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OCD: Intrusive Thought or Realistic Thought?

I once had an OCD client who had a teacher yell at her. She became fearful of this teacher and started having obsessive thoughts he would pull her out of class to threaten or scold her. Because he had yelled at her once, her obsession was based on a good-sized kernel of truth. However, as often happens to people suffering with OCD, the obsession was a gross exaggeration of the realistic risk. She struggled immensely with discerning what was realistic and what was intrusive. How does one begin to tell the difference?

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

Helping Teens Cope with Academic School Stress

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thing all adolescents have in common is that at some point or another school stresses them out.  They are given an assignment that really stretches them, or have to make a certain grade on a final exam to get a passing grade in a class.  Every kid runs up against a class where they don’t understand the material and feels completely lost.  Middle school and high school can be a huge challenge for your kids.

 

Here are 5 tips to help your teenager cope with school stress:

  1. Help them keep the big picture in mind.  A high school grade or class doesn’t in any way define who they are as a person.  The effort they make, and the ability to cope with challenges does define them.  That’s where your focus needs to be as a parent.
  2. Give them guidance on how to seek out the help they need.  As your teenager gets older and older, you should do less and less of the actual calling/emailing teachers and tutors for them.  Help them find the information they need to seek out help, but get them to do it themselves because that also builds character.
  3. Help them learn to break problems into small pieces.  If your teen is given a 10 page research paper, then it’s your job to help them learn to break it down.  Help them make a check-list of steps that get the paper done.  Kids who learn to patiently outline papers, research carefully, write a draft, edit their draft, and then turn in their papers get better grades.  They also learn huge life skills about time management and planning.
  4. Help your teenagers learn to pace themselves slowly.  A teen who studies consistently for a couple hours per day is a better student than one who studies in spurts.  It’s hard for teens to learn that there are days when they have no homework assignments, but they should still be working on school.  If they take the time to work when there’s no work assigned, then they can stay ahead a little bit.  This reduces future stress.
  5. Learn to study in groups.  It makes it more fun, and it makes it easier to stick with it for longer.  If your child is stressed about how to handle a difficult class, one of the best things they can do is get together with a few of their friends who also have the class.  Different students understand different parts of the material.  If they work together they can help each other learn.

 

The bottom line is that school is overwhelming sometimes.  It gets to every student from the 2.0 student to the 4.0 student.  One of the best things you can do is to help your adolescent have a strategy.  Recognize that teenagers aren’t always great at carrying out their strategies, so you will have to gently help them stay on track.  It’s also important for you to recognize the limits of your child’s abilities.  If your teen is working as hard as they can and getting a 2.5 GPA, then don’t push them to be a 3.5 student; they will start to feel like you are never satisfied with them.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Starting School During a Pandemic

It’s confusing. Life is not making sense the way it normally does because none of us knows what’s coming. We have no idea when things will return to normal, or if the normal we’re used to will even exist again. Here’s a 1 minute video of how to cope with the uncertainty.

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

Contentedness and the High Achiever

Being a contented teen is a learned skill. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being a contented teen is a learned skill.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you have a high achieving teen?  Awesome!  It’s so nice for those of you who parent teenagers that compulsively do all their homework, keep up in sports or other extra-curricular activities, and generally try to do the right thing.

These are also usually the kids who have a touch more anxiety than their peers.  Sometimes they have quite a bit more anxiety.  Teaching them to be content (but not complacent) is a tough task.

Contentedness means having gratitude for the gifts God has given you.  It means being thankful for the body you have, your status in life, the family you have, and the friends you’ve made.  It means knowing where you are naturally more talented, and not being mired in disappointment over the areas where you’re not.  If you are a great athlete, but struggle in school, you embrace this.  It doesn’t mean you quit trying in school, it just means you accept that it’s tough for you.  It means you seek extra help when needed.  It also means you don’t resent people that find school easy.

For the parent of a high achiever, you have a huge challenge.  If your adolescent is the “typical” high achiever, then he or she expects to be the best at everything.  Your son expects to be the best athlete, student, more popular, etc.  Your daughter expects to be in the best shape, get accepted to the best college, and have straight A’s.  Anything less causes your teenager to feel inadequate and frustrated.

Help your teen know their strengths.  Help them develop those strengths.  Help your teen accept natural weaknesses.  Teach your teen over and over again that most people are good at a few things, bad at a few things, and average at everything else.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

When I see teenage clients in therapy who are struggling with anxiety, the first thing I assess is how well they are functioning in life.  If they are accomplishing a lot, but still not happy, we begin to work on gratitude and contentment.  I use the counseling process to help them continue to cultivate their drive for success, but with a different motive.  Instead of comparing to others and then feeling less than, I want the teen to appreciate their exceptional abilities, average abilities and weaknesses.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Catch Your Teen Being Good

Catch your kid being good instead of only when they do wrong. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Catch your kid being good in order to improve the relationship.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was an intern my supervisor used to tell me one of her favorite pieces of advice to give parents was to, “Catch your kid being good.”  She’d say that so often by the time a parent brings their child into counseling, they are at their wits end with their child.  She’d say exasperated parents make impatient parents; impatient parents make parents who are overly focused on the negative; parents who are overly focused on the negative make critical parents; critical parents make irritable children.

I see this in my counseling office on a pretty regular basis.  It’s not that the parents who are coming in are bad parents, or are unloving to their teenagers.  Most of the time they love their teens tremendously, but are just overwhelmed with how to help them stay on track.  Some resort to the tactic of trying to correct things as they see them.  This is fine when the relationship is in a good place.  However, if the relationship is strained then it doesn’t tend to work very well.

If you are wondering whether you might be in this cycle with your adolescent, try something different for a week and see if it helps.  As my former supervisor, Leslie Gustafson used to say, “Catch your kid being good.”

What does that mean?  We are quick to comment on, and punish our kids for doing bad.  If they score a low grade on a test, tell a lie, sneak, sass, etc., we feel we must do something about it.  When our kids are respectful, do their chores on time, are honest, etc. we think that should be status quo.  We tend to say nothing much about it because we think that’s how it should be anyway.  We save the praise for A’s on tests, going above and beyond around the house, or when our kids randomly show us extra appreciation.

For this week, try making affirming comments when you see your child just doing the status quo.  When you notice your teenager doing anything small that is the “right” thing to do, praise them.  Maybe you came home from work and noticed they had started their homework on their own.  Instead of saying, “See, isn’t it easier when you start your homework early?” which comes across as a little condescending, say, “That’s awesome that you take initiative to get your work done!”  If your teenager clears their dish after dinner, thank them.  Try to resist the urge to then remind them they also need to wipe down the table.

You have the power to change the interaction with your teenager, and the power to influence their attitude.  All it takes is a few words of praise when they are doing the small things right.  You will be kinder to them because chances are, there are parts of them that are a really good kid.  There’s also a good chance they will enjoy the praise, and want to keep doing that thing you commented on in order to get more praise from you.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Thank You Teenagers

Sometimes you teach me. You have been incredible throughout quarantine. Teenagers, you’ve been honest with your disappointment, loneliness and sadness, but you’ve also been amazingly resilient. Every one of you I’ve seen in therapy in the last two months have expressed reasons you’re thankful. You’ve all been thoughtful and you have all tolerated this with less complaining than the adults I know!

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

5 Things That Raise Your Teen’s Anxiety

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stress is overwhelming for teens.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

These are in random order:

1. The news:  Your teenagers are susceptible to the scare tactics used by the media just as much as everyone else.  What I mean by scare tactics is that bad news and anxiety cause people to  continue watching the news.  In my office I have worked with many a terrified teenager after they read about a school shooting thousands of miles away, or the war on terror, etc.  The 24 hour news cycle about COVID-19 is sending many of your kids into panic.

2. Problems with friends:  Friends are your teenager’s world.  As a parent you likely have enough perspective to realize things will iron out.  However, for your adolescent, when things are off balance with friends their whole world seems upside down.

3. Pressure to get good grades:  This is a constant source of anxiety for just about every teenager I see in my office.  Most teenagers feel they need to do better than they are doing, even when they have a 3.5 or 4.0 GPA.  Help your teen set reasonable goals and then be satisfied when these are reached.  Help them remember there’s only one valedictorian each year.

4. Parents expressing disappointment:  Your teenager might act as though he or she doesn’t care that you are disappointed in something they did.  This couldn’t be father from the truth.  Every teenager I’ve ever worked with wants their parents to approve of him or her.  However, if they don’t know how to get this approval, or if they perceive you as being regularly critical, they are more stressed.

5. Dating:  Navigating the world of dating and sexuality is very challenging for a teenager.  Whether they are painfully shy and hardly allow themselves to have a crush, or are dating constantly and sexually active, this causes stress for adolescents.  It’s really important to help your teen make wise dating choices during their adolescence.  Keep in mind that if they aren’t getting help from you, they’re getting it from other teenagers.  Who is more likely to give good advice?  So, please don’t put your head in the sand and please don’t forbid dating.  That only causes your teenagers to sneak.  Instead put good boundaries around dating and monitor it as best you can.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

COVID-19: Don’t Languish or Be Anxious

“I can’t stand this anymore! I’m bored and I’m anxious. When will it end?” One of my clients was lamenting to me yesterday about living through this COVID-19 crisis. His feelings pretty much sum up all our sentiments. Because we all wish for a sense of control, and some of us are languishing on our couches without routine, here’s a quick video that might help a little.

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

Teaching Teens to be Thankful

Teaching your teenagers to be thankful helps in for the rest of their lives. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Teaching your teenagers to be thankful helps in for the rest of their lives.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Considering we’re all stuck at home during this COVID-19 crisis, posting about thankfulness feels important.  Without thankfulness each of us will spend our time wishing for things to be normal.  Since this day only happens once, there’s no sense in focusing on what you don’t have.  Gratitude is one of the best ways to feel happy, have others love being around you, and enjoy your life.  If you can teach your children how to feel grateful, they will enjoy their days far more than someone who is entitled.

 

The first thing you must do is teach them to work.  Teenagers who understand that work equals getting things they want/need actually have much higher self-esteem.  It seems backwards.  It’s easy to understand how a lot of parents believe if their teenager is provided every opportunity that they as parents had to struggle for, their teenagers will go father than them in life.  It’s a baffling experience for a lot of parents when they discover all their good intentions had the reverse effect.  Teenagers who learn that they get a cell phone when they pay a piece of the bill, or have their parents fill their gas tank after they wash mom or dad’s car, are extremely grateful kids.  They don’t assume their parents owe them things just because that’s what other kids have.  Instead, they are overjoyed when their parents do help them out, but also very proud of themselves for earning their way.  During COVID-19 this looks like teens making a significant contribution to the household chores.

 

Concepts are caught, not taught.  You must model gratitude.  If you are someone who complains about your situation all the time, there’s a good chance you make little comments in front of your kids.  On the other hand, if you constantly mention the ways you know you’re blessed, your children learn to be thankful in all things.  For example, let’s say you’re struggling with money.  You could complain about all the things you don’t have, or worse still, make embittered comments about people you envy.  Or, you could point out the things you do have while also talking about the hope you have for a better future.  Your children will internalize your attitude and live it out.

 

Lastly, don’t compare.  It doesn’t matter who you are, someone has it better than you do.  That’s because exactly ZERO people have a perfect life.  Only God is perfection.  The rest of us are flawed.  When imperfect people work to create a life, there will be imperfections in the results.  Please don’t begrudge this.  It leads to the comparison trap.  We don’t need to be complacent, which means that we’ve stopped striving for better, but we do need to be content.  Content people are happy people; people who compare are miserable.

 

My hope is that you have a thankful attitude even through COVID-19.  I also hope you use this time to teach your kids how to be grateful in everything they go through in life.  Be very clear that as Pastor Rick Warren would say, nobody should be thankful FOR all things (You don’t need to be thankful for cancer).  However, you do need to be thankful IN all things because there is always a blessing, not matter how small.

 

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

Dealing with Depression During COVID-19

Having a diagnosis of depression is hard enough. One of the most important things to combating depression is getting out of the house. This includes socializing and engaging with others in mutual activity. During the coronavirus outbreak this is impossible for most of us. Here are some simple tips if you are currently dealing with depression.

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

Anxiety Management in the Midst of Coronavirus

Right now it feels like there is mild mass panic. Everyone seems on edge and some people are outright terrified. There is a run on essential supplies like toilet paper and on sanitization supplies. I’m all for being prepared, but I don’t want you or your children to feel truly panicked. The problem with panicking is that you are reacting emotionally as though the worst is already coming true, which ruins your day. I want you to have an amazing day today, not a scary one!

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

Violence in Teen Dating Relationships

Violence in teen dating relationships is more common than you might think. Image Credit: David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

Violence in teen dating relationships is more common than you might think.
Image Credit: David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

It’s scary, but true.  On occasion a teenager gets into a violent dating relationship.  We all tell our kids that if anyone ever lays a hand on them, the relationship should instantly be over.  However, teens are susceptible to the belief that someone can change.

 

Recently I worked with a client who consistently dealt with this very issue.  After a few instances of telling me that he promised he’d be different, and then breaking that promise, she finally ended it.  However, she continued to “protect” him even after things were over.  She felt so ashamed that she had let things go on like that, that she still didn’t want to tell her parents he had been hurting her.  She also didn’t want them to hate him.

 

It’s really easy to judge someone who gets into this situation.  It’s easy to assume your son or daughter would never fall prey to abuse in a dating relationship.  However, that’s a misunderstanding of how this situation arises.

 

Abuse doesn’t usually occur out of the blue.  It starts with your teenager dating someone who is intensely interested in him or her.  They want to spend tons and tons of time together.  After a little while it becomes apparent that your teen’s boy/girlfriend gets pouty or angry when your child wants to see their friends.  Before you know it, your teenager doesn’t see their friends anymore.  Then you notice your teen has a lot of arguments with their significant other.  The boy/girlfriend is quick to apologize, but has said some harsh things first.  Most of the time your teen seems happy in the relationship, but when they argue, it’s extremely intense.  That’s when the abuse starts.  Both the abuser and the victim seem surprised the first time it happens.  They both agree it will never, ever happen again.  Things are great afterward so your teenager actually believes this, despite everything you’ve ever mentioned to them about abuse in a relationship.  Besides, they’ve lost contact with all their friends, so they fall victim to the lie that they would be completely alone without this other person.

 

You and I both know without this other person they would re-establish their friendships, feel less anxiety, become social again, and overall feel a lot happier.  It’s pretty challenging to convince your teenager of this though.

 

As Mom or Dad you can help your teenager stay aware that relationship violence does occur in teen dating relationships.  You can stay very on top of their relationship.  Strongly encourage your child to maintain their friendships as well, and do a lot of their dating in groups.  Watch their moods.  If they are morose sometimes it’s worth checking to see if it’s related to their dating relationship.  If you see your teenager isolating from you, that is also cause for concern.  Also, if you notice bruises on your teenager, this is major cause for concern.  Adolescents do get bruises in sports, from running into things, etc., but consistent bruising is a huge red flag.

 

Being a parent is scary sometimes, and incredibly challenging.  I don’t mean to give you one other thing to worry about, but I do want you to have an awareness that abusive teen dating relationships exist.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Treating Panic Disorder

Your heart is racing. You’re sweating. Your hands are tingling. You’re struggling for breath. You feel dizzy and queasy. Your body is so out of control you feel certain you’re having a heart attack.

The number of visits to the emergency room because of a panic attack that feel like a major medical event is staggering. According to psychiatryonline.org there are approximately 1.3 million visits to the ER each year because of severe anxiety.

The good news is that Panic Disorder is treatable. Panic attacks can be reduced in frequency and severity with cognitive behavioral therapy (and sometimes an accompanying medication). One of the steps your cognitive behavioral therapist will take you through is a set of interoceptive exercises. I speak a little bit about this process here:

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

COVID-19: Telehealth and In-Person Sessions (With Precautions) Available.