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Book Review 


By: Carol Maxym, Ph.D.
Leslie B. York, M.A.
NY: Viking Penguin: 2000
Book Review by: Lon Woodbury  

This book is the closest to being a universal handbook for parents and professionals working with struggling teens as any I've seen. Based on some basic principles of raising teenage children, it is easily understood, with several very readable case studies and common sense suggestions. The authors focus on handling problems within the family and using community resources, but are aware that at times, the only workable solution is residential placement.

The authors also are aware that much of what parents need is help in dealing with their own "fear, worry, and desperation for hope and action." This sentiment appears throughout the book, viewing a solution as a process, rather than a simplistic, "cut-and-dried" solution.

Perhaps the reason why this book is so helpful is because the authors draw primarily upon their personal experience. Carol Maxym has several year's of experience as a psychotherapist and has also worked in a highly structured boarding school for teens with behavioral problems, similar to those covered in my practice and publications. Leslie York is a mother who went through the horrendous experience of having her own child act out. Insights obtained from that experience helped her during her several years as an independent educational consultant, helping parents find solutions for their acting-out/acting-in teen.

"Understanding Where You Are Now," the title of Part One, provides a cultural context for the issues being addressed, describing how aspects of our culture have influenced teens. It offers several scenarios of family situations, providing checklists of what to look for and what these behaviors might really mean.

In Part Two, "Learning from Other Families," several common themes are discussed, with case stories provided to demonstrate each theme. This is perhaps the strongest part of the book because it seems to be human nature to learn and teach by stories. Each chapter in Part Two first tells a story then analyzes it in several ways to demonstrate various lessons that could be learned. By analyzing each story from several perspectives, the book guides its readers to think more clearly about a situation, helping them to avoid reacting in a stereotypical way to a situation, a practice that usually leads to thinking in circles.

Part Three, "Finding Your Own Solutions," revisits the stories of the previous section, using the mechanism of "Instant Replay," to suggest other ways the problem might have been handled.

A major theme of the book, contained in the "Epilogue," is the "Inner Shift" in the parents' thinking that is required in order to become solution-oriented rather than problem-reacting. This theme sets the stage for Part IV, "Resources and Programs, " which describes the thinking process necessary when deciding whether the problem can be handled within the family and when outside resources are needed. Various types of resources are described, and some specific suggestions are given, with the overall advice being that when such resources are needed, parents are encouraged "to take action quickly but thoughtfully." Part IV reviews the importance of developing a plan and the multitude of issues that must be considered. It ranks the types of programs, both residential and non- residential that are available to help match the program with what a particular teen needs.

This is a wonderful book, one that I am going to review several times because there is much I can learn from their observations and experience. I wholeheartly recommend this book to parents and professionals working with a teen making poor decisions.