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Orange County Teen Counseling: What’s Happening This Week? Developing a Secure Attachment with Your Teen

What is a “secure attachment?”

Attachment theory has been around for a long time. It is based on research originally done by Mary Ainsworth. It was an advancement of a theory created by John Bowlby’s observations. But really, you probably don’t care as much about the names as you do about what it means for you. So on to the point: There are several styles of attachment. These describe the relationships babies/toddlers develop with a primary caregiver (usually the mother).

1) Secure Attachment: Seeking out a parent/caregiver for comfort when distressed. Feeling safe to explore the environment because trust exists that the caregiver will be there as a safe base.
2) Resistant Attachment: Children who are very nervous around strangers and show a lot of distress when a parent/caregiver leaves, but refuse to be comforted when the parent returns either.
3) Avoidant Attachment: The young child is disinterested when parent/caregiver leaves, seems equally at ease with strangers as anyone else, and seems to show no preference for the parent/caregiver over a stranger when needing comfort.

Securely attached teens are the happiest teens. They really play out the role of a toddler on a larger scale. Your teenager will think of you as a homebase and check in sometimes. Your teen is comfortable exploring their world knowing you are there whenever they need to reset or take a breath. If something upsetting is happening, you are who they go to to sort out what to do next.

If you do not have this type of relationship with your teenager, don’t be hard on yourself. Just start from where you are. First try and think of the things in your home that might prevent this. Are you meaning to lovingly give correction but actually coming off as critical? Is your teen punished when he or she comes to you with a situation where a bad choice was made? Is there a lot of yelling and chaos in the home? Even if this doesn’t reflect your heart towards your child, are you coming across as indifferent by not listening well? Maybe you are on your phone too much or often preoccupied with work?

The first step in building a secure attachment with your teen is non-judgmental listening. Let them talk without you interrupting or giving an opinion. Thank them for sharing with you. If you feel advice is needed, ask if they want it. If your teen says no, try to remember that your highest priority right now is building a securely attached relationship, which means taking the longer view on every conversation for now

I know this is hard. I had a teen counseling client years ago from Newport Beach who came for anxiety therapy. Even still, this teen had a secure attachment with mom. Mom was really good at listening without judgement. It provided safety and in the long run allowed her to give input into the daily details of this client’s life. I want that for you and your child too.

Also, as a mom, I can tell you that you won’t do it perfectly everyday, and that’s okay. There is a lot of grace where there is a lot of love.

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

What’s Happening This Week? Listening Really Is An Art

Through conversations with teens this week I have come to believe most of us don’t listen to them. I know that’s cliche. I also happen to think it’s true. We don’t listen to each other. How many people do you know who truly focus on what you’re saying as you’re saying it?

I used to marvel to my husband about Pastor Chris Goulard from Saddleback Church. Each time I’d spoke with him, I’d turn to my husband afterwards and say, “It’s incredible how Pastor Chris makes me feel like I’m the only person in the world when I’m talking with him. Do you feel that way when you talk to him?” My husband would always confirm he also felt like the only person who mattered when he was talking to Pastor Chris. This was all the more amazing because Pastor Chris is a really busy man, and yet if you stop him before or after a church service, he gives you 100% of his attention for as long as you seem to need it. Do we listen to our kids that way? Do we teach them to listen to their friends that way?

I have to call myself out first. Other than when I’m in session with a client, I am not listening with my full attention. I’m thinking about what I have to do next, that my phone just chimed, or worst of all, I’m already thinking about what I have to say next. Thinking of what I have to saw next is actually arrogant. When I’m focused on what I have to say and just looking for a chance to interject it into the conversation, then I’m assuming what I have to say is more important than what you are telling me.

This week in therapy the common theme that has arisen among my teenage clients is that they do not feel heard. When they talk to their friends, their friends are interrupting them or checking their phones. When they talk to their parents, their parents are buzzing around the kitchen, on their computer, or also on their phones. Consequently, when your teen is talking to you, they are also distracted.

