I recently read the book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, PhD. Though I am not a therapist, as a result of my previous position, working on Department of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”) cases representing numerous teens, I was and am frequently asked for advice on young adults. I seek out possible books to recommend and found this one at the recommendation of a lawyer mom to better understand teens. After reviewing numerous psychological assessments, therapy reports, and parenting skills evaluations over the years, this book is a valuable resource. It is geared towards teen girls, but the book could be helpful for preteens, all genders, and any parent or caregiver with a child 9 and older. The author, Dr. Lisa Damour, is a psychologist with insight and practical advice about navigating young adults as they move towards adulthood and growing their emotional intelligence. She touches upon seven main areas:
Moving from being a young child into adolescence
Gradually parting with the traditional family nest and finding a new circle
Teens taking charge of their own lives
Dating and romance
Embracing independence and self-care
As adults, we know each of these areas is accompanied by unique challenges and opportunities. The book provides guidance on how to support children through each stage. The anecdotes and research are comprehensive, informative, and accessible. She provides tips on how to have open and honest conversations surrounding obstacles that most parents or caregivers (such as foster parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and adult siblings) will face. The book emphasizes how to create a supportive environment to build a child’s resilience and confidence as they become more independent.
There are many days children come home wanting to vent to the adult in their life. Naturally, the adult gets worked up and wants to “fix” the situation, only to find the teen moved on immediately after unloading their feelings. Instead of instantly becoming enmeshed in the situation, Dr. Damour recommends validating their feelings and figuring out:
whether the child wants to vent and wants you to listen,
is asking for advice, or
wants the adult to take action.
(Good advice for adults, too). How tricky it can be to figure out which path is the correct one! She gives examples of how to ask non-judgmental open-ended questions so your relationship remains strong and not a power struggle.
In addition to this example, the book covers a wide range of topics starting with pre-teen years of their outlook on family and friends to heavier topics, including body image, relationships, sexuality, and mental health. While most topics in the book are geared towards children in middle and high school, the book could provide helpful foreshadowing on how to approach topics as they come up for parents, caregivers, teachers, or mentors of 9–12 year-olds. I find the title to be a bit narrow considering the true audience for the book.
It also confronts the idea that no matter how much control an adult wants over their child’s development, friends, dating relationships and experiences, helping children move into independence is based on empowering them to make responsible decisions. Though, I do want to warn that teens taking the lead on protection and moderation could understandably be controversial to some adults reading this book as there is a divisive outlook on certain topics particularly in the last two chapters of the book. Nevertheless, Dr. Damour illustrates the reasons behind teen behavior, explaining the teenage mind-set so even if a progressive approach is counter intuitive it is certainly worth a read.
She tells the reader when to worry with concrete examples. In a society of over-medicated children, Dr. Damour explains that a decent amount of “acting crazy” during teen years is perfectly normal and shows how a strong relationship along with a couple of therapy sessions could be helpful.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the continuous discussion regarding adults managing their own stress and emotions when approached with thorny topics or attitudes. Some of the real-life examples were humorous, such as a series of panicking messages sent by a parent to the teen’s therapist over the course of hours with the last one ending with never mind everything’s okay. It makes me wonder how often therapists, social workers and psychologists like Dr. Damour encounter this in their practices. I know as a child welfare family lawyer and guardianship attorney, this can happen quite often in my field as well, especially when it comes to child custody cases.