Quote of the Week

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

Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where did graphic come from?
So, your bike is a bit rusty? You think it also needs repaired? The brakes need tweaked and the derailer needs adjusted? What do you do first?

A generous amount of WD- 40 would be a good start. Even if I did take it into the shop I expect that regular shots of WD 40 would keep it running better.

That's what affirming teenagers is like. WD 40. It's the lubrication that you need.

It might be more than that. Let me reach here for another more dramatic analogy (those of you that attend PSST know that I love analogies). Think of the fish you just caught. For a minute after you catch it, there is nothing wrong with it. It flops around on the ground with all of it's parts working brilliantly. Every muscle still operational. After a bit it slows down, then it starts to die.

If you get to the fish in time and get it back into some water, it's ok. You guessed it: the water is the affirmation that our teenagers need. The fish seems to be in control in the water. Left out on the deck it is out of control and just flops around.

Just like the fish goes for water our teenagers will flop to where they get affirmation. Unfortunately, one of the easiest places to get affirmation is from other troubled youth. Our teens only have to do drugs and alcohol, then they bathe in each other's affirmations.

This is not the whole story and I do not mean to imply that if we give enough water, WD 40 or affirmation that our bike or our fish or our teenagers won't have other issues. Even if I soak my bike in WD 40 it might still need to go into the shop. After I get it out of the shop, however, maybe it will ride better if I spray it regularly. A disclaimer here is that bike chains do much better with bike chain oil then they do with WD 40. WD 40 apparently picks up too much dirt.

Likewise, affirmation works better if you keep four things in mind.

1. Whatever you say make it the truth or at least make it close enough to the truth so that it is believable. When I say believable I mean for both you and for your teenager.

For example, I can say, "You know, you've really surprised me!" Teenagers love to surprise you. They hate to be predictable. I think in a way we are all like that a little bit but teenagers and children relish in the idea that they have in any way at all surprised you. Of course, you can be surprised in a good way or a bad way but often it's seeing the glass as half full or half empty, half fool or half brilliant. Therefore, being surprised can be a strong affirmation but it's not one that we usually associate with affirmation.

Parent: You really surprised me yesterday.

Teen: I did?

Parent: Yeah, you did. You know when Aunt Lois came over with cousin Johnny who everyone knows can be such a terror-and you ask him if he wanted to play your x-box. that was really nice of you.

Teen: Oh, thanks.

I might have an advantage here over most people. First, I'm easily surprised by things.

Secondly, I think it's very difficult to predict with certainty.

On the other hand, some people see the writing on the wall even in situations where it is challenging to predict. They pride themselves on being able to "see that one coming." Still, I wonder if those people don't imagine an event with several different outcomes; that way no matter what happens they can say, "I saw that one coming." Let's remember, that when you care about giving someone affirmation, it's a lot more powerful to say, "I did not see that one coming." It's more fun too. :-)

Another easy affirmation to throw out is "You are really courageous". This has a truthy feel to it probably because even the basest coward is courageous about something. Think of the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of OZ.

Parent: What you did took a lot of guts!

Teen: What do you mean?

Parent: Well, to admit right out loud that you are afraid to try (that thing-fill in the blank) we were talking about. I think that took guts.

Teen: You do?

Parent: Absolutely

A third easy to use affirmation is "You are very loyal." This can even be used when he refused to give up his peer group. Keep in mind, you will still hold your teen accountable for violating his contract, but you can do that and at the same time throw in affirmation.

Parent: I was just thinking, you are really a very loyal person.

Teen: I know.

Parent: Really, I mean you know the deal. You realize that if you keep hanging with those kids that you got high with, that you run the risk of loosing your phone and all that other stuff that you have, but even knowing that, you loyally stay involved with your whole gang.

Teen: Not really. I mean it's not like that, I just ran into some of them.

Parent: Yeah, I know, in our back yard but still I just want you to know that I know it's hard for you to stay away from those guys. They are your friends and friends mean a lot to you.

Teen: Then why are you taking away my phone?

Parent: Right, I would ask the same thing (more affirmation) Well, you see I have to follow our contract. But I just want you to know that I try to understand what it might be like for you. It's gotta be a hard thing to just say to yourself "well my friends will be around later, after I get off probation" and because friends mean so much to you, that's just really hard to do.

Teen: yeah [looking down and depressed over the thought of this]

Parent: I think you'd rather want your friends to know that you haven't given up on them than you would have a phone or computer or anything. That's just stuff. You care more about people than you do stuff.

[Long Pause- Dad allows the silence to settle in; he's not trying to fill up all the space with talk. Dad knows it's OK to be quiet together.]

Teen: Dad?

Parent: yeah?

