Recipetips’ Deborah Farmer Kris reflects on the benefits of listening to words and truths that teenage girls, their families, and their friends often say to help them better understand feelings and fears, as well as their limits and their wish to move beyond.

It is easy to dismiss the girls and women in our lives who talk about how anxious and scared they are, particularly in the last few months of adolescence, or how they want to either give up or escape from their behavior. What we do not know about the girls in our lives who talk about their fears and how they are communicating them to us is that there are valuable opportunities to listen. Listen. Let them tell you what is happening. Allow them to ask questions and how it feels to them when they are upset or just nervous.

Many young women blame themselves when they feel upset, and I’ve even known one who blamed the teacher for raising her hand during a lecture on fear and fear. Or they tell me about how friends threaten to leave them if they don’t do what they want or say the right thing. Or they tell me they just want to stay up all night because they’re scared of getting into trouble.

Don’t dismiss their words. Not only is that not helpful to them, it’s completely backwards. “Worrying about what other people think of you is the ultimate form of social abuse. It paralyzes you from being able to solve a problem, or to make a decision. It’s self-pitying to tell yourself things about yourself that you know to be untrue and self-critical.” – Dr. John Gottman

If you are not listening, why are you feeling the way you do? Just because a girl is talking about how she’s always anxious, you might think, “Wow, they must just be acting really, really anxious. I wouldn’t be so uptight. So they must be overreacting. No wonder I can’t sleep!”

This is the perfect example of how to tell someone to “calm down.” What the girl is actually trying to communicate to you is that she is nervous and she doesn’t want to overreact. Once you have met her reality with the idea that she’s simply anxious and is attempting to tell you so, you will change and shift your thinking. You won’t think that it is okay for her to be anxious. And that shift will help her free up a part of her nervous system that may have been hurting her brain. Her next step will be to simply put that nervous system to work – going from nervous to calm, from hot to cool, from anxious to able to make good decisions.

Just listen. We often want to control the women in our lives, and so when they tell us they are anxious or scared, we might assume it is because they can’t “control” themselves. But their anxiety is their body’s attempt to tell us that they need help. Tell them to relax. Ask them to tell you their name and their location so that you can talk to them on the phone. You can ask them about their plans for the next few days, what is really on their mind, and the best way to help them feel safe. Also, talk to them about how they can support each other. And if you are worried about them, call them and ask how they are feeling. Ask them if they are safe. Make sure they know that you care about them. If you can tell them that you believe in them, they will be more motivated to keep doing what is right for themselves.

It is through listening to women, that you will actually learn something about them. You may realize how much more compassion you will be able to show to women and how much more compassion you will be able to give women in the future. The girls and women around you may be better able to understand what it is like to be them.

Deborah Farmer Kris is a writer, speaker, and teacher at The World of Distress Medicine at The Washington Adventist University. She regularly gives public presentations on the role of mental health in the lives of young people.

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