Ladies and gentlemen, but especially ladies, welcome to the teenage years! Not yours, as you’re, already, a responsible adult, who’s got everything together (as if!), but worse. Welcome to your daughter’s teenage years!
I know, from my not so far away experience as a teenage girl, that nothing (and I really mean nothing) has prepared me and my mother for that kind of trip. Nothing. So now I’ve decided to write an article with everything I wish my mother knew back then, with everything I’ve needed, but I didn’t know I need or, worse, I didn’t know how to ask for.
Lower your expectations.
You might be in your 30s, or even your 40s when your young one arrives on The Totally Drama Island. Which is fine. What is not that fine, however, is to treat her like she would also be in her 20s at least. She’s not. She is somewhere between 13 and 19 years old, and she thinks, acts, and feels like it. Learn to respect her and adjust yourself according to that. If we’d think in our teenage years the same way we think in our late 20s, or even in our 30s, no one would ever take a bad decision. Ever. Somehow, we don’t, so we have to act like we understand this.
Bond with her.
Yes, I know, she’s your precious little daughter, and you’d like to protect her from any possible harm. I guess all the mothers think the same. But you can’t. Your daughter will make mistakes, will trust the wrong people, and will end up disappointed and heartbroken, more often than not. You can not protect her from all the mess that comes with the passport to ConfusedLand. But you can, and that’s crucial for tour future relationship, bond with her. Remember how you felt when you were her age. All the insecurities, the peer pressure and, oh, all the drama and the secrets. All the oh, my day is ruined, look at this hair, and the make-up is not the best, either! and Those girls are so cool, I’d like so much to get closer to them! What would they say if I’d ask them to get out for a coffee and a chit-chat? problems that rule the teenage universe. Yes, in your 30s or 40s they certainly sound like a foolish game, nothing important, but can you remember how important they used to be when you were her age?
Tell her your story, show her how was that period back then, when you were in her footsteps- how you used to have fun, what having style meant back then, who were the cool kids of your generation. Tell her about your young and insecure self, and about all the drama you used to care about. And allow yourself to see her blooming and telling you the updated version of the story. Build up some personal routines to help you tighten your relationship- maybe you will have a boardgames night, or get out for brunch on Saturdays and talk about how your week went, or you teach her some homemade beauty tricks, it doesn’t matter that much what it is. You can even get her friends involved, as well, if it feels right for both of you! The whole point is to make sense for the two of you, and help you know each other. Be her confident, rather than the never-content general.
This means, once again, to talk to her. To let her know that you’re there, ready to listen, without judging her. Don’t forget that this is the time of her life when she learns the most about herself. She knows for a fact that she’s not a child anymore, but she’s not a woman yet, either. And that is one of the most confusing situations a girl can see herself in. Don’t expect her to know how to handle this by herself, she’s only human, after all.
Of course, when you’ve met her for the very first time, you’ve pictured in your mind the kind of woman you’d want her to be. Don’t hold on to that image. Let her learn, and understand that she will be her very own type of woman, not the one you’ve desired to be, not the one you or your mother are. Be by her side when she discovers the kind of woman she wants to become, encourage her to take action in that direction, and listen when she tells you about her struggles.
Talk to her about the important topics of her time. Let her know about feminism, about sexuality, about the relationship with her body, about social media and bullying. Teach her the rights and obligations she has, and support her if she wants to get socially involved, as a volunteer or however she feels like. Find out about the women which inspire her, and what is she finding inspiring about them. Teach her about solidarity with other women, about the ways she can build other women up, instead of tearing them apart and about mental health and how it changes her life course. Most important, teach her that it’s fine to ask for help when she needs it. Even if she will ask it from you, the school counselor, or whatever reliable source that she feels could be helpful, the point is to ask for it, not to bottle things up inside her.
I know, some of these are uncomfortable topics, but the thought that your daughter will find out about them from questionable sources it’s causing more discomfort, I think, than talking with her.
Be aware of the pressure.
Now, more than ever, the pressure put on young girls is exhausting. They’re expected to be good friends, good students, to know what they are going to do with their lives in the long term, look nice, be popular… All the struggles you’ve had, as a teenager, too, but with some extra peer-pressure from social media. They will constantly be exposed to fake perfection, and they will be told that, if they work hard enough, they will reach it too- they will have the perfect social life, the perfect body, relationship, and prizes at scholar competitions, some volunteering too, perhaps. All at once, without getting tired or sick of it.
It is your duty, as a parent, to let her know that she’s doing her best and that what she’s seeing on social media is rarely the truth. The most important thing my mom told me when I was a teenager was I am proud of you, you’re doing great. I trust you that you will find a way to change the things you think you could do better so that you will be happy with the final result. But I am proud of you for being my girl and I love you either way. That easy. She knew I wasn’t happy about the way my life was, and she was aware that the whole situation made me insecure and anxious, so she thought like it would be a good moment to remind me that I am capable, worthy and loved. And her intuition was right at that time, as it was many times after that one, too.
It might be tempting to fall into the old trap of You’re not doing enough! Your best friend does this, and that, and she’s not complaining that much! I’ve made so many sacrifices for you, and you’re disappointing me with every chance! I can’t believe you are my daughter… but don’t. Please, don’t. Maybe you’re just angry, you have a bad period, you’re under pressure, it’s understandable. But she will not dig that deep into it. Do you want to know what will stick to her? I’m not enough. My best will never be enough, whatever my best will be. I’m a disappointment, and that’s it. I will never be good enough for her…
Don’t kill her self-esteem like that. She is, before everything else, your daughter. The person you love most. Don’t cut her wings with your anger, they will never grow back. And no material gift will make up for the things you told her when you had a bad period. Never.
The not good enough is, as you already know, a hard to bear weight, so why put it on your child’s shoulders? Not always easy is good. Mostly, it isn’t.
Admit when you’re wrong.
You might be her parent, but you’re only human, after all. And that means you’ll make mistakes when it comes to your relationship, as many as her. Be the better person in the story, and show her the right way of doing things, by apologizing when you’re wrong. Maybe it proves that she was right about something, or that she knew better. Tell her. This will only make you grow in her eyes, as not that many parents admit their wrongs in front of their children. If you want her to admit her mistakes, the easiest way is to show that you’re making mistakes too, that you’re an older human, not a god who’s always knowing the best about everything and anything.
Allow her to make mistakes.
When we’re young, we all make mistakes, this is how we learn. But if you’re making at 40 the mistakes typical for a teenager or a young adult, it only proves that you haven’t learned a thing, my mom used to tell me. And she was right. We rarely learn from our close one’s mistakes and this usually happens only after we have our fair share of personal bad decisions. It’s only natural to happen this way. If you see that someone is not fitting into her social circle, or that a boy is not a good fit for her personality, do your job and tell her. But don’t go to forbidding her to see/communicate to that person. Of course, you’ve probably seen that movie countless times before, but keep in mind that it’s her first one, so don’t spoil the ending for her.
Somehow, if you know that she’s slipping on a dangerous slope, be the grown-up of the story and stop her as you still can. But when we talk about the typical teenage misfittings, let her do her thing, and just make sure that she knows she can count on you whenever things go south. Let her know that the family will always be her safe space, even if she was wrong. That will make so much more for your teenage than a long list of interdictions- by the way, do you remember how much you used to hate whenever the grown-ups were busting into your life and not respecting your limits? Great. Don’t do it, until it’s really needed, in this case. Otherwise, she’ll never learn.
Be your most authentical self.
Yeah, the common narrative tells you that you should always be responsible, severe, and the one who knows best. Somehow, the teenagers have some secret sensor for fakeness, especially when it comes to their close ones. So be who you are. Share with her your real opinions about the hot topics- music, fashion, pop culture, hobbies, whatever little things make her tick. Show her what makes you tick, as well- maybe she will like ABBA as well if you showed her their music! Don’t try to be the picture-perfect role model, who always has her life together. Try to remain curious, though: learn about the things that matter for her generation and ask her why.
Keep always in a corner of your mind that you are the teacher of the most important lesson, which is the way she should treat herself. You are teaching her this chapter since forever, by the way you act, talk, walk and dress, but now there came the moment of a new paragraph: the one about setting up the boundaries for other people. Be honest with her and yourself about how you managed to learn this skill, and let her know it is fine to say no. Even if this means she will tell you no sometimes as well.
It’s okay to admit that you don’t understand some of those things, but the key is to show real interest to them. This will build a stronger bridge between the two of you.
Pay attention to the little things.
The teenage years are a tricky period when the way we see ourselves changes as the days go by. This means that you have to pay some extra attention to the details of your teenager’s life. Be careful with the way she talks about herself, her sleep, eating, and social patterns. If any of those are changing in a noticeable way, you two should talk. Make sure that she doesn’t have some unknown emotional struggles that might affect her. Emotional suffering can be translated into modified sleep, eating, and social patterns. If she’s sleeping too much, or maybe she’s got insomnia, if she eats too much, or is always on a diet, if her scholar results are poor and she is giving signs that she can’t focus on her homework the way she used to, if she goes out almost always, or maybe not at all, even though she used to love going out with her friends, you should talk to her. Not to read her diary, not to talk to her teachers or her friends, but with her. Tell her that you’ve noticed the changes and that you worry about her, remind her that she’s worthy, loved, and you will help her manage whatever it is that is stressing her out.
I cannot tell how important this is. Not when so many teenage girls struggle with depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders. Not when so many teenage girls hate their bodies, feel unworthy, and are even harming themselves. In this context, being your girl’s safety space can make a huge difference. Maybe even between life and death.
The teenage years are hard to put into words. I still battle some ghosts from mine, even if mom was a huge support figure of mine. It is understandable that no book, workshop, or coach could prepare you for those years and their challenges. Somehow, being human and remembering that you used to be a teenager too might be a good start, even if it will be still a rough one. These are the most important things I could possibly think about. Of course, I’m not a parent, but I’m not that far from a teenager’s point of view, as I am still young. And their perspectives should matter to you more than any outsider’s word. Just take a look inside yourself and you will see that the knowledge about how to behave properly during this time of your lives has always been there. Just open up and enjoy the ride!