“Hooking up” has become normalized, acceptable and even preferred to dating among today’s teenagers. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In a culture that has the shortest attention span in recent history, it’s no surprise our teens are “hooking up” more often than they’re dating. Parents, this should scare the bejeezus out of you! It scares me to death and I’m not even fearing for my own child (she’s still small), I’m worried sick about the teenagers I work with.
On the more obvious level, I worry for their physical health. It’s not new news that diseases spread through kissing, sexual activity and sexual intercourse. It’s also not new news that girls who participate in this type of activity with boys they don’t know very well are much more likely to be sexually assaulted. In that case, sometimes the situation gets away from them. What began as consensual activity progresses farther than they intended. Actually, this goes for boys too. While your sons aren’t as likely to complain about it aloud, I hear it in my office ALL THE TIME. An adolescent male is “hooking up” with a girl at a party and she doesn’t seem to be stopping when things really heat up. He wants to stop, but knows that culturally he’s not supposed to. Before he really knows what’s happened to him, he’s squandered the virginity that he did actually value. He wasn’t assaulted per se, but he didn’t really want to be with that girl either.
Side bar: I keep putting “hooking up” in quotes because this has become a confusing term. In my generation the term “hook up” always meant sex. Teens use it now to mean anything from making out to intercourse. It’s not a very descriptive term. If you hear your child using it, make sure to ask for clarification.
The other part of “hooking up” that really bothers me as a therapist is the lack of personal connection, self-respect, respect for commitment, and respect for the other partner- all the emotional stuff. Most of the teenagers I work with who “hook up” have been deeply hurt by this activity. They do this believing it will help them walk towards having a relationship, but actually makes them disposable. There is no earning the right to a kiss after being taken on a nice date because all he has to do is give your daughter a drink or two and then they’ll become sexual (feel free to interchange he with she and daughter with son). I realize this type of thing has been going on for years, but I’m telling you that it is more prevalent than when I was in high school in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At least at that time we tended to be “dating” before anything would happen. One client complained to me that the majority of her friends have a “hook-up” or a “friend with benefits,” but that nobody has a boyfriend or girlfriend. She said she’s commonly called prude, old-fashioned, and a tease because she isn’t sexual with her male friends; she insists on being taken out for a real date. I pointed out to her that although she is called names for this, she does actually have the respect of her male and female friends. She agreed. Can you believe she is made fun of for having self-respect?!?
Parents, I’m begging you to have multiple conversations with your teenagers about this. Please, please, please teach them that their bodies are to be treasured, not given away. Please set a strong example for them yourself. I realize that given the statistics today, half of you reading this have gone through a divorce. That means there are a significant number of you trying to date. For those of you in that situation, set the example for your teens of how you’d like them to handle sex. If you’re casual about it, they probably will be too; if you take it seriously and see it as a big deal, they probably will too.
One of the best things you can do as a parent is demand the respect your teenager deserves, and force them to give the respect their fellow teens should have. I realize that sentence wasn’t very clear, so this is an example of what I’m talking about. If you have a teenage son, require him to knock at the door and shake hands with a girl’s parents when he takes her out. If you have a teen daughter, don’t let her leave the house until her date has come to the door to pick her up and shaken your hand. If he’s clearly uncomfortable beyond the nerves any teen boy would feel standing face to face with a girl’s parents, don’t let her go with him! Hold very firm boundaries around teen dating while still letting them figure out what it’s all about. For goodness sake, talk to them about the destructiveness of just “hooking up!” We want our kids to grow up healthy and free of the burdens that come with sexually transmitted diseases, wounded hearts from sex that happened too young, and the pain of being cast off after giving everything to another person.
I’ve never commented on this as far as I can remember. It’s not something I am called on to do with any regularity. It is one of the most universally hated parts of a therapists job. What is it? Calling child protective services.
People have a hard time believing marijuana is addictive. Indeed, for many people it is not. It is similar to alcohol in that most people who use it do not become dependent. Most can use it in a social, recreational situation. However, like alcohol, there are some who cannot control their use.
Someone who is addicted to marijuana always says that other people do not understand it. They say it has health benefits, and that it is not an addictive drug. They say of course they could stop if they wanted to. They ignore the irritation of their loved ones, and they ignore the signs that it is a problem. Their productivity is lowered, and their emotional range is blunted. They tend to use it several times per day. It is often the center of their social group.
Heavy marijuana users tend to need it to fall asleep. Their anxiety becomes so high that it is hard to quiet their minds before falling asleep. What is ironic about this is that the majority of people who abuse marijuana claim it isn’t addictive. However, if your teenager needs it in order to get to sleep, their body is dependent on it.
According to drugabuse.gov, 1 in 6 teens who use cannabis end up addicted to it during their lifetime. For those who use it daily, the number skyrockets to 1 in 4. Nearly 1 in 5 teenagers who enter a drug rehab facility go to treatment because they can’t quit using marijuana.
As a therapist who works with teens that have drug problems, I find that the teens who abuse marijuana are initially resistant to the idea they are addicted. This is much more true than the teens who abuse other drugs. I have yet to sit down with an opiate, meth, cocaine, or anxiolytic (such as Xanax) addict who thinks there is absolutely no problem with their drug use. Yes, some of these drug users are in denial about how intense their addiction might be, but they all agree that it would be better to be sober. This is not true with adolescents abusing marijuana. Most of them maintain a moderate level of functioning, so they argue that they’re completely fine. It takes a lot of work to break through a marijuana addict’s denial wall because addiction to marijuana is more subtle.
If this describes your teenager, my heart goes out to you. You might even feel torn about whether marijuana is addictive yourself. One thing that may help you understand is according to http://adai.uw.edu/marijuana/factsheets/potency.pdf, marijuana is 2 to 7 times more potent than in the 1970s. Also, teens tend to smoke the flower buds of the cannabis plant, which is stronger than the leaves previous generations tended to smoke. Many now use “dabs,” which is concentrated THC inhaled through a vape pen. According to justthinktwice.gov, dabs are approximately four times as strong as the highest grade marijuana; they are absolutely addictive. Previous generations also were more likely to begin use in their 20s, but now that is starting 5-10 years sooner.
If this blog is hitting home a little too closely, your teen has possibly begun to have a marijuana dependence. They will argue with you that they feel fine, but it is still a problem behavior. If you want your teen to be engaged, present and productive, then encourage them to quit. If they cannot or will not quit, get them help.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Occasionally you need to come down hard on your child for a transgression, but if you are doing this daily then you are an ineffective disciplinarian. Sure you might be getting compliance. People will comply out of fear. Given the first opportunity though, they will be passive aggressive as a means of expressing their resentment towards your tyranny. Teens are no exception to this rule. Sometimes they even become just plain aggressive.
If you want to impact their character so that your teenager can make independently moral and upright decisions, then you must discipline by leading. Even better is when you are lead and can then in turn lead your children. When you follow the edicts of your faith (in my household this means the instructions for life given in the Bible), you have a guide that makes it easier to parent. You have something telling you in no uncertain terms what is right and what is wrong. You are told your purpose, how to love, and how to conduct edifying family life. It makes it much easier to take your teenager’s hand and lead him through ups and downs rather than constantly nagging and exasperating him. So, lead well and watch your child shine.
Help your teen combat depression by volunteering together. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One of the simplest things you can do to help your teen combat mild depression is to help them be more selfless. These days the commonly held belief is that we all need to work on ourselves; we need to take time out for ourselves; we need to focus on our own internal growth. If we would spend extra effort improving then we’d find happiness. Since happiness is the opposite of depressed, everything would get better, right?
If this is such sage advice, why hasn’t it worked yet? Why are people feeling lonely, purposeless, aimless, and easily overwhelmed?
