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A heavy set teen girl in a midriff-baring top marched up to her mom in the checkout line and flung a bag of candy into the overflowing shopping cart. The mom removed the bag and pressed it firmly into her daughter's hands.
"No," the mom said resolutely. "We've talked about this."
"Fine!" The daughter snapped. "I'll just buy it myself then!" And off she stomped to the ten-items-or-less line, digging for change in her snug jeans.
Clearly embarrassed, the girl's mother put her hand to her forehead as the woman behind her tapped her on the shoulder.
"I have the same battle with my daughter," the second mom confided. "I try to get her to eat right, but she won't listen. She's overweight and unhappy, and I don't know what to do."
As a wave of understanding passed between them, they fell into an impassioned discussion of the joys and perils (mostly perils) of raising teen daughters in a culture adrift in empty calories, shameless sexuality, and chronic stress. Their eagerness to communicate made me realize how isolated moms can feel when things go haywire at home. I know from my medical practice how widespread their concerns are, but these two connected as if they were the only moms on earth whose daughters were troubled.
They continued to commiserate as the line inched forward, and as the first mom headed toward the parking lot, her parting comment had more than one person in line nodding in agreement. She said, "Things sure weren't like this when we were teens!"
How right she was. I held my tongue but wanted to shout, "Yes, the world is different now! But we moms don't have to abandon our daughters to the craziness of our culture. We can help them grow up healthy and strong with the knowledge and will to make good choices. We're all in this together!"
If your daughter is miserable and hurting, if she is struggling with weight, depression, chronic stress, early puberty, an eating disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), promiscuity, or something else that is bringing her down, don't despair. You are definitely not alone.
Every week desperate moms searching for answers bring their hurting teens to my medical office. I tell them that their daughters are not hopeless cases, and that we can work together to correct the hormonal imbalances and harmful habits that so often underlie their problems. I also tell them it may not be simple, because today's teens face challenges that their moms likely did not.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED
Being a teen girl today is not like it was two or three decades ago. True, some things remain the same. Sweet little girls have always disappeared into sometimes-prickly young women. Teen hormones have always bubbled and stewed, creating a paradox of sweet and sour, push and pull, hold on and let go. Teens today are as apt to run into the same predictable emotional and physical challenges of growing up as their mothers did. But there are more complicating factors now. To name a few:
A pervasive fast-food and convenience culture that promotes overeating and unhealthful foods. The obesity epidemic is well-documented, and teens and youngsters are a big part of the sorry statistics.
A shallow and exploitive pop culture that oversexualizes just about everything, especially teen girls.
A fast-forward society steeped in stress.
A disintegrating family structure in which the kids often get lost in the shuffle.
DID YOU KNOW?
The age of puberty is declining, so it is not unusual for six- and seven-year-old girls to begin developing breasts and sprouting pubic hair.
The use of antidepressant prescriptions for children increased by 50 percent between 1998 and 2002, and the use of such drugs among children grew three- to tenfold between 1987 and 1996. And although FDA warnings in 2004 that antidepressants increase suicidal behavior in some children resulted in a 20 percent drop in U.S. pediatric prescriptions, many doctors continue to prescribe them.
A study of teens in fifteen industrialized countries determined that U.S. teens are the most overweight.
Eating disorders and rates of unipolar depression have soared among adolescent girls. Teen suicide has tripled.
WHAT'S YOUR DAUGHTER'S DAY LIKE, REALLY?
What would it be like to be in your daughter's shoes? How does her typical day compare with your typical day twenty or thirty years ago, when you were a teen? If she is in school and pursuing the usual multitude of activities, and you are working forty hours a week, chances are you don't see her for more than an hour or two a day-and that may be stretching it. So maybe you are in the dark about what she is really thinking and doing and how she spends her time.
