By: Tarang Sinha

She looked tense, so I asked, “Anything wrong?” “Nothing. Just feeling a little anxious about Kanika,” she said.

Kanika is her 17-year-old daughter. “Why? Is she okay?”

“She has grown up!’

Wait. Why was growing up a problem? Children grow up. It’s normal.

“I’m worried because I think we are growing apart. She doesn’t talk to me much now. Looks self-engrossed. Stays in her room all the time. When I question her, she says I don’t understand her! Sometimes, I question my parenting skill.” She really looked worried.

“Relax. She’d be fine,” I said but it made me thinking.

Why is it a matter of concern if your daughter is growing up? I never realised that my mother was worried when I was a teenager. I thought about the changing parent-daughter relationship. Has it changed with time? What could be the reason of Kanika’s changing behaviour? How difficult is it to gel with a growing daughter? What do parents need to keep in mind while they try to develop a comfort level with their teenage daughters who are going through some kinds of changes?

Teenagers go through several peculiar changes – physically, mentally and emotionally. And, their changing behaviour has nothing to do with your parenting skill.

Dr Ashima Puri, a clinical psychologist practising in Delhi, says that teenagers can act differently, show strong emotions at times, and it is important to treat them sensibly. “At this stage they need guidance and parents are the best guide.”

Is it different to raise a daughter than a son?     

For some families, it is!

In India, many families still don’t find any reason to rejoice at the birth of a daughter. Parents or grandparents still get worried. Maybe, it’s our faulty social structure. Srishti reminisces with sadness that in her house her opinion never mattered. They were three sisters and their only brother got all the attention.

“It’s the same when I am a mother of two teenagers. A boy and a girl,” she says. “I live in a joint family and I am supposed to teach them different values. My daughters should behave properly. There are different rules for them. Nobody thinks about my son’s behaviour. He has turned into a stubborn boy, and whenever I scold him, asking to check his behaviour, my in-laws protest. So, basically, I am raising my children in two different ways.

Has parenting changed over time?

Abhilasha Singh had a tough and restricted childhood. That’s why she decided to be more open with her daughters – 16 and 14. “I was not a privileged child or teenager. I was married by the time I reached 16.” She thinks for a while and then adds, “I didn’t even get a proper education, but I understand the value of education and that it’s essential even if you have only daughters. And marriage should not be the ultimate goal for them.”

Debeshi Gooptu, author of Gurgaon Diaries (and several other books) says, “It hasn’t changed in my case. I was brought up by my mother single-handedly as my father died when I was eight, and she was very open with me. Strict but liberal at the same time. Her rule was “You can have boyfriends, just make sure they all come to the house. No lurking about in streets or alleys. It’s the same with me and my daughter.”

Laxmi Sahu, a homemaker and mother of a 16 year-old girl, thinks that times have changed. “In our times, we used to be very shy about our physical developments and couldn’t even share our feelings with my mother but these days girls are more aware and way too frank.”

Change is inevitable. It just needs to be handled sensibly.

Body image

One of the most prominent changes that teenage girls experience is the changes in their body. It makes them conscious. They tend to compare themselves to others.

Sudesna Ghosh, author of What Would I Tell Her @ 13, a book published by Harlequin, puts in very thoughtfully. Why don’t I look like the other girls? This is a common complaint that parents of teenage girls have to hear. You would think that your intelligent child would understand and appreciate that no two people look the same, but no. At the age of 13 and going up the years, girls often struggle with their body images. The bad part is that this image of her bodies in her minds doesn’t always match her body’s real shape and size.”

Trust and privacy

Teenagers mostly over-estimate themselves, and that’s why they reject blatant refusal.

“Damn! I do need my privacy!” or “They just don’t understand me!” Ever heard teenagers saying that? Privacy is one of the most frequently used words these days.

“Wherever I go, my younger sister goes with me. You know why? Because my mom doesn’t trust me. She thinks I don’t realise that but I do,” Manisha, a 17-year-old, says. I could trace a sense of annoyance in her tone.

But, what’s a parent’s perspective? “You need to keep an eye when your daughters are growing up. They don’t understand the difference of right or wrong when they are young. We should be more careful about their safety. They will realise it later that their parents were right,” a mother of two teenage daughters said flatly and unapologetically.

The question is how much privacy the teenage daughters should have. And, what should be the parents’ approach?

Girls are often said to be the mother’s best friends, but when they enter their teens, they demand space and privacy even from their mothers.

“To be honest in today’s times, the digital age, most parents don’t have much of a say when we talk about teen privacy. A teen today can live in a blissful world, free from parental prying, thanks to the numerous apps, hi-speed unlimited Internet browsing, and password protected devices, ‘says Kala Ravi, an interior designer and lifestyle blogger.

“You need to have faith in the fact that the good values you’ve imparted to your children will make them follow the right path. So yes, I do respect my daughter’s (18) privacy but keep an alert eye all the same,” she adds.

