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Defiance Versus Accountability

It is apparent that a growing amount of adolescents are engaging in rather outrageous social behavior. An increasing number of junior high school students are cutting school at will, smoking pot, never mind cigarettes, and ...

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It is apparent that a growing amount of adolescents are engaging in rather outrageous social behavior. An increasing number of junior high school students are cutting school at will, smoking pot, never mind cigarettes, and drinking on the weekends. As parents and other adults are confronting this oppositional behavior, they are also confronting teenagers who are purposefully defiant.

How are they held accountable? What support does the average parent have when a teenager is consistently defiant? What does a parent do?

These are not easy questions to answer. The resources are few and far between. Even if you access the appropriate resources, there is no guarantee that your out of control son or daughter is going to respond in a positive manner.

The conflict is much bigger than most people realize. First of all, children are socially growing up much faster than the generation before them. With free access to the Internet and the media, middle school children are exposed to much more than most of us realize.

Twenty years ago, the average twelve-year-old boy was playing midget football. Now a growing number of that age group spend countless hours in chat rooms or accessing internet sites that provide the steps for making home made bombs.

Parental supervision is, at best, poor. More and more parents have to work two jobs to survive. Thus, their daily interaction with their children is often limited. Other parents are absent because they just don't know how to parent.

Parenting is a full time job that oftentimes is demanding. The hard years are middle school through high school. Every day during this time can be an adventure, depending on your child and your expectations.

Don't delude yourself, our children need guidance and direction, no matter how bright they are. They live in a world that constantly bombards them with mixed messages. Television is filled with commercials that seduce one into believing that their product is "the" product. A growing number of our kids get brainwashed into believing that nonsense. They torture their parents into believing it as well.

The J.'s are a middle class family that live on the North Shore. They are an intact family with four children. Two are in high school, one is in middle school and the youngest is in upper elementary school. Their eldest son, P.J., is the challenge. He is testing every limit and pushing every boundary! He seems to be on a collision course with disaster.

P.J. is fifteen and a sophomore in high school. He has an above average intelligence. From kindergarten through ninth grade, he was an A-B student in all subjects. His deportment was already assessed as excellent.

The summer of ninth grade he started to spread his wings. That summer, he started pushing the limits of his curfew. He told his parents that they were old fashioned because none of his friends had curfews. Some were staying out during the week until 3am in the morning. Needless to say that was totally unacceptable to Mr. & Mrs. J. P.J. was adamant that they were the only parents that imposed a curfew.

His parents did inquire. To their shock, they were amazed at how many fourteen and fifteen year olds were free to come and go as they chose. There were a few parents who were trying to set limits, but their sons were defiant and were doing as they pleased. This was most troubling to the J.'s, who were trying to hold P.J. accountable.

As the summer unfolded, not only was P.J. staying out late, he was staying out all night, smoking pot and drinking. He became very arrogant when his parents suggested that his social behavior was out of control and unacceptable. They tried to hold him accountable for his poor choices and continual defiance. They tried to restrict him. He laughed and went out anyway. They tried family counseling. P.J. clearly told the counselor that his parents were sick and needed help. He further told the counselor that he would not participate and felt counseling was a waste of his time. He did not participate after that.

As parents, the J.'s were beside themselves. They felt like they were being held captive in their own home. They felt like a reckless fifteen year old was in charge. Everywhere they turned for help, they felt frustration.

Finally, someone told them about the PINS process (Person in Need of Supervision). They felt a little hope. However, the bureaucracy made accessing assistance frustrating and at times demeaning.

They finally filed the petition. They were referred to Diversion, which meant their son would be mandated to counseling and assigned a probation officer who would monitor P.J.'s behavior and compliance to what was expected of him.

P.J. was most manipulative. Each time he met with his probation officer, he gave an all-star performance. He convinced his probation officer that he was the most abused child since Oliver Twist. The probation officer had a heavy case load and oftentimes did not touch base with the J.'s for weeks and had a hard time getting back to them when they called with a complaint.

Everything changed when P.J. took their car out in the middle of the night. He was under the influence and smacked the car into a tree. Fortunately, he did not get seriously hurt or hurt anyone else.

Now the system sat up and took notice. P.J. was no longer seen as the poor victim, but now was seen as the victimizer. His parents agonized over what to do. Should they press charges? If they did, he would definitely be held accountable, but they would have little say as to how he would be treated. If they didn't press charges, again he would beat the system.

That circumstance forced P.J. to go before a Family Court Judge who read him the riot act. P.J.'s parents held off on pressing charges, but were still considering it. The judge laid out a very clear plan that P.J. was expected to comply with, with no deviance at all. It had a strict curfew, mandatory counseling, 12 step meetings and intensive supervision with his probation officer. P.J. was told that the slightest non-compliance would result in his being placed for an extended period of time.

It is still too early to tell how P.J. will fare. At the moment he is frightened and acting angelic. Hopefully, it will last.

The PINS process is the only things parents have for support. More and more Family Court judges are becoming attentive to parental concerns. Instead of merely being punitive and bureaucratic, they are really trying to make a difference.

However, their hands are tied. The resources available to them are scandalously inadequate. Their caseloads are abusively overcrowded. The PINS process is often set up for failure because of the lack of staff.

In November the PINS age moves to seventeen, which is a major victory for parents and teenage advocates. However, it is a disaster for a system that is already inadequate. We must write our county and state legislators requesting more funding for our Probation Department and Family Court system.

If we don't do something now, too many teenagers will fall into the cracks and too many families will be destroyed.