Anger can be a major concern because of the underlying rage that many girls experience. In our focus groups, a mother told us about her daughter’s struggle with explosive anger. Her daughter, Stacey, asked for a new sweatshirt. When her mother said it wasn’t necessary with summer coming on, Stacey flew into a fit of rage. She lashed out verbally and even smacked her mother. Stacey’s mom had long been worried about similar outbursts. The next day, during a quiet moment, the mother tried something new. Rather than angrily criticizing Stacey’s conduct, the mother gently prodded her. She sat next to her, put her arm around Stacey, and asked her why the sweatshirt was so important.

With this encouragement, Stacey revealed that the girls in her peer group had been taunting her for being “fat.” She explained that the sweatshirt was her way of hiding her body. Stacey desperately wanted to avoid being picked on and felt overwhelmed when her mother said no. Stacey’s rage at her mother was an expression of her embarrassment about her body. “Buy this for me” actually meant “Help me.”

This mother taught herself how to use direct, gentle, supportive communication to explore the underlying cause of her daughter’s outburst. By not getting caught up in the words, she could hear from Stacey’s voice that something else was going on. Once Stacey became convinced that her mother heard and understood her, she was receptive to learning more socially appropriate ways to express her feelings of frustration. Eventually, Stacey and her mom became very effective at communicating, often with a mere glance or eye message. This breakthrough created a trusting and satisfying relationship.

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Her mother taught Stacey tools for assessing her internal feelings, which helped Stacey to solve her problems more effectively. As Stacey learned how to manage her problems more effectively, her frustration diminished. Stacey’s self-esteem was boosted because she subsequently felt good about how well she could handle her anger.

Girls sometimes express their concerns about themselves and their developing sense of self by adopting nonconforming behaviors. In our focus groups, a mother shared with us her experience with her daughter who always tried to look different (purple hair, grunge clothes). At first, her mother was proud of her daughter’s individuality. But as her daughter became more and more socially isolated, the mother realized that she looked different from other kids because she felt “different.” The mother was clueless about what to do. She was reluctant to share her concerns with other parents because she was embarrassed that her daughter didn’t fit in. She was afraid others would judge her to be a failure as a parent. This mother would be comforted to learn that other parents have similar concerns.

Girls also react to peer concerns by using compensation techniques to mask the true reasons for their behavior. One mother labeled this conduct, the “veil of paranoia.” While girls may communicate many details of their lives, they also mask their feelings to protect themselves from criticism. According to Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, girls often come to believe that there is “danger in authentic encounters,” and learn how not to disagree in direct or confrontational ways.

Samantha, a self-assured 13-year-old, told us that she made the mistake of speaking the truth once and learned the unfortunate lesson that honesty can really backfire: “My best friend, Kristin, asked me whether I liked her new jeans, and I told her that I thought they were cheesy and trendy. Because we always check in with each other about clothes, I assumed that she would want to know how I really felt. But the second the words slipped out of my mouth, I wished I could swallow them. Kristin looked like she was about to cry and asked me how I could say such a thing. She didn’t talk to me for days, and it practically took me crawling on my knees to get her to forgive me. I had no idea that she had saved her baby sitting money to buy these designer jeans.

“Now when anyone asks my opinion, I keep the bad stuff to myself and say, ‘That’s great, they’re really cool!’ ” Samantha’s experience demonstrates how girls learn to keep their more controversial opinions to themselves. However, if Samantha knew how to express herself more diplomatically, the outcome may have been different. Because Samantha didn’t have these skills, she learned it was safer to withhold dissenting opinions and her true feelings.