Category Archives: oppositional defiant disorder

Parenting test for those with teenagers

Parenting test for those with teenagers
1 votes

So how are you doing in this parenting job you have?  Score your skills on a parenting test which was designed for parents of children ages 11-15 with serious behavior problems.  (If you are brave, have someone else score you too and compare notes.)

Always: 5    Generally: 4    Sometimes: 3    Rarely: 2    Never: 1 Your
score
1.    My child’s other parent (or caregiver) and I agree on how to discipline our child.  


2.    My child can depend on me to do what I say I will.
3.    When I say “no”, I stick to it.
4.    I treat my child with respect, even when I’m angry.
5.    I let natural consequences do the teaching whenever feasible.
6.    I am confident my child has everything she/he needs to make
good decisions.

7.    I allow my child to do his/her chores without my reminding.
8.    I allow my child to voice her/his opinions when done in a
respectful way.

9.    I am able to stay out of arguments by disengaging before they
escalate.

10: When I make a mistake in judgment, I’m quick to admit it.
TOTAL

SCORE

45 – 50   Good job!  You are on the right track.
30 – 45   Not bad, just a little more work in those challenging areas.
Less than 30  Keep trying!  Find a support group; a therapist for you and a co-parent; or books (recommendation).

Don’t be hard on yourself if you score low.
Teenagers are difficult.

You might be thinking:  “I agree these are good parenting skills, but practicing them is impossible with my child.  They hate/defy/scream at me constantly.”  Advice: Work on one at a time, and check back in few weeks to see if you’ve improved your score.

This test is drawn from a parenting guide created in 2007 by StandUp Parenting (www.standup.org)
to help parents understand what is needed to maintain authority and model maturity.  

Please add a comment if you have found other skills to be effective,

Margaret

 

How am I doing?  Please rate this article above.

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Filed under ADHD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, defiant children, discipline, irrational children, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting, Screaming, stress, teenagers, teens, therapy, troubled children, troubled children

Managing resistance: tips and advice

Managing resistance: tips and advice
3 votes


For those who raise resistant, defiant children or teens, this is the single most important piece of advice:  take care of yourself, your primary relationships, and the rest of your family.  Your child cannot take everyone down.  You have a life and so do the rest of the family members.  Protect your other children from PTSD – Post Traumatic SIBLING Disorder.  Schedule regular times for you and the others to relieve tension, and do something that takes you out of the home and brings you joy.  The time or expense is worth every bit as much as psychotherapy.

Before we get to the practical “how to” advice, make note of these facts about defiant and resistant children:

  • Physical age is not emotional age.  They act younger than they are.
  • The child lives in the here and now; they don’t think about the past or future.  They don’t see how their original actions result in a series of consequences.
  • The child does not notice their effect on others.
  • Their brain is easily overloaded, which explains their problems, but you can use this overloading problem to your advantage (see below)
  • They are inherently irrational and cannot follow your reasoning, so don’t try.
  • Believe it or not, you want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life.  It is a strength to cultivate because it takes a strong will to face challenges.  YOU need to be resistant.

Managing resistant children is a balancing act.  If you go too far asserting authority you can draw more resistance, especially if you become emotional, so STAY COOL.  You’ll have to stand rooted and calm many times before they reduce their behavior, so embrace patience.  Patience is good medicine for stress.  Don’t get stuck believing you’ve lost patience… because you haven’t!

Practice ahead of time

Before you set a boundary on your recalcitrant child, practice what you will say in advance.  Play the dialogue out in your head—imagine their reaction to your request or rule, and plan a neutral-toned response.  Remind yourself that you are the authority, and you are more resolved and persistent than they are.  Your message doesn’t have to be rational, e.g. “Because I’m the mommy (or daddy) and I say so.”

THESE ARE PRACTICAL IDEAS, BUT NOT IRONCLAD RULES.  USE YOUR BEST JUDGEMENT.

Be a benevolent dictator

Since your home is not a democracy and your child does not run the household, they are not entitled to have all their needs fulfilled or opinions considered.  When they make a demand, thank them for letting you know their opinion, and explain how you will weigh their needs with those of everyone else.  Your child will find your decision completely unfair, but remind yourself that “fair” is not “equal.”   (It’s not desirable to treat everyone and every situation equally.)  Say it’s the best you can do for now.  As their accusations fly, dial back your interest, get busy with something else, and become distracted.

Allow some aggression

When it’s appropriate and safe, ask your child to do more of what they’re already doing so that they turn it around and defy you by stopping the behavior.  Example: your child refuses to take a direction and throws a book on the floor in anger.

Parent:  “There’s only one book on the floor. Here is another one, now throw this on the floor.”  (Child throws book down.)

“Here’s another one. Throw this down too.”  (Child throws book down.)

“And here’s another book, throw this one down, too.”  (Child becomes frustrated and angry, but stops throwing books down in defiance.)

Be a marshmallow

Show no resistance, instead, listen and respond to how they feel, not what they say.  Show them you are open to genuine talk later when the stress dies down.

Teen:  “I hate you, you f- -king b- -ch!”

Parent:  “Sounds like you’re really angry.”

Teen:  “Shut up you stupid wh- -e!  You c – -t!”

Parent:  “Can you tell why me you’re angry so I can do something about it?”

Teen:  “Leave me alone f- -k face!  Stop patronizing me!”

Parent:  “OK, I hear you don’t want me to patronize you, so I won’t.  I feel this is stressful for both of us, so I’d like to take a break and maybe talk about it later.”

Call their bluff

Child:  “I’m going to run away!”

Parent:  “OK, I’ll give you 50 cents to call me and tell me where you are, and I’ll bring you your stuff.”  (then walk away)

Reverse psychology

Parent:  “Oh my God, I can’t believe what you’ve done to your hair, that’s horrible!  What are people going to think?  That’s worse than tattoos.  You have to stop this nonsense!”

(One mother used this technique to get her daughter to stop her plans to make a homemade tattoo on her face.  After all, hair grows out, but facial tattoos can be forever.)

Overload their brain circuits

Give your child or teen multiple instructions quickly, and include things they do and don’t want to do.  It becomes too much work for them to sort out what to defy.

Parent:  “Keep up the yelling and close the door on your way out.  And be sure to get louder out there so all the neighbors can hear.  Dinner is at 5:30.”

(What happens?  The door is slammed maybe, but the kid is home at 5:30 for dinner.)

Actively ignore

As mentioned in a previous post* this works best with children 2 through 12.  They try to get a reaction by annoying you or threatening to do something you don’t want them to do.  Stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, and act like you don’t care or can’t hear them.  Go into another room or outside, for example, and the annoying child will follow you to continue to get your attention with annoying behavior.  If they flip the lights on and off, or ring the doorbell repeatedly, or turn up the volume too loud, maybe you can switch a circuit breaker off and walk away… or if driving, you can pull over, stop the car, and get out and wait.   * Defying ODD: What it is and ways to manage

Mix it up

Be unpredictable.  Give a reward sometimes but not all the time, so the child keeps trying the good behavior to get the reward.  Instead of a consequence, use bribes to stop a behavior.  Allow them to do something they like to do, only with appropriate boundaries.  In my personal opinion, I think it’s also OK to manipulate a situation and allow the child to think they’ve “won.”  Choose your battles.  Let some things go if you’re too stressed.

Have realistic expectations

It’s easy to get stuck in rut—it happens to everyone—but you can climb out.  Remember,  it’s not the child’s fault and it’s not your fault.  Your child may not go through life the same as others, they may always have problems, but your job is to help them bounce back and learn from their mistakes.  If you can do that, you’ve wildly succeeded.  The best you can is the best you can do.

Bottom line

One must be a saint for sticking it out for their troubled child or teen, whether a bio parent, foster parent, grandparent, adoptive parent, or other family member.  If the child’s condition is serious, they may never make it in the world because of their disability, but you’ll know you’ll have honored them, lived your values, and loved unconditionally.

Hope

  • They have the ability to do better.
  • With treatment, children improve (e.g. therapy, exercise, medication…).
  • Things usually work out.
  • Help is out there.

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Filed under bipolar disorder, defiant children, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting, teenagers, teens

Defying ODD: what it is, and ways to manage.

Defying ODD: what it is, and ways to manage.
16 votes

Parenting a defiant ODD child or teen could be your hardest job ever. 

Not only is it exhausting, but you must continually find the compassion and forgiveness to be nurturing, and the energy and doggedness to be consistent.

ODD is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, it is not in the character or ‘soul’ of your child or teen, and not something they can control.  If your child could do better on their own, they would.  You are the one who can make the most difference.

If you think your child or teen’s defiance is oppositional defiant disorder, you have practical ways to manage your child’s exasperating condition.  This information comes from psychiatric, psychological, and child behavior resources– information to help you work effectively with mental health providers or teachers.  You’ll need to ask them focused questions to learn everything they know about ODD.  Professionals pay better attention to knowledgeable parents (which shouldn’t be the case, all parents deserve attention).  Go in armed with knowledge.

This is what ODD looks like.  The pinkish curving region in the center of the 3-D brain image below represents hyper-charged electrical activity in a 13-year-old boy with severe oppositional defiant disorder.  This feature is typical of ODD, but also typical in individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), “Road Rage,” pathological gambling, chronic pain, and severe PMS.

The name of this region is anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), and scientists believe this area is responsible for enabling a person to shift attention and think flexibly, traits which are deficient in ODD kids.  It is also the brain region known to regulate emotions.  Children with a hyper-charged ACG have “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which 4 or more of the following are present:

  • Often loses temper
  • Often argues with adults.
  • Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules.
  • Often deliberately annoys people.
  • Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior.
  • Is often touchy or easily annoyed by others.
  • Is often angry and resentful.
  • Is often spiteful and vindictive.” 

–From the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition,” published by the American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

There are two different medication approaches to ODD:

  • treat it as a form of attention deficit disorder;
  • treat it as form of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

–         The attention deficit approach may use Straterra (chemical name is atomoxetine), Ritalin (methylphenidate), Risperdal or risperidone (for patients with low IQ), and Depakote or divalproex (a mood stabilizer).

–         The depression & obsessive-compulsive approach may use serotonin-based antidepressants such as Prozac (fluoxetine), and Anafranil or clomipramine (used to treat OCD).

At the end of this article are a list of other medical conditions that can cause disruptive behavior.

Unfortunately, oppositional defiant disorder usually includes other disorders, so you may be coping with more than defiance.  Below are common disorders that combine with ODD:

  • 50-65% of these children also have ADD or ADHD
  • 35% of these children develop some form of depressive disorder
  • 20% have some form of mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder or anxiety
  • 15% develop some form of personality disorder
  • Many of these children have learning disorders

–From http://addadhdadvances.com/ODD.htmlAnthony Kane, MD 

Other medical conditions that can cause disruptive behavior like ODD:

  1. Neurological disorders from brain injuries, left temporal lobe seizures (these do not cause convulsions, no one can tell these are happening), tumors, and vascular abnormalities
  2. Endocrine system problems such as a hyperactive thyroid
  3. Infections such as encephalitis and post-encephalitis syndromes
  4. Inability to regulate sugar, rapid increases and decreases of blood sugar
  5. Systemic lupus erythematosus, Wilson’s disease
  6. Some prescription medications:  Corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory and arthritis drugs such as Prednisone);  Beta-agonists (asthma drugs such as Advair and Symbicort)

–From Peters and Josephson.  Psychiatric Times, 2009.

ODD is a disability.  It isn’t easy to manage, but you can do it.  Your child may need multiple medications and a large variety of approaches to therapy and behavior modification.  You will need patience as teachers, doctors, or specialists try different approaches until they discover one that improves your child’s behavior, so hang in there!

Some good news, if your child has these traits, it will be easier to improve or overcome ODD behaviors:

  • A normal IQ
  • A first born child
  • An affectionate temperament
  • Positive interactions with friends their age
  • Nurturing parents who can consistently set clear behavioral limits

–From the Journal of American Academic Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2002.  Author J.D. Burke.

You try everything but nothing works.  People’s natural instincts for parenting do not work with an ODD kid—they need completely different techniques than ‘normal’ children.

How to reduce ODD behaviors

First, prepare yourself for the intensity of parenting a defiant kid because you are about to run a marathon.  Get enough sleep, maintain your other important relationships (spouse or partner, children, friends), schedule breaks or getaways, and guard your physical and emotional health.  Don’t expect quick results with these techniques; it may take weeks or months.

Parent Management Training – PMT refers to intensive educational programs that are “evidenced based,” proven to help parents gain the skills they need for extremely difficult children, especially those with ODD.  These programs are intensive, but substantiated interventions in child mental health.  PMTs help parents assert consistency and predictability, and promote pro-social behavior in their child.  A good explanation can be found at the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.  Examples include:  the Total Transformation and the Incredible Years.

Find something positive to do together.  Your child has normal needs for closeness and appreciation and joy.  Ask your child about their interests, and if their ideas don’t work for you, try new activities until one brings about a good chemistry between you and your child.

