Parents need to wrest control of the family out of their children's hands and establish ground rules, particularly with children who have conduct disorders and attention-deficit problems.
"What we need is more limit-setting to teach children how to control themselves," Dr. Raymond DiGuiseppe, director of training at the Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy in New York, told 600 professionals attending Tuesday's Conference of Agencies and Organizations Serving Troubled Youth.A child who has been diagnosed for "conduct disorders" needs an integrated system of help that includes behavior therapy, family therapy and cognitive therapy, he said, because conduct disorders portend a bleak future.
He said such children, once they become adults, tend to be underemployed, arrested, alcoholic and create myriad other problems.
"They are a high risk to be adjudicated adults. They tend to grow up and disrupt society. And if you try behavior therapy or family therapy or cognitive therapy alone with these kids, you're probably going to fail."
Children who have conduct disorders differ from other children in several ways, he said. They lack empathy. They have lousy social problem-solving skills. They have poor consequential thinking skills and cannot predict the outcome of their actions. They also fail to give themselves verbal instructions to decide what to do and may have a low verbal intelligence quotient. They also have a hard time delaying gratification and have low tolerance for frustration.
"In other words," DiGuiseppe said, "I've described a typical baby. We're all born without these skills. The family has the responsibility of controlling the child and teaching him he has to live by certain rules. We have the responsibility to socialize children, but we as a society don't believe in socializing our children anymore."
"It's not easy. Who turns over power willingly? The kid doesn't want to change and we're asking him to (abdicate) his place on the throne and turn it back to its rightful heirs. Fat chance. He won't do it without a fight."
But parents should stand their ground, he said. "When they lie and you know it, then they say, `Are you calling me a liar?' the answer's `Yes.' When the kid is angry, that's when you can move in. Build a relationship based on respect and reality. Kids disrespect unending tolerance."