Trying to be a good father to an adolescent daughter has always been challenging. The rapid pace of change can make fatherhood even more challenging. New technology and social media can make the generation gap seem like a century to a perplexed parent.
Here are some tips for dads who want to maintain meaningful connections with their teen daughters in the 21st century:
Be complimentary about things other than looks
Acknowledge your daughter’s intelligence, imagination and strength often, to help her realize that her most appealing features have nothing to do with how she looks.
Living online is a given for today’s teens, and it’s fruitless to change that scene. Connect with your daughter via text on a regular basis, and not just to deliver “official” reminders about schedules and appointments. Texting lets you show you’re not as square as your daughter may think you are. You can share funny videos, new music, and breaking news in pop culture that may be of interest to your daughter. And if she’s into online games, ask if you can play one with her once in awhile.
Don’t be afraid to show your emotions
While emotionally unavailable men may be less common today, many Dads still keep their emotions below the surface. This can make a daughter reluctant to share her own feelings. There’s no need to weep uncontrollably in front of your daughter, but don’t repress your vulnerable side.
Accept her wardrobe—within limits
Clothes can be an important part of a girl’s self-image, so be careful not to disparage your daughter’s attire or make her feel ashamed. Expand your own limits of acceptability, but of course make it clear if your daughter has gone too far.
Include your daughter in your favorite hobbies
According to a recent study, the biggest influence and connection fathers make with their daughters occurs not during major rites of passage such as leaving home or getting married, but during shared activities such as sports or creative pursuits. “This is the masculine style of building closeness – called ‘closeness in the doing’ – whereas the feminine orientation is talking, ‘closeness in the dialogue,’” said Mark T. Morman, professor at Baylor College. My own daughter and I shared this closeness in many activities during her teen years, from Ping Pong to kayaking to going to county fairs in Maine. I often found it easier to talk with her while we were engaged in one activity or another.
Shatter the stereotypes
If your daughter wants to be a fashion diva, fine. But don’t assume that a girl who’s into clothes has no interest in picking up a hammer once in awhile. Invite her to help you during handyman moments. And put aside expectations about how well you think she should do; you don’t want her to think your approval depends on her performance.
By having a good relationship with your daughter now, you’ll help set the stage for her future relationships with men. According to Linda Nielsen – a psychologist who has been studying father/daughter relationships for 15 years—“When a woman doesn’t trust men, can’t maintain an ongoing relationship, doesn’t know how to communicate, or is co-dependent, this is probably because her relationship with her father lacked trust and/or communication.” So be there for your daughter now. Chat often. Really know her and make sure she knows you. It will have a positive effect on the rest of her life.