Following is an excerpt from the manuscript of my new book project, I Worry About the Kids.
Profoundly Dysfunctional Parenting
When home life is profoundly dysfunctional bad things happen to parents, children, and loved ones. The ripple effects of toxic behavior created by post-traumatic symptoms can be suicide, school problems, and legal trouble.
One recent example of a profoundly dysfunctional home is the case of a teenager from Texas who got off a little too easily after killing four people while driving drunk in 2013. The media used the word “affluenza” to describe the situation in which Ethan Couch, a teenager, was put on probation for this criminal offense. He was not held accountable. Couch is a child from a wealthy family who was given minimal direction and discipline in a home that revolved around too much alcohol, substance abuse, and no structure for the boy. Couch was allowed to drink at age 13 and drive a vehicle without a license. His dysfunctional parents partied as their principal activity and did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to do it. They were not concerned with parenting their son. Mental health issues were also evident. After Couch was released from jail, he and his mother conspired to escape to Mexico to avoid his probation. They were arrested in Puerto Vallarta and sent back to Texas.
This family desperately needed help, but was apparently in denial about the serious situation they were in. All his life, there had been no consequences for Couch’s bad decisions. From an young age, he had been headed for a life of crime because no one called him on his behavior and no one insisted he follow a healthy, sane path. Without effective parenting and mentoring, the pattern of dysfunction continues. Since their arrest in Mexico, the Couch family has demonstrated no remorse or accountability for their actions.
The scope of the mental health problem in kids under six years old is huge and dangerous for the families involved and for society. The following information comes from an infographic, “Are the Kids Alright?”
Mental illness is often thought of only as an adult concern. But half of mental illnesses begin to reveal themselves in childhood. Almost 15 million American children have some kind of diagnosable mental disorder, but only 20 percent of those children are identified and treated. The ripple effects include suicide, school problems, and legal trouble. Early identification and adequate treatment can quite literally be the difference between life and death for young people with mental illness.
Signs of mental illness in children aged 4 through 6 include bad behavior at daycare, preschool, or kindergarten; extreme disobedience or aggression; lots of temper tantrums all the time; hyperactivity outside of what other children are doing; excessive fear, worrying, or crying; persistent nightmares; and insomnia. Although children’s brains are still in a state of development, adequate treatment of mental disorders can help put a young person on a path to a healthy future. Options include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, group therapy, and medication.
Can’t we do more?