7 Surefire Ways to Shut Down Communication With Your Teenage Daughter – Part 1

by Jennifer Weberman on 03/15/2012

Do you find yourself searching your teenage daughter for signs of the sweet little girl she once was? Does it mystify you how the same girl who used to enthusiastically spill every detail of her day, now responds to your inquires with a monosyllabic grunt? Well, you’re not alone. This baffling transformation takes place in nearly every home that houses a teenager, not just yours.

The good news is that your daughter does still desire a strong, intimate connection with you. I know this because I work with teenage girls and they tell me this all the time! They also tell me all the things their parents do that effectively, albeit inadvertently, shut down communication. A few choice words from you will guarantee you yet another chance to observe the adorable girl you gave birth to morph into the lying, sneaking, sarcastic, eye rolling, text messaging alien that is now your teenage daughter.

So the question becomes: how do we avoid the conversation landmines? Take a look at my list of the most common missteps parents make and see if you recognize yourself. Or better yet, show the list to your daughter and let her point them out for you!

Mistake #1: When she comes to you with a problem she’s facing, tell her exactly how to fix itThis can be accomplished through the following: If she’s annoyed with her girlfriend, offer tactical advice like “Just ignore her,” or “Don’t hang out with her if she’s going to be like that.” If she’s struggling in one of her classes, say things like, “You should stay after school for extra help.”

How does this shut down communication?  Imagine if you were venting to a close friend about stresses at work. You may tell this friend, “My supervisor has been getting on my case, and she told me if I don’t increase my numbers by the end of the month, I may be out of a job.” Now, imagine your friend responds by telling you, “Well then you should work harder. Perhaps even work weekends. In fact, let’s cancel our lunch plans for Saturday because you ought to be focusing more on your job.” Would you feel supported by this, or would you feel criticized or judged? Does your friend see you as a competent person capable of creating your own solutions, or someone who can’t be trusted to find her way out of a paper bag?

Even though the advice may be truly helpful, advice is rarely well received when it’s unsolicited. Avoid coming off as condescending or untrusting of your daughter’s instincts and remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen.

Mistake #2: Explain why your daughter’s problem is her own fault.  Sometimes you just can’t help yourself from pointing out the obvious. Her story prompts you to blurt out a damaging “That’s what happens when you act like that,” or “If you’d done what I told you to, you wouldn’t be in this mess.” Then, for good measure, you give her the “I told you so” look, and you’ve pretty much guaranteed she won’t be sharing anything with you any time soon.

How does this shut down communication?  Of course, your intention was to help your daughter understand the connection between choices and consequences. You want her to benefit from the painful lessons you’ve already learned. But if you do it in way that’s critical or shaming, she may fight to the death to defend her actions, even if she knows you’re right. While she’s busy trying to displace the blame onto anything other than her own actions, the opportunity you had to have a meaningful conversation is slipping away. Mistakes can be blessings in disguise because they create opportunities for us to learn how to clean them up. So don’t point fingers at her, just point toward the dots, and watch as she connects them all by herself.

Mistake #3: Make a big a deal about it.  See if this scenario sounds familiar: Your daughter shares one of the dramatic tales of her teen life and you respond by looking shocked, appalled, disgusted or irate. And then you ask a lot of follow up questions.

How does this shut down communication?  Has your teen ever told you to “Stop freaking out,” or “Just forget I said anything”?  (If your answer is “no,” then I’m not sure you have an actual teenager.)  When you respond with more emotion than even she was showing, it will likely escalate her anxiety, causing her to regret having shared anything in the first place.

What can you do instead? If its something as simple as a grievance with a friend, try to stay calm, listen and, when appropriate, reflect her feelings. Phrases like “That really stinks” or “That’s so frustrating” tend to go over better than “I can’t stand her!” or “She’s such a horrible friend.” Remember, the person she’s annoyed with today is likely the same person she’ll be BFFs with tomorrow.

On the other hand, if she shares something that requires your involvement, such as a failing grade, then, after listening, you can invite her to brainstorm ways to address the situation. And always let her know you are there if she needs your support.

Click here for Part Two of this article

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce Sallan July 27, 2012 at 10:56 AM

These tips are SO WISE, Dr. W! For us guys/dads, the desire to quickly “fix it” is very strong. Just yesterday I was fighting that instinct A LOT because my wife was feeling lousy, acting moody, and I just wanted to FIX IT. I wisely – unusual for me – kept my mouth shut because given how she was feeling, ANYTHING I said would have resulted in an argument. With out kids – esp, teens – it’s so important to listen FIRST!

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Angela plaugher February 22, 2013 at 12:03 AM

I love this article. I think these are great tips that can be used or not used rather when communicating with anyone that you care about.

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