Coping with Teen Daughter’s Transformation


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Q. Our 16-year-old daughter recently started dating someone we disapprove of. He does not do well in school, does not seem close to his family and we suspect that he is drinking. Our daughter’s attitude seems to be changing. She is not talking to us as she once did and her grades have slipped. What should we do?

A. The adage in real estate is “location, location, location.” In dealing with teens it is “communication, communication, communication.” At 16, your daughter is going through rapid physical and emotional changes. She is beginning to assert her independence and test boundaries. She is attempting to discern what she believes and why. Many teens at this age seek new relationships and begin to explore ideas and behaviors in an attempt to distinguish themselves from their parents.

Offer your daughter your undivided attention and be wary of getting into power struggles over her attitude. If you make your time with her about her black fingernail polish or lack of eye contact, she will be more likely to shut down and not share what is happening in her life. Fads are fleeting; the love between you and your daughter is not. Talk with her about the qualities she is looking for in a relationship. Find out what she likes about the boy she is seeing and ask how she feels when she is with him.

Listen. Really listen. Active listening requires minimal background noise and no cell phone disruptions. If this is impossible in your home, take your daughter to her favorite restaurant or for a walk in a park. Show her you enjoy her company and value her thoughts and opinions. Encourage her to include her boyfriend in a family activity or have him over for dinner. This will allow you to get to know him and for him to get to know you and the way in which you care for one another in your family.

Acknowledge that your daughter is not being raised in a vacuum. She is influenced by the principles in your home, but is also bombarded with ideologies from school, world news, social media and the behaviors of everyone around her. Ask her open-ended questions about issues such as underage drinking and find out if she has any concerns about her friends and their safety. Once she feels comfortable sharing her thoughts about others, she is more likely to share concerns about herself.

Introduce “hypothetical situations” such as teen pregnancy, shoplifting and bullying. This can be a great way to approach hard topics and explore your daughter’s potential responses to certain “scenarios.” Monitor your own body language and maintain neutrality as you listen, so that your daughter feels safe in sharing her opinions honestly.

Get or stay involved in her education. Ask her about classes and what she is learning. Teachers don’t mind concerned parents and sometimes it is helpful to have their feedback about behaviors noted at school. The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” makes perfect sense in today’s busy world.

Safety is paramount. Clear boundaries such as curfews, community limits and expected behaviors (ideally negotiated ahead of time) help teens know that they are not only accountable to you, but are still being backed by you as well. Encourage them to call you when they need help, even if they have compromised the expectations or broken the rules. Limits and consequences set within the boundaries of love are tools to help your teen create a stalwart self-portrait against the canvas of a changing and turbulent world.

 Susan Michels works with children and adolescents at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital. Please submit your questions to Is My Kid OK? by emailing sherri.mcmillen@conehealth.com.

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