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“Can Teenage Girls Guide Us Toward a New Type of Power?”: New Book Celebrates the Power and Potential of Teenage Girls

Author and activist Chelsey Goodan has recently released UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls (published March 5, 2024 by Simon & Schuster). As a trusted tutor and mentor to teenage girls for sixteen years, Goodan has gained valuable insight into what teenage girls are facing today, what is on their minds and in their hearts, and why it’s so crucial for society to value, empower, and listen to them.

“In this work, I’ve learned something important: The world fears teenage girls. And fear is used to silence them,” says Goodan. “Our society treats teenage girls as something to fix rather than value—and that needs to change. I’ve written UNDERESTIMATED as a course-correction to help girls unleash their intrinsic wisdom. My teens tell me that no one ever asks them real questions, or cares to listen to their answers. UNDERESTIMATED presents teenage girls as they are, unvarnished—and let me tell you, they are glorious.”

The book covers a variety of topics—including sexuality, perfectionism, people-pleasing, identity, friends, self-doubt, the media, beauty, shame, and power—using language chosen by teenage girls themselves. UNDERESTIMATED offers accessible advice, entertaining narratives, and profound wisdom.

Rather than dismissing teenage girls based on our own fears or treating them as problems that need to be solved, Goodan encourages parents and society to help teenage girls unleash their power and celebrate their intrinsic wisdom, creating more healing and connection for everyone. “Teenage girls are a force that we must embrace... not squash, not dismiss, not judge, not change, not minimize, not control, and not fear,” says Goodan. “I’ve chosen to listen to and love them exactly as they are. That is the key that unlocks everything.”

We are pleased to share selected excerpts of UNDERESTIMATED from Chapter 14 entitled “Power.”

Chelsey GoodanOver the years, I’ve supported many teenage girls’ election campaigns to become their school’s student body president, which invariably means that I hear, “What if I don’t win? What if I’m not the best choice to be president?”

In this book, I’ve certainly scrutinized how society/parents/adults all limit a teenage girl’s power. But it’s also important to note that teenage girls can limit their own power. Their fear stems from the issues I’ve already covered, but more importantly, I want to highlight how a girl is taught a very limiting concept of leadership and power.

This conversation won’t be an analysis of the many academic suppositions on what power is and isn’t. Instead, I’m going to share the perspective of a very diverse group of teenage girls, and what they think about the world of power we’ve built around them. Quite simply, teenage girls aren’t inspired by the spaces that have been traditionally characterized as “powerful.”

They don’t always see themselves winning the school presidency because mainstream leadership roles haven’t always represented their value system, which will be expanded upon in this chapter. The models of power that surround us don’t resonate for her as a healthy solution to the world’s problems. For so long, power has been particularly related to domination and self-interest….

When I was recently having lunch with [17-year-old] Izzy, I asked for her first thoughts on power. She quickly responded, “I think instantly of authority. I never think that I have authority, and I always think of someone having authority over me.”

My heart sank, and I asked her what she thinks the solution is. She said wisely, “Oh, everything needs to change, the whole system. We need to redefine power.”

I smiled. This is my favorite type of conversation. I would love nothing more than for all of us to rethink the whole system. . . .

In psychological science, power is defined as “one’s capacity to alter another person’s condition or state of mind by providing or withholding resources—such as food, money, knowledge, and affection—or administering punishments, such as physical harm, job termination, or social ostracism.”2 So yes, that’s certainly not a definition where I’m like, “Yay, cool, sounds good!” Instead, I’m going to stand alongside Izzy and explore how we can do it all differently.

Basically, domination has been the name of the game for so long. The United States seems to have power because of its military and economic domination in the world. And historically, there’s a great deal of systemic oppression that has stemmed from efforts to maintain power. American scholar and author bell hooks (who purposely kept her pen name lowercase in order to keep the focus on her work rather than herself) describes this dark side of American culture with a necessary bluntness:

“In an imperialist racist patriarchal society that supports and condones oppression, it is not surprising that men and women judge their worth, their personal power, by their ability to oppress others.”3

Alongside domination, teenage girls often view power as the same thing as oppression, because historically the concepts have gone hand in hand. I cannot address the idea of power without acknowledging that critical intersectional lens of oppression, which sheds light on how people of different races, genders, abilities, socioeconomic status, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientations can face multiple, overlapping, interconnected types of discrimination. These systemic disadvantages continue to affect a person’s political, social, and economic power in the world and require much-needed justice.

For this conversation, the primary oppressive commonality for teenage girls is their gender identity as women, which will be a point of focus. In extended discussions covering oppression, intersectionality is always crucial and would illuminate examples of how transgender girls experience more discrimination than cisgender girls and BIPOC girls experience racial prejudice that white girls don’t experience.

In respect to our focus here on women and girls’ gender identity, I’ve found that people really don’t know how recently women of all races gained some seemingly obvious rights. Most people don’t know that women weren’t allowed to have their own credit card until 1974, become an astronaut until 1978, or run in the Boston Marathon until 1972. Historically, men have had more rights, and those rights have given them a certain type of power….

“There are so many oppressive narratives swirling around me at any time that it can be easy to accidentally give away my power and agency to define myself. But with Gen Z in particular, I’ve witnessed a deep need to own their unique self and advocate for a more expansive existence.”

As [18-year-old] Davina asserts: “If I could make it the way I want, power would be about respect.”

When I ask her, “What do you think holds women back from getting that respect, that power?” She thinks about it and then scrunches her face.

“You know, it’s so normal for women not to have power, that it feels weird and uncomfortable to even want it.”

I’ve personally encountered this struggle because the prominent narratives of power are not something I’ve wanted. Not only does power often signify domination, oppression, and self-interest, but women and girls are particularly excluded when physical power is respected and prioritized. I’m not inspired by it, and like Davina, it feels weird to want it. I actually believe that power’s dominant narratives don’t leave men feeling good either. Liz Plank’s For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity4 lovingly analyzes how our societal constructs of masculine power can hurt men just as much as they hurt women, which is a topic worthy of its own examination with an intersectional lens. Instead of being mad at men and society, I’ve had to search for myself and discover a different type of power, one that comes from within.

In highlighting that choice for women, bell hooks illuminates, “If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”5

There are so many oppressive narratives swirling around me at any time that it can be easy to accidentally give away my power and agency to define myself. But with Gen Z in particular, I’ve witnessed a deep need to own their unique self and advocate for a more expansive existence. These girls grew up watching The Hunger Games and Moana, not Sleeping Beauty. They want change, they want to be leaders, and we shouldn’t be underestimating their vision for the future.

However, I’m genuinely wondering when the world is going to catch up to them. According to the UN, as of January 1, 2023, there are only 31 countries where women are serving as heads of state and/or government. At this rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power won’t be achieved for another hundred and thirty years.6


It’s facts like these that make teenage girls want to scream.

In business leadership, it’s just as bad. At the beginning of 2023, there was this big celebration that just over 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies are now run by women,7 the most ever. . . .


Cue: My head falling into my hands with hopeless frustration. I’m so very tired of celebrating itty-bitty progress for women functioning within our traditional models of power. And out of the 500 CEOs, only three of them are women of color, all during an era that’s considered “progress.”

It makes sense that Davina feels uncomfortable about wanting power because she doesn’t like what it currently looks like.

And in addition to the lack of opportunity, the journey of pursuing these leadership accomplishments is also incredibly taxing on girls. When they have big goals, I often see them turn to perfectionist habits in an attempt to fulfill that vision. The teenage girl, her parents, her teachers, and the world around her all push for perfect grades and behavior, with everyone jumping into the Never-Ending Stress Box of productivity and academic achievement. To fit into that box, I often see her galloping spirit muzzled because that box can be quite small.

Women’s power is something new and not comfortably manipulated to fit into the old, traditional models. Education is crucial, but I’ve found that grades are not the best indicator of a girl’s potential power. So much of her power simply begins with her voice. Not only helping her find her voice but also letting her speak.

My approach in finding and encouraging a girl’s voice is to ask her: “What do you care about?”

This taps into her superpower—her feelings.

When she connects to her feelings and starts speaking out loud the things she cares about, she starts discovering her values. It’s then absolutely critical that I LISTEN. I listen closely until I realize another question that might prompt her deeper into her ideas and beliefs.

“What type of unfairness makes you sad or angry?”
“How could you help or change that?”
“What do you think the solution is?”

And then I listen deeply for what type of encouragement or support she might need. I meet her exactly where she’s at without forcing anything.

During an exchange like this, I’ve actually had one conversation come up a lot more than others. Many girls tell me that they care about their family. Then they share their heavy distress that their dad disapproves of “feminism.” Of course, it’s not all fathers, but unfortunately with the fathers who disapprove, I’m never surprised by their timeworn criticisms:

“Feminism is for angry women,” “There’s no point to it,” “It’s man-hating!”

I used to be weighed down by these words, feeling helpless. But over the years, I’ve learned a new way to empower a girl to respond with her voice. I start by teaching her the actual definition of feminism, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as:

“The belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men.”8

Then she practices saying it out loud. She practices identifying herself as a feminist, while at the same time defining it. I’ll even role-play a new exchange, deepening my voice and taking on a gruff attitude, which helps activate her strength:

Me (playing her father): Feminism wants to hurt men!
Teenage Girl: I’m a feminist, Dad, which by definition means that I believe women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men. Do you not believe in that?
Me (playing her father): That’s not the way feminism seems to me.
Teenage Girl: Okay, but that’s actually what it means. So, I’m going to make my choice based on the Cambridge Dictionary definition. With that meaning, I’m proud to be a feminist. I would hope that you would want me to have the same rights and opportunities as you.

Then, I tell her that she can exit the conversation if she wants. She doesn’t need to prove herself. She can make her own choice, be her own person, step into her own power. She can voice her beliefs and values without needing a man to agree with them.

After trying this with their dads, teenage girls usually excitedly report back to me with one of these two responses:

“It went so well! He agreed with that definition and now he calls himself a feminist!!” Or:
“It went so well! I said my truth. I stood by my beliefs, and I didn’t even care if my dad agreed with me!!”

Giving a voice to her power usually involves a feeling of liberation. In this scenario, a daughter is liberating herself from her father’s opinion. She finds herself free to make her own choices about her beliefs, which is so empowering. This process is closely tied with “breaking rules” and cutting the metal chain of “shoulds” wrapped around her neck. It’s a process that helps her stop caring about what other people think. It’s a practice that’s easier said than done, but as writer and social scientist Mohadesa Najumi aptly notes:

“The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.”9

This individual is empowered and liberated from the systems that have tried to contain and define her. But why is she feared? Because she can’t be controlled and dominated? Or because people fear what they do not know? There are still so many unknowns around what a world of fully liberated and powerful women and girls would look like.

“I can tell you that when teenage girls are empowered to identify their values and act on them, they can transform the world.”

This brings me back to Izzy, who is saying that we should redefine power. Yes, I agree, and what does that look like?

My approach is going to be a gendered oversimplification, but unfortunately, sometimes, I can’t perfectly address the world’s complexity when I’m hunting for ways into these conversations with girls. Considering men have predominantly held positions of leadership, power has been historically characterized as masculine. I’ve found it helpful to initiate conversations with teenage girls on what feminine models of power might look like. I’ve found that the conversation truly lights them up from within. The easiest starting point has been to ask teenage girls what they think a world with a majority of women leaders would look like, and I can’t wait for you to hear their perspective.

Izzy shared, “Less war. Women don’t bottle their anger. We express our emotions. When men don’t express emotions, it comes out as violence instead. Women express their feelings, communicate, and move on, without violence.”

Olivia told me, “The world would be so much more equal, more fair, and everyone would be heard more.”

Davina declared, “Women lead with less ego and more care, which leads to harm reduction.”

Waverly said, “Women can get to the heart of what makes things unfair. Women deal with a lot, so they have more empathy for people’s struggles. Since they’re so in touch with their emotions, they ask a lot of ‘why’ questions. Instead of just throwing someone in jail, women would ask, ‘Why do you think someone stole the bread? Were they not able to afford food? Let’s fix why they had to steal in the first place.’”

Peeta told me, “Having women be the world’s business leaders would put more focus on care. There would be more care for the customers, care for the product, care for the employees, and care for the environmental and social impact on the world.”

Harper shared, “The world would be kinder. I think toxic masculinity directly translates into war. A world run by women is one rooted in cooperation instead of violence.”

Jade said, “More peaceful, less violent, more communication . . . I mean, no hate to men, but women just communicate better. We’d all feel more listened to.”

Lauryn told me, “I think the world would function a lot more positively. We’d be a lot more optimistic and joyful.”

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

These responses give us such insight on the type of change to our power structures that teenage girls need and want. So how can we make this happen?

I can tell you that when teenage girls are empowered to identify their values and act on them, they can transform the world. I’ve personally witnessed awe-inspiring endeavors over the years. A 14-year-old started a nonprofit that makes pillows to comfort little kids at the local children’s hospital. A 15-year-old pushed her school’s administration until they included more BIPOC authors in their required literature. A 16-year-old fundraised over $2,000 to support a sex education program for underserved public schools. A 17-year-old organized and led her entire school in a student walkout to protest gun violence. A 16-year-old filmed and edited a short film on teenagers’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. A 17-year-old organized a large cohort of voters, postcarders, phone bankers, text bankers, and poll workers for the 2020 election. The list could go on and on.

These triumphs didn’t stem from good grades. Each girl actualized these meaningful accomplishments out of her genuine care and the courage to use her voice. When 16-year-old Cynthia organized an event for a nonprofit working to end gender-based violence, she planned to give a speech to the two hundred attendees. She was so nervous about it that she could barely function, and I thought she was going to have a panic attack. But when the moment came, she stepped into her power and brought the crowd to tears. She told me afterward that she was motivated by the thought “Maybe my words will matter. Maybe my voice will make a difference.”

That’s what gave her courage. She wasn’t aiming to dominate others or show her power. Her power was a natural effect from activating her care and courage.

This brings me to the greatest lesson I’ve learned from the wisdom of teenage girls. Something that permeates every lesson in this book. I’ve learned that the forces of care and courage combine to create an even greater force that teenage girls infuse into everything they do. I’ve learned that love is the most powerful force on the planet. The most powerful way to create something new and better in this world is through love….

“When a teenage girl feels like she can make a difference, when she feels like her voice will matter and people will listen, then her greatest power unfolds.”

Can teenage girls guide us toward a new type of power, a new type of leadership, and a new way of being in this world?

Particularly, I see teenage girls inspire a new world when they powerfully take their pain and turn it into purpose. When the world hurts them, instead of responding with violence, they figure out how they can create change….

When a teenage girl feels like she can make a difference, when she feels like her voice will matter and people will listen, then her greatest power unfolds. It’s not selfish, not dominating, not oppressive, and not violent. This power has a large amount of self-efficacy, which is simply defined as the belief in your ability to succeed. It’s intrinsic and not forced upon her. No amount of criticizing or controlling her choices will get her to this powerful place. She finds it for herself….

In order for teenage girls to step into their power, there must be liberation from the systems that have held them back. We are all part of that system, and we all must choose our next step forward. Do you want to try to build a powerful new world that’s based on love? Or do you want to continue to do it the same way we always have? The choice is yours.

Excerpted from Underestimated: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls by Chelsey Goodan. Copyright © 2024 by Enthousiasmos Productions LLC. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, LLC.

Click here for more information or to purchase the book.

2. Dacher Keltner, “The Power Paradox,” Greater Good Magazine, December 1, 2007,

3. bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1982).

4. Liz Plank, For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity (New York: Macmillan, 2019).

5. bell hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (London: Pluto Press, 2000).

6. “Facts and Figures: Women’s Leadership and Political Participation,” UN Women,

7. Emma Hinchliffe, “Women CEOs Run More Than 10% of Fortune 500 Companies for the First Time in History,” Fortune, January 12, 2023,

8. “Feminism,” Cambridge Dictionary, /us/dictionary/english/feminism.

9. Mohadesa Najumi, “Why the Woman Who Does Not Require Validation from Anyone Is the Most Feared Individual on the Planet,” Huffington Post UK, March 17, 2014,

About Chelsey Goodan

Chelsey GoodanChelsey Goodan has been an academic tutor and mentor for sixteen 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 founder of The Activist Cartel and the mentorship director of DemocraShe, a nonprofit that guides teenage girls from historically underrepresented communities into leadership positions. 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, a nonprofit working to end gender-based violence. Her passion to explore humanity’s potential for authenticity, liberation, and empowerment permeates all of her work. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Chelsey lives in Los Angeles.