Dear Ms. Vicki,
I’m writing because I can’t handle my 15-year-old daughter’s tantrums any more, but I don’t know how to stop them.
Shannon (that’s what I will call her here) has always been our little princess until now. She’s the only girl in our family; we also have two sons. Shannon is also the youngest. So you can see why she has always been spoiled rotten.
When my husband came home two years ago from his last deployment, he said her behavior was bad and it’s even worse now. What she wants, she gets. Our oldest son will soon to be a sophomore in college, and he won’t come home this summer because he doesn’t want to deal with her behavior. She swears at her brothers and bullies them.
She wants to shop, stay on her computer, chat and text her friends all night. I discovered that she has a Facebook page on which she is saying she is older than she actually is. When we confront her, she screams, yells and throws tantrums.
Whatever she observes her friends doing, that’s what she wants to do. She had friends who were juniors in high school who were wearing makeup and dating. Now my daughter wears makeup and has a boyfriend who just showed up at our front door one day and asked for Shannon. We were all in shock! We tried not to make a big deal out of it because we didn’t want to set her off.
I’m concerned for my daughter. Her behavior is really causing problems in our relationship, but I don’t know how to pull her back in.
My husband was supposed to be in the field for an exercise for two weeks, but he was actually left behind so he could help me deal with her behavior. I can’t handle her alone.
I’m wondering if you think my daughter is bipolar or something?
-- Mother Going Crazy
Dear Mother Going Crazy,
How did we go from a spoiled, little princess to “bipolar daughter?” Maybe it’s difficult for you to be objective because she is your daughter but, in my opinion, you can’t see the forest for the trees.
Understand me please, I carefully diagnose children, adolescents and adults with bipolar disorder. As a clinician/therapist, I look at the whole person, not just the criteria from the DSM-5.
Your daughter may have some of the symptoms, but when I consider her environment, I would have to give that more credence. You said it yourself: She has been treated like a little princess all of her life. You never disciplined her. She was allowed to do anything and everything she wanted to do without consequences. Now, she is 15 years old and she is out of control. Is this biological or environmental? I think it’s environmental.
Your daughter is running the house, bullying her older brothers, swearing and doing other things that you haven’t given her permission to do. Well, honestly, it doesn't sound like she looks to her parents for approval. This is not good at all. Your daughter is a train wreck waiting to happen. Actually, it’s happened already -- a young man came to your house without your permission and you relented.
So how do you rein her in and regain control? You must do two things: First, help yourself to everything she has. After all, you purchased it. Take her phone, computer, television, makeup, trendy clothing … everything. You really have to make a statement and get her attention. Everything is a privilege, and she should have to earn it. It will be crazy for a while, and it may get worse before it gets better.
Because of this, my second suggestion is therapy to help you and your husband learn how to set healthy boundaries and learn new ways to parent and engage your daughter.
There is some other information I will send you in a subsequent email but, for now, you really need to take control back. I hope this helps.
-- Ms. Vicki