Girlfriend Sucks Her Thumb

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
My 16 year old girlfriend has started sucking her thumb. It's so weird! The first time I noticed it was in mid- January this year, and it has gotten progressively worse since. Her mother is aware of the situation but says my girlfriend has never been a thumb or finger sucker, they never even gave her a nook. My girlfriend gets straight A's, has good friends, doesn't get into any trouble, and is very fun and energetic, so I don't think it's a stress related issue. (Of course, I could be wrong.) When she first started I insisted for almost a month that she tell me if something was bothering her, I didn't care how bad it was, etc, etc. She swore that nothing was wrong or bothering her, she said she sucked her thumb because it's fun. I love this girl with all my heart, but people at school know she is sucking her thumb, and though I've stood by her and taken the ridiculing for 3 months, it's getting old. Should I take her to a therapist? Doctor? Her mom see's no reason to get any help or find out why she's doing this, she says my girlfriend will grow out of it. I don't want to break up with this girl.. But I don't know how much longer I can take it. Thanks for your help
Signed: Girlfriend Sucks Her Thumb

Dear Girlfriend Sucks Her Thumb,


Thumb-sucking, whether done by a child or a teen, is usually done as a way to self-soothe. Since you said your girlfriend’s thumb-sucking started in mid-January, FX suggests you think about the months prior in terms of any changes in your girlfriend’s life or new or difficult things she may have been dealing with – changes at home, issues in her relationships with her parents, issues with friends or peers, changes with academics or extra-curricular activities, and even any changes in your relationship with one another. Your girlfriend may be insisting that her thumb-sucking is just for “fun,” however, TeenHealthFX is inclined to think that there is more to it than that.

FX can appreciate that her thumb-sucking is difficult for you in terms of dealing with the ridicule she may be getting and/or you may be getting about it. FX suggests you talk to your girlfriend about how her thumb-sucking is affecting you. Let her know that you understand that she doesn’t see the thumb-sucking as a problem for her, but that you want her to be clear that it is a problem for you in terms of your having to deal with all of this teasing. If you girlfriend cares about you and the relationship, FX would think that she would take this into consideration in terms of how important it is for her to keep sucking her thumb.

The last thing FX would like to address is your question about whether you should take her to a doctor or therapist. It’s an interesting question given that you are a minor and are talking about another minor who does have at least one parent who is responsible to her. FX can’t help but wonder if there is a part of you that can relate to your girlfriend more as a parent-figure rather than someone on an equal level to her. If that is the case, it is possible that her thumb-sucking is a kind of acting out in response to feeling in a less than or in a more child-like position in the relationship with you.

You can certainly ask your girlfriend whether there are any stressors which have contributed to her sucking her thumb, and you can check in with her about whether there is anything concerning her about your relationship with one another that may be contributing to this behavior. You can also let your girlfriend know how distressing it is for you to deal with the ridicule around her sucking her thumb in the hopes that will impact whether she wants to continue with the thumb-sucking. But at the end of the day, she may decide that she wants to keep up with the thumb-sucking, in which case you will have to decide whether or not you are truly okay dealing with this or it’s just going to put too much of a strain on the relationship for you to stay involved.

Signed: TeenHealthFX