Our family is very upset about the profanity our 12-year-old daughter is using. Recently, when I was checking on her online conversations, with her present as I always do, I saw that she had typed that she “f-king hated her parents.”
Not only was it disturbing to see it spelled out in print, but that she sent it to her friend really hurt. This outburst was the result of her father raising his voice to reprimand her for not doing something that he had asked her repeatedly to do. She started crying and stormed upstairs, and sent this comment to her friend.
I told her that we did not deserve this to be said about us and walked away with a very heavy heart. Her father went upstairs to apologize for raising his voice and said that it was not appropriate either.
Later, in a calm voice, I said that if she ever used profanity like that again on the Web or elsewhere, her computer rights would be terminated.
She said “OK.” But she broke my heart with that comment. I have lost trust in her. I since found that she curses regularly on the Web. She must have very low self-esteem.
This is mind-boggling to me since she gets great marks, has many supportive friends, is well-liked by boys, and seems happy.
Since this has occurred, she is very cold to us overall.
Am I overreacting or does she have a problem? She seems very self-centered. How do we restore trust and love in our family?
In Greek mythology, an evildoer named Procrustes kept an inn, where he put lodgers in a “special bed.” If they were too short, he stretched them, and if they were too tall, he cut off their feet!
Our institutions, like houses of worship, schools, and families, can do that with children. No matter who they are, we ask them to act in a certain way and believe specific things. Some of this is necessary or we wouldn’t have an orderly society. But some of it can harm children.
Your daughter is clearly angry at you. You seem troubled both by the way she is expressing her anger, and that she is angry in the first place.
But anger is the voice of injustice. Whenever you see anger, you’ll see someone who feels they have been slighted. And people have more intense emotions during adolescence.
So telling her not to be angry is like putting her in Procrustes’ bed. Telling her not to curse – well, that’s another thing. Punishment may control her behavior temporarily, but will only make her more angry.
It is extremely unlikely she would make up her anger. So first I would ask her about it and how she feels about her life. And then listen for as long as it takes for her to express her feelings. Don’t speak, and especially don’t criticize her or try to defend yourself.
Children should respect their parents, I agree. I also think parents should respect their children. That means all children should have rules and face consequences. But just like adults, they need to be heard.
Your desire to restore love in the family is more easily done than changing her self-centeredness. Most children are self-centered at this age. After all, she is just beginning to develop a sense of self. But your child needs your faith as much as she needs your rules.
As for restoring love, here’s a thought. St. John of the Cross said: “Where you find no love, put love, and you will find love.”
You can teach her how to love better not by lecturing, but through role-modeling. You can teach her about compassion, respect and understanding by demonstrating those things to her. But you cannot teach them by telling her about them.
Just love her a little bit better. That will be easy. Then listen to her. And then you can tell her about your fears, wishes and values. You can say which of your rules are not negotiable and why. But remember, listen before you speak.