Four girls gaggle in the back of our van as I eavesdrop. They discuss Donald Trump, Miley Cyrus, the status of their braces, and length of their earrings. The topics weave between global politics and pop culture, as they offer up bits and pieces of chatter they have absorbed and metabolized at their level. They are 10.
A friend sits with me as we lament the conversations we’re having with our daughters. Calorie intake and thigh size, peer pressure and emotional manipulation. These are not topics we want them to be struggling with, though they are.
I see an Instagram post: “Mother Theresa didn’t walk around talking about the size of her thighs. She had stuff to do.” I call the youngest, the one who will no longer wear shorts to school, and hold up the screen. I desperately want her to embrace her body, but more than that, I want her eyes to be set on something bigger, something better.
In fact, I have a working theory that the antidote to a girl’s obsession with bodies, boys, and besties is a vision for a bigger story.
Oh God, gather them up into the story you are telling to them, through them.
These are my girls. My friends’ girls. We are vigilant, if not nosey. We stalk (a little). We pry in all the right ways. We are parents on a mission to protect and prevent, equip and empower.
What of those without such parents?
A teacher tells me of her 5th grade girls. The ones who talk about the older boys they meet in parks at night. The ones who relate to boys in inappropriate ways. She tells me about the boys, too. The ones who discuss prison food and who will be visiting their dad next visitors day. The ones who smack girls’ butts on playgrounds and then tell the teacher its because girls like it.
My heart breaks a little. They are my daughter’s age.
I teach community members about how human trafficking can happen in cities like ours. I try to explain the basic needs of all kids: love and acceptance. I see heads nod as they connect and identify, so that when I continue, it makes more sense: add to this another vulnerability like financial insecurity, family chaos, absentee fathers, or a sweet talking guy online. Now it’s not a huge leap to imagine exploitation.
Because really, kids just want to believe they are wanted. They want to believe their bodies are acceptable, that boys notice them, and that best friends are loyal. If all their energy is directed toward filling these needs from these people, without an alternate narrative or a bigger story, well is it really that hard to see how easily they are manipulated?
In the absence of parents offering a counter story, or a youth group casting vision for their role in God’s kingdom, and without an entire cultural shift, what in the world are we to do?
How are we going to stop the spiral of our over-sexualized youth and the commercial sexual exploitation of kids?
I read So Sexy, So Soon and learn that this is actually a public health problem and a global phenomenon, not just an American one. My real fear is confirmed: “once something becomes normalized, it becomes the wallpaper of our existence – we don’t see it, we accept it as just the way it is and we are numbed to seeing any ill effects or taking action to change it.”
So let’s consider this a wake-up call. Where are the youth in our lives? Our kids? Nieces? Grandchildren? Neighbors? Sunday school classes? Let’s metabolize the junk in the air with them. Let’s paint a picture of a different narrative and call them to live for something greater. Let’s give them heroes, starting with us. Are we living a bigger story? Are we like Mother Theresa, with stuff to do that lifts our eyes above trite obsessions?
Oh God, gather us up into the story you are telling to us, through us.
Beth Bruno is founder and director of A Face to Reframe, a non-profit committed to preventing human trafficking through arts, training, and community building. She writes about women in ministry, girls becoming women, and exploited women. Her writing has appeared at Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman, InterVarsity’s The Well, and she is a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. She can be found in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and 3 kids or at www.bethbruno.org.
Beth, this is such a call to arms, especially hitting close to home for me–a middle school teacher. “Let’s metabolize the junk in the air with them. Let’s paint a picture of a different narrative and call them to live for something greater. Let’s give them heroes, starting with us.” Thank you for this charge. I enjoy your writing….glad you are here.
Thanks Susan. You have such an influential role as a middle school teacher!
” I have a working theory that the antidote to a girl’s obsession with bodies, boys, and besties is a vision for a bigger story.” Yes! I am with you on that. Your attentive care for “your girls” , as well as your concern and determination to care for other girls as well is inspiring.
Thank you Janet. There is so much to be concerned about, no?
Beth, I love your offering of a reality check of what’s happening in our world of our littles. My first thought was gratitude that mine were raised in a healthier moral time. Then my heart went quickly to my granddaughters. I’m sharing this with my daughter and daughters-in-law as well as all my facebook friends who have young girls in their lives. So important – so timely – so scary – but banded together we can create a community to educate and protect. Thanks so much, Valerie
Yes, most of us have girls in our lives, even if we are not parenting them! Thankful you’re using your influence there!
Dear Beth, thank you for a glimpse into your life with young daughters. Wow. I’m with Valerie’s reply (glad not to be at the helm with my daughters at this season, but aware of my granddaughter’s young lives). Thank you for all that you do to raise awareness in your community and advocate for a larger story than besties, boys and bodies. (I am sickened about thigh size awareness!)
Oh my heart. Yes! This is so very good and necessary. Loving the invitation to metabolize the junk in the air…it still starts with us.
I know those ten year olds in the back of your van, they live at my house too. The fifteen years that separate them from their older sisters have been filled with changes that have stunned me. So young, too early, the worries about their bodies and the size of eveything. I have been grateful for their older siblings and the invitations they have made to the girlies to live something larger. Love that you’ve put it into such good Beth. May we each help change this culture for our girls the ones yet to come.