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My step-daughter is impossible to live with

QUESTION: I am step father to my partner’s 15 year old girl. over a number of years this child has been very naughty (probably no diff to many other children) however now that she is 15 and year 10 (Just – put in a very poor effort last year she has developed a network of friends with which she is in constant contact on her mobile phone up to 2 and 3 am in the morning – we also give her access to the internet which she uses only for MSN and my space and during the time she is on the net she is also constantly still on the phone

– we were concerned that her schooling was suffering as a result of this contact etc. and placed a curfew of 10pm Sun – Thurs to hand her mobile so that she at least gets a reasonable nights sleep – every night this turns into stressful situations as she hates to be without her phone and lose contact with her friends – we think that maybe she feels insecure with her friends and has the fear that during the time she has no contact that she may lose them as a friend ( as a younger child when she played with neighbours in the court she would hold off coming inside to go to the toilet in fear that the friend she was playing with would go and play with someone else) when she doesn’t get her own way she threatens to leave home and live with one of her network friends and has in fact ran off twice and lived elsewhere for a week or so each time – she has not respect for her mother or myself – she cupboard doors etc. and tells us she will do what she likes when she likes and how she likes – to myself because I have not got that maternal bond – I feel quite threatened by her behaviour – very frustrated and life is not very pleasant in our home – I have only touched on a minor area of her behaviour – there are other issues such as drinking, smoking, wagging school, leaving home at midnight and coming back around 6.30anm in the morning, lies, stealing, always trying to con money and material things from us both – my question- at what age can we expect this childs behaviour to change ?????

Thanks for your question, you and your wife are certainly having a tough time.

Your statement that “over a number of years she has been very naughty” makes a response a little difficult. Often the behaviours you mentioned have their origins in an unsettled childhood and they way they were dealt with then will have a large impact on the approach you need to take now. Your daughter quite possibly needs some professional counselling.

In general terms though: Your step daughter’s behaviour, as you describe it, is typical for a 15 year old girl but it is at the very extreme end. Kids in their mid teens are primarily driven by two factors – the acceptance of their peers and the belief that they are adult and should be free to make their own decisions.

Most teens have the edgy part of those attitudes moderated by strength of the relationship they have with their parents and the experience of the clear structure they have grown up with. Some (as you are finding) are driven by their life experience, or genetic makeup, to ignore that moderation.

The good news is that when kids experience constant love and clear structure through their teens, regardless of how they accept it, they almost always grow into capable responsible and grateful adults. In fact they usually become really nice people.

Some steps you might try in the meantime:

Develop your relationship with her

From what you have described this will be hard, but it is not impossible. Don’t expect her to suddenly accept you into her life as her father, or even her friend – that will take a long time. Rather look for some small ways you can interact positively that are totally outside the conflict issues you have and quarantine these from any discipline.

Is there something you both like to do that you can do together? Is there something she likes to do that she may tolerate you doing with her? Or is there something she wants to do so badly she can only do it if you make it possible by doing it with her? Start small and build slowly – these types of things become the foundation not only of your relationship but also of your ability to shape her behaviour.

Don’t expect respect

This sounds odd, but respect is not what you are looking for. Respect implies you are seeking control over her attitude, you are not and you can’t. You are seeking control over her behaviour (for her benefit). Kids today do not give respect easily and they certainly do not give it on the basis of seniority. They only give respect when it is earned and their standards are very high for everyone (except themselves).

When you base compliance with your boundaries on a teen’s respect for you that child is given a quick and certain counter argument. In the frustrated teen’s mind there are at least a hundred things about you that prove you are not worth of her or his respect. In the teen’s logic if you demand or even suggest behaviour on the basis of respect there is no need to follow that path because you don’t deserve respect.

Instead expect compliance with a set of behaviours because they are clearly sensible. In the early days you will have the same battles, and the same defiance, but if you base your expectations of her on the realities of consequences of her actions you will do one of two things; if you are lucky – both. Over time she will be more accepting of the boundaries because she will learn to see the sense in them, and later in life she will use the same system of weighing up consequences to make her own decisions.

Make the boundaries fair, clear and firm

Every restriction you place on your daughter will be met with resistance. As you have already seen, her response to your boundaries will escalate through three stages. First comes emotional manipulation where she makes you feel sorry for her. Then comes deceit where she pretends to do the right thing while actually doing her own thing. Finally, when the other two don’t work she turns to defiance. There is not much you can do about her reaction, your only course is in your response.

I suggest you and your wife establish your absolute boundaries in those areas that really matter and the consequences that will always be applied when those boundaries are crossed. If you can, involve your daughter in the process of setting these boundaries and consequences. It’s much more effective if she knows that at some time she agreed to these things.

Then when the boundaries are crossed apply the consequences, calmly and without a lecture. She will still go through the 3 stages mentioned above but the worst thing you will see is no different to the current situation. There is every chance though that over time you will begin to see positive results in terms of self control and wiser decision making on her part.

You might be interested in the website It is American but it has good information and offers interactive support.

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