Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why Is My Teen So Angry?

Your teen loves you...I promise. Not to excuse their anger and attitude, but there is a biological component to this sometimes overflowing well of anger. First the part of the brain that is in highest activation during adolescence is the Amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. This means that when there is the slightest emotional content in an interaction or an event be it "awesome" or annoying, the teen brain bypasses the more reasonable frontal cortex and heads directly to this emotional volcano. This then colors whatever comes out of their mouths, hello attitude!

Here are some of the many experiences that cause this volcano to erupt, and which then cause collateral damage in their interactions with you. 

Teens get mad because:
  • They hate they way they look
  • They didn't get enough likes on an instagram post
  • They weren't picked for the school play, or sat on the bench for the whole game with no play
  • You asked them to wake up, pick up their clothes, clean their room, bring their dishes to the sink, get off their phone, do their homework, or take out the trash
  • School is hard for them and makes them feel stupid
  • Their best friend ignored them, or said something mean to them
  • You said No to something reasonable 
  • They are being sexually harassed or continually judged on their body at school or on social networks
  • You actually would like to spend some time with them
  • They feel pressure to be the "best little boy/girl in the world
  • They feel awkward in social situations but have to look like they aren't
  • They're exhausted because they stayed up too late because they're afraid to close their eyes and let their feelings wash over them.
  • They want a boyfriend or girlfriend and it's just not happening, making them feel that there is something wrong with them
  • They want to emotionally separate from you like they're supposed to do, but they are so conflicted about giving up mommy and daddy to Mom and Dad, that they bust away rather than   take their time.
  • They want their independence even though their decision-making leaves a lot to be desired right now
  • They want their independence and have shown you by doing fine in school, and taking responsibility for making good decisions and don't understand what more you want from them.
  • They are scared about their future and take our their fear on you..cause where else can they?
  • They are trying to figure out how they are the same as you and how they are different and how to make peace with that.
I could go on forever, but you get the gist. This does not give permission for them to be disrespectful or bullying to you. I just want to give you a framework for where this anger could be coming from. There is definitely a  feeling of loss when your kid becomes a teen. You miss the easiness and the casual affection of the earlier years. But don't fear, it will come back! They are pushing you away to make space for the person they will become. Try not to take their anger personally even though it feels "wicked personal." Respond to disrespect or bullying without getting out of control yourself.  
Try not to get hooked into a back and forth with them. Just leave them be, and when they come asking for a ride, money etc simply say, " I would have cause I love doing things for you, but when you said__________________ or treat me like you did this morning, I choose not to help you out this time. "And truly, leave it at that.

If you're teen was an emotional baby and tough as a toddler, you can be pretty sure that now as a teen you will see the same thing. They are built for hypersensitivity and when the brain is on overload it goes berserk, just like it did during those first few years when their little childhood brains were exploding. Get whatever distance you can, continue to show them love and acceptance. It you've been having a pretty hard time together, a little note on the bed, acknowledging "hey I know we're having a tough time together, but I love you and we'll get through it" can go a long way towards making this time of transition a little bit easier.

Don't forget to tune in Sunday at 8 PM EST for my live Facebook broadcast: Joani's Ten Minute Teen Troubleshooting Parenting Tips. Follow me on Facebook or just look me up, the broadcast is public. This week Teens and sexual harassment: How this election can be used to teach valuable lessons.
Thank you readers for all the sharing and posting. Jus since tuesday hundreds more people are accessing and reading this blog and watching the broadcast!!! Parents are hungry for help, thank you for helping! So keep sharing!!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

When My Teen Is Left Out

When you're a parent of a teen, one of the hardest and most heartbreaking things is seeing your teen be left out or excluded from events with kids he/she is friends with or thought they were friends with. A parent called me the other day worried about her 13 year old daughter. Like most girls her age she had her posse of four "besties." After school it seems a delegate from this elite group was chosen to deliver the message. No mincing of words here, "we don't like you anymore." There is no more brutal assault. The daughter was bereft, sobbing and humiliated vowing never to return to school. The mom, feeling every bit as much pain as her daughter wanted to do something, to fix it. "Should I call the school, should I call the parents of the other girls, what should I do?" she asks feeling desperate to make it "all better."

