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Technology Addiction In Teens

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dear Teens,

You live in an era where it’s easier to spend time in front of a screen than go do things out in the world.  It’s hard to go more than three minutes without some form of entertainment.  If you look at what you’re parents are doing, there’s a good chance mom, dad or both are also addicted to technology.  They don’t even go to the bathroom without taking their phone!  This means it’s not just your age group, so don’t feel condemned.

 

Here are the positives of being on social media, playing video games, watching Netflix, or spending time on any other app.  First of all, you’re pretty much staying out of trouble.  You could be out doing drugs, or getting into all kinds of stuff; instead you’re at home where mom and dad know you’re safe.  Secondly, you’re probably never bored.  You always have something to keep you occupied.  When I was your age, if we couldn’t get ahold of our friends then we had almost nothing do do at home.  Thirdly, you probably communicate with your friends all the time.  Between commenting on their pictures or messages, and sending them texts or Snapchats, you’re always in contact.

 

Like anything though, there are some negatives to too much screen time.  I bet you can guess what I’m going to say.  First of all, you might not be taking great care of your physical health.  One study came out that said people who use a lot of electronics are more sedentary, and eat more calories than those who don’t.  The combination of not moving much, and eating in front of the TV because you’re bored can equate to carrying excess weight.  The second problem you might have is that everyone looks happy on social media.  They tend to post pictures when they’re with friends, or put up posts that say how much fun they’re having.  You’ve probably heard, but this isn’t real.  Every single person who posts things has times where they lack confidence, are lonely, feel angry, etc.  It’s just not very common to write things on Facebook like, “I’m feeling ugly today because I have a huge zit in the middle of my forehead.”

 

Thirdly, some of you struggle with face to face interactions.  When you text or post things all the time, you get to think before you hit send.  That’s so nice because you have a few seconds or even minutes to formulate your answer.  When you’re in person though you feel awkward and uncomfortable.  You’re not with your peers in person as much as generations before you, so you haven’t spent as much time practicing the nuances of conversation.  It’s really an art to be funny, witty, deep, and thought-provoking in a face to face conversation.  Most people need a lot of practice to get there, and they practiced it growing up with their friends.  Now you don’t do as much of that.  It just makes things harder when you go on a date or interview for a job.

 

If you worry that you might be addicted to technology, here’s a quick self-test.  Put down all forms of technology for 3 days in a row.  Can you do it?  If you can find books to read, enjoy going on a walk, and figure out how to talk with people, you’re probably okay.  However, if you feel a sense of withdrawal, and a little bit depressed without your technology, then recognize that you might have a psychological dependence on it that goes beyond what is within healthy limits.

 

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

Don’t Wish To Be Someone Else

As an adolescent I was overly eager to fit in with the “Scrippies,” which was our sarcastic name for the cool kids.  I’m sure my overeagerness was off-putting.  In sixth grade some girls were called biters, some were called the b-word and some were called the s-word, but I was called annoying.  Let me tell you, obsequiousness doesn’t really get you far when it comes to fitting in.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help! My Teen Wants A Tatoo (Or Some Other Style I’m Not Happy With)

Oh no!  It’s finally happened!  Your teen has come home asking for permission to get a tatoo.  Maybe you have a hundred tatoos already so this doesn’t really bother you.  However, if you’re like most parents you’re not exactly ecstatic about this new development.  Here are some therapist thoughts on what to do when your teenager wants to do something to their body you aren’t really comfortable supporting (or flat out refuse to permit):

 

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

PTSD/ Trauma in Teens

Hypervigilance is a common symptom after a trumatic event.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/Graphics Mouse

I’ve been a therapist for a decade now.  I’ve worked with teens in private practice for that entire duration.  I’ve heard a lot of different stories, many of which involve trauma.  I’ve noticed with trauma there is a natural tendency to incorrectly predict its effects on teens.  Some parents overreact, and others are so overwhelmed that they downplay the significance of the traumatic event.  For parents it’s a very helpless feeling when something horrific has happened to your child.

