Our Daughters: My Teenage Werewolf

Mom Embeds Self in Teen Daughter’s Life! (Read the Author Q&A)

My Teenage WerewolfAre you currently on a wild roller coaster ride with that charming/ alarming pre-teen or teen in your midst?  If so, Lauren Kessler’s book, My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, A Journey through the Thicket of Adolescence— just released in paperback — may save your sanity.  The award-winning author launches an 18-month mission, embedding herself in her own about-to-be teenage daughter’s life. From middle school classrooms to the mall, from summer camp to online chat groups, Kessler observes, chronicles—and sometimes participates in—the vibrant, dynamic and scary life of a 21st-century teen. With the help of a resident teen expert (her daughter), as well as teachers, doctors, therapists and other mothers, Kessler illuminates the age-old mother-daughter struggle from both sides,  interweaving personal experience with journalistic inquiry.

Why did you write this book, Lauren?

The short answer is:  I had to.

I had to write about my feisty, moody, mercurial girl-woman and her generation of take-no-prisoners girls.  I had to dive into the deep end of teen girl culture and attempt to navigate the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship.  It was the only way I could figure out how to survive her teenage years.

She was 12 when overnight, it seemed, I toppled from my throne. I ceased to be Mommy the Genius, Mommy the Wise and Beneficent, the font of all things cool and fun, the curer of all ills.

That’s how little girls look at their mothers. But at 12, my girl was no longer little. She was already full throttle into teendom and had mastered the vocabulary: deep sighs, exasperated eye-rolling, monosyllabic responses, snotty retorts and stony silences. Mom (that would be me) was now the enemy. All of a sudden, it seemed to me, Lizzie and I were sparring over everything, from food to friends to fashion, school work, chores, screen-time, bedtime, you name it. Most mornings we would eye each other warily, waiting to see who would cast the first stone.

I had to do something.  I’m an immersion journalist, so that’s what I did:  I took it on as a major research project.   I’m a storyteller.  I told a story, a story I was in the midst of living.

So you embedded yourself in teen girl culture, in your daughter’s life. How did you convince your daughter to let you do this?

First let me assure you that I employed no coercion or bribery…although it did cross my mind!  In fact, although our relationship at the time was, shall we say, tempestuous, she readily – almost enthusiastically – agreed.  I can’t answer for her about her motives, but I can tell you my take on it. I think it was all about the balance of power. I basically asked Lizzie to be my expert, my source, my guide. She got to teach me. I was her student. This was particularly the case when she instructed me on her online life and taught me computer games, and when she helped me through my week as a summer camp counselor. But it was just generally true. She was empowered throughout this process, and she loved this position as “boss.”

What most surprised you about what you learned?

I was also astonished at how savvy the girls were about just the things that keep us mothers up at night: sex, drugs, internet predators. I am not saying they did the right thing, that they invariably made the right choices (blame at least some of this on that discombobulated brain). I am saying that they understood the terrain better than we think they do (and sometimes better than we do).

I sat through a week of sex ed classes at school, for example. During one session, the kids were asked to share what their responses would be if they were being pressured to have sex and didn’t want to. Only the girls volunteered responses – no surprise here – but if their mothers (all mothers) could have heard those responses…the intelligence and power and self-confidence behind those responses – well, we would all be sleeping better at night.

Did researching and writing My Teenage Werewolf change your relationship with Lizzie?

Yes. Most definitely. I understand the rhythm of her days, the stresses and strains, the energy it takes to be her, to be a 21st century teen girl. I understand what’s happening inside – the brain development – which has helped me come to terms with her mercurial nature. And I am very very aware of the issues of control and power that underlie our relationship, all mother-daughter relationships. This has helped me find ways to acknowledge her power without moving away from my own responsibilities as a parent.

Lauren Kessler is the author of six works of narrative nonfiction, including Pacific Northwest Book Award winner Dancing with Rose, Washington Post bestseller Clever Girl and Los Angeles Times bestseller The Happy Bottom Riding Club.  Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O magazine, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Utne Reader, The Nation and salon.com. She blogs (with her daughter) at www.myteenagewerewolf.com.

Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

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