Friday, April 8, 2011

The great divide

Bridging the communication gap between you and your teenage daughter is possible, with the help of a new book

The easiest way to give my father post traumatic flashbacks, is to remind him of when I was a teenager.
I was a typical teen who tried to grow up way too fast. I thought I was sooo mature and was desperate to fit in with the cool crowd.
I didn’t tell my parents anything about my life.
In fact I practically stopped talking to them for many years, and anything that did come out of my mouth was a lie.
On my 18th birthday I thought all my dreams had come true, because my parents had another event on the same night.
I convinced them that I was responsible enough to have a party on my own with just a few close friends (which actually was the plan).
But word spreads fast in a small town and soon the party of few was a party of many.
The next morning I looked out my bedroom window to see my brother trying to lift the wheelie bin out of the pool (and all of it’s contents!).
When I finally “escaped” living with my parents (that is when I was accepted into University which, to me, was the equivalent of freedom), it finally dawned on me that Mum and Dad were on my side.
I dread to think what life will be like in another ten or so years when I will have two teenage daughters.
That’s why I felt compelled to interview Michelle Mitchell.

Michelle is a mother of two who worked as a teacher before establishing Youth Excel in 2000, a charity devoted to working with teenagers from all walks of life to ensure they reach their full potential.
Youth Excel mentors teenage girls, so you can imagine that Michelle is like the mole penetrating the impenetrable – a teenage girls’ life, loves, hates and hopes.
Michelle has just published a book What Teenage Girls Don’t Tell Their Parents and it’s simply brilliant.
I quite often tout parenting books in my column, and there are endless books about how to take care of your new baby, but now there’s a book specifically for parents of teenage girls that will help create positive relationships.
It not only offers practical advice, but there are plenty of real anecdotes from teenage girls that will have your jaw dropping to the ground.
“Parents these days feel so guilty,” Michelle tells me over the phone from her Brisbane home.
“They worry that they’ll lose their kids forever, so they don’t want to be too tough on them, and feel a lot of guilt.
“Remember, the last chapter isn’t written yet – teenagers will eventually become adults with an entirely different perspective on life.
“Parents need to be reminded that they are doing a good job.”
She says at a grass roots level there’s not much difference between teenage boys and girls, and the chemical make-up in their brain is the same as every generation before them.
While they might face similar issues, teenage girls deal with things differently to boys.
“I also think technology has put a slant on teenager’s lives,” she says.
“They can’t survive without contact with their friends, and that’s a huge change from years ago… they don’t get a break from it.
“But parents should take their phones off them before they go to bed, and take the TVs and computers out of their room.
“What every parent needs is a bucketload of confidence that empowers them to say ‘no’.”
Michelle says the biggest trap parents fall into is treating their teens like mini-adults.
“Their brains are not fully developed so they’re not mature enough and wired like an adult,” she says.
She says it’s not a parent’s job to become their child’s friend, it’s their job to protect them.
The book has seven different contradictions, such as “I don’t care what you think”, but what teens are really thinking is “I want your approval”.
“They just want independence and want to appear as though they can do it all themselves,” Michelle says.
“Teens guard their feelings very tightly, and on the outside they can be giving their parents a hard time, but it doesn’t mean that’s what they feel inside.
“Mums can easily take it all very personally, but parents should learn to listen for their benefit.
“A good communication strategy is to let teens feel in control of the communication process.
“Teens don’t like to feel like they’re being interrogated, so parents should let them think that they’re mature and respect their privacy – they don’t have to know everything in order to be a good parent.”
Michelle says the really smart parents have a network of support people around them and their children.
“Kids who do really well have a hidden network behind the scenes, and it’s often driven by parents who see that they need support people in their life,” she says.
“These parents know that their kids might not talk to them, but will talk to one of their support people.”
Since my daughters are still very young, I asked Michelle if there was anything I could do now to help them through the teenage years.
“If you can talk to your kids in an open, honest way before they hit the teen years, then it’s much easier when you talk about the big topics,” she says.
“Talk to them a lot in the years beforehand, especially about their feelings.
“If they are prepared for it mentally, they will recognise that it’s happening, that it’s a part of growing up.”

* For more information about Michelle’s book, visit http://www.michellemitchell.org/
You can also sign up for an inexpensive online parenting program.

2 comments:

Jill said...

I just read this in the Cairns Post newspaper and was really impressed.
The support network for teens and way of keeping tags without intruding is really powerful.

I'm definitely going to read the book.

Please also drop by our family friendly blog with ideas for kids.

http://beourbest.blogspot.com/

Shannon said...

Hi Jill!
Thanks for the feedback! I would say this book will help thousands of families with teenage girls... the author really understands their way of thinking, and the best ways to communicate with them.
Love your blog! I'm now a follower!

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