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

Should men support feminism?

How are the women in your life affected by sexism? That can be a fairly typical question in regards to feminism. Women have traditionally been the ones at the center and spotlight of feminism discussions.

This weekend Emma Watson, famed Harry Potter actress, challenged us to ask another question.

How are the men in our lives affected by sexism?

Watson, the United Nation’s Good Will Ambassador, spoke at the UN’s summit to discuss the new initiative, HeForShe. In doing so, she urged men to take a stand for feminism.

You can access her speech here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTG1zcEJmxY

Watson speaks against the traditional view of feminism as “man-hating”. She turns the tables and says that men are hurt just as much by sexism. She points to her own father’s role in the family being valued less by society. She points to the extreme pressure for me to be “successful” adds to high suicide rates for men.

Watson says, “It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves”

Our girls are not the only ones affected, but so are our boys. Media can have a huge impact on teens and the pressure they feel to conform to certain standards and have certain roles. There can be a lot of peer pressure to fit a certain image. Opening up conversations with your teen about what sexism means can be an excellent avenue to discuss the specific pressures your teen is dealing with. Pressure to conform to expectations within those roles can add pressure and stress to your teen. Opening up discussions about sexism and gender equality can help them to feel seen and heard as they navigate adolescence and make their way into young adulthood.

There is Freedom in Parenting

iStock 000013112749Medium 300x199 There is Freedom in ParentingWe’ve made it to March! I love the weather this time of year. Though winter can be stubborn, the first signs of Spring emerge, as they do every year about this time in the Ozarks. Some plants begin to show signs of blooming while others are still dormant, waiting for warmer days to emerge. Plants are a lot like teenagers. They grow and bloom in their own time, at their own pace. All the pushing on our parts as parents won’t change their pace of growth. Every plant and every child is different.

When I was a new parent, Darnell White handed me this article one day.  It’s an excerpt from a book written nearly 60 years ago by R.W. White titled “Lives of progress:”

“Raising plants is one of mankind’s most successful activities.  Perhaps success comes from the fact that the husbandman does not try to thrust impossible patterns on his plants. He respects their peculiarities, tries to provide suitable conditions, protects them from more serious kinds of injury, but he lets the plants do the growing. He does not try to poke at the seed in order to make it sprout more quickly, nor does he seize the shoot when it breaks ground and try to pull open the first leaves by hand. Neither does he trim the leaves of different kinds of plants in order to have them all look alike. The attitude of the husbandman is appropriate in dealing with children. It is the children who must do the growing – and only through the push of their own budding interest.”

As parents, there is such freedom in the letting go and letting our kids grow at their pace and in their timing. Perhaps you’re a frustrated planter these days. No doubt, growing kids is a tough job. We just have to remember that we’re there to protect, respect and provide for our precious plants, not force them to grow at the pace we desire. Let God do the growing and relax in God’s timing. We can trust that even when the budding seems a bit late, that in the difficulty, a plant is emerging that’s better able to withstand life’s storms. God, after all, is the Master Gardener. If I correctly focus on my own growth, a beautiful garden will emerge.