Category: teenagers

When is it OK to search a teen’s room?

When is it OK to search a teen’s room?

This is a paraphrase of a question that was posed a few years ago in a support group I facilitated.  It’s a question I had to face more than once.  Now that years have gone by, I still believe this is a good approach when you have a troubled teenager, but some parents may struggle with the issue of trust.

Q: My son is always in his room and gets extremely upset if I go in there.  He says he has a right to privacy.  But I suspect something bad is going on, and want to search his room when he’s not there.  Yet it bothers me that I’d be violating his trust.  Is it OK to search his room?

A:  I advocate searching a troubled child’s room or reading “private” information like email if there is any concern whatsoever that something potentially dangerous is being hidden from a parent.  Since he gets very upset, he may not want you to find something because he knows you’ll disapprove.  Practically speaking, is there a way you can search his room or read email without him (or anyone else) ever finding out?

If he finds out you’ve searched his room, yes, you will lose his trust, and he may go to greater lengths to keep secrets.  But as the responsible adult in the household, you must think not only about your son, yourself, and your family, but about others who may be at risk if your son has really dangerous plans.  The need for safety should include those in contact with your son.  Who else is at risk of violence? criminal changes? substance abuse?

If you find nothing unusual or dangerous on a search, you’ve at least satisfied your rightful need to know.  The first issue is his need for privacy and his fear of losing it.  The second issue is your need for mutual trust.  He will need you someday when he’s in trouble, and his trust is critical.  It’s OK not to tell him if you’ve searched his room.

In dire circumstances, a parent may need put some values aside.

If you find something dangerous, act on it immediately and do not defend your decision or try to talk him into taking responsibility for his actions.  A troubled teen can’t or won’t.  He will either be remorseful and embarrassed, or enraged and threatening.  Regardless, take dangerous materials or actions very seriously because someone’s life could literally be at risk.  Since it’s clear that trust is important to you (as it should be), expect that it may be very long time before your son trusts you if he finds out.  But also remember that, under these serious circumstances, his trust of you may be less important than your trust of him.

My son has the problem, yet the therapist focuses on me, huh?

My son has the problem, yet the therapist focuses on me, huh?

Question:   My son’s therapist keeps telling me what to do, or that I’m not doing the right things at home.  But my son is the one with the problem, why all this focus on me?

Answer:
   You could be the problem or the therapist could be the problem.  You are working hard to manage a difficult situation, and you clearly care about your son because you are bringing him to therapy, but your own stress and exhaustion may look like you’re the one with the behavior problem.  My guess is that the therapist is trying to tell you how to change your parenting or communication style to reduce your son’s stress and better manage his issues.  This is a hard message to take when you know you’re doing everything you can, and you’ve been put through a lot by a difficult child.

Someone who doesn’t know me is telling me I’m not good enough?  What?

How can you tell it’s the therapist with the problem?

  • One problem I’ve seen with therapists is that they often don’t know how to talk to parents about parenting issues without sounding like they are making presumptions and blaming the parent for the child’s problems.  Everyone loves to blame the parents.
  • Some therapists put themselves in the child’s shoes.  That’s why they got into child therapy in the first place, they love children!  Yet pro-child therapists put their emotional biases in the mix to protect your child from you.  This ridiculous attitude is changing, thankfully. The mental health profession has begun to realize how critical the family is for the child’s treatment.
  • The worst situation is when a therapist embarrasses you or blames you in front of your child.  That’s grounds for firing them!  You may indeed need parenting guidance, but you should never have someone undermine your authority.
  • Another problem is when a therapist doesn’t have children, or doesn’t have troubled children.  They feel too confident in their abilities and don’t know what it’s like living with a troubled child 24/7, so they make assumptions and you constantly feel you need to defend yourself.

A good therapist or doctor will show compassion for a stressed parent, listen to their side of the story, and help the parent feel understood and believed.  Then they will take the time to explain exactly what the parent might do differently at home and why.

You should leave every meeting feeling better about yourself and child.

Try giving this therapist a chance first, and ask him or her if you can meet them without your son, and request that they fully explain their advice.  Let them know that this has been hard for you and you’ve felt blamed, and that you need their support.  Then listen carefully.  If you’re still not convinced of their point, ask them if there’s a book or a website or support group for you (it’s easier to accept advice from other parents who’ve learned from their mistakes).  If you feel that you can’t work with this therapist, consider finding someone who takes a better approach to you and your situation.

You and your child have to “click” with a therapist or doctor, or they can’t help you.

