Quote of the Week

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

Parent Seeking Advice on How to Break the News to Their Teenager - About Act 53
Posted by:Sally--Monday, June 25, 2012

Sally- We have our ACT 53 hearing with our son next week. We have to tell him later this week which we are worried about. Do you have any advice or tips? I have read a lot on site and it describes what we are going through to a T. Signed ~ A Concerned Parent. First of all, I want to say Welcome and Thank You for reading our Parenting Blog. As you can tell by the posts, you are not alone in your fight against wreckless behavior. I posted your email because I wanted to open your question up for comments. I am sure there are many parents who have petitioned the courts with Act 53 and then had to break the news to their teen. You do not say exactly why you are going to court; however, I assume it is because of illegal drug use. I saw in your email that you live quite a distance away. I believe it would be worth your time and effort to make a day trip to come to a PSST meeting. They are run by a very experienced and helpful (and entertaining) P.O. of the juvenile court system and by an equally experienced and helpful social worker from Wesley Spectrum. These two people, Lloyd and Kathie have been instrumental in keeping our teen alive. Your would find much support at PSST and the other parents would applaud your decision to seek help through Act 53.

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Resentments (originally posted August 11, 2009)
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Friday, June 22, 2012

There is an old Zen story about two monks who meet up with a woman in their travels, and one of the monks helps her across a river, even though they are not supposed to touch females. Later that night, one of the two monks suddenly bursts into anger at the other one, exclaiming that he should not have carried the woman across the river. The monk replied: “Perhaps I shouldn’t have….but you are still carrying her.” (click here or on picture to the right to see the page that I copied this from. I've heard this story before and I've always liked it.)

We've talked about how to minimize resentments in teenagers. Let's talk about the resentments that a parent hold towards the teenager. The best thing about it is to first realize that you've got them. Just admit it. Some things hurt and it is very hard to let go of them especially when your teenager may not have made the big change yet. Even if he has made a turn-around in his life, resentments can linger. What to do about them...

As I just mentioned, first, admit that you have resentments. You need not admit it to your teenager right away but admit it to your spouse, your best friend, your therapist, your clergy and it goes without saying that in order to admit it to any of those people, you have admitted it to yourself.

Second: recognize it as your problem. It's actually not your teenager's problem. As long as you see your resentments as your teenagers problem you miss the boat. The resentments that you carry, especially over long periods of time, are your problem. You have to decide what to do with them.

This is not to say that you have not been injured. If your child has stolen the family heirlooms, which are irreplaceable, and especially if this teenager is probably the one who would have inherited the same family jewels or whatever, then, yes, you have been robbed of the pleasure to give them to the person who stole them. That really hurts and if we have not had that done to us, we don't know how much it hurts.

Having said that, even families that do not have a chemically dependent or otherwise drug abusive or delinquent teenager have resentments to deal with. It seems to be the human condition.

Still, each of us will ultimately decide whether to carry these resentments for long periods or to get over it. Life is not fair. We are all dealt bad hands in different ways and in different periods of our lives. Therefore, it follows that every one of us could choose to carry deep resentments, or not.

While getting rid of resentments is easier said than done, the important thing is to get the process started by admitting that you have them and take personal responsibility for still carrying them.

While your teenager may not be the first one you admit this to, it is sometimes appropriate to express resentments to your teenager that clearly indicates that you take responsibility for it. At the same time, you are modeling for your teenager what to do with resentments. If what you show is how long you can hold onto a resentment, then don't be surprised when your teenager grows up into someone who can also hold on tight to resentments. And we all know that teenager resentments can often be targeted at parents.

Dad: Son, we need to talk. Is this a bad time for you?

Son: No, Dad this is OK, what's up?

Dad: Well, Son, it's like this - you know all that stuff you did during your active addiction? The stuff I keep bringin up and it feels to you like I'm just stuck in the past?

Son: Yeah, of course. You need to let that stuff go Dad.

Dad: Exactly, I need to do that. I'm working on it. But Son, I'm struggling with that.

Son: What do you mean?

Dad: I guess I have a difficult time letting go of resentments.

Son: Oh. Yeah. I know you do. We'll i'm trying to do what I can to change now and it's not fair to keep bringing that stuff up.

Dad: I agree.

Son: You do?

Dad: Right, I do and I need to do a better job with that.

Dad: So listen, I'm working on not bringing it up...

Son: [interrupting] You mean not bringing it up or not bringing it up three times a day, cause that's what you do you know!

Dad: Ooooo, OK, that's a zinger! Maybe I deserved that. Anyway, I just wanted to clue you in that sometimes, when it looks like I've got no big reason to be upset, I'm struggling with resentments and even though I may not bring the old stuff up, I'm feeling a loss or I'm remembering something that hurt.

Son: Like what do you mean?

Dad: Well, you know how you studied Triggers in rehab? Things that could set you off and make you feel an urge to use drugs?

Son: Yes, Dad I know what triggers are, [rolling eyes] please you don't have to explain that to me!

Dad: Well, Duh! I guess you do know about Triggers! I have seem to have triggers that bring out my bad feelings. Like for example, that argument we had last night when you didn't want to be home by curfew and how you told us that you didn't care what we said, that you would come home when you damn well pleased!

Son: Yeah, but I came home! Geeesh, I was just mad! Didn't I make it home on time!

Dad: Well yes you did. And I think that is the important thing. Not the hurtful things you said to us on the phone - the big thing is thought it over and you came home on time!

Son: Right!

Dad: But that whole conversation acted like a trigger for me and sudenly I wasn't just dealing with your disrespectful attitude on the phone last night, but I was remembering so many of the disrespectful things you used to do and all the hurtful things you used to say to your mother and I- the name calling, the swearing, the slamming of doors, and even the way you used to steal from us- like my radio that you sold for drugs and stuff like that.


Dad: See, even though you made it home on time- and that's the important thing here- I struggle today- so I don't mean to keep bringing this stuff up- but if you see that I'm not cheerful, that I sort of have a little chip on my shoulder, just understand that I'm working on it and it will pass. I'll get a grip on it and don't think for a minute that i'm not still way proud of you and of all the hard changes you've made in your life to get to this point. Heck, four months clean is no small accomplishment. And I know it's not always easy for you either.

Son: Yeah. It's hard for me sometimes. But Dad can I say something?

Dad: Sure.

Son: That stereo was a dinasaour!

Dad: I know. It sure was! I bought that in college Son, and I guess that's part of the problem. That stereo had a lot of good memories for me.

Son: Well it wasn't going to last for ever you know.

Dad: Good point Son. It might have just died on it's own and I guess eventually it would have died anyway.

Son: Right!

Dad: Yeah, maybe, but it didn't. I guess knowing that the money that you got for it- what, you told us like 25 bucks? Knowing that that money went to buy drugs for my son, that's kind of is still hard for me, like as if the good memories I used to have about that stereo are now sort of chased away by the bad ones. You know it was my first major purchase as a young man! Still, I know that holding onto that resentment is really stupid of me. So, that's what I mean- I'm working on it- OK?


Dad: Anyway, I might be thinking about something like that and you just think I'm being a jerk. I just wanted to tell you that it's my problem, I'm working on it, and I'm sorry if sometimes I come off like an old nag about things.

Son: OK, well OK, thanks for clueing me in Dad, I'll keep that in mind.

Dad: Thanks Son, Thanks for listening.

Son: Ok, is that all?

Dad: Yep, that's my big speech for today! Nothing more to report until my news conference tomorrow morning at breakfast!

Son: OK.

Dad: By the way- thanks for listening Son. And don't forget I am way more proud of you than I am resentful and every day I think it gets better!

Third: Quit giving your teenager everything he wants. The more you give, the more they take advantage and sometimes, the less appreciative they are and the worse you feel. The vicious cycle goes like this. We give in, our teen does not appreciate it, we feel even more resentful. Or we don't give in, we feel guilty. Try feeling guilty a little more often. You'd be surprised how much faster it is to get rid of a little guilt than it is to get rid of a little resentment.

In other words do the best you can to stop enabling your teenager. For more on this click here.

Fourth: Direct some of your resentments towards the disease of addiction that your teenager may have, rather than towards your teenager. Write a letter to the disease. Read it to your teenager. This is a way to let them know how badly you feel about the way things have gone, without attacking them. And it's more than a theraputic gimick. this disease is trying to kill our teenagers.

Fifth: Pursue your own happiness. Don't let 90 percent plus of your focus and your energy be about your teenagers, regardless of how well or how poorly they are doing. Teenagers learn from our example. Keep things in perspective. Look after your own friendships, hobbies, career goals, church activities, etc. Volunteer to help other parents who are going through something similar to what you went through. The healing power of one parent helping another through the emotional minefield of having teenagers with drug problems is very powerful. Often it's the parent who reaches out to help who feels so much better about things. Twelve step has a saying: "You have to give it away in order to keep it."

Lori talks about this better than I can. Please read Number Six in Eight Things I Wish I Had Learned Sooner About Having A Child With A Drug Problem: By the way, I hear that Lori and her Son attended our last PSST meeting, that I missed, and that they are supposed to attend our 8-15-09 meeting in Mt. Lebanon. Lori has written a lot for our blog and you click here to go to one of her popular PSST posts Losing Your Teenager and Gaining an Adult -

Sixth: We cannot forgive others until we have forgiven ourselves. Just something to ponder. I think it's a challenge that we all have. I like the things that Dr. Wayne Dyer says about it here.

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Aggressive Teens
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Sunday, June 10, 2012

Please do not use this image without our permission (PSST).
We talked about aggressive teenagers at the Wexford meeting on June 9. It's not that aggressive teens always assault, but that they intimidate by presenting a threat that they will be "out-of-control" and, moreover, that it will be their parent's fault that they are "out-of-control."

They let it be known that you have upset them so much they might not be able to contain themselves. Usually there is a history of throwing objects, breaking things, punching holes in the wall, and/or assaulting parents. We came up with a do's and don'ts list.

Of course this is a serious problem for which professional help is always a good idea. Getting an assessment through a professional therapist or psychiatrist may be a good first step.

Also, as a parent you know your child best. If anything on our list of Do's and Don'ts seems like it would be unsafe and might provoke your teenager to assault you, then use these ideas cautiously or ask for support from a trusted source before you implement any of these ideas.

Still, there are times when it is not possible to utilize professionals, or when professionals have been consulted and the problem persists. In these cases Parents need to know what is effective to decrease this angry behavior. We believe that used "over time" these ideas will decrease this threatening behavior.

First, once the teenager elevates his interaction with intimidation, do stop talking about whatever it was that brought you into this situation. Don't continue to discuss his curfew violation, suspected drug abuse, plans for the evening of which you have not and will not approve, or whatever. These are no longer the important issues. It's no longer about the 20 bucks he was trying to squeeze out of you. Instead, do pay attention and do speak to the real issue at hand, vis-à-vis, he is attempting to intimidate you.

Secondly, Your teen may have learned that he can sometimes get what he wants when he intimidates you. Don't give in to him because if you give in to him when he is in this state you reinforce "the monster" in him. That means you will see that monster again soon. Once you see the monster come out you can not afford to reinforce it.

Thirdly, Do use good strong, but not loud, voice and body language. Lean into his space a "wee bit." Half an inch should do it. You are not trying to promote a temper tantrum, you are attempting to short-circuit one, but it is important especially in light of his assumed threats to show that you will hold your ground and no better way to show that than by taking a wee bit of space.

Fourth, Do tell him you can't stop him from flipping out. Or tell him that you can see that he is about to flip out, that he is working himself into a temper tantrum. Now we are trying to trigger the oppositional side of him, but in a good way. We want him to prove us wrong, i.e., he won't flip out.

Fifth, Don't try obvious means by which to stop him from flipping out. Saying things like, "you need to take a deep breath," or "you need to calm down right now or I'm calling your PO" are obvious attempts to short-circuit his temper tantrum and that usually triggers the "oppositional response." Instead, saying "I can't stop you from flipping out, can I" while leaning in to take the wee bit of space might trigger the oppositional response in a more favorable manner. In other words, he thinks that you have assumed that he is going to be out-of-control and now he might choose to prove you wrong by maintaining control. Instead, if he continues to escalate, tell him that if he has to have a temper tantrum, then let's get it out of the way right now. If this is said, calmly, purposely, and with conviction, it may surprise him and he may surprise you by "proving you wrong" and not having an outburst.

Sixth, What if he does "flip out?" Have a plan. Know what you will do. How bad does it have to be before you call 911? If you have to call, tell the police that "I need an officer to keep the peace as soon as possible." Whether or not you use any of these tips so far, you still need a plan for when he does flip out.

Seventh, Don't keep it secret. Don't give the impression that you will keep it secret. This comes up more in the contrite side than the intimidation side but it could come up in either. Both drug and alcohol issues and abuse issues (yes, your teenager is abusing you) thrive in secrecy. Once the light is shed on the behavior and the PO, the teacher, the police, the close relatives, even sometimes the teenagers friends parents, know what is going on and your teenager learns over time that you refuse to keep such behaviors secret, he begins to think twice before acting out in this manner.

Eighth, Don't use a threat to address a threat. This may sound like a contradiction to number six where we discuss how important it is to not keep secrets. The difference is you tell the PO, you don't threaten to tell the PO "if you don't calm down." By threatening to call the PO you do two things that we don't want to do. One, we trigger the oppositional nature and not in a good way. Two, we IMPLY that if he calms down we will keep a secret. That is the slippery slope we are trying to avoid.

Ninth, If your teenager changes course and he steps back with his body posture in some manner, don't continue to take a wee bit of his space. You've made your point now it's important to remember that you only use as much force as you need to get his behavior back in line. When power is overused it causes resentment. Yes, taking a wee bit of his space is power. It is a very forceful technique. If your teenager says he doesn't want to talk about it now and he wants to be left alone, then agree that this is not the right time and "we'll talk about it later." Do not pursue him into his bedroom to "talk it out." That might be what he wants you to do really, but that will almost always backfire. Just give him his space. It's the respectful thing to do anyhow.

Tenth, Be aware that for some of our abusive teens, there will be a contrite side where they are sorry and they want forgiveness and with that secrecy. This is a cycle. Abuse, feel sorry, beg forgiveness, and over time abuse again. Try not to provide a lot of attention during this phase either. Attention is the most powerful reinforcement and reinforcing the contrite behavior in some way also reinforces the aggressive side of the teenager. The teenager has perhaps learned that he might receive intimacy and attention by employing intimidating, threatening behavior followed by remorse, tears, being sorry, and begging forgiveness and perhaps secrecy. Just say it isn't a good time for you to talk about it or say that you forgive him and leave it at that. This is a bit redundant, but don't promise secrecy. It might be best if you have already notified whomever he wants you to keep the secret from. Use email or voice mail to get that done so that it is clearly no longer up for discussion.

Eleven, When our teenagers are "sorry sorry sorry" sometimes there is also an implied threat. Be aware of that and be ready to address that. Things can switch from Contrite Phase to Abuse Phase really fast.

Teen: Mom, it's going to make me really angry if you can't even forgive one broken chair! That chair sucked! That chair is so old your mom even thought it was an old chair. Don't blow this out of proportion Mom cause I don't think I could handle that. Oh, what you are still going to tell my PO? Oh then I might just as well kill myself cause my life is over if he takes me to Shuman. Is that what you want? You want me to be taken away? That's what you wanted all along isn't it? What's more important Mom? Me or the chair? Do you want a kid on drugs or a kid breaking chairs, cause your bull$hit makes me want to get high!

At this point, switch back to talking calmly, take a wee bit of their space, and say things like, "I'm not sure I can stop you if you are going to get worked up again" or for the suicidal threat, "I'm glad you are talking about this, are you feeling like hurting yourself now?" and follow that up with a trip to the ER of a hospital if necessary. The trip to the ER shows your son that you take his safety seriously and that you aren't afraid to make a call that is going to further upset him. If he is manipulating for power he may find out that doesn't lead to the kind of pay off he is looking for and those threats of suicide may stop. Even if you believe that he is just manipulating, take all threats of suicide, especially if your teen has a thought of a way that he might do the job. If he has thought about using a gun or taking pills, then he needs to go talk to a doctor at the ER and if he won't go with you voluntarily then calling the police in for help is exactly the right thing to do. (Also, make sure that anything that your teenager might use to hurt himself, like knives, guns, or pills are not accessible. For example, with a teen mentioning that he feels like hurting himself you might put all the kitchen cutlery away and leave it hidden for a whole month. Sure, the family will complain. How are they going to cut their bread? But it continues to make the point that you take your teenager's safety seriously and you aren't afraid to act.)

In class, we used this analogy. It looks like rain. The sky is darkening and the wind is picking up and smells like rain. The clouds have moved in in a big way. At this point we all hope it is going to blow over. That's the way we sometimes try to handle our teenagers when they escalate and threaten temper tantrums. Maybe if we just don't say the wrong thing, don't do the wrong thing, the whole nasty affair will just blow over. That's not only a description of the situation, it's a description of the problem. At this point the teen has us trained to not say certain words, not take certain actions, not say things in certain ways, and the amount of power we have given our teenager at that point is corrupting and addictive. He can't handle that much power. We have to short-circuit that pattern, interrupt that behavior by taking action on our own. Over time, this behavior will decrease if we consistently act in a away designed to short-circuit this behavior. Let's look at the analogy again.

It's getting dark out, the wind is picking up and it looks like it's going to be a heck of a storm. This is a good time to take down the beach umbrella, pack up the picnic stuff and head for shelter. But wait, we don't do that. We stand there frozen because if we start to move towards shelter, we will offend the Rain God and it will be a nasty storm for sure. No, if just sit here on the beach and act as though nothing is wrong, show the Rain God that we have faith that he won't send the nasty storm our way, then maybe it will blow over?

I admit that the analogy doesn't fit perfectly. That's OK. I'm looking for a VIVID analogy, not a perfect one. When you see the first signs of rain, start to review your plans for getting to safety. Look up at that big ole Rain God and calmly without yelling say, "OK, Rain God, make my day, do your worst, I bet we can pack this stuff up and get to the S.U.V. before we even get wet. And you know what, if we get wet it won't be the first time we got wet, and it won't be the last." And then matter-of-factly, in a business voice, "OK, everyone, the Rain God is mad or something, you know the drill."

One good question that came up was this: What if your teen tells you that he can see that you are saying something like this just to get him to stop this nasty behavior? Just agree with him. We always like to find things to agree with and so far we haven't even talked about that. "You're RIGHT! That is what I'm trying to do because of course I'd rather not see you go through all that and put us through all that, but you know, you can see right though me and I'm not surprised, you know why? (still leaning in a wee bit) "Why?" the teen replies. "Because you can always read me the best. I can't think of anyone else who can read me like you can. That's why I know you know I'm serious about what I'm saying. Your move. What's it going to be?"

A post that is related to this one, but looks at the darker side of the aggressive teen can be found here: Warning: this linked post has some obscene language: When Teens Harass Parents.

When Teens Harass Parents

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