When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.
“I hate my f*cking mom.” Katie, age 16, and all of about 95 pounds, entered my office with her mom Amber, choosing to sit in the two chairs at my art therapy table.
Amber began sharing with me the “complete disrespect” and “total hell” Miss Katie was apparently “putting the family through” she went on to say, “she was a good kid she was when she was little and now she is a hateful mean person who hates me and her father”.
Katie sat beside mom staring straight ahead only to interject her sighs or the classic teenage rolling of the eyes with a “whatever” a couple of times. Mom spoke of “the things” Katie “had done” until I redirected the conversation to Katie where she gladly interjected her opinions accompanied with many choice expletives. The ping pong game between the two had begun, mom upped her game with her own expletives, and I was now a spectator to their typical style of communication…if you can call it that.
I headed them off at the pass, “The two of you look ridiculous and act like siblings”. Both Katie and Amber looked at each other. Katie responded with, “We are, Amber, I never really thought about it like that”. Clearly the roles of this mother daughter team were misconstrued several years and the boundaries between them were nonexistent.
Amber brought up a recent event where Katie had snuck out with her boyfriend in a “red truck”. Katie insisted the truck “was blue” so the argument was redirected by Katie from the defiance of sneaking out to the color of truck her boyfriend was in. Katie reached over and slapped her mother in the face. Yes, slapped her across the face.
Okay, as a therapist, I want to say nothing shocks me. This did. Not just that Katie slapped her mom, but she took it upon herself to do this right in front of me. “Holy crap, are you kidding me? Did she really just slap her mom?” I thought to myself.
“Katie, does that generally work for you?” I said.
“What?” Katie look as if this was not a big deal.
I responded, “So you slap your mom when?”
“When she doesn’t listen to me and won’t let me talk.”
I looked at Katie and said, “No when you need to punish your mom for you not getting your way”
“Yep”, Katie responded with shrug of her shoulders while looking straight at her mom.
Katie had set the stage for her parents to fear her reactions to any boundaries or discipline they tried to establish and she would punish them when she did not get her way.
Yes, this is extreme behavior, but my point is…Kids do what they get by with doing.
Katie’s extreme behavior did not begin at age 16.
Mothers and daughters have unique dynamics going on to say the least. These dynamics can be more intense when your daughter happens to remind you of yourself and you find yourself staring at a “Mini-me”.
Daughters are different than sons. Daughters can be precious and kind and at a flip of a switch go from zero to a hundred in a millisecond- finding themselves in the hateful snotty girl role. They can be confusing yet easy to read at the same time. This rings true when you hear a mom say, “I know what you are thinking” and the daughter believes mom is stupid, paranoid, overprotective, or too strict.
Dealing with the teenage female species
1. Learn to ignore the eye roll.
Let’s start with this very basic teenage girl response, which can make any parent’s blood boil and the want to jerk a knot in the newfound “ I know more than you do” little princess. Know that 9 out of 10 teenage girls do this. It might not be to your face, but trust me, they do it. Don’t give them the power by overreacting to this almost instinctual teenage tic. Shake it off, but feel free to bring it up later when things have calmed down: “When you roll your eyes at me, it makes it hard to have a mature conversation with you,” you might say. Try to focus on the fact that eye rolls are a sign that your daughter is beginning to judge and think for herself. It’s annoying, but it’s also developmentally appropriate, and she’ll eventually grow out of it.
2. Go beyond the birds and the bees.
Because talking about sex is awkward, parents tend to get “the talk” out of the way and hope for the best. But that doesn’t cut it. Girls deserve more dialogue before finding themselves in situations where they’re being pushed into sexual behavior. For example, what should they do or say if kissing turns into unwanted touching? Too many girls go along with sexual advances that make them feel ashamed or distressed. As parents, we need to demystify the pressures that they’ll inevitably face. Use terms and details even when you don’t want to. Let them know you are aware of emotions, you were young once, and you do know what goes on. Just discussing how babies are made won’t cut it. Talk about teenage love and allow them to tell you how they feel about guys, love, and relationships. If you are hesitant, they won’t come to you when they need you regarding sex and relationships.
4. Tolerate their self-absorption.
Teens are egomaniacs. It’s developmentally normal for them to focus on their problems and their desires. Don’t expect them to notice that you might be having a hard day, or that their request for expensive shoes is unreasonable. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t discuss empathy or frugality, but don’t be surprised at how selfish they can be. Remind yourself that it’s normal and temporary. Talk to them but don’t expect them not to want and ask for things and be enamored by the new and the best things out there.
5. Use caution when discussing their friends.
During the teen years, girls shift their focus from family to their tribe of friends — and this tribe might be doing things you don’t approve of. However, as tempting as it is to say something negative about a girl who is being mean to your daughter or pressuring her to engage in negative behaviors, use caution. If she shares this with you, try not to overreact or disparage the friend. Take a breath, and be happy that she’s opening up to you. Don’t threaten to call the girl or parent and don’t call the school unless it is a safety issue. If you need to call the school or parent, let your daughter know what you are doing and why. Allow her to interject her feelings, intentions, and goals of the upcoming discussion. Discuss the problem calmly to assess its severity. Is your daughter unloading, or is she asking for your assistance? If you withhold judgment and criticism, the two of you are more likely to forge a plan when this happens again. You don’t want your daughter to regret coming to you, shut down, or shut you out completely.
6. Call out bad behavior.
Teenage girls can be rude, obnoxious, and cruel. They know how to say things that hurt and push your buttons. Instead of getting into an argument or allowing your daughter to escalate the situation, just say, “You aren’t allowed to speak to me like that. Let’s talk about this another time.” Or consider a small punishment — I usually take away their phone for a day if they mistreat me. It’s important for them to learn that bad behavior has ramifications. It’s even more important for you to stay calm and remember that your teen is a sea of raging hormones. Don’t hold it against them or give them the silent treatment. Negotiation and conversation are always better than scare tactics, hysteria, and ultimatums.
7. Be the grown-up.
Being a teenager is confusing and demanding, and presents a minefield of tricky decisions. Your daughter will seem very mature one day and then silly and giggly the next. But as much as we want to connect, we don’t want to be their buddy. Teens need us to be their moral compass and to be in charge. When they know our rules — even when they break them — they feel safe. Make them feel safe by being consistent and compassionate, authoritative not authoritarian. Parents who buy their kids beer or lie for them might feel cool in the moment, but they are undermining their role as parents. Teens, like all children, need to be parented.
8. Let them learn from small failures.
It’s no fun to watch any child struggle, but often parents are even more protective of their daughters. They may view them as vulnerable, sensitive, defenseless, innocent, and naïve. When there is a “failure” or mishap that is not life threatening or physically harming your daughter, allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their choices. Forgetting their homework, not being allowed to go to a friend’s house due to their behavior, missing a party, losing their phone, missing their ride to school, or not doing an assignment are a few of the small mishaps that you must not fix or bail them out of. Building self-worth is based on resiliency and the ability to cope with failures and bounce back. Your daughter needs to learn life lessons while she is under your roof.
9. Help your daughter see the reality of social media and advertising.
Social media, television, and magazines are selling our daughters a distorted view of women. Take time to help your daughter think critically about the unrealistic images they’re presented of models and movie stars. Teach her about all the effort that goes into making women in the media look perfect, such as airbrushing and plastic surgery. Discuss how some companies and industries benefit from individuals feeling poorly about themselves. A healthy dose of reality will go far toward preserving her self-worth and promoting confidence in who she is, not who she thinks she should be. Discuss how individuals base their happiness on what they see on social media and the unrealistic ideals, comments, lifestyles, financial status, appearance, and beauty is escalated or falsely portrayed.
10. Own your stuff, when the conversation goes south.
If you are a member of the Lost It Club with the rest of us and have resorted to shouting, shaming, or throwing your power around, you’re not alone. The key is not to beat yourself up, spend hours on the phone with your friend rehashing the argument, expect your spouse to fix your kid, or wallow in self-guilt…just own your stuff and move forward. Take ownership by apologizing to your daughter for poor your poor delivery. An apology will go far in terms of role modeling and building connection. Show your daughter that being an adult doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean admitting to your mistakes and making amends.
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.