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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Family Fundamentals: Daughters may not always open up to parents (for April 2011)

April 18, 2011

My pre-teen daughter and I have a good relationship, but she refuses to talk with me when she's having problems with friends or boys. What can I do to encourage her to open up to me?

There could be lots of reasons why your daughter acts this way. She might think you don't really care or wouldn't understand, or she might just feel embarrassed.

It's not uncommon for this to happen. In fact, a recent study by the Women's Fund of Central Ohio ( revealed that girls and young women from the fifth grade through high school said they'd much prefer to talk with friends their own age, or possibly older girls, about these types of things rather than their parents or other adult women. The study surveyed over 2,000 girls of diverse backgrounds in central Ohio and also incorporated data from focus groups and interviews with more than 900 fifth- through 10th-grade girls.

This doesn't mean you can't do anything about it. The report's authors offer some guidance, starting with this: "Allow your daughter to be the expert on her own life." These are wise words, but they're not always easy to follow. Adults often hope they can share their own experience to help their children through the bumps and bruises in life. But often, the voice of experience isn't what young people need: Rather, they need to feel important and valued.

To get this across, it is more important to listen and ask follow-up questions than to respond with sage advice. Too often, parents will say things that they believe innocuous ("I know how you feel," "You'll get past this," "You'll be thankful later") that simply don't ring true with their daughters' experience. It may help to try and remember the feelings you had when you were her age.

If your daughter is in the middle of a situation that she is experiencing as an important, dramatic event, hearing you say (in an effort to be helpful) "this is no big deal" could reinforce her sense that you really don't understand what she is going through. Then she will just shut down, or find someone who gives her the feedback she needs.

Brain research shows us that the last part of the brain to develop (in the early 20s for most) is the frontal cortex, or the part that controls executive functioning and long-range planning. Appealing to your daughter's sense of the "bigger picture" or trying to see this event in hindsight can be lost. You'll just come across as unsympathetic.

Even though they express frustration with parents and adults, the girls involved in this study were excited, hopeful, and expressed the desire for adults to trust them and believe in them. The best way to do this is to find the words to validate your daughter's feelings and experiences. It's not easy. But no one ever said it would be.

Family Fundamentals is a monthly column on family issues. It is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Family Fundamentals, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or

Dear Subscriber: This column was reviewed by Kara Newby, program specialist in Human Development and Family Science in the College of Education and Human Ecology for Ohio State University Extension.


Martha Filipic
Kara Newby