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Parenting Teen Girls

One parent and psychologist's perspective.

It’s not easy being a teen girl and not easy parenting one. More than previous generations, today’s teen girls face a daunting range of stressors that put them at risk for serious issues including self-harming behaviors, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Parents everywhere struggle to respond appropriately to the challenging behavior, hit-or-miss communication, and fluctuating moods we see in teenage girls. No wonder parents are overwhelmed!

As a clinical psychologist specializing in teens, I work with teen girls and their parents nearly every day. A lot of girls who come to therapy are stressed and lack the ability to cope in healthy ways. A lot of parents who come are worried about their daughters and feel frustrated, ineffective, and “locked-out” of the relationship they hoped to have — one where they could consult, guide, love, and enjoy their teen daughter in this final stage of childhood.

I also have two teen girls of my own and literally go from teen girls in my office to teen girls in my home in a five-minute commute. My girls are at opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways. One just turned 18 and is finishing high school while the other just turned 14 and is finishing middle school. One is easy-going but private, sharing information with me on strictly a “need-to-know” basis. I’ve had to modify my natural communication inclinations and evolve specific skills that work with her. My other daughter shares a lot and has an intense and passionate nature. Likewise, I’ve grown to “learn” her and manage myself in important ways in order to parent her the best I can. I notice other parents with more than one child also experience their kids as vastly different in basic temperament.

I do not write about parenting teen girls because I do everything right with my two teen daughters. In fact, the mistakes I make are even more shocking given my immersion in the topic. I write because, by nature and by training, I am an observer of emotional dynamics. With my clients, and even in challenging parenting moments with my daughters, I am constantly observing. I can be swept up in a stressful parenting moment yet, at the same time, track what’s going on developmentally (for teen and parent), strategically (communication skills and relationship management), and emotionally (what feelings are getting activated, how is each person managing them). Because the teen years are an important time for girls to build a sense of identity and a repertoire of healthy coping behaviors, both are always on my radar.

Then, I watch and listen carefully to see what works and what doesn’t. My clients and my kids teach me a lot! I take suggestions and collaborate to come up with new ideas that work better and get better results. Or I understand something in a new way and share that understanding to bridge the gap of alienation between parents and teen girls. In this blog, I will take everyday issues and dynamics with teen girls and write about them. I welcome your thoughts, questions, and suggestions.