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Help me please before I go insane...

Hi Mark,

I had emailed you earlier in the year about my 17 year old. I am writing again to seek your advice. I have read the email from the "Sad Mom" under the Empty Nest Syndrome tab linked to your email and I must say I am suffering almost the same fate now as her.

My 17 year old daughter has now moved out of home to be with her father whom she hasn’t had much time for in recent times due to them not seeing eye to eye. Now that she has moved in with him it seems that he is giving in to her every demand.

My daughter is now seeing an 18 year old who comes from a broken home, whose father was abusive. This guy jumps from house to house after being kicked out of his fathers house, he moves to his mothers, then he will get kicked out of there so he moves in with his brother who lives with his de facto and newborn child and that’s where he lives at the moment. He just so happens to live just around the corner from where my daughter’s father is living so it is very convenient for her to have sleepovers (which happen regularly). I am fearful of never getting her back home in a stable household where she can be nurtured and gotten back on track.

My and my son's relationship with her is almost non-existent with her as this guy she is seeing is one of the most un-liked (in fact hated) guys in town and he has nothing going for him. He is in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars as he was involved in a car accident where he crashed into a truck (uninsured of course) and because he was at fault is in debt up to his eyeballs. No need to say that he doesn’t work and is extremely unsettled in his life. He is even talking about leaving town now and my daughter is contemplating moving with him (she has only known him for a few months and formed a relationship with him just in the last couple of weeks).

I accept your advice to sad mom about empty nest syndrome but I fail to understand how there is nothing we can do to make them understand that living their life this way will be of no benefit to their future success in life. My daughter likewise has all but removed herself from my side of the family as she knows we do not agree with her behaviour. She has very little if anything to do with her other friends as well.

I tried talking to her father about my concerns and he all but suggested that I just let her live her life and she will learn. I just cannot sit back and watch her destroy her and her family's life and for the sake of a trashy guy that will most likely hurt or bludge from her for the rest of her life.

Help me please before I go insane. I have been on antidepressants now for a week and at the moment don’t even feel like seeing my daughter as every time I do she "just makes me sick to the stomach". I struggle to get through each day and am losing weight because I can’t eat.

I am not the kind of mum that won’t let go and if this guy had anything going for him I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I am sorry this message is so disjointed but I am just not thinking too straight and am struggling also to keep my working life in order.




Hi M.,

I know how you feel …and when I felt this way as a young parent, I distracted myself.

I distracted myself by focusing on all that was going right rather than on that was going wrong …by focusing on my blessings rather than my “curses” (which there is no such thing) …by regularly talking about my parenting struggles with someone I trusted …by accepting help and support when it was offered …by reminding myself that my responses are normal responses to a stressful situation …by giving myself permission to do whatever I needed to do to take care of myself.

Your body and mind will tell you what you need to do -- your job is to listen to them.

Your daughter will gain experience out in the real world – and experience is a great teacher (a much better teacher than you will be at this point …no offense).




Thanks for your response Mark and the comments are very much appreciated. Whilst I understand that it is important to learn from your own experiences my major concern is that at this point in her life, she is not thinking clearly at all and that she will make a mistake that she will have to live with for the rest of her life, ie lose her job because of her behaviour (I am told by her work mates that she is not herself at work), falling pregnant, or being the breadwinner and running around after this no-hoping guy.

I know what you are saying is true and that no matter how much I object to her seeing him and the other less than nice friends she is getting about with she will only move further and further away but I struggle to sit back and pretend that everything is OK.


I am so deeply worried that my sons will be somehow 'compelled' to try the tonne of bricks...

Hello Mark…

It is just after 2:30am and I am having difficulty sleeping, so perhaps sharing a few of my worrisome thoughts with you as my remote 'sounding board' may help.

I am so very concerned for our future. When push comes to shove, my sons seem to embrace failure and punishment. Let me try to piece things together to try to explain my deep concerns.

My husband had taken 4 months long service leave as the stress of our son's behaviours were taking their toll. Last month we went together as a family to a counsellor that is part of his employment benefits as he was preparing to return to work. Although somewhat better this year (no disappearing overnight or longer on the weekends, no demands for alcohol), we needed to address our son's behaviours that were building into more trouble at home (argumentative, unreasonable behaviours) and poor school performance (lateness, truancy among some other things related to poor decision making). It took my husband to repeatedly beg the boys to come to that counselling session. In the end they agreed, but ensured that we were late for the appointment. The counsellor set us a small challenge as a start, to manage the chronic lateness, just in the mornings getting ready for the day.

We agreed that our sons could wake themselves and get up later, at 8am rather than the 7:30am that we preferred, and we were to give the message of 'Your breakfast is on the table' if either were not up by 8:15am. I also agreed that I would cook their breakfast porridge and make their lunches. Our sons agreed that they would get themselves up, dress, make their beds, feed their pets, and be ready to leave between 8:45am and 8:48am. If they both were ready, then we agreed that they would be given use of the car to go to College. If they were not ready, at 9:50am I would drive them to College. The boys concerns were that I am always upset. I made it clear that I would definitely still be disappointed and upset if they succeeded in doing what they needed to do to get use of the car (what they wanted) and at the same time failed in lots of other areas of their lives (which is what they have tended to do). Well, the boys made a genuine effort for 4 days before challenging their part of the agreement, in escalating terms. My husband returned to work under these deteriorating conditions at home, which was what we had declared at the counselling session was the situation we were trying to avoid.

We continued with the plan and the problems escalated with reports of unexplained latenesses or entire absences from some classes and some other infractions with their friends. (Silly things - like one of my sons chose to ride on the roads with a fellow student, as a pillion passenger on a motorbike. This friend was on L-Plates. My son was without a helmet.)

All the while our sons insisted that they were doing better and we rewarded a 'seem to be doing better' stage with an OK to stay at home one weekend whilst we went on a working bee at our ski pad 2.5 hours drive away. The boys were left from Saturday morning to Sunday evening when my husband returned. I stayed on alone at the unit as there was more painting to be done. Ken was to return on Wednesday to pick me up. Instead, I received a phone call from him asking if the police had contacted me.

This was in relation to the criminal act that I mentioned last email. On the Monday, the boys had the use of the car as they were on time and they successfully took themselves to a pre-employment session after school (they had applied to work as labourers in the Cirque du Soleil pack down). Ken allowed them to use their computers unsupervised in their rooms that evening (to do school assignments and study for upcoming end of term tests). The Tuesday morning our sons were again ready on time and were given use of the car to go to College. Ken noticed that one had an extra bag with them. He assumed that this was for their gym gear (the boys do weight training 4 days per week). The Tuesday evening when Ken phoned, he said that everything was fine. He had no idea of what had taken place that day. This is usual. He is a wonderful, gentle man and does not recognise when trouble is looming.

This is what subsequently came to light...

On Monday evening our sons had been in contact by computer private chat (MSN) with a friend from high school that they do the gym work with. They would have missed their work out together due to the pre-employment session that their friend did not attend. During this chat session, these three young men planned to commit a robbery. It appears that their friend wanted a laptop and my sons wanted money to buy clothes. The mystery is that their friend just this year began receiving money from the government (youth allowance) and my sons, as I had said, had just applied for work to earn money that they could have put some of it towards the extra cost of the clothes that they wanted. Why on earth would they plan destroy this immediately after putting such effort in to secure a desirable casual labouring job?

It is totally beyond my comprehension, and this is the pattern of behaviour that really concerns me.

At a meeting with the Deputy Principal and School Counsellor at the College at the end of term (two weeks ago), the DP encouraged my sons to get up at 7am and to seek employment. After the holidays, if they wanted to return to College, then they could do so under a strictly controlled contract. In my attempts to get them working towards an earlier rise, I had them getting up at around 8am to start working in the garden by 9am, they responded by getting up later and later - after 10, after 11, after 11:30am (which has varied up and down).

We have seen the police this evening and my sons have signed forms to participate in Restorative Justice Conferencing. The Constable made it clear to my sons that if they demonstrate remorse, understand the impact on the victim, and perform the required community service outcomes of this conferencing, then the police may choose to end the matter there. Otherwise, they will be charged and be required to go to court and perhaps Juvenile Detention. The Constable also made it clear that he did not wish to see them before him in this way again as he would 'come down on them like a tonne of bricks'.

Mark, I am so deeply worried that my sons will be somehow 'compelled' to try the tonne of bricks.

