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"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

When Teenagers Harrass Parents
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's 11:00 PM. A teen wants to get his mother, who in this case is a single parent, to allow him to go out with friends the next day. But he is grounded. She has to get up very early the next day. He knows that. He senses her vulnerability. He strikes.

He moves in on her with a methodical debate. "Why why why? Give me one good reason. No one will trust me. No one believes me. I can't prove that I can be trusted if no one will give me a chance." She parries with "why don't we all talk about it tomorrow."

He's not buying that. He knows he has her over a barrel. She can't get to sleep if he keeps the debate going. This is his leverage. He can keep her up for a long time until she caves-in. He knows this. He has seen her cave-in the past plenty of times; but she has been attending PSST, working with family therapist, and working with the PO. She is much stronger than before and she is getting angry too.

At one point, after about half an hour and thirty Go to Bed Right Nows, he challenges her with the old, "You want me to get sent away?"

She is frustrated and tired. She agrees. "Yes, I do." He is aghast. "You what? You do? She back pedals, stating, "I want you to be safe, if you can't be safe here then in placement."

But sometimes you can't get the Bad Genie back in the bottle once he is out. "Fuck you," he yells at her. "If I saw you choking right here in front of me I wouldn't help you." It's a threatening statement. The look in his eye is very scary and while he does not lay a hand on her, his reign of intimidation is secure.

"Fuck you, if you died I wouldn't go to your funeral." Then he starts throwing the Any-Way-I-Can-Think-of-to-Hurt-You Book at her. "I don't care about you at all. I don't love you. I never loved you. Even when I said I loved you I just said that to get something I wanted. I never cared about you. I wouldn't even go to your funeral. What kind of mother are you anyway? You just want to get rid of me!"

She replies with spunk, "I don't care if you come to my funeral, cause I'll be dead." But he is unrelenting, and continues to verbally assault her. He is the terrorist. She is alone and he refuses to leave her bedroom where this whole scenario is taking place. While he might not exactly say, "I will hurt you," he freely refers to her choking to death and he several times refers to her death by stating that he will not attend her funeral. He has succeeded in scaring her.

She phones the PO right in the middle of it. She tells him that he is on the voice mail of the PO and why doesn't he say "Fuck you" again, and continue being rude. He lies. He calmly states that she is the one who was rude and she is the one who said "Fuck you," to him! Intriguingly, he seems to be trying to get her in trouble with the PO. As if they are two equal children and the PO, acting as parent, won't know which one to believe. However, after calling the PO's voice mail, the situation calms down and after about five more minutes of debate he leaves her bedroom to get ready for bed.

Well, its' not an easy situation; however, there are some things that can be done to minimize the danger.

1. Make your house a safe place. Have a safe room, probably your bedroom, where you can retreat and lock the door. If your teen tries to break down the door, or if he starts destroying the house, you can call 911. If you call 911 tell the dispatch that you need an officer "to keep the peace." (Tip from Ken.) It means that you don't need to go into a long story on the phone with the dispatcher. "I'm locked in my bedroom and my teenager is breaking down the door," might also get a car over to your house pretty quick. Once the police come consider pressing charges. It may be the only way your teen will learn.

2. Once you take a stand that the conversation is closed, make sure that you stop the debate. You can't say the conversation is over and in the next sentence start reasoning with him. Choose. Is the conversation over? Then stop debating and continue to insist that he leave you alone. Remember, he wants a debate. Don't give him one under any circumstances.

3. This will sound like a contradiction with number one. Don't run from him. Face him. Present good eye contact and good body language. Are you afraid of your teenager? Why? Has he ever hurt you? Has he broke up things in the house? Has he made threatening statements towards you? If the fear factor is to strong, and you can't face him down, maybe his living with you is not a good idea. Who is in charge? If the honest answer to that question is that he is, and that he is, on top of that, a very scary teenager, then see what options you might have for more support from family, friends, PO, or at last resort, what other living arrangements are there?

4. Do you have younger children that are exposed to this kind of abuse? That may affect the younger siblings in bad way. Your older Teenager may have to go for the psychological safety of your other children, not to mention for your own psychological safety.

5. The verbally abusive teenager knows exactly what he is doing. He wants to punish you for not giving him what he wants. And at the same time he wants you to think that you are the crazy one. He wants you to doubt yourself. He condescends. He talks as if he knows what's wrong with you, and that everything is really all your fault. It's important to ground yourself by sharing this with someone you trust. If you have a PO please tell him. If you have a pastor, a family therapist, a close relative, tell them. Or come to PSST and share with the other parents. In this way you will receive support necessary to see that you are not the crazy one. We say this alot in PSST: Secrets Keep Us Sick.

6. If you cave-in once he starts the debating then you just taught him that this behavior is an effective way to manipulate adults. You can't afford it.

If you have other ideas for handling this tough situation, please leave your ideas in comments. Thanks.


Lloyd Woodward said...

The following comment was emailed to us. The writer granted permission for comment to published anonymously:

I could not find the comments section so I am just replying to you. This article was EXCELLENT. You captured a scenario that has happened in my home, many, many times. Reading it was a little spooky, because it hit so close to home. My son would add that the only contact he ever wants regarding me was that he just wants to know when I am dead, so he can throw a party. I believe he will. These are all signs of personality disorders, as I have learned through an excellent counselor named April Wateska. You should try to get her to come to a meeting sometime - with her experience and expertise she helps by putting the pieces of the puzzle together which have not been deciphered, to make sense of this psychopathic behavior. It took me five years to find out what was truly going on with my son's behavior - ask Lynn Reddick and she will tell you how amazing this woman is.

Anonymous said...

I heard about April through a friend, our children were in a study with Dr Buckstein at WPIC. She has a great reputation with DBT and Borderline Personality Disorder. It seems that there are many young people with Dual-Diagnosis and this is an especially frustrating and often misunderstood diagnosis. April has given us hope.


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