Q: Our 15-year-old daughter has become, over the past year, a disruptive influence in our peaceful home. She was a gem until she entered high school and suddenly became disrespectful and combatively argumentative. If she disagrees with a decision we make, she will scream at us, call us names, and the like. Although her face is in her smartphone almost constantly, her grades at her secular private school are still good to excellent and she’s not, to our knowledge, hanging with a bad peer group. We’re at a loss to figure this out. Do you ever recommend boarding school in situations of this sort?
A: Sometimes, the sudden emergence of problems with a previously well-behaved teen are indicators of drug or alcohol use, the influence of undesirable peers, problems at school, or problems in the home. And sometimes, none of those factors are in play. Sometimes, there’s no explaining a flip-flop of this nature.
Today’s teens, especially the female of the species, seem drawn to the opportunity to create drama out of their lives. These dramas run the gamut but usually whirl around conflicts with peers. If no other drama presents itself — if everything is hunky-dory in the child’s life socially and otherwise — then the default theme is, “My parents are, like, idiots and, like, don’t understand me or my needs and I am, like, pitiful.” I must stress that these dramas do not necessarily reflect any reality outside of some idiosyncratic “reality” that exists solely in the teen’s smartphone-addled brain.
Which is, in fact, a possible solution: Take away the smartphone and get her a flip phone, ; one that requires 3 minutes of concentration to send a five-word text, doesn’t access the internet and doesn’t take photos. I’m not suggesting you do this as punishment for her disrespect; I’m suggesting that this be your new and enlightened policy.
I have spoken to more than a few parents who have done exactly that. Without exception, they report that their children become more relaxed, respectful and sensitive to the needs of other family members, including siblings. “She’s fun to be around again,” said one parent. Some have even told me that their kids have testified to feeling generally better, less stressed, less “prickly.”
On the matter of boarding school, I’d try cleaning out the smartphone addiction first. (Beware! The first week of withdrawal is akin to living with Satan on methamphetamine.) If you see no change in a few weeks, if she continues to be a disruption, then boarding school is an option. My feeling is that at some point, it is better to find other living arrangements for a disruptive child than for the family to continue feeling daily torment as the result of the child’s presence.
You might also consider helping her get a job as a summer camp counselor.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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