Parents who think it’s hard to parent a teenage girl should consider what it’s like to be one. The teen years are a physical, emotional, and psychological slog for girls. Their friends become mean girl enemies. Their bodies and not their brains become central to the conversation. And their tension with parents reaches an all-time high. Things are even more complicated as they start to engage with romance for the first time and seek to differentiate themselves from mom and dad.
These enormous changes are enough to make parents take things personally. And the desire to withdraw from daughters can be strong. But this is when teenage girls need them the most. So what’s a parent to do? Here are 33 ways parents can keep their cool and help their teen daughters discuss everything from body image to rules and boundaries and help them grow into well-adjusted young-women.
To Help Her With Body Image
Do not talk about dieting or about how fat you are. Your daughter will internalize this. Never express a desire to lose weight in front of your daughter.
Actively decouple healthy eating and exercise from body-image goals. If you want to make healthy choices as a family and ditch fast food night for roast chicken, talk about balance, priorities, and overall well-being. Also, it’s okay to have fast food.
Talk about food as nutritious fuel, not about its caloric or fat content.
You might have to tell your daughter, during puberty, that weight gain and extreme bodily changes are normal during pubescence. Throw out the scale if you need to and remind your daughter that physical and mental health are far more important than a number on a scale.
Make sure you explicitly link your daughter’s physical self-worth to what her body can do (run fast, get her from point A to point B) rather than what it looks like. You may be the only person doing this. That is why it is so, so important.
Your daughter will not believe you, but make sure you tell them that Instagram models are not real life. They are photoshopped, painted in makeup, and wearing clothes that they are renting. They do not have that life. No one does
To Help Her With Bullying
Validate your teenage daughter’s feelings, even if she is having a full-on dramatic meltdown.
Help your daughter become more assertive by using ‘I feel’ statements and prompting her to do the same. This will help her stand up for herself more and feel more confident at a time when negative self-awareness is at an all-time high.
Don’t be afraid to take away her social media or phone privileges if you suspect she might be getting bullied, or bullying others. You are in control.
Ask your daughter about her interests all the time. Ask follow up questions. Have serious conversations with her about art and music and politics. Make her feel like her interests are interesting.
To Help Her With Relationships
Talk about romantic relationships as early as it makes sense, and without judgment, in an age-appropriate way. When it comes to having ‘the talk’ make sure that it’s a conversation not just about the mechanics of sex — which is important — but also about romance, healthy relationships, and consent. It’s a holistic conversation. Not a technical one
Explicitly link healthy friendships to healthy romantic relationships. Healthy friendships are not marred by possessiveness, jealousy, insults, or being demeaning. The same is true of romantic relationships. Tell your daughter that.
Compliment your daughter on her strengths. Is she funny? Smart? A fast reader? Remind your daughter that respect is when people don’t breach their boundaries. A boy pulling on her hair? That’s disrespect. A friend distracting them while they are trying to study? That is disrespect.
Accept that a teenage girl might be a little romance-crazy for a minute. Teenagers are present-oriented — their brains are literally built that way — and they may think their first romantic partner is ‘the one.’ Just grin and bear it.
To Help Her With Self-Esteem
Continue to hug and be physically affectionate with your daughter with her permission. Ask her, “Can I give you a hug?” If she says no, she knows you want to, and that will feel good, too.
When you compliment their physical appearance, make sure you get really specific. Mention the color of her eyes in contrast with the dress she is wearing, or that you like her hairstyle.
Never mention if you think she’s lost, or gained weight. Never tell her she looks thin.
Don’t lie to your teenage daughter. She will never trust you if you do. Tell her the only compliments you’d give her are those you think are true.
To Help Talk to Her When Things Are Tense
When your relationship with your teenage daughter is inevitably acrimonious, remember that it’s a totally normal part of teenage development. Remember that being a teenager (or a parent of a teenager) is just a phase. Take a deep breath. Repeat.
Be mindful that when teenage daughters lash out at you or mom, they are doing so because they feel safest with you. That is good, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Don’t bite the bait when your teenage daughter picks a fight. If you do, apologize when the dust has settled.
Have hard lines on what you will and won’t tolerate from your teenage daughter. Just because she has no impulse control doesn’t mean she can call you a bitch. Communicate those lines. Let your daughter know what will happen if (and when) she crosses them. Follow through with the promise.
Make sure that you and your partner are taking care of yourselves while parenting. By all means, make gym visits a regular part of your schedule, go get a massage once a month, hang out with your friends. Don’t let your teenage daughter take over your life. Don’t take over hers.
You might not always like your teenage daughter. That’s okay. She might not always like you — both things are a sign of a normally developing relationship between parent and daughter.
To Help Her With Puberty
Expect that you, too, will grow as a parent while your daughter grows and changes.
Respect your daughter’s want for privacy. Let her close her door and spend time alone.
Never, ever be afraid to seek therapy as a family or get your daughter access to therapy. Adolescence is difficult, and giving them an outlet with a professional will change their life for the better.
To Help Her Follow Rules
When setting boundaries, don’t be arbitrary. Cut-off t-shirts or dyed hair aren’t battles you want to fight. Instead, focus on the health and safety of your kids.
Teenagers are hard-wired to push boundaries. Try not to take it personally.
Choose your battles, otherwise, everything will be a fight.
Let kids explain themselves when they break rules or misbehave before disciplining them.