Dealing with Defiant Children Who Refuse to Cooperate

"Any ideas on how to deal with a 7 y.o. son who does not do what he's told to do - even with the simplest of requests? He's the youngest of 4, and by far the most stubborn."

You have just told your youngster to do something (e.g., “Michael, turn off the TV and get ready for bed”), and he blatantly responds with something like, “No” or “You can’t make me.”

When defiant kids say, “You can’t make me,” they are asserting their control and challenging yours. They are silently hoping that you will rise to the challenge and try to control them. Like it or not, they are right. Parents can’t make children do anything against their will.

These kids are also upping the ante by challenging parents to come up with some consequence that will mean something to them. The “test” is to show parents their own powerlessness, and these kids will often laugh in the face of any consequences parents might use, even if at a later time they might wish they hadn’t.

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

How to get kids to cooperate:

1. Kids who ask something like, “What are you going to do about it?” are not so much interested in your answer as they are in trying to prove how incapable you are of controlling their behavior. A good response to this question might be, “You are trying to decide if it’s worth it for you. That lets me know that you are in control and are choosing whether or not to behave. That means you’re also choosing to accept whatever the consequences are.”

2. Rarely, if ever, tell the youngster what the consequences will be for non-compliance, because (a) it generally doesn’t make a difference to them, and (b) vague consequences can serve to keep them emotionally off balance. Kids who are defiant don’t like uncertainty, and they are often more likely to make a decision to control their behavior if they don’t know what will happen. You could say, “Because you are telling me you’re in control, and it sounds like you’re just trying to see what will happen, is it worth it for you to act-up just to see what the outcome will be?”

3. Remain calm. Parents who can't control themselves can’t control the youngster or be in control of a situation. Remember that while your blood is reaching the boiling point, your youngster's may be also. Once that happens your youngster is no longer thinking clearly. Most efforts at talking and teaching will be a waste of time and energy. Defuse the situation as calmly and rationally as possible. To find a compromise with your youngster that will get the situation under control is not giving up control. You don't have to win every battle to win a war. After the situation is finished and everyone is calm, there will be time to talk about the situation and to agree on a consequence for what happened.

4. Acknowledge your child’s upset feelings when he’s mad. For example, the parent can say something like, "Ouch! That hurt my ears. I don't scream at you like that, please don't scream at me. I can see you are really upset to use that tone of voice. What can I do to help you?”

5. You can consciously choose to avoid getting into a power struggle. You might generally agree with the youngster by saying something like, “You are absolutely right. I can’t make you. The only person who can control you is you. I hope you make a good decision for yourself.”

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

6. Avoid constant arguments and threats by using a system similar to the ones used in residential treatment programs. Set up a board that lists five or more levels of behavior and associated privileges. The middle level should be for acceptable behavior, next level up for effort at improvement, and highest level for exemplary behavior. The level below middle should be for demotion when the youngster misbehaves while the lowest level should be reserved for serious violations of house rules including not complying with the privileges associated with a certain level or demotion for misbehavior after being on the next to lowest level for prolonged periods. Here’s an example of this system:

Level 5—
  • Requirements: Helpful without being asked. Follows all rules. 
  • Privileges: 2 hours TV, 2 points/day, 1 hour video games, 1 hour later bedtime.

Level 4—
  • Requirements: Helpful when asked. Follows rules well. 
  • Privileges: 1½ hours TV, 1 point/day, 3/4 hour video games, 1/2 hour later bedtime.

Level 3—
  • Requirements: Good behavior. Needs reminders to complete chores and follow rules. 
  • Privileges: 1 hour TV, 1/2 hour video games, regular bedtime.

Level 2—
  • Requirements: Some misbehavior. Requires frequent reminders to complete chores and follow rules. 
  • Privileges: 1/2 hour earlier bedtime, 1/2 hour TV, no video games, must complete chores and schoolwork before play.

Level 1—
  • Requirements: Severe infraction of rules. Unacceptable behavior. Fighting. Refusal to cooperate after warnings. Not complying with privileges for level. 
  • Privileges: Grounded. No after school activities. No telephone. No plans with friends. No TV. Lose all points.


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

When Defiant Teens Play One Parent Against The Other: Tips For Divorced Parents

Scenario: Kylee is 16-years-old. Her parents are divorced. She spends the weekends with her dad and stepmother. Unfortunately, her biological parents are not on the same page with respect to parenting styles and disciplinary techniques. Her mom is rather permissive (i.e., few rules, few consequences for breaking rules), but her dad is somewhat authoritarian (i.e., a lot of rules, serious punishment for breaking the rules).

One day before dinner, Kylee’s dad says, “Put your cell phone away. We don’t text while we eat!” Kylee’s retort is, “I don’t have to follow that rule …that’s not a rule at our house (mother’s house). I text whenever I want to at home!”

Then the arguing and yelling between father and daughter begins! You know the rest of the story…

Defiant teens know the value of playing their parents against each other. They learned a long time ago that just because dad has said “no” doesn’t mean mom won’t say “yes.” Many defiant teens of divorced parents constantly point out inconsistent enforcement of the rules by parents, and these teens use this as a rationale for their own behavior. What the defiant teenager is trying to do is make an issue of whether or not her divorced parents are consistent with the rules (rather than focusing on the real issue, which is whether she is choosing to follow or break the rules).

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

Unfortunately, many parents fall for this. There seems to be an irrational belief that if both parents treat the teenager the same way, she will behave. The total weight of the teen’s behavior is put on the parents, and the responsibility is built on enforcement rather than on compliance.

Although consistent enforcement does help keep the rule in the forefront, inconsistent enforcement neither causes nor excuses inappropriate behavior. The issue isn’t whether the parent is or isn’t being fair or consistent, rather the issue is that the teenager is violating the rule and is looking for someone else to blame.

While a certain amount of manipulation is normal in adolescence, if it occurs constantly, it may indicate underlying familial problems. Teens who frequently pit one parent against the other may be acting-out the tension they feel between their parents. That’s one reason this type of manipulation is especially common among children and teens whose parents are separated or divorced. In divorced families, parents are rarely on the same team, and defiant teens often attempt to use this fracture to their advantage.

Co-parents are often racked with guilt over the failed marriage and the back and forth position the children often find themselves in. Sometimes co-parents are insecure about the family dynamics and make it their goal to be the “favorite” parent. Because of this guilt and/or insecurity, it is very tempting for co-parents to try to please the teenager at all costs, becoming excessively indulgent and ignoring the other parent’s household rules.

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

On the other extreme, it is not uncommon for one parent to feel compelled to “lay down the law” in order to keep the teenager “in line.” In the case where one parent is tough and the other parent is soft, the teenager will automatically prefer the softer parent, which also causes huge riffs between the teen and her tougher parent.

Co-parents should work diligently at communicating reasonable expectations regarding routines and household rules in an attempt to get on the same page. If they can’t effectively communicate, or if their parenting styles are not even in the same book, let alone on the same page, they need to arm themselves with some appropriate responses to effectively combat the teen’s manipulative tactics. One way to do this would be to acknowledge to your teen that you understand that there are different rules at the other parent’s house, but while she is at your house, she must follow your rules – no exceptions.

Your teenager will be reassured when you fail the “test” she is putting you through (i.e., trying to guilt-trip you into being more like the softer parent). Children need to feel secure. Children seek predictable limits. It is safe to say that, if your teenager is constantly playing you against the other parent, she is feeling insecure and needs some reassurance that you care more about parenting her than you do about fighting with the other parent.


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

Teens Who Steal Prescription Drugs From Parents

 "We suspect our teen son has been pilfering my sleep medication (along with a couple other prescriptions). How should we approach this... we have no solid proof as of yet."

This is not an uncommon problem. You, the parent of an unruly teenager, may inadvertently be a big source of prescription medications he/she is using behind your back. More often than not, medicine cabinets are your teen’s “go-to” spot of choice. A whopping 61% of adolescents report that prescription medications are easier to get than illegal medications, and 41% of adolescents mistakenly believe use of medicines is less dangerous than use of illegal street medications.

One out of every two Americans is on prescription drugs. So these medications are readily available. People think they're safe because they're prescribed by a physician, and more adolescents are turning to the medicine cabinet to get their medications of choice.

Here are the five classes of prescription medications teens get most often in their own homes:
  • Cough medications: Contain DXM, which acts in way that is similar to morphine. They can cause respiratory depression, brain hemorrhage, nausea, and vomiting, and prompt thousands of emergency room visits each year.
  • Narcotic pain relievers: Excess use can cause respiratory depression, even coma and death. Mild use can cause constipation, depression, and problems concentrating. These are the ones most commonly used by adolescents.
  • Sedatives/tranquilizers: Such as Valium, can cause impaired coordination, which can be a real danger if someone is driving. They can also cause drowsiness and depression.
  • Sleep Aids: Such as Ambien, have a high potential for use (even in grown-ups), and there are reports that adolescents use it recreationally because they get a "high" by trying to fight the sleepy feeling -- and can have visual hallucinations.
  • Stimulants: Such as Ritalin, can cause nervousness, insomnia, and toxic psychosis. They can be used by grown-ups and adolescents trying for what they perceive as better concentration.

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

The risks of adolescent prescription drug use are momentous, yet few grown-ups in a position to take action against them have realistic grip on this new frontier of adolescent crime. Not only do drug companies deceive the public to make a buck, but they influence the judgment of many physicians, paying them well to give speeches and sales pitches promoting their medications to other physicians.

From 2000 to 2005, drug maker payments to psychiatrists rose more than six-fold, to $1.6 million. During those same years, medications of anti-psychotics for kids in the Medicaid program rose more than nine-fold. It is sad, yet self-evident, that the politics of money have long infiltrated the offices of many of those who should be defending adolescents from prescription drug use. The fact is that whether people use their medications legally or not, the company still makes money on every tablet.

The culture growing between teenagers who use prescription medications is poignantly different from that around other drugs. First, know that these medications are much cheaper than most other drugs, and many adolescents get them for free, from medicine cabinets, peers, or their own prescribed medications (e.g., Ritalin). The price for a tablet of the most commonly used drug medications ranges from 3 to 6 dollars, with prices getting cheaper in bulk. OxyContin and other stronger medications can be a little more. Prices vary based on availability and on how many milligrams are in the dose. What this means is that not only can teens often afford to take them every day, but they do not have to buy them to try them since the low cost makes many happy to share.

The issue of prescription drug use is not new, so why has it been sidelined for so long, and why has the threat been growing so much faster in recent years? First consider that tablets and capsules have a connotation of safety, especially for naïve, risk-taking teenagers. The primary reasons for this connotation are because tablets and capsules are easier to take than smoking marijuana or drinking liquor and are professionally manufactured in a lab. They are easily available, comparatively cheap, and inconspicuous to carry around. Furthermore, most adolescents see them being used legally, often by their moms and dads.

An adolescent might easily say to his/her mother or father, “If you can take them, why can’t I? We do it for the same reasons.” Perhaps this is part of what many moms and dads misinterpret about adolescent drug use. Much more often than a parent might think, adolescents are abusing prescription medications not to get high, but rather to be less depressed, less stressed-out, more focused, or better rested. If moms and dads are not drawing the line, then how will their kids learn to?

Direct-to-consumer drug advertising was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997. Since then, most people have come to take it for granted that their lives will be flooded with ads for prescription medications. These ads do not take a medical degree to understand, yet many of the products they advertise do. Someone who is nineteen now was nine when the floodgates opened. The result is that ever since today’s adolescents have been aware of prescription medications, their understanding of them has been largely shaped by the drug companies.

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

It should be no surprise that so many adolescents now believe the industry message that “tablets and capsules offer a cure for any ill.” Which ones to take, many ads suggest, is largely a matter of personal choice. Many teenagers come to view school-related stressors as a series of problems that can be solved with tablets and capsules. Being an adolescent can mean being fixated on personal problem. Unfortunately, many adolescents have not realized that using prescription medications only brings them more difficulty.

With other drugs, like marijuana and cocaine, adolescents often have to look around quite a bit to find a dealer, who also routinely sells prescription medications, often importing them in quantity from countries like Mexico that allow you to buy anything you like over the counter. Yet the primary means of trafficking prescription medications, especially for adolescents, is through social networks (e.g., peers and classmates). The effect of adolescent's sharing and trading medications at little or no increased price, is that drug dealers often can’t make as much money on these medications as they can on others for which they completely control the supply.

The multitude of ways adolescents take prescription medications and mix them with other drugs making "cocktails" demonstrates how their uses lead straight to even more destructive drug habits. All three major categories of used drugs can be easily crushed and snorted, making the sensation more instant and overwhelming, and very often leading adolescents to seek out cocaine and speed. Opiates and CNS depressants are frequently crushed and smoked, often with marijuana. The injection of Opiates and CNS depressants among adolescents, by crushing them and mixing the powder with water, is also growing. The trend is especially alarming given some of these medications similarity to heroin, especially OxyContin.

The reality of the ongoing prescription swap-meet between adolescents has long-term implications for the mental health of many children who may grow up without learning how to make themselves feel healthy without illegal medications. Another alarming trend with prescription medications is that females are more likely to use them than males. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in 2002 that 4.3% of female adolescents reported abusing prescription medications in the last month in comparison to 3.6% of male adolescents. The disparity is likely due in part to the propensity of many adolescents to pop tablets and capsules to lose weight. The effect prescription medications have on one's judgment can interact with eating disorders to raise a host of fresh health threats. What many moms and dads find most painful about adolescent prescription drug use is that, because most adolescents are always willing to sell-off a few tablets and capsules, many more kids are in effect becoming drug dealers.

The growing amount of medications in more homes means, not only that they are more easily available to adolescents, but also that they may feel more commonplace and safe to adolescents. A consequence of this is that many adolescents are happy to play physician for their peers. Teens crudely mimic their physicians’ behaviors, using phrases such as, “All you have to do is try a little more or a little less, or you can always switch to something similar.” It is normal to hear adolescents express this attitude saying something like, “I don't think it is wrong -- when I have the prescription medication I know a friend needs to make them feel better, I give them a tablet or two.”

The universe of available prescription medications is too great for almost anyone to keep close track, especially with the astronomical number of new medications and generics introduced every year. Yet a practical understanding of the tablets and capsules most often popped is vital for moms and dads to fight back.

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

What can parents do?

Putting medications under lock and key seems obvious, yet use usually gets started because moms and dads don't. In addition to this practice, count your tablets and capsules, keeping a sticky note on the bottle where you can initial and write the number of tablets and capsules left every time you take some. This practice may sound like a lot of paperwork, but it is a clear signal to adolescents that you are constantly vigilant on the issue, and it should help provide a deterrent.

Ask your physician if your medications are often used and how, so that you know the symptoms. Most drugs will not get you high or serve adolescents' perceived self-medication needs. If this is the case with your medications, you should be open with your adolescent about it, joking "you would not get a rush from taking my heart medication -- I sure don't."

It's not just prescription medications, but over-the-counter as well that moms and dads need to focus on. Talk to your kids. Let them know that, just because they're prescribed by a physician, doesn't mean they couldn't be deadly.

Once you have taken the initial steps to become more informed, and to secure the drugs in your home, considering how to discuss the issue with your family is the next move. Begin by listening. Just starting a general conversation on prescription medications can illuminate your adolescent's tendencies before you clam them up with warnings and rules. Once you have learned your adolescent's honest opinions on the issue, set clear expectations with your adolescent, letting them know that under no circumstances should they ever take drugs without your knowledge. Let them know that if they ever feel curious about whether they would benefit from taking drugs that you would love to discuss it with them and the family physician or counselor. Your kids tune you out when you lecture them, so use teachable moments to get the message across instead (e.g., organizing the bathroom, swinging by the pharmacy).

Prescription drug use has been played down for so long that reaching out to the community for support is even more critical than with other drugs and liquor. If you are the only person in their life concerned about it, it is much easier for adolescents to discount your warnings. Making sure that your adolescent's physician is actively addressing the issue when he or she talks with your adolescent is vital. Next, meet with the adolescent's school counselor, nurse, and principal, to hear what they have to say about the issue in your adolescent's peer group. Make sure that the most current information is included in your adolescent's health class and that all moms and dads are being asked to lock-up and count their tablets and capsules.

It is highly unlikely that you can prevent your adolescent from being exposed to prescription drug use. The question is how you can help him/her to think critically and respond confidently. If your adolescent is showing a special curiosity about prescription medications, it usually means that he/she at least has peers who are abusing them. When you observe this curiosity, satisfy it with the facts. Let him/her know that taking a tablet one can’t identify or wasn’t prescribed is like playing Russian roulette.

The risks of overdosing, date rape, and taking a tablet that kills you are things that too many moms and dads as well as adolescents are not talking about. Experimenting with and becoming dependent on prescription medications is a swift path to the people, situations, and other medications that are even more dangerous for adolescents. Times are changing, and so are the cultures and methods of prescription drug use.


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

Dealing with Teens and Their Mood Swings

"I need some ideas on how to deal with my son's relentless bad moods (angry all the time, seems depressed, isolates in his bedroom and has no social life to speak of)."

Mood swings in adolescents are extremely common, and the best that moms and dads can do is to dig-in their heels and get ready for a few years of turbulence. At one point or another, virtually all adolescents deal with seemingly extreme shifts in mood.

Causes of Mood Swings in Adolescents—

Adolescence is a period of chaos and stress. This period of time will be marked by drama and “frustrated idealism” regardless of environmental factors. Cultural, spiritual, and familial factors play a role in whether or not an adolescent experiences “severe” mood swings. Most researchers agree that mood swings are a combination of biological and emotional factors that affect an adolescent’s mood:

1. Adolescence is a time when the body starts producing sex hormones as well as going through a major growth spurt. The physical changes that adolescents experience cause them to feel strange and perhaps confused or uncomfortable, and this erodes their sense of security. Because of the effect that this has on their psychological state, they may strike out or experience conflicting moods.

2. Researchers have discovered that the brain continues to grow and develop through adolescence much more than originally thought. Because the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the age of six, it has historically been believed that it had also reached almost full development. Now it is believed that the brain changes much more during the teenage years than previously believed. The grey matter on the outer part of the brain thickens over time with this process peaking at age 11 in females and age 12 in males. After this process is over, the brain begins to trim away excess grey matter that is not used, leaving only the information that the brain needs and making the brain more efficient. One of the last areas to go through this trimming process is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for judgment, self-control, and planning. This means that, while adolescents have very strong emotions and passions, they don’t have the mechanisms in place to control these emotions.

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

Teens are capable of very strong emotions and very strong passions, but their prefrontal cortex hasn't caught up with them yet. It's as though they don't have the brakes that allow them to slow those emotions down. Researchers say this may help explain the often irrational behavior of teens (e.g., mood swings, risk-taking, etc.). Psychologists believe this new understanding of the teenage brain and its limitations can help mothers and fathers recognize there are some behaviors teens can’t easily control. The more educators and the more moms and dads that understand that there is a biological limitation to the teenager’s ability to control and regulate emotion, the more they may be able to be a bit more understanding, and thus avoid taking certain behaviors personally (e.g., an occasional disrespectful attitude).

3. Adolescents are typically very preoccupied with identity formations and becoming entities with lives separate from those of their moms and dads. This can cause confusion or frustration. While the world seems to be changing constantly around them, they feel as though they can’t keep up or handle the pressure, and this leads to a slightly off-kilter emotional state.

4. Adolescents have not yet developed the ability to deal with the pressures, frustrations, and anxieties of life. As their lives become more complicated and adult-like, they don’t have the built-in coping mechanisms that adults have developed to help them deal, so they are prone to react very emotionally to situations.

How Mood Swings Affect Adolescents—

Mood swings can leave an adolescent feel like they’re out of control, which is a very uncomfortable state for anyone to be in. Of course, if the mood swings are severely abnormal or prolonged, the adolescent should see a professional about other possible issues. Normal adolescent mood swings can make an adolescent feel unbalanced, though, and are not to be taken lightly.

Here are some tips for what your adolescent can do when dealing with a mood swing:

• Exercise - exercise releases endorphin into the blood stream, and these chemicals can help to regulate mood and ease frustration.

• Get creative – painting, drawing, writing, or building something can help an adolescent to express their emotions in a healthy way.

• Get plenty of rest – regular sleep helps keep the mind in tip-top shape.

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

• Realize that they’re not alone – talking to a friend or peer who is dealing with the same issues will make them feel less abnormal and help them realize that they are not crazy.

• Take a breather – stepping back and trying to look at the situation from another angle, counting to ten, or just sitting with the uncomfortable feelings for a moment will help the adolescent to realize that it’s not as bad as it seems.

• Wait – the mood may pass as quickly as it struck; wait before acting out on extreme emotions.

Treating Mood Swings—

There are a variety of treatment options available to cope with mood swings. Examine the following list and decide which treatment might work best for you and your teenager:

1. Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral therapy helps to weaken the connections between troublesome situations and habitual reactions to them. Reactions common to mood swings such as fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and self-damaging behavior can be controlled. Behavioral therapy teaches your adolescent how to calm the mind and body, so they can feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions.

2. Cognitive Therapy: Cognitive therapy teaches your adolescent how certain thinking patterns are causing your symptoms — by giving a distorted picture of what's going on in their life, and making them feel anxious, depressed or angry for no apparent reason, or provoking them into negative actions. Resolving the cognitive aspect of mood swings can mean improved social interaction, more confidence, and a more positive outlook on life.

3. Literary Therapy: Literary therapy incorporates books, articles, and other research materials into the process of healing. By gathering information about mood swings, one can acquire in-depth knowledge about his or her problems. This knowledge provides the essential tools for controlling and resolving ones issues. There is an extensive amount of information available from a wide range of perspectives. Many books can be checked out from a local library, and most internet information is presented free of charge.

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

4. Non-prescriptive Alternatives: There are many non-prescription alternatives on the market today. Some of these alternatives contain supplemental vitamins and minerals, while others contain herbal alternatives that have been used to naturally medicate mood swings. Clinical evidence for Valerian, Kava Kava and St. Johns Wort suggests that these herbal constituents can provide significant benefit in helping to relieve negative mood and other symptoms related to anxiety and depression.

5. Talk Therapy: Talk therapy involves the idea of healing through communication. Talking to friends, family members, or a therapist can help your adolescent to find support for those dealing with mood swings. Communication comes naturally to humans, and the simple act of discussing one’s problems can be extremely helpful in the healing process.

6. Talking to the Medical professional about Mood Swings: An important part in the diagnosis and treatment of mood swings is communicating with your medical professional is. By talking to your medical professional openly, you allow him/her to provide your teenager with the best treatment program possible. It is extremely important that you maintain open communication with your medical professional. He/she can help you to understand your symptoms and treatment options. The first step is to find a medical professional or that's right for you. Once you have started a treatment plan, it is important for you to provide your medical professional with updates about how you are feeling. Sometimes it is difficult to remember all of the points you want to discuss in your visit.


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

Helping Children Accept The New Stepfather


I am a divorced mother with a 15-year-old daughter. I am about to become married to a wonderful man, David. My daughter tolerates him – but says she doesn’t really like him and is even a bit defiant around him. How can I help her accept my fiancée as her soon-to-be stepfather?


Kids grow by facing and working through challenges. The challenges presented by divorce and remarriage present opportunities for growth. However, kids are only able to grow from challenges if they are in a manageable range (i.e., not so easy that kids don’t have to stretch to meet them, but not so hard that they can’t stretch enough). The younger the son or daughter, the more moms and dads must help to bring a conflict into this manageable range.

The challenges of a new family are multi-faceted and different for each youngster. Your daughter is at a particular developmental point with specific needs, resulting in very particular meanings that a stepdad might have for her at this point. For example:
  • David will occupy much of your attention, and this my present a special issue if there are times that your daughter is at her father's home longing for you.
  • If her father is alive, she may maintain hope that you and he will remarry. In her mind, the stepdad may interfere with that scenario.
  • Your daughter may feel like she is abandoning her biological father if she is too affectionate with David. David may parent differently than her father, perhaps in ways that she prefers, thus adding to these feelings of disloyalty.
  • Add to the mix that David has his own adjustments to make and the fact that your relationship with your ex will have its difficulties as well.

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

For any youngster, this situation is not only complex, but highly individualized. This is the reason a generic, one-size-fits-all approach does not exist. But there are various general approaches and attitudes that you can use that can help your daughter:

1. Your daughter will grow emotionally and will develop the strongest relationship with David if you help her accept and understand her situation in all its complexity. Some challenges she faces may remain unresolved. For example, biological dads sometimes are jealous of their kid's (and ex-wife’s) relationship with the new dad. If that is the case in your situation, your daughter’s growing love for David will affect her dad. Ignoring this reality in the hopes that she doesn't notice or think about it could negatively affect her relationship with her father, her stepdad – and even you. Do not burden her with a heavy discussion about matters that she has not really taken in or is not ready to discuss, however.

2. You can find your way by remaining available and nonjudgmental. Imagine your child telling you that her father says that he doesn't like David. You could ask how she felt hearing that. Imagine your daughter saying that she worries about father. You might ask the very logical question, "Do you worry that he would be upset if you and David had fun together?" If she agreed, you could simply let her know that you understand how hard this would be. You might add that her father also wants her to have fun.

