The Trauma of Teenage Daughters
Humans are more instinctive, hard-wired, than most folks are prepared to admit.
America in particular suffers from social schizophrenia about human nature. On the surface, we have a broad cultural mythology. Since it comes in several flavors, most people see it as a mixture of competing stripes, but if you really want to, you can easily see they are more alike than different.
At the same time there is a nasty undercurrent going in another direction altogether. Most people couldn’t see it if you pointed it out to them. They mistake those flavors which aren’t their favorite for being the nasty undercurrent. The real thing is truly evil, the realm of predatory psychopaths. I’ve discussed that undercurrent enough in other posts, so I’m just reminding readers it’s there.
That predation is based largely on actual facts of human nature, but aren’t quite what we are wired for, either. So the actual truth of what we could be if we tried is buried, totally ignored by the mainstream and actively hidden by the predators.
I’ve encountered some folks with teenage daughters. Many of these folks are tormented between expectations and reality. They are discovering cracks in the false image of the cultural mythology, glimpsing the predation underneath. Because they have no idea what really is possible, they are in panic. The girls are any number of stripes of rebellious, ranging between smoldering passive-aggressive to outright wildcat pandemonium. If you feel you have a handle on things, you can stop reading now, because this is addressed to folks who feel beleaguered, and are sincerely seeking some help.
It won’t help if we attempt to strip away the cultural mythology or undercurrent in order to explain hard-wired nature. These people need something where they are. The best I can do is offer them some peace knowing what they might be able to do at this point. I’ll save my religious counsel for other posts; I’m running in clinical mode here.
Frankly, by age 12 most families have already lost their chance for setting things right. They’ll have to assess where things are now and try to negotiate what’s left. Over this and the next three years, she will demand renegotiation of just about everything. That’s because the hard-wired instinct tells her she ought to be in the final preparation for marriage by 14 and up. Folks, that’s what is in our human wiring, so try to ignore all the cultural crap.
You are not the truth police, and you are dealing with a human being who is not a mere extension of your own thoughts and feelings. The real chore at this point is changing you, not her. She’ll change if she wants to, not simply because you demand it. Do what you can to make her want it.
She can be steered only where she is open. You can maximize the openings by taking seriously the duty to back off and treat her more as adult. However childish she may be, she’s now not much worse than a great many adults. The question is not what she merits, but what will actually work. She has already demanded the right to decide a lot of things, and only by physical force can you stop that. (How the law and various government agencies view things is pretty grim for you right now, and varies with locale and too many other details I can’t account for here.) In general, restrain her only from tearing up your household stability directly, things generally regarded as juvenile delinquency. It’s not “anything goes” but “don’t make us pay too much for your idiocy.” She’s not your equal, but negotiate with her more or less on adult terms, anyway. To be honest, she’s going to act like a boarder, not a family member.
She will have swallowed a certain amount of prevailing cultural mythology of the flavor shared by her peers. Learn it; take it seriously. Understand it as mythology which she finds binding. Take her viewpoint seriously in how you treat her, even if you know it’s pure manure. You can’t help her change her ideas until you take seriously the ones she has. Adopt the status of aplomb with her crazy nonsense. Don’t react with shock and rage to her announcements she intends to do this or that. Act altogether unsurprised. Yes, there are times when this feels like crass manipulation. Get used to it.
If you have the opening, be totally objective in offering her your assessment of consequences. Do not attempt to sneak in evaluative coloring. Not according to some obscene cultural fears, but inform her the best you know from reality. Keep it simple when possible. If you’ve had trouble facing the reality of consequences from your own youthful insanity, and the years following, you’ll never be able to do this. But then, nothing I write would help you in the first place. She will pretend she doesn’t care what the world thinks because she believes she is in a position to make demands of the world. It’s the sort of crap we saw with those peculiar protests recently involving women dressing provocatively and waving signs about “slut shaming” — as if protesting with signs and risque clothing could force people to change how they think of slutty dress.
So she’s going to put on enough makeup to paint a barn and the most outrageous colors. Ignore it. This sort of thing means nothing. Showing too much skin? You’ll have to pretty savvy to win that battle, because it’s a little too late to build her sense of modesty. But you don’t have to pay for it, either. Make her pay her own way, or learn to tailor her own clothing.
In broad terms, help her explore all the same silly nonsense every teenager has passed through since before the previous century. If you hinder the exploration itself, you’ll only make things worse. Better it is to help her get through it as gracefully as possible. There is no simple list of rules here, because it really depends on how you understand what I’m suggesting here. These suggestions wouldn’t be obvious to most people, but turn out to make sense when people think about it. If she thinks you take her seriously, she’ll be less combative.
For the most part, ignore what she says. Do try to respond reasonably when she talks, but pay more attention to what she actually does. What she says she intends to do this minute may not be what she ends up actually doing. Chances are she’s lying to herself an awful lot. Get used to that and don’t be smug, if you can help it. It’s not a question of taking her highly variable feelings seriously; it’s a matter of not provoking her needlessly. It’s all too easy, as you probably know.
It takes two fools to argue, so don’t be a fool. Choke down your own feelings. Keep in mind, it doesn’t matter what our social expectations are, her hard-wired instincts know she’s supposed to be getting married soon to some very strong and manly fellow, someone who will take her in hand and make her a woman. Since our society generally forbids marrying someone a decade or more older at this age, she’s stuck with dating boys who are generally less mature in their own male tracks than she is in hers. That puts too much power in her hands when she least needs to handle it, too many choices when she needs them made for her. But they are supposed to be made by her new spouse she isn’t going to have. Unless you are exceptionally resourceful, you can’t fix this mismatch between what should be and what is likely. Accept your fate and make the most of your bad situation.
That’s all I can offer. Unless you were active in fighting the mythology when she was born, you had only the first five years to get started. Now that she’s 12 or older, it’s too late for anything less than a genuine miracle. Without being there with you and seeing all the details of your daily existence, and hers, along with your family history with her, I can’t offer much more.
You can’t change her, only yourselves, so look for your own peace.
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