Ask the Authors: Whitney and Dana

"My daughter, Whitney, does not want to follow the rules. She shows constant attitude and defiance," says Dana. She and her daughter yell and scream at each oth

er. "Whitney has had temper tantrums. She will slam her door, throw objects. When Whitney is really angry, she'll call me a bitch, say I'm controlling, I'm overbearing."

 

Whitney says that she and her mom constantly fight, usually about chores, grades, boys and curfew. "My mom is always yelling at me, and it drives me crazy," shares the 16-year-old. "My mom has called me 'spoiled brat, selfish, self-centered, a selfish bitch.'"

 

Dana is bothered because Whitney disobeys her curfew most of the time and uses her cell phone carelessly. "The last month's cell phone bill was $453.00. Because I had an issue with that, she

thought I was overreacting," she recalls. Dana also says that Whitney is not a good student, and she has caught her daughter smoking and drinking. "I believe Whitney is sexually active. She has been caught in a compromising position," she reveals.

 

"It wasn't what it looked like," Whitney refutes.

 

Dana is desperate for a change. "I am at the end of my rope, and I have no idea what to do next," she says.

"Do you push her buttons on purpose?" Dr. Phil asks Dana.

"On purpose, no," she replies.



Dr. Phil takes her to task. "You said, ‘I push her buttons because that's the only way I can get a response out of her, get a reaction out of her,'" he says.

"OK, yeah," Dana concedes.

Dr. Phil mentions the names Dana has called her daughter and says, "You start out yelling."

"A lot of times, yes," Dana says, "because that seems to be the only thing she hears."

"Do you think you really are getting her attention?" Dr. Phil asks.

"No, but ignoring it, I don't get any response either," Dana says.

Dr. Phil turns to Whitney and asks, "Do you acknowledge that you're being disrespectful and combative with your mother?"

"I do acknowledge it," she says.

Whitney has said that her mother picks on little things, like her being lazy, flunking out of school, hanging out with the wrong crowd, drinking and being sexually active. "What do you expect her to do, say, ‘Good job'?" Dr. Phil asks. Whitney sits silent, so Dr. Phil jokingly asks Dana, "Is this when I yell to get her attention?"

"There's the brick wall that I deal with," Dana says. "What do I do?"

Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Dan Siegel, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, member of the Dr. Phil Advisory Board and author of the book, The Mindful Brain. He says, "In The Mindful Brain, you talk about the fact that when the yelling starts, there's a part of the brain that goes offline, just shuts down."

"The brain in our skull has a part right behind the forehead called the prefrontal cortex. It allows us to think and pause before we act," Dr. Siegel explains. He points to the area he is speaking about on a model brain. "It's what makes us human. It lets us think, and plan and actually look at other people and

think about what's going on inside of them."

"This is what houses the reasoning centers," Dr. Phil adds. "What do you mean this goes offline?"

Pointing inside the brain, Dr. Siegel says, "This is where the more animalistic or emotional brain is centered, down here. In general, our higher human brain controls that, but if we get really upset, if these emotional centers are getting active, it will literally shut that off, and this won't be functioning. What do you think life is like if we try to talk to each other just from an animal brain?"

Dr. Phil clarifies, "When you start yelling, these other centers become pervasive. They growl up and take control, and so all reasoning stops. Now, it's animalistic: attack, fight, flight, survive, and that's not a problem-solving mode." He also points out that the adolescent brain is different than an adult brain because it's not finished growing. "What's missing here?" he asks Dr. Siegel.

"From childhood to adulthood the prefrontal cortex, especially, is going to be growing a lot," he explains. "In an adolescent " for someone who's 16 " you've got a lot of growth yet to go, even into the mid 20s." He adds that an adolescent's brain can go offline more easily.

"What do you predict is going to happen in your relationship if you and your mom continue to just butt heads?" Dr. Phil asks Whitney. "You're counting the days until you're 18, so you can go off on your own."

Whitney nods.



"You're going to support yourself how?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I don't know," Whitney replies.

 

"Do you love your mother?" Dr. Phil asks.

 

"Yes."

 

"Why?" 

 

After a pause, with tears streaming down her face, Whitney says, "Because she's always been there for me, and she's always kept me in line, and she's always done what's best for me even though I don't always agree with it."

"Would you miss her if she was out of your life?"

Whitney nods and says, "Yeah."

"Would you miss Whitney if she was out of your life?" Dr. Phil asks Dana.

"Absolutely," she says. "I couldn't imagine my life without her."

 

"Can we agree that what you're doing is driving her away?" he asks Dana.

"Yes," she says.

"Can we agree that what you're doing is distancing yourself from your mother?" Dr. Phil asks Whitney.

"Yes," she says.

Addressing Dr. Siegel, Dr. Phil says, "You talk in your book about the fact that if you're going to live consistent with the principles of The Mindful Brain, that you've got to stop reacting and start reflecting and looking for something called attunement."

Dr. Siegel explains that reflecting is when a person stops before he or she acts or speaks. "Attunement means that when you pause, it gives you
time to time to tune into yourself, and then tune into someone else," he says.

Dr. Phil asks Dana, "Isn't a lot of what you're doing just out of frustration and fear?"

"Yes," she says.

 

"You have to stop the strategy of yelling and screaming," Dr. Phil tells her. "It isn't working."

To Whitney Dr. Phil says, "You have to start taking some responsibility for your own life. Being sexually active at your age is stupid behavior." He warns her that she could be infected with a sexual transmitted disease or become pregnant. He also warns against becoming an alcoholic and flunking out of school. "You don't want to have the consequences that these choices lead to, and that's your responsibility." He continues, "Your mother made it. She got through this time period. She's an adult. She's a self-sufficient adult. She made it. The question is, a
re you going to make it? And the time to start making that answer yes, is now."

 

Dr. Phil brings up that Whitney doesn't perform well in school, and her mother says she views school only as a social venue. "Those friends aren't going to give you a job. They're not going to pay your rent, and so you're going to school for you, not for her," he says to Whitney. "You have to start being responsible for your own life, and that means that you two have to form a partnership here. To Whitney he continues, "You've got to start saying, ‘It's time for me to be mature enough, to grow up enough to start contributing to this relationship,' and setting some goals for yourself." He urges her to think about what she wants for the rest of her life, not just what she wants for tomorrow. "That's what reflection is all about, and that's what you guys coming together, problem solving using all of your brain, instead of just yelling and screaming [is all about.]"

Dr. Phil offers to provide them with family counseling, and mother and daughter agree to participate.