It's been a year since our last argument...

Hi Mark,

Just wanted to thank you for this web site, it pretty much saved my relationship with my 16 year old son. We went from arguing, fighting and a final physical confrontation to him giving me a hug and telling me he loves me every morning before he leaves for school. It's been a year since our last argument. You're my hero!

Lee Michaelis, DDS

Online Parent Support

Your program is spot-on!


I just wanted to follow up to let you know that your program is spot-on! I am just starting Session 3 in your materials and using the suggestions in my household with my 14 year old twins. They are blown away with my lack of engagement with their verbal attacks, behaviors and disrespect. I'm following your advice and using my words and actions carefully, as well as being consistent, and they are totally confused as to what happened to me. I simply refuse to let them get me angry or engage in their misbehavior; then I talk to them about consequences of continued behavior. It took several days of me calmly repeating myself with these new rules, one of them is getting it right away while the other is a bit more resistant but is coming to realize that she can't push my buttons anymore.

Thank you so much for making this program so affordable and supportive for the parent!!! I think we will make it through the next four years in a much calmer household.


Online Parent Support

Daughter won't stop smoking pot...

Our 17 yr old daughter won't stop smoking pot – which she does daily to get through school. We have taken away privileges. Do we just ignore and ask her to leave once she's 18?


This is a tricky subject and different for every family, but I truly believe that every teenager who wants to get marijuana, can.

Therefore, I always tell moms & dads, it is extremely difficult to try to shield a teenager today from being exposed to marijuana because it is so prominent. I believe parents, and what I do with many of my clients, need to spend their efforts trying to equip teenagers to make the right choices, so when they are exposed to it, they will choose not to get high.

No matter how strict a curfew you have, how often you drug test your teenagers, or whether they are an athlete, a scholar or a jock, your teenager will always find a way to use marijuana if they want to. They key is making sure they do not want to.

1. Ask Questions—Before you dive into trying to equip them with the power to ‘say no,’ try to gauge their level of involvement. Ask the tough questions. I am not saying to grill them before they go out, but showing them you are paying attention and are very involved is important and you can get an idea of how much or how little you know about their social life.

2. Build their Esteem—If you cannot prevent them from encountering marijuana, you can empower them to make the right choices. I do believe there is peer pressure to use pot. It is hard to say no when it feels like everyone is doing it and you know that if you get high, you have the chance to be friends with that jock, who would never talk to you otherwise. So encourage them to do esteem building activities, like running for student council, working out, or doing a hobby and help them be proud of who they are by engaging in their unique qualities.

3. Don’t Lecture—If you think we are doing marijuana, dabbling in marijuana, seeing it at parties or just want to talk to us about it, please talk, don’t lecture. I promise, we have heard all of the negative sides to smoking weed in health class. As soon as you start lecturing us, we stop listening. So, instead of approaching it like a health teacher, ask questions and let us come to our own conclusion, usually we know what is right or wrong, and if we feel like you are talking to us about it, not at us, at least we will come to you if we have questions or problems down the road.

4. Find Out Why—This is tricky, it is important to understand that, today, marijuana is not only for ‘the stoner’ teenagers. All different kinds of teenagers are doing it and it has become a sort of social unifier. A drama teenager and a jock might not hang out at a party, but if they get to the party and share a joint, they are friends. It is really important to understand this new social aspect and that it permeates all kinds of peer groups.

5. Listen to the Answers—Most times, when I hear moms & dads talk to their teenagers, parents do ask questions, but then answer the questions themselves. A question, and then silence will get you a long way. For some reason, even after we have already given a one-word answer, if we feel you are still waiting for more, we either get nervous (a sign we are hiding something) or splurge and let our mouths go. Also look at your teenager’s immediate facial response as soon as you ask a question. We are not as good at hiding our emotions and you might be able to gauge a lot by watching our reaction.

6. Look at Their Friends—I constantly hear the “well, it’s not my teenager because…” response when I do speaking engagements on this topic. If you feel your child is either an angel or unreadable, look at their friends behavior. Have they gotten in trouble? Are they the ones who make the decisions where to go on the weekends? Friend’s behavior means everything in the world of marijuana.

7. Offer Other Activities—When you talk to your parent friends, make sure everyone is on the same page with curfews and activities. If there is a semi-formal or prom coming up, offer to host a substance-free after party, host bbqs and movie nights. I think many teenagers get high simply because there is nothing better to do.

8. Offer Other Options—As horrible as it sounds, if your teenager wants to get high, they will find a way. Make sure that they know never to drive high. If you think they are smoking and you cannot do anything about it (sometimes it happens), then at least tell them to call you if they are ever in a situation and they will not get in trouble. Many, many, teenagers drive high or drunk and this worries me more than anything. If you do not think they would call you, then encourage an aunt, uncle, priest, rabbi, teacher, friend to be their secondary support system if they ever need to be bailed out or get a ride home.

9. Talk to Your Friends and Other Parents—Get informed about the marijuana culture in general and in your specific community. I post frequently on this topic and what teenagers are doing right now, so you can stay a step ahead. I highly recommend getting together with parent friends and talking about what your teenagers are doing and sharing notes about what they think is going on.

10. Give Other Reasons Not to Use Pot—I constantly talk to teens about smoking and always give them non-health class reasons not to use pot which, I believe, appeal more to their interests. I always stress to girls the aging effects of smoking. I spoke to a group of 16 year-olds about ‘anti-partying’ and gave them my reasons not to use pot (they were shocked, because they were so a-typical):
  • At a prestigious internship interview, a friend got offered the job and when they asked for a drug test, he knew couldn’t pass it and they took back the offer.
  • Gives you lip wrinkles.
  • Lowers your sperm count.
  • Make allergies worse.
  • Makes you taste bad when you kiss.
  • The pot makes your teeth yellow.
  • You never know who is going to take an incriminating picture and post it somewhere, or use it against you later.

11. Give Them Excuses—Ok, so maybe they have the self-esteem to say no, and maybe they agree with the reasons above to say no, but sometimes people will not let up with the “just take one hit!, Just try it!” So, think of excuses for them to use. Here are some that I have given and tell teens to use:
  • I am on a diet, it gives me uncontrollable munchies and I am not giving up my summer goal for one hit.
  • I hate the taste.
  • I have dance class/practice/a run tomorrow and I can never perform as well.
  • It makes me really sleepy, and I am no fun when all I want to do is sleep.
  • It makes me sneeze.
  • My parents are waiting for me when I get home, and they will smell it/notice it.
  • My parents/job/school/coach drug test me.
  • Offer to be the reason! My parents told me to clearly tell people that they were watching me like hawks and that I would get in big trouble if I used pot. This almost always works, because everyone understands strict parents. So tell them to use you as the reason…after all there is some truth to it!

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

Your column "ask the parent coach" was like reading about my family's life story the last 9 months...

My name is L___ and I just want to thank you for your website that I stumbled upon while doing research on Reactive Attachment Disorder. Your column "ask the parent coach" was like reading about my family's life story the last 9 months. I have found a lot of websites on this disorder but yours really hit home for me.

We have a child that has been with us for 9 months that we were getting ready to adopt but have since decided that we do not have the capacity or time commitment to care for him. He was diagnosed with RAD by a school counselor recently and shows every sign of RAD except cruelty to animals. The more research I have done, the more I understand this disorder and the severity this boy has (he is 7). With 3 other young children, we have come to the conclusion that we can't commit to years of therapy without the rest of the family suffering in some way.

We know his family and he was taken away at the hospital and put into foster care for 3 months because his mother was a drug addict and he was tested positive for drugs in his system too. He has lived with his grandmother ever since but we feel, after reading all the websites that she too, has RAD. Her dysfunctional livestyle is all Austin has even known. We thought we could help him with "tough love" and discipline but now we see that is not the case and all our efforts these last 9 months have made little to no impact.

She also misdiagnosed him with ADD and heavily medicated him to keep him in control. She then tried to take her own life because she couldn't deal with him anymore and that is where we stepped in. We wanted to help out a needy child and the opportunity presented itself. Our hope is that he does not get back into the hands of her or his mother again. We hope it is with someone who can dedicate the time to get him the care he needs and deserves. We will have to advise the court of our findings and hopefully they can help us find placement for Austin. Again, I would just like to thank you for opening our family's eyes on this disorder. I didn't take it seriously before but I do now.



Parent Abuse: Help for Parents of Violent Teens

Who would you call for help if your 15-year-old teenager becomes so out-of-control with violent outbursts that it leads him to going after his parent with a knife?

• Child Protective Services?
• Crisis Hot Lines?
• Doctors?
• Mental Health?
• Support Groups?
• The Police?
• Therapists?

Try and imagine feeling more like a prisoner then a parent with your teenager, because no one can handle your teenager not even school, so you home school.

Try spending thousands of dollars and going everywhere you can to find a cure, support, the newest medication, therapy, clinic, diet, only to realize your teenager is getting older, bigger and the violence is getting worst.

Try to imagine being scared of your own minor child (not teen) at times and there is NO WHERE TO TURN FOR HELP!

Try to imagine knowing if you try to escape, you can go to jail for “child abandonment” when you always want to be there for you teenager, however you can’t control them and need to be safe.

Try to imagine living this way daily, 24/7, give or take the severity of the violence from the minor. 

Try to imagine getting no help with the exception of 911 coming to defuse the situations.

Try to imagine praying for the day you wake with your teenager and it will be a loving, enjoyable and peaceful time with them and to not feel it is your fault when it is not.

Try to imagine, if you protect yourself and your teenager says it was abuse, you are investigated and could faced with charges, legal fees etc…

Try to imagine crying out for help from every authority letting them know, you and your family are in fear of your life while being in the presence of your teenager’s violent outbursts and you receive answers as these:

Police: Why am I doing your (the parents’) job?

Police: We can’t hand cuff and take into custody a 15-year-old child.

Crisis Hot Line: I understand you (the parent) feel your life is threatened by your teenager. We will send out a person to defuse the situation and place you on our mailing list and help you get involved in our support group.

Therapist: Call 911 and have the police come. Take your teenager to an ER to have him/her mentally evaluated. (Do you think this hasn’t been done already by the parents?)

Child Protective Services: What did you (the parents) do to create this situation?

Bottom line choices currently for many moms & dads with behavioral challenged teens are as follows:
  • Possibly be involved in the legal system for child abandonment.
  • Possibly be involved in the legal system trying to prove self protection or defending lies of child abuse accusations. The law sides with the minor and in most cases it should, but not in all.
  • Possibly get hurt by the teenager or at worst case be killed.
  • Possibly others getting hurt or worst case killed by the teenager.
  • Possibly the teenager ends up hurt or worst case killed.

Perhaps the biggest obstacles to overcoming parent abuse are shame and blame. If your teen is violent (hitting, threatening, intimidating, name-calling, shoving, etc.) it’s tough to even think about getting help because acknowledging or naming the problem is painful.

To make matters worse, once parents that are suffering abuse find the courage to reach out they often do not find the help they need. Instead they find blame –“this is your fault because you are a bad parent.”

It is no wonder that parent abuse - an increasingly common problem – is not often talked about or adequately addressed.

If you are suffering abuse at the hands of your son or daughter, please know this:

• Present a united front – parents and other care-givers can work together on solutions for managing the problem of parent abuse whether it is directed at one or both parties.

• Rebuild an appropriate parent/child relationship – Help your teen understand what you expect. Consider the use of behavior contracts and family meetings. Remove privileges when necessary and spend time together doing things you both enjoy.

• Remind yourself that you do have inner strength and wisdom – you might not feel like it now faced with what seems like such an insurmountable problem, but you do. Marshaling that strength will help you do something; it might be learning more about parent abuse, interviewing therapists, finding a support group, etc. Just doing something can help you banish the feeling of powerlessness that often comes with parent abuse.

• There is something you can do – Rely on your inner strength and wisdom to guide you toward the best answer for your family. Consider all available resources. Some of these include: therapy or counseling, evaluation and medication, if appropriate; temporary respite, drug/alcohol testing, if appropriate; mediation if your teen is willing to acknowledge that s/he is responsible for his/her own violence and the necessary steps to re-establish trust and safety in the home, anger management workshops, talking with trusted friends, etc.

• Think safety – Making a safety plan and calling the police, if necessary, does not mean you don’t love your teenager. We all want to protect our teens but that protection cannot be traded against personal safety. Everyone has a right to physically and emotionally safe.

• Understand that turning the problem around will take time – As you experiment with different resources allow time to determine if what you are trying is really for you. If not, why not? For example, what kind of therapist do you think would work best with your family? Is it someone that values a collaborative approach? Someone that has more traditional positions on family roles and responsibilities? It is important to look for a good fit that feels comfortable.

