Behavior Contracts

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University reported in their sixth annual national teen substance abuse survey that parents who are "'hands-on' – parents who have established a household culture of rules and expectations for their teens' behavior – raise children who are less at risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs." In addition, they said "Contrary to conventional wisdom, teens in 'hands-on' households are more likely to have an excellent relationship with their parents than teens with 'hands-off' parents." The survey concluded that, "parents should be parents to their teenagers, not pals."

Behavior contracts are one of the simplest but most overlooked techniques available to help parents through the difficult preteen and teenage years. When used properly, written contracts can be incredibly successful in preventing or stopping unwanted behavior.

Behavior contracts work because all children want and need structure in their lives. Written agreements will bring a calming effect to them because they know the rules and their consequences and find that very reassuring. In addition, written contracts will reduce the number of disagreements between parents and their kids because the rules were previously discussed and agreed upon in advance.

Out-of-Control 14-Year-Old

Hi Mark

I need help...

My son is 14 and I am finding it extremely difficult to live with him...a lot of the time he is disrespectful and rude, he has told me in the past that he can do what he wants and a lot of the time he does...When he is getting something or things are going his way he is nice as pie but if not... who knows??? We do have some good times, but it feels like most of the time there are problems...When he was on a curfew he was home a lot in the evenings we enjoyed cooking together and sometimes he helps around the house especially if he wants money.

He has stolen money from me, stolen bottles of alcohol, he has been taken to the hospital twice for being inebriated. He has been out for days an end without letting me know where he is...He even stole my car one night... One time along time ago he pulled a knife on me, he has smashed in our front door...he has scratched graffiti into lots of doors windows, etc... around our apartment. He has torn up photos of my husband and I and personal photos of my husbands.... and it goes on and on...

Is it wrong to ask him to leave home at 14? Part of me wishes he would go to live somewhere else and then I feel sorry for him as I am all is has... sometimes I want to run away from home....He has been to the refuge a couple of times.

It is Sunday night and he has just come home for the first time since Friday morning. I reported him missing to the police & the Department of Community Services on Saturday morning. I have taken his new shoes away and there will be no TV, Telephone or Computer for 3 days...

I find it difficult to know what to do re: discipline as I would like to say no money for 3 days but then what does he eat for lunch? And how does he get to school? I recently bought him a bike and he has been riding it to school, is it appropriate to take this off him as well during this grounding?

Only 10 days ago he was out late in the night against my wishes …he was followed and sexually assaulted by a man...we reported this incident to the police, etc...This doesn't seem to have affected him as far as going out is concerned.

In the last year he has had over 100 incidents with the police. He is currently on a suspended sentence and probation for some recent charges of malicious damage and breaking into a car, etc....As I am sure you can imagine it causes a lot of tension in the home, my husband who is not his father he gets angry with me because he thinks I am too soft...My son tells me he doesn't want my husband to have anything to do with him, he says he is not his family...they have had problems with aggression and fighting in the past...I want peace and harmony in our home...

An example that happened this evening is my son arrived home as I mentioned earlier I asked him to come into the kitchen to talk to me he said no you come here...I asked him again he said the same thing...My husband got angry with me because he said I need to pull my son into line. I understand were my husband is coming from but when he gets angry with me it just causes more friction and it's too much...

My son's relationship with his biological father is fraught and conflictual. We don't have any other family in the same state...

Please help...



Hi S.,

Your husband is clearly sending you the proper message. I’m going to be a bit tough on you here, so please do not get upset with me. To cut to the chase: You’ve obviously spoiled your son rotten – and now you’re paying the price. But it’s not too late.

Please go through the Online Version of the eBook – and listen to ALL the audio (if you’ve already gone through it once, then do it again, because the eBook has most of the solutions to the numerous problems you’ve listed in your email). Do session #1 this week (along with session #1 assignments), do session 2 next week, and so on.

Re: your husband’s involvement. I’m going to be tough on him now: You, S., have to be the sole disciplinarian. Your husband needs to (a) stay out of your way and (b) keep his mouth shut. He’s not helping matters - in fact - he’s making a bad problem worse (I’m sure he would agree). If you will toughen up a bit, then he will not feel as frustrated, helpless and angry about the whole situation.

Bottom line: I’m on the same page with your husband here. You must get serious with these strategies or you may end up losing more than your son.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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How Do They Earn Their Way Off Discipline?

I understand what you are saying and I agree with your analysis. This is what we did for many years when E___ was very small. I never felt safe leaving the 2 kids alone. The last few days I have been successful in keeping my 'poker face' although i see that I have to work on being consistent and keeping to the said consequence. Here is a scenario that just played out. My kids say I am being unfair. Could you please give me some feedback and any advice? This afternoon I was taking my kids B___ 11 yo (the intense one) and E___ 7 yo to the grocery store and said we would get an ice cream. As I stopped for gas they got into an argument and started hitting and punching each other. I have recently put into place a consequence of a half hour in their room for any throwing or physical violence. So I said that we would have to go home so they could have their time out. After I finished paying I came back and they were calm and had 'made up' as they called it. (This is where I would usually back down and continue on our way.) I said that was nice but we were still going home which didn't go over well. They both started in on the verbal abuse (mostly B___) telling me how stupid and unreasonable I was, how they wished I was dead etc. I said if the disrespectful talk did not end they would be choosing to loose their privileges for the evening (computer time/movie night, boom box, trampoline and sprinkler). They did not stop so I said they had chosen to loose their privileges. They continued all the way home but I gave them no more consequences. They asked why I was being so strict, and I said things weren't working well before, I had not been consistent. When we got home they started hitting each other again so they got another half hour in their rooms. Should I have ignored that and left it at one half hour? Should I have just ignored the disrespectful talk (at home I could walk away or send Beckie for her time out but in the car I couldn't see how to do that) or just taken away one privilege? 

CLICK HERE for the answer...

I intend to make a fresh start for us...

Hi Mark,

My out of control teen is staying with family over the summer and won't be back till three days before the start of school. He stays with a disciplinarian uncle who has a 15-year old son who is close to Daniel. His uncle's observation of him is that he is a very smart kid who will manipulate anyone he can. He is a very good kid there, listens very well, and follows the rules well. According to family, he gained some weight, well-groomed and his looks is so improved. I don't talk to him much because I want him to absorb all the discipline there.

When he gets back, I intend to make a fresh start for us. He will be in 8th grade. I will spell in much more clear terms the rules, expectations and the consequences. His being disrespectful, poor grades and bad attitude is what gets to me. I intend to address these with him. Any suggestions?

