Nothing compares to raising a teenage daughter. There’s just nothing at all like it. Trapped between the whimsy of childhood and yearning for freedom and adulthood, they’re hardly people!
It’s Father’s Day, and I’m writing this at the tail end of sitting on the sidelines of an argument between my 13-year-old daughter, Ana, and her dad. Outwardly, these two have little in common. She looks more like her paternal grandfather (her dad’s dad) and me. Inwardly, however, she’s the spitting image of her father. They think in the same ways, act alike, and share a love of art.
None of that matters when our hearts are broken, does it? She loves her dad, and he, her. They’re just too much alike, and when you-know-what hits the fan, neither is willing to give in. He’s right. She’s right. And both are unwilling to yield. It’s been this way forever with those two, but she’s growing up. She needs to feel that her dad is on her team.
Are you raising a teenage daughter? Here’s what you need to know to do it right.
Respect Their Boundaries
Guys are territorial. It’s not just guys. Women are, too. We spend our lives nesting and renesting to shape our world the way we think it should be. It starts in our teens and follows us into adulthood. If the boundaries of our established “sandbox” are violated, or we anticipate, they could be, hell hath no fury like a woman who fails to defend her space.
Our world starts and ends with our space. Where we belong. It’s part of who we are. Without having a firm grip on that, on our foundation, we can’t move forward. It’s like we’re stymied by being unsure of ourselves. Our space (be it our room, bed, or sleeping spot on the carpet), is where we’ll go to find comfort and escape.
Don’t trust your kid because she’s always doing the wrong thing, or she mistakes that inch you give her for a mile? That’s likely the reason she backtalks, fights about nothing, and goes from zero to crazy in two seconds. She’s looking for her refuge. And she won’t stop looking until she finds it. Be it with you, her mother, or with that stupid-looking boy you’ve caught wind of, she’ll find it anywhere she can.
My kids all share rooms because I live in a 3-bedroom apartment. Privacy is hard to come by. But I let my children live their lives as independently as possible. Most of them journal religiously. And I’ve never read their entries. None of what’s written on those pages is for me. Each of my kids is trying to figure out who they are. Their identities are their own. My job is to love them regardless of who they are. And I do.
Secondly, I don’t go through their belongings. If I need something from them, I ask. Growing up, I hated when I’d take off for school in the morning and return to a mysteriously clean room. Like a porcupine, my quills would all rise up on alert. Inevitably, I’d end up in trouble for something I wrote. It felt like I was wrong no matter what I did. And it stuck with me.
The only way to trust your kid is to trust them. Either you do, or you don’t. It’s that simple. There’s no try.
When Raising a Teenage Daughter, Remember That She’s Just a Child
Despite the bras, sanitary napkins, and fascination with the moment’s latest teen heartthrob, she really is a little girl. She lacks the capacity to make intelligent decisions.
Ever wonder why you got that auto insurance discount when you turned 25? You can thank the arrival of your prefrontal cortex for that! Say it with me, “Thank you, brain…”
I won’t give you a biology lesson here, but just know that until she reaches her mid-twenties, she’ll struggle with her:
Attention span – Feel like your kid doesn’t listen to anything you told her to do? Do you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over only to explode when she does something completely different from what you asked? Mm- hmm.
Complex planning – Ever wonder why your teen asked you to drop her off at her friend’s house who lives, “just down the road.” Then, when you’re in the car, ready to drive and you type in her buddy’s address you find out it’s actually across town? It’s happened to me.
Decision making – Is she smart as a whip, but doesn’t understand common sense stuff like making sure she has her backpack with her before leaving for school? Our prefrontal cortex helps us think logically and make periodic assessments of the world around us.
Personality development – She literally isn’t who she used to be just a few short years ago. Technically, she isn’t anyone for a bit. Teenage brains are missing the components of self-identity.
Until your teen gets to that golden age of thinking beyond the world of her protective fishbowl, she needs you and her mom to guide her and help her make decisions. Guide her through the rough spots with actionable advice. Hear her out even if all she has to offer are excuses and whines.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Write this down: Do not nitpick at your kid! Not everything requires a discussion. If she forgot to do the dishes, tell her. Don’t yell at her and throw her 3 AM sandwich in her face. Just tell her about her mistake like you’re telling her about the weather.
If she does it over and over again, don’t flip out. Dishes won’t burn down the house. Handle it the same way you’d want her to handle you. Talk to your kid. Set reminders on your smartphone to remind her about the dishes, so it doesn’t get out of hand.
Save the hash-slinging for the great and terrible 10s. Dishes aren’t more than a four, at best. Sneaking out with her boyfriend, yeah, that’s a 10. Forgetting to do the laundry, that’s a four.
The more you handle the small stuff the right way, the easier it’ll get. It’s not an overnight thing, and depriving her of friends, family, and her phone works, but not for long. Teens are headstrong. There’s only so much you can take away. And if you make it a you-versus-her thing, you’ll never come back from it. Instead, play on her team. After all, you want her to find someone to share her life with who loves her like you do. Teach her that.
And Above All, Love Her Through It
You might not think it’ll happen, but one day, you’ll need her. And these years are her formative years. She doesn’t know your point of view. She’s physically incapable of seeing any other view or opinion or side of an argument other than her own. You’re the adult. You have a prefrontal cortex, so you can understand what I’m saying.
If you do nothing else in your life, be there to love her through her antics. Anger solves nothing. She could cut you with words you never even thought of. Don’t egg her on with jabs and insults.
No matter how stupid you think her social life is, ask her about it. Who are her friends? What do they like? What nonsensical crap have they gotten themselves into? All of it matters because each of these has shaped her.
Raising kids, especially raising a teenage daughter is supposed to be difficult. If you’re not exhausted, pissed off, or disappointed at least once per day, you’re doing it wrong. You get mad because you care. I know that, but at 32 some would say I have a mostly-developed brain. 🙂
And after doing the parenting thing for over half my life, I appreciate dads. I know what it takes to do the job right. You stuck around. That says a lot! You’re still in and still fighting to raise a productive, independent woman with her own life. She’ll have a teenaged mind for awhile but not forever. So dig in. And like Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” You’ll be fine.
Are you a dad struggling to understand your teen? How do you handle the good and bad that comes at you when you’re raising a teenage daughter? Let us know in the gray comments section below!