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Month: July 2017

The right way for dads to parent teen girls

As a best-selling author and educator who works with teen girls, I tend to get streams of emails seeking parenting advice. But the calls for help I get from parents wanting to improve their relationship with a teenage daughter are increasingly coming from dads.

Despite the popular perception that it is mothers who fear losing their bond with their daughter during adolescence, it seems there are plenty of fathers seeking deeper connections too.

Many of these men tell me that they found bonding with their daughter when she was younger relatively easy, but now that her interests are more adult how, they ask, are they expected to stay relevant?

The hundreds of conversations I’ve had with teen girls (and the wide body of research that supports their claims) tells us what won’t work. Any attempt to control her changing body, or lock their princess in the proverbial tower, will be met with rightful resentment.

It’s understandable for parents to want to protect their children. But it’s important our girls feel empowered to know how to set their own boundaries; particularly as the reality is most romantic exchanges won’t happen under dad’s watchful eye.

When asked about how he feels about his teen daughters dating, entertainer Harry Connick Jr offered a refreshing perspective, “Everybody always says, ‘Oh your daughters are dating, you better get the shotgun’… it drives me nuts because I think that’s such an antiquated way to talk about young women. It’s almost presuming that they don’t have the good judgment to go out with a guy that’s appropriate for them… The way we raise our kids? Hopefully they will have enough self esteem so that they will be able to attract guys of a certain calibre, and then you don’t need a damn shotgun.”

Actively seeking to build the self esteem Harry Connick Jr refers to is vital work for fathers too. The gentle teasing some dads find amusing is likely to grate with a teen girl who may be hypersensitive, particularly to comments around her appearance (don’t let all the pouting selfies fool you — these aren’t necessarily indicative of a solid sense of self).

Comedian Dawn French attributes her strong sense of self to her father and in her memoir Dear Fatty, describes a parenting moment par excellence. As she sashayed down the stairs on her way to a party, dressed to impress a boy she fancied, her dad pulled her aside. Rather than delivering the almost obligatory, “You’re not going out dressed like that!” lecture, he told her she was his sun, moon and stars — and that any man would be bloody lucky to have a woman like her on his arm.

She got to the party, saw the hot boy, and decided he probably wasn’t good enough for her after all.

Smart fathers will also seek out opportunities where they can learn more about their daughter’s changing world. Whether it be by asking her to explain why she loves a particular band and listening to their music with her (hey, you sat through hours of the Wiggles, you’ve got this), or offering to take her to that Instagram famous art gallery she’s so excited by (#LetHerLead).

Smart father realise too their own world is also one worth sharing. A colleague says that some of her fondest memories of her father when she was a young girl were of going to the hardware store with him on a Saturday morning, “He’d scoot thorough the aisles looking for supplies for his latest project. When I got my first house? I found myself doing the same thing every weekend and thinking back fondly on all the things he taught me how to fix.”

We can all be taught how to fix things. Even if there are angry silences, and shut bedroom doors, bonds built on trust, empathy, and mutual respect may bend a little — but they rarely break.

This post was originally published by The Daily Telegraph, 22/7/17.  

Anger can be useful. But not always.

The internet isn’t just making us dumb, it’s making us angry. And it is women who are among the fastest adopters for venting their rage online.

There’s plenty of fodder to fuel righteous female fury. There’s the social and political structures that contribute to violence against women, the gender pay gap, and a lack of autonomy over reproductive choices for a kick-off.

Then there are the domestic battles over who does the majority of the housework, or who shoulders the most responsibility for parenting.

There is also the more personal anger experienced by women who feel they do not fit into our increasingly narrow definition of beauty, or who feel they have become invisible as they age.

Embracing the full spectrum of feelings is healthy, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with anger per se. Put simply, as it was in the Pixar film Inside Out (a children’s movie that explores the importance all the various human emotions have in our lives) “Anger cares very deeply about things being fair.”

Yet is choosing to express this care only through rage good for women long-term, or indeed for bringing about the changes we so desire?

Anger can be a useful mechanism for blowing off steam, or for rallying those who feel similarly to move into activism. And it can certainly help garner attention.

Just as the shouting, desk-throwing student ensures they get more attention in class than their more considered classmates, studies have shown that angry tweets are almost three times as likely to be retweeted by others, opinion pieces that lean heavily on rage are more likely to go viral (which is why so many politicians and media commentators trade in outrage), angry Facebook posts are more likely to be engaged with (even if the engagement is merely to attract a red-faced angry emoticon: instant ire).

It can also feel like an act of revolution for a woman to express anger, particularly as there is a longstanding tradition of attempting to silence or mock hostile minority voices. Why shouldn’t we women exercise our right to roar?

There are definitely times when we should. But perhaps it’s time to at least acknowledge that there is a price being paid for using rage as the default weapon in our armoury, and to explore other methods of expression and persuasion too.

Unmanaged anger takes a toll on the health and wellbeing of both genders. Some of the health implications associated with this include high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, increased anxiety and depression (although it is important to recognise that others live with these very same health consequences because they’re forced to navigate oppressive environments).

Anger can also do more to alienate others from an idea than it does to draw them in; it tends to build more walls than it does bridges.

Change-makers know that the key to winning minds and hearts long-term is through the sharing of personal stories that help build empathy, the use of humour (Scott Weems, a cognitive neuroscientist and author asserts that “Humour is a great way for us to have evolved so we don’t have to hit each other with sticks”) and through using shame-free language that fosters connection, rather than distance.

Dr Natalie Ferres, Chief Connection Officer at management consultancy Bendelta, argues that in fact the way to change people’s minds is not to inundate them with anger as this only solidifies tightly held beliefs: “Coercion doesn’t connect.”

While few in power have ever given it over simply as they were asked nicely to do so, nor do they usually hand it over when they are shouted at either. It seems in our rush to be heard, we may have forgotten that it is not always he (or she) who yells the loudest that ultimately wins.

We may have forgotten too that there are many different ways to be a woman of influence.

This post was originally published in The Daily Telegraph, 15/7/17.

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