Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Teen Depression and Suicide

It's never easy to think or talk about teen depression and suicide, but talk about it we must. I have experienced the loss of two very special boys in my life to teen suicide who were the sons of very close friends of mine.  Recently the data of a new study on teens and suicide was presented. The results were published after surveying 5000 teens and their parents from the Philadelphia area. One of the most important findings is that 50 % of  parents whose teen had reported suicidal thoughts on the survey had absolutely no idea their teen was depressed. 

A dad who lost his 15 year old son to suicide says this: “My son Will was afraid to say ‘I’m not OK’ because I didn’t talk about these things with him,” he said. “He didn’t want me to see him as not OK because he worried that would be disappointing to me. And that breaks my heart.:
 "The night before, Will studied hard for a test he was supposed to take that day. He was going to get his driver’s permit that weekend and get his braces off the following week. Those were big events in his life that he was preparing for, and his parents had no inkling that their popular, athletic son was contemplating suicide."

 I have had a number of calls recently from parents worried about their teen, trying to figure out whether their teen is just having growing pains, or is in a real depression. Teens love to dump on their parents, giving them their most angry, their most sad, their most anxious and fearful feelings. This is the good news. Think of it as colic. When the bad stuff gets expelled, then sleep and peace can come...until the next time.

A young comic, Kevin Breel, (see link below) is a young man who has struggled with depression for many years, he is now in his 20's, and no one knew. He describes living a double  life; excellent student, amazing athlete, active in the theater program, had a thousand friends, everyone loved him. And as he describes it, he was a moment away from suicide. His depression was not a result of a bad breakup, or a bad grade, but chemicals in the brain that just couldn't make enough of those feel good chemicals that keep us feeling stable. 

Everyone understands the bad breakup sadness, but depression that is biology based gets short shrift in our culture, but it is the one that has got to be discussed. 

 Teens are feeling their feelings in ways they have never experienced them before. The intensity comes from an adolescent brain that is over activated in the area responsible for emotion, and literally from having some of these feelings for the first time. Without experience and a history that would have given them a game plan to deal with these feelings that are overwhelming, they are vulnerable to feeling like they might never go away. The first break-up, a humiliation on a soccer field, or a stage, the embarrassment of doing something or saying something impulsively stupid in front of your peers, the disappointment that someone you like doesn't like you back, the worry that they are disappointing you in some way, being sexually harassed and feeling powerless to stop it, or any one of a million other things can feel like a catastrophe.

So your kid comes to you in a rage, in a tantrum, sobbing uncontrollably and you feel helpless. But they are coming to you. Like a sponge, you absorb every drop of emotion. You can't sleep, you can't eat, you live with a pit in your stomach that your kid is in pain. But here is the thing, now that they have dumped it all on you and you have so graciously sopped it all up, they are free to go out and enjoy life again. Rinse and repeat!

When is it time to worry? The dumping is a good sign. The emotion is a good sign. They are working it out.  It may be hard on you, but at least they have an outlet. The worry should start, if they are not talking, isolating themselves, and really seem to have lost the up and down nature of teen life. Up and down is good. Staying down is not, or never getting down are both red flags.  If you see your teen spending increasing amounts of time alone, in their room, avoiding family and friends, you might say something like this: " I have noticed recently that you seem more down than usual. You seem to be spending a lot of alone time in your room away from us and your friends. I get life can be complicated and difficult and sometimes overwhelming, and you might like just getting away from it all. I used to do that to sometimes. But I worry that you are not giving yourself a chance to talk about it. If you don't want to talk to us, I understand, maybe it would be helpful to talk to a counselor. I don't want to bug you, but I love you, and want you to work out what seems to be bothering you. I'll check back in with you in a few days, and we can talk about a plan." You will probably get a "leave me alone!" but don't let that deter you. Keep checking in, and letting them know that you are concerned. Eventually, you may just have to make an appointment and make them get in the car.

And conversely, if you have the teen who is almost manic in their ability to manage it all, grades, extra curriculas, friends, etc, make sure you do a check with them as well: " You know honey, you always look like you are so in control of your life, you put a lot of pressure on yourself, I just want to check in to make sure you're OK with it all." Open the door, let them know that that kind of pressure cooker life can mask other feelings, and you just want to let them know you are available and can handle their down moments. 

Seeing your teen be in pain is the worst. Giving them a safe haven to express it is a gift. I would watch this video with your teens, and open the discussion. 


Please share this with friends who have teens.  Everybocdy needs help talking with their teens about this difficult subject.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Teaching Our Children To Understand and Respect Differences: Lessons From The Lincoln Memorial

On this frigid winter afternoon, I cozied up under a comforter and read and watched everything I could find about the Friday afternoon events that took place at the Lincoln Memorial where three diverse groups of people faced off and confronted each other. This is what makes America great! In this sacred space there was a group of mostly white privileged boys from a catholic high school in Kentucky wearing MAGA hats, standing opposite a group of black Hebrew Israelites, and bringing up the middle, a group of people representing the Indigenous People's March. Ain't America great!

I watched youtube videos and interviews from the people on the scene. I listened to commentary and opinions from people who initially said the boys were the antagonists, and then it was the black hebrew israelites who instigated with angry comments and then the reports of  what seems like the hero of the story, Indigenous leader Nathan Phillips stepping in to separate and calm these two groups. Honestly, I have no idea, after spending hours of research what exactly happened. And truthfully, the details hardly matter. What matters is the stereotyping that occurred, blaming each and every group. Was it that these boys wearing MAGA hats reportedly acting disrespectfully and chanting Build The Wall, or the Black Israelites shouting profanity at these boys, or the Indigenous group challenging these boys in some way? Or is it that our country is ill-prepared for accepting that we are a melting pot of ideas, cultures, politics, color, and religion. Have we prepared our youth and our communities for our changing country? This is the problem. How have you prepared your child for the world they will live in as adults? Is the school your child attends or the community you live you in representative of the diversity of the country we live in?  Do you get out of your own comfort zone, and get to know people who are completely unlike you? Do you take the time to really get to know people who are completely different than you in sexual orientation, race, religion, culture, or socioeconomic circumstances? Truthfully we probably are all more comfortable with people who most share our values and life.

Some months back I listened to this story on NPR about a small conservative republican coal mining community in Kentucky who teamed up with a liberal democratic community in Leverett, Ma to see if they could find some common ground. These could not have been more divergent groups in politics, and life style, each feeling that the other was wrong. But after spending a week living and talking together, they found friendship. love and shared values. It is possible!!! We don't have to agree to be like each other to respect each other. We just have to commit to understanding and learn about each other. (see article below)


So regardless of what exactly happened on Friday at the Lincoln Memorial, can we agree at least to teach our children to respect the differences that our country has always embraced? Here are some things you can do:

  • Challenge teen’s thinking in stereotypes. Provide teens with structured opportunities to get to know people who differ from them. At the 22ndAnnual Youth Congress, students suggested “mix-it up dinners where students sit with “classmates they don’t know.” As a family, seek out experiences where your children can interact with people from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs.
  • Model inclusion. The adults in children’s lives are the most influential in transmitting values of acceptance. When I was a fresh out of grad school therapist, I was seeing a couple that were experiencing difficulty with their teen. In a predominately catholic town, their daughter had started a relationship with a Jewish boy. The parents used phrases like “those Jews” in describing their worry about this relationship. With fear and anxiety about ruining my tenuous therapeutic connection, I timidly said, “I am one of “those Jews.”
  • Anticipate and strategize: Help your teen to be prepared for situations that might challenge them. Because of their inexperience, many teens end up doing the wrong thing because they don’t know what else to. 

Adolescence is a messy stage. Teen behavior is layered. Good kids do bad things; caring and kind kids can be cruel and insensitive; and sensible and smart kids can be impulsive and reckless. As teens move through this stage from childhood to adulthood, they are confronted with new feelings, new thoughts, and new impressions of their world. They are without precedent and experience and often react with emotion, not thought. But teens and adults alike share so many common, human experiences, regardless of class, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Let these be the bridge to mutual respect.

PS. If this post feels helpful to you, please share it with fellow parents. We can change the world, one family at a time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Back Seat Parenting: Get Out Of The Car!

 I was working out at my Gym over the weekend, huffing and puffing my way through some sit-ups while a small group training class was taking place around me. In this group of 5 was a dad and his teenage son. Oh, I thought, how lovely that the're sharing this time together doing something they both love to do. Well it turns out, I think it was just the dad who loves working out. I only surmised this after ogling his very ripped and toned body!!! Hey I'm only human! The son it turns out, not ripped and toned. Tall and skinny and clearly suffering through this workout at the behest of his dad. The trainer was a great guy; enthusiastic, supportive and doing his best to be this boy's cheerleader. The dad on the hand, grunting and groaning through his own lifts with some major wight poundage, still managed to yell out to his son going through his own workout; " use your abs!!!! and "lift don't swing those weights." As you can imagine, this boy/man now beat red in the face, rolled his eyes, and glared menacingly at his dad. The bubble over his head saying: "You know who I'd like to swing these weights at?????"

You are all good at something. And you hope, wish, and pray that maybe your kids will be good at the same things you're good at. Isn't that the circle of life? Maybe it all works out that way, but usually not, and especially not when your kids are teenagers. The last thing they want, is to be any which way at all like you!

Perhaps writing is your thing, and you are an editor extraordinaire; your teen's in-house managing editor. But believe me, your teen is shaking in his Adidas when you walk in the room asking to see his latest writing assignment. Feeling inadequate, measured against your experience and writing finesse, he has only written a few sentences, and you balk at his procrastination. Or perhaps you are a math wizard, and your teen's frustration tolerance for challenging math homework rivals a two year old's tantrums. And your frustration over their lack of understanding drives you mad.

Maybe you are a tennis(insert any sport you love) enthusiast, and have had your teen in tennis clinics since they were old enough to hold a racket. You have dreamed of these teenage years when you can get on the court together and play ball! You have so much to offer and teach, and believe me you do!! "take a full swing, throw the ball higher when you serve, run goddamn it, you could have gotten that volley!" Sounds like fun to me.

Get the point? The quickest way to squash enthusiasm in your teen is by offering your unsolicited "feedback."You have got to tread lightly in the coaching department. If they have actual coaches than let them do the work, and be the supportive cheerleader. Let their teachers do their job, and understand with your teen their frustration and their worry about being good enough, rather than adding to their worry about being good enough..for you. Adolescence is a time of life when defining themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses is a huge challenge. They are feeling enough of their own-self imposed pressure and expectations. Living up to yours should not be more important than living up to their own.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Do You Know About The App YUBO? You Should!!

If I were single,  25 years old, and looking to meet a cute guy who lived or worked near me for a spontaneous drink and let's see where the night takes us..... I might use the dating app Tinder. At 25 I hope I would be able to discern a creep from a cutie, know to protect my privacy by not giving out any personal information and be prepared for a quick escape plan should I need it! A teenager not so much.

There's a new app in town, or at least a newly named app YUBO formally YELLOW. This is the icon:

Does your teen have this app on his/her phone?? DELETE IT!! It is Tinder for the teen set. You know, swipe left if you like me, swipe right if you don't. If we both like each other the future is ours for the swiping!! You know what, the future is the best thing your teen has going for them. A future as a young adult when they have the experience and judgment to handle the boundary free journey that these dating apps take you on and challenge you to stay safe on. But as a teenager, there is no such experience yet, and there is no mature judgment because they are still in the "firsts" of what it means to get to know another person with romantic or sexual goals in mind. There may have been no real life lessons yet about the good, the bad and the ugly about dating. The "awesomeness of someone   thinking you are "hot" or "cute"is just too much to turn down! This can be an enticing app for those teens who love attention, and what teen doesn't. Talk about validation!!! If you have been the shy guy or girl, or feel that the kids in your school are just not your people, this app can be especially desirable, giving a teen the opportunity to try out a whole new persona, knowing this person doesn't know them as the awkward or quiet kid from their history class. It can be a heady fresh start!!

A major danger of this app is that it connects to instagram and snapchat once the two parties have both "chosen" each other, which gives access to all kinds of personal information. As you can imagine this over sharing of information to strangers is not safe, and of course you can bet that there are many predators out there salivating at the thought of these naive and trusting kids.

A parent recently wrote to me about this app and correctly thought it was definitely not a good thing.  Her husband, though,  thought it was a great way for their son to "practice" talking to girls! But as you can imagine, much drama can ensue!!! There is temptation for these "faux" relationships to get intense and intimate and since parents have no idea they are even going on, they are powerless to supervise and set appropriate boundaries around the relationship. And honestly, our world is superficial enough, do we need to start kids at 13 swiping and choosing potential crushes based completely and solely on looks and photoshopped photos! What kind of message does that send?

Ok, so you can obviously tell that I think this app is a no no! If your teen has already downloaded, take them to this site: protectyoungeyes.com and scroll down to the YUBO app review. This way it is an expert telling them it's bad not their parent! At this point, a simple "this is not a safe app, I get you are disappointed but it is my job to keep you safe until you have the experience to do that for yourself." End of story, you don't have to say anything more. I have said this before, your teen's phone should have parental controls on it so that they literally have to come to you to unlock the ability to download apps. When this is in place you won't have to go to the delete place. Taking something away from your teen that they are already attached to absolutely sucks...for you!!! Let's preempt that fight by you being in control of what goes on their phone in the first place!!

PS: I have a favor. I am working with a spectacular new partner who is a motivational speaker for teens and we are putting together a joint podcast. As we develop this project I would love to talk with parents about our concept and how we can best meet their needs. If you would be willing to do a 15 minute phone chat with me or fill out a short survey I would be eternally grateful, and would offer a 15 min coaching session as a thank you. You can email me at joani@joanigeltman.com,  or PM me on facebook. I look forward to hearing from many of you....please???

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Parenting In The New Year!

Happy New Year! On your way to the gym, and after you have only eaten healthy food in order to lose 10 pounds, and when you have cleaned out your closets and gotten rid of all your non-essentials, and when you have finished your salad, no dressing for lunch, and then walked for 30 minutes instead of having a hostess cupcake(does anyone eat hostess cupcakes anymore), and then did everything on your "to-do" list at work or at home before your kids come home, and made sure that you accomplished everything on your new years resolution list, then take a deep breath and say thank god this day is over.

The problem with New Years resolutions is that we make too many of them, and then never really follow through on any of them. The same thing also happens with parenting. I might meet with parents for an hour, and in that time we come up with a game plan that includes a number of strategies to improve whatever situation brought them in to see me. I always caution them to pick one issue, and one strategy, stick with making that one change, integrating it into their parenting bag of tricks before they take on something else. Imagine trying to teach you dog how to sit, come, and roll over all in the same training session. Eventually they just look at you, with that adorable cocked head, and know you are absolutely crazy. Teens are the same way. If a new regime takes over, and you start changing all the rules at the same time, your teen will look at you with that adorable cocked head, and say,"What are you crazy?"

Perhaps over this vacation, you have had time to reflect on your relationship with your teen, or thought about some areas you think you need to help your teen with. Maybe you want to be less negative and focus less on what they don't do and more on what they can do. Maybe you are worried about homework focus and cell-phone use, or their organization and time-management issues, or their attitude and how they talk to you. I am sure there are a million things that could go on this list. Pick one and only one, and then think of a simple strategy to address it, and then follow through on it, consistently!

Teens hate change. They resist it, and will fight you every step of the way. This is not really their fault. So much of adolescence is about change; changing bodies, changing moods, changing relationships, changing expectations. They are so overwhelmed by all these changes, which for the most part are out of their control, that they tend to hang on to those things that have become almost ritualistic whether they are good for them or not. So before you institute any changes in rules, or expectations first make sure you acknowledge with them that change is hard. You can say: "I've been thinking about ________________, and it seems like we need to work on this. I know you are used to ________________, and doing it a different way will be an adjustment, I get it. Lets figure out a way together to make it work.  Including them in the strategy building helps them to take ownership of it. Nobody likes to be told what to do, especially teens. The key here is not the choosing of whether or not there will be some change but how it will make it easier for them to be successful at adjusting to it.