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

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

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"My son wants my partner out of the house and is telling me to choose..."

Dear Mark, My son wants my partner out of the house & is telling me to choose. He is mega angry. I've told him it is not his decision. But I am feeling very crushed & overwhelmed. My partner is too, but he is angry with my son in a sulky sort of way & the atmosphere here is a tinderbox. I feel very stuck, torn and scared.

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Here are some tips regarding father-figure and son conflict:

As weird, ironic and contrary to what seems apparent as it is, these situations can sometimes (sometimes) be worked out fairly simply. At least doing this in the context of counseling -- sort of a one-two punch -- it is possible to help a youngster accept that:

a) he can love his biological dad without being in danger of being hurt emotionally as long as he doesn't expect dad to be perfect or take missed contacts and whatnot as evidence of an inner lack of personal worth,

b) he can have a much better, rewarding relationship with his father-figure and can actually then have two dads,

c) he can use the experience to burn into his memory how it feels to be on the kid-end of this crappy situation and resolve not to do this to his own son some day,

d) he can give you credit for loving him enough to try to find him an additional (not a replacement) dad to make sure he had enough father-figures in his life,

and e) he can sort things out so he realizes suffering and complex relationships can work out such that you are smarter and feel better afterward.

Contrary to apparent expression of feelings, your partner is probably not the problem at all. Of course it is always possible that a father-figure is really a sadistic jerk. However, assuming that is not the case, it is not likely that the solution is to dissolve the relationship.

It's my experience that such kids are very hungry for a good relationship with a father-figure -- actually any father-figure. They want a good relationship with their biological father and are well aware that this is just not going to happen with him. This is an enormous struggle for the child.

Your partner in all likelihood can, with a bit of luck, find something fun to do with your child that can be fun for both. Sometimes it is tough, and a counselor can help a lot in this area. Basic rule of thumb is the trick to find something the child likes to do that your partner can do with him -- it doesn't work as well to have the child do things with a father-figure that the father-figure likes to do.

Your partner will be happier and have more patience if he reinterprets the hatefulness as a cry for help to have a safe, strong father-figure. It doesn't make it easy, but it makes it less difficult.

Your child identifies with his biological father. Any negativity about his father will be experienced as negativity about him. Thus, telling him his dad is a loser will translate to telling him he, himself, is a loser. Telling him his dad loves him but has a lot of trouble dealing with emotions and straightening out his behavior is more helpful. That is also, in all likelihood, what is actually happening with your son.

Your child may be feeling thrown away, devalued, unwanted. In spite of all sorts of people saying the opposite, you can probably assume that he is struggling with a great deal of anger toward himself -- assuming that he has done something to make his dad so angry, unloving, inconsiderate and touchy. This doesn't go away with talking. This goes away -- maybe -- as people demonstrate this is not the case. An experienced counselor can help with ideas about how to accomplish this while also working on opening up the child's willingness to change his mind.

Your son is probably experiencing a great deal of stress, conflict and confusion. You can't rely on what he is saying. Adults get very confused, hostile and grumpy under far less frustrating, distressing circumstances. It is no mystery that a child would. Adults will tell you what is wrong, but they may be very, very wrong. It is easier, sometimes, to figure out what is going on without asking the person who is so confused, upset and distressed.

Understand that when your son is dumping hateful emotions on your partner, this is probably an attempt to get some help dealing with his emotions, confusion and stress. It is also probably an indication that your partner is seen as safe to "reach out to" in order to get help. Yes, it’s a lot of stress to dump on poor father-figures, but kids in these situations do not feel comfortable confronting their biological dad. Confronting him may result in harsh retribution and a quick termination of the relationship.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Son Refuses to Go On Spring Break Trip with Family

Hello Mark,

First, thank you for your calm and sensible way of dealing with these problems. We have appreciated the help.

We have a dilemma. Spring break is coming and a trip has been planned. Our 17 year old son, for whom we started your program doesn't want to go. He would like to go on an alternate trip with a friend and his family, which would only be for part of the time we will be gone and just staying around town at home or with other friends the rest of the time.

One of the reasons we started your program was a little incident earlier in the year when we found he had a party with alcohol in the house when we were out of town. We tried to get him to talk to us about what he thought would be an appropriate punishment but when he didn't come up with anything on his own we came up with some restrictions he of course didn't agree with. He did stick to it pretty well with only a few changes that we discussed prior to the events. Another was his lack of motivation and sort of a passive aggressive way of dealing with us and blowing off chores and school. He's had a few angry outbursts but nothing violent towards us, he does have a punching bag that has gotten a workout on a couple of occasions.

Since starting your program things have improved but I'm still concerned about leaving him here while we're gone.

I thought about getting him to write an itinerary of where he would be each day with phone numbers of the homes he would be staying in so we could call there each evening and make sure he was actually in those places. The other idea was to write up a contract of what was expected of him while we were gone.

I'm feeling apprehensive but would really like to trust him to do the right thing. He will be going off to college next year so it would be great for him to show more maturity at this point.

If you could help in any way we would really appreciate it.

Thank You,

A.

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Hi A.,

Here are a few questions to think about:
  • Can your son understand and follow safety measures?
  • Does your son follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?
  • Does your son know basic first-aid procedures?
  • Does your son make good judgments about what kinds of risks to take?
  • Does your son show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores, and following directions?
  • Does your son understand and follow rules?
  • How does your son handle unexpected situations?
  • How calm does your son stay when things don't go his way?

Even if you're confident that your son does well with all of the above, it's wise to make some practice runs, or home-alone trials, before the big day. Let your son stay home alone for 30 minutes to an hour while you remain nearby and easily reachable. When you return, discuss how it went and talk about things that you might want to change or skills that your son may need to learn for the next time.

Even after you decide that your son is ready to stay home alone, you're bound to feel a little anxious when the time comes. But some practical steps taken in advance can make it easier for you both:

1. Schedule time to get in touch. Set up a schedule for calling. You might have your son call as soon as he walks in the door (if coming home to an empty house), or set up a time when you'll call home to check in. Figure out something that's convenient for both of you. Make sure your son understands when you'll be able to get in touch and when you might not be able to answer a call.

2. Set ground rules. Try to set up some special rules for when you're away and make sure that your son knows and understands them. Consider rules about:
  • answering the phone
  • getting along with siblings
  • having a friend or friends over while you're not there
  • Internet and computer rules
  • kitchen and cooking (you may want to make the oven and utensils like sharp knives off limits)
  • not telling anyone he is alone
  • opening the door for strangers
  • rooms of the house that are off limits, especially with friends
  • TV time and types of shows

3. Childproof your home. No matter how well your son follows rules, be sure to secure anything that could be a health or safety risk. Lock them up and put them in a place where your son cannot get to them or, when possible, remove them from your home. These items include:
  • alcohol
  • car keys
  • guns (if you do keep one, make sure it is locked up and leave it unloaded and stored away from ammunition)
  • lighters and matches
  • over-the-counter medications that could cause problems if taken in excess: sleeping pills, cough medicine, etc.
  • prescription medications
  • tobacco

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

Daughter is Angry with Mother Most of the Time

My 13 year old daughter is angry at me most of the time. It is hard to say anything to her without her snarkyness "don't talk to me" or "I know" ect. I never know if I should let it pass or jump on it. Then later she will ask rather nicely if she can go to a friends. Do I say "no" now because of the earlier rudeness that I endured BUT did not act on at the time? Week 2 is hard. So many issues and hard to pick where and what battles to tackle in the heap.

Also, her 16year old sister is so "good". This builds a lot of resentment with my 13year old. She wonders why all these rules only seem to apply to her. She always says we favor her sister. Her sister does what she is suppose to without problem. She is pleasant and works hard at school. I don't know what to say to my 13 year old about why only she had to have all these extra chores and rules.

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Teen anger takes many forms. It may be expressed as indignation and resentment, or rage and fury. It is the expression of teenage anger, the behavior that we see. Some teens may repress their anger and withdraw; others may be more defiant and destroy property. They will continue their behavior, or it may escalate, until they decide to look within themselves to the roots of their anger. But teenage anger is a feeling, an emotion, not a behavior. And anger is usually caused by something going on in a teen's life.

Teen anger can be a frightening emotion for the teen and for the parents, but it is not inherently harmful. Its negative expressions can include physical and verbal violence, prejudice, malicious gossip, antisocial behavior, sarcasm, addictions, withdrawal, and psychosomatic disorders. These negative expressions of teenage anger can devastate lives, destroying relationships, harming others, disrupting work, clouding effective thinking, affecting physical health, and ruining futures.

But, there is a positive aspect to such expression, as it can show others that a problem exists. Teenage anger is usually a secondary emotion brought on by fear. It can motivate us to resolve those things that are not working in our lives and help us face our issues and deal with the underlying reasons for the anger, specifically things such as:

• Abuse
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Grief
• Alcohol or substance abuse
• Trauma

Teens face a lot of emotional issues during this period of development. They're faced with questions of identity, separation, relationships, and purpose. The relationship between teens and their parents is also changing as teens become more and more independent. Parents often have a difficult time dealing with their teen's new-found independence. And it can bring up issues of the parents' own anger.

This can bring about frustration and confusion that can lead to anger and a pattern of reactive behavior for both parents and teens. That is, teens are simply negatively reacting to their parent's behaviors, and parents react back in an equally negative manner.

This sets up a self-reinforcing pattern of interaction. Unless we work to change our own behavior, we cannot help another change theirs. We need to respond rather than react to each other and to situations. The intention is not to deny the anger, but to control that emotion and find a way to express it in a productive or at least, a less harmful, manner.

Teens dealing with anger can ask these questions of themselves to help bring about greater self-awareness:
  • Where does this anger come from?
  • What situations bring out this feeling of anger?
  • Do my thoughts begin with absolutes such as "must," "should," "never?”
  • Are my expectations unreasonable?
  • What unresolved conflict am I facing?
  • Am I reacting to hurt, loss, or fear?
  • Am I aware of anger's physical signals (e.g., clenching fists, shortness of breath, sweating)?
  • How do I choose to express my anger?
  • To whom or what is my anger directed?
  • Am I using anger as a way to isolate myself, or as a way to intimidate others?
  • Am I communicating effectively?
  • Am I focusing on what has been done to me rather than what I can do?
  • How am I accountable for what I'm feeling?
  • How am I accountable for how my anger shows up?
  • Do my emotions control me, or do I control my emotions?

So what can teens and parents do? Listen to your teen and focus on feelings. Try to understand the situation from his or her perspective. Blaming and accusing only builds up more walls and ends all communication. Tell them how you feel, stick to facts, and deal with the present moment.

Show that you care and show your love. Work towards a solution where everyone gets something, and therefore feels okay about the resolution. Remember that anger is the feeling and behavior is the choice.

RE: "Do I say 'no' now because of the earlier rudeness that I endured BUT did not act on at the time?"  Only if you've told her ahead of time that backtalk and rude comments result in withheld privileges.

RE: "This builds a lot of resentment with my 13year old."  Click here for information on sibling rivalry


Mark Hutten, M.A.

Son Complains to Grandma Whenever He's Disciplined by Mom

"I AM NEW TO YOUR PROGRAM AND I DO HAVE A SITUATION I DIDN'T SEE ON YOUR SITE. I HAVE 6 KIDS, TWO OF WHICH ARE STEPSONS. THE OLDEST OF THE TWO IS THE ONE I AM HAVING ISSUES WITH. MY HUSBAND WORKS OFFSHORE AND IS GONE A LOT, SO I AM ON MY OWN A LOT OF THE TIME.

THE PROBLEM I KEEP ENCOUNTERING IS WHEN THE STEPSON GETS INTO TROUBLE OR IS NOT HAPPY WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE GOING HE WANTS TO CALL HIS GRANDMOTHER (MY MOTHER-IN-LAW) TO WHINE AND COMPLAIN TO HER.

SHE ALWAYS TRIES TO CONTROL WHAT GOES ON IN MY HOME AND HAS EVEN GONE TO HIS SCHOOL TO TALK TO HIS TEACHERS, COUNSELORS AND SO ON.

I REALLY HAVE REACHED THE END OF MY ROPE WITH THIS ISSUE AND FEEL LIKE I CAN'T EVEN DISCIPLINE HIM FOR FEAR OF WHAT SHE MIGHT DO OR SAY.

ANY ADVICE?

HOPELESS IN LOUISIANA, K."

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There is a thin line between being interfering and being helpful, and a child's grandparents seem to be constantly crossing that line.

When a child is born, the child's grandparents can be a great source of help, support and encouragement. Grandparents almost always know what to do when their grandchild child is unwell, not eating, not burping, not sleeping, crying too much, sneezing.... and so on. In fact, many women would call their mothers or mothers-in-law before calling their husbands, for advice regarding health issues. But when it comes to advice regarding child rearing, it suddenly seems as though grandparents have it all wrong.

There is a thin line between being interfering and being helpful, and a child's grandparents, (especially if they are your in-laws!) seem to be constantly crossing that line.

If you discuss your child's behavioral aspects with his grandparents, be prepared for advice. If you don't want to hear advice, then don't discuss their problems with them. It would be unfair on your part if you unburden your worries on them, and then when they offer solutions, argue with them about why what they are saying doesn't make sense.

Be prepared to heed some advice. Don't be completely closed to their inputs. After all, they did bring up your spouse, didn't they? And how wrong did they go? If you love your spouse and if he turned out to be a sensible, balanced and nice person, it makes sense for you to at least give their ideas a fair hearing even if such ideas oppose yours. It is always better to have an open mind with regard to child rearing since everything is so subjective.

It is true that you can bring up your child the way you feel is right, but in your strong desire to do this, don't discount good tips. Many mothers, feeling threatened by constant interference from in-laws, make it a point not to heed their advice. This is completely understandable, as it is just a defensive reaction. Instead, if you have a problem with your child's grandparent's interference, discuss it with them. Let them know that you feel a certain way on certain issues, and that you would welcome their suggestions on other matters or when you ask for them.

It is all too easy for parents to criticize in-laws for interfering, but not all understand the emotion behind such interference. True, many in-laws are unnecessarily dominating, but irrespective, if you feel that their ideas do not completely go against your beliefs, you could perhaps give in to them every once in a while to maintain peace, especially if you are living together. Don't refuse to listen to them because you know that your husband is on your side or because you know that you have enough freedom and really can do whatever you want. Instead of simply turning a blind eye to what grandparents feel, discuss it with them and let them know why you feel strongly about doing things in another manner.

Always remember that grandparents nowadays have valuable experience, and make for the best baby sitters. These days, with people staying healthier in their old age, grandparents can participate in various activities with their children. They can tell them stories of the days gone by, inculcate in children a sense of family pride, and increase a child's knowledge about his culture and heritage. So bear this in mind the next time you are tempted to snap at them for interfering. It is for your own peace of mind.


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

How to Deal with Excessive Tiredness in Your Teenager

Hi Mark,

K's current problems are - bad sleep patterns, and not spending enough time on his study (in fact, almost no time).

Given the success of using the program for his other behaviours (still ups and downs, but he has actually modified his behaviour because of this program), I would like to state these rules & consequences:

1. No sleeping after school (or during the day on weekends). Consequence - phone disabled for 24 hours.

2. At least 1.5 hrs of study per night - in a way that is transparent. that is, when I look in on him, he should be entirely open about what homework he is doing. If he doesn't do enough time, or refuses to tell me what he is doing - Consequence - phone disabled for 24 hrs.

He had a blood test to rule out a medical cause for his tiredness (we get the results in a couple of days) - obviously if there is medical issue and the doctor says he needs more rest, I wouldn't have this rule, but I am confident that won't be the case, and I would like to have clear plan and clear expectations starting from next week.

As always, I appreciate your advice.

Thanks,

V.

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Hi V.,

I like it. Good plan.

I wouldn’t worry too much about any physical problems related to his being tired. I doubt that the tests will reveal anything. Most teens are at the developmental stage in which there is so much “growth-spurting” going on that tiredness is the rule rather than the exception. During the adolescent growth spurt, more sleep is required than previously because of increased growth (growth essentially goes on only during the hours of sleep).

The social pressures of the teen years - staying up late to watch TV, text on the phone endlessly with friends, or do the homework that should have been done earlier in the evening - when combined with the need to arise early in the morning for school, can easily create a situation in which the adolescent is chronically sleep deprived.

Inadequate sleep usually results in some variation of daytime sleepiness or tiredness, but may also curiously result in hyperactivity, school problems, emotional problems, and other daytime behavioral difficulties.

Before considering what might be causing “abnormal daytime sleepiness,” it is wise to begin by determining whether your son is even getting enough sleep to begin with. When a child goes to sleep at night and when he arouses in the morning may well be the explanation for sleepiness and lead to easy resolution of it.

For example, a 15-year-old should be getting about 8-3/4 hours of sleep per night. An 18-year-old needs about 8-1/4 hours.

Questions to consider:

Does your son consume any medications or drugs that can influence sleep patterns or lead to daytime sleepiness?
  • antihistamines
  • anti-seizure medications for epileptic children may cause drowsiness, especially phenobarbital
  • caffeine (colas, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, tea)
  • chocolate (active ingredient is theobromine, closely related to caffeine with similar effects)
  • in adolescents, consider drugs of abuse, notably cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol

Are there any abnormal sleep behaviors?
  • abnormal sleep positions (for example, the child cannot sleep unless neck is positioned awkwardly)
  • bedwetting
  • night terrors or confusional arousals (screaming or crying while not totally awake)
  • sleepwalking
  • Snoring or sleep apnea (prolonged cessation of loud breathing noises in sleep)

Are there daytime problems with school performance or behavior?
  • emotional problems, teariness
  • hyperactivity, aggressiveness or disruptive behavior
  • inattention, mind wandering
  • interference with peer relations
  • poor grades - is the child functioning well at grade level?
  • sleepiness in class

I hope this helps,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Teenage Son Is Emotionally Abusive Toward Father

Hi Mark, I seem to have reached stalemate. We are not having as many arguments as I refuse to get angry and always use my best poker face, however my son has a nasty angry response to every single thing I say, even if it is just hello. The responses are normally "shut up, don't speak to me, I don't want to talk to you, F... off " …I understand this is him just trying to push my buttons, but how can we move on from this. I can't have any conversation. I have tried asking him once per week to join us for dinner, but to no avail (although I will keep going). There is no way he would ever accompany us on an outing. I know we still have a long way to go. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks, Steve.

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Hi S.,

First of all, it is not uncommon for boys to have serious power struggles with their fathers – and girls to struggle with their mothers.

Second, I suggest that you stop trying to “bond” with him – that’s right - stop it!

Here’s why:

The true paradox is the harder you try to win-over an intense child, the more you lose him. Teenagers, by their very nature, want to be separate from their parents. But strong-willed, out-of-control teenagers take the term “autonomy-seeking” to a whole new level.

Let’s look into the mind of your son (the bad news first):
  1. He does NOT like you (although he loves you in the deep recesses of his heart, and if you died suddenly, he would be devastated).
  2. He probably thinks that you are a “geek” or a “nerd” – therefore he does NOT want to be anything like you.
  3. He takes the father-son relationship for granted.
  4. He creates distance in order to preserver his autonomy.
  5. The behavior he uses to create distance comes in the form of verbal assaults.
  6. He has no plans of changing this cycle any time soon.

The good news:
  1. This will all change when he leaves the nest and has to live out in the “real world.”
  2. After a few months raising his first child – he will realize that “dad” wasn’t such a “bad guy” after all – that’s right …he will “like you” again.

Back to the paradox—

Just as “the harder you try to win-over an intense child, the more you lose him” - the opposite is true as well. And this is where it may get a bit tough for you.

You should work toward emotional detachment. Once you are truly “emotionally detached,” here’s what happens:
  1. You won’t be as likely to take his attacks personally. Instead, you will view them as an exaggerated need to be independent.
  2. You won’t try harder than your son to preserve the relationship, thus you will be much less stressed out, confused and aggravated.
  3. Your son will stop taking the relationship for granted, thus you will garner more displays of respect from him.
  4. You will spend more time and energy taking care of YOU.
  5. You will be able to cultivate the patience required to ride out the storm.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should be his “whipping post.” You cannot just roll over and allow him to be abusive toward you. This would send a very bad message that "it is o.k. to abuse authority figures."

I’m going to use a very unpopular term here for dramatic emphasis because I want to get my point across in no uncertain terms: You absolutely cannot be perceived as a “pussy” in your son’s eyes. If you display any signs of weakness whatsoever, your son will use you as prey.

In the event he is calling you names or using excessive profanity, a consequence (see “When You Want Something From Your Kid” – online version of the eBook) should be implemented. However, this doesn’t mean you should adopt an abusive attitude in return. As the old saying goes, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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The Teacher Is Picking On My Son

Mark, I am into the second week of the program and have made some progress with my son. However, he has a teacher that seems to have the ability to reverse in one 45 minute class period what took me 3 days to accomplish. It frustrates the hell out of me. About a month ago my son had a hernia repair operation and missed one week of school to recover. That seems to be where things started to break down. She failed to send his assignments like the other teachers did and gave him zeros on the assignments he missed. I have lodged several complaints with the school about this. In short, there seems to be constant tension between the two. She calls me almost daily complaining about misbehavior in her class and sends him to the principal's office. Here are some of the "offenses" he has committed that results in him getting put on detention. "He rolled his eyes at me." "He gave me a funny look." "He wouldn't answer a question when called on."

Mark, he has no problems with any of his other teachers and is doing quite well in his other classes. I believe he feels like he is getting picked on by her and singled out. I have asked the school to move him to another class. However, they so far have refused. I certainly don't want his problems in her class to affect his other classes and desperately am trying to find a solution. He is very upset about this class. Any suggestions? Thanks, R.

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If you think there may be a problem between this teacher and your son, here's a plan of action:

Gather the facts— Try to remain objective and open-minded. If there is a problem, don’t immediately assume that it is entirely the teacher's fault; it could be a problem with your child or the school. If your school or teacher will allow it, sit in and observe what goes on in the classroom. If parent observation is not permitted, talk with other parents to see if their children are having problems. Also talk with parents whose child had this teacher in past years to determine if there is an ongoing problem.

Document the problems— Write down the times and dates of incidents of a teacher's inappropriate behavior. If other parents are noticing problems, ask them to do the same.

Call or meet with the teacher— Schedule a face-to-face meeting if you feel a phone call won't resolve the problem.

Approach the teacher as a professional and an ally— Avoid a confrontational attitude and stick to the facts. Try to stay clear of personal criticism. Focus on classroom practices, curriculum and what you feel your child needs. Once you have had a conversation with the teacher, give him the opportunity and a fair amount of time to improve the situation.

Follow the school's policy— Your school should have a policy on teacher-parent disagreements. Ask what the policy is and follow it. Give this process time to work.

Contact the principal— If you don't see any progress after a few weeks, take your concerns to the principal. But be aware that it is always better if you can resolve the problem without involving the principal. Once you involve the principal, you cross a line, and your relationship and your child's relationship with the teacher will be forever changed.

Contact the district superintendent— If you still haven't resolved the problem after speaking with the principal, contact the district superintendent. Ask what the district's policy is on evaluating teachers and how teachers are assigned to schools in the district. Gather other parents with you who are concerned about the teacher. Realize that this process takes time and may not end in a quick solution, but there is hope if you are persistent in working with other parents and continue to voice your concerns.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

What To Do When You and Your Spouse Disagree On Discipline

"My husband and I have very different parenting styles and that has really worked against us over the years …I tend to be strict while my husband is not and I feel that I need to compensate for his lack of discipline and follow through. I'm constantly clashing with my kids and tired of being the wicked witch."

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When parents have different disciplining styles, there's bound to be dissension and arguing. Tension's a given anytime two or more people work on the same project but each take a different approach.

Co-parenting is similar to any other partnership. Each person brings to the table what's been learned along the way. As parents, we're influenced by the disciplinary approaches we experienced growing up, and we tend to apply them to our children-often without first talking them through with our partner.

Imagine a baseball team-eager to win a game-but guided by two coaches who follow different rules and dish out contradictory information. Imagine the tension and the reactions of the players as they witness the coaches quarreling. If you and your husband fight in front of the children, you may not be aware of the ways in which they are affected. Some children may learn "that must be the way people resolve conflicts." Others may learn how to play one parent against the other, which causes even more confusion and distress in the family.

Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

1. Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is, or is about to, get too heated and needs to be halted. Make a commitment both to honor – and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling off period. Or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion. Or write down what you're feeling and later share it with your partner, who might better understand where you're coming from.

2. Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in kids’ behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. It should come as no surprise that your toddler becomes defiant or your preschooler has an occasional temper tantrum. Talk ahead of time about how each of you would handle these predictable situations. That way you’ll have fewer conflicts when they occur.

3. Create your own family "rule book." Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Your family, like a baseball team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

4. Do not to go overboard in trying to avoid arguments. Having small squabbles in front of the kids – and then resolving them peacefully – can actually be good for them; it shows that it's possible to disagree with someone you love, and that relationships don't end just because people are quarreling with each other.

5. Don’t be trapped by your past. That includes both your own childhood and the style of discipline you may have used in an earlier marriage. Look for ways to explore, with your spouse, your unquestioned assumptions about disciplining kids. One good way to do that is to take a parenting class together. That does two things: It helps you realize how differently other people respond to the same situations you face as parents, and it gives you and your spouse a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.

6. Don't let negative childhood experiences determine your decision making about discipline. Keep your focus on the positive aspects of your family life in childhood to bring to your current parenting practices. This approach will free you to replace discipline strategies that don't work for both parents because of beliefs based in families of origin with solution-focused practices that respect and continue the positive experiences of both parents' childhoods.

7. Have a conversation about the ways childhood histories may be influencing the disagreement about discipline. Take a problem-solving approach to identify: (1) What is the specific child-rearing issue that is causing disagreement between parents? (2) What are the feelings and beliefs that each parent has about the issue that may be rooted in childhood family history? (3) What problem-solving alternatives can each of you commit to that will resolve the disagreement and unite both parents in adapting the beliefs and practices of your families of origin to your family life today?

8. Negotiate a Plan in Calm Waters. Sit down with your spouse and try to agree on ways to discipline at a time when nothing is wrong. When you discuss things calmly, you're more likely to come up with a plan you can both stick to. This will allow you to talk about what's best for your child, and not "who's right."

9. Present a Unified Front. Kids understand when their moms & dads feel differently about disciplining, no matter what their age. Kids will often get away with misbehaving simply by creating an argument between you and your spouse — and this not only lets them off the hook, it creates a problem between the moms & dads. Make sure that your child sees both parents following the same guidelines, no matter what the scenario. Once your kids start receiving the same treatment from both parents, they'll stop using your disagreements as a way to avoid punishment.

10. Put your childhood experiences in historical perspective. Gender roles, child safety issues, environmental factors, and cultural norms change dramatically across the generations. What worked for your family 'back in the day' may not transfer comfortably to your current family situation. What are the issues in modern family life that trigger a strong belief that the values and child-rearing practices from your childhood are important to uphold and continue in your own family?

11. Recognize that strong beliefs about child rearing may have their basis in childhood family experiences. At the same time, know that your spouse's beliefs have the same powerful roots.

12. Recognize What Your Arguments Do to Your Kids. No child likes to see his or her parents fight. When you argue about what to do with your kids, you create a troubling environment for them, which could have serious long-term effects. Fighting with your spouse shifts the focus away from your child — and how they can learn to stop misbehaving — and on to a "parent versus parent" situation.

13. Remember the positive experiences from your childhood. Think about your everyday life rather than the major events. What was going on around you during those happy times? It's fun to share these memories with your family, so make them a part of your traditions and family life. What are the positive values and childhood experiences that you want to uphold and continue in your family?

14. Remember your successes. During your marriage, you and your husband have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations -- with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You can also be successful at ending arguments in front of the kids if you really want to. It won't be easy, but it will be rewarding. And your kids will be the ultimate winners.

15. Seek professional help from a good Marriage & Family Therapist if you continue to struggle with co-parenting issues.

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When Your Child Refuses To Go To School

"My 15 year old son refuses to go to school, but otherwise is a good kid. How can I make him do school work? He attends a private school. He says he can't "force" himself to do it."

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Kids love to learn. Learning is as natural as breathing to them--they absorb every single thing that happens! They learn through play, they learn from the behavior of the kids and adults around them, they learn from their own experiments. By all rights, going to school, where there will be new experiences, many kids, and a chance to master powerful skills like reading and math, should be exciting and fun for them!

Their minds don't function well unless this bottom line condition of being welcome and appreciated is met. At school, they need to know that their educators like them and think they're special. They need to know that they won't be bullied or made fun of on the playground or in the hallways. They need encouragement, high expectations, and a good deal of fun. Play, which is the language and work of young kids, is still deeply important to kids of school age. The more they are allowed to play in their learning activities, the faster they absorb information and new skills. At home, kids need kindness, affection, and some measure of one-on-one time with their moms and dads, even if it's has to be as little as a five-minute snuggle before going to sleep every night or the ride in the car to the Boy Scout meeting once a week.

There are several basic ideas about helping kids learn that aren't well understood in our culture. In fact, they're not well understood in most cultures of the world. For schools to foster learning, and for moms and dads to support their kids, we grown-ups need to see that these learning needs of kids are met both at home and in the schools.

Here are a few of the key concepts that aren't yet well-understood:
  • Kids learn best through play and hands-on activities. The best teacher is experience, experience, experience! We need classrooms in which kids are doing things together, experimenting, and teaching each other what they've learned. In particular, free play without competition or preset rules is a great builder of kids’ intellect, imagination, and confidence. Jumping on the beds at home, chasing around the house, and wrestling and pillow fights (the kids win, of course!) are the kinds of personal, physical play that lift kids' spirits and create enough fun that they can manage to stay hopeful even when days at school aren't inspiring. If life feels like drudgery, learning won't take place. So free play is vital. It keeps your youngster's spark of hope and interest alive!
  • Kids need large amounts of physical affection and closeness. Closeness fuels their confidence and frees their minds of worries about whether or not they're OK. If they're unsure about whether they're OK, they can't concentrate on learning.
  • Kids need the freedom to make mistakes and ask questions without fear of shame or belittlement. Mistakes and "failures" teach as effectively as successes, as long as a youngster continues to be respected.
  • Kids need to feel loved, or at least understood and respected, in order for their minds to be clear enough to learn.
  • Children's keen sense of justice demands that they and others be treated thoughtfully and fairly. Fairness, to kids, means limits but not anger, boundaries but not belittlement, facing problems but not attacking people for having problems.
  • Schools are not set up to help kids with the tensions that keep them from learning and getting along. This is a job we moms and dads need to do. It's a very hard job, one that was never done for us. It feels all wrong to allow a youngster to cry on and on without fixing anything, without sending him to his room or insisting that he pull himself together. But listen. Listening heals. Listen your way through a big cry or tantrum once, without trying to "fix" his feelings or solve the problem, and you'll see how well it works to clear your youngster's mind and restore his sense of closeness to you.
  • The huge need kids have for one-on-one attention while they learn is natural. It's the school environment, where so many kids need to compete for the attention of just one adult, that's not natural. Kids' needs feel bothersome to moms and dads and to educators, not because the kids are out of line, but because our society is out of line. Policymakers and citizens haven't yet decided to give young kids enough adult attention in school, and moms and dads enough support at home, to meet natural human needs for support and attention. When schools are genuinely supportive to kids, we'll look back at present class sizes, at the lack of support for educators, and at the lack of services for kids experiencing difficulties in learning, and think of conditions in the year 2000 as primitive indeed!
  • What helps immensely is something we've always been taught to avoid at all costs. If you can sit close by while your youngster has a good cry about school, or a tantrum about not wanting to do homework, your youngster will do the work of draining some of the bad feelings that have paralyzed him. Emotional release helps kids focus their attention and regain their ability to be hopeful about learning. Your youngster won't sound reasonable while he cries or rages. He'll believe very strongly in the terrible feelings he's having. But surprisingly, the crying and the chance to make sure you know how bad it feels inside has a deeply healing effect. So try to keep from arguing and reasoning with him, and stay close while he "cleans the skeletons out of the closet" with his tears and his bleak or angry thoughts. He'll finish. The longer he has been able to cry, the more improvement you will see in his ability to concentrate and to believe in himself.
  • When a youngster isn't able to concentrate or to learn, there's usually an emotional issue that blocks his progress. It feels bad on the inside when you can't think! It feels scary on the inside when you can't do what's expected of you, and you don't know why or what to do about it! This is the position kids are in when they can't write a story, can't memorize their times tables, or can't sit down to their homework. They feel upset, and often scared. They also feel alone.
When we moms and dads see our youngster caught in upset around learning, it's usually infuriating. Our youngster's problems make us feel tired and worn. Our thoughts are something like, "By now, he should be able to do school work on his own! Why do I have to get into it?!" We badly want our youngster's problems to go away so we can get a little peace!

