Nunu asks: We are a family of five. This is my and my husband’s second marriage each. We have a six-year-old daughter, and my husband has two daughters with his first wife. The eldest, 17, lives with her Mom. The youngest, 15, lives with us. The problem that we have is that the 15-year-old spreads lies and steals, which is why she came to live with us. We do not have any financial problems, so the girls get all they need and more. We are very loving parents, always involved with the children, and give them a lot of attention. Lately the 15-year-old has started lying about been emotionally abused and hit at home, as she did when she lived with her mom. She has also begun stealing from us (little things like money, jewelry, and makeup, etc.). We have grounded her countless times and taken her cellphone and laptop away for punishment. We have spoken to her and asked the reasons why she does these things and her answer is always “I don’t know.” She talks back, shouts at everyone, does not do her homework or assignments for school, and gets physically abusive towards our 6-year-old. Please help – we are at our wits’ end with her.
Hi Nunu –
There are so many possible reasons for her behavior that I’m hesitant to even guess what’s going on. But here are a few possibilities:
1) Even though you have been an attentive and caring set of parents, middle children almost always feel ignored and alienated in their families (largely because they never got as much attention as the other kids did in their early life). Lying and stealing can be ways of trying to take power in an environment where they don’t feel any.
2) Maybe not all her statements are complete lies. Is it possible she has been abused by someone, and is only lying about who’s doing it?
3) She may be dealing with something else you don’t know anything about – some sexual incident, bullying at school, even some sort of drugs.
Clearly, though, the one thing I know very well is that I don’t know anything. My strong suggestion is that you look into getting a therapist to work with her. If there is a secret, that’s a great way for it to come out. And if not, if she’s just looking for attention and needing to be heard, the best thing for her is to have a caring adult who is all hers (i.e. not shared with her sisters), who gives her their full attention.
One of the really tough things about being a teenager is that one can often develop a “role” they never wanted, but then find it impossible to leave behind. If she’s been the “bad kid,” she may only know how to behave that way. A good therapist will help her redefine herself in a new way. And if there is something that you and your husband – and maybe even his ex-wife – can do better, that therapist will be likely to be able to help you find it.
Please don’t feel embarrassed about this. It’s not that he, she, or you have done anything wrong. This is a very normal situation. But the fact that you wrote me shows that you are a caring and proactive person, and as such, I do believe that a therapist would be the best thing you could do for her.
(And then, once the therapy makes some changes, the NEXT best thing you can do for her is of course to get her a DOG!! If there’s any lack of self-esteem in that poor girl, we are the best at building that!).
Good Luck – please let me know how it goes,