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Dealing With Your Anxious Daughter

with Sharon Hersh | March 1, 2005

Sharon Hersh, a Christian counselor and author of the book Mom, I Hate My Life, gives some advice for dealing with a daughter's anxiety.

Sharon Hersh, a Christian counselor and author of the book Mom, I Hate My Life, gives some advice for dealing with a daughter's anxiety.

Dealing With Your Anxious Daughter

With Sharon Hersh
|
March 01, 2005
| Download Transcript PDF

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Bob: The Bible says that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.  When a child becomes a teenager, there is still some carryover from that foolishness that comes with them.  That's why Sharon Hersh says teenagers need parents.

Sharon: When I think about friends, I think about this illustration from when my children were little.  We'd go to the grocery store, and we'd go up and down the aisles, and when we'd come to those plastic little toys that were worthless, my children would say, "Mom, do we have money for that?"  And I decided at that time in my life to tell the truth to them and to say "Yes, we have money for that, but, no, you cannot have it because you don't need it." 

 The stakes are a lot higher when they enter adolescence, and they are wanting to say, "Can I do this?"  "Can I be with that person?"  "Can I have that person over?"  "Can I go to this slumber party?"  And we, as moms, sometimes – and dads – have to say, "No, because you don't need that."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Making wise decisions for your teenager may not make you popular with them, but it will help them develop wisdom.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  As you think about moms who are raising teenage daughters …

Dennis: Kind of like Barbara raising our four teenage daughters?

Bob: Yes.  If you look at how moms are doing, do you think they're doing pretty well?  Do you think they're making mistakes?  What kind of a grade would you give them and what mistakes are they making do you think?

Dennis: I think I'd give them a B-minus.  There desire is there.  The needs of teenage girls today, because of the culture we live in are, frankly, overwhelming, and I think the average mom …

Bob: … feels overwhelmed …

Dennis: … feels overwhelmed, especially moms who are working outside the home.  They are juggling so many different arenas, they're not feeling like they're winning at all.

Bob: Single-parent moms are …

Dennis: My hat goes off to a single-parent mom, because there's not another ally in your corner to stand with you and give objectivity at the point when you get into an emotional storm with your teenage daughter.

Bob: You've got to decide which battles you're going to fight, and which ones you're just going to surrender on, right?

Dennis: Right.

Bob: So what do you think is the biggest mistake a mom is making today, as she raises her daughter?

Dennis: I think the biggest mistake is allowing your teenage daughter to push you out when you need to stay in that relationship.  When they push you out, peers take your place, and that's dangerous.  And, you know, I want to ask our guest on FamilyLife Today, Sharon Hersh – well, I'd like to see how you'd answer that.  You've been a mom of a teenage daughter.  You're also a counselor, you've written a book, "Mom, I Hate My Life," which is how a teenage daughter responds many times when a mom is trying to pursue a relationship with her.  You counsel a lot of folks.  You speak all over the country.  What do you think is the biggest mistake moms are making today when it comes to relating to their teenage daughters?

Sharon: Well, I love your answer, Dennis, and I would just say it in maybe a little different way relevant to the book that we're talking about – that when we moms allow our internal state to be regulated by our daughter's emotional thermostat, we are going to be in big trouble, whether she says, "Just leave me alone," and so we leave her alone.  Or she yells, and then we yell back, or she is frustrated, and we get frustrated and lose our patience and our temper; that when we allow her emotional state to pull us in, we cannot be effective in guiding her and leading her to emotional maturity.

 And then she interacts with peers who are going through the same craziness.  You know, this will come as good news to moms and dads listening out there.  About 10 percent of the emotional turbulence that a teenage girl feels is connected to what's going on at home.  That means 90 percent is connected to what is going on with her peers, and by the time a girl becomes a senior in high school, over 65 percent of those emotional feelings generally have to do with peers of the opposite sex.

 So as I share these statistics with moms, we breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Oh, it's not all my fault."  And then the anxiety starts to well in our own hearts of, "But this is something I can't control."  But also when we can't do that, teenagers – their lives are stressful.  They have a lot going on, and sometimes stress at home only compounds that.  There are other things that we, as parents, and moms, in particular, can do to help soothe our daughter's anxious heart.

 My daughter is a freshman in college right now, and I just asked her a few weeks ago, "Tell me what the best thing is that I ever said to you?"  And I was hoping that she would come up with something, and she said, "Actually, Mom, though sometimes I rolled my eyes when you said this, the most helpful thing that you said to me is when I was feeling stressed out, anxious about life, overwhelmed by everything going on in me and around me, you would say, 'I know this is how you are feeling right now.'"  That was it.  That was the most helpful thing that I said to her.

