Ep 121: How to Transform Troublesome Boys

Episode Summary

Gregory Koufacos, author of The Primal Method, joins us for a discussion on why simply talking to boys doesn’t work–and how parents can instead activate a strong bond with their teens to set them up for a thriving healthy adult life.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

When kids are misbehaving or getting on your last nerve, it can be difficult not to sound like a broken record. Repeated cries of “come home on time” or “put down the controller and start your homework” can feel as though they are falling on deaf ears! Frustratingly, no matter how hard you try to get through to them, teenagers just don’t seem to listen.

This can become extra challenging when teens are partaking in behavior that is dangerous or harmful, or even illegal. Oftentimes, teens struggling with problems like substance abuse, self harm or addiction are especially likely to discard a parent’s pleas to change. If only there was another way to get through to kids, and make them realize there’s a better way to live.

To get some advice on helping teens improve their lives, we’re sitting down with Gregory Koufacos, author of The Primal Method: A Book for Emerging Men. Gregory has spent years as an addiction counselor and mentor for troubled teens, helping them see the path to recovery and happiness. His unconventional method towards mentoring young people might be just what you need to finally reach your teen.

Gregory’s mission is to help people understand the power of showing teens a better life, instead of just telling. He’s here to talk about how you can help kids truly build a positive future for themselves on a daily basis, instead of giving them advice that just falls flat. He also shares why it’s important to sometimes dish out some tough love, and the value of having a strong bond with your teen.

Getting Kids Engaged

You can have a million different talks with your teen to try to convince them that you know best, but you’re probably familiar with hearing a “yeah” or “ok” in response…and seeing nothing change! So how can you teach your teens a lesson that actually sticks?

In his work as an addiction counselor, Gregory often found himself hitting the same wall. Giving advice to patients in his clinic while they sat on the couch just wasn’t working, so one day he asked one of his clients to step outside with him. Once they were free from those four walls, out in the world, he realized there was a better, more interactive way to help kids get better.

From then on, he adopted a system of real world immersion in his practice. He brings kids along to try new things and experience life, and shows them the happiness that can come from healthier habits. Gregory leads his clients by example, and encourages parents to do the same. Are you skipping out on doing things that fulfill you like cooking or working out, because you’re busy nagging your kid or worrying about something you can’t control? Kids can see that, and it affects their perception of what life has to offer. The first step to helping kids discover happiness is showing them what it looks like.

Gregory believes that if you want kids to turn off the TV remote or get rid of the vape, you have to find something that helps them to enjoy life instead of seek distraction from it. It might not be easy–some kids might not be quick to share their interests or be vulnerable. However, once you catch on to a kid’s passion for surfing, dancing, writing, Gregory says to run with it. It can be so much more powerful than simply telling them to stop smoking or start working harder. 

While it’s important to provide kids with positive reinforcement and encourage them to pursue passions, it can also be just as important to be tough on them. Gregory dives into when exactly it can be valuable  to give teens a little bit of a harsher treatment.

The Significance of Tough Love

When teens are on the verge of giving up, Gregory stresses that they need someone to push them, not a parent who’s complicit in their choice to throw in the towel. When your son wants to play video games instead of studying for his final, he needs someone to challenge him to get rid of the controller and hit the books.

Now, this doesn’t mean that parents should abandon empathy, Gregory says. He argues that there is a time and place for both soft and tough love, and that both can be necessary. It’s like gardening. While it’s valuable for plants to have water and sunlight, they also need to be trimmed and monitored to stay healthy!

In the episode, Gregory tells the story of a patient who was seemingly a straight A student–or so he claimed. When Gregory dug a little deeper, he found that this student was actually barely scraping by. However, Gregory knew that this client wanted to be a straight A student, he just needed some tough love! He confronted the young man about the lie, challenging him, and then, using positive encouragement, guided him towards becoming a better student.

When it comes to helping teens prosper, balancing out empathetic love with emphatic love is tricky, but can work wonders. Before you can communicate words of encouragement or disdain however, you’ve got to form a sincere bond with your teen, Gregory says.

Creating a Close Bond with a Teen

One thing Gregory and I discuss in the episode is how parents are often asking the wrong questions, wondering: “When will my son start coming home on time?” or “When will my daughter start being honest with me about her alcohol use?”

Instead, Gregory suggests asking questions that prompt you to think about the nature of you and your teen’s relationship. How often do the two of you spend quality time? What’s an activity you guys might be able to do together? George emphasizes that oftentimes, the issues that plague kids are caused on some level by the lack of a positive parental relationship. George explains that if you can put in the time to form a strong bond with your teen, you’ll be better equipped to help them stay safe, happy and healthy.

Gregory also stresses the importance of knowing the difference between love and smothering. A lot of times, he meets parents who insist that they have strong, healthy connections to their children, when really they’re much too close and need to give kids some space. Gregory says not to worry, it’s normal to smother a bit, especially when teens are in a tough spot. In the episode, he shares some further advice for parents who worry they might be smothering. 

While it can seem tricky to help a struggling teen snap out of their funk, Gregory’s got some thorough and enlightening advice in the episode. By showing kids that a happy life is possible, doling out tough love when needed, and making the time to forge a strong connection, you can ensure that your teen will make it through whatever tough spot they’re in.

Also in the Episode…

  • Why it’s powerful to be vulnerable with your kids
  • How to inspire creativity in teens
  • Why mentorship for young people can be life-changing
  • How different kinds of intelligence manifest in teens

Although you might be sick and tired of bossing your kid around, there are better ways to get through to them! If you enjoyed today’s episode, check out Gregory’s website velocitymembership.com, and don’t forget to subscribe!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Get your teen thinking about the future:

“Hey, what do you think you might like to do with your life?”

-Gregory Koufacos

2.  Make your teen think about the obstacles they may encounter:

(Members Only)

3. Celebrate your teen’s wins by pointing out their progress:

(Members Only)

4. Challenge your teen to do even better:

(Members Only)

5. Let your son know growing up is going to be hard work at times:

(Members Only)

6. Drop some knowledge to let your teen know their choices add up:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: Can you talk about your background and what inspired you to write this book?

Gregory: Sure. I am an addiction counselor. I took a master’s degree in psychology and through a series of what I now see is sort of the hand of the divine, it pushed me into just working with addiction recovery. And I worked for many years in different, what we call modalities of treatment, whether it’s like a residential program or a wilderness program, there’s outpatient program. So I was working in all those settings and really was seeing some miraculous things happening in people. And eventually I evolved to open my own one-on-one practice. And the people that naturally came to my practice were young men, guys, around 20 years old, 22, 18, they were the ones that were coming. For the first year or so, I was very surprised that even though these guys were coming, they were not really transforming. I had seen when they were in structure, when they were in those rehabs. And the ones that had changed, they ended up going back to their old habits.

Gregory: So I was doing that for a while and I was getting very frustrated and bored because for me to put all the hard work into something and see no result. It’s terrible. So I did that and I just couldn’t figure it out and the… I couldn’t figure out what do I need to do to get through to these guys? And I tried everything I knew and finally, out of a mix of boredom, frustration, I just said, you know what, we’re going to leave the office. We’re going to just go outside. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re not going to sit here, again, in these couches and chairs with all the artwork on the wall. No, no. We’re going to go out, okay. And I started to do that and I don’t know, something felt. I really don’t know why I kept going.

Gregory: Maybe because there was, again, there’s just nothing else to really try. Well, I did that for a year, two, three years and I started to evolve a very deep method of working with young men in action in the world, in the social world. And I started seeing those changes again in these young men, they were going from being isolated, depressed, using drugs, jobless, hopeless, and were actually finding their way. Their skin started to have a color. Their eyes started to have a sparkle. And I did that for a while, like I said, three, four years, and then, just on a whim, I said, I think it’s time to try to write about this. What are we actually doing? Because I really wasn’t clear. Intuitively, I was doing it, but I wasn’t clear. I couldn’t never explain it to you or to anybody else. So that’s how we started with the book. And it was very difficult to come up with what was actually happening.

Gregory: But I feel, it took four years, it took five editors, it took what it took. And it took a lot of heavy lifting to the point where I can say to you, listen, if you read this book, it’s going to give you a window into how myself and these young men were achieving the results that everybody’s looking for.

Andy: You write that living alongside another man is crucial for male development. Seeing another man in motion, engaged in a task or interacting with the social world, all this activates your own image of yourself and who you might be. I think this is a pivotal kind of piece of your method and it’s something that I really resonate with also because I think people talk about mentors a lot and the importance of mentors. But what I feel like a lot of times what’s happening with these, especially men, young men, is they lack a vision for their life. They feel like they’re stuck, but what’s the problem is that they’re thinking small. They don’t have this strong vision for what they want to accomplish and really who they want to be in the world because I think we talk about finding yourself or finding your identity, but I don’t think that that’s really what happens.

Andy: I think we create ourselves and we create our identity and we create the person that we want to be and that’s a lot of work. And you have to be motivated to go out and do the work to create yourself. And you have to have a vision to be working towards. Yeah, to say, hey, that’s how I want to be. I want to be like that guy. That guy is awesome. I want to do that. And a lot of times what happens is that these kids are just surrounded by people that aren’t inspiring them or the men that are in their life are not very engaged or just aren’t bad-ass or something. And they’re not inspired by that and they don’t have a vision. And so I think I like what you write about seeing other men in motion, engaged in a task and interacting with the social world. And I wonder how as parents, we can sort of help create that for our kids.

Gregory: Well, let me start by just saluting you for selecting that passage because for me that was the thing that was most like… It just blew my mind that instead of talking at or with a young man, engaging his rational mind. Hey, Gregory, what do you think you might like to do with your life? Gregory, what’s holding you back from living your life? Gregory. Yeah, it’s just all, I don’t know.

Andy: “Whatever.” “My parents.”

Gregory: Exactly. It’s all that is aimed at the rational mind. And most, a lot of therapy approaches are doing that. What I found most effective to inspire and ignite a young man’s vision for his own life is simply this, spend time living alongside of him and show him how it’s done. Don’t teach him, demonstrate it. Demonstrate it consistently. I would go month after month with these young men and their parents would be like, did you talk to him about his gaming?

Gregory: Did you talk to him about his… how he’s smoking weed? Did you talk about this? Did you? And my answer is no, no, no, and no. All I do is I just, I live in front of them and I show them how a man can love life from the depths of his being. And eventually, this kid who’s living the shitty life is going to look at the man that’s living a great life and something deep inside of him is going to be like, I got to do that.

Andy: Yeah, I’m going to do that.

Gregory: It’s not even conscious. I want to do that, right. So there’s a whole system of the brain designed to do just that. It’s called the mirror neuron system. So we known this for a while, right? Show me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are. The people that you’re closest to, that’s who you’re going to end up being like. So this is all deeply… it’s hardwired into us. Now, the other question that you said, what can parents do? Again, don’t talk at your kids. I would imagine that most of the parents that you work with have had so many talks that they’re just literally… And I know that feeling as a parent where you’re like, your whole body. Your head feels like a thermometer that’s about to explode, right? And you’re just trying to talk sense into them. Meanwhile, what are you showing your kid? Are you demonstrating a great life or are you showing them that if you work as hard as mom and dad, you’ll eventually have some kid that you have to lecture.

Andy: Right. Who frustrates you and that you don’t like hanging around, yeah.

Gregory: Who frustrates you and you are, instead of going out for that run or hitting the Peloton or going for a hike, you’re here lecturing your kid and worrying about your kid. That’s not going to work. The only way you’re going to be able to influence your child is if you yourself are living the truth that you are seeking to teach them. And I would argue that actions speak louder than words.

Andy: Especially with boys, yeah, I think. Girls, they’ll talk to you a little bit, but boys, you got to do things with them, show them, yeah. Another thing you say is that the trick was finding the ordinary act that would reach the particular individual. With Devin, a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, it was easy, we wrestled. Scott loved basketball, so we joined the gym and played, but it was not always that straightforward. So how do you find the activity that ignites someone?

Gregory: That’s the Miyagi mentoring, good old Mr. Miyagi. How did Miyagi find the things in life that were going to teach Daniel what he wanted to learn? How did he choose to paint the fence, to sand the floor, to wash the cars. You have to use what life is giving you. And honestly, that’s where you kind of have to have a good intuition. And the chapter after all this in the book, I think I give a really good example of a client that I worked with, where we were able to find that act. And for this young man, it was surfing.

Gregory: And you see, the solution, it’s going to be in life. So don’t complicate it. It’s got to be somewhere within the world that you inhabit. All right. So I don’t know if this fully answers your question, but it’s… you have to use your intuition. You have to know the guy that you’re working with, and then you just have to kind of be attuned to what life is presenting to you.

Andy: And I think it was a good example in the book, because you had to kind of do some detective work to figure out what he was going to be interested in. And it wasn’t just like that he was already into surfing or that you said, hey, what about surfing? He was like, okay, sounds good. It was like, you were kind of suggesting things and talking to him about things. And when you mentioned surfing, he didn’t just immediately dismiss it, or there was just a slightly different reaction in him that you could tell, maybe he was kind of a little interested in it. And then that led you to keep asking him more about surfing. Well, what about surfing? And pushing it. And it wasn’t just immediate thing. It took some work to kind of even convince him to go and try it with you. And then you went and found a really cool surfing instructor who would be like that great example to show him a possible vision for his life. Yeah.

Gregory: And that in the system that I used, when I look back on the years that I was working with these young men, I found that I was really walking them through stages of development. The first stage was devoted to bonding and connecting, right. I would, I would create enough of a bond with you where I could say, hey, let’s go out to the world and start exploring. So do we have enough of a bond where you trust me that we can go explore and try different things? We can try Jiu-Jitsu and surfing. I’ve earned enough trust that we start to explore. And once we’ve explored enough, that’s when we have to select the road that we’re going to engage in, okay.

Andy: That’s cool. Yeah.

Gregory: And the key, just to complete this, let’s say I was working with a guy who I knew how to kind of have a knack for writing. Like he liked reading, he liked writing and I’m like maybe we could take a workshop on writing or like six week workshop. I would do my homework. I would find somebody like you, Andy. Because, no offense, I’m not going to take him to some kind of, I don’t know, somebody that I didn’t think the young man could kind of be like, all right, this dude’s cool.

Andy: Yeah, this guy’s cool.

Gregory: I can get that. This guy is cool.

Andy: Yeah, totally.

Gregory: That’s fine. So I would do my homework and then I would call you and I’d say, “listen, I’m going to be bringing this guy.”

Andy: “I’ve got this kid,” yeah.

Gregory: “I got this guy.” And in that sense, we’re creating a community of people that can hopefully ignite. But that’s the key, you have to find the people that are going to be agents of inspiration.

Andy: Yeah. And then you kind of recruit them to help you. And it’s like, you are not necessarily an expert in whatever the thing is that you find that you kid is going to want to do, but you can still find the right people. And yeah, it was like music for me when I was in high school and my mom would find me these really cool different guitar teachers and piano teachers and people that could just be a good influence on me. And that was really effective, I think.

Gregory: Yeah. And if I’m doing the writing class, myself, the young man, we’re doing your writing class, it’s true, I’m not the expert. But what I am an expert at is throwing myself into things boldly. So there’s again that mirror effect where a man is going to see how I approach a writing class. How do I?

Andy: Yeah, and how seriously you take it and.

Gregory: Yeah. How much fun do I have? How do I deal with writer’s blog? How do I deal with this? How do I deal with that? And then afterwards, we’re going for lunch, we’re talking about the experience or something like that. And that’s the key. Again, it’s not that we don’t talk to young men. We do, of course. But what I’m saying is it’s better to share an action with them and talk afterwards.

Andy: Yeah, right.

Gregory: So, how well is it for you?

Andy: Almost like a debrief. Well, that was crazy. And when that thing happened, oh my gosh. Yeah.

Gregory: Bingo. And in that way, all the work, we’re teaching them how to engage with and enjoy life because it’s very simple. If you do not know how to enjoy life, there is no way you’re going to stop gaming and using drugs and isolating. Those things are your comfort. Those are your relief, those are your forms of enjoyment. So unless I can teach them how to enjoy life, I’m not going to be effective in helping them change.

Andy: Yeah, let’s show them a better alternative, yeah. And you write on page 36, that by two people facing the world alongside one another, instead of only facing each other, they share an experience in the social world and create a special bond. I’m amazed by the healing that happens when I use this alongside a technique with an emerging man, getting him into action and exploring the social world together with me. And that’s exactly what you’re talking about and it’s that combination of what you were just saying, finding the right writing workshop, if that’s what your kid is into and then doing it alongside the kid and kind of modeling just how to jump into it and how to do it. And then that activity then gives you a chance to talk and discuss the thing. And then you can get them to open up.

Gregory: That’s right. And so the social world is a living, breathing organism. And we are so small as men in comparison to that. So when we face that together, it’s a huge act of humility. We’re entering something greater than both of us. So we’re equal. I’m not greater than they are. We’re both facing this together. And the beauty of that also is that all the work that we’re doing is eventually helping them to do the very thing that we want anyway, which is to build a life in the social world. Imagine two men entering the social world for a year or two. And what happens over time is it starts with a little bit of a dip in your toe in the water. And then you put your, both your feet in the water. And then you go in the water. And then you cannonball, you swim, wind surf, you this.

Gregory: And then after those two years, you say, bro, look at what you did? You went from this timid, isolated, broken, disconnected dude sitting on the beach to you have this whole life in the water. Isn’t that wonderful? Of course there are times in all of our lives. I can’t speak for you, I can speak for me, when life gets the best of you. It throws a haymaker and it knocks you down. And you want to give up. Well, the beauty of this method is you, because you’re building a life, you’re less likely to give up in that moment because you’ve seen how much you built. Versus if all the gains are in, let’s say a therapy office, and you tell me, Gregory, but we’ve been meeting for two years and you’re so much better at talking about your feelings. Who cares about that? What does that mean to me, right? I want something tangible and concrete. That’s what we were… you were talking about early, men want to create a life.

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About Gregory Koufacos

Gregory Koufacos is the author of The Primal Method. He has worked as an addiction professional for nearly 15 years. He has been trusted by some of the best programs in the country to work with their team and clients. In 2019 he founded Velocity Mentoring and serves as CEO and mentor for the company. 

Koufacos holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology from The New School for Social Research, is a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and a Nationally Certified Recovery Coach. 

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