SEB Mailbag: A Christian parent asks for some help.

Not all the email I get is from people who have somehow managed to wiggle free from their restraints and gain access to the computer at the nurse’s station when she isn’t looking. Quite a lot of it is very sincere and makes running SEB very worthwhile. Every now and then I get emails from folks, both atheist and believers, who are looking for some advice. This is one of those occasions.

A concerned Christian mother by the name of—we’ll call her “Mary” for our purposes here as she has requested anonymity—wrote me an email the other day about her fiancé‘s rebellious daughter. The daughter is a bit of a hell raiser and uses the excuse that she’s an atheist to justify her actions. Here’s the email as I received it edited only for readability:

Hello Les,

My name is “Mary” and I want to pose a question to you and actually am hoping form some advice. Personally I am a Christian as is our family, my fiancé & his family…

My fiancé has a teen daughter who states she is an atheist, while I am doubtful she actually understands what this means…

You appear to be a very intelligent man with some viewpoints I found most interesting…

Here is a small piece of her history so that maybe you can help me understand and help her…

Before I start we did try counseling, she refused to speak…

This young lady lost her mother due to drug use and free sexuality which sent her mother to a grave at a way too early age… Her father, straight arrow…

The daughter, in my opinion, I feel chooses to believe in no God as it provides her with nothing else to fear or respect, teen rebellion combined with hurt anger and pain of a difficult life…

She is beyond sexually free, steals and defies her father continuously, all while stating she is an atheist. I have repeatedly told her that she should know, have knowledge of what she says before she says it. I told her that I was doubtful that people who are atheist throw all values out the window and more than likely many would take offense to her freely stating “this is atheism.”

I guess my question is….besides my telling her to research, which she won’t, how can I get it through to her that this is not true…. atheism is not a license for stealing, sexual promiscuity, and disrespect and lack of regard for people. I do not want to save a nation or a world, just one girl who is going to destroy herself…. being Christian and praying does not seem to be helping so I turn to you… stupid evil bastard (lol by the way sounds like something my brother would come up with)

Any time or advice is greatly appreciated and openly accepted.

Signed,
HELP,
I don’t want to be step mother to a deceased child.
“Mary”

Again this is a sincere request and I asked “Mary” if it would be OK for me to post this to SEB so you folks could chime in. What I’m hoping for is some constructive feedback for “Mary” as she is trying more than just praying to get through to what sounds like a troubled young woman. I know there are quite a few counselors and psychologists who lurk on this site so I’m hoping some of you may speak up as well. I also realize there’s not a whole lot in this email to go on so I’m not expecting anyone to have a perfect solution they can whip out and present her with—just some suggestions that might be helpful. I haven’t had a chance to write up a reply of my own yet, but I’m hoping to get something together this evening and I’ll post it in a comment if you guys are interested. In the meantime I’ll be passing along a link to this entry to “Mary” so she can follow along.

32 thoughts on “SEB Mailbag: A Christian parent asks for some help.

  1. It took a lot of courage for Mary to write that letter and she is very insightful for recognizing that atheism does not mean a lack of respect, ethics, or morality.  Mary might mention that there are a number of very famous atheists and that they do not stand for those things that she thinks atheism means. 

    Some famous atheists (and similar beliefs) from http://www.wonderfulatheistsofcfl.org/Quotes.htm

    Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Walt Disney, Samuel Clemens “Mark Twain”, and others.

    I suppose that it wouldn’t do any good to suggest that Mary’s step daughter read Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

  2. As a good friend of mine puts it: “It’s a parent’s job to protect the teenager’s body until the mind re-engages.” It’s a simple enough statement, but not necessarily simple to do.

    I’d guess that there’s little point to explain to her that atheism isn’t license to act unethically, because it may well be just another rebellion thing.

    If she doesn’t want to he helped, it probably doesn’t matter what anyone tries. I don’t know if there is something that would encourage her to seek help – other than hitting rock bottom and getting a clue.

  3. As a former Christian the best I could say to any teen is “You will have to live inside the person you become”.  It is the personal equivalent of planetary ethics; there is an ecology of the spirit and it can be polluted and corrupted.  The same is true of the body.  The question of god’s existence has no bearing on this.

    While there may be no eternal hell, you can make quite a good facsimile of hell in your life, and in the lives of people around you, by living destructively.  Atheism only means you don’t believe in God; look into Humanism.  Hope that helps.

  4. The girl reminds me nothing so much of Kevin Kline’s character in “A Fish Called Wanda” (Remember the part where he shoots the fly off the end of his foot and goes back to reading Nietsche?) My tuppence-worth: Have a *real* atheist, someone with some serious intellectual chops, over for dinner and a sparring match.

    Best of luck to you, Mary. And take my advice with the proverbial grain of salt. I don’t have any (two-legged) kids, so of course that makes me eminently qualified to tell someone else how to raise theirs. 😉 And thanks so much for sticking up for people who don’t give atheism a bad name.

  5. Being that I was a very rebellious child only 10 years ago, I obviously don’t have any insight into how to parent the child, but I would say that it is likely she is just in a phase and will come out of this phase.  How soon is hard to tell, but I can guarantee it will happen.

    I know playing the waiting game probably won’t work well because it sounds like she may be getting into some dangerous habits.  But I like the idea of bringing in a real Atheist that doesn’t equate Anarchy with Atheism.  Or if this is not feasible, it might be a good idea to find her someone else she can talk to, but can also relate to.

    I know when I was rebelling I really just needed to talk to someone about my troubles or issues, but felt I couldn’t talk to my parents.  You could try taking her to a psychologist, but instead of sitting in on the sessions, make sure you tell her that you have no intention of finding out what she is talking about and make sure she knows the session are strictly between her and the psychologist.  This may be just enough to get her to open up to the psychologist, and may be what is needed to stop her rebellion.

    Sorry I don’t have any better answers Mary, but I do wish you the best in your endeavors.  And thank you for not assuming all Atheists act as the girl does.

  6. Mary, I wish I had the magic formula. I’d give it freely.
    It sounds like the girl is carrying round a lot of resentment; toward her mother for dying and leaving her; towards you, your being alive, your goodness and concern and your coming into her life ‘to take her mother’s place’; towards herself for being alive and her inability to deal with it.

    Back in the days I went to AA it was mentioned that friends and family left AA literature around the house in the hope the alcoholic might pick it up and read it and recognise his (her) problem – it had already been realised that talking and confronting the alcoholic with his problem was of NO use coz he (like everyone else) only hears what he wants to hear.

    I don’t know that leaving Atheist literature around the house would be of much help to her because I doubt that her problem is as much about her ideas about what atheism is, as much as it is about her basic inability to deal with her grief, guilt, and fears.
    It sounds like she’s still in one or all the first four stages.

    With me it took a car accident and too many other things all happening on the night of August 5, 1983 to stop me long enough to have a look at where I was and where I was destined to go if I kept on down that road with the same level of self-destructive intensity.
    I was lucky – hence LuckyJohn.

    Elwed: other than hitting rock bottom and getting a clue

    The reality is that she may have to experience a rock bottom that’ll stop for long enough for her to have a look and confront her life – that will take a whole lot of luck.
    Whilst ever she doesn’t recognise she has an unresolved problem … she’ll have an unresolved problem.
    I know that’s circular but it’s a fact.
    The first part of resolving a problem is to recognise there is one.
    If I may make one suggestion: it could (might?) help if talks to someone who has experienced similar loss and self-destruction and come out the other end.
    There are millions of survivors about.  smile
    She does not need religion – it’ll only muddy the waters as in shifting blame and responsibility and, if you will, ownership of her life.

    It’s interesting she turned to her version of Atheism as a justification for her actions.
    It sounds more like she’s blaming her version of Christianity for her losses – as in why did God do this to me?
    She feels like a victim and she’s right – she thinks she’s the only one and she’s wrong.
    We are all victims at some time or other in the sense that ‘shit happens’.
    The measure is what we do about it.
    Good luck.  smile

  7. Quoting Queen Millefiori:

    These are the Humanist principles I was raised and serve me well now.

    Woah they’re formal, i guess it doesn’t change the principles but treating it as a defacto package will raise fundies, even if it is to Humanism.

    Thing is if you don’t believe in god why bother having any morals? Surely they just make life more difficult. Indeed why is life even considered important? Perhaps fear of non-existance accounts for liking life, but what’s so good about existance? You have to do stuff like go to work and eat, etc. If the world were to end that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, i may even find a way to bring it on one day.

  8. Children are human beings who have yet to reach a certain level of maturity, Whatever rules that applies to adults, also applies to children. This young woman needs to know that she is in full possession of herself, and also accountable for her actions. Beyond that, what can you do?

    You can be a friend. About the best therapy a young person can have is an adult that possesses both love and tolerance during the years when young people experiment with indifference.

    It’s just my opinion, but from the minimal information that was given, I would say she is rebelling because someone is attempting to control her, and it is not setting well. It could be something small, Like clothes or cosmetic issues. She is not a dog and cannot be trained like one. This is a common mistake made by many parents, they start with rewarding good, and punishing bad behaviors. That may work with poodles, but not with a teenager. It helps if these attitudes towards children can be initiated at birth.

    Now that she is in her teens, and it would help to know exactly how old. But assuming she is say 13, 14. It’s not too late to start some new rules, and not hers either. These rules are for you, Starting with, You’re not automatically her mother, her mother is dead. I guess you will be her step mother by legality, But what you want is to be her friend and perhaps if she allows maybe “Mom”. You’ll have to earn that name however.

    As for the issues regarding religion, What religion you choose, or not choose, is none of her business, and her choices are none of yours. Again this is her life, so it is also her trials and her errors.

    As for sexuality, nothing you can do about that short of chaining her in a closet, It would help everyone’s health if she could understand that STD’s are a serious global health issue. 

    I genuinely feel that you want what is best for her, Please just try getting out of her way, when she is convinced, that her life belongs to her, you will see a change.

  9. Mary, Lucky John hit it on the head (even Dr. Laura Schlessinger would agree). Best you can hope for is that one of her peers, who have much more influence in her life than parents at this stage, can help her to want to change her attitude. Until she wants to change, she won’t, and no one can make her. But when she discovers she has all the power to make her life what she wants it to be, and stops being a victim, she can completely change everything.

  10. Before I start we did try counseling, she refused to speak…

    I’m not clear if the “we” means that you tried family counseling or if it means that yourself and your fiancee’ had her see a counselor.

    If it was the former, I would strongly recommend the latter.  I don’t know what resources you have, but finding an excellent female counselor is paramount.  A male counselor is worthless to her right now and she will attempt to play him.  Even if you have tried individual counseling, try again.  It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t talk for the first few sessions, keep taking her to the 2nd, the 3rd and even the 4th sessions.   

    I would also venture to guess that her self-reported atheism has little to nothing to do with her behaviors, but is rather in response to her father’s theism and anger at the loss of her mother.  It appears to be an anti-theism, not atheism.  Explaining why atheists have values is a good thought, but will be of little consequence to her. 

    As regards her promiscuity, I would strongly encourage you to ensure that she is made aware of the need for condoms.  I’m not saying provide them, but make sure she knows about them and where to get them.  Better that she be promiscuous and alive to regret it, than dead.

    There is so much that is unknown.  I’m left wondering if there are any female role models that the child has or has had.  If there is, and they are willing to make a large time committment, enlist their help.  Time spent with that individual is less time for her to spend doing what she is currently doing.  Further, the positive role-modeling may have some effect.

    Does she have any healthy outlets? Hobbies?  School activities? Can you involve her in activities/clubs that would help to foster healthier behaviors? 

    It may be true that you can lead a horse to water and you can’t make it drink, but you damn sure can make it thristy.

    Don’t ever stop trying to make her thirsty.

  11. This girl doesn’t have a religion problem, she has an attitude problem. Atheism is just a word she’s throwing around because she doesn’t know the right word to describe herself.

    The mother should condition herself to replace her daughter’s use of the word “atheist” with “disturbed”.

    While I commend the general intelligence of the posters on this board, and the regularly insightful comments, I don’t think this is the right board for asking about children’s general psychological and rebellion problems.

  12. She doesn’t sound like an atheist.  She sounds like a nihilist.  Tell her to wake up and get her terms right.  Nihilism is the second most logical worldview outside of Christianity. tongue wink

  13. Nihilism is the second most logical worldview outside of Christianity.

    You wish; there’s humanism in between them.  But please, let’s not get into the theism/atheism thing here.  The teen girl is in the worst kind of trouble – she has lost her way.  No approach guarantees her finding it again.

    Maybe if there were a way to entice her to read this thread?  Here’s a bunch of complete strangers – atheists and religious people – who are concerned for her welfare and many have given some very good advice.  It may help her become thirsty.

  14. I would strongly encourage you to ensure that she is made aware of the need for condoms.  I’m not saying provide them

    I would.
    My wild child niece wanted it all and did it all.
    Somehow my sister got her on the pill and the use of condoms, and let her go for a while – tough times – then my sister decided it was time to come back … and my grown up niece came back.
    Now? 33, happily married, plenty money and two beautiful kids and they all love grandma.

    Bob: I don’t think this is the right board for asking about children’s general psychological and rebellion problems.

    Everything can be right in its time.
    Don’t forget: information is power.  smile

    Another thing, Mary – don’t take any of this and try it tonite … wait a week till all the stuff and concepts have settled into your intuitive knowingness.
    There’s quite a nice cross-section here; Pagan, Nihilist, Atheist, Spiritual atheism, Deist, Anti-theist … and even one or two Christians.
    Within it all you may glean parts that work.

    Again, I say: don’t bring God into this cos that’s who is responsible for ‘her life/mother’s leaving her and her death!’ (both of them, too potentially).
    It’s scary psychological ground rules that you’re playing here.
    But it could work if you leave everybody’s ‘expectations’ off the table.
    All she needs is love and support, with absolute unconditionality.  smile

    It may help her become thirsty.

    That’s the least we can hope for – her, to look at the other (self) girl who would love to come out …

    One other thing … has she mentioned suicide?
    Like, how extreme is this?
    Why don’t you bring it up … subtly?
    Confront stuff; as my brother says to his two boys … don’t muck around! Name it.
    Or as I often said to my salesmen: gimme the bottom line!
    I’m not too interested how … what and why … what are you gonna do and or what you want from me?
    With any luck she may ask what you want from her.  smile
    There’s your opening. Make it gentle and non-judgemental.

    Back to the quote above about this being the right place ??
    This is as honest as it gets because there are no ulterior motives.
    I don’t usually do absolute statements but I doubt there are too many psychological axes to be sharpened here.  smile
    Most of us have been somewhere and escaped and or dealt with it somehow.
    I’ve been playing here for about a year – none of us is perfect but we’re all trying to be the best, as well as the most honourable, we can within our own limitations.  smile
    You can take that to the bank.

    DoF: Maybe if there were a way to entice her to read this thread?

    Damn. My ego would get too involved.
    I couldn’t handle that … hahaha – you can ‘bank on’ ego trippers …  wink

  15. There is good advice in this thread, as well as a significant amount of caring…

    I’ve certainly had struggles with my own kids, so I can understand a little of the distress Mary might be feeling. I personally searched for ways to help my son get through the struggles he found himself in. I tried both hard and soft touches and learned a very simple fact: No one can make decisions for another. One can suffer with them, but the other has to come to a place where they are willing to make decisions that will take them in a positive direction.

    I learned that we never stop loving our children, even when they make poor choices. We may disagree with those choices and may understand the potential outcomes far better than the child, but that doesn’t change our care for them. Neither does it change the child’s responsibility for their actions. (That was a hard lesson for Wife, who so desperately wanted to interdict.) I had to learn to separate the behavior from the person (that was my lesson from the experience) and continue to love my son, even when I had to be really hard on him. I spent a lot of time on my knees and in tears over him.

    I learned the pain from this experience washes over the entire family. It is challenging to maintain a sense of peace in the midst of this storm. If it’s possible, be an anchor for the child—provide a safe place to harbor when she finally begins to figure things out.

    I don’t know, I can probably write more, but I think I’ll stop. It’s a tough spot to be in, but if there’s comfort in knowing others have been in similar places, then take comfort Mary. Wife and I have been through our familial hell and survived. My son is also doing much better now, if that offers any hope too.

  16. While there may be no eternal hell, you can make quite a good facsimile of hell in your life, and in the lives of people around you, by living destructively.

    Sometimes that provides a sense of power in a world in which one seems powerless.  While I hate second-guessing the motivations of strangers (as we’re all doing here), that seems as sound a “diagnosis” as any of the others offered.

    If so, it may be that providing her with more areas where she’s acknowledged to have control over her life (with boundaries on her impact on others’ lives) might be a start.  Teach her she has control beyond the ability to just make everyone (herself included) miserable.

    Or I may just be talking out of my hat.

    As to giving her this comments list to read, it might be useful—or it might turn into, “You told other people about me?  That’s not right.  That’s not how I am.  What makes those people think they know me and how to fix my life?  It’s not broken.  I hate you.”

    I *will* say (in case she does eventually read this) that, as one of the “one or two Christians” cited above (albeit a fairly unorthodox one), I find a number of the avowed atheists here to be anything but self-centered, destructive, or uncaring.  On the contrary, many of them (esp. the site owner) strike me as fine individuals I’m pleased to associate with and am happy to respect.  For what it’s worth.

  17. My two cents: Kid’s best to find herself. Younger times in my life remind me that kids these days shoulder a lot of shit from everyone. Missing a parent doesn’t make that any easier. If I’d not had some people who were mentors and support structures for me, I’d’ve been a very different person.

    Or maybe not. In a lot of ways I still am angry and rebellious, but instead of acting in a fashion that displays it overtly, it’s only melded into my philosophies. When I need to get something done, the anger is what drives it; I’m all business in my work and political/intellectual life. I’m a quiet social rebel – that is, I have little notion of right or wrong, and I have a worldview that puts me at odds with virtually everyone. I’m a harsh critic of idealism. I needed an emotional centre to do that – a sort of ‘pivot’ I could work around, that I knew was going to be there that I could always rebuild from every time the last “build” failed.

    The trick is to make sure she’s clear on that she can usually select a life that she wants to live and it’s gonna be within reach of her potential. The best thing you can do for this woman is to give her your unconditional support. Make sure she’s absolutely clear on the potential dangers of her behavior and help her understand that her welfare is your concern, first and foremost. She only needs the resources to live into her own potential.

    I don’t care one way or another about her sexuality, except stay safe!!! Promiscuity does not have to mean recklessness! As regards any drug use that may be going on, drugs are really only good for an experiment. Most of the people I know who do them regularly don’t have a career or any ambition to do anything other than fool around and do drugs. At best, they drain your wallet for a couple moments of joy. As far as the theft goes… I dunno. I don’t see theft being overly useful in the long run. Besides, thieves with big take-home are usually scandalous businesspeople and politicians, and that requires a whole different skillset. If she wants to be a professional thief, look there; least risk.

    A lot of the things that we think are “bad” are things that aren’t useful (or are detrimental to) choosing the life that we want. That’s the million-dollars question she should make a point of trying to figure out in the next couple years. What kinda life do I want to live?

  18. Letting her engage here may well have been a good piece of advice- she needs to look an athiest in the eye before she claims to be one. If we see “Mary’s Stepdaugher” on this thread we’ll know the SP. It’s a pity that the claim that athiesm is a religion is a lie- we’d have a whole network of people she could talk to for pastoral care.

    I find the hardest thing about being an athiest is being a humanist too. Know that it is, in the end, all going to end in the ‘big black’ and still trying to improve the lot of my fellow man (or at least help them with the crap). Atheism isn’t a moral code, it’s a ‘non-belief’ (that is v. short hand, I know).  What atheism does is effectively say- “You’re behavior is down to you”. 

    What this girl is isnt athiest, but ‘deityist’- a hatred of god(s). She blames God for the bad things in life (because she has been told he is the controlling force), so is trying to punish him by denying him.

  19. Mary,
    Clearly this child has experienced one of lifes more traumatic experiences: the loss of a parent while still a child.
    Now you are in the picture. Do not make the mistake of thinking “stepmother” means you are her mother.  You have neither the experience, biological relationship or human right to impose this relationship on her. That is something that will only be valid with HER permission.  She may sense that you are or will do this and is acting out in defiance of an imposed authority. 

    I witnessed how badly this can go when my very religious widowed mother married a very religious widower.  They both brought into this 2 step”sons” from each side (I was already an adult and married so I witnessed what happened to my 2 brothers and the 2 step-brothers).  As both my mother and her husband automatically assumed the role of mother and father they acted accordingly.  The result: constant tension and friction in the step-relationships and eventual alienation of the step-parent (assisted, not in the least, by a propensity to be a harsher critic of the step child vs own child).

    As to sexual “promiscuity” concerns, first realize that parents do not own their children, they are protectors and guardians.  The parents job is to guide and protect the child and that can include restrictions (curfew etc.).  But if she is determined to be sexually active she will be.  It is better to think about “what do I do if she gets pregnant or gets an STD” and how to avoid that than to come up with elaborate plans to twart her intentions.  Remember, some teens are sexually active out of rebellion (can’t tell you how many times I saw this behavior amoung conservative Christian families).  We have to face the reality, we don’t own their sexuality either.

    BTW I find the conservative Christian preoccupation with “promiscuity” (whatever that means, it gets broadly applied) disturbing especially compared to the way many praise individuals who choose celibacy, which is in biological fact, an unnatural sexual lifestyle.

  20. First of all : congrats to Mary for
    – trying so hard to help the kid, even though it would be so much easier to get angry with her and let her down
    – reading and appreciating SEB despite different worldviews
    – being smart enough to seek help when she feels overwhelmed.
    I mean, really.

