Your Defiant Child

Your defiant child has just created another huge upset. You're still reeling from yet another mean and nasty fight, and once again you let him suck you into the battle and say things you wish you hadn't said, despite your resolve to stay calm. He's stormed out of the house, and part of you almost wishes he would just stay the hell away, while part of you is broken-hearted, wondering what happened to the nice kid you used to know. What happened to the child you lovingly raised and sacrificed for and tried to teach right and wrong and proper values and respect for the rights and feelings of others? What went wrong?

As children become pre-adolescents, then adolescents and teenagers, part of their developmental course is to learn to make more of their own decisions on the way to becoming more independent and as they try to figure out their place in the world. As a part of all that, a certain drawing away from their parents is natural and desirable. Conflicts between parent and child are all but inevitable, but in most families the level of conflict and rebellion and upset doesn't get out of hand.

Sometimes, though, your teen's rebellion and anger in response to the natural conflict and tension escalates, and you end up with a child who is always angry, and who becomes some combination of sullen, withdrawn, sarcastic, disrespectful, truant from school, rule-breaking, spiteful, vindictive, unkind and defiant, among other things.

These are the kids who have developed "Oppositional Defiant Disorder". They consistently refuse to follow requests or commands. They often lose their temper, argue and defy. They get annoyed easily, and don't take responsibility for their own actions-everything is always somebody or something else's fault. They're stubborn, they test limits, they're manipulative.

These attitudes and behaviors usually don't occur alone. Very often learning disorders; ADD or ADHD; or mood disorders such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder are present. It's important to have your child evaluated-you need to know the full picture to have a better shot at successfully dealing with the situation.

Based on the evaluation, several treatment approaches may be considered.

If anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD or ADHD are present, medication is often used, although it should be mentioned that there is more and more controversy about the use of Ritalin and anti-depressants.
Many authorities believe that "Parent Management Training", or "PMT" is the most effective treatment. PMT programs attempt to teach parents better parenting skills, especially how to look for reasons to praise and reinforce positive behavior, while ignoring negative behaviors, where appropriate. Parents are also taught that they don't have to join every battle.
Individual therapy for your defiant teen isn't often very helpful, but family therapy can be useful.
In extreme cases, boarding school may be the answer. There are plenty of variations-military school, "Therapeutic Boarding School", "Residential Boarding School", "Boot Camps", and so forth.

There is lots of information available on the web, at the library, and in the bookstore. There are hundreds of books, and dozens of comprehensive CD, DVD, and web-based programs. A few hours research will turn up plenty of information to get you started. Unless you actually are a terrible, abusive parent, and your child is acting out his rage, your angry teen probably isn't your fault. Some kids just somehow never got through the "terrible twos", according to one theory. Statistically (and thankfully), most kids eventually get through it, and grow up to be responsible and productive adults.

Bob Harvey enjoys writing on health and family issues, and also enjoys uncovering existing resources and helping give them wider distribution. For lots more free information on "Angry Teens", visit Defiant Child Answers.

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