The Tail Is Wagging The Dog

Mark, I have been putting your principles into practise for a few months now and everything was going well until my sons best friend came back into his life big time. His girlfriend dropped him two weeks ago and he had been kicked out of both his mothers and fathers house because they cannot live with his behaviour any more, this child has uncontrollable tempers and word around the place is he is on steroids. How do I get my son back on track and to accept that his friend is a bad egg.

He stayed out all night because I was mad with him, he is not responding to the consequences unless I change them. He is now 17 and I know he would be scared if I really threw him out, but I am scared if it backfires. If I call the police when he stays out, is this not going to backfire and make him so wild with me? What normally happens in this case? Can you give some advice? ~ L.


Hi L.,

Re: …son’s best friend.

Peer pressure is a very potent force, but its influence is very subtle. Often, teens don't even know they're being influenced. Teens associate with peers who are not necessarily a good influence because they don't want to say "no" …don't want to be left out …don't want to seem like a wimp …don't want to lose their friends …and are afraid their friends will tease them and spread rumors around school.

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Family support is crucial to adolescents. Adolescents take their major values in life from their parents. When adolescents are negatively influenced by their peers, it is more likely because something is lacking in parental involvement. Those who do not have a high level of support from their parents are more likely to become involved in undesirable behaviors. Support and effective communication lessen adolescent's vulnerability to negative peer pressure.

Here are some suggestions:

· Check whether your concerns about their friends are real and important.

· Do not attack your child's friends. Remember that criticizing your teen's choice of friends is like a personal attack.

· Encourage reflective thinking by helping your teen think about his or her actions in advance and discussing immediate and long-term consequences of risky behavior.

· Encourage your teen's independence by supporting decision-making based on principles and not other people.

· Get to know the friends of your teen. Learn their names, invite them into your home so you can talk and listen to them, and introduce yourself to their parents.

· Help your teen understand the difference between image (expressions of youth culture) and identity (who he or she is).

· If you believe your concerns are serious, talk to your teenager about behavior and choices -- not the friends.

· Keep the lines of communication open and find out why these friends are important to your teenager.

· Let your teen know of your concerns and feelings.

· Remember that we all learn valuable lessons from mistakes.

No matter what kind of peer influence your teen faces, he or she must learn how to balance the value of going along with the crowd (connection) against the importance of making principle-based decisions (independence).

Re: He stayed out all night because I was mad with him, he is not responding to the consequences unless I change them.

Where was your poker face? Also, “changing” consequences to meet the demands of the child is a form of over-indulgence.

Re: If I call the police when he stays out, is this not going to backfire and make him so wild with me?

I can see that the tail is wagging the dog. You have clearly lost control in the relationship. Rather than worrying about things “backfiring,” I would recommend that you concern yourself with the damage that will be done to your son if you continue to over-indulge.

Please review Session #3 in the eBook {online version}. I think this chapter applies best in your circumstance.

Stay in touch,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Discouraged mom states, "I feel I am always nagging... "

"I would like some guidelines on setting up clear rules. My 15 year old son constantly yells, belittles his younger brother and basically tries to defy or argue when I ask him to anything. He certainly sets the mood for the house. I found it harder to stay in control and feel I am at wits end. He doesnt worry about his appearance and I constantly remind him of basic hygiene. He lacks motivation at school, football relationships at school always seem to be a drama. He seems to be closer to girls and does not seem to be able to form close relationships with boys. Has quit his part time job. Doesnt seem to be passionate about anything. He often tells me how he wants to leave and live with anyone but me. My husband has been ill with Leukaemia and suffers with the complications of the treatment. It has impacted our life for the past three years. Upsets me that he is so angry and not happy. I would like him be responsible for the cleanliness of his room, his appearance and speak nicely and want him to contribute to the family in a loving way. I feel I am always nagging but where is the fine line between letting him just do what he wants. I seem to feed off his anger. I just want to understand R___ and my behaviour and what I can do to help to make this situation better? Appreciate any feed back? If anything, writing helps to clarify my thoughts. kind regards ~ J."

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Hi J.,

Re: My 15 year old son constantly yells, belittles his younger brother and basically tries to defy or argue when I ask him to anything.

Please refer to the page in the eBook [online version – session #3] entitled “When You Want Something From Your Kid”. Much of what you are dealing with in this email will be addressed there.

Re: He doesn’t worry about his appearance and I constantly remind him of basic hygiene ...and lack of motivation.

Your child's teenage years can be a difficult time. Teens may feel overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are going through. At the same time, teens may be facing a number of pressures - from friends to fit in and from parents and other adults to do well in school, or activities like sports or part-time jobs.

The teenage years are a time of transition from childhood into adulthood. Teens often struggle with being dependent on their parents while having a strong desire to be independent. They may experiment with new values, ideas, hairstyles and clothing as they try to define who they are. Although this may be uncomfortable for parents, it is a normal part of being a teenager.

Communicating your love for your child is the single most important thing you can do. Children decide how they feel about themselves in large part by how their parents react to them. It is also important to communicate your values and to set expectations and limits, such as insisting on honesty, self-control and respect for others, while still allowing teenagers to have their own space.

Parents of teens often find themselves noticing only the problems, and they may get in the habit of giving mostly negative feedback and criticism. Although teens need feedback, they respond better when it is given positively and spoken with love.

Praising appropriate behavior can help your teen feel a sense of accomplishment and reinforce your family's values.

Teens, especially those with low self-esteem or with family problems, are at risk for a number of self-destructive behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol or having unprotected sex. Depression and eating disorders are also important issues for teens.

The following may be warning signs that your child is having a problem:

· Agitated or restless behavior
· Drop in grades
· Fatigue, loss of energy and lack of interest in activities
· Lack of motivation
· Low self-esteem
· Not caring about people and things
· Ongoing feelings of sadness
· Poor hygiene
· Trouble concentrating
· Trouble falling asleep
· Weight loss or weight gain

If you suspect there is a problem, ask your teen about what is bothering him or her. And then listen.

Don't ignore a problem in the hopes that it will go away. It is easier to cope with problems when they are small. This also gives you and your teen the opportunity to learn how to work through problems together.

Again, please refer to Session #3. I think that session really applies here.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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"My son did not get his required highschool credits..."

"Hello Mark, Well his grade 12 graduation is this week-end. He is not able to “walk the stage” as he did not get his credits required. Natural consequence of not attending school and not getting his work done. He is still planning to go in a limo with his friends and attend the banquet with his girlfriend. My husband says we should not attend any of the grad events, however, will our son ever forgive us for being the only parents not there? We have tried to talk him out of going but is insisting he wants to. Please advise whether we, as the parents, should be “celebrating” a grad event when he is not technically graduating. 
Thank you Mark. ~ S."


Hi S.,

Re: Please advise whether we, as the parents, should be "celebrating" a grad event when he is not technically graduating.

Great question!

Should you be celebrating? No. There's nothing to celebrate, unless you want to celebrate lack of credits.

Should you attend at least one grad event? Probably. Not to celebrate, but to show your son that you support his education and all that is associated with it.

Should he go in a limo with his friends and attend the banquet with his girlfriend? Absolutely. This may wet his appetite for finishing his education on a strong note.

Don't feel sorry for him, but do bear in mind that he may feel a bit inadequate during the events.


RE: "She had the most amazing temper tantrum and was kicking me..."

 Hi Mark, Another question from Australia (I have SO many questions)! M__ and I are in the process of starting up some chores and allowing A__ to earn some money from the non-mandatory ones. We thought we'd have a rule where the mandatory ones had to be done first and then there would be the capacity to earn money from other chores. If the mandatory ones are not done, then there is no pocket money for the week. Is this OK? Can we put a caveat on her spending like no lollies, fizzy drinks or junk food-her behavior is so much worse if she has these things-she can buy books, toys clothes or save some for example?

Also, what happens if we have bad behavior during the week-can we tie it all in together-bad behavior, no money or is that a separate issue of consequences? A__ was so awful the other night-she had the most amazing temper tantrum and was kicking me and M__ had to restrain her-she is getting too big for me-at the age of 8 she is up to my chin (I'm 5'7") and it was not easy to just walk away as she was grabbing hold of me (I have a torn rotator cuff muscle in my right shoulder courtesy of her wrenching my arm in a fit of rage) and I've endured an MRI and 5 months of physio to get it better... Thanks Mark.


Hi L.,

Re: If the mandatory ones are not done, then there is no pocket money for the week. Is this OK?


Re: Can we put a caveat on her spending like no lollies, fizzy drinks or junk food-her behavior is so much worse if she has these things-she can buy books, toys clothes or save some for example?

Yes but …here’s one caveat to your caveat: Allow her to have one “treat” that falls into the junk food category per week.

Re: …what happens if we have bad behavior during the week-can we tie it all in together-bad behavior, no money or is that a separate issue of consequences?

Make the consequence fit the “crime” (i.e., the misbehavior) as much as possible. Not every poor choice your daughter makes will be linked to money.

Re: Domestic battery. This should involve the authorities if it happens again. You don’t want to send her the message that physical violence goes un-punished.


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Son won't be able to graduate but continues to go out at night rather than focus on school...

I wanted to get some final advice from you relative to my soon to be 18 year old son. Your website advise was great and the personality traits you explain have been dead on. I think we learned this a bit late in the game though.

We are at the point where it is highly unlikely that he will graduate. He continues to say he will be able to graduate but continues to go out with friends at night rather than focus on school. We have not planned for any grad events and I do admit to feeling guilty as this should be such a wonderful time of his life.

Question One: What should our attitude be toward grad? We know his work is not done to graduate and yet he insists he will be fine. He even wants to get a suit this week-end?

== > The more you take responsibility for your son's academics, the less responsibility he will take. The problem is an ownership problem. Let go of ownership of your son’s education. This problem belongs to your son. When you give up ownership, your son will have to make a choice - he'll have to decide if he will or will not accept ownership of his education. And he'll lose the power of pushing your education buttons, to frustrate and worry you.

Out-of-control teens intentionally perform poorly to push their parents’ buttons. Often parents are in a never-ending cycle of their kid’s sabotage. Since parents are continuously telling their kids how important an education is, their kids use this information to anger them. The more parents try, the less out-of-control kids work.

Many people who are successful in life performed poorly in school. Your son is not going to end up sitting on the street corner with a tin can waiting for coins to be handed him from sympathetic passersby. Get rid of the fear that poor school performance will damage his future. When he decides it's time to succeed, he will. I've never meet a kid yet that didn't realize - at some point - that he at least needed to get a GED

He has his car a cell phone taken away and this has been the case for a week. He only needs to do chores to pay us back money he owes but says there is not point as he doesn't get anything when he works hard or does chores??? (Fact is we always give him a break but he always forgets.)

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Question Two: Will he ever get it? Work equals pay?

He does not work and has no money. He says he will work part-time this summer (He will be 18) and work fulltime in the all. We know he is emotionally immature and he puts his friends before everything. We believe he should work full-time in order to pay his bills.

== > If he is living in your house at the age of 18 – and not attending school, then working to pay his room and board should be mandatory. If he refuses to pay room and board, then you need to (a) help him find an apartment, (b) help him move, (c) pay his first month’s rent, and (d) let go (i.e., he can certainly come home to visit, but he can no longer live at home). This is the parental tough love that separates the women from the girls (so to speak). Which are you mom?

Question 3: Do you think at 18 he should be cut off from everything and told to pay his way?

== > Yes. In addition to what you’ve listed below, he should pay a reasonable rent as well as buy most of his own food. How long will you be willing to continue to raise an adult child?

We would provide a home and food but he will pay for cell phone, gas, car insurance, eating out, etc.

He does not talk to us most of the time and is always gone. This makes it difficult to apply what we have learned in your program as he is not receptive. When we do finally get his attention, it is usually negative as he has not done his chores, gone to school etc. 

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Question 4: How do we handle a non-communicative teen?

