Quote of the Week

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

Solutions verses problems: what do our teenagers need the most?
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Monday, August 08, 2011

I wrote this role-play with one family in mind. It turns out that I missed the boat and this role-play might not have played out this way at all in this family. Still, I think that it demonstrates the principal of how parents would do well to challenge their teenager to accept responsibility for the problem rather than always try to help give him solutions. It also uses PSST skills to avoid being sucked into manipulation.

As you read this role-play try to refrain from choosing either that this young man should go to a halfway house or that he should come home. That is the trap. Accept in your mind first that that decision will be made later not now. In fact, as parents, you may indeed have a strong opinion on that subject and that is fine..later. But for now, this is not something that the 'team' can either rule out or not rule out. This is the best way to get the sense of what this mother is doing with her teenager and, of course, what she is not doing.

Robert: You don't feel that I need a halfway house do you?

Mom: I didn’t think about it until you mentioned it the other day.

Robert: See, you didn't! You think I should come home right?

Mom: I'm not sure.

Robert: I'm getting so depressed in here thinking that I might have to do that.

Mom: Yes, I'm sure you are- it is a depressing thought.

Robert: So, do something!

Mom: What is it that you think I should do?

Robert: Something! Tell Lloyd he can't do that! Go to bat for me! Be a MOM! Tell him you demand that I come home- don't let this looser PO tell me after all I've been through that I can't come home! Oh yeah and did I tell you they smoke K2 down there!??? Is that what you want for me? Huh? Is it?

Mom: Well, good points all of them, and of course I don't want you smoking K2!

Robert: OK then so you'll do something?

Mom: Of course I will. I'll speak to Lloyd.

Robert: Will you tell him that I can come home, that you want me to come home?

Mom: I'll tell him that we are concerned and that We'd like to know more about it.

Robert: What more about it?! That sucks you don't have to know any more than what I'm telling you.

Mom: Yes, dear, I know you'd like me to guarantee you that you won't have to go to a halfway house.

Robert: Right!

Mom: Well, I can't do that can I?

Robert: This is soooooo depressing- why do I have to go there?

Mom: Well, I'm not sure that you do- but we have time on this one- let's talk later about it OK?

Robert: Mom! I'm going to be so depressed! That's what Lloyd said too?!

Mom: Yes, I think you're going to continue to be quite upset over this.

Robert: Well?

Mom: You're going to figure it out son.

Robert: Figure what out?

Mom: Figure out how to come straight home from here or figure out how to deal with the halfway house if you have to go there.

Robert: You make me depressed now. Get out of here! I'm done with this sh&t for today!

Mom: OK, I'll be back soon honey.

Robert: What, just like that you're leaving?

Mom: Well you said you had enough and that I should go.

Robert: But you never leave when I say that! I'm just saying I'm depressed, that's all!

Mom: Yes, you're dong a pretty effective job of telling me that you are depressed.

Robert: Not that you care! You're not doing anything to help.

Mom: No, I'm not am I?

Robert: You're making it worse.

Mom: I am. I can see that you are right. I'm making it worse. I'm going to leave but I'll be back soon- this visit has been hard for me too and I need to get going.

Robert: So nothing!? No help on this one- I come to you asking, begging for help and I get nothing?

Mom: Apparently, you're right! I got nothing on this one- other than the little bit I said, I'm afraid you'll have to figure this out on your own.

Robert: What if I just say fu&k it and walk out?

Mom: Is that crossing your mind son?

Robert: No, I'm just saying what if?

Mom: Well you'd have to do what you feel is best for you but I wouldn't like to hear that you did something like that.

Robert: Well what am I supposed to do? You won't help me?

Mom: That's right. You're just going to have to suffer this one out tonight I'm afraid.

Robert: Tonight OK, but you'll call him tomorrow?

Mom: Sure I said I'd call Lloyd, you know, to get more information about the halfway house and stuff like that.

Robert: You're messing my head up. I'm so out of here!

Mom: Wow. No! (concerned look) I'm really sorry to hear that!

Robert: To hear what, that your fu#&ingmy head up with this sh&t? You know what you're doing to me- you're doing it on purpose!

Mom: No, sorry about that too, but I meant I'm really sorry to hear that you might run. Have you talked to your therapist about that?

Robert: What the f^&k? Of course not!

Mom: I think that would be a good idea honey.

Robert: No! and don't you say anything to him either!

Mom: Ahhhh I can't keep that one secret.

Robert: Oh, I will be so mad at you - I trusted you! I trusted that I could talk to you?!!!

Mom: Oh?

Robert: And I'll never never never going to tell you anything again!!!!!

Mom: Oh well...

Robert: Yeah and don't come visit me again if you tell that on me.

Mom: Nevertheless, I can't keep things like that secret. (said slowly and moving in closer to son- but not yelling.)

Robert: You know what, I'm not even really thinking of doing that- haha you think I'm crazy? Man that’s a good way to get sent to Abraxas, I'm not stupid!

Mom: You're right! That would be a great way to be sent to abraxas! Oh. So you just said that about running?

Robert: Yeah, so that you would help me out- but your being such an a$$hole- that's why I had to lie to you.

Mom: OK, im' going to go now.

Robert: You're not going to say anything about this then?

Mom: I’m going to mention to your Counselor that you tried to manipulate me by lying, that you admitted that it was a lie, and that I think that was good, but they should keep an eye on you just in case.

Robert: You're ruining my life you know that don't you?

Mom: Apparently yes

Robert: I'm twice as depressed, no three times as depressed, as when Lloyd talked to me- he was bad enough but he's a PO so they pay him to be a d$$k- but you? You're my mother and you're acting like you don't even want me home!

Mom: I’m sure this is a lot to digest- lets talk later bye honey give me a hug.

Robert: I wouldn't get close to you if you was the only mother left on earth?

Mom: Hahaha. (A soft laugh- not a hahaha at him so much as just amused sort of laugh)

Robert: You laughing at me?

Mom: It's just funny what you said- you're hilarious Robert even now you haven't lost your sense of humor. It's one of the things I've always love about you.

Robert: [glares]

Mom: But it just makes me love you more. [positive affirming statement- even in "tough love" scenarios there is usually a way to lay the love on ;-)]

Robert; What the hell was so funny?

Mom: Never mind I'm not sure it would be funny to you.

Robert : What, tell me?

Mom: Ok, well you said if I was the last mother on earth- I am! I'm sort of the last mother on earth that you have, aren’t I?

Robert: Walks away mutting "MKothers! Mother f%^kers is more like it!"

Discussion: This started out as an email where the mother was telling me that she was trying to keep him "up." My advice was not to attempt even to keep him "up." It's his problem now. Tell him you feel confident that he can handle whatever comes down the pike. Don't weigh in on the halfway house idea yet. Tell him you are not sure at this point. Yes, that makes him more depressed but really he needs to see that you are not still invested so closely into making sure he feels better. Sometimes when you go through treatment you won't feel "up" and that's OK. It's a safe place to feel "down."

"There is no limit to the advice or solutions that we give our teens, for every sort of problem. But we seem to fail at giving them enough problems to solve." I forget who said that but it wasn't me.

How are our teenagers going to gain confidence if they can't solve problems? Also, giving solutions all the time reflects an underlying premise that you feel your teen is so incompetent that he couldn't figure out anything for himself. That's a confidence killer. Your teenager is competent. He can come up with solutions. He can work through depression. He can consider his options. Yes, he can also make mistakes and where possible learn from making those mistakes.

Also, double-check with staff that he is acting depressed. Sometimes teenagers want us, parents and POs to think they are suffering and miserable, but they aren't really acting that way at all when we aren't there. It's worth checking out.


Sally said...

Good Role play. We had this situation with Cisco in the past.
It is so true that when we solve all the problems for our teens .. they are left with very little confidence in their ability to do anything.
It seems like it has taken me forever to realize this.
I guess it makes me feel like a good parent to solve the problem at hand however if you look closer it is more important to hand the problem over to the teen and say "Figure it out, I know you can do it."

Max said...

great, Lloyd -
I am constantly working on this very issue; however it goes counter to my natural tendency to want to fix whatever is broken! Change is hard...but there is no question that when I step out of my comfort zone and change my way of approaching or speaking with Michael, I get good results. My problem is - I can't always remember! My intentions are always to let him figure it out, but my anxiety gets in the way at times.


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