Twelve Parenting Tips from Reviving Ophelia

At the end of one of my English 1010 classes, a student wrote a magnificent paper.  I don’t remember the exact theme or her argument, but I do remember that she had used Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (1994) as a source.  Now, this student was no ordinary student.  She was in her mid-40s, had raised four boys, and had recently gone through a divorce.  I valued her experiences, which she often brought to the classroom discussion, and I valued her as a person.  She had a lot to offer.  So, when she used this source and recommended that I read the book, I took her advice to heart.

So, I just barely read the book.  It has been some two years since becoming aware of it, but I am glad that I have finally gotten to it.  The book’s advice and issues will be of value to me, as my almost eight-year-old daughter will soon be facing adolescence herself.

Overall, the book is pretty scary.  Pipher, a clinical psychologist, uses her patients’ experiences (with pseudonyms, of course) as a way of presenting the problems that young teen girls face.  These stories are compelling, moving, and frightening.  Most of the stories describe desperate parents, who bring in their daughter for help.  This daughter is said to have been perky, happy, confident, and loving, but they are now in therapy because she has become sullen, angry, disobedient, and addicted to ______ (insert sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.).  From this beginning, Dr. Pipher then recounts the girls’ experiences and usually discovers what has caused the change. Sometimes it is rape, sometimes it is hormones, sometimes it is dramatic life changes (divorce, moving, loss of friends), and sometimes it is “bad” parenting.  Most of the time, Pipher tells the outcome, and usually the outcome is good.  The girls learn to modify their behaviors through therapy or learn to overcome their demons.  However, sometimes things do not turn out so well.

These stories terrified me.  I found myself seeing my sweet, cute, happy daughter in the descriptions of the girls who had somehow become troubled.  I wondered if her adolescence would only bring heartache and conflict to our family.  I also found myself becoming depressed, anxious, or angry along with the young women in the stories.  I find that I am easily affected by accounts such as these, with my emotions becoming stirred and memories flooding back from my dysfunctional childhood.

As I read these stories, I began to wonder if there would be a point.  Did Dr. Pipher have any practical solutions, or would she just regale us with horrific family problems that could only be solved by her counseling and care?  Just as I decided that the book had been a waste of time because there was no practical advice for dealing with such teenagers, the last chapter finally came.  It is there that the book’s value is found.

I marked 12 clear steps to parenting a teenager.  I’m sure there are more.  But this is the advice I found to be most useful to parents.

  1. Parents can create homes that offer girls affection and structure (284).
  2. Parents can help by listening to their daughters (284).
  3. Parents should ask questions and encourage their daughters to think clearly for themselves (284).
  4. Parents should watch for trouble and convey to their daughters that, if it comes, they are strong enough to deal with it.  Panicky parents make things worse (285).
  5. Parents should not take things too personally or be too hurt by rejection from adolescent daughters (285).
  6. Good parents model the respect and equality that they want their daughters to experience in the outside world (286).
  7. Parents can help daughters be whole by modeling wholeness (286).
  8. Parents can educate themselves about the complicated world of junior high (287).
  9. Parents can encourage their daughters to have friends of both sexes and to resist sexualizing relationships in junior high (287).
  10. Parents can downplay appearance (288).
  11. Parents can encourage positive peer relations.  One of the best things that can happen to a girl is that she have well-adjusted friends (288).
  12. Parents can remind girls that junior high is not all of life.  They should be involved in extracurricular activities, such as volunteerism, music, dance, art, family, hobbies, exercise, vacations, etc. (288).

Overall, if you have a daughter, this is probably a good book to read.  As is mentioned frequently in the book, the information therein is geared toward the teenagers of the 1990s.  However, with all of the drugs, alcohol, parties, sex, violence, eating disorders, and depression, I am sure those issues still apply today, and may have only increased in their frequency and reach.  I did feel that Pipher approached the issues from a conservative standpoint, but she did not gloss over anything, nor did she discount the fact that some may live their lives more liberally.  She covers all of the issues thoroughly, fairly, and sympathetically.  At the end of the book, I respected Dr. Pipher.  I only hope that I can be as good of a parent to my daughter as she has been a therapist to her many clients.

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22 thoughts on “Twelve Parenting Tips from Reviving Ophelia

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  1. I read this book and it helped me raise my three daughters. I didn’t freak out when difficult things happened. All three are well adjusted young women and we are all friends. I think you are a great parent because you took the time to read this book. Enjoy your time with your daughters. I loved the teenage years! They were hard but so rewarding. Dont let people scare you about teenagers. They are still your children and you can have a meaningful and rewarding relationship with them.

  2. Emily,

    I read this book many years ago. It is right on to what teenage girls face and to the destructive forces our society and culture throw at them. I loved how well she put the book together and have always labeled it as a favorite and recommended it to many friends and other mothers to help us understand what our daughters are facing in today’s society.

  3. I read this book in high school for a psychology class and actually wound up using it as a source in a paper on Hamlet (go figure). I think I need to reread it with the new perspective of a parent of two girls! I’m sure I’ll have a whole new take next time around. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. I have two teenagers. An additional help to me is that I live in a village so the exposure to dangerous issues (while there) is not as strong or as constant as in a town or city. I can drive them to a disco, meet in a near town, cinema, etc and they can enjoy it to the last, then I am there to pick them up and get them hoe. It does help. I have found girls are better at communicating (in general) than boys, which is also a help for those with daughters. Stay focused on them and help them when we can. We do our best.

      1. Having meant what I said, or thought I said, I actually broke out in a sweat when I read it back. The difficulty with self checking is you think its right in the check, because you thought it was right to begin with. Rarely have I made such a booboo.

        1. I always recheck my comments too. My problem is that I do a lot of typing on my iPad and the keyboard doesn’t keep up with me very well and often the spellchecker inserts words that I did not intend!

  5. Be careful how you read this book, though. My parents read it and, with the best of intentions, set out to try and prevent some of the problems it discusses. As a result, they forced me into a couple things that I did not want to do and I believe were not in my best interest. In fifth grade, they made me apply to a local private girl’s school for middle school and high school, in spite of my saying (before and after shadowing a student there) that I did not wish to attend this school or any all girl’s school. And from a similar age onwards, I was forced into advanced math classes. Whenever I protested and said I could not keep up, that I do not like math and have no aptitude for it (which is true), I was not permitted to step down to the normal track until well into high school, at which point it was too late to go back and fill in the building blocks I had failed to learn up to that point.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, adolescence is a difficult time for girls, but do not assume they will go awry. Do not assume they will be bullied or become oversexualized. Be aware of the possibilities and the signs of anything going wrong, but also LISTEN to your daughter and take her personality and individual experiences into account. If she says she’s not good at math, don’t assume it’s a gendered thing (though of course it might be). Maybe she’s just not good at math. She may be young, but it’s likely she knows herself better than adults might suspect.

    1. I completely agree. I think the key to being a good parent is to remember what it is like to be a kid! I am sorry you had a bad experience. I have a similar experience, only with piano, not math. You can check it out if you haven’t already: https://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/the-portrait-of-a-tiger-mothers-daughter/. Parents can go way overboard with pushing achievement and completely miss the mark in loving and helping their daughter navigate such a difficult time. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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