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Happiness

Happiness eludes many of us. Listen to this brief story of how Dr. Martin Seligman determined to become a happy person. His research has shaped what we know about happiness and how we have the power to increase our feelings of positivity and happiness.

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

Help for school anxiety

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some teenagers, school is exciting.  They cannot wait to see friends, and really don’t even mind being in class.  If you’re reading this though, that is probably not your kid.

For a lot of adolescents, Monday is the worst day of the week.  Going to school is terrifying.  This can be for different reasons.  For some kids the pressure of homework, tests, and getting up early is overwhelming.  For most teenagers though, the anxiety associated with school is social.  It is hard for some teens to imagine that anyone will be excited to see them.  All they can picture is either being teased, or being ignored as the other kids excitedly greet one another.

As a parent who loves your kid, and most likely thinks the world of your kid, what do you do?  When you see their heart breaking because they just don’t feel comfortable or confident, it breaks your heart too.  We all revert to one of two attempts to help our children.

The first thing you might be doing is trying to solve it.  You might be telling your child how to make more friends (or how to offend less people depending on your perspective).  You might say things like, “Just walk in smiling.  That always makes a person more attractive to others.”  You might offer to let your kid have a party, or you might buy your teen the latest clothing trends.  Realistically though, are you making a huge impact in this way?  Your children’s feelings on the inside won’t have changed much, and this reflects outwardly to the other students.

The second approach might be to diminish your teenager’s concerns.  You might tell them things like, “I bet more people like you than you think.”  You might also tell them they are imagining it, etc.  Here you are near the right track, although not quite on it.  You need your teenager to be the one who says, “You know, I bet more people like me that I realize,” instead of you telling them.  How in the world do you accomplish this?

The techniques I’m going to offer you aren’t foolproof, but they’re worth a try.  Firstly, try telling a story about yourself at that age.  Make sure it’s a story where you felt similarly.  If the end of the story is that you were better liked than you realized, then include that.  However, don’t make it up.  If the end of the story is that you really weren’t very well liked in high school, leave it there.  At the very minimum your child will feel understood; that is primarily what they are seeking when they talk with you about school related anxiety.  This will help them to feel a little better because they will know they are not alone.

The next thing you can try is having your teenager examine the facts.  Tell them, “We are going to look at both sides of this and then come to a conclusion.”  Have them first tell you hard evidence that proves they are correct in their assuming people don’t like them at school.  Do not allow things like, “I just know it,” or “Jennie likes Carmen better than me now.”  Next make your teenager tell you why they are liked.  Believe me, unless your child smells, is rude or never brushes their teeth, someone is friendly toward them.

If the anxiety stretches beyond basic nervousness, also consider getting a little extra help.  Counseling tends to work very well on school-related anxiety.  You can always start with what’s free.  Put a call in to your teen’s school counselor.  If you’re not comfortable with that, or the school counselor doesn’t help, then it’s probably time to call a licensed therapist.

It is my hope your teen has an amazing school year.  I hope they learn in the classroom, and grow as an individual.  Every year is a new chance for your child to blossom.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman

High School Dating

High school dating poses challenges for every teen. Photo credit: stockimages and freedigitalphotos.net

High school dating poses challenges for every teen.
Photo credit: stockimages and freedigitalphotos.net

Dear teenagers,

Dating in high school is a challenge no matter who you are.  You might be the captain of the cheer team, and have more dating opportunities than you want.  You might be the guy who is so shy you can’t talk to a girl even if it’s just to ask what the homework assignment was.  You might be the serial dater who always has a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend.  In every single situation there is heartache, struggle, excitement, hope, and everything in between.

Here’s some things I’ve heard from clients along the way that they wish someone would’ve told them about high school dating.  First of all, it’s not as big of a deal as it seems like it is.  We’ve all watched movies where there is this perfect high school love full of firsts.  There’s a first kiss, first high school dance, first time in love, etc.  It makes it all sound very romantic.  What my clients who are older than you would want you to know though is that your firsts happen when they happen.  There is no set timeline to life that really makes something more special if it happens earlier than later.  In fact, oftentimes it is more special if it does happen later because you will be mature enough to handle and appreciate it.

Another thing they would want to make sure you know is not to invest too much into your high school crush.  I have sat with many, many girls and boys who end up disgusted because they had sex with someone they thought they loved, but can no longer stand.  I have sat with many others who chose to wait and ended up glad because the relationship didn’t last.  I have sat with lots of other clients who wished desperately to have the opportunity to date that one person they’ve liked school year after school year, but then they met the right person later on and were totally content.

A third piece of wisdom I’ve heard from my clients who are now finished with high school is that “hooking up” without commitment is a sure way to end up upset.  Despite what you might think, it cannot be done without emotional involvement.  Maybe you’re not the one with the emotions, but the other person certainly will be.  There is no such thing as casual intimacy.  That causes jealously, self-loathing, anger and almost always ends a friendship.  There is a high level of respect you gain from others and from yourself if you simply don’t engage in this behavior without some type of commitment.

Finally, for those of you who don’t seem to have a handle on how to talk to the opposite sex yet, please don’t be down on yourself about it.  We all mature in different ways at different times.  There are tons of people out there who only date once, because that person is their future spouse.  Maybe that’s you.  If it is, I envy you.  From the perspective of someone who is happily married, if I could’ve avoided all the heartbreaks and mistakes along the way to meeting him, that would have been just fine by me.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What to do if my teen is “sexting”

Sexting among teens is false intimacy Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sexting among teens is false intimacy

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

Sexting is happening much more often than you think.  I have been completely SHOCKED as a therapist for teens at how frequently teens are texting sexy messages to one another.  A lot of the girls I work with who are not sexually active still sometimes engage in sexting.  The phone does make people more comfortable, and text messages make it even easier to say things that would never, ever be said in person.

 

Most of the time it is a boy asking a girl for a picture of something.  However, it is rare that a boy comes right out and asks.  Usually the conversation leads into the request for a picture.  It starts out friendly enough.  Next the conversation becomes flirtatious.  Often it might include a compliment like, “You looked really pretty in that dress you wore today.”  The girl says thank you, so the boy tries to be a little bit bolder.  He might text, “Actually, you looked hot.”  Slowly it progresses until the boy asks for a picture.  Sometimes the girl says yes, and sometimes the girl says no.  Rarely is the boy shamed for asking.

 

One situation I dealt with a little over 2 years ago happened with a 13 year old girl.  She was called into the principle’s office.  She was surprised to find a police officer sitting there.  He asked her if a picture was of her.  She reluctantly admitted it was.  She was suspended, but the boy whose phone it was on was arrested.  He faced charges of child pornography distribution.  Apparently after he became angry at the girl, he sent the picture to several other people in order to embarrass her.

 

Sometimes the sexting conversations do not include pictures.  However, they can include questions about what a boy or girl might do with the other one.  Teenagers don’t realize these conversations are in writing!  If one party says they are deleting it, but instead forwards it to a friend, it often replicates over and over again.

 

There are emotional reasons sexting is bad behavior for a teenager too.  It creates a false sense of intimacy.  There is no personal contact, very little emotional connection, and a boldness that surpasses face to face conversation.  It moves the relationship along at a much faster pace.

 

Often, one of the adolescents in the sexting conversation is very uncomfortable.  However, in order to keep the other happy, or not look like a “prude,” they continue.  In fact, every single girl I’ve counseled who ended up sending a nude photo initially said no.  Often the girl said no several times.  With repeated asking the girl gave in.  A couple of different times the girl unwittingly sent the image to a guy who had friends over.  Can you imagine walking back into school after that?

 

What can parents do?  You have to monitor what your teenager is texting/posting.  You have to educate them on how to resist texting pressure just as you do with face to face pressure.  Teach your teen to be guarded with his or her emotions.  Explain repeatedly that whatever is put in print has the potential to exist forever.  Most importantly, maintain an open door policy.

 

What is an open door policy regarding texting?  When I was a teenager my parents allowed me to have boys at my house.  However, whatever room we were in, the door had to be wide open.  If I was on the phone with a boy the door also had to be wide open.  Granted that was in a time when teenagers were carrying around pagers, so texting wasn’t an issue.  The open door policy meant my parents could walk by at any time and look in, or hear my side of the phone conversation.  Honestly, that policy was very annoying at the time.  Now, looking back, I realize it kept me out of a lot of trouble.

 

An open door policy with the cell phone means that you as a parent reserve the right to grab your teen’s phone at any point, and you actually follow through with this.  It means that if they complain that this is a violation of their privacy then they can just not have a phone for a time.  It means that you are allowed to be their friend on SnapChat, Instagram, etc. and that you routinely check on their profiles.  It also means that you allow your teen more and more privacy as they earn it.

 

A lot of parents automatically give their teenager privacy, and then they have to take it away if their teen is acting up.  The teenager perceives this as mean and unfair.  However, if privacy is a privilege and not a right, there is very little argument.

 

You do these things because you don’t want to be the parent whose son is arrested at school for the distribution of child pornography.  You do them because you don’t want to be the parent whose daughter half the school has seen naked.  You do them because you want to be the parent who teaches your child to become a self-respecting adult.  You do these things because you are a smart parent who knows that setting limits isn’t mean, but is loving your child well.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Using Mindfulness for Calm

Help reduce anxiety for your teens with a simple grounding exercise. I quickly demonstrate it in this short video. You will want to walk them through this more slowly, but you will easily understand the concept.

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

Tips for Test Taking Anxiety

Taking tests can really scare some teens. Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking tests can really scare some teens.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking tests is a miserable process for a lot of teenagers.  They feel nervous, overwhelmed, and stressed out.  There is a lot of pressure to do well, but it is really hard for some people to relax enough to let their mind work.

 

Here are some tips and tricks that can help:

1. Priming.  I put this one first because it is one of the most important things to improve test scores that nobody does.  A study came out that shows when adolescents spend 5 minutes writing down adjectives that describe what they think of when they imagine a Harvard professor right before they take a test, they score better by 10% or more on that test.  Your teenager will spend a little bit of time writing down words like “brilliant, smart, intelligent, and bright.”  After they spend 5 minutes doing this they’ve primed their brain to “think smart.”  This means they are overriding the negative assumptions they have about their own test taking abilities.

2.  Effective Studying. The vast majority of people spend time studying everything they need to learn for an exam.  They actually tend to focus on what they already know or understand even though this is a subconscious action.  They do this because it’s what feels comfortable.  However, effective studying means spending virtually no time on what is already understood, and a lot of time on the challenging concepts.  Your teenager does not need to review every section of the unit for their exam.  Your teenager needs to spend time on their more shaky areas.  It’s actually a waste of time to look over things they learned in class where they feel competent.

3. Study Timing. We’ve all heard this one before so bear with me if it’s a repeat.  It is far easier to retain information if it is studied for up to one hour per day for a week before a test than if it’s studied for hours the day before.  Cramming simply doesn’t work.  For one a teenager who is cramming has more anxiety, which blocks his ability to effectively remember information.  This takes self-discipline, but it also takes the yucky feelings out of taking tests.

4. Sleep. Your child needs 8-9 hours of sleep the night before a test.  This is more important than studying until 2am.  Our ability to retain, recall and utilize information is very, very directly linked to enough sleep.  When we’re tired studying is almost a complete waste of time, and especially when compared with the benefits we are getting from sleep.

5. Association. If your teenager walks while they study, even slowly, their recall improves dramatically.  Of course this isn’t possible for every subject, but walking while reviewing flashcards, or listening to a recording of the information they need to learn (anyone can do this by downloading a recording app onto their phone and then reading key passages from their textbook and notes), associations are made.  Your teen will subconsciously pair a certain tree with a certain phrase because as they were walking past it they were learning about a specific thing.  For example, your teenager might be listening to something about the Revolutionary War while they walk past your mailbox.  When it comes time to take their test and they can’t quite recall that specific fact, if they picture the mailbox the fact will probably come to them.  Isn’t it fascinating that the human mind works that way?

 

Try these five steps with your teen.  If you change nothing else, have your child get more sleep and spend the 5 minutes priming before the exam.  This should help them with their test-taking abilities.  It should also improve their confidence, therefore reducing their anxiety.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

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

During the COVID-19 outbreak all sessions will be completed via Telehealth.