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A Roadmap: Talking to Your Teenaged Daughter

Have you ever wondered what was going on inside the mind of your teenage daughter?  How many times have you seen her flee to her room, emotional and upset, and when you ask her what’s wrong you receive her typical, curt response; “Nothing!”  We know that there is nothing you want more than to have your daughter trust you and feel comfortable coming to you for support when she is faced with a dilemma.  However, we also know how hard it is to have a meaningful conversation with a teenage girl if you don’t approach it right.  Here are some general rules to keep in mind when talking to your daughter:   

  • Affirm your daughter’s feelings.  When your daughter is sharing with you what she is feeling, remember that what she is describing is her reality.  Her emotional truth is what it is, whether you agree with her or not.  Always affirm what she is experiencing by making statements such as, “That must have been really embarrassing,” “That’s awful,” “You must feel really sad,” or “I would have wanted to scream if that happened to me.”
     
  • Don’t use the slang your daughter uses.  There is nothing more ridiculous to a teen than an adult who tries to be hip by using teen slang.  While many parents think that if you use this language it will help you relate to your daughter better, it will only look like you are trying too hard-and there is nothing worse to a teen.  If your daughter uses a word that you don’t understand, ask her to explain it to you.  She may laugh at how clueless you are, but it will show her that you respect her and are interested in what she has to say and how she describes her world.
     
  • Share your own experiences/stories from when you were her age, especially the ones where you made mistakes and learned from them.  Often times, when parents start telling their own stories, they risk sounding like they are preaching to their teenager.  The purpose of this storytelling, however, is to empathize- “I know what you’ve been through because something similar happened to me.”  Also, sharing with your daughter that you, too makes mistakes, shows her that you are human, despite what she might think.
     
  • Don’t just do something, stand there.  In other words, don’t try to fix all of her problems.  Resist making everything all right by solving her problems.  You want to empower her so she has the skills to get through her problems with your support and guidance.  Sometimes, your daughter may just need to vent her feelings.  If she does want to take action, ask her, “What ideas do you have for fixing this?” or “Do you want to sound any of them out with me?”  Only after you’ve worked through her ideas might you suggest, “I think I may have some other ideas that could work, too.  Do you want to hear them?”
     
  • Give her ownership of what she does (good and bad) and let her make mistakes.  Even if your daughter comes up with a solution that you don’t think will work, the fact that it’s her idea means that she’s working towards independence.  Encouraging that is more important than making sure she tries the best (i.e. your) solution.
     
  • Remember to accept silence.  When you are discussing difficult or uncomfortable topics with your daughter, she may not respond right away.  That’s okay! Don’t think you always need to fill the silence.  Give her time to let the conversation settle in.  You can ask her about it after a while, by saying, “You just got really quiet when we talked about ‘X’; why is that? What’s coming up for you right now?”
     
  • Don’t make fun of her.  In your daughter’s most dramatic moments, you may be tempted to make fun of her.  We know that it can truly be challenging to take her seriously at times.  But, as a general rule, and as tempting as it is, keep the joking comments to yourself, just be supportive and ask questions.
     
  • Even if you have a great relationship with your daughter, it’s a good idea to have an ally, someone who shares your values and whom your daughter feels she can go to for help and advice if you hit a communication barrier.  There may be some situations that your daughter wants to discuss, but perhaps she doesn’t feel she can go to you.  Don’t take it personally.  The most important thing is that she has the support she needs, whether it is you or someone else.  That person may be a trusted relative, a member of the clergy, or some school personnel (i.e. guidance counselor, social worker, psychologist, coach, teacher, or nurse).  You and your daughter should both agree on who that person will be.  The rule has to be that anything she discusses with her ally remains confidential, unless it involves harm to herself or others.

Whenever you daughter is willing to come to you, always affirm her and tell her you love her.  Although sometimes it may seem like you are the least liked person in her life, don’t take it personally.  It is normal for teenage girls to talk to their friends before their parents.  However, if you consistently let your daughter know that you are available and support her unconditionally, she will always know that she is never alone and that you will be there for her even in the worst of times.  Knowing this will mean more to her than you can ever imagine.

 

Excerpted from Queenbees and Wannabees, written by Rosalind Wiseman (2002).

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