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My teen is abusive with me

QUESTION: My teen can’t argue without being abusive, what can I do?


Teens are so driven by the immediate they will frequently use every means available to get their way. Sometimes their desires are so urgent they will bypass all standard forms of argument and go straight to emotional blackmail. The subconscious thinking is: “If I can hurt mum enough, she will get sick of it and just give in.”

There are reasons teens are so extreme when angry (and get angry quickly with parents)


While they might like to think otherwise, teens know that in the end their parents control both the money available to them and how they use their time and space. There is very little they can do about that because of their personal situation (they are living at home), the law (they usually can’t leave) and societal expectations (most of their peers are in the same boat). Their verbal lashing out is an attempt to exercise power.


Because you are his parent he has confidence that no matter how unpleasant he is you won’t desert him. Consequently his words and actions are not moderated by the factor that softens most social interactions: fear that you will find him so offensive that you leave.


Quite possibly, deep down, she knows that you are right, but that doesn’t make the decision you are making for her any more palatable. Rather, she is facing an inner conflict where her head is telling her something her heart doesn’t want to hear. Sometimes the abuse you receive is not directed at you at all, it is simply the venting of her inner frustration.


Acting on a whim and treating every experience as a once in a lifetime opportunity is as much a normal part of adolescence as pimples and growth spurts. The teen brain is not good at thinking things through. Your teen is loud, aggressive and hurtful – basically irrational – because the thoughts he or she is defending have come from raw emotion not carefully considered thought.

Short term responses
  • Don’t return fire – it will only escalate the problem. Chose to not speak to your child until he or she calms down and speaks civilly.
  • Don’t panic – if your child is arguing with you it means your child knows it needs your permission (or money) to proceed. You still have the upper hand.
  •  Seek a compromise. It is easy to get into the habit of saying no for no’s sake. A small compromise can often allow the child to experience something of the wish without breaking parental boundaries.
  • Let the moment pass. If you absolutely cannot bend then wait till your teen has calmed down; then talk about your reasons, not his or her behaviour. You may reactivate the argument but if you are reasonable over time your child will be more accepting.
Long term responses

The following strategies will help minimise the number of occasions you have this experience (the earlier you start this process the more successful it will be)

Anticipate – wherever possible lay the ground work for a situation a good two years before the situation arises, it is very difficult to wind freedoms back. Behaviours and freedoms that are cute at 10 can be very frightening at 14. The current trend is to rush kids into maturity, I believe a safer way is to preserve innocence as long as possible.

Consistency – a huge benefit found in thinking your responses and values through ahead of time is that you are able to establish a set or responses that are consistent from one day to the next and one issue to the next. The quickest way to undermine credibility is to create in your kid the sense that they’re never quite sure how you’re going to react.

Balance – Prove yourself to be reasonable by developing a habit of being ahead of your teen in some areas of freedom. A great way to make unpleasant decisions palatable for your teens is when they know that you are also inclined to surprise them by the slack you can sometimes cut them.

Example – As with everything in parenting, the most powerful influence is example. If children see their parents handling disagreements, conflicts and argument calmly and with mutual respect they are very likely to have a similar approach.

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My niece is manipulative and threatening

QUESTION: My 15 year old niece is very clever; but she refuses to attend school, has an older boyfriend whom she manipulates. She is abusive to parents & grandmother, & has lately taken to damaging walls & breaking things including a mirror. Parents & grandmother are distraught, especially since they can’t get the child to visit a doctor or psychologist. She also frequently threatens them that if they check her behaviour, she will call the cops. Nobody has laid a hand on her, or abused her in any way. Please advise where parents can obtain help. She does not do drugs or drink alcohol.


Teenagers can be dreadfully emotional and stubborn because they are so posses by the moment. In their minds if the their desires aren’t met immediately they may not be met at all. Add to this the fact that when teens can’t win an argument logically they will usually turn to bullying (as indicated by what you have said about the physical damage your niece is causing) and you have people who are very hard to live with sometimes.

In response to a couple of your points: Every state has a parent help website and live phone counselling (see list here),these are a great starting point for parents in need. For face to face counselling your family could find some great help from Centacare (a counselling service of the Catholic church but open to people of all faiths).

If your niece threatens to call the police, maybe she should be allowed to. If, as you say, there are no issues of abuse the police will very likely reinforce the views of her parents.

Perhaps, though, the other direction to take is to find out why she will not attend school. For a clever girl who is not being influenced by alcohol or other drugs this is an unusual behaviour. It makes me wonder whether there are issues in her life (bullying, inappropriate relationships, academic struggle) that make school a hostile environment for her. Because, for whatever reason she will not open up about those issues she is taking illogical pathways to keep herself from having to confront them.

It is very important during this time for her parents to find some way to maintain and encourage whatever elements of a normal relationship they can. This does not mean giving in to her whims or accepting outrageous behaviour. What it does mean is to be careful to be on the look out for any signs of tenderness or normality she shows and to acknowledge and affirm those. Seek ways to spend time with her away from the tension causing issues. The more that positive side of the relationship can be built up the more likely it is that the negative side of her behaviour will begin to moderate.

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My son is totally out of control

QUESTION: Hi, My husband and I have a 15yo son who is over 6ft tall. He has not been to school for two years and refuses to go. He smokes heaps of pot ( and probably other drugs) sleeps all day and gets aggressive or violent if we try to challenge him. Hes been in trouble with the police and now facing an unlicenced driving charge.

He wont do the community service from his other charges and just goes bezerk if his father gets in his face or tries to talk to him. I think he has conduct disorder,depression and maybe a learning disability. Three years ago his best friends burt to death in a bush fire and I don’t think hes ever got over it. We are very worried about him and it is hard for us to get ANY help in a remote community. I would like to know if there is anyone who can help him. Can we take him to a “place” that will help him with his addiction and his mental issues before he hurts us or I have a heart attack from the stress.

Your situation sounds very difficult and I can appreciate the pain and frustration you are feeling. Your question contain many indicators that your son needs professional counselling, especially in terms of the death of his mates. Unresolved, a trauma like that one would certainly easily lead to the kinds of experiences you are no having with him. I suggest you phone Kidshelpline  (National: 1800 55 1800) or Parent Helpline (WA: 1800 654 432 1800 654 432; SA: 1300 364 100; QLD & NT: 1300 30 1300; VIC: 13 22 89; TAS: 1300 808 178;NSW: 13 20 55; ACT: 6287 3833)

In terms of directly addressing the problem you would probably get more appropriate direction from one of the organisations I have listed below. They are much more experienced in these issues than I am.

In terms of you and your husband though: Whatever the reason, your son is so established in his patterns of defiance that the road to change will be quite long, but it is not impossible. What you can do in the short term is to reinforce the positive in your son (wherever you find it and however small it is) and resist the temptation to engage with him on his terms. You need to build a platform of security in your relationship and acceptance of him as your son to give you the confidence to pursue his behaviours that are totally unacceptable.

For a whole range of reasons, including and probably beyond the ones you have indicated, he wants you and his society to be angry with him. Every time he provokes you to rage he wins, and you lose. It is not easy to stay calm in the face of an abusive teen but it is the most important weapon in your arsenal.

Something that may help you is to keep in mind that the problems that most concern you at the moment are not yours. If he is not attending school – that is the problem of the school, Department of Education and Police. His community service and pending court appearance are the problem of the courts and the police. I know it sounds impossible, but at this point in your situation the only focus for you and your husband should be on small domestic matters. Look for a chink in his angry armour, some small softness and receptivity, and build on that – that will be the most likely starting point to bring him to recovery and will help bring you some peace.
The eBook mentioned in the My Teen is Out of Control link below has some really good sections on the importance of looking after yourself in this and strategies to focus on the problems that are yours.

Now as to the organisations that are best placed to directly help:


Tough Love is an organisation that has over 30 years experience dealing with situations like yours, they will have people who understand what you are going through and have good advice to offer.

Youth Off the Streets is an excellent organisation that has a wide range of residential programs that may suit your son’s situation. If not they will have a very current view of what is available in Australia. Information and contact details can be found on their

Teen Challenge is a Christian organisation that has residential programs in most states. Queensland has one for 16-25 year olds  and South Australia has one for 18+ but they will make exceptions Both programs require a willingness to accept a Christian approach to treatment and voluntary admission. Like Youth Off The Streets their staff would be up to date with other programs available today.

Headspace, the national mental health initiative website has a range of information and contact points that might help you.


There is an company in the USA called My Out Of Control Teen that provides training and online resources and counselling for parents in situations like yours. The cost is a one off charge of US$29. I cannot vouch for the quality of the program but it seems well credentialed. I have attached a copy of the book they sell on the website – it will help you decide whether the material is suitable for you. They also have a very active forum and online counselling program. The website is

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My daughter wants to move in with her boyfriend

QUESTION: My daughter is 15 and is telling us she is going to move out at 16 and live with her current 17 year old boyfriend. We have concerns about this and have spoken with her. If she leaves home at 16 and get into any trouble with the police or in debt will we be held responsible for her actions even if we can’t make her stay at home. She believes that when she is 16 she can legally move out is this right or is it 18 or 21.

You daughter is right, She can leave home without your permission at 16. Unfortunately laws have been framed this way because of the need to protect some of our children from dreadful experiences at home and in the process they sometimes make it harder for responsible parents to guide their children in the right direction.

The reality of the situation is that even if it wasn’t lawful, your daughter is of an age that if she wants to move in with her boyfriend there is very little you could do to stop it. The issue is not serious enough for the authorities to act.

Let us hope she does not get into trouble with the police, but if she does she will be the one accountable for it. Similarly with debt: the only way in which you could be held responsible for it is if you sign leases, contracts or rental agreements.

The first place to start though is to lay a foundation so that whether your daughter leaves home or not your relationship will survive. While it may not seem like it to her now (and at times it may not even seem like it to you) that relationship is going to be very important to her life in the near future.

Perhaps there are areas in which you could lighten up which give her a greater sense of independence without compromising your family expectations and values?

Also, it is important to build the relationship in spite of the current tension. It would be a very good thing to find some opportunities to spend positive time with each other in which the conflict areas are not discussed. Maybe have a weekly lunch date during which you both are banned from talking about anything to do with the boyfriend or her leaving home. This won’t be easy at first but if you persist it will become very valuable time during which you will almost certainly rediscover your mother-daughter relationship. It is that relationship that will ultimately give your daughter safety and security and you peace.

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Children can’t concentrate because they claim to have been abused

QUESTION: What shall I do to children who cannot concentrate in school, because they claimed that they were sexually abuse by a close relative on their childhood? And how can I know it is true?


The question you have put is an area that can potentially have huge negative impacts on a child’s development, consequently whenever a child raises this issue it should be treated seriously.

Except in the rarest cases, a child would never invent experiences like this to explain being unable to concentrate in school. In fact one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with kids who have been abused is to get them to admit it. It is usually a horrible secret that is only known by the impact it has on a child’s mental health.

I would strongly suggest that you look for an opportunity to have your child meet with a professional counsellor to either open a pathway for healing or, in the unlikely event that the story is concocted, discern what other factors are so troubling the child that he or she should resort to such extreme behaviours.

If you decide to seek counselling, and I hope you do, a starting point would be Kids Helpline (Ph: (07) 3369 1588; 1800 55 1800 Email: (for email counselling)  (web counselling: Mon – Fri, 3 pm – 9 pm, Sat 10am – 4pm). Other services can be found on the the Australian Government directory site

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My child can’t go to school because she has anxiety

QUESTION: What do I do with my nearly 15 year old daughter who can’t go to main stream school due to the fact that she has anxiety. We’ve been seeing psychs and she’s been on medication for nearly 7 years and nothing works. We’ve been advised not to force her to school any more but as much as I love her she is impossible to be with 24hours a day 7 days a week, I’m going crazy.

I need help ! distance education doesnt work as I can not school her myself . I am a single mum with three daughters and she  is my youngest. Please advise me of where I can get help.


I am sad to hear of your situation, it must be very difficult. I am also concerned that after seven years of treatment your daughter’s condition has not improved, you should have seen some progress over that time.

The best people to advise you are those who deal with situations like yours on a daily basis. A good place to start is the Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria – 03 9853 8089 (and you have probably already been there). Beyond Blue also provides information and links to resources. You might like to browse this page to see if there is a group that could help you.

Have you spoken to your regional department of education office? By your address I assume you would be in the Northern Metropolitan Region.

Their phone number is 03 9488 9488 and the section of their website relevant to you is

Thanks for your question, 15 year old boys can be so much fun can’t they!

Firstly, as a bit of background to his reaction: mid to late teen boys are very clever (some would say devious). They are smart enough to know when logic won’t help them win an argument so they resort to either cruelty – saying hurtful things in loud ways – or blackmail, or both. Every time they win an argument this way extends the amount of time they will use the same method the next time.

The good news for parents in this is if they are strong and: 1) don’t escalate the problem by responding to the boy in the same way, and 2) don’t give in; the emotions will ease reasonably quickly and the issue will pass. Then in a couple of days (or hours) either a new issue and new battle will arise, or the boy might give the old one a go again. Another piece of good news is that by the time a boy is 18 this approach fades pretty quickly.

Now to your particular situation:

Assuming that the issue is just broadband perhaps there are some questions you could ask yourself and discuss with him.

Is his need for broadband related to school? If so this could be quite a reasonable request. Broadband access is fast becoming an integral part of secondary education.

The teacher of nearly every class he attends will at some point suggest using the internet to research something. The point here though is that by staying away from school to protest not having broadband he his defeating his own argument. Perhaps you could suggest that he demonstrates his commitment to school and learning first by his attendance, attitude and application till Easter and then together you will make a decision, with the following question in mind:

Is he able to make some sacrifice that will contribute to the cost? Share a portion of his pay from his weekend job (if he has one, if not maybe he should get one), buying lunch at school on fewer days, or no days. Settling for ‘lesser’ brand clothes etc. I am aware that this will mean a sacrifice on your part too but with broadband plans available for $29.95pm with no upfront cost it may be possible – it means each of you have to find a way to squeeze, say, an extra $4 per week. By the way, if you do go this way be very careful to get a plan that is ‘slowed’ after you reach your download limit, that way you can be certain to never pay excess usage charges.

If that is not possible do you have access to an alternate solution: is there a neighbour or family member or library close by the he can use to access the internet for study?

On the other hand, if he wants broadband for non-school issues (MySpace & MSN, downloading music, etc) then I would be putting to him that he pays for it himself. To protect your budget you might like to suggest that he saves the first 3 months of subscriptions before you sign up for anything and then he pays monthly in advance. You might be able to contribute a small amount if you and other members of your family will be using the internet.

With either option it will important to work out some usage rules first. The internet – especially for teens – can easily be a black hole that sucks in time. Discuss reasonable usage that allows him time to complete his school work and some school performance measures he must attain. Put that into a contract he signs before any broadband plan is taken. The contract won’t guarantee that he will use the internet sensibly, it will just help you when you have the argument with him about over use or inappropriate use.

My concern, though, is that his reaction has been so severe I wonder if broadband is the issue or an excuse to take a stand.

Is he having problems at school he hasn’t told you about? Is he struggling academically? Is he being bullied or socially excluded in some way (and not having broadband could be contributing to that)? Is he nervous about achieving the results he needs for the future he wants?

Is he struggling at home? Are there some unresolved issue between the two of you that he can’t talk about but can’t ignore? Is he angry about some issues in his life and this is the simplest way of express the anger without talking about the issues.

If you suspect this might be the case then I would suggest you give him some time to calm down and when both of you are calm have one of those “hey mate, what’s really going on here?” conversations. These can be hard to initiate, with a sullen teenage boy it can seem impossible, but if you are calm and choose a time for the conversation when are you both least likely to be stressed, over time you will get to the heart of the matter.

These are just brief thoughts, I hope they give you some ideas and encouragement. If the problem persists or, more importantly, escalates, I would strongly suggest that you seek a family counsellor. Life Line and Centacare are two organisations that provide excellent service at a very low fee.