DEAR MR. DAD: I’m a single dad who has been raising my 14-year-old daughter alone for the last five years. I’ve noticed it’s becoming harder for us to talk lately. How can I encourage her to open up?
Answer: Dads and daughters often run into rough patches when little girls start growing into young women, so part of what you’re experiencing is normal. Once girls become teens, they frequently stop sharing personal details with their parents. It doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with your relationship or that she might be hiding something.
It sounds like you already realize, though, that this natural communication barrier could become a problem. Research shows that girls who can’t talk to their parents are often the most likely to become teenage mothers, use drugs, be in abusive relationships, etc. Silent at home about what’s going on in her life, a teenage girl may try making decisions completely on her own, or follow the unwise advice of a peer. And that could lead to even bigger problems because she has neither the life experience nor the foresight necessary to make reliable choices.
So, how can you open up communication lines?
• Don’t bombard her with questions – that’ll only make her clam up more. Instead, try doing something fun together. Go for a walk or take her out to lunch. Have a good time with each other and avoid personal questions.
• Don’t offer solutions or tell her what she’s doing wrong.
• Don’t pass judgment. If she asks you a question, answer honestly and openly.
• Establish yourself as a trustworthy confidant by respecting her privacy.
• If making your daughter feel relaxed doesn’t work, you may want to try the straightforward approach. Ask her if anything is wrong. But make sure she knows she can count on you to be available to talk whenever she is. That means if she unexpectedly opens up while you’re watching football or the “World Series of Poker,” switch off the TV. Your relationship with your daughter is more important.
By staying active in your daughter’s life, you stand a better chance to keep those lines of communication open. Don’t let her become a person who just shares your house and (occasionally) eats dinner with you. Get to know her friends, get involved in her interests, and be there for all of her extracurricular activities. By showing that you care about every part of her life, it’ll be easier for her to talk to you about some aspects of her life.
Armin Brott’s most recent book is “Fathering Your School Age Child: A Dad’s Guide to the Wonder Years, 3-9.”
Please send your questions, comments, and suggestions to arminmrdad.com or visit www.mrdad.com.)