INDIVIDUATION AFFECTS MANY

Question: My 15 year old daughter has started to either ignore me or talk back to me when I ask her a question or tell her she needs to do something. I feel very frustrated and angry at times, but also feel a great sense of loss at not having the relationship with her that I have always had since she was born. Is this normal for young girls and how should I deal with it?

 

Answer:

Let me first say that what you are describing is something that countless mothers and daughters are struggling with and that I do know how difficult it must be for you – and for your daughter even though she is probably hiding it better than you are! Around the age of 15 young girls (and boys) begin to explore the possibility that they might be able to exist separately from their parents. The term that we have for this process of separation is individuation. This is very similar to what your daughter probably did when she was around two years old and began to realize she was her own person and not an extension of you. Remember those times. Tantrums one minute and hugs the next.

 

Well, now your daughter has to negotiate being separate from you again and she has to do it with the whole world watching. Of course the one thing that most parents find ironic is that just when she is making it clear that she is very different from you (and possibly her other parent and siblings), she begins to act exactly like her peers. You may say to yourself, “Well she isn’t really being her own person because she is doing everything that her friends are doing.” Yes, this is true. These tend to be very anxious times for our young daughters and following along with the crowd helps them “try on” new “different from you” behaviours and emotions without feeling completely alone.

 

So, the most important thing to do is remember that there is nothing wrong with you or your daughter and that your relationship will most likely change again once she feels safe and secure as an independent person in the world. In fact, it is often true that adolescents who are confident in their parent’s love and care of them tend show this type of behaviour because they know their parents will continue to be there for them no matter what.

 

A few other things to consider as you and your daughter negotiate this new relationship with each other. First, see if you can notice a pattern in her behaviour – both positively and negatively. Is her attitude with you worse when she has had a bad day at school? It is a sure bet that her negative attitude with you is increasing when she is feeling worried or bad about something. Knowing this can decrease your frustration and increase your empathy for her situation. Second, let your daughter know when she has crossed over a line that is unacceptable to you by telling her “it is okay for you express all of your feelings to me. I want to know them all, but it is not okay to yell or demean me when you are speaking to me.” Lastly, try to notice all the positive ways in which she is becoming a very competent and independent young adult and tell her what you are seeing. She may not tell you directly, but this will likely feel very good to her. This is the kind of “hug” that 15yr olds need.