Tag myths

Six Parenting Myths I’d Like to Destroy

sculptor#1. Parents are sculptors.

This myth suggests that we fashion our kids personalities and outcomes like a sculptor sculpts a statue. I suspect that theories in psychology that promulgated this myth were authored by men who weren’t around babies very much. I say this because even a casual exposure to newborns suggests that they are very different from one another (e.g., my three kids couldn’t be more different from each other before my wife and I had any opportunity to mess them up). We parents are more like shepherds. We guide our children, knowing that a significant portion of who they are, and what they will become, is heavily influenced by factors outside of our control, the largest of which is their temperament (i.e., genetically influenced personality characteristics).

#2. Screwing up makes us a screw-up.

I could take my family on a month long vacation to Rome if I had a dollar for every time I’ve had a parent, in my office, giving himself or herself a death sentence for a misdemeanor. We all screw up! It is inevitable! The thing to do is to try to be in the right fights, knowing that sometimes we’re going to get creamed. What are those fights? My intention is for my parenting book to articulate the top 10 of them (i.e., special time, rituals, competencies, self and relationship care, monitoring, discipline, collaborating with other adults, health habits, adaptive thinking and problem solving, and recognizing and responding to psychological symptoms), but you’ll see aspects of them described all throughout this blog.

working man passed out #3. It’s possible to have “work-life balance.”

 Images come to mind of a parent getting up and getting a good breakfast in everyone’s stomach, while interacting pleasantly with all about the day ahead, then having a rewarding day doing meaningful work, perhaps mixing in time for exercise and socializing, then coming home and skillfully producing a family meal, appropriate supervision of homework, shared time with one’s spouse, and pleasant commutes to the children’s extracurricular engagements, then perhaps ending the day with some gentle recreation, shared reflections with one’s spouse, prayer and a warming bedtime routine with each child. Man, even writing that stresses me out. I can’t tell you for a fact that unicorns don’t exist but I sure as heck know I’ve never seen one (well, except for maybe one bad weekend in graduate school). Likewise, I’ve never seen this sort of work-life balance. But, I’ve seen lots of parents (especially women) torturing themselves, in their mind’s eye, for not realizing such.

#4. Failure and injustice are always bad things.

 I once asked a panel of experts on a television program I was hosting: “If it were crisis opportunitypossible to raise a child to adulthood free of failure and injustice, would you do it?” Not one of them hesitated before stating, “No way!” They first argued that such an adult would be too vulnerable in this world. Moreover, crisis = pain + opportunity, with the dosing of opportunity usually being greater and, lasting much longer, than the pain. Failures and injustices are rich with learning, acting like, as one poet put it, dragons guarding treasure. I also speculate that the more a person is leading a high road life the more likely it is that that person will experience injustice (e.g., ever know of someone impactful in this world who didn’t experience significant injustice?). I don’t mean to suggest that everyone experiencing injustice is on a high road. I do mean to speculate that everyone on a high road experiences injustice, with the degree of such commensurate with her or his general effectiveness. As we want our children to lead self-actualized lives, they need to learn how to experience, think about, and benefit from failure and injustice.

#5. We can invest in our relationships after life’s obligations have been met.

kid bullhorn to mom This is another common one. I see it most when I ask people to make (not “find” but “make”) time for their relationships, including special time with each of their children. We’re inclined to use the verb “find” because we envision squeezing one-on-one time with family members in between the bricks of our obligations. But, in my experience, those obligations are more like a crack-free, icy, steel wall. We therefore end up treating our relationships like cacti instead of the orchids that they are, telling ourselves that next week will afford us more time. Then, when our relationships inevitably show symptoms (as any orchid treated like a cactus will), we misdirect our blame and lamentations. We do well to ask, “what important obligation will not get done this week so that I can make sure to attend to each of my family relationships one-on-one?”

#6. The word “normal” has value.

If I were emperor of the universe I’d establish a salary cap in major league baseball and abolish the word “normal.” I hear this word in my practice all the time: “Is he (my child) normal?” “Am I normal?” “Is (behavior x) normal?” In this context normal is meant to mean “normative” which, by itself, is not a hurtful query. But, as we too often equate normative with adaptive, we run afoul. Divorce and being overweight are both normative, but no one argues that they are inherently adaptive, and no one says they are “normal.” Moreover, someone with a very high IQ of 120 isn’t normal and Stephen Strasberg’s capacity to throw a fastball is certainly not normal.

Want just one example of a chronic cultural problem with “normal?” We too often equate how common a sexual interest is with how adaptive it is. So, if Bob tends to be attracted to those things that most men are attracted to his sexuality is deemed adaptive and vice versa. However, I can tell you nothing about how adaptive someone’s sexuality is if all you tell me is how normative it is. What matters much more is how the person’s interests are expressed; the more they are expressed lovingly, and don’t hurt anyone, the more they are adaptive and vice versa.

I like the quote from Stephen King: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They stephen king quotelive inside us and sometimes they win.” Everyone is confronted with an internal battle. Show me someone who isn’t battling with himself or herself and I’ll show you someone who is in prison or homeless or in some other dire circumstance. For the rest of us, we battle. (So, from that perspective, all of us have some “abnormality” about us.) That there is a science for understanding such battles should be a source of comfort not stigma.

Finally, when a parents asks, “is he normal?” What he or she is really asking is, “is he an okay human being?” and that answer to that question is always “yes.”

In this blog it feels like I’ve been howling at the moon a little bit. I guess that’s because it’s Saturday following a long week and I needed to vent a little. Thank you, my fellow parent-lunatic, for indulging me with your attention 😉

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Mom Arrested for Giving Her Daughter Xanax: CBT Can Help to Avoid Such Sad Stories

According to a story this week in the North Platte Telegraph, a mother in Nebraska was arrested for intent to deliver a controlled substance after she gave Xanax to her 15 year-old daughter (the story indicates that daughter later gave it to a friend). I know no more about this story than what is contained in the above link. But I find myself wondering how much each of the following factors contributed to this unfortunate arrest:

√ The pharmaceutical industry markets directly to the public. The marketing budget of this industry far exceeds the public education budget of any mental health association that tries to teach the public about how psychological pain can be understood and relieved.

√ Studies vary but between one in ten and one in four youth suffer from an anxiety disorder (e.g., this graph, from the National Institute of Mental Health, demonstrates the high rates in teenagers).

√ Between 2/3rds and 90% of these kids receive no care. And, even when they do receive care they’ve often been suffering for years first and/or the care is truncated (my blog post discussing some of these issues regarding teens can be found here).

√ Many people, including primary care physicians and teachers, do not know what cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is or that it is the number one researched talking therapy for relieving anxiety in children and teenagers.

This author knows of not one authoritative association or legitimately published researcher who recommends that anxiety disorders be treated by medication alone, in any human, at least when the afflicted person is able and willing to take part in talking therapy. Moreover, many kids successfully treated with CBT do not need medication to help manage their anxiety-based symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a time-limited intervention, involves learning a collection of strategies for manipulating emotions and thoughts. Some of these strategies involve recognizing and adjusting thoughts (i.e., the “cognitive” part of the term), while others involve adjusting behaviors (the “behavioral” part of the term). In the case of anxiety treatments there are often two phases. In the first phase the child or teen learns the cognitive and behavioral strategies for defeating anxiety. (In my practice I’ll teach anywhere between five and ten strategies depending on the youth’s problems and situation.) In the second phase the youth then deliberately puts herself or himself into those developmentally appropriate situations that tend to evoke anxiety (e.g., getting on a school bus instead of being transported to school) and uses the techniques to conquer the anxiety. The work is finished once the youth is able to defeat all such fears. Often at termination both the youth and her or his parent(s) cannot believe how far she or he has improved in a relatively short period of time.

These treatments can be delivered to a child by himself or herself (with intermittent parent sessions so that the parent(s) are in a position to coach the strategies once the treatment is over), in groups of youth or together with family members. To identify a mental health professional who might be available to deliver this treatment in your area, click here. Below I have also listed links to three related blog entries.

Affording Mental Health Care

Signs that a Kid Needs Mental Health Services

Seven Common Myths About Counseling

Seven Common Myths About Counseling

The large majority of adults and kids who might benefit from psychotherapy do not receive it. For example 14-22% of U.S. children meet criteria for a diagnosable psychological disorder, but only about 20% of these kids get effective care. And, even when kids get effective care they usually suffer for years before getting it. Similar statistics are available for adults. This is beneath us as a culture and often yields dramatically painful and unnecessary outcomes (e.g., suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24, depression has a higher mortality rate than cardiac disease, etc.).  This post reviews some of the common myths I’ve found that serve as barriers to understanding and healing.

If I enter therapy I might become too dependent on the therapist. Therapy will never end.

The goal of psychotherapy is to foster healthy independence, not unhealthy dependence. So, the aim of evidence-based psychotherapy is to reach measurable treatment goals as fast as possible. Indeed, the chief job of the competent therapist is to make her services obsolete.  While some problems require longer treatment, many do not.

Counseling costs too much money.

Most health insurance polices cover the lion’s portion of psychotherapy. Clients end up being out of pocket only for the part not covered by the insurance company. In addition, the costs are considered a medical expense and may be deductible from taxes. Studies also suggest that trips to a counselor can dramatically reduce trips to the medical doctor, sick days and an assortment of other expensive problems (e.g., divorce, addiction, etc.). Plus, think what it would be like to be rid of any significant psychological pains that inflict you or a loved one. What would that be worth? Finally, there are options for low fee services all across the country; for example, if your local university has a graduate program in the mental health professions they may have a low fee training clinic (the average fee in the clinic I direct is $10/visit), community mental health centers exist across the country, etc.

Only crazy people are in therapy.

This is really a bunch of nonsense. Putting aside the meaning of the word “crazy” for a moment, choosing to be in therapy is often a very rational act. It seems much more irrational to avoid therapy, because of silly myths, when therapy might be helpful in important ways. Effective therapy helps people to identify new methods for overcoming emotional pain and solving life’s problems. What is crazy about the pursuit of such learning?

People who spend significant time and resources on therapy are being self indulgent and selfish.

If effective therapy does anything, it increases a person’s freedom to love. Did you ever try to give to others when you have a sharp toothache? The same thing applies with psychological pain. Those who have been healed in counseling are in a position to be able to love others more and better. How can this be considered selfish?

I’ll get better eventually anyway.

According to studies on counseling, effective psychotherapy promotes healing and recovery. It may not be helpful to wait years for change. Even if change does come, the same problem may resurface later if the central issues have not been sufficiently resolved. Psychotherapy provides a way to confront and resolve problems at their source. It also provides tools for dealing with future problems. Moreover, a competent therapist can direct you to the evidence that supports the methods that he or she is prescribing.

Being in therapy is a sign of weakness. Strong, effective people don’t need help solving their problems.

Maybe in a Rambo movie. In the real world more vulnerability is often found in the person who fears acknowledging human limitations and faults and is unwilling to take the steps necessary to overcome them. Counseling is no panacea and not everybody is a candidate for counseling. However, those who can acknowledge the possible need for counseling may be stronger, and more secure in themselves, than those who cannot.

If I take my kid in for an evaluation, he’ll get the idea that there is something seriously wrong with him.

Experienced child therapists both know that parents are concerned about this and have developed procedures that minimize this risk (e.g., making sure to assess for your child’s and family’s strengths). Besides, a child or teen with a legitimate behavioral or emotional problem is much more likely to think that there is something wrong with him/her, and to have that reflected in others’ eyes, if she/he does not get help. Also keep in mind, as is the case in medicine, that behavioral and emotional problems are much more easily understood and resolved sooner rather than later.

If you are wondering if counseling might be of benefit to you or a loved one, why not look into it? A competent therapist will be able to evaluate whether or not counseling is advisable and, if advisable, what it might be able to accomplish and how long it might take to complete. What do you have to loose, really? (If you’d like a referral in your community, click here.)

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