Transcript of author Colleen O’Grady’s TEDx Talk titled “Ticked-Off Teen Daughters & Stressed-Out Moms: 3 Keys” at TEDxWilmington.
Listen to this MP3 audio while reading this transcript: Ticked-Off Teen Daughters & Stressed-Out Moms_ 3 Keys _ Colleen O’Grady _ TEDxWilmington
Colleen O’Grady – Author
From one generation to another frustrated moms think and often say, “Just wait ’till you have your teenage daughter,” meaning that their daughters would experience that same kind of drama that they went through; this type of karmic justice.
But what if moms and daughters could avoid that drama trap and experience a close and enjoyable connection?
As a child, I thought my mom was perfect. She was cultured, intelligent and strong. There was a right way to do everything, from making the beds to cutting a tomato. Back then she could do no wrong, but I felt like a slacker.
When I was about 11, she had a mother of a moment. After I quickly beat her in a checkers game, she yelled, “If you’re so damn smart, why don’t you make straight A’s in school?” The result was not straight A’s but a lot of drama, and I pushed her out of my teenage life.
Fast forward, it’s 1996, in a dark hospital room. I promised my baby girl, I’ll be different, and by the way, you can cut that tomato any way you want.
My daughter is 11 and very preteen. I’ve been a family therapist for 16 years. I am an expert on teen, when I had my mother of a moment. I had an agenda and she did not get it right, and I laid into her. When I looked in her eyes, my heart sank. I’d become the enemy.
Five years later, my daughter is a junior in a prestigious high school for performing arts. She’s pursuing a career in dance, and I’m thrilled – this is what I want for her.
Then she decided to quit dance because of pressure and knee injuries. This wasn’t my agenda, but this time it drew us closer as mother and daughter. There were no angry words and that door stayed open.
How did my relationship go from being the enemy to being her ally?
It started with me. I realized I had become this 24/7 monitor, sounding like, “Would you clean your room? Start your homework! Aaah!” The problem is that monitor is a monologue. It’s not a relationship. I’d factored my daughter out of the equation.
As I shifted from being obsessed with my agenda, I started paying attention to her. I realized I only saw the tip of the iceberg, that I needed to slow down and make space to see what was below the surface, to see who my daughter really is, to see her brilliance and her pain.
Then I noticed that at the core of most of the drama was stress and pressure, and yes, there are biological reasons for this. Teens are hard-wired for drama with that undeveloped prefrontal cortex and the dominant limbic system.
But there’s something else going on, that’s not biological but environmental, that not only has impacted my teenage daughter, but it’s impacting girls from around the world. One study revealed that two out of five girls will experience significant anxiety. Another study revealed that one-third of girls will experience depression.
What’s going on?
More than ever before, teens are under this tremendous pressure to get it right. Societal pressure amped-up by social media is attacking girls’ self-esteem as they try to stay afloat in a harsh, competitive teenage culture, and I see this in my private practice.
Top ranking girls are having panic attacks and they can’t focus. Brittany is a senior; she makes straight A’s and she’s super stressed. Literally no downtime. She puts post-it notes in the shower stall so she can wash her hair while she studies.
Amber is in the top eight percentile of her class, and yet she tells me, “I can’t get anything right. My mom has a right way to do everything. As hard as I try, I feel unworthy.”
So, do moms add to this pressure?
Yes, they do, and this is a common trap that we can often fall into. See, moms feel this pressure to have successful daughters so that we can feel like good mothers and avoid feeling judged. Societal pressure shapes mom’s definition of success, which forms her agenda and fuels that 24/7 monitor. This is not a recipe for success for either mother or daughter; it’s a recipe for drama, shame, unworthiness.
Because no one can achieve these perfectionistic standards, and that’s not success, so something’s wrong here. With a cultural bias towards productivity and achievement, there’s no time to relax.
Key ingredients that bring happiness and meaning to our lives – they’re being devalued and therefore neglected. But we can do something about this.
Here are three key strategies that you can use to dial down the drama.
Here’s the first. It’s the lost art of hanging out. This is where mom takes off her monitor hat, and her daughter knows it because she no longer gets that look, she gets a smile, which is her signal it’s safe to come near.
Hanging out is a no pressure zone where mom lays aside her agenda for even an hour. Because there are no expectations, both mom and daughter can relax, and this is where the magic happens. Hanging out creates this inviting atmosphere for your daughter to approach you.
That second key strategy is positive distractions. I know that sounds like a waste of time, but there are important benefits. For one, it’s a natural way to de-stress, and it attunes moms and daughters together.
Dr. Stuart Brown says that the opposite of play is not work – it’s depression, and there are a lot of depressed teenage girls. But can moms and daughters really play together? Well, yes, they can. It just looks different.
Recently, I was on a vacation with my daughter, and I’m reading the book “Play” by Dr. Stuart Brown, and my daughter looks over to me and she says, “Oh my gosh, mom, why are you reading a book on play? I can show you how!” And our teens can.
They’ll say, “Listen to this song. Watch this cat video. Look at these cute shoes.” And though it feels completely frivolous, if you accept this casual invitation, it opens the door to your daughter’s heart.
The beauty of these positive distractions is that it often leads to that third key strategy, which is spontaneous check-ins. This is when your daughter says, “Hey mom, guess what!” Your job is to listen and be curious and not frown at those clothes on the floor.
If you keep that monitor away, she will open up to you. Spontaneous check-ins maybe last 15 minutes before she’s off to the next thing. But these daily positive experiences are building a bridge of connection that can be her lifeline.
Let me offer you another strategy, which is soothing conversations. This is an invitation for a deeper intimacy with your daughter. But beware, these are treacherous waters. When your daughter comes to you, all upset and negative, that monitor in you wants to go, “Get a grip!” But she does not need a mother lecture. She needs what we all need, which is to be seen and heard and understood, and experience unconditional love.