Dealing with Your Teenager While He's on Juvenile Probation

Hi J.,

>>>>>>>>>> Please look for my (Marks') comments within your email.


It's been a while since I last e-mailed you. M______ has been to court. They dropped the DV charge but kept the incorrigible which is in his best interest if he decides to follow the rules since they can be dropped when he turns of age. He did get 6 mos of probation and must still meet with his counselor. It seems that things at home have been better since he has motivation over the use of a car. We made him sign a driving contract and when he messes up, we just pull it out and their is no argument (well he tries but it is fruitless). He has been checking in when he is supposed to also. Mind you, this is MOST of the time. He still "forgets" and has consequences. Husband has come around to a degree. What is working for us (again still some arguments over your program and we had to compromise somewhat but like you preach, 2 parents in agreement are better than 2 divided) is that Dad still blows up when something goes wrong, but we hold out on consequence until he is calm and rational. M______ is told that we will decide consequence when Dad and I have a chance to calmly discuss it. We also are saying something like "I may not totally agree with XYZ, but it is Dad's decision and I am supporting him on it." 


>>>>>>>>>> Good news so far. You are a great student!


Well, he met with his PO yesterday and just like I predicted, he went against the rules. He came home 20 minutes past his court ordered curfew and he left his 9 yr old brother home alone and went out and we did not know where (Dad and I were gone 2 hours to receive a community "Volunteer of the Year" award). He was told he could go pick up a friend (with his brother) and come back to our house. He left his brother at home and did not come home for 2 1/3 hrs. He did not bring back his friend. He did lose the use of the car. I'm OK with this consequence as it is in the contract about curfew, where he is, etc. He of course threw his tantrum, but again to no avail. 


>>>>>>>>>> You’re still on-track.


The biggest issue I am having is M______ not listening fully to the instructions. Then he will twist what was said or deny some of it. It becomes "He said/she said." I know that I have the power but do you have any tricks to having them FULLY listen to everything. 


>>>>>>>>>> Yes …keep instructions very SHORT and CONCRETE …let me say this again …short and concrete. Also, write it down on a post-it note and put it on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror. If your instructions are too long to write down, then they are too long for him to remember – shorten it up.


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He also rushes off the phone when told something. Once I wrote is down, but is this acceptable or am I trapping myself if I don't remember to include EVERYTHING? 


>>>>>>>>>> SHORT and CONCRETE 


The last issue we are having is when M______ losing driving privileges, and Mom and Dad refuse to drive him to school he is not going, or going late. The bus stop is 2 doors away and the girl next door drives and has taken him on several occasions so there is no excuse for missing. I am sure it is not "cool" when you're a junior to take the bus, but losing the use of the car is his decision. He is on credit review for several classes, and has been suspended for not serving the detentions he got from his unexcused tardies/absences (I made him go with me to a business meeting so he couldn't stay home and be rewarded. If it happens again, he will be volunteering somewhere for the day). He also is not doing ANY homework. I know you believe in natural consequences, but he is a gifted athelete and very possibly able to get a scholarship for wrestling. I hate to see him throw this away. He may get sent back to juve. it he continues. Have you any ideas how to get a kid motivated again? He used to get all A's and B's. I am trying to be creative, but have no ideas about this. 


>>>>>>>>>> NO! I do not have any suggestions to get him motivated again. I can’t make your son spit …I can’t make him stand on his head …I can’t motivate him - and neither will you. Motivation to perform well academically is an inside job (i.e., something that he – and only he – will be able to accomplish). When the student is ready, the teacher will appear – and not a moment earlier.


Thanks for your input.






Well, it's now 12:21am Saturday. M______ curfew (court ordered) is 9:00pm. He is not with the boy he left with. This boy says M______ "ditched" him and he doesn't know who he's with now. I'm sure he won't be home all night. How can someone who is so bright and talented not understand the long term ramifications of their actions? Why doesn't spending time in the juve. justice center (4 days) and being on probation scare him? What do we do now? 


>>>>>>> Fear-based motivation has no effect. Teens are invincible (in their minds). This is just another minor setback – not a major catastrophe. You should do what you always do – nothing more and nothing less:

  1. State the rule.
  2. State the consequence for violating the rule.
  3. Follow through with the consequence (w/poker face) when the rule is broken.

Eventually, the child desires positive change – but on his time, not the parent’s.




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Is It Time to Pull Your Defiant Teenager Out of Mainstream School?

