Why Girls Talk and What They re Really Saying

by Linda Perlman Gordon and Susan Morris

Author Linda Perlman Gordon and Susan Morris Shaffer Isbn 978 0071417860 File size 1 Mb Year 2004 Pages 256 Language English File format PDF Category Family and Friendship Helps parents cut through the drama of teenage daughters and maintain positive emotional connections Because adolescent girls tend to talk so much parents often assume that girls are easier to communicate with than boys In reality much of what teenage girls say is the opposite of a healthy expression of emotion often ta

Publisher :

Author : Linda Perlman Gordon and Susan Morris Shaffer

ISBN : 978 0071417860

Year : 2004

Language: English

File Size : 1 Mb

Category : Family and Friendship



WHY GIRLS TALK
— AND WHAT THEY’RE REALLY SAYING
A PA R E N T ’ S
S U RV I VA L G U I D E
TO C O N N E C T I N G
W I T H YO U R T E E N

Susan Morris Shaffer
& Linda Perlman Gordon

Copyright © 2005 by Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon. All rights reserved.
Manufactured in the United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States
Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any
form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.
0-07-146066-7
The material in this eBook also appears in the print version of this title: 0-07-141786-9.
All trademarks are trademarks of their respective owners. Rather than put a trademark symbol
after every occurrence of a trademarked name, we use names in an editorial fashion only, and
to the benefit of the trademark owner, with no intention of infringement of the trademark.
Where such designations appear in this book, they have been printed with initial caps.
McGraw-Hill eBooks are available at special quantity discounts to use as premiums and sales
promotions, or for use in corporate training programs. For more information, please contact
George Hoare, Special Sales, at [email protected] or (212) 904-4069.
TERMS OF USE
This is a copyrighted work and The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (“McGraw-Hill”) and its
licensors reserve all rights in and to the work. Use of this work is subject to these terms.
Except as permitted under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the right to store and retrieve one
copy of the work, you may not decompile, disassemble, reverse engineer, reproduce, modify,
create derivative works based upon, transmit, distribute, disseminate, sell, publish or
sublicense the work or any part of it without McGraw-Hill’s prior consent. You may use the
work for your own noncommercial and personal use; any other use of the work is strictly
prohibited. Your right to use the work may be terminated if you fail to comply with these
terms.
THE WORK IS PROVIDED “AS IS.” McGRAW-HILL AND ITS LICENSORS MAKE NO
GUARANTEES OR WARRANTIES AS TO THE ACCURACY, ADEQUACY OR
COMPLETENESS OF OR RESULTS TO BE OBTAINED FROM USING THE WORK,
INCLUDING ANY INFORMATION THAT CAN BE ACCESSED THROUGH THE WORK
VIA HYPERLINK OR OTHERWISE, AND EXPRESSLY DISCLAIM ANY WARRANTY,
EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO IMPLIED WARRANTIES
OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. McGraw-Hill
and its licensors do not warrant or guarantee that the functions contained in the work will meet
your requirements or that its operation will be uninterrupted or error free. Neither McGrawHill nor its licensors shall be liable to you or anyone else for any inaccuracy, error or omission,
regardless of cause, in the work or for any damages resulting there from. McGraw-Hill has no
responsibility for the content of any information accessed through the work. Under no
circumstances shall McGraw-Hill and/or its licensors be liable for any indirect, incidental,
special, punitive, consequential or similar damages that result from the use of or inability to
use the work, even if any of them has been advised of the possibility of such damages. This
limitation of liability shall apply to any claim or cause whatsoever whether such claim or cause
arises in contract, tort or otherwise.
DOI: 10.1036/0071460667

������������

Want to learn more?
We hope you enjoy this
McGraw-Hill eBook! If
you’d like more information about this book,
its author, or related books and websites,
please click here.

To Arnie and Mark
Three books, two weddings, and 35 years of love and friendship

This page intentionally left blank.

For more
informationww
about this
title, click
here k777.com
boo
w.e
==>
free ebooks

Contents

Acknowledgments

ix

Introduction

xi

Life in the Balance

PA R T

I

Understanding Your Daughter’s World
1

Why Girls Talk—and What They’re Really Saying . . . . 3

2

Golden Girl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Tyranny of Beauty and Culture

3

The Mirror Has Many Faces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Challenges to Building Competent Spheres

4

Focus on Adolescent Girls of Color . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79

—— v ——

vi —— C o n t e n t s

5

Making the Transition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
The Experiences of Everyday School Life

6

Girls as Friends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Best Buddies and Friendly Fire

PA R T

I I

Cutting Through the Chatter and
Finding Connection
7

Parenting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
What’s Love Got to Do with It?

8

Passing on Our Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Helping Our Daughters to Appreciate the Women Who
Made Today’s Opportunities Happen

9

13 Strategic Solutions for Parents of
Adolescent Girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173

10

It’s About That Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
Girls and Boys Together

APPENDIX A

Positive Parenting

205

The Law of Return
APPENDIX B

Focus Group Interview Guide

207

Adolescents
APPENDIX C

Parents

Focus Group Interview Guide

209

C o n t e n t s —— vii

APPENDIX D

Depression in Adolescent Girls

211

APPENDIX E

Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder

213

References

217

Index

229

This page intentionally left blank.

Acknowledgments

e are grateful for the generous support and encouragement we
received for this project.

W

Thank you to our focus group parents and girls, who gave us invaluable personal stories throughout this project, especially to Sue Glick,
Susan Fine, Barbara Moore, Lisa Trevino, and Maryanne Sandretti.
To Susan Wechsler, for her intelligence and insight and never being
farther away than a telephone call.
To our colleagues, Sheryl Denbo and Phyllis Lerner, for their honesty
and wise words and devotion to educational equity.
To Kimberly Lawrence Kol, for her wisdom and expertise, especially
in the area of eating disorders.
To Susan Mikesell, for her many insightful contributions and support.

—— ix ——
Copyright © 2005 by Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon. Click here for terms of use.

x —— A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s

To our agent, Joelle Delbourgo, for her wise counsel, stimulating conversations, fabulous sense of humor, and exquisite professionalism.
To our editor, Judith McCarthy, at McGraw-Hill, for her vision, which
became both the impetus and driving force behind this book.
To Kathy Dennis and the production team, also at McGraw-Hill, for
making the book even better.
To Jean Bernard, for her impeccable attention to detail.
To Meryl Moss and staff, for their creativity, enthusiasm, and
persistence.
To Ray Yau, for his vast knowledge of technology and ability to translate our ideas into a user friendly website.
To Judith Chused, Judy Bowles, and Carol Goldberg, for their inquisitive minds and inspiration.
To Jill Moss Greenberg and Linda Shevitz, who work every day to
make all things possible for children.
To our siblings, Peter and Janine Perlman, Arlene and Bernie Ehrlich,
Debbi and Dale Morris, and Eileen Zegar, for their constant enthusiasm and loving support.
Finally, as always, with all of our love, to our expanding families, Arnie,
Zach, Emily and Dave, Mark, Seth, Elizabeth, and Josh.

Introduction
Life in the Balance

Parents are the most significant influence in a child’s life.

ife with a 14-year-old girl can be compared to “wrestling with an
octopus.” For many of us who have survived these years, the dread
of adolescence dominates any discussion about parenting, of boys as
well as girls. Only after the ritual commiserating do we share the joys
of adolescence. As the mother of a ninth grader said to us, “The compensation for living with adolescents is that they are very interesting.”
It takes perspective and understanding to appreciate the often puzzling,
dramatic, and stressful times of these years for parents of millions of
teenage girls. This was the state of parenting we found when we began
to write this book about adolescent girls. We first wrote about raising
adolescent boys, and in doing so, we discovered that despite the abundance of literature on the subject of raising girls, there was still a need

L

—— xi ——
Copyright © 2005 by Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon. Click here for terms of use.

