The Paradox of Teenage Girls: Are They 21 or 12 or Just Confused Teens?

By Kate Roberts Posted January 03, 2014 under Guest Authors

It’s not new information that teenage girls want to be older than they are. What is new is that in their race to grow up, they are thwarting their personal development. I have heard hundreds of parents say, “My teen is growing up so fast today.” In reality, teenage girls are not growing up. They are not taking the time to grow up. In today’s culture, teens would rather obsess about celebrity tweets and clothes than live their own lives and actually engage in their own adolescent development.

Teen fascination with social media apps, celebrity stars and reality TV seduces them into believing that they are all grown up when they haven’t achieved the typical developmental milestones of teenage years. Often when I encounter a teen girl my thought is, “Wow, how can she appear so grown up and yet be so clueless?”

As adults, moms, dads and consumers, we have to open our eyes and see the mirage in front of us. Although they look like young women, teenage girls today are more like 12-year-old preteens on the inside. These are little girls who need our guidance and oversight. All the tweeting, Facebook friends, Instagram and Snapchat photos won’t make them adults. In fact, the fast paced world of technology and instant gratification is a large part of what’s keeping them stuck. Human beings cannot successfully progress if they skip stages of development. There is no such thing as bypassing a development stage. Appearing like an adult doesn’t make you one.

We all pay the consequences when our children don’t progress forward. Adults need to demand that teens act like teens, which means following parental rules, sleeping at night instead of cyber surfing, getting a job, doing chores and being accountable. This behavior is not nerdy, slow and boring; it’s actually mature and closer to adult behavior than staying up all night tweeting. Teens need to be influenced more by the values of the adults raising them than by the media culture in which they are being raised.

Adults, let’s get to work. Here’s what teens need:

Social and emotional development. The ages of 14 – 18 are crucial for social and emotional development. As mundane as it seems, teens have to go through adolescence.

Limits. Teens need moms and dads to limit technology. Let’s be real; living in the virtual world thwarts development and reverses, instead of develops, social skills.

Understanding. Teens have more access, more exposure and are more influenced by advertising than previous generations. Despite this, their brains do not develop any faster. Parents need to help teens work through their mistakes and consequences by having an open mind and avoiding negativity. Mistakes in judgment can serve as life-long lessons when handled properly.

Consistent expectations. Teens want freedom. Responsibility is the price of freedom, no exceptions.

Privacy.  Privacy is an important part of independence, but a perquisite to privacy is trust.

Appropriate monitoring. Don't micromanage a teen that doesn't need it and don't under-monitor one that does. Teens are individuals and parents need to trust their gut and recognize and respond to warning signs. In general, parents should have random access to any technology used, no matter how safe and trustworthy a child appears.

Open lines of communication about drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere. Don’t fool yourselves. There is peer pressure and acceptance of it amongst even higher functioning peer groups. Educate your child and keep dialogue open. Your message has to be you don't condone it, and if and when they find themselves involved with it, you are a resource and someone who will help.

Appropriate reaction and response. If you're overly strict about the consequences of any of the things that teens might be tempted to experiment with, they won't come forward and talk to you. The outcome is that they will be left on their own and more isolated from help. They lack emotional maturity to see other options. They won't learn to recover from their mistakes and you'll be angry because you feel shut down and shut out.

Expect teen challenges and accept that they're not a reflection of what kind of parent you are. They are not personal; rather, they are part of the developmental milestones that your teenager has to go through to get to adulthood.

The fact of the matter is that teenage girls are lagging behind even as appear to be speeding by us. We need them to log off their social media apps and actively participate in their youth. They need to be present enough to experience adolescence and develop the skills that will allow them to grow into responsible, caring and independent adults.

For more than 25 years, Dr. Kate Roberts has helped parents navigate through the ever-evolving world of parenting. As a licensed psychologist, family therapist and couples counselor, and mother of two, Dr. Kate offers a unique and highly qualified perspective in her practice, in the media and in her blog. Currently Dr. Kate works coaching children and families in her private practice outside of Boston. In addition, she is an active consultant to school districts throughout Massachusetts. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.