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Wit's End: Advice & Resources for Saving Your Out of Control Teen

Author(s): Sue Scheff

ISBN13: 9780757306976

ISBN10: 0757306977

Publisher: Veritas


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  • Wits End is the shockingly gripping story of how Sue Scheff, a parent of a formerly troubled teen, turned her mistakes, and her relationship with her daughter, around. This highly practical and prescriptive book calls upon Scheff s personal experiences with finding help for her daughter. It includes the same advice that Scheff offers parents through her internationally recognized organization ParentsUniversal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.), an advocacy group that draws parents together and helps them find ways to protect their children from destructive influences by educating them about the issues their families face and creating a safe environment to revive familial bonds.

    Using the same criteria P.U.R.E. uses to research residential treatment centers and other teen-help programs around the world, Wits End provides positive, prescriptive help for families who want to put their children on the road to a safe, healthy, happy, and independent adulthood.

    Wits End is a much-needed guide, written by a parent who has been there, that helps parents navigate the choices and methods available to them and their child. It serves as an action plan that empowers parents, and their children, toward healing.

  • Sue Scheff



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  • Perhaps you picked up this book because you are in a time of great stress and confusion over the state of your relationship with your teenaged son or daughter, and you can physically feel yourself being driven to the point of being at 'wits end.' It is a feeling of hopelessness, helplessness, and complete isolation. You feel as though no one can possibly understand what you are going through. What happened to that happy go lucky, smiling, pleasant, athletic, joyful child you raised? Your teen is now acting out in ways you have always assumed only other peoples teens act. 'Not my child! You dont understand, my teen is so smart. I mean, very intelligent, and usually not like this. It is the other kids, not mine. Trust me, my kid doesnt do drugs.'Yeah, I said that, too. 'Oh, well, she only experimented once.' You really want to make yourself believe it.
    Has your teen become someone you dont recognize anymore? Is he or she controlling your household and causing you to feel held hostage to their behavior? Is your teen out-of-control, defiant, angry, rebellious, hateful, physically or verbally abusive, disrespectful, or more? Being a parent in denial can only make matters worse, while being an educated parent can help you recover the happy and innocent child you once knew. Seeking out this book is a great indication that you have already moved from denial to empowering yourself with the knowledge you need to save you and your child.
    This book is divided into two sections and can be read in two different ways, according to your needs. You can, of course, read this book in the traditional way, from front to back. However, if the 'frenzy' is upon you (and it is, if you understand the term), then you may turn first to Section Two, where you can focus upon the decisions that must be made about your childs immediate future and the options available for your making them. As soon as you have worked through that section, please return to Section One and follow my journey from desperation, helplessness, and hopelessness to learning the hard way what to do in the face of fighting for my childs life. I guarantee you, the more you become aware of the pitfalls that caught me, the more you will be prepared to avoid them yourself. You will save time, money, and emotional stress, enough to make a genuine difference for the better in your familys life.
    After all, when parents or guardians are coping with an extreme case of uncontrollable behavior from a minor child, they are in a real predicament. In my and my daughters case, our relationship had spiraled into something that I didnt even recognize. It went from parent caring for child to parent fearing her child, with an even greater fear that there was no way to turn back. I panicked. I had never experienced this type of defiance from her, and it was a new area of parenting for me. I couldnt find a parenting strategy for belligerence or a plan for diffusing her rebellion and verbal abuse. Add to that the fact that I was ashamed and embarrassed to share the stories of violence and unadulterated rage that my daughter was administering to me on a daily basis. I didnt know how to parent an oppositional, potentially dangerous child. But what I did know was that she was my child, and she deserved better than walking around in an explosive and obviously depressed haze. We all did.
    As many do, I started with local resources to find the right therapist for Ashlyn and me. However, as you read our story, you will see that we climbed many mountains before we landed on solid ground. One of the first was learning to effectively navigate the new relationship that had evolved between us. For instance, for most of a childs life, the family has been rearing a young, more passive, and thus more guidable person. Now the family feels abruptly presented with a child whose uncontrollable anger propels them into violent or criminal actions. With the coming of the midteen years, a parent also faces a child who has recently become a capable physical adversary. It is during these teen years that a parent feels the time running out for an opportunity to use any genuine authority in guiding that childs life. Like me, you may not know where to turn to realign yourself and your child. I have learned the hard way how to do so, and through this book, I will share with you all that Ive learned.

