Parents often bring their children to therapy when they are out of control. This may mean that the child has used anger in a manipulative way and has more power than the parents.
Tantrums, threats of violence, destruction of property, are all fair play as the child sees it. Parents must work quickly to reestablish authority and set firm limits. Too many times the parents try to bargain, bribe or appease the child. A good therapist who specializes in treating adolescents can help parents formulate a parenting plan and implement it.
A fictitious case example helps illustrate the problem and solution. Mary brought her 17 year old son Billy to treatment after months of angry outbursts. Billy had punched holes in the walls, threatened his mother and cut himself on the arms and legs. All it took to trigger a tantrum was the word ‘NO'.
Despite Billy's violent behavior, he was allowed to come and go as he pleased, drove the car when he wanted to and did not do any household chores.
Mary had tried to illicit the help of Billy's father from whom she was separated. Unfortunately, he harbored unresolved resentments toward Mary which prevented him from being able to team up with her to parent Billy.
Mary had tried every form of negotiation she could think of. She bribed him with money, promised to buy him video games, and threatened to send him to live with his father. None of these tactics worked because when Billy started his tantrum, Mary's guilt took over. She felt sorry for him because his father was “not involved in Billy's life”. She blamed herself for this.
Finally, Mary made an appointment with a skilled therapist who had experience with these types of cases. The therapist helped Mary see that it was not her fault. He helped her stop giving in to guilt and pointed out that at 17 years of age, Billy was responsible for his behavior.
Billy's violent outbursts were meant to blackmail his mother into getting his way. It became clear to Mary that she needed to break free from her co-dependent pattern, and reestablish herself as parent to Billy, not friend.
The therapist brought Billy's father into treatment and helped him put his resentments on hold. He was able to form a parenting team with Billy's mother in order to help Billy.
With the therapist's help, Billy's parents who were now functioning in their adult parent roles, developed a behavior contract. They also armed themselves with resources so they would be ready if Billy broke the contract. They got numbers and addresses for intensive outpatient treatment programs, wilderness programs, substance abuse programs, and reviewed the local laws in case it became necessary to involve law enforcement and the juvenile courts.
Billy was brought to therapy and his parents outlined the behavior contract. They essentially modeled a united front. Over the course of several weeks Billy continued his aberrant behavior, but his parents held firm.
He was not allowed to drive, had no video games available and was expected to attend all his classes. He was given an opportunity to earn money for chores. Billy continued his violent behavior and they chose to take the next step of intensive outpatient treatment. The entire family participated, learning more and more about how they could improve their behavior.
Billy gradually opened up. He disclosed that he had been using drugs and entered the recovery portion of treatment. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder
and benefitted from mood stabilizing medication. He eventually completed drug rehabilitation and continued individual therapy to maintain awareness of problem areas.
This case, although fictitious is all to common. Billy was able to correct his behavior because his parents stopped trying to be his friend and took charge. They set limits and modeled self-control. Sometimes recovery takes longer and more intensive treatment is required but the basic principals are the same.
The important thing to remember is that parents who can recognize their own destructive patterns, can greatly increase the chances of their children being successful.