Praise is one of the most powerful tools for managing disruptive behavior.  Take responsibility to inject much-needed positive energy into your relationship with your child or teen.  It’s likely that this relationship has been almost 100% negative, yes?

Set limits – “Consistent limit setting and predictable responses from parents help give children a sense of stability and security.  Children and teens who feel a sense of security regarding the limits of their environment have less need to constantly test it.”  (Webster-Stratton and Hancock)

More praise – ‘Catch’ them doing something good.  Offer praise and make it sound genuine even if they respond in anger, then let it drop.  Spend as much time praising as disciplining!  And don’t expect thanks, it’s not about you.

Active ignoring – This works for best with children between the ages of 2 and 12.  It involves purposefully withdrawing your attention away from your child when they are misbehaving, such as in a temper tantrum, or when whining or sulking, or when making continuous demands or loud complaints, etc.  Pretend you don’t care and even turn your back if possible.  Give attention only after the behavior is over.

–Find out more at http://www.sosprograms.com/chapters/p_eng_chapters/EngParents03.pdf.

Make the behavior uncomfortable for the child/teen.  Example:  If your kid swears, test them, “C’mon, you can do better than that, be creative, I’ve heard all those things before.  Don’t be a copy cat.”  They can become frustrated when they aren’t getting the reaction they want from you, and give up.  Example:  your teen refuses to get out of bed for school.  Don’t nag or repeat, repeat, repeat.  Remove the blanket and set them far enough away that your child has to get out of bed to retrieve them.  (“Managing Resistance,” John W. Maag, jmaag1@unl.edu)

Give multiple instructions at once, where at least one of the instructions is what they want to do, and one is what you want them to do.  “Close the door while you’re yelling at your sister and don’t forget the light.”  Your child will be overloaded as they try to figure out which thing they’re supposed to defy.  Kids tend to get flustered by the mental effort and comply without knowing they’re doing it. (“Managing Resistance,” see above)

Reverse psychology:  Yes, this works, and it’s OK when important.  Example:  your child is bouncing on the furniture.  You turn on music and say “hey, try this, see if you can bounce to the beat, but I bet it’s harder to do on the floor.”  This is a good kind of manipulation.

Surprise rewards – Reward appropriate behavior with something they already like (that is acceptable to you).  They are more likely to do a desired behavior if they expect something they want and aren’t sure when it will be offered.

At the end of this article is a list of things to do to make ODD worse.  Avoid these!

“Why should I have to do this when it’s my kid’s responsibility to behave?”

It’s your responsibility as a parent to do what you can to help your child be successful.  ODD is a genuine disability that negatively affects their life and future.  I’ve seen highly intelligent ODD kids experience academic failure, or enough suspensions and expulsions to hold them back a grade, a can’t-win-for-losing consequence that worsens their behavior.  Wouldn’t this suck?

Warning, once you start consistent enforcement, things get worse at first – Defiant behavior tends to increase once your family system is changing.  This as a good sign—you are regaining your authority!  Your child’s backlash is a common human psychological response, and it’s called an “extinction burst.”  (see diagram below)  As parents change their approach to handling inappropriate behavior, the child becomes more defiant to test their resolve.  View this as predictable and plan ahead.  It won’t last and they will begin to comply with this one rule.  They then find another rule to defy and ramp up their defiance.  As you enforce it, they back off again, and the pattern continues until it’s just not worth it to defy rules anymore.

 

–From “Behavioral Interventions for Children with ADHD,” by Daniel T. Moore, Ph.D., © 2001, http://www.yourfamilyclinic.com/shareware/addbehavior.html .  The author requests a $2 donation through PayPal to distribute his article or receive printed copies.


How to make ODD worse -or- DON’T TRY THESE AT HOME

Don’t treat your child like another adult who has an equal say in how things are done.  Don’t treat your home as a democracy, where everything must be fair and equal.  Don’t answer your child’s accusations by offering reasonable, rational explanations.

Don’t keep finding fault with your child and let them know about it over and over and over.  If they do something positive, let them know it’s not enough.

Don’t ignore your child’s unique needs or the challenges they face everyday, such as bullying at school, or fear of abandonment, or stress from a chaotic home.  Just pretend they have no reasons for their behavior.

Only enforce rules once in a while, or have the consequence come later (Famous example: “I’ll tell your father when he gets home.”).  Don’t get angry about something, then direct your anger to your child and let them know it’s because of the stress they’ve caused you.

Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age.  Don’t make long explanations to a three-year-old about why you’ve set a certain rule.

Stop making rational justifications for your rules and stop expecting your child to logically, rationally accept them.  What’s interesting to me when I see parents doing this is that their children can be quite young (4 or 5), too young to be reasonable in the first place, or they can be young adults (early 20’s) who have a long track record of being unreasonable.

Don’t keep trying the same things that still don’t work.  Like making excuses; like screaming.  (Don’t be embarrassed; we’ve all done this.)

Don’t jump to conclusions that demonize the child.  I often hear parents say:  “Why does he keep doing this?, or, “Why doesn’t she stop after I’ve told her not to, over and over again.”  Then they answer their own questions:  “It’s because he always wants his way,” or, “She’s doing this to get back at me.”  As they tell their story, I hear them taking things personally:  “He does this just to make me mad;” “She manipulates the situation because she wants more (something) and I won’t give it to her.”

Good luck with your defiant ODD child.   I WISH YOU THE BEST!

–Margaret   How am I doing?  Please rate this article at the top, thanks.


 

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Filed under ADHD, bipolar disorder, defiant children, depression, discipline, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting

Teachers and stigma – judging and blaming families

Teachers and stigma – judging and blaming families
1 votes

Troubled kids' families also want improved classroom behaviorAs parents of troubled children, we already know that our child’s disorder or behavior will not work in most classrooms.  No one needs to tell us this or explain why our child needs to change in order to learn–we already stay up at night worrying how our child or teen will make it in the world.  Most parents have tried everything:  we’ve looked for other educational options (which almost never exist or we don’t qualify), we’ve asked or pleaded for help, we’ve read books and scoured the internet for advice…  When nothing works, some parents and caregivers just give up and try to muddle through.

When it comes to working with schools, it feels like you can’t win for losing

Those parents who’ve tried everything become deeply frustrated and take it out on school staff.  This reaction makes sense when you’ve been there like I have.  I probably looked bad at meetings, angry, stressed, anxious, and confused—and that’s how I was treated.  I could sense staff assumed I was this way all the time and thus the cause of my child’s disorder.

Those parents who give up don’t show up.  They can’t face another school meeting to listen to the litany of their child’s problems, feeling nagged with advice given in a tone of impatience, never getting help, hope, or heard.  Not showing up also makes perfect sense.  Who wants another downer?  It’s best to stay home and conserve precious emotional energy.  These parents look apathetic and neglectful at best–I personally know a couple like this.  I’ve heard school staff wondering aloud if the parents were using drugs, abusive, or criminally neglectful.  They weren’t.

Teachers have the same paradoxical attitudes held by the public at large when it comes to troubled children.  They may try to be neutral when they work with parents, but underlying attitudes and feelings still come out:

–  We sympathize but you’re still to blame;

–  You can change things if you want to, but you don’t really care;

–  We know what your child needs, you don’t.

I truly believe teachers care about children and teens which is why they are teachers.  Their professional education centers on children’s development and learning, but not on the intricacies and psychology of family relationships or children’s mental health!  Their qualifications and license are for giving their students a quality education, not for doing social work with families.  Even if teachers recognize that families struggle with their child, there is still a sense that the cause of a student’s lack of achievement “sits squarely on the shoulders of parents”  who simply “don’t care.” *

* Taliaferro, JD; DeCuir-Gunby, J; Allen-Eckard, K (2009).  ‘I can see parents being reluctant’: Perceptions of parental involvement using child and family teams in schools.  Child & Family Social Work, 14, 278-288

> Find out more about this research at the Research and Training Center http://www.rtc.pdx.edu/ – “School Staff Perceptions of Parental Involvement,” August 2009, Issue #164 <

Mixed messages from schools

Teachers and schools give mixed signals to families, on the one hand encouraging parents to work with their child’s teacher, and on the other hand becoming “offended when… parents would take the side of their children or question a teacher’s assessment.” *  When it comes to mental health, teachers simply aren’t trained to recognize or diagnose disorders.

Parents with troubled kids in school have additional responsibilities, but their energy and time reserves are the lowest:  there are Child and Family Team (CFT) meetings, Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings, waivers, Releases of Information (ROIs), and many communication attempts to follow through on these.

Teachers need to believe in the ability of parents to contribute to their child’s well being and understand parents’ need for support when children have mental or emotional disorders.  And “…schools must change practices so that information can be shared with a socially just approach.  Schools must meet families where they are rather than embracing misperceptions and stereotypes…” *

Let’s change this situation, and here’s how you can help Boys fighting

If you are a teacher, parent, or other education advocate, there’s a program available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to develop understanding and partnership between schools and parents with troubled children.  It’s called Parents and Teachers as Allies.

This is an in-service mental health education program designed for teachers, administrators, school health professionals, families, and others in the school community.  The curriculum focuses on helping everyone better understand the early warning signs of mental illnesses in children and adolescents and how best to intervene, and how best schools can communicate with families about mental health-related concerns.

The program is also designed to target schools in urban, suburban, rural, and culturally-diverse communities.  The toolkit is being developed to be culturally sensitive and will include a Spanish language version.

For more information about this program, please contact: Bianca Ruffin, Program Assistant, Child & Adolescent Action Center, Email: biancar@nami.org, Phone:  703.516.0698

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Filed under depression, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting

For fathers who raise troubled kids

For fathers who raise troubled kids
2 votes

Where are the men?

Every year, I attend several conferences around the nation that focus on the families, children, and policies associated with children’s mental health.  The majority in attendance are women.  As part of my job, I also attend many meetings on children’s mental health in social services organizations and advocacy groups where, again, the majority in attendance are women (often 100%).  I’ve facilitated family support groups for 11 years, open to the public, mostly attended by woman:  bio mothers, adoptive mothers, girlfriends, stepmothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters involved in caring for a troubled child.  Anyone else notice this?

<At the end of this post are studies and articles on the many benefits caring men provide to troubled children and teens.>

We need the men.  I know they are out there.  I know they are engaged in raising a troubled child and probably alone with their concerns.  They are not just biological fathers, they are stepfathers, boyfriends, adoptive fathers, foster fathers, uncles, and brothers, but I’ll call them all “dads” here.

The recent national “Building on Family Strengths” conference in Portland, Oregon, had a presentation on the subject of dads helping dads.  It was the first time I attended a seminar where mostly men attended.  I asked the panel, founders of Washington Dads, www.wadads.org, “why hasn’t there been a gathering like this before?”  Apparently, panel members tried to find help and it wasn’t there, so they started a support organization for themselves.  They believe it’s the only one like it in the nation.

The messages – One panel member said men feel they are supposed to fix the problem, but they can’t and feel like failures.  Another said that “dads are often not the main caregivers, and perhaps they lack experience,” and after trying what they think will work, are at a loss when it doesn’t.  Another, “we want a quick fix, but a clear concrete fix will do… we want to know how to problem solve.”  That’s a big one, men fix things, they want to get together and hash out solutions.  “Men talk solutions right away instead of talking through emotions.”  They said men like rules or instructions such as Collaborative Problem Solving techniques, the use of technology, and carefully considered plans such as IEPs.

In general, moms tend to feel guilty, but dads tend to be resentful:

  • Of the public nature of the family’s problems
  • Of mom’s leniency towards the child
  • Of the over-the-top attention given to the child
  • Of the loss of quality relationships with all family members

“We’ve been down on our knees in pain for our kids, and we’ve been trying to bring them into society, and it’s a long road.”

Dad’s emotions are there but expressed very differently.  “Some men need to vent aggressively… blow a gasket, but only other men are OK with this.”  Some want to reveal things to each other they wouldn’t share with their wife or partner; “men need to bond without women present” and with personal face-to-face contact.  Men tend to have custody issues too, and often face challenges to their rights to visit their children or maintain relationships with them.

Gentlemen, trust me, moms want you to have support.  Form a group and get yourself some buddies.

Below are previously published articles on the influence of fathers on children’s mental health.  I could not find any articles about issues faced by many fathers, such as custody of the children, disagreements with mom, the influence of their decisions about treatment, or placement, or educational issues, or the need for support in tune with men’s particular cultural and social needs.

– – – – – – –

Involvement of nonresident fathers may protect low-income teens from delinquency January/February 2007 issue of the journal Child Development

Many American children live without their biological fathers. A substantial proportion of fathers who live apart from their children have lost touch with them and therefore don’t provide consistent parenting. A new study has found that when nonresident fathers are involved with their adolescent children, the youths are less likely to take part in delinquent behavior such as drug and alcohol use, violence, property crime, and school problems such as truancy and cheating.

The study, by researchers at Boston College, is published in the January/February 2007 issue of the journal Child Development. The research was funded, in part, by the W.T. Grant Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Children and Families, Social Security Administration, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Researchers looked at a representative sample of 647 youths who were 10 to 14 years old at the start of the study and their families over a 16-month period, gathering information from the adolescents and their mothers. The families were primarily African-American and Hispanic, and most lived in poverty.

Taking into consideration adolescents’ demographic and family characteristics, the researchers found that when nonresident fathers were involved with their children, adolescents reported lower levels of delinquency, particularly among youth who showed an early tendency toward such behavior.

They also found that adolescent delinquency did not lead fathers to change their involvement over the long-term. But in the short-term, as teens engaged in more problem behaviors, fathers increased their involvement, suggesting that nonresident fathers may be getting more involved in an effort to stem their children’s delinquency. This finding was most prevalent in African-American families and contrasts with the pattern in two-parent, middle-class, white families, where parents often pull away and become less involved in the face of adolescent delinquency.

“Nonresident fathers in low-income, minority families appear to be an important protective factor for adolescents,” said Rebekah Levine Coley, professor of applied development and educational psychology at Boston College and the study’s lead author. “Greater involvement from fathers may help adolescents develop self control and self competence, and may decrease the opportunities adolescents have to engage in problem behaviors.”

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Early Father Involvement Moderates Biobehavioral Susceptibility to Mental Health Problems in Middle Childhood

Boyce, W. Thomas; Essex, Marilyn J.; Alkon, Abbey; Goldsmith, H. Hill; Kraemer, Helena C.; Kupfer, David J.;  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, v45 n12 p1510-1520 Dec 2006

[my summary in everyday English:  When fathers are engaged in nurturing and parenting a child from infancy, the child develops healthy responses to social situations when they reach the middle childhood years ~age 9.  The father’s engagement actually improves brain function on the emotional level and reduces activity in the stress area of the brain.  If a father is not involved, the child is at a high risk of behavioral problems.  Also, if a mother is depressed in their child’s early years, the child is at an ever higher risk of behavioral problems.]

Objective:  To study how early father involvement and children’s biobehavioral sensitivity to social contexts interactively predict mental health symptoms in middle childhood. Method: Fathers’ involvement in infant care and maternal symptoms of depression were prospectively ascertained in a community-based study of child health and development in Madison and Milwaukee, WI. In a subsample of 120 children, behavioral, autonomic, and adrenocortical reactivity to standardized challenges were measured as indicators of biobehavioral sensitivity to social context during a 4-hour home assessment in 1998, when the children were 7 years of age. Mental health symptoms were evaluated at age 9 years using parent, child, and teacher reports. Results: Early father involvement and children’s biobehavioral sensitivity to context significantly and interactively predicted symptom severity. Among children experiencing low father involvement in infancy, behavioral, autonomic, and adrenocortical reactivity became risk factors for later mental health symptoms. The highest symptom severity scores were found for children with high autonomic reactivity that, as infants, had experienced low father involvement and mothers with symptoms of depression. Conclusions: Among children experiencing minimal paternal care taking in infancy, heightened biobehavioral sensitivity to social contexts may be an important predisposing factor for the emergence of mental health symptoms in middle childhood. Such predispositions may be exacerbated by the presence of maternal depression.

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Devoted dad key to reducing risky teen behavior – Moms help, but an involved father has twice the influence, new study finds  [EXCERPT],  By Linda Carroll, June 5, 2009

Teenagers whose fathers are more involved in their lives are less likely to engage in risky sexual activities such as unprotected intercourse, according to a new study.  The more attentive the dad — and the more he knows about his teenage child’s friends — the bigger the impact on the teen’s sexual behavior, the researchers found.  While an involved mother can also help stave off a teen’s activity, dads have twice the influence.

“Maybe there’s something different about the way fathers and adolescents interact,” said the study’s lead author Rebekah Levine Coley, an associate professor at Boston College. “It could be because it’s less expected for fathers to be so involved, so it packs more punch when they are.”

Dad’s positive effect
Parental knowledge of a teen’s friends and activities was rated on a five point scale.  When it came to the dads, each point higher in parental knowledge translated into a 7 percent lower rate of sexual activity in the teen.  For the moms, one point higher in knowledge translated to only a 3 percent lower rate.  The impact of family time overall was even more striking. One additional family activity per week predicted a 9 percent drop in sexual activity.

Child development experts said the study was carefully done and important. “It’s praiseworthy by any measure,” said Alan E. Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University.

Why would dads have a more powerful influence?

“Dads vary markedly in their roles as caretakers from not there at all to really helping moms,” Kazdin said. “The greater impact of dads might be that moms are more of a constant and when dads are there their impact is magnified.”  Also, Kazdin said “when dads are involved with families, the stress on the mom is usually reduced because of the diffusion of child-rearing or the support for the mom.”

In other words, dad’s positive effect on mom makes life better for the child, Kazdin explains.

The study underscores the importance of parental engagement overall, said Patrick Tolan, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  “For one thing, the more time you spend with them, they’re going to get your values and they’re more likely to think things through rather than acting impulsively.”

Coley hopes that the study will encourage both moms and dads to keep trying to connect with their teenage children, even as their kids are pushing them away.  “…it’s normal for teens to want to pull away from the family, [but] that doesn’t mean they don’t want to engage at all,”

Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney.

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The Father-Daughter Relationship During the Teen Years – Ways to strengthen the bond  [EXCERPT],  by Linda Nielsen

According to recent research and my own 30 years of experience as a psychologist, most fathers and teenage daughters never get to know one another as well, or spend as much time together, or talk as comfortably to one another, as mothers and daughters.  Why is this bad news?  Because a father has as much or more impact as a mother does on their daughter’s school achievement, future job and income, relationships with men, self-confidence, and mental health.

When I ask young adult daughters why they aren’t as comfortable sharing personal things or getting to know their fathers as they are with their mothers, most make negative comments about men.

  • “Because he’s a man, he doesn’t want to talk about serious or personal things.”
  • “Because men aren’t capable of being as sensitive or as understanding as women.”
  • “Because fathers aren’t interested in getting to know their daughters very well.”

If a daughter grows up with these kinds of negative assumptions about fathers, she will not give her father the same opportunities she gives her mother to develop a comfortable, meaningful relationship. As parents, we strengthen father-daughter relationships by teaching our daughters how to give their fathers the opportunities to be understanding, communicative and personal.

Creating more father-daughter time alone – Regardless of a daughter’s age, the most important thing we can do is to make sure fathers and daughters spend more time alone with one another.  Since most fathers and daughters haven’t spent much time together without other people around, they might feel a little uncomfortable at first.  If so, they can start by taking turns participating in activities that each enjoys.  One idea:  The father could choose 15 or 20 of his favorite photographs from various times of his life — as a little boy, a teenager or a young man — and then use the pictures to tell his daughter stories about his life.  The key to the success of this father-daughter time is that they alone are sharing this experience.

Staying involved during dad’s absence – Teenage daughters and fathers can strengthen their relationship during dad’s absence through e-mails, letters, pictures and a touch of silliness.  Before dad departs, for one example, father and daughter can talk about how much their relationship means to each of them and agree to write or e-mail at least twice a week.

Linda Nielsen is a psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Her most recent book is Embracing your Father: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted With Your Dad. For more information on father-daughter relationships visit www.wfu.edu/~nielsen/.

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Stigma is prejudice, and harmful to children

Stigma is prejudice, and harmful to children
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Stigma victimizes the victimes

Stigmatization, blame, judgment… It only takes a few individuals to harm a child or family with their words, but it takes a whole society to allow it.  In this article, I’m going to present recent research on the negative stereotyping of families and children with mental disorders, and share stories from families I know.  I hope readers will be empowered to speak out against this form of prejudice and mobilized into changing our society’s attitudes.

Have you ever heard of a bake sale to help a child get treatment for a mental disorder or addiction?
Have you ever heard of a bake sale to help a child get treatment for a mental disorder or addiction?

Puckette©2008

Stigma takes many forms.

The most common scenario of stigma is when you are seen as a bad parent, perhaps even an abusive one, or your child is seen as stupid, spoiled, attention-getting, or manipulative.  Another form of stigma is having others show disrespect to parents who seek help from the mental health profession.  Psychologists are “flakes,” and families  who see them are “wackos.”  “Where’s your faith?”, some say, or “why don’t you quit making excuses for your child and give them real consequences?”

One of the more destructive forms of stigma is the condemnation parents receive when they “drug their child to fix them.”  Too many believe drugs turn children into “zombies” (see research study below).  Because of the stigma of treatment, I’ve seen many parents try every alternative treatment possible to help their child, only to have their child struggle year after year in school, fall farther behind their peers, make no progress in therapy, and other setbacks that medicines can prevent.  These parents cling to the belief that they are doing the right thing, yet some children really need medicines, and the drugs don’t turn them into zombies.  [In today’s treatment approaches, drugs are always considered a piece of the treatment puzzle, never the complete answer.]

A mother’s story about her experience with stigmatization:

This mother lost her best friend of 20 years because the friend got tired of hearing the mom talk about her very troubled 10-year-old son.  In frustration, the friend wrote her a letter saying the mom was neurotic, and that she should quit trying to control her son, that her son’s behavior was a cry for help.  The friend said she needed to set her son free and get help for her emotional problems, and that she wasn’t going to “enable” this mom anymore by being her friend.  The mom was stunned and hurt by the letter.  She intellectualized that she didn’t need a friend like this, but her heart was nonetheless broken by the betrayal.  The son turned out to have brain damage from a genetic disorder and it was getting worse.

What you can do when someone makes thoughtless remarks, lectures you, or avoids you because of your child

From my blog post November 2008:

http://raisingtroubledkids.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/ideas-for-what-to-do-when-youre-blamed-and-judged/

First, resist defending yourself; it can attract more unwanted attention and disagreement.  You don’t have the time or emotional energy to explain or teach someone who will challenge everything you say.  Do everything you can to avoid people like this—many have had to cut off some family members and friends, and even their clergy or religious communities.

My story:  when my child was diagnosed with a serious mental disorder, I stood up in front of my church congregation, explained what was happening, and asked for prayers for my family.  At the end of that service, people started avoiding me.  There were no more hello’s.  There wasn’t even eye contact.  The abrupt isolation from people I knew was devastating and I stopped attending.  What did I say?  Why did this happen?  I thought if my child had a ‘socially-acceptable’ cancer others would know what to do or say to ease the isolation and grief.

Second, actively seek out supportive people who just listen.  You need as large as possible a network of compassionate people around you.  You may be surprised how many people have a loved one with a mental or emotional disorder, and how many are willing to help because they completely understand what you’re going through.

Third, politely and assertively say thanks but no thanks.  Try something like this:  “Thanks for showing interest, but we are getting the help we need from doctors we trust.” Or simply, “please don’t offer me advice I didn’t ask for.”  No apologies.

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Public Perceptions Harsh of Kids, Mental Health (excerpt)

May 1, 2007   (USA TODAY)

Though the subject has been analyzed in adults, until now there has been limited research illuminating how the public perceives children with mental disorders such as depression and attention deficit disorders, according to experts from Indiana University, the University of Virginia and Columbia University.  The findings are published in the May 2007 issue of Psychiatric Services.

The study, based on in-person interviews with more than 1,300 adults, indicates that people are highly skeptical about the use of psychiatric medications in children.  Results also show that Americans believe children with depression are more prone to violence and that if a child receives help for a mental disorder, rejection at school is likely.

“The results show that people believe children will be affected negatively if they receive treatment for mental health problems,” says study author Bernice Pescosolido, director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research, in Bloomington.  “Nothing could be further from the truth.  These misconceptions are a serious impediment to the welfare of these children.

According to the study:

  • those interviewed believed that doctors overmedicate children with depression and ADHD and that drugs have long-term harm on a child’s development.  More than half believed that psychiatric medications “turn kids into zombies.”
  • respondents thought children with depression would be dangerous to others; 31% believed children with ADHD would pose a danger.
  • Respondents said rejection at school is likely if a child goes for treatment, and 43% believe that the stigma associated with seeking treatment would follow them into adulthood.

Pescosolido and her colleagues say such stigma surrounding mental illness — misconceptions based on perception rather than fact — have been shown to be devastating to children’s emotional and social well-being.

Population studies show that, at any point in time, 10% to 15% of children and adolescents have some symptoms of depression.  About 4 million children, or 6.5%, have been diagnosed with ADHD, only 2% less than the number of children with asthma.

“People really need to understand that these are not rare conditions,” says Patricia Quinn, a developmental pediatrician in Washington, D.C.

To banish the stigma linked to mental health problems in children, the public has to get past labels and misconceptions, Pescosolido says.   Normalizing these conditions would help too, Quinn says.  “We need to view depression and ADHD like we do allergies,” she says. “They are very treatable.”

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Things that protect troubled girls from delinquency

Things that protect troubled girls from delinquency
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Both boys and girls get in trouble with the law.  Boys are in the majority for arrests for crime, but statistics indicate that girls’ arrests are increasing:  “…between 1996 and 2005, girls’ arrest for simple assault increased 24%.”  Of 1528 girls studied over a period from 1992 and 2008, 22% committed serious property offenses and 17 % committed serious assaults.  (Girls Study Group, U.S. Department of Justice, 2008. www.ojp.usdoj.gov).

  

Troubled girls easily become criminal, but also risk being a victim

 

Girls who have behavioral disorders, from addictions or past trauma or emotional disorders, begin to have delinquent or criminal behaviors as early as middle school.  What makes a girl’s criminal activities different from boys is that girls put themselves at high risk of being victimized themselves.  How can a parent or caregiver prevent their daughter from engaging in criminal behavior, and trapping themselves in a social world where their stresses and disorders can worsen?

 

The Girls Study Group quoted above studied which factors protected girls from becoming criminal, or helped them stop and reengage in activities that improve and stabilize their lives.  Protective factors did not prevent all criminal activity however, yet the first one has been shown to be the most effective.

 

  • Support from a caring adult.  THIS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in preventing girls from criminal activities of any kind.
  • Success in school helped prevent aggression against people, but not property crimes.
  • “Religiousity,” or how important religion was to troubled girls, meant they were less likely to be involved with drugs.

Risks to girls that are different from boys: 

    

Early puberty is a risk if the girl has a difficult family and comes from a disadvantaged neighborhood.  Biological maturity before social maturity causes more conflicts with parents and more negative associations with older boys or men.

 

Sexual abuse, which girls experience much more than boys, including sexual assault, rape, and harassment.  But abuse of any kind affects both boys and girls equally.

 

Depression and anxiety, which girls tend to suffer more from than boys.

 

Romantic partners.  Girls who commit less serious crimes are influenced by their boyfriends.  But for serious offenses, both boys and girls are equally influenced by a romantic partner.

 

Once she’s regularly breaking rules, it’s not easy to turn things around for a troubled girl.  It requires constant, persistent efforts to:

  • Keep her away from risky associates.
  • Keep her in school and up with studies. 
  • Keep telling her what’s great about her, what’s special, what’s powerful and good.

If you are a parent or caregiver, and you are lucky enough to have a strong mentoring relationship with your troubled daughter, keep it up despite any occasional law-breaking activities.  She’ll need consequences, but they should be obstacles to overcome rather than punishments—such as earning back privileges by having good behavior for a period of weeks or months.

 

If you don’t or can’t have a mentoring relationship, find out who can (or already does).  Admit you might not be the sole support for her success, and work in partnership with a caring adult.  Find out who believes in her already.  Find out who she asks for help if she’s feeling fearful or down about herself.  Listen to her if she talks about someone she’s grateful for for helping her through difficulties.  Girls respond really well to someone who believes in them.

 


Teen girls can be turned around and it’s always worth the effort.  She might be hard to take sometimes, but find something, anything, that’s good about her and let her know.  Over time, you’ll start noticing more and more great things about her, and then she’ll start noticing them too.

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Gang up on your kids: Parent networks for tracking at-risk children.

Gang up on your kids: Parent networks for tracking at-risk children.
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 An article in the local paper told the story of a mother who desperately tried to get help for her son to keep him out of a gang.  Yet he became a victim of a drive-by shooting and was in intensive care for days, but he lived.  In the article, she said something I’m very familiar with; she said other parents never told her what they suspected, nor let her know if her son was at their house when he ran away.  Just knowing her son’s whereabouts could have helped her intercept dangerous activities.  Like her, I never got information from other parents who might have been (or should have been) concerned about my child.  Why didn’t other parents stay in touch and help each other control their children?

 

At-risk kids hang out together, they know each other’s stories (true or not), and protect each other, and parents are out of the loop with their families.  What if parents got together too, shared stories, and supported each other’s goal of protecting their child from themselves?  Kids’ unsafe plans and activities are no match for the many eyes and ears (and cleverness and wisdom) of all their parents combined.

 

How to track at-risk kids and join forces with other parents:

 

Go on the Web, check out Facebook and MySpace, and look for your child’s page and the pages of his or her friends.  The police do this all the time; it’s one of their main investigative tools!  It’s amazing what they share with each other over the web:  photos, favorite places and people, favorite activities (even illegal ones), and other incriminating information.

 

Contact the parents or caregivers of your child’s friends, by phone or email anytime you find out that their child or teen was with your own child while doing unsafe activities.

 

I did this.  Some parents were thrilled to find support, but a couple were angry with me at first.  After all, I was delivering bad news.  They defended their child, or accused my child of telling stories.  I just said, “I thought you’d want to know.  My kid is in trouble for this, but you may want to know your kid was involved too.”  It took some backbone to stay online, but they eventually calmed down and expressed disappointment in their child.  They often hadn’t suspected anything.  Then I asked if we could join-up and inform on each other’s kids because I wanted to know about the safety of my own.  Always, I received a strong yes.

 

Compare notes and share news about friends, friends of friends, which houses were dangerous (e.g. adult not at home, or adult provides drugs or alcohol), which places they hang out, and who might victimize them or be victimized by them.

 

Call a teacher and ask who your child hangs out with at school, or if they know another parent who is worried about their kid, call that parent and make a pact to keep each other informed.  Whether they help you or not, at least they know someone’s watching and paying attention.

 

True story – One mother I know recruited a “spy network” with her son’s friends’ parents and with employees of businesses he regularly frequented, such as a skateboard shop near his school and a coffee house.  She was able to keep track of where he was if he ignored her curfews, and inform the community police of adult associates (usually 18-24) who were known to provide drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes to youth.  Her information helped empower other parents who hadn’t known what to do, but were then able to restrict their teen’s activities away from home and make it uncomfortable for unsafe people to associate with them.

 

True story – A father I met took the “spy network” idea a step further and had contact cards, like business cards, which he gave away to police, teachers, other parents, and anyone he met who knew his daughter.  The contact cards basically said “Please help us keep Kari safe and call us, her parents, anytime she is at the following places [ … ] or doing something you believe is inappropriate.  Thank you very much for your help.  We will keep your calls confidential from our daughter.”  Then the card gave the parents’ names, number, and email address.  This greatly limited their daughter’s contact with unsafe or inappropriate friends and adults, because they knew they might be watched and reported if she was around.  Surprisingly, this attention improved the girl’s progress in family therapy, as she stated she felt more like her parents cared.

 

Word gets out quickly among the groups of at-risk kids and the adults who enable them.  If you let enough people know that they may be watched when at-risk kids are around, then they will avoid these kids and even ask them to leave their company.  Don’t forget:  you are smarter and more experienced than young people.  You, as a parent, are not alone with your concerns about your child.

 

Reach out to the other parents in your community.  You will be surprised how many will thank you.

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Troubled Teen Industry – Legislation to stop abuse in boarding schools and camps

Troubled Teen Industry – Legislation to stop abuse in boarding schools and camps
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There is good news about stopping abuses in the Troubled Teen Industry.  Today, February 11, 2009, a committee in the House of Representatives voted to present a bill, H.R. 911, to the House for a vote.  You may be interested in the remarks made by the committee chair below.

