I have a friend who studied bridges and their purpose in city planning. She explained how bridges are needed as a city grows and expands. They connect one part of a community to another and offer a safe passage.
We related this concept to raising teens — and why bridges matter in the parent-teen relationship. As a child grows up, their world expands and separates them from their family and familiar territory. They need bridges that take them home and safely back to the people who remind them of who they are.
As a writer for teen girls and a mom of three teen daughters, I’m always looking for ways to build bridges between their hearts and mine. I’ve seen how disconnect often begins when we try to give guidance without awareness of their thoughts, desires, and feelings.
Teenagers don’t care what we know until they know that we care, and one way we earn a voice in their lives (and build bridges that last) is by listening, empathizing, and putting ourselves in their shoes to understand what it’s like to be them.
So how do we tap into a girl’s inner world? How do we unlock the mystery of a teenage daughter? Clearly, every girl is unique, but as I surveyed girls on what they’re thinking below the surface, they agreed on some common things they wish their mothers knew.
1. Even if we don’t say it, we appreciate little surprises, like when you have our favorite food waiting at home for us after a hard day at school.
2. Don’t criticize trivial things. We already criticize ourselves enough, so save your criticism for when it really matters (and be as tactful as possible).
3. Don’t get mad at us; we are tired and trying, even if it looks like we’re doing nothing.
4. School sucks the life out of us. Please understand.
5. Don’t tell other moms about our issues. When you break our trust, we want to pull away and not share details about our lives.
6. We want you to be involved in our lives but not smother us. We need our alone time and space to just chill.
7. We like for you to support us and encourage us when we’re passionate about a hobby or creative outlet, like ordering paint and canvases when we express interest in art.
8. Sometimes just listening is best. Don’t try to fix everything or lecture us…just sit with us in our emotions and let us be sad.
9. We like it when you randomly ask us if we need any clothes and want to go shopping (even online). We may not ask, but we’re always game for shopping.
10. Don’t compare us to our friends or other people. It makes us feel like you don’t appreciate our good qualities when you only point out the good things about our peers.
11. When you catch us doing something you like, point it out and tell us. This makes us feel appreciated, like you see our strengths and abilities.
12. We like it when you understand what we’re going through and help others understand it from our point of view.
13. We wish you gave us more credit for the good decisions we make and recognized how difficult this is sometimes. Our lives really are harder than what you faced at our age.
14. If we’re in a good mood, go with it and enjoy us. We love to have fun, lighthearted conversations, and we need these moments with you because if every conversation turns into a life lesson or lecture, we stop listening and tune you out.
15. Understand that social media is part of our culture. Rather than ridicule us for being on it, guide us on how to use it.
16. Don’t take it personally if we vent or take out our anger on you. You’re usually the person we feel we can safely unload on, so be patient and don’t give up on us as we learn how to handle our emotions.
17. Our room is our private space, the only place in the house that is just ours. We need to be alone to reflect and think, and we like it when you knock before entering. It gives us a head’s up, makes us feel respected, and adds a sense of control to our lives.
18. We want to tell you about our friend problems, but not if you’ll take them the wrong way and try to control our social lives. We don’t like it when you diss our friends, think badly of them, or tell us they’re not good for us every time we have a problem.
19. We want a good relationship with you, and we want you to show up for us without having to ask. We like it when you plan special one-on-one time together, like going to dinner, to an event, or on a mother/daughter trip.
20. We’re taking in what you say, sometimes subconsciously, so give us uplifting and helpful messages (even if we don’t respond). Sometimes it’s not until later, when we’re in an unfamiliar situation, that we remember what you once told us.
As your daughter’s world expands, you may suddenly find yourself on the outside looking in, hoping to be part of her world while also being the strong parent she needs. When in doubt, build the bridge. Be pro-active in getting to know her, connect with her, and support her. Speak to her heart, and she’ll invite you into her world. She’ll use that bridge again and again, finding comfort as it gives her the freedom to grow while also providing a safe passage back home.