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Destructive & Risky Behavior in Teens

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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Destructive & Risky Behavior in Teens


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13-year-old struggling with crime, friends, marijuana

Nov 2012

Hi, I've been looking through posts and they're helpful but I feel the need to reach out. I'm 20 yrs old and am taking custody of my 13 yr old brother. We've had tough times growing up, our mother has been in and out of our lives while father has been in prison. We both live with grandma(who he doesnt get along with), and hes really struggling with crime, friends, and marijuana. He's been in Juvee twice, expelled, and still wants to hangout with the same people doing the same thing. He hasn't had much structure and we live in san rafael at the moment. Our family is adopted and all white. Him and I are the only mixed race in the family and I think he feels threatened by that. He wants to feel close to a black community but there isn't much of one here. I've been considering moving to the east bay for more diversity and a good school.

He's made all kinds of friends who are also struggling with family issues and they seem to lash out and not care about their futures. He sometimes talks about running away or leaving when he gets a car. I guess I have a few questions, I'm new to being a parent.

1. How can I get him to listen and follow the rules that we(probation&I) set? 2. How can I help him realize theres more to life than just right now? 3. He feels like all adults dont respect him or are against him so he's rude to many people, how can I help him realize that's not true? 4. Hes really infatuated with gangs,guns and violence. How can I help him see that those things aren't going to make anything better?

I feel like I'm asking a lot here but I really don't have many people to help me. Lost and scattered


Dear Big Sibling of a troubled teen: Your questions are excellent and I am sorry to say that I have no answers. I just want you to know that I am the mother of a 17-year-old who is going through similar stuff. We're upper middle class, white, all seems honky dory and yet he won't listen to us and shrugs off the times he runs into consequences of his immature behavior (getting fired from job bc he's drunk, getting caught with pot in car, getting poor grades bc he doesn't stay on top of homework etc.) We see a good therapist and still we don't have answers. Sooooo: I just want to tell you that you are AWESOME to take on this job of parenting your younger brother. I really, really commend you for taking on this thankless job. On the practical side: It helps me to be able to talk to friends or family about my problems and just have them listen and be supportive. Do you have someone to share your problems with? Good luck! no answers, but lots of admiration
My heart goes out to you. I am fostering a boy about your brother's age so his older brother (about your age) wouldn't have to. You are doing something incredibly difficult.

Look around at the resources available to you for therapy for your brother. You need an ally here; a therapist can be a powerful ally and resource for you. Is your brother a foster youth? Does he have insurance through the foster care system, or Medi-Cal, or anything? Has he been a victim of a crime (there is a fund for victims of crime to get therapy)? Find out where you can get funding, and get a therapist. Interview people. Ask them about their experience with kids who have the issues your brother has. Bring your brother along to meet the best prospects so he can pick someone. Get a new therapist if the therapist isn't making a connection in a month or two. Then let the therapist help your brother work out some of his issues.

Are you getting support to be a parent? Foster care payments? CalWORKs payments? Food stamps? Sign up for everything you can. These people will get in your business, but you need money and resources to get through this. It's only for now. Ask the probation officer for a social worker. Keep asking; don't assume no really means you can't get something. I made 25 phone calls before I got special funding for an expensive therapist for my son. Up until call 25, everyone said no.

You talked about moving. If you can, DO IT. Get him away from his friends. Be sure that if you move, you will have a support system. You need people who can take your brother for breaks for you. Consider Big Brothers for an additional role model. You MUST find ways to take care of yourself. This is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Have realistic goals. ''My brother will pass this year of school,'' rather than perfect attendance, or whatever.

When we first became foster parents, we really struggled with the fact that we had no leverage with our foster son. With my biological daughter, I could say ''keep up that bad behavior and you'll lose dessert.'' But especially at first, my foster son was in so much emotional pain that he didn't care about anything. There was nothing positive we could offer, or negative we could threaten, that could move him to do what he needed to do (homework, for example). That gradually changed, thanks in part to therapy, in part to loving, consistent (but not perfect) parenting. Change comes, over time.

If you want someone to talk to about this, ask the moderator for my email. There is so much I can't fit here. feeling for you


Dear Lost, You have taken on a huge responsibility.. hats off to you. You are not going to be able to do this on your own and in the interest of your own health, you need to find resources that can help you. Start with the probation office. Talk to them and let them know your intentions. I'm sorry, I don't have concrete information for you, but there must be guidance out there.

Just remember though, years from now, your brother will remember and appreciate how you were there for him. Good luck to you. Best regards


Hi, Your brother is lucky to have you! Things must be lonely and confusing for him right now. His way of trying to deal with painful experiences is leading him down the wrong path, but I doubt he knows himself what is wrong, much less how to turn things around.

One resource to check out is a group called Pact. They're in the East Bay and have lots of resources and expertise - their focus is on kids/teens of color who are adopted, esp families who are mixed-race through adoption. I think they're are one of the few places that 'gets' that growing up as a person of color with white parents is complicated. Figuring out who you are is tricky for any teen, but additional layers of adoption stuff, racial identity stuff, ''parents-who-haven't-made-the-best-choices-so-what-does-that-say-about-me'' questions - it piles on top of the usual developmental issues and can really be overwhelming. At Pact there are ppl of color who grew up with white parents on the staff, and they also have a teen group. Give them a call and I'm sure you can connect in some way with them.

Another place to check for possible resources and support is the county or agency who did the adoption. Sometimes there are post-adoption resources and support, including financial resources, that could be helpful.

I'm a white mom and my teens are of color and adopted. It means a lot to them when they know somebody else deals with similar experiences in life as they do (rather than peers/adults who think it ''doesn't matter''). It's also a big deal that they have each other who they match racially when their parents are white, so I'm glad your brother has you in that respect also. Are the two of you able to talk about that?

Moving to the east bay for more racial diversity and a larger middle-class black community could be a positive thing. I'd first get the support in place to help you do that, tho - know what neighborhoods/schools/etc. Also I'd consider how much change he has had recently and how he deals with change when you're making your decision; you may need to weigh the advantages vis a vis the (limited) stability he has where you are now.

I also wonder about how you are getting through, are you getting some support and do you have people who get it? Taking on the parenting of any teenage boy is a major task! Not to mention the extras you have going on here. Pact could be a support to you too. Make sure you have some time for fun, both yourself and you and your brother together. Wish you and your brother all the best


Dear Brother, You are taking on a real challenge, and it is good that you are reaching out to get all the help you can. Bless you for wanting to do the best for your brother. One thought that occurs to me: has your brother been able to be involved in Restorative Justice at all? There are some programs associated with the courts that allow kids who are struggling in the system to try an alternative, where they can make amends to the victim and be involved with community work. But there's also a counseling element attached to it. The people I have met who work in the program are men of color, which could be good for your brother. This is something you might ask the probation officer or the defense attorney about. One organization that gets involved in youth who have been getting into crime is Community Works West in Oakland. Not only do they have programs that could help you and your brother, but they also have staff who might be able to listen to your concerns and give you good advice. Finally, I wonder what your thoughts on faith are? Do you have a church home or a mosque? A good faith community could surround you with love and good advice. Getting your brother involved in caring for people less fortunate than himself (yes, there are sure to be some!) could be great for him. I don't have very good advice on making people follow rules, except this: show him your love, express concern rather than judgment, show him the good in the things you would like for him to do, show him the pain that comes from violence. Good luck in your journey with him! a mom
You are an incredible older sister for taking this situation on and with the maturity of a much older parent! You have made the right move in reaching out for help, even experienced parents would have a difficult time with your circumstances. I am wondering if your adoption was through a California county? If so, you will have many resourses and funding available to you. Intervention can be provided to get your brother turned around and in to a safe environment. You are welcome to contact me and I can share what I know. Another avenue could be an educational consultant, Bob Casanouva (sp?) in the Petaluma/Santa Rosa area. Maybe in your case he would give you some free advice. He has experience with County adoption cases. Your brother is very lucky to have you in his life! sch
I am sorry for your situation. This group, http://www.fsamarin.org/ may be of help. Try giving them a call. Good luck! michael
First: Kudos to you for recognizing your brother is struggling & needs help. Kudos to you for reaching out to others for help. Second: Age 13 is a tough age. Some thoughts:

- Look for a way to bring a positive older African American male role model into your brother's life. Big Brothers & Sisters, sports coaches, .... Ask your adoptive parents and grandmother for other ideas to find this role model.

- Look at what healthy things he is interested in. Maybe video games, sports, computers, working with his hands...? Try to get him into a club or group or even a volunteer job on this subject.

- Contact the school counselor and share your concerns. See if the counselor can meet with your brother on a regular basis ... maybe just for a check in. The counselor may also have some ideas to address the above bullets along with other ways to address your concerns.

-Have your brother work with the grandmother/adoptive parents to create a contract. The contract will spell out if 'x' behavior happens, then 'y' will occur. Make certain he is involved in this.

- Have your adoptive parents contact Social Services. They may have some additional support that can be provided. Adoptive Mom


Dear Lost and Scattered (and Brave): It's a long ways off, but look into Camp Unalayee for next summer perhaps? Two weeks wilderness immersion. Long history in Bay Area. Website gocampu.org has info, also Events in Spring if you/he are interested and want to meet people involved. I'm assuming some monetary tightness b/c you're so young -- Unalayee's never turned away a youth for monetary reasons so if he's game he can go: I can whole heartedly recommend it for that reason, the choice will be his if he wants to (or you can get him to want to long enough to Get On The Bus).

On another tangent, have you read Dave Egger's ''A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius''? He took on his teenage brother in his early 20's after parents died. Small similarities, Great Read.

Sorry not much else, but Unalayee can be a great, great place for teens, esp. teens with adults rooting for them (whether they want them to or not). Please take a look at the program and keep it in mind for checking in to next spring for Summer 2013, and Best Wishes, Many Kudos for your journey to there and beyond. Seena


Beaten down by adopted teen with bipolar disorder

Aug 2010

We've been fighting for a decade to get support for our teenager who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1 almost five years ago. Honestly, I'm at the point where I'm too beaten down to keep fighting on his behalf. Our son is quick to anger, steals from us constantly, and just generally is verbally abusive and unkind. We have done wraparound service through county mental health (a joke), we have a great psychiatrist who has him fairly stable on meds but he is so hard to live with that the entire family is suffering. We're looking at an outrageously expensive school in Utah (and I know some people on this list think it's bad parenting to send a child to a Utah school, but hey, YOU take my kid for a month and watch how your quality of life deteriorates). Here's my question: I know there is support for foster kids but are there any kinds of support -- both emotional and financial -- for the parents of adopted kids with mental disorders? Thanks. Anonymous


My adoptive son just returned from a school (Red Rock Canyon) in Utah. If your son is adopted through the county, not a private adoption, then they will pay for up to 18 months of residential treatment. We also have WRAP services, but do not have a BP diagnosis. I have mixed feelings about the school experience, and overall was not pleased. There are many private residential schools that I have heard are good, however, the county will pay for a private non-profit only. I fully understand that the family is being held hostage by these behaviors. I wish you luck, and feel free to contact me. Another Berkeley adoptive parent. another adoptive parent
Hi, Our situations have some things in common, and I'd be happy to share info with you. My teenage son attends a residential school, and it's been tremendously helpful for him. Send me an email if you'd like to get in touch. Rachel
Our non-profit organization ''Willows In The Wind'' holds support groups for parents that have teens in residential care/therapeutic schools. Many parents come that have teens that have come home from progams because they want support from other parents that have been through this journey. Check out our website at www.willowsinthewind.com. Willows also holds workshops on transitioning your teen back home. Our next workshop is Aug. 28 and 29th. These workshops help you to work on your own personal concerns about the family dynamic and re-entry. We also help parents who are looking to make a decision about therapeutic placement. Please feel free to contact me at 650 868 1988. Jan Rao Willows In The Wind
I do not know of any assistance the state has. Instead, I want to express understanding of your ''beaten down'' feelings and give you something else to check on.

I have an adopted teenage daughter who steals, lies, and has significant anger issues. We were so lucky when we stumbled on a great psychiatrist. It turns out the anger and violence are due to chemicals in the brain not working right -- not Bipolar.

When your son has his anger explosions, does he seem to go into a trance where only time by himself will make him snap out of it? After these episodes is he saddened by what happened?

There is no name to what my daughter has ... yet, but our psychiatrist knew exactly what the problem was when she heard us describe what was happening. If this sounds like your son, ask your psychiatrist about the medicine TOPIRAMATE. Anonymous


Chronically truant 17-year-old smoking weed, won't come home

Sept 2008

Does anyone have experience with/recommendation of an effective, compassionate, disciplined residence for an almost 17 yr old boy who is chronically truant and smoking weed and won't come home anymore? Thanks in advance. Optimiss


I'm so sorry to hear your son is struggling, and my heart goes out to you. I recommend the Bodin group www.thebodingroup.com, because they refer to a wide range of settings, and they're also skilled interventionists. Of course there is a cost to their services, but, without them, you're handling all this on your own with little confidence that you've made the right decision. Bodin works with you to select a setting, and monitors your kid's progress. They periodically visit every boarding school and therapeutic program, and they know the staff personally. They've been working with my son and our family for over a year now, and we appreciate their expertise and support. I commend you for deciding to intervene now - we hung on far too long and intervened way too late. I was in same place years ago
We are looking at Bridges Academy for Boys near Bend, OR. So far we like what we see. It's very small (24 boys) and only high school age so the focus is narrow but the people seem very kind. In the same boat
The usual way of handling a situation like this is for the teen to go to a wilderness program and then onto a specialized boarding school or a residential treatment center. We made the mistake of just doing the wilderness program and then bringing our daughter back home. Over time and some failed attempts at other treatment options, we had our daughter go to an RTC for about a year. She is doing so well now (home since January) that sometimes it seems unreal. She is now a clean, sober, kind and responsible teen. As a follow-up to residential, 12 step programs are a good option (my teen loves going to meetings!) It is helpful to have a guide through this process. We have been using David Heckenlively, MFT (www.integratedteen.com). There is a parent support group available if you work with David. anon
Check out the Hyde School. It changed my teenager's life -- so much so that my daughter went there to teach for two years after graduating from college to ''give back'' in thanks for what the school did for not only my son but our whole family. www.hyde.edu. LP
There are many therapeutic boarding schools out there. I visited several (most were out of state) a year ago when my step son was acting similarly to yours. I highly recommend that you meet with an educational consultant right away. (we went to Virginia Reese and Associates in Larkspur.) Educatinal consultants know the boarding schools intimately and visit them constantly to ensure good teaching and therapeutic staff. They find out as much as possible about your particular child and then guide you to the right schools. Once there (my stepson was actually taken by force....hard to imagine but that is what it came down to) the educational consultant acts as a liaison and can also help guide you to the best counselors etc. I don't think we could have made the choice to send him away without the guidance and counseling and support of our educational consultant. Good luck....and know that you are doing the right thing for your son. p.s. my step son is now drug free and on his way to getting his GED. anon

14 year old struggling w/ boys and risky behavior

July 2008

Sigh. Frankly, my dilemma is deep, and goes way back, so let's see if I can make it brief.

My daughter, who is 14, has been experimenting with sex, but not really so much for herself, but to get (or keep) a boy. What she enjoys is the attention -- totally understandable. What she's doing to get it, though, is further damaging her already young-teen-girl, shaky self-esteem.

I talk to her, but she can't hear me. She's been hurt a couple of times: boys say they like her (maybe they do) then dump her as soon as she gives them what they're looking for. One has even called her a whore to his friends and truly broken her heart.

In the last month, she's been drinking, another sign of a very shaky self-image. I'm heart broken over her heart break. We talk. She sees a very good therapist. I'm still left wondering if there's anything more I can do for her. I just love her so much; it's excruciating to see her suffer like this.

Advice? Suggestions? Any teen parenting groups in the East Bay (Alameda)? E.


Your teen daughter sounds just like me at that age. I still regret that behavior, and still have scars from it. I ended up ''settling down'' with a boyfriend at 15, almost 16. Ended up marrying him. We've been together 24 years now. I also experimented with drinking, and was suicidal for a time. I went to therapy. That helped. But it was really tough finding the right therapist for me. I went through a few doozies before finding someone I could talk to. I was very sure I wanted to talk to a man, not a woman. Luckily my mom was pretty understanding about the importance of finding the right person. I think it's great that you daughter is pretty honest and open with you, and sharing these things with you. No way would I have talked to my mom about it! It sounds like you are reinforcing for her that this isn't the way to gain confidence, just the opposite. But she may need help finding a better way to gain confidence. I tried modeling, boy that was awful! But when I got into fitness later on, that was really a changing point in my life. I had always been concerned with body image and weight, but I learned to focus on body fat instead of weight, and was quite proud of the gains I made in strength. Good luck finding the right ''thing'' for her! Sounds like you are a really caring and open mom - yeah! was like your daughter, survived!
I would be very concerned about the safety of your daughter. For one, if she is not on birth control, it is likely that she will be a 14 year old who is pregnant. In addition, the boys with whom she is hanging out and her drinking behavior is putting her at risk to be hurt in a way that is far worse than being dumped. A young girl who is drunk hanging our with the wrong crowd is at risk of being raped.

One thing that your post did not address is whether or not your daughter is out of your parental control. If you set limits for your daughter will she abide by then or is she ignoring your rules? If the latter is true, you must take immediate steps to protect her safety. I suggest that you set some strict limits and consequences for your young teen. I am not sure it is open to non- members, but Kaiser has a program for parents of difficult teens. Please call psychiatry at Kaiser and find out if it is and enroll if you can. Make sure your daughter's therapist is working with you, and your husband as well, in how to manage your daughter now. What you cannot do is allow what is happening to your daughter now to continue. Peggy


Obviously your therapist has had no effect on your daughter's behavior so I highly recommend finding another one. Anon
I really feel for you and your daughter. I think there is always more one can do as a parent! You have to be really creative sometimes, but don't give up! A few thoughts, family therapy, maybe a more focused place to talk about these things together might help both of you to find solutions with the aid of someone who cares about the outcome for both of you. Try art therapy, maybe coming at things from a different direction will help (I recommmed Ava Charney-Danesh in EL Cerritto). You don't say if you have put restrictions on her actions at all, but you might do that. ''If you come home drunk then you can't go out for ---amount of time. or hang out with that person,'' or whatever. Actions equal consequences. If she's drinking that heavily you might suggest visiting an AA meeting together. It's both a good taste of what can happen if you keep it up and also may give her a tool for stopping. Try the young persons meetings, not adult meetings. Her therapist may not be as good as you think if she's not helping you to help your daughter! Ask, maybe she will have some ideas, if not, I would move on. It's a family issue not just your daughter. As far as sex, I'm sure you have been shoving condoms in her direction, that's the last thing she needs is to get pregnant or some disease. I'm sure you have also talked about bounderies that we need to develop as we grow up. Some of us are not born with those and need to work on it. Also, about how boys and girls are different when it comes to thinking about sex. She may have learned this already, but you might bring it up again (they forget) that you don't always get LOVE with SEX, that there is a difference. Maybe there is something you can do differently that would get through to her. Something that tells her that how she is treating herself is self- destructive. To be quite honest, I was a young teen like that! My mother didn't have a clue about what I was doing and therefore didn't do much to help me. When my daughter started doing stuff, it took me a while to find out about it, but pretty soon we were talking about it (ad nauseum) and after several bad experiences, and me meeting her EVERYDAY for lunch for about 3 months, and more talking, and restricting. She saw her friends who were into things deeper really f*cking up (and we talking about that), she has started to get it together. She will have a secret life always, but but is doing much better with time. Also, don't rule out HORMONES! They play a huge part in the state of mind of a young woman. Also, watch for signs of depression. Try a nutritionist, that helped my daughter too.

Glad you care and are reaching out for help. You are not alone, there are lots of us struggling to help our kids.

Good luck. anon, of course.


My heart goes out to you and your daughter (who is some sort of pain though she nay not realize it). A parenting group sounds like a good idea for you. There is one advertised on this site. However, I hope you have gotten your daughter in to see a therapist and perhaps family therapy for everyone.. Acting out like that is often a reaction to things going wrong in her immediate world. Mom/Dad may not be the ones she feels like she can relate to right now.

Sounds like this behavior is relatively new, so I commend you for jumping on it now. Good Luck (therapist) Jenny


I just wrote you but after reading your post over again, my previous response is probably not going to be helpful.

Unfortunatley you daughter is behaving like a ''whore'' in the eyes of many. Have the people who love her told her this kindly but firmly? I'm guessing the kids will continue to say stuff like that and worse. Even if a boy likes her he will not be able to admit it to his friends if her reputation worsens. Kids can be brutal! Better she have a realty check as soon as possible. Her drinking,of course, will escalate the ''whorish'' behavior and end up causing her more pain.

There are Sex and Love Anonymous meetings for adults and lots of women talk about themselves being stuck the same pattern your daughter is starting. A group for teen girls, where she can get reality feedback and support from her peers, would be great. A goup could be a place where she can help others as well (a great self esteem builder) I have a 15 year old girl and peer group trumps parent opinion, I have found. jenny


Our daughter is 19 years old. She had and has the same issues as your daughter. It is unbearable to think of her degrading herself to get male attention.

My daughter had a baby in the middle of her senior year of highschool. She put her son up for open adoption. We thought the bad times had ended there, but she was sneaking out at night to get drunk and continuing the risky sexual behavior without our knowing it. Finally after a failed attempt at college (where she was sexually assaulted by an older boy who promised her alcohol) she asked to go to a Wilderness Camp and we sent her to ''Second Nature''. She is now at treatment center called Fulshear Ranch Academy in Houston that helps young women phase back into the world of work and college. All of this is very expensive, of course, and you are required to hire an ''educational consultant'' who charges a fee and helps you find the right place for your child. Our daughter is in the middle of the program right now, and it's quite a struggle, but we're counting on her pulling through. For right now we're glad she's safe - away from alcohol and away from the predatory boys she was attracted to. She goes to AA twice a week, gets lots of therapy, and has good friends there.

I don't know if this is any help at all. I know that it's excrutiately painful. Not only was our daughter degrading herself, she put herself in extremely dangerous situations. With alcohol in the mix I would recommend looking for a program. AA is great and has meetings for young people; herrick hospital has a program that may serve teens; there's a program in Oakland called Thunder Mountain; There's got to be a program for someone as young as your daughter.

I wish I knew more about programs for younger teens. Mom who knows what it's like


The problems with your daughter may be even more serious than what you now know about. I would suggest contacting an educational consultant to help guide you towards getting help for her that goes beyond seeing a therapist. Our daughter, now 17, is doing really well - going to 12 step meetings (and loving them) - but it was a rough road from age 14 until earlier this year when she returned from a treatment program in Idaho. The first step is typically a wilderness program which gets them totally away from substances and other distractions (like boys). David Heckenlively, MFT in Walnut Creek (http://www.integratedteen.com) is someone I can recommend for guidance. anon
You asked about any teen parenting classes. I took a really good 8 week free teen parenting class in Alameda at Alameda Family Services (contact information listed below). We were given handouts every week, discussed different issues, and had check-ins regarding our individual issues/questions with our sons/daughters as well. In addition, they offer family/individual counseling services. The classes were very informative and helpful.
Alameda Family Services - School Based Health Centers
210 Central Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501
Phone: 510-748-4085 x 3135
Fax: 510-748-4087
http://www.alamedafs.org

Our 16 year old son has been having major school problems, and has started using pot. We have tried a range of things to help him; therapy, tutoring, educational coach, along with more and more of our time monitoring him and his work. We finally decided to see an Educational Consultant. Our son is now in a wilderness program and showing significant signs of ''getting it together''. As drastic as this feels (and is), it may be the best for teens who are out of parental control. Sam
I empathize with the poster, but don't have any advice since we're experiencing much of the same and haven't figured out what works.

What to do when your 14 yr old doesn't respect the rules or consequences. ''You can't go out'' equals ''I'm leaving and you can't stop me.'' ''I won't give you a ride'' equals ''Fine, I'll take the bus at midnight.'' What do you do when there is no respect for the rules? frustrated but not giving up


Runaway daughter's possessions - not giving them back to her

May 2007

Recently, our teen has been a runaway. Now she is back but sheltered away from our home with friends under our parental permission. Due to her unsafe behavior and attitude in our home we are concerned about permitting her to have all of her personal possessions back. She is 16 years old and almost all of her possessions were paid for by the family. We feel that we may need some of her possessions to substantiate her unsafe presence in our home (journals, threatening letters, etc), document her willful disregard for her health and safety and to protect ourselves from our daughters damaging behavior.

We also feel that all possessions in the home belong to us, including her clothing, furniture, etc. We have permitted her to take almost all of her own clothing, music and cd players but we are limiting her access to the other things. We feel we need to negotiate and manage her behavior thru access to her possessions. It's unfortunate that we have to use this to deal with her delinquency and irresponsible behavior. Can you offer any suggestions and guidelines to deal with the possessions of a minor ? Jack


You are doing everything very right on. We have already been through all of this. It's very hard to do this to your own child, but it is best. We have been through different parenting classes, etc & this is what is suggested. Try to hook up with The Parent Project class. There is one held in Concord, but it is well worth the drive. For more info or to register, call Jerry Zimmerman, Psychologoist 925-687-0374, Melody Royal, MDUSD Parent Liason, 925-682-8000 x4297. This is an 11 week class and are held at the John Muir Behavioral Health Center, 2730 Grant St. 94520. Consultations are also available before & after class. Jerry & Melody are amazing!! Good Luck with everything. Been there, done that, not easy.
Dear Jack, I am really concerned about your daughter and why she is needing to runaway and act out. If her behavior is truly damaging to others then you must be worried sick about her and what is fueling her rebellion. Is your daughter's behavior a result of drug use (can create threatening and rebellious behavior in teens), has she suffered a recent trauma (accident, loss, family conflict) or been victimized in some way? Is she failing in school or suffering a significant psychological crisis (depression, anxiety, or bipolar issues?) I think it would be helpful to have your daughter evaluated for possible addiction (needs to get drug testing to be sure) and mental illness. You can help your daughter best by showing your love and concern for her, threatening her will only escalate her need to threaten you back. There are many therapists in the community who deal with adolescents and their families who can help you. Are you and your daughter's mother willing to seek help and advice for yourselves and seek evaluation and treatment for your daughter?

Focusing on your daughter's access to possessions may be a way for you to try to maintain some control over your daughter but I am worried you may be missing the more important message here: this is your daughter's cry for help. There are many parents who are struggling with similar struggles with their teens. If community professional help has been tried and has failed many parents have found it necessary to send their teen to a drug or residential program to stop the drug use and destructive behavior.

Please hang in their with your daughter, she needs your love and support now more than ever. Good luck, Mary


Dear Jack, By way of introductions, I work with thousands of teenagers, am the director of counseling for a high school and in private practice (and the parent of a former teen), so I have some experience with the world of parenting difficult teens.

With all due respect, I think you're barking up the wrong tree in terms of using your teen's possessions to control her behavior. If she's currently out of the home, having recently run away, and you're already thinking about how to substantiate her ''unsafe presence'' in your home, I think that the question of who paid for her possessions is the last of your worries. I don't suggest therapy for everyone, nor do I think it works for everyone, however, this is clearly (to me) a first priority--not figuring out which possessions to let her use. Unless her particular possession is something that she can use to hurt you or herself, it is only going to further escalate problems by getting into a war with her over what is hers and what isn't hers. If she's a teen, she likely feels that her possessions are not only hers, but that they help define her in very significant ways.

If you're worried for your own safety, please get help for your family with negotiating and managing her destructive behavior; no family should go through this kind of tension and stress alone. Teens run away for a reason; and parents, in my opinion, shouldn't feel that they have to figure out the nearly-impossible job of parenting teens on their own.

The Berkeley Parents Network is filled with parent reviews of therapists who specialize in working with teenagers. I recommend that you contact Stuart Brotman at Coyote Coast. They are available at the address/number: 23 Orinda Way, Suite 300, Orinda CA 94563; (925) 258-5400 -Phone and fax Michael


Considering intervention for out of control 14-year-old

Feb 2006

My wonderful, sweet, loving little girl has turned into a teenager (14) who is running our lives with her out of control behavior. She is still sweet and loving when she wants to be, but the flip side of her behavior is lying, stealing (she got caught stealing from Walgreens), cutting school and just this week, running away (1:00am until morning). She hangs out with a lot of the independent study students at Berkeley High, many older than her and who seem to be running around at all hours of the day with no supervision. Her most recent report card had grades ranging from a B to mainly D's. One of her teachers has mentioned that she is the brightest student in his class, so the poor grades are not due to a lack of ability. She was suspended from BHS for 2 days recently for excessive cutting. (Since the suspension she has been going to all her classes.) We have tried all kinds of things to reel her in, limiting her time on the phone and with friends, dropping her off and picking her up at school, involving the police when she ran away etc. She started seeing a therapist several months ago. I'm now seriously considering drastic measures like sending her off to a Wilderness program. What have other parents done in my situation? What worked for you?


I read your message with a great deal of sympathy. I have a 16 year old daughter with ADHD who was out of control as a Sophmore at BHS, i.e cutting classes, running away at all hours, violent aggressive behavior, etc. We tried many interventions. Got her tested for learning disabilities at BHS and Kaiser, got help from Mr. Bovey the excellent school psychologist at BHS, Individual psychotherapy, tutoring at Classroom Matters, even considered biofeedback.

Before you consider sending your daughter away Wilderness Tough Love Camp please consider Family Therapy. Of all the things we have tryed Family Therapy has made all of the difference! I'm sure there are many skilled and qualified family therapists in the area that your health plan may partially cover. We have Kaiser so we are limited in covered family therapists. Larry Leibman at Kaiser in Oakland has been great.

I would also like to warn you that there is a lot of controversy about the safety and effectiveness of the tough love approach. I would strongly recommend that you research this option before you commit to it. Good Luck! Jan


I just wanted to interject a note about Wilderness Therapy Camp. This is not the same as 'tough love' or 'bootcamp.' I agree it's a last resort, but having used it reluctantly for my 16 year old son, even I was surprised at how useful the therapy was. I might even say that my son liked it! He was really in a spiral - just as you describe - cutting classes, drugs, hanging out with friends I found worrisome - and I think he actually appreciated being stopped. It was very structured, but not toughlove. The counselors were professionals with advanced degrees and lots of experience - and we talked with them on the phone every week. He had not been much of a camper, and he enjoyed the backpacking and came back with great stories of having spotted a golden eagle, for example. He was very attached to his group of kids and even when he returned, was interested in how the kids who were still there were doing. He also learned a lot by observing the behavior of kids who were even angrier, more depressed, etc. than he was, seeing how unproductive their behavior was. Let me just add, as the crowning testimonial, that during the recent holiday season, my son wanted to write holiday greetings to his counselors at the camp, and now says that he would like to get a job there one summer! I think the important thing here, is that you do have to carefully vet the camp you choose. D. Lee
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