Teenage Daughter - HELP!

Updated on February 23, 2011
C.C. asks from McKinney, TX
15 answers

I have been driven to tears by my 16 year old daughter who is very smart but has completely given up doing her schoolwork. She says part of the problem is me because I yell at her about her poor grades and because I don't seem interested in her. I do not deny the yelling part -- it is not so much because of her grades but because she continuously lies to me about them even though I have computer access to her grades and can easily communicate with her teachers. The lying just pushes buttons in me like nothing else does. The poor grades are because she just doesn't do the work anymore and has more zeros than actual grades. Saying that I'm disinterested was hurtful and I pointed out to her the many ways I'm involved (which she grudgingly admitted was true). So we talked (not yelled) about this and discussed what had to be done and even met with one of her teachers for the class in which her zeros are most prevalent, and I put severe restrictions on her computer/phone time (she doesn't watch TV). And she told me she completed all of her past due items and handed them in. Well, I checked with her teacher today and nope, not a thing has been handed in.

When she came home from school this afternoon she found her computer removed from her room. She no longer has any cell phone access. Her other distractions (drawing, reading, etc.) are gone. She was told (no yelling) to sit at the family computer and don't budge until EVERY late assignment for this one class is complete. EVERY privelege is now revoked -- she won't even be allowed to stay home alone; she must come with us everywhere.

But really, what is causing all of this? It seems there is something severely "broken" inside my child but she says nothing. And not one thing I say gets through to her. I am at a complete loss. Should I get her some help, some impartial person who she may be willing to open up to? She has never been open with her feelings, even as a little girl. But I just don't know what to do anymore. She has always been my "easy" child -- very even tempered, generally happy/content and rarely argumentative. And she still seems that way on the surface. But clearly that is not the case. She has just given up on school.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

I made my daughter's grades her responsibility. She either did the work and passed, or didn't do the work and repeated.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I agree with Leslie M., there seems to be something bigger going on here. I would take this behavior as a cry for help. A counselor (not connected with the school IMO) can be that neutral third party that makes it OK for her to talk. The intent of counseling is to give you and your daughter skills to get through things on your own next time. I do not think she's broken, just things aren't working for her the way she's been used to and she hasn't learned new ways of being, yet.

My family was in counseling with my 14 year-old stepson for a year. It helped him, and us, tremendously, even though the process was challenging for all of us.

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answers from Portland on

I think your inclination is correct: Please get your big little girl into counseling, both on her own and with you/family. Not just her school counselor either. When kids throw up their hands and stop trying at all, this is a signal that there's something very upsetting going on within.

There's also a great article about praising effort instead of smarts, Peg posted it a few months ago.


Lastly, the book "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen...And How To Listen So Kids will Talk" by Faber and Mazlish is a godsend and can really open up the conversations.

It sounds as though your daughter is very sad and discouraged, so give her some things to look forward to as well. No one likes to feel they've failed everyone, including their own parents. I hope things get better.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Just a thought-
Could what she was missing possibly have been the boundaries that you have finally set up for her? As your 'easy' child had you focused more attention on your "not so easy" children?

Speaking as the oldest of 4 kids when I look back I know that most of my bad behavior at that age was a cry for attention. Attention that was being given on my younger siblings who phsyically needed her more than I did-but not emotionally. And my cry for attention wasn't in grades but extremely dangerous behavior.

I suggest you and her go away for the night or at least a whole day. Get to know her-who she really is. Don't lecture or even talk about school. Just be mother and daughter with no other distractions.

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answers from Austin on

" She was told (no yelling) to sit at the family computer and don't budge until EVERY late assignment for this one class is complete."

I would run screaming if anyone told me to do this.. This hill is now a mountain.. How many hours would this take? It is too much to expect this from a child who already feels overwhelmed for whatever reason.

I guess the communication between the 2 of you has totally broken down?
You have NO idea why or when this behavior began? Can you pin point it? What else was going on at that time? Something happened to make her change so drastically.

REMEMBER most high school counselors are ACADEMIC counselors. Your daughter and you need to see a real Therapist. First your daughter and then you and then the 2 of you together. I would also suggest a full check up for your daughter.. allow her to speak privately with the doctor about what is going on..

Your daughter needs to go and have a conversation with the SCHOOL counselor to figure out how she can get back on track with school. YOUR daughter needs to want to do this. IF she is clinically depressed, she will not have the physical energy to do this.. That is why you all need to figure out what is going on. How does she do on the tests she takes in these subjects, that she refuses to do the homework? Does she pass them?

In Austin there is an alternative school for students that are juniors.. They are allowed to go at their own pace. Some of them can complete a semester in a month and some of them take a while longer. We had a neighbor who had a lot going on in her life. She went to this school and graduated 2 years ahead of time.. She was just not able to move so slowly with her academics in a traditional classroom. She was young when she graduated and took a full time job and a year later was accepted to a college and went as a young freshman.. She has blossomed so much. She is incredible mature. She was just on a different schedule than other teens. Look at alternatives if this is what would motivate her.. She probably feels so far behind, she feels like she will never catch up..

You need to take a step back and look at the big picture. Something is broken here. What you have been doing is not working with your daughter, so change it up. Maybe instead of being demanding let her know this is HER life. YOU want her to be happy and successful and right now you do not know how to help her achieve this. Remind her you love her, but you are concerned. Ask her what it is she feels she needs. Then you explain what it is you need. See what the 2 of you can come up with.

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answers from Dallas on

Yes, get a therapist, for her and perhaps also you or you as a family. Try a less punitive approach. You can take away everything, but cannot force a teen this age to do her homework. Emphasize instead that it is her choice to do her work, and also her future. You worry because you want a good future for her. Lying to you doesn't get you off her back and doesn't help her future. If she's always been your "easy" child, it appears that she has reached the age of teen rebellion, asserting her power, and making a point of the fact that you can't force her to do anything. If she knows that the lying (on top of the schoolwork) is the thing that will most push your buttons, it appears that she wants to push your buttons. Why she wants to push your buttons may be the real issue. And she may not easily be able to tell you why, even if she wanted to. Again, therapy, and you may need therapy to deal with the frustration, button-pushing, and parenting issues. If her dad is available, you might try having him deal with the homework situation and the lying; step out of the situation for a while.

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answers from New York on

Yes, a counselor may be a good idea. Have you spoken to school administration, guidance, etc? They may be able to intervene with the academics, there may be a peer counselling service at school. For her to suddenly stop doing all schoolwork and say that you are disinterested sounds like there is something more going on in her life. My daughter will be 16 in a few months, and this behavior would make me think that she is hiding something. Has your daughter's behavior changed in other ways, or is she still doing the same things - is she avoiding her friends, suddenly hanging out with new friends, new boyfriend, suffering from a breakup?

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answers from Portland on

C., I can sure hear the anguish you feel over this. I think many parents who have raised teens at least occasionally feel this confounded. And you've gotten quite a range of interesting, and perhaps helpful, answers.

But you can give only your side of the story, and the only thing I hear about your daughter's side is that she feels you're not interested in her. That could mean so many things. I see that you were really trying to understand her when this problem started in 7th grade; in a post over two years ago, you wrote, "my daughter is smart, musically and artistically talented, loves to read and write but only on her own terms! Next steps are to take away her optional orchestra and art programs. But I can't help but notice that these disciplinary steps seem to have no effect on her, so what then?"

I wonder, because I am a possibly similar dreamy, artistic person with a touch of ADD, a compliant "easy" personality, who was a constant "underachiever" in school, whether (to her) you don't seem interested in what makes her tick? In her deepest longings and dreams? In what is relevant to her on "her terms?" Perhaps she believes you are interested only in her "externals," her artistic and academic achievements, but are mystified by her emotional needs? Could she wonder if you don't see her as anything more than an extension of yourself and your goals and ambitions?

We're not privy to "the many ways" you're involved "which she grudgingly admitted was true." But if that list focused mainly on the many things you do to boost her performance and make you proud (like classes and musical instruments), she may feel deeper despair than ever. She has "never been open with her feelings," which suggests to me that you might be radically different personality types. So the solutions you've tried may make perfect sense to a person of your type, but completely miss the mark for a dreamy, artistic, inwardly-focused type.

These are only guesses, based on how I felt about my mother when I was in high school. She remembers me as a calm, polite, agreeable and cooperative child, and she thought of me as happy. I remember becoming extremely passive, feeling like a puppet, allowing my strings to be pulled until I could get out of the house. I did only the bare minimum required to get by (that was a B+ average for me because my mom was so ultra-controlling). I could not wait to get old enough to get away from her.

I escaped by marrying a man who related to me just like my mother, ending up in a miserable marriage that lasted more than a decade, until I grew up enough to file for divorce. Something was severely broken inside me: me. I was so broken I couldn't begin to imagine what "on my own terms" might look like. All the hoops I jumped through had been my mother's for 18 years, and then my first husband's for another 13.

I learned a lot during those years, about myself and what I needed. But that is such a hard, painful way to learn about oneself. I'm still prone to pleasing others, because that was handed to me as my whole reason for existence in my early years. My relationship with my mother is still painful for me, although I have become the dutiful daughter, here to help her through her aging years, and I live next door to her.

I work hard to understand her, but she has no idea at all that I am a different sort of person than she is. All the assumptions she has about me and my life sound hollow – they are not real for me at all. Fortunately, I've been learning to let go of the profound grief of being unacknowledged by my own mother. I've gotten past the wish that she see "me." She's very proud of my accomplishments, which is fine, I guess, but those are only my "externals."

I'm only writing here on one theory that relates most closely to my own experience, but if any of this sounds like a possible fit, I have two suggestions for you. Find out what "her terms" are, and try to speak her language so you can connect with her, so you can nurture and draw out the best in her. There's a fabulous book that may help you with this: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. Best parenting book ever. There's also a version for teens.

If that doesn't dramatically change your daughter's relationship with you and her world, then consider family counseling. Or just go ahead and start that now. There is so much you might be able to do that will help her find a life that feels authentic and relevant to her. It doesn't sound like that's happening so far, and all the punishment in the world won't change that.

My best to you.

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answers from Norfolk on

The schoolwork issue seems to be a symptom of a larger problem. There is nothing rational in lying to you on matters you can easily check up on. Get her to a therapist! Whatever the real problem, she's not sharing with you, but you need to get it sorted before it's too late.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

I first want to say, Good for you! I think taking away the distractions was a great move. Make sure you stick with the consequence... do not bend until she gets the work done not only this time but proves it for a while.

I WAS your daughter, 15 years ago. I was smart, well-behaved, did all my schoolwork on time. It seems like the teenage years brought on all sorts of crazy hormones that put me high and low, like a rollercoaster. I also noticed that the girls who were ditzy and didn't do their schoolwork were more popular... so I stopped doing my work (duh). I also started hanging out with a bad crowd. My parents did not know their parents and it was hard for my parents to keep tabs on me. The kids I hung out with did drugs and smoked and cut school. I ended up not graduating with my class.

I did get my act together and was lucky enough that I did graduate a few months later, didn't get pregnant, didn't try any hard drugs. I did get addicted to cigarettes at 16 and am still fighting that habit off and on.

My parents were good parent, but I knew how to manipulate them. I know if they started harping about my grades or friends, I could get my way by crying or having a big fit (yes, like a baby!) My parents would have done well to take away my stuff, ground me to my room till my grades improved, hire a tutor if needed, refuse to allow me to hang out with people they thought were bad influences. Your daughter will probably, if she is like I was, try to manipulate you. Heck, I think I tried to rat my parents out to my counselor even! Yikes. Stay strong. You know what's best for her. A hormonal teenager is NOT capable of making the right decisions without your help. What she does now will affect her very much down the road, and I truly believe tough love is going to be your best approach.
PS - I am sorry, I know it sucks right now! My mom and I are great friends now. Just get through this teenager phase, I am sure it will get better!

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answers from Boston on

This age totally sucks!When My daughter turned 16 and her head spun around ..... she was not the girl I knew! She was defiant in every way. Homework was horrible , grades , attitude....I could go on and on. We went to therapy together because I did not know what to do with her!!! It helped so much. I do believe that traditional school is not for every child, have you thought about alternative schools for her, a hands on type of school. She might really like and blossom in a different setting. Your doing everything right it seems. I have taken everything away before, they will eventually get sick of doing nothing. I even took her door to her room off. Nothing but the bed and clothes. Every time you catch her lying is only going to harder on her. She needs to learn that she can not do this to you. I Puberty is so hard for them. Keep doing what your doing, around 22 she will be human again.

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answers from Honolulu on

Depression? I would have her see a doctor.

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answers from Honolulu on

To me... the whole point of this is like she said. How you act toward her.

To me... she is lacking... a 'relationship' with you. And you with her.

Kids, grow up generally, with the parents telling them what to do, the parents reacting to them and then serving consequences or punishments.
BUT what is lacking in this case, is the parent(s) forming a 'RELATIONSHIP" with the child: which is....
respecting them
accepting them for who they are, not what you want them to be.
having unconditional love, not based on performance.
Knowing your child & their interests and dreams and talents and likes/dislikes.
having communication and talking with them about them and their ideas/thoughts/feelings/hopes/dreams/problems/happiness etc.
Having a 2-way street... with them, not just censoring them.
Having "trust" with them and they with you.
They need to KNOW, they can count on you and that you will be a soft place for them to fall... for good or bad things. And that they 'can' indeed talk to you about their problems without getting judged or reprimanded etc.
Otherwise, they shut-down and do not come to you. At all.

Some kids, when young, will 'seem' so 'easy' and do whatever you say. But, once older, once they cannot keep doing that and having a 1-way street... they really get frustrated and unhappy. They "lack"... having "You" the parent... there for them.

Giving up on school, sometimes, can just be that they are frustrated in general with their life/parents etc. So their attitude becomes "why bother" because no matter what they do, it is not good enough (to you), and "They" are not getting, nurtured or nourished inwardly or emotionally nor their parent/Mom "Bonding" with them. Which is what a child needs. Not them being a 'performance' entity and parental 'appreciation' only given to them for performance related activity.

Her saying that you are not involved and disinterested... is to her, true.
She is not talking about what you "do" per school. She is talking about NEEDING YOU... to be there for 'her.' Not it being about her performance. She is lacking, internally. Her cup, is empty. She is not getting: understanding, unconditional love, acceptance, You.

A girl, NEEDS a "Relationship" with their Mommy.

Not just being regarded as this 'person' who is 'smart' and everything then revolving around that and her only being seen as 'grades' or whether she is 'smart' or not.
She is a person.
She wants to and NEEDS to be seen as that.
A daughter. A person.

Her cup seems half-empty. Not half-full.
She told you what she feels... and what she lacks.
You then told her she is 'wrong' and invalidated how she 'feels.'
Thus, she does not open up to you... because she is not getting understanding nor what she really needs.

She is missing "You."
Her 'behavior' and lack of school interest... is because of that.
She is saying, you do not "know" her... not let her be her. And that you are not there, for her.
Thus, she is unhappy.

You need to have a "Relationship" with her.

Or she will continue to withdraw from you and other things.
She needs, what she is not getting.
She doesn't care if things are taken away from her. Because that is not the problem.
The problem is, as she told you. And was brave enough to say.
So, heed to that.
Because, the already feels "why bother".... "nothing I do matters, to Mom or my parents" kind of thing. They don't know me.... love me for me.
She already said to you that you "Don't seem interested in her."

But no one, is 'hearing' her. You or her Dad, are not 'hearing' her and what she said she needs and is lacking.

See her for her.
Not it being about her 'performance' only.
Get to know "Her."

all the best,

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answers from Phoenix on

I don't have kids this age but I can tell you what i went through that age was similar. My mom and I had a horrible relationship. I can tell you from working with lots of teenagers and being a teacher for years has helped me see things from thier point of view a little better. I really am not a huge fan of formal sit down talk it out therapy...sure it gets the feelings all out but from all my experiences it hasn't really "helped" anyone. Guess the best approch i have found is a reality check. Good for you for taking away the things that she may think she is entitled to. JMO but I really believe entitlement is the biggest problems teens face today. Maybe she just needs some involvement or extracurricular activity to occupy her time. Sports have helped many of my students to get back on the straight. No grades no play. Simple. If sports isn't her thing maybe try having her volunteer at a shelter with you. I have found that when you help others and see how bad it really is out there it makes you want to be a better person. Donate time, make her do housework and donate the money from her allowance to a needy family. It is something that you need to work on together. She has to want to do her work for the right reasons not just because you told her. She needs to understand if she can't handle school assignments now how will she ever handle a job. Maybe its just me being harsh, but my dad explained that to me a long time ago when i was having some issues. I am glad you are trying to be proactive in trying to overcome this. Responsibility is hard but the younger you teach them the better off they will be down the road. Believe me I am so thankful for my super strict "worst parents ever!" (actually the best ever...looking back) Good Luck

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answers from Lincoln on

Sorry to hear about that. I've dealt with a teenager that for some reason would rather be a slacker and not hand in homework even though I know he's smart and can get A's & B's. I did take out the TV and revoke priveliges and even did grounding. One thing to remember is that they have to be able "to see the light at the end of the tunnel". Also tell her that this is hurting herself and she might as well work at fast-food for the rest of her life (no offense to fast-food workers, been there done that). Did you talk to her what goals she had in life, like college, this and that? Then work backwards from there. Good luck!

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