Girls are Under More Pressure than Ever: Author Lisa Damour Offers Advice for Parents

Last week I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Lisa Damour speak at Branksome Hall about her latest book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. For parents of teenage to 20-something daughters, this title might ring true.

As the mother of a soon-to-be university student, I am very familiar with the pressure our children, in particular our daughters, are subjected to on a daily basis, let alone place on themselves. Lisa Damour understands girls and is a voice of reason and tremendous resource for parents (and the girls she counsels) on how best to handle these stressors. She holds no shortage of qualifications for this role: as a clinical psychologist, best-selling author, monthly adolescence column contributor to the New York Times, and frequent guest on CBS News. She has private psychotherapy practice in Cleveland, Ohio, serves as the Executive Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, and speaks and consults on this subject internationally. Not to mention, and perhaps most importantly, Damour is the proud mom of two daughters.

Her first book, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, Damour offered parents a framework for better understanding their daughter’s developmental transitions in to adulthood. In Under Pressure, she acknowledges that the levels of stress and anxiety are rising among our girls, but then shares good news about the value of this stress and anxiety, and encourages parents and educators to change how we talk about stress.

Damour reminds us that not all stress and anxiety is bad. In fact when equipped with the proper tools to handle occasional bouts, stress can “make us tougher and builds endurance,” while anxiety is “a gift handed down by evolution” and can play an important role in keeping us safe by alerting us to internal threats (i.e. guilt/fear). When we teach our girls the benefits of stress and anxiety and how to embrace them, we help them to face both head on rather than run from it.

On the subject of school stress, Damour reminds us that school is supposed to be stressful and likens it to a very long weight lifting regiment for your brain. “In 8th grade our children our colts, by 12th grade they have evolved into race horses.” The important thing for parents to remember, is that our job isn’t to prevent stress, but to help our children recover from it. Every child needs time to recover from school stress, whether that be by listening to music, running, napping, playing with the dog, or maybe some downtime on social media or video games.

Damour suggests that the wellness industry has introduced the idea we’re supposed to be calm and relaxed every day. Her theory is that “that’s just not normal.” Right now we are raising a generation that believes you are supposed to feel great all the time. That’s just not a realistic expectation. In life we have good days and bad days. However, when the stress or anxiety become chronic, that’s another story and needs to be dealt with by professionals immediately.

Under Pressure offers succinct advice to the tensions girls experience in their everyday lives: at home, at school, social pressures, and of course social media. Damour cautions parents to not feel they need to jump in and fix everything, but instead be a sounding board and just be there for the meltdown, then encourage her to recalibrate on her own. She also cautions against avoidance as “the worst thing you can do for anxiety is to avoid it,” and encourages parents to teach their daughters to stand up for herself in handling unhealthy conflict, even in their romantic lives. “Girls who approach these times with an agenda, make fewer compromises.”

Hear Lisa Damour in a recent interview:

“Lisa Damour is my go-to resource for all things raising girls (and I often apply her wisdom to my boys as well). Under Pressure is Damour at her best, addressing issues that are challenging our girls, from sexuality and academics to the ways girls speak and present themselves. Don’t be misled by the title; even if you believe your daughter isn’t unduly anxious, this is a book that will help you to help her navigate. Under Pressure is my gift of choice for parents of teenage girls, and a gift to parents everywhere.”—KJ Dell’Antonia, former editor, The New York Times’ “Motherlode,” and author of How to Be a Happier Parent