Family/teen social activities for a socially challenged family in Oakland

We have a 15 year old daughter who does not have friends outside of school (and not very many in school).  She doesn't have good social skills.  She can be lively and charming, but can also be loud, bossy and cranky.  She is not very empathetic and so has a hard being a friend.  As background - she moved in with us through the foster care system at 9; we adopted her at 10.  She has ADHD, anxiety, and is about to be diagnosed with a mood disorder.  On top of that she has a venous malformation on her face that has impacted her experiences with others throughout her life.  (She has been treated at UCSF with no success so far.)    She has a therapist and a psychiatrist.  She's taking medication.  At present she seems to be doing well in that she's fairly cheerful, has much more self-control than in the past and is doing slightly better at school.  But, she would benefit from more social interaction and activities.  And, my husband and I are feeling isolated.   This is compounded by life in the bay area.  We had a group of friends/young families who had known our daughter from her first days with us, but almost all of those families have moved or - in one or two cases - can't quite deal with our daughter. 

She's in an after school program at her school but that will end with her freshman year.  Her main activities and interests are pop music, teen vampire shows, celebrity gossip and fan fiction, both writing and reading. She does not have a phone.  I'm not sure she wants one. She broke her old phone on purpose and won't do the tasks we asked her to do to get a new one.   She has an old IPOD touch but doesn't participate in social media much.  She will NOT take any classes/activities (sports, art, music, outdoorsy things) outside of school.  Please don't tell me to make her - I cannot.  And please don't tell me to talk to her - I have. Believe me, she is a tough cookie.  I might be able get her to go if paid her but I haven't thought that was a good idea. 

Being a teenager, she also won't do as much with us as she would when she was younger.  (No more bike rides, walks, museums, etc.)    She'll go out with us to some movies and to dinner (or if we're taking her shopping or buying her ice cream).    We will leave her at home alone for short periods - sometimes as long as a movie - but don't feel comfortable leaving her home alone for a long periods. Lately when we've had our adult friends over she's complained loudly and in front of the guests that we're not paying enough attention to her.  We do our best to ignore this, but it's uncomfortable for our guests, particularly those that don't have much experience with big kids.   We have one friend who can sometimes have our her over for an evening, so that we can go out, but in general my husband and I take turns doing things. 

As I write this I'm realizing how much control she's exerting over out lives.  Suggestions?  Organized family activities for parents with teenagers that might be a fit?  Anyone in similar circumstances who would like to try to create a get together?  

Thanks so much for wading through this long post!  You responses will be much appreciated.

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Hi.  I have a great deal of compassion for the ongoing strain inherent in parenting developmentally challenged children, which is often the case with adopted kids.  I've raised two adopted kids myself, and found it invaluable to get as much help and support for myself as I could during those years.  While I don't have suggestions for social supports, if possible, I'd recommend psychotherapy with someone well-versed in these areas.  Micky Duxbury, MFT  (Oakland practice) is someone I've heard consistently good things about.  Dr. Diane Ehrensaft (Oakland) is a seasoned clinician who works a lot of teens.  Hang in, there is hope.

Hi, I am the mom of a teenager but am responding more as the wife and daughter of adoptees, both with mood disorders.  If you could find a support group for your daughter where she can meet other teens who are adopted it could be life changing for her.  She might also find teens there who struggle with similar emotional/mental health issues, which are quite prevalent with adoptees. You might also find other parents there to relate to without feeling the judgement of having a "difficult" child.    Best wishes to your family.  

Your situation sounds challenging and I commend you for your kindness to this child. But letting her rule the roost and make the rules is seriously hurting her for life. All the "cannots" and "will nots" I read are nuts. Teens do not get that much choice! I believe you need FAMILY therapy with a solid parenting coach. I believe that rather than classes, for now, you need to INSIST that she do things with you and your husband that absolutely include serious physical exercise. These things are not optional - she is now part of a family, and families do activities together. She will never have friends or an adult relationship if she doesn't learn compromise and at least some empathy. Giving in to her is not helping. I suspect that a simple reward system might help - make it clear to her that many things she likes are privileges, and to have them she will need to, for example, not be rude in front of guests. 1) Explain to your guests what she may do, before they come over. 2) Reward her for showing self control and polite behavior. 3) Enlist a FAMILY counselor. 4) Send her to some kind of evening program weekly and invite friends over that night, or have a date. Explain to her that she will be invited when she consistently behaves politely. These are basic life skills that kids can learn - and must learn! She's not going to be protected by you forever. Parenting is super hard. You really do have to show "tough love" at times.

