Empowering Teen Girls: An Insider Shares What She’s Learned from Young Women with guest Chelsey Goodan

About this Episode

Join Dr. Amy and Sandy for this insightful episode of the Brainy Moms podcast as activist and author Chelsey Goodan shares what she’s learned from years of mentoring teen girls. Based on conversations that laid the foundation for her new book, “UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls,” this episode delves into the challenges, feelings, and wisdom of young women. From social media and unrealistic beauty standards to the end of “mean girls” and what they actually want from their parents, Chelsey shares real stories, feedback, and unique perspectives from years of tutoring, mentoring, and listening to what teen girls think, feel, and want to see change. Tune in to learn more about how this young but wise cohort is changing perceptions, demanding change, and creating a better future for the girls that come after them.

About Chelsey Goodan

Chelsey has been an academic tutor and mentor for 16 years, with a particular emphasis on the empowerment of teenage girls. She speaks regularly to audiences about gender justice, conducts workshops, and coaches parents on how to better understand and connect with their daughters. She is the mentorship director of DemocraShe, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring and empowering female-identifying high school students to become future elected leaders and founder of The Activist Cartel, where she guided an influential, nationwide subscriber base to take political and social action for gender and racial equity. As an activist, she advises public figures, galvanizes volunteers, and organizes large-scale events for national nonprofits, while also serving on the board of A Call to Men, which is working to end gender-based violence. Her passion to explore humanity’s potential for authenticity, liberation, and empowerment permeates all of her work. She is the author of the  book,  “UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls”.

Connect with Chelsey Goodan

Website: www.ChelseyGoodan.com

Instagram: @ChelseyGoodan

Twitter/X: @ChelseyGoodan

TikTok: @ChelseyGoodan

LinkedIn: Chelsey-Goodan-1a533b289

Link to her book:UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls

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Read the transcript for this episode:

DR. AMY: Hi, smart moms and dads. Welcome to another episode of the Brainy Moms Podcast brought to you today by LearningRx Brain Training Centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore, joined by my co-host, Sandy Zamalis. And Sandy and I are super excited to welcome our guest today, Chelsey Goodan. Chelsea has been an academic tutor and mentor for 16 years with a particular emphasis on the empowerment of teenage girls. She speaks regularly to audiences and coaches parents on how to better understand and connect with their daughters. As an activist, she advises public figures, galvanizes volunteers, and organizes large-scale events for national nonprofits, while also serving on the board of A Call to Men, which is working to end gender-based violence. Her passion to explore humanity’s potential for authenticity, liberation, and empowerment permeates all of her work. And she is here today to share insights from her new book, “Underestimated; The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls”. Welcome, Chelsey.

CHELSEY: Thank you. I couldn’t be happier to be here. Thank you so much.

SANDY: We’re so glad you’re here. And of course, we love talking about teens. That’s probably our favorite topic to talk about on the podcast.

DR. AMY: And most popular!

SANDY: And most popular. So why don’t you share with us how you got involved in empowering teen girls and why you wrote this book? Let’s just jump right in.

CHELSEY: Great. Well, it had started as a side job 16 years ago where I was just tutoring and then what ended up happening is that it started to become the most meaningful part of my life, right? These relationships are over long term, one on one, and the things that the girls were saying to me in this time would just blow my mind. I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so smart!” And they’d always be like, “Well, no one thinks I’m smart.” You know, and they felt so misunderstood. And like the world didn’t get them and I felt like I got them and wanted everyone to see how amazing they were. And so a lot of what the book is, is me being their microphone, their portal for what they want to say to the world. And yes, there’s totally practical tools for parents to connect with and understand their daughter. And it’s also very much about giving their voice a platform to say what their needs, their wants, the struggles they face. And so, it’s, honestly, I feel so connected to the teenage girls that are heavily quoted in this book and, you know, they were a big part of the process.

DR. AMY: I’m always fascinated by people who can get teens to open up and talk to them. So for you to be able to talk to hundreds of teens to gather wisdom for your book is just fascinating to me. You know, as a psychologist, it’s a wrestle, right, to be able to get teens to even trust the conversation in general, not just you. And so that’s super exciting. I can’t wait to hear about what you have in mind.

CHELSEY: Yeah, I mean, I have techniques in the book that help you, like, specific words and phrases to help open up the conversation.

DR. AMY: That’s awesome. In fact, we want to hear some of those. So I’m going to read a quote from you in your book. So you said, “Many teenage girls are in serious trouble and a reckoning is necessary.” And you share a CDC report released in February of 2023 that states that teenage girls reported the highest levels of sadness and sexual violence in a decade. Problems which were trending that way before the pandemic.” So what is going on?

CHELSEY: Right. No, the big question. When that report came out, I only had a million people reach out to me and ask. And it was interesting because I was like, I’ve been seeing this for a long time. You know, it wasn’t news to me, whereas a lot of people were so surprised by it. But for me, the main pattern, and you know, a lot of people love to put focus on social media and beauty standards, and we can discuss that element, but actually what I see is the most kind of broad, like all-encompassing answer is that the girls tell me is the pressure to be perfect and to be likable. The pressure that we, as a society, as adults, as parents, everyone, teachers, are putting on girls to be perfect and likable is what is giving them so much anxiety and spiraling into so many other issues. You know, of course it can get more specific from there. But that, and I can get into what that looks like more, you know, what does that pressure. Because it’s subtle. It’s not like, you know, we all think we’re kind of being easygoing on a girl, but we’re not. It’s actually a lot of times a very subtle language that we use with girls.

DR. AMY: Yeah, and so for a girl to say, “Everyone expects me to be perfect.” Who is everyone? Where is that pressure coming from?

