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January 05, 2016

Questions and Answers about Girls Puberty and Adolescence



Question:
 Dr. Dobson, my eleven-year-old girl is physically, and otherwise, way too grown up for her age, despite my concentrated efforts to keep her a kid. I don't know how to handle her disrespectful teen attitude. It seems she's always grounded, and I am always yelling and unhappy, which affects everyone in our family. Unfortunately we cannot afford counseling, and I have read many resources to no avail. Help!

Answer: Whatever happened to childhood? I can only imagine what life is like in your household, having a daughter who is still a child but already dealing with all the hormonal influences of puberty.

There are many aspects to your circumstances that I should know in order to help you deal with this situation. For example, where is Dad? If I were consulting with your family, I would look to him as a potential resource. He should be spending more time with your daughter than ever. If you have a grown brother or a pastor or coach who can lend a hand, bring that person in on the problem.

You said you are unable to afford counseling. Let me ask if you would pay for medical care if someone had a serious illness. I suspect that would be a priority even worth going into debt. In a sense, your daughter is ill, and the entire family must get the help it needs to bring greater harmony.

You do know, I'm sure, that everything you described is driven by something akin to perpetual PMS. Her brain is reeling, and so is yours. But responding to her ranting and raving with your own angry outbursts is counterproductive. Let me explain.

There is no quick fix for what is happening, but it seems apparent that you are making some management mistakes that are not helping. Yelling and being unhappy will only make matters worse—much worse. It would appear to me that you have gotten down on your daughter's level and are reacting like one of her age-mates. You must be the parent, and then lead like one.

How is that done? You hold the keys to everything your little girl wants and needs: permission to do things, transportation, allowances (if any), coveted clothing, provision of meals, ironing and laundry, and access to television. It is all under your supervision; or at least, it should be. I suggest that you have a little talk with her and tell her that you know she is going through a tough time but that she has to work harder at controlling her anger. It is not helping her, and it is hurting the rest of the family. This is why you are going to help her be more civil. From now on, everything that she wants will depend on her cooperation.

In the conversation you have with your daughter, say something like this: "I want you to know several things. First, I love you more than you will ever know. I brought you into the world, and I would lay down my life for you if necessary. Everything I am going to tell you today is a product of that love. Second, because I love you so much, I can't allow you to continue to act in a way that is harmful to you and to the rest of the family. It is going to stop right now. Third, I have an obligation before God to make you respectful to me first and then to your brothers and sisters. If you don't do it, I have many ways to make you miserable, and believe me when I say I will use every one of them."

"You have chosen to be very difficult, and until you decide to cooperate, this is not going to be a pleasant place for you. When you are tired of having no privileges and being cooped up here at home, we will determine where we go from there. Until then, it would be in your best interest to play by the rules, because they are going to be enforced. If you ever want to talk to me, I would be happy to hear your heart on things that you think are unfair or frustrating. But it will be unacceptable to scream, slam doors, and [fill in the blank]. Get it? Got it. Now, is there anything you want to say?"

Then have the courage to dole out those privileges and consequences with consistency and determination. Do not try to control your daughter with anger. It doesn't work. She not only doesn't care if you get mad—she has also won a strategic battle when you do. In short, you need to be far tougher than you have ever been, but not by acting like an out-of-control teenager. When she is ready to negotiate, respond with respect and firmness.

This sounds easy to do, but I know it is not. Nevertheless, you must get control of this kid. She is far too young to be terrorizing the entire family in this way. As you indicated, there are other children at home who are watching this titanic struggle. What they see being modeled in your relationship will haunt you with your other sons and daughters. You could lose them even before they get to the teen years. And as for the eleven-year-old, you have very little time left to turn her around. Otherwise, she will give you fits when she is older and perhaps bigger than you are. I am not suggesting in any way that you do anything abusive, but you have to take charge. Never let this child see you frantic again. And by all means, do not cry in front of her!

This battle you are in is not one you can afford to lose. You can win it! God be with you!

From Dr. Dobson's book Bringing Up Girls.

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