A survival guide for parents of tween and teen girls

Arden Greenspan-Goldberg

I am a N.Y.-based licensed psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience and mother of a now-grown daughter — Samara, 22. In order to help moms and daughters from my practice (as well as friends and family), I have come up with tips to help moms cultivate a respectful, strong connection with their daughters and strategies to help moms understand their daughters and learn to rise above.

1. Anticipate and prepare: Prevention is all about anticipation. If you are prepared in advance, then when dilemmas and complicated situations involving your daughter come up, you will be ready, equipped and able to respond.

2. Educate and inform: Keep up to date on current developments in teen culture. Educating ourselves is a big part of being proactive and protective.

3. Make your daughter part of the solution: Ask her to help create the guidelines and routines that will affect her life, whether it’s coming up with a new reasonable curfew, healthy nighttime sleeping parameters, or working on finding ways of healthy mom-daughter self expression and communication by working on taking ownership and responsibility for how you both treat each other

4. Set up reasonable parameters and guidelines: Eliminate any hard and fast rules. The guidelines you set must come from a place of love, not fear or control, and be fluid enough to respond to most situations you and your daughter may encounter. Age appropriate expectations are the key! Be realistic. Don’t impose limits and restrictions she can’t handle or expect her to be an adult.

5. Pick the right times to talk: Take a few cleansing breaths before speaking or wait a few hours or (days!), especially if you are furious and about to scream and yell. Practice talking out loud to yourself until you can talk calmly. You’ll be more likely to get through to her if you can speak with composure, logic, and a clear sense of what you want her to understand.

6. Keep it short and simple, and humorous (if possible): Make your point quickly and clearly and stay focused on your message. Less is more when talking to a teenager. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laughter can lighten the heaviest of conversations.

7. No punishment: Punishment simply does not work with tweens and teens the way you want it to. If your daughter is afraid of getting punished, she won’t ask for help and guidance when she needs it most.

A scenario:

One mom discovered a nude picture on her 16-year-old daughter’s cell phone. The face was fuzzy but it did not look like her daughter. Alarmed with why would she have such a thing, she turned to me for advice on how to handle this with her daughter.

Unfortunately this is becoming all too common. These days a digital camera is not necessary. Your daughter’s phone, computer, and even iPod have built-in cameras. What this means is that this gal and many others can take a picture and send it off via text or e-mail before she even had time to think about what she was doing. Lots of teens are sending and passing around half or full frontal pictures. A female may send it to her boyfriend _ they break up and then it’s fodder for everyone.

We know of stories first-hand of girls being highly humiliated, shamed, bullied who have harmed and hurt themselves after being taunted and teased unmercifully. My advice was to sit down with her daughter and educate her about the long-range consequences of possibly passing that picture on and to help her daughter see past the present into the future. Many people don’t realize the legal consequences. Simple possession of a sexually explicit image of a minor can be considered child pornography and thus prosecuted under state and federal law as a felony. If any of our daughters argue that “it’s no big deal,” pointing out this fact may help change her mind. Mom took my advice and at first her daughter was defensive but toned down after hearing what mom had to say.

Fast Tip:

Use of teen TV programs, TV news, print, any media that you and your daughter can experience and use as a springboard together to have an on-going conversation and discussion is absolutely essential to drive your protective point home and educate your daughter to the realities that she is contending with and living through in her life.

You score big time in the eyes of your daughter! You’re are building up a composite of experiences for your daughter to see you as approachable and a constant, stable, reliable, firm, empathically attuned, loving, benevolent authority figure in her life. Most important, your daughter will become more likely to run stuff by you, come back when she needs you and chooses to. That’s great stuff!