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My daughter will be 17 in two months. She is convinced that she is a prisoner in our home that can't do anything that a normal teeager can do. In the last year I have gone from mom to step-mom to no longer accepted as a parental figure at all. Even though I am her step-mom, until now, the term "step" has never been used in our home. We have four children altogether, his, mine, and ours. We have had his since they were 2 and 4 so there has been no purposeful difference in raising them other than outside influences - absent parents etc. Someone has informed my daughter that she can become legally emancipated at 17 without any legal requirements. She is always angry and trying to get negative attention all the while blaming everyone around her for the negativity. We will not allow her to go to anyone's homes if there are no parents home. She is required to carry a "C" average in order to go out or drive. She only has four classes and yet refuses to even do any homework. We have tried to have a very open relationship with her. We found out that she was sexually active and that she had gotten exteemly drunk with some of her friends. So we explained to her that her bad choices will affect our decision making as to what we will allow her to do. She sits in our home screaming at everyone cursing telling us how she hates us and will be gone as soon as she is 17. She doesn't want to be here or at her mother's. She wants to live with her friend and her parents. We can no longer comunicate with her, when we try to reason with her she starts screaming and cursing again no matter which one of her younger siblings are around. I feel that there is a level of independance that a 17 year old should have but she never gives us no opportunity to offer that to her. Between sneaking her boyfriend in our home, whom she also screams at and belittles, drinking alcohol - which has also been offered to her 14 year old sister to avoid her telling, we are not even aware of how much she may still drink if at all, stealing our vehicles, thinking she was pregnant, the list goes on and on. We have tried to explain to her that this behavior is why we are not comfortable allowing her any leeway. All on deaf ears. I don't know if there is somewhere we can send her, or if we should just let her go. My husband is at a point where is feels completely betrayed and has stated if she leaves in this manner she is not welcome back, I cannot be that way to one of my children even though I feel the same. But as long as she has the option to keep coming back how will she ever learn. The more we offer our hand the more advantage she takes. I do not know what to do, where to go, and if she does leave how legally liable are we still if she make even worse choices.


James Crist Replied: You raise some serious concerns about your daughter's behavior--and I hear the stress it is causing you and your family. Your parenting style sounds appropriate, and her responses to your limit-setting are excessive. In addition to a substance abuse problem, her symptoms may be caused by a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder. I would suggest the following. Seek counseling as soon as possible with a therapist who specializes in acting-out teens. It will take more than "improving communication" to get her back on track--you will need to take further action. If she refuses to go, go without her and explain that if she refuses, she will not have a say in decisions that will be made about her. Contact your county's juvenile intake department and arrange a meeting. Stealing your car, possessing alcohol as a minor, and offering alcohol to minors are all illegal and you may at some point need to take legal action. This isn't to punish her, as much as to bring greater consequences to bear, which can be helpful to acting out teens when done in a therapeutic manner. By the way, she'd have to be self-supporting and engaging in responsible behavior to be emancipated, so you don't need to worry about that. Meet with school personnel to see if they can shed light on her behavior--she may be hanging out with known drug users or other delinquents. Finally, there are resources out there that can help. The groups Tough Love and Families Anonymous are worth checking out. Books such as Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager and Parenting Teens with Love and Logic (published by the Love and Logic Institute) are good resources.
Posted On 2008-01-02 23:28:41
Annie Fox, M. Ed. Replied: What you've described here breaks my heart on many levels. For you and your husband, it sounds like your home has become a prison and the anxiety you must be feeling about what your daughter will do next is keeping you locked in. For your other children, your daughter's behavior is creating disharmony in the family. Her anger and negativity is impacting them in ways that you cannot begin to imagine. Clearly your daughter is out of control. I'm not suggesting that you and your husband are to "blame."... but a family is a unit and while she is making the most noise, she did not grow up in a vacuum. She is a product of her environment. I'm guessing that her bad behavior is a response to the family dynamics. I'm also willing to wager that she has continued to turn up the volume because it has worked for her. While it may appear that she's being disrespectful and reckless as a conscious choice, I'd argue that she's most likely more unhappy with herself than she is with you and your restrictions. If left to her own devices, it's just a matter of time before her acting out does real and permanent harm to herself and others. This situation cannot be permitted to continue. You keep referring to her as a 17 year old. But she is 16 years old. You and your husband are her legal guardians. I have no doubt that you love her and want what is best for her. That's why it is time to re-take a leadership role her and get the professional reinforcements that you need to support her health and well-being (even if she resists that support). Call a licensed family therapist today and tell him/her the truth about what's going on in your family. Your daughter needs help and so do you and your husband. I fervently hope that you reach out to the professionals in your community and get that help. And please, do not give your daughter a choice about coming to family therapy... She has consistently shown that she cannot yet be trusted to make healthy choices. You make the choice for her. I wish you well. In friendship, Annie
Posted On 2008-01-02 16:31:11
Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: The situation sounds dire, and it sounds like your daughter is ready to reject just about any approach you might take. I'm not aware that any state in the US considers 17 to be the age of majority (it's typically 18), so that issue is a non-starter. It seems you are doing a good job of sticking by your limits. She sounds profoundly angry, and although people her age can be quite defensive and tight-lipped, it would be helpful if someone could find out what her fury is about. It's worth a try, when things are not quite as emotional, for you to ask her about this. Beyond the obvious "You're despicable and I hate everything you do!" response, you could ask if there is anything else going on. You might also see if another adult she has trusted — a clergy person, teacher, coach, etc. — would be willing to invite her out for a talk, again, just to find out what is going on. Refusal to do school work, defiant sexuality, and of course alcohol abuse are all troubling signs which could point to anything from depression (especially if there is a family history of it) to abuse by someone in her life, to reactions to family strife or social or academic problems at school — the list goes on. Once a battle develops within the family, solutions become scarce, and parents have no way to force children to get help. This is when other familiar and trustworthy adults outside the family system can be vital, if they are willing to step up to the task.
Posted On 2008-01-02 00:12:47
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