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The Disappearing Girl Reader’s Guide

By Lisa Machoian

The Disappearing Girl by Lisa Machoian


Questions and Topics for Discussion

Media, peers, and even parents send teen girls dangerously conflicting messages about what it means to look and act just right and to be good, hip, attractive, and desired. Frighteningly, everyday events can start a teen on a downward spiral. The growing rate of depression in teens is alarming, and parents need to understand the difference between “normal adolescent girl angst” and trouble. The Disappearing Girl explores, how to recognize signals OF problem behavior, why silence reflects a girl’s desperate wish for inclusion, how to build self esteem, and the vulnerabilities inherent in dating, friendships, school, and family.

Dr. Machoian also offers guidance for parents and daughters, therapists and teachers, with specific activities each can do to help keep girls from falling into depression. Combining twenty years OF research and conversations with parents, teachers, social workers, therapists, counselors, caregivers, and troubled teens, Dr. Machoian explores teen life and depression and provides essential tools for helping the girls we love.



Dr. Lisa Machoian taught in Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Department of Human Development and Psychology and was also the director of their Gender Studies Concentration. She has worked for more than twenty years with teenage girls, and her articles have appeared in many publications. She now devotes her time to lecturing, consulting, and conducting workshops for parents, teens, professionals, and institutions, and works as a psychotherapist and teen life and parenting coach. Dr. Machoian serves on the board of Retreat from Violence, an organization that works on preventing teen violence. She holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Harvard and lives in Cambridge.


  • What is the role of sex and sexuality in the character-building and self esteem of young girls? In what ways has sex changed since you were a teen? In what ways has it not changed? How do issues with sex lead girls into depression? What can adults do to counteract that?
  • What is the role of friendship to a teenage girl? What are ways that you can encourage positive relationships with other girls and with boys? How can you keep track of those friendships and relationships in order to ensure they continues to be positive?
  • Why are smart girls more at risk for depression? Did that surprise you? What are some of the other high-risk markers for depression? Did any of those surprise you? Why or why not? How does teen depression look different than adults? How come we often think girls’ depression is normal teen angst?
  • On page 47, Dr. Machoian discusses the change in the identity questions of teens. Why do you think the questions of teens have shifted? What’s different in the modern life of teens today—as opposed to when you were a teen—that could account for this?
  • “If a serious boyfriend dumps you or something really terrible happens, you’re allowed to really cry, and not just sad-movie cry. But you’re only entitled to a little bit of that, too, for a little period. Deep crying is not really allowed” (pg. 51). Why are girls expected to keep their emotions in check? Why is crying such a stigma? Why is expressing anger so stigmatized? Why is it important for girls to get feelings out instead of bottling them up? What stereotypes about women does this reinforce? Why do these stereotypes exist? How can we keep girls from falling victim to them?
  • On page 59, Dr. Machoian discusses activities parents can do to help their girls keep their identities and confidence. What other activities can you think of? Discuss activities you may have already tried or wanted to try. What was the result? Why are these sorts of structured activities so important?
  • Discuss Jessie’s story is Chapter 5. How does she finally turn her life around? Why is it that we miss the underlying depression in girls who are getting into trouble? Why is peer support so important to teenage girls? What are other ways girls can find positive support?
  • Discuss the difference between depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What are some ways to recognize PTSD? Why is it so important to to know if she has depression if she is suffering for PTSD? Discuss some strategies you can use if you recognize the symptoms of PTSD in your teen. What are some ways you can approach her and find out what happened without alienating her further?
  • Why is making a ‘good impression’ so important to teen girls? What are some of the other ways perfectionism manifests itself? Why is it harmful? How can it be helped? Why do so many teenage girls enforce impossible standards on themselves? What are some activities you can do with them to make them appreciate themselves before perfectionism and fitting in become harmful? What are some things you can do if these behaviors have already begun?
  • Discuss the girls you met in this book. Which ones affected you? Why? What did you learn from their stories? Did any of t heir stories resonate with you? If so, which one and in what ways? How did reading the stories of real teenage girls help you to understand what is going on with your teen?
  • What are some coping skills you can suggest for the girl in your life? Besides the strategies mentioned in the book, what other ways can you think of to help her think proactively of her own happiness?
  • Why is it important for adults to also seek help and guidance if the girl in their lives is falling into depression or destructive behavior? How can you help each other? Share some of your own stories and some of your own coping mechanisms. What has worked and what hasn’t?
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