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Communication Family Mental Health Parenting Transparency

Mental Health Literacy: A Convo Guide for Parents

Finding ways to help their child is every parent’s top priority – but mental health topics can be difficult conversation starters. How do you approach a teen’s recent behavior without shutting them down? How can you safely lead the conversation in the direction of help and understanding without seeming overbearing, condescending, or controlling? In what ways can an understanding of mental health literacy assist parents lead such conversations?

Picking the Right Time

The first step, in every case, is to pick the right time. Teens are naturally emotional, regardless of temperament or personality. There’s a lot going on during adolescence, and it can be difficult to unpack it all. Picking the right time to address your worries can help defuse a potentially difficult situation. That means waiting for a good day, avoiding ambushes, and maybe finding an opportunity to talk to your teen in private (in their room, while doing chores together at home, on the ride back from school, etc.).

Once you’ve found the right time, it’s important to pick the right conversation opener. Fumbling your opportunity to discuss your concerns can keep your kid on guard for the rest of the week or longer. No matter how conflicted you might feel, remember to focus on what’s important: your goal is to help your teen, not judge them.

Starting the Conversation

To start things off, research goes a long way. Learning about mental health issues on your own time, understanding mental health literacy, and speaking with mental health professionals can give you a better understanding of what your teen might be going through, and differentiate between regular teenage problems and the signs of a more serious mental health issue.

Approach the Topic Naturally and with Observations

If you feel that your teen is going through something they need help with, approaching the topic naturally is important. Begin with observations. Obviously, you’ve noticed something. Bring up what you’ve noticed, and why it concerns you. Then, listen.

Some teens might feel relieved that their parents picked up on what’s going on. Others might be worried that they’re being judged or alienated from the rest of the family. It’s important to make sure your teen understands that your concern for them comes from a place of love and inclusion, and that they’re free to say what’s truly on their mind.

Don’t be Afraid to Say Something

If you’ve done prior research, don’t be afraid to bring it up. You don’t need to help confirm your teen’s self-diagnosis or make a judgment call of your own – diagnostic work is best left to experienced psychiatrists. But showing that you’ve moved on from concern to action might help your teen realize that you’re invested in helping them, and want to understand how they feel. It can be comforting to know that you’re open-minded and on their side.

Learning to Listen

There are important dos and don’ts to keep the conversation going once your teen is open to discussing how they feel with you. These include:

  • DO give your teen the time to finish their sentences, and don’t interrupt or stop them.
  • DO normalize how they feel, letting them know that you’ve read about many other teens feeling the same way and that there are ways to get help.
  • DO keep their information confidential – if your teen has only told you, don’t go on discussing it with other members of the family without first bringing it up with your teen, let alone a mental health professional (unless their situation and behavior are life-threatening).
  • DO acknowledge your own fear and anxieties in these situations. It doesn’t help to bottle your feelings up because you’re scared of affecting your teen.
  • DO continue to learn about what your teen is going through, even after they’ve started therapy (especially after they’ve started therapy!).
  • DON’T minimize how they feel or tell them that they “shouldn’t feel this way”, or that you “know exactly” how they feel without having previously been diagnosed with the same condition and the same circumstances.
  • DON’T feed excuses or blame other people. It’s always tempting to find something to blame, but no case of a mental disorder can be squarely blamed on a single factor. It’s almost always a convalescence of complex internal and external factors, melding together in an unfortunate way. Instead of directing your anger at something, use it to help your teen get better.
  • DON’T compare your teen to their siblings or ask them why they couldn’t have been more like your other kids.

Mental Health Literacy: Recognizing Mental Health Issues

Teen temperament can feel disjointed or confusing, so it’s important to separate “normal” teen behavior from potential red flags for a mental health issue. Some things to keep in mind include:

Is it Consistent?

Consistency is important. If your teen’s mood has been consistently low for several weeks now, chances are it’s more than just a rough patch for them. Conditions like depression can affect the way we perceive things around us, actively inhibiting the ability to feel joy or pleasure.

If your teen hasn’t talked about their favorite hobbies in weeks, hasn’t hung out with friends in a while, and generally hasn’t laughed or been in a good mood for a noticeable period, they may be going through more than just a period of grief.

Has Academic Performance Changed?

Academic performance may be a helpful metric but shouldn’t be the absolute focus here. How well your teen is retaining information and focusing on their studies can be affected by the onset and growth of a mental health issue, but there are dozens of other factors that can affect a teen’s grades without necessarily affecting their mental health.

Furthermore, while your teen’s grades might be important to you (and them!), focusing on them might make your teen feel that your priorities are misplaced (i.e., putting their grades above the way they feel).

Nervous vs. Anxious

Nervousness is one thing, especially if your teen has been rather skittish since early childhood. But anxiety symptoms are something else. If your teen seems constantly worried about the same things, is having trouble concentrating or focusing on anything, easily loses their cool, and struggles to perform under pressure – whether it’s during a driving lesson or a breakdown during school exams – they may be overly sensitive to their surrounding stressors, or worse.

Anxiety disorders are the most common kind of mental health issue worldwide, ranging from complex disorders like OCD to a generalized feeling of worry and dread that affects a person’s mood, personality, and behavior on a daily basis.

