What’s Going on In Your Daughter’s Brain?

Kimmy Peterson, MFT - Petaluma Family Therapy

– by Kimmy Peterson, MFT –

The life of a parent includes helping your child navigate transitions; from a once tiny snuggly baby girl, to an on the go toddler, an exploring grade schooler, an awkward preteen, and now a teenager learning to become independent. These transitions have each been made with minor fails, a few emotional wounds, and thankfully some victories. This newest transition into a young adult might be one of the toughest, not only for your own mental sanity, but for your daughter also.

You are now questioning, “What’s going on in our daughter’s brain?” At one point you could easily determine her needs, thoughts, and feelings. Overnight this has become much more difficult. Your daughter often doesn’t respond to your questions, or if so, responds in only one or two words. She has become less engaged and would rather not be spending time with her family. How do parents maintain a connection to their daughter as she grows into young adulthood?

To help understand we can look at a study on the young adult brain and its functioning conducted by researchers at MIT. Their findings showed that, when teens enter young adulthood, their thinking capacities, relationship skills, and ability to regulate emotions are unlikely to be at a developmental level where they can cope easily with the demands of a diverse, global, technological, rapidly-changing world. If all goes well at this developmental stage, biology and environment will bring a surge of growth paralleling those experienced in childhood and adolescence.

Your daughter has much more going on in her brain and is being pulled in more ways than her moodiness or sullen withdrawal lets on. She is learning to navigate this whole new world of becoming a young adult. What was once a mind filled with simple thoughts of playing with friends, engaging in an occasional outside activity, and interacting with family, has now become a place where she is constantly figuring out all that life beyond the family has to offer. These thoughts could cover a wide range of issues: the importance of school grades, demands of sport participation and schedules, peer and social pressures, creating new intimate relationships, extra circular activities, creating and maintaining an identity/image, the constant pressure to be connected by technology, managing the blending of family values, and finding/developing her own self. She is now processing other people’s points of views and perspectives, determining if they align with her own ideas. She is becoming more aware of her actions and how they might affect others.

Here are some important things parents can do to foster this growth and development:

Allow processing Time
Allow your daughter time to process her thoughts before you require an answer. She needs processing time to internally test her options before she can respond. Refrain from the urge to jump on her for ignoring you and or not engaging. Your teen may also tend to internalize her feelings, and there may be a reluctance to share them. You can try offering more space and less judgment to get to know what she is really thinking and needing. Try asking “open ended questions” instead of yes or no questions such as, “How would you . . .”, “What would be the outcome if . . .” Allow your daughter to get back to you in a day or two if you ask a more personal question.

Create Space for conversation
Providing time and private space without creating judgment will allow your daughter to feel more open to sharing. When your daughter does open up, or makes a request you don’t agree with, don’t shut her idea down right away. Use the opportunity as a learning experience. Create a pros and cons list with and her and allow her to share her reasoning. This gives both of you the ability to share without engaging in an argument and also teaches her how to process information and thoughts in an adult manner. Being able to model positive and healthy communication techniques will help your daughter be able to communicate and process her needs and feelings in the future.

Model Balanced Thinking
Help create a balance in your daughter’s busy schedule. Although you as a parent may feel rejected by your daughter, continue to provide her with ways to connect with the family. It may feel like all your daughter wants to do is be on her phone, computer, or with friends. Take the time to set up regular time and space to check in. Have weekly technology free family dinners. Foster healthy conversations about others and their opinions. Plan one on one time that you can spend with your daughter engaging in a physical activity you can both enjoy. Allow your daughter to be the expert and learn something new from her – new technology applications are an important topic your daughter can help you to stay on top of. You have provided her with family values, morals, unconditional love and support, trust that she will utilize those. Trust yourself as a parent. Allow your daughter to make mistakes and learn from them as she transitions into being a young adult.

Kimmy Peterson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Petaluma offering counseling for teen boys and teen girls to help them make the transition from childhood to adolescence. Kimmy has extensive experience working with both individual teens and with families to help build communication skills and decrease unnecessary conflict.


Resource links: MIT Young Adult Development Project
Rae Simpson, Ph.D. Serving as co-Pl is William Kettyle, M.D. “MIT Young Adult Development Project.” Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology. 2008 http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/index.html