Living with Children: Teen's sudden disruptive behavior is perplexing to parents

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 3 hours ago Question: Our 15-year-old daughter has become, over the past year or so, quite a disruptive influence in our normally peaceful home. She was a gem until she entered high school when she almost overnight...

Living with Children: Teen's sudden disruptive behavior is perplexing to parents

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Updated 3 hours ago

Question: Our 15-year-old daughter has become, over the past year or so, quite a disruptive influence in our normally peaceful home. She was a gem until she entered high school when she almost overnight became disrespectful and combatively argumentative. If she disagrees with a decision we make, she will begin screaming at us. Despite the fact that her face is in her smart phone almost constantly, her grades at the secular private school she attends are still good to excellent and she's not, to our knowledge, hanging with a bad peer group. We're at somewhat of a loss to figure this out. Do you ever recommend boarding school in situations of this sort?

Answer: Sometimes, the sudden emergence of pronounced problems with a previously well-behaved teen are indicators of drug or alcohol use, the influence of undesirable peers, problems at school of one sort or another, or problems in the home. And sometimes, none of those factors are in play. Sometimes, there's no explaining a flip-flop of this nature — it just is what it is.

Today's teens, and especially the female of the species, seem drawn to the opportunity to create drama out of their lives. These dramas run the gamut, but usually whirl around conflicts with peers. If no other drama presents itself, then the default theme is “my parents are, like, idiots and, like, don't understand me or my needs.” These dramas do not necessarily reflect any reality outside of some idiosyncratic “reality” that exists solely in the teen's smart-phone-addled brain.

Which is, in fact, a possible solution: take away the smart phone and get her a flip phone; one that requires three minutes of concentration to send a five-word text, doesn't access the Internet, and doesn't take photos. Not as punishment, but as your new, very enlightened policy.

I have spoken to more than a few parents who have done exactly that. Without exception, they report that their children become more relaxed, respectful and sensitive to the needs of other family members, including siblings.

On the matter of boarding school, I'd try cleaning out the smart phone addiction first. (Beware! The first week of withdrawal is akin to living with Satan-on-methamphetamine.) If you see no change in a few weeks, then boarding school is certainly an option. My general feeling is that at some point, it is best to find other living arrangements for a disruptive child than for the entire family to continue feeling daily emotional torment.

You might also consider helping her get a job as a summer camp counselor.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond's website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at questions@rosemond.com; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.

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