Susceptibility to Addictive Behavior and Long-Term Substance Abuse

Teens are smart, often smarter than we might give them credit for. But they still make mistakes, lack experience, and are usually more short-sighted than adults through no fault of their own. This is part of the reason why teens are more susceptible to addictive behavior, and why early onset of addiction usually predicts long-term or life-long substance abuse.

If you suspect that your teen is struggling due to an ongoing substance problem – whether it’s frequent drinking binges with friends or sharing prescription pills at school – keep an eye out for some of the more obvious signs, including hidden stashes, physical symptoms (bloodshot eyes, constantly tired, slurred speech, frequent hangovers), and mental symptoms (irritability, memory problems, altered behavior, becoming defensive).

Issues with Eating

Eating disorders also disproportionately affect adolescents and are some of the most dangerous mental health disorders we know of. Signs of an eating disorder include constant cycles of self-deprecation and shame, followed by binge eating, signs of binge eating such as wrappers and hidden stashes of food, frequent bathroom breaks between and during meals, diuretic or laxative drugs, and calluses on the index knuckle from induced vomiting.

When Is Professional Help Needed?

In general, the moment you no longer know how to help your teen is the moment you should consider approaching a mental health professional for help – even if it isn’t to schedule an appointment for your child or figure out an intervention. Mental health professionals also work to assist parents in understanding what might be going on in their teen’s lives, and helping them navigate their way around a conversation with their child.

If your teen approaches you about therapy, then they’ve thought it over and likely made the decision to seek help – with your assistance. Work with them to find a mental health professional they are comfortable with. First and foremost, their comfort is paramount. Trust is an important aspect of therapy, and teens will be unlikely to get the help they need if they cannot set up a strong bond with their therapist.

If your teen is struggling with a mental health issue, reach out to Visions Treatment Centers. Let’s start the conversation together.

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Parenting

The Benefits of Joining a Parent Support Group

It’s a tough world, and for parents raising children with mental health issues, it also feels like a terribly lonely one. But you are not alone – far from it. A parent support group helps you connect with other parents of similar stories and experiences who understand your journey and can offer assistance. They can help us locate resources to continue taking care of our children while taking care of ourselves. They help create a community for us to belong in. And so much more.

Raising a child affected by a long-term or chronic mental illness is difficult. There are countless challenges to overcome, uncertainties to face, and a lifetime of endless responsibilities. When we spend our energy and existence doing the best we can to care for the ones we love the most, we often find ourselves with no time for ourselves. Even while you’re being adamant about placing your child before yourself, letting your own sanity and well-being deteriorate will only serve to make life harder for those who care about you, your child included.

What Is a Parent Support Group?

A parent support group may be run by an organization, a clinic, a treatment facility, a practice, a local community, or a number of parents who banded together to create a local space for other parents with similar experiences to visit and talk. Parent support groups are largely informal gatherings, with either regularly or sporadically scheduled group sessions where parents meet and talk about their individual worries and thoughts, problems, breakthroughs, hopes, frustrations, and moments of gratitude.

They’re a place to share and breathe hope, as well as a place to define and break down despair together. And, crucially, they are also a place to share critical resources, spread information, talk about treatments and treatment providers, help seek donations and financial support from the community, and gather more knowledge on coping mechanisms, parental self-care, and mundane life tips that are life-saving, more often than not. Parent support groups usually define themselves by a certain cause, illness, or disease.

There may be support groups specifically for teens with drug abuse problems, or children with special needs, or handicapped children, or teens with rare disorders. Some support groups are founded to help parents come together under a more generalized umbrella of shared experiences, usually categorized by either physical or mental disability, or mental health problems.

Why Would I Need a Parent Support Group?

The first and biggest reason why any parent with a disabled or troubled teen might want to consider joining a parent support group is to be around other people with similar experiences.

Support Groups Remind Us That We Aren’t Alone

There is something so very different about being able to speak up about what you’ve been going through with people who were in the very same boat. It’s not quite the same talking about it with your friends or family, if none of them can quite relate. You are not alone! There are many others who have been going through something similar, and who may be much farther along their journey than you are. No one’s experience is going to ever be a one-to-one comparison of what you have gone through. However, there is still a lot to learn from listening to the experiences of others, sharing hopes and frustrations, sleepless nights, and the journey towards coping.

Support Groups Help Us Identify Ways to Cope

Coping is critical when facing down something we have no hope of defeating. Many progressive or chronic illnesses are not curable yet, and while treatment can help children reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and live a fulfilling life, they will always have a life experience that is not only totally different from that of anyone else’s, but also much harder than what most people live through.

Learning to cope and overcome our own emotions and despair in the face of something inevitable is a crucial part of becoming a better source of support for our loved ones. There are many things that happen in life that we have no control over, but we always have control over what we do next, how we react, and the actions we take as a result of the things we experience. A parent support group can guide you in taking the right actions, feeling the right things, and working through your experience the best way you possibly can.

Support Groups Give Us a Place to Talk

Parent support groups give parents a space to truly be heard. It’s one thing to be able to say what you want, but it’s another when you know that what you’re saying resonates with those around you – when you know that they’ve felt similar feelings, thought similar thoughts, said similar words. That shared experience is crucial, both in times of pure distilled joy, and utter sorrow.

Support Groups Provide Resources

Parents and teens with disabilities or mental health issues need all the help they can get. Healthcare is expensive, both mental and physical, and it’s exhausting. Having a full-time job while taking care of your loved ones can leave you feeling lifeless at the end of the day. Resources to help out with the bills, seek the right health insurance for your family, get in touch with the right doctor, or simply learn more about local and state healthcare policies and the newest in clinical trials can be very important.

Parent Support Groups Help Us Find Hope

When there isn’t anything left to do but survive for the next day, a parent support group can become the emotional backbone you need to rely on, just as your child has relied on your support for years. No man is an island. We all need help, and some days, we need it more than others. The experiences, the highs, and the lows of those around us can help remind us to cling to hope. Parent support groups are a powerful and important element of self-care for any parent with a special needs child. Not only can they help you be better equipped to care for your children, but they’re there for you in times of need.

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Holidays Parenting Prevention Substance Abuse

A Parent’s Guide to Relapse Prevention During the Holidays

The holidays are some of the most stressful weeks of the year, as families come together to prepare for big dinners, long interstate trips, parties, and shopping sprees. Along with all that stress come the joy and gratitude of long-time family traditions, the yuletide spirit, and for many, more than a fair share of indulgences. This makes the holidays a dangerous time for many adults and teens struggling to avoid relapses. The stress, resurgence of old memories, promise of confrontation with loved ones, and availability of unhealthy drinks and food can compromise someone trying to stay on the path toward recovery.

But for most of us, skipping the holidays is neither an option nor is it the right answer. There’s a lot to love and cherish in these rare moments where we all come together to reflect on a year of hardships, lessons, and growth. If your teen has a history of addiction, they will need to learn to build resilience in the face of the stressors that are most likely to make them drink or use again – and just as importantly, learn when and where to ask for help and support in their time of need. In this article, we’re exploring a few ways for parents to encourage relapse prevention during the holidays.

Relapse Prevention During the Holidays Starts With Avoiding Triggers

Everyone has specific stressors that drive them to a point of no return – or close enough to the edge to teeter on it. Cravings aside, identifying and reducing triggers over the holidays can be one way to help minimize stress. This might mean banning alcohol for this year, avoiding parties or get-togethers where drinking will be normal, encouraged, or expected, and working with your teen to identify memories, scents, activities, or people that might strongly affect or challenge their sobriety.

In some cases, it’s best to avoid these triggers. In other cases, effective relapse prevention during the holidays includes coping strategies that minimize and recontextualize triggers to help strengthen their recovery. If your teen is or was in treatment, it might also be a good idea to work with their therapist on this task. Every person’s story of addiction is unique and requires a unique approach. Aside from individualized triggers, try to help your teen identify and verbalize the more common and mundane relapse triggers, such as:

  • Hunger
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue

Stress the importance of taking care of oneself, and looking after one’s needs.

Minimizing the Unexpected

Aside from accounting for triggers and helping your teen reduce their impact, it’s also important to preserve some consistency over the holidays. Try to create a schedule of what’s to come in the following days and weeks, and help your teen prepare for the preparations and events to come. On the other hand, while preparing for the holidays with your teens, work with them to preserve their schedules. Avoid letting the holidays get their sleep schedules out of whack by encouraging everyone to get a good night’s sleep each day.

Balance out the cake and gluttony of holiday cooking with a few healthy meals between events, plenty of protein and vegetables, fiber, and lots of water. Help your teen remember their medication (and supplements like vitamin D, if they take any), and exercise with them. Don’t let the holidays become an excuse to skip important routine elements or fall out of rhythm. They might not be going to school or work, but they can still take the time to invest in their recovery and their physical and mental health.

Identifying and Setting Boundaries

There are limits to a person’s energy and capacity to engage with others during recovery. Going through recovery leaves you with less energy than before, alongside a more fragile mental state, and a lower tolerance for anxiety. It takes time for these tolerances to return to normal, and it’s always possible that they might never be quite as high as they once were. That’s okay. We all change as we grow, and going through addiction and recovery can drastically develop a person’s identity and personality.

It’s during this time that your teen might need help understanding and figuring out what they can and can’t handle, and they may need someone around to help them communicate when they need to leave or take time for themselves. Be an advocate for your teen during the holidays, give them an out during parties or get-togethers, tell them to call you the moment they want to leave, and be sure they’re always with a sober friend who can help them avoid certain choices, and keep them honest.

Balancing Holiday Meals With Good Nutrition

The importance of good nutrition during recovery cannot be stressed enough. Recovery is more than therapy and medication, or time spent away from drugs. You need to give your body what it needs to heal both mentally and physically, and food is an important part of that. However, it can be very difficult to balance a healthy diet with the typical treats and overindulgences of the holidays. Be a role model with your own choices, and support your teen’s needs throughout the coming days and weeks. Help them keep on top of their daily intake.

Remembering That Recovery Is a Life-Long Process

It’s important never to forget that recovery, as a whole, takes years. Teens with a young history of addiction tend to have struggled with both chemical influence and severe emotional trauma at a formative and young age, which can have a major impact on their health and future. A successful recovery process helps them cope with the aftermath of their addiction as they mature into adulthood, and prepares them for the stressors of life in spite of their cravings and thoughts. They need your strength as much as they need their own. Friends and family become important elements of a crucial social safety net as teens go through recovery, and fight back against their addiction.

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Anxiety Depression Parenting

What Parents Should Know About Teenage Depression and Anxiety

Teenage depression and anxiety are on the rise, and parents need all the help they can get to address and confront these conditions alongside their children. Understanding how and why mood and anxiety disorders can develop remain key to treating these issues in the long term. While expert help and professional care are a big part of the treatment process, the support coming from friends and family should never be underestimated.

Understanding Teenage Depression and Anxiety

Long-term recovery involves repeating and practicing therapy methods together, training coping mechanisms, and knowing when to call in professional help. Teens with anxiety and depression will have good days and bad days, like anyone else – but the bad days can be especially bad, while the good days might feel far and few between sometimes. Here’s what you need to know about teenage depression and anxiety.

What Teen Depression Looks Like

Adolescence is a common point of onset for symptoms of depression, the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder. Like other mood disorders, depression is primarily characterized by abnormally low mood, for long periods of time. Some people mistake depression for sadness or feel like psychiatry tries to equate the two. It is normal to be sad, and it is important to feel sadness when appropriate. The appropriateness is also entirely subjective, where some people would feel sad when most wouldn’t, or experience sadness in different shapes and sizes. 

But when sadness becomes a normal state, when deep sorrow and poor mood are elicited by nothing at all, and when a teen repeatedly expresses pure frustration at the fact that they cannot pinpoint a reason for their thoughts and feelings, then you and your loved one may be dealing with a case of depression. The biopsychosocial mechanism behind major depressive disorder and other mood disorders is complex, and it’s difficult to blame any one thing for how and why depression occurs.

Genetics definitely play a part, and the condition is hereditary. That means people with multiple family members with a history of depression have a greater risk of developing the condition at some point. Not all cases of depression are life-long or permanent. Some come and go, are stronger during certain phases of life versus others, or only last for a few harrowing months. Persistent depressive disorder describes a less severe form of depression which can last years, or even become a life-long condition. Then there are forms of depression which may be tied to illness or other physiological conditions, such as:

  • Depression caused by chronic pain.
  • Depression caused by thyroid illnesses.
  • Depression tied with premenstrual symptoms and hormone issues.

Environmental factors cannot be ignored either. Good food, good sleep, and a good relationship at home all reduce the impact of depression, reduce symptoms, and act as protective factors against it. The opposite, however, can greatly exacerbate the condition. Like an ouroboros, it’s also much easier for people with depression to suffer from poor diets, lack of sleep, and relationship troubles, as they struggle to provide for themselves during deep episodes, oversleep or can’t get to sleep, and inadvertently push their friends and loved ones away. 

Depression and Self-Harm

The most severe symptoms associated with depression are self-harm and suicidal ideation. Self-harm is commonly seen in the form of cutting, but can also take on other forms, such as burns, biting, and scratching. Non-deliberate self-harm, or reckless behavior, can be another sign of depression. This includes substance use and high-risk activities, such as unprotected sex and drunk driving. 

Suicidal ideation, or intent, includes other signs and symptoms than a history of suicide attempts. Frequently discussing and romanticizing death, making dry jokes about one’s death or suicide on a regular basis, discussing and considering the idea of dying or passing away, talking about being useless or unnecessary for the happiness of others, and talking about feelings of meaninglessness are common forms of suicidal ideation. 

What Teen Anxiety Looks Like

Anxiety describes a series of mental health issues characterized by excessive or overwhelming worry, and an oppressive sense of dread or fear. It may not always be deliberate or targeted, but might instead feel like a heavy weight pressing down on one’s shoulders or chest, both metaphorically and physically. Anxious teens will feel less sure about themselves, more likely to contemplate failure, more likely to entertain negative “what if” scenarios, and will have a harder time calming down, or even breathing properly

Anxiety Is Common

Anxiety disorders are some of the most diagnosed mental health conditions in the world, and it’s estimated that at least about 18 percent of Americans struggle with anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common types, characterized by symptoms of overarching anxiety and worry in life. Teens with anxiety are more likely to develop panic attacks in moments of stress, have a hard time concentrating on anything, will obsess over problems, and might constantly worry about failure.

More specific anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and other phobias. These are conditions characterized by such an immense fear of something that it leads to irrational behavior. While we are all prone to do irrational things in the face of fear, anxiety disorders set themselves apart by allowing and provoking intense fear, even without any triggering stimuli. This can cause anxious thoughts and worries even in the most calming of times.

Finally, anxiety disorders also include conditions like OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health issue in two parts, first characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts, followed by ritualistic, compulsive behavior meant to soothe those thoughts. It feeds into itself, creating a destructive, anxiety-ridden cycle. 

More Than Just Therapy

First-line treatment for teenage depression and anxiety disorders depends on the diagnosis, whether they have multiple concurrent disorders, and a few other factors. Common teenage depression and anxiety treatments will include antidepressants (usually SSRIs), certain anti-anxiety medication, beta blockers, and talk therapy (often in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy).

In the longer term, a doctor may recommend family therapy and continued group therapy to help teens discover and find out how other people cope with their disorders, form new friendships, and develop a better relationship with their family members. Getting informed about your teen’s condition – through their doctor, and through reputable sources of information online – can greatly help them get better, through your support.

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Parenting

Helicopter Parenting: From Good Intentions to Poor Results

We all want the best for our children. But there is so much more to parenting than just good intentions, and sometimes, even when we do our best to act according to those intentions, we end up doing more harm than good. Parenting can be challenging – especially when the best thing we can do for our teen takes a step back and allow them to learn from life.

