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At-Risk Adolescents and Dysfunctional Family Behaviors
Cognitive Distortions and the Maladaptive Family
Counselors need to understand that not all families face issues involving large conflicts. Reiss (1991) noted in his classic study of families that some do not experience conflict overtly. Children may accept their parents' values, and, yet, remain independent and assertive. Thus, it is important to avoid labeling all adolescents as confrontational in their quest for independence.
Robin and Foster (1989) note that cognitive distortions have a great impact on parent/adolescent relationships in many ways. These distortions may help establish rigid positions that increase maladaptive behavior, anger generated by negative attributions, or illogical thinking, which generally escalates hostility among family members. In their examination of cognitive distortions among parents and children, Robin and Foster have developed eight themes that describe this phenomenon:
- Perfectionism--when parents expect their children to behave flawlessly. At the same time, adolescents see their parents as always having the correct answer.
- Ruination--the belief that if the adolescent engages in maladaptive behavior, there will always be catastrophic consequences; not only the adolescent's life will be ruined, but also the lives of the other family members. From the adolescent's perspective, restrictions placed by parents will ruin his or her life.
- Fairness--the belief by the adolescent that parents should always treat him or her fairly and that life should be fair for everyone.
- Love and Approval--based on the concept that no one should have secrets and that everyone should always approve of others' behavior. If you fail to confide, you are lacking in love for another human being.
- Obedience--the parents' belief that no matter what they say or do, the adolescent should agree without question.
- Self-blame--the adolescent or parent refuses to accept blame for his or her own mistakes, instead believing that if the other had provided better information or had acted differently, the mistake would not have been made.
- Malicious Intent--the view that if a person misbehaves, it is done deliberately to hurt other family members. Criticism and constructive feedback are seen as hurtful.
- Autonomy--adolescents' belief that they should be able to do whatever they wish without any restrictions.
Clinicians must recognize that these cognitions serve a purpose for some unhealthy families. They may provide a sense of balance or help the family avoid intimacy. These distortions may even be seen as helpful in improving a particular negative quality.
During their children's adolescence, parents' decision-making becomes even more difficult due to the complexity of such issues as discipline, schooling, and intimacy. The adolescent is constantly requesting changes in the rules, and in the process parents may disagree with each other. Adolescents are adept at recognizing this ambivalence and may play one parent against the other. Disagreement among parents is not unusual, but when they are unable to resolve a conflict, the disagreement may lead to maladaptive behavior by the adolescent (Haley, 1980; Kessler, 1988).
Most of the problems seen in dysfunctional families with adolescents also occur in normal families; however, the rate of dysfunction is much higher in families that have maladaptive methods of solving problems. In fact, in many dysfunctional families adolescence-related issues are a continuation of prior parental difficulties. However, an implicit goal for every family, even a very unhealthy one, is the growth and preservation of its members.
Typically, the emergence of an adolescent in the family's life cycle results in a period of upheaval (Walsh, 1982). The family's parameters undergo continuous evaluation as the adolescent goes through a period of change--physiological, cognitive, emotional or behavioral. This period of change necessitates a series of psychosocial adjustments within the family, the major one focusing on the adolescent's primary developmental task of becoming independent from parents (Levant, 1984). How the family reacts to conflict during this period of adjustment determines whether the normal processes of adolescence will be resolved or whether they will result in pathology and an at-risk adolescent (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2000).
- Count, Diane; Working with ‘difficult’ children from the inside out: loss and bereavement and how the creative arts can help; Pastoral Care; June 2000.
Reflection Exercise #12
The preceding section contained information
about at-risk adolescents and dysfunctional family behaviors. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
What are the eight themes developed to describe cognitive distortions among parents and children? To select and enter your answer go to .