How to Parent a Teen Newsletters

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Can you relate to this? Although the times and technology have changed, the themes remain consistent. Does it feel like your child turned into a different being once adolescence hit? Well, they very well may have. The good news is that there was not an alien take over, the bad news is that this is unfortunately very common and you, as the parent, feel the brunt of it (my parents certainly did). Understanding it does not completely change it, however, it can make it better and it does help parents better manage their own emotional responses to the behaviors of their teenage daughters.

The information I am sharing does not describe every teenager or may not describe your teenager 100%, however, it is meant to offer some normalcy to what you may be experiencing with your teenage daughter as well as an understanding of why some of these behaviors are typical of teenagers.

Why is my daughter so different since she hit adolescence?
The most obvious difference between boys and girls when they hit adolescence is that while boys tend to withdraw, girls engage and often they engage with a fight. That is not to say that girls don’t spend enormous amounts of time in their rooms, on the computer, or talking and texting on the phone, however, they tend to pick battles and fight with their parents more often than teenage boys. Teenage girls struggle to regulate their emotions which often times feels overwhelming, confusing and “all over the place” to those on the receiving end. This is what creates those moments where you may witness (or more often be on the receiving end of) yelling, hysterical crying and screaming. It may seem to come out of nowhere, be very misdirected and may seem very over the top for the situation at hand. Although very stressful and overwhelming, this is not abnormal behavior for teenage girls.

Adolescent girls are dealing with many changes happening at once. First, they are experiences significant changes in their bodies with the development of secondary sex characteristics, general growth and at times weight gain. This can be extremely stressful for girls and can result in embarrassment, low self esteem and much confusion. Second, they are dealing with new, sexualized feelings which also result in behavioral changes (I know you don't want to think about this but it is happening!). They care more about what others think of them (hence the hours in front of the mirror), care more about what they are wearing, whether they “look fat” and care about who is hanging out with whom. Third, they also begin to be seen as sexualized beings by others their same age which is a major change that creates a new level of self consciousness and peer pressure. Finally, they are seeking independence which means putting friends and members of the “outside world” first versus seeing their parents / family as the center of their world. That’s a lot going on, right? It certainly is and all of this can result in emotions that are confusing and strong.

Emotional dysregulation takes place when the response of an individual does not appear to be “appropriate” for a particular situation. This often looks like an “over reaction” to a situation or a prolonged emotional response to a situation. Emotional dysregulation is not uncommon for adolescent girls and generally plays out in the safety of the home which results in you, as the parent, more often than not being on the receiving end of it. At the end of this article, I will offer some suggestions for responding if you experience this with your teenage daughter.

I have often heard individuals say, “teenage girls and their mothers never get along”. While this is a generalized statement, there is some validity to it. The reality is that teenage girls are usually more attached to their mothers and therefore, in order to gain independence, they need to work hard at breaking that attachment. Although there can be a similar dynamic with fathers, relationships with adolescent girls and their fathers tend to be less turbulent and outwardly emotional. So, with their mothers, girls work hard at resisting the close connection they feel which ultimately causes them more confusion and often a stronger emotional response.

If you are a parent experiencing this it is certainly not fun and can be extremely emotionally draining for you right? How could it not be? It is difficult to witness the extreme emotions from your child and at the same time you don’t really know what they are actually struggling with, you can’t fix it and you have to try to manage your own emotions. Not an easy job at all! Sometimes understanding what is going on can make things easier. Basically, what your teenage daughter is doing is healthier than you may think. She is working to disengage from you, however she keeps you connected through the fighting, the yelling and the screaming. She struggles to increase her independence but also keeps her relationship with you strong through the fighting (this does not necessarily feel good in the moment but it does maintain her connection to you). Your daughter is ultimately getting support from you during these difficult battles even though it is likely not the way in which you wish she would seek support.

Understanding this along with reviewing the tips below will help you in those moments when you want to run out of the house, lock yourself in your room or pull your hair out. Being a teenage girl at this point in time is not an easy task – your daughter needs your support, consistency and validation even though she will likely never ask for it.

Some techniques to try when your teenage daughter appears very emotional:

  1. Validation:  let your daughter know that you understand she is upset (even if you don’t understand why) and that you know it must be difficult for her to be that upset.  Sometimes just feeling heard can make a very big difference in how your teenager responds to you. 
  1. Remain calm:  this can be very difficult – especially if your daughter is yelling at your or saying hurtful things.  However, if you also become extremely emotional, you will likely not have a productive interaction and you may end up feeling bad that you said things you later regret.  Speaking in an even, calm voice often results in the other person lowering their voice and calming down.
  1. Take space:  if you feel yourself ready to blow, there is no reason why you cannot take space for yourself.  A lot of parents I have worked with find that going into the bathroom is the best way to do this (although each person should do what works best for them).  Whether you go to take a shower or bath or just pretend you need to be in there doing something, often times this gives both the parent and the adolescent a “cool off period” and prevents situations from escalating further
  1. Don’t feel you have to defend yourself:  your teenage daughter may accuse you of things that are not true, say things that are hurtful or exaggerate situations.  As the parent, you do not need to help them rationalize these things during an emotional moment.  Likely your teen is not going to be able to hear what you are even saying and if they are able to hear it, they will likely not be able to effectively process it.  If you feel it is important to explain yourself  it is better to wait and do this during a time when emotions are under control.
  1. Teach your daughter calming techniques during non emotional times:  it is often helpful for parents to talk to their daughters about ways of remaining calmer during times when things are going well.  I have worked with parents who were able to come up with plans for their teenage daughters where they can ask to be left alone for ten minutes to listen to music and calm down before continuing the conversation.  Other parents have worked with their daughters on deep breathing, counting to 10, writing down how they are feeling first before yelling it, etc.  These can all be effective if discussed and reviewed during non-emotional times.  You know your teenage daughter the best and can likely help her find a technique or a couple of techniques that will work for her.

As the parent, you know your daughter the best.  Trust your instincts while allowing yourself to be open to understanding about what might be going on for her.  There is certainly much more information related to what makes teenage girls tick, however, this overview is meant to help you, as the parent, gain an understanding about what may be going on for your child which will help you make decisions which are best for you and your family regarding how to deal with your teenage daughter effectively. I do want to stress that while most girls go through this process safely, there are others who experience significant difficulties during this difficult period of transition. Some adolescent girls begin to use drugs and/or alcohol as a way of gaining confidence in social situations, to “fit in” or for managing their confusing emotions. Others become involved in negative peer groups and succumb to the peer pressures associated with criminal activity or unsafe sexual promiscuity. Some become emotionally out of control and become aggressive and violent. If you have real concerns about such behaviors, you should consult with an expert who can help you determine if additional support or help is needed.

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