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I’m in an Upper Elementary classroom in Illinois. We’re working our way through Romeo and Juliet, acting out scenes and discussing the play’s themes as we go. During a pause in the balcony scene, an 11-year-old female student sighs deeply. Heads turn.
“My parents fell in love like that,” she explains. “It was love at first sight.”
This family revelation catapults us into an earnest discussion of how one knows whether romantic love is “real,” which spirals into a debate about when—if ever—it’s okay to disobey your parents.
One student is shocked by Juliet’s behavior—sneaking out to meet Romeo!—and says she would never go against her parents’ wishes. Another student points out that the Capulets were unreasonably biased against anyone named Montague. She admires Juliet for being strong enough to reject her parents’ prejudice and says she would “definitely” break a parent’s rule if it was so clearly wrong. A third student wonders why Shakespeare doesn’t mention Juliet’s friends. “After all,” she notes, “most of us would talk to our friends about what to do about someone we like.”
Which of these views might your pre-teen daughter hold? Does she idolize you? Does she consistently abide by your rules? Does she have strong opinions of her own? Is she easily influenced by peers? All of the above perhaps, depending on the topic, the day of the week, or her mood?
How do you teach your daughter your family values while helping her develop her own unique identity? How much freedom do you give her? How do you keep her safe?
The Capulets famously and tragically failed in parenting Juliet. But hey, it’s easy to judge.
If you are in this phase of parenting a daughter, allow me to suggest some reading that might offer solace, suggestions, or food for thought. I’m not endorsing the entirety of each book, but I have found each useful to push against in developing my own ideas about working with tween and teen girls.
To be clear, I profess no expertise in this area. However, I somehow survived the adolescence of not just my own strong-willed daughter but that of several dozen other teen girls who were in my and my husband’s care at a boarding high school. So I’m here to say “You can do it!” And some of these books, all written by counselors who have worked with girls and their families, may help. Be sure to look for the latest edition of each and flip through the text before you sit down to read, as different resources will appeal to different readers.
1. Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall?
The award for best title of a parenting book goes to Anthony E. Wolf, author of this highly relatable, reassuring text full of common sense advice and insights into what’s motivating teen behavior (both girls and boys). Unlike some parenting texts that can be preachy, didactic, or rigid in approach, Wolf’s book is full of compassion, humor, and real life examples (as well as some foul language when quoting angry teens). Key take-away: Tweens and teens are counting on you to set limits, even though they will whine, argue, ignore, argue some more, and deliberately violate those limits over and over again, exhausting you in the process. The bad news: You have less control than you want. The good news? You have more influence than you realize.
2. Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood
I thought untangling my daughter’s hair when she was a preschooler was tough. I had no idea what was ahead in the middle school and high school years! I wish Lisa Damour’s book had been available to me. It’s another resource with a frank, friendly tone that is full of useful information and real life examples of how girls mature. She outlines seven (non-linear) stages in a girl’s transition to adulthood: 1) parting with childhood, 2) joining a new tribe, 3) harnessing emotions, 4) contending with adult authority, 5) planning for the future, 6) entering the romantic world, and 7) caring for herself. She offers advice on “When To Worry” as well as tips on how to navigate difficult conversations. A colleague of mine calls this book a “travel guide that can help parents of girls find a path through the adolescent jungle.”
3. Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence
Rosalind Wiseman analyzes “mean girl” behavior and offers strategies for helping your daughter learn to move through what can feel like treacherous social situations with her self-esteem intact. She identifies roles girls sometimes play in a social hierarchy that defines who’s “in” and who’s “out” (Queen Bee, Wannabe, Sidekick, Target, Banker, etc.). Some readers find this book too dark and somewhat reductive, arguing that these unhealthy dynamics are not universal. Others find that it illuminates what drives different types of behavior that many girls have engaged in at one time or another in an effort to be liked or included.
4. Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture
Laura Choate has written a practical, user-friendly book with suggestions on how to teach girls the skills they need to resist destructive cultural pressures. There are sections on developing a positive body image, maintaining healthy relationships with friends and romantic partners, and navigating high-pressure academic environments. The book includes specific activities you can do with your daughter, such as analyzing ads together to uncover what media messages are being promoted for whose gain.
There are many other books that may appeal to you. Check out the annotated list at this link: https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=12416