Posts Tagged ‘teenager’

Managing Anger at Your Teen

“Anger destroys the vessel that carries it.” ~ Dr. James Sutton, child and adolescent psychologist

This is an excellent article by Dr. James Sutton on how parents’ anger at their teenage children can markedly affect the quality of their relationship. I know there are a few parents out there who might benefit from reading it (smile).Coffee

“Managing Anger (OURS)”

Often, the difficulties that come between parents and their defiant children can be reduced by the parents if they will make the effort. One of these difficulties is anger, an emotion that throws up more road blocks to relationships than any other entity.

I receive a lot of email from parents. Anger at their children is a common theme. I’ve also seen it in my office. Anger is extremely counterproductive to the process of healing and the re-establishment of a working relationship. Anger verifies and often “feeds” defiant behavior, making it worse.

I understand the anger; I can identify with it as a parent. But anger is like a huge tree that has fallen onto a railroad track. It’s going to stop trains in both directions. All progress comes to a halt until someone gets the tree off the track.

Who’s going to move the tree? You can wait on your defiant youngster to move it. (Good luck on that one.)

Psychologist Dr. Hew Len teaches about “limits” that exist between individuals and serve to choke out the relationship. (Limits, and how to manage them, is a central theme in my new book, The Changing Behavior Book.) Staying angry is one huge limit. Here are three components of resolving anger (and other limits as well) I compiled after learning of Dr. Hew Len’s work:

  1. True peace and change begin with me. Anger ultimately destroys the vessel that carries it. Although anger has short-term benefits, it produces devastating long-term pain and difficulty. No one should wait for others to ease their anger.
  2. I cannot pass off in blame what is my responsibility to change. This takes a ton of courage and self-examination, but it’s so powerful.
  3. I must clear away (clean) the limits that exist between me and others. In other words, it takes more than recognizing the limits are there and that I created many of them; I must take the active step to remove as many of them as I can.

Reference: Vitale, J., Hew Len, I., Zero limits. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

As a child and adolescent psychologist and former Special Education teacher, Dr. James Sutton has great compassion for young people, especially those who struggle. He is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters and his skill for speaking, writing and training on this subject. His monthly publication, the ODD Management Digest, is available at no cost through his website,


And…She’s OFF!

Well, it’s finally happened. My daughter turned 18. The age of consent. The age of responsibility.  She can vote, go to war, pay taxes – do pretty much whatever her little autonomous heart desires, as long as it doesn’t hurt her or anybody else.

18th bday cakeWhen you ask the parent of an 18-year-old how it feels to have one, you’ll get a myriad of answers – and you’ll hear different answers from the same parents, depending on the day.

Speaking as a seasoned mother of 18 years, so far it’s been a heck of a ride.

Since the Big Birthday, I’ve run the gambit of emotion: excitement, relief, disbelief (“Jeez, I’m old!”), tears, and celebration.

Then night falls, worry sets in, GPS tracking is activated, and the confusion about exactly how much control I have over this new “adult” begins.

“Mr. Google” and I have done much surfing on this topic of late.  My house=my rules seems to be the usual parental mantra.

But everyone makes that sound so easy. intellectually, it’s a simple concept to grasp: when someone lives in my home, they follow my rules. But throw a rebellious teen into the equation and all bets are off.

So, I wrote them up – the newly-revised expectations of my daughter — rules for when she’s in the house and rules for when she’s not.HouseRules 

And since she’s primarily OUT of the house, there they stay – the House Rules – posted prominently on the fridge being completely ignored (read unseen) by my new vagabond.

But she’s 18, so my only recourse is to tell her to get her own place, right?

But what if she can’t afford her own place? And there’s the fact that I’m still unsure she’ll even keep herself safe in the world, because she’s made some really unwise choices in the recent past. What if her inexperience makes her vulnerable and she puts her life in danger?

Welcome to my world at 3 a.m.

After much agonizing (come to me, Advil), I realize my angst and sense of powerlessness are the result of fear and sadness — fear that I can no longer keep my daughter safe, and sadness that she doesn’t need me to.

The reality is, she has taken flight, and I’ve got to let go.

It’s more than a transition – it’s a paradigm shift – no longer seeing my kid as a child but as an adult, responsible for her actions, her time, her job, her future. I’m more or less out of the loop. And that’s really, really weird.

earth in hand (usage)But as emotional as it all is, she’s doing remarkably well for a “newborn.” She has not one but two jobs, her own checking account, a healthy sense of self-confidence, and is sailing with (what I hope is) a strong moral compass.

She also has a safe car with GPS, AAA, and a bottle of pepper spray  – all compliments of Mom and Step-Pop.

We’re helping her build a safety toolkit, knowing once it’s in place we’ll rest easier as we watch her successfully “launch”.

But these dang mood swings are running me. Naps, bubble baths, and the basketball Finals (NBA, take me away) are helping soothe this savage Mom-beast, but I think the only real antidote will be seeing her survive and thrive over time.

And, independent or not, with the help of satellite technology, Big Mother will still be watching.



When Did They?

Last night, my 18-year-old daughter walked into my room wearing a backless, red velvet evening gown. She stood in front of the cherry wood swivel mirror, admiring and critiquing the color and style, idly tugging at the material in an attempt to make it fit better. She walked back and forth, twirled, stood with her back to the mirror,  and asked what I thought.

What I thought was, “Oh my God, she’s a woman.”

Of course I already knew this, but this was one of those pivotal moments where it hit me with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

One of the things I’ve recognized about being a parent is that you see the passage of time through your children. As Reb Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof, “I don’t remember growing older, when did they?”

The thing that made this moment even more powerful was the fact that the dress she wore belongs to me.  There she was, beautiful, with curves and everything, wearing one of the sexiest gowns I own.

Isn’t having a grown-up daughter something that only happens to other people?

Many of my recent posts have been related to feelings of sadness and transition, in part because my children are now young adults and my role as Mom has all but disappeared. But with every hurdle cleared, I’m closer to letting go, and more proud than nostalgic. I’m seeing clearly how well I’ve done as a parent, because the reality is, I’ve raised two exceptional human beings.

And perhaps as importantly, I appreciate the freedom that accompanies having children who cook their own food, do their own homework, and drive themselves to school.

Actually, on most days, life’s pretty bitchin’.

So, this Saturday night, my daughter will attend her Senior Prom, wearing my velvet dress, inking a significant page in her personal history. 

As I watched her glide around the room, marveling at her youthful beauty, I envisioned the day when she’ll longingly think back on this prom weekend as she watches her daughter model her sexiest gown.

Even though that day will be years from now, it’ll be here as fast as you can sing Sunrise, Sunset.


teenparentcafe’s “Guide to Raising Someone Else’s Kids”–Part III

stepfamily paper dollsAnd…we’re back! Time for the third and final installment of What the Heck Do I Do Now  “teenparentcafe’s ‘Guide to Raising Someone Else’s Kids”.

In our previous two articles, we discussed worry over whether your stepchildren will like you, children requesting secrecy between parents, and your role as disciplinarian in your new family.

So what do you do when you dislike your spouse’s ex, or disagree with them (your spouse) on how best to discipline the kids? Here’s how we choose to deal:

What if I have issues with my spouse’s ex?

I don’t care if you hate their guts and wish them banished to the lower levels of Hades – when face-to-face with your stepchildren’s other parent, always say hello and BE CIVIL. We learned the hard way never to talk negatively about the ex- within earshot of the kids. This has seriously backfired.

It may seem impossible to hold your tongue or keep from sneering, especially if you’ve had recent confrontations with the other parent. Nevertheless – in front of the kids, we “suck it up” and be grown-ups.  We’ve had some experience with this (and a fair bit of therapy), so we’re confident sharing this little pearl of step-wisdom.

With practice, it’s gotten easier. Kids want permission to love all of their parents. Seeing you get along can ease the stress of the divorce.  

Do it for the kids.

What if my husband and I disagree on how best to raise our kids?

In our experience, it’s important that parents come to an understanding about the role of the stepparent in the home early on. If these conversations don’t take place (there’ll be more than one), you’re setting yourself up for a world o’ hurt.

As I mentioned in teenparentcafe’s “Guide to Raising Someone Else’s Kids, Part II,” we decided that in our family it worked best for me (the biological parent in our case) to take sole responsibility for discipline in the household. Pseudo-Pop (my kids’ pet name for their Stepdad) primarily supports my position and reminds the kids of why the rule was put in place to begin with.

Sometimes – we disagree on my disciplinary decisions. Once I shake off my shock that he would ever disagree with me (KIDDING), we take the discussion into a room where the kids are not, and hash it out. We’re usually able to come to an understanding with a minimum amount of conflict by approaching the situation as unemotionally as possible and being empathetic to each other’s position.

We incorporate this strategy into all of our conversations, especially when dealing with confrontation. We find it works particularly well when dealing with child-rearing issues.

Of course, this is an ongoing effort. Just take it One Day At A Time.

The issues we’ve presented in this three-part series are just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll have your own list.

HappySteps_thumb6We’ve learned that a family is a living, breathing thing – one that’ll change many times and call on you to be flexible, patient (bolded that one for emphasis) and have an open mind.

The theme of your new family’s life together could be as cheerful as The Brady Bunch if you talk to each other, be clear on your roles, and…






teenparentcafe’s “Guide to Raising Someone Else’s Kids”– Part II

StepRingsWhen a parent remarries, a new family is born. Caring for a “newborn” calls for flexibility, an ocean of love, and a lot of sleep.

“Raising someone else’s kids” will try your patience in a thousand ways you didn’t expect.

According to our very own Pseudo-Pop (my kids’ pet name for their stepfather), a lot of questions go through your mind as a new stepparent. Maybe some of these ring true for you, too:

Will the kids like me?

Ah, there’s a question. Everyone wants to be liked, especially when they’re anxious to impress. But getting to know somebody takes time. You can’t expect the kids to like you instantaneously. Like a fine wine, relationships have to b-r-e-a-t-h-e for awhile.

We were lucky in our case, because the kids and my husband hit it off well from the start. But that isn’t always the case.

Though we generally get along famously, there are times when it’s hard for my husband to play the role of Pseudo-Pop. Specifically, he loves and adores our daughter, yet sometimes feels he gets about as much recognition from her as she might give a phantom limb. There are days he’s ignored when he walks in the door and overlooked when the daily “have a good days” are dispensed.

She often tells her Pseudo-Pop that she loves him, but occasionally has been known to dismiss him by saying, “This is between me and my Mom so stay out of it!”


This is a ongoing “step-thorn” we’re trying to extract.StepFamiliesRock-CafePress_thumb2

It could be that this is residue from unresolved anger playing itself out, or just garden-variety teenage rudeness. Whatever the cause, it’s unacceptable and we’re working to correct it.

What if my step-kids confide in me about risky behavior?

“Please don’t tell Mom!”

There are certain “secrets” that can be kept confidential between the kids and one parent (“girl” talk, “guy” talk, Birds and Bees stuff that they’re not comfortable talking about with the parent of the opposite gender), but when their safety is at stake, these secrets need to be revealed to both parents.

My husband is honored that the kids trust him enough to confide in him about actions that could get them into trouble, but this has occasionally put him in an awkward position.

He has figured out a way of dealing with it that’s been fairly successful. He explains that there are no secrets between him and their Mom, but that he doesn’t have to be the one to tell her, as long as they will. He also offers to be there with them to help “soften the blow” by explaining to me that they came to him with the information first.

So far this strategy has worked out well, though thankfully there have only been a couple of occasions where it was an issue (at least, as far as we know).

Oops, we’re out of time! To be continued tomorrow…


teenparentcafe’s “Guide to Raising Someone Else’s Kids”

“It is best for all parties in the new family to take matters slowly, to use the crock pot instead of the pressure cooker, and not to aim for a perfect blend, but rather to recognize the pleasures to be enjoyed in some of the distinct flavors of the separate ingredients.” – Claire Berman


I am blessed to be part of a phenomenal family. Both of my teenagers are smart, talented, compassionate people. My husband is all these things and more, and brings much joy (and comedy) to us on a daily basis.

The soundtrack of our life is laughter, punctuated at times by the cymbal-crash of teenage drama to keep us on our toes.

My husband joined our family when my daughter was eleven and my son was nine, thus entering our family story “after the movie had already started”. As such, he holds the daunting title of stepfather (or, “Pseudo-Pop”, as he’s known to our young’uns).

For me, the term “step” always brought to mind the tale of Cinderella, where the wicked stepmother and stepsisters represented a serious waste of space. Not so in our home!StepFamiliesRock-CafePress_thumb2_th

It’s not that there haven’t been issues while building our new family. In this series we’ll talk about some of the more challenging endeavors, offering tips on how we as a stepfamily are coping.

No two stepfamilies are alike, so there’s no set formula for success (doesn’t that cheese you off?) Take comfort in the fact that yours isn’t the only stepfamily that strikes a dissonant chord now and then.

Am I a friend or disciplinarian?

In our home, we leave discipline to the biological parent – me. We decided, after a few false starts, that the change of adult leadership in the household was best handled by giving Mom exclusive title to the role of “Bad Guy”. Pseudo-Pop supports me in my disciplinary efforts by reminding the kids of the rules while occasionally offering his “two cents” about why the rule is there in the first place.

Whatever being a stepparent may look like in your family, we strongly feel that presenting a united front in the presence of the kids is key. If there are disagreements to be discussed, we have them in private.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss other ways that we have clarified the stepparent role in our “ready-made” family.


When it’s Time to Take “ACTION”

I’ve never been one to believe in angels. I believe in good people, kindness, and empathy, but angels were always  for someone else.

That all changed when my daughter was 15. She was depressed and having panic attacks – we were at a loss as to what was behind them. Later, we learned they were in part due to her abuse of prescription drugs, but more precisely to her feelings of hopelessness and being out of control.

Immediately after we found out about her drug use, her father and I enrolled her in a rehab program that came highly recommended by the district. We wanted to get her into therapy as soon as possible, and fortunately for us, there was a meeting that night.

We arrived at the session having no idea what to expect. After being welcomed warmly by the staff, teens and parents were segregated into separate rooms.

Cary Quashen 2When we’d all settled into seats, a tall, pony-tailed man wearing jeans and cowboy boots walked to the front of the room. He casually sat on top of a desk, looked out at all of us and introduced himself as Cary Quashen – a high-risk teen counselor.

I didn’t know it then, but Cary would be instrumental in saving my daughter’s life.

Cary talked about his passion, an organization he had founded called Action Family Counseling. Cary, himself a recovering addict 26 years sober, has dedicated his life to working with troubled teens and their families. His strong yet approachable demeanor instantly inspired confidence.

The transformation we witnessed over the next 6 weeks was remarkable. ACTION was not your typical therapeutic program – it was a liberating community – one that provided a safe place to share pain, joy, and tears, without judgment or condescension.

We were all united by our love for our children and having no idea how to support them when they were out of control. Cary explained that our kids would get better – when we became better parents.

During the final half hour, parents and children were reunited to witness new members make the commitment to become and stay sober, and to see others awarded for maintaining their sobriety. Parents were asked to publicly congratulate their kids on their progress. Hugs and cheering were encouraged; tears (which were plentiful) were voluntary.

As the weeks progressed, we watched a roomful of addicts learn new and healthy ways to cope with life’s challenges. We all wrote and signed contracts with our kids, clearly defining poor behavior and laying out specific consequences.

Many who were doing well for a time relapsed, which we learned was all part of the recovery process. The collective group of parents and kids would offer encouragement to begin again, without judgment and with 100% support.

My husband and I always left ACTION feeling energized and hopeful.

ActionFamilyCounselingLogoCary is deeply committed, and shares his cell phone number for 24 hour availability. We were deeply grateful for this – especially on one nightmarish occasion.

Late one night during her treatment, my daughter called me from her room at her dad’s house,   terrified because she was having suicidal thoughts ( this is a call no parent EVER wants to receive.)

After talking her “down” and convincing her to go find her father, my next call was to Cary Quashen.

He answered on the first ring and offered to talk to my daughter right then. His calm reassurance and strength helped us through the moment, and, we believe, prevented her from doing herself permanent harm.

We have had a first-row seat to the kind of “tough love” required to get through to troubled teens. I’ve never seen such devotion and caring for adolescents as I’ve seen from Cary and his staff. He is truly a wonder, though will shy away if you compliment him, explaining that he simply understands what these kids are going through, and wants to educate them early – to have an impact on them so they can lead long and happy lives. He is succeeding.

After our transforming experience with ACTION, our daughter recovered, but more importantly, so did we.

Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out – Cary was OUR angel.

Cary Quashen

To learn more about Cary and ACTION Family Counseling, use these links to hear podcasts of his weekly “Families in Action” radio show on AM 1220 KHTS and Santa Clarita’s local SCVTV.

ACTION Family Counseling

“Families in ACTION” Radio Podcasts

“Families in ACTION” on SCVTV