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Feeding the Teenage Mind

Adolescents spend a lot of time filling their mind with things that don't necessarily edify them as a person. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Adolescents spend a lot of time filling their mind with things that don’t necessarily edify them as a person.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Without meaning to, we’ve let our kids fill their minds with intellectual junk food.  We are taught to be very careful about what we eat so that we can keep our physical bodies healthy.  In our culture though, we don’t pay a lot of attention to feeding our minds with things that keep the mind healthy.  Other than schoolwork, and maybe the occasional church service or bible study, our teenagers fill their minds with social media, TV and whatever they happen to search on the internet.

 

Adolescents are at a stage where they are heavily influenced by what they read, hear and see.  As parents, it’s our responsibility to strongly encourage our teens in learning things that will truly help them in life.  This ranges from what they watch on TV to what they read online.  I realize that you can’t control everything entering your teenager’s mind.  However, you can prohibit them from watching TV shows with nudity, sexual content, cursing, drugs, etc.- whatever goes against how you’d like them to act.  Because these things are so incredibly commonplace, even on “family friendly” shows, we have become numb to them.  I was watching sports last night and a Victoria’s Secret commercial came on.  At some point in our culture’s not too distant past that would have been seen as pornography (a bunch of girls in bras and panties making seductive faces and poses); it would never have been allowed during a sports game that kids are probably watching with their parents.  Now though, that’s commonplace.  You have to think really carefully about whether you’re okay with your teenage son or daughter seeing this kind of thing.

 

Okay, so the logical question that follows my soapbox rant is, ‘What should I have my teen viewing/hearing?’  The answer to that question lies within the bounds of your values.  In our house we follow the Christian faith, so our kids spend at least some of their internet time using apps that help them understand their faith better.  In my cousin’s house, music, education and culture were highly valued so my aunt had my cousin watching movies that broadened his horizons on different cultures.  These weren’t boring documentaries, just movies made in other countries that showed another view of life in the storytelling.  This was intentional on the part of my aunt, and it paid off as my cousin became an adult.

 

There also needs to be a limit to social media.  It’s up to you how you handle this.  Maybe you limit the amount of time your son or daughter spends on it.  Maybe you strongly encourage your son or daughter to follow their role models and interact with those people as often as their friends.  That is one of the great things about social media- it’s actually possible to interact with people you could never otherwise reach.

 

The last thing that’s really important is for you to assess how you spend your spare time.  Are you watching trashy TV?  Are you always posting pictures for your friends on Facebook at the expense of reading a good book?  If you look at yourself and realize you are not feeding your mind healthy intellectual food, make a few changes.  This is actually really hard at first, but the example you set pays huge dividends with your kids.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen sobriety requires a change in friends

Making new, sober friends helps a teen stop using drugs.  Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Making new, sober friends helps a teen stop using drugs.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While this is not California, the statistics from this article are still very interesting to think about.  http://eastwindsor.patch.com/articles/christie-courts-mandatory-treatment-for-drug-offenders-26a17aed

 

In the state of New Jersey it has been found that mandating arrested drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail-time has greatly reduced the repeat offense rate.  When a drug-offender simply does jail time the rearrest rate is 54% with a 43% re-conviction rate.  When mandated to treatment, the rearrest rate is 16% with an 8% re-conviction rate.

 

One thing that is rumored to happen in jail or prison is that an addict learns even more about how to be an addict.  There are a lot of drug users and dealers in prison/jail, and they educate one another in further delinquent behavior.  It is also rumored that there is a pretty significant amount of illegal drugs dealt within the prison system, sometimes making an addiction worse.

 

Whether you believe our justice system should or should not offer treatment centers as an alternative to jail/prison time, this article is a good example that treatment for addiction can be very helpful.  It also demonstrates that who you spend your time around is who you become.

 

While there’s a good chance your teenager isn’t serving jail time for a drug-related arrest, this article still applies to you.  The two important things to get from this is that 1) prisoners who spend time in the main prison population often commit drug-related crimes again and 2) prisoners who spend time around recovering addicts tend to get better.

 

If your child is acting out and participating in drug use, the most important thing you can do is change their peer group.  This is extremely challenging as a parent.  How many times have you told Junior, “I don’t like you being around those kids.  What about hanging out with so and so instead?”  Then you’re rewarded with a dirty look and an accusation that you “hate all my friends.”  This is when you need to start thinking outside the box.

 

If your kid isn’t working, help them find a job.  Teens who work develop friendships with their co-workers.  A job also takes up time that could otherwise be used to smoke a joint.

 

Your child might be farther into their drug use than just getting a job to change their peer group.  In that case, you’ll have to be more forceful and drastic.  Sending your teen to a relative’s house for about 3 months can be extremely helpful.  Do you notice that while your teen talks back towards you, they don’t talk back to your sister?  They aren’t familiar enough with your sister to do that.  It might just work to have them stay with her for a little while.  This is only effective if your relative lives far enough away that your teen cannot see the same friends.

 

If the case is more severe, you’ll have to strongly consider either rehab or teen boot camp.  Both of these methods are effective and helpful.  I’ve found that teens who go to boot camp tend to come back a little bit stronger than rehab.  However, in no way am I claiming to have completed a study on the matter.  Each rehab and each boot camp are different.  What works well with one type of teen may not be the ideal fit for another type of teen.

 

The bottom line is, teenagers begin to act like the people they are around.  Getting your struggling teen around successful teens tends to improve the decisions your teenager makes.  Just like the prisoners in this article, everyone needs someone who will show them an alternative, positive way out.  For teens the most important thing is that they think it is their idea.  This is your chance to be a creative parent and covertly help your teenager come up with a good idea for how they can start making changes.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Vacationing With Teens

Why are vacations better for connecting with family than being home together? While there are many reasons, one is that we’re often unplugged. At home we go to different corners of the house and have personal screen time. On vacation we tend not to do that, and that time is really important.

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

Tips for Disciplining a Teenager

Staying calm works a lot better than yelling.  Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Staying calm works a lot better than yelling. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

It’s hard to discipline a teen.  They definitely have a mind of their own, and are usually pretty good at arguing.  Here are some things to keep in mind based on what I’ve seen work with clients in my therapy practice.

 

1.  The consequence should make them think about what they did and not about being frustrated with you.  Many parents ground their kids or take away electronic devices whenever they feel their teenager needs discipline.  The problem with doing this in every situation is that while your teen is home grounded on Saturday night, it’s unlikely they are thinking about what they did to be home.  It’s much more likely they are resenting you for giving them that consequence.

 

2.  Allow natural consequences whenever possible.  Along the same vein as #1, allowing natural consequences teaches lessons.  It also enables you as the parent to empathize with your teenager while they are suffering the consequence.  Here’s an example: If your teenager gets a speeding ticket, have them pay for it, and pay for the increase in their insurance.  You will get to say to compassionately say to them, “Yah, it really does suck to get a speeding ticket.  I’m sorry you’re facing this.”  Don’t ground your teenager for a speeding ticket.  That doesn’t even make sense.  Nobody ever put you on house arrest for a driving violation.

 

3.  Follow through.  I have seen many, many parents say they will have certain consequences if a given thing occurs, but not follow-through with it.  This tells your adolescent that you can be bargained with.  If they see a benefit in trying to negotiate with you, you’re just opening the door for talking back and other disrespectful behavior.  If you’ve told them being home after curfew means they have to skip the next social event (a consequence that fits the crime), you have to stick to your guns.  It’s hard to do when the next social event is a big deal that they’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  It’s really tempting to alter your consequence in cases like that, but you just can’t if you want to be respected.

 

4.  Stay calm.  Once you start yelling they aren’t listening.  Are you giving consequences out of an emotional reaction, or to teach a lesson?  You really have to ask yourself this question and answer honestly.  It should always be to teach a lesson and/or protect your teenager.  Remember, you’re trying to raise a responsible adult and there are bound to be hiccups along the way.  Hiccups are okay as long as you’re helping your teenager work towards being a functional adult.  If you can stay calm they can still hear you.

 

5.  Don’t just focus on the negative.  Disciplining also means giving positive consequences when they’re due.  While your child always has behavior you can correct, they are doing a lot of things right too.  If you want them to keep doing those things, reward them for it.  A reward can be as simple as telling them you appreciate that they are such a loyal friend.  You don’t have to make a huge deal out of things and give them money, or take them out to a special dinner every time they do something good.  You just have to acknowledge what you see.  One of my favorite ways I’ve seen parents catch a teenager being good is when their child has followed curfew respectfully for quite a while, to tell the teen, “Next time you can stay out a half hour later.  This isn’t a permanent change, but I just wanted to let you know I’ve noticed how responsible you’ve been.”  That makes your teenager feel like a million bucks!

 

Yes, disciplining a teenager is a challenge.  However, if you feel like you’ve tried and tried without success, consider whether you’re just trying the wrong things.  When your teenager respects you because you know how to set up appropriate rules and limits, it leaves a lot more room for relationship and love between you.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT