Fathers and Daughters– the phrase calls to mind that Kodak commercial where the father is reminiscing at his daughter’s wedding. The camera switches to her happy childhood years, so much nostalgia. He remembers her when…
Fathers of teenage girls, on the other hand, seldom feel all that nostalgic. They are confused and frustrated. What happened to their adorable little girl who thought that they were the greatest thing in the world. How did they go from being the hero, to being the bad guy?
Here’s how to stay the hero in your teenage daughter’s life
Remember when your daughter thought you had all the answers? She counted on you to solve her problems. She would bring you her broken toys and her broken heart, and believe you could make it all better.
Now that your daughter is a teenager, she wants to solve her own problems. She thinks you can’t possibly understand her problems (in all fairness, sometimes this is actually true- teen world has changed a lot!) and she is offended that you think you know more than she does.
Though it’s hard to imagine, she actually does want your approval and even your help. It’s just that what makes her feel safe is different, now that she is a teenager. Here’s how to be her hero, now that she is a teenager and has teenage problems.
1. Just listen
Often teenagers just want you to hear their feelings. The truth is, they often don’t understand their feelings, and sometimes can’t even identify them by name. (secret fact- this is also true of many adults!).
If you are not well-versed in the vocabulary of feelings, just listen to what she has to say. Reflect, using her vocabulary. “So, you were pissed off when Josie posted that photo on her Instagram”. Teenagers mostly just want to be heard, so if you simply reflect almost exactly what they are saying, they will feel heard and understood.
It is even better if you can help them put a name on an emotion that is more nuanced than anger- for example, frustration, sadness, disappointment, or grief. “So, you were frustrated that Josie put up that picture without asking you first”. Don’t try to interpret anything, and don’t try to solve anything.
2. Be curious.
After you have listened and reflected her feelings, if she is still engaged, ask her what she has tried already. Point out her creativity or courage in trying that solution, if appropriate. Explore which aspects of her solution are working, and which are not. Often there is some part of what she has tried already that has worked- if you can find that part, you will be way ahead of the game!
After exploring her feelings, and the strategies she has tried already, ask her what has worked in other similar situations– for her, or for her friends.
Now, and only now, would be the time to tell a more personal story. Make it clear you are talking about something that worked for you or someone you know (could be a hypothetical person, nobody really needs to know!) and might work for her, or might not. Tell your story, and then say, “Do you think something like that might work for you, or is it totally different?” Now you are giving her the power to decide what to do.
You will be surprised how many times your daughter will tell you that your story is ridiculous, and not at all applicable to her situation. Then, several days later, she will come up with a solution that she figured out herself, or that her brilliant friend told her, that is exactly what you suggested earlier.
When this happens, just take a deep breath and congratulate her on her problem-solving. After all, our parenting job isn’t about being recognized for what we do (you must know this by now!) but teaching our children how to make good decisions. Save this funny story for your partner or a close friend!
4. Show your faith in her.
Most teenagers seem to be full of confidence. They don’t understand the difference between confidence and bravado, and they mistake others’ bravado for confidence. Consequently, most teenagers feel like everyone else is actually confident, but they, themselves, are just faking it. They are terrified that someone will rat them out and they will be left vulnerable in front of all their peers.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your teenage girl is to express your belief that she will be able to work things out eventually. Not immediately, perhaps, but eventually.
This is different from saying “everything is going to be okay”, which takes away a sense of personal control. Teenagers know that “everything” isn’t always “okay”– what they fear is not being able to handle it when things are “not okay”. You can reassure her that although she is struggling, and sometimes makes poor choices, you are confident that she is in the process of learning to handle it gracefully.
Which brings us to our final point
5. Reassure her.
Once again, not reassurance that everything will be okay, but reassurance that a. this is exactly what the process of learning to be a mature adult looks like, b. you are confident that she will figure everything out eventually and be the mature, creative, and clever young adult you see her becoming. And finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for
c. You will be there for her through thick and thin– when she makes good decisions and when she makes bad ones– because you are her dad, and you love her no matter what.
Moreover, because you have already heard her emotions, and listened to her problem, and helped her figure out her own solutions, and reassured her that this is what growing up looks like, she knows now that you mean what you say, and she feels seen, heard, and deeply loved.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world– nobody teaches you how to do it and suddenly you are in the thick of it and totally confused and exhausted! If you would like a little extra help with parenting your teenager, or figuring out who you are now that everything around you is continually changing, please call or email me for a free 20 minute phone consultation. I look forward to hearing from you!