At some point in their development, all kids stop listening. It’s frustrating but normal. There are lots of good advice for getting normal children and teens to listen, or at least follow the rules and directions given by the parent. But it’s different when your child has serious behavioral disorder and when their behaviors are extreme or outright risky. Your priority may be to prevent destructive behavior and family chaos when they hate you, blame you, or are willing to take extreme risks. Then who cares about the dishes or homework?
First things first, avoid upsetting yourself.
Avoid repeating things over and over, raising your voice, or expressing your frustration. It really matters. This stresses you as much as it stresses them. Children and teens with disturbances have a hard time tracking, and it may be pointless to expect them to listen. Your child or teen is overwhelmed by brain noise and does not hear even hear you.
But what if they are refusing to listen? That’s a different issue. They ARE listening, and they are definitely communicating back to you. This is resistance and defiance. (see Managing resistance – tips and advice )
Things to do when they stop listening
Use technology: texting and email.
Therapists encourage high-conflict parent-teen pairs to communicate exclusively using email and texts, even if the parties are in close proximity, like at home together, like even on the same room! Think about this. You are using their chosen medium; you can keep it brief and concise; both you and your child have time to reflect on your response. Your conversation is documented, right there for both of you to track. No one is screaming or repeating themselves or using angry tones of voice.
Word of caution
Watch what you write. Don’t use emotionally charged words. Be sure to read texts and emails over and over before sending!
“The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006 revealed that studies show e-mail messages are interpreted incorrectly 50% of the time.”
Move somewhere closer or farther, change your body language, no glaring
Instead of communicating with your voice, use your body. For some children and teens, an arm around their shoulders calms them quickly. Or try standing calmly and quietly. Or put some distance between you and your child’s personal space, even if it means stopping and getting out of the car and taking a short walk. Experiment to see what works for your situation.
Use a third-party Maybe you are the wrong person to carry the message and settle a tense situation. Don’t be too proud to admit that, for whatever reason, your child will not listen to you no matter how appropriately you modify your approach. So use a substitute or third-party. Is there another person who has a better rapport and can convince your child to complete a chore, do homework, leave little sister alone—a spouse, a grandparent, a teacher or counselor, a therapist? What about a friendly animal, live or stuffed? For young children, you can bring out Kitty and ask her to tell Joey that mommy and daddy only want him to do this one simple chore.
Draw a picture, make a sign
As a young child, I recall my parents hounding me for something, I don’t even remember what. Then they’d ask, “What do you want me to do, draw a picture?” Well, yes in fact, I understood pictures and they didn’t frighten me as much as my parents yelling at me. Pictures and signs work, put them up where the family can see them (and your troubled child won’t feel singled out). Maybe a funny comic gets a point across in a non-threatening way. Some sign ideas: “It’s OK to be Angry, not Mean,” “STOP and THINK,” “Our family values Respect and Kindness,” “This is a smoke-free, drug-free, and a-hole free home.”
Time outs for you. Take your own sweet time to calm down and think things through what to say when you’re challenged by your offspring. Consider how you’ll respond to swearing. Put him or her on hold. Don’t return texts or email right away, “I’m busy and I’ll reply in 30 minutes.” Be specific on time, then follow through, or they might learn to blow you off with the same casual phrase, expecting you to forget.
Watch your tone of voice
From infancy, we are wired to pick up emotions in the voice—it’s literally in our brain. Your tone is very powerful and can be calming or destructive. Think about asserting strength and caring in your voice without lecturing. Be assertive but forgiving. Be firm and not defensive. Don’t get caught apologizing for upsetting your child or justifying your rules. 90% of parents know the right thing to say, but its common to say it the wrong way.
Is your child bullying you with their behavior?
I’ve observed child verbally bully and abuse their parents. This is not communicating and not negotiable. You have options for standing up to this without making things worse. Temporarily block their email or calls, or ignore and let them go to voicemail. Declare bullying unacceptable. Pull rank and apply a consequence. You cannot let their harassment continue because they will use it on others.
About that mean-spirited voicemail or email.
When you get an ugly message, tell yourself you are hearing from a scared, frightened person, and you’re the one whose feelings they care about the most. See this as a good thing. They are trying to communicate but it’s mangled and inappropriate. You want them to stay in contact and engage with you even when its negative. When a disturbed child stops communicating is when you must worry. It hurts, but your hurt will pass. You can handle it. They will still love you and some day they will show you. Be patient.
If the things they communicate hurt.
It is best that you take your feelings out of the picture and seek other sources of affirmation and support—this can’t come from your child. If they write “I hate you,” maybe they are really saying “you make me mad because you are asking me to do something I can’t handle now.”
Good luck out there,
Please share your comments. They help other parents who read this article.
It’s a myth that marijuana is safe. While it has proven benefits for certain physical ailments, the drug’s effect on adolescents, especially those with psychiatric vulnerabilities, can lead to psychosis and debilitating long-term cognitive impairment. Research on the effects of marijuana on the human brain has been taking place internationally for a couple of decades. Studies show marijuana has a more negative effect on the brain than is generally understood. Even though it is from a plant source, it is a psychoactive drug with dangerous side-effects the same as any synthetic psychoactive drug.
Just because marijuana is plant-based does not mean it is safe. Its use and dosage should be guided by a doctor.
One researcher discovered that both mentally ill and normal adult test subjects experienced negative mental health side-effects. He wrote, “When THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) was administered in one trial, it caused both patients and controls to experience transient increases in cognitive impairments and schizophrenia-like… symptoms.”
Marijuana legalization has deeply concerned pediatric psychiatrists and other providers specializing in child, adolescent, and young adult mental health treatment. Up until the their early 20’s, young brains undergo radical changes as part of normal development. Neurons are “pruned” to reduce their number (yes indeed, one can have too much gray matter to function as an adult). Pruning occurs more rapidly in teenagers–think about it, a lot of nonsensical teenage behavior can be explained by this. The THC in marijuana, the part responsible for the high, interferes with the normal pruning process.
Numerous research summaries are appended below, and the dangers to adolescents are shown time and again. I find this statement extraordinarily sad:
“Increasing levels of cannabis use at ages 14-21 resulted in lower levels of degree attainment by age 25, lower income at age 25, higher levels of welfare dependence, higher unemployment, lower levels of relationship satisfaction, and lower levels of life satisfaction.”
I worked with adolescents in residential care and in the juvenile justice system who regularly used marijuana when they could.A young man on my caseload grew noticeably depressed after he started smoking regularly, and his anxiety and paranoia increased. He said that smoking helped him feel better, but he couldn’t observe what I and other social workers observed over time. Smoking marijuana, ironically, was briefly relieving him of its own side-effects.
When marijuana is ‘medical,’ a medical professional determines a safe adequate dose. And when it is ‘recreational,’ there is no such limit… no one even realizes there should be.
A note on medical marijuana – The plant Cannabis sativa has two substances of interest:
cannabidiol (CBD) – the molecule considered safe for a variety of treatments and approved by the American Medical Association;
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the molecule responsible for the high and the one that can produce psychotic symptoms.
Please share this information with other parents and peruse the research below. Everyone needs to know that the same warnings parents teach their kids about alcohol and illegal street drugs also apply to marijuana. It may not be possible to totally prevent your troubled child from using, especially in states where it is legal, but you can do what you can. We can’t ignore this anymore.
Proof cannabis DOES lead teenagers to harder drugs Daily Mail, London U.K., June 7, 2017
“The study of the lives of more than 5,000 teenagers produced the firstresounding evidence that cannabis is a gateway to cocaine, amphetamines, hallucinogens and heroin.” Read the full story “Teenagers who regularly smoke cannabis are 26 times more likely to turn to other drugs by the age of 21. It also discovered that teenage cannabis smokers are 37 times more likely to be hooked on nicotine and three times more likely to be problem drinkers than non-users of the drug.”
‘A new study has found that adolescents living in medical marijuana states with a plethora of dispensaries are more likely to have tried new methods of cannabis use, such as edibles and vaping, at a younger age than those living in states with fewer dispensaries. ” …As cannabis legalization rapidly evolves, in both medical and recreational usage, understanding the laws’ effect on young people is crucial because this group is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of marijuana and possesses an inherent elevated risk of developing a cannabis disorder.
Marijuana Can Permanently Lower IQ in Teens Duke University and King College (London), August 2012
Teens who regularly smoke marijuana are putting themselves at risk of permanently damaging their intelligence as adults, and are also significantly more likely to have attention and memory problems later in life, than their peers who abstained, according to a new study conducted by Duke University and London’s King’s College. This study is among the first to distinguish between cognitive problems the person might have had before using marijuana, and those that were caused by the drug..
The research found that adults who started smoking pot as teenagers and used it heavily, but quit as adults, did not regain their full mental powers. In fact, “persistent users” who started as teenagers suffered a drop of eight IQ points at the age of 38, compared to when they were 13. Researchers noted that many young people see marijuana as a safer alternative to tobacco. A recent “Monitoring the Future” study found that, for the first time, more American high school students are using marijuana than tobacco. Lead researcher Madeline Meier, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University, said, “Marijuana is not harmless, particularly for adolescents.”
Risks of increasingly potent Cannabis: The joint effects of potency and frequency Joseph M. Pierre, MD; Current Psychiatry. 2017 February;16(2):14-20
Cannabis at a young age (age <15 to 18) increases the risk of developing a psychotic disorder. The accumulated evidence to date is strong enough to view the psychotic potential of Cannabis as a significant public health concern, especially a high-potency Cannabis (HPC) form of hash oil known as Cannabis “wax” or “dabs” that contains as much as 90% THC. Preliminary anecdotal evidence supports the plausibility of hyper-concentrated forms being more psycho-toxic than less potent forms. Of great concern when it comes to teens, HPC comes in very appealing forms (baked goods, candy, and drinks). Full article here.
“Woody Harrelson quit; What happens to your body after a stoner quits smoking weed.” Expect the following if you child attempts to quit or quits marijuana, and give them lots of love and support! Dr. Stuart Gitlow and Dr. Joseph Garbely explain what happens to them. Read the full article here.
They miss and crave it at first
They get anxious
They feel feelings again
It’s going to be uncomfortable for months, even a year
Marijuana Use Linked with Poor Depression Recovery Journal of Affective Disorders; ePub 2017 Feb 13; Bahorik, et al
Marijuana use is common and associated with poor recovery among psychiatry outpatients with depression a recent study found. Researchers evaluated 307 psychiatry outpatients with depression, and past-month marijuana use for a substance use intervention trial. They found:
Marijuana use worsened depression and anxiety symptoms; it also led to poorer mental health functioning.
Medical marijuana (26.8%; n=33) was associated with poorer physical health functioning.
Keeping Teenagers Safe In Vehicles: Alcohol use is down but marijuana use is up O’Malley, P. & Johnson, American Journal of Public Health. Nov. 2013, Vol 103, No. 11.
Driving accidents remain the number one cause of mortality among American teenagers. Alcohol use is often involved, and more recently, distracted driving as a result of cell phones is a contributor. A recent analysis has found that drinking and driving has decreased among teenagers, but “using marijuana and driving has increased.” In this longitudinal study, a sample of 22,000 12th grade students from high schools across the country were questioned over a ten-year period, from 2001-2011. They showed an increase over the 10-year period in either being the driver or passenger of a driver who had just used marijuana. Specifically, 28% reported doing so within the past two weeks. Marijuana use can impact drivers as much as alcohol.
“Early cannabis use increases the risk of psychosis in young adults,” reports lead investigator John McGrath, MD, of Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research in Brisbane, Australia. “Apart from having an increased risk of having a disorder like schizophrenia, the longer the young adults reported since their first cannabis use, the more likely they were to report isolated symptoms of psychosis.”
Investigators assessed 3801 study participants at ages 18-23 years, identifying first marijuana use and three psychosis-related outcomes: non-affective disease, hallucinations, and the Peters et al Delusions Inventory Score. “Psychotic disorders are common and typically affect 1 or 2 people of every 100” Dr. McGrath said, “…(I) was surprised that the results were so strong and so consistent… We need to think about prevention.”
Results mirror those of another study conducted by Michael Compton MD, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (November 2009), where investigators looked at 109 patients in a psychiatric unit and found that daily marijuana and tobacco use was common. Of those who abused cannabis, almost 88% were classified as weekly or daily users before the onset of psychosis.
Emma Barkus, PhD, from the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, says other studies suggest that those who are engaging in risk behaviors about the age of 14 years are more likely to persist as they get older, adding further support to the role of cannabis use in predicting earlier psychoses.
Evidence Accumulates for Links Between Marijuana and Psychosis (summary) Michael T. Compton, MD, MPH – Assistant Professor, Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Atlanta, Georgia, 2008
Cannabis is the most abused illicit substance in the general US population, and the most abused illegal drug among individuals with schizophrenia.This literature reviewed studies that examined (1) associations between cannabis use and clinical manifestations of psychosis, and (2) the biologic plausibility of the observed links.
The initiation of cannabis use among those with psychotic disorders often precedes the onset of psychosis by several years.Cannabis use in adolescence is increasingly recognized as an independent risk factor for psychosis and schizophrenia. Progression to daily cannabis use was associated with age at onset.
Study evidence also supported biological links between cannabis use and psychosis. In the brains of heavy users, interactions with specific cannabinoid receptors are distributed in brain regions implicated in schizophrenia. Other studies report elevated levels of endogenous cannabinoids in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid of patients with schizophrenia. When THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) was administered in one trial, it caused both patients and controls to experience transient increases in cognitive impairments and schizophrenia-like positive and negative symptoms.
Chronic toxicology of cannabis. (summary) Reece, Albert Stuart; Clinical Toxicology (Philadelphia, PA.) vol. 47 issue 6, Jul 2009 . Medical School, University of Queensland, Highgate Hill, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.
Findings: There is evidence of psychiatric, respiratory, cardiovascular, and bone toxicity associated with chronic cannabis use. Cannabis is implicated:
In major long-term psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety, psychosis, bipolar disorder;
Respiratory conditions include reduced lung density, lung cysts, and chronic bronchitis;
elevated rates of myocardial infarction and cardiac arrythmias;
linked to cancers at eight sites, including children after in utero maternal exposure.
Marijuana Use, Withdrawal, and Craving in Adolescents (summary) Kevin M. Gray, MD, Assistant Professor in the youth division of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Findings in the literature survey: Initiation of marijuana use typically occurs during adolescence. Recent data indicate that in the United States, 42% of high school seniors have tried marijuana; 18% have used it in the past 30 days; and 5% use it daily. Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, 3.6% met criteria for cannabis use disorder (abuse or dependence) and 2% met criteria for cannabis dependence.
More than half (51%) of adolescents reported that marijuana is fairly or very easy to obtain. Ironically, this ready availability may be a “reverse gateway” from marijuana use to cigarette use to nicotine dependence. Earlier initiation is associated with problem-related marijuana use: “hard” drug use, poly-drug use, and academic failure. Using marijuana once per week or more during adolescence is associated with a 7-fold increase in the rate of daily marijuana use in young adulthood. Cannabis dependence increases the risk factors for impaired driving and delinquent behavior. Chronic use is associated with impaired immune function, respiratory illnesses, cognitive problems, and motivational impairment.
There is a debate whether marijuana use begins as “self-medication” for psychiatric disorders, or whether habitual marijuana use can predispose some individuals to psychiatric symptoms.
Social anxiety disorder in adolescence is associated with 6.5-times greater odds of subsequent cannabis dependence, and vice versa, frequent marijuana use during adolescence appears to increase the risk of subsequent development of anxiety and depressive disorders. The prevalence of cannabis abuse is 2 to 3 times greater among adolescents who have major depression. Also linked in both directions: conduct disorder predicts marijuana and other substance use, while early-onset marijuana use predicts conduct disorder.
Five treatment regimes were studied: motivational enhancement/cognitive-behavioral therapy (MET/CBT), family education and therapy intervention, a community reinforcement approach, and multidimensional family therapy. All resulted in positive but modest outcomes, with MET/CBT and community reinforcement treatments being most cost-effective.
Emerging evidence indicates rewards for marijuana abstinence may be positive. Multi-systemic therapy, an intensive approach that incorporates individual, family, and community components, has demonstrated effectiveness among delinquent adolescents.
Withdrawal: Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are a constellation of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that include anger and aggression, anxiety, decreased appetite and weight loss, irritability, restlessness, and sleep difficulty, which result specifically from withdrawal of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC. Less frequent but sometimes present symptoms are depressed mood, stomach pain and physical discomfort, shakiness, and sweating. Onset of withdrawal symptoms typically occurs within 24 hours of cessation of THC, and symptoms may last days to approximately 1 to 2 weeks.
Craving: Patients’ craving of marijuana is evidenced after presenting them with cues associated with marijuana (e.g. sight or smell of the substance, films of drug-taking locations, and drug-related paraphernalia). Exposure to cues leads to robust increases in craving, along with modest increases in perspiration and heart rate. Cue reactivity can predict drug relapse.
Craving and withdrawal symptoms interfere with successful cessation of use and sustained abstinence. In addition, medications are often used to target withdrawal from substances, such as benzodiazepines for alcohol dependence and clonidine and buprenorphine for opioid dependence. These medications could be combined with psychosocial interventions, or developed to complement concurrent psychosocial treatments.
Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth (summary) Alain Joffe, MD, MPH, W. Samuel Yancy, MD the Committee on Substance Abuse and Committee on Adolescence – PEDIATRICS Vol. 113 No. 6 June 2004, pp. e632-e638
Scientists have demonstrated that the emotional stress caused by withdrawal from marijuana is linked to the same brain chemical that has been linked to anxiety and stress during opiate, alcohol, and cocaine withdrawal. THC stimulates the same neurochemical process that reinforces dependence on other addictive drugs. Current, well known, scientific information about marijuana shows the cognitive, behavioral,and somatic consequences of acute and long-term use, which include negative effects on short-term memory, concentration, attention span, motivation, and problem solving. These clearly interfere with learning, and have adverse effects on coordination, judgment, reaction time, and tracking ability. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/113/6/e632
The Past, Present, and Future of Medical Marijuana in the United States (summary) By John Thomas, JD, LLM, MPH, Professor of advanced law and medicine, civil procedure, and commercial law at the Quinnipiac University College of Law, Hamdon, Connecticut, January 6, 2010
Cannabidiol (CBD) is considered safe and has a variety of positive benefits, and this component should be legalized. However, the other narcotic component in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is responsible for the high, and too much may not be a good thing because it can produce psychotic symptoms in people.
Medical Marijuana: The Institute of Medicine Report (summary) Ronald Pies, MD, Editor in Chief – Psychiatric Times. Vol. 27 No. 2 , January 6, 2010
Marijuana is not a completely benign substance. It is a powerful drug with a variety of effects. However, except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other prescription medications. Cannabinoids can induce acute transient psychotic symptoms or an acute psychosis in some individuals… (but it is unclear) what makes some individuals vulnerable to cannabinoid-related psychosis. There is a pressing need for more high-quality research in the area of medical marijuana and cannabinoid use.
