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

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"Tough Love" for Unruly teens

"Well, I took the car away because he missed his curfew last night by 50 minutes. Total attitude all day. Now he has packed his things and left - after a big scene. I tried to remain calm, did not chase but am obviously concerned as to where he is. I think I am dealing with a child that is beyond what I can handle. We have tried counseling at a local level and were unsuccessful since he manipulated it. A lot of money and weak results. He refuses to go back. We may need an intervention program/boarding school. Suggestions on how we investigate that? Thank you again."

Welcome to the world of tough love [which is often tougher on the parent than the child].

Counseling for "behavior problems" is just another traditional parenting strategy that rarely [if ever] has any positive outcome.

I disagree that he is beyond what you can handle, and I would encourage you not to entertain the idea of a boarding school at this point. I think you are wanting a quick fix, but as you know, there is no such thing.

I think you handled this situation very well. You followed through with a consequence put on your poker face and did not give your son an unhealthy dose of intensity when he needed it the most. You have been successful with this particular battle. But in order to win the war, you must take things one step at a time. Fight only one battle at a time. And do not allow yourself to roll over and simply accept feelings of being overwhelmed and defeated without challenging those feelings.

If you don't know where he's staying, you should call the police and file a run away complaint (mostly to cover your ass from a liability standpoint; he's still your responsibility). If you do know where he's staying - and it's a safe place - let him discover for himself how it feels to be in a state of discomfort and alienation. Remember, you're in this thing for the long haul.

You son is trying - once again - to dangle a hook in front of your nose in hopes that you'll bite. He wants you to feel sorry for him re-think your new disciplinary strategies doubt yourself. Don't bite! When you bite, he wins - and you have to start all over again.

This is the time when parents are encouraged to hold their ground, to seek the support of other family members/friends, and to cultivate the art of taking care of themselves.

When you son comes to the realization that you're serious about these matters and that you're not going to cave-in [which you may have done a hundred times before], he'll be the one to do some re-thinking.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Daughter Asserts She Is "Moving Out"

"Mark, Thank you for always heading me in the right direction. Our home is really better since following the online e-book suggestions. My daughter turns 18 in Jan. and she has used the 'I am moving out' deal. I am keeping my poker face and letting her know that will be her choice. The thing that I am having a question with is, if she stays in our home and persists to see this boy, who has gone against us and done some pretty awful things, how do we proceed? Also, she is not wanting to get on birth control. How do you feel about the sex issue? Thanks again, M."


Hi M.,

Re: “…how do we proceed?”

First of all, I would encourage her to move out. Talk about it with her …make it sound exciting …it’s a new beginning …maybe go apartment shopping, etc. Remember: self-reliance is key. If she’s thinking about moving out on her own, she’s wanting to develop self-reliance at some level.

You will not be able to keep her from seeing her boyfriend. And, unfortunately, the more you make an issue of it, the more appeal that boy will have in her eyes. Thus, you really only have two options: (a) insist she move out, or (b) let her live at home without trying to control the “boyfriend problem.”

Re: “How do you feel about the sex issue?”

It sounds like she may want to become pregnant. The only person she will truly listen to will be another female approximately her age who got pregnant at an early age. If you know anyone like this, maybe she can fill your daughter in on the huge responsibility associated with early pregnancy (e.g., immature father who bails out of the relationship due to the stress involved, financial strain, inability to further education, etc.). 

Here are a few more facts to share with your daughter:
  • Children born to teen mothers are at higher risk of poor parenting because their mothers - and often their fathers as well - are typically too young to master the demanding job of being a parent.
  • Children born to teen mothers suffer from higher rates of low birth weight and related health problems. 
  • Children of teens are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, they perform much worse on standardized tests, and ultimately they are less likely to complete high school than if their mothers had delayed childbearing.
  • Common medical problems among adolescent mothers include poor weight gain, pregnancy-induced hypertension, anemia, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and cephalopelvic disproportion. 
  • Despite having more health problems than the children of older mothers, the children of teen mothers receive less medical care and treatment. 
  • Later in life, adolescent mothers tend to be at greater risk for obesity and hypertension than women who were not teenagers when they had their first child.
  • Less than one-third of teens who begin their families before age 18 ever earn a high school diploma, and only 1.5% earn a college degree by the age of 30.
  • Teen mothers are less likely to complete school and more likely to be single parents. 
  • Teen pregnancy is closely linked to poverty and single parenthood.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Out-of-Control Son Goes to Juvenile Detention and Mom is Beside Herself

Mark, Monday evening was hopefully the low point for M. He did not go to counseling. Later on he "stole" my cell phone off the counter and would not give it back (10:45pm). I told him calmly he had until 11:30pm then I would shut off the service and purchase a new one the next day (on his dime) and I would take his laptop until then. He refused, and kept trying to demand things. He started with the F words, then he was told he lost the computer for 24hr (to begin when the swearing stopped). I asked him at 11:30pm for my phone. House phone not working as we believe he tried to hook his laptop to our desktop internet service (cable modem and disabled our house phone) so took husbands cell to call. He now is trying to grab phones. I am leaving the house to move the laptop to safekeeping (not our home). I am in garage and he is trying to come after me. Husband tries to block his exit and gets hit in the eye--a HUGE shiner (he thinks from an elbow). 911 called and now M taken to Juve.

Court yesterday and they obviously detain him. His next hearing is 1/3/19. Whole nuclear family is reeling and the emotions change often. Oldest son now does tell us M has used drugs. He confiscated some vicodin and a short straw from him a week or two ago and caught him another time he thinks rolling a joint with 2 friends (who are NOT supposed to be in our home). He did not tell us because he did not want to be the "snitch" as he feels I betray his confidences (I may sometimes but really try not to). He also had a straw and a bag of pills (the police did not feel they were illegal or rx) when he was caught shoplifting and I also caught him with some pale yellow powder and a straw on Saturday. Now I'm wondering if he is on drugs. Can you tell me any more information on snorting vicodin? His urine test was clean. (dont know what was included or how long vicodin lasts).

