Parent Employs "Half-Measures" in the Discipline Department

Mark, My husband and I have been taking your online course and it has been very helpful. Our son is about to turn 18 and has all but dropped out of school. We feel that our next step should be to give him a few choices: either he goes to school regularly or gets a job by the time he turns 18 or he’ll have to move into our garage. If he moves into the garage, we won’t support him in any way except to provide food and a garage couch for him to sleep on. He won’t be allowed in the house except to use the bathroom. If we actually kick him out of the house now, I’m sure he’ll just get into more trouble. I know eventually it may come that, but the garage is my last step before kicking out. Does this make good sense to you? Do you have any other recommendations? Thanks so much for your input. K.


Hi K.,

Please don’t get upset with me, but I think the garage idea is a poor one and borders on ridiculous. Keeping him in the garage is a classic example of employing “half-measures.” If he knows he can only come in the house to use the bathroom, he will simply “need” to use the bathroom about 15 times per hour.

First of all, be sure to read the recommendation re: poor school performance in the section of the eBook entitled “Read these Emails from Exasperated Parents” [session #4 - online version].

Second, you cannot legally kick him out of the house now – so forget that one.

Third, you’re right that you need to give him a few choices. They should go like this:

He can (1) attend school regularly, or (2) drop out of school and get a GED – and work full time, or (3) continue to do nothing (or very little).

In any case, the day after his 18th birthday, he will need to either (1) begin enrolling in a college or trade school, in which case he can continue to live at home (in the house – not the garage), or (2) find full time employment and live in his own apartment or elsewhere (there’s no need for him to continue living in the “nest” if he’s making his own money).

Now K__ …if you have a sick feeling in your gut right now, then you clearly have a lot of work to do yet in the “tough love” department.

You should prepare him - now - for his launch from the nest and into adulthood. Do you really want an adult child living in your garage for the next 10 to 15 years? I didn't think so.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

Son Comes and Goes as He Pleases

Hi Mark,

Thanks for all your help and insights. I have finished reading the ebook and finished through session three of the online course work. Our son, I___, turned 18 yesterday and will be a senior in August. I___ came home yesterday afternoon (after being gone since Friday afternoon) looking for money or birthday presents from family members (grandparents, aunts, etc).

`````Sounds like what an over-indulged kid would do.

I used the "poker face" strategy and listened to him during what amounted to a temper tantrum. After he yelled, cussed and threw things, he left the house. He called me three hours later and was extremely apologetic, telling me he loved me, missed me, etc. While he was home, I calmly told him that when he was out past curfew or did not come home at all, it caused a problem for me, because I couldn't sleep well and if he wanted to continue to live at home with the benefits we provide (use of a car, use of a phone, a roof over his head, food, clothing, paid college) he would need to come home each night by curfew. He reminded me that curfew no longer applied to him (since he's 18) and I responded that it was a condition of his living at home, not a law.

`````This was right on track – good job!

He asked for money and I gave him $5 tying the money to the chores he did Friday --cleaning his room, mowing the yard and doing laundry. I emphasized the importance of earning money to become self reliant. He came home around 6 p.m. to "see me" and said he would be home last night by 1 a.m. and would like to have a birthday dinner tonight. He did not come home last night.

I really want to do this right ("no half measures"), and would appreciate some guidance from you. A couple of questions.....1) if he comes home tonight, what is the appropriate discipline for not coming home last night?

`````Let’s stop right here! Please don’t get upset with me. I’m sure you want the truth though:

You will never win in this cat-and-mouse game. Why? Because he is no longer living in your home regularly – and he is managing financially, at some level, without you.

I think the game is over. Save you precious time and energy for other things. You may be beyond “discipline” with him.

The recommendation is not about what is an appropriate discipline – rather it is about helping him move out – permanently …helping him find a job and get his own place.

==> Help for Parents with Out-of-Control Teens

2) should I emphasize coming home at night and tackle the time he comes home after he starts coming home or should I link the two enforcing the need to be home at a certain time ie 11pm during the week?

`````I want to help you break through some possible denial on your part. He will come and go as he damn well pleases. Whenever he doesn’t like a particular rule – he’s gone again. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad kid – he just an adult now.

3) what should be next steps if he doesn't come home tonight? 4) We are going out of home for the 4th of July and would like him to come with us. Our older daughter (20) will be staying at home because she works. What strategies can we use to get him to come with us? I don't want him at home if he doesn't come with us because I'm concerned he will have parties. How do I keep him out if he wants in?

`````Change the locks. It’s not that expensive or time consuming to do.

Last month we told him he had to stay with a friend if he didn't come with us and he stayed at the friend's for a few hours, then went home and borrowed an extension ladder from a neighbor and went in through an upstairs window tripping the alarm. The police came and he showed them his driver's license and they let him in the house. 5) We live in Fishers. Is the Madison County parents program open to non-county residents?


The strategies I was able to use yesterday were very effective. I___ changed his approach dramatically in just a few hours, although very short lived. I want to be sure I get the next steps right to ensure the most positive outcome possible. I really appreciate your help. After years of counseling, this approach has the potential to be much more effective long term.

`````I’ve been kind of tough on you here, but I want to give you the best possible recommendation.

Bottom line: He needs to find another place to live. Use the strategies when he comes to visit.

Shift from “what can I do to keep my son” …to “what can I do to help him be independent.”

I’m interested in your feedback on my recommendations,

Mark Hutten M.A.

Hi Mark,

You asked for feedback on your first reaction was sadness. Sadness for my son and the difficult life he has ahead of him and sadness that, although I put a lot of effort into parenting, my approach did not work, and I didn't get it figured out until too late in the game.

