by Jay Younts
Your 13 year old daughter, whom you think could gain a few pounds, has just announced to you, “I’m fat.” You are really puzzled so you say,
“No way, you’re fat. Why would you even say that?”
With eyes that show grim determination, she says:
“Mom, you don’t get it. Compared to everyone at school, I’m fat. I need to lose weight. I can’t keep going to school like this. Look at me, I’m all puffy!”
“Sarah, that’s ridiculous! You’re not fat. You’re healthy. Don’t be controlled by such silly ideas. There is nothing wrong with your weight, in fact, I think you could gain some.”
“Ugh! Mom you don’t get it. I knew I shouldn’t have talked to you. Fine, don’t worry about it! I’ll lose the weight by myself!”
Sarah is barreling into puberty. She is taller than several of her friends and, like many girls in their early teens, she is uncertain and uncomfortable with all the changes in her life. She doesn’t like her period. She doesn’t know what to think or feel about the physical changes in her appearance. She just knows she is miserable with her looks in a teen sub-culture obsessed with appearance.
Unknown to her parents, a boy Sarah used to like told her she was hot and started groping her at school one day. Sarah was horrified, unsettled, and ashamed. She is unhappy with who she is. Becoming thin to fit in with the other girls seems the only way to escape all of the uncertainty and fears. She is alone and adrift in the vortex of a cultural whirlpool of image and emotion.
The change from little girl to an emerging woman happens almost overnight. Sarah’s parents knew they needed to help her get ready for the social tsunami of the teenage years, they just thought they had more time.
It is easy and dangerous to focus solely on the physical challenges Sarah is facing. Sarah’s biggest need is to know that she is secure in her relationship with God. Puberty is a time of radical transition. But it is a transition that God is overseeing and bringing about for Sarah’s good. If Sarah can’t grasp this reality, everything else becomes problematic. With each hormonal shift, with each change in her physical appearance, she is becoming what God is making her to be, just as Psalm 139 says He will do. Sarah needs to take refuge in the God who is bringing these changes. There is no need for shame or embarrassment in what God is doing in her life.
But, Sarah is going to have to be lovingly led through this challenging maze. She needs to be understood and be able to talk freely about all of her uncertainties. She needs to be lovingly warned about all of the sexual mess swirling in our culture. She needs to see that her life is not frozen in time, like an embarrassing snapshot. God is making a video where year 13 is just one small, though important, part of what she will become.
Prepare your daughter with a loving verbal video of what God is doing and will do with her life. Use Psalm 139 as your story line. Your daughter is fearfully and wonderfully made. Invest deeply in your relationship with her. Spend as much time as it takes to help her see the wonder of the unique woman God is making her to be.
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Where have you found it either hard or easy to enter into the most significant conversations in life with your teenager?
About the Author:
Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk about Sex and Marriage, and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay lives in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.