Moms: How To Discipline Teen Girls Without Being The Enemy

How does a mom navigate her relationship with her teenage daughter? At a time when girls are going through changes physically, socially and emotionally, moms grapple with how to comfort them while still being effective parents. Host Michel Martin talks with a panel of moms, including Susan Shapiro Barash, author of the book "You're Grounded Forever... But First Let's Go Shopping," and regular contributors Dani Tucker, Leslie Morgan Steiner, Aracely Panameno.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. But maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. Today we want to take a look at the relationship between moms and daughters, particularly teenage daughters. They are at an age when young girls are changing physically, emotionally and socially and many mothers struggle with defining the role that they should play in their daughters' lives.

When should you be your daughter's disciplinarian, when should you be her friend? Should you ever try to be her friend? Some moms are pretty effective at drawing a line. But other moms, well, not so much. Like Amy Poehler's character in the movie "Mean Girls."

(Soundbite of film, "Mean Girls")

Ms. AMY POEHLER (Actor): (As Mrs. George) Hey, hey, hey. How are my best girlfriends?

Unidentified Woman: Hey, Mrs. George. This is Cady.

Ms. POEHLER: Hello, sweetheart. I just want you to know, if you need anything, don't be shy, okay? There are no rules in this house. I'm not like a regular mom, I'm a cool mom. Right, Regina?

Ms. RACHEL MCADAMS (Actor): (As Regina George) Please stop talking.

Ms. POEHLER: Okay. I'm going to make you girls a hump day treat.

MARTIN: Okay, so that's a movie, but perhaps this scene is playing out in your living room. You can tell us. Joining us to talk more about this is Susan Shapiro Barash. She is author of the book "You're Grounded Forever, But First Let's Go Shopping." She joins us from our bureau in New York. Here in our Washington, D.C. studio is our panel of regulars: Dani Tucker, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Aracely Panameno. Ladies, moms, welcome.

Ms. DANI TUCKER: Thank you for having us.

Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. ARACELY PANAMENO: Thank you.

MARTIN: Susan, when did you get the idea for this book?

Ms. SUSAN SHAPIRO BARASH (Author, "You're Grounded Forever, But First Let's Go Shopping"): Well, I have two daughters and a son, although people don't always know I have a son because I talk so much more and struggle so much more with my daughters. So I thought that after having written a book about female rivalry and a book about toxic friendships, that it was time to really look at what mothers do right and wrong with their daughters today.

MARTIN: And what are some of the things that they do wrong? And do you think this is kind of a new phenomenon?

Ms. BARASH: I agree with you, Michel. I do think that it's a 21st century phenomenon and I think it's because baby boomer mothers and gen x mothers don't really want to relinquish their youth in some ways and so we have that whole sort of who looks best in these jeans thing going on with teenage daughters. I think that it's very hard to say no to a daughter today. Your daughter has more of a voice. She feels much more entitled. You know, you hear your daughter say, well, all my friends have that. And that didn't happen 30 years ago.

MARTIN: And what are moms doing right today? What do you think they're doing perhaps better than prior generations?

Ms. BARASH: They communicate better with their daughters. They're more willing to take the time. And in an ironic way, instead of being so authoritative with your daughter, you're actually really a great listener and you show compassion and you just want to make your daughter safe in an unsafe world. That's changed too.

MARTIN: Let's hear some of the other moms and how they feel - whether they feel that this resonates with them. Leslie, in fact, one of the great things about this group is that we have a lot of diversity here, also in the diversity in the age of our daughters, as well as ethnic diversity and a lot of other things, too. So, Leslie, why don't you start? Do you - does this resonate?

Ms. STEINER: Oh, this resonates so much with me. I have a daughter who is almost 12 and what strikes me as so different is the way my mother parented me versus the way I am with my own daughter. And I'm good evidence of two national trends. It's just amazing how much motherhood has changed in the space of just one generation. It's because there are much smaller families. People on average have 1.9 kids today versus 3.4 in the '70s. And my mom was the same. She had four kids and I have three.

And, also, moms today are much better educated. In the '70s, only 20 percent of women had college degrees and now it's getting up to 50 percent. And all of this translates to much more involved moms, because you can be hyper-involved in your kid's life if you have fewer kids. And, also, I think part of being better educated means you approach motherhood with more competitive zeal, if you will.

