Category: teens

Typical parenting mistakes – 9 ways we make things worse

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.

 

–Margaret

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ADHD kids become troubled adults

ADHD kids become troubled adults

I confess I used to think attention deficit disorders were not as serious as other disorders.

I have been so wrong about ADHD.  Sure, teens with attention deficits had big problems, but they didn’t seem to compare with the disabling, even dangerous, symptoms of disorders like bipolar or schizophrenia.  ADHD kids just seemed more ‘functional’ to me, and the treatments seemed to work better.  While other families with mentally ill children talked about psychotic breaks, suicide, and uncontrollable rages, I heard parents of ADHD kids talk about frustration and daily calls from school.  Heck, ADHD kids could attend school!

When I attended a children’s mental health conference, the ‘youth-talk-back’ workshop was all led by young people with ADHD.  They were articulate about their experiences and needs, answered questions, and interacted appropriately with audiences.  So many strengths!  Youth with other disorders are challenged by all of these tasks.  I learned a lot.

I confess, I also found ADHD funny…

…but my perception changed radically when I found recently published research on children with ADHD who were followed from childhood to juvenile delinquency to adulthood crime.  These studies revealed deeply unsettling news—the long-term effects of ADHD can be serious.

Adults with ADHD have a higher risk of developing other psychiatric problems, being victimized and incarcerated, and facing lifetime struggles with education and employment.  Summaries from 10 research studies on the long-term prognosis of ADHD are found at the end of this post.

“Genius by birth, slacker by choice”

Children and teens with ADHD deserve the chance to reach adulthood with skills that keep them from sliding inexorably downhill, which studies show is common.

Treatment is imperative, not optional!  ADHD hits hardest in adulthood, but starts in childhood when parents have an opportunity to change it’s course.  Parents and caregivers should aggressively and persistently seek an appropriate treatment for their ADHD child that improves functioning:  behavior at school and home, school attendance and educational attainment, self-esteem, and self-actualization.  In addition to medical/medication treatment as recommended, the child must learn self-management and self-calming skills so they can control impulses when they reach adulthood.

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.

Needing others and resenting it – I’ve noticed that those with ADHD seem to find or attract others they can depend on.  They seek and get support to be functional, but the effort can weigh heavily on their “caretakers” (spouse, friends, co-workers) and family.  They lose opportunities to practice self-reliance when this happens, and they resent their dependence on others.  Who wants to be stuck within other’s limits, and on the receiving end of their frustration and impatience?
 
Unfinished business – Those with ADHD drag unfinished projects with them indefinitely, keeping them in an actual or metaphorical garage full of costly but 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.  They strive to be better.
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 some thing shiny.”

 

Writer’s rant on parent resistance to medications.  I’ve read articles that question the existence of ADHD, or vilify the families that treat with medications. Prejudice against this disorder and parents who treat with drugs is common. there are too many uninformed people who think they understand ADHD, and spread personal opinions about the use of medications or consequences for ADHD behaviors. This is unhelpful. Public controversy over ADHD negatively influences parents’ decisions regarding diagnosis and their choice of a child’s treatment.

At one extreme: some think medications turn children into zombies, and that ADHD is a fake diagnosis or treatable with natural substances or meditation, etc. Non-drug options help somewhat, but what if the results are too mild, marginal, and short-lived? What if a parent stubbornly sticks with a pseudo-treatment that fits a personal goal and refuses to notice that it’s not working? If a non-drug remedy is effective, there will be hard proof: the child will keep up with school, maintain grade level, exhibit behaviors appropriate for their age, and show signs of self-control. These are more important to a child’s future than a parent’s loyalty to a belief.

Ironically, the choice of drugs for those of us with children with severe disorders may be easier than for parents of ADHD kids. Drugs keep psychotic and severely depressed kids safe and alive. Worrying about side effects is a luxury.

At the other extreme: some parents want a “quick fix” with pills only, but chemical control also makes it easier for these parents to avoid hard parenting work like teaching their child to check impulses and set boundaries. And if parents are happy with the drug, might they overlook their child’s discomfort with side effects and ignore this child’s need for an adjustment? Might they also overlook how their home environment promotes distraction and chaos? A pill will compensate for bad parenting and a crazy-making lifestyle until the child reaches adulthood, having never been taught to make choices that promote their gift of creativity and reduce their risk of addiction, or having never been taught self-discipline.

–Margaret


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about a Parent Bill of Rights?

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

Teens have rights too, which should be respected

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

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

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

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

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

What are parent responsibilities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn and practice an entirely different approach to parenting.

What about youth responsibilities?

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

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

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

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

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

 


Youth with mental disorders demand rights!

Youth with mental disorders demand rights!

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 Chapterin  partnership with Portland State University, wrote a Youth Bill or Rights for 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Access to Emergency Services:  Consumers have the right to access emergency health care services when and where the need arises.
  4. Participation in Treatment Decisions:  Consumers have the right and responsibility to fully participate in all decisions related to their health care.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Consumer Responsibilities:  In a health care system that protects consumers’ rights, it is reasonable to expect and encourage consumers to assume reasonable responsibilities.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) established the Consumer Bill of Rights Workgroup to promote and implement the Presidential Advisory Commission’s Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities in health care. http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/consumersurvivor/billofrights.asp

 

–Margaret

Stigma is prejudice, and harmful to children

Stigma is prejudice, and harmful to children

Stigma victimizes the victims

“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.

Puckette(c)2007

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.

It’s hard enough to be reminded over and over again how our children don’t fit in, and how we may never  have the same joys as parents of mentally healthy children.


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.

–Margaret


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

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