Self-centered Teen Not Bonding with Anyone

Updated on July 24, 2010
M.C. asks from Ann Arbor, MI
11 answers

Hi Moms,

My ex and I have a 15 year old daughter. A few years ago, my daughter moved in with my ex and his then wife. We were involved in a nasty custody battle and after years of fighting, I let my ex have our daughter (long story). Well, nowadays, things are better and we co-parent our daughter. Last night, my ex and I talked on the phone and he told me that he wants our daughter to attend counseling. Here's the situation: Our daughter does not bond with anyone. She is very self-centered and uses people including her friends and her family. My ex feels like he is only a taxi driver and a bank our daughter. He's tried doing things with her, but she remains self-centered. The same goes for me. When she visits me, it's a battle to get her to do things with me, like for instance, cook dinner. It seems she just goes through the motions, but her heart is not in it. It's superficial. She wants what SHE wants and doesn't care about anyone else. We've tried talking to her, but nothing works. My ex divorced her step mom about a year ago. His ex wife is a warm and compassionate person who also has a daughter. She spent many years nurturing and trying to build a relationship with my daughter. Now, my daughter will not even return her phone calls or have anything to do with her unless she needs something. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Can anyone advise on this situation as we are both at a loss:(

Thank you.

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answers from Burlington on

Hi M.,

This is my perception. The only one who truely knows is your daughter. But she may not be able to put into words what the problem is because she didn't have the age and experience to be able to label what the problem was, so even at this age she may still not be able to say what the problem is. What I wrote below will sound harsh, but I think it is what your daughter experienced.

First my story: My father brought me with him when he went to talk to a priest about his unhappiness in his marriage. I was young and oblivious to his discontent. Hearing what he was saying in the next room made me horribly upset. I thought my parents were going to get a divorce. I was quite distraught, asked if I could go sit and wait for him in the car, and went to the car to cry. When my father came out, I asked him if they were going to get a divorce. He said, "No." But that ruined my sense that all was well in the world. My mother would also complain out loud about things my father would do that bothered her when he wasn't around. It made me think of what kind of person I didn't want to marry. I ended up not wanting to marry someone like my father. I didn't want to be like my mother. I do not have a warm, fuzzy relationship with my parents like what is portrayed on tv - I'm not "Daddy's Little Girl." I am angry that they continue their problems and continue to complain about each other in their own ways.

I feel really bad for your daughter. It sounds like she was pretty well traumatized by the divorce and especially the custody battle. It seems she doesn't trust others to be there for her, so she's not there for anyone else. I think she may have felt like a pawn during the custody battle, since you say there was a lot of fighting and it was a nasty battle over her custody. I wonder if you used that word in front of her, "custody." Who gets to keep her. I think it probably made her feel like an object, not a little girl with feelings. Her two parents that originally loved her and gave her a sense of security, became two enemies who did not show respect to each other, or for her. Her happy world of trust and love came crashing down. I think she now is not able to trust others because the two people that she trusted turned on each other and used her as the object of their fight. I am guessing this fight was done in front of her where she could hear. She was treated like a pawn, so now she treats others as paawns. You used her, she is now using you.

I think your daughter is in a lot of pain. She definitely needs to have someone to talk to. I think you and your ex-husband need to go with her and let her know how sorry you are for the way you behaved during the custody fight. You should tell her how you should have behaved. You should tell her how much you love her and how awful you feel for hurting her, that you didn't mean to hurt her. That you were experiencing your own pain during the divorce and that you didn't recognize that your behavior was hurting her. I'm very glad for you and your ex that you are getting along now. Let her know that the two of you are working on getting along better. You made your mistakes and you are now tring to rectify them. The most important problem though is that you think you've hurt her and you want to try to help her feel better and let her know that she is loved and cared for. Let her know that when mistakes are made, a person needs to own up to their mistakes, apologize, and try to rectify them as best they can.

I'm thinking a possible outcome may be that she might try to use your sorrow as a way of getting things from you. Such as you hurt me, so I'll feel better if you give me an ipod, or some other thing. Things won't help, and that kind of behavior isn't good. Your love can't be bought and she won't love you for it. That would be using you, so watch out for it.

