What Makes Girls Different
Daughters. When they’re born, you can’t imagine loving anything more than the sweet, beautiful, bundle of joy in your arms. From tea parties to soccer games, you realize at once that little girls are something special.
Then they become teens.
One day you’re tucking your little girl into bed with stories of princesses and heroes, and the next minute there’s a young woman coming down the stairs, and you don’t even recognize her. Maybe it’s a change in attitude. Or perhaps it’s a complete shift in personality. To help your little girl become a responsible and happy woman, you’ll need to understand what’s happening in the life of your adolescent daughter.
The Importance of Peers
Teen girls need meaningful relationships. It’s why you’ll see gaggles of teen girls hanging out in malls, or at school, or in your house! Girls are looking for real friends in a friendless world. Let’s face it; our society is a harsh place, especially for teenagers. In teen culture, performance, appearance, and popularity are precious commodities. And when the odd girl stands out, teens can be cruel and vicious towards that person. So to avoid being the lone sheep among wolves, many teen girls spend hours texting, posting messages on Facebook, or spending large amounts of time with friends. And when they find a person that fills that need for connection in their life, girls invest a lot of time and energy into those relationships.
Mom and dad, if your daughter has found a good buddy, affirm that friendship. Invite this person over for dinner, or occasionally have them come along on family outings. In that way, you can speak into both your daughter’s life, and into the life of any friend she brings along.
While a girl so consumed with her phone or Facebook might rub you the wrong way, I caution you not to categorically forbid these social outlets. You can restrict them, put boundaries around them, or take them away for a time as a punishment. But if you cut them out entirely, you’re also cutting off your daughter’s access to current methods of communication, and you may drive her to find alternative ways to connect with people. Your teen daughter is a social being, so affirm and direct her towards meaningful relationships with others.
The Appearance of Hormones
Girls are hitting puberty at a younger and younger age. Since the 1700’s girls have started their periods six months earlier every ten years. That means, eventually, our nine and ten-year-old daughters will hit puberty in a culture that pushes girls to grow up fast. While as parents we’d like to shelter our pre-teens from issues like sex and dating relationships, the world is forcing our hand. Combine blossoming young girls with a society saturated with sexual images and messages, and you have a confused teen. So start talking early and often with your daughter about sexuality, modesty, cultural expectations, and romantic feelings. Help her understand the many mixed messages your daughter will come in contact with as she matures. She will be tempted to be bold, brash, and flaunt her body to receive attention. Mom and dad, you cannot shy away from discussions about sex, modesty and cultural influences if you want to raise a strong and secure daughter.
Other effects of teenager hormones are personality changes and mood shifts. One day your daughter is bright, cheery, and pleasant to be around. But the next minute, she’s moody, irritable, and the rest of the family longs to escape! Now, if you’re thinking, “this will never happen to my kid,” prepare yourself—because it will. Teen boys, as well as teen girls, can change moods and personalities in a heartbeat. But realize that just as quickly as the changes come, the changes can go. And when temperaments swing wildly from extreme to extreme, don’t run away from the relationship. Give grace. I don’t want you to tolerate disrespect from your daughter, but give her lots of reinforcements. Even if she responds by rolling her eyes, trust me, she’s listening to what you tell her. Say “Hi, beautiful,” when she staggers into the kitchen every morning. Praise her creativity or her excellence in the classroom. Cheer for her when she’s on the basketball or volleyball team. And Dads, you especially need to tell your daughter that you not only love her, but you like her, as well. With grace, affirm the person she is and can be, while still correcting the disrespectful attitudes when they show up.
The Presence of Independence
Moms and daughters often butt heads over one issue the most, and that’s independence. Sure, that’s not the surface topic that is being debated. It may be over the clothes that she is wearing, the party she wants to attend, or the boy she wants to hang out with. But boil those issues down, and what you’re left with is a bottom-line fight for independence. The problem that parents must face is that these battles are actually a good thing! It means your daughter is trying to separate herself from you. She is getting ready to make a life for herself apart from mom and dad. But that comes with some growing pains.
Here’s my advice … pick your battles. There should be clear and firm boundaries concerning dating, or drinking, or modesty that parents should not back down from. But while you still hold authority, let your daughter find her own voice. If she wants to practice being a vegan, let her. Is there any real danger in having her cut her hair short? Or painting her bathroom black?
One mom told her how she and her daughter used to enjoy shopping together and her daughter always loved what clothes her mom picked out. But as a teen, this young lady got into a fad of wearing only what her parents called, “drapery grey things.” But instead of fighting over the weirdness of her fashion, this wise mom realized that while the clothes may not be appealing, they were modest and functional, so she let her daughter wear “drapery grey things.” They even had a laugh or two when shopping, when the mom would hold up some hideous, charcoal dress and say “Hey, Katherine, isn’t this your style?”
Here’s the key. Don’t smother your daughter. Allow her to breathe and make choices in her life. She wants to learn how do things apart from mom and dad, so encourage her and guide her through this stage of her life.
Now, you might think, “Well, what does this guy know about raising girls?” Well, as a father to a daughter, and counselor to many daughters at the Heartlight residential center over three decades, I’ve picked up a few pointers here and there. Girls are a wonderful blessing to a family. But raising them takes special consideration and grace. So take the time to develop the skills to help your little girl become a mature young woman.