Parenting Teenage Girls

Mar 25, 2020

I think an Alien Has Invaded My Teenager’s Body!

Do you feel like you are living with an Alien? Where has your sweet daughter gone and who is this challenging, emotional girl who has taken her place?! What I have found is that many parents of teenagers feel this way. They feel like their child is a completely different person once adolescence sets, and for teenage girls, watch out!

As one of two girls growing up in my family (we were only one year apart so my parents got the double whammy of teenage girls for many years), my parents certainly experienced all the emotions and “drama” that often goes along with raising teenage girls. Frequent topics of drama in my home growing up involved who was borrowing what clothes from the other, who needed a ride where and when, who got to stay out until what time, who was treated more fairly and who was spending too long in the bathroom while getting ready for school or to go out on the weekends. Looking back, it is amazing how these few topics could lead to so much yelling, crying and door slamming.

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 human 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.

Understanding it does not 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 100% or may not describe your teenager at all, however, it is meant to offer some normalcy to what you may be experiencing with your teenage daughter, as well as provide you with 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 or strong emotion. That is not to say that girls don’t spend enormous amounts of time in their rooms, on their computers, or talking and texting on their 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 feels overwhelming, confusing and like they are “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 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 may not 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 now begin to be viewed 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 they are putting friends and members of the “outside world” first instead of 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 intense and confusing.

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 often results in you, as the parent, being on the receiving end of it. If you are experiencing this with your teenage daughter, I offer some tips for managing this at the end of this blog post so keep reading!

I’ve frequently heard people 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.  It is difficult to witness the extreme emotions from your teenager, while at the same time, you may not know what they are actually struggling with.  Although you may want to, you can’t fix whatever is going on fir them and you have to try to manage your own emotions as well. Not an easy job at all!

Understanding what is going on from a developmental perspective can make things easier. What your teenage daughter is doing is healthier than you may think. She is working to seek independence, which means she needs to disengage from you.  However, this feels scary, so she keeps you connected through the fighting, the yelling and the screaming. She struggles to increase her independence but also realizes she still needs you, so she connects with you through the fighting.  She does not understand this is what is happening.  She just knows that she wants to gain independence and not rely on you as much, however, she is not fully ready to do this, becomes scared and reengages though her emotional response or reaction to you.  I know…it seems like she could do this another way, however, this pattern of behavior is seen in many teenage girls.

Understanding the reason for your teen’s behavior 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 is not easy. Being the parent of a teenage girl is not easy. 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 is displaying intense emotions: 

  • 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. 
  • Remain calm.  Remaining calm can be very difficult, especially if your teenage daughter is yelling at your or saying hurtful things.  However, if you also become extremely emotional, you will likely not have a productive interaction. You may also end up feeling bad that you said things you later regret.  When in conflict, speaking in an even, calm voice often results in the other person lowering their voice and calming down.
  • Take space.  If you feel yourself ready to blow, there is no reason why you cannot take space for yourself.  Go into another room, take a walk, go for a drive, take a shower…it can really be anything that will give you space to yourself.  Doing this will give both you and your teen a “cool off period” and prevent situations from further escalating.
  • Don’t feel you have to defend yourself.  When in an emotional state, your teenage daughter may accuse you of things that are not true or say things that are hurtful.  As the parent, you do not need to defend yourself or try to rationalize something you did, especially during an argument.  If your teen is emotional, they are not going to hear or be able to process what you are saying.  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.
  • Teach your daughter calming techniques during non-emotional times.  It is often helpful for parents to talk to their teenagers about strategies that will help them manage their emotions during challenging times.  The key is to do this and have them practice during non-emotional times, so that they already have the tools in place when strong emotions arise. I have worked with parents who were able to come up with plans for their teenagers where they can ask to be left alone for a period of time to listen to music, or sit by themselves and calm down before continuing with a conversation.  Other parents have worked with their teens 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 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 a mental health expert who can help you determine if additional support or help is needed.

Be sure to visit the website for additional tools and strategies designed specifically for parents of teenagers. Also, like my How To Parent A Teen Facebook page to ask questions, receive ongoing tips and gain ongoing support from our community.


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