A father is the first man in a girl’s life – and in many ways, the most important.

Dads provide a model for a man’s role in the family – stereotypically as protector, provider and disciplinarian – and more importantly, a template for a daughter’s future expectations in her own relationships with men.

That’s why it’s critical for fathers to take an active role in their daughters’ lives from an early age and to continue this close communication and contact, even during the challenging teen years.

Even daughters and dads who enjoyed a close relationship during childhood can stumble at the onset of adolescence. Many fathers are bewildered at the changes in their daughter and may begin to feel the urge to shy away from their moody and suddenly standoffish daughters. However, avoidance is not the answer.

Teen girls are often emotional, hormonal and defiant, but every dad needs to remember that at the core of this sometimes sullen, eye-rolling teenager is the little girl who used to gaze up at him in adoration. She may be more difficult to relate to, and communication may take a lot more work, but the foundation of love and affection you built in her childhood is still there.

Now, the important task is establishing trust, openness and rapport with your daughter. Seek out opportunities to talk to her one-on-one – away from other children and her mom. Don’t make every discussion a lecture or lesson – share details about your day, ask her questions about her friends or her activities, and take an interest in what is important to her now. Make an effort to learn about her priorities, dreams and goals. Most importantly, nurture a culture of honesty and transparency. Stress to her that you’re here for her, and be a good listener when she seeks you out to talk.

In addition, schedule time with your daughter on a regular basis. Find something you both enjoy – whether it’s a hike in a state park, a day at the ballpark or a trip to a new art gallery – and plan a monthly “Dad and Daughter Date.” Make these days a priority, and show your daughter that you enjoy her company. Not only do they provide a chance to kick back and have fun with your teen, outings like this are another opportunity to talk about important issues in a casual environment. It might be easier for your daughter  to talk about her relationships, her worries over college plans or her questions of faith over a hot dog in the fifth inning than on opposite sides of the dinner table.

Finally, be a good example for your daughter. Lead in your faith, your treatment of her mother and your work ethic. Teach her through your actions what to expect – and what she deserves – in a future partner, and create expectations for openness and trust. Remember: As a father, you are one of your child’s first and most important teachers.

To learn more about how Compass Rose Academy can help fathers connect with their teen daughters, visit www.compassroseacademy.org.