|Counseling and Psychiatric Services for Adolescents and Young Adults
Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
Teens use phones for far more than texting and talking today (image via flickr)
The sight of a teenager with their attention focused on a smart phone, thumbs flying and oblivious to the rest of the world, is so common that it has already become a cliché. If you asked many parents what their teen is doing that requires so much thumb action, the likely answer would be “texting” and much of the time, they would be right. An average teen currently sends more than 60 text messages a day according to a study by Pew Research. But what many parents don’t understand is that as teens transition to smart phones, they are doing much more than texting. Here are some of the other things your teen is on their phone.
1. Listening to Music – Pandora
There are a wide range of apps that provide access to music on both primary smart phone platforms, but amongst teens, Pandora seems to be the top pick. The music service allows teens to create their own radio stations by selecting a certain musical group, genre, or song. Pandora than pulls together similar music to make a custom station. For teens, this provides easy access to new music all the time without incurring the costs associated with downloading music or purchasing CDs.
2. Taking and Making Pictures – Instagram
Instagram is the top photo editing app available for smart phones. Teens love it because they can edit the pictures they take with the cell phone – the primary method most of them use to document important moments in their lives – edit them, and then post them directly to the social network platform of their choice. It is a completely streamlined way of taking pictures, putting your own spin on them, and then sharing them with the world.
3. Playing with Their Friends – Zynga’s With Friends Games
This suite of games from Zynga, the company that made Facebook games a household phenomenon, has been popular with smart phone users of all ages right from the start. The “with friends” apps include:
- Words with Friends, which is similar to online scrabble
- Scramble with Friends, which is like a cross between Sudoku and a word search
- Hanging with Friends, which resembles a game of hangman
These games are fun in their own right, but the “with friends” part of each game is one of the main attractions for teens. Each game lets you challenge people from your social networks to play, enabling you to play very long distance rounds against people you could never play against in person. Additionally, because the games are turn based, teens can play when it works for their schedule and aren’t required to be actively playing at the same time as their opponent.
4. Watching…..Something – YouTube
Smart phones make it possible to access YouTube, Netflix, and many other content providers from anywhere which means your teen might be watching a new movie on Netflix, a funny cat video on YouTube, or an episode of their favorite television show.
Regardless of how your teen uses their smartphone, parents should set limits with the phones. Parents can simply monitor what their teen does on their phone by knowing what apps are loaded, how much they talk and text, as well as simply limiting how much and what times of the day teens are permitted to use them. Simply instituting the rule that there are no phones allowed at the dinner table can go far towards increased healthy communication with your teen. In this age where the world of entertainment can literally be at our fingertips, we need to remember that nothing can replace the value of face to face communication and interaction.
Wednesday, June 6th, 2012
Teens at a swimming party in the late summer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Teenagers start looking forward to summer vacation as soon as they come back from Christmas break, but parents often start longing for the first day of school within days of school getting out. One of the most common summer struggles is finding enriching activities that teens are interested enough in doing that they will get out or bed or off of the computer. While most parents want their teens to enjoy their school break, they don’t want them sleeping all day and staying up all night playing video games or using the computer. The key to a successful summer is finding the balance between the two extremes. Here are 10 things for teens to do this summer to help achieve that balance.
1. Make a Movie
This can be a great activity for teens to do with their friends and it offers a wide range of learning and enrichment opportunities including writing the script, designing the shots, sets, as well as costumes, filming, editing, and working together as a team. Once their movie is done, they can upload it to YouTube for all their friends to see.
This offers enrichment opportunities and physical activity while giving your teen something fun to do with their friends. Let your teen design and set-up a Frisbee golf course in a local park and then invite friends over to play in a tournament that lasts all summer long. Offer a cool prize to the winner at the end of the summer as extra incentive.
3. Grow Something
While it may not seem like a ton of fun, growing something green can be very rewarding for teens and once the green shoots peek through the dirt, many teens will be hooked on helping it grow to full size.
4. Have a Movie Marathon
Let your teens plan an all night movie marathon for their friends and neighbors. Feature teen favorites like the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movies and put your teen in charge of the details. They will learn valuable lessons in planning, budgeting, and logistics.
5. Organize an Event for Charity
Give your teen the opportunity to learn new skills, have fun with their friends, and give back to their community by organizing an event for charity. Make it more worth their time by letting them split the proceeds with the charity which can give teens who have had trouble finding summer jobs a way to earn a little money.
Let your teen host a water balloon war with the other kids in the neighborhood. You can even turn this into a neighborhood block party and have a cookout for everyone after the war.
7. Learn How to Cook on the Grill
Summer is a great opportunity for your teen to learn to cook on the grill. Work together to try different recipes. You never know; you may create a new family favorite!
8. Organize a Summer Long Board Game Tournament
Encourage your teen to organize a tournament at a local park or community center that features favorite family board games. By including games for different age groups, the tournament can appeal to all ages and give families something to do together each week. Your teen will learn important skills like planning, advertising, organizing, and working with people.
9. Learn the Stars
Challenge your teen to learn about the night sky over the summer. Connect them with resources for learning how to use a telescope, to identify the constellations, and any other things that interest them about astronomy.
10. Have a Photo Scavenger Hunt
Encourage your teen to explore an interest in photography by creating a photo scavenger hunt for them to do over the course of the summer. Make a list of interesting, unusual, and creative pictures to take over the summer and then turn their best shots into a memory book for the family coffee table.
It isn’t hard to find fun and interesting activities for your teen to do over the summer. Start with things that your teen is already interested in and provide them with opportunities to explore those interests in ways that expand their skills and enrich their lives.
Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
As teens stretch their wings and start functioning farther and farther from the family unit, some parents struggle both with letting go and with finding ways to entice their teens back into the nest for a little family time. The bonds created by shared experience are just as important to teens as they are to toddlers. If your family has children of different ages, one of the best ways to have fun as a family is to have family game night.
Family game night provides the one thing you need to entice your teen, fun. It may not be the kind of fun that comes from holding a controller or looking at a laptop, but it may be enough to get them to the table. Once the game starts, your teen’s competitive nature and the sense of family togetherness will keep them coming back for more. While the main goal is spending time having fun together, family game night also offers some valuable life lessons that everyone, even Mom and Dad, can benefit from. As an added bonus, you might make a lifelong memory or two as you battle over the Monopoly Board or trounce each other at Trivial Pursuit.
According to Scholastic.com, the lessons learned on family game night don’t come from playing the educational game with the highest teacher rating or from stocking the shelf with every new game on the market. The lessons about life are taught in small ways just by playing a game together. From how to communicate to taking turns, these life lessons serve as good reminders for everyone in the family and reinforce important messages that many teens need to hear.
Lesson 1: Play by the Rules
Life is like a board game in that there are specific rules that everyone is expected to follow. In life, these rules are represented by laws, company policies, school policies, and family expectations. During family game night, when you play a board game, it is easy to see that when everyone plays by the rules, the game runs smoothly and everyone has the same chance to win or lose. This is an important message for teens whose world is often too complex for them to see that they same thing is true. When everyone follows the rules, things run smoothly and everyone has the chance to win.
Lesson 2: Learning How to Win and How to Lose
One of the most valuable lessons that playing games together during a family game night can teach younger children is that sometimes they will win and sometimes they will lose and they are okay, either way. It doesn’t matter which as long as they do their best and take their win or their loss gracefully. Many teens and their parents can benefit from revisiting this lesson. At the end of the day, everyone has days where they are the winner and everyone has days that they are the loser and remembering that can make it easier to be thankful for the wins and to let go of the losses.
Lesson 3: What Comes Around, Goes Around
In a board game, just like in real life, if you make a move that knocks your brother back to start, it is very likely that he will be looking for a chance to do the same to you. If you slip your sister a get out of jail free card just because she needs it, she is more likely to spot you a $100 to buy a little plastic house on your property. It is one thing to say that you should do unto others as you want them to do unto you; it is another to see your sister’s sadness at losing the game after you sent her back to start every time you could.
To get your family excited about family game night, pick a date and then have everyone nominate a game or two to be played. Hand out voting tokens as the night approaches and let everyone vote for the games they want to play. The two or three games with the most votes make the cut. Make sure you have some great snacks on hand and let the family set the flow and pace of the night. Focus on having fun with your family and you will be amazed at what everyone learns along the way.
Monday, January 30th, 2012
When we are overtired, everything in our life suffers. We are moody and irritable which affects our personal relationships. Our ability to concentrate and focus is compromised, making it difficult to learn, retain, and recall information. We lack energy which makes exercise and physical activity difficult. We drive when we are drowsy which endangers our lives and the lives of everyone else on the road. For teens and adolescents, sleep deprivation can cause these problems and more at one of the most crucial developmental periods of their lives.
Why Sleep Matters
Sleep is as important to our health as breathing clean air and eating healthy food. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), there is a relationship between how much sleep you get, the quality of the sleep you get, and your overall health. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can impact your hormone levels, impact the way your body handles insulin, and increase your risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and becoming obese. In addition to the health risks, sleep deprivation is also the primary cause of drowsy driving and has a detrimental effect on grades and scholastic achievement.
The Facts about Teens and Sleep
If your teen is staying up late and struggling to drag themselves out of bed in the morning, it isn’t because they are being lazy or disobedient; and simply telling them that they need to go to bed earlier isn’t likely to fix this issue. Our biological sleep patterns shift when we are teens making it difficult to fall asleep before about 11:00PM. Because teens need as much as nine hours sleep each night, this biological shift makes it difficult for teens to get the sleep they need and still get up for school on time.
Teens are not getting the sleep they need. One study cited by the National Sleep Foundation showed that 85% of teenagers are getting less than 8.5 hours of sleep on most school nights despite the fact that many teens actually need more than nine hours of sleep every night. Another study showed that 26% of high school students are sleeping less than 6.5 hours a night which is causing a serious sleep debt to accrue.
The Dangers for Teens
The list of problems that sleep deprivation contributes to is long and varied. While most of these problems affect anyone who isn’t getting enough sleep, the consequences to teenagers can be different than those for adults. Here are some of the problems the National Sleep Foundation and the American Psychological Association sleep deprivation in teens can cause:
- Problems with learning including difficulty concentrating, listening, problem solving, remembering, and with behavior. Sleep deprivation can lead to aggressive and inappropriate behavior including outbursts, anger, and impatience.
- Increases the likelihood of overeating and making bad food choices which when combined with hormonal changes caused by lack of sleep contribute to weight gain and obesity.
- Increases the use of caffeine and nicotine.
- Increases the risk of being involved in a drowsy driving accident.
- May be linked to depression and other mood disorders.
The best way to combat sleep deprivation in teenagers is to make sleep a priority and encourage them to follow a consistent sleep routine. Helping teens learn to use naps appropriately, create a good sleep environment, and stick to a schedule can decrease their likelihood of being sleep deprived while also teaching them the skills they need to be good sleep managers throughout their lives.
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
If you are the parent of an adolescent, it is likely that you will experience problems communicating with them at some point before they become adults. This is one of the most common problems parents and teens have to overcome and is often the root cause of other problems.
Teens are going through one of the most significant transitions of their lives; they should be learning to make their own decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and to become independent from their parents. This can be stressful, confusing, and frustrating for them and you as they struggle to handle situations and make decisions without the confidence that comes from experience. When parents take this struggle and frustration as a personal rejection or label it as just a bad attitude, it can close the door to effective communication at a time when teens need that two way interaction more than ever.
One of the most common mistakes parents make is forgetting that effective communication involves both sending a clear message and trying to receive the message as intended. Parents need to be able to listen more than they talk. This can be a challenge when it feels like your teen is being evasive, belligerent, or withdrawn and may feel impossible when it seems like they aren’t listening to you.
Open the door to meaningful communication with your teen by:
- Being willing to let them talk with you about everything and nothing. Make sure you have a strong reliable communication channel for the important stuff by using it even when there isn’t anything of great importance to say.
- Focusing on your teenager, show them you are interested in their life and engaged in your conversation with them by giving them your full attention, listening without judging, and being as respectful to their views and opinions as you expect them to be of yours.
- Using supportive, engaging language that shows you are listening and invites your teen to ask for advice, seek support, and turn to you in times of trouble.
- Making sure you stay on the same page by using your own words to restate important points your teen makes to confirm you have a shared understanding.
- Involving your teen in decision making and troubleshooting as a team.
- Maintaining a daily connection by spending time together, even if it is only a few minutes before bed or the length of the car ride to school.
- Using shared interests and activities to provide teens with a pressure-free platform to talk. It isn’t always easy for them to bring up sensitive issues or to talk through things they are struggling with when they are on the spot.
- Respecting your teen’s privacy. This helps foster independence and creates a bond of trust that increases the likelihood that they will come to you when it really matters.
- Talking to your teen with respect as you would talk to another adult to help them learn how to communicate and interact like one.
Make sure that door stays open by avoiding the following:
- Talking down to your teen, demeaning their ideas, or using every conversation as a chance to criticize them. You, of course, can disagree and hold to your own standards and expectations of conduct, but let them know that you value what they say and think.
- Talking over your teen or interrupting them when they are speaking to you.
- Dismissing your teen’s point of view or their concerns.
- Being judgmental, criticizing their friends, belittling their beliefs, or overriding your teen’s opinions.
The bottom line is that you want to be the rock they rely on, the person they know they can always turn to when they are struggling or in trouble. In order to be that person for them, they need to have confidence that you will listen, you won’t fly off the handle, and you will help them find the right solution to their problem. The keys to fostering that type of relationship are being reliable, listening, staying calm, and helping them figure out how to solve the problems that matter to them.
Monday, January 16th, 2012
As the first few days of 2012 roll by, many people will be talking about and setting their New Year’s resolutions. However, even those who set resolutions don’t always expect them to be successful. The statistics don’t lie; 35% of those who make resolutions don’t even make it through the first day. But, statistics go both ways. According to a study completed at the University of Scranton, almost half of those who set resolutions go on to achieve some degree of success as opposed to only 4% of those who think about setting goals, do not commit to a specific resolution.
If you are interested in helping your teen set and stick to a couple New Year’s resolutions, think about making it a family affair. Setting goals together fosters the type of supportive environment that helps people succeed at making life changes. Even if each family member has their own set of resolutions, you can act as accountability partners for each other and work together to stay on track. In addition to the family unity benefits that this type of activity can offer, getting teenagers to start thinking what they want to achieve will help them develop the skills needed for long-term planning.
If your teen is resisting participation, talk about why goals and resolutions are important from your perspective. Then listen to their objections thoughtfully. If you cannot convince them to get on board, seek some kind of compromise. Resolutions and goals must be sincere to be attainable. Forced or begrudging participation may result in a list of resolutions, but it isn’t likely to result in long term change.
To help both parents and teens set their resolutions, we pulled together a list of some of the more common resolutions to provide each group a place to start. As you work through the list and determine your own resolutions, remember that being sincere about the resolutions you set and believing that you can succeed are the two factors that will contribute most to your success.
Ideas for Teens
- Commit to helping out around the house in one new way every week.
- Commit to being more helpful to your family or more social at school.
- Make yourself available take over the care of the family pets.
- Make a commitment to turn on the TV less.
- Decide to be nicer to your brothers and sisters, especially if they look up to you.
- Decide to read more, and to read just for fun. Set a goal for how many additional books you want to read next year.
- Resolve to ask for help when you need it and take help when it’s offered.
- Resolve to volunteer and give some of your time to someone else.
- Commit to being more organized and make a plan for how you will get organized and stay that way.
- Commit to taking school seriously.
Ideas for Parents
- Resolve to be a healthier family and set a good example for your children.
- Commit to eating dinner together at the table several nights a week.
- Decide to focus on getting more quality time with both your children and your spouse or significant other.
- Choose a home improvement project or a vacation that they family can plan and undertake together.
- Resolve to enforce your own rules.
- Commit to helping your children establish and adhere to their own boundaries.
- Decide that when interacting with your teen, you will listen more than you talk.
- Commit to saying one sincere, positive thing about each member of your family every day.
- Choose to focus on the good decisions your teens make at least as much as you focus on the bad decisions they make.
- Resolve to get your teen or your family whatever help they need to overcome their challenges and make it through their struggles successfully.
Monday, December 5th, 2011
Is your teen exhibiting signs of holiday stress?
In the frenzy of planning, shopping, wrapping, decorating, entertaining, and visiting that often punctuates the holiday season, it is no wonder that many parents find the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to be one of the most stressful of the entire year. Unfortunately, as our stress level increases, we often increase the stress level of those around us while also becoming less able to see the signs of stress the other members of our families’ exhibit. Without some blatant flashing sign like a school suspension, angry outburst, or emotional meltdown, we may be too wrapped up in our own holiday stress to notice that our teens are having a tough time too.
Teenagers have their own set of holiday stress, especially if they are part of a family that is struggling financially, dealing with a separation or divorce, or facing the holidays without a loved one for the first time. Stress impacts teens in many of the same ways it impacts adults. They can experience physical symptoms like headaches and insomnia. They can struggle emotionally and suddenly have a short fuse and be quick to anger. They may turn to unhealthy behaviors like binge eating as a way to cope with their stress.
What Can Parents Do to Help?
The first and most important thing is to notice if your teenager is stressed. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in Americastudy(http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/national-report.pdf) , while almost half of teens report being more stressed out from one year to the next not even 30% of parents noticed. Pay attention for the signs that your teen is worried and then work together to determine the source of their stress. Sometimes, just knowing that they aren’t alone can make a huge difference in how much stress they are experiencing.
Here are some other strategies parents can use to put the whole family on a stress-reduction diet for the holidays.
Be honest, but be reassuring. It may be tempting to take this opportunity to over share with your teen and unload all your adult problems, worries, and concerns onto your teens. Resist that temptation by remembering that even if they are taller than you or have a moustache, they aren’t adults yet and don’t need to be burdened with adult issues.
Institute a 2 minute breathing break a couple times a day where the whole family gets together and focuses on breathing. Just a couple minutes of deliberate, mindful breathing can wash away worry and alleviate accumulated stress.
With all the holiday hustle and bustle, it is easy for everyone to get out of the habit of exercising. Since exercise is great for soothing stress, get everyone moving by turning on their favorite music and daring them to dance. Get off the couch and go for a walk or rearrange the living room, just get everyone moving and burning off some of their stress.
The holidays are a time of giving, but often that means giving presents. Holiday stress over how many presents they will get, who will get the most, what they want that they won’t get, and feeling guilty for wanting things the family cannot afford can be soothed with a simple shift in priorities. Take time out of shopping and shipping to volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, nursing home, or any other venue that allows everyone in your family to give some of themselves and change their outlook on the holiday season.