Four Important Conversations you Need to Have with your Teen Daughter
When you have a daughter the world can often seem like a scary place, and while you try your best to point out wisdom as it comes sometimes knowing how to work in the most important lessons can be a bit touch and go. The adventure of raising a daughter is accompanied by an onslaught of messages from peers, media, and culture that you may not want your daughter taking to heart. Continuous communication and guidance are key, but here are 4 conversations you want to make sure to make time for. Having a one and done conversation isn’t actually a thing, but in the realm of continuing conversations, there are four major subject areas that you’ll want to focus in on.
Taking care of your body
When people start bringing up conversations to have with a teenage girl it’s almost a given that the first thought is the puberty and birds and bees talk, and while they are super important, it’s also important to go further and discuss with them how to best care for their bodies through nutrition, getting enough exercise, and making sure they know the pitfalls and warning signs of disordered eating and other problems that may crop up.
Obviously discussing your family’s values about clothing and grooming styles is important but even more important is discussing the idea of bodily autonomy. The concept that each girl and woman is responsible for making choices about their bodies and that responsibility cannot and should not ever be handed over to someone else. This means setting boundaries in relationships but also making sure to report any abuse or other inappropriate situations immediately.
Discussions about drug use and drinking belong in this category too. Make sure your child knows the real risks of drug use, don’t use fear mongering, but be realistic. In many areas, recreational cannabis is becoming more popular and while the risks for a full grown adult are minimal, it’s important to wait until the brain is fully developed before experimenting. While these discussions won’t always keep teens from making choices you don’t agree with, it can still be important to share with them what your expectations are and what to do if they feel they are in over their head, especially that they can always come to you for help.
Taking care of your mind
The teenage years are hard on many girls mentally from internal pressures to succeed, external pressures from other girls to fit in, and the real physiological changes in their brains causing what can be catastrophic chemical imbalances. Add in relationship stress from early dating and regular high school drama and you’ve got a real challenge in keeping mentally well.
It’s important for your teen to be able to have a safe place to vent and work out problems, sometimes just listening can help them parse their feelings and find a solution. Make sure they know what the signs are of depression and anxiety and keep tabs yourself on their status. Being emotional as a teenager is normal, but there can be times when things spiral out of control and it’s important to know that there’s a plan in place should your teen need help and that you are committed to being there for them.
Taking care of your future
It seems fundamentally unfair that in the midst of puberty, hormonal changes, growing independence and the high-stress life of high school that grades can be a major predictive factor in future success. Your daughter is going through, for many, what is the most difficult time of their life physically, mentally and emotionally, but is expected by society to also be a time where they are performing their best educationally.
It can help to have a parent that understands their goals and helps them make a plan accordingly, but it’s also important to remember that plans and goals can change. In today’s ever-changing world it is important to come out of high-school as well as rounded as possible. That might mean skipping the traditional summer job to study more for the ACT or even skipping out on extra TV time to finish a project. Finding the balance between work and play is a dynamic but important goal throughout your whole life, and having a little guidance in high school when the rubber meets the road is most helpful.
This is also a good time to remind your teen that everything that is posted online is forever. Even if they delete it, it can come back around. Teens have gotten into dangerous situations sending inappropriate messages online and often don’t know what to do if they are being blackmailed or extorted. It is exceedingly important that you make clear that while you don’t condone sending those types of messages that if they’re being threatened over a mistake they made, they can and should come to you for help.
Taking care of each other
This conversation can travel into uncomfortable territory, but it can be one of the most important ones. There is a lot of pressure on teen girls to be popular which isn’t always a bad thing, but when it comes at the expense of others it is rarely worth the cost.
Make sure your daughter knows what to do if one of her friends is in trouble, how to help without compromising her own values and when to ask adults to step in. Remember when we talked about drinking? Let your daughter know that in addition to looking out for herself she needs to keep an eye on other teens as well. If she’s at a party and another girl is passed out she needs to get help, and she needs to know that you’re not going to come down hard on her for saving someone’s life.
She needs to know not to participate in online or real life bullying and how to recognize it when it’s happening. Girls don’t always punch and fight as boys do, sometimes they bully through exclusion and embarrassment. It’s not uncommon for a girl to be put in a position where she doesn’t feel safe at school, home, or online, and it’s your daughter’s responsibility not to contribute to that.
Finding a way to bring up these topics don’t always have to be awkward. Watch for openings in TV shows and movies to bring up your values and boundaries and listen at least twice as much as you talk, you’ll be surprised what you can find out about your teen’s life, feelings, and struggles just by being a kind ear.