Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Yin and Yang Of Giving Advice To Your Teen

When your teen asks you for advice, you think you have hit the holy grail of parenting! But the truth often is that they need you to say the wrong thing, (from their point of view)so they can disagree with you. The disagreeing is the teenage brain's way of saying, I can do it, I can stand on my own two feet.

How frustrating!! Of course you know you are right! How could you not be with so many years of life experience behind you, and an intimate understanding of this young person standing in front of you. And it feels hurtful to be discounted and ignored. But try not to take it personally. The advice you have given may in fact have parked itself away in your teen's brain and been spouted off to a friend sounding like it was his/her idea all along. Unfortunately you may not have had a ticket to the performance, limited seating only, reserved for friends, not parents!

And if you feel like they don't really want or need your advice when they come to you for it, maybe they just need a place to vent or talk out loud. A "Tell me what you think" rather than a "here's what I think you should do!" might get you more satisfaction from the conversation.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Peer Pressure Is A Powerful Thing!

I read an interesting article Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions.

 I love when articles confirm what I already know, but in a new way. It makes me feel so smart. This referenced a study that was done at Temple University looking at the effect on teens brains while they are making decisions when they are alone versus when they are with their friends. The experiment was so interesting. Ask a bunch of 14-18 year olds to do a simulated driving game for which they will be rewarded with cash if they finish in a certain time frame. Embedded in the game are choices to be made like running yellow lights to finish more quickly. However if you "crash" you get penalized and delayed.  Scores were compared with a group of college students and a group of young adults.  "Half of the time each person played alone, and half the time they were told that two same-sex friends who had accompanied them to the study were watching in the next room." The results, no change in game playing or risk-taking for college students and young adults when told about people watching their play, but for the teens they ran 40% more yellow lights and had 60% more crashes when they "believed" their friends were watching. Remember these "phantom friends" were not even in the room with them, they only believed that friends were watching. 

This is pretty powerful documentation of the effect of what we call "the imaginary audience", a term coined by Psychologist David Elkind that refers to the heightened sense of self-consciousness in teens. This occurs because of the newly developing and growing teenage brain that is working on overtime to make teens aware that not only do they have thoughts about themselves but that other people have thoughts about them. Think of this as opening night jitters that starts the second teens awaken and ends when they have posted their last facebook message of the day. What will I wear today, how will people see me? What will I say today, what will people think about what I am saying? and so on. The study supports the thinking that when your teen is on their own they are more likely to make responsible decisions (no imaginary audience) but give them a real or perceived audience and lets get on with the show! Because often times it is all for show, just like the teens in the study who took more risks when they thought their friends were watching. 

This would be a great article to read with your teen. Here is scientific documentation of all your worries. Let them know that you are not crazy, even the scientists can see that when you are with your friends you are more likely to put yourself in risky and potentially unsafe situations. Your job here is to use that power of understanding with your teen " I get how important it is to not embarrass yourself in front of your friends, but I know that sometimes you might make a different decision when you are alone than when you are hanging with your friends. Lets try to find some ways that you can both save face in front of your friends, but make sure that you are safe. This is the kind of conversation you might have every weekend just before your teen leaves the house. This is NOT something you can change about  your teen. It is literally chemistry, but you can make your teen aware of it and provide them with strategies, scripts and alternatives to keep them safe. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Important Considerations For Setting Limits On Cellphones!!

Here is an interesting study about college students and the effects of too much cell phone use. The short story; lower GPA's and anxiety.  This makes so much sense to me, distraction and obsession, put those two things together and you have a recipe for the college experience to be a disaster. I never really thought about cell phone use as an obsessive compulsive behavior, but truly it is. Think about it, people who have OCD have a ritualized behavior that is a coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety.  There is nothing more ritualized as the repeated hand twist checking for texts, over and over and over again, with barely a moment of rest, coping with the constant worry of missing something. If you are consumed with the worry that you might be missing something, than you never really experience the present. In college that means that sitting in class worrying more about the next text rather than the next quiz, or trying to study with one hand and one eye on the phone waiting for the next big news rather than both eyes focused on the "real text." There is still only one way to be successful in school, and that is the old fashion way, by being "present" during classtime and studying without distraction.

The anxiety issue to me is equally worrisome. The constant need to be checking in and connecting is an avoidance behavior for being alone with your own thoughts. The way to work through issues is to think about them. But if you keep yourself distracted from thinking and feeling, that there is no thinking through. The number of college students who self report being on medication for anxiety is astounding to me. This is not a good prognosis for coping with the increasing stress and responsibility for being an adult.

What can you do now to prepare your high school student for the college experience, get them into cellphone rehab now! Enforce a two hour no cellphone use a day, and no cellphones to bed. And model model model. Get off your phone!

