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December 1st, 2009 by Dr. Phil

Shaping Your Kids

kids1After posting a blog item about how Robin and I raised our sons believing that they should be able to make their own choices, I got a call from a friend who said, “Yeah, Phil, but what if you can clearly see things that worry you? After all, you have often said their brains aren’t even finished growing until years later. What do you do then?” He went on to tell me about his 13-year-old daughter who, a few nights earlier, had drained a glass of milk at dinner and said with a proud grin, “Hey, Dad, I’m learning to chug.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve gotten the feeling that she wants to try alcohol or at least has it in her mind,” he told me. “So what do I do, right now, to keep her from gaining momentum toward a bad life choice?”

Good question! So, as a parent, what should you do when you see early warning signs that your child might be headed down the wrong path?

I strongly believe in prevention, early detection and early intervention. I’ve never been one to “freak out” on my boys, and I was not overly suspicious, although I had a clear-eyed awareness of how teens can make really bad decisions. I found that a slow and steady, sleep-with-one-eye-open approach always worked best. Let me use drinking as an example. Although I can’t say for sure why my sons never got involved in teenage drinking, I do know that one of the factors that kept them from indulging was knowing that Robin and I disapproved and furthermore, we were always watching them. When one of our kids came home, for instance, it didn’t matter what time it was, or what I was doing or what deadlines I was facing, I would stop everything, make eye contact and start a conversation.

A Young Jay and Jordan McGrawThat conversation might have seemed casual — just a simple back and forth about what they had been doing — but I was definitely debriefing and evaluating. I was making sure that pupils were not dilated and that there was no slurring of words. I had my antennae out for any warnings signs that they had been up to no good.

I always made it clear that for even just one slip, there would be consequences — there would be some sort of early intervention. They knew that it was up to them: mess up and pay a high price; don’t mess up and earn even more freedom.

If you see early warning signs, whether through their words, attitudes or behaviors, the timing is ideal to start a dialogue with your child — one that could very well last for many years … or at least until he or she is out of the house.

I believe freedom is an earned privilege, and my attitude was always that they were allowed to do what they could handle. Meaning: If I let one of my sons go out on a Friday or Saturday night without supervision, and he demonstrated that he couldn’t make mature, intelligent decisions on his own, then from that moment forward, his Friday and Saturday nights would be supervised. Just like that, his freedom was gone and not easily earned back. There was no question he was going to think twice before pushing his boundaries again!

What do you do when a warning sign first emerges? I’d love to hear from you, and I’d also love to share your ideas on the blog with other readers. When it comes to keeping our kids out of trouble, we can all use as much good advice as we can get.

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97 Responses to “Shaping Your Kids”

  1. Tamara F. says:

    I understand that prevention and early intervention are best. But, what if it’s too late for that? I was the worst self-involved, drug-addicted mother to my two teenagers during their elementary school years. I’ve since found my way back to good and attempted to repair my relationship with them, but my 16-year-old has never forgiven me. He’s steadily lost motivation to excel in school, started smoking marijuana, and has gotten really selfish and mean.

    He tried living with my husband and our two little ones, but he was so violent, disrespectful, and angry with us that he went back to living with my mother. We even tried counseling while he was here, but he just kept telling me that he didn’t want to be with me, he didn’t like me, and he wanted to live with nana.

    Well, he’s been there for a year and she’s fed up. He was supposed to stay clean, join a school activity/get a job, go to counseling, and get good grades–he hasn’t done any of it. After getting in trouble at school three times in a month or so for smelling like weed, she told him he couldn’t stay with her anymore. Now he’s run off three times in the last two weeks and missed two assessment appointments we’ve had for him. He looks absolutely miserable and has completely stopped following any rules at all. It seems like it’s too late, but there’s got to be something we can do.

    Every time he runs away we file a police report, a child seekers report, call his phone and all his friends until he comes home, but he never stays long enough to let us get help. The police say they can’t do anything at all–our kid our problem. I’m absolutely stressed and guilty and worried that he’ll screw up his life like I did. What do I do????????

  2. Michelle Elliott says:

    You talked about doing whatever is necessary to help these kids not even short of Jail. In today’s Indianapolis Star newspaper, ” Feds cite sex abuse at juvenile girls center”: Report finds former Indy facility failed to protect offenders from harm. I think this father had the right idea. Keep the girls home and try to change his ways.

  3. Lisa Rose says:

    I loved ur show today on troubled teen i have the exact same problem the father is the same way he wants to be there friend instead of there parent the problem is we are divorce and they live with him and now my sixteen year old daughter thinks she is all of the sudden bi-sexual a very beautiful girl her daddy says it is ok i say no i love her her and i except her no matter what but i say cut all communication off take her cell phone take her car we dont have to finance this bull crap wha ever she decides when she is eighteen then that is her choice but for now i feel it is our job to steer her away from this stupid idea, my son is thirteen his daddy buys him a new bow or anything else anytime he shows out he talks to me like a dog my daddy would have killed me he never would ask why do u talk to her like that their daddy and i are friends but im the only parent and bad guy he is the respected one and loved one my son told me “i cant believe u told my daddy on me he loves me to much to get on to me unlike you” i said boy when u get older and have kids of your own u will see that is not love it is laziness and easier to not deal with any of this their father hates any kind of confertation with anyone includin me his ex wife he will agree with me on anything but turns around and does the opposite i hope i can get him a copy of your show today i tried to record it on my cell phone i know it would help just to see the show today thanks again you are the best

  4. Monique P says:

    Dr. Phil,
    I watched your show today about the troubled teens. I could not believe the behavior of those young girls at 14 years of age. I wonder how much time the parents were spending with them and participating in their lives as they were growing up.

    I think they need to move out of their house as a family. Go for counseling in a different environment for a while as a family. I hope that they do. It is too sad to see. Those beautiful young girls later on in life will be so sorry that they have treated their mother so badly.

  5. Monique P says:

    Dr. Phil,

    It is very sad to see two young and beautiful girls behaving this badly towards their mother and family. I hope they get counseling as a family and learn to love and appreciate their parents especially their mother. Appreciate their family life and treasure the memories of happy times spent together.

  6. Ramona says:

    I would like to find the name of the facility Dr. Phil recommended if at-home work didn’t work. ‘Aspen’ was in the title.

  7. kim asay says:

    I have to say that I watch your show faithfully everyday and I have never wanted to express an opinion more than I do today. That oldest girl would have been in a home for girls so fast her head would spin. She was so entirely disrespectful and just does not “get it.” I do not feel that the father of those girls is capable of handling the sitsuation and that family needs help immediately. I have 2 girls myself and I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to deal with drugs and alcohol but I do have “world revolves around me” behavior. My husband and I don’t always see eye to eye on discipline which causes problems but we work on it together. Thank you for your advice and opening my eyes to knowing that its ok to be in charge and that I can do it guilt free. Those girls are headed down a serious path of distruction and the disrespect level was so off the charts that I hope and pray that those parents have the will to carry out what needs to be done.

  8. Jackie Thompson says:

    As I watched your show today I felt that I had already seen it this morning, but then I realized that it was “The Dog Whisperer” I had watched! Same idea, different, species! The pack leader needs to be established and then the behavior wil lbe learned in a balanced, calm way! Good luck to the family. They will need all of your support they can get!

  9. Kelly says:

    After watching the show on troubled teenage I have to say I was disappointed. I was hoping to get some help that I can use with my own son. Instead I felt like the audience was left hanging. I too have a troubled teen. He is now 18 and we still struggle. Four years ago he became involved with drinking and drugs. That was when the trouble started. From 14 through 17 my son was verbal and physically abusive. I went to the law and begged them for help. I would tell them who my son was hanging with, where they were drinking and smoking, but continually I got very little help. I was even told my son had to turn 18 and be arrested before I would get much help. I did succeed in having my son arrested twice during this time period but the system failed us. He was required to attend counseling 8 times and he went twice…they let him off. I even went to the police when my son threatened suicide and the law would not help. Dr. Phil you speak like it is so easy…but it isn’t! I can relate with these parents…maybe not the father but the mother. You get so tired of being verbally abused that you do whatever you can to avoid being put back in that position. Dr. Phil that is what your viewer’s need help in…what happens when the system fails you, what can parents do to get through each day, we need help today. Society is failing us as parents. I am an educator that sees parents in distress daily, we need the tools to help us, society won’t help. Just telling parents to follow your “commando” rules isn’t enough. What do those rules entail, how do you implement them when your child is 14-18 years old. Help us Dr. Phil, help the parents and children to get on the right path, help society get on the right path.!

  10. Elana Bagley says:

    Dr. Phil,
    Unfortunately I only caught 10-15 minutes of yesterdays show on troubled teens. I am dealing with a crisis situation with my own “troubled teen”. My stepdaughter Ashley who is 15 yrs old is currently a runaway. She is with her boyfriend who is a 17yr old dropout and treats her like crap. I know for certain that he as beaten her up at least once when he was drunk. I have been on the phone and the web for 2 solid weeks (since she left home) trying to find a facility to take her that meets certain criteria. I am desperate to get her out of her current situation and into a safe, structured environment. I pray you & your staff can point me in the right direction. The criteria is as follows: 1) must be Christian based (my requirement) 2) must have a therapeutic / clinical component or have ability to go to outside psychiatrist for psych evaluation (her fathers requirement) 3) must be far enough from San Diego, CA to avoid the risk of her running back to looser boyfriend. 4) Must be under $1300 monthly tuition or provide scholarship or sponsorship to defer costs.
    Prefer but not required – facility within driving distance of Atlanta, GA area. I have a sister in GA who works for Delta. Being close to there we could use her as a home base for family therapy / visits and Ashley would have family close enough to visit when her father and I could not. I did not catch the full name of the facility (Aspen in title) that you mentioned on yesterday’s broadcast & am not sure it would meet our criteria.
    My heart is breaking for my precious girl and I am running out of doors to knock on praying that God will fling one open for us to walk through.

  11. Judy says:

    Our 16 yr old son is out of control we have tried everything within our abilities financially and emotionally and are in need of help. I have looked into the Turn About Ranch in Utah – we cannot afford $38,000! Everywhere I turn to for help (school, police, treatment hospitals) have only offered judgements on our parenting abilities and no constructive help. We have two older children that turned out fine the way they were raised. He is openly defiant, verbally abusive and abusing substances. I know he needs to be away from us and his environment but we cannot afford any of these programs on our own. Can you recommend an alternative program or are there any financial assistance programs to help with the costs. He is really spiralling out of control quickly with alcohol and I’m not sure what else at this point because we can no longer trust what he tells us. Can you please offer us some alternative options within our budget.

  12. Jamie says:

    Dr. Phil, I agree with everything you said & suggested to the parents and teen daughters with one big exception. I speak with almost 30 yrs. experience handling troubled teens. I noted you asked the two girls what they thought should be done at the conclusion of the show. They both indicated going back home, working on it, trying to be good & respectful of each other and their parents. That should have been the last thing those two ungrateful girls received presently. Basically, at that moment I felt they’d gotten a ’slap on the hand,’ and about 98% sure they return to a home where what happened there, stayed there. The girls are are despirate for guidance, rules, and at least one of their parents who will implement rules concretely. As I saw it…neither teen had one parent in whom they could show respect. Both parents stated they did not want the girls mad at them. Who cares??? Parents aren’t supposed to be their children’s best friend, that is why they call them a parent. The girls had a history of parental abuse…and it was like just because they appeared on your show their inappropriate behaviors evaporated.
    Whatever the girls wanted…the opposite should have been imposed…and I was just disappointed that you did not point that out to the parents. Other than that, I was extremely impressed with the show and your advise. I only wish you & Robin would have reared a dozen children!
    I’ve always dreamed of a television show: “The Nanny, Part II.”…who goes into homes with troubled middle and high schoolers. It’d probably be best to hire a ‘bouncer’ appearing star for that show. The younger children are a piece of cake compared to adolescents.

  13. Michelle says:


  14. Ronalesa says:

    I think about all the grief and judgement I received from EVERYONE when I became a teen mom. And I see shows like this about out of control teens and it infuriates me to think how I had to defend my right to be a mother!! My daughter is now 14 (I’m 32), she’s a straight A student and literally an Ambassador for the United States of America. I can not even fathom having such little control over your 14 year old child. I do not scream, I do not spank, and yet there is no question in my household that the parents are the parents and the kids are the kids and we are ALL expected to behave accordingly. Seeing a 14 year old smoke and drink makes me ill inside.

  15. Mary says:

    The place Dr. Phil mentioned is Aspen Ranch in Loa Utah.

  16. John Eaton says:

    Don’t ignore the warning signs! Every time our children have been at a friend’s house or on an activity we look for the warning signs that they may have participated in something that breaches their moral values. For us, we notice one or more of these: Having a tough time going to sleep, stomach aches, easily angered, reclusive, or just a bad attitude. Our mission as parents isn’t to give out punishment as much as we have to be tuned in and ready to help them connect their failures with us. If they don’t connect them with us, they’ll turn to friends who do nothing more than tell them to get over it. So we take time to debrief them. To them it seems like a casual conversation, asking them about their relationships and the activities. Afterward, we end with a question or two like this: “Is there anything that happened that you don’t feel good about and need to talk?” Most of the time they say, “No.” But we have found that by being there for them in the small failures, when something big happens—eventually they come to talk. When they voluntarily do, there’s normally no punishment. Rather, our focus is trying to understand why they made that decision and then helping them to understand it as well. One of our children was entering into puberty when he finally talked about a situation that had happened 4 years earlier! It took that long for the child to process it and to trust enough to connect it with us. Our goal as parents is to find ways to help them talk about their failures, indiscretions, and to put it bluntly—their sin. By the time they do open up, they seem to be pretty beaten up already. So our responsibility isn’t so much focused on the punishment, but helping them to understanding the crime or behavior.

    A great tool we use is the Seven Deadly Sins—and helping them do an inventory like AA teaches. Which sin(s) did I participate in? Anger, Pride, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Envy, or Gluttony? If we can teach our children how to see their own failures and process them right, to the point of reconciliation with those they have offended, how great is that?!

    As a pastor, chaplain, and a father of four, the reasons we ignore them are easy to see and understand. One, parents are either self-absorbed or tired. Or two, we don’t educate ourselves on how to deal with it. Or three, we don’t believe our child(ren) will ever reach the destination of that bad road they are on. Our children are constantly coming to crossroads where one road leads to life, and the other leads to death. If my child even looks at the road that leads to death, I must act. Even if they are only one mile down the road—it still leads to death. “But Joe and Susie’s son is further down the road than ours.” So! It’s the same road with the same results.

    So we must not grow tired. We must not be self-absorbed. We must educate ourselves on the issues our children face—stop playing naive. And we must always believe there is nothing good on the road that leads to death…even if it’s only their first step.

  17. elaine says:

    I have a 15 year old son that is spiralling out of control. He is smoking and cussing like a sailor. He has been grounded with everything taken from him including removal of his door to his room. However nothing is working. Currently he stole someones credit card number and charged items to the card. So far charges have nt been filed but he acts liek it no big deal so what if they charge me. He doesn’t get it that this is a felony that stays with him for life. He acts like I owe him everything. He shows no remorse for his actions. Dr. Phil I need some advice fast on how to get him to take ownership of his actions and to turn his life around. Please help a single mom with an out of control teenager!!!!

  18. Kathy says:

    What is the name of the foster care association that Dr. Phil and Robin are involved with?

  19. Lisa says:

    Hi Dr. Phil! While I watch your show daily, this is my first on blogging. The reason I’m blogging is because my 16 year old step-son told us too. He actually blurted it out and said: “Why don’t you ask Dr. Phil & see what he thinks about you guys being too strict!” So here I am! I feel we are having some boundary issues with him…and have been for the past 5 years! Today was a minimum day so he asked if he could hang out with his friends after school and play football. Dad agreed, as long as he was home by 3:30. Schoold ended @ 11:30 & HE told dad he would start heading home by 2:30, to make sure he was on time. He was 15 minutes late. While it’s not too late, he never keeps his rules! Sunday, he was asked to be home before dark…he got home 1 1/2 AFTER dark!!!! When we talked to him about our concerns…kidnapping, getting beat up by bullies,etc… he told us we are too strict, too demanding & he didn’t know what the big deal was. He lies on a daily basis, is defiant, talks balk, & disrespectful. For now, we feel blessed we dont’t have any legal issues…no drugs, alcohol, etc… . His behavior is a daily struggle in our household 7 it’s affecting our 3yr old daughter. What advice can you give us to help our 16 yr old understand that the rules, structure,discipline we have in place are to protect him & help him develop into a successful, responsible, well rounded individual…man???

  20. Teresa Berkebile says:

    You asked the question about spanking kids, when appropriate, and yes, I believe it is.

  21. John Crippen says:

    One of the things I’ve noticed with my grand children is that they are so inactive. Between texting, playing video games, and watching television, they just don’t get out and explore. I gradually got them interested in photography and now they actually take time to go outside and explore! Next I added crafts for the younger ones so they got even more gratification out of the learning process and digital photography. It was so much fun that I started going to their schools and teaching 30 minute presentations to other kids as well. The kids, teachers, and parents loved it. So I moved forward and created the CamerasForKids.Info website for parents, teachers, and kidss to learn more about photography and how to teach it. As an added bonus, I added a special section for old kids called ‘About Our World’ which has fun articles on animals, nature, and science. The Cameras For Kids book has been bombarded with 5 star reviews on Amazon.com, too. I hope some families will take a peek and have some fun with this information. – JC

  22. kira says:

    phil how are you… because of something you said on your show several of my friends dont want me around them… you said that punks goths emos satanists and rebels have no respect for life… id like to say you infact are correct but not all of us are like that i respect life in fact we are the most misunderstood… i hate life i loathe it… why because bullying and harasment almost the entire time i have been in school… my parents are there for me all the time… sry to jump from subject to subject…. im a rebel a skater an emo gothic punk satanistic… were aloud to be who we want to be… im a good kid im 16 i know my laws i also so know that the extremist groups kill who ever they want… im a good sumaritian… i cant spell… i dont think its fair i lose friends because you smeere good people in to monsterous disgusting freaks of hell… i respect you… my mom says all the time i need to make friends because of you i just lost several and all there parents listen to you… now every one of their parents look at me like im a freak… i want to call that a form of harasment but i cant…

  23. PJ says:

    What can you do when your son or daughter are in their twentys married, and have not finished their college education yet? Do you stop parenting after they are married or is there some advice you can still give. The adult I am talking about is a hard worker, and excels in the jobs that he or she has held, however with the job market the way it is they have had to find a new job twice in the last three years. I have offered to pay for the remainder of their education, so they can finish. So far they have not taken me up on it. Help me know what I should do about the situation if anything.
    Thank you!