xii —— I n t r o d u c t i o n

for a discussion of the skills and tools we need to communicate and
connect with our adolescent daughters.
In our book Why Boys Don’t Talk—and Why It Matters, we examined the importance of connection in the lives of boys. Our objective
was to share with parents the benefits of staying close to their sons,
much as they do with their daughters. For parents of girls, our message is somewhat different. While it’s important, of course, for parents
of girls to stay connected to their daughters, we make a distinction
between connection and enmeshment. While we ultimately value connection as a cornerstone of a happy life, we believe it is important to
help our daughters to learn the value of what we call “engaged detachment” from the social messages of “what they ought to be” that inhibit
the development of a healthy sense of self. This detachment will help
them to develop a sense of well-being and self-sufficiency.
When we studied adolescent boys, we explored how easy it can
be to become disconnected from boys and how limited their emotional
lives can become if we are not careful. For adolescent girls, we discuss
the ways we can help our daughters to broaden their circles and sense
of themselves so that when connections with others in one sphere are
in conflict, they have other spheres to turn to. We believe it is essential to encourage girls to appreciate their own competence, and we suggest ways that you as a parent can enhance that sense of capability.
Adolescent boys and girls are mirror images of each other. In general, boys learn to silence themselves in ways that diminish their understanding of their interior lives and emotional components. In general,
girls are in touch with their emotional components but keep themselves
from knowing or exposing their more complete, authentic selves—that
is, a self that exists apart from their social relationships with any one
group. For these reasons, boys “don’t talk,” and girls “do talk,” and we
are left trying to figure out what our adolescent sons and daughters are
really saying. While the dynamics are different for boys and girls, the

I n t r o d u c t i o n —— xiii

consequences are the same: they feel disconnected from their true selves
and from their families. To minimize this occurrence, we have to provide adolescents with opportunities to develop emotional and moral
courage.
As parents of both sons and daughters, all of whom were adolescents not so long ago, and as professionals in psychology and education, we bring to this project a unique combination of professional
perspectives. We both work in gender, education, adolescent, and family issues—one of us as an educator and the other as a social worker.
We have integrated our own personal and professional experiences with
those of other parents and psychologists, educators, and experts who
live and work with adolescent girls. In addition, we have reviewed the
literature about adolescent girls in psychology, sociology, culture, education, and statistics.
Comparing our different experiences in raising our daughters and
our sons, we have come to realize that although our girls have tended
to share more information with us than our boys have, it has often
been difficult to sort through the noise and accurately decode their
intended messages. These are our goals for this book:


To identify effective strategies for deciphering the necessary
information from the drama of girls’ daily lives
✱ To assist you as parents in developing skills to help your daughter establish a strong sense of self, while staying emotionally
connected with her
✱ To strike a balance between the stereotypes of the “mean girl”
and the “nice girl” so your daughter can create a sense of her
authentic self
✱ To explore your own boundaries to avoid overidentification with
and investment in the social successes and failures of your
daughter

xiv —— I n t r o d u c t i o n

Exploring the Behavior of Girls
While researching the ways girls communicate and create connections, we developed a list of key questions:








Why is it so much easier to learn the details of our daughters’
lives than of our sons’?
When our daughters share the myriad details of their lives, what
are they really telling us?
What is engaged detachment?
What can parents do to facilitate the social development of
girls?
How do parents set boundaries between their lives and their
daughters’ lives so they can remain objective coaches?
What skills do girls need to get through their adolescent years
intact?
What is important for parents to think about and to do during
these formative years to help foster communication, connection,
and the development of healthy and strong girls?

All of girls’ behaviors deserve close exploration to find answers to
these questions. Contradictions still exist. Sometimes girls may be more
silent than talkative. For example, in the classroom girls may be quiet
because they are self-conscious of being viewed as “goody-goodies” or
teachers’ pets. We need to help our daughters feel confident enough to
articulate what they know without having to silence themselves. In
order to help your daughter, you need to understand what goes on
beneath the silence to decipher what she is really trying to express.
Even though she may not always express herself with words, she still
has many complicated feelings. What girls are saying is not always verbal; these feelings can also be demonstrated by their behavior.
Moreover, to understand the full landscape of girls’ lives, we have
to consider their experiences from various ethnic, cultural, racial, and

I n t r o d u c t i o n —— xv

socioeconomic backgrounds. We can’t fall into the trap of lumping girls
into one “female” category. One size does not fit all.

Using Fuzzy Logic for Parenting
Raising a child is a collection of parenting moments. The process
doesn’t follow the time frame for the scripted logic of a 30-minute sitcom, with the linear form of a beginning, middle, and end. Instead,
parenting is more like the mathematical concept of “fuzzy logic,” where
uncertainties and discrepancies become clearer and more decipherable
over time. An analogy is the archetypal discussion with kids about sex:
one talk doesn’t provide them with all of the information that they
need to make responsible choices. It takes a collection of talks in
response to different developmental needs and providing positive role
models that help guide children to responsible decisions.
As parents, we have to provide many healthy messages over the
span of our daughter’s growing up and hope that she incorporates them
into her perception of the world and herself and her decision making.
Our job as parents is to communicate our values and beliefs, while separating our struggles from hers; to help our daughter heal when necessary; and to provide opportunities for her to develop what we call “a
broader integrated identity.”
A broader integrated identity is one in which a girl’s sense of self
is not completely dependent on any one interest or thing. Having a
more expansive sense of self allows a girl to stay centered and more
secure within herself in response to not being invited to a party, having less than stellar athletic skills, surviving a fight with a boyfriend,
or not doing well on a history exam. These experiences are part of
teenage life; everyone experiences some of them at one time or another.
Barbara, the mother of 22-year-old Alison, explained how she and
her husband helped their daughter develop a broader sense of self in
the face of academic difficulties: “Alison struggled so much with read-

xvi —— I n t r o d u c t i o n

ing that in ninth grade they put her in special education classes in our
large, urban high school. When we first discovered her dyslexia, we
were relieved because the discrepancy between the bright girl we knew
and the girl in the special ed classes finally made sense. The most
important lesson that we learned during this period was that the only
way to save her self-image was to find something other than school that
she could excel in.
“For Alison it was dance. When she performed in front of an
audience, she came alive. She was a different person: secure, confident,
and creative. Alison lit up on the stage. This was an area where she
could be competitive, and it provided her with another ‘self ’ that she
could rely on when she was feeling unsuccessful at school. The selfconfidence that she gained from dance spilled over into other parts of
her life, including, over time, doing well in school. She could draw
upon her success in dance to help her define in a positive way who
she was.”
Alison’s parents refused to let her be pigeonholed by only one facet
of her life. They understood the importance of finding their daughter’s passion and supporting her. The more opportunities we provide
for our daughters to experience their own competence, the more
resilient they become.
An important component to raising teenagers is being available
to them. Staying close to your daughter may prevent risk-taking behaviors. The closer you are, the more opportunities you have to empower
her. Contrary to the popular belief that little children need their parents more than adolescents do, we know that these years also require
attentiveness and close supervision.
It is our intent to present parents with a practical guide to further
understand the emotional dimensions of girls and increase the possibilities of competence and connection. What we learned from talking
to many parents is that their desire to stay close to their children during the teenage years is universal. They just don’t always know how
(see Appendix A: “Positive Parenting”).

I n t r o d u c t i o n —— xvii

Your family has operating principles and values that are unique to
you and parenting styles that affect what works and what doesn’t. We
encourage you to be confident in teaching the principles and values
specific to your culture and heritage. Helping your daughter develop
a strong sense of self requires building confidence and pride in her heritage. Having self-confidence increases the resiliency of girls as well as
their sense of well-being as they address the trials and tribulations of
their age.
Often, you won’t know in advance what specific methods will
work with your daughter. However, by remaining engaged and constantly trying, you will become more knowledgeable about what works
for her and when. Even with those strategies that do work, flexibility,
variety, and a sense of humor are essential to getting through to your
daughter during these demanding years. Don’t despair; if you stay
involved and stay connected during these years, you will also experience many precious moments.

You cannot tell always by looking
what is happening.
More than half a tree is spread out
in the soil under your feet.
—Marge Piercy, from “The Seven of Pentacles”



WHY GIRLS TALK
— AND WHAT THEY’RE REALLY SAYING
A PA R E N T ’ S
S U RV I VA L G U I D E
TO C O N N E C T I N G
W I T H YO U R T E E N

Susan Morris Shaffer
& Linda Perlman Gordon

Copyright © 2005 by Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon. All rights reserved.
Manufactured in the United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States
Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any
form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.
0-07-146066-7
The material in this eBook also appears in the print version of this title: 0-07-141786-9.
All trademarks are trademarks of their respective owners. Rather than put a trademark symbol
after every occurrence of a trademarked name, we use names in an editorial fashion only, and
to the benefit of the trademark owner, with no intention of infringement of the trademark.
Where such designations appear in this book, they have been printed with initial caps.
McGraw-Hill eBooks are available at special quantity discounts to use as premiums and sales
promotions, or for use in corporate training programs. For more information, please contact
George Hoare, Special Sales, at [email protected] or (212) 904-4069.
TERMS OF USE
This is a copyrighted work and The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (“McGraw-Hill”) and its
licensors reserve all rights in and to the work. Use of this work is subject to these terms.
Except as permitted under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the right to store and retrieve one
copy of the work, you may not decompile, disassemble, reverse engineer, reproduce, modify,
create derivative works based upon, transmit, distribute, disseminate, sell, publish or
sublicense the work or any part of it without McGraw-Hill’s prior consent. You may use the
work for your own noncommercial and personal use; any other use of the work is strictly
prohibited. Your right to use the work may be terminated if you fail to comply with these
terms.
THE WORK IS PROVIDED “AS IS.” McGRAW-HILL AND ITS LICENSORS MAKE NO
GUARANTEES OR WARRANTIES AS TO THE ACCURACY, ADEQUACY OR
COMPLETENESS OF OR RESULTS TO BE OBTAINED FROM USING THE WORK,
INCLUDING ANY INFORMATION THAT CAN BE ACCESSED THROUGH THE WORK
VIA HYPERLINK OR OTHERWISE, AND EXPRESSLY DISCLAIM ANY WARRANTY,
EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO IMPLIED WARRANTIES
OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. McGraw-Hill
and its licensors do not warrant or guarantee that the functions contained in the work will meet
your requirements or that its operation will be uninterrupted or error free. Neither McGrawHill nor its licensors shall be liable to you or anyone else for any inaccuracy, error or omission,
regardless of cause, in the work or for any damages resulting there from. McGraw-Hill has no
responsibility for the content of any information accessed through the work. Under no
circumstances shall McGraw-Hill and/or its licensors be liable for any indirect, incidental,
special, punitive, consequential or similar damages that result from the use of or inability to
use the work, even if any of them has been advised of the possibility of such damages. This
limitation of liability shall apply to any claim or cause whatsoever whether such claim or cause
arises in contract, tort or otherwise.
DOI: 10.1036/0071460667

������������

Want to learn more?
We hope you enjoy this
McGraw-Hill eBook! If
you’d like more information about this book,
its author, or related books and websites,
please click here.

To Arnie and Mark
Three books, two weddings, and 35 years of love and friendship

This page intentionally left blank.

For more
informationww
about this
title, click
here k777.com
boo
w.e
==>
free ebooks

Contents

Acknowledgments

ix

Introduction

xi

Life in the Balance

PA R T

I

Understanding Your Daughter’s World
1

Why Girls Talk—and What They’re Really Saying . . . . 3

2

Golden Girl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Tyranny of Beauty and Culture

3

The Mirror Has Many Faces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Challenges to Building Competent Spheres

4

Focus on Adolescent Girls of Color . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79

—— v ——

vi —— C o n t e n t s

5

Making the Transition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
The Experiences of Everyday School Life

6

Girls as Friends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Best Buddies and Friendly Fire

PA R T

I I

Cutting Through the Chatter and
Finding Connection
7

Parenting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
What’s Love Got to Do with It?

8

Passing on Our Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Helping Our Daughters to Appreciate the Women Who
Made Today’s Opportunities Happen

9

13 Strategic Solutions for Parents of
Adolescent Girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173

10

It’s About That Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
Girls and Boys Together

APPENDIX A

Positive Parenting

205

The Law of Return
APPENDIX B

Focus Group Interview Guide

207

Adolescents
APPENDIX C

Parents

Focus Group Interview Guide

209

C o n t e n t s —— vii

APPENDIX D

Depression in Adolescent Girls

211

APPENDIX E

Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder

213

References

217

Index

229

This page intentionally left blank.

Acknowledgments

e are grateful for the generous support and encouragement we
received for this project.

W

Thank you to our focus group parents and girls, who gave us invaluable personal stories throughout this project, especially to Sue Glick,
Susan Fine, Barbara Moore, Lisa Trevino, and Maryanne Sandretti.
To Susan Wechsler, for her intelligence and insight and never being
farther away than a telephone call.
To our colleagues, Sheryl Denbo and Phyllis Lerner, for their honesty
and wise words and devotion to educational equity.
To Kimberly Lawrence Kol, for her wisdom and expertise, especially
in the area of eating disorders.
To Susan Mikesell, for her many insightful contributions and support.

—— ix ——
Copyright © 2005 by Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon. Click here for terms of use.

x —— A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s

To our agent, Joelle Delbourgo, for her wise counsel, stimulating conversations, fabulous sense of humor, and exquisite professionalism.
To our editor, Judith McCarthy, at McGraw-Hill, for her vision, which
became both the impetus and driving force behind this book.
To Kathy Dennis and the production team, also at McGraw-Hill, for
making the book even better.
To Jean Bernard, for her impeccable attention to detail.
To Meryl Moss and staff, for their creativity, enthusiasm, and
persistence.
To Ray Yau, for his vast knowledge of technology and ability to translate our ideas into a user friendly website.
To Judith Chused, Judy Bowles, and Carol Goldberg, for their inquisitive minds and inspiration.
To Jill Moss Greenberg and Linda Shevitz, who work every day to
make all things possible for children.
To our siblings, Peter and Janine Perlman, Arlene and Bernie Ehrlich,
Debbi and Dale Morris, and Eileen Zegar, for their constant enthusiasm and loving support.
Finally, as always, with all of our love, to our expanding families, Arnie,
Zach, Emily and Dave, Mark, Seth, Elizabeth, and Josh.

Introduction
Life in the Balance

Parents are the most significant influence in a child’s life.

ife with a 14-year-old girl can be compared to “wrestling with an
octopus.” For many of us who have survived these years, the dread
of adolescence dominates any discussion about parenting, of boys as
well as girls. Only after the ritual commiserating do we share the joys
of adolescence. As the mother of a ninth grader said to us, “The compensation for living with adolescents is that they are very interesting.”
It takes perspective and understanding to appreciate the often puzzling,
dramatic, and stressful times of these years for parents of millions of
teenage girls. This was the state of parenting we found when we began
to write this book about adolescent girls. We first wrote about raising
adolescent boys, and in doing so, we discovered that despite the abundance of literature on the subject of raising girls, there was still a need

L

—— xi ——
Copyright © 2005 by Susan Morris Shaffer and Linda Perlman Gordon. Click here for terms of use.

