Why would a well-cared-for teenager act out?

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,



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carol - October 30, 2012 Reply

we have a granddaughter who is 16 years old. her mother tried to help her, but it did not work. her mother died in june so we have her. she is not a bad kid but she has never been an active child. she is overweight, even obese. but like i said she is a good kid. she has been to doctors

burger143 - November 3, 2012 Reply

First of all, I’m gonna tell you that I’m new with this blogging things. But I think the best way of solving these problems is by talking to her. I know you had tried talking to her like a hundred times or more. But talking to her heart to heart and feeling her pain while she talks to you will make you understand her feelings. And if she answers “I don’t know” then let her know that you’re hurt with this response. Let her see that, no matter what she does, you will always be there for her. Even if she’s crossing the line and sometimes hurts her sisters. Let her feel that you will always try to understand her. Because you love her very very much. And let her understand that you will never ever bail on her. But remember to never ever misunderstand her. Because it will only make things worse.

my sweet heart - November 9, 2012 Reply

Here are my suggestions.
1.She is at the highest boiling point of adolescence and that is why she behaves strangely.
2.Punishment should be reinforced to change the child`s behavior.
3.Don`t show hatred to such individuals because they may end up doing harm to themselves.
4.You can seek somebody to advise the child e.g. a religious leader. Identify a role model or a mentor for the child.

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