Yesterday after court I get a phone call from some woman I've never heard of. She proceeds to tell me M was at her house Saturday night (when he went AWOL), no adults were home, and is told by her son that M (who she had never met before) threw her dog into a wall, broke it's leg and the bill is $500. She is wanting compensation. She says M is denying it. He also was with 2 maybe 3 other boys who I have not met but are bad--into drinking, drugs, fights, gone all night etc. (Don't know them so don't know the home situation). I won't get to see M until Monday, and frankly don't believe a word he says anymore even if I do ask him about it. I have my attorney friend looking into this from a legal standpoint. (Heresay and not 100% sure of the facts etc. do we pay or wait for a police report, etc.) as $500 on top of everything else is almost too hard to take, but if he's guilty of course we would pay.

Mark, what do we do now that he's gone? Yes, we are finally relaxed and safe in our home. We will go see him on visiting days. What do we say? Do we keep it casual, or ask about his school and sessions and how things are in juve? What if he does not want to see us? What do you do/get him for Christmas? What do we tell the relatives (who we really don't wish to share all the details with)?

This is a totally new situation for us and our family as no one in our family or close friends have had this difficulty. Thanks, J.


Hi J.,

First of all, you handled the “cell phone theft” incident very well. That’s you being successful – again!

Re: snorting vicodin—

Vicodin and other prescription narcotics constitute the most-abused group of prescription drugs, according to the National Household Survey, released in 2006. Of the 6.4 million Americans who reported misusing prescription drugs in the previous year, more than 73 percent misused prescription pain relievers.

Vicodin is NOT time released, so people who abuse can swallow the pill or snort it for immediate effects. The risk of both physical and psychological dependence on Vicodin is high. Users may experience withdrawal symptoms after as few as 5-7 days of continuous use. Withdrawal symptoms include chills, irritability, severe anxiety, headaches, and insomnia.

Chemically similar to heroin, Vicodin increases the activity of a key neurotransmitter, dopamine, triggering such an intense euphoria that users keep coming back for more -- and still more, after that.

Re: pay or wait for a police report—

Wait until all the facts are in.

Re: what do we do now that he's gone?

Be thankful he’s where he should be for now. He was about to destroy himself. At least he’s alive!

Re: What do we say? Do we keep it casual, or ask about his school and sessions and how things are in juve?

I think you should say whatever is on your heart – but DO NOT display any emotion of regret, guilt, feeling sorry, etc. Otherwise, he gets a big payoff by knowing he has successfully pushed your buttons (again).

Re: What if he does not want to see us?

Let him have his “mad time.” After he cools down, he’ll have a change of heart.

Re: What do you do/get him for Christmas?

At our juvenile detention facility, kids can have their own toiletries (shampoo, tooth paste, etc.). And these little items mean a lot when one is incarcerated.

Re: What do we tell the relatives (who we really don't wish to share all the details with)?

When family inquires, say “he’s going through some difficult times right now, we’ll have to update you on it later.”

I’m glad your son was given a mandatory time-out before he did some permanent damage to himself or others. Other juveniles who have gone this deep into self-destruction have not been as fortunate.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Grandma Plays "Mediator" in the Family

With Christmas almost here, i was hoping you could give me some advice. I have been trying the tough love approach with my granddaughter, who's 11 and has been a handful. She had been living with her dad in a blended family along with her 9 yr. old sister. They were having week-ends with their mom, which didn't always work out. The last time her dad went to pick her up she refused to go with him, he was getting annoyed and yanked her by the coat sleeve, now the mom and her have claimed that he hit her and have charged him with assault. Until all this is settled in court they can't speak or see each other. The mom is unstable, chronic liar and trouble-maker since day one, i don't think she even has a conscience. She also lets her dress provocatively and she smokes. The whole family has always spent Christmas Eve together at our house so i'm finding it hard. I'm so very tired of all the mom’s games and would like to follow this through ...but i've be told by my oldest son that i might live to regret it. Thanks for any help you can give....


Let me make sure I understand:
  • Your granddaughter and her father are court-ordered not to have contact.
  • Now there is some division in the family.
  • But you want to have the usual Christmas Eve get-together.

Actually I don’t see how this is possible, because someone will have to be left out (i.e., either your granddaughter or her father).

You didn’t mention where your granddaughter is living. Also, is her father your son?

In any event, Christmas time is especially important to children. Therefore, the right thing to do is to work it out so that your granddaughter can spend Christmas Eve with you. Also, you could have 2 get-togethers -- one that includes the father, and another one with the granddaughter (different times of course).

I can see you’re stuck in the middle. Choose to stay out of the business of playing mediator. In situations like these, the mediator tends to make a bad problem worse by attempting to control things that are not controllable.

Mark Hutten,, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Son Is In The Juvenile Justice System Now

Mark, Well, it's been 11 days since M has been in the JJS. The visit was awkward to say the least. And our dismay to see that another "friend" who we have been discouraging (and being pretty successful with) was also in!! Needless to say, our emotions are still on a roller-coaster. M has been seen by a counselor while there and FINALLY there has been exchange of information between his counselor and the JSS. (We had been requesting this for over a year/sent in the paper work and still not done). Well, the JJS counselor called me on Tuesday and we talked for a while. She feels M is in a deep depression. He has not felt loved since very small, we love our other children, he doesn't make eye contact, no inflection of voice, apathy, etc. (This is VERY hard to hear). Our regular counselor has recently told us of this too.

==> Not to minimize his feelings, but most “out-of-control” teenagers feel unloved and mistreated – this is nothing new. And of course he’s depressed – he’s locked-up. Who wouldn’t be?

Also, counselors do NOT get a true reading on a child’s general attitude while the child is in a facility. I regularly visit my juvenile probationers who happen to be incarcerated. They all have a different attitude in jail compared to when they are out. When they return home, there’s about a 2-week honeymoon period in which the child behaves appropriately. After the honeymoon though, the child returns to his original problematic behavior (unless, of course, the parent is making parenting-changes on her end).

As harsh as it sounds, out-of-control teens need to feel an element of discomfort before they will change – this is not cruel and usual punishment however – it’s tough love (which is often tougher on the parent than the child).

An easy trap for parents to fall into at this point is to (a) feel sorry for the child, (b) to doubt their decisions and parenting strategies, and (c) to feel like a failure as a parent, etc.