3. It is your ex-husband’s job to work out his mixed-up feelings, and it is your daughter’s job to feel good with the important people in her life. In this way, you provide understanding and encouragement while not trying to cover the situation or artificially resolve it. Your daughter will have many years ahead during which she will face changes in her environment and in her feelings. If you maintain the distinction between behavior and her inner world, and continually offer an open, affirming and guiding approach to her struggles, in all likelihood, her relationship with David will evolve into a meaningful and sustaining one.

4. Lastly, require your daughter to behave well and respectfully toward David. However, restrict your approval or disapproval to her actions rather than her thoughts and feelings. For example, deal with her defiance with the same disapproval and consequences you would use for her actions in any situation. But don't try to talk her out of her feelings. You could say, “You may not like it when David tells you to pick up your clothes from the bedroom floor, and it is OK to feel that way, but you still must obey him.” It is not recommend that you say something like, "You should love David."

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

Having said this, here are a few general guidelines for enjoying a successful blended family. Some of these will apply to your specific situations, others won’t:

1. All family members argue, so don’t assume all family arguments are the result of living in a blended family.

2. All relationships are respectful. This is not just referring to the children' behavior toward the adults. Respect should be given not just based on age, but based on the fact that you are all family members now.

3. Being civil. If family members can be civil with one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt or completely withdrawing from each other, you're on track.

4. Beware of favoritism. Be fair. Don’t overcompensate by favoring your stepkids. This is a common mistake, made with best intentions, in an attempt to avoid indulging your biological kids.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be sure to discuss everything. Never keep emotions bottled up or hold grudges.

6. Compassion for everyone’s development. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs (teens versus toddlers, for example). They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand and honor those differences.

7. Don’t allow ultimatums. Your children or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.

8. Don't expect to fall in love with your partner’s kids overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.

9. Find support. Locate a step-parenting support organization in your community. You can learn how other blended families address some of the challenges of blended families.

10. Find ways to experience “real life” together. Taking both sets of children to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the children used to your partner and his or her kids in daily life situations.

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

11. Insist on respect. You can’t insist people like each other but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.

12. Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new partner’s children that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.

13. Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your new partner how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition and your children won’t become angry at your new spouse for initiating changes.

14. Make special arrangements. If some of the children just visit, make sure they have a locked cupboard for their personal things. Bringing toothbrushes and other “standard fare” each time they come to your home makes them feel like a visitor, not a member of the blended family.

15. Room for growth. After a few years of being blended, hopefully the family will grow and members will choose to spend more time together and feel closer to one another.

16. Solid marriage. Without the marriage, there is no family. It's harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don't have couple time like most first marriages do. You'll have to grow and mature into the marriage while parenting.

17. Spend time every day with your youngster. Try to spend at least one “quiet time” period with your youngster (or kids) daily. Even in the best of blended families, kids still need to enjoy some “alone time” with each parent.

18. Too many changes at once can unsettle kids. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.


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

Dealing With Teen Vandalism

The official definition of vandalism is given by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It says that vandalism is "willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of any public or private property, real or personal, without the consent of the owner or persons having custody or control" as stated in the most recent Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Fact Sheet on Juvenile Vandalism.

Vandalism includes a wide variety of acts such as:
  • breaking or throwing items out of windows
  • damaging parked cars
  • damaging trees
  • posting graffiti in public places
  • setting false fire alarms
  • setting fires
  • smashing mailboxes
  • stealing
  • tampering with equipment (e.g., vending machines, pay telephones)
  • trashing unguarded property (e.g., empty buildings and/or lots, public or semi-public toilet facilities, school property) 

Making Sense of Adolescent Vandalism—

There are a number of reasons why an adolescent might vandalize property:
  • could be part of an initiation in a gang
  • in the case of graffiti, the adolescent considers vandalism as a form of self-expression or art
  • someone dared him to do it
  • sometimes adolescents make poor decisions when they are bored
  • the girl he likes admires someone who takes risks
  • they could be succumbing to peer-pressure
  • to get revenge against someone

Some of the behaviors and situations that are linked to adolescent vandalism include:
  • binge drinking
  • feeling hostile towards the property owner
  • peer pressure
  • seeking money to buy drugs 

In the case of graffiti, however, there may be other factors at works. At least some graffiti vandals consider themselves "graffiti artists" or "street artists." It seems that these teenagers view their efforts to be towards ornamenting or enhancing coupled with self-expression. The international fame of Banksy, the English graffiti artist, and other graffiti artists has likely contributed to “teen confusion” about whether graffiti vandalism should be considered criminal.

Adolescent's graffiti creations, while not in sanctioned places, may have artistic merit. This possibility places this type of adolescent vandalism in contrast to types of vandalism in which items are devalued through being smashed or broken. Graffiti is only “wrong” because it is created in the wrong place.

While addressing adolescent vandalism often involves reparation and repair of damaged property, addressing adolescent vandalism involving graffiti may also involve providing the teenager with a sanctioned place in which to perform his/her "art" and opportunities to put the talent to a positive use. 

Consequences Associated with Adolescent Vandalism—

Besides repairing damage to structures, covering graffiti, replacing ruined property, there are other high costs to adolescent vandalism. Publicly viewable vandalism changes the atmosphere of a place. It may give the impression that the people in the area do not value their space and that the area is not well-protected and perhaps unsafe. This may result in reduced use of the area in and around the damaged property. Property, such as subway cars, that has to be removed from service in order to be cleaned of graffiti or repaired also can cause disruption of service. 

How can you know if your adolescent is engaging in vandalism?

Unfortunately, vandalism is very easy for an adolescent to hide. Unless they bring a street sign home as a souvenir, there is no ‘evidence’ to find, and rarely do they act differently than they normally do. That’s why it is important for moms and dads to do two things:
  1. know where your adolescent is at all times, because an adolescent who knows his mother or father cares - and is involved - is more likely to avoid becoming a vandal
  2. talk about vandalism with your teens and explain why it is not a good idea

Are moms and dads liable?

Vandalism, defined as the willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property, has become a significant problem in many communities across the United States. As a result, many states have passed laws to make moms and dads liable for their children's vandalism. Although the law generally states that one person is not responsible for the actions of another, and that the person who commits an illegal act is the one who suffers the consequences, the parent-child relationship carries some unique responsibilities.

Although moms and dads may be liable for their teen’s acts of vandalism, the good news is most states limit how much a mother or father can be forced to pay. In addition, some states limit the financial responsibility to property damage, though others also include personal injuries. Depending on state law, parents may only be required to pay for damages to property owned by public entities like cities and schools, though some states require payment to private property owners as well.

A teen can be charged monetary fines for their acts, and also can be charged with a crime if they are caught vandalizing. Depending on age and state law, teens can be processed through the juvenile justice system or through the adult system. If vandalism damages occurred as a result of gang activity or if the property damaged belonged to a school, the penalties can be more severe.

Vandalism isn't the only act for which moms and dads can be liable. For example, if an adolescent takes his father’s gun, even without permission, and brings it to school or commits a crime, the father may be subject to criminal charges. Similarly, if a teenager is at fault in injuring someone or damaging property while driving, the parents can be liable. Moms and dads can also be held liable for permitting a minor to drive without a license or learner's permit. 

How to explain the problems vandalism causes?

It is important that moms and dads explain how to distinguish pranks from vandalism. Often, adolescents think vandalism is a ‘victimless crime’ (e.g., they don’t believe they’re hurting anyone by spray painting graffiti on a brick building, or tossing a few eggs at a neighbor’s car). Help them see the ramifications of their actions. Explain to them that vandalism costs taxpayers a lot of money because the property must be repaired and the crime must be investigated. That takes money away from other important things that your adolescent may care about. For example, because the school has to use money to cover up graffiti, they may have to cut out art programs. Besides repairing damage, there are other high costs to adolescent vandalism. Publicly viewable vandalism changes the atmosphere of a place. It may give the impression that the people in the area do not value their space and that the area is not well-protected and perhaps unsafe.

If you find out your teenager has vandalized something, the best consequence is to make them clean it up and/or pay for repairs. When they have to scrape off the gross, dried egg – and they see that it takes off paint – the message will be loud and clear. If you happen to have a graffiti artist on your hands, then it’s important to provide them with a sanctioned place to stage his art or opportunities to put the talent to a positive use.

Also, it’s important that moms and dads communicate that vandalism is a crime. If they are caught, they can be charged with a crime and that will stain their permanent record as they try to go to college and start a career.

Addressing Adolescent Vandalism—

Different approaches are taken to adolescent vandalism. Education is one approach. Making sure that adolescents can distinguish pranks from vandalism is one issue addressed.

Repairing and restoring property, which has been found to ease public concerns as well, is another. Reparation is often part of the restitution if an adolescent vandal is caught.

A third approach to preventing adolescent vandalism is prevention. One way of preventing vandalism is providing alternative activities for adolescents. Teen centers, schools, and community groups may sponsor alcohol-free activities, for example. Patrols in areas that are susceptible to vandalism may also help discourage adolescent vandals from harming it. 

Preventing Vandalism—

If you see an area that has been damaged or defaced by adolescent vandalism, report it immediately. If it’s your own property, make any necessary repairs as soon as you are cleared to do so by local authorities. Often, vandals will re-hit an area if they believe nobody is watching or nobody cares that it has been defaced.

One of the best ways to keep adolescents from engaging in vandalism, or really in any negative or risky behavior, is to provide adolescents with positive options to use their free time. Encourage your adolescent to take up a sport, club, exercise class, or extracurricular activity. Allow them to get a job babysitting, mowing lawns, or walking dogs, which will instill a strong work ethic and help them earn extra money while keeping them busy. Check the YMCA, churches, Boys and Girls Clubs, 4H, and other youth nonprofits for safe adolescent activities. Often, adolescents can take classes at the local community college and transfer the credits to the college of their choice after high school. They can take most electives without a prerequisite, and might enjoy the taste of adulthood that goes along with taking classes at a higher learning institution.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Dealing with Parental Abuse by Teens

"I need help with knowing what to do with my teenage son who has been getting physical with me (pushing, getting in my face, yelling, almost butting heads with me). I'm a single mom - he is bigger than me and obviously stronger. I'm worried!"

Teenagers may learn that by threatening, intimidating, and behaving in an abusive manner, they will effectively frighten a mother or father into doing what they want (e.g., giving in or allowing them to have their way). One teenager stated, “I know how to get out of being grounded. I just start knocking stuff off the shelves, and my mother tells me to get out of the house.”

Abusing the parent may also give a teenager (who’s feeling powerless) a sense of control. It should be noted that teenagers who threaten physical violence, push or hit their parents, or destroy property (as part of an overall pattern of violating the rights of others) have moved beyond typical teenage rebellion and into oppositional defiance and/or conduct disorder.

Moms and dads struggling with their teen’s abuse are often confused and belittled. It can be hard to discover ways to keep everyone safe, including the teenager whose behavior is posing the risk to positive family relationships and safety. It can be difficult to know how to make things better. You are not alone! Here are some stats:
  • 9% of all family violence incidents recorded by police involve parents/step parents who report violence by a child/stepchild ages 12-24 years.
  • Teen violence exists across all communities, social classes, cultural backgrounds and geographic areas.
  • Teen violence is not just against parents. Many teenagers are also violent to their siblings.
  • Teen violence often becomes a major problem between the ages of 12 and 17 years.
  • Mothers are more likely to be abused than fathers.
  • It is estimated that approximately 70% of perpetrators are male and 30% are female.

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

Listen to your own warning bells. You know when things are not right, so go with your own feelings and thoughts. You may have experienced teen violence if:
  • you are ‘walking on eggshells’ trying to predict your teenager’s wants and needs
  • you feel afraid of upsetting your teenager, and you change your behavior to avoid it
  • your teenager blames you for his/her behavior
  • your teenager constantly criticizes you and puts you down
  • your teenager pushes, hits, punches or hurts you or his/her siblings, throws things or damages your possessions or those of other family members
  • your teenager ridicules or tries to humiliate or embarrass you, your family or friends
  • your teenager threatens to hurt you, themselves or others (e.g., children, family, friends, pets) if you do not meet his/her demands
  • your teenager threatens you that he/she will leave home if you do not do what they want

Things to remember about violent behavior:
  • All violence is inappropriate, and physical violence and property damage are criminal offenses.
  • It won’t go away! Violence generally worsens over time.
  • Teenagers may apologize after the violence, giving you a false sense of hope that things may improve. They usually need more help to change.
  • The teenager will not be able to stop their violent behavior on their own. With support from others, you can help to facilitate the change.
  • The violence is never an acceptable or healthy way for the teenager to solve problems in their life, their family or community.
  • Violence may not happen all the time. It may occur in cycles or as isolated incidents.
  • Violent behavior is the responsibility of the teenager. You did not cause the teenager to be violent.
  • You are not responsible for your teenagers’ behavior.
  • You don’t have to know why things are happening to enable change to happen. Even a small change may feel like an improvement in the situation.
  • You may find it is difficult to deal with a violent teenager, as you are the provider and supporter for many of their needs.
  • You may not want to report violent behavior to the police because you are concerned for your teenager’s future.

If you are suffering abuse at the hands of your teenage son or daughter, here are some tips:

1. Get your teen acquainted with anger. Anger is a normal reaction to frustrating circumstances. Teenagers need to understand that it's okay to feel this emotion, but it's not okay to punch a hole through a wall because of it. Moms and dads can try to sit down and talk with their teenagers (when everyone is calm) and help them recognize what kinds of situations trigger their aggression. Once they recognize the physical responses they have when they are getting angry, or when they've identified the kinds of situations that often gets them in trouble, they can better anticipate and avoid reacting negatively. Teach your teenagers techniques on how to diffuse their anger, or teach them to walk away before the situation escalates.

2. Make an honest self-assessment. Studies show that teenagers are more likely to get violent if they are also exposed to violence in the family. It's not okay to respond to bad situations with aggression, whether you are in a position of authority at home or not. It's also important to reconsider keeping firearms at home. Research shows that guns kept at home are more likely to be used against a family member or friend than against intruders. Make an honest self-assessment on how you and the other grown-ups at home respond to frustration, especially if the teen's actions are the source of frustration.

3. Present a united front. Moms and dads 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.

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

4. 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.

5. 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 have strength. 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.

6. Solve problems with teenagers. Moms and dads, especially those who are “overprotective,” tend to make the mistake of fixing everything for their teens. While the intention may be good, the truth is that it doesn't help teenagers develop problem-solving skills. It helps when moms and dads sit down with teenagers and problem-solve with them. Involve them in recognizing the problem, facing it squarely, and thinking about solutions and possible consequences. If the problem involves them, then it's best to make sure that they're involved in the solution as well.

7. Team up. Moms and dads must understand that they can't be with their teenagers at all times. Teenagers will never flourish and grow up to be well-adjusted citizens with their moms and dads constantly looking over their shoulders. When dealing with abusive teenagers, there are dangers that need to be addressed, and parents will not always be there to help their teenagers make the right decisions. For example, teenagers will not always listen to their mother or father about staying away from gangs and their guns. Guns are, in the eyes of teenagers, symbols of power. Teaming up with other parents, teachers, counselors, community workers and neighbors may be a more efficient way of keeping an eye on your teenagers and exposing them to positive peer influences. In a sense, it's like casting a wider net with the help of concerned and trustworthy grown-ups.

8. 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 kids, but that protection can’t be traded against personal safety. Everyone has a right to physically and emotionally safe.

9. 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.

10. 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.


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