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A Follow-Up to How To Repond if Your Teen Announces They’re LGB or T

Parents, I got a lot of questions about last week’s post.  I think then it’s important to follow it up with some background information about where your teenager likely is on a developmental level.

 

Your teen has two primary things to accomplish at his age.  1. He needs to find his “tribe.”  2.  He needs to figure out his identity.  Erik Erikson promoted a developmental theory a long time ago which is still widely accepted in the developmental psychology world.  I agree wholeheartedly with his 5th stage, which is called “Identity versus Role Confusion.”  Your adolescent is trying to learn about who he is.  He needs to understand where he fits, who he fits with, and what his place is in the world.  In the process of landing on an identity that works for him, he will try on a few different ones.

 

This isn’t to say that if your adolescent says she is gay she doesn’t mean it.  She very well could be and may never shift from that position.  However, in the decade that I’ve done counseling with teens, I’ve seen many teens change their minds about these types of statements as they move into a new temporary identity.  This doesn’t just apply to their sexuality; it can be absolutely anything.  I’ve seen it range from changing the college major several times to trying out different religions.  It’s just what teens do.  So, don’t panic when you hear any announcement about an identity that you’re not comfortable with, and don’t celebrate when you hear an announcement about identity you love; be patient because the one constant with teens is change.

 

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Bullying and Gossip Can Ruin A Teen’s Self-Esteem…My Story

Bullying can cause your teen to appear depressed. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bullying can cause your teen to appear depressed.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

6th grade was hell for me.  The girls in my carpool used to get out of the car and shut the door before I could get out.  They’d walk off as fast as possible so they didn’t have to walk with me.  When I’d get on the campus and try to stand in the circle of other 6th grade girls who were talking, they’d squeeze together so that I couldn’t stand with them.  If I wore a shirt that any other girl had, they’d call me a “biter,” whatever that means.  I came home crying all the time.  Finally, my mom had had enough.  She didn’t call the school.  She did lock all the doors when the carpool got to school and told them sternly to stay put.  She firmly told them their behavior was inappropriate and rude.  She expected them to walk with me onto the campus, and always smile and wave when they saw me.  She said if they said anything rude behind my back, talked about this little chat with other kids, or made me cry one more time she’d take it up with their parents.  I was embarassed, but the rest of the school year was tolerable after that.

 

Your teenager comes home in tears.  You ask what’s wrong and at first they don’t want to tell you.  Then, after some prodding, they tell you there are some kids being mean at school.  You ask what they’ve said or done.  You’re teenager lets you know he’s been teased in the locker room because he’s hit puberty early, or late, or really it could be anything.  Anything that’s a little bit different about your child is fair game.  Adolescents are wonderful in so many ways; they’ve begun to have a sense of humor, take responsibility for themselves, and assert a lot of independence.  However, adolescents are just awful in other ways.

 

Your daughter is in middle school, typically the worst age for bullying for girls, and she seems really down.  Again, she won’t tell you what is wrong.  It’s almost always a safe bet that there is something going on at school with friends.  This is an age where pre-teen and early teenage girls are extremely sensitive to what others think of them.  Your daughter tells you that at lunch her usual group of friends were all looking at her and whispering.  She is certain they were saying mean things behind her back.

 

Some of the situations your teen children deal with are very normal.  The two situations described above are extremely uncomfortable for your teenager to live though, but are typical.  The situation I dealt with was a little bit more extreme, but still borderline bullying.  In these situations try your best as a parent to help your teenager cope.  The kids who fare best in these situations can laugh it off and dish it back out.  If you teach your teenager to banter with other teens, remind them repeatedly not to curse, use physical force, or say anything mean.  Help them know the line between what is being said in good fun and what is being said to just provoke.  Teach them not to provoke, but to joke back enough that they are perceived as having a good humor.  Teenagers are constantly chiding one another because they’re just discovering sarcasm.  They try it out on each other and in the process of learning its limits, can sometimes be mean.  If your kid seems to let it roll off, and even laugh at the things being said about/to them, the other kids will genuinely like them.  On the other hand, if your adolescent is defensive, overly emotional or enraged, it will encourage more teasing and make them a bit of an outcast.

