Ask Dr. Conte: Help! My Daughter Won’t Stop Texting Me During the School Day

Teenage girl text messaging on her phone

I have a 17 year-old daughter who is a senior in high school, and she will text me all day from school saying she hates being there. She says she hates the teachers and she is not really learning. I just don’t know how am I supposed to handle it when she texts me non-stop.

 

Great question. The first thing to evaluate with your daughter is whether or not she is safe. If she is safe, then the next question is, “What makes her think it’s okay to text you so frequently?”

Whereas you cannot control how much she texts you (unless you choose to take her phone from her, which is always an option), you can control how and when you reply. If you really want to help her gain the tools she will need in life to handle her emotions, then consider this: The more you feed into her daily complaints, the more you enable her to continually text them.

As a parent of a teenager, it is extremely important to understand that there is a difference between content and process.

Content is comprised of the words your daughter is literally using. Process is how she is saying them. The more you respond to her content, the more you will likely go back and forth texting her.

For example, this is what it looks like if you get caught up in content:

Daughter: “I hate my teachers!”

Mom: “Don’t use the word ‘hate’ it’s too strong.”

Daughter: “I hate them! I’m not learning anything! Do you want me to not learn anything? I guess you don’t care if I learn anything or not!”

Mom: “I didn’t say I don’t care, but honey, everyone has to put up with bad teachers from time to time.”

Daughter: “So you don’t care if I don’t learn anything and I never get into any school! You don’t care and neither do my teachers!”

Mom: “Don’t lump me in with them, I care. I do everything for you.”

In this situation, you will likely continually go back and forth about the words your daughter is texting, rather than focus on her feeling. And let’s face it, unless your daughter spends all her time reading and studying when she can do whatever she wants with her free time, the chances are that she is not really upset that she is not being given enough work at school. It is much more likely that she is experiencing agitation and annoyance.

The more you can learn to focus on process, the more likely you will help your daughter to help herself. Saying things like, “I’m sorry you’re having a tough day,” or “Remember there is a beginning, middle, and end to every day, and the same is true about today…” is a way to not get caught up in the details of what your daughter is saying. The details of her story are not as important as how she feels and how she intends to get through her difficult experience.

It is also important to be mindful that, as a teenager, your daughter is going through hormonal changes that can impact how she feels. When young people experience hormonal changes, they tend to feel as if their bodies are “eating away” at them, and they often report feeling “agitated” and “annoyed.” Although not many of us would like to recall our developing years, the truth is that you and I felt awfully similar to how your daughter feels right now when we were her age.

When our bodies start to feel agitated, the first thing our minds do is create a story to make sense of why we are feeling the way we are. In your daughter’s case, there is a good chance that she is feeling annoyed or agitated, and her mind is racing to say that it is school and teachers and that she “isn’t learning enough,” and she is prepared to blame everything else outside of her for “making her” feel that way. If she can learn, however, that her body is going through some difficult changes, and that it is natural to feel agitated, then she has a significantly better chance of not creating a story around her feelings. Instead, she can learn to accept both her feelings and herself for what she is experiencing.

The more you get caught up in the drama that your daughter reports to you, the more you are feeding into the illusion that the story she created is real (i.e., “She’s not learning enough”), and the farther you enable her to avoid learning about what is really going on with her.

It is always important to find out if your child is safe. If your child is safe, however, it’s time to look for ways to help her help herself through her feelings. The greatest gift we can give our children is the ability to handle difficult situations, because life will certainly bring them to them. Whatever the reason for your daughter’s texts to you from school, try to focus on process over content, and you might just be surprised at the way the dialogue unfolds.