The Secret Culture of Cool

Every mother wants her teenage daughter to be surrounded by fun-loving friendships, as long as they are healthy. But how do you mind the dividing line between being cool and being one of the Mean Girls?

I often hear from mothers of teens that the only thing their daughters want to do is hang out with their friends or their boyfriends. This is not a contemporary phenomenon. Teenagers have always preferred the

company of their peer group to that of their parents. Mothers of teens need to come to terms with the fact that for approximately five years, their daughters will relegate them to the land of the least: least appealing, least fashionable, least funny and least intelligent. Your daughter’s peer group or love interest is like the sirens’ call to a sailor. If you’re parenting an adolescent girl, you know just what I’m talking about.

As the mother of a teen girl, I know that my daughter’s friends are her community and her alternate family. In fact, this peer group is at the center of her personal solar system. As much as I might sometimes want to mingle with them or spend more time with my daughter, I try to remember to know my place.

Mothers of teens are on the outskirts of their kids’ social group for a reason—you are not her friend, you are her mother. However, this is a group you need to keep an eye on, and this does not mean spying on everything they do. Stay watchful from a distance. If your daughter becomes a complete changeling by mimicking behaviors from her peer group that you know do not represent her real self, then step up to the plate and mention it. If you can do it with humor, you will disarm her enough for you to successfully get your message across. For example, when she sits down at the breakfast table wearing an outfit you realize blends with those of her peers but reminds you of a circus clown or, ahem, a lady of the evening, don’t scream like a half-baked lunatic about her choice. Instead, say something like: “So, are you joining the circus, dear?” Or, “Wow! It never ceases to amaze me how so few clothes can make such a big statement!” Afterward, be prepared for her to sneer and growl like a Rottweiler tied to a junkyard fence. However, I guarantee that you will have conveyed the point that her attire is either laughable or too risqué while avoiding a morning screaming match.

How to communicate with your teen As a concerned observer of your daughters’ peer group, you also need to keep an eye out for bullying. Preteen and teenage girls can be extraordinarily mean to one another. If you start seeing or hearing evidence of your daughter developing and participating in mean behaviors, make a mental note and talk with her about this as soon as you have a moment alone. This kind of behavior is not only hurtful, but easily escalates as packs of girls often feed off of one another. When you confront your daughter with what you’ve seen or heard, make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that being mean to anyone is unacceptable and that she must knock it off immediately. She’ll protest and tell you you’re blowing things out of proportion, and she may even call you a psycho, but that’s okay. Tough it out and don’t let her get the better of you. Remind her that depending on how the wind is blowing, she might be at the center of the next attack—becoming the bullied rather than the bully. Don’t belabor your point, however, and if you feel you didn’t succeed, change the subject and try again later. And remember, you can communicate with your daughter in many ways other than conversation—emails and texts are the new walkie-talkies. Even the old-fashioned note can work. I remember many times when I used a red marker, white paper and tape to convey important messages to my daughter.

But one of the best nonverbal ways to communicate your message is by example. How do you talk about others and negotiate relationships? Those of us who are critical, competitive, quick to blame others and frequently in conflict with friends influence our daughters’ behavior accordingly. In contrast, those who give people the benefit of the doubt, have good compromising skills and listen to all the evidence before making final decisions exemplify good citizenship skills from which daughters will benefit.

Our primary job as parents is to raise responsible, independent adults who are compassionate, civilized and caring. This can only happen if parents set the right example and step in to take an active, guiding role when they hear, see or feel something that isn’t right. You might get spat on at first, but the rewards will be worth it in the long run when your daughter says please and thank you to everyone, including you.

Evelyn Resh is director of sexuality and relationships programming for Miraval Resorts in Tucson. She is a certified sexuality counselor and nurse-midwife and continues her practice in both fields in Tucson and western Massachusetts. She has taken care of teens and women of all ages in the OB-GYN and primary care settings for more than 20 years and specializes in working with women 25 and under. She is also the mother of a 19-year- old daughter. Evelyn speaks all over the nation on topics related to women’s health and sexual satisfaction and is the author of the new book The Secret Lives of Teen Girls: What Your Mother Wouldn’t Talk About but Your Daughter Needs to Know published by Hay House Publishers.

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