When She Just Can’t Break Up With Him (Or He Can’t Break Up With Her)

Ending a toxic dating relationship might take more courage than she thinks she has.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

What does a toxic teenage dating relationship look like?  The simple answer is when a couple should break up but for whatever reason they can’t.

 

This post uses pronouns that assume teen girls have more trouble breaking off relationships than teen boys do.  This isn’t really true.  Teen boys have a hard time with it sometimes too.  Feel free to imagine your son when reading this if that’s relevant to your situation.

 

What are you supposed to do when your normally sensible daughter is so wrapped up in an insensible relationship that she can’t extricate herself?

  1. Put a stone in her shoe:  I don’t mean literally.  Work hard at creating cognitive dissonance.  This is when someone points out something to you that makes you uneasy with your current situation.  While they don’t outright tell you what to do, the thing they tell you causes mental conflict.  Here’s an example of what I mean: I dated a guy for my senior year in college, the next year, and my first year of graduate school.  My parents consistently told me he was skiddish about marriage.  When I asked how they knew this they would tell me it is because he would never talk about our future as a “we.”  This quietly ate at me until it became a big enough problem that it was driving me crazy.  Eventually it’s the thing that did us in.  My parents never said, “You need to end it with this loser!  What are you thinking?”  They just put a VERY UNCOMFORTABLE stone in my shoe.
  2. Set appropriate limits:  If your daughter has a boyfriend who is truly detrimental to her health in some way, don’t support the relationship.  Parents rarely have enough control over a teen that they can expressly forbid their son or daughter to date someone.  When try to forbid a couple from seeing each other, teenagers end up lying and sneaking around.  Now there’s even more behavior to be upset with, and it causes you to lose influence because your teen stops listening to you.  What you can do though is refuse to support the relationship even though you don’t wholly outlaw it.  If you replace the word “relationship” with “drugs,” you’ll know what to do.  You wouldn’t allow your teenager to do drugs in your house.  You wouldn’t give your teen money to buy drugs.  You wouldn’t drop your teenager off somewhere to use drugs.  Now put the word “relationship” back in those sentences.  Don’t allow him in your house.  Don’t give your daughter money to go out with him on dates.  Don’t drop her off to see him.  In simple terms, don’t enable.
  3. Control your opinion-sharing:  “Stick with the facts, m’am.”  Just call things as you see them.  Don’t then go on to explain why what you see means your daughter’s boyfriend is Satan’s spawn.  She is more likely to listen to you and confide in you if you only say what you observe or hear.  It’s okay to tell her, “Samantha’s mom told me she saw your boyfriend kissing Jennifer after the football game.”  It’s not okay to then go on and on about what a rotten cheater he is.  The reason I say this is that your daughter is responsible for herself, and you’re only responsible for her.  The focus needs to be on her.  If Samantha’s mom really did see your daughter’s boyfriend kissing Jennifer after the football game and your daughter still wants to go out with him, have a gentle conversation with your daughter about why she’s struggling with self-respect.  There are all kids of people out there who aren’t right for her.  Your job as a parent is to help her have enough courage to pass on them.

I know this is hard.  It’s really frustrating to see your child in a toxic relationship.  Whether you’re a teen reading this, or you’re mom or dad, make sure you keep talking.  Run your feelings by someone who will be very honest with you, and then start taking the steps to make a positive change.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens and Vaping

Sadly teens do seem to be vaping on an ever increasing basis.  From my observations based on working with teens in my therapy office, it appears more are getting hooked on nicotine and marijuana.

 

Are those commercials about teens vaping just being dramatic?

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Intentionally Raising Our Kids

Proverbs 29:18a (KJV) says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  In context this means God’s people need to know what they’re aim is and what plan God has for them.  Once they understand this, they’re more likely to follow the laws of God.

 

How do we apply this concept to parenting?  You must know your aim with your children.  It is easy to sit back and let them develop into whatever they become.  In fact, the current cultural standard is not to interfere whatsoever with your child’s development.  You’re told your job is to encourage them to become whatever their natural tendencies are.

 

However, if you do this, in metaphorical (and sometimes literal) ways, your child will perish.  Children (including teenagers) need guidance and discipline.  You as dad and mom have to know where you’re guiding them.  Zig Ziglar always liked to say, “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.”

 

Here is a quick video on how to be intentional when raising your teenager.  This will help you reset your compass if you find you’re off course.

 

Have a vision for your child’s character.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Research on Depression and Anxiety in Teens Related to Social Media Use

There is a correlation between a teen’s social media use and lower moods.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/nenetus

An article was just published in The Economist summarizing a very large scale study correlating teen social media use with “malaise,” depressed moods and hopelessness.  The study was conducted on about 500,000 American teens.  It showed a strong relationship between teens who regularly view social media and those who feel low about life.  This was not true for those who use social media to engage with friends, such as using it to text.  This was the most true for those who use it to passively browse others’ posts.

 

There is an inevitable comparing of lives that happens when looking at what other people post.  What your teen doesn’t see is all the moments that a person doesn’t put on social media.  There is no picture posted of your teen’s friend looking bored in math class.  There is no picture posted of blurred eye make-up after sobbing because of a break-up.  There is no post unveiling discord in the home.  There is no post detailing the misery other teens feel when they have shameful secrets like addiction to pornography.  Social media is a very, very brief snapshot of a moment in time that is doctored by premeditated attempts to make that moment sound or appear a certain way.  What I mean by this is that before you take a picture, you smile.  Were you actually in a smiley mood?  Who knows?  Before you click “post” you thought out the words you wanted to share with the world.  What happened to all the other simultaneous thoughts you filtered out and didn’t write?  These can range from the innocuous, ‘I feel a little hungry,’ to the embarrassing to the downright shameful.  Those are rarely posted.

 

So what happens to your teen?  After hours of counseling teens, my theory is your son or daughter is left wondering at all the ways he or she is inadequate.  Your son or daughter is also spending hours reading things that are counter to the values you have taught since the day your child was born.  Your child is consistently hit with a message that if his values aren’t changed to reflect what modern relativistic culture calls for, he is a racist, misogynist, anti-progressive, homophobic, xenophobic horror of a human being.  It is highly conflicting for an adolescent mind.  Your adolescent hasn’t yet developed the reasoning power to adequately research paradigms and come to her own conclusions.  She is still extremely impressionable.  She easily absorbs the unconscious psychological message that she needs to conform to the non-conformists if she is to be anything less than a complete wretch.

 

On the other hand, teens who spend face to face time with their friends and family appear to be happier.  These same teens who work a job, play sports, and engage in “real life” are often filled with a lot more hope.  This doesn’t mean every day is a happy day.  However, it does mean you as a parent have a responsibility to strongly consider what technology does and doesn’t do for your burgeoning adult.  It means you have to know the science behind what is happening to this generation, and teach your child to balance virtual life with real life.

 

Click here if you wish to read the original article from The Economist.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Treatment Models for Adolescent Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are one of the most difficult psychiatric disorders to treat.  While the success rates are modest, there are treatment options.  Here is a short run-down of some of the treatment plans for adolescents with an eating disorder.

 

Eating disorders part 3 of 3

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m not working much this week, so I’ll keep this post short.

 

Have a lovely holiday with your family and we’ll catch up next week.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to get along better with a teenager

how to get along with a teenager, adolescent, family, back talking, talking back, sass

Getting along better with teenagers
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week in my counseling office, a parent asked me, “How do I get along better with my kid?”  I thought this would be a good topic for the blog.

 

Of course there are a myriad of reasons why adolescents and parents argue.  I’ve heard the gamut of explanations ranging from hormones to how awful the teen’s friends are. A teen often suggests is that it is the parents.  Truthfully, there are always a number of factors contributing to disruption in the parent-child relationship so I don’t want you to read this and feel blamed if you are mom or dad.  Disclaimer aside, how might you be contributing to the problem?

 

Parents, might you be overly critical?  You give your child a compliment, but follow it with a criticism.  For example, “Kaylee, you look nice today, even if that skirt is a little short.”  How often are you doing this to your child?  Maybe you’re not saying it, but it’s in your actions.  For example, “John, thank you for cleaning up the kitchen so well.  You did a great job,” as you’re quickly giving the counter a wipe to get the excess crumbs.

 

Sometimes, we get so focused on helping our kids fix what isn’t going right that we forget to tell them the things they do well.  For example, your son brings home a report card with all As and Bs, but there is one C.  You feel very upset about the C because you know he could’ve earned at least a B in that class.  Your teenager senses your disappointment and then takes a defensive attitude.  Really though, he did well in 5 other classes and that needs to count for something.

 

So, if you’ve identified the ways you are too critical, what do you do now?  How can you give your child loving correction without accidentally demeaning them?  Just ask yourself how you’d want to receive correction if you were your child.  How would you best learn what is being taught?  Don’t forget that you are teaching your teenager how to function as an adult, and the individual situation is often less important than the overall big picture.  If you are the dad who is always criticizing the way your kid plays sports, remember the point of sports is to learn how to focus, give your best, keep a good attitude on the field, and respect authority.  The point is not to create the next Kobe Bryant; athletes of that caliber have a passion all their own and their parents did not have to force it.

 

Start serving your child more.  This is likely a shock because those of us with children know we are serving our child all day long.  We are driving carpool, writing a check for a yearbook, helping to fundraise for the softball team, etc.  When I say to serve your child, I am meaning in a more intimate and loving way.  One example I can think of comes from a former 15 year old client.  One time in session she told me how much she respects and listens to her mom’s opinion.  Since this is unusual for a 15 year old, I asked her what her mom does that makes her want to listen.  My client told me that her mom is always being thoughtful.  She said after track practice her mom picks her up with a plate of chilled salad sitting on the front seat because she knows my client will be both hot and hungry.  She knows my client cares about healthy eating and that this kind of snack will help my client avoid eating junk before dinner.  This mother is truly serving and considering her daughter.  As a result, her daughter feels more inclined to respect her mom’s opinions and beliefs.

 

So, this week, maybe try two things if you want to get along better with your teenager.  Firstly, pay attention to your critical comments.  Find a kinder, more empathetic way to say them.  Secondly, look for opportunities to serve that are a little above and beyond.  It might not work the first time you do it, but if you stick with it for a little while you will hopefully see some changes.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman

Eating Disorders Part 2

Bulimia, Anorexia, and Binge Eating Disorders are very difficult to treat.  They require a whole family effort in the case of adolescents.  From mom and dad right down to every sibling in the house, there’s a part each person can play to help everyone get better.

 

Here is a little bit of information about what Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder are.

Eating disorders part 2 of 3

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Eating Disorders Are Stressful Around The Holidays

Teens who struggle with eating disorders always find the prospect of eating to be overwhelming.  For someone with an eating disorder, every meal means a lot to think about.  There is no “just eating” without worrying.  The Holidays are particularly difficult because they include all kinds of added stressors.

Eating disorders part 1 of 3

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Daddy-Daughter Dates/ Mommy-Son Dates

Spending good quality time with your daughter or son can be fun! Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Spending good quality time with your daughter or son can be fun!
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My blog usually discusses topics that are difficult. Normally I’m writing to you about things that might be going wrong between you and your teenagers such as arguing, lying, cutting, suicidal thoughts, etc. We’re always talking about the darker parts of raising teens.

While the challenges you face are extremely important to consider, sometimes it’s nice to think about how to keep things on the good track too.

Today we’re going to discuss one of the tools I’ve seen be most effective in healing relationships between teenagers and their parents: the daddy-daughter or mommy-son date.

You’re well aware of how important it is to spend quality time with your children. You even know already that to spend alone time with each child has huge benefits to your adolescent’s development. What you might not have known is that this special time together can be something that teaches your teenager multiple lessons in a loving, indirect manner.

First let’s address the daddy-daughter date. Dads, when you take your daughter out, make it special. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but be thoughtful. Take her to do something she wants to do. If you know there’s a certain movie she’d like to see, or a certain place she loves to hike, take her there. It’s nice to show her things you’re interested in, but this is about you teaching her to feel confident in her preferences. When you leave the house, tell her she looks pretty, and open the car door for her. She will learn how men should treat her from how you treat her. She will learn her self-value from how you prioritize these dates in your life. If you tell her you’ll take her the first Friday of each month, it’s extremely important to follow-through.

For moms: Your date goes a little bit differently. This is your chance to teach your sons how to respect women, and how to treat them kindly. I worked with a mom who would give her son $20 or $30 and then tell him to plan a date for them. She was able to teach him something about budgeting, planning, and being thoughtful as well as teach him all the rules of chivalry.

For both mom and dad: When you take your kids on a date, keep the conversation positive. This is not the time to talk to them about how disappointed you are in their chemistry grade. They should look forward to these times with you. If you treat them the same as every other day, they may dread this instead of look forward to it. This needs to be a time of safe, critical-free conversation.

Spend some time with your teenager and have fun! Teenagers are really humorous, but they can also talk on a deep level. They still need you and crave relationship with you.

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

Is My Teen’s Anxiety Bad Enough To Warrant Therapy

At what point do you call a counselor?  Therapy can be expensive and time consuming, so how do you know if you need it?

 

This short video addresses that question for teens who have anxiety.  Being occasionally nervous is totally normal.  There is no need for therapy in that situation.  Being consistently nervous, even when the situation shouldn’t cause anxiety, is problematic.

 

Check out this 60 second video and see if it helps answer your question:

Does my teen’s anxiety warrant therapy?

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Helping teen grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Cutting In Teenagers

Self-injury is a very loud cry for help. Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

Self-injury is a very loud cry for help.
Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

Janelle sat on her bed.  She was crying because her best friend told some girls that she thought Janelle was annoying.  She also told the girls she thinks Janelle is “all drama all the time.”

 

At first Janelle was in shock.  She couldn’t believe Sara would say those things about her.  Hadn’t she been there for Sara all last year when Sara was fighting with her mom?  Then Janelle turned inward.  Negative thoughts started running through Janelle’s head.  She began to think, ‘Nobody likes me,’ and ‘All my friends are fake.’  She also started thinking things like, ‘My own parents don’t even care that I’m hurting.’  With these negative thoughts came an even deeper surge of anxiety and hopelessness.  Janelle turned to the only coping skill she knew could make her feel numb.  She went into her desk drawer and took out a razor blade she had set aside specifically for this purpose.  She began to cut shallow lines across her left forearm until a little bit of blood showed.

 

I know this is awful to read.  I know it’s even worse if you are concerned your teenager is cutting.  While this story is made up, it’s based off the many, many teenagers I’ve sat across from in therapy who self-harm to cope with emotional pain.

 

Generally parents find self-injury really difficult to understand.  It’s hard to imagine how inducing physical pain can relieve emotional pain.

 

There are usually two reasons teenagers cut themselves.  The first is a cry for attention.  These teenagers are hurting inside, don’t know how to effectively express it, and so try cutting themselves for someone else to notice.  If they cut on their arm they might continue to wear short sleeves.  They wait and see how long it takes Mom or Dad to make a comment.  This is to be taken seriously and requires help from a professional counselor and/or a psychiatrist because it means the teenager isn’t able to communicate their emotions in a healthy and productive manner.

 

The second reason an adolescent might self-harm is to control their pain.  If they are a teenager who becomes flooded with emotional distress, then their pain feels unmanageable.  At least if they are cutting they control when they hurt, how deeply, where, how long, how much blood, whether or not the pain shows, and how much the wound scars.  These are teenagers who feels as though emotional pain happens to them at random and no matter what they try to do, they are helpless to stop it.  These teens are desperate to have control over something.  This second group doesn’t usually want their wounds to be noticed.  They do not want to be stopped from cutting because it’s their primary method of coping and they don’t trust anyone to love them through their hurt.  They will often cut in locations on their body that are difficult to see such as hips, stomach, inner thigh, or arms if they always wear sleeves.  In these situations professional help is a must.

 

If you have worried that your teenager is self-harming, please get them help right away.  This is a cry for help that is loud and clear.  It is also quite possibly beyond your ability to stop your child from this behavior without some guidance.  It is very dangerous to just hope your teenager stops this behavior.  I worked with one teenager who accidentally cut his wrist too deeply and he nearly severed an artery in his wrist, which could have killed him.  He wasn’t trying to commit suicide, but he almost did so by mistake.  Another problem with leaving the teenager to resolve this on their own is the risk of infection.  If they don’t treat the wounds properly and/or use unsanitary objects to self-harm it could cause them to become ill.  Finally, it is important to address self-injurious behavior because your child is in deep emotional pain and they are navigating it in an unhealthy manner.  They need your love and support, but not your tolerance of their self-harm.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to Deal with Teen Depression

When adolescents are depressed they exhibit symptoms of disinterest, irritability and sadness.  Here are two antidotes to depression in teenagers.

 

The two antidotes to depression: hope and gratitude.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Driving

When you're teen starts driving make sure there are clear rules. Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you’re teen starts driving make sure there are clear rules.
Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How did it happen so fast?  How is your teenager already getting their learner’s permit, or ready to get their driver’s license.  This is a scary, exciting time for parents.  For your teen it’s a rite of passage.

 

As parents we worry about all the usual things: Is my teenager going to get into an accident?  Do I need to be concerned that they will drive after drinking?  Is my teenager going to get a ticket?  What happens to my insurance when they start driving?  What if they drive all their friends when they’re supposed to wait a year?

 

As a counselor who works with teenagers, I have seen parents handle driving in many different ways.  The most common way I’ve seen parents handle teen drivers is to buy them a car without restrictions and then let them drive.  The teenager may or may not be responsible for gas and insurance.  There is really no discussion about responsibility and expectations.  I don’t think this is a good way to go about something as important as driving a car, but it’s what the majority of parents do.

 

I’ve seen other parents lay out the ground rules ahead of time.  There is a lot of discussion, with the teenager’s input, into how driving will be handled in the family.  Some teens are told a few years in advance that they are responsible to pay for a portion of their car.  They are encouraged to start working and saving.  These teens tend to get less tickets, keep their car cleaner, and care more about the responsibility of driving in general because they put in a lot of hours at low pay to earn the right to drive.  Other teens are told they can use the “third family car” as long as it is kept clean, grades stay up, they pay for gas and don’t get tickets or accidents.  A third thing I’ve heard of, but never known parents to do, is require the teenager to put down a “deposit” with mom and dad for the amount of the insurance deductible in case of an accident.  They get the money back when they are off mom and dad’s insurance plan.  I actually really like this one, and am thinking of using it with my daughter when she starts driving.

 

The main point is that driving is a HUGE change in your teenager’s life.  They gain a lot of independence and autonomy.  It’s absolutely wonderful for the adolescents who are ready for it.  It can be tragic for those who don’t respect that driving comes with a lot of responsibility and is potentially dangerous.  Knowing your child as you do, think very carefully about how you want to deal with driving.  Every teenager, and I mean EVERY teenager, has areas where they need some personal growth.  Driving is an opportunity to encourage that growth.  If your child is irresponsible with money you can use driving to teach them budgeting and wise spending.  If your child is reckless with his or her belongings, you can use the car to teach them to take care of their things.

 

Driving is a wonderful opportunity for parenting.  It’s a chance for your teenager to show you how responsible they’ve become.  It’s nice for your teen to have independence, and it’s nice for you not to be driving all over the place.  When handled with care, your teenager starting to drive can be great for the whole family.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Treasure Your Teens

We’ve all been told to treasure the moment we’re in because it will be gone in a flash.  Have you noticed how true this is with your teenager?  Here’s a gentle reminder to be less frustrated by what’s happening right now, and more inclined to enjoy the moments you have with your teen.  You and I can both attest to how quickly our children have grown up.  Once you have a teenager in the house, time is really running short.  Don’t waste it being mad at them.

Treasure your teen

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Review of a Book About Bipolar and Mental Illness

Mental illness looks like you and me.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

I just finished reading Resilience, by Jessie Close.  She is completely raw in her description of a lifelong battle with severe Bipolar Disorder.  As she takes you on her journey through years of unchecked, undiagnosed mayhem caused by her mental illness and alcoholism, you will cringe and cry.

 

The fact is though, mental illness without help is like a prison sentence.  It condemns its sufferer to broken relationships, broken dreams, continuous disruption, and continuous discomfort.  I still feel I’m phrasing it lightly.

 

She has many objectives in writing the story of her life.  Aside from the likely cathartic effects of viewing her life through a medicated, stable lens, she has things she wants from us as the readers.  She wants us to understand that the stigma associated with mental illness is excruciating.  She wants us to know she is not a leper.  She wants us to know she still needs compassion, love and friendship.  It’s our cultural norm to ignore and avoid “odd” people.  She wants us to realize someone with a mental illness is still a someone.  She wants us to know that that someone has a family, a history, hopes and trials just as you and I do.

 

During my interning years I worked at College Hospital in Costa Mesa.  It is a locked psychiatric facility.  During the first months I was afraid.  I didn’t understand how to interact with people who were not responding to normal social cues.  I didn’t know how to anticipate the next move of someone suffering from psychosis.  Eventually though I came to love that job.  The staff had a sincere affection for the patients that was contagious.  Once I settled down, I realized these are people who are scared and overwhelmed.  All they need is someone who can sit with them and treat them like they’re human.

 

The irony was never lost on me that the staff inside a locked mental hospital were more capable of treating the mentally ill like humans than was the outside world.  I suppose it’s just like Jessie Close writes in her book where she tells us how exposure and time spent with the mentally ill breaks down our incorrect suppositions.  Like any misguided prejudice we have (and like it or not, we all have some), they are stripped away when we spend time with the people we incorrectly judge.

 

In the outpatient counseling practice I now run, we have found we are often the first stopping point for a teenager trying to understand what is going on with him or her.  There have been countless cases where a parent has called because his son or daughter is acting differently, engaging in risky behaviors, or “just doesn’t feel right.”  It can be an enormous challenge to pinpoint a diagnosis quickly because as Jessie Close explains, mental illness is “like a stew.”  This means many symptoms and disorders overlap.

 

Recognizing an underlying mental illness for misguided behavior and thoughts is one of the most important things towards healing.  You almost always need a professional to help with this process.  Even for the professional it can be difficult since there are no clear medical tests to diagnose.

 

If you suspect your teen might be facing a burgeoning mental illness, don’t wait to seek help.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help! My Teen Talks Back Too Much!

If you engage the argument with your teen, you're just going to get more of it. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you engage the argument with your teen, you’re just going to get more of it.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your teenager has a smart mouth, and you’re a little sick of it.  You don’t know how much more you can take if they keep talking back to you when you ask them to do something.  It’s plain rude and it’s really frustrating.  You don’t understand why you are the recipient of the nasty tone when you see them be perfectly nice and respectful to other adults.  What do you do?

 

One really important step to take is to check yourself.  Are you rude to them?  Do you get defensive easily?  Do you engage their arguing and get just as nasty?  Those things won’t help.  However, I know how incredibly hard it is not to get baited into an argument.  It’s almost impossible actually.

 

That is the next step though; do not get baited into the discussion.  At first just fail to respond when your teen has a rude tone with you.  They will probably comment on this.  You might make eye contact and then just walk away.  If you think you can say it evenly and calmly, you can gently tell them they are not speaking in a very nice tone and then walk away.  The main point is that you don’t want to escalate the situation.  Keep in mind once your teen gets into talking back mode, they’re not listening anyhow so getting louder won’t really make the point you’re trying to make.

 

Gently and quietly administer a consequence for their being rude to you.  This has to be done in such a way that they realize if they continue things will just get worse for them.  One time as a teenager I flipped my mom off in a conversation.  She very calmly told my my friends could no longer spend the night that night (it was a Friday), but instead had to leave by 9pm.  I protested loudly and rudely.  She told me that because I was continuing to be disrespectful they could now only come over until 7pm.  I tried one more time and she just said, “6:00.”  That was it.  I got quiet.  I tried to apologize a little later and she said she accepted my apology, but the friends still had to leave at 6.  She said she looked forward to Saturday night when I’d have the opportunity to try again.  She really only had to do things like this a few times before I knew I shouldn’t speak to her disrespectfully or I would lose things that mattered to me, quickly.

 

On the other hand, my dad was always willing to negotiate with my sister and me.  As a result, he got a lot more sass than my mom every did.  He would sometimes give into our whining and begging, which actually rewarded our bad behavior.  He would sometimes get worn out if we argued with him and then give in.  We knew this and so we pushed.  We talked back to him a lot.  My mom used to tell him not to negotiate, but I don’t think he knew how to just be calm, yet firm.

 

If you can quietly stand your ground, not engage when your teen is rude, set a limit and maybe continue to restrict if they carry on, you will probably make some headway on the talking back.  I know these techniques are easier said than done, but you can do it!  It will make your relationship with your teenager a lot more enjoyable.

 

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

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic Disorder are all in the Bipolar Family.  Bipolar I is the most severe form of the illness.  Bipolar II is similar, with less intense periods of mania.  Cyclothymia is like Bipolar II, with less intense periods of mania and depression.

 

The presence of a manic episode denotes Bipolar Disorder.  This is when there is a greatly reduced need for sleep, the brain is overfiring on all cylinders, and the body is exploding with energy.  In these times very reckless behavior is often seen.  Also, this is typically when it is believed someone with Bipolar Disorder is at a high risk for committing suicide.

 

Depression fills the gaps between manic episodes.  Sometimes this depression is so deep that a person cannot garner the energy to shower, or even get out of bed.

 

Bipolar is a serious mental illness.  Here are a few thoughts on what it is, and what it isn’t.

 

What is bipolar disorder?

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Motivating a Teen

Motivation is an extremely tricky thing.  We often can get people to do something using threats, but in the long-run that fosters resentment.  As parents we have the daunting task of motivating our children without making them timid, apathetic, or so frustrated they want to give up.

 

Here is a quick thought on using positivity to motivate:

 

Using positivity to motivate your teen.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Gives A Teen Boy Good Self-Esteem?

Hard work gives self-worth to adolescent boys.
Photo Credit: Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

What gives a boy good self-esteem?  The answer is simple.  It’s work. W-O-R-K.  Those four little letters strung together add up to big benefits for teen boys.

 

For the first eight years I practiced therapy, I believed all the books I’d read.  I thought teen boys needed a great home life.  I thought they needed to believe they were good enough on the inside and the outside.  I believed they had to be accepted by their peers.  While these things are certainly helpful, where does it leave the boys who don’t have this?

