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Handling a Disrespectful Teenager
Q: My daughter just turned 14 and is in eighth grade. She has become increasingly disrespectful to her teachers, her dad (we are divorced), me, and most of all with her stepdad. She takes hours to complete homework that her teachers say should take 30 minutes, and lies frequently. She is diabetic and lies about what she ate, if she checked her blood sugar, etc. She had counseling with a therapist for two years because she doesn't seem to care about her grades and has been labeled a problem child at school since first grade.
We have tried all sorts of rewards and punishments for years, provided support and tutoring, and had numerous meetings with teachers and school counselors. I am at my wits' end! She is not an only child, I work full-time, and I need to spend a great deal of time and energy with her. Please help!
A: There are so many issues here that no one could resolve them in this short space. The primary issue I want to address is your relationship with her. Your daughter is out of control. She must take responsibility for her own care and she has learned quite well how to avoid it. By doing everything for her, you are in reality saying that you don't think she is capable of doing it herself. It is difficult to let a child fail, but it is only in our failing that we really learn. If rewards and punishments are not working, my guess is they are not logical or natural consequences -- they are inconsistent, much more trouble for you and the family than for her.
If she has been in therapy for two years and there is no change, it is time to find a professional counselor specializing in adolescent treatment. I would suggest a complete assessment by the counselor, but I surmise that she might need to be placed in a treatment center for a while where trained professionals can work with her and your family.
Another possible plan would be to check with your state's Human Services Department to see if they have a program for out-of-control teens. Such programs usually include parenting-skills classes and counselors who visit the home to help families set structure. At the very least, I encourage you to enroll in parenting skills classes and/or counseling for you and your husband. You need support in restructuring the boundaries necessary for your daughter to feel good about herself, for you and your husband to maintain your relationship, and for your other children to learn and experience a stable family life. Also try to read all you can.
I know that you love your daughter, but I urge you to take the focus away from her by getting assistance for yourself and the rest of your family. Any of the above plans can work, but they all take time -- so you have to be in this for the long haul. It's worth it for your own peace of mind and for the happiness of everyone.
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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.