Your Child’s Mental Health is More Important Than You Think

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I can think of no better place to focus our attention than on our children and families.

1 in 6 children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder, according to recent statistics at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and behavioral and mental health concerns are even more common as kids get older. ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed disorder, then behavioral problems, followed by anxiety and depression.  According to this report, diagnoses of depression and anxiety in kids aged 6-17 years, have been steadily increasing. As a mental health provider serving children, I am not surprised by this report.

We live in a competitive world and our young people shoulder high expectations. We also live in a world where the public has greater access to understanding and seeking help for emotional concerns. I do see the stigma lifting in young people and their parents seeking and accepting help for emotional regulation (specifically anxiety, depression, impulse control, and anger). More often than not, I hear parents report that they are not putting pressure on their children, rather their child seems to have high expectations of themselves. After all, a lot is riding on their ability to perform and excel. But how do we know when our children are in need of additional support, and how can parents offer to help their child through the difficult times?

3 Signs That Your Child Is Stressed:

  • Having difficulty sustaining and initiating social relationships – these are the key to a full and happy emotional life for teens especially, as they move into the world outside of home.
  • Having a change of eating and sleeping patterns. A change in eating patterns may or may not produce weight loss or gain, but notice what and when they are eating. Also, sleep has become something teens seem to think they can do without. Growing children should be getting about 9 hours a night of sleep. They need this for physical health, and also for brain health. The brain organizes information when you are sleeping, and it is also an opportunity for kids to physically grow. Many kids report having trouble falling or staying asleep, and this can be a sign of a larger problem.
  • Extreme mood fluctuations or irritability can be a sign of deep feelings of anxiety or depression. Often as kids get older they feel the desire to solve problems on their own. They can pull away from parents and begin to rely on their peers for validation and support. However, they may not be getting the type of support they need. Kids who struggle with flexibility or change may need additional support.

5 Tips to Support Your Child’s Mental Health:

  1. Check in with them about their feelings on a variety of things.
    I notice that most families don’t really talk about their feelings unless they are angry. Be sure to share your feelings about your day with your child and encourage them to share their feelings with you.  This can include sharing empathetic feelings about the situations others are going through and encouraging them to listen to the feelings of others. Even if you are reading a story or watching a TV show, talk about the characters and feelings you both are having or your reaction to the story line.
  2. Listen more than you talk. Most parents think they need to offer advice to their teens, but they are much more receptive to being with you if you listen. Chances are, what you would like to say to them has already been said. Asking them questions, like, “How do you feel about that?” or “That’s a tricky problem, how would you go about solving it?” lets them know they are heard and gives them space to figure out solutions.
  3. One of the best things you can offer your child is a consistent schedule of sleeping and eating, and creating healthy choices in those routines. In other words, eating fast food on the way home from soccer practice nightly is routine, but it is not encouraging a healthy eating practice.  Families are under a lot of stress to manage these extracurricular activities, but healthy eating and sleep hygiene are essential to good mental health. This also instills trust and reliability in feeling cared for.
  4. Know how to set limits with electronics and start early. Younger kids shouldn’t be on electronics more than 2 hours a day. Encourage family, social, or outside activities instead. Follow these rules yourself for limiting screen time.
  5. Get outside. Walk, run, picnic, play a yard game, garden, ride bikes, play tennis… You get the idea!  Every day, get outside for 10 minutes, at least. It helps clear the mind, helps the body manage stress, and offers an opportunity to have fun and listen to your child.

Want to combat stress? Want to feel happier? Get some sleep!

Sleep may be the secret sauce to address today’s biggest heavy hitters in the emotional issues department – depression, anxiety, and stress. In fact, it is something that many mental health professionals ask in the first intake session. How much are you sleeping? What is the quality of your sleep? Yet, we struggle as a society to elevate the importance of sleep and how we are affected by the lack of it. Our culture emphasizes performance and busy-ness, when we really should be emphasizing self-care, relaxation, and sleep.  As a result, our mental health is paying the price for it.