Thank you,



Please refer to the Q & A page: Emails From Parents









My Out-of-Control Teen

I have some hope...


I just found your website and am very interested. I received your eBook last night and started reading it. You have written it for me!

My 13 year old son and I have a meeting with his probation officer this afternoon, between him and your online support I have some hope.

K___ has been seeing counselors for the past 4 years. He has never done well in a school setting. He does not get along well with other kids and has real issues with authority. All of his behaviors I either thought could be managed or he would outgrow. Instead things have escalated. He is an angry young guy and I just don't understand him most of the time. He lies most of the time and when we do talk I don't know what is real and what isn't.

At the same time that I am so frustrated with him, I also know that there is a very sensitive and caring person in him. He is very talented artistically and has a very creative mind. Pointed in the right direction, he will do awesome things. I just need to help him see that.

Anyway, thank you for e-mailing. I look forward to seeing better days with K___.


Online Parent Support

Parenting Program for Troubled Teens

Anything to get a response...

"Hi Mark, I was quite impressed with what I read [in your eBook] and realize that I need to get more consistent with my kids (aged 11 and 7). My 11 yo daughter is the strong-willed one. One question I have is how to deal with their fighting. My daughter likes to have constant interaction and even when my son (7) wants to be by himself, she walks by and tries to provoke him, or bully him into playing - anything to get a response. He finally blows up and throws something at her and she claims she did nothing. Often they do play well together, but just as often they bicker, hurl insults, and physically hurt each other. We have gone through phases of ignoring it, sitting them down and trying to get them to work things out (never worked) …now we just send both of them to their rooms for a half an hour or an hour. What is the best tactic? Thanks, L."


Hi L.,

This may not be true in your case, but what I find most often with parents who say "they tried ignoring the conflict" is this: They "ignored" for a short period of time, but then got feed-up, intervened to protect the younger one, and poured on a bunch of intensity while "things were going wrong."

Result:The older sib gets a payoff because she received the parent's intensity by pushing her "anger" button, and the younger one gets a payoff because he received the parent's intensity by pushing her "protection" button. Because of the 'payoff', the "problem" is reinforced ( i.e., behavior is rewarded and therefore repeated).

Ignoring behavior is an over-rated parenting strategy, but in this case it is the recommended strategy -- unless physical violence enters the picture (e.g., throwing things at one another, hitting, pushing, etc.). When the kids become violent, the parent will do best by using the strategy "When You Want Something From Your Kid" [in the Anger Management chapter of the Online Version of the eBook].

I hope this answers your question adequately. If you need any clarification regarding the strategy listed above, don't hesitate to email again.


It Was Just A "Mistake"

Initially I signed on as a teacher looking for signs and strategies to deal with high school-age students. I am now seeing some of the behaviours I was afraid of in my own son, now 13.

This weekend we were invited to a family friend's cottage. They gave him several gifts, but when we returned home, it appears as if he may have stolen from them. Specifically, the boys (adults and children) went out fishing. My son borrowed a fishing lure from our host and caught a nice fish with it. The next day the lure was in his tackle box. When confronted he denied stealing it and claimed it must have been a mix-up. Maybe he put his in our host's tackle box and kept the host's.

We made him call the owner a report the "mistake" and make arrangements to make the exchange the next time we were in town. Despite all opportunities to confess his wrongdoing he maintains that he is innocent. I don't believe it. What do I do next?



You've done all you need to do (i.e., had your son call the owner with plans to return the item). I doubt that you will get a confession out of your son. He's probably embarrassed about getting caught and wants to save face at this point.

You're probably right - he took the lure - but if you have no evidence that he did this on purpose, then you should not issue a consequence for "stealing" - or "lying."

I think he learned something from the experience.


Abort or Adopt?

Teen Pregnancy: The Pros & Cons of Abortion

In the U.S., ‘teen’ abortion accounts for nearly 20% of all procedures of this nature. The average age of those receiving abortions is dropping from 19 to 17. Although the teen pregnancy rate has declined in the United States over the last ten years, the percentages have actually increased.

Teens are more likely to: (a) make a snap judgment and try to cover up their pregnancy from their parents by having an abortion; (b) to report having wanted to keep the baby, higher levels of feeling misinformed in pre-abortion counseling, less satisfaction with abortion services and greater post-abortion stress; and (c) use immature coping strategies such as projection of their problems on to others, denial, or "acting out."

Teens who abort are: (a) 2 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide than adults who abort (a history of abortion is likely to be associated with adolescent suicidal thinking); (b) more likely to develop psychological problems; and (c) nearly three times more likely to be admitted to mental health hospitals than teens in general.

My son made somewhat of an about-face-turn...


Thanks for the email. My son made somewhat of an about-face-turn a couple of months ago. Things aren't always perfect everyday, but he seems to have really grown. My being patient & truly listening seemed to make him respect me more. He has made a lot of promises that I intend to help him keep. He promises to do much better in school his last two years. He has some making up to do. But I have no doubt he will pull through.

I allowed the purchase of another vehicle, a 1996 Mustang, as he thought he had a job, through a friend of his, but the job didn't happen. He knows I can't afford another vehicle 100% & his dad doesn't help a whole lot, so I try to keep him positive in continuing in his job search. His part in it will be to repay me half, $2000. I work about 45 minutes from home, so another vehicle really was needed when he does find one. And too, I figured it would give him something to appreciate since he seems to be making wiser choices.

The other night the two of us watched the movie "Life As A House". It is rated R, but at almost 17, I thought he would be able to relate to it quite well. I think it really made him think a bit. I think this movie has a great message.

I think the most difficult thing for me, as somewhat of a co-dependant person, I worked at this for years, was to let him take those risks & chances that he wanted & needed to take on his own. In turn, as he has shown more respect & maturity, he gains more independence.

Thank you for your help & support. Thank you for your continued e-mails. There were days that it did & still does keep me motivated. Thank you for caring about all of our children. They are our Nation’s future.

And with that said, I hope my 13 year old son doesn't give me as much grief. But if he does, maybe I will be all the wiser.

Thank you,


Pick Your Battles Carefully

HI Mark,

Thanks for checking in. Life is okay for now. We booted our oldest daughter out after the party in the house, she is now living in an apartment with a friend, so things have really gotten better at home, not having that stress. She seems to be doing okay. I don’t like her partying, but she is starting college in the fall and will be working, so hopefully that
will tone down.

