Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Back Here, Ad-Libbing

Listening to: Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything

Still a-glow from my weekend in Nirvana, I'm finding it difficult to come up with something/anything to update this thing. In the meantime, I'm skimming an old Family Therapy textbook to prepare for my newest clients, a mom and her 16-year old daughter. Condemned to spend time in the weird purgatory of too much on my mind and nothing to say.

I met with the clients yesterday to see if this was a relationship we wanted to establish. The mom ended the previous therapy because she felt as though the counselor was advocating too much for the daughter, not considering both sides of the story, and was not seeing any improvement in her daughter. Given the lack of results, I was asked to step in.

During my undergrad work, I had a summer internship working with adolescents; I hated it. Teenagers are difficult because they believe they have all the answers in any given moment. The teenager I talked to yesterday was insistent that all she needed was "to be left alone", that she just wanted mom to stay off her back. I told her that this was unacceptable, that it wasn't going to happen, that mom had obligations to insure her daughter was going to school, was healthy, was not hanging out with the wrong crowd, was not drinking or smoking dope.

My own concern is that I'll swing too far to the other side but I have to say that if my own daughters were skipping school to hang out with older guys, drinking, getting high, having sex, heads would roll. My cursory reading of the Family Therapy textbook is making me realize that my skills are all intuitive, that I need to just go with what I feel is right. I need to make the girl know her privacy is respected, her right to seek her own identity is honored. Yet, I need to let mom know she is right to demand that her daughter is following the rules, not taking the wrong path as she negotiates her way through adolescence.

However, any input here (especially from teens or parents of teens) would be appreciated.


melina said...

as a mother of a 17YO son, i have to say that the mom is right, but there has to be some sort of compromise worked out so that the teen *thinks* they are coming up with the "plan" so they feel like they have some autonomy yet, is checking in an being responsible to the adult, the mom. we are trying, once again, to do this with rock star son. this is difficult. we just had a meeting with his counselor (high school, not therapy) and he has a fantastic counselor (rare these days, i know, i work for a school district).

if there's too many restrictions, teen will rebel. there has to be input from teen having to do with her wants and needs so she has a sense of identity and doesn't feel "jailed".

my one piece of advice to any parent, no matter what happens in the end, which is out of your control: "never give up". that doesn't mean you are going to rescue them from falling. perhaps falling way down. but, don't ever let them think you've given up.

however, as a parent, don't give up on yourself and forget to take care of yourself and do things you like to do. your life does not revolve around the teen. they need to see you seek your own identity, as hard as that might be.

my two (albeit warped) cents.

chip said...

As the dad of a 14-yr old daughter who doesn't have any major serious stuff going on (just the regular teenage attitude, etc.) it seems to me that your intuitions are on target.

chris said...

they're (almost) 24, 22, (almost) 19, 15, and 12 (thinks he's 18). they are Different, and they will remind you of that more often than you care to hear. one cliche that's been helpful is 'pick and choose your battles.' S2 hasn't had a haircut since reagan was in office, but it's JUST hair. (i think his grandmothers are finally getting the message.) in our experince intuition along with some education can go a long, long, way, trust your gut, it's good.

Nino the Mindboggler said...

Thank you EVERYBODY on the input. Some good stuff here (in the comments), definitely things I'll use.

Melina, I agree - give the kid input, let them chart their own destiny (heh!) and live with the illusion that they're "in charge". I especially liked what you said about reminding mom to take time for herself.

Chip, you know I always love what you have to say here... I think my intuition makes me a good therapist.

Chris, thanks for stopping by and glad to have you not only reading but commenting. Yes, I started the session today with picking battles. We have 3 sessions planned for next week (2 individuals and 1 tandem) and I asked them both for a list of things they needed from each other - which they both provided. I chose what battles needed to be fought. I'm anxious to see how they do.

BreadBreaker said...

This is coming a bit late, but I hope it helps. My daughter's not a teen, but as I therapist I did work with teens once upon a time.

I question the assumption that this teenager really wants to be left alone. I think what she wants is independence on her terms, when she wants it, and to be able to go back to her parents and be a kid when she feels like it.

What this means is that the parents are going to need to be encouraged to set limits, but the girl should be allowed some latitude in determining the form these take. To get there, you need to encourage & model better & healthier communication. All the therapeutic cliches apply here: Say "I don't like it when..." instead of "you always...." Use the 1st person, etc.

Good luck with it!

Mamacita said...

I can only say this: I wish you had been my son's counselor, during his teen years. I would have trusted you with him, and I think you would have found a way to reach him. Bless you. You really ARE a counselor.

JenL said...

I think my approach has always been something along the lines of Breadbakers...for what it's worth I truly believe that my 14 yo daughter is EASIER to deal with now than when she was 10-11. Seems I've hit that stage with Middle daughter now. Got any advice for getting through the hair-splitting snarkiness that runs rampant in her world??

MaxedOutMama said...

Mamacita keeps insisting that we all come over here and I finally obeyed.

This is wildly intuitive on too little information and therefore probably off-base.

If the problem is that the mother has lost trust in the daughter and so is imposing a lot of restrictions and the daughter is now launching into full-scale rebellion, a contract arrangement might reestablish the mother's trust.

In other words, start with small things and agreements by the daughter (you can go to the mall oon Saturday with your friends but be home by a certain time) with the agreement that if the daughter keeps her word there will be a quid pro quo. It's a frightening world nowdays and there are a lot of undisciplined kids, so it is easy for a mother to appear totalitarian in contrast and for a daughter to rebel, thus losing the mother's trust.

At least this girl is lucky to have a mother committed enough to go to counseling rather than just throwing up her hands. Where's the father?

kris said...

My son is only 4 months old, so while I'm 35 years old, I'm really speaking more as an Ex-Teenager than as a parent, here.

I hope I'm not oversimplifying things, but a resounding problem many teens seem to struggle with is not feeling that they are respected by their parents or other adults.

Rebellion seems to be a pretty normal thing at that age, though in varying degrees. Of course kids need rules, that's how we learn to be decent adults, but if the boundries are set to close, the kid's gonna sneak around and do what they want anyway. Both parties need to have some say in creating those rules so that they can be followed without too much resentment.

Despite the wrath I may incur for this, I'd like to suggest [after many years of therapy as a former child with behavioral problems and child of a domineering parent] is that I'd be suspect of the parent's motives for canceling the therapy with the other counselor.

I hope you'll be open to the idea that the mother, though wanting what's best for her child may have a hard time allowing her to build independence in a healthy way or trusting her own parenting enough to believe her child capable of making good choices, thus pushing the child to "proove" her independence in less-than-healthy ways.

I dunno, maybe I should keep my big mouth shut. It's just my opinion and I am certainly biased.

I hope you'll find a good solution that respects both parties. GOod Luck!

Atomic Bombshell said...

I used to tell my mom to just "leave me alone" too, but if you want to know the truth it's so that I could keep doing what I was doing - Which wasn't necessarily the right thing. So I'd have to side with the mom's point of view in retrospect.

panthergirl said...

Weighing in late, too, sorry....bad week, trying to catch up!

You're on the right track with your approach. If you want this girl to understand what a bad mother really is, let her read my blog. LOL

That said: When my daughter was 16 and an absolute horror-show, she wouldn't even GO to a therapist with me. So, at least this girl is willing to do that much.