 

Two years ago I had an eighteen year old boy come in for therapy.  This kid had it all in terms of what we think should create high self-esteem in an adolescent.  He was a good-looking, popular kid.  He had a great family, was talented at sports, and really did believe he was good enough to win anyone’s approval.  Why was he unhappy then?  It was absolutely baffling to me.  We worked and worked.  Finally I told this kid he wouldn’t have a good self-esteem, or feel happier until he started taking responsibility for the things in his life.  I didn’t mean the emotional things.  I meant the really simple things.  I told him to start keeping his car clean, pay his cell bill, and buy his own gas.  He gave me a sideways look, but then decided he’d try it.  He quickly ran out of money though.  That’s when everything got better.  He got a little part-time job and began to pay his own way.  The more of his own things he paid for, the happier he felt.  His self-worth began to improve.  Then he found a full-time job and began to pay for all his own stuff.

 

The boy’s parents couldn’t figure out why he was doing this since they were willing to pay for everything.  He explained to them that when he paid his own way he felt like a man.  He said he felt he could look anyone in the eye and have dignity.

 

That’s when it dawned on me: Many teen boys today don’t have dignity.  For an adolescent male, being able to get up and go to work is defining.  It allows them to psychologically transition from a dependent boy to an independent man.  Manhood and independence are synonymous.  If you are trying to prevent your son from working so that he’ll have more time to focus on school, it’s an admirable thing to do.  However, though your intentions are really good, I think it might be a misguided way to help your son.

 

Your responsibility as a parent is to help your son become a man.  You and I agree wholeheartedly that education opens more doors for your son as he becomes an adult.  Don’t forget though, your son also needs to have his character shaped.  He craves hard work and the associated reward (a paycheck and the dignity of earning his own way).  Don’t stand in his way.  Even if this slightly slows his educational process down, by the time he graduates college he’ll be far better prepared for the working world.  He’ll be more likely to succeed if he’s had just a little bit of time in the trenches.  He’ll be more appreciative of his paycheck.  He’ll be less entitled out of college, and therefore more able to handle his money.  He’ll have a greatly improved understanding of how to get along with people of all stripes.  I could list many more benefits than this.

 

Ever since that epiphany two years ago, this has become a consistent recommendation I make to the parents of the teen boys I see in my counseling office.  So, all this to say, if you find your teenage son has low self-worth, consider having him work.  I believe it makes a big difference.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why Teens Are Better Off Choosing Abstinence

There are a lot of reasons why waiting to have sex is a good idea for your teenager.  Here are three of the reasons:

Why abstinence is the best choice for your teen.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teenagers of Divorced Parents

Teens struggle when their divorced parents don't get along. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens struggle when their divorced parents don’t get along.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This has come up a lot recently in the therapy office, so I thought I might address it here:

 

Lately I have worked with several teenagers whose parents are divorced, and their parents are not on good terms.  The teenagers really lose in this situation.  They find themselves triangulated between their parents.  They have to play both sides a little bit to avoid things getting worse.  It is extremely stressful for some of them, and others choose not to cope with it at all.

 

The teens who feel a lot of stress and anxiety because of their parents disliking one another are the ones who really wish everyone would get along.  It hurts them to hear how one parent is irresponsible or not paying child support on time, etc.  They tend to be powerless to resolve any of the argument, and yet are expected to listen to it.  Every action a parent takes is interpreted negatively by the other parent.  If dad begins to date again, mom tells the child it is because he doesn’t love his original family enough.  If mom goes on a trip with friends, dad tells the kids she is being selfish with her time and her money.  When the teenager wants to have money for a trip, one parent will say the other parent is the one responsible to pay for it.  When the other parent doesn’t pay they are made to look like they don’t care about the child (All these listed situations have come up in the last two weeks, by the way).

 

Teens who wish their family would get along end up holding a lot inside because they don’t want to upset the precarious balance in their families.  They are constantly maneuvering to try and keep the peace.  They omit information, tell small lies, and agree just to placate each parent.  They excuse a lot of bad behavior and internalize hurt feelings because they wind up believing they have to protect their parents from one another.  This is a role reversal from the natural order of things in life where parents are supposed to protect their kids.

 

Other teenagers refuse to cope with parents who don’t get along.  I see them do this in two ways.  One is that the teen acts out.  They create enough of a problem in their own life that their parents are forced to band together to address the teenager’s issue.  They might get into drugs, be promiscuous, do poorly in school, go through a major depression, etc.  It really can be anything that’s effective at getting mom and dad to be amicable towards one another.  Their struggle is then rewarded because their parents usually care enough about the teen to stop hating one another for the time it takes to get through the struggle.  Sometimes the teenager’s issue goes away all by itself once the parents resolve to get along with each other.

 

The second way adolescents cope with divorced parents who argue is to simply not cope with it at all.  They decide they cannot handle being in the middle and refuse to see one of the parents.  They stay at one house and get along with one parent.  This might look like choosing sides in the divorce, and maybe that is a piece of it, but it is often also related to a strong dislike of being in the middle.

 

If you and your spouse are divorced, try as hard as you can to be amicable.  I realize that one or both of you hurt the other deeply.  I know that things were probably said and/or done that are unforgivable.  I know you worry about the influence your ex will have on the children.  This is an extremely difficult situation no matter what way you look at it.  Keep in mind that in most cases (typically only barring abuse and addiction) it is positive for your kids to have a good relationship with both parents.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Simple Tip For A Better School Year

I’m guilty of peppering my daughter with questions the minute she comes home from school.  Don’t be that parent!

 

Your kids are tired and they need a break.  Here’s an easy tip to implement in order to have a better year with them in school.

A simple thing to remember for a better school year.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Briefly Anxious Episode of Near Panic

I’m stressed.  I’m freaked out.  I’m worried.  I’m feeling uncertain with the unpleasant sense of dread and trepidation that can only happen when something ugly from the past reappears out of nowhere.  Let me be real; this is an autobiographical post.

 

I have moments like this in life.  These are the times when the rubber hits the road for a therapist.  This is when I am faced with a dilemma: I can either give myself over to panic or I can use the myriad of tools I teach clients every week.  After a couple of deep breaths, I choose the latter.

 

Let me let you in on the problem first.  I’ll try and describe the magnitude of fear it evokes in me even though it will seem trivial to you.  Sometimes in this profession we get cases that turn out to be high stress for us as therapists.  After 10 years in practice I’ve gotten really good at screening during the initial phone call.  This is so that I refer out when I’m not the right fit.  However, because I’m human, sometimes one slips past me.  This was one of those instances.  While this case was transferred to another person’s care quite quickly, it caused a few weeks of intense stress and exhaustion.  Now I’ve received a phone call that I’ll need to revisit the case.  What’s worse is, I haven’t touched on this case in years so I can hardly remember it.  All I can recall is the sense of anxiety that was paired with it.  I remember knowing I’d need to refer, and knowing how sensitive it is to tell that to a client; it’s one of the most delicate conversations a therapist ever has to have with patients.

 

After receiving the phone call I find myself stepping out of a time machine straight back into those dreadful three weeks.  I give myself over to stress and angst for about five minutes.  Then I take some deep breaths and decide to think.  I realize this is the perfect opportunity to practice the good coping skills I preach.  Here’s what I do:

  1. I recognize there is time before one has to return a call from a voicemail.  I think through all the legal and ethical requirements to release information about a former client.  Then I plot out what steps to take so that confidentiality is protected while still honoring the request for information within legal and ethical bounds.
  2. I remind myself, “The past is the past, and it cannot be changed.”  You’d be surprised how powerful it is to meditate on that a little bit.  Do I wish I’d never taken this case in the first place?  Unequivocally yes.  However, that choice is far in the rear view mirror, so I all I can do now is the best I can.
  3. I do some calming breathing.
  4. I think through possible outcomes.  I see I am WAY overemphasizing the worst possible outcome.  Because of my focus on that, I hadn’t initially seen all the other possibilities.  This is a common error in thinking when anxious.  Anxiety is caused by fear of a possible future event.  Usually that event is pretty unlikely.  As it turns out, we’re not very good prophets.  This is especially the case when we’re feeling anxiety.
  5. I think about how I’ve seen a few hundred clients in the past decade.  I remember that most have been really enjoyable.  I tell myself one bad instance doesn’t taint everything unless I choose to give it that level of permission.
  6. I have a negative thought creep in even after working all my coping skills.  I disenfranchise the thought quickly though by seeing it for what it is (simply a negative thought) and what it isn’t (In other words, just because I think it doesn’t make it true).  Our own negative thoughts have the power to hijack our day into “Negativeland” if we permit them.  It’s our choice to stay on the hijacked train of thought though.  I actually envision myself hopping off the train.  I feel much lighter after that.

I go into great detail about ten minutes of my day because it happens to you too.  You too find yourself shrouded in negative thoughts of what could be.  You too feel panic or fear when triggered.  I want you to know two things from today’s post.  Firstly, even therapists fight with irrational thoughts, emotions, and reactions.  Secondly, you are not stuck in your uncomfortable feelings if you’ll just put in a little work.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Don’t Enable Your Teen’s Bad Behavior

I write this post on the heels of a week of talking frankly to parents in my office about allowing their children to experience natural consequences.  In this era of everybody gets a trophy, we’ve all grown soft enough to believe that even a little pain can traumatize.  In actuality, pain leads to character growth.  One of the most painful experiences of my younger years was being told I would have to pay my own college tuition.  Out of that came hustle, work ethic, focus, determination, and an appreciation for my education.  If it had been handed to me I know I wouldn’t have developed the grit I have today.

Don’t enable your teen’s bad behavior.

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Sadly, it goes beyond not allowing kids to have natural consequences.  Many times I see teens who are obviously misbehaving, and their parents are enabling it!  It harms your kids more than it helps them, even though your intent is good.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Not a Perfect Parent? Join the Club

I’m not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination. Here’s me admitting to one of my flaws. The important thing though is to recognize it and make a correction. Parenting is an endless stream of small corrections to stay on course.

Yah okay, so I’m not a perfect parent…

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Connecting Better With Your Teenager- Celebrate The Victories

Showing our teens we’re proud helps them connect with us.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/ David Castillo Dominici

We all desperately want connection.  We don’t just want any connection though; we want a good connection.  When we’re on target in our relationship with our kids, it feels amazing.  They are listening to us and we’re enjoying watching them thrive.  They’re slowly stepping out into more and more independence.  However, this process is done respectfully.  How do we get more of this in our relationship with our teenagers?

 

One of the biggest things for the teens I see in my therapy practice is acknowledgement.  They feel like a million bucks when a parent points out something that was done well.  It means even more if there’s no constructive criticism attached.

 

Your teen has done something worthy of a compliment in the past week.  Even if he or she is behaving horribly, something was done well.  Perhaps your adolescent is a really loyal friend.  Maybe your teenager showed compassion to a sibling.  Did your teen show self-restraint when that is usually difficult for him or her?  Find something to celebrate.

 

Also, go big on the big moments.  It’s a nice thing to make a fuss over really big steps in your child’s life.  This doesn’t mean throwing some huge party because your teenager has finished the 10th grade.  It does means making a big deal when he or she finishes high school though.  Even if your teen finishes in a non-traditional way such as passing the GED, this is a milestone.

 

Many of the young men and women who come to therapy in my office will tell their parents something isn’t anything to fuss over.  Then they turn around and tell me they wish their parents had been present to celebrate it with them.  I’ve heard this from seemingly small events like your child’s first varsity game and your child’s best report card, to the really big things like eighth grade promotion, prom and college admission.

 

Mom and Dad, your teen wants to know you’re watching.  They want to know you’re proud.  Sometimes they want you to tell them without including what they also can improve on.  Every now and again, “Wow!  That was awesome!” is all you need to say.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Going Back to School

For teenagers, getting back into the swing of school is a tough adjustment.  For many teens it really increases their level of stress.  Maintain perspective on what you’re there to learn.  That will help things be calmer this school year.

Keep perspective as you head back to school.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When is it Time to Stop?

Knowing when to call something quits can be very challenging.  This becomes particularly true if it’s something we’ve done for a long time.  I see adolescents struggle with the decision of whether or not to end something when they’ve played sports for a long time, dated someone a lot time, or had a friendship that has lasted many years.  Eventually though, our lives change.  Sometimes it’s good to let certain things go so that we have more room to work at our goals.

 

Sometimes ending things we’ve done forever makes us healthier.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Sassy, Irritable Teens

It’s hard to deal with irritable teens.  When they talk back to you it’s really easy to get caught up in an argument.  Here is a quick tip of something you can try.

Is your teen sassy and irritable? Here’s a quick tip.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Setting Boundaries With Teens

Good boundaries with teens leaves room for a good relationship. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good boundaries with teens leaves room for a good relationship.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When your teenager is testing the limits of what they’re allowed to do, it can be a difficult process for you as a parent.  Suddenly your adolescent daughter has her first boyfriend and now she wants to stay out until midnight.  Or, maybe your thirteen year old son has tried pot for the first time.  What are you supposed to do?

 

1.  Be collaborative.  Teenagers have a mind of their own and it should be considered.  While they are not the final word, it’s important to include them in the discussion.  What do they think are appropriate boundaries and why?  Have your teen submit a draft of a contract to you outlining what they think they should have.  It’s tempting to believe they’ll write things like “no curfew” and “unlimited computer and phone time,” but they almost certainly won’t.  Usually they will write in things that push the limits of what you have allowed them so far, but won’t push the limits very far.

 

2.  Create a contract.  Once you have a proposal from your teenager, go over it with their other parent.  If you’re married to their other parent, this is easier of course.  If you aren’t married to their other parent, while this is a challenge, ideally the same rules will be enforced equally in both houses.  Together with their other parent, create a contract for your teen.  It should include boundaries for grades, electronics, socializing, dating, drugs and alcohol, disrespect, chores, and any other things you think are relevant to your child specifically.  Each item should have an upper and lower limit.  Here’s an example of what that means: You will earn a minimum of a 2.5.  If your GPA drops below a 2.5 you will be grounded from social activities until it’s back at a 2.5.  If you earn a 3.2 or higher GPA you will have demonstrated to us that you are working hard in school and can handle the responsibility of being social on weeknights as well.  In other words, your contract should have both positive and negative consequences for each item.

 

3.  Only set enforceable limits.  It doesn’t do any good to make up rules you have no ability to enforce.  Don’t tell your teen they cannot have a boyfriend or girlfriend when you can’t control who they talk to at school.  This will just cause them to sneak, and you to have to punish when you find out.  If you don’t want them dating it’s much better to set a limit in a way that is enforceable, such as “No dating one on one until you’re [insert age].”  This is something you can control much more easily than whether they have the title of boyfriend or girlfriend.

 

4.  Enforce your boundaries.  This is the most important of all the tips in this blog.  Once you set a rule you must enforce it, no matter what.  A lot of parents I work with come in complaining their teen doesn’t respect them.  When we dig into the reasons why, one thing that happens is they set a rule, but then negotiate with their child when it’s time to enforce the rule.  If you’ve told your teen that texting after 11pm results in their loss of the phone for 24 hours, then you need to take the phone for 24 hours.  This needs to be unemotional, no discussion, and quickly executed.  Excuses and tears cannot change how you approach boundary enforcement.  Also, your consequences should be very well known to your teen ahead of time because they will have signed the contract that says what you’re going to do.

 

Boundary setting sounds overwhelming with teens.  However, it’s actually quite simple if it’s done clearly and consistently.  They appreciate having a contract if they’re allowed to contribute to what’s in it.  If you randomly set rules, randomly enforce them and don’t let your teen have a say then they’ll hate it.  That’s when they’ll fight you on it and feel frustrated.  Having well set boundaries with your teenager leaves room for a fantastic relationship with them.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Is My Teen Lazy, Or Is There Something Else Going On?

Carrie Johnson is a therapist who works with teens, and particularly works well with teens who struggle with motivation.  Here she gives us some of her thoughts on other things she considers when a teenager is brought in to counseling for “laziness.”

Carrie has thoughts on other things to consider in teens who appear lazy.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS MFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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