Strained Relations

Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens

Archive for February, 2010

Beth Proudfoot, MFT: Teens and Behavior Modification

Posted by Marcia on February 18, 2010

Thank you, Marcia, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog! May I use this opportunity to get on my soapbox about an issue I feel passionate about?

Parenting teens, as all of your readers know, is a challenging and complex job, and unfortunately we seem to have this idea in our culture that if parents could only do the Rewards and Punishments thing right, then the problems would be solved. Frankly, I’ll bet that all of your readers have tried Rewards and Punishments, and they haven’t worked. There’s a reason for this, and it’s not because the parents aren’t tough enough or aren’t doing it right.

I was a psychology student at Stanford in the late ‘70’s when Behavior Mod was all the fashion. My goodness, we had some well-trained pigeons in the basement! Unfortunately, since then, the idea that rewarding behavior we want and punishing behavior we don’t want will actually change the behavior of humans has been overwhelmingly disproven.* People, it turns out, just really don’t like to feel coerced.

Now, most people, if the punishments aren’t too severe and the rewards are pretty good, will get with the program and comply, because they see that following along is actually good for them in the long run.

Your rebellious teen is not one of these people. For a rebellious teen, anything with a whiff of coercion, even when it’s a great reward, will have to be rejected in order to prove “you’re not the boss of me.” Setting up a system of rewards and punishments with a rebellious teen will always fail.

I think the reason the Behavior Mod concept has had such a long life, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, is because it’s so simple. We’d like to believe it was this easy! Unfortunately, teens are not pigeons. They need the space, outside of a power struggle, to foresee the consequences of their actions and make choices in their own self-interest. Figuring out a way to create that space is challenging and complex. Darn it!

*Please see Alphie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, and Murray Strauss’s Beating the Devil Out of Them, for extensive reviews of the literature on this.

Beth Proudfoot, MFT, is a child therapist, parent educator and parenting coach in Los Gatos, Ca. Her website is http://www.bethproudfoot.com.

Posted in changing parent's behavior, compliment your child, family difficulties, nagging the kids, out of control teens, Parents and teens, rewarding good behavior, Troubled teens, worried parents | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Difficult Kids: Sometimes it’s the Parents’ Fault

Posted by Marcia on February 15, 2010

I’ve written before about consistency in parenting, and I was thinking about that when talking with another woman.

This woman and her husband divorced several years ago and the kids are now teenagers. Both of the kids are wild: running around with a bad crowd, drinking, smoking, doing drugs, mouthing off to the parents and disrespectful toward authority figures at home and at school. Both are on the verge of failing school, and the mother does not know what to do next.

She is going to counseling to find out how to deal with them in more effective ways, but the kids’ dad will not go. He’s part of the problem as there are no rules at his house. He wants to be a friend, doesn’t want to challenge them in any way as he says he’s fearful of losing contact and he’s not involving himself as a parent.

Kids need consistency. It’s not easy for both parents to always be on the same page, even when they’re in the same house, and it’s so much harder when the parents live apart. It’s easy to overlook bad behavior just because you want to see your child. It’s hard to punish the child at your house for something serious she or he did at the other parent’s home. But is has to be done.

A good system of rewards and punishment can help a lot, and there are many books on the topic.

As hard as it may be to come to agreement with your former spouse, you have to try and try again. Some people can come to agreement and others never will. The kids pay the price if you don’t.

Posted in compliment your child, family difficulties, out of control teens, Parents and teens, rewarding good behavior, Troubled teens, worried parents | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Difficult Kids: Sometimes it really is the kid, not the parents.

Posted by Marcia on February 7, 2010

A woman I met talked about her heartache when her son was in Juvenile Hall. I didn’t ask what specifically had brought him to that point, but she said he’d been in and out of trouble since he was 9 years old.

Although the parents and child went for counseling, nothing was turning this child around. She knew she wasn’t a bad person or a terrible parent: they had another son who was polite, a good student, had lots of hobbies and interests. It helped them to know that it wasn’t all their fault.

When their son landed in Juvenile Hall, she went to visit every day at lunchtime. The first few months, she didn’t see any change in him, and maybe it was worse due to his anger and frustration over his situation.

Around 6 months in, she started to notice small changes. He finally understood that there are consequences in society, that his parents truly did want the best for him. He was locked up for over a year, and when he came out, he needed a lot of help. This time, he was ready to listen to parents and teachers, ready to talk with a counselor who could help him.

The family is still recovering from this trauma and have some tough work ahead, but are working as a family to address them.

Posted in changing parent's behavior, family difficulties, juvenile hall, missing our son, out of control teens, Parents and teens, Troubled teens, worried parents | 2 Comments »

Update: “Meth Kid” Was Kicked Out of Home

Posted by Marcia on February 1, 2010

I recently wrote about a family with a 20-year-old son on meth. You can view the posting at https://strainedrelations.wordpress.com/2009/10/17/kick-%e2%80%9cmeth-kid%e2%80%9d-out/.

“Jane” called to update me. She and her husband, after seeing several therapists and talking with former addicts, decided to tell their son to leave. She said that making this decision was the hardest thing she’d ever done. They didn’t feel safe in their home and it was breaking their hearts to see what their son was doing. They told him to leave right after Thanksgiving, and had hired a security guard to be onsite. They were scared of his reaction and possible responses.

Once he left, Jane and her husband went into the guest house where her son had been staying, and it had been “trashed” in a literal sense. There was garbage everywhere, opened cans and bottles all over the place, burns in furniture, and the carpets were ruined. She hired a cleaning service and a contractor, repaired the guest house and changed all of the locks.

Jane said that December was horrible, and the timing with the holidays increased the sadness and worry. She hears from her son now and then via text, but he won’t call at all. She understands he’s been staying with friends and worries about him.

He has been told repeatedly that when he’s ready to go for help or rehab, they’ll help him. They have done their research and have some options in mind. Their biggest fear now is that it’s too late, and one of these days they’ll learn he has died.

Do you have any experience with this or insights and comfort for this family?

Posted in estranged, family difficulties, kid on meth, meth addict, missing our son, out of control teens, Parents and teens, Troubled teens, worried parents | 1 Comment »

 
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