CHELSEY: Yeah, well, they definitely feel it from parents. They feel it from school. They feel like they have to get into an incredible college. Or they have to get perfect grades for their worth and value. You know, they have to succeed in order to show their worth and value. And so, and it’s societal too, so then there’s also the narrative of perfect look, you know, beauty, perfect looking, and so on. So, but what I have seen is, because I have worked with boys too, there’s not very much room for girls to just make mistakes and be messy. Whereas boys, I find they’re like, “Whatever!” They’ll make a mistake. It doesn’t, they don’t absorb it as part of their core identity as they’re a failure. You know, they just move on and it’s no big deal. Girls are devastated when they, you know, get a B on something in their report card these days. And so oftentimes when I’m just permissioning a space that’s like, “Hey, you have nothing to prove to me. Like, get a B on that, get a C. I think you’re amazing.” And you know, and she’s always like it’s as if I’m saying some radical thing to her, you know, I’ve had girls get emotional when I’ve said, “Hey, get a C on that. You don’t have to prove anything to me.” And it’s not like I’m, you know, people worry about, I’m encouraging girls to be mediocre. That’s not the case. Actually, when I see that the pressure’s off, they do even, you know, they do great and they’re actually a lot mentally healthier. So I, you know, I’m very compassionate. I know parents just want the best for their kid and they want their kid to succeed. But there is some narrative that if girls, you know, don’t have that level of perfection, and also making everyone around them happy, then it’s tied to their identity and value.

SANDY: So how do you think that translates to the quote about, you know, sadness and sexual violence? So, cause that’s what you’re talking about, a big, broad umbrella. 

CHELSEY: So yeah. So in terms of like the anxiety, depression, I was addressing that. In terms of. The sexual violence aspect, that is something I 100 percent see in my work. I am usually one of the first people a girl tells that she’s been sexually assaulted before her parents, before anyone. I mean, it just happened last week. I had another girl reach out. She’s a freshman in college and had no idea what to do. So I am on the front lines. I’m definitely like a safe person for a girl to come to, so I’ve had to, you know, very much educate myself on how to support her in that space. And also that’s a big reason why I’m on the board of A Call to Men, because the key is actually focusing on why the violence is starting in the first place. Like, why is there male violence? And so often we’re putting all of the pressure and responsibility and blame on our girls. And the girls feel that. They know their clothes are going to get blamed. They know, you know, that everyone’s going to question them if they were to tell, you know, talk about it. And the stress of holding that weight, that responsibility, whether, you know, even prior to whether they get assaulted or not, it’s like, in that harassment area, they think they’re supposed to just stomach all of it. And we’re not advocating, you know, I talk a lot about in the sexuality chapter, the girls themselves are like, “Go talk to your boys! Like, why is this my problem?” You know? And a statistic I give in there is, There are only 11 states that consent is taught in their sex education curriculum. So if we’re not teaching consent, if we’re not teaching boys what consent is, that would explain a lot. Meanwhile, I know plenty of girls that take a self-defense class in their school. You know, we’re teaching girls how to physically defend themselves, but we’re not teaching boys what consent is in the first place.

DR. AMY: That’s incredible. 11 states?

CHELSEY: 11! Yeah. And then, I mean, there’s only 18 that require sex education be medically accurate. So, you know, that, that’s explained a lot in just terms of how we’re educating. And instead, what girls hear is a lot of shaming and blaming for their sexuality. So, you know, it could be a dress code, right? Like, oh my gosh, the amount girls tell me about dress codes just making them feel awful about themselves. And that it’s apparently their responsibility to manage a boy’s inclinations, and it’s not. We should be teaching boys on how to manage that.

DR. AMY: So basically those codes are a way to try to regulate behavior without actually addressing the underlying misinformation or lack of information.

CHELSEY: Yeah, and girls just feel like we’re not on their team; that we’re not talking about it that you know, you know, one in five girls get sexually assaulted on college campuses and I talked to girls about that. A lot of parents often feel like scared like they’re going to. You know, there’s a lot of fear, understandably, but because of that fear they don’t end up talking about it with a girl, they end up making just her feel scared and not trusting herself about it. I love to approach her from an intellectual point of view that I can engage her on this intellectual conversation that this is an issue and that she should be made aware of it and that I’m on her team and what kind of support does she need in that. And ask, I asked those questions.

SANDY:  I was just going to say this sounds like for me, like when I, when I wrote it down, I think of people pleasing. Right. So if we’re really trying to avoid that perfectionism, I think part of that comes from that people-pleasing tendency. And you share that girls competence and people liking them drops from 71 percent to 38 percent between their tween and teen years. Thanks. Why is that? And what can parents do to support their daughters? I think it’s awesome that you’re a safe space, but I know as a mom, I want to be that for my daughter.

CHELSEY: Yes. Of course. So yeah, that’s a really intense statistic. And yes, people pleasing. So, you know, I have both the perfection chapter quickly followed by the people-pleasing chapter. The two are best friends, to say the least. And I, so in terms of intervening at that age, age 8 is where, you know, the plummet really starts actually happening. They find confidence drops 30 percent starting around age 8. And there is definitely an outside pressure. I would love to address beauty, just the beauty narrative that we put on girls, because that’s a huge element. But in terms of empowering parents to have those types of conversations where it’s not, you know, it’s obviously easier for me to enter those spaces as not a parent. There’s not as much charge and baggage and backstory, right? But what I’ve found is girls don’t want to feel judged. That is number one priority. And so the more as a parent can ask questions, phrase everything as a question, that’s one of my biggest things of advice, because it creates curiosity and genuine curiosity. And I mean a question that doesn’t have a secret agenda behind it, doesn’t have you wanting a specific answer, because girls can sniff that out in two seconds. And instead, it’s just truly meeting her where she’s at. With a nonjudgmental tone of like, “Well, what do you think about that?” That sentence alone, “What do you think about that?” is so helpful. Or “What do you think the solution is?” Or “How would you like to handle that?” And you start activating her own agency in the narrative. And that agency is where I see confidence happen. That if I respect her smart thoughts on things, then she, and then I affirm them. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s a smart idea. That’s a better idea than I had!” She’s like, “Oh, okay, cool. Yeah, I had a good idea on that.” And it’s this beautiful process of her just owning her own ideas and thoughts. In terms of the beauty narrative coming in very strong at 8, they, by the way, they find that a girl, an average age for a girl to start dieting is age 8. Which is horrific. I think that that conversation starts so, so early. And I say in the book how when we meet, when we see little girls, we very innocently and good intentions are like, “Oh my gosh, look how cute you are. Like what a pretty dress you’re wearing!” You know? And they get the message. They learn very early that what they look like, what they’re wearing, is their value. Even though all of it, again, seems very innocent. But you know, what do we say to boys? We say, “What book are you reading? What sport are you playing? What’s your favorite subject in school?” You know, we do different questions to them. And that I also find is how a parent or women in a girl’s life talk about their own beauty and their own body in front of girls. That’s another thing girls have told me extensively, how much it upsets them that their mom is constantly dieting. Right? Like her mom’s been dieting her whole life and talking about her weight and her own body. And so the mom thinks like, “Well, I’m not commenting on my daughter’s body,” which by the way, girls hate if you comment on their own body. But if a mom’s commenting on her body, that builds up patterns that has a way bigger impact than you think. And girls have talked to me a lot about it.

SANDY: I think beauty is such a hard … there’s been so many recent social media, like trends. I mean, there was like the Stanley cup trend, you know. I know there’s like this huge trend in beauty products that goes out there and there’s been concern. Let’s talk about social media a little bit and, and its impact on that beauty standard that we seem to adhere to. What guidance would you give parents to help navigate that? Because I know in your book, you talk a lot about empowering. So, you know, not closing them off to the world, right? Not allowing them to have social media in their, you know, in their day to day. And I think you have a statistic of like seven hours of social media consumption.

CHELSEY: Just broad media consumption.

SANDY: Yeah, broad media consumption, but it’s impactful everywhere, right? It’s on commercials. It’s on their TV shows. It’s on TikTok. They watch it’s on, you know, it’s everywhere. How does a parent navigate that and have a better modeling of beauty? Because you know, as moms, we’re struggling with the same thing. It’s not that we’ve got this figured out.

CHELSEY:  Of course, I didn’t mean to say that too. We’re all victims of the same system, right? Like I have great compassion for every woman who is struggling with her relationship to her body and beauty. Like we all have. We’re all working through it. But yeah, for social media, I know that there is a very worthy conversation around how it’s problematic and the issues that are happening with it. And there are a lot of people putting a lot of attention on that. And so what I try to do in my book is actually first say, social media is here to stay. It is not going anywhere. So where do we go from there? Because there’s definitely people kind of fighting a war against social media, which is, you know, there’s reasons for that that are understandable. But I’m in the trenches, the front lines of actually having media literacy conversations with girls. And media literacy is the boring way of saying, you know, I talk about all these things with them. I talk about the TV shows they’re watching, the celebrities they like, the Instagram accounts they follow. You know, they send me TikToks all the time. Like, I actually am in there, like seeing which, what content they are absorbing. And this is again where empowerment happens. And the earlier the better, where you can help empower a girl to make healthy, smart decisions for herself about social media. And so that takes again, a lot of questions with just genuine curiosity. Like I will follow the same accounts and be like, “Oh, that’s cool. I love that one!” And I bring positivity to it. So she feels safe where she’s not just like, “Oh, you’re just here to judge me.” It’s like, “Oh, Chelsea’s into this. Cool. I’m going to send this to her.” Right? But we’re also underestimating their ability to have conversations about it, their ability to navigate it in a healthy way. I have girls, you know, I’ve helped switch up their feed. So I’ll be like, “Hey, I found this mental health  Instagram account that I really like, like you should follow it and we should talk about it.” You know, and so I get, you know, if you put five psychology mental health Instagram accounts that they start following and it switches up their feed so fast and all of a sudden that girl is coming back to me, I mean, this generation, Gen Z loves psychology and mental health, right? And so they loved to come back to me and tell me about how they just learned about the different trauma responses and like all these cool, interesting things that lead to amazing conversations. And so that’s valuable to me, right? That’s not actually the villain of social media. That’s me like, “Okay, how could this be used in a way that we’re engaging?” So in terms of beauty, what I often do is I’ll pull up and, you know, I’ll pull up a photo and be like, “What do you think of this? Like, do you think? That she’s just trying to get likes here. Why is she being sexy? Like, what do you think?” And, and she’ll, she’ll break it down for me. And she’ll be really honest about it. The more I can be honest, she’ll be honest. And then, lots of times I’ll say things like, “Do you think she feels good about herself here?” Or like, and lots of times a girl will know, “Well, she probably doesn’t feel good. She’s trying to get likes right now.” Like, girls are smarter. They know what’s going on. And so the more I can empower her to understand that and kind of be on the inside of it all, rather than a victim to it and scared of it, which is a lot of what they are hearing from everybody. Like, you should be so scared. No one’s going to trust you with your phone. You know, social media is going to destroy you. And so it’s really about choosing, helping them choose a narrative that works for them. I have plenty of girls who set their phone aside at night because that’s felt like a healthy choice that they have made all on their own. But again, it takes engagement, it takes genuine curiosity and I think it needs to start really young.

SANDY: I think anymore we even have to consider, like I just saw like I saw a video the other day that was, it was talking about like pictures of like rooms and houses, but it was like, “How can you spot an AI picture?” But I feel like that’s becoming more and more relevant for actual individual photos and content as well. Like, how do you spot something that’s fake? Like, is this real? Do you think this is real?

CHELSEY: Yeah. I’ll ask that question. Yeah, I’ll ask her if I think, if she thinks this was Photoshopped and she’ll be like, “Oh no, that’s Facetune.” Like they know, right. You know, AI in terms of altered images, that’s going to be a whole world, obviously that’s going to unfold. I will say, you know, I’ve talked, I briefly mention it in the book as the AI Snapchat bot, because I was really surprised how quickly girls were considering it their therapist, considering it their best friend. And I, you know, I got in there, I was like, “What questions are you asking? Like, what did it say?” You know, I really wanted to know. And in all fairness, it wasn’t bad advice in ways it was better advice than like their friend would give them. But I tried to figure out why are you feeling so comfortable with this AI bot? And here’s the kicker, they didn’t feel judged. They don’t feel judged by the AI bot. And that says everything. That’s the key to everything, to opening up a girl’s world is, as truly … deactivating a charge you might have, which by the way, approaching something without judgment is hard. And so a lot of the book is also about just kind of like pointing to ourselves. How, what, why is this hard, why is it hard to have a sex education conversation with my daughter? What about it is making me uncomfortable? Let me go unpack that first and figure that out so that I can come with an open heart and mind. And a lot of this is healing your own inner teenager, right? A lot of those wounds we have that we carry into adulthood happened in our teenage years, and so, of course, they’re being triggered with our teenage kid.

DR. AMY: So if we look at that trickle-down effect of conversations that moms are having about their own bodies and their own beauty standards that, you know, teenage girls are absorbing, can we apply that to an achievement orientation, right? So working moms, moms who are trying to climb the ladder, moms who want a promotion, moms who are going back and getting graduate degrees, like while their kids are still in school, you know. And what is the impact on a teenage girl to having a mom with a Type A Achievement Orientation?

CHELSEY: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of facets to this. I’ve really seen it because I have a lot of, I’ve worked with a lot of girls who have very high-achieving moms. And I, first of all, girls really respect when their mom is a working mom and high-achieving mom. They think it’s awesome. They love to tell me about it. They’re usually very proud of their mom. And in terms of them feeling pressure from their mom, I mean that, that can, you know, that can happen just verbally if a mom is concerned. You know, lots of times it’s about them wanting, a parent wanting to look good by their kid’s success, right? That’s always something to be attuned to. But, you know, if there’s a caliber, a standard of like, “This is what we do in our family, we all succeed, we all go to college, we all do that,” you know. A girl will hear that and hear pressure, for sure, and be very scared that she will not have value if she doesn’t succeed. So, yeah, there needs to be a lot of awareness around it. I love to broaden what she’s good at. So I talk a lot about in the book about just giving girls more space to explore. What happens is they get good at one thing, and then everyone just affirms her for that one thing, and she thinks she’s only allowed to do the one thing she’s good at. And rather than, you know, I talk about what if we just let girls have some time to just do something she’s bad at? You know, like, maybe she’s not good at art, but who cares? Let her just do some art and explore herself and explore what that means for her. And that it’s okay to do something that you’re maybe not perfect, you know, and succeeding at. You know, I like to bring it all together actually in the people pleasing front, the perfectionism front, a relationship to a mom. I have a story in the book that’s Marley, who is a volleyball player, incredible volleyball player, made varsity, it’s a freshman. And everyone just affirmed her endlessly about being a star volleyball player. And her mom was a star volleyball player. But Marley was getting migraines and stomach aches and was so stressed out. Right? With the schedule. And I asked her one day, I was like, “Hey, do you like playing volleyball?” And no one had ever asked her. Like, she was genuinely surprised by the question. And she was like, “Well, I like that I’m good at it.” And I was like, “Yeah, okay, you’re good at it. But do you actually like playing it?” And then she said, “Well, I can bond with my mom about it.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, are you playing volleyball to make your mom happy and make everyone else happy?” And she was like—her eyes went wide and she was just like, “Oh.” And she just completely saw herself. And then I asked her, I was like, “Well, what would bring you joy? What like lights you up? What makes you happy?” And she’s like, “Well, I love to do fashion sketches in my notebook on the bus rides.” And I’m like, “Cool. Awesome. Like, do you want to learn how to sew? I know this sewing class you could go to over the weekend.” And she was like, “Oh my gosh, I would love that!” You know? So we ended up talking to her mom and integrating her and Marley ended up quitting the volleyball team, which was shocking to everyone because she was the star and then she completely invested all her time in fashion design and became amazing at that! And excellent! And her migraines went away, her stomach aches went away, and she was so much more connected to her authenticity of what actually was her passion. And so, girls can be excellent at lots of things, they just often don’t have time to explore. And I will say fashion in particular is one that parents love to like brush off as a superficial interest. And that has not been my experience. I have plenty of girls who are now in their 20s who have incredible jobs in the fashion industry, who love them. You know, there’s plenty of jobs in fashion, and it’s interesting how quick we are to dismiss that as a flighty interest.

DR. AMY: So, we need to take a break and let Sandy read a word from our sponsor. And when we come back, I want to talk about disordered eating.

SANDY: Austin was struggling so much in his junior year of high school that he worried he wouldn’t fulfill his dream of getting into the agricultural program at NC State. He would study for hours only to get four grades. His mother, who was a teacher at his school, tried everything she could, she could to help, but nothing stuck. Then his family found LearningRx. The LearningRx team created a brain training program tailored to Austin’s unique needs and goals. The next school year, Austin could focus more, keeping up I’m going to redo that. I’m going to redo this whole thing. Blah, blah, redo the whole ad, Sandy, the whole ad just cut and paste. Here we go.

SANDY: Austin was struggling so much in his junior year of high school that he worried he wouldn’t fulfill his dream of getting into the agricultural program at NC State. He would study for hours only to get poor grades. His mother, who was a teacher at his school, tried everything she could to help, but nothing stuck. Then his family found LearningRx. The LearningRx team created a brain training program tailored to Austin’s unique needs and goals. The next year, Austin could focus more, keep up taking notes, and remember what he studied. Best of all, Austin was accepted into the agricultural program at NC State. While your child may or may not achieve these same results, LearningRx would be happy to work with you to get answers about your child’s struggles with learning. Get started at LearningRx.com or head to our show notes for links to more helpful resources.

DR. AMY: Alright, so we are talking to Chelsea Goodan about how to best communicate with teenage girls. And the fact that we underestimate the wisdom and the power of teenage girls, which is the topic of your new book. So, building on this idea that there is this contagious effect of the beauty standards that our society imposes, but also that, you know, moms have to be super careful how they talk about their own beauty standards so that it doesn’t negatively impact their daughter. So you actually quote in your book that 75 percent of American women have struggled with disordered eating behaviors. I actually wrote my undergrad college thesis on Anorexia in the adolescent female, and I looked at it from a multidisciplinary perspective. And one of those perspectives was history, the historical perspective of eating disorders, and I was shocked to find behaviors like, women who would wear their corsets so tight so that their waists would look so narrow that their uterus would actually fall out of their bodies. Like literally the uterus would prolapse through the vagina because the corsets were so tight. And, and the Chinese women would bind their feet so that they would not grow beyond a size 5 because little feet were considered beautiful. It’s shocking to hear what women do in the name of beauty and thinness is not a new thing. This is not a new phenomenon. Women have been doing this for centuries. So talk a little bit about what moms can do to help. How do we talk? What do we say? How do we behave so that this doesn’t continue to perpetuate through these generations?

CHELSEY: Yeah, I mean, this is a big topic, as you know, you wrote your own thesis on it, but I will say I really work with girls on disordered eating. You know, I’m in that disordered eating world of oftentimes, again, I’m one of the first people that learns about it or knows about it. And you know, I have many girls who’ve gone into treatment. And I never underestimate, I, like, when I can tell, even a tiny little thing a girl says to me about her eating patterns, I’m like, “Hey, wait, what’s going on?” You know, like, you know, I always kind of try to check in and then what has, I mean, helps me and in really getting girls to open up is I’ll share my own struggles with disordered eating. And I like to use the word disordered eating because many, most women will never say, like, “I have an eating disorder” because it’s just so much bigger. But disordered eating is, you know, dieting for years and years. Like, it could be a lot of things that people don’t realize are problematic. And just, what it is is, it’s problematic in that it puts a ton of focus and energy on it. Like, oh, well, this is a priority in life to be skinny or to look pretty. And so I’ll talk to girls about my own history of disordered eating and my own struggles. And I’ll try to bring it up before, you know, we’re like kind of zeroing in on maybe something going on with her so that she knows I’m a safe place to even talk about it. And I’ll bring it up in a societal frame too, like an intellectual societal frame of like, “Oh my gosh, you know, these numbers are crazy!” Like, I’ll give them, I’ll educate them on like the statistics so they don’t kind of feel alone and they’re just more aware. Same with the sexual assault statistics. Girls like to be aware of the actual intellectual conversation going on around these things. And so she feels like she’s aware of it. And I have a lot of girls too, that when they start feeling smart about it, they bring up a friend at school. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, I think my friend at school might be struggling with this.” Or I’ve had a girl say, “I think my sister is struggling with this.” And so often, I’ll be like, “Well, maybe ask her some questions and be like, hey, are you worried about eating that because it’s gonna make you fat?” You know, like, I’ll actually help girls talk to other girls about it a lot. But I’ll notice their workout patterns. Like, if they’re starting to exercise like crazy, that’s another time I’ll just be like, “Hey, why, what, you know, what is this about this exercising that’s making you feel happy?” You know, and then they’ll just be like, “Well, I like this and that.” I’m like, “Okay, okay. Do you think that, like, it’s causing stress for you? That you feel like you need to look a certain way?” You know, I’ll just, again, I kind of just keep approaching it with loving curiosity, where I’m genuinely trying to meet her where she’s at and understand. And again, the sooner that can start as a young kid, the better. And I make sure, I mean, is this helpful? Like, I could get into so many details, I could go into so many tangents, because you’re right, the societal narrative about women and beauty, to me, is very connected to our power, right? Our beauty has been the most powerful thing we’ve had historically, because we haven’t had power in all the other ways, you know, in all the ways men get to enjoy. It turns out beauty’s been one of our biggest weapons of power throughout history. So that’s why women cling to it. And so I love to start a bigger conversation of, you know, the last chapter here is power and how we can redefine that, how women’s care, women’s empathy, women’s generosity. All of those other feminine qualities could be considered very powerful, too. And our qualities of leadership that we could rather than looking at power as domination, oppression, masculine, wealth, status. So that’s like a bigger conversation around it, too.

DR. AMY: Right, absolutely. So in your conversations with girls about weight issues, do you find that they’ll say, “I don’t mind being the weight that I am, but I’m pressured to be thinner. I’m pressured to diet” or do they really want that for themselves? Is there a difference?

CHELSEY: You know, I don’t feel like I can say a broad generalization. I feel like every girl’s different, and that’s why I always encourage questions, because you gotta find out where your girl is at. I do find parents just having a good, consistent narrative of like, you look a like, you’re awesome! You, you know, complimenting all parts of who they are, their personality, you know, I have a whole compliments chapter on how to give really specific compliments about their character and their identity in a way that that builds out, so that we’re just aware of even the quantity of language we’re using around their looks and beauty. But a girl, I guess it’s really hard to answer that because it’s so catered, catered per girl. What you got, Sandy? I can see something.

SANDY: I know, I’m just waiting for my turn.

DR. AMY: Sandy’s mind as it’s spinning is visible.

CHELSEY: Yeah. Cool. You have a powerful mind.

SANDY: Well, I’m just, you know, trying to think about for our listeners, like what I’m hearing you say throughout our conversation is that remain, you know, judgment less, right? No judgment. Come with questions. Be curious. And I think from a parent perspective, probably the biggest hardship from a parent perspective is that we worry. We just worry so much about our girls, our boys, and we worry about our kids. And I know you have, you talk about that worrying is perceived control. So, you know, I think part of your advantage, right, when you get these girls to open up to you is you’re coming from a neutral space, right? There’s no, there’s no worry. I mean, you are probably, especially if you’re seeing things that pop some red flags and you’re like, “Hey, what’s going on?” But from a parent, it’s like, you know. Defcon 5. The world is going to end. How do, you know, if you have some tips for parents to kind of help us put worry aside, and really channel that curiosity that you kind of really talked about this whole time.

CHELSEY: Yeah, it’s such a valid question. I’ve had my own struggles with worry just in all parts of my life. That’s why I bring it up in a big way in the self-doubt chapter, but the … super understandable that parents would feel that way. By the way, I love these girls, right? So I do worry, but what I found is that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t help the situation. So if our main goal is to help the girl, the worry doesn’t help it. It actually just makes her put up walls and makes her feel not trusted by you. So what, what, how a girl perceives a parent’s worry about them is fear, tons of fear energy coming at them, and that they aren’t trusted. And then therefore, they cannot trust themselves, right? If they’re constantly hearing like, “Oh, well, I’m worried about this happening, this happening.” Like, she’s like, “Okay, yeah, I guess I should be worried about that too.” Like, it’s literally an energy she absorbs. And then. I find a girl that has very worry-oriented parents, has a lot of anxiety and a lot more worry herself. Like there’s a ripple effect. Whereas when there’s a real ease to it, and this is easier said than done, but when I have seen it play out with a parent that has a lot of ease of just kind of releasing that control and just saying, “You know what? I trust you to handle this.” I say that to girls all the time, you know, “I trust your judgment, I trust you to handle this.” And a girl hears that, and she’s like, “Oh my god, if they trust me, like, okay, I better, better deliver, like, I better think about this, and I, I’m good at, I can make this decision,” right. So I actually try to lead with trust before I’m even sure if, you know, what the outcome is gonna be, because I find it generates better outcomes. So it is venturing into an unknown territory, because you don’t ultimately know, but again, the more I can, at a young age, I think I really benefited from this, and I share that in the book. My parents instilled incredible amounts of trust at me at a young age. And sure, there’s adultified patterns that we should be aware of, but also, just like, I heard that, and I heard it as like, my parents trust me, I’m going to be responsible, I’m going to make good decisions, I better not lose that trust. And that informed, as I went into my teenage years.

SANDY:  I’m going to piggyback off that one more. Sorry, Amy. I’m going to piggyback off that because one of my favorite chapters in your book is about apologizing to our girls. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Because I think that would help bridge that gap a little bit, right? That worry, that fear, you know. There might be some reconciliation that needs to happen.

CHELSEY: Exactly. Because a lot of times we need to clean the slate, right? Like there, there’s already so much charge built up that it’s hard to clear that and have that reconciliation. Yeah. I, so this is the very end of the book conclusion, right? I did not expect to write about making amends. I by no means did I expect to have to tell parents like, “Hey, turns out you guys got to apologize to your daughter.” Like I’m not trying to sit over here and be like, “This is what you do.” But what happened was all the girls I would ask them what do they want most from their parents and I’m telling you they all were answering an apology. And they were answering in severe ways. In ways like, “They’re never gonna get it. They’re never gonna apologize. They’re never gonna own that. They’re never gonna take responsibility.” They feel hopeless about it. And they feel walls up about it, right? Like, they don’t trust their parent because their parent’s kind of putting on a show all the time of like, “I have everything handled, I know what’s best for you.” And everyone is a messy human being. And so, I talk about it more as like making an amends, where it’s like, “Hey, you know what? I might not have handled that well. And I am sorry. And you know, is there any way I can handle it better in the future?” And again, like, ending with a question of, like, respecting her input on it. I have girls tell me, you know, they feel like they would start crying if their parents did something like that. And it could be about a specific moment. It could be like, you know, “I’m sorry we didn’t handle the divorce well.” You know, it could be like a big heavy one, or it could be just a day-to-day taking responsibility. I don’t mean like a people-pleasing flurry of sorries. I mean like a, “Oh, whoa, you know, I just, I snapped. My tone was not great right there. I’m sorry.” And a girl’s like, “Oh, okay, thank you for respecting me in that,” you know. And it takes humility too, but girls respect that type of honesty.

DR. AMY: So, in your conversations, did you hear that girls like or dislike when their parents say, “When I was your age, this is what I did”?

CHELSEY: They don’t like it if it’s like, feels like it has an agenda or if it’s like a hokey, trying to bond with them type of vibe. It’s more of actually like a respectful reflection, where it’s like, “Hey, you know what, I struggled with that too. When I was your age, I was doing that.” You know, it’s always like, you guys are, you’re reflecting as a human being and talking it out and then wondering her thoughts on it, you know, like when I did at that age, and I’ve even shared, you know, stuff about me at that age, and I’ll be like, “What do you think about that? Do you think I handled that well?” And just get her input on it, and then she’s like, “Oh, well.” Again, it’s about that mutual respect.

SANDY: Yeah, I was going to say, I think that goes on past teenage them to, I know I do that more and more with my adult daughter, I’ll be like, okay, something happened and I actually want her perspective on it because she’s got a unique perspective. So I’ll call and go, “Guess what happened? What should I do? What do you think I should do?” And I think that has just shifted our relationship tremendously. Because she, you know, I want, I want her to know that I value her opinion. That her opinion matters to me and that, you know, in our further life together, I’m not just mom, that I’m someone, I’m a peer.

CHELSEY: Yeah, and I don’t mean it for, though, for the kid to, like, care take for the parent in any way. Right. Like, it’s more about a mutual respect.

SANDY: Yes, absolutely.

DR. AMY: So I want to end on talking about drugs and alcohol and what those conversations sound like to be most impactful, right? So, obviously, you want to come at it with curiosity, but what lands well with teen girls?

CHELSEY: Well, I will say, this is territory where I have a serious advantage, okay, than a parent. So my techniques may not be as good as a parent, because there’s just a different power dynamic there in general. But I love to, again, get curious with a girl about, like, you know, is she drinking, is she smoking pot? I’m gonna share with you, interestingly, like, the girls I find who smoke pot are actually very philosophical, very deep, and it’s interesting when I, Invite that in a way that I’m like, “Oh, well tell me how it affects, you know, like what you feel like you gain from it.” And I go, I’ll often say like, “Do you feel like you’re doing it kinda to zone out or numb something? Or do you feel like you’re doing it intentionally because you wanna explore or have fun in this moment?” Like I  kinda actually ask questions about their intention with it. Like, why are they doing it? And, and with, again, no judgment, right? So they’re like … A lot of girls will admit to me, like, “Oh, well, I kind of did it to just be a part of what everyone else was doing. Or I just did it to numb out and avoid things.” And I’m like, “Okay, well, how did that, did that feel good for you?” You know, and then we’ll talk from there. And, or when she, I said, “Well, what if, what if you did have more intention with it? Like, you knew why you were choosing to do it.” Yeah, like, I, it’s not like I’m taking it off the table. Like, that they can’t do it. What I’m actually trying to do is getting them to connect to their why. Because I find when they’re connected to that, then they often don’t do it. I see a lot of kids, like, drinking is not as cool as it used to be in some ways. Like, Gen Z is way more responsible in a lot of ways than previous generations. And that a lot of kids, they don’t feel like they’re a loser if they’re not drinking at school as much. So that’s kind of a tiny bit of a shift that’s hopeful, I think for parents out there. But, I will say, does that make sense? It’s so hard, because again, it’s per kid, I know so many responsible kids and I know kids who are really struggling with this and have, also by the way, you can’t underestimate like addiction running in families, that’s when it’s like something that you do not want to take lightly and that’s those parents’ responsibility to really handle that narrative of how that may have affected their family over time. So, you know, I would never want to lightly address potential addiction patterns, too, because that’s so severe.

DR. AMY: Sure. So, what, what do you want to tell our listeners that you haven’t even gotten to address yet today? Like, what, what are you most passionate about from this project and from your work? What do you want to leave our listeners with?

CHELSEY: Everything I’m saying about empowering a girl’s voice in a conversation, that’s kind of been the answer in so many ways to every question. I believe that if we let them have more of a voice now, we’re gonna solve bigger systemic problems as they move into womanhood and adulthood. Because all of this follows them into the workplace; women not feeling like they can speak up at work, or like, the martyrdom of a mom of like, feeling like she needs to make everyone else happy and please everyone’s needs before her own. Like, there’s all these patterns that start when she’s a teenage girl. And the more I can have her connected to what makes her happy, what her needs are, and give voice to that in a way that she doesn’t feel judged, that she feels powerful and free, I think we’ll have a systemic impact in terms of women’s power in the world. And so maybe then we change the history books and women’s uteruses aren’t falling out because of their tight corsets.

DR. AMY: So then where does that change start?

CHELSEY: Yeah, as young, I mean, to me, let’s start talking to our girls very intentionally at a young age. You know, and again, I would say that the crux really starts having around 8, 9, 10 and how we are having these conversations, whether it’s around beauty and how we’re empowering their confidence. You know, we try to be like, kind of, “Yeah, girl boss, go girl lady!” you know, like they have all these phrases to try to empower girls, but I find it shows up quite literally in giving them a voice and then affirming that voice and encouraging that voice as smart and capable and not filled with fear.

DR. AMY: Awesome stuff!

CHELSEY: Oh, good. I’m glad. I’ve been like watching your faces. I’m like, wait, they like this, right?

DR. AMY: Oh, of course. Yeah. Well, Sandy is an internal processor and I just talk. So we absolutely love hearing. I think that the reason that our shows that focus on teens are so popular is because teens are so hard to crack, right, for parents. Like, it’s that, it’s that developmental stage that’s confusing and challenging. Right? And we don’t want to say the wrong thing. We don’t know how much freedom to give them. We don’t know how many rules. We don’t know how, right? I mean, it’s these, it’s this constant, “What am I going to get today that I didn’t get yesterday from my teen?” Because, and so I, I think that’s why these shows are so popular in the time.

CHELSEY: And I will say that. So often my response to real specific questions, I usually say, “Well, did you ask her?” to the parent. I’m like, “Did you ask her? What did she think about it?” And they’re always like, “What?” Oftentimes we’re not checking in with them. And so that’s what I’m trying to encourage is like a co-creating that space with your daughter, which is again, it’s hard to come in at 17 years old and change up the whole dynamic. And that’s where the clean slate of amends is helpful, but to start earlier to create a dynamic. Obviously, there’s normal developmental adolescent stage of them wanting to be more independent from their parent and a parent needing to hold space for that uncomfortable feeling. And then we didn’t even talk about actually like a parent holding space for uncomfortable, displeasing feelings for a teenage girl and then not trying to fix it, not trying to slap positivity on it. That’s a huge space for giving her room as well.

DR. AMY: Actually, let’s talk a little bit about that. And so I don’t have girls. I have three boys. But my 19-year-old did not get into the college he wanted to get into. And my tendency is to make it better, right? I’m in a helping profession. I just I want to help you feel better. And so I had to work really hard to just allow him to sit in that space of disappointment. While I just shared in that with him, right? And then it took a couple days and I was like, “Hey, are you ready to, you know, to work on plan B?” And so talk a little bit about why holding space for those big actions is important.

CHELSEY: Well, so girls, you know, are renowned for their big feelings and what they see, again, is the world dismissing, judging, stereotyping them as emotional and dramatic and crazy. And it’s this really negative, shame-filled frames that we’re putting on them. And I actually think their connection to their emotions and feelings is beautiful. They’re way more connected to their emotional center than adults are, who learn how to contain, repress, box in all their emotions until they explode in some unhealthy way. And, but the girls, so often when she’s, I ask, I’m like, “Wait, do you just want to vent right now? What do you need right now?” And she’ll be like, “Yeah, can you just listen?” Like, they usually just want someone to listen. And again, I’m always asking clarifying questions too. I’m always like, “Do you want me to just listen?” And so then when she does start pouring out all her feelings and it’s hard. You’re just, you don’t want to see her in pain. But I just hold that space for when I manage my own discomfort. And then at the end,  I will try to pick out the exact words, whether it was disappointment or frustration. I’ll say, “Oh my gosh. Yeah, that does sound frustrating. Like that sucks. Yeah, that’s not great.” And she’ll just be like, “Oh,” she feels relief. She’s like, “Oh, thanks. No one understood.” And just by holding that space, she felt understood. Whereas I mean, I, I learned the hard way. You know, I used to totally try to put positive spin on it. “It’s not that bad.” Try to make it better for her right away or come up with a solution for her. And that got me nowhere. That’s where she closes off. I’m not a safe place to come to.

DR. AMY: Right, you have to validate their feelings. And by putting that positive spin immediately on something that, then that isn’t validating what they’re actually feeling, right? They start to question and say, “Oh, well, should I not be upset about that? There must be something wrong with me because I’m feeling so upset about that, because they’re saying I should…” Right? And so …

CHELSEY: Exactly. And we don’t give a lot of space to women and girls for displeasing feelings, right? Again, it comes back to that perfectionism and people pleasing and liking. So when a girl is angry or annoyed or irritated, like we’re kind of telling her she can’t be that, you know? Girls, women are severely judged when they’re angry, and girls know that, and so what kind of space can we let them to, that’s a normal human emotion, what kind of space can we allow for them to at least get it out of their system, so that it doesn’t get all pent up in unhealthy ways?

SANDY: I love at the back of your book, you have like the feelings wheel to kind of help guide, like, “Okay, you’re sad. Let’s dig a little deeper into that.” Are you all and it sort of branches out. That’s a really helpful tool. And for parents that are listening, for moms that are listening, in the back of the book, Chelsey’s really told us, you know, all the questions that she uses, but they’re all laid out there. If you’d have no idea where to start or what questions to ask, if there’s just a list of, you know, quite a few that you could at least start a conversation.

CHELSEY: Yeah, I named it “Expanding conversations with teenage girls or any human” being because what I have learned is every tool that I’ve used with teenage girls I can use with anyone, any relationship. It has been so helpful.

DR. AMY: So for moms to walk away with a tip today, right, before they buy your book, what is the best question to ask when your teen hops in the car at the end of the day when you pick them up from school or they walk in the door at the end of the day from school, instead of saying, “How was your day?” What’s a better question to ask?

CHELSEY: Oh, well, gosh, I have so many, and it would be so catered to the kid, but, you know, I like to say, like, well, both sides of the spectrum, I’ll say, like, “Was there anything that was really frustrating today at school?” You know, like, I’ll actually invite the displeasing feelings so that they feel safe to express them, or I’ll just be like, “Is there anything that just, like, lit you up with joy today?” And I try to kind of phrase it in a brand-new way, or a silly, I bring a lot of playfulness and levity into things. Or, you know, what, but I mean, girls love big psychology philosophical questions too, like, I always ask a girl, I’m like, “Well, what do you think beauty is?” You know, and they, like, give me incredible answers back. And, so, yeah, the end of the day question. That one’s hard, because I like to be a little more catered and specific, but, I, also, by the way, TV shows are an incredible, like, watching a TV show is like an incredible way to start conversations that are deeper, so I’ll just be like, you know, on the Who Loves Who storylines of TV shows, I’ll be like, “Why do you think he likes her? You know, why do you think she likes him?” And then her answers expand and expand, and we start talking about, you know, things we want to be talking about with a girl about romance or whatever, but, it’s really just in the context of this TV show, so she feels a lot safer to open up about it. So I try to get more specific than kind of the generalized end-of-the-day question.

DR. AMY: Good point. All right. Chelsea Gooden, this has been, an excellent conversation today, and so excited that you took time out of your schedule to be with us and to share your wisdom from working with hundreds of teen girls, with moms who either have teens or will have teens as they age. So listeners, thank you so much for being with us today as well. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you would rather watch us, you can find us on YouTube at the Brainy Moms and on social media at the Brainy Moms. If you want additional tips and wisdom, you can find Sandy on TikToK at the Brain Trainer Lady. That is all the smart stuff that we have for you today. So we’re going to catch you next time.

 [WB1]I think she meant 70% don’t seek help. ??