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Parent Support for Extreme Teens

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No one assumes that parenting a teenager is going to be easy.  We all approach it with a certain amount of fear and trepidation.  And rightfully so!  Adolescence is a time of change and development as our sweet and sometimes not-so-sweet children emerge from the chrysalis of childhood to search for their identity as young men and women.  Some of them do the identity search independently, some do it quietly, and some do it kicking and screaming the whole way.  In many cases, the person you thought was your child turns into something quite unrecognizable.

We use the term “Extreme Teens” to refer to the kids who have lost their way and are falling behind their peers in the struggle to develop their autonomy, their independence, a solid sense of identity, and real maturity.  Their “symptoms” include substance use, self harm, anxiety, depression, sexual acting out, friend group changes, social media craziness, truancy or school refusal, disrespect, isolating, and more.  Their immature behavior can leave parents wondering on a number of fronts:

  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Am I doing too much for him/her?
  • Am I paying attention enough?
  • Should I let him/her suffer the consequences of poor choices?
  • How can I help her if she won’t talk to me?
  • How do I keep my child safe?
  • How do I hold a limit with him?
  • Why won’t she listen to my advice?
  • Why is he so angry at me?
  • What do I do about substance use?
  • How do I deal with his/her other parent?
  • What happened to my baby????!!

At the Parenting the Extreme Teen we look at teenagers through the lens of something called the Maturity Model.  Using material from Dr. John McKinnon’s book An Unchanged Mind, we help you figure out how to connect with your teen, see your teen accurately,  and set limits effectively.  And let’s be clear — it is not easy.  This bi-weekly support group will allow you to share as much of your struggle as you are comfortable sharing with other parents who are also trying to figure this out.

We will help keep you on top of developing strategies that you can implement.  Some of these strategies will sound very familiar to you, because we often know what to do.  And equally often, we get in our own way when it comes to doing what we know we need to do.  Parenting the Extreme Teen helps you look at yourself, and what gets in the way, because, let’s face it — we are the only person we really have control over anyway.

Parenting the Extreme Teen is a blame-free zone.  We don’t blame your child and we don’t blame you.  We try our best to understand and be compassionate about where the teen is coming from and to accept our own imperfect parenting selves.  Parenting is not something that anyone does perfectly and we don’t expect that.  This is an opportunity to be human and flawed and not judge or be judged, but to just be curious about how to do things differently.

Come and join us!  Go to http://www.creeksidetherapy.ca to Schedule an Appointment to see the dates we meet on.  $20 per session.

And stay tuned because soon we will have more dates for our Workshop Series on Parenting the Extreme Teen.   These are more formalized trainings offered through Tara McGee from Collingwood Psychotherapy and Yoga Centre that complement the Support Group.

 

Why do I have such a big reaction to my teen?

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Teens seem to pull at our heart strings as well as other strings that we wish we didn’t have.  Like the string that makes us scream in frustration, or the one that makes us say nasty things we wish we hadn’t.  When I think of the parents that I have worked with in therapy I am always surprised by how such level-headed people can be pushed to such extremes by the behavior or attitude of their teen.  Why is this?

The answer to that one is long and complicated.  Those who have been blessed with more than one child know that they don’t come in the same packaging and that there is a separate manual for each child.  What they fail to mention in the manual is that each child has the capacity to “trigger” us in unique ways.  This “trigger” is a sub-conscious, and usually painful reminder of something from our own childhood. Some of you had a good childhood, some less good, and some terrible.  But no matter which, all of us survived it to a greater or lesser degree either by suppressing ourselves in order to keep the peace, to not rock the boat, or by kicking and fighting our way to independence.  We can all identify what the rules for survival were in our families, and which of our siblings succeeded and failed at following them.  We can also identify which of our siblings’ strategies helped them grow up, and which siblings still have some work to do.

Now we have brought our own child into the world and they are also choosing strategies to survive their childhood.   Their choices will “trigger” us differentially based on the choices we made as a child.  For  example, if we survived our childhood by pleasing mom and dad, our own little people-pleaser will seem to be a relatively easy child to parent.  Until he or she reaches the teen years and can’t tolerate the people-pleasing any more and breaks loose in a flurry of self-destructive behavior.  Our people-pleasing selves will have great difficulty understanding the source of our child’s pain. We’ll be triggered into “rescue-mode.”  On the other hand, if our child chooses the kicking and fighting route to surviving childhood and achieving independence, it is either going to remind us of the pain of our own teenage kicking and fighting, or it will activate our childhood fear that if you kick and fight you are breaking the family rules.  We will likely be triggered into “control-mode.”

Both “rescue-mode” and “control-mode” are reactionary and firmly lodged in our sub-conscious experience of the survival rules we learned as a child in our own family.  And unfortunately, both reactionary responses will lead us down a parenting path that will not be helpful to our child.  This is why parenting is so difficult, especially in the teen years.  Rescue-mode will lead us to increase our people-pleasing child’s dependence on us and delay them from achieving the autonomy they so passionately desire.  Control-mode will increase the teen’s need to kick and fight for freedom.  And if you have one parent doing control-mode and one doing rescue-mode – yikes!!  Fortunately, there is something you can do!  You can take responsibility for your reaction and mobilize it to find a more effective way to influence your teen.

When you notice your reactions as a parent you can seize this important information to become more conscious.  Your “reaction” can be a signal for you to stop and ask yourself some important questions.  What feeling is causing this reaction?  What is my worry, fear, feeling of guilt, shame, or anger?  Why is my child’s behavior triggering this particular feeling in me?  What information is this giving me about my own internalized “survival rules”?  What is being challenged here?  What does my child really need from me right now?

When we understand and use our “triggers” as information, we are better able to separate our reaction to our child from their behavior, focus the spotlight on us, and manage our own emotional reaction.  This puts us in a much better position to respond rather than react to those strings that our teen is tugging on.  And in turn, we will be better able to influence our teen to make good choices and grow up, rather than just “survive” their childhood to a greater or lesser degree.

Easier said than done?  Interested in more parenting advice and guidance.  Join Liz van Ryn and Tara McGee for Parenting the Extreme Teen starting April 25th, 2019.  Sign up here:

https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=16676566

Why do I Have Such a Big Reaction to my Teen?

four men sitting on platform
Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com

Teens seem to pull at our heart strings as well as other strings that we wish we didn’t have.  Like the string that makes us scream in frustration, or the one that makes us say nasty things we wish we hadn’t.  When I think of the parents that I have worked with in therapy I am always surprised by how such level-headed people can be pushed to such extremes by the behavior or attitude of their teen.  Why is this?

The answer to that one is long and complicated.  Those who have been blessed with more than one child know that they don’t come in the same packaging and that there is a separate manual for each child.  What they fail to mention in the manual is that each child has the capacity to “trigger” us in unique ways.  This “trigger” is a sub-conscious, and usually painful reminder of something from our own childhood. Some of you had a good childhood, some less good, and some terrible.  But no matter which, all of us survived it to a greater or lesser degree either by suppressing ourselves in order to keep the peace, to not rock the boat, or by kicking and fighting our way to independence.  We can all identify what the rules for survival were in our families, and which of our siblings succeeded and failed at following them.  We can also identify which of our siblings’ strategies helped them grow up, and which siblings still have some work to do.

Now we have brought our own child into the world and they are also choosing strategies to survive their childhood.   Their choices will “trigger” us differentially based on the choices we made as a child.  For  example, if we survived our childhood by pleasing mom and dad, our own little people-pleaser will seem to be a relatively easy child to parent.  Until he or she reaches the teen years and can’t tolerate the people-pleasing any more and breaks loose in a flurry of self-destructive behavior.  Our people-pleasing selves will have great difficulty understanding the source of our child’s pain. We’ll be triggered into “rescue-mode.”  On the other hand, if our child chooses the kicking and fighting route to surviving childhood and achieving independence, it is either going to remind us of the pain of our own teenage kicking and fighting, or it will activate our childhood fear that if you kick and fight you are breaking the family rules.  We will likely be triggered into “control-mode.”

Both “rescue-mode” and “control-mode” are reactionary and firmly lodged in our sub-conscious experience of the survival rules we learned as a child in our own family.  And unfortunately, both reactionary responses will lead us down a parenting path that will not be helpful to our child.  This is why parenting is so difficult, especially in the teen years.  Rescue-mode will lead us to increase our people-pleasing child’s dependence on us and delay them from achieving the autonomy they so passionately desire.  Control-mode will increase the teen’s need to kick and fight for freedom.  And if you have one parent doing control-mode and one doing rescue-mode – yikes!!  Fortunately, there is something you can do!  You can take responsibility for your reaction and mobilize it to find a more effective way to influence your teen.

When you notice your reactions as a parent you can seize this important information to become more conscious.  Your “reaction” can be a signal for you to stop and ask yourself some important questions.  What feeling is causing this reaction?  What is my worry, fear, feeling of guilt, shame, or anger?  Why is my child’s behavior triggering this particular feeling in me?  What information is this giving me about my own internalized “survival rules”?  What is being challenged here?  What does my child really need from me right now?

When we understand and use our “triggers” as information, we are better able to separate our reaction to our child from their behavior, focus the spotlight on us, and manage our own emotions.  This puts us in a much better position to respond rather than react to those strings that our teen is tugging on.  And in turn, we will be better able to influence our teen to make good choices and grow up, rather than just “survive” their childhood to a greater or lesser degree.

Easier said than done?  Join Tara McGee and Liz van Ryn for Parenting the Extreme Teen, a series of workshops and an ongoing Support and Education group for parents.  Our new session starts April 11, 2019.  Check out this link for more information:

https://www.facebook.com/476502466118073_673209876447330

 

How to have an argument with a teenager

Arguing with a teenager can feel like arguing with a lawyer at times.  The factual information is laid out in black and white, the passion and perseverance are truly astonishing, and the dedication to winning the case admirable.  But often there is something about the argument that sparks our anger and we leap to the “no” with too much vigor. Or the teenager does such a good job of presenting their case, that we cave in to the logic and accept defeat, while in the pit of our gut, something feels wrong.  And our gut is usually right — something is missing.

There are two parts to the dance we do when in conflict with a teen — your dance steps and theirs.  Young people who have not fully matured think in black and white terms, don’t take into account long term consequences of decision-making, and often fail to consider the impact of their wants and needs on those around them.  This is a normal part of the maturation process that we, as parents, need to guide them through so that they develop the capacity for abstract thought, a future orientation, the ability to delay gratification, and a social ethic (from An Unchanged Mind, by John McKinnon).  But when teenagers argue from their immature perspective it is super-annoying.  Parents feel manipulated and our responses are often closely tied to our emotional reaction to this annoyance.  Our steps in the dance comes from this emotional reaction. Depending on our personal style of dealing with conflict we may placate, become extremely rigid, avoid, or become super-rational lawyers in return.  Our reaction and the response style is hard-wired in us, and is usually not that helpful. And our teenagers find it super-annoying too!

Most parents would like their child to change and mature.  Unfortunately, when we are stuck in a particularly non-productive dance with our child, the only way to get them to change is for us to change.  We need to de-program our default reaction to requests and figure something different out. In this article I will break down how to approach an argument in a manner that allows for a calculated response rather than an emotional reaction.

Step 1 and 2 belongs to the teenager.  This is what you will eventually train your child to do before asking for something.  Don’t expect them to get this part for awhile. For now, you can expect that their requests will be emotional and wanty/needy.

Teenager — Step 1.  Think about what you want to ask your parent for.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I asking for a “want” or a “need”?
  • What problem/need am I trying to solve/meet with this request?
  • Is this really the solution to my problem/need?
  • Are there some alternative solutions to my need?
  • Am I willing to let go if need be, and accept a no?
  • Have I earned this privilege by meeting other obligations within the home?
  • Have I demonstrated I can handle the responsibility?
  • What is the impact of this request on my parent(s)?
  • How will I take into account my parent(s)’ needs in relation to this request?

Teenager — Step 2.  State your request and the justifications for your request.  Let your parent know how you are also taking their needs into account.

Parent — Step 1 .  Do not answer your teenager’s request yet.  Gather more information first as follows.

  • Listen to the request in its entirety
  • Validate their need or want
  • Be curious and ask questions to get more details
  • Help your teenager determine the answers to the questions listed above

Parent — Step 2.  Do not answer your teenager’s request yet!  Take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this request align with my values, e.g do I believe that what they want is a good choice for a young person?
  • If I disagree with what my child wants am I okay with letting go, letting them make their own decisions about this, and possibly experience failure?
  • Is this a real safety issue where I need to set firm limits?
  • Does the request align with the (reasonable) limits that we already have in place?
  • Has my child earned this privilege by meeting his/her other obligations?
  • Has my child demonstrated (not just described) that he/she can handle the responsibility associated with the request?
  • Have I let my child know what the impact will be on me and asked them to take me into account too?
  • Am I willing and able to meet the request?
  • Am I giving a “gift” to my child or are there strings attached, and are these appropriate and fair strings?
  • Do I want to meet this request?
  • Is there an alternative to meeting my child’s needs/wants that fits better with what I believe in? (E.g. enrolling in an activity to build self-esteem instead of buying expensive shoes)

And finally, the biggest question of all:  Is my response being driven by fear, guilt, pity, or anger?  If the answer to this one is yes, go through the questions again with that in mind.  Be conscious of how your emotion is driving you.

Parent — Step 3 — Formulate your response to the request and check your gut to make sure you feel okay about it.  If not, go back to Step 2 and figure out what’s not working for you.

Parent — Step 4 — Communicate your decision and the reasons for it and hold your ground!  Help your child process the emotions they feel as follows:

  • Listen to their pain
  • Empathize with how they feel and validate those feelings (I can see how angry you are — it must be really hard for you to hear no)
  • Avoid justifying your decision.  You do not have to justify it provided it has integrity and is based on your values.
  • Help the teen develop another solution to their problem once they have calmed down.

Parent — Step 5 — After it is all over, maybe after a few days, have a more casual, discussion about your child’s perceived wants and needs.  Aim for a conversational style that might influence how they make choices in future. Remember to listen more than talk. Help them learn to ask themselves the questions above before asking for something next time.

But wait— you’ve missed a step!!

You probably think that I am forgetting the teenager’s emotional outburst step.  What happens when they break down and have a full-fledged tantrum in response to your “no”?  What happens when they stalk you throughout the house when you are trying to de-escalate the situation by leaving the room.  Yelling, screaming, and violence or threats of violence or self-harm are all common reactions when a parent decides that they are finally going to stick to their limit.  Unfortunately you are going to have to live through some of this and HOLD YOUR GROUND. When we have been doing a particular non-productive dance for awhile we set an expectation in the child’s mind — my parent will give in if I become violent, threaten to kill myself, beg, cry, etc.  And we have inadvertently trained the teen to persist until they wear us down. This pattern is difficult to shift and we really have to pay attention and resist the pull to respond from our emotions (fear, guilt, pity, anger). When you hold your ground, there will be more intensity for awhile, but then eventually each subsequent emotional response will be reduced in intensity as the teen discovers that it does not work.

Will your child actually harm themselves?  Possibly yes and hopefully no.  The damage that is being done by allowing things to carry on as is will grow every time we avoid the tantrum by giving in.  Eventually, the parent has to bite the bullet, set a limit, and withstand the outburst. No point in prolonging the agony.  It is critical to your child’s development to move forward.

Future blog posts will focus on how to avoid parenting from fear, guilt, pity or anger.

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New session – Parenting the Extreme Teen

Tara McGee and I are running another series of workshops in Collingwood in January.  These workshops are proving to be quite popular.  We were both amazed at the participation in the session we ran in November, and with the value that people were getting out of it.  We did the first session on “The Maturity Model” using the material from Dr. John McKinnon’s book An Unchanged Mind.  This session helps parent understand that their teen’s behavior is actually a flawed approach to solving their problems.  These kids are in over their head and are missing some critical skills to function in the world.  They don’t understand why, and they are in genuine pain about not succeeding.  Self-destructive behavior like not attending school, using drugs, cutting, and more, are solutions that their immature brains have come up with to provide immediate relief — without considering longer-term consequences.  We outline the 7 maturity factors that teens who have lost their way are lacking in:  Social Ethics, Lack of Narcissism, Empathy, Emotional Regulation, Future Orientation, Abstract versus Black-and-White Thinking, and Separateness in Relationships.

