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Build Character in Your Teens, Not Reputation

Character is more important than reputation. Image credit: stockimages at
Character is more important than reputation.
Image credit: stockimages at

Build Character, Not Reputation

Teens (and many adults I’m afraid) are more concerned with building a good reputation than building their character. But, it’s more important to build character, not reputation.  Teenagers, this means you will do or say things in front of one group of friends that you wouldn’t in front of another group.  Maybe you curse around your friends, but you wouldn’t do that in front of your mom and dad.  You want your friends to think you’re easy going and you want to fit in with them.  You also want your parents to think you’re respectful and use clean language.

Adolescents, when you see your parents more concerned with reputation than character, you complain bitterly about it.  You can’t stand it actually.  The way I know this is because as a therapist who works mostly with teens, I hear this from you on a regular basis.  You say your parents are hypocrites.  It bothers you that they get over-the-top angry if you lie about where you and your friends are going, but then your parents turn around and lie to their boss about where they were.  Anytime you see yourself being directed to do one thing, and then your parents don’t follow those rules, it drives you absolutely crazy.  It drives everyone crazy when someone works hard at creating a good reputation, but when nobody is looking their behavior doesn’t match.  We don’t trust people who do that (i.e. politicians).

Building Reputation is About Fitting In

I’m asking you to check-in with yourself to see whether you do this.  Most adolescents do.  Most teenagers are more concerned with how they appear to others than who they really are.  What I mean by this is that you’ll drink at a party because you almost feel like you have to even though on the inside you’re secretly against drinking.  Or, you’ll cheat on a test or paper in order to maintain those perfect grades.  You’re more worried about your GPA looking good to a college than you are about the unseen, internal damage you do to your character every time you cheat.

When I was a teenager I was extremely guilty of this.  I was sexually active with my boyfriend, but I lied about it to certain groups of friends.  I was part of a Christian youth group.  In front of the leadership there, and my friends from there I would talk about how I was a virgin (and thought I could call myself that because I wasn’t technically having “sex”).  In front of my friends who weren’t part of the church I was much more honest about my behavior.  This is because I was much more concerned with reputation than character.  When I got older and more mature, I changed my focus to character instead of reputation.  Then I made the changes in my life that actually matched what I professed to believe.

When you make a good reputation your focus, you end up having to lie.  Oftentimes, you end up feeling very insecure.  You feel like a fraud, and that’s because in some ways you are.  You have to worry about being found out and feeling shame.

Building Character Is About Integrity

When you build character, you end up free.  Consequently, you no longer have to care what anyone thinks about the things you do.  You are so focused on choosing the right thing no matter who is looking, that you become the same person in every circumstance.  You don’t behave hypocritically because you truly act on what you believe is morally correct in your heart whether or not someone will see you.  Interestingly enough, good reputation automatically follows good character.  People trust you because they know you are always the same you.  Your parents and your friends like you better.  You are trusted at work and at school.  When you do mess up, you are often shown more grace because your word is good.  Best of all, you don’t have anything to hide when you say your prayers to God.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Does Anxiety Warrant Therapy?

When anxiety warrants therapy. Girl holding head in her hands. Image courtesy of
It can be hard for teens to deal with anxiety on their own.
Image courtesy of

When to Seek Therapy for Anxiety

If your teen is overwhelmed and anxious, it’s hard to watch as a parent.  It makes you worry and feel concerned.  You might start to wonder if you should have them see a therapist.  It’s often hard for parents to know, “When does anxiety warrant therapy?”

Here’s some things to look out for that might help you know when it’s time to call a counselor:

1.  Your teenager says they are struggling to get rid of their anxiety.  

If they are anxious about a very specific, time-limited situation such as an exam, that’s one thing.  However, if your teenager is worried about something very long-term such as school in general, then they are struggling to control their anxiety.  In that case, calling a counselor is a great idea.

2.  Therapy might help if your teenager is having trouble sleeping because of stress.  

If your son or daughter tells you they can’t fall asleep, or can’t stay asleep because their mind won’t stop spinning, there are a couple things you can try with them.  Have them write down a list of worries, and a 1-sentence plan for each concern before bed.  Sometimes this helps people let things go enough to sleep.  They can also try prayer, meditation, or reading before bed.  All these things are distracting and calming.  If your teenager feels completely overwhelmed at night though, and can’t seem to figure out how to stop it, it’s probably time to call a counselor.

3.  Your teenager is having panic attacks anxiety therapy might be warranted.  

Panic attacks are caused by a completely overwhelming sense of anxiety that is so severe it manifests as physical symptoms.  The heart races, there can be tightness in the chest, a shortness of breath, sweating and hot flashes, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.  This almost always requires the assistance of a therapist.  Often panic disorder also requires the help of a psychiatrist (medication).

4.  Your teenager is extremely uncomfortable in social situations.

 Your teen analyzes everything they said to someone to make sure it didn’t come across as strange.  They feel really nervous around their peers.  They wish they had more friends, but can’t calm down enough to be themselves.  Their mind freezes and they almost can’t remember how to talk in front of other teenagers.  Social anxiety is upsetting and debilitating for a teenager.  It’s very important for their psychological development to get them help in this case.

5.  This one will seem obvious, but when your teen asks for help.  

A lot of parents don’t take their adolescents seriously when they ask for counseling.  They assume it’s just a phase, and maybe they want to try it because their friends do it too.  While that is sometimes true, most of the time teenagers ask for help when they feel desperate.  Perhaps your son or daughter has dealt with anxiety for awhile, and finally has the nerve to let you know.

Parenting is so hard sometimes.  We all wish it came with a clear-cut instruction manual.  I know I do! It can be difficult to know the answer to the question, “When does anxiety warrant therapy?”  Instead we’re left constantly shifting and adjusting to the different personalities our children have, and the changing phases they go through.  Parenting is more like a dance or an art than an exact science.  There’s no one size fits all answer to most parenting questions, and when to get your child therapy is one of those questions.  At the very least feel free to call and we can talk it over.  Asking is always free.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Lower Homework Stress With Better Study Habits

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Lower Homework Stress With Better Habits. Image is of a Chalkboard with "School" written on it. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at
Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at

Why Have Better Study Habits? To Lower Homework Stress!

Hi Teenagers, better study habits equals reduced homework stress! Who doesn’t want lower homework stress?

Are you completely burned out and sick of forever doing homework?  Does it seem like a never-ending pile of pointless worksheets, essays, math problems, projects and labs?  How I remember those days!  Sometimes I had so much homework that I spent an entire Sunday just trying to catch up.  On really, really bad days I remember staying up until I crashed, and then waking myself up at 3 or 4am to work on it again before going to school.  Yuck!

The good news is if you work hard now, it pays dividends later.  Once you finish school and have a job, you generally get to do your work at work.  Home is for just being home.  This isn’t always true as there are lots of jobs that require some extra stuff to be done at home, but for the most part you’re workday ends when you leave work.

However, being that you’re probably at least a few years of high school and several years of college away from no more homework, let’s talk about some things to do now to ease the burden.  This information was given to me by a friend who tutors AP Physics students, and teaches at the high school level.

4 Tips For Lowering School Stress

1. Take the appropriate classes:  

Challenge yourself and do your best.  However, you don’t have to take every possibly AP class that’s ever been offered. For some of you, this raises your stress to a level where you don’t perform. Some of these classes assign so much homework that you come to hate them. It is important to learn that sometimes lower homework stress can equal better quality work.

Besides, even if you’re trying to get into a top notch university, that doesn’t guarantee your future success.  What college you attend doesn’t actually mean very much a few years out of school.  As a result, don’t over-focus on this.  What is important is how well you do at whatever college you do attend.  You will need to get to know the professors, and collaborate with one or two of them on projects and studies.  This makes you a stand-out whether you attend community college or Harvard.  So, for now, take classes that get you where you want to go, but stop there.  Know your limits.  There is more to life than just academic success.

2. Work while your working:  

Part of the reason adults don’t have homework is because they work while they’re at work.  When you sit down to do homework, focus on getting your work done.  If you don’t allow your mind to wander, phone to distract you, or TV to entertain you, you really do get things done A LOT faster.  You can probably read a page out of your history book each minute or two if you are really reading it.  Also, you will absorb more of it so you won’t have to study as hard later.

3. Work smarter: 

So many students don’t know how to study efficiently.  It’s important to study what you don’t know, and just browse over what you do know.  Skim read when you can, and read in depth when you need to.

4.  Study regularly:  

Cramming doesn’t work.  It also inhibits your sleep.  You perform better if you’re well rested.

This resource from UNC is excellent for learning how to study effectively in college. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait! Many of these ideas and techniques can help you now!

From the perspective of a therapist, following my friend’s advice can really help you reduce your stress.  I want nothing more than for you to live a life you can enjoy, while still learning how to work hard.  I want to see you mature into an adult who can withstand some pressure, but doesn’t create extra pressure because of bad work habits.  School is an opportunity to learn how to work smart, and manage stress.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Effective Listening with Teens

Mom not using effective listening with her teen. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Teens don’t want to be lectured all the time; it stops them from sharing with you.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Improve Your Parenting With Effectively Listening with Teens

Ever wonder why your teenager doesn’t talk to you?  Have you ever missed the days when they were little and they actually shared what they did for the day?  You hear about some of your friends whose teens share everything with them, and you wish that were you. Listening effectively with your teens can help your teen become more open with you.

Every week I sit across the therapy room from tens of adolescents.  When they start counseling I always ask them whether they feel close with their parents.  Some say yes and others say no.  Of those who say yes, nearly all of their parents have one thing in common: they don’t judge what their teenager shares with them.  Of those why say no, their parents usually have this in common: their teen does feel judgment when they share anything, so they stop sharing.

What kind of parent are you?  It’s hard for us to self-reflect on this.  It’s a fine line to walk anyhow because we need to course correct our children if they say something crass, or talk about a friend who is into some really bad stuff.  On the other hand, if our kids are talking about how tough a Spanish test was, they will resent advice on how to study better next time unless they are directly asking for it.

Reflective Listening

For most people, listening reflectively is very difficult.  We naturally want to help!  When someone shares something they are having difficulty with, we want to fix it for them.  Unfortunately this backfires a lot of the time.  Teenagers end up perceiving advice as judgement.  They feel frustrated with unsolicited advice.

According to, effective listening starts with minimizing distractions. I know that seems obvious. However, showing you are listening distraction-free is important to your teen. Set your screens aside, sit down, and face them. It’s okay to ask the same from them. Note that some teens, especially males, speak more openly without direct eye contact. In that case, sit side by side.

If you would like to hear more and more from your teen, use all your strength to refrain from comment.  You certainly don’t have to give your approval of things you don’t agree with.  On the other hand, if your teenager is telling you about something one of their friends did, just nod along and say, “uh-huh.”  In extreme situations you might have to get involved or give an opinion, such as if your teen says their friend is suicidal.  However, if your teenager is talking about a friend who regularly cheats on their homework, try not to say anything about that friend being an awful person.  The truth is, they might not be.  They might lack integrity in their schoolwork, but only because they are desperate to improve a grade.  While that’s not an acceptable excuse to cheat, it’s certainly something we can all understand.

For those of you who don’t have a really open relationship with your teenager, it’s tough.  You probably don’t even know where to begin.  Hang in there and be patient.  Your teenager actually wants your affection and attention, but just not if it comes with a lot of negative commentary.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teaching integrity to teens

Teaching integrity to teens leads to a whole heart. Image courtesy of Teerapun /

Integrity is learned best by your example.
Image courtesy of Teerapun /

Why Teach Integrity to Teens?

We must be teaching integrity to teens because it creates a sense of wholeness. It is a discipline in many religions that prevents us from experiencing internal distress. Likewise, it is hard to be internally incongruent with how we present ourselves. Similarly, teenagers who are taught integrity are able to feel high levels of self-esteem.

What Is Integrity and Why is it Important for my Teen?

1. Integrity:  This means you are the same person in the light as you are in the dark.  When nobody is watching your behavior, is the same as it is when everyone is watching?  If you own your own business, do you declare all your income, even your cash?  If you tell your children they cannot be sexually active outside marriage, are you sexually active outside marriage?  Over time your teenagers can tell whether you are hypocritical when you can get away with it.  They follow your example.  If you exhibit and value integrity, they will too.

By modeling integrity to your teenager, you are teaching them how to earn trust. Teenagers trust their friends who don’t gossip about them, pay them back when they borrow a few dollars, and who keep secrets they promise to keep. Correspondingly, your teenager is much more trustworthy to others when your teen has integrity. This means that your teen will keep friends, earn respect from teachers, and get along better with you. Consequently, your teen will have high self-esteem.

How Does Therapy Help Teach Integrity to Teenagers?

Counseling for teens can be very important in teaching teens integrity. One of the main goals of therapy is self-discovery. It is a lot easier to be congruent to your values if you’ve explored what those values are. Counseling then encourages you to examine whether you are being true to those values.

For example, I (Lauren) profess to live by Christian values. When I went through my own counseling, I discovered I was spending an inordinate amount of time exercising. After more exploration, my therapist helped me see that I was not living to my professed Christian value of having God before all else. I was putting my own body shape and appearance before all else. In Christianity we call this having an idol. No wonder I was living with emotional knots! I wasn’t living with integrity. Things in my emotional and spiritual life improved significantly after this discovery because I got my behaviors in line with my heart.

What Can I Do to Teach Integrity to my Teen?

There are a few steps you can take to teach integrity to your teenager. First of all, take a few minutes to write out what values you hold in your heart. Secondly, write out how closely you live to those values. Thirdly (and this is the hardest one), write out the values you are showing with your behavior that you don’t actually want. Fourthly, commit to a few small changes that will help you line up with your values. Once you have this down for a few weeks, try repeating the exercise with your teen. Most will go along with you if you first admit that you also needed a tune-up.

If you think teaching integrity to your teen is too hard given what is happening in your family, don’t hesitate to contact us to see if counseling can help.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT