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Daughter shoplifting, using drugs, having sex...!?

Dear Mark,

I have listened and reviewed your CD and book and have found them very helpful. My daughter seems to be doing better, but just yesterday my sister told me that she is doing things that I know nothing about when she's not home. Last year was a nightmare year for us with constant fighting, door slamming, tantrums, etc. This year she seemed to be settling down some, but what my sister told me concerns me greatly. Shoplifting, drug use, sex and God knows what else. My daughter is in ninth grade and is fourteen years old. I am very concerned with her choices. She is seeing a counselor one a month for what is diagnosed as anxiety disorder. Can you give me some help or advice? I am angry, disappointed, and ashamed. I don't quite know where to go from here.

D.,

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Hi D.,

First of all, it doesn't sound like you have hard evidence that what your sister said is true. Avoid believing everything your hear -- even from a trusted sister (she may not have all the facts either). I find that when I get reports from one individual regarding another individual, some of it is true -- some of it is not.

Re: shoplifting—

When you first get the call, write down where you need to go to get your daughter and the phone number of the facility. Many parents do not do this and try to figure it out after they have hung up the phone. Avoid this added stress by writing it all down.

Avoid confronting your daughter at the scene or facility. It just will not help and could go against both of you if charges are filed.

Find out who is in charge and treat this person with respect. Find out if charges are being filed. Write these things down; do not rely on your memory.

When you get home with your daughter, take a time out. You will both need it. There is nothing wrong with letting your daughter know that you are not prepared to discuss this with them yet.

Talk with your spouse about consequences. Try and do this a day or two later, so that you know you are over the shock and have calmed down.

Lay out the consequences in an Action Plan for your daughter.

Re: drug use—

Please refer to the page of the eBook entitled "Read These Emails From Exasperated Parents" [session #4 - online version].

Re: sex—

While adolescent sex may not be wholly preventable, the health risks it involves can be reduced through communication within the family. Research shows that frequent parent-child discussions about sex and its dangers may prevent adolescents from engaging in risky sexual behavior.

One message for those intimate parent-child conversations is that early sex is a threat, and it remains a greater threat to girls than to boys. Adolescent pregnancy occurs in about 750,000 girls each year. Compared with adults, a adolescent, with an immature cervix, is more likely to catch an STD, triggering problems like smoldering pelvic inflammatory disease that can silently take away fertility, tubal pregnancies, cervical and even throat cancer, and transmission of disease to offspring at birth. That doesn't mean boys are invulnerable; they just suffer fewer and milder consequences.

However much our daughters should take equality with men for granted, they must know that sex is distinctly sexist. An old saying goes that men give love to get sex while women have sex to get love. There's something there. The brains of adolescent boys are raging with the libido hormone testosterone, while girls have some increase in testosterone but at far lower levels. In contrast, girls have more oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, and seem to be more sensitive to it than boys. Also, teenage emotions are responding to basic instincts from the lower brain, which awakens the body to its generative capacities. Such impulses searching for instant gratification can easily overwhelm the higher frontal lobes—which impose thoughtful, rational, and conscience-driven restraints on behavior—because, by some quirk of nature, those distinctly human higher cognitive centers don't fully mature until the early 20s. Parents, like it or not, have no choice but to be their kids' frontal lobes for a time, and that's a source of vintage adolescent turbulence.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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