When it comes to your child's academic performance, whose job is it? Yours or his? You may be surprised by the answer!
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Most teenagers in a recent study indicated that they want to spend more time with their families and are grateful when their mothers/fathers care enough to make the effort. However, from a parent's view point, the effort is frequently met with a cold shoulder, blank look or the ever ready "shrug of the shoulder."
Here are a few "starting" suggestions to get your teen to listen to you:
Think like adolescents. When I do workshops with adolescents, I ask if they can talk to their moms and dads. Most groan and roll their eyes. I ask them to list their reasons. Here is one list, exactly as they wrote it:
- They try to make us learn from their mistakes, instead of letting us learn from our own.
- They keep bringing up the past.
- If we open up, they will interrupt us and preach.
Whether moms and dads actually do any of these does not matter as much as the fact that many adolescents believe their parents will — so they don’t risk opening up.
Listen to the small stuff. This tests whether adolescents can trust us with the big stuff. Put down what you are doing and give your full attention. Really listen and, at least, nod your head. Then — this is the important thing most of us don’t do — summarize what they told you and how you think they might feel. Do not give advice or ask, "How does that make you feel?" People usually think, "Well if you’d been listening, it would be obvious!" In words that are authentic to you, say something like, "You sound (feeling) because (summarize what) happened."
If they think you don’t understand, they’ll clam up. If you show you are trying to understand but are off-base, they’ll often clarify by sharing more. If you are on the money, they’ll usually keep talking.
Now comes the tricky part. When adolescents open up, they may tell us things we don’t want to hear. We often shut down communication by getting upset, telling them what to do, or minimizing their issues by saying, "It’s not a big deal. Don’t let it get to you. Let it go." It sounds so wise, but to adolescents their issues ARE a big deal and they don’t have much experience in "letting go." Parents, we must realize that if we invite our kids to open up, we have to be ready to handle whatever comes out — and learn how to bite our tongues and not jump in. So what can we do?
The #1 most important skill all moms and dads need to learn is how to ask helpful questions. I’m not talking about fact-finding questions that "grill" adolescents, but questions that "put the ball in the youngster’s court" and help kids think for themselves. Here is an example:
Teen says: "Joey is such a jerk!"
Typical response: "That’s not nice!"
Effective response: "Wow, you sound mad at Joey. What did he do?"
Teen says: "He called me a _____ in front of my friends!"
Typical response: "Well don’t let it bother you."
Effective response: "Jeez, that was hurtful and humiliating! What did you do?"
Now LISTEN – without judging. Decide if he needs to (a) just blow off steam or (b) find a solution. If (b), ask "So what can you do?" Listen to your youngster’s ideas, ask "what would happen if you did that?" and let them decide what to try. If they suggest an unhelpful idea, keep asking, "Then what would happen?" or a leading question that helps them think long-term.
Remember three important points: (1) The quality of the youngster’s solution is not as important as the process by which the youngster reached it. (2) The only way kids will learn to solve their own problems is with practice. Moms and dads can be supportive and helpful by guiding their kids/adolescents through this process without taking over. (3) Some people are internal problem solvers. Encourage them to write down their feelings and ideas.
More tips to get adolescents to listen—
- Make a list of all of the things that your teen gets to do such as talk on the phone, spend time with friends, attend sports, go shopping, play video games, drive the car, etc.
- Make a list of all of the things that you expect from your teen such as chores, homework, attending school, being respectful, honest, and dependable.
- Make a chart with both the privileges and the expectations listed with a place for every day of the week for an entire month.
- Let your teen know that for every expectation they ignore, they will lose a privilege. You have to follow through with what you tell them. You cannot back down. Make sure your lists are correct so that they cannot manipulate you.
- If you are past the chart and have an extreme problem (e.g., drugs, cutting school, having sex), you will need to take extreme measures. You can still make a chart, but in addition to that you should remove everything from their bedroom except for a mattress and clothing for the week. Let them know that you are only required to provide the basics and therefore that is all they are going to get until you can depend on them again. If they squawk about their stuff being gone, you can let them know that as a minor they own nothing and everything under your roof belongs to you.
Points to consider—
- Create teachable moments— Adolescents communicate best with food in front of them or when they don't have to look you straight in the eye. Use drive time to bring up subjects without being judgmental or trying to pry. If you see an incident of violence on TV, you may want to ask your youngster what they think. You then may offer different ways of solving problems. Play "What-if" and don't be surprised at their answers.
- Don't lecture, listen— This is the time in their lives when they are learning to be independent. When you are always ready with advice and answers to problems, you are training them to be dependent on you. You can assist young adults in brainstorming alternative solutions, without sarcasm, nagging or ridicule. If the problem is the youngster's, then allow her to solve it. It is only your problem when the behavior interferes with you. Express confidence to the young adult through words, gestures, and tone of voice.
- It takes a village to raise a youngster— If you are having difficulty communicating, be patient and enlist the assistance of other caring adults who want the best for your youngster. Encourage her to find a mentor and friend such as a grandparent, coach, teacher, clergy or older relative. Adolescents should not rely solely on their peers for important information, conversation, guidance and advice. They need you in their lives, so keep talking. Even though they say "I dunno", they do know you love and care about them. So, hug them when they will let you and most of all, listen to what they have to say, especially when they say, "I love you."
- Parents get frustrated— There are a number of tough subjects that simply must be discussed in a rational, calm and cooperative setting. For instance; school, drinking, drugs, guns, violence, curfews, chores and attitudes are all necessary dialogs that need both sides to share in and listen to. Moms and dads become frustrated and angry and tend to set down the rules, standards and consequences without discussion. If the only time your family talks is when there is a crisis, it will be hard to have cooperation and respect, both of which are necessary to build a true and lasting relationship. It is only through regular calm and open family dialog that parents get to know what their adolescents are feeling and adolescents get to know where their parents stand on issues.
Parenting Strategies for Strong-Willed and Out-of-Control Adolescents
It's no secret that parenting a youngster is one of life's most challenging endeavors. And in the four centuries since George Herbert praised the power of paternal influence, more than a few cultural observers have called into question the value (and, in some cases, the very necessity) of a father's efforts on behalf of his kids.
But those critics are arguing in the face of considerable scientific and sociological research, the bulk of which points toward a common conclusion: Fathers matter – and good dads offer a world of benefits to their sons and daughters.
The Many Benefits of Effective Fatherhood—
The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) doesn't leave much room for interpretation when weighing in on the many benefits of effective fatherhood. Research literature supports the finding that a loving and nurturing father improves outcomes for kids, families and communities. Kids with involved, loving dads are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors including drug use, truancy, and criminal activity.
Citing information from a National Fatherhood Initiative publication titled “The Father Factor: How Father Absence Affects Our Youth,” the NRFC notes that dads who play an active role in their kid's lives can significantly increase the quality of their kid's lives, and decrease the threats to their healthy development:
- Kids who live with their father and mother are less likely to engage in problematic behaviors that result in their being suspended or expelled from school.
- Kids whose dads live with them are less likely to be either abused or neglected.
- Females whose dads are not involved in their lives are at considerably higher risk of early sexual activity (and are seven times more likely to become pregnant) than are adolescents whose dads are involved with their upbringing.
- Having a close relationship with one's father has been identified as a significant protective factor against adolescent drug and alcohol abuse.
- Research indicates that kids are more likely to be healthy when they have dads who are involved in daily efforts to ensure their health and safety.
Fathers and Daughters—
Historically, the role of dads has been thought to be of primary importance to the development of sons, while the raising of daughters was often believed to be the province of the mother. Today, though, it is becoming increasingly clear that although mothers play a vital role in raising daughters (and sons), a father's relationship with his daughter can result in significant and measureable improvements to his daughter’s life.
For example, a May 27 article by clinical child psychologist and neuroscience researcher Nestor Lopez-Duran described the ways in which a healthy father-daughter relationship can have a significant positive influence on the daughter's relationships with romantic partners.
Writing for the Child Psychology Research Blog, Lopez-Duran reported on a study of 78 teen females and young adult women (average age of 19) in which the quality of the daughters' relationships with their dads was compared to the daughters' relationships with their current boyfriends.
An evaluation of three aspects of those relationships – communication, trust, and time spent together – led the researchers to conclude that daughters who communicated with and trusted their dads were likely to have similarly healthy relationships with their boyfriends:
- The amount of time that the females and young women spent with their dads was not associated with communication, trust, or time spent with their boyfriends.
- Females and young women who reported having good communication with their dads also had significantly better communication with their boyfriends than did study subjects who had low levels of communication with their dads.
- Females and young women who had high levels of trust with their dads also had significantly better communication and trust with their boyfriends.
Quality vs. Quantity—
As is noted in the study that Lopez-Duran described, effective fatherhood is about much more than spending time in the presence of one's kids. Being there, as the old adage advises, may be half the battle, but the true benefits of fatherhood are the results of actions, not mere presence.
In a paper titled "The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Kids," authors Jeffrey Rosenberg and W. Bradford Wilcox established the following seven steps as essential components of effective fatherhood:
- Disciplining kids appropriately
- Fostering a positive relationship with the kid's mother
- Nurturing kids
- Protecting and providing
- Serving as a guide to the outside world
- Serving as a positive role model
- Spending time with kids
Though maintaining a presence in their kid's lives is obviously an important concern for dads, Rosenberg and Wilcox noted that " being there" is beneficial primarily as a means of engaging in the activities (such as disciplining, guiding, and nurturing) that ultimately make the biggest difference in kid's lives.
From Theory to Practice—
Expounding upon their seven pillars of effective fatherhood, Rosenberg and Wilcox provided specific examples of ways in which dads can influence and enrich their kid's lives:
Work with your kids. Dads should engage their kids in productive activities such as doing household chores, washing dishes after dinner, or cleaning up the yard, the authors advise. Research, they wrote, indicates that these types of activities promote responsibility, self-esteem, and self-worth among kids – qualities that have been associated with academic achievement, career advancement, and psychological health in adulthood.
Think with your kids. Dads should encourage their kid's intellectual growth, Rosenberg and Wilcox advised. From reading to (and later with) their kids to supporting their academic pursuits to meeting with teachers and attending school activities, dads who maintain an active role in their kid's education can provide specific support while also emphasizing the overall importance of academics.
Stay active with your kids. Dads should maintain an active, physical, and playful style of fathering even as their kids develop into adolescents and young adults, the authors encouraged, while putting an emphasis on "active." Activities such as tossing a football or going to the library are more valuable than spending time in passive endeavors such as watching television, they reported, noting that the benefits of active recreation extend to the emotional health, social growth and physical fitness of children.
Play with your kids. Dads' play has a unique role in a youngster's development, they wrote, noting that kids who play with their dads learn important lessons about exploring the world and keeping their aggressive impulses in check.
Our understanding of family dynamics, social development, and the psychology of father-child relationships has advanced considerably in the centuries since George Herbert extolled the many virtues of fatherhood. But the concept he expressed is as applicable today as it was in the 1600s: Fathers matter!
Online Parent Support: Help for Parents
Adolescence is full of opportunities for success and failure. To be well-adjusted, adolescents need to experience BOTH. Your daughter may miss the tie-breaking shot in a hockey game or be the only girl that doesn’t get invited to a high school party. Your son may blow his chance at a college scholarship. And every adolescent is likely to feel the rejection of their first break-up.
Even though moms and dads can create a soft place to fall, depriving your adolescent of these experiences by protecting them from challenges and shielding them from the natural consequences of their actions can cause a lifetime of hardship.
Over-indulgent parents don’t like to see their kids hurting and instantly go into fix-it mode. Rather than letting their youngster experience the consequences of their decisions, these moms and dads step in to defend the youngster and alleviate any discomfort they may feel.
There is a fine line between responsible parenting and over-indulgent parenting. No one would tell a parent not to protect their youngster – just don’t over-protect. Parental involvement is essential for a youngster’s healthy emotional, social and academic development. But when your love and concern manifest in the following behaviors, you may have overstepped their bounds:
- A willingness to do anything to see your youngster succeed
- Blaming others for your adolescent’s problems
- Doing anything to make sure your adolescent doesn’t experience hardship, sadness, disappointment, anger or other difficult emotions
- Getting involved in every aspect of your adolescent’s life, including academics, dating and friends
- Giving in to your adolescent’s every demand
- Making demands of teachers, counselors, friends, coaches and others because the adolescent can’t or won’t resolve their own problem
- Minimizing or justifying your adolescent’s behaviors
- Needing to be liked or viewed as your adolescent’s friend rather than a parent
- Stepping in immediately when your adolescent is in distress
- Striving to make your adolescent happy all of the time
- Using cell phones, e-mail and instant messaging to stay in constant contact and hover around your youngster at all times
What’s Your Motivation?
In most cases, over-indulgent parents’ primary motivation is to protect their youngster from harm. But they may also be motivated by other less admirable intentions. For example, moms and dads may be partially motivated by a desire to look good in front of other parents by having their adolescent reflect positively on them.
For example, a parent may intervene at school and do their youngster’s homework assignments so that their adolescent can go to an Ivy League university. Although their primary goal may be to provide the brightest possible future for their youngster, they may also be acting out of a desire to look like “good” moms and dads.
Some parents are also driven by a desire to feel good about themselves. Moms and dads may view their family’s happiness as a measure of their own success. Although they want their families to be happy for the sake of each family member, they also protect their adolescents because they’ve lost their own identity apart from their youngster.
Over-indulgent parents tend to produce kids who are fearful, anxious and lack confidence in their own abilities. Even though the moms and dads are undoubtedly acting out of love, their actions are often based on their own worries, fears and feelings, not necessarily what’s in the best interest of the youngster. If adolescents aren’t given the opportunity to face and overcome challenges, they never learn that they are capable of doing so.
Here are a few ways moms and dads can begin to let go and help their adolescent blossom into a healthy adult:
Evaluate the Worst-Case Scenario: When your adolescent is facing a difficult situation, ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?” If the worst-case scenario is hurt feelings, disappointment, anger or any other emotion that people regularly face, let your youngster resolve the problem themselves. Try to intervene only if your adolescent is in physical danger or is at risk of severe emotional harm.
Get Help: An over-indulgent parenting style may be deeply ingrained by the time a youngster reaches adolescence. The family may be struggling with codependency and other unhealthy attachments. In these situations, professional help may be needed to teach moms and dads healthier parenting styles and improve the adolescent’s ability to cope and make decisions.
Learn New Communication Skills: Instead of telling your adolescent what to do, resolving their problems for them or protecting them from the consequences of their choices, practice active listening. While moms and dads can give suggestions, adolescents are old enough to make their own decisions and deal with the consequences.
Learn to Say No: It is unrealistic to expect your adolescent to be happy all of the time. If you’re going to great lengths to satisfy their every desire, you risk raising a spoiled adolescent with a sense of entitlement. Your adolescent may become accustomed to having things done for them, assuming the rest of the world will do the same, which they will eventually learn isn’t true. They should earn the things they’re given, both material goods and privileges, and should be encouraged to get involved in volunteering and thinking outside of themselves.
