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.

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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

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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)

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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

 

 

 

10 Signs Your Teen May Be Depressed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Modeling Anger for Teens

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Problems with Teen Drinking

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

8 Tips for Parenting Teens in Divorced Families

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

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

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

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

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

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Your Teenager’s Friends

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why Do Teens Act Out?

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Your Teen Won’t Socialize

teen, adolescent, social struggles, social anxiety, hiding

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Dating for Christian Teens

Following the guidance of your faith can conflict with culture. Credit: freedigitalphotos.net and digidreamgrafix

Following the guidance of your faith can conflict with culture.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net and digidreamgrafix

Teens, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance your parents asked you to read this and thought it applied to your situation.  I hope it does!

 

Dating in a culture of “hooking up,” is really frustrating for many, many teenagers.  I have client after client that complains about this.  They say they aren’t interested in making out with someone before going on a date.  They don’t want to be drunk to find out if they like someone or not.  They don’t think it’s okay that everyone has a “thing,” or is “talking” but never really commits.

 

The Bible doesn’t really talk a lot about dating in a direct way.  It does talk about marriage, divorce, adultery and respect.  There are examples of lust gone wrong (think David and Bathsheba), jealousy (Leah and Rachel with Jacob), dating with the intention of commitment (Solomon and the girl), and the benefit of doing everything with parental consent out in the open (Isaac and Rebekah).

 

One thing that is clear to me is that God doesn’t intend for you to date in secret.  If you feel you have to hide it from your parents, or you’d be ashamed to talk about it in front of people in your faith community, something is wrong.  This means you’ve gone father than you should, or the person doesn’t believe what you believe, or you’re one person with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and another in front of people in your church family.

 

Even if you aren’t Christian, this still holds.  Now it is true that some of you have crazy parents 🙂  Some of you have parents who are unreasonable beyond what a teenager thinks is unreasonable.  Even your parents’ friends have suggested they lighten up.  Dating in the open in front of these types of parents will result in your being punished even if you are dating a saint.  Others of you have parents who just let you do anything.  If you were to tell them about your dating forays, they would be completely permissible no matter what.  While that is convenient, it doesn’t protect your emotionally developing heart.  It also doesn’t protect you from the physical consequences that can come with sex.  Neither type of parenting is doing you much good when it comes to you dating.

 

For Christians who want to remain close to Jesus as they date, I’ve found there are a few things that can really help:

  1.  Date someone who loves Jesus more than you do.  It helps you grow and mature in your faith.  You will both seek out opportunities to be together while serving the community.  You will go to church services together.  It makes it fun!
  2. Decide ahead of time why you’re dating, and make that clear.  If you both know you’re going separate ways at the end of senior year, then don’t let yourselves become serious.  You don’t plan to get married, so keep it light and fun.  That way in the future if you do meet again, you actually are leaving open the possibility that you might date to marry each other.
  3. Keep it public; date in the open.  The more you do where others can see you, the less irresistible temptation you face.
  4. Be friends with everyone, but be selective about dating.  As followers of Christ we’re called to show love and respect to all people, no matter what they believe or how they live their life; Jesus was this way.  However, when it comes to connecting yourself on an intimate level with someone, you must be very wary.  You need to make sure they are strong in the same faith as you.  Otherwise, no matter how good your intentions might be, you will find yourself less and less interested in Christ as you become more interested in your significant other.  Hint: Your boyfriend or girlfriend should not be in competition for your heart with Jesus.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teaching Teens Financial Responsibility

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

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

It’s really important for your teenager to be financially fluent before they become an adult.  No doubt you already know this, and you’re taking steps to make sure it happens.

 

Here are some of the things parents of my clients have done with their teenagers that I think were very well done:

1) Incentivize savings.  I’ve worked with some teenagers whose parents make it really worthwhile for them to develop the saving muscle.  Either they match their savings, or they reward it in some other way.  The wonderful thing about this is parents and their teens are collaborating to set a goal.  They then make a plan on how to reach the goal.  The parents help their adolescents through the whole process of reaching the savings goal.

 

2) Consider the value of things carefully.  I have a 17 year old boy I’ve been working with for several months.  He has come very, very far in meeting his goals.  One area he wanted to work on was a sense of entitlement (It already took some maturity for him to recognize this was a challenge for him).  He talked this through with his parents.  This was about the time he was applying to colleges.  His parents spent a lot of time helping him discern whether an out-of-state school offered enough extra benefit to justify the cost.  They helped him search out which university would best prepare him for the career he says he wants.  Ultimately he has decided to attend a school that is less prestigious by name, but is the very best value for his situation.  He said he has learned an incredible amount about financial responsibility through this process.

 

3) Requiring teens to pay for wants.  It’s very easy to assume everything your adolescent wants is a need.  It feels that way to them.  They often believe they need things that in truth, they don’t.  One girl I work with was convinced she needed a car.  Instead of buying her one, her mom told her to start saving her money.  After realizing how expensive cars are when they aren’t purchased by mom or dad, this girl became much more content with driving mom’s extra beat up truck.  She has saved her money for a car, but she is now trying to buy one that gets good gas mileage and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance instead of what looks cool.  She has gone from being someone who didn’t know where her money went to being pretty careful with it.  She has also learned how to work, which brings us to number four.

 

4) Don’t be afraid of your teenager working.  Parents who encourage, and sometimes require, their adolescents to have a job have seen tremendous benefits.  Aside from the increase in self-esteem that occurs, teens who work tend to get into less trouble, are more responsible with their money, and have a greater appreciation for their parents.  The teenagers I’ve worked with in counseling who have started working stopped asking their parents for money, felt really proud of being able to pay for things themselves, and have quickly learned to discern between needs and wants.

 

There are a lot of other ways to teach your teenage children how to be financially responsible.  It’s helpful to sit down and teach them to budget, teach them to give, and have them learn the basics of investing.  The four tips I shared in this blog post are the ones I’ve seen parents use that seem easiest to implement, and have a huge, immediate impact.  All of these things require a teen to be patient before they can have what they want.  However, that’s one of the most essential skills to leading a successful life.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help for Adolescents Using Pornography

The guilt and shame associated with teen use of porn is intense.   Image credit: suart miles via freedigitalphotos.net

The guilt and shame associated with teen use of porn is intense.
Image credit: suart miles via freedigitalphotos.net

Teenage use of pornography is unfortunately pretty prevalent.  According to internetsafety101.org a majority of pornograhy contains violence and bad language.  Over half of teen boys aged 12 to 15 have viewed internet porn, and almost a third of girls in that age bracket have as well.  What’s more disturbing: internetsafety101.org also reports that two thirds of young men, and half of young women see vieweing pornography as an acceptable thing to do.  In general the way we become tolerant of something that once appalled us is consistent exposure.  In the world of psychology this is called desensitization.

 

For parents who are trying to preserve the sanctity of sex in a committed relationship, and trying to teach these values to their children, pornography use among teenagers is definitely cause for concern.  These videos teach nothing about intimacy, emotional connection, marriage, monogamy, and respecting women.

 

Here are some signs that your teen might be using the internet inappropriately:

  • They consistently clear their browser history.
  • They seem to close a tab on their phone regularly whenever you walk into the room.
  • They excessively masturbate.
  • They won’t allow you to see what apps they keep on their phone.
  • They close the door to their room whenever they’re on their computer, tablet or phone.
  • They use terms you don’t think they should know when they discuss sex.

Just because these signs are present doesn’t mean your teenager is viewing pornography.  However, it’s worth asking the question in that case.

 

What do you do if you find out your teenage son or teenage daughter is watching porn?  Getting angry is a natural response.  You probably feel both betrayed from their lying and sneaking, and scared that they might do harm to their relational development.  Try to focus on what you’re feeling underneath the anger.  That’s what’s worth expressing to your child.  Those are the things that will make an emotional impact and help them think.  Just yelling will deepen what is likely to already be immense shame.

 

You will also need to place tight restrictions on their internet use.  You will have to diligently monitor what they are doing online.  There is a natural high that occurs from viewing sexual content (Why do you think there’s so much of it in TV and movies?).  This high causes people to come back for more and more.  That’s why it easily develops into an addiction.  It takes time for this craving to stop.  It takes even more time for your teen to decide it’s something they don’t want to use again.

 

Oftentimes therapy or counseling is needed if the use is frequent.  Your adolescent may need to work with a therapist who has experience in treating porn addiction.  Teens can feel a lot of shame for this behavior.  They are often embarrassed and therefore reluctant to be forthcoming about how extensive their pornography use is; a good counselor for teens will know how to delicately maneuver through these emotions.

 

If you have more questions about the situation your teen is dealing with don’t hesitate to call.  Seth, Carrie and I will take some time and chat with you.  We can help you determine if therapy is necessary in this situation.  We even offer teletherapy through a program that is a lot like Skype for California residents who live outside Orange County.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

For Teens: Admitting We’re Wrong

Choosing to admit a mistake can be really difficult. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choosing to admit a mistake can be really difficult.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I know when I make a mistake it can be hard to admit I’m wrong.  I’m not just talking about in relationships, but in life too.  How many times have I started to do something stupid, realized it was stupid, and then felt I had to try and cover it up?  Rather than cover it up I’d be wise to admit I’ve done wrong and accept the consequences.  Continuing in the mistake only leads to much greater consequences when it all unravels later.

 

Why am I blogging about this today?  Because I woke up this morning and realized I’d done something I shouldn’t have.  The mistake was made (mostly) by accident.  I say “mostly” because as I was doing the wrong thing something nagged at me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it so I ignored the feeling.  Several days passed by.  Then this morning it hit my like a ton of bricks.  I’m sure you’d love to know what the error was, but never you mind that.  I’m going to keep that one to myself (and the people I had to apologize to).

 

I was faced with three choices this morning.  Choice #1: Ignore the whole problem and hope it goes away on its own.  Choice #2: Try to cover up for my mistake by getting people to act differently.  Choice #3: Call the people I made the mistake with and tell them.  From there do the best I can not to let my error cause them (or me) problems.  Choice #3 is the right decision to make, but is the toughest in some ways.  It feels shameful to tell people you’ve messed up on something when you should have known better.  It’s just plain embarrassing.  It also doesn’t feel good to face consequences when they might just go away on their own accord.

 

As though I were walking through mud, I made up my mind to do the right thing.  I forced myself to call the people involved and admit my stupidity.  They were really nice about it.  I still may have consequences, but hopefully not.

 

I know you face these types of scenarios all the time.  Maybe a friend asked you to keep their alcohol bottle in your backpack, and now it’s hidden in your room.  You are faced with keeping it hidden and hoping nobody else finds it, trying to get it back to your friend before you’re caught with it, or just telling your parents you have someone else’s alcohol and you shouldn’t have done that in the first place.  The third choice will go much, much better for you than if your parents find it on their own.  Or, what if your younger sibling finds it and becomes dangerously drunk because he or she doesn’t know better.  That’d be your own fault.  What if you try to give it back to a friend, but are caught with it in the process and get into trouble with the law?  You’ve made the mistake of holding it for someone in the first place, but right yourself before something worse happens.

 

If you can get into the habit of admitting errors before they blow up into something big, you’ll actually save yourself a lot of trouble.  People will find you more trustworthy too; they’ll know you’re not guilty of something when you say you didn’t do it because you admit you did do it when you’re guilty.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Combating Teen Entitlement

Stop entitlement and create grateful teens! Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stop entitlement and create grateful teens!
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are grateful teenagers, and there are teenagers who truly believe they should be handed things by their parents.  The second type of teenager leaves parents feeling unappreciated, frustrated and sometimes disgusted.  These types of teens are what we call entitled.  They believe by the sheer fact that they are born, they are entitled to some serious privileges.  This ranges from new clothes to a car to a college education.

 

In counseling, one entitled girl told me, “I need my mom to take me shopping.”  Since she is always nicely dressed, I said, “Oh?  And why is that?” (without condescension).  She told me, “Well, my friends all want to wear purple dresses on Friday just for fun.  My mom won’t take me shopping.  Can you believe that?”  I told her that she has her own money (again, without condescension).  She looked at me with a surprised expression and said, “Well I shouldn’t have to buy my own clothes.”

 

I worked with another boy who was upset because his father was going to give him a hand-me-down car.  His father had recently remarried and planned to purchase a BMW for his new wife, meaning his son would be given her fairly new Volkswagon.  He said to me, “Can you believe he’d buy her a new car when I’ve always wanted a BMW.  It’s like he’s doing that just to spite me.  Now I have to have the used car.  That’s completely unfair.”  This is a fairly extreme example of an entitled attitude, but the boy’s general spirit is pretty common.

 

Where does this come from?  This often comes from you as parents.  However, this also means you have the power to change it!

 

Firstly, how did you likely cause this?  It probably started when you had a toddler.  You might have said yes far more often than you should have.  It’s not just a matter of saying yes though, it’s saying yes after you’ve already said no.  Your child started to throw a fit.  You couldn’t handle their emotional distress and so you gave in.  Your inability to tolerate uncomfortable emotions caused by your child being unhappy has led to their realization that if they argue with you, eventually you give in.  They’ve learned what works to get what they want.

 

Other times an entitled attitude is caused by feelings of guilt among parents.  In the aforementioned situation with the BMW, that father had caused his own problems because of guilt after a divorce.  He had bought his children whatever they desired so he could “just see them happy after what they’ve been through.”  I truly, truly understand how he feels this way.  Divorce is heart-breaking, and very difficult for children.  When you only get to see them every other weekend, you don’t want to spend it telling your kids “no” or arguing with them.  You also don’t want to say no when your ex-spouse calls in front of them to ask you to pay for things.  If you say no then you’re certain your ex-spouse will tell them how you don’t really care about them compared to yourself, etc.  What a horrible position to be in!

 

However, no matter what caused it, now you have an entitled teenager.  What do you do about it?

 

You start with the word no.  Try only saying it once and then don’t argue.  If your teen engages an argument, which they most certainly will try to do, it’s best to ignore them until they are reasonable again.  Don’t bother explaining yourself unless they are really in the mood to listen and learn; you are not peers.  When you reestablish who is the parent, who earns the money, who provides, and the difference between a need and a want, then you can start explaining why you said no.  At that point your teen is ready to listen.  They will then benefit from understanding how it builds their character to wait for purchases, to save money, and to be content with what they already have.

 

The second thing you must do is set a good example.  No more indulging yourself at every whim.  If you’ve told your teen you’re trying to stay out of Starbucks to be healthier or save a few dollars, then fight through the urge when it hits you.  Don’t go get your nails done because you’re sad, buy a new car because you’re bored with the one you have, or redecorate the inside of your house because it’s not the latest style.  Be very intentional, out loud, about your actions and acquisitions.  Let your teenager overhear you saying you’re saving for the next vacation, and then follow-through with it.

 

Finally, allow your teenager to work for the things they want.  When they ask you for the latest and greatest gadget, tell them sure…you’ll be happy to take them to buy it when they earn and save the money to purchase it.  Once they realize this is how things go, they won’t ask you for much and they’ll like what they have for longer.  Suddenly the iPhone 5 they already own is actually “just fine.”  Besides, this builds their self-esteem!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens and Abusive Dating Relationships, Part III

Sexual abuse in dating relationships is often kept a secret. Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

Sexual abuse in dating relationships is often kept a secret.
Credit: Jeanne Claire Maarbes via freedigitalphotos.net

If you want to read about emotional abuse or physical abuse, read these previous posts.

 

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual activity that is unwanted and/or exploits the victim.  This happens in teenage dating relationships from time to time.

 

The most common way I hear about teens being sexually abused in their dating relationships happens with teen couples who are already sexually active.  One partner does not feel like having sex and says so.  With a mixture of guilt, manipulation and a little bit of coercion, the couple ends up having sex.  The problem is, the reluctant partner didn’t really consent.  They don’t think of themselves as having been assaulted because it is their boyfriend or girlfriend, but unwanted sexual activity is never okay.

 

I have been counseling teenagers in private practice for 8 years.  In all that time I have never had a teen make an initial appointment because of the above scenario.  However, I have had many clients who end up spending a good portion of their therapy on the above situation once they recognize it’s a problem.  In the first place they just thought they were unhappy and couldn’t really pinpoint the reason.  Eventually they realize they are sexually active with someone and don’t want to be.  I need to clarify here that this is not necessarily rape.  In almost every case the teen gives consent to have sex, but secretly doesn’t want to be.  They don’t feel ready, but are afraid to lose their boyfriend or girlfriend if they ask to stop being sexually active.

 

Another way sexual abuse occurs is through your teenager’s cell phone.  Sadly it’s normal behavior for teenagers to ask each other to send nude pictures through text or an app.  It is normally the boys asking the girls, but it does go both directions.  Unwanted pressure to send nude selfies is truly awful.  Check in with your teen to see if they’ve been asked, and find out what they did about it.  If nobody has asked them, I guarantee they know someone who has been pressured.  The abuse comes in when the image is distributed.  If the recipient of the image shows a friend or two, or texts it to someone else, that’s a major violation of privacy.  If the teens are minors it’s actually distribution of child pornography.  There have been rumors of teens getting arrested for this behavior.

 

Dating is a normal part of the teenage experience.  It helps them mature, and they can have a lot of fun with it.  As a parent there is a lot to keep tabs on.  There is a lot to warn your child about.  There are a lot of conversations you need to have.  Help them if they are being abused in any way.  Help them feel safe to talk about it, and empower them to do something about it.  Please call if you need additional support in helping your teenager through this very heartbreaking situation.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens and Abusive Dating Relationships, Part II

Teens who are in relationships who suddenly appear depressed could be dealing with abuse. Credit: stockimages via freedigitalphotos.net

Teens who are in relationships who suddenly appear depressed could be dealing with abuse. Credit: stockimages via freedigitalphotos.net

Part I of this series of posts was on teens who deal with emotionally abusive boyfriends or girlfriends.

 

Physical abuse does occur in adolescent dating relationships.  I wish this weren’t true, but unfortunately it happens.

 

It often begins with your teenager becoming isolated from his or her friends.  While your adolescent used to be very social, now they spend all their time with their boyfriend or girlfriend.  Then you might notice your teen seems upset and withdrawn often.  They’ve lost that energy and spark they used to have.  You start to wonder what is going on.

 

Your teen might have had a very great relationship at first.  Or, at least it seemed that way to them.  Relationships that end up abusive are often very intense at first.  There is a lot of flattery, and things move fast.  Their boyfriend or girlfriend starts talking about going to the same college, and maybe even getting married at some point.  The relationship seems really serious considering their age.

 

Then the arguments start.  One person has trouble controlling their emotions, and so reverts to yelling and cursing.  Your daughter might be called things that would make you want to grab your shotgun.  Your son might be called names that would make you completely livid.  Eventually the fights escalate to the point where one partner lays hands on the other.  It probably isn’t anything too violent the first time.  Maybe a slight push, a tight squeeze of an arm, or a slap.  Then there is shock, followed by profuse apology.  For even up to a week or two the abuser is on best behavior.  The abuser calls, texts, compliments, buys gifts, and has promised to change.  Your teenager believes they are reformed.

 

Then the abuser starts to be edgy again.  They blame it on school stress, difficulties with parents, or anything else that seems like a valid excuse for their inability to respond appropriately to situations.  Meanwhile your adolescent is tentative.  Your child walks on eggshells and just tries to keep their boy or girlfriend happy.  They think the wavering moods are partially their own fault.  This builds until there is another explosion.  Then the apologies and honeymoon stage begin.  And so the cycle perpetuates.

 

With the clients I’ve worked with who have been in physically abusive relationships, they say the emotional abuse is almost just as hurtful.  They say the two are always paired.  These are usually adolescents who are otherwise happy and engaged in their lives.  They are typically not the kids you’d ever think would end up in such a relationship.  They also don’t tend to be initially forthcoming about the abuse because of shame, and to protect the abuser.  They often request counseling because they feel “depressed and anxious.”

 

If you’ve noticed a pretty dramatic change in your adolescent’s happiness and they are in a dating relationship, it’s worth a discussion.  Physical abuse is one possibility of many.  However, it’s important to ask.  Your child very likely does need to see a therapist if they have been in a physically abusive relationship.  There is probably a lot of residual emotional pain.  There is also always the concern of the relationship resuming.

 

The third type of abuse I want to make sure I address is sexual abuse.  I will tackle this topic in the next blog post.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens and Abusive Dating Relationships

Emotional abuse in dating relationships is very hard for adolescents. Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Emotional abuse in dating relationships is very hard for adolescents.
Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unfortunately, abusive dating relationships occur.  This is even true with teenagers.  When we talk about abuse, we typically think of three types: emotional, physical and sexual.  While this is definitely an uncomfortable topic, it is one I see in my office with my teenage clients at least once per month.  Considering I limit my caseload to 15 clients per week, that’s astoundingly common.

 

In today’s post I will comment on emotional abuse in teen dating relationships.  I will cover physical and sexual abuse in the next two blog posts.

 

Emotional abuse is the most common form discussed by my clients.  This happens when a client has a boyfriend or girlfriend who says and does things to manipulate a certain outcome.  I have had several clients who try to break up with someone only to receive a text or phone call that their new ex plans to commit suicide.  Now my client feels responsible and is put in a place of deep distress.  My client then doesn’t know what to do, and starts to talk with the ex again.  They might end up afraid to break it off because the significant other is constantly telling them, “I cannot go on without you.”  Imagine your teenager trying to deal with this type of pressure; it is sickening.  As a counselor I feel righteous anger (although I don’t express it unless it is therapeutically beneficial to the teen) when one of my clients is being manipulated this way.  I do tell my teenage client what emotional abuse is, and we work at setting appropriate boundaries.  This has gone as far as helping a couple of clients consider filing temporary restraining orders for harassment.

 

Emotional abuse can also take the form of constant berating.  If your teen is in a relationship where they’ve become isolated from all their friends, it’s cause for concern.  As time passes the relationship often sours in these conditions.  Your teenager becomes lonely and wholly dependent on their boyfriend or girlfriend.  Then their significant other starts to just not call, or becomes mean.  They call your child names sometimes.  They text your child mean things.  Your adolescent no longer has the self-esteem to just cut off the relationship.  Or, they might try to end it and then the significant other promises all kinds of wonderful changes; your teenager believes them and stays in the relationship.

 

Parents, I’m sorry to tell you that emotional abuse doesn’t stop there.  It can look like your teenager getting involved with someone who seems really great at first.  Eventually they get involved with drugs or alcohol.  Your child never had any interest in this.  Because your teen is naive, they lie for them, give money to them, and sometimes will even drink or use drugs just to be with them.  It’s nauseating to watch your child whom you’ve always been close with be pulled from you by someone you’ve grown to detest; it seems like they’re stealing your child’s very soul.  I know that sounds dramatic, but if you talked with some of the parents I’ve sat with, you’d think it was a most apt description.

 

The final way I’ve seen my teen counseling clients become emotionally abused in a relationship is financial.  I’ve seen the relationship get out of balance to where your teen feels like they have to constantly impress their significant other to keep them around.  They start to spend money.  They will take this so far that they will spend everything they have.  Maybe you’ve always been careful to teach them good saving habits, and as a result they have built up a nice savings account.  Suddenly they’re buying Disney passes, going on ski trips, and investing in hobbies that seem like they’re out of left field.  What’s worse is that they are paying for their girlfriend or boyfriend too.  Here’s how far I’ve seen this go: One young girl got a boyfriend whose single mother did not choose to work (but was perfectly capable of doing so).  After a few months the young girl never had the car her parents had bought her because she was constantly lending it to “his poor mom.”

 

I know this is scary stuff.  If you’re in the position where some of what you’re reading rings true, give me a call.  I’m happy to talk with you about your situation.  Maybe we’ll decide counseling is a good idea, and maybe not.  Either way you need support as you help extricate your teen from their toxic, emotionally abusive relationship.

 

I will write about physical abuse in the next post, and sexual abuse in the following one.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What do I do if my teen expresses suicidal thoughts?

Suicide is a leading cause of death in teens. Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Suicide is a leading cause of death in teens.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a parent, a teenager expressing suicidal thoughts is one of the most scary things imaginable.  It is also very often overlooked or discounted.  A lot of teens say things like that for attention, but a lot of them are serious too.  Assuming they are seeking attention is too risky when a teen threatens suicide.  It is best to always take these threats seriously.  Aside from that, if they are simply looking for attention, it’s clear they need it.  It isn’t always bad for a teen to get more attention.  Once things calm down you can start talking with them about better ways to ask for the attention they need.

 

If your teen expresses feeling suicidal, you need to immediately ask them a few questions.  You need to ask them:

1.  How long have you felt like this?

2.  Can you identify any particular reason or has something bad happened lately?

3.  Do you have a plan for how you’d commit suicide?

4.  Do you intend to go through with it?

5.  Have you ever tried it before?

 

With question 4, if the answer is yes then you need to take immediate action.  I find parents struggle a lot with this because of the action required.  You need to stop whatever you are doing and drive your teen straight to the emergency room.  This is considered an emergent issue.  You will feel strange about doing so because you don’t see your teen bleeding, vomiting, etc, and it seems like people should appear physically ill to go to the emergency room.  However, the staff at the ER will not think it is odd that you’ve brought your teen.  In fact, they will see it as appropriate.  Don’t hem and haw if your child intends to harm him or herself.  Sometimes even the intervention of a few days in a hospital can really change their outlook.

 

If the answers to 2, 3 and/OR 5 are a yes, but 4 is a no, you need to call for a counseling appointment that very day.  Also ask your teen daily whether they intend to commit suicide so you know whether or not to go to the ER.  Help your teenager have a plan in case their mood deteriorates further.  Sit down with your teen and work with them to write out a list of names and phone numbers to call when they are feeling particularly awful.  Tell them if it becomes serious, they are to call 9-1-1.

 

On your part, make sure your teenager does not have access to lethal items.  Remember how when your child was two you were very careful to keep poisons locked up and knives out of reach?  It’s a lot like that.  If you have a gun, keep it locked in the safe and change the code just in case your teenager knows the code.  Go through the medicine cabinets and remove pills that are dangerous if taken in great quantities.  Remove your knives and other sharp objects from the home.  I know this is a major hassle, but it is an important precaution.  Think of other potentially dangerous objects and keep them from your teen too.  Essentially, you want to make it very inconvenient for your teen to try harming him or herself because it buys time if they are in trouble.

 

Please take these threats very seriously.  It is not the time to react in anger toward your teen.  Your anger is likely stemming from fear.  It is time to take charge and quickly take action.  You can express anger and fear later.

 

Also, I’d like to again address the teen who does say something like that for attention.  If you react in the ways described above, then they tend to learn their lesson.  They tend to feel embarrassed for saying something like that when they didn’t mean it.  Also, if they will go to that extreme to get attention, then they might really need some attention.  Giving it to them is not a bad thing.

 

I know this is a really tough issue to deal with.  It’s something you never want to face.  It causes a sick, panicky feeling in a parent.  You may have never felt so little control over your child’s well-being.  Take a deep breath and then purposely walk through the steps you need to take to help your teen be safe.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Problems with Party Drug “Molly”

Molly is often encapsulated into pills and then ingested.

Molly is often encapsulated into pills and then ingested. Photo credit: Wikipedia

I first heard of Molly in my therapy office about 3.5 years ago.  A teenage girl came in for counseling because she was having trouble getting along with her mom.  During one session she told me she planned to use Molly that night at a party.  I was confused about which drug she was referring to.  She told me is was like Ecstasy.  I asked her if it was in fact another name for Ecstasy, and she told me no.  I went home and did some basic research.

 

What I found out is that Molly is very much like Ecstasy because it is made from MDMA (methylenedioxy-methamphetamine).  However, Molly is supposed to be a more purified form of the drug.  Both drugs produce approximately the same result.  Essentially, they are reported to cause mild hallucinations, distortion in perception, an increase in energy, and for a person to really enjoy being touchy-feely.

 

Just like Ecstasy, there are extreme risks with Molly.  One of the problems with lost perception is trouble reading the cues your body sends you.  People have been known to become extremely, and oftentimes dangerously, dehydrated on these drugs.  This is because they lose track of time, and simply forget to drink water.  If they are in an all night party where they are dancing, and therefore sweating, it is really important to drink fluids.  However, they completely forget.

 

Another big risk with Molly, and Ecstasy is their effect on the body’s ability to regulate temperature.  Some people have spiked extreme fevers, and end up frying their vital organs.  This is what is reportedly happened to several students from the Connecticut college a year ago (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/wesleyan-overdoses-highlight-risks-of-drug-molly/).

 

Molly and Ecstasy are also linked to unsafe sexual behaviors.  It makes people enjoy physical touch more than they might otherwise, leading them into sexual encounters they would never have if they were sober.  They might become sexual with a stranger, and the sex is often unsafe.  Molly has been linked with the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

 

One of the most scary things about Molly in particular is that it is often cut with other chemicals and substances.  It might include heroin, or something random.  Because it’s an illegal drug, it’s completely unregulated.  So, while your teenager might think they are buying high quality MDMA, there is a good chance they are poisoning themselves.

 

Unfortunately your high school aged student has either seen people taking this, taken it themselves, or knows someone who has abused it.  It is very popular and very common right now.  For parents there is always something new to keep abreast of, and right now Molly is one of those things.  Ask your teenager what they know about the drug, and do your own research.  Help them understand it’s not something to mess with because the consequences have rendered some adolescents permanently disabled, and others dead.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teenagers and Marijuana

Marijuana is not good for your teenager. Credit: david castillo dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Marijuana is not good for your teenager.
Credit: david castillo dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Teens smoke pot.  By senior year in high school one out of three teens will have used marijuana according to drugabuse.gov.  While not every teenager who tries marijuana ends up a regular user, there is concern for those that do.

 

I realize I should tread lightly here because some of you reading this smoke weed yourself.  You very likely see it as something that just makes you relax a bit and is harmless.  You might even use it to help you fall asleep.  You believe everyone who doesn’t use just doesn’t understand.  It’s a small side habit you have that doesn’t really cost much money, and doesn’t really alter how you think or feel.  You still hold down your job, raise your kids, keep your house clean and function just fine.  So, what’s the big deal?

 

If you smoke on a regular basis I can almost certainly promise you your teenage children know it.  They view it as permission to use it themselves.  The problems for your adolescent using cannabis are numerous.

  1.  Your teen is now hanging around the other middle school and high school aged children who smoke.  Some of these kids use harder drugs, and will be bringing them around your teen.  There will be opportunities for your teen to abuse things you’d never be okay with them trying.
  2. Your teen is developing a reputation.  Kids talk to their parents.  Other parents, teachers, school administrators, and coaches know your teenager uses pot.
  3. It is addictive.  A lot of adults don’t believe this is true.  However, the strength of THC in pot has been genetically engineered to be much stronger than it once was.  THC is addictive, both physically and psychologically.
  4. It reduces motivation.  You will see grades drop, their rooms a bit messier, and less excitement about the world in general.  This is particularly true for teens who use multiple times per day.
  5. For a teenager, it’s expensive.  Teens don’t make much money.  Those who smoke marijuana on a regular basis usually end up spending between half and all of what they make on it.  This means your child is working to buy illegal drugs, or spending their allowance on this.
  6. It’s really unhealthy.  Many teens think it’s natural.  It isn’t.  Just because it’s a plant doesn’t mean it’s healthy either.  Most of the marijuana grown uses pesticides, genetic modification, and is unregulated.  You wouldn’t buy food like that.  Besides that, when smoked, your teenager is repeatedly inhaling unfiltered smoke into their lungs.  Yikes!

When I am in my office doing counseling with adolescents, we often talk about drug use.  All my clients know people who smoke, and many of them use it themselves.  I am always encouraging them to stop, and for those who have agreed to do so, many of been surprised to find quitting extremely difficult.  They often tell me, “I thought I could stop at anytime and I just can’t.  I didn’t realize pot was addictive.”  For those that don’t use it is frustrating that so many of their friends do.  They need help coping with this reality, and that it only increases into the college years.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Agoraphobia in Teens Part II

Teens who are afraid to leave the house benefit from Skype therapy for teens. Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

Teens who are afraid to leave the house benefit from Skype therapy for teens.
Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

If you haven’t had a chance to read Agoraphobia in Teens Part I, click here.

