How to Parent a Teenage Girl You Don’t Get Along With

Relationships with daughters tend to deteriorate when they become teenagers. Here's why — and how to parent through it.

Raising a teenage girl to be a well-adjusted, intelligent, and responsible human is that much harder when they have a tendency to be annoying and rude. And while not every teen girl will be a jerk, puberty can exacerbate emotional reactions. The result is that many fathers feel that, overnight, their otherwise compliant and polite daughter has become obstinate and dismissive. But the good news is that this shift is totally and completely normal. There’s a reason relationships with a teen daughter might break down, and there are also, thankfully, ways to repair it.

“A father usually responds to his daughter, especially his first child, as ‘my little girl,’” explains Dr. Kathryn Smerling, a psychotherapist who works with families, adults, and teenagers. “They have an idealized sense of what their relationship with their daughter is. That’s fine for the first years of a daughter’s life. But when a young girl starts to individuate, the relationship shifts. Because no longer is it ‘little girl and father.’ It’s a woman-to-be and a father.”

How to Parent a Teenage Girl You Don’t Get Along With

  1. Your teenager will feel like a different person almost over night, and you might not like the changes they have made, but remember: it’s normal, and even a good sign of healthy development.
  2. Growth through parenting is a two-way street: in this time, both teenagers and their parents will change and grow as they encounter new challenges. That’s good to remember.
  3. Respect that your teenage daughter might want more privacy, but remind her that you’re there.
  4. Engage with movies that show the difficulties of being a teenager and talk about it with your daughter.
  5. Try to be non-judgmental of your daughter’s new interests or the actions of others.
  6. Remember: this won’t last forever. They will turn 20 at some point.
  7. Don’t be afraid to get your daughter a therapist. Therapy is good.

A child individuating is usually not a smooth and easy process. Teen girls will start to push back on their parents in ways they never did before, and on some level, parents have to simply accept it. Closed doors, hours spent gabbing on the phone with friends, and disinterest in what they used to like is typical of the teen years. Fathers who might otherwise take the change in behavior personally need to learn not not to sweat it.

“Parents have to respect that she may want more privacy, that she may all of a sudden clam up, because she isn’t the same talkative little girl that she used to be. A father will have to accept that and roll with the developmental changes that the young girl that his daughter may have,” says Smerling.

She notes, however, that the teen isn’t the only one changing. Parents will have to grow too. They’ll need to shift their parenting styles and the way they interact. Smerling characterizes this as a kind of parental growth spurt. “Because as their child changes, and goes through different stages, parents have to readjust themselves as well. I think that parents have to look at it as a chance to grow as a human being,” she says.

Parents can and should use pop culture to engage in a way that might help prepare their kids for teenage challenges. For instance, the movie Eighth Grade by Bo Burnham or even Beautiful Boy, a movie that touches on the perils of adolescent addiction, might help spark conversation. Watching those movies with a pubescent daughter and talking about the challenges of growing will remind kids that mom and dad get it and are there for them — even if they don’t look like they really want help.

Parents also need to be as non-judgmental as possible. Research shows that authoritarian parents create sneaky kids but that doesn’t mean parents should ditch the rules. Teens should have firm boundaries about what is acceptable and what is against the values of the family. Still, parents should also always present themselves as the person their kid should feel safe approaching if anything is awry. But fostering that trust means ditching judgement.

“To be judgmental about other people’s behavior, and to be judgmental about people experimenting is not a way to gain trust with their teenager,” says Smerling. Because to be sure, teens will experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex at some point. They should know they can talk to mom and dad about it — even if that might come with some consequences.

While teenagers are often testing their boundaries and engaging in unruly behavior, there is a line that parents don’t want their kids to cross. If a parent is at all concerned about their kid’s behavior, and their kid won’t talk to them about it, they should seek professional help immediately. Therapy is an amazing tool for both parents and their teenage daughter and will help their kids gain coping mechanisms with the later troubles in life. “When kids are teenagers, that’s when they need therapy the most,” says Smerling.