Let Your Adolescent Fix His Own Mistakes: What follows naturally from letting your adolescent make their own decisions is letting them experience the consequences of those decisions. If you want your youngster to be resourceful and self-reliant, you have to let them work through issues on their own. For example, if your adolescent hurts a friend’s feelings, it isn’t your job to apologize and mend the relationship. Let your adolescent realize the need for an apology and take action to repair the damage on their own.
Let Your Adolescent Make Decisions: From a young age, kids shout with glee when they discover they can do something by themselves. Whether walking, getting an A on a test or winning a game, kids have a natural desire for independence. Nurture your adolescent’s growing desire for independence by letting them make their own decisions. Adolescents who aren’t encouraged to make their own decisions grow accustomed to having their moms and dads make decisions for them. As a result, they never develop valuable problem-solving skills or the confidence that comes from making good choices. While you can be there to offer guidance and advice when needed, your adolescent is capable of finding answers on their own.
Take a Time-Out: Before intervening to fix a problem for your adolescent, step aside for awhile and let the situation play out. Ask yourself how your youngster’s needs would best be served. By allowing your adolescent the time and space to resolve an issue and experience the full spectrum of emotions that come with a success or failure, you help your youngster learn how to manage difficult emotions without escaping (whether through asking for a parent to rescue them, buying new things, using drugs and alcohol or some other quick fix). Give them a chance to realize on their own that everything will be okay. This will help them develop important coping skills.
Teach Your Youngster Self-Advocacy: When your youngster was young, you were their strongest advocate. As they grow into a teenager, they should gradually become their own advocate. Teach your youngster how to work through problems and encourage them to state their needs at school and in relationships, without needing you to do their work for them.
Trust Yourself: You’ve spent many years teaching your youngster important lessons and grooming them for adulthood. Adolescence is the time to put what they’ve learned to the test. Trust that you’ve raised your youngster well enough to make sound decisions and be there to offer advice when solicited.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents
Diagnostic hallmarks usually are couched in clinical terms that remain vague and open to interpretation and, therefore susceptible to argument pro and con by opposing experts. The phenomenon of one parent turning the youngster against the other parent is not a complicated concept, but historically it has been difficult to identify clearly. Consequently, cases involving PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME are heavily litigated, filled with accusations and counter accusations, and thus leave the court with an endless search for details that eventually evaporate into nothing other than rank hearsay. It is our experience that the PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME phenomenon leaves a trail that can be identified more effectively by removing the accusation hysteria, and looking ahead in another positive direction.
For the purpose of this article the authors are assuming a fair degree of familiarity with parental alienation syndrome on the part of the reader. There are many good writings on PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME which the reader may wish to consult now or in the future for general information. Our focus here is narrower. Specifically, the goal is twofold. First we will describe four very specific criteria that can be used to identify potential PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME. In most instances, these criteria can be identified through the facts of the case, but also can be revealed by deposition or court testimony. Secondly, we wish to introduce the concept of "attempted" PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME; that is when the criteria of PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME are present, but the youngster is not successfully alienated from the absent parent. This phenomenon is still quite harmful and the fact of kids not being alienated should not be viewed as neutral by the court.
The criteria described below are fairly easy to identify separate and apart from the court file. When there is uncertainty about any of them, these criteria can be used to guide the attorney in the deposing of witnesses as well as in their examination in court.
Access and Contact Blocking—
Criteria I involves the active blocking of access or contact between the youngster and the absent parent. The rationale used to justify it may well take many different forms. One of the most common is that of protection. It may be argued that the absent parent's parental judgment is inferior and, therefore, the youngster is much worse off from the visit. In extreme cases, this will take the form of allegations of child abuse, quite often sexual abuse. This will be addressed in more detail in Criteria II, but suffice it to say that often this is heard as a reason for visitation to be suspended or even terminated. On a more subtle and common level, an argument heard for the blocking of visitation is that seeing the absent parent is "unsettling" to the youngster, and that they need time "to adjust." The message here is that the absent parent is treated less like a key family member and more like an annoying acquaintance that the youngster must see at times.
Over time, this pattern can have a seriously erosive effect on the youngster's relationship with the absent parent. An even more subtle expression of this is that the visitation is "inconvenient," thereby relegating it to the status of an errand or chore. Again the result is the erosion of the relationship between the youngster and the absent or "target" parent. One phenomenon often seen in this context is that any deviation from the schedule is used as a reason to cancel visitation entirely.
The common thread to all of these tactics is that one parent is superior and the other is not and, therefore, should be peripheral to the youngster's life. The alienating parent in these circumstances is acting inappropriately as a gatekeeper for the youngster to see the absent parent. When this occurs for periods of substantial time, the youngster is given the unspoken - but clear message - that one parent is senior to the other. Younger kids are more vulnerable to this message and tend to take it uncritically; however, one can always detect elements of it echoed even into the teenage years. The important concept here is that each parent is given the responsibility to promote a positive relationship with the other parent. When this principle is violated in the context of blocking access on a consistent basis, one can assume that Criteria I has been, unmistakably identified.
Unfounded Abuse Allegations—
The second criterion is related to false or unfounded accusations of abuse against the absent parent. The most strident expression of this is the false accusation of sexual abuse. It has been well studied that the incident of false allegations of sexual abuse account for over half of those reported, when the moms and dads are divorcing or are in conflict over some post dissolution issue. This is especially the situation with small kids who are more vulnerable to the manipulations implied by such false allegations. When the record shows that even one report of such abuse is ruled as unfounded, the interviewer is well advised to look for other expressions of false accusations.
Other examples of this might be found in allegations of physical abuse that investigators later rule as being unfounded. Interestingly our experience has been that there are fewer false allegations of physical abuse than of other forms of abuse, presumably because physical abuse leaves visible evidence. It is, of course, much easier to falsely accuse someone of something that leaves no physical sign and has no third party witnesses.
A much more common expression of this pattern would be that of what would be termed emotional abuse. When false allegations of emotional abuse are leveled, one often finds that what is present is actually differing parental judgment that is being framed as "abusive" by the absent parent. For example, one parent may let a youngster stay up later at night than the other parent would, and this scheduling might be termed as being "abusive" or "detrimental" to the youngster. Or one parent might introduce a new "significant other" to the youngster before the other parent believes that they should and this might also be called "abusive" to the youngster.
Alternatively one parent might enroll a youngster in an activity with which the other parent disagrees and this activity is, in actuality, a difference of parental opinion that is now described as being abusive in nature. These examples, as trivial as they seem individually, may be suggestive of a theme of treating parental difference in inappropriately subjective judgmental terms. If this theme is present, all manner of things can be described in ways that convey the message of abuse, either directly or indirectly. When this phenomenon occurs in literally thousands of different ways and times, each of which seems insignificant on its own, the emotional atmosphere that it creates carries a clearly alienating effect on the youngster.
Obviously, this type of acrimony is very common in dissolution actions but such conflict should not necessarily be mistaken or be taken as illustrative of the PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME; however, the criteria is clearly present and identifiable when the parent is eager to hurl abuse allegations, rather than being cautious, careful and even reluctant to do so. This latter stance is more in keeping with the parent's responsibility to encourage and affirmatively support a relationship with the other parent. The responsible parent will only allege abuse after he or she has tried and failed to rationalize why the issue at hand is not abusive. Simply put, the responsible parent will give the other parent the benefit of the doubt when such allegations arise. He or she will, if anything, err on the side of denial, whereas the alienating parent will not miss an opportunity to accuse the other parent. When this theme is present in a clear and consistent way, this criterion for PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME is met.
Deterioration in Relationship since Separation—
The third of the criteria necessary for the detection of PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME is probably the least described or identified, but critically is one of the most important. It has to do with the existence of a positive relationship between the minor kids and the now absent or nonresidential parent, prior to the marital separation; and a substantial deterioration, of it since then. Such a recognized decline does not occur on its own. It is, therefore, one of the most important indicators of the presence of alienation as well. as a full measure of its relative "success."
