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Teen Sleep: How and Why This Must Improve

Teen Sleep: How and Why This Must Improve

Sleep is vital to your teen. Boy asleep on keyboard.

Sleep is vital to your teen.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Importance of Good Sleep

I’m bringing up teen sleeping habits because I hear parents express concern over this in my therapy office all the time.  I have to admit, how well and how consistently your adolescent sleeps is a really big deal.

Good sleep has very strong links to happiness, immune functioning, ability to perform in school, memory, safe driving, and the list goes on.

Why Are Teens Short on Sleep?

Teenagers are notorious for foregoing sleep in order to complete homework assignments, text their friends, play video games, and go on TikTok.  However, none of these are a good excuse not to get about eight hours of sleep per night.  If your teen is occasionally staying up late to finish an assignment that’s one thing, but if they do this night after night, this is a problem.

Surprisingly, adolescents still need a hard and fast bedtime.  Furthermore, you have to enforce it.  It’s essential for their health and well-being.  If they have trouble waking up in the morning for school, then it means they aren’t sleeping enough.  That’s their body telling them to get to bed earlier.

The Family’s Role in Good Teen Sleep

Interestingly, there’s a good chance if your teen has poor sleep habits you do too.  So what steps can you take? Firstly, get yourself on a good sleep schedule, and stop watching late night TV.  Your sleep is absolutely more important!  As a result, you will be more productive at work, nicer to your family, a more enjoyable friend, and you will quite possibly shed those few extra pounds that have been nagging at you. Essentially, people who sleep well actually crave healthier foods and exercise more easily (they are more energized).

Secondly, prioritize this aspect of health in your family culture. There is a tremendous emphasis on the foods we eat and the amount we exercise in today’s culture. Obviously that’s reasonable. On the contrary, there’s not nearly enough discussion about the value of sleep in one’s overall health. Getting enough sleep improves immunity, thought clarity, lowers disease risk, and prevents injuries. And, it feels good!

What if My Teen Sleeps Too Much?

On the other hand, if your worries about your teenager’s sleep come from the other side of the spectrum, there are different concerns.  For example, if your teen naps often and also sleeps eight plus hours per night, then I have a different set of concerns.  Excessive sleep is a symptom, but there are many differing problems that cause hypersomnia in adolescents.  Here are a few: depression, drug use, endocrine issues, and physical illness.  It’s very important to talk with your doctor in this situation.  Your doctor might recommend psychiatry or therapy, but your doctor might also catch something else that’s wrong.  In any case, for your teenager to need a total of more than 10 hours of sleep per 24 hour stretch warrants a conversation with a doctor.

Once you get the family back on a good sleeping schedule, everyone’s life will be better, and everyone in your household will be happier. Our therapists at TTOC love to talk about sleep! We want to help everyone in your family sleep more and sleep better. We especially believe in its importance for your developing teenager.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Improving Relationships With Our Teens

Improving Relationships With Our Teens

Building a Strong Relationship with Your Teens

Improving relationships with our teens is possible. Smiling father and son. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Having a good parent-child relationship with a teenager is an achievable goal.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Improving relationships with our teens is effort well spent. To some, the idea seems daunting. “How will I ever get my teen to respect and like me?” you wonder. Still, teenagers who have one caring adult in their life fare far better as adults than those who don’t (see developingchild.harvard.edu article). Hopefully, this means the interactions have an element of friendship underneath; this gives you more permission to have the parental interactions when they are needed.

Steps for Improving Our Relationship with Our Teens

Tracking The Improvement in Your Relationship with Your Child

That said, if you decide improving your relationship with your teenager is one of your new goals, then it’s time to plan.  Firstly, let’s figure out a few reasonable ways you can track yourself to see how you’re doing.  For example, if you yell when you’re frustrated, try writing a quick note on a calendar at the end of each day: “Good today,” or “Yelled too much today.”  While it’s simple, holding yourself accountable is the key to changed behavior.  The other key is sticking with it.  It supposedly takes 7 weeks to change a habit.  That’s 49 days. In theory, tracking behavior every day for a month and a half elicits change.

Be Patient with the Process of Improving Your Relationship with Your Adolescent

Secondly, you must be patient.  When you become nicer to people in your family, they won’t even notice at first.  They will go on reacting towards you the way they always have.  Keep in mind, you probably have to give it about three weeks before you notice them starting to be kinder in return. For their part, your adolescents won’t even realize they are being nicer in return.  It eventually just starts to happen.  Sadly, many parents I work with lose patience with this process because it is hard to make a huge effort for three weeks.  Also, it’s very challenging not to get caught up in the garbage your teen can dish out.

Give Yourself Grace When Learning to Get Along with Your Teen

Thirdly, have grace towards yourself.  Unlike a New Year’s Resolution to run 4 days a week, you can’t measure your behavior and emotions in the same way.  You can resolve to do 4 nice things for your teenager per week that you wouldn’t normally do, but you can’t decide to be kind 4 times per week and then have a perfect relationship.  We have to be trying ALL the time to improve our relationship with our teens, while constantly forgiving ourselves for returning to our old ways.  In essence, you have to push the reset button in your mind 20 times a day.  When you do speak harshly to your teenager, or allow them to push you around, or whatever you’re trying to change, just take a deep breath and get back on the path.  Eventually, this gets easier. I promise!

Eyes on the Prize (Getting Closer to Your Teen)

Finally, don’t lose sight of the reward at the end.  You need to consistently visualize what things will be like once you’ve achieved the goal of an improved relationship.  To this end, maybe you imagine hugging your son each morning when he’s on his way out the door to school.  Similarly, perhaps you picture your daughter wanting to take a walk with you on a Saturday morning.  Or, maybe you see yourselves sending funny little text messages to one another throughout the day.  Whatever it is, don’t lose track of where you’re headed. Dave Ramsey always says, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”  While he’s a money guy and I’m a psychology lady, I wholeheartedly agree. 

To put it another way, you need a tangible goal to achieve. Don’t try and picture being best friends with your teenager. That’s not likely to happen anyhow (And you want them to have their own friends).  Just keep your focus on things looking a little better than they do right now.

When to Seek Counseling to Get Along Better with a Teenager

For some of you, improving your relationship with your teenager feels like it’s beyond a simple blog post. In those cases, our counselors at Teen Therapy OC can help. We’re always happy to spend a few minutes free of charge on the phone with you or to answer an email or two. This helps you determine next steps such as whether therapy is the right direction.

In summary, counseling usually helps when there is little to no respect between you and your teenager. Also, some parents come to the point where they cannot trust their adolescent child. If that is you, therapy is a good place to start. And, if you suspect your teen’s mental health is a factor in why things aren’t going as well between you as they used to, therapy becomes vital.

Our Hope for You as You Improve Your Relationship with Your Teen

Our hope and prayer for you is that this is a year filled with joy and blessings in your relationships with your children.  We pray also that you learn as much from them as they do from you. Yes we want times of teaching and learning, but we also want you and your teen to have fun and joy!

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why do teenagers cut themselves?

Why do teenagers cut themselves?

 

Why Do Teens Self-Harm?

If you’ve recently discovered your teen is self-harming, you have to be wondering, “Why do teenagers cut themselves?” Cutting seems like a somewhat recent phenomenon.  It’s been around for a long time, but it has grown in notoriety and popularity.  The majority of teenagers I work with who have tried cutting mostly did so because a friend told them about it, or they hear about it on Tik Tok.  They wanted to try and see if it was a helpful way to cope with emotional pain.  Most find that it isn’t, and do not continue to cut.

By contrast, the teens who cut more seriously and regularly give us great concern.  For example, when I see a teenager in my office who cuts frequently and/or deeply, I worry.  Firstly, we immediately begin the discussion of the teenager completing an evaluation with a psychiatrist (We have several referrals we can offer, including Oak Health, Progeny Clinic, and Mind Health Institute, among others) having the teenager see a psychiatrist for an evaluation.  This is not cutting for attention as much as a deep emotional disturbance.  Oftentimes medications are needed in these situations.

A teenager telling mom she has been cutting.
A teen telling her mom about her self-injury. Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/David Castillo Dominici

Why Do Teenagers Cut Themselves: Where On the Body Tells a Story 

When considering why teenagers cut themselevs, it is also important to note is that teens cut in a variety of places.  The most common location is the inner forearm of their non-writing hand.  So, if they write with their right hand, the cuts are on the soft side of their left forearm.  Also, there are other common locations such as the inner thighs, and the stomach.  Usually, cutting on the thighs and stomach is done to avoid detection.  By contrast, teenagers who cut on their arm often want to be found out.  This is particularly true if they cut and then wear short sleeves.

Cutting as a Coping Skill

Importantly, why do teens self-harm?  There are of course a variety of reasons.  Cutting is not a one size fits all venture.  However, the best explanation I’ve ever heard was by Richard Bautzer, MFT.  He told me he believes teens cut as a coping skill to control their pain.  You would naturally ask, “Why would they inflict more pain on themselves as a way to control pain?”  This is because there is some emotional stressor that feels uncontrollable to the teenager.  This stressor really could be anything.  For example, the teen who is cutting might be managing the stress of parents going through a divorce.

