In a new movie called Selfie Dad, main character Ben Marcus (played by comedian Michael Jr.) is in the midst of a midlife crisis. Wanting more fulfillment from his career, he starts a YouTube Channel and becomes solely focused on building his fame. In the process of creating his online persona, he becomes an absentee father to his two kids. His young son feels neglected while his teen daughter begins to engage in risky behavior.
The movie is a great reminder of how much our kids need our presence. As someone who worked with teenagers for many years, I saw a lot of teen girls do dangerous things. Many of them had dads who made critical mistakes. I didn’t see any of them launching a YouTube channel, but they made little, everyday mistakes that caused relational stress and brokenness. Here are 5 common mistakes dads make with teen daughters.
1. Disengaging Physically
It can be awkward—as her body starts to change and her emotions are all over the place—to continue to give her hugs and kisses. She may even reject them. However, withholding physical affection sends her the wrong message. This is when she is at her most vulnerable and insecure and a father’s affection is the affirmation she desperately needs (even if she doesn’t realize it). Too many dads end up throwing in the towel.
Bottom line: Don’t allow her irritability, awkwardness, eye rolls, and rejection to deter you from continuing to show her affection.
2. Not Being Vulnerable and Emotionally AvailableTeen daughters don’t need to be solved; they need to be heard.
As dads, we always feel the need to be in control and have all the answers. We need to feel like we have the power to solve any problem. When a teenage girl’s emotions go into overdrive, many dads try to give a quick word of encouragement or a solution to make everything OK. Or perhaps worse, they always send her away to talk to her mom.
Bottom line: You don’t need to know what to do with her feelings. Just let her feel them and be there to empathize. Share your emotions and struggles with her. It makes you a safer place for her to open up.
3. Treating Her Like She is a Little Girl (Or Trying to Force Her to Be One)
It’s time to say goodbye to that little girl. Teen girls are closer to being adults than children. Dads may not like it, but it’s happening. At this point in their lives, they need to separate from their dads and test boundaries.
Bottom line: Embrace your soon-to-be adult daughter and build a new type of relationship. Stop trying to fix her problems and let her venture out, fail, and conquer.
4. Expecting Blind Obedience
You can’t expect her to listen to you or always to have an influence on her. Many dads feel like they are losing control, which is accurate, but then they try to clamp down on their daughters in an effort to control. The more dads do that, the more teen girls will rebel to free themselves. The relationship is completely different now. In the teen years, a dad must earn the right to be heard.
Bottom line: Get to know her world and learn about the things that excite her. Get to know her likes and dislikes and never belittle her interests. Understand that she is still a child—so she needs boundaries—but start treating her and talking to her like she’s an adult.
5. Communicating Through Someone Else
Relating to a teen daughter may be difficult and frustrating, but too often a third party (usually Mom) enters the picture to mediate. Although the third party is probably well-intentioned, the result is a breakdown in direct communication causing more problems. Not only does it usually create a deeper disconnect between the dad and daughter, but it also can lead to tension between the daughter and mother or the father and mother.
Bottom line: Rather than relying on a mediator, ask questions, listen more, and seek understanding. Do your best to be present, patient, and consistent. Never stop engaging with her.
Earn some points: Are you married? If so, share this iMOM article with your wife to help her relationship with your daughter: 5 Ways to Build a Strong Mom-Daughter Bond.
Sound off: What are some other common mistakes dads make with their teen daughters?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you want our relationship to look like when you are older?””