Recently I was talking to a married couple with four children—three girls and a boy. All of them are in their teens. The mother turned to me and said, "I need your help with something. I am very concerned about the culture and what it is doing to kids, especially our own. My husband and I are doing everything we can to protect them from harmful influences, but it is a struggle just to hold them steady. The most distressing thing is that other parents in our social group are not standing with us, including those in the church. They have essentially given up and apparently have decided to let their kids go with the flow."
This mother continued to describe her difficulties in trying to keep her teenagers from being exposed to unwholesome movies, television shows, and Internet sites. Their children's friends are also part of the problem, because it seems that they are free to do whatever they want without rules discipline, or supervision. She and her husband feel virtually alone in this battle, despite the fact that their children attend Christian schools and are members of a conservative church.
This is precisely the point I have been making. These parents are among millions of others whose children are being carried downstream by the River of Culture. To use another analogy, many concerned moms and dads are in a tug-of-war for the hearts and minds of their kids, and they dare not lose it.
It is a very familiar story, which is why I have described in some detail the forces that are assailing the family today. I doubt if there has been another time in modern history when it has been more challenging to get youngsters through adolescence and into the relative safety of early adulthood. The sexual revolution of the sixties has now become the pop culture of today, although it is no longer as shocking to adults.
Let me return to the comments I made earlier in the book about the turmoil smoldering inside many adolescent girls. Therein lies the key to deciphering some of the behaviors that are otherwise incomprehensible. Specifically, this turbulence is the reason so many teen girls seek to harm themselves in disturbing ways. You've no doubt seen examples of this self-destructive behavior in the teen environment, perhaps by members of your own family. An alarming number of girls harbor deep-seated anger that has turned inward, leading them to starve themselves even to the point of death; secretly binge and purge; take prescription medications and illegal drugs; dull their senses with alcohol; cut and pierce their bodies; permanently ink themselves; engage in things like prostitution, pornography, stripping, violence, bullying, sexual aggression, lewdness, and crudeness; and even attempt suicide, which has spiked in recent years.1 They all have a common thread.
Why would intelligent teens and young adults, mostly girls, behave in ways that are so self-destructive? The answer, in a phrase, is self-hatred. Such individuals are at war with themselves in the dog-eat-dog world of adolescence. It is a vicious environment, creating winners and losers, haves and have-nots, stars and scars, and paralyzing fear. Those who perceive themselves to be worthless often sink into a despair from which they cannot escape without professional help.
The girls who despise themselves usually harbor painful memories of past humiliations inflicted by boys who rejected and taunted them, and by jealous and gossipy girls who ridiculed and harassed them. They are commonly called names that describe embarrassing body characteristics and are made to feel like fools. Some are referred to as "throwaway girls." Consequently, they perceive themselves to be ugly, stupid, unloved, and unlovable. They seethe with hostility toward parents, teachers, and peers, but mostly toward themselves. They look in the mirror with utter disdain, wishing they could die.
We are beginning to understand how this self-hatred originates. First, I must emphasize that it has many causes in individual circumstances, from early physical or emotional abuse to tragic rejection by one or both parents. I can't catalog the various factors in this limited setting, but there is one concern that is increasingly common today. It is early sexual promiscuity, as we have been discussing. It becomes a superhighway to depression.
Anger, as we know, is a by-product of depression. A naive little girl who loses her virginity when she is oh-so-young and then moves on into the hookup culture is vulnerable to numerous hurtful experiences. In a search for love and affirmation, this girl may have initially trusted and tried to please an immature guy whose motives were entirely different from her own. She engaged in the most intimate of relationships in the hope of being cherished forever. It was a false promise. The boy walked away callously when the wham-bam affair was over. If the girl's desire was for love, his was for conquest and a quick thrill. What she called romantic, he called "getting lucky." She was left feeling used and abused, while he bragged about what he took from her. This is why I have said that sexual liberation, as it was originally called, is the biggest joke men have ever played on women. But it isn't funny.
The sad thing is that most schoolgirls don't learn much from their early unpleasant encounters. Perhaps the next guy will be her Prince Charming. Maybe he will return her love. Instead, she moves from bed to bed and soon finds herself pregnant, alone, and facing an angry parent. She may be whisked off to an abortion clinic by a school nurse or by her mother, where she will undergo a procedure that will be remembered, perhaps with regret, for the rest of her life. Or she may consider having a baby for whom she is woefully unprepared. Hopefully the idea of adoption will be suggested to her, but regardless of the decision, what she has been through will have changed her emotionally and physically. Life will be different thereafter. Why wouldn't she be depressed and angry?
I am not talking here about all adolescent females, of course, or even the majority of them. But even if there is only one girl out there who is on this journey, her situation is tragic. I grieve for her and her family.
Book: Bringing Up Girls
By Dr. James Dobson