Tag Teen

When Santa Lives Paycheck-to-Paycheck

Many parents are concerned about how to provide a wonderful holiday experience for their family when money is very tight.  This entry is designed to provide strategies to provide magic on a budget. (Much of this material is discussed from a Christmas perspective, but is easily adapted to other traditions.)

• Kids need and value time with you much, much more than presents. Give decorated coupons for fun activities and trips together (e.g., good for one trip for an ice cream cone, good for one bike ride/walk around a local lake, good for two hours of board game playing, good for one fishing trip, etc.).

• Remember: crisis = pain + opportunity. Yes, it hurts to not have the money to spend on presents to a degree that you are used to. Give that pain its due. But, when you’re done, wonder what opportunities await you and your family because of this pain.

• The magic of the holiday season can be created, expanded and enhanced with very little expenditure of money. For instance:

√ Get a cheap stuffed elf, reindeer or snowman and declare that it is a magical creature that travels to the North Pole each night with a report on how your child behaved that day, only to then return in the morning for a new day of scouting (there is a commercial product that does this titled Elf on the Shelf). Kids love looking for the new location each morning.

√ Encourage your child to write letters to Santa as often as he or she likes, asking questions throughout (e.g., what is Mrs. Claus’ favorite desert? What do you do when the reindeer get into arguments?) Tell them Santa wants to get to know her or him as a person so the letters should not just be about requests for presents. Then, put the letter(s) in your outgoing mail receptacle, or tape them on your door (make sure to use Santa’s address and a “magic stamp,” which can be a sticker of your choosing that you make magical by dipping it three times in reindeer food, which can be oatmeal in a pouch); later swap out the letter with a return letter from Santa.

√ Buy another cheap stuffed creature and leave it for your child, with a letter from Santa, declaring that it is a magical being that gets warmer whenever Santa is in the vicinity. Practices such as this can cause bigger pupil dilation than many presents.

√ Arrange for your family to give service to others. Many churches, soup kitchens, and charitable agencies could find something helpful for your family to do. These kinds of experiences can create a degree of warmth and magic that no present can touch.

√ Check out the website www.noradsanta.org, especially on Christmas Eve (they offer regular video updates of Santa’s travel around the globe).

√ Establish as many joyful rituals as you can: sing holiday songs at home, bake cookies from scratch, create photo montages, join a group that travels from house-to-house singing carols, make holiday decorations, offer to help your local town or church decorate, and so forth.

When it comes to actually buying presents, consider the following:

• You can get more bang for your buck at discount and dollar stores. The visual image of lots of wrapped presents, each of which can be very modest in cost, can help to create that response I know many of we parents want from our kids when they first look under the tree.

• Use websites that compare the pricing of a wide assortment of retailers (e.g., www.pronto.com, www.pricegrabber.com). Also, be sure to do an internet search for coupons for the retailer you have chosen.

• Lots of families chase the hottest, current generation of electronics. This means that the reseller market (e.g., as found in this newspaper, on ebay, and on craigslist) is often jammed with opportunities to purchase the previous generation(s) at slashed prices.

• Look for sellers who offer refurbished items, or ask retailers if they have floor models or open box items they are willing to sell at discounted prices.

When all is said and done try to avoid sacrificing your wellness on the altar of commercialism. Your child benefits much more from you being well than from some gizmo that will lose it’s charm after a short period of time. Moreover, no research exists, as far as I know, that correlates child happiness and wellness with the amount of money spent on a kid’s presents. But, plenty of research associates child wellness and happiness with the quality of the parent-child relationship, the presence of enjoyable rituals in the family’s life and the wellness of the parent(s). As the poet e.e. cummings noted, the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. Money is not required to enjoy this wonder and magic, even during the holidays.