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Teen Of Few Words

Favorite teen stock answers:

  • I said I'll do it!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • In a minute!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I don't have any homework!!!
  • It was fine!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I'm fine!!!!!!!!!!
  • I'm busy!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I don't know!!!
  • When I'm ready!!!!!!!
  • Nothing!!!!!!!!!
  • When I feel like it!!!
These are just a few that come to mind, I'm sure you have a million more you can add to that list. Please do in the comment section. Clearly answers like this are meant to do one thing, stop you from asking more questions!

You might get more satisfaction by starting with a statement rather than a question. Rather than asking how much homework do you have? You might say, wow, you brought a ton of books home tonight, you must have a ton of homework?

Rather than asking what are doing tonight? You might say, wow, the texts have been flying, there must be a lot of planning going on for tonight, what do people want to do?

Rather than asking, when are you going to bring your laundry up to your room? You might say, lot of beautiful, clean-smelling newly washed clothes sitting in the laundry room, just waiting to be brought up to your room, what you say, you go get it so you'll have something to wear tonight.

You still might get the same stock answer, but starting with a statement, keeps them from giving you a knee jerk reaction once they hear a sentence that starts with Who, what, where or how, and maybe you'll be surprised.

PS Just a reminder that I am booking speaking engagements and Ask The Expert Parties for the spring. Let me know if you are interested. Also did you know that I do phone coaching. So if you need some help email me at and we can schedule a phone consult.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I Need To Get A Life Parenting Moment

A Zits comic Home run:

Jeremy is busy writing a journal he was supposed to be keeping for the last 4 months, and is busy writing about what he thought he was doing 4 months ago. To his mom he says:
Jeremy: Mom what was I thinking about around October 13th?
Mom: That was when your van started idling funny and you were worried about that rash on your leg.
Jeremy: perfect, thanks. (Jeremy walks away, leaving mom thinking...)
Mom: Maybe I do need a job outside the home.

Does this feel familiar to you? Do you remember verbatim conversations you had with your teen months ago that seemed too important to forget, and when you remind your teen about that conversation they look at you like you are an alien from another planet,and say "Ma...Dad...Get A Life."  You might hang on every word, remember every detail from the quiz they took in French, what they got, right, what they got wrong, and then remind them of that when the next quiz comes up. Or maybe you remember a fight they had with their "so-called" best friend. You remember every horrible thing that friend said to your daughter, the sobbing on the bed, and the wailing that now she has no friends. You try to remind her of that conversation when yet another fight occurs, and yes, she looks at you like an alien saying, 'nooooo, that never happened before."

Here is the disconnect. Teens live in the moment, and what happens in the moment, stays in the moment. This is why they can let go so fast of events that to parents seem momentously important. Adults live in the future. We look at each present moment as a potential future moment, and therefore have a very hard time letting go.  And because your kids and their lives are the most important thing in your life, and you pay wayyyyy to much attention to every detail of it, you will likely feel very unfulfilled a good deal of the time. Because what's important to you about your teen and his/her life, has ceased to be important to your teen.

So if you find yourself, obsessing about every detail of your teen's life, find something else to do! Your relationship with your teen might depend on it!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How Do I Look????? A Teen Obsession

Watch and then we'll talk.

 This is not a new question teenage girls, and probably boys for that matter, ask. But in the old days, we just asked it of ourselves in the mirror, or our closest girl friends. We would certainly have never put it to the test to ask the random people that troll youtube or instagram or twitter or snap chat. Maybe we would have asked our parents, cause we knew we would have gotten a resounding NO are you kidding you are the most handsome or beauteous in the world. In in that moment we might have even believed them.

How sad is it that these girls, feeling so needy for affirmation, put this out to the crazies who watch youtube, or on their instagram feed. They hope against hope that someone will tell them that all their pubescent worries are for naught and that they are not the ugly, fat teen that they think they see in the mirror everyday.

I was having a conversation with my now 33 year old daughter, reminiscing about her 13 year old pleasantly plump, short not yet having her growth spurt, self.  She talked about how uncomfortable she felt in her own skin back then, and how insecure she felt with her friends.  But when she was doing what she loved and what she felt passionate about in those years, that self-loathing and self-conscious, needy side disappeared, and a confident, funny, open-hearted young girl emerged. We remarked how good it was that she had something so positive in her life that could counteract those sometimes unbearable feelings of early adolescence.

The theoretical term for that thing you do that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside is called self-efficacy. We all need something that we feel good at, especially during the early teen years when so much else feels not so good. Having a special skill or talent to feel proud of can fight against those feelings that those girls who post on youtube are experiencing. Helping your teen to find that area of specialness is crucial to maintain the self-esteem that is threatened on a daily basis.

