Years ago my youth minister shared an analogy of two frogs in two different pots of water. One frog is put in a pot of room temperature water and one is placed in a pot of really hot water. The frog in the pot of really hot water jumps out as fast as it can. It is immediately aware of the danger and removes itself from that danger. Not so, the frog in the pot of room temperature water. It is comfortable. It is just right. But then someone slowly turns up the heat. The frog’s surroundings change so gradually it is not aware of the danger of its own environment. In the analogy the frog does not survive. The frog was simply never aware of the danger of the changing water that had once been a place of comfort. As young adults in a quickly changing culture, he shared this analogy to challenge us to know our surroundings. To be aware of different messages and have tools to understand the messages as they came. To know when to engage and when to jump out of the water. We call this discernment.
Recently my husband and I had a “progress report” with our oldest daughter. She started at a new high school this fall and she is in a much bigger “pot” with all kinds of people, ideas, and influences. We asked her questions about how she is doing spiritually, emotionally, socially, and academically. When it came to the social part of the progress report, social media and technology inevitably were a part of the conversation. We reiterated our convictions and why we have them. We asked her for her feedback to make sure she feels heard and understood. What she said really stood out. “I feel like my friends and I are just in this (referring to the world of social media, messaging, etc). We don’t really think about why or if it is okay, we are just in it.” Then she went on to say, “All of my friends need a conversation like this.”
So many young women are in a pot of water with an ever-increasing temperature, often without the ability to recognize the change and many do not have anyone with whom to discuss the rise in temperature. They are just in it. The water they were in as little girls was comfortable. There was more protection and we were able to control the temperature a little bit more. We had more say in what influenced them. But now the temperature is rising while simultaneously their independence is increasing. This has the potential to be a dangerous and harmful combination.
We live in a time in which culture actively seeks to sexualize girls at a younger and younger age. Rather than identity formation taking place through communal virtues such as honesty, integrity, self-sacrifice, and serving others, culture espouses self-promotion, sexual promiscuity, and the seeking of social recognition on a myriad of social platforms as the means to “finding yourself.” Young women live with a constant barrage of communication with hundreds of peers in a virtual world often with no authority or accountability. There is constant comparison and never-ending images teaching our girls from where their identity comes. It does not have to be this way. We can and should control the temperature and there are several ways we can begin to do this.
Young people today need their parents, mentors, teachers and advisors to help them understand the culture, the pot of water they are in. When we argue with them about limitations on social media or question a posted picture, the filter most teens naturally have is simply what they want in the moment. Very little discernment is happening. They make decisions based on immediate gratification rather than what is actually true and good. They have not had enough experiences to develop a discerning spirit and feel the rising temperature. But we can and we should. Anxiety, depression, suicide, other forms of self-harm, and eating disorders are increasing in young women at an alarming rate…more than any other demographic in our country. The water is beginning to boil and our girls cannot sense it…unless we help them to do so.
The first question we should ask ourselves is can we? Do we truly understand what is at risk and when and how to jump out of this hot water? Do we ourselves have discernment? We will not be able to guide other women if we do not take the time to understand ourselves. We need to arm ourselves with the ability to discern the messages. We need to be able to say with loving authority, this is good, this is bad, and these are the limits you need and why. Only after we are able to navigate the culture will we be able walk with someone else and lead the way…maybe even be a part of changing the temperature of the water (the culture) itself. How do we grow in our own ability to discern?
We start with what is true. Morality is not a social construct and beauty and identity are not found in the eyes of the beholder. We do not ultimately decide what is beautiful or worthy. There are things that are good and right and there are things that are wrong and bad. This was decided for us a long time of go. Security and identity are found in a foundational truth that surpasses every click, every pose, every outfit, every bit of gossip, every marketing strategy and every app. Our daughters were given everlasting value the minute they were formed in the womb. They crave this truth, they are made for it and we are called to live this out in front of them every single day. Knowing and then believing the truth begins to prepare a young woman to live in a discerning way. They can learn to filter every post, picture, and like through the ultimate truth that they and their friends have immeasurable value and worthiness. They can be taught to discern what is good, true, and beautiful but only if we do ourselves.
Secondly, we need to seek to understand our cultural pot of water. Below are six books I recommend. These authors have spent years considering the effects of toxic culture for women. The authors come from different perspectives and you may not agree with everything but they are excellent resources that provide both understanding of the culture and tools to navigate the culture with those in our care.
- Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture written by Laura Choate: One of the most comprehensive books I have read on the mixed messages girls receive from culture. Not only does she provide an overview of issues and concerns, Choate provides tools to help you navigate the culture with your daughter.
- American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales: I have written about this one before. Be prepared to have to put it down, process what you have just read, and pick it up again. Sales wrote this book after interviewing hundreds of teenagers across the country. She goes in depth about how social media has normalized extreme sexual behavior and asserts teenagers are not developing basic communication skills.
- iGen by Jean M Twenge: The cover of the book speaks for itself: “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”
- Reviving Ophelia, Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, MD. Published in 1994, this is a prophetic book of warning before the onslaught of social media. As a therapist she became concerned that girls were “coming of age in a media-saturated culture preoccupied with unrealistic idea of beauty and images of dehumanized sex…”
**5. LOVE THY BODY by Nancy Pearcey, Currently, this is my favorite theological book. It is a deep read on how the physical body, sexuality, and our spirit/mind should function together. The book critiques culture’s attempt to separate our physical body from the soul/mind. Fascinating. It provides a lot of clarity into the changing temperature/history of our bodies.
- The Body Project, by Joan Brumberg, PhD., This is a thorough consideration of how women in the West have historically understood their body. It is a very compelling read and will challenge your notion of how our bodies, their beauty and their sexuality should function.
These books have challenged me to step back from just “being in it,” as my daughter said during our progress report conversation. They have helped me develop convictions and set boundaries with healthy flourishing in mind. They have also equipped me to speak truth and life into my daughter and other women I care about. The pot of water is changing and it is dangerous. However, we have the tools in front of us to develop a lens of discernment that can be shared with others. Knowledge, wisdom, and discernment are first steps. Community, continual conversations, and intentional (and often unpopular) choices follow. Decide to read one of the books listed above, maybe even ask some other women to read them with you. Allow information to be a means of transformation and take intentional steps to change the temperature of the pot of water you and your daughter find yourself in. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you!