    Residential Therapy: A Viable Option

    You should know right away that I strongly take the position, as controversial as some people find it to be, that when there is a serious crisis of teenaged behavior at home, then there is a positive place in society for Residential Therapy.
    I know that many parents cringe at the thought of handing a child over to a group of hard-disciplined strangers. But I have personally witnessed many valid cases where such organizations have saved a teenaged minor from spiraling out of control and restored him or her to a productive personal life. At the time I was seeking outside assistance, I wish I had had the wherewithal and guidance to know that good places exist. Part of the reason I didnt possess this knowledge was because there is a 'hush-hush' mentality parents take on in terms of whom they tell or share that they have lost control of their child. Ironically, it wasnt until years later that I discovered that several people I had known had gone through the same thing with their teens, and had sought out and found qualified and effective help through Residential Therapy. Unfortunately, this is a subject parents seem to be ashamed to talk about, so we dont know who to ask or who will admit they went through it, too. This is another reason I felt compelled to write this book: people need to share information to help others not to feel alone. How many news reports do we need to convince us that there is a disturbingly large segment of our youth population in desperate emotional and psychological need? Many are stuck in a loop of negative cause and effect because they lack the essential understandings of cooperation, fairness, and personal honor, which are offered and can be taught in Residential Therapy. This is the fundamental problem that must be fixed if they are to have a healthy life.
    When you give birth to that precious bundle of joy, you would never dream in a million years that once adolescence hits, you will be considering sending them away. It just doesnt feel natural. The love for this child is so deep, and in the end, you realize it is this love that helps you take drastic steps. As parents, we have a responsibility to do what is best for our children, not what makes us feel best. When Residential Therapy is administered by qualified staff who work under open supervision, it can and does save lives. Residential Therapy varies in settings, i.e., ranches, single-family homes, farmhomes, lodges, or traditional boarding schools. But, in all cases, the setting should induce emotional support, accredited academics (where credits are transferable back to the childrens schools), and a balanced combination of athletics, therapy,
    and social and life skills. In short, a qualified Residential Therapy program is one that takes children outside of their familiar setting and provides a positive, nurturing environment that helps children turn inward and receive a focus on emotional growth. In my work, I am less concerned about the type of physical setting that is chosen; it is the program and its people that matter most.

    Saying 'No' to Blame

    As I mentioned before, blame has no place here, as far as pointing fingers toward why your child is in trouble. Sometimes the cause and effect of it is fairly obvious, but most often its like trying to read tea leaves. I spent months, nights, days at the office, preoccupied and completely distraught over the 'reasons' for Ashlyns attitude and behavior. It must be the lack of a father. No, its my job. It is the friends she is hanging out with. She doesnt like her school. She doesnt like her teachers. She is depressed about a boy. I fed her the wrong foods as a child. I didnt breastfeed.
    For the purposes of this book, it simply does not matter why a child is in dire straits, whether you are responsible for any part of the childs struggle, whether you inherited someone elses problems, or whether the kid was just born under a witchs curse at the full moon. I wish I wouldve known this back then, when I was losing my daughter. Whenever a concerned parent/guardian of a minor child has decided that it is time to get professional intervention, then all that matters is that the child has an adult in his or her corner who can make realistic decisions with confidence. Originally, I didnt have confidence in the decisions I was making, so I want you to learn from my mistakes and discover what I now know about a parents innate ability to make confident, well thought- out decisions. All it takes is information and the serenity to process it into knowledge, and I am grateful for this opportunity to tell you everything I know to help you find the right path for you and your family. Reading this far is already so much more than I had done, so you are certainly on your way to saving your child.
    It has taken years of personal experience and research to be able to confidently express the positions that I take today. There is no mystery to my point of view. It is simply the product of my personal journey with my two children, principally with my daughter, coupled with my current work as a parent advocate. I have carefully researched and observed many Residential Therapy organizations by running the Internet-based Parents Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) to create parent awareness and provide safe and qualified resources for parents. Our driving focus is always to monitor and explore programs especially as they relate to the physical health and safety of children.

    Overcoming Fears of Residential Therapy Programs

    It is the minor childs essential safety that makes Residential Therapy a rational option for the responsible adult(s) in the household. Please notice that I use the term 'Residential Therapy' in this book solely to describe those truly responsible and well-regulated schools and programs whose practices are objectively monitored, rather than programs that falsely advertise what they are providing and have limited, if any, credentials to operate a school or program. I had no idea that I needed to ask certain questions that I took for granted. For example, if you are sending your child to a Therapeutic Boarding School, you would 'assume' their teachers are qualified and certified, wouldnt you? You would 'assume' they have therapists. Unfortunately, you cant assume, and its P.U.R.E.s function to make aware to parents the programs that truly present valuable opportunities for families who are at risk of being shattered by the destructive behavior of a child in their home.
    It is true that with some programs, there is a shock element. That is why the specific method is everything in a teen-help program. The places that P.U.R.E. recommends are all devoid of punishment-based structure. They are places of strict social and academic learning, within a framework of firm but fair restrictions that are placed upon all privileges unless cooperation is shown. They are not spas, but neither are they jails. They are places where all personal and social conduct is conducted under a firm set of rules based upon personal responsibility.
    It is natural for any child who gets placed in an involuntary program to suffer initial feelings of shock and outrage once they realize where they are being taken. Most, however, will one day look back and see that they were in fact being thrown a last and best lifeline. And that it was a genuine act of loving concern, done by someone willing to fight to see that child make the transition into a young adult who can and will be a well adjusted person, one who has a genuine chance of finding happiness in this life.
    The worst cynics who comment on the topic of Residential Therapy tend to deride the parents who use it as being 'too lazy or distracted to do the job of rearing a child.' They portray such parents as using these programs for de facto teen-holding pens, and as a handy way to rationalize ridding the family of a thorny burden. As you will read later, I did question whether I was guilty of simply not being a 'capable' parent, but the more I research and visit facilities, the more I realize I made the right call, just not at the right program. It was not about getting rid of my daughter; it was about giving her a second opportunity to succeed. As parents, we are our childrens advocates. No one else is better qualified than us as their parents. As long as you remember this, there is no room for guilt. There is no time to question ourselves. Once we get past that, we can now help our children. Stop blaming yourself, and take action.
    My years of experience have shown me that most parents who consider Residential Therapy are genuinely concerned people. There is nothing lazy or easy about the idea of sending ones child away. Quite the contrary. The caring people with whom I speak are just frightened and confused about how to help their child. Ironically, it is one of the parents bravest moments.
    In worst-case scenarios, I say that if a parent or parents are so unfeeling as to actually utilize Residential Therapy as a way to 'warehouse' the child, then that child needs the program even more. There, at least, they will find more stability, more fairness, more acceptance of personal responsibility, and a deeper sense of personal value than they would ever experience otherwise.

