Spoiled Rotten

22 Jan

Letterbalm Defiant TeenagerDear LetterBalm: My 16-year-old daughter is a handful. She is spoiled, defiant, sullen and willful. She doesn’t obey or listen to anything we say, and she treats us disrespectfully. My husband and I share most of the blame here. She’s an only child, and we’ve indulged her every whim. She has the latest expensive e-gadgets, her own car and a mountain of clothes and shoes. My wife and I are concerned because our daughter feels the world and everyone in it owes her a living. She gets good grades and she participates in school and community activities – but only because she says this will get her into a good college where she plans to join a sorority, make friends and get a rich husband. (Seriously, she said this.) We have to reverse the damage, but what can we do? How do we reach her?

–Tearing Our Hair Out

Is your daughter trapped in the 1950s? Going to college to land a rich husband went out with hula hoops and Sputnik. Ms. L.B. gives her credit for single-mindedness, but little else. You’ve created a little monster, and you and your wife will have to join forces in an immutable pact to break her patterns. You’re asking for the kind of a miracle that would take an excellent therapist years to accomplish. Be prepared for your daughter to act out, indulge in temper tantrums, even resort to shoplifting, petty theft and other antisocial behavior. Presumably you own her car, credit cards and e-toys. You need to impose parental control, requiring discipline and consequences for her actions. She needs to earn privileges. And, you need to stand firm in the face of what will be a monumental reaction. You and your wife plan what you will say, be calm, sit your daughter down, tell her to turn off all devices and lower the boom:

Samantha, listen and don’t interrupt. Your mother and I are here to tell you that the life you’ve known is over. From now on, this is what will happen: You will surrender your credit cards, and you will have curfews. Starting now, if you want to buy something, you will work for it around the house. You will be responsible for your cell and tablet bills and the gas and upkeep of your car. And, from now on, if you act out or treat us or anyone else disrespectfully, there will be consequences and revoking of privileges. Your mother and I are of the same mind about this. Unfortunately, we’ve allowed you to become a demanding, selfish person – in short, a spoiled brat. So, we’re partly to blame. You are a beautiful, intelligent young woman. We love you very much and know that you have the capacity to be beautiful on the inside, too. We know this is a big shock for you, and we’ve arranged for the three of us to talk with a family therapist to change things for the better.

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