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Loving mom is in over head with disturbed teen

Question: I am a white woman living in the Denver area. I am divorced and have custody of three children. I lost my home to the bad economy and had to move into a not-so-nice neighborhood with a lot of drug, alcohol and gang activity, involving not only the mostly Latino and African- American kids, but their parent(s) as well.

One Latina teen in particular came to my attention. She moved here with her mother, who eventually went to jail on drug charges, and later was living with neighbors who kicked her out because of her promiscuity. My children and I talked for two weeks before inviting her to live with us.

We were lucky to find a less expensive home in a safer neighborhood. My problem is that when I leave this girl alone, she invites the type of people we moved away from to come over to my house, disregarding my wishes. Twice I've found used condoms IN MY ROOM. Last night, I found an empty bottle of vodka. She's typically very kind and thoughtful, loves to be hugged and kissed by her "mom," but I'm fearful that her upbringing and environment might be too ingrained to change. I love her and want her to be happy, but I also know my job is to prepare her for adulthood. Help.

Lily: What a predicament. On the one hand, you have done a selfless thing by opening the doors of your "hogar" to this young lady. On the other, this act potentially compromises your family's safety and well-being. Tell her — again — that you love her and want her to live with you, but in order to live at your house she must abide by your rules. Explain how these rules are in place for her well-being.

If she agrees but says that she is having difficulty obeying them, ask her if she will consider therapy. Many churches have youth groups that invite kids to talk about peer pressures with total confidentiality. If all fails and her behavior does not change and you feel you have exhausted all options, then you must ask her to leave. As a mom, my heart goes out to you.

Catherine: People's behavior seldom changes overnight. This girl was raised by a mother involved in drugs, and she has turned to a promiscuous lifestyle in order to receive love. A secure home alone will not break this pattern of behavior. To effectively deal with the serious issues in her life, this girl needs intense counseling and an incredible amount of personal attention, time and love. You've got the love, but your situation makes the attention and time parts of the formula almost impossible since you are raising three other children alone.

Start looking for a home that would not only welcome a troubled teen but would also have the people, time and resources to help her accept her past and focus on her future. Call a local church and explain your situation. The people there might know of a specific family or be able to direct you to more resources. In the meantime, express your love for her but give her strict limits and boundaries. If she crosses those boundaries ONE MORE TIME, she has to leave. In the long run, this is the loving thing to do.

Danny: Catherine's right. You have a kind heart, but you are in way over your head. Being a mom to this girl is not enough. She has no sense of restriction and no fear of consequence associated with her choices and actions. Contact a local school counselor and, together with your adopted teen, find those organizations that will help her. This young woman needs professional assistance to help her realize how self-destructive her actions are and how hurtful they are to others.

Be firm in getting her to commit to a program dealing with her specific challenges. Set a timetable on how her commitment and willingness to help herself will win her back a place in your home and in your family's heart. Your children, your security and your health are in danger if you do not set some very clear tough-love rules to jolt her back to reality.


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We want your questions! Consejos is a bilingual advice column focused on relationships, culture and identity. E-mail your questions or comments to consejos Or send your letters to Consejos, c/o Texas Living, The Dallas Morning News, 508 Young St., Dallas, TX 75202. Visit Lily, Catherine and Danny online at © Dallas Morning News Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate