Getting Teens To Talk

Adolescence is the beginning of a long journey toward independence and can be one of the most difficult times for parents to negotiate. Though this is a very important process that parents want for the healthy development of their children, sometimes parents ask the question…what happened to my sweet little angel who used to tell me everything? If you find yourself at the place where communicating with your teen feels like speaking a foreign language, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
  1. LISTEN to the small stuff. It’s how we, as parents, earn the right to be trusted with the big stuff.
  2. LISTEN for the feelings. Summarize what they say and how they might be feeling (even if you have to guess).
  3. LISTEN, even when it’s difficult. IF you opt for getting upset, telling them what to do, or minimizing their issues, (“don’t let it get to you,” “that’s not such a big deal”), you can expect them to shut down very quickly.
  4. LISTEN…without judging. Decide if your teen needs to a) just blow off steam or b) find a solution. If (b), then take the position of asking helpful questions that LEAD your adolescent to find his/her solution. You want them to learn the PROCESS of thinking for themselves.
Remember:
—   The quality of the solution is not as important as the process by which it was reached.

—   The only way children learn to solve their own problems is with practice.

Counseling 101: Supporting your ADD/ADHD child.

Picture this: you’re driving your child to his third day of school. The day started off like most other days—you struggled to wake little Johnny, he stumbled aimlessly around his room for what seems like hours before you finally went in there to make sure he didn’t need help finding the kitchen. Miraculously, he made it to the breakfast table where he stood next to his chair and picked all the marshmallows out of his bowl of Lucky Charms. It was only when you were waiting in the carpool line that you realized he had two different shoes on. Oh well, you think to yourself. He was fine last time this happened! This sound familiar to anyone? I think it’s safe to say that 99% of parents have been in this situation with their child. However, when this type of inattentive or hyperactive behavior begins to interfere with a child’s academic, social, and family life, a larger problem may be to blame.

It seems as though every “difficult” kid is being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD these days. According to Healthline Network, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that 5% of American children have ADHD while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts that number at 11%. That’s an increase of 42% in only eight years. Crazy, right? So what the heck is going on? There are LOTS of theories about the prevalence of ADD/ADHD being on the rise in the U.S. including additives in our foods, air pollution, genetics, and my personal favorite, bad parenting (sarcasm…). I work with children who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD every day and their parents are some of the most attentive, nurturing, encouraging, and consistent parents that I’ve ever come across. Parenting has little to do with it if we’re talking about true Attention Deficit Disorder. It may, however, have something to do with it if a child doesn’t listen to mom because she never follows through on behavioral consequences. Now, I’ll step off my soapbox and throw some facts about ADD/ADHD at you…

  • ADHD has a male to female incidence ratio of 6:1.
  • Secondary problems of language learning, visual-motor skills, handwriting, and self-control often coexist with ADHD.
  • Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 5.
  • Boys and girls display very different ADHD symptoms. Boys’ symptoms often include acting out, hyperactivity such as running and hitting, lack of focus, and physical aggression. Girls’ symptoms often appear more internal: being withdrawn, low self-esteem, anxiousness, intellectual impairment and difficulty in the classroom, tendency toward daydreaming, and verbal aggression such as teasing or taunting.
  • In early childhood, kiddos with ADHD often display a difficult temperament and sensitivity to typical stimuli. They also may have had a confused wake/sleep cycle.

Whatever your child’s specific situation may be, if you are concerned about him or her displaying symptoms/behaviors associated with ADHD, get it checked out! Many health care providers are able to diagnose ADHD, but use good judgement. We utilize standardized rating scales and computerized assessments, reports from teachers and other caregivers, a thorough developmental history, and a diagnostic interview with both the parents and the child in order to determine if a child has ADHD. Make sure that whomever evaluates your child obtains all the necessary information needed to make (or not) a diagnosis. In the mean-time, here are the 10 Golden Rules for Parents of Kids with ADD according to Dr. Russell Barkley:

  1. Make the rules specific and clear—post them in writing.
  2. Use rewards that are powerful and meaningful to the child.
  3. Give feedback often… let them know how they’re doing!
  4. Help them anticipate and plan for what’s coming up.
  5. Expect that they will have good days and bad days.
  6. Use positives and praise more than negatives… or punishments.
  7. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a biological problem… NOT a character defect!
  8. “Act—don’t yak!” don’t talk too much, respond with behavior.
  9. Maintain a sense of humor… be patient!
  10. Forgive your child AND yourself… you are all in this together, and trying your best.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!

Vital Facts About Bullying

In the previous article we discussed known risk factors that characterize both individuals who become victims and aggressors who become bullies. In addition to these risk factors researchers have been successful at garnering a number of vital statistics that demonstrate the prevalence of bullying, who is being bullied and how those individuals are effected, as well as common methods used, including the use of emerging technologies. The statistics presented here are not meant to overwhelm but to inform and provide the opportunity to create a dialogue with family and friends based on real data. The more we can educate ourselves about bullying the better prepared we will be to spot it when it occurs and to take the right steps to ensure that it is stopped.

Overall Statistics

  • Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year.
  • Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.
  • 17% of American students report being bullied 2 to 3 times a month or more within a school semester.
  • 1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time.
  • By age 14 less than 30% of boys and 40% of girls will talk to their peers about bullying.
  • Over 67% of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.
  • 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
  • 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.
  • 1 in 10 students drop out of school because of repeated bullying.
  • As boys age they are less and less likely to feel sympathy for victims of bullying. In fact they are more likely to add to the problem than solve it.
  • Physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school. Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.

Source: 11 Facts about Bullying

https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-bullying

Cyber Bullying Statistics 

  • Depending on the age group, up to 43% of students have been bullied while online. 1 in 4 have had it happen more than once.
  • 35% of kids have been threatened online. Nearly 1 in 5 have had it happen more than once.
  • 21% of kids have received mean or threatening e-mail or other messages.
  • 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.
  • 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.
  • 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.

Source: The Issue of Bullying: Cyber Bullying Statistics http://www.stompoutbullying.org/index.php/information-and-resources/about-bullying-and-cyberbullying/issue-bullying/

 Many Forms of Bullying

Of those bullied:

  • 19% are made fun of, called names, or insulted
  • 16% are subject of rumors
  • 9% are pushed, shoved, tripped, or are spit on
  • 6% are threatened with harm
  • 5% are excluded from activities
  • 4% are forced to do things they didn’t want to do
  • 3% Had property destroyed

Who Is Being Bullied?

  • 25% of males and 20% of females said they had been either bullied, bullied others, or both 2-3 times a month or more.
  • Males & females experience similar rates of verbal bullying, threats, damage to property
  • Males are more likely to experience physical bullying.
  • Females are more likely to experience bullying through rumor-spreading and exclusion.
  • Boys are typically bullied by boys, while girls are bullied by both boys and girls.

What Is the Impact of Bullying?

Kids who are bulled are more likely to have:

  • Depressive symptoms
  • Headaches, backaches, and stomach pain
  • Sleep problems, poor appetite, as well as bed-wetting
  • Harmed themselves
  • High levels of suicidal thoughts
  • Attempted suicide
  • Decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardized test scores—and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
  • A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

Kids Who Bully Others

Kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood and are more likely to:

  • Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
  • Get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults
  • Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults

Kids Keep Silent about Bullying

  • As children age, the percentage of those who do not report bullying climbs: 18% of 3rd graders do not report which increases to 47% of 11th
  • Those who are silent do so for reasons such as the negative messages they previously received about tattling and snitching, concern about retaliation, and lack of confidence in adults’ actions.
  • 90% of 3rd – 5th grade students said they felt sorry for students who are bullied, but sympathy often does not translate into action.

Source: bullying—what you need to know http://www.stopbullying.gov/images/what-you-need-to-know-infographic.jpg

Source: Effects of bullying

http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/effects/index.html

CONSIDER

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying or if you are currently being bullied, talk with someone you trust and ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, and you should continue to ask until you get the help you need. By opening up to someone you trust, you avoid the isolation that comes with being unsure, and you create the opportunity to receive guidance from those who can ultimately help.

