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Ask the Experts

What Should We Do About Our Teens' Behavior Problems?

By Joe Connolly, Consulting Educator

Question:

My husband and I have raised six children, ages 14-26. Now our two teenage girls, ages 15 and 17, are giving us a lot of problems. They are starting to have a lot of guys calling our home. They're starting to fib a lot and now I found out they've missed a lot of school. This is hurting my husband and me. We live in a nice home in a nice area - clean house, food galore. We're Christians who raised them well, so why are they doing this to us? We talk and listen to them. We laugh and play around with them and we discipline them, but they still do this. We have meetings with the school officials, and they went outside one time and came back two days later. What can happen when our teens behave like this, even though they are really good teens? What will the school do and what will other agencies do to us and our teens? Help!

Answer:

I certainly empathize with your situation as it seems you have many issues to consider. Let's start by addressing your last two questions. How the school handles this situation depends on your school and district. However, truancy laws will dictate much of that decision. If the girls are missing too much school, the school could get other agencies involved, but that usually happens only in extreme circumstances. I would recommend that you work closely with the school and the school district if you feel the girl's absences are becoming an issue. Stay ahead of this.

The fibbing that you refer to could be a sign of a few things. It is completely normal for most teens to try to stretch the truth at times. It doesn't make it right, but knowing this can sometimes ease your frustration. The lying could be something as simple as your children not wanting to hurt or disappoint you. Instead of telling you the truth they may be trying to protect you from the truth. It is also possible that your girls are afraid of your reaction. When teens know that mom or dad will "go crazy" if they told the truth, they are less likely to be honest with us when they do something wrong. They do not see any benefit in being truthful. Take a good look at the way you react to a situation when they do something you don't approve of. Changing the way you handle the situation may help to improve their lying.!

Missing a lot of school is a red flag to me that something is going on. I would strongly recommend that you contact the school counselors as soon as possible. Find out what they think and ask them how they plan to help with the situation. Be open to suggestions they make and don't be afraid to implement them. You might also consider seeking the guidance of an independent professional counselor.

One of the things you must not do is to take this personally. You ask, "…Why are they doing this to us?" The reality is that they are not doing anything to you. It does seem like they are acting out and misbehaving in ways that you need to address. But, as long as you feel like your girls are deliberately trying to hurt you it is unlikely you'll be able to help them in the most appropriate way.

Your girls' actions sound like it could be a cry for independence. Your 17-year old is very close to being old enough to live on her own. From your description, it sounds like these are your two youngest, so it's possible they also see the freedom their older siblings have and yearn for something similar.

It could also mean that because these are your last two children you have slacked off a little in your discipline. This is a completely normal progression, but one that may not be best for your girls. You may be doing this without even realizing it. Ask your older children what they think of your current parenting style. It may help you make some positive changes.

Your situation sounds like it has you at your wits' end. If so, I would strongly recommend that you seek the advice of a professional counselor to help you with the situation. Good luck.


Joe Connolly is the author and creator of 3 STEPS to parenting teens and the One Minute Rule. One of the founders of Good Parents, Inc., Joe is a sought after speaker of family topics and is widely known for his expertise and powerful speaking on parenting. Joe has been a featured speaker at Stanford University's "Stressed Out Students" conference, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, California State Senator Jackie Speier"s "Girls Day" and at corporations including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Genentech. Joe is the dean of students (K-5) at the Harker School in San Jose, CA. You can learn more about Joe and the services he provides at joeconnolly.org. Joe can be reached at joe@joeconnolly.org.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/19/2010:
"the problem is you blow things out of proportion. "
07/19/2010:
"Parents who are suffering from aggressive and irresponsible behavior of their children can take the help of certified counselors. Consultants recommend effective parenting tips and directions to make the lethargic kids motivated and disciplined. Parents should maintain strong two way communications with their teenagers in the fostering environment. Many centers and wilderness camps for struggling youths are there which prescribe behavior modification programs in affordable charges. http://www.troubledteens.net/Problems-in-Teens/Teens-in-Crisis.html "
03/8/2010:
"Dear 11/12/09, Your son sounds like he's lost in school. He probably needs basic skill developmentin math, reading and writing. You need to approach the school first and ask the teachers to do a simple basic skills diagnostic in addtion/subtractio/multiplication and division in Math, reading level, and writing ability and based on the results the school or a teacher will have to give him skills based homework that YOU will have to make sure he completes. This is the main reason why many students fall by the wayside in 6th and seventh grade. It's not his fault that he got to 7th grade without a teacher intervening and TEACHING him the skills he needs. At this point he may feel stupid in school and KNOWS that he is not. He needs you to intercede for him and demand he be get the basic skills he needs. At home, you have to tighten your reins. He cannot go out because he is mixed up with a crowd, whether they are relatives or not, that are encouraging bad behavior and that is where he is finding success. His cousins can come over your house, of course, as long as you are home when they come."
03/8/2010:
"Time to discipline your daughters. What does that mean? The purpose of discipline is to teach respect for ourselves and others and ultimately teach self-control. Your daughters are slipping into the realm of disrespectful youths. Take away their rights that are based on the trust that they had earned in the past. No phone. No computer. No new clothes. Check their homework everyday. No outside communication. No going out until attitude improves. No money, no shopping, no movies. Demonstrate that the freedom you give them is based on trust and when that trust has been breached that freedom diminishes. Call the school each day to see if they are in school. Lying is indicative of hiding things from you--what? What are they doing when they cut school? They are able to lie to you bgecause they know that you haven't a clue what they are doing. Change that scenario. Make sure that lying is not acceptable in your house at all. Never argue with a teenager. Make a statement, remember it and stick to it with focus--do not let them distract you--like: aria, clean your room now. She says, why me you never ask Sandy to clean her you. You're always picking on me. You say. Excuse me, Maria. I said clean your room now. When you're done we'll talk. And keep repeating it and stay focused even if you have to go to her room with her and instruct her on how to clean it. Show her that you mean business and don't laugh when you succeed or make comments like I'm good."
11/12/2009:
"wow i have three kids my son julian is 14 my daughters ciarra is 8 and selena 6 my son since hes started school its been i cant explain hes got everything we live good to u know and i study with him i watch movies with him i feel he dont care he would rather be with his aunts uncles friends but me im doing everything for him school he does not want to try at all hes in 7th and acts like whatever and im doing the counseling and they are not taking this serious he got arrested a few days ago really and says hes innocent do to possesion of a weapon and say it was a friend im so lost with helping him many years of stress and im getting nowhere he goes to church hes in groups i tell him al the time papi i love you be safe and he just ok mom i love you too but out the door i dont know whats going on i have to take everyting away and hes like oh well the girls are great no issues they love school hes like i dont know help"
07/23/2009:
"There are also some home based intervention programs/plans to help out teens behavior issues. Like Home Intervention System that will help you deal with a wide range of problems that children often encounter including; anger, substance abuse, school issues, self-esteem, arguing, motivation, interacting with family, and more. Parents, teachers, school counselors, grandparents, and any other individuals who frequently interact with struggling youth will benefit from techniques and concepts presented by the Home Intervention System. Source: http://homeinterventionsystem.com"
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