    Secondly : the idea of God-hater vs atheist is a good one, but wrong radicals : it would be something along the lines of “theophobe” or “misotheist”.

    More seriously, God doesn’t have anything to do with behaving. Does she sometimes contest something by saying “it’s not fair!” ?. That is the ultimate basis : empathy.
    but I have no idea of the way you could get her to understand that.

    Does she have any kind of special interest? music, art, sports come to mind (pardon the stereotypes, i’ve always been the booky type, so I don’t really know ;-p).
    Could it be possible to get her interested into anything other that having her bains screwed out? (not that I object to this one, though, it done properly)
    A purpose in life can go a long way to keep you away form death fascination…

  21. This young lady lost her mother due to drug use and free sexuality which sent her mother to a grave at a way too early age… Her father, straight arrow…

    I forgot to add, I find this statement particularly telling. I basically condemns her deceased mother and ,contextually, implicates the mother for the girl’s behavior.  At the same time her father gets a “gold star”, and his possible contribution to his daughter’s behavior gets a free pass.

  22. Mary,

    I personally think she’s using “atheism” to hurt you and your fiance, as it appears religion is important to you. And it’s a power trip; perhaps the only way she has any power is by hurting herself, and then the people around her by her actions.

    I can’t imagine that this girl has any respect for you, even though you do care for her well being. Therefore, whatever you say she’ll not listen. Please find someone she’ll respect a teacher, a friend, a relative. She needs to know that she can get through this.

    An interesting read about teens http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/6209308.stm

    All the best.

  23. The girl needs to understand that atheism does not and should never necessitate hurting oneself or others. I suspect, though, that she does at least partly understand this, and it may be that she is just a “problem child.” It’s not her fault, of course—she’s had anything but an easy life so far. Hopefully time will bestow more wisdom onto her.

  24. Hello ‘Mary’.I would definitley get the father involved. First, I think you both should find out exactly who her friends are and have a meeting with her school counselor for some sort of insight on how she is relating to other kids and if she is proactive in school events. Just don’t tell her you are doing this or she will clam up even more. Perhaps the counselor can get involved too by trying to get her to be a part of school functions. Banning her from her safety net(friends, clubs, hangouts..etc) will only make her rebel more-trust me my daughter is 15. Find some sort of common ground and build on that. For example, ask her out to a movie that she would like even if you would hate it, invite her best girlfriend and mother out for an afternon at the mall and spring for a new cd by her fave artist. This is also the time of year that the community needs help with basic items like blankets and clothing. Ask her if she would like to help box some old items up and then go out for pizza. During this time open up some dialogue about what is meaningful to her. Maybe even name drop a few humanitarian celebs that are also Atheists like ‘oh by the way, did you know…’. Low self esteem could be an issue here as well. Have dad surprise her one day with just a day for them but eventually make it a regular thing. The one thing that I can tell you from experience is that if she has been her dad’s number one girl all this time, it will take time for her to accept your relationship. Respect the fact that she is almost an adult and she is entitled to her own opinions but when she blaims her actions on her religion or lack of one, you and dad need to tell her that’s not true. Most importantly whether you like it or not, you and dad will have to sit her down if you haven’t already and tell her in a non threatening way what is ok and what is not when it comes to being sexually active and what the consequences are-would you expect her to give up her baby or abort-would she keep it? Would you kick her out for contracting a disease? Does she want you and dad to supply her with condoms? (I say buy them and let it be obvious that they are there for the taking)Let her know what your position as a family is if any of this happens to her. Her running around being promiscuous tells me that she may be thinking daddy has her back no matter what happens. She probably won’t stop having sex so please, reinforce how important safe sex is.

  25. Oh, and another thing and I’ll try to keep it short. This could also be her way of being close to her mother because this is all she remembers or has been told about her mother. Someone needs to tell her about all the good things about her mother. Maybe her dad has some funny stories about her or memories that were happy ones. Tell her these things in an unbiased way so she can feel closer to her mom in a positive way. Dad may not want to because of underlying hurt, but it sounds like now is the time to set it aside.

  26. OK, Mary is clearly out of her depth, as are many parents when teens go off. Mary needs direct advice, so here is my suggestions.

    1)  Religion has nothing to do with the teens problems, other than the fact that she sees it has failed her.  Accept that and move on.  Any sort of preaching, however mild will only put her back up.  Any attempt to ‘save the sole’ will lose the teen.

    2)  Get lots of help.  Reach out to her school councilor, her friends, any teachers she respects, etc.  Get them involved.  Don’t pull punches.  Tell them what she is doing and ask them for help.

    3)  Switch on what ever mental health services you have in your health plan or community. (Not the church)  Your county probably has a number of teen programs ranging from mental health counciling through to teen mentioning.  Some may ask for a contribution or have a sliding schedule of fees based on your income.  Use them all. There is nothing wrong with using several complementing programs concurrently.  For example we had a teen doing:
      –  One hour of personal mental health counsil, (2 x times a week)
        (Started as mother and daughter for first time and then mostly daughter only.)
      –  Group teen sessions as part of court ordered shoplifting intervention. ( 2 x a week)
      –  Every other week, one on one with school academic councillor.   

    3(b)  Don’t forget the quality time, one on one with adults that the teen respects.  Aunts, teachers, anybody willing to put in the time doing something where they go out or worked together.  (Photography, going shopping, working on paintings, anything… but not watching TV or Movies.)  We have had some quality talks in the car going to some place else.

    4)  Offer unconditional love, ALL THE TIME:  Not matter what the teen does.  Love should never be conditional.  Please note that there is a difference between love and being an enabler.  It is possible to show love and yet tell them you disapprove.  (In that order, the love first And never, ever, never, “I love you but …”  because that sounds conditional.  Love first, and disapproval later, some time later, maybe even next day.  Hey they are not stupid, they know they messed up.

    5)  Should she get detained by the police, sent to juvi, “Baker Acted” (confined for evaluation or her own safety) then let her sit for about 3 to 4 days, but make sure you visit every day!!.  Never let her feel abandoned.  (That appears to be one of her issues)  Getting detained in a psychological evaluation unit for a couple of days may make her sit and think it out, but don’t you put her in there other wise she will feel YOU did it to her.

    6)  Reward good behavior.  Use everything available every time for rewards.  Don’t just say good job.  That may work for you but your verbal opinion does not hold much value.  So give her real cash bonus for good grades, and hugs, and ice-cream, and… and… Multiple rewards for each good move.  Make it VERY rewarding to the right thing.

    7) Understand it is in the nature of teens to experiment, to mess up, to take risks, to reject their parents and to push out into the world.  It’s biological.  All you can do is try to keep up, and modify your behavior towards them, and get them the help they need.  Don’t chastise them for making the wrong decisions.  Life is about learning.  Don’t tell them they are a bad kid. 

    8 & 9 and 10)  Get parenting classes for yourself. I MEAN IT.
    This is probably the most important part of the whole process because the one person you have direct control over is yourself.  IF the child sees you are making a real effort to upgrade how you interact with them, they are likely to meet you half way.

    SEX.  Teens have sex.  Be non-judgmental and make sure they are safe.  We took her to the OBGYN and got her started on birth control AND lectures on condoms, and we re-enforce the condom lecture frequently.  Talk to them and make sure they understand how it works.  It is amazing how much of what teens know about sex and aids just ain’t so.  Don’t tell them what to do or not do… they are figuring that out for them selves and…. if you don’t preach, they may even ask your advice. 
    A search for intimacy is often a symptom of depression and a reaction to a feeling of isolation and alienation.

    STEELING.  This is a symptom.  Unfortunately this symptom my get serious enough to wreck her life.  Has she been caught?  We have a mandatory intervention program where they have to go to class.  (At one point the Mother and daughter were doing night classes on alternate days.)  Do what ever you can to keep her from getting a criminal record. 

    SIBLINGS:  Siblings have to make it known how they are harmed by the disruptive behavior.  You should also talk to them candidly.  (And get them counsil too.)  Listen to siblings, they can give you perspective as to how the problem child sees things.

    What Mary is seeing are the classic symptoms of a teen mental health problems, teen communication problems and growing problems.  The good thing is your teen is not unique, and the knowledge of what to do and how to help her is readily available.

    I have been through this with my current girlfriends kids, and the kids of one of my best friends.  You need to use all the tools and resources all the time.

    We found the combination of teen mental health counsil, and very importantly parenting skills classes for the adults essential.  The parenting skills classes helped re-cast our messages to them.  Without new parenting skills the teens would have quickly reverted.

    We found the local mental health available through the schools (ask the school) AND the county supported mental health (ask the county, income qualified) AND the teen intervention and support programs, AND called on a lot of other adults in the family and friends to have one on one relationships wit the kids and to help.  We had some serious family meetings, with out the teens, to work out a unified system of support. 

    Each child is a work in progress, and I can report that ours are all doing much better. Each faced similar issues, multiple family deaths and/or a dysfunctional parent.  Things got of the rails and in two serious cases the teens got way off the rails before we got them back on track.  (A’s and B’s never looked so good)

    If Mary address the mental health and parenting issues, and draws on ALL the available resources, school, county, family and community, then the issues can be addressed and you will have a teen that comes out stronger and better than before.

    Understand that the issues for the parents are the teens actions, but the same actions for the teen are NOT the problem, they are the symptoms.  The mental health issues are the problem, the behaviors are just symptoms.

    That the teen may not know what the issues are, that the current parenting is NOT working, and that it is no ones fault, except possibly the adults involved for not understanding how to handle the problem.

    Last, read some good books on parenting teens.  NOT THE CHRISTIAN ONES. 

    Find other parents in the community with SUCCESSFUL TEENS.  It’s all to easy to find sympathy in the parenting classes from other parents with problem teens but they are the wrong people to take advice from.  You need help from parents who’s teens are on track, or who have put their teens back on track. 

    PARENTING is not instinctive.  It is not biblical.  It is not obvious.  Both you and the teen need a lot of guidance.  First thing is to start parenting classes aimed at parents with teens.  Take notes and read the books.  Your teen needs to know that you care enough to do your homework. 

    The teen is just reacting to something she is not handling correctly.  But she will change, if the environment changes, if the parenting style changes, and if she has some mental help to help her frame her world.

  27. Wow great comments from everyone here. My thought is that (as we already know)she is still in pain of losing her mother. Its something she will have to work through herself. But it might be that it is something she nees to talk about. Discussing it with her could help. I would not suggest drawing judgements or giving her any thing from the bible or trying to offer suggestions on what she could do unless she directly asks for them. She seems to just want someone to listen to her pain and say “I understand”.

    (had this problem with my sister, things are not resolved but it helps when the sibling listens to the problems and does not draw a conclusion)

    Personally I would try and engage her about it and see if she bites, dont draw any conclusions just let her speak, cry ,whimper whatever, its a way of getting through it. You or her father should do this preferably her father. She sounds like she is looking for a shoulder and may not have gotten that when her mother did die or it is only now taking an effect on her.

    At this point she can only heal herself if she confronts her feelings. Church and the bible is not the answer. However letting her know you are there for her to talk to should help. It was not stated when this girl lost her mother but you should understand that you MUST make it clear to her that YOU are not REPLACING her mother, the term mother may take on to much meaning in this case and should be avoided. You are her guardian and someone she can come to with problems.

  28. I didn’t go through and read all of the comments left, so I may end up repeating something someone has already said. I apologize for this. As a teenager (I’ll note I’m still one), I never went through a rebellious phase, but I knew a lot of kids in school with me who did, including my fiance. From this experience I learned that if a teenager doesn’t want to change, they won’t. Unless a parent can catch them before a rebellious stage and try to lessen the “severity” of it, there’s not much else to do during a “phase.” Like I said, if a teen doesn’t decide to change themself, there is little anyone can say or do to make them change. Like in a relationship, you can’t change the other person, they have to change themself.

    But, as I am not a parent, I haven’t learned if there may be any specific techniques that work. And as a Psychology major, I know there is some very serious conditioning that can be used, but it is best done if a Behavioral Psychologist is employed to help.

    So as a teenager, I would say there would be very little that would help outside of a very negative experience that happened to the teen herself or a person very close to the teen that relates to her life. And as a pyschology student, I would suggest trying a Behavioral Psychologist, though they can be pretty expensive.

    Just my two-cents worth.

  29. JstNodNsmle:  “From this experience I learned that if a teenager doesn’t want to change, they won’t… But, as I am not a parent, I haven’t learned if there may be any specific techniques that work.

    Quite right though as a psych major you know this is true of people at every age.  People won’t change until they’re damn good and ready.  Sounds like you’re on a pretty good track, though.

    As a parent with three grown children, I am also not aware of any specific techniques that “work”.  If you can reach a troubled teen and help them find their way, you have been the beneficiary of an element of luck along with your skill and caring.

    I hope it turns out OK for this girl.  Mainly I just hope she survives it and can rebuild some hope and direction in her life.  Or build some, if she never had any before.

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