When Your Teenager Absolutely REFUSES To Go To School

"Terrible morning... my 15 yr. old missed the bus AGAIN. I told him that if he missed again he would have to walk (about 1 mile). He refused and went to his room. I tried to get him to go but he refused. Told him this was unacceptable and ended up driving him part of the way. What do I do now? He has had his phone and ipad taken away already."


You're definitely not alone in dealing with this issue. Here are some examples to prove it:

School Refusers: Case Examples--

Laura, an eight-year-old girl, has always had difficulty attending school. Since she began third grade two months ago, her problems have significantly worsened. She constantly begs to stay home from school, having tantrums that cause delay in dressing and often result in her missing the bus. After arriving at school, Laura frequently complains of stomachaches, headaches and a sore throat to her teacher and asks to visit the school nurse with whom she pleads to call her mother. Her mother typically picks her up early twice a week. 

When Laura gets home she spends the remainder of the afternoon watching TV and playing with her toys. When her mother is unable to pick her up early, Laura calls her mother's cell phone periodically throughout the afternoon to "check in" and reassure herself that nothing bad has happened. Laura's teacher has expressed concern about her missing so much class time which has resulted in incomplete assignments and difficulty learning.

James is a fourteen-year-old boy who has missed forty-three days of school since beginning the eighth grade four months ago. When home from school, James spends most of the day online or playing video games. On the days he does attend school he is typically late for his first period which enables him to avoid hanging out with other kids before class. He always goes to the library during lunch. 

When he does go to class, he sits in the back of the classroom, never raises his hand and has difficulty working on group projects. James' teachers have noticed that he is always absent on days that tests or book reports are scheduled. His parents have already punished him after his first report card came home since he received D's in Math and Social Studies and failed Gym for cutting. James' parents have started to wonder if they should change his school placement and have asked the school to arrange home tutoring while this alternative is explored.

Prevalence and defining characteristics—

As much as 28% of school aged kids in America refuse school at some point during their education.1 School refusal behavior is as common among boys as girls. While any youngster aged 5-17 may refuse to attend school, most kids who refuse are 10-13 years old. Peaks in school refusal behavior are also seen at times of transition such as 5-6 and 14-15 years as kids enter new schools. Although the problem is considerably more prevalent in some urban areas, it is seen equally across socioeconomic levels.

Laura and James are just two examples of how school refusal manifests in kids. The hallmark of this behavior is its heterogeneity. Defined as substantial, child-motivated refusal to attend school and/or difficulties remaining in class for an entire day, the term "school refusal behavior" replaces obsolete terms such as "truancy" or "school phobia," because such labels do not adequately or accurately represent all kids who have difficulty attending school. 

School refusal behavior is seen as a continuum that includes kids who always miss school as well as those who rarely miss school but attend under duress. Hence, school refusal behavior is identified in kids aged 5-17 years who:

1. are entirely absent from school, and/or

2. attend school initially but leave during the course of the school day, and/or

3. go to school following crying, clinging, tantrums or other intense behavior problems, and/or

4. exhibit unusual distress during school days that leads to pleas for future absenteeism.

As evidenced by Laura and James, there are varying degrees of school refusal behavior. Initial school refusal behavior for a brief period may resolve without intervention. Substantial school refusal behavior occurs for a minimum of two weeks. Acute school refusal behavior involves cases lasting two weeks to one year, being a consistent problem for the majority of that time. 

Chronic school refusal behavior interferes with two or more academic years as this refers to cases lasting more than one calendar year. Kids who are absent from school as a result of chronic physical illness, school withdrawal which is motivated by parents or societal conditions such as homelessness, or running away to avoid abuse should not be included in the above definition of school refusal behavior as these factors are not child-initiated.

While some school refusers exhibit a more heterogeneous presentation, typically these kids can be categorized into two main types of troublesome behavior -- internalizing or externalizing problems. The most prevalent internalizing problems are generalized worrying ("the worry-wart"), social anxiety and isolation, depression, fatigue, and physical complaints (e.g. stomachaches, nausea, tremors and headaches). The most prevalent externalizing problems are tantrums (including crying and screaming), verbal and physical aggression, and oppositional behavior.

The cause and maintenance of school refusal behavior—

Laura had several physiological symptoms at school and went home to be with her mother and play. James on the other hand, avoided potentially distressing social and evaluative situations at school which negatively impacted his academic performance. Although many behaviors characterize kids who refuse school, there are a few variables that serve to cause and maintain this problem. School refusal behavior occurs for one or more of the following reasons:

1. To avoid school-related objects or situations that cause general distress such as anxiety, depression or physiological symptoms

2. To escape uncomfortable peer interactions and/or academic performance situations such as test-taking or oral presentations

3. To pursue tangible reinforcement outside of school

4. To receive attention from significant others outside of school

The above four reasons for school refusal behavior can be explained by principles of reinforcement. Any one youngster can refuse school for one or more of these reasons. The first two reasons characterize kids who refuse school to avoid or escape something unpleasant (negative reinforcement). For example, one of the reasons for Laura's crying in the morning is her fear of riding the school bus. 

By tantruming she accomplishes her goal of avoiding the school-related object (the school bus) that causes her distress. Another example of negative reinforcement is when James escapes aversive peer interactions and exams by school refusing. The third and fourth reasons characterize kids who refuse school to gain rewards (positive reinforcement). Laura, as is common with many younger kids, tries to avoid school as a means of having her mother provide her with excessive attention and closeness. Thus, Laura's behavior in this situation may be associated with separation anxiety. 

Another instance of positive reinforcement is exemplified by James, who basically has more fun being at home on the computer and listening to music than being in school. It is important to note that alcohol and drug use can occur among adolescents who school refuse for one or more of the reasons listed above. For example, a teenager who is extremely socially anxious may drink alcohol as a way of enduring distressing social or evaluative situations. 

