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Ask Dr. Meg: My teenage daughter is ruining her life, how can I help her?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Hi Meg,

I have just discovered your podcast and am enjoying listening. I have a teenage daughter who has been struggling for the last 4 or so years.  She is 19, lives at home, works part-time and has no ambition for her life. She vapes, overeats, addicted to her phone, no goals or dreams for her life, generally unpleasant to be around. She is secretive, withdrawn and seems sad. Her favorite thing to do is “hang out” with her friends. She has recently been fired from her latest job. Tried a semester at junior college but made bad grades and decided not to go back.

We have been to a pediatrician in her earlier years to see if there was a medical issue. We have tried counseling. She seems happy to just do the bare minimum. Hangs out with people who also have no ambition. Her on again off again boyfriend is a homeless boy who treats her terribly!

I so badly want to help her (fix her) but she is resistant to any help and says everything is fine. I feel very sad for her, want to help her, but do not know how! What am I missing? How do we (her father and I) help without making things worse?


Dear Distressed Parent,

This is going to be hard to hear but by allowing her to live at home for free and not do anything, you are  harming her, fueling her addictions and helping to keep her life miserable. You aren’t letting her grow up.

Many parents face the same issue and the only answer is this. You need to tell your daughter that since she is an adult, she needs to act like one. That means that she: must be financially responsible, begin to take care of herself and have some self-respect. I do a lot of work with Dave Ramsey and he hears this all of the time.

Here are your only 3 options.

  1. Tell her that in order to stay in your home, she needs to do the following things: pay rent, contribute to the running of the home (chores- make them very specific) and speak respectfully to you and your husband. Be clear that she is living in your home, not hers and that in order to stay, she must follow your rules. If she doesn’t like them, she can leave. I’d give her one month to do this.
  2. Tell her that she has 3 months to find another place to live. Tell her that while you don’t mind having her at home, since she is a legal adult, she needs to move out and be on her own. You can give her advice on how to find a job, make a budget, etc., but be clear that this must be done.
  3. Keep doing what you are doing. If you do, you will participate in her addictions, teach her that life is free and that she really doesn’t need to work and that you will forever be her servant.

Here’s the thing:

Your daughter will never be motivated to move forward unless you act. If you choose not to do anything, you are creating a monster. Most likely you aren’t doing anything because you feel sorry for her. STOP THIS! Feeling sorry for someone never helps them. It only hurts them because it makes them feel like they are victims. This will cripple your daughter. when you do the right thing, you will feel guilty and like a horrible mother. But get tough. She needs to grow up and you know that this is best for her. And since she won’t do it on her own, you need to help.

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