Concerned Parents of a Hyperactive Adolescent

Dear Dr. Marty,

We have a 14-year-old boy, Jerry. He is a good youngster, but lately he has been having problems in school. He has had some difficulties in the past, but he always managed to pass. Now the teachers tell us he can be disruptive. He has gotten detention a lot in the past three months. We have talked to him. We have punished him. He has gone to the guidance counselor and we had him in therapy for a while. We are worried about what’s going on with him. Help! Any suggestions that you could offer would be greatly appreciated

Concerned parents,

Mary and Andy


Dear Mary & Andy,

I don’t know what is more difficult, being a teenager or being parents of a teenager. As a teenager, you’re old enough to get into trouble but don’t have a clue how to get out of it. As parents, it seems as though the old strategies don’t work the way they used to.

There are two major focuses when helping a teenager. One is the youngster’s attitude toward authority. Kids struggle with how to deal with adults who are in-charge. Often teenagers will think it is the teacher’s fault. If Jerry raises the issue of the teacher’s unfairness, you can help him to realize that even if the teacher is wrong or unfair, the teacher does make the rules. We may not like it or even agree with it, but that’s the way it is. That concept is a difficult one for kids to accept. See how he deals with the idea that the teacher may or may not be wrong but he/she does give the grade, and more than that, they can make life pretty miserable for a student if they want to.

The second theme with youngsters is that the teenager will either deny or minimize the issue. When confronted with a problem that he is facing in school Jerry is apt to say, “It’s no big deal” or “I haven’t gotten into trouble lately”.

The place to start is with your son. Does Jerry think he has a problem? What does he think the problem is? It isn’t possible to correct the situation unless you think it needs changing. The idea is to assist Jerry in developing a plan to avoid getting into trouble.

Another strategy is to figure out what Jerry would like if he behaves well in class and gets acceptable grades. Some parents would respond to this strategy by saying that this is bribery. We were brought up on the child rearing practices of punishment. We now know that positive reinforcement works best. This is not bribery. Bribery is payment for an illegal act. We are simply are making payment in a currency that is meaningful to Jerry. Most teenagers want to do well. Failing or getting into trouble may have some payoffs, but it also has its drawbacks. By finding out what is important to Jerry and then helping him to get it, we are demonstrating to Jerry that we are on his side.

The focus of the solution is to have your son feel that you are on his side and are trying to help him figure out a solution. The moment you are “the enemy” is the moment that you are in a power struggle. The goal of good parenting is to help youngsters realize that we are their parents and in charge but being in charge is not taking over, it’s guiding.

Please keep me up to date as to the progress of your son.


Dr. Marty



Overcoming Parent Stress – You Can Handle IT, Don’t let it Handle You

Stress becomes destructive when you have just one more thing to deal with than you can handle and you let it eat at you. When I would get up in the morning and fix breakfast for my two children who at the time, were ages 8 and 11, they would ask me for cereal, toast, jelly, and a sandwich for lunch. I was fine until they changed their minds and wanted eggs. At that point I was stressed. I was on overload. In my professional life, I have dealt with far more difficult issues and felt less stressed. I started to think about why was I stressed in one situation and not the other. I realized – Stress is connected to perception. The way we view things causes us to be or not to be stressed. What evolved from that awareness were some rules to de-stress life.

Dealing with Time Pressures

If something doesn’t get done it is not the end of the world. Too often we tell ourselves that if we don’t complete something, there will be a disaster. To de-stress ourselves we have to take a closer look at that assumption. Not everything is a do or die situation.

Don’t be locked into a deadline. Even though a time is set, think in terms of changing that timetable. As a parent sometimes we set our own deadlines. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that will happen if it doesn’t get done today?” Do part of the task, and take care of the next step later in the day or schedule it for another time. You may have to go shopping, take care of work or home issues, talk with someone, and keep your promise to buy something for your child on the same day. Maybe you can leave a quick message to the person you are supposed to call, and buy a small thing at the store over the weekend. Pace yourself. Push during high energy periods. Slow down or stop when you are tired.

Organization as Anti stress Tool – Budget yourself. Start with an easy task if you are tired. Tackle a difficult issue if you are at the top of your game.

Prioritize. Decide which project is the most important and which one is the least. Is there a time frame? What will happen if something gets done at a later time? Too often the task in front of us is the one we work at. Often the one we like the least is the last one we want to deal with. If you prioritize by prominence or preference you’ll pay the stress price later on

Slice it Up. Break down the task into smaller parts. This rule deals effectively with the problem of overload.

Ask for technical help. If you are overwhelmed, find someone who can give you insight about short cuts in terms of handling the project. Too often we try and ‘tough it out’, or we are too frantic to stop and ask for directions and information.

Allocate. See if you can get someone to help with small pieces of the task.

Emotional issues and stress. Become aware of your fear. Often times stress is fear driven. A person might feel that if I don’t press I will lose everything, I will get fired, nothing will ever get done, I will get yelled at , or during my review l will get a lower performance rating.

These suggestions are designed as a checklist. If you are feeling stressed, ask yourself “am I following these rules?” Distress is about what you do with what you get. Beauty and unhealthy stress are both in the eye and the actions of the beholder.


Does My Child Need Counseling?

Being a parent is the most difficult job in the world. I am a parent. I am also a family therapist who has counseled parents for over twenty eight years. I realize the significance of the title of mother or father. When taken seriously, the role of parents takes more energy and commitment than anything else I can think of. Being concerned about our children, we are always on the look out for any problems that our children may have. We want to find the balance between seeing every issue as an indication of disturbance, and ignoring the danger signals, in the hope that the youngster will “grow out of it.”

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation and ask some questions. Ronald is eleven years old and evidences angry behavior. He hits his younger sister and gives her a hard time. We already have the first bit of important information, Ronald’s age. Although they are not absolute measures, there are guild lines and age ranges for development and age appropriate behavior. The next question I would ask, if Ronald were referred to me for treatment is “How long has this behavior been evidenced?” Children naturally go through phases. One day’s problem is the next day’s ancient history.

The next question is “How is Ronald functioning in the following areas?”:

With his parents?

In school?

With his peers?


Has anything unusual or significant occurred recently (i.e. a birth, a marriage, a death, etc.)? The key to evaluation is intensity and duration. That is, how dramatic is any behavior or personality shift, and how long have the changes been present?

Based on these preliminary questions, there are usually three possibilities:

Treatment is not indicated at this time. This might be the answer if the problems are not particularly dramatic, but just mildly annoying. The behavior seems to be age-appropriate and just a normal part of growing up.

Therapy is indicated. A combination of individual treatment for the child, and individual counseling for the parent is warranted. Rarely do I recommend that the child be seen exclusively. Effective treatment occurs when the child’s specific conflicts are dealt with and the additional resources of the parent are also enlisted.

This involves the education of the parent in “parent management” skills. I advise this psycho-educational process when emotionally charged issued can be resolved by teaching the parent alternative coping skills for effectively handling various situations and areas of communication.

To properly assess the need for, and type of treatment, the therapist must begin by meeting with the parent and evaluating the youngster. Therapy is, in the final analysis, as much an art as it is a science. There are no absolute answers or guidelines. Therapy must be an individualized process.

What I have suggested is a general perspective and perhaps food for thought. Being interested in your child is an important factor in his/her development. Always ask the question and care. Listen to the answers and you have a running start.

Good Luck!!