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

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

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My Teenager Hates Me

“My teenage son is so hateful. No matter how hard I try, all we do is argue. He is 17 and this has been going on for a couple of years. I really believe he hates me. Nothing I do is right. No matter how nice I am, he still snaps at me about everything. He used to say I ‘bitch’ too much, so I tried to stop that …still he is disrespectful. He won't come out of his bedroom. In order to see him, I have to go to him. But when I do that, he gets angry because I am 'in his business'. I am the only one he acts this way to. He is nice to his dad (we are divorced), girlfriend, and teachers – everyone but me. I have even considered leaving myself just to make him happy. Any ideas?!"

First of all, I believe you are trying too hard to save the relationship. Less is better! Also, know that you are definitely not alone in this predicament. To raise an adolescent, parents need to understand (a) what changes are going on in the child’s body and mind and (b) the importance of communicating the way teens do with one another – not the way adults do.

Being a single mother of an adolescent can be extremely challenging. You may have to deal with a stubborn, argumentative individual on a daily basis. You may find yourself asking questions like: “What did I do wrong?” … “Where did my sweet little boy go?” … “Where does all this hostility come from?” And as a divorced parent, you may even blame yourself for your child’s emotional problems.

So what on God’s green Earth can a parent do in this situation? Here are some thoughts to ponder:

1. All adolescents are in the process of transforming from kids who followed the parent’s lead and had everything done for them, to young adults ready to take on life. Your child is literally trying to separate from you. Don’t take it personally (although blatant disrespect does need a consequence).

2. All adolescents are working on creating their own personality with their individual opinions, ideas and experiences. They are in the process of taking baby-steps towards living an independent life. And sometimes this “healthy” transition comes out as disrespect.

3. Don’t ask a lot of questions to get a conversation started. Instead, take the time to listen to your adolescents and understand what they are going through (assuming they will talk at some point). It may be when they come in from school, or when you are dropping them off at soccer practice. Your mantra should be: “I’m all ears and little mouth.”

4.  During adolescence, moms and dads will find that they need to adjust their parenting style from one of “total authority” to a “supportive, coaching style.”

5. Family mealtimes are important opportunities for parent and child to communicate. Allow your adolescents to discuss important issues (when they are ready – not when you are prompting them), and really listen to their viewpoints.

6. If your adolescents don’t talk to you, or avoid coming to you with problems they are experiencing, you will need to start building a bridge that will connect you to them. You can start by asking short, simple “yes or no” questions (i.e., questions in which the teen does not have to elaborate, but can answer in one word – ‘yes’ or ‘no’). In this way, your questions are broken down into small segments. Teens are likely to communicate (albeit in one word responses) if they don’t have to reveal too much information. Full length questions like, “You seem to be angry about something. What’s going on?”…will likely be meet with, “Nothing, leave me alone.” So, start with the little questions first.

7. Know that a teenager shows his or her ugliest side (i.e., bad behavior) to the parent he or she feels the most comfortable with. For example, if the teenage son or daughter is “mean/rude” to the mother – but comparatively respectful to the father, this is due to the fact that the teen is not as comfortable being himself or herself in front of the father.

8. Know that answering back and always having the last word is just typical teen behavior. Adolescents are not very articulate, and what may appear to be “back-talk” may actually be their attempt to discuss an important issue. When you know you have adequately discussed the issue, and that your adolescents had a chance to state their side of the story, then ignore their need to have the last word (or simply state that your done talking about it).

9. Look for nonverbal cues to your adolescent's feelings (e.g., eye contact, posture, energy levels, etc.). In this way, you may be able to ascertain whether your child is in a good or bad mood. Knowing your child’s current mood-state can go a long way in avoiding conflict up front.

10. Patience and persistence will get your adolescent to talk with you, but you will have to apply a lot of self-control when building a successful relationship with him or her. In most cases, the older the child is (e.g., age 19 or 20), the better the relationship is between parent and child.

11. Power struggles are very common in the teenage years. Adolescents get angry because they feel their mom and dad don't respect them, and mom and dad get angry because they aren't used to not being in control.

12. Remember that every adolescent is a unique person. So, avoid comparing him or her to the “better-behaved” sibling.

13. Understand that having a friendly relationship with your adolescent does not make you his or her “pal.” When it comes down to it, mom and dad still make the final decisions – pals don't.

14. Understand that in their teenage years, most adolescents begin to reject a lot of things that relate to their childhood. They no longer want mom or dad to do or decide things for them. They stop following advice from grown-ups, because in their minds that would be the same as still being a little kid. The real dilemma is that they don't know how to act in order to be treated like the independent near-adult they want to be.

15. When problems arise that warrant discussion, don’t lecture. State the facts, listen to your teenager’s opinion, and talk about your concerns for his or her welfare.

16. When you are going through the daily drama of parenting your teenage son or daughter, it may be hard to separate what appears to be “argumentative” from “giving an opinion.” In many cases, your adolescents don’t intend to argue with you. Instead, they are learning conversational skills to communicate in the adult world – but unfortunately, they often express themselves in a very self-conscious and ill-mannered way. Their lack of communication skills can easily be perceived as disrespect by moms and dads who then get defensive. Most adolescents have not learned that it is o.k. to simply ask a question without having an opinion about it.

Living with adolescents is often exasperating and agonizing – but more often than not, they are entertaining and creative, keeping parents on their toes and providing them with an insight into everything from digital devices to modern culture.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

When Teens Play Divorced Parents Against Each Other

Rules often vary greatly from one household to another. Even though differences are to be expected, concerned moms and dads will agree that the safety of their son or daughter is of the utmost importance. Teenagers can’t be allowed to run the streets and do as they please without regard to rules and expectations, but unfortunately not all parents set boundaries. Some parents are guilty of allowing their teen to do as he or she pleases as long as the child stays out of their hair and out of trouble. Other parents maintain control and know where their teenager is at all times.

Unfortunately, when one parent does not know how to say ‘no’, the parent trying to control the situation ends up being the “bad guy.” When divorced parents don’t agree, maintaining control can be a big problem, especially when the teen is visiting (or living with) the more lenient parent. When one parent says ‘no’, the average teenager will attempt to gain permission from the other parent. This is when the teen makes an attempt at playing one parent against the other. After the other parent says ‘yes’, the teen ignores the demands of the parent that initially said ‘no’, and this creates a lot of tension between all parties.

So what can be done? Here are some tips:

1. A united front is nice, but sometimes you will simply need to lay everything on the table and tell your teenager the truth. For example, “Your father and I disagree on this. But since this home is considered to be your primary residence, you will either choose to abide by my decision, or choose the consequence – you decide.”

2. Arguing between parents is an inevitable reality, but if a teen witnesses his mom and dad fighting, he will know they are divided, thus making it more likely that he will be able to manipulate the situation. When parents are in disagreement about one matter, it is easier for them to disagree on another. Also, when parents are in the middle of an argument, it’s more challenging to think rationally and make the best decisions for the teenager. Parents are also more likely to disagree with each other about decisions when they are in the middle of an argument. Thus, decisions shouldn't be made until everyone is calm.

3. Be willing to compromise. Creative compromises can be called for not only between parents, but with your teenager. But beware of sacrificing your values for the sake of a united front. If one parent always controls decisions and the other always backs down, it might signal something troubling in the relationship. In this case, you may want to consider short-term family counseling.

4. Both parents should memorize the following phrase: "I don't know if you can. Your [mom/dad] and I will have to talk about it first." Those two little sentences will buy you some time to consult with the other half. If your teen resists when you try to buy time, then say, “If you need an answer right now, then the answer is ‘no’.”

5. Discuss and decide in advance how to handle common or predictable situations.

6. Don't be afraid to differ with the other parent. Being united in front of teens is nice, but two heads really are better than one in most parenting issues. Even so, try to discuss your differences calmly when your son or daughter is not present.

7. If you find yourself in a power struggle with the other parent, remind yourself that a weaker parenting plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent.

8. Get on the same page with the other parent as much as possible. Both parents need to talk things over and agree on most things (but not everything). They may have to compromise and meet in the middle occasionally. Before handing out any consequences or making any decisions, parents should try to sit down together to be sure they are on the same page. When teens see unison, they are less likely to try to play one parent against each other.

