Dr. Phil talks to a mother who fears her 16-year-old son may be headed for jail.
“The fighting between my three teenage boys has gotten completely out of control,” says Rhonda. “They’ve threatened to kill each other. I feel like one of these days I’m not going to be able to break it up.”
Her husband, Dennis, says, “I’m not their biological father. I’m just the outsider stepping in to gain some kind of control.”
Rhonda was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago. “I think that the boys know that because of my illness I’m not as strong as I used to be, and they totally take advantage of that,” she says. “My oldest son keyed a car at school and the damage is over $3,000. He lit our carpet on fire and my youngest son was asleep right on the floor next to him,” she reports.
Her middle son is also acting out. “I get in fights at school and I started a fire in a field. I sold Ritalin at school,” he reveals.
Rhonda calls her youngest son an underachiever. “His mouth sometimes gets him in trouble. He wrote ‘f**k you’ to some other kid on the wall at school,” she says. “The school principals have our home number on speed dial.”
At her wits’ end, Rhonda says, “This is probably the lowest point in my life. I wish I could just lay down and not wake back up some days.”
“Why do you think these three boys have spun out of control?” Dr. Phil asks Rhonda and Dennis.
Rhonda replies, “I really think they fear because I’m sick, they think I’m not going to make it.”
“But this just didn’t happen when you got sick,” Dr. Phil points out.
Rhonda elaborates. “Their dad is not in the picture. They miss him a lot. I think that’s part of it. I didn’t realize that I was too lenient on them. Dennis was too hard on them. Now I think they think they can just get away with whatever they want.”
Dr. Phil points out that Rhonda and Dennis have been inconsistent in their parenting. “You’ve had brain surgery and they come and yell, ‘Fix my dinner’ and you do what? … You get up and fix the dinner … They key the teacher’s car and it’s like $1,600 debt to do that. Has there been any schedule set up for him to repay that?”
“No, we have to pay it,” Rhonda says.
Observing that Rhonda’s eldest son stole her wedding ring, Dr. Phil says, “Was he punished for that?”
Rhonda answers, “I grounded him. It’s not working obviously.”
Dr. Phil lists more examples of her sons’ behaviors. “One of the other boys is selling Ritalin at school, and so he’s grounded for a year, but he still watches TV. I don’t ask myself why they’re out of control. I ask myself why not,” Dr. Phil says.
Dr. Phil wants Rhonda to understand that her children were severely impacted by her illness. “When you have brain surgery and they know that it’s a life-threatening disease, that scares children,” he explains. “They start doing things to vent the fear and the anxiety and the anger. And it can be aggressive behavior, fighting, fire setting is common.”
Dr. Phil also points out that her sons were diagnosed with both ADHD and ADD, which could also be contributing to their behavior. “Then you add to that inconsistency, chaos, emotional turmoil from divorce, a stepfather being added and then a life-threatening disease to your mother.” Dr. Phil points out that children with seriously ill parents will either be sympathetic or fearful and angry.
“Honestly, I think that’s it with my oldest son,” Rhonda says. “My middle son he threw up at school the day I had my brain surgery. He didn’t want me to know he was scared.”
“There are powerful forces that are going on in this family right now,” Dr. Phil notes. Referring to Family First, he says that rhythm and boundaries are missing in Rhonda’s home. “I’m very concerned about this ADHD and the fact that these kids aren’t on medication. I’m not saying that they need medication, but they might.”
He refers the couple to a book called The ADD Answer by his mentor and former professor Dr. Frank Lawlis. “He has agreed to personally get involved in this situation, to determine what’s going on at a brain level, including brain mapping,” Dr. Phil explains. “One of the parenting tools I talk about is creating ‘disequilibrium.’ Right now these boys are running this house. We’ve got the tail wagging the dog here. They’ve got the power and the momentum. When I say create disequilibrium, we’ve got to shake that up.”
Dr. Phil tells them that he will provide on-site help in their house for setting up rules and guidelines so they can restructure their home and re-parent their boys.