Tag monitoring

Parenting Through Proms

High school proms can represent, especially if your child is a senior, a right of passage. There is so much about this that can be joyful. But, there can be risks and challenges as well. So, this entry is designed to help you with the latter. I have three sections: (1) questions that I’d collaboratively answer with your teen until you are satisfied, (2) a list of issues that I would try to avoid controlling, barring unusual circumstances and (3) (hopefully humorous) responses to situations in which your teen tries to indict you for acting like a responsible parent.

Questions to resolve to your satisfaction

What sober and responsible person is driving?

Has the school established effective monitoring procedures? (This is more of a question for the relevant school administrator and needn’t directly involve your teen.)

What are the costs and who is paying for what? (A related issue, for some families, might be how a teen would be allowed to earn the money to cover the costs.)

Where is the after party and what responsible adult will be monitoring? (Keep in mind that monitoring can involve being in the same room, or next door, or in the parking lot. The goal is for the monitor to do no more than to ensure safety, sobriety and celibacy.)

Things to avoid trying to control

Yes, it’s good to be informed, but I would avoid trying to control what follows.

Who the date is. Of course you need to ensure that your teen is safe, sober and celibate for the night. Once those bases are covered, it’s a good idea for you to let your teen figure affairs of the heart out for himself or herself. It’s good to be a sounding board, if invited, but to keep negative opinions about a prospective date to oneself. This is good practice for when you’re an in-law, at least if you wish to be an effective in-law.

What the style of the outfit is, short of it looking like she could serve in a lineup of prostitutes. (Male analogies are less likely, but the same thing would apply if its relevant for your son.) Dads, when it comes to your daughter, it’s often best to let her mother (or some other responsible woman) handle this and to only make positive comments.

Who is attending the after party.

Other circumstances regarding the after party once you’ve secured the conditions described above.

Retorts to common prosecutorial invectives:

Obviously, these are not serious responses. But they are designed to make your teen exit your eye-line when howling at the moon.

Teen invective: “No body else I know has to have such stupid rules!”           Parental response: “But none of the other parents are as big of a control freak as me.”

Teen invective: “I’ll be going to college in a few months. You won’t be able to control things like this then!”                                                                         Parental response: (with a big smile) “Really?! I’ll be able to let someone else do it? What will that person be charging me?

Teen invective: “The other kids think you’re embarrassing.”                          Parental response: “That’s not because of my prom rules. That’s because they see me shopping at Victoria’s Secret so much.”

Teen invective: “I’ll just sneak out at the prom and you won’t know what I do.”            Parental response: “The school chaperone (know his or her name) has promised me that if s/he doesn’t see you for any given half hour s/he will text me about that. I will then text this baby picture of you (have visual ready) to your friend’s cell phones and upload it to your Facebook page with the caption “(your child’s name), cutest baby ever born in (name your city)! Love Mommy/Daddy”

Teen invective: Grandma (your mother) told me she didn’t have these kinds of rules for you!                                                                                                                Parental response: Grandma is getting senile.

Teen invective: You NEVER had these rules for (fill in name of older sib). Or, “You’ll NEVER make (name of younger sib) go through this!”                       Parental response: You know I love him/her more.

On a serious note, the wheel turns too fast sometimes. As your “baby” goes through this rite of passage, I hope you can enjoy it fully and take pictures/videos galore. It can be truly wonderful and bittersweet.

Limiting Access to Technology in the Home

baby at computerAs summer approaches, and kids have much more free time, many parents have questions about whether they should limit their kids’ access to technology. This entry considers some of the salient issues.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their kids’ sedentary electronic pleasuring to two hours a day. I believe this guideline is well reasoned for at least five reasons:

• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that a kid will sweat and breathe hard for 60 minutes a day, which is another broadly promulgated guideline.

• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that kids will advance their face-to-face people skills.

• As is the case with just about too much of anything, too much usage of technology can worsen pre-existing vulnerabilities (e.g., mood disturbance, anxiety disorders).

• Being plugged in too much can reduce the likelihood that a kid will develop his or her top strengths (the topic of next week’s blog entry)attractive college student sitting

• High school students who aspire to be competitive for admission to high quality academic institutions do well to use the summer to work at internships, to do community service or to engage in activities that will put them into the running for these more difficult to get into schools. Obviously, being plugged in too much at home reduces effectiveness along these lines.

There are a few related questions that come up from parents:

I can’t control what my kid does when I’m not home. How can I enforce such limits?

