How Your Teens are Stalled Out and What to Do About it Right Now

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I’d feel pretty confident in betting that at least 95% of all parents have used the line “When I was your age I (fill in the blank)!” We see our kids doing or not doing something and we squint our eyes and shake our heads and think “Seriously?” At that age I was dating, driving, working, and so on.

A new study published last week in the journal Child Development by psychology professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State confirms it. Today’s youngsters are developing into adulthood at a much slower rate than their predecessors in the early 90’s. The attraction to adulthood responsibilities and freedoms don’t seem to hold the same appeal and are shrinking their opportunities for growth.

For example:
• there was a 15-20% downgrade in risky behavior
• 29% of eighth graders drank alcohol, down from 56% in the early 90’s
• 32% of teens today work for pay, down from 63%
• 73% of those who can obtain a drivers license do, down from 88% in decades past

The study suggested that there were several contributing factors, among them the “helicopter parenting” of our children as we have fewer children and feel more responsible for smoothing their life path. This can be especially true when there are teens with special needs or circumstances.

The second could be the fact that today’s teens and young adults are on technology for hours a day, keeping them distracted/satisfied. They can see and talk to their friends in a virtual world, without ever leaving the house. If you don’t go out, you don’t need the money, transportation, or wardrobe. Though it’s a relief to know they are safe at home and not engaging in sex, drugs, drinking or worse, they also aren’t pushing for more appropriate freedoms. Eighteen year olds are acting more like fifteen year olds. They are stalled out.

If this is a national trend, how are parents to counteract it?

Here are two tips (because honestly, who has the band width for more than two?). Implement them now and see if it doesn’t shift your adolescent towards more independence and maturity.

Tip #1:

Get online and look for videos of people with handicaps doing extraordinary things.  Not only will you be inspired, but it will shift your paradigm of what your son or daughter could actually accomplish, even given their own struggles.  Though it is difficult to do as a parent, when you intimately know the details of their strengths and weaknesses, you need to shift your own thinking so that you can help your children find the confidence to try their wings in healthy ways.  It could surprise you both.

For example, remember the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan?  Helen, as a completely frustrated deaf and blind child, had to be removed from her home where her parents were doing their best, but coddling her, and taken to a location where she was working only with Anne, who through a loving firmness knew how to help.  It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective, and we were blessed with one of the great figures of the last century.  Voted #15 out of 100 of America’s most inspiring movies, Miracle Worker could be a excellent family activity and discussion starter.  Removes a lot of excuses.


Think of yourself as conducting an internship in the field of adulthood.  You are to give this young person as much experiential learning as possible.  Realize how quickly this teaching window is passing, and provide opportunities for your teen to:

  • make appointments by themselves
  • prepare their own meals, or an occasional meal for the family
  • get a driver’s license to help with family errands
  • invite friends to the house, or organize a group activity for a Friday night

All of this is easier said than done.  I struggle as a parent myself.  Recently, our eighteen year old son graduated high school and left home, turning over our little dairy business to my 15 year old daughter.  Whenever I wanted to talk to her about the operation, she’d wave me off saying it stressed her out.  Frankly, thinking of training her for a job that was two times a day, 365 days a year stressed me out too.

Finally, with five days left before her brother moved out, I thought to myself “She has two of the gentlest, best-trained cows I’ve ever seen, and a clean barn to do this in. She is capable.”

So I approached her with “You can do this for free, or you can get paid for it.  Which would you rather?”

She relented, but wasn’t happy.  After two days of working side by side with her, going over each detail of the care and feeding, the milking process, the bottling of the milk, and the tracking and billing of our customers, she came to me and with a half smile and admitted “I kind of like milking the cows Dad.”

Success for her.  Success for her future.

Visit Their World

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Our fifteen year old daughter stumbled home exhausted.  It had been a week of dance company try outs, English class projects, and endless texts and calls between friends around coordinating next year’s class schedules.

As she slumped at the table with a bowl of soup–alone because everyone else had eaten hours ago– the tears welled up in her eyes and spilt out on her sweet cheeks.  Our first instinct was to come at her all smiles and positivity, saying we were sure she made the dance team.  When she shook her head, we shifted to wanting to sooth her with a reminder that she was only a sophomore and still had next year to try out.  But that didn’t do much good either.

All we could do was emphasize how proud we were of her for trying because she would grow from the effort alone.  We pointed out her she was a beautiful dancer and that it was just one facet of her life.  We also acknowledged that it must be hard.

In the end, we sat there quietly as she talked about the freshmen girls that were so much better than she was, the fact that there were over 100 girls trying out for 7 spots and how she wanted to quit dance all together if she was going to be stuck on a lower team that never had the fun of performing.

I share this not because we did it perfectly, but because all it took was 10 minutes of placing ourselves in her world to feel an increase in understanding and intimacy.  We aren’t sure it was reciprocally felt, but it made us appreciate our little girl who was growing up and facing disappointment and unwelcome changes of plans.

How often do we adults step back into a son or daughter’s world?  How is it done?  Can we play one video game?  Can we walk into their bedroom to invite them to join us at the table for dinner, rather than text up to them?  Can we think back to a time we suffered a loss in our own personal history?

The next day our girl came home all smiles because she caught a t-shirt that was thrown up into the bleachers at a school assembly.  World views can change rapidly.

Living family life in parallel universes is not the ideal.  Though life is rarely ideal, we can all take a giant step for family unity by making it our mission to visit their world often.

Because family success is the success that matters.


Tim Thayne, Ph.D.




Listen…Then Listen Some More

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I recently read a story in the book The Art of Friendship by Roger Horchow. It went like this:

My friend Dick Bass (now into his seventies) has traveled far and wide and had many adventures. His achievements include being the first person to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents, as well as being the oldest person (by five years) to climb Mount Everest (at the age of fifty-five.)

He once told me a story of a plane ride, on which he sat next to a nice man who listened to him go on about the treacherous peaks of Everest and McKinley, the time he almost died in the Himalayas, and his upcoming plan to re-climb Everest. Just before the plane landed, Bass turned to the man sitting next to him and said, “After all this, I don’t think I’ve introduced myself. My name is Dick Bass.” The man shook his hand and responded, “Hi, I’m Neil Armstrong. Nice to meet you.”

As parents, we are all too often guilty of the same missed opportunities. We talk so much that we forego the chance to learn something about our son or daughter.

If we will practice some restraint in sharing all we know or feel, we may find that we are being educated on something we had never considered before. We might discover a new depth or struggle in this person we believed we knew so much about. We could even have our minds and hearts changed.

Here are three simple adjustments to our listening skills that we can all try on for size this holiday season.

  1. Square up – Don’t be guilty of the unintended cold shoulder. Regretfully, we are regularly found scrolling through our phone or typing on a computer while someone is talking to us. Instead, raise your eyes to look into theirs. Square your shoulders to the person who is talking. It will most likely produce a pleasant shock.
  1. Ask for more – Asking a clarifying question is a good place to start, but inquiring about how this or that made them feel, or what their next move will be is a giant step up in the level of concern and interest.
  1. When there is a pause, zip it – Restraint should be our mantra. Do not jump in with something similar that happened to you. And for heaven’s sake, don’t top their story with one of your own. Wait. Mull over what they’ve said. Let it effect you. Our kids will either offer up further information, or they will feel satisfied that you have heard them and turn the questions and conversation back to you.

As a parent I understand the weighty responsibility we feel to teach our children. However, it can trick us into thinking we need to be on stage lecturing regularly. This usually yields a “Mom or Dad Deafness” result.

In my own life, I have found that even as a professional therapist, it’s difficult to be an excellent listener within your own family. The amount of contact we have creates a living and working side-by-side scenario.

Though it’s normal, it’s not desirable. Because time and relationships are fleeting. determine today that you will turn and face them, ask a question or two, and keep your mouth shut when that brilliant advice starts to bubble up.

I believe listening well is one of the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones this holiday.

To your family’s success and happiness,


Tim Thayne, Ph.D, LMFT



Emotional Discipline

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Twenty years ago, my wife and I were vacationing in San Diego with my in-laws.  We went to see a dear family friend, who happened to be a Holocaust Survivor and psychotherapist.

We had one of our children with us.  As you may know, traveling with a baby isn’t easy, and our toddler was tired, squirmy, and loud.  We did all we could to entertain, distract, and calm him as our embarrassment grew.

This kind woman interrupted the conversation, turned to us with a knowing smile and said “The more upset they become, the calmer you become.”

She went on to explain that if someone became angry with her, she became sweet.  If someone raised their voice, she spoke softly.  The more intense a situation was, the calmer she became.  This is emotional discipline.  And it doesn’t come naturally.

In Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s book “Enthusiasm Makes the Difference” he tells of a man who had a wild and ungovernable temper.  He would fly into a rage, only to sink into depression afterwards.  About the time he turned 40, he became a man recognized for his enthusiasm and happiness and did not manifest any of the emotional outbursts he had been feared for.

When asked by his son how he did it he responded “Son, I simply got tired of being the way I was.  I believe in prayer and in God.  I asked God to change me and he did.”  When asked if he ever felt the old anger coming up again he replied “When I do son, instead of flying into a great rage, I fly into a great calm.”

My wife decided to try this with our son who didn’t always enjoy attending church.  When he began to throw a fit, she would pick him up, take him out, find a classroom, sit on the chair and hold him in her arms, loosely, but firmly.

The more he would fight and rage, the slower and more deeply she’d breathe.  She would close her eyes, lower her shoulders and coo to him, reminding herself to become more soft and quiet.  Eventually he would wear himself out, and allow her to take him back into church where he would enjoy picture books and more freedom.

As our toddlers grow to adolescents, we can no longer physically hold them, but we can still emotionally maintain our peace and hold them in a loving and rational place by maintaining our good tempers until they wear themselves out.  We can then lead them back to the relationship or situation where they find the peace and freedom we can all appreciate.

The next time voices are rising, check yourself, then take the opportunity to shock the system by settling into a remarkable calm. Were the outcomes different from the norm?

To your family’s success and happiness!


Come On…Let’s Play!

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I remember talking to a mother one day who apologized for the disastrous state of her living room as the floor was covered with Legos. She said “I didn’t clean today…I spent it playing with my youngest instead.” I was shocked…and impressed.

Plato said “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Good treatment programs know how vital play is in building relationships and seeing growth in young people. So why do we often find it to be a chore?

  • It becomes foreign to us: As adults we get serious. We are weighed down with the responsibilities of career, caring for a home, and providing for our family’s needs emotionally, academically, physically, spiritually, and otherwise. To find time to relax and “mess around” takes awareness and effort. Those are two things we are usually lacking at the end of the day.
  • We don’t feel fun: Our perception of ourselves becomes skewed. That guy is fun, I’m not. I have an injury and can’t move like I used to. When I try to joke my daughter takes it the wrong way. We may be struggling ourselves and haven’t laughed or played as an adult in so long, that we can’t remember what it’s like.
  • We have grand expectations: Some believe play comes with a price tag. You don’t need a vacation or thrills to bring it into being. Fun can be free. It can be as simple as while taking a walk throwing down the challenge “First one to that mailbox wins.” Or after sharing a story over dinner, ending it with “Top that!” to invite bigger and better stories.

Let’s look at why play is so important in our relationships with our teens or young adults.

  • We remind them we are human too:  Play reminds our kids that we aren’t just an old fuddy duddy, and that we do more than nag, require, and follow up. We have a side that remembers what it’s like to be young and have fun as a high priority.
  • It relieves stress and tension: Life is stressful enough, but when your son or daughter has struggles with behavior, mental health, school, or friends it can overwhelm them. Take part in their stress relief as much as you take part in their academics or home responsibilities. Make it a priority to change things up. If the tension is in your relationship, play can break a negative communication cycle quicker than you can grin and say “I dare you to eat that!”
  • It introduces creativity and energy: Ruts are easy, but boring. Doing something surprising and out of the ordinary physically, locationally, or mentally infuses you both with healthy energy. Positive energy expands possibilities, excites the mind, producing new thoughts and outcomes.

I’ll end with a story from my own life. My kids came home from a friend’s house falling all over themselves in an attempt to tell me about the game their friend’s dad had played with them. It’s called “Pop Up and Catch.” Here’s how it’s done.

