Are My Kids on Track: Girls and Perspective Part One

We are only 5 days away from the release of "Are My Kids on Track?" Have you pre-ordered your copy yet? We are so excited to share this new parenting resource with each of you! Nashville, we would love to see you, on Tuesday night, February 14, at the book release party! It will be from 6-9pm, at K. McCarthy, in Green Hills.  There will be book signing, festive treats, holiday shopping, and give-aways!

Today, we hear from Sissy, in the book on Girls and Perspective.  This will be a two-part series so tune in next week for the second half.

Research shows that girls are better at self-regulation than boys, at least in America. A study from Oregon State University showed the differences in culture and gender, based on research from four different countries. American girls fared better than American boys, across the board. The study concluded by asserting the need for boys to have extra support in learning this skill that is undoubtedly crucial to emotional development.

Because a girl’s brain secretes more serotonin from the earliest stages, she has better impulse control than a boy the same age. She is more capable of controlling her behavior. She’s often more effective at concealing her emotion, as well. At least, till the bell rings, school lets out, and she climbs in your car.

Control or even concealment for a period of time, however, is different than true self-regulation. It’s more about stuffing emotions than it is regulating or processing those emotions. And, if you’ve ever stuffed your emotions, you know how that works out . . . often sideways and with even greater intensity than the emotion began.

As a counselor who sits with girls and their parents every day, I (Sissy) believe that girls have their own profound struggle with perspective. It just looks, or maybe we should say, feels different than for a boy.

Stumbling Blocks for Girls

When I first started counseling, I used to have a similar conversation with many girls. It was always when they were joining a counseling group of their peers. The conversation would typically go something like this:

“When you start group, one of the first things you’ll do is tell your story. Your story is basically whatever brought you to Daystar—why your parents wanted you to come.”

“I’m not sure I want to tell my story.”

“Why?”

“What if everyone in the group has had bigger problems than I do? My problems might not seem like a big deal to them.”

I would then go on to compare it to physical pain. “It’s a little like stubbing your toe. When you stub your toe, it feels like the worst pain in the world. It doesn’t hurt less just because you’ve never broken your leg. It hurts really bad and that’s all you can think about.”

I have not had that conversation in probably the last six or seven years. I honestly wish I had.

Stumbling Block #1: The Dramatization of Drama

“I have twin fourteen-year-old daughters. Their names are Ellie and Sarah. But, around our house, we call them Trauma and Drama.”

Most parents of fourteen year olds would concur with this mom. Teenagers today—girls particularly—are exceptionally dramatic. But it’s happening with kids of all ages. The emotions of this generation aren’t necessarily more intense than ours were. We felt deeply, too. But the expression of those emotions has intensified exponentially.

Think about the following statements:

“I’m depressed.”

“I wish I could just kill myself!”

“I’m having a panic attack.”

“Such and such friend drives me crazy. I think she must be bipolar.”

Would you have said any of the above statements when you were growing up? Did you even know what those things were? Have you heard your daughter say them? What about her friends? I’ve heard girls as young as elementary school casually toss out the word depression. I hear about panic attacks on a daily basis in my office.

Some of these emotions and reactions to them are truly debilitating struggles for kids. We’ll come back to that in a few pages. But a portion of the intensity today has more to do with drama than it does a genuine portrayal of emotion. I try to tell girls that we all have trouble breathing when we cry hard. It’s not a panic attack. It’s just a normal expression of a normal emotion. But, for some girls, normal is the last thing they want . . . or think will get them attention from someone else.

A high school girl once told another counselor at Daystar that she cut herself “because no one would believe that she was really sad if she didn’t.” She went on to use the word trendy to describe self-harm. I also speak to an alarming number of girls who diagnose themselves with anxiety and depression. I’m concerned that a growing number of middle and high school girls believe that a diagnosis is not only the answer, but will be the reason their friends finally listen to them.

Girls are searching desperately for ways to define themselves. They want to be seen and known and loved. In this day and time, the words and feelings they use in order to do so have gotten bigger and bigger. It’s the culture they live in. We can’t change a lot on a larger scale about that. But, I believe we can, with our own girls in our own homes. We don’t want them to feel like they have to resort to drama to get attention. We don’t want them to believe that depression, anxiety, or any other struggle defines who they are. We want who they are to be defined by a God who delights in them . . . and parents who do, as well.