Anger, Hostility and Defiance in Teens

Parent Q&A

  • Need Rec for Teen Anger Management Class ASAP!

    (1 reply)

    Hi. Can anyone recommend an anger management class for a teen boy, age 17? We could get to Oakland, Berkeley, Lamorinda area, Walnut Creek, Concord. He's having scary angry outbursts -- swearing, breaking furniture, punching holes in the wall, etc. -- every few weeks. He's on meds and monitored by a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente, but they have been of little to no help in this situation. My son refuses to see anyone there for 1-1 therapy because the therapists come and go so quickly. They have no anger classes for teens, only adults. Please let me know if you can recommend anything! Thanks.

    My recommendation would be to find a good 1 on 1 therapist who your son can relate too. My experience with two sons who had the same behaviors (one worse than the other) is that they were embarrassed by their behavior and wouldn't disclose what they did in a group setting. So having him connect with an experienced therapist gives you a much better chance of success. I highly recommend David Borof, whose office is in Walnut Creek on the west side of I-680. He totally "gets it" and can offer concrete help to teenager and parents. His phone number is 510-701-0427. If you still feel that group therapy is the right way to go, I can suggest Coyote Coast in Orinda. Ask for Alex 925-258-5400. They screen their groups very carefully to ensure that the boys mesh together, have similar "issues" and also make it fun with a Saturday outing once per month. And hang in there, I've known several boys in addition to our own who went through this anger phase and they all turned out okay. Make sure the consequences of his behavior naturally follow his blowups - patch and paint the plaster, buy a new chair, etc. 

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Archived Q&A and Reviews

Verbally abusive teen girl

Jan 2014

Hello fellow parents of teens. I have an ongoing problem with my 17 year old daughter who is verbally abusive to me and I am at my wits end on how to handle the situation. When she is unhappy with what I say or do she will typically call me stupid, retarded or something worse in a loud aggressive manner. I have tried consequences such as suspending her cell phone service but nothing I've tried has any lasting effect. I am a quiet introverted individual who avoids confrontation and have always had difficulty asserting myself. I typically get upset when she acts this way. I've tried talking to her without any positive result. I have also tried family counseling with her but now she refuses to go. Thanks for any suggestions. S.

This sounds so upsetting. I'm really sorry you're going through it. One book you might find helpful is ''When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen'' by Michael Bradley. I also encourage you to find a support group for parents of teenagers.

I know it's hard to stand up for yourself, I struggle with it too. But you're going to have to do it in this instance. Practice what you would say. Your daughter calls you a name. Your reply may be ''When you speak that way, our conversation is over. We'll talk again when you're calmer. In the meantime, privilege X is removed. You can earn it back by talking to me politely.'' Then walk away. Do not engage. Leave the house, go into the bathroom and take a shower, whatever it takes. But make it clear that rude, abusive behavior ends the conversation. Hold back the tears until you have privacy. Express your sad feelings elsewhere.

You mentioned that suspending her cell phone service didn't have a lasting effect, but it sounds like it had some effect (or you'd say it didn't work at all). Perhaps try that method again but be prepared for the long haul. Tell her she gets to use her phone as a reward for no bad behavior. Each time she violates the rules, she must turn in her phone, and she gets it back 24 hours later. You could adjust this to what works best. Be firm, polite and reserved. Don't engage. Don't back down. Walk away as necessary.

Not to blame the victim here (really!) but if you have trouble standing up for yourself, do you think she's just trying to push your boundaries to see how far they go? If that's the case, put your energy into being the parent who can set and keep boundaries. That may make her more comfortable emotionally. It may be what she wants. Keep practicing calm talk. I practice conversations in the car. I imagine the other person's response and keep refining my approach. When the real occasion comes up, I'm more prepared.

And if you screw up some times and blow up, or cry, or whatever, just vow to do better next time. I went through some of this with my son, and over time it improved.

glad we're through that; what's next?

If she will not go with you to counseling then for your sake and hers you should go by yourself. You can learn through counseling how to better express yourself to her and set limits with her. She needs to get this information before she leaves home so that she has better tools to enter the wide world with. Sounds like she might resent something about how you intersct with each other. but i am no expert! Anon mom

Here's a useful phrase: ''I'm sure you could answer that question more respectfully. Can we have a do-over?'' Anonymous

I have had this problem with my 14 yo grand-daughter on ocassion. What I have done is completly stop the discussion by telling her I am not continuing until she show some respect and stop using foul language and I walk away. I don't try to argue with her or talk over her, I just say very quietly I am not talking to you and walk away. She doesn't like it and over a course of several times, she knows not to go that route. Hope that helps. Grandmother to 14yo

Very angry 13 year girl

May 2013

We would be very grateful for recommendations of a therapist/ life-coach or the like for our 13 year old daughter. She can be loving and is a great student. At the same time she is consistently very irritable and angry, cannot take in the enormous amount of love and support we give her, rejects most efforts to parent her, is resentful/ jealous of older sibling, has started to lie, and is both very rude and downright mean to the rest of the family. This has been the case for a number of years in spite of all the workshops, research, therapy etc. we've tried to date. . She is also very stubborn, powerful, and bright... has not spoken to her current therapist for many months such that we are thinking it's time to make a change. We are hoping that there is a skilled, mature, warm, strong, teen-girl savvy female therapist out there who might be able to help. Prefer in Oakland or Berkeley but all suggestions are appreciated. So much love and pain too

I'm sorry that you're having a hard time with your teen; I've got a 14-year-old daughter and agree that it's a roller-coaster. The only thought I wanted to share is: since this age is all about establishing independence and individual identity, it's possible that what she needs is less of the ''enormous amount of love and support'' you want to give her. I only know that with my daughter the more I can frame things as her decisions and her management of issues, the more I try to watch without actively trying to control, the nicer and happier she seems. (I don't presume to know your daughter or your situation at all: just a thought I had that I hope would be helpful for you to consider.) Anon

Help for middle schooler's significant anger management challenges

Feb 2013

I would very much appreciate some current recommendations for a therapist to help a middle school boy (and the family) with his anger management challenges--severe enough to be resulting in some significant consequences at school. It would also be helpful to get some advice on choosing a psychologist vs. a LCSW. anon

I can't give you specific recommendations as I'm too far out of the Bay Area, but I have had really amazing experiences with psychologists for my traumatized foster son. Maybe we just got lucky, but our testing psychologist and our therapeutic psychologist have been incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, skilled people.

Our foster son was beginning to ramp up the physicality of each of his blow-ups, until he and my husband nearly came to blows (I had to separate them). One session with his psychologist untangled this and he never got physical like that again. We were already impressed with the progress they had been making, but this was really outstanding. We did this one family session, with break out time for the two of them to process before and after, and that was it. She handled it beautifully.

So, I'm a fan! If you can afford it/insurance will cover it, I'd recommend a psychologist. And I say that after having had many LCSWs/MFTs myself for past therapy. a fan of the PhD

We found Anne Brodzinsky to be very helpful in similar circumstances -- she is compassionate and non-judgmental, but also direct and unapologetic about what we needed to change! She gave us a long list of small, concrete things we could do at home, and things have improved slowly but steadily. Her contact info is on her website: Parenting Is Hard -- It's Good To Get Help

2010 - 2012 Discussions

How has therapy helped your defiant teen?

Jan 2012

I notice a lot of parents referring therapists and I would like to hear specifically how therapy has helped their teen and/or family. We have had therapy for/with our teen for over 2 years now and all the problems remain, we are in no better place, only completely broke. The issues are defiance, opposition, extreme disrespect, substance use/abuse (and other programs, including wilderness, have been used), anger, troubling choice of peers, poor self esteem, barely getting through school and with constant behavior problems, etc etc. We did switch therapists once (before these 2 years) and the newer one seemed competent and our teen liked him, so we stayed. I would like to hear how, or what, in therapy has helped other families. thank you. anon

Therapy has not helped us. In fact, I think the therapy has made things worse. I think that some people are able to act ''normal'' and charm the therapist, throwing them entirely off-course. In other cases, I think therapists don't really want to help, because if the situation improves, they will lose a client, and they will make less money. In a lot of cases, therapists feel that it their job to listen, and the clients' job to ''find their way.'' Maybe I am just cynical, but I think 90 of the whole therapy thing is a racket. If you want someone to talk to, go to therapy. If you want to learn about your problems and find a way to solve them, read a book. Or, more likely, read 100 books. S.

Trouble with teen daughter's hostility/anger

Dec 2011

I am having a lot of challenges with teen daughter's hostility/anger. Difficult for me to not get provoked when she addresses such hostility towards me. Anybody else that might want to meet/talk/give mutual support through this horrible stage?

All sympathy. Thirteen- to fifteen-year-old girls are particularly touchy from hormones, depression, peer pressure, academic pressure, personal insecurities, & lack of sleep. I found it helped to take a deep breath and remind myself that some of the hostility is part of the natural process of growing up and emotional separation from parents. Home may be the only safe place to explode. That said, parents should feel entitled to draw boundaries, e.g. ''Please say that again in a civil tone of voice/without swearing'' (these do-overs can help introduce humor to the situation) and ''Please help out/clean up after yourself; that's what a good roommate does.'' And ''No, I'm not going to do you a favor if you're going to treat me like that'' or ''That's not a good way to ask for something you want.'' You can ask her to use a little self-control, and give feedback that other people have feelings too.

Making time for non-hostile conversation is good. Driving kids places is one opportunity. Walks in the dark is another. Both are non-eye contact.

Here's another trick. Questions, even if necessary for logistics, drove my daughter wild, so I learned to make statements like: ''If you need X this weekend, better tell me now.''

But if you're experiencing nuclear bitchiness, maybe family counseling would be appropriate; maybe darker stuff is going on with her than you know? And maybe both of you need to feel heard.

Hang in there. It gets better.

Don't want to be around teen son

June 2011

Our son has become so difficult, selfish, narcissistic, demanding, critical, etc., etc., I don't want to be around him. He just doesn't stop these behaviors, and we can't figure out how to get him to stop because no consequence seems to make a difference to him. What can we do? Has anyone been through this? He has always been difficult but we are now fed up. anon

That sounds like fairly normal teenage behavior. If conversation is negative, make your expectations/standards clear and leave the scene if he doesn't meet them. If some behavior bugs you but doesn't affect you, ignore it or walk away. My son was all these things, but once he turned 17 things started getting better. Beginning to enjoy my teenage son.

I can't give you any advice, but I can say, I know how you feel. I have a thirteen year old daughter that fits that description. Consequences don't have any affect on her behavior. She still blames everyone else. Never takes responsibility. Thinks the universe revolves around her. We once loved one another but now have grown to hate each other. If this was a marriage it would end in divorce, but there is no divorce when it comes to a child. She makes me late for work every day, ruining my day and turning me into a screaming %$*&^, then I am ashamed for how I yell at her. Leaves messes for me to either clean or put up with. I am trying to find a parent support group, but have not yet. Does anyone know of one? I am sorry you are going through this too but I am glad I am not the only one. Is there help out there? And yes, I have tried therapy but she won't go so I go.... Tired

You are most certainly not alone in this. I think a great many parents are even more eager for their sons to leave home at this age than the sons themselves and I count myself among them. Which, might be as it should with high-spirited guys like mine.We are counting the days for our graduating Sr. boy to leave for his first choice 4-year University. (We are all thrilled and proud of him. He has struggled in school for ever and the college application process was a big effort.) It was as if he was trying to make sure to check off every horrible behavior and teenage crisis there is. Lots of moms tell me that the boys ''come around'' after going away from home for a few years and are much nicer. Honestly I am not even sure I care right now, I just want to have some peace. Interestingly just today after a tumultuous year involving unexpectedly moving schools, a totaled car and the law ( all different incidents) he txed me, not his dad, with news of his A grade on a tough final exam. Go figure. anon

My theory is that Mother Nature makes teens obnoxious so that it will be easier to kick them out of the nest, without parental regrets! Narcissism sounds age-appropriate, and obnoxiousness can be a sign that the kid is trying to separate emotionally from parents, as he must do to go out on his own eventually.

If this is a HUGE change in attitude, however, family counseling could help, and you should be alert to possible drug use or other changes in friends, school, and behavior.

In my son's junior year of high school, he was so obnoxious that my husband was ready to move out! We dug into savings to pay for the kid to live away from us for the summer-- at CAL, in the dorms, where he took one summer class (which anyone can do) and worked on his summer AP work. It worked out beautifully for us. Good luck!

Teen's angry outbursts, running away, volatility

May 2011

16 yr old daughter hitting very steep slippery slope in last ten days: escalated marijuana use, volatile, angry outbursts, running away, all in last week. Cutting classes at BHS, even with attempts at supervision. We don't want to do Utah away therapuetic camp but need temporary place to help her get her feet on the ground. She has therapist, singing lessons, church youth group, basketball, etc and two loving and very supportive parents, and she is going haywire. Any ideas? Much thanks. need ideas soon

Have you asked your daughter what is going on, if anything upsetting has been happening recently? Sound like something has changed, for the worst!! If she won't talk about it, perhaps you should schedule an appointment with her pediatrician. Let her talk to him alone and maybe the pediatrician can ask the right questions. She needs to know that there are others to help her get through whatever she is experiencing. Anonymous

17-y-o daughter is negative about everything

Oct 2010

I'd value some feedback on the following topic: Our daughter is just 17, is a junior at a local private school, is smart, literate, self- reliant, independent, excels in the humanities and the classics, plays an instrument, knows some of four languages. Reads voraciously. Loves theatre. Here is the issue: she always takes, with the occaisonal exception, a negative spin on things. If she's in a play, she wishes she had another part. If she in the crew of the play, she wishes she was in the cast. If she's in one class, the other is probably better. If she sees a play, the cast wasn't as good as the last time she saw the same the same play. She's a bit like Linus with a little melancholy dust cloud following her. Sad you wonder? I wonder too, and recently found a great local therapist and had the whole thing lined up and told her her dad and I each benefitted enormously from therapy and want and want for her the same; I said that we want to provide her with the best tools to lead her most fulfilling life before she leaves for college, and she just flat out refused. ''I don't need therapy and I would never pay to talk to a stranger.'' And we said, well, the therapist is specially trained and that's why he/she costs so much and she said, well I'm just not going. Our daughter has a few friends, is ostensibly content to spend a lot of time alone, looks forward to college, is not overtly miserable, but just seems a bit downcast and responds in the negative so much of the time. She is rarely invited out, enjoys the company of a few close friends, but hardly ever initiates anything. So the questions are: what to make of this? Will she ''outgrow'' it? Is it a function of being 17? What can I do to support her? Is it best to leave her be and let her work things out on her own? I find myself wanting to talk her out of her negative twist on things - I want to honor her experience but show her the positive side and celebrate the wonderful blessings of health and wellness and life here in Berkeley and the great school she goes to and the farmer's market right nearby on Thursdays and the intact loving family that she is a part of and all the goodness in our small world. We're disappointed she missed the opportunity to go into therapy and are wondering what to make of things. We love her dearly and are sad to see her feeling disappointed and negative all the time. Suggestions appreciated

Your daughter sounds like she has the best of everything. Maybe she needs to see what its like to have nothing. Get her involved in volunteering for a homeless shelter. My daughter volunteered at Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel in Berkeley. I got the impression that they always need people. She was not working directly with the people because she was there during the day, but she knew she made a difference. She also volunteered at the Alameda Food Bank in Oakland. Do something as a family. Contact Habitat for Humanity and ask about ongoing projects in the area. Yes, the grass is always greener, and you might have a kid who sees a half empty glass. There are people in the real world who are like that. Jenny

So you tell your daughter the sun is shining and she responds that it is raining. And you tell your daughter how wonderful the world is and she says ''No, it's lousy''. And every time you have one of your little ''talks'' with your daughter and she does this, your face falls and she brightens, right?

You don't need the greatest therapist in the world to tell you the obvious truth. And that is you've got a daughter who works off her frustration by playing a little game with you - you extol the blue bird flying by, and she quickly takes her little barbed tongue and shoots it down. And she wins. Right?

Perhaps you should start by not playing her game. You can't win, you know. She's going through a small-minded phase right now. Frankly, your daughter is childish and selfish and very unpleasant. And she won't change until it matters. Let her be. Shut up with your ''everything is beautiful'' mantras. Ignore her. Work on your own projects. Delegate things related to your daughter to others. Look at the blue birds and the sunny skies and love them for yourself! Stop being the punching bag for an immature brat. Eventually she'll get bored and start acting reasonably. Someday she'll notice you're not happy - it may be a long while - and she'll go ''Mom, look at the blue birds - aren't they beautiful''.

And you will know - she really did hear you. She just had to grow up a little. Another Mom of a Negative Teen

The first part of your question is like a commercial for your daughter. Maybe you should stop keeping track of all her accomplishments and she would just become happier. It sounds like she's doing great and you're looking for problems. Maybe you are modeling being negative. Look around at some of the problems people have and then see if you want to complain. Sounds like daughter may be like mother--wants everything perfect. Be more positive

Don't take the bait.

She doesn't want or need you to ''talk her out of it'' and the more you try, the more resistance she'll put up and the more she will think that you don't understand/value her. When she talks negatively, ask her open ended questions, but don't offer your opinion. Answer with, ''I see what you mean,'' or ''I understand,'' or ''You're smart, I'm sure you can figure it out,'' that kind of thing.

In your post you say so many great things about her. Focus on that. Let her know that you think she has a lot of stellar qualities. After all, you want her to focus on what's good, so you need to too. mom of ''1/2 empty'' teen too

The way you have described your daughter, she seems like a normal teenager. It is not unusual for teenagers to complain about things not being good enough. It comes with the territory. As my therapist always says, you can't change others, only yourself. Perhaps you should explore in therapy why it is you want so badly to get your daughter in therapy. Perhaps you are trying too hard to be perfect, and then expecting the same from her? Anon

I feel for you! Giving your child the best of all worlds, and then seeing her feel dissatisfied is heart-wrenching! I had a few thoughts and questions while reading your post.

#1. When DOES your daughter feel completely satisfied? At a very deep, fundamental level, what is it about those times/circumstances/things/activities that make her feel joy''full''? (e.g. is it feeling challenged? is it feeling in community? is it having a WIN? is it feeling loved (perhaps by a man)?) Understanding her sources of joy can help you find ways to show her how she can find more joy and happiness by CHOOSING to see things in the most positive light, rather than dwelling on what wasn't right about something.

#2. I am not surprised that she rejected the idea of a therapist. The suggestion might have made her feel that you thought there is something 'wrong' with her, that she needed to be fixed. Especially given her current way of seeing the world, your suggestion just fed into her way of seeing things as 'broken'. (not to say it wouldn't have been helpful!)

#3. How much of a practice of gratitude do you have in your household? Without talking to her further about her attitude, you might just want to express gratitude openly yourself more often, especially in her presence. There may be no visible change in her right away, but by LIVING a practice of appreciating the good in things, even very small things, and allowing her to witness you in that, you will be giving her the best possible example of how to feel positive about life. Just make sure you increase your gratitude practice gradually, so she doesn't get turned off by seeing sudden, unexplained changes in you!

#4. The fact that she sees things in the negative may have something to do with a void or unexplained yearning (conscious or unconscious) she is feeling. How much has she consciously entered womanhood? Has her transition into womanhood been acknowledged and honored, e.g. in a family ceremony? Has she ever been in love? Does she long for love, but may not have shared it with you? Finding the answers to some of the questions above, and more, may help you guide her gently and gradually towards an outlook on life in which she sees the fullness of it, rather than the lack of 'wholeness'.

We live in a culture that prizes extroverts. It sounds like your daughter is an introvert. Aside from the negativity, which if she hasn't acted like this before, might just be a phase. It's possible that she is just expressing her true nature. It's likely that she will bloom in college, when she has the choice of how to spend her time, and with no anxious Mom hovering. You say that she is content to spend time alone. It might be that being with many people is draining to her and she is nourished by periods of self reflection and independent activity. The idea of talking to a stanger might seem exhausting. If you are really concerned, perhaps you could find someone, like Greg Alter in Point Richmond, that offers some kind of ''hook'', like biofeedback She needs to be intriqued, or at least, engaged in the idea if you want her onboard. Good luck V

I was really looking forward to hearing the replies to this post because my husband is very similar. He nearly always sees the glass as half empty. We have a very nice home, two lovely daughters,... Despite our exceptionally nice life, nearly everything he says is negative and reflects what isn't the way he wants it or how something is not likely to happen the way he wants it to... I put up a saying I really like: ''Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the appreciation of what you already have.'' I make positive statements about big and small things I'm appreciative of in our life, but it's hard not to be dragged down by his negative statements. I often don't know how to respond so I simply do not reply. Now sometimes my daughters make negative comments too -- they are picking up his bad habit! anon

I want to respond to your post - as it could have been me a few years ago. My child was very similar - especially the eagerness to get to college - perhaps thinking that would fix everything. Well, the negative personality went to college too and there were a few tough experiences BUT (and here is the good part) resulted in gaining some insight, seeking counselling through the college health center, and is now much better. My child was proabably somewhat depressed through high school and while I do now think 'should I have been more aggressive about getting therapy, medication, etc.,'' my teen was probably better off gaining the experience with self- realization, as difficult as it was for me as a parent. Your daughter may be suffering from a low grade depression but it really may have to be something that she decides to address as she matures. My advice is to be supportive, not enabling, and to try to model good self-care as much as possible. Feel free to contact me directly through the moderator if you'd like to talk directly. Parent of a now-well-adjusted young adult. anon

2007 - 2009 Discussions

Need help with teen's oppositional defiant disorder

Oct 2009

Hello, I am searching for help with my 15 yo son who was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder at age 10. We have been through every conceivable avenue - neuropsyh evals, lots of therapy, special schools, wilderness camp and residential treatment. He's graduated successfully through all programs, but once back at home he backslides. I work full-time and am a single parent. I cannot provide the 24/7 care and attention that are provided by staff at the programs. I have a younger son as well, and our home life is dominated by my older son's constant defiance and arguing. Does anyone have experience in dealing with this successfully? I need help. desperate

Do you know about Ross Greene and Stuart Ablon's books, The Explosive Child and Treating Explosive Kids? (both available through Amazon). Dr. Ablon, who is a clinical researcher in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General and a professor of psychology at Harvard, also has a website: Check out the research on that site that describes the impressive success they have had using their method in residential settings. Their philosophy is very compassionate toward kids with ODD and other ''challenging'' behavioral issues and views kids with oppositional defiance-type behavior as having developmental delays that are neurologically-based. The treatment method is evidence-based and uses a collaborative problem solving (CPS) approach that helps kids to develop the skills they are lacking in areas such as frustration tolerance, emotional regulation, and problem solving among others. My husband and I have attended trainings on the east coast and in LA and the CPS approach was the only approach that we felt was effective in working with our son who has these type of challenges. It has given us hope and made a big difference for our family. Using CPS

I'm sorry I didn't see your original post but I'll back up the recommendation of the book, The Explosive Child. If you decide you need professional help, you should call Dr. Brad Berman in Walnut Creek. Years ago when I first I called I got the recording saying that new patients wouldn't be accepted for 8 to 12 months. I left my anxious message - basically my darling, funny, angry, smart, difficult, explosive child was blowing up our family life. I got a call not long thereafter and we took our child to Brad for the next six years. THANK GOD. Brad really knows this field & loves kids. He coached us thru the teen years and was a total advocate for us with school. He is a straight talker and treats kids with respect and compassion but he also tells them what THEY have to do to make life better for themselves. Since I didn't see your post I don't know how desperate you are or aren't. But here's his number just in case: 925-279-3480. The practice is called Progressions: Development and Behavioral Pediatrics. been there in spades

16-y-o daughter is easily agitated, has explosive temper

August 2009

My daughter is easily agitated, and has a very explosive temper. She is desperate to prove she is ''an adult'' (will turn 17 next month), and often feels like she is not getting the respect and autonomy that she ''deserves.'' Then she gets so mad that she slams doors, yells obscenities, and sometimes just storms out of the house. I don't really expect her to be able to ''get it'' that at almost 17 she is NOT AT ALL an adult, but I would like her to at least learn some better ways of coping with her anger. The door slamming and obscenities are annoying and dis-respectful, but maybe i could learn to live with; my main concern is leaving the house at night, which feels really dangerous. Recently she was backpacking with her dad, and got so mad she stomped off into the woods by herself, which feels REALLY dangerous. I'd just like her to find a way to express her anger that also encompasses keeping herself safe. Is this an unrealistic expectation for her age?!?

We have worked with two different therapists, I liked them both, but she thinks therapy is ''stupid,'' ''boring'' and ''doesn't work.'' Our last session, she explained to the therapist that she wouldn't have to get so mad if other people just would stop being so annoying; in other words, it's not HER fault, it's OURS.

I thought maybe a class or a peer group might be a better fit for her. Any ideas? She is hoping to get her driver's license soon, and I don't want her driving on her own until she gets a better handle on her anger management! Mom concerned with explosive anger

You asked if you can expect your 17 year old daughter to be able to control her anger. The answer is a firm, yes! So, no, you should not have to tolerate yelling at you in your home or the slamming of doors. You can expect to have a basic, house rule: All members of the household treat other members with respect.

I have two daughters, one 22 and one almost 17. My oldest was very explosive. I learned some parenting techniques that really helped. One, do not stick around if your teen is speaking to you in a disrespectful way. I have my mantra statement, ''I respect myself too much to allow anyone to speak to me in an abusive way''. I state the above and then turn around and leave, immediately. I go to my bedroom and if my teen follows, I take my keys and leave for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not stand there and be yelled at and do not engage an angry teen in the moment. Come back to issues when all parties are no longer upset. Take control of your house again. My oldest used to slam doors too. After a warning, I removed the door to her room for a week. That made an impression and put an end to slammed doors. You must give your teen the idea that you will not tolerate her explosive behavior. For one, it could really put her at risk, with the wrong person and/or with the law. Then too, is this how you want your teen to act in other relationships and is this the model you want to give your daughter for how adult women are treated?

My oldest also refused therapy, until I made a statement that I meant. Go to therapy if you wish to remain in this house. She knew by my tone that I meant business. I recommend Terry Trotter, in Albany, marvelous with teens. Just think, would you allow your 17 year old to not seek cancer treatment? Then why do so now? Be firm, quiet and non-negotiable about consequences, and fair. I would also explore any mental health reasons why your daughter is so explosive. My youngest was put on a particular medication that caused a side effect of raging. Once the med was discontinued, the rages stopped.

As for leaving the house at night without permission, call the police. In form your daughter that this is what you will do if she is missing late at night; you will call the police 1st and ask questions later. They really can be very good with teens. By the way, my relationship with both of my daughters improved dramatically once I set firm limits and meant them. Good luck anon

My son (14) also has explosive episodes and thought you might find it helpful to check out the evidence-based Collaborative Problem Solving method developed by Dr. Ross Greene at Harvard and Dr. Stuart Ablon at Massachusetts General and described in their co-authored books The Explosive Child and Treating Explosive Kids, and described further on Dr. Ablon's website Until my husband and I learned about this method we were at a complete loss with how to deal with the explosions and what happened to our family in the aftermath of them. I attended a training in the method lead by Dr. Ablon last month in Boston, and my husband and I are both studying the Treating Explosive Kids book and I can tell you that since we have started using CPS, the explosive episodes have nearly stopped. I don't mean they don't come up....they still do, but we as a family now have an very effective method for predicting them, dealing with them in the moment, and addressing the triggers that preclude them so that our son is learning (with our help) how to develop the cognitive skills needed for emotional regulation. Although the method is becoming well-known in the East Coast and many local clinicians have heard of the book(s) we could find only one clinician in Northern California who had been through the CPS training (and she was not currently using it in her practice). But, the book is very, very helpful, and if you are interested Dr. Ablon will be doing a parent training in Los Angeles at Asusa Pacific University in early October. We have found hope. Been there

Our daughter was also displaying lots of anger, and oppositional behavior and was adamantly opposed to going to therapy too but we gave her no choice and went as a family. It's been about eight months and we've seen a lot of improvement especially in the last couple of months since we enlisted a new system to help us all change what wasn't working for us. I found some information on the internet and we all had a hand in developing a plan to fit our family goals. She wanted more ''freedom,'' and we wanted to see her take more responsibility so we could trust that she was ready for more freedom. I was never one to stick to a behavior modification plan before but I figure I'm not doing anyone any favors by avoiding what we should have had in place years ago. This system is to help reinforce our daughter's self-discipline, which includes my letting go of wanting to ''help'' her by keeping her room organized, etc., and last but not least we really needed to improve our communication. On our list: responsibility toward the household, more self-reliance in money management, speaking to us respectfully, and healthy lifestyle habits like exercise. This is the framework only. Each one of those points is laid out in great detail. If she hits all the expectations we've laid out together she gets a set amount of daily allowance and a nice bonus at the end of the week if she manages a solid week. She's in charge of her own expenses except for school related expenses, health expenses, food, and things she needs for the household like a new lamp or chair, for instance. If she wants to earn extra money she can do more chores. If she wants to save for something special her allowance is increased until she meets her goal. It's been about six weeks and we had some really rough patches at first. She's learning the things I should have been teaching her all along and she's gaining self-esteem from living more responsibly and more peacefully. One thing that really helped her realize this system wasn't going to just go away if she pretended it wasn't there was that her privileges were revoked until she participated: no visiting friends, no driving privileges and no computer. I consider this approach a success but also a work in progress. This may not be what you are looking for but I highly encourage you to get your family some professional therapy to work out your communication issues. Working on It

How about no driver's license until some anger control is shown? What happens when your child decides to ''exhibit anger'' on the road, or at school? Maybe you could attend one of Mike Riera's sessions on parenting teens. Anon

dear mom, it seems really scary to know your daughter might be unsafe when she gets taken over by anger. Reading your question brought these thoughts to me and let me share with you. You and your daughter might benefit from mediation led by someone from the NVC community (Marshall Rosenberg developed NVC which is basically a language of compassion). i have been a single mom and got help with my family (daughter, partner) and NVC empathy & mediation have been very fruitful for us (e.g. at some point, my daughter wanted to die). i strongly recommend Grace Maina (from Empathy and Grace) who helped us. She is very sensitive, smart, efficient. she is able to lead us safely to the core of situations with compassion and care, making it possible to see each other humanity. you can contact Grace at 510 776-0920 (website: e-mail: grace [at] compassionate mother

I think all parents struggle with teaching kids self-control, but since your daughter wants a driver's license and driving privileges, you have a tremendous carrot you can use now for behavioral modification. You could set up a calendar with a gold star for each day she controls her temper at home. Seven gold stars equals one daytime occasion of driving? It's corny (and would have worked better when she was a lot younger). There are other privileges that should be contingent on being a ''good roommate'' who does her chores and homework and has civil manners-- allowance, cell phone, overnights, nights out, rides, desired activities?

Remember, until she's 18 (or has had a driver's license one year) she has to drive with an adult in the shotgun seat. You should be prepared to order her to pull over and give you the keys, if she misbehaves. If she won't obey such an order, why give her the car keys in the first place?

My mom taped a sign to the dashboard when we were teens: ''You are driving a lethal weapon.'' It was quite sobering.

Sorry, I don't know of anger management groups, although it sounds like family counseling might be a good idea too-- you must be very frustrated, and a therapist can help you learn how to talk things out with each other.

The ''dashing outside'' stuff sounds more dangerous. Either go after her and haul her back, or call the cops, or get her to a police league self-defense class for girls.

I have a 15 yr old girl who is sometimes emotional and disrespectful. Most of the time it's not about me, so I find it useful to respond mildly with, ''I don't deserve that tone of voice'' or ''I didn't do anything to you.'' Good luck

I have heard good things about Jodi Rabb, a therapist in Marin, who works with teens and families around anger issues. I believe she does groups.

I have used a workbook called Anger Management for Women with clients; it is written for adults, but I did have one 18 year old client who really liked using it. I also want to suggest that your daughter's behavior and frustration and irritability may be a symptom of a mood disorder, such as depression. Substance abuse or traumatic experience are also things that can be related to this type of behavior. Also, just because a teen protests about therapy doesn't mean they are not benefitting.

Best wishes to your family. Ilene

15-y-o daughter is belligerent, yells, and has meltdowns

June 2009

Any recommendations for local therapists in Lamorinda, for a 15 year old girl? She is continually in conflict with us, the parents. She is belligerent, yells everyday and has meltdowns when she's told to knock it off. She pushes all the wrong buttons, provokes, demands, screams and cries every day. Everything we say is an attack on her, she can't stand her family . She would like it if we sent her to an expensive boarding school. She feels she should have a lot of rights but frankly, with a poorly behaved child, I am unwilling to spend big $$.

. . My daughter is very ungrateful and has a real sense of entitlement. She is very smart, does pretty well at school though she puts in minimal work, has some friends. She has a high sense of entitlement. She has become, over the last 6 months even more outrageous and ''hormonal''. She has no medical problems is just a ''brat'' unfortunately. We, her family needs help, she is verbally abusive, and we are not willing to continue to be doormats. I am truly thinking, that she needs some medication on a regular basis to calm her down. I do not believe ''talking'' with her, giving rules etc. will really result in much improvement. She appears to be totally out of control... help I can not even stand to be around her. In fact, we have a ''rule'' that if she walks out of the house and goes off our property, I have told her that we will call the local police and say that she is a runaway. I have told her that she can spend a few days at the local juvenile hall. She has not walked away and I do not prod her or goad her to do it, although, frankly, it would be enlightening, I am sure for her, in a very negative way. I don't say things like- it's our house, our rules. I believe she should respect her parents and should behave in a reasonable way that is respectful to her family. I am exhausted, mentally from her bs. We are willing to participate in some sort of family therapy. I am at the end of my rope. anonymous

I can really sympathize with you; it is so hard when our kids are belligerent, are ungrateful, and so on. My son is just entering teenager-hood and already I have been brought up short by attitude, language, behavior, etc. The struggle to get the kid to conform to what seems to us normal civil behavior is frustrating. But I would say that it is important not to lose sight of the kid you love. In your letter, which was most likely written in a mood of total frustration, none of your affection for your daughter shines through. I wonder if this might also be true in the exchanges that you have -- it's hard to let love show when you're trying to out-shout each other. My recommendation to you would be to seek family therapy in which you would learn to communicate with each other in a way that is not based on mutual disrespect. I say ''mutual,'' because though you may feel that your daughter has not earned your respect, every person feels the need for it. You mention ''entitlement'' a couple of times in your letter -- I, too, have the sense that my son feels entitled to material possessions and freedoms that I wouldn't have dreamed of at his age. But I ask myself where the sense of entitlement comes from, and I have to look at how I have basically given him all of his heart's desires (within my power). He has been denied very little, so naturally he feels entitled. Perhaps that it your case as well? Your daughter very likely does not understand yet the sacrifices you have made for her, and how important it is to you that she understand and respect you. Laying down the law in harsh tones doesn't work for me. Talking and persuasion and negotiation and reiterating love and care often do. I wonder how answering shouting with a soft voice works for you? I've had my son walk out the door -- and come back a couple of hours later, and then we could talk. He doesn't have anywhere to go that would be better than home -- that's a good realization. I'm still young in the teenager business right now, so time may prove me a fool, but so far keeping an even temper, relentlessly repeating what is important to me, avoiding yelling, negotiating freedoms, etc. have worked. And I go to therapy with him (I'm a divorced mom). I think your family should definitely try the therapy route, and remember something a wise friend told me: Always tell your child you love her/him, no matter what. mother of teen

Send her to boarding school, just make it a ''boot camp'' type boarding school. She'll come back with a different view on life. No specific recommendations. sean

Dear Parents, It sounds like your daughter is out of control and needs help. Please contact Shayna Abraham at Bodin in Lafayette. Bodin works with teens with a broad spectrum of issues ranging from learning differences, attention and memory disorders, to emotional and behavioral difficulties, such as defiance at home. Bodin will not only help your daughter but you and your family as well.

I work with teens and know how difficult these years can be - you're not alone. I have referred families to Bodin and have seen tremendous progress. Bodin's website is I wish your daughter, you, and your family the best. Nancy

Hello, I know you were looking for a therapist for your daughter in Lamorinda; but there is a wonderful woman named Annette Walt in Walnut Creek whose specialty is teen girls. She is right off highway 24. My daughter worked with her and loved her. Best of luck to you, I know how hard it is, I went through it too, hang in there! Annie

Check your insurance and get a referral to a family therapist. There may be recommendations on the Berkeley Parents Network and you can see if any of them fall under your coverage.

There are many excellent family therapists in the Bay Area. If you have more than one choice see if you can talk to them on the phone - sometimes there is an over the phone ''in take'' brief interview. Even if everyone is totally uncomfortable, often there is a great relief of tensions after one or two visits. Having insurance coverage - even partial - can mean that you can afford longer therapy to work on family communication and dynamics.

People should not be afraid of therapy or what it may mean to see a therapist. If someone were in physical trouble you would be dialing 911, and rightfully so.

Society and families are complex, seeking help to live a great life should be the norm. I wish more people sought therapy simply to live a happier more productive life.

Good luck and best wishes -- encouraging you to make the appointment

It sounds like some of this is usual 14 yr old girl teen developmental issues that are being met by frustration, anger, and some lack of understanding. Strongly recommend that you get help for the family from experienced teen & family therapist. Try to step back from your anger and think of how she feels being met with such disappointment and anger. Maybe start weekly family meetings where everyone is listened to and had uninterrupted time to talk. Let her have some power over her life, set boundaries: she gets responsibilities taken care of then priviledges., Try to remember what you love about your daughter and find a way to hold that every day. She will not stay in this state forever but anger, guilt, resentment and blame can have lifetime ramifications. Take a meditation class, have a date weekly with your husband. Have some compassion for her and yourself. been there & doing that now

First - walk away. Go to a coffee shop, get a manicure, a makeover, have a hot tub, a spa weekend, whatever's in your budget. It will all work out.

Second - you do need to talk to your child. Each parent separately and together. It does work. A teenager seesaws emotionally between being a child and being an adult and it gives the adults around them whiplash watching them. Definitely, get a family counsellor to help you if you can. If that's not possible, take a deep breath and find a new way to communicate. A good one is to go through photographs. Kids of all ages are fascinated with photos of themselves. Maybe make copies of photos of hers that she likes, so she can have her own album. It will help remind her and you of when she was younger and you had a better relationship.

Third - listen to her. Really listen without interjecting. Really, really listen. Tell her you actually want to know what she's feeling about things, and about your relationship. You may be astonished at what's going on inside her head.

Fourth - Tell her you love her.

Fifth - talk to her friends' parents. They may know if something else is going on that's making her miserable. Also talk to your partner and get clear what unrelated pressures may be pushing you two over the edge.

Sixth - have a family meeting and set out clear rules for what each person (including yourself) contributes. Repeat the above list as necessary. Fiona

I empathize with the situation you (and the family) face with your 15 yr old daughter. My oldest was also defiant when she was the same age. In working with an enlightended, teen ''smart'' therapist, I learned a few techniques that may help you. I also have a referral for you.

One, when you have an argumentative, tantruming teen, do not try to engage her in talk in order to reason, discipline, or lecture her. The above will just fan the ''flames'' of an argument, one you will not win. When your daughter is being disrespectful, yelling etc. disengage rather than engage. I developed a phrase that became my mantra.... ''I respect myself too much to allow anyone to speak to me in an abusive way''. That said, I turned on my heels and went to my room, other part of the house, or to my car keys if need be. Important rules, health, safety, education, were enforced quietly, no lecture or discussion. All other rules (like a clean room, etc.), were simply dropped. I kept firm, quiet, and unflappable, no emotion. The above really helped. Try this with your teen. Referral: Coyote Coast in Orinda for teens, families, etc. This type of problem is their specialty.

Book: The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. Look at his technique. Talk to your teen when she is not upset and you are not upset. Try a family meeting and listen to what your teen has to say, if she says it politely. Set the ground rules beforehand and tell her you want to try to hear her when you are not fighting. Try to give some. Set a place where your daughter can go to diffuse that is hers alone. Ditto for you. My now 16 yr old, my youngest, has gotten used to mom's statement, ''I need a time out''.

The trick with teens is not to get emotional, argue, lecture, or go back to past ''crimes''. Stay matter of fact, firm and quiet. Do not engage in arguments. Try to work on your own anger, although I ''get'' why you feel angry. She still needs to feel you are on her side. Remember, it is not fun to argue with ''the fresh air'', so don't stick around if your teen is speaking to you in a disrespectful way, make your statement and leave immediately anonymous

I highly recommend counseling. I can give you the names of two women therapists who I know personally and who I trust. They are different therapists with seperate practices, one in Berkeley, and one in Oakland. Perhaps you can call and/or meet with each of them to see if one or the other might work for you. They both work with families, teens, and parents/couples. It can be very intense raising a teen and we parents need so much support; and so do our teens. I wish you the best in your search.

In Berkeley: Pamela Zelnik, MFT 510-527-0274 pamzmft [at]

In Oakland: Claudia Sieber, M.A., MFT Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 3637 Grand Ave., Suite D Oakland, CA 94610 (510) 238 0741


Daughter is withdrawn, hostile and negative

June 2007

Hello, It seems these days, my teen daughter is often withdrawn, hostile, and/or negative in her interactions with the world--within the family and toward others. Her life is basically good, so am saddened by her armor plate.

She says she wants to do things, but everything in her body language and interactions with the people around her screams she doesn't. It seems like she isn't aware of how her stance will put folks off. They try, but she doesn't often let them in. When I talk with her she doesn't want to listen. She covers her head, plugs her ears.

I'm scarred she's creating a path that will dictate her future in ways she won't be able to change. Any advise on how to talk so they will listen. Feeling helpless. Anon

This may be counter to everything you feel (but she is a child and you are the mature adult, right?) - have you ever tried to actually befriend this girl? A happy girl would not be acting like this and maybe she's actually begging for some positive attention - try asking her about her life - school, interests - be interested. I had a neighbor once (me white/she white) who was an extremely angry person, who acted out verbally on everyone in her family and in the neighborhood. She had a daughter (pre- teen/early teens when we lived next to them) who was clearly miserable and who took on her mother's behavior and was ready to get into it with absolutely anyone. I remember vividly one time she tried to get into it with me over some irrational totally minor thing and I refused to engage and instead talked with her rationally, calmly and in a friendly manner about the issue. She was visibly taken aback by this response and replied in kind. After that, she managed to squeeze out a smile and a few words of greeting when we'd pass each other. Poor thing. I'd suggest trying it. Joann

2004 - 2006 Discussions

13-year-old's daily rages, may be bipolar - boarding school?

Sept 2006

Since fourth grade we've been trying to deal with a kid who is very angry on a daily basis, who steals, lies, does whatever possible to stir up trouble within our family. We've seen a host of mental health professionals: psychiatrist, evaluator, therapist, group therapist, family counselor, peer counselor, pediatrician specializing in ADHD, tried Depakote and Zoloft, spent thousands of dollars and seen no change or improvement in his behavior. (All of these appointments were researched and made by me; my husband has no faith in mental health professionals and I have to admit none of them so far have been effective.) At this point, I'm ready to get my son out of our home and into a boarding school or therapeutic boarding school. My husband doesn't want to send him away. I realize he's only 13 and that's really young but our family life is hell. He's not ''happy'' unless he's making everyone around him miserable, his daily rages make me cower, literally, and I have no idea what steps to take to change things. I'm open to advice but am especially hoping to hear from parents who have been through this. Could a boarding school improve my son's outlook and behavior or will it make him even harder and less cooperative? Anonymous

If your son has any chemical dependency issues (they can hide it well), that would be the first thing to deal with. We did the wilderness program route first - which changed things a lot for about 3 months, and now after major problems have cropped up again, we have our daughter in a local residential chemical dependency treatment program. She has lied, done poorly in school, run away, shoplifted, stolen a car etc... She is also a wonderful, smart and charming young woman who I miss terribly at this point in time. Our family is pretty functional. We have all done individual therapy and therapy as a family. Issues outside the home have included a father that left the state 8 years ago and a grandfather who molested her. Your son could be hiding a big secret that he is afraid to tell you or? I personally don't think these things spring out of nowhere, although there are weaknesses that get passed down in families like alcoholism. Good luck anon

If you even slightly think that your son may be bi-polar, I suggest you find a psychiatrist that specializes in this illness. Many regular psychiatrists don't know nearly as much as a specialist and sometimes are known for prescribing medication that acutally makes the bi-polar worse. I suggest calling Terrance Ketter who is the head of the bi-polar clinic at Stanford. If he doesn't treat adolescents, he will know who the experts are at Stanford who do work with this age group. I wish you the very best Annon.

Hi. I am experiencing with my daughter the same behaviour you are describing with your son. The behaviour has been always it is just more loud and intense now that she is a teenager. We are looking at Sensory Deprivation Disorder which basically means she is incredibly sensitive to incoming noise and light and cannot process too many verbal or nonverbal messages quickly. It makes for very defensive and angry reactions. An occupational therapist is helping her find practical ways to deal with this disorder as their are no drugs that really help anonymous

There are no magic bullets, but I think Dr. Mitchell Corwin can be helpful. He can provide assistance in both genetic nutritional testing (available thru Lafayette office) and helping parents choose appropriate therapy by differentiating what is emotional, neurological and learning problem. Dr. Corwin does something called applied kineseology, which I cannot explain - but call him. He has worked on both my children and my husband and myself and we have all found him helpful for various issues. Health Medicine Institute 3799 Mt Diablo Blvd (adjacent to Lafayette Reservoir) Lafayette CA 94549 (925) 962-3799 x310 Berkeley Office (across from Claremont Hotel) 2914 Domingo Ave Berkeley CA 94705-2454 (510) 845-3246 infolist[at]

I am the mother of a very tricky child. We did a lot of alternative things to help. Through my experience, I ended up becoming a Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner which deals with harmonizing energy in the body. The children that I work with have all improved in their behavior. Sometimes other things can be a factor and other alternative practitioners that I work with can come in to help. It sounds really, really frustrating. Feel free to call if you would like more information. Good luck Leah (510) 525-5080

It sounds like a very difficult time you are having, and I certainly hope things get much easier for you. I have expereienced some similar things with our 13 year old son. Things are better now, though not perfect. A couple of things that seemed to help were omega 3 fish oil (Ultimate Omega by Nordic Naturals--it is more concentrated that other fish oils) and EM Power Plus, a vitamin-mineral supplement made in Canada and used for a variety of mood disorders, and other mental health issues. You can find the fish oil at a good natural foods store and EM Power Plus on the internet at Best of luck to you anon

A therapeutic boarding school can be very helpful when other options have been exhausted (and exhausting!). However it is critical to choose the right place, since there are lots of places and even ones that other parents might recommend might not be appropriate for your son. I suggest you contact Bodin Associates . It is worth the price for their extensive experience and intimate knowledge of something like a hundred programs around the US. Robert

I think a real 'marker' of your son's condition is the way you clearly have to walk around on eggshells, just to co-exist. Because he's really young still, a special school, that is kind but firm and clear about boundaries, as well as helpful with regard to acceptable/unacceptable behaviors can make an ENORMOUS difference.

Because of the possibility that he would need to attend such a school that is not here in the Bay Area, it would be my advice to consult with the Bodin Associates in Lafayette. They specialize in just the situation you are experiencing. Been There, Done That - with Relative Success anonymous

for the mom with a possibly-bipolar, acting-out son:

my son fell apart in high school, and i can definitely relate to wanting to find some relief from the rages, acting out, all the drama in the family.

my husband and i also had a lot of anxiety and differences of opinion about what would help. far before i was willing to consider sending my son away, my husband was talking about that. i had to try various other things -- and it sounds like you have tried many things already.

have you considered consulting an educational therapist? we used bodin associates in lafayette [i think they also have an office on the peninsula], and it made a world of difference having outside people assess the situation and make a variety of recommendations.

bodin has lots of contacts will all sorts of programs -- local and away. we appreciated that the counselor we worked with had visted every place she recommended we consider, and knew people there. the assessment of our son was very individualized -- even though he was not very cooperative, they got records and talked to a lot of people who had worked with us and our son.

the whole process was kind of scary, but not as scary as continuing to live in the disaster our lives had become, and worrying constantly about how much worse it could get. [and it was really bad by the time we went to the consultant -- our son had 3 ER visits for substance problems in the previous year, and an involuntary psych commitment; he was nasty, and regularly went into rages where he tore up the house -- threatening us, kicking holes in walls, breaking things; was escorted home by police and detained by transit police; had bombed out of rehab; run away from home overnight a couple of times; stole from us; was caught with paraphrenalia at his new school; etc.]

the educational consultant recommended that we start with a very good therapeutic wilderness program -- not a boot camp, but a place where the kids learned self-reliance and to begin talking about stuff. even my son thinks that program was excellent. the staff was well trained. he was seen by a great therapist weekly; we exchanged mail via fax weekly; and his dad and i talked to the therapist for an hour weekly. after a few weeks, when he'd calmed down and adjusted, he had a battery of psychological tests. between that excellent report, his work with his group and his therapist, we got a better picture of what would help him along.

when our son was ready, my husband and i attended a ''transition camp'' -- an overnight trip to the wilderness with other kids [and parents] who were ''graduating.''

the educational consultant was in close touch with us and our son's therapist during the wilderness program, and came up with a lot of good recommendations about what to do next. we chose a therapeutic boarding school that was really good for our son's needs. he is not as enthusiastic about that choice, but it was really good for him -- he completed high school there, learned a lot, had a lot of fun, was able to keep up with his interest in music. he became himself again, only more mature. now he is a functioning, working adult of 19, a decent guy and holding his own. [we had expected he'd be in college, and i think one day he will be -- but he's alive and doing well, and we feared quite a lot that we would lose him, in the dark days.]

long story -- but try an educational consultant. they have so much more access to options than we mere mortal parents do, and it is truly a relief finding some options anonymous mom

You wrote that your son's ''daily rages make me cower, literally...'' So I have to say this first:

If you feel that your child *may* be a danger to himself or others (you included) get in touch with a mental health professional immediately.

I can't judge the situation from here and realize this may sound alarmist. But I am absolutely serious. Given your child's age, the issues of violence and suicide are absolutely real. As someone once said to me, ''it may only be a slight risk, but no one is only slightly dead.''

Now to where I began writing: I deeply sympathize with your plight. I have personal experience with your situation. This parenting experience is terrifying, baffling, emotionally exhausting and endlessly painful. What follows is based on knowledge I'd rather not have acquired. Please bear with its length if you can.

The problem with this kind of advice is the implicit assumption that one knows enough to offer specifics. I will try only to offer information, point out some relevant considerations, and describe what I believe is the best way to get help. There are no absolutes. Every step, every decision, is a judgment call. In particular cases, everything I will say could be dead wrong. With that caveat, here is my advice:

Sending your son to a boarding school will not solve his problems. To do so may be necessary, for reasons of safety or the well-being of your family as a whole. But regardless of where he is, your son's central issue is diagnosis. And placement decisions warrant caution. A wilderness program, for example, could be great for a kid with one set of problems but horribly destructive for a different one.

Thus, diagnosis is the first and critical step. But diagnosis means much more than labeling with a DSM-IV number. It requires a proper understanding of the individual child and the surrounding circumstances, careful observation, and thoughtful, experienced insight.

Without proper diagnosis, treatment is nothing but a random shot in the dark. ''First, do no harm,'' is the physician's maxim for very good reasons. Keep it foremost in your mind. With your child, compassion and tenderness is more likely called for than is ''tough love'' or blind adherence to social norms about how to raise children.

I know you've tried to crack this problem, and I know the financial and personal costs involved, but I strongly believe that you should try again and take a systematic, committed approach to diagnosis and treatment. To me, the fact that you've already tried so much only means that you face a tough problem, need excellent help and need to stay with it over time.

The situation you describe could have many origins, some psychiatric, some not -- an example of the latter is that the impact of neurocognitive or ''learning'' problems could lead to a secondary psychiatric condition like anxiety. Treating the anxiety is a palliative that alone doesn't solve the problem. These conditions are very difficult to understand, and understanding develops over time. Thus, it is better to stick with one team than to keep trying new players. Now some specifics:

1. ''Bipolar disorder'' is not the question, nor is it the answer. At best it is a mere label of convenience, as are all DSM-IV categories. These problems are not one-dimensional. They may involve genetic, biological, physiological, cognitive and social factors. That's why a really good diagnostic team is essential.

2. Fish oil? Please... Your child's life deserves more than voodoo medicine and home remedies. A supplement, maybe... An answer? No way.

3. This IS rocket science. You need to find and work with a team of two highly skilled and specialized professionals: a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist.

4. The clinical psychologist is critically important to diagnosis -- even more than the psychiatrist. That is where to begin. Psychiatrists have a valuable set of skills and knowledge, but they aren't the best place to begin in the search for understanding. That's why in-patient units (like UCSF's Langley-Porter Institute) use a team approach that places the psychologist on an equal footing with the physician.

5. Treatment: I'm certainly not prescribing. All I can say is this... good treatment plans are multi-dimensional. In serious cases, mental health treatment includes a mix of individual and family therapy as well as medications, if called for. When physiological, neurocognitive or learning problems are involved, other components are needed as well.

6. Don't rule out medications just because you've tried some that didn't help. Meds are no panacea, but can be tremendously helpful. Even moderate improvement in your child's condition can make a huge difference in your life and his. But your physician, if competent, will be cautious. A medication regime frequently involves several drugs, and getting the dosages and balance right is complex. Watch closely for side effects. Remember also that the right meds prescribed for the wrong condition can exacerbate rather than alleviate symptoms.

7. Educational consultants? Yikes! This is way premature for the reasons above. Beyond that, and without commenting specifically on the one(s) mentioned (of whom I have no personal knowledge), I advise you to be cautious. I've heard more than one story about consultants who knew less than the parents who were paying them.

8. ATesting is the clinical psychologist's job, not that of an educational consultant. It is folly to rely on an ed consultant for diagnostic work.

9. I suspect your child may be having problems in school. Ask your school district for an evaluation of your child for special ed. You have that right even if he is in a private school. If you disagree with the district's evaluation you have the right to an independent evaluation at the school district's expense. This is a little-known right, but important for diagnostic as well as financial reasons. Special ed professionals will admit -- off the record -- that they don't have the tools or the time to do a full evaluation in difficult cases. Since an evaluation and simple report by a clinical psychologist runs $1500 to $3000 and up (well worth it), you may as well get the district to bear some of the burden. You've already spent tens of thousands, I suspect.

10. Some fear that special ed status stigmatizes their child. I disagree -- the impacts on self-esteem and social relationships of the problems that get children to special ed are far more harmful than any stigma that results. Special ed is by no means a perfect system, nor is it easy to navigate, but you can get significant financial help, including payment for a residential placement, if you work your way through the system. Here too, a clinical psychologist can help tremendously.

Finally, I can't say strongly enough how important it is to get top people on your child's team, especially given your description of the situation. Here are some recommendations to get you started. These are people I know and have confidence in. Obviously, there are others:

Clinical psychologists: Michelle Horton, Ph.D. (985-2958); Terry Doyle, Ph.D. (594-1926).

Psychiatrists: Robert Epstein, M.D. (848-0900); Shane MacKay (540-1746).

If it would be helpful, you may contact me through the Parents of Teens moderators -- Anonymous for now.

anonymous for now has a lot of thoughtful points.

one point, though, was a ''yikes!'' about finding an educational consultant. i'm one of the parents who suggested an educational consultant, and it was truly a turning point for us.

but i want to clarify, that is not where we started -- i made that suggestion because the parent asking about options for her son had already tried a lot of things. we tried talking to teachers, a family therapist, adolescent rehab, a new school that was very focused on students. we found a great adolescent psychiatrist -- but could not find a way to make our son go see that great doctor.

a year's worth of self-help yielded: 3 ER visits, one involuntary psych hospitalization, failing grades in 2/3 of our very bright son's classes, a 30 day inpatient rehab, his failing the outpatient rehab followup, several brushes with the police, being caught with paraphrenalia at his new school, being fired from the band he founded with good friends some years earlier, etc. the screaming. the holes in the walls. stuff he stole. the runaways. it was a complete nightmare. and i have a smart, very decent kid -- he lost himself, and we could not bring him back without serious help.

we turned to educational consultants when we had no more decent options, and it opened doors. we could not even get a good assessment of what was going on with our son, because he would not comply or cooperate on an outpatient basis. and our family life was in flames for quite a long time -- the worst part lasted a full year, even with the best interventions we could invent and patch together.

there is no down side to talking with an educational consultant. they have heard it all. there is no way for parents to easily navigate the local or away options without some help from people who know about programs -- and one piece of the programs they can suggest involves getting a handle on diagnosis.

to answer another issue -- the ed consultants do NOT do diagnosis themselves. they can recommend appropriate people, or see that a kid gets the appropriate evaluation at where ever he or she goes.

my own son had two kinds of very excellent evaluations at his therapeutic wilderness camp, where he spent 9 weeks -- one from a therapist who saw him weekly, was in close contact with the people who saw my son constantly, and also consulted with us -- and probably the best psychological evaluation based on testing that i've ever seen [and i see quite a few in my work]. the wilderness place was extremely supportive. i still feel that we could have struggled for years more, and never gotten as decent an assessment at home. my son, too, feels the therapeutic wilderness experience was really, really good for him -- he sees it more as a chance he had to grow and to believe in himself. [he was NOT happy about going there, but was VERY happy with how far he had come by the time he left, 9 weeks later.] anonymous mom

My step-daughters, 13 & 17, are angry and violent

Sept 2005

We have 3 teen daughters, 13, 15, 17. My bio daughter, 15, is 60% here and 40% with her Dad. Good Dad. My 2 stepdaughters, 13 & 17, live with us full time, have been and continue to be abandoned by their mother. She has no custody of the 17 yr old, and every other weekend of the 13 yr old, for which she often doesn't show. Or suddenly brings them back after 2 hours. They are very angry, screaming, throwing things, violent, have left bruises on me. We told them they would have to attend anger management classes (yet to be found) (we would go too). They refused, screaming ''make me'', grabbing my arm and even trying to force me out of the house. My husband backs me up but the situation is untenable. We need help fast. Have called the police once already. It mostly seems like huge power struggles. Groups for teens for anger management/blendedfamily issues? Thanks. Waiting for the next time. Things are calm at this moment, but cycles of anger. Any advice or suggestions for classes, groups, therapists very much appreciated.

My brother and sister-in-law struggled with similar issues with their daughter. Since you mention that you had called the police once, I want to pass along some advice that was given to them. In order to avoid getting your kid into the criminal justice system if you have to call the police for help, be very careful about how you speak with them. One professional gave this advice: ''In the future, when the parents call 9-1-1 they should request that ''a police officer come to assist at the home of a mentally ill person that is in danger of harming herself and others.'' They should identify themselves as the parents of a minor. In Ohio, the only emergency personnel that can admit a mentally ill individual who is a risk to himself or others are the police or mental health personnel (Ohio Revised Code Section 5122.10). Often, if a child is in danger of hurting self/others, the police transport the children to an area mental health hospital (or general hospital if no mental health hospital is nearby) where they are held for evaluation, observation and treatment. [Note: a person held in a general hospital must be either treated and released or transported to a mental health unit within 24 hours.] ''

Although this person is talking about Ohio, I'm betting it works similarly here. You might want to research it a bit. If you can avoid the criminal justice system, you are more likely to have a successful outcome and get your family the support it needs. Good luck and hang in there. Diane

15-year-old is angry, depressed and fat: help!

Nov 2004

We live in Marin and my son is a l5 year old H.S. sophomore. He is opposed to any kind of intervention and gets extremely angry when any suggestions are sent his way. He's been diagnosed with depression and takes lexapro. His psychiatrist went to Kaiser last year and my son will not see anyone else. His grades are poor and he was recently caught cheating at school. Has anyone had experience with psych. testing or neuropsych. testing - would it provide some useable information about my son? I already know what's wrong: just not how to engage him into making things better. He defines the word ''resistant''.

15 year old angry teens are hard to help. I suggest getting some support for you as the parent---in order to help him as best you can through this difficult phase of life (for both of you!) My daughter had very difficult freshman and sophomore years in high school and also took an anti-depressant.

She did have psychological testing and I think it was most UNHELPFUL. In my opinion, it doesn't help to have a disinterested outsider add some labels to an already difficult situation.

What does help? Well, if you can find an adult (teacher, religious leader, school counselor, life coach) that your son does trust, perhaps even bribe or cajole him to see a couple, that would be great.

Exercise---is there anything or anyone he likes to get outside with? (dogs, horses?) Teen meditation at Spirit Rock (a very accepting environment).

My daughter really resented the notion that she needed ''therapy''. Perhaps a good ''life coach'' if your son reacts positively to the notion of ''coaching.'' Good luck. Hang in there. Keep him safe. Try not to judge him. Love him. Love yourself. We mostly all make it through the teenage years---painful as they may be.

Wish there were an instruction manual