I used to be a teenage girl. Now as an adult who’s trained as a child & adolescent psychiatrist, I talk with teenage girls all day in my Honolulu office. And I love my job. I consider myself lucky to have these smart and courageous, but often pained, girls tell me their innermost thoughts and feelings.
Short of actually being them, or having the ability to read their minds, I think I have a pretty good idea of how many of them think and feel. At least the ones I’ve had the privilege of treating for hours on end. Over 20,000 hours since I first started.
A majority of the girls I treat say people (family, friends, classmates, other teens they’ve met via social media, and/or other adults) “misunderstand” them. And although their situations involve more biologic, familial, and societal complexity than just being misunderstood, I think it is important to try to comprehend exactly how they think and feel before trying to facilitate positive change in their lives.
Their personal stories are of course all confidential. But I’ve seen common themes in their experiences, thought processes, and feelings. And it’s these common themes I am compelled to share with the public for a number of reasons. First, to show how resilient they are in the face of adversity. Also, to reveal how negative and positive life experiences shape their emotional development and self-worth. In addition, I’d like to call attention to the possible impact of nurture on nature. Writing young adult fiction gives me these opportunities in a unique way.
Make no mistake, I do not pretend to know everything about teenage girls. But I’ve worked with enough of them to understand how many of them cope with trauma or stress. How their brains link thoughts and feelings to events, sometimes in ways that aren’t good for them and can lead to self-destructive behavior.
Teenage girls want to be understood. Heard. And if they are in emotional pain, they want to feel better. In my office, I help them gain personal insight with the goals of improving their emotional health and their chances for a happier future. By writing young adult fiction, I hope to reach even more teenage girls and perhaps, though indirectly, help them achieve these goals. I also hope to touch a wider audience of people of all ages, and maybe enlighten them on the inner workings of teenage girls. Because how we interact with teenage girls can mold them, for better or for worse.