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Build Character in Your Teens, Not Reputation

Character is more important than reputation. Image credit: stockimages at
Character is more important than reputation.
Image credit: stockimages at

Build Character, Not Reputation

Teens (and many adults I’m afraid) are more concerned with building a good reputation than building their character. But, it’s more important to build character, not reputation.  Teenagers, this means you will do or say things in front of one group of friends that you wouldn’t in front of another group.  Maybe you curse around your friends, but you wouldn’t do that in front of your mom and dad.  You want your friends to think you’re easy going and you want to fit in with them.  You also want your parents to think you’re respectful and use clean language.

Adolescents, when you see your parents more concerned with reputation than character, you complain bitterly about it.  You can’t stand it actually.  The way I know this is because as a therapist who works mostly with teens, I hear this from you on a regular basis.  You say your parents are hypocrites.  It bothers you that they get over-the-top angry if you lie about where you and your friends are going, but then your parents turn around and lie to their boss about where they were.  Anytime you see yourself being directed to do one thing, and then your parents don’t follow those rules, it drives you absolutely crazy.  It drives everyone crazy when someone works hard at creating a good reputation, but when nobody is looking their behavior doesn’t match.  We don’t trust people who do that (i.e. politicians).

Building Reputation is About Fitting In

I’m asking you to check-in with yourself to see whether you do this.  Most adolescents do.  Most teenagers are more concerned with how they appear to others than who they really are.  What I mean by this is that you’ll drink at a party because you almost feel like you have to even though on the inside you’re secretly against drinking.  Or, you’ll cheat on a test or paper in order to maintain those perfect grades.  You’re more worried about your GPA looking good to a college than you are about the unseen, internal damage you do to your character every time you cheat.

When I was a teenager I was extremely guilty of this.  I was sexually active with my boyfriend, but I lied about it to certain groups of friends.  I was part of a Christian youth group.  In front of the leadership there, and my friends from there I would talk about how I was a virgin (and thought I could call myself that because I wasn’t technically having “sex”).  In front of my friends who weren’t part of the church I was much more honest about my behavior.  This is because I was much more concerned with reputation than character.  When I got older and more mature, I changed my focus to character instead of reputation.  Then I made the changes in my life that actually matched what I professed to believe.

When you make a good reputation your focus, you end up having to lie.  Oftentimes, you end up feeling very insecure.  You feel like a fraud, and that’s because in some ways you are.  You have to worry about being found out and feeling shame.

Building Character Is About Integrity

When you build character, you end up free.  Consequently, you no longer have to care what anyone thinks about the things you do.  You are so focused on choosing the right thing no matter who is looking, that you become the same person in every circumstance.  You don’t behave hypocritically because you truly act on what you believe is morally correct in your heart whether or not someone will see you.  Interestingly enough, good reputation automatically follows good character.  People trust you because they know you are always the same you.  Your parents and your friends like you better.  You are trusted at work and at school.  When you do mess up, you are often shown more grace because your word is good.  Best of all, you don’t have anything to hide when you say your prayers to God.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When Does Anxiety Warrant Therapy?

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

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

Effective Listening with Teens

Mom not using effective listening with her teen. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Teens don’t want to be lectured all the time; it stops them from sharing with you.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Improve Your Parenting With Effectively Listening with Teens

Ever wonder why your teenager doesn’t talk to you?  Have you ever missed the days when they were little and they actually shared what they did for the day?  You hear about some of your friends whose teens share everything with them, and you wish that were you. Listening effectively with your teens can help your teen become more open with you.

Every week I sit across the therapy room from tens of adolescents.  When they start counseling I always ask them whether they feel close with their parents.  Some say yes and others say no.  Of those who say yes, nearly all of their parents have one thing in common: they don’t judge what their teenager shares with them.  Of those why say no, their parents usually have this in common: their teen does feel judgment when they share anything, so they stop sharing.

What kind of parent are you?  It’s hard for us to self-reflect on this.  It’s a fine line to walk anyhow because we need to course correct our children if they say something crass, or talk about a friend who is into some really bad stuff.  On the other hand, if our kids are talking about how tough a Spanish test was, they will resent advice on how to study better next time unless they are directly asking for it.

Reflective Listening

For most people, listening reflectively is very difficult.  We naturally want to help!  When someone shares something they are having difficulty with, we want to fix it for them.  Unfortunately this backfires a lot of the time.  Teenagers end up perceiving advice as judgement.  They feel frustrated with unsolicited advice.

