During the next few sessions, I slowly tried to bring the father into the picture. I also recommended that Ruth and her husband plan a one-day outing with their daughter. The goal was to get away and just have a lot of fun. I thought a boat ride or trip to the country would be the easiest way for the family to share precious moments together without fighting and without tension. I explained to Ruth that the most important goal during the trip was to avoid critical language. No matter what Toby said, Ruth and her husband must respond only in a loving way. If they wanted her back, Toby’s parents needed to be able to listen to her and make her feel that she was loved unconditionally.
After the trip, her parents reported to me that they believed the time together with her had slightly improved their relationship. Toby had enjoyed the personal attention from her parents. Just spending time alone with her was a sign to Toby that her parents really cared about her. Not criticizing or fighting with her sent Toby the signal that her parents cared more about her than about what she did.
During that time, I also began to see Toby on a weekly basis and we discussed her emotional history together. Toby had been having trouble in school from sixth grade onward. According to Toby, when she was about eleven years old she started experiencing feelings of rage and began disliking her teachers and her friends. At about the age of thirteen, she started becoming interested in boys and began looking for boys who might be interested in her. Toby also started staying out late at night with boys and girls who were having similar problems with their parents.
From her description, it sounded as if Toby’s desire to spend time with boys was rooted in a deeper desire for closer relationships. Over the next few sessions, I worked with Toby and her parents to see if they would consider trying a different style of parenting and if Toby would be willing to give them a chance. This was not going to be easy. Both Toby and her family had developed rigid patterns of communication, and life at home was tense.
I worked to help Toby’s parents become more sensitive to her inner-world issues, such as the need for control. I suggested the following actions:
- Allow Toby to gain some form of control in her life by giving her a clothing allowance, for example, or a reasonable curfew that she will be rewarded for following.
- Empower her by giving her the opportunity to work helping younger children in various chesed projects in her community.
- Build Toby’s self-esteem and sense of individuality by making a list of Toby’s potential talents in music, art, or athletics and nurturing them.
- Plan several outings alone with Toby, and allow her to choose the types of fun activities that she would like to do.
The goal was to look at Toby’s good traits and to make sure that they were given a chance to grow. By doing so, her parents would be signaling to her that they were not merely interested in their own agenda but focused on treating Toby as a unique individual.
In the process, they discovered that Toby desired to work with young children. They then arranged for her to work in an after-school day care program in which Toby could utilize her skills and learn how to contribute towards the greater good of the community.
By introducing Relationship Theory, we were able to open new lines of communication. Eventually, Toby started talking to her parents about her boyfriend. She first needed to see that other loving relationships were possible and that her parents were willing to extend themselves towards her in a loving way. Toby’s parents were also pleased that their relationship had improved. They were hopeful that their daughter would continue to feel more comfortable about allowing them to help her through these painful emotional issues. Eventually Toby decided not to see her boyfriend anymore.
Addressing the inner issues of control, self-esteem, and individuality were the key to helping Toby resolve her dilemma about premature dating and help her get through one of the most difficult periods in her life.
- Examine your teenager’s inner issues.
- Look for hidden feelings behind your teenager’s actions.
- Highlight positive aspects of your teenager’s personality.
- Express your love through words and actions.
- Give your teenager control combined with responsibility.
- Address your teenager’s need for meaning.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.