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The Teen Whisperer

How to Break Through the Silence and Secrecy That Defines Teenage Life

The Teen Whisperer
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Mike Linderman is a star in the making. He wrestles cattle at the crack of dawn, then spends his days working with the country's most troubled teens before coming home at night to three healthy teens of his own. Where so many other therapists can only offer futile advice to struggling parents, Linderman has mastered a blend of downhome honesty and military–like discipline––not to mention a layer of trust and love very rarely found in the therapist's office. Most of the teens Linderman treats are angry, abused, violent, and dangerous–they are children without hope.

Yet despite their difficult pasts, Linderman has achieved an extraordinary success rate with these teens, helping them turn their lives around and earning him the nickname "the Teen Whisperer." The son of a poor ranching family, Linderman learned at an early age the values of honesty, tough love, and hard work. Miraculously, it is those three values that have transformed the hardened clients at his school into loving, rational, productive teens.

Finally, Linderman shares these and other secrets with parents everywhere as he explains his methods for turning around America's toughest teens. Centering on the Five Primary Needs of Teens (Survival, Fun, Freedom, Power, and Belonging), his approach demonstrates the importance each of these concepts plays in teen's family life and the negative impact that occurs when a family is incapable of fulfilling these Needs. Here he provides concrete steps that parents can take to reconnect with their teens as they work together to create a stronger relationship and kids learn to:

  • Trust themselves and others

  • Process emotion and pain in healthy ways

  • Understand and appreciate boundaries

  • Gain joy and pride in real work

  • Live a life of love, respect and gratitude

    Interacting with teens on their terms and in their language, Linderman allows parents to see that in order to help kids you must meet them at their level and treat them as peers not subordinates. With powerful and effective words, he calls on readers to understand that our teenagers deserve our love––not our fear––and ultimately it is this unique and straightforward perspective that sets him apart. It is this methodology, grounded in honesty and integrity, that has led to his unparalleled success record with some our country's most difficult youths. This is the story of that success and how parents can use the lessons he's learned to heal the troubled hearts of their own families.

  • Excerpt


    Chapter One

    You Can Call Me Mr. Mike

    You can call me Mr. Mike. Just about every teen or parent I've worked with has. Once you get to know me better, you'll understand that I don't stand on ceremony much. I demand respect (and get it) because I earn it. I don't have a fancy pedigree from Ivy League schools, nor do I have a trail of abbreviations dangling off my last name like an anchor to keep my overinflated ego from floating off into the clouds.

    I live in Trout Creek, Montana, a town of fewer than a thousand souls, and folks here more than likely remember me as a chubby little runny-nosed kid who left home at eighteen to go to school and serve in the military. They might mention that a couple of years later, I returned to town and took up work in the lumber mill while hanging my shingle in private practice for a while. And if you really prod them enough, they'll start talking about my football days and remember that like my father before me, I take pride in my community, head up the local school board, coach various ball teams, and have raised up three kids as solid citizens. Around here, nobody cares what degrees I've earned; they just know that I've got a way with kids.

    Not that I'm the kind of guy who's competitive and keeps score or anything, but I do have a pretty good track record of success. I can't tell you that every kid I've ever worked with has been turned around 100%. That's not a realistic expectation. Since I'm always encouraging the kids I work with to deal more effectively with reality, I have to place the same demand on myself. I can remember only two kids whom I've had to refer to other therapists because I just couldn't make a really strong connection with them, or they simply refused outright to cooperate with me. That stuff happens, and I'm at a loss to explain why, other than to chalk it up to the nearly infinite variables that go into human relationships. I haven't lost a lot of sleep thinking about those two losses, though I do tend to be very hard on myself. I've got far too many other places to focus my time and energies on. Took me a while to learn that, but it was a very valuable lesson—not something I could have gotten out of any lecture or reading assignment from my days at the University of Montana, Park College, or Montana State Northern.

    I'm not a theory kind of guy. I learned lessons about raising kids and getting those who are off track back into the fold the hard way—through more than 25,000 hours of clinical work with teens and young adults. I've done a lot of different things in my life—worked in that lumber mill, served as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force, ran a forklift, even clerked at a convenience store to help pay for my undergraduate education. But nothing has been as difficult, exhausting, rewarding, and completely fulfilling as the work I did for ten years as the clinical director at the Spring Creek Lodge Academy in Thompson Falls, Montana. Now that I'm back in private practice, working with at-risk kids in this setting, I can see how influential my years at that alternative school have been. I know I'll carry those lessons over into whatever next steps I take next in my career.

    Spring Creek Lodge is a year-round boarding school, a place where kids who haven't found success in traditional schools (and often in other alternative educational settings) can find a quiet place away from the negative environments and peer groups that contributed to some of their academic and social problems.

    Along with any academic deficiencies they may have to make up for, the students there are often placed in that setting by their parents because of addiction (drugs and alcohol), difficulty with anger management, sexual and emotional abuse, and a host of other issues. I dare say I've not seen it all here, but I've seen a fair bit of the spectrum of troubles that teens encounter in making that most difficult transition from child to adult.

    Maybe because I was born and raised in this area, I think this locale has had a lot to do with my success. Like most rural communities, Trout Creek has undergone changes in the forty-odd years my family has been here since moving from Puyallup, Washington, in the mid-1960s. My parents wanted to escape the big-city influences that were encroaching on just about every place of any size during that tumultuous decade, and rural Montana and a 180-acre parcel of ranch and forest land backing up a mountainside between the Bitterroot and Cabinet Ranges seemed about ideal. Of course, nothing is ever completely perfect, but Trout Creek has remained my home, the place where my wife, Janna, and I have raised our three kids. I don't ever remember anybody using the term "family values" around here or mentioning that it takes a village to raise up kids right. We didn't talk it; we lived it. Same thing went on in Spring Creek—everybody was everybody's business.

    Young People Today

    I'm accustomed to telling it like it is, so let's get some things out of way. It may strike you as a bit odd that a man who lives in rural America—a guy who was raised on a hobby ranch and broke his first horse at thirteen under his grandfather's watchful eye—has anything at all to say about today's young people. It may seem strange that a stereotypical farm boy, who grew up mending fences and pulling calves with his tough-as-dirt father, feels that he has what it takes to relate to America's youth. I'll admit that I carried a pocketknife to school every day, not a cell phone or iPod. Instant messaging . . .