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As the physical development is taking place in your daughter, as she is growing taller or starts having her periods, some other changes are also occurring simultaneously. People of this age start to think and feel differently. These are socio-psychological changes, which are in fact a preparation for the forthcoming role of young adulthood.

As a parent you will need to be aware of these changes your daughter is going through, be sensitive and supportive of her during this confusing and often troublesome period of her life. Some adolescents cope well and go through this phase smoothly without any stress or problems, but unfortunately, most of the girls experience difficulty in some way or another. And if your daughter does not receive your understanding support, the journey gets only more difficult.

Unlike the physical transformation we discussed earlier, psychological changes are more complex and may be somewhat difficult to identify, understand and explain. Some of the significant changes are :

Overt interest in one's outward appearance
It is not surprising that, with the rapid changes, which seem to occur almost everyday, some adolescents become very preoccupied with their appearance. They become very concerned and self conscious, needing a lot of reassurance, if they are not growing or maturing as quickly as their friends. They may worry less if they are made aware that there's a lot of difference in the ages at which rapid growth occurs. You could explain to your daughter that people's bodies change at different rates, some start early and develop quickly, others start late and develop slowly.

There is a need to look and feel attractive, a need to be in synch with the latest trends among one's peer group. It is possible that as an adult you may have forgotten how traumatizing these concerns are during puberty. Your daughter's agony over that one pimple, her dark complexion, or her small breasts may irritate or worry you immensely. But like we just mentioned a little while ago, what she needs is for you to acknowledge her concerns, talk about it and reassure her.

Around this time, young girls tend to be rather self-conscious, especially if they think they are lacking in any aspect, or if they are physically different from their peers. They will spend a lot of time looking into the mirror, dressing up, and wonder if they look attractive to the opposite sex. They are especially vulnerable to comments and criticisms from anyone, and at these times the school or the playground particularly, may become a psychologically unsafe place for your growing daughter. Regularly chatting about what happened in school, finding out about her friends and teachers may alert you to any troubling situations. Many mothers feel that in such times, one can reassure the young child, helping and advising her at home on how to cope, but allowing her to deal with such incidents herself at school.

Anisha, a 16 year old was 4'8'' tall and being one of the shortest in her group was commonly referred to as 'Shorty'. She hated the name and felt terrible about this. She soon began to withdraw from her own classmates, and mingle with a younger group. This also impacted her interest in her studies and her grades fell sharply. Clearly, her physical nondevelopment had affected her self-esteem, her social maturation and educational development, leading to mental depression.

Anisha's case is one amongst many adolescents. That's because puberty brings with it a flood of hormonal changes. She'll be sensitive to little things said about her appearance and dress-sense so it's best to take care when addressing such matters. One should take care not to make comparisons with a better looking sibling or a friend for instance. This will not only undermine her confidence, but also push her away from you.


Doubts and insecurities
During adolescence, too many changes are happening too soon, which call for a lot of adjustments on the part of your young daughter. This process entails a host of doubts and insecurities for her, which is often expressed through defiance and disobedience. Often, as it happens with many a harried mother of teenagers, you may unwittingly fail to recognize that confusion is the cause of such disruptive behavior, and instead of responding appropriately, tend to reprimand the child, making the situation worse.

From experience, while one knows that addressing rude behavior with acceptance and understanding is easier said than done, as a parent of an adolescent one has to try doubly hard. What helps, is knowing what your child is experiencing. Therefore, first count to ten if necessary, keep your voice normal and ask what is bothering her. Listen to what she has to say and then react. By now, you will feel far more in control of the situation and thus be able to react appropriately.


Assertion of identity
The psychological process of adolescence is often explained in terms of a child trying to establish his or her identity and thereby moving from a dependant to an independent person. Your daughter, like most children her age, will start to question authority and become more assertive than you expect. Their responses to your requests and demands will have changed from being obedient and meekly accepting, to questioning and asserting - “Why Mummy?” and “Not now Ma!”. Where earlier she may have jumped at your request, now she may only respond when she is ready to do so. If you suggest a certain outfit for her to wear, or stop her from buying something, you may wage a bet that she will want to do the exact opposite of what you suggest. At any given opportunity she will try to establish her own personal identity.

Sometimes your daughter may test the limits of her individuality and assertiveness by adopting behavior that will irk and irritate you, even trying to punish you by doing exactly what you dislike. For instance, playing loud music, using slang language and avoiding housework or her homework.