 

SEE MY PREVIOUS POST ON THIS SUBJECT FROM JAN 26, ’09:

with tips for how to check if a program is legitimate.

 

(excerpt)  Remarks of the Honorable George Miller Chairman, House Education and Labor Committee regarding the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act Wednesday, February 11, 2009.  H.R. 911

 

Today, our committee considered legislation to stop child abuse in residential programs for teenagers and ordered it reported to the House.  It builds on a two year investigation into the shocking abuse and neglect of teens at residential programs across the country.  The Government Accountability Office uncovered thousands of cases and allegations of child abuse in recent years at teen residential programs, including therapeutic boarding schools, boot camps, wilderness camps, and behavior modification facilities.  A number of these cases resulted in the death of a child. Our committee heard stories about program staff members forcing children:

 

–  to remain in so-called “stress” positions for hours at a time;

 

–  to undergo extreme physical exertion without adequate food, water, or rest;

 

–  to stand with bags over their heads and nooses around their necks in mock hangings;

 

–  and to eat foods to which they are allergic, even as they get sick.

 

Bob Bacon, whose son Aaron died after being deprived of adequate food and water at a wilderness therapy program, told this committee last year, “The stories of Aaron’s death and the others who have died, or survived the abuses of these programs, are chilling reminders of the dangers of absolute power, and point out the extremely high risks we take in allowing these programs to operate without strict regulation and oversight.”

 

We heard from parents of children who died preventable deaths at the hands of untrained, uncaring staff members.  We heard from adults who attended these programs as teens about the physical and emotional abuse they witnessed and suffered.  We also learned about the weak patchwork of regulations governing teen residential programs.

 

Parents often send their children to these programs when they feel they have exhausted their alternatives.  They trust that these programs and their staff will be able to help children straighten their lives out.  In far too many cases, however, the very people entrusted with the safety, health, and welfare of these children are the ones who violate that trust in some of the most horrific ways imaginable.  The GAO informed us about programs’ irresponsible operating practices that put kids at risk, and about the deceitful marketing practices that programs use to lure parents desperate for help for their kids.  We know that there are many programs and people around the country who are committed to helping improve the lives of young people and who do good work every day.  But unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult for parents to tell the good programs from the bad.

 

H.R. 911 requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish minimum standards and to enforce those standards. Ultimately, however, states will be responsible for carrying out the work of this bill:

 

–   within three years, set standards and enforce them at all programs, both public and private.

–   standards will include prohibitions on the physical, sexual, and mental abuse of children.

–   …will require that programs provide children with adequate food, water and medical care.

–   …require that programs have plans in place to handle medical emergencies.

–   include new training requirements for program staff members, including training on how to identify and report child abuse.

–   set up a toll-free hotline for people to call to report abuse at these programs.

–   create a website with information about each program, so that parents can look to see if substantiated cases of abuse have occurred at a program that they are considering for their kids.

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The Troubled Teen Industry – A warning about boarding schools and outdoor camps

The Troubled Teen Industry – A warning about boarding schools and outdoor camps
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There is a troubled teen industry out there—boarding schools, outdoor programs, and “boot camps” that are not licensed, not certified, and not experienced with youth with disorders.  Maybe you’ve seen the ads that promise to improve your teen’s behavior in the back of some magazines.  They promise that their program will “fix” your child.  They promise that your teen will learn important lessons about respect and about following your rules.  There are quotes from satisfied parents about how the program saved their teen’s life.  The ads claim that staff are highly trained, strict, and caring.  The location is usually too far to check on easily, an airline flight away from home, often in a rural area.  The cost is outlandish.  To help with payment, the program provides financial advice to parents about getting loans and 2nd mortgages.

 

You’re a desperate parent and you’ll do anything you can to stop the craziness and get a break.  You tell yourself it must be a nice place even though you haven’t seen it in person, yet the representative on the phone seems to know exactly how you feel and what your teen needs.  If you’re desperate, you may not think to ask if the organization is a legitimate mental health treatment facility.  Many are not!

 

What to ask:

 

What is the training and licensure of staff?  You want to know if they have therapists with MSW degrees, registered nurses, psychiatrists or doctors, and if a professional is available on site 24/7.  Mental health programs are about treatment and stability through medication or therapy, and positive activities with lots of emotional support.  Safety must be paramount.  Staff must be aware of the types of things that can go wrong and how crises should be handled.

 

Does the camp or school have a business license in their state?  Do they have grievance procedures?

 

Is the camp or school accredited as a treatment facility, and by whom?  Does it have mental health agency oversight?  Are emergency services (hospital, law enforcement) a phone call away?

 

Can you call and talk to your child when you request?  Can you visit?  Can your child call you when they request it?  Some of these programs limit or disallow parental contact.  Why?  According to one testimonial, a young man was used as slave labor at a camp.  The staff kept communicating to his mother that he was misbehaving, that he hated her and didn’t want to talk, and that they recommended he stay another 6 months.  In this way, they drew out his stay for 3 years.

 

I’ve heard personal testimony from parents and troubled young people whose condition was aggravated by the camp or school, or who felt betrayed by their families.  On rare occasions, children have died at the hands of young, untrained staff who thought they were just disciplining the child.  Other stories included teens being offered drugs by staff or other campers, or sexual relationships with staff or campers.

 

Check out the article below.  The problems in the “troubled teen industry” are significant enough such that an advocacy group has formed to change state laws to protect youth.

 

– – – – –

 

 

Unlicensed residential programs: The next challenge in protecting youth. –excerpt-

 

By Friedman, Robert M.; Pinto, Allison; Behar, Lenore; Bush, Nicki; Chirolla, Amberly; Epstein, Monica; Green, Amy; Hawkins, Pamela; Huff, Barbara; Huffine, Charles; Mohr, Wanda; Seltzer, Tammy; Vaughn, Christine; Whitehead, Kathryn; Young, Christina Kloker

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Vol 76(3), Jul 2006, 295-303.

 

 

According to this article, many private residential facilities are neither licensed as mental health programs by states, nor accredited by respected national accrediting organizations.  The Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate use of Residential Treatment (A START) is a multi-disciplinary group of mental health professionals and advocates that formed in response to rising concerns about reports from youth, families and journalists describing mistreatment in the unregulated programs.  There is a range of mistreatment and abuse experienced by youth and families, including harsh discipline, inappropriate seclusion and restraint, substandard psychotherapeutic interventions, medical and nutritional neglect, rights violations and death.

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