Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Keeping Teens At Your Metaphorical Breast

In addition to my work with parents of teens, I also speak to and coach parents of babies and young children. Yes I am an equal opportunity parenting expert! I meet with parents of kids of all ages, and truly, toddlers aren't that much different from teenagers!

New moms often ask the breast feeding questions: When should I stop breast feeding? That question got me to thinking about parents who keep their teens at their metaphorical breasts. The question all parents need to ask, whether as a parent of a 4 year old,  or a parent of a 14 year old is this: "Whose needs am I meeting here? Do I keep my teen dependent on me whether by "helping them," (and by this I mean doing) their homework for them, keeping them close to home, make my opinions from what clothes to wear, what friends to keep, or even something so simple as what to eat at a restaurant, so indispensable that they are terrified to make a decision without me. Do I "help them"and by this I mean, get their summer jobs for them, write their college applications, and don't hold them accountable when they screw up, all in the name of support? Do I solve all their problems and make everything all better so they don't have to feel anxiety or depression?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, let's hope your breast milk dries up soon. The task of all adolescents is to become adept at becoming confident in their ability to take care of themselves. If they rely on you to "feed them" and to anticipate for them when they will be "hungry" they will be completely unprepared for the challenges they face as soon as they walk out the door of your home. And you don't have to wait for college for them to have to face this world. That happens every single day of their life. If your teen is texting you a million times a day asking what he/she should do in this situation, or  in that one, whether with their teacher, their coach, or their friends, they are still hanging on that breast.  That must feel pretty good to you. There is nothing more satisfying than being needed by your teen. And thought they might not like to hear you say, "gee honey, I don't know what you should do. What do you think?" Think they must. Remember this generation likes to get information fast. Don't be their google button. Let them go hungry!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Psychology Of Teens and Social Networking

I have recently come across a plethora of articles as I was researching the issue of teens and the effects of over-connection. A recent statistic I read stated that teens spend 7 hours a day on cells and social networking. That is after-school hours. That is alarming. Literally the only leftover time is sleep! In this post I discuss three of them. Pace yourself, there is a lot to read. You don't have to read them all in one sitting, but read them you must, and maybe even read with your teen as you discuss your thoughts and ideas about how you both see social networking fitting in their lives. 

The first article talks about the power of lonely!! (see link below)A feeling few teens allow themselves to feel. To summarize, it talked about the benefits of spending time alone. "When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what's called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflexively about our own thoughts." I know I crave this time alone, letting my mind wander to places it might not normally go. Our lives now make it almost impossible for some people to shut off all the distractions of Iphones, and e-mail, and facebook, and oh, also the face time we give to our jobs, and our families. This leaves little time for rumination. I know some of my most creative and deep thinking comes in the car with the radio and cell phone off, or in long walks with my dog.

The article specifically addresses teenagers and this issue of aloneness. "Teenagers, especially have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection and freedom from self-consciousness that strengthens their sense of identity." The problem is that though being alone is good for the soul, most teens are afraid of it. They have become so attuned to the buzz of ipods, cellphones, computers and video games, that silence feels alien and to some terrifying. So much so that many teens have developed in inability to go to sleep without some "noise". Just being alone with their own thoughts is scary. I have talked a lot with my college students about this, and in some classes I take the first five minutes to do a short meditation. My students have said how hard that five minutes is for them, and that it feels like forever to just be quiet. This is not a good thing.

Some teens like being alone. Even as children they were happy to play by themselves, and often refused the offer of a playdate, just to be with themselves happily in their worlds of make-believe. Some teens are terrified of being alone, desperately looking for companionship and connection. So there is the nature part of this equation.

You obviously can't make your teen take the time to "smell the roses." But you can model it, and you can call attention to it. Here is your I get it moment: 'You know honey I was thinking about how plugged in we all are, and how little time we give ourselves to just be quiet. I read this article recently that talked about how important it is for everyone to allow themselves time to just process. I get how much you have to do, and how important it is for you to stay tuned in to it all, just wish you would take some time to just be." They will probably look at you and think, what the hell is she/he talking about? But that's ok. Sometimes as parents we are just planters. We drop some seeds of wisdom, and hope that somewhere along the way, some sprouts appear.

In another really good article in The Guardian (see link below) on the curses of social networking and teens found this:

"A survey conducted by the Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people to keep track of their moods while on the five most popular social media sites. Instagram and Snapchat came out worst, often inspiring feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and self-loathing. And according to another survey carried out by the youth charity Plan International UK, half of girls and two-fifths of boys have been the victims of online bullying".

This is not good news!!! As a college professor for over 25 years, I have seen the changes that social networking can have on an entire generation. Since I teach Intro To Psych I have a unique opportunity to find out what goes on in the minds of my freshman students encouraging them, if they so choose, to talk about their experiences with anxiety and depression. I am still shocked by the number of my students that are on some kind of anti-anxiety or anti-depresssionates as compared to my pre-technology students from the 80's and 90's. They report the same kinds of worries discussed in these articles. 

This article in The Atlantic is particularly  powerful in describing this influence. What can you do?? You can remember that you are the parent. The blog I wrote on Tuesday outlined some of the ways you can keep your teen emotionally and physically safe. There is no more important job of a parent. Will your teens be willing partners? Absolutely Not!! They will kick and scream and tell you they JUST HAVE TO DO THEIR HOMEWORK IN A GROUP CHAT!!!! And here's what I would say. "You know honey, I get doing homework is more fun and maybe even you get the help you need when you do you homework with your friends. But here is the deal, I also want you to develop skills in working things out for yourself. That is an important life skill to have!!! And I have total confidence that you can do just that. So we will have to come up with a compromise. Let's figure out how you can both have SOME time to work on homework with your friends, and SOME time when you do your reading and other work on your own. Let's figure out the time during the evening when you are on your own." Include them in the conversation, then using one of the parent controls have your teen's phone automatically shut off at the appointed time. This will not be easy, and I'm sorry about that...truly. But you are older, and smarter, and more experienced than your teen, and though their tantrums will be loud and uncomfortable, I have complete confidence in you that you can handle the noise!!


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

You Need To Know: New Apps Your Teen Uses!!!

Hey guys, I have found you a new teen bible!!!https://protectyoungeyes.com/apps/. This site maintains a whole cadre of the apps your teens are most likely using and lets you know if there are inherent risks. It is easy to navigate, and I think is a great tool to use as a way to have some good conversations with your teens about the apps they are using, and the worries you have about them. The benefit for using this site as a jumping off point is that the info is not coming from you!!! You are not lecturing, you are educating and they are participating in this education. Think of this like the blue book a pre-driving teen has to read and be tested on before they can even get their learners permit. The missing link between kids and social networking has always been training. Kids are given their phones, and most parents use a wait and see approach. It's only when a crisis presents itself ; spending too much time on their phones; finding sexy photos or texts; bullying; discovering sneaky or risky behavior. When these occur, parents jump into action mode!! However, by then your teen is addicted and pissed that you will now limit in any way the most important part of their life!!!! Remember...education is power!!

I will identify a few of the newer apps that I have become aware of that raise a red flag. As I have said many many times before. Your teens do not need to download every new app that comes down the pike. The more options they have to "play" on their phones the more they will play!!! You should exercise your right as the rightful owner of their phone to limit the number of apps that are on their phone at any one time. If they want a new app, they must read about it on the site above, and then make their case to you about why they absolutely have to have it. There should be a one-to one swap. One old app gets deleted for every new app they want downloaded. The best you can do as parents is limit time and opportunity. The sneakiness of many of these apps take away your control around content. But if they can only use their social networking apps for limited amounts of times with built in "break time" you can at least not feed their addiction 24/7. On Thursday I will address the psychological effects of too much social networking. The only way you can limit time and apps is by installing some form of parental control. PC magazine has done the work for you and reviews all your options. https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2346997,00.asp

MARCO POLO: This app works like an old fashioned walkie talkie, but instead it swaps instant videos. It has all kinds of fun enhancements that teens completely get off on. I get that it is fun. But not when it becomes obsessive, as most things do with teens.

