A group of teenage girls on a Christian retreat were taken to a mountaintop and told to listen to their fathers.
One at a time, they were blindfolded and told what steps to take. Since cliffs were nearby, they had to walk slowly and deliberately.
Each blindfolded girl was told to listen to her dad. Her dad was instructed to speak softer and softer until his voice became a whisper. Meanwhile, the girls watching were told to gradually get louder and louder to drown out the father’s voice. After several steps, each blindfolded girl would panic as she asked, “Daddy, where do I go? I can’t hear you!” because the noise was too loud.
As her peers screamed louder, her father’s voice was lost.
I love this exercise and its application to listening to God. For teenagers, who constantly get bombarded by outside voices, tuning in to God’s quiet whispers can make a huge difference in where they end up. It can protect them and steer them away from nearby cliffs.
Adolescence is a time of dangerous new territory. To blindly let our daughters loose without any instruction would be irresponsible. Unlike us, they haven’t lived long enough to see tragedies. They don’t know what can happen from a seemingly harmless choice. They don’t believe us when we share stories of potentially fatal outcomes.
We can’t always save them, but we can prepare them for treacherous terrain. Here are critical conversations to get you started.
1. Talk about the toxic culture that’s shaping them. Let your daughter know you’re on her side. As you hear about her peers making poor choices, empathize with her position. Acknowledge the difficulty of standing strong.
You may say, “I hate this social scene you’re dealing with. It’s tougher than what I faced at your age. My priorities are your safety and honesty. Be honest, even if you mess up, because I need to know the truth to help you. I love you so much; I’d take a bullet for you. I’d rescue you from the seediest part of town, so don’t ever hesitate to call me out of fear of getting in trouble. Even if I’m upset, I’ll get over it if you’re safe. What I’d never get over is losing you, so value your life as much as I do.”
2. Talk about five-second decisions. A mom was at the lake with her daughter and her daughter’s friends when two 16-year-old boys pulled up on a boat and invited the girls to ride. The mom had to quickly decide whether to let them go, and since she wasn’t sure about the boys’ boating skills or if they’d been drinking (she knew they’d recently been busted), she said no. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Parents and teenagers alike face “five-second decisions” that randomly come up. For your daughter, the decision could involve peer pressure at a party or participating in a prank. Pray in advance for wisdom. Tell your daughter to trust her gut and err on the side of safety. Talk about exit strategies and blaming you to save face or get out of a bad situation.
3. Talk about choices and consequences. Every choice has a consequence, and it takes a thousand good choices for your daughter to get where she wants to be. Even small choices, like being kind, impact who she becomes and what friends she attracts.
Allowing your daughter to face the consequences of poor decisions prepares her for reality. Getting detention because she got smart with a teacher may keep her from mouthing off to her boss one day. Taking away her phone because she lied about a text may teach her to be honest. Making her work to pay off a speeding ticket may make her think twice before speeding again.
Your daughter will reap what she sows. Learning early that positive choices = positive life while negative choices = dead-end roads can help prevent future heartaches.
4. Talk about her conscience and living by a moral code. Some people make terrible choices yet feel no shame afterward because their conscience is asleep or dead.
Your daughter should know that her conscience is a gift. Without it, she’d never feel guilt or remorse. She’d have no incentive to change, apologize, confess her sins, think twice, or turn back to God.
The authors of Parenting Teens with Love and Logic write, “Children who are parented well gradually develop an internal voice that says, ‘I wonder how my next decision is going to affect me and those around me?’ This voice comes from having made bad decisions and living with the consequences while experiencing the love and empathy of their parents. This voice is far more important than all the external controls parents can think up.”
Naturally, we want what’s best for our daughters, but do they want the best for themselves? Through a healthy conscience shaped by the Holy Spirit, your daughter can develop a moral code to live by and learn from.
5. Talk about setting standards, especially with the opposite sex. Your daughter should hear this: “You and every girl you know are better than the lifestyle this world pushes on girls. Set a high bar for yourself and know the best guys will rise to the challenge.”
Too often girls get caught up in a promiscuous or permissive lifestyle. They use their sexuality to compete for male attention—and end up feeling used, broken, or damaged.
Meanwhile, the world tells boys that sexual conquest makes them a “man.” Especially in the teen years, they get applauded for objectifying girls. This mindset is toxic, yet it is reality, and your daughter needs to be aware. While some boys will question society’s message to them, others will buy into it. They’ll pursue easy opportunities and take advantage of girls.
Again, your daughter will get teased no matter what choices she makes, so she may as well make choices that she can be proud of. Whatever she chooses, she’s still a child of God, loved beyond measure even on her worst day.
6. Talk about joy. An ACT coach told me, “I tell my students they need two things in life: a job and a hobby. If their hobby becomes their job, they need a new hobby.”
I love this viewpoint. In a world where every activity has a purpose—and career planning begins in childhood—teenagers need hobbies they enjoy for fun. Whether they’re gifted or accomplished doesn’t matter because the joy they get from painting, singing, acting, dancing, writing, building, playing intramural sports, or pursuing a passion makes their heart sing.
Life is too short to lose joy. More than an inner Picasso, your daughter needs an inner child who reminds her how to play.
7. Talk about high expectations (and failure). Carol Dweck says, “Great teachers set high standards for all their students, not just the ones who are already achieving.”
Great parents set high expectations too and empower their children to meet them. They also create a culture of grace and restoration. As my daughter’s history teacher once told his class, we can’t give teenagers high expectations and not share stories of failure. Too many teens are scared to fail because the world expects perfection. Since adolescence is a time for your daughter to take healthy risks, face her fears, bounce back, and gain confidence by doing what feels impossible, she needs adults in her life who openly share their stories of failure.
Tell your daughter about a time you failed to be a good friend . . . lost your temper . . . told a lie . . . hurt someone . . . had your heart broken . . . made a poor choice . . . took a shortcut . . . wrongly accused someone . . . humiliated yourself . . . or fell flat on your face. Talk about God’s mercy and the transforming grace of Jesus. Our worst failures are our best teachers, so make sure your daughter knows how God can use any experience to impart life-changing lessons.
8. Talk about hard topics. You know who enjoys an awkward conversation less than you? Your daughter! That is why you must take the lead, because she won’t.
Awkward conversations get easier with practice. I believe in staying ahead of topics and discussing them before they’re fully relevant because your daughter will hear and see things sooner than you think. Due to technology, kids are growing up faster, and parents who think they’re protecting their kids by not addressing hard realities often have kids who don’t tell them what’s really happening.
Talk to your teenage daughter about sex, pornography, sexual assault, sexuality, nude pictures, sex trafficking, body changes, STDs, the hook-up culture, and other nitty-gritty topics. Give her real-life stories that illustrate how drugs and alcohol set the stage for terrible choices and why it’s imperative to keep her radar up. Use news stories as a launching pad for conversations about character, good judgment, and learning from people’s mistakes.
Approaching nitty-gritty topics from God’s perspective, explaining how we (as sinful humans) take the good things He created and warp them in ways He never intended, helps your daughter understand why we need an ultimate source of truth. Rather than a Google search, what many of your daughter’s questions call for is a God search.
9. Talk about self-awareness. “We think temptation lies around us,” pastor Rick Warren says, “but God says it begins within If you didn’t have the internal desire, the temptation could not attract you. Temptation always starts in your mind, not in circumstances.”
We all have vulnerabilities and blind spots, so what are your daughter’s? What people or situations entice her to cave? What tempts her to do what she swore she wouldn’t do?
Sharing stories from your life will help your daughter examine her life. You may admit how you used to be bossy, and it kept you from making friends until you realized how off-putting your bossiness could be. You may tell her about the weekend you spent with some gossipy moms, how you gossiped like crazy to fit in, and only as you drove home did you feel sick to your stomach and realize the need to avoid this group in the future.
It is a personal call how openly you share with your daughter. Share small examples and go from there, knowing that real-life stories drive the lesson home.
10. Talk about saying no. What starts many girls down the wrong path is the inability to say no.
Pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker says, “Parents often tell me, ‘My daughter is a really good kid. She knows right from wrong and that drinking is trouble. If she were at a party, I have no doubt she would do the right thing.’ But I see really good kids all the time who got in trouble because they didn’t know how to say no, because their parents hadn’t prepared them for the situations in which they found themselves, because their parents expected a teenager to make a decision that an adult should have made. Even the best of daughters want to please their friends. Teaching your daughter to say no could save her life.”
It’s important for your daughter to know she always has a choice. Even if her best friends do something she doesn’t agree with, she can leave or stand alone. In every season, your daughter will face situations that make her uncomfortable, and by learning to push through them, she gains a valuable life skill.
11. Talk about mental health. Today’s teenagers are the first generation of teenagers to feel more stressed than their parents, except during the summer months.
You know your daughter’s strengths and limitations. You understand her daily obstacles. Maybe she has a learning disability and struggles to get Bs. Maybe she gets recommended for every advanced class, but she stays up until two a.m. to get it all done. Maybe she plays a competitive sport, and when she gets home at nine p.m., she still has four hours of homework.
Train your daughter to protect her mental health. What’s right for her friend may not be right for her, and if she feels consumed by stress—exhausted, depleted, withdrawn, isolated from friends and a normal teenage life—it’s time for a change. Since half of all mental illnesses start in adolescence, teaching your daughter to pay attention to red flags can help her thrive and seek help when needed.
12. Talk about self-image, self-love, and being kind to her body. Your daughter gets bombarded with unrealistic images and ideals. Even if you say the right things at home, she’ll hear the wrong messages from the world.
Our society worships perfection, and the prettier and skinnier a girl gets, the more praise and attention she receives. What logically follows is a quest for perfection that keeps many girls seeking applause in areas dangerous to their health.
How can you help? By discussing healthy self-love. Reminding your daughter that God created her with intention and attention, and nothing about her is a mistake. Your daughter only gets one body in life, and it must last her a long time, so encourage her to take care of it. Help her build healthy habits with food, exercise, and lifestyle choices that she’ll carry into adulthood.
Like many girl moms, I worry about eating disorders (95 percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages of twelve and twenty-five), and I talk to my girls about the warning signs of heading in that direction.
Most moms have heard of anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating, but be aware of a new eating disorder called orthorexia that’s evolved with the clean food movement. What begins as an effort to eat healthy can send girls down a slippery slope where they slowly cut out entire food groups and develop an unhealthy obsession with “pure” foods. They eliminate processed foods, then meat, then dairy, then carbs, and so on until they get down to ten or fewer foods that they’ll eat. Unlike other eating disorders, orthorexia is rooted in a need to be “healthy” rather than a preoccupation with appearance or losing weight, but the physical consequences are the same: life-threatening.
Good things become bad things when taken to extremes. Make this part of your conservation as you talk to your daughter about moderation and balance.
13. Talk about being assertive and speaking up for her needs. Every girl’s voice deserves to be heard, and every girl needs guidance with using her voice wisely.
Some girls have a strong voice and say exactly what they think—yet they lack tact and warmth. Other girls have a kind voice. They’re loved and respected—but they don’t speak up. They let people take advantage of them and feel powerless over their lives.
It is possible to be strong and kind. Honest and tactful. In a society where people will walk all over other people—and prey on the weak—girls should know how to take up for themselves, tell a friend they hurt their feelings, and let boys down. If your daughter is naturally strong, she may need help with being less abrasive and more sensitive. If your daughter is naturally sensitive—and wants others to be happy—she may need assurance that her needs and desires matter too.
14. Talk about addiction. Alcoholism is starting younger and younger. Sadly, we have a culture where 9th graders need rehab and become part of a club that nobody wants to be in.
If you know an addict—or have seen what an addict’s decisions can cost them—you wouldn’t wish addiction on anyone. And when you hear about middle schoolers drinking or college coeds doing drugs, it logically follows that many of today’s casual users will battle lifelong problems.
Here are sobering facts from The Teenage Brain:
- “A person stops maturing at the age that they start abusing substances.”
- “Of the 10.5 million youths who had taken a drink, nearly 7 million admitted to binge drinking, and more than 40 percent of individuals who start drinking before the age of thirteen will develop alcohol abuse problems later in life, according to a report in the Journal of Substance Abuse.”
- “The pot teens smoke today is up to seven times more potent than what was available twenty or more years ago.”
- “With a still-maturing brain, teens are especially vulnerable to drugs that work directly on the brain’s chemistry . . . nine out of ten addicts say they first used drugs before they were eighteen years old.”
Addiction affects the rich and the poor, and since genetics plays a role, nobody knows which child in a family might be predisposed. Even a healthy adult is not “safe” from addiction, and since all of us are susceptible to this slippery slope, it’s important to be compassionate and help those who struggle.
15. Talk about discernment and spiritual warfare. A college freshman thought she’d found her dream sorority. Her mother told her to pray that she’d end up where God wanted her to be, not where her flesh wanted to be. Her daughter thought these girls were her people until they invited her out one night and stopped by an apartment—and she saw five girls from this sorority snorting cocaine.
She was shocked, yet thankful, that her eyes were opened before she pledged.
Sometimes trouble is clear, and sometimes it hides behind pretty faces. Your daughter is entering a world of unpredictable situations, so pray for discernment and trustworthy friends. Remind her to look beyond what’s shiny or impressive and trust her instincts. When something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually not right, and when she suddenly discovers that she was blindsided, she can thank God for the lesson.
Equipping your daughter for the road ahead is no small feat. Empower her to feel prepared, not scared, and help her tune in to her Father’s voice, trusting Him for guidance and direction with every step she takes.
Thanks for reading this message, excerpted from my new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter. Please share it on social media, or click over to the Girl Mom podcast to listen to it audibly.
Love Her Well is getting a fantastic response among girl moms, and it’s available everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Audible. What a privilege it’s been to narrate my first book for adults!
My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies. For more posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook, Instagram and the Girl Mom podcast.
Posted by Kari on September 14, 2020