Parent: “Good morning, Amy.”
Parent: (Clears throat) “Did you sleep well?”
Daughter: (Opens refrigerator) “What? Yeah I guess.”
(Long pause. Parent contemplates coffee) … - from Daughters, a new monthly newsletter for parents of teenage girls.
Anyone who has spent much time around teenage boys and teenage girls knows that the two can act like members of different species.
“My 16-year-old daughter wakes up and I say, ‘Good morning.’ She slams her door,” says Trish Adams, a Phoenix, Ariz., mom with two sons, ages 22 and 18, and two daughters, 16 and 14.
“I say, ‘You have to have breakfast,’ and she says, ‘No.’ Then she comes home from school in a great mood.”
It wasn’t this way with her sons, Adams says.
Yes, she had wild moments with the boys - particularly when one got fed up with the family rules and ran away from home.
But there wasn’t the daily door slamming, arguing and whining that goes on with the girls, Adams says.
Parents tend to blame their daughters’ moody, erratic behavior on hormones, choice of friends or television-viewing habits.
But psychologists say the reason for the different behavior goes deeper than that, and probably is rooted in the different ways male and female brains are wired.
Recent, albeit controversial, brain research shows male minds are programmed for independence and achievement, while female minds are programmed to initiate and develop relationships.
So while teenage boys can simply focus on becoming free of their parents and achieving goals, girls have the dual challenge of becoming individuals while staying close emotionally to friends, siblings and parents.
“Girls are very interested in people, feelings and relationships. Boys aren’t,” says Judith Tingley, a Phoenix psychologist and author of “Genderflex,” a book about male-female communication.
“During adolescence, girls tend to get into conflicts with their parents, but there can also be an opportunity for a deeper connection.”
Daughters, a new national newsletter for parents of girls ages 8 to 18, explores this subject in a current issue.
Communication breaks down between parents and girls, according to the Tennessee-based publication, because Mom and Dad want to keep daughter safe, while she is focused on becoming her own person and developing relationships outside the family.
The newsletter also notes that:
Girls gain value and identity from their friends. They will take what parents say about their friends personally.
Girls seek to protect people they feel close to, so they will defend friends that parents criticize even when the friends deserve the criticism. When they don’t defend the people they care about, they feel guilty.
Girls struggle to balance achievement and relationships. If they can’t figure out how to get good grades and keep their friends, for example, they will choose their friends.
Girls’ most important relationship is with their parents. This may come as a shock, but most daughters want to maintain the loving relationship they had with the parents when the girls were children.
Adams says despite the morning melodramas with her daughters, they communicate well. She works on it nightly at a traditional family dinner at which attendance is mandatory.
“It’s really hard to do this when both parents work and everyone is exhausted at the end of the day,” she says.
But Adams says she thinks such rituals are important in an age when her girls feel pressure from peers, television shows and, sometimes, even school officials to question parental authority.
“They just don’t have the gentle stability we did when we were growing up,” she says.
“What they have is a social worker at school who comes into the classroom and says, ‘If you have trouble at home call this number for help.’ The message they get from everywhere is ‘question authority.”’
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: COMMUNICATING WITH TEEN GIRLS Some ideas for talking with teenage girls from the national newsletter Daughters: Listen, listen, listen. More than anything else, teenage girls want to be heard. You don’t have to agree, just listen carefully and show respect. Don’t dictate solutions. The solutions parents offer tend to make kids mad - and they usually don’t work. Tell your daughter your concerns, then help her come up with ideas and solutions to the problem. She may not come up with what you consider to be the best solution, but she will learn to start solving problems on her own. A one-year, eight-issue subscription to Daughters costs $25. It can be ordered by calling (800) 829-1088.
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