You have known her since birth. She is your little girl. You remember like it was yesterday; her smile, her laugh, her cuddles. You think back to what it was like when she looked up to you, when you could be in the moment with your girl- playing outside, going on adventures, reading bedtime stories. Your sole purpose was to make her feel loved and taken care of.
Lately, things have been different. She lashes out at the smallest things. You no longer feel the closeness that was once there. Maybe she tells you that you don’t understand. You see her criticizing herself and the world around her. You see her caught up in what the media tells her she is supposed to be or look like. The dreams she had as a young child seem to be fading.
What happened to your little girl? You try to do all the right things. You give positive feedback, get her involved in activities and let her know you are available to talk.
Adolescence is a difficult time for both the child and the parents. As Dr. Mary Pipher puts it, “Adolescence is currently scripted in a way that builds conflict between teenagers and their parents. Conflict occurs when parents try to protect their daughters who are trying to be independent in ways that are dangerous. Teenagers are under great social pressure to abandon their families, to be accepted by peer culture and to be autonomous individuals”. (Pipher, 65).
Developmentally it is completely normal for your child to be creating distance in the relationship. At this stage of life, peer groups are of paramount importance. In addition to shifts in relationships, there are also bodily changes that occur in adolescence. These shifts may contribute to your daughter feeling uncomfortable in her skin. Another notable change is the way adolescents tend to view the world. Teens, in general, are more likely to utilize cognitive distortions including emotional reasoning- “I feel this way so it must be true” and black and white thinking- seeing situations and people in extremes. Teens tend to come from a more egocentric place, where it is difficult to see another’s point of view. All of these patterns are typical for this developmental stage. However, knowing something is “normal” may not make them any easier to deal with.
Raising your daughter in today’s world can be a challenge, to say the least. So what are you to do?
- Remember safety first– Always seek professional help if there is talk of suicide if you notice any self-harming or other high-risk behaviors (sex, substance abuse, running away). Use your judgment as a parent in setting limits with the cell phone, the internet, and driving privileges.
- Consistency– adolescents are likely to “split” adults or look for a way around the rules. It is best that all caretakers are on the same page in terms expectations and boundaries. Talk with those involved in the care of your teen about what is acceptable for your child.
- Self-care– This one is so important. You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first or else you won’t be of any help to your child. Self-care can be basic like getting enough sleep, making sure you have eaten and are hydrated. Once these basic physiological needs are met you can explore what brings you joy. Journaling, reading, meditation and/or exercise can be great stress relievers.
- Be gentle with yourself- Give yourself a break. You are only human and you are doing the best you can. Ask for help from your support network when you need it. Give yourself permission to have your own emotional reaction to what is going on. Seek professional help if necessary.
For further reading on changes that occur during adolescence check out the resources below:
Reviving Ophelia- Saving the selves of adolescent girls by Dr. Mary Pipher, Ph.D.