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How To Find a Counselor for Your Teen

Here's what you need to know to make a great choice for your teen.

If your teen is struggling, you want to fix whatever’s wrong and try to help. And maybe they need help, but chances are, they’re going to talk to someone else before they talk to you. Right? Well, if they need to talk and they won’t talk to you, you’ll want to do everything in your power to find someone who will lead them in the right direction and encourage them to make good choices. That’s why finding a counselor for your teen just may be the answer you’re looking for. 

A counselor can be a great resource to help your teen manage any number of issues they may be dealing with. But the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. 

Think about this: finding a counselor is a lot like interviewing folks to fill a job position. When hiring someone, you want to find the right fit. 

It’s the same with choosing a counselor for your teen. You wouldn’t want to hire the first person to walk into a job interview. It’s the same with choosing a counselor; it’s wise to “shop around” and find the best fit for your teen. 

But how do you go about doing that?

Here are some helpful tips for finding a counselor for your teen: 

Do a search.

Finding a counselor in your area can be as easy as an internet search. But be sure to look at reviews. Check over their website, and ask around about counselors you may be interested in. 

Don’t underestimate the power of a good recommendation. Ask people you know who have used counselors. Therapists often specialize in adults and adolescents, so don’t discount the ones adult friends have seen. 

Pay attention to the credentials. 

You wouldn’t want to hire a person without the right qualifications, and it’s the same with choosing a counselor. Except this is your teen who needs help. Here’s a simple breakdown of what counselor credentials look like:

  • Counselors are either licensed or unlicensed by the state where they practice. Licensed counselors have initials after their names, like LPC, LPCC, LCPC, or LMHC. They hold a master’s degree or higher, have completed a certain number of supervised training hours, and have passed a licensure exam. Ideally, you should seek out a licensed counselor.
  • Some unlicensed counselors are working toward either their advanced counseling degree or licensure. They usually offer cheaper rates and must disclose the status of their services. Because they work under the direct supervision of experienced therapists, these counselors can also be very helpful. 
  • Some counselors are psychiatrists (PsyD or MD). This means they hold a medical doctorate, can diagnose mental illnesses, and can prescribe medication.
  • Some people advertise themselves as counselors but are not licensed. These professionals may or may not hold advanced degrees in areas of counseling or psychology. When seeking the services of unlicensed counselors, it’s wise to use caution. 

Ask a potential counselor questions before the first session. 

Consider questions such as: 

  • Do you specialize in child and adolescent therapy? 
  • How long have you been in practice? Are you licensed by the state? Is your license current? 
  • What issues do you specialize in? (Counselors will typically specialize in depression, LGBQT+ issues, addiction, or other issues that may pertain to your teen’s situation. These are usually spelled out on their website if they have one. Be sure to ask if you don’t see an issue that pertains to your teen.) 
  • What kind of approach do you use with your teen clients? (Most counselors have theoretic approaches they use, but don’t let the psycho-babble throw you off. Get a sense of how the counselor relates to their clients in a way that’s understandable to you.)

Consider the financial aspect.

Check to see whether a counselor accepts insurance and, if so, whether they are in-network. Some counselors base client fees on household incomes (called a sliding scale). Fee payment schedules can also vary from counselor to counselor. Some require payment at the time of each session, while others allow a certain number of sessions to go by. Be sure to ask about how the counselor handles their client fees. I understand that many parents don’t plan for the expense of counseling, but it’s well worth the investment. Mental health is that important.

Ask what to expect with confidentiality. 

If a counselor chooses to conduct sessions privately with your teen, ask how they handle confidentiality. Don’t assume the counselor will share everything your teen says in the counseling room. Counselors work under the state laws and codes of ethics that direct them as to how to handle client confidentiality. Ask the counselor about this before the first session so you will know what to expect. 

As a parent, your teen’s mental health is a top priority. And you want their counselor to be effective. Good counselors are out there; it takes a little digging to figure out who can best be helpful. If you feel there’s no connection between the counselor and your teen after a few sessions, keep looking for a counselor who will be a better fit. Your teen will be more open and make better progress if they feel comfortable with their counselor.  It’s worth it! 

Other resources:

How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

How to Prevent Depression in Teens

Five Strategies to Help Your Teen Deal with Post-Pandemic Anxiety

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

7 Strategies to Help Your Child Deal With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Demonstrate your love, compassion, and care while walking them through their challenges.

