Raising Teen Girls
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Insights into the mental health and well-being of teen girls...

Parent conflict - what she thinks, feels and does about it

"I don't get it.  They scream, yell, threaten each other then act as if everything is OK.  But I'm not OK.  It's like they expect me not to worry about it.  But I do.  I think about it all the time.  I hear what they say to each other in my head.  I don't like to be at home.  I never know what might be happening so I just go hang with my friends."

This is a difficult subject to discuss but we need to... parental conflict.  Emotions run high and people get heated.  Trying to completely protect your daughter from the conflict isn't healthy and neither is exposing her to chaos, abuse (verbal or physical) or chronic arguing.

In the moment it's hard to remember she is watching, listening... learning. Over the years I've learned a lot listening to girls reactions to their parent's conflict.  Several themes have come up that are worth listening to.  She might not ever share this with you but if your home is filled with constant arguing and fighting this might help you understand what she is thinking, feeling and doing because of it.

Thinking

Depending on how severe and intense the fighting is, she often thinks her "parents should just get a divorce and be done with it".  This doesn't mean this is what she truly wants but it is what she thinks in the moment. It's confusing to her that they stay together when they appear to hate each other. "I am never getting married" is another common thought.  She often thinks marriage is hopeless and pointless if it's filled with so much hostility.  When it comes to herself, she frequently believes "I am some how responsible for the fighting". Often times she thinks something she said or did is the source of conflict.

Feeling

There are typically 3 common emotions that girls feel when her parents are fighting... anger, sadness and fear.  The anger often comes because of her exposure to the conflict.  Often, girls feel anger because they believe the fighting spills over into your relationship with her.  For example, mom and dad are fighting, daughter comes home not knowing what has taken place and mom starts yelling at her about the laundry.  Once she realizes or feels the tension with parents, she knows. She frequently thinks moms anger is due to the earlier conflict. 

The sadness comes when she believes it is hopeless to change.  She feels sad that "this" is her family life.  She is sad because deep down she knows it will either end in divorce or just keep going as is.   Fear is pervasive and leads to a lot of anxiety.  She thinks about the fighting at school, with her friends and especially at night before bed.  This fuels anxiety.  She is fearful of the unknown and lack of control.  There is nothing she can do about it even though she sometimes tries.

Behavior

There can be a variety of behaviorial reactions to parental conflict. Some girls stay out of the house if they are old enough to drive.  Ones who can't drive will stay in their room and listen to head phones... a lot.  If there are younger siblings, she will do her best to distract them from the fighting. She may become perfectionistic and try to be the "best daughter in the world" or she may be very angry and lash out at you.  Some girls develop eating disorders out of a need to control or substance abuse problems as a way to cope.

Parental conflict is a problem and it will effect your daughter.  It can't not.  It's important that she is shown that some conflict is normal and that it gets resolved.  That is healthy.  Ongoing, chronic, intense emotion involving yelling, screaming, throwing things, name calling or other destructive actions or words is not ok and it will lead to problems in her life.  She is not equipped as a teen to manage that kind of emotion.  It is too much for her. 

She loves you and wants nothing more then her family to get along and figure it out.  If you are struggling with these issues in your family, you are not alone.  Many families are struggling.  Take the time to get some help and see if it is possible to resolve the conflicts.  It's a gift to her.