The social life of an adolescent girl has always been challenging but with the dynamics and pitfalls of social media and texting apps which allow for such quick, spontaneous reactions and emotion-based expressions all this can result in escalated difficulties. It can be hard for parents to know the best way to help their teen girls navigate social stress.
It’s important to remember that teen brains are not fully developed and there are very important brain changes and development happening during the teen years. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for logical problem solving and it is the last part of the brain to fully develop. Often teens are naturally inclined to be influenced by the limbic area of the brain which is associated with emotion, reactivity and impulsivity.
Understanding what is happening for a teen’s brain development process will go a long way for parents to position themselves to be strategic and effective in helping teen girls navigate social stress.
10 Ways for Helping Teen Girls Navigate Social Stress
- Seek to CONNECT Before You CORRECT: Every teen girl needs to feel heard, seen, understood and she needs to feel connected. While she definitely longs to feel a sense of belonging and connection with peers, she will do well to have a foundation of meaningful belonging with the adults in her life. It is wise to LISTEN and reflect what you hear her saying without correcting her. Always help her to feel connected, heard and seen first. Let her know all her feelings are accepted.
- Use POSITIVE REDIRECTION Rather Than CORRECTION: Along the same theme as tip #1, teen girls will be more open to receiving guidance or direction if they are first seen, heard and feeling connected to the adult who is listening. When her behavior feels personally offensive to you or unsafe (yelling at you, cursing, destructive actions) you definitely need to help her regroup and cease harmful behavior. The way you go about it will lend to how effectively she’ll be able to receive it. Try affirming the feeling and then provide an alternative that is not punitive or corrective. For example, “I can see and hear you have a lot of big frustration right now and it seems like it feels like you need to move all that intense energy that is there. Instead of yelling/throwing things how about going for a run, or shooting some hoops, or I wonder if you have an idea that might work for you?”
- Get Curious and Curb the Judgment. If you want a teen to be able to share with you what she is feeling and experiencing socially so that you can help her navigate the stress, you have to drop the judgmental feelings you have and lean into curiosity about what this experience is like for your teen girl. Don’t assume you know how she feels or what she is going through. Her experience is her own. Listen openly and invite her to help you better understand what she is feeling and why.
- Float Potential Solutions Gently with Wonder. You’ve heard of a trial balloon? When you have a good grip on what your girl is going through, try wondering out loud what might happen if she tries something you have in mind. Instead of going in the front door with a lecture or an authoritarian declaration of what you think she needs to do in her social situation, try wondering out loud. Float your idea. She might grab onto it. You could phrase it in a way that feels invitation to her rather than dictatorial. An example might be, “I wonder what would happen if you went directly to Susie and asked her if she’s mad at you about something?”
- Be the Change. Set a Good Example. Let your teen see you using healthy assertiveness, polite requests of others and let her hear and see you processing the healthy way you navigate adult social stresses. Model for her taking personal responsibility and apologizing when you yourself stumble and over-reacting.
- Make Time for Regular Talks. Set up a ritual of talking on a regular basis so the tone will be set for your teen girl to feel comfortable talking with you when the going gets tough. Chat on a consistent basis while riding in the car together. Invite her to help you prep meals together so you can talk. Go for a special outing together on a weekly basis. Take walks together. Find time to casually open the avenues for communication so your teen girl will open up to you.
- Know Your Teen’s Friends. It’s a good idea for you to be familiar with the friends your teen is hanging out with. In order for this to happen you have to observe tips #1-6 AND you then need to create a welcoming environment for her to bring her friends to your home. Encourage your teen girl to invite her friends over, provide plenty of their favorite foods and greet her friends warmly. Try not to hover but stay on the periphery so they know you’re around. Show interest in her friends and curb judgmental statements. Go to your teen’s extra curricular events as long as your teen is okay with you being there.
- Encourage Your Teen to Use Mindfulness Practices. Explore the Calm app or the Headspace app together. Go to a restorative yoga class or a mindfulness meditation course together. Learn together the power of slowing down the breath. Not only will doing this together help your bond but it will also prepare her to self soothe when the social stresses get tough.
- Help Your Teen Feel Confident She’ll Get Through It. Sometimes a teen girl needs to hear that she has what it takes to get through a tough time and when she feels she doesn’t she can reach out for help.
- Consider Professional Support. In my career as a psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many teens and parents of teens and I can say that sometimes even if a parent does all tips #1-9 above, a teen girl simply needs a neutral professional adult to help her. If your teen girl is showing signs of not handling the social stresses to the point she appears persistently sad, withdrawn, or other signs, it may be time to reach out and get her into see a therapist who specializes in helping adolescents.
Helping teen girls navigate social stress does not translate to a simple formula. Every child has unique needs and every family may have unique sets of circumstances. The level of stress teens face socially is more intense than ever before due to social media and internet based availability of information often without filters. Often times parents need their own support. In 2020 I will be coming out with some new parenting training videos and info-packed guidebooks. Stay tuned and don’t hesitate to contact me personally if you need consultation.