Parenting the adolescent, DBT, and dialectical dilemmas: From Miller, Rathus, and Linehan

In 2007, Alec Miller, Jill Rathus, and Marsha Linehan published Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Suicidal Adolescents. In the book, they outline specific dilemmas related to adolescent development. I think their work is quite clever and clearly fits the dialectical theme: Two opposing concepts can both exist at the same time, people can get “stuck” in extreme polarities, one extreme does not negate the existence of the other extreme, a person has to look for the truths in both extremes in order to get unstuck, and the “middle path” is a place where both parents and adolescents to be understood and acknowledged.

The extremes that parents of adolescents can get stuck in include the following: Being too loose vs. being too strict, making light of problem behaviors vs. making too much of typical adolescent behaviors, holding on too tight vs. forcing independence too soon (page 308).

One of the assumptions in DBT is that clients are doing the best they can. This assumption is held for both parents and teenagers. Parents sometimes parent with an intention to give their children what they didn’t have or prevent their children from making the same mistakes they’ve made. The pain of “letting go” and watching their children become more independent, make decisions, and be faced with extreme consequences can be hard. Sometimes parents can get stuck in extreme ends of these dialectical dilemmas because they are trying so hard to be the best parents they know how to be.

Consider your own childhood for a moment.

  • How did you experience your parents (in terms of polarities) as a teenager?
  • Where do you see yourself as a parent now?
  • Where do you think your teenage son or daughter sees you? Where you see yourself and where he/she sees you may be very different.
  • Consider what kinds of things get you to move towards one polarity or another- and what gets you to move closer to the middle.
  • Consider the consequences (including the impact on relationships) of being in the extremes.
  • Consider the necessity of both extremes- and how they can be effective vs. ineffective.