Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Communicate With Your Teenage Daughter


7 Surefire Ways to Shut Down Communication

by Jennifer Weberman on 03/15/2012

Post image for 7 Surefire Ways to Shut Down Communication With Your Teenage Daughter – Part 1
Do you find yourself searching your teenage daughter for signs of the sweet little girl she once was? Does it mystify you how the same girl who used to enthusiastically spill every detail of her day, now responds to your inquires with a monosyllabic grunt? Well, you’re not alone. This baffling transformation takes place in nearly every home that houses a teenager, not just yours.

The good news is that your daughter does still desire a strong, intimate connection with you. I know this because I work with teenage girls and they tell me this all the time! They also tell me all the things their parents do that effectively, albeit inadvertently, shut down communication. A few choice words from you will guarantee you yet another chance to observe the adorable girl you gave birth to morph into the lying, sneaking, sarcastic, eye rolling, text messaging alien that is now your teenage daughter.

So the question becomes: how do we avoid the conversation landmines? Take a look at my list of the most common missteps parents make and see if you recognize yourself. Or better yet, show the list to your daughter and let her point them out for you!

Mistake #1: When she comes to you with a problem she’s facing, tell her exactly how to fix it

 This can be accomplished through the following: If she’s annoyed with her girlfriend, offer tactical advice like “Just ignore her,” or “Don’t hang out with her if she’s going to be like that.” If she’s struggling in one of her classes, say things like, “You should stay after school for extra help.”

How does this shut down communication?

Imagine if you were venting to a close friend about stresses at work. You may tell this friend, “My supervisor has been getting on my case, and she told me if I don’t increase my numbers by the end of the month, I may be out of a job.” Now, imagine your friend responds by telling you, “Well then you should work harder. Perhaps even work weekends. In fact, let’s cancel our lunch plans for Saturday because you ought to be focusing more on your job.” Would you feel supported by this, or would you feel criticized or judged? Does your friend see you as a competent person capable of creating your own solutions, or someone who can’t be trusted to find her way out of a paper bag?

Even though the advice may be truly helpful, advice is rarely well received when it’s unsolicited. Avoid coming off as condescending or untrusting of your daughter’s instincts and remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen.

Mistake #2: Explain why your daughter’s problem is her own fault.

  Sometimes you just can’t help yourself from pointing out the obvious. Her story prompts you to blurt out a damaging “That’s what happens when you act like that,” or “If you’d done what I told you to, you wouldn’t be in this mess.” Then, for good measure, you give her the “I told you so” look, and you’ve pretty much guaranteed she won’t be sharing anything with you any time soon.

How does this shut down communication?

Of course, your intention was to help your daughter understand the connection between choices and consequences. You want her to benefit from the painful lessons you’ve already learned. But if you do it in way that’s critical or shaming, she may fight to the death to defend her actions, even if she knows you’re right. While she’s busy trying to displace the blame onto anything other than her own actions, the opportunity you had to have a meaningful conversation is slipping away. Mistakes can be blessings in disguise because they create opportunities for us to learn how to clean them up. So don’t point fingers at her, just point toward the dots, and watch as she connects them all by herself.

Mistake #3: Make a big a deal about it.

See if this scenario sounds familiar: Your daughter shares one of the dramatic tales of her teen life and you respond by looking shocked, appalled, disgusted or irate. And then you ask a lot of follow up questions.

How does this shut down communication? 

 Has your teen ever told you to “Stop freaking out,” or “Just forget I said anything”? (If your answer is “no,” then I’m not sure you have an actual teenager.) When you respond with more emotion than even she was showing, it will likely escalate her anxiety, causing her to regret having shared anything in the first place.

What can you do instead? If its something as simple as a grievance with a friend, try to stay calm, listen and, when appropriate, reflect her feelings. Phrases like “That really stinks” or “That’s so frustrating” tend to go over better than “I can’t stand her!” or “She’s such a horrible friend.” Remember, the person she’s annoyed with today is likely the same person she’ll be BFFs with tomorrow.

On the other hand, if she shares something that requires your involvement, such as a failing grade, then, after listening, you can invite her to brainstorm ways to address the situation. And always let her know you are there if she needs your support.

