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by Scott Sells
St. Martin's Press, 2001
Review by Fred Ashmore on Jun 10th 2002

Parenting Your Out-Of-Control Teenager

This book shows on the front of the dust cover “7 steps to re-establish authority and reclaim love” and all my prejudices went off at once.  Was this to be another set of facile head games?  Why 7 steps, for goodness’ sake?  Why not 5 or 13 or 6½?  But I opened up and got reading, as a docile reviewer should.

I chose this book from a list offered by our learned editor, on the basis that we have four teenagers in our house.  (Well, one of them is twelve but she shows teen symptoms already, and another is 22 but she retains many of them).  I count my self reasonably experienced.  At times I even think myself quite skilful at dealing with them.  They are all still at home, generally pretty cheerful, progressing in their lives amid thrills and spills.  But Sells has a lot to teach me, and I wish I’d had this book years ago. 

As a family we went through some rough periods, and I replayed them in my head as I read this.  I replayed them, and I watched my self making mistakes, missing opportunities – and doing quite a lot right as well, thank goodness.   I think that the guidance I read here would have helped us reduce the scale of those tough times, helped us to keep things at the level of tiffs instead of confrontations and still maintain sensible behavior on both sides.  Maybe one of our kids who went through some very difficult periods would have been spared a lot of pain if we’d been more skilful, and I think this book might have helped us be more skilful.

I laughed like hell when I read Sells’ description of age regression.  Basically, the longer you stay in face to face confrontation with your teen, the younger you get in your emotional state …… I certainly remember that now.  I read about button pushing and how to deal with it, and nodded sagely – while recalling all the time I let my buttons be pushed.  I read his suggestions on countering teenager aces, and nodded, thinking, “Yes, we did that and it worked, and we didn’t do that and it didn’t work.”

“Teenager aces?” you ask.  They’re a set of behaviors of ascending vigor that are designed (maybe not consciously, but certainly skillfully) to reduce a parent to – compliance?  Nervous wreck?  A state of uncontrolled emotional turmoil?  One or all of these.  Here’s the list, and I bet it has a grisly familiarity to any parent of a teenager.

#1        Disrespect

#2        Truancy or failing grades

#3        Running away

#4        Teen pregnancy or sexual promiscuity

#5        Alcohol or drug abuse

#6        Threats or acts of violence

#7        Threats of suicide

We had the lot, bar number 7.  We handled them more or less, we went through a great deal of pain and we came out the other side, but ….. I recall years ago reading a book called “Baby Taming” which described the early years in semi-military terms, and certainly the metaphors of conflict spring to mind when one reads about the teenager aces.  I know we could have done better!

Lets get down to the nuts and bolts.  You can tell that I think this is a valuable book for any parent.  What’s in it for you?  Here’s a list of chapter headings.

1        Understanding why your teen is out of control

2        Writing an ironclad contract

3        Troubleshooting – how to think two steps ahead of your teenager

4        Button pushing – why your teen wins arguments

5        Stopping your teenagers seven aces

6        There is strength in numbers

7        Reclaiming love between you and your teenager

8        What to do if these steps fail

Most of the content seems to me very sensible, clear, suggestions rather than prescriptions.  There are clear pointers to when the parent would do well to bring in skilled outside help, and I reckon most of these pointers are accurate.

Who’s it for?  Parents – or others in responsible charge of teenagers in some way.  But basically parents.  It might be helpful for a general counselor, and certainly Dr Sells strongly suggests that the handling of serious out-of-control teen problems requires special skills and knowledge, with which I agree.

Reservations?  I have a couple.  First, this seems to be conceived for an American small town family.  Some of the suggestions on enlisting neighbors might not work in a European social context, or even in a big city,  I suspect.  But who knows?  I never thought of many of them, and never tried them, and maybe, just maybe …..

Second, I have some experience of the alcohol and drugs recovery methods.  I think that the chapter on these issues is relatively weak though it does have some great suggestions on how to deal with the behavior as it affects the home.  Dr Sells might find it worth reading a bit more widely before the second edition – because I bet there’s going to be one, and misuse of alcohol and drugs is still going to be there as a problem.

A worthwhile book, full of things I was glad to learn and wished I’d learned earlier.

 

© 2002 Fred Ashmore

 

Fred Ashmore is still learning about his teenagers and does not intend to show them this book.