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!
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,
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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,
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:
Raising happy, healthy adults can mean letting our teens “skin their knees.” Image credit: stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net
About a month ago my elementary aged daughter kept forgetting to bring home her homework. At first I drove her back to school. I told her comforting things like, “No worries. Everyone makes mistakes.” Then it became a pattern. I started to struggle with the question every parent faces, which is ‘When do I let my kid experience failure and when do I rescue?’ Finally I told her that starting the following week she’d have to just live with the consequences. Interestingly she hasn’t forgotten her homework folder since then.
I’m guessing if you’re reading this, your child is older and you are facing some situation where you have to decide how to best help. Is this a time where you let your teenager cope with their sadness/anger/stress/frustration? Is this a situation where you step in because it is simply too much for a teenager to handle on their own? These are two of the toughest questions we face as parents.
I have worked with a number of teens whose parents have always intervened for them. I bet you can guess the result. These teenagers are indecisive and scared of the world. They do not know how to deal with anything uncomfortable. If there is a class that is too difficult, their parents have called the school counselor to help them switch out. If there is a job they don’t like, their parents have let them quit. Unfortunately these teenagers have been taught they are completely unable to cope with discomfort. Until they learn otherwise, they will have a very challenging adulthood.
On the other hand, there are parents that force their kids to stick through absolutely everything. There is a time when it is appropriate to quit. This refers to unhealthy dating relationships, unhealthy friendships, making a wrong choice and stopping the course, etc. It’s not that parents ask their kids to continue these particular activities, but their kids have internalized the idea that it is never okay to quit anything. These kids have to learn when to just let something go, which is often a challenge for them.
So, as a mom or dad, how do you deal with this dilemma? As carefully as you can, you try and guide your children. It’s important to always keep the big picture in mind. What do I want my teenager to learn from this situation? The big goal is to raise healthy, functional adults. As a parent, what do I do in this scenario that helps my teen reach the big goal? This is more important than them feeling good about something right now. Do I call my kid out of school today because they aren’t ready for that math test, or do I let them get a failing grade because the painful lesson will make them more responsible in the future? Every choice has its consequences.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Making new, sober friends after rehab is essential. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Leaving rehab is usually a celebratory time. People discharge rehab feeling very strong and certain they will not relapse on drugs. They have gone over and over what they need to do in order to stay sober. Any good rehab will warn its clients how easy it is to lapse back into the old lifestyle. Plans are set, barriers against using drugs or alcohol are put in place, and the person goes home.
Here are some tips for staying sober:
1. Get plugged in. Find a recovery group that has strong, consistent members. Teenagers often feel awkward about walking into new situations. However, this is truly life or death and it is worth overcoming the embarrassment. Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery are two types of groups that can be very helpful. There is a Celebrate Recovery just for teenagers called The Landing.
2. Find a new hobby. Old habits and activities remind teens of when they used to use drugs or alcohol. New hobbies don’t have the old associations. If you used to get stoned and then listen to loud music, it’s time to hike instead. If these are hobbies where a social group can be joined, even better.
3. Recognize that it is easy to stay sober around sober people. Your teenager no longer has a physical need for their drug because they overcame that in rehab. There will be a psychological attraction to the drug for a long time after the physical need has disappeared. Teenagers who come home and immediately get involved with wholesome kids have a much lower rate of relapse. On the contrary, teens who come home and see old friends have a high rate of relapse.
4. Be honest. Parents, you need to allow your teenagers to tell you if they are having cravings. They need to be able to tell you without you getting really upset. If they can come to you, then you can help them through it. Discuss your plan for this ahead of time. Agree that if they are having a craving you will take them down to the beach and just walk with them, or something like that.
5. Do not assume you are immune to relapse. Teenagers comes out of rehab overconfident. This means they call old friends and sit to the side while friends use. Before long they just take a drag on a cigarette. Then it’s, “I just used pot once. That’s not really a serious drug though.” Quickly they are all the way back into it whatever they went to rehab for in the first place.
Following these 5 tips will really help your teenager keep their sobriety after rehab. It is a challenging thing to do. With the right attitude and focus though, it’s entirely achievable. Probably the most important two tips on this list are the ones discussing social groups. Teenagers are heavily, heavily influenced by peers. Being around clean and sober people makes recovery much easier.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Parenting is a roller coaster for all of us. Last night my usually level-headed, even-keeled daughter lost her mind because I asked her not to use her brother’s art supplies. This was incredibly uncharacteristic, but hey, we all have off moments. She was asked to go “take a break” for 30 minutes in her room. I didn’t want to give her a negative consequence because this outburst was so unlike her that I figured she could reset if she could calm down for a bit.
Instead of hearing this as a chance to regroup, she became more angry and started yelling at me. At that point I was forced to inform her she’d have to go to bed even though it was an hour early. She cried, begged, and pleaded for this not to be the case.
As a therapist I was keenly aware of how crucial this moment was in parenting her. If I chose to give in to her sincere apologies and entreaties to roll back her consequence, then I’d teach her she can negotiate with me. If I chose to repeatedly remind her, “This is all your fault,” then I’d be callous and harsh. My husband and I instead chose to hold the line of her consequence while showing her immense compassion. We understand that compassion doesn’t equal soft boundaries. We held her through her tears and talked to her, but still put her to bed. She was still a bit weepy when we kissed her good-night. We reminded her she is deeply loved and tomorrow is a fresh start. However, we did not give in to her desire for a reduced consequence. She felt our love but also understood our line.
I realize this isn’t easy to do. It requires a cool head. You can’t profess some unreasonable consequence in your anger because you’ll almost certainly be required to roll it back later. Or, if you stick to it, you’ll be strongly tempted to put all the responsibility on your teenager in order to justify your own overreaction. Even though my husband and I did it well last night, we are far from perfect in this arena. It’s still a work in progress, and probably always will be.
Here I share a few more thoughts on being both firm and compassionate; I hope it helps:
You know you should break up with him. You know he’s not a good human. You know you’re lonely/unhappy/depressed with him. Why can’t you end it? You ask yourself this on a regular basis. Your friends and family hate the relationship. Sigh. It’s so hard.
If you know you should get out, but you can’t bring yourself to do it, here is some great advice on how to start:
Disclaimer #1: If your bad relationship is violent and/or dangerous in some other way, this advice doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have time to take baby steps. Please take what feels like a drastic step and do whatever is necessary to preserve your safety such as calling the police or contacting a battered women’s shelter.
Disclaimer #2: While I speak in a way that directs this towards females, this advice is for males too.
Ryan…oh Ryan. I so badly wanted you to make me first. I so badly wanted you to dedicate yourself to me the way I was dedicating myself to you. Instead you dangled the carrot just enough to keep me hanging on. I was never in first place. There was always the promise I would be after “just this one more thing,” but I never was. My emotions in reaction built from confusion to anxiety to sadness to desperation to resentment to strength.
Any good therapist could have diagnosed me as depressed or anxious; they would have been wrong. I learned from you being in a relationship that didn’t feed me and didn’t honor God led to the emotional experience of depression and anxiety. I thank you now for this troublesome time in my life because I better understand my clients. The number of lovely young women and young men I meet with who seem depression and anxious, but are feeling that way because of a bad relationship is staggering. They always ask the chicken or the egg question, but it is answered when they cut the anchor. Once they let go of their Ryan, they almost always feel a significant improvement in their mental health.
Fitness and thinness can become an obsession for teen girls. Photo Credit: Marin via freedigitalphotos.net
Are you worried your daughter is overly concerned with her weight? You’re not alone. Studies have shows teenage girls are dissatisfied with their bodies at a rate ranging from 50% to as high as 90%. It’s distressing to think that many adolescents feel preoccupied with wishing they looked different.
There is a big difference between teenagers who do not like their bodies, and those who go a step further. Some may not like what they see, but they still wear swimsuits, eat normally, exercise appropriately, and do not complain about themselves too often. Other girls are regularly trying to diet, and feel very self-conscious in certain attire.
I had a college roommate who was as beautiful and fit as could be. We went to school in Tucson, Arizona and it was dreadfully hot every Fall when we’d start classes. Despite this, I never once saw her wear anything besides pants. When I asked her about this she said it’s because her legs looked fat, and that they would never look as good as they had when she was a ballerina in high school. As a result she created a rule for herself that she was not allowed to show her legs under any circumstances. She ultimately created more and more rules for herself until she had imprisoned herself in the trap of anorexia. It was heartbreaking.
If you’re worried about whether your daughter is too concerned with her weight, she probably is. You wouldn’t be clued into this being a problem if it weren’t. Just in case though, here are some things to watch for:
1. Your daughter has cut out certain types of food such as “carbs.”
2. Your daughter won’t wear a swimsuit in front of anyone.
3. Your daughter talks about food constantly.
4. Your daughter makes comments comparing her body to other girls or women on a regular basis.
5. Your daughter seems to be on a perpetual diet and/or exercise regimen.
6. You daughter has calorie counting and/or fitness tracking apps on her phone.
If you start to see some of these behaviors, it’s time to begin the conversation about whether your teenager is too concerned with her weight. It can quickly bud into an obsession that overtakes her life. Believe me, I know since I struggled with this very obsession from age 15 to age 22. That is seven years of my life I can’t get back. The main focus during those seven years was weight loss and fitness at a time when I should have been having fun with friends and learning a lot in school.
I work with a great number of clients who are unhappy with their appearance. Some of them have gotten all the way into an eating disorder, and others are on the borderline. It’s always helpful to them when A) they realize many, many others feel the same as they do and B) there are so many other facets that make up who a person is. Treating poor body image is not as simple as this, but it’s where you can start as a parent.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
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.