A Family Secret, A Family Struggle

March 4, 2013
Eighteen-year-old Atira is being accused of tearing her family apart. Her mother, Yolanda, sister, Alexa, and brother, Stuart, say the young mom is a "lazy slob," who yells, shoves and cusses, and they’re tired of the chaos she creates. Atira admits she’s full of anger but says her family makes no effort to understand her. Is Atira just an out-of-control, bratty teen, or is a dark secret from her past causing her to lash out? When Dr. Phil digs into this family’s history, will Yolanda, Alexa and Stuart begin to better understand Atira? Then, former prosecutor Loni Coombs, author of the new book, “You’re Perfect” ... and Other Lies Parents Tell, shares her six parenting tips for effective listening. Plus, find out how a marshmallow can help you learn critical information about your child’s future. This program contains strong sexual content. Viewer discretion advised.









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AtiraYolandaAlexaStuartLoni Coombs

A Broken Family

"My sister, Atira, is rude and obnoxious. I love my sister to death, but she can be a real *," says Alexa, 20. "One time, she shoved me so hard, I hit my head against the wall, and I blacked out, and I don’t remember what happened." She adds that another time, Atira became so enraged, she slapped their 17-year-old brother, Stuart, across the face and pulled a knife on him.

"When Atira gets angry, she loses her mind," Stuart adds. 

"Atira will yell at my mom. She’ll get in her face and scream at her," Alexa says.

"I have a lot of days when I’m coming home from work and I start crying, because I don’t want to go in the house because of how angry Atira gets and how lazy she is," says Yolanda, the siblings' mother. "
I try to avoid her now, and I go to my room, because I can’t deal with it anymore. It’s overwhelming. She makes me physically ill."

Atira shares how her life was changed as a young girl and why that may explain her behavior. "While my mom was married to my stepdad, she was gone all day long, working. That’s when the abuse started," she reveals. "I was 9 years old when my stepdad started touching me ... I was afraid and confused ... The worst part of it was that I felt like I couldn’t say no."

Atira says her stepfather continued to molest her every day for three years. "I didn’t know how far it would go, and I didn’t want it to happen to me anymore. I told my guidance counselor, and she called the police department. They arrested my stepdad," she recalls. "Stuart and Alexa don’t have any idea what it’s like to go through what I’ve been through, and they have absolutely no right to criticize me. I couldn’t live my life as a kid, like they could. I had to be in my house. I couldn’t hang out with my friends. I couldn’t do anything. I felt like a prisoner in my own home, and I felt like my siblings just stood by, and nothing happened to them."

Atira says she feels like an outsider in her own family. "I have a lot of anger built up inside of me because of it," she reveals. Wiping away tears, she says, "I’ve never been able to forgive my stepfather, and I will never forget about it. He completely changed me. I’m not the same person I was. I’m not happy like I used to be. I can’t open up to anybody anymore. I can’t be myself. I’m just not who I want to be."


“I’ll never get to get my years back that he took from me. I’ll never know what it’s like to not have something terrible like that happen to me.”

Atira’s stepfather was convicted on two counts of child molestation in October 2009 and is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence. The records state that he is in the sex offender registry.

A Dark Secret

For the first time, Atira reveals details about what happened behind closed doors when she was a young and innocent child, so her family can understand what she endured.


“He tortured me.”

Where was Yolanda when Atira says she needed her most? “You left her at a critical time in her life.”

“When you have victims turning on each other, that’s a really bad situation.” 


Haunted by Her Past

Atira's stepfather is set to be released from prison in a week, and Atira says she's having terrible nightmares. "I’m extremely frightened for myself and for my daughter, because I still live in the same house that I lived in when he was doing all those horrible things he was doing to me," she says. "Seeing my stepfather again would be the most terrifying nightmare of my life."

Dr. Phil reminds Atira that her stepfather cannot have contact with her once he is released. “If he does, you can have him picked up, and he goes right back into prison,” he says, adding that it’s important that Atira’s family support her.


“You’ve got to handle the responsibility that is yours.”

Tips for Parents

Loni Coombs, former prosecutor and author of “You’re Perfect ...” and Other Lies Parents Tell — published by Jay McGraw’s publishing company, Bird Street Books — joins the show. She explains why she wrote the book. “For 18 years, I would be in the courtroom, and over and over again, hundreds of families would show up. The parents, with their kids — young adults and teenagers — shocked and stunned that they were in a criminal courtroom, and the kids were shocked and stunned that someone was actually holding them responsible for their actions, and they didn’t know how to handle it,” she says.


Loni shares six tips for effective listening as parents.

Dr. Phil offers Atira specialized help. “If nobody from the adult world has said to you they're sorry for what happened to you, let me tell you, I’m sorry,” he tells her.

Atira thanks Dr. Phil and accepts the help.

The Marshmallow Test

Dr. Phil and Loni discuss a marshmallow test that was done with 4 year olds, conducted by psychologists at Stanford University. A marshmallow was put on a plate and put in front of the children. The children were told that if they wait 15 minutes before eating the marshmallow, they would get another one, as well. If the children wanted to eat the
marshmallow right away, they would only get that one.

“I love this test,” Loni says. “It’s so simple, and yet, it’s so indicative of how your children will end up doing in their teenage and adult years, and you can tell very early on with your child and how they’re going to do. It’s all about the simple skill of self-control and delayed gratification.”

“They followed them all the way to high school and found these kids who waited 15 minutes for the second marshmallow scored 210 points higher on their SAT than those who ate the marshmallow, instead of waiting the 15 minutes,” Dr. Phil explains. “Those who ate the marshmallow had more problems with drug addiction. They had more health problems. They had more stress problems.”

Loni adds, “They were less confident. They were less decisive. They had more financial difficulties. They had more problems maintaining healthy relationships, and they had a higher percentage of having trouble with the law.”

Loni says that it’s never too late to teach your children self-control and delayed gratification. “When you’re starting young, it’s very easy. As soon as the little child starts saying, ‘I want. I want,’ you say, ‘You may have the apple, after you’ve eaten your soup. You may watch the TV show, after you’ve made your bed,’” she explains. “Teach them that they have to delay what they want, the gratification, by doing something first. This way, they’re learning to work toward something and exercise self-control.”

Dr. Phil shares the most important thing you must do with your child every day.



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