Quote of the Week

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seven parents (representing five families) joined us for coffee, bagels and donuts on October 25th. The parents mostly either have a teen released from inpatient on probation or at teen still in rehab.

We started the meeting with introductions and a bit of detail about each parent’s situation. A clear consensus developed among the group concerning one particular role-play. The group wanted to see how parents might handle a teen that had recently completed probation. Now that the case was closed he or she was starting to balk at parental expectations.

Bill and Shirley volunteered to be the parents and I was drafted to be the teen. Both Bill and Shirley chose “coaches” for the role-play. Coaches sit close and somewhat behind the actors. Coaches do not speak openly in the role-play, but they have the power to call timeout. During the timeout the coaches may whisper to their designated actors. Also, the actors may call timeout in order to confer with their coaches. As it turned out both actors conferred several times with their coaches.

As usual, I was a bit of a pain-in-the-butt teen. I told my parents that now that I was off Probation I would decide if, and how many, 12-step meetings I would attend. I assured my parents that I would “know” if I needed to go to a meeting. I agreed that I would not use illegal drugs but otherwise I resisted any attempts from my parents to place guidelines on me.

My father, played by Bill, stressed that if I wanted to live at home I was going have to obey the rules. However, the rules remained unclear and that’s just the way I wanted them to remain. Also, I attempted to drive a wedge between both my parents by accusing my mother of being my father’s puppet who would say whatever he wanted her to say. This role-play was complicated somewhat by the fact that my father was involved with me but was separated from my mother.

When put on the spot, Shirley clearly informed me that she would not enable me anymore. She stated that she would rather see me put out of the house rather than return to my addiction. She told me in so many words that she would not watch me kill myself. It was a strong message from the usually quiet Shirley.

The group seemed to enjoy a rich discussion following the role-play. After all, every parent is naturally anxious about what is going to happen after probation. This role-play gave us all a chance to look down that road.

For me it was an eye-opener. I tend to focus mainly on what happens during probation, and perhaps I have been missing the opportunity to help families prepare for what is to happen afterwards.

I requested that we redo the role-play. I asked Bill if he would change places with me and play the teenager while I played the father. He was only too happy too oblige. I was soon to learn that payback is a b!*&h. Bill masterfully used his teenage skills of manipulation on Shirley and I. Bill would later remark, “I think I’m as big a ham as you are, Lloyd.” I quite agree.

However, Shirley and I had huddled before the second role-play and we came up with a plan. Rather than rushing right in with the new “rules,” we challenged our son to join us in a meeting to develop the rules. We explained to him that he would have veto-power over any proposed rule. Now that he was an adult we were prepared to use compromise to develop the new rules. However, both Shirley and I would also have veto-power.

We suggested that each of us write our thoughts down before the meeting. Also, we would all come to the meeting prepared to remain at the meeting however long it took to come up with rules with which we all agreed.

Bill asked the obvious question. “What if I don’t want to sit down and develop rules? What if I just make my own rules?” I informed Bill that if he refused to “come to the table,” Shirley and I had decided that he would not be able to live with either of us. Period. But I assured him that that was not what either of us wanted.

I asked Bill what he had to fear anyway as long as he had veto-power over each rule? Bill said that he would have to think it over. We told him he could sleep on it and let us know his decision tomorrow. In fact, we wanted him to think about it rather than making a quick decision.

In the discussion that followed the second role-play parents seemed encouraged. This appeared to be a constructive way to approach the post-probation period. Several parents suggested that this might even be something that should be started before the probation period has expired.

Valerie pointed out that if we could just refer to the whole process as developing a plan. We could leave the word “rules” out of it completely. Everyone agreed that this would put a more positive spin on things. The following are some points that came up in the discussion. (Please consider each use of the word “he” as meaning “he or she” or “his or hers.”)

1. Stress that compromise is something that adults do. That is why each adult who comes to the table has a veto. It is not majority rules, but a complete agreement between all parties.

2. Remember, parents naturally have the upper hand in this process. Teens cannot bear to spend several hours in the same room with their parents. Parents, however, can meet almost indefinitely. We can talk a person to death if we get the chance.

3. If the teenager decides that he will leave the table before the family comes to a consensus, then he is choosing to leave the home. He should understand that the parents would not support him once he leaves the home. The parents are not throwing him out- he is choosing to leave. This does not mean you can’t take a break and come back to the table a bit later to hash things out. This is especially a good idea if you sense that there is progress happening. After all, compromising can make people hungry and you may need to stop just to eat something!

4. Compromise is amazing. For every stubborn point that the teenager presents, e.g., “I will choose my own friends, even if they use drugs,” there is a counter-proposal. “We don’t like that, but if you agree to let us drug test you randomly twice a week, then we will agree. On the other hand, if you agree to only socialize with people who don’t use drugs, then we will agree not to drug test you unless we think you’re high.”

5. Do not be hesitant about using financial support strategies. Your teenager may need your help to have enough money for things he needs. Perhaps he needs to be able to drive the family car. This is all leverage that parents bring to the bargaining table.

6. If people work together long enough a plan will eventually be reached. Then, everyone will have a vested interest in seeing that the plan works because everyone worked on it together.

7. If your teenager understands the process before he comes to the table, he may surprise you by having a plan that is acceptable right from the start. It may not be the exact plan that you would have come up with, but it may be a sound well thought out plan. It is even possible that it is a better plan than the one that you prepared. If that happens be smart enough to give him some credit for a job well done and cut the meeting short. It’s time to be grateful and have a cup of shut-the-heck-up. Save the lectures for another time.

8. From time to time plans have to change. Either they obviously aren’t working or perhaps circumstances have changed. The veto process can be used over and over to amend the plan. Of course this requires more meetings and most teenagers will want to avoid this like the plague. That is the big ace-in-the-hole for parents.

9. There are three rules-of-thumb for parents in this bargaining process.

a. Bargain tough.

b. Bargain smart. Often this means being creative. Think outside the box. Maybe your teenager’s ideas are not so bad once you think about them.

c. Bargain respectfully. It is often not what parents say that infuriates teenagers, it is how they say it. Pretend that you are management and you are negotiating a business deal with labor. You can lock them out. They can walk out. Either way is a looser. Look for win-win situations.

10. Once all have agreed on the plan, it is important to also agree on what will happen if the plan is not followed. Basically, the parents want to be clear that there will still be accountability. Jane brought up the good point that every violation of the plan does not have to result in being thrown out of the house. There are often other steps that can and should be taken. Of course, if the teen does not violate the plan, it won’t be a problem.

11. The parents also need to clearly stick to their guns in-so-far-as drug use is concerned. Shirley expressed this so well in the role-play. Parents must refuse to allow their teenager to return to drug use while they live at home. Parents also must refuse to support a teenager who has decided to return to drug use. A zero tolerance for drug use is necessary in each and every plan.

Thanks to all the actors. You were great. And thanks to everyone at the meeting for giving Valerie and I some ideas on strengthening the final phase of Intensive D&A Aftercare Probation. As a direct result of this meeting we are considering incorporating the veto process somehow into the final phase of probation.

If you weren’t able to attend our last meeting, we have missed you. If you have never been to PSST, look for the enclosed insert, which includes information and directions.


Lloyd Woodward
Aftercare Specialist Probation Officer
(412) 247-6365

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Summary of 9-11-2004 Meeting
Posted by:Ken Sutton--Saturday, September 11, 2004

Six parents (representing five families) joined us for coffee, cream cheese and bagels on September 11th. Most of the families either have a teenager in inpatient drug treatment or on Probation.

The parents came up with the topic: What do you say to the other kids in the family, when they point out that the sibling with the Drug/Alcohol problem gets all the attention? Most of our role-plays seem to end with a parent taking a “regardless” or “nevertheless,” stance. Not these. These two role-plays brought out a parental response that highlighted active listening skills.

