Eleven-Year-Old Is Out of Control

Our expert recommends comprehensive treatment, including intensive therapy for a troubled 11-year-old.
My 11-year-old stepdaughter is totally out of control and it's putting my marriage in danger. She has been stealing since she was about 3, she lies constantly, has experimented with boys, and is a provocative dresser. She has stolen two cars, one from her mother, the other from my mother-in-law. She has been caught drinking and smoking. She is facing probation for the last auto theft and could care less. She is challenging authority constantly and is becoming threatening toward our 3-year-old.

We have taken all the inappropriate clothing, music, and goodies away. She is searched daily before leaving the house and, yet, continues to steal. Now she has begun ditching school and, when confronted about it, seems flip and non-caring about the consequences. My husband and I have appointments for therapy for all of us, but he feels she is just in a phase. Any punishment we set, he will end within a day or two, saying that she "seems" to be acting better. Within a week, we have a new issue to deal with.

Now, with everything else, she is beginning to let her personal hygiene fall by the wayside. What more can we do?

This little girl is indeed out of control and has been for some time. Her behavior screams out, not for punishment, but for intensive therapy and comprehensive treatment. You say that your marriage is in danger and that she is now acting in a threatening manner to your three-year-old. This little girl has been given far too much power in the family and she knows that her dad will take back her punishments if she just "acts" a little better. She seems to keep raising the ante, in terms of the severity of her misbehavior -- lying, stealing, ditching school, "experimenting" with boys, smoking, drinking, auto theft, and now acting in a menacing way around your three year-old. It's as if she keeps trying to top herself and that has put her on a dangerous collision course that she is unable to stop by herself.

This behavior is hardly a "phase" that kids her age go through. She's a time bomb that keeps on ticking, unable and unwilling to stop her risky misbehavior. She needs serious professional help now and so do you and your husband. Your priority should be to get her evaluated for treatment and into intensive treatment with professionals who have dealt with troubled, defiant, and oppositional children of her age.

There are clearly deep-rooted causes for this young girl's outrageous and dangerous behaviors. Your husband must see this as a crisis situation or else face the possibility that she may seriously harm someone or herself the next time she engages in a dangerous act.

Please keep a watchful eye on your 3-year-old when your 11-year-old is near her. Understand this -- she can't stop and won't stop behaving like this on her own. That's what she is screaming to you with every additional misdeed she commits. An intervention must take place. She needs to be saved from herself and you need talented, experienced professional help to do that. I wish you the best in getting her and you the help that is needed.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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