Fifteen years ago a 16 year old boy was approached by an acquaintance at school (We’ll call him John). The 16 year old had a reputation in his high school as the kid to go to if you wanted to try a new drug. John sought out the 16 year old and asked if they could hang out after school. When the time came, John worked up his courage to ask, “Do you think I could try heroin with you?”
The 16 year old liked John. He told him, “No. Some people can’t just use it once. You could become an instant drug addict.”
John replied, “Look man, I’m going to try heroin. Would you rather it be with you where at least you know the drug is good? Or would you rather I get it from someone else?”
The 16 year old sighed and took out a syringe. Together they got high. John fell completely in love with the euphoria and never got off the drug. By 22, John was dead.
The 16 year old is now 31. He cannot forgive himself for what happened. When he talks about it he glazes over. His eyes fill with tears. He consistently suffers with two questions. Firstly, ‘What if I had stuck with my no answer? Maybe he wouldn’t have made the effort to get it somewhere else.’ Secondly, ‘Why did he die and not me? He was a good kid who wanted to live. I was a horrible drug dealer who didn’t care if I lived.’
How do you forgive yourself for the sin you’ve committed that you feel is unforgiveable? How do you come back from a deeply entrenched belief that your bad choice led to so much suffering?
This question has plagued the human race for millennia. While there are differing answers to this question, two stand-out as most helpful. The first is related to repentance and the second is related to self-compassion.
Repentance is a religious concept but is easily applied to a non-religious context. If a person commits a sin against God, they admit it and turn from it. It’s not enough to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” There has to be an actual effort made at changing circumstances so it is not repeated. To go a step father, true repentance often includes helping others out of the same sinful trap. The Christian God requires repentance from sin. This is likely true in many other religious faiths as well. Even a secular humanist will agree that owning responsibility for bad behavior and actively turning away from it aids in self-forgiveness.
Self-compassion is the second part to forgiving the self. For psychological purposes it comes from a Dialectical Behavioral treatment model. Self-compassion requires a person to gather understanding for the many things that led to a bad choice. In the case of the 16 year old, he had been using drugs to numb PTSD caused by severe child abuse. The drugs led him to unclear decision-making. John also made many choices leading him to seek out heroin. Experiences in John’s life contributed to his belief he could “handle” trying heroin. In any case, there is understanding available for the drug dealer even though his choice to provide heroin was the first exposure to the drug which caused John’s ghastly and tragic death.
One must be careful not to use self-compassion to make excuses for wrong behavior. People these days love to find ways they are victims of their surroundings. Social media inundates its users with messages that bad things happen to a person just because of skin color, because “rich people are greedy,” because “all politicians are liars and selfish,” etc. In actual fact, the good and bad things in life are a blend of outside factors (race, socioeconomic status, who is in political office, etc.) and personal responsibility for choices. So how does a person practice self-compassion without falling into the trap of victimhood? Give understanding and grace for the factors contributing to past choices while committing to being better at the next opportunity.
The combination of repentance and self-compassion allows for self-forgiveness. These two things must work together for a person to become “unstuck.” They are the perfect blend of personal remorse, personal responsibility, and grace. They provide a path forward and a way to learn from egregious mistakes. Help your teenager by forgiving yourself for things you regret. Let your teen see you find a way forward that shows personal responsibility and kindness so your teenager will know how he/she can do the same.
Be thankful for your kids, they are a gift from God. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We have so much to be grateful for. It is incredible that we can live in a country with so much freedom. God truly blessed each and every one of us in ways we take for granted every single day. Even having clean water and enough to eat is not a given in many parts of the world.
The reason I remind you of this is because if you’re reading my blog it means you’re probably hurting. It means your teenager is behaving in some way that scares you. It means you’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent and you aren’t sure what to do to help your child. That is the most helpless feeling in the world.
It does us a lot of good to count our blessings. This is especially true when it comes to your teenager. I realize things are tough right now, but there are a lot of things going right too. It’s very easy to become very focused on resolving one problem. When you do this, you forget to see all the other things that aren’t problems.
I have a few clients in my therapy practice who struggle with body image. Their focus on their body image is so intense that it often dominates the teen’s whole life. It’s difficult for the parents of these teens because they worry about whether their child is eating enough, exercising too much, or just loathing their appearance. The parents of these children have found it helpful to refocus on what is going right with their kids. In some of the cases, these teens still maintain good grades and do not use any substances. They are still loving and engaged with the family. These parents try and keep perspective that there is a lot going well even though there is also a problem.
Life is like that, isn’t it? We see problems run parallel with blessings all the time. We shouldn’t ignore the problems, but we shouldn’t ignore the blessings either. In fact, if you think back over your whole life, I bet you can hardly identify a time when things were all good or all bad.
Raising kids is about maintaining the perspective that things could always be better and always be worse. Tell them constantly what you’re thankful for about them. Work with them on improving what they can do better, but don’t make that the only thing you talk about- that would come across as critical. You want them to know all the reasons you think they’re great too.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
This is hard. This is even harder on you if you’re a teenager in some ways. You feel constricted. You are missing things that gave your life value and meaning. For many of you this means you feel symptoms of depressed moods.
As hard as it may be, it’s important that you don’t get stuck in the “waiting place,” because that won’t help you feel any better.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Teen depression can look a bit different from adult depression. In teenagers you might see more of a general irritability. Adults typically notice they feel depressed because their dominant mood is sad. Sometimes adolescent depression presents as sadness, but just as often it presents as consistent grouchy moods.
One thing I see in my therapy practice pretty regularly is parents struggling to believe their teenager is dealing with depression. This is because the teen has moments where they smile and laugh. They have times during the day when they come out of their depressed mood and engage with others around them. Parents tend to assume that teens are only unhappy at home, or at school. Teenagers with depression can be good at faking feeling okay. Even while they are laughing, there is a dark cloud somewhere in the background.
Other signs your teenager could be dealing with depression include a change in appetite, a change in sleep patterns, and a decrease in socializing. If you see your adolescent either stop eating or eat quite a lot and this is different from normal, it is possibly a sign of depression. It could also be a symptom of many other things though, so don’t assume they are depressed solely based on a change in eating habits. If your teenager is usually a good sleeper and now sleeps poorly or sleeps excessively, it is another possible symptom of depression (I know it sounds weird that it can be either interrupted sleep or excessive sleep since those are opposites, but people’s bodies react in different ways to depression). Finally, if your teenager is withdrawing to their room all the time and no longer has an interest in seeing friends, this is another sign of possible depression.
One sign you definitely cannot overlook is when your teenager is either cutting or expresses thoughts of suicide. These symptoms alone are often enough to diagnose depression. Please get them help immediately in these situations.
Many teens experience profound anxiety at the same time as depression. If your teenager is overwhelmed and cannot seem to get organized, this can be a sign of depression too. When a person experiences depression it is really challenging to plan and execute. What I mean by this is a person with depression might write down their homework assignments, but actually deciding which one to start first is so overwhelming that they just don’t start. Then they fall behind, and it becomes even more cumbersome.
Teen depression is more complicated than I can describe in one 450 word blog post. If you are concerned your teen is dealing with depression, please feel free to contact me. I will chat with you on the phone to try and help you decide whether an evaluation by a professional is warranted. As a parent it is always so hard to watch your kids struggle. If you’re worried about your child, my heart hurts with you.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
“So I totally think it’s fine to steal from Target because they’re a big corporation. I mean, who is it really hurting? They make tons of profits and they’re just greedy anyways.” This is something I heard straight from the mouth of a teenage client a few weeks ago. The parents don’t believe stealing is appropriate in any circumstance. They definitely aren’t training their kids to be envious, which is the sinful character flaw that leads to the belief, “You have too much so I deserve to take it from you.” Envy is much more destructive than jealousy.
The problem is this child’s parents aren’t paying any attention. Their teenager is learning from Tik Tok videos, Instagram, and whatever other corner of the internet they’ve found. The kid didn’t even realize what she was saying because she has not been provided enough moral training to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was a big wake-up call for the family that they have to put more time and effort into moral training.
We grew up in a time when not stealing was a given. Society did a lot of the moral training for us. It’s not the case anymore. Your child can wind up in the company of people (via the internet) who continue to perpetuate bad ideas because social media helps us find like-minded people. We no longer have to rub shoulders with people who think differently than we do. While we may be more comfortable this way, we definitely don’t grow as humans. Like it or not, it’s just the way it is now.
This means you as parents have to be EXTREMELY intentional about training your kids up in what is right and wrong. You cannot let the current trends or dictates of society make that determination for them. History shows us how incredibly wrong many trends end up being. Of course this means some of what is popular to believe today will not pan out to be good.
Eating Disorders include rules like only eating salads. Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Parents of teenagers call me for a number of varying concerns, one of which is that their daughter has an eating disorder. Once in counseling for any reason, girls frequently reveal they believe they are fat. Of the girls who believe they are fat, a significant number are actively trying to lose weight. If their efforts are dangerous enough, they qualify for an eating disorder. Lately I have been seeing a lot of girls with eating disorders, so it seems like a good time to address this.
The first thing that might have struck you as odd is that I wrote, “If their efforts are dangerous enough, they qualify for an eating disorder.” You might be wondering what I mean by “dangerous.” Girls (and less often boys) that are trying to lose weight are usually doing so in unhealthy ways. For example, there are numerous risks associated with frequent self-induced vomiting. It rots teeth, has the potential to burn a hole in the esophagus, and can cause electrolyte imbalances; sometimes these electrolyte imbalances have caused death.
Other dangerous things adolescents do to lose weight is crash diet, work out too hard (causing sickness and injury), take laxatives, fast, cut out certain food groups, and use drugs. All of these things can be dangerous. Nutrition is an essential part of our health. Girls who are struggling with an eating disorder are nutrition obsessed, but often eat very unhealthily.
One example comes from a girl I know who has an eating disorder. She has numerous misconceptions about food based on the current cultural fads. She believes carbohydrates are like putting poison into her body. If she eats salads for lunch and dinner then she assumes she has eaten a very healthy diet for that day. In fact, all she has done is eat a low calorie diet while missing out on essentials like carbohydrates and proteins.
Therapists are by no means nutritionists, but we are often required to address nutritional issues. For this reason, in most cases, eating disorders are treated in conjunction with a registered dietician. The dietician helps the teen plan appropriate eating. The therapist then helps the teenage girl with the emotions surrounding staying on a food plan; this can be extremely challenging.
Eating disorders are primarily emotional. Girls with anorexia are in tight control over their diet. They control their food in what appears to be an unemotional manner. However, anorexic teens live with constant feelings of self-disgust, shame, and fear. This differs slightly from teenagers with bulimia, who also feel the self-disgust, shame and fear plus a numbing during a binge.
If you are concerned your daughter has an eating disorder, here are a few questions you can ask. First, ask your daughter if she feels comfortable with her body. You can directly ask if she’s ever trying to diet. Find out from her how much she is concerned with her daily diet. Nearly all girls are conscious of these things, but many still eat normally and exercise moderately. You want to determine if it seems a bit extreme. If your daughter is very defensive when you ask these questions, that can also be a sign of trouble.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
“I’m so lonely and depressed,” are words I’ve started to hear on a regular basis. Our reduced social calendars due to COVID precautions have been positive in some ways, but for our teenagers this is hard. Teens need to socialize. I have more to say on the relationship between feeling depressed and our socially distant life right now in the short video below. I want us all to be extremely responsible, but we have to balance mental health and physical health. I’m sure that you, like me, are constantly considering how to balance these two things. Mental health is also extremely important, so what are we to do? I don’t have a perfect answer. My only goal for today is to gently remind you that your teenager has to see friends in some capacity to feel right.
Exhausted teens are less social, and more disrespectful to their parents. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Why Teens Need Their Sleep:
1. It helps them concentrate in school.
2. It keeps their moods more even.
3. It keeps the immune system strong.
4. They have more energy.
5. It reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.
6. Teens who are sleep-deprived eat more junk food.
7. It leads to better judgement.
8. It helps your teen with memory.
9. Teens who get enough sleep are more social.
10. Teens who sleep enough are more respectful.
The health benefits of sleep cannot be overstated. For your teenager’s psychological and physical well-being, make this a top priority. You are on your child about homework, hygiene, chores, etc. Make sleep even more important than these things. As a therapist for adolescents, assessing how much sleep a teenager is getting is one of the most important things I screen for at the first counseling session.
Teenagers need approximately 9.5 hours of sleep a night! Can you believe that? They are still growing. While they look like young men and women, their brains are far from finished developing.
Unfortunately most teenagers get about 6 hours of sleep on school nights. They are bogged down with homework, sports, and social media. There is so much pressure for them to excel in academics, sports, socially, and still be a good kid. Usually the easiest thing to forego is sleep. However, this is a mistake.
So for this next year, consider a New Year’s Resolution of everyone in the house getting enough sleep. Your whole family will benefit.
I am enrolled in an 8 week class on how to help parents of adopted children connect better as they bring the new child into their home. While I don’t have any adopted children (hats off to those of you who do- what a loving and selfless act), I have gleaned some very helpful information. I tried one of the techniques on my obstinate 5 year old this week and it helped me feel compassion rather than frustration when he lashed out in anger. I will take compassion towards my children over frustration any day!
Quality family time is hard to come by during the holidays. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It’s the time of year when we all talk about spending time with family. While we do spend time with family on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, we spend a lot of the other days around this time of year being very busy. There are parties to attend, presents to buy, things to bake, and errands to run. It feels like a flurry trying to decorate, get a tree, participate in the church play, and the other million things you might have on the list for November and December.
Before you even realize what has happened, the holiday season really isn’t time with family at all.
This year can be different. If you choose to, you can make it a great time of connection for you and your teenagers. Here are 5 tips on how to involve them.
1. Include them in your shopping. While I realize they can’t come with you while you shop for their gift, they can certainly help you think of what to get everyone. They can then sit with you while you order it online, or go with you from store to store.
2. Make baking a family affair. Teens (especially teen girls) love to bake. They will actually have some fun if you make cookies together. Let them put on some music they like, and have a good afternoon together.
3. Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s truly fine to have limits around how you spend your time this holiday season. You don’t have to buy everyone a gift or decorate perfectly. Connecting with family and remembering to focus on your faith for the next 6 weeks is paramount.
4. Teach your children why Christmas really exists. We’ve made it all about shopping and giving. It is really nice to give presents. However, it also is a religious holiday. I know it can be hard to remember that based on what is shown on TV, where they will say things like, “Christmas is all about family,” or “Christmas is all about giving.” That is not the basis of Christmas and you have a chance to teach them this year that it is about the birth of Christ.
5. Prioritize some special family time. Perhaps plan a day to just stay home together, or go up to the mountains together. Pick a few days out of this busy season to just be “not busy” with your family. A lot of times you get resistance from your teens when you do this, but they secretly like it. Trust me, I know because I hear it in my office weekly.
Have a safe, love-filled, enjoyable holiday season. It’s my hope that you get in some quality time with your teenager- for the most part they love getting positive attention from you!
Helping families grow and teens improve connection,
I have dealt with two simple phobias in my lifetime, and both terrified me enough to significantly alter my behavior and well-being. One was a fear of sleeping at other people’s houses and one was a fear of vomiting. I will share about the fear of staying at other people’s houses because it’s a little bit more common for kids and teens.
When I was 8 I used to spend the night at Tracy Hall’s house. She was my best friend at the time. We spent hours imagining games, creating “newspapers,” and torturing our parents with plays we had written and acted in. One night I couldn’t fall asleep. Tracy always left Nickolodean on her TV throughout the night. I watched show after show. I saw reruns of all kinds of old programs where gak (sp?) was being dropped on families, Lucy and Desi were arguing, and whatever else you can think of. Eventually this not sleeping was making me anxious. I could’ve slept if the TV were off, but I was afraid to turn it off because Tracy (very bossy) had told me I wasn’t allowed to turn it off or she couldn’t sleep. When I went home the next morning I was an exhausted, emotional wreck.
The following weekend when I tried to sleep at Tracy’s I ended up calling my parents to go home. From then on it started happening no matter where I slept if they weren’t there too. It grew into an uncomfortable separation anxiety that was only quelled if I KNEW I could be home and in bed by 8:30pm.
There are two ways to overcome a simpe phobia. One is to rip off the band-aid, feel a flood of anxiety, and stick it out until the anxiety finally passes. The other is to face it gradually. I wish my parents had known about the gradual approach but after a few years of this fear, we went at it 100%. They told me when I decided to spend the night there would be no coming home no matter what. They made arrangements with a good family friend and sent me over. I cried, panicked, and had one of the worst nights of my life. Eventually morning dawned and I still remember how proud I was, “I’m over my fear of spending the night!”
How surprised I was when I went to stay at another friend’s house and I was afraid all over again. I couldn’t believe it! I was incredibly frustrated. My parents didn’t let me come home and I found it was a little easier to cope. It ultimately took 11 nights at other people’s houses before I didn’t experience anxiety any longer. If I went too long between sleep-overs the anxiety would start to creep in again. I had to inoculate myself by spending the night somewhere about once per month.
What I hope you can see from this post is that overcoming a simple phobia isn’t simple. I actually hate that term. It prevented me from staying at birthday sleepovers, sports team sleepovers, going to friends’ houses late in the evening, and prevented me from ever enjoying summer camp (although I still went).
When you or your child begins the process of facing a simple phobia you must be dogged about not backing down once you start the process. You have to be consistent and you have to do it many more times than you think. In this post I have given you the flooding approach, which is terrifying but effective. In the next post I will explain the gradual approach, which is much more gentle.
Hi everyone, I have been receiving a lot of calls from parents worried their teenagers have depression. It is common during this pandemic and time of great uncertainty.
Teenagers who are facing depression can show it in a variety of ways. Your teenager might be irritable. While he used to like to come hang around you, now he only stays in his room. If you ask him to come out he expresses disgust and frustration that you would dare interrupt whatever he’s doing.
Your teenager might be sleeping poorly. Poor sleep can be too much sleep or too little sleep. Some depressed teens sleep all night and then take naps as well. Other depressed teens deal with insomnia or frequent waking at night.
You might notice your teen is no longer socially active. She used to see friends a lot and was always on her phone. Now your daughter is saying things like, “Nobody goes out because of COVID,” or “There’s nothing to do now because everything is closed.” Your teenager might be feeling as thought she doesn’t fit with anyone anymore. She also could be telling you that everyone is just shallow or stupid.
Of course one of the most glaring signs of teen depression is thoughts of suicide. If your teenager is texting about it to friends, writing about it in a journal, or talking about it then it’s serious. It’s tempting to assume it’s an attention grab; it very well might be but it’s the wrong way to get attention. If your teen is talking about suicide they need a professional evaluation imminently.
Our staff here at Teen Therapy OC has seen a huge increase in depression in teens since March. We believe the shut-down has been hard on them. While they might not have loved school, most of them miss the social aspects and having a clear purpose each day. Teenagers languish without direction. We adults also speak with so much uncertainty and negativity about everything happening right now that it leaves many of our teens extremely fearful for their future. They don’t have as much perspective as we do because they haven’t been through as many ups and downs in life. They’re too young to remember the Great Recession of 2008 so this feels like the first real crisis they’ve ever faced. It’s disheartening to them.
Please reach out and ask for help if you suspect your teenager is facing depression. We can help you sort out whether it’s clinical depression and in need of professional treatment.
I once had an OCD client who had a teacher yell at her. She became fearful of this teacher and started having obsessive thoughts he would pull her out of class to threaten or scold her. Because he had yelled at her once, her obsession was based on a good-sized kernel of truth. However, as often happens to people suffering with OCD, the obsession was a gross exaggeration of the realistic risk. She struggled immensely with discerning what was realistic and what was intrusive. How does one begin to tell the difference?
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.