I have an almost 12-year-old daughter. I also have 2 older daughters, 20 and 21.

My 12-year-old is out of control. She tells us to shut up, calls us stupid, is just mouthy. She throws her stuff everywhere (at least she doesn't throw stuff at us.) To even get her to help out is a war. She is terrible not only at home but at school as well. We take turns because we get so mad at her that we need to chill. She is rude to people all the time, I don't even want to take her anywhere. I have a hard time even getting anyone to stay with her when we go to work.

She doesn't like TV, computers, or anything, so taking something away doesn't really matter to her. I can't beat her. Whenever we discipline it's a big war. If we do anything she calls 911.

It seems she can be an angel one minute then Satan the next. I use to cry everyday because she is so bad. Her own sisters can't stand her because she treats us so badly. I don't know what to do. I am a mess. I need help. I don't know what I am doing wrong.

  • 8
    What happens when she calls 911? Do the police come? Does someone else in the family make contact with the dispatcher?
    – L.B.
    May 10, 2015 at 23:20
  • It definitely sounds like it's a terrible situation. Have you sought any input from a professional therapist -- at school since she's having trouble there, or independently either as a family or just for her?
    – Acire
    May 11, 2015 at 0:28
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    I am afraid that she must have started developing these temperaments at an earlier age. Is she discriminating in her behaviour or she is all the same with everyone? I suggest you to gather some feedback on her bevaiour in other ambiences (when she is not with her family). You can make an enquiry about her behaviour in her school and get a feedback on how she behave with her class mates or talk to her teachers? Does she have any friend of her age? If yes, get a feedback from him/her. Post here the gathered information.
    – a.s.
    May 11, 2015 at 5:02
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    No answer, but the 911 thing jumps out at me: If you allow your fear of CPS to rule you, then the child has won. Game over. She now rules the house. You might want to consider calling her bluff. I seriously doubt your daughter will like CPS any better. The CPS people have to deal with deadbeat parents, abusive parents, addict parents, etc. If your daughter is simply being ungrateful for well-meaning but flawed parents, CPS might give her a wake-up call. If she has a disorder, maybe CPS can help. CPS has a few idiots, but most are competent & caring. Your approach is failing anyway.
    – dmm
    May 11, 2015 at 15:54
  • 1
    Is there a father in the picture?
    – user24631
    Aug 24, 2017 at 3:55

8 Answers 8


Like others have pointed out, based on a small description on SE, we can only hint at possible insights. For definite answer you might have to speak with a professional.

The one thing that struck me in your question is the age gap between her and your other daughters. This means that's she's grown up in a household where everybody else was at least 8 years older than her. This basically means that she was always the child. She was likely constantly faced with siblings who were allowed to stay up later, go out. And whatever she tried to do her sisters were better at it.

Combined with the fact she doesn't like computers or TV or anything else (which is unusual for her age), suggests to me that's she's frustrated with these things, possibly because they remind her of her inferiority. 12 is a perfect age to start getting fed up with everybody thinking you're a child and good for nothing. And if you're then surrounded by people in their twenties and older, you get into a negative spiral, where the more you lash out, the more childish they think you are.

You mention taking things away, and punishing her. I think that kind of thinking might be exacerbating the problem (although I certainly understand you feel the need to try something). She may no longer want to be treated as a child, and she may want to see signs from you that you can see her that way.

Again, I'm just guessing here, but if you feel this interpretation rings true, you may want to try the following:

  • Consciously look for behavior patterns that make her feel like a child. For instance, at that age I became very irritated with my father explaining simple things to me that I already knew, or giving me elaborate instructions not to touch the stove when he left me at home alone. Eliminate these where possible.
  • Don't expect her to know why she's acting like this anymore than you do. Wait for a good moment (when she's calm) and try to talk to about it. Try be absolutely neutral and keep all judgement at bay. Just for a while, try and act like a therapist more than a parent: emotionally detached, and non-judgmental.
  • Give her more freedom and let her experience the consequences of her actions. The reason you punish her is because without your supervision these kinds of actions will get her into trouble. I'm not suggesting giving her the keys to the car, but if you think hard, I think you can work out a place to start. If you get her to talk you can even work out a plan together.
  • Try to give her responsibility for something that she's good at, better than you, your wife or your other daughters. Something that will make her feel confident. This is a difficult puzzle, since it won't help if you're humoring her, and doing the dishes won't build her self-esteem. Again, if you can get to a point where you're working on this together, that would be a massive help.

You raised two other daughters without getting that result, so you must have some knowledge about good parenting. One thing to consider is what is different between the environment my older two daughters were raised and that in which my youngest was raised? Is there a different father? Is there some different stressor (is there a possibility that she's being bullied at school/does she have a learning disorder which might be slowing her down as school becomes more demanding/is there instability or chaos - not of her own making - in her life, etc.) This is a clear starting point for your own analysis.

I don't know what I am doing wrong.

Parenting = guilt. If ever there is something wrong, a conscientious parent always assumes they are doing something wrong. And, I'm sure you are doing something wrong; every one of us has done at least a few things incorrectly. This doesn't mean you're the cause of her bad behavior.

I hope you will get a lot of advice on how to discipline an adolescent more effectively (if you don't, I'll edit my answer to add that.) Clearly, learning to disengage and set consistent boundaries with consistent, effective consequences is very important, as are learning new, positive rewarding interactions.

However, sometimes there is nothing that you specifically did "wrong". That is the case with a group of psychiatric disorders called disruptive behavior disorders (DBD), perhaps the most common of which is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

Even usually well-behaved children can be problematic at times, especially adolescents, but kids with ODD show a consistent pattern of angry and verbally aggressive behaviors, usually aimed at parents and other authority figures, such as teachers, babysitters, coaches, police officers, etc.

It can be difficult to know when someone just has problem behaviors versus ODD. Three behaviors consistent with ODD are deliberately annoying and upsetting others, an inability to take responsibility for their wrong behavior* (always blaming circumstances/others for their mistakes), and being spiteful or vindictive.

The reason I jumped to ODD instead of the usual advice is that you mention

  • she causes so much family disruption that only one of you at a time tries to deal with her
  • she is having problems at school
  • her arguments are excessive for kids her age (she dials 911 on you)
  • she seems to act out spicifically on authority figures (adult siblings/parents/teachers/babysitters.)

If - if - she has ODD, it's important to find out, not to put her on medications as some are quick to point out, but because there is a systematic and helpful approach to ODD that has already been shown to be of benefit, which involves teaching coping skills to the child as well as new sets of interactions on the part of the parents.

Please have a look at the two references below. If you find she fits the pattern (some exploration of her behavior with teachers at school would need to be undertaken first, though), please enlist the help of a competent child therapist who can do a thorough evaluation of your daughter and the home environment.

ODD:A Guide for Families by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorder: A Review of the Past 10 Years, Part I


My 12 year old is out of control. She tells us to shut up, calls us stupid, is just mouthy.

She doesn't like TV, computers or anything so you cant take it away she doesn't really care.

Wow, it certainly sounds like you lost the power struggle there. I think she's probably trying to prove that you can't control her. I suggest you re-open the lines of communication by explaining that you don't have any expectations other than civility, but that you do expect civility until she is old enough to move out on and live on her own. Civility in this context just means refraining from telling people to 'shut up' or name calling (or violence, but it doesn't sound like that has been a problem). Make it clear that, other than that, she can do whatever she wants (within the bounds of the law), and you have no other expectations. Also make it clear that you're always going to be there should she want your advice on anything. The goal here is to appeal to her innate sense of fairness as well as make it clear that you've understood that you can't control her. Hopefully, if she sees that she's proved her point, she'll cut it out.

Of course, the flip side is, if you're going to stick to your end of the bargain, you'll have to hold your tongue and let her manage her own affairs when it comes to academic performance, etc, and this may be quite difficult for some parents.


Under control vs. self control

One of the issues when growing up is that there is a transition at one point where a kid that is controlled by the parents and the school system needs to move into a position where support takes over and control moves away - eventually completely once the kid is taking control itself over its life.

A big amount of fights between parents and kids comes from the situation where the kid thinks that its misunderstood and that the controls imposed by the parents are not making sense to the kid. There is an impression of not being understood and an urge to fight against the control.

While she is clearly still too young to take completely control over her own life (i.e. getting a job and moving out), there is the question in the room where you can agree with her to lower the amount of control that you feel is needed and hand control in these aspects over to her. I would consider where you are controlling her life and behavior and in what aspects you can hand over control to her without impacting family life too much. For example, is cleaning up her room really needed? Or is that something that in the end only impacts herself?

You could try to make a list of items that you are willing to give her control over - given that she behaves accordingly to warrant the trust. Give her immediately control over things that you can ignore and where the impact affects herself more than the family and present her with a list of items you would allow her to do in case she changes her behavior in a way that allows a peaceful life in the family.

While you seem to have (tried to) controlled her in the past with punishments, try to reward her instead with something. Psychologically this is a much stronger incentive from my experience. Make it clear to her that you all do not need to agree on everything, but that by law she won't get around living together with you. If you act towards her more as an equal trying to strike a deal than punishing her for not meeting your expectations, you might get much further.


I would suggest soliciting the help of a professional at this point. It will take a few weeks, but a therapist will help you figure out what is going on in your daughter's head, and give you and her some strategies. One thing you want is for your daughter to develop a healthy clinical relationship with this therapist (in other words, trust). That means the therapist is not for you. So if you need someone to talk to about coping with the situation, either find another therapist, or at least get separate appointments.

Based solely on your description, which may be wildly off base (which is why you need to locate a therapist), it sounds like your daughter may be experiencing some pretty severe depression and/or anxiety. It's not normal for a 12 year old to have few interests, and losing interest in things is a sign of depression. People with depression often lash out as well, saying things they don't really mean, and then in turn feel guilty about what they've said, which reinforces the cycle of thinking that brings depression ("I'm worthless. I am so mean. Obviously there's something very wrong with me." etc.)


In families, like all other co-operative societal formations, members need a sense of responsibility and belonging, otherwise they will take upon themselves to resolve their status when they become aware that their participation is not appreciated or that their well-being cannot be assumed to others.

Seeing the many shortcomings you have enumerated, I could assume that she is acting out of distress and sporting exactly the kind of features you would dread to experience from her. There is a point to be made there, one that expresses that you are deeply failing her both as a guardian and a parent.

Young individuals are willed and strongly attuned to their desires, but may not necessarily posses the facilities to express and communicate themselves to others. I would recommend that you prepare yourself to embark on a different kind of journey, where your efforts are to understand your daughter, to help her openly convey where you or her surroundings have wronged and disappointed her and to devise and refine approaches which can help you reconcile with her and create a more comfortable environment which can nurture her innate being, before her behavior and your current relationships become a permanent, irreversible feature.

When it comes to bridging long-standing gaps between people, I cannot recount instances where others have expressed that it initially set off as a pleasant experience for the parties involved--you will certainly be surprised by her feedback if she speaks with an open mind and an open heart, but not bailing out once you set yourself to amend the situation is paramount, or you may severely diminish your parental disposition.

While it is certainly more reputable if individuals are competent enough to resort their dealings among themselves, if you find that you aren't making any desirable progress, introducing a neutral, professional mediator should then become a necessity. They are experienced at clarifying intrafamily relationships and elucidating everyone's concerns, even to those that may not be fully capable to encompass them on their own.

  • 3
    Some very good points, but I can't upvote an answer that includes "you are deeply failing her both as a guardian and a parent." When you express such a strong sentiment, it should be backed by fact, not opinion. I would like to see some references that support your position(s). May 11, 2015 at 3:13
  • I don't have experience in related applied sciences to provide fact-based evidence for situations that arise from human factors. However, the age disparity between my closest sibling is 9 years, I've been pressured to attain their historical successes, critically assessed my parents early on, experienced grievous mistreatment from their behalf and resorted to waging household war against their shortcomings by the time of puberty. From my point of view, this strongly correlates with the OP's daughter, including her potential misperception of the situation. I am erring on the side of caution. May 11, 2015 at 16:41
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    As have we all. Parental experience is very valuable and we ask parents to share on this site. But we also like good references. If you want to answer without references, perhaps you might consider not making such strong claims. If you do, you will continue to be challenged in comments. That's all I'm pointing out. May 11, 2015 at 16:53

I'll preface my answer by saying that I have no idea if your daughter has Tourette Syndrome.

We figured out that our son (just turned 12 now) has Tourette Syndrome (TS) a year and a half ago. It's a neurological disorder. A short video introduction is at http://www.cpri.ca/uploads/section000026/files/2.wmv, a short print introduction, http://www.cpri.ca/uploads/section000121/files/367p_ts%20fact%20sheet.pdf, and more information at http://www.cpri.ca/content/brake-shop-clinic.aspx

Since getting the diagnosis, back talk rarely bothers me as much as it used to. Once in a while it is hurtful, for example if I just made an honest mistake and my son says "dumb butt". Then I tell him, "That's hurtful in this context," and he generally apologizes.

The reason the back talk doesn't bother me as much as it used to is that now I know that this child can't help it.

Let's review your observations. Disrespectful, insulting, messy, behavior problems in school, doesn't enjoy anything.

Not enjoying anything is a red flag for possible depression. Messy is a red flag for possible executive dysfunction. The mouthiness and backtalk could be an indication of ADHD and/or Tourette Syndrome.

You didn't say whether she is learning well academically; but even if she isn't, the behavior problems in school are by themselves enough of a problem to warrant some screening for the conditions I mentioned.

It can be so helpful to know what you're dealing with, and connect with parents who are dealing with the same condition -- for mutual moral support, for deep understanding, and for practical coping tips. I would strongly encourage you to make an appointment with her pediatrician or whatever sort of primary provider she has, for a preliminary evaluation. You and the doctor can then discuss whether it would make sense to pursue a more thorough evaluation.

Separate from all that -- your role is so difficult that I hope you will take some time to strengthen your support system.

  • +1 for "take some time to strengthen your support system"
    – cmbarbu
    May 14, 2015 at 7:31

Find a good counselor, but definitely try to get her to open up about her feelings to you as well. Sometimes a third party is better.

As for the behavior and the violent throwing scary stuff, remember this. She is learning this from somewhere.

  • You - Is she learning it from you or someone else in the household? Teach her to be calm at all times.

  • Friends - Is she learning it from a friend who behaves this way? You can not influence the behavior of her friends or friends parents, but you can influence the time she spends with them (minimize).

  • TV/Media - Is she consuming a lot of media with "rage"-ey teenagers? My kids became little snark experts after watching back to back episodes of "Jessie", and did not cut it out until I banned it.

Do you have any similar experiences you can share with her in your own experience with anger to help her? She probably doesn't "want" to act like this, and realizing that she is not the only one who ever did and what she can do to help control it would be useful to her.

Show her empathy for her feelings. Be her ally, help her achieve her goals and what is important to her. Growing up is scary, help her feel more safe.

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