Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
My teenage daughter and I keep butting heads over the same issue. She wants more freedom than I’m willing to give and accuses me of being too controlling. What freedom is appropriate for a junior high girl?
During adolescence, when a teenage daughter begins the developmental task of differentiating herself, the mother-daughter relationship will usually alternate between closeness and coldness. And you can expect the relationship to be marked with an intensity that only teenagers can bring out of their parents.
Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Whatever freedom your daughter gets, she’ll probably want more while you wish she had less. When we lead parenting sessions we often compare this to flying a kite. Parents have to let out the strings of parenting so their children will learn to fly, but they must be careful not to let go of the strings too soon.
Why Freedom Is Important
Teenagers generally accept parental direction and influence when it comes to social conventions such as manners and matters of safety. However, they tend to resist parental control in personal areas such as the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, and the friends they choose. Some control over such personal issues is necessary if they
are to establish a sense of independence and personal identity.
Teenagers have a strong desire to belong, and by compromising on a bit of makeup or allowing her to go to the movies with friends you are allowing her to fit in with her peers in a harmless way. Trying to force your preferences in these areas more often than not will lead to a battle. Find out what your daughter really wants and why. Observe her and her friends to discover what the norm is for girls her age.
According to Pegine Echevarria, MSW, author of For All Our
Daughters: How Mentoring Helps Young Women and Girls Master the Art of Growing Up (Chandler House, 1998), at nine or 10 years of age, girls begin to focus powerfully on their need to be independent. Privacy becomes a concern—and often an obsession. Girls have an underlying desire to establish control. As parents, it’s hard for us to give advice that doesn’t sound like a lecture.
Teenage girls want both their freedom from and their connection to their moms, but often they are not sure how to negotiate both and end up sending mixed messages. When teenage daughters are pressing for their independence they often push their moms away. Author John Gray (Women are from Venus; Men are from Mars, HarperCollins, 1993) believes that because many girls over complied with their mothers during childhood, there is a certain rebound effect away from their mothers in adolescence. “To develop a sense of self, adolescent girls feel a greater need to defy or rebel against their mother’s control.” Don’t let your daughter push you out of her life. Stay close while also giving your daughter the space in which to claim her independence.
Teenage girls are less likely to engage in at-risk behaviors if they have a warm, close-knit family and parental supervision with consistent discipline, close friends, and a strong sense of self worth. Talk “with” rather than “to” your daughter. Parents who have positive communication with their teenage girls can negotiate their budding independence in a way that will protect the teen from negative outside influences yet allow her to experience the power of independent decision making.
Where’s the Line?
Give your daughter some freedom, but continue to leverage your influence. A parent’s primary responsibility is to train up a child in the way she should go (Proverbs 22:6) and this includes teenagers. We’ve watched many parents check out too soon, and it’s very difficult to take back freedom once it’s been given. Teens are faced with many life-changing decisions during what is generally a difficult time in their lives physically and emotionally. They’re still growing, they’re still learning, and they’re still developing. It’s only normal for them to make mistakes as they test your boundaries. It’s not an easy time for parents or for the kids, and when they cross an established line it’s the parent’s job to step up and redirect them. Parenting is the hardest job and it seems to get more challenging when your child enters the teen years. But remember, this stage shall pass.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.