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Successful Back to School

I had a client who was a mediocre student. Her parents worked really hard to help her improve her academics. They studied with her. They paid for tutors, and even obtained a 504 plan from the school district. Things got a little bit better for her, but not significantly relative to the extra time and money spent on better study habits. When she started counseling the VERY FIRST thing we had her do is start giving herself the opportunity to sleep 8.5 hours per night. Of course she might not actually be asleep that long, but if she’d go to bed lights and electronics off 8.5 hours before she had to get up, at least she had the opportunity to sleep enough. Within two weeks her mood and academic performance improved far more than anything else she’d tried.

A couple months later she had a musical theater performance through her high school. Anyone involved in high school theater knows the week before and the week of the show a student cannot even consider coming home before 10pm. For those two weeks she got inadequate sleep. For the next while her academics suffered again until she was sleeping more.

Why do I share this girl’s story with you? Getting enough sleep is a HUGE part of your child’s success in school. Please make sure their time to rest is carefully guarded. For that matter, please make sure you also have good habits around sleep. You’ll be a better parent, employee, spouse, etc.

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


It’s Back to School We Go

One of the things that will make this a better school year is limiting time on devices. Photo credit: Stoonn and freedigitalphotos.net

One of the things that will make this a better school year is limiting time on devices.
Photo credit: Stoonn and freedigitalphotos.net

How did summer go by so quickly?  It seems like 5 minutes ago that all my teenage clients were ecstatic because June had finally arrived.  It was only going to be a few more days and a few more projects, and then they were home free.  Now school has either already started, or will be within a few days depending on which district you’re in.

Let’s make this year a great year for your teen!  Here are some things I’ve observed other teenagers doing that help them sincerely enjoy their school experience.

1.  Get involved at the school.  Teenagers who play a sport for their school, are in ASB, actively partake in a school club, go to the football games, attend school dances, join the yearbook staff, write for the newspaper, or some other extracurricular activity that is part of their school like it much better.  This has been true every single time I’ve worked with a client who is involved at school.  The ones who don’t really feel like they contribute somehow are just passing time.

2.  Take classes at the appropriate level.  There are a great number of you who push your teenagers to take honors or AP classes whenever possible.  The homework load and pressure in these classes is immense.  Know your child well enough to see which subjects they really enjoy, and which ones they hate.  Push where they have natural interests and talents, and back-off where they don’t.  It is much better for your teenager to enjoy being a student than hate school and constantly feel overwhelmed.  Even if this means your son or daughter won’t get into as good of a college as they otherwise might have, they are more likely to have a healthy overall balance in their life; this is good practice for an enjoyable life, which seems more important than the most prestigious university.

3.  Manage the screen time.  Teens really want their privacy, and these days a huge part of that is having their own electronic devices.  They generally believe you as a parent have no right to look at their devices or set limits on when and how they’re used.  After working with more teens than I can count, I would say it seems about 90% of them mismanage technology.  They use it too often, and it uninhibits their social interactions.  Technology can help complete homework faster, but is often a distraction for your teenager.  They are texting while they do their math, reading a website about their favorite band while studying, or just falling down the rabbit-hole of internet searches and Youtube videos.  It really makes completing homework assignments take forever.  It also allows them to say things to people they would never say in person.  Teenagers who are limited by their parents on how often, and what they can do with their devices are actually happier (even if they argue about it).

I strongly encourage you to try these three things with your adolescent as they return to school this Fall.  Getting involved at school, taking classes that are a fit for their interests and abilities, and managing screen time are all simple changes to make that can really help the quality of the school-year.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Back to School Anxiety

Heading back to school can be scary for some teens Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Heading back to school can be scary for some teens
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is a time of year when I suddenly get an upswing in calls from parents worried about their teenager’s anxiety level.  Right around the time kids have to go back to school, things start to stress them out.  It makes sense, they are about to have social and academic pressure again after three months of relaxation time.

 

Here are some things you can do to help your teenager reduce their stress as school starts back up:

1) Help them go into school with an academic plan.  Some teens are anxious about school because they work really hard in school, and they anticipate too much homework.  Other adolescents are anxious about starting school again because they don’t work hard enough, and they fear poor grades.  Some kids need help understanding how to work smarter instead of harder.  Other kids need help learning how to study effectively.

 

2) Talk about any social pressures they might feel.  For a great number of middle and high school students, there are intense worries about fitting in.  They really want to be liked.  Some even wish to be popular.  For other teenagers, there is anxiety around dating.  It’s different for each one, but it will increase as school gets started again.

 

3)  Some adolescents worry about how they’ll get along with you when school starts again.  All summer you’ve been letting them hang out with friends, go to bed late, and haven’t asked too much of them.  You might have asked them to do a couple chores, but that’s the extent of it.  Now you’ll be back to checking on them daily about if their homework is complete, telling them to get off their phone and get to sleep, and waking them up early every morning.  When you have to force a teenager to follow a schedule they don’t care for, it’s bound to create some battles.  In general, I encourage you to turn over as much of this to your child as is appropriate for their age and maturity.  If it’s up to your teen to wake up for school, your role changes from irritating parent to sympathetic parent.

 

4) Some teens get anxiety about how bored they will be sitting in class.  It’s tough to sit for 6-8 hours per day listening to someone talk about things that don’t interest you.  It’s easy to make it through some classes, but others are dreadful.  I used to feel this way about math.  It was complete torture to sit through two hour block classes of geometry.  I found it very dull.  I was definitely in a worse mood on days I had math.  While there isn’t much you can do about this, you can certainly let your teenager know you understand how they feel.  Sometimes that is enough to help them feel better.

 

I guess most of what I’m saying is to talk to your teen about the start of school.  Sometimes their anxiety shows up in other ways.  They might tell you they’re suddenly stressed about their sports team, friends, death, or you name it.  A lot of times though, underneath all this is a worry about going back to school again.  If you can help them recognize this, you can work together to take steps to help control it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Abusive Teen Relationships

Relationship abuse is more common than we like to think. Violence between partners is about control, separation from all other sources of support, a confused sense of what love is. For victims leaving these relationships can be nearly impossible. Please listen to this little story to understand how this starts so you don’t miss the signs.

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

Teaching Teens to be Inclusive

Feeling left out really hurts. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Feeling left out really hurts.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today I was at the park with my daughter.  We saw our neighbors there.  They had their 6 year old daughter, a cousin of about the same age, and were meeting a friend who also had a 6 year old daughter.  While the three girls were playing together, another mom brought her 6 year old daughter to the park.  It was clear the kids all knew each other from school because greetings were exchanged.  Despite this, there was no effort to include the new girl.  I watched as she played near the other three.  They never made eye contact with her.  A couple of times she contributed to the conversation and the other three girls acted as if they couldn’t even hear her.  Finally she gave up and enlisted her mom to play with her.

 

It was a bit of a shock to me how early this all starts.  As a therapist I should know this, but since I mainly work with teenagers, I don’t encounter the cliques of young children on a daily basis.

 

However, I do know both personally, and from my clients, how devastating it feels to be on the outside during teenage years.  I experienced being left out mostly ages 11 through 12 and it was painful.  Many clients I work with continue to feel this pain through high school.

 

For the boys and girls who come to therapy because they are disincluded, we work hard on assertiveness (not to be confused with rudeness or aggressiveness).  It seems kids who are not included lack the ability to confidently assert themselves.  They express a weakness in their opinions that leaves them open to ridicule.  They don’t defend themselves when they are teased, they struggle to tease back, and they personalize the off-handed things their peers say.  It is hard work, but not impossible work, to help these teenagers change how they relate to other teens.

 

On the other hand, I think there is a responsibility parents have to work with their teenagers on being inclusive.  Kindness is natural to some, but for most it is learned.  We all like certain people better than others, and are drawn to certain personalities more than others.  It takes maturity to include the people who are not as likable for whatever reason.  This doesn’t mean your teenager needs to be best friends with someone they don’t mesh with.  However, it’s really important for your child to make an effort to be inclusive in group situations.

 

Here are examples of situations where you get the opportunity to help your teenager practice being inclusive.  If your teenager is on a sports team there is always one or two other teens who don’t quite fit in with the team.  If your teenager is in a high school youth group or small group, when the whole group is together help your teen practice making an extra effort with the ones who struggle to flow with the group.  These are important skills to learn because they teach empathy, awareness, and compassion.  Besides this, your child just might make a world of difference for someone else who feels dejected and rejected.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Helping Your Teen’s Confidence

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Love your teens by letting them figure some things out on their own.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Instilling confidence in your teenager is a challenging proposition.  One of the primary places they develop confidence is through their relationship with their parents.  When a parent does too much for the teen, it hurts their ability to believe in their own capability.  Here’s an example of what I mean:

 

I have worked with several families where this has occurred:  Mom or dad loves their son or daughter so deeply that they cannot stand to see the child get hurt.  So, they help them with everything.  They help them study for tests at school, help them in their sport by providing private lessons, give them a car when they turn 16, give them money to buy whatever clothes make up the latest trend, etc.  While this is very kind, it actually hurts the teenager in the long-run.

 

Here’s what I see happen in my office all the time.  I see a teenager who is very frustrated with a parent, or both parents.  When we start to look into the reason why, the teen will tell me it’s because they aren’t allowed to do anything for themselves.  They see their parents’ help as condescending and displaying a lack of confidence in them.  One girl told me when her mom asked her if she studied for her math test, the girl took it to mean mom doesn’t trust her to get it done.  When we talked to mom about it she said it was not because of a lack of trust, but instead caring about her daughter feeling upset if she forgets to study and then doesn’t do well.  I told the mom to let her child figure these things out by herself because it shows that mom is confident in her daughter’s ability to organize her schoolwork.  On the contrary, if mom reminds her daughter to do everything, it displays a lack of confidence in her daughter’s ability.

 

Parents, if you’re not giving your adolescent the room to be responsible commensurate with their age, you’re accidentally sending a message to your teenager that you don’t believe in him or her.  This is almost certainly not what you’re intending.  Most likely you’re intending to make things easier on your teenager and trying to help him or her avoid painful consequences.  If you know your teen isn’t great at leaving herself enough time to write essays for English class, so you require her to sit down and work at it a little bit each day, you might be doing her a disservice (This depends on how old she is of course).  It could be a lot better for her to start the essay at the last minute, and then feel the pain of getting a low grade.  She will likely decide a better course of action next time.  You can always offer to help her make a better plan next time.  If you do though, leave it up to her to approach you for help once you’ve put it out there that you’re willing.  You can tell her you know she desires to do better, and you believe in her that she will figure out how to make this happen; after that, leave it alone.

 

So, if you’d like to help your teenager know you believe in him or her, and to become more confident in his or her abilities, give them room to do things themselves.  Don’t be afraid of their failures.  A small metaphorical scrape of the knees today can save a broken leg in the future.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

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