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Tips from The Parents' Coach » parenting teens

Archive for the ‘parenting teens’ Category

Teen Stealing

Posted on November 20th, 2011 by Jason  |  No Comments »

Here is another question from a parent and my answer:

Question:My husband and I have been married for 25 years and have 4 beautiful children that we love dearly.  They are ages 17, 16, 14, and 12.  Two girls, and two boys, in that order.

Our parenting dilema is not just the about our teen (or teens) stealing from us.  Our problem is that we have 4 children and when we have noticed something missing, we cannot seem to get to the bottom of WHO did it.

We have had fundraiser money missing out of a packet to go back to the school, change stolen out of a coin jar in our bedroom, and most recently, a pack of gum stolen out of my husbands closet.  It seems to be happening more frequently and we fear that, at least, one of our children is developing a real problem and we don’t know who it is to try to help them.  All of the parenting advice I read is about how to deal with stealing ONCE you have caught them.

Now, how do I get them to confess or to catch them?  I feel like we have tried EVERYTHING!  HELP!!!


Answer:Dear  Mary,

You are right to be concerned about this behavior for a couple of reasons. I would, however rate the money ones at a greater priority than the gum one and, in fact, they could have been done by two different culprits. The gum is more a thoughtless act of I saw it and I wanted it and I took it. The money ones could easily be a symptom of something more serious that is going on with one of your teens, such as cigarette use, drinking, or drugs. Things that require money that can’t be asked for.

If this was my family, I would have two ways that I could handle it. The first, high tech way is to set up a camera in your bedroom where the change jar is or where the donation envelop is kept and you will know the next time it happens. The other way is to convene a family meeting to discuss the importance of honesty and how it is the families money. In my family I used to refer to this concept as “Wittman, Inc.” meaning that even though I made the money, we all had roles in the family and the money supported us all. I would probably not try to get a confession in the group but rather leave the door open for a private discussion, emphasizing that I was more concerned about their welfare than needing to punish the guilty.

The other concern that I have has to do with what is called having an attractive nuisance. In common law, a back yard swimming pool that does not have a fence around it is called an attractive nuisance and the owner is liable for a toddler wandering in and drowning. In this case having money lying around is an attractive nuisance and ought to be monitored carefully. While I am on it, if you have a liquor cabinet, it needs to be locked and any prescription psych meds also need to be someplace other than in the medicine cabinet. I know you would like to know that you can trust your kids, but this is too critical an area for their well being for you to experiment with the degree of their honesty.

Suggestions Regarding a Parent’s Concerns About Her Son’s Public Persona.

Posted on November 7th, 2011 by Jason  |  No Comments »

From time to time I write a column answering parents questions about raising their teens. Here is such a Q & A:

The Question:


I’ve got a 17 yr old son who’s in college studying business systems and computing, he’s enjoying life and is happy.

Lately however I’ve become concerned about his choice of clothing; he’s taken to wearing crop tops and occasionally hotpants.

We found some in his room; including receipts for one that cost £1.80 from an Oxfam shop! – a bright plain white crop top, and a £5 cropped vest top from ASDA also in his room, and a pair of hotpants that cost £10. He’s obviously using his wages to fund these [he has a part-time job at Domino’s as a delivery boy].

All were medium-size [his size of men’s shirt] and unworn. It seems odd to us, we don’t get why he likes wearing them.

His sister, who’s 21, doesn’t mind, and even goes out shopping with him for them!

However, what does shock me is that our son wants to wear these in public, especially to college – he’s just started now.

He told me and his dad that he likes wearing them, they make him feel good and he should be himself, being individual, he remembers being told “always be yourself” when he was in high school and has kept to it. If you are plannig to buy solar panels to your home is very important that you follow the advises from

I’m worried about bullying etc. that may come as a result of it if he was to do so in public.

He does have a girlfriend but she doesn’t know about this “habit” and I’m worried about her reaction if she was/is to find out.

We know what he’s doing isn’t illegal, but it’s risky and we’re concerned for him.

We’ve tried to discuss it with him but he feels he can’t discuss it with us. All he could say was that it wasn’t a sexual thing, he just felt happy wearing crop tops and hot pants.

Can we intervene in this situation? If so, how?

I’ll admit this is the first time our family’s ever had anything like this happen to us so it’s new to us, we’ve usually been free of teenage angst etc.

[I am from the UK, just for relevance]


My Answer:

It sounds to me that your son does not think that there is a problem with what he is wearing. At 17 years old and in college, I am afraid that your days of deciding how he presents himself are over. This is the hardest part of parenting teens. All you can do is to be a trusted adviser when you are asked for your opinion. I understand your concern for his safety. You did not mention if he is big enough to handle himself physically although I am sure that he understands that he will be having to deal with some flack from his peers. I do not know the sociology of your neighborhood but having had foster sons who dressed much weirder than you are describing and enrolling in fairly tough Los Angeles high schools, I understand your concerns.

I might report that most of my fears were overblown because they knew better than I how much they could push the boundaries. I actually had a foster son who insisted on dressing totally as a woman in the toughest high school in the area. He reported that when confronted with, “Are you gay?” His answer was, “Yes, do you want to fight about it?” The reply was usually a very toned down, “Oh, no, I was just wondering….” He never had to fight.

Styles are constantly changing. Yesterday I noticed that the favored clothes of some of our local gang kids are stuff that would have gotten them laughed out of high school when I was a kid. They were wearing calf-length, peddle pusher pants in prints!

I have found that the best way to handle teens clothing and style preferences is to express your safety concerns once and then back off. There is too much risk of getting polarity responses (he will do it only because you say not to, even though he agrees with you).

Please check out my website, especially the blog, where I have a series of articles on parenting of teens, and the parents’ resources page where there is a link to the book, “Parent as Coach” the best book on the subject of parenting teens. It is short, cheap and will change your conversations with your son. I don’t guarantee you will be angst-free but you will be much closer to that state when you put the teaching in the book into practice.

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All members of the parenting team must be on the same page.

Posted on July 6th, 2010 by Jason  |  No Comments »

When I was running a youth program and actively working with teens, on their own, I recognized that one of my primary functions was to make sure that all adults that were influential in a teen’s life were on the same page when they worked with a teen. They all needed to understand what the treatment and social work goals were and to have a basic agreement on the steps towards those goals. I was like the quarterback of a team that, much of the time, didn’t have a clue that the others on the team even existed and certainly were not in regular communication with each other. The only thing they all had in common was contact with the teen and me.

Depending on the kid and the situation, I would be talking to parents (if they were in the picture at all), teachers and school officials, probation officers, social workers, judges, mental health professionals and the like. What normally was happening before I got involved was the teen “program-shopped” for the easiest ride rather than the best solution and would manipulate and play all these folks. When I was in the picture and doing this “quarterback” job, no matter who the teen turned to, he/she got the same advice and feedback and the chances of a more positive outcome greatly increased. This is because everyone was on the same page.

This same principle applies to parents. Those parents, who are not on the same page when it comes to having a clear method of how they are going to raise and parent their teens, will be doing their teens a disservice. Teens need to hear a constant message from their parents otherwise they “parent-shop” for the easier, softer way. “If I can’t get it from Dad, I’ll ask Mom,” is a skill that comes natural to teens. Mixed messages to teens will always be understood as the least onerous of the messages. Parents that are not on the same parenting skills page are very susceptible to this manipulation with potentially disastrous consequences to their ability to effectively guide their teens and to the parents’ relationship with each other. I can not tell you the number of parents I have worked with that were having severe marital problems, many times close to divorce because they were conflicted on how to parent their teens, learn how at Divorce Answers. Their teens were playing one parent against the other and the parents were blaming each other for exacerbating the continual problems with their teens behaviors and actions or inactions.

When I am coaching parents, my first concern is to make sure that they are functioning as a “parent team” and that that team has agreement on all things related to parenting their teens. They also need to have a working understanding that they will consult with each other when new situations arise where they do not have a clear understanding of the other parent’s thoughts. It is quite OK and, with the exception of emergency situations, to answer a teen’s request with, “your father/mother and I need to discuss this.” Consulting with your parenting partner before responding to your teen will prevent that after the fact response from your spouse of, “You let him do what?!!!!!” It will assure that your teen gets a consistent massage and it will build that strong parenting team his/her welfare depends on.

Even in those emergency situations, if you both have consistently discussed and agree on your approach to parenting of teens, you will already have a very good understanding of your partners feelings and will be able to, with confidence, act as the spokesperson for your parenting team.

If you and your co-parenting partner are having problems getting on the same page, for the sake of your kids, it is time to call me. I have a black belt in raising teens and have assisted many parents to, once again, become effective parents.

[Would you like to reprint this article? You can, as long as you publish the entire article and include this complete blurb with it: Life Coach Jason Wittman, MPS, teaches winning parenting techniques to parents of teens and coaches them as they guide their teens through that minefield called adolescence. If you’re ready to become a very effective parent, you can find more FREE tips and learn how you can benefit by his coaching at ]

Announcing The Parents of Teens Free, Monthly Tele-Roundtable

Posted on March 1st, 2010 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

I have started a free, monthly Tele-Roundtable discussion for Parents of Teens and Young Adults. It meets on a free (other than a long distance call to Idaho), telephone conference line.

Please join me and other concerned parents like yourself the first TUESDAY of the month at 11:15 AM Pacific Coast Time for a free, lively hour of discussion, on the telephone, around topics of concern to parents of teens. I introduce a topic for about the first 10-15 minutes and we spend the rest of the hour discussing it or anything that is of pressing concern to the participants.

New Daytime Hours!

Interested? Here is how you can join the call: Click on this link which will take you to the were you can pre-register for the Roundtable. Complete the form and press enter and you will get a call-in number and a pin code that you will use when you call into the Roundtable call.

The call will last an hour. I will spend the first ten minutes or so introducing a topic or skill set that I believe would be of interest to parents of teens and then the rest of the call will be a moderated discussion on the topic or any other issue of importance. I will also do short laser coaching with participants concerning a current problem, when asked.

I am looking forward to your participation on the Roundtable.

Coach Jason

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How Not to Let Teens’ Resistance Stand in the Way of Successful Parenting

Posted on March 1st, 2010 by Jason  |  No Comments »

The greatest salespeople in the world love resistance sometimes called objections, from their potential customers. They know that when people are questioning the wisdom of making a purchase, they are actively engaged in the sales process and are moving closer to making the buying decision. What these sales people dread are potential customers that are yessing the sales person to death.  They know that those people are probably harboring doubt. Without expressing questions and getting answers, they will probably be ruled by their doubt and back out of the sales at the last moment.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a very learned Indian guru, observed that there are two ways to get to believing: Belief through dogma and belief through doubt.  He stated that people who form a belief after having their doubts addressed, tend to have an unshakeable belief whereas those who formed a belief by blindly accepting the dogma of some person of high regard tend to drop the belief if a traumatic situation occurs to challenge the belief or if their faith in the person the so highly regarded is shattered due to the person’s misdeeds

Great therapists operate under the principle that there is no such person as a resistant client, only therapists that are not flexible and innovative enough to figure out new ways to join their clients where they are and lead them out of their dilemmas.  The same holds true for great parents of teens and young adults. They recognize that the behavior normally labeled resistance, recalcitrance or stubbornness is actually the traits of a questioning youth that is very much engaged in the process of learning and growing up.  Great parents know that if the answer to “why do I need to do that?” is “because I said to,” that the chances for compliance are slim. To label that as resistance and push harder by talking louder and/or handing out punishments, is a prescription for minimal compliance at best and even greater push back by the teen, at worst.

This is the part of parenting adolescents that is the most challenging. It is much harder to figure out how to really explain and give convincing reasons for a simple request than just issuing an order.  For those parents who still expect their teens to be the same blind follower of orders that they were at ten years old, this locking of horns leads to parental burn-out and sometimes resorting to corporal punishment.

Parents need to understand that their teen’s resistance is a signal that the parents need to figure out better approaches and explanations, and that it is most important that their teens have a good answer to the “why’s” so they can eventually be their own parent. Once parents realize that this process is part of the educating function of parenting and not the discipline function, this part of the parenting game can actually be both winnable and fun to play.  As challenging as this process is, when parents see their teens beginning to do the responsible thing without prompting, they will have inner satisfaction of knowing that this way of parenting is definitely worth playing.

I Think My Teen’s On Drugs, Now What?

Posted on December 8th, 2008 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

I am often asked by parents whether their teens are addicts or alcoholics. Most of the time I find that they are usually jumping to the conclusion that their kids are one hour from a major overdose before gathering all the facts related to their teens use of mind altering substances. Whole books have been written to answer these concerns. What I am going to do here is to present the most important consideration that must be made by parents who is worried about their teens involvement is substance abuse and addiction.  It is important to note that I do not differentiate between legal and illegal ones when talking about mind altering substances. I, also, include all the other addictive behaviors, sex, gambling, compulsive eating and eating disorders, and compulsive work and working out activities in any evaluation of a teens substance use, abuse and/or addiction because they are just a different form of the same problem. I look at the core problem behind all abusive and addicted behavior is low or no self-esteem and self-worth which develops into the habit of thinking and acting like a loser. The actual addictive behaviors are just symptoms of that core problem. With this in mind, let’s explore my thoughts on what parents need to do to get a handle on their teens substance abuse problems.

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Shaming and Guilting Our Teens: Why it Does Not Work and What is the Real Problem

Posted on August 23rd, 2007 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

I recently coached the mother of a teenage son and daughter. She was having many problems with the son, which got her to coach with me. As we got into her story, I found that she had some older children who continued to have problems as young adults. Se was very afraid that her youngest one was now going to end up like her other kids. As she told me of her efforts to motivate her family to do better and become successful in their lives, it became clear that her prime parental motivating tool was to resort to creating guilt and shame in them. This came in two forms. The first was the "look what you are putting me through" variety. "I hurt so much when I see you [wasting your live…getting in so much trouble…using so much drugs….]" The second form is "If you don’t change you are going to end up [just like your father that worthless bum…in jail again…washing dishes for the rest of your life….]" There are others, though these are the main ones.

