(ANS) -- The high number of juveniles involved in reported domestic conflicts caught Carlene Moody-Okafor's eye.
"I used to go to the police station and pick up reports for our cases and I noticed an influx of cases involving parents and teens," said Moody-Okafor, family mediation coordinator of Community Mediation Inc. of New Haven, Conn. "My response was, 'Thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds did what?' I thought, 'What's going on?' because we had parents calling the police."
That was when Community Mediation, which typically shied away from family conflicts and instead concentrated on landlord-tenant disputes, neighborhood squabbles or harassment charges, decided to expand its focus and address the issue of juveniles involved in domestic disputes, Moody-Okafor said.
Curfew, house chores, school performance and truancy are the main teen-parent conflict issues, she said. "We also focus on a teen's lifestyle, as far as peers, peer pressure, drugs and other predelinquent activities."
"I think what it is, is that parents are basically at wit's end. They don't know what to do," Moody-Okafor said. "The teen is out of control, as if they want to be the parent. They feel grown enough or old enough to do whatever they want to do."
That attitude may result from most of the young people growing up in single-parent households without much adult supervision, she said. "In a lot of cases I think the parents are not as involved as they should be, because they're working so much," she said, noting that at least 90 percent of their cases involve single female heads of household. "In a lot of cases, the parent is working constantly to provide for the family."
For example, the last case on which she worked involved a mother working virtually around the clock to support her two teen-age boys, who, in turn, were having a terrible time with school, Moody-Okafor said. "We spoke to her and told her that something had to give," she said.
With some discussion, the mother realized that she was working so much to give her boys things -- thereby overcompensating for their absent father. "The kids knew this and were using it against her. We showed her what was going on, restated it and gave it back to her. We said: 'This is what you're creating.' She was doing the best she could, but basically she was giving them whatever they wanted because of their father not being there," Moody-Okafor said.
That case is typical of most that come through her office, she said.
Most mediated cases are not severe, Moody-Okafor said. "We can't help families who are in a serious crisis mode. In their situations, even if there are issues that are mediatable, there are other issues going on and conflicts going on that supersede what mediation will be able to do for the family," she said. "The other issues need to be resolved first."
"We try to reach families in the middle where there are good families with good structure, but the kids are out of control," she said.