Dear Tween Girl,

Dear Tween Girl,

Slow down.

Please stop growing up so fast.

I see you coming home from school, walking to your apartment just down the drive from mine. I see you with all that mascara and your hair perfectly curled or flat-ironed. I see you with your phone out, taking pictures of your friends and perfecting your selfies. I see your cute, grown-up looking clothes and how your outfits look more grown up than mine sometimes. I see you flirting with the boys who walk with you and remember those silly hormones that make you so giddy, that even walking with those boys makes your heart flutter.

But just hold up.

I see that you’re merely eleven or twelve. I can tell because I’ve heard you push your girlfriends and exclaim, “No way! He’s in 8th grade! He’s too much older!” when I’m checking my mail and you pass by.

Sweet girl, you are lovely. If you had been born in my generation, your clothes would be ill fitting and covered in glitter. You and all your friends would be getting braces soon and have them into high school, instead of getting them when you’re eight… how lucky you are! Your makeup would consist of bright blue eyeshadow and some Smackers. Maybe if you were lucky your mom would let you try a super basic mascara that wouldn’t last the day. Perhaps a concealer stick too. The trends would include basic Adidas shoes and sporty headbands across your slicked back ponytail.

You would still look like a little girl.

Mom could still cuddle with you and take you out for an ice cream treat. You wouldn’t take photos of all the moments you see and experience and you would instead capture them in your memories. Sleepovers would be time spent with girlfriends talking about crushes… not looking up any and all pictures of your favorite boy bands with their shirts off and texting the crushes at school. Sleepovers meant baking cookies, drinking soda late at night, and listening to the latest Now CD. We would watch movies that our parents thought were appropriate, but until we were in 7th or 8th grade couldn’t go to the theater by ourselves. Sometimes parents would even call other parents wanting to know what the girls would be watching at a sleepover, just in case the movie didn’t correlate with what a parent thought was appropriate.

Maybe so much of that is still the same. And for your sweet, innocent soul, I hope that it is. Please be careful with your phone, darling girl. There are things you can find, even by accident, that you will never unsee and words and phrases you don’t understand the horrible meanings of. There are people out there that want your naivety to drag you into an online world that will bring a world of hurt later on. People you follow believing they are your peer, may be a shadow of a predator behind a veiled screen. Sweet, sweet girl, those pictures you see in your social feeds of women’s bodies in bikinis and short skirts and low shirts are not #goals. Those images objectify the persona of what a woman… or man… should be today. Your body is a temple. It is for you to love, keep safe, healthy, and innocent until someday a man sees your lovely soul and loves your body the way God intended it to be loved. Despite what clothes you wear and how much makeup you apply, your body is not an object. It carries your laugh and your father’s eyes and your mother’s nose.

Sweet girl, I don’t have any children yet, but I want my girls to walk home from school and look at the world around them. When they walk through the door, I want them to tell me about their day, all the good and bad while sharing a snack, before they spend the time before dinner on their phones. I know they’ll have phones, but maybe I feel selfish about the time I hope to spend with them. Before they fall asleep I want my face and voice to be the last thing they see and hear, not the sound of a Youtube video or a text from a boy at school. I want to know they’re reading the books I once read at their age and hear them tell me their favorite parts. Maybe I don’t know a thing about what you do and I assume too much. Perhaps your dad puts your phone away until the next morning. But darling darling girl, remember to guard your heart and mind. Right now you will be so influenced by what you say, hear, see and do. Even without the feeds of women’s bodies on display, I managed to feel inadequate at your age, sometimes… I can’t imagine what those images do today!

Wash your makeup off, put on your jammies, sing into a hair brush, curl up next to dad, and stay young. You can share clothes with mom or sister when you’re in high school… but for now, sweet girl, stay a little girl because so very, very soon you will be grown up, wishing that you had snuggled your dad and made memories of talking after school instead of swiping through posts and news and photos. Tell your friends in person how much you love them or how pretty they looked in their selfie. Life is made up of moments, but please sweet girl, let those moments be seen apart from your screen, because your soul is so much prettier to listen to in person and laugh with in the car than any screen could ever do justice.

With love.

LifeJoy Johnson