Thursday, November 20, 2014

Suffering A Great Loss

Dear followers
Writing this blog today is really hard. On Monday morning I got a call from one of my closest friends that her beautiful, kind and most loving 16 year old son had committed suicide on Sunday night. This is a young man that I have known since birth, that I have loved and admired for his kindness, his loving personality, his love and curiosity for learning, for his love of music of books and games, for his friends, and for the beautiful and loving relationship he had with his parents and sister. This is the boy that you think is headed for everything wonderful that life has to offer.

And yet, he did not feel that. And somewhere in a very private place in his soul, was a dark and deep hole of self doubt and loneliness. A place he had recently shared with parents and friends and a therapist, and for which he was being supported.  But for a reason that no one can explain and understand, in a moment, came to feel that it was too much to bear.

Being with my friends over the last few days have been the most painful I have ever experienced. There is no comfort for their pain, no answers for their questions. I have never in my life felt so helpless.

Our boys need our help. This is the 4th suicide of a boy I have heard about in the last month.  They don't seem to have the language, and the ability to reach out and express how deeply hurting they may be.They show the world their competent and most perfect selves, but save their most insecure feelings and feelings of loneliness and fear for their secret selves. As a collective we must figure out how to teach our boys from their earliest moments on earth how to identify, express and get comfort from those moments of darkness, that we all suffer from time to time.

I love my dear young man, and I will miss him so very much.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Your Teen Is Sneaky

I got a wonderful e-mail recently from a parent who is struggling with "sneakiness" from her teenage son. Do I hear a chorus of "me too". This is a classic parent-teen struggle. You work hard to set reasonable rules, and your teen works just as hard to wrangle him/herself around them. Here is what this parent wrote: "I believe he senses me becoming "paranoid" and questioning things because I don't trust...and he then becomes sneakier. How do I break that cycle and how do you convey confidence and trust when they have broken that trust?"

Let's play this out. You make a rule. This mom had a rule about no food in the basement. She goes down the basement and finds cans and wrappers stashed behind furniture. This a relatively minor infraction but a great example of how these small things build up, create niggles of doubt, until full out distrust and paranoia develop. Fill in the blank here with the smaller rule breakers that your teen challenges you with. 

Here is your "I Get It" moment: "Hey honey, I just found (fill in the blank) wrappers and cans in the basement. Clearly you think this is a rule worth breaking. Give me an alternative. I'd rather we come up with something together, that we both can agree on, rather than you disagreeing with something and sneaking around to do what you want anyway." The work is always to encourage truth-telling. When you include your teen in the rule-making, at least you get them to have partial ownership of the problem. Here is how you can do this. Using the above example, 

Your teen will probably say: "its stupid that I can't eat downstairs where I hang out."

Parent says;" What do you think I am worried about when you ..........." 

In this case kid will say: "that I will trash the basement." 

Mom can say: "Yes that's right, so what will you do to assure me you won't trash the basement, and get rid of your trash."

 Now the owness is on the teen to come up with a plan that makes you happy.

Final question from parent: "What will the consequence be if you don't follow through on your plan."

The consequence is in place. If you aren't satisfied with the consequence your teen comes up with, offer one up yourself. Maybe in this case, you are banned from the basement for 24 hours if I find trash down there. 

As your kids get older, they will disagree with you more and more. Your choice is to set your rules, and watch your kids dance around them, or engage them in the process so they feel a part of the process. They want to manage their life, they are driven to manage their life, even if they don't do it well. It's called practice! It is up to you to give them opportunity to practice, by including them in the process. They will screw up. But I think it is less about trust, and more about temptation. Teen''s are impulsive, and don't think things through for very long. They need help in that department. So when you find the beer can in the basement, what you want is use that to open conversation. So rather than getting angry, and going with a "how can you betray my trust like this" You might say" I was surprised to find this beer. I know we don't have any in the house, so either you or one of your friends brought it in. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about being in the basement and sneaking in beer or booze.?" Again, using the words trust can be loaded. Teens are tempted by all the fun stuff teens want to do and try. They need your help to stay safe and trustworthy, not just your anger.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Having Realistic Expectations For Your Teen: It Could Save Their Life

Close your eyes and imagine your teen 2 years from now, 4 years from now, 10 years from now. Do you imagine them walking the halls of your alma mater? Do you imagine them following in your footsteps into a profession that closely resembles yours? Are you imagining outcome? What is success after all?

In the last few months and as recently as last weekend, I read or heard about a number of teen suicides. These kids should have been the success stories; star students, star athletes, popular, and all around wonderful young people. Where is the disconnect? 

Sometimes our kids absorb the expectations of everyone around them, and put their own ideas about who they want to become on the back burner. They feel the power of your pride in their successes, and the power of the responsibility they feel toward their teams, their school, their friends.

The video below is by a high school student who has witnessed a recent cluster of suicides at her high school in Palo Alto Ca. Her first hand observations are quite powerful. 

Watch this video with your teen, and ask the hard, but very important question: Do we put too much pressure on you? What could we do differently? Give your teen the gift of acceptance and understanding. It is way more important than honor roll. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Curfews


Here is a Q&A I did recently about curfews. Enjoy!!!

What are some behaviors a parent should look for before deciding their young teen is ready for a curfew?

As long as parents are in the driver seat, literally, there is no need for a curfew. When your teen has started to do the “walk and hangs” sans parental supervision, It’s time for a curfew.

Why do teens need curfews?

Teens live in the present. Wherever and whatever they’re doing in the moment causes them to lose track of time. They are not thinking: “oh I need to get home to do my homework, or my chores, or for dinner with the fam!” They need help in setting limits, and help in taking responsibility for their time. For some teens, this comes naturally, for most teens it does not.

What are the benefits of a curfew -- for the teen and for the parent?

Curfews can keep teens safe. Too much time out with no time boundaries can put teens in riskier situations. Knowing that there is an end to an evening makes teens more aware of their behavior, and may help they to say no to situations that involve risky behaviors. For parents they are teaching their kids the concept of accountability. This is a life skill and one that will be important as they move into adulthood.

What’s the best way for a parent to go about instituting or establishing a curfew?

This absolutely should be a joint venture between the parent and the teen. Curfews handed down from “parent on high” have the potential for “curfew abuse” This happens when a parents sets an unreasonably early curfew, which the teen is then driven to manipulate. For example if there is an 11 PM curfew which a teen feels is unfair, the parents will get a call at 10:59 PM with a fantastically wonderful excuse from their teen why they can’t be home at 11 PM. Parent gives in and says, fine be home by 11:45 PM. Teen has just learned a bad lesson; my parents can be manipulated, and I can get what I want. If instead the parent had said to the teen, “what time do you think will work for you tonight.” The teen would probably say 11:30 ish. Parents can than say “fine, and what will be the consequence if you are late?” Because the teen has had a say, they are much more likely to take ownership of the curfew and come in on time.

How long should a child have a curfew before a parent considers making it later?

I am not a fan of a rigid set curfew time. I don’t see it as an age question. I think that curfews do depend on what the activity is. I think curfew setting should be a fluid process. If for example a teen is going to hang at a friends house or going to a party, maybe an earlier curfew. If going to a concert or a movie, it may be a later one.

What’s the best way for a parent to handle it when their teen breaks curfew? See below

What’s a parent to do when their teen chooses to ignore/disregard the curfew?
If a parent has used the process I described above by including the teen in curfew and consequence setting it makes this issue very clear and easy. The teen would have already decided what his consequence would be if he was late. This way when this teen screws up all a parent has to say is “sorry this didn’t work out for you, I guess we’ll be hanging next Friday night together.”

When a teen does ignore or disregard, obviously there would be a consequence of not going out one night the next weekend or docking time. But more importantly parents should work with their teen on strategies to be “curfew successful” There should be a conversation on what would help them the next time. Maybe they did lose track of time, and just were having too much fun to leave. In this case, maybe suggesting to their teen they set some kind of alarm on their phone that gives them a heads-up on the time. Or another strategy is that parents can give teens an hour window to call them for a curfew change. Perhaps a teens curfew is at 11:30. Parents may say if you call me by 10:30 for an extension I will consider it. But anytime after that will always be a NO. Again this makes teens take responsibility for time management. 

PS: Contact me if you think your high school or middle school would like me to come to do one of my 2 hour seminars: Adolescent Psychology- The Parent Version; Sexting, Texting and Social Networking, What's A Parent To do?; Understanding Your teen's risk for Alcohol and Drug use. What's Your Teen's Personality Style? joani@joanigeltman.com

Read my new book:
http://www.amazon.com/Survival-Guide-Parenting-Teens-Drinking/dp/0814433669/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393167330&sr=8-1&keywords=a+survival+guide+to+parenting+teens

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Don't Talk To Me!

I was giving a seminar the other night, and one of the parent asked me what to do if your teen literally does not talk to you? She described her situation this way: "he walks in the house, goes to the refrigerator or cabinet, takes his food, brings it up to his room, shuts his door...gone for the night. He seems to be doing OK at school, since his grades seem fine when the report card comes in. Where he goes, what he does when he is not home or at sports seems to be a mystery. What can I do?"

OK if you have a teen who has completely shut down, there is a reason, and I am afraid the reason is not just that he/she is an uncommunicative teenager. Many teens don't sit down with their parents in the family room for long chats about life, but there are meals together, or an occasional meet ups in the kitchen. If your teen literally has cut you out of his/her life there is a more serious problem.

My first suggestion is to take stock of your side of the relationship between you and your teen. Last night I was giving a seminar on stress and teens and asked parents to go home, sit down with their teen and say: "I get your life can get pretty stressful, with school stuff, and sports or drama or your job, and I know your friends are important to you and that takes up a lot of room in your life. Is there anything we are doing that is contributing to your stress. What can we do differently to make your life less stressful?"

This can be a go-to discussion for your alienated teen as well. Something has gotten in the way of your relationship, and it is possible that unknowingly you have said or done something that has turned your teen off to you. You must find our what that is, before you can close the chasm. This is a chance for your teen to "give you a report card." It might be hard to hear, but hear it you must. The hardest part of this conversation is not the hearing but the not responding. Your job is to listen.....period. It is not to defend yourself, or over-explain why you parent him/her the way you do. Your gift is your opening yourself up to feedback. As parents we give "feedback" to our teens all the time. "if you would just .....", or "you never...." or "why can't you......?" Now it is their turn. Sometimes as parents we operate on automatic, using our go-to lectures to get our kids to do what we want them to. But guess what, those lectures go in one ear and out the other, and your teens aren't listening anyway.

So if you have a teen who has shut you out. Let him/her know that you miss them, you love them and that you want to figure out what you might be doing that has changed the way they feel about you. You might hear something that hurts, but honesty in a relationship is good. Honesty can sometimes be painful but it can also be a healer.

Maybe your relationship with your teen is good, but this is still a good conversation to have with your teen, cause it can only get better!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

You Are So Annoying!!!!


Often after my seminars, parents come up to give me a personal greeting. Sometimes I meet parents who have been repeat attenders of my seminar. ( I love that). They tell me that after their first seminar with me they left breathing a sigh of relief. Their kid may have only been 11 or 12, and most of what I said did not apply yet to their relationship with their teen. They report leaving the seminar thinking, oh good, I think we've dodged that teen bullet, our teen doesn't behave at all like Joani said. We must be doing one helluva job!!! Little did they know, that a year or two later, once again sitting in the audience of another of my seminars they would nod their head in agreement and wonder whether I lived in their house as my descriptions of the teen behaviors rang so very true.....now.

I think one of the hardest changes that parents experience with their teen is the abrupt change in their teens behavior towards them. Their teen literally goes  from being open and loving one day, to cold and secretive literally the next day. Parents feel puzzled by this,  questioning what they might have done wrong to ellicit this change. Answer: nothing.

Apparently your teen got the new memo, if you are acting nice to your parents, then stop. It is unseemly for teens to be nice to the "enemy. " Maybe your teen was sitting in the cafeteria, or on the bus, and a bunch of kids were slamming their parents..."man I hate my parents, they never let me do anything." Or maybe, "my parents are so nosy, always looking over my shoulder when I'm on the computer, they are such a pain!" So there your teen is, listening, and wondering, "gee I get along good with my parents, is that bad? And BAM they come home and practice being a "teen." So that may be one explanation.

Here is another. One of the major tasks of adolescence is separation/individuation. The work of developing a personal identity means stepping back from the people who have been the closest and most influential in their lives. How am I like my parents? How am I different from my parents? Where am I in all this? Unfortunately these questions are not consciously being asked in that teen brain of theirs. Instead this new brain is giving them new thoughts they have never thought before. "God my parents are so annoying, I hate the way they dress, eat, talk, think, ask so many questions etc." The truth is, it isn't really about you, it is more the process by which they are trying to figure out what they think, and what they feel. And for all of his/her life they have kind of depended on you to figure that out for them. Now they know that they have to figure this stuff out for themselves. Adolescence is after all, the training period for adulthood.

So when your teen tells you that you are annoying and gives you 'the look", try not to take it personally. A shoulder shrug, and an I love you, should say it all.

PS: I will be at Sharon High School, Sharon Ma on Wednesday November 5 from 7-9 and at Furnace Brook Middle School in Marshfield Ma on Thursday Nov 6th from 7-9. I will giving my seminar; Adolescent Psychology The Parent Version. Both are open to the public....COME