Category: parent rights

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

Parents!  Want to know how to make it?  These commandments were written for parents with children with serious (physical) disabilities, but they apply to you too.

  1. Thou art thy child’s best and most consistent advocate.
  2. Thou hast valuable information about your child. Professionals need your input.
  3. Thou shalt put it in writing and keep a copy.
  4. Thou shalt not hesitate to contact a higher authority if you can’t get the help you need.
  5. Thou shalt keep records.
  6. Thou shalt seek out information on your child’s condition.
  7. Thou shalt have permission to be less than perfect.
  8. Thou shalt not become a martyr, thus, thou shalt take a break now and then.
  9. Thou shalt maintain a sense of humor.
  10. Thou shalt always remember to tell people when they are doing a good job.
  11. Thou shalt encourage thy child to make decisions, because one day, he or she will need to do so on their own.
  12. Thou shalt love thy child, even when they don’t seem lovable.

– – – – – – – This is a revised version of “The 12 Commandments…” published by the Pacer Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) for children with physical and medical disabilities. www.pacer.org.

Balancing teen rights vs parent rights when the teen has a mental disorder

Balancing teen rights vs parent rights when the teen has a mental disorder

 If you’re a parent of a troubled teen, how much decision-making power should your child have?

How can your teenager possibly make decisions for themselves if they’re brains aren’t functioning normally?  Maybe they hate you, or they say and do crazy things.  You want to guide them with incentives and consequences, but these haven’t worked.  You’re traumatized by their unstable behavior and it affects your thinking.  Perhaps you get stuck in a power struggle, or you give up power because asserting your authority just puts gasoline on their fire.  You know they can make good on serious threats, such as running or causing serious personal or material damage.  Or they may completely fall apart.

Many parents worry because their teen seems to have too many rights for their own good.

Problem – A teen’s statements to treatment providers are completely confidential after age 14.  Privacy is important, and the therapist needs the young person’s trust to help them with therapy, but some information could be shared with parents on a case-by-case, “need to know” basis.  A parent should be able to partner with the therapist, so they can structure interactions at home that support therapeutic goals.  For example, if the teen talks about dangerous activities with a best friend that the parent doesn’t know about, I think the parent could be coached to appropriately reduce contact with this friend or defuse the dangerous influence they have over the teen.  If a therapist can’t reveal this much, can’t they at least tell a parent what to watch for, what to set boundaries on?  How to respond?

Problem – A teenager has the right to refuse medication or therapy at age 14 (in practice, most providers are reluctant to force treatment at any age).  But if their refusal leads to a serious crisis, I know from experience that most parents have no option but calling 911 or using force to keep themselves and others safe.  Yet force undermines the parent-child relationship, and has led to undeserved charges of child abuse.

Problem – A young person can refuse school attendance even when there are consequences, and the parent can be held liable for neglect.  This is of special concern to a parent who risks losing custody to the state or to a vindictive ex.

Problem – A teenager can commit a crime and their parent(s) can lose custody for being negligent.  Sometimes crime is the only way for a young person to get the help they need, but sometimes this means they descend, step-by-step, into a justice system that presumes bad parents create bad kids.

Parents of troubled teens need greater control over their situation and abundant support to prevent loss to the Black Hole of their child’s disability.   The emotional, physical, and financial costs to family members are too high.  If a parent’s authority is undermined when others blame them for their child’s behavior, and an education and health care system focus only on the child’s needs, the parent rights are being trampled.

What about a Parent Bill of Rights?

  1. Parents and families have a right to personal safety including the safety of pets, and the right to protect themselves, their belongings, and personal space.
  2. Parents have a right to ensure and sustain their financial, social, and job stability, even if it means periodically putting aside the teen’s needs.
  3. They have the authority to create house rules based on respect, safety, and shared responsibility.
  4. And they have the right to enforce   and expect them to be followed.
  5. Parents and families members have the right to be human and make mistakes.
  6. Parents and families have the right to take time out for their own wellbeing and self-care.

Teens have rights too, which should be respected

The youth, because of their disability, has a right to make progress at their own pace, and choose their own path of learning.  They also have the right to reasonable family accommodations because of their different needs.  Like any human being, especially one’s child, they have the right to respect and support regardless of inconvenience.  They also have the right to negotiate for what they want, and to expect earnest efforts towards compromise.  The last, and this is very important, they have the right to choose incentives and consequences that work best for them.

You know your teen will reach adulthood and independence whether they are ready or not.  They will do what they want, perhaps suffer serious consequences, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  So do something about it now.

Teenagers today want two things.  Allow as much as appropriate:

  1. Freedom
  2. A say in what happens to them

Look at the future from their perspective. Young people in the mental health system face life needs and challenges different from peers. They often don’t reach 18 without experiencing significant setbacks due to their disorders.  They have missed opportunities for the education and life skills needed for adulthood, and lack of youthful achievements that boost confidence and self-esteem. Teens and young adults with disorders may have to manage these the rest of their lives!  Once age 18 is reached, supports they’ve depended on are abruptly dropped.  They are exported to an adult system where they must start from scratch to establish a new support network that will assist them towards an independent life.  Your job is to change from parent to mentor as these new supports are developed.

What are parent responsibilities?

Acceptance:  this is the nature of your child and it’s OK.  They will still be part of the family and get your support.  Your child would function better if they could.

Positive attitude:  yours is not a lost child, there are resources out there to help them, and you really do have the energy to find and use these resources.

Realistic expectations:  brain disorders are termed “disabilities” for a reason.  You cannot expect their lives to unfold like yours did, or even like others their age.  They will redefine what progress means for them.

Support without strings attached:  your teen doesn’t owe you for the life you’ve given them, nor must they pay you back for your extra sacrifices.

Take good care of yourself so you can handle your situation.

Access and use information on the disorder and it’s treatment regime.

Learn and practice an entirely different approach to parenting.

What about youth responsibilities?

My previous post, “Youth with mental disorders demand rights!” presents a document created by members or Youth M.O.V.E (Motivating Others through Voices of Experience), a peer-to-peer organization for teens and young adults http://youthmove.us.  I have a suggestion for M.O.V.E.:  consider developing a youth Responsibilities document.  I believe a majority of troubled young people are capable of being accountable when they have the right support and treatment.

The following list is a good place to look for other ideas.  It was developed by adult mental health consumers (part of this list has been de-emphasized because it does not yet apply to youth).  Everyone, regardless of their medical and mental health situation, should do what they can to take responsibility for their health treatment.

Adult responsibilities that could be applied to youth and young adults:

“In a health care system that protects consumers’ rights, it is reasonable to expect consumers to assume reasonable responsibilities. Greater involvement in their health increases the likelihood of recovery. Responsibilities include:

  1. Take responsibility for maximizing healthy habits, such as exercising, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet.
  2. Become involved in specific health care decisions.
  3. Work collaboratively with health care providers (teachers, parents) in developing and carrying out agreed-upon treatment plans.
  4. Disclose relevant information and clearly communicate wants and needs.
  5. Show respect for other patients and health workers (students, coworkers, neighbors, siblings).
  6. Use the health plan’s internal complaint and appeal processes to address concerns that may arise.
  7. Recognize the reality of risks and limits of the science of medical care and the human fallibility of the health care professional.
  8. Be aware of a health care provider’s obligation to be reasonably efficient and equitable in providing care to other patients and the community.
  9. Become knowledgeable about your health plan coverage and health plan options (when available) including all covered benefits, limitations, and exclusions, rules regarding use of network providers, coverage and referral rules, appropriate processes to secure additional information, and the process to appeal coverage decisions.
  10. Make a good-faith effort to meet financial obligations.
  11. Abide by administrative and operational procedures of health plans, health care providers, and Government health benefit programs.
  12. Report wrongdoing and fraud to appropriate resources or legal authorities.”

 


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

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

“My son is always in his room and gets extremely upset if I go in there. He says he has a right to privacy, but I suspect something bad is going on, and want to search his room when he’s not there. Would I be violating his rights? It is OK to search his room?
–Mother of 15-year-old boy

I’ve gotten asked this question many times. The answer is “Yes” in the following circumstances:

  • Your child’s behavior has been changing recently, or they have become more secretive, irritable, or defiant than usual
  • He or she has left old friends for new ones whom you are concerned about, or has fewer and fewer friends
  • His or her grades have fallen recently even though they were formerly a good student
  • You sense that he or she is depressed or overly anxious or paranoid
  • Your child pressures you for money, or steals it from you, or finds ways to get money
  • You’ve tried talking with your child about general things in life, school, or feelings, and were met with anger or excuses or deflection.

If there is any concern that something that can be dangerous is being hidden from you:  search your child’s room.

When a young person gets very upset about invading their privacy, they likely are hiding something from you because they know you’ll disapprove. What could it be? Drug or alcohol use? An inappropriate relationship? Porn? Cutting or self harm? Severe depression? The onset of paranoid psychosis?

You have ample legal rights as a parent, but use them wisely and cautiously.*

If something is going wrong with your child and they need your help, you must do a balancing act: 1) get the facts; 2) maintain their trust and keep open lines of communication. Some of the dangerous activities above are common for ‘normal’ difficult teenagers, who can grow out of it or be rehabilitated with treatment and ample family support. Some of these are emergent mental illnesses that need treatment immediately. Why immediately? The sooner the child gets treatment at early onset, the less likely their disorder will develop into serious symptoms as an adult. Mental illnesses are degenerative to the brain, but you can stop it from going further if you start treatment early.

*”Your rights as the parent of a teen with a mental disorder.”

You can search through all their items for things that are or may lead to unsafe behavior. Things you might look for are razor blades, illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia, over-the-counter drugs or drugs that can’t be purchased under the age of 21 (e.g. Benadryl), pseudo-drugs like bags of incense powder, weapons (knives, guns), porn, sexual items, blood on clothes from cutting, etc. You can read your child’s email and texts to search for dangerous activities, plans, or people who may be negatively influencing your teen. You can remove any dangerous or inappropriate item and not return it–it is not stealing. No officer, no judge, no social worker would ever find you guilty. You would be praised instead.

Parent:  “He was so mad at me when I found a bong in his room and took it.”

Son: “You’re stealing from me!”

Parent: “It’s my house and it’s not supposed to be here.”

Son:  “But it’s mine! I paid for it!  It was really expensive! I’m reporting you for stealing!”

Also search other potential hiding places in your house or any other storage areas. If you find nothing unusual or dangerous on a search, great! You’ve at least satisfied your rightful need to know. Now, when you speak with your child about problems, you can set some fears aside and listen to him or her without bias.

Trust with a teenager is everything.

If your child finds out you’ve searched their room, yes, you will lose their trust, and he or she may go to greater lengths to keep secrets. So don’t tell them. And don’t bring up anything else you discovered if it’s not directly related to safety! What if you find stacks of incomplete homework? Forget it. Did you find food scraps in the bed? Forget it. A moldy sandwich in the closet? Don’t say anything that reveals you searched their room. As a responsible parent, safety and mental health trump lazy, messy behavior. Find other ways to address these.

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

What if you find something dangerous? Act on it immediately. Your child will feel violated and you’ll lose his or her trust, but it’s temporary. Do not defend your decision or try to rationalize it. It’s better to have uncovered a secret and opened the way for getting help. Now the tables have been turned on your child. Under serious circumstances, their trust of you is less important than your trust of them.

 

Good luck.