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

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Understanding the Brain of a Defiant Teenager

Most moms and dads don’t understand why their defiant teens behave in an impulsive, irrational, and sometimes dangerous way. At times, it seems like these young people don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions. They differ from their "normal" peers in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. There is a biological explanation for this difference.

Researchers have identified a specific region of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for instinctual reactions (e.g., fear, aggressive behavior). This region develops early; however, the frontal cortex (i.e., the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act) develops later. This part of the brain is still changing and maturing well into the early- to mid-twenties.

Other specific changes in the brain during the teenage years include a rapid increase in the connections between the brain cells and pruning (i.e., refinement) of brain pathways. Nerve cells develop myelin (i.e., an insulating layer which helps cells communicate). All these changes are crucial for the development of coordinated thought, action, and behavior.

Pictures of the brain in action show that the brain of a teen diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) functions differently than “normal” teens when it comes to decision-making and problem-solving. The ODD teen’s actions are guided more by the amygdala and less by the frontal cortex. Research has also demonstrated that head trauma and exposure to drugs or alcohol interfere with normal brain development during the teenage years.

Based on the stage of their brain development, ODD teens are more likely to misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions, get involved in fights, get suspended or expelled from school, get into accidents of all kinds, engage in dangerous or risky behavior, and act on impulse. These young people are less likely to modify their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors, pause to consider the potential consequences of their actions, or think before they act.

These brain differences don’t mean that ODD teens can’t make good decisions or tell the difference between right and wrong. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their poor choices. But an awareness of these differences can help moms and dads – and teachers – to understand, anticipate, and manage the behavior of these “special needs” teens. 

Watch the video below for a parent-education program designed specifically for parents of defiant teens:


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

Tips for Parents of "Special Needs" College-Bound Teens

Graduating from high school and planning for life afterwards is an exciting AND challenging time for older teens and their parents. For adolescents with psychiatric diagnoses, it is especially important to plan ahead for a successful "launch” from high school to a university.

All universities are different. It is important to investigate the mental health services and other supports available at each university you are considering.

Some topics to investigate and consider include:
  • Availability of student advocacy groups and outreach services to support students with special needs
  • Can the psychiatric condition be successfully managed on campus, or will additional community resources be required?  Consider ease of access to off-campus providers
  • How are medical and counseling services paid for? Does a student fee cover everything or is your insurance accepted? 
  • The availability of a Counseling Center, Student Health Services, and off-campus mental health resources

Before applying to a university, it is helpful for adolescents and their moms and dads to talk with their physician about the following:
  • Developing realistic expectations and plans about academic workload
  • Educational accommodations that can and should continue in college
  • Organizational skills needed to balance work and social life
  • Treatment needs and additional support after high school

When choosing a university, think about the following: 
  • Distance from home
  • Ease of access to specialized treatment
  • Educational environment (e.g., classroom, online, or a combination)
  • Housing options (e.g., dorms, off-campus living, commuting from home)
  • Local friends and family
  • Total number of students and class size

In order to live independently, college-bound adolescents will need a range of life skills, including:
  • Running errands (e.g., grocery, gasoline)
  • Doing chores (e.g., laundry, cooking, and cleaning)
  • Navigating public transportation and knowing how to get around new areas
  • Money management (e.g., using ATM’s, credit and debit cards, checkbook, online banking)
  • Healthy nutrition and exercise
  • Handling increased social freedom and pressures (e.g., drugs and alcohol, dating and sex)
  • Good sleep habits

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

Universities have more work with less structure. College-bound adolescents need to develop effective study skills such as:
  • Accepting responsibility and consequences for actions (e.g., missing a deadline) and learning how to plan for contingencies
  • Attending educational planning meetings (e.g., 504 plan, IEP, etc.) 
  • Balancing educational and recreational computer use
  • Completing homework, essays, and projects without reminders or involvement from mom or dad, professors, or tutors
  • Knowing schedules for classes
  • Organizing study materials

Moms and dads should encourage independence in healthcare management. Gradually phase in responsibility for: 
  • Knowing and talking about their health history
  • Scheduling, canceling, and keeping medical appointments
  • Storing and keeping medications safely
  • Tracking need for and ordering medication refills

There is more than just one route to a college degree. Other choices include "gap year" programs, part-time work and school, or a community college. Graduating from high school is a momentous occasion. Developing independent life skills and learning to manage mental health issues will help ensure a successful transition.


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

When Defiant Teens Push Their Parents "Over The Edge"

Let’s be honest here: parenting a defiant, disrespectful teenager can take its toll on any parent, leaving him or her flustered and on edge - day after day - with no relief in sight. After all, a person can only take so much abuse before “cracking.” Anger is a natural emotion, but when it escalates to rage, the result is similar to throwing gas on a fire; it can turn an average argument between parent and child into a “war of wills.”

When dealing with your "difficult" teenager, do you find that your fuse is getting shorter and shorter? Have arguments and fights simply become “a way of life”? Studies have shown that teenagers whose parents often express rage are more likely to be difficult to discipline. So, it will be in your best interest to be in more control of your emotions. Here’s how to accomplish this feat…

How parents can control anger and rage against their defiant teens:

1. Assertiveness training is particularly helpful if you are a person who bottles up rage and then lets it go in an inappropriate way.

2. Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can never compensate for our losses and only adds to our injury by further depleting and draining our lives.

3. Choose your battles carefully. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worthy of your time and energy. If you pick your battles rather than fighting over everything, your teenager will take you more seriously when you are out-of-sorts.

4. Divide your teenager’s disobedience into "behavior to ignore" (e.g., annoyances), which are not worth the wear and tear of getting angry about, and "misbehavior that needs a consequence" (e.g., destruction of property, lying, stealing, etc.), which requires a response – for your sake and your teen’s.

5. Exercising regularly helps your body release tension.

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

6. Focus on the physical sensations of rage. While it may seem counter-intuitive, tuning into the way your body feels when you’re getting worked-up often lessens the emotional intensity of your rage.

7. Focus on the present. Once you are in the heat of arguing, it’s easy to start throwing past grievances into the mix. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the present to solve the problem.

8. Identify problems in your past that could contribute to present rage. Were you abused or harshly punished as a teen? Do you have difficulty controlling your temper? Do you sense a lack of inner peace? Identify present situations that are making you outraged, (e.g., dissatisfaction with job, spouse, self, teen, etc.). Remember, you mirror your emotions. If your teen sees a chronically mad face and hears an angry voice, that’s the person he is more likely to become.

9. If your rage seems to be spiraling out of control, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes or for as long as it takes you to cool down. A brisk walk, a trip to the gym, or a few minutes listening to some music should allow you to calm down, release pent up emotion, and then approach the situation with a cooler head.

10. Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement with your teen, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.

11. Learn a few relaxation exercises. Breathing deeply has a calming effect on the body and mind. Breathe deeply in through your nose, drawing the breath down below your naval, and holding it for a count of 5. Release the breath slowly. Form the habit of doing this several times a day, and learn the feeling of relaxation. Recall this feeling and practice the breathing when you find yourself becoming angry.

12. Put your safety first when emotions are getting real heated. Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe or threatened in any way by your teen, get away and go somewhere safe.

13. Review your own adolescence. Think about the ways rage was expressed in your family when you were growing up. In some homes, rage is taboo, causing people to suppress their feelings and becoming fearful of expressing rage. For others, rage was expressed at home, in extreme ways. Reflect on how your childhood experiences have influenced how you deal with rage.

14. Set clear boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate.

15. Slowly count to ten. Focus on the counting to let your rational mind catch up with your feelings. If you still feel out of control by the time you reach ten, start counting again.

16. Spending time outdoors in natural environments is a great stress-reducer.

17. Stretch or massage areas of tension. Roll your shoulders if you are tensing them, for example, or gently massage your neck and scalp.

18. Use your senses. Take advantage of the relaxing power of your sense of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Also, you might try listening to music or picturing yourself in a favorite place.

19. Yoga classes are a good way to learn some calming techniques.

20. You may want to work with a therapist who can help you effectively parent your defiant teen without getting angry. Seeking professional help is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s a sign of strength and pragmatism and can improve your quality of life.

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

Best Comment:

Anonymous said...  Yesterday was one of THOSE days. I have had your Defiant Teen ebook for a week and was able to keep the situation from going over the edge:   When my son refused to turn down the volume on the PC and also threw some insults at me on top of it...... I calmly turned off the PC... unplugged the keyboard, put it in the backseat of my truck, and left on an errand... returning an hour later to a quiet house.  Thank you so much for your ebook... It is awesome :) 

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