How to Make Peace with Your Teenage Daughter
Melody Carlson, author of Dear Mom: Everything Your Teenage Daughter Wants You to Know But Will Never Tell You, dishes out advice for moms who are frustrated with the push-pull of the teenage years.
Q: What are some of the biggest sources of conflict between moms and teenage daughters?
A: Ironically, some of the more "superficial" things often seem like the most common sources of conflict -- things like fashion, appearances, attitudes. And too often moms react to these behavioural changes with frustration: I don't want my little girl to act like that. Naturally, this begins to create a wall between moms and daughters, because when a mom focuses all her attention on the exterior things, she can become blinded to her daughter's interior issues, which are often difficult to see anyway. Plus, she is teaching her daughter that it's better to hide her problems and to keep up the appearance of being the good daughter. And that's when the issues take on new proportions and instead of fighting over makeup and clothes, it's sex and alcohol. So tune into your daughter's heart early on and maybe she will keep the communication doors open.
Q: When your daughter starts to pull away, what does that mean?
A: Part of a teen girl pulling away is simply growing up and becoming autonomous, making choices, suffering some consequences, and learning to stand on her own feet. But there's another pulling away that's a warning sign. It could be your daughter's been hurt by someone, or has lost trust in Mom, or is trying to hide something. A well-timed, non-judgmental, loving conversation might restore the relationship. But don't push too hard -- a bit of space between teens and parents is healthy.
Q: What does your teenage daughter want you to know but will never tell you?
A: While it's different with every girl, it usually involves her insecurities. But she doesn't want to tell you that because it's like admitting to feeling like a failure. But the primary insecurities teen girls deal with are usually related to 1) her appearance, 2) her friends, 3) boys, and 4) her place in the world at large.
Q: What's the most important thing for the mom of a teenage girl to know? Is there anything in particular she should do or say?
A: More than to know, I would say remember. Remember what it felt like to be a teenage girl. Remember the fears, insecurities, angst and how you tried not to show that you felt that way. Remember that your daughter might be doing this very same thing. Now keep in mind that unlike your generation (and thanks to media sources), your daughter is over-exposed to a lot of things (like an acceptance to casual forms of sex) and peer pressure is huge. You may think you've had "the sex talk," but it's likely that you need to have it more than once. And you might need to be open to having it on her terms -- when she is ready to talk -- and in an honest, but non-judgmental way. Consider watching a movie or reading a book together. Torch Red (TrueColors series Nav Press) is a teen novel I wrote about sex and has been useful to promote some tough conversations.
Q: Do you have any concrete tips for making the mother-daughter relationship run a little more smoothly during the teenage years?
A: I make the point in Dear Mom that I'm not an expert in parenting. My only claim is that I understand a teenage girl's heart. The reason I get teen girls is because I make myself remember (as I write for teens) what it felt like to be in their skin. Unfortunately, when we're stuck in one of life's hardest challenges (parenting teens) we suffer memory loss, totally forgetting that we were once teens. We get so caught up in correcting, changing behaviours and preventing catastrophes that we forget to consider what's going on inside a teen's heart. That's why I wrote Dear Mom...to gently but firmly remind moms about what's beneath the surface and to realize that behaviours are simply the symptoms of what's going on inside. We might think we can treat the symptoms, but without acknowledging the deeper troubles, we might simply be putting a bandage over a damaged heart.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.