Confronting a Child Who Has Lied

Kids sometimes lie. They do so for many reasons (to avoid punishment, because of embarrassment, because of an overactive imagination and so on), but no matter why they do it, parents must know what to do to help them stop doing it. The way a parent confronts a lying youngster can make the difference between whether that child lies less or more in the future.

If you know or suspect that your child has been lying, consider the following tips:

Consider Your Child’s Motivation for Lying
Is your child lying in order to protect someone else (“Sarah’s parents don’t want her spending time with her boyfriend so I agreed to pretend that she and I were going to Karen’s house to sleep over.”)? Is he or she lying in order to avoid an unpleasant task (“No I don’t have any homework tonight”)? Is the lie designed to avoid punishment (“No I didn’t break the vase.”) Perhaps the lie is meant to avoid embarrassment (“Yes I passed all my subjects”).

Think about the possible reason for the lie BEFORE you confront the child. This can help you be more effective in using Emotional Coaching – the naming and accepting of the child’s feelings. Emotional coaching makes the child feel understood and accepted instead of defensive. It helps the child WANT to hear what you have to say and WANT to cooperate with you. Emotional coaching reduces defiance and deception. An example of emotional coaching for a child who wants to protect her friend, might be the following, “You’re a very good friend to Sarah and of course you don’t want her to get into trouble with her parents. I know you are trying to help her.”

After providing this kind of acknowledgment of her motivations and feelings, you can then go on to give instruction and correction: “The problem is that Sarah’s parents love her probably even more than you do and they make certain rules for her because they want to protect her. This issue is really between Sarah and her parents and it’s not right for you to get involved. Most importantly, Sarah is asking you to lie for her, which isn’t what a good friend does. Good friends bring out the best in each other and don’t encourage each other to become worse people. Sarah is asking you to harm your relationship with US in order to help her continue to defy her parents. I don’t think that this is fair of her to ask you, but you have to decide that for yourself. The only thing that we want you to know is that if you lie to us in the future, you will certainly erode our trust in you and that will not be good for your relationship with us. Right now we give you lots of privileges and free reign because we trust you –  but that could all change if you continue to be dishonest.”

Notice that this approach appeals to the parent-child relationship and also appeals to logic. The “punishment” implicit here is damage to the relationship. This approach works particularly well with adolescents. It is possible to combine Emotional Coaching with discipline, however, as might be appropriate for a child who lies about his uncompleted homework. “I know you don’t enjoy doing homework and I fully sympathize with you. It’s a lot more fun to play games on the computer. However, when you lie about completing your homework you may be compromising your grades and I don’t want that to happen. Therefore, in the future when I find that you are lying about the amount of homework you have you will lose computer privileges for 48 hours.”

Avoid Anger
One of the most common reasons kids lie is to avoid parental wrath. Often kids grow up and become adults who lie to their spouses because they expect – based on childhood experiences with their parents – that making mistakes can get them into BIG trouble. Encourage truth-telling by keeping your confrontations quiet, respectful and low-key. Effective discipline (like the 2X-Rule described in detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) replaces the need for anger. You can use the 2X-Rule to give appropriate, moderate discipline when necessary. Consider the following example:

You discover that $100.00 is missing from your purse. You are certain your son took it because you see that he has a new gadget that he told you his friend bought for him as a gift and you know that this particular gadget costs around $80.00 – and you are pretty sure none of his friends would spend that kind of money on him. How do you get him to acknowledge what he did and make restitution? Not by getting mad! In fact, the madder you get, the more likely it is that your son will lie to you in the future in order to avoid your anger. Instead, you can follow these steps:

  • Speaking very quietly and slowly, refraining from drama or emotion, you confront him by saying something like, “I have good reason to believe that you took $100.00 out of my purse last week.”
  • If your son denies it, look him in the eye and very slowly repeat your statement with minor modifications: “It’s possible that I’m wrong – I didn’t have a camera rolling – but I’m fairly certain you took it. I put the money in the purse late Wednesday night, didn’t move the purse, and discovered it missing Thursday morning at sunrise, before anyone came into the house. Only God knows for sure what happened to it so I’ll just say this: If you did take that money, I’m going to assume it was a mistake and that  you will find a way to put it back in my purse some time over the next few  days and that  you’ll never do such a thing again. However, if you really didn’t take it, then I don’t want you to replace it. Just be honest with yourself and with me. I’ll assume that if you don’t replace it, you never took it to begin with and this is my mistake – for which I am apologizing in advance. However, if money ever goes missing from my purse again, the whole family will have to go for family counseling to discover what is going on in our house.

