Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Remembering Your Teen's Childhood: A Key That Opens A Door To Understanding

Teens are: unpredictable, aliens, explosive, risk-taking, and temperamental. So say hundreds of parents when I ask them to throw out adjectives that describe their teen at my seminar: Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Version. You ask yourself, who is this person? I don't know what's going to come out of his/her mouth next. This is unsettling to say the least because what has worked in the past to calm your kid down so you can have a civilized conversation seems to have flown out the window. Not to mention, the way he wants to spend his time, the kinds of kids she likes to hang with, and what about how school used to be the most important part of his life. This isn't my kid, who is this kid?

Well actually deep down inside those tiny tank tops or baggy jeans and untied sneakers is the kid you raised, and all those characteristics you thought sweet or funny as a toddler, now in a taller, more filled out body...not so funny and sweet. For example, maybe you had that 3 year old who had fantastic verbal skills, and you thought it was so cute when they were able to talk you into reading just one more book at bedtime, or just one more cookie for dessert, or just one more episode of Sesame Street. After talking baby talk for 3 years, how refreshing to have these adult like conversations with your "little man". Well your "little man" has grown up and his verbal skills have grown with him, and he wants to share them with you! Now he understands that these verbal/negotiating skills can wear you down to the point that he is able to get exactly what he wants. And how about that adorable little 4 year old girl who had the energy of a rabbit, bouncing from one activity to the next. Running instead of walking, climbing the highest slide or jungle gym with you standing below, screaming, "honey be careful!!! Now at 14 she wants to run out of the house, hang with her friends, doing what and with whom..."Honey be careful"
Or maybe you had that shy 5 year old, who clung to your leg and didn't want to go into the school, or to the play date or the birthday party, and now as a 13 year old seems overwhelmed with the expectations of the 8th grade social strata.

See, they aren't really so different. What your teen brings to the table in terms of temperament and personality is biological, sorry,you can't change that. But you can be aware of it, and help your teen to see what their natural inclinations might be to keep them safe during this time in their life when their world is so inviting and exciting.  So if you have that risk-taking 4 year old all grown up now, it's important to have this kind of conversation; "You know honey, when you were little, you used to make me crazy with worry because you were always the kid who wanted to climb the highest tree, or ride your bike down the steepest hill, you were an excitement junkie. I loved how confident and fearless you were about things, always wanting to try something new. And I love that about you now, but because this is the essence of you, now as a teenager, you will also want to drive the fastest, party the hardest, take the biggest risks, and that worries me. We just need to make sure that you are safe, knowing that won't come naturally to you." Or if you have that verbal kid who has the skills of the slickest lawyer on TV, your job is to avoid getting into a verbal volleyball match. You won't win! Or maybe  you have that shy teen who has friends he wants to party with, and ends up going because he want to fit it. This shy 5 yr old grown up may be especially vulnerable to drinking or drugs because after the first experience with a few beers they feel the confidence and comfort in a group that they never felt before. That is a seductive feeling. So you need to say to this teen, "I know being in groups has always been hard for you, and now you have friends, which makes me so happy, and they want you to hang and go to parties where I know there is going to be alcohol and drugs. I worry that because those situations initially are hard for you, your friends might encourage you to drink to "loosen up" and that you might become dependent on alcohol or drugs to have fun in these situations.

Embrace the person your teen is and is becoming. Recognize the strengths in their personality and temperament, and give them the tools to manage them. Your legs won't be there to hold on to, and you won't always be waiting at the bottom of the slide.  They need the confidence and know-how to do it
"all by myself".

Thursday, July 26, 2012

From Your Not Perfect Teens

 Here are the 60 14-18 year olds  I surveyed, with some ideas to help you out when they screw up!