 

There are circumstances that qualify as true bullying.  Don’t call the school’s vice principle to complain that your child is being bullied because it seems there might be a few people whispering about her.  However, if she is being called names on a consistent basis, being physically threatened, or in any other way harassed, it is time to step in and take action.  Your teenager may resist your involvement for fear of being even more disliked, but you have to recognize that teenagers don’t always know what’s best for them.  The sooner it stops, the easier it will be for your child to go to school without distress.

 

In summary, to help your teen navigate the social politics at school, including bullying, keep in constant conversation.  Help them to know home is a safe place where they will never be teased in a mean way, and where they will be loved no matter what.  Be vigilant to see if your child is the bully, and put your foot down immediately to stop it if they are.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Panic Disorder

Panic is overwhelming and terrifying.

Panic is overwhelming and terrifying.

I think this poem someone wrote adequately sums up how someone feels who suffers from Panic Attacks.

Mental Illness Poem

Just wrote how I felt when I have a panic attack.

Panic Disorder

© Brittany
Tightness in my chest
I cant breath.
The only time I can escape
is when I fall asleep.Constant nausea
constant fear.
How did this happen
knowing I’m safe here?It’s a constant worry
another will strike.
I worry about it all the time
it makes me lose my appetite.My sight darkens
my life flashes.
My worries control my thoughts
my heart crashes and burns to ashes.You have no idea what its like
to live one day in my shoes.
Maybe if you did
you wouldn’t judge me as you do.

Source: Panic Disorder, Mental Illness Poem http://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/panic-disorder#ixzz1p2zuo1rq
www.FamilyFriendPoems.com

 

Panic Disorder is miserable for the teens and adults who deal with it.  Panic attacks can be so frightening that people truly think they might be having a heart attack or dying.  Many cause severe enough physical symptoms to land someone in the emergency room.  If your adolescent is dealing with panic attacks, they need some help.  This means for whatever reason, their anxiety has moved beyond their control.  Try your best to be really sensitive to them, and yet don’t allow them to start avoiding places they would normally go.  Although that feels better in the moment, it increases anxiety overall.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How To Respond If Your Teens Says, “I’m Gay/Bisexual/Transgender”

Parents, this is a tough one.  No matter how accepting and embracing you are towards someone who is not your child being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, I’ve noticed parents struggle when it’s their own child.  There are a myriad of reasons ranging from religious beliefs to fear of what their own extended family will think.  The one common reason I hear is fear for the child not being easily accepted by certain parts of society or their friends’ families.

 

You do need to react in a way that lovingly reflects your true feelings, but I can promise you you won’t do that if you react quickly.  Here is a quick video that explains how to react in a gentle and patient way that is true to your heart.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Alcohol Addiction Appears To Be Biological and Genetic

Why is it that most people who party as teens don’t end up with an alcohol abuse problem?  How come an unlucky few end up as alcoholics?  Researchers have been experimenting on rats and have found what they believe is a solid link to the human brain in this case.

 

Check out this quick article.  I thought it was fascinating: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322271.php

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Some people’s brains lead them to seek out alcohol once they’ve tried it.
Credit: Wikimedia/free-images.com

Be More Honest, It Will Keep You Out Of Trouble

We all mess up.  Sometimes it’s accidental, and sometimes we make a bad choice.  Whatever the case, once we realize there’s a problem with our behavior, honestly is the best way out.  Yes, you will likely have a consequence, but it’s nothing compared to the consequence you’ll face if you lie about it or try to cover up your misdoing.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Love The Body You Have

Everyone looks different, and we can celebrate that.
Credit: free-images.com

It’s hard to love yourself.  Teens, it’s really hard not to pick out whatever flaw is bothering you and get stuck there.  There’s always something that could be better.  But also, there are always ten things that could be worse.  No matter what you look like, it’s time for all of us as a culture to fight back against this need for perfection.

 

I’m going to fight back first.  I’m going to write out right here the things about my body that I wish were different.  Then I’m going to tell you why I’m thankful for these flaws.  I wish my skin tone was even.  I wish I didn’t have patches of dry skin.  I wish my teeth were whiter.  I wish I didn’t have cellulite.  As someone in recovery from eating disorder, I can tell you I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time concerned with the cellulite.

 

Why am I thankful for all these flaws?  They keep me humble.  If I looked perfect I’m sure I’d have way too much pride (not the good kind).  My flaws help me be less judgmental.  I’m not perfect in this area, but I can tell you that I appreciate people’s uniqueness more because I have imperfections.  My flaws remind me that I’m human.  I’m glad to be part of this messy, everyone looks different human race.  We are so beautifully created.  If we didn’t have “flaws” then we would look like Stepford Wives or robots.

 

My flaws remind me that God’s ways are higher than mine.  There’s a verse in the Bible that I LOVE.  It goes like this: “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Romans 12:2.  My flaws remind me that what I perceive as “imperfect” is really just a “pattern of this world.”  This world wants to tear you down because you have acne, or a crooked nose, or pale skin, or whatever else the media tells us is unattractive.  The truth is though, God looks at your heart and your mind.  He wants us to look at those things too.  The packaging is so much less important.  Even despite that, God made the packaging just the way He thought best for each one of us.

 

I know that if God gave me a “perfect” package according to the world’s standards, then I wouldn’t have ever learned to be concerned with my mind or my heart.  Now those are the things I focus on.  In the end I can tell you my “flaws” aren’t flaws at all, they are blessings that have slowly led me to maturity.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Tip For Getting Along Better With Your Teen

It can be hard to get along with teenagers for parents.  However, one thing you can do that really helps is to embrace your child’s friends.  I know you won’t like all of them, but trying to talk to them a little really helps.  Your teenager wants to know that you don’t judge their friends.  Friends are the most important people to them right now.  If you resist their friends (except for friends who are destructive), your teen will resist you.

 

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman

Help for anxiety

Here are some tips for anxiety management.  It’s a good topic for today because I am having an anxious kind of day (yes, even therapists get anxious).

anxiety-management-tips

A peaceful place

 

1.  It’s not as bad as you think it is.  Truly.  You are worrying about something that is very unlikely to play out exactly the way you think it will.  Things usually go better than we predict.

 

2.  Be in the moment.  If you’re anxious then you are likely living in the future.  If you just choose to exist in the moment, you will find there are things to be grateful for right now.  If you are asking, “What if?” about some upcoming situation, you are missing out on “right now.”

 

3.  Do not panic.  You have more time to think through and act than you realize.  If you are experiencing test-taking anxiety for example, even during the exam you have 60 seconds to close your eyes and breathe.  If you are worried about what to say to your friend after an argument, you have time to write out your thoughts before you see your friend.

 

4.  Respond thoughtfully.  One thing that makes us anxious is a sense of urgency.  We believe we must respond immediately to a text message, email, or phone call.  This is simply untrue.  Taking an extra 5 minutes to think through what you will say can calm your anxiety.

 

5.  Do something enjoyable.  I know this sounds very cliche.  However, it’s over-suggested because it has a lot of merit.  It’s hard to be anxious when you’re sitting in the sun with a glass of lemonade.

 

6.  Bounce your concern off someone honest.  Don’t call a friend who always tells you everything will be fine because you won’t know whether or not you can believe them.  Call that friend who is very candid.  If they tell you it’s fine, you will feel better.  If they agree that it’s not fine, they will give suggestions on how to make it better.

 

7. Remember to breathe.  Deep, slow breaths are the complete opposite to anxious breathing.  If you can take deep, slow breaths then your brain registers relaxed feelings.

 

8.  Force a smile.  This is for the exact same reasons as number seven.  It is incongruous with anxious feelings.

 

9.  Do something for someone else.  When we’re overly anxious, we’re often worried about ourselves.  We’re not too focused on others.  Doing an act of service really helps other people feel cared for, and helps you feel better.

 

10.  I saved the best for last.  The thing that is most helpful for me is prayer.  Giving up my fear or concern to God, who knows more and has more control than I ever will, and who has my best interests in mind, is a huge relief.

 

Now, don’t you feel a little better?  I know I do!

