I have a twelve-year-old daughter with very bad behavior. Since I work and she has to stay at home alone, I worry that she is allowing other children to come into the house without my permission. She has been seen kissing a boy I don’t know, and she is seeing things that are not appropriate for her age on the Internet.
When I try to talk to her about this, she starts screaming at me and asking why she had to be born, and saying that she wants to kill herself. I have tried a lot of kinds of discipline, but none of them has worked. I don’t know what to do…
We are very glad that you have written to us about this before you daughter gets any older. Unfortunately, this kind of problem will only get worse with age unless you are committed to taking serious steps now to change your daughter’s environment and behavior.
Some twelve-year-old girls are mature enough to make responsible decisions and can be left at home alone for short periods of two hours or less. Obviously, your daughter is not one of those girls. The warning signs are flashing at you in big red letters: Danger! Everything you have described is a prescription for disaster. Unless you take immediate action, the next problems you will be concerned about are likely to be teenage pregnancy, venereal diseases, or something even worse. We urge you to find after-school supervision for your daughter immediately, no matter how difficult or costly it is. She will likely protest strenuously because she will not want to give up her freedom. But it doesn’t matter if she likes it or not; you must stop her from being home alone or much more serious repercussions will probably follow.
You have described how your daughter manipulates you with her threats. You need to have a calm conversation with her (possibly in a restaurant where she will not start screaming at you) and tell her that threatening to commit suicide is a very serious issue that you will no longer overlook. The very next time (no exceptions) that she says those words, you are going to make an appointment with a counselor or therapist, either at school or in a mental health facility, so that it can be determined if she is a danger to herself. She will have to go with you to the appointment and to any other appointments that are made as a result. In some countries, the police will take a person who has threatened suicide to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. If this is true in your country, tell your daughter about it.
Give your daughter a written list of the behavior you expect and the consequences of not complying with the rules. For misuse of the computer, take the keyboard away. For times when she won’t do what is required, set up drastic consequences such as taking the door off her room so she has no privacy. Confiscate her favorite clothing or belongings. Take away telephone privileges and restrict her social activities. The most important component to this plan is that you should not set up any consequence that you will not immediately carry through. No second chances. She must see that every time she breaks a rule, the consequence will immediately follow.
You should expect that she will react violently. She will say hurtful things and will make your life miserable for months and maybe years. But if you are consistent with consequences, the first time every time, she will eventually learn that she can get more of what she wants by following your rules. Wise Solomon taught, “He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded.”1 Eventually your daughter will discover the reward of following rules. In the meantime, you must learn to ignore her threats (except suicide) and not let her words get to you emotionally.
If you have access to a trained counselor, it would probably help both of you. You need some kind of support system to help you stay strong against all that she will say and do. You will be tempted to give up, for it will probably be the most difficult period of your life.
Parenting is not for the weak!
Linda and Charles
1 Pr 13:13