Teen: I don't want to lose my stuff. Can you give me a chance please? I can stop seeing them, really.

Parent: Well, I don't know, but you know that surprised me. Do you really mean that?

Teen: Yeah I do. I mean I've said it before, but this is different now.

Parent: I think you do mean that a Son, let me talk to your mother about it first.

Teen: After all dad, my friends will still be around later, after I get off probation.

Parent: Do you think?

Teen: Sure, especially if they are really my friends. Right?

Parent: I guess so Son. You know, I wasn't looking at it that way. Good thinking (more affirmation).

Now I know if you are still reading this rather long post, that you are wondering, "Well did you take the phone or not?" Depends. Regardless of what you ended up doing, you have "lubricated the bike" and the theory is that it should run better.

For example, in that case, since the teen seems genuine, you might take off texting but leave him the phone with the warning that next time he will loose it all, or you might take the laptop and leave the x-box for now, like some parents that I work with recently did. One step at a time.

Another easy to use affirmation is "You are a really good guy."

Parent: You know, I was thinking, the way you stood up for that one kid at school that the other kid wanted to bully?"

Teen: Yeah?

Parent: I'm really proud of you.

Teen: Yeah, I hate bullies.

Parent: You got a really good heart; you'd help someone out if they really needed it.

Teen: Depends; but yeah I would.

Parent: I know sometimes that can get you in trouble, like when you were worried about Phil not having a ride home when it was raining, so you stole Uncle Jerry's limo and then you wrecked it and had to go away for five months, but the thing I'm just realizing is- you got into all that trouble just because you were worried about your buddy having a ride home. I mean, I guess looking back it would have been better to have let him get wet, but at the time you really really cared what would happen to your buddy.

Teen: Not really.

Parent: No?

Teen: no, i didn't are if he got wet or not really, i just wasn't thinking. Dad, that was one of the dumbest things I ever did in my life!

Parent: Ah, yes you are right aren't you? (Affirmation).

Teen: Duh!

Parent: Well, i still think you're really loyal. Maybe what I said was a poor example.

Teen: It was a stupid example. You're really weird sometimes Dad!

Parent: Ha ha yes that was stupid now that I think about it (affirmation in a self deprecating way- we agree that he is RIGHT that we are sometimes silly)

Teen: Yeah, but you are right. I'm a good guy- sometimes I'm too much of a good guy.

Parent: Ohhhh

Let's examine one more easy to use affirmation. That was really grown up stuff.

Parent: Johnny, I want to say something to you, is this a good time? (Affirmation via respect. Johnny's time is valuable too)

Teen: Yeah, is it going to take long, cause I got to text my friend in a minute.

Parent: It's a pretty short thing. You know yesterday when we told you that under no circumstances would we be comfortable with you going to an Insane Clown Posse concert, no matter who your went with, well the way you handled that surprised me.

Teen: Why?

Parent: It was real adult stuff. In the past if you had a big disappointment like that you might have flipped s*** and ranted raved and even put holes in the wall, maybe threatened to relapse and warning us that whatever happened it would all be our fault. Anyhow, you didn't do any of that. You just sort of huffed off to your room and slammed the door. And that was fine. I just see you growing up, you know, becoming more and more mature.

Teen. [nothing-another pause]

Parent: Well, that's all I wanted to say, go back to your texting son, thanks for listening. (Thanks is a affirmation)

Teen: Dad?

Parent: Yeah?

Teen: I didn't really expect to be allowed to go.

Parent: You didn't?

Teen: No. I mean I just got out of rehab two weeks ago and it would have been sort of insane to let me go to an ICP concert.

Parent: Oh, yeah but you know we kind of laid it on heavy, like we wouldn't be Ok with that even if you had been out of the rehab a couple of months.

Teen: I know but I figured that out anyhow.

Parent: You did?

Teen: Well ya Dad, I'm not stupid or anything. You went over it in the contract.

Parent: Oh yeah. I guess we did.

Teen: It's OK. I think I was just testing you- seeing if you meant that stuff about protecting me from people from drug stuff.

Parent: Oh. Well, Son you've surprised me again.

Teen: Now what, why?

Parent: That you would admit that you were testing. It just seems like something the old Johnny wouldn't have done, that's all. (affirmation that Johnny is changing. It's something we all usually like to to hear.)

Teen: The old Johnny wouldn't have done that.

Parent: Right.

Teen: Later Dadagaitor.

Parent: After while Teenophile

Teen: Ha good one dad. (this kid is returning affirmation. We give it and if we are lucky we get a little bit back.)

Let's take a look at another favorite affirmation of mine: You are really good at reading me.

Teen: Mom, can I go to the movies with LeRoy.

Mom: No.

Teen: Why not?

Mom: I'm not comfortable with you hanging out with LeRoy. You know that.

Teen: You NEVER let me do anything! I knew you'd say no, I just knew it.

Mom: You are good at reading me.

Teen: [glares]

Mom: Really. Nobody gets me like you do.

2. Which brings us to things to keep in mind #2. Beware the "BUT."

If you affirm someone and then right away you say "BUT" followed by a debate, then you just cancelled out the affirmation. Often this is even done in the same sentence. It's not the word "But" that is so terrible; however, "But" followed by debate is an effective way to reverse the affirmation and open the door for more debating.

Parent: When you told the truth to us yesterday about how you stole Jenny's money and you bought drugs with it it's really good that you were honest with your sister but I don't think you understand how much that hurt her. That was devastating to her and when she got up this morning I could see that she had been crying all night over that.

Teen: Mom, her boyfriend broke up with her, did you know that, huh, did you know that? No, you didn't, so talk what you know!![Said with equal parts hurt and anger.]

In this example, it's not that it was so wrong to point out that Johnny hurt his sister but we can see how the affirmation of honesty got lost in the shuffle? When this happens it can be confusing to us. From our point of view we told him that it was good to be honest, but all he heard was criticism. From our point of view our teenager needs to be a better listener; however, we can see that that "But" and what followed it was much of the problem.

Consider this variation instead:

Parent: When you told the truth to us yesterday about how you stole Jenny's money and you bought drugs with it it's really good that you were honest with your sister.

Teen: Yeah, right. [said with sarcasm.]

Parent: No really, Johnny, I think that took a lot of courage to admit that! Even though I'm sure it hurt your sister to think that you would stoop that low, I know that it also meant a lot to her that you could be honest about it.

Teen: Yeah, but she seemed pretty upset. [doubtful.]

Parent: Oh sure, but that's why it took a lot of courage to be honest. You knew it was going to hurt her but you chose to be honest about it anyway. It's hard to be honest- it's much easier to lie than to tell the truth. I'm just want you to know that I'm proud of you Son.

Teen: Thanks. When she was all crying like that, I wasn't sure if it was cause of what I said or because her boyfriend dumped her.

Parent: He did?

Teen: Yeah he did.

Parent: Oh I did not know that (affirmation again, that Johnny knew something that Mom did not know is wonderful affirmation).

Teen: Yeah, so maybe it was a bad time for me to say all that.

Parent: I'm not sure there's ever a good time to share something hurtful to someone, but hey, you stood up and did the right thing.

Teen: Yeah, I guess so.

3. Which brings us to Things to Keep in Mind #3. Can you over do the affirmation thing?

Is it possible to give too much affirmation so that the affirmation is meaningless?

Yes. Absolutely. "Flattery will get you everywhere" but too much flattery starts to feel phony. The good news is that once you have teenagers involved in drug abuse, it becomes so difficult to affirm anything that they do, that most of you reading this are probably not in any danger of giving too much praise. Nevertheless, if your teenager starts to roll his eyes every time you attempt affirmation, and under his breath you hear him say, "...here we go again," then you might want want to rethink your game plan. Even then, my opinion is that it's better to overdo the affirmation then under do it. Even when kids appear to resent a compliment it can help make a difference.

4. Finally, we come to our last point. It is exactly why some of us have such a hard time with affirmation: What do you do when your teenager uses the affirmation against you in an argument?

Parents fear that giving too much affirmation will embolden the teen the teen to push for more privilege. This may happen; however, once you realize that debate can be avoided, it is not so important that your teenager is emboldened. In fact, when the teen uses the affirmation to attempt to get more privilege or power it shows that the teen has internalized the affirmation. In other words, it shows that the process is working; therefore, it's not just that you know your teen MIGHT use these affirmations in an argument for more privilege, but HOPEFULLY your teen will use these affirmations against you in a bid for more privilege. It certainly means that he hears you. In some cases you might give a bit more privilege and further cement the affirmation and in most cases you probably hold to your boundaries.

Teen: Mom you know how you told me yesterday that it was real "adult stuff" that I told the truth about that missing hundred dollars?

Parent: Yup.

Teen: Well, now that I'm all grown up and now that you trust me a lot more how about letting me take my girlfriend up to my bedroom and close the door for a while so we can have some privacy?

Parent: Wow! Really?

Teen: Yeah! Why you look so surprised? YOU'RE THE ONE THAT said I'm all grown up!

NOTE: There are at least two paths to take here. One is begin to debate that while you said he exhibited some "adult stuff" you did not say that he was "completely all grown up." Taking this approach is a way to do damage control by subtracting some of the great affirmation that you have already given. In fact, on some level the teen is testing his parents and in essence is saying, "Did you really mean all that good stuff you said?" If you choose to subtract, then you are saying that you didn't really mean all that. To your teenager you are a phony and a hypocrite.

The second path is much better. Double down. Instead of subtracting offer additional affirmation. Show your teen that you meant every word. Subtract nothing.

Meanwhile keep that bedroom door open!

Teen: Yeah! Why you look so surprised? YOU'RE THE ONE THAT said I'm all grown up!

Parent: I'm just impressed with the way you just asked for that. Can't I be impressed with you for a minute?

Teen: What you mean?

Parent: The way you presented that was very sophisticated. You used something that I told you yesterday and you actually reminded me of what I said and then you used that to beef up your argument. Very persuasive. Nicely done and point taken!

Teen: Well, can I then?

Parent: No.

Teen: Why not? You're contradicting yourself! Give me one good reason why not!

Parent: Well, I'm definitely NOT COMFORTABLE with that, I'm sorry, and other than that, I'm not sure I really have a good reason, do I?

Teen: {Glares]

Parent: Oh I have my reasons, but you won't think they are good reasons so lets just skip that part.

Teen: No.

Parent: No what?

Teen: I don't want to skip that part.

Parent: Well you won't be impressed is all I'm saying and I do not intend to debate this one with you.

Teen: Try me! [a bit defiantly said]

Parent: Ok, I will. Now, don't interrupt me OK? Usually, I don't like sharing my reasons with you because it seems like I'm trying to debate with you and I don't mean it that way. But, you did present a really well-thought argument and maybe I'll just try and share my thinking with you on this one. OK, no interruptions?

Teen: OK, OK already! [Making a big-eyed face, as if to make fun of what a big deal Mom is making out of all this] Mom: It's because you ARE growing up and if you put two grown ups, one a man, and one a women, into a room together with a closed door, things can happen.

Teen: I can make my own decisions about that and if it's sex you're worried about, I can do that somewhere else anyway.

Parent: Yes that's right, you can. But I asked you to hear me out and not interrupt, OK?

Teen: OK.

Mom: It looks bad. This is not a place that you shack up with girls. It's disrespectful, it's not right, and even if you were 30 years old, I would not be comfortable with it. OK? Thanks for not interrupting [more affirmation] and by the way I warned you.

Teen: I know, you warned me about making babies right?

Parent: Well yes you know how I feel about me becoming a grandmother too soon, but that's not exactly what I meant.

Teen: What then?

Parent: I warned you that you would not think much of my reasons. I shared them with you only because you seem so grown up lately, that I'm starting to think you deserve to know more- like you can handle it, do you know what I mean?

Teen: I don't think it's disrespectful.

Parent: Fine.

Teen: Fine? That I can take her up into my bedroom?

Parent: No, of course not. It's fine that you don't think much of my reason. You are entitled to your opinion and someday when you are the father in your own house, you can let your teenagers shack up- but it's not going to happen here in our house on my watch. {said slowly, softly, and with strong eye close eye contact.]

Teen: Well, it's not fair, Mom! I think I've earned trust, and even you said I'm growing up.

Parent: You are.

Teen: So?

Parent: Sorry, I'm not comfortable going there. Let's move on shall we?

Teen: No! It's my bed room, I've been doing good and I deserve this. [raising his voice to another level, not yelling yet, but the tone you get right before it actually becomes yelling.]

Parent: Nevertheless, it's not going to happen. [Said, softly choosing the power-word, "never-the-less."]

Teen: I'm not stupid Mom I'm not going to make a baby.

Parent: I'm very glad to hear that. Regardless...[choosing the other power-word, "re-gard-less."]

Teen: [Teen is angry and storms off]

In summary, try to affirm your teen more, yet be honest, don't use "BUT" to kill it, and generally speaking you probably don't have to worry about over-using this technique. When the teen tries to use your praise against you it's actually a good thing and you've already learned how to use power phrases like "Nevertheless" and "Regardless" to avoid debate!


Anonymous said...

Jenn said...
As I was reading your post, I was thinking how much I have missed your "scenario" postings! There's nothing like giving examples to bring your points to life.

And this posting brings home the point that we discussed recently at PSST - to help your teen mature, give twice as much praise (affirmation) & half as many privileges!

November 14, 2012 7:10:00 PM EST

Lloyd Woodward said...

Awwe thanks Jen!

Unknown said...

Great Read! Always more to learn. We appreciate all your time and effort in writing this blog.

Anonymous said...

"You really surprised me" was a phrase I learned at PSST and it is one of my favorites. It never fails; my boys ALWAYS want to know how they've surprised me. It's a nice, matter-of-fact way to let them know you've noticed something positive.

Thanks for the post.


This layout (edited by Ken) made by and copyright cmbs.