When Life Hurts- Part 3

If you're still reading, good for you! I haven't scared you off. If you're just tuning in, click on Monday's post to catch up with our discussion of dealing with the wayward child.

Honestly, if I'd heard this radical suggestion when our nightmare first began, I would have balked, too. You want to rationalize it away. Every fiber of your parenting heart wants to find a softer way out of this. Can't you just reason with them? Can't you have a heart-to-heart and crack that crusty shell they've built around themselves?

If that still works, then you aren't to this stage yet, and great for you! Go have that heart-to-heart. Have a thousand of them, but don't be fooled by surface compliance. Extreme parenting comes when all other forms of communication and discipline have failed miserably. When you catch them in the same error over again (lying, drinking, sneaking out) assume that the problem is WAAAY bigger than you know. Assume that this is the worst child on the planet and deal with them accordingly.

A loving parent's biggest mistake is giving the wayward child too much credit. We know what we've put into that little heart and we expect to get it back. We cannot get our minds around the enormity of our own child's evil intent and want to excuse it, forgive it, justify it, explain it away and accept their explanations far too easily. They will only get worse if you don't stop it now.

The last post listed the first step in preventing your rebellious child from becoming an all-out menace: NO driver's licence.

2. The second extreme step is to cut off ALL privileges: cell phone, TV, movies, anything at home or school that is not necessary for life and education. That cell phone is their private connection to a world you would never approve. Your standards dictate necessity, not theirs. A horrified teen will swear to you she HAS to have that cell phone "for work." We were fools to buy that one and should have thrown the phone in the toilet. We all managed without cell phones in the Dark Ages, and they can too. If you bought it or are paying for it, out it goes.

If he is paying for the whole thing himself, demand complete access to all texts and calls and limit his access to it (i.e. after 10 PM, the phone goes with you.) Our modern concept of a teen's "right to privacy" is laughable. I don't know what gullible adult signed on to that theory, but if you are responsible for that child, he has no rights that supersede your right to train and protect him.

3. This one will cause you some angst, but it is crucial. There is NO socializing away from you or a designated family member. Any friends are ones YOU know well, at YOUR house, while YOU'RE there. Period. They sit with you at church, go with you to the store, you pick them up and drop them off wherever it is essential they go (school, work) and then you call to check on them with an adult in charge. If they've lied to you before, then do NOT assume they are telling the truth about anything. It is a GIANT pain to do this, I know. But we should have done a lot more of it. If we had, we would have found out what was really going on a lot sooner, maybe before she spiraled too deep.

4. Their entitled world should come to a crashing halt. Everything in their room not necessary for sleep and adequate clothing approved by you should be removed. (Dr. Phil's idea, and it's good.) At around age 15, some kids have everything in the world and think you owe them more. An ungrateful spirit has a lot to do with their downward spiral. Your ungrateful teen is about to discover how much they owe you. If you have an attic, a storage shed, a room you can rent or borrow for a few months (yes, months) everything should go there. The bedroom window is nailed shut and there are NO cool gadgets to entertain them in there. Any "fun" is done with the whole family.

Scant privileges can be earned back by consistent good behavior, but be VERY sparing. Don't be in such a rush to congratulate them for behaving like a civilized human being. One kind word to his sister does not earn his cell phone back. Every privilege you return too early is one step back down the slippery slope, so remember that.

5. Require a strict standard of behavior at home. Any disrespect, foul language, anything not acceptable by any other member of the family receives immediate consequences. No warnings. Send them to that boring room by themselves for awhile or assign an especially disgusting chore. Think up household work that involved physical labor. Exhaustion is a great deterrent to getting into trouble.

What I've observed is that as the child spirals further and further away, we allow more and more outlandish behavior until we have the tail wagging the dog. We're trying so hard to make them like us again.

Forget it. They'll hate you for awhile no matter what you do. Sometimes parenting requires that you become a prison warden. Do not let the prisoners take over!

6. Find a trusted adult counselor to meet regularly with your child, whether Junior likes it or not. When they are in full-scale rebellion, they don't like anything, so don't try to please them. This a counselor of your choosing and they go when you say to go. Sometimes giving them a safe place to vent helps them work through issues that don't have to be life-altering.

I wish we had paid more attention to the signs that our daughter was in trouble and gotten her to a counselor early on. But a word of caution: I would only choose a counselor who knows you and your family very well. Defiant kids are more skilled at lying and manipulating than you can imagine and a skillful con artist can paint a picture of woe that you would scarcely recognize.

Sound insane? It is. But it beats the sleepless nights ahead when you've had to kick him out. When you've changed the locks on your door so his drug dealer can't track him to your house. When your home is invaded with mysterious phone calls and letters from the D.A. threatening lawsuits. Now that's insane.

Your home becomes a prison and it is NOT fun, but this is about your child's life. I cannot stress this enough. Kids are dying on the streets, killing themselves and allowing others to kill them piece by piece. The streets today are not the same streets we grew up on and much of the damage they can do to themselves cannot be undone.

But what if you do all this and it doesn't work.

It might not. As one friend constantly told me while we were dealing with our own nightmare, "You can't change the heart. Only God can."

But you will know that no matter what happens later, you did everything you could have done and the regrets won't beat at you so harshly.

Next post, I'll address the responses a parent can take in dealing with a rebellious heart and what you have to do to protect yours.


Jill said...

I think parents just have no idea it can get this bad, but there are cases when this is all necessary. "Tough love" is not just a catchphrase. And they're not going to like you no matter what. It's not your job to make them like you.
Having other children in the house helps to stand firm. We didn't want one to influence the others, so the rest had to see that there were consequences for the actions.
And the whole time we're asking, how did it come to this?

Lea Ann McCombs said...

I think you said it right when you said "parents have no idea how bad it can get." We sure didn't. We put faith in what we taught them, but it doesn't always stick.