I do have a question. I have a 12 year old daughter at home now, that is wonderful don’t get me wrong. But I was curious, when I am issuing her a consequence she rolls her eyes and looks away very upset with arms crossed and often storms out of the room and slams her door. Is this something that I should have an issue with? She follows through with the consequences that have been issued, but I just wonder how much I should make of the door slamming and eye rolling. Thanks for your advice.



Hi P.,

I would put the “eye-rolling/door slamming” in a file named Don’t Fight That Battle. If she’s following through with the consequence, then you win.

However, if she’s damaging the door or door frame, or if she slams so hard that things fall off the shelves and break, then issue a warning: “If you choose to slam the door, you’ll choose the consequence. The door will be removed.” …or “If you choose to slam the door, you’ll choose the consequence – you will be grounded FROM your room (except to sleep, of course).”

If she slams again after the warning, follow through with the consequence. Then, while on discipline, if she doesn’t do any door slamming for 3 days, she gets her door put back on the hinges. (Doors are fairly easy to remove and re-install.)

In any event, do not – DO NOT – let her know that this is irritating to you.


"My Out-of-Control Teen" eBook on CD.

I would like to say how useful your [audio] CDs are. I was wondering if you had ever considered producing some for the kids??? I am thinking that hearing you talk would link them into information that they need to hear about themselves, about behaviours, about the effects of conditions and the possibilities of how different strategies can bring about alteration and change. My idea is that you educated them, as well as parents. What do you think? I am really hopeful about this idea. Maybe it wouldn't work for some, depending on their nature, but it could work for others.

Thanks for all your support. I really do think that it is time all teachers, social workers, youth workers, mental health doctors, began to further their education with your direction! Go safely.

"My Out-of-Control Teen" eBook on CD.






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We don't have boot camps here...

Hi Mark –

I've now had a chance to review your parenting strategies. Living in the UK, there are some limitations on the effectiveness of those strategies, simply due to your natural focus on the USA. We don't have boot camps here, and there is sadly very little "preventative" work done or actual "practical" support for young people and families. My role is to provide mediation and one-to-one support for challenging young people aged 10-16 years. I have a huge geographic area to cover and a gigantic waiting list!

Do you know of anyone in the UK who is actively putting your ideas into practice? I will be discussing your work with some of my colleagues who work in Social Services, and pass on their responses, to you.


P.S. - Gravesend (near London), Kent. United Kingdom


Hi P.,

Re: Do you know of anyone in the UK who is actively putting your ideas into practice?

Unfortunately 'no' ...this is why we spent the time/energy/money to put the program 'online' that non-U.S. families can have access to the material.

If I can be of any help whatsoever, please let me know!


P.S. Boot camp is not part of my method. If you read carefully, I recommend against boot camp because, even though it has a great positive impact on the teen's behavior, the 'behavior change' has no longevity (i.e., once the kids comes home, most begin to act out - again - with a few short weeks).

Online Parent Support

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Dear Brother,

Greetings in Jesus Name From India.

I am Manoj from Kerala (South India) working as an Evangelist for 12 years in Northern Part of India properly called Greater Noida. I am working among the children in a school. I am married recently and doing the ministry.

I am greatly in need of some help …then I have seen your site. I could know that you help the family too. Can I have more details about it?

Looking forward hopefully to hear from you.



Hi Manoj,

When parents have finally had enough disrespect and behavior problems with their child, they come to my office to file an incorrigibility charge (i.e., a legal complaint due to the child being unruly and delinquent in the home).

At this point, I ask the parent, "Would you be willing to try something else first before we consider filing the charge." And most parents agree they would rather not involve their child in the "juvenile justice system" unless they absolutely have to.

So I get the parent involved in my parent-program called Parent-Teen Support Group. In this group, which meets 90 minutes each session for 4 sessions, we look at a set of highly effective unconventional parenting strategies to use with their strong-willed, out-of-control unconventional child.

I follow up with these parents weeks and months after they complete programming, and 85% to 95% of parents:

(a) are able to avoid involving their child in the court system

(b) report that problems in the home and school have reduced in frequency and severity

(c) report that the few remaining problems are manageable

Now the Parent-Teen Support Group is available to the public. And they don't even have to leave their homes to participate.

The online version of this group is called Online Parent Support. You can access all 4 sessions at anytime can go at your own pace ...and there is no time limit. (We recommend you only do one session per week.)

Online Parent Support (OPS) is a program designed specifically for parents of strong-willed or out-of-control adolescent children. OPS provides the practical and emotional support parents need to change destructive adolescent behavior.

The straightforward, step-by-step action plans presented in the curriculum allow parents to take immediate steps toward preventing or intervening in their children’s negative choices. Parents involved with OPS have the opportunity to experience success at home within the first week.

The curriculum teaches concrete prevention, identification, and intervention strategies for the most destructive of adolescent behaviors. Parents cycle through programming quickly, thus reducing the length of time that (a) effective solutions in parenting are implemented and (b) resultant positive change in adolescent behavior is experienced.

Join OPS

Undiagnosed ADHD & CD?

HI Mark,

I'm sure you must be sick of me by now but believe me when I say, you are the only person I have found in nearly 7 years who knows how to handle CD and ODD. Your advice is practical and sound, and it WORKS. I can’t thank you enough for your advice and guidance …it has changed the whole dynamic of our home.

Yes, I know what your answer would be and I am proud to say we stuck to our guns, and C___ chose to go. Well, the door is open if he changes his mind. Yes, he chose to leave rather than face the rather lenient (compared to previous restrictions), 3 day discipline. And it is a lot easier to let him go now. I know this sounds cold, but my younger boys need a peaceful, stable home and I know that C___ is resourceful. He will never starve or go dirty. He has been raised with the finer things, believe me, if he wasn’t able to wash/condition his lovely hair he would be home quick smart.

I have been reading the other posts and I thought you may be interested that my younger son, 9 yrs, has been diagnosed with ADHD but we went through a rather long process of ruling out autism and aspergers syndrome. With a few years of intensive therapy, both occupational and speech, he has finally begun to catch up with his reading etc. His behaviour is no problem, (although around 3-4 yrs he was very difficult). His ADHD is inattentive type ...Might I say we have fought several pediatricians and refused medication, and with a lot of effort and therapy he has caught up with his age in reading.

Would I be right in assuming that C___ may have undiagnosed ADHD, as well as CD? I have thought this a lot over the past year at least …he just never had the learning difficulties that alerted everyone to my younger son's condition. His education is now severely behind due to the CD. His behaviour however has been of major concern since 8-9 yr old. I just put this down to his dad dying at the time. Thinking back, he was always a challenge, from toddler on. Is it genetic, biological? (I was a VERY difficult child/teenager, despite my current occupation and beliefs).

I apologise for sounding like a nut, but as with most parents who have luckily found this site, I have been struggling for years with questions etc.

CLICK HERE for a free report on ADHD, ODD & CD.

I hate labels...


My son L___ who is twelve is challenging at home but I have learnt many coping strategies over the years. L___ has been put on the gifted register by his geography teacher but there are not many of his teachers that can cope with his 'behaviour and attitude'. I have read your reports on disorders and I have considered L___ could have ODD long before now. I had never considered ADHD, but after reading up on it tonight, he displays many of these traits. What do I do with a gifted child whom I am already struggling to get teachers to understand his needs, if it is possible that this is being compromised by possibly ODD and ADHD. I also worry because I feel it is to easy these days to label a child with some kind of deficit disorder. I hate labels as they tend to stick.


Hi L.,

Several quick points here:

1st - ODD rarely travels alone. ODD usually occurs alongside another disorder (usually ADHD).

2nd - Parent Education Training (PET) is the standard, recommended treatment for ODD/ADHD. You will get this education in my eBook.

3rd - You will not be able to do it alone (i.e., get your son's behavior back on a good track). Some parents think they can do it themselves. The result however is years of trial and error with no improvement. Please seek my assistance or the assistance of someone in your local area.


'My Out-of-Control Teen' eBook

Right or Privilege?


One quick question: With the 3-day-discipline, what if the things they love (i.e., tv, playstation, etc.) are things they have purchased for themselves. Do we still take them away?

>>>>>>>>>> No. If it is their stuff, then it is also their "right" (not privilege) to use the stuff.

Have you ever heard of a case like mine...

hi mark,
i was wondering if you have ever heard of a case like mine. I divorced my bi-polar husband 9 years ago. our youngest son was 8 at the time with 12 and 13 year old sisters. i didn't have problems for several years with my ex interfering. he basically didn't want the kids when they were younger. he couldn't handle the responsibility and often forgot to pick them up on his weekends. when my middle wild child was 15, she was caught drinking at the county fair, i grounded her from the next night of the fair, and told her she would be on a very short leash until further notice. she ran away and was missing for a week. she made it appear that she jumped out of a window high enough to break her ankles or whatever. this was a ploy, i found out later.
anyway, needless to say i was frantic, and spent days calling around until i found out where she was. i asked her father to go with me to get her, he said to just let her go and she’d call me. he called to say she was with him and was too afraid to come home (i have never hit my children by the way). he used this situation to let her live with him. she loved it because there are no rules at his house, he lets her openly sleep with her boyfriend at his house.
I would make "sweeps" of the house and find a bag of pot or multiple bottles of cough syrup in her drawers etc. i tried to talk to her dad about it and he said she needed that cough syrup for her allergies or other ridiculous comments or he would say i was "making things up."
Her grades declined, the whole 9 yards. My ex cooperated loosely with the terms of our divorce initially because he thought we would reunite. he acted like he had made many of the changes i requested, but i found out he didn't and that he didn't want ME back, but his assets (didn't think me or the kids were assets). He started going out with a woman right after i told him there was no chance for us to get back together.
She had a daughter the same age as my middle girl, and a 13 year old boy who was immature enough to hang with my 9 or 10 year old son. this woman told my kids they could choose who to live with once they were 13. my oldest didn't want to live there because of the chaos but mostly because she and her younger sister hate each other. He stopped returning my youngest around this time. i tried everything to get him to cooperate. his doorbell didn't work, he didn't have an answering machine and this make communication with him and my children difficult.
i started going over to check on them every day and make sure they were okay. my ex was rarely there and didn't care if i did this at first. i kept requesting that he return them and he said it was "their choice and they preferred to be with me." i didn't want to get the courts involved so i visited my lawyer and just asked that he send my ex a nasty letter telling him to follow the visitation schedule or we would take him to court. He didn't, so i waited another 6 months and he filed a petition to change custody. he lost, appealed, lost, appealed to the appellate court in springfield and lost again. i requested that he pay some or all of the legal expenses, but the judge said i appeared to be capable of paying them even though he was (these are my words) using the courts to harass me.
I still owe money and have spent $10,000 on attorneys fees to find out that they couldn't MAKE him follow the visitation schedule, only put my children in a foster placement if they wouldn't come home. they would come home if he told them they had to. in the meantime, the court never made him abide by the visitation schedule and all this dragged on until my daughter turned 18 and then the court said she could stay with her dad (even though i pay for all her medical, dental, and eye) which means she is not an emancipated minor.
the judge actually said he couldn't really make an 18 year old live where she didn't want to live. do you believe that, i followed all the court orders and my kids and ex don't have to! anyway, that daughter and I get along well now and she has admitted that the lack of rules coupled with her dad buying her whatever she wanted was all she was thinking about when she was younger, and she regretted how she treated me.
i requested sanctions (punishment) against my ex. i didn't want my children's father jailed, so asked that he be fined for each day he violates visitation or that they let my son live with me until he is 18 as this would amount to about how much time was taken from me. instead the court said we all had to see a counselor separately and i would have to pay for half of that. i didn't think my ex would do it, but he did. the counselor's conclusion was that my son was a "pig" who had a narcissistic personality and would do or say anything to get his way. this might be because he has been living with his dad who fits this description perfectly.
do you have any suggestions for me? i feel like if i let him go, he will become more and more like his dad who doesn't respect anyone or anything, doesn't appreciate all he has since he's been given too much, doesn't know how to love and is the most unhappy man i have ever met! i'm quite worried about how he will feel about and treat women in his life. finally, are all family courts designed like the one here, to make money for the attorneys?
Hi K.,
I’m sorry you got the short end of the stick in the courts. What you described seems terribly unjust.
A child’s preference to live with the noncustodial parent can be a basis for modifying custody, but the child’s reasons must be well based and NOT appear to be the result of coaching or bribery. In one case, a father who was trying to gain custody of his 13-year-old had given his son a horse, two TVs, a minibike, a shotgun, and a private phone line the week before going to court. The father did not gain custody.
In addition to showing a change in circumstances, the parent seeking a change of custody must show that he or she can provide a better environment for the child than the child’s current environment.
A parent seeking to change custody through the court usually must show that the conditions have changed substantially since the last custody order. The change of circumstance usually involves something negative in the child’s current environment—such as improper supervision or harmful conflicts with the custodial parent or stepparent.
In order to discourage parents from constantly litigating custody, some states apply a special standard for custody modifications sought within the first year or two after a prior custody order. In those states, the parent must show not only a change of circumstances, but also that the child is endangered by the child’s current environment. After expiration of the one- or two-year period, the courts apply normal standards for modification (without having to show endangerment).
The most common standard for modification of child support is a substantial change in circumstances, which usually refers to a change in income of the parent who is paying support. If the parent suffers a loss of income, that could be a basis for reducing support; conversely, if the parent’s income increases, that could be a basis for increasing support.
Changes in the child’s circumstances can be a reason for modifying support. If the child has significant new expenses such as orthodonture, special classes, or health needs that are not covered by insurance, that too can be a reason for increasing support.
Significant changes in the income of the parent seeking support also can be a basis for modification. If the custodial parent’s income drops (particularly through no fault of the custodial parent), that might be a basis for increasing support. If the custodial parent’s income increases, that might be basis for reducing support from the noncustodial parent.
When a parent experiences a financial setback, one of the last things the parent may want to do is incur more expenses by hiring an attorney to try to reduce support. But if the parent has a good reason to reduce support, the money is well spent. If the local court is user-friendly, the parent seeking to change support might try to represent himself or herself.
If parents voluntarily wish to change custody, they may do so without having to prove special factors such as endangerment or a change in circumstances. Parents may change custody without obtaining a court order, but if the parent receiving custody wants to make the modification “official”—thus making it more difficult for the other parent to regain custody—it is best to obtain a court order modifying custody.
In addition, an informal change of custody will not necessarily stop a parent’s support obligation—only a court order can provide certainty of that.
In any event, it sounds like the court did not really do its job.
You asked if I had any suggestions: I would strongly encourage you to move on with your life. Time is ticking away …your kids are getting older. As they become more mature by virtue of time, you and they will have a greatly improved relationship. The best is yet to come. Put all the legal wrangling to rest. You take care of you. Be good to yourself. Start today!

"Professionals" are still talking about 'time-outs'...

I downloaded your ebook a while ago, and it is great. I have spoken to you for help along the way. My children's names are E____ (who has ASD), M____ (she's 11), and J____ (he's 13 with some ASD difficulties).

I am a Qualified Primary schoolteacher and have been specialising in helping parents and students in the area of 'challenging behaviour'. Recently I changed my job and am now working with a lot of schools around creating safer emotional and physical environments. This means working with teachers, students, parents and the communities. I was wondering if you have anything in New Zealand as far as training is concerned, as a lot of the difficulties that the parents are coming across would be massively helped with your teachings.

They are surrounded by professionals who are still talking about time-out consequences and behaviour reinforcements. Many of these parents have had years of this, and as you say have 'dipped in and out' often depending on how much they could cope with at the time. Many of them are at the stage of having pre teens with all the new emotional stresses and behaviours. Many of these parents could not afford to buy your ebook because of the exchange rate -- and they get me for free if it is through the school. Although I have done some private trainings around explosive behaviours, anxiety, stress and visual learning.

I am a qualified N.L.P. trainer and practitioner and was wondering if there was any way we could get this information over to NZ. Anyway, if you could think of any thing that might help please let me know. I would be happy to do some training if that was possible. Many thanks for your time.

L. A.

My Out-of-Control Teen eBook

My son has been coming home at 3 in the morning...

My son has been coming home at 3 in the morning but his curfew time is 10 pm. I have been asking him to come home on time but he's starting to come later and later. This is stressing me out and I can go to sleep until he comes home. What can I do? Please help.


If your child is not home by curfew, you should treat the situation as though he is a 'runaway'. You may need to go to your local Juvenile Probation department and file an incorrigibility complaint. Please refer to the Q & A page for recommendations regarding "running away."

James Craig, Online Parent Support Staff

==> To get full access to along with ongoing Parent Coaching from Mark Hutten, M.A., join Online Parent Support.

My daughter is 14 and has run away from home...

My daughter is 14 and has run away from home for the third time and will not come home. She is staying with my parents and it kills me. This is the 2nd time I have had her cited by the police. I hated to do it, but I felt I had no choice. When asking her why she runs away she said it is because of the following: I am a bitch and I won't let her do anything and I make her do chores. Yes I do make her do some chores like the dishes. Because of her behavior she has been unable to go places: cutting school, failing grades, sneaking out, smoking pot, etc. I told her that once this behavior stopped she would earn my trust again and start over going places. HELP! What do I do?

Single mom in California


Hi Single Mom in California,

Your daughter is exhibiting Oppositional Defiant Disorder tendencies. Please CLICK HERE for a full report on this disorder.

==> To get full access to along with ongoing Parent Coaching from Mark Hutten, M.A., join Online Parent Support.

Julia Versiasine, Online Parent Support Staff

From St. Paul's Preparatory Academy

I have worked for the school for over twenty years in various positions including therapist, Director of Residential Life, Dean of Counseling, Dean of Students. Recently we have established the position of Parent Liaison to assist parents with the challenges of having their son in a boarding school and I have moved into this role. In addition to being a mentor for the parents, I will also be conducting parenting workshops through the year.

I am also working on a school based website that will offer assistance to our parents, and am pleased to be offering a link to your web site and book. Your book and web site is an excellent source of guidance and support for all parents, not just those of troubled teens.

Best regards,

Jim Graves, MC
Parent Liaison
St. Paul's Preparatory Academy
Educating Young Men Since 1961


eBook ==> My Out-of-Control Teen
Website ==>


Hello Mark,

Well, I don't want to jinx myself because C___ has only been home for one week and I am aware this is a honeymoon phase, but let me cautiously say, it is definitely working so far. And really, who needs botox once you have perfected the "poker face"? In my case, I have been fairly expressionless all week!

Also in our favour is that he has picked up a part time job, which requires him to be responsible, organised, and courteous to customers, which is all fantastic. He still asks me to do everything for him, like driving him to work, ironing his uniform etc...I will drive him if it is nighttime or raining, otherwise he has had to find his own way there. I am very proud of him, (and me for sticking to my guns). I have made the effort to praise him on little things through the week, even if he was spitting venom at me merely 30 minutes before hand. And his stepfather has initiated conversation with him, those open-ended questions worked treat. (That relationship is severely fragile).

It has definitely not been easy, but we have picked our battles. Within half an hour of picking him up the swearing etc started. Telling me he only came home because he assumed by me calling the police that we wanted him to come back. (?) That he should've gone to live with his nanna, anything that would've caused me to become emotional and have an argument. I merely told him that we love him, are happy for him to live here with us if he chooses to live by the rules and if he chooses not to then he can go. Well, at that moment I think he nearly died. The threat to run away and leave home no longer had an effect.

He has pushed us though. The first night home he asked if he could go out, I said no, he went anyway. The next day I asked if we had not made ourselves clear about him choosing to live here, and he hasn't gone out since!

I have used ‘the art of saying no’, a lot. The ‘art of saying yes’ is a bit more difficult because to spite me he would rather do without something from me than to give me something in return. BUT, in telling him that I love him at night times before bed, he returns the sentiment in kind. (I know he must love me deep down if he needs to ring me during his break at work to talk to me about his shift so far.) He is surprised at the attitudes of some customers toward sales people, however has done remarkably well in keeping his temper in check (then venting to me....swearing and all.)

He has tried all the old methods of pushing my buttons, and then, guess what....? after the whole morning of giving me everything he had yesterday, he simply gave up! Mind you, I was exhausted by then. He let fly with the whole arsenal of swear words, at me and his little brother. He matter-of-factly told me that I need to reconsider my parenting style and that I should have had him when I was older. That’s funny, because I have changed my parenting just doesn’t get him what he wants now. He tried bullying me into re arranging the house so he could have the room he wanted, all manner of criticisms and jabs....BUT I DIDN'T REACT. I wanted to, but that wrinkle saving poker face worked a charm. He persisted in yelling out to me rather than coming to the lounge to talk to me. When I refused to converse with him this way he started to send me texts via mobile phone rather than walk to the lounge, which of course ignored. If I didn’t drive him to work, then I should not bother picking him up afterward, he would just sleep in a park. Fine. His attempts went on and on all day.....NO REACTION>>> He must think aliens took his mother and left this person instead.

I know it is early days, and right now it is exhausting and a 24/7 effort to remember what to do at certain times, but with time it will become second nature, hopefully for him too! Lets see how we are in a months time....fingers crossed.



Hi B.,

Thank you for the update. This is very good news. Keep doing what you're doing. I think you're over the biggest hump now. Oh ...and thanks for being a great student. Well done!

I predict that his "acting-out" will occur less frequently, but when he does, it will be as intense as before...

...then after a few more weeks, the problems should also reduce in intensity since he is learning there is no payoff (i.e., reaction from you) for "intensity-seeking" behavior.

I'll be waiting in the wings for a future update.


Online Parent Support, LLC

Sign me "an obligated parent..."

Hi Mark,

I will tell you that I've done the first two steps and I'm still reading, but I wanted to have a copy handy electronically to build a cheat sheet and mold my mantras. Thanks so much for writing this, I was a little hesitant at first when I was browsing your site...but in the end, I was more can't hurt and if it teaches me one thing...then for that I will be a better parent.

Your statement you make in the first step "I have an obligation to you, my child, as a parent to..." That statement alone made me a better parent. I've said it to my son and I've said to others in my life who would like to be a bigger priority in my life. This statement has made things even more clear to a single parent and for that I'll always be grateful. Thanks again.

Sign me "an obligated parent who gladly accepts the honor of releasing into this world (eventually) an upstanding, independent, responsible, young, adult male."



Online Parent Support

CF Officer Works With Out-of-Control Youth


I am an Officer in the Canadian Forces Reserve (CIC) and my Branch of the CF deals with youth training (ages 12 to 19). I currently command my own unit. I am always dealing with youth who are either out-of-control, or have a tendency to get out-of-control. I also work with a Special Needs camp for teens with behavioral problems, and melt-downs are not uncommon. I have found your e-book and power point presentations an excellent source of information at opening up the line of communication with these kids.

My own children are 4 and 6. They are not out-of-control teens, but I feel that the information you have given me will allow me to set the ground rules to allow for a great "teen experience". I am fully aware of "inclusion," and I empower my kids now to behave well for me by allowing them to set the limits in a task, trip, or outing, so they feel like it's there work paying off. I know at age 6 the concept may be lost, but I feel what they learn from it will allow me to understand how to keep those lines of communication open down the road.

I would like to thank you for such great material. I hope I can change the lives of many more teens, as I have done much so far. However, it is only those who really want to change their lives that I have been able to help. They must make that decision as they under go their own journey.


13-Year-Old Refuses To Go To Camp


I have a 13-year-old who is refusing to go to a gifted and talented camp he registered for. He says he would not have if I hadn't pressured him to. I have explained he could have refused then as much as he is now. Our school spent over $500 on this. I do not have lots of money to pay it back and neither does he. I think he is afraid to do something alone and new. It is a week long and away from home. There are 2 others from his class of 10 that will be there, but both girls. He has gotten a little clingy at times--at others, he is willing to be gone for hours/overnight with no concern. Help!



I wouldn’t force him to go. Is there anyone else who could take his place? We’re talking about separation anxiety here. Separation anxiety is excessive concern about separation from home or from those to whom the child is attached. The youngster may develop excessive worrying to the point of being reluctant or refusing to go to school, being alone, sleeping alone, going to camp, etc. Repeated nightmares and complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomach aches, nausea, or vomiting) may occur.

All children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development. For example, from approximately age 8 months through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other persons with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or strangers). Anxious children are often overly tense or uptight. Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities. Parents should not discount a child’s fears. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed. Parents should be alert to the signs of severe anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

·constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caretakers
·refusing to go to school
·frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints
·extreme worries about sleeping away from home
·being overly clingy
·panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents
·trouble sleeping or nightmares


Prodigal Son Is Returning Home

I have however printed out the age appropriate behaviour/chore charts from the e-book and we are in the process of tailoring them to our household. I have one for our 9 yr old as well for fairness. I wanted to wait until C___ was home so that both S___ (his step dad) and I could talk to him together. I didn’t want to do it on the phone because C___ can, does and will play me at any given opportunity.

Before he left we told him that we would be changing the house around to accommodate for our growing family. C___ was previously staying in our sunroom, a huge room with access to the balcony. I know, I know.....he used it to full advantage....smoking outside....friends coming in the backdoor etc. We needed his old room for the baby because of its proximity to our room....anyway he will be going back to his old room.(and losing his teenage retreat!). In his absence we have converted the sunroom to a kids play/media room, with C___’s bed in there as a spare. We packed his things and they are in storage in the garage. I know that may sound harsh but we have been through this many times. It was cathartic for me to get in there and CLEAN IT OUT.

I guess what I'm asking is, was I wrong to store his things and convert his room? And do you think we are doomed to failure because I didn’t tell him immediately about our expectations of him, and wanted to show him a united front with his step dad. He has been very successful in the last 7 years at playing us off against each other, (well, playing me off against anyone that gets in his way really). Our plan was to tell him (together!) he is more than welcome to stay in the "spare" room initially and if he is willing to play by the rules, as setout in the above mentioned behaviour/chore chart, we will make up his old room for him.

