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My 16-year-old daughter recently asked me if I thought it was more difficult to be an adult or a teenage girl.
Without hesitation I answered that it was much more difficult to be an adult. It’s tough being grown up. There are homes to manage, children to care for, bills to pay and bosses to please. There are health issues to navigate, friends who are gone too soon, and aging parents who — in a dismaying role reversal — require the care of the children they once tended to so diligently.
Looking into my daughter’s sensitive and honest brown eyes an instant later, I realized my hasty reply had left her bruised. I'd glossed over the pressures she faces every day. Forgotten the painful angst of my own awkward youth. And failed to truly see the ocean depths of the child sitting right next to me.
So I’ve taken some time to consider my daughter’s question more thoughtfully, and this is what I’d like to say to her instead:
I’m well aware of the academic expectations that burden you — the ones you put on yourself, as well as those your father and I have unintentionally placed on you. You and your peers face increasing pressure to achieve academically and the stress can seem insurmountable. I see you working long past what should be your bedtime, and often sapped of your energy and light. I wish we could help you understand that your worth isn’t equal to your GPA. The quest to get into the “best” college and pursue the “right” career to attain a “perfect” life is built on a mirage — an unattainable and empty illusion.
Throughout your life you will reinvent yourself a thousand times. You’ll find a way to create a life that is meaningful to YOU...and this life will look nothing like anything you can imagine right now.
I know first-hand how difficult it is to grow into a woman’s body, heart and mind. You want to feel attractive, powerful and confident, and yet there are moments of self-doubt, days when you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. Every generation has its labels and stereotypes, and you negotiate these every day. Is it possible to be both strong and sweet? Smart and popular? Can you fight hard for your independence, but still need your mom to hold you when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed?
And of course everyone tells you to “just be yourself,” but you’re not even sure what that means. You’re trying to be everything to everyone — a successful student, a good friend, a helpful daughter — and this impossible task leaves you drained.
What I need you to know is that throughout your life you will reinvent yourself a thousand times. Who you are at 16 is not who you’ll be at 45. You’ll find a way to create a life and a future that is meaningful to YOU, even if it doesn’t please everyone around you, and this life will look nothing like anything you can imagine right now.
And while I do know what it’s like to grow into a woman’s body, heart and mind, I don’t know what it’s like to do this on social media. You and your friends are navigating territory no previous generation can quite comprehend. What you see and read on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter is stylized and carefully curated, yet these are the images by which you judge yourselves and others. It must be exhausting to know everything you say and do will be picked apart by a fickle audience, too easy to feel you don’t measure up.
As a parent it distresses me that so much of your self-worth is dependent on a blue thumbs up, or a hollow heart. I want you to know that, even if you are never enough for everyone else around you, the most important thing is to be enough for yourself.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!