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Question
Posted by: Concerned aunt | 2011/01/10

how can i help her?

I have a 15 year old niece who I am very fond of. She is the oldest of two children, the youngest being 2 yrs old. Her parents are extremely strict on her. They punish her for months on end for the slightest thing. A few months ago while visiting relatives at the coast, she slipped out of the house one night to attend a beach party. She confided in someone who thought it in her best interests to tell her parents about the party and the fact that she had slipped out of the house to attend this beach party. Her parents have confiscated her cellphone, she is not allowed to see her friends after school, not even to do homework together. When they were on holiday recently she was not allowed to go for a walk on the beach as they said she was still grounded. I know it is none of my business, but it concerns me that this child is becoming withdrawn and increasingly unhappy. She used to be a very happy and outgoing child and now she cries a lot and hardly ever speaks to anyone. She has taken me into her confidence about things that have happened at school (none of which are a punishable " offence" ) and told me about a boy who wants to date her etc. She is not even allowed to speak to boys let alone have a movie date or anything like that. I can understand that chlldren need to be disciplined, but where does the discipline end and the cruelty start. She has to clean the house, wash dishes, assist with looking after the younger child .. she has no life of her own. Punishment is necessary, but surely there is a limit. She has been grounded for 4 months already and during this time her personality has changed drastically. She asked me to use my cellphone to play games on (while I was sitting with her and her parents) and her parents told me not to allow it as she will use the phone to mixit or send sms. I personally think her parents are taking this a bit too far. I am afaid that she may do something drastic or simply just start rebelling against them and their authority totally. A few weeks ago I was asked to look after her and the little brother when their parents were to a function. I noticed that she pulls her face and turns her head to the right .. this happens every few minutes. I thought it may just be a habit that she has, but the longer I watched her the more I realised that it is not just a habit and was wondering whether it could be due to her being nervous/worried about what is happening in her life at this stage. I feel like speaking to her parents, but my husband told me that I must not get involved, but it annoys me that they treat this child so badly. Any suggestions? Thanks!!

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

All kids need discipline and structure, but that does NOT mean punishment. And especiall punishment that is excessive, mean, undeserved or unpreductable, which simply scrambles their sense of values and justice.
And parents too easily ignore the fact that rewarding good behaviour is even better at shaping good conduct than punishing bad behaviour. And of course, increasing the currency of rewards provides more fruitful opportunities to punish by removing rewards rather than by being more mean.
The parents you describe might have good motives, and may even be deluded that they are benefiting their child, while actually making her much more vulnerable.
Forbidding a girl of 15 to even talk to boys does NOT protect her, and preents her, with useful guidance from understanding parents, from learning how to do so and how to protect herself from exploitation or worse.
Excessive punishment, too, means that by applying maximum punishment for elatively minor offenses, you have nothing much left for other wrong-doing. It's like arming traffic cops with nuclear weapons. Their only way of responding, then, would be much worse than the offense.
That said, you are in an awkward situation, with no easy and effective way to respond. Much depends on your relationship with her parents ( and maybe on whether you have children of your own which might help the parents seeing you as having valid experience ). One can at least mildly mention that while you are so pleased to see how much they care about the safety of their child, you are worried that the manner and degree of their punishing her could have negative effects, and wonder whether they'd agree to discuss this undoubtedly difficult problem of discipline with teens, and see if a more effective way could be worked out between you.

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Our users say:
Posted by: cybershrink | 2011/01/10

All kids need discipline and structure, but that does NOT mean punishment. And especiall punishment that is excessive, mean, undeserved or unpreductable, which simply scrambles their sense of values and justice.
And parents too easily ignore the fact that rewarding good behaviour is even better at shaping good conduct than punishing bad behaviour. And of course, increasing the currency of rewards provides more fruitful opportunities to punish by removing rewards rather than by being more mean.
The parents you describe might have good motives, and may even be deluded that they are benefiting their child, while actually making her much more vulnerable.
Forbidding a girl of 15 to even talk to boys does NOT protect her, and preents her, with useful guidance from understanding parents, from learning how to do so and how to protect herself from exploitation or worse.
Excessive punishment, too, means that by applying maximum punishment for elatively minor offenses, you have nothing much left for other wrong-doing. It's like arming traffic cops with nuclear weapons. Their only way of responding, then, would be much worse than the offense.
That said, you are in an awkward situation, with no easy and effective way to respond. Much depends on your relationship with her parents ( and maybe on whether you have children of your own which might help the parents seeing you as having valid experience ). One can at least mildly mention that while you are so pleased to see how much they care about the safety of their child, you are worried that the manner and degree of their punishing her could have negative effects, and wonder whether they'd agree to discuss this undoubtedly difficult problem of discipline with teens, and see if a more effective way could be worked out between you.

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