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What Are We Doing To Our Teenagers?

We are stressing them out. And they’re going to burnout or breakdown before they even finish the journey!

My son is an excellent student. He is a unique 10th grader. He is conscientious, he has excellent time-management skills, he has good social skills, he does chores without being asked… He’s too good to be true! But this comes at a price. In addition to all of these wonderful things, he spends hours redoing school assignments to get a higher grade and stresses over what major he should choose two years from now so he can choose the right college in enough time to apply and get a great scholarship. He worries he’s not good enough or smart enough or won’t be successful enough. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas he said nothing, just college money. Woah! Slow down mister! You have your entire life to worry about the big stuff. How about just being a kid? And yet, he’s not alone. His friends are the same way. It’s a blessing and a curse to be a smart kid, and I’m wondering if ignorance really is bliss. There are many high achieving students who are stressing themselves out. And we as a society are encouraging it.Stress

I once knew a high school student whose parent worked at a very prestigious university which would allow the student to attend for free. Even so, the student pushed herself to take multiple advanced classes and get high honors as well as volunteer hours so she could get a scholarship. Why? She didn’t need a scholarship. She said she wanted to prove to herself she could. My son’s middle school science teacher told the class what he teaches now in 7th grade is what he learned freshman year of college. 4th graders are learning geometry. Kindergartners who didn’t learn to read in preschool are behind.

Why are we doing this? Why are we pushing and pushing and insisting they know more and more? I know what you are going to say. Because we need to compete with other countries, yada yada. But at what cost? Playing a sport and pushing to win, practice and games every night of the week, a different sport every season. High academics and volunteer hours and student leadership. Plus, they have to score at certain levels so the school gets accreditation and funding. It’s building and building and building and they’re not sleeping or eating right. Pushing harder in sports but not given the right education about nutrition and what a body needs to maintain that level of intensity. Or weight training without safety training. Or pushing themselves without teaching life balance…

How do you feel every day? How stressful is your job? Are you stressed? Are you tired? I’m sure you are. We all are. As a society, the pressures we are dealing with are more intense than ever. So what do you do to unwind? To relax? Do you watch TV, read for leisure, exercise, hang with friends, drink, eat, nap? Have you learned in your life that your body needs rest and a break from the pressure? Most of us have learned that and most of us know our limits and say I’m done, I’m just gonna sit here and veg for a while. But as we are teaching our children about competition and responsibility and what it takes to succeed, are we also teaching them how to set healthy boundaries, life/ work balance and self-care? I’m afraid we are not. I’m afraid we are pushing our kids to do more and be more than they can handle.

I am not suggesting complacency or lethargy or apathy. But come on, how about some balance? There is no way any of us would tolerate the schedules and work and pressure these kids handle every day. We’d balk. But they can’t. Because we have trained them to believe they have to do this to succeed. But do they? Do they really? Is it worth it in the long run? I’m not so sure. We told our son we’d rather he be a C-student and happy than an A-student and miserable. He said, really? We said yes. When these teens are shutting down, quitting, getting injured, getting sick, pushing back, getting anxious or depressed or suicidal…at some point we have to realize that they are KIDS, and being a kid just isn’t fun anymore. I think it’s time we as parents and educators and community members encourage downtime and balance. The whole idea of putting more recess back into the school day is fundamental to helping students realize they can’t keep pushing themselves without allowing themselves some breaks. We as adults know this because we as a society have more stress and high blood pressure than ever before and wait until a crisis before addressing the problem. I’d like to see us as a community be more proactive about teaching overall physical and mental health. It’s a sad day when I have to tell my teenager to stop doing homework, that’s enough. But if I have to push him to get a B instead of an A to save his mental health, I’m not afraid to do it. Perfection is an illusion.report card

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Google Yourself and Google Your Kid

You might be surprised what you discover.

I told a teenager the other day that if I owned a restaurant and he applied for a job, I would google him to see what kind of person he is. He kind of blew me off until I suggested I google him right then. His eyes got huge. So of course I googled him, in front of him. His name came up with a Twitter account, a Facebook account. When I saw his screen name on Twitter I googled that and found him on Instagram. His privacy settings were ok for Facebook, I couldn’t see his posts (he was relieved) but when I showed him what pictures were not hidden by his privacy settings he was surprised and a little embarrassed because his profile picture was a colorful unicorn. His Twitter and Instagram were not private because he wanted lots of followers. I was able to read his posts and they were full of bad words and sexual innuendo. He wasn’t breaking any laws, but I let him know that if I was a potential employer I would not hire him. During the whole conversation he was squirming in his seat, humiliated and said he was going home to change everything. The next day I googled him again and he had done so. Message received.

The reason I did this was to show him that in today’s society employers, scholarship judges, college admission staff and potential relationship interests do their homework. In our state we have a website where you can put in someone’s name and see all of the legal proceedings against them, for free, not on a background site you pay for. Any smart dating person looks here too.  

I had this discussion with a female client of mine and her internet behavior was pristine. I gave her kudos for doing a good job with her privacy settings. I also pointed out that in one picture I could see, she was wearing her cheerleading outfit with the name of her school on the shirt. So even though she didn’t post her name or age or location, a potential creeper could figure it out from just one picture. This is something she had not considered.

Do you know what your internet presence looks like? How about your child’s? It is typical for a kid to do things on impulse and not think about the long term consequences. It is our job to teach them, to show them. To kids today the internet is comfortable and common and they aren’t afraid of it like we were when we first started putting parental controls on every computer we had years ago. Now that is much more difficult to do and our kids think there is no need for it.

Take some time to Google Yourself and Google Your Kid to see what’s out there, and have a conversation about being more aware and more safe. And take that unicorn off your profile picture kid! (Just kidding.)

Give Older Adults More Choices

What will you miss when you are older?

What are the inefficient frivolous things you do as an adult that probably waste time or money but you don’t care? Do you go out of your way to a store you like even though it’s an extra five minutes, or splurge on yummy ice cream you don’t need? Do you drive up to the convenience store at 10:00 at night to pick something up? Do you hold onto bad habits that you know you shouldn’t? Do you sometimes stay up late watching TV? These are things we take for granted as mobile independent adults. We do what we want, when we want, because we can. But what if you couldn’t drive and you were dependent on others for rides for everything? Or what if you were on a limited income and there was no room left for frivolous? Or if you lived in someone else’s home and they bought the groceries or controlled the TV? These are the losses that older adults face every day and their children don’t realize.

Getting older often means things our bodies once did easily like walking two steps up the porch can no longer be taken for granted. Balance is off, immune system is down, eyesight goes, response time is slower. Things like this that allow us to remain independent, to come and go as we please, to run into the kitchen during a commercial, become difficult. And that sucks. Losing these seemingly small things can add up to a great sense of loss. Driving less or not at all, no longer being able to live on their own, becoming confused with all of life’s changes can make older adults feel very dependent on their children and a burden. They need so much to meet their daily needs that they stop asking for the frivolous stuff that we all enjoy as adults. What can we do to help?CNY_SM_20131129_QUOTE

The longer someone can maintain their independence the better. Even in the little things. Even if they live with you, they may still be able to contribute as productive members of the family. Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t patronize them. Ask them to help in ways that they can sincerely productively help with. They aren’t stupid and if you are condescending they will know it.
  • Don’t nitpick or micromanage. Let them do silly frivolous things if they want to. It’s the benefit of being a grown-up. None of us like our every behavior to be analyzed.
  • Let them have bad habits. They have given up so much already. They are adults, they have choices, they know the risks. So do you on your bad habits.
  • Include them in the decisions about their own lives. If you help in making their appointments, include them in the decision of where to go and when to go and whether to keep going.
  • Talk to them, not about them. They’re right here. Don’t talk around them to your siblings or the doctor.
  • Don’t tiptoe around the truth. They know they are old. They know things have changed. Be honest. Choices at the end of their lives are just as important as every other time in life.
  • Don’t yell at them or treat them like children. It may sometimes feel like they have digressed and act child-like. Often this is because they are confused or scared. Be kind and respectful.
Grown daughter talking to parents at home

Grown daughter talking to parents at home

My grandmother ate half a banana and drank a glass of prune juice every day for 80 years. When she went into a nursing home that daily habit stopped abruptly because it wasn’t part of the dietary plan. What daily habits do you have that you would miss if someone else was in charge of your life? Consider these things in caring for the older adults in your life and their dignity and independence will last longer, I promise.

