What? Two posts in one day? Two Women Unbound posts in one week? What’s going on here? Actually, this post is totally impromptu – I just finished reading a book I happened to come across a reference of, had to read it asap, and was SO ENTHRALLED by it the entire time reading it, I just had to post about it immediately. And I would say any parent with a daughter over the age of about 7 MUST READ THIS BOOK.
Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence by Rosalind Wiseman is a parent’s guide, but it is a perfect candidate for Women Unbound because it is all about empowerment: empowering young girls to navigate the murky, dramatic, and sometimes crippling waters of adolescent life and still learn how to treat herself and others with decency and respect.
I say this book is a must read because, quite honestly, and as the book makes clear, the world of adolescents today is a different beast than even in my day and most certainly in my parent’s generation. Adolescence, as much as we might cringe to acknowledge, is starting at younger and younger ages because kids have all kinds of social and media pressures to act older – which is problematic because they’re still just learning moral guideposts, but they’re faced with more and more situations where they have to figure out for themselves what the right course of action is within the confines of the very rigid and demanding framework of rules of their social world. And nothing has had more of an impact on their world than technology. When we were kids, if rumors were spread about us, it was by word of mouth. Now, when kids spread gossip about each other, it’s across the school and on the internet in seconds. If a girl takes a picture of her breasts with her cell phone and sends it to a boy she likes, hoping it’ll make him like her, there’s little stopping him from sending it to all his friends or for any of them from emailing it to all the other kids in school, who can all then call her a slut as they pass her in hallways. These kids are on Facebook or other social media sites, often with multiple accounts knowing their parents check one, and they’re very susceptible to “trolling” and acting online in ways you never would in person.
And it’s frustrating for parents or others who are trying to be good role models for these kids because it’s an age when the kids are trying to pull away from their parents. They alternate, sometimes without any apparent rhyme or reason, between being insecure and needing your hugs and rolling their eyes at you and treating you like you’re the biggest jerk ever. Ironically, I found it actually comforting that it’s completely normal to have moments where you really just DO NOT LIKE this kid and wonder how your sweet, wonderful daughter turned into this crazy person overnight. And it’s not just your kid…it’s pretty much every kid. Because whether they’re the Queen Bee, the Torn Bystander, or the socially outcast Target, they all have some role to play in their world. They all do something that maintains or challenges the social order and their actions affect their relationships with other kids AND what they learn about intimate relationships that can have repercussions throughout their lives. Even if their daily actions don’t, they will almost inevitably face moments where they will have to make critical decisions. And they bring that baggage home with them and it affects their moods and how they deal with family and others.
We’re all familiar with this because we all lived through this before too. But I think the reason this book is so helpful is because Wiseman (who is an educator who spent over a decade compiling observations and talking to a wide range of girls and boys and having them look over her drafts to ensure accuracy) helps explain things in the framework of the logic of the girl’s world. We, as adults, usually forget how this logic works because we’ve grown up. We see things with an adult perspective and respond in kind. In a certain sense, having an adult perspective means you see some things more clearly than your daughter does – and so you wonder why she puts up with it when others treat her like crap, or when she is the one being bossy or judgmental when you certainly didn’t raise her to be that kind of person. But sometimes our knee-jerk reactions (like when we say “Just ignore it” or “They’re just jealous of you”) don’t make sense in the framework of their logic and so are ineffective strategies.
And what is extra amazing about this book is that at the end of each section, Wisemen takes a moment to have parents reflect on their own experiences as adolescents and whether those experiences are informing how parents are acting as role models. It made me really reflect on some of my more formative experiences. For example, I think one of the biggest experiences happened to me in high school – and I didn’t even really recognize how big of an impact it had on me at the time; only with hindsight do I see its effects. In my junior year, I developed a crush on a friend (we’ll call him Daniel) and I found out he liked me too. But before anything happened between us, I went to Washington, DC for a week (it’s amazing how much can happen in a week when you’re a teenager) through an extracurricular school program, and when I came back I discovered after much drama and a flurry of back-and-forth phone calls that my friend (we’ll call her Alice) had gotten jealous and decided she liked Daniel too. And Daniel liked her back. And Daniel (oh, aren’t boys so sweet?), caught in the middle, came up and told me he liked both of us and wanted to date both of us simultaneously.
I was like, “Fuuuuuuuck no.” (Pardon my French.) Actually, I didn’t cuss him out. I just told him that if that was how he felt, he and Alice could just have each other. I was NOT going to be involved in that. I’m glad I stood up for myself and didn’t let him use me that way. But the whole experience did have a very dramatic impact on my ability to trust girl friends after that. And it was a long time before I could really develop female friendships with other girls that were really based on equality, trust, and mutual respect.
So it helps to think through what our own emotional baggage might be, to see how that might color the kind of guidance we give as role models.
And the key, fundamental guidepost behind the strategies Wiseman offers (that have been checked and approved by adolescents themselves as being helpful) is a core commitment to decency and respect – and giving kids the tools they need to act with that commitment in mind in a way that makes sense to them.
Does this meet any of your experiences? For those of you with adolescent daughters, have you had times where you were just at your wits’ end about how to guide her? Have you found her or her friends doing mean things over text message or the internet? Or has she been a target of such meanness? Do you have grade school experiences that have shaped you?