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

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Interview with Mark Hutten, M.A. [Parents Magazine]

Interview with Mark Hutten, M.A. [Excerpts from Parents Magazine: American’s leading family magazine for parents offering proven tips, sure-fire techniques and straightforward advice from America’s foremost childcare experts]: 

Question 1: 

In what way do parenting and parent-child relationships differ from late childhood (age 10-11 years) through mid-adolescence (15 years)?

Although moms are less involved in kid's school activity as they grow older, kids feel their parents continue to provide school support in other ways. Moms & dads of older kids do not report different parenting practices than parents of younger kids. Nonetheless, as they grow older, kids feel the quality of their relationship with parents declines. Older kids report that their moms & dads understand them less and that they argue with parents significantly more. Older kids feel their moms & dads are less warm and more rejecting, and feel less at ease confiding in their moms and their dads than younger kids. 

Question 2: 

How do child adjustment and social relationships change over this period?

Age changes in social relationships were consistent across the two samples. Smoking, alcohol use and affiliation with peers who use drugs increase with age whereas self-esteem decreases. Older kids are less likely to use helmets and seat belts than younger kids. The quality of sibling relationships remains stable, but older kids have more positive relationships with friends than younger kids. Older kids are less victimized by others and feel safer around school than younger kids. 

Question 3: 

Do parenting practices, parent-child relationships and child adjustment differ for males and females during this period of development?

Moms & dads report similar practices in parenting sons and daughters. Nonetheless, females perceive their moms & dads as less rejecting and warmer than males. Males and females are equally at ease confiding in their moms, but females confide less in their dads than males. 

Question 4: 

Do effective parenting practices contribute to a positive parent-child relationship and, in turn, to healthy child development?

Harsher parenting (more yelling and use of physical punishment, less reasoning) leads kids to feel their moms & dads are more rejecting and cold toward them. How kids perceive their relationship with their moms & dads is related to child adjustment. Kids who enjoy a more positive relationship with their moms & dads are more likely to invest in school, to use seat belts and helmets, and to experience fewer serious injuries. They have higher self-esteem, feel less depressed and are less anxious. Kids who perceive their moms & dads as more rejecting are more likely to smoke and use alcohol; they are more aggressive, bully others more, commit more property offenses and affiliate more with deviant friends. They are also more likely to be victimized by others. 

Question 5:

 Do parenting practices influence child adjustment differently for females versus males or for younger versus older kids?

Overall, females are less aggressive, commit fewer property offenses, bully others less and are less often victimized by others than males. Moreover, although females have lower self-esteem and more internalizing problems, they have better relationships with friends, are more pro-social and are more involved in school than males. Nonetheless, the impact of parenting practices on females and males is similar. Parenting is also associated with adjustment in younger and older kids in similar ways. That is, for both females and males of all ages, angry, arbitrary parenting (i.e. low use of reasoning) is associated with a poorer parent-child relationship (i.e. child perceptions of moms & dads as less warm and more rejecting) which in turn is associated with poor child adjustment. 

Question 6: 

Do the influences of parenting and/or the quality of the parent-child relationship differ in social contexts traditionally thought to put kids at risk for maladjustment?

Although few social contexts (i.e. maternal education, family income, maternal employment and single-parent family) directly affect child adjustment, some influence the quality of parent-child relationships. Kids of moms with less education and kids in families with lower income tend to perceive their relationships with their moms & dads more negatively. These negative perceptions in turn are associated with poorer adjustment. Maternal employment and single-parent status do not affect child adjustment independent of parenting and the parent-child relationship. 

Question 7: 

Is there evidence that relationships with moms and dads differ in their contribution to adjustment?

Daughters and sons feel equally at ease confiding in their moms, but daughters confide less in their dads than sons. Kids who feel comfortable confiding in their dads are better adjusted in a number of ways. 

Question 8: 

Is adolescence naturally a period of strife and storm?

A vulnerability to negative health outcomes increases between late childhood and mid-adolescence. Adolescence is a challenging developmental period. Transition to high school is frequently associated with increased vulnerability to low self-esteem and feelings of incompetence, combined with greater risk for depression and antisocial behavior. Engagement in some types of delinquent activity is normative during adolescence and may be related to adolescent exploration of social rules and norms. Social pressures on teens to conform to peer group expectations also contribute to engagement in delinquent activity.

Most teens do not suffer from significant negative health outcomes. The quality of parent-child relationships plays an important role in adolescent adjustment. Secure attachment is important in providing a safe haven during times of stress and in promoting exploration during times of growth. Evidence shows that secure attachment buffers teens from the stress associated with transitions such as high school entry. Teens benefit from parental accessibility for emotional support, structure and monitoring regarding their engagement in delinquent behavior and their association with peers who support this behavior. 

Question 9: 

In what ways do moms & dads contribute to healthy adolescent development?

Parenting practices are an important determinant of adjustment in late childhood and adolescence. Moms & dads who use harsh discipline are perceived by their kids as cold and more rejecting. Kids who perceive their moms & dads as cold and more rejecting suffer from a wide range of poorer adjustment outcomes, including aggression, bullying, property offenses, smoking and alcohol use.

Teens need to feel that their moms & dads are engaged and supportive of them. Teens are more independent than kids in many aspects of their lives. Nonetheless, parents should support their teens by remaining psychologically available to them while, at the same time, fostering their autonomy. Specific parenting skills include warmth, acceptance of individuality, active listening, behavior monitoring, limit setting and negotiation. 

Question 10: 

Do moms and dads each play important roles in promoting healthy child adjustment?

The data limited how deeply we could investigate the unique roles of moms and dads in determining the adjustment of their kids. Nonetheless, our findings point out that dads play an important role in child adjustment, but that females find it harder than males to confide in their dads. If families can take steps to support the relationship between dads and daughters, females may benefit from this. 

Question 11: 

Is the influence of parenting on child adjustment the same in high- versus low-risk contexts? Do some factors like poverty and maternal employment cause poor child adjustment independent of what moms & dads do?

Many moms & dads worry that their child may suffer because of low family income or maternal employment. Our findings show that the impact of risk factors like low income and low maternal education on child adjustment is related in large part to how these risk factors influence parenting practices. 

Question 12: 

Are females or males more vulnerable during adolescence? Do moms & dads need to use different strategies in parenting their daughters versus their sons?

Some differences in child adjustment were observed between females and males. Nonetheless, the impact of parenting was similar for females and males. Effective parenting produces positive outcomes for both females and males alike.

Parenting is important for adjustment in adolescence. A common misperception in society is that adolescence is a time of moving toward detachment from moms & dads. Many moms & dads believe that because the amount of time that teens spend with their families decreases dramatically, parents no longer matter and have little effect on how their teens function. Our findings show that although parent-child relationships undergo transformation during adolescence, the adjustment of teens depends in good measure on the quality of their relationships with their moms & dads. Moms & dads need to recognize the continued importance of their relationship with their teens, despite the changes that occur in the nature of their interactions.

Recommendations for parents:
  • Teens need to feel that their moms & dads are engaged and supportive of them. Teens are more independent than kids in many aspects of their lives. Nonetheless, they require ongoing parental support in terms of moms & dads remaining open to communication and responsive if help is needed, while, at the same time, fostering adolescent autonomy. Specific parenting skills include warmth, acceptance of individuality, active listening, behavior monitoring, limit setting and negotiation.
  • Kids are more vulnerable to adjustment problems in adolescence than in childhood. Moms & dads need to anticipate that their adolescent requires increased support during periods of transition, such as entry into high school.
  • Obviously, adolescent adjustment is also determined by factors outside the family and the parent-child relationship. Even though moms & dads may only indirectly affect how peers, romantic partners and other social influences determine the adjustment of their kids, moms & dads' support through the stressful challenges of adolescence remains important.
  • Moms & dads need to recognize the continued importance of their relationship with their teens. Although the parent-child relationship undergoes transformation during adolescence, the adjustment of teens depends in good measure on the quality of their relationship with their moms & dads.
  • Parents need to recognize the special role of dads in supporting the well-being of their kids. Dads' increased psychological support of daughters may be particularly beneficial to them.
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