by Len Lear
Dr. Lisa Damour, a psychotherapist and director of the Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on child development. The author of numerous academic papers and books, a columnist for the New York Times and author of the recent bestseller, “Untangled,” Dr. Damour spoke Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m., at a free event for parents in the Upper School Auditorium of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee St.
Dr. Damour, 46, graduated with honors from Yale University and worked for the Yale Child Study Center before earning her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan. She will undoubtedly speak on the Hill about the subject of “Untangled”: guiding teenage girls through several transitions into adulthood.
We conducted the following interview with Dr. Damour last week:
•What is the most important thing for parents to know about the neurological development of adolescent girls?
“I want parents to appreciate that teenage girls (and boys!) are very much works in progress. There is so much growth and change, both neurologically and otherwise, during adolescence that parents need to be patient as the process unfolds. That way, they can help teenagers be patient with themselves and one another as well.”
•When should parents initiate discussions about sexual activity with teenage girls and boys?
“This can start as early as elementary school. If a girl comes home from second grade to report that ‘Molly hugs everyone in class during recess,’ parents might respond by asking, ‘Is that what everyone in the class wants? And if it’s not, how could they let Molly know?’ It is never too early to lay the groundwork for the key lessons we want to teach our children about sex: that physical intimacy should grow out of what both parties want and can enjoy. Conversations about the risks that come with sexual activity can come up later, after we’ve established a positive view of human sexual development.”
•What should parents do when their teenage daughter tells them that she has been cyber-bullied or even physically bullied?
“I think they should listen carefully, try not to overreact, seek confirmation of what she’s reporting (by looking online, or asking teachers) and think carefully before stepping in. Bullying situations can be very delicate and are easily made worse. I would encourage families to seek guidance from a counselor at school or in their community for advice on how to proceed in their particular situation.”
•What can parents do if their daughter is not showing much interest in school and is doing poorly in her subjects?
“This is a hard question to answer in brief, and the answer depends on a lot of variables. As a general step, however, parents might start by talking with adults at the girl’s school to see what they make of the difficulty. Teachers know a tremendous amount about teenagers and are often their best advocates.”
•What can parents do if they discover that their daughter has been engaging in self-destructive behavior, illegal drugs, for example?
“Like the question above, this is a big topic the handling of which depends on many specific factors. In general, I’d encourage parents to start from a place of concern (as opposed to a disciplinary response) and to share that concern with their daughter as a first step.”
•Who are the people in your field whom you admire the most?
“Anna Freud is a particular hero of mine. She was at the height of her work in the 1950s-1970s and did so much to articulate the normal challenges that arise in the course of development. In terms of contemporary work, I really admire the research being done by David Yeager at at University of Texas and Laurence Steinberg at Temple … I love what I do right now! Being a psychologist means that I learn every day and that I will never come to a place of mastery because humans are so wondrously complex.”
•Which person in the world would you most like to meet and spend an hour with?
•Who are your own favorite authors, past and/or present?
“I read more for writing quality than for content. Right now, I’m on a big Winston Churchill kick. He is one of the finest writers I have ever encountered.”
•What is your most treasured possession?
“Possessions don’t matter much to me. We moved a lot when I was growing up, so I got used to the idea of paring down and letting go of material items. I actually can’t think of a single thing to which I am intensely attached. For me, life is about human relationships. I value my family and friends fiercely.”
•Who are your heroes in real life, living and/or dead?
“I can’t think of anyone famous who fits that bill, but I routinely stand in awe of teenagers I know who are navigating incredibly difficult circumstances at home with matchless grace.”
•What is your biggest pet peeve?