Link Between Cannabis Use and Psychosis Onset at a Younger Age (summary) Ana Gonzales MD, Santiago Apostol Hospital in Vitoria, Spain, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. August 2008
Researchers found a strong and independent link between cannabis use and the onset of psychosis at a younger age, regardless of gender or the use of other drugs. The link is related to the amount of cannabis used. “The clinical importance of this finding is potentially high,” Dr. Gonzalez-Pinto given that cannabis use is extremely prevalent among young people… estimates of the attributable risk suggest that the use of cannabis accounts for about 10 percent of cases of psychosis.”The findings showed a significant gradual reduction in the age at which psychosis began that correlated with an increased dependence on cannabis. Compared with nonusers, age at onset was reduced by 7, 8.5, and 12 years among users, abusers, and dependents, respectively, the researchers report.
Cannabis use and later life outcomes. (summary) Fergusson DM, Boden JM, Addiction; Pages: 969-76; Volume(Issue): 103(6), June 2008
A longitudinal study of a New Zealand birth cohort tracked subjects to age 25 years. Cannabis use at from ages 14-25 was measured by: university degree attainment to age 25; income at age 25, welfare dependence during the period 21-25 years, unemployment 21-25 years, relationship quality, and life satisfaction. Other indices were measured to adjust for confounding factors: childhood socio-economic disadvantage, family adversity, childhood and early adolescent behavioral adjustment and cognitive ability, and adolescent and young adult mental health and substance use.The findings were statistically significant. Increasing levels of cannabis use at ages 14-21 resulted in lower levels of degree attainment by age 25, lower income at age 25, higher levels of welfare dependence, higher unemployment, lower levels of relationship satisfaction, and lower levels of life satisfaction.
LONDON — New findings show physical evidence of the drug’s damaging influence on the human brain. In some people, it triggers temporary psychotic symptoms including hallucinations and paranoid delusions. Two of the active ingredients of cannabis: cannabidiol (CBD) made people more relaxed. But second ingredient: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in small doses produced temporary psychotic symptoms in people, including hallucinations and paranoid delusions. According to Dr. Philip McGuire, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College, London, THC interfered with activity in the inferior frontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with paranoia. “THC is switching off (a chemical) regulator,” McGuire said, “effectively unleashing the paranoia usually kept under control by the frontal cortex.”In another study, Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, an associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, and colleagues tested THC on 150 healthy volunteers and 13 people with stable schizophrenia. Nearly half of the healthy subjects experienced psychotic symptoms when given the drug. Unfortunately, the results for the schizophrenic subjects was so much worse that researchers scrapped adding additional schizophrenic subjects to the study. The negative impact was so pronounced that it would have been unethical to test it on more schizophrenic people.”One of the great puzzles is why people with schizophrenia keep taking the stuff when it makes the paranoia worse,” said Dr. Robin Murray, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College in UK. She theorized that schizophrenics may mistakenly judge the drug’s pleasurable effects as outweighing any negatives.
Typical parenting mistakes – 9 ways we make things worse
Good parenting means knowing what NOT to do as a parent.
Hey, it’s hard not to lose your cool with some children. And once you do, you may feel guilty or a failure as a parent. (There’s no manual for ‘normal’ kids either!) You deserve credit for trying to be better. The easiest way to improve your parenting is to know what’s wrong first.
1…Treat your child or teen like another adult who knows how to behave appropriately and has memorized the rules, even the unspoken ones. Answer your child’s frustrations (with you) by offering explanations that show how reasonable you are.
2…Find fault with your child and let them know about it over and over again. If they do something positive, let them know it’s not enough. Let your tone of voice reveal how frustrated, angry, stressed or resigned you feel because of them.
3…Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior. Ignore his or her unique mental health needs or the challenges they may face. Are they being picked on at school or by a sibling? Do they fear abandonment? Are they stressed about an upcoming event? Is your home too chaotic?
4…Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have the consequence come later than the misbehavior (“I’ll get to you later.” “This is punishment for what you did this morning.”).
5…Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age. Make long explanations to a three year old about why you’ve set a certain rule. Assume a teen wants to be just like you.
6…Expect your child to logically, rationally accept your reasonable rules. Parents expect common sense from children who are too young to reason (3 or 4), or from teens or young adults (up to early 20’s) who have a long track record of doing things that don’t make sense.
7…Keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Like repeating yourself, talking at them rather than with them, or screaming. (Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve screamed; we’ve all done this.)
8…Jump to conclusions that demonize your child. “You’ll do anything to get your way,” or “You are so manipulative and deceitful,” or “You don’t listen to me on purpose,” “I’m tired of your selfishness…”
9…Make them responsible for your feelings. If you lose your cool because you’re stressed and blow up over something they did, insist they do the apologizing after they react poorly.
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I confess I used to think attention deficit disorders were not as serious as other disorders. I was so wrong.
Sure, teens with attention deficits had problems, but they didn’t compare with the disabling and dangerous problems resulting from bipolar or schizophrenia. ADHD kids seemed more ‘functional’ to me and treatments seemed to work better. They were also friendly and funny. While other families with mentally ill children talked about psychotic breaks, suicide, and panic attacks, I heard parents of ADHD kids talk about frustration and daily calls from school. Heck, kids with ADHD could attend school!
“Genius by birth; slacker by choice.” –seen on a T-shirt
I confess, I thought ADHD symptoms made a person interesting, and fun and creative (true), but my perception changed radically when I found research on children with ADHD who were tracked from childhood to adulthood. These studies revealed deeply unsettling news—the consequences of ADHD can be quite serious.
Adults with ADHD have a higher risk of developing other psychiatric problems, being victimized and incarcerated, and facing lifetime struggles with education, employment, and relationships. Summaries from 10 research studies on the long-term prognosis of ADHD are found at the end of this post.
People with ADD and ADHD have so many gifts!
When I attended a children’s mental health conference, a workshop was lead by a panel of young people with with ADHD. They were articulate about their experiences and needs, answered questions, and interacted appropriately with audiences. So many strengths! Young people with other disorders can be challenged by the cognitive and emotional demands of these tasks. I learned a lot.
Parents need the support to address the basics: behavior at school and home, school attendance and educational attainment, self-esteem, and self-actualization. In addition to medical/medication treatment as recommended, parents need to know how to teach self-calming skills so their child can effectively control impulses.
Little things start adding up – Without skills (and/or medication), a person with ADHD slips up on life’s daily little challenges–losing, forgetting, neglecting, overreacting, disappointing others, and undermining themselves in a thousand different ways.
Dependence and resentment – I’ve noticed that those with ADHD seem to find or attract others they can depend on to help them function, but their “caretakers” (spouse, friend, co-worker) and family pay a price. A person with ADHD can resent their dependence on others, or become so dependent that others resent them.
Unfinished business – Those with ADHD drag unfinished projects with them indefinitely, keeping them in an actual or metaphorical garage full of costly unfinished projects. Little repairs become big expensive repairs through lack of maintenance. Bills don’t get paid, licenses don’t get renewed, debtors get away with never paying them back.
Guide your child to his or her gifts
From personal experience with ADHD children and adults, I know they can love, be affectionate, funny, generous, highly creative, and show empathy for others.
Think of careers your child or teen might pursue that require creativity, energy, and enthusiasm. Introduce them to experiences that challenge them, and ignore the myth that they can’t focus or that they mess things up, not true. ADHD kids readily focus on projects they enjoy, demonstrate mental nimbleness with complexities, multitask with accuracy, and shine in emergencies, whether debugging software, making music, or even doing surgery.
Q: “How many kids with ADHD does it take to change a lightbulb?” A: “What was the question again? I saw something shiny.”
A personal rant: I’ve read articles that question the existence of ADHD or criticize parents who get medication for their son or daughter. Prejudice against this disorder and parents is sadly common. Public misinformation and controversy over ADHD and medication negatively influences parents’ decisions.
Some think ADHD is an excuse for bad parenting, or treatable with natural substances or meditation, etc. Parents don’t cause ADD, ADHD. And while non-drug options help, results can be marginal and short-lived. I know parents who cling to pseudo-treatments that fit a personal philosophy, but can’t admit when they’re child’s symptoms aren’t improving. If a non-drug remedy is effective, this will be the proof: the child keeps up with their peers at school, exhibits behaviors typical for their age, and is able to learn some self-control.
At another extreme, some parents want a “quick fix” with pills. Or, if parents are happy with the results of the right medication, they overlook their child’s discomfort with side effects, or worse, they overlook how their home environment aggravates distraction and chaos. A pill will partially compensate for bad parenting and a crazy-making household, but that child does not deserve the burden.
High School Students With ADHD: The Group Most Likely to…Fizzle
Breslau J, Miller E, Joanie Chung WJ, Schweitzer JB.Childhood and adolescent onset psychiatric disorders, substance use, and failure to graduate high school on time. Journal of Psychiatric Research. Jul 15 2010
Adolescents with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, or who smoke cigarettes are least likely to finish high school (HS) on time or most likely to drop out altogether, researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine (UC Davis) have found.
Lead investigator Joshua Breslau, PhD, ScD, medical anthropologist and psychiatric epidemiologist reported that of a total of 29,662 respondents, about one-third (32.3%) of students with combined-type ADHD were more likely to drop out of high school than students with other psychiatric disorders. This figure was twice that of teens with no reported mental health problems (15%) who did not graduate. Students with conduct disorder were the second at-risk group (31%) to drop out or not finish on time. Cigarette smokers were third in line, with a staggering 29% who did not finish high school in a timely manner.
Educational achievement squelched in children with ADHD Newsletter – NYU Child Study Center, New York, NY, February 2009
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common disorders in childhood and adolescence, with prevalence estimates ranging from five to ten percent. Children with untreated ADHD drop out of high school 10 times more often than other children.
Adult psychiatric outcomes of girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder American Journal of Psychiatry, January 2010 Researchers studied age 6 to 18-year-old girls with diagnosed ADHD and followed up after 11 years. Conclusions: By young adulthood, girls with ADHD were at high risk for antisocial, addictive, mood, anxiety, and eating disorders. However, ADHD medications appear to reduce the prevalence of multiple disorders at least in the short-term. These findings, also documented in boys with ADHD, provide further evidence for negative long-term impacts ADHD across the life cycle.
Brain abnormality found in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder Journal of Abnormal Psychology, March 2009 Researchers trying to uncover the mechanisms that cause ADHD and conduct disorder found an abnormality in the brains of adolescent boys suffering from the conditions. The research focused on two brain areas, the “mid brain” striatal, and cerebral cortex. The mid brain motivates people to engage in pleasurable or rewarding behavior. The cortex notices if an expected reward stops and considers options. However, this doesn’t occur as quickly in boys with ADHD or conduct disorders. Instead, the mid brain region keeps trying for rewards, which is a quality of addictive behavior.
Kids with ADHD more likely to bully, and those pushed around tend to exhibit attention problems Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, February 2008 Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are almost four times as likely as others to be bullies. And, in an intriguing corollary, the children with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms. Bullies were the kids in class who couldn’t sit still and listen, didn’t do their homework and were almost constantly in motion. Children with ADHD symptoms make life miserable for their fellow students, and they too can develop attention problems related to the stress of being bullied.
Girls’ hyperactivity and physical aggression during childhood and adjustment problems in early adulthood: A 15-year longitudinal study. Archives of General Psychiatry, March 2008 Girls with hyperactive behavior such as restlessness, jumping up and down, and difficulty keeping still or fidgety, and girls exhibiting physical aggression such as fighting, bullying, kicking, biting or hitting, all signs of ADHD, were found to have a high risk of developing adjustment problems in adulthood.
Teen’s inattentive symptoms may determine how long they stay in school Forum for Health Economic & Policy, November 2009 Poor mental health of children and teenagers has a large impact on the length of time they will stay in school, based on the fact that at conception there are differences in genetic inheritance among siblings. This study provides strong evidence that inattentive symptoms of ADHD in childhood and depression in adolescents are linked to the number of years of completed schooling.
Children with ADHD more likely to participate in crimes Yale School of Public Health and University of Wisconsin at Madison, October 2009 Children with ADHD are more likely to participate in crimes such as burglary, theft and drug dealing as adults. Those who had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as children were at increased risk of developing criminal behaviors. Researchers said one reason is that children with ADHD tend to have lower amounts of schooling.
ADHD may affect adults’ occupational and educational attainments Journal of Clinical Psychiatry September 2008 Adults who have ADHD generally have lower occupational and educational attainments as adults than they might have reached if they didn’t have the disorder, at least compared to what attainments would have been expected given their intellect. “Educational and occupational deficits… are a consequence of ADHD and not IQ,” lead researchers Dr. Joseph Biederman said. The finding strongly underscores the need for “diagnosing and treating ADHD to avert these serious consequences,” he said.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the course of life. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, September 2006. ADHD is a pervasive disorder that extensively impairs quality of life and that can lead to serious secondary problems. Long-term studies have demonstrated that the disorder is not limited to childhood and adolescence. The clinical experience indicates substantial difficulties for adults whose ADHD is not diagnosed and treated, and they often create extensive costs for the welfare system. The evidence-based psychiatric treatment available is highly effective and inexpensive.
70% of crystal meth (methamphetamine) inpatients had ADHD Journal of Addiction Disorders. 2005, and the blog:Adult ADHD Strengths.
Methamphetamine-dependent inpatients were screened for childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and of the participants, 70.6% screened positive for ADHD and reported significantly more frequent methamphetamine use prior to baseline. ADHD participants exhibited significantly worse psychiatric symptomatology. At a three-week follow-up, all who didn’t complete treatment screened positive for ADHD.
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?
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.
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.
They have the authority to create house rules based on respect, safety, and shared responsibility.
And they have the right to enforce and expect them to be followed.
Parents and families members have the right to be human and make mistakes.
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:
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:
Take responsibility for maximizing healthy habits, such as exercising, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet.
Become involved in specific health care decisions.
Work collaboratively with health care providers (teachers, parents) in developing and carrying out agreed-upon treatment plans.
Disclose relevant information and clearly communicate wants and needs.
Show respect for other patients and health workers (students, coworkers, neighbors, siblings).
Use the health plan’s internal complaint and appeal processes to address concerns that may arise.
Recognize the reality of risks and limits of the science of medical care and the human fallibility of the health care professional.
Be aware of a health care provider’s obligation to be reasonably efficient and equitable in providing care to other patients and the community.
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.
Make a good-faith effort to meet financial obligations.
Abide by administrative and operational procedures of health plans, health care providers, and Government health benefit programs.
Report wrongdoing and fraud to appropriate resources or legal authorities.”
Troubled young people have rights, and a national organization is there to support them. Youth ERA (Mission: “Youth ERA works to empower young people and create breakthroughs with the dedicated systems that serve them.”) Youth ERA offers peer support, social and educational support, and advocacy for youth with brain disorders. The Oregon Chapter, in partnership with Portland State University, wrote a Youth Bill or Rightsfor teens to young adults between ~16 to mid 20’s. As you can see in the Rights document below, they believe youth should be allowed to guide their mental health treatment, and receive respectful, humane care.
“YOUTH ERA BILL of RIGHTS – We believe that all youth should have the following rights in their mental health care:
1) Youth have the right to be leaders of their psychiatric treatment plans.
Youth should be informed of the possible side effects of medications, how long recommended medications take to go into effect, and the possible long-term effects of recommended medication. Service providers should work with youth to explore possible alternatives to using psychiatric medication before medication is given. Communication between youth and all medical providers should be collaborative, clear, and with limited use of medical terminology.
2) Youth have the right to evaluate their mental health services.
Mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other service providers should provide opportunities for youth to evaluate the satisfaction of their services throughout the duration of care in a respectful and non-threatening manner. This includes evaluation of the relationship with the provider, counseling plans, and implemented treatment models.
3) Youth have rights to services that are as noninvasive as possible.
When youth are transitioning into new services, mental health programs should strive to make the transition as accommodating as possible for the youth. Youth should be consulted on the ways they would like to end their relationship with the current provider and whether they would like the current provider to share their file with their new provider. Providers should share if there will be any changes in the costs of services and/or insurance coverage.
4) Youth have rights to get treatment from trained, sensitive providers.
Youth should have access to mental health professionals that are familiar with the unique needs and challenges of youth with mental health needs. All mental health professionals should have specialized training that fosters positive youth development and support. Youth mental health service consumers should be included in the creation and implementation of these trainings.”
This document was created and signed in 2009 by 30 mental health service-experienced youth gathered in Portland, OR, from the following states: California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
Youth ERA rights are similar to the “Mental Health Consumer Rights” developed by adult mental health consumers, which is appended at the end of this article.
Parents should support these rights
I say “bravo,” these are appropriate and necessary–anyone receiving treatment must be comfortable and safe with care providers, and treated with dignity and respect, period But I’d like to see something similar for parents and caregivers, too, who also participate in treatment and need to feel respected and heard.
– – – – – – – – – –
Adults with mental illness had already developed a bill of rights for the same reasons as the youth–to receive sensitive, humane services and participate in all aspects their treatment.
Adult Consumer Bill of Rights – for adults in mental health service systems
Information Disclosure: Consumers have the right to receive accurate, easily understood information and may require assistance in making informed health care decisions about their health plans, professionals, and facilities.
Choice of Providers and Plans: Consumers have the right to a choice of health care providers that is sufficient to ensure access to appropriate high-quality health care.
Access to Emergency Services: Consumers have the right to access emergency health care services when and where the need arises.
Participation in Treatment Decisions: Consumers have the right and responsibility to fully participate in all decisions related to their health care.
Respect and Nondiscrimination: Consumers have the right to considerate, respectful care from all members of the health care system at all times and under all circumstances. An environment of mutual respect is essential to maintain a quality health care system.
Confidentiality of Health Information: Consumers have the right to communicate with health care providers in confidence and to have the confidentiality of their individually identifiable health care information protected.
Complaints and Appeals: All consumers have the right to a fair and efficient process for resolving differences with their health plans, health care providers, and the institutions that serve them, including a rigorous system of internal review and an independent system of external review.
Consumer Responsibilities: In a health care system that protects consumers’ rights, it is reasonable to expect and encourage consumers to assume reasonable responsibilities.
“Misconceptions based on perception rather than fact have been shown to be devastating to children’s emotional and social well-being.” –Dr. Bernice Pescosolido
Stigma, blame, judgment… It only takes a few individuals to harm a child or family with their words, but it takes a whole society to allow it. In this article, I’m going to present recent research on the negative stereotyping of families and children with mental disorders, and share stories from families I know. I hope readers will be empowered to speak out against this form of prejudice and mobilized into changing our society’s attitudes.
Stigma takes many forms.
The most common scenario of stigma is when you are seen as a bad parent, perhaps even an abusive one, or your child is seen as stupid, spoiled, attention-getting, or manipulative. Another form of stigma is having others show disrespect to parents who seek help from the mental health profession. Psychologists are “flakes,” and families who see them are “wackos.” “Where’s your faith?”, some say, or “why don’t you quit making excuses for your child and give them real consequences?”