According to, effective listening starts with minimizing distractions. I know that seems obvious. However, showing you are listening distraction-free is important to your teen. Set your screens aside, sit down, and face them. It’s okay to ask the same from them. Note that some teens, especially males, speak more openly without direct eye contact. In that case, sit side by side.

If you would like to hear more and more from your teen, use all your strength to refrain from comment.  You certainly don’t have to give your approval of things you don’t agree with.  On the other hand, if your teenager is telling you about something one of their friends did, just nod along and say, “uh-huh.”  In extreme situations you might have to get involved or give an opinion, such as if your teen says their friend is suicidal.  However, if your teenager is talking about a friend who regularly cheats on their homework, try not to say anything about that friend being an awful person.  The truth is, they might not be.  They might lack integrity in their schoolwork, but only because they are desperate to improve a grade.  While that’s not an acceptable excuse to cheat, it’s certainly something we can all understand.

For those of you who don’t have a really open relationship with your teenager, it’s tough.  You probably don’t even know where to begin.  Hang in there and be patient.  Your teenager actually wants your affection and attention, but just not if it comes with a lot of negative commentary.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teaching integrity to teens

Teaching integrity to teens leads to a whole heart. Image courtesy of Teerapun /

Integrity is learned best by your example.
Image courtesy of Teerapun /

Why Teach Integrity to Teens?

We must be teaching integrity to teens because it creates a sense of wholeness. It is a discipline in many religions that prevents us from experiencing internal distress. Likewise, it is hard to be internally incongruent with how we present ourselves. Similarly, teenagers who are taught integrity are able to feel high levels of self-esteem.

What Is Integrity and Why is it Important for my Teen?

1. Integrity:  This means you are the same person in the light as you are in the dark.  When nobody is watching your behavior, is the same as it is when everyone is watching?  If you own your own business, do you declare all your income, even your cash?  If you tell your children they cannot be sexually active outside marriage, are you sexually active outside marriage?  Over time your teenagers can tell whether you are hypocritical when you can get away with it.  They follow your example.  If you exhibit and value integrity, they will too.

By modeling integrity to your teenager, you are teaching them how to earn trust. Teenagers trust their friends who don’t gossip about them, pay them back when they borrow a few dollars, and who keep secrets they promise to keep. Correspondingly, your teenager is much more trustworthy to others when your teen has integrity. This means that your teen will keep friends, earn respect from teachers, and get along better with you. Consequently, your teen will have high self-esteem.

How Does Therapy Help Teach Integrity to Teenagers?

Counseling for teens can be very important in teaching teens integrity. One of the main goals of therapy is self-discovery. It is a lot easier to be congruent to your values if you’ve explored what those values are. Counseling then encourages you to examine whether you are being true to those values.

For example, I (Lauren) profess to live by Christian values. When I went through my own counseling, I discovered I was spending an inordinate amount of time exercising. After more exploration, my therapist helped me see that I was not living to my professed Christian value of having God before all else. I was putting my own body shape and appearance before all else. In Christianity we call this having an idol. No wonder I was living with emotional knots! I wasn’t living with integrity. Things in my emotional and spiritual life improved significantly after this discovery because I got my behaviors in line with my heart.

What Can I Do to Teach Integrity to my Teen?

There are a few steps you can take to teach integrity to your teenager. First of all, take a few minutes to write out what values you hold in your heart. Secondly, write out how closely you live to those values. Thirdly (and this is the hardest one), write out the values you are showing with your behavior that you don’t actually want. Fourthly, commit to a few small changes that will help you line up with your values. Once you have this down for a few weeks, try repeating the exercise with your teen. Most will go along with you if you first admit that you also needed a tune-up.

If you think teaching integrity to your teen is too hard given what is happening in your family, don’t hesitate to contact us to see if counseling can help.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Improving Relationships With Our Teens

Building a Strong Relationship with Your Teens

Improving relationships with our teens is possible. Smiling father and son. Image courtesy of photostock at
Having a good parent-child relationship with a teenager is an achievable goal.
Image courtesy of photostock at

Improving relationships with our teens is effort well spent. To some, the idea seems daunting. “How will I ever get my teen to respect and like me?” you wonder. Still, teenagers who have one caring adult in their life fare far better as adults than those who don’t (see article). Hopefully, this means the interactions have an element of friendship underneath; this gives you more permission to have the parental interactions when they are needed.

Steps for Improving Our Relationship with Our Teens

Tracking The Improvement in Your Relationship with Your Child

That said, if you decide improving your relationship with your teenager is one of your new goals, then it’s time to plan.  Firstly, let’s figure out a few reasonable ways you can track yourself to see how you’re doing.  For example, if you yell when you’re frustrated, try writing a quick note on a calendar at the end of each day: “Good today,” or “Yelled too much today.”  While it’s simple, holding yourself accountable is the key to changed behavior.  The other key is sticking with it.  It supposedly takes 7 weeks to change a habit.  That’s 49 days. In theory, tracking behavior every day for a month and a half elicits change.

Be Patient with the Process of Improving Your Relationship with Your Adolescent

Secondly, you must be patient.  When you become nicer to people in your family, they won’t even notice at first.  They will go on reacting towards you the way they always have.  Keep in mind, you probably have to give it about three weeks before you notice them starting to be kinder in return. For their part, your adolescents won’t even realize they are being nicer in return.  It eventually just starts to happen.  Sadly, many parents I work with lose patience with this process because it is hard to make a huge effort for three weeks.  Also, it’s very challenging not to get caught up in the garbage your teen can dish out.

Give Yourself Grace When Learning to Get Along with Your Teen

Thirdly, have grace towards yourself.  Unlike a New Year’s Resolution to run 4 days a week, you can’t measure your behavior and emotions in the same way.  You can resolve to do 4 nice things for your teenager per week that you wouldn’t normally do, but you can’t decide to be kind 4 times per week and then have a perfect relationship.  We have to be trying ALL the time to improve our relationship with our teens, while constantly forgiving ourselves for returning to our old ways.  In essence, you have to push the reset button in your mind 20 times a day.  When you do speak harshly to your teenager, or allow them to push you around, or whatever you’re trying to change, just take a deep breath and get back on the path.  Eventually, this gets easier. I promise!

Eyes on the Prize (Getting Closer to Your Teen)

Finally, don’t lose sight of the reward at the end.  You need to consistently visualize what things will be like once you’ve achieved the goal of an improved relationship.  To this end, maybe you imagine hugging your son each morning when he’s on his way out the door to school.  Similarly, perhaps you picture your daughter wanting to take a walk with you on a Saturday morning.  Or, maybe you see yourselves sending funny little text messages to one another throughout the day.  Whatever it is, don’t lose track of where you’re headed. Dave Ramsey always says, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”  While he’s a money guy and I’m a psychology lady, I wholeheartedly agree. 

To put it another way, you need a tangible goal to achieve. Don’t try and picture being best friends with your teenager. That’s not likely to happen anyhow (And you want them to have their own friends).  Just keep your focus on things looking a little better than they do right now.

When to Seek Counseling to Get Along Better with a Teenager

For some of you, improving your relationship with your teenager feels like it’s beyond a simple blog post. In those cases, our counselors at Teen Therapy OC can help. We’re always happy to spend a few minutes free of charge on the phone with you or to answer an email or two. This helps you determine next steps such as whether therapy is the right direction.

In summary, counseling usually helps when there is little to no respect between you and your teenager. Also, some parents come to the point where they cannot trust their adolescent child. If that is you, therapy is a good place to start. And, if you suspect your teen’s mental health is a factor in why things aren’t going as well between you as they used to, therapy becomes vital.

Our Hope for You as You Improve Your Relationship with Your Teen

Our hope and prayer for you is that this is a year filled with joy and blessings in your relationships with your children.  We pray also that you learn as much from them as they do from you. Yes we want times of teaching and learning, but we also want you and your teen to have fun and joy!

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Phone Addiction (And Other Issues)

A family connected because of reduced teen phone addiction. Image courtesy of photostock at

Disciplining teenagers doesn’t have to be a fight
Image courtesy of photostock at

Disciplining Teens Effectively

Teen phone addiction is a growing problem, and it sometimes requires consequences to break the cycle. When your kids are little giving consequences is easy.  You sit them in time-out for a few minutes if they misbehave.  If your kids are throwing a temper tantrum you completely ignore them until it stops and they ask nicely.  When they misuse a toy you take it from them.  As they get older it gets harder.  However, a lot of parents try and use the same techniques (albeit modified) with teenagers for teen phone addiction, ditching school, and talking back (among other behaviors) that they used with small children.

This is what I mean.  A teenager violates a rule such as ditching school.  You put them in “teenager time-out,” which means you ground them.  Your teen “throws a temper tantrum,” which means they are talking back to you and possibly even screaming obscenities.  You ignore them or argue back.  Your cell phone addicted adolescent sneaks the phone at night, or in other words, “misuses a toy.”  You take it from them.  Some of these techniques work for certain kids, but for others, these types of consequences seem ineffective.

When Teens Ditch Class

How do you give consequences to a teenager?  Your teenager is nearing adulthood.  They need to feel the pain of adult consequences while you’re still there to guide them through it.  When your teenager ditches school and the school calls to ask where your child is, it’s better not to bail them out by telling the school your kid came home sick, with the idea that you will handle the punishment.  It’s usually better for your teen’s character development to tell the school that you don’t know where your child is, and you assume they must have cut class.  You then ask the school to levy an appropriate consequence such as Saturday school.  When your teenager comes home you very calmly tell them you received a call from the school today.  You tell your teen it will be a bummer to serve Saturday school.  If they ask you to help them move the Saturday school because they have work or a big game, etc., you just say calmly, “Well you felt old enough to decide whether or not you should attend class, so I guess that means you’re old enough to figure it out now.  Good luck with that.”  Don’t be sarcastic when you say this.  Tell them also, “I have plans Saturday morning by the way, so I won’t be able to get you to the Saturday school.  You’ll have to figure that out too.”  Then you don’t discuss it or bring it up again.  In fact, you act like you don’t really care.  They might ask you, “Are you mad at me?”  You respond, “I was at first, but then I figured that it’s your problem to solve.”

Why Grounding Your Teen Doesn’t Always Work

Do you see how much more effective this is than grounding your teenager?  You refuse to take on their problems.  Also, if you ground your teen then you have to enforce it.  That makes you the bad guy when you refuse to let them attend their Saturday soccer game, or it makes you appear weak if you do let them attend.  It also means they think of how “unfair” you are when they are grounded instead of the mistake they made; they don’t learn as much.

How to Deal with Teen Backtalk

Now for scenario number two, when your teenager is being disrespectful in the way they talk to you.  If you don’t win the argument, you’ve lost.  Even a stalemate means you’ve lost.  How do you avoid this problem?  Don’t argue.  At all costs, avoid engaging in an argument.  Keep repeating, “I’m not going to argue with you right now,” in a calm tone.  You can also say, “We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”  That gives you time to think and your child time to reassess their position and approach.  Finally, if your teenager keeps at you, ask them, “What did I say?”  Stay calm and avoid the argument, but don’t completely ignore them.  Another thing you can say sometimes is, “I see what you’re saying.  Let me think about that and get back to you in a few hours.”  Just remember that nothing is ever on fire.  Most of the time your adolescent thinks it is because adolescents are an impatient group, but it’s not.  Do not let their urgency force you to respond faster than you can think through something.  Buy yourself some time.

An Idea for Excessive Teen Phone Use

Scenario number three is when you’re dealing with teen cell phone addiction.  Your first temptation is to take their phone away.  This actually creates problems for you in staying connected with them.  It is better if you get the cell bill, highlight their cost, and set it on the kitchen table.  When your teenager comes into the kitchen, ask them to take a look at the cell phone bill.  Tell them calmly, “It looks like you have violated our request to moderate your cell phone usage, so you will need to pay for the phone on your own this month.  We pay the bill on Friday, so by Thursday you need to come up with a plan for how you will get me that money.”  Then go back to what you were doing and let them solve the problem.  They will likely argue with you or say, “I don’t have that kind of money.”  Let them know you are here to help them find a solution if they’d like your help.

The most important thing to take away from this is that you are letting them have most of the say in how they resolve the problem.  If you come at your teen and angrily say, “You have screen addiction, so now you’re going to mow the lawn for the next ten weeks!” what have you taught them?  They will mow the lawn and think about how you are unreasonable.  If THEY come to you and suggest they will mow the lawn until they’ve worked it off, every time they mow the lawn they will think about how they watched too much Youtube.  You avoid being the bad guy, and your teenager learns a valuable lesson!

Love and Logic- A Helpful Resource

For more great ideas on how to effectively, and calmly discipline a teenager, read  It’s a wonderful, easily digestible resource for better parenting. We all know the “screenagers” of today need a lot of help with teen phone addiction, disrespectful talk to parents, and a million other things. As a parent, I greatly empathize with you in trying to parent today. There are many, many challenges. We are each doing our best because we love our teenagers. Sometimes setting things up a little differently makes discipline a lot more effective.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT