Mark Rindflesh will give a free lecture on "Living Together - Parents and Adolescents" on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m., at The Western Institute, 501 Chipeta Way, University of Utah Research Park. The lecture is part of the Mental Health and Literature discussion series.When it comes to raising adolescents, most of us are looking for a simple method. Psychiatrist Mark Rindflesh says, "I'm the bearer of bad news: There are no easy answers."
Rindflesh teaches parenting classes at The Western Institute of Neuropsychiatry. He teaches a step-by-step approach, patterned on the work of two Oregon researchers, Gerald Patterson and Marion Forgatch."Everything I talk about and teach parents is just basic common sense," says Rindflesh. With two exceptions.
Rindflesh expects parents to keep track of every request they make and their child's response. He expects them to draw up charts and write everything down.
He also expects parents to have more positive exchanges than negative with their teenagers - more good times than bad.
"It seems a little intimidating to start with," says Sherry Goodfellow, a parent who has taken Rindflesh's class. "You are bombarded with facts and studies."
But when you get down to the nitty-gritty of tracking your child's behavior, Goodfellow says, this positive approach becomes feasible.
For about four months after they took the class, Goodfellow and her husband, Jim, kept meticulous rec-ords. They followed the steps outlined in Patterson and Forgatch's two-volume book.
They wrote down changes they wanted their two sons to make. They selected several easy changes. They set criteria. They assigned points for correct completion of chores or for correct behavior. They held a family meeting to establish, with the boys' help, family rules. They talked about the charts. They made contracts with each other. They begin tracking.
If it seemed like an unnecessary chore at first, writing everything down turned out to be a good thing for the Goodfellows.
"It gave everybody a chance to see what bonds us together and keeps us together," she says. And one day, the system seemed easy.
Rindflesh says, "The greatest flaw parents have is thinking nothing they are doing works." Charting is the only way to see if your child is changing.
The Oregon researchers proved that changes in parents bring about changes in children, Rindflesh explains. Researchers spent hours sitting in the homes of 100 families, recording every exchange between parent and child. Parents just don't see the subtle changes in behavior unless they are keeping charts, Rindflesh says.
They don't keep charts anymore, Goodfellow says, because the system has become second nature now. They still hold family meetings every week and figure out how many points the boys have earned. Then they give out rewards.
Their 17-year-old likes free time rewards. An hour in which he can go someplace without having to tell his parents what he is doing is his favorite bonus.
The 11-year-old prefers money. They used to give him an allowance. Under the new method, the boy does three hours of required chores each week and anything extra earns him more. Goodfellow figures he earns between $4 and $8 each week.
"We still have a list of house rules," Goodfellow explains. Rindflesh taught them to keep the list short - no more than 10 rules. When one rule is learned, it can be taken off the list.
"Right now the number one rule is Who, Where, When, What," she says. Parents need to know where the boys are and when they'll be home.
Another rule is no soft drinks in any carpeted room. Another rule is ask before borrowing. Another rule is to talk things out using a polite voice.
When the boys break a rule, the parents assign them chores. Recently, when Goodfellow lost her temper and spoke too loudly to her son, he assigned her to make his bed the next day.
She laughs, "They are real tough on us. I said to my son, `Yes, you're right. I did yell at you unfairly. I do deserve a punishment.' "
But punishing is a very minor part of the picture.
Rindflesh says, "The interchanges between people determine the future course of events." If the conversation is positive, family life is positive.
He uses an analogy of a family bank account. Negatives - disagreements, broken rules, punishments - are like withdrawals. If there aren't a lot of deposits - in the way of good times together, compliments and hugs - to balance out the withdrawals, families are headed for emotional bankruptcy.
"Too many families run in the red," Rindflesh says.
One big change she's made as a mother, Goodfellow says, is in the way she talks to herself about her children. She used to ask herself what discipline she needed to keep her sons under control.
Now, she says, "I ask myself how I can encourage my children to control themselves."