Researchers: Moms Must Maintain Parent Role

What's going on in the minds of teenage girls when they pull away from their mothers? Researchers say it's important for mothers to keep their role and to tell their daughters what to do.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay. And then there's this question. What is really going on in the heads of teenage girls who pull away from their mothers? Do you really want to know?

Well, reporter Michelle Trudeau talked with one researcher about that question.

MICHELLE TRUDEAU: Susan Silverberg Koerner studies how teenagers develop autonomy. She's a research psychologist at the University of Arizona. Koerner says the predictable behaviors such as preferring to spend time with friends, bickering with mom about everyday things, stems from the teenager developing a sense of uniqueness. The daughter feels that what she's going through, whether it's about friends or school or appearance, all these experiences are unique to her and no one else gets it, especially people of the older generation, like mom.

Dr. SUSAN SILVERBERG KOERNER (University of Arizona): So you'll hear kids yelling, you don't understand, or teenage daughters talking to their friends saying, my mom could never understand. And for a while, they believe that to be true.

TRUDEAU: But just like the bickering over the daughter's messy room, a behavioral shift eventually, predictably occurs.

Dr. KOERNER: As teens move into their later teen years, that feeling of a sense of uniqueness tends to diminish and teens begin to sort of see their parents' point of view.

TRUDEAU: Researchers have also learned there are essential ingredients to successfully parent a teenager. If mom can combine caring and nurturing with setting clear rules and limits, then typically mom and daughter will remain close. And there's an additional payoff.

Dr. KOERNER: Those daughters are more likely to do well in school. They are more likely to be better adjusted psychologically and socially. They are more likely to be self-reliant. And they're much less likely to engage in deviant sorts of behavior.

TRUDEAU: And one more piece of advise to mothers from the researchers: It's important, they say, for mom to keep her role as the one who has more knowledge, more perspective, and does have the right sometimes to tell her daughter what to do.

For NPR News, I'm Michelle Trudeau.

INSKEEP: If you have questions about how to build a better relationship with your daughter, psychologist SuEllen Hamkins will try to answer them at our Web site, npr.org/yourhealth.

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