9. If your teenager says, “But dad said” …You say, “I said ‘no’. You know the rules, and you broke them. No TV for a week. Next time, don't ask your father after you’ve already asked me and I’ve given you my answer.” As far as your husband goes, the same thing applies to him. “No. You daughter asked me. She knows the rules. She didn't like the answer I gave her. She has to understand it by our teaching. The consequence is no TV for a week.”

10. Know what is - and isn't - acceptable to you and why. Let your teen know that you and the other half will - and do - disagree about some things. This is more realistic and easier on a teenager than witnessing mom and dad fighting.

11. If it’s agreed upon by both parties, call the other parent several times throughout the week to keep him or her up-to-date on the big (and small) things that are going on in your teen’s life.

12. Never think of a teen's permission-seeking question as requiring a "yes" or "no" answer. What it really requires is parental information-seeking. Answer the question by asking plenty of questions of your own. For example, "What will happen at this party? What time is it over? Who will drive you and pick you up? Will you be leaving and going elsewhere at any time during the party? Is your friend Sara going? What does her mother say? Who is chaperoning the party?" …and so on.

13. "Yes" or "No" can come with a compromise. For example, "Yes, you can go to the party, but I will pick you up at 10 PM, not midnight." Alternatively, you can say, "No, you can't go to this party, but I'll be happy to be a chaperone at the next one so you can go."

14. Parents should try to think with their minds rather than their emotions. For example, if mom allows herself to become upset when her teenager is angry with her, she is more likely to become more lenient to try to please her child. This may mean that mom veers away from what she agreed on with the dad, which may lead to him becoming upset. It may also mean that mom doesn't act in her child’s best interest because she is seeking favor from the child rather than trying to do the best thing for him or her.

15. To stem further manipulation, one parent can say, "We really don't like it that you ask both of us separately without telling us." And the other parent can add, "The next time you do that, and any time after that, the answer will be no."

16. Trust the other parent. You both love your teenager. Give the other parent the benefit of the doubt that he/she wants to act in your child’s best interest.

17. Try to hold a family meeting. Whether the meeting is in a therapist's office or in the home, divorced parents should make their expectations clear in the presence of their son or daughter. To stop teens from playing divorced parents against each other, they must realize that when mom or dad says ‘no’, they can’t petition the other parent in an attempt to receive the answer they are seeking. Once a teen realizes that her mom and dad aren’t going to go against each other's wishes, and once she fully understands that her parents aren’t going to change their minds, she will eventually stop (or reduce) her attempts at playing one against the other.

18. When an important decision needs to be made, try to talk about the possibilities with the other parent. This means your adolescent may have to wait several hours to get an answer – and that is perfectly fine (of course, one parent can make a decision when it is something simple that has been discussed in the past).

19. Whenever you both decide to say "no," and your teenager replies, "I hate you," …it's OK. She's just being an adolescent.

20. Whenever you have to make an “executive decision” (i.e., a critical decision that simply can’t wait to be made), let the other parent know about it as soon as possible.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Dealing with Unreliable Teens: Tips for Parents

Most moms and dads lament the fact that their adolescents are unreliable. For example, their room is always a mess, they don’t do their homework, they don’t respond – or even acknowledge – their parent when he or she talks to them, etc. But then, those same teens are driving their own cars (that the parent paid for), talking on cell phones (in which the parent pays the monthly bill), and enjoying non-stop social activities (with few limits). All provided by the “free hand-outs” parent.

Reliability is not a lesson that can be learned from nagging or long lectures. You can’t tell a teenager to be reliable, and then assume your job as a mother or father is done. Reliability is a growing and learning process.

So, how does a parent help her adolescent to be more reliable and responsible? The same way we as grown-ups learn to be reliable. We know that if we don’t pay our gas bill, we don’t get to have heat or hot water. We know that if we don’t renew our license plate, we get a ticket. We know that if we don’t earn enough money to pay for dining out, we have to eat left-overs at home. We learn this because we are aware of the “consequences.” And, therein lies the issue. It’s the consequence part that these adolescents don’t experience (which, by the way, is not their fault).

If the gas company would only lecture me for not paying my bill, I would never pay it. But they turn off my gas, and suddenly I’m inspired to resolve the issue …I’m ready to be reliable when it comes to paying the gas bill on time. The same goes for all the other obligations I have. I’m not necessarily any more inherently “reliable” than my adolescent neighbors, but I do understand the consequences of being unreliable. Sometimes I learned the “hard way,” and sometimes I was smart enough to “get it right” the first time.

Adolescents can learn reliability from their parents – but they usually learn by watching, not by listening. Parents can teach their adolescent to be reliable and obey the house rules by setting – and sticking to – consequences. If you buy her a car, make her pay half the insurance. If you buy her a cell phone, she pays half the bill. Make her earn spending money by doing chores if she doesn’t have a part-time job (YET!). Require that her room meet your standards before she goes to the movies with her friends. Insist on decent grades, and stick to the consequences for poor academic performance. You get the picture!

Unfortunately, too many moms and dads are held hostage by their teenager. They tolerate back-talk, swearing, poor grades, a bad attitude …and more. These same moms and dads are often the ones paying double car payments and insurance premiums, and charging trendy clothes for their teens on maxed-out credit cards.

This article should be your wake-up call. If you don’t change your parenting style from over-indulgent to assertive, you will see the results of what happens when adolescents are raised without being held accountable. I see the consequences of over-indulgent parenting on a daily basis …teens driving under the influence of alcohol, becoming addicted to drugs, entering and exiting rehab, getting arrested and involved with the juvenile courts, child-neglect from young parents who never had to suffer the consequences of their poor choices …and on …and on …and on. Don’t make the “over-indulgent parenting-mistake.” You’ll live to regret it!!!

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents


 COMMENTS:

Thank you for this article!  I actually managed to have my wake up call last week.  Had had enough of my son's disrespect, swearing, bad attitude, etc. so decided to stop paying for his cell phone.  He refused visitation with me last weekend and instead chose to stay with his dad, so his dad can pay for his cell from now on.  I have paid for it for three years now, since his father and I got divorced.

Signed,
No longer a doormat.

__________

Dear Mark,

I tried your help too late. My 19 years old prodigal, left the house a month ago and like he did for the last three years, even when living with me, he does not call me at all. I do not know where he is or what is going on with him.  I adopted him and did everything I could by myself, as a single mom to him and his sister.   Now,  it hurts so much but there is nothing else I can do but to wait that he matures and gets shaken with the realities of life.

__________

Dearest Mark, YOU are a god-send. TKU so very much for every piece of advice you send us parents. We NEED all the help, wisdom and experience we can get from you. Bless you and your loved ones.

When Your Teen Wants to Quit School

Another school year is about to begin – but your teenager has announced he doesn’t want to return to school …he’s sick of it …hates it …and wants to drop out. What do you do now?!

Most moms and dads would be panic-stricken if their youngster declared that she intended to drop out of high school. In today’s job market, not having a college degree can be a roadblock to many careers. Lacking a high-school diploma closes-off even more avenues. Overall, teenagers seem to understand the financial consequences of leaving school prematurely. From 1960 through 1996, the ratio of high-school dropouts among young people ages 16 to 24 declined steadily from about 1 in 4 ...to 1 in 10.

The law mandates that kids must attend school until age 16. After that, neither the parent nor the school have any legal recourse to prevent them from dropping out. Some youngsters drop out to get married or because they’ve had a baby. Others are eager to get a head start on earning a regular paycheck. However, the vast majority are relieved to cut short their high-school years, which they often spent adrift, bored and socially isolated. For them, exiting the school doors may very well be the first step toward finding their direction in life.

If the truth be known, not everyone is academically-minded or meant to work at a so-called white-collar job. Other opportunities are available. “Drop outs” can learn a trade or cultivate a talent in the arts, athletics or some other endeavor, and go on to become as successful and fulfilled as their friends with diplomas.

Parents at this crossroads must assess their adolescent's strengths and weaknesses honestly. If the proper educational program or extra assistance were provided, could she raise her school performance to an acceptable level? Or would pressuring her to stay in school merely prolong a futile, and possibly damaging, situation?

Tips for parents of teenagers who want to quit school:

1. Be supportive— but don’t support her financially! If she lives at home, insist that she pay for room and board as well as cover her car insurance and other personal expenses. This is important, even though the average high-school dropout earns just $270 a week. When moms and dads let an adult child live at home rent-free, they’re feeding the adolescent’s fantasy that she is independent and self-supporting. They’re also smothering any incentive for moving up, not to mention moving out. Mothers and fathers need to impose a reality check. The realization that her paycheck barely stretches far enough to cover necessities (never mind having money left over for recreation and luxuries) may be the impetus that motivates the teen to become one of the 750,000 or so grown-ups who earn a GED each year.

2. Discuss the ramifications of your adolescent’s actions. Instill in him that high school dropouts typically make 50% less than their peers who graduate and move onto college. Sometimes adolescents are very quick in their decision-making process and do not stop to think how it may affect their future. So, point out the widening gulf between the earnings of high school dropouts versus high-school graduates, and between high-school graduates and college graduates. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the median annual income of males who quit high school was just $13,961 in 1993. High-school graduates earned $20,870; males with some college under their belts, $23,435; and college grads, $32,708. Among females, the gap between median salaries for high school dropouts and college grads was even wider: $7,674 and $26,043, respectively. Females who only graduated high school earn salaries 5 percent lower than those who graduated from college.

3. Discuss the situation rationally – not emotionally. Does she want to drop out because she doesn’t feel as if she is succeeding, or is it something more serious (e.g., a bully)? Adolescents are NOT known for being rational in their thinking; rather, they are very impulsive and make spur-of-the-moment decisions.

4. Discuss your adolescent’s situation with a counselor at the high school to determine what options are available as possible alternatives to full-time school, as well as to understand any possible legal consequences for dropping out.  Also, work with school staff to improve your youngster’s school experience. Perhaps your youngster would be interested in a work-study program, which allows him to gain practical experience in a field that appeals to him while continuing with school. For example, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), located in Maryland, hires local high-school seniors to work 16 to 25 hours per week. The young people receive salaries, as well as sick leave and an option to participate in the NSA’s health and life insurance programs. Private companies, too, arrange similar programs with high schools. A member of the guidance-counseling staff should be able to route you to the individual in charge of coordinating work experience programs.

5. If you choose to let your adolescent drop out of school, help her formulate a plan for success. Write down what your adolescent’s plans are and continue to give her guidance as if she was still in high school. When your adolescent stops going to high school, your job as your adolescent’s greatest teacher does not end. It is still up to you to inspire her to follow through and become successful, even if it does not mean going to college.

6. If your adolescent expresses interest in taking the GED test, allow him to go that route (providing he follows through). Young people who get their GED and continue onto college have the potential to be as successful as those who graduate high school. Getting a GED does NOT have to be reason for parents to get upset.

7. Just because your adolescent chooses to drop out of school does not mean that she doesn’t have plans for the future. Allow her to explain her plan to you (assuming she has one). If you allow your adolescent to drop out, don’t panic. Sometimes adolescents need to learn life’s lessons the HARD way in order to find the RIGHT way.

8. No matter what your adolescent’s reasons for wanting to drop out of high school, put your emotions aside for a minute and listen to him. You may find that the problem is skin deep and easily fixed. On the other end, you may have an adolescent that is adamant about dropping out of school with no remedy in sight.

9. Offer to hire a tutor or to help your adolescent yourself. If the problem is a bully or a group of teenagers picking on your adolescent while at school, the problem may run a little deeper.

10. Moms and dads need to understand that, with rare exception, employers hire GED graduates on the same basis as high school graduates. In fact, 1 in 7 young people who receive their high school diploma do so by passing the GED. That’s important for the discouraged parent to remember. Quitting school usually does not spell the end of the educational process. Through entering the workforce, your teen may discover a career that he enjoys, and decide to get his GED and a college degree in order to advance himself. According to the American Council on Education, 1 in 3 GED test-takers plan to enter a college, university, trade school, technical school or business school the following year.


My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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