Your Teenage Daughter Wants to Connect With You: 4 Ways to Make it Easier.
Everyday I hear adult women recall the years of their adolescence. Those years have had a profound effect on their ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships with themselves and the world around them. When I say "adolescents," or refer to "teenagers," I am talking about girls in grades 6 - 12. Yes, Mom and Dad, adolescents starts as early as 6th grade. Time and time again, my clients refer to middle school as a pivotal time in their lives. A time when relationships with their parents and their environment started to shift.
So, how do parents of teenage girls navigate the often choppy waters of adolescence?
1. Let them be who they are.
Let's start with the superficial stuff. Freedom of expression matters to teenage girls. They crave the independence to choose the clothing, hairstyle, and makeup they wear. This is the time to put away any preconceived notion of who you think your child should be and how they should look and give them this bit of independence. In her book, The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali Tsabary points out, "when you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a “mini me,” but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is.” Remember, your child is a reflection of themselves, not you.
Adolescence is a time of deep introspection for your child, the impacts of which will last a lifetime. They are learning about who they are, who they want to be, and what makes them unique from the world around them. Dr. Shefali Tsabary discusses the importance of letting children learn what they enjoy. They are only able to do that when left to, “sit with themselves.” Allow your child to slow down, sleep in on the weekends, choose the activities they want to do, and the people they want to hang out with. This is the time to give them some autonomy and allow them to differentiate from the rest of the family. Once they have it, it is important to, “contour your [parenting] style to meet their temperament. To do so means letting go of your fantasies of yourself as a certain kind of parent and instead evolving into the parent you need to be for the particular child in front of you.” -Dr. Shefali Tsabary
Brain science tells us that "the development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs primarily during adolescence and is fully accomplished at the age of 25 years"- NCBI. Your child's brain is in a constant state of learning and developing in adolescence. The way that you interact and communicate with them during this pivotal phase of their life will have long term impacts on their brain chemistry and the way that they grow and develop future relationships.
Parents often times minimize their teenage girl’s distresses in a variety of ways including labeling, blaming, and avoiding. Stop doing that. You need to lean into their emotions and hear your child. Your teenager's emotions don't come out of thin air, there are a plentiful amount of reasons for their emotions. Do not discount them. Teenagers "act out" or are emotional because they are seeking something, often times attention, confidence, or they are expressing pain. Find out what that reason is for your child. Make time for your teenager that doesn't involve an interrogation about what is going on, at a time that is convenient for you. Invest in your teenager’s interests and make time for appropriate moments to create safe spaces of communication.
I have found that many parents want to solve their teenagers problems but your teenager just wants to be listened to. Believe it or not, listening is hard. These tips will help you the next time your teenager needs you to hear her:
-Mirror back what your teenager is saying to you. Ex: "What I heard you say is..."
-When they are done speaking, summarize back to them what you just heard and ask if you missed anything.
-Validate what they just said. Ex: "that makes sense."
-Empathize with your teenager. Ex: "I imagine you must be feeling ...."
-Thank your teenager for sharing with you. Only share an opinion on the subject if you are asked.
3. Be vulnerable.
The best way for you to get your teenager to open up about their feelings is to disclose your own. Be honest about your emotions and your own hard times that relate to what they are going through. Sharing your personal experience makes your teenagers feel less alone and more understood. Human beings innately want to belong, and in order to belong, they need to feel connected. Allow for that connection to happen by being vulnerable with your child. Dr. Shefali Tsabary says that in order to enter into a state of pure connection with your child, you need to set aside any sense of superiority.
Quality time and growth in relationships and communication doesn't just happen by accident. It happens because of conscious efforts made by you, the parent. Make time to enjoy a meal together without any electronics on. Discuss the highs and lows of everyone's week/day/year. Make special time to do things that your child enjoys doing. Open the mind and soul of the family unit by traveling to new places and connecting without screens. Make an unexpected dinner date with your teenager at their favorite restaurant. Spice up the daily routine with a family picnic by the Potomac. Make your interactions with your teenager fun and exciting and the connection will organically come.
4. Verbalize how awesome you think they are.
Grow confidence and healthy communication with your teenagers with constant support through praising. Your teenager needs to know that you are their biggest supporter in whatever they choose to do. Create the narrative that you brought them up in life, rather than down. Try to not look at their achievements and failures through the lens of your own accomplishments or disappointments. This is their journey, and you get the privilege of guiding them through the first part of the trail.