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FEBRUARY 1999
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A Mother's Story

Troubled Child, Paradigm

No one really knew how to get control of a kid who wouldn't come home at night, who would cut classes at school to "party" and be with his friends. Theraphy had failed and nothing had worked. In this article a mother tells of her family's struggle to help bring her son back
to a successful life-style.

The following story is true, although the names have been changed to protect the privacy of the family involved.

By Mary Allen and Chesle H. Blair, Reprinted by permission from Paradigm Magazine, 1998 Quest Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

"Heath's behavior began to change the summer of his freshman year," said Jane, his mother. "He was 13. His actions became more impulsive and emotional when my husband and I switched him from a Christian school to a public school," Jane said. The new high school offered less structure and more freedom. He did not want to follow the rules of the house. "He didn't seem to care about anything," Jane recalled. He became less responsible, and there was something physically different about him. "I don't think he was quite ready for that culture shock. He really couldn't handle the switch from structured to unstructured," Jane said. "When you have a group of 'temperamentally difficult' kids in a school with little structure, failing becomes normal, and new kids can easily fall into this negative peer group." Heath also faced the increased availability of drugs. "He told me he could buy drugs anywhere," Jane recalled. Although drugs were available in the private school he had previously attended, they were not as prominent.

Heath's problems at school seemed to arise from a low teacher/student ratio, peer pressure and not knowing his boundaries. "They have to be taught boundaries, and if they are not, then they fall into the group of kids where it is OK to fail," Jane said. "In his high school, I was often told 'Well there is nothing we can do...if he wants to fail then he is going to fail.' I heard that over and over; it was awful." There were fewer consequences in the public school system. Heath could be at school all day, and yet could "party" and not go to class, and there was never a consequence for his actions.

"The first thing we did was turn to our youth pastor for counsel, but he didn't really have any answers. It seemed like everywhere I went, I hit walls. Other people I felt should have had answers didn't," Jane said in frustration. After that, Jane and her husband went to the school counselors and said, "Our son is cutting school. What are you guys going to do about that? Do you want to have him pick up trash, stay after school?" And they said, "Mrs. Smith, there is really no recourse for that. What he will do is not graduate when he is a senior." And Jane angrily replied, "That is ridiculous. He is a freshman and he does not even care about tomorrow, and you are talking about four years from now -- he will never make that." Heath even told his mother, "Mom, you're more worried about my cutting than the school is, so back off."

Kid in Control
After feelings of desperation and being afraid of Heath failing, Jane thought about the advice she had been given. After seeking many counselors and being told "...give him more freedom and understand him more," Jane and her husband felt like they did not have the control they should have as parents. "We felt like the odds were stacked against us. Heath pretty much came and went as he pleased, and there really wasn't very much we could do. When we tried to make him do certain things, he looked at us like it was a joke. We felt completely intimidated." Some parents kick their kids out, but Jane and her husband were not going to do that, because they believed he would end up dead. "He was a typical teenager in a dangerous situation," Jane said.

This struggle over control began to take its toll on the Smith family. "My husband and I were feeling helpless -- it was chaotic," Jane said. "I was depressed and in tears a lot, which left me feeling hopeless. I tried several places for help but wasn't getting anywhere. Everything I read or saw told me that there was nothing I could do."

Regaining Control
Jane had been confiding in her sister, Sarah, about Heath's behavior problems. Sarah came across Gregory Bodenhamer's book, "Parent In Control" and mailed it to Jane. On the Friday Jane received the book, Heath had been drinking all day. He was drunk and had passed out on the beach. His girlfriend had to drag him in from the beach when the tide came in. He had to go to the hospital to get his stomach pumped. "At this point I was so mad I was past the point of feeling sad. I opened the book, and the first thing I read jumped out at me: 'If you have tried therapy and you have given your kids the freedom to fail and nothing has worked, this is what you should do ...' " As Jane read the book, she believed she finally had a plan and she could do this -- although she knew it would be hard.

After reading some of the dialogue in the book, Jane realized she had to gain control. She told Heath that if he cut even one time, she was going to go to school with him the next day. Heath's main problems were cutting school, smoking pot, lying and drug use. Jane went to school with Heath and introduced herself to all of his teachers saying, "I'm Mrs. Smith, and if my son cuts again, would you mind if I come and sit in his class?" Jane went to school with Heath for three days and then realized the bond he had with these negative peers would be too hard to break. "He was having fun partying, and he had bonded with peers who were into Satanism and drugs," Jane said. But Gregory Bodenhamer says in his book, "You have to break the kid's bond, and if your kid hangs around anybody that smokes pot, or tobacco, or drinks -- they have to go." The Smiths laid the law down. "He thought we were crazy," Jane recalled, "but he was not allowed to see them, and they were not allowed to call or come by. After the third day of going with him, we took him out of school, so we tried to keep him very busy. We ordered a correspondence curriculum for him to work on at home," Jane said.

Parent in Control
"We tried so many things unsuccessfully, but this book worked. The book was helpful because it was simple to follow -- you could look up the problem your child had and follow it in the book. One of us was with Heath 24 hours a day. We would not let him out of our sight because we could not trust him," Jane said. Bodenhamer wrote in his book, "If you can't trust your kids to do what you are saying, go with them until you are sure they will do it. They have to start over with trust, responsibility and privileges." With Heath, "that took about six or seven months," Jane said. "We gave him freedom when he showed he could handle it, and then praised him for a good job!"

One night Heath told his mom, "Just let me fail like they said (counselors, therapists, etc.)." She looked at him and said, "I love you, and you are my responsibility, and I will not let you fail." Jane remembers feeling "like I was fighting for his life -- determined to succeed if it takes all that I have." Jane was committed, but she said the hardest part was taking him from his friends, because he felt lonely without them. "Kids need supervision and structure in their lives," Jane sighed. "So we began to involve him in things he was interested in -- to keep his mind off himself and his problems."

Jane's biggest challenge was to get Heath through a couple of years drug-free, without being influenced by the type of people he had been before. "It takes a lot of commitment, but my son is great now," Jane said. "He is still a teenager, but we don't have the same kind of conflicts. He will call me and tell me what he is doing and who he's with. I know who his friends are, and they will come to the house. He is also older now, and I think that makes a difference. He makes better decisions now about who he hangs around with, and he has more discernment."

According to Jane, three central points stand out after having gone through the process of regaining control as a parent:

  • Supervision. Get them back into things that make them healthy again. Restructure his or her very way of life. Sometimes it takes pushing, not forcing. At-risk kids need supervision until they can follow the rules on their own.
  • Emotional attachments or peers. You have to get them away from kids with bad habits.
  • Discipline.

Her advice for parents who are in this situation is:

  • Buy the book, "Parent In Control." Follow instructions.
  • Share and encourage others.
  • Get support from friends. Find people who commit to help you.

And, finally, "Never let anyone tell you to let your kid fail -- giving up is the worst thing you can do. Try not to look at your kids present behavior as how it will always be -- you can make changes that might save his/her life. Be strong, pray for faith and courage, and never give up!" Paradigm Magazine

Your comments about this story; Subject Keywords: A Mother's story

Parent In Control Reference

1. Bodenhamer, Gregory, Parent In Control, A Fireside book, Simon & Schuster, (1995).

Back In Control Website
For parents of temperamentally difficult and high risk children.

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