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

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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When my adolescent clients get into regular teacher-student conflict [like your son], I always lobby for them to be withdrawn from regular school and moved to an alternative school setting.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.

==> Online Parent Support: Help for Parents

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

Read How This Mother of a Very Difficult Teenage Son Makes HUGE Progress in the "Parenting Department"


It has been awhile since I last e-mailed you (middle of June I believe). At that time, our 16yo M______ had gotten into a fight which sent the other person (18yo) to the hospital. We weren't sure what was going to happen. We left 2 days after the fight for vacation visiting relatives in another state. When we got back, we were told that the boy was not pressing charges and M______ would be "off the hook". We almost wished for SOMETHING to happen to possibly instill a different view in our son. He felt justified since he didn't hit first. Anyway, he was home for only 3 days before he left for a month long wrestling camp out of state (we were looking forward to the respite!!) Needless to say, he went against our permission on the first day with driving privileges and lied about it, so could not go anywhere the following 2 days before leaving. He was VERY UPSET and threatening to "just leave anyways" but he did in fact stay home (I credit your program and our following it for this breakthrough). The month long break was great!

First day back, he went out with his buddies, lied about his plans of spending the night at a friends (found out no adults home--against our rules as we don't know the parents very well), and told him he then had to be home at 11:30pm, or they could spend the night at our house. He came home at 12:40 and was not answering his cell phone, had friends lying about which one was bringing him home. He had no cell phone, computer, going out for 3 days. This was a Sat.

No problems in the interim. Was allowed to go out Wed. His Dad let him use the car (remember he is not with the program). M______ was not supposed to have use of the car until he could afford the insurance/gas for it. He was doing some jobs around the house for an agreed upon amount and his part-time job was to start the following week. I guess Dad felt he should try to let him a little freedom and see what happened. Well, he was 9 minutes late the first time (9:30pm), and then Dad let him go out again (I was not home then) and he was 3 minutes late. Our rule is for every 1 minute late, there is a five minute earlier curfew the next outing. So this would be 1 hour early.

Thursday he went out and told to be home 10:15pm. He called and asked if he and his friends could come over to have a bonfire and swim. He was told yes, but HIS curfew was still 10:15pm and they would have to find their own rides home (2 girls and 1 boy--none with licenses/cars). They came over about 9:30pm--his VERY FIRST TIME HOME ON TIME!! He went outside in the front at 11:00pm (we thought just to wait for the girls/boy's rides to show up as he has done many times in the past). Well, his car was then gone! I called him and he said he was taking the girls home (they live locally). He was told NO, curfew was 10:15, he never asked permission to do this and to get home IMMEDIATELY. He did not show up after 15minutes (plenty of time to come home) and now was not answering his phone. His friend finally answered his and said they were at the gas station (not sure if I believe this). They did return about 11:30 and this boy's Mom picked him up shortly after. M______ was again given consequence of no phone, computer, going out for 3 days.

Friday evening we hear him tell his friend on the phone he can't talk or go out as "I'm grounded". Parents are feeling good at this point that maybe he's finally learning. He says he's going outside to play catch with his lacrosse ball/net. Did not think anything of it. Realized he's not in the yard. Husband and I think he's gone up to the local school because there is more room. He does not have use of the car, and his bike is still home. It's starting to get dark, and I drive to the school--he's not there. I don't pass him either. Now of course I'm angry. Finally at 11:30pm he comes strolling in. Notice he's in "going out jeans/shirt". He says "I fell asleep on the bleacher's". We tell him, he was not to leave our property without permission, we believe he went out and his 3 days will restart tonight. I was waiting until 12:00pm to file a "runaway" charge since that is our local curfew for teens, and he came home before then.

Saturday, we had a graduation party to attend about 1/2 hr away. We are extremely close to the family. He knew about this party for months and was even looking forward to going. When it was almost time to leave (Husband not home as he was helping "set up" for the party and we would meet there) M______ said "I'm not going. I kept my poker face and said "yes you are, you've known about this for ages, you are a minor, and it wouldn't be right for our friends for you to not go." He started DEMANDING his phone, etc. and then he would go. I said no. I told him I would call the police if he didn't go. He said Okay, got dressed and then again tried to demand things. I then did call the police. It just so happens our good friend was the Sergeant on duty. He said they could not do anything at that point. He suggested we go, but take away more things, tell him he may not leave the house, file runaway if he did leave and go and try to have a good time. M______ did act like he was leaving, as he ran out of the house, so I told the Sergeant that he was not a runaway (I was still on the phone with him). M______ never left our property and agreed to go. I did tell him the 3 days was starting over and if there was any more defiance (I defined this) that he would have his bed taken out of his room into the basement or living room (he shares with a brother and it has TV/PS2) with no electronics, take away designer clothes, etc.

No problems until Monday. He was told by his Dad he could go out again on Tuesday (I felt Wed, but I didn't push this so we could be more united and he had followed the rules until then). And have use of the car to drive to work. I had a very serious Dr. appt. Tuesday and had told M______ a week ago I needed him to stay home with his brother. He could use the car for work. (I would not let him use it for leisure until debt were paid, but think his Dad was going to let him). Anyway, all hell broke loose Monday night. He stated he was going out Tuesday, would not stay home for his brother. He did not state any specific plans. When told I needed him until work time, he blew a gasket. He started swearing, threatening to leave anyways and felt entitled to the car. He stated he had been "good" (his words) just to be able to go out. Husband and I did lose our cool somewhat, but it was more controlled than usual. I told M______ that he was going to be facing the consequence of no designer clothes, his bed in the living room (no electronics), and to restart the 3 day consequence. We tried to explain how sometimes responsibilities come up that preclude our "fun", but that was life. His older brother STILL asks permission to go out (19yo) and had to watch his sibs many times and unless he was working never told us "No". Things did not get calmer, and he kept using his computer (he had earned this back by now), when asked to put it down to talk, so he was told that we pay for the internet service, the electricity and he would not be able to use that anymore either (the computer was a Christmas gift). 


 ==> Help for Parents of Difficult Teens


He went into his bedroom and flung all of his drawers out, and dumped all of their contents around the room. He then produced $10 and demanded I go and put gas in the car so he could use it (told no--it was 12:30am and time for parents to be sleeping as we had to work the next morning.). Demanding car keys--told no. Demanding to be allowed to go to grandma's--told to call her and if OK we would drive him, so of course he dropped this idea. Demanding his phone--told no. (House phones had been confiscated earlier). He kept walking outside as if going to leave, and I told him I would report him--so he stayed in the garage, and FINALLY came back in. He also took a rope out of the garage "You're gonna be sorry", I didn't react to this. He then went into the bathroom and was shaking pill bottles around, but came out momentarily. This morning my Excedrin bottle was empty but I believe he flushed them and he seemed to be sleeping/breathing normally this morning. I did not respond to this either.

Well, now I'm at work. I told my youngest to call my cell if his brother does leave. So far, no call. I will not be home until time to take him to work (obviously he has lost permission to use it). He keeps saying "why should I try, I'm good and you just find another way to ground me, I just keep getting grounded". I have turned this back to his responsibility and say "this was YOUR choice", and keep to my guns.

By the way, I did get my husband to at least read the hard copy of your program while M_______ was at camp. While he by no means agrees with it, I think he at least can understand M______ behavior a little better and is willing to go for less time with punishments. Baby steps I always say, as long as they are going forward!!

Since M______ was gone for a month, do you think his behavior has gone backward, or is this the norm? Again, he seems to be breaking/bending the rules as often as before, but is accepting of the consequences (most times) better. Do you think we will see a change soon? I hope so, because it is HARD work and very tiring.

Thanks for being there for all of us parents Mark--I keep telling everyone about your program and how much sense it seems to make!!

Regards, J


Hi J.,

First of all, I have to say I am so impressed with how you have been handling these situations. Thank you for being such a good student!!! You are working the program the way it is intended. And I will be posting this email on the blog for others to read since this is such a good practical example of how things shake down over time. 


Re: …do you think his behavior has gone backward, or is this the norm? 


This is the norm. When parents really work the program (like you are), they make 3 steps forward, then go 2 steps back, then 3 forward, 2 back. It is a tough road no doubt, but incrementally, you make progress over the long haul. 


Re: …he seems to be breaking/bending the rules as often as before, but is accepting of the consequences (most times) better. Do you think we will see a change soon? 


It sounds like he’s a slow learner (or late bloomer). Also, he may be getting some mixed messages since your husband is not totally on the same page with you. But I think you’re doing great overall.


What comes to my mind in the way of recommending anything additional is for you to find ways to (a) cultivate some healthy detachment (i.e., not getting wrapped-up emotionally in everybody else’s problems) from both your son and the problems that arise, and (b) pamper yourself (e.g., time for yourself, relaxation, recreation, meditation, etc.). In this way, you will not feel emotionally drained at the end of a bad day (or week). 


When you keep your batteries charged-up by taking special care of yourself, you have the strength to keep the pressure on (i.e., wearing your poker face; following through w/consequences, etc.). As a result, you out-will your strong-willed child eventually.


You are an inspiration J.,


Mark Hutten, M.A.

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