Helping Your Teenage Girl Through Her Stormy Feelings
Q: “My 16-year-old daughter seems to be upset by everything lately. Even little things seem to set her off and the more I try to help, the more she storms off or shouts or slams the door. She hasn’t always been this way. What can I do?”
A: First, let’s think about all the ways a parent can help her daughter when she is behaving dramatically different. It sounds as if you are being robbed of your best choice, which would be just to listen to her emotional explosions and try to get as much details as possible without asking many questions. She doesn’t sound ready for conversation yet. This leaves you in an observational role.
You want to be looking for how her new behavior influences:
- Her friends
- Her relationship with each family member
- Her responsibility around the house
- Her schoolwork
- How she cares for herself, and
- Her eating, sleeping, and social habits.
The changes in all these areas will help you assess whether or not these new behaviors are a sign of possible larger problems, or if they have to do with developmental tasks.
You may have already dealt with body image changes prior to this. The hormonal changes that usually appear in 13- to 16–year-olds often result in many physical changes. At age 16, many females are at 95 percent of their adult growth. How did she handle that stage? Was she able to talk with you about how her body was changing and ask for help when she felt out of control? It might be useful, if given the opportunity, to remind her of how well she has handled past milestone events.
Now you are witnessing emotional changes. Knowing why they started now and how long they will last will take time to understand. A tough part of this problem involves missing the relationship you had with your daughter before her emotions got the upper hand on her responses to the family. Right now, her verbal responses to your questions might include: “You just don’t understand”; “You aren’t listening”; and “Just leave me alone.” This is the least pleasant experience when you want to be present and understand her struggles. The strong possibility is that she doesn’t understand and can’t clearly verbalize for herself or for you.
It might help to think about the goal for this stage of your daughter’s development. She made it through her body changing and probably is more comfortable with herself physically; however, she is now navigating her definition of what it means to think like an adult and trust her own decision making.
As she works toward independence, it may seem that she is being judgmental of everyone, especially her parents. Establishing her own values, which is part of being independent, may result in confusion, especially if she is open to seeing both sides of issues and struggles with trusting herself. Her outbursts may reflect her frustration, fear and confusion as she goes through this process.
Does she have close friends? They could either be a great resource for her or part of her frustration. Either way, be sure to avoid being overly critical of them; it will only result in her pushing you away.
How does she handle independence? Has she sought out a job, worked doing babysitting, handled her own laundry, bedroom, and her own meals when necessary? If you have seen strengths in these areas, be sure to help her see herself as a competent and capable person able to do want she needs to do for herself.
She may have forgotten how competent she is as she starts to take on more responsibility. This responsibility may include thinking about college, grades for entrance exams, testing for scholarships and managing the details of moving away from her family in the next three years. She could be terrified at the thought of all those changes while still being excited. You may just see the mood swings and hear the doors being slammed without the benefit of an explanation for her feelings.
She might start challenging your values or household rules. This might be her process of thinking through her own changes. However, if you haven’t re-examined them in awhile, hear her out, and work to jointly establish limitations. If her moods go to such an extreme that you find yourself wanting to avoid her, try to be available for those rare times that she might really want to talk to you.
If you observed something that looks far more serious than the normal social and emotional changes that one might see in a 16-year-old, then it is time to seek professional help. That professional would do an assessment and determine if working with the family or with her alone or both might be most helpful. If you need more information, feel free to talk to your daughter’s friends’ parents, her friends and teachers, and other family members. You may get some missing information that will help her moods make sense to you. Most of all, you are not alone as you help your daughter. Good luck!
The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions by Dr. Lynda Madison and Norm Bendell
1000 Tips for Teenagers: 1200 Tips to Empower Teens by Kelly Falardeau and Martin Presse