Tag Archives: parental authority

“You’re under arrest!”: Crime and troubled teens

“You’re under arrest!”: Crime and troubled teens
8 votes

You’ve tried everything. Now you watch helplessly as your troubled teenager starts down the path leading to jail, and you wait for that call from the police. But bad news can be good news. This may be the point when things start to turn around.

“Experts estimate that from 40 percent to 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system suffer from some form of mental health disorder or an illness – anything from ADHD to full-blown psychosis. About 15 percent to 25 percent have mental illnesses “severe enough to significantly impair their ability to function.”” (see “Mentally ill minors put in juvenile hall” at end of this post)

Juvenile crime is considered as serious as adult crime, and juvenile “detention” is full-blown jail, just like jail for adults. Yet there is one critical distinction between teenage and adult justice: teens are given a second chance for a clean record, as well as education and treatment for mental illness or addictions. An adult criminal record is forever a barrier and an embarrassment. It comes up when a former convict applies for a job, a loan, a college degree, military service, a rental, or even a volunteer opportunity.

The juvenile justice system is only partially punitive because society recognizes that the teenage brain is the problem that causes much criminality, whether or not they have a mental disorder or addiction.  Enlightened juvenile court judges want their rulings to be “rehabilitative” or “restorative” justice.  Enlightened agency directors understand the need for additional support services for learning disabilities, addiction, mental illness, and vocational training.

In the system, teen criminals (or adjudicated youth) are required to participate in consequences and treatment; it’s a “carrot and stick” approach.

  • The carrot:  The teens attend school and receive training for vocations such as car repair or catering.  They participate in positive character-building activities such as training dogs for adoption, building and maintaining hiking trails, or constructing homes for Habitat for Humanity.
  • The stick: Teens have a complete lack of freedom, whether in detention or out on probation, intensive monitoring (including random urinalysis), immediate consequences for behavior violations, and physical labor to pay back victims (community work programs).

When a police officer calls to say your son or daughter has been arrested, use this as an opportunity to help your kid. It’s a perfect teachable moment. Not only do you have their attention, you can hand the problem over to the Law to enforce their behavior and treat their disorders or addictions. Your son or daughter cannot refuse—when held or convicted on criminal charges, your child has no rights to anything except humane treatment and an appearance before a judge. You are off the hook. You can step back and relax… and be the Good Guy for once.

How to work with the juvenile justice system:

  • Be an active partner with the court. Cooperate fully with the judge, court counselor or therapist, and any attorney, case worker, or probation officer involved.
  • Show up for everything:  visitation, family therapy, court hearings, and parenting classes even if you don’t think you need them.
  • Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with staff.  If your teen has a probation officer, do what they tell you, even if it means tattling on your kid.
  • Be cooperative with staff, and they will work harder for you and your son or daughter. Support the programs required for your teen, and support your teen when they struggle. Your involvement will someday impress on your child that you’re on their side and care.
  • Change your ways.  If you’ve been too harsh with your teen in the past, go easy on them now and let him or her see your good side. If you’ve been too easy on them or too protective, demonstrate backbone. Show you know what’s best for them and that you will remain in charge once they are released.
  • Stick with your child.  If your teenager becomes a Frequent Flyer in the system, it doesn’t mean they are lost.  Remember, they have that uncontrollable teenaged brain and need more time and lessons for it to reach maturity.

Once they come home on probation you need to set strict limits on their activities, and work with the probation officer or social worker to enforce them. These are harsh at first, but should be negotiated later when behavior improves, with consultation with the juvenile justice staff.

Remove risks:

  • Don’t allow them to stay out late ever. Set an early curfew, and report them to their probation officer if they are late.  When they get angry about this, explain that you are bound by the law, and that they should discuss their concerns with the officer.
  • Ban drugs and alcohol, especially marijuana. Hide prescription drugs and alcohol if you use them.  (Marijuana causes brain damage in adolescents; this is not a myth.)  You have the right to search their room and private things.  If pertinent, hide weapons, matches, or other means of harm to themselves or others.
  • Stop or strictly limit contact with risky friends. This may mean taking away a cell phone and internet access.
  • Reduce their allowance if they get one, and reduce free time. Again, this should be negotiated later if behavior and compliance improves.
  • Build your own network of other concerned parents to track your kid… in other words, to spy on them.  Besides other parents, I even contacted businesses where my teen was known to hang out, such as a mall and cafe.  See  “Gang up on your kids: Parent networks for tracking at-risk children.”

Three house rules: 1) stay at home, 2) stay in school, 3) stay out of trouble. He or she must also continue mental health treatment; show respect even if they’re upset; and be encouraged to seek help from another trusted adult if they need to.

Build their esteem as you would for any troubled child. Guide them to their strengths. Give your teenager something to do that they good at, and allow them ample opportunity to shine. More at  The good things about bad kids.

Extreme measures. I know of three cases where parents took drastic steps to help their son or daughter stay out of trouble, and these worked!

True story – a single father was worried about his son’s gang involvement, especially since the son was still on probation, and additional charges would draw lengthy prison time. Dad sold the family home and bought another one in a neighborhood ‘run’ by an opposing gang. The son was terrified to leave the house except for school—a new school away from his gang brothers. This son graduated high school and left the area for college… with a clean record and new respect for his father.

True story – After a couple of years trying to keep their daughter out of trouble, parents started looking for work in a smaller town.  They wanted to find a safer place with fewer risks and more eyes. After she completed her mandated one year probation, the family moved.  She was upset to leave her friends, but they were the problem friends. Her crime sprees ended.

True story – a single mother was on the edge of sanity and financial ruin trying to manage the world her son created.  While visiting a juvenile justice counselor with her son, the counselor made an off-hand comment about handing him over to foster care so that she could get her job back and sleep at night.  With a heavy heart, she went forward and obtained a “voluntary placement” for him (temporary state custody), and he went to a foster home.  After two years, he was ready to come home and she was ready and empowered to support him.

A note of caution:  You may have seen ads for outdoor programs or “boot camps” for at-risk teens. Some of these programs are extremely inappropriate for troubled youth, even traumatizing. Or some may not allow teens with a criminal history. Get advice about therapeutic programs for your at-risk teenager from a counselor or social worker, not just from the program itself.  Your teen’s providers often know which ones are appropriate.

The people in the Juvenile Justice System

In my personal experience, 99% of employees in juvenile justice are there because they care about teens, they like teens and “get it” about them, and they believe in the power of what they do. My co-workers have many success stories among their cases. Some former delinquents come back to work for the juvenile justice system and use their hard-won experience to help the next generation.  Ironically, it’s the one job where a criminal record helps!

If you are concerned about what your child will experience in the juvenile justice system, just call and ask.  You may be surprised.

Challenges, risks, and potentially serious problems

  • A troubled young person in detention or incarceration is exposed to others with criminal behavior. They may bully or be bullied or both.  They may meet fellow inmates to sell drugs to when they get out, or learn who can supply them with drugs. Depression is common, and presents as anger or self-destructive behavior, such as getting in trouble on purpose.
  • Not all juvenile departments provide mental health treatment, or treatment is inadequate.  And sadly, there are still places where staff and citizens don’t believe in the mental health “excuse” for bad behavior.  You may need to be an assertive advocate for treatment.  Work with your child’s public defender, who is provided by the court, and give them evidence of mental health problems in  medical records.  Your child will need to sign a waiver for the attorney to have the records.
  • Some states have Mandatory Minimums–pray it’s not yours. Certain crimes lead to long prison sentences regardless of the circumstances of the crime or the mental illness of your child. My state of Oregon will incarcerate anyone over age 15 for seven years if they commit one of these crimes. This made sense to the voters who put it into law, but the reality is a worst-case scenario for how NOT to rehabilitate youth.  No one I’ve ever met in our state, from judges to prosecuting attorneys to sheriffs to probation officers, thinks it’s a good idea–the outcomes have been horrible for reasons too lengthy to go into here.
  • Each county and state has a different culture and attitude towards juvenile delinquents. Some are exceptionally harsh, or they neglect the kids’ legitimate needs; some are reluctant to treat kids like individuals with different needs and strengths; some get that right balance of punishment and rehabilitation. It depends on the judges, the county, and the state. Each is different.

Is your child at risk from criminal involvement or charged in a crime?  Please comment so other parents who read it can learn from your experience.  Thank you.

How am I doing?  Please rate this article above, thank you.

–Margaret


Mentally ill minors put in juvenile hall (excerpt)
Daily Bulletin, Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino, June 12, 2010

“Juvenile halls have become catch-all basins for severely mentally ill youth.  Designed as secure holding facilities for minors who are going through the court system, juvenile detention centers now double as a default placement option for youth diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.   “There is no place for them in [our system],” said a county juvenile court judge in California.  “We can’t just arrest our way out of the problem. Juvenile hall is not a place to house mentally ill.”

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Filed under defiant children, discipline, law enforcement, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, Screaming, teenagers, troubled children

What to do when they stop listening

What to do when they stop listening
4 votes

You don’t have to feel this frustrated.