I agree with your recommendation that I have to move from "discipline" to helping him become independent. I will work with him to either follow the household rules or find another place to live. I'm at a point where I truly am comfortable with either solution. If he is going to be disruptive at home, I would prefer he leave. The irony is that he can sense that I am sincere about forcing him to find alternative living arrangements, and he has become more compliant in response.

Thanks for your insights. The course is extremely helpful because it is so specific, outlining exactly what needs to be said and what actions need to be taken. I wish I had discovered it years ago.

Kind regards,



Hi C.,

Thank you for having an open spirit to the change process.

Your statement "I'm at a point where I truly am comfortable with either solution" ...tells me that you are nearing the point of acceptance in the grief process AND "letting go" of some emotional baggage. This is a good thing.

You are working the program -- great job. There will be a reward at the end of the tunnel in some shape, form or fashion.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Daughter Refuses to Get Up for School in the Mornings

Dear Mark,

My husband and I have started on your course for out of control teens. It is a work in progress and we are up to week three course doing the second set of assignments. Having success in many areas.

One area we are having a lot of trouble in is, with our daughter getting up and going to school on time, She is 14 in year 9 at school in Australia. Are there any suggestions that you can make regarding this? She wakes up early enough but puts on the “go slow.” We live within walking distance of the school. We offer to drive her if she is ready by 8.30 as school starts at 8.45. A couple of times she has achieved this. Mostly she doesn't care though and walks to school arriving after 9 to 9.30 and misses the first lesson every day. For a while she had been truanting school, about 3 weeks of this 10 week term and has been late every day except the couple.

The school has her on what’s called a 'level three', which means no excursions, no sport. (She doesn't want to do sport any way). Because of the truanting and lateness to school. Her behaviour in class is good. Next step is suspension.

Her teachers say she is a very intelligent girl …we need some suggestions if you can please help. Also further down the track we need to know ways to encourage her to do her homework, which she doesn't do.

Thank you for you help regarding the above matter.




Hi J.,

School is your daughter’s job -- not yours. The more you take responsibility for her getting up and getting to school on time – the less responsibility she will take for this.

I’m guessing that her “getting to school” is more important to YOU than it is to her. Let go of playing “time keeper” …let go of playing ”taxi cab driver” …don’t “nag” her about getting off to school in a timely fashion.

Give her one (1) wake up call. The rest is up to her. If she wants to choose to be late – allow it. She will get a natural consequence through the school (actually she already has).

Now your next question may be “What if she gets suspended.” Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, let her make poor choices – and let her experience the consequences associated with those poor choices. But most importantly, STOP taking responsibility for her work (i.e., complying with school policies and procedures, doing homework, etc.).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Problems That Result From Over-Indulgent Parenting

Hi Sheila,

== > I’ve responded throughout your email below:

Dear Mark,

I followed your parenting programme and found it helpful, especially the poker face scenarios which worked to some degree. The problem has been that I have felt afraid to carry out some of the scenarios which you advise ie the 'take everything away and ground for 3 days' as my son is 17 and quite strong.

== > Unfortunately, not following the program’s goals will make it nearly impossible to be successful with the desired outcomes.

I think he has an addiction to the computer and he can be on it for up to 14 hours a day. As it is Summer holidays for him (but not for me) he has been on it until 4am in the morning and never goes out. This makes it very difficult for me to get a proper nights sleep because altho he is not noisy his moving around disturbs me and I get up the next morning to do a full days work feeling very tired. When I try to talk to him about it he says that I keep myself up.

When I came back from work 2 weeks ago (after a poor nights sleep) I had lots of work to do on my laptop and was very tired. He had not done the jobs he had agreed to do and there was a mound of washing up in the washing up bowl which was his. I was a bit annoyed (which he hates) but tried to get him to do the jobs there and then so that we could move on. He wanted a chinese take-away and wanted me to drive him to the top of the road to collect it. When I said no, that I had lots of work to do and I was tired but I would give him the money for him to get himself a take away when he had done his jobs he got really annoyed.

== > What did he do to earn money for Chinese take-away?!

To cut a long story short, we had a row, I was unable to maintain a poker face, I turned the computer off, which ruined the on line game he was playing, things went from bad to worse, he took my lap top from me. I tried to go to bed and said I was going to bed in a calm (but very tired) voice he turned the sound up on the computer - therefore I was unable to either work or sleep. I refused to leave his room until I got my lap top back …he started to drag me out of the room etc etc. to cut a long story short, he put a hole in the wall, pushed me over and turned his sound up again, he continued to throw things around the flat and break some of my things. - I called the cops. They took him to his father’s house for one night and that is the last I have seen of him.

== > I’m glad you called the cops. (I was beginning to wonder if you had any backbone.) You sent a very clear message to your son that violence against women is unacceptable.

It has taken 3 years of this to reach that scenario. I was at my wits end, I cannot seem to handle this on my own as he is too strong for me and NO-One has ever told him to stop. His father always says that I must be doing something to provoke him and will not talk to him and will Never agree with anything I say or back me up. He doesn't want to deal with it. Mediation services say he is crossing the boundary of 'normal teenager behaviour' and we need to talk to him. His father refuses to co-parent. In fact his father hates the cops so much and was furious I called them, that he now is forbidding me from seeing my son saying he needs protecting and he is to move in with him and threatening me with child protection and accusing me of abuse - but mark my son is 17 years old and 5ft 10, I am 5ft 4 and 54kg. I am the one with the bruises and although I have got into some tussles with my son, I have never used physical force to punish or control him!!! It is ludicrous.

== > It sounds like you have 2 teenagers to deal with – your son AND your husband. I’m sorry to hear that your husband is a jerk.

However this brings me to my final point and question…

I feel that my son will not learn a good lesson from this. He will, like his father, blame me and I have come to the point where I have been unhappy with him living with me for some time and cannot see a way forward if he came back.

== > This is where I thought we were going with this conversation – and I am glad to see that you are finally getting some insight into what YOU really need to do with this dilemma. I’ll read on…

I love my son desperately and miss him terribly, but there is some relief that he has gone, which I feel guilty about.

== > HOLD IT! Re: “feeling guilty”—

This is why you got so deep into this problem to begin with – that is, your “relationship” with your son was more important to you than it was to him; you took on WAY too much responsibility for that relationship. Of course you’ll always love him, but to AVOID setting healthy boundaries in order to protect your physical and mental health would be insane.

I feel at this moment in time I just dont want to see either him or his father for a very long time - because there will be too much anger from him that is not being addressed by him. Am I doing the right thing?

== > Absolutely! How does it feel to have an “awakening”?

I know you say never give up but I have tried everything under the sun from parenting classes to mediation and nothing works because I am the only one doing anything.

== > I don’t see your need for respite as “giving up” – rather, I see it as you finally realizing that if you don’t take care of you – nobody else will.

The other two just will not play ball... I have tried to be a good mum and things used to be wonderful but as my boy has got older there has been a lack of co-parenting and myself and his dad, have argued around him and have completely different ideas about parenting. He must be confused and there has been a lack of boundaries as we both say different things. I feel I just need to be out of the picture and hope some day that he might realise all the things I tried to do for him and the sacrifices I made.....Is there anything you could suggest that I could do or should I just leave it???

== > I’d leave it -- with one huge caveat:

When your son wants to come back to live with you because he and his father have had a meltdown, your temptation will be to welcome him with open arms. BUT, what you will be doing is setting the whole unfortunate thing in motion again.

You have described over-indulgent parenting on your part throughout this email. If you take your son back at some point – but continue to parent using an over-indulgent parenting style, your son will eat you for lunch …then spit you out.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

The Important Distinction Between Punishment and Discipline

Mark- I am on week 3, and have found your online counseling a huge help to our family and situation. I hope that if we follow this, that we will see improvements with our 7-year-old daughter that has gotten out of control at home. She has been diagnosed ADHD and ODD. Every doc has recommended medications for her. Mainly I am sure because of school and the fact that she does have problems with socialization at school. She is aggressive with kids, but a friendly aggressive like hugs and such. She has a heart of gold, and wants to do good, but she doesn’t have the tools she needs in order to be constructive. You mention that we as parents should 'discipline' and not 'punish'. I am wondering what is the difference between discipline vs punishing? What I mean is, what is considered discipline and what is considered punishing? Thank you, J.


Hi J.,

Discipline is: 

  • "Time-outs" that are open-ended and governed by the child's readiness to gain self-control
  • Acknowledging or rewarding efforts and good behavior
  • Consistent, firm guidance
  • Directed at the child's behavior, never the child
  • Giving children positive alternatives
  • Listening and modeling
  • Logical consequences that are directly related to the misbehavior
  • Physically and verbally non-violent
  • Positive, respectful
  • Re-directing and selectively "ignoring" minor misbehavior
  • Reflection and verbal give-and-take communication
  • Teaching children to internalize self-discipline
  • Teaching empathy and healthy remorse by showing it
  • Understanding individual abilities, needs, circumstances and developmental stages
  • Using mistakes as learning opportunities
  • When children follow rules because they are discussed and agreed upon
  • When children must make restitution when their behavior negatively affects someone else

Punishment is:
  • "Time-outs" that banish a child for a set amount of time governed by the adult
  • Being told only what NOT to do
  • Children are punished for hurting others, rather than shown how to make restitution
  • Consequences that are unrelated and illogical to the misbehavior
  • Constantly reprimanding children for minor infractions causing them to tune-out
  • Controlling, shaming
  • Criticizing the child, rather than the child's behavior
  • Forcing children to comply with illogical rules "just because you said so"
  • Inappropriate to the child’s developmental stage of life
  • Individual circumstances, abilities and needs not taken into consideration
  • Negative and disrespectful of the child
  • Physically and verbally violent and aggressive
  • Reacting to rather than responding to misbehavior
  • Sarcastic
  • Teaching children to be controlled by a source outside of themselves
  • Teaching children to behave only when they will get caught doing otherwise
  • When children follow rules because they are threatened or bribed

Discipline is when a lifelong lesson is taught, the person develops another part of their character and learns a lesson in something they can use for all kinds of situations in life. Punishment is when they just "get in trouble" - just get a consequence for an offense - but nothing was learned except maybe to not get caught or not make the person punishing mad.

Discipline is guidance. When we guide children toward positive behavior and learning, we are promoting a healthy attitude. Positive guidance encourages a child to think before he acts. Positive guidance promotes self-control. Different styles of discipline produce results that are different. Discipline requires thought, planning, and patience.

Punishment, on the other hand, is usually hitting, spanking, or any type of control behavior. Basically there are four kinds of punishment: 

  • Penalizing the child with consequences that do not fit the crime: Example: "Because you told a lie, you can't have your allowance."
  • Physical: Slapping, spanking, switching, paddling, using a belt or hair brush, and so on.
  • With words: Shaming, ridiculing, or using cruel words.

Punishment is usually used because: 

  • It vents adult frustration
  • It's quick and easy
  • Parents don't know other methods
  • Punishment asserts adult power

Punishment does not promote self discipline. It only stops misbehavior for that moment. Punishment may fulfill a short-term goal, but it actually interferes with the accomplishment of your long-term goal of self control. 

The consequences for children include the following lessons:
  • It is okay to hit people who are smaller than you are.
  • It is right to hit those you are closest to.
  • Those who love you the most are also those who hit you.
  • Violence is okay when other things don't work.


  • Address the situation; do not judge the child. This is important because diminished self-esteem leads to insecurity, even hostility.
  • Be firm. Clearly and firmly state that the child does what needs to be done. Speak in a tone that lets your child know you mean what you say and you expect the child to do it. It doesn't mean yelling or threatening. Being firm works for any age child and for many situations.
  • Be sure children know these limits. Be consistent.
  • Build self-esteem and respect. Avoid words that reduce self-esteem.
  • Guide through consequences. If a child leaves his toys outside and the toys are stolen or damaged--no toys.
  • Keep discipline positive. Tell children what to do instead of what not to do.
  • Keep your cool. Listen calmly to your child's explanation of the problem; talk about ways to deal with it. Come to a solution that's agreeable to you and the child--this helps the child learn to be responsible for his behavior.
  • Plan ahead. Prevent misbehavior by eliminating situations that spell trouble. For example, make sure children have been fed and are rested before going to the grocery store.
  • Set clear and safe limits.
  • Teach by example. Be a good example. If you hit children for hitting others, they won't understand why they can't hit.
  • When you discipline, explain why.

Sorry for all the bullet points. It makes it a bit impersonal, but also provides you with a digestible summary.

Thanks for the question,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

When you think your teen "may" have lied to you, but you have no proof:


Hello Mark, I recently started your online program and am so glad I found it! I have a question involving lying that cannot be proven. I am 99% sure my 14 yr old son did these things but I have no physical proof that he specifically is the one that did it. My husband says without that proof we cannot punish him. I disagree, but I am afraid it may cause him to resent me on that 1% chance he is not lying. Issue 1: porn downloaded on my computer during 1 hour while I was away. I have a spyware program that showed this, and he says some app auto downloads stuff and he didn’t do it. Issue 2: 30 presc pills of mine are missing and he has been caught with other drugs/alcohol previously. Besides my husband and myself, the only person in the household is my 19 yr old daughter and we have no reason to believe she would have done either of these things as #1 she has her own computer, and #2 she has not had problems with this kind of thing, and #3 we can always tell if she lies and she says she didn't do these things. Should we punish my son? Thank you, T.


Your husband is right. If you don’t have proof, you shouldn’t issue a consequence – BUT you should safeguard your prescription meds and limit/monitor use of the computer.

As with ALL parents, there will come a time when you will catch your teen in a lie. It may be about something small, like telling you they have no homework when they are actually behind in school, or it could be something as big as saying they are spending the night at friends and staying out all night. When a teen gets away with a small lie, they tend to move onto bigger lies, so it's important to not let them get away with even the first small lie. It's about setting boundaries and using discipline to educate your child as to what you will not put up with, and drawing clear expectations of their behavior.

It's harder than it looks. You found out, you talked to them, you feel hurt and betrayed, but you pass it off as a youthful indiscretion and let it pass. They promise not to do it again, but the consequences did not match the action, and therefore they will continue to test and push to see how far they can get. Your job is to set clear expectations with your teen about lying, and set clear consequences.

This is a natural part of youth development, seeing how much they can get away with. But constant lying can lead to bigger problems, such as petty theft. So stay strong, set clear boundaries, and let the discipline (notice the word used here is discipline and not punishment) fit the lie.

How can you tell if your teen is lying to you in the first place? Listed below are a few ways therapists and other professionals use to spot when someone is telling a lie:
  1. If your teen avoids looking at you when telling you a story or looks at you too long without blinking, this is an indication that he/she may be lying. People tend not to look at the person they are lying to in the eye when lying, unless they know this fact and then they tend to look at you for too long. If you talk to your teen on a regular basis, you'll see a deviation in how he/she behaves while communicating to you during a lie.
  1. Many times when a person lies, they look down. When a person tells you what happened and it’s the truth, they tend to look up and ‘see’ the event happening as it did. But when someone is using their creativity to ‘make up’ what happened, they look down.
  1. People who are lying fidget. But this is also a sign of stress, so don’t go by this alone. Ask to check up on the story.
  1. People who are lying touch their face and mouth. This type of body language is something that happens often when someone is lying. It isn’t easy to pick up until you know to look for it.
  1. Teens who are lying avoid details, or have well practiced details, and change the story in the second telling. Again, this doesn’t happen as often with highly intelligent teens. Ask to check up on the story and see how he she reacts.
  1. The faster you get over the shock that your teen will lie to you, the better you will be at spotting when he/she is lying. Your teen will not be trying to hurt you by lying, so try not to emotionally attach yourself to that action.
  1. There will be a pause. This one would tell me something is wrong when I had a teen on the phone. If I ask for details on what he/she was doing, there is always a pause before the answer. It’s time for the teen to make something up. This happens face to face too.
  1. When someone lies, they get defensive and will not be happy if you chose to check-up on their story. It has been my experience when a teen is not lying, they offer ways for you to check up by giving you the phone numbers or names you need. They may be a little insulted – I fall back and regroup later – but they aren’t defensive. Being defensive and pitching a fit when asked to help you check the story is a sure sign something is amiss and the teen is lying.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

How to Motivate Your Teenager to Find Employment

"Hi Mark, I am so glad I found your web site, my husband and I have just started reading it and we are putting assignment 1 into place this week. I am actually a stepmother to my husband’s eldest boy (16yrs old) that we have been having terrible trouble with for many years but in the last 2 months things have become quite horrendous. To help you with the overall picture, his two brothers (12yrs & 15yrs) and himself live with us week about, 1 week with his mother and the other week with us and my 11yr daughter lives with us full time.

He is a very bright boy, but school just didn’t interest him and was getting into trouble, didn’t want to go, wouldn’t do any work, unmotivated and incredibly addicted to computer games – exactly what you have outlined in the start of your web site, it explained so much. It’s the old scenario his Dad felt sorry for his kids after the divorce and indulged them way too much, but he did the best he could at the time. He has since left school around 2 months ago, wants to go into the Police Force when he is 21 because in Australia to get into the Police Force you need to finish your Higher School Certificate or have a trade or certificate 3 in some sort of profession.

He is currently working part-time at McDonalds and some weeks only getting 1 shift a week and he feels this is enough and eventually McDonalds will give him a management role which will help get into the Police Force. But he would sit around all day, meet his friends after school and not look for another job. His father has offered him help with his resume, he has offered to take him to different organizations to find work. But he refuses to go. We have taken the internet off him altogether in both houses, because that would encourage him to stay home play computer games and not look for a job. Our question to you is how do we motivate him to work?"


There are many reasons why teenagers lack motivation to do what moms and dads want them to do. (You'll notice they don't lack motivation to do what they want to do, such as talk on the phone, skateboard, shop, party, etc.)

For now, I'll mention just a few:

1. Kids aren't allowed to explore the relevance for themselves. They are "told," but they don't explore. How many moms and dads "tell" their kids what happened, what caused it to happen, how they should feel about it, and what they should do about it? It is much more effective to ask what and how questions.
2. Moms and dads are more interested in short-term than long-term results. For example, "I'll make you do your homework now - even if it means you will never do your best because you are too busy rebelling."
3. Parents don't allow their kids to learn from "failure," which is an excellent motivator. Paradoxically, one of the best ways parents can help kids learn to be responsible (i.e., motivated) is to be consciously irresponsible. Allow them to fail, and then be empathetic and help them explore what happened, how they feel about it, what they learned from it, and what they could do in the future if they want another outcome.
4. Moms and dads don't help kids learn time management skills through involving them in the creation of routine charts. The key word is "involving them."
5. Parents don't know how to say, "I love you, and the answer is no."
6. The parent doesn't teach her kids problem-solving skills through family meetings and individual barnstorming sessions.
7. Moms and dads expect teenagers to "remember to do their chores" as though it were an indicator of responsibility. Most responsible adults were not necessarily responsible teenagers. Even though teenagers are "more" motivated to follow a plan they have helped create, they will still forget because it is not high on their list of priorities. This does not mean they are irresponsible. It means they are teenagers. A friendly reminder doesn't have to be a big deal. Use your sense of humor and remind with your mouth shut (e.g., point, use charades, or write a note). If you have to say something, ask, "What did we agree to that you have forgotten?"
8. The parents give their kids too many privileges and material things and then wonder why they fail to be appreciative -- and instead just want more, more, and more.
9. Parents "nag," and therefore invite resistance.
10. Regarding motivation to do chores, work, etc.: Again teenagers are too often “told” instead of “invited to brainstorm” and come up with a solution that works for everyone. Teenagers are much more motivated to follow a plan they have helped create.
11. Teenagers feel "conditionally loved" (e.g., "I'm okay only if I live up to your expectations"). This hurts and they get revenge by failing to meet parental expectations.

So, in answer to your question: how do we motivate him to work...

Stop doing any of those things (including those listed above) that are thwarting his driving force.

What the Future Holds for Teens Diagnosed with ODD

Hello again Mark,

Things are going significantly better... We have been trying your 3-part mantra: poker face, repeat the rule/plan/consequence, no emotion. Not always successfully, but better every day. I'm still very much grieving the child I will never have and would welcome ideas about how to move through this.

But, my bigger question for today is, what is the outlook for teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder as they move into adulthood? I'm especially concerned that my son is in for a life of turbulent and broken relationships and will likely have trouble holding a job.

I guess I do have another question. Upon receiving his grade card today for the end of his sophomore year, our son declared that he is not a good match for public school and that he will not be going to school in the fall (reminder that his IQ is in the 140s, he scored 32 on the ACT as a sophomore but also has ADD and dysgraphia). Could it be that in his case he really isn't ever going to "succeed" in the system we call public school? And, what is an appropriate response when our child says he wants to quit school? As always, thank you.


Re: What is the outlook for teens with ODD as they move into adulthood?

There are three main paths that an ODD child will take:

First, there will be some lucky children who outgrow this. About half of children who have ODD as preschoolers will have no psychiatric problems at all by age 8.

Second, ODD may turn into something else. About 5-10 % of preschoolers with ODD will eventually end up with ADHD and no signs of ODD at all. Other times ODD turns into conduct disorder (CD). This usually happens fairly early. That is, after a 3-4 years of ODD, if it hasn't turned into CD, it won't ever.

Third, the child may continue to have ODD without anything else. However, by the time preschoolers with ODD are 8 years old, only 5% have ODD and nothing else.

Fourth, they continue to have ODD but add on comorbid anxiety disorders, comorbid ADHD, or comorbid Depressive Disorders. By the time these children are in the end of elementary school, about 25% will have mood or anxiety problems which are disabling. That means that it is very important to watch for signs of mood disorder and anxiety as children with ODD grow older.

Re: Could it be that in his case he really isn't ever going to "succeed" in the system we call public school?

Yes, definitely. I would strongly recommend that you begin thinking about – and planning for – an alternative school setting for your son. Given his IQ, it's possible that he's simply bored with the standard schoolwork and needs to be in a class in which he's a bit more challenged academically.

Re: What is an appropriate response when our child says he wants to quit school?

In many states, once a teenager turns sixteen years old, he or she can drop out of school. By the time a teenager reaches the age of sixteen, half of the battle may already be lost. If the child is struggling with a particular subject or subjects, he may need extra tutoring. As a parent, you can encourage your child by spending time working with him in the evening. If you don’t feel knowledgeable enough to tutor your child, you can arrange for help from someone else.

Many schools now have afternoon tutoring available to help students who are falling behind. Some schools also have “last chance” programs. These programs are typically given at night or on the weekends. They offer students a chance to take a subject or subjects that they have failed, so that they might still be able to graduate on time.

As a parent, you should realize that there may be more serious causes behind your teenager’s lack of ambition. Drug abuse is a real problem among teenagers in today’s society. If you feel that your child is exhibiting signs of drug abuse, you should have him tested immediately. If he tests positive, you will need to decide on a direct course of action.

Never give up on your child. There may be times when both he and you are discouraged about his academic success. Try to hide your discouragement as much as possible, and, instead, let your child see that you believe in him and have high expectations that he will succeed.

Bottom line: Your son will excel at whatever he puts his mind to.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

14 year-old daughter has completely changed for the worse...

"hi mark my name is j____, i have a 14 yr old daughter, we've always been pretty close. since starting 9th grade she has completely changed, ditching class, smoking cigs, experimenting with drugs, disrespectful, lying etc… she’s not happy unless she is with her friends every waking moment. the fist couple of times she told me that she hated me i tried to tell myself that she didn’t really mean it, but each day its getting harder to believe that. the way she looks at me just tears my heart out. ok im not the perfect june cleaver kinda mom, but im not the mom from the movie psycho either.

i have been taking your "out of control teen course" where i have come to find out that i am an over indulgent parent, this is fixable, i just don’t know how to approach someone who {im truly starting to believe} despises me so much. how do i look into those eyes and not only not cry but try to connect with her?"


Hi J.,

First of all, your daughter does not hate you – she is angry with you and probably hates how the relationship has been going (as do you). If you died tomorrow, I’m sure your daughter would be devastated.

If you are a single parent, or if your husband tries to be the “good guy” -- then you are, by default, the designated "bad guy." Your child probably directs most - if not all - of her anger and rage toward you. But her anger is displaced. She is upset about many different things for many different reasons. Thus, as difficult as it WILL be, do not take her attacks personally.

If you dropped out of the picture (e.g., packed up and moved to the moon), I’m sure your daughter would take her frustrations out on the next caretaker that came across her path. Thus, her “hate” and “despising” have more to do with what is going on inside of her rather than what is going on between the two of you.

As hard as it is to do, grieve the loss of the daughter you once had. Work the OPS program one week at a time. And trust that things will work out for the best in the long run.

When your daughter is older and becomes a mother herself, she will have a “change of heart” regarding her connection to you. In the meantime, you take care of you.

Mark Hutten, M.A,

Son began to freak out and kick furniture, throw sofa cushions, screaming...

Hi S.,

I've responded throughout your email:

Dear Mark,

I hope you read this and can help me. This is Sunday 5pm central time. Beginning of last week we started your program. We told our son (D___, 15) the talk about how we have made mistakes and things would be changing with our parenting, and that we'd let him know as they came up. All has been fine til now. Today is the last day of the first week. This morning we asked if he'd like to go to Costco with us and he said he didn't know. We told him to let us know by 10:00. He said he didn't want to go, but when we were walking out the door, he asked us to wait for him to dress so he could go. We told him we had already given him the chance and we weren't waiting. He then began kicking our furniture and we told him he would lose phone privileges for 2 days if he kicked our furniture again. We left and all was fine. That was over and we went out as planned.

Later, he asked if he could go to community center, and we said yes, if he cleaned his pet's cage, which he did (art of saying yes used)!!!

Later today, we told our son today that we would like to help him to earn a weekly allowance. We said we would give him $2 a day to sweep any room in the house each day, and that there would be other ways to earn money by doing chores, but that would be a definite way. This was us trying to implement the 2nd week assignment of allowance for chores. Anyway, right away he asked why we couldn't just give him $20 a week, why are we all of a sudden making him work for money? He began to freak out and kick furniture, throw sofa cushions, screaming, etc.

==> When parents implement these new strategies, it often gets worse before it gets better. That is what's going on here. The fact that it is getting worse is, paradoxically, a good sign - it suggests that the true process of change is occurring.

We kept our poker face and said he would now lose the phone for 48 hours since he kicked our furniture again today, just like we had said before. He continued to scream and yell, slam doors, trying to get us to answer. I continued to say "I won't argue, I won't argue..." He locked our bedroom door so we couldn't get in, he tried to block me from going up the stairs, we then closed ourselves in our office. He then slammed and kicked his bedroom door, he screamed that he hated us and he was going to jump out of his 2nd floor bedroom window. We continued to ignore him; he then broke his bedroom window and we heard him cry that he was bleeding.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen 

==> This is a good example of a natural consequence. His "bleeding" is, paradoxically, a good thing (as long as he doesn't bleed to death).

Finally, about 5 - 10 minutes into this, my husband decided to go out of the office; there was blood all over the hallway, his bedroom window and the bathroom window was broken..My husband then began helping him clean up his finger. This has been about an hour now, and he is finally cleaning up the blood. The entire time he is still out there asking why we are so mean, why is he grounded from phone for 2 days, we are not his friends, he doesn't want to hear our voices, etc.

I am putting all of this into the file for later to deal with it then.

==> Good choice.

But, how do I handle all of this now?

==> Use the strategy entitled "When You Want Something From Your Kid" and/or "The Six-Step Approach" [online version of the eBook].

