Case Study

 
educational tips

The B’s came to me for help with their 13 year-old son, Tommy. “He’s impossible,” they explained. “Either he gets his way or he makes life miserable. We’ve given up on asking his help around the house. It’s just not worth it. When we do have to remind him that it’s time to shower or eat or get ready for school, all hell breaks loose. We’re walking on eggshells. He’s like a volcano waiting to erupt. We just don’t know what to do.”

Computer time was a major issue between parents and child. He routinely refused to shut down when asked. Contracting didn't work. He just ignored agreements. Strict times for access didn't work. He just violated them. Punishment didn't work. He just fought back.

I proposed to the B's that we compare Tommy to a chocolate addict who really wants to slim down. "Let's assume that his problem is one of self-control, not one of desire," I advised.

As a step toward alliance-building, Mr. B approached his son with an apology. “Your mom and I were thinking as we spoke with Dr. Botman,” he stated. “Maybe we’ve been unfair to you. We’ve forgotten how hypnotic the computer can be – that leaving takes an inner discipline we’ve never taught you.”

Mr. B's apology made responsibility for Tommy’s predicament a shared matter. Son and parents were now partners in a united effort to meet a family challenge.

The instructional plan I mediated delighted Tommy, as well as his parents.

Tommy was promised 10 days of unlimited nighttime access to the family computer – ten days during which his parents would not interrupt his usage.

In return, he would practice shutting down his computer – for 10 minutes each afternoon under his mom’s tutelage; for 10 minutes each evening under his father’s.

Each 10 minute session involved a scripted role-play during which parent and child alternated in roles as “supervisor” and “supervisee.”

Each "supervisor" was to forwarn the other as follows: "Turn off the computer, please, in the next minute, or I’ll be forced to kill power.”

Each "supervisee" was free to comply or not.

Each "supervisor" was to express gratitude for compliance as follows: “Thank you. I appreciate your cooperation. It means a lot to me. It really makes my life easier when you comply.”

When compliance was refused, each "supervisor" was to kill power with an apology. “I’m sorry I have to interfere. I don’t enjoy playing the role of enforcer.”

Two weeks later, the B’s reported that parents and son were no longer fighting over computer shut-downs. Tommy was leaving the computer without argument when asked to do so. Even though much work lay ahead, Mom and Dad were enjoying new hopefulness. Tommy had taken his first step toward learning self-control!

(For purposes of confidentiality, all names and some facts of this case were changed.)

Dr Jeff Botman