CAUTION: Beware of falling into this trap. Stay the course. Positive change is occurring!

M has been approached about meds and had refused them. The new counselor T (who unfortunately is quitting JJS) has been pretty confrontational with M and really pushed him for answers (not I don't know/care). The regular counselor A has been seeing him for over a year and has not shared that they are doing any of this. What is your advice on the direction this should take? If we need to change counselors we will. This also may be an act. Who knows anymore?

== > Go with the counselors who will challenge your son and who will not fall for the usual manipulations that teens cough-up during these rough times.

Yesterday he was seen by a psychiatrist who has dx him with ADHD and has prescribed adderall. When I re-read the info on it, I can see LOADS of characteristics. We had 1 teacher in elementary school suggest this, but the physician and subsequent teachers did not find any basis to this. Again we feel horrible if this is what is causing his difficulties. She feels the rx may help with the depression also. Again, your input on this would be great.

== > I’m not a proponent for ADHD meds or antidepressants for adolescents. My experience reveals that (a) insisting the child take meds is just another potential battle zone and (b) they end up either selling them to friends or abusing them. Behavioral modification is a much better course than pharmacotherapy.

Anyway, my biggest dilemma is how to handle things when he is released back home (we won't know until 1/3/08 but seem to think from the counselor and M tells us the PO also that he will get "intensive probation" whatever that is).

== > Intensive probation means he will have weekly contact with a PO, possibly have weekly urine screens, have stiffer consequences for violating the probation contact, etc.

My husband wants to give almost everything back (no cell phone or car) as he has "done his time" and to make a fresh start. He would get all of his clothes, computer (no internet), TV/playstation in his room, use of house phone. I am OK with this if this is what should happen. He did not EARN this back in the home, but is staying @ JJS for 24 days enough? Again, we have never dealt with this before and really want to do the right thing.

== > I agree with your husband. Your son has received a “natural consequence.” A fresh start would be in order.

Christmas will be really hard--do we have a "do-over" when he comes home and leave all the decorations up and have baked items, etc? We are not allowed to bring him ANYTHING for our visit on Christmas.

== > No. Missing Christmas is part of the natural consequence. You can give him his gifts when he comes home however. Do NOT over-indulge out of a sense of guilt however.

Bottom line: Your son is developing emotional muscles that he would never have developed had he not gone through this very uncomfortable experience. Remind him that this is just the beginning of his pain [now that he is in the radar of probation] if he doesn’t get with the program.

Thanks for your wisdom and experience and have a peaceful, wonderful holiday. I am sure to e-mail you again soon.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Is There Such a Thing as Too Many TVs in the House?

I have read through the printed e book and was wondering what you recommend. Terrible to say all of our kids have TV's in their rooms. We have thought about taking them all out and having them earn them during the week for use on the weekends. Our 12 year old is a very good student and has given us NO problems what so ever. I feel that she may think we are punishing her by taking her TV away. The other kids are the one's that are the problem. What do you think?


The number of TVs in the house is not as important as what they are watching on their TVs. The problem with having TVs in the bedrooms is you can’t monitor what they are watching.

Love your kids equally, but parent them differently. Let your 12-year-old keep her TV. The others should “earn” TV privileges as you suggested. If you want to go the extra mile, have only one TV is a central area where you can monitor content.

Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom. While television can entertain, inform, and keep our children company, it may also influence them in undesirable ways.

Time spent watching television takes away from important activities such as reading, school work, playing, exercise, family interaction, and social development. Children also learn information from television that may be inappropriate or incorrect.

They often can’t tell the difference between the fantasy presented on television versus reality. They are influenced by the thousands of commercials seen each year, many of which are for alcohol, junk food, fast foods, and toys.

Children who watch a lot of television are likely to:

· Have lower grades in school
· Read fewer books
· Exercise less
· Be overweight

In any event, I would strongly suggest that you have only one TV – and have a house rule that prohibits watching programs containing violence. Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may:
  • become "immune" or numb to the horror of violence
  • gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems
  • imitate the violence they observe on television
  • identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers 

In addition, children with emotional, behavioral, learning or impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

How Much Does a Divorce Hurt the Kids?

"How much of an impact will divorce have on a 12 year old? Is there an age that is better than others?"

As with most things, there are pros and cons with divorce:


The tide seems to be swinging in the direction that parents in low-conflict marriages should stay together for the sake of the kids. Even a good divorce restructures children's childhoods and leaves them traveling between two distinct worlds. It becomes their job, not their parents', to make sense of those two worlds. 

If you are in a low-conflict marriage, the idea of a good divorce is really very misleading. It makes you think that, so long as you divorce the right way, your children will be fine.

Contrary to the wisdom of pop psychology, it is not essential to your children's well-being for you to have a great marriage. Imperfect harmony in a home allows each parent to love and care for the children full-time. No matter what the level of conflict, a divided family often requires children to confront a whole set of challenges that children in married-parent, intact families do not have to face.


There will always be couples who need to divorce. There are two elements to a good divorce:

1. One is that the parents get along sufficiently well that they can focus on their kids as parents.

2. And the other element is that children continue to have relationships with both parents.

While a great many young people from divorced families report painful memories and ongoing troubles regarding family relationships, the majority are psychologically normal. 

There is an accumulating body of knowledge based on many studies that show only minor differences between children of divorce and those from intact families, and that the great majority of children with divorced parents reach adulthood to lead reasonably fulfilling lives.

It's not divorce that causes all the damage. Children can usually cope with separation and adapt to new living arrangements. It's the ongoing high level of conflict after the divorce that hurts them.

