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Living In The Moment- A Key To Happiness

One of the best things you can do to make yourself more happy is live right now.  Look around you.  What do you notice that you weren’t “seeing” until I asked you?  For me it’s the play of shadows on the adjacent building.  There is a palm tree and I can see the silhouette of its leaves dancing against the white stucco.  It’s something beautiful I’ve never taken the time to notice in the eight years I’ve been in this office building.  It is a small thing, but it made the last 30 seconds of my life better.

 

You have things like that all around you too.  It is essential to “see” these things if you’re going to be happy.  Otherwise all you do is live in the future and the past.

 

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Recovering From Disappointments

Teens, it’s so hard when you feel let down.  This is particularly true if you’ve worked at something for a long time and it didn’t pan out.  One of our family friends has a daughter who is a senior in high school.  She’s worked her whole high school career with her eyes set on UC Berkeley.  She didn’t get in.  She can’t seem to cope with the disappointment.  She is blaming everyone else.  She is stomping around mad.  She is especially picking at her dad.  She’s so upset over this disappointment that she isn’t grateful for what she does have.  She has been accepted to some incredible schools, and will likely attend UC San Diego, but she can’t see that for the blessing it is.

 

When something happens to you, do you handle it better than she has?  Her problem is that she thinks this result defines her value.  Newsflash: It doesn’t!  And whether or not you made a certain team, got a particular prom date, or were mentioned in a certain social media post doesn’t define your value either.

 

Here are some quick thoughts on recovering from a disappointment.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Does faith play a role in healing from addiction?

Belief in God has helped many walk away from addiction. Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Belief in God has helped many walk away from addiction.
Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Does faith play a role in healing from addiction?  Unequivocally, yes.  Some people do find ways to get over their addictions without faith, but it seems to be rare.  Generally those who quit using have placed their faith in something they believe gives them purpose.  Very often, this is God.  When life has come to the point where it feels as though there is no point without a high, a sober existence seems boring and unacceptable.  It is also usually a miserable process to become sober.  This is where faith is very important.

 

A person needs a reason to get sober.  If they can come to believe something bigger than themselves exists, and that thing created them on purpose, sometimes that is reason enough.  The addict who is just trying to stop using has to have hope that life will be more meaningful on the other side.  This is hard to believe until faith enters the picture.  It really helps when the addict comes to know that God made them for a specific reason.  The other reason knowing this is so important is that there is no guarantee of happiness.  An addict has often spent a very long time pursuing happiness and good feelings.  Pursuing God’s purpose does not always mean happiness and good feelings, although it does mean fulfillment.

 

If you ask a former addict how they stopped using their substance of choice, most of them will tell you through their faith.  What they mean by this is that they believed they had value because of their higher cause, and they began to pursue God instead of a temporary high.  They learned to accept that sometimes life is unpleasant because they came to place their hope in something better for their future.

 

It can be really difficult to figure out what to believe in when in the throes of addiction.  The addiction cycle becomes so miserable and depressing that the addict is desperate to escape.  However, what the addict must go through to escape is complete torture.  It takes a real dependence on God to get through the misery of detox and resisting urges to get high.  It takes a complete change in paradigm to leave behind old friends and lifestyle.  This kind of change rarely happens without something dramatic.  Perhaps this is why Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on the idea of giving the addiction over to God.  Perhaps this is why many, many thousands have given up their addiction through the programming at Celebrate Recovery.

 

If you or your teenager is stuck in the horrific cycle of addiction, try everything you can to hold onto the promise of God’s love.  There is no guarantee that you will be happy sober.  However, there is the promise that if you pursue God’s purpose for your life you will feel like you have meaning; you will feel as though you have something to offer the world after all this time of feeling worthless.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Making Your Own Path (and the Big Fish, Small Pond Theory)

Help your teen dream about her future (with your guidance).
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/ David Castillo Dominici

Today I was talking with a client about her college aspirations.  She’s already attending community college, and she plans to transfer in a year and a half.  She talked about this acceptance rate, and that acceptance rate.  She talked about school rankings and prestige.  Finally I asked her, “Which school is the best for you, and for what you want to do?”  After she obtained clarification on my question, she finally understood I meant for her to tell me what fits her personality while best connecting her in her future field.  Her answer surprised even herself.

 

We began to talk about the theory of the big fish in the small pond.  I pointed out that some adolescents thrive on constant competition, but some thrive when they’re highly successful in relation to their peers.  I asked whether it is ever wise to go to a school that is easier to get accepted into, but consequently easier to be a stand-out student.  She told me that in such a case it would be a lot easier to get connected with internships and to know the professors.  She talked about how it would then be possible to get a position in a lab and have strong connections when it comes time to get a job.  At the end of all this she said she’s going to think through her college strategy again so she can make a decision that better suits her personal situation.

 

The point of all this isn’t to advise you on how to pick a college for your teenager.  It is to help you and your teenager see that you might be stuck in a rut.  Without realizing it you might have bought what you’re being sold by our culture.  You always have to stop and ask if the way the majority is trying to do something is actually the best way for your individual situation.  Using the college example, just because every high school junior and senior is trying to get into the “best” possible college, does that mean you should too?  Just because a vast number of Orange County teens play sports at an intense level, should your teenager do that?  We often lose site of our personal big picture when we fall in line with everyone else.

 

By the way, I’ve fallen prey to this trap many times as well.  I don’t want you to read this and think I’m immune.  I did the crazy intense sports thing as a teenager, and I did the take every AP class possible at the start of high school.  My dad stopped me on both and asked me why I was doing all this.  When my answer was, “That’s what all my friends are doing,” he probed a lot deeper.  He spent quite a bit of time with me helping me dream and focus.  After about a year of these types of conversations it became clear that I eventually wanted to run my own business.  He then gently started asking whether the things I was putting my time into were helping that goal.  Some things were a yes and some were a no.  One thing that was obvious though was that I needed to start working in small business settings.  I had to get the lay of the land (even if it was simply as a hostess at a mom and pop pizza joint) because that was training for my future.

 

It would be another three years before my passion for psychology was discovered, but once that happened I knew there had to be a way to combine my two dreams.  For me in my personal journey the top ranked school was far less important than standing out enough to have connections.  It wasn’t a realization I came to on my own, but it did help me see past what everyone else was doing.

 

The bottom line for your teenager is this: Look around and take notice of what their peers are doing.  Use that to help you decide how your teen should spend his time and energy, but don’t take it as Gospel Truth.  Create the path for your child that makes the most sense for him.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

 

A Family Needs Tech-Free Time

Our families need to connect.  Each of us needs to feel important to the others.  This is impossible if we’re always checking, texts, emails, snaps, Instagram, etc.  We get frustrated that our teenagers are on their phones 24/7, but are we any better?  Most adults I know have their cell in their hand or in their pocket.  It’s never more than arm’s length away.  You entire family needs some coordinated time without any form of electronic entertainment.  Believe me, at first it feels weird.  Eventually though it feels great!

 

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Inappropriate Teen Cell Phone Use

It can be difficult to control what your teen is doing with their cell phone. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It can be difficult to control what your teen is doing with their cell phone.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I never cease to be surprised in my job.  You would think after enough years of sitting across the counseling room with teenagers that I’d have heard it all.  For the most part, I have.  However, their ingenuity with technology continues to boggle my mind.  It’s all I can do to keep up with them, and they’re freely admitting to me how they misuse technology to do sneaky things.  I can’t imagine how challenging it is for parents to try and figure out which app is being used for what, how to track what kind of pictures your child is posting and viewing online, and who in the world they’re talking to.

 

I will share what I know based on what I hear in the counseling room:

Firstly, most teenagers are using their cell phones appropriately.  The majority of kids are not sneaking.  They use their phones to call home, and to text their friends.  They keep up with their friends on Snapchat and Instagram.  They post things you’d be entirely fine with their grandma seeing, and a lot of them even “unfollow” people they know who post things they shouldn’t be.  This is their social hub.  This is how they are informed when someone is having a party, a group of people are going to the beach, or getting together to see a movie.  They text one another questions about homework.  They send encouragement if they’re having a bad day.  They tell mom and dad if they change locations when they’re out with friends.

 

There are also a significant number of adolescents who are misusing the privilege of having a phone.  Really, it’s the unrestricted internet access that’s the problem.  Just texting and making phone calls is rarely the issue for a teenager.  Even if you have the most sophisticated parental blocking system on your teenager’s cell phone, there is always a work-around.  For example, most programs don’t block things on Facebook and Instagram.  If you type in the right search terms, you can find pages dedicated to uploading pornographic images.  Your teenager might also be trying out “Kik.”  This is an app that allows chats with strangers, and the conversation history can be deleted.  I have worked with more than one kid who met someone they thought was nice on Kik, but I was left wondering if they were a masquerading child sexual predator.  In both cases these “girls” sent inappropriate photos to the adolescent boys I was working with.  They tried to get information about the boys and asked for photos in return.

 

Here’s the main point: Be extremely careful when your child has a smart phone.  You have to know how to check through their phone from time to time to see what they’re up to.  More innocently, sometimes teenagers sign up for sites and input their home addresses and phone numbers.  They don’t mean anything by it, but it still gives out information you might prefer be kept private.

 

The data plan on a phone definitely is a privilege.  It seems like most teenagers now consider it a requirement for their survival, much like food, clothes and shelter.  Do everything you can to teach them responsibility with their phone.  A lot of teens are getting into things simply because they don’t have supervision on their phones, and don’t yet have the brain development required to really recognize the danger they might be in (that comes in late adolescence, which is the early 20s).  I’ve noticed this most frequently with apps like Tinder.  I wish I could promise you your teen is smart enough not to meet strangers from apps like Tinder, but enough of them do it that I can’t make you that promise.  It’s really tough on parents to keep up these days, but it’s essential to your teenager developing healthy habits.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

 

More On Avoiding Parental Alienation After Divorce

Divorce is extremely hard on everyone.  Your teenagers are suffering too, even if they don’t tell you about it.  One thing I see happen often is one parent ends up in a situation where their teenager isn’t speaking to them anymore.  It’s heartbreaking for both the parent and the teen.  Here are a couple thoughts on why everyone in the family should work to avoid this problem if they can.

 

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Things Divorced Parents Must Avoid

Parenting after a divorce is a huge challenge. Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parenting after a divorce is a huge challenge.
Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I work primarily with teens and families so as you can guess, I see a lot of children of divorced parents.  Over the years I’ve learned things divorced parents should avoid when raising teenagers:

 

1.  Avoid talking badly about your ex-spouse.  I realize this person probably hurts you/irritates you/angers you more than anyone else on the planet.  I know that in many cases you cannot stand the thought of leaving your adolescent children alone with your ex because you’re wondering what kind of ideas are being put into your child’s head.  If you complain about your ex in front of your kids though, you’re talking about one of the closest people to them.  You’re confusing them.  Most of us don’t really understand that our parents are flawed until we’re in our twenties.  By then we have the emotional maturity to deal with that fact.  If your teenage child is told how horrible you are by your ex, or you tell your teen how awful their other parent is, you might be giving them something they are not yet equipped to handle.  They feel like they have to do something as a result such as take a side, harbor resentment, or try and mediate- none of these things are healthy for a teenager.

 

2.  Avoid the little choices that lead to parental alienation as much as possible.  A lot of teenagers detest going from house to house.  This is particularly true if the houses are not close to one another.  It is difficult on a teenager’s social life to be an hour away from their friends on weekends.  This can make it really easy for your child to start skipping weekends with the other parent because it’s inconvenient.  Before anyone realizes it, your teenager is out of the habit of seeing one of their parents.  Whether you have primary custody of your child or not, try your best to have them see each parent at least weekly.  Kids will complain and gripe, but the parent-child relationship is one of the most important in their lives.

 

3.  Avoid having vastly different rules from house to house.  This one is almost an impossibility.  Now I’m asking you to respect the parenting style of someone you have very little respect for.  If your child is grounded at one house, enforce it at yours- even if your child was grounded for something you see as ridiculous.  Trying to have a united parenting front helps prevent teenagers from choosing sides in the divorce, or refusing to see one parent over the other.  It also helps your ex be more inclined to listen to you when you want to talk about something parent to parent.

 

4. Avoid miscommunications on the small stuff (in other words, watch out for the divide and conquer tactic).  Your teenager is keenly aware of whether you and your ex-spouse tell each other little details about what your teenager is up to.  It is not uncommon for a teenager to get a no from one parent and then just ask the other for permission.  One consequence of this is that you and your ex are now further divided on parenting than before.  Another problem with this is that your teen is now starting to run the show and teens don’t always choose what’s best for them.

 

5.  Avoid financial misbehavior with your children and your ex.  When the divorce decree was signed your financial obligations to your child were laid out.  You might be required to pay child support, keep your teen on your insurance plan, pay for half of a car, etc.  Whatever is written in the divorce decree, stick with it.  Be careful about making judgments about how child support is spent and then not paying as a result.  Even if you think your ex wastes the money, if you don’t pay your child may be told you don’t care about them.  Also be careful not to go over and above what your required to pay too often.  I have seen this come back and bite parents.  I have seen one parent almost blackmail the other into paying for all kinds of things that weren’t written in the divorce decree.  Once you start that precedent, it’s hard to come back from there without your child getting upset at you.

