Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I'm A Big Kid Now: The Transition To High School

Over the last couple of weeks,I have presented my Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Seminar at three different high schools as part of the parent orientation for their entering 9th graders. Every fall when I do this, I am reminded of how exciting and how terrifying this experience can be for the kids.

At the first school, the newbies were at a dance in the cafeteria while I held the parents captive in the auditorium. Upper class students were stationed at the door of the cafeteria in two long lines facing each other as the 9th graders walked between them. Think walking a gauntlet. For some of these 9th graders passing between these cool older students was exhilarating. Being cheered on, these teens walked through with great confidence, laughing, and smiling and hi-fiving their way into the caf. For some of the kids, this was pure hell. I watched as a group of four boys, definitely on the awkward side of 14 searched for an alternative means of entry. For them, the thought of being under the scrutiny of these older students, no matter how positive, was excruciating. They huddled, spoke in whispers, and when they realized it was now or never, they kept their heads down, making no eye contact with anyone, and shuffled as fast as they could done the line.

At another of the high schools where I presented, the kids and the parents came in together for an introduction of the guidance and advisory staff. Kids sat in the back of the auditorium, parents in the front. What struck me was that though these kids had known each other during their years at the one middle school in this town, it was as if the boys and girls were total strangers. Being 8th graders together was one thing, but now as high schoolers, it seemed as if their history together had been erased. The girls sat on one side, the boys sat on the complete other side, with an entire section of seats between them. They just could not create enough distance. They were starting from scratch, as if to say:" I don't know you, maybe I'll get to know you, maybe not, game on!

The transition to high school for some is the culmination of a dream they have had since they were little, fantasizing about all the high school fantasies kids have. " I am a big kid now.' It's not just the newness of the building that can cause their palms to sweat, but all those fantasies may or may not be realized, and that is terrifying. Will I get a boyfriend or a girlfriend? The clothes I bought are all wrong. Will my old friends still be my friends, or will they think other kids are cooler? I was the best (fill in the blank) in middle school, now there are million other kids who are better than me! When will I ever grow? School used to be so easy for me, not the work is too hard! I thought high school would be the answer to all my problems, but it is just harder.

For some it is better than they expected, especially for 9th grade girls. All of sudden they are getting tons of new attention from boys that are finally taller than they are. Their fantasies have been more than realized. Tweets, texts, invitations to party, it is all so perfect. Except that they are still only 14, and mom and dad don't think all this attention from these older boys is as good as she thinks it is.

So if your 9th graders come home from school, and gives you the silent treatment, I can assure you it has absolutely nothing to do with you. And don't make it about you. Try not to feel hurt and shut out. Just know that a million thoughts, feelings,and worries are coarsing through their body and their brain, and it is just too hard to sort it all. And when you ask the dreaded questions like: How was school? Do you like your teachers? How was practice? Do you like the kids in your classes? Who did you eat with for lunch?  You many not get more than a grunt and a groan, and that is fine. You might just say: 'I get starting high school can be pretty overwhelming, I don't want to bug you with a million questions, but I am here whenever you need me." Also if you must ask questions, rather than asking yes or no ones, which leaves room for a "its fine" said in a grunting tone, and no real information, say "tell me about....." You might actually get some information.

Having realistic expectations and understanding that 9th is a transitional year, can help get you through this year. Grades might fluctuate, social life may falter, but it's all just a moment in time. There is always next year.

PS If any of you have read my new book: A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens: Talking To Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other things That Freak you..Thank you! If you like the book and feel like writing a review on Amazon I would be grateful. Let me know when you post it by emailing me at joani@joanigeltman.com, give me your address and I will send you my first book: I Get It: Three Magic Words For Parents Of Teens as a thank you gift. Here is the link:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

To Do List: Back To School

Yes, the summer is over, and it is back to backpacks and schedules, carpools and homework. For some parents this day could not come fast enough, and for others it is dreaded almost as much as their kids dread it. The good and bad news is that in a few weeks, it will feel like summer never happened. Tans will fade, girls will finally have to put on some pants that cover their tushies, and everybody will be in some kind of routine.

I thought today I would give you my own version of a back to school sale, as I try to "sell" you on some strategies that you can start with from the get-go in hopes of a smooth beginning to the school year.


Do not allow your teen to take their cellphone to bed. How I wish teen drama happened between 8-10 pm, but the reality is, the real juicy stuff happens after 1 AM. Your teen has their phone on vibrate, and he/she never really hits the deep level of sleep that allows the brain to absorb the day's learning. Instead they lie in wait for their crush to text, or a best friend to text the days wrap up. This is why they are exhausted when they wake up. If you have been a good doobee parent who has not given your teen a smartphone, simply have your carrier shut it off when you and your teen agree on a time. Your conversation: "hey honey, I get how important it is to check in with your friends before bed, and I want you to have that time, but then we need to agree on a time that the phone will be shut off for the night. It is important for you to get a good night sleep. If you have already given your teen a smart phone, which you can't shut off through the carrier, you will say the same first part and then: " I will need to collect your phone at our agreed upon time. If you argue with me, and we get into a struggle about handing over your phone, I will need to switch out your smartphone for a regular phone, so that I can have it shut off and we won't need to argue. Your choice." And by the way, this goes for laptops, Itouches or any other device that can interfere with sleep. Shut your modem off if you have too. It is that important. Teens are already sleep deprived with the brain saying, "I'm not tired yet", and the school bus pick-up at a very early ungodly time. Your teen DOES NOT have the willpower to do this on their own, no matter what they tell you. Do not set them up to fail.


If you have had a teen that has fallen into the homework hole, do not wait for it to happen. Anticipate that this might happen again.Things don't change that much over the summer. If you have a younger teen, 6-10th grade, you might consider hiring what I call a homework coach. This is a cool college student with a car, who picks your teen up either after school or in the evening, takes them to a library, and sits with them while they do their homework, and then takes them out to shoot some hoops get an ice cream or a coffee when they are done. This basically gets your teen on a homework schedule, and pairs the dreaded homework with someone and something fun. Not that you aren't fun, well, actually you probably aren't when it comes to homework. Twice a week is usually enough.

Make sure you have a 2 hour period when there is no cellphone, and social networking sites are blocked. See cellphone strategy above. You can do the same thing, have it shut off for a couple of hours or agree for them to surrender. Again, and I will keep saying this, cellphones, and facebook, twitter et al, are TOO DISTRACTING. Your teen will argue till they are blue in the face that they can handle their homework while texting, facebooking, twittering etc. The research is unequivocal here, they can not. The brain will pay attention to the most interesting stimulus, and you can bet that geometry loses to texting every time. Even if your teen has no homework and says they did it at school you should follow through on the 2 hour rule. All this stuff is hugely addictive, you are not doing them any favors by feeding this addiction. Maybe they will actually spend time with you watching TV, a fate worse than death. Your teen will be mad at you. SO WHAT!


All teens should be involved in something. Too much time on their hands can be destructive. School is usually out by 2 and that leaves them with hours to whittle away doing who knows what, and who knows where. You should have an expectation that you teen either chooses a sport, club, drama or a job, but they must have something to do at least 3 days a week. No activity, no job...no money! Some teens may be overwhelmed with the choices available at school, and might be too shy to join something. If you know your teen has a strength in some area, say art for example, you might want to go undercover and let the guidance counselor know about this. Perhaps they need artists to work on the newspaper or yearbook or drama production, and they might get the faculty involved to approach your teen, saying they heard that they were talented and could really use their help. Be creative. This is all about building self esteem and self confidence especially if academics is not your teen's area of strength.

Social life

Teen proof your home.
  •  Lock up the alcohol and prescription drugs
  • Make sure you supervise sleepovers (that means setting alarm clock to check on location and sobriety of your house guests.)
  • Help your teen to think in advance about handling themselves in risky situations
  • Supervise teens coming to your house to hang. Make sure your teen understands your no drinking or drug policy, and have a plan in place should your teen have friends who flaunt your rules. Remember it is unsafe and illegal. 

This is in caps and in bold because it is the most important. Do not let your relationship just be about checking up on your teen, as in "have you? did you? when will you? If this is the bulk of your conversation with your teen you absolutely need to build in some good relationship building time. This is what will get your teens to do what you want, not taking away their phone. Go to a movie during the week, take them out for a coffee, give them a day off when they feel stressed, and stay in your pajamas all day eating junk food. Let your teen know you get life can be hard sometimes, and that you don't always have to be the hard-ass!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Leave Me Alone...I'll Do It!"

No kid wants to do their chores. Honestly I really don't know anyone who gets kick-ass exited to mow the lawn, take out the trash, bring down their laundry. Hell, I don't even like to do those chores. It's only when there is that tipping point, when if I leave whatever for one more day that I begin to feel really really bad about myself. And I am an adult.

So your first weapon in combatting the chore blues is to anticipate the struggle it's going to take. Your second weapon is to have a plan in your head that outlines, the number of times you are willing to ask before you just do it yourself, and then the consequence for your teen for not doing it.

There are two variations that I think are effective:

Plan 1

Keep your "asks" to three. All Teens need to be reminded, that is normal. After the 3rd ask you stop asking. And when your teen comes to you next for a ride, money laundry, help with homework, a special snack, etc, you say:" Gee honey, I would love to, let me know when you have done X and I'll get right on it. 

Plan 2

Again keep your asks to three. Then just do it yourself. And when your teen comes asking for any of those favors, you say, You know honey, I would have, but I asked you three times to do X and you chose not to help me out. So sorry, now I choose not to help you out today. 

Nagging is no fun, and almost never works anyway.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting Your Teen To Stay In Touch

There's a new app in town, and it's definitely NOT an app that your teen wants on his/her phone. It's called Ignore No More. A mom of a teen was getting tired of texting her son to check in on his whereabouts, and having him ignore her texts and her calls. Out of sheer frustration she decided that she just had to do something about it. After a few years of design, she launched the app Ignore No More. The link below explains the technology of it, but in in short, this app links up your phone with your teen's phone. If you make attempts to contact your teen, and you are ignored by your teen, you can launch the app which automatically shuts off your teen's phone. It is disabled completely except for the ability to call 911, or call your phone. If he calls you then you give him a one-time only password that gets his phone back up in running. Imagine your teen, mid-text or tweet and has her phone shut off. Definitely would get their attention. And yes an immediate call home!

Here is how I feel about this app. I think it is a great tool to have in your pocket. But I don't think it should be your go-to response for getting your teen to be responsive to you. In some ways, it takes all the responsibility away from them. Teens get distracted, and engaged in the moment. Teaching them strategies to be responsible is always the goal. Teaching them to be mindful of time, of accountability, these are all life skills. Having this app on their phone in some ways, negates their responsibility. It takes it literally out of their hands and into yours. Strategies that teach responsibility might include for example, setting an alarm for when they are supposed to check in with you. Reminding them that they need to text when they change locations or every three hours. If you have a teen that is a serial "forgetter" than this app might be an alternative. Sometimes teens avoid their parents texts or calls because they are drunk or high or otherwise engaged (if you catch my drift) and just don't want to deal with you. This is not safe. What you can say to your teen is this: "I get when you're out, I am completely out of sight, out of mind, and truthfully that is fine with me. But I do need to know where you are and that you are OK, and what your plan is. Let's work on how we can do this together. If however, you don't stay in touch in a reasonable way, then I will have to use this app to help you do that. I would rather not do that, so let's work together."

Some parents have unreasonable expectations for how much their teens need to be in touch. If you are too smothering, expecting your teen to text you too regularly, you will be setting him/her up to fail and for you to feel angry and disappointed. Your teen likes their independence. And they need to have some. Reasonable expectations are a set up for successful communication.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Spicing" It Up: A Dangerous Alternative To Pot

K2, Spice, and Mary Joy,  and smokeable incense, are all varieties of herbal "marijuana" that can be purchased at head shops in the mall, tobacco shops and even convenient stores, legally.  "I'll have a big gulp and some spice please, a common request of teens." Poison control calls about these drugs have doubled in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and I'm sure in states across the country.  That is a significant and serious increase. These new drugs are incredibly appealing to teens because they are legal...for now. Never mind that they are incredibly dangerous. Some of the side effects are: uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations, hallucinations, intense head pressure just to name a few. This website was developed by a mom who lost her son to these drugs. After a night of smoking, he got into his car, driving at 100 MPH crashed into a house and died. She was absolutely clueless that he had been experimenting with this drug. In hopes of helping other parents, she started this foundation:

 Remember that teens are impulsive, don't think things through, and if a friend says, "hey man, you gotta try this spice, its legal, its cheap, I got it at the mall, it's gotta be OK right? I heard it's a great high, let's do it!" I'm guessing if you have a teen who has already smoked some pot, and they are presented with a legal, cheaper version...hello, I think they would get on board pretty quickly.

The first step in helping your teen is awareness and education. If you have a teen who you suspect is smoking pot, even if it's recreationally, you need to give him/her this information. Don't go right to the question: "have you used this stuff?" They will hear a tone in your voice, and probably shut down immediately, and not hear this very important information. Better to say you heard this story on the TV, and it scared you, and you wanted to make sure that you gave him/her all this information. You might say: " I know some of your friends smoke pot, and maybe you have tried it too. And maybe one of your friends has heard about this stuff and has asked you try it. I want you to listen to this story and look at this website from the mom whose son died at 16 after smoking this stuff. I want to make sure that you are fully informed should you find yourself in a situation where this "fake pot" is being handed around. This stuff is really scary, and I need you to know what is out there."

I know this stuff is scary. But as I always say...KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! Watch this Today show clip with your teen...Pleasehttp://www.today.com/health/synthetic-pot-warning-spice-users-dont-how-deadly-drug-can-1D80058128

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The "liking" epidemic: Popularity in the 21st century

Below is a link to a PBS Frontline show that I found both illuminating and disturbing. There is a new kind of "popularity" in town, and you don't have to have the coolest clothes, be the cutest, or hang with the right people. You can become popular in the comfort and privacy of your own home, or in the back seat of your parents car, at the dinner table, doing your homework, anywhere, as long as you have your trusty smartphone, ipad, or laptop.

The new popularity can happen in a click. Put up a photo, click you're liked. Write something silly, click, you're liked. Say something sexy or provocative, click you're liked. Make a youtube video in your room and talk about yourself or other people, click, you're liked. Get enough likes and you are not only popular but the newest sensation.

Is your teen caught up in the endless cycle of "liking and being liked." Maybe you are caught up in it too. You just posted a video of your family taking on the the latest craze "the ice bucket challenge. Yes, you did it for charity, but seriously wouldn't you have been disappointed if no one "liked" or commented on your adorable family. Or, your dog just did the cutest thing, and you posted it on instagram or twitter and facebook, and waited patiently for the likes and comments to come pouring in. Face it, it feels really good. I get it, I love it too! It's addictive, and it makes us feel acknowledged and yes "liked."

As adults, we have perspective. We get it's all a little self-serving, but it brings joy and fun into our lives, and who doesn't need a little of that from time to time. But hopefully, we can set limits on ourselves and the time we give to this public pursuit of "likeness." We have had years to develop competence and confidence in who we are and what we have accomplished in life, and that is the real stuff that feeds our self-esteem. Teens, on the other hand are in a time in their life when they may not be feeling confident or competent in much of anything. And getting 50 likes for saying something or posting something a little outrageous can provide them with a much needed boost in their confidence, even if it is given for no real accomplishment. And that is the real issue. Confidence and self-esteem that lasts is built on a foundation of real accomplishments. Confidence and self-esteem that is built on accumulation of "likes" and "followers" and "friends" has no real lasting effect, and can actually hinder the development of an identity.

This is why I feel so passionate about parents needing to be really on top of how much time their teens give in the pursuit of "likeness" Life is about balance. Take a good long honest look at your kids. How much time do they spend in the endless cycle of posting and re posting and commenting, and "liking. " Like some of the kids in the Frontline story, sometimes this pursuit of popularity takes the place of actually living a life full of real living. If your teen's life seems out of balance, they will need help from you to create some. They will not "like" it. So be it, you can get your "likes" somewhere else for now. Watch this video with your kids, and talk to them about it. It is a discussion worth having! If you "like" this post, and want more parents to understand this phenomenon so that your teen can't say to you, "nobody else's parent is worried about this" than please share this post with  five friends who have teens!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Preventing Sexual Assault: It's All About Your Friends

The article below is a must read for parents and teens. Read it together, talk about it together, strategize together!! For those of you whose kids are about to go off to college, this should be a mandatory read!!