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Why “Tuning Out” Your Teen May Benefit Your Relationship

Posted by Colleen O'Grady

Mothers and teenage daughters are highly ‘tuned in’ to each other. This is definitely true for me and my 18-year-old daughter. Since my daughter was a baby, I learned how to tune in to her every look, movement and sound she’s ever made. By the time she hit adolescence, my tuning in skill was highly developed. Now, it seems like I can tune in to my daughter’s emotional state from a hundred miles away. I know what kind of mood she is in by the way she shuts the door, opens the refrigerator and what clothes she puts on.

There are so many positive aspects that come from this ‘tuning in’ skill for moms.

Tuning in enables you to protect your daughter. When you’re tuned in you know if she is telling you the truth. You know when things don’t add up. You know what she needs and when she needs help or protection.

Tuning in fosters empathy and compassion. This is needed in order to have a close, loving relationship with your daughter. She understands that you know what she is feeling and that you care. This enables her to feel loved.

There is a negative side to tuning in—mothers can get stuck in hyper-tuned-in mode. You can get so tuned in to your daughter that by default, you tune out everything else, including you. Your daughter might pick up on your hyper-tuned-in mode and react. She might raise her voice and yell, or avoid you by hiding in her room.

You are hyper-tuned-in to your daughter when…

  • She gets into the car after school and you immediately say, “What’s wrong?
  • She reads a text and tears up and you say with great emotion, “Are you okay?”
  • It’s Saturday morning and when she stumbles out of bed you ask her to clean her room. After she slams the door, you decide to give her a lecture right then about manners.
  • You are driving her to school on the first day and you remind her of 7 things that she needs to do. And she snaps at you to shut up. You yell back that she can’t talk to you that way.

These scenarios will escalate into a big, dramatic scene. They can be avoided by tuning out.

There are many benefits to tuning out. The main benefit is that it decreases unnecessary drama between you and your daughter.

Your daughter is going to have dramatic moments. She can’t help it. She is hard wired for drama with her hormonal surges, undeveloped prefrontal cortex and limited problem-solving skills. I call this a “triple threat” for drama.

Her drama is like a fire. When mothers get hyper-tuned-in to their daughters it’s like you add gasoline to the fire. When you tune out, you are not feeding the fire and eventually the fire will go out.

Some additional benefits to tuning out include:

1. Your daughter has the space to feel her own feelings. It’s okay if she cries or gets upset. Many of her down moods will pass quickly. They are like a brief afternoon shower in the summer. There may be hard rains and lightning, but it will quickly pass.

Please note, however, if her depressed mood lasts longer than a few days, then you can step in and see what is going on.

2. You won’t take it personally. When you are hyper-tuned-in to your daughter, you take things personally. If she is in a bad mood, you think it’s aimed at you. If she is unhappy, you think you are not doing a good job as a mother. If she is ungrateful, you feel she is taking advantage of you. Nothing can set a mother off quicker than taking things personally.

When you are tuned out, her bad mood won’t get to you.

3. Tuning out decreases anxiety. If you are hyper-tuned-in to your daughter, then you are prone to fear. When you are hyper-tuned-in, you’re usually not tuning into her strengths and successes. Most likely you are tuning in to her sad, stressed or angry moments. Your imagination will make mountains out of these molehill moments.

4. Timing is everything. A normal teenage girl will have happy moments, calm moments, sad moments and stressed moments every day. There are predictable times that your daughter is going to be in a bad mood or stressed. If your daughter is sleepy, hungry or stressed, she will not be her happy self.

It’s so important to learn when to tune in and when to tune out. There is a delicate balance. You don’t want to be hyper-tuned-in and you don’t want to be so detached that you are always tuned out.

Tune her out when she is having one of those moments. Most likely the storm will pass. Tune in when she is back to herself. This will save you lots of grief.


About Colleen O'Grady

Colleen O’Grady specializes in encouraging and empowering mothers of teenagers, especially teen daughters, to live their highest and best life. From her coaching programs to her therapy sessions, she has helped thousands of mothers and teenage girls uncover their true purpose in life, create more happiness, and move to a place of inner peace. Find out more at

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