by Sue LeBreton
The night before she turned 13, my daughter whispered at tuck-in that she did not want to become a teenager. I knew she was intimidated by some of the behaviors she had seen at Junior High, but I probed for a why. “Because everyone says teenagers are stupid.”
Together we went through a list of all the teens we know personally and agreed that none were stupid, in fact, all were smart, confident, young people she would be happy to be like. But her comment stayed with me and reminded that when we lump all teens together it is a disservice to our young people.
Although my relationship with my young teen daughter s still very connected, I am conscious of looking for ways to maintain that bond, no matter what lies ahead. I know that my role as a parent is morphing from one of managing my daughter to more of a coaching or consulting role as she grows into adulthood. Throughout this metamorphosis I never want to lose our link because even if our children claim otherwise, they need us and want our influence in their lives.
Here are 11 tips from the trenches to help you preserve and strengthen your bond with your girl as she moves through this developmental phase.
- Use your daughter’s body clock changes to your advantage. According to author and counsellor Michael Riera, Ph.D., in his book, Staying Connected to Your Teenager, “Teenagers open up most naturally late at night, and wise parents take advantage of this reality.” Maybe you can watch movies together late into the night. Or perhaps you can set your alarm and join her for a late impromptu chat when she is no longer busy with friends.
- Are you avid readers? Think about starting a mother daughter book club to capitalize on your love of literature as a way to have a shared experience. If coordinating a book club is too much, simply start reading the books that she is reading.
- Practice gratitude together suggests mom Jennifer MacGowan. “We started a gratitude journal together last year. She gets one page and I take the other and then we read back to each other what we are thankful for. It has provided some great insight into her character.”
- Use humor and horseplay suggests Christine parent deSoto, mom of four. “It is easy to get exasperated with things your kids say and lecture them. If you turn it into something ridiculous or funny they can laugh, then get it.” She offers this example: Her daughter said she hated school and wanted to drop out. Mom said, “Great idea Genny, you will look fantastic in that fast food outfit.” She avoided engaging in a debate, gave her daughter a compliment and made her laugh. Genny then did her homework.
- Try to assess her actions. Just as your child was communicating to you when they had tantrums as a toddler, your teen is trying to say something with their “bad” behavior. Be careful to separate your disapproval of her actions from your approval of her as a person.
- Help her follow her own path. Mona Bartsoff, mom of Lara, a tween girl, says “I think our strong bond comes from accepting her goals, no matter what I may think, and supporting her.” Bartsoff recently helped Lara prepare and compete in a beauty pageant, a totally foreign world to her mom.
- Keep connected even when the going gets tough. Julianne Smalley, says that despite a rebellious phase in her teen years she never lost connection with her mom. Now a university student she offers this advice, “ Communicate and get on each other’s level. This will ultimately keep you connected whether you are on the other side of the globe, or being a rebellious teen and staying with your boyfriend. My biggest advice is not to shut each other out even if you are angry at each other.”
- Find an activity to do together. Colleen Reynolds, mom of three girls says that at the request of her youngest daughter, they tried a yoga class together and she was overwhelmed at how connected the two became as a result. On yoga days Reynolds’ daughter says, “mom – I cannot wait to rock the mat with you tonight.”
- Show some respect suggests Louisa Lamb, mom of two daughters. “ I have always thought that if you treat your kids with the same respect that you show adults, it comes back eventually.” Although seemingly simple advice, this can be challenging when you are opposed to your daughter’s choices. Try to respect her right to choose, even if you disagree with the choice.
- Plan a mother daughter trip. This does not have to break the bank, it can be as simple as a picnic, or a day trip to a new location. A change of scenery can lead to more relaxed or improved communication. This tactic helped Carolyn Jardine Woods whose 15 year-old-daughter once moved out for six weeks. “I gave her some space and then in the neutral territory she opened up.”
- Counter any negative media messages about “horrible teens.” Remind your daughter of her accomplishments and support her as she practices becoming an adult with your guidance.
Sue LeBreton is a freelance writer and mom of a tween boy and a teenage girl. She and her daughter are hooked on Gilmore Girls as their special show.
Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers by Michael Riera, Ph.D.
Raising Confident Girls by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer
It’s a Girl, Women Writers on Raising Daughters edited by Andrea J. Buchanan
Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd, Ann Kidd Taylor
The Cosby Show
Brothers and Sisters
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1 & 2)
Terms of Endearment