I am running out of ideas for hor how to help my 16 year old daughter. She has been a high need child from birth.
She was a colicky baby, and an only child for her first eight years. As an infant and toddler, she was in the care of my sister. It is difficult for me to know about the quality of that care, but we did end up removing her from the situation and I quit my job to stay home with her.
I was home with her from the time she was about three until she went to school. Not realizing the ramifications, we started her in kindergarten a year earlier than we really should have, and she has always been the youngest in her class. I am sure that it has been hard on her, as she lacked the maturity of most of her classmates.
From the very beginning, teachers have found her difficult. Our first parent teacher conference, in first grade, centered around how she was disorganized and untidy. Things grew worse on a yearly basis. Teachers complaints were that she did not pay attention, was disorganized, and did not turn work in. Her grades were fine in elementary school, as the policy was that homework not turned in on time could be turned in the next day for full credit.
When an assignment was not turned in a note was sent home to parents. Of course, we assured that she completed the work that night and turned it in the next day. Three occurrences in a week earned an after school detention, and my daughter served a number of detentions in the higher elementary grades. I do not remember her teachers having many complaints about her behavior, but we never had a positive parent/teacher conference, and I don’t believe that a single one of her teachers liked her.
She did have positive experience with her girl scout leader and Sunday school teachers. When someone corrected her, she would cry. She often felt that she was being picked on by those in authority. I may not have given much help in this situation, because I agreed with her in many cases. Furthermore, she was rather stubborn and had a tendency to interrupt, but I thought that was part of being a child and that she would grow out of it.
As for the disorganization issues, I could hardly blame her. I struggle with this as well, and our home has never been one of real order or routine. Also, when she was in the fourth grade, I had a baby and that created distractions to any routine we may have had. When my daughter was in sixth grade, she went to a different school.
She is a talented singer, so we sent her to a fine arts school. Without the homework policy that her first school had, and with more responsibility being placed on her to complete and turn in homework with less guidance from teachers and parents (no notes coming home when she missed assignments), she began to do very poorly in school. We thought it was a little glitch in the road, and spoke to her about trying harder and being organized. In this junior high setting, and at home, problems escalated. Instead of taking responsibility for and pride in her school work, she did as little as she could get away with and just barely met the grade requirements to remain in the school.
I am afraid that her father and I stuck up for her more than we should have in these cases, but we did not want to see her taken out of this school, and we thought that if we helped her over the rough spots, she would be fine. I regret not having let her take her lumps at the time, because I think she decided along the way that no matter what she does, mom and dad will stick up for her an fix it. During this time, from sixth through ninth grades, we allowed her increasing freedom. She made friends at school, and I allowed her to go to a friend’s house often after school.
We also allowed her to begin going places with groups of friends on weekend evenings. Naively, I believed that she was behaving properly. I later found out that she was often somewhere other than where she said she would be and doing things that she knew she was not supposed to be doing. She once got terribly upset and crying because we would not let her go to a Halloween party with her friends.
It was very concerning. She began to develop a bad temper, and was determined to have her own way about things. We took her to counseling, and had some family therapy, but she did not like the therapist. He referred her to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Prozac.
My husband thinks that it was helpful, but we were not consistent in giving it to her (again, disorganized and often forgetting things) and she complained that she could not take it in the morning because it upset her stomach, and she was told not to take it at night. We did try to be consistent with it, but as I said, were not as much as we should have been.
By 9th grade, her grades were no longer good enough to keep her in the arts school and she had to make up a class in summer school. In the 10th grade, she started at the local high school. She is now midway through her junior year, and she failed last semester completely, with the exception of her choir class. She immediately alienates every teacher by causing distractions in class.
She is very outspoken (which I have no problem with, but she seems not to understand that there is a time and a place for this). She is a distraction to the class and teachers become frustrated with her. She missed some school early last semester due to illness and could never seem to catch up. I do not think she gave it much effort. She is not a stupid person. Her standardized test scores have always been high, but they do seem to me as if they have fallen off some over the past few years. About a year and a half ago she stayed home from school one day due to illness.
My husband came home from work and found her under in a terrible state. He did not know what was going on, so he took her to the ER, where we found out that she was under the influence of triple c and alcohol. Again, we rescued her, because we felt that she had just made a bad choice.
The ER doc had wanted to send her to a lock down mental facility, and we insisted that she be released into our care. It seemed odd to me, but she told several of her friends about what happened – again, drawing attention to herself. We took her home and started her up with another counselor. It was a combination of all of us working together as a family as well as the counselor working one on one with my daughter. My daughter did not like this woman an we stopped going to her.
About nine months ago, my daughter was ticket by police for being drunk at a school event. She was suspended from school. She has since been suspended for numerous small infractions, but they are coming closer and closer together. Truancy, smoking, leaving unkind messages on a classmate’s voice mail… She continues to make bad choices daily. She smokes even though it is ruining her singing voice. She skips school even though she knows that she will get in trouble for it. Yesterday, she went to school and had a run in with one of her teachers.
The teacher was upset because our family was planning a spring vacation that would take my daughter out of school for a week. With her grade situation and the problems she has had with attendance, the teacher felt this was a bad choice. This got my daughter so upset that she was calling her father crying. She then skipped classes again, as she felt that she was too upset to go, and got suspended again. She will now lose her trip to All State Choir this coming week, as well as possibly her spot in the school musical. She has just been suspended too many times.
She is currently seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. She has only seen each of them once, as we just began with a new health insurance provider. Everyone (two psychiatrists, one therapist and me) seems to agree that she has ADD or ADHD. She is on an antidepressant and an anti-psychotic. This seems to have helped with the temper tantrums. Nothing is being prescribed for the ADD/ADHD at this time because she has not been on the other meds very long (a couple of months) and they want to see how she will do. She has always been terribly lazy.
I used to try things like telling her that she could not go out and play with the neighborhood kids until she helped with some household chores, but she would rather miss out on going outside than give some simple help around the house. She seems to go to great lengths to avoid having to do any work. Knowing how bad her grades are, she will use that as an excuse to get out of housework, claiming to be doing her homework. She rarely helps with any family projects. If she does a tiny bit of work she expects huge praise and rewards. Holding out privileges sometimes motivates her, but seldom. She just doesn’t want to make an effort and never has.
She used to work very hard in singing and acting things. She has been in about thirty stage plays in community theater and is quite talented. Teachers and directors always say that she is one of the most talented children that they have ever worked with. Everyone used to feel that she would work very hard at these things, and had a good attitude. Lately, however I do not see that in her. I cannot tell for sure, but think she has lost a great deal of interest in these things. She refused to audition for a show a few months back that had a part tailor made for her and an “in” with the director. I have mentioned a number of auditions to her that she is not interested in.
On the other hand, she was very disappointed yesterday that she did not make it in to one of the higher choirs at her school. This was because of her behavior. She likes to play the guitar, and is teaching herself. She can play for hours at a time and will play the same song over and over. She can also sit on the internet for hours talking to her friends. Her friends are everything to her. She wants very little to do with her family. She feels that her father and I are too strict.
I wish we had been stricter to begin with. A couple of months ago she went to dinner with some friends and didn’t come home. She called to tell us that she was alright but was not coming back because we wouldn’t let her do what she wanted. She finally did come home when we threatened to get the parents who were harboring her in trouble with the law. Later, we found out that she told a friend that the reason she did not come home was that she was too high (on what, I do not know). She denies that she ever said that. I know that drinks every chance she gets. She has not done so as much lately (I don’t think) because we have really kept a close eye on her.
But, just a week or two ago she went shopping with a friend and her friend’s father and came home smelling of alcohol. She lies about it, and sticks to her story, but you can tell. She drinks even though she has been told repeatedly that it may have a bad interaction with her medicine. (One day, a month or so ago, she came home from sleeping over at a friend’s house and was throwing up a lot. We were concerned about the interaction of the alcohol with the medicine and were so worried that we nearly took her to the ER.)
She will not quit smoking, even though her father bought her nicotine gum. She will not quit skipping classes and breaking rules no matter how many conferences we have had with the dean, how many suspensions she has had, and how many privileges she has lost. She does not seem to care.
When you try to talk to her about these things she gets indignant and insists that she will not discuss it because you are being mean. She seems to want to do whatever she wants and have no on even say anything to her about it. She is never embarrassed by her behavior and never seems to look back with regret at her decisions. She is being severely limited in her activities lately because of her behavior. She doesn’t see anything wrong with her actions and will ask to go out with friends on the same day that she just got suspended. Whenever there is a major blow up, like another suspension from school, she starts talking about suicide.
I do not know if this is real, or if she figures that it gets everyone to shift the focus from her behavior to feeling concerned over her. She will not ever take responsibility for her behavior. I am also concerned that she seems to feel unloved and insecure. I will admit that I am not much of a hugger. Having experienced some inappropriate touching and exposure to pornography as a very young child, I am a bit standoffish and not overflowing with affection and emotion.
My husband, on the other hand, is an affectionate person. We have been very attentive to our children. They are not ignored. They are loved, and I would imagine that they know that. As I have said, our home is disorganized and messy, but our children have two parents who love them. We care where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. We set boundaries for them, hopefully not overly strict, but there are rules and expectations. We have provided for their needs, given them education above and beyond that which they receive at school. They are involved in extracurricular activities of their choice, and our family attends and is involved in church.
They have many people in our extended families who care about them and are there for them. We have tried very hard to be good parents. There is no abuse or addiction and my husband and I have a good marriage. I am surprised to see that my daughter seems very insecure. She still sucks her thumb (just in her sleep now, I think) and says on her web page that she just wants to be held and just wants someone to love her. Her dad said that she does not seem to want his hugs anymore. She also cuts herself with razor blades on her stomach and has talked about suicide.
She can be very angry and mean to her sister. I know this is to be expected to some degree, but sometimes she seems far too angry and is really mean, even hitting her little sister. I really need to know if these actions are behavioral (is she just a bad girl, a brat?) Or if they are signs of mental illness. In short, tantrums, determination on her part that she will have her own way no matter what, defiance, not seeming to have any thought for her future, not working toward anything, living very much in the present, living for herself exclusively, self-destructive actions, believing that she is unloved, calling attention to herself, seeming to be unable to learn from mistakes or perhaps not caring about it… I feel so stupid, but I really don’t know what is going on and no matter how many things I have tried, things seem to be getting worse and worse every day instead of better.
Mt husband and I are at the end of our rope. We don’t know what else to do. Our eight year old is watching all of this and she seems to be imitating some of her sister’s behavior, chiefly her stubbornness and defiance. We once had such great dreams for our daughter. She has such talent and brains. She is also very outgoing and makes friends easily. Now we are not sure if she will even graduate from high school.
Answer – Anonymous
This was a long question. I don’t know that you will like what I have to say however, I tell it as I see it and your daughter needs some professionaly care.
1st. The drinking. She is only 16 and the drinking screams for a need for a substance abuse screening and assessment by a professional substance abuse counselor. Look for a licensed mental health counselor with a specialty in substance abuse.
2nd. Get into couseling yourself. I strongly suggest Alanon as this is a support group for people who have someone in their lives who drinks. However the reason I strongly recommend Alanon is you will learn about boundaries. It was very difficult for me to get to your daughter’s issuses as this letter was written with all of your issues sandwiched in between. Your daughter needs for you to seperate your issues from hers. For example you feelings about your parenting is a seperate issue from her behavior.
3rd. She needs work with a therapist surrounding the early interruption in her bonding and attachment with her parents. You mentioned your sister was her main caregiver before you decided to stay home with her. She may have some unresolved grief issues around this switch.
4th. Some Nurturing Parenting classes for parents who are raising adolescents would also be of benefit to you and her. Several times I noticed very emotionally abusive labels such as “lazy, bad girl, spoiled, etc.” None of which is necessary. There are no bad children there are however children who have not had consistent parenting with boundaries and structured environments.
You have many strengths going for you and your family. You mentioned you have a strong extended family support system, involvement in church and your children are involved in extra curricular activities. These are all good things including a good marriage.
However what seems to be lacking is any positive emotional communication between you and your daughter. Something all your children will model in their own lives. Reinforcing their behavior in a positive manner, (catch them doing something right and make a big deal out of it) is the most effective parenting tool you will ever need. In closing your children are lucky to have a parent who cares enough to reach out to someone else for assistance. Parenting is the hardest thing you will ever do so give your self credit for hanging in there where others do not. Please don’t take your daughter’s cutting on herself or her threats for suicide lightly. Many a parent can tell you the realized too late it was very serious.
Please get help and even if they are threats there are consequences like being hospitalized to ensure her safety.
M Kay Keller
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Comment: THanks for your help and reassurance. SIncerely, Anonymous
Questioner: Anonymous Subject: My daughter’s behavior Question: Thank you very much for your constructive comments. I will try to deal with each and every one of them. I included a lot of detail in my original question, because I did not know which information would be most helpful. I am really trying hard as a parent, although I do not have a truly good example to reference. My parents were much like I am,I think.
They loved us, but did not know a lot about raising children and my mother had a horrible childhood and has never been very healthy emotionally. I would like to ask you two more questions, briefly. In your answer to me you said 4th. “Several times I noticed very emotionally abusive labels such as “lazy, bad girl, spoiled, etc.” None of which is necessary.” I am not trying to insult my daughter. I don’t really know what other language to use. How does one refer to a child who, in spite of being begged, pleaded with, offered rewards, and threatened with consequences, can sit in the midst of a real mess and flat out refuse to help.
I admit that the things I have attempted don’t work, but I think they often work with other children and I am at a real loss. I can say with certainty that this is not the expamle I have set. I work very hard, and place value on teamwork, trying to teach my children that as a family we are all “in it together.” When my daughter refuses to help out, the only label that comes to mind is lazy, possibly defiant. Would the word overindulged be more appropriate than spoiled? My children have been overindulged. This has not really been my doing. I am not being disrespectful here.
I am seriously asking you; is it the label, or is it the fact that it is not appropriate to point out what I see as problems in my child. I want to help her. I am not trying to pick on her. The other question I have is that just a couple of days ago, after I had asked this question of you, she told her father that she had been raped a year and a half ago and had not told us because she had been drinking at a party and had never gotten in trouble for that before and though we would be mad. I am very distressed because she felt that she could not come to us.
I am wondering a couple of things about that. Do you think that event could have caused any of her behaviors? It does seem as if her actions went from normal teen rebellion to outright defiance at about that same time. Also, my sister-in-law, who is a doctor and knows my daughter is certain that she is lying. I think that it would be very wrong of me not to take my daughter’s word for this and support her, but should I look into the possibility that she could be making this up?
Answer to orginal question:
Dear Gina, In answer to your question, there is no label for a child with these behaviors as labeling in and of itself is very demeaning and depersonalizing and in my professional opinion is emotionally abusive. So no matter what you don’t mean to do, the impact is still the same and the name calling is a major part of this problem. When I said before that the boundaries are blurred here what I mean is you need to deal with your own issues seperately.
Calling your daughter names IS bad behavior on your part. End of discussion. This doesn’t need explaining for what you did or did not have as a child yourself. You need to deal with this behavior head on and own it and be responsible for it. This sets a wonderful example for your daughter when she sees you taking responsibility for your own behavior without making excuses or using her lack of responsibility for an excuse for your behavior.
NOW HEAR me on this. I am not saying your are a bad parent, I am saying this particular behavior is emotionally abusive. Of course your daughter’s rape could have alot to do with her behavior as you yourself stated it seemed to get worse around the time she says she was raped. Rapes are very common (every 7 minutes in the United States) and are more frequent when a woman is most vulnerable, under the influence. It is too bad your sister is a doctor and so sure your daughter is lying. I hope she is more objective with your patients.
I cannot imagine being 16 years old, being out of control with drinking and not being able to tell anyone for fear they of being blamed for being raped. Please hear me we all make mistakes as parents however right now you have an excellent opportunity to change the ocmmunication between you and your daughter please don’t miss this opportunity.
Get her into a professional counselor who specializes in rape, call a rape crisis center and speak to someone to find out where to go from here. Discuss the drinking issues with her and get some help. As for whether or not the children are overindulged, only you would know whether or not they have had material things substituted for time and attention.
Most people confuse “spoiled” with no boundaries, consequences and consisitencey all of which are a parental responsibility and cannot be place upon children or blamed on children. Remember a teenager is not an adult, they are a child and will not become adults until their brains have developed into adult brains. Expecting them to act as if they were your age making the decisions you would make is just setting yourself and them up for disappointment. Please accept my condolences for your daughters circumstances as a mother know a child has been mistreated by another human being is just heartbreaking, being raped however is soul wrenching.
M Kay Keller