Are you Whitney Houston’s Money?

What killed Whitney Houston?  Was it drugs?  The world will find out soon from the Coroner.  I would contend, however, that Whitney Houston (Disclaimer:  I was never a fan) died from her money.  She was exploited by producers and media hounds for their own selfish reward and yet she made, and ultimately burned through, millions of dollars with a sordid, drug-addicted lifestyle that ultimately killed her.  There are millions of young people similarly addicted to drugs but they haven’t earned their own money, made successful careers, or accomplished much of anything on their own.  Rather, their lifestyles are underwritten by parents who continue to shell out thousands of dollars each year for their young adult child.  They harbor hope that each new scheme; to go to Community College, or get some certification, or get a low paying job, will be the beginning of change that ultimately never comes.  These parents harbor the fear as well that if they don’t support each new attempt, their child will fall further (maybe) and become worse or do even shadier things to support their addiction (maybe).   But shelling out dollars year after year, in fact, may really be depriving the young person of his right and responsibility to become a healthy, constructive and productive member of society (or not).  Sometimes, desperate parents force their children into expensive rehab stints thinking that somehow 28 days will make the change in their child that they could not.  And it rarely works, except as a business plan for the rehabs.   So parents use their money as a proxy for love in that they “just want their child to be happy and successful” and they are attempting to control the outcome of another adult’s life.  In fact, it sustains the dysfunction.  Parents’ money in these circumstances maintains the young person’s ability to live a lifestyle of drugs, school failure, job loss and on and on.  Parents can get off this treadmill but it requires letting go of the outcome, setting their own boundary and offering a long term plan not a short term fix.

Mattering Matters

from the desk of Lexy Spett  Educational and Therapeutic Consultant

I just finished reading a compelling article from the Science Daily, “For Family Violence Among Adolescents, Mattering Matters”.

Mattering?

Do I matter? Do you see me, recognize me, and value me? It’s that kind of mattering. The kind of mattering that has been the cornerstone of adolescent angst since the beginning of time (or at least since the industrial revolution) and the connective tissue between Donny Darko, Holden Caulfield, all the Twilight movies to Columbine.

Now in a new study led by Brown University sociologist, Gregory Elliott, the need for “mattering” can be tied directly to adolescents and family violence. “Mattering” is the “belief persons make a difference in the world around them” and is composed of three components – 1) Awareness, 2) Importance and 3) Reliance. See me? Value me? Help me?

Elliot sees mattering as the fundamental motivation in human beings. Above all, he says, “there is a need to matter”.

The study found that girls are more likely to hit family members  than boys, Hispanic youths are less likely to be violent in the home, Children from large families tend to be more violent, Religiosity diminishes family violence and children whose parents did post graduate study are more likely to be violent than children whose parents did not finish high school.

The outcomes are interesting and do a good job of dispelling some stereotypes. However, if we reconsider “mattering” as a developmental concept then it means we need to re-evaluate how parents, significant adults and communities demonstrate to our children that they do matter. When kids question their value or purpose, we can not just write it off as adolescent angst. . Its not always attention seeking or manipulation, it is an instinctual directive to feel valued, connected and needed.   Their need to feel connected to their family system and ultimately to the global community is a strong enough drive to create violence either outwardly directed as the study shows or inwardly as the high numbers of teen suicides suggests. So much of our self concept is developed by how we matter and why we matter. The authors of the study believe the “mechanism behind mattering is that it has an effect on both self esteem and on one’s attitude toward violence, which ultimately determines one’s violent behavior”.

So, blog reading community, I ask you -How can we create more opportunities for our children to feel like they matter and how can we reinforce more authentically that they do?

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110418135543.htm

http://jfi.sagepub.com/

The Least Happy Child and the Perfect Sibling

From the desk of Trine Syverinsen, Educational Consultant

As educational consultants, usually there comes a time in our first meeting with a new family when we ask “do you have any other children?” And often this triggers an emotional response from the parents.

Sometimes an angry one: “He is really being a terror at home, and he does not seem to care at all that it is having a severe impact on his younger brother. The younger one really adores him, but he is just mean to him, and bullies him. It makes me angry and sad, and part of the reason we are here today is because we have come to a point where we have to make some changes at home to protect our youngest child from being exposed to this.”

Other times it makes parents voice some frustration. “His sister is a straight A student. She is accomplished, internally motivated, dedicated and caring. She really defends him in front of her friends, but we also see that she has started removing herself from him, because she says that he is just hanging out with losers.”

I once overheard Douglas Bodin remind a family in a meeting that parents are never happier than their least happy child. That is usually the child that we are working towards creating a plan for: the Least Happy Child. But the family situation is of course also affecting the Perfect Sibling.

Kids are different. Some kids need more help, love and support, and others are natural self-starters and go getters. Seeing the Perfect Sibling move forward with school and friends when he himself is spinning his wheels is very hard for the Least Happy Child. It can cause resentment, be used as an excuse for failure, or be fuel for emotional manipulation of the parents. “You never give my brother a hard time over things like this? He gets more privileges than I do! You are comparing my grades to my Perfect Sibling, and that is unfair. C+ is a good grade!”

In our work we always focus on the family as a system when we address the needs of the Least Happy Child. All the members of the family have different needs, and they play different roles in the family dynamics. Watching a successful sibling can be really hard on a non-successful child with low self-esteem. Finding a venue for them to have their own successes is very important – whether that is in an experiential treatment program, in a different academic setting or just in an after school activity. Also, the Perfect Sibling usually needs a break from being the caregiver, the defender, the object of shame and envy and the lightning rod for frustration and anger.

As parents we have a natural instinct to protect the weaker child, the Least Happy one. To give him more time, more help and sometimes more love. And then we turn around and beat ourselves up about the effect this choice has on our Perfect Child. Concerns for both children are valid reasons for seeking help. The choice to proceed with a residential treatment plan for one child is often a choice that is made in order to protect both children from negatively impacting each other, and hoping to achieve a healthy family dynamic again in the not too distant future.

“The Soft Contempt of Lowered Expectations” or “Duh. Winning.” –Charlie Sheen

One cannot avoid hearing and seeing the very public and tragic flameout of Charlie Sheen.  It is clearly a stark reminder of the ravages of unchecked addiction and mental illness.  But there are messages to our young people that I fear are accelerating the race to the bottom of our culture that are inevitably and visibly  filtering through to all of us.  Our young people more and more not only follow popular culture, but they emulate it.  They draw lessons from it whether they (or we) are conscious of it or not.  Fame, money and notoriety seemingly without consequences are  seductive and toxic.  Can one really party for 36 hours straight culminating in another trip to the hospital  and still come out and demand an additional one million dollars per week?  Apparently so.  One could argue that Charlie Sheen has lost (in addition to his mind) his series (for now anyway), his children (for now anyway), his marriage(s), his reputation, etc.

However, young people don’t necessarily process things this way, especially young people who may already be on a self-destructive path and are looking for role-models to justify their choices.  They are the most vulnerable to this and only see that he is claiming to have cured his addiction himself, at home, in the blink of an eye with the power of his “Tiger blood.”  They see models, porn stars, sex and partying and the appearances on every crappy pseudo-news show with sycophantic interviewers who don’t seem to want to really call attention in any meaningful way to the serious destruction he is causing to those around him or to the impressionable viewers of his “hit” TV show (Disclaimer; I have never seen Two and a Half Men.)  . It’s the not being able to turn your eyes away from a car wreck social phenomenon. The network shows are all too happy to boost their ratings with the latest reality show and Mr. Sheen appears  all too ready to have a psychotic break on prime time . You can bet there is a reality show already in the works, “At Home and in the Psychiatric  Ward with Charlie Sheen“

20 years ago, when PeeWee Herman was caught in an adult movie theatre, he lost his career and was a pariah in the industry.  At about the same time, Charlie Sheen was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRbzZG_JxYY and it is amazing foreshadowing of the flameout to come.  But the depth of the debasement and what we portray to kids who do not have the adult ability to filter and process what they are seeing is what really concerns me.  When Charlie Sheen’s addiction and mental illness as well as his contempt for pretty much everyone is somehow tacitly acceptable, we all have to worry for our kids.  No one can prove that you can’t blink your eyes and go from addicition to non addiction. But we have ample statistics of recidivism to conclude that it is the rare bird that can do it without help. And seeking help is the last thing they want to do because it admits to weakness and acknowledgment that the addicition is bigger than them.

It is another one of life’s bitter lessons for us all, but especially for parents of teenagers, that you need  to be the role model you want your children to emulate; to focus their attention, not on fame, fortune and the easy buck but on commitment, passion, dedication and hard work. Ultimately that is what will turn them into happy, healthy, productive adults. I grant it is hard to turn your head away from being ‘Charlie Sheened’.  Once you turn your head back, remember who your children are really looking at.

Holiday Reminders of Success

From the Desk of Douglas Bodin, CEO of Bodin

Perhaps one of the nicest parts of the holidays is the outpouring of cards and letters from clients and schools.  Some of our client letters are from the current year while others are from clients we may have worked with decades ago.  We get pictures of weddings, new children, graduations, joyous family vacations.  The pictures are wonderful, but the words of gratitude and pride are phenomenal.  One young man we worked with several years ago has a new baby on the way and is in his fifth year in the military.  A young woman, who as a teenager lacked self-esteem and self confidence, walked down the aisle this year, proud and happy.  Another young woman, who had success in a therapeutic boarding school had fallen back a bit when she returned home, but is now back on her feet, holding a good job and attending Junior College quite successfully for the past year and a half.  The stories go on and on.  They not only bring joy and satisfaction, the stories and pictures help bring confidence to us and hope for the families that will turn to us in 2011 and beyond.  When young people are at risk, the Holidays bring an added level of stress, fear, sadness and guilt for the parents who have such high hopes for a peaceful and serene Season.  But with each letter and card and picture comes the reminder that tomorrow’s families will have those in the future with love, work, effort, sacrifice and determination.

We receive these reminders year-round, of course, but the outpouring  during the holidays is something for which I am quite grateful.

Like  a flash January is gone but may the rest of 2011 be a healthy, prosperous and peaceful year for us all.

A conversation with Krissy Pozatek

From the desk of Lexy Spett, Educational Consultant

Ms. Pozatek’s new book “The Parallel Process, Growing Alongside your Adolescent or Young Adult in Treatment” addresses a frequently overlooked or underdeveloped component of residential treatment that is essential for success. That is – the role of parents in shifting dynamics and patterns in their relationship with their child.

Often the initial perception is that the child is the person in crisis and in need of residential placement; the child is often the one expected to make all the change in order for treatment to be considered successful. Yet, working from a family system model the position is that if the system doesn’t change the individuals within the system can not or will not sustain change. As Ms. Pozatek illustrates in her book, if parents do not actively reflect upon and ultimately change their roles in the family dynamic, then the treatment process for the family will have limited success.

The Parallel Process is both a new book and a parent coaching model developed by Ms. Pozatek. The model asks parents of young people in treatment to work alongside their child in examining their discordant patterns and developing self awareness in order to foster the change their child is making.

Ms. Pozatek states that parents are doing the best they can under extraordinary circumstances. Parenting in 2010 is a completely different experience from the parenting challenges of past generations. Multi-generational families no longer live within a three block radius of each other, community support is limited, and to survive, most families now need two incomes. With increasingly limited family time, there has been a shift toward trying to create more connection -avoiding major family conflict by keeping the “peace” rather than disciplining or holding the child accountable. The result is a merging of boundaries in the parent/child dyad, resulting in poor behaviors being ignored or overlooked or over protection, and enmeshment.

Ms. Pozatek writes about creating “Balanced Parenting” – “it’s about parents working toward and becoming emotionally attuned to the child.  Balanced Parenting is allowing your child to struggle and to problem solve independently”.

Ms. Pozatek notes that often “parents know their patterns and know that they are not working but they don’t know how to change or shift them.” Therefore, her work with parents is less about identifying patterns but rather creating change. In enmeshed dyads, the parent and child scan each other to read or interpret feelings and try to make each other feel better. The work within the Parallel Process model will result in more parent/child intimacy – having parent and child talk and share feelings, but with each owning their feelings.  Ms. Pozatek is clear that parents can be just as nurturing when they are holding their child accountable.

Ms. Pozatek said that “The Parallel Process” is “the book I always wanted to direct parents to when I was working as a wilderness therapist. The book is a tool to work with their child’s treatment team in wilderness or in residential treatment. It creates a point of reference and a framework for parents to begin to understand their role in creating change.”

The message of her book is one of optimism: “I want parents to know that it’s not about being perfect, nobody is perfect. It is about making mistakes but staying the course. It is about committing to self awareness, owning your mistakes and changing patterns. When parents engage in their own process and work collaboratively with their child, a family can be transformed”.

“My hope is that the book is helpful.”

Krissy Pozatek, LICSW, has over ten years experience in wilderness therapy and adolescent treatment. She was educated at Middlebury College, Smith College School for Social Work, and NM Highlands Unversity, and is a licensed clinical social worker. In her therapy practice Krissy works with parents so that they grow alongside their child in treatment. She lives in Vermont with her husband and two daughters. The Parallel Process is her first book.

The Parallel Process, Growing Alongside your Adolescent or Young Adult inreatment is published by Lantern Books. It will be available at all major bookstores December 2010 and is available now at Amazon.com for e-readers.

Successful Failure

From the desk of Trine Syverinsen, Educational Consultant

Jessie (not his real name) is sitting in my office. His parents have had a meeting with me earlier in the week, and now they have asked him to come in to see me. Last week Jessie  stopped going to school. He spends most of the day at home, playing video games. When his parents come home,  he leaves and spends the whole evening with friends that are mostly unknown to his parents. Lately he has also looked and acted as though he might be using drugs more than just occasionally. His parents are very worried, and have told him that this can not continue. Some things have to change.

Jessie is smart. He has the testing to prove it. He also has an attention deficit disorder (ADD) and a slow processing speed. Up until 5th grade he was at the top of his class academically. He was an early reader, verbal, social and charming. All the teachers liked him. For a while he was in a gifted program at school. As he entered middle school things got more challenging. His grades started slipping in the middle of the year, but then he always rallied and got them back up. After he started high school it took more and more for him to rally, but he was a great football player, and continued to work hard to be able to stay on the football team. Last week he dropped football practice as well, along with any other school activities.

I ask him what changed. He leans back, tilts his head and shrugs. He just didn’t feel like doing it anymore. He never did need to excel in school; it was always his parents who had high goals for him. Same goes for football. His dad used to play football, and always wanted him to. He had only really played football for the status it got him with the girls. And now he is done with being everybody’s puppet. He understands that his parents feel that some things have to change, but he really doesn’t see how they can. He could still get A’s if he studied all night, like the “losers” in his school do, but he just doesn’t feel like doing it. I get nowhere with Jessie during our session.

 

This is a common scenario at Bodin: Parents come in to see us with a concern for their teenager who is struggling in a multitude of ways – but what usually ignited their concern was the decline in school performance.

“We have reduced his schedule. He has dropped AP classes. He has no morning classes anymore. He only has to turn in his homework for the last few weeks and they will let him pass – and I found it in his backpack! He completed it, and did not turn it in!”

The parents and the school can not lower their expectations any further, and wonder why the student is refusing to put in this minimal effort to meet very basic expectations.

Often it is a snowball effect. Something is making it hard for the teenager to be successful in school. He or she responds by avoiding the problem and by spending more time involved in other, more pleasurable and easier activities. It gets harder and harder to keep up with the expectations, and the teenager responds by being more and more avoidant. So far it makes some sort of sense.

But what we also see is that teenagers (and young adults) who were not really struggling for that long, sometimes quite suddenly reach a point where they just “check out”. They go from average grades to failing several classes. Parents describe it as “he/she just woke up one morning a different kid”.

It is usually not that easy. More often than not, things have been difficult for both the teenager and the parents for a while, but they have all been coping. The difference now is the lack of attempt and effort from the young person.

And here is a partial explanation to consider. Success tastes good. Failure does not. For instance, to struggle with ADD/ADHD, or another learning difficulty, means to constantly put in a lot of work, and still often not meet the same goals as your friends. Many teenagers get an ADD/ADHD diagnosis late in their school career, and now they are supposed to start seeing themselves as different, maybe inferior, to many of their friends?

A lot of kids decide that it will both feel better and look better to just plain stop trying. This way, the reason you failed your classes was NOT because you tried your best but couldn’t do it, but rather because you just could not be bothered to put in the effort. Desired coolness factor hence achieved. And in one way, becoming the drop-out, the carefree, oppositional, oh-how-I-loathe-my-parents-character becomes a different venue for the feeling of success. If I can not be successful in the main academic high-school arena, I am going to be the best failure the school has seen this year.

There is no easy solution. But it helps to remember that failure does not feel good to anyone. If success was somewhat easily available to us, we would all choose that. And if somebody we know is choosing failure, it is more than likely that success has become too hard to achieve, and that as parents, caregivers and professionals we need to take a look at what is making it so hard.

Lowering the bar doesn’t usually help in these cases. Jessie knows the bar is low. Stupid low. And he is not stupid. He just doesn’t feel like getting over it, he says – and walks around.

Let’s just get through High School

 

 

 

 

From the desk of Trine Syverinsen-Educational Consultant

Jon came to live with his aunt at age 14. His mom had remarried, and Jon and her new husband were not getting along at all. In addition, Jon had started skipping school and hanging around with a group of friends that his mom and aunt did not think were the best influence.

So the solution became for Jon to move up to the Bay Area to finish high school. He did not seem very resistant. He was very close to his aunt, and got along well with her husband.

His aunt started lining up tutors and after-school activities. Jon somewhat grudgingly went along with her plans and his grades steadily picked up. Whenever his grades started to drop, he would lose privileges like his personal cell phone, or rides to his out-of-town girlfriend during the weekend. Again, he protested, but complied.

I saw his aunt several times during Jon’s high school path. Sometimes she was hopeful and happy and other times she was frustrated and tired. In addition to wanting him to stay on track academically, she also felt a need to indulge him, since, in many ways he had been “abandoned” by his mother.

Whenever I suggested getting some testing done to look into the possibility of a specific learning disability or an attention deficit, she sort of blew it off. In her mind the testing would not contribute anything she did not know. Jon benefited from a structured environment and from steady and consistent work habits. There was no way she was going to have him take medication, so at this point the testing would not provide any new information.

“Let’s just get through high school”, she said. That was what she had promised her sister. Jon needed to be prepared for college or to get a job.  After that, it would all get easier.

And now she is back in my office. Jon is 20. He graduated high school and signed up at the community college. She and her husband agreed to pay for his tuition and expenses so that he would not have to get a part-time job and instead could focus only on school. He had a car at his disposal and for a whole semester they hardly saw him. Even if he still lived with them, he would stay out for days at a time. She also found a bag of Marijuana in his car. Then his report card came back. His grades were terrible, failing several of his classes. In addition he “forgot” to sign up within the deadline for the next semester and therefore could only get into a few classes.

His aunt and her husband decided that it was time for some tough love. If you don’t go to school full time, we won’t pay. You need to get a job. After a while he got a job at the local Safeway. For a few weeks he was looking more energetic and happier. He would still stay out late with friends though and after only two weeks he got fired for showing up late for the third day in a row. And now he is back to sleeping late and staying out all night.

She is in my office looking for options. She thought that it would all get easier after they got through high school, but instead she finds herself feeling more frustrated and helpless than ever before. “And I won’t kick him out,” she says. “I just won’t. He has had so many people abandon him in his life, and I want him to know that he will always have a place here. We are family!”

Many families find that their young adults, who should be getting ready to launch into independent lives, are unable to do so. Almost all of them started experiencing problems with school attendance and performance, drug use or behavior at home while they were still in high school, but the parents figured that if they could just put enough of a system in place to help the student through high school it would all work itself out afterwards. They would be adults and would for some reason suddenly start showing more insight and taking more responsibility. Very often this is not the case, and here at Bodin we help an increasing number of young adults and their families in their quest for successful independent living and school/work consistency.

Teen angst or Clinical Depression?

From the desk of Hillary French, Educational Consultant

I remember meeting John (name changed for confidentiality purposes) almost 1 year ago in my office. He had his sweatshirt hood well covering not only his head, but most of his face. I couldn’t see his eyes at all, it’s as if he just wanted to make himself disappear. He sat still, not looking up at me, refusing to give me any sort of eye contact. His parents called me 2 days earlier, to tell me John was in “crisis”. For each family, crisis means something different, but for John, it was serious drug abuse and suicidal gestures. But it goes well-beyond that….

I knew John’s story. I had worked with his family before, with his older brother, 4 years ago. I knew the depth of John’s trauma. I knew the horrible details. I knew the pain he had experienced….for years, time and time again. In my office, the weight of John’s despair was thick in the air He sat quietly, without saying a word. I lowered my head, trying to make eye-contact with him, put one hand on his shoulder and took a risk, and said “John I know what you have gone through, I know how much pain you have experienced. I know what happened.” That was the only time he looked up at me. I saw both relief and desperation. It was almost as if he was saying, “save me” without uttering a word. I also believe the relief came from not having to tell me his horrifying past or explain to me why he was so self-destructive, or why he had no hope. I told him I was going to help him, to trust me. His hug to me at the end of the meeting showed me he was willing to do just that.

Within a day he was admitted to a very clinically-savvy wilderness program, specifically working with the therapist I thought would be the most-skilled in helping this young man. It was a bumpy start. Every week, his therapist, parents and I would speak on the phone about John and the work he was doing. It was difficult and painful work, and most anybody, especially a teenager, would not want to revisit. Yet, every week I observed John’s openness to talking about his sufferings, his unhealthy ways of coping, and being open and honest with his parents. These steps were astronomical for John, as he had masked and hid deeply, his pain for many years. After about 5 weeks, I saw John out in the field, as I was visiting another student in the same group who I had yet to meet back in the office. John had no idea I would be in the field that day. I walked up to where he was, cooking by the fire and he looked up and took a double take. He was excited to see me and share how he had been working so hard. We only had a brief time together, but I saw hope in his eyes and I was certain I had made the appropriate recommendation for him. I told him we would be talking soon, since he knew he was going to after care, I wanted him to have the opportunity to tell me some of his “wants” in a school. Of course clinical and academic needs come first, but I like my students to have a voice in their next step. A few weeks later we were able to speak on the phone while on a parent-therapist conference call. He told me his “wants” but also said he trusted me, that he knew I would find the right school for him, even if it wasn’t everything he desired. About 3 weeks later, he was able to transition to a Residential Treatment Center (RTC), after a very powerful Transition Group time with his parents. His parents and I spoke about how intense this therapeutic experience was for them and having two days with John allowed them to really bond again.

I have been in contact with John’s therapist bimonthly, getting updates on his progress. I also speak to his parents 1 or 2 times a month. The path has continued to be in the right direction for John, though he experienced quite a few challenges in the first few months at his RTC. I didn’t expect less from John. He was no longer a sad boy; but anger, resentment, and frustration were boiling up. He had been so numbed out for years, he was finally experiencing his true emotions, a good sign! A few months have passed and John has consistently been doing well. His trauma, though never completely resolved, no longer identifies him. The nightmares are no longer present. He is active and open in individual, family and group therapy. He thrives in school.

Two weekends ago, on a home visit, I was able to meet him for coffee. He met me with a strong hug and amazing eye contact. I got to see this bright smiley boy, a face that I had not seen a year ago. He was so excited and open to telling me his story! It was as if he couldn’t wait to tell me all the amazing accomplishments he had made, who he had become and how he healed so tremendously. It was a moment I won’t ever forget. And, he truly is a different young man. What John displayed most clearly was that he was both extremely hopeful and proud! Essentially, he was no longer a boy desperately trying to manage his “demons” with self-destruction, but a young man who is confronting his struggles and embracing his own self-worth. He no longer lived in the wake of his trauma, but is embracing his identity separate from that past and living for his future. As we said goodbye, his last words were “thank you.”

Now, of course I don’t need a thank you, but it is always a pleasure to here from a student! It is seeing this scarred and scared boy transform into a happy, thriving young man, in a year’s time, that makes me love what I do. I am thankful…. thankful we can help these teens and families, that there are wonderful programs out there that can help, and that our students can and do heal. So John, his family, and all the people who have cared for him, Thank you!

Governor Schwarzenegger Vetoes AB 3632

On October 8, 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the $133 million dollars that was supposed to reimburse county mental health facilities for providing services to special needs children. Here are two links to stories describing the effects of this veto:

http://www.free-press-release.com/news-ab-3632-or-2726-children-s-mental-health-services-cut-due-to-veto-1287115761.html

http://www.specialeducationadvisor.com/governor-suspends-ab-3632-mental-health-services-for-children/

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