Last week I went with the girls from my congregation to our annual Girls Camp. I was in charge of our small band of 22 girls (accompanied by other super-helpful moms) in a camp of a over 200 girls -- ranging in ages from 12-18. Unlike past years of air conditioned cabins, this year we were really roughing it. The locale was a real-life Girl Scout camp with canvas tents on wooden platforms, a lake for canoeing, and a giant pool to ease the Texas summer heat.
I learned a ton of things during my stay at Girls Camp. Some of these relate only to my own person, like . . . I can, if forced, live without air conditioning. And, if I was forced to live without airconditioning for an extended period of time, I'd cut my hair boy short. One thing I already knew about myself is that without climate control, a blow dryer, straightener, and really, good hair product, my hair is a giant, frizzy ball of curls. It looks REAL bad.
But, no one comes to this site to hear of my hair woes (and they are lengthy and semi-tragic). What I can tell you is a few of my observances of the inner-working of the GIRL in a social setting. I watched the speciman, THE GIRL, very carefully while at camp. She's not so mysterious as some might think.
Here's what I know:
- Girls are not wimpy. Some of the tents were CRAWLING with bugs. It was in the mid-nineties every day with uber-high humidity. We were sweaty and nasty every second, except for 5 minutes after you showered (before you started sweating again). We used stinky latrines. We even hauled our own firewood one night. And there was very little complaining -- just the occasional "Boy is it hot!" I tried my best to point out how exceptionally strong and tolerant they were. "You girls don't even need air conditioning!" Or "You found enough firewood for two HUGE fires!" And they would act kind of surprised. Like, hey, yeah, I did that.
- What you see on the outside of a adolescent/teenage girl may have absolutely no correlation to what's happening on the inside of that girl. They are illusive creatures. Finding out what's on the inside can be tricky and mostly requires your presence. I don't think I quite became anyone's confidant, but I was privy to the secret crushes of a number of the girls. I just waited quietly. Joked with them a bit. They really wanted to tell.
- The real talking happens late at night. I've read any number of places that teenagers often will only open up late at night -- that you have to place yourself at the intersection of their comings and goings to get a bead on them. I've been pretty lucky so far in that my girls tell me a ton of stuff at any time of the day (except early morning). But these girls at camp? They really came out of their shell sometime after 10:30 PM.
- Each girl handles social situations a bit differently, and that's okay. Some of the girls were boisterous, some were funny, some were quirky, some were quiet, some were observant. Some were attention-seeking, and we tried to meet that need. But mostly, left to their own devices, the girls interacted without much drama or unhappiness. I did see a number of acts of kindness -- a girl waited for another who was lagging behind, someone left a group to go on an errand with one who was a little lonely. There were plenty of examples of plain, old human kindness. Sometimes girls get a bad rap for cattiness. But there was plenty of compassion and consideration as well.
- Some girls really needed a friend. Towards the end I saw girls wishing they were included in certain groups. Other girls wanted to claim a best friend for their very own. What it really boils down to is wanting to belong. Shoot, we all want that. I don't have a magic bullet for this one. (If I did I'd definitely have been invited to be on an Oprah special.) But here's what I say to my girls when they are in a difficult "friend" situation:
Two things -- One. Do your best to truly like people. Admittedly, this can be really hard -- especially when folks are being mean. However, most of the time, when my girls say they don't like someone . . . it's because they think that person doesn't like them. On the flip side, I've also heard them say things like this, "Yeah, that girl can be grouchy, but she thinks I'm really funny so I like her!" It's a simple rule: people like people who like them. Stitch that on a pillow.
And second, I tell my girls to work on understanding what it means to be a friend. And with that, figure out who your real friends are. Without doubt, this takes time and experience to sort through. And I know (I KNOW) this can be painful, and lonely, and downright discouraging. I tell my girls that a good friend rejoices in her friends' successes and mourns their disappointments. A good friend listens. A good friend lets the unimportant stuff slide. I could go on. And, by no means do I have this topic sewn up. I'm still working on it myself. But I do think modeling straightforward, honest friendship is essential. Also, learning to say "I'm sorry" -- those two words can heal a boat-load of hurt.
All in all I was blown away by my 22 girls. They are smart, responsible, chipper, and ardent. They are kind and want to do good. Yes, they are young and sometimes lose sight of the important things, but this upcoming generation? They are doing just fine.