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Janejay

Clothes obsession. Should I remove my daughter’s phone?

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She’s 16 and compulsively looking for clothes on her phone because she’s convinced she won’t fit in and make friends at college without the right clothes. 
As well as spending hours of her time in the day and through the night she wants me to help narrow down around 100 items she’s picked out as possible. Repeatedly. She says it’s just too hard to do other things without sorting out the clothes. 
I don’t want her doing this as it’s making her really unhappy and taking over her life. I’ve tried agreeing to look at a limited category of clothes with her, or a limited number of items with her in return for her doing what I want her to do and also limiting the time we spend on it using a stop watch. She just tries to carry on and gets angry if I stop or try to remove the phone for a short time. Should I get tougher? I’m explaining this is a compulsion and I can’t afford to buy more but it’s not going in. Will I do more harm by taking the phone away? 

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Hi JaneJay, 

You've done exactly the right thing in explaining this is a compulsion and therefore you can't support it. I think if you took the phone away on the grounds that she's compulsively looking at clothes for hours (ie. because of her OCD)  it could cause resentment (which is actually fear from her compulsion being stopped disguised as resentment.)

However, there's a 'normal' parenting issue here too. Any young person spending their parent's money online without the parent's consent should expect to have their phone confiscated! It sounds as though she knows your credit card details so you might want to think of ordering a new card/ changing the PIN so she can't purchase anything without you knowing about it.

I would approach it from the angle of inaffordability/ unacceptable spending, at least initially. This can put an instant 100% stop to the ordering and returning of goods and gives you some breathing space to tackle the driving force behind her behaviour (the OCD thoughts.) Once the ban on buying anything is in place you should find it easier to refuse to look at new clothes completely and get back to her doing what you want her to do because you asked her to do it and not as part of any bargaining. I'm never convinced a limited time of indulging compulsions works too well as when the allotted time is up the feeling you need to persist is still there. Being cut off mid-compulsion always felt worse to me than not being able to do it at all, but the time limited allowing of compulsions does work for some so that's your call. 

You won't make her OCD worse by removing her phone. But it's common that when denied one compulsion a new one takes its place, so you might think you're seeing a deterioration when its just a shift to some new way to bring her the reassurance she craves. 

You may also wish to start helping her to see that 'sorting her clothes' won't sort her concerns over starting college and that the feeling she won't make friends or fit in is just a feeling which has nothing to do with what clothes she wears. (I know, hard concept to get across when kids spend their lives thinking fashion matters!) Perhaps have a chat about how meaningful friendships are formed based on what we do, not what we wear. Try to build her self-confidence so fitting in becomes less of a concern. 

You may think this isn't tackling her OCD, but the problem isn't so much what she's doing (buying and obsessing over clothes) as the faulty thinking which results in that behaviour. (That she won't fit in, that she's not good enough as she is, that there's such a thing as the 'right' clothes and having them can solve feelings of insecurity.)

 

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I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. She’s not buying without permission. Thankfully I don’t have that to deal with.
I’ll try working on the concept of fitting in not being dependent on clothes some more, though as you say it’s really hard to do with a teenage girl. It’s also something all her friends agree with her on. Big source of arguments. 

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