Meet Stephen Hobson

This month, Stephen Hobson celebrates 15 years of service to Shelterwood, first joining the team as a young adult mentor. Today, he combines his accounting acumen with his heart for teens as the Director of Accounting. Meet Stephen Hobson.

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What Stephen loves most about Shelterwood: “I love the focus we put on restoration of the whole family,” he says. “Nothing we do at Shelterwood focuses exclusively on the student’s issue. We see the most success when the whole family makes the commitment to grow, and I love how Shelterwood walks alongside parents and families in that process together.”

What brought him to Shelterwood: Stephen was a student at Oklahoma State University studying accounting when he met Shelterwood founder Richard Beech. “We talked for several hours. I even ended up missing my next class! I truly got hooked on his vision for the ministry,” he recalls. “I had spent a few summers doing youth ministry, and I saw the mentor opportunity as a chance to continue that impactful work with teenagers. I was also looking for the discipleship training that Shelterwood would offer me. I knew that caring for struggling teens would be a tough environment, but the challenge of it struck me too. I wanted to get Biblical leadership training while getting the hands-on experience of working with teenagers.”

His next Shelterwood steps: After his year as a mentor, Stephen continued as an intern. It was during that season that he met Amy, the Shelterwood Women’s Discipleship Director, who would later become his wife. At the time, Shelterwood had locations in Branson, Missouri, and Denver, Colorado; after Stephen and Amy got married, they moved to Denver. Amy accepted a full-time role in Shelterwood admissions. Meanwhile, Stephen planned to continue his Shelterwood work while studying counseling at seminary. “I thought my dream job was to become a Shelterwood counselor.”

Finding his calling in accounting: Stephen capitalized on his accounting degree and worked part-time in Shelterwood’s accounting department while in seminary. “Over that year, God was shifting my desires. I started to see how my gifts could be used in a different way to serve the ministry. I started to see that this could be a great fit for me: I could serve in that accounting capacity, and still be a key part of the ongoing ministry. What initially drew me to Shelterwood was my heart for the students. I still get to serve them in my role today.”

Family: Stephen’s wife Amy also is still part of Shelterwood, currently working in a part-time role as the Outcomes Research Coordinator in connection to NATSAP’s Evidence-Based Outcomes. They have four young children. “Living life with them is an adventure!”

Outside work: Stephen, along with Amy, spends most of his free time with the kids. They love doing activities outdoors together, especially going on bike rides, and he enjoys cheering them on as they start to become involved in sports.

Best part of his work at Shelterwood: Stephen points back to his first role with Shelterwood as something that drives his work today. “I love that my role supports our relational model,” he explains. “Our staff gets to know these teens at a deep level, where we can earn their respect and then model a Christ-like life and be someone they can look up to. I love how we have incorporated this into our program, and it is so unique to us at Shelterwood.”

From entertainment to achievement: Club activities at Shelterwood

Shelterwood students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of clubs, from soccer and photography to rock climbing and yoga and everything in between. At Shelterwood, every club is designed to help students set a goal and work to reach it. “The whole purpose of our clubs is to show students that they are capable of accomplishing something they did not think was possible. Our clubs are all about committing to a process and sticking to it,” says Kyle Anderson, Performing Arts Coordinator, who coordinates the student clubs at Shelterwood.

Most young people are not encouraged to stick with something for the long haul, and our culture encourages instant gratification, he says. “So much of our culture in America focuses on entertainment and we keep ourselves busy with passive entertainment activities,” Kyle says, including TV, smartphones, the Internet and more.

To combat that quick-fix entertainment culture, Kyle says, every Shelterwood club is designed around a specific goal. “Most high schools have clubs where students get together to do something they enjoy, but Shelterwood clubs take things a step further. Our clubs are focused on what we want to accomplish at the end of the process. These clubs are an opportunity for our students to say, ‘I can do this,’ and then move forward and be really proud of what they have done,” Kyle explains. This sense of accomplishment can be life-changing for struggling teens.

DSC 3257 1024x683 From entertainment to achievement: Club activities at Shelterwood

This spring, clubs included rock climbing, arts and crafts, weight lifting, soccer, photography, camping and survival, wrestling, yoga and even one designed around escape rooms. The clubs take place Tuesday and Thursday evenings and are run by young adult Mentors. Students began the club session by identifying their goals and committing to the process.

“For example, the photography club set a goal of framing and displaying their favorite images and setting up an art show on the Shelterwood campus,” Kyle shares. Students in the rock climbing club had binders where they tracked their progress in completing different routes and noticed their improvement over time.” Struggling teens see that they can set goals and do more than they initially imagined.

Students have different expectations in the clubs depending on what stage they are at in their Shelterwood journey. When students first arrive at Shelterwood, the expectation is to choose a club and set a goal. “As they move through the program, we expect them to set the goal, show effort to accomplish it and stay mentally engaged,” Kyle says. “During the upper stages of the program, we look to students to be positive leaders, positive peer influencers and to provide their encouragement to other students.”

Furthermore, the club activities build students’ self-confidence and help them practice recreation in a way that is healthy and fun. “The students get to experience activities that are healthy alternatives to some of the dangerous activities they may have been trying before Shelterwood, and they get a taste of an enjoyable, active way to have fun.” Clubs are part of a greater commitment to fun, engaging campus life at Shelterwood.

Not every club reaches their goal, Kyle says, and that offers an opportunity to practice dealing with disappointment and practice problem-solving. “If the goal doesn’t happen, we talk about it. We process why it did not work. This happens in life sometimes — so when we don’t reach our goals, how do we move forward?”

Other clubs, however, not only reach their goals, but surpass them and set even bigger goals. Kyle points to the escape room club, for example. “Originally, their goal was to prepare for their field trip to an escape room in Kansas City with some team-building activities,” he recalls. “Yet it grew so much with students stepping up and spearheading their efforts and the club actually designed and built their own escape room for the Shelterwood staff! Their perception of themselves changed and they understood how they could influence their peers in a positive way, and how to use their voice in a meaningful way.”

“We live in such an individualistic society, but to thrive as an adult, we have to learn how to work together,” Kyle says. “Through our clubs, students are learning commitment to a process, how to receive feedback, how to move forward with confidence and how to work together towards a goal. The skills the students learn through clubs are skills they can take with them into their future. We are really changing perspectives in these kids.”

Shelterwood Performing Arts: Life Lessons on and off Stage

When Shelterwood students participate in the performing arts, the show itself is only the beginning. Performing arts offer students opportunities for real transformation, and many students experienced that during the recent fall play.

This season, Shelterwood students performed the first-ever fall play, Body, Body. “The play is about a high school girl, Madeline, who thinks she is fat,” explains Kyle Anderson, Shelterwood Performing Arts Coordinator. Other characters in the play are Madeline’s body parts, personified. “These body parts bring back painful moments from her past,” Kyle shares.

“The play is a raw story, and very real. Although it deals with body image, the issues the play deals with are more far-reaching.” Other topics included body image, pressure to be perfect, peer acceptance, eating disorders, self-confidence, self-acceptance and more.

IMG 0979 683x1024 Shelterwood Performing Arts: Life Lessons on and off Stage

At the end of the play, Madeline breaks free from these negative messages and decides she wants to be the one in charge of where her life is going. With its relatable themes and meaningful messages, the play offered a platform for Shelterwood students to process through issues they face in their own hearts. “The story does not hide from emotion, bringing some real issues to the table,” Kyle explains. “It was easy for students to get into the story because it was relatable.”

Participating in the play was a turning point for some Shelterwood students, Kyle recalls. The night before the performance brought more than just dress rehearsal jitters, so Kyle paused the practice so students could process their emotions. “As we started talking, several students said they felt unqualified to perform the play, because they were still struggling with some of the messages,” Kyle said. “It was a time of honesty and peer encouragement. They grew closer and learned they do not have to live under those strongholds anymore.”

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Ten Shelterwood students — seven actors and three backstage — participated in the play. The performance was a campus-wide event, with all students and staff in attendance. “Having the whole Shelterwood community supporting them was very encouraging,” Kyle says. “The students had worked very hard and got positive feedback from everyone who watched the show.”

Performing arts experiences at Shelterwood are designed to teach students lessons that last far beyond the performance, including the value of work well done, the importance of collaboration and the joy of trying new things.

“One of our goals for Shelterwood performing arts is to give students the opportunity to gather with their peers and accomplish something they never would have accomplished on their own. Students get to practice that healthy team dynamic, when they come together, work together, push through challenges and develop that sense of community pride in what they accomplished,” Kyle says.

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Students at Shelterwood have many pathways to participate in the performing arts, from live plays to video projects and musical opportunities. They are able to build their work ethic and recognize the good fruit that results from hard work. “These students realized that hard work is a good thing,” Kyle adds. “The play was not perfect, but they succeeded. This is a life lesson they will take with them long after they leave Shelterwood.”

Perhaps the greatest gain is in their self-confidence. “It can be scary to perform in front of others, but through the process of preparing and practicing, a lightbulb goes off, and students realize, ‘I can do this! I can be successful!’”

