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Moms and Daughters: Handling the Mean Teen Years

How To Deal With Conflicts During Your Daughter's Adolescent Years

What does a mother do when her teenaged daughter is spinning out of control, and nothing is bringing her back? Some girls transform from a sweet, ribbon-wearing, kiss-giving, doll-loving little girl to a young woman who is angry, secretive and often worse.

Is it any wonder why millions of mothers fear their daughter's adolescent years? Like these mothers, you may be wondering how your relationship suddenly became so complicated. "In the blink of an eye, everything changed between the two of you," says Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D. "Out went the easy chats, holding hands on walks and keeping her secrets. In came slammed doors, exasperated sighs, sullen moods and rude comments. These changes are mystifying and devastating to mothers."

Why This Phase of Life is Hard on Both of You

According to Sandler, there are several reasons why daughters and mothers develop conflict during adolescence. The most common are:

Mothers take the brunt. As the emotional caretakers of the family, mothers typically sit at the helm throughout this process, anxiously steering the family's course through the maelstrom of the adolescent years. As such, they often feel responsible for ensuring that each member survives and even thrives. Consequently, mothers often feel a dramatically increased burden during their daughters' adolescence.

Her development affects you. It is far from easy to live with someone who is undergoing rapid changes in how she looks, thinks and feels. On the most obvious level, girls' maturing bodies, vitality and burgeoning sexuality tend to make their mothers uncomfortable. Just when girls are blossoming into shapely young women, mothers are often in or approaching midlife. It may be difficult to live with adolescent daughters who remind them of their ever-diminishing youth.

It feels personal. Mothers typically describe feeling scrutinized by their teens. As one mother put it: "Living with my daughter is like having my own personal X-ray machine." This is because your daughter's effort to develop her own individuality motivates her to examine your every action. This is a far cry from her early childhood, when you frequently could do no wrong or were the "best mother in the world."

Conflict is particularly hard. In general, women have a tough time handling conflict and anger; therefore, they regard their teenage daughters' challenging behavior or outright hostility as particularly unwelcome. Thinking back to when your daughter was a little girl, you probably expected her to get into squabbles with her peers and siblings. Now that your daughter has reached adolescence, you may believe that your daughter should be beyond all that. She should know how to get along with people – especially with you.

"I have always viewed my daughter in a positive light as she moves into and through all stages," says Terri Slater from Boca Raton, Fla. "However, I do believe this to be the most challenging phase thus far. She is still in many ways a child in a very adult body. We have had some tough situations. When things get out of hand, I simply lay down the law and remind who the parent is. Fortunately, these times are few and far between because of the mutual respect we have for each other. In a nutshell, the key to getting through these tough times is trust and communicate. If you can do this, I believe you [both] will 'survive' and most importantly grow in the process."

Be the Grown-Up and Stay Connected

Even when it feels like it, all is not lost. With a bit of understanding, loving gestures and compromise, you can be a part of your daughter's world.

According to Naomi Drew, author of Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World, the most critical key of all is to find ways to enter your child's world. "Listen to her music with her, even if you hate it," says Drew. "Do some activities together that she likes, even if they're things you don't normally do like window-shopping at the mall. Take a genuine interest in what moves and motivates her. Each time you step into her world you create increased trust and openness, even if you can't see it right away."

Choose Your Battles and Stay Firm

Drew says that one of the first things parents need to do is set clear, fair standards and limits and stick by them no matter what. If your daughter has to be in at midnight, she has to be in at midnight, and if she's not, there needs to be a consequence. However, don't expect this to be easy.

"Consequences can be tricky," says Drew. "The best way to handle them is to sit down with your daughter at a neutral time – a time when neither of you is angry – and talk about the rules of the house. Try to find acceptable places to compromise so your child feels like she has a voice too, but never compromise on the things that are most important like those that can affect her safety or good moral judgment. Next, ask your child what consequences she believes would be fair. Often kids are harder on themselves than we are, and letting them have a part in decision-making can cut down on the power struggles. Now it's your job to follow through."

It is important that your daughter sees you as a mother; however, it is also important that your daughter understands that you are a woman and an individual as well. Until then, it will feel more like the survival of the fittest than family survival.

"It is important that your daughter see you holding on to your sense of self," says Cohen-Sandler. "She needs to see you demonstrate that women can persist in being themselves in a healthy relationship. Of course, nowhere will this be more apparent then in your relationship with your daughter. She needs to see you remaining firm in your principles, rather than caving in to her every demand in fear of losing her love."

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