By way of example, if a father had a good and involved relationship with the kids prior to the separation, and a very distant one since, then one can only assume without explicit proof to the contrary that something caused it to change. If this father is clearly trying to maintain a positive relationship with the kids through observance of visitation and other activities and the kids do not want to see him or have him involved in their lives, then one can only speculate that an alienation process may have been in operation. Kids do not naturally lose interest in and become distant from their nonresidential parent simply by virtue of the absence of that parent. Also, healthy and established parental relationships do not erode naturally of their own accord. They must be attacked. Therefore, any dramatic change in this area is virtually always an indicator of an alienation process that has had some success in the Parental Alienation Syndrome.
Most notably, if a careful evaluation of the pre-separation parental relationship is not made, its omission creates an impression that the troubled or even alienated status that exists since is more or less an accurate summary of what existed previously. Note that nothing could be further from the truth! An alienated or even partially or intermittently alienated relationship with the nonresidential parent and the kids after the separation is more accurately a distortion of the real parental relationship in question. Its follow-through is often overlooked in the hysterical atmosphere that is often present in these cases. A careful practitioner well knows that a close examination is warranted and that it must be conducted with the utmost detail and scrutiny.
If this piece of the puzzle is left out, the consequences can be quite devastating for the survival of this relationship. Also, without this component, the court can be easily swayed into premature closure or fooled into thinking that the turmoil of the separation environment is representative of the true parent-child relationship. Once this ruling is made by the court, it is an exacting challenge to correct its perception.
In a separate but related issue, a word should be said about the use of experts. First, it must be understood that all mental health professionals are not aware of nor know how to treat the PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME phenomenon. In fact, when a mental health professional unfamiliar with PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME is called upon to make a recommendation about custody, access, or related issues, he or she potentially can do more harm than good. For example, if the psychologist fails to investigate the pre-separation relationship of the nonresidential parent and the kids, he or she may very easily mistake the current acrimony in that relationship to be representative of it, and recommend that the kids should have less visitation with that parent, obviously supporting the undiagnosed PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME that is still in progress. If that expert also fails to evaluate critically the abuse claims or the agenda of the claimant, they may be taken at face value and again potentially support the undiagnosed PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME.
If that professional is not also sensitive to the subtleties of access and contact blocking as its motivator, he or she may potentially support it, thereby contributing to the PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME process. When these things occur, the mental health professional expert has actually become part of the PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME, albeit unwittingly. Alarmingly, this happens often. Suffice it to say, if PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME is suspected, the attorney should closely and carefully evaluate the mental health investigation and conclusion – failure to do so can cause irreparable harm to the case, and, ultimately to the kids.
Intense Fear Reaction by Kids—
The fourth criteria necessary for the detection of PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME is admittedly more psychological than the first three. It refers to an obvious fear reaction on the part of the kids, of displeasing or disagreeing with the potentially alienating parent in regard to the absent or potential target parent. Simply put, an alienating parent operates by the adage, "My way or the highway." If the kids disobey this directive, especially in expressing positive approval of the absent parent, the consequences can be very serious. It is not uncommon for an alienating parent to reject the youngster, often telling him or her that they should go live with the target parent. When this does occur one often sees that this threat is not carried out, yet it operates more as a message of constant warning. The youngster, in effect, is put into a position of being the alienating parent's "agent'' and is continually being put through various loyalty tests. The important issue here is that the alienating patent thus forces the youngster to choose moms and dads. This, of course, is in direct opposition to a youngster's emotional well being.
In order to fully appreciate this scenario, one must realize that the PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME process operates in a "fear based" environment. It is the installation of fear by the alienating parent to the minor kids that is the fuel by which this pattern is driven; this fear taps into what psychoanalysis tell us is the most basic emotion inherent in human nature--the fear of abandonment. Kids under these conditions live in a state of chronic upset and threat of reprisal. When the youngster does dare to defy the alienating parent, they quickly learn that there is a serious price to pay. Consequently, kids who live such lives develop an acute sense of vigilance over displeasing the alienating parent. The sensitized observer can see this in visitation plans that suddenly change for no apparent reason.
For example, when the appointed time approaches, the youngster suddenly changes his or her tune and begins to loudly protest a visit that was not previously complained about. It is in these instances that a court, once suspecting PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME must enforce in strict terms the visitation schedule which otherwise would not have occurred or would have been ignored.
The alienating parent can most often be found posturing bewilderment regarding the sudden change in their youngster's feelings about the visit. In fact, the alienating parent often will appear to be the one supporting visitation. This scenario is a very common one in PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME families. It is standard because it encapsulates and exposes, if only for an instant, the fear-based core of the alienation process. Another way to express this concept would be that whenever the youngster is given any significant choice in the visitation, he or she is put in the position to act out a loyalty to the alienating parent's wishes by refusing to have the visitation at all with the absent parent. Failure to do so opens the door for that youngster's abandonment by the parent with whom the youngster lives the vast majority of the time. Kids, under these circumstances, will simply not opt on their own far a free choice. The court must thus act expeditiously to protect them and employ a host of specific and available remedies.
As a consequence of the foregoing, these kids learn to manipulate. Kids often play one parent against the other in an effort to gain some advantage. In the case of PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME, the same dynamic operates at more desperate level. No longer manipulating to gain advantage, these kids learn to manipulate just to survive. They become expert beyond their years at reading the emotional environment, telling partial truths, and then telling out-and-out lies.
One must, however, remember that these are survival strategies that they were forced to learn in order to keep peace at home and avoid emotional attack by the residential parent. Given this understanding, it is perhaps easier to see why kids, in an effort to cope with this situation, often find it easier if they begin to internalize the alienating parent's perceptions of the absent parent and begin to echo these feelings. This is one of the most compelling and dramatic effects of PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME, that is, hearing a youngster vilifying the absent parent and joining the alienating parent in such attacks. If one is not sensitive to the "fear-based" core at the heart of this, it is difficult not to take the youngster's protests at face value. This, of course, is compounded when the expert is also not sensitive to this powerful fear component, and believes that the youngster is voicing his or her own inner feelings in endorsing the "no visitation" plan.
All the criteria listed above can be found independent of each other in highly contested dissolutions, but remember that the appearance of some of them does not always constitute PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME. When all four are clearly present, however, add the possibility of real abuse has been reasonably ruled out, the parental alienation process is operative. This does not necessarily mean, however, that it is succeeding in that the kids are being successfully alienated from the target parent. The best predictor of successful alienation is directly related to the success of the alienating parent at keeping the kids from the target parent. When there are substantial periods in which they do not see the other parent, the kids are more likely to be poisoned by the process. Another variable that predicts success is the youngster's age. Younger kids generally are more vulnerable than older ones.
Also, another variable is the depth and degree of involvement of the pre-separation parent-child relationship. The longer and more involved that relationship, the less vulnerable will be the kids to successful alienation. The final predictor is the parental tenacity of the target parent. A targeted parent often gives up and walks away, thus greatly increasing the chances of successful alienation.
The question remains: What if all four criteria are present, but the kids are not successfully alienated? Should this failure at alienation be seen as nullifying the attempt at alienation? The answer to that should be a resounding "No!" It should be, but often it is not. It is very common to read a psychological evaluation or a GAL's report that identified PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME but then notes that since it was not successful, it should not be taken very seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any attempt at alienating the kids from the other parent should be seen as a direct and willful violation of one of the prime duties of parenthood, which is to promote and encourage a positive and loving relationship with the other parent, and the concept of shared parental responsibility.
It is our feeling that when attempted PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME has been identified, successful or not, it must be dealt with swiftly by the court. If it is not, it will contaminate and quietly control all other parenting issues and then lead only to unhappiness, frustration and parental estrangement.
Online Parent Support
This story may amaze you, but nonetheless is true! I would appreciate it if you could take the time to read it all...it is very important to one young man who is going to be 20 in August. Here is our story:
My boyfriend's son is soon to be 20 years old this year and has Asperger's Syndrome. He is highly-functioning on the autism spectrum. However, he is being manipulated, interrogated, tortured and controlled by his mother who has sole-guardianship of him now. My boyfriend was stripped of his co-guardianship because his son called him crying hysterically and begging him for help, pleading with his Dad to come get him, stating that his mother was torturing (interrogating, controlling) him. First, we called 911 to report the incident and asked if they would go to the house to check things out. After 45 minutes, the supervisor called us back and stated that they had "called" the home and that the young man was fine! The records indicate that my boyfriend had just called for "legal advice"! Of course the 911 records are now purged. We called the Virginia State Police to see if we could go to the home to make sure the son was alright. The officer said since my boyfriend had co-guardianship and there were no orders of protection that he could indeed go check on him. Ryan's father then went to the mother's house to see if his son was okay whereupon the mother yelled that he was not allowed on her property although there was no such legal instrument. Ryan said that he wanted to go to his father's house (just a few miles away). He walked to the car willingly and with much enthusiasm (we have audio of Ryan from that night of his great expressions of joy in being with us in the car and relieved of his mother)! Five minutes after arriving at Dad's home, the house was surrounded by blasting sirens and bright lights from police cars whereupon the police charged my boyfriend with ABDUCTION! He was CO-GUARDIAN and was respecting the wishes and desires of his ward (son) according to Virginia statutes pertaining to guardianship along with protecting him from the misuse of powers by the other co-guardian!!
We also have video of the police officers in his bedroom at Dad's attempting to remove him from his Dad's house even though Ryan, age 19 and an adult, told them he DID NOT want to leave! Eventually when they saw he was not leaving voluntarily, they called his mother at which point they lied to him, telling him they were taking him to see some girls he knows but took him right back to his mother's home! She threatens him with jail or "bad boy's school" or that he will never see his father again (whom he adores) if he doesn’t go along with her demands! This night with the police has now caused Ryan to have PTSD! He has a "meltdown" every time he hears a police siren since that event and runs to the window when visiting with his father to see if the police have come for him again! A meltdown is not a very pretty sight, not to mention the fear, exhaustion and anguish the Aspie has to go through during and after it!
His mother and father have been divorced since he was two years old and the father has been taken to court many times for "bogus" charges over the past sixteen years! We have tons of paperwork of court orders as evidence, including several videos where Ryan states that he wants to live with his Dad. Ryan is a very bright young man, excelling in athletics, polite, friendly and outgoing even with his diagnosis of Asperger’s.
Ryan is not given any rights at his mother’s home, for example, to choose his own clothing (he likes to wear athletic jerseys of his favorite teams-including the Redskins (NORMAL for most young people but she calls athletes "thugs"), she will not allow him to wear a watch, have a wallet or a state ID (what if he got lost?), have a cell phone, etc. In other words, she is a guardian who is a dictator! She is excellent at interrogation of his every move whether with him or away from him due to the fact that she is a detective on the sheriff's department in their county, hence my reasoning for not yet divulging said county. She has had much practice at interrogation and chooses to use these methods on her own son to keep him in a state of constant confusion, fear and control, but really she is using mind control and brainwashing as the young man now has become terrified of the things he loves to do, confused about people he likes to see and intimidated about what he would choose to wear if given the opportunity! His mind is in a constant state of duress and he has detachment disorder from mother--now sole-guardian! He had been growing and evolving mentally and emotionally during the time he was with us as we were taking him into DC to cultural events, Nationals games, rallies, walks and such. The year prior to his becoming an adult he could not even ride the metro or go on an escalator without a meltdown, all things he had begun to enjoy, now squelched!
This is a classic case of parental alienation and emotional, mental and spiritual abuse to Ryan and his psyche!
My boyfriend, Doug, has never gotten a fair hearing in the southern county where he resides due to her position. She has even had him investigated for sexual abuse of his son, once in 2005 and again in 2007, both cases UNFOUNDED! She even went so far as to ask someone in the court system to "do her a favor" and find them founded!! When the judge heard this evidence, he did not even reprimand her, again due to her position with the county! We have the original paperwork showing that both cases were unfounded and which we have provided every attorney. Therefore, we are attempting to see what information, advice, help or opinions we can garner from the disabilities’ rights people, judges, state senators, judicial committees and Asperger’s society advocates. Unfortunately, we have heard from no one!! It's time for someone to listen to these people with Autism!
She has cost Dad over $90,000 in the past 18 years trying to defend himself over her ridiculous charges while he was also faithfully paying his monthly child support; $90,000 has been exhausted in attorneys and court fees just to be the wonderful father that he is! No regular family law attorney seems to want to take this case due to the fact that mother is a detective!
My boyfriend is the best father in the world; nurturing, comforting and teaching his son healthy and wholesome choices and activities, i.e., enrolling him in Tae-Kwan-Do to build his self-esteem (which he absolutely loves), taking him to the Food Bank to learn not only a job, but to help others, allowing his son to make choices and has been his son's only advocate! But we need help to get Ryan away from his mother as she has forbidden his father to ever take him to either place again! She is destroying Ryan while making every attempt to intimidate his father via blame-switching!! She verbally intimates and abuses Dad for every good thing that he attempts to do for Ryan. We have exhausted every avenue! And what about RYAN’S RIGHTS??? He is now an adult and perfectly capable of making his own choices which she says he is not!! Ask any Asperger's expert and they will tell you that they definitely can make choices and decisions on their own!
What I have described to you here is only a few layers of a very large onion! His mother has been a despicable parent, and her actions resemble those of a sociopath -- a bully behind a badge! She is killing his self-esteem and confidence!
Honesty – and dishonesty – are learned in the home. Moms and dads are often concerned when their child or teenager lies.
Lying that is probably not a serious problem—
Young kids (ages 4-5) often make up stories and tell tall tales. This is normal activity because they enjoy hearing stories and making up stories for fun. These young kids may blur the distinction between reality and fantasy.
An older child or teenager may tell a lie to be self-serving (e.g. avoid doing something or deny responsibility for their actions). Moms and dads should respond to isolated instances of lying by talking with the youngster about the importance of truthfulness, honesty and trust.
Some adolescents discover that lying may be considered acceptable in certain situations such as not telling a boyfriend or girlfriend the real reasons for breaking up because they don't want to hurt their feelings. Other adolescents may lie to protect their privacy or to help them feel psychologically separate and independent from their parents (e.g. denying they sneaked out late at night with friends).
Lying that may indicate emotional problems—
Some kids, who know the difference between truthfulness and lying, tell elaborate stories which appear believable. Kids or adolescents usually relate these stories with enthusiasm because they receive a lot of attention as they tell the lie.
Other kids or adolescents, who otherwise seem responsible, fall into a pattern of repetitive lying. They often feel that lying is the easiest way to deal with the demands of parents, educators and friends. These kids are usually not trying to be bad or malicious but the repetitive pattern of lying becomes a bad habit.
There are also some kids and adolescents who are not bothered by lying or taking advantage of others. Other adolescents may frequently use lying to cover up another serious problem. For example, an adolescent with a serious drug or alcohol problem will lie repeatedly to hide the truth about where they have been, who they were with, what they were doing, and where the money went.
