In our culture at a time when very little is sacred, girls are making a personality adaptation that protects them. Our girls are getting crustier.
Here is a conversation I couldn’t help but hear recently. It was between several girls in a clothing store dressing room, which happened to be right next to mine.
Girl 1: Oh my God, look at this text he just sent me.
Girl 2: What a douche I can’t f#$&ing believe him. He thinks you’re a dumb slut, you know?
Girl 3 to Girl 1: You are a dumb slut. (Laughter) Well, actually, you’re a smart slut. You’re a f*&$ing genius in Calculus and I personally hate your guts for that.
Girl 1: Bitch please! I work hard for those A’s.
Girl 2: Give me your phone and I’m gonna tell him to piss off and die. Stupid, douche-y f*&%-tard, talking to you like that.
Girl 1: Lucky for me, I don’t give a sh&#... (Much more laughter.)
Of course, the liberal use of swear words is not surprising. In fact, nothing in this conversation surprised me. I’ve been noting a shift in teen girls for the past five years.
My 18-year-old daughter and her friend liked my concept for this blog post (though they weren’t fans of the word “crusty." Failing to produce an adequate substitute, I’m going with crusty). They agreed that they and their peers have become increasingly irreverent about many things — especially dating, love, and commitment.
“Mom, did you just use the word ‘dating’? Kids don’t date, they ‘hook up’. The girlfriend-boyfriend scenario is rare.”
Again, no surprise to me. A teen client of mine recently spent a session grieving her first sexual encounter. After texting the boy, “So what are you thinking about what this means," he responded, “Not much more than u r hot. Hit me up 2nite after the game.”
My college-age clients come home for summer break reporting, sometimes lamenting, that kids hook up (which can mean anything from making out to having sex) but don’t date or have substantial relationships involving trust, fidelity, or commitment.
It is important to note that teen girls and young women attending therapy are usually very high functioning, intelligent, and reflective. They come more because they seek to explore their experience than because they have “pathology” that incapacitates them. Rather than the lost lambs, they are often the cream of our culture’s youth.
How do young women handle the cultural shift that replaces building relationships with “hit it and quit it” sexual encounters? Here’s where the adaptation comes in.
Many of us learned about adaptation through the story of the peppered moth. Just as the soot from coal-fired factories blackened trees in 19th-century England and prompted peppered moths to trade their light-colored wings for all-black, 20th century young women are making an adaptation of their own.
“We don’t want to feel stupid and vulnerable like the bright eyed, bushy tailed women you see in old movies," one young woman explained to me. “We need to be ‘crusty’, as you say, in order to keep moving. We know things aren’t going to be easy for us. We know lots of divorced, out of work, depressed adults who are struggling. It’s kind of like: be tough or be crushed. We’re not necessarily pessimistic but we have to be realistic.”
How can parents and loving adults support the young women in our lives? I think the best thing we can do is acknowledge the bigger picture they see and appreciate how it looks and feels to them. They are growing up in a different world than we did and navigate varied challenges and stressors. Helping them talk about it and resonating with them as they share helps them feel less lonely and frustrated.
We can offer warm, safe, consistent relationships with the young women in our lives that soothe them. We can hold optimism for them when they can’t quite hold it for themselves. We can exude love and kindness creating the safety they need to expose their inner world of hopes and dreams and all that they treasure and protect, beneath the crust.
Lucie Hemmen, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist based in Santa Cruz, CA who specializes in teens. She is also the author of Parenting a Teen Girl: A Crash Course on Conflict, Communication & Connection With Your Teenage Daughter. You can read more of her blogs about parenting teen girls on her website: www.luciephd.com/blog