The following was syndicated from Quora for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at TheForum@Fatherly.com.
What are tips to help a father get along with his teenage daughter?
I’ll start with the caveat that it’s hard to help someone in a situation like this because no one else knows the particulars of another person’s situation. I happen to get along pretty well with my step-daughter (15), but I recognize that some of that is blind luck that she’s wired similarly from a Myers-Briggs-y perspective and we share some common interests. A different role of the karmic dice, and we might have hated each other.
That said, some general pieces of advice. Some of these are general to any teenagers; some of them are specific to crossing the father-daughter gap.
Don’t Worry So Much About Little Stuff Like Humor Or High 5s
I think it’s hard-wired into our DNA that kids go through phases of thinking their parents are uncool and awkward. Sure … I suppose it’s important to recognize what might be embarrassing in public and avoid that, but beyond that, I’m not sure it’s so critical to be in on their jokes and terminology.
Be A Parent First, And The Trust Will Follow
I think some parents try a little too hard to be “buddies” with their kids, particularly in the teenage years. Up to a certain age, getting along with kids is easy — they think grownups are superheroes and everything they do is cool. My 6 -year-old will pretty much do anything Dad thinks is fun. And then they get older and form their own ideas about what’s cool and fun, and some parents compensate by dialing back the “parent” and dialing up the “BFF,” which I think is a mistake.
Don’t make it about behaviors, make it about feelings.
The kid is at an age where their social life is flux, so what they need at home is something stable, dependable, and honest. I tell my daughter I care about what’s happening in her life, I’m here to talk to her about whatever she needs, but I’m not going to go meddling in her business if she doesn’t want me there, unless she gives me reason to think something’s wrong. And by living that fairly consistently, I think she trusts me more than if I tried to be a “Hey pal, let’s go for ice cream and talk about your problems” dad.
Focus On Feelings
When it comes to uncomfortable moments, unless the behavior is severe, don’t make it about behaviors, make it about feelings. Not “You yelled at your brother,” but “You seem upset by something.” It generally helps to keep things out of a defensive tone, and keeps the focus on helping her.
Some Topics Are Off-Limits
As the dad, there are just certain topics that you aren’t going to be the one she wants help from, so don’t force it. Some topics require a pretty high trust factor to be broached by anyone other than mom or female friends, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. Don’t push it.
When it comes to boys, I found it useful to offer to be her “inside agent” to the workings of teenage boys. I believe it was “most teenage boys are stupid and shallow — including me, when I was that age — so if you ever want to know how they think, I’ll be happy to tell you because I don’t want them to con you.” But I still try not to pry. If she comes to me and asks me “X said this, what do you think it meant,” I’ll answer, but if she doesn’t ask, I take that to mean she isn’t comfortable talking to me about it.
Don’t Be Intimidated By The Gender Difference
I mean, yes it’s there, but some dads let it over-define the relationship, maybe even shy away from areas of common ground because it’s not “girly” enough. My daughter likes graphic novels — I could fret about whether turning her into a comic book nerd will affect her dating prospects or I can accept that’s one of her interests that we happen to share and turn her on to Frank Miller, and poof, I gain a few cool points in the process.
Jason McDonald is an IT guy, single dad, sports fan, observer of pop culture. Read more from Quora below: