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What Not to Do When Raising a Teenage Girl

As the father of a 14-year-old daughter, I have learned that raising a teenage girl is not for the timid nor the weak. It will test your patience, your sanity, and your mettle. But it can be done. According to Dr. Marika Lindholm, a sociologist who teaches at Northwestern University, with a little patience and understanding—and a few hard and fast rules—it is possible to raise a teen daughter who’s resilient. (And won’t hate you!)

Dr. Lindholm has three daughters, ages 13, 15, and 24, and she has learned a thing or two about what to do, and more importantly, what not to do when raising teen girls.

How Not to Raise a Teenage Girl

1. Do not give up on them.

Teens sometimes push parents away. Dr. Lindholm offers a good reminder for how to handle these egocentric moments.

“No matter how many times they act like they don’t want you around, they really need to know you’re there for them,” she says. “They want to act grown up but, remember, they still need your support.”

2. Do not create negative prophecies.

I never want to crush my daughter’s dreams, but at the same time, I want her to be realistic with her expectations.

Don’t say things like, ‘Oh, you’ll never be able to do that,’” Dr. Lindholm cautions. “Don’t undermine their confidence. Speaking as a sociologist I can tell you that those prophesies are really powerful.”

She recommends not dismissing a dream, even if it seems unrealistic. “If your daughter says she is going to go to Columbia University and you know for a fact that the chances of that are slim to none, don’t dismiss it out of hand,” she says. “Instead you tell her, ‘Well, if you want to go to Columbia, you’re going to have to work really hard.’”

3. Do not let them get away with doing the wrong thing.

Dr. Lindholm also stresses the importance of accountability. “If your daughter says, ‘Oh, I didn’t know I had a math project due, so can I skip (fill in the blank) to work on it?’ Your answer should be, ‘You need to work on your time management skills, so, no, you cannot skip this event because you failed to plan accordingly.’”

She believes we shouldn’t make excuses for our kids because they need to learn how to fail. As a parent, it’s so refreshing to hear a professional tell us that it’s okay to hold our kids’ feet to the fire.

4. Do not be afraid to take their phones.

Dr. Lindholm recommends following through if you say you’re going to take your daughter’s phone away. “A phone is a privilege, not a right,” she says. “If they break a rule, there needs to be consequences.”

She points out that when she’s taken her own kid’s phones away for two or three days, they are frantic and angry at first, but eventually they calm down and accept the situation. My wife and I tried this piece of advice and it played out just like the doctor said it would.

5. Do not say negative things about people in their social circle.

There are some kids my daughter occasionally associates with that I can see from a mile away are not the best influence. It can be hard not to say something.

“Even though your daughter comes home and says, ‘So-and-so is so mean and did the most awful thing to me,’ and there’s all sorts of drama, don’t make the mistake I made of saying, ‘You know, you’re right. She’s not very nice and you’re probably better off without her,’” says Dr. Lindholm. “Because then two days later they are best friends again. That social circle is so important to them in this stage of development.”

Dr. Lindholm says that best way to deal with friendship drama is to nod a lot, say, “Uh-huh,” and see how things play out.

6. Do not get too caught up in their clothes.

I’ve heard friends complain about some of the outfits their daughters wear. Dr. Lindholm says the reason for these clothing choices is not what you think.

“Just because they’re wearing skimpy outfits doesn’t mean they’re looking to have sex. It doesn’t mean they’re dressing that way to get a boy’s attention. They’re simply trying to look more grown up,” she says. “They’re on social media and they see which women are popular and what they’re wearing and frequently try to emulate that look.”

Dr. Lindholm recommends picking your battles when it comes to deciding what’s appropriate for your daughter to wear.

7. Do not make unrealistic proclamations.

I’ve had to bite my tongue more than once when I wanted to blurt out something that I hoped might deter my daughter from making poor choices. Dr. Lindholm says it’s a bad idea to make dramatic statements like, “Drugs and alcohol will kill you!” or “If you take an Uber, you might get raped!”

“You may be trying to protect your daughter by saying things that scare her, but at this age a teenager is starting to figure things out,” she says. “They have most likely seen you drinking wine and thought, ‘You’re drinking wine, and you’re not dying.’ They can usually discern what’s not a credible statement, so you don’t want to get to the point where you’re not taken seriously.”

She says it’s much better to have a serious conversation about possible threats and harmful situations rather than to try scare tactics.

8. Do not go overboard focusing on their appearance.

I always want to tell my daughter that she’s beautiful, but Dr. Lindholm has a good point about why we should temper those types of compliments.

“Being beautiful, or thin, is not an accomplishment; it is more often than not a genetic gift. It’s fine to compliment, but you shouldn’t emphasize superficial traits that are not earned,” she says.

Instead of complimenting physical appearance, Dr. Lindholm says it’s better to compliment actions or grades, or even kindness or empathy. Our daughters should feel proud about working hard to become a better soccer player, for instance, and it’s okay to offer positive comments about skill. “But to be overly complimentary to a girl because she has long legs, I don’t think that builds the kind of fortitude you want,” she says.

Raising a teenage girl is hard, no doubt about it. But it’s also one of the greatest joys of my life. With a little patience, a lot of perseverance, and a good sense of humor to see us through the rough spots, I think we’ll get through it—together.

Bryan Johnston

Bryan Johnston is a freelance writer, author of several books, and the Creative Director for a creative agency in Seattle, Washington. He is married, has two teens, and one large goldendoodle. He loves baseball and movies and thinks A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is the most enjoyable book he’s ever read.