Part of the problem.

Dear Annie: I have three grandchildren from my stepdaughter who live in another city. Their mom has said that she plans to come and visit with the kids this summer. One of the children has a lot of mental health issues. On a previous trip, “Sophie” stole several items worth quite a bit of money. When I mentioned this by phone on their drive back, my stepdaughter said she’d ask my grandchild. Needless to say, the child denied everything.

She also defaced a painting while visiting. I later found out that “Sophie” has stolen large sums of money from her father as well as from others. She has been violent and twice committed to a psych ward. This child is 13, and I have always suspected she could be violent. This was confirmed by the other grandmother.

I really don’t want her to visit but don’t know what to say to stop the visit. Help! — Wary Grandmother

Dear Grandmother: If you really want to stop the visit, then be clear and honest: “No, you are not allowed to stay with me.” Setting boundaries with loved ones and not wanting to expose yourself to violence or theft is nothing to feel bad about. Just be direct and upfront right away and tell her mother that Sophie is not allowed to stay with you. That does not mean that you don’t want to have contact with her. Make it clear that you love your grandchild, as I am sure you do, but that you don’t want to expose yourself to so much risk.

I would also have a talk with her parents and make sure that Sophie is getting proper mental health care. It sounds like she is very troubled and that her mother might be in denial. (c) Annie Lane @

AARGH. Geez, Grandma, can we show some compassion here? I’d wager there’s a 90% chance that Sophie’s been abused. The stealing alone could indicate that she’s a drug user, but defacing a painting and being hospitalized indicate that something has gone wrong in her life.

Grandma doesn’t seem to care. All she wants to do is cancel the impending visit. I don’t like this letter writer.

I used to work with teenagers at residential treatment facilities. I was terrible at it, but my heart was in the right place. (I lack the strength to restrain out-of-control teens. No muscle tone.)

I worked at a local place for three months back in 2007. I was working night shift, but they kept making me work extra shifts at all hours. I was exhausted. That was why I had to quit.

One morning, a girl of twelve had a total meltdown. She didn’t want to get out of bed. I gently shook her shoulder to rouse her, and she swung her arm overhead (while facing the wall) and took out my eyeglasses. Yep, she bent them into a pretzel, and I was horrified. (Historically, it’s always been hard for me to replace eyeglasses.)

So I had to call for backup because I was staring at my eyeglasses in shock. Someone else dragged her off the unit and I was able to continue breakfast routine (alone–I did this alone every morning) for the other girls. They left to catch their schoolbus, and the errant girl was sent back to my unit. She wanted to go to school, but I told her she wasn’t allowed and must stay in her room. So she lunged at me and tried to bite me. Like, for seriousness, her teeth were hungering for my upper arm. I managed to stave her off with what little self-defense I’m capable of, and I got her into her room with the door shut.

“I WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!” Pound, pound, pound. 

(Well, tough. No school for you. You’re a naughty girl, so you just stay in there and think about it.)

The day staff showed up, and I was able to go home and deal with the eyeglasses situation.

A few days later, I was informed that the girl who’d tried to bite me hated herself. Apparently, for whatever reason, a coworker had told this girl that her bad behavior was the reason I quit the job. I’d already put in my two-weeks’ notice before the incident, due to the company’s tendency to overtax my resources with multiple weekly 16 hour shifts.

So I went to talk to the girl and she seemed rather downtrodden. “It’s my fault,” she said.

“Oh, no, that’s not true. It’s my job to help you when you have a meltdown. And I’d already given them notice that I was quitting before that happened.”

“You don’t hate me?”

“No! Of course not. I care about you a great deal.”

She was really sad on my last day. So was I, but honestly, the job scared me. I could never do the physical aspects of it. I wish I could.

Anyway, to anyone who thinks that the kid who decked me and broke my eyeglasses was a meanie, I’d urge you to read her file. You’ll have nightmares. What she’s been through was terrifying. I sense similar things in Sophie’s background, and it upsets me that her step-grandma only cares about avoiding Sophie instead of helping her. If her grandma’s out there reading this, I’m not even going to bother listing some resources or suggestions. Gotta look out for number one, right, Grandma?

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