Safety Advise for Girls and Teenage Daughters: Tips on Smart Living and Discipline


As the father of a 16 year old girl I find myself living in a battle zone.  And I’m aware that my concerns about protecting her from engaging in risky behavior are different than they were for my son. Are parents really expected to treat each child the same? How can I keep my daughter safe, and in-line, when everything I say to her generates a fight?


The real question here seems to be, “How can I keep my daughter safe and in-line, when everything I say to her generates a fight?”

First of all, when I hear words like “when everything I say to her generates a fight,” I am reminded of how often it seems that parents’ best efforts to help actually end up making these situations worse.  THE MOST IMPORTANT way to “keep your daughter safe” is to maintain an open line of communication between your daughter and you.  If your daughter perceives you as the authoritative expert telling her what to do (even though you are an authority figure in her life), she is more likely to feel “attacked” by “everything you have to say.”  In these dynamics, your daughter’s natural reaction is to try to defend herself, to “fight” with you, even though she may not have thought through your comments.  When the dynamics are this heated and charged, NO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION can occur.  As the adult, it is YOUR job to de-escalate these dynamics, and find ways to re-establish open and supportive communication with your daughter.  The BIG QUESTION for you is this:  In your efforts to communicate with your daughter, how much LISTENING do you do?  If she feels heard and understood by you, she will not feel the need to defend herself and/or to fight – she will see you as an ally, as someone on her side of things willing to join in HER efforts to be safe and “in line,” whatever that means. One of the most useful resources to help you learn more about effective, empathic listening with your daughter is a book by Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., called Nurturing Resilience In Our Children (Contemporary Books, 2002).

With a more open line of communication setting the tone of the relationship (and some focused work or family therapy may need to be done to re-open the communication between parents and their adolescent children), the second big trick to “keeping your daughter safe and in-line” is to find the right balance between affection/nurturance AND limit-setting, or, as family therapists call it, finding the right balance between “permissiveness” and “control.” One of the best resources for this discussion can be found in Lawrence Steinberg’s book, Beyond the Classroom (Simon & Schuster, 1996).  A very useful chapter in that book clearly describes the need for appropriate “parenting styles,” characterized by the need for parents to find a balance between these two basic approaches.  In general, when parents are too permissive, too lenient or too indulgent, their children tend to develop a “have to get my way” attitude without regard for conventional limits.  Similarly, when parents are too controlling or autocratic (“do it because I say so!”), resorting to discipline by using  power and control in punitive ways, their children tend to react in more defensive and/or hostile ways, usually feeling unheard and attacked, and shutting out even the most remote chance for an open line of communication with their parents.  It turns out, not surprisingly, that a more balanced approach to parenting, characterized by “acceptance and firmness” tends to foster healthier relationships between parents and their adolescent children.  Learning how to have a more balanced parenting style may be the work of family therapy, and is likely to be the best way to “keep your daughter safe and in-line.”

Finally, in the ongoing effort to “keep your daughter safe and in-line,” within the context of (1) trying harder to LISTEN to your daughter and develop EMPATHY for HER perspective, and (2) working at finding and maintaining the right “parenting style” characterized by a healthy balance between “acceptance/affection AND firmness/limit-setting,” keep in mind the best advise I ever heard about parenting all adolescents:  “Pick you battles, and save your big guns for safe sex and drunk driving.”  I heard my friend and colleague, Michael Thompson, Ph.D., speak these words in a presentation to a group of parents in the early 1990’s.  That message was as essential then as it is today in 2004.


David L. Gleason, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist