Expert advice for helping your challenging teen
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What do you do when your teenage daughter threatens to kill herself or run away? This is exactly the dilemma one of our readers is facing.

A mother of a 12-year-old girl is at her wits' end because her daughter is going to extremes in order to live with her father, who only recently started having contact with her.

“During the school holidays my daughter visited her father for two weeks. When she came back home she was crying and told me she wanted to go back to her father,” says the mom.

“I refused and she went outside to play with her friends. After an hour I received a please call me from her. When I phoned her she said the police were outside our house, looking for me. I told her to let them in. When they got inside they told me my daughter called them and wanted to open a case of child abuse against me.”

Needless to say the mother was completely shocked.

“My daughter told the police that it was her father’s idea that I get arrested so that she would be able to live with him.”

The mother is concerned for her daughter as she has threatened to kill herself or run away if she doesn’t get her way.

Elise Fourie, an educational psychologist from Pretoria, explains the Children’s Act (No 38 of 2005) stipulates the best interests of a child are paramount.

But it also says that a child who’s old and mature enough and has the ability to make decisions such as where they want to live has a right to be consulted about it.

Fourie says: “Talk to the child and determine the motivation for the decision. Respect their feelings and try to understand what their needs are. Perhaps discuss with them that it is natural and understandable to want to spend time with a parent whom they’ve had no contact with until recently.”

She also recommends the following for parents in this situation:

  • Suggest to the child they get to know the other parent better before making a decision that could potentially disrupt their lives.
  • Suggest they rather spend time with the other parent at weekends and during holidays while remaining in your care for the time being.
  • If you know for a fact the other parent can’t comfortably care for your child financially, explain to your child this would put that parent under a lot of strain and it could put their relationship in jeopardy.
  • You could also suggest your child talks to someone neutral to help them understand the consequences of a hasty decision. If they agree to this you could appoint a psychologist who could help you and your child to assess the motivation for the move, discuss the potential consequences with them and help them to act in their own best interests.
  • You can also contact a social worker from an organisation such as Child Welfare to also assist with the situation.

Get help

If you need other support consider the following options:

Appoint a legal representative for your child. Contact Legal Aid South Africa to assist you. The legal representative will ensure the best interests of your child will be respected and will suggest a process to follow in this regard.

Approach the Office of the Family Advocate to request assistance or mediation in the matter. It will either assist your family with mediation or do a full investigation and make recommendations.

Contact the nearest social worker or organisation with statutory powers such as the department of social development , child welfare or the CMR to possibly institute Children’s Court proceedings.

Appoint a lawyer and psycho-legal expert (psychologist specialising in psycho-legal matters pertaining to family law) to assist you and your child.

Contact the legal centre of the university closest to you; it might be able to offer legal support in this matter.

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