Maybe you have a teen who hasn't found that specialness yet, and is hyper-focused on her/his physical self, and all the things they hate about themselves.  Maybe they aren't the sports kid, or the music kid, or the theater kid, and you are stumped about what would make them feel good about themselves. I was working with a parent recently whose 12 year old fit this profile. I asked this mom, whose daughter is an only child of a single parent, whether her daughter liked playing with younger children, and she nodded her head, yes she does, she loves her little cousins. I suggested perhaps looking for a day care center kind of set-up where she might do this as a volunteer. Mom asked her daughter who was very enthusiastic about the idea. Mom checked out her local YMCA. They indeed had such a Saturday program for toddlers and did use volunteers. This 12 year old, somewhat shy insecure preteen, rose to the occasion, filling out a complicated application. She had to find references to vouch for her, and go on an interview. She jumped through every hoop, with enthusiasm, and felt such pride in her acceptance. It has been a wonderful lesson on "self-efficacy" and building self-esteem, not from how you look, but what you do

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Learning From The Mistakes Of The Military: Nude Photos and Teens

This week there was a big news story about Marine Corps soldiers posting nude photos of female marines on a private marine Facebook group. It seems that they either secretly and illegally photographed female marines or posted photos that female marines had shared with soldiers or boyfriends, that had been hacked from female marine's computers. These women thought that these private photos would remain private."  Here is the link of a Boston Globe article as well as a just published op ed from the NYtimes that my blood boil. these soldiers were once teens or may still be teens. Where are they getting the message that this behavior is acceptable???  We are not doing a good job teaching our boys about respect for women!!!

I have had a rash of calls over the last couple of weeks from parents who either accidentally (an opportunity presented itself) or deliberately (regular monitoring) found words and pictures on their teen's phone that sent them into parent hell. No parent, is ever prepared to see language on their teen's phone that sounds like it has been copied from the most disgusting porn movie ever. And by the way, the girls are equally as "colorful" as the boys.

Found these interesting statistics, share them with your teen.

The percent of teenagers who have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves:
  • 20% of teenagers overall
  • 22% of teen girls
  • 18% of teen boys
  • 11% of young teen girls ages 13-16
The percent of teenagers sending or posting sexually suggestive messages:
  • 39% of all teenagers
  • 37% of teen girls
  • 40% of teen boys
15 Percent of teenagers who have sent or posted nude or seminude images of themselves say they have done so to someone they only knew online.
48 Percent of teenagers say they have received such messages
71 Percent of teen girls and 67% of teen guys who have sent or posted sexually suggestive content say they have sent or posted this content to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
21 Percent of teenage girls and 39% of teen boys say they have sent such content to someone they wanted to date or hook up with.
44 Percent of both teen girls and teen boys say it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.
36 Percent of teen girls and 39 % of teen boys say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.
51 Percent of teen girls say pressure from a guy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images; only 18 % of teen boys cited pressure from female counterparts as a reason.
66 Percent of teen girls and 60% of teen boys say they did so to be “fun or flirtatious”; their most common reason for sending sexy content.
52 Percent of teenage girls used sexting as a “sexy present” for their boyfriend.
44 Percent of both teen girls and teen boys say they sent sexually suggestive messages or images in response to such content they received.
40 Percent of teenage girls said they sent sexually suggestive messages or images as “a joke.”
34 Percent of teen girls say they sent or posted sexually suggestive content to “feel sexy.”
12 Percent of teen girls felt “pressured” to send sexually suggestive messages or images.

So now what? First read these article with your teens. This is a front page story!! Your teens need to understand the very very serious consequences of sharing these kinds of intimate photos either consensually or not!! Both boys and girls. Teen have magical thinking when it comes to sharing private messages and and sexy photos. Teens unfortunately do not think there is anything wrong, clearly if 40% think it is just a joke. What they need you to help them with is that the "joke" could be on them!

An outrageous text or sexy picture will for sure be shared amongst friends. I can hear the conversation now: "Hey guys look at the picture Sally sent of her tits!" Or Hey guys, Sally said she'd blow me" Now Sally is not only going to have to answer to the one guy she "flirted" with but 10 of his best friends who will probably now corner her at school, the mall, at a party and ask for her to make good on her offer to them as well. If it's good for one it's good for everyone.

Even if a teen shares a sext or sexy picture with a boyfriend or girlfriend, it is more than likely that this couple will split up before too long, and someone will be the injured party looking for revenge. Hello naked pictures. 

These are scenarios it is important to talk about with your teen. Using and I get it statement: "I get that kids think sending sexy pictures and text messages is no big deal. But I do need you to understand that it is a big deal and that what you send to someone will for sure get passed around. If you wouldn't say in person what you write in your texts, it shouldn't be on your phone. Would you go up to a boy and say "I want to suck your dick", or a girl and say "suck my dick" I don't think so, unless I don't know you very well. Would you go to a party and start taking your clothes off, and parade around in your underwear, if not, it should not be on your phone. Just because you don't feel the embarrassment or humiliation because you aren't present when the viewing party happens, doesn't mean you should share your body with the world. This is a safety issue. People make assumptions about your willingness to participate in sexual situations based on what you put out there. I would never want anyone to take advantage of you, or put you in a situation you can't handle because they misunderstood your intentions. " I love you and want you to be safe" 

Parents, especially those with middle school kids, you must monitor their phones. It is not an invasion of privacy, it is a physical and mental health safety issue. Teens are impulsive, and conforming. If "everyone" is doing it they will want to do it too. You don't need to get angry with them about that, just understand with them, that it is hard to not do something if all their friends are doing it. You should surprise them every now and them with a phone check, done together. This is NOT about punishing them if you find this stuff, it is a time to help them strategise a solution with you about how not do it. Yelling and taking their phone away will NOT solve this problem, educating will!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

This Homework Is Too Hard!!!

" I can't do it!!!! It's too hard!!!!!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!

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

I'm Not You!!!

I was at my gym the other day, on a mat, lying down, and pretending to do sit-ups! Next to me were two moms of teenagers. I only know this because I was eavesdropping on their conversation. It was the first day back from their february vacations with their families and they were recounting to each other how their vacations had gone with their kids. One of the moms told the other mom: "And so I said to my husband, just take him home, he is making everybody miserable. He just sits in the (ski) lodge with that snide look on his face, and that attitude, I just couldn't stand it for one more minute. So I told my husband, just get him out of here, and take him home, and find somewhere for him to go so we can enjoy our vacation!"

Ok, so we haven't we all had that vacation! I totally and completely get what that mom was feeling. You plan, and pay for a wonderful vacation with your children, fantasizing about family togetherness and memory makers, and then much to your chagrin, your teen son or daughter makes your vacation a living hell!!

Here's the thing about teenagers. They may have gone along for years with whatever your families interest was, because being with their parent(s) is really all they care about. And if going skiing, or to the beach, or on a hike, or to a sporting event is what you like to do, then they will like it too. But then they get older, and they start to realize, I don't like skiing, or the beach, or hiking or football, and why should I have to do what THEY want to do!!! Once they hit the teenage years you just can't drag your teen along for the ride anymore. They need and should be asked or at least consulted about decisions that effect their life. Because of this new teenage brain, they are thinking about things that they never thought about before. They are naturally driven to be more analytical, judgmental, and opinionated. They are bombarded with thoughts they literally have never had before, and you will be the receivers of this new thinking process. In the example above, that teen finally realized he hated skiing, and why would he, and I mean that seriously, would he want to spend his vacation doing something he hates to do, just because the rest of the family likes it. And honestly, I kind of agree with him. After all it is his vacation too! It was a set-up from the get go. Parents make a decision that seems wonderful, a ski vacation for the family. Teen realizes he hates skiing, cue oppositional behavior!!

One of the major tasks of Adolescence is to develop a personal identity; what are my values, my interests, my passions, what are the qualities I look for in friends and lovers, what is my sexual identity, what are my goals? etc.  Part of this process is also to look closely at the people who raised them, and analyze how they are both different and the same from them. I always say that having a teen in the house is like having your own personal therapist. With this new brain of theirs, they are able to really look at you without the cloud of perfection that hovered over you in their childhood. Why the hell do these kids have to grow up?????? They are now free to share with you their thoughts and ideas about you! Unfortunately much of what they share is the stuff we already don't like about ourselves. Having them be so honest can be very uncomfortable. But if you can listen without hurt or defensiveness, you might learn something new and potentially useful about yourself. More importantly it is part of the process of figuring out who they are.

As teens start thinking for themselves, they might start to go down paths that parents aren't comfortable with. I'm not talking about unsafe or risky behavior, but life choices about what they like to do, where they might want to go to college, and ultimately what they want to do with their life. Most parents have dreams for their kids. In healthy families, parents keep those dreams to themselves waiting to see what path their children seem most interested in, even if it means parents giving up their own dreams for their kids. In some families, parent's dreams for their kids is more of a requirement than an option. We call that Identity foreclosure, when the option of choosing one's own identity is taken away from them. The following paragraphs are answers to a question on the midterm exam I gave last week, asking students to choose the identity type that most describes their experience with this process. These students have answered identity foreclosure.

Food for thought:

"My parents forced me to go to all elite catholic schools form kindergarten to college. I  was never allowed to get anything below a B or I would be in serious trouble. I am now not a catholic."

"My parents picked nursing school for me. they said they would only pay for college if I went for nursing. My mom graduated from a nursing program and really wanted me to go."

"My parents control most if not all decisions made in my life. If they think that this is the best decision for my future they will push me toward that path without acknowledging my concerns."

"Everyone in my family is in the medical field and my parents urged me to become a nurse. I was pushed to pursue this.