Stealing Tween

"My 12-year-old daughter, Ashley, lies all the time," Melissa says. "Ashley lies about homework, boys, stealing from her dad, stealing from me, stealing from her siblings. Three years ago, Ashley stole some checks from her father. We are so alarmed that Ashley would do anything like that, to just forge a check, that I personally took her down to the police station and had an officer lock her in a cell. She stayed pretty good for a year and then all of a sudden, boom, there she goes, stealing again. A year after the check incident, Ashley stole money from his coin collection. She started stealing money from my purse. Then she started getting into her siblings' piggy banks. We started locking up my purse, my husband's wallet, anything that's of value. We've got a lock on our bedroom door.

"A couple of days ago, Ashley was caught cheating at school. We've tried spanking, we've tried grounding. The only thing I have left to take away from Ashley is her food and her clothes." Melissa's voice grows tremulous. "It hurts the most to know that I could lose my little girl, and somehow I think I'm failing her as a mother."

[AD]Dr. Phil joins Melissa in the audience. "Do you think this is going to get better or worse?" he asks.

"I think if we don't take care of it now, it's going to get worse," she says.

"What does she say when you tell her, ‘This is not OK'?"

"‘I didn't know it was bad.' She'll just say, ‘I don't know,' or ‘Because.' We can never get a straight answer out of her," Melissa says. She says they fear for where she will end up as an adult. "Her father and I are just ready to send her away. We've tried just about everything we can think of."

"This is learned behavior and the patient here is not her; it's this whole family unit," Dr. Phil says. "You've got to figure out what is happening within this that makes her feel like she needs to do this and can do this."

"And every time we ask her, is there something that we're doing wrong " "

"She can't tell you that. Do you know what it is?" he asks.

"No, I don't," she says.

[AD]"Then why do expect a 12-year-old child to be able to articulate that to you?" Dr. Phil says this is a family problem, and they need to figure out why it's happening. "I very much suspect that she feels helpless, that she doesn't feel like she has the skills to generate the outcomes in her life that she wants. That tells me that her self-esteem is on the floor."

Melissa admits that she might play a part in her daughter's self-esteem. "When she makes me so angry, I end up calling her names that I shouldn't be calling her," she says.

Dr. Phil plays an interview with Melissa's daughter: "I lie because I want to be more like my friends, but then the reason for cheating was because I didn't want to get a bad grade. My mom likes it when I get As," she says. "What would it take for me to not lie, cheat or steal is having my parents not fight. I've seen my parents fight a lot. If I did something bad, then maybe they would stop fighting. I know my mom wants to help me. Sometimes I wish I could tell my mom I'm sorry for what I've done. Sometimes I think I'm a good person, but most of the time, I think I'm a bad person, because I get in trouble a lot. For my future, I see me probably either in jail or in juvenile."

Melissa has tears in her eyes when the video ends. "It breaks my heart. It's not that we expect her to get As. We just expect her to do well," she says.

"Do you understand that perception is reality? She just told you what her reality is. It doesn't mean that's what you said, but it tells you what she hears, right? Do you see why I said that this is a family issue, it's not just her?" Dr. Phil asks. "You need to change her perceptions. You need for her to know, ‘We love you unconditionally. You make Ds or Fs? I love you as my daughter. I don't love the Ds or Fs. I don't love the behavior, but I love you unconditionally.' If she starts to take pride in who she is instead of who she thinks you want her to be that she cannot become, then she will begin to start living with who she is and dealing with that reality. That's what I want you guys to talk about and think about."

[AD]Dr. Phil offers resources for family counseling. "And I suspect this is going to get better a lot quicker than you think," he says.

"God bless you," Melissa says.