One of the more destructive forms of stigma is the condemnation parents receive when they “drug their child to fix them.” Too many believe drugs turn children into “zombies” (see research study below). Because of the stigma of treatment, I’ve seen many parents try every alternative treatment possible to help their child, only to have their child struggle year after year in school, fall farther behind their peers, make no progress in therapy, and other setbacks that medicines can prevent. These parents cling to the belief that they are doing the right thing, yet some children really need medicines, and the drugs don’t turn them into zombies. [In today’s treatment approaches, drugs are always considered a piece of the treatment puzzle, never the complete answer.]
A mother’s story about her experience with stigmatization:
This mother lost her best friend of 20 years because the friend got tired of hearing the mom talk about her very troubled 10-year-old son. In frustration, the friend wrote her a letter saying the mom was neurotic, and that she should quit trying to control her son, that her son’s behavior was a cry for help. The friend said she needed to set her son free and get help for her emotional problems, and that she wasn’t going to “enable” this mom anymore by being her friend. The mom was stunned and hurt by the letter. She intellectualized that she didn’t need a friend like this, but her heart was nonetheless broken by the betrayal. The son turned out to have brain damage from a genetic disorder and it was getting worse.
Ideas for what you can do when you’re blamed and judged.
First, resist defending yourself; it can attract more unwanted attention and disagreement. You don’t have the time or emotional energy to explain or teach someone who will challenge everything you say. Do everything you can to avoid people like this—many have had to cut off some family members and friends, and even their clergy or religious communities.
My story: when my child was diagnosed with a serious mental disorder, I stood up in front of my church congregation, explained what was happening, and asked for prayers for my family. At the end of that service, people started avoiding me. There were no more hello’s. There wasn’t even eye contact. The abrupt isolation from people I knew was devastating and I stopped attending. What did I say? Why did this happen? I thought if my child had a ‘socially acceptable’ cancer others would know what to do or say to ease the isolation and grief.
Second, actively seek supportive people who just listen. You need as large as possible a network of compassionate people around you. You may be surprised how many people 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. Try something like this: “Thanks for showing interest, but we are getting the help we need from doctors we trust.” Or simply, “please don’t offer me advice I didn’t ask for.” No apologies.
It’s hard enough to be reminded over and over again how our children don’t fit in, and how we may never get have the same joys as parents of mentally healthy children.
Public Perceptions Harsh of Kids, Mental Health (excerpt)
May 1, 2007 (USA TODAY)
Though the subject has been analyzed in adults, until now there has been limited research illuminating how the public perceives children with mental disorders such as depression and attention deficit disorders, according to experts from Indiana University, the University of Virginia and Columbia University. The findings are published in the May 2007 issue of Psychiatric Services.
The study, based on in-person interviews with more than 1,300 adults, indicates that people are highly skeptical about the use of psychiatric medications in children. Results also show that Americans believe children with depression are more prone to violence and that if a child receives help for a mental disorder, rejection at school is likely.
“The results show that people believe children will be affected negatively if they receive treatment for mental health problems,” says study author Bernice Pescosolido, director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research, in Bloomington. “Nothing could be further from the truth. These misconceptions are a serious impediment to the welfare of these children.”
According to the study:
Those interviewed believed that doctors over-medicate children with depression and ADHD and that drugs have long-term harm on a child’s development. More than half believed that psychiatric medications “turn kids into zombies.”
Respondents thought children with depression would be dangerous to others; 31% believed children with ADHD would pose a danger.
Respondents said rejection at school is likely if a child goes for treatment, and 43% believe that the stigma associated with seeking treatment would follow them into adulthood.
Pescosolido and her colleagues say such stigma surrounding mental illness — misconceptions based on perception rather than fact — have been shown to be devastating to children’s emotional and social well-being.
Population studies show that, at any point in time, 10% to 15% of children and adolescents have some symptoms of depression. About 4 million children, or 6.5%, have been diagnosed with ADHD, only 2% less than the number of children with asthma.
“People really need to understand that these are not rare conditions,” says Patricia Quinn, a developmental pediatrician in Washington, D.C.
To banish the stigma linked to mental health problems in children, the public has to get past labels and misconceptions, Pescosolido says. Normalizing these conditions would help too, Quinn says. “We need to view depression and ADHD like we do allergies,” she says. “They are very treatable.”
Things that protect troubled girls from delinquency
Both boys and girls get in trouble with the law. Boys are in the majority for arrests for crime, but statistics indicate that girls’ arrests are increasing: “…between 1996 and 2005, girls’ arrest for simple assault increased 24%.” Of 1528 girls studied over a period from 1992 and 2008, 22% committed serious property offenses and 17 % committed serious assaults. (Girls Study Group, U.S. Department of Justice, 2008. www.ojp.usdoj.gov).
Troubled girls easily become criminal, but also risk being a victim
Girls who have behavioral disorders, from addictions or past trauma or emotional disorders, begin to have delinquent or criminal behaviors as early as middle school. What makes a girl’s criminal activities different from boys is that girls put themselves at high risk of being victimized themselves. How can a parent or caregiver prevent their daughter from engaging in criminal behavior, and trapping themselves in a social world where their stresses and disorders can worsen?
The Girls Study Group quoted above studied which factors protected girls from becoming criminal, or helped them stop and reengage in activities that improve and stabilize their lives. Protective factors did not prevent all criminal activity however, yet the first one has been shown to be the most effective.
Support from a caring adult.THIS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in preventing girls from criminal activities of any kind.
Success in school helped prevent aggression against people, but not property crimes.
“Religiousity,” or how important religion was to troubled girls, meant they were less likely to be involved with drugs.
Risks to girls that are different from boys:
Early puberty is a risk if the girl has a difficult family and comes from a disadvantaged neighborhood. Biological maturity before social maturity causes more conflicts with parents and more negative associations with older boys or men.
Sexual abuse, which girls experience much more than boys, including sexual assault, rape, and harassment. But abuse of any kind affects both boys and girls equally.
Depression and anxiety, which girls tend to suffer more from than boys.
Romantic partners. Girls who commit less serious crimes are influenced by their boyfriends. But for serious offenses, both boys and girls are equally influenced by a romantic partner.
Once she’s regularly breaking rules, it’s not easy to turn things around for a troubled girl. It requires constant, persistent efforts to:
Keep her away from risky associates.
Keep her in school and up with studies.
Keep telling her what’s great about her,what’s special, what’s powerful and good.
If you are a parent or caregiver, and you are lucky enough to have a strong mentoring relationship with your troubled daughter, keep it up despite any occasional law-breaking activities. She’ll need consequences, but they should be obstacles to overcome rather than punishments—such as earning back privileges by having good behavior for a period of weeks or months.
If you don’t or can’t have a mentoring relationship, find out who can (or already does). Admit you might not be the sole support for her success, and work in partnership with a caring adult. Find out who believes in her already. Find out who she asks for help if she’s feeling fearful or down about herself. Listen to her if she talks about someone she’s grateful for for helping her through difficulties. Girls respond really well to someone who believes in them.
Teen girls can be turned around and it’s always worth the effort. She might be hard to take sometimes, but find something, anything, that’s good about her and let her know. Over time, you’ll start noticing more and more great things about her, and then she’ll start noticing them too.
Gang Up on Your Kids: Network with Other Parents to Track Troubled Kids
An article in the local paper told the story of a mother who desperately tried to get help for her at-risk son to keep him out of a gang. Yet he became a victim of a drive-by shooting and was in intensive care for days, but he lived. In the article, she said something I’m very familiar with; she said other parents never told her what they suspected, nor did anyone let her know if her son was at their house when he ran away. Just knowing her son’s whereabouts could have helped her intercept dangerous activities. Like her, I never got information from other parents who might have been (or should have been) concerned about my troubled child. Why didn’t other parents stay in touch and help each other control their children?
At-risk kids hang out together, they know each other’s stories (true or not), and protect each other, and parents are out of the loop. What if parents got together too, shared stories, and supported each other’s goal of protecting their child from making mistakes? Kids’ unsafe plans and activities are no match for the many eyes and ears (and cleverness and wisdom) of all their parents combined.
How to track at-risk kids and join forces with other parents:
Go on the internet, check out Facebook and other social media, and look for your child’s page and the pages of his or her friends. The police do this all the time; it’s one of their main investigative tools! At-risk children share everything over the internet: photos, favorite places and people, favorite activities (even illegal ones), and other incriminating information. It’s easy to identify kids who are at-risk.
Contact the parents or caregivers of your child’s friends, by phone or email anytime you find out that their child or teen was with your own child while doing unsafe activities.
I did this. Some parents were thrilled to find support, but a couple were angry with me at first. After all, I was delivering bad news. They defended their child, or accused my child of telling stories. I just said, “I thought you’d want to know. My kid is in trouble, but you may want to know your child was also involved.” It took some backbone to stay online, but they eventually calmed down and expressed disappointment in their child. They often hadn’t suspected anything. Then I asked if we could join-up and inform on each other’s kids to keep them safe. Always, I received a strong yes.
Compare notes and share news about friends, friends of friends, which houses were dangerous (e.g. adult not at home, or adult provides drugs or alcohol), which places they hang out, and who might victimize them or be victimized by them.
Call a teacherand ask who your child hangs out with at school, or if they know another parent who is worried about their kid, call that parent and make a pact to keep each other informed. Whether they help you or not, at least they know someone’s watching and paying attention.
True story – One mother I know recruited a “spy network” with her son’s friends’ parents and with employees of businesses he regularly frequented, such as a skateboard shop near his school and a coffee house. She was able to keep track of where he was if he ignored her curfews, and inform the community police of adult associates (usually 18-24) who were known to provide drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes to youth. Her information helped empower other parents who hadn’t known what to do, but were then able to restrict their teen’s activities away from home and make it uncomfortable for unsafe people to associate with them.
True story – A father I met took the “spy network” idea a step further and had contact cards, like business cards, which he gave away to police, teachers, other parents, and anyone he met who knew his daughter. The contact cards basically said “Please help us keep Kari safe and call us, her parents, anytime she is at the following places [ … ] or doing something you believe is inappropriate. Thank you very much for your help. We will keep your calls confidential from our daughter.” Then the card gave the parents’ names, number, and email address. This greatly limited their daughter’s contact with unsafe or inappropriate friends and adults, because they knew they might be watched and reported if she was around. Surprisingly, this attention improved the girl’s progress in family therapy, as she stated she felt more like her parents cared.
Word gets out quickly among the groups of at-risk kids and the adults who enable them. If you let enough people know that they may be watched when at-risk kids are around, then they will avoid these kids and even ask them to leave their company. Don’t forget: you are smarter and more experienced than young people. You, as a parent, are not alone with your concerns about your child.
Reach out to the other parents in your community. You will be surprised how many will thank you.
Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child
Don’t let your family become emotionally battered when your troubled child or teen goes through one crisis after another. It’s the last thing your family needs—more stress and exhaustion! Since your main job as a parent or caregiver is to reduce stress, you must manage the inevitable emergencies in a way that quickly settles down your family, as well as get help for your child. Are you prepared to head off a crisis when you see one coming? Does your family have a crisis plan for when (not if) your troubled child has a mental health emergency that puts everyone or everything in danger?
Never be afraid to call 911 when there’s a danger of harm. You will NOT be bothering them!
I got my crisis plan idea from the “red alert” scenes on Star Trek, when red lights flash and an alarm sounds, and crew members drop everything and run to their stations with clear instructions for protecting the ship.
Think of your family as crew members that pull together when someone sounds the Red Alert because your child is becoming dangerously out of control. Each family member should know ahead of time what to do and have an assigned role, and each should know they will be backed up by the rest of the family. This will be tremendously reassuring to everyone. Together, you can manage through a crisis, reduce the dangers, and ensure everyone is cared for afterwards.
Have a crisis plan for the home, the workplace, and the school…
…and start by asking questions. Here are some examples:
oWho goes out and physically searches for a runaway? This person should be able to bring the child back to school or home without mutual endangerment, and they should know how to work with police or community members.
oWho gets on the phone and calls key people for help? Who do they call, the police or a neighbor or a relative? Does your town or city have a crisis response team for kids? Some do.
oWho should be appointed to communicate with the child? This should be a family member or friend that the child trusts more than the others.
oCan a sibling leave to stay at someone else’s house until things cool down at home? Which house? An escape plan for a sibling can protect them and help them manage their own stress.
oWho should step in and break up a fight? And what specifically should they do or say each time to calm the situation? Believe it or not, your troubled child can often tell you what works best and what makes things worse. Listen to them. It doesn’t have to sound rational to you if it works to calm them down quickly.
oHow should a time-out work? Who counts to 10, or who can leave the house and go out for a walk? Where can someone run to feel safe and be left alone for a while?
oWhat should teachers or co-workers do to calm down a situation and get their classroom or office back to normal as quickly as possible?
Experiences and evidence has shown that a rapid cooling down of emotions and rapid reduction of stress hormones in the brain supports resilience—the ability to bounce back in a tough situation. Your entire family needs resilience, not just your troubled child. A simple crisis plan makes all the difference.