Thursday, October 27, 2011

Did You Know......?

 A study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that "college students who displayed photos of themselves holding a beer or cocktail or who posted status updates of their drinking habits were four times more likely to be problem drinkers compared with those who didn't have any alcohol references in their Facebook profiles."  This might be an interesting way to start a discussion with your teen about drinking behavior. Many teens love to plaster their Facebook pages with their party adventures. As in "man I was so trashed this weekend that I......." You might say to your teen: "In the paper this morning there were results from a study (see above) What do you think about that? When you're on Facebook, are the kids who post the most about partying the kids who drink the most?" The reason this study is important is that it highlights what I know many teens feel, that you can't have any fun unless you are "high" in some fashion. That being "intoxicated" is the actual entertainment of the weekend rather than an accessory. In other words, the acquiring of and then the imbibing of the booze or pot is the actual activity of the night.

A few years back I was on a committee that was focused on dealing with the issue of teen drug and alcohol use. There was a major event coming up in the community that in the past had been a mecca for drunk teens. There had been one too many teens sent in ambulances to emergency rooms for stomach pumping due to excessive drinking and we were trying to come up with some strategies to keep the kids safe during this upcoming annual event. The members of this group were varied, including parents, teachers, therapists, police and the most important experts of all, teens. What the teens told us was alarming and depressing. They said that if the teens felt that there were too many roadblocks in place, so they couldn't come in high (breathalyzers), or couldn't sneak in boos (bags, coats etc not allowed in the dance space) then kids wouldn't come to the event. It wasn't the dancing or dressing up that was a fun, it was the being trashed. This made me sad.

It's not only important to address the safety issues of drugs and alcohol, but also the underlying motivators as well. Getting teens to think why they drink or smoke pot is equally as important as staying safe while they're doing it. Most kids don't think about this at all. They get caught up in the moment of partying, but don't really think about why they like being buzzed. Having a judgement free conversation about this can plant some important seeds of self-reflection. It might go like this: " I get when you are at parties, and out with friends, that kids are usually drinking and smoking pot. Have you ever thought about why it feels so fun to be high, and why teens are so driven to do it? Is it the being out of control that feels fun, or maybe it makes you feel less shy when you hang with the guys/girls? Does it kind of give kids permission to do and be outrageous and then can blame it on being trashed? I wonder if kids are just bored and drinking makes just hanging around less boring? What do you think"

Teens are impulsive and fun-loving. No surprise there. But as they move out into the world, away from your safety net, you want them to be able to set up their own safety net. Helping them to develop a mindfulness about how they live in the world will do that. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Scary Story

If any of you have been to one of my seminars you will have heard me get down on my (metaphorical) knees( I would actually go down on them if I didn't have bad knees) begging parents not to buy their kids SMARTPHONES. It fits into the too much too soon category. This should be a rite of passage gift at high school graduation for a job well done. There is absolutely nothing on that phone that a teen needs. They do not NEED to have unlimited access to the Internet 24 hours a day. They do not NEED to download their favorite TV show or movies to watch when they want to avoid homework, chores, cleaning their room, or boredom. They do not NEED to have access to their facebook accounts while they are in school, giving them opportunity to be even more distracted by wondering what next to post on their wall that will provoke and titillate their 1000 friends.

To this last point I want to share a story. Though it makes me terribly unhappy, it seems many high school students sport the latest IPHONE or comparable smartphone. It has become derigueur apparently for the well-connected teen. A high school student was sitting in a class in which the teacher was apparently new and a bit green, and often lost control of her class. Because of this, the inmates were running the prison, if you know what I mean. It was a little like the movie One flew over the Cookoo's nest.  I know that feeling having worked in a High School for 14 years. Running many groups with teens I often found myself being that teacher on Ferris Beuller, yelling "class!, class!" to no avail. There is no worse feeling. One of the students in this class, decided to secretly tape using an IPHONE, this teacher's inability to get her students to pay attention. The video was "shared" with other students. From there it appeared on facebook where it became available basically to the entire high school. You can imagine the humiliation this teacher must have felt. Committing to the teaching profession is not an easy decision these days with lowish pay and little job security. Young people who go into teaching do it for the love of the profession and the desire to do good. How upsetting for this teacher to be so betrayed and disrespected by her students.

Having said that, I think I understand the motivation of this student. First of all, availability and temptation. Clearly there had been discussion amongst the students about this teacher. In the old days they would have just talked behind her back, maybe told their parents, and maybe the parents would have voiced their concern with the principal who then might have voiced those concerns to the teacher,  and maybe provided the teacher with more supervision, and mentoring. Problem addressed, check! Now that kids have phones in the classroom, that have video cameras on them, it is way more fun to actually have a permanent record of this teachers performance.  It becomes more about the video piece than about the teacher. It is fun, it feels powerful, other kids will think its funny and outrageous that this teacher didn't "catch" this student filming her. It is an exaggerated version of the "class clown.  Needless to say, if the IPHONE was not in this student's possession this whole incident would never have happened. This is not a story about a bad group of kids, it is a story about teenagers, who in general lack impulse control, get caught up in the possibility of "awesomeness" and who are given too much technology without the training and understanding of the "awesome" responsibility that goes with us. That is on us, the adults.
So when the video got posted on facebook and was seen by the school community, it was brought to the attention of the principal. It turns out that in many states, it is against the law to video or tape someone without their permission. I know you have heard this a zillion times: "this call may be recorded for training purposes." This law is why they let you know that. Because of the facebook posting, the authorities were able to deduce the origin of the video. We're talking police here now. This fun prank has now become a criminal offense!!!! Who knew???? The student who took the video and the student who posted the video were both read their rights and arrested!!! This is serious stuff, that of course the kids are completely unaware of. To them, it was just a fun prank.

 Kids do stupid things without thinking. As adults we shouldn't set them up to screw up by giving them things that they are not yet ready to handle, ie technology, empty houses ready for a party, alcohol available at home, no limits around computer and cellphone use, etc etc. We have to get that our teen's decision making capacity is not at its best...yet. It is not about trust, but about temptation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stepfamilies, Stepchildren, Step Wisely

I met a woman recently with a big beautiful pregnant belly. We started talking about the birth of her baby, and in the course of conversation she shared that though this was her first baby, she was the stepmother to a 15 year old girl. She described her relationship with this girl as "in the deep freeze". This woman seemed so nice, and sweet and warm, definitely not the "wicked stepmother" type, and yet, there the two of them were, sharing a father and a husband, feeling little connection. I have worked with many families in transition over the years, divorcing, remarrying, blending families, and building new families with new babies. Add Adolescence to this mix, and all hell breaks loose.

 Changing families mid-adolescence is not easy. As teens step away from the parental unit to forge their own path, they like to know that though they don't want much to do with their parents, they do like to feel that that is the stable part of their life, as everything around their own life is in constant upheaval. Changing bodies, changing friends, changing passions, interests, and activities, and the looming future always hanging over their heads is quite enough, thank you very much.  Please just keep my family the same, they think. But unfortunately, families change too.

If you are more of an every other weekend, one night a week parent, it is easy to lose touch and connection with your teen. You become an extra obligation that takes away time from the most important part of their lives...their friends.  Feelings can get hurt, defenses go up, and distance is created. If you have also found a new partner with children, and may perhaps be having children together, the going gets tougher. Perhaps those kids really appreciate you, and the excitement over a new baby becomes intoxicating, a chance to "do-over'. Your teen may feel your excitement for your new life, feeling threatened might start fights and argue about anything as they go into self-protection mode.

Add to the mix that they have to get to know a new person, maybe new "step siblings", maybe share their home, their bedroom, their parents with kids and stepparents not of their choosing. The Brady Bunch it isn't. Your job is to make your teen your priority. Though you might want everyone to be one big happy family, you first have to make your kids feel safe and secure. This can only be done, one on one. There is no shortcut here. I once had a dad call me wondering why his teen daughter was being such a pain. It seemed whenever his daughter came over to stay with his "new family," he wanted the family to all hang together.  What she really wanted was her dad all to herself. Just because you may have some new kids in your life, doesn't mean your kids have to buy the farm.  So here are some tips I hope will help get you through these sometimes awkward and difficult times.

1. Call or text your kids every single day. Do not ever miss one day. This is the way your teens feel your commitment to them and your presence. Even if its only to say I LOVE YOU. Even if they don't text you or call you back, you are making a very important statement. There is no one more important in my life than you!

2. Use this I Get It moment with great regularity. " I get this whole divorce, remarrying thing is unbelievably hard. Is there anything I could be doing differently to make it easier for you. I really want to know. I know I am probably making mistakes along the way, but I love you, and it matters to me what would make a difficult situation better."

3. Be respectful and understanding about the adjustment your teen may have to make to share a room with a stranger, or be in a strange new house. Invite them to create a space for themselves that feels like home. You do not want them to feel like a visitor in your home.

4. When you do have time with them, give them your undivided attention. Perhaps they might want to have a friend come along if there has been awkwardness between the two of you. It might help break the ice.

5. Never ever ever bad mouth your ex no matter how much you want to. Even if that person is evil incarnate. If your teen bad mouths another parent, do not agree or disagree, just listen. Believe me on this one. No good can ever come of alienating a child from a parent. Your teen will have to make that decision for him or herself as they move into adulthood. Don't do if for them now!

6. Know that as long as you stay consistent with your love and attention, in the end it will all be fine. Getting through the teen years might feel long, but the rest of their life is even longer.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If You Have A Daughter.....

 If you have a daughter, there is a show I want you to watch on Oprah's channel OWN. It is premiering on October 20th at 9 PM but I am sure it will repeat. I think this is a must watch for our young women. It is a Sundance, award winning documentary  called Miss-representation. It is about the sexualizing of woman in our society, and how it affects our girls. If you have been looking for a opening to talk with your daughters about how boys see girls and men see women here is your chance. There are many teens that are interviewed, who share quite honestly the pressure they feel to act and look sexy. I am sure there will be many segues to talk about sexting, putting out sexy photos on facebook and on other social networking sites, and how it feels to be a girl in today's world. These kinds of shows don't come around often, so take advantage of this opportunity.

For some of you just convincing your daughter to sit and watch with you might be a challenge. Bribe them, pay them, do what you have to do to entice them to watch this show with you. " You might say: " I heard about this documentary on tonight that is about teen girls and expectations about sex, and their bodies, and how boys see them. I think it is a really important show and I would love to watch it with you. I think I don't get sometimes, how hard it can be to be a girl in today's world, with all the pressures that are out there for you. I know it will help me, and I think you might like it too." Be prepared for resistance, and have a game plan to deal with that. Do not go negative. If she doesn't want to watch it, fine, just put it on yourself and watch. At the least you will find out some things that will help you.

As you watch with your daughter, try to refrain from asking questions. Share your thoughts, and either they will share too, or they won't. Don't go into lecture mode, whatever you do. Better to say nothing than something preachy. Most importantly it will give them a framework for understanding what the culture seems to set women up for these days. Here is the website with a preview trailer. This might help set the stage. Girl Power!!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Just DON"T Get It

When your kids were young, they wanted to be just like you.  They followed you around the house mirroring your activities, adopting your mannerisms, maybe you even had your "twin outfits." The boys had matching sweatshirts and caps, and the girls matching T's and sparkly shoes. You would make suggestions of how to do things, and activities you thought they might try, and these 8 and 9 year olds would jump at the chance to please you.  No coincidence that they might also be activities that you enjoy, as you imagine ten years hence playing doubles together on the tennis courts, or skiing down the black diamond trail together, or getting season tickets to the ballet or spending crisp fall afternoons eating chicken wings in front of the tube as you catch your favorite football game.

It all seems so idyllic back them. The future of this relationship between parent and child. And then BANG, they have to get all teenagery on you. Rather than wanting to be just like you, like they used to, now they want to be anything but you. I have met with a number of parents recently who just DON'T get who their teen is these days. One parent I met with described his teen years as studious, and hard-working. He wasn't that social, didn't party much, and now has a daughter who is social, not so much into her school work, as she is into facebook. He just doesn't get her, and feels constantly disappointed by her. Another parent I met, who has many interests and passions just doesn't "get" that her teen seems not to be interested in anything but her friends. Her grades are good, but from the mom's point of view her daughter's life seems empty and shallow. Another parent who is the coach of his son's soccer team, laments his son wanting to quit the team. The kid has lost interest in the game, embarrasses him during practice and matches by putting little effort into his play.

What does it all mean? Why are they so different now? Why does life have to change? Because first of all, they aren't you! As young children, kids are developmentally driven to please. Their parents are their #1's and school-aged children's primary goal is to love and be loved by their parents. We actually call this the "good girl/ good boy phase. If playing soccer or the violin seems to make you happy, then soccer and violin it is..... until it isn't. It may be that your kid has real talent in an area, and you see a future down the line, college scholarships, concerts and competitions, trophy's and newspaper articles. And just when its all looking so promising, BOOM, your teen wants to quit! And by golly by god no one in this family is a quitter. Well maybe, your teen really doesn't like playing the violin or playing soccer, and now that their teen brain allows them a different perspective they express their distaste.

I once worked with a 16 year teen who had been swimming competitively since she was 7. She was really good, winning many meets for her team. The coach was ecstatic, her parents euphoric. Here is how she saw it.  Early early morning practices, after school practices, weekend meets, she was sick of the whole business and after 9 years was ready to pack it in. The coach was furious, her parents were beyond disappointed, this was the team's star swimmer. How could she bail now? It seems it was never really her dream. She was a pleaser, and swimming seemed to make all the important people in her life happy, so she swam her little heart out. But the sad truth of it was she actually didn't like swimming all that much, and now as a teen, and thinking with this new brain of hers, she was sorting that all out for herself and speaking up. It wasn't pretty. It actually was a courageous decision she made, but unfortunately the adults in her life didn't see it that way. She was a disappointment to them, and made that quite clear to her. A divide as wide as the Grand Canyon occured between this teen and her parents. No happy ending here.

Here is a story with a happy ending. Two wonderful, supportive, loving parents came to see me because they were worried that their relationship with their 15 year old son was deteriorating. They were serious, academic types, and always had been. School was always their priority during their teen years. As teenagers, they each had a few close friends, and a quiet social life. They had two children. Their older daughter was just like them. She was a studious, quiet girl in her teen years. Studying hard, and stayed in most weekend nights with a friend or two watching movies. Aah, life was good for these parents and their daughter. Their son on the other hand was gregarious, and outgoing, had a ton of friends, was on the football team of all things, and couldn't have been more different from his parents. These parents were desperate to find connection with their son. One night I got a phone call from the dad asking for my opinion. It seems his son had come to him asking for a BB gun. "Oh yeah, right, I don't think so," said the dad. The dad asked if he done the right thing. I actually saw an opportunity here for connection. BB guns couldn't have been further outside this dad's comfort zone or interest area. But I encouraged him to go online and find out the laws about how old you had to be to purchase a gun. Dad did the research, and found out that you had to be 18. His son wouldn't have been able to buy it anyway. I told the dad to say to the son: "I get that BB guns are fun,  but the law says you are too young to buy one.  How about if I buy one and the deal is we have to do BB gunning together. The son, only hearing a BB gun was in the mail, agreed. And so began a partnership. The boy and his dad set up a garage shooting gallery, and went out to the woods for target practice. Other boys often joined them, and it became an amazing chance for them to connect. Some weeks later the dad called me to report this event. It had been 10 PM one night, the dad just going off to bed, and his son came and asked if he wanted to play a game of chess. The dad was stunned. This was an activity they had shared when his son was younger, but not for years, as chess became "uncool" and his "dad's thing". Though the dad was ready for bed, he instinctively knew his son was reaching out and he took his hand. 

I love this story. I think this teen "got" that his dad was willing to join his world, even if it wasn't comfortable. He felt respected and accepted. And in turn, wanted to give back to his dad with a game of chess. I don't think this kid thought all this consciously, but I am a therapist and it is my job to  interpret, and so I will.  This teen felt a connection to his dad that felt familiar, and probably hadn't felt for a while. In a moment of whatever, asked his dad to play chess. Thanks Freud!

Accept and embrace your teen's differences. They can be just as rewarding and fun as your sameness!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everybody Else Has One!!!

At an event I spoke at last night for a small group of moms with 5th -7th graders, per usual, I asked how many of their kids were the proud owners of smartphones. If you have been reading my blog regularly you know by now that giving kids smartphones makes me crazy. Anyway, 3/4 of the hands shot up. As usual I gave my old fuddy duddy rant about why I think smartphones are hazardous to a teen's health. This rant can be found in any number of my previous blogs, so I won't bore you with it here. But the deed was already done, so I decided to focus more on the process by which these phones ended up in their teens hands. The common thread whenever and wherever I ask this question is: "All their friends have one and we didn't want them to feel left out."

OK being left out is not having a phone at all. I understand the relentless pressure teens can exert when they want something really really badly. They know just what buttons to push. They know just how to make you feel guilty that somehow you are not as good a parent as their friends parents, if you don't allow them to do X or buy them X. So in your effort to make your teen happy, and therefore make your life easier you cave. The message sent to your teen here is if you want something really badly, be persistent, make them feel guilty, never let up, and eventually you will succeed

Developmentally teens are driven to conformity. They want what everyone else has. They want to look like everyone else, they want to listen to the same music, have the same clothes, eat the same food, drink the same water, have the same backpack, play the same video games, watch the same TV shows all in the name of fitting in. Conformity plays a huge part in giving teens a sense of sameness and peace as they struggle with the difficult task of developing an identity. They are being bombarded with changes in their brains and in their bodies, and the sameness takes away some of the angst. So, if it isn't unsafe or disrespectful, I am all for the cloning of teens. It is a temporary state, and as they move into the later teen years, they start to nail down their own particular brand of who they are, and the whole conformity thing falls by the wayside.

Your role in all this is to judge what is unsafe or disrespectful. There may be many things that your teen wants to do, watch trashy TV or buy brand names of items that are ridiculously overpriced, that go against your values but are not unsafe or disrespectful. You just don't like it, and therefore don't want your teen to have it or do it. In these cases I recommend saying: "I get how important it feels to you to have UGG boots like your friends. They seem like a lot of money to me, but I get how important they are to you, so here is the $60 I would have spent on boots for you, and you are welcome to use your birthday money or your savings to add to it and get the boots." In this scenario, you take care of yourself, and give you teen the choice to get what he/she wants without you having to totally give your support and go against your own values. Here is the thing, there will be things your teens wants, or events they want to go to that are unsafe.  Here you will need to draw the line, even if there are other parents who aren't. This is hard, this makes you unpopular, this creates havoc. I get that completely. Whether it is a smartphone that gives your teen unlimited access to more distraction than their little brain can handle, or a concert that takes them too far from home on a school night, or not allowing them to go to a house that you feel is unsupervised and therefore unsafe, these are the unpopular decisions parents must make. When you make those kinds of decisions judiciously, your teen understands that you are concerned with the big picture and of their safety.

The Rolling Stones had it right in their song "You can't always get what you want." That goes for your teens and for you. You won't always be the most popular parents. You won't always be the "mean parents" either.  But you do have to be the smart parents. Trust your gut. If you are saying yes to something even though your gut is saying no. Stop and figure out why. Of course we want to make out kids happy, and often we give in on things cause we love to see the smile and appreciation on our teens faces no matter how fleeting it might be. And many times we can "give in" and feel OK about it. Just make sure that whenever you feel that gut pulling you in another direction, ask yourself, is this safe?


Friday, October 14, 2011

Not My Kid

A new 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 boos 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.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Teens Getting The Sex Message....At Least Part Of It

Today's headline in the Heath/Science column of the Boston Globe is Teens show savvy in use of condoms.  After surveying 4700 teens (that is a lot of teens) aged 15 -19 the study found that 80% of boys now use condoms up from 55%  during their first sexual intercourse. Another interesting finding is that the number of teens having intercourse: 43 % of girls and 42% of boys surveyed is unchanged since this last study in 1988. And if they are having sex, their partner is with someone with whom they "are going steady." I thought that term went out with the 50's.

The good news here is that boys are taking responsibility and have gotten the message that sex is good, but pregnancy and STD's are not, and girls are saying no condom, no sex! In fact one boy quoted said:"I'm not sure how much of this is guys thinking they need to use a condom or girls insisting they use a condom. I'd be hesitant to give guys credit for coming up with this on their own." I love this kid's honesty. So teens are not sleeping around, that's good. And if they are sleeping around they are using a condom. That's good.

What is interesting about this story is that it underscores how long it takes for a message to be incorporated into the culture. When I grew up, all teens smoked cigarettes, that was accepted practice. Then they discovered smoking causes cancer, and slowly the message got out, and it is the rare teen today who smokes cigarettes. Same thing with sex, when I was a teen, no one used condoms. Then as STD's became more common than not, condom use campaigns sprang up everywhere just like the anti-smoking ones, and ten years later this cohort of teens has gotten the message. Change takes time!!! The message, whatever it is has to be repeated loudly and often so that it starts to live in your brain instead of the TV.  I think it takes a generation before the message becomes the norm. Take today's teens and this study. They were very young children when the condom ads started on TV. The tv shows they watched about teens starting using the language of condoms as the norm when TV teens were considering having sex. The word condom became part of their everyday language, not a word to be embarrassed about using, or embarrassed about buying. Remember wishing you had a mask on when you had to go to CVS to buy condoms. I don't think today's teens feel that same embarrassment. Its just what you do when you wanna have sex.

So now we have to do the same kind of education when it comes to today's technology. Kid's need the messages loudly and often that too much texting can be harmful to your health. Sending naked pictures and sexy texts can be harmful to your health. Not getting enough sleep because you are waiting to get texts, or sending them late into the night can be harmful to your health. Now is the time to start your own advertising campaign, cause I don't think this one will be launched on your local television station. Start with those 3 rd and 4th graders, so when its their turn to "be teenagers" they will be the generation to say, to each other : "why do you text so much, don't you know it can rot your brain!!!"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Teens With Too Much Time On Their Hands

Not all teens have busy lives. Some teens go to school, come home, get on the computer, go to their video games, and settle in for the rest of the day and night. For these teens, this rest of the day and night can be a full day's worth of hang if you add up the hours. Most high schools are done by 2:30 ish, bus ride home 30 minutes, and then you are home and it's only 3:00 PM. That leaves you a full 8 hours of screen time before bed. Not good. If your teen has this kind of time on their hands, and if they aren't a kid who uses that time for studying and reading War and Peace than I think you need to help them to self motivate to use their time in a better way. The mantra, the more time you have, the less you do, is very applicable here. Teens who have this amount of unstructured time, tend to also be the kids whose school motivation is low. Self esteem comes from being active and involved, and feeling at the end of the day that you have accomplished something. This makes the next day something to look forward to. For kids who have not found their niche in sports, or activities in or out of school, every day becomes a repeat of the day before, with little to look forward to, and little to feel good about.

Let's look at some options to help those teens with too much time on their hands. OK, let's start with some very basic things. If you are a parent who does your teen's laundry, let's begin here. I am all for parents "doing for" kids who are engaged in life. If your teen doesn't get home till 5 or 6 because of sports or activities or a job, them has to eat, have a little down time and then off to do homework, than help away...Please! But if your teen is home and on the couch by 3 PM, do not do their laundry, and make their bed. You might say: "Here is your choice, I can help you find a job, get an internship, brainstorm some ideas for finding something to do after school that interests you, but if you choose to come home every day to just hang for the next 8 hours than I think you have the time to take care of your own laundry."

Money is always a great motivator. You might say: "We think it's really important for you to find something to do a few afternoons after school. We have noticed that having this amount of time on your hands isn't really helpful to you. You aren't using them for homework, or even hanging with friends, and too much screen time can really affect your motivation for doing things that are good for you. We would like to see you look for a part-time job or volunteer or internship. If you choose not to do this, then we choose not to just give you money or buy you stuff . We will be happy to pay you for work you can do around the house in lieu of a job, we will help you find a job. If you volunteer or get an internship, do a sport or an activity at school, go to the gym regularly, there are a ton of options, then we will be happy to give you money or buy you what you want or need since you would be out and being busy doing something positive. I get you like and need a lot of down time. And we are OK with a few hours of that, but not from 3-11 PM every day. So let's do some planning."

Your teen is in the beginning stages of developing an identity. Who am I? What turns me on?  What makes me happy? Many teens are overwhelmed with the choices and have absolutely no idea how to get off that couch or get away from the computer screen. Too many options confuse them, so they opt for what is familiar and comfortable. They need you to understand that, rather than judge them for being a lazy sloth, cause of course that is how it looks. Teens need incentives. For some, the roar of the crowd during a football game or from acting in the school play or a pay check from a part-time job is their incentive. Find out what your teen's incentive is, an offer it up to get them up!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Tale Of Two Siblings

Those of you who have a sibling or two may have the experience of being either the "perfect child" or the "black sheep" of your family. In either case you felt the pressure of having to maintain your role in the family. People expected you to behave a certain way, and you probably never failed to disappoint. Either by being provocative or by being just incredibly lovable.

I recently met with parents whose two teenage boys aged 12 and 17 fall into the good boy/bad boy trap. Their 12 year old son is the "perfect" son. Bright and successful in school, a talented athlete, sweet, even tempered, affectionate and a joy to be around. The 17 year old, not so much. He on the other hand, has some learning challenges, and therefore has found school to be a place that made him feel like a loser, and smartly enrolled in a vocational high school when he hit 9th grade, where he feels more successful. But still he is a mediocre student. He has no outside interests or passions and spends all of his non-school time playing video games or on face book. His anger and attitude are impossible to deal with. He isolates himself from the family, and it seems his only contact with them is when he needs or demands rides or money. And to top it off he can very mean and abusive to his younger brother. Dad coaches the younger son's sports team, and both parents spend weekends at his games, leaving the 17 year old feeling a bit out of the loop I am guessing.

Mom and Dad are successful professionals. Both graduated from college, went on to get masters degrees and both have successful careers. Their older son feels like an alien to them. They admitted that when his school difficulties started they thought he was just being lazy, just not putting in the "work" he needed to do for school. In middle school he was finally diagnosed with learning disabilities and was put on a program through the school system for support, but by then, I'm guessing he saw himself as lazy and stupid.

It is hard to be "that kid" in the family that doesn't fit the family script. And the more you don't fit it, the more you become the opposite of it. In this family, being smart, athletic and and having a sunny disposition (sounds like Mary Poppins) is the character description, all others need not apply.  There is no doubt that these are loving parents, but they are stymied as to how to connect with their son. And he makes himself so unlikable to boot, that who wants to spend time with him anyway.

These parents described to me the attempts they make to include him in family outings, but unfortunately those family outings are built around the younger sons sporting events. If you felt like the loser in the family would you want to go and watch your nemesis being the shining "star"? I think not. Dinners out with the family become a fighting match, with the older son antagonizing the younger one at the table or he just becomes such a pain in the a** that the parents just don't do that anymore.

The good news is that this 17 year old has some good attributes. He is not a party guy, doesn't drink, or do drugs. Not an easy feat for a teen these days. He is a steady girlfriend and some good friends, all really good signs. What is missing for him is connection with his mom and dad.

In families like this where there are obvious differences between the kids, it is so important to make each child feel important. With this family, it turns out the dad and the 17 year old share a love for movies, but the dad being so involved with the 12 year old's sporting life doesn't leave him much extra time to engage with his older son. How hard it must be to watch watch his dad go off every weekend with the younger brother. I encouraged the dad to make the time, maybe a Sunday night when together, just the two of them, go off for a night at the movies. Or the mom, when dad and 12 year go off to practice every Friday night, get some take out and a movie and just hang together and enjoy each others company. 

Some kids do not make themselves lovable. They push you away, and tell you to go away. Ignore that!!! It's all a ruse to protect themselves from rejection. Never stop trying, drive them crazy with messages of "I love you". Do not buy them off with money or clothes or phones, or cars or doing their laundry, they love the stuff, but they are not stupid, and know that stuff is the easy stuff, the hard part, is for you the parents to keep at, not allowing their attitude and anger to push you away. It takes time for them to believe that in spite of not being "the perfect" kid they will always be "my kid", and that is enough, thank you very much!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Google Buzz... Omegle....Oh My !

This has been a busy week for me. I met with 1200 High School students and gave my seminar at three school. I have talked to much. But in my journey from one end of Massachusetts to the other, I learned a few things and would like to share them with you.

I heard from the Assistant Principal at the school where I mesmerized 1200 students. OK, maybe not mesmerized, but I did have their attention for some of the time. Anyway, she told me that a number ( I would like to say hundreds, but then I would be slightly exaggerating) of students made a point to come up and tell her that they liked my talk. A few seniors told her that the younger students really needed to hear what I had to say about sexting and texting and taking care of each other. (See 10/4 blog) The seniors perception was that the the 9th and and 10th graders are the ones in overdrive when it comes to the sexting issue and really do not get the risks involved. My takeaway for you parents is to underscore the worries of these seniors. Your teens need your help and your training when it comes to sharing information, naked or otherwise on any of their social networking devices.

To underscore this point. A parent of a 12 year old girl came up to me at the end of one of my seminars to share a story. This mom couldn't be more on top of the temptations of her daughter when it comes to facebook, texting et al. This mom is well versed in technology and teen behavior, but even she was surprised at what she found on her daughter's computer. There are anonymous chat rooms that teens like to frequent, the one in particular this mom mentioned was OMEGLE.COM. Apparently her 12 year old daughter was curious about this site (mom wasn't aware of this one) and visited it. She started chatting with what she thought was a boy her own age, and in her 12 year old naivete, she gave him her e-mail address. Mom monitors her daughter's e-mail, as the parent of a 12 ought to, and saw an e-mail from an unfamiliar account, opened it up to find pornography. The mom was shocked, how could this have happened? First, the mom didn't know about this omegle site, so had never even had a conversation with her daughter about these kinds of chat rooms, and never thought her 12 year old would even want to go on such a site. The daughter's "new friend" in this chat room,  had asked for her e-mail address so they could correspond privately. Flattered by his attention, she gave him her e-mail address. I am hoping she stopped there and didn't share her phone number or address. Teens like attention, pure and simple. They pretty much don't care where it comes from, and lack the adult cynicism as in ( oh sure he wants to be your "friend", and have private conversations, said sarcastically) You need to talk to your teens, yes even the young ones about these kinds of chat rooms, and educate them as to the dangers of predators who lurk there.

Another parent at another talk shared this tip with me. I didn't know this but there is a new "facebook" called Google Buzz, and teens are going on this to the apparent ignorance of their parents. So here is what the kids do. Follow me on this: Teens go on facebook and willingly give their parents their facebook password and might even agree to friend them. Parents are euphoric with this information and feel safe and secure about their child's facebook use. BUT... here is what is really going on. Teen sets up an account on Google Buzz , unbeknownst to their parents, and posts whatever, secure in the knowledge that their parents are completely unaware of their membership in this new fun place. In addition, when you join Google Buzz, you automatically get a g-mail account. This gives teens a new  private place to send and receive messages. Gotta keep up parents. This was new information for me. Teens are way ahead of us on this social networking stuff, and in order to keep them safe, you have got to be on your toes. (see paragraph above)

Finally today I would like to share a passage I read yesterday from a commencement address that Steve Jobs gave in 2005. He was not only a genius in the field of technology, but in human nature as well. I think this is such wonderful advice for all of us, and especially your teen as they begin to figure out just who they are.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. "

Thursday, October 6, 2011

College Bound

The leaves are starting to change, the air is turning crisp and fall like, and that means that we are upon the annual Columbus Day weekend ritual of visiting colleges with your high school junior or senior. If you seem way more excited to visit colleges than your junior or senior, I think I can help you understand why.

For parents the anticipation of their child all grown up and ready to go off to college is both exciting and terrifying. Remembering their own college years, they can't wait for their kids to experience all the wonderful things they did, which may even have included finding the love of their life and marrying them. Hello mom and dad! But there is trepidation as well, two years full of what if's? What if my kid doesn't get the grades, and SAT's that will get him/her into the college I want, I mean they want to go to? What if they don't write their essays on time, or worse, they are bad?  What if they don't get their applications in early? What if we don't have enough money to send them to the school of our I mean their dreams?  What if my best friend's kid has better grades and better SAT's and gets their essays and applications in before mine, and they get into the school I want my son/daughter to get in? And what if........ This is the stuff ulcers are made of.

So you become the college Nazi's. You vill get your essays done this weekend, or you won't go out!!!! You vill go with us to visit colleges on the weekends we want you to go! You vill go to SAT tutoring or you are grounded!  And for all this commitment and time and money you give to your teen in support of this college journey, what do you get in return "leave me alone, I'll do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

 Here are the questions your teen is asking. What if I don't get in anywhere? What if I disappoint my parents? What if my SAT scores suck, I will be humiliated.  How do they handle their anxiety, they avoid, they procrastinate, they miss dates. Why, because once they put themselves on paper in an essay, in an application, on an SAT score, it is out in the world for people to judge. And when they don't get into the school of your, I mean their choice it will be an affirmation of what they knew all along, I am just not good enough! Your teen does care about this process. Way more than they are showing you. So if you are only paying attention to their outward displays of attitude and avoidance you are missing the boat, and may actually be exacerbating the problem.

Use some " I get It moments" to crack the code. You might have this conversation; " I get this whole college thing is really hard. You have a lot on your plate this year, just keeping up with school stuff, your sport/theater/job, your friends, and now on top of all that, you have to deal with all this college stuff. I was wondering whether you feel like we are putting too much pressure on you, and you're worried you might disappoint us?" ( Now wait for their answer) After you get their take on that, assure them: " We have total confidence in you. There are a lot of things in this process no one can control, like who colleges accept, and that really seems like it is a crap shoot anyway. We just want to make sure that you don't unknowingly shoot yourself in the foot, by not doing the things that you are in control of. How can we help you do those things without making you crazy. We are willing to help you in anyway we can, setting up some date guidelines, reminding you that deadlines are coming up, getting you help with the essay stuff, whatever, but we don't won't to spend the next one or two years arguing with you constantly about this. We want you to take ownership. That will be a sign to us, that you are really wanting to and ready for college. If you choose not to wholly participate in this process, that will be sign to us that you might not want or be ready for the independence of college. What do you think, are you up for this, or are you feeling you might want to take a year off after high school to get yourself ready? Whatever you choose is fine with us, but commit to one or the other."

Just thought I would also throw in a few college visit tips. Remember this is your teen's opportunity to jus soak in the atmosphere. This is not the visit where they are worried about what the biology labs look like, or course selection. I know that's what you are interested in, but for these first visits, you really need to zip up, and let it be about them. They are looking at the students and wondering, are there kids here I could imagine being my friends? Does the campus feel like a place I feel comfortable and safe in? Could I sleep in this dorm and imagine myself feeling at home? This is what interests them. So walk along side them, keep a low profile, and if you have questions ask them another time. There will always be the second visit if they like and most importantly, if they get in!!! Many kids avoid the college visits prior to acceptance, because they worry that if they "fall in love" with a school and don't get in, it would feel devastating. So keep that in mind.

On the drive home, try to refrain from sharing your impressions the second you get in the car. Often parents are way more enthusiastic about a school than their teen is, and that shuts them down from talking to you. Give them time to digest. Some teens will start talking right away, others need to process. Remember that visiting colleges makes everything about the college process feel really real and maybe scary, and they might need some time to just sit with it all. So if they immediately put their earbuds in, just let them be. And then, on your way home, stop for a bite to eat, an ice cream, a coffee, and maybe ask a, "so what did you think?" in a calm neutral voice, and see where it goes.

Here is the thing, if your kid wants to go to college, this will work itself out. Maybe it won't be your first choice or their first choice, but if I have learned anything over the last 30 years it is that kids are amazingly adaptable, and whereever they end up becomes the place they want to be, and if it isn't they can always transfer, and you can do this all over again...yay!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Power Of Drama

Last week I mentioned that I would be presenting for the first time a teen version of my seminar "Adolescent Psychology-The Teen Version" to high school students. To say I was terrified to stare down four consecutive groups of teens is an understatement. I spent more time figuring out what to wear for this event than picking out my wedding dress. There was a lot at stake here. Do I wear jeans and cowboy boots and go for the hip, or a pant suit that screams "I am an adult who knows more than you!" I went for the jeans. Though I didn't have any girls come up to me, complimenting me on my outfit, I felt it sent just the right message. " I am old, but not too old!" So every hour on the hour for four hours I gave the same seminar to the 9th, 10th, 11th and then finally the seniors. I got better and more relaxed with each passing hour, and I was surprised and impressed with the kids from all the grades with the attention and respect they gave to me.( It must have been the cowboy boots).  They laughed at my jokes,  and they looked appropriately shocked with stories I shared about teens who met with extreme consequences, or who had died as a result of faulty thinking.

I spent a good deal of time talking about the concept of risk versus reward. I explained to them that their brain is prewired as a teen to want go for the "high" of the adventure. Dopamine and adrenaline are at the highest levels they can be at during adolescence. So even without drugs and alcohol fueling behavior, their brain is like a devil on the shoulder urging them to just "go for it". I hoped that by telling stories where the reward was never paid out, they might start to think about some of the times their just "go for it" attitude  could put them at risk.

I presented to 1200 students. At the end of each presentation I shored up my confidence, and walked up to groups of students as they left the auditorium to find out what resonated with them, and what their takeaways were. Here are their takeaways and the true stories that touched a nerve.

Takeaway 1: Be careful what you text/sext and who you send it to. I told a number of stories about girls and boys who had send naked pictures, or provocative sexts like the "wanna suck my dick" variety. One story that seemed to really send the message was about a 14 year old boy who had received a naked picture from a girl who obviously had a crush on him. Excited about having a naked picture of a girl on his phone, he immediately forwarded the picture to everyone he knew. Being forgetful, as teens are, he left his phone on the school cafeteria table after lunch period. The principal, on the post lunch sweep, finds the phone, and in trying to identify the owner so he can return it, comes upon the naked picture of one of his 8th grade girls. He saw that the photo had been forwarded to hundreds of kids. The boy whose phone it was, was arrested, charged with disseminating child pornography and is now a registered sex offender until he is age 32. When I got to the calculation part of the story, age 14 at offense, + 18 years as a sex offender, I asked the kids to do the math. As they yelled 32, I could hear how old that seemed to them. This was a consequence worth noting for them.

Takeaway 2: Take care of each other. I told a particularly upsetting story that happened in a town close to their own. After a high school dance, a 16 yr old girl goes to an "after party" in one of the town's wooded areas where teens "party". This was not her usual group of friends so she was not familiar with these particular woods. She drinks. Her cousin who had offered to pick her up at the party texts that she is on her way, meet me in the parking lot. The girl, unfamiliar with her surroundings, and trashed, asks her fellow partiers to point her in the direction of the parking lot. As these kids were also all inebriated, they thought it would be funny to send her in the wrong direction. At she walked in the wrong direction the woods ended in a swamp. But since it was pitch black she didn't notice, and fell face first into the swamp. No one heard her screaming, and she was found the next morning dead. The cousin, not wanting to get her in trouble, never told anyone that she never came out to the car. Thinking she had hooked up with some boy, the cousin figured she would find her own way home. She never came home, and no calls were ever made to find her that night. When I finished telling that story, which I did tell quite dramatically, I admit, there was dead silence. The message was loud and clear. You need to take care of each other!

Teens live with drama, and they need drama to punctuate their lives, even when it is morbid and upsetting. Do not be afraid to tell the scary true stories about teens whose actions resulted in life-altering consequences. As I was presenting yesterday, I saw their eyes glaze over when I was talking about their brain, but when I said the words they use but never hear themselves say, or told stories about death and destruction I had them in my pocket.

So the lesson here is get out of your comfort zone, don't talk to your teens like you are giving a lecture, be real, use their language, and use their experience. You could save a life!