 

In 1926 a sweet baby girl was born to a young mother who was divorced with very few financial prospects in life.  While this girl’s early life was pleasant and full of love from her mother, eventually things began to unravel.  Her mother did not have enough money to care for her and she was placed into foster care.  Finally her mother was able to get her back, but when the young girl was 7.5 years old, her mother had a psychotic break from reality.  Her mother ended up diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.  What was a young girl with no father and now no mother to do in the 1930’s?  She was moved through foster cares and orphanages where she either felt alone and abandoned, or was sexually abused.  Eventually she married the first guy she could find simply to put some stability in her life.  Do you know whose story this is?  It’s Marilyn Monroe.  We all know the tragic ending her life took after three divorces and drug abuse struggles.  By the age of 36 she had overdosed, and it was called a likely suicide.

 

This isn’t to say that if you’re child has experienced a trauma they will end up like Marilyn Monroe.  What I am hoping to point out from her really sad story is that recurring trauma absolutely wears a person down.  We all have some amount of resilience build into us, but if we come to the point that we expect to be battered by life again and again, we will look to whatever escape we can find.  The tragic irony of this is that many of those escapes ultimately cause further trauma.  An example of this is using drugs to escape the deep anxiety, sadness, shame and hopelessness caused by trauma.  Over time though, being around people who use drugs means being exposed to people who resort to all means to obtain more drugs.  Now there is increased risk for more traumatic exposure.

 

To heal from deep trauma there are many components.  I will talk about only a couple of them here.  One is having something reliable and unchanging.  People die and places change, but God never changes.  A deep, meaningful faith is really helpful to healing from trauma.  Knowing there is still hope, still love, and still something to lean on is important.  But, this is complicated because a lot of trauma survivors feels abandoned by God as they question how He could have let something awful occur in the first place.  While there are good answers to these very important questions, it’s outside a therapist’s purview to answer them.  I strongly encourage you to have this discussion with your own religious leaders as you try to seek answers.

 

Another extremely important element to healing from trauma is addressing and uncovering shame.  Shame says, “I am bad,” for whatever happened.  This is different from regret or some other similar emotion which says, “That event was bad.”  Many trauma survivors feel the event was somehow their own fault.  It takes some deep work to change this belief.

 

Overcoming trauma is extremely important.  During a lifetime each and every one of us will experience deeply disturbing and upsetting circumstances.  Some of us will be unlucky enough to witness death, have our own lives threatened, or see our own children hurt in unimaginable ways.  Resilience is built into our psyches and our hearts, but it can be really hard to find it sometimes.  If you worry about your teen’s reaction to trauma, please seek a professional opinion.  Sometimes just one event can continue to traumatize its victim over and over again.  At Teen Therapy OC we desperately want your adolescent to have a joy-filled life, not one full of fear, anxiety, shame and hypervigilance.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Coaddiction or Codependency

Sometimes our efforts to help our teenagers accidentally make their addiction worse.

Sometimes our efforts to help our teenagers accidentally make their addiction worse.

People get confused by the term codependent, or coaddict.  I thought today I’d address codependence/coaddiction to see if it clears it up.  If someone you love is engaging in an unhealthy behavior such as drug abuse, gambling, excessive shopping, etc., it is very noble to want to help.  As relational beings we are called to help others when they are struggling.  Coaddiction occurs when the attempts to help are misguided.

 

Let’s say Jane has a gambling addiction.  Her brother, John, decides he wants to help her stop.  At first he has a good conversation with her, and she agrees she should quit.  However, Jane is unable to quit.  John then threatens to stop talking to her if she does not stop gambling.  She quits for a week and then goes back to it.  He doesn’t stop talking to her.  John consistently sets boundaries he does not keep.  Jane comes to John and says she cannot afford her rent this month.  He gives her $500 to cover the rent with the stipulation that she does not gamble that month.  She gambles anyhow, and the next month tells him she again can’t cover her rent.  She apologizes for gambling and promises never to do it again.  John believes she is sincere.  John continues to give Jane money for her necessities like food, clothing and shelter.  Meanwhile, John’s wife is becoming very upset and wants to stop giving Jane money.  John tells his wife, “If I don’t give her money then she can’t buy food for her kids.”  John’s whole existence and self-worth becomes tied up in keeping his sister above water.  John rationalizes this by telling himself that he is not giving her money with which to gamble.

 

John has become codependent.  His self-value has become entrenched with helping Jane.  If he is helping her then he can assume he is a good, loving brother.  He is allowing his own marriage and financial security to suffer in order to take care of someone else who is not truly trying to get better.  On top of that, John is really hindering his sister’s ability to beat her gambling addiction, albeit unintentionally.  He pays her rent and buys her food, which frees up money for her to use at the casino.  He fears she would use it at the casino and then not be able to pay her rent.  That usually is not what happens, but if it does, she will finally feel the consequences of her addiction, and seek to get better.

 

If your teen is using drugs, or has some other unhealthy behavior, think carefully about the ways you are unintentionally enabling the behavior.  If you recognize your enabling behavior, but are afraid to stop, then you have developed codependence.  A great website to check out is coda.org (Codependents Anonymous).  Therapy is also a good tool for overcoming codependence/coaddiction.

 

It is scary to stop “helping” your own child work through an addiction or struggle.  However, we’ve all heard the old adage about how someone might not get better until they reach rock bottom.  After doing therapy with addicts for a number of years, I believe there is truth to that statement.  If you are trying to help your teenager avoid harsh consequences for their behaviors, you are prolonging when they hit rock bottom.  Let your child experience natural consequences for their choices; the sooner you do so, the sooner they can realize they need help.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Vaping Among Tweens and Teens

Vaping is becoming an extremely common means of substance use among tweens and teens. Many of my later teen clients are completely addicted to nicotine. It all started innocently enough, and usually in middle school. Please watch the following video on a few basics about vaping you need to know so that you can have a good conversation with your tween or teen. It is really important you weigh in on this topic because otherwise they only learn misinformation from their peers.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Getting Your Teen to Help Around the House

Getting your teen to do housework is possible! Image courtesy of artur84 via freedigitalphotos.net.

Getting your teen to do housework is possible!
Image courtesy of artur84 via freedigitalphotos.net.

You work full-time and your teenager is home after school.  It feels very frustrating that they stay home a good part of the day, or are out having fun with friends while the house needs a lot of attention.  Maybe you don’t even care about the chores around the house if they’d just keep their room clean, bathroom picked up, and put away their dishes.  How do you deal with this?

 

1.  Let them know how you feel.  This is not to be said in anger or with hostility.  That is the quickest way to ensure a teenager isn’t listening to you.  On the other hand, if you gently tell them it’s frustrating for you, or that you feel taken advantage of, or that you are overwhelmed and stressed, they will often listen.  This isn’t true for every teen but if you don’t get a kind reaction when you’re truly being kind, there are likely other problems in your relationship that need addressing.

 

2.  Make sure you ask.  As obvious as this sounds, a lot of parents lament they don’t get any help around the house, but they don’t specifically ask for what they need.  You might have hoped your adolescent would take the initiative, look around, and just see what needs doing.  This is great in theory but pretty much will never happen.  Try writing them a reasonable list each day before you leave to work, asking things be done before you get home (Reasonable for a teen who has no history of cleaning is probably a 30 minute task).

 

3.  Attach monetary value to certain tasks.  This works for the highly social child.  If you have a teenager who loves to be out with friends, this will be effective.  Here’s the caveat, if you plan to make them earn their going out money by doing tasks around the house, you can’t give money otherwise.  It’s fine to pay for their sports or things they need for school.  However, if they want to meet a friend for lunch, absolutely no money!  You can gently remind them they will get a few dollars when the house has been vacuumed, which is a great way they can pay for their own lunch.  Something else you’ll notice happening, when they have to earn their spending money they are more careful with it.

 

4.  Require it.  There are certain minimum tasks that each household should require of every member.  If you want to require everyone to keep their bathrooms and bedrooms picked up, make sure yours is too.  There’s nothing an adolescent resents more than a hypocritical parent.  It’s fine to attach privileges to the completion of these minimum tasks.  One family I worked with had success when they told their teen daughter the bathroom and bedroom had to be picked up each night by 8pm.  If it was, she got the privilege of using her cell phone the next day.  If not, they would keep it and she could try again to have everything picked up by the following evening.  They were very careful not to bend on this, and she fell into line within a week.  If she finished at 8:05pm, they thanked her for cleaning up, but still did not give the phone the next day.  Boundaries around these types of limits must be strict and unemotional.

