Teen troubles

Sue Cvach

From the archives: The original post was posted on 10th May, 2001

A poster wrote:

What would you say if a thirteen-year-old girl were to become very secretive about everything going on in her life and her interactions with family members were to become very negative?

An autonomous person is guarding her privacy and is probably struggling with ‘things’ in her life. Perhaps she does not trust that the people around her can/will help her with the issues she is struggling with. Her experience may lead her to believe that they won’t. Or maybe she just wants to wrestle with things on her own for awhile. Maybe she is confused and doesn’t know which way to turn. These and other reasons which anyone else has no way of knowing (and it probably isn’t anyone else’s business, truthfully, unless she chooses to share her thoughts) might be very good reasons for her to play her cards close to her chest.

The ‘why’ of this might not be anyone else’s business. If there are problems that the kid wants help solving, she needs trusted advisors to turn to when she is ready.

What if she were taking her elder sister’s clothes without permission?

Send her out shopping? Maybe with the elder sister, if younger child admires her style so much.  🙂

And what would you say if such a teenager were always fighting with her younger sibling?

Are they somehow enjoying or learning from this interaction? Do they want help in changing this relationship? Or is the fighting a problem for others around them? At calmer times, can others offer help in other ways to interact?

What if a teenage child were negative and antagonistic toward her mother, basically ignoring everything her mother might say to her?

Maybe mom can back off, though I think it is important for a parent to voice their feelings at being dissed by anyone, including any child. If an interaction hurts, can’t a parent say ‘ouch! maybe I deserved that, but I’m not sure why. If I am hurting you, I’d like to hear about it so that we can work on a solution.‘? Being fallible, parents don’t always see the ways they are coercing themselves and/or children. Various sorts of feed back from the kids can help parents recognize and change things, with the help of the kids of course in determining what needs to change.

Should a parent be worried if a teenager were hiding instant messages and emails on the computer when anyone comes into the room and lying to both teachers and mom about things?

Every person is entitled to privacy (as this quoted post acknowledges below). If a person feels that lying is necessary, she might need help in getting what she wants so that she does not need to lie. Does she want to be in school? All people need space and respect, do they not?

It is hard to be yelled at every time one says something. Or worse, to be ignored.

Yes, it is. One might not want to speak or interact much with a person who is reacting like that. Maybe that person would prefer it that way? Maybe that is part of the space that is needed?

What if the other members of the family were beginning to show resentment because a teenager refused to do anything at all to help in the home, including picking up her own things?

Maybe the other members of the family would care to support this family member in the way she needs now, not the way they think she should need. Some things might go undone. Everyone could decide to, as they are picking up, put the teenager’s things in one box/shelf/pile/place (if she doesn’t mind) or to leave her stuff alone, to not have expectations that she should pick up after herself if she simply is not interested at this time, and be ok with that. Maybe she needs all her resources to focus on what she is focusing on, and the support of her family can help her do that.

It is a bad thing for the rest of the family to self-sacrifice. If they all brainstorm together, they could probably figure out easy food to be available for all as they want it, who likes to do what jobs that need to be done around the house or how they could earn money or bartering, doing what they like in order to pay someone else to pick up and clean if they don’t want to do it, lower standards of cleanliness/neatness, save cleaning for one two hour period when they put on music and all work together to get it done. Each family finds their own way… supporting all family members while doing so is part of a Taking Children Seriously family’s process, I think.

Perhaps secrecy is not that big a problem, as everyone deserves their privacy. But don’t you think lying is a problem, however? Imagine it was causing larger problems with the child’s school and the rest of the family.

Problems to find solutions to. Figuring out, in each instance, what people want and finding/creating a way for them to get it.

What do you think about such a family having family meetings to air everyone’s views?

Are these voluntary meetings? Everyone wants to listen and speak? Lots of potential coercion, there.

What if the child had been given the opportunity to self-direct what is happening in her life, make her own choices, decide her own activities?

Of course, a person has the right to be self-directed. “given the opportunity” implies someone else has the control and is loosening up the reins a bit to see if the person is capable of self-directing in the direction the rein-holder approves of. A child is going to direct what happens in their life and make their own choices and decide what to do, no matter what. The difference is if they are going to do it confined in a box of coercion woven about them by authorities, and against all odds and without really good choices being available to them; or if they have access to lots of information and advice and are helped to explore what they are interested in, with recognition of their autonomy and right to build the life that they want.

What is the Taking Children Seriously way to help get the whole family back on track and help this kid who is unhappy and shows that in her daily life?

Each person in a family, I think, is in their own place of understanding of coercion and the harm it can cause, recognizing coercion and avoiding it, finding solutions in conflicts, taking himself seriously, taking others in close personal relationships seriously, figuring out what they want this minute and in the long run and changing what they want as they go, recognizing one’s own fallibility and that of others, and so on. 🙂 Helping each person, as one is able and willing, and helping oneself, all to get what each wants in life, in this moment.

The parent has a responsibility to the children that the kids don’t have to the parent or to each other. Each person has to shape their own relationship with each other, and they figure that out as they go. A parent is constantly learning about how to help herself and her children, through every interaction of every day.

Communication is really important, it seems to me. If a kid does not want to communicate with a parent, and there is a sense that something is wrong, the parent should keep non-coercively trying to reach the kid, not just give up on the kid. Make sure the kid knows the parent is there for them. They won’t know if you don’t tell them. Ask for the child to come to the parent if and when they do want to talk and/or need help, along with an apology for the parents’ wrongs toward the child and acknowledgement of fallibility and solicitation for help for the parent in learning how to help the child – if this is sincere. Maybe the parent can write letters to the child, and the child can choose when and if to read and have plenty of time and space to think about that information. But above all, never quit trying to reach your kid.

Sue Cvach, 2001, ‘Teen troubles’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/teen-troubles/