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Working With Teens

It’s not easy being a teen girl and not easy parenting one.

More than previous generations, today’s teen girls face a daunting range of stressors that put them at risk for serious issues including self-harming behaviors, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Parents everywhere struggle to respond appropriately to the challenging behavior, hit-or-miss communication, and fluctuating moods we see in teenage girls. No wonder parents are overwhelmed!

As a clinical psychologist specializing in teens, I work with teen girls and their parents nearly every day. A lot of girls who come to therapy are stressed and lack the ability to cope in healthy ways. A lot of parents who come are worried about their daughters and feel frustrated, ineffective, and “locked-out” of the relationship they hoped to have — one where they could consult, guide, love, and enjoy their teen daughter in this final stage of childhood.

I’ve also raised two teen girls of my own and know how humbling it is to feel the confusion and overwhelm that come from parenting in this culture, at this time in human development.

Like many parents, I had girls at opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways. The first, easy-going but private, sharing information with me on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. I had to modify my natural communication inclinations and evolve specific skills that worked with her. Rather than overpower her and coerce her into greater openness, she taught me the art of treading gently which helped me read her subtle cues.

The second, intense and communicative had specific ideas about what she did and did not need from me. A voracious processor, I’ve had psychological conversations with her that have made me a better psychologist and person. As with her sister, I grew to ‘learn’ her and manage myself in important ways in order to parent her the best I could.

I notice other parents with more than one child also experience their kids as vastly different in basic temperament. It’s not always easy but parenting teenagers is nothing if not growth-producing for all involved. Becoming better parents means becoming better people because ‘lowering the hammer’ just doesn’t work with teens and there is no one approach or strategy that works every time.

I do not write about parenting teen girls because I did everything right with my two teen daughters. In fact, the mistakes I made are even more ‘cringey’ given my immersion in the topic. I write because, by nature and by training, I am an observer of emotional dynamics. With my clients, and even in challenging parenting moments with my daughters, I am an observer as well as a participant. I have been swept up in  stressful parenting moments yet still found myself tracking what’s going on developmentally (for teen and parent), strategically (communication skills and relationship management), and emotionally (what feelings are getting activated, how is each person managing them). Years of training make it hard to turn off my observer self.

Because the teen years are an important time for teenagers to build a sense of identity and a repertoire of healthy coping behaviors, both are always on my radar. I watch and listen carefully to see what works and what doesn’t. My clients and my daughters continue to teach me a lot. I take suggestions and collaborate with teens, parents, and schools to come up with new ideas that work better and get better results. Or I understand something in a new way and share that understanding to bridge the gap between parents and teen girls.

Dr. Lucie Hemmen is a California Bay Area native, living in Santa Cruz. She received her Bachelors Degree and Masters of Arts in Psychology from San Jose State University. She went on to receive her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

Her clinical experience includes two years as a crisis counselor at Mount Zion/Westside Crisis Clinic, two years at the Church Street Integral Counseling Center, the Belmont Hills Psychiatric Hospital where she taught stress reduction and biofeedback to hospitalized patients, two years at Santa Cruz County Children’s Mental Health, and two years at Youth Services before starting her private practice in 1997.

Dr. Hemmen has been published and featured in many print and digital publications as well as broadcast media including the Steve Harvey Show. Click here for a complete list of publications and media.