I found Lisa Damour‘s book, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood (available on Bookshop and Amazon*) so profoundly helpful that I am breaking my own (perhaps arbitrary?) rule about not writing book notes on parenting books. This book reassures parents by explaining how our daughter’s seemingly troubling and erratic behavior is part of normal adolescence and by alerting us when we should worry. Throughout the book, Dr. Damour provides endless practical advice based on research and her wealth of experience as a psychologist and director of the Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls. I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares for or works with teenage girls.
Since I can’t begin to summarize the wealth of information or even pick my favorite quotes from this book, and because I know many of my readers have boys or are not even parents, I will instead share wisdom from Untangled that can be useful to anyone.
1. Conflict and negative emotions are normal and sometimes even useful
Dr. Damour reminds us that…
“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. When humans spend time with other humans, we come into conflict with one another (and get colds). And as with the common cold, there are things we can do to relieve conflict and steps we can take to keep conflict from worsening.”
Similarly, she says that…
“Emotions are actually the product of a highly developed (but, for teenagers, not so finely tuned) system that provides critical feedback about how their lives are going and the quality of the choices they’re making….Feeling the sting of a mistake keeps us from making the same mistake again.”
2. Emotional intelligence isn’t just a buzzword
Dr. Damour gives us a simple definition of emotional intelligence:
“It’s both ‘seeing ourselves from the outside and seeing others from the inside.’ Often, emotional intelligence is just common sense.”
3. Questions, asked in the right tone, can be far more effective than lectures.
Two (of the many) useful questions she offers:
“’Is there anything I can do that won’t make things worse?’ Set to a compassionate tune, there’s beauty in this phrasing. In just a few words, it communicates everything your daughter needs to know: you understand that her distress is real, you’re not going to try to talk her out of her feelings, nor are you frightened of them, and you can live with your inability to make things better.”
“Wow, that’s a really complicated situation. I don’t know what to say. What do you think?”
4. Self care is important
While Dr. Damour offers this advice regarding teenage girls and sex, I think it is especially helpful for many of us (especially women) in general:
“You have three jobs: to alert your daughter to the fact that she has an inner compass, to support her in asking for what she wants, and to make sure she knows how to express what she doesn’t want.”
5. Finally, finding support for yourself is also important:
“By some magic that I can’t fully explain (despite the fact that my entire career as a clinician rests on this magic), having a name for a feeling and talking about that feeling with someone who cares go a long way toward bringing it down to size.”
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