Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

by Lisa Damour Ph.D.
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

by Lisa Damour Ph.D.


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An award-winning guide to the sometimes erratic and confusing behavior of teenage girls that explains what’s going on, prepares parents for what’s to come, and lets them know when it’s time to worry.

Dr. Lisa Damour worked as an expert collaborator on Pixar’s Inside Out 2!

Look for Under Pressure, the companion guide to coping with stress and anxiety among girls, available now.

In this sane, highly engaging, and informed guide for parents of daughters, Dr. Damour draws on decades of experience and the latest research to reveal the seven distinct—and absolutely normal—developmental transitions that turn girls into grown-ups, including Parting with Childhood, Contending with Adult Authority, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself. Providing realistic scenarios and welcome advice on how to engage daughters in smart, constructive ways, Untangled gives parents a broad framework for understanding their daughters while addressing their most common questions, including

• My thirteen-year-old rolls her eyes when I try to talk to her, and only does it more when I get angry with her about it. How should I respond?
• Do I tell my teen daughter that I’m checking her phone?
• My daughter suffers from test anxiety. What can I do to help her?
• Where’s the line between healthy eating and having an eating disorder?
• My teenage daughter wants to know why I’m against pot when it’s legal in some states. What should I say?
• My daughter’s friend is cutting herself. Do I call the girl’s mother to let her know?

Perhaps most important, Untangled helps mothers and fathers understand, connect, and grow with their daughters. When parents know what makes their daughter tick, they can embrace and enjoy the challenge of raising a healthy, happy young woman.


“Finally, there’s some good news for puzzled parents of adolescent girls, and psychologist Lisa Damour is the bearer of that happy news. [Untangled] is the most down-to-earth, readable parenting book I’ve come across in a long time.”The Washington Post

“Anna Freud wrote in 1958, ‘There are few situations in life which are more difficult to cope with than an adolescent son or daughter during the attempt to liberate themselves.’ In the intervening decades, the transition doesn’t appear to have gotten any easier which makes Untangled such a welcome new resource.”The Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553393071
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 26,071
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Lisa Damour, Ph.D., graduated with honors from Yale University, worked for the Yale Child Study Center, then received her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Michigan. She is the author of numerous academic papers and chapters related to education and child development. Dr. Damour directs Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, maintains a private psychotherapy practice, consults and speaks internationally, and is a faculty associate of the Schubert Center for Child Studies and a clinical instructor at Case Western Reserve University. She and her husband have two daughters and live in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Read an Excerpt

Parting with Childhood
In the waiting room of my private practice, I met Maya for the first time. With an easy air, long limbs, and dark hair showing the beginnings of gray, she stood to greet me, then gracefully pivoted to return the magazine she’d been reading to its place on a low table, next to a lamp. She followed me to my office and took the far end of my couch. It’s not the closest spot to the armchair where I sit, but not so far away as a chair preferred by clients who want more distance. She kept her light jacket on—we were meeting on a crisp, sunny day in late October—and crossed her legs, clasped her hands, and leaned forward as we talked.
Over the phone, Maya told me that she was worried about the sudden change in her relationship with her twelve-year old daughter, Camille. In my office, she told a familiar story— one that we’ll consider in a totally new light.
Maya explained that until two months ago, Camille had been her funny, joyful companion who was almost always up for a trip to the library, grocery store, or mall. Yet at the start of seventh grade, Camille abruptly transformed. She came home from school and headed straight to her bedroom, where she closed the door and held marathon texting sessions with friends until required to join the family for dinner. Bewildered, Maya described how Camille sat sullenly at the dinner table and gave one-word answers to questions about her day. Even while saying so little, Camille managed to express that her parents were asking the dumbest questions she had ever heard and that sitting with them was the last thing she wanted to do.
Occasionally, the old Camille made a brief appearance; Maya’s eyes brimmed with tears as she described these savored moments. Most of the time, though, Maya felt angry with Camille for being so prickly, missed her warm relationship with her beloved girl, or experienced a wearying mix of both feelings at once. Maya’s friends reassured her that Camille was “normal” and that “girls break up with their parents when they become teenagers,” but Maya had called me anyway. She worried that something just wasn’t right.
Maya’s friends weren’t wrong, but their scope was too narrow and their viewpoint far too personal. They were missing the bigger picture. Girls don’t dump their parents just for the heck of it. They pull away to start their journey along one of the seven developmental strands of adolescence: parting with childhood. By age twelve most tweens feel a sudden, internal pressure to separate themselves from almost everything that seems childlike and, as Maya was learning the hard way, a girl’s pleasant relationship with her folks is usually one of the first casualties. Parting with childhood isn’t always the first developmental strand that girls tackle during adolescence, but it’s a strand that parents can’t miss. When girls distance themselves from their mom and dad they all but announce, “In case you guys hadn’t noticed, I’m a teenager now!”
If we step back from what feels like a highly personal rejection, we can appreciate that, when it comes to parting with childhood, our daughters have a lot of developmental ground to cover in a short time. They have to get from point A, where they happily hold our hands and act like total goofballs in public, to point B, where they claim the independence and self-determination that come with being young women and trade their goofiness for relatively mature behavior (at least when strangers are around). To progress along this strand, girls stop telling us their secrets, bristle when we use pet names, and make it clear that they’re doing us a favor by agreeing to join the family holiday picture. But a girl’s journey away from childhood isn’t all about her relationship with her parents. She might also experiment with makeup, suddenly insist that riding the school bus is for babies, and curse when with her friends.
Girls’ efforts to part with childhood are both conscious and not. Young teens admire older teens and fervently wish to be like them. I have my own ninth-grade flashbulb memory of watching a group of twelfth-grade girls, dressed in Madonna’s mid-’80s style, as they danced and lip-synced to “Borderline” during a talent show. They were beyond cool, and I remember resolving, in that moment, to close the gap between their lace gloved sophistication and my newly realized dorkiness. But a lot goes on behind the scenes in the unconscious mind, too. Even though they might not be aware of it, twelve-year-olds do the math and realize that, if all goes according to plan, they will be leaving home in five or six years. They suddenly feel pressed to prepare for adult independence by ridding themselves of the marks of childhood.
Maya had come to my office because she was worried that something was really wrong, and it’s my job to take parents’ concerns seriously. So I began to ask the questions that help me to know what was normal about Camille’s behavior, and what wasn’t: Was she rude to all adults, or just to her mom and dad? How were things at school and with her friends? Did she have interests, sleep well, and talk about what she wanted to do over the summer or next year?
Maya filled in the picture.
Teachers went out of their way to comment on Camille’s kind and conscientious nature. Camille dog-sat for the neighbors, and Maya heard the same about her from them. Maya explained that her daughter did well in school, had solid friendships, and spent hours each weekend on the family’s unfinished third floor, which she had turned into an elaborate apartment for her dolls. And though Maya suspected that she sometimes snuck her phone into her room for nighttime use, Camille usually slept well. She looked forward to going to camp each summer and also talked about her faraway goals to become a teacher or a scientist.
I reassured Maya that her friends were probably right—that her daughter’s prickly behavior was normal. Then I encouraged her to see the change in Camille from a new perspective: there were seven transitions she would be making as she journeyed toward adulthood, and parting with childhood was one of them. Camille was doing exactly what we expect—even want—teenagers to do. And she was doing what they have done at least since 1958, when Anna Freud noted that the typical teenager lives “in the home in the attitude of a boarder, usually a very inconsiderate one so far as the older and younger family members are concerned.” Despite the fact that it has long been normal for teenagers to hold their parents at arm’s length, most of us feel rocked by the seismic shift in our relationship with our daughter.
You’ll notice that Anna Freud’s wisdom appears throughout this book; there are two reasons for this. First, she holds a special place in the history of psychology for being among the first to articulate, and normalize, many of the predictable challenges that unfold during adolescence. Needless to say, this book aims to build upon that fine tradition. Second, she holds a special place in my heart because she played a small role in my decision to become a psychologist.
When I was six years old, my father’s work for an American bank transferred us from Denver to London for a few years and, by coincidence, a family friend made the same move in the same week. Carla, a reedy graduate student with a mane of wavy red hair, was headed to London to study with Anna Freud. My parents essentially adopted Carla, and she looked after me, their only child, over long weekends when they traveled together. Carla lived in north London, near Anna Freud’s training clinic, in a tiny flat consisting of a living room, a miniature mid-1970s British kitchen, a cramped bathroom, and a bedroom that was overwhelmed by the queen-sized bed we shared when I stayed over. The radiator in the kitchen ran on coins, and it soon became part of our weekend routine. Carla would save up pence between my visits and let me drop them into the radiator’s slot when I arrived. Then we’d sit in her kitchen and I’d start with my questions: “What brings the children to therapy? What do you say to them? What do they say to you? How does all that talking help them get better?” Carla was incredibly patient and generous with me. Replaying our conversations in my mind, I can hear how fully she addressed my curiosity about her work, even as she pitched her answers to a six-year-old.
I was hooked. Shortly after I turned seven, I walked into our London flat and announced to my mother, “I want to do what Carla does.” Nearly forty years later, Carla remains a close friend and mentor, and I remain grateful that she introduced me to a career that I have found deeply gratifying, both professionally and personally.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

1 Parting with Childhood 3

The Cold Shoulder 8

Allergic to Questions 15

Surprisingly Mean 18

The Swimming Pool 21

Totally Competent, Except for When She's Not 24

Blooming, Reluctantly 27

Smoke Without Fire 33

Parting with Childhood: When to Worry 38

The Female Peter Pan 38

Rushing into Adulthood 41

2 Joining a New Tribe 46

The Pull of Popular 50

Tribal Warfare 55

Frenemies 58

If Your Tribe Jumped Off a Bridge 61

When Tribes Need Elders 65

Social (Media) Skills 70

Joining a New Tribe: When to Worry 74

Social Isolation 75

Being Bullied 76

Being a Bully 81

3 Harnessing Emotions 83

You: The Emotional Dumping Ground 87

I'm Upset, Now You're Upset 92

Befriending Distress 99

Catalytic Reactions 102

Coping by Posting 106

How to Become an Accidental Helicopter Parent 112

Harnessing Emotions: When to Worry 115

Recognizing Adolescent Mood and Anxiety Disorders 115

Self-Destructive Coping 118

4 Contending with Adult Authority 120

Seeing Behind the Curtain 121

The End of "Because I Said So" 124

Framing Danger 131

Rupture and Repair 135

Crazy Spots 142

Adults with Faults 146

Holding the Line 153

Contending with Adult Authority: When to Worry 158

Too Good to Be True 158

Constantly Contending 159

Adults Contending with Each Other 161

5 Planning for the Future 163

Impulses, Meet the Internet 165

The Road to the Future: Who Drives? 169

Making the Grade 174

Tense About Tests 180

Planning for Next Week 185

Dealing with Disappointment 190

Planning for the Future: When to Worry 194

All Plan and No Play 194

No Plan in Sight 196

6 Entering the Romantic World 200

A Dream Deferred 202

A Match Made in a Marketing Meeting 207

Offering Some Perspective 209

The Inner Compass 215

Dating for Credit 219

Being Gay: The Slur and the Reality 224

Entering the Romantic World: When to Worry 233

The Tributaries and the Lake 234

April-June Romances 236

7 Caring for Herself 238

Nodding Without Listening 239

Girls, Food, and Weight 241

Sleep vs. Technology 248

Getting Real About Drinking 251

Straight Talk About Drugs 261

Sex and Its Risks 268

Caring for Herself: When to Worry 274

Eating Disorders 274

Not Ready to Launch 275

Conclusion 279

Acknowledgments 281

Notes 283

Recommended Resources 307

Index 311

A Reader's Guide 327

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