Support Your Child or Teen’s Recovery From a Disorder or Addiction

Support Your Child or Teen’s Recovery From a Disorder or Addiction

What recovery looks like – A person with a mental or emotional disorder who is in “recovery” lives a normal life and aren’t affected by their disorder.  They look and act normal.  At the very least, they have stable relationships, a steady job, a place to live, a regular diet, cleanliness, and regular mental health check-ins.  Recovery is maintained when the person pays attention to themselves and notices if their symptoms are starting, and then takes action to stop the symptoms.

Recovery is like the alcoholic who stops drinking–they still have an addiction, but they stop using.

What your child will need to sustain recovery as an adult:

INSIGHT  +  STABILITY  +  RESILIENCE

Insight – self awareness

Insight allows a child to recognize they have a problem, and choose to act to avoid the problem.  If insight is not possible, they need a toolbox of options that help them to respond appropriately, instead of reacting to chaotic messages in their brain. Knowing and admitting they have a problem, or knowing techniques for avoiding problems, are very powerful skills they need as adults.

Stability– fewer falls or softer falls

Your child is like a boat that’s easier to tip over than most other boats; any little wave will capsize them, and everyday life is full of waves, big and small.  Your job is to notice when the troubled child is starting to capsize and show them how to right the boat, or if that doesn’t work, how to use the lifesaver.  Eventually, your child will learn how to sense when trouble is coming on, avoid the thing that causes problems, and ask others for help.  Sense it.  Avoid it.  Ask for Help.

Resilience– bounce back when they fall

Troubled children have a much harder time bouncing back from problems.  They have extreme responses to simple disappointments like breaking a toy, or poor grades, or something as serious as the parents’ divorce.  Some even fall apart in joyous times because the emotional energy is too much!  You must be acutely aware of this–they will not get back on track by themselves.  Don’t worry that helping them will spoil them or “enable” them.  Eventually they will learn from you how you do it.

“…We are all born with an innate capacity for resilience, by which we are able to develop social competence, problem-solving skills, a critical consciousness, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.”

“Several research studies followed individuals over the course of a lifespan and consistently documented that between half and two-thirds of children growing up in families with mentally ill, alcoholic, abusive, or criminally involved parents, or in poverty-stricken or war-torn communities, do overcome the odds and turn a life trajectory of risk into one that manifests “resilience,” the term used to describe a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity…”   http://www.athealth.com

Are you trying to reason with an irrational child?

Are you trying to reason with an irrational child?

I regularly speak with parents with children with a brain disorder and a history of serious behavior problems.  Many are truly at the end of their rope.  The parent is so exasperated by their child’s relentless acting out, they start nagging, repeating themselves to exhaustion.

They plead for answers: “Why does he keep doing this?, or, ” Why doesn’t she stop after I’ve explained things over and over.”  Then they answer their own questions:  “It’s because he always wants his way,” or, “She’s doing this to get back at me.”

The parent then lists all the ways they’ve tried reasoning with their child or disciplining with consequences.  As they tell their story, they continue to ask questions and provide answers, going around and around and around:  “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.”  What’s interesting to me is that these children can be quite young (4 or 5), too young to expect reasoning in the first place, or they can be young adults (early 20′s) who have a long track record of doing things that don’t make sense.

Saying something a 1000 times doesn’t work. It just becomes nagging that’s tuned out.

You don’t need to be this frustrated

Parents’ stress and frustration vanish if they accept that their child is not ready to reason or control their behaviors.  It’s not their fault, and not the parents’ fault. Irrationality is the hallmark of brain-based problems, and chronically challenging behaviors are the evidence.

If you feel you have run into brick walls over and over again, and your child is not learning what you’re teaching, do both of yourselves a favor and stop trying the same things that still don’t work.  Stop assuming that if you say something a thousand times they’ll finally get it, and stop any paranoid assumption that your child or teen has an evil plan to get back at you.

When you find yourself trying to reason with a troubled child or teen (or young adult), step back and calm yourself this way, and ask what your child needs in the moment.  Then change your whole approach.

  • Try different ways of communicating, such as softening your tone of voice.
  • Pay attention to whether they respond best to words or images, and use what works most naturally for them.  Try using touch to communicate, or withdrawing touch if that’s threatening to them.
  • Post (polite) signs and simple house rules in the house as reminders for things they need to do every day.
  • Show instead of tell. Your child or teen may not be able to learn through their ears.  Or they tune you out.  Demonstrate how instead of telling them how.
  • Avoid explaining how their behavior will hurt them in the future.  Children and teens often cannot track how pushing one domino leads to all the dominoes falling.