·      Talked to me about it and not acted like I was the worst thing in the world.
·      Just given me more time to prove myself, and over time show them I’m responsible.
·      Worked together instead of having Dad do everything
·      Talked to me in a calm tone instead of yelling at me.
·      Just said that they knew I could do better, and then let it be for me to fix myself.
·      Just asked instead of jumping to conclusion.
·      Heard me out, and thought of themselves when they were teenagers.
·      Not yelled at me so much.
·      Forgiven me sooner than later.
·      Just asked me what happened instead of just punishing me.
·      Understand that teen’s make mistakes like that.
·      Talked to me like I was 16 not like I was 9
·      Been more understanding and had taken the time to hear my side of the story.
·      Supported me a lot more than they did.
·      Actually talked to me, not yelled or hit me
·      Know how much I wish I didn’t do it.
·      little more control of themselves, and didn’t get so mad with me
·      Accept my point of view and accept my apology and don’t think of me wrong even though they still do.
·      Not yelled at me but talked to me about it, and not make me feel like a failure.
·      Seen where I was coming from and why I said what I said.
·      Not yell at me, but just talked with me and didn’t accuse me of something that’s not true.
·      Helped me a little more rather than punish me after every offense.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Teen's Want Most From Their Parents

Here are some thoughts from 60  teens, 14-18 I surveyed a few years back, just a reminder of the simple things teens need from Mom and Dad.

  • Ask me to go places with them because I really don’t get to do that a lot.
  •  Make me the center of attention because it makes me feel loved.
  • Tell me I’m doing good, because it makes me feel good about myself.    
  • Praise me and say they are proud, and I love when they listen,  actually listen, because it makes me feel like they are interested and proud of me.
  • Spend time just watching TV with me, because I never get to spend time with them.
  • Tell me when they are proud of me because it makes me feel good.
  • Say good job, we knew you could do it, because it gives me confidence to succeed in life.
  • Say they are proud of me to others because it shows that they notice the good things, instead of just punishing me for the bad.
  • Are wicked nice to me because it makes me feel like my parents actually care.
  • Say they are proud of me, it makes me feel self fulfilled.
  •  Aren’t rushing into conclusions about things because it makes me feel like for one second they aren’t judging me.
  • Take what I say seriously and believe me because it lets me know they trust me as much as I trust them.
  • Hear me out and listen to something I say, because it’s frustrating when they only listen to themselves.
  • Ask me to do things with them because it’s the best.
  • Talk to me, because it shows they care.
  • Tell me that they trust me and that they are proud of me because I like to feel like my parents are happy with me and I don’t want to disappoint them.
  • Tell me they are proud of me, because it makes me feel like I actually did some good for them.
  • Can just talk and hang out and have fun with me because it makes me feel more connected and more equal.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reflections On Aurora

I can't seem to think about much else these days. I am glued to every news report, the stories of unbelievable heroics, and details about who this young guy was and what drove him to commit this heinous act.  It reawakens all my old fears and anxieties after 9/11 wondering now about the safety of malls or movies, and worry about going to big public places. I know that they are unfounded worries, but what can I say, I worry about my daughter, myself, my husband, my friends. I know from experience that my worry will fade, but things that flaunt the randomness of life throw me off. I am sure I am not alone in this place. But these events also make me think about other things as well that I think are important for parents of teens. So hear are these thoughts:

President Obama spoke of two teens girls last night. Excited friends off to a summer movie. When the gunman hit her friend Ally, Stephanie jumped into action, stemming the blood flow in Ally's neck, never letting go, even when she was hit. She loved her friend, and literally held onto her for dear life. They both lived to tell the story to the President. That's the thing about teens and their friends.  There is so much love, so much loyalty. Sometimes that loyalty to friends makes parents uncomfortable. They feel excluded and shut out, and worry that the friends carry more influence with their teen then they do. There is room for everyone in your teen's life. Celebrate the friendships, the loyalty and the love your teen has with his/her besties. They may have to save their life sometime. It probably won't be a random attack by a gunman, but maybe that friend will stop them from getting into a car with a drunk driver, or counsel them against a relationship that is bad for them, and even advise them to be nicer to their parents. Friends can be pretty honest with each other. Get to know your teen's friends, they may be your first line of defense.

As a therapist, of course I can't stop thinking about the shooter. What motivated him? Where were his friends, his connections to reality? I often hear from parents that their teen has disconnected from the family, preferring the privacy of his/her room to hanging in the family room, or watching a movie or tv with you or his/her brothers and sisters. I don't know anything about this boy, so I will not speculate, but the word "loner" has been put out there. I just met with a couple today whose son goes to his room for hours on end. Mom chalked it up to being a teen and pretty much left him alone, until she found hidden in the couch of his room, pot, pipes and scales. He had been a busy guy up in that room alone. If you have a teen who is isolating, go ahead, open the door, take out the TV, the computer, the video games, and invite them to join the family. It could save their life!

And finally, and most importantly love and appreciate your teen for who they are right this minute, even if they have disappointed you, angered you, worried you, disrespected you, don't let them go. They need your attention, and your love, even when it doesn't seem like it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dreaded Summer Reading

It's almost the middle of the summer and, and crumbled up summer reading lists are being found and resurrected by parents everywhere. Most kids have spent the summer avoiding your queries about the reading by saying, "I'll do it, I have the whole summer, just leave me alone!!!" Well the whole summer is now down to 2 weeks and the books have been bought, Kindled or Nooked depending on the summer bribe. "If I buy you a Kindle/Nook, will you do the reading?" Your kid, panting like a dog who sees a new treat coming his/her way has promised that yes yes yes I will do the reading if you buy me off, I mean buy me a Kindle/Nook. But listen, it doesn't matter what form the book is in, it is still reading and might/could be way less exciting than say sitting on the couch texting/facebooking/videogaming/tv or movie watching or studying one's navel.

So here are a few strategies to get the reading done before school starts before you have to resort to the threats of no phone, no computer no life until you finish your reading.
  • Sit with your kid and add up the number of pages that need to be read by the start of school. Get out the old calculator and number of pages from each book and add together. Divide that number by the number of days left before school and you now have a PPD (pages per day) your kid needs to complete. When you break it down this way, it is far less intimidating. Most kids avoid the summer reading because it seems daunting. Maybe they have 3 or 4 books to read, and the image they have is just hours and hours of reading to complete it, so pretending it doesn't exist is much easier. Having to read 20 pages a day may not seem as bad.
  •   Set aside a reading time. Not on your schedule but a time of day that your kid feels is do-able. Get your book, take your kid to Starbucks, get him/her a Mochachino and read together for 30 minutes or an hour. Pair the reading with something pleasurable.
    • If your kid continues to be resistant to follow-through, pair reading with favors. For example, if the PPD has not been completed and your kid asks for a ride, some money, clean laundry etc you can say: "I would love to help you out, but I noticed you haven't done your PPD today, and I don't really feel like complying with your request until you do. I get this reading stuff is hard for you, but it's just something you gotta do.
    • Get the reading list books on tape. Some kids might be more motivated if they were hearing them rather than reading them. Put them on in the car while you are driving. Put it on an old CD player and let them listen with earphones, bring it to the beach and they can tan and "read" at the same time.   
     Get creative.  Just hucking your kid to do the reading is not going to get the job done. You have to "understand" their resistance, rather than criticize it, and help them to develop a plan that makes the impossible seem possible. 

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Sex In The Basement

    What do you do if your 15 year old son or daughter has boyfriend or girlfriend, and they like to go down to your dark, cozy basement to spend some quality time together; watch a movie, eat some popcorn, and fool around? Not necessarily in that order. And what if that same couple can go to the other person's house, bypass the basement altogether and go straight up to the bedroom with the parent's permission? Different houses, different rules, and different value systems. What might be important and sacred in your family, might be a what's the big deal issue with another family. What can you do, put your daughter in a chastity belt and supply your son with a permanent condom?

    First off, you will not be able to control whether or not your teen chooses to have sex. But you can certainly have some house rules about how far is too far in your home, and hope that your relationship with your teen and his/her respect for you will trump hormones. If your teen is coming home with the girlfriend/boyfriend, that is a really good sign. At the least, it means they are not totally horrified by you and worried about being embarrassed by you. Good for you!!! You might have this conversation:
    " I am really happy that you and X like to spend time here, and I'm glad that we have the basement so that you can have some alone time and privacy. I get you will probably be doing some fooling around, but honey, honestly...NO INTERCOURSE IN MY BASEMENT" Please use some humor here. That is not to be said with a straight face. However you do want to get the message across, especially if they are under 17, and have not been with this person very long, ie two ships passing in the night. You might also say: "Having intercourse is a very intimate act. For boys maybe not so much, but for girls whether they/you admit it or not, it means someone else's body is in your body to be blunt. That is pretty intimate. Maybe boys can shrug something like that off, but girls not so much." If you have a son, please talk about how girls will often do something they don't really want to do but want to please the boy, and when they break up, the girl can be left with some really damaging feelings. Is he ready to be responsible to those feelings. Say this to your daughter as well. Also you need to make clear that this is the family space, and if you have other children, you can't always be on top of where they are. Having a sibling or a parent walk in in the middle of a sexy situation can be humiliating for everyone. And so to help them put some controls on, you will expect your teen to come up for air and check in with you every 45 minutes or so, or you will go down to "do a laundry" if you get my drift.

    Now onto the defense of " well we can just go to X's house, her parents let us go up to his/her bedroom. " This is one of those situations you have to tread quite carefully and be honest. " Well, they are a different family, and have different expectations of their kids about sex. This is what we believe, and we need to be true to that. I can't stop you from having sex, but I hope that when you are here, you will respect our family. We love you, and we have shared with you what we think about being sexually intimate. We hope that there would be real feelings for each other, a history of love and understanding with each other and a time in your life when you are really emotionally ready to handle the consequences. We don't think that time is now."

    Listen, your teens are sexual animals. Once the fire is lit, it doesn't go out, but maybe you can keep it simmering rather than burning out of control.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Do Not Let Teens Drink In Your Home: Here Is Why!!

    A dad of 13 and 17 year old boys gives permission to his 13 year old to have a party at their house. He is home during the party, with full knowledge that these 13 year olds are drinking in the basement. He did not provide them with the booze, but knew they were drinking. Luckily there were no incidents, but you can be sure that this dad's kids got a clear message. It is fine by me to party at our house.

    Fast forward to last week. Parents go out for the evening, innocently leaving the 2 boys at home. Now it's the 17 year old's turn and he decides to have a party during the time his parents are enjoying their evening out. Surprise, surprise, a HUGE number of kids showed up, and the neighbors called the local police. Many teens scattered, leaving the booze and the host behind. The 17 year old teen was led out of his house in handcuffs and charged with a minor in possession of alcohol and distributing alcohol to minors. Talk about ruining a lovely evening out without the kids! I haven't heard yet whether the parents were charged with violation of the Social Host Law, but that wouldn't surprise me.

    This is why you cannot give your teen permission to drink in your home. Even though you MAY say, you are only allowed to drink when we are home. (which by the way is against the law), what your kids hear is, "We are allowed to drink in our house...cool" The, "you are only allowed to drink when we're home," part does not compute. Teens hear only what they want to hear which in this case is: We can drink at home!! Parents home, parents not home not a part of the integrated information, and it is unrealistic to think that it would be. Parents must must must must must be consistent about messages about alcohol. Your job is always to keep your teen safe. You are not stupid though, and know that teens party, but definitely NOT at your house or with your booze. And you hope that all your daily lectures you are giving them this summer as they leave your house to hang with their friends about safety are parked away in that teenage brain. So maybe they'll have a beer or two, but not the whole six pack. Everything you say and do has real meaning, good and bad!!

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Nag Hag

    Remember how easy it used to be when you could just tell your kids to do something and they did it. "Pick up your toys...I said now!" and with an aw mom, off they went to pick up their toys, brush their teeth, and get ready for bed. It all seemed so effortless. Now, now so much. A request seemingly simple and benign can turn into all out warfare. " Honey, can you bring up your laundry that I just washed and folded for you up to your room? It starts off nice: " In a minute." 30 minutes later, said a little more strongly: "honey will you take your laundry upstairs...NOW!"  A reply with attitude "I...SAID....I...WOULD". And the battle of the wills has begun.

    I wish I had some very astute reasoning and explanation about why your teen won't listen to you. But mostly its just cause they don't want to, don't feel like, and don't care about it. You however, care alot about it. You see your teen as being disrespectful, selfish, and dare I say lazy. All qualities you find particularly unattractive. You have given this great thought, and have spent much drive-time trying to figure out how exactly to get your teen to take responsibility for themselves. They on the other hand have given it no thought! Again they don't really care if the laundry basket stays downstairs forever. They will accommodate by throwing dirty clothes on their bedroom floor instead, and pulling the clean clothes from the basket downstairs on their way upstairs. See how adaptable they are.

    The only real solution is not to engage in this power struggle from the get go. Relationships are reciprocal, and if your teen is not pulling his/her weight in the relationship, then you too can "accommodate." You make your initial request for whatever you need your teen to do, understanding that it is unlikely that he/she will do it on the first try. Perhaps the second round may go a little differently, maybe using an "I get It'' moment like: Honey I get this is a pain the a** and not important to you, but I need you to do this before you go to bed. OK? How can I help you to remember to do it?" At this point you will probably get a "just leave me alone" I'll do it.! If this is the case, leave them alone. And if they don't do it, then the next morning when they need you to do something for them, or that afternoon when they ask for a ride home from school cause its raining, or that weekend when they ask for a ride to their friends or 20 bucks to go to a movie with friends, you can sweetly say: "you know honey, I would have loved to do that for you, but since you chose not to take your laundry up the other night, or not to empty the dishwasher, I guess I am choosing not to pick you up. That's how relationships work. I love to do things for you and I hope that you like to help me in return." PERIOD!!! Do not engage in a back and forth on this. As I have said before, actions speak louder than words. The next time you need your teen to do something, and you put in the request and you get the avoidance again, which of course you will, because learning takes time. You might say, remember when you were so pissed at me last weekend because I wouldn't give you a ride, just saying, I need you to empty the dishwasher..your choice." You may have do this a number of times. Repetition, and consistency are the only way that anyone, not just teens learn. I have a friend who has been married for 35 years and her husband STILL does not remember to put down the toilet seat. There have been many late night pee visits sitting down on that cold porcelain throne for this woman. Get my drift!!

    Thursday, July 5, 2012

    "Im just hangin with some friends"

    It's summer,  and since every night is like a weekend night,  your teen is getting ready for another night out. You casually but warily ask "so what's your plan for the night?" You've been down this road way too many times before, and can predict the unsatisfying answer. They casually and warily reply, also having gone down this road many times: "Ah,  I think maybe, not really sure, but I dunno, maybe going over to X's house and then maybe walking into town to get ice cream, and well I'm not really sure, but yeah going to X's house, and gonna see what's up with everyone." This halting, vague recitation takes like five minutes to get out, and still you really have no idea what your teen will be doing except it definitely is not what you want them to be doing which is going to one house, staying there, locked in, with a bowl of popcorn and a movie, an alarm system and a GPS tracking system should they break out.

    Your fears of packs of kids, roaming the streets, hanging in the woods or local parks, downing copious amounts of alcohol, smoking pot, and having hot, unprotected, hook-up sex, dance around in your head. And when you wake up from this horrific daydream, the battle begins. So you say with strident conviction: "Until I know specifically what your plan is, you are not leaving this house!" And so it goes....again. You put your evening plans on hold, afraid to leave the house without knowing the who,what and where of your teen's evening plans.

    First let me say that most teens, even those who might actually end up staying at one house watching a movie with popcorn took four hours to get to that simple plan. Why? Because making decisions has become painfully difficult. This new brain of theirs is now allowing them to see all the possibilities of the night, and each of those possibilities has to be analyzed adnauseam. If we do this, then this, but what if we do this, and this happens, and what happens if X is there, and what should we wear if we go to X's and who else do you think will be there?, and so on and so on and so on. This kind of in-depth analysis takes many hours, and still at the end, they are not sure it was the right decision. I am sure you have experienced this yourself when you take your teen out to a restaurant with a huge menu. They are overwhelmed with the choices, and often rely on you to make their decision for them, "What do you think I should have?" As if this is the most important decision of their lives. Too bad they don't ask for your advice on their Saturday night plan.

    Ok, so maybe you have heard this vague plan of theirs, but it does not make you happy. And the negotiations begin. First off, one way to help your teen along in the process is by saying late in the afternoon: Here is your "I Get It" moment: "Honey, I know you guys are trying to figure out a plan, and I get it takes awhile to do that, but here is our plan. We need to know by ( and say a time) so that we can plan our evening as well. We are happy to take you where you need to be, or we would be happy to have the kids here, we just need to know by.....Obviously if you have no plans for yourself that night, and you can be on-call then this is not a problem for you. But for those of you who do, it is important for your kids to know that there is a deadline for decision making, or you will make one for them. OK step 2 this is the hard one. When your kid comes to you with the vague plan, and/or you are uncomfortable with the walking around town thing, you can use the following system to help get some more information and accountability:
    Question 1: What do you think I am worried about with you guys walking around town or going to the park? This is important for them to tell you what they think. If you just lecture about all the ills of traveling in packs, it will just put them on the defensive and perhaps set them up to lie. And trust me they know what worries you and it makes a difference when they say it out loud not when you do.
    Question 2: Yes I am worried about those things, and I am also worried that XYZ could happen. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about these things? The ball is now in their court to come up with a plan to address these worries.  Not your plan which they will probably forget, manipulate etc, but their plan that they have to take responsibility for. So for example, maybe they will say, I'll text you whenever we change locations. You can say that makes me feel OK about the where you are, but how about what you are doing. I'm worried that kids are going to be drinking or whatever. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about that? Keep going back to that question.
    Question 3: What is the consequence going to be if you do not follow-through on your plan? This is important to make them come up with a consequence in advance of the night, that is their consequence. They will probably say something like, " well then I won't go out next weekend" Your job here is to restate : " Ok so if you don't stay in touch me with me in the way you said, and I suspect you have been drinking or doing drugs, then you won't go out next weekend. Is that right??"

    Unless your kids have their licenses, I recommend that parents always pick up their own kids after an evening. This way you are in control of where and when, and I think it helps kids make better decisions about their safety. They are not going to get in your car, drunk or stoned, as they might in another parents car or definitely in a friends car.

    This whole "just hanging around" plan is a really tough one  I know. Worrying about your kids safety is overwhelming and it makes parents feel out of control of the situation. The bottom line is this, you are out of control of this situation. When your kid leaves the house they are on their own to make decisions. Your job is always to say" I'm excited for you that you have so many friends to hang with on the weekend,and I know how much you look forward to the weekend to hang with them. Here's the thing, I love you and I want to make sure that I can help you make decisions that will keep you safe." Just lecturing to your kids does not make them safe, but giving them an opportunity to come up with their own plans, by anticipating the kinds of situations you know they will encounter, and by making sure they are accountable to themselves and to you will help.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012

    Must Stay Awake, Must Stay Awake, Must Stay Awake

    Your teens stay up late. You have to stay up later. If you are an early to bed, early to rise kind of person, having a teenager will be pure torture. It may be torture in other ways as well, but if you need your beauty sleep, fagettaboutit! Get used to looking old. Pretend your teen is an infant, and you are on call 24 hours a day. You have no life, and no sleep. I think that sounds about right. Especially in the summer.

    If your teen is home this summer, they want to be out of the house and away from you as much as they can. If they aren't working full-time or otherwise engaged 40 hours a week, they have become completely nocturnal. They sleep all day, and are awake all night, free of your constant watch over them. All the more reason for you to figure out a way to check in on your teen to make sure they are snug as a bug in a rug. If you are one of the many parents I talk to who go to sleep by 10 PM, WAKE UP! If your teen knows that there won't be any kind of evening sniff test before bed, you are leaving the door wide open to regular intoxication. If your teen knows you are dead to the world, and they have made it home in time to kiss you goodnight and put you to bed, they may be ducking out after your bedtime. Neither of these scenarios are safe. If you have a partner, take turns. If you are a single parent, I am sorry you have no one to share this burden with, but for all of you. make sure that your teen always, without exception, checks in with you on arrival back home, even if it means waking you up. Also drink a lot of water before you go to bed, so you will have to pee several times a night, thereby having an excuse to do a bed check. And finally, if you have a teen who is sleeping out at friends, more nights than he/she is sleeping home, there is cause for worry. He/she has probably found a house with little supervision. Not good. You want your teen to have a wonderful summer, but you want it to be a safe one. You can catch up on your sleep when they are 18 and off to college!