Tag teenagers

Ten Tips for When Your Teen Says, “I hate you!”

angry male hand upI remember when my eldest was in preschool and the delight we both took in being reunited at the end of each day. At the time I shared my bliss with a graduate student. This student, who had two teenagers, responded with “yeah, but wait ‘till she’s a teen.” I remember feeling nonplussed by that remark. While the available science and my clinical experience were both consistent with my grad student’s remark, I thought this would not happen to me…not only has it happened multiple times, but it has happened with both of my teenagers. And, my third child will hit adolescence in a few months, leaving me looking at want adds for oil rig work in the North Atlantic.

So, my fellow parent-lunatic, here are the things I try to do, at least when I’m acting with intention, when one of my teen says some version of “I hate you!”

Tip #1: Reflect on the resilience formula: crisis = pain + opportunity. You’re crisis opportunityfeeling the pain. Now, where is the opportunity? (My own experience is that the dosing of opportunity is usually higher than the dosing of the pain.)

Tip #2: Take a deep breath and keep things in perspective. This is a normative experience. (Those of you who have raised a teenager, and have not experienced this, should probably keep that to yourself, lest the rest of us kick you off the island!) Your teen’s brain is still developing, especially in regards to those parts that will end up defining his or her most mature self. Moreover, sometimes you hear this because you’re doing right by your teen (e.g., doing effective monitoring) and s/he will be grateful later (probably not until after your dead though).

Tip #3: Realize that yours and your teen’s experience of the conflict may be different. Research suggests that these sorts of conflicts bother we parent-lunatics more than they bother our kids. Ever have your teen go off on you and then act like zero happened a few hours later, or the next day? Our teens often look upon these conflicts as being less significant than we do.

Tip #4: Spend at least one hour a week each week doing special time. I’ve written extensively about this within this blwork-life balanceg and my parenting book. This is my top resilience promoting parenting strategy.

Tip #5: Use other wise parents as a sounding board. The three criteria I use for my sounding boards are: (a) the person is experienced and knowledgeable about the problem or issues at hand, (b) the person is willing to disagree with me and (c) the person feels kindly towards me. This discussion can help you to find your perspective and feel more confident about moving forward with your teen. Of course, if you can partner with your spouse all the better (my wife is my go-to gut check person in these instances).

Tip #6: Be selective about your psychological autopsies (i.e., following up later teen rolling eyeson what was said). A simple “I hate you!” Or, “you suck as a parent!” followed by the classic storm off and door slam, may not be worth following up on. Sometimes the gift we give our teen is allowing him or her to blow off steam without it ending up being a thing.

Tip #7: Wait until everyone’s brain is back online before doing a psychological autopsy. Sometimes your teen might say some things in the middle of one of these rants that is very hurtful or which gives you information you believe you need to follow up on. In these instances wait until you’re both calm and rested in order to proceed. This allows for everyone to have all IQ points on deck for what could be a difficult discussion.

Tip #8: When doing a psychological autopsy get your teen’s perspective first, and offer empathy (which can be done even when you disagree); stay there until your teen is vetted, unless you find yourself getting too upset (in which case you may want to stop and come back later). This can be gruelingly difficult to do, but not only will you be modeling an effective communication style, but you will be helping your teen to be more open to your perspective when it’s your turn to share.

child helpmeTip #9: Make sure this isn’t part of a larger problem. Is your teen making similar statements to teachers? Is your teen struggling in his/her social life? Are academics not going well? Does your teen routinely struggle when s/he is asked to do things s/he doesn’t feel like doing?  Is your teen’s mood often disturbed? Does your teen struggle in his/her extracurricular life? Are any of your teen’s regulatory habits disturbed (e.g., sleep)? If the answer to one or more of these questions is  “yes,” then the “I hate you” remarks may be a cry for help.

Tip #10 (readers of this blog can see this one coming a mile away): Err on the side of getting help sooner rather than later. Psychological problems are akin to medical problems in so many ways: they are nearly universal by the time a kid reaches adulthood (about 90%), most of the time they are treatable in a short period of time, they are easier to treat the earlier they are caught and, if they are left unchecked, can cause very stressful and costly consequences. However, unlike medical problems, only about 20% of youth who need evidence-based mental health care get it. Want to be among those parents who don’t make this error of omission? Just click here to get the ball rolling.

So, go forth in peace my fellow parent-lunatic. And, if you can remember exactly why we all signed up for this, would you email me? I’ve forgotten 😉

Seven Myths about ADHD

child trying to get through glassThere are three kinds of ADHD: a child has significant concentration problems but is not significantly hyperactive (ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type), vice versa (ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Type) and both (ADHD, Combined Type). About 75% of kids with ADHD have ADHD, Combined Type while the large majority of the rest have the inattentive type.  Below are seven common myths about ADHD. Following those I list core guidelines for evaluation and treatment.

Myth: ADHD is not a real disorder. This is akin to saying that diabetes isn’t a real disorder or asthma isn’t a real disorder. To my knowledge, no reputable scientist or professional organization subscribes to this position. About four to six percent of youth suffer from this biological disorder. Studies of the brain indicate that these youth show poor functioning in the parts of the brain responsible for impulse control and sustained attention to boring tasks.

Myth: ADHD, Combined Type can be caused by poor parenting or being upset male college studentraised in adverse circumstances. While significant attentional problems can be caused by an assortment of problems (e.g., trauma, depression, anxiety), the degree of sustained hyperactivity required to diagnose ADHD is usually not caused by environmental stresses (I say “generally” as even a broken clock is right twice a day, but I’ve never seen a case like this or read about a case like this). ADHD is a biological disorder caused by either genetic transmission (i.e., it runs in the family) or significant insult to the brain (e.g., mom smoking cigarettes during pregnancy).

Myth: ADHD is caused by what a child ingests. Certainly what a child eats could affect just about any condition. Moreover, correcting an unbalanced diet, or eliminating allergens or toxins, would be part of a helpful treatment plan for just about any disorder. However, nothing that youth put in their mouths has been established as a primary cause of ADHD.

girl paint all over herMyth: A positive response to medication treatment proves that a child has ADHD. Many children will experience improved concentration on low doses of stimulant medication, whether they have ADHD or not. Our culture is replete with examples of people, who do not have ADHD, using stimulants to accomplish some desired effect (e.g., pilots during the Korean war took dexedrine in order to be able to focus better during long bombing runs).

Myth: Youth suffering from ADHD, who are treated with stimulant medication, are at higher risk to develop substance abuse problems as a function of taking the medication. Actually, the exact opposite seems to be more likely: having ADHD, and not receiving effective treatment for it, seems to double to triple the odds of substance abuse in adolescence. Moreover, the number one cause of death and serious injury among teens and young adults are accidents and youth with untreated ADHD are at a much higher risk to experience those.

Myth: ADHD can be treated effectively by enhancing a child’s motivation. defiant boyAs I wear corrective lenses I use the following analogy with my clients: “if I told people I wasn’t willing to wear glasses but was interested in other treatments, they might try to make the light brighter for me, cheer me on, or suggest that I get closer to things I’m reading. However, nothing is going to help nearly as quickly and effectively as my just putting on my glasses. And, my not putting on my glasses could eventually make me think that my problem with reading is a problem with my effort. And, if I go there in my thinking, I’m probably going to make myself very, very upset and sick.”

Myth: People outgrow their ADHD. It is true that a small percentage of youth with ADHD reach the point that their symptoms are not significantly impairing in adulthood (these are usually the milder cases with multiple protective factors at play). So, in that case this myth has some truth to it.  However, testing on those individuals will usually document the lingering presence of the disorder; it’s just not causing impairment anymore, secondary to the protective factors and brain maturation.


Evaluation guidelines

Keep in mind that in order to qualify for an ADHD diagnosis a child must show unusual and impairing inattention (usually to tasks that bore him or her) or hyperactivity/impulsivity at both school and home for a period of at least six months. The common standard for “unusual” is the 93rd percentile (i.e, having the symptom worse than 92% of the youth’s peer group). Moreover, the onset of the first impairing symptom should be before the age of seven and no other viable theory can explain the symptoms that are being demonstrated (i.e., ADHD is a diagnosis by exclusion).

The methodology for determining the presence of the disorder is determined by a cost/benefit analysis. As I consider the myriad of factors at play, I’d suggest the following be the default standard for ADHD evaluations: a family interview, a child/teen interview, the completion of parent, teacher and child–if the child’s reading level is sufficient–behavior rating scales, a comprehensive review of school records and a review of any other relevant records. (The behavior rating scales should include broad-band measures that endeavor to assess for a spectrum of disorders as well as narrow-band measures that try to rule out ADHD specifically.) If one of these elements is missing, I’d worry about the increased odds of an inaccurate finding. If these sources of information leave the diagnosis in doubt, I’d suggest adding a computer based continuous performance test (e.g., the Test of the Variables of Attention). (There is a reasonable argument to be made for including a continuous performance test  in every evaluation for ADHD, so I wouldn’t differ with those clinicians who do.) In instances where a learning disability is suspected, additional cognitive and achievement testing would usually be in order.

anxious teen african-american

Treatment guidelines

The large majority of children with ADHD have at least one other co-occurring condition (e.g., Oppositional Defiant Disorder). The configuration of the co-occurring problems would normally have a substantive impact on an evidence-based treatment plan. However, for ADHD itself, medication is the primary treatment of choice (i.e., the scientific evidence supporting its efficacy is overwhelming). It is also very common to need behavioral treatments, at both school and at home, to augment the primary treatment. As a primary treatment, the following would typically not be indicated: dietary manipulations, chiropractic treatments, play therapy, art therapy, music therapy or basically any interventions that does not have a sound scientific foundation to support its usage as a first line intervention.

For more science-based information on ADHD, consider any of the following websites designed for lay people:

www.chadd.org, www.add.org or www.help4adhd.org

Also, on 12/4/12, from 1 to 2 PM EST, there will be a Twitter chat on ADHD. (I will be one of the panelists.) This will be hosted by Dr. Richard Besser, Chief Medical Editor for ABC news. Just go to #abcDrBchat at that time.

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 ;-).

What To Do When a Crush Dumps Your Teen

We engaged parents feel like we can be no happier than our least happy child. When our kids hurt, it seems like we hurt worse. Our love is a crazy, over-the-top kind of love that makes us lunatics sometimes. While there are probably important evolutionary benefits to our experiencing love to this degree (i.e., upon reflection of the reality in which we find ourselves as a parent, we might otherwise leave our kids at the hospital ;-), there are also disadvantages, unless we are careful. One such situation is when our kids are hurting. Because of the depth of our love we sometimes try to rush in and make the pain go away in ways that either deprive our kids of important outcomes or damage our relationship with them (e.g., see my entry Failure: An Important Part of a Psychologically Healthy Childhood). This entry is designed to help you to avoid both of the latter when your teenager gets dumped by a significant other.

Tip #1: Limit your first response to listening with empathy. This is the hardest part, listening without trying to make your teen’s pain go away. To be subject to a one-way dumping hurts a lot, especially if it is unexpected, the attachment was a strong one or the relationship was your teen’s first significant romance. As you hear the story you can make empathic comments: “That’s terrible.” “You must feel like your guts are being ripped out.” “I’m so sorry that she is being so unfair.” “It must really hurt that he cheated on you.” Being empathically present as your teen cries and laments, without trying to make the pain go away, is a major gift. It may not feel like it at the time, but it is. (This is often confirmed later by your teen’s expressions of gratitude or by him or her opening up to more to you.)

Tip #2: Try to help your teen get clarity about what he or she wants to do but avoid sounding like your trying to get him or her to do this or that, with one exception. Of course, you will have opinions about best next steps. But, you want your teen to learn to thinks these things through for himself or herself now, when under your care and the stakes are lower (though important), than later, when living on his or her own and the stakes are higher (e.g., should I marry this person?). Maybe the relationship is salvageable, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s best to make a closing statement to the other person, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s best to seek out an explanation from the other person, maybe it isn’t. You can serve as a sounding board, exploring pros and cons of each choice–including pointing out risks and benefits that your teen might be missing–until clarity descends. The only time it’s usually advisable to give firm but kind directives would be in situations when your teen wants to do something that could be dangerous (e.g., going to the other person’s house at 1 AM in the morning), psychologically damaging (e.g., arranging to declare love over the loudspeaker at school) or unduly expensive (e.g., purchasing an expensive piece of jewelry). Otherwise, it’s usually best to encourage your teen to make his or her own call, even when you might wish for a different choice; in the latter scenarios I’d even say something like “Brandon, that probably would not be the way I’d do it in your shoes, but I think it’s more important that you do the thing that you think is best because you’ll be the one experiencing the consequences. Plus, who knows, I’m just an old fart and you could be right.”

Tip #3: Educate, but only once your teen’s thoughts and feelings have been vetted. Let your teen know that it may take a while to get fully over the pain (e.g., going through the holidays and changes in the seasons will bring up painful memories of closeness with the other person) and that this is okay, it is to be expected and it will pass with time. This is a wonderful time to share your stories along these lines. (Crisis = pain + opportunity. The pain you experienced from being dumped can now be an opportunity in your relationship with your teen.)

Tip #4: Help your teen to focus on maintaining good regiments for diet, sleep and physical activity. Getting dumped can cause the behaviors that support these foundations of your teen’s wellness to go into the tank. So, cheerfully supporting each of these can be very helpful. (See other blog entries for tips on maintaining each of these.)

Tip #5: Encourage pleasurable activities. Such a loss is like being in a sea of pain. Experiences of pleasure, even if muted, can be like a raft while on that sea. Try not to show frustration if your teen rejects many of your offerings but keep them coming at a pace that works for your relationship (i.e., not too often, not too infrequently but just right).

Tip #6: Encourage safe social contact. Your teen may feel like he or she is in an abyss. While that sucks it’s a better to be in the abyss with company than alone. But, the company needs to be patient, understanding and disinclined to be scornful of melancholy. Initially this contact may be best accomplished with family and close, mature friends.

Tip #7: Seek our professional help if your teen is experiencing significant impairment accomplishing primary responsibilities (e.g., academic work), is showing a serious symptom (e.g., wishing God would strike her dead), or has mild to moderate symptoms that aren’t getting better after a couple of weeks (e.g., insomnia). If you’re in doubt, go. And, don’t wait for your teen to agree. (I tell parents “it’s your job to get him into my office. It’s my job to deal with him not wanting to be there.”) For a referral, click here.

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.

Helping Your Teen Overcome Anxiety About Dating

While many of us would just as soon not have our teen date, thank you very much, we know that overcoming fear and apprehension about such is an important developmental hurdle. This entry, my 75th to date, reviews seven tips for you to share with your teen and four tips for you.

Tips for you to share with your teen:

Tip #1: Normalize your teen’s anxiety. Many teens think that other people find this to be much easier than they do; moreover, the sexes are notorious for thinking that the other sex doesn’t freak out as much about this stuff. But you and I know that most people can relate to the sense of dread and anxiety that most experience when first starting to date (e.g., dialing six digits of your crush’s phone number and hanging up, about 25 or so times, because you couldn’t dial that fateful seventh number). Tell your stories, especially if they are funny, as in comedy = pain + time. (Click on the following link for an example of a funny story I tell about my own dating experiences in order to help nervous teens: Using Our Screw Ups To Help Our Kids)

Tip #2: Teach the art of the flirt. That is, give your teen some tips on how to engage in risk-free explorations of the other person’s interest. There are so many ways to do this, and I’m sure you have your own strategies. But, here are some:

√ Create a pretense to call the person (e.g., information about an upcoming test, confirmation of the location of an upcoming event) and see if the person seems happy to be talking on the phone. If your teen is open to it, offer a role play.

√ Friend the person on Facebook (or follow on Twitter, or engage on Tumblr, etc) and see how receptive he/she is to the chit-chat. A nice opening line can be a compliment.

√Ask the person if he or she would like to share some non-dating experience such as lunch at school or studying at the library. Or your teen could offer that he or she has no taste in clothes and could the other person–whom your teen offers has amazing taste–meet him or her at the mall and help his or her sorry self pick out a piece of clothing or two. The same strategy could be employed in picking out a piece of sports equipment.

