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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch’

Mirror Your Child’s Feelings

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

One of the most important skills good listeners have is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others or to empathize with the speaker by attempting to understand his or her thoughts and feelings. As a parent, try to mirror your teenagers’ feelings by repeating them. You might reflect a teenager’s feelings by commenting, “It sounds as if you’re angry at your math teacher.” Restating or rephrasing what teenagers have said is useful when they are experiencing powerful emotions they may not be fully aware of.

A common battle parents have with their teenagers is about how much time they spend watching videos or playing computer games. Let’s look at two different modes of communication. In the first conversation, the parent is unable to deal with the inner needs of the child.

Mom: Sam, are you watching those ridiculous videos again? It’s time to turn off the TV and do your homework!

Sam: Mom, I need to watch my videos! All my friends watch this many videos in their homes!

Mom: I don’t care. You have to get your life together and stop wasting time!

Sam: Yes! Then I’ll be the big loser who doesn’t know what everyone else is talking about!

Mom: So what? I don’t care what other kids talk about. You have to take responsibility for your own actions.

Sam: I don’t care what you want. I have got to watch them.

Mom: That’s it. I’m taking the video machine away!

In the following conversation, Sam’s mother has learned the skills needed to be a good active listener and mirror her son’s feelings while also helping him change the type of videos he watches.

Mom: Sam, I’m concerned about how many videos you have been watching lately. I think we need to set up some kind of schedule to make sure you are doing your homework and participating in other activities.

Sam: Mom, I need to watch my videos! All my friends watch this many videos in their homes!

Mom: You’ll feel like you’re missing out on something if you don’t watch all the videos your friends watch.

Sam: Yes! Then I’ll be the big loser who doesn’t know what everyone else is talking about!

Mom: If you don’t know what your friends are talking about, you’re afraid you’ll look dumb and they’ll make fun of you.

Sam: Exactly, Mom! You see why I just have to watch all these videos.

Mom: Hmm, I can see that videos are important to you. Why don’t we talk more about what specific videos you feel you need to watch and see if we can’t come up with a compromise?

Through active listening, this parent was able to avoid an argument with her son while at the same time she negotiated with him about watching fewer videos. Practicing this kind of communication helps build a more caring relationship, one that will enable more positive interactions and dialogue on many important matters.

Empathize with Your Teenager

Finally, empathizing with your teenager may be the greatest emotional gift you can share with him or her. To empathize, parents need to listen to their children’s feelings, thoughts, and desires. Here is a good example of a parent using empathy to deepen his relationship with his teenager.

Andrea: Rachel’s Grandma died yesterday.

Dad: I’m sure Rachel is really sad that she lost her Grandma.

Andrea: She was always so nice when we went to visit her.

Dad: Your visits meant so much to her.

Andrea: I can’t believe she died.

Dad: You really enjoyed knowing her.

Andrea: I loved her so much. What will I do without her?

Dad: You loved her so much.

Andrea: When Moshiach comes, we will see her again. Right, Dad?

Dad: For sure. I love you.

Here are some examples of parents who are unaware of the rules of Relationship Theory contrasted with parents who are actively listening. Read carefully as the actively listening parent keeps the key principles in mind and builds a closer relationship with the teenager.

Rebecca Is Angry

In this conversation, Rebecca’s mother is unaware of the techniques of active listening.

Rebecca: My teacher says that she’s canceling our school trip because our class isn’t behaving well.

Mom: I guess it’s time to start behaving better.

Rebecca: Yeah, just because some kids don’t behave, we all have to get punished!

Mom: Maybe you do.

Rebecca: I can’t believe my teacher. She is really an idiot.

Mom: Don’t talk like that about your teacher.

Rebecca: Why do we all have to suffer because of a few stupid girls?

Mom: Because you probably all behave badly.

Rebecca: Oh, I hate school.

In this example, Rebecca’s mother uses active listening techniques.

Rebecca: My teacher says that she’s canceling our school trip because our class isn’t behaving well.

Teenage Internet Addiction

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Is Internet addiction the main cause of today’s at-risk crisis? It’s a topic most people shy away from, but it’s one that needs to be addressed. Everyday more and more teens are getting hooked on the Internet and the effect of surfing may be taking its toll on our youth.

 

The Internet has quickly become the number one media pre-occupation our children are busy with each day. Worse, not only are teens spending one to several hours a day surfing the web, the content they are viewing has become progressively more violent and contains more explicit material than ever before. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, a groundbreaking national survey of 1,500 youth aged 10 to 17 documented that:

 

*More than one-third of youth Internet users (34%) saw “inappropriate” material online they did not want to see.

 

*The increase in exposure to unwanted material occurred despite the use of filtering, blocking and monitoring software in households of youth Internet users.

 

*Online harassment of youth has increased by 9% over the last five years.

 

These statistics should sound an alarm for parents concerned about their children’s development. Here’s why: For many teens Internet use has become an addiction, and, like all other addictive substances and activities, Internet addiction requires a therapeutic approach to wean its adherents away from this self-destructive behavior.

 

I know it may take a slight leap of creativity to connect the Internet to drug abuse but here are the similarities: Like addiction to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine, Internet addiction is marked by symptoms of increasing tolerance, withdrawal, mood changes and interruption of social relationships. Children and adolescents who have become addicted to the Internet will require increasing amounts of time online in order to feel satisfied. When they do not have access they may have symptoms of withdrawal including anxiety, depression, irritability, trembling hands, restlessness and obsessive thinking or fantasizing about the Internet.

 

Independent of the depressing effects of excessive Internet use, the most devastating impact of Internet addiction may be the decreased amount of quality time teenagers have with their parents. Just like other addictions, the Internet addict probably suffers from feelings of emotional and physical isolation from his or her friends and family and spends little time involved in healthy relationships which are the basis for positive emotional development.

 

The lack of quality time spent with parents may also be the most significant factor leading to at-risk behavior. In fact, I once asked a group of high school juniors and seniors at a well-known Jewish day school what they felt were the most important issues teens face. These were the students’ answers according to their own ranking, starting with the most important:

 

Disappointment and anger with parents

Dislike of teachers

The intense desire to be accepted and fit in with friends

The desire to be adults and the fact that they were still under parents’ control

The internal pressures of trying to develop and act on personal values as opposed to those of parents and friends

The powerful forces of media encouraging experimentation with sex and alcohol

The enormous physical and psychological changes that occur at this time of life

 

Surprisingly, issues like physical changes, peer pressure and drug use were placed low on the students’ list, whereas poor relationships with their parents and teachers were ranked highest. In general, these teenagers seemed alienated from their parents and felt that their teachers had somehow let them down. Add to this a teenager’s sense of isolation from parents and family members and the connection between Internet use and the at-crisis becomes more and more apparent.

 

A comprehensive research brief published by Child Trends, entitled Parent-Teen Relationships and Interactions Far More Positive Than Not, showed a direct correlation between the quality of the parent-teen relationship and the impact the relationship has on a teenager’s life.

 

In addition to the damage the Internet may cause to family relationships, excessive Internet usage can also be masking more difficult problems that teenagers are facing. It may therefore be necessary to seek outside help for a child with Internet addiction.

 

How much Internet use is too much? Parents can ask the following questions that can be answered in one of three possible ways: rarely, frequently or always:

 

-How often do they find that they stay online longer than they intended?

-How often do they form new relationships with unknown fellow online users?

-How often do their grades suffer because of the amount of time they spend online?

-How often do they find themselves anticipating when they will go online again?

-How often do they choose to spend more time on-line rather than going out with others?

 

If they answer “frequently” or “always” to at least four out of the five questions, then it may be a sign that they are hooked on the Internet and could use some help weaning themselves away from constant use.

 

How can I wean my teen off the Internet?

 

The first suggestion is for parents to end their child’s isolation and check up on them every 15 minutes to see what they are watching. They can also surf together with the child on various sites and turn “alone” time into “family” time. The trick is to come up with something fun and engaging that places both you and your child in the same environment.

 

While you sit together in front of the computer screen, you could casually discuss some of the dangers of the Internet and the sites that may be damaging to their emotional well being. A good place to start is to discuss the dangers of chat rooms and to speak openly about who may be online and what possible predators may be looking for.

 

Another helpful strategy is to gently wean your child away from the Internet. If, for example, your child surfs for two hours a night, you can make the first move by saying, “I think surfing every night for two hours is too much. You can keep on surfing, but from now on, you can pick three nights a week if you want to go online. Which night do you prefer? It’s your choice.” You don’t have to abruptly cut off all Internet use; rather you can start by limiting their constant exposure and empower them with a choice of when they want to be online.

 

Many parents seem apprehensive about butting in on their teen’s computer time. I have found, however, that when someone is hooked online and asked to cut back they may be initially reluctant, but in the end they will be thankful to you for reducing their dependence. Often teens get carried away and will appreciate having someone help them renew their sense of balance and proportion.

 

By far, the most effective tool against Internet addiction is to schedule quality time with your child away from the computer. That means parents and teens should schedule a “date night” each week.  Taking a walk together to the park, going out to eat, ice skating, volunteering, doing chesed, learning a hobby or just throwing a ball around are some of the activities that make life fun and bind families together.

 

When life gets hectic and time is limited, you can spend a few minutes alone just schmoozing in a quiet room of your house – without a computer or video screen. Most importantly, during your “dates,” try to talk about matters that they think are important. What matters most is to give your teenager a feeling that he or she is the most important person in the world. These moments of relationship building can give your child the proper amount of emotional nourishment needed to end their dependence and wean themselves off the addictive effects of the Internet.

 

As Rabbi Abraham Twerski points out in the introduction to my book, At Risk – Never Beyond Reach, “It has been shown that the single most effective intervention for the widest variety of teen and adolescent problems was also the easiest, speediest and least expensive: The implementation of family mealtimes.” This is because family mealtime fosters relationships. If your child is spending his or her entire evening surfing the web, then there’s no way he is gaining the positive benefits of quality time with his family.

 

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a marriage and family therapist and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach”. To make an appointment call 646 428 4723, email: rabbbischonbuch@yahoo.com or visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com

 

 

Online Infidelity: A New Challenge For The Frum Community

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Online infidelity may be the next upcoming challenge facing the Orthodox world. In the last 12 months, I have seen 11 Orthodox couples where one spouse has reported an online affair that has caused serious distress in their marriage. I now believe that an epidemic of online infidelity may be causing the breakup of countless Jewish marriages.

 

There’s no question that online relationships are the new trend in infidelity and extramarital affairs. Unfortunately, in the Orthodox community, online affairs provide a convenient and inconspicuous cover, whereby someone who would not usually be seen in public committing an aveira will now do so in the privacy of their office or on their cell phone.  Worse, I have heard of cases where an Internet or cyber affair was easily initiated and conducted from the privacy of the cheater’s home, with their unsuspecting spouse in the same room, oblivious to what was going on.

 

But the fact that a physical relationship hasn’t occurred does not mean that cyber affairs are not “real affairs.” I believe that they pose even more of a threat to a marriage or relationship than physical infidelity, because emotions are involved.

 

But what really is online infidelity?

 

Online cheating occurs when two people participate in online communication that is outside the scope of appropriate behavior, even if they haven’t met in real life. According to recent studies, it doesn’t necessarily involve physical relationship but it usually leads to physical cheating. Communicating intimately with someone other than your spouse is considered betrayal.

 

Online affairs should be treated as seriously as physical affairs, because that’s how many of them eventually end up. In fact, according to a recent survey, at least half of the people who engage in Internet chats have made phone contact with someone with whom they have chatted with online. The survey also found that:

 

*Only 46% of men believe that online affairs are adultery.

 

*80% think it’s OK to talk with a stranger identified as the opposite sex.

 

*Approximately 70% of time on-line is spent in chat rooms or sending e-mail; of these interactions, the vast majority are romantic in nature.

 

Divorce attorneys are also reporting that the number of divorces and separations resulting from online infidelity has grown significantly.

 

Regardless of the concealed nature of online affairs, these should be considered a serious threat to the institution of Jewish marriage.

 

In the Orthodox Jewish world the kedusha of marriage has always been the basic unit of the community. Our leaders have worked hard to guard the safety of the family against infidelity. Yet, currently, we find that the family unit is under more attack than at any time, and the safeguards, which had up until now served to defend it, are weakening.

 

How Can We Safeguard Marriage From Online Affairs?

 

There are many people who believe that the affairs are the root cause of divorce. According to the latest research, it’s actually the other way around.  Problems in the marriage that send the couple on a trajectory to divorce also send one or both of them looking for intimate connection outside the marriage.  Most marriage therapists who write about extramarital affairs find that these trysts are usually not about physical relationships but about seeking friendship, support, understanding, respect, attention, caring, and concern – the kind of things that marriage is supposed to offer.

 

What I’m trying to say is that infidelity is not a cause, but rather a symptom. As a marriage and family therapist helping Orthodox couples save their marriages, I believe that most of the time infidelity happens to people who want to satisfy some basic needs that are not met in their marriages. If some of these basic emotional needs are not met, people will turn elsewhere.

 

Over the last five years I have counseled hundreds of frum couples who are struggling with relationship and commitment issues. Not a day passes when I don’t hear about a marriage issue or a divorce in the community. Remember, divorce used to be something that happened to “other” people; not “our” family, “our” friends and even “our” community leaders. Today, it could be a cousin, friend or someone you know from shul. Divorce has become all too common.  These are signs that relationships are becoming harder to solidify and more difficult to maintain.

 

Take the latest studies on divorce. A recent study called “The Effects of Divorce In America” showed a significant increase in divorce over the last seven decades. The report found that: “In 1935, there were 16 divorces for each 100 marriages. By 1998, the number had risen to 51 divorces per 100 marriages.”

 

In addition, “over a twenty year period the number of divorced Americans rose from 4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996.” It is true that the Torah community does not share these same statistics; our marriages tend to last longer and the viability of Jewish marriage is one of the great examples of the power and the wisdom of the Torah. However, over the last few years, we are beginning to see a new trend – one that may be difficult to reverse.

 

Why Do Couples Get Divorced?

 

Take Mordechai, 36, and Chani, 35, who were married for six years when they came to ask me for advice on how to save their relationship. They seemed to have everything going for them. They were working professionals, successful and upwardly mobile; they shared many common factors including similar religious beliefs, intelligence levels – and both were pleasantly extroverted. Yet, soon after marriage, it was apparent that Mordechai and Chani didn’t get along very well. Little things like the cleanliness of the house, or who made dinner, became mountain-sized issues that were often blown out of proportion.

 

The quality of their relationship was going downhill and their marriage was in crisis. Only six years had passed since their chuppah and they were beginning to feel  unequipped to deal with each other’s emotional needs. Instead, they tended to withdraw from one another and were avoiding taking the obvious step of working together to solve their issues. Eventually, Chani also discovered that Mordechai was spending time accessing inappropriate websites and chatting with other women.

 

What was causing their marital stress? Did they share some deeply-rooted negative patterns? Was it a question of personality differences? Did they have trouble managing their anger? Before I offered them some emotional first aid, I asked them to draw an imaginary circle in the middle of the room, to represent their relationship. I then asked them to take their chairs and sit in the middle of the circle if they were committed to their relationship. My feeling was that if they weren’t able to sit in the circle together, their marriage would have little chance of succeeding.

 

I also made it clear to them that, statistically, the overwhelming majority of failed marriages (between two emotionally healthy individuals) end because couples are having trouble building and staying committed to their overall relationship. In fact, many of the negative statistics appearing about marriage boil down to the prevalence of couples losing interest in developing the quality of their marriage.

 

A 1995 survey examining why marriages end in divorce, found that the lack of commitment to the relationship was the top reason for the growing phenomenon. Specifically, the survey asked couples who had been divorced to answer the following: “There are many reasons why marriages fail. I’m going to read a list of possible reasons. Looking back at your most recent divorce, tell me whether or not each factor was a major contributor to your divorce. You can say, ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ to each factor.” The following responses show the percentages of those respondents who answered “yes,” to each factor that they felt was a major contributor to their divorce:

 

Lack of commitment: 87%Too much conflict and arguing: 48%Financial problems or economic hardship: 31%Lack of support from family members: 21%Little or no helpful premarital education: 19%Domestic violence: 22%

 

The findings of the survey revealed what couples who have experienced divorce perceive: that the lack of commitment was the number one contributing factor to their divorces. Commitment often involves making one’s spouse and relationship a priority, investing in the marriage and having a long-term view of the relationship.

 

That’s why the most important issue in marriage needs to be the couple’s focus on the quality of their relationship. Couples like Mordechai and Chani are a perfect example of a relationship that had migrated onto the back burner and was now facing the detrimental effects of internet infidelity. Mordechai and Chani needed to learn more about how to negotiate their emotions, how to communicate in a more effective way and how to begin to recommit to their relationship.

 

So if you’re concerned about your relationship, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

 

1. Do you view building the relationship a central principle of your marriage?

2. Do you set aside time each day to nurture your relationship?

3. Do you look for the good qualities in your spouse?

4. Do you appreciate the small, kind acts your spouse does for you on a daily basis?

5. Do you spend time thinking about the good moments, and limit time and energy spent focusing on the bad ones?

 

Most couples who evaluate their relationship find that the biggest hole in their marriage is the fact that they don’t spend time and effort building their relationship. They allowed themselves to become complacent. Complacency in marriage allows emotional weeds to grow out of control. It’s catching and it spreads, silently and invisibly, and by the time you realize what is happening, much damage has been done.

 

However, in a case where online infidelity is detected it is a sign that couples need to deal with their underlying problems and seek advice and guidance from a marital therapist. With proper guidance, many more marriages could be saved.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a marriage and family therapist and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages”. For a free parenting book or to make an appointment call 646-428-4723, email: rabbbischonbuch@yahoo.com or visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com

When Should We Go For Marriage Counseling?

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Dear Rabbi Schonbuch,

My husband and I are having trouble in our marriage. We tend to fight about the same issues every day and he’s very emotionally distant. At what point should I consider seeing a marriage therapist?

 

A professional who practices marriage therapy can act as a mediator when it comes to disagreements and personality differences. These differences can cause any number of arguments. Most of the rifts a couple experiences have the potential to end peacefully, but then there are those rough and tumble situations where there seems no hope in sight. When the stability of your relationship is in question, marital therapy can provide you with the best relationship advice and guidance.

 

Seeking out this unbiased guidance from a mediator, who is professionally trained in such matters, is a good way to begin getting back what the two of you have lost. The therapist will offer you his or her expertise and qualified suggestions. It can be nice to have that cushion when you and your spouse can’t seem to get past your problems and communication between the two of have stalled.

 

Family counselors are certified professionals with experience in all types of situations. Marriage therapy advice is a just a small portion of what they offer to couples. They can also instruct a couple on ways to strengthen their bond, improve their listening skills to better understand each other, and increase their conversational and interpersonal skills.

 

A marriage therapist will never place blame on a guilty party, if there is one. They will only try to help you work through the misconceptions, accusations, and ego trips that may bring negative feelings into the relationship. You’ll find that marriage and family therapy has a significant impact on your relationship and your lives. When communication becomes stagnant or no longer exists between loved ones, family therapists can guide and teach you to share your feelings once again. They give a person permission to share their deepest fears and desires without feeling guilty or ridiculed by their partner. Egos are checked at the door when a mediator is present, for there is no room for them in a successful relationship.

 

Boredom, emotional neglect, lack of communication or attachment issues from childhood are just a few reasons why marriage problems may occur. Whether the problems are compounded or there is just one single issue, it is still enough to shake the foundations of a relationship. When the couple fails to identify the causes of their difficulties, confusion and separation from the relationship can soon follow.

 

Sometimes, when a couple takes advice from a marriage therapist, issues are revealed that were once hidden due to anger, misunderstandings, and a breach of trust. The goal is for the two of you to use the advice to work things out together and learn ways to overcome obstacles in the future.

 

There is the belief, or opinion, that family therapy should only be undertaken when a situation is too dire for repair. This is completely false.  Marriage/family therapy can be beneficial to any couple that is having issues – at any stage in their relationship.

 

In many instances, troubled couples thought they were destined for divorce, and had actually started the proceedings, before they engaged in any type of family therapy. Once they have begun participating in regular appointments with their family therapist they may find that divorce is not necessarily a viable option. The family therapy sessions may save their marriages from failing and teach them how to relate to each other in a more efficient manner.

 

It is best to begin family and marriage therapy when problems are still in the early stages. This is because the sooner a couple engages in therapy, the quicker and easier it will be to eliminate any misconceptions, anger, frustrations, and trust issues they may have.

 

Now, there are always those stubborn partners who refuse to participate in counseling. This should not stop the one individual who wishes to seek out help. A marriage therapist can help the individual work through his/her own personal issues and, hopefully, once their partner sees the remarkable effects therapy is having on their spouse, they may want to join in on the sessions.

 

Don’t be surprised when the marriage counselor digs deep into your private life. No judgments will be placed on you; it just gives the therapist a way of understanding what makes you tick. It’s common to feel uncomfortable with disclosing so much personal information, but as your sessions progress, that queasy feeling will dissipate. The more open you become, the easier it will be to accept truths and understandings.

 

Seeking out professional guidance when your relationship appears to be bleak and unsalvageable is the wisest thing you could ever do. Regardless of the price you pay for family therapy, it can never be as expensive as losing a family.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch is a marriage and family therapist who maintains a practice in Brooklyn specializing in couples therapy and families with teenagers at risk. For an appointment in person or via the phone/Internet, visit JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723.

 

Parents At Risk, Teens At Risk

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

When parents come to talk to me about a troubled teenager, I often find it helpful to explore whether or not their marriage is causing their teenager to be at risk.

 

It’s no coincidence that difficult marriages create difficult children.  Children want their parents to be happy and they want their parents to be together. When things are going wrong in the parents’ relationship, children are often the first to sense that Mommy and Daddy are not getting along.  Even if parents say that they are only arguing behind closed doors, children can still sense that something may not be right.

 

The parents’ relationship may be one of the most important factors influencing a teenager’s behavior.  How parents learn to manage conflict between themselves can make a difference in their teenager’s lives.  Unresolved conflict has a tremendous negative impact. It directly affects the parties – the two parents – in the way they go about their daily routines.  And when parents become preoccupied with their own marital discord, teenagers can feel rejected, depressed and isolated from them.

 

Marital conflict affects teenagers in various ways. First, conflict between the parents tends to both change the mood of household interactions and shift the parents’ attention to the negative behaviors of their children. Second, parental conflict leads to parents issuing confusing and threatening commands to their children.  Third, children who are exposed to harsh disciplinary practices at home (which tend to coincide with a negative and hostile relationship between the parents) are more at risk for aggression, internalizing by withdrawing and depressive symptoms.

 

In addition, I have found that when teenagers are exposed to high levels of conflict between their parents, they don’t get used to it. They become more sensitive and reactive to it, which causes many of the symptoms of at-risk behavior. Even moderate amounts of parental conflict can wreak havoc on the lives of children, disrupting their sleep and causing negative feelings in their day-to-day lives.

 

In many instances, parents are unaware that they might channel their anger towards their spouse through their children. This “triangling” is a very dangerous pattern of behavior that can have serious implications for children and teenagers.

 

Here is how triangling works.  Suppose a wife is angry with her husband for not being affectionate towards her.  If she is unable to express her feelings to her husband in a direct way, she may unwittingly begin to use her children to communicate to her husband these feelings of displeasure and anger.  For example, she may turn to her daughter in front of her husband and say, “Oh, Daddy seems very tense today and I guess he has no time for the family.” In this case, the parent is unable to negotiate her own needs and inappropriately begins to involve her child in a private marital issue.

 

The child who is caught in a triangle like this has become an inappropriate conduit for the expression of the mother’s anger towards her husband.  When this happens, children can develop feelings of disillusionment, fear, insecurity and vulnerability. They also may feel that they have to take sides because they can’t manage the internal tension and the anxiety by themselves.  In these cases, they may see one parent as mostly bad and the other parent as mostly good. This is damaging to children because it reinforces an attitude by which they view the world in a “black and white” or in an “all or nothing” way rather than with a more balanced view – that there is good and bad in most people.

 

Here are some of the signs that suggest that family members are engaged in triangling:

 

  • One parent wants you to talk to or do something about his or her relationship with the other.
  • One family member talks to you about another and only in terms of the other’s negative qualities.
  • One or both family members blame you for the problems they have with the other.
  • You believe you are somehow responsible for the problems between two members of your family.
  • You feel anxious when you are around certain members of the family.
  • You think you can bring peace and harmony to members of your family if you only try hard enough.
  • You leave family gatherings feeling tense, anxious and/or emotionally drained.

 

Parental fighting affects children in varying ways depending on their age.  For example, teenagers around the age of fifteen or sixteen are most likely to involve themselves in their parents’ battles.   Younger children may keep their feelings hidden and may only show signs of depression in late childhood or early adolescence.  Other children may adapt to parental fighting by becoming “too good.” To stop the fighting, they try to become perfect children. These model children try to do everything right while walking on eggshells, fearing their family will collapse if they make a mistake.

Unfortunately more and more children seem to be growing up in families with marital conflict. The number of divorced Americans rose from “4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996,” and the trend is so well established that “40 percent of all children born in the 1970s and 1980s — today’s teenagers and young adults — have experienced the breakup of their family through divorce.” To this large number, add all the children whose parents are unhappy with each other but don’t divorce. It’s not hard to see that a substantial segment of the population grows up in very unhappy homes.

 

The Effects of Divorce on Children and Families

Here are some effects that divorce may have on children and teenagers:

Children whose parents have divorced are increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect. They exhibit more health problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse and have higher rates of suicide.

Children of divorced parents more frequently demonstrate a diminished learning capacity, performing more poorly than their peers from intact two-parent families in reading, spelling, and math. They also are more likely to repeat a grade and to have higher dropout rates and lower rates of college graduation.

Divorce generally reduces the income of the child’s primary household and seriously diminishes the potential of every member of the household to accumulate wealth. For families that were not poor before the divorce, the drop in income can be as much as 50 percent. Moreover, decline in income is intergenerational, since children whose parents divorce are likely to earn less as adults than children raised in intact families.

Religious worship, which has been linked to health and happiness as well as longer marriages and better family life, is less prevalent in divorced families.

Parents usually experience a lot of pain when divorced, and the most common ways of handling that pain are either to withdraw from their children or to become overprotective.  Children are sensitive to their parents’ feelings and have many ways of dealing with this trouble both internally or externally. Children may respond with depression or guilt, that somehow the pain is entirely their fault.  Most children have a never-ending hope that their parents will reconcile, even after one or both parents have remarried.  Therefore, a sense of abandonment by one or both parents is very common for such children and may contribute to at-risk behavior during adolescence.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in marriage counseling and teens at risk. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723.

Communicating With A Teenager

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

For both parents and teenagers alike, adolescence can be a very hard time. Unfortunately, when family life gets rough, communication tends to break down. And when it does, parents need to restore their ability to relate to their teenagers by learning about the rules of communication.

 

Without question, parents find it hard to deal with teenagers who are unpleasant to talk to or who limit their communication to grunts or short answers that stop abruptly at “yes” or “no.”

 

One of the most difficult breakdowns in communication I have ever seen was between a twelfth grade student, Rachel, and her parents. When Rachel came home after school and walked through the door, terror entered with her.  Her parents explained to me that Rachel often avoided communicating with them altogether, but when she did speak, she was insulting and would respond rudely to innocent questions such as, “How was your day?” or “What would you like for dinner?”  This pattern of behavior would enrage Rachel’s parents so much that they found themselves constantly screaming at and insulting their daughter. Unfortunately the situation got so bad that lately Rachel was staying in her room, locking her door and screaming at her parents when they tried to enter.

 

When I first saw Rachel’s parents, they were very pessimistic about their daughter’s future. For years they had tried to calm her anger by buying her presents and clothing.  They even offered her rewards just for talking to them, but nothing seemed to work.

 

Clearly this serious communication problem needed to be resolved. After finding out more about Rachel’s background and relationships, I began to speak to her parents about some of the key principles of relationships and I suggested that they begin to practice the Ten Commandments of Communication.

 

The Ten Commandments of Communication

Although they are not etched in stone, the Ten Commandments of Communication form the basis of relationship-centered communication with a teenager.

 

This is how it works. On one tablet are five “Thou Shalt Nots,” and on the other tablet, five “Thou Shalts.”Both sides are equally important.  The Thou Shalt Nots represent the types of words that tend to destroy a relationship, whereas the Thou Shalts can improve the relationship and bring teenagers and parents closer together.

 

Thou Shalt Not                                             Thou Shalt

Insult                                                     Compliment

Judge                                                        Accept

Blame                                                     Encourage

Insinuate                                                    Empathize

Embarrass                                                Find the Good

The Ten Commandments Of Communication

 

 

In Rachel’s case, I suggested that her parents work very hard to not use the Thou Shalt Nots.  When they talked to Rachel, they needed to avoid all forms of criticism and control.  The goal was to bring Rachel closer and not push her away through negative language.  Although their daughter may be insulting and often use the ThouShalts Nots, Rachel’s parents should not respond in kind.  Rather, they should focus primarily on the Thou Shalts and try to empathize with her.

 

It’s a fact of life that the Thou Shalt Nots are bound to distance people from one another.  No one enjoys being criticized, blamed or belittled for their behavior.  Worse, parents who rely on pressure tactics to force their teenagers to change often create a negative environment that breeds more mistrust and anger in their teens. However, when parents follow the Thou Shalts and use words that are caring and compassionate, they can create a warmer and friendlier relationship.

 

Take a moment to review your relationship with your teenager.  Are your words accepting, friendly, compassionate and understanding?  Or are they critical, aggressive, insulting or belittling?

 

By looking at the Ten Commandments, you can evaluate whether you are transgressing the Thou Shalt Nots or fulfilling the Thou Shalts of communication. If the content and tone of the conversations you are having are angry, critical and confrontational, then it’s up to you to move over to the positive commandments and to improve the tone and content of your words.  I would suggest that the ratio of positive to negative words should always remain four to one.  As we learned earlier, the relationship parents can build is like a wise investment.  Each positive word is one more coin in a parent’s emotional savings account with their teenager.

 

Also, always measure your words before they are spoken.  Strive to convey this positive inner message: “I love you and care about you and I want to deepen our relationship,” and evaluate whether what you are about to say will push your child further away or bring him or her closer.

 

For about two months, I worked with Rachel’s family to reduce their use of criticism and to have them compliment her whenever they had a chance.  At first, changing their style of communication seem awkward to them, but slowly they began to see that without criticism, Rachel was more willing to talk.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in marriage counseling and teens at risk. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723.

Moti’s Street Clothes

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

I once received a call from a forty-seven year old distraught mother whose seventeen-year-old son Moti had changed his style of dress, wearing jeans and refusing to wear a hat.  She explained that he had gone through a difficult time in school and was now hanging around the house instead of studying in yeshiva.  He was also mixed up with the wrong crowd and was associating with at-risk teenagers late at night on the street.  She was very concerned as she had an older son who had gone “off the path” and was worried that Moti was going in the same direction.  She believed that Moti could be helped if he would be willing to talk with someone.

 

We set up an appointment and Moti came on time and seemed receptive to speaking with me in a friendly and open manner.  What follows is a transcript of our meeting.

 

Daniel Schonbuch (DS): Moti, I know that your parents are concerned about you and wanted you to speak with me.  I just want you to know that I’m very interested in what you have to so say. Tell me what’s going on in your life?

 

Moti: Well, I guess my mother told you that I hate school and I’m looking for a job.

 

DS: What kind of job?

Moti: It doesn’t really matter.   Perhaps something in business or high tech.

 

DS: High tech.  Do you have any computer skills that would help you?

Moti: Yes, I love computers and I know how to create Web sites.

 

DS:  That’s a great skill.  Did you take a class in HTML or figure it out by yourself?

Moti: I just figured it out by myself.

 

DS: Wow.  I wish I could do that.  Well, if you are so talented in working with computers, why are you having so much trouble in school?

Moti: I hate my school.  I can’t stand the teachers and the principal.

DS: You hate your teachers?

Moti: Yes. I can’t stand them. They are boring and mean and my rebbe doesn’t know what he is talking about.

 

DS: You don’t like your rebbe.  Let me ask you a question.  If you did like your rebbe, would school be any better for you?

Moti: I guess so.  But there is no way he can change.  Everybody knows he’s the worst rebbe in the grade.  He doesn’t care about me. In fact he kicked me out of class twice this year.

 

DS: So that’s why you’re at home right now?

Moti: That’s right.

 

DS: Tell me about your home.  I know you have a big family.  What is your relationship like with your parents?

Moti: It’s pretty bad.

 

DS: What do you mean, bad?

Moti: My parents make me crazy.

 

DS: Anyone in particular?

Moti: Yes, my mother; she is always trying to control me.

 

DS: In what way?

Moti: She can’t stand my music or the way I dress. She also hates my friends and recently made my curfew at eleven o’clock.  It’s unbearable to be around her.

 

DS: So dress is a big issue in the family?

Moti: Yes.  They want to tell us what to do all the time.  I feel like I’m living in a cage.

 

At this point we had brought to the forefront several key issues.  One was that Moti didn’t like his rebbe and another was that he felt that his parents wanted to control everything he did.  At the same time, it seemed that Moti also had a very high desire for control. When he was unhappy with a situation, he would try to control his environment by making choices that elicited a negative response from his parents or teachers.

 

I felt that Moti was able to become aware of the dynamics of his own inner world.  In his case, I believed that more self-awareness would help him understand why he behaved the way he did.

 

DS: Moti, tell me about some of the things that your parents and you argue about, like your friends and your clothes.

 

Moti: I don’t see what’s wrong with my clothes.  I’m just more comfortable wearing jeans and these shirts.  I mean, I don’t know what the problem is, but my mother is always telling me how to dress.

 

DS: Did you always dress like this?  When did you start?

Moti: Just after my bar mitzvah.

 

DS: So when you became a “man,” you started dressing the way you wanted to.

Moti: That’s right.

 

DS: Tell me what you think your clothing represents.  Do your clothes say something about you when you wear them?

Moti: I think so.  They are all about doing what you want.  When I wear jeans, I feel comfortable, more chilled out. I know it drives my parents crazy, but I love the feeling.

 

DS: Do your friends wear the same type of clothes?

Moti: Yes, we all do.

 

DS: Let me guess about something and tell me if I’m right.  Your clothing represents your being independent from your parents.  What I mean by that is that they can’t tell you how to dress and of course you can’t stand how they try to control you.  Does this make sense?

Moti: Yes, very much so.

 

DS: So what you are really saying is that this is an area that you can control and it probably makes your parents crazy.

Moti: That’s right.  I really dress this way because it makes them crazy.  I know the weirder I dress the more it makes my mother nuts.

 

DS: So your dress is a way to control her.

Moti: I guess so.

 

DS: If you can see what I’m saying, then I want to share with you the idea that what seems to be an area of control is really an area where you are out of control.  What I mean by that is that although you think you control your mother through your dress, what you are really saying is that she controls you.  If you are just reacting to her and getting her angrier with you then you are not really in control.

 

I knew that this idea would be hard to swallow – especially for a boy who initially saw his jeans as something “cool” and modern.  What I wanted to do was to have him understand that this alternative way of dressing was actually based on a deeper emotional need to control and confront his mother.  Once I introduced this idea, I could spend more time helping him to improve his relationship with her instead of becoming more reactionary.  I decided to introduce Moti to his mother’s inner world.  I wanted to explore with him any possible reason why she was so controlling.

 

DS: Tell me a little more about your mother.  Does she come from a big family?  What are her parents like?

Moti: Well, that’s a pretty bad story.  She has a terrible relationship with her parents.

 

DS: What do you mean?

Moti: Her parents are originally from France.  They moved to Israel when she was a young girl and got divorced and my mother moved here with my grandmother when she was a teenager.

 

DS: What about her brothers and sisters?

Moti: Two of them moved here with her and the others stayed with my grandfather in Israel.

 

DS: How did your grandmother survive here?

Moti: Well, she had a sister who moved here many years ago who helped her out a lot when she arrived.

 

DS: So your mother grew up without her father. That must have been pretty hard.

Moti: Yes but it was probably easier than living with my grandfather.  I heard he was pretty tough with his kids.  You know, very old school.  He used to hit his kids a lot.

 

DS: He used to hit them?

Moti: He was a tough man who had a hard life.  He didn’t have patience for my mother or her brothers and sisters.

 

DS: So your mother moved around a lot and had a hard childhood.

Moti: I think so.

 

DS: And what about your father.  Did he also have a difficult childhood?

Moti: I don’t think so.  He grew up in the neighborhood, went to yeshiva, went into business, and has an okay relationship with his parents.

 

DS: So it seems that your mother had a harder time growing up.

Moti: Yes I think so.

 

DS: Would you say that your mother is a tense person?

Moti: Yes, she always walks around nervous, like something bad is going to happen.

 

DS: I see. So how does that make you feel?

Moti: I can’t stand being around her!

 

DS: Are you angry that she doesn’t give you enough attention?

Moti: It makes me crazy.  She doesn’t pay any attention to me except when she doesn’t like something.

 

DS: Like the way you dress?

Moti: Yes.

 

I wanted Moti to make the connection that somehow his mother was affected by her unresolved feelings that existed in her inner world. Also, without too much information from Moti, I saw that his mother was obviously someone who had trouble relating to her children and found it difficult to nurture them in a loving way.

 

Throughout this first session, I had begun to uncover a deep association between Moti’s behavior and his mother’s emotions.  In future sessions we would deal more with trying to understand why his mother was tense and nagging.   I believed that it was time for him to explore the connection with his mother and for us to see if we could work out a way to improve their relationship.

 

I explained to Moti that since his mother had come from a broken home and had moved several times during her childhood, she was compensating for her feelings of rejection and lack of security.  This was understandable considering her past, and it was something that I felt was central to Moti’s situation.  I believed that his mother was so scared of the possibility that her children’s lives would be disrupted – as hers had been during her childhood – that her fears controlled her life. Moti’s older brother had already decided to go on his own path.  She saw this as a sign that the whole family may fall apart and the fact that Moti was having trouble in school and dressing in jeans began to cause her considerable stress and anxiety.

 

I wanted Moti to understand these underlying issues and to realize why he was unhappy with their relationship. Her desire that “life should be perfect” had caused her to act overly harsh with her children, which made them feel that somehow they were not living up to her expectations.  After all, Moti was a teenager trying something that his friends thought was cool.  He wanted to be accepted by his crowd and wasn’t thinking about how his behavior affected his parents.

 

Having explored other emotional issues in his family, I suggested that Moti try to reduce the conflict regarding his alternative dress by toning down what he wore.  I knew that his parents wouldn’t easily change their expectations, but Moti could benefit from an improved relationship and a small gesture on his part may make his life at home more pleasant.

 

I also spoke several times on the phone with Moti’s parents and suggested that they were not yet equipped to discipline Moti about his jeans.  Rather, they should work to improve the relationship and allow a new sense of closeness to eventually enable Moti to feel more comfortable with himself and his identity.  They could accomplish this by

reducing their criticism of Moti; finding ways to give Moti healthy levels of control; exploring ways of nurturing Moti’s latent talents.

 

To start the process, I suggested that Moti’s parents take him away for a weekend in the country and have a fun time sightseeing, hiking or maybe even going to a batting cage or playing miniature golf. I wanted Moti to feel comfortable with his parents.  They should give Moti the feeling that he was the most important person in their lives.

 

During the outing, Moti’s parents should avoid talking about his jeans. Rather, they should focus on his positive qualities and what areas he could potentially excel in like music, art, computers, or even some type of community service. With an increased sense of relationship, Moti may be willing to adjust his behavior and take steps to reconnect to his family’s traditions.

 

Trying to force the dress issue would only push their son further away. Instead of pushing him away, they could gently pull him in the right direction. In the end, we were able to change the focus from direct control and conflict to mutual understanding and an improved relationship.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, M.A., is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” He maintains a private practice in marriage and family counseling in Brooklyn and can be reached at 646-428-4723 or rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com. For more info about his books, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/motis-street-clothes/2010/05/12/

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