- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dear Ms. Vicki, I’m having a hard time standing up to my 16-year-old, who has lost her mind. I’m trying to be patient because she is heartbroken after finding out her father will deploy in January or March.

Since that time, she has been acting out severely if she does not get her way. She cried and pouted to get her learner’s permit because all her friends are driving. Well, she wanted to drive, too. She wants to date, but her father and I decided she can date only in groups and not one on one until she is 18.

She is talking back and saying rude things to her father and me, so we have grounded her for one month. She cannot go to any football games, watch television or have any company, female or male. We also took her cell phone. She has to spend all of her time with us.

We felt we had to do something to get her under control. Now we find out she is changing clothes when she gets to school because her friends are letting her borrow revealing clothing, and she is cutting classes when she hasn’t been in school a month yet.

What’s going on here, Ms. Vicki? If we don’t get her under control over the next few months, she will be hell on wheels when her father leaves. Does she need some mental health counseling or medication - she is very moody. I’ll accept any advice you have to give.

- Don’t Know What to Do With My Obstinate Daughter

Dear Don’t Know,

Most parents write to me and don’t know what to do when their teenagers are acting out. In your case, I want to applaud you and your husband because it looks as if you are trying to take some actions because of her behavior.

At the same time, as parents, we have to show good balance when we discipline our children. Yes, I agree she has been acting like a “smart mouth,” is wearing clothing you find inappropriate and cutting classes. All of these behaviors could lead to trouble. However, you have taken everything from her - her cell phone, visits from friends, football games, etc.

This is paramount: You said her punishment was to spend time with you and her father. Why should it be punishment to spend time with your parents? This is something that should occur all the time.

Your daughter is experiencing many changes. She is 16 years old, her father is getting ready to deploy, and I’m sure this is not his first deployment. She obviously has some fears and anxiety about this, and let’s not forget that she has reached puberty and thinks she knows everything.

So, no, I don’t think she needs to see a mental health therapist, at least not yet. There are a few things I would recommend - and please keep in mind that I’m on your side.

I think you have set the bar too high and she may think she has dug herself into a hole from which she cannot get out. If she thinks this, her behavior will only get worse because she is thinking: “Why should I try to be obedient and respectful?”

Sit down with your daughter and other children and have a family meeting. (I’m a very systemic thinker, and I believe that if one person in a family is having difficulty, it will take an effort from the entire family for things to get better.) At this meeting, discuss your husband’s deployment and let everyone voice opinions about it - good, bad and/or indifferent. Let her know she is important to the family and her support and cooperation is needed.

Visit her school and schedule a meeting with her counselor. Most schools with military children offer special services to them to help them cope with deployments. You also can contact Military OneSource (800/342-9647) to speak to a trained clinician who can provide supportive counseling. You also can be connected to a professional therapist in your area.

Update:

Hi - or should I say hello again? I wrote to you more than a year ago regarding an online relationship I had with a 20-year noncommissioned officer in the Army. I still enjoying reading your column, and I have to say I don’t agree with people telling you that you are harsh. You just say what needs to be said.

I guess I was just very naive for a grown woman, and when this guy went back home, I thought that was that. I never wrote you about that part, but when he returned home, we continued to communicate, but not in the previous way. Until one afternoon when he kept pushing me for an “encore performance.” We got into a huge argument, and after he left to attend a class in Texas, I sent his wife a long letter with copies of many of our “conversations.”

He was furious and told me I had ruined his marriage and career. I told him he had done that himself, and I later found out he had lied because the Army knew nothing about it but his wife did. You advised me not to tell her, but I’m glad I did. His philosophy was that what he did away from home had nothing to do with his marriage and his family, and he pretty much admitted he had had dalliances before.

After my own huge mistake, I started reading more and more articles, and it seems this happens quite often. I would never recommend that a daughter go into the military. A lot of these guys seem to flaunt their power over their subordinates, and I believe he thought I would be the same way. He got the shock of his life.

I came clean with my spouse, and we went to counseling. Things are not perfect, but they are much better. I was very unhappy and felt like something was missing. I never did anything like that before and would never do it again. Thanks again.

- Learned My Lesson

Reader responses:

This isn’t a question, but I just wanted to say a big thank you for breathing new life with your column. I am the wife of an Air Force captain and have a very active career of my own.

I often found that the spouse network and news didn’t apply to me one bit: I don’t need a bachelor’s degree, I don’t have multiple children, and I certainly don’t want one of those “great” jobs at Home Depot that they’re always advertising! When I received the weekly e-mail from the spouse network, I would sigh and just hope there would be some little tidbit about permanent-change-of-station (PCS) moves or new benefits that actually had some relevance to my situation.

Then I started reading your column. I look forward to it twice a week! It’s so well-written and insightful and tells it like it is. My only complaint is that it doesn’t come more often!

- Amanda

Vicki Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three. Her column runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at dearmsvicki@yahoo.com.

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