I Am a 12 Year Old Girl With Lots of Problems.

Dear Deb,

I am a 12 year old girl with lots of problems.

I was very quiet, so I had no friend in elementary school and in the first year of middle school I had only one friend and I considered that a miracle, but in 7th grade I had no classes with her and at lunch I had to do make up work for all the days I had been absent (I got really sick and had to stay out weeks at a time).

The teachers then became angry with me, because I was smart enough to know what I was doing, but not fast enough to get the work done. The kids in my classes ignored me whenever I tried to talk to them, and I couldn’t tell my mom anything because she would either go over to my school and complain (which she did once before) and make it worse or she wouldn’t pay attention to me (which happened for 11 1/2 years of my life).

I really wanted to be home schooled so I wouldn’t have to be around other kids as much. I talked to my grandma (who I’ve lived with since I was 9…I think) and she convinced my mother to home school me. My mom was really into home schooling me for about 2 months and then she stopped caring. Now, I have to figure out how to teach myself with some help from my grandma, but I don’t like to trouble her since she has her own problems to worry about and my older sister has her own life with her husband and unborn baby.

My mother is trying to get me to go over to her apartment and help take care of my two little sisters, or should I say watch them all day while she works and has sex with her fat 400-pound husband, C.J. (he is the father of the two babies, my father’s name is Louis and my older sister’s father’s name is Frank, but my mom never married anyone but C.J.).

I am seriously stressed out. I want to be a pediatric doctor, so I need a good education. I am currently writing a book so it takes up most of my time, and I am really worried about my sisters, because I don’t think that they are in a safe environment seeing as their father’s entire family has a criminal record, according to the police when they came over when my older sister had called them because C.J. and my mom were fighting (my mom had taken a knife from the kitchen and cut his arm and C.J. had taken my music stand for my violin sheet music and had started to hit her with it). And to top it all off, I think he molested me while I was sleeping in my room when I lived there. I had forgotten to lock the door that night and when I woke up my underwear was around my ankles. I have no proof that he did anything to me, so I didn’t tell anyone, but I was so scared.

I had asked my grandmother if I could live with her. I can’t leave my sisters there, but I don’t now what to do. I don’t know how to open up to people very well, so I don’t know who I can tell about all this.

Please answer soon.

Rose

Dear Rose,

First of all, you sound like a bright little girl and I encourage you to continue getting your education, because a good education is the way out of the circumstances you find yourself in. You write well for a child your age, which tells me you have everything you need to get good grades and move on to higher education. Teaching yourself at home sounds like a difficult task, so you might consider discussing with your Grandma this summer whether a return to public school might be a better option. I remember how awkward middle school seemed and how awful certain children were treated by certain classmates, but when you asked to be home schooled, you had no idea that you would be required to teach yourself, so it’s reasonable to ask your legal guardian to place you back in school, if your original assumptions about home schooling haven’t materialized. Your Grandma loves you and likely wants what’s best for you, so don’t be afraid to discuss your options.

Second, I want you to remind yourself that these family problems are not your fault, but you are dealing with the consequences of other peoples’ problems. If adults get angry with you or kids you meet treat you badly, don’t let them convince you that you’re worthless or not worthy of respect, because you are. Each of us comes into the world with a different set of challenges and it’s not always fair how those challenges are handed out, but you have a good mind, which is the most important tool for dealing with life’s challenges. Make certain you keep that good mind and, with hard work and patience, you’ll see yourself through your school years. Remember that childhood is just a small part of your life and you’ll one day (in less than six years time) have greater control of your life. Six years might seem like an eternity right now, but the life you’ll lead after you’re 18 will be much longer than your school years are and much more of a reflection on who you are and not who your family is. You’ll be a teen soon and it will be natural to act out in ways that seem like you’re asserting your independence and increasing maturity, but “keeping your good mind” means avoiding traps like drug use and alcohol abuse, because those are just the pathways to more problems and less control. Find positive ways to focus your energy when entering your rapidly-approaching adulthood.

Third, being bashful and shy around people can make problems seem worse. Studies show that isolation is a major factor in depression and I’m certain you feel awfully isolated right now. Finding a way out of that isolation is going to be an important step for you, but remember that you only have to take the first step (see #4). If you try to speak to someone and they rebuff you, don’t let that discourage you from trying to talk to someone else. It hurts when people are unkind and don’t listen to you, but the world is full of people and you’ll find friends eventually. Keep trying and never give up. You’re at an awkward age and middle school kids can be cruel, but don’t let that go to your head. (How people treat you is a reflection on them, not on you. All you can do is control your own actions.) When you do start to talk through your problems with a responsible adult, talk to them about the idea of reentering the school system. While public school might seem like torture to you at the moment, it gives you a better chance to escape your isolation than home schooling does. You can learn what you need to through home school and it might be your best option (I can’t say it is or isn’t, since I can’t see your daily circumstances at school or home), but being at a school with other kids and the school administration gives you more opportunities to meet friends and work with trained educators and counselors.

Fourth, if you have trouble speaking about your problems to responsible adults, but you do feel comfortable writing about them, you might consider writing your thoughts down and giving your written notes to an adult you trust and who can help you. In this case, I would suggest your grandma or a school counselor (even if you don’t go to school there anymore; find a phone number or email address to contact if your old school is too far away for you to contact face-to-face). As far as bringing up this subject on paper, writing down your thoughts might allow you to collect your thoughts and say exactly what you wish to convey, while “breaking the ice”. Be prepared to answer follow up questions, because these adults are likely to ask questions out of concern for your problems.

If you do this, though, I would strongly recommend you ONLY write or keep such writing in a place you have trust in, such as your grandma’s house. You don’t want someone that you don’t trust reading your innermost thoughts and problems, so I would suggest you avoid ever carrying such writing into your mother’s home, for instance.

The Fifth, final and most practical thing I’m going to tell you is to speak with a LPC or “Licensed Personal Counselor” to talk to about your problems. I’m unfortunately not qualified to counsel you about the more complicated problems you have in your family, but right now I wish that I was. I encourage you to speak to a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). “Licensed” is an important distinction, because this means the person is actually trained to counsel you and isn’t just a person who claims they can help you. Even though you aren’t attending your local school, if you can find no one else to refer you, talk to a local school counselor to learn where you might find a local licensed personal counselor.

Here are several other resources that might be helpful to you. Not all of these will be in your area, though you can email them and ask where if they might direct you to someone in your local area who can help.

National Board For Certified Counselors – http://www.nbcc.org/directory/FindCounselors.aspx – Check the “Childhood & Adolescence” box and place your state and city and get a list of childhood counselors who might help you, or refer you to the proper counseling assistance.

Girls Incorporated – http://www.girlsinc.org/index.html – An organization that’s been helping to empower adolescent girls since 1864.

Smart Girl Dot Org – http://www.smart-girl.org/ – Helping young girls make smart choices. There’s a link of recommended books to read under “Contact – Book Recommendations”. I wish this organization had a message board.

GENAustin – Girls Empowerment – http://genaustin.org/public/ – Fostering healthy self-esteem in girls and building skills to empower them with confidence and courage. Think about how many girls there are out there like yourself, if there are so many organizations like this.

Girlville – The Lower Eastside Girls Club – http://www.girlsclub.org/girlville – This page directs you to blogs, podcasts, photographs and videos that might help you cope with your problems. I’m pretty sure you can sign up to blog at Girlville at http://www.girlville.info/?page_id=3.

PowerPlay NYC – Comments Page – http://www.powerplaynyc.org/contactus.htm – This New York City girls empowerment organization has a comments page. Contact this organization and ask if they might recommend local assistance for you.

Empower Girls – http://www.empower-girls.org/ – Email Nicole Scott and see if she might direct you to a local girls help program. Notice that Empower Girls’ philosophy states that “Success in adult life will depend on the ability to think and learn,” which was Point #1.

Rose, I hope one of these organizations or references is near you or can direct you to someone who might help you with your problems. Just remember, help is out there. You have family members who love you and there are a lot of nice people in this world. You are not alone, no matter who lonely or isolated you feel at the moment. Don’t give up until you find the support network you need to help you grow, gain self-esteem and the help you deserve.

Let us know if you need more recommendations and we’ll try to help.

Good luck.