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Teens Earning Their Way

Having teens earn their way teaches perseverance.   Image credit: and David Castillo Dominici

Having teens earn their way teaches perseverance.
Image credit: and David Castillo Dominici

I sat with a client in the past week who is just now facing the harsh realization that life requires work.  I really felt for this person because things have always been handed to them, and suddenly that is going to stop.  This person really doesn’t know how to manage on their own.  They are definitely smart enough, but just don’t have the training needed to push through challenges because they’ve never had to struggle; if you don’t struggle as a child or teen then you don’t know how to get yourself through it when you struggle as an adult.


I don’t know how it was for you growing up, but for me, this was gradually taught.  From the time my sister and I were small we were required to do a little bit around the house.  We grew up in an affluent neighborhood, and our parents could have given us as much as all the other kids got.  They made a conscious decision to make us work for things instead.  It was incredibly frustrating as a child.  I would be invited to a birthday party, and my parents had a rule that I had to pay for half of whatever birthday gift I got for someone.  So, while my friends all gave each other designer this and that, I usually was giving them a card with a $10 bill inside (this was the mid-1990s so that was plenty).  I was too young to have a job so in order to obtain my half of the $10 bill, I would do extra chores.


When it came time to drive I was required to pay my own gas and insurance but I got to use my parents’ third car.  However, as soon as I turned 19 I had to buy my own car.  I paid for half of college, and the list goes on and on.  Whatever the next obstacle was in life, I was always required to have some skin in the game.  Each new thing was a stretch for me.  What started with half of a birthday present as a kid became finding a way to come up with $10,000 per year in tuition as a 19 year old (Debt was not an option I was allowed to choose, so I applied to every scholarship I could get my hands on).


Here’s what all this consistent earning my own way did for me: Because the next mountain to climb was always a bit of a stretch for me to afford, I learned a lot of tenacity.  I did not quit a job just because I didn’t like something about it.  I was careful to choose things with the most value; when it came time to go to college I considered both prestige and price.  I pushed myself into better and better work situations.  I learned to enjoy activities that are free or low-cost, i.e. surfing and hiking.  Most importantly, I learned a lot about gratitude.


While these lessons were painful at times growing up, I am incredibly grateful to my parents looking back.  I want nothing more than for your teenagers to be functional adults even if they have to struggle a bit now.  I’ve been told there is no better feeling than for an adult child to tell a parent thank you for the discipline they received.


Hard work and accomplishing goals equates to confidence, self-esteem, personal value, and contentedness.  Give your teenager the gift of all these things by requiring them to earn part of their way.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teens “hooking up”- No, It’s Not Okay

"Hooking up" has become normalized, acceptable and even preferred to dating among today's teenagers. Image courtesy of photostock at

“Hooking up” has become normalized, acceptable and even preferred to dating among today’s teenagers.
Image courtesy of photostock at

In a culture that has the shortest attention span in recent history, it’s no surprise our teens are “hooking up” more often than they’re dating.  Parents, this should scare the bejeezus out of you!  It scares me to death and I’m not even fearing for my own child (she’s still small), I’m worried sick about the teenagers I work with.

On the more obvious level, I worry for their physical health.  It’s not new news that diseases spread through kissing, sexual activity and sexual intercourse.  It’s also not new news that girls who participate in this type of activity with boys they don’t know very well are much more likely to be sexually assaulted.  In that case, sometimes the situation gets away from them.  What began as consensual activity progresses farther than they intended.  Actually, this goes for boys too.  While your sons aren’t as likely to complain about it aloud, I hear it in my office ALL THE TIME.  An adolescent male is “hooking up” with a girl at a party and she doesn’t seem to be stopping when things really heat up.  He wants to stop, but knows that culturally he’s not supposed to.  Before he really knows what’s happened to him, he’s squandered the virginity that he did actually value.  He wasn’t assaulted per se, but he didn’t really want to be with that girl either.

Side bar: I keep putting “hooking up” in quotes because this has become a confusing term.  In my generation the term “hook up” always meant sex.  Teens use it now to mean anything from making out to intercourse.  It’s not a very descriptive term.  If you hear your child using it, make sure to ask for clarification.

The other part of “hooking up” that really bothers me as a therapist is the lack of personal connection, self-respect, respect for commitment, and respect for the other partner- all the emotional stuff.  Most of the teenagers I work with who “hook up” have been deeply hurt by this activity.  They do this believing it will help them walk towards having a relationship, but actually makes them disposable.  There is no earning the right to a kiss after being taken on a nice date because all he has to do is give your daughter a drink or two and then they’ll become sexual (feel free to interchange he with she and daughter with son).  I realize this type of thing has been going on for years, but I’m telling you that it is more prevalent than when I was in high school in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  At least at that time we tended to be “dating” before anything would happen.  One client complained to me that the majority of her friends have a “hook-up” or a “friend with benefits,” but that nobody has a boyfriend or girlfriend.  She said she’s commonly called prude, old-fashioned, and a tease because she isn’t sexual with her male friends; she insists on being taken out for a real date.  I pointed out to her that although she is called names for this, she does actually have the respect of her male and female friends.  She agreed.  Can you believe she is made fun of for having self-respect?!?

Parents, I’m begging you to have multiple conversations with your teenagers about this.  Please, please, please teach them that their bodies are to be treasured, not given away.  Please set a strong example for them yourself.  I realize that given the statistics today, half of you reading this have gone through a divorce.  That means there are a significant number of you trying to date.  For those of you in that situation, set the example for your teens of how you’d like them to handle sex.  If you’re casual about it, they probably will be too; if you take it seriously and see it as a big deal, they probably will too.

One of the best things you can do as a parent is demand the respect your teenager deserves, and force them to give the respect their fellow teens should have.  I realize that sentence wasn’t very clear, so this is an example of what I’m talking about.  If you have a teenage son, require him to knock at the door and shake hands with a girl’s parents when he takes her out.  If you have a teen daughter, don’t let her leave the house until her date has come to the door to pick her up and shaken your hand.  If he’s clearly uncomfortable beyond the nerves any teen boy would feel standing face to face with a girl’s parents, don’t let her go with him!  Hold very firm boundaries around teen dating while still letting them figure out what it’s all about.  For goodness sake, talk to them about the destructiveness of just “hooking up!”  We want our kids to grow up healthy and free of the burdens that come with sexually transmitted diseases, wounded hearts from sex that happened too young, and the pain of being cast off after giving everything to another person.

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

Video Gaming Addiction

There’s a growing concern that teenagers, and especially male teens, are becoming increasingly dependent on online video games.  Many teenagers play for hours every day.  Parents have called with concerns that their sons (and sometimes daughters) are disconnecting from life.  Let’s look at a case my supervisor encountered a few years back.

She had a 15-year-old male come into therapy for depression and anxiety.  During the intake she discovered he was not going to bed until 2:00 or 3:00am most nights.  When she explored the reason for this he said, “I can’t get my homework done.”  Given that he finished sports at 4:00pm each afternoon, she found this to be unusual.  When she dug a little deeper, she realized he was consistently violating the 1 hour of video games per day rule his parents had set for him.  She found out he was actually playing 5-6 hours of video games per day, and 12-15 hours on weekend days.  No matter what his parents did he found a way around it.  They eventually shut down the internet.  He crawled under his covers in his bed and become utterly despondent.  He wouldn’t get out of bed to eat, shower, or go to school.  He held out so long that his parents gave back in, “but just for 1 hour per day.”  That worked well for about 2 weeks until he started pushing the boundary again.  This cycle continued.  Finally, his parents destroyed all his devices.  He became suicidal, which terrified them to the point they gave him new devices.  They allowed him to home-school thinking this would help him complete everything so he could get to bed on time.  It didn’t work.  This boy had a severe online gaming addiction.

