Mariah, 16, should have grown up in the ‘60’s. Have you ever met a kid who just reeked of that by-gone era: free spirits who want to try everything no matter how restrictive their parents become and who march to a different drum? I often describe these rebels as wild horses cooped up in a corral, kicking at the slats of the fence as they try to escape their enclosure. When allowed to exert their power, they are often leaders who change the world.
Mariah would have fit in well with the hippies at Woodstock with her long blond hair and rebellious attitude, but it’s 2017 and she doesn’t fit the present mold of ‘normal’. She listens to alternative music, loves obscure bands, taught herself to play acoustic guitar that she plays constantly, has dabbled in many types of drugs, wears baggy clothes she gets from thrift stores, has never met a type of brand name clothes she doesn’t abhor, doesn’t care what others think of her, and walks to a different drum beat than her peers. Mariah is judged as being either a freak, retro, Goth, or a druggie, none of which is true; she defies labels.
I saw Mariah in my counseling practice because she had felt depressed the previous six months. She had been engaged in a litany of power struggles with her parents since she was a toddler, resulting in a pattern of parental threats, punishments, and perpetual groundings. It’s difficult for parents to connect with girls like Mariah because they are so different from their expectations. Parents who try to mold these kids into their own vision for what they should be like end up frustrated; these girls are who they are and will fight to the death to retain their independence and identity.
What girls like Mariah need is adults who accept them just the way they are, and who show curiosity about their interests. They also require lots of say-so in their lives and independence. It’s important to value passion where you find it with these girls, even if their interests are out of your comfort zone and not the prescribed path most kids are following these days. Mariah needs boundaries, but these need to be negotiated so that she feels her needs are heard and understood; i.e. stay out of a reactive, authoritarian parenting model.
Spirited trailblazers like warrior Joan of Arc, inventor Margaret Knight, poet Emma Lazarus, abolitionist Harriet Tubman, author Susan Eloise Hinton, agricultural entrepreneur Eliza Lucas Pinckney, inventor Amy Chyao, and composer Alma Deutscher were all young girls or teenagers when they made their mark on the world. Their biographies reveal girls who didn’t fit the mold, were strong-minded, and didn’t succumb to limiting gender or age stereotypes.
That’s also how I see Mariah; an acorn waiting to bloom into an oak tree. Hold the highest possible long-term vision for your ‘hippie-in-residence’, and watch them change the world.