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Using Exercise to Manage Your Teen’s Stress

Exercise is a critical factor in managing your anxiety. Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Exercise is a critical factor in managing your anxiety.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is very, very important to take good care of yourself physically.  You already know this though.  What you probably also already know, but maybe haven’t been thinking about, is how critical it is to exercise.  As a whole, we Americans like to procrastinate exercise.  We generally don’t do it often enough, or with enough intensity.

 

Did you know that if you set aside 30-60 minutes to exercise, you will actually get more done during your day?  That seems odd because by time you exercise and then shower, 2 hours are used up.  It’s true though.  Your ability to focus and stay on task is greatly increased with exercise.  Your ability to push through a work-out you don’t feel like doing also increases the mental toughness needed to get other things done.  When you exercise regularly you aren’t just flexing your physical muscles.  You learn to have more will power.  It takes will power to jog up the hill that is seemingly never going to end.  It even takes will power to get up off the couch and get your running shoes on.  Forcing yourself to do so when it’s not really what you want to do is a form of discipline.  It teaches self-denial.

 

Self-denial (in a healthy dose) is extremely important for anxiety management.  When you learn to do more of what you should do instead of what you feel like doing, your life is usually headed in a direction that you choose.  This means you have more control.  The antidote to anxiety is a sense of control.

 

Consistent exercise not only releases chemicals into the brain that are calming and pleasant, it also teaches discipline and self-control.  It is a critical factor in the alleviation of anxiety.  It is also an important part of time management.  So, to help get your anxiety under wraps, hop on your bike, jump in a pool, or go for a stroll.  Do this several times a week and watch what happens.  Oh, and you also just might find you end up enjoying yourself.

 

When you think about how to specifically apply this to your teenagers, think social.  Teens (as a generalization) love to be around their friends.  Help them figure out a way to get in a work-out with a couple friends.  Maybe they can join the same gym as their best friend, or organize a common goal with their friends.  When I was in college a couple of friends and I set-up a work-out plan.  We were only able to exercise together a couple times per week, but we held each other accountable for the rest of the time.  It made a big difference in our ability to stick with it.  I still think this is because we enjoyed the social aspect of doing it together more than anything else.

 

Exercise is a great, healthy coping skill for anxiety and stress.  You can model this for your teenager and invite them to join you.  You may or may not get a yes, but they are definitely paying attention to how you handle your stress.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to Argue Effectively With Your Teenager

Arguing with a teen can seem impossible, but it's actually not. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Arguing with a teen can seem impossible, but it’s actually not.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To argue effectively with your teenager, you both have to be listening.  It doesn’t do a lot of good just to try and overpower each other.  Here’s the mistake a lot of teens and parents both make when they are disagreeing: they continue to restate the same point repeatedly.  When the other person doesn’t seem to hear it, they just say it more loudly.  Eventually the tone of voice gets rude and then the argument can turn nasty.  That’s when teenagers are blamed for “having an attitude,” or “being disrespectful,” or “talking back.”

 

It’s essential to realize deescalation has to occur before anything else.  This means the discussion must remain calm.  It’s completely fine, and actually positive to feel and express emotions.  It’s not encouraged to do this offensively, with a blaming and/or defensive attitude.  When’s the last time you were happy to hear someone’s point after they called you a name, rolled their eyes, or spoke with contempt in their voice?  I know I have no interest in what someone has to say after that.  All I’m thinking is what a jerk they are, and then I dig my heels in.

 

Parents and teenagers ask me all the time why it’s so much easier to talk about things in my office than at home.  The answer is in remaining deescalated.  When a family is learning to communicate better my primary goal is to keep the emotional triggers deescalated.  I do this by slowing the discussion down and making sure each side acknowledges what they’ve just been told by the other side.  In other words, I make sure parents are listening to their adolescents, and vice versa.  I also don’t allow blaming.  I ask each person in the room to expound on anything they’ve said by also explaining their current emotional state.  For example, a teen might say to her mom, “I really want to be able to go to the party even though there won’t be any parents there.”  When asked to expound on this, she may say, “I feel left out if I can’t go.  I also feel I’m not trusted if I’m not allowed to go.”  While this may not cause Mom to change her mind, she can certainly relate to feeling left out and not trusted.  Those are really unpleasant emotions.  Instead of Mom arguing that these types of parties are unsafe, Mom can tell her daughter she hates those emotions too.  Once Daughter feels heard, she and Mom can work together to come up with some kind of creative solution.

 

It’s so incredibly important to communicate with your teenagers in a way that deescalates them.  You won’t even have an impact on them if they are angry, defensive, and otherwise emotionally charged; they are not ready to listen in that state.  You aren’t ready to listen either and the only two options become either fighting or shutting down.  You may get your child to comply with you, but they will resent you.  This is not what your objective is.  The objective is always to keep them safe and teach them whatever they need to learn from a situation.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

For The Rejected Teen

Your pain is real and your pain is intense.  School is a place of special torture for you.  You don’t feel emotionally safe among your peers.  You wait for someone to make a degrading comment or not even notice you at all.  You feel as though nobody would care if you simply stopped showing up at school.  You wish to disappear.  The deep suffering you experience because of your differences leads you to a place of hopelessness.  Your spirit is at risk of breaking because you are socially rejected.

 

I know it’s hard, but see if this one little thing can help in even a small way:

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Physical Affection Helps Reduce Anxiety and Depression

Help your teen combat depression and anxiety with physical touch. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help your teen combat depression and anxiety with physical touch.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It has been said that you need affectionate physical contact approximately ten times per day for your well-being.  Does your teenager get that?  If you’ve noticed your teen feeling anxious or depressed lately, you might ask yourself this question.  Some teens hug their parents, siblings, and friends multiple times per day.  They seek you out on the couch and sit right next to you.  They are naturally very affectionate.  However, these are not usually the kids who feel depressed or anxious.

 

It’s ironic that for the depressed or anxiety-ridden teenager, the thing that can help them to feel better is something they might hesitate to seek.  Mom and Dad, this is where you come in.  You can be conscious about giving your teenager affection.  This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to wrap them in a big hug.  It can be a pat on the back or a quick rub of the head.  Just making the extra effort to have contact with your children can really help them thrive.

 

You now might be thinking one of two things.  One possibility is that you are thinking it is inappropriate to touch your teenager.  While you are probably not going to have the same sort of physical affection with your teen that you had when they were two, it is acceptable to show physical affection towards your children, irregardless of their age.  Yes, now you should knock on their bedroom door before you enter and probably won’t be wandering into the bathroom while they are taking a shower.  However, while they’re doing their homework it can be of tremendous benefit to their attitude and mood if you give them a quick squeeze of the shoulders.  It also softens whatever you were about to say to them.  For example, if you were going to say, “I’m glad to see you working hard on homework,” think about how that could be perceived sarcastically.  Now think about how it’s likely to be perceived if it includes a quick affectionate touch- probably as a positive comment.

 

The second thing you might be thinking is, “My teenager won’t let me touch him.”  You’re one of those parents who would love to hug your son or daughter, but they’ll have none of it.  Just start where you can comfortably start.  Maybe for a few weeks you’ll ask if you can help carry something they are holding.  They will probably have incidental contact with you when they hand it to you.  Perhaps you will offer to fix an out-of-place strand of hair, or help your teen into his jacket.  You also might consider simply changing the rules around the house to require a hug before leaving and before going to bed.  While it will be met with disgust and complaint, know that it is benefiting your teenager tremendously and that they secretly like it.

 

Physical affection toward your adolescent helps you too.  Remember when your child was really young and sometimes screamed or threw tantrums?  For a parent those moments are very frustrating.  Picking your child up and holding her helped you reconnect the bond that was slightly damaged with the tantrum.  Things are no different with your teen.  They still throw tantrums (although they look a little different).  You still need to work at reconnecting the bond.  For a parent, physical affection is one of the best ways to do so.

 

Have fun being more affectionate to your teenager this week!  It’s good for you; it’s good for them; it helps everyone’s mood.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Tip for Getting “Unstuck”

Do you ever feel like you can’t find a good solution for a problem?  You’ve tried and you’ve tried to fix something but it continues to challenge you.  One example of this might be losing weight.  You’ve tried a lot of diets and exercise plans, but you simply cannot lose the weight, or you cannot keep it off.  Here’s a tip for getting “unstuck” wherever you are.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Seek to Be Significant

Help your teen be proud of who they see in the mirror- teach them to be significant. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Help your teen be proud of who they see in the mirror- teach them to be significant.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Today in church I heard a great little tidbit from Pastor Rick Warren.  He said, “Seek to be significant, not prominent.”  I thought that was extremely applicable to the teenagers here in Orange County.  We’re trained to differentiate ourselves, be a leader, and try to stand out from a very young age.  The fact is though, there can really only be a few leaders.  Everyone else has to be a worker-bee.  We need to teach our teens that this is not a bad thing.

 

I have seen a number of teenagers in my counseling office who are struggling with the fact that they don’t stand out.  Sometimes they are frustrated they don’t stand out academically.  Other times they wish they could be the best athlete on their team.  Still others desperately long to be the most popular teen in their school.  They often see themselves as insignificant because they aren’t prominent.

 

For your adolescent to believe they lack significance because they are not prominent is a fallacy.  Significance is something one decides to develop.  It’s our job as the parents of our children to help our kids focus on doing significant things.  It’s also our job to help them understand that these actions are not usually glorified, or attention-grabbing.

 

Here’s what I mean:  It’s very significant for your teenager to go to a party where everyone else is drinking alcohol but they choose not to drink, and maybe even call you to pick them up.  It’s significant for your adolescent to be one of the slower runners on their cross-country team, but they are always positive and cheering on the other runners.  It’s significant if your teenager chooses to acknowledge and respect you in front of other kids, even when it’s unpopular.  It’s significant if your adolescent volunteers at a soup kitchen on a Saturday morning before all their other friends are up; none of these things garner prominence.

 

If you work very hard at helping your children make a contribution to this world, and help them understand that for the most part those actions do not get them attention or accolades, you will help raise happy, self-assured, motivated teenagers.  You will teach your teen what it means to have humility.  You will help your adolescent know how to work hard.  You will teach your child integrity and honesty.  They won’t mind taking the longer road if it’s the right one.  They will be patient, intentional, focused, and able to set long-term goals.

 

In short, if you teach your teenager the importance of being significant, whether or not that gets them prominence, you will help them develop strong character and inner contentedness.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Is Your Teenager Sleeping Enough?

Teens are consistently short on sleep. Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens are consistently short on sleep.
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

School, sports, homework, social life, texting…these are all things that get prioritized above your teenager’s sleep.  There honestly is enough time in a day to accomplish all these goals, but barely.  If your adolescent isn’t carefully managing his or her schedule, sleep will get put on the back burner.

 

The average teenager needs to sleep 9 hours and 15 minutes each night!  If they have to get up for school at 6:30am, that means falling asleep at 9:15 the night before.  For the vast majority of teenagers, this is definitely not happening.  They sleep around 6 hours per night during the school week, and then sleep 12+ hours on the weekend.

 

Here’s the problem with getting inadequate sleep during the week.  Your teen is more likely to have depression, irritability, struggle to remember things in school, be less efficient, have a weaker immune system, have more acne, might have weight gain, and lead to an unhealthy diet (people crave more sweets and fats when they’re tired, and they use more caffeine).  These are not small issues.

 

Sleep needs to be one of the top priorities.  As a parent it is important to force the issue when it comes to sleep.  Insist your teenager gets at least 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep during school nights.  This doesn’t mean they lay in bed looking at their phones, it means truly asleep.  Do whatever you have to.  Many adolescents don’t have the will-power to turn off their devices, or text their friends less often so their homework is finished sooner.  It might be up to you to restrict their use.

 

I have worked with a huge number of teenagers who come into counseling for symptoms of depression.  When we get them back on track with their sleep, their symptoms improve rapidly.  They feel more energized, are nicer, do better in school, and are overall happier.

 

I know it’s really hard to tell your kids what to do at this point.  However, some things need to be non-negotiable.  Help your teenager be his or her best self by getting regular sleep.  A great number of parents spend time and money getting their teens treatment for their skin, getting help for depression, getting a tutor in difficult subjects, etc.  They forget to try the simplest thing first, which is more consistent sleep.

 

One challenge adolescents face when dealing with sleep is their circadian rhythm.  Adults and small children naturally want to go to bed a little after the sun goes down and wake up a little after the sun comes up.  Teenagers go through a phase where they want to stay up late and sleep in late.  It’s not just that your child is being irresponsible with their schedule, it’s that their body naturally prefers this schedule.  Most high schools though start very early in the morning, making the preferred sleep pattern impossible.  As a result a lot of kids stay up really late and then fight with their alarm each morning.  this added challenge makes it especially important for you and your teenager to work together to help them get enough sleep during the week.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Call 911 If Your Friend Drinks Too Much Or ODs

Teenagers, this post is addressed to you.  Some of you aren’t aware if one of your friends has had too much to drink or has overdosed on drugs, but others of you can tell.  For those of you who can tell, you may fear calling an ambulance or dropping a friend at the emergency room if they’ve overdosed or had too much to drink.  Please, don’t make that mistake!  Don’t worry about you getting into trouble.  There aren’t many consequences that outweigh what can go wrong if your friend is in physical distress from substances.  Being grounded or even getting in trouble with the police will pass in time, but if your friend dies or has permanent physiological damage from an overdose of drugs or alcohol, you will struggle to get past your guilt if you could have gotten them help.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Building Solid Friendships

Having good friends is one of the best parts of adolescence. Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

Having good friends is one of the best parts of adolescence.
Photo courtesy of Marin and freedigitalphotos.net.

For some of you, you have had the same core group of friends ever since you started school.  Your group is so tight-knit that hardly anyone new joins and hardly anyone leaves.

 

There are also some of you who have that one best friend.  You have been best friends as long as you can remember.  You’ve done everything together and even your families are close friends.  You hardly need anyone else.

 

Then, there are the rest of us.  If you are like I was as an adolescent you have a new “best friend” every few months.  You sort of bounce from group to group.  For a few weeks or even a few months you hang out with one person.  When your activities change, e.g it’s a new sports season, you become really close with someone else.  One of the primary factors in determining how close you are with someone is proximity.  If you are on the same team, or in the same classes, you become really close.  Once your classes change or your season ends, it’s onto someone else.

 

If you are a little tired of feeling like you’re always starting over at getting close with friends, here are 5 tips I wish I’d known as a teenager.  I think if I had followed these, I would have made lifelong friendships instead of friendships that lasted a few months.

 

1. Stay in the same extra-cirricular activity.  If you play on a sports team, stick with it.  Stay with the same team.  A lot of people switch their allegiance based on getting onto the best team possible.  However, the majority of you won’t be playing sports in college, and definitely won’t be playing professionally (If you’re the exception to this, then don’t follow this tip).  The point of youth sports is to make really good friends, learn some work-ethic, get exercise and have fun.  If you stay with the same group of girls or guys season after season you’re giving yourself the chance to get close with your teammates.  The same goes for a scouting troop, school club, dance studio, etc.

 

2. Try and convince your parents to let you bring a friend on a family vacation.  These are the kinds of things that bring you really close to someone.  It’s concentrated, one on one time, having a lot of fun with your friend.  You build memories that create solid friendship.

 

3.  Work on boundary setting.  Some of you allow yourselves to get in with a group or a certain friend who actually doesn’t treat you very well.  You don’t really think you will be accepted by anyone else so you put up with tons of garbage.  Your “friend” talks behind your back, or makes fun of you in front of others, or is embarrassed to bring you around certain people, or uses you for rides.  This is the kind of person that is really nice to you one on one, but kind of sucks when they are around other teens.  In these cases, you should definitely consider where you need to draw the line.  It’s a little easier to do if you can trust that you can make other friends besides the one who treats you poorly.

 

4. Talk with your parents about what it means to be a loyal friend.  You can’t change anyone else, but you can work on you.  Are you doing all the things a loyal friend does?  You’re not dating your friend’s ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, are you?  That’s a big no-no in the friendship code.  Do you stand up for your friends if someone says something rude about them?  Do you make plans with a friend and then break them if something better comes along?  Pay attention to your behaviors and make sure you’re doing the right thing to be a loyal and true friend.

