Teenagers have a special gift.  They know just what to say to get parents on opposing sides of an issue.  Let’s pretend your teenaged daughter wants to wear an outfit that her friend loaned her.  You being the dad really haven’t paid much attention to what she was preparing to wear tonight.  She gets ready to leave, and you are involved in something.  Maybe you’re cleaning the kitchen or washing your wife’s car or something.  You know you’re always doing productive things for the family right? 

So out comes your daughter and she says, “Bye dad.”  You look up and notice that you don’t recognize those shorts that she’s wearing, and she’s just about to get past you.  You think to yourself, “Man, those shorts don’t look okay.”  What do you do?  Thoughts speed through your mind like a flash of lightning.

What happened to my little girl?
What would my lovely wife say about those shorts?
My wife would look really good in those shorts.
I wonder what my wife is wearing right now…
Is that a scratch on the car?
I need to finish washing this car so I can go fishing.
What time did my wife say she would be home tonight?
Where are my keys?

You stop.  Does your daughter have your keys?  No, the important thing to stay focused on right now is that your daughter is about to get away, wearing the most inappropriate shorts, and who’s going to get in trouble for it when your wife gets home?  You’re daughter?  No.  You are!  Why?  You’re going to get in trouble because you know teenaged boys better than your daughter does.  More specifically, your daughter is testing your boundaries, and she is attempting to take advantage of a psychology term called, “Splitting.”  This is when your daughter attempts to elevate one parent while demoting the other parent.  You are demoted by her attempt to avoid you.  Your wife is elevated in this example, but your daughter avoids her, because she knows she wouldn’t be allowed to wear those clothes if mom was there. 

Your daughter knows your wife is not home.  She knows that you are a softy.  She is attempting to split you from your wife.  She knows that she can take advantage of the fact that her mother is not here to help reinforce the rules about her dress code.  She assumes that since you are not able to communicate with your wife at this very moment, she will have the advantage of plausible deniability about her choices.  She knows the rules regarding her clothes, but she can just say she didn’t know.  Since you saw her in her clothes, and you let her out of the house it must be your responsibility.  News flash!  It is your responsibility.  You have just as much responsibility to point her towards her behaviors as her mother does.  You also have the added responsibility to remind your daughter that you and your wife are on the same page about everything.  (Even if you're not on the same page about everything.)

You also have the fatherly task of assuring that your daughter understands the role of safety in the outside world.  She needs to know that it relates to what she is wearing too.  It may be fine for someone else’s family to put their daughter out there as an advertisement for a men’s magazine, but your daughter is a teenager.  She does not need a man for a few more years.  She needs to understand this concept in a manner that communicates that she has value as a young woman.  The best way for you to do this is to communicate how much you value her and your own wife.

This is where you tell your daughter that you and your wife have already discussed the acceptable way to dress with your daughter.  You can remind her that she has already agreed that she will not wear those shorts since they violate the rules for clothes.  Tell her that your love for her and her mother is what motivates you to tell her to go back inside and change clothes before she leaves.  Tell her that she can go out with her friends when she demonstrates that she is going to make better choices with her clothes.  Do something, but don’t let her split you from your wife by letting her leave.  You set the expectation that she can attempt to come between you and your wife in the future if you just let her go.  If she continues this pattern, she may believe that it’s okay to try to continue coming between mom and dad.

 Your respect for your wife will speak more to your daughter’s heart than the clothes that she got from her friend.  She will see your respect for her mother as a genuine thing to internalize and learn from (bring in to her heart).  She will also remember that her friend who gave her the clothes has the opposite issue.  Her friend’s clothes speak against safety, structure and genuine love.  She knows that those clothes were her friend’s way to get attention.  She’ll probably remember how her friend cried several times about being manipulated by guys…and not understanding why.  Over time, your daughter will grow to realize the difference between selfless love, and self-centered love.  She will understand the love of Jesus by you pointing her to the rules and safety that you set up as a family. 

The Scripts: Bully

The Scripts:  Bully or Persecutor

So have you ever found yourself feeling like a friend or a loved one was setting you up? 

Ever felt like you were going to get in trouble no matter what kind of response you gave?

Have you ever heard this line, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

If you say yes, you’re in serious trouble! 
What if you say no?  Maybe you’re being truthful…but maybe you’re being set up for a conflict.  The “non-fat” friend of yours could reply back with something like…well are you saying the other dress makes me look fat?
It’s a no-win for you isn’t it?

How about this one:   “It’s your fault I over drew the checking account! You said I could buy what I want.”

The language that we use is based on our personality.  These are examples of people using the Bully script.  It is also called the persecutor or the perpetrator.  This is one of the three scripts in the Drama Triangle or the Victim Triangle.  The Drama Triangle was a concept put forward by Dr. Stephen Carpman.   He viewed personality conflict through a triangle with three different scripts.  Each script puts the responsibility for behavior on the other person in the relationship.  Not on the one doing the talking. 

I remember being in the group home where I worked for two years as a therapist.  I would constantly watch kids attempting to get out of trouble by blaming other kids or staff members for the unjust treatment that they thought they were about to get.  It usually came about because of something they had done wrong, but they were frantically working on a story that put the responsibility for their behaviors on someone else.  Usually they tried to come up with something they remembered from earlier in the day.  They would try to spin the story so that they were the victim in the situation. The thing that struck me was that fifteen minutes later they would be staring down some other poor kid, and threatening unspeakable things they were going to do to them.  Where did that poor victim go?  It had only been fifteen minutes and they were threatening to beat up on another kid.  They hadn’t learned anything from the consequence that was used or attempts to make them feel like less of a victim.  (Assuming they were convincing enough to the staff member involved with them.)

I was introduced to the Victim Triangle through these episodes.  I used this concept in treatment every day…all day.  Here’s what I would do.

A teenaged child would approach me, usually screaming about what they were going to do to so and so, if they didn’t start getting some respect.   Usually there would be some other poor teenager backed into a corner.  I would ask them, “I didn’t know you were such a perpetrator (Or bully)…Is that what you are telling me you want me to believe, or is there something else you are trying to tell me?  Usually that was enough of a warning about the child’s behavior to get them to stop for a minute from their tirade.  Usually the other kid (or staff member) was even more intrigued, because few people actually talk in this type of language in their daily life.  Think about it.  I’m not saying they are a perpetrator, or a bully.  They approached me and said they were about to do something painful and bullying to someone else.  Their own language already shows their intended choice through a threat of bodily harm to someone else.  I’m just taking them seriously…but I had already spent time with the same child as they were using the victim script.  I had empathized with them when they believed they were the victim.  I didn’t necessarily enable that belief.  I empathized with them. 

Sometimes I reality checked with them about twisted thinking in the victim script too.  But I empathized with them when they were the victim.  I validated their healthy choices, and offered alternative ways to think for future situations.   The other child always safely got out of the corner.  The Bully was also able to save face, because I was actually calling them a bully, which was what they wanted their victim to perceive.  But they made the choice to step away from the bully role in the episode.  It also showed the actual potential victim in the situation how to use de-escalating language in the moment.

By taking the threatening behavior seriously and telling them what it is, I give them the opportunity to be responsible for choosing which role they want to occupy.  They can’t be all three things (Bully, Victim, Rescuer) in the matter of an hour.  They know it’s not consistent.  Over the course of the relationship with the children, I would spend time empathizing with them, regardless of what script they used.  They always needed empathy, because they were working on changing aspects of how they cope with others.  I was challenging how they view the world, and how they believed others perceived them. 

The most important part for me as a therapist was that the children learned that I would be consistent and available.  I would not reject them based on the script that they were using at the time.  For a bully to learn that someone close can call them out on their behavior, and still stick with them, is the part that helps them grow.

Why we have the Ten Rules

So for the last week I’ve been trying to narrow my focus for the “Ten Rules For Your Home” material.  I received a few questions from people asking how to get started in coming up with rules.  The main concerns were, “How do you keep the leadership role of the father in the home when the teenager is coming up with the rules?” Another question was, “Why do you do time out when it does not seem like it is working?”
            These are great questions.  When I enter the picture as a counselor, things have usually gotten to the point where the family needs immediate help.  They can’t wait three months to see improved behaviors in their child.  Usually the school is giving ultimatums to the family about their child’s behavior too.  A comforting word from an overly optimistic counselor will not get the school to stop sending home letters about their kid’s bad behavior.  There needs to be some sort of plan to get everyone in the child’s life on the same page.  This is why I needed something adaptable to the most difficult family situations.  Families with less intense issues can always scale back the plan if it is too much.
            Working with teenagers can be very frustrating at times.  Having the ability to manipulate concepts is a new skill for them.  They are sometimes overwhelmed by the new information that they are now capable of understanding, but they do not have all the right places in their mind to store the information from new processing abilities.

I came up with the “Ten Rules” after my two years as a counselor in a Specialized Therapeutic Group Home.  I was responsible for the counseling of foster children who needed an extremely high level of supervision.  We had a 24-hour staff that was accountable to where the children were at all times.  These workers all had differing opinions of how things should be run, but we couldn’t do it a different way for each staff member.  Additionally, I learned that the kids would have been very happy for us to try to run the group home eighteen different ways.  They could exploit that.  That is why we emphasized the concept of “splitting” or divisions. By having a common plan, we were able to keep the children from using the different “parenting” styles of the workers against each other.  Sometimes the kids understood it better than the grown ups though. 
So when I left the group home I began working with children in an outpatient type setting.  They had at least one parent.  I realized that these children also had stability issues that I could address by simplifying the structure of the group home.  I wanted to also make it a Biblical model, because I am confident in the Bible’s relevance for everyone.  I noticed that many of the parents were mad because their kids were “disrespectful.”  I asked them to tell me how they will know their kids are being respectful.  They would say something like, “He’ll say yes ma’am or no ma’am.  He won’t use profanity anymore, or he won’t get into fights at school.” 
I would ask those same parents to write those down as rules, and about half the time, they would not write down those rules.   Since I had so many kids, and about half of the parents would not work on coming up with rules, I began working on the rules myself with the kids.  I would send the kids home with the rules, and many of them would get really excited about their counseling!  In turn, their behaviors at home would improve.  Imagine how a teenager feels when they are getting into trouble, and they begin to take responsibility for their actions.  It is so disappointing when they get home and their parent is not involved in the counseling that they demanded the child receive. The only time I had a hard time with this design was when parents just did not think it was necessary to be involved in participating in the therapy.  They would say things like, “Can’t you just get her to do what I say?” Unfortunately, those were the cases where I was least effective in helping the families.  The “Ten Rules” is a model designed to help the parents and the child communicate about expectations.  This behavior management template also allows the counselor to work on the deeper issues once the clear expectations are set at home.  Many times it even improved marriage conflict, because it gives the parents an opportunity to parent from the same set of expectations.  In time the “Ten Rules” get replaced with the language that the parents learn to use in the moment.  In essence, it teaches the parents how to step outside of the issues they inherited from their own development, and to parent from a Biblical model, instead of an inherited wound of the heart from their own parents.