There is a simple answer. Nothing. There is honestly nothing a parent can do to make this better. Best friends on Monday, enemies on Tuesday, best friends again by Friday. There is no rhyme or reason for this fickleness. Kids in middle school are especially susceptible to this jockeying for friends. They are in the midst of going to what I call the "buffet of friends." In elementary school, friends are often chosen by default. Perhaps your best friend has kids the same age, and by default your kids become "best friends." Or maybe your neighborhood is full of kids the same age, and since kindergarten they have been hanging at the bus stop together, taking the bus together, and getting off the bus together and by default end up at each others' house after school, so easy. Think of this like taking your kids to a Chinese buffet. When they are young and overwhelmed by the options, you make their plate up with those things they will eat, chicken wings, fried rice and spare ribs. Now as they get older, they go up to the buffet themselves and are astounded and excited about all the choices, and are anxious to give them a try. Choosing friends in middle school and again in 9th and 10th grade is like going to the buffet for the first time. Wow, look at all these options. I think I would like to try this friend, or that friend.

This means that some kids will do the leaving, and some kids will be left behind. Now that these teen brains are working on overtime, they are thinking more deeply about who these people are they call friends. Whereas in elementary school they only need a warm body for "playing", now they look for friends to talk to, and  to share common interests with. They are less interested in what you have to play with and more with what do you have to offer me? Do I like your personality? Are you too quiet, too loud, to bossy too pretty, not pretty enough? etc etc. Are you fun, do we like to do the same things together? Often in middle school and then again in 9th grade, some kids are ready to transition to more teenagery like behaviors, partying, experimentation with the opposite sex, drugs and alcohol, while some kids are happy with less riskyish behavior.

All this is a set up for feelings of betrayal and exclusion. It is painful, and the good news, is they will get over it. As for your role, there is not much more to do than understanding their pain, and providing tons of TLC. If you insinuate yourself into these friend dynamics you will regret it. Perhaps you have never liked the girl who has just defriended your daughter, and you tell her so. Thinking you are making it better, you wax on and on about what a bad friend this girl has been,  and good bye to bad rubbish! The only problem with this is that the next day, when the girls have made up, your daughter now knows you hate this kid, and will never talk to you again about her.

I talked to a mom about this yesterday at one of my "Ask The Expert" parties whose daughter was experiencing all these friend complications. She said that her daughter would come to her crying and in her effort to make her feel better would try to solve the problem for her, by giving her all kinds of strategies. The daughter, not looking for help, just a shoulder to cry on, then gets angry at mom for interfering. Thats' what I am saying. Stay out of it!!!!! Your kids need to learn to figure this all out for themselves. Obviously if it is more of a bullying situation, it may require a different strategy, but if it is old-fashioned cat-fighting, just let it be. Your kids will have a lifetime of friendships for which they are now in training. It's a bit like basic training. In the beginning, you never think you'll get through it, and then you get stronger and smarter, and you get better at figuring it all out. Just be patient, they'll have to sweat a little.

Now having just told you to mind your own business, I do have one caveat. A parent recently told me of this situation. Her daughter went to a friend's house with 7 other girls for a weekend night "girl party." It seems that this girl cherry picked 5 of the girls to sleep over and left the other two out of the sleepover. As you can imagine, those two girls felt like s**t.  It didn't seem like the host's mom had any idea this had happened. If your kid has a group of friends over, there should be a proportion rule. In the example above, the parents should have been aware of the situation from the beginning, knowing who was invited for the sleepover. In a large group of 7, I get that all the girls sleeping over might have been too much, but 5 out of 7 is just too exclusionary. Have a rule in your home about sleepovers that states, either everyone or just 1. It would make sense the host girl wanted someone with her to finish out her fun night with the girls. I think all the girls could have understood the one rule, but they didn't understand the 5 and not you two rule. Your teens might need some of this kind of help. You won't choose the sleepover friend, but you can teach them about inclusion!