 

No matter how you look at it, co-parenting after a divorce is extremely difficult.  Don’t feel too badly about yourself if you think it’s not going well.  It takes a lot of work to be cooperative with someone you aren’t fond of.  In fact, this may be the biggest challenge of your entire life.  Everyone involved has to remember the main goal is to raise your child into a happy, healthy adult.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Eating Disorders in Adolescents

Eating disorders are very challenging for adolescents. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eating disorders are very challenging for adolescents.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eating disorders are fairly common.  We’ve all heard of anorexia and bulimia nervosa.  Recently a new diagnosis for eating disorders has been added to the list.  The new disorder is called Binge Eating Disorder.  Essentially it has many of the symptoms of bulimia, but does not include compensatory behaviors.

 

Here is a description of the three types of eating disorders (Actually there are two others, but they are more of a catch-all term for someone who doesn’t quite fit the criteria of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder).

 

To be diagnosed as anorexic, a person must completely refuse to maintain a healthy weight.  They must be clinically underweight (just how underweight determines what severity of anorexia they have), must have a fear of gaining weight, and must have a distorted view of their body size.  It used to be that they had to lose their period as well, but this has since been removed from the criteria; there is a greater number of males who have anorexia now as well as females.

 

Bulimia nervosa is also marked by a fear of gaining weight and a distorted view of body size.  However, someone with bulimia is often an appropriate weight and quite possibly even a little bit overweight.  This person gets caught in a frustrating cycle of trying various methods to lose weight.  When the person becomes hungry or upset though, they will binge on an extraordinary amount of food.  Feelings of shame, guilt and disgust creep in and the person then feels a strong compulsion to make up for the over-eating.  This is called purging.  Purging takes on many forms including vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, over-exercising and fasting.

 

Binge eating disorder is diagnosed by a person who is triggered to eat excessive quantities of food.  This is almost always in conjunction with an emotional trigger.  This isn’t just a person who consistently overeats a little bit too much at each meal.  The person with binge eating disorder then feels shame and guilt along with disgust.  However, they don’t try and compensate for the binge with some form of purging.

 

Eating disorders are common in teenagers.  They are often very dangerous, and need to be addressed right away.  Someone with anorexia is quite literally starving her/himself to death.  There is a high death rate among people with anorexia because their nutrition can get so out of whack that their body can no longer handle it.  People who have bulimia are also at risk of life-threatening electrolyte imbalance.  In fact, the therapist who supervised me through my interning years was helping a teenage girl with her grief because she lost her best friend to cardiac arrest; her best friend died after purging by vomiting.

 

If you are concerned about your daughter or son, please ask for help as quickly as you can get it.  Go talk with their pediatrician about whether they are healthy.  Call a counselor to ask for a plan on how to help your child.  Take action.  Please understand that if you feel incompetent as a parent in this situation, so does every other parent who faces it.  Eating disorders are stubborn.  However, they are not your child.  Your wonderful child is still underneath all this and you can find help.  Also please know that this is not your fault.  The newer research is showing the majority of eating disorders are caused by genetics, not bad parenting.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Boost Your Teen’s Self-Esteem

If you want to help your teen feel better, sometimes you have to do less for him (this applies to females too, but I’ll just use the male pronoun to keep my grammar proper).  It’s our tendency to step in and help when we see our teenager struggling.  Building self-esteem comes when we struggle through something painful, and then succeed.  If you rescue your teenager, he won’t have the chance to build self-esteem in his challenging situation.

 

This also applies to what we hand our teenagers.  Based on my decade of experience counseling adolescents, those who buy their own car, pay for their own gas, or pay for their own cell phone have higher self-worth (as a general rule) than those who don’t earn any of their stuff.

 

Do you want to help your teen’s self-esteem? Do less, not more.

A post shared by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Is Vaping Dangerous for Teens?

Use of e-cigs, or vaping, has increased in teenagers dramatically.  Anecdotally I have seen a tremendous upswing in the number of teens using nicotine and marijuana ever since electronic cigarettes came out.  It has been particularly pronounced in the last two years.  Apparently studies support this.  Studies also show that use of e-cigs has a high correlation to eventual cigarette use.

Check out this infographic from National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes on Health; and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

 

This should warn us all that adolescents are much more willing to try vaping than cigarettes.  Since they were small children, teens have been socialized to think cigarette smoking is “disgusting,” and “dangerous.”  Because vaping smells much better (if it smells at all), and because most teenagers aren’t aware of the dangers, some try it.  They truly think they’re inhaling water vapor.  This is simply not true.

 

A study was just released from the University of California at San Francisco that definitively links e-cig use to cancer causing toxins.  The saliva and urine was tested in non-using teens, vaping-only teens, and teens who both smoke cigarettes and vape.  While the highest amounts of the toxins were in the group the used both, a significant amount was also in the group that vaped.  The group who didn’t use at all didn’t have these toxins in their bodies.  More on the report written about this study can be found at http://abcnews.go.com/Health/teens-cigarettes-show-evidence-toxic-chemicals-smokers-study/story?id=53537714.

 

Here’s the bottom line: vaping is very dangerous for your adolescents.  The devices used to vape can look like a USB stick, wifi connector, credit card, a tiny black square, fancy pen, highlighter, etc.  You won’t smell smoke either.  You have to ask your teen outright, and keep track of their social media pictures.  If you suspect your teen might be vaping, but they won’t tell you the truth and you can’t definitively pin it on them, call their pediatrician.  They can order a nicotine test on your child (which won’t cover everything that can be vaped, but it will tell you quite a lot).

 

If you need to talk more about your teen’s potential addiction, we’re here to help.  Give us a call.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to end a codependent relationship

 

He finally had the strength to end a toxic relationship! (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

He finally had the strength to end a toxic relationship! (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Okay, obviously that is a cheesy photo.  However, once you’re out of a codependent relationship, and have gotten beyond the grief, this is how you’ll feel!

 

Anyhow, let’s get to the point.  Ending a relationship from a codependent position is one of the hardest things you will ever do, or have ever done.  You have recognized your friendship, dating relationship, sibling relationship, etc. has reached very unhealthy levels.  You now realize that you are often drained of time, energy, emotional well-being, and a general feeling of joy after you are around the toxic person in your life.  You feel manipulated, guilty and exhausted after you are with the person.  You have asked yourself repeatedly, ‘Why do I continue to answer their phone calls?’  The person calls you whenever they are in crisis.  The person always needs something that “only you” can give, whether it is money, time, a place to stay, or you name-it.  When you can’t break out of this cycle, you are in a codependent relationship.  Other terms you will frequently hear are enabler and coaddict.

 

So, the big question is, ‘How do I stop this crazy in my life?’  That’s really what it is too: crazy-making.  You always leave a conversation feeling like the crazy one, but your friends all tell you it’s the other person.  To end this kind of relationship takes very drastic measures.  You have to come to a place of strength and reality.  You need to take a very honest look at what has been happening between you and this person.  Is this a truly reciprocal and healthy relationship?  If the answer is “no” or, “It used to be,” then it is time to move on.

 

Once you have really looked at the relationship, you have to tell yourself, “I will no longer enable bad behavior.  I am not responsible in any way for the outcome of this person’s life.”  Truly, the person will get better or get worse with or without you.

 

Next, surround yourself with good friends or family who will keep you busy and keep you grounded in reality.  The crazy-maker in your life is going to call you with a crisis because that has always worked.  You will have to either not answer the call, or simply say over and over again, “You will have to call someone else with this problem.  I have been unable to help in the past because you have not chosen to help yourself.”

 

Finally, you need to maintain firmly whatever boundary or rule you’ve set.  If you told the toxic person you will not call them back in the middle of the night anymore, then turn your phone off at night.  You get the idea…

 

Again, ending an enabling relationship is challenging beyond belief.  However, once you’re through the mud and the muck of it, you’ll feel free.  You’ll feel like the guy in the picture at the beginning of this blog post!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Breakup with with your toxic significant other!!!

Why are you continuing to date someone who makes you miserable?  More than half the time you’re trying to figure out how to deal with yet another problem in your relationship.  It’s on your mind all the time.  The days where everything is copacetic are few and far between.  News flash: It shouldn’t be this hard!!!  A good relationship leaves you feeling peaceful and calm, not anxious, angry and sad.

 

Break up with the toxic significant other! You’ll be glad you did!

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety Disorder Series: Part 9, Generalized Anxiety Disorder Continued

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is overwhelming and frustrating for someone who suffers with it.  There is constant worry about something.  Each thing feels scary and real.  Usually someone who deals with GAD thinks, ‘Things will be better once this thing is past,’ but then there is always something else.

 

Anxiety Disorders Series: Part 9, Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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