Breaking Teens' Bad Habits

Breaking Teens' Bad Habits
See highlights from Dr. Phil's guest appearances on Letterman, Leno, and more.

Jayne and Matt
"I've lost control of my son. I don't even know who he is anymore," says Jayne. Because of their family history of alcoholism, Janye says she's afraid that Matt's weekly ritual of drinking and partying might kill him.

Matt admits that it sometimes takes 13 shots of alcohol before he feels drunk. He says that his mom "worries too much and treats me like a kid when I should be treated like a 16-year-old."

School has also taken a backseat to Matt's escapades. He hasn't consistently done his homework since the seventh grade. And, despite not having a driver's license, Matt has taken his mom's car without permission and frequently misses his curfew.

Jayne admits to feeling conflicted: She wants to exert more control over her son, but fears it may end up pushing him away. "Sometimes I feel like I'm giving him too many rules and limits, and other times I feel like I'm not giving him enough," Jayne says. "Dr Phil, why is my teenage son so out of control and what can I do to break those bad habits?"

Dr. Phil asks Andy if he is prepared to negotiate some rules about conduct and respect before he comes home for the summer. "It comes down to a negotiation where you say, 'Trust me a step and I'll show my worthiness for that trust, and then trust me another step,'" Dr. Phil tells Andy.

Dr. Phil adds, "I think the thing that kids don't understand is that you can earn more freedom than you can ever steal."

Andy agrees to writing down a list of rules if his stepfather is there to help with the negotiations.

With her husband living out of state, Jayne is forced to deal with Matt's rebelliousness alone. Matt admits to Dr. Phil that with his dad out of the picture, he is bullying his mom "because I can." When asked by Dr. Phil if he thinks his behavior is OK, Matt replies, "I don't think it's OK, but I don't think it's that bad... it's normal, every kid does it."

In an effort to understand Matt's side of the situation, Jay spent time talking one-on-one with him and came away feeling that "Matt is a well-mannered, polite, good kid." However, Jay says, "I get the feeling that there are no consequences for your actions."

In order to create more of a sense of responsibility, Matt explains that he drew up contract for his mom outlining the ways he plans to change his behavior. After reviewing the contract, Dr. Phil and Jay are quick to point out that the contract is vague and allows Matt to define the criteria. Jay points out that phrases such as "I will not get drunk" is not an appropriate substitute for "I will not drink."

"I personally believe that you have a serious problem with drinking and you should get help," Dr. Phil says to Matt.

Dr. Phil then addresses Jayne: "I'm trying to get you to wake up and hear the fact that your son is in jeopardy and your job as a parent is not to be the cool mom. Your job as a parent is to put down a boundary and say, 'When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.' It's got to be such that he can predict the outcome of what he does with 100 percent accuracy. I don't want him to get buried next year because you're not tuned into the truth."

Cyndi and Lacey

Cyndi says her 15-year-old daughter Lacey has sneaked boys into her bedroom and has participated in co-ed sleepovers. "I get very angry when I find these things out," says Cyndi. She experiences the same frustration with her 12-year-old son Tyler. "They don't want to tell me where they are, who their friends are or what's going on with them," says Cyndi.

But Lacey's not happy with her mom's behavior either. "I feel she's way too strict, wanting to know where I am every single minute of the night," she says.

"What can I do to get them to listen and talk to me?" Cyndi asks Dr. Phil.

Lacey tells Dr. Phil and Jay that it's easier to talk to her friends than her mom, and she thinks that anything she says to her mom will be held against her. When she says she wishes her mom would trust her more, Jay reminds her that trust and freedom have to be earned.

Dr. Phil encourages Cyndi to get involved in her daughter's world. "Do you feel that you are plugged into her life?" Dr. Phil asks Cyndi.

"No, I don't feel she wants me to," Cyndi says.

Dr. Phil suggests that Cyndi set up a system that leaves no question in Lacey's mind about the consequences of her actions. He tells Cyndi, "The problem that we make as adults is that we put children in situations where they have to make adult decisions, where they have to predict the consequences of their actions."

Turning to Lacey, Dr. Phil says, "You have to be willing to say, 'I am 15. I don't know everything there is to know, so this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to be smart enough to know that there is nobody in this world that loves me more, cares about me more, works harder for me, and wants the best for me, more than my mother.' Do you think your friends are working as hard for you as your mother is? I'm sure you have good friends. But friends come and go. She stays. She's got your back."

Jay sums it up for Lacey and Cyndi, "It's like a blessing sometimes to have a parent who gives you boundaries and is strict because that's a valid excuse not to let boys sneak through your window."

Gerri and Andy

After improving his grades and his attitude at military school, 15-year-old Andy is coming home for the summer and his mother Gerri is worried that he will return to his old patterns of lying, partying and being disrespectful.

"Until we are convinced that he is not a danger to himself and that he has learned to make appropriate choices, he will continue to go [to military school]," says Gerri. "But summer is coming and I'm concerned that he will slip back into his old ways."
Commenting on Andy's improved behavior, Dr. Phil reminds Gerri and Andy that bad behavior is not a life sentence, and refers to a section in Jay's book, Closing the Gap: A Strategy for Bringing Parents and Teens Together.

Gerri believes she rewarded Andy for making the honor role by allowing him to go out with his friends when he was home, but Andy does not think that his progress was adequately acknowledged and does not feel inspired to keep up the good work. "Why am I going to try if they still don't give me any recognition?" Andy asks.

Jay explains to Gerri that kids need bigger congratulations for making such a turnaround and that positive reinforcement is highly effective in getting kids to continue to change for the better.