Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A High School Senior Tells It Like It Is!! Listen Up

 I saved an article from the Boston Globe that I wanted to write about. It is by a young woman who was a senior in High School at the time, who wrote this piece to give her perspective of the college application process, especially addressing parents of seniors. I would like to share her article with you. You might want to read it to your High School senior at dinner one night, and ask him/her if they agree, and if there is anything you might do to make their journey through this process any easier.

So in the words of Laura Detwiler.......

"It's not just the nagging pressure of getting everything done in time. People want to know about my "top choice." Sure, I know plenty of kids who know exactly where they want to go and have that dream school that they've been hoping for since birth. But I don't have one school that screams "YES" every time I hear its name. I'm just not ready to make that commitment. Plus, it opens up a flood of heartbreak. Setting out dreams and aspirations about my top choice is as good as pinning myself to a target. The second that letter comes and its one of those notorious thin envelopes, you have to face everyone you've spoken to and own up to the fact that you didn't get in. Bull's eye-right in the gut.

I don't have a top choice; I don't want to discuss my top choice; I just want to be left alone. We seniors are vulnerable and raw under all this apathetic attitude we front. Don't get me wrong, I am pumped about college.  But that doesn't mean I'm not absolutely terrified. I don't want to talk about where I'm going or how much work I've done on my apps because every time I see that submit button I freak out and go watch  reruns of "The Office." I can't bear to think of being apart from my friends. I don't want to acknowledge that I won't be eating dinner with my family every night.

I'm scared, and I don't know how to handle it.  We all are. But preparing ourselves for college is something each of us has to do alone.Because when we actually get to this school, we're only going to have ourselves to rely on. That's a pretty big deal,  if you ask me. If you really want to be encouraging, ice cream will do just fine."

Below is a story I heard on NPR. It was with a  specialist on college admissions with advice about what to include in a college essay, and even more importantly, what not to include: The 4 D's Death, Divorce, Disability or Disease. His words not mine. Great information.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Out Of The Mouths Of Teens

I would like to thank my college students for allowing me to share these excerpts from recent papers they wrote on "My Teenage Years." I have been assigning this paper for almost 25 years and I am always touched by my student's 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 Adolescence 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. Although 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 couldn't accept about myself was having a flat chest. In seventh grade, a lot of girls were starting to develop breasts but I was not one of them. At first it was something I was only mildly 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 incredibly 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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

It's Not What You Say, But ........

I am sure that many of you could complete that sentence, hearing you parents or elderly aunt's voice in your head..."It's not what you say dear, but how you say it." When you heard it, it was probably because you had talked to your elders in a tone that was unacceptable.

I am sharing this saying with you not so you can teach it to your teens, but to teach to you.  Often as parents,  much of the "feedback" that we share with our teens is said either in a voice of authority as in " I know better than you squirt, so listen up," or in a voice full of exasperation as in "how many times do we have to go over this..," or in a voice full of judgement.."how could you have...." In all of these examples, most likely the response you get from your teen is to either ignore you, get defensive, or give you attitude. None of these pave the way for meaningful communication or closure.

As I have mentioned before, the emotional center of the teen brain is in overdrive most of the time, hence the roller-coaster of emotions you are likely to experience with them just in the course of a single day. Once that Amygdala is in activation and firing, it is pretty hard to shut it down. Think of a stove top burner that has been on high. Once you shut it off, it takes a good amount of time before you can touch it without being burned. Such is the Amygdala of the teenage brain. So one of the goals then, is to not get it activated, especially if you have an end goal in mind for a conversation you want to have with your teen.

If you blame your teen's over-reaction on biology, rather than on something they have much control over, it frees you up to not blame them, thereby avoiding the double whammy of the actual issue you are concerned over + the aforementioned over-reaction.  That is why arguing with your teen is so frustrating. Because you often never really get to discussing the core issue, too busy getting pissed at them for getting pissed at you.

So what to do. Listen to the sound of your own voice. Would this be THE voice that used to piss you off as a teen? If it is, can you work on saying it another way. Of course my suggestion is to use an "I get it" statement. Rather than starting with a lecture or accusation, think ahead of time of what might have motivated the particular behavior you are now needing to talk about with your teen.

For example:

FROM " Get off your damn phone and computer and finish your homework." TO; I get it's important for you to stay in touch with your friends, but we need to figure out a way for you to get work done, and stay in touch with your friends."

FROM: "If you talk to your brother again like that, I am taking away that damn video game. That kind of disrespect is unacceptable in our family." TO; I get how hard and annoying it is to have a younger brother who always wants to hang with you and use your stuff just when you want to use it. I know he pushes all your buttons, let's figure out a way for you to get your privacy."

FROM: "I am sick and tired of the absolute mess in your room, you are a slob and are disrespectful of the money we spend so that you can have all these nice clothes." TO: I get cleaning your room is absolutely the last thing on your mind. I know getting ready in the morning is stressful and finding the right outfit means trying on a bunch of stuff and just discarding what isn't right. We gotta figure out a better system."

At the least, you haven't antagonized your teen to shut down. You are showing him/her that you understand what might be going on, rather than just criticizing them yet again for not doing..x y z. Give it a try, you might be surprised at how well it works!

PS: Getting my speaking schedule up and running for the 2019-20 year. Email me at if you are interested in having me come and present one of my seminars at your school, company, church, temple, community group or on a street corner in your neighborhood!!   Or book an Ask The Expert Party. Invite your friends, or the parents of your teen's friends to your house and I'll spend two hours giving you all tips and strategies, geared specifically to your needs.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Arguing 101

Thank god for television, comic strips, news, and AOL or where oh where would I come up with all these blog ideas. I was watching a rerun of 30 Rock, it's hard not to since they seem to be on every channel. It seems "Jenna" (it doesn't matter if you don't know the show or the characters) was having a hard time dealing with her very manipulative, user mother. "Jack" who has experience dealing with his own manipulative user mother was advising "Jenna" on a foolproof strategy in dealing with her mother's outlandish requests of her. As soon as I heard it, I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget. Three perfect steps to "winning" an argument.


Perfection! So your teen comes to you with a request to do, go, or buy something. I think that covers all the bases. This is the kind of request for which there is no compromise. Its either too expensive, too unsafe, or too unrealistic. Your teen, unfortunately does not agree.  You state your case in a kind and clear manner, hoping to ward off an argument. Sometimes that works, but if your teen is extremely invested in a YES, I'm guessing you get put on the defensive after being accused by your teen for being overprotective, overbearing, too strict, and the worst parent ever. It's tough not to get hooked. After all you have to protect yourself. But here is the thing, once your teen has heard the word NO, and you mean no, it doesn't matter how loud or how long you argue to the contrary, you will not win. PERIOD! And it will only deteriorate into a place you really don't want to go with your teen. So here is the "Jack Doneghy" strategy.

Say NO in a calm but controlled voice

Stay low, as in keep your voice in a low, soft, controlled register. Once you hit the high notes, you've lost. This means NO SCREAMING NO YELLING

Let It Go: There really is nothing else to say after you have said no. Given that you have explained your rationale for the no.You might end with an "I get it moment. " I get you're angry with me, and don't understand and don't want to hear this answer. I'm sorry, I know how disappointed you are."  and you are done. Do not re-engage.

Did you know I do very short term (one session) parent coaching by phone! Maybe there was an incident that happened over the weekend and you're not sure how to handle it, or you see a pattern emerging with your teen that is concerning. Let's talk it over!!! I'll send you on your way with a concrete plan. call 781-910-1770 or email for more info.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Your Teen's Personality and Temperament: A Key To Understanding Drug and Alcohol Use

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 from the 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.