SHY AND WITHDRAWN TEENS - Part 2 Essays
Jun 24, 2005, 10:39
The Path To Success
A Parent Guide
Part Two: Goals and Strategies
By: Marc D. Skelton, Ph.D., Psy.D., ABPP
[Dr. Marc D. Skelton is a licensed adult and adolescent clinical psychologist as well as marriage and family therapist. He also earned board certification as a Diplomate in clinical psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).]
In the second part of his essay on shy/withdrawn teens, Dr. Skelton describes the strategies parents can access to help the family and the teen.
Strategies to work with Shyness and Withdrawal:
A. Teen Treatment Goals:
Preparing for Action—Support, even embrace your teen’s awkwardness as a step toward mastery.
Changing Thinking—Positive vs. negative self-appraisals along with a generally optimistic outlook can do wonders. Improving social interaction skills and direct communication or assertion can be very productive. Counseling is a natural fit here because healthy individuals seek help.
It appears that one main difference between popularity and rejection during adolescence is the ability to use constructive social skills. Shy/withdrawn teens need help in thinking through new social responses (cognitive rehearsal), while trying out new ways of interacting (behavioral rehearsal). The shy/withdrawn teen can benefit from the “buddy” system wherein he/she can spend time with a more social and outgoing peer to learn the ropes of successful peer interaction. It can be explained to an adolescent simply, “Just as people have a ‘study’ buddy they can also enjoy the benefits of a ‘social’ buddy.”
Adolescents may find it harder to break out of withdrawn behavior than an adult because they haven’t developed broad, adaptive coping skills. Parents can support their teen’s effort in mastering a task, and then have him/her share their skill with others. For example, a teen learns to play chess, and then practices and plays the game with others.
B. Parenting Strategies and Techniques:
As a teenager works on establishing their own identity there can be role confusion and independence may falter. Recognizing the upheaval, parents can provide more active support by encouraging independence, providing attention and nurturing. Some kids simply need a longer runway for their takeoff into adulthood. Don’t “freak out” at adolescent angst because by maintaining faith and hope, parents will some day enjoy the benefits of developmental maturity.
Coping Skills Training—Let your teen know what current problem you would like corrected and what future desired behavior is expected. A common example would be: “Your room looks like a pig sty.” A usually accurate depiction, but many parents’ forget the future part, which may be a simple, “I would like you to keep it cleaner, just as you’ve helped us out before.” Many power struggles are alleviated by learning to parent via requests vs. commands.
Utilize the Weekly Family Meeting—Talk openly with your teen regarding sensitive topics including identity and sexuality, refer to age-appropriate materials and keep communication channels open. Explain what it was like when you were a teenager by exploring difficult feelings and experiences. Recognize that decreasing these behaviors is more appropriate and realistic than eliminating them.
Reframing—From the outset, utilize a positive approach and let the adolescent know what you want rather than focusing on problematic behavior. For example, “I would like you to be more responsible,” rather than, “Why are you so irresponsible?” Encourage your teen to discuss feelings on at least an occasional basis.
Another example of reframing may be that an angry teen is not exclusively menacing, but demonstrating an individual (yet emotionally charged) interest in a topic. “By threatening to kick your bedroom door and hurling insults, I take it your not happy with our decision to set your curfew at sundown.” Humor is also an important tool in curbing belligerence.
Communication—In general, focusing on the adolescent’s personal motives is better than assuming the behaviors are a result of peer pressure. The teen should focus on their role in making independent decisions, rather than the perception that their behavior is completely influenced and/or controlled by peers.
An example of how vague teenagers can be, the following individual psychotherapy session segment is informative:
Psychologist: How was school today? Teen: I don’t know. Psychologist: Well did you go? Teen: Yeah. Psychologist: What did you do? Teen: Not much. Psychologist: Typical day? Teen: I guess so. Psychologist: It was you who was there, right? Teen: Yeah. Psychologist: I’d like you to provide more detail, that way I can help. Teen: Oh.
With the shy/withdrawn adolescent, time needs to be spent in drawing out dialogue. Parents can role model by talking freely between themselves and encouraging their children to participate by sharing their everyday concerns. Parental support and involvement is crucial for raising an emotionally healthy adolescent, recognizing the teen may not always want to talk. Verbal communication can sometimes take a back seat.
Dealing Effectively with Anger—Choose your battles, there is no need to fight a teen (or spouse for that matter) on all issues, all the time. This type of action simply stimulates the “ignore” pattern in teens and makes you predictable. Fight your battles on your terms, and throw in positive nurturing behaviors to breakup the “war zone” interaction.
Also, in the context of argument/conflict avoid the “pursuer-distancer” dynamic. The more a parent pursues, the more the teen distances. Promoting occasional positive activities the teen likes along with collaboration, negotiation and compromise, parents can break up this destructive dynamic.
Specific Techniques for Anger Management:
1.) In shy/withdrawn teens anger may come out indirectly, so listening becomes very important to identify the central issue.
2.) Resist retaliation with anger of your own. If your teen senses you care and are supportive, appreciation will follow. There is plenty of time to get your point of view or opinion across later.
3.) Explain how you cope with strong, negative emotions. Share personal experiences and let the teen know how you coped with anger, disappointment and frustration in those situations and what you did to cope more constructively in the future.
4.) Because everyone makes mistakes, parents should role-model forgiveness. Adolescents work on the “pleasure principle,” rather than finding pleasure in the “work ethic.” Thus, sometimes parents need to hold their frustration in check.
Overall, parents and teenagers need to give and receive emotional support from friends, peers and family. In discussing a problem, cooperation and brainstorming ideas will help to avoid future problems. For parents to better understand their teen more fully, an appreciation of the economic, social and cultural context surrounding the family is important.