food
As we said before girls fall apart often from the outside in. They develop struggles such as eating disorders, self-mutilation, addictions to drugs and alcohol, and other issues as a way to numb—or control this newfound pain that feels so out of their control. Each of these issues warrants a different response, but each comes from the same source—an intense dislike, or self-hatred, of the girls themselves. How do we help, as adults who love them? The answer is twofold…one: dealing with the outside symptom, and two: the deeper problem on the inside.
If you believe your child may have an eating disorder, we would suggest that you seek professional help. Eating disorders are typically fueled by self-hatred and a need for control. For most girls, food is the thing they have chosen that they believe they can control. The problem is that food begins to control them. If, as a parent, you try to manage her food intake, you will be attempting to wrestle the control from her, which will often cause her to fight even harder. We believe it is helpful to find other voices who can walk alongside her, so that you can be a voice of support in her life, to deal with the deeper problem on the inside. It helps to have a nutritionist and a counselor who are experienced in dealing with this kind of issue to address the eating disorder itself.
Self-mutilation, or cutting (which also includes scratching) is based on much of the same issues as eating disorders: control and self-hatred. The problem with self-mutilation is that is has also become a fad in the past several years. If your daughter is cutting, she is crying out for attention. We suggest to parents, again, to seek professional help. If there is a deeper issue that is causing her emotional pain, it would help to speak with a counselor. If her need for attention is so great that she would harm herself physically, it would probably also help to speak with a counselor.
3)Drugs and Alcohol
In our work with kids, it seems that the kids who don't experiment with alcohol or drugs stay away from them for one of three reasons: 1)they have a commitment to their faith that makes them want to make better decisions, 2)they are a part of a group of friends who are making better decisions, or 3)they are terrified of what you, as their parent, will do to them if they don't make better decisions. Any of the above will work—and all are probably important. You can't make your child have a commitment to her faith. But you can put her in places where she has opportunities for it to develop—youth group, mission trips, various Christian organizations. And in these places she will often meet other kids who are pursuing their own relationships with Christ. And if you catch your child drinking or using drugs, give them consequences. If you catch them repeatedly, we would suggest professional help to deal with a potential addictive situation.
Inside: Dealing With The Core of the Problem:
Each of these self-destructive behaviors, at their core, has to do with self-hatred. As a parent, these are all practical ways to deal with the symptoms. Much of the root work is preventative. Help your daughter learn to develop a vocabulary around what she wants, and help her understand that God made her to long for relationships. Put her in places, with other people who will draw this out in her, but can also help her understand what it means to live in a fallen world…that what we want will never be fully realized until heaven. Finally, help her find places where she can see that her life makes a difference…that she has purpose and impact.
1 John 3:18 in The Message says, "My dear children, let's not just talk about love, let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves." As your daughter discovers who God has designed her to be, as she sees that her life can make a difference in the life of someone else, her need to punish herself will begin to diminish. And God's grace, healing, and hope can start to crack through that colorful, confused, adolescent outside and warm her all the way to the core.
John and Stasi Eldridge, Captivating, Nelson, 2005.
Michael Gurian, The Wonder of Girls, Pocket Books, 2002.
Sharon Hersh, Bravehearts, Waterbrook, 2000.
Rachel Simmons, Odd Girl Out, Harvest, 2003.
Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff, Raising Girls, 2007.
Rosalind Wiseman, Queen Bees and Wannabees, Three Rivers Press, 2003.