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Ask The Expert: How To Rein in a Reckless Teenager

Dear Your Teen:

My 19-year-old daughter works full time and is registered for two classes at the community college. But I suspect she isn’t attending classes. She sneaks out at night and comes home in the early morning. On several occasions, she has come home intoxicated and smelling of pot. She denies using drugs. I have threatened to kick her out of the house if she doesn’t get her act together. She thinks that at 19, she is an adult and can do as she pleases. Please help me – I am desperate!

EXPERT | Dr. Barbara Greenberg

You are right to be concerned about your daughter. Despite believing she is now an adult, she appears nonetheless to be making some very poor and potentially risky choices.

You are clearly in an unenviable position. You want to do the right thing for your daughter but I am sure that you are also concerned about abandoning her or putting her in an even riskier situation.

Talking Through Dangerous Teenage Behavior

Here is my best advice for you. Nothing good can possibly result from your daughter’s current lifestyle. She is becoming entrenched in an unhealthy set of habits and appears to be experiencing no major consequences. I suggest that you sit down with her and draw up a list of expectations for how you expect her to behave while she is living with you and is a member of your family community.

I don’t know what your daughter is doing with her money but she should be expected to pay some living expenses as well as for some portion of her classes. Her money should not be available for drugs and alcohol. She must also arrive home sober and at a reasonable time each evening. You need to make this an ironclad expectation because you not only want her not to get harmed in a traffic accident but it is also not beneficial for your mental health to wait up for her worrying that the worst might have occurred. Yes, your mental health is also a concern.

If your daughter wants to be treated like an adult then she needs to act the part. I strongly encourage you to give her a week or two to get her act together with a strong warning that any departure from your set of expectations will result in you asking for her departure from your home.

Although, this will not be easy the hope is that she will get the message that you do not approve of her behavior and cannot sit back and watch it continue.

I wish you luck and hope that your daughter chooses the right path.

Good luck.

Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens, children, and families. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language. She writes and consults for several publications and frequently appears on TV. You can find her work on her website

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