I can count on one hand — OK, maybe two — the number of parents who’ve told me that letting a child speak with a therapist has produced a positive outcome.
One might dismiss a few such reports, but not hundreds of them. Most reflect a similar theme: to wit, a tendency on the part of said therapists to take the “side” of the child in a parent-child conflict.
As one set of parents told me: “Claiming confidentiality, our daughter’s therapist wouldn’t talk with us without her in the room and obviously believed everything she was saying about us, almost all of which was either fantasy or downright lies.”
Strange. Do these therapists not know that the operational definition of “child” is “one who has great difficulty accepting full responsibility for the choices they make”?
Children are incapable, for the most part, of correctly interpreting and accurately describing adult behavior. To top it off, children are soap opera factories. Therefore, anything a child says about adults, especially their parents, is to be given due skepticism.
The conclusion I have drawn is the field of child therapy is populated to a significant extent by people with a need to be liked by children. Very odd. Wanting to be liked by children, that is. There is nothing amiss with being liked by children, but wanting and trying to be liked is another matter entirely.
The latest example comes from parents who consulted with a family therapist because of conflicts with their 15-year-old daughter, including conflict over the state of — as she put it — “her” room, which many a homeless person would refuse to live in. Said room was not just a thorough mess, it smelled bad from food that was slowly rotting and clothes that begged for washing.
After talking privately with the girl, the therapist informed her parents that their expectations were “unfair.” The girl should be allowed to wallow in whatever state of clutter and filth she chooses. The problem, said the therapist, was not the daughter’s irresponsibility and lack of respect for the people who pay for her life, it was the parents’ inability to establish “appropriate boundaries” between themselves and their daughter, a conclusion reached after less than one hour of conversation with the girl. Even if that were true (which is impossible to establish), it would not justify this otherwise intelligent girl’s behavior in the home.
This is far from the first time I’ve heard such a tale. This seems to be a “therapeutic” narrative. Allow me, therefore, to stand up for parents who are the victims of “It’s my room and I can do with it what I please!” nonsense.
A message to the daughter in question and similarly mistaken teenagers everywhere: No, dearie, it’s not your room. It is paid for on a continuing basis by your parents, the people who have ensured that you have never known true deprivation. It would be highly therapeutic for you to come to grips with the fact that you qualify as ungrateful, and any sense of entitlement you cling to is a self-destructive delusion. In the real world, you are not entitled — you are obligated.
I told the parents to take the door off the daughter’s room and require two months of a clean and odor-free room before reinstalling it. Not-so-miraculous was their report that as their daughter began cooperating with their draconian standards, she slowly became equally pleasant to live with, proving, once again, that the unmitigated real world is the best of all therapies.
Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.