– Alesia Brooks, area director for Community Solutions, Inc.
Fighting, stealing, lying, cruelty- some psychologists call all of this a “conduct disorder” and according to the American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry, one in 10 teen girls suffers from the disorder. What’s more, some experts say many of these girls share one thing in common: parents who resist being a parent.
“If we can help parents do a better job at parenting, then you’ll see less and less of children acting out because … acting out is really a symptom usually of what’s happening in the home.”
-- Alesia Brooks, area director for Community Solutions, Inc.
One approach to treating violent teens is gaining popularity across the country. It’s called multi-systemic therapy. The goal is to change the teen – by starting with the parent.
Last year, during a fight with her older sister, 16-year-old Angela pulled a knife. Angela says, “I wasn’t going to hurt her or nothing. I guess I was just threatening her with it.”
Angela was arrested and a judge recommended multi-systemic therapy. A therapist came to the house for five months. But instead of counseling Angela, he focused on her mom.
“Mom had no rules, so Angela didn’t know left from right, right from wrong,” says Alesia Brooks, an area director of home-based services for Community Solutions, Inc., a licensed provider of multi-systemic therapy. “She just did whatever she wanted to do. And if there was a conflict, then the conflict was managed through yelling and screaming.”
First, the counselor helped Angela’s mom Cecilia write a list of rules. Cecilia says, “Well, it was kind of, I had to get used to it myself, to enforcing the rules. And I noticed [having] the rules was much better.”
“If we can help parents do a better job at parenting,” says Brooks, “then you’ll see less and less of children acting out because the children acting out is really a symptom, usually of what’s happening in the home.”
“I was just kind of used to arguing,” adds Angela, “like kind of like how a child would throw a tantrum and get what they want. That’s kind of like how I was doing it when I was 13, 14, 15. And then when [the therapist] came in, he kind of made it that I couldn’t do it no more!”
The idea? Change the parent – and you will change the child.
Brooks says, “We don’t want to be the agent for change because we’re gone, we are not going to be there for the lifetime, the parent will be.”
Cecilia says the therapist helped her listen more, and yell less. “He taught me to communicate, calm down. We talk and try to solve the problem.”
Tips for Parents
When parents run into problems with a cranky toddler or a difficult teen, they now have a new place to turn for help – a parent coach. According to the Parent Coaching Institute, these individuals are trained with a broad background of education and experiences. Making themselves available by phone, they ask key questions, provide information and offer specific suggestions to help parents address challenges and develop new strategies for dealing with problems at home.
How do you know if parenting coaching is right for your family? Heritage Communications, which offers support and coaching services to families, cites the following types of parents who could benefit from hiring a parent coach:
Parents of older adopted children
Parents of challenging children
Parents dealing with adoption adjustment issues
Parents of children with RAD (reactive attachment disorder)
Parents looking for new parenting techniques to use with their children
Parents who don’t have a support system that truly understands the issues
Parents feeling overwhelmed
Parents taking their children to therapy but in need of parent support
Power struggles with teens are not uncommon. Whether or not you have a parent coach for support, as a parent, it is your responsibility to diffuse the situation in a calm manner. Jane Nelson, author of Positive Discipline, offers parents the following advice for reducing power struggles within the home:
After realizing you may be actually promoting the power struggles with your teen, you can decide to not fight and to not give in. Disengage from the fight and try to remain emotionally cool and calm. Without anger, the power struggle will diminish because your teen will have no one to fight against.
Give up the concept that you can make your teen do anything. Instead, inspire, teach, influence, lead, guide, motivate, stimulate and encourage your teen to positive, cooperative behavior. Catch him or her being good!
When disengaging, you need to act, not speak. For example, a temper tantrum becomes ineffective and silly if you withdraw to the other room – with slamming of doors.
Later, during a cooled-down period, you can talk about what you want from your teen. You can say, in a loving, accepting tone, “Son, after school, would you prefer to do your homework in the office or at the kitchen table?” If your teen feels personal power through choices, then he or she does not feel the need for power through conflict.
Community Solutions, Inc.
Multisystemic Therapy Services
Parent Coaching Institute