How To Understand Your Teen Girls (Parenting Advice)
While researching the ways girls communicate and create connections, we developed a list of key questions:
Why is it so much easier to learn the details of our daughters’ lives than of our sons’?
When our daughters share the myriad details of their lives, what are they really telling us?
What is engaged detachment?
What can parents do to facilitate the social development of girls?
How do parents set boundaries between their lives and their daughters’ lives so they can remain objective coaches?
What skills do girls need to get through their adolescent years intact?
What is important for parents to think about and to do during these formative years to help foster communication, connection, and the development of healthy and strong girls?
All of girls’ behaviors deserve close exploration to find answers to these questions. Contradictions still exist. Sometimes girls may be more silent than talkative. For example, in the classroom girls may be quiet because they are self-conscious of being viewed as “goody goodies” or teachers’ pets. We need to help our daughters feel confident enough to articulate what they know without having to silence themselves. In order to help your daughter, you need to understand what goes on beneath the silence to decipher what she is really trying to express. Even though she may not always express herself with words, she still has many complicated feelings. What girls are saying is not always verbal; these feelings can also be demonstrated by their behavior.
Moreover, to understand the full landscape of girls’ lives, we have to consider their experiences from various ethnic, cultural, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We can’t fall into the trap of lumping girls into one “female” category. One size does not fit all.
Using Fuzzy Logic for Parenting
Raising a child is a collection of parenting moments. The process doesn’t follow the time frame for the scripted logic of a 30 minute sitcom, with the linear form of a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, parenting is more like the mathematical concept of “fuzzy logic,” where uncertainties and discrepancies become clearer and more decipherable over time. An analogy is the archetypal discussion with kids about sex: one talk doesn’t provide them with all of the information that they need to make responsible choices. It takes a collection of talks in response to different developmental needs and providing positive role models that help guide children to responsible decisions.
As parents, we have to provide many healthy messages over the span of our daughter’s growing up and hope that she incorporates them into her perception of the world and herself and her decision making. Our job as parents is to communicate our values and beliefs, while separating our struggles from hers; to help our daughter heal when necessary; and to provide opportunities for her to develop what we call “a broader integrated identity.”
A broader integrated identity is one in which a girl’s sense of self is not completely dependent on any one interest or thing. Having a more expansive sense of self allows a girl to stay centered and more secure within herself in response to not being invited to a party, having less than stellar athletic skills, surviving a fight with a boyfriend, or not doing well on a history exam. These experiences are part of teenage life; everyone experiences some of them at one time or another.
Barbara, the mother of 22-year-old Alison, explained how she and her husband helped their daughter develop a broader sense of self in the face of academic difficulties: “Alison struggled so much with reading that in ninth grade they put her in special education classes in our large, urban high school. When we first discovered her dyslexia, we were relieved because the discrepancy between the bright girl we knew and the girl in the special ed classes finally made sense. The most important lesson that we learned during this period was that the only way to save her self-image was to find something other than school that she could excel in.
“For Alison it was dance. When she performed in front of an audience, she came alive. She was a different person: secure, confident, and creative. Alison lit up on the stage. This was an area where she could be competitive, and it provided her with another ‘self ’ that she could rely on when she was feeling unsuccessful at school. The self-confidence that she gained from dance spilled over into other parts of her life, including, over time, doing well in school. She could draw upon her success in dance to help her define in a positive way who she was.”
Alison’s parents refused to let her be pigeonholed by only one facet of her life. They understood the importance of finding their daughter’s passion and supporting her. The more opportunities we provide for our daughters to experience their own competence, the more resilient they become.
An important component to raising teenagers is being available to them. Staying close to your daughter may prevent risk-taking behaviors. The closer you are, the more opportunities you have to empower her. Contrary to the popular belief that little children need their parents more than adolescents do, we know that these years also require attentiveness and close supervision.
It is our intent to present parents with a practical guide to further understand the emotional dimensions of girls and increase the possibilities of competence and connection. What we learned from talking to many parents is that their desire to stay close to their children during the teenage years is universal. They just don’t always know how.
Your family has operating principles and values that are unique to you and parenting styles that affect what works and what doesn’t. We encourage you to be confident in teaching the principles and values specific to your culture and heritage. Helping your daughter develop a strong sense of self requires building confidence and pride in her heritage. Having self-confidence increases the resiliency of girls as well as their sense of well-being as they address the trials and tribulations of their age.
Often, you won’t know in advance what specific methods will work with your daughter. However, by remaining engaged and constantly trying, you will become more knowledgeable about what works for her and when. Even with those strategies that do work, flexibility, variety, and a sense of humor are essential to getting through to your daughter during these demanding years. Don’t despair; if you stay involved and stay connected during these years, you will also experience many precious moments.