Ten Tips For Getting the Most out of Family Vacations

Ever feel stressed by a family vacation? This can be very surprising when it happens as we think of vacations as the antidote for stress, not the cause of it. In order to increase the odds that you will get the intended results from your next family vacation, consider the following 10 thoughts:

  1. Savor the moment. Ask yourself, “where’s the beauty in this moment?” Is it in the expression on your child’s face? Is it in the colors of the landscape? Is it in the skill being brought to bear by someone serving you? It’s so easy to rush past beauty and precious moments and to not notice them. As you focus your attention only in the here-and-now, try to do only that and breathe gently into your lower stomach. Observe the peace and contentment that grows within you.
  2. Appreciate that some things just about always don’t go as planned and that such moments offer opportunities.  That is, crisis = pain + opportunity. I’ve never known of a vacation that went exactly as planned. When flights are delayed, or its rainy out, or you don’t get the seating you wanted or someone gets sick, acknowledge that pain as you would a guest in your home. But, then look for the opportunity that pain always brings with it, and try to capitalize on that. Doing so models wisdom for your children.
  3. Love matters more than everything else. We parent-lunatics (see the first post in this blog) want so much to give our children the best of everything, including the best vacations. This is a natural and normal impulse. However,  so often what our children most need from us is to be connected. So, try to grab those moments on your vacation that allow your relationship with your child to grow. (Such moments are often cheaper anyway!)
  4. Stress happens. Our bodies are stressed when we experience bountiful pain and bountiful joy; while the former is obvious the latter can surprise us. How many families are surprised when a wedding, a family reunion, a baptism, or, in this case, a family vacation brings with it grouchiness or arguments or other kinds of relationship ruptures and challenges? When these sorts of things happen in painful moments we usually understand what is going on. But, when they happen during a family vacation, especially when a lot of time and resources have been brought to bear to make it happen, it’s easy to become disgusted with  family members for what seems to be their selfishness and lack of appreciation. Instead, try to remember that such moments are usually inevitable and that they can be minimized if everyone both realizes that and also tries to get healthy doses of sleep, nutritious food and physical activity during the vacation.
  5. Contemplate goals. Ask yourself what realistic goals this vacation can accomplish. If I tell myself, either consciously or unconsciously, that I expect my pliers to be able to cut down a tree, I will suffer disappointment or worse. If I try to use a vacation to correct a major family problem, to engender a significant upgrade in the harmony in my family life or to cause family members to love and to appreciate me more, I may end up very disappointed and hurt. However, if I tell myself that the goals are to appreciate and enjoy whatever moments come our way and the presence of my family in my life, I may end up feeling fulfilled and peaceful.
  6. Avoid rushing. “Let’s go we must be there 30 minutes early!!” “C’mon we’ll miss the appetizers!!” “If we’re not there in 15 minutes they’ll start without us!!” When we’ve paid a lot of money, and invested a lot of time planning, it’s so easy to treat a vacation like it is a hill to be charged: bayonets attached, troops organized and people on the receiving end in trouble! And, participants, including the one(s) barking orders, often feel more like they are engaged in battle than a vacation. If a given activity is very important to be at on time, try to give yourself sufficient time so that no one has to rush. If rushing becomes necessary, take a poll among the family regarding which they would rather do: rush, be late, or do something else. This way if there is a decision to rush at least the soldiers will feel less like they are being pushed.
  7. Avoid creating future stress. It’s so easy to spend money I don’t have because I tell myself that doing so will give my kids things or experiences that will be meaningful to them. However, if I do this spending in a way that compromises my future wellness, then there may be less of me available to my children when we return home (e.g., I have to work more, or I’m more tense, or I have more need to unwind with alcohol to manage my financial worries) and ultimately the scales tip more towards my children being stressed than benefited.
  8. Experiment with the path less traveled. When on such paths it can sometimes be easier to connect with each other and to have unique experiences. Try safe activities that either the crowds don’t do (e.g., swimming in the ocean when it’s raining, going to a restaurant off the tourist circuit) or which are a departure from your usual behavior (e.g., get a temporary tattoo, dance like no one is watching, volunteer to do a karaoke number). Then, really try to savor these moments.
  9. Begin your vacation before you leave. Anticipation can be so much fun, especially if it is shared. The internet, bookstores and libraries abounds with resources. Engage willing family members in this anticipation.
  10. Continue your vacation after you return. Every true benefit that can be garnered when at a vacation site can be garnered at home: good food, good fun, good relationships, fun activities, etc. are all available to all of us with sufficient creativity and persistence. In other words, there is no kind of brain activity that Paris can create that Toledo can’t.

By the way, if you had access to a time machine, you could go back in time and see me making just about all of the mistakes suggested by this article: I can still see myself acting like a general at Walt Disney World, treating the Unofficial Guide like a master battle plan! So, if you fall prey to performance problems when on your vacation, you’re in a huge club (i.e.,  those of us who sometimes act like Clark Griswold when on a family vacation). So the 11th suggestion is to cut yourself some slack in these moments: you’re trying the best you can and no angel in heaven means better.

Related post: Five Tips for Keeping Long Car Trips From Becoming Hell on Earth

Five Tips for Keeping Long Car Trips From Becoming Hell on Earth

Many of us take longer than usual car trips in the summer time. The starting point for keeping a car trip from becoming hellish is to determine if the length and nature of the trip is likely to leave your child, or children, regressing (i.e., annoying the heck out of you). If yes, consider these five tips.

Tip #1: set up a reward program. I once saw a documentary of a family that had to drive from Manhattan to Orlando. The parents gave each child $250 to spend on their vacation; however, they told their children that they would deduct $10 for each argument. By the time they reached Virginia the kids were bankrupt and the parents were ready to put them up for adoption. A better approach would have been to divide the total mileage (or the total estimated time in the car) by $250 and to give the each child that amount of money for each period of time they went without a fight. So, in this example, each mile driven without an argument could have earned .25¢. Keep in mind that there are many other kinds of rewards (e.g., experiences on the vacation, choices in dining along the way, access to electronic pleasures in the automobile, etc.). The idea is to describe the desired behavior and what is earned by hitting the mark.

Tip #2: build in entertainment. Being entertained makes the time fly. I’d suggest alternating activities and electronics. There are many kinds of family activities: license plate games, everyone describes the top five things they’d want the family to do if you won the lottery with a prize to the person with the best voted idea (no one can vote for their own idea), everyone says what they are most looking forward to about the upcoming vacation, and so forth This helps to make the drive a part of the pleasant memories and not just something that has to be endured. Electronics can also be shared either by everyone (e.g., an audio book that everyone is interested in) or parts of the family (DVDs). Keep in mind that most portable music players contain both the capacity to have audio books loaded onto them (e.g., through iTunes) and to be played through a car’s audio system (e.g., by purchasing a device that plugs into the cigarette lighter; for instance see http://www.belkin.com).

Tip #3: build in stops that rejuvenate everyone. A part of effective pre-trip happy hispanic familyplanning is to find interesting and low key experiences to have a long the way. This can be as simple as determining where the best of a certain type of food in a state can be found (e.g., ice cream, steak), or where the best place to take pictures might be. A stressed kid (and parent) is much more likely to act out. We all do well to heed the counsel of movie character Dirty Harry: “A man has got to know his limitations.”

Tip #4: try to have realistic expectations. Major family trips are something that we usually plan for, and look forward to, for a long time. This can make us like Clark Griswold in the Family Vacation movies: full of idealistic expectations that defy our family’s capacities. No matter how prepared we are every family member is likely to get grouchy and snappish from time-to-time. Just consider this to be the psychological equivalent of dust mites. Yeah, it’d be nice to be rid of ‘em but such is just part of life on planet earth.

Tip #5: If the long car trip is a return from a vacation, try to plan something to look forward to after arriving back home. As much as it can feel comforting to return to one’s home and routine, it can be a let down to go from Disney World to main street. And, if there is nothing to look forward to on the drive home, everyone’s vulnerabilities may be even higher. So, it can be nice to have something fun arranged for the weekend after one returns home, as long as such isn’t unduly taxing.

Related blog entry: 10 Steps for Reducing Stress During a Family Vacation

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.

Four Holiday Stress Busters for Parents

Of course, the holidays are quite stressful, even as they offer us joy. There is less light. The weather is colder. Your life’s circumstances may not be in concert with a “joy to the world” message (e.g., you’ve suffered a recent loss, your child is ill). You may be faced with having to interact more with people with whom you have less than a peaceful relationship. There is a lot of hustling and bustling and, of course, financial pressures often mount. So, I’d like to review a few stress busters. I’m not going to cover obvious ones such as maintaining a good diet (avoiding processed foods and intoxication and eating fruits, veggies, Omega-3, etc.), getting enough sleep (8-9 hours/night) or getting enough physical activity (as one clinician put it, get some physical activity on any day that you eat). Instead I’d like to cover a few that may be less in the front of your mind. I’ll first review a common trap and then suggest one potential antidote.