 

Most of you already have heard these things.  If your teenager has anxiety you’ve probably asked them to try some of these things.  It takes a little while and it takes practice.  We’re not usually good at things until we work at them.  One of the things therapy does that is helpful for teenagers is forces repetition of coping skills.  A lot of teens will try something once, say it doesn’t work, and then not give it another shot.  A counselor is kind of like your anxiety-reduction coach.  If you’re not at the point where you think therapy is needed, try and encourage your adolescent to work at anxiety-reduction skills over and over until they really can do it.

 

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

The Benefit of Volunteering

Volunteering helps your teen’s physical and mental health. Credit: Wikimedia/free-images.com

The benefits to volunteering are innumerable.  For your teenager they are essential.  Many of us automatically think of how great it looks on college applications to have a teenager who volunteers.  However, there are reasons it’s good for your child that span from work-ethic to physical health.  Research does nothing but support the idea of your teen spending some selfless time to benefit others.

 

This past week my family did something out of our comfort zone. We hosted a pastor who was attending a conference at our local church.  If I’m being totally honest it was inconvenient.  We had to let the kids camp out on our floor, actually keep the house picked up, make a little bit of extra food, and stay up later than usual (One of my kids wakes me at 5:30 every morning so the only hope of enough sleep is an early bedtime).

 

Despite this, it was a great experience!  It was really, really good for every single member of my family to be inconvenienced for someone else’s benefit.  It helped us get exposed to another perspective too.  This pastor has a significantly less materialistic lifestyle than we do.  He cares more about the needs of those around him than his own safety or comfort.  I would have told you I was like that too, but that would have been wishful thinking.  It is really good for us to contrast how we live with the way other people live.  It is even better for us to give up something for someone else.

 

When it comes to your teenagers it does them a lot of good to get past their own comforts and concerns.  Teens I’ve worked with who have been exposed to significant poverty or need tend to have a lot more gratitude.  Those who have simply been sheltered in the OC Bubble are often self-centered.  They don’t mean to be, but they are worried about brand-names and image.

 

Teens who volunteer work harder.  They tend to care about something with some amount of passion.  They don’t feel their own personal future is the only thing that matters.  They also feel more empowered.  Teenagers who volunteer are less likely to see themselves as victims.  They know changes can be made so they don’t sit back helplessly when they see something they don’t like.

 

The point of all this is to say that your teenager will benefit greatly from selflessness.  One of the most productive ways to be selfless is to volunteer at something that really matters.  Help your teenager choose a cause that isn’t simply whatever fills the amount of volunteer time suggested by a college counselor, but something that actually matters to him or her.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Your Teen Says Something Shocking

If your teenage child gives you news that you never saw coming, there is a right and wrong way to deal with it.  All of us have a sentence we hope we never hear, or at least aren’t expecting.  But, kids are people and the one thing predictable about people is that they are unpredictable.  Here’s a suggestion on how to respond:

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Do Youth Sports Increase Anxiety?

Youth sports have positives and negatives. Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Youth sports have positives and negatives.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Depending on where you live this may or may not be relevant to you.  Here in Orange County, California, youth sports are competitive.  It’s pretty tough to make the Little League All-Star team.  It’s intense if you play club soccer, especially if you’re on the 1st team for your age group.  High schools use various methods to recruit football players to their school, even outside of their school district.

 

A huge number of parents have their kids in one, two or sometimes three very intense athletic programs.  They have a running coach, private lessons, strength and conditioning work-outs, and year around leagues to compete in.  Weekends are dominated by travel for games.  If there are two or three kids in the family the parents are often split up at two different athletic events on Saturday AND Sunday.  Sometimes there is travel involved.  There is always an expense involved.

 

I played club soccer growing up, which took up most weekends of the year.  When I wasn’t playing soccer I was playing softball.  Once I got into high school I also added field hockey into the mix.  In high school I took honors and AP classes too.  At the end of 10th grade though it all came crashing down.  Apparently I wasn’t cut out to have a rigorous academic schedule and 3-5 hours of sports per day.  After a pretty extended period of illness, I finally threw in the towel and played one sport.  I cut back to one or two AP classes per year.  The other parents and a lot of my friends thought I was crazy.  They would say to me things like how would I get a scholarship for college now?

 

Ask yourself what your goal is if your child is intensely playing sports.  Are they really, truly talented enough to make the top professional level, where only the tiniest sliver of athletes get to play?  Do they love the sport so much that you can’t stop them from practicing extra even if you tried?  Or, are they complaining about practices?  Are they saying they feel tired, and struggle to complete all their homework?  Do they say they wish they had more time with friends?

 

Around here many of us lose the forest for the trees.  The goal of youth sports is for kids to learn cooperation, work-ethic, make friends, have fun and get a little exercise.  It’s part of how we help them build character.  Once they show a little promise though we often forget these goals.  Instead we are whisking them to practices, spending thousands of dollars and traveling all over the Southwest United States.  We are not spending relaxed time at home with our family all together.

 

Highly competitive youth sports is adding stress and anxiety to your child’s life.  It isn’t giving them the release you think it is.  On top of that, many adolescents are now developing injuries that used to only be seen in professional athletes.  Some spend a lifetime dealing with the problems caused by those injuries.  In fact, out of the friends I have who played collegiate level sports, three are healthy and five have chronic, lifelong injuries.  Four of those injured five have had surgeries to try and repair the injuries, and one has had three surgeries.

 

The point of this blog isn’t to condemn youth sports.  I think they’re wonderful…in moderation.  They just shouldn’t take priority over faith, family, academics or physical health.  Please carefully consider your teenager’s future health and current well-being if they play competitive sports.  Please also consider your family’s quality time.  With that in mind I trust you can make the best decision for your family as a whole.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Adolescents Are Vaping

Yes, your teenager knows someone hooked on vaping.  Yes, your teenager has been offered a vape, probably multiple times.  Yes, people are vaping at school.  No, it’s not simply fruit flavored water vapor.  Yes, they can easily access “pods” even though they are underage.  Yes, it is highly addictive and is a exponentially growing problem.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What Is Codependence/Co-addiction?

Codependence is emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually exhausting.

Codependence is emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually exhausting.

Codependence, also known as co-addiction, can wreck havoc on a person’s life.  It is best explained through a hypothetical example:

Karen is a 30 year old woman who has struggled for years with addiction to crystal meth.  She first tried it when she was 20.  She began to use more and more frequently until she was crashing on “friends'” couches instead of having a home, lost her job, and sometimes went a few days without affording food.  Throughout this period of time she stayed in contact with her mom.

Karen’s mom, Jane, was naturally worried sick about her daughter.  Sometimes Karen would move back in with Jane.  Jane always made Karen promise not to use anymore, but would never stick with her rules.  She justified allowing Karen to use methamphetamine in the house because, ‘At least then I know where she is and I know she’s safe.’  She paid for seven rehabs for Karen.  At some point Jane had to take a second mortgage on her home to try and pay for another rehab.  Jane also would give Karen money when she saw that Karen was hungry.  She paid for Karen’s cell phone bill, ‘so I don’t lose track of her.’  Essentially Jane’s addiction became trying to help Karen get healthy.

On the surface Jane sounds like a loving mom going to any length to help her daughter.  Indeed Jane’s actions are motivated by a combination of love and fear.  The problem though is that Jane is helping Karen continue to use drugs, and has completely destroyed her own financial future.  Every time Jane gives Karen money, pays for her cell phone, or allows her to move home when she is not clean and sober, it frees up what little money Karen gets to buy more meth.  Although Jane does not directly give Karen money to buy meth, she does indirectly.  Also, Karen has not really shown any signs that she wants to get better.  Despite this, Jane has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and fix this.  Jane has paid for rehabs (these are typically quite expensive), cell phone, money for food, etc.  Jane now has an extra large mortgage, which will financially burden her into retirement.

Like many people who struggle with co-addiction, Jane’s entire identity is wrapped up in trying to convince her daughter to get better.   Karen’s addiction did not have to ruin Jane’s life too.  While Karen’s addiction would have always been a source of pain and deep disappointment for Jane, both she and Karen would have been better off if Jane held firm and healthy boundaries.

As a therapist who focuses on treatment of addiction in families, helping to disentangle the web of codependency is one of the main things I do.  And, actually, when the codependent family member or friend changes their behavior to a healthier position, oftentimes the addict decides to get better.  If the story of Karen and Jane feels a little too close to home, firstly, my heart hurts for you.  Secondly, the stronger you get, the more you are helping the addict you love to recover.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT