Dr. Meg Meeker is a mother, a grandmother, a pediatrician with 30 years of experience, and an author of parenting books, the latest just out: “Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture.” She has helped families for decades navigate the tricky issues surrounding the teenage years, and condensed this wisdom into a readable volume that doesn’t just outline problems but offers steps families can take to help their daughters come through their teens with their morals and values intact, their relationships strong, and their futures bright.
In a conversation, Meeker laid out her strategies for parenting through these years, including some uniquely modern challenges, like those of social media.
Get Practical About Managing Screen Time
Many parents are concerned about the amount of time their teens are spending on their cellphones, both because it pulls them away from interacting with real life, minimizing the family’s time together, and because of the negative effects electronics can have on kids. Meeker believes one of the best ways parents can address their teens’ electronics use is by addressing their own cell usage:
What I really try to do is rather than have parents focus on helping the girls dial down on the amount of social media and screen time is to say the whole family needs to do it. And I say whatever you need to do because they’re kids, and parents spent hours on their phones every day. … Carve out some time, maybe an hour every evening, or two hours — an hour in the morning, an hour in the evening, where everyone in the family puts their screen down.
This deliberate disconnect from phones, social media, computers, and TVs helps facilitate Meeker’s next point. Girls will talk to parents and tell them what is going on in their lives — if their parents are listening to them.
“One of the best ways you can do that is to get rid of distractions that you have and let your daughters know you’re available for them,” Meeker said. “And if you ask a question, you’re really there to listen to the answer. Because I found that girls will talk if they know you’re really listening and willing to listen and not interrupt them.”
If you’re listening to your daughter, it’s easier to know what is going on. And if you know what she is struggling with, what she is excited about, what she is afraid of, you know what to address as a parent. Meeker believes teens need firm discipline and that this discipline should stem from clear boundaries during their youth:
One of the ways they feel safe with that parent is if they know the rules, they know the boundaries, they know what they can do and what they can’t do. And really, the reason we set boundaries and limits for young kids is we want to show them what it looks like to live with control and … boundaries. And then as they get older, we need to teach them how to erect those boundaries for themselves. And ultimately — what a good mother does — it says, you know, this is how you live with good self-control because you can’t succeed at anything in life without self-control.
Kids Must Learn Self-Control from their Parents
Teaching this self-control is so vital for helping our girls navigate this confusing and tricky, often toxic modern world, and for helping them become adults with as many options before them as possible. As a mother myself, I’ve often talked to people who are worried that being too strict or intrusive or monitoring their teens too much will stifle them, stunting their growth in becoming competent adults. I asked Meeker about this, and she offered reassuring words.
“The exact opposite is true. Children learn how to think well by watching an adult make good decisions and think well,” Meeker said. “It comes down to a child’s emotional, intellectual, and cognitive capacity to make good decisions. Kids have to learn how to make good decisions by seeing good decisions made because they’re not able to make wise decisions at different ages in their lives. So really what parents are doing is they’re showing kids how to learn how to set boundaries that are healthy. Kids don’t know how to set boundaries or where to set those boundaries unless they watch parents do it first.”
Meeker is absolutely right. We need to teach our kids, including our big kids, self-control. This isn’t a lesson taught in a day or a month or one mastered by the time they’re 11. It’s a lifelong lesson, one modeled day in and day out by involved parents who care deeply about their children.
Meeker Offers Practical Parenting Solutions
Meeker and her work are also compassionate and realistic toward parents and full of hope for families who are struggling. Rather than blaming parents or making them feel like parenting their kids well is an insurmountable task, Meeker simplifies it:
Teach the mother who feels so much shame and so much guilt — because every mother feels so guilty — if they feed them the wrong carrots at the wrong time, buy the wrong car seat, send them to the wrong school, their child is done for. I say great parenting is simple, but it’s hard. So focus on the big stuff. Stop worrying about the carrots and focus on the big things.
Long lists of scary problems without solutions or action steps are merely fearmongering. What real use is it to alert parents to lurking pitfalls but offer them no solution as they parent their daughters through these moments? Meeker avoids this in her book by offering firm, compassionate guidelines for families who want to raise strong daughters. While many resources are available for families of babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers, there are far fewer for parents of teens and preteens.
Mothers and fathers, despite what society tells you, it’s possible to survive the teen years with your relationship with your daughter intact and with your family’s faith and morals strong. Many families are going through these same years with you, raising moral and healthy children. You are not alone, and neither are your children.