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The One Thing Your Teenage Daughter Wants You To Know

Here's how to connect and feel closer than ever.

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Courtesy Simon & Schuster (2)
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Your teenage girl wants you to stop judging her. Even if you don’t think you’re judging her, I promise you, she feels judged. Judgment is what causes her to shut the world out. It creates disconnection, and who wants that? No one. I know you want to connect and feel closer to your teenage daughter, so let’s make that happen!

Throughout the last 16 years of working with teenage girls as an academic tutor and mentor, they would often tell me that it was easier to admit their mistakes to me because I didn’t pass judgment or give off “parental vibes.” This helped create an environment where they could be honest. They’ve invited me into a very rare space of trust that offers an inside look into a girl’s human, universal struggles. With my book, UNDERESTIMATED: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls, I’ve become a teenage girl’s translator to her parents, so they can better understand and connect with their daughter.

Teenage girls open up to me when I meet them exactly where they’re at, with no agenda. This means having no desired outcome. My tone has no trace of “I want you to agree with me” or “I want you to learn/understand this.” I need to be really honest with myself about this because a teenage girl will sniff out motive and judgment with animal instincts they perceive as threats from miles away. And if in my honest reflection, I realize that I do have an agenda, then I need to work to let go of that first. Trusting myself to really listen, judgment-free, helps the conversation thrive.

I know that’s not easy, especially if a girl is feeling her big feelings, because it’s hard to see her in pain. We feel like we have great advice that could fix it for her. That said, teenage girls will experience our instinct to advise and fix as judgment. So often, adults dismiss and minimize a teenage girl’s feelings as “emotional,” “dramatic” and “crazy.” When they do so, they miss a beautiful opportunity to support their daughter in what she really needs.

When a teenage girl shares her struggles with me, I listen. She trusts me to listen. She knows that I’m going to receive her exactly as she is, without me jumping to proclaim the lesson of her story. I’ve come to learn that this is called holding space. Maybe you’ve never heard this term, or maybe you’re rolling your eyes because you have heard it — a lot. Either way, until a better term emerges, holding space is what I’m calling it.

In particular, I’ve learned that communication around holding space is key. No one can read another person’s mind. The best way to address that is to phrase everything as a question. When I see that a girl is struggling emotionally, I’ll ask her:

“What do you need right now? Do you need me to just listen while you vent?” The answer is often yes, and so I let her vent. To avoid shame and judgment, simple responses go a long way:

“That’s so hard.” “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” “Of course you feel upset.” “It makes sense you feel that way.”

I pay close attention to how she describes her feelings, remembering the exact words that she uses. I reflect back to her those exact words: “I can understand why you’d feel frustrated and annoyed.” This helps her feel heard and understood. After I listen and reflect her feelings, I will often follow up with one of my favorite questions:

“How can I support you in this?”

This simple question will open surprising doors for connection. Teenage girls feel more connected to someone who is supporting them exactly the way she is — with no judgment. If I have problem-solving ideas, I ALWAYS ask if she wants my thoughts before I offer them. But honestly, it’s more beautiful to empower her sense of agency. It shows respect for her smart thoughts when I ask her: “What do you think the solution is?” or “How would you like to handle this?”

Her ideas are usually better than mine.

To create a connection that offers your daughter nonjudgmental support, keep communication phrased as a question, with a tone of genuine curiosity. It gives her a feeling of respect. Your teenage daughter wants to feel heard, understood and respected, and when that happens, connection thrives.