Sunday was my 2nd Facebook live broadcast! It was wonderful. Last week over 700 people viewed my ten minute tip on "Tone Of Voice." Below is the link to "Rules VS Strategy. I hope it's helpful. If you think so, I would love it if you would share it on Facebook with "your friends." Follow me on Facebook for easy access to the broadcast. I'm hoping for the old..."if you tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on and so on, we can have parents all over the world getting fast easy tips on raising teens. I have lofty goals here...I hope you will help!!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why Is My Teen So Mean To Me?

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

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

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

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

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

Don't forget to tune in on Sunday October 23rd@ 8 PM for Joani's Live on Facebook broadcast. Tell all your friends, far and wide. To tune in just follow me on facebook!!! It's Joani's Ten Minute Teen Troubleshooting Tip!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Grabbing P**sy And Other Things

Thank you presidential election for making sexual assault and harassment become part of our everyday conversation. And I am being honest here. We may not agree with each other on who we want to win the election, but I think that this is a topic that most people can agree on. It is wrong!!!

Finding a way in to talk to your teen about sexual harassment and assault is not always easy, unless your teen has personally been affected by it. Talking theoretically and lecturing kids on the no's of sexual assault and harassment can bring on the glazed eyes. But today I would be hard pressed not to think that even teens must be talking about the "grabbing pussy"tape.

 Social networking has become a hotbed of sexual banter and harassment for teens. Unfortunately many boys think girls like to be addressed and harassed using sexual language, and many girls think that sexual attention is a good kind of attention. Just the other day a parent contacted me about these kinds of things going on at her teen's middle school: "Boys are rating girls on looks and publishing on social media everywhere," Boys verbally poking fun at girls, making fun of their bodies, in person and over social media." These are 6th and 7th graders the mom told me!

What Donald's Trump tape has done has allowed teens to hear out loud just how crass and disrespectful this language is, and how uncomfortable and disrespected the receiver feels.and that in fact it is against the law to grab anyone's anything!  The more women come out of the "harassment closet" and share their stories, the more our young teen women and men get another side of the story. Which could not be more important. Because teens mostly talk to each other using this language in texts and snap chats, or send sexy provocative pictures, they never have the first hand experience of literally hearing what this language sounds like, and how it makes someone who receives it feels. I have heard from many parents whose teens, both girls and boys have been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual banter, but feel ill-equipt to stop it. 

Parents watch the Donald and Billy Bush tape with your teen boys and girls. Read them the stories that Donald's victims have shared about their sexual assault and how it made them feel. Replace their "it's not a big deal" with the real pain and humiliation that these woman have suffered, And give them the language to ward off what has become normative teen-speak! 

Understand with them that attention feels good, and that flirting, and goofing around is great and normal. But when language and actions become sexual, predatory and disrespectful a boundary of respect and safety has been crossed. Help them find the language to change the conversation. 

PS. Thank you to the many hundreds of people who watched my inaugural Facebook live broadcast. Here it is below if you missed it. Follow me on Facebook and tune in next Sunday, Oct 23rd @8 PM for the next one. Feel free to write questions for me to answer next week, you can write below in comment section or send me an email at

Thursday, October 13, 2016

College Students Reflect On Their Younger Selves

I would like to thank my college students for allowing me to share these excerpts papers they wrote on "My Teenage Years." I have been assigning this paper for almost 25 years and I am always touched by my students honesty and insight as they reflect on their adolescence now that they have some distance.
So in their words

 I give you their thoughts on:

"During my teenage years I felt emotions worse and more extreme than I ever had in my entire life. Everything hurt worse than it ever did before and everything was dramatic. I had my heat broken so many times I lost track. Often these heart breaks didn't come from boys. The worst heartbreak I ever felt was when my closest friend told me she didn't want to be friends with me any more. Her reasons didn't make sense to me and I felt horrible. We had spent all of high school there for each other with no arguments or problems. She made me hate myself because I felt rejected. I became crazed over it and analyzed every part of our friendship and all my other friendships to see what made me such a horrible person in her eyes. There are many differences between who I am now and who I was when I was thirteen. I no longer care as much how people perceive me or think of me. I no longer feel emotions as strong as I did. I actually look back at some of the things that once made me cry and laugh because they seem so ridiculous now.

I realize that as a teen my friends helped define who I was and who I wanted to be, and so I sometimes wanted to be friends with people that saw the person I wanted to be. She is not the person I am today."

