Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood


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February 9, 2016 | ISBN 9780147522474

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About the Book

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
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Praise for Untangled

“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

“Damour offers a hopeful, helpful new way for parents to talk about—and with—teenage girls. . . . Parents will want this book on their shelves, next to established classics of the genre.”Publishers Weekly

“For years people have been asking me for the ‘girl equivalent of Raising Cain,’ and I haven't known exactly what to recommend. Now I do.”—Michael Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of Raising Cain

“An essential guide to understanding and supporting girls throughout their development. It’s obvious that Dr. Damour ‘gets’ girls and is one of the few experts in the field who works with them day in and day out. She clearly understands the best way for any adult to help them navigate the common yet difficult challenges so many girls face.”—Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees & Wannabes

Untangled is a gem. Lisa Damour deftly blends insights from her clinical experience working with girls, time-honored wisdom on adolescence, the latest social science and neuroscience research, and frank descriptions of cultural trends and media messages. From the moment I read the last page I’ve been recommending it to my clients (including those with sons!) and colleagues, and using it as a refreshing guide in my own work with teenagers and their parents.”—Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

“An arsenal of strategies to respond to your daughter’s ever-changing brain, feelings, and choices, Untangled will become your dog-eared travel guide to the mysterious world of teenage girls.”—Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out

“So chock-full of practical wisdom that I read it straight through twice, then recommended it to every person I know who has a daughter. This book will, no question, make you a better—and a saner—parent of your adolescent girl.”—Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls and Sex

“There are books about teenagers that are smart. And there are books about teenagers that are practical. Lisa Damour, thankfully, provides us with one that is both. With palpable empathy and understanding for adolescent girls and their families, Damour equips parents with a flexible blueprint for anticipating challenges and encouraging growth in their daughters. If you have a daughter (or were a daughter!), Untangled is mandatory reading.”—Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of The Price of Privilege
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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.

About the Author

Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
Recognized as a thought leader by the American Psychological Association, Lisa Damour, Ph.D., co-hosts the Ask Lisa podcast, writes about adolescents for the The New York Times, appears as a regular contributor to CBS News, works in collaboration with UNICEF, and maintains a clinical practice. She is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. She and her husband have two daughters and live in Shaker Heights, Ohio. More by Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
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