Is it Normal to Have Problematic Teenagers? Part 3 of An Interview with Dr. Jim Fay

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Problematic teens are normal. At least, that’s what many parents think. But today, we’re going to find out if there’s any basis to say if it is indeed a normal, helpless case or if there’s anything we can do to resolve this.


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Dr Daniel Amen: All right. Welcome back to the Brain Warrior's Way, podcast. I'm Doctor Daniel Amen and I am here with Tana and our very special guest Doctor Jim Fay is with us. He is the author of parenting with love and logic, the co-founder of the love and logic institute where they have courses and lots of support for you and today we're going to talk about teenagers. Parenting with love and logic for teenagers. It's very important for me to say that it is not normal for teenagers to be problematic all the time. There's actually a big study in Chicago were a third of teenagers never had any problem, another third it was periodically they would have a problem but there's a third of teenagers and they would have significant problems. They would run away, drug abuse, school failure and so on. They often get held up as well adolescent years are normally tumultuous .

Tana Amen: So that's the mantra I hear from a lot of parents that this is normal.

Dr Daniel Amen: That is often the excuse not to recognize when there are significant problems.

Dr Jim Fay : That's a huge cop out but do you know which teenagers do you hear about all the time?

Tana Amen: Right, the ones with problems.

Dr Daniel Amen: You hear about the troubled ones.

Dr Jim Fay : Exactly.

Dr Daniel Amen: So clearly brain problems can contribute, you know if you have undiagnosed depression, ADHD, having a traumatic brain injury but even those kids who have brain issues parenting ... You know it's funny Dr Fay when I was doing my child psychiatry fellowship they actually taught me to go play therapy with ADHD kids and I hated the children because they didn't get better. You know we'd spend an hour playing war and nothing changed. And then the second year I was involved in parent training and all my kids got better so it was clear to me that putting smart parenting skill into families was one of the most effective thing I could do for kids including teenagers. Talk about your experience with parenting love and logic for teens.

Dr Jim Fay : We have so many love and logic parents who tell us that the teenage years are really a joy.

Tana Amen: Yeah they are for us.

Dr Jim Fay : The kids are fun to be around and all that but they also have lots of questions about how much does a kid need to be involved with the family and that kind of thing. Now we're strong believers that kids need to belong to a gang, the family gang and we're all in this together trying to survive this world and get through it. [inaudible 00:03:27]has become very important that they continue through those teen years. I'm a strong advocate that each child in the family, by the time they're about 7 or 8 years of age are responsible for one family meal per week and that is planning it, cooking it, serving it and cleaning it up. It's funny how the kids are like argh, well, I shouldn't be a slave around here and I don't like to cook. Before long you find out they're really amoured with cooking but what I think it really is and I know it really is they' re meeting a very basic need.

You know when [Maslow inaudible 00:04:11] gave us the hierarchy of basic needs he told us [inaudible 00:04:19] physical and emotional safety, love and affection, healthy amounts of control and this one that gets discarded so often in families is a sense of being an important valued member of a family. If a kid lives like an honored guest in the home why should he have any attachment to this place you know it's just a rental place for him. It's like a rental car it won't be here forever.

Tana Amen: Love that, that's so interesting because our daughter actually likes doing chores an we think part of it is because she now feels confident. She likes being in charge of her own life. She's still strong willed but now it's directed in a positive way and those chores give her a sense of purpose and she's good at it and she knows she's good at it. She's a little worker bee. So I think a lot of it has to do with the attitude.

Dr Jim Fay : By the time kids are teenagers I will say to them I hope that you get so good at your chores now we call them contributions to the family but I hope you get good and so fast at those things that they don't interfere with any other life that you want to have. You know your work life, your social life, whatever but still your family life comes first and if we're paying kids to do the chores they're not part of the gang. We have chores that they do for free just like I don't charge the family to take care of the bills and all that. I don't charge them to drive the car and I don't pay my kids to do those but we do put a list on the refrigerator of the parents most hated chores up for bid and they can bid on chores if they want to earn extra money beyond their allowance.

Tana Amen: That's exactly what we do.

Dr Jim Fay : The only problem in our house we were teaching about a free market economy so the neighbors kids knew that that list was there too and if they out bid our kids so be it.

Tana Amen: Oh that's funny, oh that's really funny so you would allow the neighbors kids to make the money instead.

Dr Jim Fay : Kind of intact there.

Tana Amen: That's awesome.

Dr Daniel Amen: Let's spend some time and talk about technology. I had a patient recently who was sending inappropriate pictures, a really pretty 12 year old girl sending completely inappropriate pictures to a boy.

Tana Amen: Well that's actually a very common thing. That's sadly enough not considered that big of a deal with our kids now in our culture because they don't understand the consequences.

Dr Jim Fay : Oh yeah. So that's why during our first session we talked about the goal of love and logic is to raise kids who have a little voice inside their head that says I wonder how my next decision is going to affect me and if we have trained our kids from early childhood to listen to their peers and that's what happens to a lot of parents they actually go through a training session with their kids to train their kids only to listen to their peers and the way they do that in the early years whilst the brain is in formal operations they're saying to the kids, do it because I said to, do it my way or else and then when the kids make a mistake they say you should have listened to me so they're locking that in for about 11 years.

Now listen to a voice outside your head. Then the brain starts to make that switch were it starts to deal with abstract thinking and all of that. At that time the kids say wait a minute I can think for myself. I'm not going to listen to these people anymore but they are so trained that they have to listen to a voice outside their head and the only other one available is what, the other teenager.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Jim Fay : I've had parents say to me I just don't understand it, he's changed so much and I say no he didn't change he use to listen to a voice outside of his head now he just listens to a different one.

Tana Amen: That's not an issue we have with Chloe.

Dr Jim Fay : That's really a shame, how does that apply to technology?

Tana Amen: It's a huge issue. Our daughter is so strong she-

Dr Jim Fay : I'm sorry

Tana Amen: No I'm sorry.

Dr Daniel Amen: Let him finish because I would love ... What guidelines would you give parents?

Dr Jim Fay : Well the guidelines in a healthy family are this technology is around, it has great benefits, there are a lot of problems that can happen. We want two things here. We want the kids first of all to know that they welcome to have that technology as long as it doesn't become problem, that's the first thing I want to work on. The second is when we see it becoming a problem that's when we need to step in and hopefully we won't have to. So what kind of things do you suppose could cause a problem? One of them would be at the dinner table, if I only see the top of your head, that's a problem.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Jim Fay : If it interferes with family life it could be a problem. The other thing I want to do is instill in my kids early and when I say early that means before tomorrow because it's never too late to do these things but I want to get the kids to believe that their parents are really, really wise. Would you like to know how to convince your kids that you are really wise,

Tana Amen: Please.

Dr Jim Fay : Then the way you do that is when they're going to do something that you think is wrong never say they don't do that because our next words are why they shouldn't do it. If you do this, this will happen, this will happen, this will happen and any kid worth his salt will say no it won't, I'll be okay and they're likely to do it. So I want to say to them oh, I don't think I'd do that you know if I did that ..,. Here's an example ... I don't think I'd go out there and mouth off to those bigger stronger kids. You know if I did that I might get a fat lip and a bloody nose or I might have to carry my tooth around in an envelope for a week so then you drop it. Then you secretly prayer early in life while the price tags are affordable, that they go out and do it anyway. Right when this kid provides all this training for them the say to themselves wow, I think my dad said this might happen. My dad must really be wise. All right I think I'll do that because they don't have anything to fight. They can't fight you when you say you're not going to do it, they can only fight you when you say don't you do that.

Tana Amen: I know it's swede.

Dr Jim Fay : To the point were they can misuse this technology be self destructive in the aftermath when we can say oh I tell you I don't think I would be doing that because, and then say, what do you think and that's where he might just happen to listen to us.

Tana Amen: I'm sorry, it's interesting that you say that because and I learned a lot of this over time by doing this and implementing these strategies one of the things that I took on as my daughter came into her teenage years, Where we live kids tend to be almost overly sheltered when they're really young and then all of a sudden they're acting our when they're in junior high and high school so what I figured out through all of this is that my job is not to shelter her its to teach her to respond appropriately to when things do happen as opposed to hiding them from her. So when it comes to technology you know I have the unfair advantage that we see troubled kids and so we have those stories and we share them with her and we share what's going on. Problems that can happen. We were brutally honest so it's like you're going to come across porn on the internet, you're going to encounter these problems XY and Z. I have to trust enough that you're smart enough to know that if you see a photo or you see something that is inappropriate you are intelligent enough to respond appropriately. As opposed to oh my gosh you have to stay away from them. You can't shelter them from it.

Dr Jim Fay : You can't shelter, it's going to be there. It's going to be right in their face. One of the things we do for parents is help them understand when they're kids are ready for a lot of these temptations and the way we do that is, lets suppose he's going to this party and your worried about drugs, alcohol and different things like that. We don't say to them no you can't do that, you're not older enough you say well I wonder if you're ready for something like that. Tell me what your plan is if somebody suggests this, this and this to you. Well what you got in mind and they say oh you know I don't do that well that's not a plan so they're not ready. They say well I'll just tell them their stupid and you say to yourself well I can't say that to my best friend, I don't know how a kid can say that to his best friend so they're not ready.

But if the kid says well you know here's what I'd tell them, I'd tell them this, I'd tell them that they've got a plan, they've got a fall back position and you can feel pretty confident about. Remember they're was one time when the kid said oh I'm trying to remember how this all went. He's said all you know I don't think that's going to be a problem at the bottle of the neck. The kid offered me drugs. I just tell them my parents are so paranoid about stuff like that, that if they knew that I was even talking to you about it they would already be draining my savings account for college and putting me in rehab. Did you like that you're not going to worry about him.

Tana Amen: Our daughter she is 13 and she was at school and word got out that the first party with that age group 13 there was going to be Coby. She's really funny. She is one of those kids who will tell her friends how dumb it is but to a whole group she basically told them how disappointed she was. That she had higher hopes for them as her friend group, it was hilarious and that's why they all call her mom. And then she went on to tell them all the reasons they shouldn't go, the consequences and a couple of kids actually listened to her and didn't got. If you do this earlier enough and your kids are strong enough and I think develop that voice in their and that you’re talking about you just might end up with a kid who's a leader like that and if not then it's great to be able to have them voice that plan like that because I think it is hard for kid, most of theme succumb to peer pressure.

Dr Jim Fay : Oh yeah I hope that your daughter runs for president some day, I'll vote for her. Me too.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well this is so helpful. When we come back we're going to talk about parenting with love and logic for young adults. It's a huge issue. The average age children leave home in the United States is 26 so there's really parenting beyond 18. Stay with us where here with Doctor Jim Fay author of parenting with love and logic. You can learn more about his work at