"During Adolesense I thought I was too cool to be seen with my family. My mother would always get mad at me when I would not talk to her while we were in public. For some reason I was embarrassed to be seen with my mom. When I step back and look at the fact that I did that, I have no idea why it was such a big deal. With a completely 180 degree flip, I love to hang out with my mom now, sometimes more than with my friends!"

"I used to be the bigger kid in my group, but than I realized I wasn't getting any taller. I kept waiting for the growth spurt I heard about from my pediatrician. It never happened. I never had a year where I grew more than two inches. I have been 5 ft 6 in since the seventh grade. Althought I never talked to anyone about my height bothering me, I would come home and mention that my once shorter cousin or friend was now taller than me. My friends teased me bad."

" The one thing I could't accept about myself was having a flat chest. In seventh grade, alot of girls were starting to develop breasts but I was not one of them. At first it was something I was only midly insecure about because other girls were in the same boat. I didn't think I was getting sized up or people examined my body as closely as I did. But when I got my first boyfriend that made me far more doubtful of what was normal for breast size. I was raised with very good morals and didn't want to put my body out for anyone to have. When I didn't do sexual things with him, he cheated on me with my very busty best friend. After a few weeks of people finding out and bashing the couple for doing something incredibley harsh to me, he lied, and said we fooled around, but I was boring since I didn't have big boobs. For the rest of the year, I was mocked by his friends for not being developed.


Adolescence is hard. Because teens are naturally so self-involved they can be hurtful and mean. The fragility  and vulnerability of teens, due their changing bodies and changing brains can contribute to emotional highs and extreme emotional lows.

The good news, nothing lasts forever. This is lesson that older teens learn, and a lesson that you should learn as well. What you see now is not what you will see in a few years. This is a moment in time when drama, attitude, and feeling dismissed as parents feels acute and painful. But fear not, with age, and growth, maturity, and a move home after college, these feelings will be a distant memory.

Don't forget that starting on Sunday Oct 16th at 8 pm and every Sunday there after, I will be broadcasting live on Facebook!!!! Please join me, mark it on your calendars, tell your friends far and wide. No need to be friends with me, just put my name into the Facebook search and there I will be live and in person!! Ask me questions, like, share and comment. Can't wait to meet you all!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Doing The College Thing Right!

The leaves are starting to change, the air is turning crisp and fall like, and that means that we are upon the annual 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 just 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 where ever 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!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Puberty Is Serious Business

Read this and then we'll talk:

Sometime ago I watched a tribute show that 60 minutes did on Mike Wallace. It was a fascinating profile of what was behind this very driven and enormously accomplished journalist. Turns out it was acne during puberty. Who woulda thunk? In an interview that Mike Wallace gave to a young college journalist a few years back,  he confessed to this young man that as a teen he had terrible acne. He never felt attractive enough or good enough, and to counter those feelings he set incredibly high goals for himself, proving that despite what he saw as an enormous flaw, (his acne) that he would and could overcome this. In the therapy biz we call that reaction formation, which means countering one set of feelings with the exact opposite. In Mike Wallace's case, " I feel ugly and a loser, therefore I will become successful and desirable.

If only all teens could turn what they perceive as their deficits into their motivators. Puberty can be devastatingly awful. It is a cruel twist of fate that just as a person is at the height of self-consciousness, their body turns on them. Perhaps your teen also has bad acne, or maybe your daughter is completely flat-chested or maybe buxom. Maybe your son is the shortest in his class, or maybe as a 5th grader he is the tallest and has facial hair to boot. Whatever it is, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you, it is a hugely big deal to them.

 David Elkind, the author of All Grown Up And No Place To Go  calls this "the lightening rod." I'm sure you had your own cross to bear when you think about yourself and your body during puberty. The problem for parents is that the way this plays out for your teen isn't always that obvious. They may not be walking around the house saying " I hate this or I hate that about my body." But what you get instead is the 2 minutes before they leave for school meltdown. " I have nothing to wear, you never buy me any clothes, I told you those jeans make me look fat, why did you let me buy them blues!

And because their ride is sitting in front of the house, or the bus is at the bus stop, you have your own meltdown, screaming at them that "they are ungrateful spoiled brats, having just spent $200 on clothes, or the dermatologist or you just did their laundry, if you would just put it all away" blues of your own! The truth of it is, it isn't about the jeans. It's that for some reason that morning they looked in the mirror and someone looked back that made them feel ill. It is really that simple. If you pay attention to their tantrum you will miss the real story.

So the next morning your teen throws a tantrum before school, or before a school dance or before they leave the house on a Friday night to hang out with friends, and you become the scapegoat for all that is wrong with their bodies, rather than getting sucked down the dark hole, just give them a hug, and say: 'I get your not feeling good about how you look tonight, is there anything I can do to help. " It won't make the acne go away, or the boobs shrink, or make them 6 feet tall, but at least someone "gets" that life just sucks sometime!

And please do not joke, tease or otherwise make fun of your daughter's flat chest, giant boobs, or unusually short or tall stature, or your son's tall or short stature, or lack of muscles, or big feet, or early facial hair, and tell Uncle Harry the same thing!


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Understanding Your Teen's vulnerability Around Drugs and Alcohol

The New York Times and I agree!!! Understanding your teen's personality and temperament can be a key to understanding their vulnerabilities when it comes to drug and alcohol use  At the end of the post is a great article about form this weeks New York Times that reinforces this .

When we are born, we bring into the world our temperament and our personality. It is our parent's job to understand what we bring to the table, our nature, and then help us to develop to our fullest. If our parents misunderstand or don't want to accept this part of our nature, we can forever feel misunderstood and at odds with them. Your kid's too bring their temperament and personality to the table. It is what drives their choices, their interests, their emotional reactions, their motivation,  and their ability to connect with you and people outside the family. Understanding your teen's personality and what drives their behavior will be the key to keeping them safe as they navigate all the scary, risky choices that present themselves during Adolescence.

I have targeted 4 major personality styles and how these interact with all the temptations that teens encounter, specifically drugs and alcohol. Who is your teen?