 

It is possible to get your teen to help you around the house.  It’s all in how you ask, and how consistent you are with whatever rules you set up.  Once you are able to get their help, it’s great for your relationship because you’re nagging less often, and they feel a sense of pride.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Too Much Authority In Parenting Doesn’t Work

If you’re a parent who wishes to connect better with your teen, you’ll have to have elements of friendship in your relationship.  The parents who know how to listen well and care about what their kids care about seem to also have authority.  The parents I see in therapy who just try and control behavior with discipline have either a rebellious teen, or one who doesn’t share much with them.  If you really want to influence how your teen thinks, their moral compass, and their ability to make decisions later in life without you, you have to be in their hearts.  They need to learn to think and feel through hard things, and that’s impossible if you use your emotional muscle to prevent them from making mistakes.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Approval-Seeking Teens

Wanting approval isn't a bad thing unless it goes too far. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wanting approval isn’t a bad thing unless it goes too far.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post will not apply to every parent.  Some of you have kids who are very comfortable with who they are.  They seem relaxed and self-assured.  What a blessing!

 

There are a large number of you though who have teens that really want approval.  This can take on multiple forms.  Some teens long for the approval of their peers.  Others desperately want to hear “well done” from their parents.  Wanting approval is not actually as bad as it sounds.  It is part of what motivates teens to do their homework and chores, and to comb their hair.  Sometimes though the desire for approval becomes excessive, and leads to anxiety or depression.

 

I have seen teens in counseling who wanted approval so badly that they developed eating disorders, tried drugs or alcohol, or became sexually active before they were ready.  It is really important to recognize a teen who is trying too hard to be liked because sometimes it means they are making unhealthy choices.  A lot of these teens actually do get a substantial amount of approval, but they do not feel it.  Even when there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, these teens feel disliked or negatively judged.  As a parent, what are you supposed to do in this situation?

 

One of the most important things you can do is to help your teen realize the meaning of that famous first line from Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, “It is not about you.”  Help your child gain some perspective.  It is very hard for teens to remember that there is a world beyond their school and social group; expose your teen to it.  Get them out into the community to serve someone else.  Usually once a person dedicates some time and energy to others they stop focusing on themselves.

 

A second thing to try is not allowing your teen to voice the things they dislike about themselves if those things are unreasonable.  Do not let your 3.5 GPA student tell you they are stupid, and do not let your normally sized daughter tell you she is fat.  Learn to respond only when your child is honest about themselves.  One thing we do in therapy is stop believing everything we feel.  What I mean by this is that a teen will tell me, “I feel like nobody likes me.”  Once we establish that there are in fact people who like the teen, we no longer allow that to be said.  Instead the teen has to tell the truth, which is, “I feel disliked by some people.”

 

Try these two tips for approval-seeking teens.  If your teen’s desire to be liked is overwhelming your teen, and you for that matter, call for help.  There is often a way to change their focus.  Sometimes you need help to help them too.  Most parents, even the very best parents, have tried a number of different ways to encourage their adolescent without success.  Sometimes a little tune-up makes a big difference.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Using Exercise to Manage Your Teen’s Stress

Exercise is a critical factor in managing your anxiety. Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Exercise is a critical factor in managing your anxiety.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is very, very important to take good care of yourself physically.  You already know this though.  What you probably also already know, but maybe haven’t been thinking about, is how critical it is to exercise.  As a whole, we Americans like to procrastinate exercise.  We generally don’t do it often enough, or with enough intensity.

 

Did you know that if you set aside 30-60 minutes to exercise, you will actually get more done during your day?  That seems odd because by time you exercise and then shower, 2 hours are used up.  It’s true though.  Your ability to focus and stay on task is greatly increased with exercise.  Your ability to push through a work-out you don’t feel like doing also increases the mental toughness needed to get other things done.  When you exercise regularly you aren’t just flexing your physical muscles.  You learn to have more will power.  It takes will power to jog up the hill that is seemingly never going to end.  It even takes will power to get up off the couch and get your running shoes on.  Forcing yourself to do so when it’s not really what you want to do is a form of discipline.  It teaches self-denial.

 

Self-denial (in a healthy dose) is extremely important for anxiety management.  When you learn to do more of what you should do instead of what you feel like doing, your life is usually headed in a direction that you choose.  This means you have more control.  The antidote to anxiety is a sense of control.

 

Consistent exercise not only releases chemicals into the brain that are calming and pleasant, it also teaches discipline and self-control.  It is a critical factor in the alleviation of anxiety.  It is also an important part of time management.  So, to help get your anxiety under wraps, hop on your bike, jump in a pool, or go for a stroll.  Do this several times a week and watch what happens.  Oh, and you also just might find you end up enjoying yourself.

 

When you think about how to specifically apply this to your teenagers, think social.  Teens (as a generalization) love to be around their friends.  Help them figure out a way to get in a work-out with a couple friends.  Maybe they can join the same gym as their best friend, or organize a common goal with their friends.  When I was in college a couple of friends and I set-up a work-out plan.  We were only able to exercise together a couple times per week, but we held each other accountable for the rest of the time.  It made a big difference in our ability to stick with it.  I still think this is because we enjoyed the social aspect of doing it together more than anything else.

 

Exercise is a great, healthy coping skill for anxiety and stress.  You can model this for your teenager and invite them to join you.  You may or may not get a yes, but they are definitely paying attention to how you handle your stress.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to Argue Effectively With Your Teenager

Arguing with a teen can seem impossible, but it's actually not. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Arguing with a teen can seem impossible, but it’s actually not.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To argue effectively with your teenager, you both have to be listening.  It doesn’t do a lot of good just to try and overpower each other.  Here’s the mistake a lot of teens and parents both make when they are disagreeing: they continue to restate the same point repeatedly.  When the other person doesn’t seem to hear it, they just say it more loudly.  Eventually the tone of voice gets rude and then the argument can turn nasty.  That’s when teenagers are blamed for “having an attitude,” or “being disrespectful,” or “talking back.”

 

It’s essential to realize deescalation has to occur before anything else.  This means the discussion must remain calm.  It’s completely fine, and actually positive to feel and express emotions.  It’s not encouraged to do this offensively, with a blaming and/or defensive attitude.  When’s the last time you were happy to hear someone’s point after they called you a name, rolled their eyes, or spoke with contempt in their voice?  I know I have no interest in what someone has to say after that.  All I’m thinking is what a jerk they are, and then I dig my heels in.

 

Parents and teenagers ask me all the time why it’s so much easier to talk about things in my office than at home.  The answer is in remaining deescalated.  When a family is learning to communicate better my primary goal is to keep the emotional triggers deescalated.  I do this by slowing the discussion down and making sure each side acknowledges what they’ve just been told by the other side.  In other words, I make sure parents are listening to their adolescents, and vice versa.  I also don’t allow blaming.  I ask each person in the room to expound on anything they’ve said by also explaining their current emotional state.  For example, a teen might say to her mom, “I really want to be able to go to the party even though there won’t be any parents there.”  When asked to expound on this, she may say, “I feel left out if I can’t go.  I also feel I’m not trusted if I’m not allowed to go.”  While this may not cause Mom to change her mind, she can certainly relate to feeling left out and not trusted.  Those are really unpleasant emotions.  Instead of Mom arguing that these types of parties are unsafe, Mom can tell her daughter she hates those emotions too.  Once Daughter feels heard, she and Mom can work together to come up with some kind of creative solution.

 

It’s so incredibly important to communicate with your teenagers in a way that deescalates them.  You won’t even have an impact on them if they are angry, defensive, and otherwise emotionally charged; they are not ready to listen in that state.  You aren’t ready to listen either and the only two options become either fighting or shutting down.  You may get your child to comply with you, but they will resent you.  This is not what your objective is.  The objective is always to keep them safe and teach them whatever they need to learn from a situation.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

For The Rejected Teen

Your pain is real and your pain is intense.  School is a place of special torture for you.  You don’t feel emotionally safe among your peers.  You wait for someone to make a degrading comment or not even notice you at all.  You feel as though nobody would care if you simply stopped showing up at school.  You wish to disappear.  The deep suffering you experience because of your differences leads you to a place of hopelessness.  Your spirit is at risk of breaking because you are socially rejected.

 

I know it’s hard, but see if this one little thing can help in even a small way:

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT