Last December we were victims of a vehicle accident that killed my husband and left my son severely brain damaged. My daughter who is 12 and will be 13 in couple months was the only one in our vehicle that didn't sustain any life threatening injuries (only a broken foot).

Ever since, she seems to be full of hate, never listens, comes and goes as she pleases, back talks and cusses me out, bragging how good her life was when her brother and I were in a coma fighting for life. Wishing we died blaming me for everything, and always complaining how bad her life is.

Keep in mind she is on the school cheer team, gets straight A's in school, and by far never goes without. I've tried and tried to get her to go to counseling but the only response I get is "you can make me go but don't expect me to say a word". I don't even know who my little girl is anymore and I'm desperate to fix it before its too late .

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    I'm sorry for your loss. Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 14:27
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    Survivor guilt Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 16:23
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    Has brain damage been ruled out? Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 19:59
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    Even though she says "you can make me go but I won't say a word," I'd think counseling professionals are experienced in dealing with that kind of resistance and anger. Maybe talk to one about whether they think it would be worth a try. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 18:33
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    In addition to survivor's guilt, your daughter may be blaming you for the loss of her father. People don't behave rationally when they have been traumatized. A psychologist once told me that teenage boys who lose their mothers often develop misogyny. They blame their mothers for dying and that anger transfers to all women. Unbearable pain looks for an outlet, and anger provides a shield against pain. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 20:46

12 Answers 12


I've tried and tried to get her to go to counseling but only response I get you can make me go but don't expect me to say a word.

So, make her go. Therapists have a way of getting people to talk, and while it may not "cure" her, it certainly can't hurt.

I'm not excusing her behavior; I'm sure it's extremely painful and confusing. From her perspective, though, her whole family (unless there are others) died/almost died and she got out with relatively little damage. That age is hard to begin with, then something very bad happened. She lost her father, and her brother as she knew him, and almost lost you. She may have severe abandonment issues, survivor's guilt, etc. But it's clear she has a lot of unresolved emotional conflict over the event.

She needs an outside party, preferably a professional, to discuss her feelings with. It's incredibly boring to sit in a room without talking for 50 minutes. It's very likely she'll start to talk, and when she does, she'll be talking with someone who knows some ways to help her.

I don't think this is something you should try to deal with alone. Give her this and a lot of time (the fact that she's still getting As in school and cheering is a good sign.) You might also consider visiting a therapist yourself to help you understand possible reasons for your daughter's (re)actions, and help with how to cope with the hurtful behavior she's exhibiting. This is the only advice I can think of to give. I wish you all peace.

  • There were a number of interesting comments here, but a number of flags were raised. Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat in toto with my apologies. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 21:02

My daughter...was only one in our vehicle that didn't sustain any life threatening injuries (only a broken foot)

Your daughter suffered a severe trauma. Such events don't necessarily leave physical signs, but they are absolutely life threatening if left untreated. Suicide is a real threat.

If you took your daughter to a doctor to get her broken foot set because she was exhibiting signs of pain, then you should take your daughter to a doctor to get her emotions set because, as you've already described, she's exhibiting signs of pain.

It's important to be aware, and also to remind your daughter that none of this is her fault, and none of this is punishment.

If she had cut her finger severely and was telling you she didn't need to go to the hospital for stitches, I imagine you wouldn't hesitate to overrule her because you're her mother and you care about her well being and need to make sure there's no lasting damage. The exact same logic applies here. If she doesn't like it, that's OK. She's twelve.

  • Get a referral for a psychologist from your primary care physician yesterday.
  • Ask specifically for someone with experience treating childhood trauma.
  • Get another referral for a psychologist from your primary care physician, this one's for you. You also suffered a severe trauma, and you need to make sure that you're OK as well.

And last of all, I am just a random stranger on the internet. Please consult an actual professional and follow their advice over mine.

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    It's one thing to point out that there is obvious emotional trauma that has to be taken seriously. It's quite another to tell a victim of severe physical trauma that her statement about, clearly, the physical injuries is "incorrect." -1 for taking what could be important positive feedback and putting a bit of a jerk spin on it. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 18:36
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    @AndrewMattson, In my point of view OP did not consider trauma to be a life threatening injury, and my statement was intended to point this out so that it can be addressed. I have no intention of being a jerk, however I understand that such discussions can be painful. My preference is to "rip off the band-aid" and speak plainly and clearly. I fully understand that not everyone appreciates a direct approach. Thank you for your feedback.
    – zzzzBov
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 18:45
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    I appreciate that's what you were trying, but when you see the description of what the daughter went through, realizing the OP also went through it, plus much more severe physical injuries (she doesn't mention hers, but says that her daughter was the only one who didn't suffer physical injuries that were immediately life-threatening, so we know OP was badly injured), and she's the one having to try and keep the household together in the aftermath.... perhaps you have to let a bit more of a scab/scar to form before ripping that bandage off. Thank you for your measured explanation. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 19:01
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    You could say "not the whole picture" instead of "incorrect"? It feels like you're taking advantage of the OP's phrasing to make a clever remark, but you could make the same point just as clearly without also saying the OP is wrong. (And if you read "injuries" as "physical injuries" they're not even incorrect - just perhaps missing a piece, which I think is the important thing you wanted to say anyway.)
    – Cascabel
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 19:26
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    Yes, the answer overall is good, it's just that one sentence, so it's not surprising to get plenty of upvotes. And... exactly, some people are more sensitive to it than others, and you never know whether one of those more sensitive people might be the OP (who hasn't commented anywhere; silence doesn't indicate one way or the other) or some future reader in a similar situation. Sure, it's not absolutely necessary to be careful to avoid upsetting people (including a parent who's in a horrible situation), but why not err on the side of kindness?
    – Cascabel
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 6:07

I agree with everything that has been said about counseling - do that first and foremost.

Her situation

But let me add this: it is not unheard of for children in puberty to act like your daughter (and the age seems to fit). Obviously you cannot forget the impact of her trauma, but if you had left the story about your accident away and just told us this about your daughter:

she seems to be full of hate, never listens, comes and goes as she pleases, back talks and cusses me out, bragging how good her life was when her brother and I were [away]. Wishing we died blaming me for everything, and always complaining how bad her life is.

Then my advice would maybe also to get counseling (family therapy / youth therapy), but on the other hand my advice would also have been that that can happen with pretty normal children, out of the blue sky, when they enter puberty.

Your situation

So while you absolutely must see trauma counseling for your daughter, yourself, maybe both together (let the counselor help you find a good combination), I have an advice for yourself: it might be that you are in for a quite long time span where your daughter behaves like this. It might be that you will find it very hard indeed to change your daughter. Be glad that she seems to cope with the "real world" and only freaks out in the family. Try to see the good stuff, and allow her to become her own person. I know from experience that that can be very hard to the extent that you can't seem to manage; and there is help out there. But it could well be that the behaviour of your daughter has always been in your future, and has just been accelerated by the accident.

Especially shouting really evil things (like the wish that you should die) is a well-known trope - children hardly know what they are saying, in those situations, and will utter things that are ridiculously hormone-driven nonsense. Unfortunately, when emotions are high, it is hard to see that, and especially intelligent children like your daughter have a knack to hit where it hurts.

You can either fight with her for the next 10 years. Or work hard on yourself to find a way to cope with that behaviour/mindset without taking more harm yourself than you already did. If you find a good therapist for the trauma issue, even if they work mainly with your daughter, be sure to get a sitting or two with them alone. They should be able to help you getting over the initial shock of your daughter changing in this way.

Whatever you do, get all the help you can. In addition to counseling, maybe you can intensify her contacts with same-age friends (ask her to invite them to stay over, more often, etc.); maybe you find distant family that can do stuff with your daughter in her free time, and so on. Maybe there is some youth centre in your city where you can introduce your daughter and give her a group of new friends. Maybe you find new hobbies where she can live out her energies (music, dancing...).

As others said, I'm just a person on the net. Your counselor should overrule whatever you read here.

She is not you

Puberty is high time to put a clear separation between your child and yourself. You have to see and acknowledge that problems that your child has are not automatically your problems.

Note, as it has been commented on: When I say "their problems are not your problems" I mean that you should not try to "own" their problems. You do not need to *solve* all their problems for them. You should still love them, be open for them, help them with whatever they need, but allow them to grow from solving their own challenges wherever they can.

she seems to be full of hate

That is her problem, do not make it yours. You can help her solve it (by sending her to counseling etc.), but don't let her hate affect you.

never listens

100% normal.

Avoid the need for her to listen to you. This means you stop telling her what to do on a day-to-day basis (i.e., no "it is cold, wear a thicker sweater", "have you eaten/brushed your teeth/ etc."). We are not talking life-threatening things here.

Let her do a few things wrong, and the universe will tell her where some limits are (by getting a cold, getting bad teeth etc.).

If you have a problem with TV/sweets consumption or the like, then talking is not a particularly good way to solve it. Plugs can be pulled, TVs can be removed, sweets can be left at the store, etc. ... or you decide that this is not a very important problem, and just let it go for now; or, if you are so inclined, indulge together with her.

Speaking of which, this is also a good time to ramp up her allowance while at the same time having her buy more stuff herself instead of buying it for her.

All of this means she takes on more responsibilities, which is what she wants, and it is a good thing.

comes and goes as she pleases

Well, this is something you will need to "fight out" with her.

Tell her a clear time span in which she can come and go as she pleases. Make sure that she tells you where she goes. Avoid any kind of discussion, and cut her as much slack as you can without it getting really dangerous. (She cannot go into a drinking place at night, obviously.) Keep it on a factual base.

back talks and cusses me out

Welcome to the club. :)

bragging how good her life was when her brother and I were [away]. Wishing we died blaming me for everything, and always complaining how bad her life is.

Hormones talking. She hurts and at that age she does not know a solution except to hurt someone else. Counseling will help to give her another outlet. Don't let it get to you, she is not herself.

And even if she is herself, and it's not puberty, but she really really means it, then you still do not let it get to you. It is her problem, not yours. Your job is to make sure she has ways to get out of her situation (by counseling and by staying open to her). You are of course allowed to let her know when she crosses lines, you are not supposed to "flop over" and just take a beating every day. But don't let it get to you, you have to protect yourself just as much as her.

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    +1 for mentioning that it might be an ordinary teen behavior (perhaps on accelerated schedule) and for providing specific steps that can help managing it. A therapist is not a magic wand: it is worth a try but the advances in modern psychology are not at the same level as in modern physics or technology (replicability crisis). Consider how to allocate limited resources accordingly.
    – jfs
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 4:10
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    This. The 'other' two answers amount to comments about going to counseling and why, and their OPs seemed to have stopped reading after the first paragraph. And ignored the two other tags on the question: preteen and discipline, which make the second paragraph paramount, +1. - MRW first reading the OP: isn't this every child ever; just in an exceptional situation that will require a more delicate approach than usual?
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 1:26
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    "hat is her problem, do not make it yours. " -- I wonder how you would have behaved after such a loss. In the absence of such a loss, some aspects of your advice like this one are inauthentic.
    – PKG
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 19:39
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    @PKG that depends on how you interpret that sentence. I do not advise to be cold, to show her daughter "the shoulder" or something like that. I do not tell her to downplay the problems of her daughter; just to make a very definite distinction between her daughter and herself. You will also notice that I use that particular notion for very concrete aspects of the topic (like the hatefulness). I do not say, not even marginally, that the accident is the problem of her daughter and not hers.
    – AnoE
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 20:01
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    @PKG If two people have a relationship (regardless of that relationship being parent-child, spouses, or just friends), and person A exhibits an emotion (say, anger), and person B responds in kind, then person B is just contributing to the emotion, and not helping resolve the issue. By noticing the child's problems, but not becoming emotionally invested by contributing emotion back into the situation, then one can help the child find an outlet that doesn't involve hateful emotion. Lead by example, and what not. We're human, not binary computers.
    – uxp
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 20:54

It may be that the only way to get her to go to a therapist is to make it something that you'll do with her. Sometimes, the best way to get two people to talk to each other is to put them in a room with a therapist who can hopefully guide the discussion. This may not be successful on the first or second or third therapy visit. But if you give it some time, there's a good chance that it will help improve your relationship with your daughter. The hope is that eventually, your daughter will want to meet with the therapist without you, to tell her side of the story. that would be a major milestone.

  • Interesting that others stated reasons for specifically going to separate therapists. Not judging or declaring either one to be right or wrong, just noting. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 18:38
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    @AndrewMattson: Ideally, they should probably do both, that is go to a therapist alone to work on how to cope with the situation personally, and go together (to the same or another therapist) to work on how to cope together (and with each other). These are different (though related) issues.
    – sleske
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 12:26

It might be worth considering that, given her age, your period of absence, her academic performance and that she seems to fit in well at school, the problem might be partially on your end.

At her age, kids start to grow independent. She isn't there by far, and isn't supposed to, and her lack of emotional maturity is obvious, but still she has to develop as an independent adult and has only got a few years left to do so. Normally, kids go through this fase together with their parents, changing (often painfully) in tandem, but because of your absence she has been forced to change too quickly and you are still stuck in the parent-of-a-little-girl mindset. You are coming in and reasserting control as if she's much younger than she is, pushing her away even further.

This is something that you have to work on together. And who knows, maybe your daughter might be more receptive to counselling if you make it clear you are going as well, and that it isn't her fault per se. (That said, some things are simply not okay, like how she's handling her brother's situation. And, assuming it wasn't your fault, the accident and how she deals with her survivor's guilt. But I don't think you can fix that before your relationship is fixed and there's still time.)


I only have a few things to add to the other answers posted.

You mention that she's an A student, with extra curricular activities. The only "out of control" behavior you have mentioned is her behavior towards you. I'm sure that that behavior is extremely hard for you to bear, but you're the adult in your relationship, and it's your job to be the mature one. Try to understand where she's coming from. At thirteen it's unlikely she has the vocabulary and emotional tools to cope with what she has been through.

In fact it's unlikely that you have the tools either, since our society doesn't really pay a lot of attention to that sort of thing. We don't have courses in school on emotional resiliency and effective communication in relationships. Most of our public role models are terrible in this regard. That's why we have therapists. Try to find a good one for yourself, and maybe they can help you cope.

I think getting your daughter to therapy is an excellent idea. I would first start going myself, since you are having an equally hard time as her, and try to encourage her by example. If that doesn't work you can try dragging her, but an unwilling patient is likely to see less progress than a willing one, so that's a difficult decision.

Beyond therapy, my advice is to forgive her. She's lashing out because she's in pain. That's entirely natural and plenty of adults haven't learned any better coping mechanisms. Your job now is try to help her learn those coping mechanisms -- and the best way you can do that is by providing a good example. So just keep forgiving her and giving her unconditional positive regard (pay attention to her, listen to what she has to say, don't judge).

A teenager lashing out at their parents isn't particularly troubling behavior, even in the absence of the kind of trauma you've detailed. So don't make it into anything troubling. On the other hand, under the circumstances it seems to be an obvious indication of pain. So ignore the fact that it's directed at you, and acknowledge, understand and try to feel her pain.

If she starts developing any really troubling behavior (suicidal tendencies, hard drug use, potentially dangerous lifestyle choices... ) then you might need to consider doing something about it.


I am again going to plug Art Therapy for trauma, grief and loss, among other things. Some things are difficult to talk about for any one. Adults self-censor, young children don't have the conceptual framework or vocabulary for talk therapy. Making art is itself therapeutic, and is a universal language. A trained Art Therapist will be able to help your daughter work through her issues in a safe, contained space, that does not release more "demons". She can go, and she doesn't have to "say a word", although she probably will before long. A good therapist will gently and gradually establish a trusting relationship with her and coax her out. Yes, "make her" go. Eventually the resistance will disappear as she finds that it is a positive rather than a negative experience for her.


I concur with those who suggest you send her to therapy, even though she's resisting it. It will help.

In addition, I recommend this book:

When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses by John W. James, Russell Friedman, Leslie Matthews

It will give you some insight into why she's acting out the way she is.


We had a similar situation in my family and only looking for refuge in God we could be able to go out, handle and resist the situation.

This is hard test you passed and continue passing through in your life.

The best therapy is become closer and closer to God, pray, pray and pray. Ask God for your family. Forgive, forgive and forgive. If you don't believe in God, in fateful day is the day you can begin to believe. When we feel good we forget think in God.

Look for medical/psychological help, but please go to look for spiritual guidance with a priest. Tell all what happened and request him to make an pray for you and your family.

God bless you!

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    @radaozkal This only works if they are religious (and the kid too), but perhaps they are. A diversity in the answers is useful, IMO.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 21:50

Look to the long-term aims, which I suggest are:

  1. a good adult to adult relationship in (say) ten years from now
  2. freedom from traumatic harm

The first needs vast patience (prayer helps!), perhaps advice from books or in person - ideally from older single parents whose children have passed through an "exciting" puberty. But choose one person you can trust, not multiple sources.

The second probably does need therapy - if you choose separate therapists, it may help if they are from the same practice and you both give them permission to talk to one another?

If your daughter - and you - would cope with it, it may help to discuss together the fact that this can't go on, neither of you is coping etc etc and to decide together what to do - recognising that whatever you do will have risks. This might need therapy beforehand.

I wonder if her care while you were in a coma was less than ideal - maybe things were said or done which stoked the fire.


I deleted my first answer. I'm sorry if it was insulting. I'm rewriting because I think I'm in a helping position.

There are some questions to ask yourself before seeking help because it will give you an idea of where to go first.

1. Is this a mental illness? For instance, trying to reason with an unmedicated first-break schizophrenic is mostly a waste of time. If it's obvious someone is severely impaired across the board, you might seek a psychiatrist first. However, major mental illness seems highly unlikely in your case. The three major areas of functioning in youth are home, school, and social. Illness requires at least 2 of the 3 to be affected. That's a good sign she has only one affected

2. What is your goal? ""I want my little girl back" is not a good goal. It's too ambiguous and most parents lament this across the board. You have to think about this hard.

3. What is the risk? Although statistics vary because of the inherent difficulties collecting data, girls 12-17 have a tendency to become acutely dysphoric and invade the medicine cabinet, taking whatever they find. This baseline rate is 2-12% of the American population, lets call it 5 %, but I would bet its higher. (The rate of boys is one-tenth as high, but the lethality is four times greater.) Fortunately, its really hard to kill yourself in a medication-cabinet overdose. Deaths occur rarely, but even an attempt I would call a bad outcome. The rate of suicide attempt triples in traumatized women. That's the risk. You don't want a young, female, trauma victim to get worse. This is purely statistical, and hopefully this is never something that happens in your life.

4. Is this a grief issue? This is your best-case scenario. Any textbook or internet search will define for you the stages of grief. These are ubiquitous; its amazing that any human behavior can be consistent from person to person (excluding the sociopaths). Increases in structure and exercise and time should be sufficient with or without therapy. The longer one is in pain for, the more likely they are to seek professional help. In the treatment of grief, professional help is usually successful with minimal risk. I don't agree with the parenting model that forces a 12-yo into mental health treatment with absence of illness, but my reasoning is complicated and I have no statistics to rely on.

