How do you deal with a difficult teenager?

Is My Teen’s Behavior Normal?

My daughter is 14. She is very bright, talented and stubborn. Since age 13 she has been extremely disrespectful and argumentative. As this is my only child, I do not know if her behavior is normal. I have a difficult time following through with consequences when rules are broken. If she is grounded, it is not unusual for her to talk me into letting her off.

She is capable of making good grades but does not apply herself. After warning her at midterm that anything below a C was grounds for punishment, she earned a D. I immediately cut back on her riding lessons. She flew into a rage and said she will quit riding altogether. From there she got off track, complaining that I did not do enough for her: Her clothes are not all name brand, and she said I should buy more and better clothes for her so other kids would not pick on her. After a few minutes of this I made her focus on the real issue–accepting consequences.

I know I have a real battle on my hands following through and making her miss a riding lesson. How do I do this without feeling guilty? I am so scared of doing the wrong thing that I have panic attacks and trouble sleeping. I had an abusive childhood and am afraid of never regaining her respect.

Answer

It sounds like there are several issues going on with your daughter. But I suspect at the root of it all is peer pressure at school. Being accepted within their peer group is a preoccupation with adolescents. Your daughter’s comment that she needs better clothes so that the other kids will not pick on her reveals that she is having a hard time.

Unfortunately, adolescents are bombarded with advertisements for name-brand jeans and shirts. Soon, it becomes a status thing among young people, and those who cannot or will not wear the designer clothes find themselves quickly on the outside. It is even possible that her falling grades are happening because she is concentrating more on the social scene than on her studies. She is not unusual in this regard.

So, what do you do? I would start by talking with her teachers. Often these educators have observed the social dynamics within the class and know what is going on. If someone in particular is making life miserable for your daughter, the teachers may know. Regarding studies, find out which subjects your daughter is having trouble with. Has she ever been tested for learning problems? As teens advance in school, the work increases in volume and difficulty. It is possible your daughter could benefit from some extra help.

I would try to find a quiet time to talk (bedtime and driving in the car are good times) and ask her about the friendship issues. Perhaps she can place some of the clothing items she wants on a gift wish list. Or she might earn the extra money doing chores in the neighborhood or baby-sitting.

As far as skipping the riding lesson, so many parents complain that their kids do not do anything, that when you find an activity your child enjoys, you should encourage her. Believe me, you would rather have her riding horses than hanging out with nothing but time on her hands. These are rough years for her (as well as for you), so give her some support and encouragement.

Why Is My Teen So Difficult?

My 13-year-old daughter is very hard to get along with. She hates school and will not even try to do well. She has to have her teachers sign her assignment book each day, because she has a history of not handing in her assignments. She is gifted and was getting good grades until the beginning of the seventh grade. Now, in eighth grade, she has a terrible attitude. She seems to go out of her way to be herself, which, to most people, is just very different. She does not have many friends, and she does not seem willing to work at keeping the ones she has. She is disrespectful to me and her younger sisters. Is this normal? And how do I keep from losing my mind and temper?

It is never easy to see a formerly pleasant, well-functioning child turn into a defiant, disrespectful adolescent. Moodiness is not unusual for a 13-year-old. However, several things seem to be going on with your daughter. She sounds very angry, and the fact that she does not have many close friends (along with the volatile relationships with her siblings) is worrisome. I think you need to take a closer look. Have you talked with her teachers? Do they have an explanation (besides the attitude) for her poor school performance? Has she ever been tested for learning problems? Often when a child cannot do the work, she will forget to hand it in.

It sounds like her personality has undergone a change too. Have you seen any evidence of drug use? Marijuana, for example, can produce some of the symptoms you describe. Adolescents who smoke on a regular basis lose interest in school, friends, hobbies, etc. They also let their personal appearance go and become very argumentative and abusive. Do you have an adolescent pediatrician you trust? If not, you can find someone in your area . You might want to start with a complete physical. Then, based on what the doctor says, you may want to have her see a therapist. Even if she is using drugs, chances are she is doing so because she is unhappy about something happening in her life. Good luck!