Do Not Trap a Child into Admitting the Truth
Suppose you just learned that your daughter lied to you about the location of a party she was attending. She knew that you didn’t want her to go to parties with certain kids and in fact, the party she wanted to go to was at one of those kid’s houses – so she gave you a different address. When a friend telephones for your daughter, she accidentally reveals the actual address of the party. Now you know for a fact that your daughter lied. When your daughter returns home, DO NOT play questioning games designed to trap her in her lie. For instance, let’s say she told you that the party was at Erica’s house. Do not do something like this: “How’s Erica? How’s her mom and dad? Were they at the party? Did you say hello to them for us?” and so on. Being sneaky with your kids just encourages them to be sneaky back to you!

Instead, be straight: “We know that the party was not at Erica’s house – it was at Ian’s place. You lied to us.” Continue with Emotional Coaching: “I guess you knew we wouldn’t be pleased and you felt you just had to go, so the only way to make it happen was to lie.” Continue with education and information: Do you think that we are trying to hurt you when we ask you not to go to parties with those kids? What do you think our motivation is? Do you think we are too protective?” Do not be hostile or sarcastic when asking these questions. You are simply trying to help your youngster think through what she has done. You want her to conclude that you love her and you are trying to help her. If she insists that you are well-intentioned but misguided (“You don’t know them Mom! Sure they drink too much, but they’re really nice and they don’t drive when they’re drunk so there’s really no problem!”), let her know that you cannot agree to allow her to do things you think are life-threatening, illegal or immoral. If she does these things, there will be negative consequences, but if she lies and does them, the consequences will be much greater. This method works only when the relationship between you and your child is a good one. If you are too strict, controlling or critical, your child will be more likely to defy you because there is very little to lose. If, on the other hand, you are loving, warm and positive, the child will not want to risk losing your affection and support and will be more likely to comply with your requests.

Avoid Excessive Punishment
Even when you have to discipline a child for lying, be careful to choose moderate negative consequences. Always warn the child before giving a punishment (“From now on, if I find that you have lied, such & such consequence will occur.”). Punishments that are too intense are more likely to backfire, causing the child to lie more in the future in order to avoid harsh punishments (see “Avoid Anger” above for a similar problem). For a selection of reasonable punishments, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.

When There is a Chronic Pattern of Lying
If you find that your child is lying frequently rather than on rare occasions, your child has a problem that requires your attention. Again, anger and upset on your part will be counterproductive – destructive instead of helpful. Instead, express sadness that there is a serious problem. (“It seems that you don’t feel comfortable being honest with me. I can see we have a serious problem here that we have to address.”) Arrange for professional assistance in the form of family counselling. A therapist can help help discover the reasons for a child’s persistent dishonesty and develop an effective treatment plan.

Understanding Your Teen

Teenagers can be challenging to raise. However, knowing what “makes them tick,” can make the job far easier. Let’s look at the typical characteristics of teenagers in order to better understand this period of life.

The following are some of the hallmarks of the teenage years, and some tips on how parents can help navigate them:

Rapid Physical Changes
Adolescence is a time of many physical changes as children gradually transform into young adults. For boys, there is a “growth spurt” — a rapid increase in height and weight, sometimes followed by changes in bone structure. Hair starts to grow in different places: the face, the armpits, the legs and the pubic areas. The adolescent’s voice deepens, and sounds more “grown up.” There are increases in muscle mass and strength as well.