  24. C M Ridge says:

    My husband and I just finished watching part of today’s show of the 15 yr old girl with her parents,and being in rehab.
    Her statement of her upbringing stood out to me. Pushing the Bible, limiting her t shows such as sponge bob, etc. I saw her as a very bright young lady. What I also heard was her disagreements with her parents family values. My husband was raised very strict catholic. Once he and his brother turned 16, they went wild in discovering the other world. What I am trying to say is this. Her personal choices were incorrect and wrong. But there is another part that was not heard from her that I think caused this-her parents values that she does not agree with. I feel they there needs to be some group sessions with parent and child.

  25. connie says:

    I’m a single mom with an out of control teen. I tried many times to get help, I wanted my daughter in a residental treatment center, but could not afford it. I called everywhere I could think of and got no where. My daughter is adpoted and has several diagnosises, behavioral problems. She has always been difficult, but at this point she was mean and violent towards mean. If I tried to unplug the phone, or take away the cell phone or TV she would break things that belonged to me, hit, kick, and take off. She would refuse to go to school, wouldn’t abide by any bed time, refused to do anything to help around the house (all I asked was take care of her things) she would sneak out in the middle of the night when I was sleeping, and go to hook up with boys. I did everything in my power, but it wasn’t enough. I was so tired, and so helpless, I almost felt like I couldn’t keep going. In Dec a social worker at the school reported my daughter to social services for having boys in our home when I was at work, eventually this led to her removal to a foster home. I was accused of “allowing” her behavior. My crime was that I worked! I did work a lot of hours, but working for someone else you really don’t have a choice. I had contacted every social service agency in the state, I was able to get some help in the form of community services, and mentors for my daughter. However the county social worker said I wasn’t doing my job because I depended on the help of these agencies to help me. Now she is in a foster home. Not a good one, its supposed to be, but it’s really not. She’s not improving or doing anything to come home. The foster home is not doing their job,and they do not set a good example of how to live. I want her home. I’m stronger now and feel I can deal with her better, but she’s still mean to me if she doesn’t get the things she wants. I lost my job because of my personal problems with her, so I am home now and have no intentions of taking a job that will take me away from the home when she is here. However, I’m terrified things will go back to the same, and I will be on my own again without any help. If she comes home what are my options if she starts the same behaviors again.

  26. jo says:

    My scenario is just about exactly the same as the family on todays show. Tomorrow I get to go to court with both my kids. My son has been rebelling for the past 4 years, he is now 18 and possibly facing a jail sentence. Not really a hardened criminal. He has an anger issue and alcohol is his enemy. He is extremely verbally abusive to us, me mostly because I am the one who follows through with consequences. He could possibly get house arrest. I believe I have an option now after watching the Dr. Phils show. He stated the same thing that our Dr stated 2 days ago, word for word. We as parents are responsible to give our kids food and shelter, I would add one more; Love. Both Drs also stated, start from scratch, the bare essentials. The children need to work to get anything more. This is the steps I will be taking if my son comes home. As for my other child, daughter, she is 14 and more respectful but her brother has and is teaching her well. She also will be getting this consequence if she chooses to go down the wrong path. I take responsibility for not following through as often as \i should have. My husband rarely followed through with my son. I chose to live in guilt rather than parenting properly. I did the best I could. I have always let my kids know I love them and will support any positive behavior. I am not a yeller or believe in physical abuse, but I do follow through now and they are not likiing it. I have written Dr. Phil many emails and letters over the past 4 years, thank you for the show today. My advice to others don’t lecture, say what you need to say with respect, walk away. If they verbally abuse you “No excuse for abuse” walk away. Stay calm. It is their angry child coming out, they are acting out, it really doesn’t have anything to do with you, it’s their stuff. This phrase, action and consequence (already known to child or told when calm) is really the only thing that has worked for the verbal abuse. I would like to offer anything I can to those parents feeling helpless. Don’t know if I can help, have not got it figured out yet, but feeling optimistic. Stay grounded and treat yourself with kindness. If guilt is present work on this issue for yourself, it will guide you down the wrong path. Do it for the kids. Figure out your crap and that opens doors for our children. Good luck. Remember don’t worry what others say negatively, you are doing the best job you can. Be harmless, they eventually will follow, I am hoping.

  27. Robin says:

    Dr. Phil, I could not agree with you more on comando parenting! I olny caught he very end of today’s show, but agree whole heartly. I also understand the rock and a hard place that the mother seem to be in. My husband of 17 years always took a backseat approach to everything in our marriage and raising of our two wonderful teenage boys. Now that I am have been working outside of the home and he has been laid off and inside the home having to take on more duties of raising our children my youngest is rebelling! We have been to ind., family, and couples therapy! My hubby agress in the office to take control but as soon as we get to the parkig lot turns around and says he wont do it it’s mean. What!? Again I am the bad parent. It was about the same time that my husband got laid off and started to have to take on more responsiblities of our boys that the youngest has gone off the deep end. I am the blunt of his behavior. I even had to call the police to have my son removed to grandma’s house. Now that my husband has gone back to work, out of state, he says do what ever I want to with the kids, house, bills, ect. Where is the support a spouse is to give. But at least now I can lay down the law and get my son help. Well so I thought. Centers around here say he must must try to kill himself b4 they will help my son! What? I am trying to prevent that and help him b4 it is to late. A young Boy Scout who uses his manners (when he chooses) who has done severial community hours needs help too! Just because in the recent past he was a great kid, doesn’t mean he cant be having trouble and need help! I call cussing me out everytime I talk to him, trashing the house, making false reports to police, calling police because he’s grounded from laptop and saying he is reporting me for stealling his property- a large cry for help! But what do I do now that I am the only one to help him and doctors around our area put him on a waiting list because he is not a “real” threat to himself? When a parent is trying to get help b4 their teen gets into drugs and drinking but the community fails and money doesn’t allow for a fancy out of state treatment center what is a parent to do? Family says my son will hate me for standing my ground on behavior, that they dont see it so I must be lyning, and that he’s going through a rough age he should be given some slack! What is a parent to do?

  28. Sara says:

    I can totally relate to having an At Risk Teen. My son is 15 and went from being an honor student with A’s and B’s, playing sports, etc. to flunking 9th grade, no healthy activities, smoking cigarettes, and marijuana. My ex moved out 2 years ago and the then 13 year old went with him. The two younger children stayed with me. The reason, conflicting parenting styles. My ex said if it was just the two of us we would be fine, which is true, we have soooo much in common and really did love each other. Then he went on to say, with the kids it will never work. Hmmm! That just doesn’t sound right. We chose to have our three children and now our marriage/ relationship of 20 years is thrown away because it won’t work because of parenting the kids together. Now divorce it still does not work not being on the same page. My ex had always worked on the weekends so I was the disciplinary at home. When we moved 3 years ago, he had the weekends off the first time since we started our family. Then the ball started to unravel. He wanted the kids to come to him when they wanted permission to do something, etc. My oldest found out quickly that with dad being home now, he could use some tactics to manipulate him and play us against each other. He learned quickly dad never checked up on whether he was telling the truth on assignments turned in, going to bed at night(he would just stay up all night on his computer). We did get professional advice which was right on the money. The next day my ex would call his mom, (cell phones and long commutes can cause a lot of damage) and she would preached the no punishment, get in touch with the feelings and “why” he is doing these behaviors. Low self esteem… She would say that I was causing problems by taking things away. I would say I am not taking them away, but instead he has to EARN them. A unfamiliar way of getting things with this generation. My feeling is that he was just doing it to test dad’s boundaries and to see if he could find any cracks. He found them. He went right to work opening up those cracks and playing us against each other. My husband got an A on my son’s testing him out and playing him. But an F in parenting because he was trying to be a friend first and a parent second, along with not following through with most things. He always gave my son an out, and eventually everything went very sour when he didn’t follow through with the consequences or let my son renegotiated the situation. Needless to say we are now divorced and 2 months ago he gave me full custody of my son, physical and legal. My ex decided that he does not want to be responsible for him at all. Although he can visit when the other kids go to visit him every other weekend as long as he does not do drugs. If he is doing any pot smoking, or not going to follow his rules, he has to stay with me. Dad just wants the kids when they are going to follow his lead without any headaches. Have fun, fun, fun! Wouldn’t that be nice if we had no problems at our jobs and it was fun, fun, fun. My son did the “BIG test”, now that I have custody of him, and did not go to school Thurs. or Fri.(predictable) He did not even come home to my house Thurs. night, even though he said he would be home by 6. And I discovered he stole a cup of my spare coins, which was about $20 worth. What were the consequences at dad’s that weekend since he had them from Fri night until Monday am when he is suppose to take the kids to school. Let’s see, my son got to spend hours with his girlfriend at her house at 2 different times that weekend, go to another friend’s house for a few hours, go out to breakfast twice, and out to the movies with dad and siblings. Hmmm! It sounds like fun to be truant, on drugs, and a thief. Look at all the rewards! I wonder what privileges he would have had if he actually did not break any rules? I feel like raising a teenager is like running a business in mnay ways. The program Total Transformation goes along with this frame of thought. I have been doing it for 2 months now and LOVE IT! It is easy to understand, easy to follow along workbook and audio CD for each lesson. Gives lots of practical scenarios, and has phone support, where you actually get to talk with a person, without being on hold. Wow! I have called them about 8 times and they always have an answer for me that parallels with the program and they always make me feel good about my efforts and what I am trying to accomplish. The program is really pro-active, stress rewards and punishments in small increments, and to not sweat the small stuff. Also, having a change means it is not going to be perfect, so don’t beat up on yourself when you have some steps go backwards. Just focus on how you are going to do things different next time. Realistic!!! I was seeing really good results, not perfect of course, but on the right path, until my ex undermined me this weekend and rewarded my son for his lack of responsibility. UGH!!! Did my son cooperate and let my ex drive him to school on Monday. NO. My ex thought our son had gone out the door in the am to get into the car to head off for his ride to school. He quickly discovered that my son never got into his car, but kept on going. My husband called out to him and try to find him for 20 minutes, but to no avail. Then he updated me about the situation via text and cleaned his hands of the situation. My son did not come back to my home until 11:00 pm that night. I tried to contact my ex before that to get his input, he just ignores my calls. His girlfriend even had the gall to say this was their time and for me not to disturb them. I reminded her that a parent is for 24/7 and “their” time should not be the focus. The focus should be on the fact that my son is still on “runaway” status and possibly out doing drugs. She just replies that my son just needs to go away to some program. It may come down to that, but I would sure like to have a shot at parenting him my way, like Dr.Phil said with clear boundaries and follow through, without my ex undermining me by doing it his way. He tried it “his way” for two years and it DID NOT WORK. By the way, my other children are doing FANTASTIC under my fulltime guidance and care.

  29. jkraemer says:

    The behavior of the girls presented in your show was interesting, very similar to some teens that act out on the school buses.

    Difficult teens are not just a problem at home, but also in the community, at school, in the school halls, on the playground (#1) and on the school buses (#2). Then there is the Internet.

    What troubles me is that the typical good parent can be sabotaged from what their experimenting teen can learn to get away with at school and on the school buses, bring it home and the wars begin. What other kids get to do, what other kids get to have, one or two good parents’ up against an army of seductive influences at school and in the community.

    Kids seem to think they know their own rights but also seem oblivious to the rights of others and how it all works together for a civil environment.

    I am the captain of my school bus, enforce a safe, calm bus environment for children and a hostile free workplace for myself. Each day before departure from school this announcement is made: “Please clear the aisle and sit forward in your seats, hands and feet to self; Please use calm voices throughout this ride; Please demonstrate respect toward your fellows, your bus driver and yourself on this route.”

    Any child refusing to follow directions is offered a warning. Persistence brings a seat change closer to the bus driver. Where that does not resolve the misbehavior the child is instructed to wait off the bus with a school staff member. In the rare event the misconduct continues the child is escorted to the office to work it out along with an invitation to try again the next day.

    Mistakes are allowed, failure is allowed. Failure to try again is not allowed, except when the child by his or her own methods escapes riding the bus. In that case the child is informed it is allowed with permission from your parents.’ “Please drop us a note on occasion to let us know how you are doing.”

    Most eventually come back and follow directions. If not, back to the office for another try.

    The badly behaved do not like these methods that delegates the well-behaved students have the run of the bus environment, not the unruly and not the bullies.

    My remedies do not try to fix kids or adults, My effort involves protecting the bus environment. Remedies continue to grow and adapt when earned to better suit the well behaved that make mistakes — less punishment — more dialog. No fights on the routes in over a decade, very little bullying and less violence on the bus.

    On occasion a bad mouthed student attempts to bully me — does not work out very well for these children. A few students have said, “The only place I have to behave is on this stupid school bus.”

    I think the main difference with kids these days seems that they demand the adults be trustworthy, that what is expected is real. Too many adults want to be the popular adult with the kids, not realizing they are sabotaging the kids and the efforts of the other adults involved. I agree with you that it does nothing but harm the kids and is selfish of the adults doing such things.

    The cost for an adult to feel good introduces more confusion in kids to then think they have a right to anything they want, can do anything they want and still get the same prizes in life as those that earned their way. I do not know anything more destructive to all the children on a school bus then a school bus driver and/or school that lets the malbehaved children have the run of the bus.

    I may have the only ‘Green Theme’ approach to protecting the school bus environment. You can read a hand out from this link, the link expires whenever the handout is updated:

  30. Mary Beth says:

    The name of the facility mentioned on the Dr. Phil website for this show is Turning Point Ranch located in Utah. The Aspen Education Group offers a residential program for teens at Turning Point Ranch. It is also a working ranch. http://www.turnaboutranch.com/

  31. Connie says:

    I’m writing about my adult daughter who is 35 yrs. old. She is an alcoholic and addict and has been in rehab, and out in Jan. this year. She is not living with us at this time, she left in May and didn’t come back. My husband and I have been raising her youngest daughter since the day she was born, and I’m concerned about the mental and emotional effects this behavior from her mother will have on her as she grows up. I have so many problems with the mother (my daughter) its too many to put on here. When mom is using and abusing herself, I will not let my granddaughter see her mother, because of the consequences when mom leaves her each time. If mom comes here, she expects my granddaughter to want her to spend the nite, and that always leads to weeks at a time, which is pure hell on the rest of us, with her uncontrollable anger, and outbursts and then trying to lay down the rules and breaking them and then after she gets everyone upset and the house is in complete chaos, the mom just up and leaves and then we don’t hear from her again for months at a time,. I don’t know what to tell my granddaughter who is just 5 and doesn’t understand any of it. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or not. Is there somewhere I could go for answers? I’m in Oklahoma I would appreciate any help I could get. This has been going on for the last 12 years or more. I am so tired.

  32. peter says:

    Dear Dr.Phil,
    My sister has 3 adult children,27,24,20, and a teen daughter 14, my sister is divorced, the seperation was very badly handled by both parties, she got involved with another man while still living on the marital property, there was a bungalow out back, and this “person” would stay there with her at first on occasion, then that became more frequent, anyway in the end there was a physical altercation between her ex-husband and current boyfriend, and he and my sister had to vacate the premises. She at first moved about 2o minutes away from her daughter, then with the boyfriend, across the other side of the country, this happen about 5 months ago. The relationship between mother and daughter is very strained, I really want to help my niece, I just don’t know how….PLEASE HELP;;;;

  33. I enjoy all the comments here….

    i’m pondering about beginning my own blog. i’m asking yourself if it is hard to operate your own blog. I certainly enjoy commenting. many thanks Bloggers….

  34. atherlia says:

    im a single parent of two and i would like to know what are the steps to be taken when a father of the kids dont want anything to do with them?pls help they growing fast and they dont even know their biologically father, they only call their friends fathers dad and its killing me.

  35. Patty says:

    I would like to know if a follow-up program is being considered for all those on the show that attended Turnabout Ranch. It is indeed alot of money and I think viewers would like to know if this program has worked for the long term and it was not just short lived.

  36. David Hunt says:

    Dear Dr.Phil;I don’t know who to turn to other than the police.If this goes nowhere,than I think the police would be the best answer.I do not want to ruin my sisters life,but I also am tired of waching her daughter killing her by raising her 4 illigitimate kids while she sits on her butt doing nothing.I mean you have never seen anything like this in your intire life.You would be shocked!!!I’m thinking it would have to be an intervention.I’m not happy about the fact this would be on TV.This is my sister,she worked on the stelve bomber.top secret clearance,Nobody can know that.She now works for Good Humer making ice cream,she should have never had kids at all!!!But she is were she is now.Her daughter is completley abusing her never worked doesn’t do anything to help around the house.Her kids are an unbeleiable disater They came over for Christmas.mean,mean,people to visit Granmdma.83 years old worked for three days in the kitchen with no help from anyone.Kids are from 3 to 15.The 3 year old we think is auststic and they are to dumb to know it.He has never been to a D.R.3 years old still on the bottle ,can’t talk.Please HELP!!!!!!!!!!

  37. GoodParent says:

    Hi Phil. Your strong and simple points on parenting are definitely effective. Clearly letting children know that freedom is an earned privilege and being consistent with parenting attitude/styles (such as pausing and talking to them every time they come home) gives us better assurance that children grow up always weighing decisions before action.

  38. Deb says:

    Dr. Phil,
    My oldest daughter has 3 children…..7 years old, 5 years old and 2 years old. They don’t listen to her at all and recently the 7 year old has been very disrespectful…..crying everytime he’s told to do something he doesn’t want to do…..saying he ‘Wants another Mom’…..deliberately antagonizing his sister’s…..slamming the door when he’s sent to his room, etc. She is at her wits end! She also feels that she’s not a good parent and the kids are suffering because of her behavior. She gets frustrated and angree at their behavior. The kids come to the table for dinner every night and say ‘Yuk’. Her 5 year old has always been very expressive with her feelings…..crying…..stopping the floor…..having a fit….. but then goes on with her business. Her 2 year old has recently become very expessive with her feelings to the point that she’s pulls her hair out when she’s angree.

    There is so much more to this story but the bottom line is she defintely needs more advise that I can give her…..and I have, but I was never a good at discipline.

    She and her husband are great people and, in my opinion, great parents!

    She is with the kids quite a bit because her husband works a lot of hours and she understands that, althought, it gets difficult at times!

    If there is any advice for this wonderful…..intelligent (Doctorate in Physical Therapy) Mom you can give her…..that would be very much appreciated! Grandma Debbie

  39. Melanie says:

    Hi Dr Phil,

    I was reading your blog on ’shaping your kids’ and my mind recalled a show involving Jessica and her adopted twin boys. I found watching Jessica’s treatment of Kristoff(?) so distressing that I turned the show off. I am a retired Military Officer and my husband is a Senior Military Officer (RAAF) and I equated the methods Jessica and her husband used to forms of torture as opposed to military discipline. I could not wrap my mind around an adult using and justifying such methods for raising children and I felt so deeply distressed when I heard the little fellow crying in the cold shower. The one person who should be nurturing, loving and protecting him was abusing him. No adult would suffer cold showers and hot sauce from Jessica, nor should any child be required to – we are all equal. We have three children whose ages range from 6 – 17 years old. I feel that the most successful habit my husband and I have instilled to raise our children is to always view them in a positive light and always view them as our equals when it comes to respect and human rights. We offer autonomy and only step up and in as disciplinarians when we know that our children don’t have the life experience and maturity to cope with any given situation. Most importantly we speak respectfully to our children and respect their right to dignity. Do we make mistakes? Absolutely, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We don’t see those mistakes as the childrens fault and we don’t necessarily view them in a negative light. Sometimes we give ourselves a break and sometimes we apologise to our children for our behaviour, whether it be raising our voice unnecessarily, giving our opinion when the children didn’t ask for it and didn’t want it and sometimes just getting things plain wrong. I feel very deeply about turning the household into an ‘us against them’ scenario and I see the response children make when parents do that. I cringe when I hear parents whine about the school holidays and having their children home or parents who loudly voice relief that the holidays have ended and the children are back at school. Imagine hearing the only person you have to rely on in this world whingeing about you? Imagine if children could openly whinge about parents without recourse…..wow, that would be interesting to listen to! I’ve learned a lot from watching your show Dr Phil, and I embrace the approach of asking our children about their worlds, keeping my ear to the ground and checking in with our children when they come home from any social engagements. And I have learned the wisdom of remaining staunch when I think it’s important, irrespective of what every other child at school is apparently allowed to do. I hold expectations of teachers and parents of my childrens friends and I am pleased when they have expectations of me too. Our children regularly tell me when they think I’m doing the job wrong and how they need me to do the job right and I listen and react according to my common sense and instincts. But they also tell me when they think I’m doing the job right and that’s the best feeling in this world! Dr Phil, I hope against hope that you made an impact with Jessica and that little Kristoff is blossoming as a result. Anything else is awful to contemplate.

  40. All children will eventually make some bad choices. After all, that is part of the process of learning and maturing. When this happens, we as parents need to sit down and talk to them. We must show our disappointment over the choices they make, but not over who they are. The message to convey is that the behavior is bad, not them.

    This approach, however, does not work for children who are struggling emotionally. For Dr. Phil and his wife, they were able to see positive results when they spoke with their children and set boundaries. The children respected them due to the strong bond they all share. Dr. Phil’s children are emotionally healthy, and had no need to engage in self destructive behaviors in order to cope with negative feelings.

    Still, when a child is struggling emotionally, he or she will most likely keep making bad choices. Therefore, consequences laid down by parent will not necessarily stop the behavior. The child’s negative behaviors are a symptom of his or her struggle with pain, hurt and anger. Remember that no child wants to make bad choices, but often times that is the only way they can deal with negative feelings.

    When warning signs emerge, it is important to address the source of the problem, not only the symptoms. By issuing stricter rules and consequences without addressing the underlying issue, parents will not get the results they desire. It’s similar to when we experience physical pain that doesn’t go away. If we keep taking medication, we are alleviating the pain temporarily, but not addressing the cause. Therefore, long term results are not possible.

    If you child is having problems with lying, drinking, drugs or other negative behaviors, he or she is likely experiencing negative feelings that require attention. Most of the time if parents listen to their children they can discover the source of their frustration. If you dig deeper and get close to your child, you are increasing significantly the chances of him or her making better and healthier choices.

  41. Kris bender says:

    We are searching for help for my niece. We do not know where to turn. Weekly counseling is not enough. The therapist will not recommend a long term facility. She will be 18 in February and if we don’t get help soon it will be to late! Do you still recommend turn about ranch? There are so many places that are willing to take your money. We just want to make sure we are doing the best for her. Please if you have any suggestions let us know immediately! Also, has anyone followed the kids from the ranch to see how they do later on? Thank you so much.

  42. jackie ritrovato says:

    Doctor Phil- I live in Troy, NY and my son is 26 and has not had a good job in two years. He was almost engaged and she left him two years ago. He was a mess. Started to take perscription drugs and has been struggling ever since. He wants to move to California and pursue a career in film He has a 4 year degree from University of Tampa but my husband and I are worried sick that he can’t take care of himself. I saw a repeat show you did last week stating that parents just can’t send them off and expect them to swim on their own when we have been doing everything for him, including baling him out of all of his problems. Please help, I am worried and stressed and all I want is for him to be happy and productive. You mentioned maybe career counseling and also counseling for his well being. I really think this is what he needs but we are so tapped out from helping him. Please let me know if there are resourses that you know of that may be afordable for us. Also, he said he’s clean but we are not sure. I thank you so much for all you do. My only hope is that you said, don’t worry, this can be fixed.

  43. amina says:

    Hi There

    I agree totally , prevention… its the best, some of us will say but how.. pre-atention most of the time its because we dont have time for our kids, thety just looking for an attention,from us… its difficult, but we play a big role… we need to have time for them, comunicate in the way that they feel open to look for us when in trouble, or doubt.

  44. Tonya Jackson says:

    My husband and I have been our 6 year old granddaughters primary care giver for the past 3 years and we manage to help her changes few of her attitude issues but we’re still having some difficulty
    With her throwing a fit if she doesn’t get what she wants when she wants it little bit background her moms only been with her for 2 of her birthdays and she’s been with in 20 miles of her for all but one of her birthdays. In all of my granddaughters life her mom has maybe spend a year living in the same house with her. She would drop her off to whomever would take care of her whether she just met them or knew them for thea long time anybody that would take her so she can go do what she wanted. One of the people that she ended up dropping her off with this woman’s 11 year old daughter fondled my granddaughter when she was 3 years old that’s when my daughter called me and my husband and asked us if we would come and get our granddaughter. So we went and got her and September of 2010 and we’ve had her ever since. her mom came and stayed with us for a period of time but that lasted 3 months and she moved about 20 miles away and she’s seen her daughter three times since February. And I realize that there’s a lotta reasons for the attitude issues that we have with our granddaughter I just want to see if there’s any way that I can help her be happier cause I know if she’s got this attitude she’s not happy and for the most part she’s happy but every now and again she’ll just have lots and lots of trouble and I mean I’ve had to just hold her and let her cry and cry and cry and cry and then she’s okay for a while but I don’t want to have to go through that so do you have any suggestions. Some books I can read some activities we we can try. We can try to reassure her when she is worried that you know why does my amber come and see me and so on and so forth we try to make sure that she knows that her Mama Papa will always be there for her, when her moms coming to visit she’s says that she’s afraid that her mom is going to take her away from the only safeso that she’s not here she’s not with her grandma and e years in a row now and when she was younger she didn’t know where she was going to sleep

  45. Melissa soubasis says:

    My daughter is 13 and becoming a child that I don’t know. Three years ago her attitude started changing. She went to a party of a school mate and was told to not leave. When her dad came to get her she was not there, she was around the corner with other kids from the party, in the rain, with her new phone getting wet. Her dad said nothing to her on the ride home. When She came in the door, she was soaked and crying. Her dad told her she is losing everything, TV, phone, no parties until she is 18, no movies, clothes anything. Kelsey believed ALL of it. And so began the downward spiral. Kelsey’s dad is a retired sex crimes detective. In his mind everything bad happend in the moment she walked away from that house. After 2weeks of Kelsey having everything taken, I stepped in and started giving things back. Kelsey is now 13 and self harming. The last episode was 3 weeks ago. Her psychologist told me something drastic in the home has to happen or she has to go into an institution that can better help her. The fighting between her dad and I isn’t good at all and makes living here sometimes uncomfortable for everyone. I am also to blame for my daughters behavior. I am the enabler and try and make everyone happy and at peace. We (except for my son) are all seeing a psychologist and Kelsey also sees a psychiatrist. Her attitude is getting much worse, even thou I asked her dad to move out 3 weeks ago because we just don’t get along. I am at loss. Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing more hard than good by asking her dad to leave?

  46. Sandi says:

    Dear Dr. Phil: My daughter is having trouble with her 14 yr old daughter she steals from people at school ,she has damaged things at school and is just disruptive she is in cousenling but I think she really needs more if you could find the time to try and help us thank you Sandi

  47. Simone says:

    My FB post for today after dealing with my cousins son being stabbed at the PA school Wednesday and my son getting the news His friend from HS committed Suicide… These parents need assembles and lectures!!!Not just the kids!!!

    So whats on my mind today ! Let me say it has been a tragic week in our family , My cousin had her son stabbed in a school outrage in Pittsburgh , My son lost a friend , who felt her life for what ever reason was not important enough to stay another moment on this earth! I ask myself over and over , what is going on with kids today? Why is life not precious to them, This week has made me see both ends of the spectrum! I really think to myself there is not a day in my kids life that we have not sat and spoke about what ails them, how was your day , and the god awful question that kids hate to answer , ” anybody bother you today” Is a question I always asked my kids. They knew if they had a bad day and I had an inkling of it they were not leaving the kitchen table until I found out WHY.. I think society has turned the other cheek to their children and their problems , Isn’t it mothers instinct to know when your child’s compass is off? Are parents ignoring that or just accepting “nothing” as an answer . You can ask my kids how many times ive pressed and pried until it was all on the table. I’ve never dismissed a feeling for oh well thats life . My kids have been bullied , my oldest for being to short and small , my youngest for being to tall and bigger than most kids. At that point in their life’s, I every nite before bed wrote and left them an inspirational message indicating why no ones opinion of them matters!! We need to teach our children that their self worth is most important . I often brag on here about my kids but not before I tell them how proud I am and Lucky I am to have such well rounded, hard working, heart on your sleeve kinda kids. Please people make dinner at the table mandatory , not an option.. We have dinner as a family almost every nite because that is our place to let loose talk about the day and say whats on our minds. Im never claiming to be a perfect parent but it was my job , my duty to protect as well as lift my kids ego to the height that bully’s and small people could not reach. I sit and watch my son speak of his friend who was so happy and outgoing as he explains, but really what ails them inside is a parents duty to know and see. You can not tell me that a parent cant see a child suffering on the inside can that be true? Im sorry for this long message but please people make your children your most prized possession , help them when they are suffering , lift them when they are down , don’t ignore the signs , get them the help they need, And most of all recognize every effort they make to make themselves a better person. Its not bragging its recognition that they deserve to have everyone know how wonderful they can be!!! If your not their biggest fan no one will be!!!

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