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Posted: Jan 16, 2004 21:07


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Our business of working with the parents of struggling teens often involves helping parents to intervene in their childís life during a crisis. Frequently this involves helping the parents find a suitable temporary residential placement for their child. Although many parents consider this type of an intervention to be a unique and drastic action, actually, a parentís intervention in their childís life is common, and goes on throughout the childís life. A crisis intervention really differs only by being perhaps more dramatic than other interventions.

For example, when a child is crawling, parents intervene by helping their childís efforts to walk. They intervene when they purchase a bicycle and teach their child how to ride. They also intervene by insisting that their childís hands are washed before dinner, teeth are brushed regularly, a reasonable bedtime schedule is maintained and school is attended at the appropriate time. Even though children are often ready for these next steps as part of growing up, often they only start doing them because their parents have intervened. And then there are the interventions when a child is sick or injured; trips to the doctor or hospital with a sick or injured child to obtain professional help are common interventions.

A parentís whole life with their child is a series of interventions. Another name for this is parenting. The parents have goals in mind as to what the child should be doing, and they take the appropriate steps, or interventions, to make sure their goals are met. This continues even when the child becomes an adult, though by then it takes a more subtle form such as giving advice, sending money, or deciding whether or not to give emotional support to the adult daughter or sonís plans. A common observation among parents and grandparents is that ďYou are a parent forever.Ē In my experience with four children and two grandchildren, those words are very true. My interventions now usually take the form of listening, sending money, or trying to point out the flaws of some plan; but my intent is still to intervene. They may or may not choose to follow my advice, but by providing them another perspective based on my life experiences, my suggestions still serve as interventions.

So, how does a crisis intervention that results in residential placement differ from the multitude of interventions parents have been doing throughout the childís life? It differs only in degree; in that a residential placement is probably more dramatic, compared to what the family has normally grown accustomed. The child might object and resist, but even that is not necessarily different. Often, a child will resist a parentís routine interventions, such as washing hands or brushing teeth for a variety of reasons. Some trips to the dentistís office can be a real experience in overcoming resistance. There is one major difference in a crisis intervention for a teen: the teen is likely to have greater motivation and more highly developed skills to inflict a guilt trip on the parent.

The thought process that happens in a crisis intervention is the same as in all the parentís previous interventions. The parent has a goal for their teen to be, for example, drug free, responsible, self-disciplined, academically successful, and comfortable with him or her self. If the child is not accomplishing this, then just as a parent will intervene to help a child learn how to walk without the crisis of continuously falling down, the parent should intervene to provide the resources that will help the child become sober, responsible, self-disciplined, confident and competent. It is the same thought process as when the child was becoming a toddler. The only difference is that when intervening in a crisis situation for a teen, the arena of choices of intervention is different, and usually requires calling on others for help. Often the help sought will come from specially trained and experienced professionals. With a crisis intervention, the tools might be counseling, involvement in a youth program with positive peers, some adventure experience, or perhaps a residential placement for some period of time. Different tools, similar goals: providing an experience that will help the child grow in a positive direction.

The goal when intervening in a crisis is to provide the specific intervention that best meets the childís needs. This is just like all the many other interventions the parent has done earlier in their childís life. The trick in a crisis intervention, just as in all previous interventions, is to avoid doing too little or too much. Either extreme can be counterproductive. This might call for the Wisdom of Solomon, but a parent signed on for that the day their child was born. One bit of advice for a parent whose teen is making very poor decisions: if you avoid thinking about the hard decision of crisis intervention, you are not doing the child a favor; you are avoiding doing your job as a parent.

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