Quote of the Week

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

Three scenarios for July 3rd meeting (video plays at bottom of post)
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Friday, June 25, 2010

At our July 3rd meeting, we are going to start our meeting off by helping PSST parents write their own DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE via contract writing! In preparation, you can read about contracts in the post directly below this one, and we are also going to afford you a chance to read Three Scenarios that we will be using (in small groups) to build contracts. You won't really know ahead of time which of the scenarios you will be chosen to work on.

If we have enough parents we will divide up into three smaller groups and ask each group to build a contract for each of the seperate scenarios, given the limited amount of info you get in each scenario. Then, we are asking each smaller group to role-play the Contract Scenario. No one has to be part of the role-play and, indeed, usally everyone can't get involved because you only need two or three to do a role-play; although if you want to include a PO and/ or a Therapist in your role-play you can raise that to three, four, or five.

Additionally, we are OPEN FOR SUGGESTIONS on scenarios. If you write one up and email it to Sally or me ahead of time, it is possible that we will add yours to the mix or use the one you submit instead of one of the three listed here. You can find Sally's email up at the top right of our blog. Mine is lloyd.woodward@alleghenycourts.us

This way everyone who reads the blog gets a chance to add to the fun ahead of time if they like. In fact, I'm sure that preferential treatment will be given to any scenarios that are submitted by parents over the three that I have listed here, but at least these three should give the reader an idea of what we are looking for. Each scenario should be no longer than one page if possible. Like they used to say on Dragnet, "Just the facts, Ma'am." Please use pen names.

Scenario 1: Johnny

Juvenile: Johnny is 16. He has finished outpatient. He stayed clean for the whole time. Now he is out of rehab for three weeks. The parents think he might be using again or he might be starting to use again. For one thing the school reports that he has started skipping some of his classes again. For another, his old friends have started to call him again although he denies that he has been hanging out with them. Also, he has come home late several times now, at 1:00 in the morning and he won’t say why he is late. John is into music. He writes a lot of his own music. The parents don’t understand it but it seems to have a lot of blood, violence, sex and drugs in it for their liking. John lives with his father and his stepmother. He insists that if they have to sit down to do a contract that his stepmother not be a part of it. He resents her apparently and often is disrespectful to her by saying things like, “you should know.” And “it takes one to know one.” He is also fond of reminding her, “You’re not my mother.” He never swears or calls her names but his statements to her often carry a disrespectful tone and imply that she has done something very wrong by being his stepmother. Johnny’s mother has remarried and now lives in Arizona. She calls and writes a couple times a month but she has stated that she is not prepared to provide a home for him and that he needs to work it out with his father. Johnny refuses to be drug tested. He also most of the time refuses to do any house hold chores or to keep his room clean. When confronted, he says “Let her do it (meaning his stepmother.) Have three people play the stepmother, the father, and John and build a contract for Johnny.

Scenario 2: Sue

Sue thinks that her mother is unfair. She knows that her mother and her father both did drugs at one time and now her mom doesn’t do drugs or drink anymore. Dad seems to be out of town a lot. Parents don’t live together anymore but Sue, who is 15 years old, goes to stay at Dad’s house once or twice a month. He lives close by with his mother who takes on most of the parenting tasks anyway. The Paternal Grandmother and the mother have always been cordial but never close. Sue has been in IOP (Intensive Outpatient)for three weeks. She has dirty urine for weed but only one time. She does well at school and getting her out of bed in the morning is no problem. She was caught doing weed at school originally and so now she attends an alternative school. She has made some new friends from the alternative school but the parents think they are creepy. Sue says they don’t use drugs. Sue says that when she gets out of IOP she will use again. This scares her mother and her father. The parents and the school insisted that she attend IOP and she seems angry and says that she will get even some day- “you just wait, MOM, someday you’ll be sorry you and Dad turned against me.” Really, it was the school that insisted that sue go to IOP but still Sue is angry about that. Sue loves to play Halo online. It’s her passion. She prides herself that she is one of the few girls who really know Halo. Sometimes she is up all night playing and texting on her cell phone. Her cell phone is so fancy that all her friends are jealous. Her father has bought it for her without consulting mom. Sue keeps her room clean and now and then she helps out around the house but it’s never something she does on a regular basis. Sue went to a few 12-step meetings but she can’t stand them and says she will never go back. Father and mother get together with Sue to do a contract.

Scenario 3: Freddy

Freddy can’t wake up for school. When he gets to school he does great but he usually misses several morning classes. The mother has tried a lot of things to wake him up but nothing seems to work. He gets really angry when his parents try to wake him up and he calls them names, curses, and breaks things. A he is 17 years old. He has never had a relationship with his father. He completed inpatient and then completed IOP. He was able to stay away from all old people places and things and he has stayed clean for nine months now. He went to a lot of 12-step meetings but he doesn’t go anymore- says he doesn’t need meetings and that he doesn’t want to get high anyways. His girlfriend and he met when he was inpatient. They have been dating since they got out. She has relapsed to alcohol a couple of times but Freddy stays clean. She doesn’t go to 12-step anymore either. Freddy has a chance to graduate high school on time- he is almost 18-but the fact that he can’t get up is a big problem. He has his own car and a part-time job but he is still on his mother’s insurance and she holds the title to his car, which he is paying her back for helping to buy it. He works three days a week after school and he never misses work and he is never late. He drives to school. The mother has tried to tell him that if he doesn’t get up and get to school on time he will not be able to drive. He says Ok, and then if he can’t drive he won’t go to school at all. The mother feels desperate to see her son graduate so she backs off. Recently, however, she has been reading up on contracts with teenagers and she decides to put one together for Freddy. Freddy’s mother still randomly urine screens him a couple times a week and he is always clean. She has made it clear that if he uses he will have to go back into treatment and/or get out of the house. Neither is something Freddy wants to do. He knows that his mother is serious about the drugs but he believes that is all she really cares enough about to take action over. He doesn’t mind the drug tests. He doesn’t mind much except getting up for school otherwise he is pretty easy to get along with. Freddy and mom meet to do a contract. (Video below is Happy Fourth of July from Kathie & Lloyd)

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Rules and contracts
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We have a request by Rocco to cover rules and contracts at our July 3rd meeting. Soon, Cisco will probably be released back home. In preparation for our July 3rd meeting I have some thoughts to share with your on this topic.

If you have a rule you can't or don't want to enforce, then don't have it. Try to prioritize the important things and then try not to over-control in other areas. Remember, every moment cannot be a teaching moment. There is an art to also relaxing and enjoying your teenager. Try to cultivate that art. Your teen is funny, charming, clever, bold, and caring. Build on his strengths. Are contracts important? Yes, essential, but other things are important too. Find humor. It will heal.

One of the most important things about contracts is that you have to write them down. It's not necessary to write down contracts in all families, but when you have control issues, drug problems, and /or Juvenile Court youth, suddenly writing things down becomes really key.

When sanctioning, use only as much power as necessary to get the teenagers behavior back on track. Power helps you most when you only use it when you have to use it. Use the technique "now" (when possible) to enforce rules without using punishment.

When your teenager balks at the rules that you come up with and/ acts outraged that you dare attempt to write down rules, agree with your teen, "yes, it's true, these rules are really going to be a challenge for you- you might have trouble with this contract." Don't try to defend why you need these rules. Most of them, curfew, get approval for where and with whom you spend time, clean your room are self-explanatory anyways.

We have several posts on rules and contracts. I will post links to two here.

Rules of the Road posted by Ken Thursday, July 19, 2007

Home Contract by Caron Foundation posted Tuesday, May 06, 2008

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PSST Fathers: Persevering, Skillful, Supportive & Terrific
Posted by:Sally--Monday, June 21, 2010


“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

I always have to chuckle at Mark Twain's quote on fatherhood. He got it so right..... It is a rare teenager who appreciates his father until he grows up. Never the Less I have seen super terrific dads at PSST meetings.

These terrific fathers share their stories with so much wisdom and sometimes even greater humor than Mark Twain himself. They are not afraid to reach out for the help they need in raising their teenagers and then they turn around and reach out to help others.

Some of us are lucky enough to have one of them as a partner. This added support is something we appreciate beyond measure. Some of them are step-fathers who learn the skills to be a positive force in their step-child's life. Sometimes they come without a partner to gain the skills they need in raising a teen on their own. No matter how they come to PSST - We are so lucky and proud to have them with us.

They persevere and "Fly Above the Storm";

They "Learn to Unlearn" and then pick up new ways of being very skillful at dealing with teenage addicts.

They have enough insight to "Really Listen to their Teen" instead of always talking.

Yes, PSST fathers are "Our Top Dogs".

Persevering - Skillful - Supportive - Terrific

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Summary of June 19th PSST Meeting - by "Max"
Posted by:Sally--Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Tale of Three Moms - Summary of June 19th PSST Meeting by "Max"

Today was a great PSST meeting at Outreach Teen & Family Services in Mt. Lebanon, even though there were only 3 moms in attendance. We missed all our usual attendees; NEVERTHELESS, the small number allowed each of us to give detailed updates with lots of helpful insights from Lloyd, as well as many more donuts to choose from.

1. We discussed a mother who made sure her son was placed into an inpatient recovery program despite complications from her ex-husband.
2. We had an update on the progress of two brothers in their recovery program.
3. We finished up with a discussion on a daughter who has relapsed.

One parent brought us up to date on her son's placement at Abraxas. We discussed how complicated and difficult it is for her to have an ex spouse who continually tries to place blame with counter-productive comments. Lloyd helped her to TAKE BACK SOME CONTROL by blocking this block-head's number, and refusing to respond to the negative and most unhelpful comments.

I brought the group up to date with my son Michaels' release from the Academy and immediate entry in to PHP Gateway, and my other son David's release from this same Gateway program, and his upcoming school plans.

Much of today's focus was on a mom and her daughter, who I shall dub Candy and Tori Spelling for anonymity and simplicity purposes only (there is no resemblance whatsoever - its' just a famous mom and daughter combo)!

Candy and her husband Aaron are once again dealing with Tori's drug use. Tori has been in and out of 2 rehab programs, always doing well initially, but too quickly falling back into using.

Tori just graduated from high school, which was a big accomplishment due to this up and down school year, and all the celebrations that Candy and Aaron were so anxious to participate in was clouded over by Tori's most recent drug use, hence, non compliance with her home contract. Candy and Aaron are NOT enablers; even though it pained them, they showed Tori the door, and changed the locks. Tori is now couch surfing and partying, but her money is running low. Everyone is worried and sad, especially because a big family trip is to take place soon. Should Tori be allowed to come? What if she doesn't show up? What if she comes and ruins everyone's time? What if she goes through withdrawal while everyone is sitting in the sun, relaxing? What if she tries to bring drugs and gets screened at the airport? These and other questions were discussed by the group, facilitated thoughtfully by Lloyd.

It was time for a role-play.

Candy agreed that she and Aaron really want their daughter to join them on vacation -hopefully they would bond over the week and have some much needed fun together, which in turn would help them set the stage for serious discussion about the future when they got home...Lloyd suggested a contract of expected behavior on the trip. If Tori really wants to go, she will take the contract to heart, and try to comply. If she fears she cannot live up to the expectations, she will screen herself out, but not before her parents express their sincere desire for her to be with them:

Candy: (showing up unexpectedly at Tori's workplace) Hi, honey, how are things going?

Tori: what do you care - why are you here?

Candy: Well, I just wanted to stop by (the goal is to be brief and business-like) to remind you that our trip is in 2 weeks; we know there are family issues (talking in generalities so Tori doesn't get defensive and rage at her mother) and it's been tough lately. NEVERTHELESS, we wanted you to know that Dad and I love you very much, and we really want you to come with us on vacation.

Tori: I don't believe you - you are just trying to control me again like you always do.

Candy: Tori, you're right, I am controlling about certain things. (STOP TALKING! LET TORI MAKE THE NEXT MOVE!)

Tori: well, are you going to be psycho-mom and follow me around?

Candy: (LAUGH! ADD HUMOR!) You are so right about that! I do act like "psycho-mom" sometimes! The best part about that though, is I will be psycho-mom in a bathing suit on a beach at the ocean!!

Tori: You are so not funny. I can't stand all your rules. I suppose you are going to have a curfew for me there too!

Candy: You are right again - (pulls out a very simple, brief and to the point contract of expectations while on vacation) Dad and I wanted you to have a copy of our family vacation rules, so there would be no misunderstanding of what we expect; remember, we will be in a foreign country with another family!

Tori: (glancing at the contract) this totally sucks! I'm 18 now, I can drink legally there - are you going to try and stop me?

Candy: Tori, Dad and I are going to trust you on this one (Throwing Tori a huge curveball - telling her they will trust her to follow the rules!). As I said, we really want you to come - we just wanted to let you know what the rules will be. If you are coming, and we hope you do, please be home to pack and do laundry no later than Thursday - we don't want to miss that plane!

STOP TALKING AND LEAVE - Tori needs to sit with this surprising turn of events that caught her off guard. Candy and Aaron have accomplished many things in this conversation.

They have agreed with Tori almost every time she speaks.

They have expressed their love for her and expressed an honest desire to reconnect and have some family fun.

They also told her in as few words as possible, that if she comes she must follow rules of no drugs, alcohol and respect curfew and family time.

Tori will have to think twice before responding. Assuming Tori does desire to go on this trip and reconnect with her family, she has been made aware, in writing, of expectations. No one discussed what will happen if she doesn't comply - Candy and Aaron will want time to explore their options, and shouldn't give an answer to "what if I don't..".

If Tori passes on this trip, it will be painful, but no one is telling Tori she shouldn't come; Tori is taking herself out of the vacation.

If Tori opts out, we suggested to Candy that perhaps she could find a trusted friend of Tori's with whom she can exchange texts or calls just to check in - Candy and Aaron deserve to relax on this trip!!

Our sincere thanks to OUTREACH TEEN AND FAMILY SERVICES for the use of their space to allow PSST to empower parents of out-of-control teenagers. Outreach Teen & Family Services is a community resource for young people and their families, fostering emotionally healthy teens by providing counseling and educational programs in a welcoming and supportive environment.

The next meeting is scheduled for Saturday July 3rd 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Allegheny County Eastern Probation Office in Wilkinsburg.

Please check the blog for updates.

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Letter to the Judge by a concerned PSST parent.
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Saturday, June 19, 2010

At our meeting in Mt. Lebanon today one of our parents offered to share this letter that she gave to the Judge at her son's hearing. Her son continues in inpatient treatment for mental health/ drug abuse treatment. This is a reacurring theme at PSST: the system works best when parents stand up and advocate for the services that their teenagers need.

March 1, 2010

William is my only son, and it goes without saying that I love him and only want what is best for him. Over the past few weeks and months, his irrational behavior has escalated to the point where I have feared for his own safety as well as my own and others. His father expressed a concern to “keep an eye on William because I am afraid he is going to hurt himself”.

I face daily constant defiance; lack of respect, abusive language and at times an uncontrollable anger and rage that usually culminates in some form of physical destruction to my home. Any attempt to reprimand his actions or control him only escalates his anger to sometimes-frightening proportions.

Within the past month I have had the opportunity to consult with many behavioral authorities in various professions. Their opinions of his mental and emotional instabilities have reinforced my own feelings that William is in extreme need of professional mental health care, such as he would receive in a therapeutic residential facility.

I would only be comfortable bringing him home after his mental health issues are addressed.

Editors note: read an earlier posted letter to the Judge that a PSST parent read at her son's hearing: Your Honor, today I speak as a concerned and loving parent...

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Let’s Do the Twist – A Summary of the June 12 PSST Meeting.
Posted by:Rocco--Friday, June 18, 2010

We had another encouraging turnout and a good time at Saturday’s PSST meeting at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Wexford.

Kathie and Lloyd led the meeting. We had 10 parents representing 8 families. We were happy to have a nice mix of familiar faces as well as some new parents again.

Each of us had an opportunity to talk over our own situation and issues. We discussed teens that twist things around on their parents, teens that may be “experimenting” with drugs, spouses that obstruct our efforts to get help for our teens, teens that turn to alcohol, teens that are about to go into an inpatient recovery program and teens that are about to come home from an inpatient recovery program. We also went over some ways that we can get our point through to our teen without prolonged discussions, outbursts or arguments.

We would like to recognize a very special grandmother who joined us. She has dedicated her life to intervening for her children and grandchildren. She has certainly dealt with all of the above issues and more. Now she is dealing with recently telling her granddaughter that it would be best if she didn’t return home following her inpatient recovery program. This grandma is wise enough to know that there will be too many familiar triggers for her granddaughter to relapse at home. Her strength and dedication to her family is a tremendous inspiration to us all at PSST. Thank you for coming back and sharing with us. It was good to see you again.

Following is a synopsis of our three role plays. Please note that these are not supposed to be actual transcripts. But if I missed some part or idea please feel free to add a comment below.

Our first role play gave us a new twist on how to deal with our teen when we have a less than cooperative spouse.

If your spouse is not cooperating or is part of the problem; here is a way to handle the situation.

First, have a talk with your spouse when your teen is not there. Explain how you intend to handle the situation. This gives your spouse a chance to get on board. If the spouse still disagrees with what you say or does not want to cooperate; Try the following:

In this role play, the mom is the Concerned Parent, the dad is Mr. Uncooperative and the teen is named Jonnie.

Mom: (Looks directly at the teen. Even though Mr. Uncooperative is standing right at the teen’s side do not even look at him. Focus on the child.) “Jonnie, let’s keep this short. I know that you don’t like long lectures.”

Jonnie: “You got that right! All you ever do is blah, blah, blah, blah…”

Mom: “You know something, you’re right. Sometimes I do go on too long. So I will keep it short. You have missed two days of school. You WILL get up on time tomorrow. The alarm is set for 7:30 a.m. If you are not up by 7:40 I am going to pour cold water on your head to get you up for school.”

Dad: (laughs and mocks mom) “You can really act crazy sometimes dear!”

Mom: (Do not even acknowledge Mr. U. Keep your cool and do not break eye contact with your teen.)

Jonnie: “Dad is right, you ARE crazy mom. We are doing jack shyt at school now because it is the end of the year.”

Mom: (Stay focused, lean a little closer to your teen and say in a calm, firm voice.) “Regardless Jonnie, you need to be up at 7:40 a. m. to catch the bus on time. If you are not up and out of bed by 7:40 I am pouring cold water on your head.”

Dad: “Let the kid alone. No wonder he is so nervous. You make everybody nervous with all your dumb rules. Everybody skips out on a few days at the end of the year.”

Jonnie: You’re nuts. I will call Youth Services on you. I’ll have them arrest your a$.

Mom: (keeping eye contact with Jonnie only) “Never the less, you have been warned about tomorrow. (Still focusing on her teen) Your father is wrong. You will get up on time and you will go to school tomorrow. This discussion is over. Do you have any questions before I go?”

Jonnie: “Sh-y-t no.”

Mom: “Okay Jonnie, thanks for listening (Be the first to walk away).”

Our second role play addressed how to keep our conversation with our teen from twisting out of control. It follows the basics of Stay Calm (at least outwardly), Keep Focused on the Subject (don’t let your teen twist you into another argument), and Keep It Short!

Mom: (calmly and directly) “Pebbles I can’t find my widget. Do you know where it is?”

Pebbles: “Sure always blame me first! Did you even ask Jonnie? Why would I even want your stupid widget?”

Mom: (lean towards your teen) “Listen Honey, I don’t want to waste a lot of your time. I know you are angry because we won’t let you go to Wilma’s party. Just tell me where my widget is so we can get this over with.”

Pebbles: “Well it IS really stupid that I can’t go to Wilma’s party. What’s your problem anyway? She has been clean for almost a month. Her mom said it is okay.”

Mom: (do not take the bait) “We already discussed the party thing, Pebbles, that subject is closed. Now get me my widget so we can both get back to what we were doing.”

Pebbles: “Even if I knew where your stupid widget was I wouldn’t tell you.”

Mom: (stay calm and lean in a little more) “Well let me make this clear. I need my widget and I need it NOW. Either I get my widget or (insert an appropriate consequence here that you know you can go through with).”

The important theme here is to calmly stick to your point, clearly state what you want. If your teen will not cooperate spell out a consequence, stick to your word and end the conversation quickly.

We discussed how some of us will sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we can magically convince our teen to see our side if we just talk long enough. In reality after a few minutes our teens are in “Charlie Brown Land” and all they hear from us is “Bla-bla-bla-bla-bla-bla-bla…”

Our third role play was about our teens twisting our words and intentions around on us to make us the bad guy. In this role play it is at a session with Mom and Wilma and their family counselor (this one had a lot of the parents nodding in agreement). Lloyd then showed us how to twist our teen’s words right back to our advantage.

Counselor: So how are things going this week? (Wilma studies her nails)

Mom: “Pretty well mostly. Wilma does not like going to her meetings but she made one. She is still not doing all that well at school. I arranged for her to be tutored after school but she has been skipping it a lot.”

Counselor: “How are things going at home?”

Wilma: (Wilma does a big eye roll) “Same as always. Things will never change because she won’t change. I work my a$$ off in my program and all she does is b--ch at me. She has no idea how hard it is. She will never change.”

Mom: “Well Wilma has a hard time getting up on time for the bus in the morning and I usually need to ride her to school late. I don’t think she even considers that it makes me late for work. And it’s mostly because she is on her cell phone until 1:00 o’clock in the morning. I keep telling her to get off the phone and shut off her music and get some sleep but I might as well bang my head on the wall. Also, I have asked her to stop hanging around with her friend Pebbles. I don’t think Pebbles is a good influence…”

Counselor: (Looking away from Mom) “What do you think Wilma. Are you having trouble getting up.”

Wilma: “Well, yeah! Her and Dad drive me crazy. They like have all of these lame rules and they are like always yelling at me. They call me a stupid addict. They are, you know, like the main reason that I feel like using. They drive me f---ing crazy. They will never get it. I hang out with Pebbles ‘cause like she is like the only one who understands me. We really need each other to talk to ‘cause like her Mom is like psycho too. So I am on the phone trying to calm her down and this b—ch is like in my face screaming at me to get off the phone, and like Pebbles is talking about running away or something. It is always the same bullsh-t with those two.”

Counselor: “Wow, it sounds like you had a really rough week.”

This is where we as parents usually want to blow up on the counselor and our teen and twist both of their necks. But this is where it is time for Mom to do the TWIST!

Mom: “You know something honey you really do have it rough. It is true that sometimes with my job and taking care of your brother and sister and everything else I forget to tell you how much I appreciate your situation. And I am going to try to change. I am going to pay closer attention to what you are doing and who you are hanging around with.”

Wilma: “Yeah sure we’ll be like best friends, huh? You’ll just keep yelling at me like the crazy b—ch that you are.”

Mom: (leaning closer to her teen) “No honey. I don’t want to be your best friend. I want to be your mom. And you are right, I do need to change. I really need to stop worrying so much about hurting your feelings and work more on stopping you from hurting yourself. I think that we can start by taking away your cell phone. And then Dad and I will need to come up with a good set of rules in our house. Thanks for helping me see what a b—ch I have been. But you know honey (lean in a little closer) I will try my best not to raise my voice any more. But I will continue to be a crazy b—ch if that is what it takes to keep you clean.”

Sally and I have found that the more we practice role-plays the better we are at thinking on our feet when confronted by our teen. When we both react quickly and consistently we keep the power.

Remember our two favorite words NEVERTHELESS and REGARDLESS. Try to get BUT totally out of your vocabulary. Or as one of my favorite people loves to always remind me “Everything you say after the word BUT is BS.”

We all would like to sincerely thank Trinity Lutheran Church for the use of their first class facilities to allow PSST to empower parents of out-of-control teenagers. This is a great example of how Trinity Lutheran has been reaching out and serving Wexford and the northern suburbs since 1845.

We look forward to seeing more concerned parents next Saturday, June 19 at the PSST meeting at the Outreach Teen and Family Services located in Mt. Lebanon at 666 Washington Road (There is free parking in the back lot).

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Gratitude for My Sons Recovery by a Grateful Father
Posted by:Sally--Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Last week I was thinking about all the positive changes that happened in my life in the past year. I am very grateful that my son is back in my life and grateful for his recovery. I called my son’s PO, Lloyd Woodward to thank him for his help and support. Lloyd asked me to write about my experiences with my son on the PSST website because other parents dealing with their teen’s addiction need to hear a successful story. Due to confidentially, I will refer to my son as Stevo.

Even though Stevo’s mother and I separated when he was young, Stevo visited me on weekends and during the summer. We were close and had a good relationship. I became aware of Stevo’s drug abuse when he was 14. The police came to my home to notify me that Stevo was caught smoking weed at the skate board park and that he was no longer allowed at the park. Stevo lost privileges and I lost trust. He visited less and less at my home, and eventually the visits stopped all together. Stevo began running away as his drug use took over his life. I had no contact with him for about a year and a half. During that time I had no peace of mind. I could not be happy because I did not know what was happening with my son. I know how addiction can take over you life because I am in recovery. I also knew that his drug use would eventually cause him trouble with the law or worse.

Last spring, I received a letter from the Pyramid Ridgeview Treatment Facility that Stevo was in their program. I tried to contact him there but was unable to obtain any information. I hired an attorney to help me track him down. The attorney put me in touch with Stevo’s PO, Lloyd Woodward. I was very relieved that Stevo was safe, in treatment and in the system. I met with Lloyd at his office. I was totally honest with Lloyd about my current situation, addiction and recovery. He allowed me to write Stevo who by then was in a court ordered placement at Abraxas. My letter was returned unopened. I then contacted Stevo’s therapist at Abraxas and was permitted a 6 hour visit with Stevo. I was very surprised with the change in his appearance. He was taller, heavier, and covered with tattoos and piercings. When we hugged it was the best I felt for the passed 3 years. That visit went well but when the time came for the next visit, Stevo had runaway. When he was picked up 16 hours later, he had cut his wrist and was facing additional charges. Abraxas gave him a second chance and he was allowed to remain in their program. The visits continued and slowly Stevo began filling in the blanks about his activities during the years we were apart.

During the visits I tried to keep him focused “on leaving the past in the past”, “doing the next best thing” and “moving forward”. His attitude started to change which was the first step in his recovery. He was able to admit he had a problem and had no power over it. He became more respectful and showed gratitude for the chance to change his life. Towards the end of his stay at Abraxas, Stevo was permitted two weekend visit to my home which went very well. Even though I believed Stevo was ready to be discharged to my home, PO Woodward recommended to the court that Stevo be step-downed to the Liberty Station Halfway House.

Stevo initially had difficulty accepting his placement at Liberty Station. His behavior was up and down. He did successfully complete his GED while there and became involved in the Life’s Work Program. At the end of January he was successfully discharged to my home. I made a commitment to PO Woodward that I would support Stevo by making sure he completed 90 Recovery Related Activities in 90 Days. Stevo did more than the 90 Activities. He attended the Intensive Outpatient Program at the Irene Stacy Center 3 time a week for 3 hours a day and voluntarily extended his time there. He and I attended N/A Meetings together and at times had to walk several miles in the snow to get there.

WOW - I am grateful that I was able to reconnect with my son. I am surprised how far we have come in the past year. I now trust Stevo. I am no longer worried that when he goes out that he will not come back. He stays away from the people, places and things that will cause him to relapse. Our conversations still focus on “doing the right thing” and “not picking up”. I have less fear now and more hope for the future. The fears I still have are that of any parent of a 17 year old. Things are not perfect of course. I would like Stevo to find a job that he likes and we are still working on “accepting life on life’s terms.”

I am grateful for all the support Stevo and I have received from PO Woodward, and his Supervisor Val Ketter, Abraxas, Liberty Station, Life’s Work and the family therapists from WSS.

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Posted by:Rocco--Sunday, June 06, 2010

We had a really encouraging turnout and a good time at this week’s PSST meeting in Wilkinsburg.

Kathie and Lloyd led the meeting. We had 12 parents including 4 dads. We were happy to have a nice mix of familiar faces as well as some new parents. We were especially glad to meet one dad (who has been actively involved in his teens’ recovery) who took time away from running the family business to attend.

Sally and I were told years ago at an elementary school meeting on self esteem: “Your child has a big advantage in their life because you cared enough to attend this meeting.”

Although your son or daughter may be in a “bad place” right now they have a “big advantage” in their life because you cared enough to attend a PSST meeting. More than likely they will not grasp the “big advantage” concept and in all probability resent that you go to “those meetings where you are misled by that crazy dude.”

NEVERTHELESS they are in a better place because you do care enough to try to save their life.

Each of the parents had an opportunity to discuss their own situation and issues. We talked about how we can handle our troubled teenagers that are at home, our teenagers that are about to return home and about when it is time to tell our teen that it is time to leave home.

Each of these is a tough situation.

If our troubled child is living at home we need to give them clear rules on how they are to behave and what is expected of them. Next we need to provide specific consequences if they break the rules (consequences that we know that we can follow through with). This can be as simple as taking away privileges, cell phones, computer access and i-pods or as serious as having charges filed against them. If we suspect drug or alcohol use (click on the “TIME TO ACT!” link at the top right side of the PSST Blog) one of the key things they will need to agree to is random drug testing. When you come to a PSST meeting we can explain where you can get the various test kits at a reasonable price.

If our child has left home and is asking to come back home we must insist on their agreement to the same rules and consequences as above. Written contracts are a big help here. One of the rules should be that, prior to their return, they need to enter a treatment program and be professionally evaluated. This is probably one of the hardest things to stick to. They will always promise to enter the program after we allow them to come back home. They must enter the program first.

If our teen is in an inpatient recovery program they will be constantly insisting on why they should be home. Before they come home for good try a few home passes if offered. See Lloyd’s post on Home Passes below this one. The basic theme of the Home Pass should be: the child’s home time is to be spent with you and your family. This should be time to begin to reconnect and heal our relationships. It should not be a time to have friends over, talk to friends on the phone or on the computer. Very important: Do not be afraid to share with their counselors how the visit went – good or bad. This will help them in their evaluation of your teen.

If our teen is about to complete their inpatient recovery program and return home; Congratulations! Now spend the last few weeks while they are still in the program getting your family ready for their return. Follow the same rules above about setting clear rules, expected behaviors and consequences. Be strong and insist on the terms being spelled out in a written contract. Do not expect your child to readily agree to all of the terms. That’s okay. If they are going to act out then let them do it while they are in their program and they are under the care of professional counseling. Remember that the terms of their contract can be modified by you at any time depending on their behavior – good or bad.

And then we have the case of our child acting out at home and it's time to go. Our child will not follow our rules, refuses counseling and may be using. They may or may not have completed a recovery program. The time to act is NOW.

If our child is a minor there are options like Act 53 (asking the Court to declare your child to be in need of involuntary drug and/or alcohol treatment services) or having them placed on probation.

If our child is no longer a minor we need to tell them that it is time for them to leave. They may leave willingly or we may need to engage the local police to escort them out. If necessary get a Protection from Abuse Order. Here is a link to the Allegheny County DA’s web site explaining the PDA - http://www.da.allegheny.pa.us/dv_Protection_From_Abuse_Orders.asp

We always need to consider our safety and the safety of our family first.

If and when they ask to come back home (and if we have left that possibility open) we will need to follow the steps above.

Please feel free to attend a PSST meeting to discuss any of these situations. There is no cost or obligation.

PSST is here to assist and support concerned parents to take the power back, to regain control of their teens, their home and their own lives. The meetings are a place where you can talk openly with professionals and other parents about your own situation. We understand where you are at because we have been in a similar place. You will notice a lot of us nodding in agreement with you.

A note to new parents attending their first PSST Meeting: The first meeting may seem a bit overwhelming and you might feel a little uncomfortable. That is okay. Sally and I felt that way when we attended our first meeting three years ago. We now wish that we would have stuck it out longer. Regardless we were happy to be able to return two years later for our second meeting and find acceptance as well as a lot of support, wisdom and understanding. Our family is now healing, hopeful and heading in the right direction.

We followed up our discussion with two role plays.

The first Role Play concerned insisting on action NOW. From the time our children were toddlers we found that we would have less confrontation and conflict if we picked up their toys, their clothes or cleaned their room. Some of us now employ this method with our spouse or significant other.


Whether it is doing the dishes, taking out the trash, working on their recovery or finishing a job they've started. Whether it is your child, your spouse or significant other; Start insisting that they do (whatever) NOW. Click here to read Lloyd’s March, 2010 post on Who is the big dog at your house? Featured technique: use of "NOW"

As Lloyd notes: DO NOT USE THIS WORD (NOW) unless you really mean it and are prepared to drop everything and stay with your teenager (spouse or significant other) until task is accomplished. No threats are necessary and in fact, threatening at this point might be counter-productive and cause unnecessary resentment.

The second Role Play was a parent introducing a new rule to their unruly teenager. Max really captured the essence of most of our teens here. As our role-play dad did: Go into the discussion prepared. Start off by explaining to the teen that they may not agree with what you have to say. Tell them that they may not even like it. Clearly and simply state the rule. Explain the consequences. Don’t expect your teen to think that your rule is “just swell”. Do your best not to get into a prolonged discussion or debate on the rule. If your teen protests how hard that the rule will be to follow be sure to take the opportunity to agree with them – “You’re Right! It will be hard at first.” – and even attempt to get in a compliment – “I’m glad that you're smart enough to understand that and I know that you're mature enough that you can do it if you try.” End the conversation as quickly as possible and walk away.

After the meeting a couple of us discussed suicide threats.

Both suicide threats and attempts should always be taken very seriously.

The threat of suicide can be frightening enough to cause some parents to “walk on eggshells” and to give their child whatever they want.

PLEASE NOTE: Even if you feel that your child’s suicide threat is nothing more than a manipulative tactic you need to IMMEDIATELY take them to the nearest emergency room for an evaluation.

If they are truly suicidal they will receive the help they need. If the child was merely using the threat as a manipulative tactic to get their way, the trip to the E.R. and the evaluation will tend to discourage them from using this as a tactic in the future.

Never ignore or minimize a suicide threat or a suicide attempt.

Our thanks to the Allegheny County Eastern Probation Office for the use of their space.

The next Parent Survival Skills Training (PSST) meeting is Saturday June 12 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Trinity Lutheran Church 2500 Brandt School Road, Wexford, PA 15090

C'mon in and join us.
Our PSST meetings are open to all parents who are serious about making a difference in their children’s life.

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Have a home pass or off grounds pass with teen in placement?
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Saturday, June 05, 2010

At our well attended meeting this morning (12 parents with five new faces), Ralph Kramden (pen name) mentioned that there is a post on the blog about home passes from institutions, "but you have to dig for it." I'm happy to hear when someone mentions that they have found something of value on our blog. I'm going to put some links to the posts that I find that I believe are relevant to home passes.

Home Pass From the Institution or Oooops you're a quart low. Actually, this was posted April 5th 2010 and it also has a link to the one below:

Preparing for a six-hour Home Pass.

Home Pass from Institution: Ten things to keep in mind. This one may be the one to which Ralph was referring.

And one related post that is not entirely about home passes but is relevant: Feeding the Enemy.

One of the things that we don't talk about much at our meetings is the need to listen to your teenager. I know, I know, if you were at today's meeting most of us agreed that what teens say is mostly bull or posturing for more power. We encourage the use of power words like "nevertheless" and "regardless."

The problem is, at a meeting there is so much to say and so little time. Some times, the best thing you can do is listen to your teenager. Listen carefully and well. Find a thing to really agree with them about if can, but let them know that you are listening. Don't say, "I understand" because the person who says that rarely really understands. Just admit that you are having trouble understanding; that it is hard to put yourself in their situation, but that you are trying to understand- that is always so much more convincing.

None of us consider ourselves that simple, that someone can understand us just like that- we think of ourselves as complex so we certainly expect someone to be puzzled at first- admit that- be Peter Faulk for a moment, slap your forehead and tell them you are confused. Of course Columbo always understood, didn't he?

As Ken used to say at our meetings, "Every moment is not a teachable moment." Ken wrote the best thing I think I have ever read on listening and so I have dug it out of the blog and will link to it here: Listening


1. To listen well is not necessarily to agree.
2. To listen well does not mean you have to allow yourself to be manipulated.
3. To listen well does not weaken your own position.
4. To listen well increases your power.
5. Sometimes, what you hear is a bunch of horse manure. Still, there is something there that you can underline, reframe or agree with.
6. Teenagers, if you ask them, believe that nobody really listens to them. Therefore, if you really listen, it takes them by surprise. Taking them by surprise, doing the unexpected, can disarm them. Our teens are so powerful that we should disarm them whenever we can.

I mention these things here because if you are going to make goals for yourself for a home pass or for an off grounds visit, I challenge you to go in with your big ears on- there's a lot to listen to and sometimes a lot to be learned from our teens.

If anybody ever feels that they've "gone way back" on our blog and found something good, let me, Sally, or Rocco know and we'll repost it, perhaps with a new comment or two. By the way, if you are interested in certain topics try our search window at the upper left of the blog.

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GOT STRESS? - A Court Hearing Followed by a Six Hour Home Pass
Posted by:Sally--Thursday, June 03, 2010

"Stress is simply the adaptation of our bodies and minds to change; and change is about the only constant left in our lives."

It has been a year since Cisco was placed on a Consent Decree and today Cisco was due in court to determine where to go from here. Often when I find myself in this type of a stressful situation and cannot sleep I find writing very therapeutic. So I dare to start off this post with my poem that I wrote when I woke up in the middle of last night.

It is titled: Three O'Clock Thoughts Before a Hearing

Will our lives ever be in place?
Or will our son always be in placement?
Will we live fully in His Grace?
Or are we tied to a chunk of cement?
The cement of society views Cisco as a risk.
They can't tell if he's changed or temporarily fixed.
No one but he knows what is in his heart.
Who knows if he worked out a brand new start?
It boils down to trust and that's a fact.
I want my son home, its as simple as that.

Okay, don't laugh. It is not the best poem but I know a would-be rapper who liked it.
Besides, after I wrote it - I slept like a baby.

After a three hour wait to see the Hearing Officer, things went well. It came down to two choices.

1.) End the consent decree today (which would end the Juvenile Probation services today along with Wesley Spectrum services). Cisco would have to volunteer to stay at Liberty Station until successful completion and have a hearing at a later date on charges including a D.U.I.

2.) Cisco would be adjudicated on a much lesser charge of Disorderly Conduct, Juvenile Probation and Wesley Spectrum Services would continue for an additional six months after the completion of Cisco's stay at Liberty Station. It is possible for Cisco to complete his stay at the halfway house by mid July.

Rocco and I decided we would make a plea for option two. Cisco wanted option one but his dad told him we were going for two. After some discussion and explanation Cisco conceded.

We are so thankful that we had Cisco's P.O. Lloyd there to speak so eloquently on Cisco's behalf. Also Cathy and Kathie of Wesley Spectrum and Tim of Liberty Station were there for support. The hearing officer thoughtfully heard all sides and we walked out of the court room with the lesser charge and our help and support system intact.

By three o'clock Cisco was on his six hour pass from Liberty Station. He was a bit agitated because of the six months of probation and said that he 'hates his life'. I was thankful that he will not have a DUI on his record before he even has a driver's license. We explained to Cisco that the probation will not be a problem if he continues to do what he should do. I reminded Cisco of something Rocco often said to both of our sons. "If you are driving a car and a police officer is following you there is nothing to sweat if you are doing the speed limit and following the other rules of the road."

At any rate, Cisco felt less frustrated after he recorded some music and rapped into his microphone. He made plans for his sponsor and another friend in N.A. to visit and then all three were headed for a meeting. Both of his friends were very nice and polite. This is the first time we met his sponsor and after talking with him I felt very comfortable and pleased that he is Cisco's sponsor.

The evening went well and we tried to keep things light. There was just one incident I'd like to mention:

Cisco sat on the front stoop to "have a smoke". He decided, before we even had to lay down the rule, that he would not smoke indoors anymore. I was pleased about this also.

He asked if he could call a girl from his past who I will call Susie Bee. I said, no. Cisco said, Why? Now here is what followed:

Mom: This home pass is time for you and I to build our relationship. It is not time for you to talk with old friends. I am not saying you can NEVER call Susie Bee but for now the answer is no. I will think on this and we will discuss it later. (Mom walks in the house, glances at second phone and notices that the line is in use.) (Mom goes back to where Cisco is sitting on porch.)

Mom: Who are you talking to?

Cisco: Susie Bee.

Mom: When you get off the phone; we need to talk. (Mom goes inside for a minute and takes a deep breath. She contemplates banging her head against the wall. It might feel good at this point. Instead she takes another deep breath and returns to scene.)

Mom: Cisco, get off the phone now so we can talk.

Cisco: (Says to phone.) I gotta go, Susie Q. I love you, too. Smoochie, Smoochie!
(Mom has queried look on face)

Cisco: Yes, Mom, I called both Susie Q and Susie Bee. I don't see why I can't talk to them. They are not addicts and they help me stay clean. They are my good friends.

Mom: You are not helping me to trust you by disobeying a simple rule.

Cisco: Even Lloyd, doesn't think it is a big deal to call Susie Bee.

Mom: You do not live with Lloyd, you live with dad and I. I made a simple rule and you broke it already.

Cisco: F!!Q - QUE!

Mom: You have very little control of yourself. (Walks away, disappointed.)

Five minutes later, Cisco enters the house.

Mom: May I ask you to set the table?

Cisco: (Sets the table.) I am sorry for swearing at you, mom. Once I get mad, I don't care if you are the president. I don't have control anymore.

Mom: I'm glad you let me know how hard it is for you to keep control if you do not get your way. You need to work on that. I also know I deserve more respect than what you are showing me.

Thanks for reading about my day. Goodnight. Hope to see y'all at PSST this Saturday.


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