Stay tuned for… What You Can Do about Bullying

Bullying: Who is at risk?

Due to the frequency of bullying incidents, a number of risk factors have been identified among those who fall prey to this type of aggression. While the presence of these characteristics does not automatically predict who will be bullied, they are factors to be mindful of and should be addressed when observed.

Those who are at risk:

  • Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what is considered “cool”
  • Are cautious, sensitive, insecure personality, low self-esteem
  • Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
  • Are depressed or anxious
  • Are less popular than others and have few friends/lack close friends
  • Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention
  • Have overprotective or restrictive parents (possibly)
  • Have difficulty asserting themselves

In addition to risk factors for victims there are also identifiable risk factors for the aggressor.

Those who are more likely to bully others:

  • Are aggressive or easily frustrated
  • impulsive, hot headed, dominant personality lacking empathy
  • Have less parental involvement
  • Think badly of others
  • Have difficulty following/conforming to rules
  • View violence in a positive way
  • Have friends who bully others
  • Have a gradual decrease in interest in school or achievement

Lastly, bullies often experience power and aggression from those close to them, and learn to use this type of maladaptive behavior to control others. They may have:

  • Parents who show power and aggression by yelling, hitting or rejecting a member(s) of the family
  • Parents who show power and aggression with each other
  • Siblings who may bully the child at home
  • Teachers or coaches who show power and aggression by yelling, excluding, etc.

CONSIDER

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying or if you are currently being bullied, talk with someone you trust and ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, and you should continue to ask until you get the help you need. By opening up to someone you trust, you avoid the isolation that comes with being unsure, and you create the opportunity to receive guidance from those who can ultimately help.

Sources:

Risk factors: http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/factors/index.html

What are the risk factors? http://www.erasebullying.ca/bullying/bullying-risks.php

Safe community, safe schools fact sheet: An overview of bullying: http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/publications/factsheets/safeschools/FS-SC07.pdf

Stay tuned for… Vital Statistics about Bullying

When bullying escalates and becomes a criminal offense

To some bullying may be thought of as a “natural part of childhood” or as simply as “kids just being kids.” Some may also be under the misguided belief that “bullied kids need to learn how to deal with bullying on their own.” These and other misconceptions minimize and excuse the serious nature of bullying while simultaneously contributing to the creation of a hostile environment where bullying can go unnoticed and uncorrected. Moreover, if we willingly relinquish our responsibility and involvement to stop malicious behavior, in effect we allow it to perpetuate and silently communicate that it’s o.k. As a result, the victim may feel he or she has no viable recourse.

It is important to consider the following myths because bullying does not target certain individuals nor is it confined to certain locations.

  • Bullying Doesn’t Happen at My Child’s School.
  • Bullying is Mostly a Problem in Urban Schools.
  • Bullying is More Likely to Happen on the Bus than at School.
  • Children and Youth Who Are Bullied Will Almost Always Tell an Adult.
  • Children and Youth Who Bully are Mostly Loners with Few Social Skills.
  • Words never hurt.
  • Some people deserve to be bullied.
  • Bullying will make kids tougher.
  • Telling a teacher about bullying is tattling.
  • It’s only teasing.
  • Boys will be boys.
  • Girls don’t bully.
  • Children and youth who are bullied will almost always tell an adult.
  • Bullying is easy to recognize.
  • Ignoring bullying will make it go away.

By acknowledging the conditions and inaccurate thinking that contribute to bullying, we can effectively take steps to remove barriers and to reset the standard for what is considered appropriate behavior. Yet, sometimes in spite of our best efforts, there are occasions when bullying escalates and subsequently becomes a criminal offense. Bullying becomes a crime when the offender:

  • Physically assaults someone
  • Harasses someone especially if the harassment is based on gender or race
  • Makes violent threats
  • Makes death threats
  • Makes obscene and harassing phone calls and texts
  • Engages in sexting
  • Engages in sextortion which is sexual exploitation
  • Is involved in child pornography
  • Is stalking someone
  • Commits hate crimes
  • Takes a photo of someone in a place where they expect privacy
  • Is involved in extortion

Please note: Specific legal consequences, policies, and laws regarding the above offenses may vary by state. For more specific information regarding your state’s governance process access the following nationwide map and click on the state of your choice: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html.