The answer can be found by looking down and looking up. If you look at ants you will notice they are almost always working in teams. They are following one another in a line, and they live in a colony. Ants even carry their dead back to the nest. If you look all the way up the the heavens, you see that even God himself does not work alone. He has Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Nothing about the way the world works indicates that we are meant to fix ourselves. Part of the reason I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE working with teens is that they are still living in a family. While the family may come broken, piecemeal or otherwise, there are always people around the teens. The healing in my clients has come from adjustments made to their relationships far more often than adjustments to their inner selves. Even when they adjust their inner selves, they don’t seem to feel content until their relationships begin to change.
I see a great number of girls who come because they are struggling with body image. They are trying to reach perfection on the outside. A perfect body is a lonely, isolated pursuit. Even if these girls achieve their desired appearance, they are unhappy and unfulfilled. Again, we were created to be in relationship with others.
Now that you know the background, you can likely see how this will relate to your child’s depression. Stop encouraging your depressed teenager to work on him or herself. Instead, push your teenager to work on someone else or something else. Take them down to the soup kitchen on Saturday. Have them volunteer at the YMCA to play with kids after school. Take them to the library and have them volunteer in the Friends of the Library bookstore. Sign them up for the Big Brother/Big Sister program (as the big brother or sister).
The antidote to mild depression is to get into relationship and give of yourself (Please note, for more severe clinical depression the most important thing to do is seek professional help. Clinical depression is not resolved with a simple change of attitude or change of scene. It is dangerous and requires intervention).
So, when you see your teenager tonight, tell them you know how to help them perk up. Don’t make this optional. Get them involved in helping someone else and watch them begin to find a sense of joy. If you work alongside them, you’ll get to experience that joy and you’ll strengthen your relationship with your teenager!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Being mindful mean enjoying the present moment fully. Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Mindfulness is choosing to exist differently. It means you are very intentional about experiencing the present moment. You also have to experience it without self-judgement. It often looks like savoring your present moment and finding things to be grateful for. When you do these things, anxiety becomes secondary.
If I am being mindful right now, I will notice things around me that I was not thinking about even 30 seconds ago. I notice the air is a very comfortable temperature. I notice the leaves on the tree outside are gently shimmering in a slight breeze. I realize I feel comfortable sitting on this couch. I see the reflection of the window behind me on the computer screen. I accept that the reflection on the screen is an annoyance to me, but I am not upset with myself for feeling annoyed (experiencing without self-judgement). In this moment I am fully immersed in my surroundings and in writing this blog-post; I am being mindful.
Let me show you the difference in how this goes for me when I’m not choosing to be mindful. I am sitting at the computer annoyed that I am writing a blog-post on such a beautiful day. I just heard my phone alert me that I received a text message and now I am wrestling with the urge to go check the message. However, I want to hurry up and finish writing this before my daughter wakes up from her nap, so I don’t think I should get up and check the text-message. I feel my anxiety building up. I feel my stomach knotting slightly, and I just realized I’ve forgotten to breathe for the last few seconds because of the anxiety. I am simultaneously wondering what I should make for dinner and what time everyone will be hungry. My to-do list is running through my mind. Ultimately, I am not enjoying my moment.
What’s so sad about this is that I only get to live through this moment once in my entire life. I spend many moments full of anxiety because I am just not present, and I am moving too fast. Over time though, I’ve been working hard at being mindful and I have noticed my overall anxiety level diminishing. I am intentional about finding something to be grateful for, and something beautiful in every situation. It really works to reduce anxiety.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still days where anxious thoughts run amok and are extremely difficult to control. The wonderful thing about mindfulness though is that when that happens, mindfulness teaches us not to judge it. So I’m anxious, so what? I just sit in it and try not to worry about the fact that I’m worrying. You know we’ve all done that before! We admonish ourselves for worrying about something that is out of our control. We try desperately to talk ourselves out of how we feel, and then we end up more frustrated, and still full of anxiety. I’ve pretty much given up on this tactic and prefer to mindfully acknowledge that I’m anxious, and just let myself feel it.
I hope this helps you and/or your teenager next time anxiety overwhelms you.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
The Bible has a lot to say about worry…namely that you shouldn’t. Here I share some words from Jesus that are truly wise when it comes to letting go of what you can’t control, and what you don’t need to try to control.
Adolescents spend a lot of time filling their mind with things that don’t necessarily edify them as a person. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
Without meaning to, we’ve let our kids fill their minds with intellectual junk food. We are taught to be very careful about what we eat so that we can keep our physical bodies healthy. In our culture though, we don’t pay a lot of attention to feeding our minds with things that keep the mind healthy. Other than schoolwork, and maybe the occasional church service or bible study, our teenagers fill their minds with social media, TV and whatever they happen to search on the internet.
Adolescents are at a stage where they are heavily influenced by what they read, hear and see. As parents, it’s our responsibility to strongly encourage our teens in learning things that will truly help them in life. This ranges from what they watch on TV to what they read online. I realize that you can’t control everything entering your teenager’s mind. However, you can prohibit them from watching TV shows with nudity, sexual content, cursing, drugs, etc.- whatever goes against how you’d like them to act. Because these things are so incredibly commonplace, even on “family friendly” shows, we have become numb to them. I was watching sports last night and a Victoria’s Secret commercial came on. At some point in our culture’s not too distant past that would have been seen as pornography (a bunch of girls in bras and panties making seductive faces and poses); it would never have been allowed during a sports game that kids are probably watching with their parents. Now though, that’s commonplace. You have to think really carefully about whether you’re okay with your teenage son or daughter seeing this kind of thing.
Okay, so the logical question that follows my soapbox rant is, ‘What should I have my teen viewing/hearing?’ The answer to that question lies within the bounds of your values. In our house we follow the Christian faith, so our kids spend at least some of their internet time using apps that help them understand their faith better. In my cousin’s house, music, education and culture were highly valued so my aunt had my cousin watching movies that broadened his horizons on different cultures. These weren’t boring documentaries, just movies made in other countries that showed another view of life in the storytelling. This was intentional on the part of my aunt, and it paid off as my cousin became an adult.
There also needs to be a limit to social media. It’s up to you how you handle this. Maybe you limit the amount of time your son or daughter spends on it. Maybe you strongly encourage your son or daughter to follow their role models and interact with those people as often as their friends. That is one of the great things about social media- it’s actually possible to interact with people you could never otherwise reach.
The last thing that’s really important is for you to assess how you spend your spare time. Are you watching trashy TV? Are you always posting pictures for your friends on Facebook at the expense of reading a good book? If you look at yourself and realize you are not feeding your mind healthy intellectual food, make a few changes. This is actually really hard at first, but the example you set pays huge dividends with your kids.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Dad, do you feel irrelevant in her life? Do you feel like she’s only bonded with mom? Do you feel like your daughter doesn’t care what you think, or that she doesn’t want to spend time with you? The research says she needs you. Here’s why:
In the state of New Jersey it has been found that mandating arrested drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail-time has greatly reduced the repeat offense rate. When a drug-offender simply does jail time the rearrest rate is 54% with a 43% re-conviction rate. When mandated to treatment, the rearrest rate is 16% with an 8% re-conviction rate.
One thing that is rumored to happen in jail or prison is that an addict learns even more about how to be an addict. There are a lot of drug users and dealers in prison/jail, and they educate one another in further delinquent behavior. It is also rumored that there is a pretty significant amount of illegal drugs dealt within the prison system, sometimes making an addiction worse.
Whether you believe our justice system should or should not offer treatment centers as an alternative to jail/prison time, this article is a good example that treatment for addiction can be very helpful. It also demonstrates that who you spend your time around is who you become.
While there’s a good chance your teenager isn’t serving jail time for a drug-related arrest, this article still applies to you. The two important things to get from this is that 1) prisoners who spend time in the main prison population often commit drug-related crimes again and 2) prisoners who spend time around recovering addicts tend to get better.
If your child is acting out and participating in drug use, the most important thing you can do is change their peer group. This is extremely challenging as a parent. How many times have you told Junior, “I don’t like you being around those kids. What about hanging out with so and so instead?” Then you’re rewarded with a dirty look and an accusation that you “hate all my friends.” This is when you need to start thinking outside the box.
If your kid isn’t working, help them find a job. Teens who work develop friendships with their co-workers. A job also takes up time that could otherwise be used to smoke a joint.
Your child might be farther into their drug use than just getting a job to change their peer group. In that case, you’ll have to be more forceful and drastic. Sending your teen to a relative’s house for about 3 months can be extremely helpful. Do you notice that while your teen talks back towards you, they don’t talk back to your sister? They aren’t familiar enough with your sister to do that. It might just work to have them stay with her for a little while. This is only effective if your relative lives far enough away that your teen cannot see the same friends.
If the case is more severe, you’ll have to strongly consider either rehab or teen boot camp. Both of these methods are effective and helpful. I’ve found that teens who go to boot camp tend to come back a little bit stronger than rehab. However, in no way am I claiming to have completed a study on the matter. Each rehab and each boot camp are different. What works well with one type of teen may not be the ideal fit for another type of teen.
The bottom line is, teenagers begin to act like the people they are around. Getting your struggling teen around successful teens tends to improve the decisions your teenager makes. Just like the prisoners in this article, everyone needs someone who will show them an alternative, positive way out. For teens the most important thing is that they think it is their idea. This is your chance to be a creative parent and covertly help your teenager come up with a good idea for how they can start making changes.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
If you want to be more self-assured, self-confident, have a higher self-esteem, and a better sense of self, then you need to stop focusing on yourself.
What? You must be joking, right?
No, I’m serious. When you want to work on yourself all the time, it is harder to focus on others. Compassion, empathy, and action are all things that occur in relationship to others. To improve yourself, you must stop thinking about THE self.
A relaxing morning reduces anxiety all day. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Living anxiety-free means actively making choices to have less stress. Everything about our lives is fast, and intense. We’re always trying to get ahead. We want the best grades for our teenagers so they can get into the best schools. We push them into a lot of extracurricular activities because we feel we have to. We work long hours and take short vacations. We start our mornings off all wrong.
How we start our day is one of the key factors to reducing anxiety. However, it is one that doesn’t get much attention. We don’t realize a slower start to the morning is key. We tend to fill our minds with a bunch of useless, negative junk while reciting our to-do list, and then hope to have a good day.
One thing a lot of people do is watch the news in the morning. It is rare to find a news program that discusses progress and positive events in tandem with the negative. Sometimes even the good things that happen are still spun in a negative way. It’s all meant to to increase the viewer’s anxiety so they’ll keep watching.
It is really important to realize that most of what is reported on is out of your control. Try and focus on what you can do something about, and leave the rest alone. Replace some of the news with looking outside at the beauty God has created, and take a minute to say thank you. Then you might remember that you live in an amazing place and are generally blessed.
Start your day with something positive and encouraging. Take time to read your bible, pray, call a friend, slowly enjoy your cup of coffee, or anything else that gives you a sense of calm. It has been said that your first ten minutes are a huge predictor of what kind of day you will have. If you begin your day with anxiety, then you are much more likely to feel anxious the whole day. Be very intentional about starting your day with something that leaves you feeling positive and energized. Help your teenagers do this as well. Make your teenager a good breakfast, have them sit down to eat, and be very pleasant if you sit with them. Do not talk to them about classes, a test they need to take, or anything else on their to-do list. Keep it light and positive.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Why are vacations better for connecting with family than being home together? While there are many reasons, one is that we’re often unplugged. At home we go to different corners of the house and have personal screen time. On vacation we tend not to do that, and that time is really important.
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.