Category: depression

Things that protect troubled girls from delinquency

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

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 teacher and 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.

–Margaret

Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child

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:

 

o        Who 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.

 

o        Who 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.

 

o        Who should be appointed to communicate with the child?  This should be a family member or friend that the child trusts more than the others.

 

o       Can 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.

 

o       Who 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.

 

o       How 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?

 

o       What 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.

The Troubled Teen Industry – A warning about boarding schools and outdoor camps

The Troubled Teen Industry – A warning about boarding schools and outdoor camps

This is a troubled teen in a military-style camp, not an adult military recruit who’s there by choice.

There is a troubled teen industry out there—boarding schools, outdoor programs, and “boot camps” that are not licensed, not certified, and not experienced with youth with disorders.  Maybe you’ve seen the ads that promise to improve your teen’s behavior in the back of some magazines.  They promise that their program will “fix” your child.  They promise that your teen will learn important lessons about respect and about following your rules.  There are quotes from satisfied parents about how the program saved their teen’s life, but you can’t contact them.  The ads claim that staff are highly trained, strict, and caring.  The location is usually too far to check out easily, an airline flight away from home, often in a rural area.  The cost is outlandish.  To help with payment, the program provides financial advice to parents about getting loans and 2nd mortgages.

It’s a red flag if they –>promise<– to ‘correct’ your child.

You’re a desperate parent and you’ll do anything you can to stop the craziness and get a break.  You tell yourself it must be a nice place, especially if it advertises a religious approach*, even though you haven’t seen it in person.  The representative on the phone seems to know exactly how you feel and what your teen needs.  If you’re desperate, you may not think to ask if the organization is a legitimate behavioral health treatment facility.  Many are not!

*Claiming a religious affiliation is no guarantee of a genuine, effective faith-based program.

 What to ask:

 

What is the training and licensure of staff?  You want to know if they have therapists with MSW degrees, registered nurses, psychiatrists or doctors, and if a professional is available on site 24/7.  Mental health programs are about treatment and stability through medication or therapy, and positive activities with lots of emotional support.  Safety must be paramount.  Staff must be aware of the types of things that can go wrong and how crises should be handled.

 

Does the camp or school have a business license in their state?  Are staff licensed to practice behavioral health?  Do they have grievance procedures?

 

Is the camp or school accredited as a treatment facility, and by whom?  Does it have mental health agency oversight?  Are emergency services (hospital, law enforcement) a phone call away?  If your child’s mental health is a concern, read “What to know about psychiatric residential treatment.”

 

punish boy in boarding school
It’s understandable if you’ve “had enough!” and want your child punished, but excessive punishment does not work.  (Quote of camp counselor, “If I can’t make a kid puke or piss in his pants on his first day, I’m not doing my job.”)

Can you call and talk to your child when you request?  Can you visit?  Can your child call you when they request it?  Some of these programs limit or disallow parental contact. Why? According to a testimonial at a children’s mental health conference, a young man was used as slave labor at a camp. The staff kept communicating to his mother that he was misbehaving, that he hated her and didn’t want to talk, and that they recommended he stay another 6 months.  In this way, they drew out his stay for 3 years.

I’ve heard personal testimony from parents and troubled young people whose condition was worsened by the camp or school, or who felt betrayed by their families.  On rare occasions, children have died at the hands of young, untrained staff who thought they were just disciplining the child.  Other stories included teens being offered drugs by staff or other campers, or sexual relationships with staff or campers.

 

Check out the article below.  The problems in the “troubled teen industry” are significant enough such that an advocacy group has formed to change state laws to protect youth.


 

Unlicensed residential programs: The next challenge in protecting youth. –excerpt-

By Friedman, Robert M.; Pinto, Allison; Behar, Lenore; Bush, Nicki; Chirolla, Amberly; Epstein, Monica; Green, Amy; Hawkins, Pamela; Huff, Barbara; Huffine, Charles; Mohr, Wanda; Seltzer, Tammy; Vaughn, Christine; Whitehead, Kathryn; Young, Christina Kloker

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Vol 76(3), Jul 2006, 295-303.

 

According to this article, many private residential facilities are neither licensed as mental health programs nor accredited by respected national accrediting organizations.  The Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate use of Residential Treatment (A START) is a multi-disciplinary group of mental health professionals and advocates that formed in response to rising concerns about reports from youth, families, and journalists describing mistreatment in the unregulated programs.  There is a range of mistreatment and abuse experienced by youth and families, including harsh discipline, inappropriate seclusion and restraint, substandard psychotherapeutic interventions, medical and nutritional neglect, rights violations and death.

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.

Support Your Child or Teen’s Recovery From a Disorder or Addiction

Support Your Child or Teen’s Recovery From a Disorder or Addiction

What recovery looks like – A person with a mental or emotional disorder who is in “recovery” lives a normal life and aren’t affected by their disorder.  They look and act normal.  At the very least, they have stable relationships, a steady job, a place to live, a regular diet, cleanliness, and regular mental health check-ins.  Recovery is maintained when the person pays attention to themselves and notices if their symptoms are starting, and then takes action to stop the symptoms.

Recovery is like the alcoholic who stops drinking–they still have an addiction, but they stop using.

What your child will need to sustain recovery as an adult:

INSIGHT  +  STABILITY  +  RESILIENCE

Insight – self awareness

Insight allows a child to recognize they have a problem, and choose to act to avoid the problem.  If insight is not possible, they need a toolbox of options that help them to respond appropriately, instead of reacting to chaotic messages in their brain. Knowing and admitting they have a problem, or knowing techniques for avoiding problems, are very powerful skills they need as adults.

Stability– fewer falls or softer falls

Your child is like a boat that’s easier to tip over than most other boats; any little wave will capsize them, and everyday life is full of waves, big and small.  Your job is to notice when the troubled child is starting to capsize and show them how to right the boat, or if that doesn’t work, how to use the lifesaver.  Eventually, your child will learn how to sense when trouble is coming on, avoid the thing that causes problems, and ask others for help.  Sense it.  Avoid it.  Ask for Help.

Resilience– bounce back when they fall

Troubled children have a much harder time bouncing back from problems.  They have extreme responses to simple disappointments like breaking a toy, or poor grades, or something as serious as the parents’ divorce.  Some even fall apart in joyous times because the emotional energy is too much!  You must be acutely aware of this–they will not get back on track by themselves.  Don’t worry that helping them will spoil them or “enable” them.  Eventually they will learn from you how you do it.

“…We are all born with an innate capacity for resilience, by which we are able to develop social competence, problem-solving skills, a critical consciousness, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.”

“Several research studies followed individuals over the course of a lifespan and consistently documented that between half and two-thirds of children growing up in families with mentally ill, alcoholic, abusive, or criminally involved parents, or in poverty-stricken or war-torn communities, do overcome the odds and turn a life trajectory of risk into one that manifests “resilience,” the term used to describe a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity…”   http://www.athealth.com