PTSD: Parenting Teens in School Disorder

Teen girl is showing stop gesture to angry mother while sitting on sofa at home.

It isn’t too early to be thinking about the back-to-school frenzy. For some moms the start of school means freedom!  But freedom doesn’t come without a cost and for some families it means back to the battlefield.  I have treated many parents who suffer from PTSD (Parenting a Teen in School Disorder) every September.  It’s a serious condition that usually lasts through May.  These parents are easy to spot in my waiting room.  Before I ever meet them, I can tell they are war wounded.  They sit quietly waiting for their appointment, but their eyes are a little twitchy and they startle easily. I begin to see casualties sometime around the first of October.  I either see shell shocked mothers who want to know how to motivate their kids without losing their minds; or worse, sullen teenagers whose parents have made them come to therapy so I can straighten them out!  It happens every October without fail.  This year I’ve decided to be proactive.  Instead of waiting for you to leave your battle stations, I’m coming to you.  Consider this article my contribution to the war effort. The battle plan is a three-part operation.  Each part is critical to the success of your mission.  The first part: Be prepared!  The second part:  Expect and plan for resistance! The third and most important part: Protect your sanity.

Getting kids up in the morning can be a real hassle.  Don’t make the mistake of starting the early morning routine on the first day of school.  In the spirit of being prepared start getting your kids in bed earlier and getting them up earlier at least a week before school starts.  If your kid is 12 or older, they should be getting themselves up with minimal effort from you.  For part two of expecting and planning for resistance, try keeping a large spray bottle of water in the refrigerator.  Trust me…it works.  My kids get one warning.  The second one comes with a cold blast of water that does wonders for motivating the troops.  I’ve only had to come around a third time once.  Then I raised the covers and started spraying from his feet up.  Now my oldest sets his alarm and is usually showered, dressed and eating breakfast before I’m up. We call this “aversion therapy” in the professional field.  Battle weary parents call it a good time! I call it protecting your sanity.

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There is one issue that brings even the sturdiest parents to their knees: the battle over homework.  I have waged war on this every year in my own home and I know it can get ugly.  I can’t claim to be an expert.  I have had some wonderful successes and some exhausting defeats.  But I have learned how to keep my sanity which is, after all, the hardest part of parenting teenagers.  To be prepared, I sit my kids down the first of week of school and tell them they can choose when/how/where they do their homework until they get a zero or make anything less than a B (make sure your limits are within your child’s capabilities).  At that point, I set aside an hour each night for them to do homework.  They have to sit in a quiet place (somewhere not too comfortable…like the kitchen table) with nothing but their supplies and books for a full 60 minutes.  Of course they resist.  I have heard such clever responses as “I finished all my work in class”, “I did it on the bus” or my all time favorite “We never have math homework”. It doesn’t matter.  The rule stands.  Obviously, I cannot make them sit there and actually do homework, but I can make them sit there.  I have watched as they sigh dramatically and try to convince me I’m the worst parent in the world.  I’ve seen them fall asleep on their open books and drool over the pages.  If they do fall asleep, I stop the timer and restart it when they wake up. I don’t check to make sure they are working.  That would affect my sanity.  When their scores are back to normal they can once again dictate their own study schedule. To protect my sanity, I have to be willing for them to continue getting zeroes and sitting through a study hour each night until their brains finally connect the dots.  For some kids, it takes a while. If it takes too long, the study hour increases incrementally.  Oh!  And then I take away anything that plugs in or runs on a battery.  That usually does the trick.

The beauty of my three-part battle plan is the kids are responsible for themselves and I stay sane.  My relationship isn’t damaged by yelling or threatening to feed them liver and onions every night.  When they whine about study hour, I can sympathize with them because it really is sad they let themselves get in that situation.  I’m really good at sympathy.

If after all this, you are still finding yourself with PTSD symptoms, like pulling hair and leaving bald patches on your head, you might need to see a therapist.  There could be something else going on that is preventing your child from succeeding.  A therapist can help you figure that out. We can also hold your teen down and let you pull out their hair instead.  Who says therapy can’t be fun?

If you are ready to raise the white flag, send us your battle cry in Richardson, Texas.  You will feel like you called in the calvary!


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(972) 441-4432 or Send us a text at (214) 431-5764

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