Help! My Teenage Daughter Won’t Listen to Me

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

My daughter won’t listen to me! She is 15 and thinks she has everything figured out. She yells at me all the time and says nasty things. I caught her using drugs once, and she’s definitely having sex. She also sneaks out at night sometimes and skips school. This is more than just a rebellious phase. I don’t know where she gets it from, but it’s not me!

I don’t know what to do about it, either. I want to be a good, supportive mom, but I can’t stand by and watch this. I’m really worried about my daughter’s future. She doesn’t seem to care at all. I would appreciate any insights or practical suggestions you have beyond recommending counseling, as there is no way she would go. —Mystified Mom

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Dear Mystified Mom,

Thank you for sharing what sounds like a deeply painful, and even frightening, situation. I imagine it is heartbreaking to hear your daughter yell at you and say nasty things. Seeing her engage in risky behaviors that could have serious consequences likely evokes a sense of anxiety and helplessness.

Sometimes in situations like this, where you can’t control the behavior of someone else, it is best to shift the focus to the only person you can control: you. It is clear from your writing that this is very difficult for you and you do not know what to do. So, while you can’t force your daughter into counseling, you can certainly go. It sounds like you could benefit from the kind of safe and supportive environment that counseling affords. Beyond support for yourself, once a counselor gains a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play, they might be able to offer to some suggestions for ways to connect with your daughter and help her.

Sometimes in situations like this, where you can’t control the behavior of someone else, it is best to shift the focus to the only person you can control: you.

I find myself wondering if you have tried approaching her with concern outside of an incident. When you’ve just caught her doing something she is not allowed to do or when you two are in the middle of an argument, neither one of you is in the best place to have a constructive conversation. However, when there’s relative peace in the home, a conversation can go a lot better. I wonder what would happen if, during such a time, you knocked on her door and asked if she had a minute to talk and simply expressed concern. Perhaps you could try something along the lines of, “It doesn’t seem like you’ve been very happy lately and I’m concerned about you. I know we haven’t been getting along very well, either, but I want you to know you can talk to me. I’m here for you.” Even if she doesn’t jump at the opportunity in the moment, perhaps you are planting a seed that might produce fruit down the road.

I’m also curious how long this behavior has been going on. How significant is the change? For example, did she go from being a fairly obedient child who got along well with you to what you have described or was her behavior always difficult to manage? In thinking back to when all of this started, is there any triggering event you can identify—perhaps a change in the family, a significant loss, a move to a different school? Developing some thoughts about what might have prompted this change in her could also be helpful in trying to understand and connect with her.

Parenting a teenager who is acting out can be incredibly difficult. I hope you will get the support you need for yourself. You just might find it opens you up to some different approaches to connecting with your daughter. Best wishes on this difficult part of your journey.

Kind regards,

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • amanda

    amanda

    October 16th, 2017 at 11:05 AM

    Do you ever take the time to listen to her and her story or do you basically fill all the time that you have with simply being mad at her? I think that there comes a point for all parents where we have to learn that the time for talking is not now, and that listening to what they have to say could probably get us a whole lot further.

  • Darlin

    Darlin

    October 18th, 2017 at 2:03 PM

    There will come a time when you have to step back out of that over protective parent role and become someone who can become a friend. I know that it is still important to establish the boundaries and the rules, but good grief, our kids have heard us tell them things that are right and that are wrong for years now… at this stage of their lives they simply need to know that you will be there to hear them out and support them when they need you to be.

  • griffin

    griffin

    October 19th, 2017 at 3:12 PM

    see HER
    listen to HER

  • Beverley

    Beverley

    October 23rd, 2017 at 3:58 PM

    I always tell my adult daughter that she has to be willing to give her children some space and time. Even though the natural tendency is to hover and want an answer for every single thing that you ask, sometimes the kids just need a little more space than what we as parents feel comfortable giving them.

  • Richard A

    Richard A

    October 31st, 2017 at 11:35 AM

    I say it is all about being a flexible parent. There will be times when she wants to talk and so you have to listen. There will be times when she needs advice, so give. But above all you have to remain in tune with what your daughter needs and wants at this moment in time. It is frustrating and it can be ever changing, but to maintain a relationship during the critical teen years this is what you have to do to keep the whole family afloat.

  • teresa

    teresa

    October 16th, 2018 at 5:17 PM

    I am so done being a quiet, patient, understanding parent. All this advice is making me sick “be there for her”, “just listen”, “she needs her space”! I agree with the other poster, parents need some help, too! I have done all of the above and now I have reached my threshold. My 18 year old is still in high school and thinks she can come and go as she pleases. Meanwhile, chores aren’t done, doesn’t answer my texts, doesn’t tell me where she’s going…or lies. I’m about ready to turn off her phone and take her keys and sell back the car. I am a single mom and she is driving me to the edge. A year ago, there was high hopes for college. We even toured universities. Now if I mention the ACT or SAT she has an emotional fit. She doesn’t want to go to college now. Wants to live on her own. Even talking about the GED! She is so talented and could probably get a scholarship. I am at my wits end. If one more person tells me to be calm I’m going to scream!

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