This isn't the time to talk to him about all this. He won't calm down. The windows need to be fixed; do we do it and have him pay later, what????

==> He needs to help pay for all the damage.

Is all of this window breaking really to be put away for a later consequence and not dealt with now???

==> The "original offense" as I see it is when he kicked the furniture. Everything after that goes into the "Deal-With-It-Later" file.

Believe it or not - you are greatly on track and doing a wonderful job. Hang tough. Keep working the program. You'll be glad you did.

Mark Hutten, M.A.


==> I've responded throughout:

Dear Mark,

First, please accept my apology for my ranting earlier, and for asking for you to "read immediately." I realize I am not your main concern. I was just so confused that I didn't know where to begin.

==> I understand. No apology needed. You needed to vent.

This is the first time we have actually put on our "poker face" during one of these tantrums. It was so hard not to freak out at him for this crazy behavior. This is one of the worst tantrums in a long time. Now that he has calmed down, I do wonder if we handled it correctly. I think I might be getting some of the steps a little mixed up. Either way, we let him have his fit, we ignored him, while he broke windows and in the process got his finger cut. Is that correct, to ignore during all that?

==> You do allow him to make the poor choice, but you also implement the consequence immediately. Tell your son that, in the future, if he chooses to destroy property, then he will choose the consequence, which is (a) the police will be called immediately and (b) an incorrigibility complaint will be filed. The next time he has a meltdown - follow through with this consequence.

After, when he was calm, we sat down and I went through the four steps and said to him...

"When things in our home get broken, it worries us because me and daddy have to then figure out how to get it fixed and how to pay for it, I know you did all that to show how angry you were and that is how you showed your emotions, next time though, I would rather you take a time out, maybe even punch your speed bag, then we can talk about it when we are all calm."

==> My Out-of-Control Teen 

==> Beautiful job here. That was a 5 star move on your part !!!!!

I then hugged him. We then told him he would indeed need to pay for the broken windows. I tried to add humor at that point and I said, "well, at least now you will learn how to fix windows!" He didn't laugh, but I giggled. We've told him to take time outs and calm down when he feels like that, but he is so out of control during these times that he can't even calm down first.

The original consequence for kicking the furniture next time, from this morning, and slamming doors was 48 hours without phone, which I began when he was calm. I will then, at the end of the 48 hours, tell him, next time you break things in our home, the consequence will be to lose all privileges for 5 days.

==> I can tell that you have done your homework. I'm very proud of you. You are doing a class A job here - and this is not an exaggeration on my part.

Mark, I hope I am doing this right. I am committed to doing this consistently, so please tell me if I am on the right path.

==> You are definitely on the right path -- you are also a great role model for other parents who are struggling with the same issues.

Thank you!!



Hi Mark,

Thanks so much for responding. I do have another question. When Daniel's 48 hour phone loss ends tomorrow evening, that is when the plan was to tell him if he breaks things again, he will lose everything for 5 days. The consequence though, that is in your program, that you emailed to me, about calling the police and filing incorrigibility complaint, is where my question is. I think I will have some difficulty making this call. First because I have never called the police on him before, also, I don't think my husband will agree to this.

==> This is a fair and good question. A weaker plan supported by both parents is better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent. Thus, if your husband is not willing to do this, then you'll have to settle for second best.

The reason I mentioned calling the police is because your son broke the law. It is illegal for him to destroy your property. Therefore, the honest consequence should really be to involve the authorities. Be very careful about employing half-measures.

What happens when this complaint is made, does it go on a permanent record?

==> No. The officer will have a talk with your son. You may have the option to have him arrested, but you will want to save that potential consequence for the future should your son continue to have meltdowns. We don't want to pull out all the big guns too early. A juvenile's "record" can be expunged, too.

My husband and I are not always on the same page as to what to do, but we are working on it. If we call and file complaint, do we also take everything away for 5 days, one of these consequences, or both?

==> Yes. He gets 5 days plus faces potential legal consequences. Again, destroying property is illegal. We want to set up a system at home that is representative of the "real world" -- and in the real world, when you destroy somebody's house -- you go to jail.

I don't want to say we will be calling if me and my husband cannot agree, no more empty threats, but I want to do the right thing.

==> I agree. You don't want to make an empty threat. But the trade off is that you will be running the risk of employing a half-measure (i.e., a consequence that is not much of a deterrent for your son).

I am glad to hear you say that this is the part of it getting worse before it gets better. I am looking forward to some happier times for my child.

Thanks again. I'll look for your response to the above question. I do hope I am not asking too many things. It really helps to be able to confirm if I am making right decisions.

==> Thanks for working the program as it is intended.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen

How to Squelch "Attention-Seeking" Behavior in Defiant Children

"We had issues with A___ at home last night that I wanted to talk to you about, and what we could have done. She had been to her Nana's for the day and I picked her up at about 5pm. Normally she is really hyped up 'cause they make cakes and she has more sugar than I'd like. Nana said she only ate one cake but she was behaving as if she'd had 50... She wasn't being abusive (for a change) but she was being incredibly annoying. She wouldn't eat any dinner (that's ok so go hungry), she wouldn't have a shower, she kept grabbing hold of me and laughing (my sore arm and my legs) and wouldn't let go, was swinging off a wooden beam in the kitchen, wouldn't let us eat our dinner (dancing around in front of the TV when we tried to ignore her and put the news on), annoying the cat (she got scratched having not learnt from heaps of previous scratches over the years), wouldn't do any homework etc. etc....

