If you have teen daughters, you may be very familiar with eye rolls. You may also have frequent moments of frustration, confusion, and a feeling of irrelevance. But fear not. A new book by Kimberly Wolf says an eye roll means you’re engaged in your daughter’s life. This can foster her confidence immensely in her adolescent years.
In Talk with Her: A Dad’s Essential Guide to Raising Healthy, Confident, and Capable Daughters, Wolf writes “if your daughter shuts you down, that means you are right where you need to be: present in her life. It may seem like she’s not listening to you, but she can hear you, and that’s what matters most.”
Wolf’s book is about “finding your own father-daughter communication style,” which can become trickier during the teen years. She encourages dads to look for common interests with their daughters and “facilitate shared screen-free experiences.” These, she writes, naturally lead to healthy conversations. Examples include playing sports and board games together, hiking, cooking, making art or volunteering.
Wolf recommends dads and daughters try to “bond over wellness.” For example, one father she interviewed runs with his daughter but they have a “no-headphone rule.” The result is “a compound bonding opportunity, incorporating discussion, connecting over shared interests, and setting a positive fatherly example” of self-care. In a similar way, my teen daughters and I have bonded over biking. Our rides have produced many fruitful conversations.
Some conversations are harder than others
Granted, sometimes dads and daughters need to have difficult conversations to address conflicts. In these situations, Wolf recommends deciding on a time and a time limit.
“Having a start and stop time can help you consciously contain conflict, compartmentalize the conversation, and move forward with the rest of your day,” she writes.
This strategy can also be helpful when stressful topics like the college admission process need to be addressed. In our house, we came to an agreement that the time for those discussions was on Sunday nights. If I brought up the topic outside that schedule, I risked an eye roll.
Two difficult conversations that Wolf feels dads are especially well-equipped to have with teen daughters involve over-apologizing and insufficient boundaries.
“It’s important that we catch girls if we think they are being unnecessarily apologetic, overly people-pleasing, or sacrificing their own feelings and needs for others,” she writes. Wolf laments the “nice girl narrative” because it can make girls wary of setting boundaries or taking time for themselves.
“Kindness is usually an excellent value to emphasize to your daughter, but she needs to know that if a relationship or dynamic doesn’t suit her, it’s OK to set a respectful boundary and move on,” she writes
“Converse” by writing cover letters together?
One of Wolf’s most intriguing suggestions for dads of teen daughters is simple: “Write some cover letters with her.”
She recommends beginning the process as early as 8th grade. “Highlighting our best personal qualities doesn’t always come naturally, and we can never get too much practice talking up our strengths,” Wolf writes.
Upon first reading, I balked at this idea. It seemed like it would add pressure to teen girls already stressed out about grades and the college admission process. But Wolf’s point is that simply the practice of girls thinking about both their academic and non-academic skills — and how they could communicate them — can be invaluable to their self-confidence.
Wolf suggests a girl could consider a dream position and write a cover letter that “references skills she currently holds that would qualify her to be a productive team member.” Along the way, her dad could point out qualities she may be overlooking about herself. Ironically, many of those personal traits were likely discovered during those “bonding over wellness” conversations that happened in the past.
Personal, moral confidence through cover letters
Another way to think about the cover letter idea is to make multiple cover letters together. These would be not only academic and professional ones but also personal and moral ones. For example, help your daughter think about what experiences and milestones have shaped her life so far. And how has her identity grown over time? In larger terms, who is she, and how does she know that? Such reflections go far beyond the usual listing of accomplishments needed for high school and college applications. They often turn into fodder for application essays and job interviews in the future.
It’s important for dads to remember that, as Wolf explains, research suggests “women self-promote and self-advocate less often than men do.” Dads of teen daughters can help change that by fostering what I would call “cover letter confidence” that no one can take away. In other words, talk with her for sure, but also write with her.
Fittingly, Wolf ends her book with the voices of teen girls providing advice for eye-roll-suffering dads.
One girl notes: “It takes time and patience to develop that strong relationship with your daughter, but once it is there, it stays.” Another gives a simple but helpful reminder about how dads can build their daughters’ confidence: “Make sure you tell us when you’re proud.”