1. My husband and I have one daughter – 8 years old. She was born to us relatively late in life so we have spoiled her and lavished her with pretty much anything she’s wanted. Unfortunately now she’s become seriously materialistic and doesn’t seem to appreciate the small things we do for her. Also, when we expect her to clean her room or do any other chores she has a fit and refuses. We know this is our fault, but don’t know where to start to fix it. We need help.
Enabling children is an unhealthy approach for both the parent and child and is done all too often by both older and young parents. Enabling is often confused with spoiling, which are two different issues. While spoiling has to do with an individual receiving much more than they need, enabling has more to do with not holding someone accountable for both their behavior and decisions.
The only way to begin reversing the effects, which will be more difficult for you than for her, is to stop enabling. Make her totally responsible for her actions by enforcing consequences, which imitates the real life of adults. This includes no lectures, criticisms, or judgments, except whether or not she follows through on what she was supposed to do. Remember, you cannot control her or what decisions she makes, but you control ALL her privileges and freedoms! When she defiantly tells you she doesn’t care if you take her privileges away, and she will, just know that it does bother her or she would not have put any emotion into her response. Apply this to all her responsibilities – homework, cleaning room, taking out trash or feeding the pet, etc. – and tie it all into earning privileges. Give this change in direction some time to process and she will start to come around. However, expect a great deal of tantrums and poor behavior – neither of which are of much consequence unless she destroys something in the process (i.e. breaks something or calls hurtful names). So there should also be a consequence in place for being destructive. She should be allowed to express anger or frustration as long as it is not destructive.
2. I am the single mom of a 14year old girl who believes she can make all decisions for herself (including whether she smokes, drinks, or “dates” older boys). Any time I try to enforce any boundaries, rules, or discipline she takes off and doesn’t come home for hours – and I have no idea where she is. I have to work and have tried to keep her involved in sports and other after school activities, but so far nothing has worked. Her father is not involved and I’m dealing with this all alone. What should I do next?
There are a significant number of very important factors that could be influencing both your daughter’s behavior and your own behavior in a case such as this. Due to those potential complexities we would highly recommended that you seek the professional services of a therapist who specializes in adolescents. One thing for you to start considering is how to attend to your daughter’s safety. If you have no idea where she is, who she is with or what she is doing, and older boys, smoking and/or drinking are already on the table the risks she may be taking could be substantial. Notification of the authorities if she runs away, and letting her know that they will be notified, needs to be considered. Involvement in the legal system is not something that parents would normally seek, but if you have no control over her comings and goings there is little other option. While the police don’t have the resources to go looking for her, they will make out a report…and if she is spotted by a policeman they will pick her up and return her home. If this happens, you will either need to be there, or have an adult there to receive her. Many PDs will have you call them when she returns home and will come over and explain to her that a 14 year old is not allowed out of the house without permission, and how she may temporarily lose her freedom if she continues to run away and is taken to a juvenile detention facility
Strengthening of boundaries and consequences will not solve the issue completely though. They are needed, however, and children who do not have them tend to act out (they need them to feel safe), but used alone they either accelerate the problem or simply tamp it down for a future explosion of greater magnitude. There are reasons that your daughter is seeking reward through inappropriate channels. It is crucial that you find out what these reasons are and get her the appropriate help to address them. There are reasons that your daughter displays the lack of respect that she does towards you. You need to find out what they are and you and your daughter work to address them. Pick a therapist carefully, ask questions about their assessment of your situation (after a few sessions) until you are satisfied they have communicated to you what they see as the problem and you understand what they are conveying, ask what the treatment plan is (do not settle for general or evasive answers, a real set of goals and objectives and a plan for attaining them is needed).
Remember, all children want to feel loved and accepted. No criticism or judgment of her. She is always running to her friends because that is what she gets from them – acceptance and a place to belong. Do your best to create a home that provides what she seeks.
Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or more information, please visit our website www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.