Another youngster who avoids school may smoke marijuana during school hours as a means of gaining acceptance by peers or simply because it is more enjoyable than attending school. While all forms of school refusal can be equally debilitating, typically, mental health professionals receive fewer referrals for kids who have internalizing as opposed to externalizing behavior problems. In other words, the kid who exhibits anxiety is less likely to receive treatment than the kid who is disruptive.

Alternative School—

Kids who refuse to go to school typically do much better in an alternative school setting – one in which (a) the classes are smaller, (b) they get more one-on-one attention, and (c) they do most of their work on the comport.

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17-Year-Old Daughter is Depressed and Suicidal

"My 17 y.o. daughter has shutdown (i.e., isolates in her room, doesn't eat dinner with us, hates school, seems very depressed and moody). This has come on the heals of moving to a different city 3 hours away from where she grew up. She's 'lost' all of her friends in the truest sense on the word and frequently says 'I wish I were dead'. But we had to move here due to my husband's work. How can I help in this situation?"

If you suspect that an adolescent in your life is suffering from depression, take action right away. Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that the symptoms will go away. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing in your adolescent are signs of a problem. Whether or not that problem turns out to be depression, it still needs to be addressed - the sooner the better.

The first thing you should do if you suspect depression is to talk to your adolescent about it. In a loving and non-judgmental way, share your concerns with your adolescent. Let him or her know what specific signs of depression you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then encourage your child to open up about what he or she is going through.

Here are some important tips:

Avoid the blame game – It can be easy to blame yourself or another family member for your adolescent’s depression, but it only adds to an already stressful situation. Furthermore, depression is normally caused by a number of factors, so it’s unlikely—except in the case of abuse or neglect—that any loved one is “responsible”.

Be open with the family – Don’t tiptoe around the issue of teen depression in an attempt to “protect” the other children. Kids know when something is wrong. When left in the dark, their imaginations will often jump to far worse conclusions. Be open about what is going on and invite your children to ask questions and share their feelings.

Be understanding. Living with a depressed adolescent can be difficult and draining. At times, you may experience exhaustion, rejection, despair, aggravation, or any other number of negative emotions. During this trying time, it’s important to remember that your child is not being difficult on purpose. Your adolescent is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding.

Don’t give up if your adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for adolescents. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.

Don’t try to talk adolescents out of their depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness they are feeling. If you don’t, they will feel like you don’t take their emotions seriously.

Encourage physical activity. Encourage your adolescent to stay active. Exercise can go a long way toward relieving the symptoms of depression, so find ways to incorporate it into your adolescent’s day. Something as simple as walking the dog or going on a bike ride can be beneficial.

Encourage social activity. Isolation only makes depression worse, so encourage your adolescent to see friends and praise efforts to socialize. Offer to take your adolescent out with friends or suggest social activities that might be of interest, such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art class.

If your adolescent claims nothing is wrong, but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. Remember that denial is a strong emotion. Furthermore, adolescents may not believe that what they’re experiencing is the result of depression. If you see depression’s warning signs, seek professional help. Neither you nor your adolescent is qualified to either diagnosis depression or rule it out, so see a doctor or psychologist who can.

Learn about depression. Just like you would if your child had a disease you knew very little about, read up on depression so that you can be your own “expert.” The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help your depressed adolescent. Encourage your adolescent to learn more about depression as well. Reading up on their condition can help depressed adolescents realize that they’re not alone and give them a better understanding of what they’re going through.

Let depressed adolescents know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (adolescents don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.

Reach out for support – Get the emotional support you need. Reach out to friends, join a support group, or see a therapist of your own. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, helpless, or angry. The important thing is to talk about how your adolescent’s depression is affecting you, rather than bottling up your emotions.

Remember the siblings – Depression in one child can cause stress or anxiety in other family members, so make sure “healthy” children are not ignored. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation.

Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your adolescent begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.

Stay involved in treatment. Make sure your adolescent is following all treatment instructions and going to therapy. It’s especially important that your child takes any prescribed medication as instructed. Track changes in your adolescent’s condition, and call the doctor if depression symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Take care of yourself – In order to help a depressed adolescent, you need to stay healthy and positive yourself, so don’t ignore your own needs. The stress of the situation can affect your own moods and emotions, so cultivate your well–being by eating right, getting enough sleep, and making time for things you enjoy.

13-Year-Old Daughter Is Being Promiscuous

My 13 year old daughter is sexually promiscuous. I know she has had sex twice with one boy, one time being in a public toilet. She is not in a relationship with him. I know she has kissed three different boys this week. I cannot watch her 24 hours a day and I think that she will damage herself psychologically is she continues this destructive behavior. She doesn't know that I know all of this, but knows I found out about the sex. Any advice?


Teen Sex and Promiscuity

Moms and dads dread the day that their youngster becomes sexually active. Girls in particular, seem to cause more concern because of the risk of teen pregnancy.

Understanding why adolescents have sex is one of the most important steps towards dealing with the situation.

Why Adolescents Decide to Have Sex—

No single factor can be blamed for all possible occurrences of teenage sex. However, some of the more common issues raised by adolescents include:
  • a belief that having sex will make them more adult
  • a negative self-image, believing that participating in sexual activity can increase their popularity
  • in girls more than boys, a belief that sex will keep their partner interested in them and will provide the love they crave
  • media influence such as television, music and the Internet
  • overly strict moms and dads, increasing the chances of promiscuity when the opportunity arises
  • peer pressure—a feeling that everyone else is having sex

[Twenty percent of all adolescents have had sex at least once before their fifteenth birthday.]

Sex in the Media—

Sex is everywhere. Teens simply cannot avoid the topic. Researchers discovered that 83 percent of episodes of adolescents' twenty favorite television programs contained some reference to sexual behavior.

[If you were to watch an hour of music videos, on average, you'd see ninety three sexual situations.]

Even apparently innocuous family sports events are not free from sexual exploits. During the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, over thirteen million kids under seventeen watched Justin Timberlake tear off items of Janet Jackson's clothing.

Try as we might—sex cannot be avoided.

Teenage Sex and the Internet—

Recently, the Internet has provided teens with an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about sex. In the privacy of their bedrooms, adolescents can be exposed to an astonishing array of graphic pictures and video clips depicting erotic material.

Pornography is rife on the Internet, appearing as emails or pop-ups or even web sites designed to attract adolescents. While most adults simply ignore such intrusions, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to them. Pornographic material can give an impressionable teen a convoluted view of what is normal, healthy sexual behavior.

Dangers of Teenage Sex—

Teen pregnancy is by far the most publicized danger of underage sex. Statistics reveal that every year in the US, over 850,000 girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen become pregnant. Equally worrying are the figures that suggest 20,000 girls under fourteen become pregnant annually; of those 8,000 go on to give birth.

Promiscuity is an urgent issue. Adolescents are much more likely to engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners. Half of all people infected with the HIV virus annually are thought to be between the ages of 15 and 24.

About 25 percent of all sexually active teens contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) annually. Of those, eighty percent do not know they have a disease and run the risk of long-term health effects, such as infertility. Two percent of all girls between fifteen and nineteen have been diagnosed with Chlamydia.

What the Parent of a Teen Can Do—

Despite the prevalence of teenage sex, only about one third of moms and dads with sexually active fourteen-year-olds believe that their youngster had engaged in sex. However, of those kids, three-quarters used contraception the first time they had sex.

Signs that Your Teen is having Sex—

Adolescents who are dating someone who is at least two years older than they are twice as likely to engage in sexual activity. Furthermore, teens in a long-term relationship are considerably more likely to be having sex.

Teens with several social groups are less likely to be involved in intimate situations and are therefore less likely to be engaging in sex.

Tips for Moms and dads—

Experts have this advice:
  • Believe it or not, many teens feel that their moms and dads are the most influential source of information on sex.
  • Discuss sex with your youngster, from an early age, ideally pre-teen. Talking to your teen about sex encourages responsible behavior when it comes to sexual activity.
  • Keep in mind that your teen gains a lot of information from simply watching how adults behave.
  • Offer guidance, care and supervision. Adolescents are in need of parenting and feel more secure when boundaries are clear.

Sexuality is an important topic for your adolescent. Tackle it early, sensitively and in a matter-of-fact manner. Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible. Help your adolescent understand normal sexual urges and strategies for managing them healthfully.

Should You Force Your Teenager to Attend Church with the Family?

Hi, I have been using the parenting strategies since March. Things were going well, and my son even earned the privilege of a driving permit in April, which would allow him to take his driving test to have a driver's license. If he had stayed on track, he would have had his driver's test scheduled in May. However, within 1 week of earning the driving permit, he began to become rebellious again, argumentative, and sloppy or forgetful about his chores. I asked him what was bothering him, but he refused to say; he only had insults for me.

In the beginning of May, my son said that it was not fair for us to make him attend church on Sundays. I reminded him that it was a house rule that was agreed to by him. He told me that he did not believe there was anything after a person dies. I did not argue with him. 2 days after that statement, my son was hospitalized for 8 days because of seizures. He had over 60 seizures in that time span. My son was upset with me because we prayed for him-the seizures stopped.

He is at home now and has refused to go to church today. I repeated the request for him to be ready by 9am. I waited 10 minutes, and issued a warning of the consequence. I took his game controller when he did not get up. He told me that he was taking a stand for his faith. He told me he was agnostic 2 weeks ago.

This looks like a power struggle to me. However, I don't believe my husband will back down and let this go once he finds out. My husband strongly believes that his household will serve the Lord (at the least attend church). I believe this also, but would prefer to avoid the power struggle first.

What strategy should I have used? Once again, I will probably be in the cross fire between my son and his step-father.


I don’t think you will get your son to “serve the Lord” by forcing him to go to church. Attending church can be one of the most satisfying and exciting activities for any family. However, it can also be one of the most frustrating and draining days for moms and dads who have a difficult time getting their teenager to go to church. If your family finds itself in the second category, please understand you are NOT alone.

If your son does not like going to church, begin by asking the simple question, "Why". When asking this question, you must then be willing to listen. Don't comment after every sentence or roll your eyes when a reason is given that seems ridiculous. Ask God to give you patience as you listen intently to his objections, frustrations, and concerns. After your son is finished, begin talking about the reasons he gave and find a way to begin to actively address his concerns.

For example, one of their reasons could be he doesn’t feel a part of the group. Some suggestions you might give could be to allow him to bring a friend, or ask with a great amount of diplomacy if he is making an effort to meet other teenagers. You can also find an adult volunteer in the Student Ministry and ask what they have observed.

It’s true. You do have every right to “force’ your son to attend church, but talking, listening, and problem solving allows your son to no longer be the "problem" -- but to be a part of the solution instead.

Here are some tips on getting your teenager connected to the church family:

1. Find a place of service for YOU. One of the best things a parent can do is get involved in the ministry your teenager attends. NOTE: You don't have to be "cool" to work with students. You MUST have a heart for the Lord and a heart for people. The rest will come.

2. Find a place of service for your teenager. There are MANY places in the church that need volunteers. Allow your son to serve on Sunday morning. This will greatly increase the chance for your son to feel connected and "needed" on Sunday mornings.

3. Worship happens all week, not just at church. Make it a point to talk about God during the week, not just on Sundays. That shows your family that God is about every day of the week, not just on Sunday.

4. PRAY! Don't forget the power of prayer. God definitely wants your family to find a place to worship and connect with other Christians. This is a request He wants to answer. It might take time and a lot of work, BUT your labor will not be in vain!

  • God will clearly reveal to your son the priorities He wants for him.
  • God would put people in your son's life to “connect” with at church and to influence them and encourage them to want to be involved in church.
  • You will model for your son what it means to be "connected" in the body of Christ.
  • Your son will be open to listening to God's voice in giving direction in their life.

