Raising a Challenging Teen? – Family Connections Can Help

I was recently sitting with a group of friends who, like me, all have teenagers. Through our discussion it became clear that we had some things in common: We had all experienced the ups and downs of parenting when our kids were little, from the sleepless nights with a newborn, to the first day of Kindergarten, through the 6th grade science fairs, and on to after-school sports. We all agreed that parenting our kids early-on had been challenging and busy but fun and often rewarding. However, about the time our kids began to think about that first dance in middle school, they seemed to morph into some strange version of their former selves and then disappeared into the wilderness of adolescence.

The experience of losing our children into that wilderness meant something different to every parent around that table, but in general, it sounded something like this: We were all currently living with a son or daughter that seemed to have drastically changed over the last few years. Where once we had a child that held hands with us at the park, gave big hugs at bedtime, sought us out after school, asked advice on what to wear and made us sweet cards on special holidays - it now seemed that they abruptly started avoiding us, hiding stuff, choosing risky friends, sleeping with their cell phones, using colorful language and dressing like they belonged in a rap music video.

And some of the parents in our group had been through even bigger challenges. Their kids had begun to practice self-harm like cutting and scratching themselves, were plagued by suicidal thoughts, endured hateful peer relationships, used drugs, experimented with risky sexual choices, got kicked out of school, and just seemed downright determined to go through life the hard way. A few of the kids from our group had even been hospitalized after a suicide attempt or were living away from their families.

One of the dads shared that his daughter had recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder Traits. At first he and his wife had not understood what this meant, but explained to us what they discovered: Kids like her had an unusually sensitive in-born temperament and tended to experience life and relationships as relentlessly painful and invalidating. He said he and his wife, at first, had floundered in responding to her as they felt imprisoned by her mood swings, excessive emotional displays, relentless drama with her friends, and by the dangerous choices she made on almost a daily basis. He shared that they were especially caught off-guard because their older daughter had been quite the opposite. She had been involved in sports, had a stable group of friends since grade school, was well-liked by her teachers, worked and went to high school, and even made it onto the homecoming court as runner-up queen before she left for college.

But, things with their second daughter had gotten progressively worse until she began therapy and until he and his wife started going to a group for parents called Family Connections. It was there, in the Family Connections class, that they began to feel hopeful about life with their second daughter.

Their daughter had entered a type of therapy called DBT and her therapist had recommended that the entire family join with the daughter in the healing and education process of therapy by attending both Family Therapy and The Family Connections class.

Family Connections is a group based on the research and work of Dr. Alan Fruzzetti and seeks to equip parents of teenagers by educating them with the latest research on parenting high need kids. The classes also teach real-time skills acquisition, side-by-side with other parents, to help meet the demands of parenting through the teen years. The classes run for 12 weeks, are two hours long and include other parents who are facing the same challenges. The classes are taught by trained, parent-facilitators that guide the families through the same set of research-based skills that their kids in DBT are learning. These skills include:

  • How to decrease feelings of depression and hopelessness
  • Learning new coping skills based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Increased feelings of empowerment
  • How to regulate your emotions
  • Improved communication skills in key relationships
  • Increased skills for how to manage problems within the family
  • Increased feelings of validation and hopefulness
  • A sense of mastery in parenting and relating to your loved ones
  • A shared experience with others

Feel like your teen has been lost into the wilderness of adolescence Ever wish you had a proven set of skills to navigate the rocky terrain of parenting your child with a sensitive temperament and a high risk lifestyle Wish you knew other families who were facing the same challenges as you Long to feel hopeful again while raising your children Perhaps a Family Connections group is right for you. To read more about your local Family Connections group, click here for more information.

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