The specific laws for the state of Texas can be found at: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/texas.html.

Additional information can be found at the Texas Education agency website: http://tea.texas.gov/Texas_Schools/Safe_and_Healthy_Schools/Coordinated_School_Health/Coordinated_School_Health_-_Bullying_and_Cyber-bullying/.

CONSIDER

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying or if you are currently being bullied, talk with someone you trust and ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, and you should continue to ask until you get the help you need. By opening up to someone you trust, you avoid the isolation that comes with being unsure, and you create the opportunity to receive guidance from individuals who can ultimately help.

Sources:

Myths about Bullying: http://www.stopbullying.gov/resources-files/myths-about-bullying-tipsheet.pdf

Common Views and Myths about Bullying: http://www.pacer.org/publications/bullypdf/BP-1.pdf

When Bullying Escalates and Becomes a Criminal Offense: http://www.stompoutbullying.org/index.php/information-and-resources/about-bullying-and-cyberbullying/when-bullying-and-cyberbullying-become-crime/

Policies and Laws: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html

Texas Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/texas.html 

Stay tuned for… Who is at Risk?

Summer’s Almost Here! Now What?

Alice Cooper’s iconic song “School’s Out” has the tendency to elicit one of a few specific emotions, especially during the months of May and June. For children and teenagers, the song prompts a sense of overwhelming joy and general youthful jubilance. No more school, no more books, no more bedtimes or alarm clocks, and no more homework- who wouldn’t be excited about that? For most parents, on the other hand, that song (along with a strange shift in their child’s behavior right around the end of school) can elicit pure, unadulterated angst. What the heck are you going to do with your kid(s) all summer? Sure, many families will split up the summer with a couple of well-timed vacations to Galveston or some beautiful Texas lake where hopefully the kids will completely wear themselves out and maybe you’ll get a few minutes of peace. But what about those in-between-vacation days when no day camp is scheduled, the overnight camp you signed them up for 3 years ago doesn’t start for another few weeks, and the caffeine your kid had at the end of school party a week ago STILL hasn’t worn off yet? I’ve compiled a list of tips, ideas, and general guidelines to help parents stay at least somewhat focused during these crazy summer months.

First- the general guidelines. Research on brain development has regularly shown that routine matters. For kids, this can apply to nearly every aspect of their lives including having a consistent bedtime, gathering the family for meal times, Saturday morning waffles, or 10 minutes of TV time before bath, book, and bed. Concerning regular bedtimes, researchers at the University of London followed 11,000 children from when they were 3-years old to the age of 7 to measure the effects of bedtimes on cognitive function. The research showed a significant negative impact on test scores in math, reading, and spatial reasoning for those children who had consistently irregular or late bed times. I realize that maintaining a consistent bed time is much easier said than done, but even having lights out at midnight is better than waking up the next morning and realizing your teenager is still on the couch watching the 28th episode of Breaking Bad on Netflix. Let’s be honest- every hour of sleep counts. Speaking of watching TV for hours on end, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should watch no more than two hours of TV per day after two years of age, and none before that. Can we just take a second to think about that? Studies all over the world have shown that more than 2 hours of television viewing a day is a valid predictor of poor performance in vocabulary, math, and motor skills development later in life. How many hours a day does your child watch TV? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure those Baby Einstein videos are less brain-frying than Sponge Bob but allowing your child to watch it all day long? Probably not the best idea. So what are you supposed to do instead?

Here I’ve gathered some fun– and more importantly, time-consuming– ideas for entertaining the kiddos during the summer months. We can go ahead and assume that you know about (or have already tried) simply turning on the sprinkler in the back yard and letting the kids go wild. Depending on the age of your child, pulling out the sprinkler just may do the trick. However, for older children, fighting off boredom may prove to be more difficult. Here’s where a little work can go a long way. No, I’m not suggesting that you try to get your 15 year old a sales internship that you think will prepare them for their future career (unless they are passionate about it, that is). What I’m suggesting is this: does your teenager love animals? How about volunteering at the local animal shelter? Could your garage benefit from a thorough spring-cleaning? Have your teen set up a garage sale- and promise him or her a portion of the cash! Perhaps your hallway bathroom needs a new paint job or maybe you’ve always wanted a small vegetable garden in the backyard. Planning out and building a vegetable garden can teach the kids about agriculture, healthy eating, and the value of getting your hands dirty. Not to mention the satisfaction of literally experiencing the fruits of your own labor! Stuck inside on a rainy day? A disco party (complete with mom or dad flicking on and off the overhead lights), putting on a play or musical (don’t forget the video camera), or a trip to the IMAX at the planetarium are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. This is a perfect time to create life-long memories with your family- so get outside, have fun, relax, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

If you need some more fun ideas, check out this website of 50 summer activities for the kiddos!   http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/13269/50-summer-bucket-list

Six things all children need

When I was in school, I had many professors teach about Abraham Maslow. He had a huge impact on psychology and many of his theories and studies have become the foundation for much of the work that we do with clients. One of his theories on motivation stated that we, as humans, are motivated not just by rewards or unconscious desires. He stated that we are motivated to achieve certain needs. What came of this idea was dubbed the hierarchy of needs. It’s basically a food group triangle but instead of grains, vegetables, and fruits, we have biological/physiological needs, safety needs, and love/belongingness needs among others. This makes a lot of sense to me seeing as how it would be difficult for a person to achieve intimacy with a friend or loved one if that same person is hungry (actually hungry- not skipped lunch hungry) or hadn’t slept in 2 weeks. Children operate much in the same way I think. The only difference is, children require care; they don’t come out of the womb ready to survive and take on the world all by themselves. After the bottom tier of the needs hierarchy is “achieved” (being fed, clothed, and kept warm), the 6 things that all children need sort of get all mashed together into one, large tier until they grow up.

The first thing all children need is acceptance. Acceptance by parents is the basis for forming a positive relationship from which they are able to learn to like and accept themselves. You can show acceptance through simple gestures that may seem mundane but often have a significant impact on children. For example, separate the deed from the doer. Looks like this: instead of “you are a bad kid”, go for “you made a bad decision”. See the difference?

Next may seem a bit obvious- Attention and love. Attention, along with acceptance, is what a child needs to feel loved, and is what is important for developing rapport with your children and positive feelings about self. As most of you parents may know, children WILL get attention- whether good or bad, they’ll get it. Their style of seeking attention and learning what gets them that attention will become a part of their self-image. Spend time with your child. It’s about quality, not quantity. Try this: ignore the unwanted behavior and praise, praise, praise the wanted behavior. I know, I know- you can’t ignore a kid taking a Sharpie to the wall. But take time to notice the little things your child does. Think about it. Nobody really pays a whole lot of attention to the child who’s sitting quietly, playing nicely, or uses good manners. It’s the kid who’s rowdy, out of control, or talks back who gets the attention. Tell your kid how awesome it is when they say “thank you” or “yes ma’am/yes sir”!

Next is security and safety. Yes, this is on Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs, but it looks a bit different with children. Assuming that the child already has “safety”- as in a roof over their head, no tigers chasing them, and not living in the streets of a post-apocalyptic city- boundaries and clear expectations are what we’re talking about here. Children need to know where you draw the line. Now, it is completely developmentally appropriate for children to push those boundaries- it’s what they are supposed to do! But parents, it is SO important for you to stand firm. The second that you allow a behavior that was once against the rules, your child now knows that you can be pushed past that old boundary. And trust me, it’ll only get worse from there. If your child doesn’t know where a boundary is, then there’s really no point of it being set. Make your expectations clear and consistent!

The forth thing all children need is understanding. Communicate. Listen. Get on their level and demonstrate interest and mutual respect- this encourages each of you to express your feelings and opinions openly and without fear of rejection. This includes problem-solving with your child. If your child comes home from school sad and looking dejected, your first instinct might be to call the mother of whomever did this and chew her out. But sometimes all kids need is your presence. Sit down next to your child and let them know simply that you care- “Oh man Sarah that must’ve really hurt your feelings. I’m so sorry honey.” You may sit in silence for the next 30 minutes but YOU ARE PRESENT. And that’s what is important.

Next is discipline. Create structure in your home by determining appropriate expectations. Much of what goes into discipline aligns with providing safety and security. Make sure the punishment fits the crime and stay consistent; not only with the punishments, but also between parents. Easiest and most common way to manipulate parents? Figure out which one will let you get away with the most and only ever ask that parent for permission. Your children can put a wedge between you and your spouse very quickly- unwittingly, of course.

Finally, children need values. Values are one of those subjects that are not easily taught in a lecture type setting. Can you imagine sitting your child down with a Power Point behind you and saying “Today I am going to teach you about kindness.” No! Values are best taught through what we call experiential learning. Your children watch what you do. So next time you’ve dragged little Billy to the dry cleaners with you and they have lost all of your clothes, try your hardest not to snap completely. Instead, opt for calm, cool communication to resolve the matter- your little Billy will learn that biting the dry cleaner’s head off in a fit of rage doesn’t get your clothes back. But being polite and respectful might get you a refund and payment for the amount of what your clothing costs. When it comes to teaching our children values, actions often speak louder than words.

The Teen WiFi Epidemic: Teaching your Teen to Disconnect

I recently had my sixteen year old niece over to babysit and was extremely pleased with the job she did. She was timely. She was responsible. She did an exceptional job in getting the baby to sleep and caring for her while we were out. We left home around 7pm after the baby was down and my niece was sitting on the couch playing with her phone as we left. When we returned (6 hours later) my niece was still awake and on her phone. I asked what she had done all night and she said, “Nothing, just played on my phone.” I was a bit surprised but then I remembered my teenage years and how I always tried to stay up late on the phone talking to friends and chalked it up to the “teenage thing.” The next morning we all woke up and the first thing that she did was pick up her phone and check Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat to “find out what she had missed.” We made breakfast and served it, but like a magnet attached to her hand there was the incessant and attention seeking iPhone. When she went to shower or use the restroom she took her phone with her. We attempted several conversations but and it was hard to get a word in with her because she was on her phone. As a matter of fact, she spent the entire day completely consumed with her phone. It was difficult to engage her at any level – troubling. I have a great respect for teenagers – I truly believe many people view them as a nuisance and don’t believe they have much to offer in those challenging stages of life. I disagree wholeheartedly. I think teens are exceptional and when given the opportunity can teach us adults many, many things. I have even chosen a career in which I can work with teens to encourage them and give them a voice. But even for me the cell phone use was maddening. I literally wanted to grab the phone and throw it off of our 2nd floor balcony and yell “HEY THERE!!! LIFE IS HAPPENING OUT HERE AND NOT IN THAT STUPID PHONE!” Of course I didn’t but it did get me thinking…

Disconnecting from technology is difficult these days on everybody, particular teenagers. The good ol’ days of riding down the street on your bike to meet up with your friends are gone…now they just “hit them up on Twitter or Instagram.” It can be challenging as a parent to allow independence and creativity while still setting effective boundaries in regards to the use of technology. Recently a three-year research study was conducted by the Brown University School of Medicine and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology reflecting the effects of technology on our kids. The results were such that clinically, we are seeing an increase in symptoms typically associated with anxiety and depression. The symptoms include: short-term memory problems, decreased attention span, sleep deprivation, excessive moodiness and general dissatisfaction. The study results were such that when a child or adolescent unplugs, particularly at night, the symptoms decrease. Bottom line, unplugging is necessary.

So-as a parent how do you get your teen to disconnect? How can you allow them the space to express themselves via social media and communicate using today’s technology while encouraging them to look up and see the world around them? How do we ensure their safety? Here a few tips to make it a bit easier:

  1. Give in…a little. Let’s face it- technology is here to stay. As parents you need to learn how this stuff works. Teens love to text- so text your teen. Figure out how social media works so that you can be aware of the dangers and limitations. Google it. If you do not know how to “Google” it reach out for help J
  2. Don’t be the Secret Cyber Stalker Parent: You don’t have to secretly set up a Twitter or Facebook account and cyber-stalk them… just communicate. Tell your teen what the expectations are for social media and that you will be monitoring their activity. Let them know what the dangers of posting things you can NEVER EVER take back. They need to know that you are looking and they need to know what the boundaries are. Respect them enough to let them know what is acceptable and what is not.
  3. Set time limits: Be very clear on when it is inappropriate to be on your phone. For example, when we are at the table we talk to each other and not on the phone. When we have company over, no phones. Leave your phones in the living room before going to bed. Put this in writing if necessary.
  4. There must be consequences: You cannot have limits without clear consequences. This does not have to be complicated. For example: a drop in your grades=less time on your phone daily. The more you communicate the less room for discussion when consequences are implemented. To an extent of course – part of being a teen is testing the limits, so be ready. Again, put this in writing if necessary.
  5. Be an example: Disconnect yourself as well! Model good behavior. If they cannot eat dinner and text, neither can you.
  6. NO texting and driving. Period. No exceptions.
  7. TIME: Spend time with your teenager. Find out what THEY like and DO IT. If you hate video games and your kid loves it – try it! When its time to do something you like be sure it does not involve technology like a walk in the park or time at the driving range. Teach them to enjoy life unplugged and to remember how important a real conversation with another human being is. There is no better way to get to know what your teen is doing than to talk to them and leave an open door for them to talk to you. YOU are important to them regardless of how often they say they hate you.
  8. Let them practice: You will have to give them some wiggle room at some point. How can they practice all the good things you have taught them if you don’t trust them enough to give it a shot? I am all about having boundaries, teenagers need and want them, but have a little faith in the work you have done and let them prove you wrong before bringing down the hammer.

Disciplining Your Child: The importance of presenting a united front

As a parent, how many times have you heard the phrase “But Mom/Dad said I could” after telling your child “no”? Adolescents and teens alike are suspiciously well-adept at the art of manipulation. No, that doesn’t mean that your child is some kind of sociopath- it’s what they are supposed to do!

Children develop healthy identities and values by pushing the limits; this enables them to identify and distinguish between right and wrong. That being said, witnessing your child test the waters can be infuriating. Not to mention the sinking feeling of wondering if your spouse is even on the same planet as you are when it comes to discipline. Presenting a united front is one of the most important lessons to learn when disciplining your child, especially when they are young.

Because little ones are typically black-and-white thinkers, children around the age of six and under are easily confused when only one parent enforces the rules or if consequences differ between each parent. Six year olds do not do well with mixed messages! This black-and-white thinking leads them to the conclusion that one parent is “right/good” and the other is “wrong/bad”. In a home where children constantly hear the phrase “just wait until your father gets home”, who do you think the bad guy is? What about a home where Dad is only about playtime and Mom is the only one to enforce rules or consequences? No parent wishes their child to favor one parent over the other, but it’s only natural for a little one to pick playtime parent over time-out parent. Think about it- if a two year old can figure out that screaming in public can get her that giant cookie, then you can bet a six year old knows which parent will be more likely to give her what she wants, when she wants it. Fortunately for me, my parents learned this lesson pretty quickly… my attempts at pitting my parents against one another in order to get what I wanted worked for about a week before they put an end to it.

As for older children, the importance of being a team in the discipline arena becomes less about presenting a united front and more about modeling appropriate ways to handle disagreements. Imagine this scenario:

Teenaged daughter: “Mom can I go to the party at Sarah’s tonight?”

Mom: “Sure honey.”

Dad (simultaneously with mom): “No way.”

What typically happens next? Mom and Dad erupt at each other in front of the daughter? Daughter begins frantically negotiating? Mom and daughter team up against Dad? If this all sounds familiar, here’s what I have to say: Do NOT miss this opportunity! This is your chance to show your child that you two are a team- teammates may disagree but they strive to work together for the win.

By presenting a united front when it comes to discipline, you’re one step closer to ensuring that your child will not only grow up knowing that Mom and Dad can’t be manipulated, but also being witness to healthy communication habits. The last thing the two of you need is a six year old who’s scared of the one parent who enforces consequences or a teenager who knows (or thinks he knows) how to work the system.