She's getting in very deep very quickly with a boy who has been in social care a fair bit over his life and has anger management issues, she's not even fully part of our household yet. Please help (advice, resources, but can't really afford books atm.)

Big backstory here - apologies but the context is probably relevant.

Me and partner are in north of UK and over that 'young adult' stage of our lives. We've been together since we were her age and helped raise my youngest sister who is gonna move in with us. She's already, before we've had a chance to lay the ground rules, been in town and met a few people who live close to us so is already socialising with them. It seems history repeats itself as she's babysitting (unpaid) with this guy who has very young brothers and sisters, to help him.

My dad was abusive and left my mum when my sister was about six. My mum put unfair responsibility on me. I in turn roped in my partner more and more and this damaged both of us and our relationship (we're good now, but are constantly working on us). Sister has suffered a lot and lost grades etc. etc. She's with us to give her the environment that she deserves to get herself on track (with our help), college is setup and she's heading there in September and will have a heavy workload. She wasn't disciplined at mums but was at the same time treated really badly. Bad combo! Her attendance was worst in the year until her last year when I basically said enough is enough and took control with the school and mum. For the past six or seven years the relationship between me, sis and partner is of loving, casual support. Taking her places. Encouraging her. Listening to her etc. trying to create a corrective script (see page 173 if it's still available) but now we're at a point where things could go either way.

It's just sod's law that before she's made that transition between mum's and our's that she's already diving deep into this guys life. She has a very bad attachment because of our terrible dad and the tough relationship between us and mum.

Anxious-preoccupied adults seek high levels of intimacy, approval and responsiveness from partners, becoming overly dependent. They tend to be less trusting, have less positive views about themselves and their partners, and may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry and impulsiveness in their relationships. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disorganized_attachment#Attachment_in_adults

And I'm just scared that after all the hard work, time and money from me and partner she's going to have the destructive relationship that I have tried to prevent her from seeking out. Knowing myself, and knowing her I worry it's too late. Also - perhaps most importantly - she used to lie to mum, so now I'm 'mum' I'm worried that there's no way I can trust her. She get's very defensive of her friends and will do, probably even more of this new guy, she reacts instinctively when she senses I'm concerned about it all (kids who are abused tend to have to learn how to tell what adults around them are feeling etc.)

I recognise that my anxiety will in part stem from all my mistakes and being paranoid because I've been that troubled guy and I'm aware that partner has anxiety which in part stems from the time she lost and pain she felt over the years being pulled into such a complex and destructive situation. I also know that "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you".



OK, so things got a lot (, lot) worse before they got better and so ten months later I'm posting a second update. The first is at the bottom and could be a trigger for people. The second (just below) is not.

Update 2/2:

My sister has moved to another college. A college with a brilliant support system (partly because it's for kids with lower grades) and she's doing a course that she loves. She lives with us again, after about six months of living back with my mum. Her and mum are mostly on talking terms but because of some drama my sister chose to keep a polite distance. My mum, for the most part, understands that and things are, relatively, OK. She is not with the boy anymore! :D He was an ********. The solution was actually really simple but is unfortunately not something that most people will be able to do: she went back to my mum and was therefore a train and bus journey away from him. Funnily enough after not very long he found he wasn't getting what he wanted (someone to control and have around constantly) and so he broke up with my sister! My sister could see, with some time and space, that he was bad news. I sucked it up and accepted that I needed to make a nest for her, and that she could do whatever she wanted. I did this. She started running and got super fit. I carried on not putting any pressure on her and she got a new job. The problem (and therefore why this worked) is because she was always given loads of independence but was too inexperienced to understand her predicament. So I had to respect that she would - and was always going to - do whatever the heck she wanted. Overtime she wanted to buy things and saw the value of getting a job, so she got one. After a while we were able to talk about why certain things that happened were bad and she's now knowledgeable about that sort of thing and relationships. Now she's got loads of friends and a new (nice) boyfriend and so we were lucky enough to put all of that behind us.