HOUSE PARTY: Face time on steroids. This allows your teen to live video chat with up to 8 people at a time. Think of the Brady Bunch opening! It accesses their contact list so that people can see who's "in the room" and join a chat. But because it accesses and notifies everyone on your contact lists, friends of kids your kids don't know can join if there is room in "the room." This means your teen is meeting kids from who knows where who are into who knows what. Not saying this is a deal breaker, just something you should know and talk about with them. Because this means your teen especially your young teens could be connecting with some other teen from wherever and planning meet ups or who knows what that you won't know anything about.

FIRECHAT: Kids can text without wifi. Maybe you shut your wifi off at night thinking this will deter late night texting. This circumvents this.

YELLOW: It is specifically for teens 13-17. This one feels completely terrifying to me. It is the teen equivalent of Tinder. A teen can post a photo and profile. And they can access other peoples photos and profile. If you think the guy/girl is cute, if you both swipe right,  you can "meet up" virtually or in person, swipe left if you're not interested. This gives teens access to complete and total strangers, including adults posing as teens, and young teens being in touch with much older teens.  Too may scary situations to mention here. Use your imagination!!This should absolutely be forbidden!

APPS THAT PROMISE ANONYMINITY: AFTERSCHOOL, ASK.FM, MONKEY, SARAHAH. Complete descriptions on the site above. These are all invitations for bullying!!

Okay, I'm done!!! You should be checking your teen's apps regularly if you choose not to limit them through a parental control. Keep yourself educated and informed, so you are speaking about something you know. You need to be an expert on this stuff. And if you have more than one teen you have to do this with, what can I say except...God help You!!!

PS: You might want to share this post with your friends with teen or your teen's friends' parents so everyone knows what the kids are doing!!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Why Teens Can Be Mean To Their Parents

There is a really good reason why teens are mean to their parents. Now with this new teenage brain growing by leaps and bounds, they are literally having thoughts they have never had before. Remember back when you were a teenager the moment when you realized " hey, my parents aren't perfect...awesome!!!!"

Teens have this new thinking ability that allows them to analyze and think more deeply about things. This is why teachers in middle school and high school expect their students to go from the concrete: who-what- where kinds of questions and answers, to the whys? They want them to read between the lines. School is not the only place teens are expected to do this kind of thinking. Their social life, their family life, all of it is now seen and understood under a whole new lens. What do you think gossip is?? It's a new way to think and analyze the people in their life. And you dear parents are part of their life. For the first time, they are seeing you without the rose-colored glasses of childhood, where parents are perfect, and their #1's. Now they see cracks in the armor. "Hey my parents don't practice what they preach, they can be hypocrites." Your teen can see right through the "do as I say, not as I do!"

Not only do they see you more realistically, but they absolutely love to tell you all their new perceptions that they are having about you. They are missing the edit button that will come with adulthood. For now though, if they have a thought about you, no matter how mean sounding, they share it.  You may feel that no matter what you do or say, according to your teen it's the wrong thing!!!!

Never fear, this is only temporary. Remember it's a new way of thinking about you. It's a novelty, and it feels really powerful for a teen to be able to see their parents in a whole new way. Having a teen in your home is like having a live in therapist. There is no one who will be more honest with you. If you can hold off on getting defensive, and listen to what they have to say, you might learn something new about yourself that is useful.

The trick here is to not feed into your teen's feeling of power. Basically they are being bullies, and the best way to handle a bully is to take away their power of hurt. So the next time you feel that biting criticism from your teen, rather than expressing hurt or anger, go up to them, give them a great big hug and say: "You are so cute when you're being a brat, I love you!!!" That ought to do the trick!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My Kid Would Never Do.....

A study by the University of Michigan found that most parents look at  their teen through rose colored glasses, as in "my kid would never." Only 10% of the parents polled nationwide believed that their teens had used alcohol in the last year, and only 5% of parents thought that their teen had smoked pot. Here is the fun part, when the teens were polled through a study by the National Institutes of Health, the results showed that 52%of teens admitted to drinking and 28% admitted to smoking pot. Someones....not....paying.... attention. And what is even more telling is that these same parents polled believed that 60% of other teens (but not mine) were drinking alcohol and 40% were smoking pot.

Some examples of not my kid:
 Last week a parent told me this story. He had taken his 15 year old teen to a small, maybe 10 kids "get together" at a friends house on a Saturday night. Not only were the parents home, but this dad knew the parents and felt completely fine about the supervision. Dad shows up to pick up his son at the appointed hour and finds  50-60 teens milling about the yard as they had all been thrown out of the house. Why had they been thrown out? Because the "supervising parents,"who must have been deaf, dumb and blind not to have heard or seen the party numbers growing by leaps and bounds finally heard something that sparked their interest and when they joined the party saw 60 kids, tons of booze and pipes(for pot for those who don't know) scattered outside and in their basement. "What a surprise???? How could all these kids come uninvited to our house??? These are all such good kids, I don't understand, lamented the host parents." How could my son think this was OK?" Ah, hello, this is what most kids do when given the opportunity, the space,and the clueless parent!!!!

Story 2:
This mom shared this story with me during a coaching session. Mom has a 14 year old, straight A, quiet studious daughter who has a few best friends but is definitely not a party girl, preferring to stay in with friends on weekends and watch movies. Parents of this small group of teens always felt very comfortable leaving these girls "home alone". One day after school, on a half-day, this mom's daughter and a friend went back to the other girl's house. The parents both work, but these are the "good"girls so of course they were fine at home. Apparently because these girls are not the party girls they have been very curious about what the whole "drinking" deal is all about. So they planned an afternoon of drinking to find out. Getting the alcohol was easy, because it was right where the vodka always is, in the cabinet. Short story, one girl, kept drinking more and more vodka cause she wasn't feeling anything...until she did.  But by that point she passed out, was rushed to the hospital with a blood alcohol of .18 and had her stomach pumped. Moral of this story, it's the "good girls/boys, and the "party boys/girls" .

Parent's job is to anticipate, expect and do as much as they can to protect!  The only way you can do that is to predict that yes indeed, at some point, your kid too will want to experiment, take risks, do things you would never expect of them. It doesn't make them a bad kid or you a bad parent, just a realistic one.

Here are some tips for Teen Proofing Your Home:

  • Does your teen go to bed hours after you even on school nights? If you are in bed by 9, and your teen is up till..whenever. You need to set your alarm for 11 ish PM and do a check. Many kids are having trouble sleeping and are down in your basement, or open their window in their bedroom and do a little pot to help them sleep, and because they use a vape pen, you may have no idea. Pot has become a very popular drug of choice for teens!
  • When your teen has a sleepover: This is another time when you are in bed wayyyyy earlier that your teen and their sleep over buddies. They may be in the basement floors away from you. Believe me when I tell you kids sneak out, drink, smoke pot, watch porn, take your car keys and go for a joy ride. How do I know all this???? Because I have been doing this for a VERY long time. I teach college students, and they love to tell me how they "got over" on their parents. I also have coached hundreds and hundreds of parents, and they tell me. I'm not saying all teens are up for a grand ole time at a sleepover, but what teen doesn't doesn't like some kind of fun. Set your alarm for 11:30, 1:30 and 3 AM. Tell your teen you are an insomniac and have to pee all night long. Hope your nocturnal activities won't bother them and their friends. WINK,WINK!!! This will be a deterrent!!! Trust me!
  • Lock up your alcohol and your drugs: Who doesn't have a little ambien, xanax or oxy around from an old root canal or back injury!! You may think your teen knows not to go in your bathroom, but really?.......Go to CVS and buy an insert that fits right into your medicine cabinet that locks. Also, I can't tell you how many homes I visit where the garages are full of booze and the living room has bottles of booze just out for the taking. The #1 place teens get alcohol is from their parent's house!! Don't forget the beer/wine refrigerator in the basement!
  • Backpacks and water bottles should be left at the door: Teens are crafty, they will bring stashes into your house, do what you can to limit that.
  • If you go away for the weekend without your kids: I know, they are staying at their best friends, and you have told them that are not allowed to come into the house. But when their friends realize there is an empty house for the taking on the weekend....well you know!! Call your local police station and tell them you will be away for the weekend. Your teens are not staying at the house, but as a precaution ask them to do some drive bys on the evenings you will be away. Tell your teen, "oh by the way, I called the police and they will be checking on the house while we're away. So if you're friends put any pressure on your to come into the house, you can tell them your stupid ass parents called the cops!!" That will take care of that!
I know this all sounds alarmist. But this is about temptation!  You never left your kid's halloween candy out for the taking when they were in elementary school, why would you leave out your alcohol and drugs! This is about safety, not only for your teens, but for any teens that come into your house. Just think, only a few more years, and you can sleep through the night again!!!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Don't Forget" Is Not A Remembering Strategy

