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  • Playing at Being Bad
  • Written by Michael Ungar
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  • Playing at Being Bad
  • Written by Michael Ungar
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The Hidden Resilience of Troubled Teens

Written by Michael UngarAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michael Ungar


List Price: $12.99


On Sale: February 24, 2009
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-1-55199-202-0
Published by : McClelland & Stewart McClelland & Stewart
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“Our most troubled youth are far more resilient and healthy than we are ready to admit. If we take the time to listen very closely to our children speak about their experiences beyond our front doors, we hear an entirely different story about their lives than the one we adults tell.”

Unlike many other books about difficult kids that reflect the wisdom of adults, this one explores the truth of adolescence. It builds on recent explorations of youth such as Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia, Judith Rich Harris’ The Nurture Assumption, and William Pollack’s Real Boys. It examines emerging trends in psychology, as well as recent innovations in work with our most unhealthy young people. Playing at Being Bad offers particular insight for parents, teachers, and caregivers of troubled youth just beginning, or already stuck in, patterns of delinquency, drug or alcohol addiction, sexual promiscuity, violence, suicide, depression, and truancy. This book tells the story of the teens Ungar worked with for more than fifteen years, taking a close look at the crises kids face, while exploring the important role that adults can play in keeping dangerous and delinquent youth from drifting further into trouble.


Parenting Today

As parents and caregivers to adolescents, our role is every bit as daunting and demanding as when our children are infants and toddlers. As Barbara Coloroso makes so very clear, what we do as parents is the same for the young child as it is for the older adolescent: we are there to help them make good choices. Our children need us desperately during their teen years, even though they seem miles away both emotionally and physically. As the world becomes more complicated and change happens at lightning speed, I see adults all around me despairing that they no longer have a role to play in guiding their children through these turbulent times. We see our children turning to manu­factured pop idols more than their own elders for guidance. We may mistakenly come to believe that we are no longer needed. I ­couldn’t disagree more. We will need, however, a different approach to parenting if we are to keep up with the new “truths” our children are discovering.

The good news is that kids know they need help from adults. They’ve told me this in no uncertain terms and on numerous occasions in my office, frequently with their parents right there to hear the good news. But to be there for them will demand of us caregivers a different attitude, one that is more respectful of the way children and adolescents construct their worlds. For kids who are at-­risk for more serious problems, the demands on their caregivers are that much more challenging.

I once told one of the youth I was working with how uneasy I felt when she succeeded in making me understand how healthy she was despite all the test scores that showed quite the opposite. She sat there but a moment, fixed her eyes on mine, and smiled. “Get over it!” was her terse advice. I’m still working on it.

I find myself at times not wanting to believe what it is kids tell me, because to do so shakes the foundations of what I have been comfortable believing. And yet, at the same time, I see all around me our failings as caregivers, and a proliferation of advice for parents that is seldom ever put to the kids themselves for comment. There’s an old joke that says the problem with parenting books is that the kids never read them. That’s not the case here. This time, the content comes directly from the kids.

What To Expect Next

The youth introduced in the following chapters are violent, suicidal, delinquent, substance abusing, and behaviourally disordered adolescents whom I have encountered over the past twenty years in mental health, corrections, and child protection agencies, as well as through volunteer youth organizations and on the street in my various roles as both a professional and lay helper. Many started out as stellar students in grade school. Some showed great promise at sports earlier in their lives. And while others had a much tougher beginning, all share a path through life that for some reason veered towards trouble.
Michael Ungar

About Michael Ungar

Michael Ungar - Playing at Being Bad

Photo © Bill O'Brien

Michael Ungar is an internationally recognized expert on resilience in at-risk youth and leads the International Resilience Project that includes researchers in eleven countries. He teaches at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University and runs a private practice specializing in working with children and adults in mental health and correctional settings. He has lectured extensively on the subject of resilience and is the author of four books and dozens of professional and scholarly articles. Michael Ungar lives in Halifax with his wife and two children.

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