The Teen Toolbox

By Cai Graham Rethink Press, 2017, ISBN: 978-1-78133-250-4, 200 pages, $16.99 I don’t have children myself, let alone teenagers, but I certainly remember what it was like to be one: The seemingly constant arguing, the ceaseless battles, the incessant blaming. Utterances from my mother such as “You never listen to me” were commonplace and phrases like “You don’t understand me” rolled from my tongue as consistently as the sun rises. From an outside perspective, it’s often difficult to judge which side (the parent or the teen) is acting more responsibly or maturely in a family impacted by the upheaval that teenagers may bring to the home. Teenagers can be difficult to deal with as evidenced countlessly in pop culture through films such as Mean Girls or The Breakfast Club or in TV shows such as Gossip Girl or Saved by the Bell. I can certainly attest to the challenges of being a teen in my own life. It’s not easy parenting a teen. It’s not easy being a teen either. This is the sober perspective that author Cai Graham brings to the table with “The Teen Toolbox.” She brings both perspectives together with the goal of creating a more harmonious relationship between the teen and parent, thus a more peaceful and stable home for the entire family. Graham brings a unique blend of more than 20 years of experience as a parent, coach, photographer and therapist. “The Teen Toolbox” is broken up between two parts. The first part, split into the first 7 chapters, takes a more theoretical, macro approach to parent-teen relationships. It stresses the need for the parent to change their mentality. According to Graham, the core reason that parents struggle with teens is that they continue to address the challenges utilizing pre-adolescent parenting techniques. This simply does not work. “Your current way of thinking has got you where you are now, so the only way forward, the only way to get more positive results, is to change your way of thinking,” She writes. Rather than trying to change someone else’s behavior, Graham stresses that the parent must change his or her own behavior. The author uses a mathematical equation in the book to make this point: Event + Response = Result. Rather than focusing on changing the teen’s behavior, the parent must work on changing the response to the teen’s action. The reaction to that response will ultimately direct how the situation concludes. “ If a parent yells out of frustration because of the something the teen said or did, the teen will learn that reacting like this ok and will reciprocate. Any breakdown in the relationship with the child is the adult’s problem, not the child’s,” Graham concludes. Graham continues to build on this premise by laying out a set of principles using what she calls The Role Model Matrix. This framework can be spelled out using the acronym, MODEL: Mindset, Obstacles, Dynamics, Emotions and Language. Each term is devoted its own clear and concise chapter. The second part of the book focuses on applying the MODEL techniques using common and real world challenges that teens face. That includes self-confidence, coping with lying, social media, emotional outbursts and body image. Other challenges discussed include peer pressure, managing stress, minimizing conflict, and experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol. Each chapter explores each type of challenge by offering scenarios, providing definitions, and outlining strategies on how to deal with each category of challenge. The book’s strengths lie in its focus on giving tools to the parent to deal with these commonly occurring events. The author makes clear that teens lie, have emotional outbursts, and occasionally experiment with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Rather than suggesting the parent directly and emotionally confront the teen to prevent these events from taking place, Graham provides tactics on how a parent should deal with these challenges in order to create the best outcome for the parent and teen. By providing numerous examples, the author makes clear that the parent is not alone in these events. They are not unusual. There is nothing wrong with your teen. By grasping the pointers in the book, readers have a greater chance to connect with their teenager and steer them in a healthier and more thoughtful direction. While “The Teen Toolbox” is intended for those who are teen caregivers, many of the principles laid out are techniques that can be applied to various types of relationships. These techniques can be useful to parents of all kinds, whether biological, step, foster, adoptive, kinship or otherwise. I would even extend the principles not just to caregiver relationships but also to significant others, colleagues, family members or even strangers. Anyone who reads this should walk away understanding (or be reminded), that the only person’s behavior who you can change is your own. Event + Response = Result. — Reviewed by Bryan Curiel

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