My Teen Won’t Go to School – Part One

You wake up on a cold, Monday morning to the annoying sound of your alarm and struggle to drag yourself from your bed. The temptation to resist is strong but you finally get out of bed to start your day and deal with the next battle… making sure your teen is up and ready for school. You walk into your teen’s room and are immediately greeted with a groan of disgust. After numerous attempts and even the potential yelling match, you admit defeat and walk away. You are left with a mix of emotions and think to yourself yet again, why won’t my teen just go to school?

teenager school attendance

what do you do when your teenager starts missing school?

School refusal isn’t a new problem, but has noticeably become a bigger issue due to the pandemic. Refusal rates are estimated to be 15% to 20% higher than previous pre pandemic rates of 1 to 5% of students. The pandemic has created a rollercoaster of ups and downs in schools. One week students are in-person and the next they are back to sitting in front of a computer and talking to their friends through a screen. Peer relationships are important in helping teens develop their social skills, problem solving skills and discovering their sense of self. Being distanced from their friends can cause your teen to feel lonely and isolated.

However, school refusal cannot just be credited to the pandemic. On a daily basis teens are learning to manage and navigate school workloads, extracurricular activities, and peer relationships. Dealing with this can feel immensely unbearable to teens as their problem solving skills have not fully developed.

Some other factors that lead to school refusal or absenteeism include: anxiety, friendships or bullying, family struggles and difficulties with classroom learning.

student school attendance

How can you help your teen?

  • Talk with your teen: Express interest and empathy in the struggles they are experiencing. Ask them if there is anything you can do at home to help with these feelings. Let your teen know they are heard! (Remember, some issues might seem small but can feel overwhelming large to your teen)
  • Connect with their teacher: Reach out to their teacher and see if there is a way to get your teen some help with managing their struggles in the classroom. (You can even include your teen in this conversation so they can feel like they have a voice. Teachers spend a significant amount of time with your kid and might have insights into their classroom struggles that you don’t.
  • Limit electronics: Removing video games, cell phones or other electronics can let your teens know it isn’t a fun, free day off. Holding firm limits during regular school hours takes away the temptation for them to stay home curled up in their bed scrolling through social media or trying to pass the next level in their video game. Electronics might only be adding to your teen’s stress, especially if bullying is happening.
  • Brainstorm fun mid week activities: Schedule fun activities to help keep your teen feeling connected with others and give them something to look forward to. Get creative and keep it simple. Have your teen pick a place to eat/order take out, plan a movie or game night, etc.

What tip will you try to help make that school struggle a little bit easier?

Blog written by Sentier therapist Bridgett Brye, MSW, LGSW

SPACE Treatment: How Parents Can Support Your Child or Teen with Anxiety

You cut your evening short because your child won’t fall asleep without you in bed with them.

You order for your adolescent at a restaurant when they turn away from the server.

You tie your child’s shoes every morning because they claim they “can’t do it right.”

You often cancel plans to attend events as a family because your teen feels uncomfortable in new places.

Do any of those sound familiar to you? If so, you may be stuck in unhealthy patterns due to child or adolescent anxiety and parental accommodation.

It is common for parents and caregivers who are stuck in these patterns to feel overwhelmed with what may appear to be child misbehavior. The truth is, no one is to blame and everyone is responsible for making changes to get unstuck and move forward in healthier ways. A therapeutic intervention used for getting unstuck is called SPACE: Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. SPACE treatment may be helpful to your family if you find yourself changing plans or noticing that your child’s anxiety interferes with day to day functioning.

From www.spacetreatment.net:

SPACE is a parent-based program for children and adolescents with anxiety, OCD, and related disorders.” It is also appropriate for concerns such as separation anxiety, social anxiety, fears and phobias, and selective mutism. SPACE Treatment is unique in that, although the interventions are intended to treat the child’s anxiety, the adults are the ones attending therapy sessions, gaining new tools, and making strategic changes to their own behaviors.

When parents accommodate anxiety to help their child (or themselves) feel better in the moment, it actually upholds the symptoms and increases anxiety over time. SPACE is a collaborative process between the therapist and caregiver with the basic recipe of learning: 1. To respond more supportively to your anxious child, and 2. To reduce the accommodations you have been making for the child’s symptoms. Caregivers who participate in the SPACE treatment protocol report increased family satisfaction, decreased anxiety in the household, and increased confidence in both child and parent.

For more information about the SPACE treatment protocol, check out this video:

At Sentier, Sarah Souder Johnson is available to deliver SPACE to families who are eager to reduce the systemic effects of anxiety in their household.

What can my Teenager do this Summer?

Summer is a time that almost all teens look forward to and almost all parents… well… look forward to, too. Teens often end up with a lot of “down time” which can lead to changed sleeping patterns and a change in diet, which then changes mood, etc. Though we want our teens rested, too much sleep is not always good, either.

I am writing this blog post to announce a group that I am very excited to be doing this summer. I am facilitating a group in St. Paul, MN that is called “Getting What You Want: A Group for Teens to Explore Happiness.” This group is for teens who want to better understand how to be happy. We will watch the documentary, “Happy” during the first group session and will then focus our next five groups on the main themes that the Group of teenagers meditating.documentary covers: Community, Movement, Defining Success, Service, Gratitude, and Self-Awareness. We will spend one session learning Laughter Yoga… and YES, I will be participating! Group members have the option of participating in the Color Run on July 14th (they can walk it, run it, or volunteer to dump colored powder on runners!). This group is going to be a lot of fun.

Please contact me with questions or to see if a teen you know will be a good fit for my group.

See you this summer!

Megan 🙂

My Teenager is Cutting Herself (Himself) – What Do I Do?

Self-harm (I am going to call it Nonsuicidal Self-Injury, NSSI) is a foreign concept to many parents and it can be very scary to discover. Historically NSSI was never as transparent as it is today. If you look, you will find young people (and now not so young) who have scars up and down their arms and legs. Please be aware that cutting is not the only type of NSSI. There are many other ways that people harm themselves, but cutting seems to be the second most common (in my practice). First, of course, is chemical use. I will blog about that later.

So why does Nonsuicidal Self-Injury happen and what does it mean?

I have seen three main reasons for NSSI/cutting:

1. Teens want to feel more. They feel numb and want to feel something. Anything.

Cutting self-harm

2. Teens want to feel less emotional pain. They engage in NSSI in order to feel physical pain, which they use to temporarily replace emotional pain. Physical pain is easier to tolerate than emotional pain for this teenager.

3. Teens are afraid to speak up about their needs, and use NSSI as a way to communicate anger/sadness (as well as pain/lonliness/loss, etc.) to specific people. Please do not interpret this as: Teens are cutting for attention. This is not what I am saying. I am saying that if your teen is cutting for this reason, please understand that they are using NSSI as a way to communicate.

There are other reasons that teens/people cut themselves, but these are the most common reasons I have seen in my practice. Please note: NSSI is *almost always* NOT a suicide attempt. Generally people who are injuring themselves do not have any intention to die. That being said, people DO die by self-harm. It is usually an accident; a cut that went too deep/in the wrong place. NSSI must be taken seriously, but the best response is generally not to call an ambulance and have your teen taken to the hospital (unless they are badly injured, of course).

What should you (as a parent/guardian) do?

1. Try to talk with your teen. See if they will talk with you about why they are hurting themselves. Express to them that you love them and that you are very scared and worried about what is going on.

2. Ask them what they need. They may not know, but they might surprise you. Be careful with this one. (Begin my rant): If your teen is self-harming because they did not get what they asked you for (i.e.: a new pair of jeans) and then you ask them what they need and they say, “That pair of jeans,” this is a different situation altogether. Do not get the jeans in this instance. I urge you to meet with a counselor in order to work with your teen on limit setting and coping skills for your teen. (End my rant). If your teen expresses that they need to talk with someone, that they hate themselves, that they don’t feel anything, that they feel too much, I urge you to find a counselor for your teen. If they need something that is impossible, “I need you and dad to be back together again,” they are hurting themselves because they do not know how to manage their intense emotional pain.

3. Do not punish your teen for NSSI. NSSI (though it often results in temporary relief for your teen) is a form of self-punishment. Additional consequences tend to make things worse.

4. Find a therapist for your teen. Your teen needs professional help and they need some skills they don’t have. They need a place to go where they can be honest and open about how they feel about themselves and who they are in the world. For starters, you can read my blog about how to find a good therapist for your teen.

5. I don’t want to sound too negative in this blog, but your teen needs help. Do not laugh off this behavior or get angry and tell your teen that they are cutting for attention. Teens die every day by accidently slicing an artery. Teens feel alone when they cut, and they are trying to tell you that they need something more. A good therapist will be able to figure out what that is.

What else do you want to know about how to help your teen decrease and stop NSSI?
——————————————————————————————————————–Read about Megan Sigmon-Olsen, M.S.W., LICSW, who is a therapist for teens and families in St. Paul, MN.

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My Teen is LAZY!

It happens with at least 50% of the families I see.

“Megan, I hate to admit this, but my teen is LAZY. I can’t get him/her to do ANYTHING at home.”

First of all, you’re not alone! Second of all, parents need to challenge themselves to look at this issue differently.

Often times, teens do not prioritize a clean house. I will admit that I can’t site any research about this topic this morning, but I’ve worked with enough teens to know that cleanliness is often not a priority to them. So, I ask parents how they frame “chores” to their teen at home. 

If you (as a parent) want their room picked up, their towel off the floor, their dishes in the dishwasher, this must be communicated as a requirement, not an option. When something is a requirement, there are consequences when the requirement does not get met.

If it is a requirement for your teen to empty the dishwasher twice per week, I encourage you to reward their efforts at home with something they care about. I’m not suggesting that you pay them $20 for unloading the dishwasher, but be reasonable. If your teen has a decent list of chores at home, they will be much more likely to complete their requirements if there is incentive. The kicker? You need to follow through with the rewards. On time. As you promised.

Also, you need to follow through with the consequences. If the consequence is that your teen does not earn the weekly “allowance,” then don’t give them the money. For this to be effective, you can’t hand them $5 here and there during the week. Their allowance money should be their spending money. If they don’t earn their money for the week, they don’t spend money that week. Simple. If the only consequence to not completing chores is that they don’t earn an allowance, don’t add more consequences. Also, you may have to deal with the fact that their room stinks because they didn’t clean it up this week.

That’s fine. They’ll learn from this eventually. Shut the door and move on with your life. They are hurting because they didn’t earn their money (or they lost their cell phone for the week, or whatever the consequence is) and you’re hurting because their room stinks. Do your best to let that go.

Last quick pointer: If your teen earned their weekly allowance (for cleaning) and their behavior stinks in another area, do not take their cleaning reward away. Consequence them in another way. If you take away something they legitimately earned, they will probably stop cleaning.

It’s important for you to follow through. Have a pay day. Be prepared to pay them and don’t engage in “all or nothing” thinking. If they did half their chores, give them half their money. You want them to succeed in order to build more confidence.

What are some of the creative ways you have gotten your teen to do their part in keeping the house clean?

He/She Always Slams the Door!!

Ah… door slamming. Talk about the ultimate conversation stopper and trigger for parental anger.

Teens do not generally slam doors just to irritate you. In general, they are slamming the door to tell you that they need a TIME OUT. Don’t take the bait and follow them into their room. This is the ultimate fight escalator. Your teen needs space and generally speaking, you need to allow them to deescalate in their room.

First things first. Teens are impulsive as their brains are not yet fully developed. They may slam their door and think to themselves, “Why did I do that?”. They are still using the more primal part of their brain (prefrontal cortex) during this phase of development, which means that doors are going to get slammed sometimes. This part of their brain also often misreads attention from others as negative, which is why your random questioning of your teen often triggers somewhat of a blow-up. Again, just a normal part of development (though not the most pleasant for parents).

Teen slams door - Angry teenager

Two more pieces to door slamming:

1. Plan a time to sit down with your teen and talk about the expectation that your teen not slam the door. Do not have this conversation during any kind of argument. Everyone needs to be calm to have this discussion. Talk with your teen about what the consequence of slamming the door will be for the future. Allow your teen to have a say in what an appropriate consequence is. If you notice that your teen really works hard to shift this behavior, compliment them on their efforts to not slam the door!They need to be noticed for positive changes in behavior, not just negative. ALWAYS follow through with the consequence that you and your teen agree on. If you do not follow through, your teen will push the limits and the rule will go out the door. You’ll be back at square one.

2.  Always revisit the issue that resulted in your teen slamming the door. Your teen may only need 20 minutes to calm down, and I’ve seen teens who can’t calm down for hours. Regardless of how much time your teen needs, have the conversation (when you’re talking about #1 above) about how the expectation is that the issue which resulted in door slamming must be revisited within X number of minutes/hours. You must work on problem-solving with your teen, or the door will simply get slammed the next time this issue gets brought up. It is critical to complete this step once the emotion of the moment has passed.

Good luck!! Remember this takes time and consistency. This behavior will not change as soon as you sit down and talk about it. It requires parental follow-through and time.

How do you handle door slamming at your house?

Help for my High Achieving Teen

How to Help My High Achieving Teen

Swim team captain. First chair violinist. Quiz bowl champion. Straight A student. Perfectionist. Anxious. Sad. Withdrawn.

Teens who are high academic achievers are often also heavily involved in extracurricular activities and leadership roles. Add a job or volunteer work, lessons, or a college search to that and you may end up with a teen who is overwhelmed. This is often when they end up in therapy. Sometimes clients come into therapy because they are having trouble sleeping or they have started experiencing panic. Others have started using drugs or withdrawn to the point of isolation. Once-happy children have become overachieving teenagers, and the idea of success that once drove them has led them to feel highly anxious.

Parents and other adults can help teens in a few simple ways:

  1. Support balance in their lives, and make sure to include their social life. Spending time with friends and having a sense of community outside of their home is an important and appropriate part of healthy development for teens.
  2. Teach them how to manage a heavy load. Help your teen to learn about time management, time away from social media, and prioritizing tasks.
  3. Dispel the myth of perfectionism. Describing the concept of “good enough” can help them address obsessive thoughts that may lead them to never feeling good enough.
  4. Give them permission to say no. High achievers are also often over achievers who have never been told that it’s okay to turn down opportunities.
  5. Model all of those things for your child. There is a strong chance that a child with perfectionism learned by watching. How can you model balance in your own life? Talk to your teen about your own struggles with these steps.  

With support and guidance, teens can recognize their inherent value regardless of achievements, grades, and trophies. They will start to see the beauty of mistakes and the value in downtime. Most importantly, they will develop healthy insight and a stronger sense of self-worth.

How have you been successful at helping your teen achieve balance? Contact one of our school specialists to help your teen: Katie Fleuriet, M.S.W., LICSW

Blog post written by Sentier therapist, Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd, LPCC

Communicating with your Teenager – Do’s and Don’ts

“I don’t know how to talk with her anymore.”

“He’s so moody.”

“She doesn’t want to share anything about her life with me like she used to.”

“I can’t get him to say more than ‘My day was fine.’”

Parents frequently call me and report struggles similar to those listed above. They wish they had the ability to transform their relationship back to the way things were before their adolescent began puberty, and they ask me for help.

The reality is that teenagers are supposed to go through this change. They are supposed to start distancing themselves from parents a bit – it is developmentally appropriate. They are undergoing many changes: physically, emotionally, and mentally. During this wonderful time of change, teens:

  • Will want more privacy.
  • Will want more time with friends.
  • Will often change the way they dress, etc.
  • Will experience many physical changes in their bodies.

I have seen many parents attempt to exert higher control during their kids’ teenager years. This is the opposite of what parents want to do. Remember, your home is your teen’s training ground for the world. The interactions you have with your teen are a large contributor to how your teen learns to treat other people. Having a general acceptance that you may talk less with your teen during this time in their life will save you some aches and pains. This isn’t personal. They don’t love you less. Their priorities are shifting as they are learning to be adults.

The best way to stay connected with your teen (The Do’s):

  • Respect their privacy. They may go to war with you if you don’t.
  • Listen when your teen talks. Consider their opinion a valuable one.
  • Be a good listener. Reserve judgement and keep some of your opinions to yourself if you want them to talk with you again.
  • Accept your teen’s feelings. Don’t try to change their experiences; just offer support.
  • Apologize when you’re wrong.
The Don’ts of communicating with teens:
  • Nag, preach, lecture. They don’t listen for long and it just hurts their feelings and frustrates you further. My Teen Hates Me
  • Use guilt and/or shame as a parenting strategy. It doesn’t work.
  • Use a lot of “shoulds.” This is one way of using guilt/shame. This can be very damaging.
  • Share with others personal things your teen has shared with you (unless, of course, your teen is in danger, etc.).
  • Hound them with questions when your teen has broken a home rule, etc. Know when you can talk with your teen and respect this boundary.
  • Again, I don’t have a canned strategy for talking with teens. Some teens and parents will go to family therapy to work on applying these strategies, which is often a good idea. Other times these tips are enough. Good luck!

Teen Expectations

One of the things I work on with parents of teens is expectations. I often find that parents assume teens “just know” what is expected of them at home, at school, and in the community. It turns out that teenagers often do not know what is expected of them short of, “Be a good person,” “Do well in school,” and “Don’t do drugs.”

Rules for teens teenagers

It is important that teens know what you expect of them. It is also important that they know what will happen if they fall short of your expectation. If your teen breaks a rule of yours, the consequence should be known ahead of time. As a parent, this will also help you not be “too emotional” when a rule is broken. Here’s an example:

Your teen arrives home two hours past curfew. The first assumption I am making is that you had an agreed-upon curfew. My second assumption is that you discussed consequences of broken curfew before your teen left for the evening. Assuming you discussed consequences ahead of time, you know exactly what to do when they come home:

  1. Wait to discuss consequences until the next day.
  2. Remind your teen of your already-agreed-upon consequence the following morning. The reason this is easier on parents is that you are not expected to come up with a consequence when you are angry. If you come up with a consequence when you are waiting for your teen (at 1:00 in the morning) you will likely come up with a consequence that is too severe. After all, you’re upset! A few days in to enforcing the consequence, you will realize the consequence was too extreme, and stop enforcing it. This will teach your teen that your consequences will not be followed through and that if they beg to get off consequence you will probably give in (because after all, extreme consequences also consequence parents!).
  3. Your message as a parent is: I love you, I was worried about you, I do not support the decision you made to stay out past curfew, and you have chosen to be on ___________ consequence for __________ amount of time.

These interactions don’t have to be ugly! You want to maintain connection with your teen during these teaching moments.

How do you stay connected when your teen has broken a rule or pushed a boundary?

Why Does My Child Misbehave?

When children are given the opportunity to succeed, they generally will. According to author Rudolf Dreikurs, “A misbehaving child is a discouraged child”. Children tend to want to do well, and they want to be successful. As parents, caregivers, or other significant adults in a child’s life, it is our job to do our best to see to it that that happens. Dreikurs talks about the Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior: Attention, Power, Revenge, and Inadequacy. These are the things children do to get and unmet need met:
1.  Attention: To be noticed
2.  Power: To be the boss
3.  Revenge: So you can feel as badly as I feel
4.  Inadequacy: To be left alone or feeling discouraged

Below are some charts to explain the Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior. These charts describe what your child may be actually needing from you, and ways to respond to your child to help them get their needs met in healthy, adaptive ways. 

http://choices4children.blogspot.com/2015/06/parenting-0-5-why-kids-misbehave.html
http://hopeandafutureministries.blogspot.com/2010/09/goals-of-misbehavior-with-your-kids.html

Please note that children are generally not AWARE that they are doing these four things when they are doing them. It is not intentional until younger children are older. These behaviors are almost a reflex to not having their needs met. It is also assumed that children are well-rested, fed, etc. when considering the Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior. 

Children do best when they are encouraged and when they feel that they are being successful. Dreikurs states, “ A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water”. Finding everyday ways to help encourage your child to succeed is essential when helping little humans grow into young adults. 

What are some barriers you face when trying to help your child be successful?

So You Just Had a Baby…?

So You Just Had a Baby… !?

This baby feels like… a lot

Discovering that you are going to become a parent is filled with endless emotions. Yes, there is joy and excitement – A baby! They’re so cute..and squishy..and their squeals…gah! But there are also questions of uncertainty and often trepidation – How will I/we pay for this? Will I go back to work? Will my partner go back to work? Will I breastfeed? What if they cry all the time? Are we going to be bonded right away? I’m going to miss my friends. And, wait, do I need to set up a nursery?? 

Immediately following the arrival of a baby is also a time of increased emotion…You may feel like they’re the cutest human on the planet (they are!) or that they smell amazing (they do!) and that they are the sweetest (for sure!). But, you may also feel overwhelmed by the drastic changes  in your life. You’ve swapped out evenings with friends on restaurant patios with bouncing a baby on an exercise ball while simultaneously Googling the best burp cloths, diaper creams and swaddles. Or, you may feel like you’re just not bonding with your baby like you should (those Instagram moms made it seem different…). 

These shifting environmental and social stressors coupled with the hormonal changes that occur both during and after pregnancy are difficult to manage! You are not alone. This adjustment is hard…for everyone. Say it with me, “I am not alone. This adjustment is hard…for everyone.”

It’s important to take care of yourself as you go through this adjustment. Here are my top 5 tips: 

  • Accept help. There is truth to the “it takes a village” saying. Accept those offers for keeping you company, bringing over dinner, folding laundry, etc. 
  • Go on walks. Getting outside can be so helpful! If you have a newborn in the winter and it’s not too cold, bundle up! Trust me on this… we live in Minnesota!
  • Join a mom’s group. Whether it’s your 1st child or your 5th child, every baby is different and can present new challenges. 
  • Communicate with your partner and family about what you need. As much as we wish mind-readers existed (especially in this phase of life), they don’t; so speak up and let people know what you need from them. 

Remember to be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can and this will get better. 

Sometimes, it is also really helpful to connect with outside support. It may be that a postpartum doula would be helpful. Or, it may be that talking to a therapist would be helpful. Research shows that 1 in 5 women develop a Postpartum Mood and Adjustment Disorder (PMAD), so it’s more common than we think!  If you think this would be helpful, please give me a call: Katie Fleuriet, MSW, LICSW. Additionally, be sure to check out Postpartum Support International for more resources. 

My Teen is Queer – I’m Confused.

I don’t know what my teen means by asking me to use new language to identify them! Help!

Has your teen told you they would prefer if you used gender-neutral pronouns from now on? They’d like you to use “they/them” rather than using “she/her.” Or maybe your teen has told you they are Androgynous and you have no idea what this means. Maybe your teen is mad at you because you refuse to use their new name; to you they will forever be “Andrew,” but they now want to be called “Andrea.”

androgyne boy posing on street. look. grey t-shirt, black shorts. tail hairstyle

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Gender is complex in our society today. More people are recognizing that trying to constrain people to two categories does not work. Today I am writing about gender identity, which is different than assigned sex at birth, sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender roles. Gender identity refers to how an individual perceives themselves and what they call themself. This can include male, female, a blend of both, neither, and many more. It can shift over time. A variety of terms encapsulate gender such as queer, gender-neutral, non-binary, cisgender, gender fluid, bigender and transgender. What’s more confusing is that these definitions are ever-evolving and may mean something different to each person. Below I have provided definitions of terms commonly used when referring to gender identity. My hope is that these definitions will help make conversation about your teen’s gender exploration easier and more comfortable.

Queer– This is a general term for people who identify their gender and/or sexual orientation as something other than cisgender (see below) and/or heterosexual. Queer is a term used to identify oneself as outside of society’s norms, without having to state a specific identity.

Gender Neutral– This is a term that people who do not feel they have a gender (or that their gender is neutral) use. Some people may feel some connection to the concept of gender but feel they do not have one. Others cannot understand what gender is as they do not experience it within themselves. Other terms synonymous with this definition are: agender, gender free, non-gendered, genderless.

Non-Binary- An umbrella term for gender identities and expressions that are not exclusively male or female. People who are non-binary may feel that they are both male and female, neither male nor female, or something else all together.

Cisgender- This is a term used for people who’s gender identity correlates with their assigned sex at birth.

Gender Fluid/Agender-Fluid- A person who is gender fluid has a gender or genders that change. Gender fluid people move between genders and tend to experience their gender as something dynamic and changing, rather than static.

Bigender/Multi-Gender- Bigender people identify as two genders. It does not necessarily mean they identify as a man and a woman, just that there are two distinct genders with which they identify. They may identify as both at the same time, flow between genders, or feel they are a blend.

Androgyne/Androgynous- Androgynes feel themselves to be simultaneously masculine and feminine, although not necessarily in equal parts. They frequently have both female and male gender characteristics. Some feel they are a blended gender, neither masculine or feminine.

Transgender/Trans- This can be used as an umbrella term to describe an individual who’s gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. The term trans and transgender are sometimes used interchangeably to describe all gender identities that are not cisgender. Transgender can also be used to refer to people who experience deep feelings of incongruence with their assigned sex and associated sex characteristics, and feel alignment with what many often think of as the “opposite sex.” Being trans or transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation.

As I mentioned above, this is by no means an exhaustive list of gender terms and definitions. It is only the beginning. If your teen has come to you about gender identity issues, chances are they have done a lot of thinking and research already. Your teen likely does not expect you to know every definition by heart or be an expert on the topic. What they do need from you, however, is your willingness to support them through their journey of their gender development and exploration. They need to know they can trust you to be a safe person for them to talk to. Being a teen is hard. It’s a time where they are exploring who they are, comparing themselves to others and being compared to others. When someone identifies as anything outside of societal “norms,” being a teenager becomes even harder. Transgender and non-binary teens are often the victims of harassment, bullying, discrimination, assault, and other forms of violence. It can be a very lonely time, as they may not know anyone else who is similar to them in this way or they may be scared to reach out and talk about it. All of the above make your teen more at risk for low-self esteem, depression, self-harm, and suicide. Which is why, as a parent, it is crucial that you begin to feel comfortable dialoguing with your teen about their process… even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Your teen needs to know that you are on their side and that you are not trying to “fix” them. So, if you are confused, ask open-ended questions. Let them know you are listening and seeking understanding. Some examples of questions you might ask are: “When you imagine your future, what do you see? What gender do you feel you are? How would you describe yourself.” Or, “Do you know when you first started questioning your gender identity? When did you start to realize that your gender might be different from what I and others told you?” Additionally, be sure to ask your teen how you can be supportive and what it is that they need from you. Let them know you support them, no matter what. Honor their requests and use their desired pronouns. Educate yourself. These are all ways that you can let your teen know that you love them and that they are not alone.

If you are still confused and feel like you need additional help in supporting your teen, there are a number of good books out there about transgender and non-binary teens. Therapy is also a good option. It is a place where you can explore your thoughts and feelings without judgement. If you have questions, your therapist can help guide you and work with you to better understand your teen and what it is they are going through. It is crucial that you get the help and support you need so that you are able to be there for your teen in the best way possible.

Blog written by a therapist at Sentier Psychotherapy (www.sentiertherapy.com)

Source: The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens (2016) by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney.

My Teen is Depressed – How This Impacts School

My Teen is Depressed – How This Impacts School Performance

If you are reading this, you are among the many parents whose teens likely have depression. This can be SO frustrating and hard to watch as a parent, especially when your teen’s academic and social life are impacted by symptoms of depression. 

The number of teens reporting depression has drastically increased in recent years. Between 2005-2014, teens reporting a major depressive episode increased 37% (Source). With more and more teens reporting depression it’s important to know that depression can significantly impact school performance. Cognitive and behavioral symptoms can make a seemingly typical academic setting feel daunting and overwhelming . Below are just a few symptoms of depression that are most impactful when it comes to school.

  • Trouble Concentrating
  • Memory Difficulties
  • Loss of Motivation
  • Decreased Interest in Hobbies/Extra-curriculars
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
Depressed Teen Impacts School Performance

Depressed teenage girl is isolated and withdrawn at school

Symptoms can play on each other and ultimately lead to declining grades and increased absences. The dates and events in history class can seem impossible to keep straight and devoting the time and energy to sort it out can be rife with interruptions and feel just plain exhausting. Additionally, the thought of making small talk with peers or being around friends that don’t seem to understand what’s going on leads to social isolation.

If you are noticing symptoms of depression or suspect that depression may be a factor in your teen’s declining school performance, talk to your teen about it. And if they don’t feel comfortable opening up to you, encourage them to connect with a school counselor or outside counselor to gain support around their changing school performance.

What have you done as a parent to help your teen get through a period of depression during the school year?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Katie Fleuriet, MSW, LICSW 

My Daughter Says She Is Gay

“… and I don’t believe her. I do not believe that my daughter is gay.”

Okay. Hold on for a second and take a big, deep breath.

I don’t know if your daughter is gay. I don’t know if your daughter is “just experimenting,” or if she is bisexual. One thing I DO know is that your response to her recent disclosure is critical. If you show anger, hurt feelings, sadness, or disgust… this will have a negative impact on your beautiful “child.”

All teens go through a period of sexual identity formation. All human sexuality exists on a spectrum. In other words, most people are not 100% gay or 100% heterosexual. There is a lot of grey area here. You went through this process, and so did I. This is simply part of being human. If you are heterosexual, you may not even know that this was something you went through. But, you did. You figured out your preferences, your attractions, and your “type” for dating.

This is exactly what your teen is going through. She is exploring what type of person she is attracted to, why she is attracted to that kind of person, and she is trying to figure out what the appropriate response is to each of her attractions. She may be questioning if she is gay, confused about if she is gay, or she may know she is gay. She has chosen to disclose something very personal to you, and this is a big deal. Many teens do not talk with their parents about sexuality at all, so be happy she came to you!

My daughter says she's gay

If you tell your daughter that you know she is not gay, and that you know she is “just experimenting,” or that she is confused or ridiculous, please know that your response has the potential for devastating (and long-term) psychological and emotional impact. The most common side effect of parental rejection is low self-esteem and complete distancing from parents. Your part in this can easily be prevented. Your response will help her move through her confusion (if she is in stages of identity confusion or identity comparison) or it will help her realize that she is okay, she is lovable, and she is not the only person out there who is gay. Take-home message: DO NOT SHAME YOUR DAUGHTER FOR DISCLOSURE.

Many kids know they are gay between the ages of 7 and 9, and choose to not come out to family until the age of 13 and older. Kids are often taught that being gay is “wrong” or shameful to the family. Because of this, they hide or try to change their sexuality. Much research shows that trying to change a person’s sexuality is damaging and ineffective. We cannot change our children’s sexuality more than we can change whether or not they have natural talents in math or gymnastics. We do not control our children and who they become at all.

I cannot tell you if your daughter is gay. I can tell you that this is not for you to figure out. This is her journey, and she has come to you telling you that she is gay. Please support her in her process. Please do not try harder to get her to fit in with her heterosexual friends (if your daughter wants to try harder to fit in with gay/bi/queer friends). She will see this as rejection of who she is. This will also prevent her from connecting to a community (and resources) that will include her and help her understand her sexual development. Teens who do not gain support at home are much more likely to have depression, attempt suicide, use chemicals, and are at much higher risk for HIV and STDs.

Follow your daughter’s lead. If you feel fear, sadness, anger, shame, worry that you will be judged, please do not try to work through this with your daughter. Work with a therapist who has knowledge about gay/bi/queer/trans populations. Talk through this and work out your own emotions so that your daughter does not end up needing to worry about your feelings about her sexuality. Her sexuality is for her to figure out, just as your sexuality was yours to figure out.

Be kind to your daughter and kind to yourself.

All my best to you,
megan

**Source: Ryan, C. Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. San Francisco, CA: Marian Wright Edelman Institute, San Francisco State University, 2009.

A Normal Teenager?

Many parents contact me in order to arrange psychotherapy for their adolescent/teenager. I generally complete my first session with both the teen and parent(s) present. This first session reveals a lot of information to me (what the teen sees as the “problem” vs. what the parent sees as the “problem,” relationship dynamics, etc.) but the most striking hidden question I often hear parents asking is, “Is my teenager normal!?!?”

Does my teen need therapy?

Often times there is an urgency and fear that I hear in the parents’ voice(s). Teenagers are so… foreign. Unpredictable. Different.

When I hear the urgency and fear coming from parents, I talk with the parents alone. Then the questions fly: “Is my kid going to end up in counseling forever?! What do I do about _______ behavior?! She wants to dye her hair PURPLE! How do I deal with him? She’s sooo rebellious! He won’t even talk to me anymore!”

I do not believe there is a “normal” teenager. Teens are on their own, unique journey. Raising a teenager is about balance. They are starting to break away from parents a bit. Parents are learning to let go. Teens use their own voice. Parents learn when not to use theirs. Teens make mistakes that parents could likely have prevented. Parents don’t say, “I told you so.” Instead, parents guide in the learning process or shut up. Teens have problems with friends and partners. Parents walk alongside their teen on their journey. When teens make choices that go against familial beliefs, parents hold their teen accountable with the message being, “I love you and that is why I am holding you accountable.” Again, parenting a teenager is about balance and a clear message.

Now… the purple hair. Do you fight him/her on it (which will make your teen fight more) or let them dye their hair? I don’t have a canned answer that will fit for all teens. The best thing I can say is: pick your battles. There will be more to come!

What strategies have you seen or used to keep balance in your relationship with a teen?

Parenting During a Pandemic

If you are reading this, please stop and take a deep breath before you continue. This is hard, we are three weeks into physical distancing and the novelty of it has definitely worn off. Fatigue and exhaustion are setting in and families are feeling it. There are a lot of lists circulating right now about how to support your kiddo during this time (we will talk more about those below) but the most important way you can help your kid right now is to take care of yourself. You are your family’s nervous system. This does not mean you need to be calm all the time, because let’s face it, you won’t be! However, the more you are able to stay regulated, the more your children will be able to. So let’s let go of the idea that good parenting equals being selfless. Kids learn by your modeling and them watching. So if you’re feeling unbalanced, stressed, or a bit unhinged, here are a few ways to get regulated:

  1. Increase Your Movement: There is a lot of pent up energy from being cooped up all day. Release this through moving your body. Take a family walk, turn up the tunes and have a dance party, or do 10 jumping jacks.
  2. Find Some Alone Time: Easier said than done right? Relationships are meant to have ebbs and flows, and we are not used to being together this much, try to find a few minutes to yourself, even if this means locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes.
  3. Create Predictability: The brain does not like when things aren’t predictable, it signals to the body that this means danger. One of the hardest parts of this pandemic is the uncertainty, what’s going to happen next?, when will it be over? Create a schedule to give the brain some predictability, but keep it flexible.
  4. BREATHE!! It sounds simple and cliche, but even breaths in and out signal to the brain that it is safe. Throughout the day stop and breathe. Set a timer on your phone once an hour with a reminder if you need to.

This is an incredibly stressful time. We are all experiencing collective trauma and grief. We are all going to feel emotional ups and downs. Perhaps you’re even feeling heightened anxiety, emotional overwhelm, or shut down. You do not need to hide your emotions from your children. They are perceptive and can sense your feelings even if you slap a smile on your face and tell them everything is ok. Share with them (in an age appropriate way) how you are feeling. You can follow it up with how you are supporting yourself through these feelings. For example:

  •  “Mommy is feeling overwhelmed by the news today she’s going to turn it off and take a few deep breaths.”
  • “‘Daddy is feeling sad that we had to cancel our trip, I’m going to let myself feel sad about it today.”

And lastly, when you snap at your kids, which you will!, be sure to come back together with them and reconnect.

How are you managing this time as a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Blog written by Annalise John, MSW, LICSW, therapist for kids, teens, families, and young adults.

My Child Has Depression

How Can I Help My Child Who Has Depression?

Depression is a serious illness that can make it difficult for children to engage in school, create meaningful relationships, and enjoy life. If untreated, it can have lasting effects on their growth and development. If your child is depressed, it can be overwhelming knowing how to support them. How can I help my child who has Depression?

Here are some ways to support your child and yourself when navigating depression:

  • Validate Your Child’s Feelings
    Many children and teens in therapy describe how the adults in their lives minimize and dismiss their struggles. In an effort to make their child feel better, well-meaning parents can do this by trying to find the silver lining for their child. Sometimes parents will say things such as, “You’ll feel better tomorrow”, “This isn’t a big deal” or “It could be worse.” Instead of saying these things, acknowledge that the problems in your child’s life matter, even if they may seem trivial to you. Give your child permission to feel what they feel, and do so in a non judgmental way.  When talking with your child, avoid asking too many questions or trying to solve their problems. Listen, be with them, and empathize. When your child feels validated, it not only strengthens their sense of self, but also strengthens your relationship with them. This makes them more likely to be open and honest with you in the future. Validating your child’s feelings is important in helping them build self-esteem and promotes emotional health.
  • Spend Time With Your Child
    Your depressed child might have a tendency to isolate. Spend time with them. Social connection is an important aspect of healing depression. Try not to turn this into a power struggle. Meet them where they are at, and engage in activities you can both enjoy.
  • Seek Professional Help
    Seek out a mental health professional to support your child and family. If your child is old enough, involve them in treatment choices. Research a few therapists or counselors and get a feel for their style/approach to therapy. If your child doesn’t connect with one, try another.
  • Don’t Keep it a Secret
    Respect your child’s privacy but don’t keep their depression a secret. This can lead to further feelings of shame. If your child is comfortable let a trusted teacher or school counselor know so that they have support in that setting as well. Be open with your child’s siblings, they will know that something is ‘wrong.’
  • Don’t Ignore Worsening Symptoms
    You know your child better than anyone. Trust your gut, if you feel that something is off it probably is. Do research on symptoms of depression and suicide. Notice changes in behaviors and emotions, increase in complaints of aches and pains, increased social withdrawal, increased feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness. In younger children notice changes in their play. If your child says phrases like “I wish I was dead” take it seriously.
  • Take Care of Yourself
    Having a child with a mental illness is not easy, take care of yourself. Seek out your own support and be honest about your feelings. Children notice SO much of what adults do. One of the best ways you can help your child is to model good self care. As much as possible, engage in movement, good nutrition, and regular sleep.
  • Be Patient and Hopeful
    Children can recover from depression, but it won’t happen overnight. Be patient and be hopeful and focus on healthy lifestyle for yourself and your child.

What have you done to help your child with depression?

Blog written by Annalise John, MSW, LICSW. To schedule an appointment for yourself or your child with Annalise, please visit our website.

Family Screen Time

We live in a country that is “Screen Heavy” and it will likely continue to get heavier in our developing world.  Screen Time includes how much time is spent on: phones, tablets, computers, televisions, and playing video games. As a therapist to many teens and their families, I will let you in on two secrets:

  1. Parents are frustrated with their teens’ excess screen use.
  2. Teens are frustrated with their parents’ excess screen use.

Parents discuss with me their constant struggle to monitor screen time and often feel like it’s a fight not worth fighting due to the intensity of screen access in our world.  Many schools now assign tablets to every student for the school year. While this is a more effective and environmentally friendly way for students to complete work, it creates more opportunity for increased screen time.  Parents now need a way to get a hold of their teens for a multitude of reasons. Cell phones make that possible, and create a feeling of safety for many parents. More access to screens. And we haven’t even touched on video games!

Teens share their frustration with how much parents are tied to their phones because of work, other family members/friends, social media, shopping, gambling/game playing.  This may come as a surprise to you parents, but teens rarely share this with you. Why? They very often fear that their screen time will be decreased if they raise concern about your screen time!

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by creating boundaries for  ALL THE SCREENS at once, start small. Begin to shift the culture of screen time in your family.

“Baby steps to the elevator….”  – What About Bob?

What to Do?

As a household, do you have any designated “No Screen Time?”  Hold a family meeting, allowing all family members to participate and choose regular times that you will not use screens.  Maybe one night/day a week there is family fun time that includes interactive activities with No Screens Allowed.

  • No Screen Time Suggestions:  Meal times, car rides, set time of day (example: between the hours of 5pm-8pm).
  • Activity Suggestions:  Picnic dinner in the park, family bike ride or hike, yard games, board games, craft night, bonfires, camping, indoor climbing walls, bowling, family book club, cooking a special meal/treat together, exercise classes.

Have you tried No Screen Time in your family? How has it gone?

-Blog written by Alyssa Haggerty, MSW, LGSW

How to Create Effective Household Rules with your Preteen

If you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head over your pre-teen’s inexplicably dramatic or uncharacteristic behavior, you’re not alone. Kids between the ages of 9-12 are undergoing a ton of major changes as they leave childhood and enter adolescence. This developmental stage is characterized by a drive for increased independence, experimenting with new forms of self-expression and identity, and a ton of very confusing physical and emotional changes, constantly bubbling under the surface, that can cause major emotional (and behavioral) turmoil. Tweens can greatly benefit from some additional nurturing and support during these years, but often it’s a challenge to figure out how to parent amidst all of the uncertainty and newness.

Maybe your kiddo has outgrown the rules that you’ve always had in place, maybe they’re ready for new challenges and/or new limits, or maybe you’re realizing that the old way of doing things just isn’t working anymore. It’s time for a change. Creating rules with structure can help your kiddo learn developmentally appropriate limits and can help you stay calm and in-control. If you can maintain your own emotional cool when your tween’s behavior goes sideways, you’ll be better able to protect a high degree of warmth and predictability in your relationship — two relationship qualities that your tween desperately needs to experience during this sometimes tumultuous stage of life.

However, implementing new rules is hard, because kids have grown accustomed to the household status quo.

parenting tips

Tips for creating effective rules

Clear

Your child needs to know exactly what the expectation is. (For example, instead of telling them to “clean the bathroom,” make sure your child knows specifically what that means – “cleaning the bathroom” means: cleaning the toilet, taking out the garbage, and wiping down the surfaces (or whatever the steps are).

Clear expectations help your child know what they need to do, and they help prevent YOU from becoming upset if your child doesn’t do something the way you wanted them to. A clear rule or expectation helps clear up any confusion or misinterpretation, and teaches a child how to perform new behaviors.

Enforceable

Think about what you can verify – will you be able to know whether or not this rule was followed? How? (If you can’t enforce the rule, avoid setting it up as a hard-and-fast “rule” and try to incorporate these more ambiguous expectations in conversations about behavior in a more general sense).

For the rules you create for your home, always follow through with enforcing the rules exactly as you had planned, in exactly the same way each and every time. Kids will still test the limits, but when you follow through with the consequences (and rewards!) exactly as planned, it will teach them the importance of limits and it will build their trust in YOU as their parent.

Time-limited

Make sure any consequences that are tied to “breaking” a rule are time-limited. For example: if the consequence for not doing homework, or getting a negative call home from school is “no video games,” make sure there is a predictable and pre-planned “end” to the consequence (i.e. “no video games for 2 hours,” or “no video games for the rest of tonight”). A shorter time frame (coupled with consistent incentives/consequences) will give you more frequent opportunities to reinforce behaviors.

The younger the child, the shorter the consequence needs to be.

Developmentally appropriate

Consider the developmental stage of your child when setting up rules and expectations. For example, the chore of “clean the bathroom,” or “pick up the living room” will look different for a 5 year old than it will for an 11 year old. Consider your child’s current abilities and what expectations are reasonable for a child of their age, and create rules that your child will reasonably be able to follow.

is my teen suffering from anxiety

Tips for using consequences

  • As much as possible, stay neutral when communicating rules and delivering consequences. Try to avoid letting your emotions take the wheel, even if you are upset or feeling challenged by your child. Maintaining your own emotional cool (especially in conflict-laden situations) is an important aspect of helping your child learn to navigate difficult conversations and regulate their own emotions in times of stress.
  • Pre-planned consequences are best. They allow your child to understand the connection between their behavior and the consequence (or reward) that follows. Plus, if the consequence isn’t predictable, your kiddo will feel extra hurt by their perception that you’re punishing them unfairly. Pre-planned consequences also prevent you from making up new punishments on-the-spot, which can be especially dangerous if you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed or out-of-control.
  • Pre-planned rewards and consequences help you stay consistent, which helps both you and your child avoid confusion when it comes time to follow through with a consequence (or reward). The key here is to write down the rewards and/or consequences tied to specific behaviors (so you don’t forget the plan) and then follow through with it in the same way 100% of the time.
  • Try to deliver consequences (or rewards) as immediately as possible following a rule-breaking or rule-following incident. This helps reinforce the message and aids in developing the child’s understanding of desired and/or undesired behaviors.

Stick with it, be consistent, and don’t give up hope if it doesn’t work out the way you hoped the first time or two. With persistence and consistency, your kids will adjust to a new way of doing things and they will learn to live with new rules.

It is so important that you have support around the new plan. If you have a parenting partner, make sure you are on the same page regarding the rules, and make sure you both are enforcing the rules consistently in order to avoid a “good cop / bad cop” situation.

Practice enforcing the rules in an unemotional manner. If you can follow through with the pre-planned consequences just as you planned, the “consequence will speak for itself” and you will avoid letting your own emotions escalate a situation even further.
When explaining rules to kids, it’s important to emphasize choice and that you support them making the choice that will result in the outcome they want (ie, playing video games). However, if they decide not to do their homework, they have made a choice that results in them not being able to play for the rest of the evening. But, because your consequence is time-limited, they can earn the video games tomorrow (by making a different choice).

Let us know. How did creating new expectations and consequences go in your family?


Blog was written by Sentier therapist, Elin Amundson, MSW, LGSW

I Don’t Agree With My Teen

Mood swings. Fighting. Slammed doors. The silent treatment. Eye rolling.

Parents of teenagers often come to our office worried and frustrated about all of these things. The teenage years can be hard, and full of so many changes. And communicating with your teen during that time can seem even harder! Do you feel like conversations with your teen often end up in a blowout argument…one that nobody wins?

These communication struggles during the teenage years are to be expected. Your teen is exploring their own identity and is constantly “testing the waters” to see what they think and feel about an issue or experience. But, disagreements and fighting can be exhausting and often lead both sides to feel defeated. An important part of making these disagreements a little more bearable and more effective is validation.

Validating your teen, or anyone for that matter, does not mean you agree with their choices, opinion, or behaviors. It does mean that you understand what they feel and recognize why emotion might be coming up for them. Validation sends the message that it is okay to experience that emotion, which actually makes teens feel safe to be vulnerable with you. Vulnerability leads to greater honesty and openness.

teen counseling minnesota

Here are some practical steps you can take when you and your teen aren’t seeing eye to eye:

  1. Give your teen your full attention. Try to avoid drafting an email or watching TV as you and your teen are talking. Close your laptop, turn off the TV, and physically turn your body towards your teen so they know you see and hear them fully. If you can’t at that moment, be honest, and then find a time you can both come back and be fully present.
  2. Demonstrate understanding. You don’t have to agree with your teen to understand where they are coming from. Try something like, “It makes sense that you are angry…” Perhaps there are other things that have gone on in their day which are increasing their stress and anxiety. You can likely relate to this.
  3. Look for areas of compromise. Of course, there are going to be some non-negotiables with your teen. Communicate expectations and boundaries directly and clearly and then see where you can both find some small areas of compromise to work toward a solution. Be okay with solving problems “half-way” and continuing to work on them.
  4. Remember it’s okay to take a “time out.” Once emotions are heated to a certain level, no one can give their full attention to the other. This is when parents and teens often spiral into even bigger arguments and greater misunderstanding. Taking a time out allows for you and your teen to calm and soothe big emotions. Be sure to schedule a time to come back to the issue so as not to avoid the conflict or issue at hand. This can sometimes be further invalidating if your teen perceives you have “just forgotten” about something that is important to them. This is something we hear from teens in therapy a lot.
  5. Avoid blaming. The minute a teen hears “It’s all my fault”, whether you explicitly say this or not, they will likely shut down. Blaming creates a sense of shame and can spiral your teen into negative thoughts about themselves, which makes it almost impossible to see solutions or areas of growth.
  6. End on a strength. Do your best to end these hard conversations by pointing out some way you can see your teen is trying. Did they stay on the couch and talk versus going to their room and slamming the door? Recognize that and acknowledge it.

As humans, we are more likely to change when we feel like we CAN. Pointing out areas of growth and strength does not excuse an unwanted behavior, but actually encourages your teen to keep trying.

Conclusion

Hang in there. Effective communication is difficult and exhausting at times. It takes practice.

Do you have any strategies you use that have been helpful during those tough teenage arguments? We’d love to hear from you!

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Tana Welter, MSW, LICSW.