Some of the goals of therapy

To find ways to love and accept love

How to stop getting stuck in feeling bad about yourself

To create a fuller and happier life

To find ways out of helplessness and the feelings of being overwhelmed

To find a way out of the unnecessary pains, sadness, and losses in our lives

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Adolescents and "Punishments"

     Parents often face the issue of what to do about their adolescence's misbehavior.   One way to think about the problem is in terms of separation/individuation.  The adolescence's developmental task is to "grow up",  to become his/her own person.   As a parent we hope that they are taking on the tasks of life and using the values and guidelines (perhaps rules) which we have tried to instill in them.   So, what does it mean, what does it point to, when the adolescent makes some bad choice for which we need to respond to with some kind of consequence, some kind of punishment.   We could say the adolescent wasn't thinking, or was bad, or was self centered and uncaring, etc.  In other words, the problem is in him/her.  These judgments, these attributions about the child, are only part of the equation.  The other part of the equation is the parents.  Somehow, the parent has not adequately got the adolescent ready for separation/individuation.   In other words, rather than an adolescent problem, it is a "we" problem - a parent/adolescent problem.   So, why frame it this way?  If it is just an "adolescent problem" then the parent might respond with a punishment such as "You are Grounded".  Often, this translates into the adolescent sitting in his/her room trying to find ways around the grounding and/or sitting there stewing in anger.  Often, this leads to the adolescent concluding that the problem was I got caught.
     If you think of the misbehavior event as a "we" problem then first you would frame the discussion with the adolescent in terms of we have failed here.  I, the parent, have not done a good enough job of helping you navigate the developmental task.  So, we are grounded together.  You, the adolescent, will have to live out your grounded time with me.  So, for example, if I have to go shopping or take the car in to be fixed, or the myriad of other things I (the parent) need to do to make the family stay afloat, you the adolescent have to be with me during your "grounded" time.