A Coping Tool For Anxiety In Teens

Coping is difficult for teenagers.  They don’t seem to have the ability to break a problem into small bites.  One of your jobs as a parent is to help them learn to do this.

A coping strategy for high anxiety.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Codependent Parenting of Teens

Codependency ends up hurting, not helping.
Credit: tuelekza via freedigitalphotos.net

I bring this up now because I have been seeing a lot of it lately. Before I became a therapist I didn’t really understand what codependency was. I thought maybe it was a good thing. I never could understand why two people being dependent on one another was a problem. Now I know that term is actually misleading.

Here’s what codependency really is: Bob has a problem. Jane thinks she can help Bob get over his problem. She starts to put a lot of time, money, effort, emotion and thought into helping Bob get over his problem. She becomes so wrapped up in Bob getting better that she becomes emotionally over-invested in Bob’s improving. Eventually she is totally immersed in Bob’s problem and it’s starting to cost her. She is getting worn out and burned out. However, she has also developed a dependency on Bob needing her to work on his problem. She gets self-worth out of feeling important to Bob. Jane has become codependent on Bob. As you can see this is a very unhealthy dynamic. Bob is stunted by his problem, and Jane is stunted by her over-focus on Bob fixing his problem.

I wish I could say that’s the end of the story, but there is more to Bob and Jane. When Bob finally does get better (on his own), Jane is left feeling empty. She has made her life’s purpose about Bob’s healing. Now that he’s better she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Unwittingly Jane will either drag Bob back into his problem so that she is needed again, or Jane will find a new person with a new problem to solve. Jane is never actually working on her own growth. Jane is blind to her problem.

As Dave Ramsey says, “Enablers [another word for codependent] are some of the nicest people in the world. They mean well, but they end up harming the person they love.”

What does Dave Ramsey mean by “they end up harming the person they love?” When you are codependent you often end up preventing the person you’re trying to help from experiencing natural consequences. Bob would have felt the pain of his misbehavior much sooner if Jane hadn’t have been there to mop up the mess. Perhaps Bob would have decided to change his situation earlier if he had experienced the results of his problem.

I have been seeing a lot of parents behaving codependently with their teenager in my counseling office recently. One of my clients has an addiction to marijuana. The parents are allowing that client to smoke at home, “because then he won’t get caught by the police.” The parents are meaning well in not wanting their son to get into trouble with the law, but that might be the very thing their son needs to quit using. Another client constantly complains of aches and pains. Mom takes her to every doctor, and nothing is ever found to be wrong. Instead of requiring her teenager to live a more healthy lifestyle, Mom’s codependent behavior is confirming that the child just needs to find the right diagnosis (While that might be true, over 20 doctors have said there is no problem other than lack of exercise and poor diet).

Codependency is always coming from a place of love and compassion. However, like anything, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. Make sure your teens get to experience both the good and bad consequences of their choices.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Cutting

Cutting is a serious problem and it is more frequent than you’d think.  Teens cut for various reasons.  In the short video below I cover some of the reasons adolescents self-harm.

Teen cutting…don’t take it lightly

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How Social Media Creates Covetousness In Teens

Excessive social media use might lead to a weakness of character.
Credit: Ambro via freedigitalphotos.net

Teenagers use Instagram and Snapchat all the time.  Some of them use Facebook too, but I mostly hear about “Insta” and Snapchat.  These are good tools of communication.  They allow people to enjoy seeing what their friends are up to, which can be fun.  More often than not though, I am hearing about hurt feelings as a result of these apps.

 

Teens that are constantly on these apps covet what their friends have.  They covet the highlight reel of friends with boyfriends or girlfriends, friends with other friends, friends with good family relationships, friends doing fun things, and friends being recognized for achievements.  They also covet their friends’ bodies, clothes and other material possessions.  It’s an endless game of your teenager comparing himself or herself and thinking (s)he doesn’t measure up.

 

Covetousness is an ugly character trait.  It seems harmless at first.  Initially your teenager simply wishes (s)he had what “they” have.  Then (s)he feels discontented with what (s)he has.  Then (s)he begins to envy.  From there flows a desire to take short-cuts.  Short-cuts lead to lying, cheating, stealing and impatience.  This is the mark of someone who needs instant gratification to be happy.  People who live like that remind me of Esau from the Old Testament in the Bible.  Esau traded everything that came with the Ancient Israelite tradition of being a firstborn son for a meal; he was hungry so he chose instant gratification.  Your child wants to be loved, so (s)he becomes willing to be sexual with someone at a party instead of putting in all the work it takes to have a meaningful, loving relationship.  Yes, I know this is an extreme example, but a covetous character really does lead to short-cuts, which can ultimately lead to a very hard road.

 

I am not blaming social media for the poor character trait of covetousness.  That is something that comes from instant gratification.  I will tell you though that the teenage clients I see who don’t really struggle with this also don’t spend much time on social media.  While there isn’t causation, there does seem to be correlation.  Just like drinking soda every day i9s correlated to obesity, using social media appears to be correlated to an envious character.

 

There’s an old adage that if you want to be thin hang out with thin people, and if you want to be wealthy hang out with wealthy people.  Well, if you want a strong character, do what people with strong characters do.  They use social media a little bit, but they don’t live on it.  They don’t allow themselves to become so wrapped up in it that they start comparing what they see with their own lives.  People of strong character simply tend to be busy doing other things than wishing they had what someone else has.  I want this for your teenager too.  I want your teen to develop sound character so that he or she will be a positive contribution to this world instead of someone who whines because life has been “hard” and “unfair.”

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Your Teen Feels Discouraged

Changing your teen's outlook from discouraged to hopeful is hard, but rewarding. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Changing your teen’s outlook from discouraged to hopeful is hard, but rewarding.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t you hate the feeling that comes with trying as hard as you can to improve a situation, but you just feel like you’re running in place?  No matter what you do, it doesn’t seem like you can make it better.  It’s completely disheartening and frustrating.  Sometimes it shakes you to the core.  Oftentimes it bleeds into other areas of your life despite your best intentions.  This is called discouragement.

 

Teenagers get this feeling pretty frequently, and usually don’t quite have the maturity to know how to handle it.  Mom or Dad, you might notice your son or daughter becoming withdrawn and irritable.  You might observe them making negative comments and giving up much more easily than they used to.  They may resist activities they used to do in a heartbeat.  You’re left feeling perplexed as you wonder what has your teen feeling so down.

 

When adolescents don’t know how to lift themselves above a situation, it’s up to your parental instincts to help.  This can be tricky because your child may not necessarily share what has them feeling frustrated.  If it’s a certain class, they might fear telling you because they don’t want you to get upset with them.  If it’s that they can’t find a job, they may interpret your suggestions as criticisms.  If your teen is discouraged about making friends, they may find it impossible to implement things that are supposed to help.

 

My whole job consists of motivating discouraged teens and parents to make changes.  A lot of times the discouragement is about the parent/teen relationship, but it’s often about other things as well.  These things have ranged from addiction to anxiety to depression to trauma (rape, abuse, etc.) to other issues specific to each individual client.  One thing consistent across the board in helping a discouraged adolescent begin to make things better is to instill hope.

 

When you instill hope into your child it cannot be based on false premises.  You cannot tell your child they will become valedictorian of their high school if they failed during freshman year; that is literally not possible.  You CAN tell them they can still make it to a college they will truly enjoy and feel proud of if they decide to.  You cannot tell your daughter who has never done gymnastics, dance or anything else requiring grace and flexibility that she will make captain of the cheer team this year.  However, you CAN help her believe she is capable of participating in a sport, having camaraderie, getting into shape and feeling proud of it (especially no-cut sports like cross country).  It’s extremely important to help your teen set realistic expectations for him or herself, and be open to changing the picture of what they want just a little bit.  Help your teen realize it’s okay if they can’t be the most popular student in their middle school, and that having a solid group of friends makes lifelong joyful memories.

 

Fighting through discouragement with your adolescent is a challenge.  This is especially true when you feel as discouraged as they do.  I’ve sat with a lot of parents who have had to change their own expectations before they were able to help their teen instead of harp on their teen.  It’s not easy, but the rewards last a lifetime.  We’re all built a certain way, which means we have an individual purpose- starting to discover that purpose provides hope, which is the opposite of discouragement.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Giving A Teen Grace Versus Enabling

When we consider whether we’re giving our teenagers grace for a mistake compared to allowing them to get away with bad behavior, we have the opportunity to teach our children valuable lessons.

The fine line between giving a teen the right amount of grace versus enabling.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Insecure Teens

Teenagers are by their very nature insecure.  It’s difficult to feel secure in something if you’re still trying to learn about who you are, what you stand for, and what you believe.  Some insecurity is developmentally appropriate, but too much insecurity can be a problem. Here are some thoughts I have on this topic:

 

Is your teen too insecure?

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Don’t Be A Controlling Parent

Be a parent who guides and collaborates with your teen, not one who controls.
Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

Be a parent who guides, teaches and comes alongside.  Don’t be controlling.

 

What is the difference?

 

A controlling parent is one who uses guilt and other manipulations to get what he wants.  A controlling parent says things like, “After all I do for you, this is what you do?”  A controlling parent subtly derides his child’s choices.  Teens who have controlling parents often hear about how their choices in friends aren’t really the best, or their decision to stop playing a certain sport is “giving up,” or that taking every AP class is more important than exploring an interest via a certain elective class.

 

My cousin grew up with a controlling mother.  She pushed him incredibly hard and was extremely restrictive about how and with whom he spent his time.  She chose his university for him, even though she would say she didn’t.  Of course he’s the one who signed the letter of intent, but there was a quiet pressure that he dared not cross.  Even as a small child he wasn’t permitted to make a mess in the house.  There would be an angry flurry as things were picked up.  Shame and guilt were used liberally.  She honestly had his best intentions at heart, and loved him a lot.  However, she raised a boy who learned to have an extremely passive attitude in life because as he grew up it was never worth giving his own opinion.  When he went to college he came unhinged with all the new freedom.  Without someone micromanaging his life he drank, partied, and didn’t do homework.  He was the product of a controlling parent.

 

Clearly this isn’t the outcome in every situation.  The one thing I do notice though is that parents who are controlling have a parenting style driven by fear and anxiety.  They feel fearful the child they deeply love will make a costly mistake.  This fear becomes intense enough that it produces anxiety.  The anxiety is only kept at bay by controlling the child’s every move.  Unfortunately though, this isn’t very good for the child learning to recover after a mistake, learning to fail gracefully, learning to think independently, learning to self-motivate, or learning to be decisive.

 

Instead of controlling out of fear and anxiety, allow yourself to realize your child isn’t yours.  Your teenager was given to you for a short time by God’s good grace.  This means you have been entrusted with someone who will go on to live a life, possibly raise a family, have a career, make mistakes, suffer and succeed, and influence other people.  You aren’t fully responsible for this outcome.  All you can do is teach and guide.  Allow your child to fail, and then teach him how to recover.  Permit your teenager to make decisions and experience the good and bad consequences of those choices.  Be extremely patient because each day is only a snapshot, but your teen’s life is a long movie.  Realize you are a steward of your teen’s early years, and that’s it (Steward is an old fashioned word that refers to the person who managed a wealthy person’s estate and affairs.  You are a steward of your child’s early years because you aren’t their owner, just there to help your child manage properly for the first 20 or so years).  Don’t fix your errors through their life, meaning don’t force them in a direction you wish you’d taken in terms of career, sports, and dating.  Just listen, advise, discipline when necessary, reward when earned, and love always.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help, my teen is having sex!

Your teen will learn about sex; will they learn from you or someone else? Image courtesy of stil333 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your teen will learn about sex; will they learn from you or someone else?
Image courtesy of stil333 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a parent, there are certain moments in our teenagers’ lives that we fear.  The first time they get behind the wheel of a car; the first time they come home from a party and you smell alcohol; the first time you find out they are having sex; all terrifying moments.  Some parents are not bothered by the idea of their teen having sex, as long as the teen uses protection from disease and pregnancy.  Through my years of working with teens though, I have found most parents are unprepared and definitely upset when their teen becomes sexually active.

 

Sexually active teens tend to have an intensity in their dating relationships that is less common to abstinent teens.  It is not surprising.  Sex is a very emotionally intimate process that moves a relationship to a completely different level.  To stand naked in front of someone is a metaphor for emotional vulnerability that just does not exist with clothes on.  Teens are very, very rarely mature enough to handle the emotional bonding and closeness that occurs with sex.

 

As a parent, what do you do if you discover your teen is sexually active?  Firstly, please do not be one of those parents who think that your teen’s business is private.  Please don’t be that mom who tells your daughter you’ll get her birth control and condoms, and then you won’t ask questions.  I’ve heard mom’s tell me, “As long as she’s not getting pregnant, I don’t want to know.”  This attitude leaves your child to chart very adult waters without any adult perspective.  This means the only advice your teen is getting is from his or her other inexperienced, adolescent friends.  Also, please do not be one of those parents that glorifies teenage sex.  You are not doing your child any favors by saying things like, “Way to go son, now you’re really a man.”

 

You most certainly need to sit down with your teen and have a conversation.  There need to be rules.  The teen needs to understand what comes along with the decision to be sexually active.  You are better off too old-fashioned than too permissive.  It’s okay if your teen gets mad at you.  Later, when they are no longer even speaking to their current sexual partner, they will thank you for setting limits.  It might not be for ten years, but they will thank you.  As a therapist, I have heard clients tell me they wished their parents had done more to forbid their sexual behavior in the past.  I have heard this more times than I can count from male and female clients.  This is always said after the fact, when the break-up has occurred.

 

If you can’t tell by now, I am coming from a perspective where waiting is best.  The longer your teen waits, the healthier their choices will be.  They will blossom into a person who can make mature decisions about a partner.  For all you Christian parents, talk gently with your teen about God’s design for sex.  Help them to know that God offers forgiveness for their choice, and please be graceful.  Telling them that they are a sinner who has ruined their future marriage will only engender sneaky behavior in your child.

 

No matter what, this is a difficult and delicate topic.  While you can’t avoid it, don’t be a bull in a china shop either.  Remember above all else to show love and care towards your teenager.  Don’t be afraid to inform the parents of your child’s sexual partner, but also handle this with a lot of care.  Love and respect are the first ingredients to this being a successful conversation.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Therapist’s Thoughts on Teen Driving

Should your teen be allowed to drive?  Should he get a car?  What should he pay for?  There isn’t a one size fits all answer to these questions, but they are asked often enough that I attempt to give some guidance here:

Teens and driving

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Faith Helps Anxiety

Surrounding yourself with supportive community reduces anxiety. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Surrounding yourself with supportive community reduces anxiety.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anxiety is a huge challenge for many people.  It is an obstacle that keeps them from moving forward with goals, keeps them from being close in relationships, and imprisons them.  The intense fear that something bad is going to happen feels overwhelming and upsetting.  Often, the things we worry about don’t even make sense to anyone else.  Someone might worry about something going wrong on a vacation to the point where the vacation isn’t even relaxing.  Another person might worry about being a failure in life, when she has earned A’s and B’s in school all along.  Some worry that nobody will like them, even when they have a lot of friends.  Anxiety is typically illogical, but still can be hard to control.

 

One of the best ways to help with anxiety is to rely on your faith.  Most major religions teach not to worry.  Some even call it a sin to worry.  They all want you to focus on something bigger than that thing you are concerned with right now.

 

Even if you do not have a faith in a god, there are really good lessons to learn from religion on how to deal with anxiety.  While you might not know to whom you are praying, pouring out your fears and believing something is out there that cares about you still is immensely helpful.  Getting yourself into a community of people who care about you and the struggles you are facing will strengthen you.  You might try a support group for starters.  I know there are beliefs and prejudices some of you have towards support groups; there is a stigma about people who go to support groups.  Those beliefs are generally wrong.  You will find some of the nicest, most normal people in these groups.  Going to a support group also gives you the opportunity to encourage someone else, which reduces anxiety as well.

 

Coming from a Christian perspective, God wants you to remember that he will shoulder your burdens.  Jesus already took on all the punishment you deserved for every wrongdoing you committed, so there is nothing to be afraid of.  You aren’t alone when you go through painful things because God doesn’t abandon you.  Remembering that helps you hold on to a sense of peace and joy even in your darkest of days.  Christianity also teaches us to go through things in community.  If we are suffering, we are to share the weight of our sorrows and fears with others.  When you have people supporting you and praying for you it makes a world of difference.  Things are a lot less scary when others walk through them with you.

 

Psalm 28:8-9 says: “God is all strength for his people, ample refuge for his chosen leader; Save your people and bless your heritage. Care for them; carry them like a good shepherd,” (The Message Translation).

 

Facing your worries and then moving beyond them is definitely difficult.  It is made even more difficult because we tend to walk through our anxieties by ourselves.  Going through your pain in community, and in prayer, relieves some of the stress anxiety causes.  Relying on God to guide you gives you strength and hope.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS

Co-parenting After A Divorce

I could go on about this topic for hours.  Instead I’m going to give you the one mistake I see over, and over, and over again.  Do whatever you can to avoid this one because it’s incredibly confusing for your children.

 

Don’t complain about your former spouse’s consequences to your child.  If your ex takes your child’s phone away, help your child figure out how to avoid that consequence in the future.  You can also talk privately to your ex if you think the consequence is inappropriate, but don’t tell your child something to the effect of, “Well your mom always was ridiculously harsh, so this doesn’t surprise me one bit.”  This just confuses your child and gives your teen permission to pit you and your ex against each other.

 

Here are a couple more thoughts on this:

 

Co-parenting after a divorce includes not complaining about the former spouse.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why Dads Are Important

Teenager girls need their dads.  Period.  Unless dad is truly destructive, this is a nearly no-exception statement.

 

Why Dad’s are important

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teaching Teens About Money

Teaching teens about money is very important.
Image courtesy of sscreations at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The lessons you are able to teach your teenage child by teaching him about money are many.  As a parent you are able to use money metaphorically to build important character traits.

 

1. Work Ethic: If you reward your teen for hard work, then they learn working hard is a way to get paid.  As your teen puts in more effort and obtains more skill, the reward increases.  This is exactly what happens in life at a job.  As you become more skilled combined with working hard, you are paid more than someone with less skill who is lazy.

 

2. Contentment: We don’t want to teach complacency, but we do want to teach contentedness.  Your adolescent will appreciate what she has more if she is not gratified each time she wants something new.  She will be less inclined to use new things as a way of feeling good if she has to pay for them herself.  I’m not suggesting you require your child to pay for everything.  However, having your teen pay for many things is a really good idea because it teaches an invaluable character trait of contentment.

 

3. Patience: Adolescents who save for something are more patient by nature.  They understand good things come, but in time.  They recognize value in setting a goal and achieving it.  They see some of the joy comes in the earning and some comes in the having.

 

4. Responsibility: Responsible behavior includes living below your means.  Teens who earn their way are more responsible in general.  They have to choose between buying gas and buying marijuana.  Usually they will buy gas for their car.  Teens who have no financial responsibilities often spend their money in self-destructive ways.

 

5. Generosity: It feels good to give away someone else’s money.  It feels even better to give away your own hard earned money in order to help someone less fortunate.  Your adolescent benefits from you giving them money they can donate to charity.  Your son or daughter really feels the simultaneous pain and joy of giving their own money to church, a friend, or something that doesn’t benefit him or her directly.  It teaches generosity to start this before adulthood.  It becomes a feeling they won’t live without.  It increases awareness of the world.

 

6. Self-Control: When you give your teen $20 to see a movie and get a bite to eat, your teen spends it all.  When it’s your teen’s own money, they watch a movie on Netflix and eat at home.  Teens quickly learn how long it takes them to earn that $20, and they decide carefully how it is worth spending.  They don’t make this calculation if you give them money.

 

Defeating bad character traits like entitlement, greediness, selfishness and superficiality also are accomplished using money as a metaphor.  If you won’t give your teen everything you will help him learn work ethic, contentment, patience, responsibility, generosity, and self-control.  Who doesn’t want a kid like that?

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder can make things chaotic and overwhelming. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bipolar Disorder can make things chaotic and overwhelming.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are a few types of Bipolar Disorder.  They are labeled differently depending on their severity.  This post is about Bipolar I, the most intense form or Bipolar Disorder.

 

Bipolar Disorder (previous known as manic-depression) is a serious mental illness.  It is defined by the presence of a manic episode.  Mania isn’t just feeling happy.  Mania is a very intense, sometimes euphoric, chemical imbalance causing unusual psychological phenomena.  A manic episode means a greatly reduced need for sleep (about 0-2 hours per night).  It means coming up with grandiose ideas.  An example of a grandiose idea would be deciding, without research, to move to Alaska and drill for oil.  In some cases, mania means following through on those ideas.  The follow-through is done without forethought or planning.  It is done in a disorganized fashion.  Mania can include extreme behavior.  I once read of a man in the news who spent $50,000 at Walmart in a single afternoon; he was in the middle of a manic episode.  Someone in a manic episode might engage in dangerous behavior such as trying drugs, having sex, stealing a car, etc.  I’ve also sat with people in manic episodes who have flight of ideas and pressured speech (very rapid, ongoing speech with ideas that go from one to the next without a breath).  Not as commonly, people suffering from a manic episode can be psychotic.  Sometimes they are not sure what is real and their five senses can become confused.

 

The other piece of Bipolar Disorder is depressive episodes.  You only need a manic episode to receive a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, but usually depression is part of the picture as well.  This isn’t just your typical, ‘I feel sad because my friend is upset with me,’ kind of day.  This is can’t crawl out of bed, overwhelming anxiety, self-hating depression.  This is a major depressive episode.  It’s feeling like you can’t eat, or can’t stop eating, wish for death, nobody cares for me depression.  It’s extremely painful.  This is the place where some with bipolar feel suicidal.  Oftentimes their energy level is so greatly restricted by the depression that even if they are suicidal, they don’t have the energy to try it.  It’s a dark, terrifying place.

 

People living with bipolar didn’t choose it.  They aren’t just making “wrong choices.”  A lot of the times we lack compassion for people with mental illness.  They look fine on the outside, so we think, “Why don’t they just try harder in school?” or “Why don’t they pick better friends?” or “If they would just get organized, then they could do so much better.”  We’re so quick to judge.  We completely misunderstand how impairing mental illness can be.  If our brain isn’t functioning at capacity, things become immediately much more difficult.

 

Do you remember the last time you were really sleep-deprived?  Maybe you pulled an all-nighter with friends, or maybe you were a new parent with a 2-day old infant who needed to be fed every 2-3 hours.  A couple days of no sleep and you were no longer at your best.  Your memory became foggy, your processing speed slowed down, your energy level diminished, and your ability to be productive was gone.  This is all because your brain wasn’t at capacity.  While I’ve never heard someone with bipolar describe the struggles they face as being similar to sleep-deprivation, you can at least understand that mental illness isn’t something to just “get over.”

 

The families of people with bipolar disorder suffer greatly too.  A good place to read about what it’s like is ridingthebipolarcoaster.blogspot.com.  This blog is written by a mom who has watched a child go through bipolar disorder.  It’s scary and it causes feelings of helplessness; It’s unpredictable.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Tip For Helping Teens Open Up To You

Dear Parents,

Many of you call me asking how you can get your teenager to open up to you more than they do now.  You’d love to be one of those parents whose teenager trusts you so much that they tell you everything.  I want that for you too!

 

Here’s a short video where I cover what I think is the number one thing you can change to help your teen talk with you more openly about what’s happening in his or her life.

A tip for parents who want their teens to open up more.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Should My Teenager Have A Curfew

Maybe.  Is your teenager prone to lying about his location?  Does your teen hang out with a rough crowd?  Or, does your teen have really nice friends and demonstrate responsibility?  Different kids need different things.  This might even vary between siblings.  Parenting isn’t a one size fits all approach.  Here are some thoughts from this therapist on curfews:

Should teens have a curfew? Here’s my non-committal answer.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman MS, MFT

5 Surprising Things That Contribute to Anxiety

Stress is manageable, but we have to control the extra little things that add to it.
Credit: David Castillo Dominici/freedigitalphotos.net

Here is a list of 5 things that raise anxiety that might surprise you:

  1. Watching a TV Series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc. It seems relaxing to sit down and watch a TV show, so why is this on the top of the list?  For your teenager, and probably for you too, having immediate access to a TV series causes stress.  This is because you get into the show and your brain finds pleasure in watching it.  When something interrupts you from watching it, you feel irritated.  This is where the stress comes in.  Homework becomes more annoying than usual for your teenager.  Chores aggravate, and so does really anything that gets in the way of finding out what happens next.  Consider watching things that have an end in each sitting like a movie or documentary.
  2. Reading/watching the news.  It is nice to know what’s going on in the world, but that’s only true to an extent.  Whatever is going on with national politics is likely to capture your attention and to cause you stress.  The thing about it is though, you can’t do anything about it.  You don’t have the time, money or influence to make much of a difference.  Beyond voting, donating a little to a cause, or calling your congressman, let it go.  Don’t get absorbed in every little crisis in the media each day.
  3. Checking emails/texts too often.  It’s okay not to check your phone more than once per hour.  It is disruptive, and it creates an anxiety that you must respond to whatever you’ve received immediately.  That also translates to an interruption in your present activity.  The more you allow interruptions, the less you can enjoy the present moment.
  4. Taking on too much activity.  For your teenager one or two social things a weekend is actually enough.  This is the same for you.  Don’t cram your day too full.  You actually can survive on less activity.  In fact, you might thrive on less.  If you’re constantly driving your teenagers to school, practices, friends’ houses and other activities, then maybe you’re saying yes too often.
  5. Commercials.  Commercials are designed to make you dissatisfied with what you have because dissatisfaction is a strong motivator to spend money.  If you look at magazines about fashion all the time, you’ll have anxiety that your wardrobe isn’t up to snuff.  If you constantly hear home improvement commercials on the radio, then you’ll think about that one project in your house you need to get done.  You probably won’t actually do it, but you will feel an increase in stress.  Your teenager is susceptible to this even more than you are.  Try to limit how much exposure they have to advertising.  I know we don’t live in caves, and so totally avoiding advertising is impossible.  However, we can try to maximize the amount of time we aren’t exposed to commercials.  When we’re reading, hiking, playing sports with friends, at the beach, swimming, etc., we’re not being fed messages of discontent.  The more screen time we have, the more we are told the way we do things isn’t good enough.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Am I Enabling My Teen’s Bad Behavior?

Coming alongside your teens instead of enabling them is a gift. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Coming alongside your teens instead of enabling them is a gift.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is to all the kind-hearted, well-intentioned parents who feel helpless, hopeless and frustrated:

 

Your teenager is acting up.  They might be choosing something they shouldn’t, like smoking something or drinking something.  They might seem to be suffering from something, i.e. depression or anxiety.  They might be playing endless hours of video games.  They might be doing  poorly in school or unwilling to get a job.  Pick any bad behavior that you’re sick of and add it to this paragraph; it probably applies.

 

You don’t understand how your child could be making these choices.  Why aren’t they motivated?  You’ve given them every opportunity.  How could they choose to do drugs when you’ve provided them with every alternative?  When you were their age you would’ve been thrilled if your parents had been willing to buy you a car-get you a tutor-pay your college tuition-pay for sports.  When you’ve give them all this, how come they aren’t responding the way you thought they should be?

 

Teenagers are at a crossroads where they need to have your guidance to get through difficult situations.  They still need you to point them in the right direction.  However, they are also desperately trying to figure out who they are.  They are trying to find their own way and have their own identity.  For that reason they will often reject the advice you give, or choose any direction but the one you’ve offered.  One thing is certain though, teens who earn their own way have better self-worth, more motivation, improved understanding of how the world works, and a more mature perspective.  These teens also don’t have time to make bad choices.

 

Without realizing it, you might be enabling your child’s acting out.  You might be making things too easy for them.  If you lovingly make things harder for them, they are less willing to squander it.  Teenagers who have to pay for part of their car tend to keep it cleaner.  Teens who have been cut from a sports team hustle more at practice when they do make the team.  Teens who have fought tooth and nail to get a C in a class study harder.

 

Be very intentional about teaching your child how to struggle.  I know we don’t like seeing our children struggle, especially in the cases where we can easily resolve it for them.  With your teenager it is helpful to put your name on their checking account and help them learn to manage their money.  The key word in the last sentence is THEIR.  If you put YOUR money into THEIR checking account, they are much more likely to mismanage the gift.  If they had to earn it, then they’ll be careful with it.  Your adolescent will behave better if you allow them to struggle, but help them to get through the struggle.

 

This is fine and dandy if your child is still ten, then you have time to course correct and prevent a lot of bad behaviors.  However, what do you do if your teen is fifteen, sixteen or seventeen?  Carefully inventory where you’re doing more than you should considering their age and abilities.  For example, if you’re providing a car to a 19 year old who is barely working and is smoking out all the time, it’s time to reign it in.  You might immediately think, ‘But they need the car to get to work.’  Actually, they don’t.  You’ll be amazed at how resourceful they can be.  They might learn to use the bus system.  When you take things back make sure you explain it’s to help the teenager build a sense of independence, self-sufficiency and personal pride; it’s character development.  Give them the chance to be proud of themselves.

 

Now for a quick story:

A couple years ago I had an 18 year old young woman brought to me by her parents after she got into minor trouble with the law for supplying marijuana to minors.  She was a good kid in her heart, but she was tempted by the easy way in life.  It was beginning to stunt her character development.

 

I called in dad and mom with the young woman.  We had a very frank conversation.  I told the parents (nicely of course) that they were enabling this bad behavior.  They could not believe it because they grounded her, took her phone, restricted the use of her car, etc.  I told them it was my belief that this young woman would flourish if she were forced, but wasn’t going to choose character development on her own.  I encouraged the parents to help the young woman purchase her own car in her name, have her pay off her speeding tickets, charge her a little bit of rent, let her pay her own spring semester tuition fees, get her own cell phone, and pay her own insurance.

 

They listened.  Within two months the young woman went from working 10 hours per week to thirty, worked hard in school, and most importantly very proud of herself.  She felt capable and confident for the first time in her life.  She stopped dealing drugs because she didn’t want to risk everything she’d worked for.

 

So, if your teen is acting out, check and see if you’re enabling.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.  That’s where a really honest friend, family member, or therapist can be extremely helpful.  It’s difficult to stop, but it’s a gift to your teen if you let them learn how to struggle and win.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Stress Reduction Tip for Teens

After recently taking a vacation where there was no access to internet, and no good way to use a smart phone (other than as a camera and to play music), I realized my stress level was much lower.  When I got back from vacation I had to use the phone and internet of course, but I decided to still avoid the extras.  I haven’t been on social media, keeping up with the news, or even been checking the weather (I realize I was annoyed at the upcoming weather if it wasn’t a perfect 75 degrees).  All the information we can access is a blessing and a great tool, but not if we allow it to make us wish today were different.  We only have what’s right in front of us, and that is hard to enjoy if we’re constantly comparing to others on social media, angry about what’s in the news, or anticipating a less than temperate day.

 

Here’s a quick video of thoughts on taking a break from electronics:

 

A stress reducing tip for teens.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

“Mom, Dad, I’m so tired!”

Your teen is tired, but there is hope to help her change that.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/frameangel

Parents, do you hear this ALL THE TIME?  Is your adolescent child constantly complaining of feeling exhausted?  Here are 5 reasons why teenagers in 2017 are just plain worn out:

 

1. They need more sleep.  Did you know an adolescent still should be getting a little over 9 hours of sleep per night?  Adults need about 8 or 8.5.  The difference here is that teenagers are still growing and developing.   You wouldn’t allow a 2 year old child to get only 7 hours of sleep per night, so why are you allowing your 15 year old to only get 5 or 6?  Sleep needs to be guarded and prioritized above friends, screen time (video games, phones, Netflix), sports and sometimes even homework.  It is the magic elixir that prevents illness, prevents depression, allows clarity of thought, elevates moods, improves memory, gives incredible amounts of energy, and restores breakdowns within the body.  Sleep is imperative.

 

2.  Their diet needs to be improved.  It is really easy to overlook diet in children because they’re children.  They are so active that they don’t look fat.  They seem to eat whatever and feel fine.  Honestly though, once you feed your teenager a truly healthy diet you’ll probably see a difference.  Teens go out to eat often.  This means they are possibly filling up on empty calories.  They aren’t getting enough vitamins through fruits and vegetables, and they are getting too much salt and sugar.  Teenagers also consume a pretty good amount of caffeine.  While caffeine is a band-aid, it isn’t part of the recipe to optimum health.  Help them eat right so their energy can improve.

 

3.  They don’t know how to be still.   Psalm 46:10 in the Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Our culture has lost the art of being still.  Oh sure, we know how to sit and not physically move, but we never still our minds.  I bet your teenager sleeps with his phone beside his bed, uses it as his alarm to wake up, checks texts and social media right away, and always has music playing.  We are never just quiet and still anymore.  It helps your teenager re-energize if he can learn to sit outside, enjoy the breeze, listen to the sounds and observe what is around…without an electronic device.

 

4. They are over-committed.  There are so many good things to do with our time.  However, saying yes to everything prevents any of us from doing one or two things well.  Believe me, if I said yes to every client who called, I never would have learned how to specialize in working with adolescents.  Your teenager can’t say yes to everything either.  Your child might already know she intends to major in engineering in college.  In that case it is probably better that she learns AP Physics well instead of halfway understanding AP Physics and AP US History.  Maybe, just maybe, AP US History isn’t useful for her particular goals.

 

5.  They need to shut off their phones.  Do you realize how much longer it takes to complete an assignment when you stop every one to two minutes to read and respond to a text message?  It will easily double the time needed.  Imagine driving in traffic.  It is much slower to start and stop constantly than to just cruise along to your destination.  Your adolescent is a master at keeping two or three threads of thought running at the same time: your daughter is engaged in two different text conversations and is concentrating on that paper she’s trying to write.  Help her see something very important: things that feel urgent aren’t always important.  Answering someone’s text feels like it needs to be done quickly, but usually it isn’t important.  Can you remember the text conversation you had with your friend from three weeks ago?  Your teen can’t either.  Help your child learn that while Americans constantly multi-task, all the research shows this is detrimental to performance and efficiency.  Can you imagine if your surgeon were multi-tasking!?!

 

Parents, I’m sure you noticed that these 5 things don’t just apply to kids.  They are also why you feel tired.  They are also why I get tired.  I find it’s a constant battle to sleep more, eat better, say no to good things, rest my body AND mind, and put down my phone.  However, it’s a battle I’ll keep fighting because I don’t want to be cranky and exhausted.  I know you don’t want to be either, and neither does your teen.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

 

Helping Teens Feel Less Pressure

Orange County teenagers are under a lot of pressure.  Period.

 

Our teenagers are expected to attend a prestigious university, keep up with social media, perform in a sport, actively attend church, and do well in school.  What is difficult is that all those things are really good things, and yet maybe it’s too much.  How do you say no to a good thing?  This is really challenging for parents too because we are given the doomsday speech if any of these things are dropped.  Yikes!  What a conundrum!

 

Here are my thoughts on that after spending thousands of hours counseling Orange County teenagers:

 

Helping teens feel less pressure

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Use of Electronic Cigarettes

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances. Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances.
Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parents, you may or may not be aware of a new trend among teens and young adults.  They are called electronic cigarettes.  They are also known as vapes, vapor cigarettes, e-cigarettes, mods, and e-cigs.  These are devices that create steam instead of smoke.  The steam is inhaled, and whatever chemicals are mixed in with the steam go into the body.  In general e-cigarettes are used to get nicotine into the body, but they are also used for many other things.

 

The main intent of electronic cigarettes is to help someone quit smoking.  The belief is that inhaling steam is far less damaging to the body than inhaling smoke.  Someone trying to end a cigarette addiction might buy an e-cig in order to use a plan that helps them quit smoking.  They would buy various levels of nicotine to put into their electronic cigarette.  They would start out at a higher dose, and then gradually drop down to a lower and lower dose.  At some point the dosage is so low they can completely quit needing nicotine.  This has been successful for a number of people.

 

However, as is true with all things, there is a way to abuse the vapor cigarettes.  One thing I have heard repeatedly from my teenage clients is that they would never try a traditional cigarette because they are disgusted by the smell, taste and health effects of smoke.  However, they do not see any problem with trying an electronic cigarette.  In fact, many of those who would not normally smoke, do use vapes.  This is exposing teens to nicotine who probably would never have otherwise tried it.  If they are exposed often enough to nicotine, they risk becoming hooked on one of the most addictive substances in the world.  The bottom line of what I am trying to say is that electronic cigarettes very well can be a gateway to smoking traditional cigarettes for adolescents.

 

The other way e-cigarettes are commonly abused is through the use of “dabs.”  Dabs are little bits of wax that contain cannabinoids.  I’ve also heard of people buying oils for the electronic cigarettes that contain cannabinoids.  Dabs and these oils essentially allow a person to get high from marijuana using an electronic cigarette.  The problem with this for parents is that it doesn’t leave a smell, so it is very, very difficult to detect when your teenager is doing it.  Marijuana is an addictive substance, despite what you may have heard or read.  Numerous studies have shown there are deleterious effects to the developing adolescent’s brain when they abuse marijuana.  Vapor cigarettes have made it easier for teenagers to get high without being caught.  Also, teens seem generally more willing to try marijuana when it is in an electronic cigarette because teenagers perceive electronic cigarettes to be less unhealthy than traditional methods of smoking.

 

The reason I wanted to write about this is because a lot of parents are not yet aware of electronic cigarettes.  So, now that you know, include this on the list of things that you ask your teenager.  You probably already ask them if they ever drink with friends.  Now also ask if they ever use an electronic cigarette, or if any of their friends do.  I’m willing to bet at the least one of their friends uses one.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How A Therapist Helps With Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are awful.  If you’ve ever had one, then you know you’d prefer to never experience it again.  People who are panicked feel so physically overwhelmed by their body’s reaction to adrenaline that many of them go to the emergency room.  I’ve heard it described as “feeling like I’m going to die.”  What’s even worse is that for some, the attacks are totally random.  Suddenly the body is in a state of fight or flight, but there seems to be no trigger for it.

 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is known to be very helpful for sufferers of Panic Disorder.  Here is just one of the ways a cognitive behavioral therapist helps:

 

How therapists help with panic attacks.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Do Eating Disorders Happen To Boys Too?

When males struggle with body image issues it can take over their life.
Credit: David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Yes, eating disorders happen to males too.  It’s not as commonly discussed, and it’s not quite as prevalent, but it definitely happens.

 

What are some signs your son might have an eating disorder?

Here are some things I screen for when I work with adolescent males who seem very body conscious:

1. Has he become obsessed with working out? Is your son going to the gym so often that you wonder whether it’s unhealthy for him? Do you feel concerned he’s lifting too much weight and might end up injured? This can be a sign of an eating disorder in a male.

2. Is your adolescent son highly concerned with his percentage of body fat? Girls talk in pounds. Boys talk in percentage of body fat. I hear of boys wanting to get their body fat percentage down to 4% or so. They think this way they’ll look “really cut.” This isn’t healthy though. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat to function.

3. Do you notice your son trying to diet a lot? Boys who have eating disorders often attempt to skip meals or only eat fruits and vegetables for a certain meal. They want to be thinner. Because their ideal body is different than a female, this can confuse us. They may not desire to look emaciated, but their ideal is probably as airbrushed and unrealistic as any female with an eating disorder.

4. Does your son refuse to eat certain food groups? Usually males want to bulk up on protein and cut down on carbs. They won’t eat bread, chips, and sweets. Your son might be doing this because he has become body obsessed.

There are other things I screen for when assessing for body image issues, but these four are always included. If you notice these things happening, it warrants a conversation. Your son might not be very likely to see his behavior as problematic. Remember to stay on track with what is actually healthy and don’t allow yourself to be convinced otherwise.

It’s important to help your son know what he is doing to himself by overly focusing on his body. First of all, starvation coupled with excessive exercise potentially has dangerous physical consequences.

The second potential problem with too much focus on the body is character development. Anytime we become obsessed with one area of development we neglect the other parts of our life. If your son only thinks about how to make his body look and feel a certain way, then he isn’t concerned enough with working on all the other things that will make him a good man. He may exclude himself from social situations because he doesn’t want to miss a workout. He might not be emotionally present on a date because he’s worried about what to do when she wants to order dessert. He might be unable to focus in class because his caloric intake is too low.

Body image issues in teenagers seem more prevalent than ever. Males are increasingly admitting to this pressure when we meet for therapy.  Some of them go so far as to diet and/or excessively exercise. It’s really important to bring this up with your son if you notice it.  Your interference will help your son get back on track to being a well-rounded young man.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Should I Help My Teen Who Isn’t Doing Homework?

Knowing when to help a teenager who isn’t getting homework done is tricky.  Some kids aren’t doing it because they don’t comprehend it, and they don’t know how to tell you that.  Those kids need your help.

 

Other adolescents aren’t getting their homework done just because they don’t feel like doing it.  As parents it’s our job to teach them how to complete tasks they don’t want to do.  An unfortunate part of life is that we all have to pay a price to win; we all have to do things we don’t enjoy in order to be successful.

 

As a therapist who works with teenagers, I hear the question about homework all the time.  My answer usually is something to the effect of,  “Allowing natural consequences is best.”  If your teen is someone who won’t enjoy getting a F or a 0 on as assignment, then let him or her fail.  It only takes one bad experience to learn a very valuable lesson.  If your teenager truly doesn’t care about school or success at all, then there are different issues and you might consider setting up a therapy appointment.

 

Here are some quick thoughts on allowing kids to experience small failures in school:

Should you help your teenager if they’re not doing their homework?

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Helping Teens to Think

We’ve become a passive culture.  We often absorb information but don’t think it through carefully.  Some of the adolescents I work with struggle with this.  They absorb from teachers, from you and from social media.  I was this way as a teen too.  Work with your kids on learning to think through things carefully.  This will always help them in life.

 

Don’t believe anything you hear!

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Meth Abuse

Crystal Meth, Ice, Glass, Speed, Methamphetamine, Meth...A dangerous and addictive substance that ruins lives.

Crystal Meth, Ice, Glass, Speed, Methamphetamine, Meth…A dangerous and addictive substance that ruins lives.

If you’re the parent of a child using methamphetamine, let me start by sitting with you in your fear for a moment.  Your heart hurts like you’ve never imagined.  Every parent’s worst nightmare is the death of their child.  When your kid is using hard drugs, that fear feels a lot closer to reality.  Knowing how little control you have over this situation is also devastating.  Feeling the shame of other people making sympathetic comments but still wondering if they secretly are judging you leaves you feeling lonely and disconnected.  This is a very hard journey you’re on.  My heart goes out to you, and you are included in my nightly prayers.

 

The abuse of methamphetamine is becoming rampant.  It is relatively inexpensive for a hard drug, and the first high is supposedly so wonderful that it is extremely difficult not to use again.  A lot of people report feeling hooked after their first use.  Some estimate there are 24.7 million abusers worldwide.  I think that is probably a conservative guess because meth abusers tend to be difficult to track.

 

Here are some of the signs you might see if your teenager is abusing meth:

  • rapid weight loss
  • periods of intense irritability and hyperactivity lasting several hours to even a few days
  • periods of long hours of sleep and exhaustion
  • dilated eyes
  • they are suddenly out of money
  • selling their things
  • paranoia or intense anxiety
  • paraphernalia in their room
  • inability to meet responsibilities like homework, chores and curfews
  • seems sneaky, like not going where they say they are
  • lying

These are also signs of other problems.  Don’t assume your teenager is doing meth if you see these signs.  Just be aware it’s one of the possibilities.

 

Meth has several names.  It is referred to as ice, glass, crystal, crystal meth, and speed.  The prescription drug form of methamphetamine is Desoxyn.  It is rarely prescribed anymore because of its addictive nature and dangerous side effects.

 

There are essentially five ways to get meth into the body.  The two less common ways are to swallow it, or to take it in a suppository.  More commonly meth is injected, smoked or snorted.  It is possible to overdose on meth.  An overdose can cause brain damage, heart damage or in extreme cases, death.

 

The high from methamphetamine is an intense burst of energy and euphoria.  Many abusers say it helps them think very clearly and to focus.  The high differs based on how and why the user is using it.  Some take it orally in small doses to focus on a long, tedious task such as studying or completing a project.  Most people who are abusing meth on a regular bases are looking for the longer, more intense high that comes from injecting or smoking.  This is usually what you think of when you think of someone who abuses meth.  They go on a “bender,” typically lasting from 1-3 days.  They are wired, hyper, feel invincible, and energetic.

 

After the high ends comes the “crash.”  This is the complete exhaustion that results from not taking care of the body’s needs such as sleep, hydration, eating, and hygiene.  The body can be so depleted that the person might sleep for a full day or even two.  After that the withdrawals include an extreme depression and sadness.  Unfortunately the only remedy for this depression is to either get high again, or to quit using.  Most people elect to get high again because the depression has been known to linger for up to six months.  It is a true colorless pit of depression.  A friend of mine who had been sober for three years once told me it took her about six months before she noticed the sky was blue, flowers had beauty and things stopped generally seeming dingy.  She said her perception of reality had been skewed.  She said the depression that came from the damage she had done to her brain was nearly unbearable and it took everything she had not to use again.

 

For users who become addicted, they rapidly develop tolerance.  This means they need more and more of the drug to achieve any effect.  It also means each and every high is less intense.  At some point all the drug does is stave off the withdrawals even though there is no longer a high.

 

If you are the parent of a child using, I strongly urge you to get into a community of parents who have kids struggling with drugs.  You will find the support you need for the days you feel like you can’t even breathe.  Three good options are CODA, Alanon and Celebrate Recovery.  They all have support groups that might help you walk though how to effectively help your teen.  If you’re not the support group type, another good option is therapy.  A therapist with a background in addiction recovery can help you understand options, point out ways that you might be accidentally enabling your child, and give you the safe space you need to work through your emotions around what has happened.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

Some of the information shared in this blog post was gathered from drugfreeworld.org, some was gathered from my own experiences when I worked on the detox ward of a psychiatric hospital, and some from the clients I’ve worked with over the years who have endured the painful battle with a methamphetamine addiction.

Anxiety- Fearing the Worst Case Scenario

We tend to overestimate the worst-case scenario. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We tend to overestimate the worst-case scenario.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever wondered what anxiety is?  We have all experienced it to an extent, some worse than others.  It often starts with overestimating the likelihood of a bad situation.

 

I will give an example from my personal life.  When I finished college I went out and got my first “career job.”  I put that in quotes because it was the first job related to my field of study, and I saw it as a place I could possibly work for years.  About four weeks after I began, my direct supervisor stepped down and an interim supervisor was put in place.  As management started to settle into place, it became clear that the department head was a micromanager; she was also condescending and cold.  As someone new to the staff, and as someone who has always confronted challenges in a personable manner, I struggled with the department head’s style.  It got to the point where I had intense anxiety and dread course through my body every time I saw her extension on my caller ID.  That progressed into me flinching whenever my phone rang because it might be her.  She kind of reminded me of Cruella Deville (a very stylish dresser, but self-serving).

 

At home I began to think about work all the time.  I started to hate my chosen profession.  I began to search for ways to avoid the situation that I found so untenable.  Worst of all were my beliefs about my future.  I felt certain “Cruella” would fire or suspend me for any minor infraction or patient complaint.  Given that I was working with drug addicts in their first days of detox, people whose physical misery means they do not tend to be a happy bunch), a complaint was inevitable.  The point is, my fear of the worst case scenario was causing intense anxiety.  Of course this fear never came to light.

 

If you find you or your teen is experiencing anxiety, then it is time to evaluate whether you are overestimating the likelihood of the worst case scenario.  Try to understand that people are not good at predicting the future, and neither are you.  While the worst case scenario could occur, whatever you are fearing will probably end up being just another mundane experience.  How many times have you assumed something would turn out so badly that you just couldn’t bear it?  And yet, you’re still here!  Now we even call those times “growing experiences.”

 

Try very hard to examine EVERY possible outcome.  While your teenage son might have intense anxiety that he will get an F on his next history exam, help him realize he also might get a D, C, B or even an A.  Help him know that somehow others have passed this teacher’s class.  You believe he will find a way to pass too.  Remind him of all the times he thought he’d earn a horrible grade, but didn’t.

 

I worked with a girl for a long time who was certain she would never get accepted into any college.  She thought her GPA was too low and her SAT scores were mediocre at best.  In fact, her grades were a little above average and her SAT score was a little bit above average too.  She was so surprised when she was accepted into 6 out of the 9 schools she applied to, and the one she chose even offered her a 75% tuition scholarship based on her grades.  She just couldn’t believe it!  Looking back she realizes she was terrible at predicting the future because her anxiety made her certain the worst-case scenario would come true.

 

Help your teenager look at the situation he is facing and be much more realistic about the possible outcomes; it will probably be better than he thinks.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Raising Your Teen In A Faith Community

Having your teenager involved in your faith community is extremely important for their development.  If you are a Christian, engage in a church.  I don’t just mean to attend on Sundays.  I mean to dive in and volunteer, join a bible study group, and participate in volunteer activities.  The same goes for synagogue, mosque, temple, and any other associated place of worship with your family’s faith.  Your teen will learn things that are hard to glean from school and social media.  Your son or daughter will learn his or her place in the scope of things, how to be obedient, self-control, positive coping skills through a relationship with God, and develop deep friendships.

 

Here are more thoughts on this:

 

Thoughts on having a faith community when raising teens.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Therapist’s Perspective On Teens Who Don’t Fit In

Bullying can devastate your teen. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bullying can devastate your teen.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The topic of bullying comes up a lot in my line of work.  It is brutally painful for tweens and teens to be picked on by their peers.  One 12 year old girl started counseling a few months ago because she can’t figure out how to fit in at school.  It turns out people clear the lunch tables when she sits down.  When I first met her, this was really difficult to understand.  She dressed appropriately, had normal hygiene, was friendly and altogether delightful.  What makes certain kids the outcasts?