At some point in their development, all kids stop listening. It’s frustrating but normal. There are lots of good advice for getting normal children and teens to listen, or at least follow the rules and directions given by the parent.But it’s different when your child has serious behavioral disorder, and when their behaviors are extreme or outright risky. Your priority may be to prevent destructive behavior and family chaos when they hate you, blame you, or are willing to take extreme risks. Then who cares about the dishes or homework?

First things first, avoid upsetting yourself.

Avoid repeating things over and over, raising your voice, or expressing your frustration. It really matters.  This stresses you as much as it stresses them. Children and teens with disturbances have a hard time tracking, and it may be pointless to expect them to listen. Your child or teen is overwhelmed by brain noise and does not hear even hear you.

But what if they are refusing to listen?  That’s a different issue.  They ARE listening, and they are definitely communicating back to you.  This is resistance and defiance.  (see Managing resistance – tips and advice )

Things to do when they stop listening

Use technology: texting and email.

This mother should be texting her daughter instead

This approach is so simple and so effective that therapists encourage high-conflict parent-teen pairs to communicate exclusively using email and texts, even if the parties are in close proximity, like at home together! Think about this. You are using their chosen medium; you can keep it brief and concise; both you and your child have time to reflect on your response. Your conversation is documented, right there for both of you to track. No one is screaming or repeating themselves.Word of caution
Watch what you write. Don’t use emotionally charged words or tone. Be sure to read texts and emails over and over before sending! “The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006 revealed that studies show e-mail messages are interpreted incorrectly 50% of the time.”

Move somewhere closer or farther, change your body language
Instead of communicating with your voice, use your body. For some children and teens, an arm around their shoulders calms them quickly. Or try standing calmly and quietly. Or put some distance between you and your child’s personal space, even if it means stopping and getting out of the car and taking a short walk. Experiment to see what works for your situation.

Use a third-party
Maybe you are the wrong person to carry the message and settle a tense situation. Don’t be too proud to admit that, for whatever reason, your child will not listen to you no matter how appropriately you modify your approach. So use a substitute or third-party. Is there another person who has a better rapport and can convince your child to complete a chore, do homework, leave little sister alone—a spouse, a grandparent, a teacher or counselor, a therapist? What about a friendly animal, live or stuffed? For young children, you can bring out Kitty and ask her to tell Joey that mommy and daddy only want him to do this one simple chore.

Draw a picture, make a sign

As a young child, I recall my parents hounding me for something, I don’t even remember what.  Then they’d ask, “What do you want me to do, draw a picture?” Well, yes in fact, I understood pictures and they didn’t frighten me as much as my parents yelling at me. Pictures and signs work, put them up where the family can see them (and your troubled child won’t feel singled out).  Maybe a funny comic gets a point across in a non-threatening way.  Some sign ideas: “It’s OK to be Angry, not Mean,” “STOP and THINK,” “Our family values Respect and Kindness,” “This is a smoke-free, drug-free, and a-hole free home.”

Time outs for you
.
Take your own sweet time to calm down and think things through what to say when you’re challenged by your offspring. Consider how you’ll respond to swearing. Put him or her on hold. Don’t return texts or email right away, “I’m busy and I’ll reply in 30 minutes.” Be specific on time, then follow through, or they might learn to blow you off with the same casual phrase, expecting you to forget. 

A Precaution

Watch your tone of voice
From infancy, we are wired to pick up emotions in the voice—it’s literally in our brain.  Your tone is very powerful and can be calming or destructive. Think about asserting strength and caring in your voice without lecturing. Be assertive but forgiving. Be firm and not defensive. Don’t get caught apologizing for upsetting your child or justifying your rules. 90% of parents know the right thing to say, but its common to say it the wrong way.

Is your child bullying you with their behavior?
I’ve observed child verbally bully and abuse their parents. This is not communicating and not negotiable. You have options for standing up to this without making things worse. Temporarily block their email or calls, or ignore and let them go to voicemail. Declare bullying unacceptable. Pull rank and apply a consequence. You cannot let their harassment continue because they will use it on others.
About that mean-spirited voicemail or email.
When you get an ugly message, tell yourself you are hearing from a scared, frightened person, and you’re the one whose feelings they care about the most. See this as a good thing. They are trying to communicate but it’s mangled and inappropriate. You want them to stay in contact and engage with you even if its negative. When a disturbed child stops communicating is when you must worry.  It hurts, but your hurt will pass.  You can handle it.  They will still love you , and some day they will show you.  Be very patient.
If the things they communicate hurt.
It is best that you take your feelings out of the picture and seek other sources of affirmation and support—this can’t come from your child. If they write “I hate you,” maybe they are really saying “you make me mad because you are asking me to do something I can’t handle now.”

Good luck out there,
–Margaret

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Filed under anger, defiant children, discipline, parenting, stress, teenagers, teens

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

Parenting mistakes – 9 ways to make things worse

Parenting mistakes – 9 ways to make things worse
1 votes

Knowing what NOT to do as a parent can sometimes be as informative as knowing what to do.

1…Treat your child or teen like another adult who has an equal say in how things are done.  Treat your home as a democracy, where everything must be fair and equal.  Answer your child’s accusations by offering explanations that show how reasonable you are.

2…Find fault with your child and let them know about it over and over and over again.  If they do something positive, let them know it’s not enough.  Let your tone of voice reveal how frustrated, angry, stressed or resigned you feel because of them.

3…Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior.  Ignore his or her unique needs or the challenges they may face everyday.  Are they being picked on at school or by a sibling?  Do they fear abandonment?  Are they stressed about an upcoming event?  Is your home too chaotic?

4…Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have the consequence come much later than the misbehavior (“I’ll tell your father when he gets home.”).

5…Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age.  Make long explanations to a three year old about why you’ve set a certain rule.  Assume a teen wants to be just like you.

6…Expect your child to logically, rationally accept your reasonable rules.  Parents expect common sense from children who are quite young (4 or 5), too young in the first place, or from young adults (up to early 20’s) who have a long track record of doing things that don’t make sense.

7…Keep trying the same things that still don’t work.  Like repeating yourself over and over , talking at them rather than with them, or screaming.  (Don’t be embarrassed; we’ve all done this.)

8…Jump to conclusions that demonize the child.  “You’ll do anything to get your way,” or “You are manipulative and deceitful,” or “You don’t listen to me on purpose,”  “I’m tired of your selfishness…”

9…Make them responsible for your feelings.  If you lose your cool and blow out over something they did (stress pushes parents over the edge sometimes), insist they do the apologizing.

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Filed under mental illness, parenting, teens

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.”

– – – – – – –

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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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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You CAN get your power back and reduce your child’s backlash.

You CAN get your power back and reduce your child’s backlash.
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If you have lost control of your child or your household (like the rest of us!), you know how hard it is to get it back.  Each time you try to enforce a rule, it’s ignored or your child creates such a backlash that it feels pointless.  Who wants to invite more stress in their lives?  Who wouldn’t give up and just learn to get by and muddle through?

 

But you CAN face that backlash AND get your power back.  This seems counterintuitive, but the more your child fights back, the more you recover your authority, and the more you will be able to bring order in the home.  BRING IT ON.  Fighting back against new rules and boundaries is a normal psychological response that is called an “extinction burst.”  We all do this.  It has been measured through behavioral observations of people of all ages and has nothing to do with troubled behavior.  The term “extinction burst” is even used by dog trainers to describe a phase of training!

 

Psychological studies show that this negative and extreme response, or the extinction burst, peaks at the first few attempts to enforce a rule or set a boundary.  Then it falls off quickly.  If you can stick it out emotionally, you will see the backlash extremes decrease over time, and the episodes become fewer and farther between.  Little by little, simple rules will be followed, or they’ll be followed most of the time (you will always be tested).  But by this point, enforcement becomes easier.

 

For explosive and aggressive children, it can be scary or dangerous to be a on the receiving end because you know about the potential for violence and harm.  If you can plan for this ahead of time and recruit loyal help for the inevitable emergencies, and if you can stick it out emotionally, you will see the backlash extremes decrease over time, and the episodes become fewer and farther between.  It works, but one must be like a rock and have that support.

 

Run a tight ship at home, but only have a few hard-and-fast rules, maybe 2 or 3, as this is easier to enforce.  Pick the rules carefully because they need to make sense and feel fair to everyone, and they need to be about safety and family unity, examples:  we will eat every dinner together as a family; curfew is 8 pm; if there is any outburst, the person must stay in their room for one hour…  Rules should be few, fair, and strictly enforced.  The first two make the last one easier.

 

You may be surprised how relieved everyone will be after living through chaos for so long!  When I put on my armor and set about getting my power back, it was exhausting and stressful.  But I got more respect the more I was in control.  Consistent order brings a sense of security and safety, but use common sense and be flexible, set aside some rules temporarily if your child is in crisis or the family is too stressed at the moment.  Be very strict on only a few critical things, for example:  have zero tolerance for violence against others (and pets).

You are the king or queen of your home, it is not a democracy.  Make reasonable fair rules, enforce the rules with an iron hand at first, and then relax bit by bit, and live in a peaceable kingdom.

ALWAYS protect with respect and love
ALWAYS protect with respect and love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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