In the next session we focus on the building blocks for helping teens mature.  The first step is about attunement, which is the parents’ ability to see their child for who they are and to connect with them where they are at.  Without attunement it is impossible to set limits that a teen will respect, so we start with this topic.  We notice that parents often have unrealistic or “mis-attuned” expectations for their child, for example, everyone can relate to the concept of their child as a mini-me — and to a teenager whose behavior is screaming  “I AM NOT YOU!!”  As our teens fumble around and search for an identity that they feel comfortable with, it is critical that parents truly “see” them and learn to connect.  We teach you practical skills to listen and talk so that communication is not just an illusion, so that you are getting and giving the respect that everyone deserves.

Our third session focuses on setting limits.  We demonstrate the difference between a privilege, an expectation, and a limit, and we discuss how privileges are granted, and limits loosened only when the teen demonstrates that they are responsibly meeting expectations.  This is the big eye-opener for most participants, and all of the other stuff in the previous sessions start to make more sense.

The parents who have attended these sessions are invited to continue on with a bi-weekly group where they can continue to discuss how they are doing with implementing the strategies we are teaching.  If only it were as simple as just implementing the strategies!!  But it is not that simple, so some self-exploration  about the barriers we set up for ourselves is necessary.  As well, it takes time to really figure out what is going on for a particular child and what parts of the strategy need to be emphasized more for that child.  The ongoing support and education sessions help increase understanding abuot the problems and fine-tune the approach so that it is successful for the particular parent/child combination and the particular extenuating circumstances.

We had a great deal of fun and laughter in the workshops, even though some of the participants have very serious difficulties to contend with.  The atmosphere was accepting and supportive.  Our new sessions will start on January 24th.  My website has details and how to register:  http://www.creeksidetherapy.com.  Feel free to pass the info along to anyone who is struggling with a teen.

 

No Shame in Reaching Out for Help With “Extreme” Teens

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Not all children thrive like dandelions – some of them are orchids, and when these “special” kids become teens, trouble is sometimes not far behind.  An “extreme” teen might be a teen with a learning disability, some social anxiety, a pre-disposition to depression, a sense of entitlement, or a just a good old strong will.  Parenting takes on an added twist with these kids.  Add in the legalization of marijuana, social media pressure, or busy parents, and a tipping point into trouble can happen fairly quickly.  Fortunately, help is on the way.  Tara McGee and Liz van Ryn are two local therapist who have joined forces to run an education and support group to help parents who are either struggling with their teen, or just worried.  Both are experienced clinicians trained in the “Maturity Model” at the Pine River Institute, a local residential treatment program for youth.  Their workshops will help parents understand teen behavior in a totally different way, making it easier to respond rather than react to behavior, developing a healthy connection with teens, setting appropriate limits for them, and getting parents the respect they deserve.

“We will start with teaching you how the teenage brain works, and then move into practical strategies for increasing what we call attunement, and setting boundaries and limits that work.  Over the course of four evening session we will cover off everyday concerns such as curfews, chores, and cell phone rules, as well as more extreme behaviors such as substance abuse, excessive gaming, self-harming behavior, and poor school attendance.”  Following the series of four workshops, van Ryn and McGee will launch an ongoing bi-weekly support group for parents.  More intense therapy for the teen, the parents, or the family is also available if necessary.

“We live in a world where there is tremendous pressure to have well-adjusted kids, who are succeeding and moving forward in their lives. And we know that there are lots of parents out there with teens who have lost their way, and who feel alone because of the stigma about reaching out for help,” says van Ryn.  McGee adds that, “parents with kids who are struggling with behavior, substance abuse, or mental health are sometimes so embarrassed that they live in fear of running into a friend at the grocery store who might ask about how the kids are doing.”  But what McGee and van Ryn know is that teen troubles are not isolated to any particular type of family.  It is often a perfect storm of factors that can centre around one child in the family.  “Our workshops are designed to help you overcome the stigma and the embarrassment so that you can accept that this is where you are at, and move forward to support your teenager in the best way possible.”

When:

Thu Oct 25:  6 – 7 pm:    Understanding the Teen-Age Brain

Thu Nov 01:  6 – 7 pm:   Setting Limits with Success:  Limit setting from boundaries and values

Thu Nov 08:  6 – 7 pm:   Connecting With Your Teen:  Communication strategies that give and get respect

Thu Nov 22:  6 – 7 pm:   Substance Use, Broken Curfews and More:  Dealing with extreme behaviors

Where:              74 Hurontario Street, Suite 213, Collingwood

Cost:                   $20 per workshop or $75 for the series

Contact:           Liz Van Ryn

705 351 1285

liz@creeksidetherapy.ca

www.creeksidetherapy.ca

OR

Tara McGee

705 888 7731

tmcgeepsychotherapy@gmail.com

Collingwood Psychotherapy and Yoga Centre

Elizabeth (Liz) van Ryn, M.Sc. is the Director of Family Programs at the Pine River Institute, Canada’s pre-eminent residential treatment centre for youth with addictive behaviours and mental health issues.  Liz is a Registered Psychotherapist and Registered Marriage and Family Therapist.  She has a private practice called Creekside Therapy.    

Tara McGee, MSW, RSW is the Director of the Collingwood Psychotherapy and Yoga Centre. She received her MSW from the University of Toronto and her Diploma in Psychotherapy from the Toronto Institute for Relational Psychotherapy. She has spent the last 15 years working in the youth mental health field as a Psychotherapist both in private practice and at organizations that are innovating in the field of Adolescent Mental Health care such as the Pine River Institute, Blake Boultbee Youth Outreach Service and Eva’s Initiatives homeless shelters for youth.

The Real “Must Have’s” for Back to School

Some parents are running around in circles this week trying to get organized for sending the kids back to school.  It is a lot of work to set up after-school care, plan lunches that kids will actually eat, and hunt out deals on new backpacks and clothing.  And some kids have a pretty long list of things they think they need, as well as a whining, pleading, desperate tone to their voice when they are talking about it.  This is the time of year when you wonder if you have raised a spoiled, entitled, little brat.  And the answer is probably not – you just have a very anxious kid on your hands.  Imagine if we all had two months off (oh yes!) and then suddenly got thrust back into a crowded, high pressure working environment with a new team, a new boss, maybe even a new workplace.  For most of us this would be terrifying.  And we would sure hope that our organization’s leadership team had come up with some change management strategies to prepare us for the transition.

Often the way we “prepare” our kids for the change of going back to school is to buy them things.  And we are inadvertently teaching them that buying things will alleviate anxiety.  If your child is being “a brat” about needing the latest and most expensive pair of running shoes you can likely guess that his or her fears and worries are pretty high, in fact, the more whining, the higher the anxiety. Will I look right?  Will I fit in?  Am I cool enough? Am I good enough?  Recognizing this is the first step to a cheap solution, because the good news is that we don’t have to spend more money to deal with this.  In fact, spending more money will be counter-productive because every kid knows deep inside that if they do not have their own self-confidence, everyone will see through the Air Jordans.

We can help our kids prepare for school by building self-confidence in their own ability to handle that change.  If you engage in a quick internet search of how to help people manage the change process, buying them shoes is not on the list!  Taking time to listen, demonstrating your concern, fixing what you can, helping them have a sense of control, etc. are the strategies that are suggested.  The real “must-haves” for going back to school are your time and attention as a parent.  So when you are out at the mall this weekend, know that the time you spend having a bite to eat in the food court talking about their worries and fears, and helping them develop solutions to their social anxieties is worth more than any pair of shoes that money can buy.  Your child’s self-confidence will grow if you take the time to listen because it lets them know they are important.  Their sense of competence and control will increase when you help them develop ideas for how to get involved in school.  And the whining will decrease.  Eventually!