Withdrawn Daughter
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Withdrawn Daughter

Jan Faull, M. Ed, answers a parent's question about a teen who has become sullen and withdrawn

We Used to Be Close

Q. I don't know what's happening with my daughter. We used to be so close, but now that she's older (14 this year) she's pulled away and become the stereotypical sullen teen. Even worse, I am now the target of all her frustrations. Sometimes I feel like she hates me. How long can this go on? What can I do to get close to my daughter again?

A. You're mourning the loss of the little girl who once bombarded through the front door after school with the details of her day. That little girl is growing up and trying to find her new identity as a young adult. In order to do so she must sever those close childhood ties to you. But rest assured your relationship will surface anew, once she establishes her identity as a young adult.

Teens pull away, turn sullen and take there frustrations out on their parents because their developmental time clock is telling them to seek independence. Staying emotionally close to you would represent to her that she is still dependent on you; teens go overboard to prove they're separate.

Being a parent of a teenager is, no doubt, tough. When her behavior toward you goes beyond what you can tolerate, muster up the confidence to say, "The conversation is over for me. I'll talk to you when your emotions settle down and you're once again rational." Then walk away.

Realize, however, that being a teenager is tough too. Bodies grow rapidly, emotions rage out of control, social scenes at schools change daily, and mental ability expands to manage the tough academic challenges of algebra, chemistry and poetry. When frustrations surface, the easiest and safest target is usually good ol' mom. It would be easy to throw up your once loving hands in sheer frustration and sever the mother-daughter bond completely. Please resist doing so.

Tips for Handling Teens

Instead, provide nurturance appropriate to the teen years which often means from a distance. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Expand her boundaries which include a little later curfew and
    opportunities to attend safe activities not before allowed (parties, concerts, shopping trips).
  • Provide lots of nutritious food that's available for her to eat when she's hungry.
  • Let her keep her bedroom (within reason) as her own.
  • Honor her privacy, don't snoop through her backpack or read notes she leaves on her desk.
  • Allow her into your adult world by telling her of your day; she'll feel honored you're trusting her with information of your life.
  • Go to her school activities, sports games, school plays, and concerts, just wear beige and don't say a word.
  • Understand the importance of her friendships. To bridge the gap between childhood dependency on parents and independence as an adult, teens rely heavily on peers.
  • Keep in mind, your daughter is displaying annoying behavior typical to her developmental age. The bad news is that's there's no effective way to stop it. The good news is that it will pass.