When Your Child Comes Home Drunk

It is well-known that teenagers are in a stage of experimentation – they are exploring the world around them, the world of relationships and their own inner landscape. What feels right? What creates pleasure? What is meaningful? What relieves stress? What brings social, academic and personal success?

Somewhere along the way, most teens will encounter alcohol. Some will like what they find, indulging the substance more and more in order to gain social acceptance or psychic relief or both. Others will find that they don’t like the feeling that alcohol gives them and will move away from it toward other, healthier forms of stress relief and happiness. And some will find a small place in their lives in which to place consumption of alcoholic beverages – certain social situations like celebrations and other special gatherings. No matter what kids ultimately decide to do with alcohol, however, many will get drunk at least one time.  Some will do so accidentally, simply not knowing their limits. Others will do so intentionally. No matter how it happens, however, parents have to know how to handle the situation.

Below are some tips in handling a teenager who comes home drunk:

Stay Calm
There is such a thing as a “teaching moment.” This is a moment in which the child is calm and coherent and a moment in which the parent is also calm and coherent.  When either child or parent is not fully present due to overwhelming emotions (like anger, grief or fear) or impaired consciousness (i.e. not fully awake, drunk or stoned) no learning will occur.  In fact, talking to a drunken person is futile; alcohol significantly impairs comprehension and inhibition — your drunk teen doesn’t have the mental capacity to process your message, nor the ability to explain things properly. Therefore, when your child comes home drunk, wait until he or she sobers up before you try to deal with the issue. Let the child sleep it off – the best time to talk is likely to be the day after the incident.

Take the intervening time to settle your own nerves. You might be feeling alarmed, enraged, disappointed or otherwise extremely upset. Emotion, especially of an intense, hysterical or dramatic kind, will work against your goals. Remember – you shouldn’t be addressing the issue at all until you are calm enough for your child to be able to take you very seriously. This talk will be an important one – you don’t want to appear off-balance while you are trying to make important, life-impacting remarks. Staying calm, you help give your teen someone to take seriously, look up to and respect. You increase your power to provide education and guidance when you come across as a loving, concerned, firm, clear, knowledgeable and trustworthy adult. Try to get into that state before you hold a meeting with your teen!

Emergency Intervention
Do call your local emergency medical information line if your child’s state concerns you. You can describe your child’s behavior in the intoxicated state and if there is a concern, an ambulance will be sent out. It’s always better to err on the side of caution – there is no reason NOT to call and describe symptoms unless the symptoms are barely noticeable. However, sometimes a child is barely conscious. Sometimes he can’t stop vomiting. Sometimes he is experiencing alcohol poisoning. Unless you already know what to look for, make the call.

Appropriate Response
Even if you think it’s kind of “cute” or funny the first time your child comes home drunk, you should consider the importance of refraining from showing any kind of pride or pleasure in this behavior. Remind yourself that teens are very easily addicted and that addiction will bring them much suffering. Their careers, their relationships and their health can suffer serious negative consequences. Their drunken state can lead to their own or someone else’s death or permanent disability. A teenager may misread your cues, thinking that you are encouraging self-destructive behavior. Be careful to respond seriously and responsibly. Your child’s future is at risk. Everything you say and do at this critical time can have a life-long impact. Refrain from helping your child avoid current consequences of this particular episode – do not cover up. Help him to learn that there CAN be negative consequences. If nothing bad happened during this episode, then make sure you discuss with him at some point, what CAN happen when a person is drunk.

Know Where You Stand
Different parents have different rules on drinking; some demand total abstinence from alcohol, others allow drinking in moderation. Regardless of where you stand on the drinking issue, it’s important you address the situation of your teen coming home intoxicated. Alcohol is an easy drug to abuse. As previously stated, it can also be a dangerous drug leading to life-threatening accidents, legal problems and health problems. You might want to do some research to find out more about alcohol, the state of intoxication, addiction and other issues so that you can talk knowledgeably to your child. Inviting your child to do research WITH you might be even better! It’s best to create rules and guidelines that make sense in the light of the information you have about alcohol – such rules are more likely to be taken seriously by your child. Rules that “make no sense” tend to be defied by older kids. If you and your child do research together, you two can also formulate reasonable guidelines.

First Time Only
If this is the first time your child has come home drunk, education is the correct intervention. Punishment should be avoided. In fact, don’t mention negative consequences at all. If it happens again, however, make a rule that there will always be severe consequences for this in the future. The first two episodes are for education only – not punishment. All other episodes require heavy negative consequences (see the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If you think your child is already abusing alcohol habitually, or is at risk of becoming an alcoholic, contract a substance abuse counselor. Alcoholism is an incurable, progressive and fatal disease – it’s best  to intervene as soon as possible.