I’m not sure your teenager is at such an extreme place, but if that is sounding a little familiar then read on.  Video gaming addiction is especially common in role-playing games (RPGs).  In these games your child makes up a character and lives in a fantasy world.  Imagine the allure for an adolescent who isn’t especially popular in real life.  The brain’s reaction to feeling powerful, well-liked, and purposeful is intense.  There is another side to the story though.

If your son or daughter is spending hours and hours in front of a screen living in a false world, what skills are being developed?  Is your teenager learning how to cope with the nuances of real life?  Is your teenager learning to socialize, date, do physical activity, or have enough self-control to go to bed at a good hour?  Yes, your teen is physically safe from harm because they are sitting at home, but there is another, more subtle harm being done.

Video gaming addiction is an actual thing, and very hard on a family.  Your teenager must learn to live without games but still use a computer.  Your teenager will experience REAL withdrawals when you pull the plug.  There isn’t a happy medium for a child who has this addiction.  Cutting back is a short-term solution.  It’s like someone who has quit smoking cigarettes saying they plan to only have one when they drink.  That will work for a time, but soon enough they will be smoking again.

I know this is heart-breaking for you and your family.  I know you feel some level of guilt for buying the games in the first place.  No matter what got you here, just accept the problem as it is and begin to walk forward.  Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step.  The second step is equally as important; you must reach out for help.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Cameron Munholland, MMFT, Associate MFT

Screen Addiction In Teens

We have several therapists at Teen Therapy OC. Recently Cameron has joined our team as an Associate Therapist. I’ve asked him to contribute some of his thoughts on screen addiction since he is a great resource for you if your teenager is struggling with this. For the next few weeks you’ll have written blogs and vlogs from Cameron on this topic.

Here Are Cameron’s words:

As a therapist, when I diagnose an “addiction,” I’m asking a few key questions. This is true of any type of addiction, including technology. Go ahead and ask yourself these 5 questions about your teenager to help you determine whether he/she might be addicted to screen time.

1) When there isn’t access to technology, does your teen’s mood worsen?

2) Is the threat of taking away video games, the cell phone, computer or tablet the only thing that motivates your teen to get things done?

3) Has their use increased over time?

4) Will your teenager sneak in order to access it even at times when it is clearly not allowed?

5) Is your teenager’s screen time interfering with their social life, academics, athletics or family time?

If your teenager borders on too much screen time, then the answer to some of these questions will be yes. However, if your teen has a complete addiction, then you probably answered yes to all these questions.

I imagine you’ve become afraid to go cold turkey and just cut off the internet in your house. You worry about the anger and depression your teen will experience while withdrawing. You’re not alone in this fear. Some parents have become so nervous about this, or had such difficulty breaking their teen’s technology addiction, they’ve had to send their adolescent to a residential treatment program.

It’s a tricky thing for parents to navigate. When we grew up we had one or two phone lines in the house, and maybe a pager. Now everything is private and individual. I couldn’t have imagined everyone in the home having a separate phone number when I was a teen. Could you have? So now you’re forced to parent something you never experienced as a teen. You know your teen needs to socialize, exercise, and get out of the house, but you also know they need to be very computer literate for many future jobs; it’s a fine line.

Over the course of the next few weeks I want to walk the journey with you through the sides of technology addiction that harm teenagers. While I won’t be able to cover everything, I want to address some key areas. I will post one blog and one accompanying video on the following facets of screen addiction that I see in my counseling practice: addiction to pornography, addiction to social media, addiction to video gaming, and addiction to entertainment streaming (like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime). Each has its own unique problems, and in some ways they all have overlapping problems.

My goal in sharing this information with you is that you feel empowered as a parent to refocus your family on what is most important. I want you to know you’re in the right when you work towards reconnecting with your teenager; you’re in the right when you help your adolescent live a well-rounded life. I want to see your teen hanging out with friends, engaging with the family, passionately pursuing indoor and outdoor hobbies, and learning how to use the internet to support your teen’s God-given purpose instead of having it as your teen’s sole purpose.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Cameron Munholland, MMFT, Associate MFT