Steph Bowe. Photo: Supplied
My mother, who is not a hairdresser, cut my hair and gave me a fringe the evening before school photo day when I was 12. Fringes don't suit me, especially not weirdly thick, choppy ones. But we managed to get past it. I still let her cut my hair on many occasions after this. (Sometimes I trust my mum slightly too much.)
The point is, parents make mistakes – and it's important to give teenagers room to make mistakes. This is how we learn, this is how you learnt. If you have an honest, communicative relationship with your daughter, this will see you through the inevitable misunderstandings, such as the following:
Many mothers perceive the world to be darker than when they were growing up, and feel if their daughters are exposed to the wrong things, they will be permanently corrupted. This only makes a teenager even more curious.
Exposure to "questionable material" (in films, books, the internet) is inevitable, but it is much more important to initiate conversations about difficult topics. Being able to talk openly with my mother, and discuss my thoughts with her without being judged, is something for which I am extraordinarily grateful. And don't be offended if your daughter doesn't "friend" you on Facebook. She's probably just worried you'll leave embarrassing "love you" messages on her page. If you live with her, you might as well just tell her that you love her in person.
The pressure to succeed
Articles on how to raise an especially successful child – with advice like "play Mozart to your pregnant belly" or "it's never too early to teach your baby the Periodic table!" – terrify me. This paint-by-numbers version of raising a prodigy won't work, except to generate a child overwhelmed by endless activities, and a teenager crippled by the expectations of others.
It is always a bad idea to live vicariously through your child, and they're likely to rebel against you as a teenager. It's also a bad idea to tell your teenager they should study medicine or law if they have no interest in either. And don't tell them that what they are passionate about has no money in it, or is too competitive, or the field will collapse entirely.
People have been talking about the death of books for years, and I have been told many times that it's impossible to be published, or that teenagers can't write, or that hardly anyone makes a living as a writer, and yet, here I am – because I had my mum there, telling me to do what makes me happy. Not to be successful and impress people. Just to write because I enjoy it.
Clothing and judgment
Every couple of months, a current-affairs show will broadcast a story on the moral depravity of today's youth, with footage of 18-year-olds stumbling around on a night out, and with a social commentator telling us girls who wear short skirts are trollops (they don't tend to speculate as to the sexual promiscuity of boys).
This judgment from others in the world is unavoidable, but it's not necessary for mums to take part. It's vital that mums allow daughters to choose how they want to dress (at least most of the time), as it's an important part of self-expression and figuring out one's identity.
For an entire term of year 5, I wore three-quarter-length, bright-orange boardshorts under my school dress, as well as Paris Hilton sunglasses and occasionally a fedora (Justin Timberlake had made them seem incredibly cool). My mother didn't even try to stop me. If you don't have an opportunity to cringe at your past fashion faux pas, it'll feel like missing out on an important rite of passage. (However, rushing out to get a tattoo as soon as you turn 18 is something else entirely.)
This too shall pass
For some odd reason, there are all these strange adults who recall their teenage years as if they were the best time of their lives. Which just sounds depressing, frankly. It's okay to have a rubbish time of being a teenager, really. Lots of people do. If you feel awkward and insecure and frustrated and uncertain, that's just normal.
There's this feeling, as a teenager, that you need to have everything right now: freedom and independence, a clear idea of what you're doing with your life, good marks at school, the right group of friends, a perfect body. Then if one thing goes wrong, it feels as if everything's a mess: you haven't got everything sorted, but lots of people around you seem to be cool and in control.
So a mother needs to be someone who can let you know it's all going to pass, and who doesn't tell you that you're being ridiculous and melodramatic. Someone who can tell you that no one really has it worked out, but that it'll get easier with time. Being a good parent to your child and being their friend don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Trust your daughter, talk to your daughter, have patience. Most daughters would be happy with that.
Steph Bowe is the author of All This Could End.