Q. I have a 14-year-old daughter who has absolutely no respect for authority. She's been this way since she was 4, but now she's started stealing, fighting, and manipulating everyone she meets. When I confront her with her behavior, she becomes rude and excuses her behavior or argues her way around the problem. I speak God's Word to her daily, but she even perverts the Word to get what she wants. She is very intelligent and I know she has great potential, but she will not listen to anyone. Please help me.
A. I wish we could have had this conversation when she was 4, but don't give up hope! The only way you will be able to teach her respect for authority is to model it, expect it from her, and give her consequences for not doing so. The same goes for her rude and argumentative behavior.
It's great that you've shared God's Word with her, and I hope you will continue to do so in a loving way. At the same time, I think you are both ready for the next step.
Plan a day or a weekend when you and your daughter can have time for a heart-to-heart conversation. Before you go, I'd suggest that you read the book Family Rules: Raising Responsible Children Without Yelling, Nagging, or Slapping by Kenneth Kaye (St. Martin's). (Note: This book is out of print. If you can't find a copy at your local library, you can download it for free at Dr. Kaye's Web site: www.kaye.com.) Use the guidelines in this book to set up a system of consequences related to the behaviors you want to work on with your daughter.
I'd also suggest writing your daughter a letter telling her all the characteristics you admire and respect about her and the areas that you have serious concern about. Give her the letter a few days before your time together. During your talk, ask her which of these positives and negatives fit with her view of herself.
Once you've spent time talking about these character traits, let her know that there are some areas of her behavior that you want her to work on, including her treatment of other people, showing respect, and accepting your requests. Ask her how she wants to grow and change at this stage of her life. Let her know what you will be doing differently in your parenting and why. Review these new expectations with your daughter and be very clear as to what consequences there will be if these expectations are not met. Set up evaluation points two, four, and six weeks out to measure her progress. Remember to point out her positive growth as well as the continuing challenges.
If your daughter continues to defy you, seek professional help from a Christian therapist who works with children. He or she can help you identify any deeper issues that may be at the root of your daughter's defiance.
Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.
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