My thirteen-year-old daughter isn’t listening to me like she used to do. What should be my next step?



I am a single mother (I divorced 3 years ago, unfortunately). I have a daughter who is 13. I had a question regarding parenting:

In the past, my ex-husband and I had a more lenient parenting style. We taught our daughter all the values of the Bible and we had rules and everything, but we were believers in positive parenting. If our daughter was not behaving we would sit her down and talk about why she was not behaving and encourage her to try to behave better. And this worked for the most part.

But recently, especially since the divorce, my daughter has been a little more rebellious. She doesn't seem to respect my rules as much and I fear she will suddenly stop respecting me altogether. I don't want her to make any poor choices that lead to problems later in life. I still encourage her to keep the same biblical values. I tell her about behaviors that are sinful and why she shouldn't do them. I tell her she should honor her parents because that's what God intended. And I certainly show her lots of love, always telling her that I want what's best for her.

But she has been disobeying me a lot lately, not following the rules. I sit her down often and talk to her about it and she always says she is sorry but continues to disobey (I wonder if she means it). I even tried punishing her by taking away her phone and even gave her chores to do. I tried grounding her so she couldn't go out with her friends. But usually, she just doesn't care about this. She still goes to friend's houses even when I tell her she is being punished and can't go. If I say no TV, then she watches TV at friends' houses (she has several friends in the neighborhood). I work so I can't be there all the time to follow her around. I just don't know what to do.

What do you think should be the next step? Or have I become too overbearing?


There are several reasons you are losing ground:

  1. You are trying to be both mother and father to your daughter. Each role is a full-time job and in trying to do both something has to give. While mothers are critical in the development of young children, fathers play a critical role in the development of older children. I'm not saying you aren't trying hard; I'm just pointing out that you are working with a handicap that makes things more difficult.
  2. You aren't flexible in your parenting style. As you are discovering what works for one child at one age doesn't necessarily work at different ages or for a different child.
  3. Positive parenting is only half-parenting. You give instruction but without discipline. Our Lord stated, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19) and you can do no less for your own child. You are much like Eli who scolds his sons for sinning, but then doesn't take steps to back up his warnings. Read the beginning of the answer to this question for more details: "My daughter said she would marry when she moved back in with us, but she and her boyfriend are still unmarried. What do we do?"
  4. You are selecting as punishments things you cannot enforce and then become upset that your daughter has figured that out.

Since you haven't stated a specific problem, I can't give a specific answer. But I can give you some general guidelines:

  1. Be consistent in your response to infractions of your rules. A violation of the rules must be met with a consequence. Even if at first it doesn't seem to be making much headway, the fact that a consequence is given will make some impact even when the consequence is not the best for a situation.
  2. Make the punishment fit the crime. This is where you get creative. If your daughter is in trouble because she is spending too much time on the phone, then she loses phone privileges for either a period of time or until she does something positive to earn the privilege back (your call on what that might be).
  3. Only give punishments that you can enforce. Eliminating TV at home is something you can control. That she can still go to a friend's house is out of your control. However, the restriction will still make an impact. If you ground her, it has to be during the times you are home, such as on the weekends.
  4. Have levels of punishment. Plan in advance what you will do if she decides to break the terms of her consequence. It needs to be something different and more severe. If you are grounding her and she ignores it, adding more grounding time won't work.
  5. Make sure good behavior is well praised and rewarded. Make doing what is right worth it.

For ideas and passages regarding different types of punishments see "Disciplining Children."


Thank you for your advice. I realize that it is harder as a single parent to raise children, but I just cannot figure out why she would suddenly stop listening to me when a few years ago I did not have this problem.

And I suppose you are right, that only positive discipline may not be totally sufficient. I just feel that punishing a child will only lead to anger or fear. That is why when I punish I try to punish in a way that will add incentive. I take away her phone or her television so she can earn it back.

A specific example was when I told my daughter that she had to be home directly after school because my parents were coming to visit and I wanted her there. But she instead went to a friend's house after school and didn't let me know for several hours, while my parents and I waited around (by the first hour I knew she had gone somewhere, at least, that is what I hoped- scared me a little). But when she got home later that day I took away her television and phone and computer, until she comes home on time five days in a row (the entire next week). But she never tried to come home the next week on time. She spent all her time at a friend's house. (By the way, if you are wondering why I am not picking her up, it is because I work and the school is close by, enough for her to walk very easily).

Basically, when I punish her by taking away things she likes to do, she just spends time at friend's houses. When I tell her she cannot go to friend's houses, she disobeys and goes to their houses after school, or sometimes, even sneaks out. I just cannot sacrifice my job to be around all the time to watch her 24/7, and she does not have any consequences for her behavior. So I'm left with hoping that she respects what I tell her (which she doesn't seem to be doing).

I hope I am clear, I know its a complicated question. I just don't know what else I should try to do.


Stop and think a moment. Why is a healthy fear of consequences so bad? To claim it is wrong is to condemn God because our heavenly Father on numerous times used fear to motivate people to correct behavior. The death of Ananias and his wife is just one of many examples: "Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things" (Acts 5:10-11). Now, I'm not saying parents should threaten their children with death, that is something that belongs in God's hands, but I want you to see that there is a proper place for fear because it works with love to keep us on the right path. When men tried to use the authority of Christ to cast out a demon without being followers of Christ, they were severally beaten by the demon. The result? "This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified" (Acts 19:17).

As I pointed out earlier, you are giving requirements and not following through. The reason things change is that your daughter is older. What works for a child at one age doesn't necessarily remain effective at another age. Somewhere along the line, she figured out that you are mostly talk. With each escape to do as she pleases, you are reinforcing the idea.

Let's take the example you gave. Clearly she wasn't interested in visiting with your parents, but you told her to be there. She decided to go elsewhere. You did nothing about it. Oh, yes, you took some privileges away, but she saw the freedom as worth the cost. In fact, I suspect she probably got stubborn about your making demands on her and she decided she would show you who is in control the following week. If it is like the past, you will likely give in for one reason or another, and she is counting on it.

Notice that she is always getting exactly what she wants.

What should you have done? When she didn't show up, you should have started knocking on every one of her friends' door making a big deal over how your daughter is missing because she didn't come home on time -- after all, in this day and age, abductions are not unheard of. When you finally found her, you should have dragged her off home. Then she would have lost out on getting what she wanted. In addition, you just embarrassed her in front of all her friends, who are not going to let her forget.

If she sneaks out, the same thing happens. You go hunt her down and insist she comes home with you. Even better, if it is late, chase her down in a house robe and curlers. She'll be mortified that her friends see you like that and you can lay it on thick in front of her friends about how worried you were because she left without telling you where she would be.

The appropriate punishment for this is for her not to get to go where she wants when she wants for a certain period of time. Since you have to work, you will either have to enforce it on your days off or for those times you are home. If you need to go shopping, she comes along -- whether she likes it or not.

A step better is to find a friend in the area who is home whom you trust. Tell her it isn't safe for her to be wandering around without anyone knowing where she is, and insist that she goes to the friend's home. Tell your friend she has your permission to hunt your daughter down if she doesn't show up within 15 minutes of when she should be there. And then you reinforce the concept with lots of "mommy time" when you're home.

The problem really comes down to your attempt to raise your daughter with minimal effort on your part. It won't work. You have five more years before she is on her own and these will be some of the roughest years you'll be facing. She's a teenager. She doesn't understand the consequences of her choices. She thinks she is old enough to make her own choices. You know she is still just a child. You will feel like your a boat anchor and she will resent you from holding her back. And you are; you are holding her back from drugs, sex, laziness, willfulness, stubbornness, etc. So when you tell your daughter that something needs to be done, you have to expect to take time to make sure it does get done and have a plan for handling the situation when she doesn't obey, which is bound to happen.

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