An informal questionnaire, included in Appendix C, reveals vast differences between what moms recall about their own lives as teens and what teens today report about their daily lives. Readers are encouraged to photocopy and complete it with their teens. If nothing else, it can generate discussion about how the world has changed. Perhaps it will raise awareness about the importance of family time and slowing down. Maybe it will open the door to talking about some of those tough issues, such as sex and personal responsibilities.
Here's what the questionnaire revealed about the moms and teens who completed it for this book.
WHAT MOMS REMEMBER-THE "GOOD OLD DAYS"
When the moms were teens during the 1970s or '80s, their mothers cooked dinner nearly every evening, and the family spent most dinner hours together. They carried sack lunches to school. Private phone? What's that? Total phone time averaged a half hour per day, and personal computers were uncommon. Moms averaged nine hours of sleep a night as teens. They had regular chores around the house, and most began helping with cooking and cleaning as preteens. They often held part-time jobs but did not have much homework. They spent a lot of time watching television with the family, which, for the majority, included two parents. The social network revolved around the neighborhood, school, and church. They had their first date at around age sixteen and thought that about 5 percent of their peers were sexually active. Moms who were involved in athletics were rarely active in more than two sports, and practices and games were after school, not at night or on weekends. Most walked or rode bikes to get around and were not overly concerned about their weight. Most did not recall feeling constantly overburdened or stressed out.
YOUR DAUGHTER LIVES IN ANOTHER WORLD
Teen responses were about as opposite from their mothers' as you can imagine. Nearly all of the teens say that they are not assigned routine household chores, and not one said that she cooks or helps with dinner on a regular basis. Ninety percent say they spend more than two hours each day on the phone and/or the Internet. The average teen is involved with three or more extracurricular activities at any one time. Sack lunches are rare, and most teens eat in the cafeteria, or, more often, go out for fast food. (Some don't need to go off campus, however, as fast-food chains often contract with public schools.) Family dinners occur once or twice weekly, and many meals are consumed alone or in front of the television. On average, teens estimate that the family spends one uninterrupted hour a week together. All the girls who completed my survey live with their biological mothers, who are often single moms, and about half live with both their biological parents. All of the respondents who were involved in athletics play weekend games and frequently practice into the dinner hour. The teens reported averaging seven hours of sleep a night, two hours less than their mothers as teens.
Most teens who completed my questionnaire believe that about half of their peers are sexually active, and at least one of their personal friends is. The survey shows that teens have less down time and more stimuli coming at them from more directions than did their mothers. Their days are far busier, and they often feel overburdened and stressed.
WHAT WOULD YOUR TEEN SAY?
I am not suggesting that we try to force our teens to live the way we did. The world has changed, and we'll never go back. But certainly we should not forget some of the things we were doing right twenty or thirty years ago. Having downtime nurtures good health-mentally and physically. Teens assuming responsibility around the home prepares them for independence, and helping out is simply the right thing to do. Making time for family supports good mental health, encourages bonding, and gives time to bolster self-esteem in children and teens. Building awareness about how she is spending her time can help your daughter make healthier decisions and reduce her stress load. You may even see her more often! As for moms, seeing the contrast between how life was when they grew up and how life is for their daughters now may spark a reform or two in household management.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
This book is a resource for moms who want to guide their teens toward vibrant health and happiness in a culture that seems to thwart achieving physical, emotional, and spiritual balance. Not every chapter is for every family. The chapters on PCOS and eating disorders, for example, address very specific circumstances that apply to a relatively small percentage of teens. (When your teen is affected, however, those statistics mean zip.)
I would love to believe that every reader would devour every word of every chapter. However, moms (like their daughters) are busier than ever, and you may want to skip right to the chapters that apply to your situation. I strongly recommend, however, that you read Chapters 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, and 13. Each chapter concludes with a "What Moms Can Do Today" list of practical suggestions.
Excerpted from SURVIVING THE TEENAGE HORMONE TAKEOVER by NISHA JACKSON MARY KORBULIC Copyright © 2007 by Nisha Jackson. Excerpted by permission.
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