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Goals Have To Matter

Your teenager will end up feeling unfulfilled if the goals he or she is working towards are not actually meaningful.  We expend a lot of energy working on goals that prove to ourselves we rank higher than others.  We seek to have more money, drive a nicer car, etc.  There isn’t anything wrong with nice stuff at all, but have it for the right reasons.  Similarly, there isn’t anything wrong with a teen wanting to be a valedictorian, but let’s pursue that for a love of learning rather than simply to say we’re number 1.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Making Your Own Path (and the Big Fish, Small Pond Theory)

Help your teen dream about her future (with your guidance).
Credit: David Castillo Dominici

Today I was talking with a client about her college aspirations.  She’s already attending community college, and she plans to transfer in a year and a half.  She talked about this acceptance rate, and that acceptance rate.  She talked about school rankings and prestige.  Finally I asked her, “Which school is the best for you, and for what you want to do?”  After she obtained clarification on my question, she finally understood I meant for her to tell me what fits her personality while best connecting her in her future field.  Her answer surprised even herself.


We began to talk about the theory of the big fish in the small pond.  I pointed out that some adolescents thrive on constant competition, but some thrive when they’re highly successful in relation to their peers.  I asked whether it is ever wise to go to a school that is easier to get accepted into, but consequently easier to be a stand-out student.  She told me that in such a case it would be a lot easier to get connected with internships and to know the professors.  She talked about how it would then be possible to get a position in a lab and have strong connections when it comes time to get a job.  At the end of all this she said she’s going to think through her college strategy again so she can make a decision that better suits her personal situation.


The point of all this isn’t to advise you on how to pick a college for your teenager.  It is to help you and your teenager see that you might be stuck in a rut.  Without realizing it you might have bought what you’re being sold by our culture.  You always have to stop and ask if the way the majority is trying to do something is actually the best way for your individual situation.  Using the college example, just because every high school junior and senior is trying to get into the “best” possible college, does that mean you should too?  Just because a vast number of Orange County teens play sports at an intense level, should your teenager do that?  We often lose site of our personal big picture when we fall in line with everyone else.


By the way, I’ve fallen prey to this trap many times as well.  I don’t want you to read this and think I’m immune.  I did the crazy intense sports thing as a teenager, and I did the take every AP class possible at the start of high school.  My dad stopped me on both and asked me why I was doing all this.  When my answer was, “That’s what all my friends are doing,” he probed a lot deeper.  He spent quite a bit of time with me helping me dream and focus.  After about a year of these types of conversations it became clear that I eventually wanted to run my own business.  He then gently started asking whether the things I was putting my time into were helping that goal.  Some things were a yes and some were a no.  One thing that was obvious though was that I needed to start working in small business settings.  I had to get the lay of the land (even if it was simply as a hostess at a mom and pop pizza joint) because that was training for my future.


It would be another three years before my passion for psychology was discovered, but once that happened I knew there had to be a way to combine my two dreams.  For me in my personal journey the top ranked school was far less important than standing out enough to have connections.  It wasn’t a realization I came to on my own, but it did help me see past what everyone else was doing.


The bottom line for your teenager is this: Look around and take notice of what their peers are doing.  Use that to help you decide how your teen should spend his time and energy, but don’t take it as Gospel Truth.  Create the path for your child that makes the most sense for him.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT



A Family Needs Tech-Free Time

Our families need to connect.  Each of us needs to feel important to the others.  This is impossible if we’re always checking, texts, emails, snaps, Instagram, etc.  We get frustrated that our teenagers are on their phones 24/7, but are we any better?  Most adults I know have their cell in their hand or in their pocket.  It’s never more than arm’s length away.  You entire family needs some coordinated time without any form of electronic entertainment.  Believe me, at first it feels weird.  Eventually though it feels great!



Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Things Divorced Parents Must Avoid

Parenting after a divorce is a huge challenge. Image courtesy of arztsamui /

Parenting after a divorce is a huge challenge.
Image courtesy of arztsamui /

I work primarily with teens and families so as you can guess, I see a lot of children of divorced parents.  Over the years I’ve learned things divorced parents should avoid when raising teenagers:


1.  Avoid talking badly about your ex-spouse.  I realize this person probably hurts you/irritates you/angers you more than anyone else on the planet.  I know that in many cases you cannot stand the thought of leaving your adolescent children alone with your ex because you’re wondering what kind of ideas are being put into your child’s head.  If you complain about your ex in front of your kids though, you’re talking about one of the closest people to them.  You’re confusing them.  Most of us don’t really understand that our parents are flawed until we’re in our twenties.  By then we have the emotional maturity to deal with that fact.  If your teenage child is told how horrible you are by your ex, or you tell your teen how awful their other parent is, you might be giving them something they are not yet equipped to handle.  They feel like they have to do something as a result such as take a side, harbor resentment, or try and mediate- none of these things are healthy for a teenager.


2.  Avoid the little choices that lead to parental alienation as much as possible.  A lot of teenagers detest going from house to house.  This is particularly true if the houses are not close to one another.  It is difficult on a teenager’s social life to be an hour away from their friends on weekends.  This can make it really easy for your child to start skipping weekends with the other parent because it’s inconvenient.  Before anyone realizes it, your teenager is out of the habit of seeing one of their parents.  Whether you have primary custody of your child or not, try your best to have them see each parent at least weekly.  Kids will complain and gripe, but the parent-child relationship is one of the most important in their lives.


3.  Avoid having vastly different rules from house to house.  This one is almost an impossibility.  Now I’m asking you to respect the parenting style of someone you have very little respect for.  If your child is grounded at one house, enforce it at yours- even if your child was grounded for something you see as ridiculous.  Trying to have a united parenting front helps prevent teenagers from choosing sides in the divorce, or refusing to see one parent over the other.  It also helps your ex be more inclined to listen to you when you want to talk about something parent to parent.


4. Avoid miscommunications on the small stuff (in other words, watch out for the divide and conquer tactic).  Your teenager is keenly aware of whether you and your ex-spouse tell each other little details about what your teenager is up to.  It is not uncommon for a teenager to get a no from one parent and then just ask the other for permission.  One consequence of this is that you and your ex are now further divided on parenting than before.  Another problem with this is that your teen is now starting to run the show and teens don’t always choose what’s best for them.


5.  Avoid financial misbehavior with your children and your ex.  When the divorce decree was signed your financial obligations to your child were laid out.  You might be required to pay child support, keep your teen on your insurance plan, pay for half of a car, etc.  Whatever is written in the divorce decree, stick with it.  Be careful about making judgments about how child support is spent and then not paying as a result.  Even if you think your ex wastes the money, if you don’t pay your child may be told you don’t care about them.  Also be careful not to go over and above what your required to pay too often.  I have seen this come back and bite parents.  I have seen one parent almost blackmail the other into paying for all kinds of things that weren’t written in the divorce decree.  Once you start that precedent, it’s hard to come back from there without your child getting upset at you.


No matter how you look at it, co-parenting after a divorce is extremely difficult.  Don’t feel too badly about yourself if you think it’s not going well.  It takes a lot of work to be cooperative with someone you aren’t fond of.  In fact, this may be the biggest challenge of your entire life.  Everyone involved has to remember the main goal is to raise your child into a happy, healthy adult.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Boost Your Teen’s Self-Esteem

If you want to help your teen feel better, sometimes you have to do less for him (this applies to females too, but I’ll just use the male pronoun to keep my grammar proper).  It’s our tendency to step in and help when we see our teenager struggling.  Building self-esteem comes when we struggle through something painful, and then succeed.  If you rescue your teenager, he won’t have the chance to build self-esteem in his challenging situation.


This also applies to what we hand our teenagers.  Based on my decade of experience counseling adolescents, those who buy their own car, pay for their own gas, or pay for their own cell phone have higher self-worth (as a general rule) than those who don’t earn any of their stuff.


Do you want to help your teen’s self-esteem? Do less, not more.

A post shared by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teaching Teens Responsibility

If you let your teen use your extra car, have them keep it nice. Image courtesy of samuiblue at

If you let your teen use your extra car, have them keep it nice.
Image courtesy of samuiblue at

How do you teach a teenager to be responsible?  In some ways they seem like adults, and in other ways they seem like children.  It is a very confusing time for parents.  Most people know these are crucial years in terms of setting up good habits for the rest of the teenager’s life, but helping them become responsible step by step is very challenging.


Firstly, take stock of what your teenager does well.  If your teen is really good about knowing when they have soccer practice, and what each friend is doing on a Saturday night, that is a sign of responsible thinking.  That at least shows they have the capability to be organized.  Build on this.  Maybe you tell your teen to take responsibility for the sports schedule, and that they need to give you a 24 hour head’s up before you need to drive them somewhere.  If they forget, take them at your convenience.  Don’t drop everything and rush.  To be fair though, if they do tell you about needing a ride somewhere with the agreed upon notice, get them there on time.  When I was a teen my parents often dropped me off late at practices, games and sometimes even school.  It was really frustrating!


Do not give your child an allowance.  I know many people think this will help the teen learn to live on a certain number of dollars per day.  However, getting an allowance simply because you exist is like getting welfare.  Provide your teen an opportunity to earn the money you give them.  It’s fine to give them a set amount each week, but it should be in exchange for a set number of completed chores.  You also get a set amount of money from your company each paycheck, but you have to earn it; why shouldn’t they live under the same premise?  Teaching your teen to work for money motivates them to work harder.  It teaches the relationships between working harder and getting paid more, and working smarter and getting paid more.  It won’t take your teen long to learn that working for you only pays $5 per hour, so getting a real job that pays $10 is working smarter.


Put your house in order.  If you take care of your spouse first, and children second, they will learn responsibility.  For single parents of course this won’t apply, and that’s fine.  For all parents though, you show your adolescent a lot about responsibility when you keep your home clean, picked-up, and in good condition.  Showing your teen that you take care of your possessions helps them see an example of hard work and self-discipline.  This goes a long way in teaching your teen to be responsible.


These are just a few examples of how to teach responsibility to a teenager.  If you didn’t notice, they all require you to be responsible too.  If you work hard, you will pass this along to your kids most of the time.  Discipline coupled with sensitivity and love is also absolutely essential.  Do not give your teen everything, even if you can afford to do so.  As a side-bonus, the more they earn things, the better their self-esteem will be.  You know your child best of anyone so figure out ways that work with their personality.  Some kids respond really well when they’re paid for As and Bs, and for others this really isn’t a good idea.  Teaching responsibility isn’t one size fits all, but it is a must for all.


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