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Mental Health

A dad's guide to bonding with his teen daughter

 

Navigating the ‘tween years can be a difficult time for all parents – especially fathers.  

How does a dad nurture his relationship with his daughter when all he wants to do is keep her safe at home until she is 18?  

When I wrote Bonding Over Beauty, I set out to write a guide for moms to better bond with their daughter.  But, dads like Dr. Manny are an important part of raising their daughters.  

So, I put together some guidelines to help fathers create a healthy bond with their daughter that will last a lifetime.

Keep the comments to yourself.
The last thing an already self-conscience ‘tween wants to hear is "my little girl is becoming a woman" or " you are developing big breasts like your mom."  It is mortifying and just makes dad seem like he is from another planet.

No more walking around in your underwear.
Guys, you have to put on some pants.  It is completely inappropriate to walk around in your underwear, or worse, naked in front of your pubescent daughter.

Avoid direct criticism.
Some men have a tendency to comment on their daughter’s appearance.  Saying “you have a pimple” or “you look fat in that dress” can be devastating to a young girl and hurt her fragile self-esteem.  Keep comments positive and suggestions pro-active.  Instead of commenting on her weight, ask her to go for a bike ride with you.  If she has a pimple, suggest she wash her face with a new cleanser you picked for her at the store.

If your daughter asks you a question that makes you uncomfortable, do not say, "Go ask mom." When you get that uncomfortable question, pat yourself on the back for being a great parent.  Clearly, you have made her feel so secure in your relationship that she is at ease asking you difficult questions.  Better she asks you than her 13-year-old friend who may give her bad information. Take a deep breath, and ask her why it is on her mind.  This will give you a minute to think of how to answer it.  Then answer her honestly and without judgment.  

Learn about your daughter's changing body.  
While it is probably best to have a female or a pediatrician teach your daughter how to handle her cycle, dads should be comfortable talking about the changes she will experience.  It is a part of life and should be treated as such.

Avoid hard and fast rules that are arbitrary.
Telling your daughter she can’t shave her legs, tweeze her eyebrows or wear makeup until you she is 16 doesn’t make for a great relationship.  It just makes you seem clueless.  If your 12 year old has a unibrow, her self-esteem could be compromised.  If she fixes it, she can concentrate on other things like school instead of fixating on this problem.  As for makeup, young girls wear makeup because it’s sparkly and fun.  It does not have to be red lipstick and black eye liner.   Learn what’s in style, and find ways to compromise such as lip-gloss instead of lipstick or clear mascara instead of black mascara.
 
Make it your business to understand social media
Ignorance of social media can make it difficult for you to protect your daughter from lurking dangers.  You must monitor pictures and posts to Facebook, her tweets, and all videos she posts to YouTube.   Insist on knowing all passwords and talk to her of the dangers of sexual predators on the Internet.  At bedtime, remove from your daughter’s room her cell phone as well as anything that connects to the Internet so she will not be tempted to stay up all night in chat rooms.

Sex should not be a taboo subject.
“Being old school" when your daughter wants to discuss sex is a copout for not wanting to tackle the tough stuff.  It is your job as a dad to talk openly and honestly with your daughter so you can impart your values and knowledge.  She probably knows a lot more than you think so its crucial you give her the correct information.

Do not brag about your exploits.  
Discussing your sex life, how you loved to party or anything of that nature is not appropriate talk with your daughter. You are setting the bar for your child.  If you did it, then she will feel she should, too.  When discussing sex, drugs, and alcohol, talk about a celebrity or a friend to illustrate your points.  

Do not treat your son and daughter with a double standard.
Nothing upsets a girl more than her father encouraging her brothers to date and then forbidding her to do the same.  If you feel what’s OK for your son is not OK for your daughter, you are going to have to explain yourself or she will resent you and may even sneak out behind your back.  Teach her about boys and what can happen if she is not careful of her behavior.

Being a great dad means being there for your daughter as a listener, an advisor, and a confidante.  If you want to know what is going on in her life, you need to listen without judgment to her thoughts and feelings and make her feel she can tell you anything.  Your job is not to control your daughter, but to teach her how to exercise good judgment and make smart decisions when you are not around.  

Author of the book "Bonding Over Beauty, A Mother-Daughter Guide to Self-Esteem, Confidence and Trust." A former child model and actress, Erika appeared in over 100 commercials, print ads and films. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Erika lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Check out her website at bondingoverbeauty.com.

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