Mom or Dad takes a ball (tennis, baseball, beach ball) while the kids (any age) are gathered round. As the parent throws the ball as hard and high into the air as possible, they shout out the prize awarded for that catch. “King Sized Butterfinger!” Whoever catches the ball before it hits the ground wins the candy bar. If no one catches it, the parent has to come up with something new for the next throw. “A back scratch from Mom tonight!” The successful catcher cheers and makes sure there is follow through on the promised prize. If you are good enough at throwing that it’s a real challenge to make the catch, you can throw in a doozy like “I’ll do your laundry for a month!” My favorite was “A baby pig!” The kids squealed and ran like crazy for that ball. Fortunately, the ball hit the grass before I had to follow through.

In a nutshell, play says “I enjoy you. Let’s hang out.”

To your family’s success and happiness!


There Is a Gap

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There is always a gap when a student in treatment looks at going home or on to living independently.  They are tired of the rules and boundaries of treatment, but they have also learned the ropes and are comfortable too.

Families also get a little dizzy when viewing the gap that exists between the therapeutic setting of a wilderness or residential treatment program, and the public school and home environment.  There are no trained therapists or field staff to deal with issues that arise, they themselves are the ones on call.

The gap is not a permanent barrier, just an obvious challenge that can be met and crossed successfully with proper planning, equipment, and training.

Just as all hikers need water, boots, maps, and possibly ropes, families need ways to communicate safely, set rules and consequences, enlarge the support network, and plan for changing needs in education, employment, living situations, etc.

Being aware of the needs, rather than wandering blindly towards the gap, is undoubtedly the primary step in a successful transition.

As Earl Nightengale reminds us “Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach.”


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A script?  Really?  Is that necessary in parenting?  You bet it is.  Unless you are one of those rare people who can think and speak clearly when your buttons are being pushed.

Actors study scripts.  They practice them over and over.  Alone first, then in front of a director (coach), then use them on their intended audience.  They’ll work on the speed, the volume, the emphasis to ensure the most clarity and impact when delivering their lines.

At Homeward Bound, our coaches teach parents that one of the most relevant and helpful lines they can memorize for those moments that seem to escalate quickly around rules and boundaries is this “I’m sorry you feel that way, nevertheless…”  It could end with “…this is what we agreed on together.”  Or “…your dad and I feel it is best that we stick to the plan.”  When used in times of calm, the mind isn’t forced to manufacture them in times of crisis.

Does it sound too simple?  You’d be surprised at the power of a script.  One family used it on their daughter when she was bucking the system.  Frustrated she retorted “Whenever a parent says that, a Homeward Bound coach gets their wings.”

As a matter of fact, they do.

Give it a try…in front of the mirror at least 20 times, then in the face of opposition.

From Greenhouse to Garden

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tender plant copyAs you’ve learned, treatment programs are designed to be highly structured environments in which a lot of nurturing takes place. Everything in that particular “world,” is designed to encourage growth and nurture improvements along the way. A greenhouse serves much the same function. It’s a place for seeds to sprout, reaching for sunlight, forcing roots into nutrient rich soil, being protected in a climate-controlled environment, safe from crowding, weeds or other destructive forces that would stunt their growth.

Eventually, however, the greenhouse will turn the young plant back over to the caring, but novice gardener, who will take it out into the real world in order for it to reach is full potential. It will experience a challenging transition. Even if the greenhouse staff sends the part-time gardener on her way with detailed instructions, invitations to call with questions and bags full of plant food, she cannot control the environment or conditions outside.

The natural environment of a home and family has far more variables than the garden. There are the “weeds”: bad friends, drugs/alcohol, technology, academic stressors and a myriad of other destructive elements that the program has protected them from. And unlike the program staff–who are replaced every few hours by a completely fresh staff–parents can’t realistically devote all their time to the care and monitoring of their teen.

After all that has been invested, it makes sense to gain knowledge, build a plan and have support in the vital process of transition. And while the last ten years have seen a tremendous increase in the level of parent education offered by the best programs, too often much of that great preparation flies out the window when the teen comes home and everyone’s old patterns–and problems–begin to take hold again.

My job–and my vision–has been to educate programs, professionals, and parents on how to prepare families and their teens for that crucial transition, with a plan and confidence to side-step the challenges if possible. I am absolutely convinced it can be done. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

To Family Success and Happiness!

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Homeward Bound


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Dad-color-1024x1024Remember the line from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

“I can’t think about that right now.  If I do I’ll go crazy.  I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

–Scarlett O’Hara

Why is the idea of tomorrow so tantalizing?  Why do we feel that space, time and energy will open wide…tomorrow?  Are we lazy, deluded, or simply lacking willpower?

I have a vivid picture in mind of a young family waiting in front of the university publishing building, in a u-haul toting station wagon.  I was furiously running copies of my master’s thesis inside to be bound, before we moved back east to attend doctoral school.  Nothing but leaving town for four years, and not having the money to mail back all of those pages, had given me the needed focus and deadline to get that weighty project completed.

As human beings we naturally seek to avoid the uncomfortable in social situations, in work to be done, in actions to be taken. Though we berate ourselves for it– knowing we will be sorry–we still put things off until an impending crisis moves us to action. Case in point, Monday was September 15th, the final day to file tax returns for the previous year.  Ask any accountant; procrastination causes more stress, illness, and harsh feelings than any other human trait.

I can imagine heads nodding in agreement as we consider the consequences of procrastination.  But lets turn now from tasks to relationships.  Who hasn’t wished for one more day to say “I love you” to a loved one who has passed on unexpectedly?  Who hasn’t wished for more time spent listening to or playing with our children while they were young and adoring?  Who hasn’t been regularly guilty of not prioritizing our marriage or our friendships over the crush of work? Regret is one of the most destructive emotions and is rooted in procrastination.

This month’s Notes From Home is filled with solid ideas and tools to get you to identify and change your own and your children’s procrastinating ways. As always, we hope you will find instruction and inspiration for strengthening your family.

To happy families NOW,

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Homeward Bound

Twitterpation Will Happen

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Parents want their children to be successful and happy.  It’s universal. While many of us are intimately involved in directing our children’s academic or extracurricular lives, we can often feel inadequate or uncomfortable in advising them in their social/love lives.  That’s understandable, but not an excuse.

Popular culture has tried to brainwash us into thinking it’s none of our business.  Perhaps we haven’t felt very successful in our own relationships and are gun shy about offering suggestions.  Often we have tried and been told we are still operating in the dark ages of dating.  I am here to tell you, do not be deterred.

No one loves your child like you do, and you have their best interest at heart.  With that said, you may need to freshen up your understanding of the world our teens are entering.  Though every child is different, on average you will find children who are ages 9-11 showing more interest in being with their friends, rather than just their family.  From 10-14 they may begin to associate with mixed gender groups, and from 15-19, there will likely be experimentation with romantic relationships.

You went through these stages of social maturation yourself.  Some did it more gracefully than others.  Take a moment to remember what it was like.  Remember the insecurities, the elation or devastation that accompanied romance.  Now, take that compassion and personal experience, and talk to your son or daughter.  Let them hear about you.  Let them learn of the good, the bad, and the ugly in your teen relationships.  Don’t become preachy or squirrely.  Sometimes you just need to share the story, and let them discover the lesson to be learned from it.  Though they may not act grateful, I’ll guarantee they are curious to hear how things were in “back when I was a kid.”  They will absorb more than you think.

My point here is simply this:  as a parent, your job is to keep your child as guided, informed, and safe as possible.  You will not be able to completely avoid heartbreak for them, but you can teach values, respect for others and themselves, and when they are ready, help them feel comfortable in exploring the world of dating and love.  Their future happiness is largely influenced by the relationships they are forming now.

I hope the articles found in this month’s Notes From Home will be a trip down memory lane as well as an important conversation starter in your home.

To Family Happiness,

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Homeward Bound


Stop Spinning the Plates

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Twenty years ago, as a graduate student in Marriage and Family Therapy, I co-presented my first family seminar.  My target audience was what was referred to in the literature as “The Sandwich Generation.”  This four week class targeted people in their 40’s and 50’s who’s lives were being squeezed like a sandwich with the demands of raising children on one side, with the often competing needs of aging parents on the other.

Of course, these were only two of the stressors and time consumers in their lives.  On top of the family roles, they were often at the height of their careers, in the midst of accumulating cars, homes, and educational opportunities for their children, and were also devoted to church or civic roles.  This didn’t even broach the subject of carving out time for leisure and hobbies.

I had studied the research and literature on this group extensively and I believed I understood their challenges fairly well.  I naively thought it couldn’t be much more difficult than what I was experiencing as a 27-year-old full-time student, who was recently married, holding down a part-time job and serving in our church with a fairly heavy responsibility.  Fast-forward 20 years.

Okay…I was dumb and naïve.  This mid-life stage is much harder!  I grasp the plate-spinning metaphor now and sometimes want to cry “Uncle!”

Ambition and a drive for growth and mastery are all good things if managed correctly.   They propel us forward towards our goals and these yearnings bring about great human accomplishments.  But at some point, all of us will have to ask ourselves if our drive and the accumulation of things in our life, is actually subtracting or fulfilling our lives.  Is our ability to love, serve and find joy in life being diminished by the frantic pace set by demands and ambition?

As a man, smack-dab in the middle of the sandwich generation, I will tell you, I have crossed over to a place where it’s time to take a few plates down before they crash.  It started last month when I shared that I had sold our herd of Black Angus cows.  As much as this was a dream, the time it took worrying about how to feed them, where to find summer pasture, and who would take care of them while I was about my “real job” was too much.

That experience felt so right, that last week I took down a second much bigger plate; Paisley Farms, our all-natural, pure-bred Berkshire hog farm.  This ambition was not about making money or it would have been easy for me to liquidate years ago.  In four years, we went from not knowing a thing about pigs, to building the largest, highest ranked farm in the Mountain West with Whole Foods Markets.  However, what started out with good intentions to provide an opportunity to work and learn together as a family, turned into one crisis after another, robbing us of the joy it was intended to create:  piglets being crushed by their mothers if no one was attending them at birth, missing pigs either from death or theft, feed prices at an all-time high, pork price negotiations, transporting hogs to market in blizzard conditions, farm audits, employees that wouldn’t show up, equipment breaking down or being mistreated, registration records, vet bills, and so on.  And this was supposed to be a hobby?  Thankfully, I found the perfect buyers, a young guy with great ambition, who also has the time to devote to it.  I think the farm “plate” will be a success in his hands.

This summer choose to simplify and prioritize the connections in your family.  Being squeezed or stretched leaves you with little time or energy to play with or even quietly behold your loved ones. Preoccupation will rob you of the satisfaction of healthy and current relationships.  When you are in survival mode, it’s all about the crisis, and unless your family becomes a crisis, you won’t get around to them.

Simplification doesn’t just feel good, it’s preventative .  When you develop attachment, rapport, trust and love in the family, it ends up being the biggest buffer against family troubles. I challenge you to identify the plates in your life that are distracting from your family, and find a way to set them aside.  Start small if need be.  There are usually good reasons you haven’t taken it down before.  This will most likely take courage and faith.  Remember, no plate is worth the loss of deep, loving family relationships.

I hope you will find ideas and resources in this month’s edition of Notes From Home to inspire you to make summer a time to renew your connection and satisfaction with your family.

To Family Happiness!

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Homeward Bound


Practice for Parents – parenting doesn’t always come naturally

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Craig was coming out of the front door as I was walking up the driveway.  He carried two suitcases full of tools and computer equipment.  He was wet with perspiration.  As our IT guy, it had been his job to enter this beautiful California home and get it wired up and ready for the video coaching we were going to do with our first Homeward Bound family.

On entering the home, I looked up to see white video cable strung high on the living room wall, leading down the hall to be plugged into the kitchen desktop computer.  The anxious parents greeted me at the door, evidently willing to do whatever it took for me to help them with their daughter’s return from a year of residential treatment.

In our Marriage and Family Therapy graduate program, video-taping our sessions was a powerful tool that produced rapid  understanding and paved the way for a fledgling therapist’s faster growth.  Just as teens can become defensive when therapists tell them what they observed in their behavior, parents will often do the same thing when a therapist tries to help them recognize their contributions to negative patterns their teen exhibits.  But showing them a playback of their voices raised, their teen’s eyes rolling, their waffling and uncertainty about boundaries is a completely different ball game.  There is little room for subjectivity and not much need for coaching.  The information is in living color, right there for them to soak in and understand for themselves.

Knowing this, I decided to use videotaping in the work we would do for Homeward Bound families.  Things were set up with the family’s permission of course, s that I could sit at my desk in my office and pan and zoom around the living room.  The family was instructed to go into the room when they were going to discuss a subject that would bring up powerful feelings, or when there was an argument going on.  I could then immediately and precisely coach them as they used new communication skills t navigate the crisis.  Later, the family could access a playback of the digital recording as a refresher course if they needed it.

And it worked.  A parent from Miami watched himself on video as he addressed a drinking incident with his daughter.  His weak attempt to implement preset consequences for her actions summoned this response from him join our coaching session later:  “That was the most pitiful display of parenting I’ve ever seen.  I will never do that again.”  I didn’t need to say a word.  He could see it all o his own.  Another parent from Connecticut said, “If you think you know about your relationships with your kids and spouse, there is no substitute for seeing the experience live. For me, the video feedback was eye opening and revealing.  Inside five minutes, I knew what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong as a parent, and no one had to tell me.  It was as clear as day.”

So a brilliant idea right?  Well, I will say now that it was definitely gutsy.  Not only did it take a very specific kind of family to agree to this procedure, but I frightened off 95 percent of the families we could have helped.  Other professionals were stumped as to how to motivate their families to enroll in our process because most couldn’t get over the hurdle of that scary video-camera stuff.  It took years for professionals in our field to move past the guys-that use-video-taping reputation, even though we realized the obstacle we had created and stopped using cameras within six months of implementing them.

Why would I tell you this awkward story about our first families and our initial attempts to help them?  It’s simple, really:  because you can’t solve a difficult problem if you don’t go “all in.”  At the time I started Homeward Bound, I remember reading studies that reported 50,70 even 90 percent recidivism, depending on the issues being addressed.  These dismal outcomes were not acceptable in my mind, as the best our field could produce.  I was driven to find a solution to the problem of recidivism after treatment with the courage and gusto common to those who want to make a big difference.  We weren’t savvy marketers; we were just determined to build a program and process that worked, regardless of whether it was hard or uncomfortable.  The only criteria we used to determine if a certain feature should be included in our model was the question “Will this enhance the likelihood of success?”

Parents, if you want to become good at parenting, you need to practice.  You need to watch yourself or ask your spouse to watch you and give you a compassionate, but frank review of how you handled a situation.  I understand how threatening this can feel, but if you truly want to improve, you have to be humble enough to take the coaching.  If you don’t have a spouse or someone you trust, get a therapist or coach.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t pick someone who just wants to remain on your payroll, so they are heavy on the validation and soft on the direction.

There is nothing more important than our family relationships.  Put your best efforts, your money, your time, your everything into learning how to relate to and direct your family.  It takes practice, coaching, and at the end of your life, you can rest assured that you used your time and life wisely.

To Family Success and Happiness!

Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Homeward Bound

Letting Go Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

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Yesterday I was at a cattle auction barn in Colorado selling my small herd of Black Angus cows. They looked so good. Their ear tags were all new and matched. All but one of the cows was pregnant, and the bull was big and healthy. I had taken two of my sons out of school to travel down to watch it all unfold. A few weeks earlier we had told them we had decided to sell the herd. There were tears and the youngest wailed “But we wont have as much farm in us!” He mirrored how I was feeling.

I had come to the realization, however, that running cows at this time in my life was much more of a drain on our finances, my mental energy, and the family’s precious weekends than I wanted to afford. Though I’ve always dreamed of having a large herd and thousands of acres of land to run them on, this was not the time nor season for that. I felt at peace when my wife reassured me by pointing out that though we were closing out a chapter, it certainly didn’t mean we couldn’t someday write cattle ranching back into our life story.

Holding on to control, a belief, a parenting technique, a relationship, or a position can be exhausting and is very often destructive. I suppose that as Americans we feel like we can’t budge or change direction or we’ll be called a quitter. Wishy-washy and soft is not what built this great nation, and we certainly aren’t about to succumb on our watch, right? Perhaps it feels against your character. But sometimes we need to let wisdom outweigh the desire to continue doing what we are doing.

With the cows, it dawned on me that the cost of holding on was too high for the benefits it would yield. Letting go is hard to do if you keep thinking about things in the same old way. In fact, you can’t. You have to see it differently. The release I felt when the decision was made was almost immediate. A new peace just seeped into my body and reinforced the rightness of this step. Since then, I haven’t waffled on the decision. It created space and energy. I was freed up to pour my passion into something just as valid and enjoyable.I was able let go because I had given it my very best effort. There were no regrets in letting go. I knew there was nothing I had left undone or untried. Though my accountant and others may have said I should have let go sooner, I wouldn’t have felt at peace; I simply needed to go through the process myself, in order to have the peace that came.

In my work with parents, I watch this over and over when parents try to “make” something happen for their teen; a grade, a skill, a friendship, a character trait. In time they realize they can’t make it happen. It is an experience of gaining wisdom in what you can and cannot influence. As a child gets older, as parents we will learn to pull our power in and around ourselves, understanding that we can only control our thoughts, our actions, our peace.

Since the Disney movie Frozen has made popular the song “Let it Go,” how about making it our theme song as parents?

To Family Happiness!

Why I Wrote the Book

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At the time I launched Homeward Bound nine years ago, I was an idealist with a burning desire to significantly improve the long-term success of treatment by supporting teens and parents during the critical transition afterwards. Actually, the vision was even loftier than that. We wanted to eliminate recidivism in so far as humanly possible. Naïve? Probably. But was it worth attempting? Absolutely! So with that lofty goal we set sail with gusto on our adventure.

During this same time frame, many treatment programs were busy on their own quests to continuously improve their treatment processes with an eye toward more successful outcomes for their clients. The advances have been substantial and our field, as a whole, is better than it has ever been as a result. Though we may never reach perfection, it’s gratifying to look back and observe what happens when a compelling vision, persistent focus and time converge. New discoveries are made and remarkable things happen.

My career journey reminds me of when I was 16 and I helped my dad and brothers build the home that my parents still live in today. Dad showed us the spot on my grandpa’s ranch where he wanted to build. He then spent a good hour or more describing to us boys how he envisioned the design of the interior, the orientation the house would have to the beautiful cliffs across the forty acre field, as well as where the stock corral would be built. He also expressed his hope and belief that it would be a home my mom would be proud of. That was an exciting day.

Then came the day we started the work. As a teenager who didn’t have the same compelling vision my father had, I preferred dreaming about it rather than making it a reality. Little by little, day after day, the project progressed from a brush-covered lot, to a large rectangular hole in the ground, to cement walls with a floor, to a framed house and so on to it’s completion. At each phase we would take a break, grab a soda and back away from the structure a few feet so we could take it all in and appreciate our handiwork.

Although we have not “finished” or arrived at our ultimate destination with families in treatment, I have come to a place after more than two decades of effort, where I have something to share with you. It has been a taxing project and now it is time to celebrate, and thank you all for your part in it’s creation.

This book, titled Not by Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment, is not something I could ever have done until now after these many years. I also could not have done it alone. The experience required has come as I’ve worked along side many of you. What I have to share has sprung from countless hours shoulder to shoulder with teens and their parents as they apply what they’ve learned in treatment. The principles and concepts in the book have been formulated and refined as together, my team shared their experiences and creativity with me to build the models. They have been further expanded as we have been invited into treatment programs, who held a common vision, to help them create more effective parent programming.

So much has been done in adolescent treatment to refine it, that there are very few things left that will make for a quantum leap in desired outcomes. I believe, however, that engaging parents in the right ways during and after treatment is that game changing component. It’s not just nice to do…it’s crucial. When a parent places their child in treatment, they are at an all-time low in their parental confidence. Our job is to give them what they need to become the game changer in their teen’s treatment and beyond. This book gives them the tools to do it and it’s been my honor to present it.

To Family Happiness!

Value Based Living

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Values: important, beneficial, principles, standards of behavior, something you have a high opinion of.

If one of your friends were asked to describe you to a group of strangers, what would they say are your most passionately held core values? Would they come up blank, or fumble around for a generic answer like “Ummm…he values his weekends.” Are your core values obvious to others who witness your daily actions and approach to personal relationships?

To be honest, I’m questioning whether some of my friends, and even my family members, would accurately identify my core values, because my actions do not always make them obvious. For example I value my children far more than my occupation, but far too often I’m caught trying to type an email while a child is telling me about their day at school. If I’m not able to make my values translate to the people I’m around morning, noon, and night, then what good are they on an epitaph?

Most of us can talk eloquently about our “espoused” values, but there is too often a gap between what we think we value, and what we are actually demonstrating. My hope is that this edition of Notes From Home can help you re-enthrone the important values in your life, giving them the proper prominence in your speaking, teaching, and especially behavior.

To Happy Families!