DISSECTION OF THE DIALOGUE
"A figure emerges out of the darkness and approaches the group...The mother stands at the edge of the gathering"
By approaching the teenagers as if she were part of them, the mother instantly begins to shift the balance of power from the group to herself. Teens have no idea what to make of an adult who behaves in such a fashion. In engaging teenagers, how we do what we do is just as, or even more important, than what we say. Its all about communication.
"She says nothing"
Principle #1 of our parent empowerment initiative, the LANGUAGE OF POWER © (LOP), is FORCE TEENS TO MAKE CHOICES. Teens have no frame of reference from which to decide what to do here. Their whole experience has been not only that adults avoid them, especially when they're in a pack, but also engage them only to lecture, admonish, issue ultimatums, etc. Here is an adult just standing there as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to be there. Power in this interaction continues to shift to mom...
"Finally, one of them speaks"
Teens cannot handle silence. Especially in a group situation like this. Professional therapists who know how to handle adolescents call this " therapeutic silence" or benign neglect. Once, in a session with a most sophisticated and resistant teen delinquent, we took a large alarm clock and told the teen we were paid to see her at least twice a week but not paid to say anything. It took 55 minutes for the teen to break and we ultimately went on to help her grow into a responsible young adult. And so mom is not only following Principle #1 but also THE FIRST RULE IN THE BOOK: GET THEIR ATTENTION. The teens all now know that this is going to be an utterly different situation than they first thought.
"Can we help you with something?"
By forcing the teens to speak first, mom is now completely in charge. She has their full attention. Her task now is to stay in the saddle (or the communicational pathway: FROM THE OUTHOUSE TO THE PENTHOUSE is our training manual for teaching others how to speak the LANGUAGE OF POWER © with teens especially in group situations.)
"I'm trying to find my favorite star..."
This is of course gibberish although, if there are no clouds in the sky, it's remotely possible that it makes some sense. (But then the issue becomes why on earth would a competent adult ask a bunch of teens such a question?)
Why on earth would we want to talk gibberish to a teen or to teens in a group? THE BIGGEST MISTAKE parents and other adults make over and over again in dealing with teenagers is that we forget TEENAGERS ARE NOT ADULTS (from LOP)! They're teenagers! They don't yet have an adult brain! They can't possibly think like us adults! How many times have you engaged a teen with impeccable logic, reasoning, and convincing evidence only to be totally ineffective in getting where you wanted to go with her? And so the reason for talking gibberish is first to GET THEIR ATTENTION and second to keep the balance of power between you and them in your corner.
Think about it.
The teens in this situation are confronted with an impossible dilemma. They instantly will sense that the statement might be gibberish but they can't (yet) be quite sure. An adult speaks gibberish to them in a perfectly normal tone of voice as if for all the world it's a perfectly reasonable question! The teens are forced to choose between responding to the content ("I'm trying to find my favorite star in the sky") or the intent—which is gibberish as they will quickly realize. Because of their uncertainty, virtually all teens will respond to the content as if it is in fact a serious question. The mother now has established total control and the teens are floundering. All of this comes from learning to follow PRINCIPLE #6 BE NON RESPONSIVE TO NONSENSE, PRINCIPLE #3 MAKE NO JUDGEMENTS, and PRINCIPLE #5 BE RELENTLESSLY POSITIVE.
"I don't think we quite understand"
What else could the teens have possibly said?
"Well, did you guys ever go to school?"
The mother now begins to head directly to her ultimate objective by asking an obvious-answer question
The teens begin to realize that they have no choice but to continue down the communicational pathway mom is building.
But by now they are fascinated, intrigued and wondering where this is going to go. Mom is using power indirectly with these teens. They know that mom is now totally in charge and that she has a (communicational) destination. Whenever we as the adults are able to use indirect power with teens they will so react. This is because all teenagers struggle daily to learn social constraints on their behavior (which is why the teen years are so turbulent) and the "tools" they use in their learning are what we call power and freedom.
Think about it. None of us really and truly understand how power works until we push it to the limit in order to find out where the limits are, or if there are any. Virtually all teens have experienced only direct power in their young lives based either on physicality ("sit down and shut up or I'll beat you up", etc) or hierarchy ("I'm the parent, Sheriff, teacher, Principal, Sergeant, etc, so you'll do as I say"). When they finally run into indirect power they know it's real power but don't have a clue how to handle it. Because teens do not yet have an adult brain, they are resistant to the power-expressive life issues (hierarchies) of money, gender, race and age. But they experiment with all of them as they are learning how power "works". Sexuality and appearance (physical attractiveness, clothes, etc) are usually their first battleground. Which is perhaps why we have teenage bullying...
"Oh, so they taught you about letters in the alphabet and such?"
"So I guess maybe all of you know how to read?"
Mom has now set them up with a couple of long, slow curve balls (baseball analogy—sorry).
"OK-Could you read me that sign over there?"
And now she wipes them out with a fastball on the outside corner (so to speak).
"...Do you promise that none of you will run away until I get done?"
Mom now even has them agreeing to participate in their own denouement!
And the rest is pretty much downhill. Notice that everything mom said was in the form of a question. This is PRINCIPLE #4 ASK QUESTIONS, DON'T MAKE STATEMENTS. And everything she did or didn't do was driven by PRINCIPLE #7 GIVE UP THE NEED TO BE RIGHT and PRINCIPLE #8 MAKE YOURSELF THE PROBLEM ("I'm trying to find my favorite star in the sky. Can you all help?") And the ultimate objective with difficult teens always is PRINCIPLE #10 PAINT THEM INTO A CORNER.
Its all about how we communicate. If you're interested in going further check out the transcript of an interview with a mother trained in THE LANGUAGE OF POWER © at our gotteenagers.com site.
A Program To Help You Deal Effectively with Teen Problems