It was a grandmother who convinced me finally of the importance of getting inside the mind of a 14-year old girl. With two young daughters, my attention had been sparked by comments I’d heard from teens and parents, and studies showing that being 14 could be as difficult a stage as the “terrible twos’’. So when I was asked about the content of my next book, Being 14 came to mind. “You can have my granddaughter,’’ the elderly woman interjected from the back of the room. “She was a darling at 13, and I’d like to have her back at 15 – but while she’s 14, she’s yours!’ Later, she told me how the family’s ‘golden girl’ had turned into an ‘evil princess’, back-chatting her parents, locking herself in her room, and pulling out of her music lessons. Her parents were lost and didn’t know what to do.
The girls are lost too. After speaking to almost 200 of them, along with dozens of successful school principals, teachers, counselors, police, parents and more, it is clear that being 14 is a crucial stage that can alter a teen girl’s trajectory. But they are not evil. They are not uncaring. They are not deliberately provoking us. They are caught in a big whirlpool of emotions, where anxiety and self-image umbrella their day, and friendship groups rule their moods. With too little sleep, too many activities and too much screen time, they are exhausted and emotional. They are struggling to talk to us, their parents, fearing they cannot live up to our expectations - whether that’s entry into an extension class or the school netball team.
In Being 14, our young teen girls bare their souls. You might find your niece in one of the comments, or your next door neighbour, your granddaughter, or even your own daughter. Being 14 tells us what she wants us to know. And her hope, as these girls articulated over and over again, is that we will stop. And listen.