Q. My daughter, almost 14, is making me doubt my parenting skills on a daily basis. Nary a kind word comes out of her mouth, whether she’s talking to me, her dad and her sister. We’d be brought up on charges of child abuse if we said the same things to her that she says to us.
When we assigned some simple chores for her to do every day, she simply refused to do them, even though they could be done in 40 minutes or less. After a week of refusals, we took away her electronic device and told her that she would get it back when she did her work. And when she was disrespectful and used cruel words with us, we took away her screen time. This discipline, however, isn’t working and bribery and rewards don’t work either. We have also tried to nurture her and to encourage her interests but these attempts are now greeted with disdain.
She makes unkind comments about the food I prepare, about our “loser” careers and about our financial status too and says that she is ashamed and embarrassed to bring her friends into our “pathetic” house and that our car is “a cheap piece of junk.” She also says that her friends “are afraid of us”; that they — and their parents — think we are too strict and that we are the only parents who discipline their children.
This behavior started last summer. Before that, she was my cuddly, affectionate and thoughtful daughter and though she always had a temper, she was never unkind. Now she stays in her room, rushes through dinner and only communicates with us when she wants or needs something.
Her grades, however, are excellent. Her teachers have high praise for her and they say that she is sweet, responsible and considerate.
What gives? What are we doing wrong? What can we do to help her become the kind and responsible person we know she can be? And why has she suddenly become such a spoiled brat? I’m frustrated and, yes, I’m a little scared, too
A. No job is more fun, more fascinating (and more exhausting) than parenthood and no job is more humbling either, especially when a good-as-gold child turns into an unruly teenager.
You don’t have to buy into her tirades or hand out irrational punishments, however. If your daughter doesn’t like the food you fix, tell her that she can go without any supper and if she doesn’t like your car, tell her she can walk, but say these things in the nicest possible way. You don’t want to escalate the problem.
Unless your daughter is overcome by hormones or by drugs, however — or has fallen in with new and troubling friends — you’re dealing with a two-pronged problem. Science now knows that the brain develops more between the ages of 12 and 24 than at any other time in a person’s life and that this creates both positive and negative results.
That’s not the only reason your daughter is giving you grief. Sorry to say, she is probably reacting to the way you and her dad give orders to her, rather than reacting to the orders themselves. It may take family therapy to change the family dynamics but you may not have to go that far if you change your ways.
First you need to apologize for the tension you and their dad have caused, but don’t ask your teenager to apologize too. That will take a while. Instead you need to explain that the family is a team and every player has to do her share because you just can’t do it alone. Once you’ve rolled that hoop, ask the girls to tell you if they know how to do their chores better or faster so you don’t waste their time; to tell you which chores they like best so the work won’t be so onerous and to tell you when they’ve finished doing their chores so you won’t have to nag them. You then should inspect the work promptly and thank them freely before you ask them to scrub the tub a little better or put away the cleanser.
You also should promise to make their chores as interesting as possible; to teach them to do any chores without demeaning them and to change them every few weeks so they won’t get bored.
It may seem that you’ll have to defer to your children too much, but a teenager who feels respected is much less likely to rebel. And then you, your husband and even your girls should read a new book about the teenage brain called “Brainstorm” by Daniel J. Siegel, M. D. (Tarcher/Penguin; $28). You’ll be amazed.
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