As soon as I read your opening sentences: "We have a 15 year old daughter who does not have friends outside of school (and not very many in school).  She doesn't have good social skills.  She can be lively and charming, but can also be loud, bossy and cranky."  I immediately thought: that child has ADHD!  And so she does.

Like you, we adopted a girl (I'll call her Martha) with ADHD as a preadolescent, and the problem you and I both have is that we didn't get the chance to "train" these children from their infancy.  ADHD is the cradle of all those behaviors you described, and when you add a difficult childhood with another family, it makes the task of rearing an ADHD teenager that much harder.

Martha is nearly 20 now, and a sophomore in college, living in a dorm.  From my perspective, I can only offer you four pieces of advice:

(1) An ADHD kid doesn't need A GROUP of friends.  One, really close, friend will suffice. Martha had a series of close friends from 7th grade through 10th, and her 10th grade friend remains her best friend.  (They now attend the same college.)  Martha *loves* spending this time with this friend and doesn't long for a social group. 

(2) Admittedly, your daughter still needs to meet more people in order to make that one friend.  She's almost getting past the age where you can "set her up" with friends, but you need to do it NOW.  Somewhere out there is another girl who also loves "pop music, teen vampire shows, celebrity gossip and fan fiction" (Martha loves all those things too, minus the celebrity gossip.)  Try talking to the counselor at her school to find out if there is another girl, perhaps a year younger -- ADHD kids are immature, and will remain so until they're about 28 -- who shares her passions.  Get permission to contact her parents, and invite them to a movie and dinner afterwards.

(3) She's only 15, and you shouldn't be letting her run your lives.  You need to figure out how to exercise your parental authority.

(4) Along those lines, please watch the videos of Dr. Barkley, the leading expert (in the U.S., and so probably worldwide) on ADHD.  It's a much more serious condition than most people realize.  Genetically it stems from the same gene that also can express itself as autism.  So while ADHD kids are not autistic, they often share some characteristics in common with those on "the spectrum," notably a lack of social skills. (Two of Martha's friends in middle school were on the autism spectrum.)


I wish you the very best!

Your daughter’s behavior, and social skills, may improve if her medication is adjusted to address the mood disorder. I was a very cranky teen who grew into an irritable adult until I got on antidepressants! Makes a huge difference.

Beyond this, it sounds like u r doing a great job with a tough situation. One thing I’m realizing w my young teen.. i can’t MAKE him do much and my influence as a parent is waning. This is both frustrating and freeing. I still offer advice and guidance but realize he’s gonna figure stuff out for himself. His mom telling him to exercise doesn’t seem to do anything.. but maybe when he’s interested in someone romantically who wants to go hiking, for example, things will change!! Best of luck to u! It’s a wild ride, this parenting thing.. 

You might find it helpful to join a fost-adopt support group for ideas. Also check out the resources in Help One Child. They may have some ideas, or be able to put together some events that can cope with your child's particular preferences. And she may find some people whose life experiences are more similar to hers, there, which may help her.

I highly recommend DBT therapy. It works on distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships. 

I'm so sorry to hear about your family's situation--and quite familiar to me.  It is good you recognize how her behavior is limiting your family--understandable, but not a long term solution.

While you ask for social activities, it sounds to me like family therapy might be useful in addition to her benefiting from individual therapy?  Just expanding her social activities or even a social skills group may not be as productive, in my experience... 

This situation sounds so tough! I don't have many ideas, but here are a couple. You could look for a volunteer activity you can do together. Perhaps she would agree or you can bribe her? I agree with you that paying her to do a class is a bad idea but perhaps some kind of reward for volunteering is less objectionable? lets you search for family/teen activities. And also, if your finances permit, you and your husband should hire a sitter!!! She might object to this too so you could phrase it as a tutor or "coach" or tell her you are helping out someone who needs a job by paying them. And if you have an extra bedroom, you might see if there is a college student who you could offer a room to in exchange for work which would be serving as a "buddy" for your daughter (but I think your daughter needs to know the person is being paid, and also see lots of advice about the whole room in exchange for work situation on this site -- it's complicated).

Remember this child came from the foster system and must have been through A LOT.  A regular teen is hard to raise, but this child has been through a lot of trauma, I am sure. Clear boundaries and lots of love......