  • The Risk-Taker: Those of you with these teens will have memories of your teen as a 3 year old running instead of walking. These were the kids that showed no fear. A big slide, can't wait. Climb to the highest rung of the monkey bars, race you! Gets on a sled or puts on a pair of skis, the faster, the steeper, the better. Roller coasters, scary movies, you name it, they are always game. That's what makes being around them so much fun, and of course terrifying. Your parent mantra...BE CAREFUL!!! Now as teenagers, with a brain tuned into risk-taking, the drive for dangerous fun is a powerful motivator. But now it's not steep slides, but fast cars, and power drinking, and being up for trying and doing just about anything. Obviously this "nature" puts them in a vulnerable position. You can't tame this beast but you can teach them. Here is your "I Get It" conversation: Honey, you know what I love about you. I love that you are always up for a new challenge, you're always game for anything. And in life, that can be a wonderful quality, it means you will have an exciting challenging life. Unfortunately right now as a teen, that "up for anything" could put you in a lot of unsafe situations. You really need to understand this about yourself, so that you can put the brakes on before whatever you are "going for" gets out of control. I do worry about how you will manage drinking and driving and drugs and sex. All those exciting things that can get unsafe really fast if you get caught up in the awesome-ness of it all. Lets come up with some ways that can keep you safe."
  • The Shy and Anxious Teen: Those of you with teens like these will remember them as being very cautious children. They had difficulty in new and unfamiliar situations. They stuck to you like glue in group settings, feeling uncomfortable around a lot of people. They probably spent much of their time at home with their siblings rather than out on play dates, and needed encouragement to make friends. Over the years you might have seen this child grow more comfortable through involvement in activities like sports where the activity gave them a purpose. But now as teens, the expectations to be social, and chatty, and charming can be overwhelming. These teens are usually well liked. They are easy to be around and make great loyal friends, especially when they are with the kids they feel the most comfortable with. But now there are new expectations, dealing with romantic feelings, flirting, acting cool, these do not come naturally to the shy and anxious kid who lives in their head. Add to that the normal hyper sense of self-consciousness that all teens feel, exaggerated in the shy and anxious teen. This makes these teens very susceptible to drugs and alcohol. Pot mellows them out, and alcohol gives them a false sense of confidence in the situations where they may feel lacking. Your "I Get It" conversation. "You know honey I get that when you are in large group situations where you are least comfortable, you might feel that drinking will make you more comfortable. That worries me, that you might feel that to fit in and be relaxed you will have to drink or smoke pot. That can be a dangerous precedent to set in your life. It is more important for you to learn some strategies to make yourself comfortable rather than relying on alcohol or drugs to do that for you. As an adult, you will be in many situations through work that will stress this part of you. I have confidence that you can figure how to be in groups and be comfortable. Things like finding one person to hang with in the beginning that you feel good with, or be the designated care taker, it gives you an important role to keep your friends safe, and they will really appreciate that. There are lots of things we can come up to help. Lets work together on this."
  • The Fun Loving Teen Who doesn't love this kid. This is the kid everyone wants to be around. They are fun, easy to talk to, gets a crowd into action, a leader, loves to have a good time. These are wonderful qualities, and as an adult will help them to be extremely successful. This is a kid with high emotional intelligence. Getting along with people is her/her specialty. As a teen, this kid will ALWAYS be up for a party!!! Your "I get it" conversation. "You know what I love about you honey, everybody always wants to be around you, including me. You are one hell of a fun person. I only worry about that now, because you are always up for a good time,and I know that sometimes can mean alcohol and drugs, whatever enhances that "good time." We are going to need to come up with some strategies to keep you safe, when your party hearty head takes over."
  • The impulsive teen These teens as children were the kids you had to remind a thousand times to "look both way before you cross" or they would have bolted across the street to chase a lost ball, or, your shoes are untied, don't run unless you tie them. This teen interrupts, shouts out in class rather than raising her/his hand, and has little patience for waiting around for anything. As a teen being asked by a friend: "Hey you wanna.... will always garner an immediate yes. This teen will not want to take the time to think much through. Now this is on top of the already teen impulsiveness that all teens have due to a developing frontal cortex. This teen is faced with a double whammy. Not only the nature he brings to the table, but also the nature that is part of his newly developing teenage brain. A potentially lethal combination. Educating your teen about his/her nature potential is extremely important here. Criticizing them over and over again for not thinking things through will not be productive. Understanding with them how this can be for them is comforting. Your "I get it" conversation: You know honey " I totally get how hard it is for you to put the brakes on something when you want to go full force ahead. You mind and your body just say GO. This worries me because now that your life is presenting you with lots of choices, your natural tendency is not think it through before acting. Maybe we can start at count to ten rule. When someone says: "hey lets do....." rather than just going for it, you take a second, take a deep breath and literally count to 10 before you act. This may truly save your life one day!"
The last category I want to mention here is what happens when teens are facing a crisis. Maybe there is a divorce or separation that is weighing on your teen, maybe a death in the family, or an ill grandparent, maybe family financial problems or a parent's job loss. Maybe a recent break-up with a beau, or a feeling that he/she has disappointed you yet again with low grades. There could be a million things that your teen might be good at masking, making you think that they are handling it. Trust me, they are probably not handling it, and low grades, nasty temper, low energy, room hibernation, never home, all can be signs that whatever the stress is, has consequences. This can be a particularly vulnerable time for a teen and drug and alcohol use. They feel bad, and booze or drugs makes them feel better, end of story. Your job is to help label the feelings given the behavior you are seeing. Making observations, not asking questions. " You know honey, I'm guessing that (fill in the blank here with your guess) that this divorce is really hard for you. I notice you spend more time in your room, and want to avoid hanging with me. You seem to be sleeping a lot. I really get that this is a tough time. I know sometimes when people go through tough times they might find some comfort from drinking or smoking pot, and I worry that when you are out with your friends, that this might become a way for you to cope with this all. I get that can be an easy way to feel better, but ultimately you have to deal with what is making you feel bad. You know you can always talk to me, but that might be hard for you right now, so I am going to set you up with some counseling to get you through this crisis. "

The bottom line here is you have to give voice and words to the underlying motivators that make your teen vulnerable to teen temptations. Just saying don't do it or else, is not a game changer.