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Turbulent teens

By DR MICHAEL LOWRY [email protected]

Dr Michael Lowry is an experienced parent and educator, who regularly visits his Algarve home in Tavira. His work over many years in universities has led to increasing interest in, and understanding of teenagers, their problems and feelings. He has published widely in professional journals, and has delivered presentations at international conferences.

My husband and our 13 year old daughter seem to be arguing almost constantly recently, especially about her wanting to stay out with friends. He has a very demanding job, and when he comes home, expects everything to be in order, meal ready and an hour of peace for himself. I feel stuck between the two of them.

What you describe is a classic example of disparate needs and a lack of mutual understanding. Your husband’s normal routine is being interrupted by arguing, which will no doubt escalate over time. You say that he has a demanding job, but you don’t say how much this takes away from family time together. It could be that your husband, in being so engrossed in his work, has lost sight of the changing needs of your daughter. Thirteen is a very turbulent time, and girls often find that they want to assert themselves, break away from family ties and to seek their identity outside of the family unit. This in itself can be challenging, especially for fathers who may be very protective towards their daughters. The protection, while no doubt coming from a genuine caring nucleus, nonetheless can be seen by teenagers as overpowering.

Your daughter will be aware that her father has a lot of demands away from the home, and indeed she might see that as a challenge to her place in his affections. Two distinct possibilities here are: her need for father’s approval and time together, and also her needs to find herself as an emerging adult.

Family first

First you need to accept that this is not of your making, and thus you should not feel threatened by either of them. Your role is a very diplomatic one, in that your husband needs to be reminded that although his job is very important to all of you, your relationship with your daughter is even more important. Emphasise the importance in her life of his influence, and gently and tactfully remind him that although work is important, family comes first. He might well be feeling stressed over issues at work, and this should be explored with him. Your daughter too needs reminding that dads have a lot on their plate, and especially if this is his first 13 year old daughter; he will have a lot to learn. Ask her to consider a little flexibility on conflict. She will be experiencing mixed emotions, and you should prepare for her response to your attempts to act as a go-between to be rejected at first.  

Be patient, emphasise your love for each of them, and try to engineer some time together as a family, perhaps an hour or two doing something that is fun and undemanding. Above all, encourage talk and genuine listening. See the section in my book ‘Teenagers: Their Care and Maintenance in Captivity’ on listening skills.

Dr Michael Lowry can be contacted by emailing [email protected]