Tag self help

Top 11 Tips for Parenting Teens

Why waste your time with a preamble? Just the tips, kip:

#1 Make an hour of one-on-one time each week to do nothing with your teen but (a) listen to what his on his or her mind, (b) affirm the positive things you think about him or her and (c) reflect back that which value regarding what you are hearing or seeing. During this hour avoid teaching, correcting or directing.

#2 Always know and approve of where he or she is, what he or she is doing and what responsible adult is in charge of monitoring, if only from a distance.

#3 If your teen wants to do something you’re inclined to forbid, ask yourself if that thing he or she wishes to do is physically dangerous, psychologically harmful or unduly taxing of your resources. If the answer to all three questions is “no” it may be important to let him or her do it, no matter how much it might drive you crazy. This strategy promotes adaptive decision making and independence.

#4 Always ask what her or she thinks first before sharing your opinion, even when asked. Then value aspects of what you agree with before stating alternative perspectives. And, when sharing those alternative perspectives, remember that your teen’s learning is facilitated when your sentences end with question marks–and are truly inquisitive and not declarative–instead of periods.

#5 Avoid getting in the business of trying to control who he or she has a crush on. You can and should control your son or daughter being in safe situations (tip #2) but trying to control his or her crushes will often cause the exact opposite result of what you wish for. Also, try to have discussions about sex, and sexuality, as often as you can (one of the world’s best teachers was Socrates, who always did the heavy lifting of his teaching by asking questions).

#6 Don’t let him or her sleep with technology in the bedroom. Charge it the kitchen instead. This will help to increase the odds that a proper night’s sleep is accomplished (i.e., 8.25 to 9.5 hours).

#7 Do what you can to promote an hour of sweating and breathing hard five to seven days a week. And, limit sedentary electronic pleasures to 2 hours a day.

#8 Try to have as few processed carbohydrates in your home as possible and model healthy eating. Our walk does more good than our talk, though both are helpful.

#9 Listen to your teen’s arguments for changing a decision or rule. Making a change, when your teen makes a good and reasonable argument, reduces his or her odds of lying to you at other times.

#10 Support and/or grow your teen’s capacity to do things whenever she or he doesn’t feel like it. Few things better predict a person’s success in our culture than this capacity. As this is complicated you may benefit from reading the strategies for pulling this off in my parenting book; while I wrote it for parents of younger children, you will get a lot of what you need there.

#11 Savor these years by keeping in mind that in a few precious years she or he will most likely not be living with you. Yes, teens can be aggravating as hell (and I have 2.0 of them living with me now). But, when we are at the end of our life, looking back, we’d probably give a lot to come back and live just one day as we do today.

Related blog posts:

Communicating with your Teens about STDs

Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them

A Chronic Health Problem in Teens: a Lack of Sleep

Is Your Kid Getting Enough Sleep?

Kids’ Physical Activity: 7 Thinking Traps

Lions and Tigers and Vows, Oh My! Ten Tips for Taking Your New Year’s Resolutions from Oz to Kansas.

Many of us will soon make New Year’s Resolutions. This entry is designed to increase your odds of success. I’ll review four planning steps and ten strategies for promoting effective outcomes.

The first step in the planning phase is to visualize what you like about yourself. I’m skeptical that your self-improvement project can survive and thrive if you do not know and enjoy your strengths, not only at the start, but consistently throughout. I like a prayer that British psychologist Robert Holden recommends in one of his books: “Oh God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.  Amen.”

The second step is to picture yourself as the most fulfilled version of you. What is different about that person? What changes, that are under your control today, would help to get you there?

Third, list the obstacles you’ll experience in taking this voyage. This is a step worthy of your most honest and thorough consideration.

Fourth, what steps can you take to reduce the obstacles and lessen your reliance on will power?

A problem that many of us run into is called “present bias.” The person who we are when we make a resolution–present me–is steely eyed and filled with gritty resolve. However, present me may also be inclined to be harsh (“okay, you really need to stop being so weak!”), excessively ambitious (“I’m going to never yell again!”) or inclined to invest in ways that aren’t always helpful (e.g., purchasing expensive equipment the like of which has never been used before). The problem is that present me is not the same person who will be doing the heavy lifting; that person is future me. If present me doesn’t adequately understand future me’s strengths and vulnerabilities, then present me is destined for disappointment.

