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I am mentoring a 15 year old girl who is just now going in to 9th grade because of failing her last grade. Emotionally, she's fairly immature but starting to get into teenage girl things like makeup and hair. Of course she wants to have her own device and constantly talk to her friends (of which she has few), but when we've tried that, it hasn't gone well.

She is very aggressive socially and seems to have an over-inflated sense of self. This is almost an anomaly in dealing with children. You're usually trying to build self-esteem, not take it down a peg or two - and I don't know what to do.

She also has ADD and I don't know if that plays into any of this. She has a very permissive and absent mother. From some things I've read, that may be where this comes from. She lets her kids watch whatever adult movies/shows they want to and read adult books. She lets her 12 year old boy play video games ALL. DAY. LONG. And basically she does this because she's not there. She goes to work at 3pm and doesn't get home until midnight.

So her daughter now has this idea that she's better than everyone, is very judgmental, even to the point that she's a little racist. Even if her mother's neglect caused this, I'm really open to any advice on how to walk it back and have her experience some humility. I just have no idea what to do.

(More background: She's not popular in school and she's 5'2" and weighs 230 lbs. This has not deterred her confidence. (Not that it should, but just usually does.) Even though she can be socially aggressive, she can also be shy and shut down in new places.)

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    What is your relationship to this person? Are you in a position of authority over her (I'm not sure what "mentoring" involves in this case)? – anongoodnurse Aug 25 '17 at 3:04
  • Yes, I am in a position of authority. And since her mother is so absent, I've kind of stepped in as parent. I'm finally giving her boundaries and holding her to standards. She's been responsive until the last few weeks when her attitude imploded and she became really ungrateful. But the over-confidence has always been there. – Elorah Aug 25 '17 at 3:25
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    Are you sure it's an over-inflated ego... and NOT overcompensating LOW self-esteem? – Layna Aug 25 '17 at 6:17
  • Ditto: Layna. An absentee mother is a huge hit to the self-esteem of any kid. I hear a defensive mechanism in what you're describing. – Adam Heeg Aug 25 '17 at 13:43
  • @Layna No I'm not sure she's not overcompensating. I'm describing her behavior as I've known it. The only thing I've seen her have low esteem about is academics and she definitely doesn't feel like her mother cares. But if she is overcompensating, it's deep in her subconscious. If this ego is a defense mechanism, what do I do? – Elorah Aug 26 '17 at 19:55
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The behaviors you describe sound really typical of a teenager, particularly one who was already struggling with self-esteem issues. I think all teenagers go through a period of time when they try and categorize things as GOOD or BAD, with no shades of gray in between. It takes some time and additional growth before they can begin to understand that things can be positive even if they also have negative elements to them.

Imagine someone who thinks this way, and then notices both positive and negative elements within themselves. That person is either going to discount the positive elements and call themselves all bad, or discount the negative, and call themselves all good. If she is already fighting against feeling badly about herself, she may well tend to overcompensate in the other direction, by trying to convince everyone around her (and thereby convince herself) that everything about her is perfect.

The behaviors you mention in your comments are even more typically teenage-when I was 15, my sister could have been dying of the plague, and that still wouldn't have been important enough for me to interrupt my telephone conversation about whether that cute guy was going to ask me to the dance.

As for how to deal with this behavior, I think you are on the right track when you mention setting boundaries. When she says things that are inappropriate, mean or racist, call her on it and tell her that you won't allow her to speak that way around you. She will very probably stomp off and refuse to talk with you in the moment, but if you continue to be there for her, she will come back to you again.

If her brother is ill, and you have to focus on him instead of her, she will be peeved at you, and you just have to explain that there are times when other people need you more, and that you would do the same for her in similar circumstances.

With kids in general, but I think especially with teenagers, it is vitally important to set consistent limits that they can rely on. They will then use that consistency as a baseline and will experiment to see how far those boundaries can stretch. If you let them get away with moving past a boundary in a particular situation, you need to have a good reason that you can articulate to them for allowing that boundary to be breached; otherwise they really do need consistency so that they have something to test against.

Also, in my experience the best way to teach appropriate behaviors in my kids as teens was to model it consistently, and to call them on it only when it was particularly egregious.

Just a couple of months ago, I had a major argument with my older son (who is 21), because I suggested he adjust some plans that he had made to take a situation his brother was dealing with into account. He became very angry, accusing me of always coddling his brother, and always asking him to make adjustments. I pointed out specific instances where I had done just the opposite, but that just made him angrier. We finally ended with my agreeing that he did not have to make the adjustments I was suggesting, but that he should think about how this type of flexibility could allow him to build better relationships in the future.

He left the room, clearly still angry. About ten minutes later, he came back out of his room, and thanked me for trying to help he and his brother to be better people.

I view this as a major triumph-he still didn't act in the way I wanted him to, but at least he was willing to acknowledge that there might be some good reason for my wanting him to behave in a certain way. But, please notice that he is two years past being officially a teenager, and is only now beginning to be able to see and acknowledge my good intentions, rather than just opposing them.

  • It is a major achievement. I have a grown daughter that has always been strong willed. I adopted her at aged 11 and she was a force for sure. I now have a birth son that age that she will sometimes accuse me of being "too patient" with, saying that if I was I guess more upset acting it would matter? I just laugh & say to her, "Funny, you never complained when I was patient with your moods, then or now. Are you saying that I should get short tempered with you as well when you push my buttons or only your little brother?" ;) – threetimes Aug 26 '17 at 4:00
  • Thank you for this. It was very helpful. I have told many complaining parents that their child is just testing their boundaries and that's their job. Maybe because I'm her mentor and not her parent, I didn't think that would apply to me. But because I've sort of taken over as parent, it does apply. I think keeping this in mind will make things easier from here on out. – Elorah Aug 26 '17 at 19:47
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Isn't it so easy to be mad at this situation? It's so easy to want to go on the offensive and take a seemingly proactive effort to directly assault this behavior, right? I know I have tried before to show people that their over-inflated ego will only lead to their demise...

...that doesn't work. And please understand that. You'll end up with a worse situation. She might get knocked down a peg like you believe she should be and that will just make her feel terrible. You could also create a situation where she's always waiting for you to say "I told you so" and then there goes the trust.

What do you do? Well, if you really care, there is only one answer. Love.

This ego is probably a wall. She's alone. She's not confident. She's scared as she waits for it to all come crashing down. As soon as she believes it might come crashing down, she tightens the reigns and distances herself further from those who may care.

Love her. Show her that love. Perform actions of love. Take a direct interest in her life. When you ask how she's doing, don't take "good" for an answer. Be there when everyone who says they are there fail her.

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    I am the one that's there for her when none of her family is. I just took her to pick up her school schedule because no one else was around. The problem is she's started taking me for granted, becoming unthankful and acting like the world owes her whatever she wants. She focuses on herself and only herself, talks only about what she's interested in, shows no interest in others. Last night her brother wasn't feeling well and was about to throw up and she was completely oblivious. And she NEVER says Thank You. Even when reminded to. – Elorah Aug 25 '17 at 1:42
  • @Elorah It hurts when someone doesn't show appreciation for what you do for them. But I offer you this - if she shows appreciation in the future then that will be worth even more! I.E. she becomes an adult, reflects on your awesome character and makes a conscious life choice to be more like you and treat someone else the same. I've heard plenty of people talk about a person in their past that they were not thankful for, but ended up TOTALLY CHANGING THEIR LIVES by being faithful to them in a difficult time. Stay the course. – Adam Heeg Aug 25 '17 at 13:46
  • Very eloquent, kindness is usually much better at getting people to change. – Dan Anderson Aug 25 '17 at 20:44

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