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call is from a flustered parent rhyming off a litany of complaints about their
teenaged son or daughter; drugs, alcohol, truancy, sex, smoking, shoplifting,
vandalism, hanging out with the wrong crowd. The parent is focused and organized
by the youth’s misdeeds. The parent is seeking the magical solution: someone
to speak with his or her child, such that the egregious behaviour is instantly
curtailed. Typically, the belief is that the counselor can wag an even bigger
finger in the teen’s face, such that he or she finally gets it and mends his
or her ways.
when this kind of call is received, the teen is so far off kilter that
correcting the course will be a drawn out process. The challenge for the parent
is to withstand the process and for the parent to learn a new role in correcting
their teen’s course instead of just concentrating on the behaviour in the
moment. This can be more thorny than working with the teen as many parents have
difficulty surmounting their own anger in view of the turmoil imposed by the
change the parent must learn to adopt is to move from a policing and corrections
stance where one seeks to only address misdeeds and curtail behaviour, to one
where the parent gains control of their own behaviour first, to then offer
guidance and direction to their son or daughter. The only goal herein is for the
parent to engage their son or daughter in more reasonable and wholesome
truth, telling a teen what not to do and harping on them for misdeeds and poor
choices only keeps them mired in the mud. In lieu of this, parents must come to coach
and coax their son or daughter towards activities inherently of interest to
their son or daughter. They must help the teen join clubs, sports, recreational
or creative activities that are fun. Do not view this as rewarding misbehavior,
but providing alternate activities to that which the teen was otherwise drawn.
to the point, every minute spent engaged in a reasonable activity, is a minute
away from the other nefarious activities. Further, all structured and organized
activities are supervised. Hence, the teen is now under the guidance and
direction of an adult, geared to facilitating skill development as per the area
of interest. If your teen is amenable, join with him or her. Change the context
of the relationship from punisher to collaborator. In so doing, resist harping
on the issues of old, in favour of chatting about the new current activities.
defensive driving terms, this is known as steering where you want to drive –
crash avoidance. Steer towards the crash, and that’s what happens. Steer where
you want to go and enjoy the ride as you achieve your destination.
some situations, the relationship between parent and teen is so deteriorated
that all manner of influence is lost and the teen cannot contemplate a change in
direction facilitated by the parents. In such situations, parents may need to
use an alternate source of influence. To this end, there may be a youth worker
in a community-based program who may be helpful in engaging the teen in their
program. Such programs may be available through the YMCA/YWCA, Boys and Girls
Clubs, Salvation Army, church groups, etc. Call your local program and ask to
speak with the youth worker. Explain your situation and see if the youth worker
can invite and engage your son or daughter in their program. This means of
“outreach” is designed to capture youth and reintegrate them into more
meaningful activities with the support and guidance of the youth worker.
The goal remains the same: out-of-control, troublesome teens need to be engaged in meaningful activities, of inherent interest and fun. These activities are supervised and incompatible with getting into trouble. These are the first steps to changing the course of a wayward teen and improving relations with parents and family.
The real challenge in managing teens is engagement in reasonable activities. Put your efforts here.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
Are you the parent of new teen driver? Check out this teen safe driving program: www.ipromiseprogram.com
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