You said in your reply email that I need to get a good diagnosis if there is bipolar tendencies. I don't know of any way that I could possibly get either of them to attend another session with anyone (school counsellor, Ken's work counsellor, nor a psychiatrist). Also, I am very uncomfortable with the prospect of using strong medications (and the latest reports on ADHD medicating lend some credence to my concerns in that area). Instead, I have been building the idea of us all seeing a new family doctor (as our own wonderful, trusted, female family doctor we have attended since the boys were born retired in March). The doctor that I would like us to see is a man and a Naturopathic GP. I plan to make the appointments tomorrow, and hopefully we won't have to wait too many weeks to get in.

As to how I have gone this weekend? I was at the end of my rope with one son who had been unreasonable all day Friday, so eventually phoned to ask Ken to come home early. That was 4pm. On Saturday we test drove a vehicle that we are considering for the Franchise business. My other son was with me and became unreasonable in the car whilst I was driving. I was able to dilute the behaviour to a tolerable level. Tonight I gave warning then took the remote and aerial cable from the TV. If they chose to go to bed then they could have the TV back tomorrow, if not it would be 3 days. I did not respond to their arguments, calmly restated the request and consequences for their choices and left them to it. I asked my husband to do a follow up 5 minutes later as I was all done in. Happily, concurrently, I heard the boys going to the kitchen to make the last protein drink getting ready for bed.

I am exhausted. I will send this now. I would very much appreciate your wise insights and strategies to help me through this. I say me, as it was after my husband had turned out the light tonight that I insisted he finish reading the printed material on your program. He doesn't deliberately undermine, but undermine he has a tendency to do. Hopefully he can gain a better understanding with your step by step program so that we can achieve a more consistent approach for our sons. There is just too much on our plates to deal with. Our problems seem insurmountable, our difficult path appears unalterable, but there is much love in our home and that is the glue that binds us.


Hi M.,

It would be best for you to allow your sons to experience painful emotions associated with their poor choices ...I can see that you are spending a lot of time and energy trying to "save" them from themselves. This, along with counseling, is a traditional parenting strategy that will continue to make a bad problem worse.

If they choose not to follow through with the expectations (i.e., perform the required community service outcomes of this conferencing), then they will choose the consequence. Please do not get in the way of letting this wonderful opportunity for them to gain experience/wisdom take it's course.

I'm concerned that you are taking on too much responsibility. If they do not want to go to a doc for an eval ...and if they choose not to take appropriate meds, then you have to begin the business of taking care of yourself in the form of "letting go." Otherwise, YOU will become ill -- both physically and emotionally.




Yes, you are absolutely right. It happened to my mother, who eventually succumbed to terminal cancer. I have started taking care of myself as of yesterday after a long conversation with a dear wise long time (older) friend. I am not so concerned with the imminent restorative justice, but more the longer term. I won't go that road. I have appointments with the new doctor for my husband and sons as well, but me first.

Thanks Mark. I can turn now and feel that I can navigate a better course.


It sounds like she is not even attending the math class...

Hi Mark,

I do have an issue to ask you about. I have custody of my 17 year old granddaughter and school is definitely a challenge with her. M___ has been with me for just under 2 years. She is from __________ and after 2 years of grade 9 had only 4 credits. As of February 2007 she had 13 1/2 high school credits and requires 30 credits to graduate. Her problem is socializing, skipping and not handing in her homework - so of course she does not do well in school.

After talking with the vice principal at the school we decided to move her to a __________ School where she does not attend school for the entire day. She only goes to school for 2 hours per week per course and she does her homework on her own. This often works for students who have problems in the regular school stream. When we moved her to the Alternative school, I talked with her and told her this was her last chance to try and get a high school education, which is very important for her future.

I have been trying to find out how she is doing, but don't get much information. The school is not very responsive to parents because they treat the student as an adult, responsible for their education. Recently the vice principal has indicated in a voice mail she will talk with me - but we have not yet managed to connect.

M___ has indicated everything is fine and that she does not get a report card in this school. She has told me she has an 85 average and everything is great. Unfortunately, I have heard this story before so am a little cautious. When the actual marks come in she is often failing or barely making a passing grade.

Yesterday, I was gathering some laundry in her bathroom and found the report card sitting on the counter. M___ gets upset if she thinks I read her papers so I can't let on I have seen the report card.

The good news is that she has passed her 1/2 credit Civics course with a 61. The other 3 are full credit courses and so far she has 77 on her parenting course and 76 on her Sociology course - excellent for her but ...both teachers indicate that this mark is for unit 2 or 3 out of 10 and that she is not handing in her home work consistently. At this stage she should be on about unit 5. On her math course she has a 45 and the teacher has commented that she should attend school on a more regular basis and do her homework. So it sounds like she is not even attending the math class.

I'd appreciate some advise on what to do.



All of my adolescent clients are either in alternative school or working on their GED. None of them attend class with the frequency that teachers find optimal. But these kids get the work done eventually. Continue to do what you’ve been doing (i.e., stay out of it …schoolwork is your granddaughter’s job).


Empty Nest Syndrome

Hi Mark,

I emailed you in Jan 07 about my situation concerning my 17 yr old daughter. Now, I am looking for your advice again.

My daughter moved out of our home, not with our consent, back in January. She moved into her boyfriend's house (his mom's house) but they have since moved into their own apartment. She only met this guy over Christmas, and he is on a methodone treatment plan for his oxycotin addiction. He is 21. She is in her last year of high school, but may not even graduate now as she very rarely attends school anymore. Her relationship with her two sisters has deteriorated big time, however it doesn't seem to bother her in the least. As well, my relationship with my daughter has suffered more than I can describe. Her relationship with her Dad is almost non-existent.

The last three months for me have been hell. My emotions are all over the map. She should have been at her grade 12 prom last night, such a memorable event in a young girl's life …instead she was in some shabby apartment with her boyfriend. She has totally distanced herself from her friends, now he seems to have become her world. Before she met him, she was always with her friends. I am so worried about her.

So far, my daughter has learned nothing from this experience. She sees no problem with her actions, she has not matured at all. She has shown no guilt or sorrow for leaving our home in the manner she did. (She told everyone that her parents kicked her out, and painted this picture of 2 horrible parents). When I showed up at her boyfriend's mothers house, she told me to go F myself. Never, has she spoken to me like that in all her life. She has not apologized for that either.

Anyhow, I am beginning to ramble. It is just that my life has been turned inside out since this happened. I am so heartbroken and it isn't getting any easier. I thought by now it should. My marriage is suffering for this too. My husband is so calm about it all, so accepting of it. He figures she made her choice, she is stupid, and one day will realize it. He feels he did nothing wrong, and there is nothing he can do about it. (Not that he even tries.) He is not loosing any sleep over this mess. To me, that is not normal. I don't think that my daughter has any idea what this has done to her family, the hurt she has caused me and other family members. If she does, she must not care because she seems very content, not a care in the world. No clue about how dangerous it is to be involved with a recovering addict, he doesn't work, he has no car, nothing going for him. Her forms from her education fund arrived last week …we have been putting away a little money each month for her post secondary education. That hurt too, she should be home filling out her university application. Instead, she has thrown away all that we have to offer to her.

I just don't know how to be acting anymore. Am I supposed to be supportive to my daughter? I have never been to her apartment. Now they are moving to another apartment next week, she asked me to help her decorate. I said no. I have been supportive in other ways, but I just can't accept her relationship with him. I can't stand the sight of him. How do I cope with all of this, I feel like I am drowning. Work is stressful lately …the project I am working on is a nightmare. My marriage has major problems. My father just got diagnosed with cancer. 2007 is turning into a hellish year so far. I am loosing my daughter, we are growing further apart, and she could care less. Meanwhile, I am dying inside. How do I deal with this anymore?

Thanks for listening. I am sorry for rambling.

Sad Mom


Uh oh …the dreaded Empty Nest Syndrome.

Empty Nest Syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. Women are more likely than men to be affected; often, when the nest is emptying, mothers are going through other significant life events as well, such as menopause or caring for elderly parents.

Feelings of sadness are normal at this time. It is also normal to spend time in the absent child's bedroom to feel closer to him or her. If you feel that your useful life has ended, or if you are crying excessively or are so sad that you don't want to see friends or go to work, you should consider seeking professional help.

Parents gain the greatest satisfaction from the transition to an empty nest when they have developed and maintained good relations with their children as they were growing up. Extreme hostility, conflict, or detachment in parent-child relations may reduce parental support when it is most needed by children during early adulthood.

When a child's departure unleashes overwhelming sadness, treatment is definitely needed. You may need antidepressants, and you almost certainly could use some counseling to get your feelings into perspective. Meanwhile, look to your friends for support and be kind to yourself.

Time and energy that you directed toward your child can now be spent on different areas of your life. This might be an opportune time to explore or return to hobbies, leisure activities or career pursuits.

This also marks a time to adjust to your new role in your child's life as well as changes in your identity as a parent. Your relationship with your child may become more peer-like, and you will have to get used to the fact that your child is an adult now and no longer in need of services.

In anticipation of your younger children eventually leaving home, prepare for a totally empty nest NOW. Develop friendships, hobbies, career, and educational opportunities. Make plans with the family while everyone is still under the same roof, so you don't regret lost opportunities (e.g., family vacations, long talks, take time off from work). And make specific plans for the extra money, time, and space that will become available when children are no longer dependent on you and living at home.


Acknowledgment & Praise

I've tried the "catch your kid in the act of doing something right" business, but it doesn't really seem to work son just looks at me like I'm stupid. Any suggestions?



A few points here:

The My Out-of-Control Teen eBook does not contain a set of "one-size-fits-all" parenting strategies. I rely on the parent to be smart enough to "fine-tune" the strategies according to their specific situation (this is why the parent-coaching piece is so important; you'll need some clarification and revision on some things from time to time).

Some kids have very low self-esteem, and so a daily dose of positive strokes in the form of acknowledgment and praise is prescribed.

Some kids have fairly high self-esteem, and as such, do not need a lot of strokes. In fact, too many stokes for this kid will be annoying to him/her.

Use your good judgment here -- be creative.

As a side note, here are the two mistakes I see parents make on this subject of rewarding the kid for good behavior in the form of acknowledgment and praise:

1. The parent is not sincere when she praises, thus the kid picks up on the words used (and the body language behind the words) and knows that the parent in NOT really impressed with the kid's behavior, the parent is simply SAYING she is impressed.

2. The parent praises in a sarcastic fashion (usually due to some unresolved resentment toward her kid; she may not even realize that her praise is being perceived as an insult by the kid). In this case, the praise is not a reward, rather it is a form of criticism.

So, if parents praise TOO MUCH, or the praise is dishonest or sarcastic, they're just pissin' in the wind. In these cases, it would be better to say nothing.


I am a bit discouraged...


I have to admit I am a bit discouraged. I have been following your rules carefully and consistently for a few weeks now.

Good news. I have seen some improvement in compliance with house rules.

Bad news ...the more compliance I see, the more silent treatment and other anger management stages I see being exhibited.

So ...let me know if this progression is normal, and again, assuming that I AM following the rules EXACTLY as you have them laid out long it should take to see SOME improvement in attitude.

While I try to remain non-affected ...after weeks and months of saying ‘I love you’ and not having anything said back can get pretty damaging. I feel like I am now getting close to the reciprocal of the silent treatment and emotional numbness so I don’t fly off the handle.

Any thoughts?


Yes …first of all, feeling discouraged is a nature step in the progression of this parenting-model. As change begins to happen, most (if not all) parents experience some “doubt” that this “system” (i.e., this new set of parenting strategies) actually works. Plus, things often get worse before they get better. But don’t get sidetracked just because you’re discouraged. Don’t go on ‘how it feels’ right now, because it always “feels” a whole lot worse than it actually is.

Re: silent treatment. When kids give parents the silent treatment, it is just another form of seeking intensity/energy from the parent; they want to get a reaction out of you; they are attempting to push your “rejection” buttons. If you are offended by the silent treatment, be sure to give NO indication that you are offended (e.g., in the form of anger or returning the silent treatment).

I find that when “the silent treatment” goes on for a lengthy period of time, it is most often the case that the parent is not “catching the kid in the act of doing something right” enough (I assume you read that part of the eBook – if not, please review). When the parent provides a lot of intensity when things are “going right,” the kid usually get his “intensity fix” and does not turn to more destructive means to get attention.

Re: saying “I love you.”
This is a ‘gift’ that you give your child. Expect nothing in return. If you are offended because your child does not respond positively, then you are too emotionally invested in the relationship (i.e., taking on too much responsibility).

Let me offer a refinement on the “I love you” business. From now on say, “Love ya” once a week as you walk by your child. Don’t look at him/her …don’t stand there waiting for a response …say it quickly, move on to your next task, and detach from the outcome.


The keys just came up missing...

Hi J.,

I’ve answered where you see these arrows: >>>>>>>>>>


Have just received your e-book and went through it. I am going to go through it a few more times to make sure I "get it right". I do have some questions for you I'm hoping you can answer.

1. How do you handle a situation where you believe your teen took something (the extra set of car keys for the car he will drive when he shows he is more trustworthy and responsible) but cannot prove it as there are other children in the house (19 yrs old with a car of his own and a 9 yr old) and the keys just came up missing.

>>>>>>>>>> If you have no evidence re: who took the keys, then you shouldn’t accuse anyone.

>>>>>>>>>> I know this may be hard for you to hear, but go to your local auto repair shop and have them put in a new ignition switch in the vehicle in question. You will then receive a new set of car keys that you should keep with you at all times. It will cost you about $100 to get a new switch, but it will be well worth the expense. Think about how much it will cost you if your son takes a “joy-ride” and has an accident (he probably does have the keys by the way, and you can’t monitor his “joy-riding” capabilities 24/7).

>>>>>>>>>> Round-up all the other keys to any other items that your kids are not to have access to while you’re at it.

2. Can your method work when the other parent (2 parent family, 3 boys) will not follow your program (or anything else) and will yell, ground "for a month" and tell him to "just leave and don't come back" when they are fighting? I will discipline (usually with the 3 day grounding), but they will get into an argument and the Dad says to leave. Then son gets a gleeful look on his face and is gone (on his bike and usually to his girlfriends). How do you start over, continue with the punishment when he gets the go ahead from his Dad? It often feels as I am in the middle trying to referee this situation.

>>>>>>>>>> A weaker plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one.

3. This child has a girlfriend (also 16--same school) of over 1 yr that he is quite serious about, so much so that he has almost excluded any male friends. He wants to talk with her/text her and be with her almost 24/7. He does have a job and is involved with sports, and does pretty well in school--3 B, 2 A, 1C). We do have rules at our house. The girlfriend's parents think pretty much anything is OK. I have accepted this girl and am pretty OK with it but we do have many conflicts about the lack of rules at her house, and different ones at home. What is the best approach to this that will show our son that he still must follow and respect us and our rules?

>>>>>>>>>> This is one of those very general questions that would take a book to answer adequately …fortunately, you got the ebook.


My Out-of-Control Teen eBook

He puts his head down on the desk and pretends to go to sleep...

Greetings, Mark!

Your publications and web site have proven to be invaluable sources of information; thanks!

I am writing to seek assistance with my almost 17 year male child.

He has been diagnosed with ADHD with some depression symptoms as well. He is currently on Prozac and Straterra. The Prozac is for the depression and the Straterra is for focusing issues at school. We have noticed behavioral changes on those days when he forgets to take the meds (and it is a mild hassle to remind him every day).

He is currently in the 10th grade for the second time, and may have to repeat again because of failing grades. He is very well versed in creating rap songs using the computer and 'beats', and spends most of his waking hours working on these projects. Which leads to his poor performance in school.

We never see him doing homework at home - his response when asked about any is that he did it already. He refuses to write down assignments, and is almost always late in completing whatever assignments he does work on. He is constantly tardy to classes anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes on a regular basis. In some classes, he puts his head down on the desk and pretends to (or actually does) go to sleep.

He is being seen by a psychological social worker on a weekly basis, whom we have spoken to several times unbeknownst to him (no violations of client privileges have occurred during these conversations).

He is adopted, but he has been with us since he was two days old.

We are trying to stress the importance of education to him (without becoming overbearing about it), but he has a real passive motivation towards education. He has delusions (our feeling) about becoming famous in the rap world, which we temper as much as we can with a dose of reality without telling him to give up something that he really enjoys doing.

He has some anger management issues, but is not extremely "out of control" when compared to some of the stories identified in your publications. He has had two brushes with the law - both misdemeanors, and will be completing probation in September. Part of his probation agreement is performing at an adequate level in school.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about this situation; feel free to request additional information if you need it.




Hi D.,

I’m not trying to take a short-cut here, but as you may know, my stance is the more responsibility YOU take for your son’s academic performance, the less HE will take.

I’m not accusing you of the following, but I often find that when I provide my recommendation on poor academic performance (which can be read on the link below), parents email me again with the same question hoping for a different answer. Unfortunately for them, they get the same answer.

CLICK HERE to go to “Email From Exasperated Parents” and locate the post that reads:

"My son brings home straight F's on his report cards. I ground him for the entire grading period, but he continues to fail in nearly all subjects. I know my son is a bright kid and can do the work when he wants to. What can I do to motivate him?" -- B. R.


She’s in an addictive relationship...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the great emails, I read all of them and find them helpful even if they don't relate directly to my situation. I can relate to it somehow to my life and maybe some thoughts I have had of my own.

I have listened to all your information and read everything so far, just wanted you to know I have found it very helpful. It has really built on what I read previously while I was endlessly searching for options.

I was just curious about one thing. My daughter is 18 and things have settled down some, partly because of my reaction to her things and the other is because she stopped seeing her long time boyfriend. He actually called the relationship off because they fought constantly. I don't care for the kid at all. There are so many issues that he has that I see as an adult, not that my daughter doesn't have them, but they are just not good together.

Because he broke it off, she kept hanging around the same areas he was and calling him and trying to be his friend. This was all to keep the relationship going. Well this went on for at least 3 months then she met this other boy and started dating him and he was good for her in that they laughed together, but she broke up with him because she couldn't stop thinking about her X.

Gosh sorry to ramble, but she just won't let the relationship go and she is miserable. I have had endless talks with her and she just thinks she loves him and that is enough. They are talking again and now the fighting is starting all over again and hence the bad moods are starting again. She will literally scream and cry on her cell phone to him in her room for hours. I asked her to not do that in my house any longer, for the most part she respects that when I am not home.

Sometimes my youngest daughter tells me that she hears her when I am not home. There seems there is nothing I can do, so I have stayed completely out of it for months now, for nothing I said seemed to make a difference and it is her life, pushing 19 years old.

Is there any hope here, she seems stuck in this relationship and won't let it go for any reason. Literally she has wasted her entire senior year crying over him and not letting it go. Is this just par for the course?!

One of the reasons her dad and I want her to move out is because we can't stand the arguing that they do and how upset she is most of the time. I can tell you that things are better at home and in general, she does seem to respect what I ask of her.

She is seeing a counselor that I saw for awhile, he was the one that told her that pot smoking was not addictive!
UGH! I just hate that he told her that, cause now she thinks there is nothing wrong with the fact that her boyfriend smokes pot, cause a PHD told her that. Any suggestions would be great. Sorry so long—


She’s in an addictive relationship, for sure.

The only suggestion I have is for you to begin the process of helping her find her own place to live. Her romance difficulty is her problem, not yours. You’re doing the right thing by staying out of it. But she needs to move on – and she needs to move OUT. Not for YOUR benefit, but for HER benefit.

It seems askew to allow 1 kid to sour 3...

I appreciate your advice and your emails. I’ve got a situation that I’m sure others have gone thru. I have a 16 year old son who moved in with me 2 years ago after 14 years with his mom (we divorced when he was about 2). He’s going thru all of this defiance stuff. My biggest issues are the negative influences that he is creating for his 3 much younger siblings. The entire family dynamic and their behavior is changing for the worse while I try to work thru these issues with the teenager. It seems askew to allow 1 kid to sour 3. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.




Behaviors are contagious. So your son’s defiance may very well “rub off” on your other kids at some level. But, let them know that if they choose to follow in their brother’s footsteps (e.g., to act-out in a particular way), they too will choose the resultant consequence.

Hey son ...I know you got emotional problems, but how about those Chicago Bulls?

>>>>> I’ve responded below:

Hi Mark

I have read your ebook but I have a few questions. We just received our
16 yr old son's report card and to say the least, it is not good. I know that this needs to be his responsibility but he just won't do anything. He is failing the 3 classes where he has homework. The other 3 he is passing but only just.

He seems to be refusing to put much effort into his schoolwork. How do we react to this??

>>>>>>>>> Please refer to this section of the eBook for this problem: CLICK HERE

I emailed you a while ago about how to handle moving with a 16 yr old as this is certainly a possibility due to a changing work situation for his Dad.

Do you think this is partly a reaction to the move possibility or maybe depression??

>>>>>>>> I think both, plus the fact that you may be taking on more responsibility for his schoolwork than he is (refer to the eBook section above).

Anytime I try and talk with him about anything he just tells me to go away or to stop talking. I get a few moments here and there but not very often and certainly not enough time to discuss anything major. Any suggestions??

>>>>>>> I don’t mean to be offensive here, but when parents “pry” into their child’s “biz” (e.g., asking “what’s wrong?” and so forth), it is very annoying to the kid. Do him a favor and don’t ask such questions. Do inquire about other things though – more positive stuff (e.g., “tell me about that movie you saw yesterday …was it any good?” …or “I heard that the Chicago Bulls and the Phoenix Suns took 2-0 leads in their opening round NBA playoff series last night …who are you going to root for this year?").

>>>>>>>>>>> You get the idea – right mom? Just make stuff up …be creative. Use distraction, then use it again ...then use it some more a method to connect with your son on a more enjoyable level.


Twin Trouble

Hello Mark,

Thank you for your site, interest and email. We are beginning to look through the material that we have printed off, and will begin the program on the weekend. We are uncertain as to our coping abilities if matters continue to deteriorate. At present, there is fluctuation between stable and intolerable.

We have twin sons aged 17.5 years who have just had a scrape with the law. They are yet to pay for their crime with other boys also involved. As this is their first time, restorative justice conferencing has been offered rather than a charge with possible conviction or juvenile justice accommodations.

We have removed them from the College environment and withheld internet and mobile phone, thus keeping them distant from their circle of friends. We are keeping them busy with hard work in the garden and one son has gained part-time employment on weekday evenings. I have been working with them to identify behaviours and habits that support their delinquency and undermine independence such as when they do something despite knowing that it is not allowed, knowing why it is not allowed, but going ahead and doing it anyway (e.g., eating pre-packaged foods intended for lunches away from home).

I am encouraging them to take on the small steps at home that will break that habit and allow them to actively stop when something doesn't feel right rather than to continue anyway (which was the case in their criminal activity). Their father has been spending each weekend and last light evening hours working on more difficult tasks to teach them a range of physical skills.

They were above average academically until sliding the slippery slope from Year 8 (second year of high school, aged 13-14). We have been told by some College teachers that a staggering one third of boys in the government schooling system slide out to a greater or lesser extent.

They have always been strong willed and tended to bargain for a better deal whenever offered rewards. In recent years they have developed a non-compliant attitude. They have been unwilling to participate in household chores, unwilling to keep themselves or their environment clean, and have taken greater freedoms than allowed at the same time as refusing to accept the full consequences of their actions.

At College, they both do not link the consequences of being late, unprepared for lesson, or skipping classes with their failure to do well enough to gain a Certificate.

It has been since they were babies, that when one son is behaving well, they will 'tag off' with the one that isn't, which keeps an unstable atmosphere continuing; or both will act up together. There has been far less frequent times when all is smooth.

Since early high school, they have both been very secretive about the friends they keep, never allowing their friends to come home to our house, always going out instead. If a friend does turn up, they are ushered away by one or both of our sons. One boy that was dropped off by his parents (unexpectedly for us) was taken to the bus stop by one of our sons (again, secretively so we did not find out until the boy was on his way). Our sons had kept the game that this boy had brought with him.

Their communication skills have always been poor, with an unwieldiness to communicate or interact with visitors to the home (disappearing to their rooms or elsewhere out of sight). When little, we undertook some speech therapy to help them say the ends of words. During this last year, we suspect that our eldest twin is showing some signs of developing a bipolar disorder. This same boy was beginning to stutter in early childhood, which we were able to successfully divert. The techniques that I used to confront the stuttering are not as powerful to pull him out of his angry/unreasonable periods.

I suppose our first question is in relation to our own plans for purchasing into a new Franchise business with the potential for our sons to join and perhaps eventually even take it over. We are seriously investigating a particular Franchise as a major part of our retirement plans. From your experience, can you offer an opinion on whether keeping them close to us would be the best way forward (as it has been in the short-term) or could it turn out to be counterproductive in the long term?

Please let us know if you have questions for us and if we should look at a phone consultation (from ACT, Australia) to follow on.


K. & M.


Hi K. & M.,

As you will learn from reading my eBook, self-reliance is key (I won’t go into that here). However – and this is a BIG however – if your son has bipolar, then I have to take a different stance.

