Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Listening to an alienated teen

Transcript of a text exchange between a father and his alienated teenage son:

Father:  (1:49 PM) Will you come over on Saturday? I have an X-box.
Son:      (1:50 PM)  Shut up.
[Translation: A completely alienated child would not respond at all.  The reply “shut up” conveys an underlying wish to reconnect.]
Father:  (1:54 PMI will set it up and practice until you come over so I will be hard to beat.  I love you. Dad.
Son: (1:56 PM)  Shut up. I hate you.
[Translation: The son is trying to provoke the father into an angry response that would justify the son’s rejection and obnoxious behavior towards his father.]
Father:  (2:05 PM)  The last time you played real well and showed improvement.
Son:    (2:08 PM  I hate you. Die.
[Translation: The father’s persistence is creating uncomfortable ambivalence in the son: "Should I accept his reaching out to me or reject him?" He reacts by  trying to provoke the father to “go away” so that he does not have to feel bad.]
Father: (2:15 PM)  Hate is a heavy burden to carry. I love you whether you hate me or not.  You can not break my love for you. I hope I see you soon. Dad
Son: (2:17 PM) God, what is it going to take?
[Translation: The son's resistance is softening.  He is asking, in effect: “Exactly how strong is your love for me?”]
Father:  (2:25 PM)  I am sorry for the things I’ve done to make you so angry and to hate me.  I love you very much and my heart will not leave you as long as I live.
Son: (2:38 PM)  God damn you, respect my frickin feelings.
[Translation: “You are making this very difficult for me, I’m all mixed up now. If you would only act like a bad father like I want you to  I could treat you like a bad father.”]
Father: (2:45PM)  Let’s work on this together. Dad
Son: (2:57 PM)  WTF
Father: (3:00PM) I don’t understand your abbreviations.
Son: (3:02 PM) look it up
Father: (3:03 PM) Where?
Son:  (3:04 PM) look it up
Father: (3:05 PMthat means you want to teach me the X-Box thing?
Son: (3:06 PM) ha ha
[Translation: Like any teenager, the son enjoys knowing what WTF means when the father doesn’t: “I’m hip, you’re not.”]
Father: (3:07 PM) I have 2 controllers and 10 games.
Son: (3:08 PMLeave me alone. Do you speak English?
[Translation: The son is still engaging:  still provoking his father, but also inviting him to continue trying.]
Father: (3:09 PM) I will pick you up on Saturday at 11:00
Son: (3:10 PM) No
Father: (3:11 PM) Noon?
Son: (3:12 PM) No
Father: (3:13 PM) 1:00?
Son: (3:14 PM) No.
Father: (3:15 PM) If you come over any later, you won’t have time to hook up the X-box and teach me how to play.
Son: (3:16 PM) 3:00 to 6:00
[Translation: Thanks for hanging in there with me.  You've convinced me that you can handle my sh... I’ll come over and beat you at X-Box instead of beating you up relationally.]
Father:  (3:18 PM) Okay, I will pick you up at 3:00 on Saturday and if you have any X-box games, please bring them.
[Translation: “All sins are forgiven, let’s be father and son again.”]