== > I think you have a deadbeat child on your hands (no offense - I’m sure he is a great kid). The latest parenting challenge is dealing with adult children who have no intention of leaving the nest. Many 18- to 25-year-olds either return home after college or they've never even left home. Parents are worried that their kids will NEVER leave home. Why do over-indulged kids refuse to leave the nest?

1. They Are Unprepared-- They are overwhelmed or unmotivated to live independently. They would rather play it safe by occupying the family home, playing computer games and delivering pizza. These kids often grow up living the life of the privileged. Here, well-meaning parents provide their children with all the amenities congruent with an affluent lifestyle. The parents are focused on doing more for their children than what their parents did for them – at the expense of keeping them dependent. Kids don't move out because they've got it made! When your financial generosity isn't combined with teaching kids how to become self-sufficient at an early age, we cannot expect them to automatically possess adequate life skills when they reach legal adulthood. How will they gain the skills to confidently live their own life when they haven't had the opportunity to do things for themselves?

2. They Are Cautious or Clueless-- They are committed, but unsure how to discover their ideal career path. They approach college with the same trial and error mindset their parents had only to find out that it no longer prepares them for today's competitive world. Parents do their kids a disservice by waiting until they are 17 or 18 before initiating career-related discussions. In our dynamic society where change is a daily diet, this is much too late! It's best to start young, at age 13. This stage of development is the perfect time to begin connecting the dots between what they love to do and possible career options. It can take years to prepare for the perfect career. Beginning early will help teens maximize their opportunities in high school and make college a much better investment.

3. They Have Personal Problems--They don't have effective life coping skills, have failed relationships or are grieving some other loss or wrestling with a challenging life event. If your son is struggling emotionally, don't make the mistake of thinking it will somehow magically get better without an intervention. Tough love requires that you insist your adolescent get professional help so that he or she can move forward. If you don't know how to have that kind of conversation, consider getting help from a parenting expert.

4. They Have Mounting Debt-- They've accumulated significant credit card debt and moving back in with their parents is a way to pay it off. According to the National Credit Card Research Foundation, 55 percent of students ages 16 to 22 have at least one credit card. If your teen falls into this group, make sure you monitor spending together online. Helping your teen understand how to budget and manage credit cards will be important for handling a household budget in the future. Kids can't learn to manage money if they don't have any or if parents always pay for everything. If your offspring moves back home, I recommend you charge a nominal amount for room and board. As an adult member of your household, it's important for your young adult to contribute to household chores and expenses.

Determine Goals and Stick to Them— Most parents enjoy having their children visit and will consider offering some short-term help. However, indulging an adult child's inaction does not help your son begin his own life. If your child defaults on your agreement, be willing to enforce consequences to help him launch into responsible adulthood.

I’ve been kinda tough on you in this email S___, but I know you would want the truth.

Stay tough,



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Parents have a severely out-of-control 16 year old daughter...

Hi I'm Yvonne and I have an out of control 16 year old daughter. For the past year and a half we have been having issues on a weekly bases with our daughter. I will fill you in quickly on some of the things that we have been dealing with over this time.

She was wagging school, suspended on 3 occasions for smoking in school uniform, got suspended for drinking at school, left home for 5 days and wouldn't let us know where she was. Started casual at McDonalds in Jan. this year but 1 mo. later decided that she didn't want to got to school anymore so left to work at McDonalds full time but got on average 15 - 25 hours a week and spent the rest of the time hanging out with her friends why we were at work. Then in March got fired for stealing money out of the register (for a friend). Had people over when we weren't here and they did a burnout in our carport and did about $1,000 damage to the new concrete that we installed not long ago got. Has told me that she is smoking weed on weekends when she is with her friends. We have on many occasions had money go missing from our wallet and have to keep them in our room and I take mine to the shower in the morning just in case she comes into our room. We feel that we can't leave anything lying around the house and I feel sick having to live like this in our own home.

What we have done.

I wake her in the morning and she has to be out of the house at 7.30 when I leave for work as I have told her that she can't be trusted after everything that has happened to be left in the home that she has no respect for. 

We use to pay her for doing chores around the house but have stopped this lately as she needs to get out their and find a job and the chores that she does do (not often) is payment for the food, and bed that she has within the home.

We have 2 international students with us at the moment and one had $100 go missing out of his bag and of course we know who took it but she always says that she hasn't. This is the last straw as we have once again had to cover money that she has taken from other people and it would add up to around the $700 or more over the last 2 years.

We love our daughter but don't like the things or the people that she is involved with at the moment and have tried everything we can think of going as far as calling the police who came and had a talk to her.

I know why she does a lot of things she does and that is she is a large girl for her age and feels that no one likes her so she does anything and everything to get attention whether it be good or bad and this is something that we noticed from the age of about 9 years. She has an older sister 21 and a younger brother 13. She gets on well with her brother, just the usual kid fights. Her elder sister and her had a good relationship up until the age of about 12 when the age gap between them started to show and her elder sister didn't want her around any more, and has not been a close relationship since. Her elder sister has just moved to the UK for up to 5 years so is no longer at home.

This is just touching the surface but hope that you can give us some advice. At the moment my husband and I are ready to pack her bags and send her out into the big wide world to fend for her self as we had enough.

Can't wait to hear from you,

Desperate Parents Yvonne and Phil


Hi Yvonne and Phil,

Re: smoking pot and drinking…

Please forward this part of the email to your daughter. I would like for her to read the following:


I am sorry that you feel so lonely and overwhelmed. I can sense the sadness in you and I am here to tell you that you can feel a lot better about yourself and your life. I'm not just saying this to make you feel better. I have worked with many kids your age who got their lives back under control and who became the people they wanted to be. They all were unsure whether they could handle turning their lives around but with their own courage and some support from caring family, friends and talented professionals, they did it.

You and I both know that weed can be very psychologically addicting. If you are lonely, getting a little high or quite stoned can temporarily make you feel better -- but as you know, when the high wears off, reality hits you in the face again. You must let your folks know how you have been feeling and tell them about your use of weed. They must assume some responsibility for their part in this and be the parents that you need them to be. I know that talking to them about this scares you and I don't know what their response will be.

You MUST trust some adult to help you. You cannot do this on your own and it's not because you're a weak or bad kid, it's because right now you are too overwhelmed with sadness and despair. Confide in an adult, school counselor or clergy member whom you trust. Let them take some of the burden. They will be honored that you have chosen them to trust. It's the first big step that you have to take. You need a support system and the knowledge that grownups will stand by you as you show how much courage and determination you have.

You were not meant to fail school, to have no true friends, to dull yourself with weed. You were meant to know happiness and joy. There are many people out there, just waiting for a friend like you - people who don't need you to do drugs with them to be your friend. Let someone into your life who will help guide you and support you as you come back to life, to be the girl you were truly meant to be.

Re: running away…

The following is a brief list of suggestions that can help reduce the risk of a runaway. Keep in mind that these are only suggestions than may help. If the risk is high, and your relationship is extremely poor, including the level of trust, then these suggestions may not help.

· If you get overwhelmed or upset, tell your child "I'm overwhelmed and a little upset. I need a break and a chance to calm down and think about this." Then tell them you want a 20 minute (or so) break and then you will talk to them again. Be sure to take a break.

· Never call you teenager names or label them with words like liar, a thief, a brat, a punk, childish, immature, untrustworthy, selfish, cruel, unkind, stupid, etc... These words will not help. Your child will only begin to think of you in negative terms and may even start calling you worse names.

· Never dare your child to run away because you think they may not.

· Never explain yourself or argue if your child expects you to justify the fact that you do not agree.

· Never interrupt your teenager when they are talking or trying to explain something - even if you disagree. Waite until they are done.

· Never raise your voice or yell - especially when your teenager is raising their voice or yelling.

· Never use sarcasm or a negative attitude that demonstrates that you do not respect your teenager.

· Remember you can also agree with your child, but you don't have to let them do whatever they want. For instance, you might agree that their is be no significant difference between some teenagers who are 17 years old and some people who are 21 years old, but that does not mean you will allow teenagers to consume alcohol at a party at your house.

· Remind yourself that simply listening and telling your child that you understand does not mean you will agree when they are finished, nor does it mean you will do what they seem to want.

· Stay calm and quiet, make eye contact, and don't respond if your child is angry, shouting or in a rage. Wait until they are calm.

· Talk less and use fewer words than your teenagers.

· Tell you teenager that you understand what they are saying. Say "I understand." And if you don't understand, say "I'm not sure I understand, ...tell me again."

· When two parents are speaking with a teenagers, it is important to take turns, but be careful to let your teenagers speak as much as BOTH parents speak. Both parents should talk equally and use less words than their child.

· When you don't agree and you are certain that you understand your teenager's point of view (and your teenager believes you understand) tell your teenager. "I think I understand, but I don't agree with you. I want to think we can understand each other, but we don't have to agree."

· When your teenager stops talking, ask "Is there anything else you want to tell me." 

Re: theft…

When teens steal, it's recommended that parents follow through with strict consequences. For example, when a teen is caught shoplifting, the parent can take the child back to the store and meet with the security department to explain and apologize for what happened. If the teen steals from parents or other family members, the police should be called and theft charges should be filed. The teen's embarrassment at facing up to what she did makes for an everlasting lesson on why stealing is wrong.

Re: hanging with the wrong crowd…

Don't expect to like all your teen's friends. After all, do you like all your friends' children?

Accept teens 'try out' friends in the same way that they 'try out' fashions, lifestyles and even values in their search for a new adult identity. Avoid over-reacting and take comfort from the fact that many teen friendships are transitory!

Get to know your teen's friends... don't exclude them. You can't hold an opinion about somebody you don't know, as your teenager will be only too quick to tell you. Encourage your teen to hang out with friends at home. Get to know them and understand what your teen sees in them. It's easier to keep an eye on potential troublemakers when they're under your own roof.

Don't sweat the small stuff... base decisions on facts, not emotions. Try to keep feelings out of the picture and avoid unsubstantiated judgments. It will only annoy your teen and send her off complaining to her friends. Look past superficial images to the people they really are. You may find that you like them. Accept experimentation when things don't really matter; hair color and body-piercings are easily reversible. Be firm on rules that are important to you, like courtesy and consideration in the home.

Avoid criticism and keep communication open. Your teenager views criticism as an attack on his own judgment and may resort to secrecy to keep you off his back. Try to initiate positive discussion about your child's general social life and interests. This can also be a good time to subtly encourage other social opportunities such as part-time work or extracurricular activities.

Above all, make sure your teen understands that you are always available to talk about concerns and provide non-judgmental advice. It's the best way to keep track of small problems before they turn into major issues. If facts truly point to a potentially harmful situation, seek expert advice on an appropriate course of action.

Mark Hutten, M.A.



One day you wake up and find that life has changed forever. Instead of greeting you with a hug, your little boy rolls his eyes when you say "good morning" and shouts, "You're ruining my life!" You may think you've stepped into the Twilight Zone, but you've actually been thrust into your son's teen years.

During adolescence, teens start to break away from parents and become "their own person." Some talk back, ignore rules and slack off at school. Others may sneak out or break curfew. Still others experiment with alcohol, tobacco or drugs. So how can you tell the difference between normal teen rebellion versus dangerous behavior? And what's the best way for a parent to respond?

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Many families of defiant children live in a home that has become a battleground. In the beginning, the daily struggles can be expected. After all, we knew that problems would occur. Initially, stress can be so subtle that we lose sight of a war, which others do not realize is occurring. We honestly believe that we can work through the problems.

Outbursts, rages, and strife become a way of life (an emotionally unhealthy way of life). We set aside our own needs and focus on the needs of our children. But what does it cost us?

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The standard disciplinary techniques that are recommended for “typical” teenagers do not take into account the many issues facing teens with serious behavioral problems. Disrespect, anger, violent rages, self-injury, running away from home, school failure, hanging-out with the wrong crowd, drug abuse, theft, and legal problems are just some of the behaviors that parents of defiant teens will have to learn to control.

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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...