Girls are also have sudden increases in height and weight. Breasts develop, hips become more defined, and body hair grows in the pubic and armpit areas. This is also the time when menstruation begins, often bringing along hormonally induced mood swings.

In both genders, the skin becomes more sensitive and sweaty, making adolescents more prone to pimples or acne. Kids develop at different paces – some making early changes and others making later ones. Often, kids are self-conscious about where they are in the normal distribution. Everyone wants to be “average” but of course, that isn’t possible. As a result, teens can feel embarrassed, inadequate or otherwise troubled by their physical changes: boys with squeaky voices and girls with flat chests can feel temporarily inadequate or self-conscious. Sometimes, the lingering consequences of insecurity can last for decades. Parents can help by being sensitive to their teens, never making rude jokes or unkind remarks. After all, every human being must go through adolescence on his or her way to adulthood. The gentle support and guidance of a parent can make the transition easier.

From Parent Approval to Peer Approval
At this stage of development, your child’s main focus of attention will shift from you to their same-aged classmates and friends. They may now prefer to spend more time with friends than with family members. Some kids don’t even want to be seen with parents in public! It’s all part of the push toward independence. Their “cutting of the apron strings” is a temporary phase: as your child journeys to adulthood, a healthy balance between family life and social life will emerge — and you’ll regain your place in their heart.

Testing Limits
As mentioned, kids at this time are exploring their identity and independence. Testing of rules and limits is all about pushing the borders now, bursting out of the protective shell. Teens might violate curfew, disobey house rules, experiment with various risk-taking behaviors, and constantly negotiate their “rights.” You might bring books home from the local library on subjects like smoking, alcohol, sex, drug use and so on. There are many books for this age group designed to be appealing to teens – with pictures and simple explanations this literature can provide the warnings and education your child needs in a teen-friendly way. Books can be a better method than dire warnings from an anxious parent.

At this point, parents should strike that balance between being understanding of their child’s need to be autonomous, and setting reasonable and consistent rules for their child’s safety and well-being.. As a rule, try to accommodate the new freedoms they ask for, for as long as safeguards are in place. Take the opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability. It’s important NOT to establish rules that none of their friends have. Instead, allow your child to be a normal teen within his or her community and try to put your own fears to rest. It can be helpful to access the help of a parenting professional or mental health professional to get normal parameters such as age-appropriate curfews on weeknights and weekends, dress codes, use of alcohol and drugs and so on. If you have an accurate frame of reference, your rules will be more appropriate – and your child will probably have a greater respect for your decisions, which might lead to greater compliance with your rules.

An Increased Interest in Sexuality
Your child will now be showing an interest in all things sexual including advertisements, internet porn, and real people. Don’t be surprised if you see your normally “plain and simple” son or daughter dolling up a bit, and taking an interest in grooming, fashion and flirting. This is all a normal part of the growing up process. Modern teenagers may be more open about sexuality than older generations and may want to be sexually active and more sexually active at earlier ages. Many kids in today’s society are confused about their sexual orientation and some may benefit from professional guidance. Your job is to share your values, provide information and establish clear expectations. You probably don’t want your child to be making babies just quite yet but teenagers don’t automatically know how to prevent that from happening. Teach responsibility and safety in sexuality – don’t assume that your child has learned this at school or on the street. Your child needs to know about sexual diseases as well and how to both prevent them and identify early symptoms. Some parents arrange for the child’s doctor to explain the details of contraception and sexual protection from pregnancy and disease.

Curfew

Teenagers are getting ready for independent adult living. They have a strong drive to explore the world and gain greater control over their time and actions; they yearn for greater freedom. Although parents may feel insulted or hurt, cialis their kids are not so much trying to escape from home as they are trying to run toward their own futures.

A much sought-after freedom at this point in a young person’s life is the freedom to stay out late with friends. Parents, however, remain loving and protective – they are concerned about their child’s safety and well-being. For this reason, they still want to set curfews – times that their child must be home by. Parents also tend to want to know where their teens are going and who they’re with. Adolescents, on the other hand, are often loathe to provide this information, feeling that it is an intrusion on their precious privacy. It’s important to find the middle ground between the child’s developmental needs and the need that parents have to be responsible guardians. The curfew issue must be negotiated in some sort of win-win way.

If curfews are an issue in your house, consider the following tips:

A Good Negotiator Listens Well
Invite your teen to express his or her needs and wishes around a curfew. Let the child talk openly. Repeat and summarize what you hear. Go slow – don’t rush to correct, advise or reply. It’s more important to listen well, naming the feelings that are being expressed (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for tips on Emotional Coaching – the best way to listen). Your goal is to understand your child’s needs and respond to them as best you can. It’s important to be flexible and to give your child a chance to prove that he or she can be responsible. Your flexibility and the child’s responsibility are a great team when it comes to curfews!

Respect the Normal Need for Increasing Independence
Except in unusual circumstances, it’s best to allow the curfew itself to do the work. Don’t call your child when he or she is out – that behavior directly contradicts the child’s need for increasing independence. Don’t ask the child to check in with you either. Assume that a teenager can take care of him or herself when out for the evening, just like you don’t have to report to anyone every half hour just to show that you’re still alive! Unusual circumstances that might justify breaking this rule might be that your child is taking a long road trip and you want to know if he arrived safely at his destination, or your child is going to a place where there is likely to be some unsavory people and you have legitimate safety concerns. Obviously the need to hear from your child during his or her time away from your home should be an exception to the usual rule of “See you later!”

Experiment and Adjust
Try making tentative curfews. “We can try this curfew for this month and see how it goes.” If the child is responsible – coming home on time without trying to renegotiate the curfew each time – then that curfew can become more permanent or it might be extended by 15 minutes to see how that works. As the child proves him or herself again and again, you can continue to move the curfew to the maximum point that you feel is safe and healthy for that youngster.

Stick with Your Agreements
Although your child can have an “emergency” once in awhile, regular weekly adjustments to a curfew should not be occurring. If the curfew is midnight, for example, last minute calls home to “please extend it till 12:30” need to be discouraged by your negative response. A curfew that turns out to be impractical can be renegotiated once the child is home. Sit down and talk about the challenges of the current curfew and readjust as necessary. Do not readjust it every time the child is out! However, do try to be flexible when there are special occasions – graduation parties, New Year’s Eve and other special occasions may require a temporary extension of an otherwise static curfew.

If Necessary, Use Discipline
Once you and your child have agreed upon a reasonable curfew, expect it to be honored. The first time there is a problem (arriving any time later than 10 minutes past the curfew), apply Step 1 of the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for more details about this form of discipline). Tell the child that curfew must be honored. The second time lateness occurs, issue a warning that further breaches of curfew will always result in a punishment (name the specific punishment you have in mind – i.e. losing driving privileges for the week, losing cell phone for the day and so on). Apply consequences for every further breach, but also sit down with your teen and discuss the problem – why is curfew hard to follow? What would work better? Work together as a team – don’t make it a game or worse, a battle. In a positive relationship, it should be easy and pleasant to establish an appropriate curfew. If it is simply too difficult, then consider some professional help – a family counselor or psychologist can often help you solve the problem quickly.

Extreme Misbehavior – Conduct Disorder

Even before stepping into high school, John had already accumulated a laundry list of offenses. He had been involved in bullying, vandalism, fire setting, stealing, and fighting, among other aggressive or illegal activities. As if these antisocial behaviors weren’t enough, John also had other issues like abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, and threatening his parents with violence.  At 14, he was arrested for assault, and placed in a juvenile correction facility.

John has Conduct Disorder, a mental health condition believed to affect 3-10% of American children and adolescents. Conduct Disorder or CD is characterized by persistent patterns of antisocial behavior, behavior that violates the rights of others and breaks rules and laws. While most kids have natural tendencies towards episodes of lying, belligerence and aggression, children and teenagers with Conduct Disorder exhibit chronic and inflexible patterns of gross misbehavior and violence. Conduct Disorder is a serious disorder of behavior and not simply an overdose of the sort of ordinary mischief or misbehavior that all children get into. It is characterized by repetitive, consistent antisocial behavior that is not responsive to normal parenting interventions.

Conduct Disorder manifests in aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violations of rule such as running away, using dangerous weapons, skipping school and classes, ignoring curfews and so on. Symptoms cause severe impairment in the child’s personal, academic or social life. Conduct Disorder occurs more often among males than among females and usually coexists with other mental health conditions such as substance abuse, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, learning disorders, and depression.

What it’s Like for Parents
Conduct Disorder poses one of the greatest sources of grief and stress among parents. Symptoms can start out looking relatively normal, involving “misbehavior” such as chronic arguments with parents, disobedience and even hyperactivity. But as time goes by the gravity of the symptoms tend to escalate, alongside with their frequency. Temper tantrums can become actual episodes of violence and assault; lying to parents can become stealing from friends and classmates; and lack of respect for privacy at home can become breaking and entering somebody else’s home. Conduct Disorders can lead to cases of rape and sexual abuse, even homicide. If left untreated, Conduct Disorders can evolve into the adult disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Receiving calls from teachers, principals and even the local police station, are common occurrences for parents of conduct disordered children and teens. Usually, there are many fruitless attempts to discipline or moderate a child’s behavior. Even counseling is insufficient because the biological nature of the disorder necessitates medical treatment as well. Because kids and teens with Conduct Disorder  suffer from a lack of empathy and emotional responsiveness, parents rarely get through to their child on their own.

What can Parents Do?
The good news is that there is hope for treating Conduct Disorders, and many programs have been found effective in both managing symptoms and restoring functionality. However, treatment is usually slow and complex. Indeed, Conduct Disorder is one of the most difficult behavioral disorders to treat. Recovery generally requires time and a combination of many different treatment approaches including different types of therapy, education, behavioral interventions and medications.

What can Help?
Early intervention helps increase the likelihood of successful treatment, which is why parents should act promptly when they notice antisocial behavior in their children. CD often begins as ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a condition characterized by lack of respect for authority. Lack of empathy is also a risk factor, alongside a family history of antisocial and/or criminal behavior.

As part of a comprehensive treatment program, traditional counseling and therapy interventions can go a long way, particularly those that aims to teach positive social skills such as communication, empathy and conflict management. Emotional management techniques, such as anger management interventions can also help. Sensitivity training, especially those at residential camps where kids and teens can interact with peers (and sometimes animals like horses), have also been known to be effective.

Parents are also encouraged to join family therapy sessions and Parent Management Training or PMT. Family therapy can surface systemic factors that cause and reinforce antisocial behavior in children. Family therapy can also help parents establish more effective forms of guidance and discipline, and teach parents how to respond to disruptive and defiant behaviors.

Because of the biological factor in Conduct Disorders, getting pharmacological help is important as well. A psychiatrist can help plan the appropriate drug therapy for a child or teenager with Conduct Disorder. In addition, a psychiatrist can help manage the child’s overall program of therapy and specific interventions. Sometimes the best source of help for children with Conduct Disorder is a specialized children’s mental health treatment center where many different types of professionals offer services under one roof and the child’s program can be coordinated through one department. Ask your doctor for a referral to such a center for diagnosis and treatment of your child.

Child Doesn’t Answer Cellphone

Parents can find comfort in modern technology. Whereas “in the olden days,” letting children and teens go out into the night might have caused parents extreme worry and anxiety, today parents can keep in touch with their kids 24/7 through mobile phones. Of course, there’s still no guarantee that all is well, but the ability to check in does provide some peace of mind.

But what if your child doesn’t answer his or her cell phone? Should parents become immediately alarmed? Does not picking up mean that your child is in danger or hiding something?

Not always! There are many possible reasons why a child might not answer a parent’s call. The following are some of these reasons, alongside tips on how parents can handle the situation:

Your Child is Not Mindful of the Phone
Although this one is rare, it is still something to be considered: some kids are so attached to their cell phone, it’s practically welded to their palm. But there are also children who barely pay attention to their mobile, and merely have it on silent or vibrate mode somewhere in their bag. If your child is not expecting a call from you, it’s not unlikely that he or she just didn’t bother to check if anyone is calling.

If this is the case, the best thing for parents to do is to advise their child that they plan to ring, so that the child knows to always keep his or her phone handy.

It’s Not Convenient for Your Child to Answer the Phone
Sometimes, it’s just not the right place or time to answer the phone. Your child can be inside the cinema with friends, out in the field playing football, or crossing the street on a busy road. In the same way that you can’t be expected to answer your phone during these times, it’s unreasonable to expect your child to accommodate you.

What’s best is to ask your child where he or she is going so that you will know if ringing is advisable. If you know your child’s itinerary, then you would know when to ring. True, your child can always lie about the location in order to avoid your calls. But this is also a great exercise in trusting your child. Unless your child has a history of lying about his or her whereabouts, there’s really no reason not to take what your child says at face value.

You can also establish a rule on call backs. For example, you can contract with your child an agreement to call back within 30 minutes of a missed call. With such a rule in place, you won’t immediately panic when you don’t get a response. Of course, the 30 minute rule won’t necessarily solve the problem if your child is out watching a movie with friends, but it can still be helpful in most cases.

Your Child Already Knows That He or She is in Trouble
Sometimes kids don’t answer their cell phone because they sense that you are probably already angry at the other end of the line. If they’re out way after their curfew for example, it’s possible that they would avoid responding to your calls to avoid further stress.

If this is the case, explain to your child the effect of their behavior on you. Sometimes, kids don’t realize that parental anger is born out of being worried sick and fearing the worst. Tell them that whatever their offense may be, it would still be outweighed by relief in confirming that they are well and safe. Emphasize how answering your call at all times is a must.

In order to encourage your child to answer even when he or she is past curfew, be careful to avoid raging and unpleasant criticism. When your child answers be calm, polite and concerned. Take up discipline issues the next day, when everyone is awake and relaxed.

Your Child is Embarrassed to Answer the Phone
It’s also possible that your child is embarrassed to be seen talking to a parent. This is especially likely during the teenage years when kids are experimenting with their identity and their autonomy. Peers can tease them about always being “on a tight leash” or “being a mamma’s boy.” When this happens, your child may prefer to switch off his or her mobile rather than be caught talking to a parent.

Parents who are respectful of their kids’ feelings will have better communication and cooperation in the long run. Therefore, show understanding if your child claims to be embarrassed. Ask your child to suggest reasonable solutions. Keep in mind that teenagers are almost grown up and like grownups, they don’t want someone checking up on them every few hours. Perhaps you should be using the phone only for true emergencies and not to find out where your child is and what he is up to. Let your child go out and come home – don’t call! However, if your child is young or inexperienced, you can ask that he or she calls you when he or she arrives safely at a destination. For older teens, this isn’t necessary. In short, avoid acting like your child needs excessive supervision unless the child has already shown you through repetitive irresponsible behavior that this is truly the case. If your child has already established a track record of reasonable behavior, responsibility and appropriate maturity – let him or her go out and have a good time. There’s no need to call.

Out-of-Control Teens

Some teenagers are model citizens. This article is not about them. This article is about those teens who are acting out – the ones who talk back to their parents, dosage swear at them, act aggressively when upset, have no respect for rules or curfews, do what they want when they want, engage in addictive, destructive, illegal or immoral behavior and otherwise distress their well-meaning parents terribly. It is also about those teens who are “acting in” – those with depression, eating disorders, cutting behaviors and other self-destructive patterns. All of these children frighten, worry and dismay their parents. Why do they behave this way? What can parents do about it?

Out-of-Control Parents
Many out-of-control teens trigger out-of-control behavior in their parents. Because of their intense fear, hurt and helplessness, many parents of out-of-control teens become enraged and display their own version of temper tantrum behavior. In an effort to regain control, some dole out irrational negative consequences like “life-long” loss of privileges or “life-long” grounding. Even if they manage to use more reasonable consequences, many use too many or make them too intense for the crime. The result is a very negative relationship in which the adolescent loses all motivation to please the parent or cooperate in any way. The troubled relationship actually fuels more adolescent pain and more troubled behaviors. The last thing a struggling adolescent needs is an out-of-control parent.

How to Help Troubled Teens
The first step for parents it to maintain total control over THEMSELVES. Parents should let their adolescents know that they are starting a SELF-improvement program: no more yelling, tantrumming, insulting or other disrespectful behaviors. The parent will remove all behaviors from his or her own repetoire that would be unacceptable if the teen engaged in that behavior. For instance, if the parents want the teen to stop yelling, the parent will work on removing yelling from his or her own behavior (the same applies for any other similar behavior such as, unpleasant tone of voice, nasty facial expressions, unkind words, stomping & slamming, etc.). After a month of working on his or her own behavior, the parent can begin to help the teen make similar changes using a similar technique. The teen may be inspired by the model of the parnts. The parents have shown their own willingness to help make things better and they have shown that they can be successful. The teen may be more willing to get with the program when the parents have led the way.

The self-improvement program works like this: the parents promise themselves and their child that each unacceptable parental outburst will be followed by a parental consequence. For instance, when a parent yells, he or she can immediately sit down to write a page of lines to the effect of “I can control myself even if I feel upset.” or “I speak respectfully at all times even when I am upset” and so on. After the first week or two of this consequence, the parent increases his or her lines to two sides (one full page, both sides) and after three or four weeks, to three sides, continuing to make increases until all unacceptable parental behavior stops. If it starts up again at a later date, even months or years later, the parent begins the consequence system again.

Another equally important strategy for parents is to lay the foundation for adolescent change. They can do this by practicing the 90-10 Rule. This rule states that 9 out of 10 parental communications need to feel pleasant to the child. Pleasant feeling communications include things like smiles, compliments, weather reports, gifts, treats, jokes, gentle touch (if wanted), interesting neutral conversation, acknowledgement, good quality listening, naming feelings, having pleasant interactions with other family members within earshot of the teen and so on. One out of 10 communications can be “business-oriented” such as giving instructions, making requests, setting a boundary (using discipline if necessary). When the 90-10 Rule is followed, teenagers automatically become calmer and more cooperative, less rebellious and more interested in pleasing. Their own emotional difficulties settle down a bit. They even cooperate more with discipline when it is required.

More Help for Out-of-Control Teens
Parents can be empathetic toward teens without accepting their abusive behavior. Once parents have brought their own behavior under control, they must insist that their teens work on theirs as well. They will live by the rule “I only give and accept respectful communication” (“I do not give nor do I accept disrespectful communication.”) Using quiet, respectful discipline, the parent can invite the teen to create appropriate consequences for behaving in disrespectful ways.

Troubled teens may really benefit from and appreciate other interventions. Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless treatment that can reduce anger, stress, anxiety, hurt, loneliness, despair, depression and all other painful emotions. Both parents and teens can use this form of treatment to help clear and heal the troubled feelings that prompt out-of-control behaviors. You can find more information on Bach Flower Therapy online and throughout this site.

Professional help can be of tremendous benefit to both parents and teens as well. Even if the adolescent refuses to go to therapy, parents will find that the support and strategies offered by a mental health professional can make a huge difference in their family life.

These are some of the ways we can begin to help our hurting kids. Remember that you are the adult – you must show the way. Patience and love will help a lot. Keep envisioning your troubled teen moving through and beyond these years to a very positive outcome. This optimistic picture wilil help you survive the turbulent times and do your best when it is hardest. It will counteract the anxiety that causes you to over-react or “forget” good parenting skills. The truth is that most kids turn around at some point and become very pleasant, well-adjusted adults – just like you!

Keeping Teens Safe

Teenagers sometimes scare the wits out of their parents. Because adolescents are inexperienced (too young to have enough experience to know better), they can make poor decisions. Someone who has loaned an acquaintance a thousand dollars because “he promised to pay it back tomorrow” is more cautious after that experience. Unfortunately, he may have to actually lose a thousand dollars before he learns that caution is in order. That’s why older people are so much wiser: they’ve pretty well covered every mistake in the book and of course, they now know better! The teenage sense of invincibility can also lead to compromised judgment. Someone who has already learned about his fragility through an unfortunate car accident often slows down and looks both ways before going through intersections. And the teenage quality of impulsiveness (a.k.a. enthusiasm combined with reckless abandon) is perhaps the worst offender in hasty, poorly thought-out plans that turn out badly. The aging process corrects this trait, but meanwhile, parents of teenagers can be in for quite a (scary) ride. What can parents do to help their kids minimize risk?

Don’t Carry Their Fear
Let’s start with what not to do. Don’t carry your child’s fear. Are you afraid when your 17-year-old daughter walks home alone through a deserted park at midnight? You and your spouse may be the only ones experiencing that fear. Ask the daughter about it and she may say, “I was totally safe. There was no one there. I do it all the time. No one ever gets attacked there.” Why doesn’t she feel afraid? Because of the three characteristics of teenagers described below:

1. She’s inexperienced (thankfully). She has never been attacked in a park or dark alley or anywhere else. She can’t relate to the idea.
2. She thinks she’s invincible. She can’t imagine anything bad happening to her. She believes she’s in control of her world and if she wants the park to be safe, then it is safe.
3. She’s impulsive. She is making a decision based on her feelings. She wants to walk through the park at midnight, so it must be fine to do so. She’s not slowing down to think, to analyze the possible dangers and to make an alternative plan.
So it’s not her fault that she makes such a poor decision. However, if YOU are the one to feel the fear and express that fear, SHE will never feel it until she learns about it the hard way. Therefore, you must be careful to minimize your reaction. The more drama you engage in, the more ridiculous your teen will think you are and the less credibility your message will carry. Don’t be loud or emotional. Don’t throw out big threats or fancy consequences. In fact, don’t use discipline at all. These strategies will derail your mission; your child will focus on your lack of rationality, your lack of understanding, and your lack of fairness. She will not focus on the issue at hand: her dangerous behavior.

Hand Over the Fear
You want your teenager to experience his or her own fear. That’s what will keep the child safe. Do you walk alone in bad areas of town at midnight? Why not? Nobody is stopping you! You decide not to do that because you are afraid. Your fear keeps you safe.

You have to help your child feel his or her own fear. You can do this by downplaying your reaction to dangerous behavior. For example, when you learn that the child has walked through an unsafe area late at night, alone, you can say, in a quiet, calm voice, something like this: “Oh. Well, I myself wouldn’t walk there alone at night—I’d be afraid for my life. But now that you’re practically an adult, you have to make those calls for yourself; I can’t follow you around to make sure you don’t do anything foolish. Of course, if you were to ask for my advice, I’d tell you not to ever walk in risky places alone in the dark, but that’s just my opinion. You really have to decide for yourself whether you’re comfortable risking your life or coming to some traumatic harm. That’s your decision.”

A speech like that one cuts the umbilical cord sharply. It says to the child: “You better use your brains better Honey because I can’t do all your thinking for you.” When teens hear words like these from their parents, they feel real fear—often for the first time in their lives. And that’s just what’s needed, in order to help them stay safe. A teenager who worries about his or her own safety can override the characteristics of inexperience, invincibility and impulsivity. Fear is a powerful motivator. When it is in the vehicle, it always takes the driver’s wheel.

It’s scary handing the wheel over to your teen, but you don’t really have a choice. The truth is that you can’t follow youngsters around and make their brains work right. The next best thing you can do is tenderly abandon them. This immediately increases their fear. If it increases yours as well, this is only temporary. You will soon see evidence that your child is taking more precautions and trying to be safer. And this is what will help reduce your fear eventually.