HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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Teens and Cults

My daughter's circle of friends has a leader who is a self proclaimed anarchist, is very well read and loves being the center of attention. Since my daughter met him, she has lost all her humour and individuality - almost like she's been brainwashed into a cult of sorts. She hangs on this guy’s every word. Some of the other kid’s parents even think he's really cool, but all I see is that he turned my daughter against us.

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"I want my son back..."

Hello Mark, When everything I've tried failed, I started digging deeper into your program (about 85% complete but still reiterating). I found the section on ODD & CD, which I believe is present to some degree, especially the CD; probably mild to moderate substance abuse (weed, booze & grandmas prescriptions). I even heard he has been "dealing", but cannot find any proof, like a stash or cash, so I question (but do not reject the possibility of) him dealing. There are a lot of kids here on weekends, which seems normal.

He is popular at school, could do better and has issues with only one teacher that I know of. I met her, and well, I don't care for her either to be honest. We are always on alert, especially when anything is confiscated (old bottle of whiskey) from his room or the smell of smoke under a heavy blanket of cologne. He in no uncertain terms asked for the bottle(s) back. I looked him in the eye and said "And I want my son back". I was positive it would lead to another episode of a wall getting kicked clear through, so I called his cousin (who has semi-recovered from the same issues) and asked if he would come up for a surprise visit (distraction).

It didn't work out, my son took off ...probably suspecting I was behind it. He came home later and went to bed, no damage done. He will not speak to me, let alone listen to anything I have to say. Chores, ha. There's a better chance of Obama turning Republican and saying Bush was my mentor.

I also suspect (but have no proof) that the neighbor (who is about 38 years old) is somehow involved with more than a friendly ear. There is good reason to believe there's "something up", but I don't want to go there or insinuate anything without reasonable/absolute proof. I wouldn't want someone doing that to me. I need an approach.

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Teens and Grief

I'm not sure who's more out of control, my 14 yo daughter or me. She does schoolwork, but not to her G-d given ability, picks fights when anything is asked of her, and while she has begun with a new therapist, she is defiant and angry beyond words.

She's lost her uncle, father and both paternal grandparents in the last 3 years: she says she doesn't sleep and she wants a psychiatrist and pill to make things better. I know that she is hurting, but the lashing out has me at my wit's end.

She is only civil to me if she wants something, and "doesn't care" about anything or anyone - or so she says.

She's lost her computer privileges for backtalk. She's lost her guitar because she is up all hours of the night keeping me awake and not getting sleep. As a solo parent, I have reached the end of my rope.

Suggestions?

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Each year thousands of teens experience the death of someone they love. When a parent, sibling, friend or relative dies, adolescents feel the overwhelming loss of someone who helped shape their fragile self-identities. And these feelings about the death become a part of their lives forever.

Caring grown-ups can help adolescents during this time. If adults are open, honest and loving, experiencing the loss of someone loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.

Many Adolescents Are Told To “Be Strong”. Sad to say, many grown-ups who lack understanding of their experience discourage adolescents from sharing their grief. Bereaved adolescents give out all kinds of signs that they are struggling with complex feelings, yet are often pressured to act as they are doing better than they really are. When a parent dies, many adolescents are told to “be strong” and “carry on” for the surviving parent. They may not know if they will survive themselves let alone be able to support someone else. Obviously, these kinds of conflicts hinder the “work of mourning”.

Relationship Conflicts May Exist. As adolescents strive for their independence, relationship conflicts with family members often occur. A normal, though trying way in which adolescents separate from their moms and dads is by going through a period of devaluation. If a parent dies while the adolescent is emotionally and physically pushing the parent away, there is often a sense of guilt and “unfinished business”. While the need to create distance is normal we can easily see how this complicates the experience of mourning.

Support May Be Lacking. Many people assume that adolescents have supportive friends and family who will be continually available to them. In reality, this may not be true at all. The lack of available support often relates to the social expectations placed on the teen. They are usually expected to be “grown up” and support other members of the family, particularly a surviving parent and/or younger brothers and sisters. Many adolescents have been told, “now, you will have to take care of your family.” When an adolescent feels a responsibility to “care for the family”, he or she does not have the opportunity—or the permission to mourn. Sometimes we assume that teenagers will find comfort from their peers. But when it comes to death, this may not be true. It seems that unless friends have experienced grief themselves, they project their own feelings of helplessness by ignoring the subject of loss entirely.

Teen Years Can Be Naturally Difficult. Adolescents are no longer children, yet neither are they grown-ups. With the exception of infancy, no developmental period is so filled with change as adolescence. Leaving the security of childhood, the adolescent begins the process of separation from moms and dads. The death of a parent or sibling, then, can be a particularly devastating experience during this already difficult period. At the same time the bereaved teen is confronted by the death of someone loved, he or she also faces psychological, physiological and academic pressures. While adolescents may begin to look like “men” or “women”, they will still need consistent and compassionate support as they do the work of mourning, because physical development does not always equal emotional maturity.

Adolescents May Experience Sudden Deaths. The grief that adolescents experience often comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A parent may die of a sudden heart attack, a brother or sister may be killed in an auto accident, or a friend may commit suicide. The very nature of these deaths often results in a prolonged and heightened sense of unreality.

As we have discussed, there are many reasons why healthy grieving can be especially difficult for teenagers. Some grieving adolescents may even behave in ways that seem inappropriate or frightening. Be on the watch for:
  • academic failure or indifference to school-related activities
  • denying pain while at the same time acting overly strong or mature
  • deterioration of relationships with family and friends
  • risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, and sexual experimentation
  • symptoms of chronic depression, sleeping difficulties, restlessness and low self esteem

To help an adolescent who is having a particularly hard time with his or her loss, explore the full spectrum of helping services in your community. School counselors, church groups and private therapists are appropriates resources for some young people, while others may just need a little more time and attention from caring adults like you. The important thing is that you help the grieving teen find safe and nurturing emotional outlets at this difficult time.

How grown-ups respond when someone loved dies has a major effect on the way adolescents react to the death. Sometimes adults don’t want to talk about the death, assuming that by doing so, young people will be spared some of the pain and sadness. However, the reality is very simple: adolescents grieve anyway.

Adolescents often need caring grown-ups to confirm that it’s all right to be sad and to feel a multitude of emotions when someone they love dies. They also usually need help understanding that the hurt they feel now won’t last forever. When ignored, adolescents may suffer more from feeling isolated than from the actual death itself. Worse yet, they feel all alone in their grief.

Peer support groups are one of the best ways to help bereaved adolescents heal. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. In this setting most will be willing to acknowledge that death has resulted in their life being forever changed. You may be able to help adolescents find such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience for an adolescent. As a result of this death, the teen’s life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

Grief is complex. It will vary from teen to teen. Caring grown-ups need to communicate to children that this feeling is not one to be ashamed of or hide. Instead, grief is a natural expression of love for the person who died.

For caring grown-ups, the challenge is clear: teenagers do not choose between grieving and not grieving; adults, on the other hand, do have a choice—to help or not to help adolescents cope with grief.

With love and understanding, grown-ups can support adolescents through this vulnerable time and help make the experience a valuable part of an adolescent’s personal growth and development.
 
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Son Is Verbally Abusive

Mark,

Thanks for your prompt response, the most pressing for now is for him not to be very loud and verbally abusive at home (FYI-My son is 6 ft tall and I'm 5"3. and it is very intimidating at times). Also, I want him to be self-reliant. I totally get your topic on that. We've very sensible about that until 2 yrs ago that I was a bit indulgent with them. I guess I was over compensating for the loss of their father and I put that to an end and explained to them our priorities.

My question Mark with your experience, do I have a chance to turn him around? Every counselor that I consulted, their advise is for him to go to counseling, w/o telling me how to effectively convince him how can I persuade him without being controlling and he thinks kids who go to counseling have head problem. I just want him to be responsible and accountable for his actions.

Gratefully,

C.

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==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

18-year-old daughter is threatening to move out...

Question

My 18 year old daughter is dating a 21 year old guy with no job, not in school. He has been on his own since 16 …mom was a drug abuser. My daughter has graduated from high school and is now attending community college and living at home. She says she can't live by our rules anymore. She has already spent 2 nights in the past month with him at a friend's house (he is sleeping on the couch because he has no place of his own.) She keeps saying she wants to be on her own and is threatening to move.

WE have told her that if she moves out she can't take her car. She also will be on her own financially. She says if we take her car, then we are jeopardizing her future b/c she will have no way to get to class! We told her no, she is jeopardizing her future. She suffers from depression, ADD, asthma, irritable bowel. She is on many meds. I can't imagine what would happen if she was on her own. How would she afford her meds? Illegal activity would be a big possibility. I don't want to drive her to this. We have taken her to therapists and then she refuses to go after a few sessions. I feel like I am at my wit's end with nowhere to turn.

