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

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Calling The Police On Abusive Teens

Question

My 17-year-old teenager is bigger and stronger than I am. He has threatened me physically on numerous occasions. I’m afraid to say or do anything wrong for fear of setting him off. What should I do?

Answer

There are times when your authority as a mother or father isn’t enough. If your teen has escalated to the point of physical abuse and destruction of property, or if he is engaging in dangerous behavior outside of the home, then calling the cops is definitely an option worth considering. You shouldn’t have to live in fear of your youngster, but you should be worried about how he will manage as an adult if he’s allowed to be “out of control” now.

Do school officials allow your teen to assault teachers or other students, punch holes in the wall, speak in a verbally abusive way to others, etc.? Of course not! In fact, the schools usually call the cops if a teenager assaults someone, uses drugs or is destructive. School officials take action because they understand something that moms and dads often lose sight of: if you don’t hold an abusive child accountable now – he will graduate to worse things in the future.

What Parents Should Do When Their Teen Becomes Violent

If your adolescent starts to threaten you, to break things or to do anything physically violent, accept that you can’t stop him at this point. It can be dangerous to try to stop an adolescent when he is violent. The most important thing is to keep yourself and your other kids safe.
  1. Don’t talk to your adolescent again until he is calm and respectful. Separate if needed.
  2. If there are guns in your home, remove them until you feel safe around your adolescent at all times.
  3. If there has not been an arrest, you may want to consider getting an At-Risk-Youth Petition through which your adolescent can be mandated to counseling.
  4. If you stay in your home, try to stay in an area with access to an exit. Stay away from the kitchen or other areas where potential weapons might be available.
  5. If your adolescent is physically violent, or you think he might become violent, call 911. Police response gives your youngster the message that his behavior is serious and it is a crime. It may also result in court intervention which can be a support for your family and mandate counseling for your adolescent. Calling the police is a difficult decision, however many mothers and fathers say that it was not until after the police were called that their child stopped using violence.
  6. Immediately separate yourself and your younger kids from your violent adolescent. Go to another room or if necessary, leave the house.
  7. Take precautions in your home by figuring out ahead of time what is the safest and fastest way out of the house.
  8. Try to remain as calm as possible. Do not continue the argument or discussion.

What to say to your teen:
  1. It is important to let your adolescent know that anytime he starts to use abusive or violent behavior that you will immediately separate from him, and that you will not talk or engage again until he is calm and respectful.
  2. Let your adolescent know you will call 911 if there is any physical violence and be prepared to follow through.
  3. Remember that most violence begins with abusive language, so separating at the start of abuse can prevent the escalation to violence.
  4. The moment your adolescent starts any of these behaviors, say you are separating and immediately leave the room. If the behavior escalates, continue to ignore it and leave the house if necessary. Call the police if (a) it becomes physical, (b) you think it is heading that way, or (c) you feel afraid for yourself or others. Follow this plan of action every time your adolescent uses abuse or violence.
  5. Be specific with your adolescent about what abusive behavior is that will prompt you to separate. We define abuse as any of the following behaviors:
  • Any physical violence or aggression with people, property or pets
  • Name calling or hurtful words
  • Swearing at people
  • Threatening behavior
  • Yelling or screaming at people

Give the following messages to your teen when there has been violence:
  1. 911 will be called if you are violent, or if I feel afraid for the safety of our family.
  2. Violence is dangerous and it is against the law.
  3. We will talk about consequences for your behavior after you calm down (this should include getting professional help).
  4. When you are violent or abusive I will separate from you.
  5. Your behavior was not safe. Our home needs to be a safe place.

Calling 911 sends an important message to the adolescent that violence is not acceptable and that it is a crime. If the adolescent is arrested or a police report is filed (sometimes the adolescent is not arrested and taken to detention, but a police report is filed) he will probably be required to attend counseling, which can be helpful. The court’s response can be the most effective consequence for an adolescent who is violent. Parents receive support from the court in enforcing the rule of nonviolence in the home.

You can call the police if your adolescent is physically violent (e.g., pushing, shoving, grabbing, kicking, hitting or any physical contact that is hurtful), violent with property (e.g., throwing things, hitting, punching, kicking doors, walls, cars, or destroying property of any kind), threatening to hurt or kill a person or pets, or interfering with a call to the police.

Anytime you are afraid your adolescent is going to become violent, you can call the police. If your adolescent has not become violent when the police arrive, let them know you were afraid and tell them of any past violence. Some parents say they feel embarrassed or “silly” calling the police when their adolescent hasn’t really been violent but they were scared it was heading that way. It is important, and you have a right, to call the police anytime you fear for the safety of yourself or other family members.

Calling the police to discipline a teenager is not only a call for help by a mother or father, it is an admission that the situation has gone beyond the point where the parents are able to manage the behavior of the abusive teenager.

Each call to a police department is treated as an emergency. When a parent contacts the police to discipline an abusive teenager, many departments will dispatch a social services unit or community services officer with the patrol or "sworn" officer (i.e., the one who carries a weapon and can arrest people). Many departments, however, do not have the resources to maintain such units.

The first person through your door will be an armed officer whose first responsibility is to ensure public safety and enforce the law. Officers never decide who's right and who's wrong at the time of the incident. If your teenager has broken a law, he may be taken into custody. The officer may try to calm you both down, summon a social service officer, or inform you that police are not authorized to act in situations where no law has been broken and that you will need to discipline your teenager yourself.

The officer who answers your call may only enforce discipline in two situations: the commission of a status or criminal offense. Although teens can be held responsible for breaking laws, the law does not treat them the same way as grown-ups. They are often diverted to special "juvenile courts" or "alternative dispositions," such as community service.

Truancy, underage drinking, tobacco and curfew violations are examples of offenses based on a teenager's status as a juvenile; they may result in the issuance of a citation or, in extreme situations, removal of the teenager from the home for evaluation. Citations are often dealt with in a municipal or town court.

If your teenager has broken a criminal law, it is the duty of the officer to arrest him and deliver him to the judicial system. Many juvenile courts have social service departments that handle youthful offenders and some have "diversionary" or restorative programs that deal with first offenders.

Sometimes police make an arrest even though the parent requests they don’t arrest their teenager. The decision to arrest is the officer’s decision, not the parent’s. However, if you want your child to be arrested, explain his behavior to the officer and let them know if there have been previous violent incidents. Inform the officer if you do not feel safe with your child is at home.

Most moms and dads have mixed feelings when their teenager is arrested (e.g., feeling guilty, shocked, tearful, and like they are a bad parent). But they often report that their child’s abusive behavior decreased after the arrest. Most parents say that calling the police was one of the hardest, but most beneficial decisions they have ever made for their teen. They are finally getting help and there is no longer violence in the home.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Understanding Your Defiant Teen’s Resentment and Aggression

Teenage anger takes many forms. It may be expressed as indignation and resentment, or rage and fury. It is the expression of teen anger -- the behavior -- that we as parents see. Some teenagers may repress their anger and withdraw while others may be more defiant and destroy property. In this post, we will look at what happens when “normal” teenage anger turns into resentment and aggression.

Why such resentment and aggression in my child?

1. It’s important to make a distinction between resentment and aggression. When you’re resentful, you feel as if you’ve been wronged; you want to get back at someone. Aggression is about striking back, but resentment is more a sense of defensiveness and waiting for an attack. In other words, resentment is the attitude, and aggression is the action. So the attitude is, “I hate that you try to control me.” Aggression is the behavior you get.

2. Moms and dads may feel some “hatred” coming from their defiant teen, and they often overreact to that by doing something that makes them feel powerful (e.g., yelling, screaming, threatening, etc.). But these responses don’t solve the problem or motivate your youngster to take responsibility for her own aggression.

3. Once your teen is in an agitated state, she’s thinking that you’re the enemy, that you don’t understand, and she’s blaming you and other authority figures. She sees herself as a “victim.”

4. Part of the function of aggression is to build a wall. It’s like a brick mason: aggression is meant to stop you from getting too close.

5. Another reason for a resentful attitude is that parents are comparing their teenager to other teens – or to themselves when they were teenagers. This often happens when the teenager has gotten in trouble or has started to get bad grades. Moms and dads need to remove statements such as “you should be more like…” -or- “when I was a teen…” -or- “you used to be so…” out of their conversations with their teenager. This allows the teen to start at the present and improve from there rather than constantly “living down” the past.

6. Some teens want to appear “out of control” whether they are or not. So remember, aggressive teens get more control by looking like they’re losing control. And that’s the agenda – to gain control.

7. Defiant teens are very ambivalent about their moms and dads during their teen years. They love you when you’re nice to them, but they hate you when you tell them what to do. This is because they still “need” you – but at the same time – they wish they didn’t.

8. Teens that are chronically “pissed-off” are like this because they have developed a way of thinking that makes them the “injured party” all the time. These “thinking errors” tell them that things are never fair, that their moms and dads are unreasonable, and that their educators are “retarded.” They think that nobody understands them but their peers. After teens have used these “distortions in thinking” for awhile, they get into even more trouble and develop an increasing sense of hyper-vigilance.

9. Another reason for unreasonable resentment on your teen’s part is depression. Resentment is one of the symptoms of depression and can be a warning sign that something else is happening in your adolescent’s life outside the normal realm of teenage defiance. Questions to ask are:
  • Are they acting confused?
  • Are they eating more or less than usual?
  • Are they feeling guilty about something?
  • Are they having difficulty concentrating?
  • Are they more angry or irritable?
  • Are they seeing or hearing things that others don’t?
  • Are they sleeping more or less than they have in the past?
  • Do they have a lack of patience with others or with themselves?
  • Do they seem to have lost their energy?
  • Have they been crying a lot?
  • Has there been a significant weight gain or loss?
  • Have they lost interest in their usual activities?
  • Is their self-esteem lower?
  • Is there an increased interest in sexual desires to the point where they are “acting it out”?

Teenagers often respond to stressors of new situations by getting depressed (e.g., attending a new school, breakup of friendships, divorce or other parental problems, recent move to a new neighborhood or city). Look back a few months and note the changes in your son’s/daughter’s life.

10. Here’s a big one: Low Self-Esteem. Resentful, aggressive teens have a very small sense of self-worth.

What resentful teens often say:
  • "When my parents make me feel bad, it reminds me of all the other times that people make me feel bad. I already don’t like myself, and criticism just makes it worse."
  • "I get resentful at my parents because they argue with each other. I don’t respect them."
  • "I get resentful because I love my parents and they act like they hate each other. How am I supposed to respect them when they act like that?"
  • "I get resentful when I have a lot of things on my mind that I can’t do anything about and then my parents ask me to do something when I’m already tired and over loaded."
  • "I get resentful when my parents are unfair and there’s no point in talking to them."
  • "I get resentful when my parents ask me how my day went. I’m trying to forget it and they make me remember it. I wouldn’t care if they didn’t make everything worse."
  • "I get resentful when my parents make me feel guilty for something that already happened. I get tired."
  • "I get resentful when there are other priorities, no time for me and I feel like I don’t matter."
  • "I treat my parents the same way they treat me."
  • "I’d rather be resentful at my parents than feel afraid or feel hurt. I’d probably hurt myself if I wasn’t resentful at them. That’s no excuse but that’s how I feel."
  • "My parents are stupid. They don’t understand. They just say they do, but they don’t. I can’t stand to be around them."

So what can parents do to reduce resentment and aggression in their teenagers?

1. Do not allow rude and disrespectful behavior. If you "over-react" (rather than respond) to their putdowns and backtalk, you're allowing it! Learn to walk away and say something like: "If you continue to talk to me that way, the consequence will be __________” (insert serious consequence). Is he/she continues to “trash you” over the course of the next few minutes (less than 5), then follow through with the consequence.

2. Do not let yourself be swayed by the "but everyone else is doing it" line. You know what is best for your teenager and the hostility they feel towards you for putting your foot down will soon pass – and they even thank you later.

3. Don’t try to talk your youngster out of her resentment, and don’t try to reason with her. Reasoning just gives your youngster a feeling of false power (i.e., more of a sense that she’s in control and you’re not).

4. If there are clothes or electronic items they want that exceed your budget, make them pay a portion of the cost. They will appreciate what they have much more and will less likely grow up with a sense of entitlement.

5. If you tend to do things for your defiant teen in order to get her to love you, she might love you – she might not! But if you do things and carry yourself in such a way that she respects you, then she will “want” to love you. Teens tend to “want” to love the parents they respect.

6. Make sure you set clear and consistent boundaries. Teens do well when the guidelines are clear. Even if they argue with your rules, stick to them anyway. Part of the role of adolescence is to oppose their moms and dads.

7. Make yourself emotionally and physically available despite your teenager wanting distance from you. They're on the fence. Part of them is leaving the nest and the other part of them needs the safety and security of home.

8. Remember, you’re not looking for friendship, love and affection. Rather, you’re looking to gain their respect.

9. Respect their personal space. It is not your right as a mother or father to randomly snoop through your teenager's room. They do not become more trustworthy by hearing, “I don't trust you anymore.” If you have no reason to snoop – don't do it.

10. Show an interest in the things that interest them. Grab any chance you get, just to chat (e.g., in the car when you're chauffeuring them places). They still need to know their life is important to us.

11. The more you ask, “Why the attitude?” …the more your youngster will simply state (or scream) her case. Thus, never question “the attitude.”

12. Get professional help if things do not improve!

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

When Your Child's Grades Start To Drop

"My son did so good in the 6th grade, but now in middle school, he can barely bring home anything better than a C. Any suggestions?!"

Sound familiar?

When your youngster brings home that report card showing grades that are less than great (and maybe downright pitiful), sometimes it's difficult to know what to do. Do you act like it doesn't matter, have a long discussion with your son or daughter about the importance of grades, or automatically discipline them for having bad grades? While all of these may seem to be tempting options, it's important that you actually work with your children to help them start improving their grades.

If your child’s grades seem to be going down the toilet, here are 25 things you can do to “save the day”:

1. Bad grades can be a result of a variety of problems. So, the first thing to do is take stock of why you child is not getting the grades you think he/she should. Is it just because he/she is lazy or is there another problem? Are they having trouble seeing the board? Do they understand what the teacher is saying? Do they ask questions when they don’t understand? Does he/she have trouble remembering what they have learned? Do you put too much pressure on them to perform and maybe they are not as capable as you think they are? Are they bored? These are definitely questions you should be finding the answer to – without grilling the child. Simply ask them to be open with you so you can work together.

2. What worked in the past? Think about a time when your youngster got his homework done well and with no hassles. What was different? What made it work that time? Ask your youngster about it and believe what he says. See what works and motivates him instead of what motivates you.

3. Have realistic goals. When you structure your youngster’s study time to help him bring his grades back to an acceptable level, be realistic in your goals. Remember, it took time for your youngster to get behind, so you need to allow time for him to catch up. Get actively involved in your youngster’s homework by reviewing it and helping with study strategies. On occasion, try to be present during study time. If you can’t be there, try to get your youngster into in an after school program or ask another trusted grown-up to be there with them.

4. Despite the fact good study habits are, largely, a discipline we instill in our kids, we must always bear in mind that learning through play inspires kids to learn more. So, any opportunity to mix play and learning together should be taken. Hence, making learning play is a study skill. Note TV and video-computer games are not considered play since they increase anxiety and aggression.

5. Don’t restrict your youngster from ALL privileges until his grades improve. Restricting your youngster from all of his privileges until he brings his grades up usually backfires. In effect, you end up taking away something that might actually motivate him to improve. Instead, require your youngster to study for a certain amount of time each day to earn those extra privileges that evening.

6. Teach your child to manage interruptions. He should turn his communications off when he studies. Even better, put them out of site. If the cell phone rings or an email announces itself, what happens? Many students struggle with managing interruptions like these, and work grinds to a halt.

7. Good study skills emphasize relaxing and thinking about the challenge (brainstorming possible solutions) before tackling it. Creating a plan of attack ahead of time is often helpful to the child. In this way assignments can be simplified and completed in small, digestible bites, avoiding any overwhelming feelings.

8. Good study skills mean once homework is begun, no distractions should be allowed. This teaches kids to concentrate on their studies. Some children like to stand up and then sit down while studying. This can increase circulation and aid attention and is okay. Other kids like to put on their favorite study hat when they do homework as a physical reminder to help them concentrate on their work.

9. Give your child a bottle of water. He needs to stay topped up with enough to concentrate fully. Keep a bottle nearby, because good study habits depend on hydration.

10. Homework should be prioritized, with the most difficult tasks completed first, while the youngster is fresh and alert, or, alternatively, waiting until a parent arrives home to tackle an especially difficult problem.

