As the mother of boys, I usually don’t get the chance to spend much time with tween or teen girls unless they have come to the house to visit my sons. But recently I chaperoned several eighth-grade girls on a weekend church retreat in Ocean City and I had a glimpse into their world.
Like my boys, the girls are concerned about their appearances, but I was surprised at how self conscious the girls were about their bodies.
The girls in my group had been friends for many years and had slept over at each other’s houses. Yet they refused to change clothes in front of each other. With each demanding a turn in the bathroom to dress and undress, it took them forever to get ready in the mornings.
I also learned that hair is big with the girls. Within minutes of getting on the bus for the ride to Ocean City, I noticed a couple girls sitting across from me taking turns braiding each other’s hair. The girls in my room experimented with hairdos, including one night when they piled their hair high on their heads under plastic water bottles.
Except for the refusing to dress in front of each other, the girls were much more comfortable touching each other than the boys. The boys in my sons group absolutely refused to double up in the beds. They slept on the floor rather than sleep together. My girls had no qualms about sharing beds, even though they quarreled about lights, the heat and the television.
Yet for all of their differences, I was also struck by the similarities. Like my boys, the girls liked reality television shows, staying up late and sleeping in. And while I had thought girls were neat compared to boys, that turned out not to be true. Empty Gatorade bottles and dirty plates littered the hotel room when we left, reminding me all too much of home.
Liz Atwood is a former Baltimore Sun features editor who teaches journalism at Hood College. She is the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 17.