Dr. Carl Pickhardt is the author behind 15 books on parenting and books of illustrated psychology as well as adult and children’s fiction. Pickhardt works as a psychologist in private counseling and public lecturing practice in Austin, Texas. You can read more about his work at his psychologytoday.com blog “Surviving(Your Child’s) Adolescence”
You specialize on child behavior, specifically adolescence. Can you touch a bit on what your research is for our audience who may be learning about you for the first time?
My long-standing psychological interest has been the parent/adolescent relationship.I am fascinated by the developmental change that drives the child to separate from childhood around ages 9 – 13, detach and differentiate from parents, and over 10 – 12 years pursue the twin goals of adolescence — building a functional independence and an individually fitting identity. This is a revolutionary process because it redefines the young person, the parent in response, and the relationship between them, growing them apart as it is meant to do. I explore this endlessly varied change both in many non-fiction parenting books and the blog I write for Psychology Today, and in fiction in three coming of age novels — “The Trout King” (about fathers and sons), “The Art Lover” (about mothers and daughters), and “The Helper’s Apprentice — The Jackson Skye Mysteries”(about a brother and sister.)
Did anything in particular inspire you to study the science behind adolescence? Do you have any motivations for this topic?
I am the son of an artist (painter/draftsman), grandson of a collector of master drawings, and a graphic artist myself who has written eight books of illustrated psychology — combining graphics and written commentary to explore and represent common psychological states. (See my website: www.carlpickhardt.com) Probably because of this artistic bent, I do not approach psychology “scientifically,” but artistically. My greatest teacher about human behavior is Charles Dickens who I have read steadfastly for many years. For me personally, he is a great writer, but an even greater psychologist who continues to teach me to this day.
I in no way discount “scientific psychology.” It is just not my way. I have learned much more about human behavior through listening to clients and reading literature than from psychological studies, thought-provoking as many of these have been.
Do you have any children that you can liken your findings to?
We have 4 grown children, and each has followed a different adolescent path, enlightening me in different ways. They have taught me a lot about life, and continue to do so.
In your opinion, what is the most common mistake parents make when dealing with adolescents that they think is right?
A very common mistake parents make with the more actively oppositional adolescent is to take offense and try to diminish teenager arguing with their disapproval or correction. I believe this is a misguided response. Come adolescence, the young person is now the best informant they have about what is going on the teenager’s inner and out worlds of experience. Argument is communication about what is important to the teenager. It is speaking up. Would most parents rather have a ‘mystery child’ — one who shuts up and barely says a word? I don’t think so. Better for a parent to be informed than ignorant; better for a parent to have more resistant communication than none at all. Speaking truth to adult power can feel hard to do, but it is an essential life skill out in the world, so it needs to be practiced at home. Thus, assuming it is done respectfully (and parents are respectful in return), in response to adolescent argument, parents might consider saying: “Thank you for telling me,” “Can you tell me more,” “Can you help me better understand,” “Please always tell me when my behavior makes me hard to talk to.”
Do you have additional resources or further readings to suggest to parents who would like to know more about adolescence in children?
Two very practical books from which I have seen parents profit are these. For accepting and understanding the biological complexity of adolescence, “The Teenager Brain,” Jensen and Nutt. For parent and adolescent communication, “Between Parent and Teenager,” Ginott.
You’ve written a handful of novels on parenting, which do you consider your most prized work and why?
I am very fond of the three adult novels I have written that I believe not only are good stories well told, but are psychologically illuminating about the adolescent process and the adolescent/parent relationship. These are: “The Trout king,” “The Art Lover,” “The Helper’s Apprentice — The Jackson Skye Mysteries.” At the moment I am searching for a fiction agent or editor to get these young adult novels republished.
A great big thank you Dr. Carl Pickhardt for participating in our interview.