• You are not alone – again, although the problem isn’t often talked about, it does exist and it is increasingly common. Blaming is not the answer or even a useful response to the problem.

For many moms & dads, parent abuse feels like the outcome of a job not so well-done. Many parents feel like the abuse means they have failed themselves and their teens. When you start beating yourself up about the way you are being treated by your teen remember this:

Yes, you have had an influence on the person your teenager is today, but you are by no means the only influence. Your teens encounter many people and experiences that happen completely outside of you. Maybe you didn’t have a part in causing what is happening now. But you do have some power to direct how your relationship will be going forward. Choose to use it.

Examples of Oppositional Defiant Behavior

Here are three examples of how Oppositional Defiant Disorder [ODD] looks across ages. These examples stress some of the common features of ODD:

Pre-school Shelby—

Shelby is now 4 years old. Her parents were very excited when she turned four that perhaps that would mean that the terrible twos were finally over. They were not. Her parents are very grateful that the Grandparents are nearby. The grandparents are grateful that Shelby's aunts and uncles live nearby. Shelby's Aunt is grateful that this is her niece, not her daughter. Why? Shelby requires an incredible combination of strength, patience, and endurance.

Shelby begins her day by getting up early and making noise. Her father unfortunately has mentioned how much this bothers him. So she turns on the TV, or if that has been mysteriously disconnected, bangs things around until her parents come out. Breakfast is the first battleground of the day. Shelby does not like what is being served once it is placed in front of her. She seems to be able to sense how hurried her parents are. When they are very rushed, she is more stubborn and might refuse it altogether. It would be a safe bet that she would tell her Mom that the toast tastes like poop. This gets her the first “time out” of the day.

In the mornings she goes to pre-school or goes off with her grandmother or over to her aunts. Otherwise Shelby's mother is unable to do anything. Shelby cannot entertain herself for more than a few moments. She likes to spend her time purposefully annoying her mom, at least so it seems. Shelby will demand over and over that she wants something (e.g., play dough). She knows it must be made first. So her mom finally gives in and makes it. Shelby plays with it about one minute and says, "Let’s do something". Her mother reminds her that they are doing something, the very thing that Shelby has been demanding for the last hour. "No, let’s do something else."

So after Shelby's mother screamed so hard she was hoarse when her husband came home, Shelby gets to go out almost every morning. At preschool she is almost perfect, but will not ever do exactly what the teacher wants. Only once has she had a tantrum there. Shelby gets along with the other children as long as she can tell them what to do.

Her grandmother and Aunt all follow the same “time out” plan. This means she goes to a certain room until she calms down. The room is empty now at Shelby's grandmother. Shelby broke the toys, and they were removed. She banged the furniture around and it was removed. What sets Shelby off is not getting to do what Shelby wants. She screams, tells people she hates them, and swings pretty hard for a four old. After a half hour it is usually over, but not always. Shelby will usually tell her mom or Grandmother about these tantrums. The story is always twisted a little. For example, Shelby will tell her Grandmother that her mom locked her in her room because she was watching TV.

Her grandmother used to believe these stories, and Shelby could tell the whole story of how she was watching this show, and her mom just came in and dragged her to her room. Now it turns out that Grandma doesn't think much of TV anyways, and so this made a certain amount of sense to her. This led to more than one heated argument between the Grandma and her mom. Of course there was almost no truth to this at all. It took the tables being turned for the Grandma to really believe that her Granddaughter could set up an argument like this. Shelby came home and told her mom that Grandma let her eat four cookies and an ice cream cone for a treat and that she was very full. Shelby's mom doesn't think much of treats, and could see how this might happen and thought she would have to talk to her mom. Finally they both realized what Shelby was doing.

Most of the afternoon with Shelby is spent chasing her around trying to wear her out. It doesn't seem to work, but it is worth a try. When she is at her aunts, she tries to wreck her cousin’s stuff. When is she good? When there are no other cousins around and she has the complete attention of her Aunt or Grandpa.

Shelby loves the bedtime battle. She also loves to go to the Mall. But she never gets to go there or hardly anywhere else. She acts up so badly that her family is very embarrassed. Her mother shops and visits only when Shelby goes to preschool. It is hard to know who is more excited about Shelby going to school next year, her mother or Shelby!

Elementary School Cody—

Cody is 10. Cody's day usually starts out with arguing about what he can and cannot bring to school. His mother and his teacher have now made out a written list of what these things are. Cody was bringing a calculator to school and telling his teacher that his mother said it was alright. At first his teacher wondered about this, but Cody seemed so believable. Then Cody brought a little (Cody's words) knife. That led to a real understanding between the teacher and Cody's mother.

Cody does not go to school on the bus. He gets teased and then retaliates immediately. Since it is impossible to supervise bus rides adequately, his parents and the school gave up and they drive him to school. It is still hard to get him there on time. As the time to leave approaches, he gets slower and slower. Now it is not quite as bad because for every minute he is late he loses a dime from his daily allowance. Once at school, he usually gets into a little pushing with the other kids in those few minutes between his mother's eyes and the teacher's. The class work does not go that badly now. Between the daily allowance which is geared to behavior and his medicine, he manages alright. This is good for everyone. At the beginning of the school year he would flip desks, swear at the teacher, tear up his work and refuse to do most things. Looking back, the reasons seem so trivial. He was not allowed to go to the bathroom, so he flipped his desk. He was told to stop tapping his pencil, so he swore at the teacher.

Recess is still the hardest time. Cody tells everyone that he has lots of friends, but if you watch what goes on in the lunch room or on the playground, it is hard to figure out who they are. Some kids avoid him, but most would give him a chance if he wasn't so bossy. The playground supervisor tries to get him involved in a field hockey game every day. He isn't bad at it, but he will not pass the ball, so no one really wants him on his team.

After school was the time that made his mom seriously considers foster care. The home work battle was horrible. He would refuse to do work for an hour, then complain, break pencils and irritate her. This dragged 30 minutes of work out to two hours. So, now she hires a tutor. He doesn't try all of this on the tutor, at least so far. With no home work, he is easier to take. But he still wants to do something with her every minute. Each day he asks her to help him with a model or play a game at about 4:30. Each day she tells him she cannot right now as she is making supper. Each day he screams out that she doesn't ever do anything with him, slams the door, and goes in the other room and usually turns the TV on very loud. She comes up, tells him to turn it down three times. He doesn't and is sent to his room. She calculated that she has made about 1500 suppers since he was five years old. Could it be that they have gone through this 1500 times? She decides this is not a good thought to follow through. After supper Cody's dad takes over and they play some games together and usually it goes fine for about an hour. Then it usually ended in screaming. So Cody's grandmother had the bright idea of inviting them over for desert at about 8:00 pm most nights. But what about days when there is no school? Cody's parents try very hard not to think about that.

High School Terri—

Terri is 15. She is in ninth grade and from her marks you would say there is no big problem. She is passing everything, but her teachers always comment that she is capable of much more if she tried. If they gave marks for getting along with others, it would be a different story. Terri's best friend is currently doing a 6 month sentence for vandalism and shoplifting. Terri and Sylvie have been friends since fall, if you can call it that. Since Terri has almost no other friends, she will do anything to be Sylvie’s friend. At least that is what her parents think. Terri thinks it is "cool" that Sylvie is at the Shelburne Youth Center. One sign of this friendship was that Terri almost always gave her lunch money to Sylvie. Why? Because Sylvie wanted it.

Terri thought that Sylvie was her friend, but everyone could see that Sylvie was just using her. What seemed saddest to Terri's parents is that Terri could not see this at all. But this was nothing new. She would make a friend, smother them with attention, and that would be the end of it. Or, the friend would not do exactly what Terri wanted and there would be a big fight, and it would be over. But mostly Terri complained that everyone bugged her. What seemed to save Terri was the nursing home. Somewhere along the way Terri got involved working there. To hear the staff there talk about her, you would never guess it was the same girl. Helpful, kind, thoughtful - they couldn't say enough good things about her. In fact her parents joked that maybe if they all moved to the nursing home, it would stop the fighting at home. They figured it out when another teenager volunteered to help one of the same afternoons as Terri. Unfortunately the "other" Terri came out. She was tattling, annoying, disrespectful and hard to get along with. Terri could get along with any one, as long as they weren't her age, a teacher, or a relative!

My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parents of ODD Children

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...