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7 Key Strategies to Help Fathers Survive the Teen Girl

Most fathers have trouble understanding the teen girl. But these seven key strategies will have dads well on their way to building a better relationship.

What happens when your baby girl grows up and becomes a teen? Tears. Slamming doors. Utter mayhem. At least, that’s probably how it feels to most dads, but the reality isn’t too far off.

The teen years can be complicated, especially if you’re a dad raising a beautiful, sweet, (possibly crazy?) teenage girl. You might be asking yourself where your kind, loving daughter went, the one who used to say that Dad’s her favorite.

She’s still there, I promise, but she’s hidden under changing hormones, teenager stress, and a whole bunch of new responsibilities. All that a dad can do is try to understand this new disconnect and hunker down until the storm of Teen Girl passes.

Luckily, we have some tips to help.

The Disconnect Between a Father and a Teen Girl

Fathers and teen girls often face challenges and conflicts simply because of changing hormones, dynamics, and interests. I mean, just yesterday your daughter was in kindergarten, right? Who’s this teen girl asking to go out on a date on Friday? And because she’s now a teen girl and you’re . . . Dad . . . she won’t want to talk to you about so many of the things she’s experiencing, and you probably won’t want to hear it.

These are some of the most common points of conflict for Teen-Girl Dads:

  • mood swings
  • emotional intensity
  • desire for independence and privacy
  • self-discovery
  • influential peers
  • indirect communication or lack of communication
  • withdrawal
  • body image and self-esteem
  • curfews and social activities
  • grades, study habits, and academic performance
  • phone and internet use
  • chores and responsibilities
  • “attitude” and “disrespect”

Basically, this disconnect between a father and a teen girl is growing pains. Daughters have to grow and adjust with their changing bodies and environments. And dads have to learn how to go with the flow, adjusting and reacting to every new behavior like dodging balls in gym class.

The good news is that the volatile teen years don’t last long (even though they feel like it). And in the end, you’ll miss these years (mostly…probably…).

The bad news is that surviving the teen girl years isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Key Strategies for Surviving the Teen Girl

Sometimes, no matter how understanding a dad is, or how level-headed a teen girl, conflicts happen. She asks for help on her math homework and then suddenly explodes because she doesn’t understand and you’re not explaining it right! Or perhaps she wants to go shopping and needs you to tag along, but you really don’t enjoy the shopping trips—doesn’t she have a friend she can go with?—so she says, “Fine, stay home. You never do anything with me anyway!”

There’s really no winning. But we do have some tips to help dads wait out the storm and avoid the worst of the battles.

Pro Tip: Whatever you do, don’t ask her if she’s on her period. Even if it’s true, that’s just waving a flag in front of a bull. There’s no chance you’ll come out unscathed.

1. Find Common Ground

As mentioned above, the biggest cause of distance between a father and teen girl is changing dynamics and interests. So before the divide gets too big, dads and daughters need to quickly find common ground again. Instead of playing with dolls, it might be cooking. Instead of hanging out every night, it might be planning a weekly movie night. Dads might not be the best at all things teen girl, like slang terms or giving fashion advice, but they can still hold the shopping bags.

The important part is making time to do activities that you both love. (Or that one of you loves while the other loves his daughter enough to do them.)

2. When to Talk and when to Listen

One of the most difficult parts of raising a teenage girl, especially for dads, is figuring out when she wants a fixer and when she wants a listener. Being a fixer is an amazing quality, but sometimes teenage girls just don’t understand that. And thus, you end up arguing over nothing, feeling like you both have been wronged. So how do you tell the difference?

Some signs that your daughter wants you to fix her problems:

  • explicit requests for help
  • describing a problem in detail, step-by-step
  • asking for your opinion
  • expressing frustration over not knowing what to do

Some signs that your daughter just wants you to listen:

  • a vent session, an emotional outpouring without pausing for responses
  • repeating the same issue reflectively
  • looking at you, nodding when you make listening sounds, but not pausing for advice
  • not engaging with solutions
  • brief acknowledgments like “okay” or “yeah, but . . .”

Here are a few tips for suppressing the Dad Instinct, which makes fathers want to fix everything.

Understand the Art of the Eye Roll

Eye rolls are a natural teenage reflex. Take it as a sign of her growing independence rather than a personal insult.

Perfect the Dad Nod

This is the subtle, less-is-more acknowledgment. When she’s talking about something important, the “dad nod” shows you’re listening without overdoing it. Because more than a nod and a simple “got it” can come off as overexplaining or lecturing and backfire (big time).

Practice Selective Hearing

Not every dramatic outburst requires a response. Sometimes, nodding along while thinking about your next fishing trip is the best approach. But be careful not to get so out of tune that you miss something that requires a full response. Then she’ll be mad and you’ll be back to square one.

Tune out the Drama but Focus on the Important Stuff

Pay attention when it really matters. Heartbreaks, fender benders, school transfers—you’ll know what’s important when it comes along. And she’ll appreciate that you’re there for the big things, even if you miss some of the daily drama.

3. Find the Dad Seats

Shopping trips with teen girls who love shopping are an experience. (If you know, you know.) And as the dad of a teen girl, you can only get out of so many of them. But this is one of the things that teen girls remember about their dads. This time you spend together, the laughs, the many bags of clothes, will be unforgettable to her. So find the dad seats.

Most stores have sitting areas somewhere, or as I like to call them, the dad seats. You can park yourself there with your fellow teen-girl dads and read a book or play on your phone while she tries on every outfit in the store.

Pro Tip: Carrying shopping bags without complaint earns you major brownie points. Bonus points if you manage to throw in a dad joke about how heavy the bags are.

4. Embrace Being Cringy—It’s Your Right

No matter how cool you are, to kids, dads will always be dads. Embrace it. Whether it’s dancing awkwardly or telling corny jokes, own it with pride. In fact, you should use it to your advantage. Strategically deploy dad jokes or cringy dance moves to diffuse tense situations or negotiate terms (like curfew extensions).

5. Develop a Thick Skin

However, if your daughter tells you that those cargo shorts are a no-go, maybe it’s time to retire them. Teen girls are the best fashion police consultants, and they won’t be holding back the advice whether in public or at home, so now is the time to start growing a thicker skin. You’ll be fielding all kinds of fashion critiques, loser accusations, and old man jokes. Remember, they’re just trying to help you be cool (or as cool as a dad can be).

But your skin has to be even thicker when she starts experimenting with her own style. Prepare for the day she decides to experiment with neon hair or eccentric fashion choices. Remember, it’s just a phase (hopefully).

6. Wave the White Flag! Declare Switzerland!

Say that a father and daughter just got in a huge, blow-out fight. A moody teen girl might find it difficult to resolve this conflict. (Admit she was wrong? Never.) So sometimes, the dad has to be the first one to apologize. By having the father open up first, the daughter will feel less emotional pressure, feel more comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings, and be more likely to apologize and resolve the conflict peacefully.

Perhaps you’ll want to wait until emotions have calmed a bit before attempting this. (You absolutely do not want to follow a teen girl when she’s emotional and trying to create space.) But you definitely shouldn’t wait too long before reopening the discussion, otherwise you’ll be inviting a teen-girl grudge, which can be super scary and super long.

I’m not saying to change your rules or boundaries to accommodate your daughter’s wishes, but apologizing for how you reacted, for your tone of voice, or for not listening well always works wonders. Taking this one hit might mean that you lose the battle, but you’ll win the war.

7. If You Can’t Solve the Puzzle, Throw Chocolate at It

Teen girls are puzzles that are sometimes too difficult to solve. If she’s moody, crying, or angry for reasons you just can’t figure out—or don’t want to think about—chocolate is always the answer. A well-timed snack can be a peace offering, a conversation starter, or just a simple mood boost. Even if you just throw her favorite treat at her without saying a single word, she’ll feel like you just handed her the world. Keep her favorite treats on hand for those moments when she needs a pick-me-up and you need a backup plan.

Discover More Ways to Get Parents Through the Teen Years

The cover of the book BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends).


The cover of the book From Tweens to Teens.

From Tweens to Teens

The cover of the parenting book The Parent Compass.

The Parent Compass

Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.

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