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Temporary Insanity-part 2

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Boys Town's Patrick D. Friman, Ph.D. discusses teens and their behavior. (Part Two)

Main Speaker: ... Let’s move onto another condition.

I'll tell you how to pronounce this... woe is me. This is a period of life when kids aren't always happy. Maybe you have noticed and there are multiple contributing factors to their abiding unhappiness and I have listed some of them here. One is they are chronically bored. If they are a part of your family and they hang around the house, they are with you a lot. They're doing what is supposed to be done, by and large, if they're going to church with you Sunday. They are chronically bored.

That stuff is not satisfying to the limbic system. Church, by and large, is a rational event unless you are really affected by the Spirit and then it becomes an emotional event. But if you look around the church when you're at Mass, I think you'll see it isn't always a limbic event, it's mostly a rational event. So when you bring your kids to church, for them, this is a boring experience by and large.

You have them at the dinner table engaged in polite conversation with the family and not slugging their little brother in the face because he just kicked him under the table, that's a rational experience not a limbic one. Therefore it is boring for them. All the stuff that you will allow them to do in order to have fun, it's mostly boring. So they are chronically bored and if they're not bored, they're probably up to something.

So that's number one. They're limbically dominated. The experiences that we arrange for them, that we permit them to have, don't activate the limbic system very well, so they're chronically bored. They need to be special and they're not anymore. They were, right? But they didn't need to be special then, they just were.

I don't have this experience. I wish I had this experience that I could just call up and enjoy from time to time. You all have had it. I imagine it's something like this: You and your spouse go into your child's bedroom where they're lying in their bassinet and maybe it's your first. The little one is asleep and you quietly go in and the two of you just look down into the bassinet and just look. You just look. You don't say anything. You look at the miracle that you've created together.

Nothing needs to be said. This is special. It's beyond special. If you look for the right words for what I just described it doesn't exist. Special has to suffice here. But that kiddo isn't doing anything to be special. It doesn't need to be special. It just is. As toddlers they're still special. As preschooler's, that first day of preschool, that is special. They're not trying to be special. They don't need to be special. They just are special.

They're still special in elementary school that first day of kindergarten and the first day on the bus. The first day of the drop off is a wonderful day, sad, but special in its very interesting way. All the way up through maybe the first year or two of middle school still special and then, adolescence hits and special disappears. What takes its place is a profound desire to be seen as special. But like I said, they're not.

And a big reason why they're not is how they think about us. How they think about you. They think that we're stupid. They think that we're unfair. They think we're hypocritical and they think we're boring. I don't know about you but the people in my life that think I'm stupid and hypocritical and unfair and boring are not special to me.

They don't give me that special feeling. Fortunately for me they don't usually insist I think of them as special. But the ones that are in your life, they want you to think they're special despite of how they think about you. This is upsetting to them that you don't get their need to be special when you definitely don't get it because it isn't there to get.

They have conflicting needs and the big conflict is between independence and dependence. In their own mind, they're independent. At 15-years-old, they have exactly what it takes to make it on their own in their mind. They're like a legend in their own mind as far as that's concerned. They still have acne. They don't have a driver's license. They have no marketable skills whatsoever.

They cannot carry on a conversation with an adult that lasts longer than two sentences that doesn't have in the conversation "Can I have it? Why not" and yet they think they can go out into the world and make a perfectly fine living if only you'd leave them alone. This is where they live in their independent mind and then they're idea of their self, their independent self, is dashed on a regular basis when they recognize they actually do need things from you.

They go through their day thinking "I don't need you. I don't need you. I don't need you" and all of a sudden "well, I could use a ride to the mall to pick up Sonya on the way. That would be terrific." They're thinking that they don't want anything from us.

They think "Well you know actually if you could give me $10 to take to the mall that would be pretty nice because then I wouldn't want anything from you" and they don't want any of our help or anything. "No help needed here. Got it all... Well, just if you could sign this for me, then I could be a completely independent person."

You get no gratitude for any of this. They don't appreciate any of it. I know you want them to but they don't. Because in their mind, all of this flies right in the face with how they see themselves which is independent and reminding them of their dependence by helping them out isn't going to help out their opinion of you, sorry.

Maybe this is more of God telling us that sex was never intended to be fun. There's a lot of that stuff in here and then the final part is...puberty. Puberty kind of comes out of nowhere for them. And let me just tell you exactly what that is.

Puberty is nature programming them to mate. That's all it is. Nature has programmed them to mate. They're not ready psychologically. They're not ready character logically. They're not ready morally. They're certainly not ready economically and they're not ready socially. They're not ready domestically.

If there's any other “-ally's” out there, they're not that either. Except there's one -ally that they are for and that is that they are biologically 100% ready. That's puberty and it comes out of nowhere. Let's just take boys for example. They have no use for girls before puberty. None. I mean completely useless human beings. They suck up to the teacher. Their clothes are too neat. They color inside the lines. They're handwriting is the way it's supposed to be and it's readable. They cry when you push them down and they pout.

This is just not fun for boys. So they're going through life looking at these completely useless human beings and then puberty hits. One day useless human beings and the next day the boys look at the same girls thinking "Whoa, I'd like to get me some of that" and the next thought they have is, "I better look my best." And they'll never look worse in their life.

Nature does not cooperate here. It starts with the hair, teenaged hair. Boys will never have more hair and they'll never, ever do weirder things with the hair that they have. It never makes any sense. You can spot it from a half a block away. Then you come down into the facial area. The general disaster area here starting, not ending.

Let’s start with acne which is nature’s birth control. That's what that is because kids will not have sex with kids that have acne because it looks like you can catch it. It looks like chicken pox or measles. You may have a child with acne and you're saying to him "Well, I'll be merciful and I'll get him the Accutane treatments."

Maybe hold off on that because you have a relative secure period of maybe three or four years where nature will do the job that you're going to have to do if the child ends up with clean skin. Their body just goes on assault against their sensibilities. It may look all right but they're not at home in it and it often doesn't look all right.

It gets all stretched out and they can't do very graceful things with it and they don't like what's happening to it even if it's attractive to other people. They get hair “down there”. That's how they feel about it. They don't want to talk about it. They don't want to know about it. They don't want to think about it and the last thing that they want is for you to ever speak of it.

And that right there, what I just pointed out is power, radioactive power. I’ll explain. They go on campaigns against you. You know this. They wear you down. They have tactics for this. They don't have very many things on their agenda on a daily basis. Basically it's what I want to do today. That's their agenda.

You have far more things on your agenda than what I want to do today. So you're an easy target for them because they have one thing and you have many things, so your attention is divided. So they go on the campaign and the campaign can be whittled down to its essence which is pretty much, "Can I have it? Why not? Can I have it? Why not? Can I have it? Why not," and they can do this all day. They can do it and text at the same time.

You listen to it like it really matters whether or not you have the right answer to their question and you don't want them to be upset with you. So they've got you there and they just whittle away at your willpower. But I have a strategy for you and here it is: They're going through their "Can I have it? Why not" campaign. You wait for them to take a breath. "Can I have it? Why not? Can I have it? Why not? Can I have it? Why not? Can I have it? Why not?"

Right there you answer "Hang on honey. Just one second. Could I just ask you a quick question before we get to what you want? Is that okay with you? Are you getting any hair down there?" That's power because that conversation is over. You are now radioactive. He or she in this case will not come anywhere near you for days because you just might bring that up again.

Then there's talking. They don't know how to talk to girls. Where would they learn this? They've been completely useless human beings all this time. The only person they know how to talk to that's a female is their mother and the two sets don't generalize very well and they suffer as a result. If they could, the girls could teach them stuff they need to know.

If a boy could talk to a girl really well, say for example, Tommy's going to go to talk to Susie. "Susie, when I saw you on the quad today I know we had a moment. At the moment I saw you, the clouds parted, the sun came through and a ray of it caught your hair and there were little bursts of golden fire. Then your eyes caught mine and it gave rise to a sensation in me that I haven't had before and I'm really having hard time putting it into words but please, let me try. Gosh, I think you're special. Gosh, I think you're swell."

If a kid could talk like that the girl would take him under her wing and teach him very important things like hygiene because boys know nothing about hygiene. Where would they learn this? They have completely relied on their mothers to tell them when they're violating air quality standards and all they use in absence of that is to go into their father's medicine cabinet and get whatever is in there that is supposed to smell good and then slather that stuff all over their selves.

By the way if your son walks through the house smelling of aftershave and you're having questions about whether puberty has set in, I have an answer for you. They do learn to talk to girls eventually and they can get pretty good at it. They can get downright slick and it still isn't over. Their sorrows, their woes, many of them are still going to hang around because they can't rely on their voice. It won't always be there for them.

It goes in and out like a radio station. Say a very slick boy walks up to Susie and says, "Hey, Susie. Susie, yeah, you're looking fine girl. You are looking fine. No, it's not your looks that have me over here. There are a lot of other qualities that draw me to you. For example, you're an athlete. You're the best on the volleyball team. I know that. Everybody knows that and you're a brainiac. The other day when you answered that question about the quadratic equation, I got chills. You can sing. You can dance. It's incredible to watch you dance. You've got rhythm and I think you and I have a lot in common. So I was wondering if you would like to go out with me sometime?" This woe is mania. Their life is just full of that stuff that they can't control. That is a big reason why they're so moody all the time. This life just won't do what they want it to do and you won't do what they want you to do with that life and it makes them unhappy.

I'm just the reporter here. I'm just reporting the news. I'm not inventing the news. Don't blame the reporter. All I'm saying here is that it's all but inevitable for many, and highly likely for most, but it isn't just because of them. There's another player involved. They're over-prepared biologically by nature. I mentioned that. But they're also over-stimulated by Madison Avenue and that's a problem.

I spent a couple years at one of those muscle-head gyms. Can you tell? That's where I got this body. If you go in there when I used to workout at the gym and play that other game we talked about to find the one that doesn't belong? That would be me because I would be the only one in there that wasn't covered in tattoos. That was just the difference between me and the women that worked out there. At this gym they had these television sets all strategically placed where you could see them while you were working out and they were all tuned to the same station and on that station there was always one or two things.

A scantily clad, very young woman gyrating while singing or attempting to sing, or young men doing something similar with young women watching, gyrating while they're singing. The message for young people in this programming for young women in what I saw is "You've got to be like this." And the message for the young men is "You've got to get yourself some of this" and those messages are incredibly powerful.

They capture the attention of everybody in that gym regularly while they're working out. That's just one station and it's programmed in that one gym. Imagine how many of those there are. How much of that there is. How much of that there is for kids all across this country and it is powerful.

My point is they're programmed biologically but our culture isn't cooperating by being a governor on that programming. It's actually putting the gas pedal on that programming with the way that we entertain kids.

They are also under-prepared in all of those other important ways. They're under-prepared emotionally, under-prepared cognitively, under-prepared morally, under-prepared socially, under-prepared behaviorally, often feel unloved and are often unsupervised. They often have unfilled time. All that adds up to a high probability of sexual activities. That's my point. So to be surprised if sexual behavior shows up in your teenager's life at a time when you wish it wouldn't or think it shouldn't, to be surprised by that, is a little bit irrational in my view given what's around us.

Now what do you see here? Do you see a black vase or do you see white vase? Black vase or white vases, which do you see? So you can't see both at the same time. You can see a black vase if you focus on it or you can see white vases if you focus on it but you can't see them at the same time. So which is the valid one? Which one's accurate? They're both accurate, right?

I've got some real bad news for you. Your kids see life one way which is the white vase way and you see life another way and that's the black vase way. They are seeing it and their way of looking at it is valid and you're seeing it and your way of looking at it is valid. And they think you don't get it and you think they don't get it and both of you are 100% right. Just like those of you that saw the white vases were right and saw the black vase were right.

Now to expect them to go out of their way to try and understand our world is about as foolish and irrational as it would be to expect them to never think about sex. They're not equipped to do that. They're limbic beings. They don't have what it takes to go into the life of another person and use the rational part of their brain to understand and appraise and accept what is over there so they can deal with it appropriately. Guess where that leaves the responsibility? It leaves it with us.

We are capable of exploring the world of another person so that we can see that world and understand that world. Steven Covey had a saying for it. He said "It's better to understand than it is to try and be understood." And in a campaign to establish a relationship with kids so that appropriate behavior will grow out of that relationship, what I see parents doing, what I see parents trying to do is desperately trying to be understood. If the kids just understand the way it is then maybe it'll turn out fine and I don't see enough of an attempt to try and understand what it's like to be that kid.

What's it like to be in that world? When I worked with kids that is what I would do. I try to understand their worlds. I try to get them or have them let me see what it's like to be them and lots of parents that have me work with their kids or have my staff work with their kids do not like it when we do that. They think we're being too friendly with the kids and too accepting of their world.

