Why the disconnection between parents and daughters?
At our recent Camp Courage I took the girls through an exercise I’ve run many times before. We brainstorm key areas of their life that they feel their confidence being rattled. The usual suspects crop up each time: school, friendships, academic expectations, negative people, body image, and – much more frequently these days: parents.
Now, parents and daughters not seeing eye-to-eye during adolescence dates back to caveman-days with mums undoubtedly raising their eyebrows at how short their daughter’s mammoth-fur wrap was being worn (!)
But it’s an issue that seems to be growing in its need to be expressed with each group of girls I work with…
During the exercise the girls are broken into small groups and round-robin around the top 6 x topics. Their challenge is to write statements on each post it note that they would say to either themselves or a friend who was struggling with that area of their life.
There’s always some great advice in there:
“Try to talk to them”
“Your parents don’t define you but they can support you”
“Respect them and your morals but stand up for yourself if you need to.”
But it’s some of the other pieces of advice that offer some deeper insight as to how they’re feeling:
“It’s your life, you make your own choices.”
“Slam the door and as them why THEY’RE being angry”
“Find other people who actually support you”
“Just because they are your family doesn’t mean you own them your happiness”
“Don’t let them get away with the ‘I gave you life’ argument!”
This ‘frustration’ has been coming up frequently when I run this exercise, and when we sit and talk through what’s going on, I get a strong sense of ‘push back’ from the girls toward people or ‘rules’ that are trying to intentionally influence (or the word they use: control) them.
I get a strong indication they don’t feel they are being listened to, that they deserve a level of respect they aren’t getting, and that they harbour an anger about their relationship with their parent/s that they can’t really articulate root cause of.
Of course the conversation that follows helps them start to understand where their parents are coming from, that the intension is always good and designed to support and help rather than hold back or judge.
But I wanted to go deeper, so as I often do, I turned to my resident Neuroscientist, Counsellor and Courageous Parenting collaborator: Dr Diane Harner.
In our Courageous Parenting Program we go a lot into the Identity Phase, a developmental experience your daughter is going through in her tween and teen years has a lot to answer for!
During this phase, young people are actively pulling away from their key influencers (AKA Parents) and using ‘seeking behaviour’ to look for answers to the very deep questions of:
- Who am I?
- What do I believe?
- What are my boundaries?
However, when it comes to some of the more ‘self-centred’, impatient and let’s be honest, statements that feel rather ungrateful to parents who work so hard to connect with and support their daughters that I often hear from the girls, what we’re really seeing is something called “adolescent egocentrism“. Dr Diane Harner explains:
“As children develop through adolescence they start exploring who they are as individuals and so their focus becomes very much on self.”
With regards to the slightly more ‘defensive’ suggestions the girls made, Dr Harner has some important insight to offer here also:
“This focus on self can also drive distancing behaviours where teens use negative communication strategies to create the distance they need to understand themselves as individuals separate from their parents.”
Negative communication strategies. Designed to INTENTIONALLY distance themselves from you when they feel they need to dig into their identity phase.
So… the million dollar question: What can (and should) parents do?
- It’s going to be hard, but give them the space they need. Don’t disappear altogether, when teens need space it often translates to ‘not being talked at all the time’.
- But try to keep the communication channels open. Let them know either subtly or directly that you’re there if they need you.
- It’s important to establish your own boundaries and values of how you expect to be treated…
- … but also try not to react to everything she pushes your way (remember, she’s pushing those boundaries!)
- And do your best to manage your own emotional responses to your daughter’s behaviours. As we say in The Confident Daughter program … hit the **PAUSE** button!
And please also know that even if you’re in a challenging place right now with your daughter, with rolling eyes, slamming doors, or the inability to say anything ‘right’ (!), when asked who were the top 3 people in their lives they admire and respect were, over 70% of the girls listed their mum, dad or ‘parents’.
She knows you’re there, and if if inside she’s feeling anger or frustration the can’t really explain, your support and patience really does a world of good to help her get to the other side. (Which she will! I promise.)