And I see this in myself and I also see it in all the moms that I know who have daughters my daughter's age. And I'm really, really close to my daughter, but I find that it's important to make sure that I do draw a line, that I'm not her buddy or her best friend and I'm not trying to relive my youth through her in any way.

MARTIN: Does it bother you if she's mad at you in a way that you can guarantee that your mother did not care if you were mad at her?

Ms. STEINER: My daughter has been mad at me every single day of her life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEINER: I've gotten used to it. It does not bother me at all that she's mad at me. And it's just not part of our relationship. But at the same time, I'm close to her. And I tell you, the way I see it is that I am her interpreter. I live in the world of womanhood, and I've been here for a long time. And I understand dynamics between women and men and women, and even the little things, like what clothing looks good on what body shape. And so I'm her interpreter from the future. But that is not the same as being her buddy.

MARTIN: Dani, what about you? Did this resonate with you? Because I have to say that there are aspects of Susan's story here that, of the book, that I thought - that does make a lot of sense for some people, but it strikes me that perhaps there's some ethnic differences here. I know in the African-American community, for example, the concern has been that perhaps sons are coddled more than daughters are because there's this sort of phenomenon in the African-American community of seeing black men as an endangered species and therefore, they have to be, you know, protected in ways that daughters are not. There's a saying that mothers, you know, raise their daughters but love their sons.

Ms. TUCKER: Right.

MARTIN: So tell me about - what do you think? You have a daughter.

Ms. TUCKER: I have a son and a daughter, so I try not to give into both myths. You know, I want to, sure I do worry about, you know, my son, you know, for what's going on out there in life. But at the same time, I do want him to, you know, leave his mother. You know, you have a tendency to cuddle them, and then they don't go anywhere.

Same thing with my daughter, who is 13. So I am one of those mothers who I watch - she's not my best friend. Bottom line. I'm one of those mothers, we don't do the best friend thing. I'm your mother. And especially for my daughter, for Imani, she has so many friends whose mothers are raising them as best friends. So a lot of times, we have a lot of talk about that. Well, so-and-so's mom let them do this and that. I know I can't do that, but why won't you let me? I say because it's not right. Your mind doesn't go with your body, you understand? And then what happens is she's letting her daughter do that. Now, five years later, her daughter's out of control.

MARTIN: But you are saying - you're saying you are seeing an example of this where girls...

Ms. TUCKER: Totally. I've got...

MARTIN: ...mom's aren't really - they're - in your view are a little confused about whether they are their daughters friend or whether they are the parent. Why do you think that is?

Ms. TUCKER: I talked to my two girlfriends who had that problem. We agree we don't want what we had with our mothers, totally nothing. You know, just the mom thing and, you know, I hated my mother but we're - you know, I-love-her-at-the-same-time type thing. So we wanted a closer relationship with our daughters, but we didn't strike a balance, you know, in our efforts to try to undo what was done with us and our mothers, we went too far. You know, like I told her, I said, now, your daughter's 13. And we just got out of the car to go to the movies, and she like "Mahogany," from Diana Ross in "Mahogany." You got to have a problem with this.

MARTIN: What do you mean? Explain, for what...

Ms. TUCKER: She had the color contacts, the nails and the feet done, the extensions in her hair. And at 13, that's too much. So as we're going out to the movies, she's acting like Diana Ross from "Mahogany" at 13. And, you know, me and my girlfriend had to have it out. I'm like, that's too much. And then now when she's calling you names and talking about you don't run nothing, you know, now you got a problem and you are on my phone going: Well, what did I do wrong?

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're talking about the relationship between mothers and daughters. Not that that's a complicated topic at all, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: With me are our Moms regulars: Dani Tucker, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Aracely Panameno. And we also have with us Susan Shapiro Barash. She's author of the book "You're Grounded Forever...But First, Let's Go Shopping."

Aracely, what is your story? You are the senior diva of the group in terms of your daughter is 21 now. So you've kind of...

Ms. PANAMENO: I've graduated.

MARTIN: You've graduated.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PANAMENO: And I made it. So the topic resonates quite a bit, and in many aspects. There are differences based on race, ethnicity, immigration status -whether or not we're immigrants in the United States, and the differences between how we raise children outside of the United States and then social norms in the United States. And so there is all of those pressures.

And so my daughter, now 21, in college, etcetera, thinking of herself an adult, whereas that her mind actually is not fully developed. She's not capable of analyzing. And yet still, I do draw the line. My job is not to be your best friend. My job is to make out of you or to help make out of you a responsible, young adult capable of making sound decisions.

MARTIN: Do you think that sometimes - I'm speaking about the push and pull between the way you were raised and the way a lot of kids are raised in this country and trying to sort of navigate between those two. And tell me a little bit more about what the push and pull was in your household. Was it that everybody's doing this and why can't I?

Ms. PANAMENO: It - well, it would be something we are having - there is a party going on and, you know, I'd like to attend that party. And it wasn't necessarily asking for permission, but rather trying to just inform me I am doing this. And I'm like, no, no, no, no, no. You can't give me notice, you know. I am still the adult. I still handle the situation, and there are certain ground rules. I need to know who the parents and the adults at that party are going to be. Is there going to be alcohol? Is there going to be - you know, there are certain things you're not allowed to do, and so, therefore, I need to confirm with the adult of that other household. And she'd be like, you're the only person that wants to be that engaged or that involved and, you know, I am sorry things weren't for you in the same manner.

MARTIN: Oh, man. She went there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But, Susan, Susan, actually, you are the senior diva when it comes to the age of your daughters. So tell me, Susan, what are some of the ways that you can help us navigate around this issue? Like you talked about the let's-go-shopping piece. It's part of the title of the book. Did you go shopping? Is that something important to do together?

Ms. BARASH: I think that shopping works if you have the boundaries. You know, if you're going to the mall and it's because it's a great venue for communicating in the car on the way there or, you know, if you live in the city, as you, you know, get there and have lunch at the store, whatever, it's great. But if you're there and you're daughter is saying: But I have to have this, and you're very uncomfortable with it in terms of values, then I think it just shows us how much materialism - another issue - has become a part of the fabric of our daughters' lives.

MARTIN: Leslie, what about you? Did you want to add something to that?

Ms. STEINER: I do.

MARTIN: Dani, you have a funny story. I can't wait to hear it. But, Leslie, go ahead.

Ms. STEINER: It's not so much about shopping, but it's just - the main thinking about during this whole conversation is the most striking thing that's different between me and my - the way my own mother raised me is that my mom -and you can't tell, because I'm on the radio - but I'm white. My mom was a classic kind of uptight, WASPy mother, and she could not talk to us about our bodies or about sexuality or any bodily functions.

So, as a result, I was completely on my own when it came to menstruation. I had to buy my first bra by myself. I went to Planned Parenthood when I needed birth control, all on my own. And it was really hard. And I'm really careful with my daughter, even though she's, I think, a long way from dealing with those - the sexuality issues herself. I talk to her a lot about that, because that's one place where I don't necessarily want to be her friend, but I really want to be a resource to her. And statistically, teen pregnancy rates have plummeted since the '70s, along with drinking and drug use. And a lot of experts think it's because parents are much more close to their daughters and their sons, and that it's a real upside of the helicopter parenting trend.

MARTIN: Yeah. Don't be so sure that she's that far away from those conversations. I mean...

Ms. STEINER: I know. It's true. It comes faster than you think.

MARTIN: You know I mean?

Ms. STEINER: Right.

MARTIN: So, Dani, you - talk to me a little bit about the - there's this funny story you were telling us about how you were on your way to the salon - and you pick up the story there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Your nails look fabulous, by the way.

Ms. TUCKER: Thank you. I mean, we have - I'm on my way coming from work, and I'm going, you know, to get my nails done, which I do once a month. That's mommy's treat to herself. And Imani goes, I want to go. I want to go. And why can't I go? You know, and then she - we call it - she had her girlfriend mode, you know, where she decided she was going to snap at mommy.

So, you know me. I nicely put her in her place and let her know, you know, when you work for a living in when you make your own money, you go on and I'll pick you up and we'll go to the nail salon together. But I said: Where do you work? Well, I don't work. I said: And where do you live? I live with you. Okay. Then you need to go on back to your activities. I'm going to go get my nails done.

And that's how we pick up the girlfriend thing, getting them to understand that just because mommy took you for your birthday doesn't mean this is a regular we're-going-to-do-this-thing. It doesn't mean that you get to wear my clothes, you get to wear my shoes. You know, it doesn't mean you get to get your nails and - and well, what do I get to do? Whatever mommy lets you do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: You know, she understood.

Ms. BARASH: I would say that...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Susan.

Ms. BARASH: I would say that, Dani, I really think you're a, you know, an example for us all, because it sounds like you're very fearless. So many mothers are concerned that they'll alienate their daughters, that, you know, pleasing their daughters is somehow justified by what a tough world it is, and so they don't always say no. And you clearly do.

MARTIN: So bring us home here, Aracely. I'd love to have a final thought from each of you. Susan, I'll give you the last word. So give us some advice for people who aren't as far down the road on mom-daughter relationships as you are. What do you think is the best thing that has helped you be the mom that you most want to be to your daughter and help her to be the strong, independent woman that you want her to be?

Ms. PANAMENO: I mean, I'm not so sure that I have achieved that strong, independent and all of that. I think that we're still working on that. It's a work in progress.

MARTIN: But we all are. So...

Ms. PANAMENO: So I would say that, for me, it was very important to let her know that I loved her, that love was unconditional, that I could be disappointed at the things that she did or said, but that it didn't stop me from loving. It was very important, also, for me to teach her some values, like respect, and to teach her discipline, and that there were expectations and standards in the family that she could live up to, and that those were reachable goals. That was very important.

MARTIN: Okay. Leslie?

Ms. STEINER: You know, my daughter is - from the time, really, that she was born, she's been kind of a diva in her own way and fiercely independent and strong. And I think that's one reason I have always wanted to be strong myself in terms of boundaries with, her because it was clear to me that she was -she's in charge. She's stronger than I am in lots of ways, and that if I gave in to her all the time, it was going to be really ugly in the family. And so I think one thing we have to think about when we're raising these girls is that it's not just while they're in our household, but we're really shaping them in terms of how they become moms.

And even though my mom was uptight in some ways, one thing I really loved about her that never left me is that she loved being a mom, and she was very comfortable being a mom. And she breast-fed in the '60s and '70s, when nobody did that. And she just really approached motherhood with a lot of passion and joy, and it's something that stuck with me. And I really hope that my daughter carries that forward, that when her time comes, that she really loves being a mom the way I have, too.

MARTIN: Dani?

Ms. TUCKER: I would just say to the moms: It's okay if your child does not like you. You love them and they love you. That's unconditional love. But I think a lot of things that keeps us from saying no and letting them have their way is we want them to like us. And I tell mine all the time, I could care less if you like me or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: Really, I don't. Because I know you love me. You know I love you. But you will understand it later. But right now, I've got to be your parent. And to be your parent, you will not like me sometimes, and that's okay. It is okay for your kids not to like you. It's okay.

MARTIN: We like you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: Thank you.

MARTIN: Susan, any final thought from you about - what's your best advice, other than buy your book?

Ms. BARASH: I think that you have to understand your daughter's individuality, that that's really a responsibility as a mother. So if you want your daughter to go to chess club because all your friend's daughters are doing it and your daughter wants to go to gymnastics, then you have to honor that. I think that self-esteem, you know, really being keen on that and telling your daughter that she's good at what she's good at - not praising, you know, empty praise, but really paying attention to what she's good at and building her confidence, and I guess not to be critical, because that is so damaging.

And especially if the mother is so wrapped up in sort of the culture she's involved in and the mothers she knows and has friended and, you know, befriended, then I think that sometimes you're critical of your daughter if she's not conforming, she's not part of the crowd in some way - and so, again, thinking of who your daughter really is. And that starts early.

MARTIN: Susan Shapiro Barash is the author of the book "You're Grounded Forever...But First Let's Go Shopping." It's actually one of her 11 books. She teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College, and she joined us from our bureau in New York. Also with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, Dani Tucker, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Aracely Panameno, our regular Moms contributors.

Thank you all so much.

Ms. TUCKER: Thank you.

Ms. STEINER: Thank you.

Ms. PANAMENO: Thank you.

Ms. BARASH: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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