Tip #3: Teach your kid that you can’t have fun without diving in. Said more like a psychologist: the only effective way to deal with developmentally appropriate fears is to confront them and that avoiding them only makes them stronger. I elaborate on this theme in this blog entry: My Child Gets Afraid A Lot. what Can I Do? And, make sure your teen understands that electronic asks (e.g., texts, Facebooking) are wimpy and often reflect poorly on the asker.

Tip #4: Teach your child that a “no” ain’t no thing. Actually, when I’m working with a teen or adult who is afraid of the ask, I’ll say something like “Bryon, I really hope that Morgan says ‘yes’ when you ask her out. But, for the sake of our work, it’d be better if she, and the next bunch of girls you ask out, would all say ‘no’ because this would increase the chance that you’d figure out that it ‘ain’t no thing’ to get rejected as there are a nearly limitless supply of girls lined up right behind those guys.”

Tip #5: Encourage your child to not try to be anyone other than who he or she is. I suggest to teens that getting someone to like them based on false information is a complete waste of everyone’s time and effort and will very rarely work out (even a broken clock is right twice a day, but the odds of success are very low).

Tip #6: Give your child some tips for the date itself. If your child gets a “yes” response, he or she can become even more freaked out. But, there are lots of ways to create a less stressful date. First, going in a group can cut down on stress. Next, going to an event or movie requires less interaction, and so can be less intimidating (a strategy I often employed when first dating female creatures). It can also be helpful for your teen to prepare a list of conversation starters (e.g., top five favorite movies, recording artists, vacations experienced, things to spend money on in the case of winning the Powerball, places to visit in the world).

Tip #7: Teach some tips for reassuring and impressing the other teen’s parent-lunatics. The stuff that impresses you, would probably impress them. And, if those parents are involved in any administrative aspects of the date, it’s good for someone from your camp to confirm that their camp is situated well for that role (see the blog entry I mentioned below on monitoring).

Four additional tips for you:

Tip #1: Make sure your teen’s sex education is up-to-date. For example, I really like the book Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs by family practitioner and friend Jill Grimes, M.D. This book does does a super job of educating teens about STDs. Actually, I wish every teen (and adult) would read Chapter One, on herpes (I made sure my teens did as soon as I read it).

Tip #2: Make sure your teen is sufficiently monitored. This blog entry elaborates on what that means: Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them.

Tip #3: Let your teen know that you’re interested in discussing any aspect of any of this but take “no” for an answer and don’t pry (after you’ve established that the monitoring is sufficient that is).

Tip #4: When your teen is interested in talking, try to drop what you’re doing to listen. Teens are like windows that are only intermittently open, and usually not on your schedule. So, when they are open, try to take advantage; those interactions will likely end up mattering more to you, when you are later reflecting back on the meaning of your life, than whatever it was you were doing when your teen approached you.

Tip #5: If your teen’s anxiety about all of this proves to be overwhelming, seek out a mental health professional who can offer him or her cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is usually the indicated psychotherapy for overcoming this problem. For a list of potential treatment providers, click here.

In closing let me offer that one major topic that I’m not taking on here, but will subsequently address, is how to handle situations in which your teen has a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered orientation or if he or she is unsure about all of that. Stay tuned.

By the way, I asked my 15 year old son Gannon to read this entry for edits. Besides asking, “why do we need to be monitored?!” and laughing again at the humiliation I experienced on my first date (referenced in the link above), he said, and this is as good as it gets: “I think it’s good.”

Good luck!

A Dozen Ideas for Dad-Daughter and Mom-Son Activities

Many of we parent-lunatics want to create special moments with our kids amidst the madness of our hectic lives. This entry offers ideas themed around potential dad-daughter activities and mom-son activities. (Please be sure to read the four caveats at the end.)

Dads: 12 Things You Can Do with Your Daughter

  1. Spend one hour a week doing nothing but paying attention to her and reflecting positive, specific and truthful messages.
  2. Let her paint your nails or apply makeup
  3. Take her for a trip to buy clothes or jewelry
  4. Brush her hair (at least 100 strokes)
  5. Go for a jog together
  6. Take her to a trip to the city to see some sights and a show
  7. Go for a long walk in nature, stopping along the way to study interesting flora and fauna
  8. Take her bowling
  9. Take her to get her nails done
  10. Sing karaoke
  11. Let her see you doing special things for her mom
  12. Model to her that real men are affectionate, attentive, gentle and prioritize family life

Moms: 12 Things You can Do with Your Sons

  1. Take him fishing
  2. Play catch
  3. Play an interactive video game with him
  4. Spend one hour a week doing nothing but paying attention to him and reflecting positive, specific and truthful messages.
  5. Find a pond where you can try to find frogs or other small creatures
  6. Take him to see his favorite sports team play
  7. Take a trip to the library and show him all the cool books that are there on topics he loves
  8. Teach him how to do resistance training
  9. Let him see you doing special things for his dad
  10. Take a trip to a museum of natural history and afterwards ask him to make a drawing memorializing the trip.
  11. Model to him that real women are not subservient to men, are faithful and value their minds at least as much as their bodies.
  12. As you prioritize your family life, make sure he sees that you have outside interests and goals.

Some caveats:

• The organization of these ideas by sex is to be taken lightly, at best (e.g., maybe your son has the interest in fashion or your daughter in the sports team). So, think of these as 24 potential ideas for any parent-child relationship.

• The appropriateness of some of these activities will vary as a function of age (e.g., resistance training).

• Don’t worry about the ideas involving money if they aren’t practical. Required elements are creativity and commitment, not cash.

• Some of these ideas won’t apply to how your family is structured (e.g., single parent households). But the spirit behind each idea, with a pinches of creativity and commitment, can be extrapolated to other ideas.

Do you have other ideas you’d be willing to share?

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

Strategies if Your Child or Teen is Being Bullied

Your child reporting that he or she is being bullied can be very upsetting. According to the Center for Disease Control, 19% of kids are victims of bulling on school grounds. Bullying can include physical and/or verbal confrontation, social exclusion and spreading harsh rumors; it can also occur through electronic and online technologies. Available evidence suggests that those who experience a pattern of being bullied experience significant mental health challenges (the same is often true among those who engage in a pattern of bullying). Among the children who are bullied low self-esteem and under socialization are common. In the animal kingdom predators prey on vulnerable members of the herd who can be found on the fringes or in isolation. This is often the case for children who are repeatedly bullied as well. If your child is experiencing a pattern of being bullied, or if any incidents of bullying are causing him or her distress, consider the following:

  1. Get expert assistance. An evaluation by a well qualified child mental health professional is usually a good idea, even if you are able to get the bullying to stop by other means. It is much better to understand any contributing problems, and to develop a plan for managing or fixing them, than it is to let a child or teen languish. To find a qualified professional near you click here.
  2. Consult with the school about the bullying. I’ve never met a teacher or school administrator who is willing to tolerate bullying. It is ideal to have this consultation with a child mental health professional at your side. The consultation can be used to reach a clear understanding about what has happened and to develop a plan for fixing things.
  3. Encourage your child or teen to travel with at least one friend as she or he travels from one location to another at school. As I implied above, bullying is much more likely to occur when a child or teen iis traveling solo. This step might involve inviting prospective friends over to your house in order to develop or to create friendships. If your child or teen cannot, or will not, name friend candidates her or his teacher(s) may be willing to do so.
  4. If your child or teen is a victim of cyber bullying consider first whether his or her online life is adaptive (please see my blog entries that cover monitoring online activity and internet addiction to help in this determination).
  5. If you know the parents of the alleged bully, and you have no clear reason to believe that they would be hostile, consider arranging to have them over to your home to discuss what everyone can to do garner wellness and peace. (In many instances it may be better to do #1 before this one so that a qualified mental health professional can help you to think through the issues, including how you want to manage the meeting.)
  6. If your child has not discovered things that he or she is good at, or does not have regular access to activities that put such talents on display, I would make changing this a top priority. Please see Chapter Two of my book Working Parents, Thriving Families, to read about specific strategies for pulling this off.

Here also are three strategies that often are not advisable. Keep in mind that even a broken clock is right twice a day. So, just about any strategy has some chance of working. But, I am suggesting that the odds of the following working, independent of significant negative side effects, are probably low:

  1. Encouraging a child to be physically aggressive. Yes, there is reason to believe that assaulting a bully might cause him or her to retreat. But this teaches all sorts of unsavory lessons, risks school disciplinary action and can be excruciatingly difficulty for a child or teen to pull off.
  2. Succumbing to your child’s or teen’s plea for you to do nothing. If your child told you that mold was growing in his or her locker at school and you could tell that this was making him or her sick, would you adhere to his or her begging to not take action? Keep in mind that any number of different kinds of action may be in order (see above). What I believe is generally more advisable is to find out what your child or teen reasonably fears could happen if you initiated a plan for fixing the problem (e.g., retaliation by the bully, someone finding out that he or she is in counseling). You might then take steps to make the odds of such happening remote. (A consultation with a mental health professional is especially advisable if your child is insistent along these lines.)
  3. To view the problem as completely resolved if the only change the occurs is that a pattern of bullying stops. I think it is very important to a child’s or teen’s wellness to take steps to understand and to resolve the underlying issues that caused such a painful cycle to begin.

Should I Let My Teen Daughter Wear a Sexy Halloween Outfit?

The title of this entry is a common question this time of year. I will first offer three guiding questions and then address the issue specifically.

Whenever a minor you’re in charge of wants to do something that you’re inclined to disallow, I would ask yourself three questions. This thing that your child or teen wants to do:

Is it physically harmful?

Is it psychologically harmful?

Does it unduly tax your resources (e.g., time and money)?

If the answer to all three questions is “no” it is often advisable to allow your child or teen to do that thing, even if it drives you crazy. So often we parents say to our kids “learn to think.” But, what we really mean is “figure out what I think and parrot that back.” Following these guidelines promotes the development of effective decision making skills and discourages dishonesty and excessive dependency.

Let me now turn my attention to the title question. In this instance we’re probably not talking about a risk of physical harm or unduly taxing parental resources, at least most of the time. It’s most likely that we are talking about potential psychological harm. Regarding the latter, a primary question to consider is as follows: Does my daughter generally want to present herself in a sexually alluring manner?  Of course, there are always exceptions to any general principle, but often girls who typically wish to present themselves in a sexually provocative manner are suffering from significant insecurity about their value in other areas. It’s sort of like (and not necessarily on a conscious level) this: “people won’t find my personality or my skills appealing, so I need to draw them in with my sexuality.” If this is true of a girl she will often attract those inclined to value her primarily for this attribute, and likewise be less appealing to those peers who are operating at a higher level.

But what about a girl who wants to wear a provocative Halloween outfit who doesn’t generally lead with her sexuality, and who will be well monitored during the festivities? For such a girl there may not be much risk of psychological harm in dressing this way on one night. That said, and at the risk of sounding like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, it’s been my experience that girls who are secure within themselves often don’t wish to dress in this way to begin with.

Let me try to read your mind regarding two additional questions:

How do I decide if an outfit is sexually provocative?

This brings to mind what Justice Potter Stewart said after he admitted that he could not offer a good definition of pornography: “…but, I know it when I see it.” That said, if you’re a dad you may have a stronger inclination to over-react to even adaptive manifestations of your teen daughter’s femininity (I know my tolerance starts being challenged once one of my daughters’ outfits travels above the knee). So, if you’re a dad it may be a good idea to defer to the determination of a woman with good judgment and a healthy self-esteem (hopefully mom).

What should I do if my daughter is someone who wants to lead with her sexuality?

I would consult with a qualified mental health professional to figure out if her self-esteem is fragile or in need of repair. If it is, there are a number of interventions that can be tried to strengthen her sense of efficacy and value. To find someone by you click here. In closing let me also note that I offer numerous specific and time-efficient strategies for promoting self-esteem, effective decision making and adaptive monitoring in my parenting book Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference. For now I hope you can have fun with your progeny this Hallowee. Afterall, they will all be living away from us soon enough.


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