If you’re nagging and harping and chiding your child, forgive yourself.

It’s so common one might call it normal.  You are still a good parent who wants the best for your son or daughter.  Over the many years I’ve facilitated parent support groups, I’ve heard so many regret how they’ve treated their child once they begin to understand that it won’t work.  You are not alone.  Raising a child like yours is tough, but you’ll move on and figure things out.  Don’t give up.

Mental illness is more deadly than cancer for teens, young adults

Mental illness is more deadly than cancer for teens, young adults

Why isn’t everyone more upset?

A disease is killing our children and it’s more deadly than cancer and leukemia!  Did you know it was mental illness?

Out of curiosity, I did some research on child mortality rates from various causes because I wanted to know how death from mental illnesses compared with other fatal illnesses of childhood and adolescence. The results were astonishing, unexpected, and disturbing.

Look at the highest bars in this graph. They are 3-4 times the height of average cancer and diabetes rates in children. There are gaps in the available data, but this simple comparison is disturbing.

* The starting point for the mortality rates of medical illnesses was the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdcp.gov  in Atlanta; the starting point for the mental illnesses was the website for the National Institute for Mental Health, www.nimh.gov.

** The suicide data was from those with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and psychotic disorders-unspecified.  (Suicide from other mental health causes, such as borderline personality disorder and co-morbid substance abuse is also prevalent, but I could not find data for children to young adult age ranges.)

On suicide:

  • It’s often normal for children and young people to think about suicide, but just in their imagination. They might consider it during some painful time in their lives, but there are no plans made or steps taken.  When the difficult times are over, they don’t think about it any more.
  • Young people with early onset mental illness can’t endure much stress; thoughts of suicide recur over time, starting as early as age 6 or 7.  These children are vulnerable to repeated intrusive suicidal thoughts because they live with a combination biological, psychological, and social/relationship causes (called “biopsychosocial”).  More about this is explained here: “Use the “S” Word: Talk with your Child about Suicide.”
  • There are ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ suicides in young people.
    • The ‘fast’ ones are 1) direct self-harm that has been planned, or 2) spur-of-the-moment suicide due to an extreme emotional reaction to a single intolerable event (examples: a boyfriend/girlfriend or best friend dies; a teen has a serious fight with a parent and (without planning) wants to ‘get back’).
    • The ‘slow’ suicides result from a persistent pattern of harmful behaviors that eventually lead to death.  Young people struggling with anorexia can die by heart failure or other causes due to their weakened body.  Others abuse substances and/or participate in extremely risky activities that expose them to multiple lethal situations:  overdose, criminal environments, disease.

This graph screams out for a changes in attitude, policy, and investment in children’s mental health treatment and suicide prevention.  I had no idea that death rates from mental illness could be 3 to 4 times higher than most cancers and leukemia.  It is imperative that young people with mental health issues receive as aggressive and sensitive treatment as is expected and demanded of medical systems that treat cancer in children.

 

Parents: talk about this. Talk to your child; share it on social media; and talk to mental health organizations about what you can do.

The data on mortality rates for mental illnesses was difficult to find, and it required searches in many different medical journals and websites.  I chose to use the data on cancer, leukemia, and diabetes because the mortality rates from these are high and because deaths from all other causes were insignificant by comparison (motor vehicle accidents are the one exception).  In this graph, the death rates for cancer and leukemia are averages for the different forms of each, and in the medical journals they were presented together.

I welcome additions or corrections of this data from any other sources, and encourage readers to investigate this for themselves.

–Margaret

 

Parent to Parent Guidance

Parent to Parent Guidance

Margaret Puckette is a Certified Parent Support Provider, and partners with parents for successfully raising their troubled child, teen, or young adult. She believes parents and families need realistic practical guidance for home and school life, not just information about disorders. Margaret has mentored families for over 20 years. She is an author & speaker, and believes mentally healthy families raise mentally healthy children.

You Can Handle This.

You Can Handle This.

You are not alone. It's no one's fault. Behavior disorders are disabilities! Troubled children need a very different parenting approach than 'normal' kids.

Care for yourself first, then set new goals:
1. Physical and emotional safety for all
2. Acceptance of the way things are
3. Family balance, meet the needs of all
4. One step at a time, one day at a time

Practical Guide for Parents

Practical Guide for Parents

A guide with practical steps for reducing stress at home and successfully raising a troubled child. You use the same proven techniques as mental health and other professionals. It starts by taking care of your wellbeing first, then taking an entirely different approach to parenting.
Amazon $14.99, Kindle $5.99