Bipolar teens do not do well away from their familiar caretakers (i.e., they tend to self-medicate their bipolar symptoms with illicit mood-altering chemicals). Thus, I think it would be in your eldest son’s best interest for you to keep him “in the fold” so to speak. This goes contrary to the business of “fostering the development of self-reliance,” but in the case of Bipolar Disorder, the parent should make sure her adult-child is stabilized from a medical standpoint first. Then – and only then – can the child “launch” into the real world and away from parental monitoring.

Get a good diagnosis to see if he is, in fact, bipolar. If so, his psychiatrist will need about one year of experimentation to find the right combination and dosage of meds.

What did I miss here?

I’ve answered below where you see these arrows >>>>>>>>>>

Hello Mark,

My 13-year old son is acting out again. I've set rules. He signed a contract for school and home behavior. Of course he now knows he is grounded. It started this way.

My high school reunion was held in my city. I've planned for my children to meet with my close friends at a dinner held at a friend's house. D___, my 13-year old is fully aware of this. On the day of the occasion he made excuses not to go. He doesn't know anyone there …he'll be totally out of place, etc. He made things so difficult. He brought his pillow and blanket in the car threatening he won't go out of the car at all. I told him we already made this plan and there's no changing it at the last minute. I refused to be drawn into an argument because he is good at this. He made true his threat. His brother in college later on stopped by to join the group, came up to the car to talk to D___ but to no avail. He stood his ground.

>>>>>>>>>>> This falls into the “pick your battles carefully” category. You have bigger fish to fry than getting your son to meet your high school friends. Don’t go lookin’ for trouble with an out-of-control teen (unless you have a lot of time & energy to fight every battle that comes down the pike).

We went home. I haven't spoken to him yet but neither did I do anything. I unplugged the Wii Nintendo he loved playing. Because I still have to be with friends, I left him home telling him he cannot go out to join his friends nor will he go to his sports activity. He is a very stubborn kid who only wants to do what pleases him. I tell him to do his chores. He says yes but ended up not doing them. I thought I was following your book's recommendation. What did I miss here?

>>>>>>>>>>> I’m glad you asked. That tells me you are an invested parent. I think what happened is that you set up a situation in which there was no pay off for your son. He had nothing to gain by going to the reunion.

>>>>>>>>>>> I’m not sure I would have asked him to go in the first place (easy for me to say after the fact). In the future, when it’s important that he go with you to a particular function, but he decides not to join in the festivities, just allow him to experience a natural consequence (i.e., he sits in the car the whole time – how boring is that? – quite boring!). Alternatively, you could promise a reward if he chooses to join in (e.g., “if you go to this party with me, you can have a friend spend the night and we’ll order a pizza).


Then he aimed a plunger at my head, which hit me...

I’ve answered below where you see these arrows >>>>>>>>>>

I should be calling our state police because my son's therapists want me to for any kind of angry, violent acts including throwing a wad of paper at me. But I'm afraid they would just laugh and not come in a real emergency.

>>>>>>>>>>>>> Calling the police would be a waste of time, but you should go to your local probation department and file a battery charge. Allow me to repeat this: you should go to your local probation department and file a battery charge! If you don’t, then you will be attempting to “save” your son from emotional pain associated with his poor choices – a form of over-indulgence.

>>>>>>>>>>>>> If you read the Anger Management chapter of the Online Version of my eBook, then you’ll see that you have reached the highest level possible on the anger ladder:

6th - Physical violence enters the picture here. This violence may be partially controlled because the kid knows what he is doing, even though later he might claim it was an accident. The kid plans to stop when he gets his way …if the parent gives in, he’ll back off.

Some of the things that may occur in this last stage:
· destruction of property
· domestic battery
· cops are called – sometimes by the kid
· parent files incorrigibility charge
· kid may not be conscious of his actions
· kid may become suicidal
· he may physically hurt the parent

My son began his escalation an hour ago by smoking in his bedroom. I smelled smoke, went to him and reminded him of the no smoking in the house rule. He then began ranting about his ability to do anything he wants. I can’t stop him, etc. I kept my poker face and he got more mad because I wasn't engaging so he spit on the floor at my feet. Then he aimed a plunger at my head, which hit me. I told him that was totally unacceptable and he kept screaming all kinds of obscenities at me, leaving the room and crawling onto my bed quietly just as quickly as he escalated.

15 mins later he is trying to talk to me as if nothing happened...This kind of thing hasn't happened in many weeks and I know he is incredibly frustrated with his school program and has become quite depressed. Psychiatrist and I are in frequent communication but what to do to address this need for control. Thanks.

>>>>>>>>>>>>> I have nothing to add other than what I’ve stated above.

>>>>>>>>>>>>> YOU NEED BACKUP in the form of probation. Parents must have a “zero-tolerance-policy” when it comes to domestic battery by a child.

Put it in the 'Deal-With-It-Later' file.


What do I do when I’ve issued the 3-day-discipline (e.g., for violating curfew), but then my son creates a new problem before completing the discipline (e.g., calls me a bitch, then breaks a plate by throwing it in the sink too hard)? Do I start the 3 days over even though the “broken plate episode” is unrelated to the curfew violation, or does this new problem get a different consequence?



Hi A.,

You only restart the 3-day-discipline if the original crime is re-committed (in this case, if your son violates curfew again).

When parents issue a 3-day-discipline, it is very common for kids to introduce additional behavioral problems (temper tantrums, threats, etc.) as a way to (a) get the parent side-tracked from the original consequence and (b) get the focus off of them and onto the parent’s anger.

If the parent falls for this, she ends up issuing additional consequences on top of existing consequences …restrictions against the kid begin to pile up …and before long, the kid is grounded for 3 months with no privileges …and both the parent and the kid have forgotten what the original problem was.

Don’t let this happen to you. Do not let your son get you distracted from the original problem and the associated consequence for that problem. Here’s how you do this:

If your son commits another crime (figuratively speaking) during a 3-day-discipline, put this new crime in the “Deal-With-It-Later” file. You literally write the problem down on a piece of paper (e.g., ‘son called me a bad name and broke a plate’) and put this note-to-yourself somewhere where you can find it after the original 3-day-discipline is completed.

After the original 3-day-discipline is completed, you then confront your son regarding the second problem he introduced by saying, “Just for your information, in the future, if you choose to ____________ (in this case, “call me a bitch and break my dishes”), then you’ll choose the consequence which is ________________ (here you just follow the strategy “When You Want Something From Your Kid” in the Anger Management Chapter of the Online Version of the eBook).

So, does your son get “off the hook” for calling you a name and breaking a plate? In a way, yes …but only for the time being. He will have to answer to you if the name-calling and plate-breaking occur again in the future.

Pick your battles carefully – but perhaps more importantly, pick them one-at-a-time. Do not try to fight 14 battles at once. You’ll just blow a blood vessel in your brain …and your kid will be successful at getting you to chase your tail.

Use your “Deal-With-It-Later” file frequently. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be spent in chronic power struggles.

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

P.S. Speaking of mistakes you don’t want to make—

I sometimes get emails like this:

“O.K. I purchased and read your eBook today. Now …I have the following problems with my teenager...”

Then the parent goes on to list about 6 – 10 problems that she is facing currently.

This is a mistake. DO NOT read the entire eBook in one sitting and then attempt to implement all the recommended parenting strategies at once.

When I conduct my parent group live (the same thing you have online), we take 4 weeks to digest the material – one session a week, each session lasting about 90 minutes. You should do the same. Your agenda will look like this:

Week #1: Read/listen to session #1 and implement session #1 assignments.
Week #2: Read/listen to session #2 and implement session #2 assignments.
Week #3: Read/listen to session #3 and implement session #3 assignments.
Week #4: Read/listen to session #4 and implement session #4 assignments.

Otherwise, you’ll be biting off much more than you can chew -- which will result in a “mac-daddy”case of parenting-heartburn.

I pushed Back

>>>>>>>>>> Hi …I’ve answered below:

If R___ physically pushes me (albeit not very hard) how do I handle?

>>>>>>>>>> As I hope you read in the Anger Management chapter of the Online Version of the eBook, you have reached the 6th and final level of the anger ladder:

6th - Physical violence enters the picture here. This violence may be partially controlled because the kid knows what he is doing, even though later he might claim it was an accident. The kid plans to stop when he gets his way …if the parent gives in, he’ll back off.

Some of the things that may occur in this last stage:
· destruction of property
· domestic battery
· cops are called – sometimes by the kid
· parent files incorrigibility charge
· kid may not be conscious of his actions
· kid may become suicidal
· he may physically hurt the parent

>>>>>>>>>> I don’t think you realize how serious this is.

>>>>>>>>>> I would tell your son that the next time he pushes you, the police will be called and battery charges will be filed. And you, dear mom, cannot push back. If he were smart enough to pull it off, HE could call the cops ON YOU during these risky episodes in which pushing and shoving is going on. I see it happen – ALL THE TIME (i.e., the kid calling the cops of the parent and alleging abuse).

>>>>>>>>>> I’m telling you that you are treading on dangerous ground here. You DO NOT want Child Protective Services breathing down your back.

As a human being...I could not help one likes to be bullied...I pushed back (I know WRONG). Then it happened later with him dismissing my requests with a hand wave, an annoyed..."just stop talking" and a shove out of his way.

I am trying so hard to be calm but this came after he THREW his sibling on the ground.

Tried to follow the program protocol. Got out of the situation fast. Calmly chose your consequence. Went to his room and took away his phone and laptop. But I am still seething. Let me know any other ideas. Taking away things has not seemed to work very well. We both think he is trying to get grounded to avoid peer pressure situations with alcohol and drugs but he refuses to open up as we ask him and try to engage him in ANY normal conversations. Know you say if something is not working try something different.

>>>>>>>>>> Don’t believe it when your son seems unaffected by discipline. Children often pretend discipline doesn’t bother them. Continue to be persistent with your planned discipline, and consider yourself successful by keeping your parenting plan in place. When children pretend a discipline doesn’t bother them, parents often give up on a discipline, which reinforces the child’s disobedience. Remember, you can only control your actions, not your children’s re-actions.

P.S. Parents must have a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ for children’s use of physical altercations to get their way (i.e., pushing, shoving, smacking. hitting, spitting, etc.).


Could the Meningitis be causing this Bipolar disorder?

I have worked with foster children for fifteen years, several with bipolar disorder …so I have dealt with these kids for years. So that is why I requested your book. But most recently my adult son has just recently been diagnosed …he has been very difficult to talk to. He is on medication, and seeing a doctor but it hasn't helped much. His behavior is overwhelming his wife and children. We can't seem to reach him, or are afraid to try.

My question is, when he was 10 months old he had viral meningitis and was very ill. At five years of age the doctors thought he had Muscular Dystrophy, because his muscles were so weak,, and still are. But, now I see from research that this was damage was most likely due from the Meningitis. Could the Meningitis also be causing this Bipolar disorder? What would you recommend we do?



Hi L.,

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, bipolar disorder would NOT be diagnosed if the individual in question had developed a mood disorder as a direct result of some medical, neurological, or infectious disease process that had affected her brain. In such a case, the correct diagnosis would be, "Mood Disorder Due to General Medical Condition".

So he might get a diagnosis of "psychosis due to a general medical condition” (his meningitis). Or the doctor might consider a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which could have been "latent" and triggered by his meningitis.

In either case, the symptoms should be treated (in his case, some behavior changes that sound potentially "bipolar-like" treated with "anti-psychotics" and "mood stabilizers" respectively).

So we have a clear trigger by an infection, but also the possibility that something was "latent" before the infection.

Recommendation: He should try medication approaches ‘as if’ he has bipolar disorder.

She is smoking anywhere between 3-5 joints a day...

'I don’t believe the cops should harass you for smoking weed .... They should be concerned about why people are trying to kill us ... rather than about me sitting here smoking on a joint.'

>>>>>> I’ve responded below.

Hi Mark,

My daughter has now moved back home - about 1 1/2 weeks ago - having been gone for about 1 month in total.

The work at the factory that L___ had been doing has now more or less dried up or is very sporadic. I have told L___ that as she is still refusing to attend school for the last couple of months she will have to go out and get another job as I do not want her staying at home all day doing nothing whilst I am at full time work. Also I do not trust her in the house on her own as she has people round without my permission.

>>>>>>>>> To allow her to just hang out at your house with no job and no effort to pursue an education is a gross form of over-indulgence. This cannot continue …period!

Trying to persuade Lauren to get another job yesterday turned into quite a heated discussion with her storming off and more or less ending in her threatening me with verbal and physical abuse and threatening to leave home again. Already today she has had her boyfriend round for a short while even though he is effectively 'banned' from our house.

>>>>>>>>>> Don’t waste time “persuading” …state that she has “X” number of days to either procure employment and/or get busy with her GED -- or she has to find somewhere else to live (14 days would be my time limit).

I do not feel I can chuck her out during the day as there is nowhere else she can go but don’t think she should be allowed to stay at home doing nothing if she is not prepared to go to school either.

>>>>>>>> Whose problem is it? The more responsibility you take for HER problem, the less responsibility she will take.

I cannot physically drag her out of her bed and to find something but do not want to keep going through this worry every day for the next 4/5 months before we find out if she has been accepted a place in college. She is also running up quite high debts with other people where she is living beyond her means and with no way of paying people back currently.

The whole situation is making me extremely upset and anxious and I feel powerless. I do not feel that she is trying to make any effort at all to compromise, its all take, take, take from her side and angry mood swings when things don’t go her way.

>>>>>>>>> “Compromising” is a traditional parenting strategy that doesn’t work.

The only time she is calm otherwise is when she is smoking weed - which obviously also really concerns me as she is smoking anywhere between 3-5 joints a day @ 16 years of age and I feel that this is very habit forming.

>>>>>>>>>> To allow her to live in your home and abuse illicit drugs is yet another gross form of over-indulgence. You should “turn her in.”

Please could you offer me some advice as to how best to motivate her into doing something more positive and respecting our house rules?

>>>>>>>>> As long as the over-indulgence persists – you’re stuck lady!

Kind regards,


I want my husband and I to both be on the same page...


Want my husband and I to both be on the same page so from now on as I email these quick scenarios and questions to you I will copy him. See above. If you would be so kind as to reply all that would be great!!

Wanted to run this one by you.

1. I called Ryan down for lunch. He proceeded to take his plate into the family room and to march over and turn the TV show off that his younger sister was watching and of course she screamed.

2. I told him to please bring the food into the kitchen. (We have had a SOFT rule on this but have been flexible...) To which he replied no and proceeded to watch his show.

I again said …you both need to come out for lunch. You can watch TV in the kitchen. I was very calm.

>>>>>>>>> You may want to consider having only one t.v. in the house (not one in the kitchen however).

Ryan began to whine ..."come on ...give me a break ...I eat neatly ...I promise I wont get any food on the floor and I can only watch this show here due to the fact it was recorded."

In an effort to pick my battles I said. OK. Ryan. If you had merely explained that and asked please this may have gone very differently. Similarly rather than just switch the TV off you should have asked please to your sister to see if she would be ok with your choice. To wit...he mumbled under his breath..."please."

>>>>>>>>> O.K. I have to stop reading here. I can see where this is heading.

You just engaged in a form of over-indulgence (albeit mild). Please follow the strategy “When You Want Something From Your Kid” [Anger Management chapter of the ONLINE VERSION of the ebook].

I said ...ok. IF you would just set up snack tables for you and your sister, you can both eat in here. Again he turned up the remote and said NO. "I don’t need a table and I am NOT doing ANYTHING for HER. She can do it. I am not doing it". I said...calmly...I understand that you may not agree with this but that is not your call. I gave you a way to get what you want. If you don’t do this by the count of 3 will lose all electronics for 3 days.

>>>>>>>>>> You are attempting to “reason with” your son here – you are appealing to his “rational mind” – which is a “traditional” parenting strategy that has little or no positive outcome.

Also, when you said “by the count of 3” – you unintentionally effected a power struggle.

A better approach would be to say, “WHEN you set up snack tables, you can eat and watch t.v. in the family room – take all the time you need” (confiscate the remote and withhold food until the snack table is set up …if it never gets set up, he doesn’t eat …unless he wants to eat in the kitchen).

Again he told me....NO. So I calmly said...ok. You have chosen your consequence and I left the room and calmly removed his cell phone, laptop and PSP and came back down and had my daughter eat her lunch in the kitchen.

>>>>>>>>>>>>> Good.

He proceeded to watch TV and eat his lunch. At one point he called in ... I need my computer for school. So YOU need to give it back to me anyway. I said should have thought of that before. He shouted that it will be YOUR fault if I don’t hand in my paper. I did not respond...assuming that if he TRULY needed to do schoolwork he could borrow my computer.

>>>>>>>>>>> Good. He was trying to push your ‘worry button’ here.

He then went on to tease his sister. Each time he would do something ...I would walk in and he would stop. This was so distracting I had to hang up my phone call and then he left the room calling back ...

>>>>>>>>> Teasing his sister is a different issue. You have to pick which battle you’re going to fight. Things are starting to pile up here [you’re in a power struggle again].

Make note of the additional behavioral problems and address them at a later date. Otherwise, your son will be successful at keeping you distracted – you’ll be running from one problem to the next, which will wear you out …plus he will win the struggle. Don’t get off the subject, which currently is the “eating in the family room” issue.

" I need my cell phone to call back a team mate about something important." I again held tight and said..."you will have to call him on the house phone." He said "I don’t know his number." I said..."oh well. We will get his mom’s number off the team roster."

>>>>>>>>> Good. You’re on track again.

He then mumbled and left the house to go out and play hoops.

Now...I was thinking this was SOMEWHAT successful and then I went upstairs to find his room was a mess. Now the irony is that He HAD picked up his room and made his bed earlier in the AM that day....the ONE thing we had seen SOME improvement in since we have started. After he left I realized that he had gone in and re messed up his bed...clothes were strewn all over the floor.

>>>>>>>>> Re-messing up his room is a separate issue. Make a note to address this later. You are allowing him to keep you distracted [which will be over-whelming and will interfere with your dealing with the original problem].

I am ASSUMING that again we restate the expectation around his room and make him clean it. This is the way that Ryan has ALWAYS been.

>>>>>>>>> Yes …but later.

If he feels like he blew it and is in trouble anyway...there is NO value in being good. So...please help? If we keep adding 3 days for each time now he mouths off/screws up...we will be back to the 2 month groundings that we are trying to avoid?

>>>>>>>>>>> Start with just one day with no cell …then if you have to, go 2 days with no cell or laptop …then go for the 3-day discipline and withhold all “toys”.

But the more important issue here is this: You must first disengage from the power struggle you are currently in with him. I can see that your relationship with him is one of “battle-of-the-wills.” And he’s winning (and always has).

To that end we are now thinking that if we say ...we have a big yard project to do today. If you do so without complaining or causing trouble you can earn back the electronics. You are doing the work either way.

>>>>>>>>> This is another traditional parenting strategy. I’m NOT saying, “don’t try it.” Go ahead and see if this works.

But, I think chores should be used for those occasions when the child is EARNING stuff and freedom – and should NOT be used as a way for him to make up for past sins.

He should be doing chores anyway. And to reward him (by retracting a consequence) for doing what he’s suppose to be doing anyway is, in effect, retracting the original consequence.

I know all this seems complicated, but you are greatly on track. But, again, you’ve got to get out of the power struggle. Follow the alternatives I’ve offered in this email to begin the process of disengagement.

Let me know feedback on what we did and how we could do better.


How Do I Deal with "Empty-Nest Syndrome"?

"I feel that there is no help for parents or their teenagers in this world, or am I just seeing all the kids that are out of control …it seems like there is more of them then there is good ‘in control’ teens.

My daughter has been gone for three weeks, although my home is a lot more peaceful and happy. When my hubby and I fight, she is always brought up. I don’t like it, and I find myself crying at nights. People keep telling me that she will come home, but how come I don’t believe it? She is 16 yrs old and lives with her boyfriend and his mom. My other daughter who is now 19 hasn’t come home yet and moved out when she was 15.

My brother still thinks that both of my girls will come home sooner or later ...he says they always do ...somehow I don’t believe him ...ok maybe I’m just letting out my hurt and pain in this email, but I just needed to get it out of my brain ...even if it just for two minutes."

Your task is to take care of yourself now - especially your mental health. You've been a good parent, but now is the season for "empty-nest syndrome." It is quite normal for a mother to feel some sadness at this time is quite normal to have a little weeping now and again ...and it is even normal to go into the absent child's bedroom and sit there for a bit in an attempt to feel closer to him or her.

I know of one very successful, busy and confident woman (a member of Online Parent Support) who confessed to going into her son's bedroom to sniff his T-shirt shortly after he left to go to college for the first time. So don't be ashamed of your feelings - they are natural.

O.K. …your daughters have left home. You'll obviously want to keep in touch with them. But don't try and do this excessively. Be sensitive to the fact that they are trying to take a big, significant step in life, which doesn't actually have much to do with you. Your daughters will need your support, but they will not want to feel suffocated. The more you cling or show that you're upset, the less likelihood there is of them contacting you in the future.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

I don't think I could follow through with calling the police...

I read what you suggest in the area of alcohol [viewed here]. I don't think I could follow through with calling the police and turning her in for under aged drinking ...a record of this kind is part of what we're trying to avoid ….along with the obviously safety issues. Do you have any other suggestions or do you believe that's the only thing that could possibly help?


Do I have any other suggestions? Are you kiddin' me?

Absolutely not!!!

I'm going to have to be a bit blunt here:

You are trying to save your daughter from painful emotions associated with her poor choices. This is a "traditional" parenting strategy that WILL cause you more problems -- I guarantee it.

I can see you have a way to go yet with the business of tough love.


P.S. You just got a dose of tough love yourself.

My Out of Control Teen

Let's Trouble-Shoot

Dear Mark,

I have a 13 year old adopted daughter. She is the youngest of 6 children, 2 biological and 4 adopted. We were foster parents for many years and therefore have had much experience with children, both well adjusted and troubled.

She is very bright and very athletic. She is in the 7th grade taking accelerated classes and has been on the honor role. She excels in sports also.

We noticed a difference in her a few years back and for the last 3 years her behavior at home has been on a steady decline. She has been able to keep things together outside the home but I'm not sure for how long. We had been in counseling 2 1/2 years with poor results and have recently started it again due to a suggestion from the local hospital behavioral unit, which she spent 4 days in March. This was her first hospitalization, but fear it will not be her last.

Her behaviors have escalated to property destruction and physical retaliation. She refuses to admit anything is wrong and she feels we are the problem since she does well everywhere else. If we try to talk to her she screams shut-up the entire time and if we don't or argue with her this is when she destroys things in the house and then says it our fault because we wouldn't leave her alone. Our house is a time bomb.

She has been diagnosed with ODD and I feel there is much more going on than that. A few years back she was diagnosed with ODD, depression, and attachment issues. We tried medication for the depression but she would not take it and states she will not take any meds now. We can't force her to do this, so I do not feel any amount of counseling will help if she first doesn't admit there is a problem.

I have been a member of the Online Support for a while now and know your views on sending children away, but I don't know how much longer we'll be able to tolerate this in the house without my husband or I having a heart attack or stoke with all the explosions and non-compliance.

Yes, I have read the print version and listened to 90% of the online version and have tried to implement as many of the suggestions as possible. I know there is never a quick fix, and I know with attachment issues it would be in her best interest for her to be stable in our house, but I have to consider more than just her.

I have read it would be better for her to consider a boarding school rather than a residential treatment center, but usually the student needs to fill out some of the application and have an interview, and I fear she will sabotage this. I'm also concerned we will not be able to afford this and was wondering if you have any other suggestions for financial help. I really would like to research this and not have to make a split decision that might not be the best for our daughter.

I would appreciate any help you can give on this matter. Any questions you can email or call me.

Thanks in advance,



Hi Frustrated,

Well first, it’s clear to me that you need some outside assistance. If you haven’t done so already, and if you live in the U.S., go to your local Juvenile Probation Department and file an incorrigibility complaint. Then your daughter will be assigned a Probation Officer who can help you with services.

Second, allow me to share with you what I see in those cases where parents seem to have difficulty getting 'off the ground' with these parenting techniques:

Some parents have always been indecisive about what course of action to try with their child. They jump from one parenting technique to the other without giving any one technique enough time to be effective, or they try a new parenting technique once and then give up in frustration because it didn't work fast enough.

Some parents will say, "We've tried everything and nothing works with this kid." On rare occasion, this may be true. What I usually see is parents drifting from one parenting tool to another without refining their parenting tools.

Here are several ways to refine:

---Realize the same discipline may not work for all children, because of the unique features of different children

---Try to blend a combination of several parenting tools to create a more effective discipline

---Don't believe it when your children seem unaffected by discipline. Children often pretend discipline doesn't bother them. Continue to be persistent with your planned discipline, and consider yourself successful by keeping your parenting plan in place. When children pretend a discipline doesn't bother them, parents often give up on a discipline, which reinforces the child's disobedience. Remember, you can only control your actions, not your children's reactions.

Let's trouble-shoot.

