Jessica Hagelgans is a student I met while speaking on her college campus in Boston a few years ago. She currently teaches geometry, precalculus, sixth grade math, and sixth grade Bible at a school for missionary kids and Third Culture Kids in Ukraine. Awhile back she observed a common denominator in her teen girls–a “be strong” at home and with friends–a pretending for the sake of others.

There frustration with “pretending” is something I think we can all understand. I’m not a certified counselor, nor do I have a degreen in psychology. What I do have is a little bit of experience with teenagers and some educated guesses–but most importantly a genuine desire to hear the burdens of our teenagers and respond to them. Here is Jessica’s question and conversation with me and my initial response. I’m curious about what others might have to say on this. Please respond if you have an affinity with this question. Let’s talk.

Jessica to Brooklyn:

In the past of couple years, I’ve had a few teen girls (high-school age) tell me of how they “need” to be strong, to appear happy, for their friends and family, when, on the inside, they are hurting, weak, sad, broken. They tell me that they are two different people–one person at school, and one person on the inside–and that they are “pretending” in some aspects of their lives (how they feel about others, etc.). They are tired of this facade, but don’t know what to do. How do I respond?!

Brooklyn to Jessica:

Being strong is a good thing sometimes when you need to remain safe. What I mean is not everyone is safe to be vulnerable around. I learned this late in life. I used to let myself be open, sad, broken, and vulnerable around most people. The problem is that some people can and will take advantage of this and hurt you further. So, boundaries are important. (I’d recommend reading Boundaries for teenagers)

At the same time, it’s important to have teenagers find people that are safe for them. For many students, a youth minister is a “safe” person. Some girls choose to be “strong” at home while picking friends to be their safeties. But we know that not every teen friendship is solid and safe. Some girls are “safe” at home and choose to be “strong” with their friends. Some girls don’t have “safe” anywhere. In any case, I recommend finding one or two adult mentors who can be their go to people–their outlet for being open. Everyone needs a safety.

Ever wonder why it feels good to cry together watching a chick flick? It’s because most females need that opportunity, it’s built up in us….and it’s safe to cry for a movie that has nothing to do with us because no one will ask questions. We all need a person or persons who will let us ask and be asked hard questions—let us cry our eyes out–let us be weak and still believe in us in the process.

You don’t always have be a rock. It’s liberating to teenagers to know that. It’s also freeing to know that we always have God’s strength when it’s tough to be strong—but still giving yourself freedom and time to open up, share, lay down, cry, etc….around the safe ones.

I’m curious about other thoughts on this. Anyone?

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