Ep 46: Handling Problem Teenagers
In addition to his PhD in developmental psychology and his doctoral work at Harvard, Dr. Sortino has a lot of real-world experience working with troubled kids to draw from. He's worked with juvenile offenders in prison, gangsters seeking rehabilitation, and kids who have been expelled from school. His book, The Promised Cookie, is the true story of a school for troubled children where Dr. Sortino worked during his twenties. Using unconventional methods he was able to get through to a group of very hard-to-reach students.
What parts of David's methods can parents apply with their own difficult-to-reach kids?
Well, for one thing, he explained how to use a behavior contract most effectively with a teenager. The key, David says, is to appeal to their current stage of moral reasoning while also challenging them to use their higher-level morality. Most teens are in the 'Reciprocity' stage, says Sortino. This means they will respond best when they feel like they are getting something in return for every concession they make on a contract. Additionally, writing the contract will also challenge your teen to think about right and wrong, a higher level of moral reasoning.
Another tip, David told me, is to focus on your expectations for your teenager. Do you have expectations that your teen's current actions are hurting their future? Or that your teen should or shouldn't go to college? It's hard not to! We all have hopes and dreams for our kids. But those expectations can actually cause teens to rebel and push against our influence. How do you manage your own expectations for your teen? David has some tips on this episode.
Dr. Sortino also taught me a great strategy for connecting and empathizing with your teenager. He says the key is to think back to the most vulnerable moments of your own childhood and imagine how you felt during those moments. Remember feeling scared and worried and embarrassed as a kid and teen. When you approach conversations with your own teenager after doing this kind of visualization you'll feel much more connected.
During our interview, David covered all of these topics as well as a ton of other great stuff.
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