Your teenage daughter is growing distant and moody. It is becoming more and more challenging to communicate. She rolls her eyes at your well-meaning advice and explodes when you offer a thoughtful suggestion. She wants to spend more time in her room, absorbed in her phone, and less time engaging with the family. She insists she can handle freedom and doesn’t need your rules.
This familiar experience can create considerable tension in a household. Parents feel frustrated and lost. Siblings often feel left out and hurt. Home begins to feel like a landmine when teen explosions go off without warning.
So, what is the right approach? What are the most appropriate consequences? How can you parent a difficult teenage daughter with compassion and calm?
Don’t take it personally.
While your teen’s attitude is directed toward you, it is not about you. She is not spending hours on her screen looking for ways to annoy or manipulate you. She’s going through major developmental and physiological changes that cause her to rebel, test the boundaries, and react. Remember that in doing so, she’s learning important life lessons about boundaries, assertiveness, and self-control.
Try to negotiate.
Teens appreciate being treated like grown-ups. When you engage your teen in a high-level discussion about rules and consequences, she will rise to the occasion. To get started, determine what rules are and are not negotiable. When you are clear on the negotiable rules, make a suggestion to your teen and ask for her feedback. This sets you up to negotiate the rules and expectations. When you’ve reached an agreement with your difficult teenage daughter, make it crystal clear and outline the consequences so she knows exactly what you expect. This will leave her with a sense of ownership and accountability.
Focus on what’s right.
When your teen is being respectful, responsible, or open, offer her praise and gratitude. Use words like, “admire,” “respect,” and “appreciate.” Share your feedback simply and immediately. Don’t overdo it or she might think you’re just saying that. Your genuine praise goes a long way and encourages more of the ‘right’ behavior.
Engage in constructive conversations.
Instead of asking your teen questions that she doesn’t know how to answer, like:
- “Why are you acting that way?” or
- “What’s your problem?” or
- “How many times do I need to remind you?”
Ask questions that foster empathy and emotional intelligence. Focus on helping your teen gain a sense of responsibility and self-control, rather than blaming her or asking her to explain a behavior over which she likely had little control. These questions always include validation and sound something like:
- “I understand you were/are upset. Can you help me understand what is so important about this situation?” or
- “I can tell by your reaction that ___ really matters to you. I want to talk more about it but I think we need to make amends first. Can you think of a positive way for us to move forward? How can we make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again?”
Make consequences constructive and relevant.
Whenever possible, outline your expectations and consequences early, and always follow through. If you find yourself needing a consequence on the spot, consider how the punishment can fit the crime. Think about if a natural consequence is more impactful than an imposed consequence. For example, if your teen is failing to turn in school assignments, the natural consequence of a lower grade or needing to explain herself to her teacher is more appropriate than taking away her phone. When you need to impose a consequence, make it logical. For example, if she is misusing the car, take away driving privileges. If she is misusing her phone, take away the phone. No matter what, explain to your teen why you are taking away a privilege and how she can earn it back.