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From rolling their eyes and being argumentative, to defiantly shouting “No” right in your face, if you have a teenager, you have undoubtedly experienced some form of disrespectful behavior along the way. But how do you respond in a constructive way as a parent?

We’ve come to accept that despite our best parenting efforts, the teenage years invariably come with some friction. Developmentally, their biology is undergoing tectonic shifts. Their brains and bodies, including hormones and other body chemistry, are all being completely overhauled.  

Psychologically, they are transitioning from childhood dependence to adult independence. They’re also learning how to process the new emotional loads they are experiencing in their changing bodies. There is a built-in tension between their need for a healthy space to become an individual and their need to stay connected to their parental guides. So, we know our teenager has a lot going on… 

But still… we want our teens to understand the importance of respect as a character quality that will impact their success as adults. As they are growing into a future that includes navigating adult relationships in their educational and career training, occupation, and a future family of their own, we know as present adults how important learning how to respect yourself and others will be. Research indicating that disrespectful teenagers grow up to be rude adults is really no surprise. And nobody likes being around rude people. So how can we address respect in the lives of our teens in a healthy way for our today and their tomorrow?

Here are four things to keep in mind when parenting a disrespectful teenager:

  1. Model the behavior you want to see. It always starts with our example as parents. This can’t be stressed enough: as a person and as a parent, make sure you respect and take care of yourself, and model respect toward others. Your life has a “live audience” 24/7 in the form of your teen and more is caught than taught. You are modeling how to respect yourself and respect everyone around you and your teen catches everything. Probably one of the biggest opportunities we have to teach is when our teen is disrespectful toward us and we choose not respond disrespectfully in return.
  1. Remember that this is a difficult phase of your teen’s life. This isn’t to excuse disrespectful behavior, but it is to keep it in context and put it in perspective. This is to help you choose your battles and how you approach them. When you catch yourself saying, “Well, when I was your age…” remember, things really are different today. Your teen is navigating social media and the bombardment of information and opinions. Let’s just say, there are some really unique circumstances in our world at the moment that could legitimately be making your teen’s life more difficult.
  1. Look for any deeper issues beneath the surface of disrespectful behavior. The disrespectful behavior you see might be the expression of deeper issues that you need to address as a parent. This doesn’t mean you ignore your teen’s disrespectful behavior, but you stay dialed in to what it could be connected with. Often, changes in our teen’s behavior are signals to deeper emotional needs or struggles. Open up the door for conversation by asking your teen, “I’ve seen more disrespectful behavior from you lately, are you okay? What can I do to help you?” (Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help for your teen if you feel like you are in over your head as a parent.)
  1. Don’t stop being their parent. You still set the standard for appropriate behavior in your family, and your teen needs healthy boundaries to grow and thrive. Disagreeing may not automatically be disrespecting, but as a parent, you can teach your teen how to disagree respectfully. That is a skill they need to learn to be successful in any relationship. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring disrespectful behavior to try to become your teen’s “buddy.” As your teen grows as a young adult, they still need you to be an adult.

As a general principle, people can’t give what they don’t have. Take a second to think about that. Help your teen develop a healthy respect for themself. Give them the respect they need as a future adult. In doing these things, you’ll probably get more respect as the present adult and their parent.

★ You can “dial-up” more information about parenting your teenager by clicking these links: 

If you think your teenager hates you, please press one

Please press two if you can’t get your teenager to talk to you. 

If you don’t like who your teen is dating, please press three

If you want to stop fighting with your teen, please press four

But no matter what, when it comes to your teen—don’t get disconnected. Stay on the line.

Image from Unsplash.com

We are gonna look at your question about teen dating in reverse order—hang in there, but I want you to do something first: empathize.

How do you think your teen feels knowing that their parent(s) don’t like this person who they obviously think is special? That’s hard. If you have a healthy relationship with them, it’s even harder. Your teen doesn’t want static with you while they believe they are just following their heart. Oh, you haven’t expressed your dislike of this person they are dating? Trust me, they know. Which means their significant other probably knows too. Put yourself in their shoes a minute. To them, all they’ve done wrong is to be attracted to the wonderful teen you raised. This is hard all the way around. But it doesn’t have to get any harder.

Question 1: Is your teen actually “dating” this person?

I just have to ask because things have changed so much from when we were teens. It’s a lot more common to hang out with someone. Your teen (at least) might not even have any romantic interest in them. You might not even know about the person they are interested in romantically because your teen spends hours in their room hanging out with them on FaceTime or some other app on their phone. So, let’s define some terms here.

Just to be sure, ask (don’t interrogate) your teen these questions to make sure they are actually dating:

  • Do you have romantic feelings for this person?
  • Are you and the person you’re interested in both looking for an exclusive relationship? 
  • Do you hang out or go on dates without a group of friends?
  • Is the status of your relationship something you’ve shared with others in person or online, like on social?
  • Do both people in the relationship agree that it’s exclusive?

Question 2: Your teen is your top priority—are they ready for dating?

I wouldn’t give my kids an age when they could start dating. It depended on whether my wife and I thought they were mature enough to handle the responsibilities and the dangers—both emotionally and physically—of being in a dating relationship. (Just because the state will give you a driver’s license on a certain date doesn’t mean you’re ready to drive. I’ve told a couple of my kids that the state may think you’re ready—I don’t though…)

Does your teen respect your boundaries in other areas of their life? Have they shown you they are trustworthy? Has your teen shown that they can set up and enforce their own personal boundaries? Have you talked to your teen about the significance and consequences of sex? Have you talked to your teen about the warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship? Does their significant other or your teen ever do any of the following bright red flags of abuse:

  • Checking your cell phone or email without permission
  • Constantly putting you down
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolating you from family or friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Mood swings
  • Physically hurting you in any way
  • Possessiveness
  • Telling you what to do
  • Pressuring or forcing you to have sex or go further physically 

Have you set up a “code word or phrase” with your teen, so that if they are on a date and feel uncomfortable for any reason they can call or text you to “check-in” and mention “shopping next week” so you know to get them out of that situation?

Question 3: Who is this person and why don’t you like them?

We have to be careful here and we need to be honest. Does this person just not fit the idealized boyfriend or girlfriend you’ve had in mind for years? Have you idealized your teen and this person just isn’t “good enough” for them, or you think “They could do better?” Have you not just “set the bar” high, but set it impossibly high? No teenager is perfect, and honestly, the teen that seems perfect is probably the one you really want to keep your eye on. Imperfect doesn’t mean dangerous. This might be a “you” thing.

Have you seen changes in your teen that concern you since this person has become a significant part of their life? Are you worried that your teen is “building their world” around this individual and now your teen’s priorities have shifted? Grades slipping? Personality changing? Doesn’t want to be around the family anymore? Doesn’t want to bring their significant other around to hang out with the family? That is concerning behavior! But it could be signaling that your teen just isn’t ready for a dating relationship with anyone right now.

Question 4: What do you do now?

I know you wanted to get here right out of the gate, but we had to do some processing before we took a course of action. We needed to make sure we understood the problem so we could find the right solution.

In general, I always communicated to my children that realistically, marriage is nowhere in your future and you need to be focusing on your educational and career goals, family, friends, and discovering your interests, skills, and passions in life—so now is not the time for a relationship that is a mini-marriage. Those only lead to a mini-divorce and leave scars and baggage you have to carry around the rest of your life. 

I always encouraged my kids to do things in groups or have people over to our house. If they were seriously interested in someone, bringing them around the house was not an option, it was a necessity. If their “special interest” wasn’t comfortable coming into my house, then I wasn’t comfortable with my child outside of my house with them. Period. Full stop. 

So, here’s where we are:

  1. Is your teen not ready to date?
  2. Are you not ready for your teen to date?
  3. Is the person your teen wants to date dangerous or a bad influence? Emotionally or physically?
  4. Is the person your teen wants to date just a normal, flawed teenager, like your teen?

✭ Bonus Question: What do you believe (and what have you taught your teen) is the purpose of dating at their age?

In his book, The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens, Sean Covey defines the difference between intelligent dating and brainless dating.

Intelligent dating is dating successfully, being selective about who you date, hanging out and having fun, remaining steady through the natural highs and lows of romance, and keeping your own standards,” says Covey. “Brainless dating is dating ineffectively, dating anyone who has a pulse, becoming centered on your girlfriend or boyfriend, having your heart broken repeatedly, and doing what everyone else seems to be doing.”

  • Don’t date too young. Dating too young can lead to various problems, including getting taken advantage of, getting physical too soon, or not knowing how to end a relationship.
  • Date people your own age. Dating someone who is several years older than you isn’t healthy.
  • Get to know lots of people. Getting too serious too soon can cut you off from other relationships. Don’t be too eager to have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Date a lot of different people and have fun.
  • Date in groups. Group activities are often more fun, and there is safety in numbers.
  • Set boundaries. Choose what kind of people you will date BEFORE you start dating. Decide what is off-limits and don’t change your mind for anyone.
  • Have a plan. Before going on a date, prepare for the unexpected.

Dating “intelligently” is a great way for a teen to learn about how relationships work, learn their likes and dislikes, socialize with their peers, improve interpersonal communication skills, and hopefully have fun with their friends.

If your teen is dating someone that falls in that “They Aren’t Dangerous, But I Don’t Like ‘Em” category, remember no rings have been exchanged. See if your teen figures it out. That’s what this time is for.

Other Blogs Might Interest You:

Is Being in a Toxic Relationship Better Than Being Alone?

10 Steps for a Low-Risk Teen Dating Strategy

Love Shouldn’t Hurt

Image from Unsplash.com

It feels like there are so many rules and none at the same time. You can’t go anywhere, but you still want to be doing everything. It feels like a vacation, but there are still expectations and responsibilities. Nothing is stopping you from talking to anyone in any way. No one telling you to put your phone up during class. No dress code and no set start or end times to your day. 

Just a lot of talk about COVID-19 and quarantine. So now what? How are you handling all this?

Ask yourself these questions before you do something you’re not sure about: 

  • Is this something I would normally do or say?
  • Am I letting the circumstances influence a change in my morals?
  • Will I regret this in a month or feel guilty about it?
  • Is this me being my best self?
  • Will this show my parents I am trustworthy?

If you’re only doing “this” because you’re bored, your parents aren’t home, you’re spending more time behind your closed bedroom door, or whatever… then I think it’s fair to recognize that some choices can be really tempting during this time.

  • You’re waiting on your friend to reply and it’s been a while so you text your ex. If it’s over, then why go back to them now?
  • You know your parents won’t be home for a while so you sneak something to drink or invite someone over. Don’t give your parents the satisfaction of being right.
  • What’s sending a nude picture to one person going to hurt? Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually stay with that one person. 🙁
  • I won’t see them for a while, so I can comment/text this snark, and they’ll get over it. But what if they don’t? What if they did the same, would you get over it?

However, even though everything around you may feel out of your control and uncertain, how you carry yourself and your morals can stay consistent

You can be the one constant in your own life. 

During this strange time, you have to remember you are responsible for the things you can control. Your actions, choices, outlook, mindset, how you treat others, (parents/siblings included) and how you respond to your emotions—that’s all you

You also have the opportunity to rise above the expectations that often come with being a teenager. I’ll be honest, some adults are quick to assume the worst—that you’re not responsible, you’re already going to break the rules, or that you’ll slack off

You’ve got the chance to be better than others expect, to prove the haters wrong. 

  • You can be a more intentional friend.
  • Be a more thoughtful daughter or son.
  • You can be a productive student.
  • Be your best self during the worst times.

I want to encourage you to not change who you are because it feels like no one is watching. You are watching you. At the end of all of this, my hope for you is that you would be proud of yourself for the hard decisions you made, the things you learned about yourself, the time you took to do something you’ve not had time for, and the ways you helped others. 

We will all get through this together and have the opportunity to come out better than we went into it if we own our actions and make wise decisions. Enjoy this time away from the normal fast-paced weeks and stay well.

You all are going through something really challenging. The whole world is. I know going from seeing your friends or having an escape from home five days a week to nothing is a lot to take in.

Stay Safe

Here are some helpful tips to keep you safe and make wise decisions!

  1. With all of this downtime, it’s easy to spend time on social media and post more than usual. What you have to be careful of is not sharing your location publicly or saying that you are home alone. Accounts are easy to hack and predators know that everyone is stuck quarantined. Make sure your social accounts are set to “private,” especially at a time like this.
  2. If you are playing video games, only letting people you know in your Chat is so important. If someone starts asking how old you are, what city you live in, what grade and what school you go to, what your real name is, DO NOT ANSWER. You need to kick them out of the party and tell an adult. This is how predators can catfish young people into giving them enough personal information to find where you live.
  3. Try your best not to spend all day on your phone. “Cell phone usage has been associated with sleep deficit, depression, anxiety, and stress” according to the US National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health. There is already a big sense of anxiety around COVID-19 and we don’t want to make it harder on ourselves!
  4. If your parents didn’t tell you someone was coming over or about a grocery delivery, don’t answer the door if you’re alone or it’s just you and your siblings.
  5. Don’t send it if you wouldn’t normally send it. If you’re under the impression it disappears when deleted, it doesn’t. The internet is forever. 

According to Business Insider’s interview with Richard Hickman, a digital forensics examiner, “There are many ways to save snaps that you receive—the easiest way is to take a screenshot or take a photo with another camera. Snaps are deleted from our servers after they have been viewed by the recipient.

Note that while it says photos are deleted from Snapchat’s servers, it doesn’t say photos are deleted from the devices.” What this means is that the image can be found on the phone. In fact, there are numerous free apps in the app store.

When COVID-19 Disrupts Everything, Here’s How to Spend All That Time

If you are struggling with filling your time in a way you won’t regret, here are some ideas!

  1. Learn new dances on Tik Tok.
  2. Practice your language skills on Babbel or Duo Lingo.
  3. Workout alongside celebrities and athletes on FitOn (variety for everyone)!
  4. Build a fort.
  5. Group Video Chat.
  6. Learn something new on Youtube.
  7. Watch movies.
  8. Craft with things you have.
  9. Draw.
  10. Work out! Here are some free apps that have home workouts! FitOn, Peloton (for 90 days), Nike Training Club—to name a few! Not to mention YouTube has so many and even some Zumba classes, too.
  11. Go on a walk or a hike.
  12. Write a song, rap, play, poems, short story, etc.
  13. Go outside and find a 4-leaf clover; make it a competition of who can find it the fastest.
  14. If you have siblings, play hide and seek For real, tap in to your inner kid!
  15. There are tons of free games in the app store and some you can invite your friends to play with you, like virtual Uno or cards. If you have an iPhone, Game Pigeon in the text message thread can allow you to play games with your friends!

Image from Unsplash.com

At the start of this year, there was no way anyone would have guessed school would be out, everyone would be quarantined, and spring break would be canceled. And yet, here we are. As a highschooler, how are you supposed to enjoy time off of school when you’re stuck at home either by yourself or with your family?

It all starts with your mind! No matter what, if you’re stuck in the mindset that you can’t have fun because your plans are canceled, then there’s no possible way that you will enjoy the week off from school! BUT, if you choose to do some of these things to transition your mind to thinking positively, you’ve got a much higher chance of actually enjoying your spring break, even if you are stuck at home. Yes, some of these things might seem cliché, but we promise – they work!

To transition your mindset, try…

  • Writing a list of 20 things you’re thankful for. Go beyond your friends or a roof over your head. Dig deep and really think it through.
  • Feeling good about yourself. If that means dressing nicely, doing your hair, getting outside, or video chatting with some friends, do whatever you need to feel confident and content.
  • Closing your door for a second. Even if you can’t actually spend time by yourself (hello, younger siblings), spend a minute stepping away from your phone, Netflix, and/or any other distractions and just breathe for a minute.
  • Don’t blame your parents. Right now, everyone in the world is under a ton of stress and each person is dealing with it in their own way. Your parents are in the same boat, too! This is new and difficult for everyone.

Okay… Now that your mindset is right, here are some great ways you can choose to have fun on this year’s spring break!

  • “Travel” the world. Just because you can’t go anywhere doesn’t mean you can’t pretend you can! Recreate the most photographed places in the world out of things around your house. A paper towel roll can turn into the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you try hard enough!
  • Plan a family night. From dinner to games to questions to ask each other, take family night into your own hands! If everyone in your family can’t participate, put together a friend’s night via video call: eat dinner together, watch a movie together, and enjoy a little company.
  • Put together a tutorial. Love doing makeup? Play the guitar? Have a hidden talent (even if it’s making that whistling sound with grass)? Know a few tips for your favorite video game? Put together a tutorial video for your best skill, then share it with family and friends!
  • Plan next year’s spring break. Just because you can’t do it now doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen! Plan a trip with your family or friends to take for next year’s spring break, from where you want to stay to the best restaurants in the area.
  • Teach your favorite TikTok dance. Sure, your mom might not seem super into it. But maybe she’ll give it a try! Teach your parents or your siblings all your favs and then do a group video. Can’t convince them to join in? Have a dance-off with some friends over a video call!
  • Learn something new. Try making cookies you’ve never had before. Teach yourself how to sing (YouTube videos help!). Learn how to make homemade bread. Try a new way to exercise. Write a short story. PRO TIP: start a challenge with your friends to try something new every day, and maybe teach each other what you learned!
  • Break a world record. There are SO many world records out there, and some of them are honestly not that impressive. Try to break one of them, whether it’s the fastest time to put 24 cans in the fridge or the most t-shirts put on in one minute.

Even if your spring break isn’t looking like you had planned, you can still have fun! Use the time you have off from school to know yourself better, know your family better, and know your friends better, too! The opportunities we have right now are unique and once-in-a-lifetime. Don’t waste your spring break wishing your situation was different. Instead, you can choose to enjoy it to the best of your ability!

(also, if you do end up doing one of these activities for your spring break, be sure to tag us at @relatableftf!)

Image from Pexels.com

Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

“The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

The article cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? How about income inequality? How about more student debt?”

“The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

“The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college – not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships – all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys. She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media, which may be more toxic than the gaming which is more popular among boys.

Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions – whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

“Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression, yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

The last point Twenge makes is that while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

“Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes. “If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

The moral of this story is – don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

 

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.

Image from Unsplash.com

Christmas and Back to School are the two hot times for parents to purchase cellphones for their kids, but what are the right age and the right kind of phone for your child and how do you keep them safe in this Digital Age?

Read more

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the suicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds has increased a startling 56% over the last decade. Suicide has become the second-most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults. 

“Pediatricians have indeed seen a huge increase in depression and anxiety in adolescents over the last few years,” says Dr. Nita Shumaker, pediatrician. “I spend a lot of time talking to parents about lifestyle choices affecting mental health.”

While no one knows for sure what is causing this dramatic increase in teen suicide, the trend is extremely disturbing. Some experts are referring to this as a public health crisis and wondering why there is not more of an outcry for something to be done.

Part of the problem may be that no one is clear about what is causing this uptick. It could be technology, violent video games, television shows, bullying, not enough likes on Instagram posts, the ease in which someone can compare their life to their friend’s highlight reel or who knows what else.  

“It is clear that there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to teens and their mental health,” Shumaker says. “I start early talking about letting electronics into the home. It is a portal for both good and evil to enter into children’s lives. And electronics are really not the problem, it’s the all-access pass that so many children have to technology that is the problem.”

Another issue Shumaker notes is sleep deprivation. 

“Sleep deprivation is a torture technique and a well-documented trigger for anxiety and depression,” Shumaker says. “Not getting enough sleep leads to more impulsive behavior as well as poor performance in school.”

The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children and adolescents have no electronics in the bedroom.

“Allowing electronics in the bedroom means that adolescents spend an enormous amount of time alone, unsupervised and on the internet,” Shumaker says. “This means that fundamentally they are separated from the family, which I believe is another potential cause of depression and anxiety. Having electronics in the bedroom means parents don’t put their kids to bed anymore – their electronics do.

“We are missing such valuable time with our children and their mental health is suffering from it. We as a culture are abandoning our children to the internet and it is literally killing them.”

What can we do to help our kids?

  • Your presence matters. Practice what you are trying to teach. Be intentional about disconnecting from your phone and other technology and actively engage with your kids.
  • Set limits with technology use, including amount of time on screens and where technology lives in your home. (And don’t expect your children to thank you for setting boundaries!)
  • Be vigilant about making sure they get enough rest and seriously limit distractions that could keep them awake. Help them make healthy food and exercise choices, as these can impact other areas of life.
  • Talk with them about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and discuss ways to manage them so they are educated not only for themselves, but also for their friends. Contrary to what some believe, talking about these symptoms or the topic of suicide does not increase the risk of suicide.
  • Make them aware of helpful resources both locally and nationally. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) 
  • Suicide Resource CenterThe American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a whole host of resources for teens and families.
  • Give your teen household responsibilities. You may think your teen already has so much on their plate, but including teens in household chores helps them feel connected and it teaches them responsibility as well as how to manage their time.
  • Create space for your family to do things together on a regular basis. Make sure they are getting helpful information from you, and not just taking their cues from their friends.

Our children are living in a complicated world for sure. Although no one can definitively say why there is such an increase in suicide among our young people, we cannot afford to sacrifice the mental health or lives of our children. We must be intentional in our efforts to help them. Whether they will admit it or not, they are counting on our guidance to navigate this time in their lives.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 3, 2019.

Image from Unsplash.com

“When will I be old enough to date?” – the question many parents dread. You’ve known it was coming, but you also realize you are crossing over into a whole new world with lots of moving parts, plenty of which you cannot control. 

You may reply sarcastically, “When you’re 30!” Or, you may try to be a bit more realistic and really wrestle with the right age for your child to date, which may be different depending on the child.

A study published in The Journal of School Health found that dating during the teen years can help teens learn social skills and grow in emotional intelligence. But guess what? Not dating during these years actually has benefits as well. 

Here’s what they found:

  • The non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers. 
  • While the scores of self-reported positive relationships with friends, at home and at school did not differ between dating and non-dating peers, teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.
  • The study indicated that students who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed. Teachers’ scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the group that reported no dating. And, the proportion of students who self-reported being sad or hopeless was significantly lower within this group as well.

Teen dating relationships today are complicated. Here are just a sample of the thoughts teens have, and the drama that often accompanies dating relationships is a whole other discussion that cannot be disregarded. 

“Does she like me?”  

“Is he cheating on me?”  

“I’m scared of what he will do if I break up with him. I think he might hurt himself.”

“Are his constant questions about where I am, what I am doing, who I am with, and what I am wearing signs of how much he loves me?” 

“Do I break up with him because he is mean or stay with him because a bad relationship is better than being in no relationship?” 

In an endless sea of questions, some teens feel intense pressure to date and be in the “cool” crowd while others could care less. Either ways, this is a time to pour into your teen the qualities that will help them navigate relationships in a healthy way, whether it is romantic or not.

The following things are important to keep in the forefront of your mind as you seek to teach your teen how to engage in relationships with others. 

  • They still need your guidance. The prefrontal cortex, or the rational part of the brain that helps with planning, decision-making, problem-solving, self-control and thinking about long-term actions and their consequences, is nowhere near fully formed, and it won’t be until age 25 or so. This has huge implications for teen behavior. 
  • Healthy relationship skills don’t come naturally, even if your teen seems super smart. They are the result of intentional teaching and modeling of behavior such as looking someone in the eyes during a conversation, using a respectful versus disrespectful tone of voice, and having high regard for one’s feelings. 
  • What your teen does in high school absolutely will follow them into adulthood and impact future relationships. Set standards, develop a strategy and don’t allow them to believe the lie that how they treat others now (or allow themselves to be treated) won’t impact them later. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality many have experienced.
  • Sexual activity affects teens’ mental and emotional health. While the culture often pushes that having sex in the teen years is perfectly normal, plenty of young adults now believe that kind of relationship in high school created more anxiety, stress and depression for them and distracted them from truly enjoying the teen years.
  • They need to hear from you that their value and worth is not dependent on their relationship status. Friendships can be rich, deep and rewarding. Teens need to know and appreciate that their uniqueness is what makes them individuals.
  • Experiencing a range of emotions in relationships is normal, and it helps teens build their emotional regulation muscle. It is beneficial to know how they are feeling. Through that, they will learn to handle the intensity of the emotions that come with being in any relationship with others.

So, when will your child be old enough to date?

Great question! It’s definitely something you should consider with great care ahead of time. Waiting until they are 30 for sure isn’t the right answer. Agreed-upon guidelines for when the time is right will be important. And, it may be comforting to you and to your teen to know that in no way does it mean they are missing out if they don’t date at all during the teen years.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 21, 2019.

It’s coming. You know it’s coming. Eleven is the magic number. By age 11, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have been exposed to pornographic material. Go ahead and get your mind right before you find it.

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Many college graduates will soon be joining the workforce, some for the first time. The transition can be a real shocker as they face their new reality of 8-hour days, specific start times, no more spring breaks and a limited amount of time for lunch. Plus, some workplaces expect employees to work at a rigorous pace that is foreign to many college students.

In the adjustment phase, young adults may complain to their parents about workplace practices, demanding bosses, irritating co-workers and deadlines, just to name a few issues. This is nothing new for sure. 

Anybody who has held a job can probably relate, but here’s where things get interesting. In an effort to be helpful, many parents jump right in to deal with the issue at hand. In fact, you might be surprised at just how many parents are quick to take the reins and deal with the issue themselves.

In a recent survey of parents of children ages 18-28 conducted by Morning Consult, 11 percent of the parents surveyed said they would contact an employer if their child was having issues at work. Of the parents surveyed:

  • 76% reminded their adult children of deadlines they need to meet, including for schoolwork. 
  • 74% made appointments for them, including doctor’s appointments. 
  • 42% offered them advice on relationships and romantic life. 
  • 16% helped write all or part of a job or internship application. 
  • 15% told them which career to pursue.
  • 14% helped them get jobs or internships through professional network.
  • 14% gave more than $500 per month for rent or daily expenses.

With the possible exception of giving romantic advice, none of these behaviors on the part of the parent are helpful in preparing a young adult for the real world.

Instead of jumping in to rescue them, it would be helpful to assist them in being prepared to deal with real-life work situations. Here’s how you can start:

  • When they encounter a difficult professor, process with them potential ways to approach the professor and have a conversation. 
  • Teach them how to make their own doctor’s appointments. 
  • If they have internship possibilities, rehearse with them how to make the initial phone call or introduction and talk with them about potential interview questions. 

If they believe they are being treated unfairly or inappropriately at work, get a good understanding of what is happening. Then:

  • Attempt to walk through the situation with them, but realize the situation is not yours to handle. 
  • Ask them what they think they need to do besides quit, which sometimes ends up being an option if nothing else works, and then help them figure out an action plan they can execute by discussing the pros and cons of all viable options. 
  • If you don’t think you have the knowledge or skill set required to help them decide how to move forward, connect them with someone you believe has the knowledge to do so. Avoid the temptation to make the call yourself. 

It can be painful to watch your young adult deal with difficult and sometimes very complicated circumstances, especially if they are a hard worker and what they are walking through seems unjust. However, it is not healthy or helpful to jump into circumstances they need to learn how to handle themselves. Life is for sure not fair, and this will likely not be the last time they have to navigate dealing with a difficult situation. 

Whether your adult child is still in college or in the workforce, writing papers for them, calling them to make sure they are awake, reminding them of deadlines or interfering at work does not prepare your child for the reality of living an independent, productive life. Doing these things will make them more dependent on you and less prepared for dealing with what life hands them on their own.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 31, 2019.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!