Recently, I was looking over class pictures from elementary school (ages 5-11) with Chickie, my middle schooler. What saddened us both was that so many little chickies (my term of endearment for girls) are currently being pressured to trade in their true, sweet, first grade selves of yesterday—their original personhood—for whatever others want them to be in this fleeting moment of tween/teen angst. Hopefully, most of them will come out the other side and find themselves again—or perhaps discover, for the very first time, the dreams in their own hearts—but the upper elementary school and middle school ages (9-14) are those “how do I define myself to get others to like me” years that I grieve for girls. As we looked at photos, I was pleased to see that, while some were trying on identities to please the demanding Group Think of a mythical popular crowd constantly being redefined, there were a certain number of chickies continuing to remain true to themselves over the years—still matching their younger selves, only more mature.
Realistically, these “true-to-self” girls may walk a bit more alone right now, at times. They may not travel in huge groups, and they may occasionally sit alone on the bus or at the school cafeteria. But as they grow in wisdom and maturity, they will draw deep satisfaction from holding firm to their real identities—not new ones fabricated by others for them to wear—during these really rough (at times) years.
Dear 4th Through 8th Grade Girl:
It takes great courage to keep being you in the storms of catty behavior and popularity contests, but it’s the only you you should ever be! Even some adults don’t fully understand this. You have my utmost admiration, chickies, holding to your real selves while facing a culture where girls feed off the insecurities of other girls just for sport and false confidence. Even the entertainment industry reinforces this as normal behavior you should adopt toward each other.
Please believe me when I tell you: It’s not.
You can do better for yourselves.
You can set the bar higher.
If I could scream into a megaphone right now and reach every 4th through 8th grade girl in one moment, or two, I’d tell you:
–Ask for reassurance instead of lashing out at each other when you start worrying nobody likes you or you are feeling insecure. It’s normal to feel insecure now and again. It’s not normal to use it as an excuse to hurt anyone.
–There is real, positive power in kindness and paying it forward. Try to look for the good or potential in those around you instead of a cutthroat “survival of the fittest” approach.
–Trash-talking divides everyone so that they are alone. So does gossip in general. If your words divide people, it’s not hard to see it, and it becomes a label you will work very hard to shake off yourself. You will eventually end up the brunt of the hurtful jokes and slurs you yourself are making. It’s only a matter of time. Choose grace toward others instead.
–Learn to be okay with not being in control of your friends all of the time, accept that some of your peeps will hang with peeps you don’t like or understand, and practice being okay with not being the center of attention, if you tend to love that limelight. If you have to be negative to get the spotlight, it’s not a spotlight you are going to want further down the line when you find it always following you, with only negative people attracted to its glow.
–Celebrate being chicks with each other, finding strength in whom God made you to be. Being female is awesome! At the end of the day, it’s a common bond and a very level playing field. That girl you don’t like on your soccer team with the funny teeth? She could be the kind face delivering your baby someday when you’re in 48 hours of labor, or be the specialist helping your child through his reading delay. Or you could hold her hand through her first mammogram. What’s waiting for us down the line in life has more in common than it does differences. You will save yourself so much heartache if you start looking at it that way right now.
–It’s so much more awesome to find what we have in common and encourage each other than to mock what we don’t understand.
–The awkward years of losing the child part of us don’t last forever, and…
–We need to learn how to build into friendships for when we reach the other side of these years. We need each other.
I’d also tell you that you are beautiful and precious in God’s sight.
King David speaks about how God sees you, me, us: fearfully and wonderfully made! Friends will come and go, but the voice and word of God will always be around to guide you and to ground you, because He made you and is so pleased with whom and what He has made.
Psalm 139:13-18, King David speaking to God when he was made king over Israel
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.