Mailvox: the wages of public school

MY writes about the problems her family is having with her niece:

I’m writing this on behalf of my sister, whom I’m very close to.  I have a niece who is giving her parents a great deal of grief lately. I debated writing this but I don’t think we could get a perspective like yours from anywhere else, if you would be so kind. X is 13 and on a fast track to making some very bad choices. She is very dependent on her friends and bends to peer pressure to a ridiculous degree. She does not socialize with her siblings unless forced to and is rude and distant.

A few weeks ago her dad asked to look through her iPad, something they randomly do from time to time. X refused and ran out of the room with it. When they finally got it from her my sister says she couldn’t figure out why X wanted to hide it as there was nothing incriminating on it. I told her I thought she erased things. We know this to be true now.

As punishment her parents took the iPad away. They caught X sneaking into their room at 3am, stealing it back. She is now indefinitely banned from her iPad.

A few nights ago my sister noticed her phone missing. On a hunch she decided to check X’s room after X fell asleep. She found the phone and a series of texts from a instant messenger site on it. The texts were to a couple people. One was a boy and of course, the text had a vulgar sexual nature to them. The boy was asking her if she twerked and X was flirting back with him. The other texts were to a girl, making plans to hang, and X noted that she had to make sure to call the friend on a land line so her parents wouldn’t get suspicious about her texting.  Another text was from a high school boy. I’m not sure what he said to her but this particular boy is known to have fathered a child by another middle school girl. So my sister puts the phone on her night stand and waits. X sneaks back in and takes the phone again back to her room. At this point mom and dad both get up to confront her. They go take the phone back and find not only has X erased the texts but she also took the app off the phone.

-My sister substitutes at the school X attends. Another mom who works there, mother of one of X’s friends, showed my sister a series of texts on her daughter’s phone from X. The texts were loaded with crude song lyrics, f-bombs, and the word “bitch” in all its uses.  The girlfriend did not use the vulgarities that X used.

-X has, obviously not taken any responsibility for her behavior. She claims the texts to the middle school boy about twerking were just jokes and she has never met the high school boy, etc. She can’t explain how the high school boy knows who she is. She is sulky, short-tempered, self-obsessed, entitled, and generally lazy at home.

My sister and her husband have gone through some major financial upheavals in the last 5 years. My brother-in-law now works for my dad but is not making enough yet for my sister to quit her job again. My sister is thinking of pulling them all out of school next year. I note this because my first response was to suggest pulling X out of school among other things. They have removed all the electronic toys from the house and store them at my dad’s office. They also took the door completely off her room.

They are a traditional family that regularly attends Latin mass and my sis is just stunned by this behavior. I am too honestly. None of the other three kids are like this. Her behavior is very self-destructive for her age. Short of pulling her out of school, how to you change a 13 year old’s character? How can they provide consequences in a way that will get a positive response instead of this nasty, passive aggressive sulking? How do you get a child this self-obsessed to stop focusing on herself and show empathy and affection for her family? What resources would you recommend?

It’s important to note that this sort of thing is always a possible consequence when children are abandoned to a public school environment. It’s not an inevitable consequence, to be sure, but there are always going to be those children who are, by character, more susceptible to it than others, regardless of their upbringing. I strongly favor homeschooling for all children, but especially for those with weak, easily-influenced characters.

My recommendation would be to pull X out of school immediately. The nature of the problem exhibited is serious enough to justify drastic action, especially in light of her blatant lying, stealing, and other Machiavellian actions. The other children can probably wait until next year if they are not showing any signs of similar behavior. But the school year has barely begun and there is a very good chance that X will get herself into trouble of one sort or another in the next eight months.

As SB pointed out, these problems aren’t something that started overnight. They are character problems, they are firmly implanted, and they will require a long period of boot camp-style attitude readjustment.So, in addition to pulling her out of school and the solid steps the parents have taken to deny her communications and privacy, they should rely upon the method proven to work by various militaries throughout the world. For the next six weeks, they should put her to work until she is too exhausted to find trouble.

By Christmastime, X should be an expert in grouting, deep-cleaning, and every surface in the house should be sparkling. And then there is a credible threat hanging over her head when the strictures are gradually relaxed; every time she is tempted, she’ll be weighing whether it is worth another six weeks of hard manual labor.

All socialization outside the house and parental supervision should be barred until further notice. X is a child, she is a dependent, and as long as her parents are legally liable for her actions, they have the right and the responsibility to prevent her from indulging in her short-sighted, self-destructive tendencies.

There are no guarantees, of course. Despite her parents’ best efforts, X may become an overweight mudshark with a meth habit and two abortions under her belt by the time she is 18. Or she may turn it around completely. Regardless, the probability is that if her parents don’t directly and forthrightly address the situation with consistency and resolve, she will destroy her life in one way or another. Unfortunately, some people are just naturally self-destructive.

One of the hardest things to accept as a parent is that we cannot make our children’s choices for them. What we can do is decide upon the primary influences upon them. In the case of the child who is greatly susceptible to peer pressure, the answer is straightforward: take care to ensure that her peers are positive influences rather than negative ones.