On the last track, we discussed distinct ways to Destroy the Critic. These methods included: unmasking the purpose; talking back; and rendering the critic useless.
On this track, we will discuss teens with oppositional disorder who become violent and techniques to prevent violent outbursts. These techniques include Nurture; Intervention; and Talk Back.
3 Techniques to Prevent Violent Outbursts
Technique # 1 - Nurture
The first technique is Nurture. I have found that many violent teens have a common theme running through their lives: a physically or emotionally absent parent. Although this may sound cliché, without a nurturing adult, teens will resort to violence or threats of violence to instigate interaction with parents. In this technique, I ask that the parent organize an outdoor activity for themselves and their teen.
Hank, single father of 16 year old Luke, described himself as an unemotional person. Hank stated, "I don't give hugs, I don't kiss. That's what turns boys into sissies and not men. 'Affection' is just another word for 'encouraging weakness'. I don't want him to turn out a fag." Luke, in retaliation, has several times hit other teens. He is known as a bully at his school. After he commits violence, he tells his father about it. He stated, "I just want him to look at me! I want him to help me. The kids I beat up are weak. Dad’d be proud of me for beating up the fags!!"
I explained to Hank, "When Luke acts out in violence, he wants to be told what's right and wrong, he wants someone to tell him that he's really not a bad kid, he just needs to stop doing bad things."
I suggested the exercise Nurture. Hank had a problem with such affections as hugging which he contrived as weak. In order to teach Luke empathy and not physical violence, I explained to Hank that a sign of affection could be a shake of the hand or pat on the back, both of which have more masculine connotations. In a separate session with Hank, I asked him to shake his son’s hand at least twice before the next session.
The next time we met, Hank stated, "Luke got a job that week. When he told me, I said to him, ‘welcome to the big wide world’ and shook his hand. The second time was when he got a C on a test. That’s a huge improvement for him." Over many sessions, I asked Hank to increase his signs of affection, starting with a handshake and then to pats on the back. Very slowly, Hank began to overcome his misconception about weakness, and I could see a slight change in Luke’s conceptions as well. I divined this as the self-respect Luke began to gather from the signs of affection.
Also, it is important that Hank rewarded his son for good acts, such as getting a job, and not on being the biggest, baddest guy in school. Think of your Hank. Is she or he lacking in affection towards his or her teen? Does this cause their son or daughter to react with violence?
Technique # 2 - Intervention
The second technique is a Intervention. I often find this technique useful when a single parent is raising a son or daughter on their own. Jacob, age 17, had been threatening his single mother Jill with violence since the age of 13. Jacob, a very tall football player, could sense his petite mother's fear and used it to his advantage. When Jacob turned 16, he began to periodically push and rough Jill about. She stated, "I don't want to call the police, because he hasn't hit me…yet. I'm afraid he'll take it to that point, though."
Part I - Preliminaries & Nonviolent Contract
To prevent Jacob from going much further with his violence, I suggested Jill contact her close relatives and friends and invite them to an Intervention. There are two parts to the Intervention: part one is the preliminaries. Jacob did not attend the preliminaries. During this meeting, Jill revealed to six of her close friends and family her situation with Jacob. Then, the family members and friends brainstormed specific consequences for Jacob's actions and created a nonviolent contract which included consequences for actions and specific roles for each member there. Some of the roles of the members included: coming over as soon as possible; and bear witness if a police report is necessary.
Part II - Engage the Teen
In the second part of the intervention, the family members engage the teen in conversation and the terms of the contract are shared. Jill brought Jacob in and his family members and friends revealed that they knew about the violence and that they were going to be involved in stopping it. They also shared stories with Jacob about their own encounters with violence. Jacob's aunt, Bernice stated, "My brother was a hot head too. One time, he took a pipe to my back." She then showed Jacob the scars and went on to say, "I can't bear to think of you doing the same to your mother."
By the end of the meeting, Jacob had begun to cry. Jill stated, "I can't believe how subdued he was. The next time he threatened, I immediately called Bernice. After talking with her for two painful hours on the phone, she somehow talked him down. I think we’re starting to get through to him." Think of your Jacob. Would playing this track for your client be helpful?
Technique # 3 - Talk Back
In addition to Nurture and Intervention, the third technique I teach my parent clients is Talk Back. Sometimes, a parent will be caught off guard by a teen’s anger, and in a place that is unsuitable for contacting other family members. This requires a parent’s full control of the situation.
While the name of this technique may sound confrontational, in practice it is not. Talking Back entails the parent speaking to their teen and interpreting their feelings. I have found that this technique works best when the teen’s anger flares up in public. In such a case, there are also societal pressures acting on the teen that can sometimes dissuade them from making a scene.
Carol’s 16 year old daughter Stephanie became unreasonably angry in a department store when Carol refused to buy a dress that was over one hundred dollars. Prior to this, Stephanie had been known to hit her mother in public, and it seemed as though this would be a similar case. I had told Carol how to handle such situations so that she can prevent Stephanie from reaching the boiling. When Stephanie became irate, Carol began to Talk Back.
She stated, "Stephanie, I understand that you really want this dress and I am frustrating you right now. But I do not have enough money to buy this dress. I have already said I’d buy you other things, and I will, but right now, I need you to calm your anger down. If you cannot control yourself, I will leave you here to shout at the people staring at us."
In this instance, Carol acknowledged Stephanie’s anger without invalidating it. Also, she stated a firm consequence and called attention to the scene Stephanie was making. By creating an understanding and speaking reasonably, the teen can many times be made to diffuse his or her anger. This technique does not always work, but in such circumstances as this, it can help.
On this track, we discussed teens with oppositional disorder who become violent and techniques to prevent violent outbursts. These techniques included Nurture; Intervention; and Talk Back.
On the next track we will present the various ways in which teens internalize their mistakes and the ways in which parents can help their teens overcome and learn. The steps are: understanding the client’s definition; mapping out a home life; expressing the emotional repercussions; and confronting the parent.
- Sells, Scott P., Ph.D; Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: Seven Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love; St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY. 2001.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 7
What are three techniques that can be useful in calming down teens who become violent?
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