The Secret Power of Parents

Parents often tell me the feel powerless in today’s new world to be a positive influence on their daughters. I understand their dismay. The world is such a new place with all the technological and cultural changes. However, your daughter still needs you, even though she may act like she could care less about you except for your carpooling, laundry, cooking, cleaning and ATM skills. What parents forget is that they have a secret power that they can use to build a better relationship with their daughter. That power? It’s the power of Love. Corny? You bet. Scientifically proven! You betcha!

What we know about neuroscience and Interpersonal Biology, (which means how relationships affect our brains for good or for bad) is that our daughter’s brains are “asking” us if we are there for her. It’s what Interpersonal Neurobiologists call “The Big Brain Question.” When you answer your daughter’s BBQ with a “Yes!”  she feels  accepted, understood, “gotten,” heard etc. In a nutshell she feels loved. Brain scans show us that humans who have love and support in their lives have more optimum brain growth. Not only that, they grow “better” hearts.

Some scientists believe that our hearts are more than mere pumps. They report that the heart has neurons just like the brain has. In fact, some believe the heart has it’s own “brain,” or source of intelligence. The heart actually has far more electromagnetic energy than the brain!  So, the power of your love, your ability to listen to your daughter’s “Big Brain Question” and answer with a “Yes!” will help your daughters emotional and intellectual growth!

Mind you, your daughter won’t ask the Big Brain Question out loud. She will ask it through her behavior and her conversation. You’ll have to listen carefully for it. That’s why I am teaching Big Brain Listening Skill for parents at my new Scarsdale office.  I’ll be video taping them soon, so those of you who can’t make it to New York can buy them and learn at home.

You have tremendous power as a parent. Your love, patience, understanding, support, nurturing and being there emotionally for your daughter helps her grow up in healthy, happy ways. I know it’s a wild world out there. But don’t discount how much you are giving your daughter when you simply love her in a way so she feels it, she gets it and she trusts it!

My 13 Year Old Is a Nightmare

My 13 year old is a nightmare. She is mouthy, mean, and won’t follow the rules my husband and I have laid down. She used to like me, now she let’s me know everyday I am  “annoying” and hates me. I am beginning to hate her to. What do I do?

Dear Broken hearted,

You are broken hearted, right? The sweet, adoring, darling daughter you used to tuck into bed at night woke up one day and Whoa! you no longer recognize her.  She doesn’t recognize herself either, and that’s a lot of the problem.

The teen years are hard, especially the early teen years. Girls are trying to:

 1. figure out who they are

 2. figure out who they want to be

 3. Seperate from mom

4. fit in with their peers

 Girls shred their mothers in the process of finding their autonomy. Sorry, but that is usually the way it works.  Your daughter is going to roll her eyes at most everything you do, no matter how hip or cool you are.  Learn to not take it personally.

Your daughter’s disdain for you triggers a part of your brain called the limbic system to fire up. The limbic system is responsible for our survival. It’s not the part of the brain that makes logical, life and love affirming decisions. Your 13 year old, BTW, operates from her limbic system most of the time. http://www.doctorjennforgirls.com/teen-brains-make-lousy-decisions/#more-747   When your limbic system is activated, it’s hard to be rational. It’s almost comical to watch a triggered mom and her teen fighting, but it’s also sad, because both lose out on love and respect.

What to do when your daughter is mouthing off to you? Take a deep breath, (really!) and stay as calm as you can. Tell her you’ll talk to her when she isn’t disrespectful and then walk away. Don’t slam the door behind you, or make a dramatic exit. Just calmly go about your business. Let her know you want to hear what she has to communicate, but you can’t hear her when she is disrepectful.  Eventually she will understand that she can’t get your goat, and will cut back on her mouthing off. Just like bullies don’t bother the kids who won’t play the game, she’ll soon tire of yanking your chain if you don’t give her any attention for it.

This doesn’t mean to ignore your daughter! Far from it! Your daughter needs you more than when she was a toddler! I hear that you want to turn from her, but this is the time to turn towards her. (Walking calmly away when she is screaming at you is NOT turning away from her.) Learn to listen to who she is, in the times when she isn’t in your face. That’s the key to helping her get through the teen years without too many scars while helping you survive the turbulent years ahead. It’s all about listening, and finding out who your daughter is. Right now she’s pretty confused about it all.  Be her sounding board. Be a mom she can trust, turn to and confide in.

Learn to play with your daughter. The playground for teens today is the Internet. That’s not a good enough sandbox. Find ways to bond with your daughter doing things that make the two of you laugh. Include her friends in the fun too, if you can.

Create a family tradition that let’s your daughter know she is loved. If you need help, let me know. Email me at [email protected] for a Family Tradition in a Box. It’s 49.95$. Will last a lifetime and help you keep the love alive. More when you email me.

As for breaking the rules, thats a whole blog post in itself. I’ll write it soon. I know parents worry about their teens and boundaries. 

 In a nutshell:

1. Don’t take her outbursts personally

2. Stay calm, let her cool off, don’t engage with her until she is calm

3. Turn towards her in trying to get to know who she is, and what she is going through as a young teen

4. Play together. Let her know you love her, even though it’s a tough time for the two of you

5. Learn to LISTEN. There are rules about listening you need to know. If you aren’t sure you know how to listen with an open mind, heart and spirit, email me. I can help.

6. Take care of yourself. Having a young teen in the house can be draining. Exercise, eat well, connect with your friends, family and spouse. Nourish yourself, so you can nourish your daughter.

Let me know how things go. I’m rooting for the two of you!

Teen Hormones and the Brain

Raging hormones have been the scapegoat for the problems of teens for years. The big shift in hormones causes mood swings, angry outburst and the “urge to merge.” However, there is more to the story. It is not just hormones causing teen temper tantrums or impulsive behavior.
The teen brain is still growing. The rational decision making center of the brain, the cerebral cortex, takes about 25 or more years to form. Not having access to a fully functioning decision making area of the brain, teens rely on the limbic system. The limbic system is the survival, reactive, emotional part of the brain. Add an immature brain and a brain bathed in reproductive hormones, and viola! You have today’s moody, frustrated teen. You also have frustrated parents who don’t know what to do with their teen daughter!
The first thing I teach parents is to grow a thicker skin. Don’t take your daughter’s outbursts personally. Walk away from the temptation to fight when your daughter is upset. She won’t be able to hear you when she’s agitated. Wait until she’s cooled off. Make sure you are calm when you do talk to her.
The second thing to help your turbulent teen is to learn to “detective listening” skills. Your daughter needs guidance, but she won’t listen to a lecture. Parents who apply detective listening skills help their daughters learn how to ride the tide of hormones and deal with a growing brain. Detective listeners don’t make assumptions. They don’t interrupt, steal the conversation, make others wrong, give unasked for advice, or pretend to listen when they aren’t. They open their ears and their hearts. They understand that each of us has our own truth and they help the speaker talk honestly to discover their own truth.
Compassion and listening skills are the biggest tools in any parent’s tool belt. Unfortunately, they are not used often enough because teens trigger the limbic system in their parents brain to fire up! Parents become reactive and can no longer be fully present with a logical, loving heart and mind. It takes practice to stay calm while your teen is out of control. But it’s worth the effort.

Summer Time and Teens

Fearing Teen Trouble This Summer?

The Top 10 Ways to Make it Through Safely and Sanely

With our tanked economy, there aren’t many summer jobs for teens. This means more teens at home and unsupervised this summer. Here are the top ten things you need to know to make it a safe, sane, happy summer with your teenaged daughter.

Start the conversation now about what each of you expects this summer. Remember to use excellent listening skills! Are your expectations on the same page or on different planets? (Does she expect an allowance and curfew increase and you’re thinking of cutting back?) Try to get expectations aligned as much as possible.

Create a relationship contract. Go over details about behaviors, consequences, rules, rewards etc. contract should include how both of you are going to behave towards each other, how conflicts will get resolved and clear directions on what you’ll do if conflict get’s out of control.

Text. If you haven’t learned how to text yet, learn now! Be ready to text your teen this summer to stay in touch. Teens answer more texts than they do phone calls or emails. You and your teen can create a Twitter account (www.twitter.com) and keep up with each other through tweets. It doesn’t matter how you stay in touch, what matters is that you stay in touch.

Create a Facebook or Myspace account if your teen has one. Ask to “friend” them. If they decline, don’t push. Do push to talk about responsible and respectful use of social networking sites. No posting nude pictures, no slamming other kids on walls or comments, etc. Ask what your teen would do if they got bullied. Make sure they know not to cyberbully.

Agree on a curfew before the last bell of class rings. Agree on consequences for breaking the rules. Remember that you don’t want to become a nasty dictator, so if your daughter calls and says she will be late, ask why and thank her for letting you know. Pick your battles over curfew very carefully! Parents get upset over curfews and blow up at their teens which ruins their relationships. Use your head, keep your cool and talk things out peacefully.

You and your daughter need to talk about the Big 3 D’s: Drugs, Drinking, and Driving. If your daughter can drive, agree upon car use. Who can she drive? Where? When? If your daughter doesn’t have her license but friends do, who is she allowed to ride with? When? Where? Drugs and drinking: get very clear about where you stand and what you expect. At the same time, look back on your own teen years. Did you ever drink or smoke pot? Teens are supposed to test the limits. Their brains are wired, literally, to take risks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set up boundaries, and expectations. Just don’t freak out if your teen steps over the line this summer. She might. Be ready. Think ahead as to how you will respond.

PLAY! I can’t stress this enough. Teens still need to play just as much as they did when they were younger, but our culture doesn’t respect or encourage play. A playful attitude at home can turn your home into an amazing refuge for you and your teen. Playing helps your teen’s brain grow. Sorry, Guitar Hero isn’t the kind of play I’m talking about. Nor is Grand Theft Auto. I’m talking about the kind of play that uses the imagination and puts kids into a state called “flow.” If you need help becoming more playful or coming up with ideas for playing with your teen go to the play blog at www.drjennforgirls.com.

Start a family project and include your teen. Recession Gardens, family photo albums, volunteering, even yoga classes to calm the mind, or gym sessions to lose weight together can all be things your teen might enjoy doing with you. Find something you both will like and Sharpie it onto your calendar! Make sure you have special time with your daughter at least once a week.

Expect love to happen for your teen. Add long hot days, time together, and teen hormones and you have the perfect recipe for a summer crush or fling. It’s what teens do. Have the conversation with your daughter about relationships. It’s a new world out there. Things to know: teens often have sex a few times then decide if they want to be in a relationship. Some teen girls are performing oral sex with the same regard as saying hello. Some girls, I call them “hyenas” after the spotted hyena, are on the prowl for virgin guys to deflower. Or they are strong-arming guys for sex. Some girls are using drugs or drinking in order to have sex and not feel guilty or to just be braver to go after it. Time to check in with your daughter to find out her views on sex, love and respect. (Buy her a copy of my new book, Laid or Loved? The Secrets Guys Wish You Knew About Being a Dream Girl Instead of a Just-In-His-Jeans Girl.) If your daughter falls in love and gets dumped, remember she really does have a broken heart. Her brain is in withdrawals from all those lovey-dovey feel-good chemicals it used to bathe in.

Take care of YOU! A happy mom makes a happy household. It’s been a long hard winter for most of us. Find ways to nourish your heart, soul and body. Don’t feel a moment’s guilt for being selfish. Self-care is vital! If you have found an amazing way to keep your spirits up, or revitalize, make sure you share your ideas with your friends. We are all in this together!

Are you asking the right question

When I was growing up and  behaved in ways my mother didn’t like, she would hiss at me “What’s wrong with you?” The shame that question created cut deep (and lasted years). I thought something must be wrong with me if my mother had to ask. But the problem was, my mother (whom I love to pieces by the way!) wasn’t asking the right question. The right question should have been, “What happened to you?”

Behavior is often a result of things that have happened to us. Think about it in your own life. How often is your worst behavior driven due to anger or fear over something someone else has done to you? (I’ll post how adults can overcome these reactions, but for now, I am focusing on our teen girls.)

When our girls have been victimized in some way, whether a put down on Facebook, or sexually assaulted,  they act out. Instead of wondering what is “wrong” with them for acting out, ask “What happened?”

If you have a relationship built on trust with your daughter, she may  tell you what is bothering her. If you have not created a trusting relationship built on true listening skills and answering the Big Brain Question (search my other posts for more info) your daughter may not be willing to tell you what is bothering her. That’s not good for her. She needs an outlet to share her emotional angst, preferably with an adult and not just her Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

For the record, it is my (humble) opinion that many of our teen girls who are sent to rehab are NOT being well served. The focus is what is “wrong” with them, as opposed to what has happened to them. There are very few teen girls who have an inherent organic mental illness or syndrome that needs medication or being sent away. More can be done with listening and love, fresh air, exercise and a “safe tribe” that answers your daughter’s big brain question with a “Yes!”

If you want to know more about the sad state of affairs in the psychiatric world, please read this article and one of the books.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/

If you want to know about the illness I have been fighting and why I am more passionate than ever to help our teen girls avoid being sent away or medicated, please visit www.benzowithdrawalhelp.com. It won’t take long to figure out that no one asked me “what happened?” and helped me work through my past wounds. Instead they focused on what was “wrong” with me: I was anxious!

Ask the right question. Please. And create a loving, trusting relationship with your daughter so she feels safe enough to tell you who she really is, and what really happened to her. You may be saving her from years of turmoil.

To listening!

Parent Needs YOUR Advice

All of us raising teen girls can use some advice from other parents. And support! It’s tough these days to raise a daughter. Here’s a concerned parent asking for help. Please lend some advice by leaving a comment (scroll all the way down to find the box). If you have a burning question, send it to [email protected] I’ll post. If there are enough questions, and I’ll start sending out a daily email so you can help each other more easily. 

Here’s the dilemma:

I MUST KNOW how to parent one strong willed teenager alongside TWO other teenage daughters (one is even her TWIN sister) who stick to the rules.  I always feel like I’m harping on the one child and she feels it too, but she pushes nearly every thing she does “to the limit”.  She’s adorable and affectionate one minute and pouty and moody to anyone in her path the next.  She lies and gets mad when she’s caught (which is pretty easy to have happen when you attend school with two watchful siblings!)

I also MUST KNOW how to motivate the “couch potato” teenager!  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink!”  I can set the standard and preach all I want about exercise and what it does for the body and the brain, but no amount of support in this arena gets the one teenager up and out the door.

Ok, scroll down to the comment box and pass along some help please!

Option two: email me and I’ll pass it along to the parent.