Advice

Dear President Obama: Here's what you need to know about raising a 16-year-old girl

July 4, 2014 at 6:59 AM ET

President Obama with Malia, who turns 16 on July 4th.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
President Obama with Malia, who turns 16 on July 4th.

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations and best wishes are in order! As of July 4, you’re officially the father of a 16-year-old daughter.

It’s hard to believe Malia is celebrating her sweet sixteen birthday this weekend! Crazy, isn’t it? No doubt you’re experiencing the same whirlwind of feelings I went through when my own daughter hit that milestone six years ago.

Time flies when you’re a dad, doesn’t it?

Well, fear not. You’re joining a brotherhood of men who have walked through those doors before you. We’ve got your back. And while you may know a thing or two about being the leader of the free world, we have a few tips to help you master this next phase of your life.

1. Take a back seat. Every girl has her own vision as to how this birthday will be celebrated. I’m sure Malia has her birthday plans all mapped out. No matter what they are — big or small — just remember that it’s all about her. Get comfortable being a wallflower. But be sure to grab a moment to tell her how she’s single-handedly changed your life. Or write her a note and leave it by her nightstand. Daughters need to know how their dad feels.

2. Empower your daughter, then start letting go. Like all kids, Malia’s going to want more and more independence from you. I went through this with my sons, and my daughter. As a dad, it’s easy to be a little more protective with our daughters, isn’t it? But you know what I’ve learned? Girls rock. And the more us dads support, empower and cheer them on in their journey towards independence, the more they rock. Your job is to constantly be aware of where you are on that teeter-totter. Sure, you’re there to protect your daughter. But start the process of untethering. Trust her. Believe in her.

3. Be the Advisor-in-Chief. No doubt you have a lot of comfort with telling people what to do. And you and Mrs. Obama still set the rules in your own home. But start preparing yourself for a changing relationship with Malia. As your 16-year-old matures into adulthood over the coming years, you want to become her go-to guy for advice. So start positioning yourself to be that person now. Be mindful how you listen to her. Plant seeds. Be open. Respect her opinions no matter what you personally believe. Guy Advisor #1. Remember that. Become that guy.

The leader of the free world now has a daughter turning sweet 16.
Mitchell Layton / Getty Images
The leader of the free world now has a daughter turning sweet 16.

4. Get ready for boyfriends. You and Mrs. Obama are long past the days when you could hand-select Malia’s friends. I’m guessing she’s been to a few high school dances already. But nothing can be as challenging to dads as a teenage boyfriend. If and when that happens, embrace it as part of a natural journey — but hold firm in setting guidelines. And be grateful you’ve got the Secret Service following her every move.

5. Focus on her health. This is a big one. It involves everything from your daughter’s fashion and make-up to her hairstyle or choice of foods. We could have a couple of beers exploring this subject. But my best advice is to focus on your daughter’s health, always. Tell her she looks healthy. Talk openly about drugs and drinking in the context of their impact on her health. Malia is going to be faced with lots of choices — some seemingly trivial and some very important — in the coming years. Help train her brain to think first about physical and mental health. It’s a valuable gift from father to daughter.

6. Model manhood. You’ve been doing this for your daughters now for 16 years. And you’ll continue to do so for the rest of your life. But as Malia begins the next chapter of her life, so too must you. Help her see — in appropriate ways — the full spectrum of what men are capable of. Let her know that you’re not Superman. Constantly show her how loving men treat others. In doing so, you’re also reinforcing her self-worth. And that, at the end of the dad journey, is one of the most important gifts a father can give his daughter.

Happy birthday to Malia, Mr. President. And hats off to you for 16 years of fatherhood. You may have the weight of the world on your shoulders. But there’s no doubt in my mind that what you value most is your relationship with your daughters. You’re doing a great job. (Oh, and feel free to check in any time you need a pep talk.)

Jim Higley is the Bobblehead Dad  author, speaker, radio show host, spokesperson and cancer warrior. His favorite role, however, is “Dad” to his three kids. Jim writes for several national publications and is the author of the award-winning "Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew."  

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