Divorce is a personal issue. Only you will know if it is the right thing to do. Sometimes divorce is a mistake – other times, it is an appropriate and healthy decision. Trust your gut on this one.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

How to Deal Effectively with "Backtalk"

Hi Mark--I will ask a question. I have a 12 year old daughter that we started a behavior contract with because of increasing back talk and not finishing her chores and homework before starting to watch TV. This contract has worked well, so far, I used your example. She also was being asked alot to pick up after herself and once we put that in the contract if she doesn't follow through then we issue a consequence. We keep the consequences appropriate for the incident. My question is, I want to make sure she isn't too young for this? Her older sister has moved out (we asked her to) she was a terrible influence on my youngest daughter and that was one of the reasons we asked her to move out--what I am seeing is that D___ my youngest has picked up on alot of my oldest sarcasm and she uses it often. I have also put that on the behavior contract list. I think it is getting better, but I am concerned I am going to be dealing with the same problems, since her sister was such a problem, any other suggestions you have to avoid, problem child # 2. Since my oldest has left there is a lot more peace in the house, which we all cherish. My oldest daughter often stops by and has made references to how ridiculous the behavior contract is and is just her usual self and of course we tell her to stay out of it. She says all of this in front of my youngest and I am not sure if her influence is something I should be concerned about. One last question. My husband spends alot of time explaining his consequences, as well as listening to my youngest go on and on about how upset she is. I have told him that it should be short and just to implement the consequence since he already warned her once. What advice do you have that I could say to him to support that less is more? Please respond, thanks P.


Hi P.,

Re: Sarcasm...

 I’m not sure that she necessarily “picked-up” your oldest daughter’s sarcasm …she’s probably at the age where she would be doing this anyway (although the oldest is not helping matters any). Sarcasm is normal – and falls into the “pick-your-battles-carefully” category. The more attention you pay to it, the more she will continue doing it.

Conversely, the more you ignore it, the less “pay-off” she will receive, and she will eventually stop it. As long as it is pure sarcasm (and not a house-rule violation per say), I would simply ignore it. You don’t have to – nor should you – include every problem in a behavior contract. When she’s sarcastic, “act as if” you are not offended.

Re: Oldest daughter influence... 

It sounds like you are handling this one just fine. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Again, the more you make an issue of her comments about younger sibling’s contract, the more she will be inclined to comment negatively about it.

Re: Less is more....

Your right! It must be your husband’s style to try to “reason with” your daughter. Unfortunately, “reasoning with” a child is an exercise in futility. Children don’t respond well to ‘logic’ – they simply want things to go their way. It would be easier - and a lot less painful in the long run - to simply beat your head against a brick wall than to make an appeal to your child’s ‘rational mind’.

Share this email with your husband, then let him decide whether or not he wants to continue wasting his time and energy trying to get your daughter to “understand.”

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

"Reasoning With" Defiant Children and Teens: A BAD Parenting Strategy

Children and teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can't be controlled, thus parents should spend their time controlling children's activities and material items rather than behavior.

Parents should neither discuss parenting matters nor attempt to "reason with" their defiant children. To appeal to defiant children's logical mind is an exercise in futility due to the fact that most simply want things to go their way - they are not interested in comprise, negotiation or discussion.

Things are "nipped in the bud" [so to speak] by (a) stating parental expectations, (b) stating the consequence for violating expectations, and (c) following through with the consequence in the event expectations are not met. 

All this must be done with no expression of emotion on the parent's part, because children will continue to "misbehave" when they receive a bigger payoff for misbehavior than they do for desired behavior.

When the parent reacts strongly to "misbehavior" (e.g., arguing, lecturing, threatening, rage, emotional discussions, etc.), the defiant child - who is a very "intensity-seeking" child - receives a highly satiating dose of intensity (i.e., negative attention, which is infinitely better than no attention) from the parent. Thus, misbehavior is once again reinforced.

Defiant children do not seek counsel from parents. Instead, they have fired their parents as managers. Parents can, however, be re-hired as "child-protectors" (i.e., parent's willingness to shift from trying to be the child's 'buddy' to doing whatever is in the best interest of the child)...

...but only by controlling what is controllable and leaving the 'uncontrollable' up to the children (i.e., children get to decide whether or not they lose freedom to engage in activities and/or access to their material items such as toys, games, media, cell phones, etc.).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Help for Parents of Defiant Children and Teens

Son Refuses to be Grounded

"We have been following you advice about the 3 day punishment, but our son still will not adhere to the rules. He comes and goes when he wants to. Last summer he had a few small construction jobs with my brothers and made a couple hundred dollars. We have been giving this to him in small increments on the weekend. We have asked him to look for a job or join a sport, but as you know, you cannot force anyone (especially a hard-headed 15 year old) to do anything is their choice. My question to you is: should we withhold his money this weekend since he won’t stay in after school for the three days you had suggested? I feel as though he should listen to our restrictions and then he can have back his cell phone and computer privileges along with some of his money. Could you direct us asap?"

I think the best way to answer your question is to offer an example from another mother - and member of Online Parent Support - who was going through the same problem.

Her 16-year-old son simply refused to be grounded. He came and went as he pleased with total disregard for the 3-day-discipline. And this went on for weeks. It seemed as though her son had "won the game."


One day, mom finally mustered up the courage to work the program as intended. She had been a "softy" up to this point.

While her son was out gallivanting around, she confiscated everything - and I mean everything!

When her son returned home, he had nothing T.V. computer iPod DVD player cell phone snack food ...not even a bedroom door - nothing!!!

And to make matters worse, she canceled his YMCA membership (which was where he was spending his time while violating the 3-day-discipline).

Needless to say, he was very angry and threw a huge temper tantrum. So mom told him that the 3-day-grounding would NOT start until he calmed down. He got even more angry and ran his forearm across the end table, which sent a lamp, ash tray, and various other items all other the living room floor. Mom said again, "The 3-day-grounding does not start until all of this is picked up."

Well it didn't get picked up that day. But, when her son came home from school the next day and saw that mom had not picked up after him (like she usually did), he realized that the start of the 3-day-grounding was totally up to him. So he reluctantly picked it all up. And at that moment, mom looked at her watch and started the 3-day-discipline.

He stayed home for 3 days (except going to school of course). After 3 days, mom returned all his items and even re-instated his YMCA membership. She reports that his refusal to honor the 3-day-discipline has not occurred since. In fact, she states she has only had to implement the 3-day-discipline one other time to date.

Some parents choose to do tough love, others don't. The ones who don't keep getting what they always got - a huge amount of disrespect and drama.

