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I have a 16 year old who has no respect for her stepfather. They hardly communicate and each time he says something she snaps or makes a stroppy or contradictory comment. He sometimes loses his temper rarely but when he does he goes over the top (probably due to frustration) he swears at her and shouts . ( He lets his anger build up and it comes out all at once. Neither of them are speaking at the moment (to me either) he is catatonic downstairs and she is refusing to come out of her room... What more can i do? I've tried telling him that he should make exceptions for her as she is only a teenager but he says this is no excuse, he has even said that either she or him should leave... Help

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I can't help but think your husband sounds like he is acting the teen as well in this situation. The adult really does have to take the lead here - at the same time you are squarely and dangerously in the middle of all of this. I'd strongly recommend family therapy at this point. –  balanced mama Dec 22 '13 at 15:30

3 Answers 3

Teenagers are hard to live with when you've known them all their lives. It's harder still when you've only met recently. Step-parents often don't know that the teens are sulky and stroppy to everyone, and assume it's a specific reaction to them.

A house rule that nobody is allowed to swear or yell at anybody else might help. At this age, you really need symmetry - rules have to apply to the adults as well as the teen. For example, if you go out and leave her alone in the house, you tell her when you'll be back. It's polite. If she goes out, she tells you when she will be back. Teens often don't realize that rules are being applied to them not because they're still a child, but because these rules last forever. I pick up my dirty laundry from the floor, I put my dish by the sink or in the dishwasher, I cook, I vacuum, not because they are my hobbies but because this is what people who live together do for each other.

Once you establish certain baselines like speaking politely, communicating about plans, noise in the house at night, and chores, there may be some other issues left over - opinions about clothing or music choices etc. Try to let go of those and encourage your husband to do the same. We can influence our teens, but not by ordering them to dress differently or have different hobbies. It's a slower and gentler process, and it can't flourish if they are in the habit of opposing everything we say to them.

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I agree with Chrys that relationships with teens can be very complicated. They are not adults - parts of their brains are not yet fully developed. Sometimes they act very adult-like, and we start thinking that they are more mature than they are and we set our expectations too high. While stroppy behavior needs correction, it is age-appropriate.

You ask what more you can do. The two of them have a communication/relationship problem. You will be very limited in your ability to fix it for them. The fact that neither is speaking to you at the moment is an indication of how difficult triangular relationships can be. You are not their therapist.

If I were in your position, I think I would produce a list of therapists or ministers that the two of them could choose from to help them solve the problem they are having. It is their responsibility to fix - the stepfather, being an adult, should take the lead. Family therapy is also an option. Your partner's statement that either he or she should leave is dangerously close to an ultimatum asking you to choose between them, and this is unacceptable.

In the absence of a viable therapeutic solution, consider that these two people are not hearing each other and they are not feeling heard by the other (and perhaps by you). You could try listening to each, and then sharing what you hear with the other. Be careful, though, as you can be seriously manipulated if you stay in the middle of their relationship.

Good luck!

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+1 "an ultimatum is unacceptable". The partner is acting like a teenager, too. –  user4311 Jul 29 '13 at 20:29

If the stepfather has a significant amount of time as her stepfather (~8 years or more) then my advice is for him to be the adult. If he has less than that, 5-7 yrs at the most, then I fear this situation will never get 'better'. She will always remember "that time before Rick" as the best time ever then Rick came along and just got in the way.

Of course the teen is asserting herself and trying to be free at a time when she's really too young to be so.

Part 1...

If he has any established authority, then I would say that he needs to use it. Stop playing the verbal volleyball that she suckers him into. He should stomp those arguments before they get started and lay down the law like a runway in the desert. Boom.

"This is the decision, this is what you're doing."

She'll hate it and she'll hate him the entire time that she abides by his statement.

The problem with this is that it will only work if

  1. He has established authority; that in the past she has listened and obeyed his statements.
  2. Real dad has never vetoed him and there's no danger of it.
  3. You support him 100% and have never vetoed him.

Part 2...

This must be followed up immediately.

I'm not going to deal with you if you're hollering and being like this. When you're ready to act like a human and talk to me person to person, we can probably work something out.

This will only work if he is ready to accept that she is her own person. That even at the still newbie age of 16, she is beyond being told what to do. Only thing anyone can truly do at this point is try to impart some wisdom and hope they follow it.

Bottom line

She's a biological adult and trying to figure out who she is and where she's going. She needs help, not orders.

He's an adult in the house. He needs to act like an experienced adult and treat her almost like he would someone new at work.

You, the mother, need to take a more pro-active role. It's difficult, and nobody is used to it or well practiced. Get in there, knock their heads together and make them both act like adults.

If he has no established authority, the only part of this that matters is the part where you take control. None of the rest of it will matter. In that situation, I would give completely different advice.

Hope I've helps.

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