Have you ever looked at your teen and wondered what was going on inside that skull of hers?
“What is happening in her life?”
“What could she have been thinking when she did that?”
“Does she even care?”
“If only she’d trust me…”
While some refer to the teen years as “the second ‘Terrible Twos,’” the teenager sitting before you is incredibly different from the kid who cried for 45 minutes because you had the gall to give her the red cup instead of the yellow one… though it might not seem like it.
How Do You Communicate with Your Daughter?
You’ve tried cajoling, lecturing, advice giving, and maybe even threatening her — especially if your teen seems shut off from you. You never would’ve needed to resort to any of those things when she was nine — she was always eager to please and never (EVER!) stopped talking. Why doesn’t she talk to you? It helps a lot to understand where she is developmentally.
Adolescence is a Huge Time of Transition
Adolescence is a ridiculously long period of transition. Your daughter isn’t a child, but she isn’t quite an adult, either. She’s a teenager. She can be incredibly clever and insightful — so much so that it’s easy to forget her brain isn’t done connecting all of those synapses yet.
Parenting can be boiled down to these two daunting tasks:
- Make sure your child’s physical needs are met.
- Develop her frontal lobe.
Your teen probably can open the fridge and make herself a sandwich, but she still needs your help navigating the nuances of an increasingly complicated life. That might not be obvious to either of you because she’s also dealing with a powerful, natural drive toward independence.
What does my daughter’s frontal lobe have to do with anything?
The frontal lobe of the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid 20s, and it’s responsible for most of what we consider to be “human behavior:”
- Emotional control
- Social interaction
- Relationship between ideas
- Present/future thinking
- Impulse control
- Risk assessment
- Language development and processing
If these tasks are managed by the brain’s frontal lobe, and the frontal lobe isn’t done making neural connections, yet — it’s easy to see why your teen might be difficult to communicate with. The experiences she has with you and others shape how those connections are made.
The frontal cortex in crisis
Your daughter might not have the ability to express what’s wrong or understand how to cope when she’s struggling. When kids can’t express the emotions that are inside, they show it through their behaviors; they act out. Emotional outbursts, substance abuse, and risky behaviors occur as a form of communication. She might not even understand why she’s engaging in those behaviors.
If you remember that your teenage daughter is hardwired for independence BUT her brain is still developing, you can take steps to improve communication, understanding where the challenges are and that you’re teaching for the future as much as engaging the present.
Start with Active Listening
If you want to know what she’s thinking — and get her to hear you — use active listening skills. Active listening shows you’re paying attention and looking to understand, not fight.
- Put down any devices or distractions.
- Face her with open, friendly body language.
- Look at her — but not in a way that is creepy or scrutinizing (teens are especially sensitive to this).
- Ask questions — especially “what” and “how” questions. They encourage deeper sharing.
- When you respond, start by rephrasing what she said, such as:
Your Daughter: “Mom, you’re always assuming I’m doing something wrong.”
You: “You feel like I need to trust you more…”
Rephrasing accomplishes a few things:
- It shows her you’re listening.
- It invites her to elaborate or clarify.
- It validates her feelings, even if you don’t agree.
- You’re listening and modeling communication skills and conflict management which helps distress the situation.
You don’t have to do this with every statement, but when you take the time to understand and hear her, she’s going to be more open to listening.
After you’ve heard her, then you can say, “I want you to know I’m really trying to listen, and I’ve heard you. Now I’d like to respond.”
This automatically takes you away from lecturing mode where you’re talking AT your teen instead of talking with your teen. It’s a mode that’s easy for any of us to fall into.
Take a More Authoritative Approach
Child development experts divide parenting styles into three different categories:
- Authoritarian: What the parent says goes, no questioning.
- Permissive: Children generally get their way.
- Authoritative: Parents let kids have a say when it’s applicable and want their input, but they have the ultimate decision-making power.
The purpose of adolescence is to help teens grow into their independence. An authoritative approach allows you to balance trust with the amount of responsibility she can handle.
Being There is Everything
Spend time together. Your daughter may look grown up, but she still needs you and wants your attention.
Find things that you enjoy doing together. If it feels like you’re always arguing or never connecting, create times that aren’t emotionally loaded. Go out for coffee, play video games together, find a t.v. series to share on Netflix.
And don’t forget to eat together. Human beings bond over food, and regular family meals make a huge difference in the quality of your relationship over the long term. A family meal lets you come together and reconnect after a busy day.
Working Through Communication Issues in Therapy
When your daughter is in crisis, there’s been a considerable strain on your relationship for a while.
Our program includes intensive family therapy to work through the pain of the crisis and build up the family as your daughter begins to engage her regular life again. We’ll help you figure out how to navigate setting limits, building trust, and learning how to communicate with each other in ways that solve problems and rebuild your relationship.
Our counselors can help your family get back on track, so that you’re talking to each other again and not feeling like you’re going to lose your mind — or lose your relationship with your daughter.
Call us and we’ll help you navigate the process of getting help for your daughter and your family.
We invite you to learn more about Embark Behavioral Health at Hobble Creek in Utah Valley,. UT or contact us for more information regarding our other Embark Behavioral Health locations.