While your teenager is going through a difficult time, you are likely going through a difficult time as well. The good news is that DBT can help you, too. DBT offers you, as parents, skills to cope and act effectively with this difficult time and addresses underlying themes and concepts common to the parents of teenagers with mental health concerns. The goal is to help parents enhance their understanding of the dynamics that may be playing out in their household. Parents will learn to apply these concepts to their own teen-parent relationship. Parents will begin by learning about adolescent-specific Dialectical Dilemmas, Learning to find balance with Dialectical Dilemmas will help parents:
• Encourage healthy development through adolescence.
• Effectively respond to crisis behaviors.
• Find balance between being too strict and too lenient.
• Learn ways to offer your teen support and encourage independence.
• Avoid blaming yourself or others for your teen’s mental health concerns so you can focus on influencing (but not forcing) growth and change.
Parents will then learn skills to parent from Wise Mind. This means having a balanced approach by making decisions based both emotions and the facts. Parents will learn to:
• Recognize your State of Mind.
• Validate and accept difficult emotions.
• Manage difficult emotions so they do not get in the way of effective parenting.
Parents will learn to bring Wise Mind to life through Mindfulness skills. Parents will learn
Mindfulness skills to:
• Parent with mindfulness of your own thoughts and emotions.
• Focus on one step at a time.
• Avoid judging yourself and your teen.
• Act Effectively to meet your goals.
Parents will learn relationship skills to improve the connection and communication with their teen. This includes:
• Using the GIVE skill to build up the relationship with your teen.
• Increase assertiveness with the DEAR MAN skill.
• Recognize and live consistently with your values as a parent.
Parents will learn to improve Self-Care to help manage the difficult emotions and situations that arise when parenting a teenager. Parents will learn to:
• Improve physical health with the PLEASE skill.
• Recognize strengths and weaknesses with Self-Care.
• Create family goals for improved health.
Last, parents will learn the CARES skill to improve consistency in setting rules, expectations and consequences and create predictability at home.
A Dialectical Dilemma occurs when one feels stuck between two ideas that seem opposite to each other (Linehan, 1993a). The focus in DBT is to find balance by incorporating elements from both sides of the dialectic. In other words, the goal is to avoid being on one end of the extreme or the other and instead find balance in the middle.
Three adolescent-specific Dialectical Dilemmas were identified by Miller, Rathus and Linehan (2007) . These Dialectical Dilemmas are common and important for parents to know and understand, as parents are most effective when they incorporate elements from both sides of the spectrum in these dialectics.
Allowing Developmentally Typical Behaviors vs. Addressing Problem Behaviors. Finding balance with this dialectic means letting teenagers practice their developmental tasks while taking seriously behaviors that are beyond what one would expect developmentally. This requires parents to differentiate between developmentally typical and more serious problem behaviors.
Being Strict vs. Being Lenient. Finding balance with this dialectic means having expectations, rules or limits while also being flexible. This requires parents to identify rules and consequences, while also using their Wise Mind to determine when some slack is needed.
Fostering Independence vs. Giving Support. Finding balance with this dialectic means supporting a teen’s primary developmental task of gaining autonomy by providing space for him or her to make decisions while also providing structure, support and problem solving. This requires parents to recognize and act effectively with their own thoughts and emotions about their teen being independent. Included here is a new Dialectical Dilemma, which addresses a common thinking pattern that acts as a barrier to parents engaging effectively with their teenagers.
Blame Self vs. Blame Others. Finding balance with this dialectic means not blaming yourself or others for your teen’s mental health concerns. Assigning blame creates difficult emotions and actually gets in the way of change. Balance is found with Radical Acceptance, which helps parents to accept that they cannot change or control their teenager. This frees parents up to focus on ways to influence (but not control) a teen’s decisions and behavior.
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