Where Do I Start When Everything Is Out Of Control?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 117 · Duration: 00:13:27

Where Do I Start When Everything Is Out Of Control?

Where Do I Start When Everything Is Out Of Control?

If you’re faced with a situation where your teenager refuses to be accountable and everything is a battle, where do you start?

And if you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so come on over to my website, neildbrown.com and enter it there today. And while you’re there, download a free copy of my Parental Burnout Recovery Guide.

Today we’re answering a question from Carrie who wrote a pretty long question, so I’ll read an edited version and then respond. 

My 16 year old daughter left home a little over 2 weeks ago to stay with her older sister after a heated discussion over turning off the internet on week-day nights. We started doing this because she consistently stays up most nights talking with online friends and because she barely interacts with the rest of the family, staying in her room about 95% of the time. She is homeschooled, so is not even out of the house to go to school. The only time she leaves the house is to go to the local animal shelter 2 days a week where she volunteers. I told her that she needed to go to counseling.

In her message she stated she would only go to counseling when she was ready, and on her terms.

I responded that she needed to go to counseling, or she should go stay at her grandparents.

She then responded saying she would do neither, but that if I wanted her out of the house, she would go to her sister's.

I told her to pack and that I would come home and bring her there, but she ended up having her sister leave work early and come get her.

Now she refuses to speak to me, I hear from my other daughter that she is making plans to move in with someone that is older, and is a stranger to me.

I went to the local police to ask what I could do in this situation.

The officer I spoke to gave me some good suggestions for setting some limits and offered that he would get involved and order my daughter back home if she didn’t respond.

I am trying to get a game plan in place for when I go speak to both of my daughters.
I just downloaded your book, Ending the Parent Teen Control Battle, to listen to but was hoping I could get some direct advice here as well. Thank you ahead of time for any response.

Thanks for your question Carrie and this situation is certainly out of control, so let’s see what we can do here.

The back and forth threats and counter threats and actions between you and your daughter is a perfect example of a Control Battle that has gone waaaaaaay too far and is threatening your daughter’s welfare and your sanity.  Your daughter obviously has serious social, emotional and perhaps moral development issues and you are certainly suffering from severe PBO.  I’m thrilled that you proactively went to law enforcement and asked how they might help and the officer gave you assurances that they will support your daughter coming home and going to counseling.  Law enforcement agencies have different policies and levels of expertise so going ahead and discussing the situation and how they might help is perfect. 

Understanding The Problem

Here are some things I’m noticing:

You mention “We.”  I’m not sure who else is in the family but if there are two of you parenting, you need to work together knowing this situation is difficult. And you both need support for your feelings and ideas.

Home schooling, certainly, doesn’t sound like it’s working.  Kids need a peer culture and your daughter is finding hers online and that’s not adequate.

Mainstream school was not working, but why? LD, ADHD, identity differences or underdeveloped social skills could all be factors but the solution of homeschooling is only supporting avoidance of the problem or even understanding the problem, and isn’t offering a solution.

You say she currently is volunteering at the local animal shelter 2 days a week.  That shows us something about her desire to connect in a place that feels affirming and safe for her.  So that’s a very good thing.

You didn’t mention drug abuse so that’s a good thing.

Carrie, your daughter does sound extremely underdeveloped socially and emotionally, and there may be learning differences or other neurological issues that relate to her alienation.

Your daughter’s hostility, her expressions of entitlement, her lack of accountability are all indicators of problems we need to assess and understand as well.  My concern here is that she hasn’t developed an internalized value system.  By the time teenagers are 16, we expect them to demonstrate a basic value system.  Sure they may still engage bad decision making, and act poorly, but when called to task, they will realize it and demonstrate remorse or guilt for their behavior. 

When teenagers haven’t developed a value system, for them, rules are annoyances.  They may manipulate to get around them, sneak around them, fight them, ignore them, or if all else fails, follow them.  When I asked one teenager I was talking with why she broke a rule that she know could get her in serious trouble, she answered, “because I thought I could get away with it.”  That was a clue that she hadn’t developed a value system.  If she had said, because I was angry, or frustrated, or didn’t stop to think, or wanted to look cool, she could still have had a value system, but didn’t access it because of other factors. 

So that’s an important understanding to have Carrie. You need to understand if your daughter is struggling because of issues of self-esteem and identity or her acting out represents a lack of value development. 

It's important to understand if your daughter is struggling because of issues of self-esteem and identity or her acting out represents a lack of value development.Click To Tweet

In both cases, we want to help her know we’re interested in supporting her happiness and success.  If she does have an internalized value system, we can expect that if you take action to end the Control Battle and support her, things could get better relatively quickly.  If she hasn’t, we still want her to know that we’re on her side, but that she has to learn that rules are there for a reason.  That they represent values and we want to help her understand how rules and values help all of us, including her. 

So as serious as this situation is, the idea of her just going to counseling, is like shooting an elephant with a pea-shooter.

Recommendations on Moving Forward

Here are some recommendations:

  • Get some counseling for yourself and if you are parenting with another parent, you can both get counseling from someone who understands teen girls with emotional behavioral challenges.  When you are ready, your daughter can join you in family counseling. This is serious and you want someone who knows serious. Your goal is to gain some perspective and stop fueling the Control Battle.  Change the tone of the interaction.  Yes, you may need to take strong action, but your tone needs to be positive, caring and clear.


  • My other caution in finding a therapist is finding one who doesn’t over-focus on pathology instead of on strategies for growth and development.  For instance, a therapist over-focused on pathology might focus on depression, and want to empathize, empathize, empathize, rather than help her and her family work together to find a healthy lifestyle that will be part of a solution to depression. There will need to be individual as well as family counseling and whether this is one counselor doing both or two different therapists is up to the therapist and your daughter.  If it is two therapists, they need to talk and work together.


  • Also, psychological testing including neurological testing to see if there is ADHD or learning issues to understand as well as why there are social and emotional issues. 


  • Carrie you will need to find the right educational environment for her.  Home schooling is not the right thing.  Small schools for teens with behavior problems are too often poorly run, not educationally demanding enough, and are tolerant of substance abuse.  So be cautious when finding the right educational placement.


  • Having a job would be important for your daughter as well.  She has apparently done well with her minimal experience at the animal shelter.  A job would help her prepare for young adulthood and will help her with social skill development, self-esteem, and a sense of responsibility and accountability.


  • And last but not least, acknowledge and treat your PBO.  This isn’t going to fix quickly or easily, you’re going to need to focus on the longer term goals and be able to take care of yourself along the way.  Get some strategies for support and down time for yourself.

When everything is out of control, slow things down, stop trying to fix or control them. Get the basics in place, get the assessments you need, and make the changes that need to be made. Just sending a kid to individual counseling in a major situation, is seriously under-treating the youth and the family.  Righting the ship will require everyone knowing what to do, and doing their part.

Just sending a kid to individual counseling in a major situation, is seriously under-treating the youth and the family. Righting the ship will require everyone knowing what to do, and doing their part.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and thanks to Carrie for sharing her situation with us. Carrie, we all wish you and your family a great outcome here.

And let’s remember to  please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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