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Coach Paradise: Find Your Troubled Son's Strengths

Dear Coach Paradise,
I am the parent of a 17-year-old son. He is driving me crazy and I am at my wits' end. I dont know if I can make it through the next year and a half until he finishes high school and goes off to college. He is totally oppositional. I have taken him to a counselor, who asked if I had ever had him checked out for ADHD. He does reasonably well in school, works out every morning and is looking for a job. He is hanging out with some kids who I dont know that well. I am really worried that he is using drugs and that he will turn into my brothers, who are still using drugs and having problems 20 years later. His father doesnt have any better luck at dealing with him than I do.
Mom in distress
Dear Mom,
Your concern tells me how much you love and care about your son, and that being a good parent is high up on your list of what matters most to you. I am sure that you know that this age is a period when teenagers are defining themselves as opposed to their parents, and there is typically much drama, hand-wringing and conflict as both kids and parents prepare for independence. Its kind of like the terrible twos, only the stakes are higher and far less under parental control.
Based on your brief description of what is going on, additional intervention might be a good idea:
1. Explore the ADHD. This often underlies acting out, drug use and overall frustration.
2. Provide a place for your son to talk about what is going on for him. (If he can be helped to see this as a benefit rather than a punishment.)
3. Provide a place for you to talk about what this relationship and what its current challenges are bringing up for you, and to get some support and concrete strategies for coping. This could be a group of parents or a therapist, depending on the severity of your emotional distress.
As a coach, I have several suggestions that might help shift your perspective so you can spend more time in a new, more spacious and happier world:
1. Write down everything good you can think of about your son. You mention that he works out every morning, is looking for a job and is a reasonably good student. Start there and elaborate. Shine a light on him so you can remember who is above and beyond (or underneath) his current persona. Keep what you have written and read it at least once a day.
2. Make up a scenario involving you and your son that is pleasant, harmonious and fun. Maybe you are going for a walk together. Maybe neither of you says a word, but the feeling is one that warms your heart. The sky is the limit here. Use your imagination and dont let your negative voice win out and stop you. Enjoy this virtual time you spend with your son. Do this every day. (Five minutes will do.)
3. Instead of collecting evidence to support the conclusion that your son is oppositional, look for evidence that your son is … (substitute another more interesting conclusion here, i.e. independent, a credit to you in the world outside of the house — hearsay will do — a good friend). You come up with something and collect evidence to support this new conclusion. I would be curious to know if you start to notice anything different about your son, yourself and your relationship.
Last but not least, remember that most of what we think about other people (including our families) is a projection of our own stuff onto them. Scary but true. If what we see is distressing, it behooves us to look at ourselves first so that we can see others with greater clarity and love and as who they really are, apart from us: In their glory, so to speak.
With love and compassion,
Coach Paradise
Editor's note: Coach Paradise (AKA Anne Nayer), Professional Life Coach, is a member of the International Coaching Federation, an MSW clinical social worker-psychotherapist and a medical case manager with 30 years experience working with people of all shapes, sizes and challenges.
For further information about her services, call 774-4355 or email her.

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