It’s not easy being a teenage girl. It’s not any easier being a parent of one. To help you manage this challenging parenting stage, we spoke to three experts to find out what your teenage daughter really wants you to know.
“My personal style is not confined to gender norms”
If there’s any stage of life that’s perfect for experimenting with style and self-expression, it’s the teenage years. It’s important for parents to support their teen daughters, even if they don’t share their personal style. “Girls might wish parents understood that their personal style and way of being is not confined to gender norms,” said Rachel Kazez, licensed clinical social worker and founder of All Along, “Trans and non-binary teens often feel misunderstood by parents,” she added.
“It’s not always my fault if I don’t open up to you”
While it’s natural for teens to keep secrets from their parents, you can engage with your teenage daughter in many ways to improve communication. “Try engaging with your teen in a variety of ways and being open to their preferences and pace,” suggested Kazez. “For example, your teen might tend to share details about their life while driving in the car, while another of your children might feel more connected and want to share while in nature or doing an activity.” Also, how you react when they do share with you is crucial. “If your teen has seen you listen to them share something vulnerable and then use it against them, punish them for it or be overly sympathetic or worried, they will be less likely to open up in the future.”
“I respect you”
Even if your teenager daughter doesn’t say so, she still values what you think. “I don’t spend a lot of time with my mom,” said 16-year-old Tara. “But I still value what she thinks. I might not ask for her opinion a lot of the time, but whenever I have a big decision to make, I wonder, ‘What would my mom do?’ She’s a single mom who has worked really hard to create a good home for my sisters and I, and I respect that so much. I just don’t always have the opportunity — or the right words — to tell her that.”
“I know all your secrets”
You might think your teenage daughter pays attention to nothing beyond the screen of her smartphone, but she knows a lot more than you give her credit for. “I know my parents’ ATM numbers, where they hide the key to the safe and what they argue about,” said 15-year-old Katie. “I know way more about my family than they think I do.” For this reason, it’s better to involve your teenage daughter in open conversations about important family issues than try to sweep them under the carpet.
“Things were very different when you were a teenager”
Every generation of teenage girls faces different issues and challenges, meaning your own experience as a teenager only goes so far in helping you understand them. Today’s teens are growing up in a digital age, where things change quickly and pressures are immense. It’s difficult to relate to communicating and socializing via Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram when email wasn’t even an option in your own teen years. “It’s impossible for parents to fully understand how important social media is to teenagers,” said Tara. “We need to keep connected through all those different platforms, and because it’s so visual, there’s extra pressure to look good.” You might not ever figure out Snapchat, but you can educate yourself to help your teenage daughter stay safe online.
“I’m not trying to dress seductively”
It’s natural to want your teenage girl to cover up, but it can be dangerous to make a bigger deal out of her outfit choices than necessary. “I have constant battles with my parents over how I dress,” said Katie. “They worry that if I wear a short skirt or a low-cut top, I’m going to attract the wrong kind of attention. But being seductive is the last thing on my mind when I choose my outfit for the day. I’m just trying to fit in with everyone else.”
Your teenage daughter isn’t the same as all other teenage girls — and that’s something else she wants you to know. “The best way for parents to understand teenage girls is to ask a teenager, ‘What do you think adults don’t understand about teens?'” said Kazez. “Whether through volunteering, your friend’s kids, your own kids, etc., getting to know teenagers is the best way to, well, get to know them.”