Each of us are like snowflakes, completely unique. Thus, a strategy that helps another person make substantive changes could be a horrible idea for you. Use your world’s leading expert knowledge of yourself to develop a plan that is supportive of future you. Use her strengths. Establish support for his vulnerabilities. Some of the following ten tips may help:

1. Set daily goals. Avoid goals like “I’m going to lose 30 pounds.” Instead, try “today I’m going to eat a balanced diet and get 45 minutes of physical activity.”

2. Keep a daily log of those behaviors that are most important to your goal(s). Many self-destructive behaviors occur when we disassociate from ourselves (i.e., only partially notice what we’re doing). Writing stuff down combats disassociation and increases the odds that you will remain self-aware and in the moment.

3. Join with others. Two things characterize those who are successful in setting aside self-limiting patterns: they work on themselves and they surround themselves with people who are striving towards the same goal(s). Relying on others could involve partnering with friends, starting counseling, or attending support group meetings. (To find a therapist near you click here.)

3a. Ask your partners for help. Many people are willing to help your future self reach your present self’s goals. All you need do is share your vulnerabilities and ask for ideas and/or assistance. For example, I know one pair of friends who committed to playing a rotating aerobic game before work each day (e.g., basketball, racquetball, etc.). They rotated the role of cheerleader for those days when one or both of them was tempted to cancel.

4. Establish rewards for yourself. For instance, so many days of doing as you vow earns you a treat. Also, give yourself hefty mental pats on the back for success along the way.

5. Take lapses as opportunities to learn more about your vulnerabilities and how present you can do a better job of supporting future you. Avoid being cruel and harsh with yourself as this risks putting your goals further out of reach. I’ll sometimes ask clients, who are parents, to react to themselves as they would react to their child if their child showed a similar lapse (sometimes this involves projecting forward in time and imagining their child at their age, having fallen prey to the same vulnerability).

6. Use music if that motivates you.

7. Focus your mind on the positive behaviors you want to do rather than the negative behaviors you want to avoid. It’s better to focus on what healthy breakfast you want to eat rather than trying to use white-knuckle willpower to resist the unhealthy version.

8. Have present you write encouraging and positive messages for future you. Try to avoid being harsh lest you risk future you “forgeting” to read the message.

9. Make a plan to remove as much temptation as possible from the eye line of future you.

10. If you are a spiritual person, lean on that part of your life as much as you can.

Good luck Dorothy! And, remember, being in the fight for self-improvement matters at least as much as the outcome.

Manufacture Joy: Focus on Gratitude

Continuing on with this holiday series, I will next review the technique of using gratitude. (This is related, but different, from the technique of writing a gratitude letter that I covered earlier in an individual and a family exercise.) When you are feeling grateful you are probably not feeling sad, worried or angry. You are also less likely to be taking people and circumstances for granted. There are a number of techniques you can use to pull this off. Below are six to get you started.

• Keep a gratitude journal. Pick either a day a week, or a time of the day, to write down that for which feel grateful. If in doubt regarding which practice would be a better fit for you, make entries into the journal once a week. Write down simple pleasures (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping, the taste of a sweet piece of fruit, a smile you received), bigger events (e.g., getting a raise, celebrating a birthday, taking a great vacation) and anything in-between (a fun date night, your kid getting a good grade on a test, seeing a funny movie). Not only does this practice focus your mind on uplifting events but, over time, you create documentation of all that which is working well in your life, facilitating a sense of deep meaning and satisfaction. This practice also keeps you from becoming like Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life, needing a miraculous divine intervention in order to appreciate the value of your life.

• Use gratitude as a coping thought. What behavior would you next do if you put on a pair of pants you hadn’t worn in a long time and, upon zipping them up, they felt so tight that it hurt? If you’re like most, your next move would be to take them off and put on a more comfortable pair (though you might simultaneously swear, promise yourself to eat less ice cream, or commit to joining a gym ;-)). Imagine what a silly image would be cast by someone walking around wearing uncomfortable pants declaring “Ouch, these pants really hurt! Ouch! I can’t believe how much these really hurt.” Yet, this is exactly what we do when we allow a painful thought to remain on our minds when it serves no useful function (i.e., not figuring out a problem or grieving or doing something else useful, but just pommeling us into the ground). So, if you find yourself chewing on a painful thought with no value just STOP, and turn your mind to that for which you feel grateful of late. Try to savor these thoughts for at least as long as you’ve been inclined to fret over useless and painful thoughts.

• Use your time in the shower each morning to reflect upon what you are most grateful for from the day before.  If you shower in the evening, focus on the day’s events.

• Go through photo albums or family videos with an eye towards remembering what you are grateful for about those events. Printing out some of your favorite images and displaying them around your life can add more value.

• Create a list of the top 10 things you are most grateful for about your life. Better yet, agree with your significant other or best friend (or both) to create your lists and share them with each other over a lunch date at a restaurant new to both of you.

• Write one thank you note a week to the person you felt the most gratitude towards that week. (It doesn’t have to be a heaping dose of gratitude.) Moreover, keep some thank you cards on any desk(s) you work at and put a weekly reminder in your electronic or paper appointment thingy to complete this task.

The point of this series, which you can read by scrolling down on my home page from this entry down, is to review some of the techniques that the science of positive psychology suggests we may use to lift our moods and enhance our experiences of meaning. I hope you will decide to give some of these techniques a try. And, if you do, I’d love to hear about the results as such will become part of my gratitude ritual!

Manufacture Joy: Take a Daily Mini Vacation

As part of this holiday series, I’m next covering the strategy of creating mini daily vacations, an idea I’ve adapted from psychologist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity. The idea is to treat yourself with an enjoyable respite from the busyness of your daily life by doing something fun, meaningful or relaxing. Here are two dozen ideas to get you started:
• Rather than work on a project at your desk, take it to a local coffee shop or bookstore, order your favorite drink, and work on it there.
• Have lunch at a restaurant, whether by yourself (reading something fun or interesting) or with a friend.
• Go to a local library and read or listen to something funny or interesting.
• Start a game of chess with a friend, or a stranger, and make a couple of moves each day.
• Go for a walk with an eye towards paying attention to nature.
• More elaborate, but if you can spare a couple of hours, go see a movie.
• Find a quiet space, put on some headphones, and listen to relaxing sounds on a music player (e.g., ocean waves, rain, birds).
• Click around YouTube.com for some funny videos, then forward any treasures to friends (for my top 10 funny parenting videos click here).
• Read a guide book regarding the location of your next vacation, even if it’s far off. If you don’t have a vacation planned, do that instead.
• Click onto some live streaming of a favorite location (an internet search will yield many options, this is just one example).
• Go to a shop that sells your favorite guilty pleasure (e.g., chocolate, baked goods), order something modest, find a quiet spot and eat the treat very slowly with an eye towards savoring every morsel.
• Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hey and to see what’s up.
• Read something regarding your favorite hobby.
• Start a file of affirming things people send you, then, over time, read that.
• Eat your lunch while strolling through a museum.
• Look through a file or scrapbook of photographs.
• Watch parts of one of your favorite TV shows or movies (e.g., take a DVD to work, log onto a video streaming service such as Netflix.com).
• Go for a swim in an indoor pool.
• Go play some sets at a bowling alley during lunch, whether by yourself or with a friend.
• Kick your shoes off, get a good drink or snack and read a few chapters of a good novel.
• Play with a pet.
• Visit a florist and buy a plant for your daytime space.
• Find a quiet place, light a candle and offer your Higher Power prayers of gratitude.
• Plant something.
• Make an agreement with your significant other, or a good friend, to alternate giving each other 10 minute shoulder massages. Alternate days if need be.

I would love to hear your ideas for creating a daily mini-vacation.

Other offerings in this series:

Write a gratitude letter

Perform acts of kindness

Manufacture Joy: Perform Acts of Kindness

This series of blog posts is reviewing what we parents can do to instill more happiness and meaning in our lives. This installment regards performing acts of kindness.