A first-time member suggested the first role-play. It included a parent (me) getting a phone call that from the police that one of my teenagers had been arrested and, once again, placed at Shuman Center. At or about the same time that this phone call came in, one of my younger teenagers was complaining that her brother always gets all the attention. She was really tired of that.

She went on and on about how she did what she was supposed to do, got good grades, didn’t break the law, and came home at curfew. Even so, she can’t get a paper signed by a parent that she needs to take back to school. Now that her brother is arrested again, it would be the same old run-to-Shuman and visit, talk about his criminal case, etc. I attempted to “actively listen,” which was difficult to do given (1) that I had just gotten that horrible phone call about my “problem teenager”, and (2) that my other child was really fed up and screaming for attention. In the end, I think my daughter knew that I had some idea of how she was feeling. Finally, after a lot of listening, I asked her what I could do to make things right. She did not hesitate in suggesting that I not visit her older brother at Shuman tonight and that instead I take her shopping for some things that she needs.

I’m sorry if it might look like shopping is the answer but I felt that a trip to buy a “few things,” that she needed was in order. I looked at it more like a chance to spend time rather than money. And I agreed to pass up the visit at Shuman for the night. Once I tried the active listening, her case was too convincing. It is also important is that sometimes teenagers are right and there is nothing wrong with admitting that we parents have made a mistakes. After all, my teenager at Shuman was safe. Now was time to take care of the one I still had at home.

Parent1 suggested the second role-play. She played her son who does not have a D&A problem and I played her. In this role-play I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks. He accused me of not giving him attention. He also blamed me for his brother’s D&A problem. He said that it was my failure to act that caused this to happen. He said that if I only would have listened to him earlier when he was trying to tell me that his brother had a problem, that all this trouble could have been avoided.

Then he seemed to blame me for something that had happened to his father too. So it was my fault that anyone in the family at all had any problems. Well this was challenging to say the least. I attempted to actively listen and he kept actively dumping everything on me. Well somewhere in my active listening responses I must have mentioned that I was sure that, in fact, I did not do everything right. He (Parent1) appeared ecstatic and said, “it’s good to hear you admit that it’s all your fault, finally you’ve admitted it.”

As in the first role-play, when it appeared that he had vented most of his feelings I ask him if there was something that I could do to help. I can’t remember for sure but I think he said he’d get back to me on that one. This was a very challenging role-play for me and I’m sure that if it was really one of my own teenagers who was saying these things that it would have been much more difficult.

Let’s review the basics of active listening.

1. The basic formula is simple: “you feel _____ because of ________.” However, usually it is not said in those exact words, as it sounds too mechanical.
2. Active listening doesn’t work unless the listener can match the emotional tone of the speaker. The importance of this cannot be overstated. If someone is ranting and raving, therefore making it difficult to match that particular tone, one can still say, “you know I can’t even imagine how upset you are over this whole ________.
3. Don’t say, “I understand.” No one ever believes that you understand and people don’t like to hear that being said. Instead, demonstrate that you understand by restating or reframing what they’ve said into your own words. If you “get it” they will let you know. If you don’t “get it,” they will certainly let you know that as well.
4. If at first you don’t “get it,” don’t give up. Keep trying. People love to tell you that you don’t understand. Accept that. Keep making responses until you either “get it” or admit that you’re having trouble listening. You know if anyone’s heartbeat is up to a certain rate, research shows that it is practically impossible to listen. You may need to calm down and talk about it later.
5. It is natural to want to know why teenagers feel that way. There is good news and bad news about the whole question of why.
a. The bad news: the word “why” should be shot. Throw it out of your vocabulary. It only makes people defensive. Most of the time teenagers (and often adults) don’t even know why.
b. The good news: by using active listening skills you’ll find out more information than you probably wanted to know.
6. Even in situations where “nevertheless” and “regardless” are used, it is sometimes helpful to do some active listening first. It depends on how pushy and manipulative your teenager is at the moment because you don’t want to encourage some extreme behavior with active listening.
7. We can demonstrate that we “hear” someone without agreeing with him or her. Just because we understand how they feel or how they perceive the situation, does not necessarily mean that we agree.
8. Active listening means that we don’t say, “you shouldn’t feel that way because ________.” We don’t tell them how to feel; we just tell them what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not.


Lloyd Woodward
Aftercare Specialist Probation Officer
(412) 247-6365

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Summary 8-28-04 Meeting
Posted by:Ken Sutton--Saturday, August 28, 2004

Ten parents (representing eight families) joined us for coffee, cream cheese and bagels on August 28th. Most of the families either have a teen in inpatient drug treatment or on Intensive Aftercare Probation.

We were disappointed that our invited speaker did not show; however new role-plays soon took center stage. The theme of our August 28th meeting was FAMILY SECRETS.

First, Parent1 volunteered to be a youth who is trying to get released from Abraxas. Parent2 volunteered to be her visiting father. Parent1 attempted to convince her father not to tell her counselor that on her recent home visit she contacted “Bob.” Parent1 has been told that contact with old peers and especially with this old boyfriend is forbidden. I (Lloyd) played the role of the Abraxas staff that came in halfway though the visit to find out how things were going. In spite of Parent1’s excellent manipulations and in spite of the fact that it very well could mean a drop in her level at Abraxas, Parent2 refused to keep her secret. Both Parent2 and Parent1 were very authentic.

Parent3 helped provide the next role-play. In this scenario, her son had been released from rehab several weeks ago. He appeared to be doing great especially in attending I.O.P. and attending meetings. She played herself and I played her son. My task was to convince my mom that she shouldn’t tell my PO that I had stayed out past my curfew. The 12-step meeting that I attended was over at 9:00 p.m., yet I had not returned home until midnight. Parent3 had been unable to reach me the whole time despite that she had given me her cell phone. I tried every trick I could think of to manipulate Parent3. I started with softer explanations, e.g., “I left the cell phone at home; I was with my sponsor; and we went to Eat & Park after the meeting.” Eventually when none of that worked, I got mad and said, “You’ll be sorry if you tell my PO about this.” Kathy was terrific and these are some of thing which she did extremely well.

1. She insisted on talking to my sponsor to verify my story.
2. She refused to keep the curfew violation secret from the PO.
3. She refused to escalate into yelling. I got loud but she kept her voice low.

We also did a min-version of a third role-play. Parent4 and Parent5 really hope that their daughter will talk to them about stuff like she did before she got involved in drugs. In this scenario her daughter had just been released from rehab and had bumped into an old using friend. She had lunch with her at the mall and “caught up on things.” But when telling the PO about it came up, their daughter (me) told both Shirley and Wayne that if they insisted on sharing that with my PO, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to share anything with them ever again. Since Parent5 and Parent6 want very much for their daughter to be able to talk to them about things, it presented a tough challenge. Time prevented us from playing it out.

The group came up with good discussion about keeping secrets. Most parents admitted that they have done it at some point. Some talked about how they do not report to the inpatient staff if their son or daughter has a cigarette while they are on home pass. Parents sometimes smoke and that may be part of the conflict.

If you have been keeping secrets for your teenager it is OK to admit to your teen that you have made a mistake. Admitting mistakes is also modeling good responsible behavior for your teenager.

Young people tend not to really listen to what parents say. They listen to what parents do. Therefore, in this fight to save our teenager’s lives, we cannot afford to miss opportunities to “demonstrate” our messages.

1 The secrets that you keep at first may seem trifling, but once you start keeping secrets, it makes recovery from drug addiction more difficult.

2 It is also important to sanction or otherwise hold your teen responsible for his or her actions. Telling the PO or therapist is very important, but also using a sanction or other assigned learning experience is another part of sending your teen a message. Note that If you ground you teenager, they can still attend 12-step meetings if parents provide the transportation to and from meetings. More ideas to come on this at our next PSST.

3 It’s a good idea to meet your son or daughter’s sponsor. However, as Ann pointed out, sometimes teenagers pick sponsors who are shaky in their own recovery. Don’t be afraid to ask the sponsor things like, “How much clean time do you have? How many meetings do you still go to in a week? Do you stay in touch with your sponsor? Do you ask your sponsees to write their step-work out or do you just talk to them about it? You don’t pick your kid’s sponsor, but just showing an interest in the person and asking questions is always a good idea.

With the group’s permission, we might start filming certain role-plays or group discussions to use in training others to run Parent Survival Skills Training Groups. Any films taken will be used for training purposes only.

If you have never been to a PSST meeting, we have missed you. Look for the enclosed insert which includes information and directions.


Lloyd Woodward
Aftercare Specialist Probation Officer
(412) 247-6365

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Summary 0f 8-14-04 Meeting
Posted by:Ken Sutton--Saturday, August 14, 2004

Ten parents (representing eight families) joined us for coffee, cream cheese and bagels on August 14th. Most of the families still have a teenager away in treatment. One has a youth who was just apprehended on a Warrant yesterday. Three have youth who are successfully completing probation after ten days, after several weeks, and after four or five months.

Parent1, a veteran member of our group, provided one of the role-plays. Parent2, a first-time member provided another one. Both role-plays were similar. In one, the youth was dragging his feet on finding a job. In the other, he was dragging his feet on his GED. The outcome of both ended up with the parent either suggesting or insisting that they go to the library together or go look for a job together.


Lloyd Woodward
Aftercare Specialist Probation Officer
(412) 247-6365

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Summary of July-31-2004 Meeting
Posted by:Ken Sutton--Saturday, July 31, 2004

Eight parents (representing seven families) joined us for coffee and donuts on July 31st. Most of the families still have a son or daughter in placement. One has a teenager whose whereabouts are unknown, one has a son just released a few days ago from Rehab, and one has a son who is going three months of successful probation and recovering from heroin addiction.

Parent1, a first-time member of our group, provided the role-play. Parent1s’ role-play involved confronting his son (played by me) one month after “my” release from rehab. Certain signs of “mental relapse” were starting to manifest. For example, I displayed a defensive attitude: I was argumentative; I claimed that my parents were driving me to use drugs by trying to work my 12-step program for me. Oh, yeah, and my dad (Parent1) had found a number on his phone bill to my former drug dealer!

Parent2 volunteered to be my “mother” in the role-play. She was very intense and I think everyone agreed that both volunteer parents did an outstandingly realistic role-play. This helped bring up much group discussion. At the end of the role-play, I was allowed to go to an underage club with a buddy from my narcotics Anonymous group, but I had to agree to come home by curfew and to attend a “family meeting” in the morning.

Later in the group we redid the end of the role-play differently. Parent1 took Parent3 (standing in for Parent2) outside in the hall to collaborate. Parent1 told me to sit tight and wait. I sat there fuming, making cell phone calls to my buddy complaining about what jerks I had for parents. Then they returned and told me that they both decided that I was not to leave the house tonight. I was pretty mad, but they made it clear that it as not up for discussion. I was grounded. And to top it off, they took my cell phone!! The role-play ended with me pacing the floor and swearing.

Cathy asked this good question after the second role-play. What if I left anyway? Well, if I leave I’m placing myself outside of parental control. I’m on probation. My Probation Officer must be notified and he must intervene. There is now an opportunity for me to learn by having consequences for my poor choice.

TIP: It is best not to threaten that you will call the Probation Officer. Your son or daughter should know that you call the Probation Officer regularly (perhaps daily) and it goes without saying that you would tell the PO.) You may be asked, “Well, I suppose your going to tell my PO?” Simply, say, “I talk to your PO all the time. Are you asking me to lie to him? I won’t lie or cover for you.” This is another good reason to make it obvious to your son or daughter that you are in regular contact with the Probation Officer.

Congratulations to our actors, Parent2, Parent1 and Parent3. Thanks to Parent1 for coming up with this great role-play that demonstrated that we know when something is wrong, but we tell ourselves that we don’t have enough to act on, that there is nothing that we can do. And our kids complicate things by coming up with stories that explain everything. It’s not a crime that at we want to believe our kids, but let’s not forget that they just came out of a drug rehab and really might not be trustworthy.

Doing nothing is almost always worse than doing something when that “parent sense” goes off. If things start to feel bad, things are probably worse than you suspect.

Remember these rules of thumb:

1. If you don’t trust that your son or daughter is going to go where they say, don’t let them go out.

2. If you see signs of a “mental relapse” e.g., irritability, defensiveness and/or manipulative behavior, and perhaps have reason to believe that they are in contact with old peers, then there is no need to wait for the actual relapse. Intervene. Sanction if appropriate. Be creative. Doing nothing is not a good thing. Doing something is often so much more important than doing exactly the “right thing.” If you are unsure what to do, talk it over with a close friend, a spouse, another parent from group, or, of course, with your Probation Officer.

3. As parents, you have much more power than you realize. Even if your child was not on probation, you can still be in control of your own home. And of course, especially if he or she is still on probation, you have considerable power. Parental power is not so much to “make him or her change.” Parental power is in your ability to send very powerful messages about what you accept and what you refuse to accept. Of course, the only way your message gets heard is by taking action, not by just talking.

If you couldn’t make it, you were missed. We hope you will come to the next meeting on August 14 and let us know how things are going with «FIRST».

Our thoughts and prayers that Bryan will be found soon go out to Mary. Many parents shared that they too have gone though having a run-away young person. Some of the ideas they offered will hopefully help.

Remember, parents are welcome to participate in role-plays but no one is pressured to do so. Be advised that adult language is often used in the role-plays.

If you have not yet attended the Parent Survival Skills Training, see the next page for information about what goes on at the meeting.


Lloyd Woodward
Aftercare Specialist Probation Officer
(412) 247-6365
cc: Probation Officer «Current__PO»

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Summary of 7-17-2004 Meeting
Posted by:Ken Sutton--Saturday, July 17, 2004

Seven parents (representing four families) joined us for coffee and donuts on July 17th. Most of the families still have a son or daughter in placement. Parent2 has a teenager whose whereabouts are unknown.

Parent1, a first time member of our group, provided the role-play. Parent1’s role-play was challenging and J. did a marvelous job of demonstrating defiance. The role-play was as follows: I was the parent and J., was my daughter and she refused to turn off the TV and go to her room.

After I turned the TV off, she got up and turned it back on. Finally, I stood up and confronted her face-to-face and she stood up and went to her room. After the role-play Parent1 had a good question. What if she didn’t get up and move when I face-to-faced her and demanded that she do that? What then?

The short answer is that the parent insists that they go now, not later, and the parent “assists” them if necessary, e.g., takes them by the arm and marches them up to their room. For the most part, we underestimate the power of a determined parent. Other things also have to be taken into consideration, however, and as Jane pointed out, “that’s not me, I could never handle things like that.” Perhaps that would not be Jane’s choice to have a rule that at a certain time of the night the TV must be off and everyone must go to his or her room. There are more ways than one to skin a cat and it depends a lot on the circumstances of the cat and the personality of the skinner. Another factor that we did not discuss is the consistency with which those non-negotiable rules are enforced. You can’t just enforce a rule some of the time. When you practice consistency 100 % with non-negotiable rules our youth tend to accept the rules (as they do in the rehabs in which they presently reside.) Thanks to Parent1 for a great role-play that instigated discussion.

If you couldn’t make it, you were missed. We hope you will come to the next meeting on July 31st and let the other parents know how things are going with «FIRST».

If you have not yet attended the Parent Survival Skills Training, see the next page for information about what goes on at the meeting.

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