On the last track we presented strategies that can help parents get their teens to stop alcohol or drug abuse. These strategies were: Determining Frequency; Family Meeting; and The Alcohol Talk.
Sylvia, 48, and her son Matt, 15, came into my office constantly at odds with one another. Sylvia stated, “Whenever I try to implement any rules, whether he’s agreed to them or not, he either runs away or threatens to! I’m so afraid to set any kind of boundaries in case one night he goes away and never comes back!”
On this track, we will present communication skills to use with oppositional defiant teens who are prone to running away. These techniques are: Uncovering the Motives; Winning Cooperation; and Establishing Authority.
3 Communication Skills for Teens who are Prone to Running Away
Skill # 1. Uncovering the Motives
The first technique I introduced to Sylvia was “Uncovering the Motives.” Many teens like Matt may enjoy running away for the sake of independence, but other times as you are aware this enjoyment is also a means to escape problems at home.
In order for Sylvia to fix the underlying problems, she must first confront them. I asked Sylvia to think carefully about the reasons that Matt may want to run away. Upon returning for her next session, Sylvia stated, “I have two other younger children, both girls. I’m afraid they might get more attention than Matt. They’re my little girls, and I feel like I should protect them, but with Matt, he’s the man of the house, so I let him take care of himself.”
Sylvia’s unconscious neglect seemed to be one source of Matt’s tendencies to run away. The not yet adult Matt felt slighted that his mother rarely showed any affection. He stated, “I’m not a kid, but still, it would be nice if she took an interest once in a while.” He wasn’t holding his mother hostage with idle threats, but rather crying out for attention.
Writing a List of Actions
To solve this problem, I asked Sylvia to write a List of Actions she could take in order to make Matt feel more at home and loved.
Her list included the following:
1. Engage Matt in conversation during dinner
2. Encourage his studies
3. Congratulate him on doing well in school
By showing him love and respect, Sylvia also creates a more comfortable and desirable environment for Matt. Think of your Matt and Sylvia. How would you address the situation of a run-away teen?
Skill #2. Winning Cooperation
The second technique is “Winning Cooperation.” Many teens run away from home to prove their maturity and independence from their parents. Julie, age 16, stated, “My parents don’t really get me. They think I’m still a kid, so I think, ‘I’ll show them. I’ll run away and show them I can live without them. I’ll make my own decisions.”
Her mother Cathy, age 42, could not grasp Julie’s interpretation of the situation. She stated, “I give her responsibilities at home, we let her do her thing, we don’t bother her. I don’t understand why she is so unhappy!” I explained to Cathy, “Teens feel encouraged when they know you understand their point of view. Once they feel understood, they are more willing to listen to your point of view and to work on a solution to the problem. You already think of your daughter as a mature person. She just needs to know that.”
I asked Cathy to try the exercise “Winning Cooperation” in which I gave her the following four steps to help communicate more effectively with her runaway daughter. Listen to these steps carefully. What steps would you keep in this exercise? Which ones would you change?
Four Steps in the "Winning Cooperation" Exercise
1. Express understanding for how you think your teen might be feeling. Be sure to check with him or her to see if you are right.
Show understanding. Understanding does not mean you agree or condone. It simply means you understand your teen’s perception. A nice touch here is to share times when you have felt or behaved similarly.
Share your feelings and perceptions. If the first two steps have been done in a sincere and friendly manner, your teen might be ready to listen to you.
Ask if your teen would be willing to work on a solution with you. Ask if he or she has any ideas on what to do in the future to avoid the problem. If not, offer some suggestions and seek his or her agreement.
Think of your teen runaway client. Would this technique be beneficial in aiding communication between teen and parent?
Skill #3. Establishing Authority
In addition to Uncovering the Motives and Winning Cooperation, the third technique is “Establishing Authority.” Colleen’s fourteen year old son A.J. had run away so many times, she had ceased trying to punish him. She stated, “After the third time he ran away, I stopped even trying. I’m useless in that house. He’s left home three times in six months for days! Not even after an argument, he just gets up and leaves!”
Because A.J.’s actions were unpredictable, I suggested that Colleen try the exercise “Establishing Authority” to try and create an atmosphere of discipline in the house. I explained to Colleen, “Many times, teens like to push the boundaries. When that happens, it is most important for you, as the adult, to maintain a solid footing. In order to do that, you must reestablish yourself as a person of authority.”
I suggested that Colleen write out a list of consequences and actions that would bring about these consequences. She wrote out, “Leaving the house without permission” and “being late for curfew” as two of the actions. Some of the consequences included, “grounding” and “taking away video game privileges.” She showed this list to A.J. to make sure he understood the consequences. The next time he ran away, she grounded him. Then, to test her boundaries, A.J. ran away again, and this time, Colleen hid his video game player. When he protested, she stated, “I showed you the list. You decided to test me, and this is what you knew would happen.”
After a month of remaining in the house, A.J. received his game player back. By staying strong in the face of defeat, Colleen could reestablish herself as a mother of authority. Think of your Colleen and A.J. Would this technique help in the case of a runaway client?
On this track, we presented techniques to use with teens who are prone to running away. These techniques were: Uncovering the Motives; Winning Cooperation; and Establishing Authority.
On the next track, we will discuss teen promiscuity on several levels. These levels are: educating the parent; teen self-esteem; and internet activity.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 13
What are four techniques that parents can use with a teen who is prone to running away?
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