First of all, a scheduled kid is a kid who isn’t as much in a position to defy such rules. But, if you need to resort to it, there are plenty of tools available to assist. For example, you can purchase devices that lock onto the ends of plugs or which turn electronics off after a pre-programmed amount of time (e.g., see www.familysafemedia.org).

How important are rating guidelines?

child playing with laptopI believe these guidelines are very important to follow, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. Of course, your progeny will likely lament that hordes of his or her peers use this or that game, watch this or that movie, or otherwise consume material that violates such age/ratings guidelines. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that while not all parents who hear such complaints are effective, just about all effective parents hear such complaints.

My kid is way more tech savvy than me. How can I hope to establish and enforce parental controls and guidelines?

If you Google “parent controls” together with whatever device you’re dealing with you will likely find help (making sure to have the right model/software version). Otherwise, offer a 20-something person an Amazon gift card if s/he can check your controls for you; tell him or her that you’ll double the value if s/he is able to get around your controls, show you how s/he did it and offer countermeasures. I don’t find that this needs to take much time.

Should I be checking my kids’ emails, texts and pictures?

First of all, it’s your kids’ job to promote his or her independence and to become R1very upset when you check such things. But, there is evidence that when s/he believes that you might check his or her technology, at any time, that the resulting apprehension can increase the odds that s/he won’t go over to the dark side.

The best suggestion I have is to try to stay in the middle ground, which is a moving target. Too far to the right and you’ll be too monitoring and restrictive: signs of that are that you’re acting like a warden, your kid is acting like an inmate and s/he is becoming socially isolated. Too far to the left and your kid is either stepping on land mines or showing sings that s/he is at significant risk for such. Regardless of where you land on that continuum, some degree of checking and monitoring is usually advisable; the degree of this can be determined by your kid’s age, manifested success/failure and vulnerabilities (e.g., a kid struggling with ADHD may need more monitoring). (For more elaborate guidelines and a fuller vetting of the issues please see chapters 3 and 5 in my parenting book.)

What should I do if my plan seems to be not working?

funny-password-signThis one is easy. Seek out expert assistance! For a referral, click here.

Good luck my fellow parent-lunatic!




10 Important Considerations When Disciplining a Teen

angry male hand upThe first thing to keep in mind about this topic is that all of us who parent teens (and I parent 3.0 of them as I type this) get confused and feel unsure about how to respond to certain situations that arise. Everything about our teens, at least if they are mentally healthy, screams “independence!” And, we want for them to learn to be independent. However, we also want them to be safe, to relate well to others and to be strong in their ability to do important things when they don’t feel like it. So, this is complicated stuff. For this reason we all do well to not bully ourselves for our inevitable confusion and mistakes. That said, here are 10 considerations to keep in mind.

  1. The etymology of the word “discipline” is to teach, not to kick butt. Effective discipline means that your intention is not to be punitive or to vent. Your intention is to increase your teen’s success and effectiveness.
  2. Discipline works best when it is proactive instead of reactive. You do well to think ahead and try to rework situations so that your teen’s risk of showing defiance is lessened.
  3. Spending an hour a week doing special time with your teen will be a teenandmomhuge support to your discipline plan.
  4. Without surrendering your ultimate authority, try to collaborate with your teen about his or her responsibilities as well as what pleasures you’ll provide (e.g., a cell phone, video games).
  5. Try to give your teen advance notice of what chores you expect to be completed when. It’s also a good idea to find that middle ground between having no chores and having a number of chores that interfere with more important agenda (e.g., getting enough sleep and physical activity, doing well in school and doing well with potentially impactful extracurricular commitments).
  6. Ensure that your teen is investing an adequate amount of time on homework each school night. As a rough guide for a floor commitment, multiple 10 minutes times the grade s/he’s in (e.g., 100 minutes for a teen in 10th grade). I would insist on this floor even if your teen gets good grades doing less; the reason for this is so that your teen develops the skill set of doing academic work when s/he doesn’t feel like it. While this skill set may not be needed now, it will be needed when the difficulty level of his or her course of study catches up with his or her IQ.
  7. resistant motherMake sure you have a good monitoring plan. This includes explicitly establishing that sex and substance use are not okay. See my blog article on this topic for more.
  8. If your teen gives you a hard time about chores or academic work, consider setting up a contract: doing “x” (e.g., homework without a hassle) earns your teen “y” (e.g., access to a cell phone); moreover, doing everything expected in a given day earns your teen a set amount of money towards a weekly allowance. This way your teen either earns or doesn’t earn pleasures that are important to him or her, placing more responsibility on his or her shoulders and less on yours.
  9. If your teen defies you, or commits a significant infraction, use grounding. Grounding means that s/he cannot use the pleasures you provide (e.g., cell phone, TV), or leave the house for pleasure, for some period of time between two hours and two days. The length of the grounding would normally depend upon the seriousness of the infraction. Also, make sure your articulate what kinds of circumstances will cause a grounding in advance. This website sells gear that can help you enforce restrictions on electronic devices.
  10. If these strategies don’t work, or your teen does something serious therapy with teen(e.g., arrested for DUI), consider seeking out the services of a child psychologist. To access data bases of child mental health professionals, click here.

“States Are Saying Pot is Okay, So Leave Me Alone About It!”

war with teenLast month the National Institutes of Health released results of a large national survey indicating that 6.5% of high school students report smoking marijuana daily. Moreover, nearly one out of four seniors report having smoked it in the past month, with only 39.5% of them viewing regular marijuana use as being harmful. These survey data match my clinical experience: more and more teens seem to be arguing that pot usage is harmless as states have begun to legalize it’s use. This blog entry is for parents who wish to have some counterarguments at the ready.

• No state that has legalized marijuana use for adults has done so for minors. Teens who smoke pot risk facing legal consequences in every state. For instance, in Pennsylvania, where I live, teens caught with marijuana are at risk to loose their driver’s license, among other consequences.

• What’s legal ≠ what’s healthy. It’s legal to eat a 24/7 diet of ice cream. No one in law enforcement will try to stop someone from doing that. However, does anyone believe that that’s advisable?

• What’s legal ≠ what’s moral. It’s legal for consenting adults to have sex with as "not okay"many of their neighbors as they’d like, regardless of marital status or other competing commitments. One doesn’t get arrested for that or for many other kinds of immoral activity.

• To say that pot smoking is advisable for an otherwise healthy adult is a scientifically dubious claim. Concerns about an increase risk of lung cancer, drops in motivation and concentration and the development of other symptoms are each germane.

• Human brains continue to develop into early to mid twenties. And, the part of the brain that develops last is responsible for the most sophisticated and higher order brain functions. I know of no reputable scientist or clinician who would argue that it is advisable to introduce any psychoactive agent into a developing brain unless there is a compelling and well thought out need to treat a well diagnosed condition. Teen life is challenging and complex enough without adding such a wildcard.

• There is evidence that people with genetic predispositions to certain disorders can have them activated by significant marijuana abuse (e.g., schizophrenia).

Teen girlReaders of this blog, or my parenting book, know that monitoring is one of the most important resilience promoting activities that a parent can offer (e.g., entering the search term “monitor” in this blog or see Chapter Three of my book). In summation, we want to know: whom s/he is with, what they are doing and what responsible adult is in charge of making sure that the teens are safe, even if that is from a distance. In most instances, our firm and uncompromising stance is that sexual intercourse and substance use are not okay.

In my clinical experience synergy of one of two types is going on in most households where teens reside. The more resilience factors are in play the more that synergy is positive and the less the teen is pulled towards risky behaviors (e.g., there is positive one-on-one time each week between each parent and each teen, adaptive rituals are done regularly, a teen knows his or her areas of competence and has regular access to such, discipline is effective). The more resilience factors are not in play, the more the opposite is often the case.

Let me close with a bottom line regarding marijuana use among teens: parents therapy with teenshould not allow teens to smoke pot. (If you’d like a tight review of the relevant science, click here or here.) If your teen is putting up a significant fight along these lines, and maybe winning some of the battles, then I would highly recommend that you seek out the services of a qualified mental health professional. For a referral, click here.

Affluenza?! Phuleeze!!

frustrated man2This weekend a news story broke about a teen who was stated to be suffering from “affluenza.” The teenager reportedly got drunk, got behind the wheel of a car and killed four people. A psychologist reportedly then used the term “affluenza” to describe a condition from which the teen is suffering. “Affluenza” was indicated to have to do with things like not being made to experience consequences, having parents who don’t discipline sufficiently, and who resist the discipline efforts of others, and, in some cases, living with affluence. This condition was reported to have been used as a mitigating variable for determining the outcome of the teenager in court.

I’m not writing this blog to comment on the legal issues or what might constitute justice in this case, as those questions are outside the purview of my discipline. I am writing for two purposes: First, I wish to eschew mental health professionals making up their own terms and using them this way. Second, I wish to remark on the true psychological factors that sometimes can come into play in cases like this.

