Raising Teen Daughters: Empathy vs Sympathy

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Can we ever understand teenage girls if even such experienced psychologist Nigel Latta openly admitted in his Politically Incorrect Guide to Teenagers, that he “didn’t understand the physics of the Girl-niverse”? “If a boy goes off the rail,” continues Latta, “he generally drinks alcohol, takes some drugs, gets into some petty crime and hits a few people. When girls go off the rails, they have a capacity to create degrees of chaos that are hard to believe. When girls go off the rails, the earth shifts on its axis”.

From http://lifetoheryears.com/50rules

So how can fathers help their daughters to go through that complicated stage in life? How can fathers understand their teenage daughters, those beautiful fairy princesses who suddenly turn into demonic uncontrollable monsters?

A few days ago I came across a story that touched my heart: a story of a father, who not only made an effort to understand his teenage daughter, but possibly rescued his troubled daughter from years of despair and near suicide. This story is provided below.

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“I know of a couple with three grown children. This is a good family… The father did a good deal of traveling for his work while his daughter and two boys were growing up His relationship with them was sound and safe, but he just wasn’t around very much. Everything was fine until his teenage daughter started having behavioral problems at school and then with the law.

Each time she got in trouble, her anxious, time-conscious father would sit down with her and try to talk through the problem. They would go around on the same issues every time: “I’m too fat, I’m too ugly.” “No, you are not, you’re beautiful to me.” “You have to say that, you’re my dad.” “I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.” “Yes, you would” “Do you think I’d lie to you?” And the discussion would turn to the question of the father’s honesty. Or he would tell her a story from his own youth, like the one about how he grew up with skinny arms and shoulders and everyone made fun of him. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?” she would say.

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Things would calm down, he’d leave town, and the cycle would start again. He was on a trip when his wife rang him to say their daughter had disappeared. Frantically, he caught a plane home and the family fretted for days while the search went on. At last she turned up in a runaway shelter in another city, and the parents collected her.

That night he and his wife talked things through. “I do not know what to do about her,” he confessed. His wife replied, “You might try listening to her.” “What do you mean? I listen to her constantly.”

His wife gave him a half smile. “Go and listen to her. Don’t talk. Don’t talk. Just listen.”

mate preferenceFrom http://www.huffingtonpost.com

He sat down with his daughter, who was still silent, and asked her, “Would you like to talk?” She shook her head, but he stayed where he was, silent as well. It was getting dark before she finally spoke. “I just don’t want to live anymore.”

Alarmed, he fought the urge to protest this and said softly, “You don’t want to live anymore.” This was followed by about five minutes of silence – the longest five minutes in his life, he later said.

“I’m just not happy, Dad. I don’t like anything about myself. I want it to be over.”

“You’re not happy at all,” he breathed.

The girl began to cry. In fact, she began to sob intensely, trying to talk at the same time, words flowing like a flood. It was as if a dam had burst. She talked into the early morning hours, he said hardly ten words, and the next day things looked hopeful. Where before he was giving her only sympathy, at last he had discovered empathy.

This was only the first “psychological airing” of many over the next few hard adolescent years, but the young girl is now a woman, calm and confident in herself and her father’s love for her. That he would seek her out, that he would value the outpourings of her heart instead of imposing his version of reality on her, helped give her a robust foundation for life.”

From http://www.sheknows.com

When tensions are high and confidence is low, when the next step doesn’t look clear at all, when a wall has gone up, try an experiment with empathy.

  • Go to the other side and say, “You see things differently. I need to listen to you.”
  • Give full attention. Don’t multitask while you’re listening. Don’t judge, evaluate, analyse, advise, toss in your footnotes, critique, or quarrel.
  • Be quiet. You don’t have to provide an answer, a verdict, a solution, or a “fix”. Free yourself from all that pressure. Just sit back and listen.
  • Speak only to keep the flow going. Say things like “Tell me more,” or “ Go on.”
  • Pay close attention to emotions. Affirm feelings.
  • Remember, you are listening to a story. When you go to a movie, you don’t interrupt and argue with the story and talk back to the screen. You’re involved, your sense of reality is suspended, you’re almost is a trance.
  • Be ready to learn. If you’re open, you’ll gain insights that will lighten up your own mind and complement your own perspective.
  • Show some gratitude. It’s a great compliment to be invited into the mind and heart of another human being…”

From “The 3rd alternative” by Stephen R Covey

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28 thoughts on “Raising Teen Daughters: Empathy vs Sympathy

  1. Ah, where were you 20 years ago! 🙂 It was a very difficult thing for a male to do. Listen. To their upbringing everything has a cause and affect, logic by the bucket loads. And not an emotional empathy in site. Big journey but beautiful to behold when understood. Thank you Otrazhenie for, I hope, the many males out there on this journey of bringing up a teenage young lady, or relating to anyone for that matter, and creating that balance within of male and female. Namaste

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Ah, 20 years ago?! I was a teenager then, driving my own parents crazy 😉 Got two teens myself now – they got me sorted 🙂

      Glad that you found this post helpful. Hope it will help other dads to understand their teenagers better (particularly daughters).

  2. shelldigger says:

    Just dropped by to see what you have going here…and it looks very good. I have a new blog in my reader 🙂

  3. Bunnet says:

    Ah my poor parents struggling with my young sister, her attitude a world wind of destruction and because they were from the Old Country they didn’t understand, they give her love but she rejected it. I watch from the side line like silent spectator, saw her cry in depression, in anger in solitude. I left the nest and from time to time I would get calls, asking if I would search for her, if I could contribute in calming her down. I always did, and always will.

    But how I hope inside my that she could seeing how much they care for her.

  4. satzie says:

    Sometimes I have gone through what terrible other goes through, but I always find it hard to get connected with others feeling. May be its because of the distance between where I’m and where I want to be. The steps described in the video is awesome. I will try to remember it. It helps us to make a shift from our current being into the necessary state. I also liked the perspective on the silver lining, from the video. It appears misfit. That’s something I should keep in mind to avoid doing for myself and to people around.

    Good points from Stephen Covey.

    Love the third picture very much.

    A very good post Otrazhenie 🙂 .

  5. Mélanie says:

    Miss O, extremely vast subject… 🙂

    I’ll always remeber the topic of a parents-teachers PTA meeting at our daughter’s highschool: HELP, we’ve got a teenager in the house! 🙂 Long story, short: my hubby and I have always been a solid team during our kids’ childhood and adolescence – being a parent is a full-time job that we can’t study anywhere and each case is unique and there are no miraculous methods… 🙂 Father’s figure and his presence are crucial for the development and evolution of a teenager into a balanced and harmonious future adult…

    this passage from teenage to adulthood is sprinkled with lots of hard times, ups and downs, of course, but understanding, attention and mutual respect were “sine qua non” rules-conditions… have you ever heard of the “lobster’s complex”?…(metaphor invented by Françoise Dolto, a great French doctor and psychoanalyst, famous for her research on babies and teenagers). Shortly, it represents the crisis of adolescence which is not just the work of the young adolescent; his/her crises are a necessary step… they “need” to fall in order to get up better! 🙂

    good luck, guys! 🙂

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Loved your comment, Melanie. Never heard of the “lobster’s complex” before. Very interesting and helpful way of looking at this stage in life. They might “need” to fall in order to get up better and we are here to support them through all these ups and downs.

      Have a wonderful weekend 🙂

  6. This is a great lesson and some really good advice. I fail miserable when it comes to following any of those steps and the worse part is I know they are imperative in getting young girls to talk. I will keep trying and perhaps one day I will make some progress

  7. katelon says:

    Great article! We can all gain alot from being really listened to and fully listening to others.

  8. Elouise says:

    Outstanding post. Loved the video, the text, the photos, everything. Thank you.

  9. Willy Nilly says:

    This sounds very familiar. I was deployed all the time and when I got back, nobody could convince me my two little girls were mini-monsters. I think my constant in and out hurt them. They are in their early twenties now and life is a huge challenge for them. I made up for lost time by just being there when they need it and not trying to parent them into every perfect decision or solution. They will always be my little booger babies, no matter what. Great post, Otrazhenie! It warmed my heart to think of fathers taking care of precious treasures, even the not so sparkly ones.

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Your girls are so lucky to have such a wonderful dad as you are, Willy Nilly. “Just be there” for them is the key. I am trying to do the same for my children – just be there for them whenever they need me. Have a wonderful weekend 🙂

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