By Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT
It’s quite often that a teen girl will experience feeling broken and powerless. There are so many other people directing their lives (socially, scholastically, relationally) it’s no wonder they go through these periods. When this starts affecting their deepest relationships and the family it might be time to bring them to a therapist.
Teen girls can be sensitive and stubborn; happy and silly; sullen and sad. Teen girls can be confident one minute, and then the next minute compare themselves to their friends or tv, and then feel fat, plain, or less-than. Why are their emotions such a roller coaster!
There are so many reasons for this phenomenon! Changes in brain chemistry, changes in peer relationships, changes in opposite gender relationships, changes in hormones, changes in society’s expectations of them, changes in their expectations of themselves, and changes in their roles in the home.
All these changes make for one very confusing identity for your girl.
“Who am I?” she asks.
“Who is she?!” you ask.
Who knows!?!?! You’re both trying to figure it out together.
In this posting, I’d like to talk about teen girls and therapy – and how all this relates to their identity and these changes.
In previous posts I’ve talked about how your child and teen look to you to role model healthy boundaries and respect. You are their main focus for these traits, but you’re not their only role model. They are watching their friends (who are watching their own parents, and also watching your daughter) – sounds like that 7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game a little, doesn’t it! Ha!
So your daughter is getting cues from her friends. They tell her their opinions on other people – and then she inadvertently sizes herself up against those people. They tell her their opinions about her and about themselves. They are bonding and learning (and comparing).
Unfortunately, teen girls often evaluate themselves inaccurately – and whatever script she has learned from the women in her life, she will repeat.
If she has not learned to accept a compliment she will not know how to allow others to feed her positive identity traits.
- “You look pretty today.” “No, I don’t, I hate this dress.” –
- “You look pretty today.” “Thanks, but my teacher is being a jerk today.”
- – or – she could learn the healthy response: “You look pretty today.” “Thank you!”
If she has learned to identify who she is with what she has done she will not be able to fail gracefully.
- “That’s not how that task was supposed to be done.” This is interpreted as: “I can’t do anything right, I’m not even going to try, I’m worthless!”
- “That dress is too short, and you will look easy if you go out wearing it” This becomes: “I’m trashy!”
- “You could have used a coupon to buy that item for less.” She believes: “I’m bad with money!”
- THE WORSE ONE: “Let’s go see a therapist.” Turns into: “I’m broken!”
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. That last one is the one I want to look at closer:
“Let’s go see a therapist.” “I’m broken!”
Therapy does not mean you’re broken. Therapy is like taking another class in school. You’re learning new skills, new ways to look at things, new ways to talk to yourself and to talk to other people so you have better relationships and better days in general.
Your teen girl doesn’t always understand this, and no amount of talking will help her understand it. However, if you role model for her, if she has your support and your shoulder to lean on (literally) she’ll feel less broken and feel more open. I encourage parents to attend therapy with their teen for the first month. That’s three or four sessions together where the goal of therapy is to improve the parent/child relationship. We primarily focus on healthy communication. We focus on the relationship – not the individuals. It’s the relationship that needs to heal, and not necessarily the people.
Guess what happens when you start this – the people heal in ways they didn’t even realize they needed healing!
Your daughter starts to feel heard and valued. You didn’t pawn her off on a therapist because she’s broken and needs to be fixed. You joined with her, you showed your imperfection, you became vulnerable with her, you are a team. After a few weeks together your relationship is a little stronger and your daughter is ready to go deep with me as her therapist. Therapy is normalized, she feels safe, she can talk about what is happening with her friends and we can work together to improve her skills with herself and other people.
Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT 104464 is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. Jessica has a special knack with teen girls and she believes it’s because she can still so vividly remember what it was like to be a teen herself. Jessica has an energetic genuineness that teens typically feel safe to open up to. At this stage of her career, she really enjoys working individually with parents while she has her associate psychotherapists work with the teens.
Usually parents are re-experiencing their own abandonment or critical parent wounds as their young person whom they have loved so deeply and truly tries to pull away toward autonomy. Their responses to this healthy developmental stage can have an impact on their relationship with their teen. Jessica helps parents explore their own wounding while also using her vast experience in working with teens to help parents communicate their family rules, encourage participation in family outings, and general dialoguing with their teen.