Update 1/2:

trigger warning ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

edit: 5 months on and she's not living with us anymore. He was unsuprisingly abusive. Self harm and suicide have been issues. She dropped out of college. She got a job. She left her job. They're off and on in cycles of ridiculous emotional abuse that with all the lies appears to not be there but with lies there is no trust so nobody has any idea. It all fell apart she barely talks to me and the stress was unbearable. The one positive is that (to some extent) the relationship with her mum improved. I think in retrospect I will consider this period of our lives as just one of those unavoidable trainwrecks. The only thing that was needed was for her mum to show her love so she wasn't so desperate to seek it from this boyfriend. Let that be a lesson to all the tough love parents who take their own stress out on their children. Love isn't a complex thing. Very sad :(

  • What advice is her social worker giving?
    – DanBeale
    Jul 17, 2014 at 10:47
  • She doesn't have one. Just locality stuff and from her secondary school.
    – user9761
    Jul 17, 2014 at 10:56
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    She needs a child protection social worker. Call your local helpdesk. How did you become her legal guardian without socialwork involvement?
    – DanBeale
    Jul 18, 2014 at 21:49
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    Have you looked at the services available from youth charities? Charities like Barnardo's operate and fund services targeting the 15-19 age range (as well as younger children) which might be valuable. Jul 21, 2014 at 10:12
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    Well, time has moved on and things are for now running well (enough). anongoodnurse's answer was good and bits of it were valuable but really she didn't read my question that closely. Meg Coates suggested what we tried and it seems to have worked so I suggest anyone else reads both their answers closely.
    – user9761
    Aug 7, 2014 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


I agree very strongly with anongoodnurse.

I don't think you're overreacting to your concern for this guy she's hanging around. She didn't learn healthy relationships growing up, and even teenagers who have grown up observing healthy relationships have a tendency to fall into unhealthy, co-dependent, and abusive relationships once they go out and begin experimenting on their own.

If the relationship you've had with her up to this point has been open and honest and (overall) positive, I would think it would be in her and your best interest to keep it that way. That means that you can't allow her to move in and suddenly jump on the "parent" band wagon. Boundaries are necessary and should be expected, but you can't be the one to make all of them.

In my experience with teaching teenagers (and I always wound up with the troubled ones), I have found you need to convince them that the right course is what is best for them. My rule always was: If a teenager comes to talk to you about their relationship (in any capacity) then they probably want your advice but they don't want to ask for it. So, having said that, make a list of the topics that need to be addressed before she moves in and have a meeting with her. And be tactfully honest with her. Tell her that there are some ground rules that need to be set before she moves in with you so that she is given the best opportunity to move forward in a positive way with her life and to put to rest some of your biggest concerns (take her out to dinner and discuss this over dinner. People rarely make scenes in public). Tell her that you know she lied to your mom and you can't have the same thing going on when she lives with you. Discuss EVERYTHING with her from her responsibilities around the house, school attendance and school work, friends, and boyfriends. You may as well put it out in the open. She's 16. She's going to have boyfriends. I wouldn't explicitly say, "We don't want you seeing this boy" because, like you said, she'll get defensive and shut down. So you might say, "When you start seeing someone, we want to see him around our house, too. You can't just go running off to his house all the time. If he's important to you then we want to know him, too. If you don't feel like you can bring him around here, then maybe you need to re-think your relationship. And if we see evidence that he's abusing you in any way, we will press charges against him (can you do that in the UK?) because our primary concern is you and your safety." She's a member of your household now and her input should be valued and taken seriously. Plus, if he's at your house (and it sounds like he's has some problems of his own), then it gives you an opportunity to model appropriate behaviors around him and you could wind up being a positive role model for them both!

Teenagers think they're adults and they want to be treated like an adult. Sometimes they make bad decisions and sometimes that means that they wind up having to live with the consequences of their bad decisions. But you will be surprised at how many teenagers will make the better decision. Allowing her to be a part of setting up the rules will serve a two-fold purpose:

  1. You'll all be calm and rational and not trying to set up these rules after something has happened and everyone is angry and emotional.
  2. Because she has a say in the rule, she automatically has a stake in it. If she breaks it, then all you can say is "You agreed to this rule. If it's no longer acceptable then let's plan a meeting and revise the rule." But that still means she has to be held accountable for breaking the rule that time.

Help her understand that the rules are to help her make the most of this "new start" she's been given. You're not trying to keep her away from her friends or anything like that, but you all have to acknowledge that her past has been rough and probably not as structured as it should have been. Above all you want her to feel safe and loved while not squelching her freedom or making her think she's a "bad" kid because nothing you've said about her makes her sound like she's a trouble-maker. The boundaries are as much for her benefit to keep her safe as it is to put your minds at ease.

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    After seeking advice from all over the place this is more or less what we ended up doing, the result is that actually things are running rather smoothly.
    – user9761
    Aug 7, 2014 at 15:19

Let me see if I understand this. You're the 16 year old's big brother (didn't say how old). Mum didn't set boundaries with her, so she was doing poorly at school, but you didn't really say if she had difficulty with good relationships with guys, or mention of drugs, illegal activity or other. She's moving in with you and your partner, but you're worried because she's getting involved with a guy you don't approve of (you mention anger management issues). You didn't set any parameters (boundaries) with her before she moved in, and she's already doing something you disapprove of. And, there is a lot of worry, and projection onto your sister of your fears. Come September, will she be going away to college or living with you while she attends?

Welcome to life with a teenager. If she's going away to college, there's very little you can do in the three or fewer months that she's living with you. It's a bit late to set ground rules now, and she will doubtlessly see them as an attempt to control her relationship with the guy you disapprove of. As a legal guardian of a 16 year old, (I'm not in the UK, so it might be different), you do have a right to set reasonable parameters with her, and it might be healthy, but what are you going to do if she refuses to comply? Will you turn her out, or send her to her mother? My guess is that you didn't take her in just to hurt her by abandoning her so soon.

You have loved and supported your sister, cared for her and been there for her. What has changed in this dynamic now that she's living with you? Did you have any control over her relationships before, that you expect to have some now? You seem to be afraid that she will not respect your advice/decisions. Honestly, she will probably respect them no more than she has before, and indeed, maybe less now that you'll be with her full time, and she may well lie to you to be able to maintain relationships that are important to her.

In spite of your love and concern for her, she is her own person now, and can't be "helped" unless she wants to be. You can't control her, and are not responsible for who she is. You can be loving and supportive, you can be someone she can trust, and someone she can turn to in a time of trouble or need, but you can't tell her what to do unless there is a consequence you are willing to impose on her if she disobeys. If you only have three months or less, I would recommend that you continue to work on your relationship with her, so that it continues to be a good example to her and that you can continue to be a source of emotional support.

You can also work on your own anxieties and expectations (which all caretakers have). She isn't responsible for the deep fears you have for her. Give good advice, but keep your fears mostly to yourself. Praise and encourage her good, responsible decisions, but don't poison your relationship with negative opinions of the behaviors you disapprove of, especially if they aren't criminal, drug related, etc (I don't know how you feel about sex.)

If it all feels overwhelming, get support for yourself. Since you share a number of issues (abusive dad, etc.), seeing a counselor/therapist/support group during this trying time might help you to set realistic, wise goals, and to distance yourself emotionally from the decisions she will inevitably make without you. If you think she needs one, maybe arrange for that in the vicinity of her college.

Love is infinitely more powerful than anger, and hope is much better than fear. I wish you well.

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    Thx for answering - we're 30, she's never had a proper relationship, she hasn't moved in yet, we've not even had a chance to set out the ground rules because of this. She's not going away when she starts college, (UK thing perhaps...) she's living with us indefinitely and is attending a local college. If she breaks parameters we set then we won't kick her out - we would however respond. I have already had lots of personal support from the system and am for all intents and purposes not a problem, mental health wise. I don't know about drugs - have asked. Safe sex is fine.
    – user9761
    Jul 18, 2014 at 5:02
  • College(USA) = University(UK). It's hard to explain the difference but the closest thing in the US system would be a 12th grade where students can choose to leave school to attend a more specialised institution typically for vocational / technical subjects but also for subjects too specialist for mainstream schools. Jul 19, 2014 at 21:41

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