You’ve just barely become accustomed to being someone’s mother when the warnings start. “Oh, a girl? Those teenage years are going to be hell,” your mother’s best friend will tell you. “Just wait until she hates you!” says the random stranger in the grocery store.
Parenting through the teenage years is hard. They’re battling hormones and trying to find themselves. You’re watching them change and trying to keep them from making the mistakes you once made.
But does being the mother of a teenage girl have to be the miserable experience sitcoms, commercials and strangers in the grocery store make it out to be?
Dr. Lisa Damour, director of the internationally renowned Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, tells SheKnows a bulk of the tension between teens and parents is not on them but on us.
“We know from research that teens live up to expectations and down to them, too,” Damour says. “Parents who expect their teenagers to be difficult and immune to adult influence are more likely to have teens who go on to match those expectations, while parents who hold generally positive views of adolescents tend to have teens they enjoy.”
Damour, author of the new book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood, has broken teenage development into bite-size pieces for parents who are trying to make sense of the changes they see happening in their daughters’ lives.
We asked her to divulge the secrets to retaining a good relationship with your teenage daughter and the one thing she thinks every mom of a daughter needs to hear.
“I think that parents do best to avoid a top-down approach when it comes to helping girls take good care of themselves,” Damour, a mother of two, told us. “We want our daughters to be safe and we worry about the risks they face, especially as they encounter temptations such as drinking, sexual activity or drug use.”
The worry will likely never go away, but there are ways to worry without pushing our daughters away.
“Instead of threatening girls with punishments and rules, we do better to position ourselves as allies to our daughters’ wishes to be safe,” Damour explains. “It’s the difference between ‘Don’t let me catch you drinking!’ and ‘I really care about you and would hate to see you get hurt. If you find yourself at a party where there is drinking, how are you going to manage yourself so that nothing bad can happen to you?'”
And if she snaps, and you feel taking the gentler approach was all for naught, know this: Your daughter doesn’t hate you.
“I [wish] parents knew how often teenage girls tell me that they wish they had a closer relationship with their parents,” Damour says. “Teenagers often seem like they don’t want our company, but they still notice when we are over-busy, brittle or otherwise emotionally unavailable. I think that moms of teenagers need to hear that girls really want to be able to lean on their mothers, even as the girls are striving for independence.”
What’s your secret for staying close to your girl?
Before you go, check out our slideshow below: