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The challenge of fathering an adolescent daughter.

How gender differences can complicate fathering an adolescent daughter.

To continue this series about mothering and fathering adolescents, consider some thoughts about fathers and teenage daughters.

Fathering a little daughter who adores being a "Daddy's girl" is much easier than fathering an adolescent daughter who is now developing into a more independent young woman and wants to be treated that way. "What way?" wonders a father who can really feel at a loss at how to proceed in response to this sexually unfamiliar path of growth.

Because the father grew up male and has no direct experience with the female way, one challenge in fathering a teenage daughter is how to stay connected as her gender differentiation into young womanhood starts growing them apart. Here are five possible ways.

First, the man could bridge sex role differences by confessing ignorance and expressing interest in learning what her experience of emerging womanhood is like (asking help to understand this female passage through adolescence, for example.)

Second, the man could respond to his daughter as person with who he shares certain common human traits (how both are alike in being stubborn and outgoing people, for example.)

Third, the man could value the gender definition she is developing (how she is sensitive and empathetic in her relationships with woman friends, for example.)

Fourth, the man could support the advancement of her interests (how his encouragement, instruction, or coaching could help strengthen skills she is working to develop or goals she is striving to reach, for example.)

And fifth, the man could welcome conflict with his daughter and conduct it safely, treating argument as an opportunity to openly communicate about a difference between them and get to know her better (by treating her as an informant when disagreement arises and not as an opponent, for example.)

What does not work is for the father, out of awkwardness or in willful ignorance, to allow sex role contrast to become cause for dismissal and estrangement: "Now that she's no longer a little girl, we have no good way to be together anymore." Such a response can cause her to feel discounted by this salient male presence: "When I became a teenager, my father lost interest in me, maybe because I was female and not male like him and my brothers."

Particularly with adolescent daughters, fathers who have a pronounced performance focus need to broaden their relational perspective to show understanding of, and to take an interest in, the whole person that their daughter is becoming. Otherwise, you get the daughter who confides: "The main reason I do sports is because it's my only way to shine in Dad's eyes. He can't relate to what is going on in the rest of my life."

There are risks when this dismissal and consequent estrangement occurs. There is the risk that the daughter will experience the father's inability to accept and respect her more relational female definition (constantly maintaining contact with her community of close female friends, for example) as disapproval. Feeling not worthy of serious attention because she does not prominantly display those male performance values and interests which her father holds most important, she can end up feeling treated, as one young woman put it, "like a second class child."

Further risk occurs when, denied this paternal affirmation, she may place herself at sexual disadvantage trying to compensate for the credit not received from her father by doing what she can to please other men. Daughters with disinterested or absent fathers often end up looking for that missing male approval in the wrong places - with immature male peers or older guys who may exploit her unmet need.

So what to consider here for fathers is this. Continually affirm the worth of your daughter as a person and a young woman, treat her as you would like other men to treat her, and do not dismiss her relevance in your life because she is not interested in what matters to you as a man. Adolescent daughters need involved fathers to provide a mature salient male presence with whom to experience being well treated by a man, and to serve as a model for selecting healthy male companionship as she grows.

By interaction and example, fathers are powerfully instructive. They are the primary model for how men should act and how they should be expected to treat her. The father's relationship to the mother is the primary definition of how male and female create healthy relationships and conduct marriage. What the father respects and values in his adolescent daughter teaches her much about what to value and respect in herself.

For more abour parenting adolescents, see my book, "SURVVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENT" (Wiley, 2013.) Information at

Next week's entry: The challenge of fathering an adolescent son.

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