My mother, a loving mother dedicated to her children, used to say, “raising children is hard.” As I grew older and began working with children and adolescents, I recognized her saying was more than just a saying. It was in fact truth. I receive multiple questions from tired and overwhelmed parents all over the world asking me for tips and advice on how to deal and cope with their irritable, outspoken, and difficult child. A difficult child seems to be the norm today.
Our kids are growing at such a fast rate and most parents are rather overwhelmed by the pseudo-mature attitude of most teens and the series of advances in social media and technology. To put it bluntly, parents are feeling left behind and out of touch.
For the desperate parent, Neil D. Brown’s new book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle: Resolve the Power Struggle and Build Trust, Responsibility, & Respect, might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Brown begins his book by explaining why he became interested in parent-child conflict, which is steeped in a type of family therapy known as Structural Family Therapy (SFT).
SFT, created by Salvador Minuchin, describes repeated patterns of behaviors that negatively interfere with appropriate and healthy interactions within families. Family therapists who follow SFT teach families how they relate and how to create healthier patterns. Brown’s book is very similar to this approach and focuses on empowering the parent(s) to maintain the appropriate temperament when relating to the child and how to hold the child accountable.
His approach is somewhat different from what other parenting experts have suggested. For example, Brown makes it clear that teens should learn that they can live without privileges and that their parents will take away privileges (i.e., cell phones, time with friends, games, social media, sporting events, etc.) if necessary. Brown encourages parents to make their teens’ privileges dependent upon their behaviors and attitudes and not on a set time frame.
As a child, adolescent, and family therapist I can confidently say that this approach does work and I have used it with most of my families. These families have reported success in getting their teen to comply and truly strive to change negative patterns of behavior. Why? Because the loss of privileges highlights the fact that the teen is lucky to have a privilege. It also highlights that changes in behavior need to be long-lasting, not for a few hours, a week, or a month, in order to earn something back.
In addition, Brown discusses important variables that influence negative family patterns, such as temperament, reactive personalities, parenting style, personalization, emotional tone, stages of adolescence, puberty and physiological changes, ADHD and learning disorders, and mental health challenges like depression. It is important that parents understand these variables so they know how to approach their child and disengage from the Control Battle. Brown has chapters focused on shifting behaviors, changing the vision of the parent and teen, building self-esteem, and exploring other treatment options for teens who are struggling to remain safely in the home and community environments. Each chapter offers insightful information to desperate, tired, and discouraged parents.
It is important for me , as a therapist, to mention that not all of Brown’s techniques or suggestions may fit every family or specific situation. Every teen is different. And while Brown discusses concepts that are practical and easy to understand, there aren’t concrete details or empirical research mentioned in the book to help convince families that the approaches mentioned will be effective. It is also important that parents be patient with the techniques discussed in this book. Techniques can only work when parents are patient, truly digest the theory behind the techniques, and do their best to stick to the original plan. Any deviation or “giving in” can undermine not only the effectiveness of the technique(s), but the power of the parental role.
In addition, there are some parts of the book that readers may question, such as the fact that Brown uses a “one size fits all” approach to setting standards or expectations and rules. Some teens, primarily those with difficult temperaments, may respond to the techniques initially but later stop responding. Or the teen may struggle with special needs or severe mental illness and not be affected by the suggested approaches offered in Brown’s book. Children with special needs or severe mental health challenges may benefit from another approach.
While I completely support the fact that this book presents practical and interesting tools for parenting a difficult teen, it is not necessarily a book with new ideas. Many parenting books focus on privileges, setting expectations, maintaining family discussions on family standards, and putting the burden of earning back privileges on the teen. Many books focus on changing the attitude and perceptions of the teen and family. Brown’s books is not the first. However, this book pares down the topic of parenting to a practical and easy-to-follow format. It takes “old information” and repurposes it for today’s readers.
Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle: Resolve the Power Struggle and Build Trust, Responsibility, & Respect
New Harbinger Publications, October 2016
Paperback, 200 pages