A week or so ago I wrote a blog titled ""Girls gone wild: Dealing with adolescent girls". In the blog I touched on teen-age rebellion and how it manifests itself in young women.
I recently received a response from a mother who had raised a difficult teenage daughter. She expressed the feelings, frustrations and fears that she endured for years during her daughter's adolescence. I asked if I could share her story (anonymously) because I feel that so many other mothers/aunts/caretakers will be able to relate.
"I looked into your eyes and saw the innocence of your age. I looked again and saw the wisdom of a sage." I wrote this to my daughter when she was just a few days old. Innocence and intelligence wrapped in a sweet little bundle. She was reading by the time she was three. By the time she was in kindergarten and the teacher asked, “What’s a word that begins with the letter ‘k’,” her response was ‘knee.’ She was so exceptionally honest as a young child that other parents would inquire as to how I instilled that in her. But it wasn’t anything I did, it was just the way she was. Perhaps that is why, when the rebellion began, I was so unprepared. Beginning in 6th grade, it was almost a daily struggle to get her to go to school. On more than one occasion I had to threaten to get the principal in order to get her out of the car and into the classroom. I never really knew what was fueling this behavior. I assumed she was unhappy because many of her friends, who were a year older, had gone on to middle school. I also knew that she didn’t get along with the teacher, but then neither did a lot of the kids, or their parents for that matter. Whatever the problem, the mornings were horrible. I met each new sunrise with dread…not the way you want to start the day. I should mention that my daughter always had a very strong will. At one point, I checked out a book from our local library called The Strong Willed Child thinking I would obtain some life changing insight. I didn’t. The book didn’t even come close to addressing the strength of her will. Upon entering middle school my daughter decided she no longer wanted to be associated with anything considered “gifted.” She had been in a gifted class all throughout elementary school, pretty much with the same group of kids, and now she wanted a change. It took very little time for her to prove to her new group of friends that she could get poor grades. Academics and learning no longer mattered, in fact they were a hindrance. My husband and I had never even entertained the thought that she would not attend college. When we would talk to her about her grades, her response was, ”grades in 7th grade don’t count for college.” And she was pretty much right. I know now that I was foolish to think that there would be a miraculous turn around once she entered high school. Now that grades did matter, she didn’t care. Our only saving grace was an extra-curricular activity that required her to maintain a “C” average. She did just enough to get by. Senior year things started to deteriorate. She was no longer involved in her activity. Not only was she not doing her school work, but now she was ditching classes. I worked part-time for the same school district she attended. Almost every day at work I would receive a call from the high school Assistant Principal telling me of some infraction my daughter had committed. I hated to hear the phone ring-if it was for me, it was trouble. Then came a day that I could never have imagined. I found myself seated at a round table in the Principal’s office, my daughter at my side. It was just a few short weeks before the end of her senior year. High school had been rough. The punishment for missing classes and being tardy was ‘Saturday school.’ My daughter was a regular attendee. She had missed many credits and had needed to take off-campus occupational courses to fill in the gaps. Even with classes like ‘flower arranging’ she would only complete 50 of the necessary 54 hours needed to earn the credits. She was going to school six days a week and ,yet, was now in danger of not graduating. We were meeting with the Principal to plead for a diploma. Somehow the Principal was able to pull the needed credits from another off-campus course. This was not how I had envisioned my brilliant daughter’s graduation. While we were at the meeting, the Principal made a comment that I really didn’t fully comprehend at the time. Her words were something to the affect, “Your daughter is probably doing things she shouldn’t be doing.” It was vague enough for me to fill in the blanks. Perhaps my daughter was drinking or smoking, both things which were not condoned in our house. In my naivety it never really crossed my mind that the Principal might be referring to drugs. After high school, my daughter tried going to a Junior College. It was a different world. If she didn’t do the work or if she skipped class, she just failed. The first semester didn’t work out. She tried again the next semester. She began by taking courses that other students had completed as part of their high school curriculum. She finished one semester, then another. She was finally back on track. It was not easy to be with her on this journey. Much of the time I was in a place within myself that I didn’t want to be. Often I was angry. I was angry that my daughter was not behaving as she should. I was angry she was rejecting the intelligence she had been granted. I was angry with the Assistant Principal because he took far too much pleasure in his work. I was angry at myself because I could not control the situation. I felt weak as a parent. I felt embarrassed in front of co-workers and school authorities because, as I saw it, her actions reflected back on me. I felt guilt for hiding things from her father. I don’t like confrontations and I just couldn’t handle any more. But I was also afraid. I was afraid for my daughter’s well-being, both her physical and emotional health. Even if a miraculous change occurred, would there be residual scars. I wondered how much harm she had done to her brain. How greatly had her intellect been affected? I was afraid I was not handling the situation correctly. Afraid to make decisions that might alienate her. Strangely, I also felt protective. I was torn between protecting her from the school authorities (and herself) and disciplining her for her actions. I was swirling in the same whirlpool she was. Several years have passed. I can’t be certain how she made it through. Perhaps it was the change in environment. Perhaps it was the realization that she needed to follow a different path if she wanted to achieve the life she had envisioned for herself. Perhaps it was just maturity. Perhaps it was the uncountable number of prayers I offered up for her. I think it was a combination. At the time, it seemed as if the problems would never end. Now they are just a distant memory. Today when I look into my daughter’s eyes the innocence is gone…but the wisdom has returned.*If you, your child, or someone you know is struggling with drugs, depression, defiant behaviors, or emotional issues please visit us at http://www.losangelesfamilytherapy.com/ or call 310-733-7120 for a free consultation