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Parenting Teenage Girls – Challenges Parents Face
Why is my daughter so different from when she was growing up?
The most obvious difference between boys and girls during adolescence is that while boys tend to withdraw, girls engage and often engage in combat. This is not to say that girls don’t spend an enormous amount of time in their rooms, on the computer, or talking on the phone, but they tend to fight and fight with their parents more often than teenage boys. Adolescent girls struggle to regulate their emotions, which often feel overwhelming, confusing, and “everywhere.” This is what creates those moments when you can witness (or more often be on the receiving end of) screaming, hysterical crying and screaming. It can seem to come out of nowhere, is very poorly directed, and can seem very exaggerated in the situation. This is normal (and extremely stressful).
Teenage girls are dealing with many changes happening at once. First, they experience significant changes in their bodies with the development of secondary sexual characteristics, overall growth and sometimes weight gain. This can be extremely stressful for girls and can lead to embarrassment, low self-esteem and a lot of confusion. Second, they deal with new, sexualized feelings that also lead to behavioral changes. They care more about what other people think of them (hence the hours in front of the mirror), they care more about what they wear, if they “look fat” and they care about who hangs out with whom. Third, they also start to be seen as sexualized beings by others their age, a big change that creates a new level of self-confidence and peer pressure. Finally, they seek independence, which means they put friends and members of the “outside world” first before seeing their parents/family as the center of their world. That happens a lot, doesn’t it? It certainly is, and all of this can result in emotions that are confusing and powerful.
Emotional dysregulation occurs when an individual’s response does not seem “appropriate” for a particular situation. This often looks like an “overreaction” to a situation or a prolonged emotional reaction to a situation. Emotional dysregulation is not uncommon in teenage girls and usually takes place in the safety of the home, which means that you, as a parent, are more often than not at her receiving end. At the end of this article, I will offer some suggestions on how to respond 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, it does have some validity. The reality is that teenage girls are usually more attached to their mothers, and so in order to gain independence, they have to work hard to break that attachment. While fathers may have similar dynamics, relationships with teenage girls and their fathers tend to be less turbulent and outwardly emotional. So girls work hard with their mothers to resist the close connection they feel, which ends up causing them more confusion and often a stronger emotional response.
If you’re a parent experiencing this, it’s definitely not fun and can be extremely emotionally draining for you, right? How could it not be? It’s hard to witness your child’s extreme emotions and at the same time you don’t really know what they’re dealing 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 you’re doing, your teenage daughter, is healthier than you think. She works to detach herself from you, but keeps you connected through fighting, yelling, and screaming. She’s trying to increase her independence, but she’s also maintaining a strong relationship with you through fighting (it doesn’t necessarily feel good, but it keeps her connected to you). Your daughter ends up getting support from you during these difficult battles, even if it’s probably not the way you want her to look for support. Understanding this, along with reading the tips at the end of this article, can help you in those moments when you want to run out of the house, lock yourself in your room (see the end – I have a tip for that), or pull your hair out. Being a teenage girl at this point is no easy feat—your daughter needs your support, consistency, and appreciation, even though she’ll probably never ask for it.
There is certainly a lot more information out there related to what makes teenage girls tick, but this overview is meant to help you as a parent understand what might be going on with your child, which will help you make the decisions that are best for them. you and your family on how to effectively deal with your teenage daughter. I want to emphasize that while most girls make it through this process safely, there are others who experience significant difficulties during this difficult period of transition. Some teenage girls start using drugs and/or alcohol as a way to gain confidence in social situations, to “fit in” or to manage their confusing emotions. Others become involved in negative peer groups and succumb to peer pressures associated with criminal activity or dangerous sexual promiscuity. Some become emotionally out of control and become aggressive and violent. If you are genuinely concerned about such behaviour, you should consult a professional who can help you determine whether further support or assistance is needed.
Some techniques to try when your teenage daughter seems very emotional:
1. Validation: let your daughter know that you understand that she is upset (even if you don’t understand why) and that you know it must be hard for her to be so upset. Sometimes just feeling heard can make a big difference in how your teenager responds to you. Again – you don’t have to agree or fully understand, just acknowledge and validate how they feel.
2. Keep calm: this can be very difficult – especially if your daughter is shouting at you or saying hurtful things. However, if you also become extremely emotional, you are unlikely to have a productive interaction, and you may end up feeling bad about saying things you later regret. Speaking in a level, calm voice often causes the other person to lower their voice and calm down.
3. Make space: if you feel ready to blow, there’s no reason why you can’t take space for yourself. Many parents I’ve worked with have found that going to the bathroom is the best way to do this (although everyone should do what works best for them). Whether you go to shower or bathe, or just pretend you need to be there and do something, it often gives both parent and teen “cool down time” and prevents the situation from escalating further. Most of the time, children will not bother others when they are in the bathroom with the door closed.
4. Don’t feel like you have to defend yourself: your teenage daughter may accuse you of things that aren’t true, say things that are hurtful, or exaggerate situations. As a parent, you don’t have to help them rationalize these things during an emotional moment. Your child probably won’t hear what you’re saying, and if they do, they probably won’t be able to process it effectively. If you feel it is important to explain yourself (and the time is often not), then it is better to wait and do it at a time when emotions are under control.
5. Teach your daughter calming techniques during unemotional periods: it’s often helpful for parents to talk to their daughters about ways to stay calmer when things are going well. I have worked with parents who have been 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 feel before yelling, etc. These can all be effective if discussed and repeated in an emotion-free time. You know your teenage daughter best and can probably help her find a technique or techniques that will work for her.
As a parent, you know your daughter best. Trust your instincts while allowing yourself to be open to understanding what might happen for her. One of the most important things to remember when dealing with the stress that can come with parenting a teenager while juggling everything else in your life is that you need to practice good self-care. It’s important for parents to stay connected to the things they enjoy and that bring them stress relief during what can often be an unpredictable and chaotic time.
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