xii —— I n t r o d u c t i o n

for a discussion of the skills and tools we need to communicate and
connect with our adolescent daughters.
In our book Why Boys Don’t Talk—and Why It Matters, we examined the importance of connection in the lives of boys. Our objective
was to share with parents the benefits of staying close to their sons,
much as they do with their daughters. For parents of girls, our message is somewhat different. While it’s important, of course, for parents
of girls to stay connected to their daughters, we make a distinction
between connection and enmeshment. While we ultimately value connection as a cornerstone of a happy life, we believe it is important to
help our daughters to learn the value of what we call “engaged detachment” from the social messages of “what they ought to be” that inhibit
the development of a healthy sense of self. This detachment will help
them to develop a sense of well-being and self-sufficiency.
When we studied adolescent boys, we explored how easy it can
be to become disconnected from boys and how limited their emotional
lives can become if we are not careful. For adolescent girls, we discuss
the ways we can help our daughters to broaden their circles and sense
of themselves so that when connections with others in one sphere are
in conflict, they have other spheres to turn to. We believe it is essential to encourage girls to appreciate their own competence, and we suggest ways that you as a parent can enhance that sense of capability.
Adolescent boys and girls are mirror images of each other. In general, boys learn to silence themselves in ways that diminish their understanding of their interior lives and emotional components. In general,
girls are in touch with their emotional components but keep themselves
from knowing or exposing their more complete, authentic selves—that
is, a self that exists apart from their social relationships with any one
group. For these reasons, boys “don’t talk,” and girls “do talk,” and we
are left trying to figure out what our adolescent sons and daughters are
really saying. While the dynamics are different for boys and girls, the

I n t r o d u c t i o n —— xiii

consequences are the same: they feel disconnected from their true selves
and from their families. To minimize this occurrence, we have to provide adolescents with opportunities to develop emotional and moral
courage.
As parents of both sons and daughters, all of whom were adolescents not so long ago, and as professionals in psychology and education, we bring to this project a unique combination of professional
perspectives. We both work in gender, education, adolescent, and family issues—one of us as an educator and the other as a social worker.
We have integrated our own personal and professional experiences with
those of other parents and psychologists, educators, and experts who
live and work with adolescent girls. In addition, we have reviewed the
literature about adolescent girls in psychology, sociology, culture, education, and statistics.
Comparing our different experiences in raising our daughters and
our sons, we have come to realize that although our girls have tended
to share more information with us than our boys have, it has often
been difficult to sort through the noise and accurately decode their
intended messages. These are our goals for this book:


To identify effective strategies for deciphering the necessary
information from the drama of girls’ daily lives
✱ To assist you as parents in developing skills to help your daughter establish a strong sense of self, while staying emotionally
connected with her
✱ To strike a balance between the stereotypes of the “mean girl”
and the “nice girl” so your daughter can create a sense of her
authentic self
✱ To explore your own boundaries to avoid overidentification with
and investment in the social successes and failures of your
daughter

xiv —— I n t r o d u c t i o n

Exploring the Behavior of Girls
While researching the ways girls communicate and create connections, we developed a list of key questions:








Why is it so much easier to learn the details of our daughters’
lives than of our sons’?
When our daughters share the myriad details of their lives, what
are they really telling us?
What is engaged detachment?
What can parents do to facilitate the social development of
girls?
How do parents set boundaries between their lives and their
daughters’ lives so they can remain objective coaches?
What skills do girls need to get through their adolescent years
intact?
What is important for parents to think about and to do during
these formative years to help foster communication, connection,
and the development of healthy and strong girls?

All of girls’ behaviors deserve close exploration to find answers to
these questions. Contradictions still exist. Sometimes girls may be more
silent than talkative. For example, in the classroom girls may be quiet
because they are self-conscious of being viewed as “goody-goodies” or
teachers’ pets. We need to help our daughters feel confident enough to
articulate what they know without having to silence themselves. In
order to help your daughter, you need to understand what goes on
beneath the silence to decipher what she is really trying to express.
Even though she may not always express herself with words, she still
has many complicated feelings. What girls are saying is not always verbal; these feelings can also be demonstrated by their behavior.
Moreover, to understand the full landscape of girls’ lives, we have
to consider their experiences from various ethnic, cultural, racial, and

I n t r o d u c t i o n —— xv

socioeconomic backgrounds. We can’t fall into the trap of lumping girls
into one “female” category. One size does not fit all.

