By Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT
Oh, the teen girls! I love them. Once upon a time, I was a teen girl… now, I’m a grown up woman with all these years of college learning in psychology and years of providing therapy to girls and their families. But, I can still tap into that teen girl brain and emotions that once lived in this body when I need a reminder of those conflicts and feelings.
It’s such a dichotomy in that brain. “My parents are sooooo smothering! They don’t let me do anything!” and also, “My parents don’t even care about me. Nothing I do is right, they don’t pay attention to me unless I’m messing up.”
No matter how much positive encouragement you give your teen girl, some girls will only notice when you reprimand them or give them instructions.
Why is this? Well, there are several reasons.
1) You are the parent. You are “the system” or “the man.” It’s the time in their lives where they are taking big courageous breathes to leave the nest and fly solo. If they take every piece of valid and good advice you give them, then they fear they don’t have what it takes to leave. No one is as smart is mom or dad. When they get good and valid advice from outside adults (even if it’s the same advice) they know that when they are on their own they can still find answers to their questions without your help. Is your teen’s delivery of this information to you given in a mature and articulate manner, or by rolling their eyes and slamming their bedroom door? Probably the latter, they aren’t super mature and articulate – no matter how smart or sweet they are in general.
2) Friends. Peer groups. As adults, we have them. We generally socialize with people in the general vicinity to our ages. Our people skills are as developed as the people we spend time with. Your teen girl has friends who tell her what’s cool and what’s not cool. They tell her if the boy she likes is cool or not cool. They tell her what opinion she just stated is cool or not cool. And really, for teen girls cool = socially acceptable. “Dorky” kids think things are cool, and those things are different than what “popular” kids think is cool. So cool is relative to your friends; therefore, cool = acceptable. It’s semantics, really – but the teens don’t realize this. They just need to survive.
I have to say that it has been my experience that most parents give their teenagers sage and wise advice. Most parents inherently know their children, regardless of how much or how little they work, socialize, etc. I have found that most parents feel frustrated and at their wits end because their teen girl isn’t listening, and they are worried beyond belief for her well-being.
When you take point #1 into consideration, you understand why she’s resisting. When you take #2 into mind, you realize why her peers opinions are more important than yours.
And really, when she’s an adult those peers are going to be her colleagues in the office, her friends on the social scene. Those peers will have children her children’s ages and they will be at birthday parties and PTA meetings together as adults (especially in towns as small as those here in Butte County).
So when she’s struggling in these relationships, not putting down appropriate boundaries, expressing herself constructively, and not listing to your advice, that’s when I am able to come in. I am another adult. I have a laugh-y, joke-y demeanor that throws them off a little. “Not another adult who thinks too highly of themselves, but rather can listen without judging me or telling me what to do!” Yep. I don’t tell teenagers what to do to fix their lives. I help them think through their options and I help them make the decision.
I teach them to think and make decisions in a healthy way so they don’t alienate themselves from their friends or family.
I really love it when parents come into therapy with us. When your teen is starting therapy she’s talking like a teen, and you are accustomed to talking with them like kids. So we work on that and she has a safe harbor to try some new techniques, while you learn too. Later, we bring parents back in to do it again, now your teen has had a few months of learning, and she has some more skills to practice with you. Practicing with you is easier and safer than practicing on friends – so it gives her confidence!
I do love those teen girls! Someday they will be women, amazing women, our peers and colleagues! How wonderful and lucky are we to get to watch and be a part of them growing and evolving. Little butterflies! Little birdies learning to fly!
Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT 104464 is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. She provides online sessions to clients all over the state and in-person sessions in her offices in Redding, CA and Chico, CA.
Jessica really enjoys helping teens and their parents get through adolescence. Gone are the days of their littleness and compliance, and here are the days of a pull for autonomy, preferring their friends, and a deep desire for their parents unconditional love and acceptance.
If you’d like to work with Jessica, please click the button below to go to her bio. You will learn of her fees and find her online appointment request form.