Children, like adults, were struck with a sudden bombshell when COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Everything changed abruptly. Think about it. One day, they’re at school and seeing their friends. The next day, they’re home for an extended period. They’re isolated. Their world changed: masks, loneliness, increased family time, canceled activities, etc. The structure, predictability, and consistency kids need to thrive: gone. That’s a tough experience for a child to live through. It was even hard for adults.

As kids come out of the pandemic, it’s no wonder that so many are experiencing anxiety. Recent studies suggest the pandemic may be having a more adverse effect on adolescents than on adults.1 According to Dr. Bradley S. Jerson,2 your child may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety if they are…

  • Spending a lot more time alone
  • Sleeping a lot more or less
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Not interested in their favorite activities
  • Having changes in their overall mood
  • More irritated or angry
  • Stuck on negative thoughts
  • Hopeless about the future

As their parent, you want to help them manage their anxiety and adjust to normalcy.

These strategies can help your child deal with post-pandemic anxiety.

1. Be aware of your own mental health.

The Child Mind Institute states “that dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful way to make sure your kids feel secure.”3 Your children take a lot of their cues from you. So do whatever is necessary for you to be in a good space mentally. Practicing good self-care will equip you to help your child.

2. Give your child space and freedom to talk through their emotions.

What young child can do that by themselves? Not many. Try to ask questions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Try, “What do you feel when we make plans to go to the supermarket or back to school?” This lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is acceptable and even normal. Studies show that after an event like a pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety are common.4 Child expert Dr. Gene Beresin recommends that parents consistently listen and validate their child’s thoughts and emotions. This can help them transition to post-pandemic life.5

3. Create some routines, predictability, and consistency.

Children thrive when they know what’s coming. And it helps them adjust and know who to turn to for the things they can’t foresee. Morning or nighttime routines are helpful. Picking them up from school at a consistent time is also good. Several studies have shown that eating family meals together is beneficial for kids’ mental state.

4. Ease them back into their norms when possible .

Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and Dominique A. Phillips recommend taking smaller, manageable steps to move forward.6 Instead of going to an indoor birthday party, have your child choose a friend for an outdoor play date. Pick people and places that are most comfortable for your child, and use those spaces to help them overcome the paralyzing effects of their post-pandemic anxiety.

5. Talk them through what’s being done to keep them safe.

Young children look to their parents for security, safety, and protection. Asking your child what would make them feel safe can help them address their anxiety. Explaining what makes a situation safe helps build their trust in you as their parent to protect them. 

6. Get support for your child.

If your child continues to struggle, talk to their pediatrician, a school counselor, or find a therapist. Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they’ve had thoughts of self-harm. **If they have, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7).**

7. Celebrate the positives.

Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to look for anything positive they can celebrate.7 Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on what our kids won’t do. Instead, highlight the good stuff they’re doing: the family time you’re spending together, the books they’re reading. This can help shift their mentality and calm their uneasiness.

Each child responds differently to change. Your love, compassion, and care in walking them through their challenges are often the most crucial ingredients to helping your child deal with change, fear, uncertainty, and post-pandemic anxiety. You got this!

Sources:

1 The psychiatric sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents, adults, and health care workers.

2 Connecticut Children’s

3 The Child Mind Institute Anxiety and Coping With the Coronavirus

4 Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment

5 Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, Full professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

6 Here’s How to Help Your Kids Break Out of Their Pandemic Bubble and Transition Back to Being With Others

7 Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute

Dear Dad,

Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?

It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know. 

Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes. 

And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.

Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.” 

So what do you do?

You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.

One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away. 

Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.

It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent

How to Be a Supportive Parent

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became A Dad

How to Talk to Your Teen About Drinking

Conversations around alcohol can impact life or death situations.

Drinking is one of “those topics” that parents need to talk about with their teens. Here’s some help navigating this potentially difficult conversation.

What’s potentially difficult? There are state laws and your house rules. Other parents (and therefore your teen’s friends) may have different rules about alcohol. Drinking is an activity where there is often intense peer pressure on teens. Also, teen drinking is usually paired with other behaviors like drug use, sex, and violence. (Your conversation might go in some unexpected directions.)

  1. State laws are a great place to start. They’re black and white. Make sure you know your state’s laws regarding alcohol, especially the laws regarding purchase, possession, and internal possession. (“Internal possession” means your teen may not have been found with alcohol on his or her person, but they had alcohol in them based on a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.) Laws can vary by state, especially when it comes to parents allowing a minor child to drink at their home or private property.
  • Make sure your teen knows the legal consequences of their actions, especially driving under the influence.
  • The Federal Trade Commission says the following: No state has an exception that permits anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property. Translation: Party at a friend’s house whose parents provide or allow alcohol is always illegal.
  1. This is a good place to transition from your state’s laws to your house rules. Explain that there are many different opinions about alcohol. Your teen’s friends may have parents with different beliefs about drinking. That’s okay. What matters is the position you take as their parent and the actions you model regarding alcohol.

Parental postures vary regarding drinking for a variety of legitimate reasons

Some parents:

  • Have strong religious convictions against it. 
  • Were raised by an alcoholic parent. 
  • Struggled with alcohol when they were younger.
  • Have a friend or family member who is destroying their life with alcohol.
  • May be responsible, moderate drinkers. 

You aren’t judging the family down the street. This is a time for you to talk to your teen about some important life principles. Personal responsibility. Self-control. Moderation and balance. Choosing, not just between right and wrong, but between better and best. 

  1. To complete your due diligence as a parent, you have to address some typical teen behaviors with alcohol. Your goal isn’t to scare your teen but to definitely keep it real, give them facts, and leave an opening for further questions and future conversations.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) periodically release a Youth Risk and Behavior Survey (YRBS). Their latest is for 2019, and every parent should become familiar with it.

The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:

  • 29% drank alcohol.
  • 14% binge drank.
  • 5% of drivers drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • In 2019, female high school students were more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink than male students.

Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher rates of absences or lower grades.
  • Social problems. 
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injuries.
  • Misuse of other substances.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  1. If it isn’t already, plan on this being an ongoing conversation. Ask your teen questions (but don’t interrogate them) about alcohol use among their peers, and try not to freak out about the answers. Ask them about their opinions and experiences with alcohol. Listen, don’t lecture. 

When you think of conversations with your teen, please view communication as a two-way street. Give them conversationally what you would like from them. What do you hope for when you talk with your teen about drinking… or drugs, or sex? You’re hoping for honesty, transparency, authenticity, and quality listening. Give that to your teen so they can return it.

Appropriately share things like:

  • When I was your age, alcohol was a big/small part of my home…
  • Kids at my school used to…
  • My friends and I…

This might sound risky and counter-intuitive, but teens operate a little differently. They often meet you at your level of “realness.” They clam up when they feel you’re “fishing” to pull info from them. When they say, “Things are so different now from when you were my age,” agree with them. Your teen is right. (Two words: Social Media.) But you still have much wisdom and life experience to offer. Your “missteps” don’t give your teen “license,” but they do give you credibility. Your teen will probably offer information if you sincerely offer it yourself.

    ★ Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they know they are loved and can talk to you about anything, anytime. This means investing time outside of “big talks” like this one.

BONUS THOUGHT:

I’ve actually had these conversations with my kids. Realistically, I knew my teens wouldn’t always make the right decisions. I told each of them that if they were in a situation where they would be driving impaired or had to ride with someone who was impaired, they could call me at ANY TIME. I would get them wherever they were. No questions asked. The number one priority was their safety. 

Some parents feel this gives implied permission to break the rules. I believe it’s an understanding that failure exists on a continuum. Your teen can’t learn life lessons if they lose their life. This is a serious topic and a tough one. You get to guide them. Good luck!

Sources:

Underage Drinking | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Possession/Consumption/Internal Possession of Alcohol: About This Policy | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Alcohol Laws by State | FTC Consumer Information

Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019

CDC Underage Drinking

How to Teach Your Son About the Importance of Consent

Talking about consent can help your son navigate the waters.

It’s hard to miss the headlines about people taking advantage of others, sex trafficking and lives being changed forever because someone made a decision without asking for or giving consent. In today’s world, parents feel the need to understand and explain consent to their children, but how should you even start that conversation? Is it a different conversation for boys than it is for girls? Is it possible to take the need for consent too far, like when you’re changing your newborn’s diaper? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Here are a few answers to guide your way.

I’m the mother of 3 sons. I’ve had several conversations with them about what consent is and how to incorporate it into all parts of their lives. (If you have a daughter, check out this blog on How to Teach Your Daughters About Consent.) 

For our purposes, consent is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” So, at its foundation, consent is about respecting the boundaries of the people you interact with. Especially when it comes to sex.

It’s essential for parents to not have just one conversation about sex and consent. You’ve got to have ongoing discussions. 

More. Than. One. Many conversations. 

Your son’s future, his reputation, and his relationships could be at stake.

Those conversations change as your son continues to change, grow, and have different experiences. The consent conversation I have with my 14-year-old is totally different from the one I have with my 18-year-old. When you have these conversations with your son(s), the key is to affirm, not shame them.

Why is consent such a big deal now? 

Why does it matter that I talk to my sons about consent?

How do I even begin this conversation?

Having a healthy relationship with your son can set you up for great conversations, and it can help you teach him about the importance of consent. Here’s how to get the conversation started.

Be approachable. Let him see how approachable you are.

As the mother of 3 sons, I’ve learned that they enjoy “body humor.” There was nothing better than talking about who let loose a “silent but deadly” fart or who in their class could burp the theme song to their favorite cartoon without vomiting. Despite being grossed out, I was open to them sharing. From that openness, they felt comfortable coming to me about any subject as they got older. Maybe your sons enjoy animé or sports. Whatever they like, show interest in it. Your interest is the fertilizer for the garden of communication that grows as they grow. Talk to them often about things that matter to them.

Times have changed.

It may be hard to understand why you need to talk about consent to your sons. There have been several cultural shifts regarding specific behaviors, which in the past some people may have seen as “boys being boys.” One example is “pantsing,” where someone pulls down another person’s pants as a practical joke. This behavior is now seen as problematic and can be considered “assault.” 

It’s also helpful to talk about how to talk respectfully to or about other people. Sexual innuendo and objectification are topics you can bring up in everyday life (just look at the news for a springboard). Make sure they know what’s acceptable and what can be perceived as offensive to another person.

Talking about behaviors like these helps your son navigate the waters. It can also give them the courage to take a stand when someone is in danger, on the verge of making a terrible, life-altering choice, or making poor decisions. 

Respect is essential.

Teaching your son to respect the people in his sphere of influence is paramount. Respect begets respect. Even as parents, we can demonstrate respect to and for our children. I’ve taught my sons to knock on my bedroom door and wait until I say come in before they enter my room. I also knock on their doors before I go in. 

I also taught my sons to understand words like “NO” and “stop” from an early age. For example: When they were little, we played the “tickle game.” They knew when they said the password (Queen Mommy), I would immediately stop. This demonstrated to them that their words matter, and they can say “no” as well. 

Reiterate that no means no. And make sure they know how alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s decision-making abilities.

It’s essential to ask permission and get a clear verbal response.

I remember that old saying about what happens when you “assume.” Assuming can be downright dangerous. Instead, ASK. If asking yields a nonverbal response such as a head nod or a shoulder shrug, ASK AGAIN. Asking and getting a clear verbal response helps both parties understand what’s ok and what isn’t. No matter the situation, even if consent has been given, I’ve told my sons, “If you have a doubt, DON’T.” 

In other words, make sure they know that being invited into someone’s room or apartment is not an offer for sex. Taking someone on a date (or on a third date) doesn’t mean they owe you ANYTHING physical.

Consent is demonstrating respect for and listening to the people around you. Whether your son is 11 or 18, talk to him about consent, self-control, respect, and the potential consequences when those things are missing. Consequences could be legal, social, physical or financial. It could involve expulsion from school, losing a job, being arrested or being ostracized. Not getting consent is putting your life in someone else’s hands. 

Additionally, your son has a right to voice his permission, too. 

As I was talking to my college-bound son, he said, “Young men have the burden of doing the right thing in any given situation because consent is not just about dating. It’s about respecting people.” 

I think he’s right.

Other helpful blogs:

When Should I Let My Child Date

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

Teaching Consent to Elementary Students (George Lucas Educational Foundation)

We’re halfway through May, and that means graduation season. Students are graduating from high school and college and starting a new chapter in their lives. New opportunities are on the horizon. But as the students begin a new chapter, so do many parents. A graduating student means the nest is emptying or possibly empty. 

It’s common for parents to struggle as kids leave. As parents, we often give most of our time, energy, and attention to our children. We believe we have limited time with our children, so they become our focus. But once they graduate and leave the house, your focus is gone, and it’s just you and your spouse. If you haven’t focused on each other, you may feel lost during this time. Empty nest syndrome kicks in.

What is empty nest syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is the wash of emotions that affects parents when their children have grown up and left home to attend college, military, or work in another state. The emotions range from sadness to extreme grief, anxiety, and identity issues.  

Each parent reacts differently, though. Some may experience joy and excitement for their child. Others may feel as if they have no purpose going forward. So, how can a parent address empty nest syndrome? And how can you come alongside your spouse to help them out if they’re struggling?

1. Plan for it.

Graduation is coming. After your child has solidified their next steps, plan for how you will handle the following season. If you need support, plan an outing with friends to talk about how you feel. Remember, the goal of parenting is for your child to grow up and successfully leave home.

2. Find ways to occupy your time.

Maybe it’s time for a new hobby. If you’ve put off starting something new because you didn’t have time, the time has arrived. Give gardening or carpentry a try, take up golf, or join a book club.

3. Reconnect with your spouse.

If your relationship hasn’t been in the center of your family, it’s time for it to take its place there. Our kids’ activities can take the attention away from our marriage. Now is the perfect time to schedule some weekly date nights or a weekend getaway. Be intentional about reconnecting with your partner.

4. Stay connected with your child.

Even though your child has moved off, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great relationship. Send them care packages with their favorite snacks. Talk, text, or FaceTime. Set realistic expectations, though. Your child is starting a new chapter in their life, and they may not want to talk to Mom or Dad every day.

5. Support your spouse in trying new things.

Maybe even try it with them.

6. Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.

Just because you may not feel the same doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t valid.

7. Do something to make your spouse feel special.

8. If necessary, encourage your spouse to seek help. 

Every parent experiences an empty nest at some point, but you don’t have to do this new season in your life alone. Talk to your spouse about empty nest syndrome. Reach out to friends and family who have already experienced the empty nest. Connect with other parents whose kids are attending the same school. Surround yourself with a community that cares for you and will walk with you during this time. 

Other helpful blogs:

Keys to Avoiding Empty Nest Divorce

8 Ways to Celebrate the Empty Nest

Making the Empty-Nest Transition

A Practical Guide for Empty-Nesters

3 Reasons To Let Your Child Have More Screen Time

How they spend their time in front of a screen matters.

You’re a good parent. You wouldn’t call yourself one. You’re truly humbled by how much you don’t know about parenting. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed. Often, it’s like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. But you care. You’re trying hard at this parenting thing. 

So, you invest time in reading about health, nutrition, and child development. As a good parent, you’re concerned about the effects of technology and screen time on kids, especially for your child. There’s alarming but also alarmist info out there. So, let’s set the record straight. Maybe this can clear up some confusion or lift lingering guilt. 

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) released their lengthy GUIDELINES ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, SEDENTARY BEHAVIOUR, AND SLEEP FOR CHILDREN UNDER 5 YEARS OF AGE.

Their conclusions regarding screen time:

  • None for kids younger than 2 years old.
  • Just 60 minutes per day for 3- to 4-year-olds.

In an NPR interview, Fiona Bull, the chairperson of the WHO team that created the guidelines, said, “We’re concerned — and the evidence shows — that extended periods of time passively watching screens is detrimental to health, particularly for very young children.” 

Case closed, right? It’s easy for parents to read such edicts and come away with the idea that screens are a radioactive toxin.

But there are two phrases here that need to be unpacked and examined::

  • “Extended periods of time.” (The report uses qualifiers like “hours,” “sedentary,” and “restrained.” Translation: A child lying around or being strapped into something, in front of a screen for over an hour.)
  • “Passively watching.” (This is in contrast to “actively engaging.” Especially engagement accompanied by a parent.)

Maybe the case against screens isn’t closed. Let’s focus on case management instead. Here are three types of screen time the WHO report is NOT addressing. 

  1. Video Chatting. This is the time you let your child interact with a person like Daddy or Grandmom on a screen. This isn’t “passively watching.” Instead, this is engaging and is just as developmentally appropriate as talking, reading, or singing to your child. 
  2. Screen as Pacifier. Yes. Life happens. Your child is wailing with an intensity that has you considering the pediatric benefits of exorcism. Still, you aren’t quite finished with a work Zoom meeting. Or you just need a quick shower. Or it’s a 15-minute car ride. This is real life. Trust your parenting survival instincts. Your phone is no different than a pacifier or toy you would use to occupy your child. Don’t let the WHO guilt you on this. Note: This is a screen as a short-term pacifier, not a screen as a free babysitter
  3. Co-Viewing. Joint media engagement. Anytime you’re interacting with your child and a screen is fine. Point out shapes and colors. Count things. Identify animals in an interactive storybook. Move items on the touch-screen. This is not the sort of thing the WHO is discouraging, so snuggle up. (Academic guilt relief, here and here.)

You’re a good parent. Think of screen time like sweets. Little treats, especially shared, can be just the thing to get your child, and you, through the day.

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