How to help a teenage daughter deal with emotional issues

Teenage girls are on an emotional roller coaster that begins during their early childhood years, especially after beginning school. As they get older, reach puberty and become teens, girls have learnt to use nonverbal behaviours like eye rolling, hand or body gestures and even control techniques related to a certain peer group accepting or shunning other girls. Verbal tags include gossip and rumours, secrecy, lying or making rude public statements about other girls. It is important for you to help your daughter deal with emotional issues related not only to other girls but also to self-esteem, relationships with boys and school.

Notice that your teen daughter is much more concerned about her body image, her status among friends and other female peers, and competition on all levels, whether related to sports and extra-curricular activities or among a group of peers. These changes may result in your daughter becoming depressed, losing her positive self-esteem and lacking confidence. This may be out of place with what you are used to seeing.

Observe if your daughter begins to obsess about her weight and insists on dieting in an unhealthy manner. Talk to her about the emotions she is experiencing and why she has decided she is too fat or too thin, too tall or too short. If the reason is related to a remark made by another teen girl, whether the other girl is outside of her group of friends or not, point out that the girl(s) making the remarks may be jealous or just trying to goad her into reacting in a negative way.

Let your daughter know that diets, whether to lose or gain weight, must include all the food groups, since both her external and internal body is still developing.

Listen to your teenage daughter. If she is using demeaning or rude verbal and nonverbal behaviours on another teenage girl that her friends or immediate peer group are ostracising or who they do not like, let your daughter know that that treatment could cause that girl to react with physical violence of some kind or to even harm herself out of anguish.

Ask your daughter to close her eyes and imagine herself being made fun of or shunned by others, and how that would make her feel. Then tell her to remember those emotions when she is tempted to treat other girls poorly.

Know that by her teen years, your daughter has probably learnt to hide her anger, disappointment, frustration, pain and other negative emotions, because society tends to put out the message and the expectation that girls are the "nurturers" and are "motherly" and "feminine."

Take time to talk your daughter about that societal image of females as nurturers, letting her know that as a female in the modern world, she can be both nurturer and provider, and that strength comes from acknowledging those negative emotions and by not being afraid to show them. Let her know that anger, disappointment and other negative emotions are a natural part of being human, and what is important is learning how to deal with them in a healthy manner.

Talk to your teen daughter about how to express her emotions in a safe way. This may be through written or verbal skills, art or a club at school like debate and thespians.

Observe if, after developing a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship with a peer, your teen daughter exhibits behaviours that make you fear she is being verbally, emotionally or physically abused by that person. If so, contact a school counsellor, the local domestic abuse and sexual assault centre or other professional who is trained on how to deal with peer abuses.

Go to a parent-teacher group meeting or school site meeting and encourage teachers and counsellors to work with you and other parents on helping girls learn how to solve problems without hurting themselves physically or emotionally.

Talk to the chamber of commerce, the superintendent of schools, local mental health providers, counsellors, principals, teachers and other students about creating a mentoring program. You could even suggest asking for public donations or holding fundraisers to support a program of this type if funding is an issue.

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About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.