"Hi Mark: Having problems with my 15 year old son, B___. In the past twenty-four hours.... He returned to school yesterday after a TWO WEEK OUT-OF-SCHOOL SUSPENSION for calling one of his teachers an F----ing B----- and wadded up the office referral and threw it at her hitting her in the face. We had to meet with the Principal and he was told to tow the line or he would be sent to an alternative school. Three hours later...I get a call from school. He was in the ISS room, used HIS CELL PHONE to call the ISS monitor's phone to make it ring many times and disrupt everything. His phone was confiscated. This morning after he left for school, I was picking up things in his room. I found a receipt from the grocery store for the machine that swamps in coins for cash. He had helped himself to $80.00 worth of change I had in my closet and took it in to cash. Everyday it is something else... every day the only responses I get from him are F ___YOU! He is very angry since his Dad left in January. What do I do???"

When my adolescent clients get into regular teacher-student conflict [like your son], I always lobby for them to be withdrawn from regular school and moved to an alternative school setting. When I do, nearly all of them do very well in a different environment.

Most of us recognize the needs of very young children. We know that in the early grades, kids need small schools with a close and personal atmosphere. We understand that young children require nurturing to develop a sense of confidence in themselves.

Yet, for some reason, we seem to think that once students get to the middle grades—a time that encompasses all the confusion and turbulence of adolescence—they don't need as much personal support. This myth gets perpetuated in our high schools. Students who become alienated in junior high usually remain that way through high school, if they don't drop out altogether.

It is important for us to recognize that we are not talking about strange or weird kids who walk around schools in trench coats, threatening others. Most of the young people who don't seem to fit are very normal kids. They are not "other people's children." They are our kids—ones we see in church, at the mall, or across the street.

These are students who may withdraw when they are in a large group. They may not respond to the normal activities of a traditional school. They may not play sports. Some may have questions about their sexual identity. Some may be quite intelligent and interested in learning, but not in the way traditional schools expect.

For years, many in education have operated under the flawed assumption that large schools are cost- effective. We have reasoned that, by placing a lot of students and teachers together, we could offer more programs and classes. In a large school, for example, we can offer Greek or advanced calculus and have enough students to expect to fill those classes.

Unfortunately, economies of scale do not only pay the dividends expected. The flaws in our system of large schools also have become obvious. Increasingly, we have felt the need to create many smaller structures or groupings within a large school to give students a chance to feel that they have "a place." These kinds of innovations take time, personnel, and money. And many of the students they attempt to serve simply are not "joiners" and may never become part of the sub-groupings.

Another hefty cost of large schools comes in the number of students who repeat a grade and require an extra year of schooling—along with other programs—if they remain in school and graduate. Consider the numbers: If you have a high school of 1,200 students (not unusual), and a graduating class of 300, it is probable that 30 to 50 of these students will have repeated a grade at some point in their school careers. This means that each year, the school system has, for all intents and purposes, served 30 to 50 more students than necessary.

For those students who do not make it through school and drop out prior to graduation, the cost is not usually borne by the school system, but by some other segment of the state's social programs. In either case, the money comes from the pocket of the taxpayers.

Some of these students, the luckier ones, get jobs and eventually obtain their General Educational Development diplomas. A small number then go on to post-secondary education and end up fulfilling a reasonable part of their potential. Others just "hang out" and go from one temporary job to another, often collecting whatever benefits come their way, whether from the state, their parents, or friends. Some become parents themselves. Others get into trouble and end up in group homes. A few eventually end up in a training school, at a cost that is several times that of traditional schools. The most seriously alienated of these children end up dead.

Just in terms of public spending, there is no sense in our not meeting the needs of these children at an earlier age. Unfortunately, it is not now in the short-term financial interest of towns or school systems to provide small alternative schools. But we could design incentives for our public schools to serve these children.

The incentives could take the form of start-up grants from the state or the federal government. Most districts, given the choice to make adjustments for fewer students in other schools, would find that they could afford these alternatives. But without outside help, few if any districts are likely to set aside scarce funds to serve a group of students who may be falling behind and leaving school very quietly. Other incentives might take a harder line, requiring, for example, that school districts pay for a portion of the social services students who end up in state care need.

The missing piece in our system of public education is the lack of options for students who need something different. Interestingly enough, it is in our urban areas that we find the greatest availability of alternatives to large traditional schools. But there are still not enough of these schools in cities, and virtually none in suburban districts, where the need for them is just as great.

By their very nature, alternative schools are generally small schools, often with fewer than 200 students. They tend to be staffed by teachers with a desire to work in nontraditional settings. When you walk into an alternative school, you generally get a sense of community and personal caring. Different alternatives can have different missions, and they can operate in substantially different ways. The goal is not sameness; it is to reflect the needs and personalities of the students.

An expanding body of research in recent years has been telling us something about these schools that seems like common sense: Small schools are places where students get more attention, perform better, and are happier. In her synthesis of this research, Mary Anne Raywid notes that small learning communities often employ unconventional organizational structures that help promote the sense of belonging. The bonds that are created in small schools, she says, are likely to have a positive influence on students long after they leave high school.

What makes these schools so valuable in violence reduction is the fact that a child will find it hard to go through even a portion of the day without some meaningful contact with an adult. Says Cathleen Cotton, a researcher at the Northeast Regional Educational Laboratory: "It doesn't matter what category you measure. Things are better in smaller environments. Shy kids, poor kids, the average athletes—they are all made to feel like they truly fit in."

Small alternative schools are not, of course, the complete solution to the problems of alienated young people and violence in the schools. But they can be an important part of the solution.

Charter school legislation should spur the creation of these small alternative public schools. Districts can devise plans on their own or through any of the existing collaboratives. But educators should not underestimate the public's desire for more choice. They should recognize the possibility that, by not meeting this need, they could strengthen the call for vouchers.

For the students and parents who want an alternative to the often impersonal world of large, comprehensive public secondary schools, it won't matter how we get there, only that we do.

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Dealing with Violent Behavior in Your Defiant Child

"My son 'sucker punched' me right in the face. I'm not violent, and to say the least, it really surprised and hurt me (emotionally, he didn't hit hard enough to hurt) ...he is 13. What do I do with this situation?"

There is great concern about the increased incidence of violent behavior among kids and teens. This complex and troubling issue needs to be carefully understood by moms and dads, educators, and other grown-ups.

Kids as young as preschoolers can show violent behavior. Moms and dads who witness the behavior may be concerned; however, they often hope that the youngster will "grow out of it." Violent behavior in a youngster at any age always needs to be taken seriously. It should not be quickly dismissed as "just a phase they're going through!"

Violent behavior in kids and teens can include a wide range of behaviors, for example:
  • cruelty toward animals
  • explosive temper tantrums
  • fighting
  • fire setting
  • homicidal thoughts
  • intentional destruction of property
  • physical aggression
  • threats or attempts to hurt others
  • use of weapons
  • vandalism

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

Numerous research studies have concluded that a complex interaction or combination of factors leads to an increased risk of violent behavior in kids and teens. These factors include:
  • Being the victim of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse
  • Brain damage from head injury
  • Combination of stressful family socioeconomic factors (e.g., poverty, severe deprivation, marital breakup, single parenting, unemployment, loss of support from extended family)
  • Exposure to violence in media (e.g., TV, movies, etc.)
  • Exposure to violence in the home and/or community
  • Genetic (i.e., family heredity) factors
  • Presence of firearms in home
  • Previous aggressive or violent behavior
  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol

Kids and teens who have several risk factors and show the following behaviors should be carefully evaluated:
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Extreme impulsiveness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Frequent loss of temper or blow-ups
  • Intense anger

Moms and dads and teachers should be careful not to minimize these behaviors in kids. Whenever parents are concerned, they should immediately arrange for a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. Early treatment by a professional can often help. The goals of treatment typically focus on helping the youngster in the following ways:
  • accept consequences
  • be responsible for his/her actions
  • express anger and frustrations in appropriate ways
  • learn how to control his/her anger

In addition, family conflicts, school problems, and community issues must be addressed.

Research studies have shown that much violent behavior can be decreased or even prevented if the above risk factors are significantly reduced or eliminated. Most importantly, efforts should be directed at dramatically decreasing the exposure of kids and teens to violence in the home, community, and through the media. Clearly, violence leads to violence.

In addition, the following strategies can lessen or prevent violent behavior:
  • Early intervention programs for violent kids
  • Monitoring youngster's viewing of violence on TV/videos/movies
  • Prevention of child abuse (e.g., use of programs like parent training, family support programs, etc.)
  • Sex education and parenting programs for teens


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

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...