Saturday, January 30, 2010

When Life Hurts- Part 2


Sometimes, it's obvious. Sometimes an outsider can take one look at your family situation and see why your teen or young adult is out of control.
Sometimes it was a lack of parenting skills, over-permissiveness, a family breakup, lack of leadership, or any number of reasons an otherwise great child suddenly goes nuts. Don't be too proud to ask those you trust if they see something amiss in your family structure that you don't see. Chances are your child caught on long ago and that could be the problem.

However, cases abound when parenting was practically nil and the child turns out wonderfully. And then sometimes you do everything right, and the child rebels in such a vicious way she may as well have been raised by cannibals.

So it's not all about the parenting. Sometimes it's just in them.

If you can look at your own parenting and see glaring mistakes, it's not too late to correct them. For example, if you've allowed your underage child to disrespect you, threaten physical violence, or bring illegal substances into your home, then you have some work to do. You did drop the ball back there, but it's not too late. You are still in charge. Some friends of ours called the police on their teenage son when the boy threatened to harm his father and I applaud their courage.

Have a sit-down. Confess your parenting mistakes to your child and explain that now things are going to be different. Be specific and do NOT back down. This is a power struggle and you must win. Your sanity and their lives could depend on it. Do whatever you have to do to prevent them from taking over. The only thing worse than losing your child is losing your entire family.

One mom wrote to me, frantic about her fifteen-year-old daughter who was out of control, using drugs, sneaking out at night. But when I suggested the extreme measures I think are required, the mother balked. "Oh, she wouldn't like that," she said, and I then realized what the problem was.

Based on the cases I've observed over the last few years, most wayward behavior starts with a profound sense of ungratefulness on the part of the child. An ungrateful spirit leads to darker emotions that an immature adolescent is unable to process correctly. Anger and resentment quickly follow, usually directed at themselves but manifested as hatred toward the ones who love them most--including God. 

In the child's mind, neither you, God, nor the world around them is living up to their expectations and they demand that life treat them the way they believe they deserve to be treated. This attitude, left unchecked, leads to greater unhappiness for everyone involved. As a society, we've come to expect teenagers to be sullen, ungrateful creatures, but it is my observation that a grateful child is a happy child. And happy kids do not fall away from everything they've been taught is right.

Regaining control of your home is as painful for the parents as it is for the child, and not many have the strength to do it. Nobody wants to run a prison, but sometimes that's your only option. If you are willing to do whatever it takes, then read on.

What made our problem worse was that our child's destructive behavior was a complete secret. We should have focused more on her extreme ungratefulness toward us, toward God, and everyone else who had contributed to her life.
Instead, we sighed, shrugged, talked, and prayed she'd grow out of it. She didn't. Her ungratefulness quickly led to self-hatred and a loathing of anyone who loved her. Nothing was good enough for her: her face, her shape, her clothes, her family, her life. How can you love parents and a God who would bequeath you such inferior qualities? How can you respect yourself when nothing about you is good enough--for you?

We had NO idea what was going on when she was underage, so we didn't have the luxury of doing what I'm going to suggest you do. She carried on a completely separate lifestyle outside our home-- one we knew nothing about. All the while she carried on a monologue with us that we thought reflected her true values and opinions. This went on for years, right under our noses and WE KNEW NOTHING about it.

If that seems hard to believe, I assure you we are not naive or stupid. But we believed we had instilled in this child all the tools she needed for success, and she was very clever to assure us that she was the young woman we believed we had raised. The extent of her lies and manipulation was staggering, but we only learned of it after the fact.

What I tell people now, in hindsight, is HAD WE KNOWN, this is what we would have done. I am not a psychologist, a pastor, or a mental health expert. But I've lived it and maybe my experience can help someone else. I've borrowed some of it from Dr. Phil, who agreed with me (!), and if only we'd known earlier, we would have stopped at nothing to thwart her greased path toward destruction.

1. First, if your child is not yet driving age, DO NOT let him get his driver's license. I cannot emphasize this enough. Parents, they will tell you ANYTHING you want to hear to gain this freedom, but the day you allow a troubled, disrespectful child to get a license to drive a car, you will lose all control.

If they are already driving age and you own or finance the car in any form, the car goes. That car is their ticket out of your value zone. Assume that the moment they drive out of sight, they are going where you do not want them to be. Sell the car or hide the keys indefinitely. I know it's more work for you, but we're talking about your child's life and future.

In tomorrow's post, I'll suggest more extreme measures that may save you further heartache. You can get through this and you'll be wiser and stronger for it. (If it doesn't kill you first!)

Feel free to comment or email me at Your response thus far has been exciting and humbling and I appreciate your willingness to share your stories with me. Together, we can do this.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad I ran into your blog. It answered all my questions. like Why do children become wayward? I love that statement you made..."So it's not all about the parenting. Sometimes it's just in them." I swear I will follow all your blogs. Thanks for sharing.