It is normal for a teenage girl to become absorbed with her own image. It is natural for her to turn to a mirror to check her looks. Often! She is looking for herself.
So many of the changes in adolescense are physical and they happen so fast – no wonder our teenagers check the mirror with such frequency.
Am I still me?
Who am I?
Who could I be?
Who am I becoming?
The teenage years are a time for being ego-centric, focussed on self, working out self-hood. A teenager can become extremely absorbed in their appearance as they engage in the work of finding out who they are. It is right that they do. However much those around them may struggle with this self-centredness, it is essential in a teenager’s quest for establishing who they are.
The mistake that teenagers make, because they are so foccused on how they appear, is that they imagine that everyone else is noticing them also. They are looking at themselves and they imagine that everyone else is looking at them too. Except we’re all too caught up in our own lives! They often do not realise this though, hence their heightened self-consciousness.
How she looks becomes inextricably linked in the girl’s mind with who she is. No wonder teenagers become so concerned about what they look like. Not only are they rapidly changing physically, and they are immersed in a culture that idealises looks, but they also imagine that everyone else is looking at them. This intense self- consciousness is natural, often painful, but an important part of growing up.
For this reason a girl’s self-consciousness needs not to be ridiculed, minimised, or dismissed. For her, at this stage in her life, it is very real. And very important.
However, as her mother you can have a positive role to play in this process.
You are the mirror. So are her friends.
You can help your daughter to see herself by telling her how you see her.
Pause for a moment and consider how many times you tell her what she is doing wrong, how she is failing, how she is falling short of your ideal. Is this the mirror you really want to be holding up to her?
No wonder she sometimes prefers the mirror that her friends present to her.
Be mindful of your praise too – children are highly attuned to the meaningless compliments dished out automatically by adults: “That’s brilliant.” “You’re so helpful.” “What a star girl!” Find ways of giving your daughter information about herself that is useful and specific to her: “You really perservered with that, and now you’ve ended up with a really thorough piece of work.” “You’ve got a knack with technology, thank you for sorting out my computer.” “You really helped your little sister when you listened to her problem; you’re good with younger children.”
Be a true mirror. Be honest with yourself about your motivations for praising your daughter – are you sure you are not subtly trying to manipulate her behaviour? Be cautious too; remember the weight that any comment from you has on her (even if she would pretend otherwise).
So next time you see her checking herself in the mirror, smile at her.