Trap #1: To overspend

Antidote: Focus on relationships

Discussion: At some point in time it got embedded in our collective parental psyches that acquiring a lot of expensive stuff for our kids is the way to give them a magical holiday experience. And, if we don’t, we guilt ourselves with the notion that we may be depriving our kids. However, our research indicates that shared positive experiences with us is much, much more important to our kids’ happiness. For many years I’ve been asking people, up and down the age spectrum, for their best and worse memories. I can’t remember the last time someone told me that a best memory was the acquisition of some expensive thing. But, I’ve had countless people recount a family ritual or interpersonal moment as a best memory. For some ideas on ways to promote holiday magic, mystery and meaning for your kids, on pocket change, click here.

Trap #2: Act like you don’t have limitations

Antidote: Kind declines

Discussion: We know that our possessions all have their limitations and we are not surprised when our things break if we ignore those limitations. Many of us are also aware of our kids’ limits and likewise try to not exceed them. However, we often act like we are the only humans on the planet who don’t have limits. We work, serve, transport, host, donate, wrap, bake, cheat sleep and pin-ball around creation like frenetic hamsters on crack. On a related note, it is interesting to me that when I suggest to parents that one way to become more fulfilled and happy is to love more effectively many will respond with things like “how can I be expected to give more?!” Or,” My veins are empty doctor so I have no more to give!” However, this may be more of a western, industrialized bias as many other traditions realize that loving and cherishing oneself goes hand-in-hand with loving others. Sometimes one of the most loving things we can do for those around us is to realize our limitations and graciously decline invitations and pleas for us to exceed those limits.

Trap #3: Letting one’s mind or body be tense for extended periods of time

Antidote: Daily calming

Discussion: I don’t know how much the Dali Lama would be willing to participate in the crazy busy lifestyle many of us lead during the holidays. But, if he did, even he’d likely experience a tense body and mind. When our minds and/or bodies remain in a tense state for extended periods of time we become more susceptible to an assortment of physical and psychological symptoms (e.g., headaches, irritability, stomach pain, sadness, worsening of illnesses, anxiety). One way to combat this is to create a daily practice of calming ourselves and focusing just on the moment before us in a non-judgmental way. Some sample ways of doing this include starting a meditation practice (e.g., click here), using biofeedback strategies (e.g., for a device you can purchase click here), doing a pleasing and relaxing activity that limits our focus (e.g., knitting, going for a walk in nature) or just trying to sit still and quiet for a few minutes (e.g., click here). Even 10 minutes a day portends to offer dividends over time.

Trap #4: Maintaining unrealistic expectations

Antidote: Acceptance

Discussion: Despite years of experience that would suggest the value in throttling down our expectations, many of us go into the holidays expecting to engineer heaven on earth for ourselves and others. As the old saying goes “people make plans and God chuckles.” I think its fine to make plans, and even ambitious ones (as long as the previous traps are avoided). However, we do well to accept whatever comes along knowing that obstacles, surprises and changes are woven into the fabric of our lives. (To read more about how this antidote applies to holiday meals with family, click here.)

Here’s wishing for a meaningful holiday season for you and those you love. And, if you have other ideas for holiday stress busters I’m very interested to learn about them.

Seven Tips for Coping with Homework Hell

So, the first quarter report cards have come home. If you’re fortunate your progeny has done well. Otherwise, you may be wondering if the homework hell you’re experiencing has anything to do with the lower than expected grades. Here ere are seven tips to help.

• Tip #1: incentivize effective homework completion. First define what effective homework completion means (e.g., a certain amount of time legitimately exerted without hassling anyone). Then establish what reward your child will earn by effectively completing the homework. The more problematic the behavior the bigger the incentive and the more it should follow immediately upon homework completion. For instance, if Aiden lives for his X-box One, that might be earned by completing homework effectively each night. Be careful to put this as a reward, instead of a punishment. Xbox is earned, or not earned, not taken away. After so many days of effective homework completion Aiden might be allowed to earn a bonus (e.g., a new X-box game).

• Tip #2: Consider an excessive violation of the 10-minute guideline to be potentially problematic. Research suggests that there is often a diminishing academic return when students spend more than 10 minutes a night on homework times their grade in school (i.e., a 5th grader spending 50 minutes, a 7th grader, 70, and so forth). If your child is spending much more time than this consider tips #3 and #7. (NB: if your child is a high school student taking honors and/or advanced placement classes, this guideline will probably not apply. However, if the report card is suggesting that there are problems, perhaps take this question to an expert–see tip #7)

• Tip #3: Consult with your child’s teachers when homework is problematic. For instance, your child’s teacher(s) may not realize that your child is spending an excessive amount of time completing homework, especially in the middle school years and onward (i.e., teachers may not be coordinating their expectations). For example, asking your child’s teacher(s) what he/she/they believe is a reasonable amount of time to spend on homework each night can begin a productive dialogue.

• Tip #4: Try to avoid getting hung up on methods if the goal is being reached. Sometimes we parents try to over control how our child does his or her homework without considering whether or not he or she might get it done well using his or her preferred method(s). Some kids like music on, or to do homework on a bed, etc. As long as the homework gets completed, that’s okay.

• Tip #5: If your child isn’t being truthful about what the homework is, see if the teachers put the homework online. If the homework isn’t online, or a given teacher is spotty about compliance, add a communication system from school to home. This daily communication should include the grades that were returned that day (if any), the homework for the night and any long term assignments that are due; you might also add a report on any behaviors that might be of concern (e.g., treating peers with respect). Compliance with this system should also be incentivized. (This can be a complicated system, so see my parenting book for a step-by-step break down of the how-tos.)

• Tip #6:If you can afford this, and your child needs it, consider hiring a tutor to help with homework (not to do the homework, but to help with it). There are many well trained educators looking to do such work; you might also get names for tutors from your child’s school or PTA.

Tip #7: If your child is working at it, but floundering, consult with a child psychologist. It may be that your child has a learning disability or a psychological obstacle that is at play (e.g., a mood problem that s/he has been keeping from you). A skilled child psychologist can get to the bottom of things and suggest an effective remedial plan. For a referral, click here.

 

Regarding Stress and Stress Coping: Adults and Teens Look A Lot Alike

teen girl pushing hand to headThe American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey came out this week. Since 2007, APA has conducted a national survey of the stress American’s experience. This year’s survey places a special focus on teenagers. The full report can be found here. Below are some key assertions and the data points within the survey that support them.

Like adults, teens feel overwhelmed by stress

• On a 10-point scale, teens report that ≤ 3.9 is a healthy amount of stress. However, they rate their stress to be a 5.8 during the school year and a 4.6 during the summer.

• The following is true of 1 out of 3 teens: they report that their stress has increased in the past year, they expect their stress will increase in the next year and they feel overwhelmed.

• Teens reported that one out of four of them feel stress at the highest levels (an 8, 9 or a 10 on the 10 point scale) during the school year.

• Adults report that ≤ 3.6, on the same 10-point scale, represents a healthy level of stress. However, they report their stress averages a 5.1. Moreover, 37% of adults report feeling overwhelmed in the past month, 1 out of 3 believe that stress is having a strong impact on their physical and mental health and 84% report that their stress stayed the same or increased in the past year.

Teens worry about the same sorts of things as adultscharacter burdoned by books

Both teens and adults report worrying the most about their vocational lives and financial matters. For example, these are the top stresses reported by teens: high school (83%), life after high school (69%), and their family having enough money (65%). For adults the top three stresses are money (71%), work (69%) and the economy (59%). (By the way, the fourth rated stress among teens is balancing their time, at 59%)

Teens experience similar symptoms of stress as adults

• Only 41% of teens report that they handle stress well, compared to 35% of adults.

• The top symptoms teens report experiencing secondary to stress are irritability (40%), anxiety (36%), fatigue (36%) and insomnia (35%). This is very similar to the profile reported by adults: irritability (41%), lack of energy or motivation (39%), anxiety (37%) and feeling overwhelmed (37%). (It’s also telling that 51% percent of teens report that someone tells them they seem stressed on at least a monthly basis.)

Teens commonly use the same poor coping strategies as adults

teen video game playing•The following are some of the top strategies for responding to stress that are traditionally ill advised, at least if used as a lead strategy: playing video games (46%), going online (43%), and watching TV or movies (36%).

• Teens report some behavioral responses to stress that also increase the risk of poor stress coping: eating unhealthy foods (26%), skipping meals (23%) and neglecting school (21%). Moreover, half of teens who report being under high levels of stress indicate that they don’t get enough sleep.

Tell me how teens’ potentially maladaptive responses to stress compare to adults’ (i.e., what follows in the next four lines are adult numbers):

√ 62% use screen time to manage stress (42% watch ≥ 2 hours a day of TV)

√ 17% exercise daily; 39% skipped physical activity because of stress

√ 38% have overeaten to manage stress; 30% skipped a meal because of stress

√ average 6.7 hours sleep/night; 20% report that their sleep is sound

• Moreover, these trends seem to be even more true among parents. That is parents, as compared to non-parents, report higher rates of eating unhealthy foods due to stress and sleep disturbance.

Stress management strategies work!

• Teens who are physically active report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who soccer character, coolexercise ≥ 1/week report at average stress level of 4.4–on the 10 point scale mentioned above– compared to 5.1 for those who don’t engage in that much physical activity).

• Teens whose body size is within expected ranges report lower levels of stress (i.e., those with a BMI of 18-24 report a 4.4 stress level, while those with a BMI ≥ 25 report a 5.2.).

• Teens who get healthier doses of sleep report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who sleep ≥ 8 hours a night report being at a 5.2 while those who sleep less indicate they are at a 6.5).

• Teens who report higher stress levels also report engaging in more sedentary behaviors than those who report lower levels of stress (e.g., 54% versus 24% surf the net to manage stress).

Take home messages

I have three take home messages this week:

missing puzzle piece#1: Parenting from the cross sucks. When our kids show needs (and when don’t they?), we tend to act like we have none; over time, this reeks havoc on us and them. (This is why self and relationship care is one of the 10 science-based parenting strategies I stress in my parenting book).

#2: There are plenty of things we parent-lunatics can do to promote stress management in our teens. For my top nine, see the blog entry I guest wrote on APA’s blog.

#3: Why suffer needlessly? Let’s treat ours and our kid’s mental health as we do ours and our kids’ dental health whenever there is a complication: see a pro. For a list of referral databases, click here.

Disciplining a College Student Who Comes Home

attractive college student sittingA reader suggested this topic (I love such requests). Before I get to some suggestions, let me say that I’m basing this column exclusively on my clinical experience and intuition. With that caveat in mind, here are 10 suggestions to consider in regards to disciplining your college student who has come home for a visit.

  1. Figure out what is not okay with you and let your college student know about that before he or she arrives home (e.g., having a love interest share his or her bedroom, anything that’s illegal).
  2. With the exception of matters reviewed in the previous tip, try to not legislate behaviors that you can’t legislate while your college student is away (e.g., how much s/he studies, whether or not s/he goes to religious services, how much exercise s/he gets, what s/he eats). At this point in the game it’s unlikely your efforts will influence your college student’s attitude or behaviors very much; it’s more likely that you’ll create tension between you. Plus, I bet your college student would score high on a multiple-choice test regarding your attitudes on such topics.
  3. If you have to make points that might not be welcomed, try to do so by asking questions instead of making statements. For example, “I know you said you haven’t been doing well in math. What do you think the pros and cons would be of going to talk to the professor during office hours?”
  4. Try not to get your feelings hurt when your college student prioritizes 2 happy teens, african-americanhanging out with friends over spending time with you. It’s normative for him or her to want to do that. (If you have some special event you want him or her to attend, provide as much advance notice as possible.)
  5. When you are communicating focus on listening, providing empathy and offering specific and proportionate positive feedback. S/he may act like this doesn’t matter, but it usually matters a lot.
  6. Ask for your college student’s advice and opinions and be open to his or her wisdom.
  7. lesbian couple27. Let your young adult know that you’re available to talk about anything and that you don’t plan to be intrusive or nosy.
  8. 8. This goes for year round: take advantage of texting. Your college student may be more use to communicating through this method than others. Many parents of teens and young adults report that their progeny seem more open when texting than when communicating through other venues.
  9. The only reasonable punishments you probably have available to you involve not allowing access to those luxuries, services or resources that you provide (e.g., your car, the cell phone plan you pay for, a stipend you provide). If you believe your teen is at risk for violating the primary rules you’ve established in #1 above, let him or her know that access to such and so is contingent upon his or her compliance with this or that (e.g., access to your vehicle during week #2 is contingent upon using it responsibly during week #1). It’s important to establish this up front with a young adult (i.e., imagine how you’d want to be treated, and not treated, by a boss).
  10. If conflict between you and your adult child has become a regular part mom and kidof your relationship (e.g., s/he is squandering tuition monies by dialing it in at school), use the time at home to schedule a consultation with a skilled family therapist. For a referral click here.

In closing I’ll share links to two related blog entries: strategies for when your adult child moves back in with you and an entry on helping college students to get the most out of the academic experience at college.

Good luck!

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.

Why Do We Get So Defensive When Our Kids Complain About Us?

combative momWe parent-lunatics, as much as we are hard on ourselves about our parenting mistakes, can be remarkably defensive when our kids come to us with a complaint about the same. The purpose of this entry is to consider possible causes for this dynamic and to suggest some coping strategies.

Possible Causes

• We love our kids to a degree that is indescribable. I suspect there is part of us that believes that if they totally got this they’d cut us more slack. And, when they don’t, we imagine they are missing how much they mean to us.

• We bust our tails in service to our kids and we (perhaps unconsciously) believe that if they truly recognized that that they’d be more often keep their complaints to themselves. It’s almost like we voluntarily paved our driveway for a neighbor (and received only a brief “thanks” for the service). But then, when we walk on our neighbor’s lawn to retrieve a newspaper, get yelled at for damaging the grass. Yeah, we’ve committed an affront. But, the scolding seems to be missing the big picture!

• We often do better than was done for us by our parents. So, we want out kids working dadto say something like “Father, I so much appreciate that you had it tougher than me when you were growing up and are putting so much effort into rising above that and selflessly and graciously giving me a better childhood.” In these moments we forget that it’s more likely the family dog will sing the Star Spangled Banner.

• Our kids are WAY more self-entitled, irrational, ungrateful and unfair in their treatment of us than the other way around. So, when they come to us with their grievances we want to take out the scales of justice and do some objective analysis.

Coping Strategies

• The first thing is to give your child permission to complain and to express anger. This is not the same thing as allowing cursing or abusive language. But, creating a household where it’s safe to express such thoughts and feelings goes a long way to promoting your child’s long-term wellness and interpersonal skills.

blocking out stimuli• We all do well to remember that our children are exactly that: children. In other words, if your child’s brain was placed into a fully grown adult’s body, and a full battery of neuroimaging and neuropsychological were tests completed, the conclusion would likely be that brain damage exists.

• Sometimes when our self-care is out of balance it’s easy to look to our children to meet our needs. This leaves us vulnerable to overreacting to complaints (i.e., the outlet for my needs being met is being challenged). It’s probably better to make a plan to get some consistent “me” or “us” (i.e., parents) time.

• Taking a deep breath and keeping things in perspective is helpful. Research suggests that our kids make less out of our conflicts than we do. When our kids come to us with lamentations about our parenting we can be more devastated, and think there is something much more wrong, than our kids do.

• Use empathy as much as possible. Just letting your kid know that you dadandsonunderstand what he or she is thinking and feeling can be very helpful. And, to be empathic with a position is not the same as to agree with it. It just lets your child know that you’ve heard and understand him or her, and that means a lot.

• This is the hardest part, but agreeing with any good points that your kid makes is very important to do. This will make it more likely that he or she won’t lie to you (i.e., what’s the good of bringing arguments to the bench if one never wins), models effective conflict resolution skills and strengthens your bond.

• Oh, and it’s probably not a good idea to expect much gratitude as long as your child has brain damage (see above). I know that’s very, very difficult given how selfless and gruelingly difficult parenting can be. But, we can always hope that this will come later, maybe after were dead, but at some point 😉

I’ll conclude by noting that the more years I get under my belt as a parent the more I have an empathic joining with one aspect of grandparenting. I CAN’T WAIT to see my kids in my shoes and to then go home to my childless residence! What’s that line about he who laughs last??

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