14 YEAR OLD STRUGGLING WITH SCHOOL AND FRIENDS

14 YEAR OLD STRUGGLING WITH SCHOOL AND FRIENDS

Parent writes:

Dr. Todd, our daughter who is 14 has had a radical change in behavior in the past 6 months. She is consistently talking to us disrespectfully. Her grades have dropped, still gets good grades but clearly has lost her motivation for studying. She hates the school she attends and many of the teachers. Lots and Lots of friends issues, change of friends and some real mean girl stuff going on.

We have used the consequences of her phone and other electronic devices being taken away. Even that does not seem to work. She simply does not listen to anything we say. At the end of our rope and no idea what to do. I know much of this can be typical in girls in 8th grade, but I believe her behavior is extreme. Help!!!!

Dr. Todd writes:

I'm sorry to hear that your daughter is going through such a difficult time.  While she needs to talk to you respectfully, of course, I think the place to start is with what is underneath her disrespectful behavior.  You already suspect that she has strong negative feelings toward her school and teachers and is experiencing friendship problems on top of it. 

This is where you start.

I don't know what kind of conversations you've been able to have so far, but I would start with listening.  As Stephen Covey wrote, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  (my paraphrase).  Let her know that you really care about her feelings related to school, teachers, and friends.  Let her tell you all the details, ask clarifying questions, put yourself in her shoes, and try to really understand things from her point of view.

Once your daughter feels that you have come along side her, then she will be more open to the next step: mutual problem-solving.  Start with her ideas.  "What do you think is a good idea?" is a simple but effective question.  Even if she offers a bad idea (e.g., quitting school), write it down and she if she can think of another idea (e.g., "Well, quitting school is one idea.  What's another option?"). 

As you list her ideas and add your own, examine them together.  You want to help her think them through.  How would ______ idea really work out?  Would it help solve the problem or create other problems?  As you go through this process, hopefully your daughter will be able to identify positive ways of handling her difficult situations.  This may seem like a slow process, but it will communicate three things:  1) You love your daughter, 2) There are good solutions to her problems, and 3) Together, you can find them.

Above, I have described how I hope this discussion will sound.  It may not work out just this way.  Your calmness and patience will play a big role.  However, it is possible that she will not be receptive to your attempts or that you may push each other's buttons.  Even if she becomes disrespectful, you must remain respectful and in control--show her how to handle frustrated emotions the right way.  

If this happens, then I strongly recommend that you ask your pastor or family physician for a referral for a good child/family therapist.  A trained therapist may be what you need right now and can play a big role in helping your daughter and your family learn how to effectively navigate these situations and the ones yet to come.

All the best,

Dr. Todd

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