It is a common human reaction to avoid situations where we feel incompetent. Teenage daughters often awaken that feeling in their fathers, who, like a deer in the headlights, are frozen with bewilderment. As one exacerbated father said: “I run a successful company and deal with people from all over the world, but I have no idea what to do about my 15-year-old daughter, I just don’t get her, and it frustrates the hell out of me!”
My candid response to this common complaint is: “I get boys, and I really get teenage boys, because I was one, but I was never a teenage girl. So I have to work harder to step into my daughter’s world by educating myself about what it means to be a teenage girl.”
To be honest, I don’t like reading books so I make an effort to read books about teenage girls, from Reviving Ophelia to The Wonder of Girls, and I strongly encourage my clients to do the same. And for those fathers who, like me, claim they are too busy to read books, I spend a good part of their 50-minute sessions sharing this invaluable information with them.
And as they begin to understand what makes their teenage daughters tick emotionally, relationally, socially, hormonally, neurochemically and so on, they start to feel less confused and disoriented by behaviors that once baffled them.
Create and Nurture a Shared Activity That You Both Love to Do
My daughter and I share a passion for road biking. My sons dislike the monotony of road biking, so I shred on mountain bikes with them, which leaves road cycling as a sacred space for just her and I. We make a point of planning rides together, carving out times in our busy schedules for what we love to do together.
We don’t talk much on our rides. We ride and stop from time to time to grab a sip of water and share a few words about the pace, the wind, or the pain in our legs. It is what I call meaningful small talk that affirms that we are both immersed in a shared space that is uniquely ours. And these simple events in our week help bind the pages of our shared narrative and set the table for more meaningful conversations.
One of my clients created and nurtures the musical drive ritual, where he and his daughter go for car rides while she DJ’s the music from her iPhone. It is a win-win scenario because he loves to drive his vintage car and she loves creating playlists. He says it is helping their relationship, bringing them closer together and is a weekly event they both look forward to.
Hug Your Daughters, and They Will Hug You Back
I know this sounds easy, but many fathers go through an uncomfortable phase as their daughter’s body changes from “asexual to sexual”. One father shared with me an awkward moment while walking down the stairs and crossing his teenage daughter coming up the stairs: she caught him looking at her breasts and blurted out: “ Ya dad, I have breasts, they are called breasts!”
Freud wrote at length about the incest taboo but offered little to no advice for fathers on how to navigate this minefield. To ward off this uncomfortable phase, many fathers withhold affection which inadvertently leaves their daughters feeling rejected, confused and alone.
Healthy touch and affection affirms the other, validates their existence and importance to us more than any words can ever do. It also models healthy male affection and creates a safe place and haven from all the negative sexualized messages girls receive from the mainstream media and all those “stupid immature boys” at school.
Men like formulas, so the Learn-Play-Hug recipe, in that order, helps fathers struggling to connect and guide their teenage daughters on the path to empowered womanhood.
Jacques Legault is a clinical psychologist, supervisor, educator, consultant, writer, and public speaker with more than 25 years experience in the field. This article was syndicated from Medium.