My 15-year-old sister is having a really rough time in life, both in school and at home. In school she rarely goes, she gets low grades, she makes friends with the wrong kinds of people yet is excessively dedicated to texting, speaking with, and hanging out with them but cries when relationships and friendships inevitably end badly. At home it’s not much better. She refuses to do any chores, is often tired and lethargic, procrastinates everything, and seems generally lazy. She is overly sensitive and quick to anger, is often depressed or expresses feelings of anxiety, often complains of stomach and headaches. She often blames others in conflicts that often stem from her not wanting to get off the couch, and when she does take responsibility she says she feels “incapable” of not taking the easy way. She has a very low self esteem, anger and has been a bedwetter since she was a little girl, though she gradually is getting better. She tells me she feels helpless to make the responsible decisions and always goes with instant gratification. It’s creating a massive wedge in our family because not only does she refuse to go to school and now my mom is being called to court for truancy, but she also refuses to any chores. I feel like these behavior problems must be a result of some disorder or something but don’t know what I can do to help her. She tests negative for ADHD or a learning disability. She’s perfectly smart and capable, it seems like her problem stems from motivation and self control. Please help!
A: Thank you for writing in with your question. It is obvious that you care for your sister very much and want to help her. However, all your best wishes in the world won’t help her unless she is willing to help herself. Some teens sail through adolescence easily, but most don’t. It can be a very difficult time fraught with conflict and “growing pains.” It could be possible that her truancy issue will be the catalyst for her to get some professional help or for your parents to get some help on how best to deal with her negative behaviors.
She may be struggling with depression or some other psychological problem, but as a sibling, your best bet is to focus on being a good role model and a safe, nonjudgmental confidant. The rest is up to her and your parents. I hope things get better soon.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts