The Bay Are Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) selected The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager (Fine Optics Press, 2012) as a winner of a 2013 Best Nonfiction Award (in the Parenting/Family/Relationships category).
BAIPA is a network of publishing resources, including authors, editors, designers, reviewers and many other professionals in the Bay Area independent publishing community. Each year they review and consider hundreds of titles for inclusion in their annual awards.
The Approximate Parent has won several independent book awards and is highly regarded by parents, clinicians and educators who work with teens. More information about the book can be found online at www.theapproximateparent.com or at Amazon.com.
The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager by Michael Y. Simon, LMFT, is an excellent reference for therapists (and parents) because of its wealth of knowledge about the real life experiences of teens. Mr. Simon shares his 25 years of experience as a parent, family therapist, high school counselor, college educator, matched with a passion for “scientific research as a source for thinking about and understanding my world” (Simon, 2012, p. 11). This background makes him an expert in the field of adolescent development. He paints a world intimately colored by the emotional relationship with his father, a scientific researcher, and his own humbling experiences and mistakes as a father himself. The entire book is informed by the most important advances in brain/body research over the last 20 years. The book excels at laying out where research and practice meet in real life—explaining how parents can learn to improve their own parenting choices. It is apparent that Mr. Simon wants and needs to be of service in helping parents assess just what kind of a teenager they have and how to help them strategize case specific interventions that increase closeness in the family. He does this by helping readers reflect on their particular teen’s biology, temperament, and developmental challenges. I have shared sections of the book with clients, colleagues, and teens who all found it moving, engaging, relevant, and helpful.
Mr. Simon believes that the most important task parents can help their sons and daughters accomplish is “...to experience, articulate, and manage his/her emotions… Affect regulation is so crucial because the leading causes of adolescent morbidity and mortality are all related to difficulties with affect management” (Simon, 2012, p. 175). Chapter 8 in particular is oriented towards helping ease the difficulties that inevitably arise during the transition into and throughout adolescence.
In chapter 8, Family: How Parents Teach When They Aren’t Teaching, Simon explains why teens do some of the most challenging things they do. His application of Control-Mastery Theory—a relatively unknown cognitive-relational model based upon empirical studies over the last 50 years by Joe Weiss, Hal Sampson and members of the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group—is complex, but ultimately practical. Control-Mastery Theory offers clinicians a way of seeing that psychopathology stems from “pathogenic beliefs” or grim thoughts, behaviors and attitudes arising from children’s attempts at adaptation to their interpersonal worlds. These internalized, persistent “pathogenic beliefs” warn a child against pursuing normal development goals. While these beliefs and related affects, e.g., “If I ask anyone for help, I’ll be a burden to them,” may have been adaptive during childhood, they can prove restrictive as adolescence and young adulthood progresses. The list of common pathogenic beliefs of teenagers (p. 331) is invaluable, and in part explains so well why interventions that increase shame can be deeply detrimental to the adolescent’s developing autonomy. Mr. Simon applies the theory well to reinterpret difficult or inexplicable behaviors as types of “testing” that teenagers must, in fact, engage in to disprove the beliefs that might otherwise keep them from healthy development. The main payoff in this chapter is in supporting parents (and clinicians) to strategize around puzzling or disturbing behavior and to distinguish between normal, expectable behaviors and those more problematic ones.
The “Practical Help Tips” and extensive bibliography at the end of this (and every) chapter are invaluable resources for parents who want to understand more about the world of their teen. In Chapter 4, “Parenting in the Digital Age,” Mr. Simon gives a brilliant analysis of the power of the internet and digital media making the argument that the entire socialization process for adolescents cannot be understood without relation to the mutually-influencing processes of digital media use. The internet is not just a “tool” that teens use; they are shaped by digital media use as they in turn shape digital media. For that reason, Mr. Simon is passionate about promoting digital media literacy for youth and everyone who works with adolescents and pre-adolescents daily. His discussion of how adolescents think (and don’t think) about privacy, examining the impact of their digital media practices is especially pertinent.
The book beautifully covers basic adolescent development, sex and relationships, identity development, school, drug and alcohol use, the “big problems” of the teen years, and offers an ethical view of parenting. It has been well reviewed by bestselling authors Deborah Roffman, PhD, and Lynn Ponton, MD. Informed by the axiom that “one size doesn’t fit all,” The Approximate Parent offers anyone who wants to understand how to support the particular adolescents in their lives the tools for a successful approach.
by Lynn Lott, co-author of Positive Discipline for Teenagers
The Approximate Parent must have been a real labor of love for the author to write. It’s clear he has a desire to share with parents his vast knowledge about adolescents. Michael’s depth of knowledge and experience comes through on every page.
But this book is not an easy read and is not without its flaws. Parents are busy and want information without having to work hard at the end of long day to get that information. The Approximate Parent isn’t going to help them in that regard. It’s a long and often challenging work that is better off taken chapter by chapter, as parents need specific information. I would recommend that parents reading this book read the “Practical Help Tips” first and then go back into each chapter if they are wanting a deeper understanding of any of the tips. However, serious students of teens will come away with a thorough understanding of adolescent behavior and the challenges that adults have relating to them and helping them grow.
I love Michael’s chatty and authentic voice throughout the book. While I found it encouraging to the reader that we stop arguing about whether parents matter in the lives of their teens or whether parents are the reason those teens get so messed up, I took issue with the notion that who we are is a matter of nature and nurture. We could be using different language to explain the same thing, but in my experience and studies, I would say that though nature and nurture are important, who we are is more about the interpretations and decisions we made about what was happening to us or what we brought into the world. Those beliefs became our very own self-created operating system – more complex than anything Microsoft could ever come up with. And it runs us.
The Approximate Parent makes points that I’ll share with parents in my practice that I think will be very encouraging and helpful to them as they wend their way through their child’s adolescence. I would also share them with the teens I work with. Here are some of the book’s key points:
Lynn Lott is the co-author of the best-selling and highly regarded Positive Discipline series of books with Jane Nelsen.
The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager
Michael Y. Simon Fine Optics Press (2012)
ISBN 9780985227692 Reviewed by Susan Violante for Reader Views (1/13)
I must admit that I picked “The Approximate Parent” by Michael Y. Simon because although we are close, I was struggling to understand and communicate with my teen daughter, and hoped for some quick strategies. This is not what I found. Instead I found a wealth of information to enrich my knowledge on teenagers’ development process, which in turn helped me understand my daughter, and thus discover what could help us communicate.
“The Approximate Parent” begins with biological, psychological information about teenagers’ development, and differences between puberty and adolescence. I found this part a little intimidating at the beginning but I encourage readers to press through it as I found it very useful in the understanding of not just the coming chapters of the book, but also with understanding some of my teen’s behavior.
After this first part, the tone of the book is less technical. Simon did a wonderful job combining the factual information of his remarkable research with his own conversational voice directed to the parents, which allowed me to relate, relax and take in the information.
Each Chapter handles a different Issue. It begins with understanding your teen, their identity and relationships, and teens and sex, which are the timeless teen issues. But it goes further as Simon continues with issues like parenting through the digital era, and teenagers’ mental health. Each Chapter ends with a “Practical Help” section that readers can refer to quickly.
Simon took me from understanding that many of the responses from teens are not only normal, but they are to be expected, as they are part of their development. He destroyed my argument of “I was more mature at your age,” as he explained the fact that as humans we react to experiences in a very unique way because our genes and our experiences while growing up, do affect the way we develop. His chapter “Parenting in the Digital Age” is one of my favorites because as I read it I realized just how different teen’s brains work in contrast with how teens’ brains worked during the 70s, or 80s. Thanks to this Chapter, it finally clicked in my head how different my development was in comparison to my daughter’s generation. Finally, towards the end of the book in chapter 10, I got my revelation when I read “the story about a boy who did not swim from the dock to the draft as his mother tried to manipulate him to do so.” This story made me reflect about my own teen years, and compare them to my daughter’s to realize that it was the same situation, only now I was the Mom.
“The Approximate Parent” by Michael Y. Simon is a must read for all parents. However, it isn’t a quick read. It is an insightful guide, a tool that can make a difference in your parenting style to get results. A definite 5 star read in my book.
The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies that Work for Your Teenager
by Michael Simon (Fine Optics Press, 2012)
Reviewed by Kathleen Bisaccia, Parents' Coalition of Bay Area High Schools
My philosophy to parenting has changed over time and most of those changes have come in the run-up to teenager-hood, when I’ve realized that I can’t actually control everything my daughters do (surprise, surprise!). My current parenting approach is, basically — be smart, laugh, be honest, and try to SEE your teen. This is one of the reasons I admire and cherish the work of Michael Simon. Having seen him speak a few times I’m already a huge fan. His new book “The Approximate Parent” certainly confirms his deep knowledge of teens and what it takes to parent them. As always, Simon approaches the topic of parenting with good humor and self-awareness while also taking seriously the long-term effects of parenting on kids and vice-versa.
The ‘approximate’ parent is a practice-based approach to parenting teens. As Simon writes “it’s not about doing it right, it’s about stumbling towards understanding – approximating the approach best suited to yourself, your teen, your circumstances and your resources. One size does not fit all.” Thus is the beauty and difficulty of Simon’s approach. The beauty is that when one approaches parenting as a series of interactions, then each interaction is a new chance to do something right.
Simon reminds parents that it is normal that the pressures of raising children can be overwhelming and can make it way to stop enjoying your teenager – and experience they need to have with you. In addition, the key message presented by Simon is that teens need us to help them to learn how to be responsible and resilient, and to persevere when things don’t go well or the way they want them to.
The book is arranged so that you can read cover to cover for a deep understanding, or just focus on the chapters you need for some in-depth specific situations. Simon begins the book with some detailed discussion of adolescent brain development and function, peppered with real-life examples of the effects on teen reactions. Chapter 2 delves into what Simon characterizes as the “Big Problems” with teens, discussing in detail: (1) disrespectful, disorganized or antisocial behaviors, (2) arguing and oppositionality, (3) separation and behaviors regarding autonomy, (4) risk-taking behaviors (drugs, alcohol, fighting, sports, driving, criminality) and (5) mood related issues.
One of the most current chapters (and the one in which I was personally most engaged) is about digital media. Simon describes this media as “the water in which American teenagers swim.” American teen identities are shaped—and often made deeply anxious—by constant access to digital mass media. This book discusses this issue and how to respond to the challenge (in short, this is tough, given that we require our teens to use digital media in almost every aspect of their lives, from in-class work to homework to staying in contact with us to downloading digital photos and on). It isn’t as simple as just limiting their use – e.g. “you can use your phone as a calculator and texting about homework but not texting friends…you can use the iPad to read a book but not to check Facebook before homework is done…” this just doesn’t work. Simon also makes an interesting connection between our trying to pass on our ethics in parenting, and how to get these values across in a digital world competing for our teens’ attention. For good or for bad, the advent of the “24/7/365 always-connected, always-plugged-in-to-digital media teenager is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and that is changing everything.”
Another important chapter is the subject of “Identity Development, Relationships and Status”. Teens drive and emotions are to their identity is an immediate way. Simon believes that the most important skill for adolescent to develop is “figuring out ‘who you are’ – what you’re feeling, why you are feeling that and what to do about it. In other words, identifying, understanding, articulating and managing emotions.
Teens who can do this are less likely to manage negative feelings through the easiest possible way – by the ingestion of drugs and alcohol, by having sex, by taking risks or other self-injurious behavior. As Simon discusses, when teens can’t regulate their emotional loves, their risk of death increases.
Status is also extremely important to, and a source of anxiety for, many teens. As with many adults, teens care a lot about status for a simple reason, because most people tend to be nice to us according to the amount of status we have. Sadly, Simon has found that many high school students, especially those in the private school world, feel that they have the right to be rich, to have high-profile publicity, celebrity looks and a high-status job. Many are disappointed and depressed when they do not attain these things.
In the chapter “Does my teen have good mental health?” Simon discusses how to support your teen’s good mental health. The book also presents a chapter on drug and alcohol use among adolescents and ways to respond to your teenager about the challenges of drugs, alcohol and parties. In another chapter, Simon discusses how protect your teen’s wish and will to learn—and what gets in the way of the natural impulses of creativity, study and learning.
This book review just skims the surface of this book and its many relevant examples and useful guidance. Although it is a lengthy read with some uncomfortable truths (including the many hypocrisies of parenting and parents) I highly recommend this book to parents who are interested in fostering a positive, healthy relationship with their teen or young adult.
Kathleen Bisaccia is the editor of Parenteen, a quarterly publication of the Parents' Coalition of Bay Area High Schools. This article/review first appeared in their October, 2012 issue. More information on the PCBAHS is available online at http://parentscoalition.net/