Another Reason Why Teenagers Cut Themselves: Cutting to Control Emotional Pain

Cutting to control pain works like this: A teen can control when they cut, for how long, with what device, and how deeply.  This is untrue of emotional pain.  For an adolescent, emotional pain often seems random and unmanageable. Also, many teen clients have explained they can see the blood, which represents the inner pain. Somehow, it’s more tolerable to have tangible pain than invisible emotional pain.

Steps to Take if Your Teen is Cutting Themself

What do we hope you take away from this discussion as a parent?  The most important thing is that cutting is serious.  If your teen is self-injuring, then they might be suicidal.  Self-harm, whether done for attention or something deeper, is abnormal.  Your teenager needs an evaluation by a professional.  Call a therapist, school counselor, pediatrician or psychiatrist.  Whatever you do, call someone.  While it is tempting to hesitate if your teen tells you they can stop, my experience tells me you cannot assume this is something you should handle on your own.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is one type of counseling commonly used to help teens who are cutting. It teaches tolerance of uncomfortable emotions as your teen explores why they’ve been using self-injury as a coping skill. DBT helps a teenager recognize emotions, consider their cause, and then permit themselves to have those feelings instead of trying anything to neutralize them (i.e. cutting, lashing out, drugs, etc.). DBT also explores why teenagers cut themselves so that it is easier to find healthy alternatives. While most Teen Therapy OC therapists are comfortable with DBT, Jazmie Albarian has taken the extra step of becoming certified in DBT. It is worth calling her to find out how DBT can help your teen.

A Final Thought on Teen Cutting Behavior

A final thought for parents who have children that self-harm: It is terrifying.  I realize that finding out your child, whom you love more than words can ever express, wants to inflict pain on him or herself is one of the scariest things you’ve dealt with.  Don’t hide this from everyone because you feel ashamed.  Talk to one or two close, trusted people so you can have support.  You have to make sure you’re not spending a lot of energy and time blaming yourself.  Instead direct that energy toward finding a solution.

Also, don’t blame yourself. You need all your emotional resources available to confront and control the problems your teenager is facing. You will eventually have time to dig in to what you want to change, but that comes a little later.

All in all, finding out your teen is self-harming is beyond overwhelming. From one parent to another, my heart goes out to you. As a therapist, I want to walk alongside you through this incredibly difficult time.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Medication Advice from a Client, and Loneliness at School

Medication Advice from a Client, and Loneliness at School

Hand holding a pill. Storing psych medication properly is very important.
Taking and storing mental health medication properly is extremely important. Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With permission, I pass on words of wisdom from a client. This person wants all of you to know that she wasn’t attentive in how she stored her medication, which led to it being ineffective. She said she kept it in her car so she could conveniently take it each morning as she left the house. She said she wants everyone to know that it got too hot in the car, which wasn’t good for her meds. For those of you taking meds, she encourages you to pay attention to the temperatures suggested on the label. She says once she began storing it properly, it worked better.

Now onto comments from two different teenagers dealing with extreme loneliness at school. There are many, many of you reading this who suffer from loneliness. Not having one or two good friends in your life is devastating at any age. For a teen it’s even harder because it’s so noticeable. You walk around your school campus and have nobody to sit with at lunch. You don’t know where to go at break. Even if you have a place to sit at lunch, you’re not included in activities outside of school hours. You might be “okay,” but without friends you’re probably not thriving.

My heart aches for you. We are wired to belong to someone. There are a few of us who genuinely don’t need people, but that is not most of us. Most of us need someone to belong to and we need someone to belong to us. This innate need is deeply ingrained. If you don’t belong to anyone at school and nobody belongs to you, please tell your parents. I know that discussion might be awkward, but your outlook on your entire life can change if you are given some tools to rectify the loneliness.

Sometimes loneliness is really hard to fix. Sometimes you have no insight into why you aren’t building connections with others. We always work on that in therapy because I have come to see it as a basic human need. Not having someone underlies at least half of the cases I see when a teen is refusing to go to school. It is also present in a high percentage of those I see who come in for depression and anxiety.

One of the first things to consider is going where you’re wanted. Some of you who are lonely do have people who like you, they just aren’t the people you have your heart set on. Usually these people are kind but maybe not as “fun.” Trust me when I tell you that these people are worth putting time into. Being in the popular crowd is far less important than having a place where someone is glad to see you each day.

Some of you don’t really have anyone you can identify as a place you can go. This is trickier, but not impossible. It becomes important to start looking around for who else needs a friend instead of who can meet your needs. It’s a change in mindset, but it does start the process of resolving the loneliness.

Finally, there are some of you who have enough social anxiety that you cannot bring yourself to do or say the friendly things necessary to get close to others. Give us a call in that case; counseling and/or group therapy can be of temendous benefit in those cases.

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

Update on Easy Access to Antidepressants, and Marijuana and Psychosis

Update on Easy Access to Antidepressants, and Marijuana and Psychosis

No smoking sign. Marijuana use can cause psychosis.
Marijuana can cause psychosis. Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have a brief update to give on the last blog, which talked about the website/app Hims. It was reported to me that a person doesn’t even see a doctor on that site and can get antidepressant medication. The update that was given this week is that there is a texting conversation with the doctor before the prescription is written. No at all ideal, but slightly better than just a self-survey.

I’ve learned something new in the past few months. It’s now come up twice. A friend of mine is a psychiatrist (for those who don’t know the distinction, a psychiatrist has attended medical school and has received extra training in mental disorders and medication) explained to me that many people suffering with Bipolar Disorder cannot tolerate marijuana AT ALL. He said it causes a higher incidence of paranoid psychosis for this group than for the general population. He told me to pass along to all of you that if you have Bipolar Disorder, you should NEVER use marijuana.

Let me give a short clarification on what Bipolar Disorder is. Many people have a misunderstanding because the term “bipolar” is used as slang for mood swings. Bipolar Disorder is a difficult mental illness for someone to live with. It causes times of mania or hypomania, which means periods of little to no needed sleep with some combination of euphoria, anger/agitation, impulsive decision-making, sexually irresponsible behavior, rapid speech and/or thoughts, and grandiose ideas. These periods are followed by a marked and profound period of depression. The depression is intense and miserable. One client described it to me as “mashed potatoes. It’s as though everything has the color of mashed potatoes and the flavor of mashed potatoes. The world is devoid of life.” The depression can last for years on and off without any interruping mania for some. The pattern and timing of depression and mania varies from person to person.

I’m sure you can understand that someone dealing with the unpredictability of Bipolar Disorder might be drawn to marijuana. However, it is understood to be something that will destabilize the Bipolar Disorder over time and can even add in psychosis. The bottom line: It’s not worth the risk. By the way, I’m not a fan of it for others either. I know that alienates some of you, but the long-term effects of cannabis just don’t justify the short-term pleasures.

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

Isolation at School

I have heard more isolation stories from clients starting school last week than in all my previous years of practice (14). One teen told me how she plans to sit in the library for lunch. Another told me he is never invited to anything with his so-called “friends.” A third talked about how she feels like all the friend groups are already formed and she has no way to get into one. In every single case, their hearts are broken and they don’t know how to fix it. I feel their internal anguish as I listen to them give me the details about their worlds. They feel as though they are looking in on a world where everyone is smiling, but that they are stuck outside. They so desperately long for even just one person to show the interest, love, and compassion that they see other teens so effortlessly get.

What gives? Why are some outsiders despite every effort and others insiders even without trying?

1) Charisma: A few people have a lot of this character quality. Most have some. Then there are those who have almost none. You know the type: They just can’t seem to say the right thing at the right time. They make others feels awkward with their awkwardness. It is easy to pick up on the fact that they are not entirely comfortable with themselves.

2) Social Awareness: There are people who lack this very important character trait. They talk too loudly, they don’t know when to drop a discussion topic, they stand too close to people…they just cannot seem to read a room. Teenagers are very socially aware and they often reject the child who has not figured out social awareness.

3) Projected Confidence: Teenagers who walk with their heads up and scanning for eye contacts project more confidence. This is attractive to others. When eye contact is made, these confident teens will wave or smile. People reflexively smile and wave back, which makes everyone like each other more. Think about all that is missed for the teen who walks with eyes downcast.

4) Respect: Adolescents who know where they stand on an issue and are not swayed by the crowd’s opinion are more respected. Have other respect you translates into them being more inclusive.

5) Going Where You’re Wanted: This is the #1 most important thing teens do who fit in. They do not try to force themselves in where they are not obviously included. Teenagers who go with the other teens that already like them are happier. This is likely a life attitude of being content with what you have.

Here are some other thoughts on the struggle for an adolescent wanting to fit somewhere:

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