Single dad communicating with teenage daughter

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single dad who has been raising my 14-year old daughter alone for the last five years. While we’ve always been close, I’ve noticed it’s becoming harder for us to talk lately. She’s open with me about her grades, but when it comes to talking about her personal life she clams up. I’m worried that she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me about personal matters. How can I encourage her to open up?

A: Dads and daughters often run into rough patches when little girls start growing into young women, so part of what you’re experiencing is normal. But it must be especially disappointing to you, as a single dad, because when you started raising her alone, she was just nine years old and probably was happy to gush all the details of her life and her friends.

Once girls become teens, though, they frequently stop sharing personal details with their parents, who then end up having to drag information out of them. A daughter’s reticence doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with your relationship or that she might be hiding something. Nevertheless, you want and need to start finding ways to open those communication channels.

It’s not surprising that sometimes a girl feels uncomfortable discussing personal issues with her father, especially topics concerning the changes going on in her body or the boys she’s attracted to. In fact, you also might feel somewhat less than completely comfortable talking about those issues with her.

It sounds like you already realize, though, that this natural communication barrier could become a problem. Research shows that girls who can’t talk to their parents are often the most likely to become teenage mothers, use drugs, be in abusive relationships, etc. Silent at home about what’s going on in her life, a teenaged girl may try making decisions completely on her own, or follow the unwise advice of a peer. And that could lead to even bigger problems because she has neither the life experience nor the foresight necessary to make reliable choices.

The big question is: How can you open up communication lines? Several suggestions might be helpful.

  • Don’t bombard her with questions—that’ll only make her clam up more.
  • Instead, try doing something fun together. Go for a walk or take her out to lunch. Have a good time with each other and avoid personal questions.
  • When your daughter feels relaxed and at ease, she’s more likely to open up on her own. And if she does, listen to her.
  • Don’t offer solutions or tell her what she’s doing wrong.
  • Don’t pass judgment. If she asks you a question, answer honestly and openly. You hope to get that kind of response from her, so hold yourself to the same standard.
  • Establish yourself as a trustworthy confidant by respecting her privacy. That means, for example, if she confides that her best friend has a crush on your neighbor, don’t dare breathe a word the next time her friend spends the night at your house.

If making your daughter feel relaxed doesn’t work, you may want to try the straightforward approach. Ask her if anything is wrong. But make sure she knows she can count on you to be available to talk whenever she is. That means if she unexpectedly opens up while you’re watching football or the World Series of Poker, switch off the TV. Your relationship with your daughter is more important.

By staying active in your daughter’s life, you stand a better chance to keep those lines of communication open. Don’t let her become a person who just shares your house and (occasionally) eats dinner with you. Get to know her friends, get involved in her interests, and be there for all of her extracurricular activities. By showing that you care about every part of her life, it’ll be easier for her to talk to you about some aspects of her life.

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