 

Once you’ve realized your teenager has agoraphobia it’s time to work on correcting it.  It is heartbreaking for parents to watch their children suffer with extreme anxiety.  Their life has become so different from what you imagined for them.  You’d always hoped they’d have friends to go out and do things with, they’d succeed in school, and they would be excited to take life on.  Now they don’t want to leave the house, or if they do, they won’t do anything unfamiliar.  They are easily overwhelmed by large crowds.  They just don’t handle situations well when they fear they can’t escape.  Sometimes this has stemmed from fear of having a panic attack out in public.

 

You have to get help for your teen.  They need to talk with someone who knows how to work with them on taking steps towards facing their fear.  Without meaning to, there’s a good chance you’ve given into their anxiety.  When your teenager avoids a situation that causes them anxiety it provides temporary relief, but actually makes the overall problem grow.

 

It’s important to work with someone who understands teenagers, and is comfortable working with the dynamic between parents and their adolescent.  Because agoraphobia is often best treated by starting with sessions in the home, having a therapist who is comfortable with online adolescent counseling sessions is essential.  Your counselor has to be able to start exposing your teenager to their fear from a comfortable base.  Teletherapy for teenagers (also referred to as Skype therapy for teens, online counseling for teens, and videoconferencing therapy) is a perfect way to accomplish this.  The counseling is able to see your teen in your home.  When needed, the therapist will have you help guide your teen through various interventions.  This will help you learn how to work with your adolescent on their new skills throughout the week until the next session.  Your teen’s therapist will then debrief with your child and help them regroup.  Because your teen is in the comfort of his or her own home, settling back down is an easier process.

 

Also, many teenagers who are facing agoraphobia are very reticent to come into a therapy session in an office (If they want to go to the office, then great!  This means they’re not afraid of all new situations, which is good news).  This is because it’s out of their safety zone.  They will resist getting the help they need because it requires them to leave their house and step outside the familiar.  By seeing a therapist who does online sessions, your teenager will probably be more accepting of the idea of getting started in therapy.

 

The sooner they begin, the sooner everyone knows how to start feeling better.  You get the joy of watching your teen grow and enjoy life again.  Hopefully one day this nightmare called agoraphobia can come to an end.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Agoraphobia Part 1

Panic in teens can lead to debilitating agoraphobia. Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/stuart miles

Panic in teens can lead to debilitating agoraphobia.
Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/stuart miles

Agoraphobia in adolescents is difficult.  Agoraphobia in teens often looks like fear of leaving comfortable places.  These teens can suffer immensely.  Their anxiety is very high, even when they realize it’s not logical.  It becomes a challenge to go anywhere new, and sometimes becomes so extreme that your teen won’t leave the home.

 

This blog post is part 1 of a few blogs on agoraphobia in teens, and what can be done to help them.

 

What is agoraphobia?

Technically it means “fear of the marketplace.”  It is often accompanied by panic attacks, but not always.  The way it looks is your teenager experiences very high anxiety in either crowded places, or unfamiliar places.  There can be a fear of danger, a fear of being unable to escape, or a fear of experiencing a panic attack out in public.

 

When agoraphobia is combined with panic, it usually starts with panic attacks.  A person has a panic attack, which is an incredibly miserable experience.  Panic attacks can so closely resemble the feelings of a heart attack that many, many people go to emergency rooms each year thinking they are having heart trouble, but it ends up being a panic attack.  A person goes out in public somewhere, such as at the mall, and has a panic attack.  They avoid ever going back to that mall because there is now a negative association formed.  This happens in multiple places until the thought of going out anywhere produces anxiety.

 

The result of agoraphobia is an ever shrinking world.  Your teenager is willing to go out less and less, only with certain people, and to fewer and fewer places.  Eventually your teenager might not go out at all.  They might start to feel depressed because they just can’t bring themselves to do the things they used to.  They might even ask you about homeschooling and quitting their extra-curricular activities.  The relief of knowing they could be at home, where panic either doesn’t occur or is at least in a comfortable place, causes your teen to stop the things they used to do.

 

Oftentimes treatment for agoraphobia means having to find a therapist who will come into the home.  This can be an enormous challenge.  Most counselors are unwilling to do this because it can be unsafe, and is very time-consuming.

 

Thankfully, since technology has come a long way, teenagers with agoraphobia have an option.  Online counseling with teenagers is very effective for helping teenagers work through anxiety disorders.  Teens with panic disorder, and with agoraphobia are able to meet the therapist in the home through videoconferencing counseling sessions.

 

If you think your teen is struggling with agoraphobia, give us a call.  As long as you live anywhere in the state of California, we are able to work with you on helping your teen get his or her life back.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Tips for Getting Good Grades

Getting good grades takes a lot of work. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Getting good grades takes a lot of work.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hi teenagers.  A lot of you struggle in school, but would really love to do better.  You dream of seeing a 3.0 or even a 4.0 on your report card.  The problem is, you don’t really know how to get there.  Here are some strategies I’ve seen clients use over the years that have helped tremendously.

1. Be honest.  Many of you like to blame your teachers, other students, or say you put a lot of time into a class, but you just didn’t get the grade you deserved.  If you are completely realistic, some of those things might be true.  However, there is a part of your lower grade that is your responsibility.  Admit to yourself that blaming someone else isn’t helpful.

 

2. Put in the time.  It takes serious work to get A’s in classes.  Students who earn A’s complete every homework assignment, miss very little school, and work at the class even when they don’t earn points for it (they study).  I’ve seen clients put in 5 or 6 hours throughout the course of a week preparing for a test.  Becoming good at something means doing everything you’re asked; becoming excellent means doing everything you’re asked and a little bit more.

 

3. Ask for help.  A-students ask their parents and teachers to help them with things that are overwhelming.  When they don’t understand a subject, they go see their teachers at lunch, tutorial, or after school.  If they still can’t figure something out, they talk with mom and dad about it.  Oftentimes they will end up with a tutor for awhile.  It doesn’t work very well if you just assume you’ll figure it out on your own.  You might, but you will have wasted a lot of precious time.

 

4.  Use time wisely.  Students who do well in school focus when they’re doing schoolwork.  They set their electronics aside and let their brain become immersed in homework.  They do work during tutorial hour instead of socializing.  This really helps them learn the subject they’re studying, so they don’t feel behind in class.

 

5.  Know your abilities.  The clients I’ve worked with who earn good grades are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses.  They don’t try and take an advanced math class if math is a huge struggle.  Instead they will take the regular paced class.  On the other hand, if they are fantastic at history they might try an AP class.  Make sure you’re not overloading your schedule.  It becomes frustrating and then you might stop wanting to try.  It’s important to still have time for things you like doing.

 

Improving your grades takes work.  There’s no magic wand.  However, I believe you can do it if you are diligent and organized.  Ask your parents to help you organize if you struggle in that area.  Don’t feel ashamed.  Believe me, nobody has it all together in every category of life.  We all need help with some things, and we’re good at others.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

My Experiences Conducting Internet Therapy with Teens

The flexibility associated with internet therapy for adolescents can improve the counseling process. Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/stockimages

The flexibility associated with internet therapy for adolescents can improve the counseling process. Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/stockimages

I have been doing teletherapy with teens (also called online teen therapy, Skype therapy, videoconferencing sessions, and internet counseling) since the middle of 2010.  For the most part it has been very successful.

 

I have worked with clients who are facing a variety of struggles.  I have seen a client who has dealt with addiction, and wanted to work with someone who had plenty of addiction experience.  It took time, but working with addiction often does.  Meeting through Skype did not seem to hinder the counseling process.

 

I have worked with eating disordered clients through Skype as well.  Teen online counseling with clients who are struggling with their body image has been mostly good.  We are still able to address the various feelings they have about how they look, the distortions they have when it comes to viewing their body, and the negative thoughts that occur during struggles with anorexia and bulimia.  The drawback in this situation is sometimes family therapy is needed in cases of eating disordered treatment, and this can be more of a struggle with internet sessions.  It isn’t impossible by any means, but it is more challenging.

 

Clients who also have elected to do treatment through teletherapy are those struggling with anxiety and OCD.  This format works wonderfully for these clients.  Part of the reason I’d say I almost prefer it is that the sessions can be easily conducted anywhere.  The cornerstone of overcoming anxiety and anxiety-related disorders (like OCD) is to face the feared situations.  Your teenager is taught how to cope during the anxiety provoking situation, and then we start the process of them facing the situation head-on.  Let’s use OCD as an example.  If your teen fears “contaminated” objects such as the kitchen trash can, your teenager can take their laptop into the kitchen to face the feared object during their counseling session.  As a therapist, this is ideal.  We try to replicate the feared stimulus in the therapy office, but it’s never as good as the real thing.

 

There is a place for internet therapy for teenagers.  It isn’t right for every situation, but it is more effective than you might first think it would be.  It’s an option worth looking into, especially when meeting the therapist face to face either isn’t pragmatic, or isn’t the best way to confront the problem.  I’ve had clients who live well out of the area.  We’ve met entirely through internet counseling sessions since day one.  It’s worked very well for them.  In some of those particular situations they’ve lived in small towns.  They didn’t feel confident they could find a therapist who specializes in working with teenagers locally.  They were glad to know there was still an option to get the high quality help they needed.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Close Relationship with your Teen

Some teens get along really well with their parents. Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

Some teens get along really well with their parents.
Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

I have a few clients who have excellent relationships with their parents.  They have the kind of relationships with their moms and dads that I hope to have with my children when they reach adolescence.  These young men and women share openly about their lives with their parents.  They want to hang around the house.  They want to bring their friends over.  Their friends want to come over.  Their friends all consider these parents to be a second mom or dad.  Despite getting along extremely well, these teenagers still respect their parents when asked to do or not do something.

 

When I see someone do something well, I always seek to emulate it.  I try and model my walk with Christ after other Christians who have deep faith.  I try and model my financial behavior after people I know who have humbly attained wealth.  I try to eat and exercise like people who are healthy.  I want to parent like these parents.

 

Here’s what I notice they do:

1.  They NEVER make judgmental comments about their children’s friends.  They don’t assume their teenagers will behave badly because they have friends who make occasional wrong choices.  These moms and dads regularly tell their teenagers they are so grateful they can trust their teens not to make the wrong choices even when their friends do.  This causes their teenagers to step up and behave well.

2. They are hurt instead of angry.  When their adolescent says something awful, makes a poor choice, does badly in a class, or otherwise commits a transgression, these parents never react in anger.  They feel hurt instead, and they show their teenager their genuine emotion.  These teenagers absolutely hate to hurt their parents’ feelings, so they try to do well at things.

3.  They take an interest in their teenagers’ interests even if they’re not interested.  The parents I’ve observed who have incredible relationships with their kids don’t disparage their kids’ interests.  They even go a step farther than that.  They take an interest in them.  I’ve seen these parents attend concerts of bands they’ve probably never listened to, help their kids plan trips for them with their friends, drive them all over just to spend time with them in the car, and buy clothes that don’t really fit the style they prefer their teens to wear.

4.  Their expectations are clear.  All these parents have a line that their teens wouldn’t dare cross.  Because they show so much respect to their teenager, their teen doesn’t want to disrespect them.  Their teenagers don’t sneak, but then again they don’t have to.  They can tell their parents things without judgment.

 

These relationships are good because of years of work.  It’s hard to completely reverse things if you’ve settled into too friendly of a role with your teen, or too controlling of a role.  You can work to respect them and to enjoy them.  It will challenge you a lot, but finding things to like about their friends will help you grow closer with your teen more than anything else you can do.  Aside from that, learn about what they think is fun.  Maybe you’ll even like it too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

10 Ideas on Paying for College and Teaching Responsibility

Paying for college and teaching responsibility can be done at the same time. Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Paying for college and teaching responsibility can be done at the same time.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are 10 different ways I’ve heard of parents teaching financial responsibility to their college aged kids.

 

1. Tell your teen they will pay for the first semester’s college expenses.  Tell them you’ll reimburse them if they earn a 3.0 or better GPA, which is how they can pay for the next semester.  Continue doing this until they’ve finished school.  DO NOT reimburse them if they fail to earn the agreed upon GPA because they’ll learn you aren’t serious.

 

2.  Tell your teen you’ll pay for 2 years of school, and they can pay for 2 years of school.  Your teenager might choose a less expensive college this way, while still getting a solid education.  Even if they choose to pay for community college and you pay for university, this is fine.

 

3.  Provide them an allowance per semester that covers whatever portion of expenses you’re willing to pay.  Do not pay bills for them.  Just let them figure it out.  If they budget well and there’s money leftover, let them keep it.

 

4.  Throughout high school and college, match them on every dollar they save towards college.  Tell them they’re responsible to pay for some percentage of college (ranging from 25% to 100%), and this will help get them started.  You’re really teaching them the value of saving this way.

 

5.  Agree to pay their living expenses throughout school.  Let them find out how to pay the difference through scholarships and work.

 

6.  Incentivize their education.  Certain majors do not help graduates get jobs.  An example of this is majoring in sociology or psychology.  Undergraduate degrees in these subjects do not lead directly to jobs.  Tell them you’ll pay a higher percentage of college if they choose to major in something that prepares them for the job market.  For example, pay 75% if they major in nursing, but only 50% if they major in cultural anthropology.  After all, the real world pays more for an undergraduate degree in nursing than cultural anthropology.  You’re just helping them be prepared.

 

7.  Commit to helping them through four years of school.  This way if they graduate early (which is feasible), they can get your help for their start in graduate school, should they elect to go.

 

8.  Have your child provide you a written budget at the beginning of every month while they’re in college.  Pay for the things on the budget that you see as reasonable and necessary.

 

9.  Tell your child you’re willing to pay for school at the cost of a 4 year degree at an in-state university.  If they choose something more expensive, they need to come up with the difference.  Suddenly they’ll think harder about whether an engineering degree from San Diego State University is really second-class to one earned at Notre Dame.

 

10.  Lay out some rules for responsible behavior.  As your child exhibits responsible choices, pay for more.  If they show less responsibility, pay for less.

 

For some of you, these ideas sound impossible.  You’ll think, ‘How can my child ever earn enough money?’  Truth: They absolutely can.  Another truth: There IS time to work part-time throughout college.  A Third Truth: Scholarships are not that hard to come by with good grades and a little effort.  I heard of one college kid who made it her job during her summer break to apply for scholarships.  She literally did this for 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.  She was awarded approximately $30,000 for her efforts…not bad for a summer job.

 

Your child needs to learn more than just academic information during college.  They need to be ready to go out into the world successfully.  Being a responsible adult is a huge part of this equation.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Online Therapy With Teens

Skype therapy works really well for teens. Credit: Ambro via freedigitalphotos.net

Skype therapy works really well for teens.
Credit: Ambro via freedigitalphotos.net

How well does Skype therapy work with teenagers?  The answer: It depends.

 

Some adolescents can do internet counseling sessions very effectively and others do not do as well.  There are a lot of teens who benefit from videoconferencing sessions just as much as the traditional face to face sessions.  I have found this format to be great for many of my clients because of how busy their families are.  For some, getting to the office every single week is too much of a challenge.  Taking the time out to drive to and from the office for sessions is really difficult.  This is particularly true when there are other kids in the family who have commitments like soccer practices, tutoring, etc.  For the teen to be able to do their sessions from home is helpful to the whole family.

 

It actually simplifies the scheduling process as well.  It is much easier to find an appointment time that works.  Therapists keep specific office hours.  For example, I only work Thursdays and Fridays in the office.  However, I do internet sessions any day of the week except Sundays.  If your adolescent has school, sports, time with friends, etc., it’s nice for them not to have to miss an activity in order to make their therapy appointment.

 

Are you wondering whether your teenage son or daughter will benefit from online counseling sessions?  What are the answers to the following five questions?

  1.  Is your teenager conversational?  In other words, do they speak readily?
  2. Does your adolescent want counseling?
  3. Can your teenager pay attention?
  4. Is your teen moderately comfortable with technology?
  5. Can your adolescent find a private place for their sessions for an hour at a time?

If you answered yes to all five questions, your adolescent very likely will do well in the online setting.

 

I have been working with clients using Skype since 2010.  The clients who have worked in this format have actually had a better continuity of care.  I know that seems counter-intuitive, but the reason this is the case is that they are able to have a session when they need it at any point in life.  Some clients have gone off to college.  They are able to begin therapy and then continue while they are at school without interruption.  I have had clients who have moved away but they still request a session from time to time.  Basically it creates a relationship between client and therapist that can last longer because the therapist is accessible even if the client’s circumstances have changed.

 

If you know your teen needs help and you either live out of the area, you just don’t know how you’ll have the time to make one more appointment, or you just feel comfortable with videoconferencing sessions, this is a great option for you.  Please give me a call and we’ll talk about how this can work for you and your teenager.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Being Overly Critical to Your Teen Hurts the Relationship

Parents who nitpick their teens can hurt the relationship. Credit: David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Parents who nitpick their teens can hurt the relationship.
Credit: David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Some parents nitpick their kids.  It’s in an effort to help them become a good adult, but there are negative consequences for the child.  Teenagers who are nitpicked feel they cannot please their parents.  They get so frustrated that they either rebel or shut-down.  It feels hopeless to them.

 

I have worked with teens who deal with parents that just won’t let up on them.  When I ask they parents what is good about the child they start with something good, and still find a way to make it a back-handed compliment.  In those cases the teenager looks at me during their therapy session and seems to be shutting down.  Once the parent has left the room the teenager often confides that they just don’t care anymore.

 

If you feel your teenager is never really trying hard enough, is too sassy all the time, and is generally defiant, it’s important to look at the relationship between the two of you.  Possibly your teen is all those things and you are the nicest parent in the entire world.  There’s another possibility though that you are incredibly difficult to please.  Your teen has become defiant because they never can really meet your standard.  You would answer me that they can if they would only do X, Y and Z, but your teenager doesn’t believe it anymore.  Your adolescent would tell me that even if they did X, Y and Z you would think they could’ve done it better.

 

If this describes the relationship you have with your child, it’s important to start making changes right away.  Don’t lose the closeness you can have with your teens because they find you difficult and you find them rude.  Work at having fun with them!  Think really carefully about whether the things you worry about matter as much as you think they do.  As parents we fear that if our kids aren’t shaped the right way we’ve somehow failed to make them into responsible adults.  There is some truth to that, but there are lots of ways to achieve responsibility.  Parents who nitpick tend to lack flexibility.  They have one idea of who their teenager is supposed to be, and they have a really difficult time letting their teen be anything else.

 

Yes, you need to require respectful behavior from your child.  However, consistently making negative comments about what they eat, how they dress, who they’re friends with, how they played that last sports game, etc. will just drive them away.  If anything they might get defensive because they feel personally attacked.  When that happens you’ll possibly interpret it as back-talking.  Then you’ll think they don’t respect you and your teen will think you don’t approve of them.  That’s not a fun cycle at all!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Happiness…The Opposite of Selfishness

Being happy means knowing it's not about you. Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being happy means knowing it’s not about you.
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teenagers are constantly telling each other not to care what other people think and not to worry about fitting-in.  They are also constantly telling one another to focus on what’s inside.  They have a “You only live once” attitude.  They are encourage each other to pursue what feels good in the moment in pursuit of happiness.

 

As parents we are tell our teens that their future is what’s important.  We are on them about their grades, their conduct, their reputation and their attitude.  We tell them, “We just want you to be happy,” but then we don’t let them play video games until 2 am on a school night even though that makes them happy.  Somehow we know that’s not good for them even though it makes them happy.

 

So, who has it right?  Are the teenagers right who think you should do whatever feels good right now?  Are we parents right, who think living should be for our future happiness and goals?  Could be both be wrong?

 

If you live only for right now then everything is momentarily gratifying.  It actually takes bigger and bigger items/activities for the same emotional high.  While buying your child a candy bar made them happy once, kids who get to gratify every whim now need a new car for that same feeling the candy bar used to give them.  Stupid decisions can be made with the momentary gratification attitude as well.  A teenager might have sex with someone they don’t love, try drugs or alcohol, or cheat on a test at school.

 

If you live only for your future you will also be unhappy.  What a waste to have all the gifts of youth, and enjoy none of them.  When is the last time you could sprint after your friend while laughing hysterically and not get winded or sore?  When is the last time you could go out tanning without worrying about skin cancer?  When is the last time it sounded like fun to get a block of ice and slide down a long grass hill while trespassing at midnight?  You can’t be so focused on setting up your future that you miss everything in front of you.

 

Now that we’ve exhausted the two most common ways people try to become happy, what’s left?  What I am going to propose would be a major shift in your teenager’s thinking.  In order to effect that kind of shift, it will have to start with you.  Firstly, start seeking out opportunities to serve others.  Stop teaching your child that becoming the best athlete or the most popular cheerleader is important.  None of that is lasting, and it is quite a fragile foundation.  That leads to the second important piece of happiness.

 

It is your job to help your teenager know why they’re here on earth.  If you teach your teenager that their purpose is to attain status and things because that’s how you live your life, then that’s what they’ll pursue.  It will start with an immovable belief that their life is worthless if they aren’t accepted to Stanford, UCLA or whatever other top-notch college.  That’s a sign that you’ve misguided your child on their purpose.  Their purpose has to be a selfless, timeless cause.  In our household that purpose is to be a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ.  We assume that out of that will come a good work ethic, servant-leader mentality, compassionate heart, driven and focused attitude, and happy child.  If you don’t choose to go the faith-based route, choose something else that’s bigger than yourself.  Don’t be your own cause; it’s selfish and uninteresting.  The happiest teens are the ones who know how to give of themselves to others.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Are You Pushing Your Teen Too Hard?

Teens can burn out and become exhausted. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens can burn out and become exhausted.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dear parents, your teen knows how deeply you love them.  At the bottom of their heart they even know you push them to do better and do more because you want them to have a good chance in life.  You want them to have opportunities that you may have missed out on.

 

Keep in mind though that sometimes this can be overdone.  Kids can only handle so much before it starts to wear on them.  While the threshold varies for each adolescent, every single one has their breaking point.  It’s really easy to get too busy doing a lot of different things and keeping your teens in all kind of extra-curricular activities.  This is supposed to help them get into a better college, and that is important.  On the other hand, is it so important that it’s worth them feeling exhausted and burned out?

 

Some of you have a different battle to fight in order to manage an over-committed teen.  Your child is the one who puts all kinds of pressure on herself to take on more.  She wants to take another AP class, play another sport, or join another club.  In this case, it’s up to you to say no sometimes.  Even though everything your teen wants to get into is good, there can be too much of a good thing.  Your saying no helps her to learn she can succeed even if she’s balanced.

 

Teenagers are still children.  They are becoming adults, but their minds have a lot about them that is young.  They need time to play, rest, socialize, and regroup.  They need a lot of sleep.  They need more downtime than they will need once they are in their mid-twenties.  Teens are still trying to figure it all out.  If we allow them, or require them to be overly busy, they won’t learn the skills needed to lead a balanced life.  That is an extremely important lesson to learn in order to be a joyful, healthy person.

 

The great thing about removing some of the demands placed on your kids is that you will have more opportunity to spend time with them.  They’re about to launch into their own life.  With you transitioning more and more into the role of a guide, they will feel safe to explore.  Eventually they will really appreciate you for it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Homework Struggle

Homework is often tedious, but the right attitude can change everything. Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Homework is often tedious, but the right attitude can change everything.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is not for the teens who consistently do their homework and care a lot about school.

 

For those of you who cannot seem to focus on your homework, read on.  First of all, I understand that a lot of the time it is boring.  Believe me, I understand that.  There are so many assignments that seem irrelevant to the rest of your life.  There are so many chapters to read full of facts about things like how a frog reproduces, or how mitochondria are involved in cellular energy.  Unless you’re planning to be a biologist, you probably don’t care.  You’d definitely rather come home and watch TV, play a sport, eat, nap, or really do anything else besides sit down and study.

 

How do you move past this hatred of your homework?  How do you get yourself motivated to complete your assignments so that you can do well?  It seems so easy for some kids.  Why isn’t it easy for you?

 

Here are 5 tips to make the homework process a little bit more palatable.

1. Do not allow yourself the option of not finishing your homework.  Until now you’ve given yourself permission to be a little bit lazy.  It’s like the person who smokes cigarettes and always says they want to quit.  There’s a very different attitude between someone who wants to quit and someone who says, “I’VE HAD IT!!!  I’M NEVER SMOKING ANOTHER CIGARETTE AGAIN!!!”  You have to get that serious about finishing your homework.

2. Work intensely for a short amount of time, and then take a short break.  It is up to you how long each should be depending on your age and attention span.  Here’s an example: When I was 20 years old I had a college class that required a lot of studying.  I did not enjoy it and struggled to get the work done.  I finally decided to work intensely for 50 minutes, not even allowing my mind to wander or my eyes to glance at my phone.  Then I’d take a 10 minute break and do whatever I wanted.  I was able to get the studying done much more quickly this way.  For teenagers who are younger, like 13 years old, I often recommend 15 minutes of intense studying with a 5 minute break.

3.  Change it up.  If you are partway through an assignment and it is too tedious to complete right now, work on something else.  As long as you keep working on something you’re still making progress towards finishing your homework.  Let’s pretend you detest math.  As a result you often don’t even look at your math book until 9:30 pm.  By then you’re tired and out of time.  You have to push straight through the assignment without a break or you’ll fall asleep with your calculator on your lap.  Start your math early so that if you get bored or frustrated you can take an break to work on English.  It makes the process so much more tolerable.

4.  Don’t try to be perfect.  Some teenagers never start their homework because they are determined to do it perfectly, or just not bother.  You are much better off getting a 60% on an assignment than a 0%.  You still learn something, and you have a much smaller hole to climb out of.  When you’re working on an assignment, just push through to the end.  You can go back and make corrections afterward if you have time.  Somewhat sloppy work that is finished still helps you more than perfect work that is half done, or not even started.

5.  Provide yourself boring alternatives.  If you have an essay to write, give yourself an alternative activity to distract yourself, but make it boring.  In other words, give yourself the option of either working on your essay or cleaning the bathroom.  Choose something that is slightly worse than essay writing.  What will happen is that when you’re desperate for a break, you’ll go do the yucky task.  However, you’ll quickly tire of the yucky task and prefer to get back to your essay.

 

See if any of these things help you.  This all presupposes that you actually want to do better in school.  You can’t be like that cigarette smoker that vaguely talks about quitting but never really means it.  You have to truly tell yourself that you are making a change.  Once you’ve done that, and mean it, these tips will help your survive homework.  What’s even better is that you’ll learn skills needed to survive college and your future job (No matter what job you go on to do, there will be parts of it that are not fun).  Muhammad Ali, a famous boxer, said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”  Your homework is like Muhammad Ali having to go on a 5 mile run at 5:00 am, not fun but completely necessary to win.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Raising Teens in an Era of Social Media

Social media keeps your teen connected to friends. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social media keeps your teen connected to friends.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social media is a game changer for teenagers.  It is so different than when we were kids.  My clients are always shocked when I tell them I was in high school during the era of pagers, and the beginning of cell phones.  They think that sounds incredibly arcane.  Indeed!

 

Social media and texting is a necessary part of your teenager’s social development at this point.  Many, many things are communicated this way.  This is how they make plans, deepen friendships, and keep tabs on their friends.  Before you succumb to the temptation to ban social media with your teenagers, it’s important to see its benefits.  The reason this is the case is that like it or not, it’s here to stay.

 

After working with hundreds of teenagers in my counseling office, it seems to me the families who learn to work with social media outlets fare best.  The parents who allow their teens to use these platforms, while monitoring and guiding their teens, have the best outcome.  These parents use it to teach responsibility, concern for reputation, empathy, and as a means to build trust.  If you make sure to have access to all your child’s various accounts, and keep at least weekly tabs on what is being posted, you will have a very solid feel for which of their friends have integrity and which lack it.  Those that have integrity post things commensurate with how polite they are in front of adults.  The teenagers who lack integrity are the ones who post things that we adults see as shocking or disappointing, while they act mature in front of you.  You can work with your teenager to make sure they are posting things that match your expectations of them.  You can also help them understand why provocative pictures, posts promoting getting high or drinking, passive aggressive posts, complaints about teachers, etc. ultimately hurt them in the long run.

 

It’s important to remember that social media is just another means to an end with your kids.  Everything you have them do should have a bigger purpose in mind.  You want to be constantly trying to use the events, people, and activities that come up in their lives to help develop them into a well-functioning adult.  You want them to be thoughtful, faithful, responsible, kind, passionate, driven, etc.  You use sports to teach them these things, and you can use social media to do the same.  It’s not the enemy; it’s just something we didn’t grow up with so it requires us to adapt.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to get along better with your teen. What to share about your past.

Sharing with teenagers Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sharing with teenagers
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teenagers feel comfortable with adults who can tell stories that relate to the teen’s reality.  If your teenager is occasionally drinking at a party, your teen will respond well to stories about what you did at parties when you were a teenager.  Your past can be a place of connection between you and your child.  It is such a simple way to show them empathy.

 

Maybe your teenage years were vastly different from your own child.  Perhaps you were a popular athlete, and your kid is an unpopular mathlete.  Even if you didn’t have the same exact experience, you can still relate.  There were days when you felt uncomfortable in your own skin and days when you didn’t like your parents.  You still had moments of triumph and moments of defeat.  Having the exact same experiences is not the important thing.  The important thing is helping your adolescent understand that you also had to figure out who you were, and it wasn’t easy then either.

 

Be discretionary in what you share with your teenager.  Don’t overshare.  You don’t want to tell your child things that are going to cause them emotional harm.  For example, some parents dealt with teen pregnancy when they were younger.  They might have terminated the pregnancy, or might have given the baby up for adoption.  Some teens will respond well to this information, but some will feel devastated.  You know your child well, and have to be careful when deciding if it’s a story you should share.

 

I have known a parent who drank a lot and used drugs throughout high school.  Sharing this with his child would not be wise in his particular case.  This is because his son would use the information as permission to drink and do drugs.  I’ve known another mother who experimented with drugs when she was younger.  She chose to share this with her teenage daughter because the daughter listened when the mom told her about some painful consequences.

 

It’s okay to share stories from your past that go against your current moral standards.  However, you need to make sure you include the fallout from your choices, and why that led you to your current moral position.  If you used to steal things you might talk with your teenager about the guilt and shame you later experienced.  Connect the dots for them.  Tell them directly, “That’s why I am so adamant now that stealing is wrong.”

 

You don’t want to turn your past stories into an opportunity to lecture your child.  That will push them away from you.  You want it to be a conversation that leads them to feel safe sharing with you too.  Don’t use a thinly veiled story from your past as a criticism of your teenager’s current behavior, or as a criticism of their friends.  Just tell your story without implying any judgement on anyone else.  Teens are smart enough to figure out what they should learn from what you’re sharing.

 

Disclosing parts of your past to your children can be enormously beneficial for them.  It can help them understand why you are the way you are as a parent.  It can help your child learn from mistakes they don’t have to make.  It can help your kid feel like you relate to what they are going through.  It can help your teenager feel normal in uncomfortable situations.  As long as you handle the conversation gently and thoughtfully, it is usually a great connection and teaching tool.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens and Money

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

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

How should you handle money with your teenagers (Keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of a therapist)?

 

I have seen the inappropriate use of money with children and teenagers cause enormous behavioral problems in teenagers.  Most of the time your adolescent child learns these things from watching you.

 

Here’s one scenario I have seen: Mom and dad have the finest of everything.  They drive brand name cars, carry brand name purses, wear brand name clothes, and shop at high-end stores.  Most likely mom and/or dad worked very, very hard to get there and have earned what they have.  They also dress their children in these brands, maybe buy their children private sports lessons, and send their kids on elaborate school trips.  The children have not worked hard for these things, and assume it’s standard.  Even though these parents mean well, the result is often an attitude of entitlement among their teenagers- consequently their teens have a poor work ethic.

 

Here’s another scenario I have seen between parents and teens regarding money:  The parents cannot really afford to buy their children the nicest of everything.  However, because we all live in a county where there are many people who can, and do keep up with the latest technology, clothes, cars, etc., the parents feel guilt.  They overextend themselves to keep their teenager outfitted with all the nicest things.  The kids do learn something about hard work because they know it doesn’t come easily to mom and dad.  These kids are not as entitled as the kids in the first scenario.  However, they are really frustrated.  The lesson these children learn is that appearance is everything.  They learn it’s worthwhile to go into debt to look like things are going really well.  It can be very hard for them to just accept their position in life with grace and gratitude.  Instead they look to things for happiness.

 

A third scenario I have seen, and one I hope to emulate with my own children, is this:  Regardless of financial means, the parents force their children to live at or below their means.  The teens are required to earn their belongings, and are taught to take good care of their things.  If they drop their smart phone and the screen breaks, mom and dad don’t pay to fix it.  Their child goes without until the child saves enough to fix it.  These kids either buy their own cars or drive hand-me-downs.  Since they never expected a car in the first place they are extremely grateful for whatever they drive.  While it can be very difficult to see their friends get things without trying, most of these teens ultimately say they’re thankful they have cultivated the abilities to work, save and give.  These teens are usually better at thinking outside the box too.  They’ll find ways to wear the same formal dress to a few dances, but dress it up differently so nobody knows.  When it’s time to go to college, they tend to choose a major that leads into a career because they really enjoy productivity.  They also tend to be happier, more fulfilled kids.

 

Basically the point of this post is the way you use and discuss money has an enormous impact on your child’s future.  For those of you who had to scrap for everything you have, it’s very tempting to want to provide your child all the opportunities you never had.  You think, ‘If I’d had that chance…wow!’  However, you developed your toughness and grit because of how hard you had to work.  It’s best if you come alongside your children as they show the ability to work.  For example, it’s much, much better to match their savings for a car purchase than to just buy them one.  It does wonders for their work ethic, self-esteem, gratitude and happiness.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Building Relationship With Your Teen

Having a good parent-child relationship with a teenager isn't impossible. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Having a good parent-child relationship with a teenager isn’t impossible.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is extremely important to actively work on your relationship with your teenager.  It is such a big deal to your teenager that in their own way, they will let you know if it’s not being done properly.  They don’t often sit you down to have a chat about how you should spend more time together.  Instead teenagers act out by getting poor grades, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, becoming sexually active, or being rude towards you at home, etc. (There are other reasons teens might behave this way too; it’s not one size fits all).

 

In order to build a stronger relationship with your teenager, there are some things you can do.  Start with obvious common ground.  I worked with one teenage boy that hadn’t spoken a word to his father in two years, and they lived in the same house.  His father knew the boy liked certain music from the Seventies.  The father had some of the music on vinyl, so he set up his old record player.  He started playing his old albums and didn’t say a word.  That got the teenage boy to come out of his room at look at what was going on.  His father simply asked him if he’d like to see what other records there were.  The teenage boy said he would, and looked through them with his father standing there.  They didn’t say anything to one another, but they were spending time together.  They slowly built a relationship around music.  The father bought concert tickets and invited the boy.  When they went to the concert, the father was very careful not to say anything judgmental about his son, any of the concert-goers, or on any topic for that matter.  Over time the boy began to trust his father not to be critical (a past problem between these two).  After a year of very slow progress, there is now a real relationship between father and son.

 

You can do this too.  Assess where you are in your relationship with your teen.  Start right there.  Don’t try and force something that doesn’t exist, and don’t try and make it happen too quickly.  Take your time and be patient.  Be very cognizant of how many judgments you are making.  It is a great idea to keep those to yourself.  Be aware of how defensive you are feeling.  Remember that you don’t have to respond if your teenager says something offensive, responding is up to you.

 

Make your teenager a priority.  I guarantee you have some stupid priorities that seem incredibly important to you.  I know that for a fact because we all do.  My most stupid priority that sometimes gets put in front of relationship with my kids is cleanliness.  I get so worked up if the house isn’t clean that I miss valuable time with her.  What are your stupid priorities?  Is it work? Golf? Football? Exercise?  All those things are great, and so is a clean house.  They just aren’t great when they become the thing that MUST be done before having focused time with your family.

 

A lot of parents come to me and blame their teens for disrupted relationships.  They tell me that it was much better a couple years ago, while they still had an elementary school aged child.  However, elementary school aged children usually go with the flow more and do what you say.  They will take an interest in what you’re doing in order to get your attention.  Once you have a teenager, he thinks for himself.  He knows what he finds enjoyable.  Even though that might be a little bit different than what you like to do, it doesn’t mean he prefers you not be around.  He will just prefer you leave if you consistently criticize what he likes to do.  So,consider taking an interest in it.  Then you still have an influence on, and still get to spend time with your kid.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teenage Sibling Relationships

Having a sibling can be lots of fun.  Photo credit: imagerymajestic via freedigitalphotos.net

Having a sibling can be lots of fun. Photo credit: imagerymajestic via freedigitalphotos.net

Sibling relationships among teenagers seem to vary enormously.  Of all my clients, I have seen sibling relationships range from being the best of friends to the bitterest of enemies.  Usually it lands somewhere in the middle.

 

If your children are really close, consider yourself lucky.  Or, perhaps you’ve done things to help them get along.  Either way, it’s so wonderful to see your kids love and enjoy one another.

 

If your children don’t get another with each other, it’s often just the way their personalities match up.  Sometimes they will continue to struggle with each other no matter what you do.  In other situations there are a few things you can do to help.

 

It’s really important to try and let your kids be different.  They will not likely perform equally well in school, sports, social relationships, etc.  Each has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses.  Help them along to improve in their weaker areas, and continue growing in their strengths.  However, don’t compare your kids to one another out loud.  They already do this to themselves enough.

 

It can be very beneficial for the kids to have some things they share and some things that are individually theirs.  This starts with possessions and also includes sports, friends, time with you, and goals.  Time with you is a really big one.  This means individual, fun time with each parent.  This isn’t just driving to a sports practice.  It’s going on a hike, playing mini golf, etc.

 

They are not responsible for one another’s happiness.  This is actually something I find comes up often in therapy.  It’s particularly true with the older sibling feeling responsible for the younger one’s happiness.  The older sibling often sees it as their job to keep the younger sibling(s) on track.  When the younger one is making bad choices, the older one will often try to parent their little brother or sister.  We work hard in counseling to help the older sibling just be a big sister or big brother.  That’s what the younger child usually needs anyhow.  The younger one needs someone whom they can confide in and who will give them perspective.

 

Don’t force your children to spy on each other for you.  While you do want your children to tell you if one of your other children is doing something really dangerous such as taking drugs, you don’t want to create an environment of mistrust.  You harm the sibling relationship when you ask them to tell on each other for every small transgression.

 

Creating a loving family where siblings get along well can be a huge challenge.  Sometimes it comes naturally, which is wonderful!  Other times though, parents have to work really hard to help facilitate closeness.  For some unlucky families even the best efforts go unrewarded.  Hold on to hope though because even siblings who do not get along as children often develop a special closeness as adults.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Moms of 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

How does your role as a mom change once your child becomes an adolescent?  This is a question I am asked in some form or another on a regular basis in my therapy practice.

 

1.  You still help with physical needs.  While you are no longer physically brushing your child’s teeth, you are making sure their teeth are cared for.  You take them to the dentist, orthodontist, buy their toothpaste, etc.  You still make sure your teenager is getting a balanced diet too.  This is actually a challenge for a mom of teenagers because teens go out to eat with their friends.  Help them limit this activity to a healthy level and make sure the food available at home is good for them.  Perhaps most importantly, make sure your teenager is getting enough sleep.  I see parents let off the gas on the bedtime when their children are still way to young to manage this with maturity.  If they aren’t usually getting 8 hours of sleep per night, they aren’t managing it well on their own.

 

2. Character development.  To the best of your ability expect your teenager to behave in a way that lines up with the adult you hope they’ll be.  Don’t do that whole, “They’re just kids and they’ll grow out of this.”  If your teen is drinking, smoking, sneaking out, etc. it’s a good idea to reign them in.  You also want to help them develop integrity, honesty, perseverance and responsibility.

 

3. Love.  Your teenager absolutely still needs a lot of love and affirmation.  Just because they’ve lost that baby cuteness doesn’t mean they don’t want to snuggle sometimes.  Even if they are cold when you touch them, they still need it.  Be careful not to put pressure on them to meet your needs for affection though.  That sometimes drives them away from you.  They need to hear you’re proud of them and that you believe they will make it when they step out into the world.

 

4. More space.  More and more your adolescent needs the room to venture out.  You are their safety net but no longer their director.  They should be able to choose their own friends, own extra-curriculars, and own interests.  When they “skin their knees” they need you to help them get back up, but they no longer need complete insulation from ever possibly “skinning their knees.”

 

The transition from parenting a child to parenting an adult is full of nothing but change.  It is up to you to demonstrate flexibility with the constant change.  Continue to love your children as passionately as you ever have, but understand that it starts to look different.  You are no longer the center of their world, you have been moved to the supporting cast.  Even though your role is less central, you are still immeasurably important.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Improving Sleep Habits in Teens

Help your teen do better in school with more sleep Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help your teen do better in school with more sleep
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teenagers are notorious for not sleeping enough during the school week, and then sleeping very late on the weekends.  This can be disruptive to their sleep quality and patterns.  However, I can truly understand why they do it; most teens are exhausted by the end of the week.

 

Not sleeping enough causes irritability, poor memory, depressed mood, affects eating patterns, is linked with use of caffeine and nicotine, and lowers immunity.  The average teenager needs 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep every single night.  Most are lucky if they get 8 hours.  Part of the struggle is that in adolescence it is normal for the circadian rhythm (the body’s natural sleeping and waking pattern) to shift.  Adolescents often cannot fall asleep until close to 11pm.  However, most schools start before 8am.  That means there isn’t even enough time to get proper sleep.

 

This will seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning.  Things that can help your teen fall asleep earlier are keeping their room very dark at night, finishing dinner by 7pm, stopping homework and phone use by 8:30pm, and using the last half hour of the day to wind down.  Do not let your teenager have a TV in their room, or let them play video games in their room.  Those are two activities associated with mental alertness; their room needs to be associated with rest.  Also, their bed needs to only be used for sleeping.  A lot of teens like to do their homework on their bed, text while sitting on their bed, read on their bed, etc.  Again, you want your child to mentally associate their bed with sleep.  These are all things that can help you get your teen to bed by 9pm.

 

Initially you may experience resistance on the idea of an earlier bedtime.  Try and explain the benefits.  Tell your teenager that school becomes easier with more sleep.  Tell them also that they will be healthier, have more energy, and get along better with family.  For teens who struggle with their weight, explain to them that the proper amount of sleep is scientifically linked to a healthier body weight.

 

When a parent brings their teenager into counseling, one of the first things I check on is how much sleep the teen is getting.  Many adolescents are brought in for depressed moods, irritability and low self-worth.  Most of the kids who feel this way also are very short on sleep.  Many of these kids sleep about 6 hours per night during the school week.  Right away we agree on improving their sleep schedule.  We move up their bedtime by a half hour each week until they are in bed with the lights out for 9 hours per night.  In about 25% of cases, this is all the adolescent needs to feel completely better.  In almost 100% of cases it helps the adolescent feel somewhat better.

 

After you read this take a few minutes to examine the sleep patterns in your family.  Is everyone watching TV before bed?  Are some members of the family texting until they fall asleep?  Are your kids doing homework until 11pm?  Are you having to wake your teenagers up two or three times every morning before they start getting ready for school?  These are all signs of bad sleep hygiene (yes, that’s an actual term).  Maybe if everyone works on it, the whole household will get along better.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Entitlement In Adolescents

Responsible teens are much happier than entitled ones. Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

Responsible teens are much happier than entitled ones.
Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to hear John Townsend speak.  He is witty, engaging and above all, wise.  He had really good things to say about entitlement.

 

One of the key points he made was that we should not say, “I deserve” this or that.  That verbage causes us to actually lose power.  When we think we deserve something, we assume it’s due us.  That means we’re upset when we don’t have it, and we don’t see how to go and get it for ourselves.  If your teenager tells you, “I deserve an iPhone,” it means they’ve given you all the power to control when and how they get it.  They are completely relying on you to provide this for them.  Instead it’s much better to teach your children (and yourselves) to use the words, “I’m responsible” to get the thing you want.  If your adolescents learn to say this, they then believe it’s within their power to earn things.  I agree with Dr. Townsend on this point completely because it teaches your teens motivation, and goal setting.  Those two things can be hard to teach a teen!

 

Another point Dr. Townsend made that was fantastic is essentially to be very careful about believing you’re “exempt from responsibility,” and therefore, “owed special treatment.”  When you read that sentence I’m sure you don’t think you’re guilty of this.  At first I didn’t.  Then he went on to explain that ALL of us do this from time to time.  We think it’s fine to share our opinions without being careful of someone else’s feelings for example.  We can be particularly guilty of this on social media.  On the other hand we think everyone should be careful about the various areas of diversity we fall under.  This was just one example.

 

When it comes to teens I hear the problem of being “exempt from responsibility” and “owed special treatment” in one particular area all the time.  This is with their teachers and coaches.  I hear teens’ parents tell me their child had a bad teacher or bad coach.  They say this in front of their teenager.  This causes entitlement in your child.  Some parents even go as far as to change their teenager’s schedule at school in order to get a particular teacher and avoid others.  My question to you if you do this is: Why does your child deserve the best teacher?  Don’t tell me it’s because they’re special (in other words, “owed special treatment”).  And, there’s that word “deserve” again.  The better thing to teach your child is to be responsible for finding a way to learn and earn a good grade even with the less engaging teachers.  There’s that other word, “responsible.”  Besides, learning to function with less than optimum learning conditions is more important than learning the subject matter.  How many times in your life have you used your 11th grade trigonometry from that class with the great math teacher?  Compare this with how many situations you’ve been in where your boss or client was less than great.  Aren’t you glad you learned to cope with “bad” teachers after all?

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Thankfulness as an Antidote to Depression and Anxiety

There are always things to be thankful for if you're looking. Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are always things to be thankful for if you’re looking.
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m reading an incredible book right now.  It’s called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  The book is fairly auto-biographical, but only for a period of the author’s life.  She starts out by explaining how regret, sadness and bitterness pervade her life.  More or less, she’s probably struggling with depression and some anxiety.  She looks back at past events that really hurt her family growing up, and continues to have fears caused by those events.

 

I think if we’re not very conscious to control these types of thoughts, they can affect all of us.  There are always things to look back on that we should have done differently.  I must have thousands of those types of choices.  I’ve spent a good part of the last few days wishing I could redo last Friday, actually.

 

Anyhow, One Thousand Gifts goes on to share how this woman works through her depression and anxious moods.  There are a few lessons to take from her, which I will go over in the next paragraph, but first let me tell you the basis of what she does to move on from her past.  She leans hard into her Christian faith, and recognizes one of the main tenants of Christianity is to be thankful IN all things (not FOR all things).  This means finding something to be grateful for no matter what.  She begins a list of 1000 little joys that surround her.  The list has the smallest things, like how incredible the different colors are in soap bubbles, or how beautiful the sound is when her children play together.  These things are so easy to overlook unless you’re paying attention; she finds she has been overlooking them for years.

 

The lessons from her story are as follows.  First of all, while not all of you reading this are Christian, all of you probably believe in something.  Learn hard into it when you’re suffering.  Your faith is an amazing way to cope with stress, depression and anxiety.  It might not solve it for you, but you also have to work at it.  You can’t just vaguely believe in something, and then never read about it, pray, and give it time.  If you would do all these things, you will start to see immense benefits.

 

The other huge lesson from Voskamp’s story is that thankfulness is really the opposite of depression and anxiety.  Actively looking for the small things in life that are beautiful, enjoyable, funny, loving, etc. leads to less time worrying and regretting.  There simply isn’t room in your mind to do both.  This isn’t to trivialize a legitimate depressive disorder, or anxiety disorder, because often those are much deeper than just your attitude.  However, for a lot of people, simply changing your focus can have a major impact on your moods.

 

Now for a personal note: I don’t struggle much with depressed moods.  I do however struggle with anxiety.  I worry a lot about the future, and it’s a battle to keep these thoughts at bay.  I am finding Voskamp’s techniques to be really helpful in my own life.  I am trying to be more active in my faith, and I am looking for tiny things to enjoy.  So far, it really seems to be working!  My hope is that it will help you and your teens too.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Concerns With Your Teenager’s Sleeping Habits

Sleep is vital to your teen. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Sleep is vital to your teen.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

I’m bringing up teen sleeping habits because I hear parents express concern over this in my therapy office all the time.  I have to admit, how well and how consistently your adolescent sleeps is a really big deal.

 

Good sleep has very strong links to happiness, immune functioning, ability to perform in school, memory, safe driving, and the list goes on.

 

Teenagers are notorious for foregoing sleep in order to complete homework assignments, text their friends, play video games, and watch Netflix.  However, none of these are a good excuse not to get about eight hours of sleep per night.  If your teen is occasionally staying up late to finish an assignment that’s one thing, but if they do this night after night, this is a problem.

 

Adolescents still need a hard and fast bedtime.  It has to be a deadline that you enforce.  It’s essential for their health and well-being.  If they have trouble waking up in the morning for school then it means they aren’t sleeping enough.  That’s their body telling them to get to bed earlier.

 

There’s a good chance if your teen has poor sleep habits you do too.  Get yourself on a good sleep schedule, and stop watching late night TV.  Your sleep is absolutely more important!  You will be more productive at work, nicer to your family, a more enjoyable friend, and you will quite possibly shed those few extra pounds that have been nagging at you.  People who sleep well actually crave healthier foods and exercise more easily (they are more energized).

 

On the other hand, if your worries about your teenager’s sleep come from the other side of the spectrum, there are different concerns.  If your teen naps often, and then also sleeps eight plus hours per night, then I have a different set of concerns.  Excessive sleep is a symptom, but there are many differing problems that cause hypersomnia in adolescents.  Here are a few: depression, drug use, endocrine issues, and physical illness.  It’s very important to talk with your doctor in this situation.  Your doctor might recommend psychiatry or therapy, but your doctor might also catch something else that’s wrong.  In any case, for your teenager to need a total of more than 10 hours of sleep per 24 hour stretch warrants a conversation with a doctor.

 

Once you get the family back on a good sleeping schedule, everyone’s life will be better, and everyone in your household will be happier.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to talk about sex with your teenager

Teens will encounter sex and sexuality. Hopefully you're ready to talk about it with them. Freedigitalphotos.net: photo stock

Teens will encounter sex and sexuality. Hopefully you’re ready to talk about it with them.
Freedigitalphotos.net: photo stock

The bird and bees discussion is so uncomfortable to have with your teens!  It’s my guess that many parents simply avoid the conversation.

 

Unfortunately, most of what teens learn about and hear about sex is from other teenagers (great source, right?).  As early as 4th or 5th grade the joking starts.  By 6th grade a lot of young adolescents have already heard of some friends “doing stuff” with other adolescents.  At that age it is usually pretty shocking.  However, within two to three years, discussions about sex are fairly commonplace at school.

 

You have to ask yourself where you want your child to learn about sex.  At some point one of their peers is going to try and show your child a pornographic movie they’ve found.  At some point one of your teenager’s friends will be “sexting” with another teen, and will talk about it around your child, or ask your child to participate.  Teens will definitely hear about and be exposed to sex.  The question is whether you want them to learn everything they know from other teens, or if you’d like to have input.  I know as a parent I want to have input because I want to be able to let my kids know what I do and don’t think is okay.

 

First of all, how do you bring up this discussion?  It’s not like it’s going to just naturally flow into a conversation.  Most parents find they have to be intentional about it.

 

If you’re feeling a little awkward about this, just imagine your teen!  They’re at an age where awkward is almost a permanent state of being.  So, it could help to say something like, “I’m a little uncomfortable to talk with you about this, but it needs to be done.”  Then find out what your teen already knows about sex.  What have they been hearing from their peers?  Gently correct their misconceptions.  Ask them how they think sex should be treated.  Do they thing it’s something special that should wait for marriage?  Educate them on how to resist situations they are not comfortable with.

 

If you were promiscuous in your younger years, tell them what you’ve learned from that behavior.  If you have religious views about sexuality, explain the reasons for those views, don’t just tell them what the views are.  For example, as a Christian I will tell my daughter that our faith teaches to wait until marriage.  If she does get married, God wants her and her husband to have a bond that is completely unique and special.  I will explain to her that sex within marriage is fun, sacred, and very much each couple’s own special thing.  I will tell her that based on my past mistakes, sex outside marriage doesn’t contain the same closeness or emotional safety, and that’s why God didn’t plan it that way.  I really want her to know the why behind the views we’re teaching her, and your adolescents will appreciate knowing the why behind whatever it is you teach them.  I will also answer any questions she has about the physical mechanics of sex since adolescents often hear incorrect information about this.  In fact, some of the things they’ve heard are just downright hilarious (You’ll have to work hard to keep a straight face).

 

This conversation is a great time to cover other related topics such as puberty and masturbation.  Again, I know this is not your favorite topic of discussion, but it is still very important.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT