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Ask a Professional: 13yo girl keeps shutting me down

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Ask a Professional: 13yo girl keeps shutting me down

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Ask a Professional: 13yo girl keeps shutting me down

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My daughter is 13.5 and I'm struggling with her a lot. She spends all her time in her room and only comes out for dinner, and sometimes to grudgingly do chores. She's started refusing to participate in any family activities including weekly movie-night (I've tried letting her choose the movie but she says she just doesn't want to be with us). I've always had a reasonable relationship with her and I thought of myself as quite approachable, I don't go off the deep end over things and tend to try talk things out with her. But she is refusing to talk to me about anything and just walks away and shuts her door in my face when I try to discuss anything.
For example we had parent-teacher meetings last night and she has slipped from an A average to getting Ds and one teacher showed me an assessment where she had drawn pictures all over the sheet, and written things like "I already know this, do you think I'm stupid?" in the answer boxes. When we got home she asked if she was in trouble and I said no, but that I did want to talk to her about why she had behaved like that and what I could do to help. She groaned and said she hated me trying to be involved and didn't want to listen to a lecture, went to her room and refused to let me in. I backed off because I didn't want to force my way and create another issue to deal with before getting calm, and finding some advice!
She is still so young and I really want to try find the best way to deal with things before she gets older and has more dangerous opportunities.

Hi @TimTam78,

I can tell how concerned you are for your daughter. It sounds like you have been very understanding and attentive to what is happening with her.

It can be really tough when teens pull away and don’t want to share what is happening.

An A average is pretty impressive, and quite a contrast to her current Ds. It’s likely that your daughter felt some anxiety about you attending the parent-teacher meetings, and your possible reaction to the change in her grades. It’s great to hear that your response was to seek to understand, even though she wasn’t willing to talk it through with you that day,

Her response, “I already know this, do you think I'm stupid?”, on the test may actually shed some light on what is happening, because she did not simply leave answers blank or get things wrong, but actually expressed anger at the questions. Taken at face value, it may indicate that she is not feeling challenged at school and this has caused her to disengage. It’s also possible that she might be lashing out in response to struggling with school. If she is used to doing well, and is struggling at the moment, this could affect her self-esteem (in which case the response might be about covering up how not knowing the answer makes her feel).
Ultimately, she is the only person who knows why she responded as she did. It may take some time for her to feel willing to open up about what is happening, but don’t lose hope.

I encourage you to think about what boundaries and rules you might have regarding school. If she has been a dedicated student so far, you might not have had a reason to think about this. However, even if you haven’t thought about it specifically, there are probably expectations that you do have (for example, you might have an expectation that your daughter attends her classes and completes her assignments, or that she spends a certain amount of time on her studies).

It’s important for you and your daughter to have a shared understanding around these expectations, as this can help guide conversations about school when things aren’t going well, and can also reduce anxiety about the consequences when boundaries are crossed. Teens pushing boundaries is really common, and it’s possible that your daughter’s responses on the test were in part testing boundaries around what is okay. These tips for a challenging conversation could help you have this conversation.

This can also apply to other areas aside from school if there are areas where you feel uncomfortable with her current behaviour (a common one for parents of teens is boundaries around what language is okay to use towards the other person).

Of course, it’s important to continue to express care and support to your daughter and remain approachable while setting boundaries.

It’s also important to consider how your daughter appears to be doing in general. You have mentioned she spends most of her time in her room, but other important signs are whether she appears to have friends that she spends time with (either going out or talking with them online); whether she is eating as normal; whether there appear to be any problems with sleep. If it seems that overall your daughter is withdrawing from others, has changes in appetite and sleep, and isn’t enjoying things she used to enjoy, it would be a good idea to see a GP for further support.

Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.