Dear Your Teen:
My most important issue with my 11-year-old daughter is getting her to speak up and advocate for herself. I feel that I am at fault because whenever she’s had a problem I come to her rescue.
I have been told by many that I need to give her the skills to be her own problem-solver. Currently, we are at odds with her middle school because some of her peers are on social media posting things about her that are very mean. Unfortunately, because it’s not a direct threat to her safety, they will hardly get involved in this social media bullying. Rumors at any age, especially 11, are hurtful too. How do I help?
EXPERT | Tori Cordiano, Ph.D.
Many skills develop over the course of adolescence, and the ability to advocate for oneself nears the top of that list.
The Process of Taking Ownership
This process actually starts well before the teenage years in numerous ways, such as by really listening to a younger child’s feedback about what activities she wants to pursue and which she wants to drop, by thinking through with her how to handle a conflict with a friend, or by coaching her on how to approach her teacher for clarification on an assignment.
Each of these baby steps helps pave the way for your daughter to take ownership of her problems as she matures. Handing over these reins is a long, often bumpy, process that occurs over the entire course of adolescence. Plan for two-steps-forward, one-step-back moments and know that the hand-off is neither linear nor smooth, just like any other aspect of development that preceded it.
Low Stakes vs. High Stakes Problem-Solving
One helpful gauge is to consider the magnitude of the situation when offering support. Situations where the consequences are quite low—say, for example, one missing homework assignment or making weekend plans with a friend—allow your daughter to flex her problem-solving muscles and manage the situation independently. When the stakes are higher—completing a long-term project or deciding how to manage conflict with peers—you may need to offer more support and guidance.
On Line Problem-Solving
When technology enters into the mix, in the form of rumors on social media or gossip in a group chat, it can help to arm your daughter with some basic information about how to cope. First, adolescents benefit from validation that this frontier of unkind behavior is something their parents never had to manage. Along those lines, they should know that mean online behavior is hard enough when it happens to adults. But it’s even harder for teenagers who are still developing the skills to manage conflict effectively. Help your teen understand that face-to-face conflict resolution trumps trying to solve a disagreement via text or online. Stay abreast of how heated the conflict becomes. Talk with her and check her texts and social media accounts (with her knowledge). And encourage plenty of opportunities for off-line fun and relaxation.
Regardless of the situation, asking your daughter, “How do you want to handle this?” is a good place to start. Even if she needs a fair amount of support to come up with and carry out a plan, pulling this question out of your parenting toolkit puts her squarely in the driver’s seat, where she belongs.