Bottom line: I would tackle this problem purely from a spiritual standpoint. Withdraw from the power struggle. Let go and let God. Don’t force him to go to church (otherwise he may equate “going to church” with “being punished”). And trust that God will WORK on your son’s behave.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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"Should I tell him that I'm not his biological father?"

Hello Mr. Hutten,

I have a question for you. I have a 14 year old step son who does not know that I am not his biological father. His mother and I have been separated for 9 years. I get him and his brother, who is my biological son, three times a week. I have had this visitation arrangement with their mother for the entire 9 years.

I met the boy when he was 8 months old, and he really has no idea I am not his biological father.

That said, the boy treats me with no respect, gets into trouble and generally makes the time I have with him and his brother a nightmare. I could go on, but I am sure you can imagine what I have been going through.

My question-- Should I tell him that I am not his biological father? I really want to tell him because I do not think he appreciates exactly how good I have been to him. I spend a lot of time being angry at him and I think if he knew the real situation he might have a little more gratitude.

Please let me know what your professional opinion is.

Thank you so much for your help and your program.




Yes! You should definitely tell him, but out of a sense of keeping the relationship on an honest level – not out of a need to apply your own hidden agenda (e.g., to lay a guilt-trip on him for how he has been treating you). Also, break the news to him at a time when things are calm – not after a heated argument or during conflict.

For all intents and purposes, he is your son – and as such, you should use all the disciplinary strategies in the eBook exactly as they are outlined. Some stepparents try to deal with the daunting task of being stepdad by taking the approach of "I won't interfere with your life." Unfortunately, this approach says to the stepchild: "I don't care that much about what happens to you." Stepchildren may resist involvement, but they will benefit far more -- and form a better relationship -- with an involved stepparent who applies both nurturing and discipline.

Give your stepson the gift of limits. Children need limits for healthy development. If they don't learn in the home that there are limits on their behavior, they'll have a harder time functioning in the outside world. If they resist limits -- and they will -- it will be easier for you to deal with it if you remind yourself that children do the same thing with their biological parents.

Use clear and explicit rules to establish limits. "You never told me that" may be a legitimate objection when you try to punish a child for breaking a limit. Limits should be clear, consistent, and invariably enforced. And there should be clearly understood consequences for following or disobeying them. Don't overwhelm your stepchildren with rules, but have enough of them to create a moral order in your home.

Let stepchildren participate in making the rules. Have regular family meetings. Use them for sharing positive experiences, openly airing grievances and concerns, and formulating rules. Children should not have the final say in establishing each rule. But they should know that they have been heard. It's a basic principle that people are much more likely to conform when they have participated in the decision-making process.

Encourage openness about feelings. "I hate you. You're not my father." It's tempting to reprove the child and forbid such language. But that teaches stepchildren to suppress their feelings. Instead, tell the child why this kind of statement hurts and how it makes you feel. Then explore with the child why he feels this way, reminding him that you still want to be his father. Be honest with your stepchildren about your own feelings, and encourage them to be honest about theirs.

Plan special times and experiences with your stepson. Shared experiences build intimacy. Spend time alone with him. Do something that the child considers special (e.g., going hunting or fishing).

Maintain your sense of humor. Humor helps keep matters in perspective. It helps relieve tension. It builds intimacy when you laugh with someone else. Sometimes you can use humor to resolve a problem with a stepchild. Humor won't cure all problems, but a lack of humor can kill the relationship.

Other than these items above, use the techniques outlined in the eBook.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Dealing with a Run Away Daughter: Tips for Parents

Hi Mark, We bought my out of control teen for our problem teen, H___ aged 16 (with undiagnosed emotional problems) and have found the tools very helpful, however we are at a loss to know how to deal with her runaway episodes which she does when she receives a consequence.

She ran away late one night in bare feet and walked all the way to her dad's house 7& 1/2 kms away, (he was convicted with 18 charges of violence against me) she hadn't seen him for 10 years...and it turned out to be a bad experience...then went and stayed at a friend’s. As she told us she wasn't coming home but was planning to move out which she can legally do at the age of 16, which she is now. I just told her how her choice to move out would affect her...we wouldn't support her financially...she would have to arrange all that herself and stayed in constant contact with her.

We have contacted the police and they have said unless she is considered at risk (ie mental health issues which she does have) they do not have the power to go and bring her home.

I managed to persuade her through much carefully thinking and talking to come home and return to school which she wanted to drop out of. She did work experience during the holidays that I took her to and now school has started she became very wound up and yelled at and gave me mouth for half an hour when she was reminded of a job she was required to do.

She went to school Monday and never came home...I believe she has gone to a friends...and I don't know what to do....I replied to her text on someone else’s phone but have not heard back from her.

By running away when she is given a consequence (this has gone on for 2 & 1/2 years) she avoids all responsibility and accountability and I renders useless any discipline program.

What can I do about this as our Australian laws as we have signed the convention on the rights of the child have taken away parental rights?

How can I approach this problem for her benefit? 

very distressed mum, J.


Hi J,

We as parents want to model for our children HOW THE "REAL WORLD" OPERATES.

In the real world, one has to follow certain rules (e.g., obey the speed limit).

In the real world, when someone breaks the rules, there is a consequence (e.g., a speeding ticket).

In the real world, if someone refuses to accept the 1st consequence (e.g., not paying the ticket)...

...there is usually a much stiffer consequence to follow (e.g., lose of driving privileges).

Thus, you will do more harm than good by (a) pleading and begging her to come home/return to school and (b) tip-toeing around her in fear of issuing any consequences that may result in her running off.

As long as you take ownership of her "running" and "avoiding" -- then she does not have to take on any responsibility (you are taking it all). As soon as she realizes that HER PROBLEM IS HER PROBLEM (i.e., where she lives and whether or not she goes to school is HER responsibility), then she will begin to make some better choices.

