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Daughter Steals Mom's Car

Hi J.,

== > I’ve responded in various spots throughout your email below:


Recently I became the recipient of a $720 phone bill, courtesy of my 15 year old daughter, A___. After confronting A___ about her phone usage I asked her to give me her phone. She refused and a short while later left the house, presumably to gather her wits. A short while later my wife noticed my car was missing. My daughter had taken my car! My daughter does not have a driver's permit or insurance. A short time later my daughter called us from her friend's house, about 5 miles away. She was safe, and so was the car. In the meantime we had called the police. We knew she had to face consequences for her actions. The police officer explained that we had several choices on how to proceed with a juvenile (after bringing her home):

1. Do nothing (leaving the consequences up to us as parents)
2. Write her tickets for Driving Without a License, Driving without Insurance, Car Theft, and Breech of Trust. I would have to pay those tickets.
3. Write her tickets and set a court date in the Family Court. I would pay for the tickets and court costs.
4. Declare her an Incorrigible Child and give up our rights as parents.
5. Have the officers talk to A___ and then leave the consequences up to us as parents.

== > First of all, you don’t lose your rights as parents if your daughter if found to be incorrigible (not in the U.S. anyway).

Second, if this is the first time your daughter has gone off the deep end like this, then you made a good decision by picking number 5. But – and this is a huge but – if this is not her first time, you made a huge mistake.

We chose option 5. The officers did a great job scaring A___: If they had to come out to the house again (this was the third time) she would be taken to jail. They wanted to take her then, but we convinced the officers to leave her with us. (a couple white lies, but the talk was brilliant!) A___ apologized profusely about two hours later.

== > I respectfully disagree that the officers did a great job scaring A___ – rather, A___ did a great job of convincing you (manipulating you) that she is sorry / remorseful.

Fear-based motivation has no longevity. As soon as she feels that the heat is off, you may find yourself in this same – or similar – situation.

What are appropriate consequences for such criminal behavior? I've placed controls on A___'s phone so she can only text or call voicemail or family members. She is grounded, but can have friends over and go outside as long as they stay in or close to home. A___ must perform special chores around the house to pay for her part of the phone bill. I don't want A___ to get her driver's permit until she's 17 (she is obviously immature and untrustworthy).

== > This all sounded good until now. Remember, our #1 goal as parents is to “foster the development of self-reliance.” The question should be, “Will withholding her driver’s permit foster self-reliance – or dependency.” Clearly it will foster dependency (i.e., somebody will have to drive her to the places she needs to go).

My wife wants to lift the grounding and phone restrictions after one week. From the MOOCT book you said that punishments longer than a week are ineffective.

Is this a case where more severe consequences are appropriate? What do you recommend?

== > When a child is allowed to stay in the house – or out …when she’s allowed to continue to have cell phone privileges even though it was the original source of the whole episode …when she is allowed to have friends over …then the “grounding” is not really a grounding, rather it’s something reminiscent of a grounding.

Here’s my recommendation:

First, give your daughter a warning that if she chooses to steal your car again, she will choose to face legal consequences in addition to being grounded for 7 days – in the house – no cell phone (or any other privilege for that matter) – no friends.

Second, if this happens again, follow through.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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