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I have a 14-year-old sister who my grandmother and I are gaining custody of. I don't doubt my grandmother's ability to take care of and discipline my sister the way she should be, but she and I are unsure where to start.

My sister was living with my mother who is mentally unstable, who did not discipline correctly, her mother would scream, go into hysterics, cry, threaten violence on herself or my sister anytime my sister acted up or even times where she did nothing wrong at all. Because of this my sister does not understand certain actions have consequences, my sister believes if my mother didn't find out about whatever it was she was doing then she wouldn't get into any trouble. This is not true because my sister's actions could negatively impact her future but she hasn't been taught that, just fear instead.

I have found out my 14-year-old sister is drinking, smoking weed and having sex with her boyfriend. I am horrified and want to get her back on the right track but I don't know how to start. If I ban her boyfriend I am afraid she'll run away or shut down on me and not tell me anything. I want to show her my grandmother and I are here for her and she's safe in our house and get rid of her unhealthy coping methods she's picked up from her mother. I'm taking her to get birth control and I will closely monitor her time with friends she may be engaging in these behaviors with.

What is the best approach to begin getting her back on track and how do I properly teach her consequences and discipline?

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What is the best approach to begin getting her back on track and how do i properly teach her consequences and discipline?

I would begin to talk to her about her behaviour. You can tell her how you feel about her behaviour. Make a judgement of her behaviour, not of her as a person. Educate her about the dangers of smoking, drinking, unprotected sex, etc. Don't be angry or too negative, but make sure she understands how her behaviour makes you feel and that you care about her safety.

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This is only a partial answer, but it's too long to fit in a comment...

I have found out my 14-year-old sister is drinking, smoking weed and having sex with her boyfriend

I don't think these three are all on the same level. Drinking and smoking weed are bad for a teenager's brain development, so there are serious long-term health-issues if she continues drinking and smoking weed (especially if done excessively).

Having sex with her boyfriend, while fairly early at fourteen, isn't necessarily a problem (you may have moral objections, but objectively speaking, sexual exploration is normal behavior for teenagers), as long as they know how to be safe and avoid a) pregnancy and b) STDs. It might or might not be legal, depending on the jurisdiction you're in (where I live, this would be absolutely no problem assuming that her boyfriend isn't more than a few years older or younger than her), but even if minors having sex with each other isn't strictly legal in your jurisdiction, chances are that nobody is interested in bringing charges forward.

What is the best approach to begin getting her back on track

I would NOT start by tackling the boyfriend issue. Let her have her boyfriend. You can talk to her about the sexual part of the relationship, tell her what you're worried about and make sure they're practicing safe sex, but if you do intervene to try and break up the relationship, chances are you'll sideline yourself. If you're uncomforable with them being intimate with you close by, you can tell her she can't bring him home -- but I'd counsel against it, because it might be smarter to get to know the boy. Also, remember that relationships between fourteen-year-olds don't necessarily last very long, so this might be a non-issue in a few weeks or months, and an opportunity to be a understanding and comforting big sister.

What I'd tackle first is the drinking. Alcohol is a poison. It's not healthy even for adults, but it's a bigger problem for teenagers. Smoking weed also is a problem, but if she's not smoking excessively, it's probably not urgent yet.

Don't barge in telling her she's forbidden to drink one drop from now on - that won't work. Start by telling her you've noticed she's drinking, and that you're worried about it. Ask her why she feels a need to drink. Maybe it's a social/peer group/wrong crowd thing. I don't fully agree with what nijineko writes -- I think you should make it clear that you don't approve of your sister drinking, instead of refraining from judgement, just like Superman.Lopez says -- but I think the rest of nijjinekos answer is good advice. Anyway, once you have a clearer picture of why your sister behaves the way she does, I'm sure you'll find ways to positively influence her. Be patient, don't threaten her, but also be firm in not tolerating her drinking in situations where you can actually control it. This should probably also involve limiting her freedom to go to the places where you suspect she's drinking.

Taking an active interest in her life will certainly help. The boyfriend might actually be an asset - you could tell your sister you'd like to meet him, since he seems to be such a great person (or whatever your sister told you about him), and if he's actually a nice kid, inviting him over for dinner/watching a movie/whatever together will give you an opportunity to spend time and talk with your sister when she's happy and relaxed. Also, while they're with you, they aren't out drinking and smoking weed. You don't have to monopolize her time, but show her you're interested in what's important to her even if you don't agree with all the choices (drinking, smoking, ...) she's made.

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First off, start with what you can control: yourselves.

(Note: these are my opinions and insights; I do not offer these ideas in any official medical or therapeutic capacity. )

Specifically, your actions speak the loudest. Consistent, steady love is a great start. Regulating your own behaviors to provide a stable environment without overreacting to her choices, hard as that may be. Kind words will have longer lasting effects (if not right away) than nagging or anger.

Keep in mind, she's not broken. Don't try to "fix" her.

She's probably hurt and scarred and maybe even scared.

Her current choices probably stem from a mix of self defense, self comfort, desire for control over environment and self (especially common in those exposed to irrational and illogical and abusive behaviours), and expression of her emotions.


Being that she's had an irrational and inconsistent examples for so long, it will probably take her time to adopt from new examples. Especially depending upon whom she chooses to hang out with going forward.

Focus on one thing at a time. No one can change everything they want all at once. Change takes time, and she has to be willing first, before any changes will stick.


Listen, don't lecture. Don't necessarily respond right away, from emotion. Really think about what she's saying. Don't correct, find points of commonality. Seek to understand first.

Emotions have their own patterns, independent from intellectual logic. What she expresses may not make sense at first.


Your attitudes and emotions will come across from your facial and body language, no matter what you say, or do. Show love and patience!

Finding a safe place for her to share without judgment is important, when she's ready. A recovery program (abuse, addiction, etc,) or some sort of individual therapy are the traditional routes, but not all are equal, nor does one always get along or click with a given group or individual. Keep in mind that unless she is willing to go, willing and ready to change, any positives from this sort of thing will be limited. Instead it could become a negative, especially how some cultures or families view therapy as meaning something is wrong with you - and then they treat you like crap.


Most likely she will be viewed as a minor in most jurisdictions. This will have special implications with regards to her choices. Be prepared to do a lot of homework and study to educate yourselves on the legal ramifications. Study up on children who have been abused, or suffered similar circumstances.

Healing takes time. Lots of it. Love and patience are key, I can't restate this enough.


These are some thoughts based on my experiences working with those who have behavioral, addictive, and situational challenges.

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