Dr Ashima Puri says, “Teenagers are constantly searching for their identities – social, academic or sexual. They’re conscious and worried about it. As a parent, you should adopt a corrective action, and not preventive. Don’t tell them blatantly that what they are doing is wrong. Help them realise that.”

Love affair and sex – a big deal?

Having crushes and thinking about first love is absolutely normal in teenagers. You somehow can’t control it, and it’s not wise to control it. And girls are more vulnerable emotionally.

“There is an art to striking a balance between your own concerns and those of your daughters,” says Sudesna Ghosh. “If she mentions her crush to you and defines it as ‘love’, don’t tell her that it is nothing serious. Your teenage daughter is as serious about her first crush as you were about marrying your husband. That is how important this is to her. And, if she is being open about her feelings for a boy, you can be assured that she probably won’t hide anything from you,” she adds.

It indeed is important to build that comfort level.

For Debeshi Gooptu and her daughter, it, strangely, started at an early stage when a boy in her daughter’s nursery class told her how babies were born! ‘We are very candid with one another. I’ve made sure the lines of communication are always open. Yes, I do have a few more grey hairs than usual.’ She smiles.

“How candid you can be with your girls?” I asked Kala Ravi.

 “Actually, I am pretty cool about it. We watch all kinds of movies together, read and share books, so we are pretty much comfortable viewing sex objectively. I do my good mommy duty of giving subtle warnings about topics like, say, premarital sex. However, it is still not so easy talking about it,’ she answers.

Being strict VS being disciplined

Vinita’s mother was in the police department so she had been very strict with Vinita when it came to boys and staying out for long. ‘Maybe, I can understand my mom, but certainly I didn’t want to be like her,’ says Vinita who is now a mother of a 15-year-old, “I don’t try to restrict my daughter. I have given her the freedom a teenage girl needs, but discipline is a must. That I have inherited from my mother,” she laughs.

Dr Ashima Puri says that it’s not wise to put too many restrictions. “Give your teenage daughters freedom and space, but while you give them the liberty to make their opinions, choices and decisions, you must practise discipline. That’s essential. One needs to be understood and that is being strict and practising discipline are two different things. And, be consistent about your behaviour and your approach when you try to discipline your children,” says Dr Ashima Puri. “Suppose you are not okay with their staying out late, let them know from your behaviour and show it every time when they return late. Consistency is important to make your teenagers understand your mood correctly.”

On valuing their suggestions

When children grow up they become more like friends, and Kulpreet Yadav, an ex-Naval officer and best-selling crime author has a very different approach. He considers to teenage daughter’s suggestions and feedbacks for his writing. You can see his daughter’s name in all his books as his inspiration.

“Why do you think parents should respect/value the opinion/suggestions of teenagers?” I asked.

And he answered very thoughtfully. “Because, the ideas that come from a teenager would be new, frank, original and simple to implement. Older people will come up with something that you might already know.

Also, and perhaps larger benefit would be that the teenager would see that you value her opinion, you consider her as a grown-up.

That’s a big deal for teenagers,” he says.

That’s true. It’s very important to make teenagers feel important and equal. When I was a teenager, my father asked me to choose the brand and colour of our washing machine when we went to buy it. And I still remember how valued and important I felt that time. As a teenager, especially when you are a daughter, getting approval from your parents means a lot.

On pressure to perform well

The greatest pressure we experience is the pressure of performing well. And teenagers are no different especially daughters because in many homes they still need to prove themselves.

Kulpreet Yadav never asks his daughter to study. “I don’t need to because her academic performance is always good. So, why should I pressurise her?” he asks.

“Putting academic pressure on teenagers doesn’t really help. You have to trust them, so they are more focused or more aware of their responsibilities when it comes to studying. Create an environment to study, tell them the benefits of studies, but never force them. ‘The hunger to learn’ (I prefer thus word over-study) should come from within,” says Kulpreet Yadav.

On safety

You read newspapers; you watch television channels and realise that your daughter’s safety and security is your main concern.

‘‘I have raised my daughters single-handedly, as my husband and I got separated eight years back,” says Abhilasha Singh. “My daughters understand my values and sacrifices, and I respect them for this. We share a healthy bond. The only thing I’m worried about is their safety and security. They are grown-up girls, and it’s a terrible time. When they go out, I keep worrying about them until they return safely,” she says.

True. It indeed seems a bad phase, but your daughters can’t stay home all day. And why should they?

Debeshi Gooptu is very particular about the security of her daughter as she understands well that we live in crazy times. She doesn’t care what anyone says or thinks about her. ‘I talk about it with my daughter a lot. She does protest at times but realises eventually that it’s in her best interest,’ she says.

Kala has even given her daughter a can of pepper spray for emergencies. “Security is an all time concern, especially considering my daughter travels by local trains and buses every day. I mandate location updates from her whenever she travels. Besides this I have instilled in her the need to wear modest clothes when travelling ­– sad but a necessary precaution in view of the predatory nature of the society,” she says.