Q: My 11-year-old daughter is constantly talking back, is disrespectful, and has to be reminded all the time of basic daily responsibilities. How can I help her be more responsible and accountable for her actions?
Juli: It's normal for an 11-year-old girl to be pushing the boundaries like your daughter is. Unfortunately, it's also common for parents not to do anything about it. So thank you for asking the question.
As the parent of an 11-year-old, you hold all the cards. Your daughter lives under your care, watches your TV, and talks on a phone that you're paying for. You probably also pay for and drive her to extracurricular activities and social events. You need to use these basic privileges as leverage to teach her responsibility and respect.
Many parents of teens get into power struggles by saying, "Don't you dare talk to me like that." Teens and preteens know how to push buttons.
Instead of reacting emotionally, use the privileges mentioned above as the currency to teach life lessons your daughter needs to learn. You want her to display responsibility. She wants freedom and privileges. Make it clear that freedom is always tied to maturity.
Instead of getting angry when she doesn't do her chores, just let her know that you won't be driving her to volleyball practice as a consequence. When she does her jobs, you are happy to go the extra mile to provide fun things for her to do.
I recommend two books that do an excellent job of spelling these principles out: "Have a New Teenager by Friday" by Dr. Kevin Lehman and "Parenting Teens With Love and Logic" by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.
Q: You often recommend that readers visit a counselor to help with their marriage issues. That's good advice, but I'm wondering how to find a quality counselor. There are a lot of quacks out there.
Jim: Focus on the Family has done a lot of the work for you by assembling a list of licensed marriage and family therapists that have been thoroughly vetted by our own counseling team. For more information, visit www.focusonthefamily.com.
However, if you want to research the matter yourself, here are some guidelines:
1. The counselor should be a good "match" for you and your spouse in terms of personality, temperament and beliefs. (Note: The counselors on Focus on the Family's referral list all embrace a Judeo-Christian perspective on marriage and family.)
2. Find a skilled professional -- not one of your buddies. You wouldn't call on your best friend to treat your cancer, no matter how caring and sincere he might be.
3. Go to a specialist. As in the medical profession, in counseling there are some practitioners who are "generalists." They may have experience working with common issues, but little competency in your particular area of need.
4. Avoid choosing a counselor who simply focuses on "fixing" your spouse's behavior. Rarely can the blame for a dysfunctional marriage be laid entirely at the feet of one spouse. Counseling must be undertaken with a willingness on the part of both partners to take an honest look at their issues.
5. Beware of counselors who automatically assume that long-term treatment is necessary. They may try to string you along for months or even years in order to hang on to your "business." It's true that therapy must be thorough and comprehensive, but that doesn't always mean years of counseling.
6. Don't select a counselor on the basis of fees. You wouldn't go bargain shopping for a brain surgeon, and cost shouldn't be a primary consideration when your marriage hangs in the balance.
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the "Focus on the Family" radio program, and a husband and father of two. Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of "Focus on the Family," author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.