Not that school has started, you'll be back in the DON'T FORGET mode!!!How many times have your said to your teen: Don't forget your math book, sports equipment, lunch, house keys, etc., etc., etc. You may have even done the reminding just before your teen walks out the door, and you are responded to with a " I WON"T!" And so you leave it at that!

Then the phone call comes in from your teen, not a text, but a real honest to goodness human voice: "Hiiiii, it's me....... how's your day going?" Said in the sappiest, sweetest tone your teen your kid can muster. And then the: "I forgot my _________________, can you bring it to school?" And you grimace, and groan, and say: " how many times did I ask you and remind you to make sure you had that to bring to school? "And you start in on the lecture; "If you only did like I told you to get your school stuff ready the night before this would never happen........" And then you cave and interrupt whatever it is your doing and bring the damn_______________ to school. Because you know that if you don't, the teacher will give your teen a "0" for class that day, and that too many zero's can add up to a grade drop for the term, and if the term grade isn't high enough, it will effect their chance of an honor's class or grade point cum or any other consequence that might in some way affect your teen's college chances and therefore the rest of their life.

That train of thinking is called sequential thinking, and that is the kind of thinking that your teen does not do very well. When you did that final yell up the stairs in the morning, your teen heard you, and really did think, oh yeah, gotta remember that book. But then a second later he/she got a text from a friend who asked a really important question like "what are wearing today? or Wassup. And this very important question took them away from the remembering.

If you really want your teen to remember the things they always forget, than you have to help them come up with a strategy for remembering that works for them. Remember that you and your teen are not the same person, you do not have the same brain, and therefore what works for you in the remembering department like making a list for example, may not work for them.

So don't start off this conversation with the "you know what works for me?" Instead you can say; "You know honey, I know it's hard to keep track of what you need to do and remember, you have alot on your mind. (And they do) and I get it's easy to forget things when in that moment you have a ton of other things that take up space in that brain of yours. So here's the thing. I get that just saying "don't forget" does not work. I also am not willing anymore to interrupt my day to take you what you need, or letting "I forgot" being an excuse for not following through on something, like keeping in touch with us when you are out with your friends. Instead, we have to come up with strategy to help you remember."

And here is the real work. TOGETHER you brain storm some ideas. Perhaps if your teen is attached to his phone, he/she can set an alarm just before leaving for school that reminds them to remember such and such. Or maybe you text them just before they leave, even if you are sitting in the same room, or perhaps you have color coded post it notes on the door out to the garage that match up with what they need for the day. Be creative. Look at who your kid is and how their brain works. Thinking through a strategy is giving them a life skill that they can use the rest of their life, saying don't forget lasts only a second.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It Is Time For A Parenting Reality Check

Get a big cup of coffee, or a big glass of wine and settle in. I have a lot of reading for you to do today. Below are two links from this month's Boston Magazine. A great issue for parents of teens. One of them is about sending off your newly minted college freshman with some tips from me, and the other is an excellent, first hand reflection article about the pressure for parents to think their teen needs to be the best at everything. The third link is about how teens choose to handle this pressure that parents often exert from the New York Times. All of these work in concert with this blog that I wrote in 2012, but is really timeless.

"I come from a family that gets disappointed and chews me out for B's or B+'s and even A-'s. I've been told that the only way to be successful is through academic excellence. I'm sick of the expectations to be a perfect kid. Change your unrealistic expectations and take the My Kid Is An Honor Student bumper sticker off your minivan."20 year old non-ADD Adderall user.

The New York Times (see link below) did an eye-opening article citing the number of high school and college students without ADD that are using drugs like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. Kids with ADD who have been prescribed these drugs have found a great market niche. Sell their own prescribed ADD medication to kids looking for either a cheap high, or like to use the amphetamine like high or energy boost to get through homework faster and with a higher degree of success. What parents see from their teen is a renewed sense of dedication and ability to concentrate from their students, and applaud their successes, blinded to the reality that this is being achieved through a drug high. Remember these are kids NOT DIAGNOSED with ADD, but have felt a pressure to meet the high expectations from parents, teachers, and community. Read the article for a full explanation of the dangers of using these drugs which are not prescribed for the many kids using them. If your teen is prescribed such a drug, do not give them the responsibility for the bottle. You dose it out and maintain control of the bottle. There is too much temptation out there for selling their pills to other students.

First off, let me say that  not all kids are "A" students, nor should they be. Academic achievement is getting a bad rep.  Making honor roll every term, does not assure success as an adult. There are many very successful people who were high school or college drop outs whose "A's" came from their passions in other areas, but did not show up on their report cards. People like Peter Jennings, Rachel Ray, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey Chocolates, Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark cards. And the list goes on.(Google successful people who didn't graduate and you will be amazed at the list) This is not to say, you should not have high expectations of your kids. But they should be realistic expectations. If you have a son or daughter who is engaged fully in their life, with a passion like sports, or theater, or computers, or cartooning, or film making or is a budding musician who wants to spend every waking moment making music, that is a good thing. That drive and passion will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a non-academic interest they have many friends and an active social life. That too is a good thing and will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a passion, and friends, they have a job, that will translate to the real world in a meaningful way, And if they do well enough in school, and are actually interested in what they are learning, how amazing that is and how important that will be as they head out into a very complex and complicated world. Getting on honor roll to make you happy should not be the goal. Getting on honor roll because it is a goal they have for themselves is the real work.

Some years back I was doing some work for a prestigious private school. One weekend party binge was particularly upsetting to the school community. A student whose parents were away for the weekend, had a party at her house. The party got out of control, and hundreds of kids showed up at this house. Not only did they party hearty with alcohol, but these "A" students completely trashed this house, leaving no lampshade unturned. The damage to this beautiful house was beyond belief. How could these well-educated, smart, goal-driven kids do this? When the kids who were caught were asked, here is what they answered: " Our parents expect us to the "best little boys and girls" in the world. They want us to get good grades, be the best athlete or singer or actor or artist, be active in the school, do community service, do it all!" And we do! But guess what, trashing this house was our way of saying "f##k you, we are not perfect!

Your kids feel the pressure of your expectations, and because they love you want to please you. But of course there is a cost. If taking a drug that is not meant for them will get the job done, then so be it! Parents, this is time for a reality check. Ask your successful grade A student why they get the grades.  If they say, "because I know it will make you happy", then give them an F, cause that is the wrong answer. If they answer "cause I really love school, and I love what I am learning," give them an "A", cause they deserve it. When your friends ask you,'Hey how is Sally doing?" and you answer by giving them a rundown of Sally's honor roll report card and SAT scores, give yourself an "F". If you answer by saying: "you know she seems really happy, has great friends, loves soccer, and seems to be enjoying her classes," give yourself an "A". Of course we take pride in ourselves when our kids do well, and feel disappointed and maybe even embarrassed when our kids don't do well. But truly, I would rather have a kid who struggles, but has a lot of other good things in their life besides academics that build their confidence and self-esteem, than a kid who feels pressure to strive for the A by taking drugs that will make them work even harder, and diminishes the joys of working hard and achievement to just getting the job done.

When the final report cards come in this week. Whether you are elated or if you are disappointed, the question should be the same. "How have our expectations of you impacted this report card?" In the long run, the kids who become successful adults are the ones who have something in their life that motivates them, interests them, and gives them joy. But that shouldn't be you!