Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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What to do when your child is "hanging" with the wrong crowd...

There seems to be nothing more difficult for moms & dads to tolerate than seeing their children bond with a negative peer group. Kids who don't value school are often anti-moms & dads and pro-alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and casual sex and thrive on irreverent and often obnoxious music. Your children will probably proclaim that they are good and loyal friends or that they're much nicer and less shallow than the "preppies" and "jocks." These negative peers may indeed be kinder to your children than some other children you'd prefer for them to befriend. Your children may become secretive, say that you're controlling, and protest that you have no right to say with whom they can be friends.

Many of the anti-school children I've worked with are lonely, attention seeking, and sometimes aggressive as elementary-age children. Moms & dads and teachers are anxious about their children' lack of friends, even when they do have a few. Moms & dads and teachers often put pressure on them to make friends, and the children connect having a large group of close friends with healthy adjustment. They feel that adults are disappointed in them when they don't have friends, and by middle school, they become so anxious about making friends that they're willing to do almost anything to be included in any group that validates them. They develop a deep resentment toward the bright, achieving, or athletic children who haven't accepted them, and they share that resentment in order to build solidarity with another group. In some ways, they believe that "good children" are bad, because the "bad children" are loyal to each other, although they may appear tough or mean to outsiders.

When your children are a little lonely, it's important to label it as independence even though you realize it isn't easy for them. In that way, you avoid putting too much pressure on them to make friends and become popular. Use this time to help them learn skills and develop interests that will enable them to share activities with others. For example, learning to play chess will encourage them to play with other children, developing an interest in music or art will give them a passion to share with other positive young people who also enjoy those activities, or playing soccer or taking gymnastics classes will make them feel like part of a team. Once they have friends who share their interests, they will be less likely to feel pressured to unite with negative children.

Rebellious teens are often over-empowered by moms & dads who are divided. A mother who allies with her youngster against the dad, or a father who allies with a youngster against the mom, teaches a youngster that relationships become closer and more intimate when two people share a common enemy. Learning to feel close to a person only when there's a common enemy can become a very negative but intense habit, which transfers naturally to finding a peer group or even a boy- or girlfriend who is against school or moms & dads.

This alliance-against-an-enemy relationship with a parent becomes an even greater risk during or after a divorce. Mothers who have been rejected by their husbands can be especially vulnerable to sharing intimate details about the husband's behavior. Although at first it seems that children understand the situation and value the intimate sharing, this too-intimate practice almost always backfires. Divorce is no time to assume that children are mature enough to be your counselors or confidantes. Not only does this place children in an impossible dilemma, but it also teaches them to disrespect and rebel against their other parent, which will in turn cause the other parent to teach them disrespect for you. You're giving up your adult responsibility when your children may require it most.

Another important prevention scenario takes place after a move to a new community. I recommend having your youngster paired with other children initially when moving to a new school. The children with whom she's paired could make her feel more comfortable, as well as include her in a positive group. The selection of those new friends should be made carefully. You can probably do that most diplomatically if you share with the teacher or counselor your youngster's positive interests. If you do this, it's more likely that your youngster and those with whom she's paired will have activities or interests in common.

Sometimes teachers pair negative or needy children with new children in the hopes of helping them. Caution your youngster that finding good friends takes time. Be reassuring that there's no need to hurry it along, and that you're certain that eventually he'll find good friends. Seeking popularity encourages the quest for status and quantity of friends, which may or may not turn out to be a good thing, depending on the values of the popular peer group in the school.

There are several possibilities for helping your children ditch negative peer groups. Sometimes changing schools or teams can be effective. This has proven to be extremely powerful for some children who have been clients at my Family Achievement Clinic. Most middle schools use a team approach with between two and four teams in a school. Talk to your youngster's school counselor about the possibility of changing to a different team to get him away from negative peers. This may help your youngster make new friends, particularly if he has at least one positive friend in a new team. Changing schools or teams works most effectively when negative relationships are just beginning, before your youngster is overly engaged with the group. It also works best if the negative group doesn't live in your neighborhood.

Sending a clear message to your youngster that you wish he not befriend a particular individual or group may make a difference for middle schoolers. You'll need to justify the prohibition by explaining that the other children' behavior is unacceptable, and you'll permit them to be friends outside of school only if you see a change in the other children. When both moms & dads agree on that philosophy, your youngster will likely accept it. When both moms & dads don't agree, don't waste your time prohibiting the friendship. This is an important communication that both moms & dads should talk through carefully.

The most positive technique for removing children from a negative peer group is to get them involved in positive peer experiences, such as fun enrichment programs, special-interest groups, drama, music, sports, Scouts, religious groups, summer programs, camps, or youth travel programs. They may not want to join without their friends, so introducing them to someone who's already part of a group may encourage them. A teacher or group leader may help to facilitate new friendships.

Encourage your youngster to enter contests or activities in which he has a chance of winning or receiving an important part. Don't hesitate to talk to a coach or teacher privately about your efforts to reverse your youngster's negativism. Winning children are often excluded from peer groups that are negative about school. Winning a speech, music, art, or sports contest often gives status to children and causes them to appear more interesting to positive children. Sometimes a victory is enough to separate a tween from a negative peer group.

A family trip is also an option for distracting your wayward youngster from negativity. Time away from peers in an entirely new environment can channel your youngster's independence. One-on-one trips with a parent may be effective in reducing tension and enhancing family closeness. A trip with only one parent and one tween may be more productive than if the whole family is present, because the tween will be freed from sibling rivalry issues.

If you introduce any of these courses of action to your children, don't expect them to like it. These options shouldn't be suggested as choices, or your children surely won't choose them. You can, however, permit or even encourage them to make choices among the options. For example, they can choose between a summer writing or music program, which will hopefully encourage new and positive interests and friendships.

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Why Children and Adolescents Steal

Children of all ages — from preschoolers to adolescents — can be tempted to steal for different reasons:
  • Preadolescents and adolescents know they're not supposed to steal, but might steal for the thrill of it or because their friends do. Some might believe they can get away with it. As they're given more control over their lives, some adolescents steal as a way of rebelling.
  • School-age children usually know they're not supposed to take something without paying, but they might do so anyway because they lack enough self-control.
  • Very young children sometimes take things they want without understanding that things cost money and that it's wrong to take something without paying for it.

And other complex reasons can be factors. Children might be angry or want attention. Their behavior may reflect stress at home, school, or with friends. Some may steal as a cry for help because of emotional or physical abuse they're enduring.

In other cases, children and adolescents steal because they can't afford to pay for what they need or want — for example, they may steal to get popular name-brand items. In some cases, they may take things to support drug habits.

Whatever the reason for stealing, parents need to find out the root of the behavior and address other underlying problems, like drug abuse, that may surface.

What Should I Do?

When a youngster has been caught stealing, a parent's reaction should depend on whether it's the first time or there's a pattern of stealing.

With very young children, parents need to help them understand that stealing is wrong — that when you take something without asking or paying for it, it hurts someone else. If a preschooler takes a piece of candy, for instance, parents can help the youngster return the item. If the youngster has already eaten the candy, parents can take the youngster back to the store to apologize and pay for it.

With school-age children, too, it's important to return the stolen item. By the first and second grades, children should know stealing is wrong. But they may need a better understanding of the consequences.

Here's an example: If a youngster comes home with a friend's bracelet and it's clear the youngster took it without the friend's permission, the parent should talk to the youngster about how it would feel if a friend took something without asking first. The parent should encourage the youngster to call the friend to apologize, explain what happened, and promise to return it.

When adolescents steal, it's recommended that parents follow through with stricter consequences. For example, when a teen is caught stealing, the parent can take the teen back to the store and meet with the security department to explain and apologize for what happened.

The embarrassment of facing up to what he or she did by having to return a stolen item makes for an everlasting lesson on why stealing is wrong.

Further punishment, particularly physical punishment, is unnecessary and could make the youngster angry and more likely to engage in even worse behavior.

If it's a first-time offense, some stores and businesses may accept an apology and not necessarily press charges. However, some stores press charges the first time around. And there's often little sympathy for repeat offenders.

Children of all ages need to know that shoplifting isn't just about taking things from a store — it's taking money from the people who run the businesses. Plus, shoplifting makes prices higher for other customers. They should also know that stealing is a crime and can lead to consequences far worse than being grounded, including juvenile detention centers and even prison.

If stealing money from a parent, the youngster should be offered options for paying back the money, like doing extra chores around the house. It's important, however, that a parent not bait the youngster by leaving out money in the hopes of catching the youngster in the act. That could damage the sense of trust between a parent and youngster.

If a Youngster Keeps Stealing—

If your youngster has stolen on more than one occasion, consider getting professional help. Repeat offenses may indicate a bigger problem.

One third of juveniles who've been caught shoplifting say it's difficult for them to quit. So, it's important to help children and adolescents understand why stealing is wrong and that they may face serious consequences if they continue to steal.

Others who may be able to talk to you and/or your youngster about the problem and help you address it include a:
  • support group, such as the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) or Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous (CASA), which may be able to provide information or help (look in your phone book for groups in your area)
  • school counselor (especially if your youngster is stealing from the school)
  • minister, priest, or rabbi
  • family therapist or counselor
  • family doctor (who may be able to refer you to a family therapist or counselor)

Although most ordinary acts of theft or shoplifting are deliberate, some people who steal may have kleptomania. With this rare compulsive disorder, which makes up a very small portion of all shoplifting cases, a person feels a sense of tension or anxiety before the theft, then feels relief or gratification when committing the theft. The person may feel guilt afterward and often discard the objects after stealing them, and also might have other compulsive disorders (such as an eating disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD).

Whatever the underlying cause, if stealing is becoming a habit with your youngster or teen, consider speaking with a doctor or therapist to get to the cause of the behavior. It's also important to routinely monitoring your youngster's behavior, keep him or her away from situations in which stealing is a temptation, and establish reasonable consequences for stealing if it does occur.

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I called the police...

Hello Mark,

First of all, sincere thank you for your quick reply.

It has been just more than a week since I last wrote to you, but during that time my life changed so much.

I realised that my 'big fish' is actually a shark (grown up by myself). But I have not given up and I have been consistent with all that I need to do.

I quit my job (at least for now) but I continue with the programme. My father came to stay with me for a couple of weeks as my husband is working in another town.

What actually happened is something that I did not have even in my nightmares. And it was my mistake that I did not think about this possibility and did not prepare myself for that. My son's resistance to the new parenting style (introduced very carefully) got to his old self enough and well known weapon-physical violence. I was punched several times one day as I had to go 'back to normal' and for the first time in my life I called the police. My son was given final warning and his violent reaction is stopped now. Meanwhile, he had never witnessed nor suffered violence in our family.

There is some kind of resentment at present which is broken from time to time by brief 'sunny spells'. For the first time in my son's life he did not get what he wanted at home and for the first time in my life I was confident enough that I am doing the right thing for my child. And this is because I have now complete understanding of what have caused his behavior and for example, I do not wonder anymore why he is disrespectful most of the time.

Things are changing with ups and downs, joy and pain, but anyway they are changing and this is the most important.

I continue my job at home -- I speak, I explain and I am calm. If I had this knowledge 5 years ago, we would not get to the point where we are now and would experience much less difficulties, but there you are...

Therefore, I would say that I even more appreciate that I found in OPS and thank you again!


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