Using Fuzzy Logic for Parenting
Raising a child is a collection of parenting moments. The process
doesn’t follow the time frame for the scripted logic of a 30-minute sitcom, with the linear form of a beginning, middle, and end. Instead,
parenting is more like the mathematical concept of “fuzzy logic,” where
uncertainties and discrepancies become clearer and more decipherable
over time. An analogy is the archetypal discussion with kids about sex:
one talk doesn’t provide them with all of the information that they
need to make responsible choices. It takes a collection of talks in
response to different developmental needs and providing positive role
models that help guide children to responsible decisions.
As parents, we have to provide many healthy messages over the
span of our daughter’s growing up and hope that she incorporates them
into her perception of the world and herself and her decision making.
Our job as parents is to communicate our values and beliefs, while separating our struggles from hers; to help our daughter heal when necessary; and to provide opportunities for her to develop what we call “a
broader integrated identity.”
A broader integrated identity is one in which a girl’s sense of self
is not completely dependent on any one interest or thing. Having a
more expansive sense of self allows a girl to stay centered and more
secure within herself in response to not being invited to a party, having less than stellar athletic skills, surviving a fight with a boyfriend,
or not doing well on a history exam. These experiences are part of
teenage life; everyone experiences some of them at one time or another.
Barbara, the mother of 22-year-old Alison, explained how she and
her husband helped their daughter develop a broader sense of self in
the face of academic difficulties: “Alison struggled so much with read-

xvi —— I n t r o d u c t i o n

ing that in ninth grade they put her in special education classes in our
large, urban high school. When we first discovered her dyslexia, we
were relieved because the discrepancy between the bright girl we knew
and the girl in the special ed classes finally made sense. The most
important lesson that we learned during this period was that the only
way to save her self-image was to find something other than school that
she could excel in.
“For Alison it was dance. When she performed in front of an
audience, she came alive. She was a different person: secure, confident,
and creative. Alison lit up on the stage. This was an area where she
could be competitive, and it provided her with another ‘self ’ that she
could rely on when she was feeling unsuccessful at school. The selfconfidence that she gained from dance spilled over into other parts of
her life, including, over time, doing well in school. She could draw
upon her success in dance to help her define in a positive way who
she was.”
Alison’s parents refused to let her be pigeonholed by only one facet
of her life. They understood the importance of finding their daughter’s passion and supporting her. The more opportunities we provide
for our daughters to experience their own competence, the more
resilient they become.
An important component to raising teenagers is being available
to them. Staying close to your daughter may prevent risk-taking behaviors. The closer you are, the more opportunities you have to empower
her. Contrary to the popular belief that little children need their parents more than adolescents do, we know that these years also require
attentiveness and close supervision.
It is our intent to present parents with a practical guide to further
understand the emotional dimensions of girls and increase the possibilities of competence and connection. What we learned from talking
to many parents is that their desire to stay close to their children during the teenage years is universal. They just don’t always know how
(see Appendix A: “Positive Parenting”).

I n t r o d u c t i o n —— xvii

Your family has operating principles and values that are unique to
you and parenting styles that affect what works and what doesn’t. We
encourage you to be confident in teaching the principles and values
specific to your culture and heritage. Helping your daughter develop
a strong sense of self requires building confidence and pride in her heritage. Having self-confidence increases the resiliency of girls as well as
their sense of well-being as they address the trials and tribulations of
their age.
Often, you won’t know in advance what specific methods will
work with your daughter. However, by remaining engaged and constantly trying, you will become more knowledgeable about what works
for her and when. Even with those strategies that do work, flexibility,
variety, and a sense of humor are essential to getting through to your
daughter during these demanding years. Don’t despair; if you stay
involved and stay connected during these years, you will also experience many precious moments.

You cannot tell always by looking
what is happening.
More than half a tree is spread out
in the soil under your feet.
—Marge Piercy, from “The Seven of Pentacles”

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