Don't expect her to recover overnight. If she does try to trust you again, it's going to take a long time.

I hope the best for you, M., and all involved. My heart goes out to you. I hope all will be healed.


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answers from New York on

Hi M.,
I have a 15 year old daughter. Many teens are pretty much into themselves and their own wants and interests. Most parents of teens feel like a taxi driver and ATM! This is not unusual. Teens want to spend most of their time with their friends, not hanging out with their parents. They are not going to behave as if they are brimming with love and affection for you and thrilled to be spending time with you. It also sounds like perhaps she is not seeing the point of bonding with people when they seem to go in and out of your life. I am not blaming you for the circumstances, things do happen sometimes, but you and her dad are not together, then the custody battle and switching homes, now the stepmom is not with dad. She may feel that everyone abandons her and that no one is permanent in her life. I cannot tell you how much of her behavior is due to the changing family situation or how much is normal teen behavior. Good luck

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answers from Harrisburg on

I don't think you can really blame your daughter. Her reactions seem normal, because she doesn't and may have never felt a sense of family or security, so why would she not think that her world revolves around her. At least with her, she feels safe. Keep loving on her, don't chastise her. Encourage her to participate until she can feel that it is "normal" in her mind. Not only that, she is a teenager!

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answers from Washington DC on

Counseling might not be such a bad idea. There may be some underlying issue that you don't even know about.
That said, you need to get her involved in service to others. Sign her up for a mission trip or some community service projects. If you live near a soup kitchen or a free day care center - for youth or elderly, that might be a good spot.
Check with the school, rec. department, or church to see what is going on. Have her volunteer at the library - shelving books and helping little kids find story books might be right up her alley.
My children have always been involved in some sort of service project - they volunteer for many things and just think it's "what you are supposed to do". As a matter of fact, they are missing a fundraiser for the band this weekend and are upset that they can't participate.
One of the trips our church youth group did was take the kids to a cancer ward to visit the patients and bring toys and puzzles for them. It was an eye opening experience for all involved.
You say that she only wants to do what she wants to do. Well, that's just too bad. You need to MAKE her do and if she pouts the whole time - so be it. I'd tell her that we are doing xyz and she will do it. I'd tell her she doesn't have to like it, but she needs to suck it up and deal. Don't let her nasty attitude spoil it for you. Just keep going. You'll be amazed - she WILL come around, but it will take time.

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answers from Kansas City on

it sounds like your daughter is in a lot of pain and is acting how she has been taught to act in painful situations. how long did she watch this awful divorce drama go on...i would have a lot of anger and pain too. i agree she needs counselling. i don't think there's any question that you owe it to her. i also think it sounds like you have a lot of pain and anger towards your daughter as well, using hurtful labels like "self centered" and "uses people". she has been through hell it sounds like, and whatever reasons you may have had, in the end, you gave up your daughter. and now you're holding her responsible for being messed up over it. she's just a kid. get her in counselling asap.

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answers from Detroit on

Oh poor thing! I think getting all of you involved in some couseling with her would be helpful. Her life has been torn apart for a very long time due to the adults in her life. Sounds like you all need some help with the priorities and keeping things consistent so she feels safe enough to bond. Not that I know the whole story.....but all the adults in her life have disappeared for a period of time, the custody battle I am sure was damaging and now a loving step mom has also disappeared. Who would you trust and bond with if you were her? Counseling is a must for all three of you. Another thing...15 year olds always believe parents are the bank and the taxi...THAT is not unusual. 15 year old girls are especially "interesting". Be patient, consistent and see what outside help you can find to mend this.

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answers from Detroit on

Most teens are self centered. They're very in to how they look, what they wear, feeling like they are all knowledgable and adult and totally able to make their own decisions and do not need mom or dad's input on topics they're just too brain dead to have any clue about.
Okay that said, the divorce obviously had something to do with all this. Feeling torn apart by her parents, you giving up custody, anything at all, you and dad are to blame.
First thing is taxi service and 'the bank' are no longer available until she earns it. That includes doing shares around the house. Set timetables (''we are having dinner now. eat or you get nothing"). You start talking, even if she doesn't. Express your serious concerns that she's too withdrawn and you'd really like to know why and how it can be rectified. If she doesn't talk at first, let it go. YOu've said your piece. She might come back to address it in her own time. But she has no confidence. How are her grades? Have teachers noticed anything?

Be aware, tho, that she might try to use this "poor little orphan'' routine as manipulation. don't get pulled into it.

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answers from Sacramento on

I dont think the all- about- me behavior is unusual for a teen, but realize how difficult and upsetting your earlier divorce was for her and now it has happened again with your ex's 2nd wife. She probably feels why get close to people when important relationships with those you like or love turn ugly and are broken up. I think you husband's suggestion to get her some counseling is a good one. You might also encourage her to do some volunteering for a cause she is interested in. At my child's high school volunteering is almost mandatory since colleges are looking for that when you apply for admission. I have been told some of the best state colleges are looking for a minimum number of volunteer hrs to be accepted and admissions is very competitve. This would also allow her to make some new friends and meet new people taking the attention off herself. What about church? If your family attends, many of them have great teen youth groups. These teen groups do lots of community service projects and help those less fortunate. She could also meet many new young peolple there and learn that she has a pretty good life. I would still encourage the counseling if she will go; also maybe both you andher Dad need to hold off for a few yrs to begin any new romantic relationships for a while, it will be much easier on your children. Good luck to her.


answers from Dallas on

A self centered unusual. LOL!

I am not minimizing your concerns but do keep in mind that pretty much ALL teens are self-centered. It is really awesome that you and your ex can commiserate and work together. Your daughter is a lucky girl. Now, just agree on consequences to behavior.

If she is willing to go to counseling then why not? I would suggest family counseling too, not just sending her alone. I think you might have better results. It certainly could not hurt. However, if she is totally against it then when she goes alone she may refuse to "work."

Probably you and your ex going somewhere to get tips on to handle her would really be helpful. She isn't too old for the "Love and Logic" books to help guide you.

Hang in There. Keep telling her you love her, pick your battles, but don't let her be the one to make the rules.

Best of Luck!



answers from Detroit on

Sounds to me like some of this is typical teen girl stuff (parents are the enemy) and some of it is hurt/low self-esteem from your family's history. I am hopeful she'll grow out of some of it but you're all right on to work at pulling her in and connecting with her and spending quality time with her. She is glad for that but can't show it. She is testing to see if she's really that important to you or if you'll let her just pull away into her own world. She needs counseling and you parents both need to be involved some of the time. Don't let her off the hook. If you don't work thru this now, it will be far worse as she enters adulthood and she has the power to make some really destructive choices. Her using others is the age as much as anything. She's trying to meet her own needs and sabotaging the realtionships she has right at hand. Immaturity and hurt and anger! I urge you to hang in there with her, provide the structure and accountablity she needs (chores, being an active part of the family etc.), and never reject or abandon her. Try not to take personally the stuff she does. It's about her, not you. She wants and needs your love tho she acts in a way that pushes you away and makes her hard to love. If you can hang tight with her now, you will all survive this as a family. The stepmom probably should be involved too but your role as her mom is probably the most crucial one - proving your love at every step without letting her walk on you. Can be pretty tricky! I used to write love/affirmation notes to my girls and leave them where they could find them. They remember that and appreciated it tho they never let me know. You're right - she's selfish but it's all she can do at the moment.



answers from Kalamazoo on

YES, go to counseling! I'm sure two divorces have been unsettling and confusing in her life. Manipulation is something kids deal with in the best of home situations, but divorce just makes it easier to pull off. Sounds like you're in a good position being able to talk to and work with your Ex, so hopefully you two can go along to counseling and get some advise, stay on the same page and work with her. Yes its typical teenage behavior. BUT just because this is COMMON does not mean its NORMAL. Its normal to test boundaries and to learn to make personal decisions. But withdrawing is a red flag that she's dealing with other issues, so get to the bottom of it soon.

Best wishes!

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