SO after trying to ignore her for a while, we gave her a warning that if she continued she would lose all her soft toys for 3 days (they were packed in a suitcase and locked away) but she continued so the next warning/consequence was the loss of her dvd player (locked away) and no TV for 3 days and she continued and lost some books etc. but then after doing this for 6 hours (it was 11pm by this stage and she wasn't in bed) Martin lost his temper with her (I had been really trying so hard to not get angry) so she then went to bed crying and screaming abuse at us.

What could we have done differently? She didn't start off actually behaving badly per se but she was being unbelievably annoying and it went on for 6 hours!!! Martin lost his appetite and didn't eat anything for dinner and although he congratulated me for not losing MY temper, he still got cross at me when I suggested he go back and read your e-book again so then WE were arguing..... You know the story!"


It's normal for children to need attention and approval. However, attention-seeking becomes a problem when it happens all the time. Even charming attention-seeking can become controlling. Many children make tragedies out of trivial concerns to get your sympathy. Excessive attention-seeking results in a situation where your child commands your life. This can be the seed for discipline problems in later childhood and adolescence.

Your goal is not to eliminate your child's need for attention and approval. When handled correctly, your child's need for attention can be a helpful tool for improving your child's behavior. Eliminate not the need for attention, but those attention- seeking behaviors that are excessive or unacceptable.

How Much Attention Is Too Much? That depends on you. How much attention-seeking can you tolerate? The rule is that children will seek as much attention as you give them. You must strike a balance between how much your children want and how much you can give. Even normal attention-seeking can drive you crazy on some days.

Do not let your children's need for attention turn into demands for attention. When children do not get enough attention, they resort to outbursts, tantrums, nagging, teasing, and other annoying behaviors. They think, "If I can't get attention by being good, then I'll misbehave to get Mom's attention."

Adult attention and approval are among the strongest rewards for children. Unfortunately, parents seldom use attention wisely. There are three kinds of attention: positive attention, negative attention, and no attention.

When you give your children attention and approval for being well behaved, they are getting positive attention. Positive attention means catching children being good. Focus on positive behavior. Positive attention can be words of praise or encouragement, closeness, hugs, or a pat on the back. A pleasant note in your child's lunch box works well. Positive attention increases good behavior.

When you give your child attention for misbehavior, you are giving negative attention. Negative attention typically begins when you become upset. You follow with threats, interrogation, and lectures. Negative attention is not a punishment; it is a reward. Negative attention does not punish misbehavior, but increases it.

What is the easiest way to capture your attention ...sitting quietly or misbehaving? When children do not receive attention in a positive way, they will get your attention any way they can. Do not pay attention to misbehavior. Pay attention to good behavior.

Negative attention teaches children how to manipulate and get their way. They learn to be troublesome. They learn how to interrupt you. They learn how to control you. Negative attention teaches children how to tease, nag, and annoy. It teaches children to aggravate, irritate, and exasperate. We teach this by not paying attention to our children when they are behaving appropriately, and by paying attention to them when they are misbehaving.

I have worked with hundreds of parents who have taught their children to be negative attention seekers. I have never met a parent who taught this deliberately. When you attend to the negative and ignore the positive, you teach your children to behave in a negative way. Your child will misbehave to get your attention in the future.

Do not wait for misbehavior to happen. Do not take good behavior for granted. We do this with teenagers. We come to expect good behavior, and overlook their efforts. When a child demonstrates good behavior, notice it. Look for it. The more you notice, the more you will find. You will get more good behavior in the future. Anyone can catch children being bad. Turn this around. Catch them being good. It's not easy. It takes practice.

Statistics show that the average American parent spends seven minutes a week with each of their children. Do better than average. Telling your children that you love them is not enough. Show them that you love them. Spend ten minutes of quality time with each child every day. No excuses, like I was just too busy today, or I didn't have time. We are all too busy.

In many families, both parents work. Some parents work two jobs. Your most important job is being a parent. When you come home after work, give the first thirty minutes to your children. Do not be the parents whose only hour with their daughter this week was in the principal's office or at the police station. Write your children into your plan book. Make an appointment with each of your children every day. Go for a walk and listen to what is happening in their lives. Turn off the TV for an hour and talk.

When you ignore misbehavior, you are giving no attention. Because attention is rewarding to children, withholding attention can be an effective punishment. Withholding attention can weaken a misbehavior. When your child misbehaves to get your attention, ignore the misbehavior. Ignore your child's inappropriate demands for attention. You will weaken those demands and extinguish the misbehavior.

Some parents find this hard to believe; they think that if a child is misbehaving, he must be punished. This is not true. Ignoring demands for attention is the best cure. When you ignore consistently, you will teach your child that the misbehavior is not paid off with attention. Temper tantrums need an audience. Take the audience away, and there is no point to having a tantrum. Do not forget to redirect. Teach children appropriate ways to get attention. "My ears do not listen to whining. Please ask in a soft voice."

Ignoring does not mean ignoring the problem. It means ignoring demands for negative attention. There are many forms of misbehavior that you should NOT ignore. Some misbehavior should be punished. Deciding when to ignore or when to punish is not easy, and there are no exact rules. It takes timing and judgment. When your child misbehaves to get attention, ignore it. If your child does not stop in two or three minutes, give him a reminder. Tell your child, "I do not respond to whining. When you stop, we'll talk." Wait another minute or two. If he still does not stop, then tell your child to stop or he will be punished: "Stop now, or you will go to time-out."

If you get angry or let your child push your buttons, you lose. If you must use a punishment, dispense the punishment without anger. If you get angry, then your child has succeeded in getting the negative attention that he was after. If you feel yourself getting angry, walk away. Cool off. If you give in, you will be providing your child with an attention payoff. You will be rewarding a misbehavior.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Online Parent Support: Help for Exasperated Moms and Dads

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...