Tuesday 20 March 2018

How do we stop the fighting between us and our daughter?

David Coleman

David Coleman

We have a 13-year-old daughter who will be 14 in January. She has requested that she get her belly button pierced for Christmas. We are opposed to this; we feel she is way too young. She admits that none of her friends has their belly done and I think she would love the attention she would get from her peers if she did get it pierced.

Our problem is that she is a very bright child and she can't seem to accept our response. She won't accept the reasons we offer as "they're stupid", and ends the conversation by saying we'll be so sorry, if she's dead a few weeks after Christmas, that we didn't let her be happy while she was alive! In general terms she is a child who continually tries to push the boundaries, she complains about almost everything. She is only happy when out with friends. She gives her middle brother, in particular, a very hard time, she constantly puts him down, corrects him. She is of the opinion he is our favourite; she tells my sister that we hate her!

We seem to be only able to have a civil conversation with her if she instigates it and we very diplomatically 'chat' back. The minute the conversation goes in a way she is not happy with, she becomes very argumentative and inevitably storms off. If you could offer any words of guidance they would be very much appreciated.

It sounds like adolescence has taken root and is blossoming healthily for your daughter. So much of what you describe sounds like very normal teenagers. The good news is that the kind of difficulties you describe pass as they mature.

Young teenagers are often the most volatile and difficult to live with. They are in the throes of some heavy-duty hormonal changes and the frontal lobes of their brains remain relatively immature.

Their social and emotional development often lags behind their outward physical and intellectual development. They think they are grown up and they get better at logical arguments, and yet they are not emotionally equipped to deal with many situations.

There is nothing wrong, per se, with piercings and I get why they are attractive to youngsters too. But I can see why you are keen to delay your daughter getting her belly button pierced.

The most important thing that you seem to have done is to make your decision based on some principles. Even though your daughter disagrees with your reasoning, at least your stance is clear and reasoned.

She may not like your decision but, as long as you can justify it, then it is fine for you to make that final call, at her age.

As she gets older, however, you will not be able to be dictatorial and you will have to give her increasing responsibility to make, and follow through on, her own decisions.

Part of her growth to that point will be to be included, genuinely, in the decision-making process at this stage. Even if you still have the final decision it is crucial that her voice and her opinion has been heard in the discussion.

So many teenagers that come to speak with me (usually at the insistence of their parents) complain that nobody ever listens to them. Which is ironic given that their parents also complain that their teenage sons and daughters won't speak to them except to have a row.

Often this happens because we start on the premise that we know best. Our sons and daughters, who have a greater investment in the outcome, feel like they are in a losing battle because they know that their opinion is never going to be taken on board.

It also gives them the impression that since nobody is acting on their views then nobody is even listening to their views.

Once frustration creeps in things tend to escalate on both sides until everyone is angry and nobody is listening to anyone else.

In this climate, it is no surprise that she feels you favour her little brother, as she probably perceives that you don't end up in the same amount of conflict with him as you do with her.

If he is easier to deal with then it is quite likely that, unconsciously, you do favour him. Children pick up on this and it can become the source of rivalry.

If your daughter perceives that you get on better with her brother then, rather than attack you for it, she will attack him for it.

Improving your own relationship with your daughter should reduce the animosity she shows towards him. Once she feels you respect her then she won't need to punish him for being likeable.

It may seem unfair of me to expect you to respect and listen to your daughter when she is patently disrespectful and dismissive of you. However, you are the adult. So you must be more tolerant, even if she is the one who creates the distance between you.

If you show her that you continue to love her and to want to listen to her then her apparent rejection of you will be temporary. Her actions are very teenage and quite in keeping with being 13.

You cannot entirely dismiss her suicidal threats, but you need to hear them in the context of everything that is going on. If you feel that this kind of threat is out of character for her, and only ever expressed when she feels frustrated by your decisions, then it is unlikely to ever be acted on.

If you are worried by her comments though, then talk to her about them in a genuinely inquisitive manner. She will most likely put your mind at ease and admit that she only said it to try to manipulate you. If you remain concerned talk to your GP about referring her for professional help.

I don't think you will need any outside help, though. You clearly do care about her and for her, she just needs time to accept that not everything needs to be a battle.

David Coleman is a clinical psychologist, broadcaster and author Queries and issues can only be addressed through the column and David regrets he cannot enter into personal correspondence

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