“There is a special kind of confidence that results from working hard and being successful,” Kyle says. “Students walk around campus a little taller, and they are at peace because they are proud of what they have accomplished. When they start believing in their ability, they start to believe in themselves.”

How we Manage By Strengths at Shelterwood

Mercedes Benz, Delta Airlines, The American Red Cross, Garmin, Hallmark . . . and Shelterwood. What we share with these leading organizations is our commitment to Management by Strengths, a transformational tool in fostering better communication than ever.

Management by Strengths (MBS) is similar to other temperament protocols, like the Myers-Briggs and the DISC assessments. Its focus on strengths, however, sets it apart from others. The extensive list of MBS clients includes national nonprofits and Fortune 500 companies.

“MBS is different from personality tests and assessments because it is based on the simple idea that people are biologically wired with a communication style they prefer,” explains Jeremy Lotz, Director of Training and Leadership at Shelterwood. MBS features four temperament traits — directness, extroversion, pace and structure — but limitless combinations. “Personality can be informed by your faith, education and integrity, but temperament is hard-wired.”

Jim Subers, Shelterwood CEO, was introduced to Management by Strengths creator and owner Mike Postlewait through a friend. “Mike was overcome with conviction about what Shelterwood does and our vision for restoring families through Christian relationships,” Jeremy says. “Mike felt such a conviction that he decided to make MBS services and consultation available to Shelterwood for free, forever.” This act of generosity has paid dividends for Shelterwood staff, teens and parents.

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Jeremy points to a clear example of how MBS has changed interactions with Shelterwood students. “It’s common for adults to face power struggles with teenagers. If you know that student’s temperament, however, you can quickly develop a disarming approach with that teenager,” he explains.

“We have found through MBS that many of our students who seem oppositional and volatile are actually results-driven and independent. These are real strengths, and understanding them influences how we communicate,” Jeremy says. “Teens who are very direct in their temperament want choice, freedom and autonomy,” he says. For example, those teens can be empowered by tying responsibility to results and offering choices.

MBS has been equally significant in enhancing how Shelterwood staff work with each other. “This has given us many revelations regarding how people want to be engaged with, and it has allowed us to get the best out of ourselves and others,” Jeremy says. “When we are working well as a team, then we are serving our students better than ever.”

Furthermore, when Shelterwood parents take the MBS assessment, the results can influence how teens and parents interact. “We tend to have quite a few students with the directness and extroversion temperaments, and quite a few parents with pace and structure temperaments,” Jeremy says. “One of the ways I’ve seen MBS help teenagers the most is that they develop an understanding of their parents’ temperaments. This increases the harmony in their relationships.”

Jeremy shares a recent example of how a teen’s understanding of her parents’ temperaments helped her better interact with her parents. “She is high in extroversion and her parents were high in structure. They experienced her as being intense and pressuring. So when she was planning a recent visit home, she presented her parents with a prioritized list of the top three things she wanted to do back home. This showcased so much maturity.”

MBS is one more Shelterwood distinctive, influencing how we help transform teens and restore families. “There are quite a few theoretical foundations, philosophies and behavioral techniques we employ at Shelterwood, but nothing has revolutionized how we work on a daily basis like MBS,” he says.

How do programs create a safe student culture?

Teens entering residential care are often impulsive, angry, guarded and anxious. Of course when they arrive they are now living among other teens with similar feelings and at varying stages of development. Verbalizing their fears in healthy ways is often beyond their ability for at least a few weeks. Any questions regarding their behaviors early on in treatment seems to only intensify feelings of guilt and shame and initiate defensiveness. It often feels like any attempts at therapeutic interventions at this stage will be inadequate and even counterproductive. Earlier on, teens tend to be highly resistant to developing relationships with staff and peers and are hyper vigilant in blocking any type of approach.

The only way to break through the tough veneer is to demonstrate a deep level of integrity. If properly demonstrated, integrity is able to exhibit reliability and honesty. The very presence of staff creates an impression that the main focus is on helping the teen, not on benefitting the adults. The culture of the entire program must show this posture of integrity in order for the teen to begin the process of lowering his or her guard.

Only a positive environment will give opportunity for change as well as reduce the risks associated with teen care during the journey. Of course, any program that is able to bring lasting solutions to troubled teens’ problems is also exposed to the potential of incidents. A positive culture will reduce risk and, in turn, increase the positive outcomes for youth.

In order to create a positive culture, there are many known factors that influence success. Here are a few of the most critical elements in any top-notch therapeutic program:

Structure

In order for students to gain new directions in their lives, the program must provide structure with constructive guidelines. Teens often feel out of control and anxiety only builds as fears of the unknown remain. A structured and consistent program allows parents and teens to have realistic expectations. But the program also needs to be flexible – too much structure can be as detrimental as too little. Choices must never be negated by routine and order, for it is through choices that learning may occur. Even though most students arrive reluctant and resistant to counseling and the prospect of change, they must sense that the program is capable of helping them change. To be motivated to change, one must at least believe personal change is possible within the environment.

Staff development

Staff skill development plays an important role in any quality program. Barbara F. Okun noted in Effective Helping (1982) that there are five characteristics that caregivers on any level should possess: self-awareness, honesty, congruence, ability to communicate, and the knowledge of how to establish rapport and build a positive relationship. These are skills that staff in every position of the treatment facility should possess in order to establish a deep connection with teens. Effective nonverbal and verbal communication is the path to establishing rapport. Seeing the world from the student’s point of view might only be the first step, but it is critical. This understanding must be communicated; then trust that develops through feeling safe can be established. Staff and youth alike must have a sense of belonging, value, being treated with respect, dignity and acceptance. There must be freedom to make mistakes, to forget, and to ask for help.

Relationship building

Relationship-building skills in residential treatment programs most often start with managing conflict. Conflict is inevitable in therapeutic programs that work with struggling teens. Well-trained staff is able to avoid power struggles and turn conflict into a meaningful growth experiences. Quality staff knows how to stop, listen, identify the problem and allow the teen to develop solutions. They actually hunt for win-win solutions by involving the youth in decisions and exploring some choices and consequences.

We expect our staff to be firm but friendly, definitely not aggressive and most importantly, to separate the behavior from the youth. Staff skills must include the ability to control negative emotions (especially their own) and avoid escalating the situation whenever possible.

Effective communication is not only a method of disclosure, but also a path to discovery. Effective listening will broaden a youth’s view of himself and the world around him. This type of really engaged ‘active’ listening requires strict attention and the ability to be objective in situations that will often evoke strong opinions and judgment. Listening at this level demonstrates a true willingness to be part of a meaningful exchange and instead of just confront. According to Bowman (et al., 1998) good active listening is being able to encourage, clarify, restate, reflect, summarize and validate.

Summary

Good quality therapeutic programs understand how to create a positive culture. In spite of working with resistant students, Shelterwood has always found a way to help their students lower their walls and open themselves up to their great potential. The teens we get to work with have tremendous gifts and abilities that often lay dormant under the heavy weight of self-doubt and fear. Helping our teens uncover their true identity is a truly rewarding experience for us all.

Time to Listen

Five Key Ways to Listening Well

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey

iStock 000003075992Medium 192x300 Time to ListenCommunication is something we engage in every day, and so many things hinge on it. Communication greatly influences our friendships, family relationships, dating and marriages, jobs, hobbies, etc. It’s how we communicate needs and emotions. Realizing that it plays such a huge role in life, it’s important that we strive to do it well. The following list points out a few brief suggestions on how to improve the way we communicate while in the role of the listener.

  1. Be present– It’s very tempting to rush to respond to text messages or check ESPN updates as soon as you hear them come in, but media can easily pull us out of any moment and cause us to seem detached and uninterested in whomever we’re conversing with. Do your best to let them wait until after your conversation is over. Also, avoid interrupting the other individual to interact with those around you. We often have people, devices, obligations, etc. vying for our attention, which makes being present very difficult. If necessary, turn off your phone and find a quiet place to sit and chat. The conversation will be much more productive that way, and people will remember that you made an effort to be as present as possible.
  1. Be okay with disagreeing- It’s no secret that we all have our own opinions. If we go into conversations knowing that ours might not match those of the person we’re chatting with, we’ll be less likely to let our own thoughts and beliefs interfere with listening well. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts, but never let them override the importance of hearing others.
  1. Be inquisitive- Look for naturally occurring space in conversation for asking appropriate questions. Doing so shows the speaker that you’re paying attention, interested in what he or she is saying, and committed to learning more. They will leave feeling that you care about the topic, as well as them as a person.
  1. Be open- Soak in what you’re hearing. Know that you are capable of learning from others and gaining insight from their perspectives. If all we do is wait for the other person to stop speaking, we entirely miss what they’re saying as we prioritize our own thoughts and beliefs over theirs.
  1. Be empathetic- As you hear their words, try and step into their shoes and imagine how they’re feeling in the moment. Once you think you have a handle to on what emotions are being represented, ask questions to make sure you understand correctly. From there, be intentional and make statements that clearly project empathy. Displaying genuine empathy is one of the best ways to open doors in relationships and creates a much deeper level of understanding for one another.

Mistakes Therapists Make

Four common errors that therapists make with teenagers, that Doré E. Frances has come across in her practice.

Mistake 3: Improving Family “Communication”

Screen Shot 2015 06 02 at 12.50.45 PM 300x202 Mistakes Therapists MakeThe most pervasive idea in both individual and family therapy is that young people run a muck because the family doesn’t “communicate” well. Too many therapists, in my opinion, focus on discussing what each member of the family feels without acknowledging any difference in status between children and parents.

They seem to believe that children may comment on parents’ sex life or spending habits as freely as parents would address the same subject with their child. When a young person is out of control and drunk on power, this attention to open communication is like throwing gasoline on an open flame.

I once told a 14-year-old client who was insulting his parents in a coaching session to stop speaking that way. He jumped up, pointed at me and shouted, “You’re my advocate. You have to let me say whatever I want as long as it’s what I really feel!”

I realized that this is what he had been taught by his former therapist at home before he entered a wilderness therapeutic outdoor program..

Therapists commonly teach parents and children to speak in “I” messages, and when no power struggle is going on, this practice is perfectly reasonable. However, when adolescents are angry and explosive, there is typically a power struggle going on, and this level of communication inflames it by raising an out of control teenager’s status to that of an equal partner with their parents. In power struggles, teenagers challenge parents about the content of an issue, and parents respond in the same vein.

John then screamed at his mother, “This is just bullshit! You always pull this kind of controlling shit on me. Everyone else’s parents are letting them go to the party. We’re not doing anything wrong mom.”

She responded to the content, defending herself by saying, “this isn’t bullshit.” She insisted that she and her Screen Shot 2015 06 02 at 12.50.09 PM 257x300 Mistakes Therapists Makehusband didn’t always control John and that she didn’t care what other parents allow. Some therapists might encourage this kind of interaction, thinking the teen and parents are communicating, when, in fact, the teenager is defining the issue and browbeating his parents. The communication approach I prefer simply acknowledges the process of the interaction and keeps parents from lapsing into a defensive position.

So with John’s mother, she might have said, “You know what, young man? As long as you’re talking to me that way, you aren’t going anywhere.” 

Often, I actually coach parents to be more mysterious and indirect by keeping their knowledge and plans to themselves. For instance, as a parent learns more about their teen’s friends, we encourage them to accumulate that knowledge until it can be used as part of a cohesive plan of action.

For instance, when parents learn about an illicit party this coming Friday night, instead of confronting the teen, it may be better to organize several parents to show up there together to break it up.

Difficult teenagers often work very hard so that parents don’t learn anything about their lives outside the home, while parents usually talk constantly, sharing all their plans and giving away whatever strategies they may be developing. Teenagers usually will resist their parents’ taking control of information by threatening further misbehavior or escalating the confrontation on the spot in an attempt to make parents capitulate.

By paying attention to process and not giving in to the temptation to explain and justify, parents can maintain their calm and gain greater authority.

Check out this interesting video on The Principle of Confusion

Errors that Therapists make

Taking back authority in the counseling office and in the home

Most therapists I know agree that teenagers can be among the most difficult clients they see in their practice.

iStock 000007761349Small 200x300 Errors that Therapists makeThey often refuse to attend sessions, refuse to speak when they do attend, swear at parents and therapist, and storm out of the room when they hear things they don’t like. Difficult teenagers often argue head-to-head with adults and professionals using arguments such as, “I’m not going to give them any respect if they don’t give me respect,” and “It’s my life.” At times such teenagers have thrown objects across the office. One particularly aggressive thirteen-year-old girl threw her high heel sandal directly at her therapist while hollering, “I’m glad I’m not one of your kids!”

Some teens are so direct that they come out and say, “There’s nothing you (the therapist) or them (their parents) can do about me.”

Any therapist treating domestic violence takes one look at a husband who is dominating and abusing his wife and recognizes that he exercises power over her. Yet, when a teenager threatens, dominates by shouting and imposing guilt and controls their parents by threatening to run away, most therapists fail to realize that abuse may be going on. Adolescent and preadolescent behavior begins at younger ages as our culture educates them more rapidly. Parents are walking the fine line between being authorities / parents and friends with their children. However, this tightrope is precarious and requires a lot more knowledge and patience than, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” As psychologist David Elkind pointed out decades ago, children are growing up more quickly and losing their childhoods too early in our fast-moving society.

As teenagers become adult-like at earlier ages, they see themselves as “equal” to the adults. Our society isn’t teaching them the distinction between being of equal value versus having equal authority as adults.

Teens are extremely vulnerable to believing that they can handle everything and don’t need adults.

They are struggling to take control of their lives as parents struggle to give them that control only as they’re ready to handle it. There’s a natural power struggle. So, how does an excellent therapist treat a struggle between a teenager and their parents?

Do they ignore the power issues and treat everyone as equals, or understand the need for order in a child’s life through support and leadership? Therapies that advocate support without leadership fail, giving teenagers too much control, in my opinion.

There are four common errors that therapists make with teenagers, that Doré E. Frances, has come across in her practice. They are surprisingly simple to grasp, and they always make matters worse:

Mistake 1: Courting the Teenage Client

Mistake 2: Falling Prey to Therapeutic Tunnel Vision

Mistake 3: Improving Family “Communication”

Mistake 4: Telling Parents to Back Off

We will discuss the first mistake that is often made by inexperienced counselors or weak therapeutic boarding schools. Courting the teenage client can often begin with the initial phone call from a parent.

The first words out of a parent’s mouth often are something like, “The counselor at the school said we need to bring Tammy in for family therapy, but Tammy says we’re the crazy ones and she won’t come in. She said she wouldn’t talk even if she did come in.” In the residential setting, a parent might be concerned that while their teen needs help, he or she would never allow it to happen and would possibly runaway or act out before they could get them to the facility.

This is the number one power tactic teenagers use to keep therapy from happening.

Weak therapists accept this story, suggesting that in order for someone to change they must be willing right from the beginning. They quickly empower the threat of the teen by saying, “oh well I guess there’s nothing to be done when their child won’t cooperate”. When this is the message to your family the therapist might as well say, “Sorry folks, you better get used to your daughter running your family.”

The best therapists, I have come across, when confronting this situation, tell parents on the phone that they treat kids who “won’t cooperate” all the time, and that they, the parents, must decide whether therapy is to happen.

Even in therapeutic boarding schools, teens try to avoid counseling. We recommend that our counselors tell the teen that the session is scheduled and they are expected to be there, and if they are not, the grown-ups will meet anyway. We also coach the parents, who are our clients, to point out to their teen that the adults will be talking about them and making decisions about their life. Most kids come to the first session after hearing this.

When they don’t attend, the therapist agrees with the parents in the first session to change something major at home, and when their adolescent gets angry about the change, to simply say, “Oh, we decided that at the therapy session.”

Teenagers almost always come to the second family session. As long as parents are reactive, and feel helpless and hopeless, the young person wields the power, dominates, controls, and simultaneously suffers. Another way that many therapists court teenage clients and make matters worse, in my opinion, is by according them the same treatment status as adult clients. The prevailing belief–not supported by law–that teenagers are entitled to a confidential relationship with their therapists leaves a teenager who is drunk on power thumbing their nose at the parents. A lot of therapists operate under the same standard of privacy with their teenage clients that they have with adult clients, which they feel requires them to withhold critical information from parents. Many angry parents come to our program with this complaint, stating that their teen’s therapist was withholding important facts, such as the teen’s sexual activity, smoking, drugs or criminal behavior, from them. Confidentiality in families is held within the family and not by individual members. Therefore, the therapist has latitude to share whatever needs to be shared.

The best therapists make it clear that they are closely involved with parents and they will use their judgment as to what they share with them.

After all, what’s the point of a teenager telling a therapist they are using drugs when the therapist can’t help the teen discuss it with the parents and find a solution? Creative therapists invite teens to withhold information from them until they decide they can be trusted. I find that teens then share sensitive information with their therapist even though they don’t give them a guarantee of confidentiality.

By Doré E. Frances, PhD

Education Consultant

Parenting Relationships

thoughtful med 300x200 Parenting RelationshipsMost of our Shelterwood parents are exemplary. They are, by and large, good, kind, compassionate and loving people. They have tried everything they can at home to deal with the behavioral and emotional issues of their teenager, and yet it hasn’t worked. They have most often also placed their child in counseling.   However, by the time they begin considering residential care, they are often exasperated, troubled and even fearful about the trajectory of their teen’s decisions and life, and they find themselves at a complete loss about what to do.

So, you might be asking, “What is happening?” Why are so many “good” families struggling with their teenagers today?” There is much discussion about this issue today.   However, in my personal opinion, I don’t see the answer as being any one thing, but as a combination of many factors.

Perhaps you remember the movie, The Perfect Storm. In this movie, several weather related phenomena converged together at the same time to create a monster storm. In a real sense, I believe this is a picture of what is happening with today’s teens.   There has been a convergence of several “storms” on this generation of teens that has created a monster storm.   These storms include the cultural impact that media, social media, and electronic media have had on our teens.

This storm includes the shift in cultural values to moral relativism over the past few decades.  No matter what the kids have heard at home, the culture has told our kids that there are no moral absolutes.   In fact, study after study reveals that most teens today think sex outside of marriage, cheating in school, lying, etc., are all acceptable under certain circumstances. We shouldn’t really be surprised, because these are the values that the culture has been promoting.

The storm also includes the impact of Freudian thought on parenting which really began to take hold in the 1960’s. This brought real confusion to parents on effective child rearing, and challenged time-honored beliefs concerning child rearing and family development.

And I believe this storm also includes the lowering of expectations we have for kids during their teen years.  The teen years have become, for many teens, an extended period of leisure, which has helped create a sense of misguided entitlement among them and also led many of them into depression and confusion.

These issues, along with others, has created a “perfect storm,” impacting the healthy development of teenagers, and the parents’ ability to help their children navigate the teen years effectively.

I cannot overstate the influence of the media, social media and the Internet on this generation.   The competing voices for the attention of our kids has never been louder and more divisive. As Moms and Dads, we are each selective regarding the folks that we will allow into our home. And we are even more selective regarding the people that we will allow to spend “one-on-one” time with our kids.   We want to protect our kids from those who don’t share our values and whose influence we believe would be damaging to our children.

Yet, through the electronic media, parents by the millions are daily allowing people into their homes to influence their children whom they would otherwise never allow to even darken the door of their homes. These destructive influences are entering our homes through the Internet, the television, and the phone. And even if we monitor the electronic media in our homes well, and keep these people out of our homes, our kids are still often exposed to them on their friends’ phones or computers.

It is not simply the “content” that is a concern (porn for example). It is the values behind the content that is equally insidious and yet often less apparent.

An interesting UCLA study done a number of years ago showed that the top five values emphasized in popular children’s television shows were fame, achievement, popularity, image and financial success. Our kids today have been brought up in a media culture that has told them that “being famous” is the most important value. Morality, godliness, self-respect and service for others have been replaced by the desire to be famous.

So, in this “Social Media Age” when kids want to be “known” more than ever, kids are actually lonelier than ever.   They live in a culture where wearing masks is the norm, and appearance and image is everything.

At Shelterwood, we begin to address this, and teens are disconnected from “the matrix” and electronic media for the first few months they are with us. Their phones, computers, iPads, etc. are all taken from them.   The only access they have to a computer is in their classroom at school.

%name Parenting RelationshipsOur teens then learn one another’s stories at Shelterwood. They learn to take off their masks, and to communicate. Very quickly, our teens learn that everyone at Shelterwood is dealing with something, so our teens learn to get very honest very quickly. They also have to learn to work through conflict with one another. Because they are living together, they can’t just avoid issues.

Kids that have been raised over the past twenty years are the first generation of kids to have been raised under this avalanche of electronic media. Their parents were raised with only a television in the home and a limited number of channels. However, our kids have been raised with a electronic media all around them: in their hands, their pockets, and by their bedsides 24/7. Studies are just now beginning to try to understand the influence of electronic media on brain development, and emotional and relational development.

It has been my observation that most teenagers come to us with relationships that are an inch deep and a mile wide. Most teens have not learned how to really develop deep, healthy, and accountable friendships.   They have become experts at texting and Twitter, at promoting an “image,” but they are often stunted in their ability to really communicate, and build honest relationships of trust and depth. Yet this is one of their greatest desires, to be really known and loved.

Screen Shot 2015 03 19 at 12.57.23 PM 300x227 Parenting RelationshipsAnd at Shelterwood, we believe in the value of neurological development as well.   Clearly many kids today are struggling with neurological and developmental issues. While all the reasons for this are still being debated, including the potential negative influence of “screen time” on neurological development, what cannot be debated is that there is a growing problem. We have seen tremendous results from our neurological therapy, called Brain Balance. About half the teens in our program are also enrolled in this therapy. My own son, diagnosed with autism at the age of five, has made tremendous strides through this therapy.   He is now twenty-two years old, and we have had him in Brain Balance therapy for two years.

Clearly, each teen comes to us with his or her own unique set of behavioral, emotional, educational, relational, spiritual, physical, chemical and neurological challenges. No teens are exactly alike. Therefore our treatment strategy with each teen is unique as well.

%name Parenting RelationshipsNevertheless, perhaps the most important thing we do at Shelterwood is the tremendous emphasis we place on our young adult staff and their roles as mentors for our teen residents.   Teenagers are going to follow someone that they think is “cool.” So, as parents, one of our primary responsibilities is to expose our kids to young adult role models that share our values, who our teens will think are “cool.” You cannot put a price on the value of the positive influence that a healthy young adult can have on the development of a teenager.

When our teens stand up at graduation, they typically thank three groups of people. They thank bigs 300x245 Parenting Relationshipstheir parents for making the tough decision to send them to Shelterwood, and for staying the course. They thank the other residents in the program, for they have often developed some very deep friendships. And they thank the young adult staff for their love, service and sacrifice. There are some deep and lasting bonds that are often built between our young adult staff and our teens.  The counselors and teachers have a huge supportive role in the development of these teens as well; however, the value of the relationships between our young adult staff and these teens seems to be central in their minds. They do such a fantastic job!

Jim Subers
Shelterwood CEO

Parent with Purpose

Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 3.01.18 PM Parent with PurposeIt is that time of year again, March Madness. It is full of excitement and is often an emotional roller coaster for players and fans around the country. It also reminds me of my own experiences playing college basketball many years ago. As I think back, I always feel like I could have had greater success if I had not been so distracted and had approached the game with a little more purpose. It might seem silly to feel some remorse or disappointment in myself after all of these years, but as I watch my kids leave home and go off to college, l can’t help but feel that same regret on some level.

As I think back to my basketball days or of my days parenting, I am reminded of how important it is to have a purpose. In college, I was probably more focused on dating and having fun. My lack of purpose led to less fulfilling accomplishments on the court. As a parent, it is also easy to lose sight of the higher purpose of our leadership in the home. It might be the work life, the carpool thing, or maybe the cultural noise (music, drugs, boyfriends, etc.) that keeps us distracted and disconnected from living out our core values.

At times parenting has felt like the days on the basketball court when all I was focused on was playing defense. There was an imbalance; I was not being assertive with offense because I wasn’t shooting the ball well. Parenting might feel that way to you sometimes as well – a very defensive focus. What with dating, drugs, alcohol, pornography, movies, dress…I mean, it can really come at you! And we certainly need to protect our kids; after all, it is one of our primary roles. But it is also easy to begin to feel desperate, lacking confidence and unsure of what to do. Of course, you can’t win many basketball games if you only play defense.

The problem is that most parents have never identified what is at the heart of their purpose in Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 3.08.50 PM 300x245 Parent with Purposeparenting. As a result, that core purpose doesn’t impact their normal day-to-day lives. It is like we don’t have an offensive game plan and aren’t running any plays. We are just throwing the ball at the hoop and quickly running back to defend.

The key to any core purpose is that it is authentic. Imagine asking our teens to run a certain play on the court while we run around doing something completely different. It will not make sense to our families and our kids might actually quit, throwing the ball up in the air out of frustration.

I once worked with a father that wanted me to help his son quit smoking marijuana, which seems like a reasonable goal. The problem was that his purpose was hypocritical. He wanted his son to quit because he kept stealing the pot from the father’s stash. Hypocrisy creates battles as teens have a real sense of justice and will almost always engage in a fight for their right to live the lives they see modeled.

Many of us struggle to see the hypocrisy in our own lives. We value faith and hope that our kids follow us in our beliefs. So we surround them with like-minded people. We enroll our kids in Sunday school, youth group, and seek out positive religious influences. And these activities are really good. But really they are intended to just be a net. It is not the core – the core is the family. The net around it is the supporting structures that help us build an environment around our family that helps us get where we want to be as healthy families.

Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 3.47.21 PM 150x150 Parent with PurposeStudies show that we do more harm than good when we go to church on a Sunday morning and live another way the rest of the week. Kids want authenticity. During adolescence, kids really step back from authority and evaluate the authenticity of the message. They want to see if our behavior matches our words and if it is really worth following these values into adulthood.

When you think about it really though, it’s not just that kids in this culture want authenticity. It’s God Himself that wants it. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to Him in honesty.

As parents we should stop and think about this. If somebody went to our kids, and asked, “What matters most to your mom and dad?” would our kids have to think? What would be on the list they’d come up with? What do you think they are seeing around the house?

Examine these answers and ask yourself what you might need to do differently. Am I just going to acknowledge it and feel ashamed, guilty, and like a failure as a parent? Or, am I going to examine my game plan, establish a fresh purpose with input from my spouse, and begin to practically work that out in my relationships with my children? This new game plan can be established around the values of my family, around my schedule, around how I order my life, and it can begin to reflect a heart that really does love God, and is passing that heart on to my children.

 

So watch March Madness, notice the focus and purpose with which they play and enjoy a few  bracket busting games.