Dad Sense

My Relationship with My Teen Daughter:
By a Dad Who Grew Up in a Conforming WorldBy Dr. Arjun Sen


When I was sixteen and growing up in India I wanted to be an engineer. The reason was simple: my dad was an engineer. Conforming was expected and rewarded not just in career choice, but in most areas of life as a teenager. That put my parents in a unique position of power as they determined the path of my life. Today I realize that autocratic parenting worked primarily because the world my parents grew up in and the world I was growing up in were nearly the same. Nothing much changed in the time between. Their old learning still applied to my reality. In a way, their teen user manual was still valid for my life.


Today my daughter is sixteen. In the past two years her career goals have changed many times as she learns more about what life has to offer. She is driving on her own, and in many ways has taken the first steps in taking charge of her own life. For me, her world is totally new. I am baffled when she exchanges over 100 text messages a day. An ipod in one ear is the norm of multi-tasking. Then there is facebook, which is a new and different township altogether. As a single dad in my forties, I find it challenging keep up with her quickly evolving world. I was not trained this way. I didn’t make my own decisions when I was her age.

In my journey documented in Raising a Father, I share my learning as a father lost in the corporate world who was making no effort to understand the world my daughter was growing up in. Today I realize that when I do not know something about my daughter’s world, the noble thing to do is confess my ignorance and rely on my daughter to educate me. As I negotiate this unfamiliar territory, I have learned some invaluable lessons:

1. Be Present:

I admit that I do not understand the world my daughter is growing up in. But that can NEVER be an excuse for me to be not present in her life. Just being there as a supportive parent boosts her confidence. She knows now that she does not have to search for me in the audience when she performs. She is confident that dad will be there.
Every day when she comes back from school I am rewarded with magic moments. She dashes in and says “Guess what Dad!” as she opens up and pours her heart out. This was the case when she was eight, and it is the same now. The only difference is that now she is 16, and some of what she tells me is simply TMI (too much information).

2. Be honest about I do not know:

I am completely musically challenged. Hence, when my daughter announced her interest in joining the school choir I raised my eyebrows. My honest thoughts were, “How can you not realize that, as neither your mom nor I are musically inclined, the chances of you succeeding in this area are callously low.”
But I kept my mouth shut. I let Raka try out and today Raka is a regular in her school’s musical performances. My ignorance nearly closed off music in her life.

3. Involve her in decision making:

Being involved in her decision making is the toughest lesson of them all since I did not get a chance to participate in decision making when I was a teen. I sincerely believe that working together with my daughter to understand the situation before we decide on actions and consequences is crucial. It is a very involved journey where I bring the big picture parent vision and she brings the knowledge of the land. Her buy-in concerning the outcome is much stronger when she participates in the decision making.

4. Consequences are non-negotiable:

Though the decision making is done as a partnership, it is my job to implement the consequences. When my daughter started driving, we established a rule that she must text me before she starts driving, then send a follow-up text when she reaches her destination. This was not negotiable and failure to fulfill this results in a thirty day suspension of driving privileges.

5. Never ever give up:

Raising a teenager is not always easy, nor does it come naturally. Many times I get frustrated and feel like giving up, but then I think about the wow moments my daughter I have together. Moments like her first under-23-minute 5K run, her soccer goal save, her solo musical performance, or the times she cuddles next to me to watch TV. Every one of these moments I cherish, so giving up is not an option as I anxiously await a new magic moment.

About Arjun Sen

Arjun Sen today is a father first. He serves as president and founder of ZenMango®, a Denver-based firm working with restaurants, retail, charities, and other guest experience driven industries. Previously, Sen led a prestigious corporate marketing career, holding senior executive positions in several Fortune 500 companies including VP of Marketing and Operations for Papa John’s.

While at Papa John’s Sen pioneered one of the largest online businesses in the country which has completed over $1 billion in transactions. Sen has also taught marketing courses at the University of Colorado and co-chairs the Colorado Governor’s Small Business Council. LawrenceDad SenseDad Sense My Relationship with My Teen Daughter: By a Dad Who Grew Up in a Conforming WorldBy Dr. Arjun Sen 1980 When I was sixteen and growing...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids