Ask Amy: Troubled teen’s stealing is the last straw

Dear Amy: Our teenage daughter, who has put us through the wringer in many ways, was recently caught stealing money. She took $20 from Dad’s wallet and $5 from mine.

We confronted her lovingly, set limits, gave consequences, and dried her tears with hugs and lots of love.

That night, I wrote her a card about how much I love her and stuck it under her door because she seemed down. I felt really great about how we handled the crisis! Except she went back into my purse THE NEXT DAY and stole all the rest of my money.

Now I find I can’t even look at her. I feel so betrayed. How do you go forward when you can’t trust your kid?

She is on antidepressants and under the care of a psychiatrist. She was in therapy, but no longer wants to go.

She has been caught cutting herself, smoking pot, vaping, shoplifting, sexting, climbing out her second-story window, and tattooing herself.

Up until now, I thought it was just an excess of teenage bad judgment — the kind you’ll laugh about some day.

But now I’m starting to feel used. Honestly, stealing from us right after the confrontation really pushed me over the edge. She also admitted it — both times.

We’re planning on locking our wallets up from now on, by the way. Sigh.

Any advice?

— Anxious Parents

Dear Anxious: I suggest that you toughen your spines while you also toughen the way you love your daughter.

Some of her behavior falls into the “self-harm” category, and you parents should seek the advice of her therapist and psychiatrist to determine whether she might need intensive, possibly residential treatment. A neuropsychological evaluation might be helpful.

You should also find an experienced family systems therapist for yourselves.

Your daughter’s behavior and defiance might be her way of quite literally crying out for help, so rather than hugging it out and then feeling personally betrayed when she immediately defies you, you should very firmly and lovingly heed the alarm.

You don’t note what consequences you are leveling in response to her behavior, but one consequence should be that she must attend her therapy sessions, regardless of whether she wants to. She cannot be in charge of herself right now, and so you must step up and be in charge of her.

You don’t say what she is doing with the money she has been stealing, but she could be abusing drugs or alcohol.

She might be responding or reacting to a trauma in her own life that you have no knowledge of.

My overall point is that in my opinion this is not normal teenage tomfoolery that you will laugh about later. At this point you are fighting to preserve her future.

Don’t fight with her — fight for her.

Dear Amy: I recently saw an old friend that I had not seen in 25 years.

While we were catching up and talking about our children, he showed me a photo of his 19-year-old daughter, whom I had never met.

I did not ask to see a photo. If she was a small child or baby, I would have responded with how adorable she was, but I do not otherwise feel comfortable commenting on a person’s looks.

I did not see that she bore any resemblance to him, so I didn’t say anything along those lines.

It would have been odd to respond that she looked smart or talented.

What is an acceptable response to being shown an unsolicited photo of someone?

I would have been happy to provide a little white lie if I had one in the holster, but I had nothing.

— Awkward

Dear Awkward: Your tone implies that your old friend was somehow rudely putting you on the spot in showing you a photo of his daughter.

You can easily dodge commenting on a person’s looks by asking: “Now, where was this taken?” “What is she up to?” etc. etc.

Or you can use the photo to pivot back to the two of you: “Wow, 19 years old. Where has the time gone?”

Dear Amy: A question from “Loving, but Sad Daughter” bothered me.

She was upset because her mother (her father’s first wife) was not mentioned in her father’s obit.

An ex-spouse is no longer a member of the family. They shouldn’t make it into the obit!

— I’m an Ex

Dear Ex: “Sad Daughter” objected to the fact that by omitting any mention of her father’s first marriage, the obit stated that she was her stepmother’s daughter.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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