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How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious

Every teen feels concerned with what others think, especially about looks. This can’t be helped. It’s part of human nature.

This week I felt like a teenager because of a big, crazy set of stitches on my lip that look like a really bad cold sore. Everywhere I went it felt like people were starting and were grossed out. Watch this video and see for yourself what ultimately happened.

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

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

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