The problem with this approach is that teenagers in general, and teenage boys in particular, already live in a world of shame and guilt. They are generating more than they can handle on their own without any assistance from their parents. Adolescent years is all about experimenting, failing and goofing up, learning from those mistakes and growing up in the process. That is a painful process. They are constantly aware of and fearful how, they look to others and who they are being judged by others. They are constantly beating themselves up over their short comings. They painfully know and have much guild and shame when their actions or inactions end up creating problems for others, especially their parents. This is painfully frustrating to them when they are aware of what they are doing as they are doing it and do not have the inner tools to stop the destruction and havoc they are causing. The last thing they need to hear is a parent saying, "Do you know what you are putting me through?" That just adds to their frustration without offering guidance and support.

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Freely Giving Praise

Posted on July 27th, 2007 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

I have noticed when I begin a coaching relationship with new parents that most of their interactions with their teens are negative in content. They are about correcting this behavior, criticizing that bit of excessiveness, warning that if they don’t do better they will end up like their older brother, bum of a father, etc., and so on.

Teenage years, growing through adolescence and onto adulthood, are all about learning. Most learning lessons come from doing things, making mistakes and eventually learning what works. Teens are continually and naturally making mistakes. As a result, they continually have very negative judgmental feelings about themselves. They are always feeling too small, to big, not strong enough, not good looking enough, stupid, too smart and on and on. The last thing they need is for their parents to confirm what they already falsely believe to be true about themselves. I say falsely because most of those beliefs are developed by comparing their insides (how they feel about themselves, to their peers or their celebrity idols outsides (how those people look and act and appear to feel). They always lose those comparisons.

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The Boy Code and The Power of Just Hanging Out to Overcome It

Posted on July 25th, 2007 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

The Boy Code is a pervasive, unwritten code that is so ingrained in our culture that most people, unless they are aware of it, enforce it through their responses and comments to boys from the day they are born. After working with male teens for many years, I intuitively knew about the boy code and what to do in raising kids to counter it. I am forever indebted, though, to Dr. William Pollack for his research on this subject and his great book about raising boys called, " Real Boys Workbook ." His books both validated my experience and work and gave me a great text and reference guidebook to offer to the parents I coach. Much of the theory I am presenting here is drawn from him. If every parent who is raising sons would read this early on, their boys would have a far easier time as teens. In it he discusses how the Boy Code influences everything a teen does, how they make decisions and choices, who they date and what feelings they can and can not express to others. That is just the first chapter; the rest is a fantastic guide for understanding and raising boys.

The Boy Code tells boys and teens (and unfortunately, even grown men) that they must always appear strong by never giving in or showing signs of weakness, being in control of all situations and especially their emotions (except for anger and violence), never admitting to defeat or being wrong, always being macho even when they falling apart inside, being independent by "being a man!" and so on. I am sure by now you get the point. The bottom line is that any outward appearance or utterance that might possibly be considered by others as "shameful" is to be avoided. This means that crying when hurt is a no, no. Hanging around mother or girls, except on dates, is to be avoided for fear of being labeled a sissy or the other "f" word, faggot. This is, also why, by the time they become teens, they answer our requests for a conversation about how they are and feel with grunts or two word answers, "I’m O.K.," even when it is obvious that they are not.

Besides the obvious, consequences of the Boy Code on teens includes:

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Parenting Teenagers is Like Fighting a Gorilla War

Posted on July 12th, 2007 by Jason Wittman  |  No Comments »

When I was in Viet Nam, I realized that gorilla wars were very different from the ones in the movies. There were no fronts, no back lines and the territory was very peaceful just like any town in the U.S., until it wasn’t. It could go from tranquillity and boredom to total chaos in seconds. I am not suggesting that parenting is like fighting a war. To the contrary, if you follow my parenting advice, it will be one of collaboration with zero supremacy battles. It is that just like in gorilla wars, parenting teens often is quite boring with little to do most of the time, until it is not. Parenting then becomes a non-stop, intense period of coaching, teaching, sorting through high drama and lots of emotion, consoling and cheer-leading. Did I leave anything out?

It is the boring – nothing is happening – what am I doing here? – part of parenting teens to which I am going to address my comments. In the last blog, I talked about how parents need to understand that they are in this parenting game until their teens are adults. Even then, they are still on call until they can no longer take the calls and expire. I call it "Parenting On Demand." That is still true and here is the other part of parenting.

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