Pick a day of the week–your personal kindness day–and perform three acts of kindness. There are an endless number of possibilities. But, here are two dozen ideas to get you started:

• Leave extra money at a drive through for the person behind  you

• Donate to your local library

• Give blood

• Volunteer time at a local soup kitchen

• Donate clothes you don’t need

• Write a thank you note to the person or people who clean your office

• Send a warming e-card to someone who could use a pick-me-up (a sample free service is here)

• Write a letter of support to a soldier serving overseas (a sample way to do so is  here)

• Leave some money in a book, at a retail store, that regards helping a child with a chronic medical condition;  add a note stating “you’re not alone”

• Let someone who has a hurried look about him or her go ahead of you in a line

• Leave a few bucks at a gas pump with a note: “I’m lowering your price of gas today, a friend”

• Leave a larger than normal tip for some good service you received, with an affirming note

• Point out something someone did with excellence at a group office meeting

• Nominate a teacher for an award, copying the nomination to his or her principal and superintendent (for an example of one opportunity, and there are many, click here)

• Send a letter of thanks to a coach who did well by your child, citing specifics

• Sponsor a child whose family or circumstance is stressful (e.g., for example, click here)

• Volunteer or make a donation to your local animal shelter

• Buy some car wash coupons and stick them in a few random cars at the next sporting event your kid is playing at; attach a note stating “we parents can sometimes use a little support too sometimes.”

• Look for opportunities to put change in people’s meters (just make sure that such isn’t illegal where you are)

• Send a donation to an organization that helps kids with cancer (one such opportunity is here)

• Offer to round trip car pool some kids who are going to the same event you need to take your kid to.

• Offer your partner a foot massage

• Shovel a neighbor’s driveway

• Get up before your partner and make her or him a fresh cup of coffee

Research suggests that the helpers high is real. But, you can do your own research study with yourself by trying this practice. Good luck and, if you get a moment, I’d love hearing your kindness ideas.

Communicating with Teens about STDs

My various jobs call for me to read on a regular basis. However, there is only one book I’ve read that felt so important to my parenting mission that I interrupted my own reading of it and asked for my two teenagers to read the first chapter. That book is Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs by family practitioner Jill Grimes, M.D.

The national survey data on youth sexual behaviors indicate that teens frequently have sex, and in ways that put themselves and their partners at risk. For instance, the CDC’s most recent edition of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, indicates that 46% of high school students have had sexual intercourse (African-American youths reported the highest rates at 65%), with 34% reporting that they are sexually active and 14% indicating that they have had sexual intercourse with four or more different partners. Moreover, 39% of teens reported that they did not use a condom the last time they had intercourse, though 22% did use drugs or alcohol.

The results of these behaviors can range from unwanted pregnancies (e.g., according to the CDC there were 409,840 infants born to girls ages 14-19 in 2009) to the contraction of a (sometimes life-long) sexually transmitted disease (e.g., quoting from Dr. Grimes’ book: “Estimates vary, but between 50 and 90% of adults have oral herpes by age 50…25% of adults have genital herpes, but up to 90% of them are unaware of it.”) I do my teen no favor if I think that she or he could never be one of these statistics.

Giving teens real life stories of peers and young adults suffering from STDs can be one effective way of reaching them about these matters, especially when those stories poignantly review the long term, embarrassing and inconvenient realities that can follow from even a brief lapse. That is what makes this book so important. The stories are effectively organized by type of STD and include facts about each disease at the end of each chapter; the reviews of the book have also been stellar (e.g., see amazon.com). I encourage you to review it yourself and see whether you might want to recommend it for your teen (or older) child. (Please also stay tuned to this blog as Dr. Grimes will be doing a guest entry for us sometime later this month or early next month.)

Happy People Live Longer & Have Better Health

Earlier this year researchers Drs. Ed Diener and Micaela Chan published a comprehensive review of the scientific literature examining the association between subjective well being (SWB; the research term for happiness), longevity (as in length of time someone is alive) and health. To get an electronic reprint of the study click here. In this blog entry I will summarize some of their findings and suggest one evidence based strategy to promote happiness.

In considering the positive and significant association between longevity and SWB the researchers reviewed 26 longitudinal studies (a study that follows subjects over an extended period of time, usually decades). These studies cumulatively examined 316,911 individuals. In the “Take-Home Message” portion of the article the researchers write: “If high SWB adds 4 to 10 years to life compared to low SWB, this is an outcome worthy of national attention.”

In considering the positive and significant association between health and SWB the researchers reviewed 17 longitudinal studies; these studies cumulatively studied 121,096 people. Quoting the researchers: “…moods and emotions are consistently…associated with…blood pressure, cortisol, and inflammation, as well as indicators of disease such as artery wall thickening…(this) occurs in addition to the effects of negative feelings and depression, suggesting that positive affect may have distinctive biological correlates that can benefit health.”

There are many things adults can do to promote happiness. For instance, in an earlier blog entry I described a family exercise involving writing gratitude letters. Another strategy is to practice acts of kindness as the “helper’s high” is scientifically validated phenomenon. To do this make one day a week your kindness day (maybe one that has traditionally been a struggle). Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

• Write a thank you note to a person who cleans a space that you routinely traverse.

• Leave some money at a drive through for the customer behind you.

• Take out an add in a local newspaper recognizing a teacher’s excellent service.

• Stick a couple of movie passes in a package of diapers at your local grocery store with a note “I know it’s tiring to take care of a baby. Please use these to lighten the load some night. A friend who has been there.”

• Spend an hour volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

• Put coins in strangers’ meter that looks like it could use it.

• Give blood.

• Invite someone with young kids with her or him to cut you in line at the grocery store.

• Leave a note of appreciation for your mail carrier’s service.

• Bring a box of baked goods in for the office at your child’s school.

I review other ideas for acts of kindness in my book Working Parents,
Thriving Families: 10 Strategies that Make a Difference
. I’d also very much like to hear ideas from you, my reader 😉

Where Are Your Wells of Wisdom?

I’ve been doing psychotherapy continuously for the past 24 years. In this time I’ve come to think of each person’s psyche as a cottage in a forest. My client–which can be a family or an individual–and I initially collaborate on an assessment of whether the cottage needs repairs or remodeling. If so, we partner, guided by science, and do that. This kind of work on cottages has characterized the lion’s share of my career. However, it has recently dawned on me that most people (and perhaps even all) have wells of wisdom located around their cottages. When they access these wells they can usually figure out how to proceed when life gets complicated, stressed or confusing.

Some clients know where their wells are without my help. I can see the paths they’ve worn from their cottage to their wells. When thirsty, they go to their wells without much thought, just like someone might make a daily commute without much thought; such people make many decisions in a way that promotes love and self-actualization. However, I find that most of my clients do not know about the existence of their wells, never mind how to access them. Therefore, one of my jobs, as their therapist, is to help them both to find their wisdom and to get in the habit of accessing it.

Let me give a few examples, keeping in mind that people differ regarding where their wells are located.

One person I knew could access her wisdom by imagining how she would look upon a given decision from the context of her deathbed. The gift of death to the living is perspective. Realizing this my client would wonder how her deathbed self would wish for her to proceed when she was facing a difficult decision or a complicated situation. This allowed her to be wise, even if her chosen course sometimes brought her into conflict with other here-and-now agenda (e.g., keeping a clean house, defeating someone with whom she was arguing, purchasing a new car).

Another person I knew could access his wisdom by imagining what advice he would give his son if his son, some years later on as an adult, came to face the same dilemma or problem. It was fun watching him go from complete confusion to complete clarity as he traveled from his cottage to this particular well of wisdom.

Another person I knew would imagine what her therapist would say about a particular problem. She had worked with this therapist for about 18 months and found his Buddhist/mindfulness perspective wise and enlightening. As she had internalized his voice, she only had to envision what he would say to find the right course of action when life became difficult.

I now have woven this principle into my practice. Yes, many cottages need repair and remodeling and, as a therapist, I have a valuable role to play in that regard. (I’ve also subjected my own cottage to such work on two occasions.) But, I’ve learned to assume that many people have more wisdom hidden inside themselves than they realize. It only takes finding the well and then remembering to go to it enough so that the journey becomes automatic when thirst arises.

Do you know where your well is? Do you realize how much wisdom you have inside of you? If not, maybe a therapist can help you to discover it. For a referral click here.

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