Assisting Our Kids, Supporting Their Schools

Almost every youngster will experience some difficult times in school. And almost every parent feels upset, helpless, and/or angry when these troubles surface. Our strong love for our kids and our frustration with a society that doesn't offer much support to its young people makes it hard to think clearly when our kids are having a hard time.

There are a few guiding principles that many people find helpful when they hit a hard patch:
  • First, listen to your youngster about the difficulty. He's feeling hurt and upset, and he can't solve the problem in that state. See if you can be warm and positive enough to help him have a big cry or a tantrum. Kids can often work through their feelings of victimization and come up with their own solutions to troubles at school, if they have the chance to offload the feelings in big, hard cries at home.
  • If he wants you to approach a teacher or other students, listen well before you attempt to find solutions. A teacher, principal, or student needs to have their side of the story heard before they will be able to change a viewpoint or cooperate toward a fresh solution. If things aren't working well, they feel badly about it (even if they're acting like they don't). Fresh, workable behavior comes only from a mind that's been freed a bit from its troubles by a good listener, a listener who cares about all the parties involved. Your thoughts are important, and working toward a solution is important. But listening well to the others involved is as vital as tilling hard-packed soil before you attempt to plant a new seed.
  • It doesn't help to blame your youngster, yourself, or the teacher for the difficulty. Blame wastes energy and makes others feel worse than they already do. Because blame spreads bad feelings, it gets in the way of the fresh thinking and cooperation you'll need in order to build solutions. You aren't to blame. You're working as hard as you know how that this difficult job of parenting. Your youngster isn't to blame. He's doing the best he can, and is carrying burdens he hasn't told you about yet, or doesn't know how to shed yet. The teacher is not to blame. No matter who has made mistakes, the heart of the matter is the lack of support and assistance for everyone involved.
  • Let your youngster be in charge of the solutions. After your youngster has shed big feelings of upset, and after you've spent some time just being close to him without trying to solve the problem, ask him what he wants to do. Listen carefully. There may be a role you can play in advocating for him with the teacher or helping him talk with his friends. But don't assume that because he brought his feelings to you, that he wants you to take charge of the situation. Many times, kids can think of how they want to take charge after one or several good cries.
  • Problem-solving goes better if we find a listener, too! When our kids struggle, we feel as frustrated and disappointed as they do! When they meet with unfairness, we want to storm and rage until the threat to them is gone. When they seem to be unable to help themselves at home, we aim our frustrations at them, driving them further into their shells of hopelessness. In short, when our kids meet trouble, we feel troubled too. To be good allies and problem-solvers, we need someone to listen to us, perhaps again and again, to how we feel and to the things we've tried. Someone listening to how angry or disappointed or exhausted we feel freshens our communication with our kids, their friends, and their educators. Our problem-solving effectiveness is 100% improved if we decide to find a listener and let them hear our fears and our frustrations before we try to help!
  • We live in a society that doesn't value its kids or the people who work with them. There is talk of the importance of education, and many skilled and goodhearted people working in that field, but too little funding and respect are funneled toward schools. In most schools, human caring and teaching expertise is spread far too thin. You, your youngster, and your youngster's teacher are all stressed because learning conditions aren't optimal. Constructive action means to look for people's strengths, call on their good intentions, and perhaps to look for additional help.
 

When Your Child Is An "Emotional Bully"

Hi Mark— I want to start by thanking you again for your continued support and constant flow of information on your website. I have just completed the program and have seen positive changes in my 11-year-old son at home. He still continues to CONSTANTLY ANNOY others and put them down. He does this to his friends and other children in our neighborhood. He has been tackled two times this summer because of his mouth. I do not know what to do. I know that he is constantly putting down people because of his own self-esteem. We are trying hard to follow all steps of the program. I review them several times a week. Please let me know if there is something else we can do to help him not to make fun of people and feel better about himself. Thank you. J.

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Hi J.,

What you’re referring to is a form of “emotional bullying.” Psychologists used to believe that bullies have low self-esteem, and put down other people to feel better about themselves. While many bullies are themselves bullied at home or at school, new research shows that most bullies actually have excellent self-esteem. Bullies usually have a sense of entitlement and superiority over others, and lack compassion, impulse control and social skills. They enjoy being cruel to others and sometimes use bullying as an anger management tool, the way a normally angry person would punch a pillow.

All bullies have certain attitudes and behaviors in common. Bullies dominate, blame and use others. They have contempt for the weak and view them as their prey. They lack empathy and foresight, and do not accept responsibility for their actions. They are concerned only about themselves and crave attention.

Bullies are not born that way, although certain genetic traits are often present. Some children's personalities are naturally more aggressive, dominating and/or impulsive. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are more likely to become bullies. However, having such inborn traits does not mean that a child will automatically become a bully. Bullying is a learned behavior, not a character trait. Bullies can learn new ways to curb their aggression and handle conflicts.

Bullies come from all backgrounds. Researchers have not been able to find a link between bullies and any particular religion, race, income level, divorce, or any other socio-economic factor. Girls are just as likely as boys to bully and abuse others verbally, although boys are three times more likely to be physically abusive.

There are different types of bullies produced in different types of homes. There are seven kinds of bullies. Among them are the hyperactive bully who does not understand social cues and therefore reacts inappropriately and often physically. The detached bully plans his attacks and is charming to everyone but his victims. The social bully has a poor sense of self and manipulates others through gossip and meanness. The bullied bully gets relief from his own sense of helplessness by overpowering others.

Bullies are often victims of bullies themselves. 40% of bullies are themselves bullied at home or at school. Research shows that a victim at home is more likely to be a bully at school. The reason may be that when a bully watches another child appear weak and cowering, it disturbs him because it reminds him of his own vulnerability and behavior at home.

Bullies have immature social skills and believe other children are more aggressive than they actually are. If you brush up against a bully, he may take it as a physical attack and assault you because "you deserve it, you started it," etc. Research indicates that bullies see threats where there are none, and view other children as more hostile than they are. The hyperactive bully will explode over little things because he lacks social skills and the ability to think in depth about a conflict.

A bully's parents may be permissive and unable to set limits on their child's behavior. From early on, the bully can do whatever he wants without clear consequences and discipline. His parents may have been abused themselves as children and view disciplinary measures as a form of child abuse. While their lax style may have been fine for an easy-going, older sibling, it will not work on this more aggressive child. This bully may be allowed to dominate younger siblings and even take over his entire family - everything will revolve around his agenda.

A bully's parents often discipline inconsistently. If his parents are in a good mood, the child gets away with bad behavior. If the same parent is under stress, he or she will take it out in angry outbursts against the child. This child never internalizes rules of conduct or respect for authority.

Self-centered, neglectful parents can create a cold, calculating bully. Since his parents do not monitor his activities or take an interest in his life, he learns to abuse others when no authority figure is looking. His bullying can be planned and relentless, as he constantly humiliates his victim, often getting other children to join him.

A bully has not learned empathy and compassion. The parents of bullies often have prejudices based on race, sex, wealth and achievement. Other people are just competitors who stand in the way. Their child must always be the best in sports or academics, and others must be kept in an inferior position. A University of Chicago study suggested that bullies watch more aggression on television and in family interactions. Aggression is rewarded and respected, and humiliating others is tolerated. Compassion and empathy seem like weaknesses.

In order for the behavior to be bullying, your child must be abusing another child physically, verbally or socially not just once, but repeatedly. There must be an imbalance of power: your child must be bigger, stronger or more powerful than the other child. However, the power can be “social power.” In that case, your child uses his power to exclude the other one from cliques and activities. The other child must have asked your child to stop bullying him or her. The victim has to feel threatened and has to believe your child will keep harming him.

A bully will first either blame the victim or act like the victim himself. Many cry and say the other child provoked the situation. But if a teacher, bus driver or other person in authority has told you that your child is repeatedly terrorizing another, accept responsibility that your child may have a problem and that you are willing to fix it.

First, agree to work on the problem. If the victim’s family wants your child kept away from theirs, agree to that and keep in contact with them once a week on the phone for a few months.

Create a less violent, angry atmosphere at home. Don’t let your child play violent video games or watch television shows in which people act mean to one another or use violence. Use a rational approach to discipline and try not to lose your temper in front of your child. If the house rules vary from day to day, make them consistent and follow up if your child breaks them. Don’t use physical punishment or humiliation to discipline your child.

Read aloud books about bullies. Let him take care of a pet. Invite other children over to your house and monitor them. Let them play in a non-competitive way.

Enroll your child into groups that encourage cooperation and friendship, such as religious social groups or Scouts. Have him volunteer to learn the joy of helping others.

You are not alone. Other parents have had this problem and fixed it. One parent said the best thing that ever happened in their son’s life was when he changed from being a bully into a compassionate human being.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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When Your Teenager Steals Money

Mark, I have just got to the bit about fair fighting and positive framing, really interesting and I can see how it would work a lot of the time but one of the biggest areas of conflict between my son and me is money, however much he gets he always wants more and will steal from me or his older brother and sister to get it. He has just stolen £370 from his brother's bank account by taking the card and pin no from the post. I can see how I can frame the action positively but how can I make a win win solution for him. He has had his allowance stopped until the money is paid, he is taking some out of his savings (controlled by absent father) but even so he will be weeks without money while he pays it back, I know he will take any opportunity he can to steal but I don't see how i can give him money even if he was willing to do chores, that seems disrespectful to his brother who worked two part time jobs to get the money. Help?! C.

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Hi C.,

There are many things that moms can do to address stealing after it has occurred:

  • Apply consequences. Moms should decide what the specific consequences are for stealing, and apply them every time stealing occurs. Moms should inform their teens of these consequences before they are used. Consistency is very important.
  • Confront quickly. Just as it's important for moms not to overreact, it is also important that moms don't under-react. When moms find out that their teenager is stealing, they should confront and deal with the stealing immediately. The longer stealing is allowed to continue uncorrected, the more difficult it is to correct later on.
  • Remain calm. When moms discover that their teenager has stolen something it is very important that they don't overreact. Moms should keep in mind that all teens take things that don't belong to them at one time or another. Moms who become overly upset may instill feelings of guilt and shame in their teenager, which can affect self-esteem. Moms should try to remain calm instead, and should deal with stealing behaviors in as matter-of-fact a manner as possible.

Here are some more suggestions:

==> Correct the behavior. Correcting means making some kind of restitution. For example, if a teenager takes a candy bar from a store, correcting would involve requiring the teenager to return to the store and return the candy bar (if it isn't half-eaten), or if the candy bar can't be returned, paying for the candy bar. If the teenager has no money to pay for what he or she has taken, moms can loan the teenager the money and then subtract it from an allowance, or require that the teenager do chores around the house to earn the money to pay for it. It might also be a good idea for moms to require that the teenager apologize to the person from whom the item was stolen. Sometimes this is very difficult for teens, so moms may not want force the issue if their teenager is unable to make an apology. It is, however, very important that the teenager go along on the trip to make the return. It is very important that the teenager assume responsibility for correcting the misbehavior.

==> Apply natural consequences. After correcting the behavior, consequences should be applied. Having to do extra chores around the house to earn the money to pay for a stolen item is an example of a natural consequence. Another example is not allowing the teenager who stole the candy bar to have sweets for a certain period of time.

==> Additional Ideas:

  • Don't interrogate teens or force them to self-incriminate. Moms should not force their teens to admit to stealing. Teens often lie to protect themselves. If moms aren't pretty sure that their teenager has stolen something, they probably should not apply consequences. Instead, they should let their teenager know that they are skeptical, and express hope that their teenager will be honest with them.
  • Don't shame teens for stealing. Moms should try not to make their teens feel guilty for stealing. They should also try not to call their teen’s names, for example a thief or a liar. Such tactics can be very damaging to teen's self-esteem. Instead, moms should let their teens know that they are disappointed in their teen's behavior, but this does not mean that they are bad people. They should then apply consequences and treat the situation matter-of-factly.
  • Help teens find ways of earning their own money. Moms should make sure that their teens have some sort of regular income. If teens have money of their own to spend as they wish, they will be more likely to buy what they want instead of stealing it. Teens can earn money by doing chores around the house, etc.
  • Label the behavior. It is very important that moms call the behavior exactly what it is. For example, moms shouldn't call taking (without permission) what doesn't belong to one's self as "borrowing." Teens who are able to understand the concept of ownership should be told that they are "stealing" when they take something that does not belong to them.
  • Provide adequate supervision. Moms should make sure that they know what their teens are up to. Teens who are not monitored closely by their moms tend to be more likely to steal and to engage in other problem behaviors.
  • Seek professional help for persistent problems. If stealing becomes a chronic or significant problem, moms should contact a mental health professional for assistance.
  • Understand why the behavior occurred. Different teens steal for different reasons. Because of this, it is important for moms to try to find out why their teens steal. Asking a teenager why he or she has stolen something will probably not give moms the answers they need. They may need to look at what's going on in the teenager's life, what personal problems the teenager may be having, etc. Once moms find out why, corrective measures can be taken to eliminate or minimize the behavior. For example, moms could set up an allowance/chore system for a teenager who stole because he has no spending money of his own.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Should You "Spy" on Your Sneaky Teenager?

“Should you secretly snoop on your teenage child? I am not talking about where you're open with them about your surveillance. I am talking about clandestine snooping: Reading their e-mail …checking their text messages …reading their diaries …eavesdropping on their conversations with friends …searching their room …searching their jeans -- all in secret.”

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Probably. The obvious argument for secret snooping is that you might discover something serious that you would not have known about otherwise. Maybe they are having sex with much older partners. Maybe they are selling drugs. Maybe they are thinking about suicide.

Secret snooping has a definite downside. It is dishonest. And if they find out - which they often do - kids feel betrayed.

I don't like snooping. I especially don't like secret snooping. That said, I am a believer in not being too trusting of your teenagers. Mom & dads regularly underestimate their kid's involvement in risky behavior. And teens do all they can do to keep those activities hidden from us. Fortunately, there are many things you can do before resorting to secrecy.

The first is to keep an ongoing relationship with your kids. They may at times push you away, but don't take it personally. Keep going back for more. The closer your relationship with them, the more likely they will share their world with you.

Second, when they go out, ask questions. The parent of a teenager needs to become an expert at asking very specific questions: Where are you going? Who are you going with? What will you be doing? The more specific details you demand, the less room they have for risky behavior.

Third, tell them what you consider serious risks and why - what you really think about sex, drugs, drinking.

Your last tool is open surveillance - in effect, snooping, but with their knowledge.

Snooping is a personal decision based on what you as a parent are comfortable with. Too little oversight risks giving too much wiggle room. Too much risks full rebellion. But you may want to be open about it. This is surveillance they may hate, but they know you are doing it.

Ultimately, snooping is one of those “do-the-ends-justify-the-means” deals.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

He just leaves early in the day and shows up after we're asleep...

T__ and I joined your website for our 16 year old quite a few months back. Let me say this after having gone through many different programs for difficult teenagers, your program is very solid. We have told our current counselors and connections about it so that other parents may use your very good resources, too.

== > Thank you for your kinds words.

Our son is to the point now where he no longer argues about items (this should be a good thing). He just says "ok" and then takes off. He said that he really doesn't need us as parents, he doesn't need to do the chores or contribute anymore, and he just leaves early in the day and shows up after we're asleep.

== > You can file runaway charges. Also, if he’s violating curfew – that’s another legal charge that will need to go to court.

We have gone through his room and removed his negative influences - computer, clothing, accessories, electronic gadgets, etc. We left positive things, like a bed, desk, guitar (as an outlet), and normal school clothing.

== > Did you include, “If you choose to be home by the designated time for a period of 3 days – then you get all your stuff back” …?

We have filed unruly and missing charges, and we're in a juvenile court diversion program. Both sides basically tell us that because he's not doing anything violent or really bad, the court is not going to do anything to him. Here's someone that knows how to ride the system (and seems to have lost respect for the system).

== > That’s true, but here’s the upshot: You are protecting yourself from some potential liability issues. For example, if something bad happened to your son – or if your son committed a harmful act to others or their property, you will have solid evidence that you tried your best to get him “off the streets.”

Part of the problem is that his friends and their parents just give food, shelter, money, etc, because he is very charming to them. He misleads them about his situation to his benefit. We asked them why they do it, and they just say that they like doing it.

== > Two points here: (1) Of course he misleads …that’s what all kids do. Don’t worry about it. (2) Nothing is as comfortable as “home.” So don’t be fooled into thinking that he is escaping uncomfortable emotions associated with his poor choices. I can see that he is doing a class “A” job of convincing you that your disciplinary techniques are having no effect.

Any advice where to go from here would be helpful. We are sticking with the program basics, and we are hoping it will kick in again.

== > I think you’ll need to kick it up a notch.

You could lock him out of the house – but he may just pound on the door and wake everybody up. Even if the cops showed up, all they would do is give him a short, meaningless lecture and tell you to let him in.

A better idea would be to ground him FROM his room. Find a way to keep the door locked (and only you have a key). Bottom line, he is – as you say – playing the system. He has a right to live in your house – but he does not have a right to have a private bedroom. A private bedroom is a privilege – a privilege that’s EARNED by following house rules.

One of questions is this - does the "no free handouts" cover school expenses and such?

== > No. Basic needs are not fair game for confiscation.

We wanted him to earn his tool money for his new vocation school, but he hasn't done (even though he says it means something to him). He says "not to worry about it" whenever we bring it up, and he's definitely not close to being ready in four days. He lost most all of his books at school last year, and we're making him earn that money (which he won't, we just shouldn't worry about it he says). Are we going too fan in cutting off money for things like that? It's likely to affect his current enrollment, as they won't release his records to the new school without being paid.

== > You are responsible for tool money, books, etc. But until he abides by house rules, he can sleep on the living room floor or on the family room coach. No guitar, no desk, no room (but clothes of course).

He no longer wants to contribute and just go when/where ever; do we just accept that and let him live here until he's 18? We don't think so, but we're not sure where to go with someone that just takes off, doesn't contribute, and stays within the confines of the "system." Thanks for any help Mark!

== > You are responsible for him until he turns 18. This does not mean that he has to live in your home until then, however. You may want to contract with one of these families that are willing to feed him and let him hangout in their homes. Maybe he could stay with an aunt or uncle …grandparent …family friend, etc.

But until then, withdraw all privileges (i.e., anything other than basic needs). And continue to complain to probation re: curfew violations, runaway, etc. The probation department is just like any other business. Complain long and loud enough – and they WILL take some action.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

P.S. Do not doubt yourself during these tough times. Stay the course, and remind yourself that you are allowing your son to experience some short-term, minor pain now in an effort to save him from a lot of long-term, major pain later. 

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