By Gretchen Zagzebski, MEd, LPC, full-time adolescent therapist at Inspire Counseling Center
How do we naturally foster an adolescent’s independence and promote positive growth and change?
The adolescent brain is designed to begin breaking away from parents. It is a biological response as they begin to get ready for the moment in time where they leave the nest. We will start to see adolescents naturally choosing the route that is the exact opposite of a parent’s suggestion. You say pink, they say blue. You say stop, they say go. Sometimes we think that perhaps saying the opposite of what we want has a higher likelihood of panning out in the direction we would prefer!
There is actually a more sophisticated way of going about this. It is called Motivational Interviewing.
The idea behind Motivational Interviewing is that by using key techniques, language and behaviors, we can help our teenagers discover why they want to make a change. This is in contrast to telling them what to do because it comes from within the teen. When people are told what to do, they naturally try to find ways to get out of it. This occurs even as adults. If my partner tells me to do something, just the fact of being told what to do creates a natural response to put on the brakes. Before moving forward, however, let’s take a look at the Stages of Change.
Dr. Jonathan Fader applies this idea to these stages. He explains that way back before the Stages of Change were developed, there was the simple idea that a person was either ready to make a change or not. It was black and white. We have since realized that there is a complete cycle of change that we must endure as we move towards progression or relapse. So where does Motivational Interviewing fall into place? Motivational Interviewing falls in the stages that come before the Action Stage. It actually might help someone in the Action Stage of change to be told what to do or given advice. They are already open to change and looking for ways to adjust behavior. However, at any stage before that, this will not work because the individual is not open to change quite yet. Motivational Interviewing actually helps get adolescents to the Action Stage.
But, how do I implement this?
Dr. Jonathan Fader suggests that we must “love with a goal”. If we pick this apart, let’s first think about love. We express love through various ways such as by actively listening, by expressing empathy and by asking questions. The second part of this phrase is also key. It is the important idea that we should be loving with direction and expressing empathy with strategy. The goal in this case is to find the piece of the adolescent’s belief that favors change and to roll with it. You may be tipped off by different change talk including statements like “I should…” or “I want to…”. This means that the individual is moving through the Stages of Change. Tied to this, it also helps to assist the adolescent in understanding the conflict presented between their behaviors and a future goal or value.
For example, say I want to lose 5 pounds but I continue to eat 10 cupcakes a day. We have a tendency to latch onto the advice to stop eating the 10 cupcakes! However, this strategy actually involves honing in on the goal of losing 5 pounds and discussing ways to achieve this. I will naturally come up with the idea that I would have a better chance of losing 5 pounds by only eating 1 cupcake per day or by replacing a cupcake with a handful of strawberries to get my sweet fix. Since this conclusion came internally, I am also more likely to stick to the behavior.
Other tips are to be optimistic, supportive and helpful.
Step away from arguments and resistance. Set a realistic expectation because change occurs slowly and takes time. If we can assist our adolescents in aligning their behaviors with their goals and values, we are helping them lead healthy lives that are internally motivated and more likely to sustain in adulthood.
Written by Gretchen Zagzebski, MEd, LPC, Therapist at Inspire Counseling Center.
If you would like support with your adolescent, Gretchen is available to help you get started!
Call (847) 919-9096 ext. 1 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.