Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Teens and Internet Addiction: I'm Not Done Yet!

Watch and then we'll talk


Full disclosure here, I have never been a gamer, except for pong( which I loved by the way, and could have played for hours). I have never played a modern day video game, so what I am about to say here is more psychological and theoretical than anything based on my own experience. But as is the case with most everything, too much of a good thing can be bad.

A Boston Globe article a few years back had a really interested op-ed about some some new research on kids who are gamers. The author of the article, a gamer himself in a previous life wrote this about his own experience with video games when he tried to go to sleep after marathon play: "I could still feel and see myself moving around the game’s corridors and rooms, especially when I closed my eyes. There was a strange buzz, too — it was as though some of the neurons that had been tasked with solving the game’s puzzles were continuing to try to do so well into the wee hours of the morning."

Could this describe your teen? I have had a number of parents describe to me the reaction of their teen when they take their kid's X-box away for a punishment. All hell breaks loose,  with tantrums, screaming, yelling, and even sometimes violence. Behavior that mirrors heroine addicts in withdrawal. Video games are addictive. They provide your teen with many carrots. Many kids who are attracted to video games are shy, have difficulty in making and keeping friends, and feel inadequate in their studies. Video games provide them with a community of people who not only accept them but probably seek them out. He (and I say he, because mostly we are talking about boys) feels an enormous sense of competence, in maybe the only thing in his life where he gets that boost in self-esteem.  Finally he develops a dependence on the stimulation that video games provide. That is a pretty powerful package.

The study cited in this article, which described research on boys 13-21 who were committed gamers found the following: The results show that video games could trigger “intrusive thoughts, sensations, impulses, reflexes, optical illusions, and dissociations.’’ None of this is good, growth producing stuff. Your teens need your help. They can not and will not reduce the amount of time they spend playing without direct intervention from you. This will not be fun. Just want to put that out there. Your kid will become a terror, throw fits like a crazy person, and may even become a crazy person as they adjust to more reasonable and normal time spent on their video games.

Here is what I recommend. Go the site: Familysafemedia.com and investigate the various products they sell to help parents control video play. Most of these devices allow you to preset the times and length of availability to play. It works like a DVR, with the ability to turn on the game only at predetermined times, and shuts down the same way. This takes away the power struggle that occurs when parents attempt to stop a session and your teen is in the middle of something, (they are always in the middle of something, needing to get to the next level. Teens who become addicted to gaming lose interest in most everything else. School takes a very back seat, as does normal social interaction with peers and family. If your kid has a laptop, or Iphone you will need to address these as well. Shut off one source and they will find another. Limit the amount of play time, and let your teen decide how he wants to divide it up. If you decide on 3 hours a day, does he want it in one block or divided up over the day. This gives him some control over how he likes to play. In any case, they absolutely won't like this. Anticipate the worst so you aren't caught off guard. And use understanding and empathy. Here is your "I get it moment." " Honey, I get how hard this will be for you. I know you are really good at this and you don't understand why we are making such a big deal about this. But too much gaming really affects your brain. I know that may seem crazy to you, but that is the truth. It is our job to keep you healthy, and safe. We love you, and want you to be able to play but not make it your life."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Good Time For Reflection

As this is the first day of the Jewish New Year, rather than write my usual blog I thought I would share this with you. Rosh Hashanah is "my" holiday. This is the one holiday that I host every year. I love the rituals, the food, and the people who share our table. Last year I wanted to mark this holiday in a new way so I searched for something that would be meaningful for everyone, no matter how old, and no matter where and what was going on in each of our complicated lives. Everyone at the table was moved and so I thought I would share it here. One thing I love about this holiday is that it emphasizes the importance of reflection, or taking stock of our own lives, who and what is really important. No matter what religion or belief each person has, taking the time to think about ourselves is a gift we give to ourselves and those whose lives we touch. So please, take a moment and think about your life.


As we stand at the threshold of a New Year, we pray:

May our dear ones be near to us,
And may our near ones be dear to us.

May our road of life be straight and smooth;
But may it also be marked by hills that challenge,
And by turns which add variety and interest to our journey.

May our ideas have wings, but may they always find anchor
in reality. May our lives be peaceful, but may our minds grapple with ideas, and our hearts wage war with cruelty and deceit.

May our storehouses be full, and our hearts fuller still.
May we learn to find joy in that which we have, rather than regret for that which we have lost.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's In Your Medicine Cabinet?

Watch and then we'll talk!

This is a pretty simple one. Have trouble sleeping and have some Ambian, Lunestra, Tylenol PM in your medicine cabinet, or maybe even next to your bed? How about those root canals? Have any tylenol with Codeine, or something stronger to take the edge off? Have you had back trouble, knee trouble, shoulder trouble? ( I know getting older sucks) Anway has your doc given you some heavy duty pain pills to help you get through the day. If you have answered yes to any one of these questions you need to lock up your drugs!! Maybe your teen isn't interested, or maybe he/she is, but their friends might be. Even though your bedroom and bathroom is off limits to your kids and their friends, that doesn't mean that when you're out, a reconnaissance trip may be in progress, by either or both of these parties. Kids are curious about what's hidden in your hideaway. I can't tell you how many teens used to regale me with stories about finding their parent's porn in the bedroom closet. When I asked why they would go into their parents bedroom at all, their answer was, plain old curiosity. There is nothing more fun for a teen than finding out their parents secrets. Don't we want to know theirs???

So get a lock box. Yes it's a pain, but after listening to these teens' stories, doesn't it make sense?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teens and Anxiety: I'm Not Perfect

Watch this video and then we'll talk.

The Today Show is doing this wonderful series on The Secret Lives Of Teens which I will discuss over the next 3 blogs

The teens featured in this video articulate beautifully what I think are pretty universal stressors of teens life.

  • Parental pressure and expectations
  • Worries about the future
  • Social Networking and the false self
I had a conversation recently with  a parent who has the "perfect daughter." Extremely smart and well spoken, lovely to her parents, loved by teachers, and has an active social life filled with equally smart and lovely kids. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Guess what? It is too good to be true. On a recent morning, mom went in to wake her teen up, and noticed that her room was trashed, not just messy but intentionally trashed. Turns out, that the pressure cooker that was sizzling inside this terrific kid, finally burst. She confessed that she had had a bad night, and feels depressed and anxious. This came as a complete and total shock to his parents. She had been playing her role as the perfect teen with perfection, until she couldn't.

You may have that teen who has breezed their way through school seemingly effortlessly. Good grades, great behavior, but unbeknownst to you there is a storm brewing. Some kids hit high school with a slam. Perhaps school has been pretty easy, but now the honors classes are piling up, and everyone's expectations are high, this is a star! College acceptances will be plentiful. Life is good. Only now, the work is actually hard, and it isn't coming so easy anymore, maybe they aren't really as smart as everyone thinks. And now there are more distractions. Maybe his/her social life has finally kicked in, and he/she realizes that being with friends is way more fun that reading gobs of books. And with this new social life comes stressors. Who do I like, do they like me, etc etc. Life is not so easy anymore.

If this sounds like your teen, don't wait for an explosion. Give your teen the permission not to be perfect.  Pre-emptively, before a crisis, ask your teen whether he/she feels pressured by you in any way. Let them know that you get how hard it must feel sometimes to please all the people in his/her life who expect great things from them, ie parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches. Ask them if there is anything you could do differently to take some of the pressure off. Remember it is not your teen's job to meet your expectations and goals for for them. 

I especially was touched by the young woman who talked about social networking and the false self she put online. There is soooooooooo much pressure for teens to use twitter and instagram, and tumblr and facebook, snapchat etc to present a particular persona, which may be completely out of sync with what is really going on inside of them. Giving your teen a social networking nightly sabbatical may at first make them furious with you, but later on will provide them with a much needed break from the superficial chatter. It may take a few days, but parents have told me that their teens eventually felt such relief from the 24/7 relentless need to post. 

Just because your teen doesn't appear to be stressed, don't assume that they aren't. They have become pretty good at giving you what they think you want. And maybe their fear of disappointing you gets in the way of letting them see their messy self. Which by the way, we all have! By the way, watch this video with your teen. Great conversation starter!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

No One Likes Homework!!!

Zits Cartoon for Sep/17/2014

I know this must sound familiar! That ridiculous math problem that even someone with a PHD from MIT couldn't figure out. That really happened by the way. When my daughter was in middle school the powers that be decided to try out a new math curriculum. Let me just say that not only did this curriculum bring the kids to tears, but all the parents as well. We would bump into each other at our local supermarket, and discuss the previous night's homework as if it were our own. "Do you believe last nights assignment, I want to kill the person who designed this damn curriculum," we would say to each other. And truly there was an MIT mathematician parent in the class, and even he reported throwing the textbook across the room. Let's just say we weren't the best role models for our kids.

Sometimes your teen's homework is frustrating, perplexing and just plain hard. If your teen has a low frustration tolerance, giving up seems like the smartest strategy. Or if you have a teen who has breezed through elementary and middle school, and now the work is finally challenging, they are caught off guard, "ooh, maybe I'm not as smart as I thought I was." Or maybe the assignment is just plain boring. Whatever the case, they might actually come to you for a solution, like just giving them the answer. In the above example, I think all of us parents agreed that this curriculum was completely turning the kids off to math, and setting them up for total math anxiety. We were powerless to change the curriculum, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we gave some very honest feedback to the math department head. But that didn't help in the short term when our kids were crying and saying they were stupid. What we could do though was acknowledge for the kids that this was tough stuff, and to do the best they could, and truly it wasn't that they weren't smart enough. A lot of kids got pretty mediocre math grades that year, but most of us just let it go. Really, what's the big deal, 7th grade grades are not figured in for college!

When your teen comes to you for help, your first job is to diagnose the problem. Try to refrain from jumping into problem solve, or conversely criticize them for giving up too soon. Start with this instead: " I get this assignment is really frustrating for you. Tell me where you're stuck?" Maybe they just need you to break down the assignment into smaller more manageable pieces. Teens often can't see the forest through the trees, and because they are inpatient and want to breeze through the subjects they really hate, they get overwhelmed from the beginning. You can help by having them break down the assignment into steps, and get them to spend 15 minutes on the first step and then take a break. When they have success with one step, it gives them motivation to begin the next one. They need a ton of encouragement and understanding. " I know this stuff doesn't come easy to you, but I know you can get it." If you jump in and do the work, they take away two things. One, Yay, I can get mom or dad to do my work, and I am off the hook, and two, maybe mom and dad don't think I can do it, and so they don't want me to screw up with the teacher, so they want to do it for me.
I know of a young woman, now a graduate student, whose dad wanted to get her into his Alma mater, so in high school he basically wrote all her papers, college essays etc. He continued in college to edit, and I use that term loosely her papers.  Now as a grad student in a program that is making her a carbon copy of him, she is unable to complete the work without him. This is an extreme example, but you can see the problem here.

Your teen needs your confidence that he/she can succeed, and is not lazy just frustrated. You are  available for support and consultation but the ownership of the work always belongs with him/her. Having realistic expectation is a must. Your teen will have areas of strength, areas of weakness, and areas that he/she is just not that interested in. And that is just fine! No kid is good at everything!

PS Why not share this blog with five friends!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Your Teen's Future: Whose Future Is It?

A parent called me the other day with worry about her son who is a junior in high school. She is worried about his lack of self-direction, and cannot imagine how he will ever be able to even think about the college application process and all it entails when he becomes a senior, when he can't even get himself out of bed in the morning, or work independently to get any of his homework completed, especially any kind of research or writing assignments.

I asked what role she and her husband play with regard to their son. What kind of strategies did they employ to keep him motivated and on task? And then the plot thickened. It seems the dad is heavily invested in his son's future. Dad has a strong relationship with his college Alma Mater and would be heartbroken if his son did not continue to carry the torch for his beloved college. His older daughter is currently a student there. In pursuit of this goal, the father has become CEO of his son's life.

Here are a few examples: His son is on the varsity football team of his high school. He is a good player, not a phenomenal player. Dad attends all his games armed with a video camera, as many parents do, so that 20 years hence they can show their grandkids how cute their dad was in a football uniform. Not this dad. He videos each game so that he and his son can engage in a play-by-play of all his plays to see what this kid did right or wrong. Imagine how this teen feels when he has had a bad game or fumbled the ball one too may times. Not only does he have to answer to his teammates, and his coach, but then he has to go home and face "the man".

Another example: This teen has ADHD and is on medication to help with concentration and attention. When this teen has a paper to do, or an assignment with some heft to it, the father is all over him. Requesting draft after draft, editing, and reediting his son's assignment, both often up till the wee hours of the morning when the paper is due. Needless to say this teen becomes overwrought and overwhelmed by his dad's expectations of him. But the mom reports that this teen is so afraid of his dad's disappointment in him, that he has yet to speak up for himself and tell his father to f**k off!!! Which would be my therapeutic intervention.  No wonder this kid has a hard time getting up in the morning. Facing another day of trying to measure up must be exhausting for him. No wonder it takes him so long to complete an assignment, it never feels good enough.

This is an important story. Many parents have a "grand plan" for their kids. How wonderful it would be if everything went according to plan. But your kids bring their own strengths and weaknesses, passions and personalities to the table. And they don't always match with what you see for their future. This dad's Alma Mater could not be a worse match for his son. Maybe the kid is good enough in football to get him in, but academically this kid would be lost at sea, feeling inadequate and never quite good enough. A professional football career is clearly not in the cards, so a failing academic experience could injure him much more profoundly psychologically in the long term than a full out tackle.

This mom is right, this teen is so over-managed that he is developing few skills in becoming an independently motivated and self-directed person. He doesn't need to because his dad is doing it for him.

Please parents, do not set your teen up for failure. Be realistic about who your child is. Help them to set realistic goals for themselves, and allow them to become the person they are meant to be. Adolescence is all about identity development. Who am I? How am I the same as or different from my parents, my friends, or Katniss from The Hunger Games? The term Identity Foreclosure is a term we in the healing arts use to describe situations like this boy and his dad described above. This dad has foreclosed on his son's ability to develop his own sense of who he is and who he wants to become. He is so busy becoming what  dad wants, that he may be losing his "real" self in the process. Refinance! Open up the possibility of true ownership!!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The College Process or Why Won't My Kid Do His Damn Applications!

It's fall and if you have a junior or a senior you are thinking, obsessing, and feuding with your teen to get on the stick!!! Tip 24 in my book Senioritis-Parentitis addresses this issue. The link below is a blog that excerpted this tip and published it. If you enjoy this one, there are 79 more in my book A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens, Talking To Your Kid About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak you out.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Teens and Pot

Here is a guest blog I did for Teenlife on Teens and Pot. Enjoy


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:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Little TLC Goes A Long Way...Never Too Old

Zits Cartoon for Sep/04/2014

Sometimes life is just tough!! Teens work so hard at not needing you that it can come as a complete shock when they do! And when they do, and can let go of their " I can do it all by myself" you will be the first in line. And when that moment comes, you might not even have to say one word. Not a what's wrong? not a "here's what I think you should do" and definitely not an "I told you so!" Just open arms and open laps and the comfort that only a mom or dad can give.

Problem solving is what we do. But we do comfort even better. Don't confuse the two. You will know if your teen needs your help, because they will ask for it. And if they don't ask, probably better to just let it be. Understanding a teen's emotional life is a challenge. Just when you think you have a handle on what pushes their buttons, a new button appears and catches you completely off-guard. This new person that is emerging is like a surprise birthday party, sometimes you love it and sometimes you wished they had just send a card!

 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, September 4, 2014

Some Of Joani's Life Lessons

Part of the fun of publishing a new book is that I get to do all kinds of fun interviews that make me think. Here is an interview I did for the website: Good enough Mother. How might you answer these questions?

Remember if you write a review on Amazon for my book A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens, Talking To Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs and Other Things That Freak You Out, I will send you a free copy of my first book: I Get It; Three Magic Word For Parents Of Teens. Just email me at joani@joanigeltman.com

Also I would love to come and do a book event at your home, your kid's school, for your book group, your business, Temple or Church. Lets Talk!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Teens like phones not clothes

With the start of the new year, perhaps you were prepared to spend a small fortune on your teen's back-to-school wardrobe. But to your surprise, your teen was less interested in scoring the latest, most expensive brand of jeans or sneakers and instead preferred to shop for the latest trendy cell-phone cover or pleaded with you for the updated IPhone, or tablet. So says an article in the New York Times. See link below.

I beg you, don't make their technology be any more seductive than it already is! There is no earthly reason why a teen needs the updated anything. Faster, better, sleeker, these encourage and feed the addictive beast of phone addiction. Truly this will be your biggest challenge with your teen. No expensive clothes, no weekly manis or pedis, just get me a new phone...pleeeze. Could these be the new status symbols of the teen years?. It used to be fancy clothes, or ugg boots, or $200 sneakers, or a fancy car to impress your friends. Do you remember what it was when you were a teenager? For me it was brand-name clothes. John Meyer, Villager, Capezzio, see I'm so old, you don't even know these brands, but that's what the "popular kids" wore. Thank god for Filene's basement, the original Marshall's, so I could keep up with cool kids, just at a bargain rate!

Clothes, shoes,sneakers may have been status symbols, but they weren't addictive and didn't affect our behavior or our relationships. Please don't feed this beast. Agreeing to upgrade, and update only send a message to your teen that you endorse their addiction. What they have is good enough for what they need it for. Think of it this way, Teens don't need to drive a Mercedes when they get their drivers license, they just need a good, safe, clunker with a few dings in already. A safe car, not necessarily a hot car. The message; we want you to be safe. Teens don't need the fastest, the most expensive technology, just what gets the job done.

Today is my first day back teaching my Freshman college students. For the first time ever I have had to institute a written cell-phone policy. I'm sure they will all be coming to class with their "little babies" their "binkies" for safety and security. Remember the little blankies that your child dragged around and you snipped away inch by inch as they gained the confidence to manage their world without it. Please give your teens the confidence that they can manage their world alone....even if it is only for 1 hour in the safety of their own house, and in the womb of their own room. I'll thank you if they show up in my class!

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: