What Was The Question?

We are getting slower. We aren’t running as far. We aren’t running as often. By any objective measure, our running group is failing to meet goals. What purpose could a running group possibly have other than to improve speed, distance, and frequency? Isn’t the point of getting together at oh-dark-hundred to run faster? Don’t we want to do more full, fewer half marathons? Don’t we want to cover 5K in twenty-something rather than thirty-something minutes?

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Nah. Getting faster is no longer an option. That ship has sailed. All we want to do now is to get worse more slowly than we would if we stayed snuggled and comfy. Sixty-somethings don’t get faster. They just don’t. Not if they’ve been pounding the pavement for close to half a century. If we were going to get faster, we would have done so already. Now we’re just focused on getting slower—slowly.

If you ask us, “Why aren’t you getting faster?” we’re going to respond, “Why don’t you take a long walk off a short pier?” Whereas if you ask us, “Can I join you for a short, slow run and hear The Karate Monkey Joke then go to breakfast after?” the answer is, “Yes, please; we’d love to have you.”

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We’re all motivated. Don’t make me repeat that part about meeting before the sun even comes up. The simple fact is that it’s hard to make progress—even when you want to. We have all the ingredients: camaraderie, intention, nutrition, and access to the latest training schedules. What we don’t have is thirty-year-old legs. We would love to get faster; we’re just not going to.

Imagine though if we didn’t want to to better. Consider if our motivation weren’t intrinsic. What a cluster-wreck that would be. I can’t conceive of anyone forcing, threatening, motivating, cajoling, rewarding, or inspiring me to run. Not unless I wanted to. It wouldn’t happen. I wouldn’t run unless I enjoyed it. You can’t even convince me to watch a second episode of a Netflix show if I don’t want to. I’m just too persnickety, set in my ways. I am a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon. Don’t tell me what to do.

So imagine how an adolescent feels when forced to go to therapy.

Unless the young person is connected with the process, there won’t be progress. If the goal is “change my kid,” nothing magical will be forthcoming. Without buy-in from the youngster, transformative positive change is unlikely. Imagine how the kid feels: “My dad pays the gardener, picks up his dry cleaning, and sends me to therapy.” Not a recipe for progress.

I am a big proponent of talk therapy. But I am an even bigger proponent of effective talk therapy. The research is clear: The number one predictor of effective talk therapy is the connection—sometimes called the therapeutic alliance—between therapist and patient. My guess is that the number two predictor is the patient’s openness to seeking change, the willingness of the patient to engage. Where does the inclination to connect come from? How does a kid know that change is possible? From the kid's connection with a supportive, understanding parent. 

Parents are a child’s first, best, and most successful teachers. Of course, parents are not therapists. Encouraging a kid makes sense; forcing a kid doesn’t. “If you’d like to chat with someone…” will be more effective than, “there’s something wrong with you and this person will force you to change.”

There’s a lot for kids to talk about in 2019. I’m 62 years old and am still having a tough time wrapping my head around Parkland. Children with guns. Whoa. Cyber-bullying, ubiquitous process addictions, and infinite access to inappropriate Internet content are a lot for an adolescent to consider. A therapist's best advertisement are the headlines in the morning newspaper.

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I’m frequently asked, “what if my child refuses to go to therapy?” As always, the answer is “it depends.” A useful guide might include considering, “who benefits?” Before forcing your kid to see a therapist, you might ask, “are these appointments for me or for him?” If your son, has a C in algebra, therapy might be a hand grenade to kill a rabbit. Nobody ever died from a math grade. On the other hand if your kid is driving impaired, a loving parent has to intervene.

Nobody wants to be “fixed” just like nobody wants to be told to “run faster.” Gentle encouragement is the second step. An appropriate connection to your child is, as always, the first.

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