Not understanding that we aren't going to be able to do anything with the kid until we can walk a little bit in their shoes and they can see that we know what we're talking about when it comes to their life. In other words, we go down to their world and look at it with them and from there, we can be seen by them as somebody who might know what we're talking about.

But if we stay up in our subsystem and just look down at their world and judge it harshly they don't let us in so we don't know what the deal is. I know it's unpleasant. Who wants to go back and be in adolescence again? There are a couple of people in the room who probably want to be an adolescent some time very quick but who here wants to go be an adolescent again?

I mean to just go back. I don't mean go back knowing what you know now because who wouldn't want that? If I could go back to high school knowing what I know now I could lay that place to waste. You could. You could have your women. You could have any guy you wanted. You could have the teacher eating out of your hand. You'd be the captain of this, the head of that. All the girls would be following you around. You'd be the leader of the pack.

You would know so incredibly much that you'd be the most powerful person in the school knowing what you know now but in a teenage body. I'm not saying that. I'm saying "Who wants to go back and do it just the way you did the first time around?" No? I think that there's a little bit of that at play. We don't really want to know what it's like to be a teenager because it's such an unpleasant time of life.

What I'm saying is if you wanted to really influence a kid it's a good idea to know what it is that you're trying to influence and know it from the inside as best you as  you can. They will let us in further than they've let us in. If there's more acceptance along the way of what you're seeing as you see it, anything that you see, anything that you hear about, you don't have to deal with it in real time. You don't have to deal with it immediately.

The best way to discipline a kid that's just done something really, really bad like take a car that they shouldn't have taken is to tell them that you are going to deal with this. You're going to talk to dad. You're going to think about it and you're going to deal with. But you're so upset right now that you aren't ready to make a decision.

You can say "What I want you to do is…” or “You're confined to the house and school and your job and I want you to just remember that I'm going to come up with something to punish this behavior but I can't think of it right now" and let that sit there maybe for a year. I know that's how you're feeling now. But then they suffer. Now they don't know.

They want it over with. They want to know what their punishment is so they can work on you so that they can reduce it. But if you don't tell them what it is, now they don't have any idea what they're going to be working with and they're suffering. What I'm saying is that when you find out the kids do stuff that's kind of nutty or even worse than's against the rules. It's immoral and unethical because of your relationship with the kid you don't have to deal with it in real time. You want to separate out having a conversation with a kid to teach them something and having a conversation with a kid to get to know them.

Those are two different conversations. If you collapse them they'll always assume that your conversations with them are about teaching and they won't even talk to you. If you separate out a getting to know you conversation from the teaching conversation they'll recognize the difference. I'm going to go back to the brain and remind you what I said in the first part of this conversation. That they're limbic. They crave the action.

They love the drama. If you have a gut-wrenching fight with your teenager and shout and there's name calling and you finally have to pull rank and shut the whole thing down and send them to their room because everybody got so angry, they are probably going to ask you within 15 or 20 minutes what's for dinner or if you have $10.

You however, will probably still be suffering from that two or three or four or five days later. You don't crave that action. You're rational beings. You can be stimulated rationally in ways that are more pleasing to you and more lasting in their pleasing effects rationally than you can be necessarily emotionally. They don't have that so they crave the action.

When you fight with a kid thinking you're going to get somewhere with them in terms of what you're fighting about, guess again. They like the action. What I'm going to put up here are ten tips for dealing with an adolescent lunatic.

I want to open up is this session together for questions. But your question might be "Just tell me about one of these numbers." That's fine. "Tell me more about number one" or "Tell me more about number five" that could be your question. Or you might have a question of your own and I want to just check.

Do you have a question? (Following is response to the mom mentioned at the beginning of Temporary Insanity Part 1)  I wouldn't even think about it now. She's trying to think of all that the punishment is going to be. This is not your problem. Just tell her that you're thinking about what the punishment's going to be and then don't think about it for a couple of days.

While that's happening she is being punished and something will occur to you and she'll probably lead you to it. If you put her in charge of this it will probably be worse than what you come up with. I'm not saying do that but just let it sit for a while. First of all, when she gets home she's going to be grounded right? The how long and what she's going to have to do to get out from underneath the grounding, don't worry about that for a couple of days.

Let her suffer. It sounds like I'm being cruel here but I think she deserves a little suffering after this because we can't have her driving in any cars. She needs to pay for this. She needs to remember that this is a line she should never cross again. But for now you don't need to come up with anything other than she's confined to the house. She's confined to her room. You'll think about what the punishment's going to be then don't think about it for a couple of days and then think about it.

That'd be my advice. I've got something for you that is really bad and you're going to hate it. You can't trust her. She's a teenager and here is the news: If she does everything that you want her to do, if she doesn't break any rules and always tells the truth, she'll never ever have any fun and she is going to have fun. They can't be trusted, not fully. You give them you trust. That's a gift. I recommend giving the trust but they will violate it.

We have a funny idea about trust. We misconstrue trust which is a gift from one human being to another for reliability. No, she's not going to be reliable. She's a teenager and teenagers are not reliable. We're defining a class of beings here and it's not because they have bad characters. It's because they have underdeveloped reliable parts of the brain or the part of the brain that's responsible for reliability is underdeveloped. She's not going to be reliable.

Does that mean that you shouldn't give her your trust? No, absolutely not. You should give her trust like you give her money. If they don't have money they don't learn what to do with money. If they don't have trust they don't learn what to do with trust. If they don't have money they can't lose anything. They can't waste it or fritter it away. It is the same thing with trust. If they don't have it they don't learn how to do it. They don't learn what it means to lose it.

They don't learn what it means to fritter it away. They don't learn what it means to actually have it for a while. Down the road you're going to give her your trust again. But remember she's not reliable, not completely. She's a teenager. But the main thing here is to work on that consequence part. What gets kids to think twice about their actions is the penalties that they're going to have to pay so that's where you need to do some work.

The first penalty is alerting her that there is a penalty and you don't know what it is yet. You're going to wait until the governor calls. I'm with you there. That is the way to think about this. Don't let it affect your life. It's her life that needs to be affected.

Assistant: I'm going to take the microphone to whomever.

Audience member: Do you have any advice about texting? Our daughter texts and she does it almost continuously and I do ask her to stop sometimes when we're in a conversation.

Main Speaker: Right you have to.

Audience member: But I feel like it's really made it hard to maintain a normal level of conversation.

Main Speaker: It's a default communicative technology which is very easy. It doesn't require grammar or much thought so it's low effort. It also has a pretty high payoff. So why wouldn't they if they are given free access to texting? You are going to have to limit it somehow. Asking isn't going to do it for you. Telling might do it. I don't know how much authority that you have. Actually limiting her access to that phone or limiting the number of texts that she gets each month would do it for you. She'll really dislike you for it, initially.

Audience member: That's one of the tough things. Are there other parents that are feeling that frustration?

Main Speaker: Everybody in the room. Everybody but me. I'm the only one that's not worrying about that. It's really, really common. Teenagers are not learning how to talk to each other anymore. I do see teenage boys from time to time and  if they're real big texters and they almost all are, I'll just tell them, "Hey, look, buddy. If I was your age I would steal your girlfriend."

"Oh, yeah? How would you do that?" "Well, I'd talk to them because I know how to do that. So I'd talk to her and I'd smile at her when I talked and then when she talked I'd smile at her and listen. And when she said something funny I'd laugh and when I said something funny she'd laugh." "We'd laugh together and pretty soon she'd be my girlfriend. Then you'd send her an angry text and she and I would read that together and we'd talk about you."

I would go one of two ways. Limit her access to the phone or limit the amount of texts that she gets each month. She probably has unlimited texting, either that or you're paying out the nose.

Audience member: Well, I think just about everybody has unlimited. You have to nowadays, there's no way...

Main Speaker: You could put a limit on this. That's what I'd recommend. Find some way to limit it. I mean you're onto something there. It's not good for her. It's not good for the family. It's not good for a relationship. It's not good for her learning how to actually talk to human beings. Teenagers are starting to fight with texts and they're sitting right across from each other and they're arguing with a text.

They can't take the tension of having to look at somebody that's upset with them so they text them. They have to learn how to do that because I just don't envision the day where they go into negotiate for a raise with their boss and they text the message while the boss is sitting right there. They're going to have to learn how to talk to people. So I'd recommend limits for that.

Audience member: Okay so, what somebody was saying over there is that you can make it so that they can't do more than 250?

Audience member: I know with Verizon, I don't know about all carriers, but I know with Verizon that they will limit it to 250 and when they go to text somebody it will no longer work if they've already hit their 250 max for that month.

Main Speaker: Call the phone company and ask them what you can do. You aren't going to be the first person that asks about this.

Audience member: Thank you, because I didn't know that.