 I think what that sentence does, as we say that to our daughters, "I know you are feeling that way right now."  First of all, it affirms you are feeling what you are feeling.  You are feeling something hard, something stressful, something overwhelming – you're feeling it.  But it also suggests you didn't feel that way yesterday, and sometimes I would even say to my daughter, "Remember two days ago?  You loved your life.  You were feeling great about things."  And it also suggests you won't feel that way tomorrow, which gives hope for the future, that you're not going to be stuck in this emotional morass forever.

 So I encourage moms, that when your daughters are really in one of those moments, just simply say to them, "Yes, it's really hard what you're feeling right now."

Dennis: I want to go back to the 90 percent.  Their peers are causing 90 percent of the anxiety, the worry, the pressure that they're feeling.  As you look at young people today, what do parents need to know and practice, from a biblical standpoint, upholding God's values as they let their daughters relate to peers?

Sharon: That is a really important question.  There was a study done in 2003.  It was the most all-encompassing study on teenage girls and choices that they make, whether it's to use drugs or alcohol or engage in promiscuity, and what this study found was the single most important factor in influencing girls and the choices they made with regard to morality, were their five closest friends. 

 We can have a moment of silence there because, as parents, we think, "Yikes, it's their five closest friends?"  Yes, it was their five closest friends.  But don't be discouraged.  That means we, as parents, have nothing to do with it because, as you just hinted, Dennis, we have a huge responsibility in how we model friendships to our daughters and how we encourage them to develop healthy friendships.  Even talking specifically about anxiety – as we model and encourage our daughters to have life-giving relationships, that will be one of the greatest helps to them in battling the inevitable anxiety that they will experience as they are growing up female.

 And so, from an early age, as your daughter enters middle school, you need to be intentional and proactive about her friends.  We can do that by, first of all, having an open home so that our home is the place where the friends come, where the friends hang out.  We are the ones who drive car pool, we are the ones who pick up from activities, so that we are connecting, even if it's on the periphery, with the girls that our daughter is involved with.

Dennis: And you're observing …

Sharon: … and filing away what we observe and hear so that in conversations that are not conflicted conversations, we might say, "You know, I wonder if this is going on with your friend?  I noticed that she's a little bit on edge, or she seems to have an attitude," and we can talk about what's going on from a non-attacking way.  Teenagers are intensely loyal to their friends, and if they get a sense that we're out to get their friends, we're going to be a in power struggle that we'll lose.

Dennis: You're really talking about monitoring friends.

Sharon: And providing a context in which healthy friendships can develop.  That means you have the parties at your house, you drive to the activities, and that you are very proactive in encouraging the groups that your daughter is involved with, meaning it's a mission group at church that's going to go across seas on a mission activity, or there is some sort of a club at school that you can encourage her to be involved in because you know that the activities are going to be more structured and monitored.

Dennis: Sharon, when I read your book, I pulled out a pencil, and I thought, "I want to write down four things Barbara and I assumed about peers," because I believe you're on something here that every parent who is raising – well, from the elementary age on, must realize the power of friends in your child's life.  Why?  Because the Scripture warns us –1 Corinthians, chapter 15, I believe it's verse 33 that says, "Bad company corrupts good morals."  That's an absolute.  Your child can have a positive influence on kids who are heading in the wrong direction, but kids headed in the wrong direction can drag good kids down in a hurry.

 Four quick assumptions – number one, don't assume that your child's peers and the family that they came from have the same values as your family, even if they go to the same church, go to the same youth group, read the same books, drive the same cars, whatever you may observe – do not assume they have the same values.  Secondly, do not assume your child's peers will be a positive influence, just because they come from a good home doesn't mean they'll be a positive influence, because you don't know who the other four friends may be in the equation.  Number three, don't believe everything you hear peers say or everything you see occurring.  They are very deceitful.  And a teenage girl can be very deceptive with parents.  I've seen this with our daughters' friends.  Some of them lied to us to our face.  And they were "good" kids.  Number four, don't assume they will speak the truth to your child.  I want to tell you, if there was one that snuck up and bit us, it was this one.  Our daughters had some friends, on occasion, who would literally undermine what Barbara and I were seeking to teach our daughter.

 Now, again, these were not kids who were unchurched.  These peers grew up in solid, Christian families.  They'd been taught different values; they weren't embracing them.  They had fallen to the same pack of lies, deception, and they were literally trying to undermine what we were teaching our daughters while they'd come over to our house.  And instead of encouraging them to tell us the truth and be open and honest, they would encourage our daughters to be dishonest.  Now, this didn't happen every time.  I don't want to paint the picture that all peers are bad, because that's not the truth.  But by the end of raising six children, especially four daughters, I had more respect for what you are talking about, Sharon – the power of peers in our daughters' lives, moreso, it seemed, than in my sons' lives.

Sharon: Well, I think we females are more relational, anyway, and so we are more susceptible to the influence of peers.  If we challenge these assumptions that you just mentioned, as mothers, Dennis, what we're going to have to be willing to do is not only have an open heart and an open home to our daughters' friends, but then when we see something that is maybe going awry, to be willing for our daughters to be really, really mad at us as we say no; as we deny them access to certain friends and even if some of the mothers that I have been privileged to know in my counseling practice have gone to extremes to maybe change the school for their daughter; to take them out of a certain youth group where there are bad influences.

 We are willing for our daughters to hate us because we know what they need, and when I think about friends, I think about this illustration from when my children were little.  Every mother will get this.  We'd go to the grocery store, and we'd go up and down the aisles, and when we'd come to those plastic little toys that were worthless, and yet still cost $5, my children would say, "Mom, can I have that?" "Mom, do we have money for that?"  And I decided, at that time in my life, to tell the truth to them and to say "Yes, we have money for that, but, no, you cannot have it because you don't need it." 

 And, of course, they were mad at me, and they pouted sometimes, and complained – the stakes are a lot higher when they enter adolescence, and they are wanting to say, "Can I do this?"  "Can I be with that person?"  "Can I have that person over?"  "Can I go to this slumber party?"  And we, as moms, sometimes – and dads – have to say, "No, because you don't need that."

 And, once again, I think I am better able to do that as a mother as I think about how God parents us – that there are times when He says, "No, you cannot have that. You cannot go there, because He knows in His infinite love and wisdom what we need.  Sometimes the most loving thing we can do, as a parent, is allow them to be mad at us, because we see that something that they are involved with or someone that they are involved with, is pulling them down a destructive direction.

 And let me just add something practical here that moms can do when you are in a Cold War with your daughters.  You can acknowledge what's going on.  I think it's always good to be emotionally honest in a home, to say, "Wow, we are in a tough place.  You are mad at me."  But then always conclude with an invitation to relationship – "I hope you'll go out to breakfast with me tomorrow."  "I hope this weekend we can go get our nails done."  Your daughter may roll her eyes, she may snort, she may throw her hair back and say, "I don't want to be with you right now," and so then you take a break, and the next time you're with her, you say, "It's really hard that you're so mad at me.  I hope maybe we can go for a walk after dinner tonight."

 That is what we, as moms, can do with regard to this emotional chaos that our daughters sometimes are in.  We can affirm what they are feeling and offer an invitation to relationship, as you said earlier, Dennis, no matter how unloving or how unappealing she is at the moment.

Dennis: Yes, you're exactly right, and what moms need to realize, as well as dads, you're not running a popularity contest, you're not running for office.  Your child has a vote, and it's not that the vote doesn't count, but you are called to be obedient to God more than you're call to be popular with your child.

 There is one thing I want to underscore, though, that Bob mentioned earlier in our conversation here.  I just want you to comment on this, because I know you talk about it in the book, and that's the need for our daughters to have rest.

Sharon: It is so important that they have rest in two ways – that they have physical rest, because the emotional upheaval that is going on inside of them demands rest.  It demands healthy nutrition, it demands eight to 10 hours of sleep at night, it demands time that they can be in their rooms.  I talk about creating a sacred space in their rooms where they can journal, listen to music, kind of download everything that has been input during the week.

 And the second type of rest that we can give our daughters is a rest from believing that they are in this alone.  And that's what we do, as we take their hands and say, "I'll support you.  I'll look for what you need.  I'll be stronger than some of the influences out there," and as we also remind them that there is one, thank goodness, who is stronger than we are; who provides for us what we need. 

 A quick story I'll tell you is one of the things that creates great anxiety in me is car problems, and not too long ago, during my daughter's senior year of high school, my car – something was terribly wrong with it.  We took it to the shop, and I got the phone call from the mechanic, and he said, "It's going to cost about $900 to fix this," and you need this and that, and I didn't even understand what he said. 

 When he got off the phone, every woman will understand this – I burst into tears, and I said, "We have this huge bill, I don't know how we're going to pay it."  My daughter was standing right there.  I talked about the balance in the checking account, I talked about her upcoming college costs, and where would that money come from, and I went from zero to 60 in my emotional intensity, as our daughters are so able to do.  And Kristin's eyes got big, and she looked at me, and she said, "Mom, you have got to call that man right now and tell him to lower his price.  My whole future depends on it." 

 And her words caught me, because I don't want my daughter to think her future depends on being popular or being a certain size or getting an A in geography, nor do I want to say to her that our future depends upon how much money we have in the bank or a car that never has car problems; that our future rests in one who is able to sustain us and support us through all of the storms of life.

Bob: I thought Kristin was going to say, "Mom, you're freaking out.  Relax a little bit, it's going to be okay, Mom."

Dennis: Well, she was thinking about her college education.

Bob: That's right, she was starting to freak out herself, wasn't she?

Dennis: She was.  You know, what you're talking about here is something the Apostle Paul talked about over in his letter to the church at Thessalonica.  In Chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, he said, you know, we prove to be a gentle among you as a mom tenderly nursing and caring and protecting for her child.  And a mom's got a unique slot with her child's life, especially her daughter, and that's what you've really called moms to do here, Sharon.  You've called moms to fill that slot, be the adult, be the parent, stand strong, be authentic, go after your child with love and encouragement and help and hope and keep on believing in them.  And I think, Bob, parents need to be reminded of that from time to time, moms especially.  And they need to have some cheerleading themselves to keep going, because the job doesn't get a lot of kudos from daughters.

Sharon: No, it doesn't.

Bob: Well, and we're all thinking, I'm supposed to help my child get her act together; I don't have my act together yet.  How am I supposed to help her get her act together?  Well, the truth is, you don't have your act together yet, but you're probably farther down the road than she is and, with a book like the one that Sharon's written, we can help you get your act together a little more or at least be aware of what's under the surface when you see certain behaviors in your daughter's life so that you don't overreact or underreact.

 We've got copies of Sharon's book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if you'd like to get a copy, the best thing to do is go on our website at FamilyLife.com.  It's easy to order online.  You can go to the home page, and there's a button down at the bottom of the page that says "Today's Resources."  You click "Go."  That's the round button, it will say "Go."  You just click it, it will take you right to the page where you'll find more information about the book, "Mom, I Hate My Life."  You can order from that same page.

 There's also information about other resources we can recommend to you including the book you and Barbara wrote called, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," and any of our listeners who would like to get a copy of both books can also get at no additional cost either the CD or cassette of our conversation this week with Sharon Hersh.

 Again, all of the details are available on our website at FamilyLife.com.  Click the button at the bottom of the page that says "Go," and you can order online, if you'd like.  Of if you need someone to help you, call 1-800-FLTODAY – that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  We've got teammates standing by who can assist you with any of the resources that we have available here in our FamilyLife Resource Center to help you strengthen the relationship with your teenager and navigate your way through some of these challenging issues.

 Speaking of difficult issues, about a year ago all of us were facing a difficult issue with our children when the movie, "The Passion" came out.  It was a move that had some controversy associated with it, and part of the controversy was because of the violence that's included in the movie.  The question was should we take children to go see "The Passion?"  And at that time, Dennis, you remember we recommended to our listeners that an option would be to get a copy of "The Jesus Movie" – this is the most viewed motion picture in history.  There has been a digitally remastered version that is now available on DVD, and it tells the biblically accurate story of Jesus' life, His death, His crucifixion, and His resurrection.

 In addition, for younger children, there is a movie called "The Story of Jesus for Children," that tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of children who might have seen Him during His ministry.  Now both of those movies have been put together on a single DVD and this month, with Easter coming up, we thought we ought to make this DVD available for any FamilyLife Today listeners who would help with a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  This includes different languages.  There is English and Spanish, there are other languages included.  You may know folks that you'd want to get a copy of this for and pass it on to them.

 Again, for a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month, we're going to send you the movie of Jesus on DVD, along with "The Story of Jesus for Children."  If you're making a donation online, and you'd like the DVD, just write the word "Jesus" in the keycode box, and we'll know to send you the DVD.  Or if you're calling, 1-800-FLTODAY, to make a donation, simply ask for the DVD when you make your donation of any amount.  And let me say thanks in advance for those donations.  Your financial support keeps FamilyLife Today on the air on this station and on stations all across the country and around the world.  So thanks again for partnering with us in this ministry through your financial support.

 Well, tomorrow we're going to talk about something that is going on with teenage girls these days that's a troubling phenomenon.  It's teenage girls who are cutting themselves, and Sharon Hersh is going to help explain what that's all about tomorrow.  I hope our listeners can be back with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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