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

Summary of 6-11-2005 Meeting
Posted by:Ken Sutton--Saturday, June 11, 2005

Nine parents representing seven families attended our last meeting on June 11th. As usual, we took a break after going around the group for introductions and updates. Then, we arranged the following role-play based on a real life scenario:

An 18 year-old boy has been in a halfway house for several months after completing the Gateway YES inpatient program. Gateway YES represents the fourth inpatient drug and alcohol inpatient program that this young man has attempted. In fact, he spent 10 months at Abraxas I and still he was not able to successfully recover from his drug problem.

The teenager just met his new Probation Officer a few months ago. He told his PO that he voluntarily came to the halfway house. He lead his PO to believe that he did not want to go home upon his discharge from Gateway YES because he knew he could not stay clean. However, his mother told the PO that when Gateway YES was considering his release the parents refused to take him home because they could tell that he had not really changed.

The young man was very upset but finally agreed to enter the halfway house. The PO told the teenager that he knew that the teenager did not really enter the halfway house “because he wanted to be there” Since then, the teen has told his mother not to speak to the PO. He also told Liz not to go to those “meetings.”

In the role-play, the young man is attempting to convince the mother that if she would tell his therapist that she thinks that he is ready to come home that it will happen. In spite of much advice at the halfway house to the contrary, he wants to return to the local high school and finish 12th grade even though he can pass his GED.

Parent1 provided the scenario and she played herself in the role-play. She chose Parent2 as her coach. Lloyd played the 18 year old and Valerie played Lloyd’s coach. Lloyd came on pretty strong with Parent1, accusing her of screwing his life over and telling her that it was her fault that he was not at home. He used some colorful language and an aggressive tone. Parent1 was tough and did not give an inch. She showed real strength of character. It is not surprising to think that the biggest reason her son is in a halfway house now is that she and her husband were strong enough not to let him come back home.

Point 1: Pay attention to Affect: The turning point in the role-play was when Parent1 told Lloyd that if he did not change his tone that the interview was over. Lloyd believed her. He suddenly managed to show some respect because if he did not he believed that Parent1 would end the interview. This was excellent. Often parents continue to talk about content, when they should be talking about affect. If the teenager is not respectful, the rule of thumb is to not talk about any of the issues until the teenager becomes respectful. If the teenager becomes respectful, continue the interview as we did in our role-play. On the other hand, if the teen refuses to show respect, point out that he is yelling, name calling, swearing, or otherwise disrespectful. Then, end the interview after a few warnings. Failure to pay attention to affect ends in loss of parental power. Remember, others treat us the way we allow ourselves to be treated. This applies to parenting and other relationships.

Point 2: Take the wind out of your teenager’s sail: Lloyd asked Parent1 several times to admit that he was doing well in the halfway house. When she seemed unwilling to do so, Lloyd was able to go into a tirade about how she has always only seen the bad things that he does, never the good. Think of an angry adolescent Rodney Dangerfield. It is usually a good idea to concede that the youth has done some good things. To admit that does not mean that you have to change your bottom line. You can still say “No.” You can say, “I am very proud of you for doing so well up here, but you know what? I don’t think that it is a good idea to come home.” You can still hold your teen accountable even though you might agree with him on some things. Sure, the teenager is bringing this up as a way to distract the parent from the main argument. However, once the parent admits that the youth has done a couple things right, it takes the wind out of his sail. The teenager cannot keep harping it about it if you have already agreed with him.

Point #3: Watch out for divide and conquer techniques: As we often say in these letters, do not allow your teenager to do that “divide and conquer” thing. If he can get his parent to agree not to tell the PO about stuff, then the teenager has strengthened his position. Meanwhile, the parent has weakened his position. How is the teenager supposed to see the parent as tough and competent if the parent allows the teen to make decisions about who they talk to and whether or not they attend certain meetings? Think about it. There is a good reason your teenager hopes you will not attend the Parent Survival Skills Training.

For anyone that was not able to attend the meeting this week, we missed you. We are looking forward to seeing everyone again at the meeting on June 25th.

If you have any questions, please call 412-580-4051 or 412-247-6359 for more information.


Lloyd Woodward, Probation Officer
Drug and Alcohol Unit

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June-25-2005 Summary
Posted by:Ken Sutton--Sunday, June 05, 2005

Four parents representing four families attended our last meeting on June 25. Probably, our attendance has dropped a bit due to summer vacations. However, it gave us a chance to have a more intimate group. As usual, we took a break after going around the group for introductions and updates. Then, we arranged the following role-play based on a real life scenario:

A 16 year-old boy was released from Ridgeview Drug Rehab about five weeks ago. A week after his release he got into trouble by slipping out the window of his home at midnight, a violation of probation for which he served a weekend at the Academy Sanction Unit. Since then, he has done very well. If fact, he has apparently made strong ties in the recovering community and enjoys the 12-step Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He has also completed Intensive Outpatient Counseling at Gateway.

This 16 year old has been looking for a summer job. His mother takes him around for applications. He has taken to wearing his clean key tags on his shoelaces of his sneakers. His mother confronted him about wearing his key tags so openly when job searching. She has told him that the prospective employer might not hire him if he sees and understands that the key tags indicate that he has a drug problem. The teen’s response is something similar to “I don’t want to work for here anyway if they feel that way about me.”

In the role-play, Parent1 who provided this scenario played her son and Lloyd played the mother. It was very authentic and some interesting points came out of it.

Point 1: Use positive reinforcement and “I feel” statements: His bonding with other recovering addicts might be the only thing that will keep him away from further drug abuse. It is a good idea for the parent to tell their son how proud they are of what he has done in recovery. “I know you are proud of yourself for building a strong recovery program. I’m so proud of you. I’m just afraid that you won’t be considered for this job if you wear those on your shoes.”

Point 2: Recognize that open advertisement of 12-step involvement is sometimes one of the best things that can happen: It may be the strongest way for an addict to save his own life. In addition, his open enthusiasm is often temporary and as he matures, he usually learns to use discretion and begins to value his anonymity.

Point #3: Be clear to your teen and to yourself about what you recommend and about what you expect. Only a handful of things are worth “going to the mattress.” As most of you probably know, this phrase originated as a mafia term meaning that the “Family” would retire to safe houses with mattresses put up against the windows and doors for protection. As parents we often have to “go to the mattress” on issues like curfew, peer groups, school attendance, drug use, etc. Other issues are “not going to the mattress issues.” Key tag wearing, small displays of attitude, haircut styles, spending money unwisely (as long as it is not on drugs or other illicit behaviors), choice of employment, girl or boyfriend choices (as long as the choice does not use drugs), choice of classes, choice of sponsor (within limits), choice of home group, etc. are examples. On the “go to the mattress issues,” we must hold our teens accountable. We must do whatever is necessary to limit these undesirable activities. However, on the “not go to the mattress issues” we only advise. As to advice, we should remember some important things.

1. Advice is cheap. We all give it and most of us have trouble taking it.

2. Teenagers have a developmental need to establish themselves as individuals apart from their parents. Drug abuse is only one of many ways that teens attempt this. Drug abuse is not acceptable. Therefore, the teen has to find some other ways of establishing an identity. Sometimes parents are not comfortable with the ways teens choose to identify themselves. As parents, we realize that this is all part of growing up.

3. Likewise, making bad decisions is part of learning. If we are allowed to learn from the bad decisions that we make we develop better coping skills.

4. Having confidence in our teen’s decision-making ability is our job as parents. Even if we think they will screw it up, we can have confidence that that is what they need to do in order to learn whatever it is that they need to learn at this stage in their life. “Well, I’m sure you’ll do fine at solving that problem, honey. If there’s anything I can do to help you with it- let me know.”

5. There is nothing wrong with advising our teen that when it comes to getting a job- discretion may be the better part of valor. Like all “not to the mattress issues,” our teenager may not be open to the advice. That is OK too. All parental advice is stored in a special place in the teenagers mind and is withdrawn throughout the teenager’s life when he most needs it.

For anyone that was not able to attend the meeting this week, we missed you. We are looking forward to seeing everyone again at the meeting on July 9.

If you have any questions, please call 412-580-4051 or 412-247-6359 for more information.


Lloyd Woodward, Probation Officer
Drug and Alcohol Unit

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