She was your precious little daughter, full of hugs and kisses; you were the center of her world. She wanted to grow up to be just like you.

One day around when she turned 12, she told you in no uncertain terms she didn't like the dress you were wearing. You were surprised, but thought: Maybe she's right.

Soon she didn't like dinners you made. She said your taste in general was bad; in fact, there was something wrong with everything you did. You started to feel crestfallen.

By 14 she didn't hang around the kitchen after school anymore and tell you everything that happened. She endlessly told her friends on the phone instead.

If you try to broach personal subjects, she leaves the room. She calls you names. She slams the door to her room, and stays there until ready to come out.

She used to chatter incessantly on car rides; now there's an inward silence that can be uncomfortable. "What's new in school today?" you ask. "Nothing," she answers.

Now she's 15 and 16, and a boy comes over. They go up to her room and close the door. You start to worry: If you set limits on them, won't they just find somewhere else to go?

You can hear them laughing and talking -- and it reminds you of your first boyfriend.

Maybe no boy comes over. You feel equally bad, but your daughter won't tell you anything because "you wouldn't understand," she says.

You feel hurt, rejected, maybe even defective. What happened to that adorable little girl you used to make cookies with?

You're no longer the wonderful mother she needed and loved so much; she's no longer the adorable little pony-tailed snippet either. She's turning into an alluring, even voluptuous, young beauty, while you're touching up your hair color, sagging in all the places she's firm, wrinkling where she's smooth.

Men give her the eye on the street, and ignore you. You are a matron now; she's a maiden.

Half your life, most of its discoveries and possibly all of its major decisions are behind you: She has all of her's ahead.

Yes, surviving your teenage daughter isn't easy, but it can be done, and a little knowledge can go a long way, according to Gale Cohan and Michele Garofalo, adolescent therapists. Last month, the two conducted a workshop for perplexed mothers at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville.

Very few of those mothers raised their hands when a poll was taken about how many of them would want to go through their adolescence again. "Most people walk away from their teenage years with scars and bad memories," says Cohan.

Cohan -- who says her own daughter's criticism at age 12 "made me feel like I had leprosy" -- says the workshop's goal was "to try and let mothers know that a lot of behavior is normal and predictable and their reactions are, too. This will enable them to decrease the power of teenage storms and be in better charge of their emotions.

"Every mother is facing the same pain and difficulty," she says. "They are asking themselves, 'Why does my daughter act as though I have a disease?' "

The mothers in the room were asked to break up into small groups to discuss what they felt to be the most difficult part of their relationships with their daughters. Here's what they cited:

"Her negativism";

"Her attitude that parents don't know anything";

"Keeping my cool when she loses hers";

"She attacks; I take it personally";

"I get sucked in every time and start to feel I'm being abused," and

"I want to talk to her and she doesn't want to talk to me."

"Mothers need to know they are all going through the same thing," says Garofalo.

Both therapists gave some clinical lessons to the mothers about what causes some daughters' extreme and unhappy behavior from ages 12 through 20.

Point One: "Girls will never have to undergo so many physical changes so quickly as they do in these years. They become very self-conscious and constantly worry about their appearance to the outside world. They are never, never satisfied with their appearance," says Garofalo.

Point Two: "They have to separate from their mothers, develop their own identities, and that's hard. What may seem abusive behavior is really your daughter's struggles with her own dependency," she says.

Point Three: "They seek freedom. The more they pull away, the more Mom and Dad hang on. They butt heads with their daughter," notes Garofalo.

"Mom becomes the target of it all," she adds. "In order for the daughters to separate, they need to devalue who their mothers are. Parents should be familiar with the stages of each task so they can normalize the experience and not take it too seriously."

Continues Garofalo: "Moms need to focus on surviving. ... To get through your daughter's adolescence feeling good, mother needs to focus on herself."

Fathers suddenly become white knights for some girls. "It's an easy role to play -- Mom is out; Dad is in," states Cohan. A daughter may idealize her father and compete with her mother for his attention. According to Cohan, "Most fathers minimize this, but mothers can feel it and it can affect the marriage."

"The transfer of allegiance from mothers to fathers can be very devastating. Mom can feel jealous and angry," she adds.

Both therapists stress that it is normal for girls to withdraw from family life and join the "tribe" of peers, with its own language and way of dress.

A common statement from mothers at the workshop was: "I'm afraid to make my daughter angry." Cohan says this is called "walking on eggshells," and it is pervasive in this phase of life. "The rejection you feel from your teenager is real; but sometimes you have to set limits by coming up with consequences that you can enforce," she says.

Another source of anguish for some mothers may be their fantasy of an ideal relationship they thought they would have with their daughters, "to get something we haven't had before, which can never really happen, but can lead to pain," says Cohan.

Are girls more difficult than boys in adolescence? Absolutely, both therapists agree. "Girls move through the stages differently from boys. There is more moodiness, more sulking and crying, more clenching of teeth, more ups and downs," says Garofalo. "They go upstairs in one mood and come down in another."

When does teenage behavior cross the line to such an extreme that professional counseling should be sought? Both therapists say that parents should be alert to the following behavior: loss of interest in activities a teenager formerly found pleasurable; declining grades; extreme moodiness that is out of character; sleep disturbances, such as waking up at night or sleeping all the time; looking disheveled, as opposed to looking "cool"; sudden weight gain or loss; reports of feeling helpless and hopeless, full of misery.

But the majority of adolescents move through their teenage years and end up as fine adults, both therapists stress. "Your daughter will come back to you and be a friend," Garofalo says.

Advice from Cohan and Garofalo:

"Don't be afraid to listen in a bit when your daughter and her friends are talking to each other in the house; you may get some clues to what she's feeling."

"Don't talk about her on the phone or to other people when she can hear you; she will get very upset."

"Let your teenager struggle her own struggles and hassle her own hassles. You can't do it for her."

Don't wear emotional Velcro: Don't let your daughter's barbs stick to you."

"One of the biggest keys to survival in a household with a teenage girl is that the Mom be a stable force. You can't have two planets orbiting around the kitchen together. Your daughter will get her cues from you."

Ongoing workshops for mothers of teenage girls: Gale Cohan (301-299-8129) and Michele Garofalo (202-232-7184).

Suggested reading:

"Between Parent and Teenager," By Haim Ginott (Avon).

"Beyond Sugar and Spice," by Caryl Rivers & Rosalind Barnett (Ballantine).

"How to Stop the Battle With Your Teenager," by Don Fleming and Laurel Schmidt (Prentice Hall).

"How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk," by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish (Avon).

"Living With Teenagers," by Martin Herbert (Basil Blackwell).

"Talking with your Teenager," by Ruth Bell & Leon Wildflower (Random House).