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
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.
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
one of desire," I advised.
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.”
B's apology made responsibility
predicament a shared matter. Son and
parents were now partners in a united effort
to meet a family challenge.
instructional plan I mediated delighted Tommy, as well as
Tommy was promised 10 days of unlimited nighttime access to the
family computer – ten days during which his parents
would not interrupt his usage.
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.
10 minute session involved a scripted role-play during which
parent and child alternated in roles as “supervisor” and
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.”
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
weeks later, the B’s reported that parents and son
were no longer fighting over computer shut-downs. Tommy was
the computer without argument when asked to do so. Even
though much work lay ahead, Mom and Dad were enjoying new
Tommy had taken his
first step toward learning self-control!
purposes of confidentiality, all names and some facts
of this case were changed.)