Mistake #4: Minimize her problems.

This can be accomplished by using phrases such as, “Don’t be so dramatic,” and “It’s not the end of the world,” and the parental favorite, “There are people in the world who would love to have your problems!”

How does this shut down communication? 

 I know, I just cautioned you not to overreact and now I’m cautioning you not to under-react. Oy! But minimizing her problems is not about your emotional reaction; it’s about the sarcastic undertones you convey that thoroughly invalidate her experience. Although the problem may not appear to be a big deal to you, at this moment, it is a very big deal to her.

More importantly, she may be using a small problem as a test to see how you’ll react, so she’ll know if she can trust you with a bigger problem. Sneaky, eh?

Mistake #5: Give your opinion freely about anything and everything in her life.

A sure way to close the lines of communication is to make comments about her friends, her taste in music, her clothing, her hairstyle…you name it. If you want to make sure the lines stay closed, don’t forget the biggest hand grenade of them all: comments about her weight.

Why does this serve to shut down communication?

Although she may not tell you this, your opinion of her is important to your daughter. Really, it IS. If she anticipates judgment or even evaluation from you for the little things, it will be more difficult for her to feel safe opening up about the big things. Nonverbal cues are equally important, so things like curling your lip, furrowing your brow, or shaking your head will all read as strong messages of disapproval.

Instead, when she has tastes and interests that differ from yours, try to show curiosity. For example, you may not like the music she listens to, but you can ask her what it is she likes about it. I’ve seen parents be pleasantly surprised by the answers they get.

Mistake #6: Tell everyone everything.

Do you tell your friends and family all the interesting details of your daughter’s life? Do you share with everyone which classes she’s doing well in and in which one’s she’s struggling, the ridiculous things she says that you find amusing, and of course any personal problem she’s having? When she makes Honor Roll, do you run straight to Facebook to post it? Well, given all that, do you really find it surprising that she’s always hiding from you these days?

How does this shut down communication?

Teens LOVE privacy. You may be tempted to think otherwise with their overt addictions to social media, but that’s a world where they feel they have some control. Online outlets allow them to create a persona based on how they want to be perceived by the world. When you share your daughter’s personal details without her consent, she may feel self-conscious and wonder what other private things you’ve shared about her. And as important as privacy is, trust is even more important.

Another point to consider: say you like to announce when she is doing well in school. Seems harmless enough, right? But what happens if she has a rough marking period? What feelings might she have knowing how important it was to you to be public about her successes? What if you have one child that excels in school and one that doesn’t? By publicly praising one child’s academic successes, how might the other child feel?

Even the most well intentioned sharing can inadvertently put pressures and stress on our children. Remember, it’s always more important to let her know how proud you are than it is to tell the rest of the world.

Mistake #7: Use your phone while talking to her.

Read a text, send an email, take a call, check your voicemail. You think her use of technology irks you? Believe me, nothing makes your daughter feel less important than having to fight with your Blackberry for your attention!

Why does this serve to shut down communication?

  Believe it or not, even when your teen doesn’t seem like she’s interested in talking to you, that may be exactly what she wants to do. Before she does, though, she’s looking for signs of your receptivity. So look open. Turn off your phone during meal times. If you’re in the car together, ignore your texts and let your calls go to voicemail. Do you know why the car is such a popular place for teens to open up to you? It’s because eye contact is reduced, which has it feel “less weird” for them. So keep your eyes on the road, your phone in your purse, and listen!

If you can’t ignore your phone, then set aside some time when you can. Go on a coffee date and make a point of establishing a “no phone” rule. And then just talk :)


  1. There are a lot of outside influences to mold your teens.If your relationship isn’t rock solid, those influences will be front and center, not your principles.Parents have always found it easy to discuss their teens’ issues with me.Connect With Your Teen Daughter all time for the reason of good bondage of family.

  2. @ toffelnigar: You make a very strong point about setting a foundation of morals and principles when children are young. I also checked out your website; looks like you have lots of experience in this area. I encourage others who are in need of guidance with their teens to look at your services!