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Opinion & Essays - Jan, 2001 Issue #77 

Telltale Signs 

By Kristie Vollar
(208) 267-5550

When a child is struggling, there is generally a list of warning signs that the child displays. Parents don’t always see these signs as symptoms of a larger problem, but see them as “excuses” instead. Of course I can’t list all the warning signs, but I can give a little insight based on my own experiences.

First off I gave my parents plenty of warning signs that I was struggling. My mom didn’t see the warning signs; my dad saw many of them. Then my mom wondered why my dad and I clashed so often. I was able to manipulate my mom into almost anything I wanted and I often used that to get what I wanted.

One thing I was doing was sneaking out of the house to go on “midnight walks.” I would either crawl out of the window, or say that I was camping in our broken-down van, or that I was going to take the dogs for a walk. Then my cousin and I would walk down the road to meet up with a couple of boys from school. My parents began to wonder when I said I was taking the dogs for a walk and the dogs would return home without me, or when the phone would ring once in the middle of the night and I would pick it up upstairs. Every time my dad would disconnect the phone line, I would reconnect it. One time, I went to reconnect it and the line had been cut. I didn’t think that he cut it because I was caught; I thought he had cut it because he didn’t want me to be picking the phone up when he was on it. Then, one day my dad found a pocketknife of one of the boys who had come over in the middle of the night, and knew for a fact that something was amiss. The next night I was going to sleep in the van and my cousin crawled out her window to meet me. We were making a lot of noise in the van, then around midnight, we were suddenly quiet. My parents took this as their opportunity to “catch us in the act.” We were supposed to meet the boys at the end of our driveway, and had left to meet them. The boys didn’t come but my parents were waiting for us when we got back, and we were of course “busted.”

Another warning sign was when I got kicked out of National Honor Society because my grades had slipped beyond the standards of the society. When I was a freshman, I was nominated into National Honor Society because I was on the honor roll most of the time. When I became a sophomore, my grades started slipping. I was hanging out with my “boyfriend” more often and didn’t care about grades or school except that it was an opportunity for me to see my boyfriend. He gave me a lot of attention, both good and bad, and no matter whether he was good or abusive, I felt wanted, so I just stopped caring about school. When my grades slipped, I was warned that I had one quarter to get my grades back up or I would be kicked out of National Honor Society. I didn’t listen. Instead, I began to cut class so that I could hang out with my boyfriend. It was so much more fun and nobody could tell us what we could or couldn’t do. We were “in love” or so I thought, so what did school matter anyway? He was the only one who understood how I felt and would take care of me and keep me from being lonely (yeah, right). Between him and some of my other friends, I had missed 29 days of school in one semester. I was in jeopardy of loosing all of my credits and having to repeat the school year. My mom helped me come up with enough doctors’ excuses to save the year and as a result, I didn’t learn that I have to work for something. I learned it would be solved for me and I could manipulate my way around anything.

I can’t tell you exactly when I started “acting out” but somewhere between eighth grade and eleventh grade, I became so involved with my issues that along with my slipping grades and skipping school to hang out with my friends, I was going places without permission. I figured that if I didn’t ask, they couldn’t say no. My parents set a boundary that I was not allowed to go up to my boyfriend’s home anymore. The more they tried to enforce it, the more I would sneak around to get there. One night, I lied and told them I was staying with a girlfriend. Instead I went up to my boyfriends’ house. Of course my parents checked up on me and when they found out I wasn’t where I said I would be, they sent my sister up to my boyfriend’s house to pick me up. I hid until she was gone, and then I ended up running all-night, cold and wet trying not to get picked up and taken home. Another time I borrowed my parents’ car and drove there, the one place I wasn’t supposed to go in their car. He didn’t live with his parents; he was staying with a couple who happened to be out of town. No authority!! When I was on my way home, I ran off the road and had to explain to my parents why I had been at the one place I wasn’t supposed to be. I essentially wrecked what little trust they had left in me. But I didn’t care, as long as I was getting the attention from my boyfriend and there was no interruption from any authority figures.

I wasn’t into drugs or alcohol but I smoked cigarettes behind my parents’ back and when I was caught, I tried every excuse I could think of to “lie” my way out of trouble. I was caught smoking by the disciplinary assistant at the high school, who held me in the office until the police arrived to issue me a citation. After that, I didn’t try to hide my smoking anymore.

Not only was I skipping school, I was suspended from school twice for skipping. I stayed out all night, not telling them where I had been. I lied, and would go places where I wasn’t supposed to be and then lied about why I was there to begin with. I got pulled over for reckless driving one time and everyone in town knew about it before I even got home.

In the eleventh grade, at first I was the only girl in my “gang” so I got all of the attention and could be in control of it. But soon there was another girl. She was competition, taking the control and the attention away from me, which meant that I was no longer the center of attention. I hated competition! It took me back to the competition I had felt with one of my sisters and I began to show anger in many ways. I yelled at everyone and began to pick fights with people who had no idea why I was so angry. I took knives and cut several slices on both of my arms and my stomach, both to gain back some of the attention I had lost, and because, at that time, I had lost what was left of my self-esteem. I didn’t care what happened to me. But, I also wanted more attention, and I felt desperate to get it from anyone. When numerous people asked me what had happened to my arms, I lied, saying that I had gotten into some sticky bushes and they had scratched me.

I began to fight more often with both of my parents. Dad was getting through to my mom, who didn’t want to see that I was acting out, and the more she realized it, the more we fought. She was genuinely concerned about me and worried about some of the behaviors I was displaying. During the second time I was suspended, my parents sent me to my grandma’s house and went to Montana to visit a program to help me. I didn’t know anything about it, and shortly after I got home, I ran away. I didn’t tell my parents where I was but the lady I was staying with and a mutual friend of ours who works in juvenile probation told them. I knew if I went to talk to my parents they would tell me I had to come home, and that meant I had to live by the rules. I rebelled against authority and I think I was in as much denial that there was a problem as was my mom; maybe even more.

My parents had seen enough warning signs and eventually, they mutually agreed that I needed some sort of intervention. However, because I was able to manipulate my mom, and she didn’t see the signs as warning signs of a larger problem, they waited until I was six months from turning 18. They had to work quickly and had be firm about it. Not everyone will look at these behaviors as warning signs, I guess I am lucky that my dad is so intuitive, and that he was able to help my mom see, just as I am trying to help give insight based on some of my behaviors.

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