01/02/2010 09:47 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Ask Joanne: Stepdaughter Out Of Control

What's your biggest problem when it comes to family life? Our experienced life coach Joanne Mallon is here to help. Send your questions in via this anonymous form.

Step Mum writes:

My stepdaughter, who is 14, seems to have suddenly gone out of control. Last year, she told her dad she wasn't happy living with her mum and stepdad and there were some worrying stories that came from it. We wanted her to move in with us but she wanted to stay at her school so she has moved in with my husband's parents.

Since then, she has refused all contact with her mother and her behaviour is
becoming increasingly worrying – hanging out with boys and gangs. She assures
us she is not smoking or taking drugs but her behaviour has become more and more
irrational. We have stopped her going out during the week and have tried to
encourage her to take up a hobby all of which has fallen on deaf ears. She hides away in her room on her laptop and mobile, and if we try to talk to her it doesn't seem to go in!! She refuses to talk to any of us and the stress is taking its toll on my husband and his parents. Any suggestions???!!!

Here's life coach Joanne's reply:

Dear Stepmum

I get lots of letters about teenagers, almost as many as I do about potty training toddlers. This is one of those tough phases in every parent and child's life. Very few seem to get through it without some degree of challenging behaviour.

But like any stage in a child's life it will pass. Keep calm and eventually your stepdaughter will come through this phase. Though do keep your eyes open as sometimes teenage withdrawal like this can be a sign of depression. So look out for things like how well she's eating and sleeping, and what her school says about her behaviour.

The challenge in this case is that effectively, this child has got three sets of people with parental responsibility for her. You also imply that she was allowed to choose at the age of 13 where she would live. So in effect she was given a degree of parental sway over her own life. You can see how this is confusing for the child at the middle of it, and it's not really surprising she's become withdrawn.

An excellent book that will give you some practical strategies is: How To Talk So Teens Will Listen, and Listen So Teens Will Talk. Take it gently and look for ways that your stepdaughter can spend quality time with one of her parents at a time. If her dad is finding their relationship stressful, then maybe he needs to make a point of doing this. Take her shopping or out for lunch or a film. When she's with you, have family meals together. She might not be saying much to you right now, but show her you are listening when she does.

Good luck,


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