The Evolution of a Teenager

The evolution of the teenager.  I adore watching this unfold.  Many think teens are scary.  Boys, girls, it doesn’t matter.  Teens can frighten people with their looks and energy.

Why I love teens is because at the heart of who they are, they are just trying to figure it all out.  With their parents they may act self-righteous, entitled, and inferior.  With other adults, teens can sometimes let down their parental guard and be real about what is on their minds.

College, grades, and friends are often at the heart of what is weighing in.  Sex, drugs, alcohol, and being cool are also at the forefront for many teens.

I love to ask teens the tough questions.  Give them a place to talk about the stuff parents are afraid to tackle.  Many teens express a reserve in talking with their own parents.  Some are afraid of the response they will get.  Some are embarassed for themselves and for their parents.

Talking with both teen boys and teen girls as a parent is a slippery slope.  Teens can make parents feel like they hate them, don’t want to talk with them, and are annoyed by the very quiet breath they take.  It is hard to have a meaningful conversation when your teen is in this place.

I would always encourage a parent to keep the door open.  To continue to try and talk with their teen even if their teen isn’t taking the bait.  Not hound the child, but finding small windows of opportunity to engage and then seeing what happens.  Just listening is a good move.  I cannot tell you how many teenagers complain their parents don’t listen.

If your teen is refusing to talk with you, it may be worthwhile to get them connected with a responsible adult they will talk to.  A neighbor, family member, or therapist may be a good way to know your child is sharing and getting some good feedback regarding their thoughts and behaviors.

This can be difficult for parents to allow another adult to play a role in their teen’s life they wanted to play.  Parents can feel jealous and left out when another adult is getting more from their teen in 15 minutes then they got all week.  If parents can put the emotions aside and see how their teenager can benefit from a healthy adult interaction, they may feel less threatened and more relieved.

If we all can take a moment to recollect what it was like to be teenager, most of us will remember keeping our parents at a distance, at least some of the time. Why we remember this distance is because it is developmentally normal for teens to begin to separate from their parents.  This process is called individuation and we all have gone through it.  Because of this process we no longer live with our parents.

So breathe a sigh of relief what you’re facing is normal as far as teens pushing parents away emotionally.  But if you are concerned you have the means to help support your teen by finding a trusted adult who can give them the parental guidance they may not be able to hear from you.  And let out a second breathe of relief knowing they can turn out OK.

I allow the process of life to unfold for my teen.

I Am Not Doing My Homework!

The freedom to let children make their own choice in regards to homework is a tough one for parents. At what age to start and how much responsibility to let cmultiplication worksheet with red pencilhildren take are questions many parents struggle with.

When do we let children and teens not do their homework and suffer the repercussions.  When do we not pencil in the answer for our child because its just easier?  When do we let go and allow children to relish in the rewards and become upset at the consequences?  How about now?

“Now?” you ask.  But, my child needs me to hound at them to get their homework done or else they don’t get a good education.  But my child is going to refuse to write in the answer if I don’t do it for her.  And what if she gets a detention?  Won’t that reflect on me as a parent?

Parents are chalked full of reasons why something is never a good time.  While they may seem valid, they don’t always have a lot of clout.   Being a parent is a full time job, which includes the role of “life teacher.”

One way we help kids is to teach them about responsibility.  Parents can teach responsibility with the natural consequences and rewards of the world.  When you parent from this angle, you begin to take the power struggle out of the parenting.  It isn’t your fault your child missed recess for not doing their homework.  A child has no one to hold accountable but themselves.

I am not saying you should abandon your child all together.  Help them to have a homework time.  Set aside time when you or another capable person is available to help as needed.  Keep in mind to help your child and not “do” for them.  Children don’t learn this way.

Work on slowly exposing them to taking more responsibility for their work.  If last year you sat by their side and helped them with every problem, move towards stepping away for a few minutes and then coming back to check and provide support.  Small steps to change are the way to go for many children.

Empower your child in their ability to be successful.  Reflect on past successes and times you saw how good they felt when they mastered a concept and got the natural reward of earning recess or raising their GPA.

If you are unsure of your child’s level of readiness for responsibility, check with their teacher.  The teacher sees your child 5 days a week and should have a good idea as to where they should be performing academically and how much responsibility they can take.

Lastly, with whatever parenting strategy you implement, be clear and consistent.  If you say you will be back in 5 minutes to check on them, be back in 5.  When you come back in 2 minutes because they are flipping out you are not being clear and consistent.  Children will learn they can get you attention and even get the answer if they flip out.  Not exactly the message you want to send.

I am solid in the ways I choose to support my child.

To Date Or Not To Date? That Is The Question.

While John Mayer may not be the role model fathers are looking towards, he certainly has mothers and fathers alike getting teary-eyed as he sings, “Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do….”

brown dog next to sign that say will you be my date?
My mind immediately flashed to the weddings I attended as I watched brides and their fathers sway to such a sweet song. I admittedly think of my own daughters on their wedding days, hopefully lightening years away, marrying someone as sweet as their own father.

“Twenty-seven.” “Forty.” “Never.” The answers many teen girls reveal when talking about the age their father’s say they can date. How protective they are.

And to a degree, rightfully so. Men know what it is like to be a boy and would never allow anyone close to their own child who may represent the male pubescent side of who they used to be.

So when is it ok for teens to start dating? While “never” seems like a good answer to many parents, they are asking for a host of defiance, sneaking out, anger, shutting down and all other sorts of feelings and behaviors which arise when teens are ready to take a step towards growing up.

Going slow might be a good step for parents and a good step for teens as they begin to embark on this new social venture. Group dates or hosting boy/girl get togethers at your house is a good first step. You can dictate the pace of slow.

With any new privilege teens need to show responsibility and an ability to follow the rules set forth. If a parent catches their child making out, you now have an open window to talk about a multitude of things. Seize the opportunity to give your child information and process acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Yes, they will hate this. You may too. Teens still need guidance and hear the message of what is OK and not OK.

Sure teens get fuel on breaking the rules and making parents crazy, but deep inside, they carry our words. Adults help create their conscience. If parents say nothing, it gives teens silent permission. Be the voice of experience and reason. Keep it short and offer an open door policy for them to talk with you anytime.

There is no right answer as to when teens should be allowed to date. The fact is, dating can mean so many things. Talk with your teen and be open to their needs and ideas and look towards negotiating if their requests are a little out of the box.


The Buzz

Youth are buzzing with the newness of the school year. They carry a certain energy. A bit of optimism that this year will be good, maybe a little different than the last.

When I think of the difference many would like to see, it involves kids being nicer to one another. Giving one another the respect as a human being to just be kind sticker on red wall

I know this is difficult for many kids, especially those trying to find their place. The freshmen, the seventh graders, and anyone new to a school. Sometimes putting someone down in front of the right group of kids could get you in. Get you a little status. And get those kids potentially off your back.

The targets of this behavior tend to minimize. “Its okay. Not a big deal,” they tell other people. But it is apparent how those digs really effect youth. It can slowly chip away at their self-esteem to the point where your kid is doing extra work during break time so they can avoid people in the hall versus enjoying a little work-free social time.

As a parent, it is important to be aware of what school is like for your child. I know many times they might not tell you. Despite this looming fact, you should still ask. Still show you care and you are interested. It might be the day your child really needs to talk. For some kids, it can be difficult to start the conversation. In fact, it can come out twisted. They act angry, irritable, and are out of sorts.

Has someone ever asked you a question and your upper lip tightened and out streamed a few warm tears? You weren’t planning on crying and letting it out but there it was. All someone needed to do was ask. Imagine if that person loved you unconditionally and could give you the support you needed. You are that person for your child.

So how do you ask and get a little sustenance? It is an art and open ended questions are the way to go. Anything with a yes/no answer is sure to make your conversation last seconds. Instead of, “Did you do anything at school today?” You could try, “What was the best part of your day? What was the worst? What did you do at lunch? Who was there?…..” The questions are endless. If you aren’t used to doing this already, it may seem a little daunting. Try anyway.

Truth be told, your kid may not want to talk. But what if they do? What if they are really needing you? Wouldn’t you want to be there?


I open the door to healthy communication by giving myself the opportunity to listen and my child the opportunity to talk.

How Technology Effects the Brain and Teens

clear skull More and more, teens are developing anxiety and depression around technology and social media sites.  They are afraid to disconnect.  “What if someone posts something bad about me?”

In an age where teens are trying to identify who they are and are trying on different roles, teens are able to create an image for themselves online they feel they need to uphold.  If they don’t continue to post pictures of themselves partying, then who will others think they are?

Kids are presenting with worry when someone doesn’t get back to them with a text right away.  “Are they mad at me?  Did I say something wrong?”  Teens reread what they wrote over and over and then go over it with another friend.  It can become tortuous.

Technology can dictate their moods.  If they get positive feedback from their peers, it is a good day.  If someone posts something remotely negative, it can ruin it.  It then impacts the relationships around them.  Fights with siblings and parents ensue.

The article featured  in July 16, 2012 edition of Newsweek titled “iCrazy: Panic. Depression. Psychosis. How Connection Addiction is Rewiring Our Brains” discussed just how bad things are getting for many in the digital age including an increase in people suffering from anxiety, depression, psychotic episodes, PTSD, and ADHD.   It also noted how even minimal time online is impacting how our brain works.

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. addresses further signs and symptoms in her article Electronic Screen Syndrome: An Unrecognized Disorder?  Electronic Screen Syndrome and the rise of mental disorders in children.  She looks at how stress from “screen time” impacts our nervous system which then leads to an inability to regulate and tolerate stress and then manifests in a variety of symptoms, including irritability, poor grades, and insomnia to name a few.

If you have a teen consumed by media, it may be time to consider how to intervene.  With teens, providing them information about how media is affecting their brain and mood could be an avenue when it seems impossible to pry that screen from their fingertips.  Leave an article on the kitchen table.  Listen to a podcast on your way to the store.  Set limits around when media is not to be used, like at mealtimes or when having company.

I know it is tough to figure out what to do with teens.  Just remember, setting an example and giving them the power to make their own choices, whether we agree or disagree is all part of developing.  We can guide them through with information and setting healthy limits.More and more, I see teens coming to my office with anxiety and depression around technology and social media sites.  They are afraid to disconnect.  “What if someone posts something bad about me?”

Summer, School, and Social Anxiety

It is the halfway point between summer and when school begins, and I know many parents are eager for August to arrive.  What I have noticed is many children and teens are not ready to return.  It’s not for the reasons one might expect, like sleeping in, later curfew, or less responsibilities.


Many students have worries about school that are beginning to show up now.  Homework, pressure, college, GPA, workload, and schedule are among some of the concerns.  But for many children, it goes beyond the logistics.

Social anxiety among youth is at its highest.  It comes in many forms from being left out to being directly targeted by peers and anything in between.  It is a real life daily struggle for some children, and the worry about it can begin as early as now.

The thought of burying oneself in a book during lunch time or hiding out in the library is a reality for many teens and children.  They think they are the only one who is feeling this ostracization but I can assure you, they are not.

Middle school and high school can be lonely places for those not enmeshed in a clique.  Even for those with a group, it can feel just as lonely going along with the crowd when who they really are is unable to show.

It is important for kids to have a safe place to talk about their experiences and really be heard and honored for what they would like to happen.  A teen’s parent going to talk with the principal may not be the approach their child would want.  Maybe they simply want their parent to listen.  Talk with your child about what they are needing.

Sometimes kids just need time to process their experiences.  As a parent, you can empower them to take the right steps in dealing with the anxiety peer groups or lack thereof can bring.  See if there is anyone on campus who your child feels supported by and encourage them to talk with them.

Obviously if teasing is moving to bullying, it is crucial to talk with your child and the school about what is occurring.  Lastly, encourage your kid to join a social group at school and if the school is not providing one, encourage them to get one.  Another place to locate social groups for kids in the community is at Psychology Today.  There are also other social groups to consider, including art, chess, spanish, and yoga classes to name a few.

I can help my child each day by simply listening.

Seriously? Seriously.

You and your kid just had an amazing afternoon together. First a picnic lunch then a day at the pool. You laughed and smiled. No whining. No complaining.  Good old fashioned fun.irritated looking short eared cat

As you return home, reflecting on all the fun you had and begin putting away your things, it happens. You see your child moving their mouth and staring at you with their hands dangling by their side.

“They can not possibly be saying this,” you think as you gaze at them in a dream like trance.

“I’m bored,” your child states matter of factly.

Seriously? Seriously. The dreaded B-O-R-E-D word. Parents cannot stand it. Children love to use it.

It seems to be the word of this generation.  I hear it used out of context to describe situations that have nothing to do with being bored.  “I stole a phone because I was bored,” a child once said.  I wondered how that even made sense.  Read, play, eat, sleep, that makes sense.

Parents can get triggered so easily by those 5 letters. They have a room full of stuff with nothing to do. Seriously? Seriously.

So what do you do when your little gem says they are bored.  Let me offer you a few ideas:

1.  Give them 3 options to choose from.  Sometimes kids just need help getting started.

2. Give them a challenge.  I have a box of cardboard odds and ends and will challenge kids to design something.  Have them set up an obstacle course and time themselves regarding how fast they can do it in 5 trials.

3. Dance.  If they like to do this, perfect. Or threaten them they will have to dance with you if they don’t find something to do.

4. Take them in their room and show them all the wonderful things they have to enjoy. If they still say they have nothing, begin to pick something up and let them know it will be going to Goodwill since it is something they no longer use. Watch how fast they learn to love some of their own things again.

5. Take time to connect. Bake some cookies, paint, read a story together, look through some baby pictures, take a walk, go on the swings.

6. Ignore. Older kids will often say they are bored to get a rise out of you. It is ok for kids to be bored and figure out what to do. Just keep an eye on them to make sure what they choose is legal!

I remain grounded when triggered by others.

Unplug Yourself

Before crawling in bed to read my daughter a story, I wolfed down a piece of chocolate.  Thinking she wouldn’t notice, I got into the sheets and found my daughter sniffing the air.  “It smells like chocolate,” she announces.  “Hmph,” I replied.  “Let me smell your breath mommy.”  She doesn’t miss a screen and cell phone in black light

Children are watching and listening to every move we make.  Even when we think they aren’t noticing, they are.  Parents who tell their kids they have eyes in the back of their head got nothing on all the children who have hearing like an owl, a sense of smell like a bloodhound, and sight like an eagle.

Why do I bring this up?  Because it is important information on how we should conduct ourselves in the presence of children and teens.  We need to be the role models on how to make good decisions, on how to spend our time, and how to value what is really important in this life.

Many parents complain at how much time their children spend on media but fail to look at how much of their own time they are playing Farmville, Angry Birds, or any other social media game.

Show your children what to do when there is no phone, computer, tv, or other technology.  Be the role model.  I know many parents who engage in a healthy lifestyle and feel upset when their teen doesn’t want to go lift weights with them in the garage or go to the coast.  It is discouraging but keep trying and looking for ways to engage them.

I have seen countless children use the hold out method.  They think if they don’t speak and make it sour for everyone, they will get their way.  I encourage parents to combat this with their own holdout method of following through with their plans and keeping their cool.  A child will come around, maybe not the first time, but eventually.  Also, include them in planning what might be fun that doesn’t include technology.

I know this a challenge for many parents, and I count myself among the many.  We are all a work in progress.

I am a work in progress and can help shape healthy habits for my family.

“Mom, I Don’t Feel Good!”

Anxiety is a tricky, tricky feeling.  It can come out of what seems like nowhere.  It can hang for a few moments or an entire day.  It can keep you up at night or wake you out of a dead sleep.

Anxiety can make you feel physical pain.  It can make you feel so sick you cannot go to school or work.  It can prevent people from driving.  It can be at the root of someone’s addiction.

Anxiety can make it difficult to connect with others.  It can eat someone up inside.  It can hold on so tight, you wonder if it will ever let go.

The Anxiety and Depression Institute of America states 1 out of every 8 children suffer from anxiety, and it also affects 40 million adults in the U.S.  They also note it is the most prevalent mental disorder and also the most treatable.

This is good news, if you realize what you got and how to get help.  One of the challenging pieces is just that.

Anxiety can hide within other symptoms and not be as clear cut as one may think.  I have seen children present with what is thought to be ADHD come to find out they are wrestling with anxiety.  With the proper identification and treatment, symptoms can improve.

Children and teens will also often present with physical symptoms.  Headaches, tummy aches, leg pain, or a general sense of not feeling good.  Their complaints are real but the cause of them are different than they may expect.  It is important for your child to get checked out by a doctor if physical complaints are present to rule out any serious medical problems.

So what is the best treatment?  Therapy, nutrition, yoga, herbal supplements, medication, acupuncture, acupressure, homeopathy, meditation and other stress reducing techniques can all be helpful.  You need to find the best combination that works for you or your child.

Please remember healing takes effort and time, but it is possible.  Now that is a relief!

Handling Summer Overload

Congratulations parents!  You have made it through another school year.  Summer is here and it is time to relax…..or is it?

Summer camps, sleepovers, pool time, staying up late, sweet treats.  While summer is supposed to be a time of leisure days, it can also be a time of stress for some families.

Kids can get overloaded from doing fun things just as much as they can get overloaded from too much work and activities during the school year.  Not only can does ice cream melt on hot day days but children can melt down as well!

Here are some ideas on how to keep kids and parents from avoiding the meltdown and creating a summer of fun.

1. Keep bedtime on a regular schedule-most of the time. Kids need lots of sleep to function.  You know how it feels when you are sleep deprived. Kids fare worse. Certainly there will be nights you have fun things planned so try to get them back on schedule as soon as possible.

2. Plan fun time and downtime. Kids need time to unwind. If you have a really busy day, plan a little less the next. If you are on vacation, plan some quiet time allowing for kids to rest and rejuvenate.

3. Transitions for some children are really tough. If this is the case, it may good to make a loose schedule for your child, meaning keeping a morning routine and a bedtime routine when possible. Some children benefit from having it written out or pictures to represent what is happening that day.

4. Eat well. Summer time can create a time for sweets overload. Ice cream, popsicles, candy, chips, cookies, you name it. Be mindful of what your children are eating throughout the day and balance it with healthy options.

5. Remember, parenting needs to be kid focused. I know we have get togethers with our friends where we want to stay up late and enjoy “our” time. This is all good but be mindful of what your children are needing.

6. Take some adult time. We end up being better parents when we take some time away to connect with other adults.

May time move slow in the moments I want to hold onto.