If so, then you know you don’t always see eye to eye with them. In fact, sometimes it feels more like an eye for an eye. During those times, my coping mechanism of choice is to read, read and read some more in hopes of finding solutions — or at least a bit of relief.
My latest dose of support came from Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, a new book by Lisa Damour. The book has many nuggets of wisdom, but one in particular hit me hard: the need for parents to constantly strive to validate teen girls’ perspectives, even though that can be quite challenging.
In a passage that seems especially designed for fathers, Damour explains: “Actively empathizing with our daughters’ distress is not only effective, it’s also far superior to the alternative of offering reassurance. Think about it this way. A girl who insists that all of her teachers hate her knows, at some level, that this cannot be true. What she is really trying to communicate is that she feels very, very upset. If we quibble about the facts or respond with cheery optimism, we’re missing the point.”
Granted, to validate our teen daughters when they express what seems like an extreme viewpoint takes special muscles. But validate we must — or least we must try. As Damour notes, for a variety of cultural reasons “girls are far more likely than boys to engage in grinding rumination” of a problem. Damour’s good news is that “when we make it clear that we get it — that we can accept the reality that she feels just awful — our daughter can take comfort in our compassion. From there, she can decide to move toward a solution or simply let go of the problem altogether.”
The problem is in the eye of the beholder
While this goal of extreme validation is easier read than done, a serendipitous incident occurred while I was enjoying Damour’s book that bolstered my resolve. The incident involved my 15-year-old daughter’s contact lenses.
Due to miscommunication, I was unaware that we could not order a refill for her lenses without an annual check-up. When I asked why another eye exam was necessary, the technician replied: “Because if she’s 15, her eyes may not have finished growing and the lenses might not fit properly.”
“Oh,” I replied. I hadn’t thought of that.
Suddenly, cartoonish visions of my daughter’s eyeballs rapidly outgrowing her tiny, obsolete lenses flooded my mind. But it made sense. Just because we can’t see eyeballs growing doesn’t mean growth is not happening. And when a child’s feet continue to grow, we don’t force them into shoes that no longer fit.
On a more symbolic level, the image of eyes continuing to grow helped me empathize with my daughter’s perspective. Just as her eyes have not finished growing, neither has her mind’s eye, or worldview more generally. No wonder parents and teens don’t see eye to eye — both literally and figuratively. But part of a parent’s job is to validate that reality with patience.
Again, the challenge of extreme validation cannot be overstated. Even Damour acknowledges “we need not — and certainly should not — parent as though we are placid Zen masters who greet emotional chaos with detached profundity. And when we do react to our daughters in ways we later regret (such as losing our cool with a girl whose stress comes out as snarkiness), we can remember that our daughters are plenty resilient and do not need for us to be perfect.” Insert parental sigh of relief here.
They say eyes are the window to the soul. But here’s a caveat for parents. While our teens’ eyes may look full-grown, try hard to remember that their souls are still under construction.
Validate teen photo: pixabay.com
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