My 15-year-old daughter has gotten into the habit of lying to me and her dad about pretty much everything. It's not that she's a bad kid, it's more like she just doesn't get it. She has zero motivation to pull her weight.
For example, I ask her to do the dishes after school, so that by the time I get home from work I can cook everyone a nice dinner in a clean kitchen. When I arrive home, arms loaded with groceries, she'll scurry toward the dishwasher to begin, even though she's been home for two hours. When I ask her why she hasn't done the dishes yet, she tells me she's been doing homework and she forgot.
However, when I head off to change out of my work clothes, I'll notice the light on the DVD screen monitor hasn't been properly shut down, and I'll realize she's been watching a movie when she's been grounded from the television as consequences for a previous lie.
When I confront her about it, she'll lie again, and deny she's violated her grounding.
I keep taking away privileges, like her cell phone or her time to watch TV or play on Facebook, but nothing works. She's perpetually upset with me. Nothing, not even chronic grounding, seems to get through to her. I wish I knew how to find the switch that would turn on the light bulb in her brain. If I could locate it, I would be a happy mom. How should I handle this?
-- Living in Darkness
Dear In Darkness:
Teaching our children how to care about the needs of others isn't always easy. It can be even more complicated with teens, as their developmental stag
e appears to require them to pay inordinate amounts of time on themselves!
Don't give up on trying to teach your daughter to contribute to the family.
I have a bias against punishment as an effective tool for teaching children values, particularly teens. Punishment in and of itself slams the door on thought. If we thwart the thinking process in our kids during the moments they need it the most, such as when they make a mistake and need to figure out how to right their wrong, then we actually prevent them from the essential learning that might come from those mistakes.
Each time we screw up we can go a number of directions. We can run away from those we hurt ("I hate them, they don't understand me!"), or we can run away from ourselves ("I didn't do anything wrong?") or we can face ourselves head on. This last option can grow in our children more easily if we resist the urge to punish them to teach them.
If your daughter is not following through with obligations, sit her down at the table and explain to her how her not doing the dishes makes you feel. If you can do this without whining or shaming her, it will help her to hear you. She may not know how important her help is to you, how her willingness to devote a few minutes of her day to loading dirty dishes makes you feel valued, even loved. Give her a chance to make it up to you and repair the damage she caused your relationship. Remember, this is a learning process. When you give your daughter a chance to hear you, you teach her you trust her to understand your side. If you do this, your daughter will begin to view mistakes as opportunities to grow. This takes time, but sooner or later the light is bound to go on.
Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you would like to submit to the Ask Mom panel, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE. Cocoon Project SAFE serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consultation and support, call 1-877-339-4179.