Dr. Susan Landes is the founder of the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Centers in Auburn and Davis. She works with adolescents and children who suffer from anxiety, depression and behavioral health disorders (cutting, drug use, aggression, suicidal thoughts and attempts). These same skills are helpful to strengthen the parent-child bond in a cyber-powered world that hypes emotion. “Social media is dysregulating [disruptive],” she said describing an example of a teenager who wakes up to a social media post that a boy she likes is with another girl, and the rest of her interaction with family and classmates that day is hostile. “Sometimes kids use language that is dramatic, like ‘I wish I were dead’ because they do not know how to put into words the intense emotions they are experiencing,” she said.
To help families with children who are experiencing severe behavioral health issues, including anxiety and depression, Landes specializes in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). “DBT involves five modalities that help people cope with and change unhealthy behaviors,” she said.
The term “dialectical” comes from two opposites in therapy: acceptance and change. Landes explains that DBT facilitates skills essential to open communication when kids cannot communicate their pain effectively, so they can learn to problem solve when experiencing duress. “DBT employs a spiritual foundation of being mindful – paying attention on purpose to the thoughts and feelings and body sensations without judgement,” she said.
Connecting with your tech-savvy teen: Validation
For Landes, the key to responding to behavioral health issues is to be able to meet your teen in their emotional state, with a “wise mind” which is a state of being present without fear or judgment. She refers to this wise mind approach as creating a “validating environment” to help calm the “emotional mind”. Landes encourages parents to imagine three realms of the mind: “emotional”, “rational” and “wise”. The wise mind is central to achieve a more balanced state of being with your child and wherein your thought leadership can stabilize emotion so communication can flow.
- Emotional mind – “the sky is falling!” “I am not lovable!” “I hate you!”
- Wise mind – “This is what I see and hear from you right now; let’s collaborate to make it better”
- Rational mind – “you should not feel that way” “that is just silly”
This is what it means to validate; to acknowledge the feeling a person is expressing and experiencing without necessarily agreeing with the emotion. Validation also means that the “rational mind” does not say things like, “you should not feel that way”; it simply requires witnessing a person’s emotion without judgment. In order to validate without judgment we must choose to hold up two opposing thoughts at once: acceptance (where your child is at emotionally and in their own state of mind), and change (learning from the experiences to do better and be well).
Below are some tips to help you and your teen establish open communication, which Landes calls DEARMAN:
Describe the current SITUATION (if necessary). Stick to the facts. Tell the person exactly what you are reacting to. “You told me you would be home by dinner but you didn’t get here until 11.”
Express your FEELINGS and OPINIONS about the situation. Don’t assume that the other person knows how you feel. “When you come home so late, I start worrying about you.” Use phrases such as “I want” instead of “You should,” “I don’t want” instead of “You shouldn’t.”
Assert yourself by ASKING for what you want or SAYING NO clearly. Do not assume that others will ﬁgure out what you want. Remember that others cannot read your mind. “I would really like it if you would call me when you are going to be late.”
Reinforce (reward) the person ahead of time (so to speak) by explaining positive effects of getting what you want or need. If necessary, also clarify the negative consequences of not getting what you want or need. “I would be so relieved, and a lot easier to live with, if you do that.” Remember also to reward desired behavior after the fact.
Maintain mindfulness Keep your focus ON YOUR GOALS. Maintain your position. Don’t be distracted. Don’t get off the topic. “Broken record”: Keep asking, saying no, or expressing your opinion over and over and over. Just keep replaying the same thing again and again. Ignore attacks: If another person attacks, threatens, or tries to change the subject, ignore the threats, comments, or attempts to divert you. Do not respond to attacks. Ignore distractions. Just keep making your point. “I would still like a call.”
Appear EFFECTIVE, confident and competent. Use a conﬁdent voice tone and physical manner; make good eye contact. No stammering, whispering, staring at the ﬂoor, retreating. No saying, “I’m not sure,” etc.
Negotiate. Be willing to GIVE TO GET. Offer and ask for other solutions to the problem. Reduce your request. Say no, but offer to do something else or to solve the problem another way. Focus on what will work. “How about if you text me when you think you might be late?” Turn the tables: Turn the problem over to the other person. Ask for other solutions. “What do you think we should do? . . . I can’t just stop worrying about you [or I’m not willing to].”
These handouts above are offered by Dr. Susan Landes. To learn more about DBT or seek additional assistance from Dr. Landes, go to: Auburn-Davis DBT
To learn more about creating a family culture that features open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.