8 Tips for Moms Raising Teenage Daughters to Fight Less and Connect More
Information provided by licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook, PsyD, MT-BC, and licensed Family Therapist Kristen Arquette, M.Ed LMFT SUDP BC-TMH MHP DDMHS CMHS.
I figured I would know a thing or two about raising teenage girls. After all, I WAS a teen daughter myself, and I have two sisters who also had their share of typical fights with our parents.
Even though my daughters are only in elementary school, I assumed I’d be ready for all the teenage angst they’ll throw at me in a few years.
Ha, that’s funny. The reality is raising teen girls is different today. It’s nothing like my Carol Brady “perfect” mom dream.
Let’s be frank — I know absolutely nothing about teenage girls (Who do I look like, Judy Blume?) and I’m dreading my kid’s impending teen years when we will inevitability disagree. A lot.
There’s something about the relationship between teen girls and their mothers that isn’t like any other family bond. Sometimes your mother-daughter relationship might look like an episode of “Gilmore Girls” where you feel more like best friends. But on other days, you’re at each other’s throats, and mom becomes your biggest enemy.
Related: How Good is Your Mother-Daughter Relationship Actually?
Raising teenagers isn’t smooth sailing, but some professional feedback can smooth out bumps in the journey through adolescence. Here’s some practical advice from family experts on ways parents can bond with their teenage daughters.
1. Learn How to Actually Talk to Your Teenage Daughter
Is your daughter always meeting your well-intentioned motherly advice with sighs or eye rolls? It can be frustrating when your child thinks they know more than you, but it’s important to take a deep breath and not react with anger or frustration.
If every deep conversation you try to have about big topics like applying to college or dating rules turns into a fight, it may be best to avoid having these talks in person. Teens are in the process of developing their own identity and sense of self, they may react hostilely to anything that implies you know more than them.
“Sometimes texting or emailing is a better way to communicate about ‘hot topics’ because it allows you to take time, choose your words carefully, and lay out your ‘entire message’ before she can jump in with questions or concerns,” says licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook, PsyD, MT-BC. “It also means you won't say anything in the heat of the moment you may regret later.”
Another option that has worked with teens and moms, says Dr. Cook, is to get a notebook that you both write in and pass back and forth between you.
“A simple spiral notebook will work; write any questions you don’t feel comfortable asking in person. The act of writing (hand on paper) and having the entire conversation right there to look back at for reference is handy.”
2. Try to Understand and Empathize with Your Teen's Behavior
It’s important for moms to remember that a teen’s bad moods may not be entirely their “fault” or something they do just to annoy their parents. As girls go through puberty in middle school and high school, they’re experiencing a ton of physical, mental, and emotional changes.
According to Dr. Cook, studies have shown that kids go through a massive physical and cognitive developmental spurt during their teenage years — similar to those toddler years. If you remember the terrible twos, just think of this as the “terrible thirteens” and be assured it’s all part of growing up.
“Here are some general issues many females experience during the teen years that factor into increased irritability: puberty and hormone changes, adjusting to bodily changes, societies pressure and expectations for women, pressure to perform in things like academics, sports, music, extracurricular activities, navigating friendships and romantic relationships, and seeking out emotional and financial independence from their parent’s support,” offers Dr. Cook.
Wow! That’s quite a list. Not to mention, with the huge influence of things like social media on today’s teenage girls, issues like insecurity in their body image, mental health struggles, and issues like depression and eating disorders are more prevalent than ever.
3. Show Your Teen That You DO Trust Them
Let’s say your teen asks to hang out late with friends, and you ask where she’s going and when she’ll be home…and she gets annoyed and shouts, “ You never let me do anything with my friends! I’m a prisoner in this house!” then storms to her room. Sounds familiar?
According to Dr. Cook, chances are she’s not mad you asked about her agenda…more than likely, she’s feeling like you don’t trust her choices and decisions. This can be especially frustrating for teens who are getting mixed messages from their parents.
Parents shouldn’t tell their teen daughters they need to “act like an adult” in terms of taking on more chores or getting a job, but at the same time treat them like little girls when it comes to things like their curfew, diet, and relationships.
According to Dr. Cook, it’s important to affirm to your daughter that your concerns or rules come from a place of love and care for her rather than a lack of trust in her judgment.
“When you think she’s calmed down, go talk to her and try to figure out the primary emotion. Let her know you trust her and just wanted to know where she would be in case she needed you for something,” says Cook.
4. Communicate Honestly About YOUR Feelings About Your Mother-Daughter Relationship
If you want your daughter to open up to you more, you need to be a good role model for her and demonstrate these behaviors yourself. Transparency builds trust, so Dr. Cook says to be honest and demonstrate to your daughter the things you’re doing to improve your relationship with her, so she can see that she’s not the “problem.”
“Talk to your daughter about why you’re seeking ways to improve communication, and the steps you are taking to get better at communicating whether that’s attending therapy, reading books about how to be a better parent, or joining support groups,” says Dr. Cook.
“Ask if she would be willing to come to family sessions with you. The point of this conversation is: you are not directly asking her to change, you're merely sharing what you will be working on and why. Plus, in family therapy, an objective observer (the therapist) is able to potentially see patterns and offer tweaks and feedback for improved communication, compliance, trust, and respect.”
Actions speak louder than words, and teens need to see that as the parent you are also taking responsibility for building a better relationship before they’ll be open to working with you.
5. Flip the Script: Give Your Teen Tips for What You Need From Them
If you’re a teenager who is often arguing with your mom, take a step back to understand why these blow-ups happen, and if there are any steps you could take to avoid them before they get out of control.
“Timing is really important — think about when might be the best time to approach your mother before asking for a new privilege, or for her help,” says FamilyEducation expert and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Kristen Arquette,M.Ed LMFT SUDP BC-TMH MHP DDMHS CMHS. “Put yourself in her shoes, would you like to be asked for something when you’re trying to rush out the door, or when you’re driving down a winding road in the rain?”
And, note this: when in disagreement, remember that it’s possible for the two of you to hold opposing viewpoints and each be right.
6. Find Common Ground
According to Arquette, to move past a fight, look for a middle path forward; a point on which you both. For example, if you want your daughter to start college right away, but your teen daughter wants to take a gap year after high school, your starting point for discussion might be that you both want to see her learn new things and grow as a person.
“When you can acknowledge the truth in each other’s point-of-view [rather than trying to “win” the argument] your daughter is more likely to listen and view the situation as one you can solve together — rather than getting stuck in an argument over who is right.”
7. Understand that Healthy Relationships Require Some Emotional Distance
When in the middle of a fight with your child, your first reaction, as a parent, might be to yell or mock them for acting “childish.” But going down to your teen’s level will only hurt your parent-child relationship further and cause your teenager to respect you less.
Try to remember before “reacting,” to something negative or dismissive your daughter says that she doesn’t hate you. Often teens want their parents to be proud of them and see pushing them away as a way to establish their own sense of self.
“Her job as a teen is to figure out who she is, and to carve out the independence necessary to do so,” says Arquette. “This requires her to distance herself from you at a time when she needs you more than ever — which is hard on you too!”
Allow her some privacy and distance to show her that you respect her and trust her. “Emphasize that you understand all teenagers will make mistakes and that you’re there to support her when this happens,” says Arquette. “Keep an open mind, and focus on understanding her viewpoints over solving her problems for her.”
Teens like to solve their own problems, says Arquette, and while they will often need their parent’s help to do so, “they are more likely to ask for it and receive it willingly if the parent operates more like a consultant than a dictator.”
8. Talk Less and Listen More
The key to great communication is listening more than you talk, says Arquette. “Listening communicates caring, respect, and safety. Emphasize your willingness to listen, and let them know that you consider their viewpoints both valid and interesting.”
And with that, encourage collaboration and brainstorming to reach compromises or solutions around areas of conflict. For example, if your teen wants to stay out late with her friends and you’re worried about her safety, suggest that you each come up with some ideas or partial solutions.
“Some teens are challenged by sharing what is on their minds during conversation alone,” says Arquette. “Finding an activity you both enjoy can help the conversation flow more naturally, as your teen is more likely to open up, especially about more vulnerable topics, when she is relaxed.”
Was this article helpful?
Rachel is a NY-based mom of two daughters and a nationally-published writer.