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.