Ep 281: Empowering Teen Girls

You're listening to Talking to Teens, where we speak with leading experts from a variety of disciplines about the art and science of parenting teenagers. I'm your host, Andy Earle.

We're here today with Chelsey Goodan talking about the power of teenage girls.

So much of the conversation around teenage girls centers around disempowerment. How girls are anxious, and depressed, and have body issues.

But Chelsey has found that if we can ask the right questions and not be too hasty to jump in with the wrong answers, we can have empowering and insightful conversations with teenage girls that can change their lives and maybe even our own.

Chelsey has worked as an academic tutor and mentor to teenage girls for 17 years. She is the mentorship director of the nonprofit DemocraShe and and the founder of the Activist Cartel.

She speaks, conducts workshops, coaches parents, and she's the author of the new book, Underestimated, The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls.

Chelsey, welcome to the Talking to Teens podcast.

Thank you. I couldn't be more excited to be here.

Yes, I am pretty pumped. I've been reading through your book, Underestimated, The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls, and this is awesome. You have really great stuff in here.

Thank you.

Talk to me about this. How did this come about? What inspired you to write this book and where did all these ideas come from?

I was working as an academic tutor for about 16 years, and then I started also volunteering my time to mentor girls from underserved communities a while back.

And I realized that the things they were saying to me, the stories they were sharing with me, when I started telling other people, they'd be like, wait, what? She said that? And so often people would think, teenage girls are emotional and dramatic and dumb.

And I was like, wait, no, they're saying these incredibly wise, smart things to me all the time. And I started sharing that more and realized that was the most meaningful time of my life. Sharing that time with these girls and their stories is what I needed to share with the world. And I often say, I'm just trying to be their portal, their microphone to what they want to say.

We don't really give teenagers a lot of credit. You have quotes from a lot of girls. These are some good points.

I had to finally start quoting them because people needed evidence of their smart thoughts on things.

So you talk in the beginning of the book about emotions and how important it is to give each other a space to feel.

And so often we don't know how to respond when someone's feeling really emotional or our response is to try to just make it stop as soon as possible. Push the emotions away. Why do we do that?

Oftentimes parents, or any adults, we often try to fix right away. Or we try to slap positivity on it and make them feel better if they're going through a hard emotion. And hard emotions are really normal and human. And we try to slap that positivity on it because of our own discomfort.

We can't sit with the fact that the kid is in pain for a second. And so instead, just holding space and validating that what they're feeling is totally normal and okay. And oftentimes, when a girl vents to me about something she's struggling with, I'm just like, that sucks.

Yeah, that is hard. And then she doesn't feel crazy for thinking she's having some overly emotional reaction when honestly, she's having a very normal reaction to something that's hard that she's struggling with. And then it helps her process it and release it instead of what adults often do is we stuff and repress, and all that stuff comes out at some point, whether it's a midlife crisis or who knows when, but it'll come out.

And it seems like we're training our kids to do the same thing. They see us stuffing and repressing and they get the message that they're not allowed to really express their feelings or to feel them deeply.

Exactly. Yeah we continue the cycle. We often follow the same pattern of the way our parents did it. We hand that down to the next generation, the next. And I'll say Gen Z though, they are great about knowing more about mental health, knowing more about psychology, and they they're speaking up and sharing this in a much bigger way than I've ever seen with a generation for sure.

And I love it. I'm here for it.

You talk about holding space what is that and how do we do that?

So a girl or a teenager will express oftentimes what people say is big feelings, right? And What I often do is I ask do you want to vent right now, or do you want actually my thoughts or advice on this?

And I try to frame the conversation early on so that I don't get mixed up and do the wrong thing. And oftentimes girls are like, I just need someone to listen. And that's really a huge need they have overall, is someone to listen with a non judgmental tone, with just pure hearted curiosity. And the holding space moment is they say everything going on in their life, vent the feelings, and then you sit with them in it and you repeat back the exact words they use.

If they said, I was just so frustrated or I was disappointed, you go, yeah, that sounds frustrating. That is disappointing. Yeah, that must have been hard. Just that simple reflection gives relief. And what I see in front of my eyes is this weight lifted off a girl's shoulder. And often times she says, Oh!

I feel so much better. Thank you so much for listening. No one understood me, right? And teenage girls often feel so misunderstood. And it's so much easier than we're making it. We just need to listen and validate.

You make it sound pretty easy, but in the moment, it's not easy because we want to do something. You feel like you just want to help.

So the best help I've been able to give is after holding that space I say, what do you think the solution is? What do you think the next step is? How would you like to handle it? And then I empower her to make the right choice. And oftentimes when we try to slap onto her what we think is best and what she should be doing, walls go up, right?

Because they feel misunderstood. They don't feel heard. They're kind of like, well, whatever. I'll just deal with it. You don't get it anyway. And by instead asking her for solutions, she often comes up with way better ideas than I came up with. I usually have an idea in my head for her and then she says something and I'm like, Oh, whoa, better idea.

Better idea. Let's go with that.

And that ties into a theme of the book. And you talk about this when you talk about when you started dating as a teenager, and how you shared with your father that you started dating and and instead of telling you all the things that were wrong or expressing how worried he was or something, he really affirmed you, or demonstrated that he trusted you to make a good decision, which I think is so powerful.

It was so powerful at the time because I was in high school and he was a college guy. So there was reasons for my dad to be like, no. The normal cliches of things, right? And my dad, I told him about it early on.

And my dad responded, Oh Chelsey, you would only date an amazing guy who would treat you so well. So I imagine this guy is really great. I can't wait to meet him. He must be a really good guy. So of course I was like, Wait, my dad trusts me to make this decision? I hope I've made a good one!

Is he good enough for me? My dad empowered me to trust my own brain, quite a Jedi mind trick. But I don't think he even was trying to manipulate anything. I think my dad really had given me a lot of trust over many years.

And I really valued that. And by building that trust, we had formed a relationship where I felt like I could communicate with him honestly. Not worried that he was going to try to judge me, or control me, or dismiss my thoughts in it.

And because if you say, I don't know about that. We need to talk about that. I didn't say you could date yet. And I need to make sure it's a good person. Then all of a sudden now you create this dynamic where we're on different sides or we're against each other. And what he did so effectively was put himself on your side.

And if he had done the other thing that you just said I naturally would have walls gone up.

I probably would have hidden the relationship to a large extent. There would be shame because anytime you judge people, you feel shame. And then that would have informed a lot of romantic decisions. And I'll say, I've always chosen really good men in general. And I think that stems from this idea that my dad empowered me to make good choices and also modeled a man that valued and respected my thoughts.

What if you don't trust the decisions that your daughter is making or you think she's not dating the right person? Then how do you handle that kind of situation?

Sometimes we also just need to let a kid make a mistake. And learn from it. I've tried to buffer girls mistakes for years. And it just wouldn't work, because they wouldn't learn the lesson. What I found is pain is truly still a very important teacher for all of us.

And when a girl is actually in pain from her not so great choice, she learns it. She learns the lesson and she owns it in a way that she hopefully makes a new decision. Whereas if we buffer the consequences or step in too early she doesn't have the opportunity to learn from it. She doesn't feel enough pain to learn from it.

And obviously we can always be worried and we want to protect them from really bad choices. But which choices, right? Which ones are you most scared of and how can we go upstream earlier in their life to avoid those types of things?

Especially if you're doing something that your parents are not approving of, and you're fighting against them to do it, then you're not even going to admit that it was a bad choice because you're going to be so defensive of whatever that was. Whereas if they don't create that power struggle, then it allows you as a teenager to reflect and admit that, okay, that didn't go as well as I hoped it would.

I have been in the magical space of teenage girl admitting she was wrong. Which has a lot to do with them feeling safe enough. I'm not gonna be like, see, I told you, or, they just know, I'm like, yeah, it's tough. I've been there too. I've made that same mistake. I always tell them, they don't feel alone in the mistake.

And there's something to that psychological safety, emotional safety that helps them grow and helps them learn. If we aren't providing them space to make a mistake, then they're not building resilience. Because obviously as an adult, we're going to face tons of hardships like that, that we need tools for.

You have lots of tactics and seeing how you interact with girls through the book really helps the reader, I think, to get lots of ideas on stuff you can do. And one thing that you mentioned is. Inviting them to judge you.

I try to create an environment that's radically honest. There's an entire chapter called Radical Honesty. And I create a playful environment that doesn't take ourselves too seriously, and I can laugh at myself, I can own my mistakes. I'll be like, was that lame that I did that?

That's where I'm inviting their judgment, and it feels refreshing for them to have an adult be real with them. And that makes them feel safe enough to be honest with me the same way.

You write about sex in this book. It comes up throughout the book, but you have a whole chapter diving into it. And your thinking even evolved through some of these relationships with girls, exploring their sexuality and trying to walk that line of being beautiful and what that means to them. Is it okay to be sexy or to want to be sexy? And that's so challenging for parents to talk about. Where have you ended up on that?

We are definitely in a stage of feminism. Women can be all things. We used to be like I would hide any sexiness to show that I could be smart and funny and kind and all these other things. And now we're in a new era where women can be all things. You can be sexy. You can be smart. And maybe society's frame on a pretty, sexy woman can expand and she can step into an identity exploration that we haven't been giving girls because there's so much judgment, so much shame, right?

Girls tell me all the time that when she tries to flirt at school with a boy, immediately, oh, she's slutty. And all she's trying to do is flirt and just, explore that side of her romantic interest. Whereas boys are very much permissioned through the media and so on to pursue pleasure, and it's a positive thing.

And, if girls want that in any way, then they're shamed. And so where is this space that we can start stepping into that they feel more empowered. And not squashed. Girls want to talk about it. They are so tired of the dancing around it.

And dress codes. Oh my gosh. The amount of girls that all the time talk to me about dress codes. Because when a girl has a bra strap showing at school and she has a big sweater in the heat of the day, what they're telling the girl is that she's in charge for managing a boy's what he's looking at.

It's her on her shoulders and responsibility. And that her body is a threat to the world in some type of way. And girls are so tired of being blamed and not having any space for them to even understand this in a healthy way. And so I'm very much trying to ignite new types of conversations where we allow girls shame free space to talk about things like pleasure, which is quite a radical statement in this space. Which is interesting, right? It's just pleasure. We would hope that girls would be happy and healthy in this space, but we are much more normalized in a shame judgment space for them.

Wow. Talk about the difficulty of developing confidence in a world where if you're not attractive, then that's not a good thing. And if you're too attractive, then that's not a good thing.

Great point.

What can I be?

Exactly. They all feel that they can't win. There's no way to win this. It's a losing battle.

Yeah. You just made a perfect point. And people can't even talk about it. I love that you're bringing it up. I love that we're talking about it. We are doing something that's benefiting people to expand these conversations.

Tying into confidence also is an idea of self compassion and being kind to ourselves.

You talk about exploring flaws with teenage girls and sharing some of your own mistakes. How do you think that we can approach this as parents, like when our daughters are maybe beating themselves up or we feel like they're not being kind to themself or showing themselves compassion.

What's our role there or how should we handle that?

Perfection, people pleasing, self doubt. That's the trio, the combo that really gets girls.

I think we have put way too much pressure on girls to be perfect and likable. And that is what is stressing them out and giving them the most anxiety. And it looks very innocent in that parents want a girl to get good grades and girls know they have the pressure on them to get good grades.

And what's happened is they've now equated it to their self worth and their identity. I have times where. Girls sobbing about getting a B on something, and I often say what if you just get a C?

What if you get a C? You don't have nothing to prove to me. I know you're already smart and amazing. So why not? And they think it is the most radical thing I've ever said in my life. And they get emotional about it because they've tied it to their self worth and. They don't actually end up usually getting the C, by the way.

I'm not even trying to say they should be mediocre. It's actually about just having space to be imperfect and that they are still a valuable, awesome human, even if they aren't succeeding at everything perfectly or everyone liking them too. So people pleasing is a huge thing holding back girls. It's very performative.

They're not even aware to the extent that they're doing it. You often hear teenage girls say, sorry, all the time. About everything. Sorry, I have to go to the bathroom. Sorry. I'm sorry. Whereas boys don't do that. And that sorry is really about trying to make sure everyone around them is good and happy.

As if that's part of their beauty in life to do something like that.

Do you think that's not a good sign if we hear a lot of apologizing?

Yeah. I do. And I start simply with them. I talk about it in the book. And I say, hey, let's just bring awareness to it. Every time we say, sorry, we can say to each other, oh, hey, you just said sorry.

We bring awareness around it. And she doesn't feel alone in it because I'm doing it also. And they always call me out on it, too, which I love. Sometimes I've had a girl do tallies about it just so she can see a physical number of how many times she's saying it.

Same with negative self talk in a week. I'll have a girl tally how many times she says something inside her head that's just beating herself up and being mean. And they come back to me a week later being like, oh my gosh, I had no idea how much I was doing it. And then they don't want it anymore.

They're like, wait, what can I do to stop this? And so awareness is always the first step.

I say in the book, phrase everything as a question. And then that curiosity, nonjudgmental curiosity will have a positive effect in that they'll answer hopefully, as you grow more truthful and honest. And oftentimes I say, why are you saying sorry right now? What is the reason why? With heartfelt love, I say why? And their answers can be really intense sometimes.

And then I try to own it. I'm like, Oh my gosh, have I made you feel that way? Like you need to do that and try to own it. And that's tends to have a nice positive effect too.

You also were just talking about negative self talk, which I thought was some powerful content in the book about that.

And you ask teenage girls about what the voice is saying in their head when they're having negative self talk, and really try to get those specific words. And then where's the place to take this conversation to help them get out of it?

I call it the mean voice inside their head. And oftentimes when I first bring it up, they're like, wait, you have a mean voice too? It's actually news to them that everyone has a mean voice inside their head.

And I ask whose voice is it? That's always one of the first questions I ask, who's voice. And you know, if they respond, my voice, they usually do it as a question. Wait, I don't think it is my voice. They know it deep in their heart that this mean voice is not truly their inner voice.

The most common response I get is society's voice. And I think that's pretty accurate, wherever society might be, right? It could be the media. It could be kids at school. Comes from a lot of collective areas. Sometimes it's a parent, which is a harder thing to dive into.

If a parent is really criticizing, kids internalize that into that kind of voice inside their head that beats them up. So it's really important that we stay sensitive to a tone of critique. And I find parents innocently do it as trying to teach their kid all the time out of an intention of protecting them.

All good intentions, but teenage girls interpret it as a critique and being judged. And they internalize it as criticism.

So , back to your question. I ask whose voice it is the minute we can finally start separating it as it not being her true, authentic, inner voice. And it's something separate. She can start separating inside her head from it as well.

And then we give voice to it, right? She'll tell me what the mean voice is saying and says it out loud. And when you say it out loud, you're kind of like, Oh my gosh, this is bad. And then we'll start building up what her new inner voice, true inner voice sounds like, and we try to say that out loud.

The more she can hear it out loud, the better. And that's a much more process oriented voice. It's lots of times when people are doing negative self talk type of exercises, and there are many, I'm not the only person talking about this. But, lots of times it's, say in the mirror that you are awesome.

Say in the mirror that you are beautiful. And it tries to be too positive, too fast. I find it needs to start way more basic of just, okay, take this step by step. You're not doing so badly. Make it as real as possible. That actually resonates with them and then build from there.

I find a parent can bring it up by just sharing their process with the mean voice. That's it. Just share how you've struggled with it and what you've done about it. And then that's it.

Don't be like, and you should do it too. Because I do think teenage girls like to hear their parents are human and that they've dealt with those things too. And that they're not alone.

You've got amazing ideas, tips, strategies, and stories in this book. And I can't wait for it to be released so our listeners can get their hands on it.

The book is called Underestimated: the Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls. Chelsey, thank you so much for coming on the show today and sharing all of this with us. It's been fun. It's been entertaining. And it's been really thought provoking.

Oh, I'm so glad. Amazing. Yes. You can buy the book wherever books are sold.

And let's just spread this to the world so that girls can feel more empowered to use their voices in the world. That would be so exciting to me.

I've been thinking after reading this book that this would be a great thing for people to use as a part of a book club.

If you're in a book group with other parents, you get some discussion going, thinking about it. I would really recommend this for that.

Each chapter has a real set, easy topic. So it's like people pleasing, self doubt, shame, power. And it's really digestible, easy, quick read, but sparks conversation.

It's totally a book club type of book.

Is there a good place people can go to maybe follow updates from you?

Instagram's the best which is @ChelseyGoodan, just at my name. And I have chelseygoodan.com also. Instagram will be much more frequent updates. I'm going on a book tour. So if you can see that on there and I might be in a city that you're in, I'd love to meet you. And there's a lot of exciting things happening with the book right now. We got a lot of celebrities blurbing it and who knows what's going to happen, but I'm excited.

It's been a lot of support. I think this is the moment that we're all like, okay, we're going to support teenage girls. That CDC report came out to how much they're struggling and how much anxiety and all these things that I think people just didn't understand the intensity of it.

And I was like no, I know. I knew this and I'm offering solutions. And I think that the timing is just right. So the book's gotten a lot of celebrity support, exposure, and honestly where my heart is just to create change and make a more safe and empowering world for them.

I think you're doing a great job. Keep up the good work and thanks again for coming on the show.

We're here today with Chelsey Goodan talking about how we can have impactful and insightful conversations with the teenage girls in our lives. And we're not done yet. Here's a look at what's coming up in the second half of the show.

And instead I invite the mess. I'm like, it's not fine. Tell me. And they will tell me horrible things that have happened and then they'll say, it's fine though. And I go, it's not fine.

Also, a teenage girl, when she likes how she sees herself through your eyes, she will like you more too. You tend to like people based off of how much you like yourself when you're around them.

I swear the sentence, what are your thoughts on that could be a go to for pretty much anything. And when they really believe that you are curious about their thoughts on something then they feel smart. They feel empowered.

What do we do when we see a little girl? Oh my gosh, look how cute you are. What a pretty dress you're wearing.

We're constantly telling girls that their value is their looks and what they're wearing from a young age. Whereas we do not do that to boys. We're like, what sport are you playing? What book are you reading?

She was doing it to make her parents happy, make everyone else around her happy, and she'd never been asked, do you like to play volleyball?

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Chelsey Goodan
Chelsey Goodan
📚Author of upcoming UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls, ORDER LINK with @simonschuster ⬇️
Ep 281: Empowering Teen Girls
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