The Chemistry Of Teen Self-Esteem

10/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

You don't have to be Jamie Lynn Spears or Bristol Palin to understand that today's teen girls are conflicted about their responsibilities and overwhelmed with tough decisions. Between raging hormones and a not-so-healthy dose of media and peer pressure, there's still school work, the Homecoming Dance, soccer practice, family commitments, drooling over the hottie in algebra class, planning for college and getting used to their brains on PMS. It's a wonder any woman makes it into her 20s as a functional member of society.

I remember my own highs and lows quite vividly. The cute surfer guys hanging out at the lunch tables at Oceanside High School, who never seemed to notice us girls, and the daily battle with an embarrassing pimple, jealousy of prettier or smarter girls, a bad hair day or cramps, not to mention the heartbreak the year my boyfriend's parents sent him away to New Zealand. Dealing with the daily intrusions of what seemed like an unbearably strict father and a well-meaning but perfectionistic mother didn't help my self-esteem much either.

These personal memories coupled with what I see daily at the Women's and Teen Girl's Mood & Hormone Clinic at UC San Francisco, which I founded in 1994, have compelled me to help young women understand and manage their emotions. Since my book, "The Female Brain," was published, I have received so many questions on my web site from teen girls who have read the chapter called "The Teen Girl Brain" and are confused about everything from their periods to their changing relationships with their mothers and fathers to the truth about sex. This week I'm proud to announce my new site,, a place for girls to learn about what's really happening to their brains, emotions and bodies during this confusing time.

The female brain, body and moods change substantially during the teen years. It's all being set in motion by the pituitary gland, which teams up with a girl's pulsing hypothalamic cells to push her ovaries into action. This is what starts her period, when she'll begin to experience a number of estrogen and progesterone surges and drops. Many parts of the female brain - including the hippocampus (memory and learning), the hypothalamus (controls your body's glands and organs), and the amygdala (your center of emotional reactivity) - are affected by this new estrogen-progesterone fuel. These surges are the driving factors behind mood, which has a lot to do with self-esteem and how girls relate to others--and to boys.

On, I address particularly how these surges effect the female brain with respect to becoming sexually attractive to boys, maintaining healthy friendships, dealing with pesky or intrusive parents, and setting goals for the future.

At our launch party in Los Angeles last week, about 25 women of all ages (and one brave, sensitive man!) gathered at founder Romi Lassally's house to talk about the messages we send our daughters and younger friends. It was an eye-opening experience to hear some of the challenges young teen girls face--and how hard it is to stay balanced. Especially since talking to ones mom about 'certain' issues feels awkward at best.

Most of us moms were concerned with how we're teaching our girls the values and habits they'll need to achieve a balanced, happy lifestyle of their own choosing. Are we being honest and transparent with them about what it means to be a woman? How much should we share with them about the truth of our own experiences as women without discouraging them? Are we telling them how hard it is to work the 80 hours a week it takes to be a top executive in a male-dominated professional landscape and still have time to be a good mother? Are we preparing them to appreciate nutrition, stress control and exercise or just breeding eating disorders? Are we making bodies, touch and sex a taboo that will take decades to unlearn instead of presenting them as natural and beautiful?

It wasn't too shocking to hear from the teens in attendance that they're not too interested in confiding in their moms when it comes to deeply personal matters. (Although, it was refreshing to hear them say that if they'd started talking about these issues from a young age--before the hormonal teen years-- it would feel more comfortable!) That's exactly why other women -and not mom-- play a critical role at this stage of a young teens life and must look out for each other as sisters, aunts, friends, mentors, teachers and coaches. Everyone at the gathering agreed that the knowledge and mentorship we impart is critical to the health and success of our teen girls--and some of this must come from responsible, high quality internet sites that don't exist yet. MySpace and FaceBook are great for connecting with peers but not for mentorship or getting professional answers to deeply personal questions about your body, emotions or brain.

I'd love to hear how you approach bolstering your teen girl's self-esteem, how transparent you are being with your daughter about your own experiences or just answer questions about the teen girl brain and hormones. Please visit and join the community of women supporting young women, share your observations, concerns or personal stories. We will discuss your comments and feature selected questions on my weekly Blog Talk Radio show right on the website.