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13 Year Old Manipulating Mother?
My 13 year old niece is seeing a therapist for separation anxiety and depression. She would at times cry uncontrollably when it was time to leave for school. Her mom took her to a therapist, who at first said that there was nothing wrong with her. They gave her some written tests, and the test results showed that she was extremely depressed and had a high degree of separation anxiety. The whole family was very surprised, because she just seems to be very happy, gregarious and outgoing. My sister has been questioning herself - how could she miss something like that? She's dropping out of school after this semester so that she can be there for her daughter.

My daughters are really close with my niece, and yesterday my oldest daughter told me something pretty disturbing. She mentioned that my niece brags constantly about how she is able to manipulate her mother and grandmother. She told my daughters that all she needs to do is cry and her mother will do whatever she wants. If she doesn't want to go to school, she cries and she gets to stay home. And she told them that if she knows she may get in trouble for something, she tells on someone else first to deflect attention from herself.

My questions are:
1. is a 13 year old girl emotionally and intellectually able to manipulate her mother that way?
2. is a 13 year old girl able to "fool" a trained, licensed and experienced therapist?
3. should I say something? And if so, what is the best way to approach this?
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She mentioned that my niece brags constantly about how she is able to manipulate her mother and grandmother ... all she needs to do is cry and her mother will do whatever she wants.--  your words

Our granddaughter suffers from extreme anxiety and depression.  She also is aware that she can "manipulate" others to get "her" way.  This is not really manipulation but a mechanism that she is able to use to help lessen her fears and anxieties.  What our granddaughter requires is another set of "methods" to help her learn how to manage her fears and control her anxieties.  Usually the treatment for anxiety/depression is multi-modal (a combination of therapy and/or intervention plans and/or medication).  So, far she is doing well.

Your posting is assuming that because your niece is "aware" of how her actions affect others that she does not suffer from depression and anxiety.  I suspect this is not true - that your niece does, in fact, suffer from both the diagnosed disorders but is using "manipulation" methods to control her fears/anxieties.  It is her only known method of survival and, as you know, it will not work well for the rest of her life.  She needs to learn  more approprate "coping" skills/methods to deal with her irrational fears.

The only suggestion I would make is that your niece see a medical mental health specialist as a child neurologist or child psychiatrist if the therapist is unable to help your niece in significant ways.  From your posting, it appears that your niece may require more specialized help than that provided by a therapist.  Hope this helps clear up the issue ...
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Thanks jdtm.

"Manipulate" is the word that my niece used to describe her own actions, and I guess I was a little perturbed by that. I know that kids learn at an early age how to push their parents' buttons, but I've always assumed it was almost involuntary... kind of like Pavlov's dogs. You know, a reaction to stimuli. I never really thought they would plan ahead for it, or try to teach other kids to do it.

Thanks for your suggestion, and for relating your experience.
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I never really thought they would plan ahead for it  --  your words

Unfortunately, all part of the behaviours common to anxiety.  As for "teaching others" - yeah - I can see that but since her thoughts are misdirected and/or jumbled  by irrational fears/anxieties so is this behaviour.  With anxiety - often what appears is not what it is.  That's why those of us who do not suffer from these irrational fears find anxiety behaviours so confusing and difficult to understand.  I expect her mother understands "some" of these points but those with severe anxiety cannot "fool" experienced professionals

There's lots and lots of information on anxiety in bookstores and on the internet.  One book I really like is called "the highly sensitive child" by Elaine N. Aron.  Even though the author talks about "sensitivies" - what she really is discussing is "anxiety".  All the best ...
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