What to do if a teen hits a parent

achhu asks: My 13-year-old daughter is sharp-minded but very lazy in all her routines. She always obeys me but not her mother. Sometimes she also shows violence to her mother. She has a 7-year-old brother as well. Working father and housewife mother, happy middle class family. Whenever I advise her, she admits guilt and promises not to repeat. But after a short interval the problem starts again. What shall we do?

Hi achhu –

Any dog owner will tell you that the toughest time with a pet dog is the first year.  Puppies are rebellious, destructive, stubborn, needy, and have no real empathy for anyone else.  (That’s why we’re so incredibly cute at that age; if we weren’t, no one would put up with us!)


Humans go through something like that at age two, when they’re about as cute as puppies.  But then they go through a similar phase about 10-15 years later.  And it’s not nearly as adorable for the parents.  It’s called Adolescence, and most parents find it the most trying time they ever have with their kids (and get insanely nostalgic for those first couple of years, when the kids cried all day and screamed all night, but somehow seemed sweeter!).


That’s what you’re dealing with, achhu.  Your daughter is right on schedule.  And it’s completely normal for her to be especially mean to her mom – just the way your son will probably be meaner to you at some age.  It’s just part of growing up.  In fact, except for one sentence you said, I would just tell you to be patient and let her get through this time as quickly as possible.


But that bit about “violence.”  Hmmm… I don’t like that.  Now when I was six months old and bit Handsome’s ankles all the time, that was a sort of violence, but I only meant it as play, and he was so much bigger than me that he never felt any fear.  But your daughter is growing up, and for her to be physically violent with her mother is something that has to be Stopped.  Now.


The reasons puppies, two-year-olds, and adolescents are so difficult are all the same.  Each is going through a developmental stage where they need to test boundaries.  I needed to learn just how much aggression I could get away with showing.  Two-year-olds need to learn what they can say “no” to.  And teenagers need to learn how powerful they can be around their parents.


Again, this is all a good thing.  Your daughter is at an age where rules are beginning to change.  She should be finding out what she can get away with.  But your job is to make the limits very, very clear.  Now you and your wife can discuss what rules you want to set about other limits, like how late she can stay out, and when she can have her first dates, and all that.  That’s up to you.  But when it comes to hitting, the answer has to simply be: NONE.  Never, no way, not at all.  She has never had a fair reason to hit her mother, and she never will.  End of story.


When I got past puppyhood, and wasn’t biting all the time, I still occasionally tried to be more aggressive than normal.  For instance, once Handsome was clipping my nails (which I hate), and he pulled one too hard, and I nipped at him in anger.  And he did just the right thing.  He didn’t hit me, didn’t abandon me, nothing like that.  Instead, he EXPLODED.  He yelled, he grabbed me and turned me onto my back, and climbed right on top of me, yelling into my face “NO!  NO!  NO!”


In other words, he did exactly what a dog would do.  He spoke my language, and made it clear that I was never allowed to bite him, or any human friend, ever again.  And I learned the lesson perfectly.


You and your wife need to do the same thing, in a way your daughter will understand.  First, sit down with her (after all, she’s got a lot more brains than I did!), and explain to her that she’s too old now to be able to hit her mom.  That it’s okay for her to complain, to argue, all that stuff, but that hitting is completely forbidden.  Don’t tell her a punishment, because that sets up a possibility of negotiation.  Just say it can’t happen again.


Now that might be enough.  But just in case it’s not, also talk with your wife, and plan out a HUGE punishment.  One that would be absolutely unacceptable for your daughter.  No television for two months.  No cell phone for a month.  No time with friends for a month.  Whatever would be really awful for her (but not, of course, anything physically painful, or you’d just be doing to her what she’d done to her mom, which would teach her that that’s a good idea!).  And have it ready, in case she ever tries to test that boundary again.


And – here’s the trickiest, but most important part, achhu – if she does it again, don’t get mad.  Don’t act shocked.  Just casually tell her that you’d warned her, and enact that punishment.  Don’t argue, and don’t let her negotiate.  If she argues (and she will), remind her that she’s a teenager now, and that you’d warned her that the rules had changed.


And here’s the funny part.  Just as with puppies and two-year-olds, your daughter will struggle and fight against this limit you’ve set, but deep-down, she’ll actually appreciate it.  Teenagers rebel against limits, but what they’re also doing is looking to see what the real limits are.  And when you set them and hold to them, in a non-shaming way, the teenager learns that she is actually safe, that there’s still a world of rules and limits, that her parents are still strong and trustworthy.


(But don’t tell her that last part – it’s very unconscious; she doesn’t even know it and will certainly deny it!!!)


Now again, all this is just about the hitting.  When it comes to everything else – the attitude, the laziness, etc. – just do your best.  She’ll grow out of it someday!


Good Luck!






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