Ten ways to help your daughter manage the big emotions and drama during high school while maintaining a strong connection.
I felt pretty smug about my parenting until my daughter hit seventh grade. That’s when things started to get real.
She had to navigate new friend groups that involved a lot of drama. There was the start of some academic pressures. We started having battles about phones, social media, and texting.
It was a bumpy ride through middle school, but we made it through and I hoped the high school years would be easier. And they have been in some ways. As kids mature, they start to figure out a lot of things on their own.
But like anything in life, things always get more complicated, and high school was no different.
It can be hard to know what your teen needs during these tough high school years
Like many teenagers, my daughter’s moods were all over the map during high school. Sometimes she was bright and cheerful, sometimes moody and sullen. There were times she would snap at me so hard I felt my heart break, and other times when she would lock herself in her room for hours at a time.
There were moments when we would be laughing and enjoying each other’s company. We’d go for coffee or to the bookstore and crack up at funny TikToks. And in the next second she would seem to find me unbearable and annoying. Asking if she wanted a snack would set her off for the evening.
As a mom, I felt the pressure of trying to make the most of the time I had left with my daughter under my roof, yet I could feel how desperate she was trying to pull away.
It’s important to remember what is going on in your teenager’s brain.
The teenage years are a time of rapid development, both physically, mentally, and socially.
Their body is flooded with hormones. Their brain is trying to develop the skills to manage what life is throwing at them. And in all this complexity, they are faced with managing peer pressure, school stress, complicated friendships, and finding their place in this challenging world.
The result is heightened moodiness, edgy behavior, and irritability. Just a lot more attitude in general. And sometimes, it brings out the worst in us.
The biggest mistake we make in these situations is taking their behavior personally and responding in the same way they treat us.
We want to snap back. We want to lash out. We want to get so angry we cry. But someone has to be the grown-up.
We must teach them how to manage their big feelings and emotions appropriately, and we can’t do that by behaving like a teenager.
So, how can we best support our teen daughters as they navigate this difficult terrain?
Here are 10 things teen girls need from their moms during these tough teen years.
A place to vent. Like anyone, sometimes we just need a listening ear. While your daughter’s complaining may seem annoying or the topic may seem ridiculous to you, don’t minimize it. Her perspective may be small, but her feelings are big. Also keep in mind that she may be using this as an opportunity to process something she doesn’t quite understand yet. Try not to tell her how she feels (“Why are you so angry about that?”) and instead just say things like, “I understand why you are upset” or “That sounds tough. Let me know if I can help in any way.”
Coping mechanisms. If we don’t validate and teach our teen girls how to manage their big emotions appropriately, they may turn to the wrong things to help feel them less. It’s important that we spend some time teaching our daughters healthy coping mechanisms for when things are tough, such as exercise, positive affirmations, meditation, or a hobby that they love. (You may like to read 30+ Positive Affirmations for Your Teen)
Boundaries. Let me start by saying, no teenager in the history of time ever thanked their parents for setting rules and boundaries. But, it is something they will thank you for later. Boundaries aren’t just there to control your teen’s behavior; they also tell your teen that you care and are concerned about their well-being. Without them realizing it, they also allow your teen to feel safe and supported and equip them with an out to make good decisions when faced with difficult choices.
Yes, that means you need to be mom first, and friend second. You may not always be liked during these years, but it will be worth it in the end.
The opportunity to fail. I heard this line recently, and it’s so true: teens have to mess up to grow up. While our mothering instincts tell us to save our kids in every difficult situation, we are actually hurting them in the long run and teaching them that they are not capable of handling things for themselves. When we save our teens from their mistakes time and time again in the hope that we can love them into taking some responsibility for their lives, we are doing them a terrible disservice. The only way to grow from a situation is to experience it. Step back and let your daughter fail sometimes. Let her take responsibility for her actions. She may surprise you with just how resilient she is.
Encouragement to take healthy risks. Kids whose parents let them take healthy risks often grow up to be more confident, self-sufficient adults. Often, we think of risks for big kids negatively, While some risks, such as experimenting with drugs, dangerous online behavior, or stunts that put them in physical harm, can give us grey hairs, engaging with people you don’t know online, etc., can give parents grey hairs, that doesn’t mean all risk-taking is bad.
There are a wide variety of risks we can take. There can be opportunities that are more about the risk of failure, criticism, and embarrassment, such as performing or trying something new. There are physical risks that test our limits and may make us feel fear. And there can be social risks, such as standing up for a kid being bullied or joining an activity that others don’t understand.
Let your daughter know that you believe in them by allowing them to push their physical limits and comfort levels, and then celebrate their effort instead of their achievement (or lack thereof.)
Relentless support: In middle school, many young girls start losing their sense of self and instead want to blend in with their peers. Teen girls especially need relentless support from their parents when it comes to chasing their dreams and aspirations. When young girls know that they have a cheering section and safety net behind them, they can courageously try and explore new things–or remain steadfast in chasing their dreams and believing they can achieve them.
Space. This one is hard. When we see our kids hurting, we want to know what’s going on so we can help. But the truth is, sometimes our kids need to sit in their emotions and figure it out on their own,
They may not want to talk to us because they are embarrassed, don’t want us to be disappointed, or don’t want to receive a lecture. And sometimes it’s just because they want to keep some things private, which is an extremely natural and practical thing to do.
I really like this quote from child and family psychotherapist Dr. Beverly Berg: “Daughters will be saying in their actions and words, ‘Go away, I can do it myself,’ but what they really mean is, ‘Stay close behind me most of the time, beside me some of the time, and in front of me only if you see I’m doing something really stupid or self-destructive.”
Connection: While it’s important for you to be mom and not a friend, that does not mean that you can’t have fun together and develop a strong bond. Despite their actions, teens want to feel connected to their parents–they just don’t want every experience to be a life lesson. Try to invite your daughter into your world whenever possible, and also try to understand hers. That may mean asking her to join you for a yoga class and then doing a TikTok together after. Or, it might mean exchanging a Spotify playlist and picking out your favorite songs. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be something that brings you closer together and makes lasting memories.
Take them seriously. All too often, parents will dismiss their teen’s wants and desires. It’s important when our daughters are trying to tell us how they are feeling or what they may want to do with their life, that we listen intently and consider it.
When my daughter wanted to quit a sport that she participated in since her toddler years, I scoffed. I couldn’t imagine investing all of that time (and my money) into something and then simply walking away. After a good night’s sleep, I realized my daughter was trying to tell me something more.
She no longer enjoyed her team and the drama. Another sport had attracted her interest, and she felt like she could be better at it. She had a healthy fear of injury.
She wasn’t the one being irrational. I was.
When I thought about it, my daughter’s previous tears after practice and some snarky comments were all signs that she was struggling that I wrote off because I thought she was being emotional and overdramatic.
Our girls need us to take them–and their emotions–seriously, even when it seems ridiculous to us. They often know what they want, and our own fears and insecurities shouldn’t get in the way of their path.
Instead of making decisions for them or leading them down a path, we need to ask a lot of questions. What do they think about their time management? How are they feeling about their stress levels? What do they want to study? Where do they want to live after they graduate high school?
Only then can we help guide them to where they want to go.
Unconditional love and support. As parents, we all know this, but it is harder to put into practice. Give yourself some grace, though, because we’re all carrying around our own baggage. Unconditional love is one of the most powerful factors in healthy development for teens.
Conditional love often tells our teens that they must earn our love. Adolescent girls often do this through good grades, trying to meld their appearance in a certain way, or participating in certain activities to receive their parents’ affection and approval. This people pleasing behavior often results in highly anxious teens. It also hurts their self esteem and prompts them to question whether they are worthy of love by anyone. This can be problematic in establishing healthy relationships in adulthood.
On the flip side, parents who accept and love their kids exactly as they are often have stronger connections with their children throughout life. The goal is to show love and affection to your daughter even when they make mistakes or don’t achieve certain goals or expectations.
If you need further proof, conditional love can have negative physical effects during childhood. For example, researchers at McGill University in Montreal found that children who have authoritarian parents—parents who put too much focus on achievement and rarely show affection—are more likely to be obese than children whose parents often show affection. Specifically, the study of 40,000 children aged 6 to 11 found that authoritarian parents are 37 percent more likely to have obese kids.
Just keep in mind, loving unconditionally does not mean you need to be a punching bag or agree with every poor choice, but it does mean loving your daughter with no strings attached.
Loving your daughter well is teaching her to love herself.
At the end of the day, we want to build our daughters’ self-esteem up enough so she can wear it like an armor of love in this challenging world.
Your relationship with your teen daughter won’t be perfect, but if you focus on these ten things, you can survive–and thrive–for the long road ahead.
Are you struggling with your relationship with your teen daughter? We highly recommend this book, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, by Lisa Damour.
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