Today’s Table Talk is by our friend Kathleen Fischer. I asked her to share some strategies on understanding and dealing with emotional swings (and manipulation) from the average tween/teen girl. Gotta love ’em… even if they make you think your crazy :)
Thanks for sharing, Kathleen…
and thanks for walking the road with me.
Being a teen girl did not give me a leg up on parenting one! But, thanks to some very fine professionals plus some dear girls who taught me, along the way, I learned some important stuff about parenting teen girls. Three important things to remember are:
1. For the year or two before and after her hormonal cycle begins, her emotions are likely to be something of a roller coaster ride. Along with that, her emotions are not well “calibrated.” If you asked, on a scale of one to ten, where a hang nail, a brain tumor and breaking up with her boyfriend rank, you might be surprised! Besides that calibration issue, she often experiences “spill over” emotions. For example, “No one saved me a place at the lunch table; my carpool mates didn’t wait for me at my locker; I was the second slowest runner at P.E. and now I’m home (where I feel safe) and everyone, even the dog is going to catch what I couldn’t show today!”
KEY CONCEPT: We most heartily abuse those whom we love most and trust to stick with us. It is a perversity of Nature that it is often our mom!
2. Teen girls (and maybe women in general) experience what is called, “emotional thinking,” that is, “If I feel it is true, it must be true.” For example, “Daddy doesn’t love me as much as he loves Scotty.” Why would she think that? Because Dad invited Scotty to go camping, which our girl hates to do, and now she feels left out. Dad tries to reason with her about it but cannot be successful . . . for the simple fact that she isn’t reasoning . . . she is feeling. Possibly, a more effective approach would be for Dad to ask her, what would it take for you to feel I loved you, because of course, I do? Emotional thinking whips our girls around for years. Consider the whole deal of “Am I pretty/sexy/lovable?” On a day when she is not on the emotional roller coaster, it might be useful to teach her to distinguish between emotional thinking and reasoning. Sometimes a friend’s or sister’s behavior can serve as a clearer example than her own.
3. The “coin of the female realm” is sharing her stuff, that is telling her confidences to those to whom she feels close. It’s how she measures how connected she is to whom and whether she’s “in” or “out.” Sharing her stuff (commonly known as talking) is also part of her social learning; she experiments with telling stuff to different people, some of whom turn out to be good confidantes and some of whom turn out not-so-well. Telling her stuff can also become a power tool. For example, if she and mom have been close but mom makes her mad, she may not speak to mom or may only tell inconsequential things. Mom, because she’s a girl, knows she’s being snubbed, a victim of The Silent Treatment. Dad and brother, on the other hand, just consider it a relief from her perpetual chatter! Likewise, Dad may not recognize that when she does tell him her stuff, as insignificant as it may seem to him, it is an indication that she considers him close and chooses to confide in him.
Still, keeping all that in mind . . .
It’s terribly important for parents, especially mom, to remember that parents are not friends. Sooner or later, she will run cross-wise and a parent must take the side of her safety and decency. At that point, she may be furious. And her fury may shake you to the core, her criticisms far more accurate and wounding than your son’s. To stand firm, it helps to recall:
1. Do NOT get caught up in her current social stuff (who is having a tiff with whom; who got invited to spend the night, who got dumped by whom); all of the social gyrations are part of her learning. Step back and let her figure it out, even if it means she gets dropped by a group of friends. (Does this involve safety or decency? If not, it’s not your department!) When parents get involved, it gives these social fluctuations much more weight. And, let’s face it, are you still friends with all your eighth grade chums? Social learning, moving from one set of friends to another is a life time skill. Let her practice. Acknowledge successes; listen through failures. She is learning, practicing.
2. Stand FIRM for what adults know is right and good. Do not be swayed. For example, you KNOW that people do not like or trust people who don’t tell the truth or who are not kind to others. She doesn’t have to like you all the time for you to be a good parent. In fact, if she likes you every day from here to thirty years old, someone did something wrong!
3. Do NOT be afraid. She will have days when people like her and days when people don’t. She will learn how to be socially acceptable, kind, caring and involved with people who will like her and connect with her. In the face of dozens of kids her own age who don’t any more have a clue than she does, she needs to feel your certainty that she’s going to be okay. Like all of us, she doesn’t have to be a perfect friend, she has to be a good-enough friend. You can encourage her to be that and to get better as a friend, sister, daughter, each day.
Kathleen M. Fischer, longtime Dallas resident and mother of three, is a registered nurse with a master’s degree. In a career spanning more than thirty- five years, she has worked in public health settings; taught in public school and at the university level; and presented professional educational seminars. Kathleen continues to be a popular speaker in corporate, professional, church and community settings, often presenting topics from her recent book, Bringing Our Boys Through the Second Decade. Please visit her website (www.kathleenfischer.com) to purchase a book or learn more about Kathleen.