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.

Marijuana Use

According to recent reports, erectile one in fifteen teenagers is using marijuana on a daily basis. More 10th graders smoke marijuana than cigarettes. On the other hand, order other forms of substance abuse are declining among this group – including alcohol use and other drugs.

What are the Immediate Effects of Marijuana?
Short term cannabis use (marijuana/weed/hemp/pot/grass and other slang names) often stimulates feelings of relaxation and elevated mood.  Appreciation for art and music may be enhanced or at least artistic appreciation might feel enhanced! Ideas can flow rapidly and the user may become quite talkative as well. In fact, pilule cannabis users may experience a variety of effects upon intoxication, including becoming hungry, having the giggles, experiencing hallucinations, experiencing increased  anxiety, suffering impaired motor coordination, experiencing increased fatigue and lowered motivation. However, a user will usually appear more or less normal to outside observers, even when he or she is highly intoxicated.

What are the Effects of Cannabis Intoxication?
Intoxication (getting “high”) is a disturbed state that often begins with symptoms of mild anxiety that can later progress to feelings of panic and might also include distortions in time perception, impaired judgment, impaired learning and problem-solving, euphoria, social withdrawal and motor impairment. Marijuana can also increase feelings of depression. Marijuana’s negative impact on memory and learning can last for days or even weeks after intoxication. Regular users may therefore be in a state of continuous lowered intellectual functioning. Those driving cars while intoxicated on marijuana have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and impaired response to signals and sounds. Impulsivity increases, as does risk taking behavior. Physical symptoms can include dry mouth, rapid heart rate, red eyes and increased appetite.

The most common untoward reaction to cannabis is the development of an anxiety disorder, but use of the drug can also lead to serious psychotic disorders in those who are vulnerable. Vulnerability is associated with early use of marijuana (prior to age 18)  – in which case users have 2 to 4 times the frequency of psychotic illness occurring by young adulthood.  Also, those who start taking marijuana before age 18 have a much higher incidence of becoming addicted to the drug. Lastly, it appears that adolescent users are susceptible to drug induced permanent brain changes that affect memory and cognitive functioning.

What are the Effects of Cannabis Withdrawal?
When addicted users go off marijuana, they experience unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, cravings for the drug, sleeplessness and decreased appetite. The symptoms are unpleasant enough to make abstinence challenging. They peak at 2-3 days off the drug and then subside within a couple of weeks. The most likely people to become addicted to marijuana are those who have started its use while in their teens and those who use the drug daily. Addiction is characterized in part by continued use of the substance despite negative effects on relationships, work or school performance or  other aspects of functioning.

Treatment for Cannabis Intoxication
Treatment can range from in-patient hospitalization, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, to various outpatient programs and individual drug therapy counselling. Narcotics Anonymous (twelve-step programs) and other such group support programs are also helpful treatment options.

The Role of Parents
There’s much that parents can do to help their children avoid experimenting with or seriously using marijuana. Here are some ideas:

  • Bring home education books from your public library and leave them lying around with other books. Alternatively, leave them in the bathroom for “reading material.” Books written for young people on this subject are appealing to the age group with lots of simple information, pictures and user-friendly guidance.
  • Talk about drugs and alcohol at your dinner table. Give your opinions and share your knowledge.
  • LISTEN to what your kids are saying – without criticism, negative feedback or judgment. You don’t want them to shut down and keep their thoughts (and actions) to themselves. Instead, show thoughtful interest and curiosity and try to relate what they are saying to your own adolescent and current life experience.
  • Teach your kids healthy ways of managing stress – don’t assume they know how to process hurt, anger or fear. Bring home books on stress management and emotional awareness and talk about these things at your table.
  • Offer your kids professional counseling when they seem to have too much stress or when they are withdrawing, very anxious, suffering from insomnia, seem to be in low mood or otherwise seem emotionally off balance. You don’t want them to discover the pleasure of “self-medicating” through drugs!
  • Strengthen the emotional stability of your family, the health of your marriage and the happiness of your home through education and counseling as necessary – a happier home environment is preventative as far as heavy drug use goes.
  • Use an authoritative style of parenting – have some rules and boundaries but emphasize warmth (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for a balanced parenting strategy). Refrain from using too many rules, too much criticism or too much anger.

