Let’s step back a few years when young girls are just beginning to look at women in their lives and ask, ”Is that who I want to be ?” It can be so confusing both physically, emotionally and socially. At the onset of the teen years there are sprouts of hair and bumps on their chests that were never there before, accompanied by a range of mixed emotions of confusion, curiosity, anxiety, fears and anger. When menstruation begins, this teen is now told she is a woman. This independence moves between two worlds: now I am grown up; now I am still a child. A roller coaster ride creates a range of feelings and behaviors surprising to the teen and her parent(s). A parent can hear: “I ‘m all grown up now you don’t have to tell me what to do but can you drive me to the mall?” Entering the high school years can be dauting and especially critical for the ‘right’ group of friends. Here is where the social pressure reigns high to have the right look. The right social image must include weight, height, hair, facial features and clothing. All too often eating disorders and compulsive exercising impact out teen’s self image and self-esteem. This look is linked to an identity, from grunge to sporty to fashionable. An identity is reinforced by the social media and the group’s persona. Imagine going to a strange country not knowing the language, the customs or the trends and you have to fit in somewhere, somehow. This angst-filled teen has yet to realize that her brain will not be fully development until she is in her mid twenties. Her brain will change, adapt and respond to the multitude of demands and stimuli in her environment. These turbulent years offer much vulnerability in the many choices she has to make as well as the opportunities for creativity and cognitive achievements. Teens struggle to understand their behaviors, thoughts and feelings along with their family members. Along with this struggle comes hard choices of the next step after high school: college, trade, work or military service. We all make it because we have to leave high school- no choices there.
Dating is another world to explore: one boyfriend, many boyfriends, one girlfriend, many girlfriends, or none at all. At this juncture, three big S’s shape growth and development: sex, substance use and abuse and shopping. Sex can be casual, invite a serious relationship or traumatic as in abuse or harassment. Shopping can be a diversion and distraction from depression, anxiety and boredom. Substance use and abuse can lead to addiction, crime and death. Here is where other people in our young woman’s life can make a difference. Family support, like-minded friends, mentors and community activities can offer guidance, encouragement, and understanding when unhealthy paths cross healthy one and the road not taken is often the wisest choice. Choices are not clear when family support is ambiguous or absent. Years of late teens to early adulthood shape our young woman’s life. Can she answer the question: what do I really want and how can I make it happen?
From the ‘Me Too Era’ to international competition, our young woman has to define her self concept, evaluate her self image and support her positive self-esteem with compassion. For many young women the definition of being valuable, lovable, and worthwhile originates from another person and not our young woman.
Finally, if our 21st century young woman is lucky enough to know what she wants, she is lucky enough. That awareness is her passport for her life’s journey. As we are all aware passports can be renewed when they expire and unable to support empowerment.