“Affluenza” is not only not an official diagnosis in either of the primary psychiatricquakery vs science diagnostic systems in the world (the DSM and the ICD systems), but it isn’t even a condition under investigation by researchers. In this context the term was justified by the psychologist, in an online interview, based on his “30 plus years of experience.” So, is that the criteria we use? Once a mental health professional gets enough years under his or her belt s/he can just start making up conditions and using them to mitigate legal consequences? How many years of experience before it’s okay to do that? What if someone with more years of experience disagrees? As someone who devotes his career to bringing quality mental health science to the public, and who finds that the public is confused enough already about real conditions, I find such behavior, if true, to be reprehensible. I don’t know more about the specifics of this case than what I saw and read reported on CNN.com. But, if it’s true that a psychologist, acting in his capacity as an expert witness, used this term, and the use of that term affected the outcome of the case, then I hope it will also be true that the licensing board(s) in any state(s) where that psychologist is licensed will ask him to explain himself.

character lots of booksI don’t pretend to understand the nuances of this particular case. Hardly. But, I can speak generally about the factors that can sometimes facilitate a teen acting in this manner. There are often at least two primary factors in play:

• #1: Poor monitoring. As readers of this blog, and my parenting book, know the research correlating an absence of effective monitoring and risky behaviors among teenagers is compelling. Moreover, unmonitored teens tend to associate with other unmonitored teens; this can then create a risk taking and destructive synergy.

#2: Poor discipline. Again, I’ve written a lot about this. Discipline does not equal butt kicking. The etymology of the word is “to teach.” Effective discipline involves growing a kid’s capacity to do things when s/he doesn’t feel like it by using education, warmth and firmness. It also involves allowing youth, in most circumstances, to experience the consequences of their choices.

Tolstoy said it well “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy black baby in parents handsin it’s own way.” Resilient kids and effective households not only employ effective monitoring and discipline, but they also:

• Do things to promote closeness between each parent and each child (e.g., special time).

• Engage in adaptive and regular rituals.

• Discover and promote each youth’s competencies.

• Collaborate effectively with other adults charged with important functions in each youth’s life.

dad with son on shoulder• Maintain good self and relationship care among the parents.

• Maintain good health habits (sleep, diet and physical activity).

• Promote adaptive thinking and independence in each youth.

• Get effective and appropriate help whenever a youth is showing signs of struggling.

These 10 strategies, which are a central them of this blog and my parenting book, operate as a science-based foundation for promoting resilience in kids. The more they are present in a family the lower there is the risk of symptom and dysfunction in youth. The more they are absent the more the soil becomes fertile for stories like we are reading and viewing this weekend on CNN.

Tips for Sleepovers

girls happy 3I must confess that my knowledge base for this topic comes more from my parenting experiences than my knowledge as a psychologist, though the latter informs these guidelines. Here are some tips, baptized by fire in the Palmiter household, for when one of your kids requests a sleepover.

In your home

• Reach agreements (for older kids), or lay down the rules (for younger kids, though this can have a collaborative air about it) before time about any guidelines/rules regarding bedtime, diet and activities. There is something about sleepovers that often leaves kids with the expectation that they can go all Lord of the Flies on you, staying up until they pass out, eating a steady diet of junk and watching any ole movie.

• Agree with the other parent(s) regarding the start and pick up times.

• Agree with the other parent(s) if you plan to do something outside of the home. character holding question markIn my experience the hosting family usually pays the way for any guest children, unless the guest child’s parents offer (even then, my wife and I will usually decline that) or other arrangements have been explicitly agreed to. If you have a more expensive event you’d like to go to (e.g., a broad way show), and you prefer to have the guest child’s parents fund all or part of it, reach an agreement about that with the other parent(s) as a part of the conditions of the sleepover.

• I’ve never had it happen, but if a guest child starts acting up, and doesn’t adhere to verbal re-directions, ask if s/he would prefer to have his/her parents intercede. If that doesn’t quell the drama, call the other parents and ask how s/he would like to handle the situation.

• Sometimes very anxious or younger children might ask to have their parent(s) pick them up before everyone goes to sleep. Upon receiving such a request call the other parent(s) and ask how s/he would prefer to handle the situation.

quizacal look• Stick to the age guidelines for any media ratings and err on the side of believing that the other parent(s) are very conservative in what they allow their child to view.

At the other child’s home

• I wouldn’t agree to a sleepover at another residence unless you have confidence that the adult(s) in the other home is/are responsible about monitoring and other basics (e.g., not abusing substances). Much of this information can be gleaned while interacting on the sidelines of extracurricular events and by the growing experiences you have with the family. If in doubt, I’d think three times before allowing the sleepover, regardless of the age of your child.

• Find out what the drop off and pick up times are and stick to those.

