Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, Ph.D. is a book that will give parents of teen girls hope, encouragement, and new parenting strategies. I’m recommending it to you if you are a parent of a teenage girl.
The book is dense with stories and helpful advice based on Damour’s knowledge and work as a psychologist for adolescents.
Advice for Parenting Teenage Girls
Untangled takes us through seven developmental “strands” or stages that teenage girls go through. They are:
Parting with Childhood
Joining a New Tribe
Contending with Adult Authority
Planning for the Future
Entering the Romantic World
Caring for Herself
Reading this book helped me IMMEDIATELY with situations that came up with my daughter.
For example, my daughter’s friend started cutting and sharing all her self-loathing thoughts with my daughter. (Yikes, right?!) Damour suggested supporting my daughter first and foremost, then helping her set boundaries.
Or when my daughter acted crazy moody up and down from one minute to the next, Damour wrote, and this stuck with me, that not only do I think she’s a bit off, but my daughter does, too –and it probably really freaks her out! Acting on advice from the book, I told my daughter that it’s NORMAL during teenager years to have mood swings and feel like you’re crazy but, the good news is that it will pass. (PHEW!)
Here are several big take-aways I had. (But there’s so much in here, you will probably find many more that resonate with where you are.)
- Set Boundaries with Your Child.
I wrote about this before — it’s so important to set my own boundaries with my complaining daughter. It’s helpful to distinguish between complaining vs. venting. Venting is better, it’s just a download of emotions. Complaining is not helpful or productive. This difference may help during conversations that are really pushing your buttons.
2. Limit Digital Media.
Even before reading this book, I decided to ban all screen time during the week except for anything necessary for homework. This made an enormous difference in my teens behavior! This one shift gave me back my sweet daughter. Her attitude was better. She started being present with us and engaged in conversation — even in the car. I’d almost forgotten how nice it was to drive and talk, not drive and have a sullen girl next to me buried in her phone. The author of Untangled also talks about how digital media harms our children’s developing emotional abilities.
3. Be Fair, Firm and Friendly.
Do you now the difference between authoritative parents vs. authoritarian parents? Authoritative parents are “fair, firm and friendly” like the Danish parenting style. (Not Tiger Mom.)
4. Let Them Fail.
“Girls who learn from small failures are more likely to avoid big ones. We don’t like to let our teenagers falter, but stepping in to help with the small stuff and never stepping out keeps girls from growing.“
5. Romantic Relationships Are About Your Teen and What She Wants.
Luckily for me, we’re not at the romantic stage yet. But I’ll remember Damour’s advice to approach in terms of reinforcing with my daughter that it’s about what she wants. She also wrote something that stuck with me regarding boyfriends: “the bigger the age gap, the more grounds for concern.” This section was startling about the proven dangers of dating older guys such as these girls are more likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection, more likely to use drugs, and more likely to be depressed. Yikes.
Added to this were the sex talks themselves. The book gave example scripts which might be helpful if you haven’t already started these talks.
6. Adult Drinking Vs. Teenage Drinking.
As far as drinking, the author recommended talking with our daughters about the differences in adult drinking and teenage drinking. “Adults drink in situations where key variables are under control: we’re surrounded by responsible companions, we’re in the safety of our own homes, we know how much we can drink while remaining well under control and so on.” Also emphasize the safety of the situation, the quantity of alcohol, and the neurological consequences of drinking for teens. (The same goes for pot.)
All in all, I thought this book was helpful for all of us who are traversing the teenage years with daughters.
“When we’re not taking our daughters’ teenage behavior personally and we help them stop taking us so personally, we’re better parents. . . Untangled, separate but completely present, we have a better feel for when we should let our daughters struggle along and when we owe it to them to offer help.“