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Much has changed in the 16 years since Lincoln psychologist Mary Pipher first published her best-selling book on the struggles of teen girls.

"Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girl" was written before the Columbine High School massacre and other school shootings. Before Sept. 11, 2001. Before MySpace, Facebook, Twitter. Before every kid had a cell phone, each equipped with a camera. Before sexting. Before cyber-bullying.

"The times have changed, but the basic needs of children have changed very little," she said.

The reality of that statement is frighteningly clear in the original Lifetime television movie "Reviving Ophelia," airing at 8 p.m. Monday on Lifetime.

The movie was inspired by a single chapter in Pipher's runaway best-seller: Chapter 11, Sex and Violence.

The two-hour movie chronicles the lives of two teens - perfect Elizabeth, 17, and her 16-year-old wild-child cousin Kelli - and the pressures they endure trying to find themselves.

Set in 2010, the movie resonates with today's teens, as well as long-ago teens who now serve as their parents, teachers, counselors and mentors.

Adolescent girls still struggle with image, fitting in, being too smart, too fat, too easy, too prudish, too goody two-shoes.

Adolescence isn't any easier than it was in 1994, or 1980, or even 1960, Pipher said.

"Things are certainly more complicated," said Laura Buddenberg, family expert, author and training manager at Boys Town in Omaha.

Girls today feel more pressure and more confusion over what they should and shouldn't do. They are bombarded with mixed messages from music and TV, and now also the Internet.

Adolescents throughout history have made dumb and embarrassing mistakes.

The difference today is that embarrassing moments or rumors no longer "flame into existence and then go away at some point," Buddenberg said.

"Now humiliation can essentially have an eternal life. If you confide in a friend that you really like a guy, and then you and your friend have a fight and the friend posts it on Facebook or Twitters it to the masses where it can be copied, pasted and forwarded. It's like the proverbial toothpaste out of the tube, it goes on and on and on," Buddenberg said.

Technology has changed how kids communicate. How they make friends and with whom they make friends. And how those relationships are ended.

Technology exacerbates the issues facing adolescent girls, Pipher said.


For years producers have wanted to turn Pipher's "Reviving Ophelia" into a show.

Last year, Lincoln's Angels Theatre Company staged Cherie Bennett's theater adaptation of the book for more than 30 performances and talks communitywide.

Over the years, Pipher has sold movie rights to her book several times.

"It's been in the wings and rumbling around in back rooms for a long time," she said.

One successful producer bought the rights but eventually gave up on making a movie.

Lifetime executive producer Joel Rice tried making it into a movie a few years ago but ended up putting it aside.

That is, until the book and assignment landed in the lap of Teena Booth, a Phoenix screenwriter with a long and successful history of writing original movies for Lifetime.

Rather than tackle all the issues in "Reviving Ophelia," she was asked to focus on dating violence and sexual pressures among teens, which was making headlines in the aftermath of the Rihanna and Chris Brown pre-Grammy assault in 2009.

"The book was the jumping-off point," Booth said. She also relied heavily on research from Love is Respect, a domestic violence organization, and her families' experiences in parenting teens.

Booth was in contact with Pipher throughout the script-writing.

"She read every draft of the script and gave me valuable feedback," Booth said in a phone interview.

In fact, she changed the ending of the movie based on Pipher's urging.

"She made sure it ended on an empowering note," Booth said of Pipher. "She wanted girls to know they are able to empower themselves and they don't always have to be rescued by adults. ... It really made a difference in how you feel leaving the movie."

Pipher chuckled after learning of Booth's comment.

"I have fairly strong experiences and convictions about teen girls," she said. "I really wouldn't let the movie happen if certain things didn't occur.

"So often girls are portrayed as being rescued by men, and as being pretty and receivers of admiration instead of being agents of their own fate. It's harmful."

And if there was one thing Pipher didn't want, it was to cause more harm to teen girls who already question everything about themselves and frequently sacrifice their authenticity to be accepted.

Pipher also wanted strong themes of female friendship and mother-daughter bonds.

"That bond is extremely critical - and it is a really important relationship in the movie. In a way, it is more important than the girls' relationships with boys. The movie puts the right emphasis on which relationships are primary in the life of a teen," Pipher said.

