Q: “I have a 14-year-old daughter who is interested only in boys, shopping, makeup, hair styles, and who is dating whom. She no longer participates in school, church, or other extracurricular activities, and is bored with any ideas I suggest. She has a lot of friends and does well academically. Should I insist that she participate in something, or should I just keep encouraging her and wait it out?”
C.D., Crofton, Maryland
I’m a developmental psychologist and I also have a 14-year-old daughter. Your daughter sounds socially and academically well adjusted, so she might simply be starting the giant sorting process on the path to individuation. When children are younger, they mostly want to be like their parents. When they hit 12 to 14, they realize they are not their parents but they haven’t grown a sufficient independent self as a replacement. So they rely on the peer group to provide a temporary identity while they sort out who they are and who they’re not.
In addition to intense peer involvement, this phase includes deciding what activities are important to them. However, there is a real risk of teens bailing out on their talents if they get too distracted. So while I support my daughter’s social life, I watch for ways to refocus her on her “true” self. I take the smallest opportunity to support her personal interests: For example, I’m an audience to her guitar performances and I provide materials for her art projects when her inspiration strikes. I try to make myself available to talk when she’s interested-- mostly late at night. Teens also need time alone during this time, so together we discussed priorities and she dropped horseback riding, something she’d done for five years, to give her more down time. Two guides I respect for advice in this process are authors Mike Riera, Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, and Terri Apter, Altered Loves: Mothers and Daughters During Adolescence. In the long run, most teenagers grow up to have similar values to their parents in matters of importance.
D.D., Berkeley, California
My advice would be to read the book Positive Pushing by Jim Taylor. It tells you how to become actively involved in your child’s life and take back your role of parenting in a positive way. We tend to let our children drop positive activities in their life simply because they want to, but parents need to be the ones to ultimately decide what’s best for their child. Dating? My daughter knows this won’t even start until she is mature enough to handle the issues involved. I set this at 16, and even then I will be supervising all activities to make sure she is safe.
S.L., Wytheville, Virginia
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