Category: oppositional defiant disorder

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.

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

He said,”you’re stealing from me!”

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

“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.

Is your child’s psychiatrist listening to you?

Is your child’s psychiatrist listening to you?

True story:

After a lengthy 2-hour session and a series of questions asked of both mother and teenaged son, the psychiatrist wrote:  “the mother is over exaggerating her son’s behavior.  He can’t possibly have all the symptoms she describes.”  Later, the mother said, “I was completely ignored; this doctor affirmed [my son’s] disrespect for me, in front of me, and [my son] got the idea I was full of it and didn’t need to take his meds.”  With the mother’s authority undermined, she lost an opportunity to get treatment for her son sooner.  He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, and hospitalized several times.

 

What makes this situation tragic is that early medication, prior to the first psychotic break, prevents the loss of gray matter that occurs in schizophrenia.  This doctor’s unprofessional and judgmental behavior hurt the recovery prospects for this family.  This kind of dismissal of parents should never happen.  I’ve heard many complain that doctors, therapists, or teachers don’t listen to them, or that they subtly or overtly blame parents for their child’s problems.  Researchers found this to be widely true.  In an article titled “Uncharted Waters – The Experience of Parents of Young People with Mental Health Problems,” the author writes:

 

“Parents’ distress is exacerbated by their need for expertise, but from those who don’t take their concerns seriously.”

Harden, J, 2005. Qualitative Health Research, 15(2), 207-223.

 

I always appeared to be overly upset and stressed whenever I brought my child to see her psychiatrist because, leading up to any appointment, were a series of challenges and acts of resistance that were stressful and frustrating.  It appeared to the psychiatrist, time and time again, that I was the problem… just like she suspected.  All I could do was sit in the waiting room while my daughter was in session, and imagine my daughter saying terrible things about me and the doctor believing her.  All I could do was wonder if the psychiatrist could see through it all and know that I, the mom, was doing everything possible to help my daughter, that I was a good parent. Could the doctor see this and give me some hope?

 

Don’t accept being treated as anything less than a full partner.

 

Insist that the whole family get time with the psychiatrist, without the troubled child or teen, to check-in and see how everyone is doing.  Make the appointment and tell the doctor why.  Your family needs to say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say when the child is around.  They need to open up secrets and let out difficult feelings without the fear of setting off an explosion later.  The doctor needs a full picture of the child’s life at home, and use this as an opportunity to help the family work through challenges in ways that support everyone’s well being.

 

Insist on being told what to expect.  Another common experience is that parents are not told what to expect from treatment or why.  You need to know everything they know, even if the professionals are still unclear about a diagnosis or treatment approach.  Your child may have many physiological or psychological tests, expensive medications, or visits to many different kinds of ‘ologists’, and you may still not be clear on where the inquiry is going, why, and what the doctors or therapists are looking for.

 

Insist that they consider your daily experiences.  Since a psychiatrist observes your child only during an appointment, they aren’t fully aware of the types of situations that aggravate your child’s behavior.  You are the expert on your child and their behavior patterns; you are the expert on what drives them, and on what drives them crazy.  You know that, behind-the-scenes, much of what your child does is easily missed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist.  An experienced professional will listen to you and ask more questions.  You should expect them to seek clarity on your child instead of assuming they already know everything about them and your family.

 

Team up.  It takes both you and the psychiatrist working together, in partnership, to identify all the symptoms that lead to a working diagnosis.  You and the psychiatrist are a team that works together to do what’s best for your child.  And don’t forget, since you have all the responsibilities, your needs must always be considered when a doctor is developing a treatment plan.

 

–Margaret

What have your experiences been?  Your comments inform others who read this article.

What to do when you’re blamed for your child’s behavior

What to do when you’re blamed for your child’s behavior

  

Our sick kids deserve compassion too
Our sick kids deserve compassion too

I have yet to meet one family with a troubled child that has not felt blamed or judged by close people in their lives:  best friends, family members, a religious community, co-workers, even medical and mental health providers.  Nothing could be more wrong or more hurtful to the family’s well being.  Blame adds emotional burdens on top of what they already face, and can undermine an already shaky hope and faith. 

 

Parents like us are aware that many people are not comfortable around a child with bizarre or extreme behaviors, like our child.  We understand this.  After all, who else knows more about the stress they create?  But it is unacceptable to be blamed or judged by others on our parenting, our character, our child, and/or presumed to be abusing our child.  This is simply not true for the overwhelming majority of families with troubled children.

 

These are some things that have helped caregivers cope with, and overcome, the debilitating effect of judgment and blame.

 

First, resist defending yourself; it will only attract more unwanted attention and disagreement.  You don’t have the time or emotional energy to teach someone who resists and challenges everything you say with countless questions and misinformation.  Avoid people like this (even friends and family!).

 

Second, actively seek out supportive people who take the time to listen, just listen.  You need as large as possible a network of compassionate people around you.  Stop and think about this, you have many around you already.  They may be waiting in the wings, at a polite distance so as not to interfere or add to your stress.  If you think you can trust someone, ask them to be your friend.  You will be surprised at how many people are out there who have a loved one with a mental or emotional disorder, and how many are willing to help because they completely understand what you’re going through.

 

Third, politely and assertively say thanks but no thanks.  If judgmental people ask why you haven’t contacted them or returned calls, tell the truth, also without blame or judgment.  “Our situation is not good, but we are getting the best professional help, and we have been pulling back to take care of ourselves.  Thanks for showing interest, and thanks for your understanding and for giving us space.”  No apologies.

 

There is a curious phenomenon where craziness seems to attract “crazy” people.  You must block them from your life.  They might be obsessed with a religious, medical, or philosophical belief and want to make your child’s life their cause.  If this happens to you, don’t hesitate to end contact with anyone that wants to entangle themselves in your lives without your permission.  You are never responsible for meeting another’s needs or fitting their beliefs!

 

I once had a co-worker who had strong feelings about “natural” health care, who offered a steady stream of articles and comments about what could help my child.  I had to firmly insist that if she could find one piece of research proving that her preferred treatments helped even one person with schizophrenia, then I would listen.  This ended the unsolicited advice. 

 

Fourth, be prepared to grieve lost connections.

 

A single mother with a 16-year-old daughter sought help in a support group:  “Can someone help me?  I need someone to call my sister or mother and tell them that I and [my daughter] are not criminals or sickos.  They’ve stopped calling, they refuse to have us over or visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I just want someone else to tell them that she’s fine now because she’s taking meds, and that her behavior is not her fault or my fault.”

 

Let go of those who blame, and move forward with your priorities.  Very often, they eventually turn around and make an effort to understand.  Many really do change and apologize for their insensitivity. I’ve experienced this and observed this, but it is not your job to make this happen.

 

Your criteria for friendship will change.  You will find out who your real friends are, and they may not be family members or current friends.  Real friends let you talk about feelings without judgment or advice, they are always around to listen, they help out with little things:  go out for coffee; call to check in on you; or watch your other kids in a crisis.  They may be people you never felt close to before but who have reached out to you with compassion.  Accept their help.  Don’t be too private or too proud to accept the offer of support.  Someday, after you have turned your family’s life around, find another family who needs your support.  Make a promise to help others in need, and to give back to the universe.

Get your power back and reduce your child’s tantrums

Get your power back and reduce your child’s tantrums

If you have lost control of your troubled child and your household (most of us have), you know how hard it is to get things back on track.  This is especially for following house rules. Each time you try to enforce a rule, it’s ignored, or your child throws a huge tantrum, and you give in rather than expend more of your precious energy.  Who wants to invite another backlash?  Who wouldn’t give up, and choose the lesser of two bad options by allowing them to get their way?

A powerful tantrum is a good thing… only if you’re holding the line.  It’s evidence that you are regaining authority.

This seems counterintuitive, but the more your child fights back, the more power they lose, and the more you recover your authority.  It is normal to fight back harder and harder against rules and boundaries, then have an over-the-top tantrum.  It’s a psychological response that psychologists call an “extinction burst.”  It means the original behavior goes extinct and behavior improves thereafter.  It has been measured through behavioral observations of people of all ages and has nothing to do with troubled behavior.  The term “extinction burst” is even used by dog and horse trainers to describe a behavioral change in training. 

It goes like this: parents set a rule and start firmly enforcing it, and one of two things happen: 1) a huge tantrum, or 2) things are OK for a little while, and then tantrums start again.  If you can hold the line, psychological studies show that when massive tantrums fade, the extinction burst peaks.  They give up their own power and change their behavior.  Look at this diagram:  The vertical scale indicates level of bad behavior.  When a rule is firmly enforced (intervention), the tantrum peaks then it falls off quickly.

If you can stick it out through that huge tantrum, you will see fewer tantrums over time.  It works, but one must be like a rock and have support when The Big One happens. But be prepared, you might need to face several extinction bursts.  Little by little, simple rules will be followed, or they’ll be followed most of the time (you will always be tested).  But by this point, enforcement becomes easier.

Plan for major tantrums ahead of time and recruit help for holding a firm protective wall.

For explosive and aggressive children, it can be scary or dangerous to be on the receiving end because you know about the potential for violence and harm.  Prepare family members and others, and explain how the tantrum will be handled and how everyone will be kept safe.

Rules for house rules:

  1. Few
  2. Fair
  3. Strictly Enforced

Run a tight ship at home, but only have a few hard-and-fast rules, maybe 2 or 3, to save your energy.  Holding fast on enforcement is draining. Pick the rules carefully because they need to make sense and feel fair to everyone. Rules should also consider safety and family wellbeing, examples: we will eat every dinner together as a family; curfew is 8 pm; if there is any outburst, the person must stay in their room for 15 minutes, then they can come out, etc.

You may be surprised how relieved everyone will be after living through chaos for so long!  They will be thankful someone is finally in charge instead of the troubled child.  When I put on my armor and set about getting my power back, it was exhausting and very stressful, but consistent order brought a sense of security and safety. Use common sense and be flexible, set aside some rules temporarily if your child is in crisis or the family is too stressed at the moment.  Be very strict on only a few critical things, for example:  have zero tolerance for violence against others and alcohol and drug use.

You earn more respect when you are in control and better protect everyone’s peace of mind. 

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

 –Margaret