Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
I have an 11 year old daughter who just this year has started to challenge her mother about everything. They seem to be at it all the time. My wife appears a little intimidated by her and I wonder if my daughter is pushing her mom around like a bully. Can an 11 year old be a bully to a parent and what can we do about it?
Ready to smack
Dear Mr. Ready,
Yes, children can bully parents, and that may be the case here. However- to be bullied, one has to allow it. If your wife is being intimidated by your daughter, this will cause her to be inconsistent. If Mom needs to be liked, or hates conflict, she will give in and undermine herself. Self-esteem may be at the heart of the issue- it is the most predictive factor of how one will be treated because it determines one’s boundaries.
Parents are role models for their children. When your wife allows herself to be bullied, she role models the very behavior she wants to prevent. Your child is displaying the normal challenging behaviors of adolescence; she is trying to figure out her role in the family. If Mom allows her to call the shots, this casts your daughter in the role of mother.
Children at this age are concrete in their thinking. They see things only one way- their way. Giving your daughter control reaffirms a very limited and unchallenging version of reality. She will not learn the skills to negotiate life in a larger arena; no one is going to cater to her once she walks out your front door. This is why, even with the best of intentions, indulgence is toxic. It replaces self-esteem with a big ego.
Don’t be a passive bystander- back your wife up! And tell your daughter that it is OK to disagree and have her own opinion, but she always needs to treat her parents with respect. If you tell her to do something, you expect her to do it.
The quality of discipline given a child develops into a sense of duty as an adult. If you don’t get the one you don’t develop the other.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I’ll be honest- I have a difficult time sympathizing with parents who allow an 11 year old to run the roost. But my opinion is not what matters here. What matters is that the quicker you nip this trend in the bud, the better. You stated that this is a recent occurrence. Let it be a phase that passes and is quickly gone, because the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to take the reins back.
Every confrontation is like a scene in a play- in order for the action to continue as planned, all of the actors have to stick to the script. In your current play, My Daughter Rules the Roost, the dialog might go as follows:
Mother: It’s time to go to bed.
Mother: OK. (cringe)
(Father is off somewhere, oblivious and useless)
The play needs a rewrite!
Mother: It’s time to go to bed.
Mother: Sorry, sweetie, but this isn’t your call. It’s time to go to bed.
Father: And I’m backing her up on this.
Daughter: I hate you both!
Parents: That’s OK! We’d rather have you angry at us now than have you angry at us after your third failed marriage. Nighty night, sweetie!
It may not be a hit on Broadway, but it’ll get rave reviews at home.