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When Is Enough, Enough?

Written by fatherfrank  |  02. November 2007

When is enough, enough, when parenting an out of control and abusive teenager? That is a very delicate and complicated question. After twenty-eight years of parenting other people's children, I have realized that you never stop parenting. Your approach might change - and hopefully it does with age. Common circumstances and experiences come at you as a parent or parents forever, unless your son or daughter divorces you!br> Effective parenting is not always saying yes and/or giving in to every whim or want of your child. Responsible parenting oftentimes means walking a very difficult line that is both challenging and painful, as well as joyful and life giving.
Most of us who are parenting teenagers today, acknowledge what a difficult walk it is. Teenagers are complicated and challenging, even on a good day. As parents, we want to keep the lines of communication open at all costs. However, we must be conscious if we have to choose between being a friend or being a parent, being a parent must win out.
Parents must set parameters, must not be afraid to enforce family guidelines and must hold their children to accountability, even if their children say they're mad at them. Enforcement and accountability are the hardest part of parenting. Nobody likes to be the bad guy.
Unfortunately, there comes a time when we, as parents, must step up and assert our parental authority. In fairness to our children, they need to know who is in charge. We must be consistent and fair.
If your son or daughter is out of control, are you willing to take whatever measures are necessary to keep your son or daughter safe, and/or protect them from their own destructive decision-making?
Tough love is not merely kicking out an out of control teenage son or daughter. Rather, it is having a willingness to go to whatever extreme is necessary to help that child reclaim his or her life, even if it means considering very painful, difficult measures that might even mean your child leaving your home. It is not about turning your back on your son or daughter or aborting your responsibility for parenting them. Instead, it's having an openness that demands unconditional love to do even the painful things for the sake of your son or daughter's livelihood.
When your son or daughter came into the world, you were not issued a parenting manual. Most of us learned our parenting skills by trial and error and by taking the best experiences from our own parents. However, this is not 1950, it is the year 2007. The world has changed vastly, and so has family life.
Today's teenager is exposed to more reality, more pain, more suffering and more violence than many of us who are parents will see in five lifetimes. Between the internet, television and the movies, our teenagers are experiencing more of the world than we realize. Many of our teenagers are ill prepared to navigate many of these experiences.
In 1950, Ward and June Cleaver were the paradigm for parenting. "Leave It To Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" characterized family life. Family life today is radically different. Our teenagers are constantly pushing the limits and looking to do more and be more at an earlier age. Today more than ever, they feel more and more invincible. They feel they should be allowed to do whatever they want, wherever they want - without any restrictions.
A growing number of parents are not setting any kind of boundaries or limits upon their teenagers. There are middle school and high school students that have no curfews. During the school week, they can come and go as they please, as well as on the weekends.
Instead of asking permission for overnights and other special activities, these same teenagers basically inform their parents of what they are doing. As hard as it might be to believe, there are more parents than one wants to acknowledge who allow their teenagers this kind of liberty. If these parents attempt to say no, these same teenagers make it clear that they're going to do what they want anyway, no matter what the consequence.
If your sixteen-year-old is already telling you what to do, how do you consequence him if he defies you? You really don't. Unfortunately, you've allowed yourself to be held hostage by your teenager, and that is a horrible place to be!
JK had just turned sixteen. He has been a difficult child since birth. In early elementary school, he exhibited some aggressive behavior. His parents attempted to address that behavior and were told that it was a phase he would grow out of. According to his parents, that phase only got worse. By middle school, he was cutting class and getting detention on a regular basis. He was bright, so he was always able to salvage his grades by cramming at the end of the quarter. He was also smart enough in middle school to act out under the radar. He attended a large middle school, so it was easy to get lost in the crowd. Every now and again, his mother would be called into the office because of his oppositional behavior.
He just began tenth grade. In the first month of school, he cut ten school days. He was suspended for inappropriate behavior three times - and that's just the tip of the iceberg. On the home front, since the end of eighth grade, he has been terrorizing his parents and younger brother.
Over the past two years, whenever JK and his parents had an argument that did not work out to his liking, he would punch holes in the walls of his bedroom and other parts of the house. If his parents tried to restrict him, he would just leave and come home when he wanted to. His oppositional defiant behavior has become so frightening that on three separate occasions, the police had to be called to intervene. Usually when they are called, JK comes down and composes himself. On the last call, he was so out of control that the police had to subdue him and take him by police car to Stony Brook University Hospital. By the time he was seen, he had composed himself enough to convince the emergency room staff that he was fine and should be able to go home. Needless to say, they discharged him with only one recommendation - seek family counseling.
Although JK's parents were disappointed that the hospital did not keep their son overnight for observation, at least they were grateful for the family counseling recommendation. They immediately attempted to put that in place. When they told JK of the appointment, he made it rather clear that he had no intention of participating. He said he did not need counseling. He was fine. However, he expressed rather crudely that he thought they were nuts and should seek counseling for themselves.
He continued to be disrespectful and do whatever he wanted. He was coming and going at will. His newest tactic was to steal whatever he could and convert it into money. One night in a rage, he took his mother's car keys and went joyriding with his friends until the early hours of morning. His mother felt paralyzed because if she called the police and reported what her son had done, she feared he would be arrested. So instead, she tortured herself till nearly morning until he returned. He came in and was belligerent and disrespectful. He went to bed and she sat in the living room and wept.
The next day, she contacted the parents of the boy who went for the joyride with JK. These parents were shocked. They thought JK had a license and had his mother's permission to have the car. They conveyed how wonderful he was in their presence - always respectful, polite and mannerly. They could not believe that he was defiant and oppositional.
JK's parents conferred with a number of mental health professionals. Although there was some difference in opinion on how to handle JK, all agreed that enough was enough. They all felt that deliberate action needed to be taken to break his cycle of destruction. The hard part is to decide what course of action will be the most effective in helping their son to reclaim his life and get back on track. They are ready to do whatever it takes to save their son from himself, even if it's painful to them.

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