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Posted October 11, 2003 

Unhappy Teenagers:
A way for parents and teachers to reach them

By William Glasser, M.D.
HarperCollins Publishers:2002

Reviewed by Loi Eberle, M.A.

This book is written by world-renowned psychiatrist, William Glasser, M.D., whose other books include: Choice Theory, Reality Therapy, and The Quality School. In Unhappy Teenagers, Glasser focuses on offering his advice to parents of teenagers, based on his decades-long career as a therapist. He encourages parents to reject the often-used strategies of coercion to get teenagers to change their behavior; these strategies “have never worked” he asserts. Instead, he offers a different approach based on Choice Theory, that he contends parents can use with “confidence and love to keep a strong relationship with their child.” Glasser spells out the seven deadly habits parents practice, which occur when parents “stop doing things with [their teenager] and start doing things to him.”

He encourages parents to change their behavior by learning to replace their current practice of “external control psychology” with the more effective strategies used in choice theory. He contends that “through coercion, we can temporarily control the actions of other people, but we can never control their thoughts.” How far our teenagers deviate from what we want them to do depends on the strength of our relationship with them, he contends, “the stronger it is, the more she will behave the way you want her to when she is on her own.” What interferes with this relationship are the seven deadly habits of: “criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding to control.” He claims that, “almost all relationships, except some marriages, can be resuscitated by giving up the deadly habits.” He advocates replacing them with what he calls the seven connecting habits: “caring, trusting, listening, supporting, negotiating, befriending, and encouraging.”

Throughout the book he provides many examples of how to deal with unhappy teenagers, which in some cases can also include temporary residential placement, but in each case the relationship is improved through the use of connecting habits. According to Glasser, “as long as your teenager is under your roof, if you persist in your effort to rid yourself of external control, your relationship will improve.” In his conclusion he encourages readers to write to him about their successes, and “accept that any failure you may have is only temporary… any honest conversation you have with your teenager that brings you closer together is a strong step in the right direction.”

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