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Happiness

Happiness eludes many of us. Listen to this brief story of how Dr. Martin Seligman determined to become a happy person. His research has shaped what we know about happiness and how we have the power to increase our feelings of positivity and happiness.

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

Help for school anxiety

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some teenagers, school is exciting.  They cannot wait to see friends, and really don’t even mind being in class.  If you’re reading this though, that is probably not your kid.

For a lot of adolescents, Monday is the worst day of the week.  Going to school is terrifying.  This can be for different reasons.  For some kids the pressure of homework, tests, and getting up early is overwhelming.  For most teenagers though, the anxiety associated with school is social.  It is hard for some teens to imagine that anyone will be excited to see them.  All they can picture is either being teased, or being ignored as the other kids excitedly greet one another.

As a parent who loves your kid, and most likely thinks the world of your kid, what do you do?  When you see their heart breaking because they just don’t feel comfortable or confident, it breaks your heart too.  We all revert to one of two attempts to help our children.

The first thing you might be doing is trying to solve it.  You might be telling your child how to make more friends (or how to offend less people depending on your perspective).  You might say things like, “Just walk in smiling.  That always makes a person more attractive to others.”  You might offer to let your kid have a party, or you might buy your teen the latest clothing trends.  Realistically though, are you making a huge impact in this way?  Your children’s feelings on the inside won’t have changed much, and this reflects outwardly to the other students.

The second approach might be to diminish your teenager’s concerns.  You might tell them things like, “I bet more people like you than you think.”  You might also tell them they are imagining it, etc.  Here you are near the right track, although not quite on it.  You need your teenager to be the one who says, “You know, I bet more people like me that I realize,” instead of you telling them.  How in the world do you accomplish this?

The techniques I’m going to offer you aren’t foolproof, but they’re worth a try.  Firstly, try telling a story about yourself at that age.  Make sure it’s a story where you felt similarly.  If the end of the story is that you were better liked than you realized, then include that.  However, don’t make it up.  If the end of the story is that you really weren’t very well liked in high school, leave it there.  At the very minimum your child will feel understood; that is primarily what they are seeking when they talk with you about school related anxiety.  This will help them to feel a little better because they will know they are not alone.

The next thing you can try is having your teenager examine the facts.  Tell them, “We are going to look at both sides of this and then come to a conclusion.”  Have them first tell you hard evidence that proves they are correct in their assuming people don’t like them at school.  Do not allow things like, “I just know it,” or “Jennie likes Carmen better than me now.”  Next make your teenager tell you why they are liked.  Believe me, unless your child smells, is rude or never brushes their teeth, someone is friendly toward them.

If the anxiety stretches beyond basic nervousness, also consider getting a little extra help.  Counseling tends to work very well on school-related anxiety.  You can always start with what’s free.  Put a call in to your teen’s school counselor.  If you’re not comfortable with that, or the school counselor doesn’t help, then it’s probably time to call a licensed therapist.

It is my hope your teen has an amazing school year.  I hope they learn in the classroom, and grow as an individual.  Every year is a new chance for your child to blossom.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman

High School Dating

High school dating poses challenges for every teen. Photo credit: stockimages and freedigitalphotos.net

High school dating poses challenges for every teen.
Photo credit: stockimages and freedigitalphotos.net

Dear teenagers,

Dating in high school is a challenge no matter who you are.  You might be the captain of the cheer team, and have more dating opportunities than you want.  You might be the guy who is so shy you can’t talk to a girl even if it’s just to ask what the homework assignment was.  You might be the serial dater who always has a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend.  In every single situation there is heartache, struggle, excitement, hope, and everything in between.

Here’s some things I’ve heard from clients along the way that they wish someone would’ve told them about high school dating.  First of all, it’s not as big of a deal as it seems like it is.  We’ve all watched movies where there is this perfect high school love full of firsts.  There’s a first kiss, first high school dance, first time in love, etc.  It makes it all sound very romantic.  What my clients who are older than you would want you to know though is that your firsts happen when they happen.  There is no set timeline to life that really makes something more special if it happens earlier than later.  In fact, oftentimes it is more special if it does happen later because you will be mature enough to handle and appreciate it.

Another thing they would want to make sure you know is not to invest too much into your high school crush.  I have sat with many, many girls and boys who end up disgusted because they had sex with someone they thought they loved, but can no longer stand.  I have sat with many others who chose to wait and ended up glad because the relationship didn’t last.  I have sat with lots of other clients who wished desperately to have the opportunity to date that one person they’ve liked school year after school year, but then they met the right person later on and were totally content.

A third piece of wisdom I’ve heard from my clients who are now finished with high school is that “hooking up” without commitment is a sure way to end up upset.  Despite what you might think, it cannot be done without emotional involvement.  Maybe you’re not the one with the emotions, but the other person certainly will be.  There is no such thing as casual intimacy.  That causes jealously, self-loathing, anger and almost always ends a friendship.  There is a high level of respect you gain from others and from yourself if you simply don’t engage in this behavior without some type of commitment.

Finally, for those of you who don’t seem to have a handle on how to talk to the opposite sex yet, please don’t be down on yourself about it.  We all mature in different ways at different times.  There are tons of people out there who only date once, because that person is their future spouse.  Maybe that’s you.  If it is, I envy you.  From the perspective of someone who is happily married, if I could’ve avoided all the heartbreaks and mistakes along the way to meeting him, that would have been just fine by me.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What to do if my teen is “sexting”

Sexting among teens is false intimacy Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sexting among teens is false intimacy

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

Sexting is happening much more often than you think.  I have been completely SHOCKED as a therapist for teens at how frequently teens are texting sexy messages to one another.  A lot of the girls I work with who are not sexually active still sometimes engage in sexting.  The phone does make people more comfortable, and text messages make it even easier to say things that would never, ever be said in person.

 

Most of the time it is a boy asking a girl for a picture of something.  However, it is rare that a boy comes right out and asks.  Usually the conversation leads into the request for a picture.  It starts out friendly enough.  Next the conversation becomes flirtatious.  Often it might include a compliment like, “You looked really pretty in that dress you wore today.”  The girl says thank you, so the boy tries to be a little bit bolder.  He might text, “Actually, you looked hot.”  Slowly it progresses until the boy asks for a picture.  Sometimes the girl says yes, and sometimes the girl says no.  Rarely is the boy shamed for asking.

 

One situation I dealt with a little over 2 years ago happened with a 13 year old girl.  She was called into the principle’s office.  She was surprised to find a police officer sitting there.  He asked her if a picture was of her.  She reluctantly admitted it was.  She was suspended, but the boy whose phone it was on was arrested.  He faced charges of child pornography distribution.  Apparently after he became angry at the girl, he sent the picture to several other people in order to embarrass her.

 

Sometimes the sexting conversations do not include pictures.  However, they can include questions about what a boy or girl might do with the other one.  Teenagers don’t realize these conversations are in writing!  If one party says they are deleting it, but instead forwards it to a friend, it often replicates over and over again.

 

There are emotional reasons sexting is bad behavior for a teenager too.  It creates a false sense of intimacy.  There is no personal contact, very little emotional connection, and a boldness that surpasses face to face conversation.  It moves the relationship along at a much faster pace.

 

Often, one of the adolescents in the sexting conversation is very uncomfortable.  However, in order to keep the other happy, or not look like a “prude,” they continue.  In fact, every single girl I’ve counseled who ended up sending a nude photo initially said no.  Often the girl said no several times.  With repeated asking the girl gave in.  A couple of different times the girl unwittingly sent the image to a guy who had friends over.  Can you imagine walking back into school after that?

 

What can parents do?  You have to monitor what your teenager is texting/posting.  You have to educate them on how to resist texting pressure just as you do with face to face pressure.  Teach your teen to be guarded with his or her emotions.  Explain repeatedly that whatever is put in print has the potential to exist forever.  Most importantly, maintain an open door policy.

 

What is an open door policy regarding texting?  When I was a teenager my parents allowed me to have boys at my house.  However, whatever room we were in, the door had to be wide open.  If I was on the phone with a boy the door also had to be wide open.  Granted that was in a time when teenagers were carrying around pagers, so texting wasn’t an issue.  The open door policy meant my parents could walk by at any time and look in, or hear my side of the phone conversation.  Honestly, that policy was very annoying at the time.  Now, looking back, I realize it kept me out of a lot of trouble.

 

An open door policy with the cell phone means that you as a parent reserve the right to grab your teen’s phone at any point, and you actually follow through with this.  It means that if they complain that this is a violation of their privacy then they can just not have a phone for a time.  It means that you are allowed to be their friend on SnapChat, Instagram, etc. and that you routinely check on their profiles.  It also means that you allow your teen more and more privacy as they earn it.

 

A lot of parents automatically give their teenager privacy, and then they have to take it away if their teen is acting up.  The teenager perceives this as mean and unfair.  However, if privacy is a privilege and not a right, there is very little argument.

 

You do these things because you don’t want to be the parent whose son is arrested at school for the distribution of child pornography.  You do them because you don’t want to be the parent whose daughter half the school has seen naked.  You do them because you want to be the parent who teaches your child to become a self-respecting adult.  You do these things because you are a smart parent who knows that setting limits isn’t mean, but is loving your child well.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT