In my last entry, I spoke briefly about the trend that has developed in the world which encourages girls to shed their modesty and innocence as they “come of age.” We looked at the influence that certain media icons have over our teenage girls and where danger is in allowing them to define themselves by what is seen on the outside. God looks into the heart and each child of God, man or woman, is special because they are created in His image with a purpose designed for their lives.
This time, I would like for us to look at what we can do to help our young women to see themselves as God sees them- as God’s Princesses.
Much of what we do as human beings is habit. The paths we take, the food we eat, the things we say, etc. The author, Henry David Thoreau embarked on his famous excursion to live simply in an effort to break with conformity and habit. But at the end of his experiment of living in the woods, he lamented that even he had fallen into habit and conformity, though a different type, as noted by the path he had worn in the ground leading from the cabin to the lake. Habits drive a great deal of what we do and thus are hard to break. Studies have shown that it takes 21 days of doing a thing consistently before it becomes a habit; before it is adopted as a natural way of doing things. This is why diets often fail along with quitting smoking- they are lifestyle changes that have to be made over the long haul.
Changing habits in the household and around teenage girls can help shape their image of themselves. Often, we don’t even know that we are doing something that is perceived in a certain light because to us, it is a natural thing to do- it is a habit. In order to change a habit or to adjust our social issues, we must take a hard look at ourselves and be willing to be brutally honest about what we do. It has come to my attention that I think out loud- this may be the reason I am constantly prying my foot from my mouth. Examining yourself with the aid of the Holy Spirit is helpful for adjusting how you relate and the impressions you send. We are going to look at parents individually and then at them as a unit.
First, let’s look at mothers. Last time, I talked about the influence that media idols have on teenage girls and how destructive the quiet influence can be. However, moms might be encouraging this view of self without even realizing it, because they too have fallen victim to it. They too have failed to see themselves as God’s Princesses. Several years ago, I saw a news feature about a 9 or 10 year old girl that was already developing an eating disorder. She was obsessed with the way that she was seen. There was no history of mental illness in the family, no negative influence from outside sources (I believe her access to media images was limited), and no other noticeable contributing factor- except mom. From the outside looking in, the mother looked to be a phenomenal mother and in all honesty she was. However, there was one area that looked to be affecting the little girl’s image of herself. The mother was constantly dieting; she was constantly talking about not being able to eat certain things; she was obsessed with her own looks and spent a great deal of time in front of the mirror. And because she was so concerned with her own image, that concern was picked up at a very young age by her daughter.
Sometimes the smallest comments, the seemingly most insignificant words can affect how a girl sees herself. If mom spends time picking apart herself, she will teach her little girl to do the same. If mom is concerned with keeping up a certain image, she is teaching her daughter to do the same. One of the most important things that moms can do for their daughters is to realize that they are God’s Princesses too- they are special because God loves them. Moms must model for their daughter’s self-respect and Godly self-image. Don’t give in to the fallacy that you have no influence over them. Teach them that they are beautiful in God’s eyes and reinforce that with your own view of yourself.
Now, to fathers. Men, think on this thought- what was Adam’s first mistake in the garden (and don’t say, “listening to his wife”)? “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6) Notice that Adam was standing there the whole time! He listened to the serpent, he listened to his wife struggle to remember God’s word accurately, he stood by and watched her sin then participated in her sin- all while remaining silent. His family was about to fall apart and he remained silent. Men you must be silent no more! You must not be silent with your daughters! Your words can have a tremendous impact on how God’s princesses see themselves.
The first male that your little girls will ever crave attention from is you. They will forever associate the attention they get from men with you. I recently heard the story of 13 year old girl who was going on a “date” with another 13 year old whose father was going to be the chaperone and driver for the evening. The father was shocked to see this 13 year girl come out of her house with the most revealing clothes he had ever seen on a teenager- for the sake of decency, I will not describe it. And what was worse, she went right by her own father and told him she would be back later. When she got into the car with the boy and his father, she began to weep. She then told them that she had worn those clothes to see if her father cared enough about her to stop her from leaving- he didn’t. When they arrived at their destination, she went into the restroom and changed into more appropriate clothing.
Little girls crave their daddy’s attention, even into the teenage years. It is the father who teaches his girls what type of attention is good and what type is bad. His role is to teach God’s Princesses what it is that she should look for in a man and what type of man she should want as husband and father to her own children. While reading Bringing Up Girls, by Dr. James Dobson (a book I highly recommend, ESPECIALLY FOR FATHERS!) he included a discussion that had taken place some time ago with about 20 young Christian females. They were permitted to talk about anything that was on their minds and the topic turned immediately to fathers. Some had great fathers- some not so great. One story was told by a young woman who had struggled with weight and self image issues for most of her life. She recalled how her father used to tease her by pinching her baby fat as a teenager and calling her things like “chubby.” He meant it as a joke of course, but it hurt all the same. For years this girl struggled with how she saw herself as a result of this insensitive picking.
But some of the women had the opposite experience. They had great fathers who courted these girls. They talked with them all the time and affirmed the best qualities in them, sharing the love that God had for them. They took their daughters out on dates, they encouraged them, and they didn’t leave the difficult stuff for the moms. When the girls hit puberty, they didn’t back away; they didn’t stop hugging them because they now saw them as sexual beings that made them just a little uncomfortable. They didn’t stop teaching them what to expect from a man. They didn’t keep silent. Men, you shape the way your little girls see other men.
Finally, as a couple, the husband and wife must model what Godly love is for their girls. How will a teenager know what a relationship is supposed to look like if they don’t see it in action? This is something that hits home for Sarah and I. Both of us come from divorced homes. And like most divorces, the issues started long before the divorce came. We didn’t have couples with strong relationships in our lives that we could learn from. Our first year of marriage was especially rough because we hadn’t seen how to do it right. And while we have grown close and worked through a lot of those issues by seeking out mentors, people that had done it right, I find myself asking, “How much better would it have been if I had had someone model Godly, Christian marriage?”
Parents, you must show your love for each other constantly in front of your kids- and if the love has faded, find a way to get it back. This is something you can’t fake. They need to see your relationship as a partnership; they must also see it as something that you enjoy. They pick up on so much more than you think.
As a parent, you might be tempted to think that your actions have little impact on your kids. As someone who has spent a lot of time with teenagers away from their parents, I can tell you the actions of parents affect them.
Girls are God’s Princesses. He loves them, He cares for them, and He has a plan for how they should see themselves in light of Him. We are stewards of these Princesses for a time. To keep with the princess model, we are like Sebastian in the Little Mermaid. We are the crabby little creature (hopefully not all the time) that is responsible for helping the princess to realize who she is in light of her Father and to point them to a good Prince. It is our responsibility to steward these girls into the people that God wants them to be. It is an awesome responsibility and one which we must not take lightly. And if we refuse to do it, someone else will come along with a different model that they want for our kids- one that holds up Britney, Christina, Lindsey, and Miley as the image to follow.