Lisa Damour adores teenage girls — just loves ’em. The 45-year-old psychologist directs Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, which integrates its own studies with the latest findings on how girls learn and grow into the school’s curriculum and activities. The Shaker Heights mother of two also maintains a private practice in Beachwood, pens a monthly column for The New York Times and is the author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.
Teenage girls are the most dynamic, interesting, complex creatures on the planet. So there’s a part for me where the intellectual challenge of making sense of all that complexity is really, really appealing.
They are the most clear-eyed people walking around.
Girls more than boys will back away when the work gets hard. They are more likely to say, “I’m not good at this,” especially in fields that have been traditionally dominated by men such as math and science.
We say, “Hey, you know how out on the soccer field you didn’t used to be able to do the things you can do now? You got there by practicing. The same skills that you have used to develop yourself as a soccer player are the exact same skills that are going to help you develop yourself as a girl in geometry.”
Eye-rolling has an endless variety of meanings. I think what is often the least common is that it’s meant as an offense against an adult.
Often, for girls, it’s a deflection.
Feelings are incredibly intense for teenagers. The things that adults find bothersome, teenagers can find catastrophic.
So we are living with young people who are managing incredible intensity, often very, very gracefully. And yet, if we poke at an emotional bruise, they will react. Sometimes they react badly, and sometimes they react by just trying to deflect the poke, so to speak.
“Popular” has sort of a positive spin on it. Yet when you break it down for teenagers and say, “Is the person popular or are they powerful? Are they liked or are they kind of feared?” They immediately can see the distinction.
You can see the relief in teenagers right away when they realize, Oh, right, right. There are different ways to be popular and not all are good.
Hillary Clinton’s presidential run has a different meaning to teenage girls than it does for their mothers. For a lot of teenage girls — and this is a good thing in some ways — everybody’s mom is a doctor, everybody’s mom is a lawyer. They’re so accustomed to the idea of women having access to education and equal opportunity.
What we used to do on the phone, [teenagers] now do online.
They now have a visual representation of who’s talking to whom, for how long and about what. That makes concrete, I think, something that teenagers have always kept score on. It’s harder to fudge. It’s easier to share. It’s documented.
Teenagers are like swimmers. They want to be out in the water. But they become exhausted sometimes. And when they do, they swim to the wall to recover.
The wall is the parent, who is there while the teenager gets her breath back by holding on. But as soon as the teenager has her breath back, she pushes off and leaves again. Sometimes she does this by being a little bit snarky or rude.
It’s very hard on a parent who may have been enjoying some cuddling or a close moment with their daughter, to suddenly have her seem to change, to become what feels to the parent [like] rejecting.
When they think in terms of the swimming-pool metaphor, what it helps them do — and I would say this is the governing principle in all of my work — is to stop taking their daughter so personally.