Can I Parent With Leadership, Even Children/Teens With Challenging Behaviors?

By Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

More and more often parents report that their child or adolescent’s behavior has become incorrigible, simply intolerable. Mental health and behavioral health specialists report that parents say they have tried everything to shift the tension and conflict in their home and influence their child’s behavior more positively and nothing helps. They are at their wits end. In some cases, parents have lost the ability to relate to their kids, but still desire and need the ability to influence them. Children and teens long for their parents/guardians to be active and steadfast leaders and guiding lights in their lives even if it appears that they are resisting that guidance.

There can be many reasons that contribute to how parents/guardians do not maintain the role of steadfast leaders of the family system. Family systems come in all different forms in this day and time. There are traditional mother and father, two parent homes; single parent homes; blended family homes with step-parents and even step-siblings; grandparents raising grandchildren; adoptive parents raising children; foster parents raising children- their own and foster children; and military families that move frequently and have one or more parent deployed frequently. These are only some examples of what family designs can be, and then employment of parent/guardian can also impact the role of leadership in the family system. How parents manage their own stress and manage their own time can influence how children and teens manage stress and adversity.

In this day and time of increased technology, screen time exposure is highly stimulating and difficult to avoid for many families with TVs, computers, iPods, iPads, Smartphones, videogame systems, and even school mandated tablets or laptops. There are definitely pros and cons to the use and exposure of the technology and screen time. An obvious drawback is the exposure to negative world and national news which creates internal angst and unrest for all of us, but especially for young people who have less understanding of how to process this negativity. In addition, the exposure to some of the negativity and cruelty can be toxic in social media for all ages, but especially for young people. Research has indicated that there may be a correlation to increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms with increased exposure to screen time secondary to greater awareness to such topics as school shootings, terrorism, random shootings, catastrophic weather events, kidnappings, etc. When young people are not relating to or relying on the steadfast guidance of their parents/guardians for processing such events and either internalizing that information or relying on peers who have equally poor processing abilities, their negative thoughts and emotions about such concerns may become more extreme. To be clear, there are multiple contributing factors to why a person may develop mood disorders and anxiety disorders, but our young people are exposed more and more to technology and media in ways that generations previously have not always been. These factors are contributing more and more to disruptions in family communications.

Symptoms for mood disorders and anxiety disorders can appear as very resistant, defiant, oppositional, and non-compliant behaviors in young people to parents. Children and teens who suffer from mood disorders and/or anxiety disorders may have some of the behaviors that parents describe as incorrigible. These kids may have grave difficulty getting up in the mornings (due to excessive fatigue, or due to fear of school, or fear of failing math, due to nausea secondary to poor appetite), difficulty going to bed at night (due to fear of being alone, fear of dying, fear of others in the house being hurt, nightmares), can appear very irritable as if nothing is satisfactory (due to expectations of perfection of self and constantly feeling as if child is a disappointment to self and others), and these kids can be easily frustrated (often due to excessive fatigue and poor appetite, due to poor self-esteem, worry and sadness). When children and teens have not related to or relied on their parents/guardians to be their guiding lights or steadfast leaders, or the parents have waivered in this role and tried to be more of a friend, then children may be more likely to disguise or internalize these symptoms…. Or parents may simply miss the symptoms as being as serious as they are and interpret them as being merely intentional and offensive behavioral ploys against the parent.

Mental health professionals can assist and evaluate whether something is as serious as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or another behavioral disorder may be present with a child/teen, or whether there is a communication and attachment concern that can be addressed with the entire family system. In any case, a thorough evaluation involving a parent/guardian and child/teen will reveal the presence of any diagnoses and what treatment approach might be best. At Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC we use a comprehensive approach to first evaluate the concerns and then to address the entire system to reduce power struggles in a family system and offer interventions to address leadership, balance, and overall health in the family system. If your family needs such attention, contact 919-292-1464 for more information or to schedule an appointment.