Tips for Teen Girls from GIRLOLOGY: Hang Ups, Hook Ups & Holding Out
By Melisa Holmes, M.D. and Trish Hutchison, M.D.
As a teen, life can get pretty sticky sometimes. Solving problems and figuring out how to deal with new experiences is something that happens almost every day. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you wish you could have a "do-over." Although your friends are great for some types of advice, the bigger issues deserve input from a trusted adult who can give you that "been-there-know-about-that" guidance. It may save you some embarrassment (or worse!) as you tackle the tough stuff.
Parents should be your first choice, but sometimes, it's easier to talk to other adults you trust. You might find great help from another relative or from a teacher, coach, faith leader, counselor, nurse or doctor. Most of these professionals have experience helping teens get through tough times, and they also enjoy celebrating victories with you. As doctors who take care of lots of teens, we've put together some advice on things we get asked about a lot. Most of it has to do with guys, sex, health and regret. Read on. Hopefully, there's something here that will help you!
When it comes to guys, you need to know that they don't always have the same feelings in the "romance" department as girls do. The popular guys aren't always the nicest guys, and the players won't last long in a relationship. Those types often create a lot of heart ache for nice girls. Our advice: get to know the nice guys. When you place too much emphasis on "what" you are dating (hottie, jock, rocker, popular guy) or just how he looks, you'll find yourself developing bad relationship habits that can stick with you for a long time. Instead, check out who he really is by taking the time to learn more about him. Does he have goals? A sense of humor? A passion for animals? Getting to know him will help you find a great guy or recognize a really shallow one that's not worth your time.
It's also important to realize that even if you win your crush, he probably won't be your crush forever. You're young and you're supposed to be learning about what you like and don't like in relationships. So remember that there's something to learn from everybody you go out with - even when it's ending and even though it hurts. If you find yourself on the dropped end of a break up, just remember that you can't change someone's feelings for you, no matter how much you cry, grovel or beg. If it's over, don't turn it into a big drama. Let it end as nicely as you can, and you'll preserve your dignity and respect.
Where there are guys and going out, there is usually something sexual in the air, from hand holding and first kisses to much heavier stuff. How far is too far? How will you say no without losing him as a bf? If you're going out with someone, it's time to start answering these questions for yourself. Whether you want it to be or not, sex is a big deal because it can have lifelong consequences. The possibility of something great like creating a new life - or of something horrible like getting an infection - make it nearly impossible to experience sex as something purely physical with no "emotional" strings attached. If you go farther than you want, your emotions are usually what suffer the most. But we know it's not easy! It's normal to think about sex and have sexual desires, but learning to manage your feelings in a safe and responsible way is really important. Think about your future goals and what you value, and then decide how far you feel comfortable going when it comes to sexual stuff. For many girls, kissing and hugging is great, and going farther than that just causes stress. Set your boundaries now, and you'll be more likely to stick to them rather than just "letting things happen" when you didn't really want to.
Speaking of sex, don't let your girlfriends or guy friends make you feel like you're the only one not "doing it." No matter what you may hear, most high school teens are holding out. In fact, more and more teens today are deciding that sex is just too stressful and risky. Some have had sex before, but decided to stop and wait until they're older before becoming sexually involved again. Some have never had sex because they've just made that decision from the start. Either way, waiting is a wise choice that will let you enjoy your teen years without the worries and responsibilities related to sex.
Another area you need to think about now that you're getting older, is your own health. Taking care of your body and emotions will make life easier and set the stage for a healthier future. Understanding what's normal with respect to body weight, looks, and behaviors is important. Many girls think they need to look and act like the girls they see in the media. Guess what? Those images and scenarios are totally contrived and edited. You have to remember that normal is not what you see in ads and on TV; it's more like what you see around your school cafeteria. When you get mixed up about what is normal, lose sight of reality, and forget about your strengths, you inevitably start to feel bad about yourself. There's no easy answer, but you can start to pull away from the negative messages by respecting yourself, focusing on what you like about your body, and appreciating the amazing things your body can do.
Confidence is great for your mental health, but being over-confident (or under-aware) can really backfire- especially when it comes to sexual behaviors. Don't be so confident (or clueless) that you fool yourself into thinking bad stuff can't happen to you. Unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases affect teens more than any other age group. If you're having sex, get serious about birth control, preventing infections, taking care of your body, and getting tested regularly. And if getting tested scares you because you're afraid your parents might find out, it can help to know that confidentiality is a very important part of your relationship with your doctor. If you can't be honest with your doctor because you fear your parents will know everything you discuss, your doctor can't take care of you and give you the advice and information you need. As a teen, it's the perfect time to get your mom (or another trusted adult) to help you find a doctor of your own with whom you feel comfortable discussing private stuff.
Lastly, the teen years almost always involve some mistakes and regret. It's part of how we learn. You can be a smarter teen and make fewer mistakes if you think about things ahead of time. For instance, one of the areas where lots of teens "mess up" has to do with explicit or incriminating pictures, video, or even audio recordings that get into the wrong hands. And you may not even know you were recorded! It may feel exciting to do risky things in front of your friends, but don't forget that anything you do can be recorded, and you never know where or when it might show up again! Remember that everything that is digitally created (using cell phones, cameras, video, and even e-mails, voice mails, and text messages) is recordable, reproducible, and positively permanent!
Another area where teens can make serious mistakes has to do with alcohol and drugs. Figure it out now. You have to be smart about alcohol and drug use. Experimentation is common, but so are alcohol related accidents and death. Is it worth the risks? Know how to say no. Know what these substances do and what they don't do. For starters, they don't improve your life (not even your sex life). Ever.
Finally, the best thing you can learn from mistakes is how to avoid them in the future. Mistakes happen, just make sure you learn from them. Every teen does things they probably shouldn't or wish they hadn't, but the smartest ones use their mistakes to learn what NOT to do in the future. Learning from mistakes is a great way to prove your maturity. If you make a mistake, decide now how you'll handle things differently if you're faced with a similar challenge in the future.
The teen years are an exciting time that can be filled with new independence, increasing maturity, and lots of crazy fun. Thinking things through before you get involved can help you recognize where you might want to draw the line or help motivate you to go for it! An adult you trust is a great resource for helping you consider all the options and their consequences or rewards. If you're smart about the choices you make, and you learn from the wrong choices, then you'll be able to minimize the stickiness and have more fun!
For more tips get Girlology.