Below is a summary of all the assignments I gave you in My Out-of-Control Teen eBook. If parents do not implement ALL of these assignments, it will be the "kiss of failure." For example, the transmission in your car has hundreds of parts, but if just one little tiny part is not working -- the whole transmission does not work. The same is true with this "parent program." Omit just one strategy, and the whole plan falls through the floor.

1. Are you asking your daughter at least one question each day that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or a "no" to demonstrate that you are interested in what is going on in her life? (page 20 of the printable version of eBook)

2. Are you saying to your child "I love you" everyday and expecting nothing in return? (page 20)

3. Are you eating dinner together at least one evening each week -- either at home or out? (page 20)

4. Do you use "The Art of Saying Yes" whenever your answer is yes? (page 25)

5. Do you use "The The Art of Saying - and Sticking With - No" whenever your answer is no? (page 25)

6. Do you catch your daughter in the act of doing something right at least once each day? (page 25)

7. Do you use the "When You Want Something From Your Kid" approach as needed? (page 31)

8. Do you give your child at least one chore each day? (page 31)

9. Do you find something fun to do with your teen each week? (page 54)

10. Do you use the "I noticed ...I felt ...Listen" approach when something unexpected pops-up? (bottom of page 50)

11. When you are undecided about what to say or do in any particular situation, are you asking yourself the following question: "Will this promote the development of self-reliance in my child, or will this inhibit the development of self-reliance?" If it is supportive of self-reliance, say it or do it. If it is not supportive, don't!

12. Is your daughter EARNING ALL of her stuff and freedom? (see "Self-Reliance Cycle" - page 19)

If you answered "no" to any of the above, you are missing some important pieces to the puzzle. Most parents DO miss a few pieces initially -- you can't be expected to remember everything! But don't get frustrated and give up. We must be willing to hang in there for the long haul.

I'm talking about refinement here. Refinement is a necessary tool to use in order to truly be successful with these parenting strategies.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: Parents who refine are, on average, 95% - 100% successful at getting the parent-child difficulties reduced in intensity and severity (i.e., the problems are easily managed).

The same can be true in your case. Keep up the good work. Please continue to refine by emailing me again. Refinement is a process, not a one-time event.

Probation Officer is Recommending DOC

Hi, Mark,

My son, K___, is almost 16. He was diagnosed as bipolar, adhd & odd in Oct. 2005. Shortly after being placed on meds we had to call the police to help with him. We were to take him to the ER where they transferred him to the psychiatric hosp. Later they sent him to the state hospital to stabilize his moods and meds.

Dec '05 they released him. He was not complying with his treatment plan and interfering with others. We contacted the State's Att. office to see what we could do. We were afraid of him. He was suicidal and homicidal. We were encouraged to file a CHINS (children in need of supervision) petition. For the past 1 1/2 yrs. he has been on probation. Not "breaking" the law but not doing well either.

We had an in-home counselor referred (in addition to the private counselor). Recently my son was caught smoking, which of course, is a probation violation. Soon we will go to court (April 5th) for Probation Revocation. His Probation Officer is recommending DOC ...boot camp.

It seems in this entire process that there is something missing ...Like resources to get him the help he really needs. His PO is so frustrated that he tells K___ NOT to do something and he DOES. Doesn't it seem that money would be better spent to have something for the kids who fall into the category of Mental illnesses instead of looking having punitive consequences?

I live in South Dakota ...I don't know if there is something in other states that acknowledge that these kids need help ...just in a different way. We are hoping that the Judge will look at residential care rather than Boot Camp. What are your thoughts on this? How can I help make a change to the system?

We've been to court and will go again the 27th of this month for a dispositional hearing ...we'll have results from a recent Psychological Eval by then. What are statistics like for kids going in to and coming out of DOC?




Hi L.,

Three things determine how we turn out: (1) genetics, (2) environment, and (3) personal choice.

Your son can’t do anything about his genetics (bipolar has a strong genetic link, so someone else in your family probably has or had bipolar, perhaps a great grandfather for example).

He can’t do anything about his environment (i.e., parental influence in his nuclear family). I’m not blaming you, but I need to say something here, so don’t take this the wrong way:

I work with parents that are in the same boat as you. And these parents have over-indulged their kids for many, many years (basically the whole kid’s life), and unfortunately they are now reaping the consequences of their over-indulgent parenting style.

However, your son can do something about his personal choices. And he simply hasn’t learned how to make better choices yet. As you may have read in my ebook, he (as the result of over-indulgence) is emotionally more like a 9-year-old, even though chronologically he is 16. So, consider this:

A “normal” kid (whatever that means) matures at about the age of 21 (the brain is fully developed around that age). Because your son is approximately 9-years-old (again, I’m going on the assumption that he was over-indulged most of his life, which may or may not be the case), he will not likely be fully developed emotionally for another 10 - 12 years. I don’t mean to shock you here, but this means he will be about 26 to 28-years-old before he will arrive at a point where he is capable of making “grown-up” choices.

DOC has its advantages and disadvantages (too many pros and cons to list here). The main advantage is that the DOC environment will help him mature. The disadvantage is he will likely become a better “criminally-minded” individual (strange example: if you hang around the “Mud People” long enough, it won’t be long before you’re all muddy).

Re: “What are statistics like for kids going in to and coming out of DOC?”

Dozens of studies exist on this topic. In one study, the goal was to evaluate the practical effect of alternative programs for juvenile delinquents, which have been championed for the last decade as a way to reform rather than punish juveniles for delinquent behavior. To the surprise and disappointment of many, the vast majority of alternative programs did not reduce recidivism, and in fact, those that participated in alternative programs had a higher recidivism rate.

This particular study, compared the recidivism rates of 600 juveniles adjudicated in the years 1994 and 1999. It determined that delinquents in 1999 who completed the alternative programs were more likely to commit crimes after being released than delinquents who were in the juvenile justice system in 1994, before the alternative programs began.

Juveniles were compared at 6-, 12- and 18-month intervals after release and those that took part in alternative programs in 1999, had higher recidivism rates.

Another key finding of the report was the failure of current programs to help juveniles in the areas of substance abuse, negative peer pressure and the needs of dysfunctional families. The study sampled 22 of 100 alternative programs and found that only two were able to significantly lower recidivism rates for juveniles. Of the 22 programs studied, 4 are administered by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and the others by the Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division. Recommendations included a focus on the need to increase parental accountability through the courts and the expansion of aftercare services for juveniles when they are returned to the community (this is what I do at my day job; I provide aftercare services for kids coming home after a stint at DOC).

I know that it seems like there is no hope here. But, if parents will dig their heels in and stick to the strategies outlined in my ebook, they will greatly improve the odds that the ‘maturation process’ will be expedited (i.e., their kid’s emotional age will, sooner than later, approximate his/her chronological age). Nonetheless, you’ll have to play a game of “catch-up” for a while yet.

Be patient with the process. If you had smoked for 16 years, you wouldn’t expect your lungs to heal-up over night. In the same way, it’s going to take some time for your son to recover from a history of “poor-choice-making.”

Mark Hutten, M.A.



I appreciate your e-mail. We are not beyond examining our over-indulgence towards our son. He is after all an only child (maybe that explains a lot???). I always thought we were a little on the stingy side ...after all we've never rushed out to buy him the newest ...whatever. But he has never lacked for anything either.

You mentioned that perhaps it seemed as if there wasn't much hope. Actually I find it to be a very hopeful situation. There are two things out of three that we CAN do something about ...providing that he cooperates in making better choices, and let's not rule out the power of prayer. I mentioned all of this to our pastor's wife (a very close friend of mine) and she did say, "well he IS an only child." So from here, we will pursue something different, so he can be different ...and though he will most likely be placed in DOC custody I am hopeful that THERE he will find the tools that he will need to make the better choices.

I have a great respect for those in authority over us, and though we do not have a fool-proof system, I do believe that God will use this time in K___'s life to change him. And in the process we will be changed.

Thanks again for taking the time to chat about this. I'm sure you have a very demanding job in addition to maintaining the web-site and all of the responses from that. My prayer is that God will bless you in and through this!


The Strong-Willed Out-of-Control Teen

The standard disciplinary techniques that are recommended for “typical” teenagers do not take into account the many issues facing teens with serious behavioral problems. Disrespect, anger, violent rages, self-injury, running away from home, school failure, hanging-out with the wrong crowd, drug abuse, theft, and legal problems are just some of the behaviors that parents of defiant teens will have to learn to control.

Click here for the full article...


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