 

After working with this issue for several years, it seems to me bullying occurs more frequently in middle school, and maybe the early high school years.  Middle school appears to be the worst time, especially for girls.  It also seems to me there are three types of kids.  There are the kids who are assertive (and sometimes aggressive), the kids who are neutral (and generally left alone), and the kids who are picked on.

 

In early adolescence, the children that are assertive tend to be popular.  These are the kids who don’t take crap from anyone.  If someone is talking behind their backs, these kids get mad.  They confront their accusers with attitude.  They sometimes pick on someone else a little bit and make the other kids slightly afraid of them.  On the surface they don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks.  They are a little bit louder, a little bit more socially advanced, and a little bit more willing to break the rules.  These teenagers do not necessarily make up the “bad crowd,” but they aren’t usually in the chess club or the 4.0 club either.

 

The neutral kids are the quieter ones.  They have their group of friends, and they are content with this.  They don’t have any ambition to move up to the next social group, or to be seen as popular.  They usually earn pretty good grades, and they don’t rock the boat.  These kids are probably what we’d think of as the “typical” middle school or high school student.  They are into their particular hobby, whether it be band, theater or sports, and they don’t cause a lot of trouble.  They also don’t get teased very much.

 

The third group of kids are the ones who get bullied.  These are teens who are naturally programmed to care what everyone thinks of them.  These teens cry when others gossip about them instead of getting angry.  They take it to heart when someone says they run funny, and then forever feel self-conscious in P.E. class.  They suck up to the more popular kids because they don’t want the popular kids to be mean to them.  These kids are easily taken advantage of because of their efforts to gain favor with everyone.  Sometimes they are naive.  These children are naturally non-assertive.  If they are assertive, they don’t do it in a way that earns the respect of their peers, only in a way that causes them to be mocked.

 

No matter which group your teenager is in, help them understand it is not their permanent position.  At some point we are differentiated from our peers in terms of our abilities and ambition.  Eventually it is no longer about certain personality traits that you were born with.  In general, middle school and high school years are years that can include a lot of insecurity.  Some of the more insecure teenagers I knew have grown up to be amazing adults.  Help your child know he or she is building character for the future.  Remind your teen that wisdom is born from suffering, and compassion is born from rejection.  Don’t let them lose sight of the big picture as tweens and teens are apt to do.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MFT, MS

When A Teen Dating Relationship Is Unhealthy

Teenagers often get serious with their boyfriend or girlfriend.  Sometimes this helps them learn about getting along with someone close, and about cooperation and compromise.  Other times though it is clear the relationship is toxic.  It would be best for the teenagers to go their separate ways.  Here are my thoughts on when it might be time to call it quits:

 

What does healthy teenage dating look like?

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Father’s Role With Teens

Dads, do you find you aren’t sure what your job is with your adolescent kids?  Are you sometimes confused on whether you’re simply the provider, or if you’re still making a big impact?

 

You are most certainly making a HUGE impact on your teen’s life.  You are your daughter’s visionary.  You are your son’s navigator.  Your teenage kids will choose much better with your positive input.

 

The role of dads with teenage kids

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Family is Very Important for Teenagers

Family is what creates a safe place for teens to grow into mature adults.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

Family doesn’t always seem like a top priority to teenagers.  They certainly spend more time with their friends.  They are more concerned with what friends are up to on social media than what their mom posts (unless mom posts something a teenager’s friends might see).  It’s hard to go from having small kids who want nothing more than attention from a parent, to having older kids who want nothing less than attention from a parent.

 

Actually though, family is still the most important thing in a teenager’s life.  I know this is true because I listen to teen’s talk about what is in their hearts for hours each week.  For the most part teens want to talk about their family situation.  They bring up other topics too, but this is often at the top of their list.

 

By keeping the family situation as stable as possible, you are creating safety for your teen.  Your adolescent son or daughter wants to go out and explore the world.  However, knowing there is a safety net makes this process much easier.  It’s part of their developmental process.  Within the next few years they will internalize the safety you’ve always provided.  This enables your son or daughter to branch out as they leave the house.  For now though, they really want to feel independent without actually being independent.

 

The need to feel independent often puts you in a bind as a parent.  I usually encourage parents to allow their teens to do as much as the teenager can safely handle.  One teen I worked with drank every chance he got.  The result was that his parents had to keep him on a short leash because he couldn’t maturely deal with much freedom.  Another teenager I worked with was self-motivated with her homework and didn’t go where she wasn’t supposed to go.  Her parents didn’t even need to give her a curfew.  In both of these cases though, family played a very important role.

 

With the boy who was drinking too much alcohol, the love and structure of his family is what got him back on track.  With the girl who pretty much always made good choices, her family’s constant cheerleading meant everything to her.

 

Your child’s brothers and sisters will be lifelong relationships; their peers probably will not.  This doesn’t mean you need to artificially create closeness between them, but it does mean sometimes you need to not allow friends along on family outings (this includes boyfriends and girlfriends).  It’s okay for there to be a few hours a week that are only for your family.  It might be met with complaints, but it’s part of that secure base every teen needs in life.

 

Family is frequently pushed to the back-burner by a teenager.  As a parent you can’t allow this to happen.  It’s your job to help your child balance family with their social life, academic pressures, athletics, and whatever other obligations your teenager has.  Time with family will be their place of rest and refuge if you work to create a place of safety and love.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Even Therapists Have Had Eating Disorders

When I was a teenager I started to believe I could be “just a little more fit,” and “lose just a few pounds.”  I got into a cycle that didn’t really get under control until I was 22 years old.  I CONSTANTLY thought about my body.  I worried I was gaining weight.  I worried I had cellulite.  It didn’t take much to trigger this.  Hear more about my battle with bulimia, non-purging type in this quick video:

 

My 7 year battle with bulimia as a teen (yes, even therapists have had eating disorders).

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Is my teenager addicted to technology?

Technology addiction in teens is a growing problem. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Technology addiction in teens is a growing problem.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

12 signs your teenager might be a technology addict:

1.  Cannot part with the smart phone: If you are at the dinner table, your teenager has their phone sitting beside their dinner plate.  You cannot get them to give it to you at night and you have caught them texting at 2 or 3 in the morning on more than one occasion.

2.  Is missing sleep to play games/check Snapchat/text:  Teens need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep to function at their optimum level.  If your teenager is getting fewer than that and yet spends multiple hours doing useless online tasks, they are losing sleep for online time.

3.  Has more online friendships than offline:  Teenagers who constantly text, Snapchat, Instagram, talk through Xbox Live, and other forms of online socializing might have this problem.  This is particularly true when you never actually see any friends in person, and when your teenager never seems to go out.

4.  Spends more than 3 hours a day in front of a screen:  They do need some screen time to complete homework.  That’s just the way it goes these days.  However, checking messages hundreds of times per day takes a lot of time, and is addictive.

5.  Is unhealthy in other areas of life as a direct result of screen time:  If your adolescent is not taking care of their spiritual, emotional, academic, family, social and physical health it’s because those things all require a little bit of time and effort.  When all available energy goes into online activity, there often isn’t much left over for the real world.

6.  You are fighting about technology use all the time:  Do you find yourself constantly irritated by how much time your teen is spending on their phone/computer/gaming console?  Are you asking them to stop all the time, or threatening to take away their electronics?  Maybe you wish you could have a conversation about something else for a change, or even a conversation at all.  This can be a sign of electronics addiction.

7.  Sneaks it when you say no:  You’ve turned off the wifi and told your teen they cannot use the internet for the rest of the day.  You catch them using their data plan on their phone, or sneaking to turn the internet back on.

8.  Won’t engage with family on account of using an electronic:  The family is getting together to go out to dinner, watch a movie, or play a game.  Your teenager has no interest in joining you because they’d rather watch Netflix or play video games.

9.  Is better at video gaming than anything else in life:  Your teen’s primary skill is video gaming.  They are extremely talented at playing video games, but cannot cook an egg, hammer in a nail or write an essay.  We are good at skills we spend time working to improve.  If your teenager only develops skills with a gaming remote, then they won’t have much to market to the real world later in life.

10.  Only requests technology related gifts for birthdays and holidays:  Your teenager isn’t asking for new clothes, to be taken to a certain restaurant, or for movie theater gift cards.  The only thing they want you to get for them is the new version of a game they like to play, the most recent version of the iPhone, a new tablet, etc.

11.  Is only motivated by access to electronics:  The only way you seem to be able to get your adolescent to complete tasks is to either bribe them with a new electronic gadget, or threaten to take away their current gadget.  They don’t want to work for money, pride of doing a good job, or to learn useful skills for their future.

12.  Chooses screen time over personal hygiene:  Your teenager really should shower more than they do.  However, shower time is procrastinated because they are watching Netflix, playing a game or can’t put down the phone.  Sometimes it gets so late they end up missing days of personal care.  You now feel like you’re on their back all the time like when they were 3 years old and didn’t like to take a bath.

 

Technology addiction in adolescents is a serious growing problem.  It is difficult for parents to understand because we didn’t grow up with nearly as many distractions.  There was one phone in the house and it was attached to the wall with a cord.  The family might have had a single computer and splurged for 10 hours per month of dial up internet access.  As a teen if we were bored we had to call a friend, read a book, go for a walk, etc.  Now there is an instant way to be entertained and feel good.  Once this turns into addiction, it becomes a huge battle in the home.  It is frustrating and overwhelming for parents.  Getting help to get life back on track is essential to everyone’s well being.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Therapist’s Thoughts on Stressed Out Teens

When your teenager is stressed out all the time, it’s time to take a look at their schedule.  Are they involved in too many activities?  Are they trying to take every hard class that exists?  Ask yourself what it’s all for and whether it’s worthwhile.  It’s important to remember they need to learn how to rest and care for themselves just as much as they need to learn drive.

 

 

Stressed out teen? Maybe they’re overcommitted.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Showing Love to Your Teens

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teenagers are at an age where they are often more consumed with their friends than with their family.  Actually, this is just how it appears on the outside.  When they were little they liked to snuggle in your lap, and a Friday night with Mom and Dad was as good as anything.  Now they want to be with their friends on the weekends, and it doesn’t seem like they really care what you think or feel; this is all a facade.

 

In the counseling room the majority of clients I work with discuss their families, not their friends.  They want approval, love and attention from their parents.  When your children were really small, like toddler-small, you probably noticed they were more content to play when you were somewhere nearby.  If you were in the same room they were happier than if they couldn’t see you.  This is the same for teens, but their “room” is much bigger.

 

Teens don’t literally need you in the same room anymore, but they still need you to provide them security and safety.  When you kindly give a limit, like a 10:00 curfew, you’re saying, “I love you.”  They might protest and argue, but they are also secretly glad you care enough to keep tabs on them.  When you insist on being hugged before bed each night they might squirm or roll their eyes, but believe me, they secretly like it.  When you tell your daughter she’s beautiful, or your son that he’s a great catch, you might get a look of dismissal, but you’ve helped his or her self-image.

 

Showing love to teenagers is more complicated than it was when your kids were small.  You used to be able to pick them up and swing them around.  You’d be rewarded immediately with giggles and smiles.  Now you pick them up from soccer practice and swing them all over town depending on what extra-curricular activity is scheduled for the evening, and sometimes you don’t even get a thank you.  You’re rewarded months or years later when they make a good decision at a party, or when they have the fortitude to push through a hard course in college.

 

It’s really important to remember that teens are operating on a larger, more independent scale than they did just a few years ago.  Your job is to give them all the same things you always have: affection, praise, limits, rules, expectations, and grace.  You have to constantly evolve in how you give these things to your teen.  They are growing up and maturing very quickly.  Just when you think you’ve got it down, they change.  When you keep your eye on the end-goal, which is to raise a functional and healthy adult, you won’t fight all the tiny battles.  Keeping your eye on the end-goal also helps you to love your teen better.  When they go through a period of bad behavior, you’re not as panicked because you know you’re not at the end yet.

 

Keep on the course and love your teenager with compassion, firmness and affection.  Stay with it; the results will show later on.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety and Wanting to Quit

Anxiety is overwhelming and frustrating. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anxiety is overwhelming and frustrating.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you struggle with anxiety, it makes you want to quit.  Let’s take the example of Brandon, who has really bad test anxiety.  Perhaps he wants to go to college to become a teacher.  So, Brandon signs up for classes and starts going.  It is great at first because he is only listening to lectures and writing papers.  However, midterms start.  Brandon has such terrible test anxiety that he cannot sleep the night before, studies ineffectively, and feels as if his mind is blank during the exams.  His stomach aches the day of the test and he is too nervous to eat.  This becomes so unbearable that he starts to say to himself, “Maybe I don’t really want to teach after all.  I was much happier when I was working in retail.”  So, to avoid the horrible feelings of anxiety, Brandon quits.

 

Here is the problem Brandon now has: Because the test anxiety caused Brandon to quit, he now is more afraid of tests than before.  As miserable as it is, pushing through a fear is essential to overcoming it.  When things calm down again, Brandon then wishes he had pushed through because he really dreams of becoming a teacher.  Since Brandon quit though, school seems even bigger and more scary than it did the last time.  Each time Brandon repeats this pattern he is making his situation worse.

 

When your anxiety makes you want to quit or avoid a situation, just remember that if you give in, the situation will actually become more scary next time.  Sometimes this is really hard to do, so getting a little help is necessary.

 

One thing I have teenagers do who have anxiety about a situation is to make a list.  We write down the thing they fear most, then something slightly less scary, and something even less scary until we reach a level that isn’t scary at all.  For Brandon it might look like this:

  1. College Finals
  2. College Mid-terms
  3. An online mid-term or final
  4. A college quiz
  5. An online quiz
  6. A practice exam on the school campus
  7. A practice exam done at home

Brandon would then be instructed to start with a practice exam done at home.  He would repeat it until it was associated with absolutely no anxiety.  Next he would take a practice exam on the college campus.  He’d repeat this process until it no longer caused any anxiety.  He would continue to work his way up the list.

 

Let’s say Brandon successfully worked his way all the way to number 2, taking a college mid-term.  When he got to this one he was unable to complete it because of his fear.  If that happens it is important to break it down into a smaller step once again.  Brandon might need to visualize taking a successful college mid-term on a daily basis and then try again.

 

If your teenager is racked with anxiety about a specific situation, try to help them push through.  Do not let them quit unless the situation is dangerous to their health.  We build fortitude by pushing through emotionally challenging situations.  Adults who lack fortitude also lack success: don’t let this be your teen.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens Need More Sleep

As a therapist who works with teenagers I see a lot of depression and anxiety cases.  In the majority of these situations my adolescent clients improves greatly with better sleep hygiene.  When they are careful about turning off their phones at night, going to bed at a decent time, cutting the caffeine off by mid-afternoon at latest, and keeping a sleep schedule that allows them to be in bed for about 9 hours per night, their other symptoms tend to improve in a big way.  Here are my thoughts on the importance of sleep for teens:

 

Never underestimate the importance of your teenager getting enough sleep!

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Power of Positive Thoughts

Positive thinking improves your whole life. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Positive thinking improves your whole life.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Feeling a little bit negative today?  Worried you’re not going to do a good job on your project?  Concerned you will make your teenager mad when you get home?  Focusing on negative worries like this actually makes them more likely to happen.

 

Trying to see things with a positive outlook is essential to a better life.  It is not always easy though.  Sometimes the things that are worrying us or dragging us down seem to overtake our thoughts.  In my office, I often hear about parents feeling completely overwhelmed with a negative choice their teen has made.  It seems to pervade every aspect of their lives.

 

There is an interesting phenomenon shown to be true through research in social psychology.  It is called the self-fulfilling prophecy. This means if you to say something is going to happen in a certain way, you will inadvertently behave in a manner that increases the likelihood of this being true.  For example, Justin says, “I am going to play terribly in my soccer game.  I can just feel it.”  To get comfort from the negative feeling he might eat comforting foods such as candy, or warm up poorly for his game because he has less focus on playing well and more focus on how big the other team looks.  Then he actually will play worse than normal.  This increases his anxiety next time he plays.

 

Self-fulfilling prophecies work in the opposite direction too.  If you think positively, you are more likely to behave in a way that creates a positive outcome, thereby lowering anxiety.  Positive thinking in one area also spreads to other parts of your life.  Melissa decides to think positively about her upcoming math test.  As a result she studies with more confidence.  She is also nicer to her parents because she is not distracted by worry.  Since she is nicer to her parents, they take a more encouraging tone about her test instead of their usual warnings that she study harder.  Melissa’s positive thinking has an impact on her behavior, which causes others to behave better, which reduces her stress, which helps her perform better on her math test.

 

Do you remember that guy in high school who always said he was going to be the next big thing?  You’d look at him and think, ‘Uh huh, sure…’  Then he pulled it off!  He lived out a self-fulfilling prophecy.  He increased his overall motivation by predicting something about his future.  Your prediction about yourself has to be made with conviction to have an impact on how you behave.  We often predict the negative with conviction; why not start predicting the positive with conviction?

 

It is not natural to think positively.  It’s important to remember things will very rarely be perfect all at the same time, so stop waiting for that day when all your ducks are in a row.  Start living positively (and with less anxiety) today.  It’s a choice.  If you make positive predictions for yourself, you will get there.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Few Signs of Teen Drug Use

What are some signs my teenager is using drugs?  This is a questions I am asked fairly often.  Here’s a quick response:

 

A few signs of drug use in teens.

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Drug use in your adolescent child is heartbreaking.  It is a difficult struggle to overcome for the whole family.  As a therapist who works with teenagers who use drugs on a fairly regular basis, I encourage you to simply take this one step at a time.  It is incredibly overwhelming to try and plan for the whole picture at once.  While you want to keep the end goal in mind, you can only do today.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Strategy for an Argumentative Teenager

Teenagers argue.  They are trying to figure out their opinions, and they test their shifting convictions out with Mom and Dad.  Sometimes they get carried away though.  If you think you’re teenager has taken it too far, here’s a quick strategy to consider:

 

 

A strategy for an argumentative teen.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Is My Teenager Having Sex?

Adolescents generally don’t have the emotional maturity to handle the fall-out of being sexually active.
Credit: stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

If you’re asking this question, then there’s a good chance the answer is yes.

 

Now for the follow-up question: Is this a problem for you?

 

Let me be very candid about where I stand on this.  I don’t want you to feel surprised if you call me or any of the members of our team here at Teen Therapy OC.  I think it’s a problem if your teenager is having sex.  The other therapists who work here, Carrie and Seth, also think it’s a problem.

 

There are some parents who feel fine about this.  There are other parents who are glad for their teenager.  They want their son or daughter to have this experience.  I actually do understand where you’re coming from.  I can see your side of it and I’m not here to condemn you for they way you’re looking at this situation.

 

Here’s why I see it differently.  Adolescents are all heart and no brain.  Of course I’m being facetious, but they really do feel a lot more than they think.  Their hearts are tender and vulnerable.  They become extremely idealistic when they think they are experiencing love.  Once they begin having sex this simply amplifies.

 

Your teenager is opening himself or herself up to a world of emotional pain once they are having sex with someone.  Their partner is probably going to change his or her mind about your child.  Right now they are lavishing compliments and all kinds of attention on your son or daughter.  Your son or daughter is doing the same in return.  As life progresses, drama unfolds, and teens are just teens, minds will be changed.  Most likely the person who “loves” your child now is going to becomes spiteful and hateful.  There simply isn’t the maturity to carry on as though nothing has happened when everything has happened.  Also, your teen’s partner is very likely in their social circle.  There won’t be the luxury of no longer seeing one another.  It is a train wreck waiting to happen.

 

Your teen is opening himself or herself up to physical danger too.  I’m not talking about being beaten or raped, although that is also a possibility.  I’m talking about venereal diseases.  These are absolutely real.  While many of them can be cured, many of them cannot.  Your daughter might contract a silent strain of HPV that she’s not aware of until she’s older and she keeps having miscarriages, or until she’s diagnosed with cervical cancer.  Your son might get HIV.  This is not some distant risk that wouldn’t ever happen to your kid.  These diseases are rampant among teens.  I have worked with hundreds of teenagers throughout my tenure as a therapist.  Of those who are having sex, many have had multiple partners.

 

Let me tell you a quick story: One sweet girl I saw at one point started seeing a boy.  Two weeks in she felt confident he was going to commit to her soon, so she started having sex with him.  Time went by and he refused to acknowledge her as his girlfriend, “but that’s okay because he’s not sleeping with anyone else.”  Her best friend was having sex with another boy who wouldn’t commit, and who told her he planned to continue “hooking up” with other people.  Their other friend was in a relationship, but had about eight previous partners.  Her boyfriend had never been with anyone but her, but he was exposed to the eight she’d been with plus all the other people they’d been with.  Their other friend never had sex of any kind and was very comfortable with herself remaining patient and abstinent.  The last member of this group of friends had sex with a different person every week.  This last girl’s mother got her a birth control implant and essentially said, “good enough.”  The risk with all these girls was that reportedly none of them used condoms.  They were all only 16 years old.  With the exception of the abstinent one, they all had self-esteem struggles.  Just as an interesting aside, the abstinent one was the only one whose father lived in the home.  You may think I’m making this up, but this is a real story from the trenches.

 

So, is your teen having sex?  I hope not.  If they are though, be gentle and kind.  Have a lot of discussion.  Teach them everything you can about their self-worth, love, and safety.  When I have a sexually active teenage client (which I do all the time), I am patient and non-judgmental.  I talk very openly with them about the risks, while trying my best to help them pick up the pieces when they get hurt (not if, but when).  I try to help them see life is a journey and we all have things to learn.  I know this first-hand because I was no saint as a teenager.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Anxiety…Are Our Teens Too Busy?

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do you do if your teenager seems generally overwhelmed?

These days the pressures on many high school students are off the charts.  The honors students are expected to maintain above a 4.0 GPA, a job, a sport and a social life.  They are told in order to get into college they will need incredible grades and SAT scores as well as a slew of extra-cirricular activities.  First of all, weighting a GPA on something beyond a four-point scale is a lot of pressure; you’re child might have straight-A’s and still not feel good about it because they only have one AP class.  I’ve heard some high school students tell me, “I’m not getting very good grades,” and they have a 3.6 GPA!
On top of all this most of the teenagers have phones with more capabilities than computers did five years ago.  They are constantly texting, emailing and posting on Facebook or Instagram.  While it is nice to stay in contact with friends, this is more noise in their lives.  More noise means more stress.
It is important to help your teenager understand the benefits of taking a day a week to be phone, homework, job, sports and stress-free.  Teach your teen how to enjoy reading a book or walking the dog.  Teach them the benefit of slowing down.  If all you teach them is to hurry up and get ahead they will never learn satisfaction with what they have.  As a result, they will always feel overwhelmed and like they’re underperforming.
If you want your teen to stop feeling so overwhelmed then you have to model what is important in life.  Get your priorities in order, which has to include time for fun and rest.  This will greatly impact your children in a positive manner by setting a good example.  Besides that, you will spend more quality time with them.  There is nothing better for a teen than that (even if they protest).
If you’ve gone “offline” recently, you know it is hard at first.  The first few hours, and maybe even the first few days feel like something is missing.  Being aware of this feeling will help you relate to your teenager when you tell them to go offline too.  They will feel disconnected and a little bit disoriented.  It’s not going to help if you tell them that you never had a cell phone growing up and you were fine.  Things WERE different back then.  Nowadays teenagers mostly make their plans through Snapchat, group chats and anything else to do with their personal phones.  When you have your teenager take a day off, they will be missing out.  It’s your job to help them understand it’s good for us to “miss out” sometimes.
Try not to overbook your child.  Our Southern California culture teaches teens to be extremely busy and involved.  While there is value in accomplishing things, there is also value in learning to be content and peaceful.  Keep yourself fresh and keep your children fresh- don’t have them doing 20 things that may or may not actually benefit them.  Keep perspective on when their grades are good enough.  Teach your children how to be content without being complacent.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Signs of Depression In Teenagers

What are some signs your teenager is experiencing depression?  As therapists we look for several signs.  Some of them are included here:

 

A few signs of possible adolescent depression.

A video posted by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on


Keep your eye out for a mention of suicidal thoughts, your teen telling you he or she feels depressed, changes in appetite and/or sleep, isolation and irritability.  If your teenager is exhibiting those symptoms, please feel free to call for a discussion.  The call is free.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Are Teens Anxious About?

Teenagers worry about how they will measure up.
Credit: tiniroma/ freedigitalphotos.net

You  might wonder what your teenager is worried about these days.  Of course it varies, but I’ll give you the run-down of the things I hear most often in my office when I’m doing therapy with teenagers.

1.  Do my parents approve of what I’m doing?  Your kid is concerned with what you think of them.  They may act as though they couldn’t care less, but that’s not actually true.

 

2.  What do my friends think of me?  Adolescents are consumed with concerns about being liked and being accepted.  While we know how little that will matter in the long run, their world begins and ends with Friday night.  It’s difficult for them to see that being popular isn’t the end all be all.

 

3.  How will I survive my schoolwork?  The specific concern about this varies from teen to teen.  Some worry about just passing a class.  Others worry about getting everything done.  Most of them do spend at least some amount of time telling me they are worried about how they will do in school.

 

4.  Is my family okay?  This is one of the most common concerns I hear about.  Teenagers whose parents aren’t getting along, whose parents express concerns over money or a job, whose parents talk about an illness, etc., worry.  Adolescents may act like you’re not their main concern, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  They worry about siblings and grandparents.  They love their family.  You give them security.  If they sense you aren’t doing well, they feel unsettled.

 

5.  Do I have a future?  Teenagers get existential angst.  We have told them their whole life how the world is their oyster.  Consequently they have spent a lifetime knowing they have a zillion choices of how to spend their life.  When it comes time to pick just one it feels very frightening.  Closing the door on all the others is closing the door on many other things they’ve thought about doing.  They also have to wrestle with how to overcome the challenges of “becoming” the thing they choose.  For example, if they decide to be a doctor they have calculus, organic chemistry, microbiology, physiology and other very difficult classes to get high grades in…and then they have medical school.

 

Your teenager has A LOT to think about.  We put tons of pressure on them to be successful.  This isn’t a bad thing.  We want them to know what they are capable of.  But, as with all things, there are two sides to this.  The first is that they have a better chance of doing well if they know what’s available.  The second is that they worry about what you think, if you’re okay and if they measure up.  They worry about measuring up with their peers too.  Adolescence is a tough time in life when it comes to managing lots of pressure.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Tip For Creating A Better Connection With Your Teen

Carrie Johnson has worked at Teen Therapy OC for four years.  She does incredible counseling work with teenagers and families.  Her quick tip on how to create a better connection with your teenager reminds you how important it is to acknowledge when your adolescent does something good.  It’s very easy for us parents to correct our kids more than we commend them.  Take a quick listen:

Carrie Johnson’s excellent tip for connecting better with your kids.

A video posted by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Video Gaming Addiction In Teens

Gaming creates psychological addiction in teenagers.
Credit: Idea Go/freedigitalphotos.net

Something you might be struggling with is how to control much your teenager uses video games.  Teens completely lose track of time while they are playing engrossing and challenging video games.  This can become so severe that they become sleep deprived, stop exercising, do all their socializing with other people playing the games and watch their grades plummet.  You might feel like your relationship with your teenager has gone downhill.  You used to spend time together but now they are always itching to get back on the computer or back to the Xbox.  It’s driving you nuts!  It also has you very worried.

 

What do you do?

 

Before you do anything you have to remind yourself that you’re the parent.  This doesn’t mean you become rude or threatening, but it does mean you know it’s your house.  You’re paying the bills.  You most likely bought the Xbox.  Once you firmly believe this and have truly gathered the grit you’ll need to regain who is in charge, you’re ready.

 

Step 1:  You and your child’s other parent need to remember many times in the past when you set a boundary for your child out of love.  Go back to when they were really small because it’s very straight-forward when they’re young.  You used to make them hold your hand when they crossed the street.  Although they wanted to run into the street, you stopped them because you loved them enough to keep them from being hit by a car.  They might have protested and even tried to pull their hand away, but you held on tight.  When they got a little bit older you didn’t let them go swimming without an adult present.  You loved your child enough to tell them they had to wait until someone could sit and make sure they were safe at the pool.  You loved them too much to let them drown.  They might have protested then too, but you understood that children don’t necessarily see the danger in an activity they really want to do.  When they were even older you made them finish their homework assignments.  You understood that they didn’t want to do it, and you hated to see them struggle and be frustrated, but you loved them enough to ensure they could read, write and do some math.  You get the idea.  Come up with at least 10 examples of when you parented out of love even when your child didn’t appreciate the limits you set.

 

Step 2:  You and the child’s other parent need to define the consequences of what will happen if your child continues to be addicted to video games.  You don’t need to share this with your kid, you just need to know it for your own sake.  You need to know what the metaphorical cars are that might hit your child if he runs into the metaphorical street.  For example, “If my daughter continues to play 5 hours of video games per day, she will not develop the social skills she needs to have healthy friendships.”  Another example is, “If my son continues to spend his whole weekend playing video games, he will not get the exercise he needs to have a healthy body and live a long, pain-free life.”  Keep going with this until you have exhausted the list.  Again, this is essential because you have to know the dangers from which you’re protecting your child.  You have to see how addictive video gaming can lead to emotional death, physical ailment, stunted development, etc.  This has to become scary enough to YOU that you are ready for the fight you will probably have when you set limits.

 

Step 3:  Define the limits and consequences.  You and your child’s other parent still need to work together on this.  Decide together how often your teenager will have screen time, and what the consequences are if your teen sneaks more game time.  Make sure you are both on the same page with this.  If you truly think your child has an addiction then it is advisable to completely eliminate any form of computer and online gaming for at least 6 months.  Your child needs to “dry out.”

 

Step 4:  Present your plan to your teenager.  You will probably get an argument, comments about how you’re stupid, or a lot of tears.  Stay extremely calm and even show empathy (Remember, they’ve just lost their favorite activity and access to online friends).  Do not bend though.  This is not a compromise.  You run your house and you are the parent.

 

I know this is not easy.  Once you really walk through these steps you realize how much of an addiction your teenager has.  It is alarming to realize the dangers your teen is facing.  They are indirect dangers since your teenager is physically at home, in a chair.  They are dangers that come from an isolated, inactive lifestyle.  Stay the course and be patient.  Eventually your child will actually tell you he or she is glad you intervened.  This is once they re-engage in the real world.  Until then, remember that loving your kid well doesn’t mean always being liked.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

Your Adolescent Daughter and Her Phone

A question my clients’ parents ask me ALL THE TIME is something to the effect of, “How do we manage the cell phone?”

Managing your teen daughter's cell phone

A video posted by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on

 

Is your teenage daughter always on her phone?  Do you wonder whether it’s too much?  Do you worry about whether it’s affecting her ability to get homework done?

 

Here are some thoughts on what to do about a teenage girl and her phone:

First Video Post

I’m really excited because new for 2017 will be a once a week video post.  Here’s the announcement!

 

Video blog announcement (1/16/17)

A post shared by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on

A Poem About Addiction

Addiction to drugs is heartbreaking for the rest of the family.

I was browsing the internet today for poetry that captures how a family member feels who has an addicted sibling, child, parent, etc. I think this poem captured it beautifully. It is very sad.
The Battle
© Julie
The words that have yet been spoken
The things I need to say.
To voice what’s within my heart
I just can’t find a way.
I’ve fought with my emotions
I’ve held them deep inside.
I didn’t want to face what for so long
You’ve tried to hide.
I’ve been lost within the dark
for so long I’ve seen no light.
Holding on to the memory
of a time when things were right.
I’ve looked upon your face
and seen the sadness in your eyes.
The battle of addiction
you no longer can disguise.
I’ve prayed to find the answers
of what I myself must do.
And I’ve prayed for the strength to fight
through the hell that I go through.I’ve held on for so long
but I can no longer watch you die.
I cannot fight this for you
but Lord knows how I’ve tried.
It’s just so hard to watch the ones you love
slowly slip away.
That’s why I just blocked it out
and held onto yesterday.
I don’t have all the answers
or the power to save your soul.
You’re broken, lost and lonely
and I cannot make you whole.
This fight is yours and yours alone
no matter what I do.
For I cannot save you
the only one who can
is you.
Poem Source: The Battle Of Addiction, Addiction Poemshttp://www.familyfriendpoems.com/family/poetry.asp?poem=19622#ixzz13ayD0CeI

Wow! That is so powerful. This is a great poem though. It really helps us understand both the heartbreak family members feel, and the struggle they go through to stop trying to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.

Helping teens grow, and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

10 Tips for School-Related Anxiety

School causes so much anxiety for some teens. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

School causes so much anxiety for some teens.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

School causes a lot of anxiety.  There seem to be two areas where this is most true: socially and with grades.  For some teenagers school is so overwhelming that they can hardly handle it.  Towards the end of every vacation they start to feel intensely stressed and irritable.  It becomes difficult for your teen to remember they are at school to learn; they begin to think school is a place where they will be socially and academically scrutinized.  What follows are 10 tips that help reduce some of the nervous feelings.

1.  Study regularly over the course of the whole week before an exam.  Cramming causes more exhaustion and anxiety.
2.  Do not lose perspective, pray instead.  Just because someone says something rude about you does not make it true.  It also does not mean everyone else will believe it is true.  What God and your family think of you matter much, much more.
3.  Remember to breathe.  It is very helpful to take deep breaths when taking a test, or at any time when feeling anxiety.
4.  Talk to someone.  Letting a friend know when you don’t feel your best can sincerely give you relief.
5.  Choose wisely.  Your friends have a lot to do with how you feel.  Unlike your family, you can choose your friends.
6.  Get to know your teachers.  If you take the time to talk to them a little bit you will feel better in their classes.
7.  Watch the caffeine intake.  Drinking soda or coffee contributes a lot to feelings of nervousness.  It is better to get a little exercise.  That wakes you up too.
8.  Stretch.  If you are standing in the halls between classes lean back and stretch a little.  This usually feels good and is almost always calming.
9.  Smile.  If you struggle socially it is very likely you keep your head down and forget to smile.  Just by walking around with a smile more people will talk with you.
10.  Get enough sleep.  If you are not sleeping enough then it is a big challenge to maintain your poise when you need it.  You probably have to get up early for school so just go to bed sooner.
If you remember to employ these techniques you will feel a little better on your bad days.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Faith and Adolescence

Teens with a faith often have very strong character development.
Credit: graur razvan ionut/freedigitalphotos.net

I counsel adolescents.  My clients range in age from 12 to 24.  Over the past 8.5 years of doing this, I have noticed some things about this age range:

  1. They search for an identity.
  2. They have a hard time realizing anything is more important than the self.  This doesn’t mean they are selfish, it just means they struggle to put great effort into causes beyond themselves.
  3. Peers seem to hold the most sway.
  4. Roots are put down in their character development that remain for the rest of their lives.
  5. You can tell A LOT about their ambition and dreams based on who surrounds them.  Show me a 15 year old’s friends, and I will make a fairly reliable prediction of their future trajectory.

For the reasons listed above, having your adolescent involved in a faith community is of immense importance.  So many of us want to say we’ll be open-minded and let our children choose their own path as adults.  That is really nice in theory, but the reality of such a choice doesn’t pan out as well as we might hope.  Our adolescents are greatly influenced by who is around them.  Let’s address this point by point.

  1. They search for an identity: An identity given by other teenagers is likely to include things we don’t really hope for our kids.  They might get into drugs, partying, sex, or on the opposite end they might think the college they attend is the end-all be-all.  They might be like I was and think how fit and thin I looked was everything.

On the other hand, if God is creating your child’s identity, what could be better than that?  God loves us, gives us purpose, requires us to think beyond ourselves, and causes us to look at the big picture.  Adolescents who have a God-given self-identity seem to look past Friday night.

  1. They have a hard time realizing anything is more important than the self: When your teenager is consistently in youth group and small groups, they are reminded regularly that they are not the center of the world.  Every single week they are asked to come up with ways they can care for others who are less fortunate.  Faith communities are rarely self-focused.
  2. Peers seem to hold the most sway: Do you prefer your teenager’s primary influence be their friends who use drugs and have sex, or do you prefer they be church-type kids?  I am not so naive to assume these two are mutually exclusive, but you do find more morally minded teens in faith-based functions than at parties.
  3. Roots are put down in their character development that remain for the rest of their lives: When teens self-direct their free time, they tend to sneak, lie and push the limits.  It’s not because they are trying to be evil, but because they don’t want their parents curtailing their fun.  These habits plant seeds that remain long past adolescence.  When teenagers are involved in upstanding activities, they are proud to tell you the truth.  They are encouraged to be honest and humble.  These qualities continue long into adulthood.
  4. You can tell A LOT about their ambitions and dreams based on who surrounds them: Adolescents drift one direction or another.  If their teenage friends are all smoking pot and will attend junior college, your teenager probably aims about that high as well.  If all their friends are thinking of how to serve the community, and how to go to university, your teenager is aiming there too.  A lot of the high aiming kids are also involved in their faith community.

Even though you don’t feel like it, taking the time to involve the family in church, synagogue, etc. is well worthwhile.  You will create lasting habits of discipline, humility, morality, and selflessness.  These qualities stave off self-imposed troubles in life that stem from greed, lust, immediate gratification, entitlement and a me-first mentality.  Parents, plant a seed; get your family into your faith in God.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Should I Send My Teen Away?

Teens dealing with depression feel very alone.
Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

When is it time for you to send your teenager away?  Where should you send them?  What do you do and where do you start?

 

It is time to send your teenager away when you no longer have any authority over him or her.  When you tell your daughter she isn’t going out tonight and she walks right out the front door, you have a problem.  When your teenager runs away on a regular basis, you’ve lost your authority.  When your adolescent continues to harm himself despite your best efforts, it’s beyond your ability as a parent.

 

In these situations you always call for help.  If your teenager runs away then you call the police.  If your child is self-harming then you take him or her to the emergency room if you are certain they won’t jump out of your car.  Otherwise you call 9-1-1 and let the paramedics and police provide the transport.

 

These scenarios are frightening and frustrating.  You have set limits repeatedly.  Your daughter or son has violated those limits repeatedly.  The more they do this, the more they realize ultimately you are powerless to stop him or her.  You can take his phone.  You can tell her she’s grounded for the next 6 months.  Most teenagers will obey you when you’re truly angry.  However, some kids just won’t.  It’s time for your teen to go to residential treatment because you no longer have authority.

 

How do you even do this?  How do you send your teen to residential treatment, and where?  There are hundreds of programs throughout the United States that claim to address these very issues.  They help with everything ranging from intensely bad attitudes to drug addiction.  The problem you face is that you’re about to spend thousands of dollars, and to send your own child into the care of strangers far away from home.  The thought is literally terrifying.  The thought of keeping your teenager at home is also terrifying.  It’s a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

 

In these situations everyone wants to sell you on why their program is the best.  You might talk to someone who claims to know all about several options, but they will only show you the facilities owned by their parent company.  Remember, this is a business.

 

There are really two options left.  You can either travel to several of the facilities you’re considering and take a tour, or you can hire an independent educational consultant.  If you travel to the facilities make sure to ask a thousand questions including how your child will receive emergency medical treatment if it’s needed (many of these locations are quite remote).  If you hire an independent educational consultant you pay a significant fee to gain access to discounts, scholarships, and someone who has toured a large number of programs.  A good educational consultant ends up saving you more than your fee because they negotiate a better price for you with the facility.  They also provide invaluable information when your child will transition back home.  They are in charge of connecting you with a good therapist, helping your child re-enroll in school, and decide whether to send your teenager to boarding school, a specialized private school, or back into public school.

 

I realize this process is incredibly overwhelming.  You’re not sure what you’re supposed to do anymore.  Your adolescent is out of control and you feel powerless to stop it.  You love this child with all your heart, but you’re tired of the constant fear and irritation.  When it’s time to send your teen away you’ll know because you’ll feel like there’s no other choice.  Sometimes doing the right thing is the most heartbreaking thing.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to Deal With Video Gaming Addiction

Video Gaming Addiction in teenagers can cause serious relational difficulties. Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Video Gaming Addiction in teenagers can cause serious relational difficulties.
Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Something you might be struggling with is how to control much your teenager uses video games.  Teens completely lose track of time while they are playing engrossing and challenging video games.  This can become so severe that they become sleep deprived, stop exercising, do all their socializing with other people playing the games and watch their grades plummet.  You might feel like your relationship with your teenager has gone downhill.  You used to spend time together but now they are always itching to get back on the computer or back to the Xbox.  It’s driving you nuts!  It also has you very worried.

 

What do you do?

 

Before you do anything you have to remind yourself that you’re the parent.  This doesn’t mean you become rude or threatening, but it does mean you know it’s your house.  You’re paying the bills.  You most likely bought the Xbox.  Once you firmly believe this and have truly gathered the grit you’ll need to regain who is in charge, you’re ready.

 

Step 1:  You and your child’s other parent need to remember many times in the past when you set a boundary for your child out of love.  Go back to when they were really small because it’s very straight-forward when they’re young.  You used to make them hold your hand when they crossed the street.  Although they wanted to run into the street, you stopped them because you loved them enough to keep them from being hit by a car.  They might have protested and even tried to pull their hand away, but you held on tight.  When they got a little bit older you didn’t let them go swimming without an adult present.  You loved your child enough to tell them they had to wait until someone could sit and make sure they were safe at the pool.  You loved them too much to let them drown.  They might have protested then too, but you understood that children don’t necessarily see the danger in an activity they really want to do.  When they were even older you made them finish their homework assignments.  You understood that they didn’t want to do it, and you hated to see them struggle and be frustrated, but you loved them enough to ensure they could read, write and do some math.  You get the idea.  Come up with at least 10 examples of when you parented out of love even when your child didn’t appreciate the limits you set.

 

Step 2:  You and the child’s other parent need to define the consequences of what will happen if your child continues to be addicted to video games.  You don’t need to share this with your kid, you just need to know it for your own sake.  You need to know what the metaphorical cars are that might hit your child if he runs into the metaphorical street.  For example, “If my daughter continues to play 5 hours of video games per day, she will not develop the social skills she needs to have healthy friendships.”  Another example is, “If my son continues to spend his whole weekend playing video games, he will not get the exercise he needs to have a healthy body and live a long, pain-free life.”  Keep going with this until you have exhausted the list.  Again, this is essential because you have to know the dangers from which you’re protecting your child.  You have to see how addictive video gaming can lead to emotional death, physical ailment, stunted development, etc.  This has to become scary enough to YOU that you are ready for the fight you will probably have when you set limits.

 

Step 3:  Define the limits and consequences.  You and your child’s other parent still need to work together on this.  Decide together how often your teenager will have screen time, and what the consequences are if your teen sneaks more game time.  Make sure you are both on the same page with this.  If you truly think your child has an addiction then it is advisable to completely eliminate any form of computer and online gaming for at least 6 months.  Your child needs to “dry out.”

 

Step 4:  Present your plan to your teenager.  You will probably get an argument, comments about how you’re stupid, or a lot of tears.  Stay extremely calm and even show empathy (Remember, they’ve just lost their favorite activity and access to online friends).  Do not bend though.  This is not a compromise.  You run your house and you are the parent.

 

I know this is not easy.  Once you really walk through these steps you realize how much of an addiction your teenager has.  It is alarming to realize the dangers your teen is facing.  They are indirect dangers since your teenager is physically at home, in a chair.  They are dangers that come from an isolated, inactive lifestyle.  Stay the course and be patient.  Eventually your child will actually tell you he or she is glad you intervened.  This is once they re-engage in the real world.  Until then, remember that loving your kid well doesn’t mean always being liked.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Dating Relationships

Teens need your input when they start dating. Freedigitalphotos.net: photo stock

Teens need your input when they start dating.
Freedigitalphotos.net: photo stock

It’s bound to happen eventually.  Your son or daughter has a boy/girlfriend.  You’re happy for them, but you feel trepidation too.  What does it mean for them to have a boyfriend or girlfriend?

 

Answer: It really depends.

 

Some dating relationships are more like a special friendship.  It’s someone your adolescent texts more often than other friends.  They might sit near each other at lunch, and they have an automatic date to dances.  It’s pretty innocent.  This kind of dating is every parent’s dream!

 

For some teenagers having a boyfriend or girlfriend means becoming sexually active.  The best predictor of this is how their friends behave.  If you know your teenager’s friends “hook-up” [For teens these days this term implies anything ranging from kissing to having intercourse] with people at parties, and those that are in stable relationships are having sex, then your adolescent probably thinks that’s what’s expected of him or her too.  It is really difficult for teens to go against the grain of their friends, even in something that should be a personal decision.

 

I’ve been counseling teenagers now for a little over ten years.  The collective experience of Teen Therapy OC counselors is 28 years.  One thing we all readily agree on is that less is more when it comes to teen dating.  We feel convinced that once teenagers become sexually active with a boyfriend or girlfriend the relationship moves to an intensity an adolescent is rarely mature enough to handle.  We also believe adolescent relationships that include a lot of time with friends tend to keep teens happier.  In other words, if your teenager no longer spends time with his or her friend group, it’s a red flag that things are too serious.

 

Parents, be careful not to lose your authority when your teen is dating.  You’re still older, wiser and in charge.  Your job isn’t to be liked, but to guide and protect.  The more you embrace the person your teen is dating, the less your teenager has to be sneaky.  However, some basic rules can really help the situation:

  1.  Don’t let your teenager be in his or her bedroom with their boy/girlfriend, even with the door open.  They should be out in the family room.
  2. Hands out when they are sharing a blanket on the couch.
  3. Make sure their boyfriend/girlfriend always comes to the door if they are taking your teenager out.  YOU should be answering the door, not your adolescent.
  4. Include your teenager’s boy/girlfriend in your family activities sometimes.  You want to make sure you have a lot of conversations with this person too.  For a time they will be a big influence on your child’s character, so let’s know the person with the influence.
  5. Always take your child’s side.  Some parents aren’t supportive of their own teenager when there is an argument.  This is hurtful to your child.  If his or her behavior was wrong, it’s still best to tell your teen you’ll be here for him or her even though he/she messed up.
  6. Monitor the conversations occurring on text, Snapchat and Instagram.  These conversations can become too intense; it has become commonplace for one teen to ask another for naked photos.  While we know that’s wildly inappropriate, teens are used to it.  They aren’t even appalled by the question!

You’re navigating new waters as a parent.  It wasn’t too many years ago that you were an adolescent enjoying the attention of your first boy/girlfriend.  You were hoping for opportunities to be alone with that person, and trying to balance what you were comfortable with and where to draw the line.  If you were anything like me, you didn’t actually have the maturity to do this, and made some mistakes you’d take back if you could.  Your child doesn’t have the maturity yet either.  Though he/she might look like a young adult, an adolescent brain is still forming.  Your teenager needs your input as he/she dates!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Dads, your teen daughters need you

Dads, this one is for you:

 

Your teenage daughter needs you.  I know you often feel irrelevant while she’s this age.  She is so busy.  She’s out with her friends, focused on school, starting to become independent, etc.  She still needs you.  It seems like she doesn’t care much about what you think anymore.  In fact, she might be rude to you or telling you off.  She still needs you.  She quite possibly needs you more than anyone else in her life right now.  I know she’s probably closer with her mom.  I know she probably shares secrets with mom and won’t tell you things, but it’s you she really needs.

 

Here’s why:

1.  She wants to know she’s valuable.  You can tell her how much she’s worth just in the way you look at her.  It’s pretty alarming when your little girl started to look like a woman.  It’s kind of intimidating to go hug her and tell her she’s beautiful.  As a society we’ve instilled a deep paranoia about adult males being creepy towards teenage girls.  This has created an invisible cultural barrier that may keep you from making physical contact with your daughter.  However, your valuing her means she doesn’t have to look for it elsewhere.  Your affection towards her affirms her importance to you.

2.  She needs to feel attractive.  Your daughter has just begun to realize there are certain people who make the grade, and certain ones who don’t.  Her deepest fear is that she won’t measure up.  She’s afraid when others look at her they will scoff and not want her.  A lot of this is in your control.  When you look at your daughter and genuinely see the beauty she possesses, it builds her up.  When you tell her what you see and why, you are giving her a gift for the rest of her life.

3.  She needs to feel safe.  When you put rules and limits in place, you’re creating a safety net for your daughter.  She might protest and argue, but we protect the things we care about.  You are showing her how deeply you treasure her when you tell her not to be alone with a boy, or not to put sexy pictures of herself online.  You are guarding her innocence while teaching her to keep her own heart and body safe.

4.  She needs to be cherished.  Your teenage daughter wants to be the center of somebody’s world.  Each girl is trying to carve out her space in the world where she is important.  Some do this with academics, some with friends, some with boys, etc.  When she is a very big part of your world, and she knows it, she will feel more content and cherished.

5.  She needs to feel successful.  Grades aren’t the only measure of success.  They are an extremely important measure of success.  However, if your daughter isn’t a natural student, try to find something else she is good at.  Develop it alongside encouraging her to try harder in school.  When girls think school is the only thing that matters to you, and they aren’t good at school, you can only imagine what a disappointment they think they are to you.

 

Dads, love your daughters well.  Teenage girls are desperate for your approval, love, touch, affirmation, protection and encouragement.  You can give your daughters a firm foundation they will stand on for the rest of their lives.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Alcohol- Teen Binge Drinking

Teen alcohol abuse is scary for any parent. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Teen alcohol abuse is scary for any parent.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Depending in what type of parent you are, it may or may not scare you when your teenager binge drinks.  Some parents think it’s not a huge deal if their teen comes home drunk because “Kids experiment at this age.”  Some parents even go to the extent of allowing their adolescents to drink with friends at their own house while parents are home “because at least then none of them are driving and there’s an adult around.  They’re going to do it anyway.  Now I know they’re safe.”  Other parents are extremely upset if their teenager binge drinks, or drinks at all.  They take away everything and ground their child for 3 months.

 

While there is not a one size fits all way to handle it if and when your teenager tries alcohol, there has to be some combination of understanding and consequences.  However, if your teenager is frequently binge drinking, you might have a budding addiction on your hands; that needs to be dealt with in an entirely different manner than the teenager who gets drunk a couple times per year with friends.

 

One of the many jobs you have as a parent is to teach your child how to responsibly handle alcohol.  Like it or not, it’s a huge part of our society.  It seems like many teens think alcohol is something that exists to create a buzz or get drunk; this is a problem.  It’s important to talk with your children about how adults can have a social drink or two, plan carefully for who will drive, and to understand the risks associated with overuse of alcohol.  If you model appropriate use of alcohol in front of your teens, and keep the conversation open, you will have a lot to do with how they view alcohol.  If you say nothing, then their other adolescent friends will teach them about alcohol…  Some of you have a long family history of alcoholism.  It may make sense for you to teach your child to avoid alcohol completely.  In either case, adolescents need to know the why behind everything you’re teaching them, so explain, explain, explain.

 

A common definition of binge drinking is four or more drinks per sitting for females, and five or more for males.  Binge drinking is linked to much higher incidences of alcohol dependence, car accidents, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

 

This is scary information.  Teens really don’t know what they’re getting into when they abuse alcohol.  They tend to think everything will be fine.  They also are not always likely to seek out help for someone who might have alcohol poisoning.  They worry about getting into trouble so they don’t call a parent or 9-1-1.  Please talk to your kids about this as well.  What do you think about giving them immunity in the situations where they seek out help for someone who might be alcohol poisoned?  Usually that means your teenager wasn’t where they said they’d be because it’s unlikely you’d have given them permission to be around other teens who are getting drunk.

 

Teen partying is here to stay.  It’s been around since our parents were kids, and it will be an issue when our grandkids are teenagers.  Keep the communication lines open with your teenager.  Walk the line between applying consequences for their bad behavior and being understanding very carefully so they feel emotionally safe to keep telling you the truth.  Teach them how to handle alcohol appropriately.  Get help from a family member, a friend or a counselor if you are struggling with alcohol yourself.  Approximately 10% of the American adult population struggles with alcohol in some way or the other.  Admitting this and seeking help will benefit your children who are watching everything you do in more ways than you can imagine.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen E-Cigarette Use

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances. Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances.
Image courtesy of patrisyu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Centers for Disease Control just released a study that says in just one year the number of teenagers using electronic cigarettes has tripled.  That’s astounding!

 

As someone who does therapy with adolescents on a regular basis I hear about teens using e-cigarettes quite often.  Usually this is in the context of a teen who already uses regular cigarettes and wants to quit.  Often they find quitting to be too difficult, but rationalize that if they switch to an e-cigarette at least it will be less harmful to their lungs.

 

The article about the CDC report expresses concern that the novelty of electronic cigarettes is causing more teens to try tobacco products.  There are a significant number of teenagers who won’t try cigarettes because they are bothered by the smell, smoke and stigma of cigarettes.  The CDC worries that this may not be true of e-cigs.

 

Based on countless hours of counseling with teens who use various mood-altering substances, including tobacco, I can definitely agree with the article that electronic cigarette use is on the rise.  And, of course, like anything out there, if there is a way to abuse it, adolescents will figure it out.  One thing I have heard consistently is that teens use e-cigs to get high off cannabis.  They either use oils, or “dabs” (wax) with cannabinoids in it.  It puts concentrated THC into the electronic cigarette, thereby creating an intense high.  Some teens tell me this has felt more like hard drug use than traditional marijuana use because the high is a lot stronger.

 

Like all things that have the potential to tempt your teenager, have a discussion with them.  Find out if they have used an e-cig, have friends who do, or if they have ever even seen one.

 

As a parent, I encourage you to take a little time to educate yourself.  E-cigs often just look like fancy writing pens so your teen could have had one hidden in plain sight.  You also can’t smell them because they are simply vapor (steam) so if you have a teen with a history of marijuana abuse, make sure they don’t use an e-cig in their bedroom unbeknownst to you.

 

For as long as any of us has been alive, teenagers have experimented with tobacco and marijuana.  Most of the time it’s only a short-lived phase.  It’s not something to just dismiss, but it might not be something to feel completely overwhelmed and scared by either.  However, for certain teenagers, tobacco products and marijuana are truly a gateway into much more frightening substances.  They also both can be addicting in their own rights, and have health consequences.  Regular marijuana use also has consequences that often look like laziness, lower grades, worsening attitude and a change in friends.

 

I know there’s already so many things to keep track of that weren’t around when we were young, but just keep asking the questions and be aware of who their friends are.  This parenting thing isn’t for the weak!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Letter to Dads

Dear Dads,

When you have teenage children sometimes it’s tough to see how you’re important in their lives.  You provide, save for their college tuition, and support their athletics.  You wonder whether you’re making an impact in their daily life though because a lot of teenagers hardly interact with their fathers.  You leave before they get up in the morning.  They’re out with friends or for sports until you’re about ready to go to bed at night.  On weekends they are with friends and out of the house.  How are you making a difference?

 

If this is the relationship you have with your teenager, then it feels difficult to connect.  You aren’t as comfortable giving your teenager a hug as you were when your child was small.  You are no longer this formidable opponent on the basketball court, or about to outplay your teenager on the soccer field.  A lot of the stuff they’re doing in school is too hard to teach them (I know I don’t remember calculus, do you?).

 

Here’s the real truth though, you matter a whole lot.  Right now your teenager is watching the way you conduct yourself to determine whether to be like you.  Your teenager is seeing if you have a good relationship with your wife, if you’re successful in your job, if you make time for God, if you take care of your own health, and if you have standards for your teen’s behavior.  Your teenager measures how much you care about him or her based on what rules you set.  Your adolescent child will argue with you about many, many things.  Your adolescent child will try and take the opposing position on issues.  In short, your adolescent child will seem contrary and drive you nuts.  Your adolescent child is simply trying to push to see where you’ll push back.  If you are strict about a curfew your teen knows you care enough to insist he or she be home at night (Of course, this is not what your son or daughter will tell you).

 

I once worked with a sweet 15 year old girl.  Her dad insisted she be home after a high school dance at 11:30pm because the dance ended at 11:00.  He believed it should take a half hour to drive straight home.  She was spitting mad.  Her date wanted to take her out to eat after the dance, and then maybe party a little bit.  Her dad reminded her nothing good happens after midnight.  When she came home with a dress she and her mom and picked out for her to wear, her dad made her return it.  He said it was too short and too low cut.  He told her she looks like a woman, but she’s still a child.  Again, she was incensed.  He held his ground.  So, she came home on time and wore a dress that was a bit more conservative.  She wasn’t happy about it.

 

A week after the dance the boy stopped calling and started talking to another girl who dressed provocatively and didn’t have a curfew.  The girl told me she now realized he didn’t like her for her.  She said he liked the idea of what he could get from her.  She said she felt really loved by her dad’s protection.

 

Dads, your example, your rules, your consistency, and your protection all scream, “I LOVE YOU!” to your adolescent children.  This is much more important for the rest of their lives than being “cool” with your teenagers.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Things to Think of When Arguing with a Sassy Teen

Teens really know how to push a parents' buttons, but there are ways to "fight nicely." Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens really know how to push a parents’ buttons, but there are ways to “fight nicely.”
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We all know that being condescending is rude and hurtful.  We cannot stand it when someone is demeaning towards us.

 

Teenagers are the masters of using condescension to frustrate you and to express their frustration.  They will often talk to you in a tone of voice that gets your blood boiling.  Teens will retort, sometimes call you names, and roll their eyes.  They often believe that parents are out of touch and do not understand things as they are today.  They also don’t always have the ability to remain clam and rational when they get overwhelmed.  This is developmentally normal.  However, there are some things you can do to keep the situation deescalated.

 

It is difficult not to talk right back to your teen in they way they talk to you.  However, it is possible to stop them from talking like that without joining them.  The louder and ruder they become, the softer you’ll want to be.  The more they attempt to negotiate, the firmer you become.  Let them know softly that if they do not stop, they will lose freedoms bit by bit.  It is important to make it their choice to change their tone.  In other words, help them realize they can talk to you rudely, but if they choose to do so, they are also choosing related consequences.  Make sure you follow-through on the consequences.  Threatening a punishment without following through is begging for future disrespect.  If you don’t follow-through, then you are essentially telling your child that their rudeness is effective for getting what they want.  This means they will certainly use the same tone next time you say ‘no’ when they want to hear ‘yes.’

 

Be careful that you are not condescending toward your teenager.  I have seen this happen over and over in my office.  A teenager is trying to tell their parents that something hurts them, makes them angry, or overwhelms them.  The parent dismisses the teen’s feelings as ridiculous.  This frustrates the teen, and he or she is likely to either shut down or become mean.  Whether or not the teen’s feelings are easy to understand, the parent who dismisses a teen’s feelings about a situation conveys a condescending message.  It is possible to acknowledge your teen’s feelings without necessarily giving into their demand.  Help them realize you can work on a solution to their concern with them.  Facing a problem together is always more effective anyhow.  Whatever you do, try not to repeat your position over and over again.  If they either can’t or choose not to understand you the first time, this probably won’t change unless you rephrase what you’re saying.

 

Most of all, try to remember that it takes two to fight.  You don’t have to fight back and you don’t have to be rude just because they are.  I know that’s old advice, but it’s still a good reminder for all of us (including me!).

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Bipolar Disorder from a Clinician’s Perspective

People with Bipolar Disorder spend the majority of their time feeling depressed. Credit: tiniroma/ freedigitalphotos.net

People with Bipolar Disorder spend the majority of their time feeling depressed.
Credit: tiniroma/ freedigitalphotos.net

Bipolar Disorder isn’t well understood.  Watch Silver Linings Playbook if you’d like to see a really good example of how it looks in real life.  It shows the chaos that can come with the Bipolar diagnosis.  It shows how it’s much more than “mood swings.”

 

Here are some common misconceptions about Bipolar Disorder:

  • It’s mood swings.
  • It’s feeling up and down about life.
  • It’s something someone can control on their own.
  • You don’t need to worry about suicide since it’s not depression.
  • Bipolar is an unusual diagnosis.
  • People who have Bipolar Disorder experience mania on a regular basis.
  • Mania means happy.
  • There is a test for a Bipolar Diagnosis.
  • Bipolar only exists in adults.

Here are some truths about Bipolar Disorder:

  • Moods are less relevant to the diagnosis than a full on affective state.  What this means is the person is wholly depressed or wholly manic.  This doesn’t just mean they feel sad or happy.  It means they have all the symptoms of depression (which often include sleep disturbance, lack of interest in life, suicidal thoughts, difficulty finding enough energy to complete routine tasks, and isolation among other symptoms) or all the symptoms of mania (mood lability, irritability, hyperverbal speech, flight of ideas, grandiose thinking, greatly decreased need for sleep, and psychomotor agitation).
  • People will use the phrase, “She’s bipolar,” for someone who changes their mind about something a lot.  That is not even close to what Bipolar Disorder is.  Someone thinking one way and then shifting their ideas is probably just that person changing their mind.  Some people change their minds a lot.  This does not make them Bipolar.
  • Bipolar Disorder can be managed to some extent with good mental health hygiene.  However, it usually requires medication and psychotherapy as well.  This doesn’t mean a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder indicates a lifetime of therapy, but it does probably call for professional help at the outset to help regain stability.
  • Suicide is a VERY concerning threat for someone with the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.  The reason it is worrisome is because in a state of depression, someone with Bipolar Disorder may wish to commit suicide.  However, they might not have the energy to carry about the attempt.  If they move into a manic phase they might not be energized enough to complete the suicide attempt.  It is a definite risk with this diagnosis.
  • Bipolar Disorder isn’t the most common of mental health diagnoses, but it’s not all that rare either.  Chances are you know someone who has the diagnosis.  It is heritable, which means if you have it, your children have an increased likelihood of having it as well.
  • You only need to have 1 manic episode to be diagnosed Bipolar.  People incorrectly assume people are manic all the time.  This is patently false.  Someone with Bipolar Disorder spends the majority of their time in a state of depression in most cases.
  • Taking an online symptom check test or some other test doesn’t tell you if you suffer with Bipolar Disorder.  This diagnosis needs to be made by someone in the field of psychology or psychiatry.  There are other issues that mimic this diagnosis, such as methamphetamine abuse.  A professional can rule out other possibilities.
  • Bipolar Disorder does exist in children.  It is frequently first diagnosed in adolescence.

Bipolar Disorder is a very difficult diagnosis for family members and for the person who deals with it.  The depressive episodes can be ruthless in their pursuit of making someone completely miserable.  The manic episodes makes someone irrational, angry, and unreasonable.  In a state of mania someone usually has very questionable judgement as well.  There is hope for people who suffer with Bipolar Disorder, but the road isn’t easy.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How Much Stuff Is Too Much Stuff?

It's easy to overindulge our teens. Photo Credit: Pixomar and freedigitalphotos.net

It’s easy to overindulge our teens.
Photo Credit: Pixomar and freedigitalphotos.net

In Orange County, CA there is a lot of wealth.  Many parents have the ability to provide their teenagers with things they as parents struggled to obtain.  It is very common for me to counsel teens in my office and hear them talk about what kind of car they want for their 16th birthday.  It is also normal for me to hear about how unfair it is that they don’t have the latest version of the iPhone.  While some have jobs, very few seem to be required to pay for any of their own extras.

 

I think I understand where this type of thinking originates.  It is easy to see how you could have gotten ahead more quickly if your parents had been able to give you an easy start.  It is tempting to buy into the discussions about status that are constantly around you.  You will really start to notice it when your teenager applies to college.  Most of their friends apply to any private school or out of state school of their choosing.  If they are accepted, then their parents will do whatever it takes to pay for it.

 

You have to ask yourself though, how much is too much?  There is a very, very fine line between giving your children a head start, and creating entitlement.  An entitled attitude actually leads to being farther behind in the long run because these kids don’t know how to work.  Most of the time the consequences of entitlement don’t rear their ugly head until your child is an adult.  By then it can be extremely difficult to change.

 

Don’t be afraid to tell your kids no.  It is very beneficial for them to learn how to really contemplate whether what they want is worth working towards.  When I was fifteen I showed some promise in a sport called field hockey.  I told my parents I really thought I ought to have group private lessons like the other girls on my team.  They told me I was welcome to do so…if I paid for it.  When you’re making $5 per hour babysitting, suddenly $500 for 10 lessons doesn’t sound so good.  Instead I took orange cones down to the park with another girl on the team and we practiced drills for a couple hours on Saturdays.  There was a work-around to my situation; I improved at field hockey just as much as the girls who did the lessons.  I also learned that things cost money, and that money costs time (a much more valuable lesson than becoming a better field hockey player).  In my case it would have cost me 100 hours of babysitting, which was something I simply wasn’t willing to do.  I’m sure it was hard for my parents to say no, but now I am so thankful they did (By the way, I didn’t stick with field hockey all that long anyhow).

 

The moral of this blog is that you have to be careful not to overindulge your kids.  Overindulgence seems to be the thing to do around here, so you’re going to be weird if you say no.  However, raising kids who have been given the opportunity to have the dignity of earning their own extras is better for them in the long run because they become self-sufficient, proud of themselves, and have reasonable expectations in life.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Love Yourself Better, Be A Better Friend

Teens who are concerned with others have more friends. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens who are concerned with others have more friends.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When asked what the greatest commandment for conduct was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength.”  Then he said, “Another is equally important.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Loving your neighbor as yourself was a revolutionary concept at the time.  It really outlined the care, concern and thought we are to give to all people.  It said that you are important no matter what you look like or how much stuff you have.  Given that Jesus lived in a culture of intense racism and classism, this was a shocking statement.

 

While racism and classism aren’t as overt today, they still exist.  If you walk onto a middle school or high school campus you will see it to some extent.  Class isn’t necessarily determined by monetary wealth, but by activity.  Cheerleaders are in the highest class, and it filters down from there.  A lot of students have friends of other races, but you still see people segregating.  My clients regularly tell me there is a “Mexican group” on campus, and an “Asian group,” etc.

 

Teaching your teenagers to rise above this is one of your most important jobs as a parent.

 

One thing that very recently crossed my mind after reading the excellent book, Blue Like Jazz, by D. Miller, is what happens when you reverse the love your neighbor statement.  Love yourself as your neighbor.  I know this isn’t exactly what Jesus was getting at, but it is something very important for all of us to think about.  We are often self-focused and self-centered in our thoughts and concerns.  We are also self-deprecating and self-critical in our evaluations.  In other words, we’d NEVER, EVER talk to our neighbor the way we talk to ourselves.

 

If your teenager is struggling to make and keep friends, then she has to successfully change her outlook on things.  Firstly, she has to love their peers as she loves herself.  Secondly, she has to love herself as she loves her peers.  She has to spend a lot more time noticing and thinking about the concerns of others.  She has to reach out in kindness to all the different groups of people on campus.  She has to be very aware not to treat those of a “lower social class” any differently than the popular kids.

 

Your teen also has to work very, very hard on being kinder to himself.  One question I often ask my adolescent clients is whether they’d talk to a friend the way they’d talk to themselves.  Perhaps one of them has told me he thinks he really needs to lose weight, and looks awful in all his clothes.  I ask what he’d say to a friend and he can easily say something affirming and kind.  I then point out that if he can say those same kind words to himself, other people will like being around him more.

 

So, if your teen wants to make and keep more friends, your teenager needs to love others as himself, and love himself as he loves others.  I know this all sounds very pie in the sky, but start to plant these seeds.  Your teenager will need it for years.  Even you need to work on this.  We all do (me included)!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Depression

Teens dealing with depression feel very alone. Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

Teens dealing with depression feel very alone.
Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

What does depression look like in teenagers?

 

It often shows up as irritability.  Your once pleasant teen is now grumbling at you, constantly in a bad mood and very snappy.  You’re probably thinking, ‘Wait, I thought that’s what teenagers were like anyhow!’  Well, sometimes.  If they’re like this all the time though, they might be feeling depressed.  Don’t get stuck on that thought though because there are a myriad of other reasons adolescents are endlessly irritable.

 

Adolescent depression can take the classic form.  Adults who are depressed typically have sleep issues.  They either sleep way too much or have perpetual insomnia.  They also have food struggles.  They might lack an appetite, and find that food has very little excitement and flavor.  They also might eat excessively to try and comfort the unpleasant emotional state of depression.  Emotions are always either negative or nonexistent.  An adult with depression usually has a negative outlook on the future and on their own self.  They tend not to have interest in activity either.  Adolescent depression can look like this.

 

As a parent it feels really frustrating.  If you have a depressed teenager, don’t you feel like grabbing them by the shoulders and giving them a good shake?  Don’t you just want to yell at them to wake up and tell them to live again!?!  Of course you don’t do this, but you probably don’t know what you should do.  You’ve tried so many things.  You’ve suggested they call a friend, join a club, or go out to have fun, but nothing seems to work.  Either they won’t cooperate with you, or if they do they don’t seem to enjoy it.  They tell you what used to be fun just isn’t anymore.

 

Adolescents with depression need the proper kind of help.  Depending on how the depression symptoms are presenting a professional might recommend medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, family therapy or a combination of things.  It’s a complex problem.  Your teenager isn’t choosing to be this way.  They honestly can’t help it.  I’m huge on taking personal responsibility for your attitude and behavior so I don’t say this lightly.  There is a difference between a bad attitude and true depression.  A professional therapist or psychiatrist can help you sort this out.

 

If your teen is dealing with depressed moods please get them an evaluation.  One thing that comes with real depression is thoughts of suicide.  This isn’t something to mess around with, and it’s not something to ignore.  It has to be taken very seriously.  If your teenager mentions feeling like they want to kill himself or herself, please get an appointment made as soon as possible.  If your adolescent says they plan to go through with it then don’t wait for an appointment.  You need to take an immediate trip to the emergency room.  I know you feel funny doing this, but this is an honest to goodness emergency.

 

Adolescent depression is frustrating and heartbreaking for parents.  It’s really difficult and sad for teenagers too.  They usually need extra help to get through it, and you’ll appreciate having a sense of direction too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

10 Tips for Maintaining Early Sobriety

The first days of sobriety after addiction can be intensely difficult. Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first days of sobriety after addiction can be intensely difficult.
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maintaining sobriety in the first 90 days is VERY challenging.  Here are 10 tips to help stay on track:

1. Make sure you don’t have any mind-altering substances in your house.  This means getting rid of all alcohol and cleaning out your medicine cabinet.  Even if you did not struggle with these drugs, it is easy to substitute one high for another if you feel desperate.

2. Get a sponsor.  This means finding someone who has been sober for awhile that will call you daily to check on you.  This is your go-to person when you get a craving.

3.  Put barriers in place.  If you used to buy from the guy who worked the 5 pm shift with you, get your work schedule changed to work with him as little as possible.

4.  Find a social group that is sober.  Often if you have used for any significant length of time, your friendships are built around drinking or using.  Go to Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery or Narcotics Anonymous and start participating.  You have to make new friends who know how to have fun without substances.

5.  Rediscover old hobbies.  There are things you used to enjoy doing before you used.  Make a list of them.  Realize that early in sobriety these things will not sound fun.  Go do them anyhow.  You will like them once you are doing them.

6.  Write a letter to yourself.  You will have moments when all you remember is the pleasure of the high or buzz.  You will need to read a letter from yourself to address these cravings.  It helps a lot if you can remind yourself how miserable you got, lonely and desperate you felt, and physically tired you became.

7.  Do not isolate.  Often the process of getting sober is depressing.  While your brain recalibrates, you might feel a lot of anxiety or depression.  It can be hard to reach out to people in those times.  However, spending a couple hours with a friend or family member is very refreshing, and pleasantly distracting.

8.  Do not date anyone who is newly sober.  If you are going to date from the Recovery community, pick someone who has at least 1 year of sobriety.  I have seen a lot of people relapse because they thought, “We can do this together.”  Both you and the newly sober person have to rediscover who you are, and how to live sober.  It is easy to accidentally drag each other down.

9.  Go to counseling.  It is very helpful to work on the why behind the addiction.  Understanding what led you there in the first place helps avoid relapse.

10.  Get to know God.  This is the best and most proven method of getting sober.  All the 12-step programs are based on a foundation that God has made you for a purpose, and you are meant to fulfill that purpose.  To know that the God of the universe loves you, forgives you, and wants you is incredible, especially for recovering addicts who often feel worthless and full of shame.

 

You and your teenager are on an incredibly difficult journey.  There are moments when it feels easy, but there are moments of intense struggle.  It is always a challenge to go through something as hard as getting sober without your preferred emotional coping mechanism (getting high) because that is the very thing you’re giving up.  Do not let go of hope that you will learn how to cope with this, and eventually you’ll feel glad to be sober.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Keep Homework Time for Homework

Texting is a sure way to make homework take forever. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Texting is a sure way to make homework take forever.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a counselor for teens I hear about things that really drive teenagers crazy.  One thing I hear repeatedly is that at the high school level they are given unbearable amounts of homework.  I am told parents cannot understand because things were different when they were in high school.

 

In some cases this is true- teenagers are given an incredible amount of homework.  However, usually the problem is more one of time management.  The adolescents who truly have nearly unmanageable volumes of homework are the ones who sign up for as many AP classes as possible.  These are kids with goals to attend really good universities, and probably with an academic scholarship.  There’s nothing wrong with this if it’s the teenager who is driving it.  However, if parents are the ones pushing until their teen is completely buried in work it’s worth taking a look at the whole situation.  It’s worth evaluating whether this much work is at the expense of the teenager’s social and spiritual development.  It’s worthwhile to ask how important pushing them this hard really is.  Maybe the answer is a good one, and they should keep being pushed…but maybe not…

 

Now, for the rest of you teens.  I have sat with many of you who have told me you have way too much homework.  I do realize you don’t enjoy it, and it’s definitely not what you feel like doing after school or on your weekends.  I don’t blame you one bit for feeling this way; it’s not fun!

 

The thing is, for a lot of you, it really doesn’t have to take that long.  Are you doing your homework with your cell phone next to you?  Do you have multiple internet tabs open while you’re working on your laptop?  Is the TV on in the background?  It’s really tempting to use electronics while you do your homework (In fact, for many of your assignments you need electronics).  If you eliminate distractions you can definitely finish faster.  A lot of you can finish a 40 problem math test in an hour in class, but at home those same 40 problems would take you 2 hours.  You just might be losing time to texts, apps, the internet and the TV.

 

I encourage you to work on your homework distraction free.  I think you could probably finish it in two hours most nights.  If you came home and did it right away, you could be free by 5:30pm every night!  You may not even have homework to do all Sunday afternoon.  How amazing would that be?!?!

 

Teens, get your lives back!  You already spend a lot of time at school every week.  Don’t spend all your time at home with your textbooks open, while you halfheartedly get your work done.  Work when you work and play when you play.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Are You Proud Of?

Teens can become easily demoralized if their parents don't show them approval. Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

Teens can become easily demoralized if their parents don’t show them approval.
Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

How often are you telling your adolescent you’re proud of him or her?  Even if your teenager is acting out in terribly frustrating ways, there is something to be proud of.  There is some reason you’re thankful this child is your child.

 

Your teenager needs to hear this from you.  They care deeply about your opinion even if they act as though they don’t.  They have to know the ways you approve of them.  That’s why they’re always arguing with you.  They really want you to agree with their ideas and opinions.  This translates to approval.

 

Try not to make comparisons to other teenagers.  It’s okay to compare your teen to his or her former self.  What I mean by that is it’s fine to point out ways they’ve grown or improved.  Also, let’s not do left-handed compliments.  Don’t tell them, “Even though you have a long way to go, you’re much better at math than last year.  Good job!”  The beginning of that sentence doesn’t really accomplish anything.

 

You don’t have to approve of things you don’t actually approve of either.  You’re under no obligation to tell your daughter you like her gangster, drug-abusing boyfriend.  However, you can tell her she looks nice if she’s dressed well one day.  You can also tell her you’re proud of her for keeping her room clean this week, etc.

 

The main point of this is that we can sometimes become so wrapped up in the ways our kids need to improve that we forget to point out how they’re doing well.  We become nitpickers.  That is a quick way to demoralize someone.  Teens are very easily demoralized.  They’re at the early stages of trying to figure out how to be mature and behave responsibly.  They were only children as little as 36 months ago.  That’s really not very long if you think about it.  They are still easily frustrated and still give up on things they feel like they can’t accomplish.  Just because they look more like an adult doesn’t mean they have the mental capacity of an adult.

 

So, be patient and find things to compliment.  If you point out the things you’re proud of you just might get more of it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

It’s Okay for Your Teen to be Introverted

Being an introvert is perfectly fine and normal. Photo credit: naypong via freedigitalphotos.net

Being an introvert is perfectly fine and normal.
Photo credit: naypong via freedigitalphotos.net

As a therapist who works with teens I get a wide array of calls.  These can range anywhere from concerns over a teen using drugs, to worries about grades dropping, to an adolescent asking mom or dad for help, but not telling them why.  One thing that parents sometimes bring up about their child, and teenagers often bring up about themselves, is a fear they aren’t social enough.

 

We live in a society that truly glorifies the person who has a lot of friends, and gets together with people in all their free time.  We admire a really popular, social extrovert.  We’re in awe of the person who can talk to anyone in a room.  We wish we didn’t have feelings of social awkwardness.  We imagine how much better our lives could be if we were an extroverted, life-of-the-party fun person.

 

If you imagine this about yourself, your teenager imagines it even more.  When they’re at school they notice who looks happy and who doesn’t.  Usually this is gauged by who is laughing, smiling and at ease around a good sized group of other teens.

 

There are many of us who don’t feel at ease in large groups though, and enjoy ourselves in quieter, smaller settings.  I should know, I am one of these people!  Because of this I feel it is really important to speak out on behalf of you teenagers who are naturally introverted.

 

How do you know you’re an introvert?  You may be okay with a lot of people and excitement…for a few hours…but then you need some quiet alone time to regroup.  You get your energy from being by yourself, or with a few close friends.  Extroverts are often bored when they’re alone, feel restless, and are energized by large groups of rowdy people; that’s your nightmare.

 

I have good news for those of you who are introverted.  There’s nothing wrong with you!  It’s completely fine to be someone who needs down time.  You live in a culture that is always on the go, values busyness, and thinks constant socializing is what it’s all about.  However, that is simply untrue.  Half of us out there need time to slow down, process what’s going on in our lives, think quietly, and just be alone for a few minutes (or hours).  There’s also nothing wrong with your peers who want to constantly socialize.  Being an extrovert isn’t bad either.  These are simply characteristics, like the color of your skin, eyes or hair.  You aren’t wrong for the way God made you.

 

If you’re a mom or a dad who is reading this, and this describes your teenager, then I hope you feel relief.  It’s another story if your teen is desperate to socialize more, but can’t because of anxiety, depression, or something else that’s going on.  That means they are really uncomfortable with themselves, and that’s a great time to seek out help.  However, if you’re just worried about the fact that your adolescent would rather spend Friday night reading a book or watching a movie at home than being out partying, but they seem fine in every other respect, stop worrying- that’s just who they are.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help, My Teen Is Dating Someone Awful!

Teens don't always make the best dating choices. Hopefully you're ready to talk about it with them. Freedigitalphotos.net: photo stock

Teens don’t always make the best dating choices. Hopefully you’re ready to talk about it with them.
Freedigitalphotos.net: photo stock

What do you do if your once wonderful son or daughter is now dating someone you can’t stand?

 

This is a question I get from parents of the teenagers I work with ALL THE TIME.

 

There are so many instances of parents doing everything to raise a wonderful adolescent, and then dating begins.  At first most parents are a bit uneasy, but still happy for their child.  After all, what parent doesn’t feel great about knowing their son or daughter is wanted?  However, time goes by and you realize your child is not being very respectful.  In what seems like the blink of an eye the primary influence in their life is this significant other.  Suddenly you realize your teenager is in way too serious of a relationship.  On top of that, it’s not someone you’d choose for your child for all the money in the world.

 

Dear parents, you’re up against something very difficult.  I think the most important piece of advice I give parents in this situation is not to create unenforceable consequences.  You can’t tell your child who they will and won’t call their boyfriend or girlfriend.  The reason you can’t do this is that they’ll just lie to you.  While you might forbid it at home, you don’t control what happens at school.  Short of pulling them out of school and keeping them with you 24/7, they still might see Mr. or Miss Wrong.

 

Here’s what you can do though.  You can decide what you will and won’t support.  You can let your teenager know you don’t support their dating so and so.  Make sure you give the reasons why.  Don’t criticize the person they are dating.  Instead make sure to talk about what scares you.  If your daughter is dating a boy who smokes pot all the time, let her know you’re afraid she will gain more and more friends who smoke, and therefore spend less and less time with highly motivated kids.  You’re also afraid she’ll begin to use it too.

 

Another part of not supporting something is giving it zero financial support.  One mom I’ve helped doesn’t allow her daughter to drive the car except for work and school as long as she’s dating a certain boy.  This boy is very, very bad for the daughter, so the mom doesn’t want to provide them a way to see one another.  She knows she can’t completely forbid it, but she can make it really difficult.  Some parents won’t give money for any extras.  I’ve seen parents be quite creative…and effective.

 

When your child begins to pull away from you because they are dating someone who is getting them into things they shouldn’t, or getting them out of things they should be doing, it’s heartbreaking.  It’s also very frustrating.  Most teens are still willing to listen to reason, but some will refuse to heed your advice.  In those cases please don’t passively stand by.  This ends up having the effect of condoning the bad relationship.  Hold to your morals, and require your teenager to do the same in your presence.  Also recall that either you or many of your friends dated a loser in middle school or high school, but you got through it.  I know this was true with me.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Advice for parents who want to be closer with their teens

I don’t normally do this on my blog, but this was such a good article that I had to: http://meredisciple.com/blog/2010/06/top-ten-mistakes-christian-parents-of-teens-make/

 

The gist of this person’g blog about parenting is that we’re often too distracted, too wimpy, want to be liked by our kids too much, and too hypocritical.  The blog is very gentle in how it presents this information.  However, it does ask us to evaluate our lives.  Are we setting a good, strong example?  Are we prioritizing our life in a way to helps our kids flourish (no, this doesn’t mean providing them every opportunity that exists)?  Do we consciously make an effort to spend time with our teenagers?  Do we over-focus on what they do wrong?  Do we remember to be loving and affectionate?

 

Go check it out whether you’re a Christian parent or not.  There are a lot of good reminders on where we can tune up our parenting in this post irregardless of your faith.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Social Success Defines Happiness at Work- How Does this Apply to Teens?

Doing well socially really helps teens enjoy school. Credit: Ambro via freedigitalphotos.net

Doing well socially really helps teens enjoy school.
Credit: Ambro via freedigitalphotos.net

Some Australian researchers spent time combing carefully through studies detailing the effects of positive social interactions at work.  They found overwhelming evidence that people’s health is better when they are socially successful at their jobs.

 

I got to thinking about the teenagers I work with in the counseling office.  I wondered how this article relates to them.  Might they be healthier overall if they are doing well socially?  I then wondered whether they are more likely to succeed in school.  I thought to myself they must certainly attend more school days than their peers who struggle socially.  The kids who like to see their friends would be reluctant to miss a school day because they wouldn’t want to miss out on social interactions.

 

As I give my answer to this question, keep in mind I am not in a position to conduct a research study.  I don’t have the time or the resources.  I have a practice to run with three amazing therapists where we are blessed enough to help hurting teens and families.  So, my observations on these ideas are solely based off the time I’ve spent doing counseling with adolescents for the past 9 years.

 

The teenagers I’ve worked with who are socially successful do enjoy school more.  They don’t necessarily enjoy academics more than their peers.  They aren’t more likely to study and don’t always earn higher grades.  What they enjoy is actually being at school.  They really like PE classes, lunch and passing periods.  They like to socialize.  They like group projects more than solo projects.  They enjoy the school spirit activities.  They attend dances, football games and play on sports teams.  Overall they do seem happier.

 

I can’t really comment on whether these teenagers seem healthier.  I know their psychological health tends to be better.  They have a better support system when things go wrong.  They have more encouraging people in their lives.  They are affirmed just for being themselves on a regular basis.  They get enough physical affection to feel loved.  These things should contribute to more physical health, but I’ve never especially noticed one way or the other.  One possibility for this is that as a whole adolescents don’t have a great number of health problems yet.  Another possibility is that my main focus is on their mental health.

 

In any case, I wanted to share a little bit about the article because I thought it was really interesting.  I also wanted to put down some thoughts on how this is relevant to you raising a teenager.  One of the most important take-aways is to realize that your teenager’s ability to socialize well is as much (if not more) of an indicator of your child’s future happiness than their ability to do well academically.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

PS- Here is the link to the article: https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_161331.html

Major Depression in Teens

Teenage Depression often manifests as irritability. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teenage Depression often manifests as irritability.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Major Depressive Disorder is much more serious than people realize.  I often hear people come into my office complaining of “depression.”  While they might have some symptoms of depression, it is less common to meet the full diagnosis.

 

One thing that confuses parents is that depression looks different in teenagers than in adults.  It can still include all the classic symptoms such as a lot of crying, too much sleep or insomnia, not wanting to eat, less interest in activities, and a general feeling of hopelessness.  However, there are other symptoms that also mark depression in teenagers, which are easy to miss.  Teens do not necessarily have low energy.  What they will show instead is a lot of irritability.  The irritability will often be irrational.  They can snap quickly.  You might be thinking that teenagers can be moody anyhow.  This is true.  However, with depression, the moodiness is often coupled with hopelessness, a drop in grades, and social struggles.

 

If you notice your teen has become markedly more irritable, and it lasts for two weeks or more, it is time to have them evaluated. If your teen mentions wanting to die, or suicidal thoughts, do not wait two weeks for an evaluation.  Get them help right away.  While a lot of teenagers say these kinds of things to get attention, some of them are serious.  It’s too risky to assume they don’t mean it.  Please take suicidal statements seriously.

 

Depression can be mixed with anxiety too.  Many teens feel more nervous when they are depressed.  It makes sense.  The depressed moods lead to being more easily upset.  If things more easily upset your adolescent, then they are likely to be nervous about more situations.

 

What can you do to help?  Firstly, sit down with your teenager and have a heart to heart.  Find out if there is something bothering him or her that hasn’t been shared.  Be prepared to hear something you won’t like.  You might hear about a few mean kids at school, but you are just as likely to hear ways they are unhappy with you.  The worst thing you can do is discount your teen’s emotions and experiences.  Keep in mind that teenagers interpret situations differently than adults.  They still live in a very self-focused world.  If you’ve been more short-tempered than usual because of stress at the office, a teenager is likely to take it personally.  Remind them gently that not everything is about them.  Help them also remember that other kids at school have struggles, which can make them rude; it probably isn’t personal either.

 

Once you’ve had the heart to heart observe your teen for a couple days.  If they don’t seem to feel any better, check in with them again.  Offer to get them help.  You’d be surprised at how many want to talk to someone, but are afraid to ask.

 

Things to take home from this blog post:

1.  Depression is a difficult emotional disorder.

2.  Depression is real in teenagers, and not necessarily made-up for attention.

3.  Take any comments about suicide very seriously.

4.  Try and address your teen’s emotions, but don’t hesitate to get them help if they need it.

5.  Don’t assume you or your teenager is a failure if they experience depression.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When to be Firm and When to Be Soft- Helping Teens Grow

When to disciple and when to show grace Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

When to disciple and when to show grace
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

One of the absolutely toughest quandaries we face as parents is how to most effectively help our children grow into functional adults.  The reason this is so challenging is that we are constantly walking what feels like a very narrow line on when to be firm and when to be kind.

 

Here’s a scenario that elicits two very different responses from parents.  The differing answers are dependent upon both your and your teenager’s personalities.  What do you do if your teenager calls you from a party and sounds as though he has been drinking?

 

Possibility #1: You pick up your teenager and you tell him you’re incredibly proud of him for calling you.  You say you’re thankful he didn’t get a ride home with someone else who had been drinking.  You commend him for being responsible enough to let you know he needed a bit of help.  You feel grateful that even though he made the mistake of drinking in the first place, he was humble enough to ask for help instead of making another mistake in an attempt not to be caught for the first mistake.

 

Possibility #2:  You feel irate and betrayed that your son could go out drinking.  You tell him because he has violated your trust you’ll be making yourself privy to his text communication with friends for the foreseeable future so that he doesn’t wind up in such a situation again.  You tell him he’s grounded because he definitely knows better than to go to a house where there are no parents and then get drunk.

 

One response is soft and full of grace.  The other response is firm.  Neither response is wrong.  There is a time when it is appropriate to show grace and there is a time when it is appropriate to discipline.

 

If we’re all softness and grace all the time then our kids miss out on something really important in their development.  They don’t learn to take correction, they don’t learn limits, and they don’t learn the value of obedience.  These are skills that are absolutely essential to your teenager’s future ability to function in the workplace.  If you work in any situation other than self-employment you have to take direction, correction and criticism well.  You have to intuitively pick up on limits set by the culture of the company.  You have to be obedient to your superiors.  You will certainly have times where you speak up if something is wrong, but for the most part you do what you’re told.  These skills are learned from discipline given to your young children and then teenagers.

 

On the other hand, if you are nothing but firmness and discipline, your adolescent children miss out on something else very important to their growth.  Your kids cannot function effectively in interpersonal relationships.  They will be black and white.  They won’t know when to teach someone and come alongside them versus when to draw a line.  They won’t know how to forgive themselves.  And, possibly worst of all, if they sense someone will disapprove of an action they are about to commit, they’ll just sneak.  In fact, if you’re nothing but discipline, then your teenager is sneaking right now.  That’s a promise.

 

Walking that very fine line between grace and firmness was modeled better by Jesus Christ than anyone the world has ever known.  Do you know what he used to make the determination of when to use which?  He examined the hardness of people’s hearts.  If their hearts demonstrated a genuine sorrow for their sin, then he was all softness and grace.  If their sorrow for their sin was only on the outside but their was no inner remorse, Jesus was firm and convicting.  In essence, Jesus Christ showed unprecedented levels of emotional intelligence when dealing with people.

 

Now, neither you nor I will achieve Christ-like levels of perfection in raising our kids.  However, we can certainly do our best to examine their hearts.  Remember, discipline for the heard heart, or for the heart that continues to repeat the same mistake, but softness and second chances for the truly repentant and sorry heart.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Healing from an Addict Parent

 Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens have to recover from their parents’ addictions too.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For teenagers who have had parents addicted to drugs or alcohol, life has been harder.  It’s overwhelming and can be really unpredictable.  Excessive drug and alcohol use make it hard for a parent to be fully present and available to their child.  They are often parents who are filled with the best of intentions, but are very easily side-tracked by their need to drink, party or use a drug.

 

If you are a parent who has struggled with addiction, but are now recovering, you might wonder how your teen is supposed to heal from this too.  You are astute enough to realize your adolescent does have some healing to do because you understand addiction actually never occurs in isolation, even if it is one of the most isolating struggles a person can face.  You know it has affected your children.  So what happens next?

 

I will base my answer on families I have worked with in the past who have dealt with this.  This answer is predicated on the assumption that you are truly serious about your sobriety.  It assumes you are not continuing to lie to yourself and your family (i.e. you no longer drink alcohol but you take a Xanax every single night in order to fall asleep).

 

The families I have seen where the addicted parent(s) truly change see a lag time in their teen’s adjustment.  Their children have spent years learning to help the family hold it together.  They have had times when they’ve gotten themselves to school.  They have lied to other adults in order to avoid scrutiny for why they didn’t get their homework done, or were late to practice, or why Mom is not at such and such an event she was supposed to attend.  They have possibly driven Dad home from a bar or a party.  There has been a need for your child to create a self-sufficiency that is unnatural for their age.  They are used to functioning this way, and they don’t immediately trust you enough to let their walls down.

 

What I have noticed is with consistency and honesty most of these kids do let their parents be parents again.  It takes a lot of time, and some amount of struggle.  However, deep down all they’ve wanted is for you to be be their safe home base.  Now that you’re capable of being that, they are wary.  However, if you are extremely patient and kind you will make headway.  Help them to know you understand where you’ve fallen short.  Don’t be afraid to apologize.  Ask a lot of questions about how they’re feeling, but never tell them how they should be feeling.

 

You will have times where you sense your teenager trying to almost recreate some dysfunction in your relationship.  Perhaps your son is now acting out, or your daughter is also experimenting with substances.  Your child doesn’t know how to live without a certain amount of chaos.  It takes quite a bit of time to detox from constant crisis.  Create enough structure where your teenager is forced to forego a chaotic life, but expect them to seek it out for a time.

 

Most of all, remember your child loves you, and you love them too.  Express this often, and be humble.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Are You Listening?

Listening to your teen requires your deciding to really listen. Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

Listening to your teen requires your deciding to really listen.
Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

Are you listening to your teenager?  I mean really, really listening?  Do you set everything down, look them in the eyes and try to understand what they’re telling you?

 

Therapy does many things for a teenager.  One of the benefits is something so simple that you can do it yourself if you will decide to do so.

 

When a teenager comes in here to work with me on something that is bothering them, they are completely assured I am listening.  I don’t have my phone out.  I don’t have my computer open.  I’m not cleaning.  I’m not cooking.  There is no music playing.  I’m not sitting in the other room.  The TV isn’t on.  I’m not staring out the window.  I’m not examining my fingernails or picking at my clothes.  I am sitting 4-5 feet from them, looking at their face, mirroring their body language and REALLY listening.  I am reflecting back to them a sound or a word here and there that says, “I hear you.”  I say, “Tell me more.”  I say, “No way!”  I say, “That must have sucked!”  I match their emotional tone with mine.  I exaggerate emotional tone when it’s right to do so.  If they tell a sad story but appear indifferent, I show the sadness.  This is how they know I’m listening.

 

We do many, many other things in counseling that help an adolescent grow and survive life’s tough stuff.  These are not things you would naturally know to do.  These are things I have spent years practicing, read thousands of pages to learn, spent hundreds of hours in supervision with someone more experienced than me, and watched countless hours of video tape of myself doing therapy with clients.  These are skills that have taken immense practice just as you have seasoned your own professional abilities with tons of experience and learning.

 

What you can do without all that training is listen well.  Taking the time to do that gives them an amazing amount of dignity.  Listening does not mean passing judgment on what they’re saying.  I too have opinions about what they’re sharing.  However, knowing when you have earned the right to share those opinions is the art of tact.  Be tactful with your teenager.  You don’t get a free pass on this just because you’re the parent.  You do have a huge advantage over the rest of the world though.  Your advantage is that your adolescent wants to have YOU truly listen to him or her.  They might not come out and tell you this, but to have their parent hear them is in the heart of every teen who has ever sat across from me.

 

Mom or Dad, whichever of you is reading this, please take the time to listen to your kid.  You will show them how much you care.  Set your stuff down.  Leave your to do list somewhere else.  Let go of your need to talk.  Don’t be a half-listener who is planning what to say at the slightest gap in conversation while your teen is talking.  That’s bad listening.  Just sit and absorb what they have to say.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teenager Mood Swings

A teen's moods can vary by 180 degrees multiple times per day. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A teen’s moods can vary by 180 degrees multiple times per day.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does your teen seem to have big mood swings?  Does your adolescent act nicely only when they want something from you?  Do you feel tired of doing so many things for them and they don’t seem to thank you?  Does it seem like your child thinks you “owe” them things?  Do they yell at you one minute, and then cry the next because they can’t believe they said that to you?

 

Adolescents are partially to be excused for this behavior, and partially to be held accountable.  It’s a fine line between where they have emotional control and where they just don’t have the physical maturity to do this yet (Yes, I wrote physical on purpose.  Their brains are developing very rapidly through their teen years).  Their emotional regulation increases each year, and so should your expectation that they behave with increasing maturity.

 

While your adolescents are 13 and 14 years old, realize they go into a state of high emotional arousal fairly easily.  Since you know this, don’t try and talk to them when they’re heightened.  Wait until they calm down and then have whatever discussion you need to have.  As parents we have the luxury of being infinitely patient.  Kids generally have to run their lives on our timetable.  What I mean by this is that they can’t drive themselves places, they can’t pay their own bills, and they can’t do a whole lot without you.  So, just wait out their bad moods.  If they miss a soccer practice because they were being too rude to you for you to want to drive them, then that’s their choice.  However, don’t call the coach and get them out of whatever consequences they would face.  That’s where parents err.

 

As your teen gets older though, it is perfectly reasonable for you to expect better behavior from them.  They should be showing more gratitude, not yelling as frequently, showing the beginnings of empathy, and feeling more even tempered.  This doesn’t mean they will be perfectly mature in every situation.  It does mean they can be reasonable.  This depends on your being reasonable though.  If you still yell as though you’re in early adolescence, don’t expect anything better from your kids.

 

By 16 and 17, your children have the early ability to put themselves into your shoes.  They should finally be able to understand how much you do around the house.  They finally can understand that you actually work for your money.  They realize you put in a lot of effort to get where you are in life.  They are capable of not taking advantage of you anymore.  If you still feel like you’re being treated really poorly by your older teenager, then we need to talk.  There’s a decent chance there is some nuance to your behavior as a parent that either provokes or permits your teen’s bad attitude.

 

Raising teens is a completely challenging joy.  They will make you want to rip out your hair, and they will make you laugh until your sides ache.  Teenagers are trying to navigate intense academic pressure, learn how to associate with the opposite sex, find an identity, think about separating from home, and cope with emotional swings due to puberty; it is a really tough time for them.  Keep this in mind, but don’t let it excuse bad choices.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are miserable and terrifying. The fear of having another can be disabling.

Panic attacks are miserable and terrifying. The fear of having another can be disabling.

Panic attacks are awful.  Ask anyone who has really experienced one, and they’ll tell you they thought they were dying.  People with panic attacks often go the the emergency room because it feels like a heart attack.  The fear and physical symptoms that overwhelm a person are very intense.

A lot of people say, “I’ve had a panic attack,” and they really mean they have felt very anxious.  Panic attacks go beyond “very anxious.”  They usually last up to ten minutes (and sometimes longer).  They build up very suddenly, and then they pass.

Some possible symptoms experienced during a panic attack are:

  • dizzy
  • choking
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • headache
  • heart racing
  • pain
  • smothering
  • trembling
  • depersonalization
  • fear of dying

There are other symptoms people experience beyond this.

To overcome panic attacks usually professional help is needed.  In many cases a combination of medication and therapy are successful.

If you are a parent, and this is happening to your teen, make sure to get your child help.  Panic attacks are really awful for the person who has them.  Sometimes the fear of having a panic attack in public will lead someone to feel afraid of leaving the house.  It becomes easy to avoid situations where panic has occurred before.  In my practice I have seen teens who do not want to go to school, or certain friends’ houses because they have panicked there before.  Make sure to get your teen the necessary help if they are struggling with panic attacks so that it does not become debilitating.

 

I hope you’re weekend is peaceful and anxiety free,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Therapist’s Thoughts on the College Process

The college decision isn't the most important of your teen's life. Credit: Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net

The college decision isn’t the most important of your teen’s life.
Credit: Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net

I have some thoughts on the college process that have come from years of working with teens.  I have watched, supported and counseled many teens for various reasons while they are simultaneously applying for universities during their senior year of high school, or after their sophomore year at junior college.  The process is so stressful, and comes with an incredible amount of pressure.  They come to therapy to get help coping with extreme stress.

 

Once Spring Semester rolls around I have had the privilege of walking alongside them as they are accepted to schools.  I have helped teens feel dignity in attending their back-up school when they were not accepted to their dream school.  I have counseled countless adolescents through fears and anxieties about separating from their families as they go off to school.

 

The main thing I want to stress to you parents is that senior year is tumultuous.  It is supposed to be a fun culmination to 13 years of hard work through elementary, middle and high school.  Instead it ends up feeling like it’s the make or break point of their entire life.

 

With that introduction providing context, here are my thoughts on the college process:

1.  Your value as a human is not defined by the name of your university. Your value as a human is defined by God, family, your character, and your ability to realize your dreams.  There is an intense overfocus on the status of a school.  Does anyone really stop and ask whether the quality of the education varies that much between one school and the next?  It has more to do with individual professors, and it has to do with how involved your child chooses to become.

2.  Cost IS a factor.  You are in no way a bad parent if you have the cost of a school as one of the main deciding factors in where you allow your child to attend school.  If anything, taking out massive amounts of loans and/or paying an extra $25,000 per year just because your EIGHTEEN year old thinks they will be happier out of state or at a private school teaches your child a dangerous lesson of entitlement.  On the other hand, if you restrict their options based on cost, you teach them that making smart choices with money helps them get ahead.  You also teach them the difference between a want and a need.

3. There is no shame in junior college.  I started at a top notch school.  I did well academically but I really struggled with the transition socially.  I came home for a year and went to junior college.  Then I transferred to a four year school.  I still finished my bachelor’s degree at age 20 (in 3 years instead of 4).  I will honestly tell you that two of the three best classes I ever took during my undergraduate education were in the junior college.  There are some incredible educators at that level.  Oftentimes they choose to work in that environment because they just want to teach, they don’t want to do research.  Also, my classes never had more than 30.  At the university many of my classes had between 50 and 250 students in them.

4. College is not a vacation.  So often our teens visit a certain campus, like it, and then decide that is THE place they need to attend school.  Realistically though what the campus looks like has very little to do with how much it will help your teenager in his or her chosen profession.  Once you and your teenager carefully analyze the marketplace, choose a degree that is in demand, which also peaks their interest (They may love musical theater, but there isn’t a demand for musical theater majors).  Make a school choice based on this.

 

The reason I write all this to you is that I watch adolescents and parents become completely overwhelmed, stressed and nearly crazy over the college decision.  If you’re methodical you can help your teen feel a lot less stress.  You will all make smart choices.  You get the chance to teach your teenager about delayed gratification, planning, finances, and increasing independence.  If you do this the wrong way you might just help them accidentally learn that prestige is more important than being sensible, and also increase their sense of entitlement.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Addiction affects younger siblings

Younger siblings are affected by teen drug use too. Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

Younger siblings are affected by teen drug use too.
Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

If you have a teen who is addicted to, or abusing drugs or alcohol, it affects the whole family.  The way it affects younger siblings is often difficult to manage.  Younger siblings have a variety of reactions, but one thing you can count on is that it is hurting them too.

 

I have worked with countless families who have a teen addict in the household.  Invariably when there are younger siblings they suffer.  One of the ways I see a younger sibling struggle is very similar to what happens to siblings when one kid gets a terminal illness.  There is a lot of focus and energy from parents going towards the child who is sick.  The healthy child is overlooked because they are functioning well.  This is the same with addiction.  A younger sibling might not get the attention they normally would because the addict is creating so much chaos within the home.

 

Another way I have seen younger siblings affected by drug and alcohol use in older siblings is to idolize the older sibling.  Sometimes the younger one thinks the attitude and behaviors of the older sibling are kind of cool.  They are introduced to marijuana or alcohol by their older sibling.  This is one of the only times their older sibling has paid any attention to them, and it feels really good.  So, they end up going down a similar path.

 

A third way I have seen younger siblings react is to start acting like a parent.  They try and become ultra-responsible.  They forget how to be a child.  They are constantly on their older sibling’s back for causing problems in the family.  They start helping with household chores.  At first this may seem like a good thing, but if a child takes on parental roles too young then they miss out on crucial developmental stages.  Sometimes this causes problems later on.

 

I have also seen younger siblings develop symptoms of depression, anxiety and other psychological difficulties.

 

When one of your children is struggling with addiction or drug/alcohol abuse, it is extremely important to manage how you parent the younger children.  Make sure they are still getting positive attention, and try your best to encourage them to still be a kid.  Communicate what is going on at an age-appropriate level, but do not make the younger child your confidante.  No matter what, remember the entire family is suffering because of the addiction.  There is nothing easy about this.  Seek extra help if you need it and keep in mind that the younger children might need help too.

 

If this applies to you, my heart breaks for you and your family.  I know it is a huge struggle, but hang in there.  Keep focus on what is going well in your life too, and help the younger sibling remember that too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Online Help for Adolescent Pornography Use

Teens who struggle with porn feel ashamed and alone. Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

Teens who struggle with porn feel ashamed and alone.
Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

Dear Parents,

There are several things that make us shudder as parents.  We hope we never help teenagers navigate their way out of drug use, an abusive relationship, failing grades, and suicidal behavior.  Now that the internet has become a daily part of all of our lives, we have to add a few more to the list.  We pray we never help our teens face a serious video gaming addiction, gambling addiction, or pornography addiction.  Unfortunately these are things parents are having to deal with more and more.

 

Teenagers usually have their own smart phones.  They often also have a laptop, tablet and TV in their own room.  There is ample opportunity to have endless, unchaperoned screen time.  It’s tough because this is the norm.  Our kids feel ripped off if we don’t give them all these things.

 

Sadly there is a very significant proportion of teens who are not really mature enough to manage these devices in a responsible manner.  One of the main things they can get sucked into is porn.

 

Porn is free, and it’s very easy to find.  Your teen, whether they view it or not, knows how to find it.  If it becomes something they watch on a regular basis, there are a lot of problems that arise.  Your adolescent child is likely to start isolating.  They might be masturbating so frequently that they are injuring themselves (yes, this really happens).  They are developing inappropriate, unrealistic ideals about sexuality and relationships.  They are hearing language that is degrading.  The list goes on.

 

Watching porn releases endorphins in the brain.  It’s an addictive experience.  This is the reason the industry is one of the chief money-makers in the world.  If your adolescent is struggling with an addiction to pornography, it is a hard challenge to overcome.  It’s not like it’s possible to completely avoid the triggers once they’ve “gotten sober.”  They still have to use a phone, the internet, and they still have to be alone sometimes.  In short, they absolutely MUST have support to overcome this problem.

 

At Teen Therapy OC we have a male therapist on staff, Seth, who can help if it is your adolescent son using pornography.  Seth does his sessions online, meaning it is through a medium similar to Skype.  This turns out to be very helpful because your teen is often triggered by the computer and being alone in his room.  By doing sessions through the computer, Seth is able to help your teenager create new associations with time online.  He can work with your teenager through teletherapy to help them begin the journey to freedom.

 

If you have a teenage daughter who is struggling with porn use, then they would work with me, Lauren.  I have sessions available both in the office and through videoconference.  It is more common with young girls than you might think.  The good news is that the addiction cycle can be broken and your daughter can get back to herself.

 

I know this is a really hard thing to face.  It is a heartbreaking situation that you never imagined when you had kids.  Let’s work together to get help and get your teen back on track.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Do Thin Models Affect Your Daughter’s Body Image?

Thin models may contribute to your daughter's unhealthy body image. Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thin models may contribute to your daughter’s unhealthy body image.
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Certainly members of the French government think so.  I read an article some time ago that a new legislative bill has passed one of the houses of government in France prohibiting the use of ultra-thin models, and requiring touched up photos to be labeled as such.

 

There is evidence that suggests the constant barrage of images we receive from the media affect how we view ourselves.  In light of professionally done make-up, photoshop adjustments made to pictures, most models being young and beautiful, and a glamorization of physical perfection, it’s really easy to feel “not good enough.”  Many young girls are especially impressionable when it comes to images put out by the media.

 

Here is my personal opinion on why adolescent girls are so deeply affected by how thin models are in advertisements: Your adolescent daughters aren’t necessarily sure of who they are.  It’s hard to define yourself by internal characteristics as a teenager.  So many of the actions they take show they use external factors to make a statement about identity.  They dress in a certain way, want to look like a certain person, and wish to have a certain body type.  These are things other people can see that give your daughter a sense of self.  As they get older, they will begin to use internal factors to create identity, but that’s not necessarily developmentally possible for an adolescent.

 

Because so much of how they define other people is based on looks, they want to be the best looking person possible.  And, since our society truly glorifies thinness, your daughter wants to have the “ideal” body type.

 

In my office it takes an incredible amount of work for a girl with an unhealthy body image to change her “ideal” body type.  At first this is usually based off models.  She wants to look extremely thin, extremely fit, or some combination of both.  She honestly believes if she can accomplish this she will feel as happy as the models in pictures appear to be.  She thinks she will then feel complete, confident, lovable and attractive.

 

After A LOT of hard work, some girls are able to truly change what they see as an “ideal” body type.  They stop using images in advertising, and start to assess themselves based on a medical “ideal” body type.  This means they try and have an appropriate weight for their height, allow their bodies to find a set-point (where it naturally wants to be given a healthy diet and appropriate amount of exercise), and eat until they feel content and energized.  They stop comparing themselves to others, and they recognize how unhealthy the fashion industry seems to be in how it portrays the ideal female.  Essentially, your daughter can learn to embrace looking like a woman after she’s gone through puberty instead of still wanting to look like a young girl.

 

While there are definitely a host of complicated factors that lead to anorexia, the media has its part.  I am appreciative of the efforts the French government is making to curb this.  Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating struggles are dangerous, overwhelming and extremely challenging to overcome; every little bit helps.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

PS- If you’d like to read the NY Times article, here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/world/europe/french-bill-barring-ultrathin-models-clears-a-hurdle.html?_r=0

A Video About The Addict’s Mindset

http://www.cnn.com/videos/health/2016/08/27/ohio-heroin-uptick-crane-pkg.cnn

 

This links to a CNN interview with a young woman who is a heroin addict.  She talks about the daily struggle she faces to be sober.  You hear from her mom on how afraid she often feels.

 

While this video refers to someone who is using very hard drugs, addiction is a deeply difficult affliction to overcome.

 

I have sat with countless teenager addicts from my time working in a hospital on a detox floor, to the many years since counseling teens in my office.  It’s a scary thing to face.  There is a lot of denial to work through.  There is a lot of emotional pain.

 

If you or your child is struggling like the woman in this video, or even with something less serious, such as a marijuana addiction, please call.  Let’s talk through a game plan to get life back to good.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Marijuana in the News

There is a correlation between heavy marijuana use in teens and poor working memory.

There is a correlation between heavy marijuana use in teens and poor working memory.

There is a stereotype that marijuana users have poor memory.  They tend to forget details of what was said, their work schedules, etc.  Lately researchers have been putting that to the test.  Researchers from Feinberg School of Medicine (part of Northwestern University in Chicago) have found that there is a very strong link between poor working memory and consistent marijuana use in adolescents.

 

The study looked at nearly 100 adolescents.  The results showed that non-marijuana users had an average of 37 times the capacity for working memory than daily marijuana users.  What’s even more shocking is that the study counted someone as a marijuana user if they began using between 16 and 17 years old, and used for 3 years consecutively after that, even if they were no longer using; there were some participants in the study who had been sober for a few years, and their memory was still diminished.

 

The study also looked to see if there was a correlation between marijuana use and a change in brain structure.  They found that parts of the brain associated with memory were diminished in size in comparison to their non-using counterparts.

 

So, next time your teenager wants to argue with you that marijuana isn’t bad for them, and may even be good for them, you’ll know.  On top of that, other studies have shown that marijuana is addictive, both physically and psychologically.  A lot of people who use it continue to function at some level, which is part of the reason heavy marijuana users are hesitant to admit there are problems with the drug.  However, they are not functioning as well as they could if they were sober.

 

After doing counseling with numerous teen cannabis users over the years, I can speak from what I have witnessed.  Many of the teenagers who were heavy users and then became sober made marked improvements in multiple areas of their life a few months after they quit.  It wasn’t immediate.  After several weeks though their familial relationships greatly improved, motivation increased, activity level with friends increased, exercise increased, and overall sense of well-being increased.  Eventually most of them even ended up saying they were glad to have stopped using.

 

Here is a link to the article I referenced in this blog post:

http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/news/2015/03/Csernansky-teen-cannabis-use.html

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Social Media Drama

Drama from social media is now part of adolescence. Photo credit: Stoonn and freedigitalphotos.net

Drama from social media is now part of adolescence.
Photo credit: Stoonn and freedigitalphotos.net

Do you find your teenager feeling very upset over things they’ve seen on social media?  Do you often think it would be better for them if they didn’t have access to it at all?  Do you feel frustrated by the amount of time they spend on social media?  It’s a hard thing to manage.  We are parents navigating uncharted waters.  We don’t have the example of how our parents dealt with us wanting to be on the computer or our phones all the time.  We might have had a pager and our own phone line…maybe.

 

First of all, social media is here to stay.  Just taking it away because it’s overall too stressful is probably not going to work very well.  We have to teach our kids to manage what they post, how much time they spend on it, and how easily they are offended by what other people say on their accounts.  Many of my clients personalize comments others make on social media.  Sometimes it is personal, and other times it really isn’t.  They also are often very sensitive about how quickly someone comments, how often, when they click the “like” button, how much someone else posts pictures of them, and what the sub-context is of their friends’ posts.  I have sat with many teens in counseling who were in tears because they interpreted social media posts to mean something other than what was really intended.

 

It’s a big deal to teach your teenager how to post properly on social media.  Rather than just giving a lecture, work with them for awhile.  They might not want to let you, but that’s okay, you’re the parent.  There are a lot of times when we have to do things with our kids they don’t appreciate at the time; in the long run they’ll be glad.  When they apply for a job one day they will be thankful they never posted that picture of themself drunk at a party.  It’s also important to help them realize the detriment of being passive aggressive.  It’s extremely tempting for many adolescents to post thinly veiled general comments that everyone knows are really directed at one person.  This leads to arguments that get blown completely out of proportion.  It also leads to hurt feelings.

 

What do you do when this happens to your teenager instead of your teen instigating it?  The same rules apply here that you were taught when people talked behind your back in middle school or high school.  Confronting someone directly (and privately) and in person is always ideal.  It’s not best to text this confrontation.  Believe me when I tell you that those texts are “screen shotted” and sent to lots of other teens.  When your child simply has a conversation the other person is much more likely to realize your teenager isn’t being hostile, and they are more likely to pick up on facial nuances that convey a lot of meaning.

 

Social media can be very positive.  It connects teenagers.  It helps people keep old friends.  However, it is a highlight reel.  It doesn’t accurately represent how someone feels inside.  Many adolescents mistakenly read into what is posted and get their feelings hurt.  Many other adolescents use social media to bully or behave passive aggressively.  It is very, very important to be involved in your teenager’s social media activity so you can help him or her learn how to effectively use this tool that will be part of our lives for the rest of our lives.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

 

Help! I just found out my teen is using drugs

Finding out your kids use drugs can be heartbreaking.

Finding out your kids use drugs is scary and heartbreaking.

How should you react the first day you hear your teenager is abusing drugs?

 

You’ve been suspicious that your teen is using marijuana, or some other drug.  You’ve asked your teenager about it before, but they’ve given you plausible stories.  One time you thought they looked high when they came home at night, so you mentioned it.  Your adolescent told you some dust blew into his eyes, and he’s been rubbing them.  You thought that sounded a little strange, but you trust your kid.  Another time you thought you smelled a little bit of smoke on your teenager’s clothes, but you just couldn’t be certain.  When you asked her about it, she told you that her friends invited some kids over that she’d never met before.  She said those kids started smoking.  She even went as far as telling you she’d make sure to never hang around those kids again.

 

Finally, one night you figured out the truth.  What you’ve been suspecting turned out to be right.  Now what?

 

1.  Take the time to process your emotions.  Call someone you’re very close with, who also knows your teen.  Preferably this is your teen’s other parent, but sometimes that isn’t possible.  Talk it out.  Take a few hours to let your emotions settle.  You’re probably feeling a combination of fear, anxiety, anger, betrayal and sadness.  If you immediately react, you’re likely to say something you’ll regret.  The last thing you want in this situation is to have to backtrack with your teen later.

 

2.  Be firm.  When you go to discuss this with your child, do not approach them weakly.  You don’t need to be mean, and yelling doesn’t help either.  However, you do have to be clear about your stance on their drug use.  You need to tell them both what you think of it, and how you feel about it.  People confuse what they think with how they feel.  What you think is the facts you know about their decisions, and the risks they are facing.  What you feel is the emotions you’re experiencing, such as hurt, betrayed, foolish, angry, etc.  Telling them what you feel is very important and tends to sink in more than telling them what you think.  They can argue with what you think, but not how you feel.

 

3.  Don’t be naive.  Your teen is likely to make you all kids of promises.  They are likely to apologize and promise never to do it again.  For you to just believe them because they are crying, or because you really want to believe them is naive.  You need to realize that drugs are stronger than will power.  Initially your child probably will stop using.  However, they will easily slip back into it.  At the very least you should read up on recommended steps for helping your teen stay drug free.  Usually though, you should take stronger steps than that, and insist on some kind of treatment.

 

4.  Get yourself help.  You’ve been unintentionally enabling your child’s drug use.  This is not to blame you for your adolescent’s choices.  However, because you didn’t know they were using, you were still willing to give them money to go out to dinner or the movies.  Without meaning to, you’ve been supplying money for their drugs.  From what I’ve seen, parents often are very surprised by the ways their drug using teens have manipulated them.  You need extra help to avoid this.  Two great, free places to start your education are Celebrate Recovery or Alanon.  These both have groups for codependent [enabling] behaviors.  From there, you may decide to seek out more help.

 

5.  Take your time.  Your initial reaction doesn’t have to include the consequences you will give your teen.  It is completely fine to tell them you’re upset and you need time to think.  It’s okay to tell them you’ll let them know within the next few days what consequences your teen will have for choosing to use drugs.  Immediately telling your teen they’re grounded for 6 months is both unreasonable and rash.  It also puts you in a position where you have to enforce something ridiculous.  From here on out it is essential that you only give consequences you’re willing and able to enforce.

 

6.  Call your child’s physician.  I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough.  There are numerous effects of drug use that both you and your teen don’t know about.  There are risks that you are completely unaware of.  For example, there are problems with the mix of certain drugs with certain medications that are extremely dangerous.  There are also many drugs that need proper detoxification under the care of a medical doctor.  Make sure your teen is cared for by a doctor if they have been using drugs.

 

If you are reading this and find it relates to your situation with your teenager, my heart breaks for you.  Finding out that your child is abusing drugs is one of the most scary things a parent can face.  Take a deep breath and go slow.  Get educated as quickly as possible.  Find out what you need to do to change the home environment to both protect your other family members and to help your teen get sober.  Make sure that safety concerns are addressed first.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Q and A on OCD

OCD is extremely frustrating for teens. Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

OCD is extremely frustrating for teens.
Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

  1. What is OCD?OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It causes someone to feel a lot of anxiety.  Usually the cause of anxiety is over something improbable.  The anxious feeling is so strong that someone has ritualistic behavior to get rid of the anxiety.  The problem is, the anxiety returns over and over again, so the person spends lots of time doing rituals to manage the anxiety.
  2. Can you give an examples of OCD?The form of OCD you are probably most familiar with is “contamination OCD.”  This is where someone feels an icky feeling on their skin when they are exposed to a perceived contaminant.  If someone feels contaminated by germs then they might feel disgusting after touching a bathroom door handle.  The feeling will be so unbearable that it can only be relieved by hand-washing.  Other forms of contaminants I’ve seen in my therapy office have been sweat, chemical cleaning products, raw foods, dirt, and dirty laundry.  The associated compulsions have been taking a shower multiple times per day, excessive wiping of counters and surfaces, hand washing until hands are cracked and dry, or scrubbing vigorously with a shower scrubby until the skin bleeds and rashes.

    OCD can take the form of needing perfect symmetry.  I have worked with adolescents who felt a shudder of anxiety when things are not in their proper symmetrical order.  If someone touches them on their right shoulder their compulsion is to immediately touch their own left shoulder.  The problem is, sometimes they don’t get it just right, and have to repeat the touching on both shoulders until it feels perfectly symmetrical.  One girl struggled with the symmetry of writing on her papers for school.  If the paper didn’t seem to be very well balanced with how the words looked on the page she would throw it away and start again.

    OCD can take many different forms.  The most important thing a therapist is looking for is to see whether there are obsessive thoughts followed by ritualistic compulsions to control those thoughts.  Sometimes the obsessive thought is an intrusive thought.  One example would be a repeated image of the house burning down.  The compulsion might be to meticulously and repeatedly inspect all the places where gas can be turned on (i.e. the stoves, barbecue, water heater, etc.).

  3. How do you deal with OCD?Research has shown two therapies to be most effective for OCD.  Either can help on its own, but research shows it is most effective when they are done together.  The first form of treatment shown to be effective is called Exposure and Response Prevention.  This is what we do at Teen Therapy OC.  It means we help your teenager make a list of obsessions and related compulsions.  Starting from least frightening and working our way up from there, we help your teen face the things that make them uncomfortable.  If your teenager is anxious about things being out of place we might hang a picture crooked and have them stare at it until the anxiety goes away.  At first that will take some time, but after repeated exposures it becomes easier.

    The second is getting medication from a psychiatrist.  Some parents don’t like the idea of medication for their teens, and many of my clients choose to try treatment without it before seeing a psychiatrist.  Every case is different and recommendations and whether medication should be part of treatment are easier to make after the initial evaluation.

 

Living with OCD is miserable and very time consuming.  For adolescents who struggle with this it can be hard to keep friends, and hard to keep up with homework.  It is overwhelming and frustrating.  It feels like a trap.  Let us help your child get their life back.  Call us to talk about how we can help you help your teen get better.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

 

 

10 Signs Your Teen May Be Depressed

It can be hard for teens to deal with depression on their own. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

It can be hard for teens to deal with depression on their own.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

1. Isolating.  If your teenager has stopped spending time with the family and with friends, it could be a sign of depression.

2. Change in Weight.  Teenagers gain weight throughout their adolescent years as part of becoming an adult.  However, if you’ve always had a rail thin teen who then becomes overweight, or a teenager with normal weight who becomes extremely thin, it may be mood related.  Rapid weight change is associated with depression.

3. Hypersomnia.  This means excessive sleeping.  Adolescents often sleep 10 to 12 hours per night on the weekends, which is normal.  However, if your teenager is getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep each day of the week too (including naps), that’s called hypersomnia.

4. Insomnia. Sometimes depression leads to an inability to fall asleep.  For others insomnia looks different.  They fall asleep just fine, but then wake up after a few hours and cannot get back to sleep.

5. Irritability.  This is not always a symptom in adult depression, but is present in nearly every depressed teenager.  Please note, teens are often irritable, so irritability on its own is probably not depression.

6. Crying often.  If your adolescent cries easily, and sometimes cannot even articulate why, it could be due to depression.

7. Flattened affect.  Your affect is your emotional expressiveness.  If your teen is usually fairly expressive, but now seems quite a bit less so, it can be a sign of depressed mood.  When we think of affect, we’re usually talking about intonation and facial expression.

8. Suicidal thoughts.  In most cases of depression, suicidal thoughts are part of the picture.  A person can feel pretty hopeless when they’re depressed.  Without hope it can be hard to find reasons to live.  If you’re teenager is expressing suicidal thoughts, they need immediate help.

9. Self-harm.  Some depressed teens cut themselves.  They say it is a method to control when they feel their pain, how deeply they feel it, and who can know it.  This is also a serious symptom that needs immediate evaluation by a professional.

10. Anxiety.  Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand.  Does your teen worry excessively?  They might have a mixture of depression and anxiety.

 

One thing that’s really important to understand is you can’t read a blog post like this and diagnose your teen with depression.  Depression can be a combination of these symptoms, or all of these symptoms.  However, these symptoms can signify other problems too.  While this post is helpful for educating yourself on what might be going on, please take your teenager in for an evaluation with their doctor, a therapist, or a psychiatrist if you suspect depression.

 

I know it’s really hard on the whole family when a teen feels depressed.  As parents it’s difficult not to think somehow it’s your fault.  You may have tried everything you can think of to snap your child out of their “bad moods.”  Try to keep in mind this isn’t your fault, and also that your teenager isn’t trying to do this just to be ornery.  Hang in there, be gentle and loving, and get help if needed.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Modeling Anger for Teens

Anger is common between teens and parents. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Anger is common between teens and parents.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Parents, you have so much to do with how your teenager handles their anger.  Here are 5 things to think about with how you model anger for your teen:

1.  Anger is not bad; mismanaged anger is bad.  People tend to believe one should not feel or show anger at all, and that it is best to be calm all the time.  That really isn’t true.  Anger is sometimes justified.  Anger is meant to help us move to action when a wrong is committed.  When our move to action causes us to behave violently, belligerently, or rudely, is when it’s a problem.

 

2.  We teach our children about anger.  Our children learn about how to display and how to cope with anger from our example.  If we yell and scream at the slightest provocation, they will quite possibly do the same.  If we withdraw every time we feel mad, they learn to behave like that.  If we take some deep breaths, slow everything down, and then think carefully, they will learn from that example.

 

3.  Ask questions.  When your teenager is angry, try to ask very gentle questions.  If they realize you’re willing to listen to what they really need to say they will calm down.  You might not give in, and you’re not obligated to.  However, hearing them out for quite some time before you respond is really important.

 

4. Recognize when anger is justified.  Be aware of when you’re angry because you were truly wronged versus when you feel offended without enough information.  Managing anger is all about patience.  If you are able to show your teenager that you can wait for all the pieces of the puzzle before you get heated, you’ll teach them the same.  Here’s an example:  Your boss gives someone else the project you’ve always expressed wanting to work on.  You could get angry and feel personally offended.  The other option is to ask why that happened.  You just might discover that your boss has something even better in the pipeline for you.

 

5.  Clarify.  When it comes to your own family it’s rare they are trying to truly sabotage you.  Get clarification on things you don’t understand.  Oftentimes things are not how they look.  If you see your spouse sitting around when you think they should be helping around the house, ask before you criticize.  You will teach your teen the be the same way.  That way they won’t accuse you of doing nothing all day while they’re at school, or some other such nonsense.

 

Anger is a tough emotion.  I get a lot of calls from worried parents that their teenager needs counseling to deal with their anger.  Sometimes these teens truly are angry, but it doesn’t come from nowhere.  It’s not to say it’s all mom and dad’s fault.  That is never the case.  However, when we collaborate together mom and dad see how to help lead their teen to more constructive ways of dealing with this challenging emotion.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Tips for Managing Anxiety

Extreme anxiety is a miserable experience.

Extreme anxiety is a miserable experience.

Feeling anxious is horrible.  It is a sense of dread that is extremely unpleasant.  Some people get headaches, tight muscles or stomach aches along with it.  It’s that feeling before a big test, or a speech.  Some people feel this way all the time, even when they cannot pinpoint a reason, and consequently they live with emotional misery.  Does your teenager feeling this way?  Do you see them stress out over things that you wish they wouldn’t worry about?  If so, you know the heartbreak of watching your child feel completely wound up while you are helpless to comfort them.

 

Here are 5 tips to help with anxiety.  These will reduce anxiety, but not completely eliminate it.  By the way, completely eliminating anxiety should never be the goal.  Anxiety is a motivator.  Some of the adolescents who come into my therapy office have too much anxiety, but some have too little.  The ones who have too little are the kids whose parents cannot seem to find anything to motivate them.  These teens don’t care about grades, getting a job, getting into college, etc.  So, for those of you who have teens with too much anxiety, keep in mind that the goal is to restore them to an appropriate level, but not to completely fix it.

 

Try these ideas, and if they aren’t successful, it might be time to seek out professional help:

1. Be mindful.  This means becoming present in the moment.  Notice the things you see, hear, smell, taste and feel.  Pay attention to the small details.  Find something beautiful to focus on in your environment and enjoy it.  For me right now I can look outside my window and see a tree that has some new growth on it.  If I hadn’t been intentionally mindful, I wouldn’t have even noticed it.  Looking at the new growth on the tree took me out of my own concerns for a moment, thereby reducing anxiety.

2.  Talk to yourself about the truth.  Most of the things we worry about come out differently than we predict.  That’s because we think of the worst case and then focus on it.  The attention given to the worst case scenario makes it start to feel real.  The truth though, is that most things are relatively easy compared to how we predict they will go.  It is easy for a teen to assume they will fail a test.  However, chances are, if they’ve been paying attention in class and studying, they won’t fail; they might not get an A but they probably won’t get an F.

3.  Get some exercise.  Our brains release calming chemicals when we get a good work-out.  It’s hard to be stressed when your brain is releasing calming chemicals.  The time spent working out, and therefore away from the cause of the stress, is also very important.

4.  Get busy with a consuming task.  Anything that requires focused attention will take you out of your anxiety for awhile.  This could be reading a book, calling a friend, playing an instrument, etc.

5.  Recognize what you can control.  Think about what you can do about your situation, and then do it.  After that you have to understand that it is beyond your ability to control.  Let those parts go because they are going to happen however they happen.  Your teenager worrying about it does not change it at all.  For example, I worked with one girl who had trouble with insomnia.  It was an awful problem some nights, and then others it didn’t bother her at all.  She started coming to counseling because she began to spend the majority of her day anxious about whether or not she would sleep that night.  I asked her whether her worrying at 9 am had any impact on her falling asleep at 10 pm.  She said it didn’t.  While the technique of only thinking about what you can control didn’t completely solve her anxiety, it was one of the many techniques we employed to reduce it.

 

Anxiety is overwhelming and frustrating.  Show your anxious teenager empathy, and keep reminding them to be mindful, tell themselves the truth, get some exercise, find something consuming to do, and recognize what they can control.  You will probably have to say this to them several times, but it should be helpful.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Problems with Teen Drinking

Teen drinking comes with a host of potential problems. Credit: Apolonia/Freedigitalphotos.net

Teen drinking comes with a host of potential problems.
Credit: Apolonia/Freedigitalphotos.net

It’s something every parent fears.  Your child lies about where they’re going.  They end up at a party.  The next thing you know you’re getting a call from an emergency room that your child has binged on alcohol and is receiving treatment.

 

As a therapist for teenagers, I see a good deal of adolescents who have had problems related to alcohol.  I’m going to list the most common problems I see:

  1. Lying to parents.  It is rare that teenagers are forthcoming with their parents about their behavior with alcohol.
  2. Sexual assault.  I have worked with COUNTLESS numbers of teens who have been sexually assaulted.  While these clients are normally female, a handful have been males.  In 9/10 cases there was alcohol involved.  This is particularly true of the victim.
  3. Theft.  It is not that easy for an adolescent to get alcohol.  They usually have to steal it.  The most common way they steal the alcohol is from their own parents’ liquor cabinet or refrigerator.  However, it is often stolen from the store as well.
  4. Drunk driving.  I know you’ve had this talk with your teen multiple times.  You’ve talked to them about how incredibly dangerous this is, and that they can call you for a ride home.  Your teen has promised to never drink and drive, or to get in a car with someone who is drinking.  Unfortunately, in the party situation this isn’t what happens.  Teens ride home with someone who has had a drink or two, and they usually aren’t sure what their DD was doing during the party.  Many teens I work with think they are being a responsible DD if they “only smoke weed.”
  5. Other drugs.  Adolescents are more inclined to try other drugs when they are drunk.  They’re less inhibited.
  6. Hook-up.  This in not sexual assault.  It is consensual.  Teenagers are sexually active with friends and even people they don’t know when they’re under the influence of alcohol.  They might not be willing to do these things in another circumstance.
  7. Hang out with people they don’t know very well.  Teens will get into cars with people they’ve barely met.  This is kind of a problem with teenagers anyhow, but it is more common if they’ve been drinking.
  8. Underestimate the seriousness of a situation.  This is the one that scares me tremendously as a counselor.  I have heard numerous stories from teenagers in my counseling office that go something like this:  My friend Jenn was so wasted.  She wasn’t responding and she wasn’t throwing up.  I was a little tipsy but I took care of her.  It was fine.

    As a therapist these types of stories are incredibly alarming because I’m hearing about an adolescent who likely has alcohol poisoning and nobody has the awareness to get the teen to a hospital.  They certainly won’t call 9-1-1 because they’re so afraid of getting in trouble.

  9. Fear of getting in trouble.  This fear causes teens who have ended up in compromising positions not reach out to an adult for help when they should have.  They are so worried their parents, coaches, teachers, etc. will know they got drunk that they don’t tell anyone about an assault, dangerous binge drinking situation, or even the need for a ride home.
  10. Fighting.  Men’s testosterone levels are raised when they have alcohol.  They are much more likely to fight when drunk.

As a therapist who has heard most everything by this point, I encourage you to believe your teens, but to be suspect too.  Read between the lines.  A lot of times they’ll tell you most of the truth about alcohol.  However, they might omit details so you don’t become alarmed.  Keep them informed, and be a good example with alcohol yourself.  The above listed problems are not unique to adolescents.  They pay attention to you.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social anxiety can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social anxiety is a struggle for teens.  They are often worried about what their friends think, and get nervous about social interactions.  It causes stress and depressed moods.  Learning to negotiate middle school and high school social politics is difficult for the most confident of adolescents.  For the socially anxious teen, it’s nearly impossible.  This is the teenager who desperately wants friends and to be part of things, but is too scared to make it happen.

True social anxiety is something different than just feeling nervous in social situations.  This is when a person cannot bring themselves to talk readily in front of peers.  People who suffer from social anxiety often do not have many friends.  They fear saying the wrong thing each time they talk.  When they have had a conversation, it is replayed in their minds over and over to look for mistakes.  Other people’s reactions to conversation are misconstrued.  A person might laugh at something funny that was said, but someone with social anxiety will believe the laughter is directed at them.  Dating is impossible.  Often someone with social anxiety will speak inaudibly when they do talk.  Social situations with peers are terrifying.  Developmentally this is problematic.

Fortunately there is help for social anxiety.  Through the process of counseling someone suffering from social anxiety can learn to manage their nervous feelings.  As they have successful interactions with peers, they are able to gain a little bit of confidence. Slowly they learn that others are indeed interested in what they have to say.  The advent of social media has made overcoming social anxiety a bit easier.  It is a safer place to start than in direct conversation.  This allows the person suffering from social anxiety to think carefully before communicating with a peer.  When they get a response, it is a positively reinforcing experience.

If you think your teen is suffering from social anxiety, please get them help.  Future success in relationships and their career depends on their ability to function in social settings.  A lot of what is learned in middle and high school is how to navigate a social world.  In fact, this is one of the most important lessons taken from school.  It is something every person who joins the workplace needs.  Not everyone will remember details about The Revolutionary War, or The Pythagorean Theorem, but they do use communication skills the rest of their life.

 

One thing you can do at home to help a socially anxious teen is to have them start answering the phone whenever it rings.  A lot of us no longer have home phones, but you can still have your teen answer your phone.  Even those brief interactions increase confidence.  When you’re at the grocery store, send your socially anxious teen up to an employee to ask where something is.  Make them order for the family at a restaurant.  Gently, gently push your teen to do more talking.  When they get the small talk down with strangers, start the discussion about how to apply it to their peers.

 

Dealing with social anxiety is a huge challenge.  Be patient and love your teenager through what can feel like crushing fear.  Stay positive and remind them that you believe they can overcome their struggles.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

8 Tips for Parenting Teens in Divorced Families

Parenting after a divorce is a huge challenge. Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parenting after a divorce is a huge challenge.
Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parenting in a divorced families is really difficult.  Here are 8 tips to help alleviate the stress:

  1. You are responsible for your house.  It’s great if you and your ex-spouse can both agree on the same methods of parenting.  However, there’s a strong chance you don’t.  If you have a different parenting philosophy, don’t concern yourself with what happens at the other house.  Just take care of things at your house the best way you know how.
  2. Speak kindly about all the adults.  If your ex-spouse married the Wicked Witch of the West, it’s your job to model respect to her for your children.  You will make things infinitely easier on your kids if you do not speak poorly of any of the adults in their life.  Who your ex brings around the house isn’t your kids’ choice.  Help them make the best of their situation.
  3. Don’t feel guilty.  A lot of times the parent who has more money is made to feel guilty for not buying the extras.  Just stick to what was originally agreed upon.  No matter what your ex says about you to the kids, remind them there is an agreement in place and you are adhering to it.  Tell them it keeps things from being confusing.  Don’t worry about what your ex is saying.
  4. Don’t give up your time with your kids to keep the peace.  Even if your kids don’t want to see you, be very firm about spending all your allotted time with them.  Trust me, after years of doing counseling with teens, I promise you they feel rejected if you don’t pursue them.  They may reject you, but they still want you to want them.
  5. Don’t force them to love your new family.  Yes, they need to be polite and courteous to your new husband or wife.  However, they do not have to love that person.  Your teenager already has parents.  Don’t force your dream of one big, happy, blended family on your children.  They probably aren’t going to buy it.  In fact, they may resent you for this.
  6. Keep special time for just you and them.  Your child already got the time they see you cut in half.  When they do have time with you, make it count.  Be sure that sometimes it’s just you and them.
  7. Model good morals.  I know you’re now free to make your own choices.  This doesn’t mean your teenager is ready to see you making these choices.  When you were married (hopefully) they didn’t see you bring different people home to sleep with, get drunk, or stay out until 2 a.m.  They aren’t ready to see this now either.
  8. Remember this is hard for your kids.  Even if they tell you they’re “fine,” and the divorce is good “because it makes you happy,” it’s hard for them.  Just keep in mind that they didn’t ask for this.  Sometimes they need extra grace and empathy.

Family life isn’t perfect.  It can be challenging, joyful, heart-breaking, and fun all in the same day.  Be patient, kind, consistent, affectionate and loving.  Work at releasing your bitterness so your children don’t become bitter too.  Having teens in a divorce situation can be very difficult, but never quit trying.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Are You Sending Your Teen the Wrong Message?

Are you dependent on a drug or a drink? Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Are you dependent on a drug or a drink?
Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sadly this has come up today, so I feel I must address it.

 

If your teenager is struggling with substances, please examine your own behaviors.  It’s extremely difficult to admit if you might be drinking a little too much, or that you still smoke marijuana, or that you can’t manage your pain on your own so you have to have a narcotic painkiller every single day, or that you can’t fall asleep at night so you use a sleep aid, or that your anxiety overtakes you on a regular basis so you have a daily dose of Xanax or Klonopin.

 

Most of you who do one of these things will easily brush this blog post aside and said that it is prescribed, and that you have it under control.  If you drink too much you’ll say something like, “It’s my one vice,” or “I still function normally,” or, “I always have one glass of wine to wind down, but I wait until the day is done.”  If you don’t drink often, but when you do you always get a buzz or drunk you will find ways to justify that too.

 

Any of these habits are generally unhealthy.  Your teenager uses this kind of thing to justify their behavior.  Believe me, I hear it in my office all the time.  I will be working with a teen who keeps getting drunk on weekends, and I’ll ask their parents to keep a dry house (meaning absolutely no alcoholic beverages in the house).  Parents who have no need for alcohol immediately comply.  However, other parents will make excuses like, “I can’t have company over and not serve wine and beer.  That’s just not done.”  The teenager will tell me they know it’s fine to keep doing it because their parents do it.

 

Just because you have a “vice” or an occasional way to let loose, doesn’t mean I’m calling you an addict.  I’m simply asking you to be gut level honest with yourself if your teenager is acting out with drugs or alcohol.  If asked, would you be able to never smoke another joint?  If asked, would you be able to ask your doctor to wean you off your sleep aid or your Xanax?  Sometimes all it takes for your adolescent to quit abusing substances is to see you quit.  That helps them take it seriously.  Most times if you continue but ask your teenager to completely abstain, they will see you as a hypocrite and you will lose credibility.

 

Teens are at a stage where your actions count for a whole lot more than what you say.  It was easier when your kids were younger.  They pretty much took you at your word and didn’t question it.  Now they question everything and are watching your every move.  Also, if you think you are secretly having a beer a night or secretly smoking after they go to bed, 9 teens out of 10 know it.  They are not stupid, and they are far more astute than we think.

 

So, if this post applies to you, please don’t read this as condemnation.  Please read this as something very serious to consider.  You might make a huge difference in your child’s life, and after a few weeks you’ll probably feel better too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Your Teenager’s Friends

Some teens get along really well with their parents, especially if their parents accept their friends. Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

Some teens get along really well with their parents, especially if their parents accept their friends.
Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

It’s so important to connect with your teen’s friends.  If you want to know what is going on with your child, take some time to listen to their friends.  Their friends will talk if you aren’t judgmental.  If you just hang around, and especially if you feed them, they will talk with you.  Most teens are dying for an adult to listen to them and approve of what they’re doing well.

 

It will be tempting to feel responsible for your teenager’s friends.  However, you aren’t.  They have their own parents who are responsible to help them make all the right choices.  You can guide them and advise them, but know your role.  Being friends with them doesn’t mean you have to be their parent.

 

This does wonders for your relationship with your own child.  If your teenage son or daughter sees you making an effort with the people they consider extremely important in their own life (i.e. their friends), your child will feel accepted by you.

 

I have been doing therapy with teens for almost a decade now.  I have noticed very consistently the parents who are welcoming and open with their teenager’s friends have strong relationships with their teens.  These parents also help their children learn from friends’ mistakes.  These parents tend to know when their child’s friends do something they shouldn’t.  They are able to guide their own teen without condemning the friends.

 

Here’s an example of why you don’t want to close off your teen’s friends.  One boy I once worked with had friends who smoked marijuana sometimes.  His mom was adamantly against this.  She was very critical of the friends who used it.  What happened as a result?  The boy lied to his mom about their activities, and sometimes lied about who he was with.  Eventually he ended up trying it too.  In the long run he became a very consistent user.  He started therapy at that point.  Through a combination of methods used to help people quit an addiction, and working with his mom to accept the friends while not condoning some of their choices, two things changed.  First of all her son quit smoking.  Secondly, he started to tell her the truth again.  He was allowed to have his friends over and she just sat and talked with them.  They came to like her and began to hang around his house a lot.  She maintained rules for her house and all her son’s friends respected those rules.  She made sure they could always eat as much as they wanted, which guaranteed they’d spend more time there.  Once her son’s friends were welcomed in her home, her son wanted to be home more.  When he was home he was never in trouble.  A relationship with her son’s friends was the key to a relationship with her son.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

10 Tips to Stop Enabling Your Addicted Teenager

codependence, therapy, therapist, addict, addiction, adolescent, teen, teenager, Lauren Goodman

Enabling behavior makes it easier for your addicted teen to get ahold of drugs or alcohol.

“Enablers are some of the nicest people on the planet.” -Dave Ramsey

 

Dave Ramsey is right.  Enablers are some of the nicest people on the planet.  In general enablers mean well.  They are trying so hard to help someone break a bad habit.  Unfortunately their methods of trying to help do not help.  Worse yet, they hinder.

 

An enabler (also called codependent) is someone who accidentally supports a bad habit.  An example of enabling behavior would be if your thirty year old child still lives at home and you don’t charge them rent.  While there are situations where this is helpful to them, in most cases you are hurting your child.  Generally it is better if you force your child to leave and rent their own place.  Though this will cost them more money, they will have the dignity of having their own space.  This also causes them to be more responsible with their money in general because there is nobody to bail them out if their bills aren’t paid.  They also will work harder at their job, or go find one if they haven’t been working.

 

How does enabling apply to drug addiction?  One parent recently told me they will continue allowing their drug abusing teenager access to a joint bank account because otherwise, “he might get the money for drugs doing bad things.”

 

I said to the dad, “Or, he might have no money with which to buy drugs and then will stop buying them.”

 

Enablers take responsibility for their addicts woes even though the addict is more likely to quit using if they would just feel the pain of their choices.  That cliche that an addict has to hit bottom before they will quit is based on truth.  Don’t prolong when your teenage addict hits bottom.

 

So, here are 10 tips to stop enabling:

1.  Do not give them any money for anything at all.  This includes money for gas in their car, money for food, etc.

2. Always call the police if you find drugs in your house, irregardless of the trouble they will be in.  They are better off in trouble than deeply addicted to drugs, or dead.

3. Do not bail your drug abusing teen out of jail or trouble at school.  If they know mom or dad will save them, then they won’t hesitate to continue misbehaving.

4. Stop paying for any extras, such as a cell phone.  They use the cell phone to coordinate drug transactions.  You don’t want to be helping them obtain drugs.

5. Do not allow them in your home if they are high.  Sometimes you can’t tell.  However, when you suspect it, you are probably right.

6.  If you’ve said there will be consequences for a failed drug test, enforce them unemotionally and consistently.

7. Do not pay for a lawyer if they are arrested.

8.  Do not allow them privacy in their own bedroom.  The door needs to stay open and you can search the room at your will.  Afterall, it is a room in YOUR home.  As a rule, addicts are not trustworthy while they are using.

9.  Do not allow their friends over who use drugs.

10. Do not make excuses for your child’s behavior such as calling into their work for them, or calling them out of school.  You might think, ‘If I don’t call them off school, then they won’t graduate.’  A high school diploma is worthless if someone is abusing drugs.  Sobriety and consequences are substantially more important.  A GED can always be obtained later.

 

Remember you’re not helping your kid if you make it so your teen doesn’t experience the consequences of their actions.  Also, it is better to get into trouble as a minor than an adult.  There is more grace for minors.  I know it is breaking your heart and I completely understand that.  I want nothing more than for you to learn how you can most quickly help your teen get healthy, and often that means you need to stop saving them when they aren’t helping themselves.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why Do Teens Act Out?

 

Adolescents don't always know how to express themselves well, so they might act out. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Adolescents don’t always know how to express themselves well, so they might act out.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens act out because they are upset about something, and don’t have the maturity to express their feelings.  A lot of times they aren’t really even aware of their feelings.  Something has disturbed their equilibrium and it has caused them to reach for comfort in unhealthy ways.

 

When I was seventeen I acted out.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was upset because my parents were moving to a new city as I was leaving for college.  I had told them it didn’t matter since I wouldn’t be living with them anymore.  I really believed this.  I figured I could just come back to my hometown and stay with another friend.  Meanwhile I was very, very disrespectful to my parents.  I thought they were unreasonable people and were too strict.  I would have told you then that my behavior was because of my curfew, chores expected of me, etc.  I can tell you now with absolute certainty I was acting out because of the ensuing changes.

 

If your teenager is acting out, try to think about what has changed.  To begin with, let’s clarify what it means to “act out.”  Acting out is when your normally docile, respectful adolescent suddenly has some delinquent behaviors.  It seems out of left field and it seems to have happened very suddenly.  If your teen slowly starts smoking marijuana and over the course of a few months it escalates to every day, this isn’t acting out; this is a budding addiction.  Acting out is if your teenager never smokes pot and suddenly smokes it every day for a week.  In either case, therapy is warranted.  However, the causes and treatment plans for both situations are very different.

 

For the acting out teen, what are they reacting to?  Did a boyfriend or girlfriend just break up with them?  Did you just tell them you’re getting a divorce?  Did you tell them money is tight when it never has been before?  Is grandma coming to live with you?  What change is going on for them?  While it might not seem like anything big to you, it might seem like a huge adjustment for your teenager.

 

How is therapy done with a teen who is acting out?  The first step is to immediately stop your teenager from continuing unsafe behavior.  Once your teen is safe, then the emotional work begins.  It is important for your adolescent use the counseling process to recognize their behavior is a reaction to something.  We then work together to help your teen adjust appropriately to what is different in his or her life.  For the most part the acting out stops as your adolescent becomes more comfortable with the changes.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Your Teen Won’t Socialize

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Some teens socially isolate because they feel so awkward they just want to hide. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If your teenager basically refuses to socialize with their peers, it’s really important to find out why.  Some teens want to, but are terrified of making a social blunder.  Other teenagers are struggling with self-consciousness.  Still others have depression, and have no motivation to see friends.  A fourth group is so entrenched in online activities they don’t seem to care about being social.  There are a host of reasons why your teenager might not be interacting with peers, and the aforementioned are just a few.

 

A great majority of the time I find adolescents actually do want relationships with friends, but don’t necessarily know how to obtain them.  Sometimes they are so incredibly socially phobic (afraid of making a social mistake) that it is almost impossible to maintain friendships.  They fear they will sound dumb.  As a result their minds blank out when they have to have a face to face conversation.  It leaves them looking, and feeling stupid.  Around people they are comfortable with, your teenager might be the most talkative person in the room.  Get them around other adolescents, and they move to the outside and can barely speak audibly.

 

Others who feel a strong sense of self-consciousness worry constantly that others are judging them.  They talk to their friends at school, but simultaneously wonder if that friend is thinking something negative about them.  A lot of the time the negative things your teen is concerned with aren’t even noticeable.  Your teenager might be afraid everyone they talk to thinks they are fat, or is staring at their acne.  In either case, I almost certainly guarantee you the other person isn’t thinking anything about your child; instead they are worried others are judging them.  Adolescence is such a difficult age because the level of self-consciousness most teens feel is barely tolerable.

 

The third group is the adolescent who can’t seem to muster any interest in friends.  They know they would feel better if they’d call their friends, but just can’t get enough energy to do it.  Depression is a very real phenomenon, and it can be debilitating.  If you’ve never experienced it yourself, it’s really hard to understand what your child is going through.  The antidotes to depressed moods are selflessness, activity and sometimes medication, but when your teenager is emotionally down, it’s very tough to do any of those things.

 

Your teen may not be socializing because they have become too entrenched in an online world.  Unfortunately I see this pretty frequently.  Your teenager has become addicted to technology, and very likely, role playing games.  This is incredibly difficult to change unless you become a really strict parent.  Your teen is comfortable living in this alternate reality, and doesn’t feel inclined to do anything about it.  Once their addiction has ended, they are always glad to be interacting with real people, but until then they will probably fight you tooth and nail.  While this might keep your adolescent out of trouble, it’s a great hindrance to their emotional development.

 

All four of these groups of teens will probably benefit from counseling.  While their problems vary quite a bit, the consequence of not socializing can be damaging.  It can also perpetuate their struggle.  Many times once a non-social teen starts to spend time with a friend or two, their emotional load begins to lighten and they become happier.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT