By Guest Blogger Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on this form.

What is the best way to keep open communication with our teenage daughter? It seems like every day she is becoming more secretive about her friendships and her life in general. My husband and I are always trying to encourage conversation, but we don’t think she is as open as she used to be. We do not suspect anything negative is going on. She is a normal and happy teenage girl, and we are pleased with the friends she has chosen to hang out with, but we realize we have now become “uncool” in her mind. ~ Desperate Teen Mom

Dear Desperate Mom,

I want to start by sharing one of my favorite quotes about parenting teens with you. This quote is from the book, The Expanded Family Life Cycle, which is by Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrick, and it’s a guide for family therapists to understand family transitions over time. They wrote the following about parenting adolescents:

“The adaptations in family structure and organization that are required to handle the tasks of adolescence are so basic that the family itself is transformed from a unit that protects and nurtures young children to one that is a preparation center for the adolescent’s entrance into the world of adult responsibilities and commitments.”

What you’re experiencing with your daughter keeping more to herself is a normal part of this transition from your family’s primary role shifting from one of protection and nurturing to one of preparation for adulthood. Of course, your goals to protect and nurture your daughter are still there, and they likely will be there for the rest of your lives. But, as she’s growing up into a teenager who’s looking ahead to adulthood, her needs from you and your husband as parents are changing as well. If you can appreciate this seismic shift in your roles, you’ll be in the best position to keep a strong relationship with her throughout the teen years and help her move toward a positive transition to adulthood.

You’re right on target to be thinking about how to maintain open communication with your daughter, even as she may seem to be closing some of the doors to talking with you. We offer some tools through the Healthy Relationships Initiative that may be helpful to you in developing positive communication skills to use with teenagers, which you can find here.

In addition to using positive strategies for parent-teen communication, consider how you can apply the concept of your role transitioning to helping your daughter prepare for adulthood as a lens for thinking about your communication with your daughter. Now, clearly your daughter is not an adult yet, so I’m not saying that you should give her free reigns to make decisions for herself and that you aren’t still needed as a parental authority in her life. Rather, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the qualities that you look for in a fellow adult (such as a friend, colleague, or family member) with whom you feel comfortable talking openly, even about difficult topics. This list may include things like the following:

  • Is trustworthy, respectful, and supportive
  • Is knowledgeable but not afraid to admit when they don’t know something
  • Offers safety to be myself and is not judgmental
  • Offers guidance, but allows me the space to make my own decisions (and mistakes!)

Once you’ve got your list, consider how you can use these characteristics to guide how you act in your interactions with your daughter. Don’t worry too much about your coolness factor, by the way. Most likely, whether you think someone is cool or uncool didn’t even make it onto your list of qualities that impact your comfort in communicating with another person! Instead, remember that your shifting role in your daughter’s life during the teen years means that she’s looking at you differently when deciding whether to be open with you. When she was younger, she had to talk with you and listen to you because you were her main protector and nurturer. Now that she’s expanded her world and social network, you can work toward becoming the type of person that she wants to communicate openly with because she knows your main goal is to support her in growing into a one-of-a-kind, responsible, and independent adult.

 

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