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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Discipline Methods That Make a Bad Problem Worse

D___ is beyond out of control. He is still grounded from his ps4 and computer until he has completed his 10 day sentence to alternative school (he tries constantly to get them back- just for 1hr cause I am being good type deal). But the real issue is at school. He is in alternative school right now and the teacher today says D___ is being so bad that if he does not stop they are going to have the police write him a ticket!!!! This is up to a 500.00 fine that I DO NOT HAVE OR WILL EVER HAVE and WILL NOT PAY so i don't know what happens then?? !! The teacher asked him to stop talking and D___ says she has no right to take away his freedom of speech, he refuses to do this work, told the teacher she is horrible at her job! HE IS A NIGHTMARE. I got him on the phone and told him he had better keep his &%&)%$(&)^% mouth shut and i mean NOW! So what do I do know that I blew it again? Strip his room to a mattress and make him earn every piece back? Or take everything and give it all back when he is done with this school or what? I still have no idea what the heck I am doing. All I know is he is killing me. I am so upset. 

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Hi S.,

10 days is too long. I recommend a 1 - 3 day discipline – not 10. 

For behavior modification to work, the program must have certain properties:
  1. A few important behaviors need to be targeted. Rather than targeting "being good," you might try “no talking in class.”
  2. It must be consistent. There is no bending of rules in this sort of thing: no difference between the mom or dad or teacher.
  3. It should be simple and straightforward so that your child easily understands it. If your child can read, it should be written down. If possible, your child should sign it and agree to it.
  4. The behavior must be clear cut and not fuzzy. Things like "listen when I tell you something" won't work, because it is too unclear. A better idea would be, "If you choose to ______________, then you’ll choose to be grounded for 3 days with no game privileges."
  5. The rewards and punishments need to be geared to the individual.
  6. The rewards should not be money or things that are bought, but rather should be privileges, which you can grant or activities, which the child can do. Behavior Modification should not require a bank loan.
  7. There needs to be an even mix of negative and positive reinforcers. A typical Positive one would be a later bedtime on the weekend or a choice of dinner. A typical negative one would be going to your room or no ps4.
Here are some examples of good vs. bad behavior modification programs:
D___ talks in class when he is not supposed to. This drives his parent nuts and she would like to kill him when he comes home. The behavior she wants is to have D___ not talk during class.
The Assertive Parent-- The positive reinforcer would be if he does not talk during class for 5 days, he can have a friend stay over and they can stay up late. The negative reinforcer would be that if the parent gets another complaint from school, D___ will be grounded for 3 days with no games.

The Passive Parent --If you don’t talk in class, I will pay you five dollars or you will be able to stay up as late as you want at our house that night. If you DO talk in class, nothing bad will happen.

The Aggressive Parent --The next time I get a call from school, you’ll be grounded for 10 days.

Another important point is to AVOID POWER STRUGGLES AT ALL COST. One of the reasons you continue to struggle with D___ is because you are in a power struggle with him. Kids ALWAYS win power struggles because they have less to lose in the long run. Power struggles create distance and hostility instead of closeness and trust. Distance and hostility create resentment, resistance, rebellion (or compliance with lowered self-esteem). Closeness and trust create a safe learning environment. You have a positive influence only in an atmosphere of closeness and trust where there is no fear of blame, shame or pain.

I have never seen a power drunk child without a power drunk adult real close by. Adults need to remove themselves from the power struggle without winning or giving in. Create a win/win environment. HOW?

The following suggestions teach children important life skills including self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills -- instead of "approval junkie" compliance or rebellion:
  • Be consistent with the limits and rules.
  • Determine what the consequences will be before an inappropriate behavior happens.
  • Expect non-compliance. Testing the limits is normal behavior for a teenager.
  • Learn to speak in a calm but firm tone. Keep the lines of communication open. Yelling and screaming never helps.
  • Listen to their feelings and keep an open mind. You still have the ability to say no, so why not listen to what they have to say.
  • Stay rational – you are the adult. If need be, take a 'time out' yourself.
  • Take deep breaths, count back from 100, and remember the goal is to have a happy, healthy young adult when you are done.
  • Use an Action Plan (see below) if necessary.
  • Use natural and logical consequences (see below). Be firm and stick with them.

Here’s an example of an Action Plan. Let’s use the example of Internet use:

Internet Privileges

I know that the World Wide Web is not a toy. It is as interesting, and dangerous as being able to walk down any street, in any town or city, in the world. It reflects all parts of life today, which is fascinating and scary.
  1. In order to have the privilege of using the World Wide Web, I need to follow these rules, so I can keep myself and my family safe.
  2. I will never give out personal information to anyone online, including but not limited to:
    • my full name, or anyone else's
    • my address, or anyone else's
    • my passwords, or anyone else's
    • my phone number, or anyone else's
  3. I will always be polite when chatting online, I will treat them with the respect that I expect to be given. If I am treated unkindly, I will not reciprocate in the same manner. I will leave the chat room if I get too angry.
  4. I will never personally meet anyone I have meet online without the permission of my parents. If this opportunity should arise, I fully expect my parents to come to the meeting.
  5. I will never call anyone I have met online without the permission of my parents.
  6. I will report all incidents in chat rooms to my parents and to the room administrators.
  7. I will not go surfing in areas that are not appropriate including, but not limited to websites:
    • that are of a sexual nature
    • that promote hate
    • that are offensive in language
    • that are of a violent nature
  8. I will not go surfing around looking for new places without my parents permission.
  9. I will follow these rules whether I am at home, at school, or at a friends. If my friend is not following these rules, I will leave.
  10. I will not purchase anything online without permission of my parents. If I do not follow these rules I expect that (here's where you put the consequence, ie... to lose computer privileges for one week.)

Child's Signature:__________________________________

Parent's Signature:________________________________

 

Deciding Between Natural or Logical Consequences—


When parents want their children to learn from their mistakes, they have the choice of allowing the child to deal with the natural consequences or set up logical consequences. But how do you choose between the two types of consequences? When is one more effective than the other?

When natural consequences are immediate they are very effective. If your teen touches a hot pot, he/she will get burned and is not likely to do that again. Many times, however, natural consequences are not immediate or are too dangerous to allow. Running into the street without looking does not always have immediate consequences. Either does not wearing a seat belt when driving. Both actions, though, could have dire natural consequences that no one wants. Therefore, the natural consequences aren’t what a parent should use to teach their teen the responsibility of their own safety and it is up to the parents to sort out a logical consequence that will promote the desired behavior – in this instance not running into the street without looking or wearing a seat belt.

Another instance of when logical consequences will be more effective than natural consequences is while your teen is getting a high school education. The benefits of good grades in school are so far off into the future that teens do not fully comprehend them. While your teen can repeat what he/she has been told: ‘good grades will get you into a good college and you’ll make more money’, until he/she sees the type of job or paycheck a college education can get, he/she will not understand the difference. Logical consequences, including rewards for good grades and privileges taken for poor grades work best as your teen can fully understand these.

There are times when the natural consequence is the better choice for the parent to make. One excellent example is when your teen is dating or making friends. Finding out what type of person your teen wants to be with and how your teen wants to be treated is going to be his/her choice. Dating or making friends with someone who isn’t his/her type is going to show that to him/her. Barring any mistreatment from a friend or a date, parents will need to hold their tongue and refrain from giving their opinions in order to let the natural consequences – positive or negative – happen.

Discipline choices are never easy. Hopefully knowing the difference between natural and logical consequences will help you make the right choices for you and your son.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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PARENT'S RESPONSE:

Thanks Mark!

I agree the 10 days is too long and against the programs suggestions - I chose the 10 days more out of pressure from my live in boyfriend that is more of the opinion that my son should be grounded for a month for getting into alternative school with nothing but a bed in his room and not allowed to leave his room other than to eat so the 10 days (the length he is in this school) was more of a peace maker on my own part (yes there are other issues at play here). But since that is what I told my son I figured it better for me to stick to it even though I know its too long rather than backing out of it like I typically have done in the past. I know next time the importance of keeping it simple and the boyfriend will have to deal with it.

Last night I decided the discipline for refusing to do his work at school and talking back and arguing with the teacher would be him losing the privilege of his TV and stereo for 2 days. I told him he can earn those privileges back in 2 days by 1. doing his work as requested in school and 2. not getting into a verbal confrontation with anyone at school (teacher, student- no one!) I did explain to him that if he chooses not to do what is required the 2 days will start over. I then told him he must go clean his room until dinner was done then he could shower and go to bed for the night. He took it very well and before he went to bed he apologized to me for how he acted at school. I told him I loved him and asked him to sit down for a minute. I told him that I wanted him to understand that freedom of speech is a blessing we have in this country and our forefathers did not intend that right to be used as an excuse to be hurtful and disrespectful to people. I let him know freedom of speech was created so people could not be imprisoned for speaking their beliefs however it does not protect those from being punished if they use speech to disrupt the public or harass people. He seemed to really listen - I hope he gets it!!

I emailed his teacher today and told her what his discipline is and asked her if she could please let me know if D___ is doing the 2 things required to earn his tv and stereo back. I guess for the ps4 and computer I need to stick to giving them back after the 10 days is up since that is what I told him???

So I know I have blown it a few times but I am still trying :) I have faith and hope but boy I do get discouraged sometimes. I appreciate your patience with that. I have never really had someone try to help me in a productive way. I have been told "YOU NEED TO BE A PARENT" and "YOU NEED TO GET HIM UNDER CONTROL" and that has been the so called help I have gotten so far. So I thank you!


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"I am at wits end about my teenage daughter..."

Dear Mr. Hutten: I am at wits end about my teenage daughter. I just recently found a notebook that her and her girlfriend have been passing back and forth. She wrote to her girlfriend that a boy she likes asked her for a blowjob do you think he is using me. She is only 12 yrs old she will be 13 in May. I have talked to her continuously regarding that oral sex is sex and all the STD's she could possibly get from this behavior. She said she didn't do anything swears up and down she didn't but the rumor spread around school and also came back to me. Please help me on how to deal with this problem. I can't sleep at night thinking she could possibly do something like this. All the conversations I have had with her thinking I could prevent that she would not get involved with this behavior hasn't worked. I can't trust her anymore. I don't let her run the streets like other children do, I just can't believe this is happening, I am so afraid of what the future is going to bring. Please help me to handle this problem correctly. I appreciate anything you could do for me. Thank You, D.

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Hi D.,

The topic of sexuality and adolescents often makes mothers and adolescents uncomfortable. It can be difficult for some mothers to even broach the subject of sexuality, and even more difficult should the parent suspect their child is sexually promiscuous. Few mothers want to confront the issues of sexual promiscuity or inappropriate sexual behavior in their children, yet avoiding such behavioral problems can be as risky as the behaviors themselves. Not only does sexual promiscuity cause serious health risks to your child, it can damage self-esteem and the emotional health of a developing adolescent.

Adolescents often partake in risk-taking behaviors. This seems to be a common theme among adolescents, but it can become a serious issue in troubled adolescents. Sex may become an outlet for a struggling teen's frustrations, much in the same way drugs and alcohol serve as an outlet. In this way, sex becomes a drug, a way to escape feelings and emotional confusion. However, as with any drug, there is a backlash. Any teenager who is acting out sexually will begin to feel a diminished sense of value and self-esteem.

In some cases, sex can be used as a weapon or defense. An adolescent might see promiscuous sex as a way of showing mothers that he or she is "free," an adult, someone who can "do whatever" they want to do. Allowing a young person to continue to see sex in such an emotional immature and self-destructive manner can lead to long-term problems with intimate relationships, as well as the child's physical health.

Mothers can best help their teens from becoming sexually active by maintaining a warm and loving relationship with their children – and letting teens know that they are expected to abstain from sex until marriage.

Mothers who are involved in their children's lives, and who confidently transmit their religious and moral values to their children, have the greatest success in preventing risky and immoral behavior. For this reason, it is more important for adolescents to see real-life examples of people who understand and deal responsibly with their sexual natures.

Morals are not abstractions. Morals have to do with real-life commitments to people and things that have value. Mothers and other influential adults (at school, at church, and in the community) need to show adolescents the difference between devotion and infatuation and help them make the distinction in their own hearts.

The sexualization of girls and mental health problems—

In response to reports by journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents, and psychologists, the American Psychological Association (APA) created a Task Force to consider these issues. The Task Force Report concluded that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development. Sexualization is defined as occurring when a person's value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use. The report states that examples of sexualization are found in all forms of media, and as 'new media' have been created and access to media has become omnipresent, examples have increased.

The APA Task Force Report states that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains:
  • Cognitive and emotional health: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person's confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
  • Mental and physical health: Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women—eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.
  • Sexual development: Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

How can parents help their daughters develop healthy self-esteem?

Although the media, peers, and pop culture influence children, parents still hold more sway than they think when it comes to having an impact on a daughter's developing self-esteem. Here's how parents can help:

1. Monitor your own comments about yourself and your daughter.

2. Get dads involved. Girls with active, hardworking dads attend college more often and are more ambitious, more successful in school, more likely to attain careers of their own, less dependent, more self protective, and less likely to date an abusive man.

3. Watch your own stereotypes; let daughters help fix the kitchen sink and let sons help make dinner.

4. Encourage your daughter to speak her mind.

5. Let girls fail - which requires letting them try. Helping them all the time or protecting them, especially if done by dad, can translate into a girl feeling incapable or incompetent.

6. Don't limit girls' choices, let them try math, buy them a chemistry kit. Interest, not just expertise, should be motivation enough.

7. Get girls involved with sports/physical activity, it can reduce their risk of chronic diseases. Female athletes do better academically and have lower school drop-out rates than non-athletes. Regular physical activity can enhance girls' mental health, reduce symptoms of stress and depression, make them feel strong and competent.

8. Watch television, movies, and other media with your daughters and sons. Discuss how images of girls are portrayed.

9. Counteract advertisers who take advantage of the typical anxieties and self-doubts of pre-teen and teenage girls by making them feel they need their product to feel "cool." To sensitize them to this trend and to highlight the effect that ads can have on people, discuss the following questions (adapted from the Media Awareness Network) with children:
  • Do you ever feel bad about yourself for not owning something?
  • Have you ever felt that people might like you more if you owned a certain item?
  • Has an ad make you feel that you would like yourself more, or that others would like you more if you owned the product the ad is selling?
  • Do you worry about your looks? Have you ever felt that people would like you more if your face, body, skin or hair looked different?
  • Has an ad ever made you feel that you would like yourself more, or others would like you more, if you changed your appearance with the product the ad was selling?

It is within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become. Parents armed with knowledge can create a psychological climate that will enable each girl to achieve her full potential. Parents can help their daughters avoid developing, or overcome, negative feelings about themselves and grow into strong, self-confident women.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

The devil only shows himself at home...

Mark, It's been a while since I updated you on our family. M is in intensive probation as you recall. He had his first court hearing yesterday. They couldn't bring up the fight or the driving past curfew (from 9/17) since they did not have the completed paperwork from the prosecutor. He has started back to work, going to his counselor once a week, taking his ADHD rx (that I know of) is attending school every day (I am transporting to/from however) and he is maintaining all A's and B's with a C in psychology. Our home life, however is slower to come around. He is keeping himself very isolated in his room. He is either playing with his laptop, I-pod, etc. He will cook food for himself and leave a mess. Whenever he is asked to help out in the home, he either just says "no" or says "in a minute" and then never does it. The littlest thing will get him angry and then the F#*& come rapidly. They are aimed usually at me, and not just in conversation.

He misused his laptop the other day, I asked him to put it away, he didn't and the F bombs started, he threw his pillow at me (I believe he showed restraint here as his bedroom was recently painted and with new furniture), but I told him if the behaviour did not stop he would lose his laptop (we are blocking his Facebook page and he keeps trying to find a way around it, and was very mad that it was blocked again). He was at school the next day, and I locked up his laptop. He immediately went for it (it was gone) and then starting trashing the house looking for it. He turned over my bed, upturned all the chairs, sofa, etc. He started throwing things out of my china cabinet, and when I warned him, he did show restraint and not break any dishes/glassware. I took my keys, told him to clean up his mess, and the 24hrs would start when it was clean. I left. When I got back, younger brother had put back all the furniture/bed but not the contents of china cabinets and some papers I had that were scattered. M was just laying on sofa. I calmly told him he had 5 minutes or I would take pictures and loss of computer would be 7 days. He chose to do nothing. Within a day or so, he was talking to me again, etc. and has NOT asked for computer. Husband however, told M "I would give you back your computer". He has not been backing me as he has done before. I feel he has given up. He gets angry, shows the anger, blows over the top, and then furiously back pedals. This is definitely not helping.

Last counseling visit, we parents were not called in (parents are usually included first or last 10-15minutes). Dad has only recently agreed to go with us, (it is VERY difficult) and the counselor did not call for us. Husband very upset, yelling, and probably will never go back. He says M is the one with the problem, not him, it is a total waste of time, etc, etc.

Mark, I realize that we probably won't see any REAL genuine improvement until M accepts responsibility for all of this, but how long before we see improvement in the home? His behaviour has been a real issue for almost 2 yrs now. Bosses at work, co-workers, teachers, etc. say he is polite etc. to them. The devil only shows himself at home. Counselor and PO say it will take time for him to "adjust". How long?

Also, husband and I truly believe M is just waiting until he is off probation and then he will go back to his old behaviors/old friends. He is 17 now and knows we don't have much "power" to control him anymore. We would like to ask the referee to keep him on probation until he is 18 (10/2019)--currently scheduled to be off 4/3/19 if he continues to do well. Have you heard of anyone asking this before and how was it accepted?

I should mention that M doesn't talk to us. When we try to talk to him about anything other than superficial he gets angry and the F bombs start to fly. When do you think he will start to open up to us? Thanks, J.

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Hi J.,

Re: How long before we see improvement in the home?

When significant improvement – at home or elsewhere - is not evidenced within a 3-month period, it is too often due to (you already know what I’m about to say – don’t you?) the parent(s) missing a few (or a lot) important pieces.

In the first week (when parents first join OPS), I simply want them to work only on the objectives outlined in Session #1 assignments – nothing more. The goal of week #1 is to re-establish the broken bond between child and parent. We, as parents, must build a bridge back to our kids FIRST – then, and only then will they accept discipline from us. Thus, concentrate on re-establishing trust and developing a renewed commitment to the parent-child relationship by reviewing Session #1 objectives and implementing Session #1 assignments again. There’s no shame in going back to the blackboard now-and-again.

The most common mistake I see time and time again is as follows:

The parent, out of a sense of desperation, (a) prints out a hard copy of the eBook, (b) skims through it in one sitting, (c) can’t find a magic bullet, and (d) says to herself – or to me – that she’s tried all this before and it doesn’t work. These parents will never, ever see success because they hop from one strategy to the next without giving any one strategy enough time to be effective. Please do not make this error. Be patient with the process, and you, too, will experience success with this program – sooner than later.

Bear in mind that the goals of this program are to (a) foster the development of self-reliance in the child and (b) provide intensity (e.g., attention, interest, energy) ONLY when the child is behaving according to expectations.

Below is a checklist for you:

If parents do not implement most of these assignments, it is often the "kiss of failure."

For example, the transmission in your car has hundreds of parts, but if just one little tiny part is not working -- the whole transmission does not work. The same is true with this "parent program." Omit just one strategy, and the whole plan runs the risk of failing.

1.Do you use "The Art of Saying Yes" whenever your answer is yes?

2.Do you use "The Art of Saying - and Sticking With - No" whenever your answer is no?

3.Do you catch him in the act of doing something right at least once each day?

4.Do you use the "When You Want Something From Your Kid" approach as needed?

5.Do you give him at least one chore each day?

6.Do you use the "I noticed ...I felt ...Listen" approach when something unexpected pops-up?

7.When you are undecided about what to say or do in any particular situation, are you asking yourself the following question: "Will this promote the development of self-reliance in my son, or will this inhibit the development of self-reliance?" If it is supportive of self-reliance, say it or do it. If it is not supportive, don't!

8.Is he EARNING ALL of his stuff and freedom?

9.Have you listened to ALL the audio in the Online Version of the eBook?

10.Are you putting on your best poker face when “things are going wrong?”

11.Are you and your husband united and bonded on most issues (remember: a weaker plan supported by both of you is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one)?

12.And perhaps most importantly, are you doing things to take care of your mental and physical health?

If you answered "no" to any of the above, you are missing some important pieces to the puzzle. Most parents DO miss a few pieces -- you can't be expected to remember everything! But we must be willing to hang in there for the long haul. I'm talking about refinement here. Refinement is a necessary tool to use in order to truly be successful with these parenting strategies.

Re: Have you heard of anyone asking this before and how was it accepted?

Yes. Probation Officers usually want to get kids off their caseloads as quickly as possible. Thus, I doubt that anyone will want to work with your son any longer than absolutely necessary.

Re: When we try to talk to him about anything other than superficial he gets angry and the F bombs start to fly. When do you think he will start to open up to us?

You have bigger fish to fry than “talking.” Put this one in the “pick your battles carefully” file. Having said that, he’ll open up to you after he’s been out in the real world – on his own – for a while. Some time AWAY FROM home will be a huge change-factor. Are you preparing him for “the launch?”

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Parents Are Not On The Same Page

Q: Well we just joined your program so we haven't even read all the way through the information, but the question I have is how do you convince your spouse to try this program? The reason I ask is his patience are at the end. We have a 14 year old that has ADHD, ODD, is bi-polar and has separation anxiety disorder. He is quite a challenge and there are days when we feel like there is NO hope. He is failing 3 of his required classes in school also? Just wanting to know how to get my spouse on the same page and to help him have some patience!

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A: When mom and dad are not on the same page with their parenting strategies, several negative outcomes result:

1. One parent is forced into playing the role of the "bad guy" (this is probably you mom).

2. The child is always able to play one parent against the other (e.g., if he gets a "no" from the more assertive parent, he will go to the indulgent parent to get a "yes").

3. The child is always able to convince the indulgent parent that the more assertive parent is "mistreating" him.

4. Due to the above outcomes, resentment builds in the more assertive parent, thus creating tension between husband and wife.

Thus, it will be important for you and your husband to sit down together and come up with a united plan. A weaker plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one. When husband and wife do not develop a united front, it is often the kiss of failure (i.e., the child continues to suffer emotional and behavioral problems).

It is not unusual for parents to have different approaches to discipline. You are influenced by different personalities, different gender-related perspectives, and different experiences as children. It is important to understand the roots of the differences and to try to find some acceptable middle ground. For example mothers spend much more time interacting with children. This contributes to a more practical approach to parenting; find what works and go with it.

Mothers are also the parenting "experts" and fathers feel very vulnerable when sharing this responsibility. They are likely to be criticized for either not doing enough or doing it wrong. This sometimes causes fathers to be rigid in their approach. Rigidity is often there for mothers as well because of the sense of urgency; too much to do, not enough time to get it done.

These parenting-style differences contribute to one of the primary issues between mothers and fathers: polarization. In a healthy marriage, husbands and wives are accepting of each other and communicate frequently enough about their differences so that over time they "converge", i.e., grow closer. In more conflicted relationships, the couple "diverges" over time.

In other words, they don't simply become stuck in a position but, instead, exaggerate that position in response to the other spouse. Thus, a more lenient parent becomes even more so in response to perceiving the other parent as too strict. Of course, then the strict parent becomes more so in response to the increased leniency. And so it goes. Throw into the pot, children who learn to play off these differences to get what they want, and you have a recipe for turmoil.

So what do you do? Do not criticize or change the other parent's discipline in front of the child, nor undermine that discipline when the other parent isn't around. It is okay to acknowledge a difference of opinion, call a time-out, go off to discuss it, and come back with a joint solution. You are modeling one of the important lessons for children when parents can have a disagreement and come back with a solution.

Your problem, like many other parents, is that you have not settled your different views on discipline and shouldn't be doing it via a specific situation where the child gets put in the middle. You need to make time to discuss and understand each other's perspective about discipline, how it is affected by your personal experiences and your gender roles, and how you can take advantage of the differences by having a place in the process for each parent.

Here's to a better home environment,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Dealing With A Chronic "Running Away" Daughter

Hi Mark, My 16-year old granddaughter (who lives with her father) runs away from home fairly regularly ...usually 3-4 days at a time. And we never know where she stays during these stints. What can her father do to prevent this? What should he do if she does take off again? It's starting to become a real problem. And I worry about her safety. Thanks, A.

Too many teenagers run away 'from' something, rather 'to' something. Many teenage runaways leave home in search of safety and freedom from what they “consider” or “perceive to be” abusive treatment. Running away from home is usually a quick decision.

Each year, an estimated 1 million children, usually between the ages of 13 and 17, run away from home. The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that the average age has dropped from 16 years to 15 years, with 38% under the age of 14. While many children think about running away or may threaten to run away at some point during their childhood, for most children it never goes beyond a threat. Increasingly, younger runaways appear to be from well-meaning families, and parents are taken by surprise at their child's actions. However, 41% of the runaways who call the National Runaway Switchboard indicate that "family dynamics" is the main reason for running.

Other concerns may be abuse, poor grades, social issues, and stress from conflicts at home or at school. Also, the breakdown in extended communities may be a factor. In previous generations, when family tensions flared, the parents and adolescent might get some respite care from a grandparent or relative who lived in the neighborhood. It wasn't unusual for the teen to stay with grandmother for a while. Unfortunately, few families today have those options available within their community.

There are several reasons children run away from home. Some do so because of an unstable family situation (divorce, a death in the family, sexual or physical abuse, or drug or alcohol problems in the parents). Some run away as a response to over-control, neglect, or conditional love. Some seek to wield power over, get undue attention from, manipulate, or punish their parents. Some suffer acute personal crises like pregnancy, substance abuse, or trouble with the law. Some are depressed, and some just seek adventure or are influenced to run away by their peers.

It may be helpful for parents to understand some of the warning signs that may appear in a preadolescent or adolescent who is considering running away. The three main causes for running away:
  • Frequent family fights. Some of the most common issues are about the teen's behavior, grades, friends, clothes, or staying out late.
  • Situations at home where the child feels unable to cope. Running away is usually a cry for help and may be the child's way of escaping abuse, a stepparent, or dealing with the breakup of the parents' marriage. These problems may be the most difficult for the parent to deal with because the parent may not acknowledge the seriousness of the situation.
  • Worries that the child is afraid to tell you. Troubles at school—including bullying, suspension or poor grades, anxiousness about peer issues, sexual orientation or pregnancy, and alcohol or drug problems—are not unusual concerns for students.

Other reasons for running away include the following:
  • For some it is fear of consequences for something they have done (bad grades, taking something that didn't belong to them, breaking up with a boy- or girl-friend, even deciding they are gay or lesbian is often a reason to run away.
  • For some reason, running away makes them feel free, unsupervised, no curfew hours, homework, dress code, eating habits.
  • For some teens, running away is a rebellion against adults and against authority.
  • One problem teenagers have at home these days is that both parents may be working. Mom and Dad aren't around much. They spend little time as a family. Absence of a parent does not make the heart grow fonder. Oftentimes a runaway will complain that he or she is not loved any more.
  • Some young people at risk of running away or becoming homeless are experiencing violence. When talking about their families, they describe being shouted at, sworn at, blamed for everything, scapegoated, hit, pushed, shoved and threatened by their parents or stepparents.
  • Sometimes the problem has to do with money. They can't wear expensive clothes like some of their friends. They can't buy tickets to concerts, or go on dates. For many teens economic obstacles are hard to deal with. They feel they are victims. They believe the outside world is better.

Transition times, such as moving to a new community or school, are high-risk times for students, and they may fantasize about their previous community or have romantic ideas about life on the streets. Other warning signs might include increased tension and decreased communication between the parent and child or the teen's withdrawal. These and other indicators of depression should be noted in the child.

For some parents, the first realization that there is a problem is when the adolescent runs away; for others, the child may threaten in anger to leave. The typical runaway will likely not stay away for long, typically 48 hours to 14 days. Also, very few leave their immediate community; they will usually stay with friends. Most runaways come home of their own accord. However, it is important that a threat to run away is not ignored.

What can parents do to make their children stay at home? One simple 'win over' gesture is to communicate, listen, help, understand and try to solve the problems patiently.

You can protect your child by providing a better quality of life at home. A loving and happy home atmosphere with good communication will help your child to feel secure, which will make them think twice before running away from home. Parents who care will also weigh their decision in the light of what is in the best interest of the children. Parents do not want there children to become neurotic and paranoid. Just take the time to show your child the love and affection that they deserve and need. By doing this you will not have to worry about your child being among the number of runaways in the world today.

Parents might respond to the child by listening to the child's concern and helping the child develop some strategies to cope with the problem. It may also be helpful to suggest talking with an empathetic third party such as a family friend, relative, or counselor. Reassuring the child that he is loved, and able to work through his concerns rather than running away, may help. If the child does leave, take the following actions:
  • Check with friends and relatives who are close to the child.
  • Don't be afraid to seek outside help from people who are not directly involved if it is easier for the child to talk to them.
  • If you are unable to contact your child, call the local police.
  • Make them feel it was worth coming home by listening and trying to understand their concerns, then seeing what can be done to change things.
  • When your child does come home, you may react with relief and then anger. However, let your children know that you are upset because you love them and are worried about their safety.

Working together to build communication and to improve the quality of the relationship between the parent and teen may be the most effective prevention for running away.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Teenage Son Has Decided to Come Back Home - Now What?

Hi Mark, the last time I spoke with you was on the 20th of November last year (titled "Desperate"). At that stage my son had left home and I was frustrated. Your words were of great comfort to me and I must admit at my lowest points, I referred back to that email for strength. Thank you for that.

During my sons three and a half months of living away from home, I have practiced your techniques whenever he was around. My son has now decided to come back home and live under our rules. I am excited about this and a little apprehensive. What I would like to know is how to slowly and inconspicuously get him away from the bad crowd he is now involved with. I do not want to scare him off as soon as he gets home and I know that I have to tread very lightly. The other area of concern is the body piercing which neither I nor my husband can stand. Should I just continue the "POKER FACE" and let him find his way or should I set the rules immediately?

To date, your course has been the only sensible approach to my children and I value your words immensely. Thank you once again! With great appreciation. Sincerely, S.

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Hi S.,

Re: body piercing... I think you have bigger fish to fry than worrying about "body piercings." This issue falls into the "pick your battles carefully" file. You only have a limited amount of time and energy. Plus, body piercing is a phase. Unlike tattoos, one can remove ear rings, tongue studs, etc., when one outgrows the need to "stand out from the crowd" and to "look cool."

Re: hanging with a bad crowd... Don't be sooooo glad to have him back home that you over-indulge him for fear that he'll leave again. Having said this, negative peer association is a bit like the smoking issue. If a teen wants to smoke, the only way to get it stopped is to lock him in the basement (against the law). And the more the parent makes an issue out of smoking, the more attraction smoking has for the kid. Parents have no control over it - unless it occurs on their property!

Negative peer association is no different. When he's away from home, you simply cannot monitor effectively who he is hanging around. Even if you did come up with a seemingly rock-solid method for keeping tabs on his whereabouts, he would find a flaw in your method and exploit it. Parents have little control over negative peer association - unless it occurs on their property!

There are some things you can do to minimize the problem however:

You can't make peer pressure go away, but you can teach your son how to deal with it. Although we often think of peer pressure as bad, it is very likely that your son's friends have some positive influence as well.

Develop a good relationship. The stronger your relationship is with your children, the less likely they are to follow bad examples.

Teach your children to think when others try to get them to do something. Your children should ask themselves questions like: Is it wrong? Why do they want me to do it? Is it illegal? Why am I tempted to go along? Am I afraid that they will laugh at me?

Teach your children to decide for themselves whether something is right or wrong, helpful or harmful. Bring up examples of situations they may be in; then explore what might happen if they respond a certain way. Let them think about the consequences of their actions. If they have an uneasy feeling, something is probably wrong.

Sometimes children just need help getting away from a bad situation. Provide them with some responses they can use to resist peer pressure. Encourage them to avoid giving an immediate "Yes" or "No" answer when friends want them to do something questionable. They can buy time to make a good decision by saying, "Maybe later," or "I'll wait and see." Let them use you as an excuse: "I will be grounded forever if I try that."

Good luck …and stay in touch,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Join Online Parent Support

When Your Child Seems Unaffected by Discipline

Mr. Mark, I wrote to you about a month ago very concern about the behavior of my 5 year old daughter. You responded very promptly to my e-mail. Thank you very much.

We adopted 3 siblings in March 2017. They are 2 twins boys 4 yrs. old and their sister 5 yrs. old. They are very bright, smart and intelligent kids and make us very happy. We haven't experience any educational problems with them. They go to daycare and have learned numbers and letters, shapes and colors at the same rate as the other kids in their school. I purchased and have read your e-book "My out of control child" and have found it very useful. You explain to me in your e-mail the behavioral problems that adopted children usually have because of the unknown medical history of their birth parents. I have tried your techniques and procedures explained in your book, but our daughter is still giving her teachers a lot of trouble at school to the point that they don't know what else to do.

When she is with us, she controls herself or at least follows directions, but we have to be with our eyes or her at all times. We praise them (4:1), caught them doing good, and I have a ticket system but nothing seem to work. At school she is always answering back, bossing around, disrupting class and for the last 2 weeks at nap time at school, she starts calling her friends names out loud to the point that they have to pull her out of the class because she doesn't let them rest. Some people tell me to ignore this and let the school deal with the behavior at school. But I just can’t seem to let that go. She knows they tell me about it every time she is been send to the office or put in time out and them talk about it like she is proud of what she have done. I feel that if I don't do anything about it she might think that it is O.K. to misbehave at school. I sit her at home to write numbers and letters and I have taken her toys, TV time and she has not come to family gatherings. Nothing works, she just doesn't seem to care about anything.

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If I heard you right, she behaves acceptably at home, but not at school. You will do well to take the lead by attempting to educate her teachers about ODD. I assume (which is dangerous of course) that her teachers are treating your daughter like they would any other girl. This, unfortunately, will continue to waste their time and energy.

Your daughter is not an emotionless robot who is immune to emotional pain. So I disagree with you when you say, “she doesn’t care about anything.” She has something that she really values – but it sounds like you haven’t found what that is yet. Find out what she really values. When you find it, it will be your greatest bargaining chip.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I had a mother who emailed me with nearly the same dilemma as you. She said she takes her son’s toys away, grounds him for 3 days with no TV, computer, etc. But “he doesn’t care.” All he did was sit on the floor of his bedroom and read comic books. He just hid out in his room and wouldn’t come out. BUT WAIT. He’s isolating in his room and reading? Then there you go! I had this mother ground him FROM his room – which he despised greatly because he didn’t want to be around anyone while on discipline. The mother literally locked him out of his room (except at night to sleep). After he completed his 3-day discipline, his “room privileges” were restored.

As cruel and unusual as it sounds, you have to find out “where it’s going to hurt” (i.e., what will evoke uncomfortable feelings in your daughter when she makes poor behavior choices). Then you implement that “place of pain” whenever she needs a consequence – but only for 1-3 days. I’m not talking about emotional abandonment here – I’m talking about providing direction and support.

She’s never going to work for what you want, but she will work for what she wants.

What does she like the most? Are you pouring on a lot of attention and intensity when things are going wrong? She is getting some kind of payoff for “non-compliance.” How can I be so certain of this? Because all behavior has a motive behind it. And that motive is usually to attract pleasure or avoid pain.

Below is a summary of all the assignments I gave you in the eBook. If parents do not implement most of these assignments, it is often the "kiss of failure." For example, the transmission in your car has hundreds of parts, but if just one little tiny part is not working -- the whole transmission does not work. The same is true with this "parent program." Omit just one strategy, and the whole plan runs the risk of failing.

1. Are you asking your daughter at least one question each day that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or a "no" to demonstrate that you are interested in what is going on in her life? (page 20 of the printable version of eBook)

2. Are you saying to her "I love you" everyday and expecting nothing in return? (page 20)

3. Are you eating dinner together at least one evening each week -- either at home or out? (page 20)

4. Do you use "The Art of Saying Yes" whenever your answer is yes? (page 25)

5. Do you use "The The Art of Saying - and Sticking With - No" whenever your answer is no? (page 25)

6. Do you catch her in the act of doing something right at least once each day? (page 25)

7. Do you use the "When You Want Something From Your Kid" approach as needed? (page 31)

8. Do you give her at least one chore each day? (page 31)

9. Do you find something fun to do with her each week? (page 54)

10. Do you use the "I noticed ...I felt ...Listen" approach when something unexpected pops-up? (bottom of page 50)

11. When you are undecided about what to say or do in any particular situation, are you asking yourself the following question: "Will this promote the development of self-reliance in my daughter, or will this inhibit the development of self-reliance?"

If it is supportive of self-reliance, say it or do it. If it is not supportive, don't!

12. Is she EARNING ALL of her stuff and freedom? (see "Self-Reliance Cycle" - page 19)

If you answered "no" to any of the above, you are missing some important pieces to the puzzle. Most parents DO miss a few pieces initially -- you can't be expected to remember everything! But don't get frustrated and give up. We must be willing to hang in there for the long haul.

I'm talking about refinement here. Refinement is a necessary tool to use in order to truly be successful with these parenting strategies.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: Parents who refine are, on average, 95% - 100% successful at getting the parent-child difficulties reduced in intensity and severity (i.e., the problems are easily managed).

The same can be true in your case. Don’t give up just yet. Please continue to refine by emailing me as needed over the next few months. Refinement is a process, not a one-time event.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Teenage Son Assaults Mother

Hi Mark, I'm new to this site. I have a couple of questions and scenarios that I would like to run by you. I have just charged my 17 year old with assault and put him out of the house, I was informed that he could go to a shelter, however there are no beds available at the shelter and he is now trying to come back home, as he has burned his bridges everywhere else. There is a no contact order in place, he cannot be within 100 ft of the house, and he is only permitted to contact me by phone. This is part of the scenario, there is more involved, I desperately need some advice. Could you please get back to me?"


First of all, I am very proud of you for having the backbone to implement a consequence commensurate with your son’s behavior. You did NOT try to “save” him from uncomfortable emotions associated with his poor choices.

As punitive as it may sound, out-of-control teens need an element of discomfort before they will change. But unfortunately, most parents think they are doing the right thing by rescuing their child from painful consequences, which does far more damage than good.

Just so you’ll know, you are on track! Your biggest battle now will be dealing with feelings of guilt – and having moments where you debate in your head whether or not you have made the right decision. You may also have times when you feel sorry for your son. This is O.K. – it comes with the territory.

Allow his consequence to take its full course. Then at some point in the future (when, in your gut, it feels right), tell your son that he’s welcome to come home – but under certain stipulations (here you will want to put a set of house rules in the form of a written contract).

Stay the course. Just for the short term, he needs to stay away from you. Where he sleeps is his problem. This is tough love (which is often tougher on the parent than the child).

If you backtrack and try to erase your son's current discomfort, you will be sending a strong message that abusing women has no real consequences. This, in turn, sets him up for failure in future relationships with women (his future wife may thank you for sticking to your guns today).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

"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 ...you 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 ...to re-think your new disciplinary strategies ...to 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.

==> Join Online Parent Support

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."

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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.

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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....

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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.

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