    Not All Programs Are Alike

    However, Residential Therapy programs are also at the heart of a cautionary tale, there have been and continue to be appalling examples of profit-taking schemes that pose as disciplinary 'camps' or 'schools.' Such places do little more than dump troubled children under the supervision of inexpensive and inadequately trained labor. Then they take away all of the kids freedoms and their personal power, leaving them to languish under torturous conditions under the guise of 'toughening them up.' This leaves the already troubled child under the lash of whatever acts of abuse or foul temper the leaders choose to inflict. Since the child is the focus of the abuse, it is he or she who is most painfully aware of the fundamental injustice of their position. Its my belief that such programs pose a risk that any child who goes in angry will come out enraged.
    There is an aspect of human nature that makes it possible for just about anyone to become monstrous, if they are given unmonitored power over dehumanized individuals. We dont have to go far to find it, not when an angry and frightened child is shoved into a plain wooden box and then left locked inside its stifling darkness over some meaningless infraction.
    'Problem' kids who get stuck in such draconian places cannot only be expected to come back more troubled and angry but potentially also damaged in ways that may not be apparent on the surface. Such damage does not always reveal itself right away, either. They may, for a time, be frightened and beaten down into a state of compliance and submission that feels deceptively like good behavior to a parent or teacher. But the repressed rage will still be inside of the person holding it, and eventually it will make itself felt. As any victim of serious abuse already knows, people who are beaten into compliance may be passive and controllable for a while, but they are only biding their time to strike back, even if they dont know it. I witnessed the demoralization of my daughter after I made a last-ditch effort to save her. I made mistakes, and Ashlyn paid for them. Now my daughter and I are filled with the wisdom of hindsight that we hope you will be able to use in this critical time.

    The Purpose of This Book

    This knowledge I have gained through my experience with my daughter, as well as by talking with other parents of troubled teens and investigating treatment programs through P.U.R.E., has led to the wisdom you now hold in your hands. Wits End will show you that:
    - there are many treatment options available.
    - you can competently evaluate the safety and effectiveness of various treatment options.
    - you are not alone in the struggles your family is facing.
    - your situation is not hopeless, there are viable alternatives to help your teen and your family.
    - you are a good parent, capable of making these very important decisions for your child.
    You have no time to waste. Read on to discover how you can get started in saving your childs life.

    Part one - How we got here

    Our Story Begins

    My journey to the knowledge that you will find in this book is the product of help from so many fine and caring people; I make no claim to have arrived here alone. I must also acknowledge that there is no way for me to impart this story without revealing a range of my own flaws. Some may seem familiar to you; others may not. Some I have overcome and left behind. Others I struggle with, even now.
    I reveal these shortcomings for the purpose of assuring you that while we all struggle to do right, we also suffer the frustrations of failure in rearing our children. And if you should find that you recognize some of my mistakes in your own life, then I offer you both consolation and hope from one who has been there. I tell you that there is a way out for you and for your child, even if you are in that state of frenzy that I call being at 'wits end.'
    I started out completely ignorant about this entire part of the world. Until a parent is challenged beyond his or her ability to cope, why would anyone bother to learn about such places? Then one day I finally woke up to the fact that things had gotten very bad, frighteningly bad, between Ashlyn and me. She was almost fifteen then. Once I recognized that things were serious, I was off to the races like everybody else tends to be in that situation: at the library, on the Internet, on the phone, sifting for any information that I could use from any source that I thought I could trust.
    Ashlyn is the eldest. My son Scott is the younger of the two. My initiation into the realm of Residential Therapy began with my own reactions to Ashlyns changing behavior, but I also see in retrospect that much of her behavior at that time was not difficult to understand.
    Heres a 'spoiler' that Im happy to give you early on: Ashlyn has emerged as a wonderful and responsible young adult woman today, with a good life and a bright future. She has contributed to the writing of this book and will be quoted on some of the issues, so please do not feel that you, as a reader, are violating her privacy in reading her story. She, like me, feels that an important part of our own evolution as individuals lies in using what we know to help others.

    The Firestorm Ignites

    Up until the time that Ashlyn reached the age of thirteen, she had always been a spirited and basically happy child, active and energetic. Ever since my divorce from her father, back when she was three years old, I had raised her as a single mother. She had no real memories of having a father around, and I thought that we had both done fairly well with our adjustment to life as a family. If she carried any big issues over the divorce, I had not seen them.
    Her role in the story was thrust onto her while she was temporarily living with a family associated with her gymnastics trainer. Their home was near the gym four hours from our home, where she could train the maximum number of hours before and after school each day. She had been a gymnast and trained hard for years, and she had her sights set on a solid shot at the Olympic gymnastics team. Ashlyn was so dedicated that even after she suffered a terrible fall that badly fractured her foot and put her in a leg cast for six months, she stayed on the training schedule to do whatever work she could manage. It was a brave attempt to keep herself in reasonable shape until the cast finally came off. In spite of my concern for her, I was thrilled by her dedication; this was one kid who would not give up the Olympic dream without a serious fight. So she stayed on with the family near the gym to continue her training sessions.
    In the meantime, I had met a man Ill call 'Don,' and we began to date. The house felt lonely with just Scott and me there. At first, things went so well, and truthfully, I had been alone for long enough, that I was willing to turn off my radar and rationalize away whatever signs he may have given that 'long term' was not in the
    cards for me and Don.
    I was too quick to turn off my powers of perception and fall into the wonderful feeling of a fresh romance. This mistake is a real sticking point for divorced women with children. I must confess that the prospect of having a whole family under one roof again was so magnetic to me that my better judgment lapsed.
    Don and I became closer and closer as the months went by, and eventually we planned to try moving in together.
    The prospect of living out of wedlock was less daunting than the thought of enduring another divorce. Without even bothering to check the online help manual, part of me was preparing for a negative outcome that my conscious mind had not yet even acknowledged.
    And then, in a perfect storm of bad breaks, Ashlyn decided it was time to give up her gymnastics after all, following months of trying to work out with the cast. She felt time had just run out on her, since as her teammates continued moving up, she was stuck in her cast. She had to face the blunt fact that the recovery process had eaten up valuable practice time, which in her young mind could never be recovered. Despite all of her strength and persistence, she had fallen so far behind the other gymnasts that she felt there was no catching up.
    This blow hit her just a few days before Don and I were to move in together. Still, I told myself that there could be a silver lining to this cloud, stuck as I was in denial of my own. This, I decided, could be a perfect opportunity for all of us to bond as a family. After all, Ashlyn and Don had spent enough time together over the weekends that she had come to feel comfortable with him. She was perfectly accepting of our relationship and of our living together.
    But she was barely fourteen then and could not be expected to perceive things that I myself missed. Throughout my budding relationship with Don, she had only been home over the weekends, thus always a 'visitor,' not a daily family member. There was no real way for her to know what to expect.
    Nevertheless, when it was time for her to come home for good, she appeared to interpret the new living situation as an opportunity. We both did. I was especially grateful to see that we had this new family to apply to Ashlyns abiding sense of loss over her Olympic bid. She had come close enough to her dream to feel the brush of metal on her fingertips before her bones betrayed her and the golden ring passed by. The broken Olympic dream was an adult-sized emotional blow for her, but she and I both felt consoled over our new little family life.
    It was in May when Ashlyn came back home to our new household and this next phase of our lives began. Barely two months later, the bill for my foolishness came due.
    Don drained most of my bank account, kept most of my furniture, and threw us out. He did it just as abruptly as if he were only leaving me, and not the kids. The truth of my own complicity in this disaster hit me like a plunge into ice water.
    My son weathered the whole thing much better than the women in his life. Our conflict was far enough outside of his range of concern that he was mostly able to ignore it. By August, the three of us had moved into an apartment, while I scrambled to support us and recover from being financially and emotionally wrecked.
    However, as you might expect, Ashlyn was just as devastated over this rapid turn of events, although in her own way. She internalized this family grief and betrayal, somehow lumping it into her already bursting sense of loss over her gymnastics dreams while more adult-sized misery played itself out in her life.
    This time, however, she had even less control over things than when shed had her injury. Then, at least, she could make her own decision to apply every ounce of herself in the attempt.Here, the same spirit that carried her through months of workouts despite her cast now had nowhere to go in regard to this abandonment. She was paralyzed by the fact that this new pain had not been coming from her, but from the adults in her life. Life at home soon deteriorated until Ashlyn physically and emotionally retreated from us.
    The details of the rapid collapse of my relationship with Don really dont have much to do with this story. We were still at the beginning when whatever sense of caution that my toe-in-the-water approach to domestic bliss was trying to express began to make itself felt. It was as if the sealing of the deal with our moving in together was the ignition point.
    You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach, the one that appears when something is gravely wrong? It was there almost from the beginning. This family fantasy was not going to stand the reality test. And so those two forlorn months were, for the most part, spent in battling the inevitable. I felt so foolish and so embarrassed by my desperation in having allowed this situation that I kept acting as if this thing was actually going to get fixed. My passion in our arguments came strictly from the blind hope that I was somehow going to talk us into having the relationship we had both claimed to desire. If I had stopped long enough to be honest with myself about it, I would have had to immediately pack up and leave. For awhile, the utter defeat in that was too awful for me to confront. So I spent those two months in my own form of denial. In retrospect, being in this relationship with Don was almost like being a parent who is faced with a troubled teen; you keep hoping and praying this awful situation will get better. You ignore the red flags and all the gut feelings of 'something is not right' between the two of you, believing (hoping) it will get better. As I swooshed away the crumbs that were left of our relationship, I wasnt giving the children the attention they really needed and deserved. I was so stuck on my making the mistake of moving in with someone that I had a hard time focusing on anything else, or anyone else. The feeling of making this mistake quickly turned into feelings of guilt. I not only hurt myself, but I nearly destroyed my children. Even with their resilient nature, I stayed in this feeling of darkness and blame. While I felt sorry for myself and what I put my kids through, I didnt realize the serious impact it had on them, especially Ashlyn. It was the beginning of a roller-coaster ride that went on for a few years. By the time I emerged from my pity party, I realized Ashlyn had changed. Im sure it was gradual, but it was too late. I was tardy in taking notice, and now she had gone to a place in which I didnt know how to help her.

    The Situation Deteriorates

    My kids and I started over in our temporary apartment, with me in an emotional tailspin that I should have seen coming but chose not to. For Ashlyn, this failed relationship, which in her mind was the chance to finally have a father, marked the beginning of our time in mother/daughter hell. Ashlyn lingered in a state of resentment and negativity, especially toward me, and it got worse by the day.
    We both knew that I was the one who put her there. Neither of us could escape the cold impact of my mistaken relationship upon our daily existence. Worse, it had been with a man she found likable, and with whom she hoped to have a good relationship of her own.
    In the process of scrambling after all the details of that major shift in our lives, I quickly found that my own state of emotional shock made the routines that go along with moving feel completely overwhelming. It was embarrassing to find myself less and less capable with the mundane realities, but of course that did not keep them from happening. I was simply existing, giving my children what they needed, but not being there emotionally for them. I was emotionally detached, going through the motions of being a mother and provider, yet not being there. I ignored signs that I was losing my daughter while I was consumed with my own issues. Ashlyn started becoming very distant to me, whereas we were very close prior. She became secretive and started sneaking out of the house. At one point, she ran away for more than two days, which is one of the most frightening experiences a parent can go through. I called the police, who basically wrote her off as the 'typical teen' and didnt take it seriously, in my opinion. I exhausted calling every one of Ashlyns friends that I knew, even though Ashlyns group of friends had changed. Finally, out of desperation, I called a local psychic to find her. I felt I had to do whatever it took, no matter what people thought of me. The world-renowned Jill Dahne lives in Hollywood, Florida, and I called her with my cry for help for my daughter. Within minutes, she was giving me ideas and her thoughts, and believe it or not, like you see on TV, she was right! She gave me a name that I wasnt familiar with, but after calling a friend, she knew exactly who this person was and Ashlyn was found. What infuriated me was that the parents of the child who had allowed Ashlyn to stay with them for more than two days didnt feel they should have called me.
    From here, it just escalated to a completely foreign place. At first, I would receive calls from the school about her refusal to wear her uniform appropriately or to wear her ID, which seemed like very minor incidents, especially while I was in parent denial. But then I started learning that Ashlyn was skipping school and experimenting with marijuana and alcohol. She started dabbling in witchcraft and becoming a daughter I didnt recognize at all. I needed help. I was at 'wits end.'
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Wit's End: Advice & Resources for Saving Your Out of Control Teen