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Happiness for Teens

Happiness for Teens

Positive thinking improves your whole life. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Positive thinking improves your whole life.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Happiness For Teens: How do today’s teens seek happiness?

Happiness for teens is elusive.  If you’re reading blogs on this site, it probably means either you or someone you love deeply is struggling to find happiness.  I’ve been there too.  It really hurts.  It can be such a struggle to find more than just fleeting enjoyment.

We look to things like a new outfit, the latest video game, a trip to a theme park, something good to eat, or especially social media.  We know these things are associated with pleasure.  For a few minutes, and maybe a few hours if we’re lucky, we feel happy.  These things keep us coming back.  Ultimately though, they wind up empty.

5 things that contribute to more lasting happiness for teens:

1.  Actively demonstrating gratitude.

There are most certainly people in your life that you rely on.  Whether it’s that weekly call with your mom you use to vent, or your assistant at work who schedules your meetings.  If you’re a teenager, then it’s that one teacher who always actually listens, or your friend at school who sits next to you at lunch each day without fail.  Try your best to visibly thank someone each day.  Send a text, an email, write a note, etc.  If you just do this once a day you will truly increase your happiness; you and your teen can find more happiness.

2.  Control your thoughts.  

It’s really easy to think nobody cares about you.  You believe you’re not as smart as the next person, or that you will never amount to anything much.  It’s harder to remind yourself of why these thoughts are simply untrue.

Happy people work hard to fight their negative thoughts.  The first step is to recognize them.  The second step is to honestly test them.  The third step is to reshape them.  If you think nobody cares about you, you need to test this theory.  You don’t need to actively do anything, you just need to look back at the last 24 hours.  Did anyone say hello to you, hug you, smile at you, give you a ride somewhere, send you a message, etc?  If even one person did any of those things, then you need to reshape your thought to something more positive.  You might change it to something like, ‘At least one person cares about me.’ Happy teens are more successful at fighting their negative thoughts.

3. Get in the habit of smiling.

People wait for someone to smile at them first.  If you’re both doing this, nobody ends up smiling.  Smile first.  It might feel awkward, but you get incredible results.  If you smile more, others interpret you as more friendly.  They want to be around you more.  You end up happier.  Also, the muscles we use to smile are linked to the “happiness center” in our brain. In fact, smiling is healthy.  When you smile your brain automatically feels happier. Happiness for teens is more achievable with a smile.

4.  Exercise: An Important Part of Happiness for Teens.

People who do some sort of daily exercise are happier. You will have more energy. Teens who exercise regularly also have a better body image. Consistent exercise is an important ingredient for happiness in teens.

5.  Prayer or meditation.

5 minutes a day is not much time.  If you stop for 5 minutes and slow down your mind, you will gain hours of a better mood.  Better moods equal increased productivity.  Increased productivity equals a feeling of accomplishment, which is linked to happiness. Additionally, prayer accomplishes this. Plus, then you’re connecting with God and He loves you.

Most, if not all, of these tips are things you’ve heard and read before.  What’s keeping you from actually putting them into practice?  It probably takes 1 week of actively doing these things to increase your overall happiness.  Happiness is the result of habits, not the result of luck.  This means it’s something you make.  As humans our natural state is one of complaint, irritation, and frustration.  This can be overcome, but you have to work at it.  You can do it!  Use that positive thinking to tell yourself you can!

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Overwhelmed Teen in a Busy Age

Overwhelmed Teen in a Busy Age

Is Your Teen Overwhelmed?

Many teens are overwhelmed in today’s culture (about one third). Constant activity exhausts them. The activity isn’t always physical. They can appear to be resting, but they are still stimulating their mind with screens. There is literally no downtime. Between screens, scheduled activities, and a highly competitive culture, yes, our overwhelmed teenagers are everywhere.

Overwhelmed teen girl sitting head down feeling depressed
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In an America where we feel pressure to give our kids every edge, it’s hard to discern what is important and what isn’t. I’m a mom, and I struggle with this too. We seem to think everything is important. We’re all worried about building their resume so they can look good to colleges. We love our kids and we want to give them the opportunity to build a good future. But what does that mean? Is a good future just career opportunities? What about learning to balance passions with work? What about making sure adolescents learn self-control with how to budget time? It’s very hard to help teenagers navigate their future in this post-modern era.

Are Overwhelmed Teens Really Set Up for Success?

What if we spend so much time making sure the chance to succeed exists that we forget to teach our overwhelmed teenagers what to actually do with the opportunity?  What if they get to the college of their (or maybe your) dreams but then they aren’t mature enough to make the most of their education?

Teens need to learn some very essential skills growing up.  They need to learn how to function in a working environment (usually accomplished through school and first jobs).  We are really good at focusing on that.  However, there is a lot more to being a successful adult than just knowing how to get a good job.  Your adolescent has to also learn how to take care of himself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.  It’s important to have a child who knows how to make good food and exercise choices.  Your child has to know how to cope with challenging emotional situations.  You want your teen to have a relationship with their faith.  It’s also important for your child to know how to build and maintain friendships. There are so many facets to a “successful life.”

What Can I Do to Help My Teen?

If you find your teenager is feeling overwhelmed all the time, it’s time to get back to basics.  Chances are there is too much emphasis on developing one area of their person.  Perhaps they are playing a high level of sports that requires 20+ hours per week of their time.  Unless your child is going pro (and they most likely aren’t), that’s excessive.  That’s too much emphasis on one thing.  Or, in other cases teens experience overwhelm because they have 5 AP classes.  That’s also too much emphasis on one area.  Balance in life coupled with knowing how to achieve goals is ideal. Work on balance. Work on helping your teenager think through what matters for THEIR life instead of what their friends are all doing.

A Personal Story of an Overwhelmed Teen

I know one young man who placed all his emphasis on developing the ability to work.  He took multiple AP classes and went to USC.  That’s quite an accomplishment.  However, when he got there, the rest of life caught up with him.  He didn’t know how to relate to people without succumbing to peer pressure. Between partying in college and not knowing how to handle it, he failed out. So, he ended up at community college and living at home. Likewise, he spent the next two years catching up on maturing in the other areas of life. Finally, he transferred to LMU, graduated and got a good job. He ended up fine, but he had a massive struggle because he worked too hard on one area of life throughout his adolescence.

Wrapping It Up

So, if your teen is consistently overwhelmed, take a look at the balance in their life.  See whether they might be working too much at one thing and neglecting another.  Help them establish goals to be a whole person instead of just one dimensional. Hopefully that helps, but if they continue to feel overwhelmed, please feel free to reach out. Usually overwhelmed adolescents are simply too busy, but sometimes there is something else going on. In those cases, therapy can be helpful.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Can Teens Be Alcoholics?

Can Teens Be Alcoholics?

Can teens be alcoholics? Yes. Picture is of a martini. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Teenage alcoholism does exist, and is a real problem.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Teen Alcoholism

Can teens be alcoholics? Unfortunately, yes. Usually, when we think “alcoholic,” we really don’t picture teenagers.  We think they’re too young to have developed a dependency on alcohol.  We assume it’s not really that easy for them to get ahold of alcohol, so how could they have a need to drink on a daily basis?

Most of the time teenagers are not daily drinkers, if they drink at all.  If they do have alcohol with their friends, they’re occasional party-situation drinkers.  Still, if you ask your teenager, they can all name one or two other teenagers who has a reputation for “always” being drunk.

Can Teens Be Alcoholics? Teen Blackout Drinking

These are the teens I worry about as a therapist.  These are the teens who come back to school each Monday and tell everyone else about how they were “so f***ed up this weekend” that they can’t remember anything.  They don’t realize this is blackout drinking.  Blackout drinking has a very, very high correlation with future alcoholism.

These are the adolescents who don’t know how to stop.  Every single time they drink, the only thing that stops them is their body.  Oftentimes, they either start vomiting, or they pass out.  Otherwise they are continuing to take shots, sip a beer, or have a some sort of mixed drink. When we ask, “Can teens be alcoholics?” we can all think of someone we knew in high school who was like this. Did they become an alcoholic? The girl I’m thinking of did. Thankfully, she’s now thriving in recovery, but her 20s were tough.

The Adolescent Who Needs Alcohol to Socialize

The teenagers who often develop alcoholism are the ones who don’t know how to be at a social gathering without alcohol.  If they go bowling with friends, they bring something in a waterbottle.  Likewise, if they go to a school dance, they mix rum in their cokes at the restaurant before the dance (One of my best friends in high school did this. Sadly, he ended up with an addiction problem).  In addition, they also know where the after party will be held.  They are completely convinced they are just being social, but they are actually developing a frightening alcohol dependency.

Most people who becomes daily drinkers start with binge drinking weekends while they are teenagers.  Eventually, they binge drink every weekend.  Moreover, they look for a “kickback” or party during the week from time to time.  Before they realize it, they might steal just a few sips of mom and dad’s alcohol to relax at the end of a hard day.  Finally, they are drinking daily.

When Is It Teen Alcoholism?

Teenagers can be completely dependent on alcohol.  They can have physical withdrawals just like an adult can.  Also, they can be addicted enough to need a physical detox under the supervision of a medical doctor.  As with adults, teens can need rehab for alcoholism in some cases.

It’s really important to keep an eye on your teenager.  If you notice they want to party all the time and seem restless when there isn’t a party, it’s reasonable to worry a little bit.  If all the friends surrounding them use alcohol and have a cavalier attitude about it, it’s another reason to be concerned.  Despite how easy it is to look the other way and just assume teenagers party, you can’t afford to be naive.  Most teens that do party really only use alcohol once a month or so.  Even then, those that do rarely drink to the point where they are throwing up or passing out.  That tends to be reserved for the adolescents who are at high risk of addiction.

If this describes your child, I imagine you must feel very scared.  Chiefly, it seems like all your efforts to control their behavior are fruitless.  It is really overwhelming.  Oftentimes this is the point at which getting professional help for your teen (if they will cooperate) and for yourself (especially if your teenager doesn’t comply with treatment) can be really important. There is a National Help Line for addicts and families of addicts. Find out more at https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.

So, can teens be alcoholics? Sadly, yes they can. If you are facing this with your child, my heart goes out to you. But also know, there is always hope.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Click here for more information on teen anxiety therapy.

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Does Anxiety Warrant Therapy?

When Does Anxiety Warrant Therapy?

When anxiety warrants therapy. Girl holding head in her hands. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
It can be hard for teens to deal with anxiety on their own.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

When to Seek Therapy for Anxiety

If your teen is overwhelmed and anxious, it’s hard to watch as a parent.  It makes you worry and feel concerned.  You might start to wonder if you should have them see a therapist.  It’s often hard for parents to know, “When does anxiety warrant therapy?”

Here’s some things to look out for that might help you know when it’s time to call a counselor:

1.  Your teenager says they are struggling to get rid of their anxiety.  

If they are anxious about a very specific, time-limited situation such as an exam, that’s one thing.  However, if your teenager is worried about something very long-term such as school in general, then they are struggling to control their anxiety.  In that case, calling a counselor is a great idea.

2.  Therapy might help if your teenager is having trouble sleeping because of stress.  

If your son or daughter tells you they can’t fall asleep, or can’t stay asleep because their mind won’t stop spinning, there are a couple things you can try with them.  Have them write down a list of worries, and a 1-sentence plan for each concern before bed.  Sometimes this helps people let things go enough to sleep.  They can also try prayer, meditation, or reading before bed.  All these things are distracting and calming.  If your teenager feels completely overwhelmed at night though, and can’t seem to figure out how to stop it, it’s probably time to call a counselor.

3.  Your teenager is having panic attacks anxiety therapy might be warranted.  

Panic attacks are caused by a completely overwhelming sense of anxiety that is so severe it manifests as physical symptoms.  The heart races, there can be tightness in the chest, a shortness of breath, sweating and hot flashes, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.  This almost always requires the assistance of a therapist.  Often panic disorder also requires the help of a psychiatrist (medication).

4.  Your teenager is extremely uncomfortable in social situations.

 Your teen analyzes everything they said to someone to make sure it didn’t come across as strange.  They feel really nervous around their peers.  They wish they had more friends, but can’t calm down enough to be themselves.  Their mind freezes and they almost can’t remember how to talk in front of other teenagers.  Social anxiety is upsetting and debilitating for a teenager.  It’s very important for their psychological development to get them help in this case.

5.  This one will seem obvious, but when your teen asks for help.  

A lot of parents don’t take their adolescents seriously when they ask for counseling.  They assume it’s just a phase, and maybe they want to try it because their friends do it too.  While that is sometimes true, most of the time teenagers ask for help when they feel desperate.  Perhaps your son or daughter has dealt with anxiety for awhile, and finally has the nerve to let you know.

Parenting is so hard sometimes.  We all wish it came with a clear-cut instruction manual.  I know I do! It can be difficult to know the answer to the question, “When does anxiety warrant therapy?”  Instead we’re left constantly shifting and adjusting to the different personalities our children have, and the changing phases they go through.  Parenting is more like a dance or an art than an exact science.  There’s no one size fits all answer to most parenting questions, and when to get your child therapy is one of those questions.  At the very least feel free to call and we can talk it over.  Asking is always free.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Lower Homework Stress With Better Study Habits

Lower Homework Stress With Better Study Habits

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Lower Homework Stress With Better Habits. Image is of a Chalkboard with "School" written on it. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why Have Better Study Habits? To Lower Homework Stress!

Hi Teenagers, better study habits equals reduced homework stress! Who doesn’t want lower homework stress?

Are you completely burned out and sick of forever doing homework?  Does it seem like a never-ending pile of pointless worksheets, essays, math problems, projects and labs?  How I remember those days!  Sometimes I had so much homework that I spent an entire Sunday just trying to catch up.  On really, really bad days I remember staying up until I crashed, and then waking myself up at 3 or 4am to work on it again before going to school.  Yuck!

The good news is if you work hard now, it pays dividends later.  Once you finish school and have a job, you generally get to do your work at work.  Home is for just being home.  This isn’t always true as there are lots of jobs that require some extra stuff to be done at home, but for the most part you’re workday ends when you leave work.

However, being that you’re probably at least a few years of high school and several years of college away from no more homework, let’s talk about some things to do now to ease the burden.  This information was given to me by a friend who tutors AP Physics students, and teaches at the high school level.

4 Tips For Lowering School Stress

1. Take the appropriate classes:  

Challenge yourself and do your best.  However, you don’t have to take every possibly AP class that’s ever been offered. For some of you, this raises your stress to a level where you don’t perform. Some of these classes assign so much homework that you come to hate them. It is important to learn that sometimes lower homework stress can equal better quality work.

Besides, even if you’re trying to get into a top notch university, that doesn’t guarantee your future success.  What college you attend doesn’t actually mean very much a few years out of school.  As a result, don’t over-focus on this.  What is important is how well you do at whatever college you do attend.  You will need to get to know the professors, and collaborate with one or two of them on projects and studies.  This makes you a stand-out whether you attend community college or Harvard.  So, for now, take classes that get you where you want to go, but stop there.  Know your limits.  There is more to life than just academic success.

2. Work while your working:  

Part of the reason adults don’t have homework is because they work while they’re at work.  When you sit down to do homework, focus on getting your work done.  If you don’t allow your mind to wander, phone to distract you, or TV to entertain you, you really do get things done A LOT faster.  You can probably read a page out of your history book each minute or two if you are really reading it.  Also, you will absorb more of it so you won’t have to study as hard later.

3. Work smarter: 

So many students don’t know how to study efficiently.  It’s important to study what you don’t know, and just browse over what you do know.  Skim read when you can, and read in depth when you need to.

4.  Study regularly:  

Cramming doesn’t work.  It also inhibits your sleep.  You perform better if you’re well rested.

This resource from UNC is excellent for learning how to study effectively in college. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait! Many of these ideas and techniques can help you now!

From the perspective of a therapist, following my friend’s advice can really help you reduce your stress.  I want nothing more than for you to live a life you can enjoy, while still learning how to work hard.  I want to see you mature into an adult who can withstand some pressure, but doesn’t create extra pressure because of bad work habits.  School is an opportunity to learn how to work smart, and manage stress.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Update on PTSD Treatment

Update on PTSD Treatment

Teen Boy With Head in Hands Because He Has PTSD.

Last month CE4Less.com was kind enough to offer a free class on treatment for PTSD in veterans in honor of Veteran’s Day. I learned so much from this class that I’ve changed my strategy in dealing with trauma in general. While we rarely work with veterans at Teen Therapy OC, it has been easy to apply the techniques to adolescent and young adult clients.

The class introduced Cognitive Processing Therapy. This is a prescripted, step by step process of working through trauma that has led to nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilence, fear, anxiety, insomnia, and/or the depression associated with PTSD. So far my clients with PTSD have responded positively to this protocol.

I think in the case of my clients who are in the middle of the CPT treatment, they feel better because CPT doesn’t require them to talk directly about the events that occurred. It instead allows the client to explore how the events are affecting them today. It lets them find out what internalized messages related to trust, relationships, self-governance, and boundaries have come out of the trauma. Many clients don’t realize they are living by a set of “rules” they created for themselves as a result of their trauma. These rules are almost always self-protective in a way that doesn’t adapt well to their current life.

Here’s an example modified to keep complete confidentiality for my clients: When Jane was 16 she got drunk at a high school party. She was not so drunk that she blacked out the experience. She remembers making out with a guy who nobody else seemed to really know at the party. He convinced her to go out to his car. When they were there, Jane was assaulted by this guy and it really scared her. She got home safely, but Jane didn’t tell anyone what happened. A few months later she began to have nightmares. She became jumpy when friends at school tried to hug her. She started to feel withdrawn, fearful, and powerless. She also felt paranoid each time she saw a black SUV drive by that it could be this guy in his car. Six months after the assault, Jane felt like she’d lost herself to a prison of anxiety, flashbacks, and a sense that the world could not be trusted.

Jane came to counseling and was diagnosed with PTSD. She was relieved to know there was an explanation, but she didn’t know what to do to get her life back. She didn’t feel ready to share details of the event because that felt too overwhelming. She was thankful she could start CPT without going into detail about her trauma. She was able to complete the first steps (impact statement and stuck points) and already see there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

In no way do I profess to be an expert at the administration of CPT just because I took one class. There are therapists with more training in this treatment protocol. I do have extensive experience with teenagers though, and some begin therapy to talk about what they think is bothering them only to discover their symptoms are in response to a trauma. I’m incredibly grateful to have this tool available to help. It seems to be working well. I’m also grateful to the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs for making these tools free to clinicians so they can guide their clients through this process.

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