How to Nurture your Teenager

How to Nurture your Teenager During Conflict

My Teenager Hates Me – Part 2

Being a parent is challenging. One day you have a beautiful baby who is the center of your universe, and then your baby grows into a teenager who you might not recognize. You may be asking yourself, “where did this argumentative young person come from?” Many parents of teens come into our office feeling hopeless. Parents are unsure if they did something wrong, and feel that they can’t understand their teen.

Well, good news! Teenagers are designed to oppose their parents. Adolescence is all about teenagers finding their identity (separating from their parents) which leads them to challenge the main source of authority, their parents.

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Teenage years are filled with extreme highs and lows. This highly emotionally charged period of life is coupled by developmental changes and growth, surging hormones, and societal pressures. Teens are trying to navigate the waters of their new body, new feelings and emotions they have on things they thought they once understood.

Five things a parent can do to help their teen through this time:

  • GUIDANCE
    All teens need guidance. Their inability to consider consequences and fully engage in future thinking, means they need their parents to do that for them. Part of a parent’s job is to keep their teen safe from harm and guide them to become the best person they can be. To be clear, we are not recommending that you helicopter. Ask your teen questions, let them make mistakes, talk with them a lot (note: do not lecture them) and you are on your way to properly guiding them!
  • PERSPECTIVE
    Keep perspective. This too shall pass. The attitude your teen is presenting (and their need to challenge you) will subside. Don’t let these battles become wars, find ways to keep perspective on the situation, and soon their emotions will fade. Find out what is important to your teen and learn how to negotiate so you can support them in the independence but also keep them safe. Get external support if you need it.
  • VALIDATE
    Validate your teenager’s emotions and let them know that you hear them and care about how they feel. Most teens don’t like to hear you say that you “get it,” so drop that if it is an irritation to your teen. Although these emotions may not make sense to you, there is merit to your teen’s feelings and validating the feelings allows the teenager to feel that you care for them.
  • LOVE
    This goes without saying, but love your teen unconditionally. Although they may scream, “I hate you!” and respond with one or two-word responses, know in your heart that they need you and love you too. Sometimes expressing this is difficult (if your teen is really argumentative) but try to get past your hurt and continue to communicate your love to them. Again, get external support if you need it.
  • CALM
    Your teen needs you to be the adult. If your teen is irrational and yells, things will only get worse if you start to act the same way. Be aware of how you respond, how your physical posture (non-verbals) comes across, and what the tone of your voice communicates. If you feel that you are unable to stay calm, state that you will continue this conversation later and walk away until you are able to manage your emotions properly. If this dynamic is not pretty and tends to not resolve itself well with you and your teen, either your and/or your teen might need help with emotion regulation skills.

Good luck, parents! Let us know how things go!

This blog was written by Rachel Samuelson and Megan Sigmon-Olsen, M.S.W., LICSW

How to Sleep Better

Help me Sleep!

How well do you sleep?  If you are like most teens and college students, then probably not too well. Most people between the ages of 14 and 24 have demanding school, work, and activity schedules that favor the Night Owl lifestyle with hopes of “catching up” on the weekends. Additionally, the biological clock naturally shifts forward in adolescence, which means that adolescents experience a surge in energy in the evening while rising in the morning is more difficult. As many as 75% of college students report difficulty falling asleep, excessive sleepiness during the day, or sleep disturbances. Many of these students report that emotional and academic stress worsen their sleep problems, which can in turn increase the stress, which then leads to more sleepless nights. If this sounds familiar to you, there are ways to reduce your stress by improving your sleep.

Healthy Sleep Habits
If you have difficulty getting enough sleep or feeling rested, try some of these tips to develop healthy sleep habits:

  • Develop a bedtime routine and use this routine consistently. Following the same ritual before bed and having a consistent bed time (including weekends) can create and improve the consistency of your sleep patterns.
  • Make room in your schedule for 7-9 hours of sleep. This is the average amount of sleep an adolescent/college student needs, which is often far less than the schedule allows.
  • This is where naps come in! Naps late in the day are not very helpful, but a 30-minute nap before mid-afternoon can do wonders.
  • Only use your bed for sleep and the activities that promote sleepy time, such as reading and journaling on paper. If you avoid watching tv, doing homework, or playing on your phone in your bed, you train your brain to know that bed = winding down.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes per day on most days. Not only does exercise help you sleep more soundly, but it will also keep you more alert throughout the day.
  • If you lay in bed for 20 minutes trying to fall asleep, just go ahead and get out of bed. Sometimes the anxiety over not being able to fall asleep complicates the problem and makes it even more difficult. Get out of bed and do something mundane like fold laundry or clean your room before trying the routine again.
  • We recommend this chart as a way to track your patterns and get a baseline on your current sleep habits.A young woman is sleeping in a bed with a cat next to her

When to See a Doctor
If the tips listed above don’t do the trick or if you experience any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your family doctor or with a sleep specialist:

  • You gasp, choke, or stop breathing during sleep. If you have a bed partner or roommate, ask that person if they have observed any of these behaviors in you while you sleep.
  • You fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as while eating, talking, or walking.
  • You feel excessively sleepy during the day and the tips above don’t seem to help.

Need a Laugh?
Hear comedian Mike Burbiglia’s recounting of his own experience with sleep disorders. But remember that even though his stories are amusing, sleep disorders can be extremely serious and should definitely be checked out by a doctor.

How Sleep Savvy are You?
Test your knowledge about sleep by reading the National Sleep Foundation list of common myths.

Blog written by Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd, LPCC

My Teenager Hates Me! How To Stay Connected with Your Teenager

In some ways, teens really have it rough (which also means that parenting teenagers is not easy, either). From a biological standpoint, teens are undergoing many changes. Their brains are developing the ability to engage in higher-level problem solving as well as a feature that allows them to “put on the brakes” in situations where they would have previously just acted on impulse. Some of these biological changes create an inherent inner struggle as they now have to “decide” who they are going to be in the world. The whole “saying no” thing actually makes sense to them now and they have to decide to make their own decisions or follow the crowd in different situations. Teens are also experiencing hormone changes & puberty. That’s a tough mix!

In other ways, teens have it made. They still live at home, they don’t have any/many bills to pay, they get to eat for free, etc. While all these things are great, the hard piece about this is that one of the developmental tasks of being a teenager is to separate from parents. So… they want and NEED to make their own choices, have their own opinions, etc.  With all of this in mind, here are a few ways to stay connected to your teen during these years of change:

1. Openly communicate with your teen. Your teen is no longer a child and they need you to talk with them in an appropriate way. They are young adults and need to be treated this way (most of the time). Talk about current events, what they have going on in their life, some of what you have going on, stressors they are experiencing, etc. Talk, talk, talk. If they put up walls… well… that’s a different blog. I promise I will also write about that. This blog might be helpful: Communicating with your Teen: Do’s and Don’ts.

2.  Let them have an opinion. Again, your teen is no longer a child. It is your job as a parent to teach them how to be an adult. When your teen no longer lives in your home (that’s just a few years away!) they are going to need to know how to make decisions, etc. The best place to learn how to do this is at home. Their opinion will often be different than yours. That is okay! You taught your kiddo to think for themselves! Though this can create controversy at home, remember that the goal is not to have a “mini-me.” The goal is to have raised an individual you can be proud of.

3. Listen to them. Let them tell you things without giving them advice. They will learn from their mistakes, and sometimes you have to let them learn the hard way. Also, do not tell other people things that your teen told you privately. This is a deal breaker for teens.

4. Have fun with them. Let them pick activities sometimes. Yes, you might end up rock climbing this weekend, but so be it! Allowing them to pick activities shows them that you value their opinion. Warning on this one: If your teen has no money and they choose an expensive activity, I encourage you to help them earn some of the money around the house, etc. My teen doesn't like me

5. Include their friends. Not all the time! Sometimes this is good, though. It is developmentally appropriate for teens to prioritize their friends. This is nothing that you did wrong. Include their friends in some activities and this will open up more lines of communication.

6. Be clear about expectations. Do not assume your teen knows what is expected of them. This is a very common mistake that I see A LOT. Be clear and have expectations written down. This will eliminate many arguments. Read here for my thoughts about teen expectations.

7. Help them reach their goals. Key word: THEIR goals. This one can be hard for parents. Let your teen be who they want to be in the world. They will be much happier as themselves than if they live their life to please you. Help them clarify their goals and help them attain their goals (as much as you can, anyway). You get to worry about their future. That’s part of what you signed up for as a parent. You can be honest with them about your thoughts about some of their goals, but please do not use guilt or shame. Again, I will blog about that in the future. For now, support them in their goals and this will show them that you love them and trust them as young adults.

8. The good ole’ family dinner. Eat together sometimes! Research consistently shows that families are happier when they eat some meals together (no phones at the table, please!).

9. You are not their friend. They still need you to be their parent. After they graduate, move out, go to college, etc., then you can have a more adult relationship with them. For now, don’t be the TOO cool parent. You can be cool, but know your limits ahead of time. Teens still need parents, rules, consequences, etc. It is your job to enforce the rules and consequences.

Hopefully these pointers help! There is no reason that you should not stay connected with your teenager. Are there any that you as parents feel that I missed?

How to Talk with your Teen about their First Therapy Appointment

First of all, if your teen has agreed to see a therapist, that is great! Teens are often anxious about their first appointment, which is why I have written this blog for you. There are a few things that will be helpful for you to talk with them about before that first session.

1. Provide your teen with some background information about the therapist. If the therapist has an online presence, let your teen look at the therapist’s website, etc. Seeing the therapist’s picture often helps ease some angst. If possible, have your teen help you select the therapist. The relationship your teen develops with the therapist will be a critical factor in your teen’s ability to make change (in their life) with that therapist.

2. Review with your teen the reasons that they are going to therapy. Reinforce the fact that they are not going to therapy to be “fixed,” but rather to find some solutions. Partner with your teen around wanting to see them find solutions on any issues that they are struggling with. Your partnership will be helpful to them, but do not try to solve their problems for them. Therapy allows teens a private space to begin making their own decisions. Remind your teen of this, as it is developmentally appropriate for your teen to want to find solutions on their own. Teens want the control and the freedom to make decisions. Therapy is a place where they will have this control. Does my son need therapy? Does my son need counseling?

3. Have as much background information about the therapist for your teen as possible (Where is the therapist located? What kind of building is the therapist in? Does the therapist see other teenagers? How long are sessions? How often are sessions? When does the therapist work?, etc.).

4. Get information from the therapist about what the first session will be like. For me, this is easy. My first sessions (I call them Meet & Greets) only last 30 minutes and are basically quick sessions that give teens and parents a chance to see if they connect with me, if they feel like they can trust me, if they like my office space, and if they feel like they can spend an hour per week with me. I also explain my privacy policy to teens and parents during the Meet & Greet. This is almost always a concern for teens (“If I tell you stuff, are you going to call my parents?”). If your chosen therapist does not provide a Meet & Greet, their first session is likely the beginning of their assessment. Assessment is just a fancy word that we mental health folks use for getting to know you better.

5. Talk with your teen about what it is they want to get out of therapy. This is something that the therapist will ask at some point, and it is important for your teen to understand that therapy time is the teen’s private time to work on whatever they want to work on. Setting goals at the beginning of therapy will help the therapist make plans to help your teen better. If your teen does not know what they want to get out of therapy, their first few sessions will likely be spent talking about what changes they want to see in their life. Even if your teen cannot answer you 100% during this conversation, ask your teen to think about it so they are able to answer when the therapist asks.

6. Inform your teen what therapy IS and what therapy IS NOT. Therapists are not magicians. Therapists cannot read minds. Therapists are there to guide your teen and help them figure out areas that are causing them pain. Therapists can help your teen figure out issues they might have in relationships, school, with friends. Therapists will not “cure” your teen; your teen has to do the work in therapy in order to see changes in the world. This is an important item, because I believe that therapy is confusing for people who have never been to therapy. Therapists do not have a prescription to make things better.

7. Assuming your teen doesn’t HATE the therapist (after meeting them for the first time), inform your teen that they need to try a few (3 to 5) sessions with the therapist. Teens can be impulsive and sometimes want to fire therapists immediately. Give the therapist a few sessions to see if the relationship can develop.

Let me know how the conversation with your teen goes! Is there anything that came up in your conversation that I missed here? Please share your thoughts about this post as this is an important conversation that parents often need to have with teens.

How To Find a Good Therapist

This requires some time and patience.

There is one very obvious reason that a good therapist can be hard to find: There are A LOT of us! If you do a Google/Bing/Yahoo search for a therapist in your area, you will find page after page after page listing all of us. You will also find many of us listed on certain paid sites (such as Psychology Today). These sites are great, but you will be bombarded with blurbs that we have written. Eventually the blurbs kind of sound the same and you do not feel that you know who to call.

Steps to take to decrease your number of choices:

1. Do a Google search for the kind of therapist you are looking for. Some examples: “Family Therapy [enter your zip code or city name],” “Teen Therapist [zip code or city],” “Couples Counseling [zip code or city].” Find the sites of a few therapists who stick out to you and read what they have to say. If you find any therapists who you seem to like (as much as you can after reading their blurb, anyway) write down their name or bookmark their site.

Find a therapist

2. Keep looking. Check some of the sites that rank high when searching (such as Psychology Today). Within the Psychology Today website, you will search for a therapist by zip code. This kind of search is a good starting place, but you will (again!) find that there are A LOT of us listed! (I just did a search for my zip code and got 66 results! Wow!). After getting your results by zip code, you can make your search more specific by selecting categories (Child or Adolescent, Addiction, Anxiety, ADHD, etc.). Using these specifiers will help you find a therapist who works with whatever it is you want to work on in therapy.

3. Read some blurbs. Make note of therapists who stick out to you.

4. Google these therapists names. See what else these therapists are involved in to get a better feel for who they are.

5. Do a YouTube search of the therapists names. Some therapists have YouTube channels and you may have the opportunity to listen to them speak, see how they interact, etc.

6. Ask around (if you feel comfortable). Ask your physician if they recommend a particular therapist. Ask a clergy member or friend. Ask the parents of other teens or the school counselor (if you’re looking for a teen therapist). Check your teen’s school website as they might have a section for counseling recommendations.

7. If you intend to directly use your insurance for therapy, you can look up (usually online or by phone) who is in-network with your insurance company. They will probably have a very long list of people in your area. Those of us who do not directly contract with insurance companies will not be listed here.

Okay. Now do you have a couple therapists selected?

1. Once you have a therapist (or two, or three, or four!) picked out, call or email the therapist. See if the therapist will meet with you (I call these sessions meet-and-greets) for a short time. This kind of a session is usually free. If the therapist does offer something like this, I would encourage you to schedule this kind of session. This will allow you to see how you feel when you sit down with your chosen therapist as well as ask any questions you might have.The connection you feel with your therapist is going to be very important as the relationship between the two of you is one of the main pieces that will help you make change in your life.

2. If the therapist does not offer a free meet-and-greet, see if they are willing to have a brief phone conversation with you. You can ask them questions such as:
A. What is your educational background?
B. Are you licensed?
C. Are you an interactive therapist or are you more of a quiet therapist?
D. Do you have experience working with __________?
E. What kind of session times do you currently have available?

3. If the therapist does not offer a free consultation/meet-and-greet, you have to decide if you want to schedule the first session with your chosen therapist. The first session is generally more expensive than other sessions. You will usually need to complete paper work for this first session.

This is a brief summary about some of the ways to find your therapist. Has this been helpful? Good luck finding someone who is a good fit for you!

How to Get your Parent(s) to Say YES!

You really want to go out with friends on Friday night and you know that mom/moms/dad/dads/mom and dad aren’t going to budge. Here’s how to get them to (at least) consider:

1. Let them know (with advance warning) that you’d like to arrange a time to sit down and talk with them about something.

2. Be flexible about when you can meet. For example, don’t try to meet at 10 at night when you know he/she/they have to wake up early for work. Set a time after dinner (that you ate WITH THEM at HOME!) or when the family is just hanging out.

3. Don’t pull siblings or friends into the conversation (unless they’re going to the event with you).

4. Sit down with your parent(s) and explain the upcoming event that you’re asking permission to attend. Important details: Who will be there, who is supervising, what will you be doing, what date/time will you need to be there and how will you get to the event, will you need money, and why you’re so excited about the event.

5. Here’s where problems are likely to take place:

  • Your parents may not approve of the other people who will be at the event. Good luck with that one! If your parents have reason to not approve of certain people, then this is gonna’ be a tough sell. Parents generally don’t like people who they feel puts their teen at risk.
  • Your parent(s) may not believe there will be supervision. Offer to have your parents talk to the person supervising. Provide them with the (CORRECT) phone number.
  • If you need extra money for the event, come to the meeting with your parent(s) with an idea of how you plan to earn the extra money at home (pick up a few more chores, mow the yard, etc.). Follow through with these chores OR IT WILL HURT YOU NEXT TIME!

6. If the discussion is not going anywhere, ask your parent(s) the main reason they’re saying no. Do not yell at them; this will only make them more firm in saying no. Reschedule the discussion for a later time when everyone is calm. Revisit step #1 and try again.

Remember, your parent(s) want honesty and they want to see you handling yourself responsibly. Come to the meeting prepared to answer questions. Have answers to the tough questions and also come prepared for your parent(s) to say no. Good luck!

How did using these steps work out for you!?

What is Fear? and How To Overcome It

What is Fear? and How To Overcome It

Fear is defined as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined.” If we look around at our world right now, there is a lot going on that might cause fear inside of us: The spread of COVID-19, fear of losing our jobs or not being able to share important moments with loved ones, fear of screwing up this homeschooling thing. Fear of isolation. On and on, we can all name our own list of fears. And if you aren’t feeling it now, there has likely been a time in your life when you have felt fearful of something.

What do we do with this fear? Here are a few things that can help when the fear feels crippling or overwhelming:

1. Name it.

Fear is a tricky emotion. If you let it stay hidden, it will grow. Speak out loud what you are fearful of. Write it down. Share it with a friend or someone you trust. But don’t let it remain a secret.

2. Challenge it.

After naming your fears, challenge them with truth. For example, if you are fearful about the future and the unknown, name something true about the present that makes you feel safe or comfortable right now. Perhaps you are afraid if you try that free yoga class, you might look silly. What if you try it and you don’t look silly? What if you are actually an awesome, yogi warrior waiting to be unleashed? Or what if every other person in that class is also fearful of looking silly, and they aren’t giving you a second glance? Either way, the truth is you took a class to improve your overall health and wellness. Challenge your fears with truth. Sometimes when we are caught in our own fear, this step might require a little help from that trusted person mentioned before.

3. Keep moving.

Fear can stop us in our tracks. It paralyzes us from moving forward: from trying the new thing, meeting the new person. Set small goals to continue working towards the next step. This progression acts as a natural way to challenge our fears, because we make it to the next step, look around, and find that we are actually okay.

4. Look for opportunities to thrive versus survive.

Fear is an emotion that can be traced back to our survival selves. Fear teaches us to “fight, flight, or freeze” when threatened by something dangerous (real or perceived). Instead of living in this constant place of being on edge, look for the times when you feel most alive. Are you outside walking your dog? Are you listening to your favorite tunes? Attempting a new recipe? Find those moments when you feel a little fuller and perhaps a little calmer, and seek to create those throughout your day.

Here is a list of some new activities you might try to live more in that “thriving rather than surviving” zone

https://cornercanyoncounseling.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pleasurable-Activities.pdf

https://www.kiddiematters.com/80-self-care-activities-teens/

Fear is a real thing. It’s hard and scary. This post is not meant to minimize that in any way. Recognizing the fear and bringing light to it while we continue to move forward, can help keep us from getting caught in those fear traps that threaten our overall well-being, our relationships, and the lens through which we view the world.

In a time when many of us are experiencing fear about a lot of different things, remember you are not alone. Sometimes just knowing someone else is sitting in that same fear with us, is enough.

What ways can you begin challenging your own fears today?

Blog written by Tana Welter, MSW, LGSW.