When we fail to recognize these opportunities and try instead to micromanage our children’s lives and individual decisions, we often end up stealing an essential lesson from them. Moms and dads who take their love too far and become overbearing might find themselves turning into helicopter parents – leaving their kids unable to deal with life’s challenges when they are not around.

What Is a Helicopter Parent?

A helicopter parent is a term coined to describe many different parenting techniques and behaviors that can best be characterized by a need to self-insert in a child’s autonomy, make all of the critical decisions for them, and remove all adversity. Helicopter parents can be found “hovering” over their children. Sometimes, they might feel they need to always be around for their kids, perhaps more so than their parents were.

Others might inadvertently or even consciously see their children as a chance to start life over, which can be an incredibly unhealthy mindset to have. On the surface, a helicopter parent sounds like someone who wants the best for their children – but it becomes abundantly clear that doing too much can backfire in many ways, as kids (and especially teens) need to learn to develop independence the path to adulthood.

Why Is Helicopter Parenting a Bad Thing?

Behaviors and techniques that can be interpreted as overbearing, or signs of a helicopter parent, have a marked effect on children and young adults’ psychological development. Overprotective parents, intrusive parents, and parents who intentionally or inadvertently stole their children’s autonomy during research tended to be raising kids with lower self-esteem, more significant anxiety issues, social communication problems, and more.

On one side, children who are not put through life’s paces in one way or another never develop the skillset needed to be their person. On the other hand, they intuitively pick up that whenever their parents step in to “help” or solve any problems, they are:

    • Incapable of doing it themselves, and thus not good enough.
    • Supposed to fear what they are being protected from.

Effects on Self-Esteem and Mood

A study specifically aiming to research the effects of helicopter parenting on developing young adults found higher incidences of low mood (depression), anxiety, and self-esteem issues among the children of parents who were more likely to engage in helicopter parenting behavior. Helicopter parenting was also associated with “poorer functioning in emotional functioning, decision making, and academic functioning.”

Intrusive Parents and Increased Anxiety

While one facet of being a helicopter parent is taking away independence and a chance at autonomy, another is shielding a child from a challenge, thereby inadvertently handicapping them. Researchers found that parents who intervened more often in a puzzle-solving exercise meant for their kids tended to have children who more often struggled with anxiety as well, as they might have grown up to perceive challenges as being more threatening than they are.

Signs of a Helicopter Parent

It might feel like the line between a caring, attentive parent and a helicopter parent is quite acceptable. Still, definitive characteristics set the two apart and distinguish those who hover over their children. Those who strike a healthy balance between offering love and support to children need to be safe while giving them the necessary freedom to develop in their intrinsic way.

Wanting to Know Every Detail of Your Child’s Life

Much like any good relationship, there is a limit to how much control you should exert over your child’s life and an inherent need for trust. One sure sign of a helicopter parent is the need to know every detail in a teen’s life, often betraying their faith or intruding on their privacy.

The term “helicopter parent” became popular among college admissions staff when they realized that a certain kind of parent was more likely to insert themselves into the admissions process than let their children and their respective accomplishments speak for themselves.

Direct and Intrusive Interventions

The next step towards distinguishing a helicopter parent from other parents is a direct and unwanted intervention. Helicopter parents involve themselves in who their children meet and play with, who they become friends with, who they date, what their interests are, how they develop academically, where they invest their time, and much more.

They do this all in the interest of wanting the best for their child but might be doing so without first considering what their child wants. This behavior can be incredibly toxic in families that prioritize filial piety. There is inherently cultural and societal pressure to put one’s parents’ wishes first, breeding resentment and self-esteem issues.

Appearing Too Restrictive

The line between protective and overprotective is often the most blurred, as parents may often be rightfully worried about their children’s safety while acting independently or alone. It is not easy to distinguish between when it is right to intervene and hold back. But helicopter parents set themselves apart in protection and restriction by making two distinct mistakes:

    1. Failing to support their children’s choices.
    2. Taking control over nearly every decision they make.

Simply avoiding these behaviors might not necessarily be enough guidance for parents who feel intuitively more likely to lean towards overbearing behavior with their children out of an overdeveloped sense of protectiveness or fear of seeing their child hurt. The core argument against helicopter parenting is that children must learn to become autonomous to survive as adults.

An essential part of growing up is learning from mistakes and taking responsibility for one’s actions, without intervention from friends or family. Support is not intervention, and you must take care to make that distinction and define and uphold certain boundaries where you should not interfere with your child’s life.

Categories
Bullying Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Stopping Bullying and Supporting the Bullied

Bullying is the systematic maltreatment of an individual by another individual or group of individuals as a means of exerting power to intimidate or harm someone that is perceived as weak. The innate powerlessness that is felt by the one being bullied is profound. Feelings of shame, anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness are just a few emotional reactions to bullying. Often times, the shame and fear prevent these kids from speaking out, for fear of retaliation or not being believed.

 

In Hara Estroff Marano’s article “Bully Pulpit” in Psychology Today, she says: “Bullying is not garden-variety aggression: It is a deliberate attempt to cause harm to those of lesser power.”  Kids are beginning the long process of learning to stand up for themselves, understanding right from wrong, and developing accountability. However, by 8 years old, kids do begin to understand the power that they have, or the lack thereof. In truth, the social pecking order begins early. As kids find their way as individuals, some may realize they are different from some of the kids in their peer group. Being different or not like everyone else doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be accepted, though. Unfortunately, the bullies don’t always agree and are prone to viewing difference as a sign of weakness.