I am here to suggest we honor sleep. That we cherish it. Am I being dramatic? Maybe, but I believe it is that important.  During sleep our brain “unplugs” and sorts through the material of the day. Sleep gives the brain time to store information for our retrieval later on, it regulates our levels of the stress hormone (Cortisol), and improves our reactions in decision making and problem solving. In fact, insufficient sleep impairs our cognitive functioning in terms of thinking and learning. Who in our world does not solve problems and make decisions on a daily basis? I have read that driving while lacking sleep is the equivalent to driving while intoxicated. It impairs our motor reactions and visual perception.  Other health issues including weight gain, diabetes, a weakened immune system, lower libido, risk of heart attack and stroke, and the risk of certain cancers are all related to insufficient sleep. We should not be surprised that lack of sleep is linked to depression and anxiety, and stress levels. This is all a very big deal, so I guess I’m not being dramatic after all.

Experts suggest we get between 7-9 hours a night, up to 10 for growing children. The buzzword now is to create good Sleep Hygiene, or preparations for a good night’s sleep. I can suggest the following:

  • Prioritizing sleep in your family and with yourself
  • Engage in a family meeting about the importance of sleep
  • Scheduling sleep with the importance you do your work hours
  • Going to bed the same time daily
  • Exercising earlier in the day
  • Limiting screen time the hour before bed
  • Use calming teas and a small snack an hour before bed  to encourage sleep
  • Purge negative thinking by using a journal
  • Practice meditation techniques that calm the body and mind to make it ready for sleep

For more information on the importance of sleep these references may help:

10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss – WebMD

Get Enough Sleep – Mental Health America

Digital Down-time

It is natural during the winter to spend more time indoors and to gravitate to our computers or the television, to read online and catch up on television series we’ve been wanting to watch – binge watching is a relatively new term to describe this. It is easy to splurge on an hour or so of social media, and sometimes our kids are on Instagram, etc. for even longer time periods.

I get that this is the way we relate now; that this is the future. It is important to note that there is more information arising within the mental health field indicating a real concern around electronic addiction (think social media and video games) that affects our children. But it isn’t just the kids.

I can say that with almost every tween or teen that comes into my office, the topic of electronic use and screen time comes up as a problem at some point along the way. That tells me it is important and we need to talk about it. Electronic or device usage refers to phones, tablets, television, and computers – anything with a screen!

My top 7 suggestions for healthy electronic device usage:

  1. Parents need to be a role model regarding this. I have actually had children and teens complain to me about their parents using electronics too much and not spending time with them!  Or the tween or teen doesn’t take the limits parents set by there parents seriously because their parents seem to use their own devices for long stretches of time.
  2. I think it would be great for the family to record how much time they are using devices recreationally during the course of a day (other than when they are working or doing homework). It may even be more interesting to see what our estimates are and what are actual usage is. It is important to be honest here – one sign of addiction is minimizing use! Denial can also be associated with addiction.
  3. After tracking recreational screen device usage – have a family meeting. Ask the following questions:  Are you surprised to see how much time you/we use our devices?  Is it keeping us from doing other things we might like to do – in other words, if we didn’t have our devices on, what else might we do that we have been wanting to do? Brainstorm other activities that you might like to try as individuals and perhaps as a family, instead of being on our devices.  Is there a hobby you might like to try? Have each member set a goal to start limiting and moderating their device usage and set a time to meet back and discuss how easy or hard it is. This is a time to encourage honesty and not demonize devices, or device usage, instead talk about the concern over online addiction and how it can compromise physical and mental health. Allow your children to be honest in what they share and set realistic goals they think they can master. If they meet their goals perhaps you could set in a reward for the family.
  4. Create OffLine Zones for the whole family, like at the dinner table or going out to eat. I recently saw a family enter a restaurant where I was eating with my husband, and they all sat down, took out their phones, and didn’t even look at each other. Wow.  You could even designate a part of the weekend as Offline – such as Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings (when kids are usually not doing homework) and they have to find alternative things to do.
  5. Using devices is typically a sedentary and indoor activity. Of course we know this isn’t good for physical or mental health. Just deciding to participate in an activity like walking, hiking, biking, or jogging will give you a break from screen time. If you throw in a picnic or going out to lunch (or for an ice cream – I am hopeful for warm weather) it will enhance the experience and lengthen the time away from the devices.
  6. I know of an app called Forest that helps kids or adults exert control over their device usage. When they meet goals (set amounts of time being offline) they grow a tree, and eventually can grow an online forest. Kids really like this app – it makes it fun and is another awareness activity for tracking phone use.
  7. We all know by now that devices can disturb sleep. I know some families that have an Electronic Turn-in at the end of the night so that everyone in the family is free from using their devices after a certain hour (like a hour or so before bed). This can help encourage healthy sleep habits. I have also read that it is not healthy to charge phones or devices in our bedrooms, or by our beds while we are sleeping. Electronic turn-in and charging devices away from bedrooms might be a good idea too.

Creating Calm: For Ourselves and For Our Children

It is no secret that we live in a time of high anxiety.  As adults we navigate the news, weather issues, workplace stress, and family events or emergencies on a daily basis.  Being able to manage our strong feelings around all of these things that are beyond our control is difficult. It is only natural to find that some days we are better able to do this than others.  Each day has a different string of stressors, and we have varying degrees of energy or stamina to meet those demands.

Through the years we develop coping strategies that we have learned keep us calm or safe.  Whether intentional or not, we pass these strategies on to our children. We do it by example, and by what we consciously offer them in times of need.

But what if there was a different way of responding to stress that was more proactive? Could having an understanding of our nervous system help us manage stress before it becomes overwhelming?  If you could do this, wouldn’t you want to do this for your whole family to create a greater sense of well-being?

Throughout the day, your nervous system adjusts to manage the variety of demands of your day. This Stress Response, a chemical reaction to perceived threats in the central nervous system or CNS, can be a positive thing. This response offers many benefits:

  • Motivation to prioritize our time and efforts
  • Energy to meet demands
  • Alertness or focus to increase efficiency

However, when stress levels exceed our ability to meet and manage the challenge, we move into distress. Distress overwhelms the nervous system and we are not as able to meet demands, we can feel shaky, nervous, tired, and depleted.

By activating our Relaxation Response, we are providing equilibrium, or a return to a calmer state from which to respond in a productive way.  Simple strategies can help you activate your relaxation response, allowing you to be more present and productive during stressful situations and manage them in ways that are optimal, wise, and efficient.

This 4 part response can help you reset this CNS response system in order to manage and cope positively to stress and create a sense of calm for your whole family:

  1. The first thing we need to be able to do is be aware of our body when it is stressed and when it is calm. Notice how you feel on an evening stroll or walk, and compare this to how you are feeling when you are meeting a deadline. During your walk you are likely relaxed, hopefully noticing the sights around you, breathing in a relaxed manner, muscles fluid and flexible.  When we are stressed, the feeling is usually the opposite. We are tense, our hearts beating rapidly, breath is shallow and quick. Being aware of how our bodies feel during these episodes is key to being able to manage our stress response.

  2. Once you take notice, you can then start being aware of these symptoms during the course of your day.  When you do notice stress, notice if the feeling is helpful (motivating and helping you manage your work demands) or harmful (overreacting to situations, feeling anxious, or a sense of feeling overwhelmed). Not all stress is bad, we need to view it as a helpful response to our environmental needs. When you are moving into the harmful  or reactive state, it is helpful for you to activate the relaxation response.

    We typically know when we are in a harmful reactive stress state.  We may say things we don’t mean, and experience a flooding of emotions, and are hyper-aroused. We tend to see things as threats that are not intended to be threatening.  It is almost impossible to react in a purposeful, productive, and wise manner when our system is hyper-aroused.

  3. Triggering our relaxation response is not necessarily difficult. It can be as easy as having a cup of tea, or a cold drink, taking a walk outside, listening to music, looking at pictures or videos of people we love or something funny, taking 4 long and slow breaths, stretching and bending our bodies, or finding something to be grateful for.  Our nervous system wants to be responsive and helpful. We just need to learn how to “tap” into the wisdom of our bodies.

  4. It is important for parents to cultivate this practice daily. Parents provide models for their children in managing life. As we practice positive healthy ways of coping, our children will too. I suggest planning a time to relax or unwind for 15 minutes a day. This could be before or after dinner, at the end of the day, or after school. Schools used to promote a DEAR time – or Drop Everything And Read, what about Drop Everything And Relax? When you make this a priority, you give your child tools and insight on how to manage their stress for years to come.

For more information on this topic, including a more specific understanding of the nervous system and details on how to introduce meditation and other calming strategies, see under Digital Downloads.

Better Sleep, A Better You!

Happy New Year!

Winter weather makes it hard to get out of bed, doesn’t it? The warm comfort that holds us willingly inside the soft folds of our blankets makes it hard to move on to our ever growing to-do lists and responsibilities we are beholden to. It can also be hard to move out of our cozy nest if we have not had a restful night’s sleep. Many people struggle with sleep problems on a regular basis and most of us have had trouble dealing with it from time to time. Sleep can harness our mental abilities like nothing else. We are more productive, alert, and research is now showing, even happier and calmer, when we have had a good night’s sleep.

In an article by Laurie Meyers in the American Counseling Association’s magazine, Counseling Today, May 2014, there is new research connecting the chronic insomnia to mood disorders due to sleep playing a significant role in emotional regulation and processing. I decided to share some of the articles’ suggestions for getting a good night’s sleep with you, in my hopes that this new year brings about the positive changes you are all working towards!

1.) Plan you meals. Don’t eat a big meal before you turn in. Digestion can interrupt sleep.

2.) Alcohol also interrupts sleep patterns. We think that it might help us sleep, but the digestion of sugars contained in alcohol can cause us to wake and interrupt deep sleep.

3.) Exercise in the morning or late afternoon can help us go to sleep more soundly.

4.) Getting just 10-15 minutes of sunshine can help us reset our sleep-wake cycle. Our bodies have an internal rhythm that takes cues from sunshine and darkness.

5.) Turning of the TV, tablet, or cell phone an hour before we sleep can also cue in these internal signals to sleep.

6.) Having a regular schedule and routine before bed can encourage sleep. Our bodies become very sensitive to routine.

7.) Relaxing activities like reading before bed can promote restful sleep.

8.) Certain teas or supplements like Chamomile can help ease the body and mind into restful slumber. There are other essential oils, like lavendar, that can be rubbed on the feet or behind the ears to help the body relax for bedtime.

9.) Meditation in the morning or afternoon can allow the body time to relax so that when bedtime rolls around, your mind is at ease. Many people report worry and anxiety prevent them from falling asleep at night, but these are states of being that we may be experiencing throughout the day. By managing it at various points throughout the day we can be more relaxed as we approach bedtime.

10.) Caffeine intake can keep us awake, but many people drink it throughout the day. By taking caffeine out of your diet after 12 noon, you may help your body relax towards the end of the day. Caffeine can stay in your system much longer than you think and it varies depending on the individual.

My wish for you is a restful, peaceful, and happy New Year!

10 Ways to Create Family Harmony

Fall is just the season where we begin to pull energies back into the home and family gatherings. When time is spent indoors more that out, and holidays keep us tethered to family. It can also be a time of unavoidable stress because of new fall schedules and the demands of school and work. I have a few tips that may help encourage family harmony in the face of life’s events.

1. Speak kindly to each other. This sounds so simple, but many times when we are under stress or just busy, we can often make remarks or use a tone that evokes irritability in others. If you do happen to use an unintended tone or language that sounds hurtful, excuse yourself. Let the other person know that the tone or language wasn’t intended to be harsh, and that you apologize. An apology goes a long way in my house.

2. Let each member of your family know what it is that you value in them. Don’t take the contributions of your family for granted. If they are kind, generous, giving, helpful, or supportive, let them know.

3. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family. What characteristics do your family members have that you find interesting, unique, or even wonderful? Celebrate the positive about those you love.

4. In so much of our lives we are evaluated or are competing with others (and even ourselves sometimes). Take time to just spend time doing non-competitive activities like walking, watching movies, and games that involve chance or where you learn something about each other (creative games like Charades, Apples to Apples, etc.) without making winning the most important thing. We honestly can make anything competitive, the effort is to make it non-competitive! Sometimes dividing a family into teams can make it more fun and take the focus off of winning.

5. Use Sundays as a day to gather and meet about the week ahead. Often schedules are overloaded and can be overwhelming as a result. Planning the week ahead and checking in with family members as to how they are doing, what is coming up in the week ahead, as well as, highlights and “low-lights” from the week past, can be a way of connecting and preventing potential problems or pitfalls in the coming week.

6. Have a plan for managing stress. We all have a certain level of stress, and not all stress is bad. But too much stress can lead to distress, and this takes a toll on the body, the mind, and relationships. Exercise, creative pursuits, fun activities, and positive relationships all counteract the effects of stress.

7. Realize when to say “No”. Everyone has a limit, what’s yours? Don’t take on too much to do, and know when to stop. Keep this in mind with your children too. Children need down time and so do parents. Many times kids are taking on too many after school activities, and combined with increased school work this can lead to distress. Down time is time to do whatever you like, quiet or otherwise.

8. Find some Quiet Time daily. This is just 10 minutes of time to think, relax, sip on a cup of tea/coffee, and be still. This is unplugged, non-electronic time. Encourage your children to find quiet time, or still time. They could spend time in their room, laying on their bed, snuggling with you, walking outside, creating a craft, writing, drawing,or even looking out their window. Just 10 minutes to bring the mind back to quietness.

9. Spend time in nature. So often we are caught up in our worlds of work, sports, and school we forget the beautiful force of nature and all the tranquil moments it provides to release stress. Science has shown us that sending time in nature slows down the heart and improves one’s outlook. And to think, it is just outside our door.

10. Think positively and look for the positive in others. This is hard, but every moment has it’s silver lining. Most of our irritations are small and inconsequential. If you can find it in your heart to forgive and move on with whatever hurt you have experienced, it will lighten your load. Sometimes our inner space gets completely taken up with negative feelings and thoughts that actually end up hurting ourselves. Most people do not intend to be hurtful, they make mistakes, as we all do. Find the beauty in others and they will find it in you.

Five Communication Tips in Relating to Teens

Simple Suggestions for a Healthy Relationship

Adolescence is the time in your child’s life where they are moving towards independence, creating themselves as an individual, their own identity, separate from you, different from you. It is called “individuation” or “identity formation” in the mental health field and is usually a time of development that is fraught with arguments and power-struggles. If you find yourself thinking that your child just doesn’t listen to you, if seemingly minor requests, turn into major arguments then chances are that you and your teen aren’t connecting. Teens often feel that we are talking “at” them and not “to” them. They want a different connection to you, but don’t know how to ask for it. Harvard University did a study on parent involvement releasing a 100 page document entitled, Raising Teens. They found that parents often interpret adolescent behavior as their child needing less involvement and more space. In truth, it is a different kind of involvement that they are seeking. Teens still look at their parents as their #1 role models and the person they would go to in times of difficulty. These simple tweaks in your communication style may make all the difference in creating and maintaining a positive relationship.

1. Ask for What You Want. Tone can make a huge difference. If you have a rule to not leave shoes by the front door perhaps you say, “Are those your shoes by the door?” vs. “Get your shoes right now, I have tripped over them again!” Or “When do you think you will have time to work on your project?” instead of “You can’t go out with your friends until your project is done.”Framing requests or expectations in the form of questions allows the teen to be involved in the decision making. Teens tend to interpret tone and facial expressions more intensely than adults – and take them more personally. And teens have their developing brains swimming in hormones that can alter those social interpretations. Brain research has also found that problem solving, risk assessment, and abstract thinking (all functions of the frontal lobe) are continuing to develop into their early 20’s. They have also found that teens often interpret fear, worry, or surprise as anger. So be sure to access your “calm parent” voice. Even if they are escalating, perhaps even screaming, you remain calm. You can always talk later when they have calmed down and are more rational. These escalated arguments just leave room for power-struggles and stalemates.

2. Avoid Power Struggles by Stating your Values. Before you give your child privileges or freedoms, let them know your expectations. For Instance, “It is important that we all drive safely. You may use the family car this weekend, only you need to be driving alone and have the car back by dark. You will need more practice driving before I feel safe enough with you driving at night.” And then follow-up when your child leaves the house with, “Remember our rule, safety first, when can I expect you home?” This gives them a chance to problem-solve and self-govern at the same time. Now, you can use “safety first” as a short cut to remind them of other rules. “Safety First” can work with driving, risky behaviors @ parties or with groups of friends, underage drinking… All of these lead to safety concerns and possibly undesired consequences. Other values can include hard work or effort, following through with doing what you say (reliability). When stating values allow for discussion with your teen, it is important not to come off as a “dictator” but rather a concerned and protective parent.

3. Let them know what you Like and Appreciate about them. They do want to please you. Let them know the little things that make a difference in your family life. Like, “Thank you for putting the dishes away in the dishwasher before I start dinner, it makes clean up so much easier.” Or, “Thank you for helping your sister with her Math. You seem to know how to do the new math so much better than I do.” Or “I really like your friends. They seem like such nice guys/girls”. (It is very important that you acknowledge and like their friends- even if it is just some, not all.) Sometimes we are more courteous to strangers than to our own family.

4. Touch base with them. Use specific questions to inquire about their day in a non-evaluative way. For instance,“What are you learning in Science right now?” or “Is Tony in any of your classes this year?” Or even after the back to school night you might want to know who their favorite teacher is, and share your impressions too. I have talked many parents who only know vague notions of how their child is doing. I hear, “She seems to be fine. There are no complaints so far.” Or “She seems happy to me.” Or “He doesn’t ask for help, so I guess he understands it.” It could be just a few minutes in the car, or during dinner, or while you are running errands. These questions indicate that you want to know about their life and are ready to listen, not necessarily to advise.

5. Don’t Rush in to Rescue, Critique, Advise or Fix . Listen instead. Simpler said than done! Your teen wants to solve their own problems, sometimes they already know what they are going to do to make the situation better. So when your child tells you something distressing, you can just use minimal language, like “Oh, that’s a bummer.” Or “Hmm”, “I see”, “Okay”. And wait to see how your child verbalizes how they are going to solve the problem. For instance, “Tammi didn’t invite me to her party this weekend.” You respond with, “Oh”. Your daughter feels safe sharing so she adds, “Yeah, at first I was really bummed, but then I realized that I really don’t know the other girls going anyway and might feel really uncomfortable”. Many parents want to rush in to rescue and advise their teen with “Well, then don’t invite her to your party” or “We can find something better to do anyway” or “I never really liked her, so you’re better off without her as a friend.” These tend to actually make your child feel worse! By now you have probably given your child lots of good advice and wisdom – it is time to see them use it. These minimal verbal responses let them know you are listening, but not controlling. That you are present. That you are interested. That you are willing to listen.

How is the Teenage Brain Different?

It appears that brain development takes a lot longer that once believed. At one time the consensus was that our brains were developed at around the age of 6 and didn’t do much growing after that. Now, after the NIH project that studied over a hundred teens in the late ‘90s we know that teenage brains go through a reorganization of growing and pruning during adolescence and until the early 20’s.

Brain development moves from the back of the head, where very basic actions and reflexes emerge toward the front, the frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex that is involved in complicated though processes. This important and area is responsible for problem solving, abstract thinking, risk assessment and planning, and impulse control.

Researchers have found that dendrites or receptor sites in the brains of teens are more sensitive to neurotransmitters like dopamine (pleasure seeking) and oxytocin (social rewards). These receptor sites have their antennae up or are alert for possible rewards or sensation seeking events. What Temple U found in a study using a video game to assess teen’s ability to make judgments based on risk, was that teens made very similar judgements as to those of adults, but only when they were playing the game alone. When another teen was in the room the results were different. Teens took more risks when they knew another teen was watching. It appears that the social perk of beating the game was more important than taking their time to come out ahead. Teens are wired to seek the social rewards.

Researchers concluded that risk taking, is not just a part of adolescence, but maybe the critical element that pushes kids to start something new, to move out of the house they grew up in, to meet more people and make new friends. It appears that risk taking is central in the development of who we are and who we want to be.

Brain activity hinges on Axons sending messages to Dendrites and as we get older the Myelin Sheath, a milky white substance helps those connections grow stronger. It works like muscle memory. The more we do something and repeat the action, the less we have to think about it. For instance, when we first learn to drive a car we have to think about everything from the ignition, to the mirrors. But after driving for years we can drive the whole way to work and not really remember how we got there! But when forming new connections the brain needs a little bravado to move and create new links. This is the growing and the pruning process of brain development in adolescence. It is awkward and mistakes happen. That is part of the growing and pruning. Those are the growing pains.

Youth is more willing to take risks because the brain is designed to encourage that for growth, adaptation and learning.

The Pressure of Parenting Teens

They want us to be their biggest cheerleaders, yet they act like they could care less what we think. We can’t make a comment about their appearance yet they let us know how embarrassing we are to their friends. They know everything, yet somehow we have managed to complete our education, raise children, take care of our own parents in the mix, and still are able to walk around and not know anything. If you are parenting a teen, this is your world.

Teens are 50% attitude, 25% sensitivity, and 25% sensibilities. And at the same time they are learning to drive, starting to date, and doing some of the most difficult coursework they will do in their lives. It must be difficult for them to make it so difficult for us.

If we take a moment to consider the complexity of their lives, we realize that in some ways their fortunate lives are difficult. Think about when you were a teen and the demands that you had and what you spent your time doing. I was working and dating and driving, but I had much less pressure socially, academically, and physically. Our kids have much more social pressure in terms of the amount of communication – consider social media, texting, and tweeting. They really are never away from it. It surrounds them in a constant vapor of peer scrutiny. And academically, most schools promote and encourage AP classes starting in sophomore year. We are expecting more from them at a much younger age. Think about it -now kids are taking college courses at 15 years of age. Would you have been ready to do that? Would you have wanted to? And the pressure of sports gets in the mix. Daily practice and extended seasons – and year round sports. Am I overwhelming you yet? I should be!

So my thoughts are that it is no wonder they think they are adults. It is no wonder they are irritable and stressed. It is no wonder they treat us like we don’t know anything.

Perhaps we all need to pause, take a breath, and realize that it is the journey that is important. Being good at anything means that there was hard work and dedication somewhere in the process- and that is the payoff. We learn from hard work, making mistakes, and having the diligence to try again. We also learn from having the down-time to enjoy and appreciate our lives. If you think about feel-good childhood memories, many of them involve what we are doing when we were doing “nothing”. We shouldn’t have to be the best at everything, just the best at being ourselves. Perhaps we need time-off from it all just to realize that purpose comes from just being ourselves and being together – allowing life to unfold and to learn from it.

If there is one thing teens are telling us, that is that they need time to just do nothing, to just be – and when we get that time with our kids all else seems to fall into place. And maybe with a little less pressure, our kids will see that we are okay, that we understand them, and that we are people worth being around.

The Family Meeting

In our busy culture where we are rushing just about everywhere and feeling like we don’t have time for anything else to do, the idea of finding time for a family meeting seems like just another demand on our time. But quality time, were we all have a voice, where we can be heard and take the time to listen to others is important. It could be after a meal, before “game night”, or after a Saturday morning of sports. Finding this time to connect in a meaningful way can validate everyone in the family and bring along a sense of harmony. Here I will give you some basic tips and an outline for hosting your family meeting.

Why should we have a family meeting when we see each other all the time? Family meetings are different from the daily interactions where we are working on homework or getting ready for work or school. Family meetings are a special time we set aside to think about our role in the family, set personal goals and share those with the family, and have an opportunity to share our own concerns, desires/wishes, and show regard for those we live with.

The Goal: The goal of a family meeting is to provide a space for all members to discuss, contribute, and focus on what they offer to the family.

The Process: Meetings should be consistent (same day and time of day – ie., Sundays after dinner), brief (around 20 minutes), structured (so everyone has a turn, gets their voice heard, and sets personal goals that benefit the group), and is respectful of all. Selecting a time convenient for all and a place that is comfortable for all sets the stage. Having desert, or a snack is a good idea. Offering rewards for moving towards one’s goal is fun – it could be stickers, or everyone could say a creative cheer for that person

Rules provide a forum for fair play the following guidelines are suggested and certainly can be modified.

1. Select a time of day and location that is comfortable and consistent for all. Bringing a snack or dessert makes it more enjoyable.

2. Decide on a facilitator (mom or dad), a recorder (someone who takes minutes), a time keeper (someone who moves things along), and any other roles you might want (ie., someone could reward stickers or make up cheers for rewarding those who have had a good week).

3. Each person gets a turn to review the week with the following questions: (Have a ball, or object to pass around so that each person gets an uninterrupted chance to reflect on the question).

  • How was your week? Was there a high point/low point?
  • What would you like to improve on this week? Did you move toward your self-improvement goal from last week?
  • How can you contribute to the household? Did you contribute last week?
  • Share a compliment with each member of the house. For instance: “ I like how you took out the trash without me asking – thank you!”

4. Make up a team cheer – or “On three: GO family name !”