I am father to a 14-year-old girl who has shut me out of her life

What can I do to change things? How can I make a connection with her as her father?

If she is rude when you just ask her a question, hold her to account on this – ‘listen, I know you might be stressed, but you must speak politely to me as your father’

If she is rude when you just ask her a question, hold her to account on this – ‘listen, I know you might be stressed, but you must speak politely to me as your father’

 

Question: I am a father to a daughter who has just turned 14. She has shut me out of her life since the transition from junior to senior school. Won’t open up to me. Won’t listen. Has no time for me. Every time I try to reconnect with her, she dismisses me. She is very cold towards me, as well as impatient and constantly angry with me. All of this has come as a great shock to me and makes me very unhappy. It disturbs me greatly and I am worried about what will happen in the long term.

What can I do to change things? How can I make a connection with her as her father?

Answer: Though it can be very hurtful for parents, it is very normal for young teenagers to go through a period of “rebellion” leading to a rejection of their parents.

Before they enter adolescence, children tend to idolise their parents and often identify with their opinions and views. Primary school children are usually happy to spend time with their their families and delighted to receive attention from their parents. However, starting adolescence and becoming a teenager changes everything. The goal of adolescence is for children to separate from their parents and to learn to be their own person with their own opinions and making their own decisions. Part of this process involves them being critical of their parents and pulling away from the family.

Adolescents move from preferring the company of their parents to preferring the company of their peers. They might be embarrassed by their parents who they think are old fashioned or out of touch. All of this can be expressed negatively by teenagers and experienced as rejection by parents. I think this negative rejection is usually at its worst at the age of 13 or 14 ( coinciding with the extra pressures of starting secondary). The good news is that in most cases, these periods of rebellion are short lived, with most parents reporting one “bad year” with a teenager before they settle into a better relationship with them

Put things in perspective

Though easier said than done, it is important not to take your daughter’s rejection personally and to understand it in terms of what she might be going through as an adolescent. Don’t make things worse by getting angry or rejecting her back or giving up on being involved and having a relationship with her.  Despite their rejection and rebellion, all the evidence suggests that young teenagers still desperately need their parents to reach out and stay involved in their lives. They benefit from having caring and warm parents who continue to be interested in their lives (and also who continue to set rules and hold them to account). Though the nature of your relationship may change, your daughter still needs you in her life as her father. It is important that you persist in reaching out to her.

Adapting your approach

When your child becomes a teenager, generally you have to change your approach to having a relationship with them. What worked when they were younger may no longer work. For example, a young child might respond with delight if you suggest doing an activity together, whereas a teenager might roll their eyes and think your request is bizarre.

Sometimes, indirect and more subtle approaches might work better. For example, you might arrange to be around when your daughter comes in from school (as this is a time she might be more chatty) or you might arrange that you are the person to take her to an activity in the car as this gives you some one-to-one space with her. When working with parents dealing with teenage turmoil, I ask them to carefully notice the small moments when their teenagers might communicate more. For example, they might notice that they have slightly better conversations with their teenagers when they are out of the house (perhaps going for walk or a drive) or when they are doing a shared enjoyable activity together (perhaps watching a match or TV programme).

Try to identify the times and places your own daughter might communicate even to a small extent and think how you can build on this.

Respond to her requests for attention

Another way to improve your relationship with your daughter is to notice any time she initiates a conversation or wants attention from you and to then respond as positively as you can. This might mean that If your daughter:

· Asks you for extra pocket money, rather than immediately saying “No”, take time to listen to what she wants the money for. Take time to explore some ways she might get some extra money that suit you, eg doing the wash up first or tidying her room.

· Asks you for a lift, rather than lecturing her about “not being her chauffeur”, use the journey as an opportunity to listen and talk to her.

· Asks you a personal question when you’re reading the newspaper, you can put down the newspaper for a few minutes to answer the question, using it as an opportunity to open a conversation.

Responding to your daughter’s requests like this does not mean that you give her everything she demands, but it does mean that you use each of her requests as an opportunity for making a connection.

Insist on respect

While you should be understanding and responsive to your daughter, it is important that you also insist on respect and this is key in establishing a good relationship with her. If she is rude when you just ask her a question, hold her to account on this – “listen, I know you might be stressed, but you must speak politely to me as your father”.

In addition, having some good family rules can help relationships also. For example, having a family routine that you have dinner together once or twice a week or that you visit extended family at the weekend or doing some chores together can all help create a context for chatting and connections. Think what helpful routines and rules you can establish in your family.

Dr John Sharry is a Social Worker and Psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus Programmes. He has published 14 books including “Parenting Teenagers: A Guide to Solving Problems, Building Relationships and Creating Harmony in the Family”.  See www.solutiontalk.ie.

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