What to do if your child or teenager lies—
Moms and dads are the most important role models for their kids. When a child or teenager lies, parents should take some time to have a serious talk and discuss:
- alternatives to lying
- the difference between make believe and reality, lying and telling the truth
- the importance of honesty at home and in the community
If a child or teenager develops a pattern of lying which is serious and repetitive, then professional help may be indicated. Evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist would help the child and parents understand the lying behavior and would also provide recommendations for the future.
Lies come out of kid's mouths for a variety of reasons:
- Because she is imaginative and the truth is boring.
- By mistake. Sometimes lies seem almost involuntary, and a lie just slips out, especially if your child gets caught in a misdeed. (“Who broke the antique chair? “I didn't!”) Then, soon enough, it's Sir Walter Scott: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!”
- Fear. When kids are scared of the consequences of their actions, they often lie to cover up. (Are the rules too strict? Are the limits too tight? Does your child feel free to talk with you?)
- For love, for approval, and because kids like to impress people quickly and effectively.
- To avoid an unpleasant task. (“Did you brush your teeth?” “Yes, Dad!”)
- To protect somebody else.
Lie Prevention Techniques—
No, you can't keep your kids from lying, but you can make lying a less rewarding activity. Many lies come from self-protection, and you can help by not creating a situation where your kid feels pressured to lie or suffer the consequences. Here are a few suggestions:
- Before you talk with your kid about a lie he's told, make sure that he did lie. A false accusation, or not believing a child when he is telling the truth, can devastate.
- Don't cross-examine (“After you left school, which route did you take home? And this was at precisely 3:10 p.m.?”), forget the fierce white lights and the sleep deprivation techniques. Remember that the object of talking with your child is to communicate. Grilling will make him close down, not open up, to you.
- Don't reprimand your child for telling the truth.
- Keep the conversation focused on what happened or what the problem is, rather than casting blame.
- Lies are easy to slip into, and even easier to compound themselves, lie upon lie. Many kids slip into lying as painlessly as sliding into warm, tropical ocean water. It's more painful getting out (shiver, shiver).
- Looking for the positive intent? Lies are a misguided survival technique.
- The truth is hard to tell. It's risky to confess (and risk is always hard). If your child confesses a misdeed to you, you need to 1) thank him for the truth, and give him positive reinforcement for his bravery and his sense of ethics, and then 2) deal with the misdeed by applying appropriate consequences. Doing step 2 but not step 1 is as bad a mistake as doing step 1 without step 2. He needs to have positive feedback for telling the truth and he needs consistent consequences. The positive feedback will make the consequence easier to take, and help build his ethical sense.
- When your kid has misbehaved, don't trap him into a lie, or set him up in a no-win situation. Confronting him with leading questions is more likely to elicit a lie than talking calmly with him about what happened. If Tony comes home with a black eye and you scream at him, “I swear I will kill you if you got into a fight! Did you fight today?” you are putting Tony into a situation where he's either got to lie (“Oh no, I walked into a wall.” “Oh honey, get an ice pack for that”) or face your wrath. A better approach would be, “Oh my! What happened? Let's sit down.”
Seven Quick Steps to Dealing with a Lie—
Discovering your youngster has lied can be quite distressing. Lies are often an additional layer of misbehavior (the child misbehaves, and then lies about it) and it's this layer that often makes moms and dads go ballistic. (“I'm furious that you stole my silver coin collection and bought candy with it, but the fact that you lied to me about it, too, well, I can't stand it!”) If you've discovered a lie (“layered” or simple), try this:
- Breathe, run around the block, take 10, calm down. Take as long as you need to take in order to deal with the situation, not the lie, or the fact that your youngster wasn't honest with you.
- Focus on the misbehavior, not the lie your youngster used to cover it up.
- Give her the benefit of the doubt (she may be caught in a compound lie).
- If you don't want a youngster who lies, don't label her a liar. Kids tend to internalize the labels we give them.
- Once the situation she lied about is resolved, talk with her about the problems lying can cause. Knowledge (and your obvious disapproval) will help her avoid lying in the future.
- Talk about values, and let her know that you don't value lying.
- Talk with your youngster. Let her know that you aware of the truth. (Be as calm and level-voiced as possible.)
My Out-of-Control Child: Parenting Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Parents are the single biggest influence in their kid’s lives. Use your voice and let your kids know that smoking is bad news. Your adolescents may seem to be tuning you out and accuse you of lecturing, but they are listening. Discuss the dangers of adolescent smoking with them early and often.
The smoking facts in this article have been compiled with adolescents in mind. Arm yourself with knowledge and information that will get your youngster’s attention.
The ingredients and additives in cigarettes when burned, create toxic, harmful chemical compounds. There are over 4000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, and more than 40 of them are known carcinogens.
Smokers inhale some pretty disgusting things with every puff:
• Acetone It’s in nail polish remover and it’s in cigarettes.
• Ammonia We use this chemical to clean our houses.
• Benzene This chemical is used in manufacturing gasoline.
• Carbon Monoxide It’s in car exhaust, and it’s in cigarette smoke.
• Formaldehyde This is what they use to preserve dead bodies. It’s also used as an industrial fungicide, is a disinfectant, and is used in glues and adhesives.
• Hydrogen Cyanide This chemical is used to kill rats and it was used during WWII as a genocidal agent. Smokers inhale it with every puff.
• Tar Yes, the same thing they use to pave streets and driveways. Ever notice how smoker’s teeth are yellow? Tar is responsible for that.
And of course, there is Nicotine, the drug responsible for an addiction that smokers spend years and years trying to break.
Secondhand Smoke Facts—
Cigarette smoke is full of harmful chemicals. Breathing in secondhand smoke is harmful for smokers and nonsmokers alike. Smokers suffer a double dose though, increasing the destructive effects of secondhand smoke.
• Secondhand smoke can produce six times the pollution of a busy highway when in a crowded restaurant.
• Secondhand smoke causes 30 times as many lung cancer deaths as all regulated pollutants combined.
• Secondhand smoke causes up to 300,000 lung infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis) in infants and young kids each year.
• Secondhand smoke causes wheezing, coughing, colds, earaches, and asthma attacks.
• Secondhand smoke fills the air with many of the same poisons found in the air around toxic waste dumps.
• Secondhand smoke kills about 3,000 nonsmokers each year from lung cancer.
Other facts about smoking:
• Addicted smokers tend to use more nicotine over time. The habit usually grows. What starts out as 5 or 10 cigarettes a day usually becomes a pack or two a day habit eventually.
• Every day 1,200 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses.
• Every day in the United States alone, approximately 3,000 kids under the age of 18 start smoking.
• It is estimated that approximately 4.5 million adolescents in the United States are smokers.
• People who smoke a pack a day die on average 7 years earlier than people who have never smoked.
• Smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.
• Smoking-related illnesses claim more American lives than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide and illegal drugs combined.
• Spit tobacco, pipes and cigars are not safe alternatives to cigarettes. “Light” or “low-tar” cigarettes aren’t safe either.
• Adolescent smokers are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs.
• Adolescent smokers get sick more often than adolescents who don’t smoke.
• Adolescent smokers have smaller lungs and weaker hearts than adolescents who don’t smoke.
• Those who start smoking young are more likely to have a long-term addiction to nicotine than people who start smoking later in life.
Be proactive! Give your kids a solid anti-smoking foundation that will help them resist outside influences encouraging them to smoke as they go through their formative years. It’s up to us as parents to do all that we can to protect our kids from the dangers that tobacco use presents. Education about nicotine addiction is the best place to start.
Adolescent smoking is a big deal. After all, adolescents who smoke are likely to turn into adults who smoke. If you find your adolescent smoking, take it seriously. Stopping adolescent smoking in its tracks is the best way to promote a lifetime of good health.
You could simply tell your adolescent to stop smoking. It's an important message. But commands, threats and ultimatums aren't likely to work. Instead of getting angry, be curious and supportive. Ask your adolescent what made him or her start smoking. Perhaps your adolescent is trying to fit in at school, or maybe your adolescent thinks that smoking will help relieve stress or pressure. Sometimes adolescent smoking is an attempt to feel cool or more grown-up.
Once you understand why your adolescent is smoking, you'll be better equipped to address smoking as a potential problem — as well as help your adolescent eventually stop smoking.
Encourage your adolescent to share his or her concerns—
Although the consequences of smoking — such as cancer, heart attack and stroke — are real, they're probably beyond the realm of your adolescent's concern. Rather than lecturing your adolescent on the long-term dangers of smoking, you might ask your adolescent what he or she considers the negative aspects of smoking. Once your adolescent has had his or her say, offer your own list of negatives.
Consider appealing to your adolescent's vanity:
• Smoking causes wrinkles.
• Smoking gives you bad breath.
• Smoking leaves you with a hacking cough and phlegm.
• Smoking makes you look pale and unhealthy.
• Smoking makes your clothes and hair smell.
• Smoking turns your teeth and fingernails yellow.
• Smoking zaps your energy for sports and other favorite activities.
Of course, smoking is also expensive. Prompt your adolescent to calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of smoking. You might compare the cost of smoking with electronic gadgets, clothes or other items your adolescent considers important.
Set a good example—
As a parent, you're one of the most powerful influences in your adolescent's life — and your actions speak much louder than your words. If you smoke, don't expect your adolescent to stop smoking. Your adolescent may interpret your smoking as an endorsement for the behavior. Instead, ask your doctor about stop-smoking products and other resources to help you stop smoking. In the meantime, don't smoke in the house, in the car or in front of your adolescent, and don't leave cigarettes where your adolescent might find them. Explain how unhappy you are with your smoking, and why it's so important to you to quit.
Help your adolescent make a plan—
Adolescents may become addicted to nicotine surprisingly quickly — sometimes within just a few weeks. And many adolescents who smoke think they can stop anytime, but research shows this isn't usually true.
When you talk to your adolescent about quitting smoking, ask if any of his or her friends have tried to stop smoking. Consider why they were — or weren't — successful. Then ask your adolescent which stop-smoking strategies he or she thinks might be most helpful.
You might offer your own suggestions as well:
• Be prepared for cravings. Remind your adolescent that if he or she can hold out long enough — usually just a few minutes — the nicotine craving will pass. Suggest taking a few deep breaths. Offer sugarless gum, cinnamon sticks, toothpicks or straws to help your adolescent keep his or her mouth busy.
• Consider stop-smoking products. Although nicotine replacement products — such as nicotine gums, patches, inhalers or nasal sprays — weren't designed for adolescents, they may be helpful in some cases. The same goes for medications such as bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix). Ask your adolescent's doctor which options might be best for your adolescent.
• Contact a tobacco-cessation specialist. A tobacco-cessation specialist may give your adolescent the tools and support he or she needs to stop smoking.
• Hang out with friends who don't smoke. Ask your adolescent to think about his or her friends. Would they support your adolescent's stop-smoking plan? Would they try to stop smoking, too? If your adolescent feels pressured to smoke, encourage him or her to get involved in new activities. Making new friends who don't smoke could make it easier to avoid old friends who aren't willing to stop smoking.
• Join a support group. Some hospitals and local organizations offer stop-smoking groups just for adolescents. You might look for adolescent groups online, too.
• Learn from mistakes. If your adolescent slips, remain supportive. Congratulate your adolescent on the progress he or she has made so far, and encourage your adolescent not to give up. Help your adolescent identify what went wrong and what to do differently next time.
• Practice saying no. Peer pressure to smoke may be inevitable, but your adolescent doesn't need to give in. Help your adolescent practice saying, "No thanks, I don't smoke."
• Put it on paper. Encourage your adolescent to write down all the reasons he or she wants to stop smoking. The list can help your adolescent stay motivated when the temptation to smoke arises.
• Set a quit date. Help your adolescent choose a date to stop smoking. Avoid placing the stop date during a stressful time, such as final exams.
Above all, celebrate your adolescent's success. You might offer a favorite meal for a smoke-free day, a new shirt for a smoke-free week or a party with nonsmoking friends for a smoke-free month. Small rewards and plenty of positive reinforcement can help your adolescent maintain the motivation to stop smoking for good.
Runaway behavior for teens is usually not the result of a wish to have a Huckleberry Finn experience. It is often their dramatic way of dealing with longstanding problems or conflicts with family.
It is believed that between 1 and 1.3 million teens in the United States live in emergency shelters or on the streets. Research indicates that the problem is more prevalent for adolescent girls. Homeless teens tended to be younger, female, and white. Further, these girls engaged in problematic behaviors, such as vagrancy, sexual promiscuity, prostitution, suicide attempts, and becoming pregnant.
The types of runaway behavior were initially viewed dichotomously as "running from" or "running to" something. These include three categories:
- the youngster who runs away from family strain caused by a crisis;
- the youngster who runs away from excessive parental expectations and control;
- the youngster who runs away from a physically or sexually abusive situation.
The "running to" teens may have experienced some problems with family or in school or the community, but is often searching for excitement. This type of runaway usually comes from a more normal family situation and runs away for existential reasons.
The "running from" teen is unhappy about one or more major areas of life (e.g., conflict with, or alienation from, family). The family situation is often pathological, such as that involving an alcoholic parent, physical or sexual abuse, or extreme financial difficulties. Running away in these instances can be viewed as a rational decision to escape harm.
The "thrown out" teen may have been forced to leave home, because of extreme family alienation or premature dissolution caused by chronic poverty, family conflict, substance abuse, or the death of caretakers.
In North America, runaway teens are widely regarded as a chronic and serious social problem. It is estimated that each year there are between 1.3 and 1.5 million runaway and homeless teens in the United States. This problem also exists in the United Kingdom, with runaway teens often congregating in London.
Current studies suggest that the primary cause of teen homelessness is family dysfunction in the form of parental neglect, physical or sexual abuse, family substance abuse, and family violence. Family conflict can also be caused by sudden and or drastic changes in the family composition (i.e. a divorce, re-marriage, death of a parent), parental substance abuse, teen's substance abuse, and teen's sexual activity. They may have difficulty obtaining affordable housing, due to landlords being reluctant to rent to young adults. Since most homeless teens drop-out of school, they also have difficulty competing successfully in the job market.
A related term used for runaways is "throwaway teen". Normally a throwaway teen is someone who has been "locked out" or forced to leave home by his/her moms and dads or caregivers. However, the distinction between runaways and throwaways is not clear as in many cases it depends on who provides the information. When the moms and dads are asked they say the teen ran away, while the teen would say he or she was forced to leave, either directly or by circumstances. In most cases, teens run away because the situation at home is seen as unbearable and not because they are looking for excitement or fun.
Running away from home is considered a crime in some jurisdictions, but it is usually a status offense punished with probation, or not punished at all. Giving aid or assistance to a runaway instead of turning them in to the police is a more serious crime called "harboring a runaway", and is typically a misdemeanor. The law can vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another; in the United States there is a different law in every state. A 2003 FBI study showed that there were 123,581 arrests for runaway teens in the United States.
Motivations of a Runaway—
- avoid an emotional experience or consequence that they are expecting in some future encounter or situation
- avoid the loss of activities, relationships or friendships that are considered important or worthwhile
- be with others or in places that are distractions from other problems in their life
- be with others people who are supportive, encouraging and active
- change or stop what they are doing or about to do
- escape a recurrent or ongoing unpleasant, painful or difficult experience in their life
Problems that Increase the Risk of a Runaway—
- alcohol or other drug use
- child abuse or neglect
- death in the family that is not handled appropriately
- divorce or separations that are not handled appropriately
- oppositional and defiant behavior combined with inappropriate romantic or involvement with an antisocial peer group
Warning Signs of a Potential Runaway—
- an increasing pattern of impulsive, irrational and emotionally abusive behavior by either the parent(s) or teenager
- attempts to communicate result in arguments, raised voices, interruptions, name calling, hurt feelings and failure to reach an acceptable agreement
- the youngster has a network of friends who are largely unsupervised, oppositional, defiant, involved with drugs and other antisocial behaviors.
Communication that Helps Prevent Runaways—
The following is a brief list of suggestions that can help reduce the risk of a runaway:
- Get professional advice from a qualified mental health professional if your youngster is demanding, threatening or acting as if they should be allowed to do whatever they want.
- If you get overwhelmed or upset tell your youngster, "I'm overwhelmed and a little upset. I need a break and a chance to calm down and think about this." Then tell them you want a 20 minute (or so) break and then you will talk to them again. Be sure to take a break.
- Never call your teenager names or label them with words like liar, a thief, a brat, a punk, childish, immature, untrustworthy, selfish, cruel, unkind, stupid, etc... These words will not help. Your youngster will only begin to think of you in negative terms and may even start calling you worse names.
- Never dare your youngster to run away because you think they may not.
- Never explain yourself or argue if your youngster expects you to justify the fact that you do not agree.
- Never interrupt your teenager when they are talking or trying to explain something - even if you disagree. Waite until they are done.
- Never raise your voice or yell - especially when your teenager is raising their voice or yelling.
- Never use sarcasm or a negative attitude that demonstrates that you do not respect your teenager.
- Remember you can also agree with your youngster, but you don't have to let them do whatever they want. For instance, you might agree that there is be no significant difference between some teenagers who are 17 years old and some people who are 21 years old, but that does not mean you will allow teenagers to consume alcohol at a party at your house.
- Remind yourself that simply listening and that telling your youngster that you understand does not mean you will agree when they are finished, nor does it mean you will do what they seem to want.
- Stay calm and quiet, make eye contact, and don't respond if your youngster is angry, shouting or in a rage. Waite until they are calm.
- Talk less and use fewer words than your teenagers.
- Tell your teenager that you understand what they are saying. Say "I understand." And if you don't understand, say "I'm not sure I understand ...tell me again."
- When two moms and dads are speaking with a teenager, it is important to take turns, but be careful to let your teenagers speak as much as BOTH moms and dads speak. Both moms and dads should talk equally and use less words than their youngster.
- When you don't agree and you are certain that you understand your teenager's point of view (and your teenager believes you understand) tell your teenager. "I think I understand, but I don't agree with you. I want to think we can understand each other, but we don't have to agree."
- When your teenager stops talking, ask "Is there anything else you want to tell me."
Steps You Can Take that Will Help Reduce the Risk of a Runaway—
- Develop a Crisis Intervention plan for your teenager if the situation involves a crisis or recurrent crises.
- Develop a plan that will minimize and limit all communication that usually leads to conflict, aggression or violence and take steps to resolve problems calmly. Establish a plan that supports communication.
- Encourage a medical evaluation and treatment for any mental illness or other medical condition requiring medication or medical treatment.
- Evaluate any alcohol and other drug use and treat as recommended by a qualified professional.
- If appropriate, consider enrolling and participating in an educational or skills training group that will improve communication and interpersonal skills (e.g. parenting skills, communication, divorce adjustment, assertiveness training, conflict resolution, or strategies to diffuse angry, aggressive and violent behavior).
- If there is abuse or neglect, seek advice and further investigation from a qualified mental health profession, law enforcement or an attorney who has experience dealing with abuse and neglect issues. An attorney can provide absolute confidentiality. Law enforcement and some mental health professionals cannot.
- Review and familiarize yourself with the material on this web site that pertain to Crisis Intervention.
- Seek an evaluation and advice from a qualified mental health professional or crisis intervention specialist if your youngster may be self-harming, suicidal, destructive or violent.
- Seek counseling or therapy for any emotional problems or difficulties associated with any angry, violent or suicidal behavior from a qualified mental health professional.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents of Defiant Teens
The night before she died, she had come home from a party, went into her room and an hour later came out and asked her mom if she could sleep with her. In the morning, her mother made pancakes for her. Rebekah took the dog out for its morning walk. When her mother left for work, each told the other, "I love you."
When Barbara Toia came home from work Tuesday afternoon, she found Rebekah hanging by her neck from a cloth belt attached to the top of her bedroom door. She was not breathing.
Her death – and that of 14-year-old Angelena Ohanessian who died the same way two weeks earlier – prompted Chicago police to issue an alert to parents about the dangers of the "choking game."
Both girls, who didn't know each other, succumbed to the deadly game, they say. The point of the game is to induce a feeling of euphoria by temporarily depriving the brain of oxygen by applying pressure to the neck until the person passes out.
Teens have been finding information and instructions about the choking game for years on the Internet, where it is variously known as Passout, the Fainting Game and Good Kids High, among other names.
In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 82 deaths attributed to it and other strangulation activities from 1995-2007. Most victims, unlike the two recent Chicago cases, were boys 11 to 16 years old.
The choking game is a dangerous practice of tweens and teens in which they self-strangulate in order to achieve a brief high. The high is the result of oxygen rushing back to the brain after its cut off by the practice of strangulation.
The choking game (also known as Space Monkey) is very dangerous and can easily lead to accidental death. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were more than 80 deaths due to the choking game in children aged 6 to 19 from 1995-2007. Boys are more likely to die from the choking game, but the behavior is a danger to both boys and girls.
In order to achieve a high, children may use ropes, scarves, or other items to strangle themselves, either alone or within a group.
Whether it's done as a dare, a rite of passage or a desire to get high without using drugs or alcohol, the choking game has potentially deadly consequences. Understand how the choking game works — and what you can do if you think your youngster may be involved in this dangerous activity.
Participants in the choking game — typically teens — attempt to trigger a high by temporarily depriving the brain of oxygen through strangulation. The choking game is often done with a noose or another person's hands around the participant's neck. A youngster may also take a deep breath, hold it, and have someone hug him or her from behind until he or she feels dizzy and passes out.
The choking game is also sometimes called the blackout game, pass-out game, scarf game and space monkey.
What are the consequences of the choking game?
The choking game can result in serious injuries, such as seizures, fractures and permanent brain damage. Taken to an extreme, the choking game can be life-threatening. If a youngster plays the choking game alone and with a noose, for example, he may lose consciousness and be unable to release the noose.
What are the warning signs of the choking game?
Warning signs that a youngster may be playing the choking game include:
• Bloodshot eyes or small, red facial spots
• Disorientation after being alone
• Frequent, often severe headaches
• Mentioning choking games, showing curiosity about asphyxiation or having a history of Internet searches about choking games
• Sheets, belts, neckties, scarves, T-shirts or ropes tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs, or found knotted on the floor
• Unexplained bruises around the neck
• Wear marks on furniture legs
Your youngster may be at higher risk of playing the choking game if he or she has had mental health problems or substance abuse issues.
What can I do if I suspect my child is participating in the choking game?
If you suspect that your youngster is playing the choking game, talk to him or her. Avoid making accusations. Instead, ask your youngster if he or she has ever played the choking game or has friends who play it. Explain the risks and remind your youngster that there's no safe way to play the choking game. If your child admits to playing the choking game, tell him that it's important to stop. In addition, consult your child's doctor and a mental health provider. They may have advice on additional steps you can take to help your youngster. Be sure to alert the moms and dads of other kids who may have played the choking game with your youngster, too.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents
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.
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