11. It is important that kids begin their studies soon after arriving home, with no noise or distractions to interfere with their doing homework. A desk, adequate lighting, quiet, and a comfortable chair are a good start. Giving school studies the highest priority at home causes kids to give it a high priority in their lives.

12. Kids may have different learning styles. Some kids learn better by hearing, others by seeing a demonstration, and still others by reading. Keep in mind that your youngster may have a learning style that suits him best. Teach to his style. For deeper learning, use all three styles together.

13. Within the parameters you set around schoolwork, your youngster should be free to make his own choices. You need to back off a bit as a parent. Otherwise you won’t be helping him with his responsibilities. If you take too much control over the situation, it will backfire on you by turning into a power struggle.

14. Make sure your youngster is paying attention to the teacher. His eyes should always be on the teacher when she is talking. One way to confirm that he is paying attention is to check with the teacher. A second method is visiting the class and seeing for yourself. Another way is to make sure he is regularly answering and asking questions in class. Hence, when he arrives home, ask him about his class participation.

15. Meet with your youngster’s teacher. Call your youngster’s teacher and ask for a meeting. Tell her what you are seeing at home—and then ask what she has observed in the classroom. Ask her for any ideas she might have to help your youngster get back on track.

16. Moms and dads must use their own judgment to determine, for example, if the kids should play for a short time, after school, before commencing their homework, or if they should dive into it immediately, and how long study breaks should be. What is best will be determined by what works for your family. Remember to praise kids for work completed properly and on time. It may be that your kids will move heaven and earth to get their homework done if allowed to play right after school with their friends. Again, what works best for your family will determine your decisions. Bear in mind, however, that the later in the day school study begins, the less its importance becomes in the youngster's mind and the more likely the youngster will tire before completing it.

17. Putting difficult problems into one's own words can help a youngster understand the problem better, instead of relying on rote learning. Beware of rote learning where your youngster can repeat the solution to a problem, but doesn't understand what she is saying. Therefore, stress to her that understanding the problem is more important.

18. Regular scheduled play breaks are important. A play break can be used as a reward after a particular problem is completed correctly. In this way the completion of a difficult problem is associated with a reward, play. What's more, a play break should not involve TV or computer games, but physical movement like playing with friends or going outside to play with the dog. Video-computer games and TV increase anxiety and aggression. These activities are associated with obesity and decreased learning in school. What's more, they interfere with old fashioned play and, therefore, increase obesity.

19. Rewarding a student for good grades is a judgment call. If it works for your youngster, why not, but remember the bottom line is that our kids learn to enjoy learning for its own sake. This is why making learning fun and learning through play are such excellent study skills.

20. Set limits around homework time (e.g., weekend activities don’t happen until work is completed; if grades are failing or falling, take away screen time so your youngster can focus and have more time to concentrate on his work; homework is done in a public area of your house; homework is done at the same time each night, etc.).

21. A common problem for many children is a lack of structure in their after school schedule. Make sure sports or other clubs do not come first, with homework being fit in at the end of the day when your youngster is tired. This is not a good lesson to teach your youngster, because it gives them the message that play comes before work—and is therefore more important than work. Schoolwork has to be prioritized, and a structure has to be set up so it isn’t squeezed in at the last minute.

22. Stop the nightly fights. The way you can stop fighting with your children over homework every night is to stop fighting with them tonight. Disengage from the dance. Choose some different steps or decide not to dance at all. Let homework stay where it belongs—between the teacher and the student. Refuse to get pulled in by the school in the future. Stay focused on your job, which is to help your youngster do his job.

23. Study habits are learned at home. Parenting means teaching our kids these skills and making them habits. Study skills are so important to good grades that some think grades really measure how well moms and dads teach their kids to study, particularly in the primary grades.

24. Take a break. If you feel yourself getting reactive or frustrated, take a break from helping your youngster with homework. Your blood pressure on the rise is a no-win for everyone. Take five or ten minutes to calm down, and let your youngster do the same if you feel a storm brewing.

25. Talk to your youngster about what’s going on. Have a frank conversation with your youngster about his grades. Say, “Look, I’ve been letting you manage your homework on your own, but it’s not working. Now we’re going to set up a study time every day where I supervise your work. We can talk about not doing that once your grades get back up where they need to belong. But in the meantime, we have to seriously set aside some time to work on this.”

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Channeling Parent-Teen Conflict In A Positive Direction

When you stop participating in an argument, you send your adolescent the message that you’re in control. Though she isn’t consciously aware of this, she feels the power shift from her to you. So if she can pull you back into the argument, she can regain that control she lost. When you walk away, you “win”—but your teenager doesn’t want that to happen, so she will try almost anything to keep it going (e.g., call you names, throw things, punch a hole in the wall, slam a door, etc.). If your teen can do something that gets you to react, she feels much better, and in many cases, she knows that if she pushes all the right buttons, you just might “give in” to get relief from the torture.

How can parents break this cycle?

Tips to channel conflict in a positive direction:

1. If the argument is over the phone or via text message, tell your adolescent that you’re done with the discussion and you will not reply anymore. Then, follow through. Turn the phone off, or unplug it if it’s a landline and get involved with something else. You can finish talking later when she returns home and things are calm again.

2. Don’t allow the crisis at hand to spill over and contaminate the rest of the relationship. It’s easy for the conflict to take over every conversation. Be willing to press the pause button—not to overlook or ignore the problem, but to have time to take a break and re-establish connections over a meal or shared moments that have nothing to do with the conflict at hand.

3. Don’t let conflicts build up—deal with them when they happen. A problem that you overlook doesn’t just go away; it becomes a building block in a wall that can grow and prevent both you and your adolescent from properly responding to future conflicts. Each one that you address and resolve provides training for future conflicts.

4. Don’t lose the “concept of we” in middle of the conflict. The relationship that you have been building with your adolescent will bear fruit over time as long as you protect it. The conflict can challenge us as moms and dads, but we need to approach it as an opportunity rather than as a sign of failure on our part. Don’t allow it to create a permanent breach in your relationship.

5. Don’t reward negative behavior. It has been shown that over time, when a behavior is no longer reinforced or rewarded, it will eventually fade away—also referred to as “extinction.” In other words, if the behavior doesn’t get what it needs to survive (your attention), it will eventually cease to exist. If you continue to feed the behavior – even just once in a while – the behavior will continue to rear its ugly head. Over time your adolescents will see that you mean it when you walk away—and they will learn they can’t pull you back in. This change in your response will lead your adolescent to find new way of coping.

6. Moms and dads often make the “avoidance mistake” when conflict shows itself. In other words, they break away. They stop spending time with their adolescent and avoid the conflict at all costs. That may be a reasonable tactic for a short time, until everyone has a chance to cool off and respect is restored. However, ongoing avoidance will only serve to build walls between you and your adolescent. Instead, by engaging in discussion you will let your adolescent know you’ll continue to love them and spend time together even though you are at odds.

7. When conflict emerges, it’s time to make sure that everyone knows the rules for the “fight” by setting up some basic boundaries. For example, “We’re not going to be disrespectful or dishonest with each other.” Put it into words, and back it up with consequences. Words without backbone mean very little. Let the consequences for crossing boundaries of respect speak louder than your words. And for consistency, make sure those on both sides of the conflict embrace the idea of respect, 100% of the time.

8. The teenage years are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don't avoid the subjects of sex, or drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Discussing these things openly with adolescents before they're exposed to them increases the chance that they'll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family values with your adolescent and talk about what you believe is right and wrong. Know your adolescent's friends — and know their friends' moms and dads. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all adolescents in a peer group. Moms and dads can help each other keep track of the adolescents' activities without making the adolescents feel that they're being watched.

9. Pick your battles carefully. If adolescents want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Adolescents want to shock their moms and dads, and it's a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless. Leave the objections to things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance. Ask why your adolescent wants to dress or look a certain way and try to understand how your adolescent is feeling. You might also want to discuss how others might perceive them if they look different — help your adolescent understand how he or she might be viewed.

10. Put yourself in your adolescent's place. Practice empathy by helping your adolescent understand that it's normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it's OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a child the next.

11. Respect your adolescent’s privacy. Some moms and dads, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their adolescents do is their business. But to help your adolescent become a young adult, you'll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your adolescent's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off. In other words, your adolescent's room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn't expect your adolescent to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where adolescents are going, when they'll be returning, what they're doing, and with whom, but you don't need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn't expect to be invited along! Start with trust. Let your adolescent know that you trust her. But, if the trust gets broken she may enjoy fewer freedoms until the trust is rebuilt.

12. Adolescents will likely act unhappy with expectations their moms and dads place on them. However, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house. If moms and dads have appropriate expectations, adolescents will likely try to meet them. Without reasonable expectations, your adolescent may feel you don't care about him.

13. Before you walk away, it’s always helpful to set a limit with your adolescent and attempt to redirect them. For example, “I’m going to go take a break. You should go listen to some music or do something to calm down.” Another example is, “Yelling at me isn’t going to get you what you want. When you calm down, we can talk more. I’ll check on you in 15 minutes and see if you’re ready.” Also, if your adolescent has younger siblings in the home, take them with you when you walk away so they don’t become a target or a pawn that your adolescent can use to pull you back into the argument. If your adolescent has older siblings, you might tell them to go to their rooms until your adolescent calms down. The smaller the audience is – the better.

14. Taking care to not heat up the fire. As you discuss your problems or conflicts, choose your words wisely. Stop saying things like, “No, I will never support that.” You’re setting yourself up for failure, and you may have to eat your words when you say that. Avoid words like “you” or “always” and speak in broader, less offensive terms. Be more open to what you will or won’t support, and pick your battles carefully. A wise parent will use the eternal perspective as a barometer for choosing which stances are worthy to fight for, and which ones may not be as important or are just a personal preference on your part. Be clear on your limits. Don’t say, “It’s your choice,” or “What do you think?” It is better to say, “Here are my limits…what I will and won’t allow in this situation.” Then, explore their needs and ideas and try to find a way to meet each other halfway, listening more and talking less.

15. The car is one of the most difficult places to get into an argument with your adolescent. The first rule is, pull over. You may not be able to walk away, but you might be able to step outside the car to get some fresh air if it’s safe to do so. Or, you can tell your adolescent you’re not going to continue on until they calm down, because it’s not safe for you to drive while they’re verbally abusing you or acting disruptive. Then, find something to do that will help you cope. This might take some planning ahead (e.g., packing a book or magazine) that you can pull out and use in these cases.

16. If you feel threatened by your adolescent and have access to a phone, you might decide to call the police. A word of caution: do not get into a physical power struggle to escape from your adolescent. Pushing against them or trying to get free may cause some adolescents to escalate. Do not call the police simply because your adolescent is being defiant. There is a difference between frustrating, blocking behavior – and threatening, unsafe behavior.

17. Sometimes you can’t walk away in the heat of an escalating argument because you’re busy (e.g., you‘re cooking dinner). Set one limit with your adolescent and then do what you can to focus your attention on the task at hand, not your adolescent. Avoid eye contact and ignore comments he makes under his breath. Find some sort of mental task to occupy your mind, such as counting or singing a song to yourself in your head. If you have a relatively compliant adolescent who will go to his room when asked, you can tell him to do so, but if your adolescent is like most, he will refuse. Since you can’t make him go, the best thing to do is not pay attention to him. The key is to avoid giving his behavior any power. Control what you can—yourself.

18. Sometimes you go to your room and your adolescent follows you. Here’s a trick: Once you walk away, say no more. Lock the door and ride out the storm. If your adolescent is screaming outside your door or pounding on it with all their might, ignore them. Do whatever you can to cope until they’ve calmed down. The second you turn that door knob to tell them to stop, you’ve given them what they wanted. Put on some headphones, turn up the TV, read a book, knit. Do whatever you have to do to focus your attention away from your adolescent’s behavior. If they damage something or call you foul names while they’re pounding on your door, give them consequences afterward, when they’ve calmed down—and stick to them. In other words, ignore their attempts to pull you in when you’re disengaging from them, but hold them accountable for anything they damage – or rules they break – later.

19. Sometimes your adolescent blocks you or clings to you. This is perhaps the most difficult situation to find yourself in when you try to walk away. It’s very important that you stay calm, use a normal tone of voice, and tell your adolescent this behavior is not okay, while redirecting them to go do something to calm down. They’re probably going to stick around, though—at least at first. Continue to remain calm and wait it out. This might mean that you literally stand there and wait. You could also let your adolescent know that they need to stop or there will be a consequence later. If your adolescent is not blocking your path, try your best to go about your business (e.g., do the dishes, read a book, surf the internet, etc.). The goal is to find some sort of task to focus on so your attention is not on your adolescent’s behavior.

20. Sometimes your adolescent trashes her own room. If your adolescent goes to her own room and starts to throw things around or screams at the top of her lungs about what a jerk you are or how much she hates you, let her. If she breaks something of her own, that’s a natural consequence. She will have to buy her own replacement or do some chores to earn the money to buy a new one. If she makes a mess of the room, she will have to clean it up later when things calm down. It’s more effective to focus on controlling yourself and your emotions rather than your adolescent’s behavior.

21. If it sounds like your adolescent is being incredibly destructive to other areas of your home, it might be a good idea to call the police instead of trying to stop him yourself. Call the non-emergency number for your local police department ahead of time to discuss how they would handle these kinds of situations if you should call them for assistance. This way, you have an idea of what you’d be getting into and you can make an informed decision.

22. If your adolescent threatens to hurt themselves or someone else, that’s another situation in which you will need to utilize some local supports (e.g., the police, a local crisis helpline). When the safety of your adolescent, or another family member, is at risk, you absolutely want to step back in there in some way and make sure everyone is safe.

23. The stance that you take in the heat of the battle is a reflection of who you are in real life. How you communicate during conflict teaches something very important to your adolescent. The messages that you will want to convey include:
  • I’ve heard your side of the argument, but for your own good, you simply need to follow the rules.
  • It’s okay to not agree with everyone.
  • It’s okay to not follow what everyone else is thinking.
  • There are times that we have to stand up and fight.
  • We can have conflict, and still remain friends.

24. Know the warning signs. A certain amount of change may be normal during the adolescent years, but too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for one or more of these warning signs:
  • extreme weight gain or loss
  • falling grades
  • rapid, drastic changes in personality
  • run-ins with the law
  • signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
  • skipping school continually
  • sleep problems
  • sudden change in friends
  • talk or even jokes about suicide

25. Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your adolescent's behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn't suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing teenager shouldn't suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents with Defiant Teens

Motivating Your Underachieving Teenager

Most moms and dads find it difficult to tolerate an adolescent who simply refuses to “try.” His refusal to do homework is often an indirect way of expressing anger and confusion. Under-achievement in teens can be caused by many things:
  • Peer pressure, especially among adolescents: “If I do too well, my friends won't like me.”
  • Overly high parental expectations. The father may be a doctor, but Michael may want to play in a rock band right now, and if the academic pressure is too strong, Michael may rebel.
  • Mild learning disabilities or an unrecognized physical problem such as a vision or hearing difficulty.
  • Emotional upset. The adolescent who has experienced a death in the family or whose parents are going through a divorce is very likely to go through a period of under-achievement.

Under-achievement allows teens to postpone the responsibility associated with independence and thereby postpone independence itself. Here are some of the traits of under-achievers:
  • Academically, under-achievers commonly fail to prioritize effectively, often focusing on activities that have little long-term value while ignoring valuable experiences necessary to their futures. They also show little interest in core subjects.
  • Much of the time they say they are bored.
  • Their effort is inconsistent.
  • They tend to feign indifference, and they act as if very little matters to them.
  • Under-achievers (while frequently complaining that they want to be left alone) really want others to solve their conflicts and take their responsibility.
  • Under-achievers are usually creative in their excuses, consistently avoiding personal responsibility for their failures, or even in some cases, for their successes. Their explanations serve to deny them control over their circumstances, thereby reducing their anxiety for their continued failures.
  • Under-achievers often have difficulty choosing areas of study and may experience difficulty earning a diploma or degree.
  • Under-achievers tend to pass their anxiety on to others as they passively wait for someone else to take charge of their circumstances.
  • Usually, the under-achievers’ goals change frequently or disappear.
  • When asked about their inconsistent levels of performance, under-achievers will blame others or events beyond their control.

Often times, moms and dads are more worried than their teenager about whether or not homework has been completed or enough time has been spent studying for an exam. Many parents have spent an evening or a weekend completing a project for their under-achieving teenager when, in fact, he may have had several weeks to work on it. Parents may "jump in," awakening and prodding their teenager in the morning to ensure he gets to school on time.

Often times, moms and dads report that their under-achiever is in a dazed state. Parents give instructions to him, but the instructions are usually not followed to completion. When questioned by parents or educators, the under-achiever often responds in a hostile manner. He may complain of being overworked and under-appreciated.

Under-achievers can be charming and active, but they have ambivalent attitudes toward authority. They are often resentful and angry toward individuals who attempt to control them; yet, at the same time, they want that control as a way of delaying personal responsibility. Superficially, they respond with indifference, generally withdrawing from adults.

Under-achievers often express anger through passive-aggressive behavior. They may not say anything, but they just will not do anything --- or they will do it half-heartedly. This allows them to view themselves as controlling responses over authority figures. This is a manipulative game.

Under-achievers may have at one time been good students. Then signs of growing indifference slowly surfaced (e.g., missing, lost, or unprepared assignments become increasingly frequent). This behavior usually begins to occur at about the time these teens are required to complete heavier workloads outside the school environment (a major step in personal responsibility). These responses are often subconscious choices made by the under-achiever to avoid future increased responsibility.

As under-achievers get older, parents can observe their growing irresponsibility and "forgetfulness." This forgetfulness may better be identified as "selective memory" (e.g., they have no difficulty remembering sporting events and scores, but are often forgetting test dates). The path of least resistance often becomes the norm.

Often times, under-achievers feel "picked on" and overwhelmed without understanding why they are encouraging so much attention to be focused on them. Remember, the under-achiever’s behavior is subconscious. He does not purposefully decide to avoid responsibility. Rather, he feels anxiety or frustration – and gives up. Feeling a number of fears, under-achievers unconsciously use denial of reality to avoid coping with these fears. This process keeps under-achievers immature.

How can you motivate your under-achiever?

1. Because under-achievers are highly fearful of the future (even though they usually won’t admit it), they need to explore and discuss their fears and anxieties about specific issues in a non-threatening, indirect manner. You can help by casually bringing up situations in your life, or the lives of others you know. Giving insights into various aspects of adult life is helpful. Especially bring up situations that are anxiety provoking and fearful. Discuss how you would handle these situations. Ask the teenager to give suggestions, and in a non-threatening manner, discuss the merits of these suggestions. Playing "what if" scenarios is helpful. Under-achievers need to learn how to build appropriate strategies.

2. Encourage your adolescent to do something he likes—whether it's painting or biking or tinkering under the hood of his car. Having him do something in which he excels will help bolster the confidence he needs to try school challenges.

3. If the mom or dad feels the need to help with a delayed school project, have the teenager write or discuss why he procrastinated or why he is having difficulty. This will allow him to use anxiety as a cue to action, not as a message to withdraw from responsibility. Providing assistance to under-achievers should happen only after they have made legitimate attempts at resolving their problems. Help should be in the form of guidance, not actually doing the work. This teaches under-achievers to accept responsibility, but assures them that others will be a helpful resource.

4. If you feel you're making no progress, consult a professional. Under-achievement often has deep psychological roots, and if you're not making headway with your adolescent, you'd be wise to contact someone who can help discover what's bothering him.

5. Offering emotional support (under-achievers generally have low self-esteem) helps immensely, but ultimately, the under-achiever has to decide to do it for himself. Show acceptance and affection for your youngster and make certain that he knows you love him no matter what his academic standing.

6. Progress may be exceedingly slow, but express pleasure in anything. An improvement from a C to a C+ is a good start. A few forays into grades of B- and above will prove to the under-achiever that he is capable of better work and nothing terrible will happen if he does it.

7. Realize that under-achievement is the responsibility of the under-achiever. Moms and dads and educators must place responsibility and consequences back on the under-achiever. Parents and concerned others need to learn to redirect their energy to aid under-achievers in becoming more responsible. Responsibility and consequences must be returned to under-achievers in such a way that reinforces in them that they are responsible for their choices.

8. Sometimes, one of the best ways to help an under-achiever is to not get directly involved in homework. Find out how much time he should be spending on homework every night and then require that amount of time to be invested. Make sure he touches base with you, your spouse, or an older sibling to show that he made an effort to do his work. Then check to see that the work makes it into the backpack. (Doing the work but not taking it to school is another form of self-sabotage for the under-achiever.)

9. Though it may be hard for moms and dads to accept, not all kids are academically inclined. But even if your adolescent isn't a scholar, he can be great at many other things. He may be a wonderful jazz pianist, or have excellent painting skills. Or maybe he's just a really nice kid. Your job as a parent is helping your adolescent find what he's good at, and what he really loves—whether it's helping the poor, working with tools, or starting a business. Many things are possible for people of all abilities, and if you believe in your adolescent—no matter what— you make his road that much easier.

10. Under-achievers are highly fearful of the future and the emotions that they feel about these fears. They need to learn and understand that their emotions are cues that can lead them to positive actions. Becoming self-aware, understanding motives and reactions, helps under-achievers more easily accept responsibility for themselves. They learn that by appropriately acting on their feelings, they can work though them, be successful, and not be overwhelmed. This process aids in raising their self-esteem and maturity level. In turn, under-achievers become more resilient and goal-oriented. They learn that feelings of inadequacy can be overcome and success can make them feel good. This helps them become more independent and progress toward maturity.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Behavior in Children and Teens

“Passive-aggression” is just that: aggression (i.e., anger) that is passive (i.e., hidden). If children are taught to suppress and deny their feelings, they will seek out ways of getting around that. They will find other channels to express themselves – ways that are “passively resistant.” This is how sabotage (e.g., covert behavior, forgetting, ambiguity, chaos creation, etc.) and retaliation (e.g., overt punishment, eye for an eye, “justified” abandonment or abuse, etc.) are learned.

Most children have passive-aggressive tendencies, and can continue to live this way if moms and dads don't help curb this behavior.

What comes with the territory?
  1. Children with passive-aggressive tendencies are usually unaware that their difficulties at home and school are a result of their own behaviors. 
  2. Passive-aggressive children are resistant to demands for adequate performance both in social circumstances and in the classroom. 
  3. Rather than take responsibility for their own actions, they tend to blame and manipulate others.
  4. They experience conscious hostility toward authority figures, but do not connect their own passively resistant behavior with hostility or resentment. 
  5. They have resentment of responsibility, and they show this resentment through the expression of a variety of methods – other than openly expressed anger. 
  6. They tend to be non-assertive and intentionally inefficient. 
  7. They tend to use procrastination and forgetfulness to avoid fulfilling obligations.
  8. They try to get revenge through agitation. 
  9. They usually do not trust others.
  10. These behaviors are usually not disturbing to the child, but to those who interact with him/her. 
  11. This pattern usually begins in early childhood and can occur in various contexts.

Signs of passive-aggressive behavior:
  1. "Forgets" or "misplaces" important items
  2. Avoids responsibility for tasks
  3. Believes that he/she is doing a much better job than parents/teachers think
  4. Can’t seem to accept responsibility for problems resulting from his/her poor performance
  5. Blames others for his/her problems
  6. Fails to do his/her share of the work, thereby obstructing other's efforts
  7. Performs poorly
  8. Procrastinates
  9. Protests (unrealistically) that everyone is making unreasonable demands
  10. Shuts down conversations
  11. Sulks, becomes irritable or becomes very quickly argumentative
  12. Tends to work slowly or deliberately do a bad job on tasks that he/she really does not want to do
  13. Unreasonably criticizes people in positions of authority
  14. Usually resents useful suggestions from others on how to become more productive
  15. Verbally complies, but behaviorally delays
  16. Verbally denies feelings of anger

Phrases to let you know your child is being passive-aggressive:
  1. Be there in a minute.
  2. Fine, whatever.
  3. I couldn't find my pen, so I didn't finish my homework.
  4. I couldn't hear you. I had my headphones on. What did you say?
  5. I did all of my homework.
  6. I did make my bed.
  7. I don't know where your car keys are.
  8. I forgot about the laundry in the dryer. Leave me a note next time.
  9. I took the laundry out of the dryer. I didn't know you wanted it folded.
  10. I tried to unload the dishwasher, but I didn't know where the plates went, so I left them on the counter.
  11. I will, but I have to go to the bathroom first.
  12. I'll do it right after school.
  13. I'll do it right after this show.
  14. I'm coming.
  15. Putting away the clean dishes is his chore.

Moms and dads who are familiar with these typical patterns are able to respond directly to their children's underlying anger. Here are some tips to stop passive-aggressive behavior:

1. Allow your youngster to openly express his feelings in ways that suit him. If he shouts or gets angry, don't get mad too. Remain calm and let him know that you understand and are willing to help him deal with his feelings.

2. Anger is a basic, spontaneous, neuro-physiological part of the human condition. As such, it is neither good nor bad. It just is. Too often, children are held to an unrealistic social standard about what it takes to be "good." From a very early age, they begin to associate having angry feelings with being bad. When parents teach their kids to say "yes" to the presence of anger and "no" to the expression of anger through aggressive or passive-aggressive behaviors, they build a foundation for lifelong emotional intelligence and strong relationships.

3. Be willing to receive their anger when they test out their new voice. If you are going to guide your youngster to be more open and direct with her anger, then you must also be willing to accept her anger when she expresses it. For many, this is truly difficult. But for lasting change to take hold, they must know that the assertive expression of their anger will be tolerated, respected and even honored!

4. Each time passive-aggressive behavior is answered with a mirrored counter passive-aggressive response from parents, the hidden means of expressing anger is reinforced and an opportunity for direct emotional expression is lost. On the other hand, each time passive-aggressive behavior is confronted assertively, the hidden anger is weakened. The most effective way for our kids to learn to acknowledge and accept angry feelings is to role model this for them on a daily basis. As moms and dads, this can be a real challenge since we, too, may have faced stringent socializing forces regarding the expression of our anger. It's never too late to learn to express anger in emotionally honest, direct ways, however, and the stakes have never been so high!

5. Encourage your youngster when he shows good behavior and completes assigned tasks. Positively praise your youngster for his effort, regardless of how small of an accomplishment it is. Celebrating your youngster's positive behaviors can work in raising his self-esteem. Also, make your youngster an active part of the family. Let the youngster know that her opinion is always welcome and that she plays an important role within the family. Occasionally let her make decisions as to what to eat or where to go, showing her that her choices matter.

6. Passive-aggressive kids need to be taught to find healthy ways of expressing anger. They need to know they can say “I’m angry.” They need to be taught the vocabulary for this. When they do, appreciate their voicing it (e.g., “I’m glad you shared this with me”). Ask them to stay in that feeling (e.g., “Why don’t we sit down and talk about why you’re angry?”). Then ask leading questions (e.g., “Why are you angry?” … “What do you need that you’re not getting?). Validate those feelings, and let the youngster know those feelings are theirs, they are human, they are OK (e.g., “Well, it’s normal to feel mad when you don’t get something that you really want!”). Lastly, follow that up with teaching kids that there is no need to become distraught. Instead of jumping to demand an immediate solution, they need to learn the value of owning their feelings, and finding ways of helping themselves feel better.

7. Parents who role model assertive anger expression and practice direct communication of feelings can teach their children effective ways to express emotions.
    If you notice that your child expresses anger indirectly across most situations and seems to fear communicating anger directly, addressing this sooner rather than later will save you hundreds of headaches in the future.
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