Tell her she is always welcome to come home, but there will be rules as well as consequences for violating the rules. Then say, "You decide where you want to live. Take all the time you need."



Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for your sound advice. Here's how I implemented your advice...

I sent her an email explaining the consequences of her choice to run away (which were increasing in severity the longer she stayed away). They involved confiscating all her important stuff and selling it should she not return home, and giving the money to her sister who she owed money to.

I would call her 'safe house' (which we had no details of without lots of investigation) and inform them of what we were going to do, and that she was under my legal guardianship, I would call CATT and CAHMS, adolescent and mental health teams, I would report her as a missing person to the police.

I gave her a time limit when they would begin. If she wasn't home by 8pm I would begin to implement my plan. Then I told her what would happen if another day went by....I would put up missing person posters of her around all her favourite haunts asking people for information. And I would sell her horse and cancel his agistment, and warned of daily consequences increasing in severity.

She was on the phone to me quick smart to say she was coming home before 8 but she couldn't find money for a bus fare, then rang to say there weren't many buses, then she rang to ask if I could pick her up.

Your right. Reading her the riot act and telling her the consequences made it her problem not mine and she became very anxious to avoid them.

Thank you so much, she came home a very compliant and subdued and obedient kid.

very grateful, J.

You Don't Want To Be The "Good Guy": Tips for Parents of Defiant Teens

Hi Mark, During the last few weeks me and my husband have been following (as much as we can) your program. Thank you for making it available on line. We have a fourteen year old daughter and an eight year old son. Our daughter is very well described in your lectures. I recognised that my overindulging approach and the fact that in the past me and my husband had different opinions on her parenting and also the fact that she is very strong willed person led to her behaviour problems. We are trying really hard to keep being firm and give her the consequences of her bad choices. Meanwhile we encourage all the small positive steps that she does. What can we do to make sure we keep the behavioral changes from her moving in the right direction and help her to be a productive adult? Thank you for your support. ~ M.

RE: "What can we do to make sure we keep the behavioral changes from her moving in the right direction and help her to be a productive adult?"

In a nutshell, foster the development of self-reliance in your daughter.

As a parent, you want to do everything for your child, but you have to realize that sooner or later, she must do things on her own. Young people have to learn about how to earn their own money, how to manage it, and how to make smart financial decisions with it. The longer you keep on handing everything to your children, the harder it will be for them to learn these crucial life skills and lessons on their own and that will severely backfire on them in their adult life.

I think as children grow older, you have to say “No” more frequently, and make them work hard for the things they want to have, because you have to teach them the value of hard work, the value of a dollar, the virtue of patience, of delayed gratification, etc., or else they will never learn and that’s a greater disservice to them in the long run.

People whose parents didn’t provide them with everything usually appreciate the things they have more. They have to work hard in order to get those things they need on their own, which usually makes them more financially responsible, more responsible in general, harder workers, etc. I'm not saying that ALL people whose parents didn’t provide them with everything will turn out like that -- nor am I saying that those people whose parents provided them with everything cannot also garner those same qualities.

All I’m saying is that those whose parents did not provide them with everything have a greater opportunity to develop those crucial life skills that are critical in adult life simply because they need to. Those who got everything handed to them usually don’t have that need to develop those crucial life skills, so they don’t spend time cultivating them.

What’s my point?

Don’t spend any time or energy worrying about trying to be “the good guy.” You are not a “buddy.” Your job is to help your daughter foster the development of “self-reliance.” So, in that sense, you are her coach.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

"She hit me called me bad names and was out of control..."

Hi Mark,

I just purchased your program today. I am going to try and make this brief. My daughter has been with father for the last 4 months we have 50/50 custody. Recently she has talked about moving back and going to her old school. We had a blow out the other day because of a pierced lip that her father allowed her to get knowing this is not allowed in my house. I would also not get her a dress that night. She hit me called me bad names and was out of control. I called her father and said I would be picking her up Sunday night and am going back to 50/50 custody because of how she felt I have no control over her behavior. My problem is this program takes about 4 weeks and this Sunday is days away. My question is should I not pick her up and let her stay with her father if that is what she so desires and explain I love her and this would be her choice to live with her father instead of being with me and the rules at our house. Or should I pick her up Sunday night and really try to get through this program while she is here week on week off? Because I have no have time to go through the program I don't know what would be best.

Your help is greatly appreciated,



Hi S.,

When this situation arises, the typical scenario (in brief) looks something like this:

1. Child goes to father's house to live (greener grass myth)...

2. About a 2 to 4 week "honeymoon period" is experienced in the new home (i.e., things go very well at first)...

3. Then the child begins to behave (i.e., misbehave) the same way she behaved in previous home...

4. Father cannot successfully address the misbehavior and sends the child back to mom...

Having said this, I think it would be good for you and your daughter to have a time-out from one another. Take advantage of the opportunity to get a break (albeit a short one).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

How to Create Win-Win Outcomes Rather than Power Struggles: Tips for Parents

We see the main problem is he has turned on us... he is angry and is baiting us... he just came in from soccer and hit me with a tirade of swearing. He was angry because he wanted takeaway food and he was told that there was food at home. He has now taken off – it is 11pm. How do we make him realise that he needs to conform to our rules. He has no friends and we are the only people who support him. The punching of the walls and threatening to tell people that his father rapes him etc are just his way of punishing us. Will keeping the screws on him keep making the situation worse or will it eventually break him?


Re: Will keeping the screws on him keep making the situation worse or will it eventually break him?

First of all, we're not in the business of "breaking" children. This implies a power struggle with one winner and one loser. Rather, we're in the business of fostering the development of self-reliance.

Secondly, as long as you are complying with the strategies as outlined in the eBook, you should expect things to get worse before they get better. But hold on a minute…

It sounds like you are in a power struggle here. Power struggles create distance and hostility instead of closeness and trust. Distance and hostility create resentment, resistance, rebellion (or compliance with lowered self-esteem). IT TAKES TWO TO CREATE A POWER STRUGGLE. I have never seen a power-drunk child without a power-drunk adult real close by. Adults need to remove themselves from the power struggle without winning or giving in.

Create a win/win environment. HOW?

The following suggestions teach kids important life skills including self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills instead of "approval junkie" compliance -- or rebellion.

1. Ask what and how questions: How will we eat if you don't set the table? What is next on our routine chart? What was our agreement about what happens to clothes that aren't picked up? What happened? How do you feel about what happened? What ideas do you have to solve the problem? (This does not work at the time of conflict, nor does it work unless you are truly curious about what you child has to say.)

2. BONUS: HUGS! HUGS! HUGS! A hug is often enough to change the behavior -- theirs and yours.

3. Create a game: Beat the clock or sing songs while getting chores done.

4. Decide what you will do. I will cook only in a clean kitchen. I will drive only when seat belts are buckled. (I will pull over to the side of the road when kids are fighting.)

5. Distraction for kids and lots of supervision. Punishment decreases brain development. Kids are often punished for doing what they are developmentally programmed to do -- explore.

6. Do it WITH them. You may even want to go to the positive time out area with them.


8. Get kids involved in cooperation. Say, "I can't make you, but I really need your help." (10 words)

9. Get kids involved in the creation of routines (morning, chores, and bedtime). Then the routine chart becomes the boss.

10. Limited choices: Do you want to do your homework before dinner or after dinner. Do you want to set the table or clean up after dinner?

11. Make a "Wheel of Choice" together. Draw a big circle and divide into wedges. Brainstorm lots of solutions to problems. Draw illustrations for each solution. During a conflict, invite child to pick something from the wheel.

12. No words: Use pantomime, charades, or notes. Try a hug to create closeness and trust -- then do something else.

13. Non-verbal signals. These should be planned in advance with the child. An empty plate turned over at the dinner table as a reminder of chores that need to be completed before dinner; a sheet over the television as a reminder that homework needs to be done first or that things need to be picked up in the common areas of the house.

14. Positive Time Out. Create a "nurturing" (not punitive) time out area with your child.

15. Put the problem on the family meeting agenda and let the kids brainstorm for a solution.

16. Use reflective listening. Stop talking and listen. Try to understand not only what your child is saying, but what he means.

17. Use ten words or less. One is best: Games. Towels (that may have been left on the bathroom floor). Homework. (Sometimes these words need to be repeated several times.)

Every child needs discipline, and the discipline style can provide connection or disconnection in the relationship.

The goals of discipline are:

1. To instill values.
2. To protect the child.
3. To teach the child lifelong skills for good character, such as responsibility and self-control.

Effective Discipline is:
  • As fair and consistent as possible.
  • Be Proactive. Moms & dads find underlying causes of misbehavior as well as teach future desired behavior. Punishment tends to be reactive and aims to just stop behaviors. Discipline connects the parent and child in their relationship. Punishment disconnects them.
  • Kind, firm and safe.
  • Mutually respectful: "Do unto others as you would have done to you." Although moms & dads have far more experience and knowledge than their kids, both moms & dads and child have the same right of having their feelings and dignity equally respected.
  • Never includes punishment. Common examples of punishment are grounding with no time-limit, unrelated consequences, spanking, and threats of any kind.
  • Ninety percent prevention and ten percent correction.
  • Teaches and guides kids how to think for themselves. It doesn't just force them to obey. The world is a different place than 30 years ago. We don't want our kids to just blindly obey anyone — especially adults that may not have their best interests in mind. We want them to think for themselves and make good decisions.
  • Uses real world "cause and effect" learning experiences.

Re: Power Struggles:

• Power struggles are generally about meeting needs: the needs of the parent and the needs of the child. Both aim to get their way, but at the expense of the other person not getting their way.

• Power struggles are often the result of the use of punishment. Kids will often react to punishment in the forms of rebellion, retaliation, fear, and/ or passive resistance.

• When moms & dads and kids are locked in a power struggle, it is important for the parent to stay calm and let go for the moment. They have more experience in self-control and can switch gears easier. Refuse to participate. The time to re-examine the needs of the moms & dads and child causing the power struggle is later, when the emotional temperature in the relationship has gone down. Be sure to address it though. Don't let it go unresolved forever.

Kids don't really misbehave. They act in inappropriate ways to get their needs met. The job of moms & dads is to meet those needs and teach kids how to get them met in socially appropriate ways. Kids are like icebergs. We see the tip of the iceberg (behavior) protruding out of the water. Most of the time, we don't even look at the massive ice part under the water (which are the needs and feelings) that supports the behavior. As moms & dads, we need to jump out of the boat, and into our submarine to look at what's happening with the child underneath the iceberg tip. Once the underlying needs and feelings of the child are recognized and addressed, the behavior often improves.

The most effective discipline tools used for older, school-aged kids and teens are active listening, "I" messages, time in, changing the environment, modeling, related consequences, and problem solving. Family meetings are also especially effective for this age.

A crucial discipline tool often overlooked is meeting the needs of moms & dads. Moms & dads who are hungry, tired, stressed, need support and a time-out don't often make their best parenting decisions.

You can't raise a child in a dictatorship and expect them to function as an adult in a democracy.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Avoiding Power Struggles Around Curfews

"Dear Mark: My daughter is asking to extend her curfew. It seems she can fight whatever. Would you please help me and let me have a strategy to have the curfew settle down. Thanks & Best Regards! F."


Hi F.,

Here are some ideas and perspectives regarding curfews, including why having a “time you agree to be home” that is somewhat flexible might be better than the notion of a hard-and-fast curfew which most of us grew up with:

1. Practice Negotiation. It can be tempting--and easy--to create hard-and-fast rules about curfews, but most parenting experts agree that times that teens must be home should be worked out by parents and teens together.“Where are you going to be? How long? Is that enough time? Can you get home by then? Will you let us know if it’s a problem?” Asking these types of questions sets up a pattern of negotiation between parents and child that allows the child to be honest. Such questions also show that your main concern is the child’s safety—that Mom and Dad are not, as teens are quick to believe, merely control freaks.

2. Focus on Schedules. We do best if we keep schedules and curfews flexible, depending on the child and the event. Discussing curfews as you talk about overall schedules will take the focus off of “curfew” and put it on the type of activity, safety concerns, and responsibility issues.

3. Emphasize Safety. Helping our children understand that schedules are set up for safety can help them see curfews not as restrictive whims, but as practical matters. One family decided the “rules” regarding times to be home would be about knowing where all family members were at all times. This included children knowing where parents were as well.


One father decided that the best way to handle kids coming home past the negotiated time was to simply explain that he was tired and would talk to the child later about the broken agreement. Then the next time the child asked to go out, he would say, “Oh gee, I’m just not up to worrying tonight. Why don’t you stick around” or “I’m sorry, you can’t go out tonight honey. I need my sleep”. Anger causes confrontation, but sometimes teenagers will listen to the practical effects that their lateness creates for you. (The humor in the responses also breaks down communication barriers.)

Contact List—

Have your sons or daughters leave a list of numbers where they will be and then let them know that you will be setting your alarm for the time they are expected home. You trust them, so it is no problem to go to sleep when they are out; however, should that alarm wake you and they haven’t called to let you know they will be home later, then you know something is wrong and you will start calling everyone on that list, ending with the police. However, if they are home on time, they can simply slip into your room and turn the alarm off before it wakes you.


Create a relationship of trust by letting your children know that an important aspect of a curfew is for them to follow through on their promises. This is a different focus than “I don’t trust what you’ll be doing” or “I don’t trust your friends.” The reason for having a set time for coming home becomes more about the children showing you they are responsible and trustworthy.


Try to be organized and reliable with your own time to show your teen that you are serious about schedules and take other people’s time seriously.

Two-Way Street—

We’re often most effective when we simply let our teens know what our concerns are. For example, when our teen comes home late, we could say, ‘I hope this doesn’t happen again because I think it stresses our relationship. And you’re way ahead if our relationship is good. I think that when you do things that stress me out a lot, it doesn’t work out well for you in the long run’.

Handling curfews as part of the overall scheduling you do in a week helps your child have the opportunity to be responsible. Negotiation between parent and child is important and can create a sense of trust between parent and child in ways that strict one-way rules usually do not.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

Assertive Parenting versus Conditionally Permissive Parenting

Hi Mark, In your article about Permissive Parenting under the conditional permissiveness I am confused---as you have said to make the kids EARN EVERYTHING---yet in this article it sounds like that is Conditional permissiveness and that is supposed to be a bad thing? Can you help me clear that up please? Thanks.


Conditional parenting is not assertive parenting. Assertive parents:
  • Say No
  • Have a detailed Plan for Consequences
  • Are Honest with their Children
  • Structure Children's Behavior
  • Foster Self-Esteem
  • Manage Parental Stress
  • Exercise Parental Leadership

With Conditionally Permissive Parenting:
  • Parental demands are usually not explicit or spelled out in detail
  • Freedom and material benefits are often given in return for behavior that reflects well on the family (parent’s ulterior motives or hidden agenda), such as making good grades or buttering up Aunt Sophie
  • Moms and dads tend to see the adolescents as mini-adults.

Prospective moms and dads often don't realize that parenting is a twenty-year plus commitment, demanding their best efforts even at those times when everyone is tired. Acting with care is close to impossible in such everyday situations. Be proactive by learning to say no, use humor, carry out consequences, be honest, foster self-esteem, manage parental stress, and exercise parental leadership. Assertive communication is often avoided because moms and dads fear aggression, yet it usually prevents hostilities.

Be Honest with Kids—Don't lie to a youngster or promise what isn't in your power to deliver. Telling a youngster that the sun will be shining for a picnic is folly at best, and can destroy your youngster's faith in your integrity. Promising that another youngster will like him or her is another dangerous parent trap, causing more distress in the long run. Being honest about life's struggles teaches kids to share feelings and deal with reality rather than deny or avoid it.

Exercise Parental Leadership—Stand up courageously and be counted as a parent, not a buddy. Young people are in need of clear, positive leadership. They already have plenty of peers. Keep a journal of successes and challenges, and jot down strategies and solutions. Forgive yourself when you mess up. Visualize yourself as an assertive parent who can say no, use humor, calmly enforce consequences, be honest, encourage self-esteem, control parental stress, and exercise parental leadership. Assertive parenting can be both your finest joy and greatest challenge.

Foster Self-Esteem—Even your choice of rewards can help guide your kids into the comfort of assertiveness. When kids learn to feel proud of themselves, they have gained a life-long skill. Say, "Pat yourself on the back" to foster self-confidence. Do that more often than giving gifts and treats.

Have a Plan for Consequences—Think before speaking, and back up those words with firm, caring actions. Thinking through consequences can be done beforehand, when things are calm. Carrying out the consequences can be done in a matter of fact manner, expressing faith in the youngster's ability to come out ahead in the end. This allows the youngster to feel a sense of family as opposed to being at odds with the moms & dads.

It's OK to Say No—It is sometimes believed that saying no too often can squelch a youngster's self-esteem, creativity, or confidence, yet the opposite is more often the case. There isn't any need for apology or guilt when "no" is needed. One of the most common pitfalls moms & dads suffer is inexactness of language. When one means for a youngster to do something direct by telling, not asking. Adults don't have to be mean, just clear.

Manage Parental Stress—Do what you can to reduce stress by dealing with temper. Deal with your own feelings on a regular basis so you can keep an even disposition with kids. Keep the number of issues to be corrected close to one -- too many can cause confusion and frustration. Develop a poor memory for the bad times and a great memory for the good times.

Structure Kid's Behavior—It is far better to tell a youngster clearly what is expected. Structure builds awareness and confidence in one's behavior. Teaching manners and social skills positions a youngster for social success and becoming an assertive adult.

Use Humor—Remember to carry the emotional first-aid kit of humor at all times. It will help the whole family through the rough spots of daily life. Moms & dads can model the skill of not taking things too seriously. Educators suggest that modeling is one of the most effective methods of teaching.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Power-Struggles Over Curfew Violation: Tips for Parents

"My daughter is having great difficulty getting in by curfew. She always says things like, 'It’s so unfair! All my friends get to stay out later than I do. I don’t need a curfew. Just call me on the cell when I need to come home. Don’t you trust me?' Any advice? ~ Aussie mom"


Setting a curfew is pretty easy when your kids are little, but it gets harder and harder as they mature. You have less control over their lives and they can get around on their own, particularly when they begin driving. But while kids certainly need more independence as they grow up, giving kids structure is also vitally important to their growth and development and, just as importantly, it helps keep them safe.

Only 48 percent of adolescents surveyed indicate that their family has clearly defined boundaries, which includes having clear rules and consequences and having parents that monitor their whereabouts.

Girls are more likely than boys to say that their parents keep track of their whereabouts. A full 86 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys say their parents ask where they are going and who they will be with most or all of the time.

Setting (and enforcing) clear, fair, and firm boundaries—and following through with consequences—is a critical part of being a good parent. It is most effective, though, when the boundaries are balanced by a warm, caring relationship with your kids, which includes their participation in the decision-making process.

Making young people part of the curfew discussion and establishing clear expectations and consequences gives them some of the independence they are looking for while still maintaining the boundaries they need to thrive.


Adjust — Review and negotiate curfews together. There are exceptions to every rule, so it may be appropriate from time to time to change a curfew (such as during the summer or to allow your kids to participate in a positive activity at school or in the community).

Affirm — Tell your kids how much you appreciate it when they tell you where they will be and when they arrive home on time. This positive feedback will make it more likely that they will continue to respect the boundaries that you have set together.

Be Realistic — There is no “magic” curfew time for all kids. Match curfews to the needs of your family, your kids, and your community. Some kids need more sleep than others. Some communities are safer than others. Negotiate curfews that work for you, your child, and your family, and adhere to local laws.

Confirm the Plans — Before they head out the door, find out where your kids are going, whom they will be with, how they will be getting to where they are going and back, and when they plan to be home.

Enforce — Be consistent when enforcing consequences, but when boundaries are broken, do not give the impression that your kids or adolescents have failed. Instead, use these situations to teach them about responsibility.

Think Ahead — Do not try to set curfews when your kids or adolescents are begging to go out. Talk about expectations early and make sure that everyone understands what is expected. In addition, agree together on the consequences if curfew is broken.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

How to Help Your Child Make Responsible Choices Regarding Alcohol Use

Mark, As a responsible, caring parent, I want my children to make responsible choices regarding alcohol use that are consistent with my beliefs and values. But it’s not a simple issue. We have alcohol in our home and with meals, but don’t want the kids to drink before they are adults. In the midst of these issues, our children see and hear numerous ads that promote alcohol. They may be curious, and—particularly as they grow older—face pressure from their peers to drink. How do you deal with this issue in a positive, healthy way? T. C.


By the time they graduate from high school, half of adolescents report consuming alcohol regularly. One-third report binge drinking. The greatest increase in alcohol usage occurs between grades 6 and 10. Good news: many young people do not consume alcohol. Fifty-five percent of middle and high school-aged students say that it is against their values to drink alcohol while they are adolescents.

Helping kids steer clear of alcohol involves more than simply warning them of the dangers (though that is important as well). It involves getting at the heart of asset-building to help them feel safe, supported, and free to talk about anything on their minds. And it involves building a strong relationship with your kids early and nurturing their personal values and skills to help them make smart decisions.


Stay Involved—

• Have a Plan — As your adolescent gains more independence, negotiate a plan for what you will do if he or she is in a difficult alcohol-related situation. Make safety a top priority. Make sure your youngster knows that you will provide a “no-questions-asked-until-later” ride home from any party at which they feel uncomfortable.

• Keep Your Youngster Involved — Being active in youth clubs, school activities, religious activities and other caring environments with adult role models offers important reinforcements for your positive messages at home.

• Monitor — Keep track of where your adolescents go and who they are with. If they go to a party, check in advance whether an adult will be actively present and whether alcohol will be available.

• Set Consequences — Be clear about any consequences of underage drinking before there is a problem. However, do not make the consequences so serious that your teen will not ask for help if they are in serious trouble or need a safe ride home.


• Be Honest — Be honest about your own alcohol use. If you drank as an adolescent, share why you believe it was a poor choice.

• Be Proactive — Do not just wait for your kids to bring up alcohol or drinking. Use news stories, ads, personal incidents, and other opportunities to raise the issue—before it becomes a crisis.

• Share What You Believe — Be clear about your values and expectations regarding alcohol use and why you hold those values and expectations.

• Talk — Maintain open and honest communication. Help your kids feel comfortable talking with you about important and difficult topics.

Think About Community—

• Connect — Talk with other moms & dads about your values and concerns. Discuss what you expect from your kids and encourage them to set boundaries with your kids when needed. If you are struggling with issues, ask them for advice and support.

• Do Not Be Part of the Problem — Never purchase alcohol for young people or provide alcohol to a party for adolescents, no matter what the occasion.


• Maintain Perspective — If your kids try alcohol, address the issue directly, but do not assume that they are “beyond hope.” Use it as an opportunity to help them learn from mistakes. However, if the problems persist or become more serious, seek professional support and help.

• Model — Model restraint in your own life. If you drink, use moderation. If you or your partner struggles with alcohol use, seek professional help.

• Teach — Help your kids develop skills to resist pressure to use alcohol. Do this by giving them opportunities to make decisions and be responsible, starting when they are very young. Role play with your youngster to teach them how they can say no along with other options they have when they’re under pressure.

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