Help! My 14 year old niece is out of control!

My 14 year old niece (9th grade)  is seriously out of control. Her parents are getting divorced after 21 yrs of marriage and she is reacting by doing the following: skipping school, sneaking out at night, lying constantly, smoking pot, taking pills, failing all classes, alienating friends by risky behaviors, bringing prescription medication to school and giving it to other kids, posting very inappropriate things on social media ( sexual and drug oriented,)  meeting boys in a creek after dark while her parents are sleeping and more. She has been in therapy for a year or two due to anxiety and panic attacks and these current issues are known by the therapist. She is on some sort of medication (anti anxiety I think) and sees a psychiatrist regularly. She won't talk to me or her cousins who are in their early 20's and have a lot of wisdom to share. My sister has custody of her Mon-Fri and she spends the weekends with her dad. While they are not the best of friends at present due to the divorce, they get the severity of their daughter and her behavior but no one really knows what (if anything?) to do. They don't have near enough money to send her to a therapeutic boarding school but they do have great insurance.  Also, my niece did spend a week in a psychiatric ward about a year ago for threatening suicide. She has never acted on it (no cutting or other self harm attempts) and some of us think she is just doing all of this stuff to get attention. She is drawn to drama and the dramatic. Does anyone have advice? or recommend a support groups for South Bay parents? I really want to help my sister and my niece but am at a loss. I pray that this is just an awful phase but don't want to just do nothing while she spirals. Also- they did take her phone away just two days ago which is the only 'punishment' that seems to have any impact on her at all. Help!

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Wow, That is so scary! I have a 13 year old and if she was doing those things, I would need medication myself!  But as a therapist, I will say that if taking her phone away seems to have an impact, I'd go with that. Find out what else she really cares about- shopping trips? Movies? Have parents start to remove those until she gets her behavior back in control. I would also highly recommend family therapy with both  the parents and her , all together to talk about what she is going through. Good luck!!

Your niece is acting out and needs support.  Her internal world is going through frightening and painful changes that she cannot process and her parents are either unavailable or unable to contain her impulse and self destructive behaviors.  She needs guidance, acceptance, security and a place to keep her safe so she can talk about her feelings and learn coping skills to manage her feelings in a safe and effective way.  It is clear the system of communication in her family has broken down. She needs support.  If there is "great health insurance" available, then get support  immediately.  First decide whether inpatient or outpatient.  From your description, your niece is on her way to inpatient hold and this may be what she needs to pull her out of the fire so to speak.  As for outpatient treatment, research teen groups, individual and family therapy.  Best wishes for your niece's health and well being.

I'm sorry you and your family are going through this right now.  I can only image how hard this is for you and her parents - a very trying time.  I haven't gone through this as an adult, but as the 14 year old who was experiencing my parents divorce.  I did all the same things that you list - minus the social media part as this was 20 years ago - but I was rebellious and crazy and borderline too.  Now, when I look back I can tell you that I was doing it for attention.  My parents fighting and divorce took up every extra second of time from my sister and I and I was running crazy because no one was paying attention to me.  I was also playing my parents against each other - they weren't talking to each other so "mommy said" or "daddy said" went a long way with the other parent.  Now that I'm a parent of two, and I'm old enough to be reflective, I think attention was my main game.  If either parent, or anyone, would have paid attention to me, spent any time with me, or made me feel like I had a safe place to be or person to confide in during this process - I think it would have made a huge difference.  If you can be this person for your niece, or if she has someone to talk to about all the things she's going through - divorce and the breakup of family is a huge deal, no matter what age you go through it.  Good luck and best wishes.

The phone take-away thing is a scam at this point... the kids all sell each other extra phones. Your family has 2 choices: 1. Keep engaging with good psychiatric care (btw our daughter was on Zoloft for months - it made her much worse - maybe they need to change meds again for your niece), keep expressing love in the face of her acting out; 2. Tough love with a twist (because you can't kick out a 14 year old) - both parents have to agree to a set of "policies" - not rules per se. For example, we took away our daughters house key, changed all locks and alarm codes, and informed her that there would be no more visitors at our house and that she is not permitted to be alone in the house ever (she has to leave if we both leave, can go to a friend's or Starbucks or sit on our back deck), unless she is locked in with the alarm on. She was 16 when we implemented our policies, and so far this approach seems to work, the key to it is to lay out "these are household policies, not punishments", and also NOT to reveal consequences ahead of time (we have come to believe kids with these issues see those as negotiating points rather than deterrents), but to have a list of consequences that applies to each "policy". Another example -- we not only took our daughter's phone away, we disconnected it and when she finally earned a phone back, we got a month to month plan that if she doesn't behave, we just don't pay and it gets cut off automatically. Hope that helps.