Book Review: Untangled

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"Just appreciating how many transitions are involvedin moving from childhood to adulthood gives us new respect for what our daughters are going through and clarifies why the teenage years can be taxing for everyone involved." Lisa Damour

In case you're short on time, let me get to the point of this post:  If you are raising a daughter, drop everything and buy Untangled - Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.

The book and the insights are nothing short of brilliant and only improve when Damour offers sound, practical advice on how to respond to our daughters when things get tense.  Her take on what girls experience is based on her years of counseling daughters and their parents. Her stories are more than illuminating, they end with very specific ways to follow up.

Don't say this... DO say that... Save your worry for a different time...

"This book aims to be more descriptive than prescriptive - to offer you  a new way to understand your daughter, not tell you how to raise her...I believe when it comes to parenting, there are many ways to get it right."

Billy read the book before me, but I STILL read entire sections out loud to him.

My copy is marked beyond recognition, but so you have a hint of the wisdom, I'm pulling a snippet from each of the "stages."

1.Parting with Childhood

I love this section in part because Damour explains your daughter's behavior SHOULD be all over the map; that mix of "come here/get away" is to be expected.

"Healthy adolescent development requires certain conditions - one being parents who can handle rejection."

For instance when it comes to having challenging conversations, you shouldn't avoid engaging with your daughter just because she acts miserable in the conversation. This is normal; as Damour says, "Girls can listen and roll their eyes at the same time."

2. Joining a New Tribe

This particular thread may be hard to read because the theme is along these lines:

"Teenagers aren't just looking to make friends, they are replacing the family they've withdrawn from (or, at least, might barely acknowledge in public) with a tribe that they can feel proud to call their own."

Much of this process causes conflict. Damour again assures us this is normal.

"Conflict is the common cold of human interaction: we don't like it, we can't cure it, and we just have to live with it."

3. Harnessing Emotions

"...healthy teenage development can look pretty irrational."

Can I get an Amen?

In this particular thread Damour explains why, biologically, "emotional input rings like a gong for teenagers and a chime for everyone else." She explains how parents are a safe, emotional dumping ground and gives some ways to both allow for expression and not become a doormat.

"You may not be in a good mood, but you are not allowed to mistreat us. If you want to talk about what's bugging you, I'm all ears. If you're going to be salty all night, don't do it here."

Overall, the encouragement is to teach your daughter how to talk through the maze of emotions, reminding parents that "talking about that feeling with someone who cares goes a long way toward bringing it down to size."

4. Contending with Adult Authority

In this thread of developing adolescence, Damour reminds parents that "the best way to maintain your daughter's respect will be to welcome her budding insights."

Again,  this doesn't mean allowing disrespect or ignoring rules, but it does mean offering context.

More importantly, when your daughter fights with you she is developing important emotional intelligence skills. Still, Demour begs the question we all ask, " 'Must we fight? Can't we build emotional intelligence while we're getting along?' Not really. When we're getting along, we only need junior varsity levels of emotional intelligence...When we reflect on competing mental states -- when what I want isn't what you want, but I'm holding both of our perspectives in mind--we start to become emotional geniuses."

I feel like a genius just thinking about this stuff!

5. Planning for the Future

We all worry about whether our constantly-connected children are going to make horrible choices which can negatively impact their future. Damour outlines many of the pitfalls and also issues sobering advice.

"Never get into a power struggle with a teenager in an area where she holds all the power...if a teenager does not want things to go well at school, she can easily get her way."

Her advice is extremely practical and spelled out for those of us who need help.  At the same time, she's also encouraging:

"I regularly watch girls go from bobbing along one week to gunning an outboard motor the next."

6. Entering the Romantic World

This section is just wow... you may not agree with all of Damour's advice, but this chapter is worth reading. She talks about the current state of sexual activities for teens (yikes) and also offers language around how to raise our daughters' awareness of how marketing sexualizes girls.

"Research finds that the more sexist and sexualized content girls consume as part of their media diet, the more likely they are to hold stereotypical views about gender roles..."

7. Caring for Herself

This is the awkward conversation chapter where the advice gets into conversation about food, sex, and body image. Again, the tone is unblinkingly honest and practical.

"...girls feel good about their bodies when their parents focus on positive ways to maintain a healthy weight as opposed to encouraging dieting."

I don't think I can gush enough. I really could quote half of the book, but you get the idea, right?

Put it on your list already :)