Self-Abuse, Eating Disorders, and Addiction
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Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable to relationship abuse, especially if their partners are older boys or men. Watch for changes in your daughter's social life. How does her boyfriend treat her? Has she lost touch with her friends because she's spending all her time with him? Does she truly seem happy? She may just be in love. Then again, she may be involved with a boy/man who is overly possessive.
When Your Child Runs Away
If life gets tense enough, your child may run away from home. Running away is often portrayed in books and movies as a grand adventure, an opportunity for a young person to find himself and come of age away from his staid, grumpy old parents. In reality, running away is very dangerous, and very scary (often for the kid, too!).
Kids run away when there is big trouble in their lives. A pregnancy, a failed class, a friend's suicide, threatened violence, a drug dealer seeking owed money, unbearable tension with you, or sexual or physical abuse are some of the reasons a child may choose to leave home. For some kids, running away seems the only way out of a bad situation. The vast majority of the time, they are wrong.
The world is not a benign place, especially for kids who've led a sheltered life and who aren't street smart. (These are often the kids seeking the glorious adventures promised in books and movies.) Young boys and young girls often end up abused and on the street, sometimes prostituting themselves for money.
If your child threatens to run away, take it seriously. You diminish her issues when you sarcastically pack her bag and put it by the door. If she does leave, look for her immediately. Contact her friends (though expect them to lie for her). If you have any reason to believe she has gone further than her best friend's attic (where she might be, taking a break from the world), contact the police. If she calls, swallow your anger and let her talk.
Once she returns (or is found), realize that this is a crisis, and a big call for changes and for help. Professional intervention will help all of you. Running away is a drastic step. What is too painful in your child's life? What is she avoiding?
When You Discover Misbehavior
If you discover your child in the middle of serious illegal misbehavior, you must stop it, and then you must decide how to deal with it. Do you turn in your own child? Do you apply consequences yourself?
- Stop your child, and if you cannot stop him, let him know that you will call in authorities. Let your child know clearly that you cannot condone or ignore the misbehavior. Express your dismay, horror, shock, and disapproval. Keep it calm—don't rant and rave (the calmer you are, the clearer and more effective your message will be).
- Acknowledge to yourself that your child has put you in an impossible situation.
- Get the child to a neutral place. Before anybody does anything else, allow some time to cool down.
- Your child should make restitution to anybody who has been injured by the misbehavior. How that should happen depends upon what's been done to the person's property or person.
- In some cases, restitution may be the only necessary consequence. In other cases, you may consider taking legal action, and calling in the police. Before you do this, think it through. This may have serious, long-term ramifications for your child, and for your relationship. Your relationship may never recover, as your child will likely perceive your act as breaking the trust between you, no matter how positive your intent. There's a big debate about the significance and effectiveness of “scaring a kid straight” by letting him have a taste of the justice system. Think long and hard before taking this step.
- If you decide not to have your child arrested, let him know there is a no-tolerance policy in effect, and any single breech of it will mean legal action will be taken.
- And yes, you need to find professional help for your child. Immediately.
More on: Communicating With Your Child
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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