 

Children who are bullied don’t always tell teachers or parents that they are targets of bullying, and it’s not uncommon for someone being bullied to feel helpless in his or her endeavors to get help. From the bullied child’s perspective, it can feel like there is great risk in asking for help. The bully makes sure those they bully live in perpetual fear of retaliation. Sometimes, proving one is being bullied is often difficult, and the issues fall into a he-said-she-said cycle. As parents and teachers, we have to play the role of detective and investigate all facets of the situation, looking for key emotional and physical signs that our child is being bullied.

 

The following are some indications that your child may be a victim of bullying:

  • Becoming moody or short tempered.
  • Finding excuses for not wanting to go to school.
  • Claiming physical illnesses such as stomachaches and headaches that may have, in fact, actually evolved into such physical symptoms.
  • Returning to bedwetting.
  • Beginning to have nightmares.
  • Developing either a lack of appetite or increase of eating compulsively.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Deterioration in the quality of schoolwork.
  • Having insomnia, anxiety.
  • Starting to become quiet, withdrawn.
  • Exhibiting physical signs like bruises, torn clothing, scrapes, and so on.
  • Expressing sadness and/or violence in writing or drawings.
  • Displaying unusual acting out behaviors.

 

If you notice your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors, it’s important to honor your child by lending them your ear and your respect. It’s frightening to talk about being bullied, and if we as parents can sit and listen fully, without judgment, the likelihood of our child or children opening up is better. Second, parents must intervene on a larger scale in order to stop the bullying behavior in its tracks.

 

  • Contact school administration to ensure that they are aware that bullying is happening in their school. They need to take necessary steps to stop it.
  • Get informed!
  • Find out what anti-bullying programs are available in your area and contact them for support.
  • Does your school have an anti-bullying policy? If not, see if you can form a coalition of parents and administrators who are as concerned as you are and create some solid guidelines for addressing bullying

 

Please don’t punish or shame the child who is being bullied. It’s not their fault. Asking questions like that start with, “You should have,” or “Why didn’t you,” implies blame and judgment. A bullied child (all children, really) needs compassion and understanding, particularly from their parents. Home has to be a safe space for them to land. They need to be encouraged to be exactly who they are and they need to know that you, their parent, loves them and sees them and accepts them no matter what. They need to learn that walking away is far braver than engaging in negative interactions with a bully. And they need to know that walking away is not a sign of weakness but a sign of great courage.

 

“The common mistake that bullies make is assuming that because someone is nice that he or she is weak. Those traits have nothing to do with each other. In fact, it takes considerable strength and character to be a good person.” – Mary Elizabeth Williams

 

Bullies may seem like they prevail, but over time, their feigned popularity and social pull wavers as those in their peer groups tire of the bullying antics. The bully’s aggression “lowers their social desirability,” thrusting them toward other likeminded, deviant kids.

 

David Schwartz, associate professor of psychology at USC is quoted in the same article, “Bully Pulpit,” as saying, ” “Victimization is not about the child, it is about what the peer group is doing. The only promising interventions are based on activating the bystanders.” In other words, those on the sidelines need to speak up and out. If we are silent when bullying is going on, we are complicit in the bullying behavior. Bullying can be stopped and the sooner the behavior is recognized, the sooner an intervention can occur.

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Why is it so Hard to Say “No”?

Adolescents look to adults for security, safety, and to be positive examples; this also means they tend to push buttons and test boundaries – “No” is often low on the list of a teen’s favorite words.  As adults, we have to make a concerted effort to create firm boundaries for our kids that are not only respectful, but geared toward creating an environment of emotional and physical safety. This means we have to say “no” even if it’s not a popular answer, and it means we have to hold the boundary surrounding that answer, regardless of the outcome. Remember, “No” is a complete sentence, and it’s perfectly okay to say it, own it, and honor it.

 

It’s easier to back out of a “No” than a “Yes.”

 

Imagine this scenario: Your teen is relentlessly asking you if they can hang out at a friend’s house; you are engrossed in a project or conversation. Out of frustration, you hastily give permission. However, a bit later, you realize you had said, “yes,” in error – you actually want your teen home for dinner, and being at a friend’s house means he or she won’t be home in time. So you change your mind. All of a sudden, you have an angry teen on your hands – you’re unfair, mean, et cetera. Speaking out of haste or frustration has a negative impact – it illustrates an unstable boundary and creates an environment where kids don’t know what to expect. In the scenario above, no one wins:  your teen is disappointed and angry at you, and you’re frustrated and angry at your teen.

 

Why is it so hard to say “No”? And better yet, why is it so hard for us to hear “No”?

 

“No” is a boundary. It is a way of advocating for ourselves and ensuring we are meeting our needs. It allows us to set boundaries so we can take care of ourselves and create healthy boundaries with others. “No” is not mean; it’s not spiteful. “No” is honest and it represents self-respect and self-awareness. It also cultivates emotional safety and stability.

 

Sometimes, saying “No” can feel like we are letting someone down, or maybe like we are letting ourselves down. Maybe we want to say, “Yes” when what we really need to say is “No.”  This is a hard skill to learn, for teens and adults.

 

If/when you are faced with a difficult situation where there might be pressure to say “Yes,” or where you are uncomfortable saying “No,” ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will the outcome be helpful or harmful to yourself or others?
  • Are my needs being met?
  • Is this “Yes” to please someone else or to honor myself?

 

Hearing “No” can be difficult because often times, the truth is, we aren’t really asking; we are making a veiled demand that is presented in the form of a question. The politeness we assumed in the asking then comes crashing down because the reality is, we weren’t asking in the first place. When things are in a stasis, this is a great conversation to have with your teen. And it’s a great perspective to be aware of for yourself. Are you really asking your teen to take out the trash, or you demanding that they do it? If they said, “No,” how would you respond?

 

Hearing “No” also can breed a sense of disappointment.  We may feel like we aren’t getting what we want. We may feel rejected. There is an unfortunate comfort in being polite and saying what we think others want to hear. When we are inauthentic and we omit our truth, we evoke a passive anger later on. Bringing some awareness into cultivates authentic and honest communication.

 

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is a lifetime practice. Some boundaries are easier set than others. Practicing saying “No” is a good start. In fact, it’s an empowering start.

Categories
Adolescence Family Feelings Mental Health Parenting Prevention Recovery

Why Listening to Your Adolescent is Invaluable

Do you know the difference between hearing someone and listening to what they are saying to you?

 

Hearing refers to the reception and perception of sound, whereas listening is an action: Listening refers to actively paying attention to what is being said. It also requires the listener’s full attention to the speaker, demonstrated by eye contact, and positive body language. In other words, you can’t listen fully to someone if you are also on your phone, your computer, or watching television. This is an important piece to understand as we positively shift the way we interact with adolescents.

 

One thing I often hear from teens is that they don’t feel like the adults in their lives are listening. The polarizing statement, “You never LISTEN to ME!” punctuated by a slammed door is not an unusual experience for parents of teens. In order to listen to our kids, we have to set aside our reactions and our need to direct or advise. Sometimes, kids need to vent and our best response can be something like, “It sounds frustrating when…” or maybe, “I hear how frustrated you are.” We have to remember that adolescents feel things far more intensely than we do as adults. An issue that is banal to us can FEEL like the end of times.

 

Adolescents have reduced dopamine and serotonin levels, making them more prone to high-risk activities and addiction. A child who feels listened to and heard, has a higher chance of making a healthy decision than the kid who is perpetually dismissed, talked over or ignored. When a child is saying, “I hate you,” or “This sucks!” there’s probably something else there. They don’t really hate you, but they may not be able to communicate that beyond the natural reactivity of their developing brain. What would happen if we listened instead of reacted? A statement like:  “When you are ready, I am available to listen to you” can go a long way with a teenager.

 

Our children mimic our reactions, our problem-solving methods, and our behavioral examples. If we are always nervous, they may be nervous. If we are angry all the time, they may be angry all the time. If we are overcautious, they may be overcautious. The list goes on but the outcome is the same.

 

I am prone to sarcasm. I have a sarcastic sense of humor and have my whole life. This has come back to bite me in the bum with my son, who’s 13 and…sarcastic. Instead of punishing him about the trouble this sarcasm often breeds, we looked at this and processed as a family. Our conclusion: We will curb our sarcasm as a family in an effort to shift the negative perspective others may have. My son felt listened to, we felt listened to, and in the end, a dedicated period of reflective listening proved to be an effective and positive way of dealing with a burgeoning family issue.  We have conversations like this often and as a result, we have a teenager who is willing to share his frustrations and difficulties with us more transparently than most. Conversely, I have observed some of his classmates spinning down the spiral of negative and harmful reactions: eating or starving to process their feelings, cutting themselves as a means of processing their feelings, smoking to process their feelings, et cetera. There isn’t an easy fix, silver bullet, or magic potion. Creating an environment where listening is part of an everyday process takes work and dedication. And sometimes, we may have to drop our parental need to “fix” things so we can listen.

Categories
Addiction Parenting Prevention Recovery Safety

Prevention: The Best Way to Store and Dispose of Prescription Drugs

We see a lot of adolescents who have been abusing prescription drugs, and prescription drug use is being hailed as the new gateway drugs. Parents are often concerned their teens will experiment with street drugs and/or alcohol, but many teens are dipping into a familiar medicine cabinet, looking for a free and easy way to get high. A sticker that says, “May cause drowsiness,” can be misinterpreted to mean one can get high from it. Unfortunately, this sticker can be found on all sorts of medications, including anti-depressants and blood pressure medications.

Sometimes, prescriptions are stolen by teens for their own use, and sometimes it’s for the purpose of trading from friend to friend or at parties. Pharmaceutical bartering amongst the teen set is far too common; two driving factors of adolescent prescription drug abuse are:

1: The misperception that prescription medication isn’t harmful

2: Ease of access to these drugs at home or a friend’s house

 

Some kids start experimenting with prescription drugs because they are trying to find ways to cope with their stress or anxiety; some use it to try to get an “in” with a certain crowd. There are those, too, who have been prescribed a medication for one thing, but notice a “benefit” for something else (like more focus on a test), and begin misusing it or sharing it with friends.

 

  • According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more than 71, 000 children ages 18 and under are seen in the ER for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of teens who report abuse of prescription medications get them from friends, family, and acquaintances.
  • Among young people ages 12-17, prescription drugs are the second most abused drug (behind marijuana)
  • Teens ages 12-17 have the second-highest annual rates of prescription drug abuse; young adults 18-25 have the highest rate.
  • Every day, 2700 teens try prescription drugs for the first time with the intent of getting high.
  • Nearly one in four teens have taken a prescription medication that was not prescribed to them.
  • One in three teens report being offered a prescription drug or OTC medication for the purpose of getting high.
  • One in three teens report having a close friend who abuses prescription pain medications.
  • One in four teens report having a close friend who abuses cough medicine to get high.
  • One in 10 teens report abusing cough medicine to get high.

 

Parents must take preventative action with their medication. It’s imperative that all medications are accounted for and kept locked up. Do you safely dispose of unused medications? Or do they reside in the dark corners of your medicine cabinet, collecting dust on their exhausted expiration dates?  Are they loosely out on a counter or tabletop for easy access?  Our kids watch us all the time; they learn from our actions and reactions, and they mimic us our behaviors. It’s important to mirror positive actions so our kids do the same. Kids will try anything on, and if taking a lot of medications is part of your habitual behavior, they may try that on too.

 

Here are some guidelines to support healthy means of communication around the use and misuse of prescription drugs, and the safe way to store and dispose of all prescription medications:

  • Communicate with your kids and educate them about the risks of prescription drug abuse. Be honest and age appropriate.
  • Don’t take medications that aren’t prescribed to you. (A recent study by The Partnership at Drugfree.org showed that 27 percent of parents have taken a prescription medicine without having a prescription for it themselves.)
  • Store your medications in a secure place..
  • Keep a record of what medications you have and how much you have – have this information before you lock the meds up.
  • Keep note of your refills;
  • If your teen has been prescribed a medication, make sure YOU monitor it, not them;
  • Educate your friends and relatives about the danger of prescription drugs and encourage them to store them properly;
  • Discard drugs that are either expired or are no longer needed;

 

See HERE for the the list of medications you can flush; beyond this list, please ensure that medications are disposed of as follows, per FDA.gov:

 

1: Remove medication from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs).

2: Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag. Then you can toss them in the trash.

 

Please stay on top of this. The public has access to many viable resources like SAMHSAPartnership for a DrugFree America, and the Medicine Abuse Project for more information and free pamphlets. If you suspect your child is abusing prescription drugs or any drugs at all, seek help.

Categories
Adolescence Parenting Recovery School

Teens Are Going Back to School

School is back in session! This means that the unstructured schedule of summer has ended and the wild teen energy requires a shift toward focus and effort.

 

It’s tough because you go from a veritable free-for-all (Summer) to a highly focused environment where there are higher expectations, firmer schedules, and of course, the dreaded homework. Kids who spent the summer in camp may have had some structure, but the truth is, it’s nowhere near as rigid as school. Bedtime has been later and waking up took on a leisurely state. School starting is a definite shift.

 

The positives about returning to school, according to one anonymous teen are, “You get to see your friends again and you get to learn.” In middle school and high school, friends hold a lot of power over each other. Often more important than classroom connection is the forming of social groups outside of class: in the halls, on the yard, et cetera. This is where the real influence, be it negative or positive occurs, and for kids more akin to following than leading, this can represent a shift toward bad decision making. Conversely, a child who is processing a lot of personal conflict (eg, family) may be drawn to kids who are acting out or whose behavior is outside of the norm. On the contrary, some kids are extremely skilled at creating the equivalent of work/life balance, both in maintaining good grades and in having a healthy social life.

 

Socialization can be tough, especially in adolescence. I often refer to teens as messy, and I say that because their emotional and physical terrain is rapidly changing and unpredictable. Even a kid with little to no conflict is still going to experience the messiness of adolescence. I find that one of the biggest things these kids need is validation: a confirmation that what they are going through is normal. I keenly remember how rough adolescence was. It was downright confusing and miserable at times. And at others, it was pure, unadulterated excitement! I remember thinking some kids “had it made” because they had all of the “stuff” I thought I needed, but later finding out they were suffering as much as I was.

 

Some teens can’t stop the summer fun, though. They want to carry on with late-night shenanigans far into September and October. It’s true: we do see an increase in clients during that time. Don’t wait until the first bad report card to do something; pay attention from day one to the way in which your teen is acclimating. Are they struggling? Is getting back to the “grind” harder than usual? Maintain an open, transparent place to have discussions with your teen.

 

  • Listen: Sometimes teens (and kids in general) just want to vent without receiving advice. “I hear how frustrating that is” or “That sounds difficult” can go a long way. Kids are actually skilled at coming to a healthy solution on their own if we allow them the opportunity.

 

  • Be present: Create a technology free period where you are together as a family and be willing to participate in each other’s lives.

 

  • Don’t take it personally:  Teens love to push buttons. If you can let the small stuff roll off your back, do. An eye roll can be ignored. Choose your battles.

 

 

Lastly, encourage your teen to avoid and/or ignore the kids whose choices are questionable, and to choose friends who are dedicated to their education and making positive choices.  Our teens look to us as parents to be their guide. We are their first teachers. If our attitudes about school and learning are positive and healthy, they will inadvertently adopt them (most of the time). If our attitudes about learning and school are mercurial, then guess what, our kids will adopt that same, fickle attitude toward learning.

 

 

 

“If you want your children to improve, then let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.” Dr. Haim Ginott