Question: Our 13-year-old daughter has a very bad attitude, mostly when it comes to our family. She stays in her room most of the time, reading, and participates in family activities only if we force her, and then she does her best to make life miserable for the rest of us. Unfortunately, she usually succeeds. The incredible thing is that her teachers, coaches and friends' parents all love her. They constantly rave about how helpful and personable and mature for her age she is. That frustrates us even more. We've tried everything under the sun to reach her, but to no avail. Help!
Answer: 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 is obviously capable of being.
But first, allow me to speculate as to what is 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 role of victim. 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: My life would be wonderful, as it should be, 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.
Obviously, there is no real problem here. Your daughter simply 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 of her room. Picture the shock when she comes home from school one day to find that her private sanctum is now a very public sanctum. 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.
When the ranting and raving have subsided, simply tell her that when the real daughter that you love and cherish comes out of hiding and begins to act like a respectful, grateful person, her door will be restored. Tell her that to be sure your real daughter is back, she must act like your real daughter for at least a month. I assure you that it won't be long before her door is back on her room.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services