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Importance of Fathers

Dads are tremendously important. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I listened to a talk by Dr. Warren Farrell on boys growing up in our current society. He was insightful and interesting. He has done extensive research and study on the topic of fatherhood. He also commented on what he calls the “boy crisis.” If you would like to view that talk you can access it at https://youtu.be/8vX6345eeq4.

One of the most interesting nuggets of information he shared was that children raised in a mother-only household have ADHD approximately 30% of the time, while children raised in a father-only household have ADHD approximately 15% of the time. He also shared myriad of other facts discussing the importance of fathers in a child’s life. Much of what he said was corroborated by a very important book from pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (a recommended read for dads with girls).

The reason I share this with you today is in my practice over the past 10 years I have noticed teens with highly involved fathers have an easier time recovering from whatever sent them to therapy. Dads have an irreplaceable role in a child’s life. They teach grit and toughness, patience, determination, and delayed gratification better than moms can. Moms have other extremely important roles, so don’t think I mean moms aren’t valuable, but that’s a discussion for another day. My main point is, your child needs his or her dad.

If you are from a divorced family this can be more difficult. A lot of the time mom has been deeply hurt through the process of divorce and can harbor extremely difficult feelings towards dad. It is beyond challenging to set those feelings aside and encourage your child to spend time with his or her father, particularly if you as mom have zero respect for him. With the exception of truly abusive dads, you still have to try hard because your kids will be better off even if you despise him.

Dads, you need to make an effort to spend time with your kids. They learn through osmosis more than through lecture. They need to be around you. You need to be careful to be a man of integrity, kindness and firmness. They don’t need you to coddle them. Even if your wife says you are too hard on them, research shows children benefit from the black and white way dads enforce rules. Be steadfast, consistent and present.

Some of you are in a situation where having a dad around isn’t an option. In that case get a grandfather involved or an uncle. Also, mom, in that case you must double down on teaching fortitude to your children. You have to be aware that pushing them through hard things is what a father usually does, and now you have to play that role. You are tasked with walking the impossible juxtaposition of firmness and softness.

Make today a new day. Be intentional with your children having a lot of exposure to their fathers. Dads, don’t believe everything you hear about masculinity being toxic; research shows your children need you.

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

Do I call a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist prescribes medication to help with your psychological struggles.  There are some certified to work with teens and children.

A psychiatrist prescribes medication to help with your psychological struggles. There are some certified to work with teens and children.

First of all, a lot of people do not know the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor and therapist.  Let me start by clarifying what those terms mean.  Counselor is the most general term.  It can refer to a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.  Counselor is also the term used for a person with an associate degree or certification in addiction counseling.  A therapist refers to either a psychologist or a master’s level person with a license.  A therapist is someone who will spend an hour with you on a regular basis talking about ways to work through your struggles, and can also do psychological testing.  A psychologist has a doctorate (either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.), can do psychological testing, and can do therapy.  A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who completed medical school and a residency.  The psychiatrist can do therapy, but typically chooses to refer out for therapy.  The psychiatrist evaluates patients to determine whether medicine can help a psychological condition, and if so, prescribes that medication.

 

Sometimes people hesitate to take medicine for a psychological condition, preferring to address the problem in therapy.  Usually your therapist will let you know when it is time to seek a psychiatric evaluation.  It is also a good idea to see a psychiatrist if you feel extremely depressed, are considering suicide, have been hallucinating, or have extreme anxiety like panic attacks.  There are other conditions where seeing a psychiatrist is advisable as well.  For example, if you suspect your child has ADHD, then you can get a diagnosis and treatment from a psychiatrist.  Use your therapist or primary care doctor as a guide in terms of when to contact a psychiatrist, and often they will have good referrals to give you.

 

When you go to your psychiatry appointment, come prepared.  Keep a list of your symptoms, what caused them, and what time of day they occurred.  Be extremely honest about any drugs or alcohol you use.  Your psychiatrist is required to keep everything confidential, so don’t be afraid to tell him or her.  If you smoke marijuana every so often, your psychiatrist NEEDS to know this.  The reason it is so important to give your psychiatrist this information is that you are being given medication.  Alcohol and illegal drugs interact with legal medication, affecting how well the medicine works.  In some cases you actually are putting yourself in danger by mixing certain medications with certain drugs or with alcohol.  Your psychiatrist isn’t going to be judgmental of you, believe me.  Your psychiatrist has heard it all, and I mean ALL.  You will not shock your psychiatrist.  He or she has seen some of the seemingly most normal looking people take drugs, have an alcohol problem, lose touch with reality, make poor decisions, participate in extremely risky behavior, and anything else you can think of.  Just keep in mind that your psychiatrist can only help you to the extent that you share everything about what is going on with you.

 

Also come to your appointments with a list of any physical symptoms you might be dealing with.  Remember, this is a medical doctor.  Sometimes psychological problems are caused by a physical problem or a disease.  Your psychiatrist is trained to look for signs of physical disease and help you connect the dots.  They are also trained to look for the opposite (physical problems caused by psychological impairment).

 

So, is it time to call a psychiatrist?  Perhaps, and especially if you’re considering taking medication to deal with a psychological struggle.  Consult with your therapist or primary care doctor to find out.  If you don’t have a therapist or primary care doctor, you can call a psychiatrist directly for an evaluation in most cases.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Sports: Good for Teen Girls

Adolescent females have been shown to benefit from being athletes for a number of reasons. Some of my favorites include the development of fortitude, and work ethic. I also love the stat showing teen female athletes become sexually active later than their non-athletic peers.

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

Good morals or fitting in…A teenager’s dilemma

Are you the same person with your family and with your friends?  Consistency lowers anxiety.   Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Are you the same person with your family and with your friends? Consistency lowers anxiety.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

What do you do if your family is raising you to be a certain way, but your peers want you to be something else?  Your family has taught you to be responsible, kind, caring, respectful, avoid curse words, tell the truth, be honorable, try hard in school, etc.  Your peers are encouraging you to experiment with alcohol, marijuana, sex, and irresponsible behavior.  Your peers think it’s fine to lie to your parents, use the f-word in every sentence, and complain about school.  How do you reconcile these two very different environments when it’s no longer cool to stick with the morals your parents have instilled in you?

 

Living in this tension is a source of immense anxiety for some teens.  They kind of go with the flow at school and around their friends, but in their hearts they’d rather be the person they are around their families.  They feel guilt and sometimes shame.  It’s very difficult to keep up an appearance of being a great kid in front of certain people, and the appearance of being an edgy kid in front of other people.  After a while it is confusing and stressful.

 

It’s very normal for adolescents to try and discover their own identity until their mid-twenties.  A teenager may come home with blue hair or a piercing; parents, don’t make this the end of the world.  They’re trying on a new identity.  Usually, as they get older they settle more into what they’ve always been taught.

 

In the meanwhile though, teenagers please remember that “normal” isn’t that great.  Fitting in with kids who are going against what you believe is only going to cause internal angst.  It takes a lot of emotional strength and fortitude to remain grounded in what is right, even for adults.  As a teenager it is much more challenging.  Teens are quick to give their peers a dirty look or a few harsh words when one of their friends doesn’t go along with everyone else.  If you prefer not to drink at a party, you probably have to deal with a few condescending comments.  Keep on track and don’t worry about what some drunk kid says about you; conformity doesn’t breed greatness.

 

Your overall anxiety will be lower if you are the same person in every situation.  Here’s where parents can make a huge impact: model having integrity in every area of life, and stick with good morals.  Parents, be the same person at work, home, in the dark and in the light.  Your children will benefit immensely from watching your consistency.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Porn Addiction In Teenagers

Sexual addiction affects adults and teens alike. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sexual addiction affects adults and teens alike.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More and more teens are engaging in pornography use.  The majority of the use seems to be on their phones.  Adolescents are very private about their cell phones.  It is harder for parents to monitor what they search than when there was a family computer.

