Chelsey Goodan, UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls

Chelsey Goodan, UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls

Zibby speaks with Chelsey Goodan, a highly sought-after academic tutor and mentor, about her fresh, unexpected, and empowering new guide, UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls, which has been endorsed by Oprah’s Book Club and Hello Sunshine! Chelsey shares insights from her sixteen years of working with teenage girls from underrepresented communities, emphasizing the deep trust she’s built with her students. She discusses the importance of radical honesty, holding space for emotions, and empowering teenage girls to assert their truth. Finally, she offers valuable advice for parents and caregivers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Chelsey. Thank you so much for coming on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books" to discuss Underestimated: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls. Congrats.

Chelsey Goodan: Thanks.

Zibby: I'm so happy that Pamela Cannon gave this copy to me herself. I knew her. She was like, "This is my first thing at Gallery." I was really excited.

Chelsey: I love that. She's the best editor. Oh, my goodness.

Zibby: First, talk about what makes you the right person to write this book. You explain that in the book, but just so that everybody knows. Why have you had such great access to this audience and have been able to glean so much and then write a book about it?

Chelsey: I have been an academic tutor for sixteen years to teenage girls. Then years ago, I also started volunteering my time to mentor girls from underrepresented communities. What happened is that I was invited into a very rare space of trust of one-on-one time with girls where it wasn't a parental vibe. It was this completely unique relationship where they really opened up and shared all these things on their mind. I realized how much I understood their voice and how I could be a microphone for them, almost like a portal for what they want to say to the world. I was given a lot of trust to be that person to say those things. As you know in the book, I quote them so much. They were involved in every part of it. They chose the chapter titles. They gave notes on edits. I wanted to make sure I was always honoring their voice and their truth throughout the entire process.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I love it. You go through all sorts of different topics. You give handy-dandy little bullet points at the end that we're supposed to take away from each chapter.

Chelsey: I thought it would be perfect for your podcast in particular. Moms don't have time to read books, so those bullet points are ready for you.

Zibby: It's funny because my teenage daughter is home from school this week, and so I was like, "Here, take this book. Tell me what you think. Did I underestimate you?" Then at the end, we played the whole game. You have all these wonderful questions. We were sitting together in the car. I was continuing to go through it. What did I say? Which ones did I give her? I'm like, "Do you feel like I listen to you enough?" She was like, "Yes." I'm like, "What social media accounts have been inspiring you lately?" She just rolls her eyes.

Chelsey: You can't go hard and fast into these questions.

Zibby: I know. I know. That's not how you're supposed to. I know. These are things you should keep in mind if you want to have better communication with the teenage girl in your life. I know. I didn't do all of them. I did a rapid-fire quiz. She was like, "Mom, I'm good. It's all good."

Chelsey: That's so funny. What I've learned, though, is when a mom and daughter reads it together -- this has been happening a lot. Because just the nature of a lot of the chapters, things like shame or sexuality, things that are harder to open up conversations around, I have seen a lot of cool communication between a mom and a daughter. Those questions at the end in the appendix are a dynamic change. It's not like, go and question her.

Zibby: I know. I know. I was just sort of playing. Actually, I'm glad you brought up the sexuality chapter because I found that one particularly interesting, and even when you were talking about your author photo. How much skin is okay to show on your author photo? There was a girl that had posted something provocative or that was very revealing. She was sort of like, I want to explore this side of myself. What's the problem with that? Her mom was not happy about it. You're like, what is the problem with that? Let's talk about this. Tell me about that.

Chelsey: Instead of approaching her -- just shutting it down and fear, fear, fear -- there's that natural, understandable inclination to protect a girl. What I've learned is that she absorbs it as shame and judgement. When you actually just seek to understand and ask, "Why do you want to post that? Why do you want to wear that?" and really get where she's coming from and help her feel heard and understood about it, truly, genuine, nonjudgemental tone where your own personal triggers are deactivated, then that's where so much healthy conversation happens in terms of her, yes, needing space to explore her sexuality and the expression of that, which can be an uncomfortable thought for people. Instead, what we're doing is shutting it all down, repressing all of it. Shame, shame, shame. Judgement, judgement. Meanwhile, boys, within the media and stuff, are very much permission to pursue a much more expansive, pleasurable type of frame on the conversation, whereas girls are told that they are blamed for everything, that they're responsible for all boys' inclinations. It's on their shoulders to manage that. They have a lot coming at them that's just unfair.

Zibby: It's so true. It's so true. When you were writing this, which chapters were you like, a hundred percent, this is the most important thing? I have to put this in. The chapter on... Which one?

Chelsey: Oh, my gosh. I feel like this answer might change day to day.

Zibby: Today. What's your answer today?

Chelsey: My answer today is probably radical honesty because I think none of this happens unless you have a framework of being really real and honest. Teenage girls are so good at deciphering the truth. They can cut through it so fast. They can tell even if you're just kind of putting on a show. It doesn't have to be blatant lies. It can be these half-truths and omissions and trying to put on a show of everything being fine. Girls are starving for real connection. I just call things out all the time with girls. They trust it. It builds a certain level of trust where then they feel like they can be truthful because there's a nonjudgemental space to speak the truth all the time. The second half of that chapter, it's a tool for teenage girls speaking truth to power, I think is one of their biggest weapons. If you look at Malala Yousafzai, all she did was just speak truth to power to a militant organization, and they shot her for it. She was just a teenage girl. This is actually quite common. Not on that large of a scale. Girls these days, Gen Z in particular, like to push back and speak truth to power and say what their needs and wants are in an exciting, new way. The more we can empower and support and celebrate that, I think there could be a real spark for change.

Zibby: It's so true. When you were talking about holding space for radical honesty, you also apply that to holding space for just emotions and sadness. It's okay. You referenced, I'm sorry, you said you had lost a friend. I wanted to ask you about that. One time, you were having a breakdown. Your friends just let you have the moment to be sad. It was enough for you to then pick up and go on with the day. Often, as parents or caregivers or whatever, we're trying to make it better for our girls as opposed to just letting them feel it. Tell me about that.

Chelsey: This is so common because, of course, it's really hard to see your daughter in pain. The inclination is to come in and advise and fix or slap positivity on it. What I found is then she just feels really misunderstood. Walls go up. That holding space for just listening and being like, yeah, that sucks. That is hard. It makes sense why you feel that way. It's specifically displeasing feelings, anger, frustration, or disappointment. Girls aren't given a lot of space for that. It carries into womanhood. Women aren't supposed to be angry. We're going to be stereotyped in some direction. By letting women and girls have a little more space for feelings, we can actually process them rather than stuffing down, repressing. That stuff comes out later in life no matter what. What if we got to process them in the moment instead and help girls understand that these are normal human emotions? That's not something bad about her or something wrong with her.

Zibby: Very true. I think most moms and parents or whatever, grandparents, would want to know, how do I get along with my teenage girl in my life, my teenage daughter, my teenage granddaughter? Is there a secret? Either I feel her pulling away or I'm worried about her for X, Y, Z, or the litany of things people could say. What do we not know that you know that can help our collective relationships with teenage girls?

Chelsey: Well, I wrote a whole book about it. Every single chapter dives into a different topic. Gosh, if you're looking for a real overall idea, I'm actually going to bring it back to, girls feel judged and shamed. I think that so often, our motivation to teach a girl, trying to teach her what's best or that protection, she feels it as criticism and judgement rather than just meeting her where she's at and loving her exactly the way she is. Then there's also this other huge pressure for her to be perfect and likable. Girls don't have the same bandwidth as boys do to just make mistakes. Girls absorb a mistake as completely part of their identity. I see boys make mistakes, and they're like, whatever. Oh, they're boys. This space and room to explore, make mistakes, to explore their identity and who they are and not having to have it all figured out and be perfect and do all the right things -- there's so many shoulds coming at them, what they should look like, how they should act. Again, that feels like judgement that who they are is not good and right the way they are.

Zibby: Do you feel like things have changed that much? I was reading this book, and I'm like, I was a teenage girl. It feels like yesterday. Certainly not a long time ago. Are girls today coming from a totally different place? Is it true when teenagers say, Mom, you just don't understand? Not that my kids would ever say that to me, but let's just pretend. Is that true? Are things significantly different? Obviously, there's social media. The world is different. Deep down, is it just what we went through in a different set of circumstances? Do you know what I'm trying to ask?

Chelsey: Yeah. I think that we have a lot to learn about our own humanity from teenage girls. A lot of the book is their wise thoughts on humanity and how we can all be more human and connect more deeply. I would say Gen Z is very exciting to me in how they are way more into conversations around mental health and psychology and wanting to make a difference in the world. There are some really cool shifts that have happened with Gen Z that I love. In terms of just the pressures on girls and women, that people-pleasing pressure and self-doubt and the inner critic, all of those habits are solid. Then my last chapter is Power. The power structures around us are still so masculine in their domination and oppression and status and wealth and these old stories that I see Gen Z girls are just so tired of and ready for a new type of world they envision. It's both/and. It's both very new and the same old story.

Zibby: If you had a teenage girl -- do have a --

Chelsey: -- I don't, no, which is actually kind of a reason why I've been invited into these spaces. It's been an asset.

Zibby: I loved when, at some point, something was happening and a mom was like, okay, Chelsey is going to handle this.

Chelsey: The amount of times a parent has been like, Chelsey will handle this. Let me call.

Zibby: I know. I'm like, I'm going to start calling you. No, I'm kidding. Now that you know all of this stuff, what would you do? What are you going to go into it knowing? How often can we say, I'm learning, and I'm this? I don't know. There's no good, quick answer to this.

Chelsey: You know what? It's also just allowing space to not have it all figured out. I actually was just talking to somebody the other day where a parent was like, what if she says, I don't know? I was kind of like, then just be like, okay. Just, okay. Then we'll sit with that not knowing right now. I trust that you're going to figure something out. Helping her have that space to check in with herself and develop self-trust herself rather than us having to have every solution. The "I don't know" is okay too. Actually, girls feel a lot of relief when we embrace that space.

Zibby: How did you like writing the book?

Chelsey: I loved it. I did it in such partnership. Anytime I came across something, I was like, wait, what is this exactly? I would always call up a girl and be like, what are your thoughts on this? It was really fun to do it in that way. It really poured out of me. It was really meant to be, this whole process. It's been a wild ride. This week, Oprah's Book Club just recommended the book. Hello Sunshine recommended it. It's been wild lately.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. How do you take in that kind of praise and all of that? Do you run around? Do you jump up and down? Are you just head in your hands, like, oh, my gosh? How do you feel about it?

Chelsey: I'm letting myself celebrate it and receive it. I talk about, in the book too, there's a false humility women are taught where they're like, well, okay, we'll see. We downplay things and make ourselves small. I've actually been kind of stepping into my own voice and power, which is so ironic because that's what the book is about. It's been so sweet because the girls are so excited to see this happening to the book. They all feel like, wait, what I have to say is important? Wait, people care about these topics? They care about my well-being in the world? That's what matters most to me, without a doubt. If they can feel more heard and more space to step into their power with this book, oh, my gosh, so great. If I can help a conversation between a mother and daughter, oh, my gosh, so great. That type of accolades from those big people, I think, oh, my gosh, that means this is going to reach more people and hopefully have even a bigger and better ripple effect in the world.

Zibby: What is your relationship like with your mom?

Chelsey: I thought I was going to get this question all the time, and I have not. It's so funny. I feel like it's different now than it was when I was a teenager. When I was a teenager, my mom really let me be really independent and very much empowered me to be my own weird, quirky self. That was a real asset. You can read from the book too, my dad is the same way. He was really empowering. I benefited from that type of self-trust they put in me. I think that you can feel that in the book. That being said, my mom in particular isn't very good at holding space for emotions. I very much had a lot of anxiety stuffing all my emotions and trying to be perfect in the world and make everything stable around me. It wasn't until much later that I started understanding emotions. Even now, my mom doesn't hold a lot of space for emotions. That's okay. That's who she is. Anytime that I say commentary about moms in this book, I say it with so much compassion because I feel like we're all victims of this same really difficult system that we're all navigating as women. We're all doing the best we can. I really believe that for both my parents, and my mom especially.

Zibby: Has she read the book?

Chelsey: She has not. I decided she wasn't going to read it until it was out, she had a real true hard copy. I know. It's so funny. No one's asked me that either. That's so funny. The only family representative who read it is my husband and my sister-in-law. They're the only family that have read it.

Zibby: That's amazing. I guess it doesn't bother me, prying into somebody's personal family life.

Chelsey: No, it's great. It's fine. It matters. So much of the book is also about healing your own inner teenage girl because that's actually what's in our control. As much as we wish we could control the kid -- I talk about worrying being a perceived control. If I just worry about that, I'll think of everything, and then she'll do this. At the end of the day, we can only control ourselves and our choices and our reactions. I don't mind getting personal because actually, my own healing has very much informed the book.

Zibby: So this is really just a therapeutic exercise for you. You can just come clean and tell everybody now. No, I'm kidding.

Chelsey: Radical honesty, right? I'm a pretty open person.

Zibby: I'm so kidding. I'm just kidding. What's next for Underestimated? Is this going to become a lifestyle brand? Where are you going with this?

Chelsey: I feel like there's lots of things I can't even talk about. I wish I could. I don't know. Mostly, I'm just on the ride. Things are unfolding in really unexpected ways. I'm not trying to control it, to tell you the truth. I'm trying to really listen to my own authentic values and be like, okay, that feels good. That feels right. What serves the greatest good? I'm really trying to stay true to that.

Zibby: Good luck.

Chelsey: I could be pulled in eight million directions right now. That is for sure.

Zibby: I just got an email by somebody who was like, would you be interested in coming on a reality show where you stay in a house with someone for two weeks? I was like, oh, my gosh. My kids are like, "Do it!"

Chelsey: That's so fun.

Zibby: I know, but I'm like, of all the -- you write a book, and you just don't know what's going to happen. You just put yourself out there. I'm excited to hear when your news dribbles come out.

Chelsey: You've been so supportive. I have an event at Zibby's Bookshop in LA. I love it. I'm going to do it with Emily Deschanel. It's going to be so awesome.

Zibby: Amazing. I feel like I'm not going to be in town.

Chelsey: You got a shout-out on KTLA yesterday. I was on KTLA, and they shouted out Zibby's Bookshop.

Zibby: No way. I'll try to get the thing, and we can post about it or something.

Chelsey: I can send you the link.

Zibby: I'm delighted you're doing that. This is really going to help a lot of people. I hope that the people who really should be reading this read this, the moms who, maybe, underestimate their kids and need the help.

Chelsey: I will tell you, the amount of people who hear the title when I'm just at a random party or something and be like, "Wisdom? Teenage girls? No, they're so stupid," people don't think well of teenage girls. I know people like you and my feminist world are all like, of course, yeah, teenage girls. The general masses really love to be like, they're dramatic and crazy and emotional and just all these negative things.

Zibby: You try pumping tons of hormones into your body and see how you do, public. It's crazy. That's a crazy time of life. So much is changing, physically, emotionally, hormonally. Yeah, it's emotional. Whatever. It is what it is.

Chelsey: Indeed.

Zibby: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Chelsey: I was told to write my book before I had put it into proposal and pitch and everything because I needed to know what was even inside me, what story was actually even there. I think about it. If I had written the proposal first, I don't know if it would've matched what actually came out of me. It wasn't that I had to do every ounce of the entire book, but I needed to truly start writing to understand what story would come out of me very effortlessly versus trying to say a proposal and then mold and sculpt and try to fit that.

Zibby: Write. Don't wait for the proposal.

Chelsey: Then I have just a little trick. I love this trick. When you're writing, it takes so much discipline, which is really the art form, is discipline. Always finish your day's work, when you've decided you're ending your work for the day, on something you know exactly what the next thing you're going to write. You know exactly what it is, but don't write it. Leave there so that when you start the next day, it's just so easy to get right into it because you knew exactly what you wanted to write. Then you don't sit the next day being like, where am I going next?

Zibby: I feel like sometimes writing makes me fall asleep. I know this is a ridiculous thing to say. I'm like, I just have to stop right here. I think I've been doing that in an unintentional way. I was like, oh, my gosh, that's when I decided to take a nap? Nothing else makes me fall asleep except writing fiction. You never know. Congratulations. So exciting. I'm sorry I'll miss your event at the store, but delighted you're coming. Congrats.

Chelsey: I think you're so amazing too. Thank you so much for everything you do to support authors and support books. You just are an incredible powerhouse in this space. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you for saying that. Thank you. Enjoy the ride.

Chelsey: Thanks.

Zibby: Bye.

Chelsey: Bye.

Chelsey Goodan, UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls

UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls by Chelsey Goodan

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