Creating rules to protect the therapeutic frame, establishing rituals to soothe children and open up dialogue, offering passionate advice to encourage reasoning, and asking to be treated with respect may seem, at first glance, unsophisticated, especially compared to the hundreds of clinical approaches now on the therapy marketplace. But at a time when the stable building blocks of family and society are disappearing into the maw of a ravenous mass culture, these old standards of civility and security make a lot of sense, and are good therapy. For all their apparent bravado, kids need the felt presence of adults---the undeniable evidence that we can be emotionally there for them, keeping them safe and providing them with the structure and guidance they crave in a frighteningly chaotic world.
Nothing less seems to hold their anxiety, or capture their digital-speed, supersaturated attention. The other night, I gave a talk for parents and kids in a suburban high school. "How do kids want adults to talk to them?" a parent asked. A sudden jolt of electricity ran through the teens and preteens, "Why don't you just tell us what you really think, for a change" one shouted, with the nodding approval of her buddies. "Only, keep it short, will you?!"
"Rules, Rituals, Reason, Regard--not a bad way to work with kids. Cell phone's ringing. Hmmm, maybe it's a referral. "Refinance, now!" Wait, my continuing-ed application is due tonight--when am I going to get it done? "You've got mail!" I can't believe Sam and Julie are splitting up! They've been married 25 years. "Dear member, your group's medical coverage is being dropped as of . . . ." Tim has cancer, and they don't know whether they caught it in time. "Today's new unemployment figures are out." I'll have to stay late at the office again. But, I promised the kids I'd be home in time to kiss them good night. Oh, no!
Ron Taffel, Ph.D., is founder of family and couples treatment at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy in New York. He's also the author of the professional guideÂ Getting Through to Difficult Kids and Parents . His latest book on adolescence is The Second Family . Address: 155 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10024. Letters to the Editor about this article may be e-mailed to Letters@psychnetworker.org.