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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