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

How To Get Children Up For School In The Mornings

Hi there. I have been working your program for a while now with my now eight-year-old son and while I have had some successes, I am still finding myself not knowing what to do at times. My son has a VERY hard time turning off the Wii, or stopping a game on the Wii before it is over (i.e., football). I give him a set amount of time to play and then I warn him as the ending time approaches, often several times, to prepare him. However, when the time comes (I often set a timer because he argues that the time can't possibly be up), he insists on finishing his game (esp. football - he insists on at least finishing the quarter he is in). Should I let him finish the 2 or 4 minutes or whatever of that quarter (which turns out to be at least double the time because of the clock stopping, as in real football) or should I stick to the time limit? I feel like this may be a place to not pick the battle, but it may be telling him that limits are negotiable and I don't want him carrying it over to school or eventually work. What do you think? I am also having trouble getting him to go to bed on time. I know you say he should suffer the natural consequence of getting up the next morning anyway and going to school tired, but he doesn't get up! He goes back to sleep or stays in bed for another 1/2 hour sometimes. I do tell him that he will go to school with his hair sticking up and uncombed and that he will have to take his toiletries and brush his teeth in the school, or that if he is not ready he will go into the school and tell his teacher why he can't make it to school that day (is that a good thing to say?) but he still procrastinates until he is rushing, rushing, rushing out the door with his sister angry that he is making her late. I drive them 20 minutes to school each day and his sister has to be there 1/2 hour earlier in 2-week intervals because she is on the news team. Any suggestions??? Thanks so much and I do have more questions, but I will spread them out a bit for you!!! Thanks, K.


Re: Should I let him finish the 2 or 4 minutes or whatever of that quarter (which turns out to be at least double the time because of the clock stopping, as in real football) or should I stick to the time limit?

Here are some tips that apply:

Reward your son for not playing a video game for a certain period of time, whether it's per week or per day. This does not mean you should bribe him. However, rewarding him for good behavior every once in awhile might get him a bit more motivated than simply telling them to turn off his favorite game.

Keep the Wii in an area where all members have access to it. If it is in a bedroom - or even your son's room - there is more temptation and availability to your son. If you don't want him playing games on your family PC, make it clear and do not let any other family members play on the computer--including yourself!

Encourage your son to be a bit more active by reminding him of something that he really enjoys. You may also participate with him in an activity other than playing a video game to get him interested in something else. The more you do these things with your kids, the more it will become habit instead of gaming.

Fill the void with something educational and fun. Make it fun for your son when you've taken away an activity that he enjoys, but also incorporate some education into it. There are many different learning tools that are quite similar to video games that would make a great substitute to games.

Cut them off cold turkey. If you simply take away the console or take the game off your computer, there will certainly be some sort of resistance from your son. However, if the temptation is gone, he will be forced to find something else to do. Suggest a few outdoor activities or make plans for him to play with a friend, and soon the other activities will become staples in the house instead of the game.

Re: I am also having trouble getting him to go to bed on time.

Getting your son off his Wii earlier in the evening may help with this problem.

As long as you take responsibility for getting your son out of bed, he will let you do it. It may take a few days for them to get the hint, but once you stop working so hard, he will realize he has to change his behavior, or face certain consequences.

A natural consequence for oversleeping and being late to school is having to make up any schoolwork that was missed. You might also check with the school to see what the policy is for repeated tardiness or missed classes. Don’t protect your son from these consequences by making sure he makes that bus on time. In order to create less dramatic mornings, you have to let your son experience the consequences of not getting himself up and out the door.

You might tell your son: “You seem to have a hard time getting up in the morning, which tells me you aren’t getting enough sleep. You need to be up by 6 am on school days. As of today, we are moving your bedtime back to 9:30 pm on school nights. Once you have shown us that you can get up on time for five days in a row, we’d be happy to move your bedtime back to 11:30 pm.” If your son does not get up on time, simply state: “I know you want a later bedtime. You’ll have to figure out how to get yourself up on time in order to have that privilege.”

It may be hard for your son to go to sleep before 11 p.m. Going to bed by 9:30 PM is going to be a little “uncomfortable” for him. In time, the discomfort and annoyance of having to get into bed with the lights out and no electronics may motivate him to get out of bed on time in the morning. Once he has gotten up on his own for five days in a row, you can change the bedtime to a later hour. If he begins to oversleep again, change it back to 9:30 or 10:00 pm until he improves.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Mom Has a Hard Time "Letting Go"

Hi Mark, I am just into my first week of the course and would like your help in what to do at this point. I have emailed you prior to purchasing your manual about the fact that my son D___ (17 years old) has left home and I need to get him back in order to implement your suggestions and bring us back as a family. I don't know how to go about this. If it sounds as a threat, he will not return. Should I ask him to return for his own safety and our love for him, should I give him an option or tell him he must return. It has now been 6 weeks and I feel he is slipping further away from us. I have like many other of your subscribers, been to counselling and she suggested that hard love was the option and that David needs to return on his own accord and on our terms. But I can see that the longer I leave this that there is a less likely chance that he will ever return.

Just to fill you in a little more, D___ ran away back in August and was gone for 8 days. We asked him to return, but once he had it seemed that D___ was set to do anything and everything to make sure that he gets kicked out. So my husband gave him an ultimatum; live in our house with our rules or get out. So he chose the latter, of course. I feel that my husband made a very bad decision at this point and that we will never get D___ back. He is getting too heavily involved into the heavy metal music culture and has started to get body piercing and wants tattoos, all the things that my husband forbid him to do at home. He has given up school even though he was a great student. Please let me know what I should do at this point, as you know I would not be asking if I wasn't so desperate and feeling so lonely and vulnerable in this situation. ~ S.T.


Hi S.,

My first thought is: Your husband did the right thing. If your son were any younger, giving him the “all-or-nothing” ultimatum would not be appropriate. However, he’s an adult now – literally [although not legally recognized as one depending on what country you live in].

This will be no consolation to you at all - I’m sure, but bear in mind that “self-reliance” in key. If your son is out on his own, he is developing self-reliance. He is growing up quickly and learning how the real world operates. Although this is terribly painful and worrisome for you, the mother, this current situation is largely a positive one.

I don’t expect you to be able to shut your emotions off and somehow muster up the ability to see this dilemma through
rosy lens. But what I would ask you to do is 3-fold:

1. Trust that this will work out for the best in the long run, and do not make yourself miserable in the meantime.

2. Acknowledge the reality that, even if he were to come home today, you would either have to go through all this parent-child conflict again, or simply let him be in charge.

3. Let him know that he is always welcome to come home to visit – and he is even welcome to return home to live, but only if he is willing to abide by a reasonable set of house rules.

This will be much more difficult for you than your husband. You and I both know that this is in God’s hands now.

My prayer for you today is: God grant S__ the ability to accept the things she cannot change, the courage to change the things she can – and the wisdom to know the difference. - The Serenity Prayer

Mark Hutten, M.A.

What To Do When Your Mom Enables Your Defiant Daughter

Hi, I bought your e-book last weekend and found it really helpful. I knew what to do, just didn't know how to go about it. My question to you is about family members. My 13 year old daughter could be the cover girl for your book. So I implemented your plan and had to do the 3 day discipline almost immediately b/c she snuck out of the house. My mother, child's grandmother, feels sorry for her. Helping her clean her room, taking her to the mall, talking to her all the time, etc. I want to get a security system: my mom thinks it is a waste of money. I'm sure you know the whole scenario. Do I let their relationship just be that - their relationship, or do I insist my mom leave her alone? I know my mother means well, but I told her she is rewarding my daughter's behavior just by talking to her about it so much and giving her undeserved attention. I am a single mother with a 5 yr old son as well, and I need my mother’s help at times. I try not to involve her with things, but I don't really have anyone else to bounce things off of. What do?

Another quick question - when you say the child can earn back a day, or get off 3 day discipline - do you mean by doing chores …watching your brother …etc.? Thanks, K.


Re: Do I let their relationship just be that - their relationship, or do I insist my mom leave her alone?

I see this is a bind for you. You need your mother’s help at times, but she is not contributing to the solution with respect to helping correct your daughter’s behavior.

I hope your mother understands that she needs to be on the same page with you; otherwise, you’ll make 2 steps forward and she’ll move you 3 steps back. Plus your daughter will be very successful at playing you against your mother and vice versa.

In this case, the best thing to do is to come up with a set of “discipline rules” that you and mother agree to – make it a contract, write it out, and both of you sign it. In this way, when your daughter does behavior “x” …you and your mother team-up to implement consequence “x” …does this make sense?

If your mother does not abide by the contract, then you may have to be assertive with her and set some firm boundaries (e.g., “when I discipline your granddaughter, you may NOT converse with her, help her with chores, take her to the mall, etc.”).

==> Bottom line: This is serious business, and you cannot afford to waste time spinning your wheels in the mud.

Re: Another quick question - when you say the child can earn back a day, or get off 3 day discipline - do you mean by doing chores …watching your brother …etc.?

Your daughter “earns” her way off discipline simply by not repeating the ‘offense’ (e.g., if she gets a consequence for sneaking out of the house, but does not sneak out during the 3-day-discipline, then she has completed successfully).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Help for Parents ==>

What's the Best Length of Time to Ground a Defiant Teenager?

Hi Mark- I have been reading through the online parent book listening to the audio & watching the video sections... I am finding it very useful and it makes a lot of sense. I am determined to make the changes. Just wondering if you can help clarify something for me please... The 3 day grounding was put in place on Sunday night...(due to my son not coming home for the entire weekend...)

--No Telephone
--No TV
--No Computer
--I have confiscated new shoes
--No Pocket Money

He smashed the mirror in his room, burnt his other shoes, cut up another pair, I basically said bad luck and we found another old pair for him to wear. Tuesday night he came home at 7.35 ( I have set the curfew @ 7pm) so I started the grounding again...

Yesterday he refused to go to school???? Last night he came home on time, asked numerous times about his shoes, then relaxed for a while, we ate dinner together, had a nice evening until he took my shoes and hid them... I got upset but I didn't lose my cool too much Thank God. At one point I threatened to call the police if he didn't return my shoes... I didn't call them and eventually found my shoes. I didn't realize till after reading the section about this situation this morning the best way to deal with it...

This morning he tried again going on about the shoes saying that he won't go to school until I return the shoes???? He asked for some money, I said no, he was angry and swore at me then he left the house...

He got pulled over by the police asking why he's not at school, they called me, I gave them his JJO's number, they took him to his Juvenile Justice Officer, she has strongly advised him to go to school....

Would you recommend that I extend the 3 day grounding until he attends school?

Kind regards



Hi S.,

When a parent wants her child to fulfill any particular obligation (in this case, going to school), she (a) makes it clear what is expected and (b) makes it clear what the consequence is for not following through with the expectation. If the child refuses to meet the expectation, the parent follows through with the consequence (in this case, grounding for 3 days with no privileges). However, the clock does NOT start until he walks into the school building -- but he’s grounded with no privileges in the meantime.

Here’s an example from another parent: Her expectation was for her son to mow the grass. He refused. So she implemented the 3-day-grounding, and the clock started as soon as he started mowing the grass (he was grounded with no privileges in the meantime). The son figured out that he could start the clock whenever he wanted. So he cranked up the mower and did his chore so he could go over to a friend’s house.

It’s important for the child to know that he has some control over the consequence (i.e., he gets to decide when the clock starts), and the longer he procrastinates in meeting the obligation, the longer he has no privileges. (This approach falls on the juvenile brain a bit better than hearing that the 3-day-discipline has been extended by 2 weeks).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

"He is not going to be able to drive..."


Well, M______ we thought has been behaving better. We did have to take away driving privileges several times as a consequence, and I had to thwart his leaving with a friend once (he was confined to the house/yard), but for several days he was following our rules as far as we could tell. We had been told in June by A_______ Mom (the ex-girlfriend) that our son was not to contact her daughter in any way. We know they have still been together and talking to each other even though we told M______ we wanted the Mom to "OK" this and then we would have no problem with them seeing/talking to each other. He states "she will never call you".

In the interim, I put a blocker on his ex'es phone so no incoming calls come through, and he agreed to not contacting her for 2 weeks so he could be allowed to drive. Well, today, we found out that he lied. He was supposed to stay home and to be watching his little brother. Called and asked if his friend and two girls could come over (a new girl who seems very nice and her friend). We said OK but had to stay in the family room and his brother would be present and NO inappropriate behavior (only over for about 1 hr). Well, girls never came over. He had permission to drive to work later in the afternoon, which he did (I gave him the car keys when I came home.)

After he left for work, this new girl K_____ called for him. She was upset. She proceeded to tell me that M______, his ex-girlfiend and another girl met her at a local fast food restaurant near the Mall (with my 9 yr old present). K_____ got into the car. He was driving his buddy's car (the friend was at football) as the car M______ uses was parked and I had the keys, and he did not have permission to drive. We do not allow him to be driving another's vehicle and he is only allowed one passenger. This ex proceeded to assault K_____. She escaped from the car and walked/ran back to the Mall where she had been shopping. She feels she was "set up" as A_____ has been threatening to meet up with her to beat her up. My 9 yr old admitted that this assault did happen. He was crying when he admitted it as he was threatened by M______ not to tell. He further stated they drove home, and the other girl then took over driving the friend's car and the girls left. Now I'm waiting for M______ to come home from work to confront him about this.

Obviously, he is not going to be able to drive. He did sign a driving contract which is very strict. He will also be confined to the house/yard for a while. I would like to know your opinion on how long you feel is appropriate. Sometimes I feel that 3 days is not long enough, doesn't "hurt" enough as it only takes a few days (certainly only a week at the best) for him to be "consequenced" again. Also, he is supposed to watch the 9 yr old again on Thursday--would you trust him?

Just so you know, I am taking care of myself. I no longer feel trapped at home to make sure he is home--I'm letting him face consequences. Thanks for being there!



Hi J.,

Would I trust him? No. Trust is earned. He would have to earn my trust by following through with expectations. Then, and only then, is trust extended.

Re: length of consequence. If you go more than 7 days, he’ll forget what he’s being grounded for and the lesson will be lost. 3 days works best, because it gets the child “back in the game” as quickly as possible.

Think of it this way: When a basketball coach has a player that gets into a fight with a member of the other team, the coach doesn’t suspend his player for the season – he doesn’t even “bench” him for the entire game. Instead, he makes his player sit on the bench for only one quarter. Why? Because not being able to play for one entire quarter feels like an eternity to that player. If he’s kept out of the game any longer than one quarter, resentment builds and his sense of devotion to the team wanes.

The idea behind disciplining a teen (whose brain is not fully developed yet, and who does not perceive the passage of time the same way as an adult) is to issue the consequence immediately (i.e., here and now), consistently (i.e., he gets a consequence EACH TIME he violates a house rule), and short-term. You want him to get “back in the game” as soon as possible so he can, in a sense, make more mistakes -- this is how he learns, and this is how he finds ways to adjust his attitude and behavior.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Here's more help ==>

When One Parent Sabotages the Other

"You mention that it is better to have a weaker discipline strategy from both parents than a stronger strategy from one, but what if one parent will not discipline the child and goes behind your back to replace items you have withdrawn. This parent encourages the child to lie and be deceitful as he practices these traits and encourages the child not to tell Mom. We are close to divorce, but both desire the best for the child, but we see the best very differently. Some of these difficulties are exaggerated by our ages - I am 57 and he is 78; our son is 12."

At one of our recent parenting seminars, one member worried aloud that she and her husband disagreed about how to raise and discipline their 13-year-old son. She pointed out that she and her husband came from different family backgrounds, so the examples they had grown up with were very different. She wondered if they could ever agree about child rearing, and she was concerned that their son was not be receiving consistent rules from both parents. "How can we begin to come to some agreement?" she asked.

Throughout the room, heads nodded. It can be a big problem -- joining two people who have been raised by very different methods and expecting them to be in harmony about how to raise their own children. When people are falling in love and considering marriage and families, they usually don't think to ask, "Are you a passive parent …an authoritarian … a neglectful parent …or assertive?”

One of the biggest sources of marital stress is disagreement about child rearing. And for children, major parental disagreement is a source of mixed messages and confusion that may undermine the attitudes, values, and behaviors parents hope to teach. Whatever the nature of the disagreement, it can have a significant impact on all family members and can lead to an erosion of parental authority, as children learn to play one parent against the other.

If the children are still young, parents have time to negotiate some agreement about the major aspects of child rearing:

1st- Sit down together and list the aspects of child rearing on which you DO agree (e.g., what goals do you have for your child, say by the time he is 15, and what values do you want him to learn?).

2nd- Identify the standards of behavior that you agree are realistic for your child's age.

3rd- List any strategies you both think are important (e.g., you may disagree about punishments, but you may agree that both parents should set an example of respect and honesty; you may agree that it's important to tell him you appreciate it when he does what you ask).

4th- After you've identified points of agreement, begin to list areas of disagreement. Talk openly, calmly and respectfully about what you each believe regarding how your child should be parented -- and where you learned those beliefs.

5th- Identify child-rearing sources to which you can turn, understanding that together, you may need to learn new strategies to replace the old ways that are a source of conflict.

6th- Agree to a regular time to check in with each other about how you're doing together as parents. Give new strategies a chance to take hold and give your child a chance to learn that mom and dad are working together. Do not expect your child's behavior to change immediately, just because you are trying a new mutually agreed upon tactic.

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

Disneyland Dad: The Fly In The Ointment

Hi Mark, This weekend K is grounded. He asked his father to take him to soccer and his father did. (while his father lives with us I am in many respects a single mother and my husband is not interested in joint parenting). In fact my husband actively works against me. Anyway, now K says he doesn't care if he is grounded - he will get his father to take him. His father will buy him another phone if I confiscate it again. The only option I see is to say that the grounding stands and he must start it again and until he serves his grounding I will not take him anywhere. I would appreciate any thoughts you may have. ~ V.


Hi V.,

Re: The only option I see is to say that the grounding stands and he must start it again and until he serves his grounding I will not take him anywhere.

You hit the nail right on the the head. When a child is grounded, but Disneyland Dad (i.e., the fly in the ointment) undermines the consequence, then mom simply restarts the clock when the child returns home.

