No Matter How Mature Your Teenage Daughter Appears, 
Don't Be Fooled Into Granting Too Much Independence Just Yet
By: Nikki P. Woods
Regardless of how intelligent, how academically inclined, or how mature your teenage daughter may appear, it is important to understand that this doesn’t necessarily correlate to being fully equipped to make rational and healthy decisions.

As adults, we make decisions using our prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is responsible for assisting in decision making, moderating social behavior and personality expression. It harmonizes our thoughts and behaviors with our own internal goals by weighing potential outcomes and comparing each with a more concrete understanding of rules and expectations. So when situations arise, adults have the ability to take a moment, rationally think about the rewards and consequences of each possible outcome and how it would ultimately impact our end goal or intention.

For teenagers however, their mind works a bit differently. Since their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed, and won’t be until about age 25, they are ill-equipped to tackle the harder, more complex decisions they may ultimately be faced with throughout their teenage years. Instead, they tend to make decisions through the utilization of the amygdala, which is responsible for triggering fear, aggression, happiness and sexuality.

With all that is occurring in a teenage female’s life, her mind is on overload, intensely triggering the amygdala and causing her emotional responses to seem chaotic, unorganized and overwhelming to not only herself but those around her. There is truth to the fact that teenagers are placed in many life altering situations.  Being introduced to more independence, they now are expected to decide between right and wrong in regards to sex, drugs, complying with rules and expectations; the list is endless.

As a parent, it’s essential to remember that as our children enter into the teenage years, they are being introduced to complex adult-like situations, expected to make the healthiest choice, but are only equipped with very simple and primitive cognitive abilities.

For those children who do appear to be capable of making the right decision, we have to also factor in the reality that their minds and bodies are constantly undergoing change and that our daughters’ minds are on overload as they endure nonstop thoughts, feelings and experiences. So even if historically she has made good decisions in isolated situations, at this moment in her life, she is not able to process each thought with the same amount of time, consideration and respect that it deserves.

It is the role of the parent to assist in making well thought out and rational decisions for our children. That when she asks permission to do something, you take the time to think about the potential rewards and repercussions of your decision. There will be times when it is a harmless request, and saying yes to her will be easy.

However, there will be times when it’s obvious to you that allowing her to engage in a specific activity may be putting her in a vulnerable and unsafe situation. So your answer will need to be no. Although that may appear relatively easy on the surface, the reality is that your daughter is so emotionally driven that when you tell her “no,” she may not simply accept your response and move on with her life. The more likely outcome is that her response will be intense, volatile and perhaps aggressive, as she tries to process the reality that she is not being allowed to do something that she is fully consumed with wanting and needing. She may not let this go - but instead continue to ask, and push, and beg; hoping that you at some point give in to her request.

No matter how well you have raised her or how polite and mature you know she can be, during these moments she may exhibit a tremendous about of instability and impulsivity. Regardless of her behavior, what is most important is your response, which should enforce the expectations of the household and provide your daughter with the stability she requires.

Many times, we give in to her simply because we don’t want to deal with the arguing and non-stop badgering that she has mastered throughout her life. However, it is essential that as parents, you remember the reasons why you said no to her. Your initial response was based on experience, knowledge and genuine understanding of consequences. If you were to grant permission now, your response would be no better than hers, and would also be derived from impulsivity and emotion.

In a time where your daughter’s mind is chaotic and disorganized, subconsciously, she is yearning for you to be her stability - to remain calm, rational and clear headed for her since she is unable to do so herself.

HOW TO HANDLE THE REACTIONS:

If she becomes irate, it is important to allow her the time to process her emotions without responding to her just as intensely. Your response should be that you are willing to discuss the situation in more detail with her but that she needs to take some time to calm herself down privately, and when she feels capable of having a discussion with you, you would gladly sit and speak with her. Not only does this help to avoid further conflict, but it forces her to learn how to self regulate - to be conscious of how she is feeling and work to de-escalate the anxiety, frustration and sadness that she is experiencing within her.

When she does calm down, make sure that you take the time to fully explain your decision making process - what potential outcomes you envisioned as well as what concerns and fears you had for her safety and well being. Although she may not necessarily see it now, the hope is that as you mirror for her what a rational thought process looks like, she will learn to become better equipped to make harder decisions on her own.

Ultimately, what your daughter will learn through your consistency and rational mindset, is that you love her, you always will have her best interest at heart, and that her safety and overall well-being will forever be your top priority. This solidifies an incredible sense of security and peace within your daughter as she continues to battle the constant chaos of her own mind.

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Nikki P. Woods
Psychotherapist 
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