For Booth, every chapter of Pipher's "Reviving Ophelia" could be turned into a screenplay. And many shows and movies have tackled eating disorders, depression, drugs, alcohol, sexuality ...

"Unfortunately not a lot of it is good education," Pipher said. "One big problem in America is there is a great deal of mis-education."

Said Booth: "So many teenage girls don't know what they are doing and why they are doing it. They don't know why they are with that guy, and don't understand the cultural messages bombarding them to be this way and that way.

"That's why the book was so explosively successful. It said something we needed to hear and think about."

Even more so today.


Actress Rebecca Williams plays Elizabeth - the girl in the abusive relationship - in "Reviving Ophelia." At age 21, memories of own her teen struggles - especially in her relationship with her mom - are not that faded.

"I remember arguing with my mom. I always thought I was the right one," Williams said in a phone interview.

But what really stands out is how much more difficult it is for her 13-year-old brother to be a teen than it was for her just a few years ago.

"With Facebook and information traveling so much faster today, you have that pressure to keep up to that bar," Williams said.

And parents need to understand that even though they had their own adolescent struggles over dating, sex, peer pressure and image, they can't really relate to what today's teens are going through, she said.

"It's something completely different," Williams said. "(Today) everything evolves so quickly."

Teens today are under a tremendous amount of pressure, said Pam Dinneen, a counselor at Lux Middle School.

"There is a lot of peer pressure from cybersex and sexting to bullying in texting and gaming systems," she said.

Unlike the era we grew up, when there was often time between impulse and action, today's teens are in a constant state of immediacy.

"Adolescents are thinking out of a brain that runs on impulse," Buddenberg said. "They are building that critical thinking capacity they will need in later years, but they are not on board yet."

For teens it's easy to get caught in the moment.

"We were all there," Buddenberg admits. "However, we didn't have the tools at hand to do all the damage to ourselves or to others. It would happen, and go away. Now it has an eternal life."

Technology has intrinsically changed the art of human interaction - for good and bad.

Technology keeps us in close, immediate and even constant contact with family and friends.

But it also affords us the opportunity to be anonymous and unaccountable, as well as completely out of control over our messages, pictures and actions.

Once upon a time the nasty note disappeared. The gossip forgotten. The embarrassing Polaroid deteriorated beyond recognition. Today, the argument, misunderstanding or lapse in judgment remains forever in digital glory.

"There are so many more ways to be hurt and embarrassed than there used to be," Buddenberg said.

"Girls feel a lot more pressure. They are afraid to make a mistake. It is harder to know who to trust," Buddenberg said. "Kids tend to have a lot of online conversations, but they don't know if they are chatting with the actual person or if there are six other people sitting there, or if somebody else is on that person's Facebook account. They have no clue."

"It's a funky environment. On one hand, you are using Facebook in a room by yourself and it feels private, but it is a public medium," she said.

"Kids tend to be trusting and live in the moment, developmentally speaking. A lot of kids get caught," she said. "The offhand comment or the thing you really want to take back is out there."

Lux counselor Dinneen agreed.

"Reputations can be destroyed so easily," she said.

And ideals can be distorted.

The marvels of technology bombard girls - and boys - inaccurate and impossible goals of what they can and should look like, how they should act and what is expected of them in their sexual relationships.

"It's giving them an inaccurate idea of what is a healthy relationship," Buddenberg said. "We want our kids to learn to love well, be of good character and grow up with healthy relationships."

"Think about the pressure on girls. Not only is there an endless parade of perfect female bodies, but then they have all these ideas of what girls should be willing to do. It has opened up a Pandora's box of how they view women."

Closing the Pandora's box will be difficult, if not impossible.

But Pipher hopes the movie version of "Reviving Ophelia" will give mothers, daughters and families a launching point to start conversations about dating and boundaries, deciding whom you can and should trust, and criteria for healthy relationships.

"You don't have to all agree about it," Pipher said. "The best outcome of any good work - writing, music, play or movie - is that it spurs a really good conversation about the issues it raises."

Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or


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