I also am not allowing tv/games in bedrooms anymore, for the fact that he feels it is his right for the girlfriend to watch movies in there and they just happen to fall asleep. YEAH RIGHT. That will go down a treat. I am expecting loud vocal resistance to this, and many other things but as I said before, we are adamant to retain the peace in our home that has come about since he has gone, and I am prepared to tell him to go if he won’t tow the line.

I should have confidence in my decisions but I have never raised a teenager before, and especially one with Conduct Disorder. I guess I just need to know that our above decisions are ok? Or do you still think we will get punked?


Re: ...was I wrong to store his things and convert his room, and do you think we are doomed to failure because I didn’t tell him immediately about our expectations of him, and wanted to show him a united front with his step dad?

>>>>> No, you were not wrong ...and no, you are not doomed.

Re: you still think we will get punked?

>>>>> I predict that, if you stick to your guns, things will get worse for a short period of time (10 - 30 days), then you will begin to see some significant and positive behavioral changes in your son.

I'm glad you have a united front ...this is terribly important.

State the expectations and the consequences for violating the expectations. If he chooses to violate a house rule, follow through with the consequence. If he refuses to accept the consequence and is adamant about operating under his own rules, then you should remove him from the home.


You Just Got Punked -- Again!

Hi Mark,

Good news (I hope). Just when I resigned myself to not having C___ back home with us in the near foreseeable future, he text messaged my phone requesting birth certificate and bank details because he has found a part time job. (Part time is good because it means he still intends to go to school). His own money is a worry because of his need to drink and smoke it. (And other drugs).

He came around home and visited briefly with his brothers, collected the above requested documents and left. I felt guarded and defensive, (and then guilty because being his mother I should've been more open and "loving"). He didn't know where he was going to be living, but he was clean and looked well, and was polite to myself and his brothers. He wanted to hold the baby and talk with my 9 yr old.

After he left I felt so bad I texted his phone and told him that I love him, even if I have trouble saying it at times. (And after a bit of self-discovery I realised I only have trouble saying it to him, not my other two sons??) He returned the message telling me that even though he hated me at times, and apologised for it, I was still his Mum an he loved me too. Thank God for modern technology because otherwise these sentiments would unsaid. Shame.

Anyway, as I was thinking of him today he texted me again and said he was thinking of coming home, if that was okay. I replied of course it was fine, but decided to leave the logistics until he returns. (The "rules", and if he doesn’t like them that he will have to go). Should I have told him then and there? This is the first time he has asked to come home of his own accord. We have physically dragged him home before.

He later messaged again asking for my help with work/tax related information so I called and he informed me that he would be returning in a few days. I still didn’t say anything about the rules. (Mind you, these rules are no different really to what we tried to enforce before.)

I am STILL afraid of upsetting him.

1. Why do I tread on eggshells around this child for fear of him getting upset?

2. So, why do I treat him differently? (His father died when he as 8 and I put his behaviour down to this earlier on, but then it escalated to the present day.)

3. Why has he managed to dictate the run of the house?

4. Why am I afraid to upset him? I am afraid it is too late for the rules and consequences because he has been away from home, and he has just done whatever he likes in the past. If I told him ‘no’ he would tell me to get f#$% … then go anyway?????

I am feeling some dread at his return... because I am not looking forward to his reaction when we tell him its our way or the highway, (because I don’t want him to leave again).
AGGGGHHH help....



Hi B.,

I only have one phrase for you: You Just Got Punked! (i.e., fell for a manipulated again).

Here you go again -- round 25.

Expect a honeymoon phase where things go well for a few days or weeks, then you'll be right back to where you started (i.e., major parent-child conflict).


I am proud of myself -- I did it!

Dear Mark,

In reading your book, I realized that there are others out there that have exactly the same problems as I do, and who are making exactly the same mistakes as I was -- and that there are people like yourself that advocate what I believed in. This has helped me gain the strength I needed to tackle the onslaught. And let me tell you that this is exactly what it has been the last 3 weeks.

I put the expectations and responsibilities with the earning or loss of privileges on paper, and when I handed it to my son and wanted to discuss it with him – well, almighty hell broke loose! And this continued for a whole week – constant swearing and telling me he will not adhere to it and I will not control him.

Although battered and bruised by the emotional experience, I am proud of myself -- I did it! I put my poker face on and stuck to my guns. A week later, although he is still not earning any pocket money (as he refuses to do what I have put on the list), he did come to me and ask what he needed to do to get his computer back.

We are now at the un-grounding point (and the 'get the computer back' point) as he has managed to go a whole week without loosing his temper and swearing. He still does have the attitude that he will not do what is on the list, but I am watching him carefully -- and have been able to keep the discipline in place for the most relevant things I put on the list.


Online Parent Support

We've wasted hours in counseling...

Thanks Mark. After reading some of your ebook, it makes me realize areas we have to work on. Not ONE counselor we've ever seen has ever made more sense -- we've wasted hours in counseling. We are going to take some positive steps forward now.

E. & P.

Online Parent Support

How Do I Implement the 3-Day Grounding?

Hi Mark,

I am new to your ebook. I am really hoping that I can follow what you have to say. I will give you a little background.

I have a very difficult 15 year old son. He has always been difficult. He is ADHD, ODD and has anxiety issues. He has been on medication since age 8 and just recently went off of it and refuses to go back on it. Because his behavior has not been much worse since going off medication I haven't made that an issue. My son's father left us 6 years ago and moved to another state. He sees my 2 sons (my other is 12 and well behaved) once or twice a year and might call a couple times a month. My older son, J___, hates his father. He doesn't answer his phone calls and hates to go see him. This has made him a more angry kid.

I got remarried a year ago and things have gotten worse. My husband has a hard time hearing J___ treat me the way he does. He is very disrespectful and explodes when things don't go his way. My husband has tried to stay out of it but a few times has intervened which made things worse.

We are in counseling - and have been forever. My marriage is really on the rocks now. I feel like I have to choose between my husband and my son. I am afraid of my son at times and of his anger. I don't want him to end up doing something he is going to regret. I am actually looking at specialty boarding schools now but financially it will ruin us. Your program is kind of my last hope.

Your email to me about faith was very applicable. I am a Christian. But my faith is so small right now. I feel like I have been praying for my son for 15 years with no changes. And now with the problems in my marriage due to my son, my faith is at an all time low. I do tend to beat myself up and tell myself negative things. My counselor is trying to help me stop that. I will try to read your email often and follow it.

I do have a question. You state in the ebook that you ground your child and take away things for 3 days. I'm not quite sure what that means. Do I take away computer, cell phone and ipod (his 3 favorite) but let him do whatever else, like go outside? Or do I make him stay in his room for 3 days and take away the phone and ipod while he is in there (the computerr is in another room).

Also, I keep trying to watch the videos, but nothing happens when I click on them. What program do I need to view them?

Thanks for your help.



Hi L.,

First: click here to fix the video problem: Video Problem

Second: BE SURE to listen to ALL the audio files in the Online Version of the eBook. I go into detail about how to implement the 3-day grounding below:

==> Anger Management
==> How Do You Eat An Elephant?
==> Take Everything Away?

Good Luck ...stay in touch,


In a week's time, I've seen a great change...


Today, I spoke to my son's former counselor (whom I was asking for a referral for another counseling, which I did before I found your ebook). I told her, “I think I don't need it for now,” because I found your site. I gave her your site and told her to spread the word about your ebook, since her job deals with parents and kids of similar problems.

In a week's time, I've seen a great change. Now my 2nd son (AJ) asks permission before he goes out of the house and calls me when he can't come home on the agreed time. I can also see some smiles on his face little by little.

Thanks again for all the help!


When One Parent Sabotages the Other

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

Click here for the answer...

I am sleeping on a couch...


Where do I begin?? Family makeup first:

There is myself and my husband (married now three years). I have three daughters by a previous marriage. My oldest B is 22yrs, M who is 17 and the youngest S who is 16. My 16 and 17 year old live with my husband and me. My husband has one daughter who is 16 (does not live with him).

OK!!! I am currently separated from my husband for the second time in 3 years. I left because I could not take anymore of his screaming, yelling, slamming doors and blaming. He blames myself and my youngest daughter S for his daughter R not coming around anymore.

My daughter S is at times disrespectful, unruly, argumentative, physical sometimes, out of control.

When my husband and I met my daughter was excited. She loved and respected him. When she would behave unruly she would go apologize to him (not me). She has never had a father figure in her life and my husband treated her with great respect. He would say yes maam to her and show interest in her. His daughter was jealous of my daughter S and her dad together. My daughter S would talk about things my husband and her did together (speaking to his daughter); and his daughter would come up with a better story to tell my daughter and the games would begin. One child uping the other child’s story. They both were jealous of each other.

WELL, about a month after we were married my daughter shoved his daughter at school. My husband’s ex-wife turned it into a huge ordeal, filing a complaint with the principle, yelling at my husband for the ABUSE that was given to their daughter ect.

Let me tell you how I handled it. I told his ex-wife on the phone that I was sorry and that I would definitely take care of the situation. I asked my daughter S to come out into the living room (my husband was not at home yet). I asked my daughter what happened at school. She told me school was fine. I asked her if she shoved R at school and she said yes. I asked why and she said it was something R said to her. I let my daughter know that that was not the right thing to do and no matter what someone says to you - you DO NOT SHOVE THEM. Then I spanked her. My husband came home and I told her she needed to tell him. She did and he proceeded to scream yell and call her horrible names. I did not eat for three days after. Our marriage has been on the rocks ever since and he has proceeded to scream, yell, call names and blame throughout time to time. My daughter has behaved horrible at times and unruly out of control etc. It has put some pressure on our marriage.

NOW, that I am separated from him she is doing much better. I had one episode with her the other night concerning my daughter M of putting up and touching her things. It was wrong of S to get mad over such a small thing. I am not blind to her behavior, but she does not want to come back here to live. She does not trust my husband’s newfound realization of his wrongful and destructive actions. He has been reading your site and others on marriage BUT WHAT DO I DO ABOUT MY DAUGHTER’S ATTITUDE WITH MY HUSBAND (IF) I WERE TO CONSIDER COMING BACK??

I have asked her to (Honestly) write out a list of reasons why she would not mind coming back and reasons why she would not.


Please answer back.


It sounds like your husband has realized he made a mistake in the way he handled the “shoving incident” and is seeking other, more constructive parenting strategies.

The marriage is the foundation of the family. Thus, it should come first. The children’s wants and needs come second. Diligently work on your marriage, and the other family problems will take care of themselves eventually.


He has run away from home...

Hello Mark,

I emailed you several weeks ago regarding my 15 year old son, C___, who has run away from home. As I said in my last email, the police returned him, but due to his age told him they could not make him stay.

As you can imagine, that sort of information to a 15 yr old with ODD/CD is gold and I haven’t seen him since. He is staying at his girlfriend's house with her family. She also is 15. This is unbelievable to me as I know they are involved in a sexual relationship.

I believe the parents are now "encouraging" him to return home, persuading him to call home and "discuss" it with us. How lovely of them! (As yet, no phone call from him). I have learned from his school (specific purposes school for behaviour) that he has attended 3 days in the last 3 weeks, although the family where he is staying believe he is attending far more frequently, as the mother drives him there!

The parents are a separate issue. I can’t deal with both and keep my sanity! What I need to ask you is, what do I do if he does ask to come home? Before he left, the "Rules" were extremely lenient. He was out after school every day, and out all weekend (away from the home) from Fri night to Sun evening. This is not acceptable to me, but I didn't know how to stop it. If I told him ‘no’ he just went anyway, with a mouth full of filth. Same with the total disrespect and foul language directed at his step father and myself, and the name calling and bullying of his younger brother (9). We also have a 7 month old son who, along with my 9 yr old, I am desperate to protect from C___'s behaviour.

I have been advised, by school and police, to tell him he is welcome back, but if he does not wish to follow the rules to ask him to leave again. (At 15!)

I don’t believe I am asking too much for civil behaviour, regular attendance at school, sessions with his counsellor, 3 afternoons at home for study and 2 with mates, and one weekend night out. The problem is that after all the freedom he has bullied us into giving him, and that he has acquired since being away from home, it is unlikely he will agree.

I am second guessing myself, I have anxiety about him returning to our now peaceful home, and I feel that I have no confidence in my own decision making.

Please advise....



Hi B.,

I agree with the police and school officials. If the Juvenile Laws in your area are such that you cannot file what we call in the U.S. "run away charges," then do as they say: If he returns home and violates house rules, he needs to find another place to live again.

In the meantime, enjoy some peace and quiet. And thank God he has somewhere else to live.


How do I get my over-achieving daughter to slow down?

"I have taken the quiz and surprisingly found that I was a severely over indulgent parent. This angers me because I didn't think...