There's intense pressure on today's teenage girls – both IRL and on social media – and unfortunately, it's easy for parents to inadvertently add to it, says Justin Coulson, author of Miss Connection, Why Your Teenage Daughter Hates You, Expects the World and Needs to Talk.
The Australian parenting expert – and father of six daughters – tells Kathryn Ryan that he named his new book Miss Connection because parents' best efforts to connect with their teenage daughters often miss the mark and vice versa.
Coulson talked to over 400 teenage girls for the book (plus psychologists, teachers, counsellors) and says the number one concern they spoke of was not having a sense of belonging. Their second biggest need was for autonomy.
Many parents told Coulson about the tricky balance between trying to keep their teenage daughters close while also encouraging their dependance –and girls also feel this tension, he says.
To help your daughter feel secure, position yourself as an ally, not an enemy.
A teenage girl will deceive you if she feels like she's going to get in trouble, Coulson says. Or in the words of one girl in the book: "The stricter the parent, the sneakier the child. Stay woke".
Ensure that your teenager knows you don't want to get them in trouble, but actually want to work through problems together.
The Three Es of Effective Discipline
1. Explore their perspective (Get curious, not furious)
Blowing up, exploding and fiercely laying down the law tends to rupture relationships, Coulson says.
Try and remember that children need your love the most when they ‘deserve’ it the least, i.e. when they're being the most challenging.
You might say something like: "You really seem to be struggling with this. Let's talk about it. Help me to understand what's so hard.'
2. Explain your own
Once you understand their challenge, explain your rationale for setting the boundary – or ask them if they can see it.
You might say something like: "I could explain this to you, but why don't you tell me what you think my reasoning is? Explain it to me."
3. Empower them to be part of the solution
Once you get where each other is coming from, empower your child to be part of the solution.
This could either be in the direction of 'Where do we go from here?' or 'How can I help?'.
Whatever happens, keep listening and paying attention, Coulson says.
"If parenting was a GPS unit it would constantly be recalibrating… it's so vital that we are attuned to our children."