5. Is this an interpersonal problem? Maybe Op's daughter's dad is an irreplaceable force in her life. She needs to be able to trust her mom, but every time she talks to her mom, from her perspective, the task gets pawned off to a therapist. This is a terrible fight; if you win the battle you'll lose the war of her trust; then look out, you've got real problems. There is absolutely nothing wrong going to family counseling; it will show you take her seriously. And it will allow you both to heal, together. If you're going to go to a therapist, this is the only one that makes sense to me. No, no parent wants to be told by anyone that 100% of their decisions aren't 100% correct. This is your burden for the benefit of your child. And you already have so much on your plate...

6. Is this due to trauma? Trauma counseling is by far the most difficult form of mental health treatment. More than bipolar disorder, more than schizophrenia, the risks are high, the behaviors unpredictable, and the general rule is victims entering treatment will get worse before they get better.

There are two phases of trauma care. In the first phase, there is need for safety, stability, and consistency. Is the loss of income going to make you homeless?. "Its going to be OK" is a powerful tool to use for widowed parents. Long term recovery involves remodulating ones nervous system. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Meds help, but without a healthy lifestyle, its just another pill to have in the cabinet.

In conclusion:

  1. Talk to your daughter, listen to what she has to say, and put all the options on the table

  2. Exercise is the only thing you don't have to choose carefully

  3. Consider a reward system at home. Money works. How about $1 for every hour between 3 and 10 ahe behaves M-F. At best that's $35 a week, a healthy allowance.

  4. Decide what kind of treatment you want. I would STRONGLY caution against trauma-based individual therapy.

  5. Prayer helps, seriously

Good luck

  • This answer really confuses me. There's no mention of suspicion of schizophrenia; no explicit expectation that she will ever act 'unaffected' by the trauma; you're warning her about suicide, but you discourage therapy multiple times (in your last answer said therapy does more harm than good); assumes that mom doesn't try to talk to her ("every time she talks to her mom,...[she gets] pawned off to a therapist."). So much confusion, that boils down to "give it time'? Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 2:57

Sell/give away all her stuff including clothes and provide her with only the bare minimum, jeans and white t-shirts. As she behaves, then slowly giver he stuff that she likes. If you are feeling generous, you can put her stuff in storage but don't tell her. Slowly take it out as she behaves.

Teens sense of identity is inexorably linked to fashion, and there could be no worse punishment you could inflict. As she learns (or relearns) proper etiquette, she will get rewarded.

This is advice in a book by a doctor https://www.amazon.com/Defiant-Child-Parents-Oppositional-Disorder/dp/0878339639/

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    Given the trauma that the daughter has endured, it seems unlikely that a very strict system of punishments and rewards will help the OP rebuild trust and a good relationship with her daughter. It might "teach" proper etiquette, but it is also likely to increase resentment and reinforce the daughter's sense of being abandoned and hurt and misunderstood.
    – Acire
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 18:19
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    Well, if enforcing rigid compliance for its own sake takes precedence over getting to the root of and dealing with a child's severe emotional trauma from a horrific event, then this is awesome advice. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 18:41
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    Trauma + Aggressive Punishment != Positive Result Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 22:17
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    @Chloe I'm trying to point out that given the circumstances that may have precipitated the unacceptable behavior, an overly strict approach risks worsening the underlying trauma that precipitated such extreme changes. I'm not saying let her get away with being unacceptable -- just that your suggestion isn't likely to work.
    – Acire
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 21:31
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    "Teens sense of identity is inexorably linked to fashion" - while this can be true for a subset of teens this is in no way universal. "there could be no worse punishment you could inflict" - first of all, punishment is not an appropriate reaction to this. And secondly there is aboslutely no way I, you or any other person reading the question can come with anything more accurate than wild speculations on what actually would be the worst punishment. I will hold "restricting time for her to spend with her friends" to be another highly likely worst candidate. Again, punishment is the wrong answer.
    – hlovdal
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 14:50

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