Parents' Biggest Mistakes

Parents' Biggest Mistakes
Tammy worries that her parenting style may be contributing to her daughter's aggressive behavior.
"My 13-year-old daughter, Sakoya, is out of control," says Tammy. "I do nothing but fight with her all day long. She's stolen money from me. She fights with everyone in the house."

Tammy says her daughter started acting out at age 6, and her anger has escalated since then. "She ran away when she was 12. She called me from the subway station. She slept on the train all night," Tammy reports.

Tammy has two other children from her current marriage, and fears that Sakoya is taking her anger out on them. She thought that leaving New York and moving to a smaller town would curtail her daughter's aggression, but it hasn't. "Sakoya's been suspended about five times for fighting," she reports. "One day she had this huge scar on her arm. Her friend took an eraser to burn the skin off of her arm to put the initial K ... I believe it was for a boy or something to do with a gang."

Tammy has had to physically restrain her daughter, even slapping her in the face and sitting on her. At her wits' end, she turns to Dr. Phil. "What can I do to earn my daughter's love and get her back on track?" she asks.
"Tell me why you think she's so rebellious and out of control at this point?" Dr. Phil asks Tammy.

Tammy explains that ever since she got remarried, her daughter has been acting out.

Dr. Phil lists some of Sakoya's aggressive behavior: "You think she's been shoplifting ... She's stolen money from you."

"Yeah, when she ran away."

Dr. Phil continues, "She's been suspended from school five times ... you said the other night 10 girls showed up at the house and wanted to fight her ... and you think she's in a gang."

"She wrote it all over her shirts and she had posters on the wall with the name of the gang that's in the local area," Tammy says."You said something that really disturbed me about this, and I want to make sure I understand this," Dr. Phil says. "You said that she gets her little sister outside, gets across the street when there's a lot of traffic and tells her to come running, trying to get her hit by a car."

"Yes."

"And you said you've also just been lying in bed at night, opened your eyes and she's just standing over you, staring at you," Dr. Phil observes. "These are some bad signs of her judgment and her conduct and her anger."

When he asks Tammy what she may be doing to contribute to her daughter's behavior, she replies, "I do believe yelling and screaming at her doesn't make it any better. I think that she thinks I single her out over my other two children because I'm married to their father, but no matter what I've tried it just doesn't seem to work."
Dr. Phil points out that Tammy has also gotten physical with her daughter, which may also be adding to Sakoya's aggression. "You've slapped her. You've wrestled her, thrown her to the ground and pinned her down to try to control her. Is any of that working?"

"No."

"And as she gets older, her ability to aggress physically is going to advance, right?" he questions. "So this is on a runaway track and headed in a bad direction if we don't diffuse the situation."

Dr. Phil asks what role Sakoya's father plays in his daughter's life. "He's in and out," Tammy says. "I allow him to keep in contact with her because I feel if I say no and cut off all contact that, in the end, she'll only blame me ... But when he's in, he creates further havoc in my home because he'll come in and then he'll disappear for three months. Then when he's gone for three months, she's rebelling all over the place and it's like my fault almost."
"Do you recognize that as a parent, getting angry and venting and blustering and becoming physically as well as emotionally and verbally combative, do you think that's contributing to the problem or the solution?"

Tammy agrees. "I know that it's making the problem worse, but it's hard when you work all day and you have two other children," she says. "I've tried the patience, but after seven years you run out of patience and you just don't know what else to do."

Dr. Phil suggests that there could be several other causes for Sakoya's violent behavior. "There could be some mental or emotional problems with your daughter. She could have some brain dysfunctions in terms of ADD, ADHD," he explains. "She could have different types of emotional disorders that can be diagnosed, dealt with, treated either with or without medication. There are certain possibilities that could be making her combative."

He also wants Tammy to consider that Sakoya is reacting to her environment. "Dad's gone, another guy comes in. She resents that, then she has this combative relationship with you," he says.
Dr. Phil explains that Sakoya has become the "target patient" in her family. "What happens is the family can then take that child to the sacrificial altar of therapy and say, 'Fix my kid.' When in fact, this is just the squeaky wheel, but the whole family is out of balance."

He tells Tammy that giving up on her daughter is not an option. "You say, 'Well, I've tried patience. That didn't work.' You're going to have to show me where the window is that parents go to quit," he says. "You can't quit. She's your daughter and you have to stay plugged in here, but I think the entire family needs to get involved here. Now she may have advanced to the point that you need outside intervention here. If she's putting the other children's lives in danger, if you're waking up at night and she's standing there staring at you, then these could be signs that she's getting ready to go to another level of maladjustment here that needs to be considered and evaluated.

"I think what has to happen is, first off, she needs to be evaluated medically to ascertain whether or not there's something going on with her hormonally, biochemically, that's causing her to have lack of impulse control and feel rage," Dr. Phil advises. "And then I think the family unit needs to get some intervention here, to have this evaluated and see if there are some things that you can start doing in the proper direction. Are you willing to do that?"

"Yes I am," Tammy assures him.