Is Your 12-Year-Old Texting Naked Pictures?

At a recent assembly of 5th grade students (age 11) I asked how many of them have devices like phones, tablets or iPods that they can put apps on. ¾ of the students raised their hands. Then I asked how many of them talk to other people through those apps. Half raised their hands. In a room of 250 11-year-olds, 125 of them talk to other people online. Does this surprise you? Here’s another fact… did you know that the average age-range of youth who send inappropriate content over the internet (“sexting”) is 10-15, with the most common age being 12! Let me say that again another way. The most common age of student sending sexual content over text, video or wifi app is 12.Cell Phones Schools

These teens and preteens communicate with their friends about everyday stuff. But sometimes that branches out into flirty or attraction conversations. Social media is so commonly used by this generation that they do not think about the infinite extent of their reach. They send a picture to a friend, that person may send it to five others and eventually it goes to hundreds of strangers. The internet also creates an opportunity for youth to “meet” people all over the world. And especially for a kid who feels disconnected or hurt by their local peers, talking to strangers around the world is tempting, easy, and gives an artificial sense of anonymity and safety. But they are often unaware of what they could actually get in trouble for. Here are some obvious and not so obvious things kids under 18 can get in big trouble for in many states.

  • Sending a picture or video of themselves naked, partially naked, or in suggestive poses.
  • Receiving a picture or video from someone else even if they didn’t ask for it.
  • Asking someone for a sexual picture, even if the person doesn’t send one.
  • Having a sexual conversation via message or text, even without video or pictures
  • Spreading rumors about someone else’s sexual behavior via message or text
  • Sending or receiving a sexually explicit picture or video of someone else

This is not an exhaustive list but my point is that while many students might think they are flirting, or joking, or that they have deleted videos or messages, this information is stored and recorded and often sent on when they don’t even realize it.

What kind of trouble could they get in? Well, in many cases, when a person under 18 takes a picture of their own naked body, it can be considered production of child pornography. If they text or message or email or video or find some other way to send that inappropriate picture to someone else, that can be considered distribution of child pornography. If a student has a sexual picture on his phone or computer or device but it is of someone he doesn’t know, the student can get in trouble for possessing pornography.  If a student is contacted by an adult and engages in conversation and exchanges sexual content, the adult will get in trouble, but the student might too.kid-arrested

Many of these are considered felony charges, often at the federal level. Students can go to jail or be placed on probation. Some will be required to register with a sex offender list.  In addition, even if the indiscretions are not picked up by law enforcement agencies but are addressed in the school system, students can lose their scholarships and be banned from playing school sports because of character guidelines. It has also become common practice for employers and colleges to research a potential candidate’s online presence and not offer them acceptance if they have a questionable history.

It is imperative that parents be aware of what their child’s online behavior is. Know what apps are out there and who your child is talking to. Here is a (short) list of common apps that people use to share this kind of information:

  • Kik
  • Omegle
  • Instagram
  • Vine
  • Grinder
  • Snapchat
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Texting
  • Google Hangouts
  • Skype
  • Twitter

These applications are not evil in nature. Plenty of people use them appropriately every day, myself included. They just need to be used with discretion. Please share the above information with your child and discuss the risks involved. If they want to talk to strangers online, find out why and discuss ways to stay safe. Most importantly students should be made aware of the potential consequences of online behavior they may assume is no big deal because “everyone is doing it.” Remember, this is not just high school students.

The most common age of kids sending naked and sexual content is 12. Twelve. Sixth Grade.

Living With a Rock Star and a Super Hero

I have always known life isn’t easy. From my own tough experiences but more importantly, from hearing every day the difficult things people experience when they share them with me in counseling, I have heard some doozies. And yet, through it all, I am repeatedly awed by the strength of the human spirit to persevere. I tell people all the time that they can handle so much more than they realize. They don’t think they can, but then when it happens, they do, they survive, they make it through.

I don’t think we worried we wouldn’t survive parenting a child with Down Syndrome. We knew we would be okay. But there was so much we didn’t know, it was scary. Parenting itself is already an adventure into the Great Unknown. It’s the most rewarding and the most powerless feeling anyone could have. Add to that parenting a child with special needs and many of us could easily shut down. Health concerns, learning disability, physical disability, mental illness… Down Syndrome, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder… it feels like there are more questions than answers sometimes.full cover

Our experiences with Sensory Processing Disorder and then Down Syndrome turned out to make us stronger. And while we assumed that we’d have to work harder to guide our children who had “special needs”, what actually happened is that they teach us. They do better than we ever thought they would, and teach us new things every day. They exceed our expectations and those of the world around them. When I wrote my book (Living With a Rock Star and a Super Hero) my premise was that Ben thinks he is a rock star and he thinks Lucas is a super hero. But the real truth is that to me, Ben IS and rock star and I am his biggest fan, and Lucas is all of our hero, he saves us every day with his wisdom and his energy. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing. I am better because of it. Most days I try to remind others of their potential, and I can do this because I see it in action every day of my life.

“Nothing Bad Will Happen…”

A Parents’ Guide to Their Child’s Social Media

I recently had a conversation with an 11 year old fifth grade girl about how she got her smart phone and tablet taken away. I started to discuss ways she might earn trust from her parents so she could get her privileges back when she said, “Well, then I guess I should confess to you that I also got in trouble because I had an app called Omegle and I pretended to be 16 so I could talk to adults and one asked for naked pictures so I sent them.” The counselor in me kept a straight face (wanted to make sure she kept talking), but the mother in me, in my head, said, “You did WHAT??! There’s no WAY you’re getting your electronics back, ever!” I consider myself a tech savvy person, and I also try to stay very involved in my kids’ usage of electronics, internet and social media, but new apps are coming out all the time. I had never heard of Omegle. She told me it is an app that will connect you with complete strangers all over the world. Incidentally, I asked my 13 year old if he had ever heard of it, and of course he had. Little did I know.
During this same recent time period, friends and I have been educating our kids’ friends’ parents about social media so they are more aware of what our kids might be exposed to. We even had our own “technology day” to help each other learn what our kids have known for years, how to play on the computer. As a result of these two recent events, I started researching the options for parental controls on smart phones and tablets and was pleasantly surprised to find some great options out there that many parents don’t utilize. Here is the information that I think most parents need to know if they have a child using a tablet or a phone that allows apps.smartphones (more…)

You’re Grounded Forever!

As a parent, in discipline, say what you mean and mean what you say. Consequences do not have to be long or loud to be effective, they just need to be enforceable. Have you ever given your child a consequence you knew you wouldn’t follow through on? Well guess what, they know it too. So many times kids have said to me in counseling, yeah I’m grounded but she’ll let me out of it soon.  They know you as well as you know yourself.

What is the purpose of discipline? To punish? To teach? To change behavior so the same thing doesn’t happen again?  Answering this for yourself will help you decide how you can get creative with discipline.  If you always use the same form of discipline (time out, grounding), the kid knows what’s coming and decides if it is worth it when breaking a rule.  This is not much different than what adults do when they know they shouldn’t speed, but decide the risk of getting caught is worth the potential ticket because they are in a hurry.  But if the consequence doesn’t fit the crime, what does the child learn about what they did wrong? Most likely how to try harder not to get caught.

Ideally a consequence will show the child how their own behavior or choice caused the consequence (as opposed to they are in trouble because the parent was mad.)  This can be accomplished by warning the child in advance what consequence they will be facing if they continue the negative behavior. For example, “If you hit your sister one more time you will have to write her an apology and she will get to sit in the front seat for a week.”  Then if the child does hit her, it is clear that his choice created the consequence.  Also, make sure the consequence is one you can enforce. Don’t say you will MAKE the child get in the car if you cannot physically do that. Don’t say you will take away their phone if that means getting in a physical struggle with them. Instead of trying to pry the phone out of their hands, call the company and have the phone put on hold. You are then maintaining control without the power struggle.

Get creative with discipline to teach.  This is not always easy in the heat of the moment, but kids that are older than toddlers can be told the punishment is on its way.  You can let them know you are going to think about what the punishment will be, and not worry that you have to assign the consequence immediately for them to make the connection.  Most importantly, be consistent and follow through.  Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  Don’t say you will cancel a party if you know you won’t. Again, it doesn’t have to be a giant punishment to make an impact. It just has to be one you mean and will enforce for them to take you seriously.

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