Three things that will help your daughter thrive in adolescence.

Written by Fiona Ghiglione, PhD

What will adolescence be like for my daughter? If you are a parent this question would have crossed your mind, at least once. And for many people it is terrifying to consider some of the potential dangers and difficulties that she could encounter as she walks this path.

This fear is exacerbated by statistics in the media and research showing that rates of eating disorders, depression, anxiety and cyberbullying are on the rise – occurring for some girls as young as 8 or 9.

Adolescence is a time of challenge and our daughters will encounter many obstacles that they will need to overcome. The question is how will they deal with these as they arise? And is there anything we can do as parents that can help them thrive and tackle these with more ease?

Well, according to a new growing body of research on adolescent thriving there are several factors that, if present, act to protect your daughter during adolescence. The good news is that you can play a strong role in ensuring your daughter has these in place before adolescence starts and give her the best chance to thrive.

So what are the top 3 factors?

  1. Developmental Relationships

It is common sense that children with social support do better than those without. However, research has shown that not all relationships are created equal and that certain types of relationships really help our girls go beyond just coping, to really thriving.

Here are five defining characteristics of a strong developmental relationship:

  • Expressing Care – this person feels dependable, listens, is warm and encouraging and shows belief in her.
  • Challenging Growth – this person expects the best of her, holds her accountable, pushes her to go further, reflects and helps her draw the learning from mistakes and failures.
  • Providing Support – this person helps her to achieve her goals, stands up for her when she needs an advocate, puts in place limits and boundaries that keep her on track, empowers and helps her build up her confidence.
  • Sharing Power – this person treats her with respect, gives her a say and values her opinions, collaborates with her to come up with solutions and gives her the chance to sometimes lead and make decisions.
  • Expanding Possibilities – this person inspires her to see new possibilities, exposes her to new ideas in the world and introduces her to people and places that will help her grow.

Having one to three of these “Developmental Relationships” in her life will make a big difference to her sense of self and her ability to thrive in difficult situations. Because relationships take time to develop there is a strong argument for starting to develop these relationships early. Your relationship as her mum can be one of the most important she will form.

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2. Emotional Awareness & Regulation

All the challenges our girls face will trigger emotional responses, some stronger than others. How well your daughter is able to identify, express and manage these emotions will determine how well she is able to grow and move on from them. Children who find it difficult to do these three things are more likely to find maladaptive ways1 to deal with their emotions – like addictive behaviours (drinking, gaming, drugs), aggression and withdrawal.

Developmental benchmarks suggest that by the time they are 8-10 girls should already have a base of emotional awareness and skills at their disposal. Starting early, providing consistent support and modelling emotional skills are all necessary because developing this capacity takes time. Moreover, it is important they continue practicing these skills as their brains go through a pruning process in early adolescence.

3. Interests & “Spark”

Commonly, this competency is not given much priority by parents. Emerging research, however, suggests that helping girls find a passion, interest and something that sparks joy in them is a potent factor in thriving1-4 and is especially lacking in today’s tech reliant world. According to a recent Australian survey children between 12 and 13 are spending on average 4.3 hours a day on technology. The main problem with screen time relates to its sedentary nature and what else kids are missing out on when they are watching screens.

According to researcher Dr. Peter Benson, a spark:

* gives energy and joy
* provides the feeling of being alive, useful and purposeful
* is absorbing to the point that you “lose yourself in the moment
* originates from inside a person
* is a skill, talent, interest or gift
* is a person’s prime source of meaning, self-directed action and purpose
* has the potential to make the world a better place for others

When our girls are able to spend time away from screens, doing things they love, these interests and “sparks” begin to develop. And it works in a feedback loop – the more they learn, explore and achieve, the better they feel about themselves.

Where to start as mums

A great place to start is having a think about where your daughter is at, right now, across different parts of her development. By just taking 10 minutes of your day to think about this you can more effectively help build and strengthen those areas. And get her to utilise her strength areas more regularly.

Be sure to use my free guide on “Better Knowing your tween daughter”. This guide is designed to give you a visual snapshot of where she is at across 8 key areas and can be used to track how she is evolving over the next few years! Subscribe above to the Mothering Girls newsletter to download it free.


1. Collins, W. A., & Steinberg, L. (2006). Adolescent development in interpersonal context. In N. Eisenberg (Vol. Ed.), W. Damon, & R. M. Lerner (Series Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, 6th ed., Vol. 3: Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 1033–1068). New York: Wiley.

2. Scales, P. C., & Benson, P. L. (2005). Adolescence and thriving. In C. B. Fisher, & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Encyclopedia of applied developmental science: Vol. 1 (pp. 15–19). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. doi: 10.4135/9781412950565

3. Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2011). Thriving and sparks. In R. J. R Leveque (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (pp. 2963-2976). New York: Springer.

4. Anderman, E. M., Urdan, T., & Roeser, R. (2005). The patterns of adaptive learning survey. In K. A. Moore & L. H. Lippman (Eds.), What do children need to flourish? Conceptualizing and measuring indicators of positive development (pp. 223–236). New York: Springer.

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