Answer

Let her go and learn some valuable life lessons!

Your daughter declares she is going to move out and be on her own. She does not need curfews or your advice. So, what do you do since talking endlessly and arguing has not been productive? You say, "O.K.", and leave her standing mouth agape and in shock. However, you did not arrive at this decision lightly. You and your spouse have discussed this thoroughly and you have agreed on a plan.

Once the initial shock has sunk in, and before the child begins her celebration of freedom, you sit down and lay out the terms of this agreement. This is not a total free-for-all (contrary to her belief). In reality, you are still in charge and she needs to understand that her desire for freedom comes with responsibility. This is the time to draft a behavior contract, which stipulates what you will - and will not - do as the parent, what she is - and is not - allowed to do as the adult-child, and what the consequences are in those cases she violates any terms of the contract.

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Son Won't Come Home On Weekends

Dear Mark,

Can you please help me manage this situation? My son is 15 and will not come home at the weekends. I said to him that the rule is to be home at weekends by 11.30 and he is not to stay out, unless I am happy who he is staying with and have spoken to the parents. The consequence of this is no pocket money at all. It doesn’t seem to matter to him… he is probably stealing money or stuff anyway. He is using hash and has got very abusive in the home. Now I get a text from him saying he is staying in a friend’s house that I don’t know and will not give me the number. He will not come back now until Sunday. I don’t know what else to do. The money doesn’t seem to matter.

He is in trouble with the police, has changed his friends to hash friends, is aggressive and has thrashed the house. My mother is sick down the country and will not come down with me to visit her which means I can’t leave the city to visit.

Any suggestions would be welcome.

P.

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“Situational Runaways” are the largest group of runaways, comprised of young people who leave home for a day or two after a disagreement with parents – or for the weekend. Although they may be seen in runaway shelters or spend a brief time on the street, they usually return home within a few days. A small percentage may repeat this behavior and remain away for longer periods. If so, they become a part of the chronic runaway group. The suburban kid who runs to a friend's house the first time may turn into a chronic runaway who eventually finds his way to the heart of the nearby city, where other rootless kids hang out.

As much as you would like to build a wall around them, it is their choice whether or not to walk out the door. The phrase I use, "There are no bars on these windows, and the doors only lock people out." This is harsh, and I know it, but it also very much the truth. As a parent I can be a safety net, a tool box, and an emotional punching bag, but I refuse to be a chain.

Unfortunately we can’t completely prevent teens from running away, but here are a few suggestions that may help:

• Call the police. You don't have to wait 24 hours to report a missing minor. Be aware that because this is considered a common domestic issue, finding runaways is not always a priority for the police department unless your child is under 13 or there is reason to believe that he or she is in immediate danger. You'll need to do most of the footwork yourself. However, the police will keep watch and return your child to you if he or she is found. It's also important to file a report in case you are unable to find your child or a situation arises where help is needed.

• Call your child's friends. Your teen may still be in contact with them. It's especially important to remain calm when you speak to them. Otherwise, they may not be willing to help. Speak to the parents, as well. They may be able to give you other phone numbers to call. Ask them to contact you if they hear anything.

• Don’t scream and yell, or threaten your teen, this will only make them want to leave more.

• Go through your child's bedroom. Look through notebooks and drawers. Your child may have left a note behind. There may also be addresses and phone numbers. Visit the addresses and call the phone numbers if you haven't already.

• Remain calm. This is probably the most difficult thing to do when your teen runs away, but it's important. Keeping your emotions in check will make it easier to stay efficient and organized. You'll also need help from other people and they'll be more willing and open if you remain calm.

• Try not to interrupt your teenager when they do come to you to talk, sometimes it helps the most to just listen. If you don’t agree with your child at least listen to their side, then calmly give your side, if things start to get out of control, take a break.

• Try showing your teen respect and keep communication open, listening to what they have to say.

If you really want to put a lid on this situation, click on the link below!

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

The Trials of Being a Stepmother

There's no doubt that being a stepmother is one of the most difficult roles any adult will ever assume. So much pain can be avoided if you can agree on some very basic definitions of that role, and be alert to sensitivities with it.

To handle this situation with the utmost efficiency, both the biological parent and the stepmother should begin with an open and candid discussion about the fears and expectations regarding the relationship with the kids. Each should know what the other expects concerning the stepmother's involvement in guiding, supervising and disciplining the kids. Once you understand what each other's expectations are, you have a place to start shaping what the stepmother role will be. I always think it's important to first identify what you can agree on and thereby narrow your differences. How you ultimately define the stepmother role will, of course, be up to you. The following are my recommendations based on what I've seen work, what I've seen fail and how I think it's best to set up and define the stepmother role:

1. If you as a biological parent are having frustrations with the stepparent and what they're doing in relation to your kids, I encourage you at a very early point to stop complaining and start specifically asking for what you want and need. If, for example, you feel they're spending more time playing games with their kids, ask them specifically, for example, to play three board games per week with your youngster. Specifically ask for what you specifically want.

2. If you're the stepmother in a truly blended family, where both you and your spouse have kids being merged into a "yours, mine and ours" scenario, you must take great care not to be perceived as playing favorites through a double standard in which your kids enjoy a better standard of treatment than your step children. The truth is, however unpopular or politically incorrect it may be to say, you'll very likely have decidedly stronger positive emotional feelings for your biological kids than for your step children, at least in the beginning. You'll need to cloak this difference in emotional intensity. As time goes on and you share life experiences with your step children, there will be a leveling of emotions toward all of the kids. In the meantime, you should be hypersensitive to the need to deal with each in a like fashion. It can be very helpful in the early stages to actually quantify and balance the time, activities and money spent on biological and non-biological kids.

3. In relating to all the kids, the stepparent should seek to define her relationship as that of an ally and supporter. Whether the stepparent is the same or opposite-sexed parent, their presence can play an important balancing role in terms of modeling and information-giving about life from the male or female point of view. The role of ally and supporter is in no way to be construed as an attempt to replace the biological parent.

4. It's important that the stepmother not have unrealistic expectations about their level of closeness or intimacy with the step children. Relationships are built, and it takes time and shared experiences to create a meaningful one. The stepmother should also be aware that the youngster may be experiencing a fair amount of emotional confusion — and may in fact feel guilty that they're betraying their biological mother by having a close and caring relationship with their stepmother. Great care and patience should be taken to allow the youngster an opportunity to work through those feelings.

5. It's my strong belief that unless you as the stepmother are added to the family when the kids are very young, it will most likely be very difficult for you to discipline your spouse's kids. Every situation is different, but in most situations, disciplining your non-biological kids is fraught with danger, since it's likely to create resentment on the part of your spouse. Again, this isn't always the case, and if that's not the circumstance in your family, that's great, because it can give the biological parent an additional resource for handling discipline issues. While I don't believe it's very likely a workable situation for a stepmother to be a direct disciplinarian, it's extremely important that the stepmother be an active supporter of the biological parent's disciplinary efforts. Both biological parents and stepparents should discuss the rules of the house and negotiate an agreement for what standards the kids will be held to. This element of family life should be subject to the same negotiation and joint ownership as any other family situation.

6. The stepmother should actively support the youngster's relationship with the biological mother no longer in the home. If you are in the role of stepmother, you should make it a priority to nurture a relationship between you and the biological mother and to find every possible way you can to support a relationship between her and her kids. By taking the high road of facilitation, you'll find it easier to overcome feelings of resentment both on the part of the biological mother and the kids she no longer has daily access to. This may require some real internal commitment on your part, because supporting your step children's relationship with their biological but absent parent may seem tantamount to also supporting that parent's relationship with your spouse. Don't let jealousy or envy of the bond they share with their kids or the working relationship and history with your current mate because you to be less than supportive of that relationship.

7. The stepmother, although not actively initiating direct discipline, should certainly work to maintain the normal boundaries that exist between an adult and a youngster. Although it may be the biological parent who delivers an initial consequence for misbehavior, it's important that the stepmother be active in support of that decision, and care should be taken that proper respect and acknowledgment of the stepmother be given. In other words, a stepfather is not simply one's mother's husband. He is in fact an adult and an authority figure in the home.

In summary, let me say it's true that it's difficult to see things through someone else's eyes if you haven't walked in their shoes. Whether you're the stepparent or it's your spouse who's in that role, talk frequently about how it's going and what the experience is from the other's point of view. If both of you have good intentions and a loving heart, this can be worked out. The key is to remember that the kids are passengers on this train. They didn't get an opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member, so great care and patience should be taken to help them adapt to the situation.

Brother Bullies Younger Sibs

Dear Mark,

We have greatly benefited from your online parenting book and we have watched you on YouTube. Our son aged 10 [will be 11 in May] has been diagnosed with autism and ADHD. We have 4 other children, and we try to run a loving but disciplined home. Though my son is not out of control, he is very aggressive and rude from the off, without any provocation. We feel very undermined because of his behaviour, especially in front of the other children. I feel very sad and depressed when he behaves like this, which is most of the time. He bullies his younger siblings, and causes a great deal of tension and unhappiness at home. The autism is the reason for his lack of social skills but why is he so angry, unhelpful and unpleasant in an environment that is mild mannered? Is it because he is a bad tempered person who happens to have autism and ADHD?

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When Kids Won't Go To School

"How do I get my 10-year-old daughter to school? She seems to have stomach aches or headaches constantly, and misses several days of school each week. When we tell her she must go – she screams and cries and seems to be genuinely afraid of going to school. What can we do?"

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You need to be firm with her. Don't count on the problem going away if you ignore it. She could end up not ever going back. However, don't be angry with her as her anxiety and distress are real.

You need to find out what is troubling her. It could be school phobia ( a fear of school), separation anxiety (fear of leaving you or the home) or agoraphobia (fear of crowds and public places). These are all very real disorders.

If someone is bullying, teasing, embarrassing, or abusing her, then it could be the first diagnosis. Talk to her teachers to find out what they know and to inform them of your experiences with your daughter.

Take her to the doctor for a complete physical examination. Tell the doctor the whole story and ask him to rule out any serious illnesses.

If he rules out an illness, then believe what he says. Don't have a lot of expensive tests. Assume that your youngster is physically well and needs to go to school. Keep assuring her firmly and confidently that she'll be fine (and so will you) once she arrives. If she still claims of physical ailments, you have two options;

First, get her to school unless you determine that she truly is sick. In that case she would be running a fever, or have nausea and/ or diarrhea, etc. If she just tells you she doesn't feel well, that isn't enough to let her stay home. Adults often go to work with uncomfortable symptoms.

The second option is to believe her. Since she says she is too unwell to go to school, then clearly she is too unwell to be up and about the house. If she is sick then she is sick, and so she goes to bed: lights off, curtains closed, no TV, no special snacks. Ignore her and go about your normal daily routine. Make sure that the option of staying home is boring. If she is not sleeping then, ideally she should be doing some school work. Certainly there should be no friends or visitors to entertain her.

You can also establish some rewards for going to school.

Be firm and remain calm. Let her know that you expect her to go to school, but don't argue with her if she resists. The goal is for her to want to go back to school. Once she goes and finds out that she's fine, her previous symptoms should disappear.

Kids with school refusal are scared to go to school. They may be so scared that they won't leave the house. School refusal is most common in 5- and 6-year-olds and in 10- and 11-year-olds, but it can start at any age.

The problem might start after a youngster has been home for awhile, such as after a holiday, summer vacation, or brief illness. It also might happen after a stressful event, such as moving to a new house or the death of a pet or relative.

Kids who won't go to school often say they feel sick. They might wake up and say they have a headache, stomachache, or sore throat. If they stay home from school, the “illness” might go away, but it comes back the next morning before school. Some kids may have crying spells or temper tantrums.

Kids with school refusal may worry about the safety of their moms and dads or themselves. They may not want to be in a room by themselves, and they may be scared of the dark. They also may have trouble falling asleep by themselves and might have nightmares.

Kids who are truant (or “playing hooky”) are not scared to go to school the way kids with school refusal are. The table below compares some of the characteristics of school refusal and truancy.

School refusal:
  • The youngster usually wants to stay home because he or she feels safe there.
  • The youngster might pretend to be sick or say he or she doesn't want to go to school.
  • The youngster is unreasonably scared of going to school.

Truancy:
  • The youngster chooses not to go to school.
  • The youngster may have antisocial behaviors such as delinquency, lying, and stealing.
  • The youngster skips school and doesn't tell his or her parent.

Take your youngster to the doctor. Anxiety or a physical illness might be causing the problem. You also should talk to your youngster's teacher or school counselor. Your youngster's doctor will be able to rule out any illness that may be causing the problem.

Unreasonable fears about leaving home can be treated. Moms and dads must keep trying to get their youngster to go back to school. Your youngster's doctor may want your youngster to talk to a psychologist, social worker, or youngster psychiatrist. The doctor also might prescribe medicine to help with your youngster's anxiety.

The longer your youngster stays out of school, the harder it will be to return. The goal of treatment is to help your youngster learn ways to reduce anxiety and return to school.

Kids who do not go to school for long periods may develop serious learning setbacks or social problems. Kids who do not get professional help might have emotional problems such as anxiety when they get older. Early treatment of this problem is important for your youngster's well-being.

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