My encouragement to you this week (and to myself) is to focus on really listening. Clear your mind of what you want to put into the conversation and let someone talk all the way through before you speak. In fact, let’s all try waiting one full second after someone finishes talking before we say something back. It’s short enough not to be an awkward pause but long enough for them to add more to the conversation if they have more to say.

My daughter is eleven. This is an age where she has A LOT to say, but she won’t say it unless she’s relaxed enough to let her thoughts flow. Tweenagers (11-13yrs old) are self-conscious by nature and can be a bit closed if they aren’t given enough space in conversation to work out their thoughts. I tried this technique of waiting one second before speaking with her earlier this week. The conversation we had was amazing! She ended up asking questions about some very deep thoughts she’s kept hidden in her heart. It crushed me to realize she’s had these questions for a long time, but I’ve been such a poor, distracted listener (and interrupter) that she never had the space to voice them.

Your kids have things to tell you too, but you will have to listen like Pastor Chris. When your teenager is talking to you about things, don’t make it your goal to get in some moral lesson, don’t show them that your phone matters more than they do, and don’t be thinking about what you want to say while they are talking.

Your teenager wants to know what he or she thinks and feels actually matters to you. Your adolescent wants to be seen by you. Truly listening is the best way you can show that you honestly care about what’s going on inside their minds and hearts. And, this is the path to a better relationship between you and your teen.

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

What’s Happening This Week? Medication Advice from a Client, and Loneliness at School

With permission, I pass on words of wisdom from a client. This person wants all of you to know that she wasn’t attentive in how she stored her medication, which led to it being ineffective. She said she kept it in her car so she could conveniently take it each morning as she left the house. She said she wants everyone to know that it got too hot in the car, which wasn’t good for her meds. For those of you taking meds, she encourages you to pay attention to the temperatures suggested on the label. She says once she began storing it properly, it worked better.

Now onto comments from two different teenagers dealing with extreme loneliness at school. There are many, many of you reading this who suffer from loneliness. Not having one or two good friends in your life is devastating at any age. For a teen it’s even harder because it’s so noticeable. You walk around your school campus and have nobody to sit with at lunch. You don’t know where to go at break. Even if you have a place to sit at lunch, you’re not included in activities outside of school hours. You might be “okay,” but without friends you’re probably not thriving.

My heart aches for you. We are wired to belong to someone. There are a few of us who genuinely don’t need people, but that is not most of us. Most of us need someone to belong to and we need someone to belong to us. This innate need is deeply ingrained. If you don’t belong to anyone at school and nobody belongs to you, please tell your parents. I know that discussion might be awkward, but your outlook on your entire life can change if you are given some tools to rectify the loneliness.

Sometimes loneliness is really hard to fix. Sometimes you have no insight into why you aren’t building connections with others. We always work on that in therapy because I have come to see it as a basic human need. Not having someone underlies at least half of the cases I see when a teen is refusing to go to school. It is also present in a high percentage of those I see who come in for depression and anxiety.

One of the first things to consider is going where you’re wanted. Some of you who are lonely do have people who like you, they just aren’t the people you have your heart set on. Usually these people are kind but maybe not as “fun.” Trust me when I tell you that these people are worth putting time into. Being in the popular crowd is far less important than having a place where someone is glad to see you each day.

Some of you don’t really have anyone you can identify as a place you can go. This is trickier, but not impossible. It becomes important to start looking around for who else needs a friend instead of who can meet your needs. It’s a change in mindset, but it does start the process of resolving the loneliness.

Finally, there are some of you who have enough social anxiety that you cannot bring yourself to do or say the friendly things necessary to get close to others. Give us a call in that case; counseling and/or group therapy can be of temendous benefit in those cases.

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

What’s Happening This Week? Update on Easy Access to Antidepressants, and Marijuana and Psychosis

I have a brief update to give on the last blog, which talked about the website/app Hims. It was reported to me that a person doesn’t even see a doctor on that site and can get antidepressant medication. The update that was given this week is that there is a texting conversation with the doctor before the prescription is written. No at all ideal, but slightly better than just a self-survey.

I’ve learned something new in the past few months. It’s now come up twice. A friend of mine is a psychiatrist (for those who don’t know the distinction, a psychiatrist has attended medical school and has received extra training in mental disorders and medication) explained to me that many people suffering with Bipolar Disorder cannot tolerate marijuana AT ALL. He said it causes a higher incidence of paranoid psychosis for this group than for the general population. He told me to pass along to all of you that if you have Bipolar Disorder, you should NEVER use marijuana.

Let me give a short clarification on what Bipolar Disorder is. Many people have a misunderstanding because the term “bipolar” is used as slang for mood swings. Bipolar Disorder is a difficult mental illness for someone to live with. It causes times of mania or hypomania, which means periods of little to no needed sleep with some combination of euphoria, anger/agitation, impulsive decision-making, sexually irresponsible behavior, rapid speech and/or thoughts, and grandiose ideas. These periods are followed by a marked and profound period of depression. The depression is intense and miserable. One client described it to me as “mashed potatoes. It’s as though everything has the color of mashed potatoes and the flavor of mashed potatoes. The world is devoid of life.” The depression can last for years on and off without any interruping mania for some. The pattern and timing of depression and mania varies from person to person.

I’m sure you can understand that someone dealing with the unpredictability of Bipolar Disorder might be drawn to marijuana. However, it is understood to be something that will destabilize the Bipolar Disorder over time and can even add in psychosis. The bottom line: It’s not worth the risk. By the way, I’m not a fan of it for others either. I know that alienates some of you, but the long-term effects of cannabis just don’t justify the short-term pleasures.

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

What’s Happening This Week? Tampons in the Boys Bathroom and Easy Access to Anitdepressants…

What’s Happening This Week?

I want to bring you little tidbits I hear from my clients that are fascinating and/or important. Then I might give my commentary on it, or I might not. Just passing along thoughts from those who actually live the day to day of being an adolescent dealing with mental health issues instead of you just reading articles from those who have opinions about it.

  1. I know there will be mixed reactions to this: A tampon machine has been installed at the local public high school in the men’s restroom. It was reported to me that the majority of students reacted to this much as you’d expect adolescent boys to react. Most of the tampons were apparently extracted by boys who found the situation amusing and used them to prank one another throughout the day…While the administration was probably hopeful the boys at the school would handle transgender topics with sensitivity, boys almost always cope with things that are uncomfortable for them using humor. If your teenage boy uses humor to cope with uncomfortable changes to their world, please know it is developmentally normal and is just how they process things; it doesn’t make them bad, insensitive, or wrong.
  2. A reflection on Hims and Hers- A telehealth company: A client has reported it is shockingly easy to obtain certain types of psychiatric medication for anxiety and depression. I have not vetted this company and cannot verify this report. I also do not know if this company prescribes to children. A cursory look at their website seems to indicate they prescribe for things such as hair loss, anxiety, and depression. This client told me it was easy to get a prescription for an antidepression WITHOUT EVEN SEEING A DOCTOR!!! This client is very astute on mental health issues and expressed alarm. Apparently one filles out a survey and then an email is sent with directions and a prescription.

-Sorry folks. After many thousands of hours working in the mental health field, I can’t get on board with this if this is true. Psychiatry is complicated. While some of my clients are correct in their self-diagnoses, many, many, many have been wrong. In some cases, taking an antidepressant would have caused a worsening of symptoms, not an alleviation. You simply have to talk to a doctor about meds before taking them. Period. I won’t bend on this opinion. Can you talk to your primary care doctor? Yes. That is an appropriate place to start. Your primary care doctor has theoretically received enough training to help you start the process. Sometimes they will prescribe, and sometimes they will refer you to a psychiatrist, neurologist, or some other specialist. In the 15 years I’ve been practicing, I’ve seen people need to see a rheumatologist, endocrinologist, pain medicine specialist, orthopedic surgeon, OBGYN, or oncologist for what initially appeared to be psychiatric symptoms. Your primary care doctor and/or psychiatrist know to look for other things causing depression and anxiety symptoms. Here’s the most important point: Depression and anxiety are not always the diagnosis. Very often they are symptoms of another underlying issue. Let’s use the metaphor of a skin rash. Sometimes a skin rash is the diagnosis, but a break-out on the skin can indicate many other things going on with the internal organs. Depression and anxiety are no different.

That’s it for today. I look forward to sharing other interesting tidbits with you next time. I am unbelievably privileged to get a front-row seat to everything going on through the eyes of the courageous, amazing adolescents I work with in therapy. It’s an honor, and I’m proud of all of you for hanging in there during what feels like tumultuous times.

Helping teens grow and families improve connections,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Group Therapy for Teens

Hooray! We now have in-person group therapy! This has been a long time coming. Many teens benefit from hearing what their peers have to say (when an adult is present to moderate). This is such a nice option to offer for your families because some teens have things to work on in a more social setting, the cost of therapy is lower for group therapy, and sometimes it’s easier to learn from listening to someone else walk through a struggle than to be on the spot about your own struggles.

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

Update on PTSD Treatment

Last month 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

What is Family Based Treatment for Adolescent Eating Disorders? Part 1

Family based treatment (aka Maudsley Method) empowers parents to act as a critical part of the treatment team when healing a teenager from an eating disorder. This is done in consult with a therapist, dietician, and medical doctor. Parents follow the advice of their treatment team to get the adolescent’s caloric intake back on track so health can be restored. This is a very emotionally taxing process, but it also hopefully keeps the teenager out of the hospital. Many parents have lost their authority to the eating disorder over the course of the last several months or even years. When they are not only given permission, but required to take back that authority, there are often encouraging results.

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

Eating Disorder Treatment for Teens

Eating disorders are so nasty! They are cruel, unkind, and abusive to their victims. They take over a person’s relationships, personality, ambitions, and dreams until you find your teen is a shell of her former self. I should know…I had one for 7 years. Now I help parents fight back against the eating disorder monster. Here are some thoughts on the process:

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

Isolation at School

I have heard more isolation stories from clients starting school last week than in all my previous years of practice (14). One teen told me how she plans to sit in the library for lunch. Another told me he is never invited to anything with his so-called “friends.” A third talked about how she feels like all the friend groups are already formed and she has no way to get into one. In every single case, their hearts are broken and they don’t know how to fix it. I feel their internal anguish as I listen to them give me the details about their worlds. They feel as though they are looking in on a world where everyone is smiling, but that they are stuck outside. They so desperately long for even just one person to show the interest, love, and compassion that they see other teens so effortlessly get.

What gives? Why are some outsiders despite every effort and others insiders even without trying?

1) Charisma: A few people have a lot of this character quality. Most have some. Then there are those who have almost none. You know the type: They just can’t seem to say the right thing at the right time. They make others feels awkward with their awkwardness. It is easy to pick up on the fact that they are not entirely comfortable with themselves.

2) Social Awareness: There are people who lack this very important character trait. They talk too loudly, they don’t know when to drop a discussion topic, they stand too close to people…they just cannot seem to read a room. Teenagers are very socially aware and they often reject the child who has not figured out social awareness.

3) Projected Confidence: Teenagers who walk with their heads up and scanning for eye contacts project more confidence. This is attractive to others. When eye contact is made, these confident teens will wave or smile. People reflexively smile and wave back, which makes everyone like each other more. Think about all that is missed for the teen who walks with eyes downcast.

4) Respect: Adolescents who know where they stand on an issue and are not swayed by the crowd’s opinion are more respected. Have other respect you translates into them being more inclusive.

5) Going Where You’re Wanted: This is the #1 most important thing teens do who fit in. They do not try to force themselves in where they are not obviously included. Teenagers who go with the other teens that already like them are happier. This is likely a life attitude of being content with what you have.

Here are some other thoughts on the struggle for an adolescent wanting to fit somewhere:

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

Your Teens Are Watching You- 3 Things You Must Model Well

Your teenagers learn what is valuable from your behavior. Photo Credit: imagerymajestic via

Your teenagers learn what is valuable from your behavior.
Photo Credit: imagerymajestic via

1. Faith in God: If faith is important to you, then you have to model it, not just say it.  It is easy to say something like, “I don’t want to force my kid to believe a certain thing.  I’ll let them decide when they grow up.”  In the meanwhile you don’t really expose them to your faith because you don’t want to be pushy.  Please just know that if this is the tack you take, you’re kids will probably grow up not believing in any kind of organized religion.  You need to model a strong faith in God if you want your kids to grow up with faith.  Your teenagers pay astute attention to whether you react with anxiety or prayer.  They notice whether you devote your spare time to helping others or doing what feels good for you.  They are watching to see if you turn to scripture or if you turn on the news for your hope in the future.  Every single day there are a hundred little choices we have to make to turn towards God versus turning towards ourselves, and your kids see almost every decision you make.  They copy you.  In their future they are more likely to choose a faith if they have been shown how by your example.

2. Finances: Do you buy things you can’t afford?  Do you pay for little extras like a daily cup of coffee and then dismiss the cost because “It’s just a few dollars?”  Do you get your hair done each month even though there really isn’t a college fund set up yet?  Your teenagers are paying attention.  They believe they can have anything they want right now it if that’s the example you set.  If you are intentional about saving up for things like vacations and a car when you need one, they will learn that behavior instead.  When they want something nice, if you help them map out how to work for it and save for it, they will start to really value what they have, and will start to think carefully about how they spend their money.  Your kids are also watching to see how you give and how you save.  If you invest wisely for the future, and talk about it a little all along the way, they will learn this is important.  When you prioritize giving to others, they will value giving.  You have a HUGE influence on your teens by your example with finances.

3. Humility:  Your teenagers learn an immense amount from you on how to behave in relation to other people.  If you are humble in your relationships, your teens will start to act with humility as well (Rick Warren explains humility to mean, “It’s not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”).  I have a neighbor who is constantly doing small things to help out other people.  She makes food if you feel sick; she watches your kids for a few minutes if you have to get something done; she asks about that thing you complained about 5 weeks ago to see if it’s better.  She is constantly thinking of others.  She is subtle in how she does it, and it is certainly not so people will like her.  In fact, she isn’t thinking of herself at all.  She is simply the walking definition of humble.  As her kids have gotten older they have become more and more kind.  They are both incredibly sweet to the younger kids on the street.  They are polite.  They seem to automatically look for ways to serve someone in the smallest things.  When they were trick-or-treating last Halloween they both made sure other kids got their candy at the door before they put their hands out.  I don’t think they are even conscious of their kindness.  I think it’s something they are learning from their incredibly humble mother.  These children know how to behave in relation to others.  Imagine these two when they are teens.  Don’t you want your teenagers to be like that?  They are watching what you do, and they are learning.

This blog isn’t written to condemn you for all the things you’re not doing right.  It’s tough to be perfect.  We are all doing the best we can.  All I’m asking of you is to be intentional.  Make sure you are showing your children the kind of adult you hope they become.  Don’t raise your kids without intentionality, because the default is to let screens and peers raise your teens.  Instead, I want you and your values to the most significant influence in their lives.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 More Things That Raise Your Teen’s Anxiety

Stress is tough on teens. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Stress is tough on teens.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Teenagers these days are stressed out!  So are we all.  We’re short on sleep, overscheduled, and overstimulated.  Here are the top 5 stressors my teen clients talk about:

1. Looking good:  Teens don’t yet know what makes them unique and special.  They haven’t established a career or any specific knowledge that gives them an identity.  They’re receiving a general education in middle and high school, so there is very little that distinguishes them from their peers.  As a result, many teenagers spend an extraordinary about of emotional energy on wanting to be the best looking of their peer group.  Girls try to be thinner, and boys try to look stronger.  Pimples are akin to a nuclear crisis.  This is a regular source of stress for your teenager.

2. College:  There is an incredible amount of pressure on Orange County teenagers to achieve in high school so they can get into a great university.  The problem is, they really don’t have a concept of what makes a university great.  They tend to just assume schools with prestige and difficult admission requirements are what defines their entire adult future.  Please help your teenager avoid buying into this lie.  Different colleges excel at different things.  Your adolescent’s success in college has more to do with matching the right kind of school to their personality and values than anything else.  For example, I have one client who is achieving very high grades in high school, but his personality is such that he flourishes in an environment where he is one of the top students.  He would really struggle at a UCLA type school even though he could get in there.  He’s intentionally choosing a much smaller private school for this very reason.

3. Sports:  Playing sports is very good for teenagers.  It’s really beneficial for them to get exercise, be around friends, and learn discipline.  But, we have many teenagers who are forced to take sports a little too seriously.  They have multiple hours of practice per day, private coaches, weekends dominated by travel and tournaments, and constant pressure to play at a very elite level.  What is all this for?  These teens are training like professional athletes, often at great financial and emotional expense, just to make a college team?  It’s one thing if your teen is truly passionate about their sport, and you couldn’t keep them from practicing if you tried.  It’s completely another thing if you’re the one pushing and they only “like” the sport.  This kind of pressure ends up equating to stress.  In fact, many teenagers confide in me during a counseling session that they actually hate being an intense athlete.

4. Social media:  Without a doubt your teenager stresses about social media (if they use it).  Adolescents are truly bothered every time they logon to Instagram and see several of their friends in a photo without them.  They feel compelled to check their social media multiple times per day.  They are bolstered or discouraged by comments made on their posts.  They use social media as a means to compare themselves to others.

5. Homework:  This one won’t surprise you.  It likely caused you stress as a teenager too.  Teenagers are assigned a lot of homework.  It is stressful to be at school all day, and then have to come home and work on it for many more hours.  Now that adolescents feel they have to take harder and harder classes to stand out, their homework load has become extremely burdensome.

Stress in small doses actually motivates us.  It’s good to learn to manage stress.  When your teenager becomes overly stressed though, they can be irritable, frustrated and anxious.  Knowing some of the things that cause them anxiety can help you help them.  One of the big skills you have to teach your child before he/she flies the coop is how to keep life in balance.  Help your teenager know they simply cannot participate in, or be the best in everything.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

California Sex Ed

Dear Parents, 

At Teen Therapy OC, we know how important it is to strive toward having open and honest conversations with your teens about uncomfortable topics like sex. We know that in the adolescent development stage, teens are often exposed to information about human sexuality at different rates. This means that some children are exposed to sexual material and information earlier than others and this discrepancy can lead to misinformation spread by their peers. Because of this, we hope parents have conversations with their children about human sexuality and how to set healthy boundaries for themselves.

The “California Healthy Youth Act” is the sex education curriculum for public schools. We thought it would be helpful to provide the information to you so that you can educate yourself of what your 8th graders will be learning to prepare you to have conversations about the things they may not understand or may not be aligned with your family’s beliefs. Depending on your own beliefs and your evaluation of your child’s readiness for this level of information, you may choose to opt out of this program. If after reading the material, you are concerned, call your child’s school for more information about this curriculum and your options as a parent.
Here are some tips for talking to your kids about sex: 
-Understand that they aren’t going to be thrilled to have this conversation with you. If you give them choices about when and where they have this conversation with you, they will feel they have some amount of control.
-Choose a time when there aren’t siblings or other people around to help foster a safe environment for sharing about what is likely embarrassing for them to talk about.
-Ask questions about what THEY think about what they learned. 
-Try to avoid talking more than they do in order to help them develop their own critical thinking skills. 
-Ask the teen what they think are healthy sexual boundaries for teens.
-Ask what reasons they have for choosing those particular boundaries around sex. 
-Be sure to stay calm and breathe slowly if their answers aren’t what you hoped they would be. This is a sign that their child brain is developing critical thinking skills, which is a sign of a maturing brain. You can still share what you think and why without making them “wrong or bad” for thinking what they think. 
-If your teen’s answers don’t align with what your boundaries are for them as their parent, try not to react negatively to their answer. Instead, validate that sexual desire is normal, but needs to be treated thoughtfully like any of our other human desires so that we behave responsibly.
– It is important to clearly define your expectations for their boundaries until they become an adult and have the freedom to choose their own boundaries. 
-If your family has particular beliefs that don’t align with something taught in the curriculum, try not to pass judgment on the curriculum itself as being “bad” or “wrong”, but instead calmly and thoughtfully explore the differences with your teen. 

Thank you for having the hard conversations. Being a parent isn’t for wimps!

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

Absolute Truth in an Emotional World

“What is truth?” Pilate’s famous words echo in today’s culture in a way that is devastating our teenagers. Each teen is now subtly learning they get to define their own truth. They are being told they are so incredibly entitled to their own view that the world needs to adjust to and accept their version of truth.

Is it any wonder I see so many teenagers confused and upset about the world? They are being taught they are whatever they think they are; then they are hit with the harsh reality that the world is not inclining itself to their every belief. They end up feeling frustrated and more confused than ever.

Parents, you can’t immediately change what the world is doing or the messages it gives your children. However, you can help what culture you create at home. Allow absolute truth to exist in the home. Have rules, limits, boundaries, and discussions about what is what. As a counselor to this generation’s adolescents, my heart aches with the desire to see your kids thrive and be self-assured. You can help them on their way to this by sticking to what is right and true.

If you create a world with boundaries, unalterable truth, and rules, your teenagers can push against these walls. This is a vital part of adolescent development. It is like a butterfly fighting its way out of a cocoon. If you open a cocoon for a butterfly, it will die because it cannot develop the wing strength it needs. If you let your teenager pass easily through adolescence allowing their emotional state of the day to dictate their version of truth, they will die in their spirit because their intellect will be too weak to survive in this world. They will never have to wrestle with learning to accept or change things they don’t like. Instead your teenager will become one of those adults who expects the world to adjust to them. People who think that way flounder and have very little grit.

So please, while I am not asking you to be rigid and stubborn, do not take on the current cultural trend of cowing to every emotional identity your adolescent says is their current truth. Help them stay grounded in what is actually real. You will strengthen them by allowing them to struggle through.

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

Does My Teenager Actually Need Therapy?

I want to call a therapist and ask about what’s going on with my kid, but I’m not sure my kid really needs therapy. I don’t want to get talked into bringing them in if it isn’t necessary. I don’t want to start spending a lot of money and having my child get attached to a therapist if they don’t actually need to be there.

This is the thought process many parents go through when deciding if they should call. I understand it. I feel like that when I call the pediatrician’s office to see if one of my kids needs to come in. I wish they’d just tell me if it’s not necessary.

I’m writing all this because I want you to feel at ease to call. I personally return almost every phone call about counseling that comes our way. I do this because I don’t want you to bring your teenager in unless it’s necessary. Of course I can’t always tell that on the phone, but I do regularly tell people it’s not yet time to start counseling. I promise you the same courtesy.

I had a call last week from a couple of concerned parents. It was hard for them to witness their daughter struggling with friends at school. She was feeling isolated and left out. Once we talked for a little while on the phone, it seemed to me this problem might resolve itself if given a little bit of time. I asked the parents to wait a few weeks and see whether things improved for their daughter. If not, there might be something worth digging through in therapy. For many though, a little bit of time salves a lot of wounds.

This is not an uncommon story when you call to talk to us. You also might hear from me that nobody on our team is the right fit for your situation. It doesn’t help your teen if he or she is paired with a therapist who doesn’t have the right training/experience for your issue. We usually have good outcomes for our clients because we are very picky on the front end about who we see. That is why people in the community trust us and trust is the MOST important ingredient in a successful counseling experience.

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