When I first read Reviving Ophelia, I was about five years too late. Or twenty years too early, depending on your perspective. I was in my early twenties, out of the adolescent years that Pipher focuses on. Reviving Ophelia first came out in 1994, at which point I was only nine years old, but when I read it in the mid-2000s, it felt like I was hearing someone validate my own teenage experience for the first time.
Teenagehood is hard and the shift from girlhood into womanhood may be particularly difficult. In the original edition, Pipher explores how adults can aid the young girls around them (their daughters, particularly) through that transition period. Why is it that pre-teen girls who are smart and happy and well-rounded become depressed and withdrawn as teenagers? What causes them to become caught by drugs, sex, or violence? How do they grow out of adolescence as whole and complete people, equipped for adulthood?
Since I first read Reviving Ophelia, I’ve become the mother to two girls. They’re currently four and two so (hopefully) the adolescent struggle is many years away for us. But since becoming mom to these future women, I’ve thought of Pipher’s book and wished there was an updated version that I could read when the time comes. Lo and behold, my wish came true! This year, Pipher, together with her daughter, has revised and updated her work. The new edition contains the original text and interviews that were published in 1994 but has some new additions. There are sections where Pipher receives feedback from a current day focus group – teen girls now in 2019. She adds to her statistics and compares life for girls in 1994 and 2019.
Overall, the comparison is fascinating. The number one difference is, of course, social media and the internet. Something girls in 1994 were never concerned with and something that in my own teenage hood barely existed. I’ve been thankful before that I was an adult by the time Facebook became a thing and I’ve wondered how to eventually navigate those waters with my children. According to Pipher, today’s girls live more of their life online, often alone in their rooms. This means they experience less violence (Only 1 in 6 will be sexually assaulted, as compared to 1 in 3 in 1994. Yay?) and rates of drug and alcohol use are down. However, they are more depressed and more isolated. And, Pipher argues, when adulthood comes, they are less prepared.
Pipher’s work, both now and in 1994, relies heavily on her work as a therapist and both books are made up of many interviews with young girls. I would have been interested to see some updates of the teen girls Pipher interviewed in the 1990s, who would be women in their 40s now, perhaps parenting their own teenagers. Still, the interviews are interesting and eye-opening and Pipher always brings them back to connect to research, as well as practical ways that parents can stay connected and aid their daughters through their teenage years.
In the end, Pipher seems optimistic about the girls of today. She says girls in 2019 are closer to their parents and not afraid of appearing smart. They are among the first generation to be raised by fathers not afraid to call themselves feminists (and who were, in turn, raised by more involved fathers than previous generations). There are more doors open to them in the working world than ever before. At the same time, though, they are navigating an online world that no generation before has experienced. They are aware of the falsehood of it but often powerless to escape it. They have trouble turning off from the 24/7 media and social cycle and they are more aware of the tragedies of the world than teens in the past. This constant access to media and the lives of others has put more pressure on girls than ever before to look and act a certain way.
I wasn’t a teen in 1994 and I’m not the mother of teenagers in 2019. By the time my children are teens, the world will have changed again. It’s reassuring to read that things have somewhat improved yet there is still a long ways to go to keeping our girls safe. If you’re a parent of girls, I can definitely recommend Reviving Ophelia. And if you’re someone who survived teenage girlhood, I can recommend as well, even if simply to shine a light on those years and remind you that you are not the only one.