3 tips for parenting a teenage girl (from Steve Biddulph's 'Raising Girls')

I'm always motivated to read parenting books when I'm in a new stage of parenting.  This stage is brought to you by my first teenage girl.  I didn't love being a teenage girl.  Admittedly I did have a lot of upheaval during that stage of my life - I changed countries when I was 15 and then changed school/church/house another couple of times before I finished school.  I found it very hard.  But it wasn't just that.  It's a hard stage physically and emotionally anyway.  I have a lot of love for teenage girls.  They are not necessarily easy to live with (ahem - bit of an understatement ...) but I feel their pain!

So last term I read Steve Biddulph's new book 'Raising Girls' (2013).  There was a lot in it that was familiar because he goes through each stage and I've been through most of them a few times now.

But I'll just share with a few things that I found helpful as I think through how to help my girls negotiate this pretty tricky stage.

1.  A place to make and do.
"If I could organise it, every girl would have a place to make and do - a kind of workshop/craft room, or corner of the house, peacefully away from TV sounds or smaller children, where messes could be left and projects take shape among endless materials, paints, tools and so on.  'Making' - the creation of beautiful things - has emerged in recent years as a rediscovered expression of individuality, a way to be serene and an answer to the consumer madness in which girls express themselves merely by what they buy." (Raising Girls, p. 96).

In the holidays I got motivated and cleared out a lot of the kid's old toys - especially things like their barbies, polly pockets which they don't play with anymore.  I cleared out some space in the toy cupboard and have reinvented it as a craft cupboard.  I went and bought a whole lot of new pencils, paint, paper etc.  I thought this was a helpful point for not just my girls but for all my kids.  They take themselves out there every now and then and just sit and create.  I think there's a peace that comes with this - some down time for their brains.

2.  Keep calm and carry on loving ...
"Fourteen can be a cranky stage.  The teenager has a job to do - to start getting free of her parents.  She has been, all being well, embedded in her family and defined by them ... Now that has to change or she will never make it on her own ... Sometimes parents get huffy about this rebellion and back off.  But it's not a time for abandoning your daughter. She has to fight, argue, cajole, reason and make a case with someone; it's either you or the police or her teachers.  Better that it's you." (Raising Girls, p.107).

I have been thinking a lot about my role as a mum in this process.  I've realised after listening to my daughter how tough it is with friends and school work and other pressures, that home needs to be a safe place.  A safe place may look like the place where they just yell at you, but I think it needs to be there.  What do kids do if they have no one to vent their fear and frustration about all the uncertainties of this stage?  As much as it is draining (oh, so very draining) to keep it together, I actually think those skills of breathing deeply and staying calm that I was forced to develop during the toddler tantrum years, make
all the difference now.  And I bite my tongue.  A LOT!

3. A different group of friends

Biddulph encourages parents to help their daughters find their 'inner spark' - something that energises them and gives them purpose.  It could be art or music or doing something for someone else.  Here he gives another reason for pursuing extra activities.

"Often girls are trapped with only one friendship group - the accidental assemblage of same-age girls they meet at school.  Apart from home (which also has its ups and downs) they have no other view of themselves.  A girl can easily find her spirits sinking dangerously low because her peer group is too negative or destructive but an interest group may be much more her kind of people.  Also there may be mixed ages with all the benefits this brings... This gives her a different mirror in which she can see herself." (Raising Girls, p. 95).

Isn't nice when something you've always believed is affirmed by an expert?!  I have always felt that having an identity outside of school is vitally important.  If your only sense of self comes from the kind of identity you have at school, and that one is a negative one, then outside connections are very important.  You need to be able to be defined by more than where you sit in the pecking order in your school friendship group.  My daughter does a lot of music and I keep encouraging her to do this because it gives her friends outside school.  She's also involved with youth group, and goes on annual Christian camps where she's developed friendships with girls from all over NSW.  It's nice to have an email pen-pal who you can have a bit of vent to without them knowing any of the intricacies of your social group at school.

Anyway, these are just a few of my favourite moments from the book.  I recommend this book because it's an easy read and provides a lot of practical outworking of his thinking.  I would like to write more on the current pressures of social media on teenage girls especially, but that's for another post.  Biddulph's book has a helpful chapter on that issue.


bernadette said…
Oh jenny I can't tell you how much I disagree with this man. His stuff on boys is just awful and stereotypes are his favourite thing. As a girl , a quiet space to do craft would have been hell for me . He never ever sites studies, his claim that boys have a testosterone surge at 2 or 5 is just rubbish absolute rubbish that any scientists will prove is incorrect but he has swarms of parents blaming this surge on their boy's behaviour. I only hope his stuff on girls is better researched than " I have spoken to people ". Ahhhhh that feels better...
Jenny said…
Sorry Bernadette :( Wasn't meaning to cause issues but glad you got it off your chest ...!! I know you don't like him but I have found this stuff helpful in just thinking through some of what I'm facing. As with all parenting things you take what you like and ditch the rest. I do agree with you about the testosterone thing though - I'm over that too.
Anonymous said…
Bernadette: Your quiet space may have been with a book. I was always up a tree or swimming in the ocean.
I hate craft, I just can't stand mess but my daughter really enjoys it.
As does my boy, but he needs a goal. A purpose to it (like me). My girl is happy to just fiddle and see how it turns out. -Chez
Taara said…
We are quite far away from the teenage years, but I thought your last point was interesting - especially as I compare it to a boarding school experience as a teenager! Even our "out of school" friends were in school with us.
Jenny said…
Hi Taara Yes I was thinking about that with Rowan the other day. I remember when we were dorm parents we'd often find a few girls just sitting in our lounge room having a bit time away from their friends. And it was intense for me - heaps of fun too - but hard when there was conflict. I had some lovely A level friends who'd I often visit just to escape the peer group stuff. Certainly different to being able to come home each afternoon!

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