Advice for a 14-Year-Old Girl Entering High School?
A friend asked me what advice I had for his teenage daughter, Olive, who’s going to high school for the very first time next week. She has a soft space in my heart; I’ve known her since she was a baby and I often feel like I learn more from her than I could ever teach.
Advice? I couldn’t think of any. When I was a little girl, I overheard two women in my family speculating on what all of the kids would become when we grew up; when it came to me, they said “and Sibley will marry well.”
While I never married for money (though the older I get the less that seems like such a bad idea), Olive is already light years ahead of where I was at her age. She’s going into a bio science program and her class schedule includes yoga as PE, bio science, honors biology, honors algebra 2, honors English 9, Spanish 2 and AP US History. The other program she was considering—but liked less—was engineering.
Clearly math does not intimidate this young lady, who was never told that girls are good in English and the arts while boys are good at math and science. So it’s probably a little late to straighten her out by telling her “We don’t do math.”
And I don’t think I have any useful advice about body image, which taunts so many teenage girls and causes things like eating disorders and depression (I had both). When Olive was 12, she lectured me thoroughly on the subject of female body image and misperceptions and wrong expectations of girls and women in the media and public at large, pointing out that the models on the cover of Teen Magazine and Vogue were not normal weights nor were they in fact attractive.
Lots of girls think they’re supposed to look like the skinny perfect magazine models and they’re unhappy when they don’t, she explained. And she was very passionate about the solution—magazines should change to reflect real girls, not the other way around.
I might tell Olive never to let others make her feel that she’s less than perfect and that she’s far from powerless even if she’s a member of the “weaker sex.”
But I think she’s already covered on both fronts.
When another girl was teasing her because she didn’t wear makeup to school—though she does like playing in her mother’s makeup box—she replied with complete certainty: “only ugly people wear makeup.” On disparity between guy heroes and chick heroes in movies, she told me it’s only because boys are biologically physically stronger than girls. But she had a great work-around: “I could kill the monsters with my knitting needles,” she said.
I could tell her “No” is one of the most effective words a 14-year-old girl about to enter high school can know, but again she’s got plenty in her quivver: “No thank you, I can pay for myself,” “no, I’m not ready for that,” “no, you can’t pressure me to do dangerous stuff,” “no, I’m too young to drink,” “no, I don’t need to try drugs,” “no because my parents said ‘no’ and they always have my best interest at heart.”
The next four years of high school will indeed be a social and emotional rollercoaster for Olive and millions of girls and their families across the country.
The hope is, when they reach their 2020 freshman year in college, if somebody tells them that the boys are there to get college degrees while the girls are only there to get Mrs. Degrees, it’ll seem like some quaint, archaic quip. I’ll be interested to hear Olive’s thoughts on the subject.