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Connecting With Teens Instead of Only Disciplining

I am enrolled in an 8 week class on how to help parents of adopted children connect better as they bring the new child into their home. While I don’t have any adopted children (hats off to those of you who do- what a loving and selfless act), I have gleaned some very helpful information. I tried one of the techniques on my obstinate 5 year old this week and it helped me feel compassion rather than frustration when he lashed out in anger. I will take compassion towards my children over frustration any day!

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

Catch Your Teen Being Good

Catch your kid being good instead of only when they do wrong. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Catch your kid being good in order to improve the relationship.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

When I was an intern my supervisor used to tell me one of her favorite pieces of advice to give parents was to, “Catch your kid being good.”  She’d say that so often by the time a parent brings their child into counseling, they are at their wits end with their child.  She’d say exasperated parents make impatient parents; impatient parents make parents who are overly focused on the negative; parents who are overly focused on the negative make critical parents; critical parents make irritable children.

I see this in my counseling office on a pretty regular basis.  It’s not that the parents who are coming in are bad parents, or are unloving to their teenagers.  Most of the time they love their teens tremendously, but are just overwhelmed with how to help them stay on track.  Some resort to the tactic of trying to correct things as they see them.  This is fine when the relationship is in a good place.  However, if the relationship is strained then it doesn’t tend to work very well.

If you are wondering whether you might be in this cycle with your adolescent, try something different for a week and see if it helps.  As my former supervisor, Leslie Gustafson used to say, “Catch your kid being good.”

What does that mean?  We are quick to comment on, and punish our kids for doing bad.  If they score a low grade on a test, tell a lie, sneak, sass, etc., we feel we must do something about it.  When our kids are respectful, do their chores on time, are honest, etc. we think that should be status quo.  We tend to say nothing much about it because we think that’s how it should be anyway.  We save the praise for A’s on tests, going above and beyond around the house, or when our kids randomly show us extra appreciation.

For this week, try making affirming comments when you see your child just doing the status quo.  When you notice your teenager doing anything small that is the “right” thing to do, praise them.  Maybe you came home from work and noticed they had started their homework on their own.  Instead of saying, “See, isn’t it easier when you start your homework early?” which comes across as a little condescending, say, “That’s awesome that you take initiative to get your work done!”  If your teenager clears their dish after dinner, thank them.  Try to resist the urge to then remind them they also need to wipe down the table.

You have the power to change the interaction with your teenager, and the power to influence their attitude.  All it takes is a few words of praise when they are doing the small things right.  You will be kinder to them because chances are, there are parts of them that are a really good kid.  There’s also a good chance they will enjoy the praise, and want to keep doing that thing you commented on in order to get more praise from you.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Things That Raise Your Teen’s Anxiety

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Stress is overwhelming for teens.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

These are in random order:

1. The news:  Your teenagers are susceptible to the scare tactics used by the media just as much as everyone else.  What I mean by scare tactics is that bad news and anxiety cause people to  continue watching the news.  In my office I have worked with many a terrified teenager after they read about a school shooting thousands of miles away, or the war on terror, etc.  The 24 hour news cycle about COVID-19 is sending many of your kids into panic.

2. Problems with friends:  Friends are your teenager’s world.  As a parent you likely have enough perspective to realize things will iron out.  However, for your adolescent, when things are off balance with friends their whole world seems upside down.

3. Pressure to get good grades:  This is a constant source of anxiety for just about every teenager I see in my office.  Most teenagers feel they need to do better than they are doing, even when they have a 3.5 or 4.0 GPA.  Help your teen set reasonable goals and then be satisfied when these are reached.  Help them remember there’s only one valedictorian each year.

4. Parents expressing disappointment:  Your teenager might act as though he or she doesn’t care that you are disappointed in something they did.  This couldn’t be father from the truth.  Every teenager I’ve ever worked with wants their parents to approve of him or her.  However, if they don’t know how to get this approval, or if they perceive you as being regularly critical, they are more stressed.

5. Dating:  Navigating the world of dating and sexuality is very challenging for a teenager.  Whether they are painfully shy and hardly allow themselves to have a crush, or are dating constantly and sexually active, this causes stress for adolescents.  It’s really important to help your teen make wise dating choices during their adolescence.  Keep in mind that if they aren’t getting help from you, they’re getting it from other teenagers.  Who is more likely to give good advice?  So, please don’t put your head in the sand and please don’t forbid dating.  That only causes your teenagers to sneak.  Instead put good boundaries around dating and monitor it as best you can.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Tips for Keeping Teens Safe This Halloween

Keep your teens safe on Halloween with these ideas. Image courtesy of samarttiw at

Keep your teens safe on Halloween with these ideas. Image courtesy of samarttiw at

Halloween is on a Thursday.  This is an “uh-oh” for a lot of parents of teenagers.  Many of you have teens who are going to help you pass out candy, or just have a couple of friends over to watch horror movies.  That’s awesome!  Those sound like really healthy, safe ways to celebrate Halloween.


However, some of you have to worry about what your teenager will be doing and who they will be with.  Will they be drinking?  Will they be making-out with random people?  Will they be pulling pranks that might get them into trouble?  Will they be trying some weird drug at a Halloween party?


Here are 5 tips to help keep your teenagers safe this Halloween:

1. Don’t let them wear a costume if you don’t approve.  This is especially important for teenage girls.  They are at an age where they are almost expected to wear a costume that shows way too much skin.  Don’t let your teen out the door dressed as a promiscuous nurse, or provocative version of some comic book character.  You get the idea.  Halloween is a night where inappropriate dress is often accepted; you don’t have to join the crowd and just look the other way.  You can help your teenager dress up in a way where they look cute, but don’t attract the leering eye of every person they walk past.


2.  Check your teenager’s backpack.  Don’t let them leave your house with a backpack unless you know EXACTLY what’s in there.  Open bottles and smell them.  Even the best-behaved teenagers consider drinking on Halloween.  Since Halloween is on a Thursday night (so almost the weekend) the probability that they actually will drink doubles.  Your teenager might have a bottle of what looks like Gatorade, but it may be mixed with vodka.  I’m not saying you can’t trust your kid, but you just never know.  I have seen a great number of teens brought into my office because their very surprised parents caught them drinking or smoking, etc.


3.  Know where your teenager is going, who is driving them, and what the contingency plan is.  If there’s one constant with adolescents it’s that their plans change.  Make sure you and your teenager have gone over exactly what you want them to do if plans change, and how they will get there.  Make sure they communicate with you regularly throughout the night.  If you don’t hear from them at an appointed check-in time, let them know in advance what their consequence will be (The most logical one being that you go pick them up right away).


4.  Have the party at your house.  If you allow your teenager to have a bunch of their friends over then you can control their environment.  You can make sure there’s no alcohol, no making out in random bedrooms, no smoking, and no party-crashers.  You can be certain everyone has a safe ride home at the end of the night.  You get the comfort of knowing your teen is in their own bed at the end of the evening.  The downside to this is that you probably won’t get to bed when you want to, and there will likely be a mess to clean on Friday morning.  However, those might be prices you’re willing to pay to know your child is safe.


5.  Let them trick-or-treat.  A lot of parents have a cap on the age a teenager can trick-or-treat.  I really do understand this.  Overall though walking from house to house where there are a lot of small children and parents around is a pretty safe activity.  Maybe it’s a little tacky to let your seventeen year old collect a pillowcase-full of candy, but would you rather have them doing that or at an unsupervised Halloween party?  Invite them and their trick-or-treating buddies back to your house afterward for scary movies and a pizza.


The basic ideas of keeping your teenager safe on Halloween is that they are in a supervised environment, and you know exactly where they are.  You are in close contact and there is a plan in place.  Definitely let them go and have fun with their friends.  Just remind them this is a chance to earn more trust and freedom from you if they handle this holiday with maturity.


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

Why Adolescents Need Rules (if they’re the right kind)

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Parents, there are some of you who give your teenagers rules and consequences, but are very fair about it.  Bravo!  Keep it up.


There are some of you who have completely rigid rules for your teenagers.  You are grounding them all the time, and your adolescent can’t even remember the last time you had fun together.


There are still others of you who really want to be “cool” moms and dads.  You’re the parents who let your teenagers have parties at your house and you just stay upstairs.  You know it isn’t right, but you just don’t feel comfortable setting limits with your teenager.


This post is geared toward overly strict and overly permissive parenting styles. If you’re overly strict, there’s a decent chance your teenager feels criticized at every turn.  They really don’t know how to please you.  On the other hand, if you’re letting them do whatever they want, consider who will teach them about life.  Since it isn’t you, they’re going to learn it from their peers.  This means other teenagers are raising your teenager.


Setting limits for children is an essential part of helping them feel loved.  When they are two years old you might let them run around on the driveway, but you stop them from going into the street.  As they get older, they get more and more room.  By the time they are teens, they ideally are allowed a lot of say in their activities.  However, when they might metaphorically run into the street, you still stop them.


Here’s an example.  It’s great for teens to date.  Just as small children “pretend” to do adult activities, such as play house, teens “play” at adult romantic relationships.  They are learning!  It’s really good for them to do this while they still live in your house and you can guide them.  However, if you see them heading into something that is beyond their ability to manage, you stop them.  Here’s an example of what I mean: even though it’s a good idea for teens to date, it’s not a good idea for teens to have sex.  Any teen will tell you the physical risks that come with sex such as pregnancy and disease.  What they can’t articulate is the emotional risks that come with sex.  You, as an adult who has had sex, do understand the emotional risks associated with being sexually active with someone.  You understand the connection that occurs, and the emotional pain that comes if that bond is broken.


An overly strict parent will not allow their teen to even date at all because they don’t want their adolescent child anywhere near sex.  An overly permissive parent not only looks the other way if their child becomes sexually active, they might even allow the teenager’s partner to spend the night at their house.  A parent who teaches their child how to date without allowing their child to be sexually active is one who is allowing their teenager to explore who they are becoming, while lovingly placing protective limits on their teenager’s behavior.


Teen dating and sexuality is just one example.  The real point is to help you understand where to set limits on everything your teenager does.  Allow them a bigger area to roam as they earn your trust, and as they can handle it.  Don’t be so strict that while you protect them from any failures, they are not learning how to live life.  Don’t be so permissive that while they might like you better, they are exposed to things beyond their adolescent years.  Find the middle ground that keeps you in charge as the parent but lets your child develop; this is loving your teenager well.


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

Sexting among teens is false intimacy

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at




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