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Help for Chronic Worry

The Bible has a lot to say about worry…namely that you shouldn’t. Here I share some words from Jesus that are truly wise when it comes to letting go of what you can’t control, and what you don’t need to try to control.

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

Feeding the Teenage Mind

Adolescents spend a lot of time filling their mind with things that don't necessarily edify them as a person. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Adolescents spend a lot of time filling their mind with things that don’t necessarily edify them as a person.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Without meaning to, we’ve let our kids fill their minds with intellectual junk food.  We are taught to be very careful about what we eat so that we can keep our physical bodies healthy.  In our culture though, we don’t pay a lot of attention to feeding our minds with things that keep the mind healthy.  Other than schoolwork, and maybe the occasional church service or bible study, our teenagers fill their minds with social media, TV and whatever they happen to search on the internet.

 

Adolescents are at a stage where they are heavily influenced by what they read, hear and see.  As parents, it’s our responsibility to strongly encourage our teens in learning things that will truly help them in life.  This ranges from what they watch on TV to what they read online.  I realize that you can’t control everything entering your teenager’s mind.  However, you can prohibit them from watching TV shows with nudity, sexual content, cursing, drugs, etc.- whatever goes against how you’d like them to act.  Because these things are so incredibly commonplace, even on “family friendly” shows, we have become numb to them.  I was watching sports last night and a Victoria’s Secret commercial came on.  At some point in our culture’s not too distant past that would have been seen as pornography (a bunch of girls in bras and panties making seductive faces and poses); it would never have been allowed during a sports game that kids are probably watching with their parents.  Now though, that’s commonplace.  You have to think really carefully about whether you’re okay with your teenage son or daughter seeing this kind of thing.

 

Okay, so the logical question that follows my soapbox rant is, ‘What should I have my teen viewing/hearing?’  The answer to that question lies within the bounds of your values.  In our house we follow the Christian faith, so our kids spend at least some of their internet time using apps that help them understand their faith better.  In my cousin’s house, music, education and culture were highly valued so my aunt had my cousin watching movies that broadened his horizons on different cultures.  These weren’t boring documentaries, just movies made in other countries that showed another view of life in the storytelling.  This was intentional on the part of my aunt, and it paid off as my cousin became an adult.

 

There also needs to be a limit to social media.  It’s up to you how you handle this.  Maybe you limit the amount of time your son or daughter spends on it.  Maybe you strongly encourage your son or daughter to follow their role models and interact with those people as often as their friends.  That is one of the great things about social media- it’s actually possible to interact with people you could never otherwise reach.

 

The last thing that’s really important is for you to assess how you spend your spare time.  Are you watching trashy TV?  Are you always posting pictures for your friends on Facebook at the expense of reading a good book?  If you look at yourself and realize you are not feeding your mind healthy intellectual food, make a few changes.  This is actually really hard at first, but the example you set pays huge dividends with your kids.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen sobriety requires a change in friends

Making new, sober friends helps a teen stop using drugs.  Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Making new, sober friends helps a teen stop using drugs.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While this is not California, the statistics from this article are still very interesting to think about.  http://eastwindsor.patch.com/articles/christie-courts-mandatory-treatment-for-drug-offenders-26a17aed

 

In the state of New Jersey it has been found that mandating arrested drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail-time has greatly reduced the repeat offense rate.  When a drug-offender simply does jail time the rearrest rate is 54% with a 43% re-conviction rate.  When mandated to treatment, the rearrest rate is 16% with an 8% re-conviction rate.

 

One thing that is rumored to happen in jail or prison is that an addict learns even more about how to be an addict.  There are a lot of drug users and dealers in prison/jail, and they educate one another in further delinquent behavior.  It is also rumored that there is a pretty significant amount of illegal drugs dealt within the prison system, sometimes making an addiction worse.

 

Whether you believe our justice system should or should not offer treatment centers as an alternative to jail/prison time, this article is a good example that treatment for addiction can be very helpful.  It also demonstrates that who you spend your time around is who you become.

 

While there’s a good chance your teenager isn’t serving jail time for a drug-related arrest, this article still applies to you.  The two important things to get from this is that 1) prisoners who spend time in the main prison population often commit drug-related crimes again and 2) prisoners who spend time around recovering addicts tend to get better.

 

If your child is acting out and participating in drug use, the most important thing you can do is change their peer group.  This is extremely challenging as a parent.  How many times have you told Junior, “I don’t like you being around those kids.  What about hanging out with so and so instead?”  Then you’re rewarded with a dirty look and an accusation that you “hate all my friends.”  This is when you need to start thinking outside the box.

 

If your kid isn’t working, help them find a job.  Teens who work develop friendships with their co-workers.  A job also takes up time that could otherwise be used to smoke a joint.

 

Your child might be farther into their drug use than just getting a job to change their peer group.  In that case, you’ll have to be more forceful and drastic.  Sending your teen to a relative’s house for about 3 months can be extremely helpful.  Do you notice that while your teen talks back towards you, they don’t talk back to your sister?  They aren’t familiar enough with your sister to do that.  It might just work to have them stay with her for a little while.  This is only effective if your relative lives far enough away that your teen cannot see the same friends.

 

If the case is more severe, you’ll have to strongly consider either rehab or teen boot camp.  Both of these methods are effective and helpful.  I’ve found that teens who go to boot camp tend to come back a little bit stronger than rehab.  However, in no way am I claiming to have completed a study on the matter.  Each rehab and each boot camp are different.  What works well with one type of teen may not be the ideal fit for another type of teen.

 

The bottom line is, teenagers begin to act like the people they are around.  Getting your struggling teen around successful teens tends to improve the decisions your teenager makes.  Just like the prisoners in this article, everyone needs someone who will show them an alternative, positive way out.  For teens the most important thing is that they think it is their idea.  This is your chance to be a creative parent and covertly help your teenager come up with a good idea for how they can start making changes.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Becoming Self-Confident

If you want to be more self-assured, self-confident, have a higher self-esteem, and a better sense of self, then you need to stop focusing on yourself.

What? You must be joking, right?

No, I’m serious. When you want to work on yourself all the time, it is harder to focus on others. Compassion, empathy, and action are all things that occur in relationship to others. To improve yourself, you must stop thinking about THE self.

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

Have an anxiety-free day

A relaxing morning reduces anxiety all day. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A relaxing morning reduces anxiety all day.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Living anxiety-free means actively making choices to have less stress.  Everything about our lives is fast, and intense.  We’re always trying to get ahead.  We want the best grades for our teenagers so they can get into the best schools.  We push them into a lot of extracurricular activities because we feel we have to.  We work long hours and take short vacations.  We start our mornings off all wrong.

 

How we start our day is one of the key factors to reducing anxiety.  However, it is one that doesn’t get much attention.  We don’t realize a slower start to the morning is key.  We tend to fill our minds with a bunch of useless, negative junk while reciting our to-do list, and then hope to have a good day.

 

One thing a lot of people do is watch the news in the morning.  It is rare to find a news program that discusses progress and positive events in tandem with the negative.  Sometimes even the good things that happen are still spun in a negative way.  It’s all meant to to increase the viewer’s anxiety so they’ll keep watching.

 

It is really important to realize that most of what is reported on is out of your control.  Try and focus on what you can do something about, and leave the rest alone.  Replace some of the news with looking outside at the beauty God has created, and take a minute to say thank you.  Then you might remember that you live in an amazing place and are generally blessed.

 

Start your day with something positive and encouraging.  Take time to read your bible, pray, call a friend, slowly enjoy your cup of coffee, or anything else that gives you a sense of calm.  It has been said that your first ten minutes are a huge predictor of what kind of day you will have.  If you begin your day with anxiety, then you are much more likely to feel anxious the whole day.  Be very intentional about starting your day with something that leaves you feeling positive and energized.  Help your teenagers do this as well.  Make your teenager a good breakfast, have them sit down to eat, and be very pleasant if you sit with them.  Do not talk to them about classes, a test they need to take, or anything else on their to-do list.  Keep it light and positive.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Vacationing With Teens

Why are vacations better for connecting with family than being home together? While there are many reasons, one is that we’re often unplugged. At home we go to different corners of the house and have personal screen time. On vacation we tend not to do that, and that time is really important.

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

Tips for Disciplining a Teenager

Staying calm works a lot better than yelling.  Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Staying calm works a lot better than yelling. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

It’s hard to discipline a teen.  They definitely have a mind of their own, and are usually pretty good at arguing.  Here are some things to keep in mind based on what I’ve seen work with clients in my therapy practice.

 

1.  The consequence should make them think about what they did and not about being frustrated with you.  Many parents ground their kids or take away electronic devices whenever they feel their teenager needs discipline.  The problem with doing this in every situation is that while your teen is home grounded on Saturday night, it’s unlikely they are thinking about what they did to be home.  It’s much more likely they are resenting you for giving them that consequence.

 

2.  Allow natural consequences whenever possible.  Along the same vein as #1, allowing natural consequences teaches lessons.  It also enables you as the parent to empathize with your teenager while they are suffering the consequence.  Here’s an example: If your teenager gets a speeding ticket, have them pay for it, and pay for the increase in their insurance.  You will get to say to compassionately say to them, “Yah, it really does suck to get a speeding ticket.  I’m sorry you’re facing this.”  Don’t ground your teenager for a speeding ticket.  That doesn’t even make sense.  Nobody ever put you on house arrest for a driving violation.

 

3.  Follow through.  I have seen many, many parents say they will have certain consequences if a given thing occurs, but not follow-through with it.  This tells your adolescent that you can be bargained with.  If they see a benefit in trying to negotiate with you, you’re just opening the door for talking back and other disrespectful behavior.  If you’ve told them being home after curfew means they have to skip the next social event (a consequence that fits the crime), you have to stick to your guns.  It’s hard to do when the next social event is a big deal that they’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  It’s really tempting to alter your consequence in cases like that, but you just can’t if you want to be respected.

 

4.  Stay calm.  Once you start yelling they aren’t listening.  Are you giving consequences out of an emotional reaction, or to teach a lesson?  You really have to ask yourself this question and answer honestly.  It should always be to teach a lesson and/or protect your teenager.  Remember, you’re trying to raise a responsible adult and there are bound to be hiccups along the way.  Hiccups are okay as long as you’re helping your teenager work towards being a functional adult.  If you can stay calm they can still hear you.

 

5.  Don’t just focus on the negative.  Disciplining also means giving positive consequences when they’re due.  While your child always has behavior you can correct, they are doing a lot of things right too.  If you want them to keep doing those things, reward them for it.  A reward can be as simple as telling them you appreciate that they are such a loyal friend.  You don’t have to make a huge deal out of things and give them money, or take them out to a special dinner every time they do something good.  You just have to acknowledge what you see.  One of my favorite ways I’ve seen parents catch a teenager being good is when their child has followed curfew respectfully for quite a while, to tell the teen, “Next time you can stay out a half hour later.  This isn’t a permanent change, but I just wanted to let you know I’ve noticed how responsible you’ve been.”  That makes your teenager feel like a million bucks!

 

Yes, disciplining a teenager is a challenge.  However, if you feel like you’ve tried and tried without success, consider whether you’re just trying the wrong things.  When your teenager respects you because you know how to set up appropriate rules and limits, it leaves a lot more room for relationship and love between you.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Stop Arguing- Don’t Triangulate

As a parent I understand the longing to intervene when my husband is disciplining our kids. I often want to change some of his words, or help my kids better react to what he’s saying. I want to explain things more clearly.

Likewise, as a wife I understand the temptation to involve my kids when I’m not getting along with my husband. I get irritated sometimes, and I’d love nothing more than to tell my kids about it so they can be on my side.

As you well know, in both cases I’d be wrong. I would create a triangle out of a situation that should be between only two people. This diffuses the anxiety in the situation, which is a relief. But, it also creates unhealthy patterns of not allowing a person to work through hard things in a relationship without a mediator.

If you want to have a more solid relationship with your family members, stop triangulating! At first the tension will feel worse. Ride out the storm because eventually the dynamics in your household will be healthier.

Disclaimer: This obviously excludes situations where things become abusive. In those cases stepping in to protect the victim is always advisable, whether that is you speaking up, or you calling the police if there is violence.

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

Why Your Teen Daughter Should Play Sports

According to research, girls who play sports make better life-choices.  Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to research, girls who play sports make better life-choices.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teen girls who play organized sports get into a lot less trouble.  According to a large body of research (http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Not_Just_Another/) conducted in the last ten years, girls who play sports have substantially lower rates of risky behavior.  Girls involved in athletics are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, have fewer sexual partners, and become sexually active later.  There are increases in positive behaviors as well.  Girls who play sports have higher GPAs, and higher rates of graduation.  They have a more positive body image and higher self-esteem.

 

Athletics provide a sense of structure, accountability, and a group of friends.  Exercise is very good for the mind and body, and it decreases rates of depression.  Girls who play on their high school sports teams have a sense of belonging to the school.  They tend to have more school pride, which leads to an increase in caring about their community.

 

Playing sports also reduces overall anxiety.  There are instances where anxiety arises because of the pressure in sports, but for the most part it is helpful for the anxious teenager.  Getting exercise, going outside, being with friends, and focusing on something intensely all helps lower anxiety.  Besides that, sports are fun!

 

If your daughter has been struggling with self-esteem or is tempted by risky behavior, consider signing her up for a sport.  It can make a huge difference.  It gives you both something to talk about too.  If you’re discussing the most recent track meet, you’re communicating.  For many parents, communicating with their teenager is difficult.  Sports provide an avenue for relationship.

 

Be careful not to put too much pressure on your child when they are playing their sport.  There are very few high school athletes good enough to compete at the collegiate level.  There are very few collegiate level athletes good enough to compete at the professional level.  It is okay if your 13 year old daughter isn’t on the top team.  It is much more important that she is having fun and making friends.  Your top priority needs to be her character development, not her athletic career. 

The bottom line is, getting her involved in a sport is good for her mental health, physical health, and social health.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What is Oppositional Defiance?

If your teen has ODD, arguing back won't get you anywhere. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

If your teen has ODD, arguing back won’t get you anywhere.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a psychological diagnosis usually reserved for teens and children.  It is given when the child has a pervasive pattern of disobedient or disrespectful behavior and attitude.  Most often this is seen across the board towards adult authority figures.

 

Here’s a hypothetical example.  Let’s say Michael is 12 years old.  For the last year he has been very sassy with his parents.  He ignores them when they ask him to do something around the house.  He argues with them just because.  If they say go left, Michael goes right.  There often isn’t even logic to his choices other than they are the opposite of what he was asked to do.  He behaves this way in school too.  He talks back to his teachers.  He is in trouble a lot of the time and receives detentions for disruptive behavior.  He comments frequently that something is “stupid” when they assign a project or homework.

 

Adolescents and children with ODD do not cross the line into violent or law-breaking behavior.  They do not harm animals, get into physical fights, steal things, or find themselves in situations where they could be arrested.  Children who go that far are usually diagnosed with Conduct Disorder.  Oppositional Defiance is more like an extremely bad attitude in a wide array of situations.

 

ODD is a huge challenge for therapists.  The reason is that teens and children with ODD want to argue with adult authority figures.  It takes a lot of work on the part of the counselor to help the child see them as something other than an authority figure while still maintaining limits and boundaries.

 

From my work with teens who have ODD, I have found there are a few really important things to keep in mind.  The first is that these kids don’t respond to discipline in the same way others might.  Oftentimes disciplining a child with ODD is taken more as a challenge than as a chance to rethink bad behavior.  Children with this diagnosis need to be caught doing good instead of only caught doing bad.  Teens with this diagnosis have decided the only way to get what they need in life is to fight against people until they’ve worn them down.  When you catch them being good, and praise them for it, they have a chance to see their needs get met while they are behaving.

 

The second thing is to be immobile.  Plant your feet in one place and no matter how hard your teenager pushes, just stay right where you are (figuratively of course).  You love your child deeply, and nothing can change that.  Don’t stop loving them, don’t react to their attitude, and generally remain consistent in the message you send that no matter how hard they try, they won’t succeed in pushing you away.

 

The third thing that is of utmost importance when dealing with someone who is diagnosed as having ODD is that anger is useless.  Yelling, showing very intense irritation, arguing and trying to be louder than the child will not work.  Keeping the emotional level very low tends to be more effective for engaging conversation.  Once you cross the threshold into trying to win the battle, you’ve already lost.

 

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is extremely difficult to work with, and a hugely frustrating thing for parents to contend with.  Be very patient, remain firmly planted, catch them being good, and don’t match their desire to argue.  The other good news is that ODD often resolves in a few years- getting help can speed this along.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Entertainment Streaming Addiction

Entertainment streaming addiction is so prevalent among teens (and people across the United States for that matter) that it’s almost hard to recognize.  Most people are watching hours of Youtube videos, Netflix, or Hulu each day. Because a great number of people are doing it, it starts to seem acceptable.  However, I challenge you to think about how any “addiction” is defined.  This will help you decide if your adolescent might have streaming addiction.

Addiction means needing more and more of something to feel satisfied, while feeling some form of withdrawal when it is taken away.  Has your teenager spent increasing amounts of time watching videos of some sort?  If you took all devices from them so they could not stream anything, would they be irritable?  Would it go beyond irritability?  Would they become despondent?

Many people thinl addiction is only possible if drugs or alcohol are involved.  They assume you need to go through physical withdrawals for something to qualify as “addiction.”  While the withdrawals from substances add danger to the withdrawal process, my experience tells me people get addicted to all kinds of things ranging from gambling to pornography to entertainment streaming.

The other element of addiction is whether it is leading to atrophy in other areas of life.  Is your teenager spending an inordinate amount of time sitting or lying down in order to watch a screen?  Is your teen struggling to get enough sleep because of hours lost to binge watching?  Has your teenager socialized less and less frequently with friends, preferring the company of a series they are watching?  Is your teenager’s favorite activity with you to watch a certain TV series together?  If you answered yes to these questions, then their life is out of balance because of entertainment streaming overload.

I encourage you to begin limiting your adolescent’s time in front of a screen.  According to Common Sense Media, teenagers are in front of a screen an average of nine hours per day.  Think about that!  Nine hours per day!  I PROMISE you they don’t have nine hours of homework per day, which means a lot of that screen time is unproductive.  Try putting a monitor on their devices just to make them aware of it at first.  Most people don’t want to be someone who does nothing but watch shows, they just don’t realize how much they’re doing it.  If they are made aware of how much screen time they accumulate each day, that might be enough for them to pare back.

If this doesn’t impact their screen use, then you will have to consider cutting the cord.  A lot of parents are hesitant to end a Netflix subscription because they also enjoy streaming.  But, being a parent has always meant doing things you don’t feel like doing.  When your kids were little you probably didn’t want to watch The Little Mermaid for the 100th time, yet you did it because it made them smile.  You may not want to give up Netflix in the house, but you can do it because it’s best for your kids’ growth and development.

Once your teenager is through the initial withdrawal period they will suddenly reappear around the house.  You will see your teen in the family room more often.  They will reengage with other activities.  It’s hard to imagine anything past their initial anger at first.  After a week or two though they usually start to enjoy things again.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Cameron Munholland, MMFT, Associate MFT

Video Gaming Addiction

There’s a growing concern that teenagers, and especially male teens, are becoming increasingly dependent on online video games.  Many teenagers play for hours every day.  Parents have called with concerns that their sons (and sometimes daughters) are disconnecting from life.  Let’s look at a case my supervisor encountered a few years back.

She had a 15-year-old male come into therapy for depression and anxiety.  During the intake she discovered he was not going to bed until 2:00 or 3:00am most nights.  When she explored the reason for this he said, “I can’t get my homework done.”  Given that he finished sports at 4:00pm each afternoon, she found this to be unusual.  When she dug a little deeper, she realized he was consistently violating the 1 hour of video games per day rule his parents had set for him.  She found out he was actually playing 5-6 hours of video games per day, and 12-15 hours on weekend days.  No matter what his parents did he found a way around it.  They eventually shut down the internet.  He crawled under his covers in his bed and become utterly despondent.  He wouldn’t get out of bed to eat, shower, or go to school.  He held out so long that his parents gave back in, “but just for 1 hour per day.”  That worked well for about 2 weeks until he started pushing the boundary again.  This cycle continued.  Finally, his parents destroyed all his devices.  He became suicidal, which terrified them to the point they gave him new devices.  They allowed him to home-school thinking this would help him complete everything so he could get to bed on time.  It didn’t work.  This boy had a severe online gaming addiction.

I’m not sure your teenager is at such an extreme place, but if that is sounding a little familiar then read on.  Video gaming addiction is especially common in role-playing games (RPGs).  In these games your child makes up a character and lives in a fantasy world.  Imagine the allure for an adolescent who isn’t especially popular in real life.  The brain’s reaction to feeling powerful, well-liked, and purposeful is intense.  There is another side to the story though.

If your son or daughter is spending hours and hours in front of a screen living in a false world, what skills are being developed?  Is your teenager learning how to cope with the nuances of real life?  Is your teenager learning to socialize, date, do physical activity, or have enough self-control to go to bed at a good hour?  Yes, your teen is physically safe from harm because they are sitting at home, but there is another, more subtle harm being done.

Video gaming addiction is an actual thing, and very hard on a family.  Your teenager must learn to live without games but still use a computer.  Your teenager will experience REAL withdrawals when you pull the plug.  There isn’t a happy medium for a child who has this addiction.  Cutting back is a short-term solution.  It’s like someone who has quit smoking cigarettes saying they plan to only have one when they drink.  That will work for a time, but soon enough they will be smoking again.

I know this is heart-breaking for you and your family.  I know you feel some level of guilt for buying the games in the first place.  No matter what got you here, just accept the problem as it is and begin to walk forward.  Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step.  The second step is equally as important; you must reach out for help.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Cameron Munholland, MMFT, Associate MFT