• If there are activities going on outside the home, offer to pay for your child; boy dancing they’ll probably insist that they pay but at least you’ve been polite.

• For younger children, ask something like this of the other parent(s) at the point of the initial discussion: “Rhonda, we tend to be fairly strict about sticking to the age guidelines of any movies or video games our kids play. Is that okay with you, as we don’t want to seem intrusive?” Sometimes parents worry that they will cause offense by asking this. But, imagine you were on the receiving end of such a question? Would that offend you, or just make you respect the other parent(s)? Right, most parents tend to report the latter.

• For teens: ensure that there is sufficient adult monitoring to rule out substance use and sexual activity.

A few general remarks

Just based on my personal experience (i.e., I’ve not seen any research on this), girls tend to do more sleepovers than boys, especially as they age. If you have a girl, and she isn’t getting invited to these, I’d want to rule out that she isn’t having problems in her social world (I’ll blog on this topic in the near future).

frustrated girl• If your child is at risk to wet the bed or embarrass himself or herself in some other important way, I’d treat that problem first before putting him or her in a situation that could risk significant embarrassment.

You may want to develop guidelines on how often you’ll allow sleepovers if one of your children is a social butterfly. My youngest is like this (i.e., she’d have two a week if we allowed it) so my wife and I have developed these rough guidelines:

√ Will the sleepover unduly interfere with planned family or sibling’s activities?

√ Are the sleepovers starting to interfere with some other important domain (e.g., a child who is sleepy the next day and so unavailable to engage with the family, a child who isn’t doing a quality job with weekend academic or extracurricular responsibilities)?

√ Are the sleepovers interfering with adult self-care (e.g., a date night, a night of poker)?

√ Are the sleepovers becoming a significant financial drain?

If the answers to all these questions is a “no,” and the above conditions for the sleepover have been met, perhaps the frequency of them is something to celebrate, regardless of how often they occur. (Please, no one show this post to my youngest daughter 😉

Avoiding and Responding to Cyberbullying

cyber bullying Cyberbullying is bullying delivered through an electronic venue. According to the most recent research sited by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 40% of kids report having been a victim of cyberbullying over the course of their lifetime while 20% say they have perpetrated such. Moreover, a 2011 national survey sponsored by the Center for Disease Control found that 16% of high school students reported having been electronically bullied in the past year. The effects of cyberbullying on kids can be devastating. For instance, and according to stopbullying.gov, these can include substance abuse, truancy, school refusal, experiencing in-person bullying, a decline in grades and damage to self-esteem. This entry is designed to give parents six tips for both avoiding and responding to cyberbullying.

To avoid cyberbullying

• Spend one hour a week doing “special time.” This facilitates an open channel of communication about current events. Click here to download a handout on how to do special time. (I also explain the exercise more fully in the first chapter of my parenting book.)

• Put age-appropriate controls on internet technology. For a blog article on some strategies click here (or see Chapter Three in my parenting book).

• Intermittingly monitor your kids online communications. This is a complicated topic that is best summarized by describing the ends of the continuum. Too little monitoring risks leaving your kid walking in mine fields. Too much monitoring risks quashing independence and effective social engagement. It is the shifting middle ground where the most effective parenting strategy resides. Regardless of where you place yourself on this continuum, let your progeny know that you reserve the right to inspect any of his or her hard drives, cell phones, internet pages or electronic storage devices whenever you wish. It is this sense that mom or dad could find out that leaves a kid thinking three times about doing something risky or objectionable.R1

• Ask you child if s/he is aware of examples of cyberbullying, exploring her/his perceptions. You will likely be more effective in making your points if you share your opinions last, affirm what you like about your kid’s perspectives and end your sentences with question marks whenever possible (e.g., “what do you think it would be like to have several people laugh about your looks online?”).

• Promote adaptive and regular social contact with kids who seem to be doing well. Sitting on the fringes of the herd makes a kid more vulnerable to attack. Moreover, kids who are effectively engaged with successful peers are less likely to fall victim to an assortment of maladies.

• Limit access to sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It makes sense because if a kid is plugged in more than this each day s/he is probably shorting other important developmental needs (e.g., to be physically active, to invest sufficiently in academics).

Responding to cyberbullying

cyberbullying2• Make a plan for involving others. If your child is being bullied decide whether it’s best to approach a trusted school official, the parent(s) of the perpetrator(s), a clergy person, some other relevant trusted adults or a combination of the above. In these discussions consider whether there is value in letting the owner of the electronic venue know about the bullying (i.e., a growing number of states have laws prohibiting this behavior). The goal here is to find the most effective and kind way to have the bullying stop.

• Seriously consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. Being the victim of bullying can be a symptom of a compromised standing with peers. Moreover, and as I indicated above, being the victim of bullying can be devastating. Also, perpetrators of cyberbullying may likewise be hurting and stand to benefit from mental health services. Seeking out this assistance stands to do a world of good. For a referral, click here.

• Keep an eye open for some of the symptoms indicated above. If you see any, quadruple the importance of the preceding recommendation.

• Let your child know that you have his or her back 100%. This means being an empathic sounding board for painful feelings (which is very difficult to do given how much our kid’s pain hurts us), affirming his or her strengths, and staying active in solving the problem.

• If your child has witnessed cyberbullying, consider with him or her, how to let others (i.e., parents and school officials) know about this. This might range from a direct report to an anonymous note. (Services are also cropping up that allow students to make anonymous reports about bullying. For instance see “Talk About it.”

• If the cyberbullying does not stop after your initial round of interventions, legal booksconsider consulting an attorney and/or law enforcement official. In this scenario I would also do a serious pro-con analysis on eliminating, or seriously restricting, your child’s access to the technology where the cyberbullying is occurring.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, click on the first two links in this post.

Teens Are Going to Have Sex and Drink, You Can’t Control That…Not!

National survey’s conducted by authoritative bodies have indicated that 40% of high school seniors report having drank alcohol in the past month (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2012) and that 47% of high school students state that they have had intercourse (Youth Risk Behavior Survey, CDC, 2012). The communality of these behaviors causes some parents to throw in the towel and declare that they can’t be stopped. However, it’s pretty clear that it’s ill advised for teens to use substances and have sex. (What sense does it make to throw a toxin at a brain that is still developing? What sense does it make to allow a teen to engage in the most intimate, and potentially risky, of interpersonal behaviors when that teen isn’t mature enough to live independently?)  As a clinician I see the havoc that can occur when teens have sex and use substances. So, for those of you who are prepared to fight this fight, here are some tips for keeping your teen safe:

#1: Carve out an hour of one-on-one time each week. An open channel of communication makes it more likely you’ll be in the loop. During this time all you should do is listen, affirm (legitimately and proportionally) and express positive sentiments. This free download explains the exercise, as does Chapter One of my parenting book, WPTF. You may also value reading Conversation Starters for You and Your Teenager.

#2: Be open to your teen changing your mind when he or she makes a good argument. Research suggests that teens are more likely to lie to their parents when they believe they can never win an argument, no matter how much they are in the right. I wouldn’t give in for the sake of giving in, but I would be open to being in the wrong and letting your teen know when he or she has made a good point.

#3: If your teen wants to do something, and you’re inclined to say “no,” ask yourself three questions. This thing your teen wants to do: is it physically dangerous? Is it psychologically damaging? Is it too expensive? If the answer to all three is “no” then I’d seriously rethink the “no” as promoting independent decision making is a very important parenting goal.

#4: Try to be the first one to discuss all sexual topics with your child. You don’t want the popular media, other kids or other adults to be the ones to define a certain topic as they may not share your values. This means staying ahead of the curve and starting sex education early. By the way, I wish all teens would read Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs, if only the first chapter on herpes.

#5: I would want to have four questions answered to my satisfaction before my teen leaves my eye-line outside of school: Where are you going? What are you going to be doing? Who are you going to be doing it with? What adult is responsible for monitoring (which can be at a distance, if appropriate)? Judge Judy has a tagline regarding teenagers. She asks, “How do you know when a teen is lying?” Her answer, “When their lips move.” While I doubt Judge Judy means that literally, her point is well made. I’m also becoming increasingly favorable towards technologies that allow parents to track where their teens’ cell phones are. Finally, keep in mind that you are trying to create in your teen’s mind that he or she should think six times about doing something risky because you’re apt to find out.

#6 Maintain open lines of communication with the parents of your teens’ friends. For instance, I know one mom who organized a monthly breakfast where experiences could be shared. And, I wouldn’t let my teen go over another teen’s home unless I felt confident that the adults who lived there shared my ideas about monitoring. (You wouldn’t believe the stories my teen clients tell me about the things they do in homes where adults are present.)

#7: Support the pursuit of your teen’s competencies. Bottom line: a teen who is on display for his or her competencies is less inclined to engage in risky behaviors, has less free time to do so and is associating with teens who are in the same competency boat. (I cover strategies for pursuing this in WPTF.)

#8: Pursue rituals. The bottom line: rituals are a protective shield against life’s slings and arrows. Adaptive rituals also leave less time available for risky behaviors. Two rituals that rock, in terms of being correlated with a plethora of positive outcomes for teens, are family meals and practicing a religion. (See WPTF for more.)

#9: Talk about and model healthy behaviors. Of course, it is way better to be a hypocrite and expect healthy behaviors even when not modeling them, than to throw in the towel.  But, it’s a more effective sell if you walk the talk.

In closing keep in mind that it’s your teen’s job to rail against your efforts (i.e., to promote his or her independence). That’s healthy. Indeed, I might worry a little about a teen who doesn’t push back. They’ll thank you later, though probably not until after you’re dead ;-).

Neurotic Parental Guilt

As a child psychologist, dad and friend of many parents, I’ve noted that neurotic guilt is common among we parents. Sometimes these feelings are mere flashes while at other times they are thematic. Of course there are situations in which experiences of guilt are not neurotic as they are helpful (e.g., situations where a parent is abusing or neglecting a child and the guilt feelings motivate change). But, here I’m thinking of instances when we engage excessive self-reproach for having human limitations or for having normative human experiences. In this entry I’ll first describe some common scenarios that evoke such quilt and then suggest seven strategies for coping with it.

The first common scenario is when there is a separation at hand:

• A child leaves for college, especially if the child leaving is the first born. (Many parents report feeling shocked at how quickly this day has arrived.)

• A parent departs for an extended period of time. This commonly happens when mom or dad serves in the military, but there are many examples of it in our run-and-gun culture (e.g., as a phase of relocating to another part of the country).

• A parent is on his or her death bed.

In these and other related situations we can be swept away with thoughts that we did not get the most out of our time with our child. We can mercilessly beat ourselves up with thoughts that we should have spent more one-on-one time, done more shared activities, communicated our love more effectively or just been a better parent. A famous quote by Kahil Gibran comes to mind “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

The second common scenario is after some positively anticipated event or period of time is over such as:

• A vacation is finished.

• A holiday period is concluded.

• A weekend is over. (I wonder what percentage of neurotic parent guilt happens on Sunday nights.)

In these and related scenarios I might kick myself for moments of conflict, boredom or disengagement. I so much looked forward to having a joyful or meaningful experience with my child. And, when reality almost inevitably falls short of my high expectations–what I refer to as the “Clark Griswold Syndrome”–I kick myself with self-reproach and feelings of guilt.

I believe at the root of neurotic parental guilt is the overwhelming and gut wrenching love that we have for our kids. It is so encapsulating and powerful, that it makes us lunatics much of the time. So, my fellow lunatic, let me suggest some antidotes for this neurotic guilt:

Strategy #1: Use what we psychologists call “coping thoughts.” Coping thoughts are true thoughts that provide comfort. Wearing a pair of jeans that are so tight that they hurt serves no purpose. So, sane people swap them out. This type of neurotic guilt serves no purpose, so we do well to swap it out. Here are some coping thoughts to try on for size:

√ “Everyone has moments of stupidity, impatience and frailty. There is no escaping my humanity.”

√ “I love my kid more than my life. It isn’t possible to love someone more than that.”

√ “I do (have done) all kinds of things for my kid such as….”

√ “Conflict and disengagement are woven into the fabric of human interactions. There is no being together, for any extended period of time, without them.”

√ “Life is not a fairy tale, it’s better. But, that comes with mess for everyone.”

Strategy #2: Imagine you are in the future and your child is a parent. He or she is now coming to you for help with the exact same type of guilt you are now experiencing. What advice would you offer your future child? If your like most, this can lead you to a more wise and kind stance with yourself. (This is also one way to get in touch with what I have referred to as your “wells of wisdom.”)

Strategy #3: If your child is still living with you, or lives close to you. Try hard to do at least one hour of “special time” each week. If you do this exercise consistently you are taking a mighty step towards promoting an effective relationship with your child. (Special time is different from quality time. To learn more about how to do it see Chapter One in my parenting book, or download this article that I wrote.)

Strategy #4: Write a gratitude letter for your child. Click here for a blog entry on the specifics of this method. This can be a most profound human experience. (Be careful not to expect reciprocation though. It’s wonderful if a letter comes back at you later, but no one is served if you experience resentment secondary to a frustrated expectation.)

Strategy #5: Apologize for any real mistakes that you made and, if it’s a pattern, try to both understand the underlying cause(s) and take steps to either improve or resolve the situation. Steps for improving could include such things as spiritual direction, psychotherapy, improving health habits and enhancing your self-care (i.e., parenting from the cross is rarely effective), and I speak as someone who has taken abundant advantage of each of these self-improvement measures.

Strategy #6: A more elaborate version of the coping thought strategy would be to make a list of your parenting strengths and successes. This could be a one-and-done exercise or a weekly effort. It is a list of things you have done, or do, well as a parent. It can also include evidence of good outcomes that your child experiences or has experienced.

Strategy #7: Get helpful feedback. My personal criteria for such a consultant is that (a) he or she is wise about parenting (i.e., by experience, by training or both), (b) he or she cares about me and (c) he or she is as likely to agree as to disagree with me (i.e., someone who is only going to agree with me is of little use for this service).

In closing, and to beat one of my most treasured and favorite drums, if you think you could benefit from speaking with a good child psychologist, pick up the phone! 😉

Video Games: Good or Evil?

There are many statements floating around out there about video games that suggest they should be either vilified or, less commonly, celebrated. “Video games are purported to…

…wreck your kid’s ability to pay attention.”

…make your kid violent.”

…take care of  your kids needs for physical activity, at least if he or she uses systems like Wii or Xbox Connect.”

“…promote addictive behaviors.”

“….offer a solution to social anxiety.”

In this column I’d like to make eight suggestions about video games that will respond to these and other concerns.

#1 Limit your kids total access to sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is the sound counsel of authoritative bodies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your kid is spending more time than this he or she is likely missing out on other important activities such as physical activity, doing homework and socializing face-to-face. Actually, if you are mostly hitting your stride as a family you may find that your kids don’t have more than two hours a day free anyway.

#2 Take the ratings seriously but also realize that they can, for any given game, not be a fit for your child. (I find some parents are surprised by just how graphic and adult-themed video games marketed for kids and teens can be.). If my kid is exposed to material that he or she is not developmentally ready for, symptoms can emerge (e.g., becoming aggressive, having a difficult time sleeping).  There are also parent advisory websites you can review content in the games. Click here for one such example.

#3 Watching your kid playing acceptable video games, and commenting on his or her skill as well as how much you enjoy spending time together, can be a useful way to spend special time. (Readers of this blog, and my parenting book, know about my recommendation to spend one hour a week, with each kid, one-on-one, doing special time.)

#4 If you’ve been reading this blog and/or my book, you know that another activity commonly recommended by authoritative bodies is for each child to sweat and breathe hard for 60 minutes a day. Video game playing activity counts towards this only if your child is actually sweating and breathing hard. If he or she can’t carry on a normal conversation and sweat is changing the color of his or her shirt, you’re good. Otherwise, it doesn’t count.

#5 Many gaming systems, and their attached games, provide online access. Imagine the following scenario. You sign your kid up for a martial arts class at your local Y, a class which encourages participants to interact and get to know each other. In the class are other kids like your kid. But there is also a 44 year old divorced man who is sexually frustrated and medicating his pain with alcohol, a 25 year-old man who is struggling to control his urges to sexually assault children and a woman who medicates her severe anxiety by chain smoking marijuana. How okay would that be? Point made? For an article on some specific suggestions to promote monitoring of your child’s or teen’s online life, click here.

#6 Keep an eye on how your kids’ video gaming impacts him or her. You are the world’s leading expert on your kid. Use that expertise to gauge how a given video game is affecting him or her, if at all. For instance, I once knew a kid in elementary school who started playing a couple hours of an E rated game each week. At the same time he started becoming aggressive at recess. His parents made the connection and took steps to resolve the situation (a straight-forward banning of the game wasn’t indicated. I describe this case in my parenting book in the chapter on monitoring).

#7 Many parents ask, “should I let my kid have a video game system in his or her bedroom?” Until I see a well-controlled research study that investigates this with a sample that is large enough to allow for broad generalizations, it’s hard for me to feel strongly either way. But, my intuition, is that if you follow all the other guidelines in this blog entry, and your kid is generally doing well in life, it’s probably okay. But, I wouldn’t hook up access to television programing as there are too many ways that could be problematic (e.g., becoming too withdrawn from family life, putting it on when he or she should be sleeping). Also, keep in mind that if having a video game system in the room proves to be problematic, it doesn’t take an act of congress to undue it 😉

#8 What are the signs that the video gaming is becoming, or has become, problematic? The easiest sign is that your child is acting like he is crack dependent and the game playing is the crack. If this is the case, see this blog entry that breaks down how to deal with this kind of scenario. Otherwise, the gaming is problematic if it is interfering with any other important developmental tasks or if it is associated with symptoms. If in doubt, I’d recommend seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. For a referral click here.

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