Tiger? Helicopter? Lawnmover? Jellyfish? Which parenting style best describes you? Popular culture has some creative categories for today’s parents. You may be familiar with the “tiger mom” label used to describe the caregiver who shows tough love and holds high expectations for achievement and success. Perhaps you have also heard of helicopter parents, who hover over their kids, becoming overinvolved, or the lawnmower or snowplow styles, where parents “mow down” a path for their children by removing any potential obstacles or discomforts. Then there’s the jellyfish, or under parent, who opts for giving their kids the freedom to do what they want to promote self-reliance.
You may be wondering which parenting style is best for you and your teenage daughter.
It is without question that parenting a teenage girl is challenging and unpredictable. Just when you feel you have figured her out, she will change. Adolescence is by definition a time of intense and rapid changes and as girls grow up, we may want to consider tweaking our parenting approach. One of the most effective ways I have learned to “parent” girls, is to parent from the periphery.
Periphery parenting begins with empowering teen girls to stand in the center of their own circles where then can begin to make their own choices, and yes, even mistakes, with room to grow. Parents can step back to the periphery of this circle where they are still actively parenting by observing, guiding, assuring, and supporting in the ways she needs, helping, not hindering her growth. This style of parenting is not about checking out but rather creating the space she needs to learn how to become more independent.
Parenting from the periphery requires a new way of relating and a new approach. It means becoming comfortable with being the observer on the outskirts, the silent supporter, the cheerleader and champion, and ready when (and if) she needs you, not interfering or micromanaging, but nurturing her development.
Is it easy? No way. Especially when you can anticipate problems or pain. Is it worth it? Yes, absolutely. Parents I work with tell me all the time how hard it is to “let go” of their teens. The world is fast-paced, over-stimulating, and scary. We all want to protect our girls. Yet, we also want to prepare them. What steps can you take to step into your new role of periphery parent? I’d like to offer you five.
Notice Her. On the outside, you have a unique vantage point: you get to watch her grow. As you step back, you can see her in a new way. Look for the changes—to both celebrate her growth and help you decide if you need to step in. See her for who she is—her unique interests, hobbies, and passions. See her body morph into that of a woman’s and help her appreciate it by focusing on what she loves. See her as she begins to design day and her dreams. Watch for the choices she makes, the chances she takes. Observe her patterns, especially when it comes to eating, sleeping, screen time, scheduling, and stress. What do you notice? Who is she becoming?
Listen to Her. On the outside looking in, without stepping into to offer her your ideas or advice, it is likely she will talk more. As she speaks, simply listen to her words and beyond her words, listen for her feelings. Refrain from making connections and making it about you. Keep her conversation on her as she talks about what matters most. You can provide a safe space for her to sort out the day’s events. Being an active listener takes time and patience. As you listen, she is learning that as she speaks, and as you listen, she is better able to understand herself and what she needs to do.
Be Curious About Her. Girls fear our judgment: for their clothing styles, their musical interests, and their friends. Instead of offering your criticism, shift instead to your curiosity. You may not agree with her choices, but you do owe it to her to find out more about her thinking. Ask her open-ended questions such as, “I am wondering why you decided to drop Biology this semester?” or “I’d love to hear more about your recent change in friend groups”. You may be confused, but once you understand the back-story (there is always a reason), you gain clarity. Through your non-judgmental questions, she may come to realize where she has faltered and learn from her mistakes. At the same time, she comes to trust that she can tell you anything and that you “get her”.
Affirm and Assure Her. As she becomes a little older, taller, and more mature, she needs you to reflect back what you see. It is no surprise that teenage girls lack the confidence and self-belief we hope for them. They struggle to see the amazingness inside of them, especially when their social media feeds are flooded with unrealistic standards of both beauty and success. They feel they can’t keep up. Be her mirror to reflect back what you see: her qualities, her bravery, and her effort. She needs to know who she is becoming and this can prevent her from searching outside of herself for attention and approval. She needs to know that no matter what you are there for her and she can keep going.
You may be a tiger or helicopter parent. She does need you; but now it’s in a new way, from the periphery, where you are better able to notice her, listen to her, be curious about her, affirm and assure her.
For more advice about parenting teenage girls, check out Growing Strong Girls: Practical Tools to Cultivate Connection in the Preteen Years and Rooted, Resilient, and Ready now available on Amazon and Audible.