My Middle Child is a Disaster To Deal With

Modern Parent

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My wife and I have 3 children, ages 16, 12, and 9. Our middle child (12) has been very difficult to deal with. 

She has a history of poor performance in school and a pattern of making friends with people who are in difficult life situations. She chooses friends who have little or no parental supervision or have other family problems. She and her friends seem to compete to see who has the worst problems in their life. It isn’t uncommon to get a random call from her when she is with her friends where she wants us to confirm something bad that happened to her at some point in her life. For example, the time she fell off her bike and broke her arm. Or random things like that. She has lived an upper-middle-class life and there haven’t been any truly difficult times for her. But she makes friends with kids who have had seriously tragic things happen to them and is seemingly drawn to that.

She fails almost all of her classes. She doesn’t care because the school seems to keep pushing her along regardless. She loves to go to the nurse and claim illness so she can leave school. She consistently falls asleep in school. Mostly because she likes to stay up late at night. We have taken away her electronics on multiple occasions but she will find them and take them back or hide them. She has even borrowed phones or electronics from friends just to have something. She will take her sibling’s electronics if she can’t find any others. We have to continually lock our other children’s devices and change their access codes so she cannot access them. We only have one TV in the house and she would wait until everyone went to bed and then watch TV all night. Once we discovered this I had to put the TV on a smart plug and set it on a timer to not allow it to be turned on during certain hours.

As she has gotten older, the people she befriends and her behaviors have worsened. She has been caught vaping and smoking marijuana. She has posted videos of her doing this on TikTok using her friend's phones. We don’t allow her to use TikTok so she creates accounts and uses it on her friend’s devices. We usually find out about these things because a friend of a sibling will send them to us when they see them on TikTok. She is stealing any money she can find from our wallets or from her siblings. If she sees her siblings have something she wants, like a pair of socks, or ring or necklace, she will just steal it from them. 

Her troubled friends are often on medication for depression or ADHD, so she wants to be on medication too. We have had her screened multiple times for mental health issues, and besides borderline ADHD, she shows no signs of mental health issues. About a year ago, she made friends with a girl who self-harms. After that, she started cutting herself. She has told her school counselor she is suicidal so we went through things with that. Sometimes when we try to discipline her (take away her phone for example), she will start making threatening suicidal statements to her friends who will tell their parents and we start getting other parents calling us or showing up to our house out of concern.

We have been through multiple therapists over the years. She is very manipulative with people. She will go to therapy and say everything the therapist wants to hear, but the actions don’t follow. Meaning that she doesn’t improve her grades or make better choices with things. She will tell the therapist that she would do well in school if we let her handle her school work herself. So we agree with the therapist to try that. A few weeks go by and her grades get even worse with more absences. Then she says she needs help and to have us involved. Then we get back involved and she gets angry at us because we make sure she has assignments completed and will sit at the table and help her if she can’t complete them. Then she starts hating us and wants to do things on her own. Repeat.

The pattern is quite clear at this point, where it is used to get her what she wants at any particular time. There are no signs of things improving, in fact, things seem to be degrading. She hit puberty about a year ago and is very interested in boys now. We not only have to worry about her self-harm, suicide, vaping, or doing drugs, but also about sex/pregnancy.

It feels like we’re at a critical juncture at this point. It feels like we need to do something more serious to try to get her on track or we will lose her to something that is irreversible. My wife and I are at our wit's end trying to deal with this. We spend a large part of our day discussing or worrying about her. To the point where it impacts our ability to be there and do things with our other two children. In fact, our other two children regularly voice concerns about their sister and her behaviors. Even our 9-year-old. We’ve gone through periods where we have kept her busy with activities with a lot of time and investment on our part, but it doesn’t change any behavior. She gets interested in new activities, but quickly loses interest and doesn’t want to participate anymore.

We really don’t know what to do at this point and are afraid we are going to lose our daughter. If anyone has any thoughts or advice or really anything helpful then I would love to hear it. For background, my wife and I have been married since well before we had children. Neither of us has had any problems with drugs/alcohol or mental health. There is no abuse between us or the children. No financial difficulties or life tragedies. No particular thing we can point to as a cause or rationale for this result.

What can I do?

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New York City, NY
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