No Idea What to Do Next

Updated on November 26, 2012
C.S. asks from Littleton, CO
14 answers

My 17-year-old stepdaughter is out of control. She is disrespectful, lies, sneaky, etc. She is about to get kicked out of school. She lies to our face, and then defends her lies, even when she knows we know the truth. We found out that she's been inviting boys to sneak into the house through her basement window. She cusses out her dad (she's never done it to me, yet). We take her phone away and ground her for 24 hours per incident. She will serve her grounding as and when it's convenient for her. For example, she gets caught in a lie, we ground her, so she leaves the house to spend the night with her boyfriend or who knows who else. We can't chain her to her bedroom. So, she leaves, then comes back home when serving her grounding is convenient for her (like if she's going to school that day, or working, and wasn't planning on going out anyway). We are at a loss. She is still a minor, so we're still responsible for her. So we can't kick her out. We are completely at a loss on this one. She's almost 18, has no direction in her life and has no concept of responsiblity or true consequences. It is obvious that taking the phone away and grounding her is not working. And I'm not looking for any comments on what should have been done in the past. We are in the situation we are right now, and we need to fix this. Any ideas would be much appreciated.

SN: She does NOT have a car. There is no way we would allow her to have a car. And she has been doing this sort of thing for at least three years now. I have only seen it for the past year and a half, but the only thing that's different is that her friends are old enough to drive now, so they come and get her when she's looking to escape. So, it's much easier for her to leave. We have two young children in the house as well, so it's even more important that this situation is fixed because I don't want the little ones seeing that behavior and thinking it's ok. She may very well be reacting to the divorce and/or remarriage, but that doesn't mean we should just let her run amok. We have talked until we’re blue in the face. We’ve drawn up behavior contracts, which clearly mean nothing. And we don’t know what else to do. We’re tired of her breaking our hearts and ruining her life.

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answers from Las Vegas on

Just me but I would say if she is acting like an adult treat her like one. Kick her out! Kids have baby's and move out at 15 16 and 17.. .. Get her emancipated and be finished with it...

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Hartford on

It sounds very much like she's reacting to a situation or series of situations. She's not a toddler any more so she can't hurl herself on the ground to have a temper tantrum and get the attention that she needs to be seen and heard.... but what she's doing seems so much like a teenage temper tantrum trying to get her daddy's attention. She may be nearly 18, but she's nowhere near being an adult and she still needs her daddy to guide her and parent her and support her.

I don't think that you're going to get a lot of great tailored advice right now since there's got to be so much more backstory, but I think that family therapy and some therapy for her would be beneficial. She needs to know that the family finds value in her. She's not a throwaway or a problem... she's a very young girl and she needs a lot of help. She just doesn't have the language, the skills, the experience to know how to handle the situation she's gotten herself into nor the current family situation.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I read your previous post from May about your unruly young children. You were a single mom for a long time, but your kids didn't respond to discipline it seemed. Now you are recently married and your stepdaughter has a new figure in the house - you.

My guess is, she's testing her father, to be sure he loves her as much as he once did and as much (or more) than he loves your kids. She's also testing YOU - you are the mature woman, you are his love interest, and you are, in some sense, a threat to her. She may have prided herself on being his big grown up girl, and now there's a new woman in her life, and his. And she's got 2 siblings now - so the whole house is in an uproar. She's sharing her father with 3 new people, there are little kids in her home, and she's not getting the attention she wants. So she acts out because negative attention is better than nothing at all, in her view.

If you have unruly kids, and if he has raised a daughter with no concept of responsibility, then perhaps some work with a family counselor to set parameters and disciplinary methods would be in order. Techniques need to change based on the ages of the children, and based on a new family situation and dynamic. It doesn't sound like you had really consistent parenting styles individually before your marriage, and it's understandably worse now.

In the short run, it sounds to me like 24 hours is not enough grounding. There needs to be an alarm on the basement window, and her phone needs to get taken away for more than 24 hours when it's convenient for her. If she has a car, that needs to go too. BUT it can't look as though your 2 kids have all the privileges and treats, and she has nothing. That will backfire.

And you need to be more concerned about her sexual activity (including pregnancy and STDs) and possible drug use (kids who want attention will do almost anything) than you are about her swearing. Her father should work with the school counselors and, ideally, an independent therapist - get a referral from her pediatrician or your husband's primary care doctor. Or put her, short term, in a locked facility for juveniles. But again, this will be perceived as rejection, so it should not be idly threatened and it must be done in connection with therapy. I disagree with the post that said "she needs meds" - she may, but that's not for amateurs to diagnose. She needs intervention and a full work-up, but she needs to know where she fits in the grand scheme of things. My guess is, this girl felt lost beforehand, and now it's reached a fever pitch.

Your job is to let her know you love her, and to let her father parent her.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Does she have a car? Why?
Why does she still have a phone?
See... if it was that out of hand, I would be taking everything that cost me money and letting her get a dose or reality that is going to hit her in the face in a few short months (when she turns 18).

Maybe I am not the best person to be responding to this question though. My kids are younger and maybe I am dumb, but I cannot imagine a time when they will behave like your step-daughter.

Is there some back story that is in play here? Obviously she is rebellious. Was it is nasty divorce, did she live with mom in the past? Was she in a stable home at any point?

There are so many things that could affect what the suggested route to take would be, and it doesn't appear you are interested in filling in the blanks. I understand it could be lengthy, and you probably feel it is water under the bridge. But maybe you just are trying to avoid judgmental comments. I don't know. But the correct approach is going to be determined by more than just what she is doing NOW, but also by what she had done in the past, her life and consequences in the past, what sort of upheaval she is accustomed to (or not) in her life, etc. It is rarely cut and dried when they get to 17....

ETA: so are you married to her dad now? You are recently divorced (barely a year ago?) and you have been in the relationship with her dad for how long exactly, and you moved in together after how long? See... those kinds of things will make a 17 yr old act out. And she is acting out. I'd start with the upheaval and major family changes in her life in the past ooohhhhhh... maybe 18 months or so?

after the SWH:
You're right, acting out due to divorce/remarriage doesn't mean you just let her run amok. But it affects what you DO do to keep her from doing that. Maybe instead of super hard line discipline, she needs attention from dad, unconditional love and support, not feeling displaced, and some therapy. Or maybe some combination of both. Without the whole story, we cannot give much helpful advice I don't think. For example: she's been like this for 3 years (only change in the 3 years is now her friends can drive you said), but you've only KNOWN her for 1 1/2 years and in that time, you have gotten a divorce yourself and moved in with your now husband (her dad) along with 2 additional small children. You don't comment on how long her Dad and mom were divorced prior to your coming on the scene. You don't mention if she has always lived with Dad post-divorce, or if she was at Mom's for any length of time. Or if it was a contentious nasty divorce with lots of bitterness and using of the kids against each other. You don't mention whether she has moved her home and/or schools as a result of the divorce or changed living arrangements. None of that. And ALL of that is going to have major impacts on this young woman's life and what she is trying to do/prove by her behavior. Did it occur to either of you that she may be trying to HURT her father? That she may not only be hurting, but very very angry? I know almost nothing about you (except what you have posted on this forum) but I can tell you that knowing more about YOU won't change the advice I would give much, if at all. But knowing what your teen stepdaughter has been through in the past few years (the hardest years for teen girls anyway, and it's odd she is with Dad not Mom during them) COULD affect the advice you receive.
I'd probably start with your husband getting her individually, himself and all of you together, into some sort of counseling.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Take her phone, cut her off from money. Everything she needs you buy for her - only essentials: cheap clothes, you pick them. No make up, no money for starbucks, no money for the movies. Make it clear that you expect her to either be in school or be ready to support herself the day she turns 18. Stick to it.

It sounds like you have been pushovers for at least the last 3 years, if not longer. You have been letting this girls walk all over you and she knows she will get away with whatever she wants in your house. Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is that you STICK TO IT. Your younger kids are watching, it may be too late to go back and do the right thing for her. maybe she is just one of these kids that has to learn the hard way - but your other children are still young! Don't let her show them that you don't enforce your rules and that in your house the kids rule the roost.
Get together with your husband, make a list of expectations, privileges and consequences and STICK TO IT.
Good luck.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Take her phone away indefinitely and EVERYTHING else in her room except her dresser and a bed. Take off her bedroom door also--when she behaves she can earn it back and earn the right to privacy. Everything else should be moved out and only brought back one by one as she earns it back. You should call the corrections dept and see if they have delinquincy officers available to talk to her. She needs to be set in her place period. No more boyfriend, or going out or anything until she is respectful and follows all of your rules. Put your foot down Mama!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I suggest that your step-daughter is out of control. No amount of discipline/punishment is going to make a difference at this point. It has taken years for her to reach this stage in her behavior and it will take major and professional intervention to turn her around.

The very most important thing for you to do is to be sure that she is successfully using birth control. Ask her to make an appointment with her doctor, if she has one, or with Planned Parenthood. Do this when you're calm and not in the midst of any sort of discussion about behavior.

I urge you to make an appointment with a family counselor who specializes in teen behavior. Know that all of you will have to make changes in order to change her behavior. I agree with Diane B. There are emotional reasons for this behavior. She has unmet needs that you must understand, accept and work on finding ways to help her meet them.

As you start work on finding solutions you must be firm with consequences that you can enforce. How does she leave the house? Nail her bedroom windows shut. Remove her bedroom door. So that you'll know at all times where she is and what she's doing. Talk with her in a calm, loving way while being firm and assertive. Tell her that you must do this to keep her safe. Know that she's in much pain. But as you said, you cannot let sympathy prevent you from taking action. You can acknowledge that she's had a rough time. Do not argue with her. When the conversation gets tight, stop it while saying you'll discuss this later when everyone is calm.

Take away her phone and tell her she doesn't get it back until she follows the rules. Have a discussion with her about what those rules are. It's too late to ask her to participate in forming the rules. She's in open rebellion.

Because this has gone on for a long time this may not help at all. I'm guessing she's been in rebellion for years, that she hasn't been taught to be responsible, that she doesn't feel loved, that life has been chaotic and she doesn't know how to behave in her current environment. You need professional help. Make that appointment with a family therapist.

Next, make an appointment with an intake counselor at juvenile court. They will help you know what you can do. I've seen kids on whom a petition has been filed with the court, usually by authorities, but parents can also file a petition alleging that their child is out of control. It's similar to what Tracy77 was talking about. You will be asking the court to intervene.

You can call the police and they may be able to guide you on the next step where you live. I do suggest, tho, that you will have more control over what happens if you are the ones to ask the court for a petition. For the police to ask for a petition they will have to document criminal behavior and it sounds like she's not doing criminal acts. It is no longer a crime to be out of control.

All of this has to happen before she's 18. At 17, the court may already be unable to help you. You may have to tell her to move out when she reaches 18. I would try very hard to find a way to get thru to her first.

Get an appointment with a family therapist. You can ask the juvenile court intake worker over the phone for recommendations. You can also call Children's Services Division to ask for recommendations. CSD will not get involved at this point. She is too old and to out of control. I feel so very sad that her father has not gotten professional help years ago.

Urgent advice. If your two younger children are still unruly I strongly urge you to get help NOW. You still have a good chance of changing their behavior while you have next to no chance of changing your step-daughter's behavior. Another reason for family counseling.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

Since she is a minor you can sign her in on a psych hold, get her evaluated and start counseling, medication if she needs it.

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answers from Redding on

I'd take the phone away FOREVER. Let her get one when she gets her own job. She's on her way to being "independent". It comes with costs.
She sounds like a repeat offender, has lost respect, and does not deserve to be coddled any longer.
Axe the phone... just tell her you cant afford it anymore.
Maybe she'll get a job.

necessity is the mother of invention.
enabling is the crippling of a generation.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Please take a step back and take a deep breath. Jumping on the punishment/discipline bandwagon right now is not going to support you or your stepdaughter. She is in pain! She is not doing any of this just to hurt everyone or to be a terrible person. She is really hurting and she is simply in reaction mode. It is time to find her some support and if she isn't willing then you find yourself support.

Life Coach Martha Beck once said, "We don't teach our children how to love themselves by how we love them. We teach them to love themselves by how we love ourselves." The best way for you to reach her now is for you to start your own journey of healing. Start exploring your own childhood woundings, becoming aware of your own vicious voice, see what fears keep you from having good boundaries, understand what core beliefs are driving your own frustrations and stress in these situations, seek out information on good parenting techniques, and learn good, strong communication tools.

Many of the other moms have suggested counseling and it is really vital right now for all of you. Just be really cautious of identifying your daughter as the cause of all the problems. She is simply playing out all the patterns that she has been taught since she was a little girl and she is screaming out for someone to truly hear her, see her, and validate the pain, anger, and extreme frustration that she is experinceing and has been experiencing for a very long time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

You are required to provide food and shelter. If she has a phone or car those must go. She needs to understand those are things you earn.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

There is probably a crisis counselor at her high school. Maybe you start there. I bet they have resources that can help you manage.
Pulling a psych eval would not be past me at this stage. Obviously some counseling all around would help. This is gut wrenching.



answers from Colorado Springs on

It sounds like family counseling might help, and single counseling for your step-daughter. Here's a website to check out. She's a counselor for out of control children, happens to be in Boulder.
Heather T. Forbes
Beyond Consequences

Another place is The Conflict Center

There is hope, just hang in there a little longer.



answers from Denver on

I know you've heard a lot of advise, but here's the one place you should consider.

Good luck and I hope you all make it through into 2013!

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