 

5. Lastly, if you want to be close with people, do the little things that matter.  Make sure you text your friends on their birthdays.  Congratulate them when something good happens for them.  Just pay attention to the details because they really matter to people.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Time with Our Teens is Short

If your child is already a teenager then your days with them are numbered.  It won’t be long until your teen strikes out on his or her own.  At that point your relationships changes.  I don’t say this to be a Debbie Downer.  I want you to be intentional with your time.  I want you to thoroughly enjoy the time you have left with your kids living at home with you.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Molly is the new Ecstasy- Molly Abuse on the Rise

Molly use, Molly abuse, Ecstacy use, ecstacy abuse, exstacy use, exstacy abuse

100% Pure Methylenedioxymethampethamine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The use of “Molly” is on the rise.  I’ve even encountered several teens coming through my office that have abused the drug.  This is scary because it is MUCH more dangerous than they realize.  If you see your teenager texting about it, or overhear them talking about it, have a serious conversation.  Don’t let your teen either tell you that Molly is just a person, or that it’s not a big deal.  You have to be educated and be smarter than that, and you have to be scared enough to confront them.

 

Okay, so what is Molly?  Molly is methylenedioxymethamphetamine.  What?  At least I’m assuming that’s your next thought.  We’ll just call it MDMA from now on.  MDMA has a much better known format called ecstacy.  Is that a little bit more familiar?  It used to be known as the “rave drug” because it would be taken prior to attending parties that last for 12 or more hours.  It causes feelings of euphoria, energy, comfort, closeness and happiness.  People who take either ecstasy or Molly feel more comfortable touching other people, and feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Sometimes it also has hallucinogenic results, altering a person’s sense of time and space.

 

MDMA is a type of substance that causes increased tolerance.  Herein lies one of its dangers.  People find the high so appealing that they will use it every few hours when they are on a binge (These binges are referred to as “rolling”).  They also often use it on several separate party occasions.  Eventually larger amounts of the drug are needed for the high, and particularly for the hallucinogenic properties.  An overdose of an MDMA drug (either ecstacy or Molly) can lead to elevated body temperature, lethally high blood pressure, cardiac issues and seizures.  What is the bottom line?  It can kill your child.

 

People who abuse MDMA have also been known to become very dehydrated.  In their efforts to rehydrate they can actually drink too much water, which causes a dangerous electrolyte imbalance.

 

Adolescents mix Molly or ecstasy with other drugs.  This further increases the dangers because the chemical properties are altered and possibly made more toxic.

 

Part of the reason you need to talk with your teenager about this is that it will often show up at parties.  It is different than heroin or cocaine in that teenagers know those drugs are dangerously addictive.  They don’t often try those types of drugs without a progression through alcohol, marijuana and other experimentation.  Molly and ecstasy are different though.  I have had teenagers tell me they’ve used it just because it was at a party, even when they are not normally drinkers or drug abusers.  They honestly believed it is not a dangerous drug.

 

Help your teenager understand the risks they are taking if they use Molly or ecstasy (also sometimes called ‘E’).  Tell your teenager to make sure a friend is taken to the emergency room if they seem dangerously high.  Teens are often afraid to take a friend to the ER because they don’t want to get in trouble.

 

Just be in conversation with your teen.  Find out if they’ve ever been offered Molly or ecstasy.  Ask them if anyone they know has taken it.  Remind them there are risks to using these types of drugs.  It’s hard to have this conversation, but even if your teenager acts annoyed, they feel loved that you care.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teaching Self-Discipline to Teens

In therapy I have many conversations with teens about character qualities they need to develop in order to be functional adults.  While conversations are helpful, lessons are better “caught, not taught.”  Mom and Dad, you are in a better position to reinforce character development than I am as your teen’s counselor.

 

Sometimes I have a client come through my office whose parent has an outstanding method for teaching a character trait.  When I see this I can’t help but pass it on to you.  Lucky for us, this one is truly simple but so effective!

 

This parent uses money to teach her daughter self-control and self-discipline.  She thinks she’s simply creating good money habits in her daughter, but it actually does so much more than that.  Check it out:

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT