A short while ago my new book about teenage girls, Miss-Connection, was released. The book appeared on some bestseller lists around the country. Since then, I’ve been asked, repeatedly, for the “secrets” to raising happy, responsible, strong teenage girls.
To write the book, I surveyed and interviewed almost 400 teenage girls. These conversations and survey results gave me profound insight into the lives of our teen girls. Yes, parenting a teen girl can be confusing, emotional, and dramatic. But our girls are also amazing, thoughtful, and often very self-aware, which means parenting them can also be a joy.
I learned so much out of my research, but here are my top seven tips for raising girls.
1. Connection is the question. Connection is also the answer.
Many parents have come to me worried that they aren’t connecting with their teen daughter. They wonder what to do, how to get through to her. Connection is the question BUT connection is also the answer.
We build a relationship of trust by creating a powerful connection, ensuring our daughter knows she matters to us, and taking the time to understand her. Listen, be there, accept her, love her and let her grow into her own independence even if that means she makes mistakes and gets hurt along the way. Our job is to support her as she does the next bit herself, and not to do it for her.
2. Help her to feel she belongs.
As one young woman I talked to put it, ‘Friends are everything when you’re in Year 8’. Helping your teen daughter find her tribe and feel that she belongs is essential to her wellbeing.
Give her space and time to try new things. And encourage her to look inside herself and see who she is around certain people. If she can live with integrity when she spends time with her friends, then she’s found her tribe.
3. Help her feel she’s enough. Because she is.
Our focus as parents needs to be on helping our girls discover their inner strength and power (identity), so they know they weren’t put on Earth to convince everyone of their worth. As our daughters develop a sense of identity, they become strong so they can be real, open, honest, and caring.
We must give our girls the space to discover and create their best selves. That means unconditional love and regard – even when they’re doing things we don’t necessarily agree with.
4. Help her navigate the online world.
While there are still many questions about the relationship between screen time and wellbeing, there are far fewer questions about social media. The data emphasises that social media is having a negative impact on wellbeing, particularly for our girls. And many parents are tempted to limit, or even exclude, screens and social media from their daughter’s lives. But anyone who is living in the real world knows that teenagers will find a way to access their screens no matter how restrictive we are. When we become overly forceful in our limits and discipline around tech, we risk rupturing our relationships with our daughters. Force creates resistance.
Instead of worrying about screen time, we should be thinking about context and content. If our children are doing valuable, growth-oriented, and positive things on their screens, they’re probably not going to experience any ill-effects that some of the science warns us about. Promote the positive online by pointing them to artists, designers, thinkers, and inspirers who create rather than compare. Screens, and even social media, can be used for good.
5. Help her feel beautiful.
Most girls want to feel beautiful. It’s our job to let them know they are – always. Move away from any kind of campaign that tells girls to find fault. And be careful of your own attitude towards beauty.
Stop talking negatively about your body. Just don’t do it. And never talk negatively about your daughter’s. Body shaming doesn’t encourage healthier behaviour. It just makes our daughters want to disappear into the black hole of unworthiness. Some people ask me whether we should point out that a child is overweight. My answer: They already know. They don’t need you to emphasise it and make them feel worse about it.
When it comes to our teen daughter’s body, what her body can do matters more than how it looks.
6. Talk about sex and intimacy.
We must have conversations about sex. Regularly. It’s how we equip our daughters to thrive in a sex-saturated world. Before they are old enough to even think about dating, intimacy, and sex, we need to start emphasising the importance of choosing romantic interests that will be kind and respectful. Teach them about consent and arm them with courage to have difficult conversations and stand up for themselves.
We want to help them understand that physical and emotional intimacy should never be divorced from one another. Results will often be painful. And talk about alcohol and sex. We often talk about them separately, but we need to discuss them together. The combination of the two often leads to lousy experiences for out teens. This conversation should help them want to make safe, healthy decisions.
Ultimately, encourage her to wait and wait and then wait a little longer. Waiting for sex is based on good science and is something our girls will benefit from.
7. Remember you don't own your daughter.
She is her own person. Your job is to prepare her to do the next bit on her own. As parents, we’re playing the long game. The thing that matters most is the quality of our relationship.
Raising them to let them go is hard. But that’s just how it should be.
For more tips on raising girls, read my book Miss-Connection.