Q: Our 13-year-old daughter has a very bad attitude, especially when it comes to our family. She stays in her room most of the time, reading and only participates in family activities if we force her, and then she does her best to make the family’s life miserable. Unfortunately, she usually succeeds. The incredible thing is that her teachers, coaches, and friend’s parents all love her. They constantly rave about how helpful and personable and mature she is for her age. That frustrates us even more. We’ve tried everything under the sun to reach her but to no avail. Help!
A: I guarantee that you have not tried everything. Furthermore, I can all but guarantee that what I am going to recommend will bring her out of her room and transform her into the personable, helpful, mature individual she’s obviously capable of being.
But first, allow me to speculate about what’s going on here. All too many of today’s young teen girls seem to feel that a life that’s devoid of drama has no meaning, no significance. In the absence of truly valid drama (of which very few of them have claim to), they invent drama. In these invented soap operas they play the roles of victims. The list of antagonists includes certain peers (rivals, ex-boyfriends), teachers, administrators, various emotional issues that supposedly beset them, and, of course, their parents. The invariable theme is, “My life would be wonderful if it weren’t for (fill in the blank with the imagined victimizers).”
How does it feel to have loved a child unconditionally and taken excellent care of her for 13 years only to have her turn you into a villain? Ungratefulness is the price many of today’s parents are paying for having made sure their children lacked for nothing. The most generous hand is the one most likely to be bitten.
I suggest that the real problem is that your daughter has too much time on her hands. With this excess of time, she thinks about herself and conjures up reasons why her misery at being your daughter is justified. It never crosses her mind that she has never had to want for food, clothing, medical care, heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, free vacations, and so on.
You can exorcise her inner brat—drive it far from your home, never to be seen again—by simply taking the door off her room. Picture the shock when she comes home from school one day to find that her private sanctum is now a very public place. No doubt, her pet demon will cause her to rant and rave for some time before it packs its bags and leaves to find more suitable habitation in a country where parents don’t get in its way.
When the ranting and raving have subsided, simply tell her that when the real daughter that you always loved and cherished comes out of hiding and begins to act like a respectful, grateful person, her door will be restored. But don’t let her jerk you around about this. Tell her that to be sure your real daughter is back, she must act like your real daughter for at least a month.
Let me assure you that it won’t be long before her door is back on her room. Furthermore, this is the best and cheapest therapy your daughter will ever have.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.