Young girls may start resenting or rebelling rules, though subconsciously they need these same rules for their safety. If you insist on a certain set of behaviour, for instance, not smoking, or going out alone with a boy, it may be best to explain the rationale for these, the fact that you are concerned for her safety, instead of presenting them as 'rules' that she must 'obey' because you say so. There will be a greater chance of her abiding by these 'rules' if she believes that you are not trying to deny her, but help her. That the rules are for her protection, and not because you think they are necessary.

No doubt that all this will demand a lot of you as a mother - skills of gentle persuasion, tactical presentation, effective negotiation, and most importantly, unquestioning loving.


Awakening of sexual interest

If you think back, you may remember that first attraction to the opposite sex, those moments of heady awareness, when your heart beat inexplicably faster, when you fantasized no end about that special secret tucked away. All this happens rather early in life, as many of us may have experienced, and is not just an adult experience. You must become aware that your daughter's sexual interests too are being awakened. You will know when you notice her noticing boys, when the posters of film or sports stars making an experience or when she swears undying allegiance to the current heart throb. These are the common milestones indicating that your daughter may have already felt those first feelings, and if these things have not happened already, they are bound to happen sooner or later.

It is not just a conscious awareness but is articulated and acted upon mostly according to the norms of the peer group. Sex related behaviour might take different forms. Shy individuals may shirk from any form of boy-girl relationships, or they may develop strong affections or crushes for people of the opposite sex.

Latika and Namita were two attractive, intelligent girls, who were not acting according to the norms of the peer group. They could not cope up with the demands made by their peers of “going steady with a boy”. They were branded abnormal and they actually started doubting their normalcy. All they needed was to be assured by the parents that they were indeed normal.

On the contrary, Jyoti and Ashu were two outgoing youngsters, much more exposed to the world beyond, aware, and in awe of the life style of their peers in other parts of the world where there is a great deal of sexual freedom. They too wanted to follow suit. When Jyoti's mother confronted her, Jyoti responded with - “Aren't we moving towards globalization?”
Expectedly, the discussion headed nowhere but conflict.

Unfortunately in India, talking about attraction to boys, sexual relationships and having frank discussions with parents is largely taboo or simply not done. Relationships with members of the opposite sex bring about the maximum friction between the adolescent and the parent. As a parent, it is very essential that you understand this biological phenomenon of adolescent children and prepare your daughter for the future by sharing your thoughts and values. This helps your daughter learn to make the right decisions which will help her cope with these emotional experiences.

Friendly banter and chats with daughters are often revealing of their feelings towards boys. You can ask playfully if she likes someone special, or your daughter may also tell you that she likes a boy either in school, or in the neighbourhood. If she does, please try very hard not to remark - Oh, stop being silly. Or, you are still too young! Especially, if you have initiated the conversation, do hear her response. The positive thing to do would be to express interest by acknowledging her feelings, enquiring about the 'subject' of her feelings, and at the same time placing things in perspective for her.

For instance, you may say - Oh really! Who is he? What do you like about him? Allow her to share her thoughts and feelings, enjoying them deeply, because this moment is like no other, for both of you. Then, gently tell her - I know the way you are feeling. At this age it is very natural to feel this way about someone…what you are experiencing is what some call a 'crush'. It's a wonderful feeling and most youngsters go through it. But then these feelings change as one grows up…you may feel differently a few weeks later. I remember when I had a solid crush on Shashi Kapoor! How we laughed about it later on… What you would have achieved is further opening the communication window, telling your daughter that you are there and that you understand. True, you may have to hear endless spiel about this young man's looks, style, etc, etc, but importantly, you will know what your daughter is going through. You would have also reassured her that what she is feeling is 'normal'.


Influence of peers

During this phase, your child's social relationships will move from the family to a wider circle, in which peers and other adults come to play significant roles. At no stage in life is social interaction more evident than the period of adolescence, when the need reaches its peak and peer influence is at its maximum. At this stage, peers become more important than family, making many a parent experience feelings of rejection. As a mother you must realize that while they are adult in appearance, they are extremely impressionable and the need for peer conformance is especially strong. The adolescent is usually most anxious to belong with and be recognized and accepted by his or her age mates, defining themselves more by adopting the accepted peer behaviour, conforming to the 'teen lingo', the latest fashions, etc. rather than their own individualistic thinking or parental norms.

One day, Dina, a 15-year-old, came home and announced - “I will start wearing jeans and t-shirts or miniskirts like my friends…and not just salwar-kameezes”. Her parents felt helpless and frustrated, feeling they were losing control over their new defiant daughter.

Shefali's mother was shocked to learn that her 17 year old, her wonderful, levelheaded daughter, had occasionally smoked with her friends. Despite her daughter's assurances, that it was only in fun, and that she is aware of how bad smoking is, her mother felt completely hopeless. Most parents will be able to empathize with Dina's and Shefali's parents agony. One learns the hard way that peer pressure is more dictatorial than any force imposed by a strict parent.

It is seen that adolescents mostly choose friends, whose interests are in line with theirs, somebody whom they can trust with their feelings and someone they can talk to without inhibition. Sometimes they also get along with people very unlike
themselves, maybe someone they are in awe of, for the lifestyle they lead, or someone who is popular in school or college. Sometimes adolescents find soul mates of the opposite sex, but normally all adolescents have intimate relationship with friends of their own sex. It is also important to remember that adolescents think and feel that they know all about relationships and making friends and do not like adults interference in the selection of their friends.

Refrain from the most common mistake of making remarks such as “How could you possibly have the dull-witted Smita as your friend?”, or “stay away from those girls…they are bad company.” Try not to taunt your daughter about friendships and relationship. Parents are sometimes unable to fathom their adolescents, friendships. A young girl's idea of the right type of friendship changes frequently. You wonder where your daughter’s chirpy childhood friends disappear and in their place you see a lot of hippy style strangers coming and going out of the house of whom you do not necessarily approve of. It is important for your adolescent daughter to have as many friends as possible, for she feels her popularity is synonymous with having as many friends as possible. An adolescent with no close friends is certainly having problems and needs help.

Let us take the case of Ankita. She was a home bird. She would return from her college, study, watch TV, read books, almost never socialized and had no friends. Her mother consulted a psychologist who found out that the cause of not socializing and having friends was due to an inferiority complex caused by a bad acne problem!

Remember your approval of your daughter's friends is very important to her. Ask about them, encourage her to bring her friends home, chat with them. You will know the kind of kids your daughter is spending much of her time with, and she will appreciate your interest in her friends. However, it is important that you do not use this route to snoop into your daughter’s life, her friends and her activities. Also it means a lot to your daughter when her friends say “What an understanding mother you have”. Her friend’s approval of you as a parent will go a long way in keeping the lines of communication open between you and your daughter.

Another essential aspect your daughter must be informed of is 'peer pressure'. Explain to her that at some time or the other, her peers, those of about her own age will influence her decisions, and there will also be situations when she may be pressured to do something that she does not want to do e.g. to experiment with smoking, alcohol, drugs or sexual relationship. Sometimes it can be very difficult for young people to resist peer pressure, particularly if they think that people will not like them, or will tease or bully them, if they do not do what they are asked to do. Emphasize that even though it is hard, it is important for your daughter to decide to do things only because she wants to, not because other people think she should. No harm in reiterating the fact that she can always seek your help if she is confused or doubtful.


Sensitive to criticism

Adolescent emotions are strong and they keep fluctuating. They are overtly sensitive to remarks made about their appearance, their habits, their work, or their relationships, especially with regard to the opposite sex. A comment from you or anyone can either put them on cloud nine or send them down in the dumps.

The most common causes which beget a parent's criticism are about one's clothes and appearance, the excessive amount of time adolescents spend in each other's company, or talking endlessly on the telephone to each other. Although these can be irritating issues to you, it is one way your adolescent is developing a distinct sense of identity from that of the family, thereby becoming more and more independent. It may help us mothers to understand that these early friendships play an important part in teaching your daughter how to interact with other people, how to form and sustain relationships.

Despite their fast forming sense of identity and independence, they are unsure of themselves and in many ways insecure. Therefore, considerable sensitivity is required when dealing with your adolescent. Primarily, they want to be loved, seeking affection, acceptance and parental confidence and trust.


Bundle of contradictions

Your daughter maybe talking to you like a mature adult one moment, but fighting mercilessly over a mere pen with her sibling in the next. This is so typical of adolescence, an age of strange contradictions that may be hard to comprehend. In their quest to become more independent, young people want to try out new things, but often recognize that they have little experience or commensurate skills to rely on. This may produce rapid changes in self-confidence and behaviour, appearing to be rather assured and grown up one minute, and very diffident and childish the next.

On one hand your daughter will resent being told what to do, and on the other hand she will ask for your advice. One day, Pooja asked her mother what dress should she wear for her birthday celebration, but when it came to the guest list, she wanted to have her way. If you are able to satisfy your daughter's query favourably, with the answer that she wants to hear, she will be willing to seek your advice and will start to trust you. Then she may start to seek advice on larger issues like career choices, dating and other important issues. Therefore as a mother, it would be advisable to identify issues wherein your daughter’s choice can be allowed to prevail, from those critical issues, which are non negotiable and your decision will prevail come what may.