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.

Kleptomania

People often assume that a thief steals for a reason. However, link the truth is that stealing doesn’t always have a practical purpose and not everyone who steals is a “thief” in the true sense of that word. A child may be caught stealing something he doesn’t really want nor need, pharm something he already has, or something of very little value. A child may also steal for the sake of stealing, not because of a need for attention, a desire for revenge or a show of inadequacy. When someone steals without any obvious gain, it is possible that he or she is suffering from a mental health condition called kleptomania.

What is Kleptomania?
Kleptomania is a mental health condition characterized by a strong urge to steal, and a feeling of relief after stealing. It’s an impulse-control disorder, similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, where the patient suffers from persistent thoughts and repetitive patterns of behavior. Kleptomania usually has its onset in young adulthood, but there are cases of kids as young as 5 years old with Kleptomania.

Are Kleptomaniacs Criminals?
Kleptomania must be distinguished from the criminal act of stealing, or the willful and knowing theft of someone else’s property. People with Kleptomania steal not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. They experience extreme anxiety when they do not give in to the behavior of stealing, and stealing is the only way they can get relief. They know that what they do is wrong, but they can’t help it. In fact, many kleptomaniacs steal things that have little value, such as paper clips or tissue paper rolls. They may also return what they have stolen afterwards, as they are not particularly interested in the stolen object itself, but rather the act of stealing.

How is Kleptomania Treated?
The dynamics behind Kleptomania point to how the condition should be handled by parents, teachers and helping professionals.

It’s recommended that Kleptomaniacs (those who suffer from Kleptomania) not be punished for their stealing, as they have a mental health condition that needs help and healing – not punishment. In fact, many researchers argue that Kleptomania, like all impulse-control issues, may have a physiological origin. Abnormally low amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain may be the cause of Kleptomania.

Counseling is an appropriate first response to a child with Kleptomania. Except for really young children, people with Kleptomania are aware that what they are doing is dysfunctional and they are often stressed, even depressed, about what they are going through. Helping a child vent his or her feelings over the inability to control impulses is a good start.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been known to assist children with Kleptomania in managing their urges and compulsion. Skills in stress and anxiety management are also helpful, as it is stress and anxiety that often compel a kleptomaniac to steal. Gradually sensitizing a child to the impact of stealing on other people can also be a way to help kids with Kleptomania manage their condition.

When therapy alone fails to cure the condition, psychotropic medicine of the type used for obsessive-compulsive disorder may be prescribed.

Sexual Disease

As a parent, advice you might feel queasy, troche even embarrassed, talking about sexual matters with your teenager. You might have grown up in a home when sex was not even mentioned, much less discussed in detail. Or you might be worried that talking about sex with your child will make him or her more likely to engage in it. But given the risks associated with irresponsible sexual behavior today, this is not a talk you want to miss.

Here are some important details about sexual disease and protective practices to cover in your talk, just in case you’re not up to date:

What is a Sexually Transmitted Disease?
As the term implies, sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are illnesses that can be passed through sexual contact; through vaginal intercourse, oral sex or anal sex. These illnesses can range from manageable fungal infections to debilitating and terminal diseases such as HIV-AIDS. STDs is the category used for diseases that used to be called VDs or venereal diseases.

Below are just some of the many STDs identified today:

  • Genital warts. Genital warts are caused by HPV, human papillomavirus. This virus lead to warts in the genital area as well as cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. It is spread through skin contact in vaginal or anal sex.  Eruption of warts can be painful both physically and psychologically and, since they are part of a viral process that can lead to more deadly disease, they are also a matter of serious concern. There are currently HPV vaccines available that are effective for people who have never been infected with this virus. Therefore, teens are urged to have the vaccine before engaging in their first sexual experience.
  • Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection characterized by a yellowish discharge in the sexual organ and difficulty in urination. Untreated gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body, such as the joints or the heart.
  • Herpes. This STD lives in the nerves and once contracted, is a permanent condition.  Herpes simplex type-1 produces cold sores around the mouth, while Herpes simplex type-2 produces sores in the genital area. The sores take the form of painful, itchy blisters. Break-outs can be prevented or minimized with daily doses of anti-viral drugs. Pregnant women can pass the virus to their babies, so they need to inform their doctor of their condition immediately. Herpes is contracted by skin-to-skin contact whether or not sores are visible to the eye at the time of contact.
  • Syphilis. Another bacterial infection, syphilis has three stages, with symptoms getting more serious as one proceeds to a later stage. Primary syphilis is characterized by a painless red sore in the genital area called a chancre. In the secondary stage of the infection, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause many symptoms like fever, rashes, weight loss, muscle aches and joint pain. In its later stage, syphilis can damage vital organs like the heart and parts of the central nervous system.
  • Candidiasis. Also called thrush, this STD is caused by a fungus called Candida or what is commonly known as yeast. The infection may be minimal, causing merely irritation and itching, or it can result to more systemic health problems. Cheese-like discharge in the sexual organs, redness and a smell similar to bread are some of the common symptoms of Candidiasis.
  • HIV. HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the main culprit behind the fatal disease Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. AIDS is a pandemic in many countries, and has caused the lost of whole communities in some areas of Africa. It’s a disease that causes a steady decline of the body’s immune system, causing susceptibility to different kinds of opportunistic illnesses. As of present, HIV has no cure, although there are drugs that can boost the immune system and improve quality of life.

How can Kids Protect Themselves from Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
It’s important that parents emphasize to their children that they can protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases.

The most foolproof method of avoiding STDs is sexual abstinence. While the age of first sexual experience tends to become younger and younger every year (NBC Today’s latest survey has it at 15 years old!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teenage years is the recommended age to start having sex. While the physical maturity may already be present by the time kids hit the teenage years, it also takes mental and emotional maturity to engage in a sexually active relationship or a sexually active lifestyle. There is nothing to be lost by waiting until one feels more ready, or until marriage, to begin having sex.

But if your child does decide that he or she is ready, and you concur, there are ways to practice safer sex. Start by making sure that you and your partner have undergone a medical exam and have a clean bill of health before engaging in any sexual activity. While the practice of asking when a partner’s last check up was may sound unromantic, it is always better to be safe than very, very sorry.  Regular tests and visits to a gynecologist should occur as long as one is sexually active.

Opt to use contraception. As of now, it’s only the condom that is recommended for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Birth control pills and intra-uterine devices may protect a couple from unwanted pregnancy but they do not protect against STDs. Note though that a condom is not 100% foolproof; some STDs may be passed through oral sex and there are reports of condoms breaking during intercourse.

If one suspects an infection, it’s best to consult a doctor immediately. With the exception of HIV, most STDs are treatable by medicines such as some antibiotics. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.

Unprotected Sex

Today’s world is highly sexualized. Children are no longer sheltered from “adult” material and in fact, are encouraged to express their own sexuality at younger and younger ages. These days, it is hard to find a primetime TV show that doesn’t have a sexually explicit scene — and many of these shows are explicity marketed to teenagers and young adults. Contraceptives are sold in the nearby convenience store, right alongside soap and shampoo. And many teen celebrities — some barely out of puberty —sport a sexy image; some even find themselves as tabloid fodder because of irresponsible real-life sexual behavior.

Given that sex seems to be in the very air we breathe, it’s important that parents take an active role in promoting responsible sexual behavior in children. The cost of poor choices when it comes to sexuality can be very high, from sexually transmitted diseases or STDs to unwanted pregnancies, to early, often inappropriate, marriages. There’s also the psychological cost of premature sexuality: kids having unwanted sex due to peer pressure or partner pressure, finding out the hard way that love and respect doesn’t always accompany the sexual act, regretting being intimate with the wrong person and experiencing deeper levels of hurt and/or betrayal when intimate relationships are disrupted.

What can parents do to encourage responsible sexual behavior in their children? Consider the following:

Communicate Your Values Early
Different parents have different definitions of what “responsible sex” means. Some families do not believe in sex before marriage, for practical or religious reasons. Other parents are more liberal; they allow sexual behavior before marriage, as long as a child is at the right age and safe sex practices are being followed. Whatever your family’s belief system is, it’s best that you share it with your child, especially if they are already in the teenage years. The public library also offers an array of books for young people that cover all aspects of teen sexuality and romance – you can bring them home for your kids to read and you can also use them as a starting point for discussions about the topic.

Explain the Risks
Not all teenagers are aware of the risks involved in irresponsible sexual behavior. Or some kids are aware but they do not take the threats seriously. As parents, it’s your job to educate your child about the serious negative consequences that come with irresponsible sex, particularly unprotected sex. Unprotected sex refers to sexual intercourse without any intervention designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy and/or sexually-transmitted diseases. Two common methods of protection are common: condoms and birth control pills.

Parents must make sure kids know facts from fiction. For example, there’s a myth that goes “if you only do it once, you will not get pregnant.” This simply isn’t true. While having sex only once does lessen the risk of a pregnancy, it doesn’t eliminate it. Similarly, a child can contract a life-long sexually transmitted disease from having intercourse only one time.

Kids Must be Educated about the Limits of Their “Protection” of Choice
Condoms, for example doesn’t protect against HIV virus passed from the saliva or sperm of an infected person to an open wound in the mouth. HIV-AIDS remain without a cure until today, and causes much pain to the person who has it. Birth control pills (if used properly!) only protect against unwanted pregnancy, they don’t protect against most sexually-transmitted diseases. They also have known side effects. The emergency contraceptive or the morning after pill doesn’t 100% eliminate the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex, it merely lessens it.

Kids should see a medical doctor for examination and preparation for responsible sexuality. The doctor can explain how to reduce or prevent disease and pregnancy and the youngster who wants to act like an adult in the bedroom can take the adult steps of preventative care.

Tell Them That There’s Nothing Wrong with Waiting
The best protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases remains one thing: abstinence. Tell your children that there is nothing wrong with waiting to become sexually active until they are ready. They need not give in to peer or partner pressure; they always have a right to say “no.” Friends may chide you for being a virgin, but sexual activeness is not a race — you don’t lose points for starting late. Waiting does not necessarily mean until marriage. It can mean waiting for a serious committed relationship or waiting until one is closer to the age of marriage – simply to reduce the number of sexual partners one will have and thereby reduce the risk of sexual disease.

Work at Your Marriage
Research has consistently shown that the best way to teach a child about responsible sexual behavior is to for parents to model what a respectful and loving relationship is like. If kids know the standard that they should aspire to, and how beautiful this standard is, they are less likely to settle for less than what they deserve.

Won’t Dress Properly for Cold or Wet Weather

Young people often don’t have the patience to put on layers of protective clothing – no matter if that includes jackets, scarves, hats, gloves or other items. Moreover, they frequently claim that they’re not cold – even when the thermometer clearly makes a dip. Many youngsters don’t seem to care about getting wet either: “I don’t need a raincoat,” “I don’t need boots,” “I don’t need an umbrella.” Oddly enough, mothers are often at the other extreme. This part of the population often feels chilly and is willing to layer clothing, wear extra coats and gear and do whatever is necessary to cozy up. Mothers just don’t understand why their kids don’t want to be warm and comfortable! Fathers, however, are a different story. Often, men are much like the kids, braving the elements with minimal protection (although, of course, there are many exceptions to this generalization!). However, whether it’s Mom or Dad that is concerned about the child’s lack of warmth, the underlying issue is usually about the child’s health and well-being. Parents worry that an under-dressed child may catch a cold, flu or worse. And in fact, some under-dressed children tend to do just that. There are kids who are vulnerable when they are chilled. Naturally parents don’t want a child to become sick (and feel awful and miss school and so on); just as importantly, parents may not want to be personally affected by their child’s sickness such as by having to take days off work to tend to a sick child or by catching the child’s sickness themselves. These are legitimate concerns: one sick child can cause the entire household (siblings, parents and whoever else is around) to become sick too.  Consequently, parents do really want to find a way to get their kids to look after themselves by dressing properly for weather conditions.

If your child refuses to button his coat, wear a hat, or otherwise dress appropriately for cool or damp weather, consider the following tips:

You are the Parent
Try to keep this in mind! You have both the responsibility and the right to direct your household. Your child’s behavior affects other people in the household, as explained above. You have every right to insist that he dress appropriately for the weather. Although this doesn’t guarantee that the child won’t get sick, it is one step that the child can take to protect himself. (You may have discovered other steps that the child needs to take as well such as getting enough sleep or eating enough healthy foods and so on. We’ll limit this discussion, however, to the issue of dressing warmly.) Some parents feel that it is up to the child himself to decide what he wants to wear. They reason that the child needs to learn through his own experience that under-dressing is uncomfortable and can lead to illness. In fact, personal experience IS an ideal way for the child to imbue this lesson of self-care. If you can allow your child to become a little uncomfortable (without rescuing him when he wants you to drive over to school with more clothing!), then you should. Experience is truly the best teacher. However, if this particular child gets sick easily (that is, sick enough to have to miss school) or if YOU get sick easily, then you may not have the luxury of allowing the child to experience the consequences of his own actions. In that case, remember that as a parent, you are allowed to insist that your child wear the appropriate clothing.

Use Your Regular Forms of Behavioral Management to Help Your Child Dress Appropriately
There are many ways to encourage cooperation in kids. Refer to other articles on this site (or the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) for detailed explanations of the main interventions that encourage cooperation with parental requests such as the 80-20 Rule, The CLeaR Method, and the 2X-Rule. Positive techniques should be employed before bad-feeling interventions (like discipline with negative consequences) are used. Therefore, if the child is listening to you and decides to wear the boots or put the sweater on, be sure to offer positive feedback (“that’s great – I really appreciate your cooperation” or “that’s very cooperative of you!”).  If the child is not listening and you yourself will be layering heavily due to inclement weather, you can use non-aggressive discipline (i.e the 2X-Rule). On round two of this conersation, your message might sound like this if  you are speaking to a nine-year-old who is on the way out the door to school, while you are on the way to work with little time to spare: “I asked you to wear your warm coat and if you do not put it on right now, then when you get home today, you will have to write out ten minutes worth of lines ‘ I need to do what my mother asks me to do’ (or use any other slightly annoying negative consequence such as losing computer privileges, losing dessert, going to bed early or whatever you think will be annoying enough to motivate the child to wear the coat next time!).  The point is that a young child doesn’t have to understand all of the parent’s thinking processes and calculations. He won’t understand until he is much older. He doesn’t have to agree with the parent either. What he DOES have to do, is cooperate with his parent’s instructions. Giving the child negative consequences for failing to comply will help him to comply eventually – not necessarily right away. You are not looking for instant results. Rather, you are looking for positive results over the long run.

If your teenage child isn’t listening to you, it will be more helpful to strengthen your 90-10 rule with that youngster (the relationship-building ratio of positive to negative communications from you to your child). Application of this rule with adolescents greatly encourages their cooperation.

Sometimes the Child Doesn’t Like His Outer Clothing
Sometimes your child’s lack of cooperation is not due so much to defiance as to simply not liking his clothing. You can always ask him why he doesn’t want to wear his coat, gloves or whatever. If he doesn’t like them, take this seriously. Kids are very sensitive to peer pressure. Perhaps their clothing isn’t “in.” Do whatever is possible to purchase clothes your kids like and are willing to wear. Even adults don’t like to wear clothing that their friends would not like. This social consciousness is actually healthy. Don’t tell your child that it doesn’t matter what other kids think; it actually DOES matter what other kids think. Being socially appropriate helps people succeed in their lives. Being out of sync with the crowd, doesn’t work well for most people. Remember the kid in your class who didn’t dress right? What did YOU think about him or her? While we’re not trying to encourage the development of a mindless, cookie-cutter kid, we ARE trying to encourage the development of a child who can read social cues and manage to fit in well with his or her peer group.

Sometimes the peer group just isn’t wearing scarves or hats, no matter what the temperature out there is. When this is the case, you may be able to find some acceptable alternative like ear muffs, 180’s, a coat with a high collar etc. Your goal is to help your child stay as warm as possible without looking “nerdy” to his peer group. Keep in mind that YOU wouldn’t want to be the only one wearing mittens in your office if no one else ever wears mittens there! Again, social norms ARE important. Of course, if your child has particular health issues, he may just HAVE to be different in order to be healthy. However, do not impose difference on a child who has pretty good resilience just because you think he should dress the way you had to dress when you were a child!

Sometimes the Clothing is Hard to Put On
A related but different reason for opposition may be that some articles of clothing are hard to put on or do up. If this is the problem, try to get easier clothing to put on.

When Your Child is Generally Uncooperative
If your child isn’t cooperating because your child just doesn’t cooperate in general, make sure you are following the 80-20 Rule and allow a week or two before seeing a turnaround in attitude. If you still don’t see improvement, consider trying Bach Flower TherapyThe Bach Flower Remedy called Vine (available at health food stores and online), will often melt away a defiant, uncooperative attitude – sometimes within 24 hours, or sometimes a little longer. The remedy is a harmless form of water, safe for infants, nursing moms, pregnant ladies and everyone else. Put 2 drops of Vine in a small amount of any liquid (water, chocolate milk, milk, tea, juice etc.) 4 times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Bach Remedies don’t interact with other medicines, herbs, foods or health conditions; they can be taken with or without food. If you still don’t see improvement after this treatment, you can consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for a more specific remedy mixture and try this method a little longer or, you can make an appointment with a mental health professional or parenting expert for further advice.

Sexual Harassment via Social Media

Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.

The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.

Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.

The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:

Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized.  Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.

Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.

Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.

Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.

Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.