For example, mom says her child is grounded for 3 days with no computer privileges. Disney Dad shows up and takes the kid to the carnival and buys him 3 lbs. of cotton candy, 2 stuffed toys, and one foot-long hot dog. Kid returns home (totally over-indulged and sick to his stomach) ...the clock starts again as soon as he walks in the door.

Be sure to let your son know that HE is the one extending the time-frame when he leaves with dad prematurely -- not you.

Also bear in mind the a weaker parenting plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger one supported by only one parent.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

Do not try to fight 4 battles at once!


What do I do when I've issued the 3-day-discipline (e.g., for violating curfew), but then my son creates a new problem before completing the discipline (e.g., calls me a "bitch", then breaks a plate by throwing it in the sink too hard)? Do I start the 3 days over even though the "broken plate episode" is unrelated to the curfew violation, or does this new problem get a different consequence?


Hi T. 

You only restart the 3-day-discipline if the original crime is re-committed (in this case, if your son violates curfew again).

When parents issue a 3-day-discipline, it is very common for kids to introduce additional behavioral problems (temper tantrums, threats, etc.) as a way to (a) get the parent side-tracked from the original consequence and (b) get the focus off of them and onto the parent's anger.

If the parent falls for this, she ends up issuing additional consequences on top of existing consequences, restrictions against the kid begin to pile up, and before long, the kid is grounded for 3 months with no privileges -- and both the parent and the kid have forgotten what the original problem was.

Don't let this happen to you. Do not let your son get you distracted from the original problem and the associated consequence for that problem. Here's how you do this:

If your son commits another "crime" (figuratively speaking) during a 3-day-discipline, put this new crime in the "Deal-With-It-Later" file. You literally write the problem down on a piece of paper (e.g., 'son called me a bitch and broke a plate') and put this note-to-yourself somewhere where you can find it after the original 3-day-discipline is completed.

After the original 3-day-discipline is completed, you then confront your son regarding the second problem he introduced by saying, "Just for your information, in the future, if you choose to __________ (in this case, "call me a bitch and break my dishes"), then you'll choose the consequence which is __________ (here you just follow the strategy "When You Want Something From Your Kid" in the Anger Management Chapter of the Online Version of the eBook).

So, does your son get "off the hook" for calling you a name and breaking a plate? In a way, yes -- but only for the time being. He will have to answer to you if the name-calling and plate-breaking occur again in the future.

Pick your battles carefully - but perhaps more importantly, pick them one-at-a-time. Do not try to fight 4 battles at once. You'll just blow a blood vessel in your brain, and your kid will be successful at getting you to chase your tail.

Use your "Deal-With-It-Later" file frequently. You'll save yourself a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be spent in chronic power struggles.

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Help for Parents ==>

Therapy Ain't Workin'


Thank you for the recent report on ODD and ADHD. There is no question that this is what my son suffers from. We were assigned to AB3632 last year. He was almost expelled and having a lot of issues at school. We started a med last April, which has really made a difference in school. He is 13 almost 14. He is in SDC at school and is having a much better year behaviorally then last year. We are still struggling at home, but there is some improvement. The more structured and busy he is the better. Summer will be a little more difficult, but we are making plans to keep him as busy as possible.

We have 2 hours of services available each week through the AB3632 program. They continue to do "therapy" and my son is frustrated and refusing to go. For him it is a waste of time and I can't disagree. The therapist has not been able to make a connection with him. We were doing behavior modification, which was having some impact, but that person left the program. Now they have assigned a drug/alcohol counselor also. I think they were hoping as a male he could connect. Both are trying to engage him in talk therapy and failing. I have spoken to them several times and requested programs for anger-management and skill building …practical things that could help. At this point the therapy sessions are causing him to be more angry and frustrated. Although they agree with me, we continue down the same path. I feel that they are expecting me to make my son want to work with them and I can't do that. You said you deal with the behavior side. What do you suggest?



Hi D.,

Counseling is just another traditional parenting strategy that has little or no effect. Thus, as you know, you are not making much headway with “therapy” (and maybe making a bad problem worse).

Are you using the strategies outlined in “My Out-of-Control Teen” eBook? If so, do you have a specific question regarding how to implement any particular strategy?

If I were you, I would try to find your son a mentor (e.g., a big brother from the Big Brother/Big Sister Organization). He needs someone to talk to “on his level” (i.e., someone who is interested in him as an individual, not someone who is attempting some sort of behavior modification). When I do therapy with a child, he rarely perceives it as a “therapy session” because I recruit him as a ‘partner in problem solving’ – he does the work. You can see an example of a session here ==> The Art of Schmoozing.

None of us know why we behave the way we do, so if a therapist tells the kid that he is doing something for some reason and this is a good reason, the kid is inclined to believe it. If he is angry or negative with the therapist, but the therapist responds with positive reframing (i.e., turning a 'negative' into a 'positive'), then the kid is likely to get confused. Here the kid is trying to be obnoxious and distance himself from the therapist, but the therapist is saying lots of nice things the kid likes to hear!

The difference between how men and women behave can be illustrated by how they deal with an angry dog. A man would say, 'Good dog! Good dog!' while he looked around for a big stick. A woman on the other hand would say, 'Good dog! Good Dog!' until it actually believed it was a good dog! I don't believe that this represents a sex difference --it's just good psychology. When you reframe, you are telling the kid what a good doggy he is until he believes it! And it works. It works because at heart, that's what we all are (i.e., GOOD). No matter how foolish our behavior, our intentions are always good.

Mark Hutten, M.A.


Thanks for your response Mark.

This is confirmation on counsel we received from a pastor friend. We are in process of working with our youth leaders to identify a good mentor. Someone in college and closer to Matt's age. I agree that we need to focus on the positives and believe that success is possible. This seems to be more difficult for my husband. He really struggles with the language and impulsive response's from my son. Things like "stupid", "shut up" and "dumb butt".

My husband advised me today that it is more difficult for men than woman to tolerate this type of action. My feeling that he shouldn't tolerate it, but punish him immediately. Maybe we should chat sometime.



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