Working with adolescents for almost 10 years as a social worker I find that there are two things that have remained consistent with regards to speaking to teenage girls about their dating life.
One, they do not believe their parents will understand what they are going through and secondly social media tends to be their number one source of influence. The question I am always faced with from parents is what are ways they can communicate with their daughters to encourage open conversation especially around hard subjects like dating or sex.
To begin dissecting “the what”, we have to start with the why! Why are our daughters afraid to speak with us about the most intimate parts of their lives?
As parents, we have a natural instinct to protect our children from any harm and/or pain, which includes heartbreaks.
You are fearful that her partner is going to break her heart, or that she may have sex or even get pregnant at a time in her life when she is not ready. these fears are definitely understandable.
However, the fear that you are currently experiencing is also sending the message to your daughter “that you won’t understand, so why bother”! Secondly, most young women do not want to be judged or be a source of disappointment.
The “Asking for a friend” Test
Here are some scenarios that I have come across over the years that kids use to test their parents to gauge if they can share or not: (1) sometimes your children are testing you by telling you about a friend that is going through a breakup and depending on your response they will determine if they feel comfortable talking to you about their own life.
(2) If they are not allowed to have a boyfriend/girlfriend and you have made that clear to them, you can forget it, they are not telling you anything!
(3) if they do begin to tell you about their “love life” and you begin to share what they deem as negative commentary such as “you will be a fool if you stay” “ your not acting like the lady I raised you to be” or “ he’s just going to hurt you again” might cause them to shut down.
Language (body language included) is so important to young women and even though what you might be saying to them is true you want to get the point across without judgment or expressed concern for impending disappointment.
Listen, Validate, then Guide
In my sessions with teenage girls, they are three principles I like to implement: active listening, validation, and guidance.
Listening is a key component in making your daughters feel that their emotions and thoughts are being heard. Which means we do not interrupt!
Allow them to speak freely until they are done. Also, try to hide your facial expressions, especially if they tell you something shocking (that is also a form of judgment).
Secondly, VALIDATE! Acknowledge their feelings by making statements like “It sounds like you had a rough day”, “ I can hear in your voice that you really like him/her, and you are upset that he/she said that comment” or “this breakup must be really hard for you”.
After you have validated her feelings that it is time to GUIDE! When we guide our daughters we have to ask open-ended questions to allow them to utilize their critical thinking skills.
You want them to come up with their own solution so that they are more than likely to follow through on it. Which brings me to next point “DO NOT GIVE THEM THE SOLUTION” unless they ask for your opinion.
Also, refrain from asking “why”, why questions will put them on the defense which is the opposite of you want when offering guidance.
The open-ended questions that you ask are what will drive her to the solution that is best for her, one that she will follow through on and also create an environment where she feels she can always come to you for guidance instead of inexperienced friends or social media.
In my experience this is typically what a social media/friends driven solution looks like: a 15-year-old girl has been dating her boyfriend for approximately two months, who now wants to have sex, however, she is unsure if she should have sex or not.
She does not have an adult who she can talk to because she thinks they won’t understand, or they will get mad at her because she is even thinking about sex, or worse disappointed.
So she turns to her friends, who have already had sex and they say “well you have been dating him for a long time, and he seems to really like you so why not”, then she logs into her Instagram and Snapchat, and sees girls with their boyfriends displaying all forms of public displays of affection, and they appear to be in love and it looks so sensational.
The next time he asks her to have sex, she is more than likely to say yes, because social media and friends have just guided her decision!
The goal is to have enough of these open-ended conversations that you will automatically become the trusted confidant where important decisions are concerned.
Stay ahead of the social media game
Unlike many parents, our daughters are interacting on social media more than ever and while the platforms have some positive attributes many of them teach our daughters that they should value their bodies more than their mind.
There is also this underlying current that everything requires instant gratification “how many likes am I going to receive if I post this picture” and “Maybe this will make me go viral”. Other serious issues include cyberbullying or posts that include content that your child might be embarrassed about.
Knowing how social media works and ensuring that you are educated on all the social channels she likes is very important especially when guiding them on issues that involve social media.
There is no guarantee that your daughter won’t explore different solutions to a problem which is fine as long as the parent is part of that process of getting to that solution.
You do not want to be behind the eightball on how SnapChat works, what Instagram Stories are or what Musically entails! Knowlege is power and not only will you know what your daughter is doing but you will also have more understanding of how social platforms affect her as an individual.
I understand that every scenario is different because every child is different and that there is often situations that require more of a deep dive so it is important that you use this information as a guide for your situation. If you have any additional questions or would like a consultation please feel free to email me at [email protected]
Crystal Young, LMSW