 

According to Covenant Eyes, a company that sells a way to block certain web content from either accidentally coming up, or from coming up as the result of a search, the statistics are unsettling.  For teens, a 2010 national study indicated that about 25% of teenagers have viewed nudity online by accident.  Over 1/4 of 17 year olds have received a “sext” at some point.  9 out of 10 teenage boys have been exposed to pornography by time they reach college.  The same is true in almost 6 out of 10 teen girls.

 

Recently in my private practice I have been receiving desperate calls from parents whose teen children are addicted to internet porn.  The parents feel helpless and frustrated.  For starters, there is more shame in admitting you need help to stop a sexual addiction than even a drug addiction.  It seems easier for a parent to call me and say their teenager is addicted to marijuana, alcohol, or even methamphetamine than to online pornography.

 

If your child is struggling with this, or you are struggling with this, the first thing to do is set aside your shame.  Shame makes us hide.  We feel mortified about something we are doing, or some part of who we are.  When we feel ashamed of something, it is very difficult to talk about it.  However, getting it out in the open is how healing begins.  Think about when you have a wound, it needs to be cleaned out and it needs air to heal.  If you hide away your wound then it just begins to spread infection to other parts of the body.  Sexual addiction is like that (as are any other addictions).  If you don’t discuss it, even if that is incredibly difficult to do, it starts to affect other areas of life; addiction makes the most honest people into liars, the most responsible people into schemers, and emotionally closes off the most open and loving people.

 

Therapy is one of the best places to talk about sexual addiction.  It is confidential and free of judgment.  You will not shock your therapist.  Your therapist should be able to help you pick a path back to health.  This is not easy.  Many people assume if you want to stop a sexual addiction then just stop looking at the porn.  If it were that simple I doubt anyone would have the addiction.  Whether or not the images are viewed, they still exist in your teen’s mind’s eye.  It takes a lot of work and time to get to the place where those images don’t pop up each time your teenager thinks about sex.

 

Patrick Carnes is one of the leaders on treating sexual addiction.  He wrote a book called Out of the Shadows that is very helpful for those with addiction, and the people that love them.  If you’re reading this because you want help, but you’re afraid to say that out loud, then I recommend you start with this book.

 

If you or your child is struggling with sexual addiction and you are ready to say that out loud, don’t wait any longer.  Go and get the help you or your teenager needs.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MFT

Teens Earning Their Way

Having teens earn their way teaches perseverance.   Image credit: freedigitalphotos.net and David Castillo Dominici

Having teens earn their way teaches perseverance.
Image credit: freedigitalphotos.net and David Castillo Dominici

I sat with a client in the past week who is just now facing the harsh realization that life requires work.  I really felt for this person because things have always been handed to them, and suddenly that is going to stop.  This person really doesn’t know how to manage on their own.  They are definitely smart enough, but just don’t have the training needed to push through challenges because they’ve never had to struggle; if you don’t struggle as a child or teen then you don’t know how to get yourself through it when you struggle as an adult.

 

I don’t know how it was for you growing up, but for me, this was gradually taught.  From the time my sister and I were small we were required to do a little bit around the house.  We grew up in an affluent neighborhood, and our parents could have given us as much as all the other kids got.  They made a conscious decision to make us work for things instead.  It was incredibly frustrating as a child.  I would be invited to a birthday party, and my parents had a rule that I had to pay for half of whatever birthday gift I got for someone.  So, while my friends all gave each other designer this and that, I usually was giving them a card with a $10 bill inside (this was the mid-1990s so that was plenty).  I was too young to have a job so in order to obtain my half of the $10 bill, I would do extra chores.

 

When it came time to drive I was required to pay my own gas and insurance but I got to use my parents’ third car.  However, as soon as I turned 19 I had to buy my own car.  I paid for half of college, and the list goes on and on.  Whatever the next obstacle was in life, I was always required to have some skin in the game.  Each new thing was a stretch for me.  What started with half of a birthday present as a kid became finding a way to come up with $10,000 per year in tuition as a 19 year old (Debt was not an option I was allowed to choose, so I applied to every scholarship I could get my hands on).

 

Here’s what all this consistent earning my own way did for me: Because the next mountain to climb was always a bit of a stretch for me to afford, I learned a lot of tenacity.  I did not quit a job just because I didn’t like something about it.  I was careful to choose things with the most value; when it came time to go to college I considered both prestige and price.  I pushed myself into better and better work situations.  I learned to enjoy activities that are free or low-cost, i.e. surfing and hiking.  Most importantly, I learned a lot about gratitude.

 

While these lessons were painful at times growing up, I am incredibly grateful to my parents looking back.  I want nothing more than for your teenagers to be functional adults even if they have to struggle a bit now.  I’ve been told there is no better feeling than for an adult child to tell a parent thank you for the discipline they received.

 

Hard work and accomplishing goals equates to confidence, self-esteem, personal value, and contentedness.  Give your teenager the gift of all these things by requiring them to earn part of their way.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Raising Teens in a Liberal Culture

Times they are a changin’. Some of these changes don’t bother you as a parent. Other changes make you uncomfortable. You wish you could raise your kids in another era. While I’m sure this is true of all generations, technology and social/moral changes are so rapid now that I hear a lot of nervousness from parents. Here is some advice on this topic:

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

Teens “hooking up”- No, It’s Not Okay

"Hooking up" has become normalized, acceptable and even preferred to dating among today's teenagers. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Hooking up” has become normalized, acceptable and even preferred to dating among today’s teenagers.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a culture that has the shortest attention span in recent history, it’s no surprise our teens are “hooking up” more often than they’re dating.  Parents, this should scare the bejeezus out of you!  It scares me to death and I’m not even fearing for my own child (she’s still small), I’m worried sick about the teenagers I work with.

On the more obvious level, I worry for their physical health.  It’s not new news that diseases spread through kissing, sexual activity and sexual intercourse.  It’s also not new news that girls who participate in this type of activity with boys they don’t know very well are much more likely to be sexually assaulted.  In that case, sometimes the situation gets away from them.  What began as consensual activity progresses farther than they intended.  Actually, this goes for boys too.  While your sons aren’t as likely to complain about it aloud, I hear it in my office ALL THE TIME.  An adolescent male is “hooking up” with a girl at a party and she doesn’t seem to be stopping when things really heat up.  He wants to stop, but knows that culturally he’s not supposed to.  Before he really knows what’s happened to him, he’s squandered the virginity that he did actually value.  He wasn’t assaulted per se, but he didn’t really want to be with that girl either.

Side bar: I keep putting “hooking up” in quotes because this has become a confusing term.  In my generation the term “hook up” always meant sex.  Teens use it now to mean anything from making out to intercourse.  It’s not a very descriptive term.  If you hear your child using it, make sure to ask for clarification.

The other part of “hooking up” that really bothers me as a therapist is the lack of personal connection, self-respect, respect for commitment, and respect for the other partner- all the emotional stuff.  Most of the teenagers I work with who “hook up” have been deeply hurt by this activity.  They do this believing it will help them walk towards having a relationship, but actually makes them disposable.  There is no earning the right to a kiss after being taken on a nice date because all he has to do is give your daughter a drink or two and then they’ll become sexual (feel free to interchange he with she and daughter with son).  I realize this type of thing has been going on for years, but I’m telling you that it is more prevalent than when I was in high school in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  At least at that time we tended to be “dating” before anything would happen.  One client complained to me that the majority of her friends have a “hook-up” or a “friend with benefits,” but that nobody has a boyfriend or girlfriend.  She said she’s commonly called prude, old-fashioned, and a tease because she isn’t sexual with her male friends; she insists on being taken out for a real date.  I pointed out to her that although she is called names for this, she does actually have the respect of her male and female friends.  She agreed.  Can you believe she is made fun of for having self-respect?!?

Parents, I’m begging you to have multiple conversations with your teenagers about this.  Please, please, please teach them that their bodies are to be treasured, not given away.  Please set a strong example for them yourself.  I realize that given the statistics today, half of you reading this have gone through a divorce.  That means there are a significant number of you trying to date.  For those of you in that situation, set the example for your teens of how you’d like them to handle sex.  If you’re casual about it, they probably will be too; if you take it seriously and see it as a big deal, they probably will too.

One of the best things you can do as a parent is demand the respect your teenager deserves, and force them to give the respect their fellow teens should have.  I realize that sentence wasn’t very clear, so this is an example of what I’m talking about.  If you have a teenage son, require him to knock at the door and shake hands with a girl’s parents when he takes her out.  If you have a teen daughter, don’t let her leave the house until her date has come to the door to pick her up and shaken your hand.  If he’s clearly uncomfortable beyond the nerves any teen boy would feel standing face to face with a girl’s parents, don’t let her go with him!  Hold very firm boundaries around teen dating while still letting them figure out what it’s all about.  For goodness sake, talk to them about the destructiveness of just “hooking up!”  We want our kids to grow up healthy and free of the burdens that come with sexually transmitted diseases, wounded hearts from sex that happened too young, and the pain of being cast off after giving everything to another person.

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

Marijuana Addiction in Teens

Marijuana addiction in teens is a growing problem

Marijuana addiction in teens is a growing problem

People have a hard time believing marijuana is addictive.  Indeed, for many people it is not.  It is similar to alcohol in that most people who use it do not become dependent.  Most can use it in a social, recreational situation.  However, like alcohol, there are some who cannot control their use.

 

Someone who is addicted to marijuana always says that other people do not understand it.  They say it has health benefits, and that it is not an addictive drug.  They say of course they could stop if they wanted to.  They ignore the irritation of their loved ones, and they ignore the signs that it is a problem.  Their productivity is lowered, and their emotional range is blunted.  They tend to use it several times per day.  It is often the center of their social group.

 

Heavy marijuana users tend to need it to fall asleep.  Their anxiety becomes so high that it is hard to quiet their minds before falling asleep.  What is ironic about this is that the majority of people who abuse marijuana claim it isn’t addictive.  However, if your teenager needs it in order to get to sleep, their body is dependent on it.

 

According to drugabuse.gov, 1 in 6 teens who use cannabis end up addicted to it during their lifetime.  For those who use it daily, the number skyrockets to 1 in 4.  Nearly 1 in 5 teenagers who enter a drug rehab facility go to treatment because they can’t quit using marijuana.

 

As a therapist who works with teens that have drug problems, I find that the teens who abuse marijuana are initially resistant to the idea they are addicted.  This is much more true than the teens who abuse other drugs.  I have yet to sit down with an opiate, meth, cocaine, or anxiolytic (such as Xanax) addict who thinks there is absolutely no problem with their drug use.  Yes, some of these drug users are in denial about how intense their addiction might be, but they all agree that it would be better to be sober.  This is not true with adolescents abusing marijuana.  Most of them maintain a moderate level of functioning, so they argue that they’re completely fine.  It takes a lot of work to break through a marijuana addict’s denial wall because addiction to marijuana is more subtle.

 

If this describes your teenager, my heart goes out to you.  You might even feel torn about whether marijuana is addictive yourself.  One thing that may help you understand is according to http://adai.uw.edu/marijuana/factsheets/potency.pdf, marijuana is 2 to 7 times more potent than in the 1970s.  Also, teens tend to smoke the flower buds of the cannabis plant, which is stronger than the leaves previous generations tended to smoke.  Many now use “dabs,” which is concentrated THC inhaled through a vape pen.  According to justthinktwice.gov, dabs are approximately four times as strong as the highest grade marijuana; they are absolutely addictive.  Previous generations also were more likely to begin use in their 20s, but now that is starting 5-10 years sooner.

 

If this blog is hitting home a little too closely, your teen has possibly begun to have a marijuana dependence.  They will argue with you that they feel fine, but it is still a problem behavior.  If you want your teen to be engaged, present and productive, then encourage them to quit.  If they cannot or will not quit, get them help.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Discipline By Leading

Occasionally you need to come down hard on your child for a transgression, but if you are doing this daily then you are an ineffective disciplinarian. Sure you might be getting compliance. People will comply out of fear. Given the first opportunity though, they will be passive aggressive as a means of expressing their resentment towards your tyranny. Teens are no exception to this rule. Sometimes they even become just plain aggressive.

If you want to impact their character so that your teenager can make independently moral and upright decisions, then you must discipline by leading. Even better is when you are lead and can then in turn lead your children. When you follow the edicts of your faith (in my household this means the instructions for life given in the Bible), you have a guide that makes it easier to parent. You have something telling you in no uncertain terms what is right and what is wrong. You are told your purpose, how to love, and how to conduct edifying family life. It makes it much easier to take your teenager’s hand and lead him through ups and downs rather than constantly nagging and exasperating him. So, lead well and watch your child shine.

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

Help With Depression For Teens

Help your teen combat depression by volunteering together. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help your teen combat depression by volunteering together.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the simplest things you can do to help your teen combat mild depression is to help them be more selfless.  These days the commonly held belief is that we all need to work on ourselves; we need to take time out for ourselves; we need to focus on our own internal growth.  If we would spend extra effort improving then we’d find happiness.  Since happiness is the opposite of depressed, everything would get better, right?

 

If this is such sage advice, why hasn’t it worked yet?  Why are people feeling lonely, purposeless, aimless, and easily overwhelmed?

 

The answer can be found by looking down and looking up.  If you look at ants you will notice they are almost always working in teams.  They are following one another in a line, and they live in a colony.  Ants even carry their dead back to the nest.  If you look all the way up the the heavens, you see that even God himself does not work alone.  He has Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

 

Nothing about the way the world works indicates that we are meant to fix ourselves.  Part of the reason I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE working with teens is that they are still living in a family.  While the family may come broken, piecemeal or otherwise, there are always people around the teens.  The healing in my clients has come from adjustments made to their relationships far more often than adjustments to their inner selves.  Even when they adjust their inner selves, they don’t seem to feel content until their relationships begin to change.

 

I see a great number of girls who come because they are struggling with body image.  They are trying to reach perfection on the outside.  A perfect body is a lonely, isolated pursuit.  Even if these girls achieve their desired appearance, they are unhappy and unfulfilled.  Again, we were created to be in relationship with others.

 

Now that you know the background, you can likely see how this will relate to your child’s depression.  Stop encouraging your depressed teenager to work on him or herself.  Instead, push your teenager to work on someone else or something else.  Take them down to the soup kitchen on Saturday.  Have them volunteer at the YMCA to play with kids after school.  Take them to the library and have them volunteer in the Friends of the Library bookstore.  Sign them up for the Big Brother/Big Sister program (as the big brother or sister).

 

The antidote to mild depression is to get into relationship and give of yourself (Please note, for more severe clinical depression the most important thing to do is seek professional help.  Clinical depression is not resolved with a simple change of attitude or change of scene.  It is dangerous and requires intervention).

 

So, when you see your teenager tonight, tell them you know how to help them perk up.  Don’t make this optional.  Get them involved in helping someone else and watch them begin to find a sense of joy.  If you work alongside them, you’ll get to experience that joy and you’ll strengthen your relationship with your teenager!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT