Articles for Parents

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    What You Need to Know About Smartphones, Teens and Depression

    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.

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    How to Prevent Depression in Teens

    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 Center - The 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.


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    When Should Your Teen Date?

    “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. Being able to discern how they are feeling and learning to handle the intensity of the emotions that come with being in any relationship with others, whether it is happiness, sadness, anger, elation, disappointment or encouragement, is beneficial. 

    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.

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    What Society is Really Telling Our Girls

    Last week I was thumbing through People magazine when I came upon an ad. It featured a bikini-clad woman standing at the edge of a pool with her legs spread apart while a guy stared straight up at her crotch and smiled.

    Then someone sent me two deeply troubling articles. One was about sexting and how you don’t have to literally send pictures to help your partner be aroused. The other was questioning whether porn might be able to actually help people better understand consent. 

    You might be questioning where this reading material came from. If I asked you to guess, my gut tells me you probably wouldn’t guess the source: Teen Vogue. No, I am not kidding. Both of these articles, “Sexting Doesn’t Have to Be So Literal” and “Can Porn Help People Understand Consent?” contain content for mature audiences. These pieces, and others like them, target the curious teens in your life who want to be in the know about today’s culture.

    Few parents I know get super excited about having ongoing conversations about sexuality. Even fewer look forward to talking with their middle or high school teen about pornography. But, if you don’t speak into this area of your child’s life, the culture will do so in a very big way, and you might find much of the information disconcerting and inaccurate. It’s so important that your kids get the information they need from you to have healthy relationships now and in the future. Sadly, our kids believe a great deal of what they read online or in print, and it’s so easy to access. They need guidance to understand whether what they are reading is simply entertainment or helpful information that leads them to make healthy choices.

    For example, in the sexting opinion piece, Nona Willis Aronowitz describes graphically photographing herself in order to get comfortable with her own body image before she shares pictures with anybody else. She goes on to say that “if you are texting with someone, sending nudes is unbelievably commonplace.” Additionally, she quotes sex philosopher, Adrienne Maree Brown from her new book, “Pleasure Activism,” which does not appear to be written for a teen audience. 

    Now for the recommendations for sexting: She says it’s important to determine that the person who will be receiving the pictures is trustworthy. And, “regardless of how serious or intimate y’all are, any worthwhile boo will appreciate the titillation of a beautiful nude, even if they don’t get to bring the image home with them.” There are plenty of teen girls who believe their “boo” is trustworthy when it comes to not sharing nude pictures of her with his friends, only to find out that wasn’t the case.

    At the very end of the article, the author discusses the risk involved in sexting, stating that she is sure parents and others have warned that once you send a nude pic you have no control over where it goes, “so the public embarrassment you worry about could become a reality,” and if you’re under a certain age, sending sexy selfies can count as distributing child pornography. All this comes after a total tutorial on how to take great nudes.

    In the second article on porn and consent, the author wonders if explicit verbal consent in more porn could help people understand the concept better. “Imagine this,” says the writer,  “You’re surfing the Internet, looking for some porn to watch (you know why), and after scrolling for what seems like forever, you finally find a video that fits what you’re in the mood for. You click play and after watching the prerequisite awkward intro, you hear one person in the film ask another, ‘Is it okay if I kiss you?’”

    The author says that porn shouldn’t be used as sex education, but that young people should be educated on how to consume porn in a healthy way. This is an alarming statement considering the significant amount of research regarding the dangers of porn addiction. 

    According to Fight the New Drug, a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts and personal accounts, porn physically changes the brain over time. When one looks at porn, there is a surge of the chemical dopamine that feels really good. Dopamine helps create new brain pathways that essentially lead the user back to the behavior that triggered the chemical release. Porn users can quickly build up a tolerance as their brains adapt to the high levels of dopamine released by viewing porn. Even though porn is still releasing dopamine into the brain, the user can’t feel its effects as much.

    “It is as though we have devised a form of heroin - usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes,” says Dr. Jeffrey Satinover of Princeton University, describing porn’s effect to a U.S. Senate committee.

    Numerous studies indicate that porn is a very significant problem in the U.S. In fact, the Justice Department estimates that 9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have seen online porn. Once you have seen porn, the image remains in your brain.

    The author of the Teen Vogue article cites research from the UK that 60 percent of students in the survey had turned to porn to learn more about sex, and 40 percent of them said porn colored their understanding of what sex is. Young people in the U.S. also report turning to porn when their school sex ed classes don’t equip them for the realities of sex. 

    So, if you think your daughters are purchasing or looking at Teen Vogue online for the fashion, you might want to think again. Their website says, “Teen Vogue: Fashion, Beauty, Entertainment News for Teens,” and it lists the topics of style, politics, culture and identity. I would strongly encourage you to visit the site and read through the content for yourself.

    The middle and high school years are complicated enough for so many reasons, but these articles in Teen Vogue and other publications are troubling for those of us who have been fighting against the sexualization of women. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of advertisements, media and music that sends hypocritical messages about what is acceptable and what is not. What our kids consume shapes the trajectory of their lives. The impact of sexting and looking at porn in their teen years will follow them into adulthood.

    Women who don’t want themselves or others to be seen as objects or commodities have a responsibility to call out these overtly sexual messages that undermine the change for which many have advocated. We have made a great deal of progress in the age of #MeToo, but we still have a long way to go. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 12, 2019.

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    7 Ways to Support Teens During a Divorce

    I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.

    While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like it was anything major.

    Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.

    “What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.

    “The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”

    A World Turned Upside Down

    Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what was happening, but seemed to keep their distance as if they weren’t quite sure what to say.

    Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say - so she never said anything at all.

    As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.

    I had questions:  

    • “Would we have to move?”
    • “How would I afford college?”
    • “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
    • “What will my friends think of me?”
    • “Why me?”

    I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.

    “Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.

    “Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”

    Teens Need a Strong Support System

    In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.

    “Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.

    “Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give 'permission' to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”

    Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.

    Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:

    • Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
    • Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
    • Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
    • Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
    • Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
    • Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
    • Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.

    “Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says. “The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”

    They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.

    I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”

    He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them. 

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    Things Your Teen Won't Tell You

    Ellen Pober Rittberg is the mother of three. She had three children in three years and she spent 13 years representing young people as an attorney. Both of these experiences have given her insight into the lives of young people which led to writing 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will.

    “I wrote this book as a message to parents that you can do this,” says Rittberg. “I think that it is probably the hardest time to be raising a teen. There are threats to their safety, head-spinning technological advances, they are encouraged to dress provocatively by celebrities who they see dressing provocatively, and peers are more important to them than family. The book is really a form of cheerleading in an informed, honest and positive way.”

    Rittberg believes the biggest mistake parents can make is to trust their teen all the time.

    She cautions parents that in spite of the fact that their young person seems really smart, their judgment is defective and they will make poor decisions because they are adults in the making.

    35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will is the manual I wish I had had when I was raising my teens,” Rittberg says. “I didn’t want to be preached to and I didn’t want to read clinical pieces written by educators, psychologists or medical doctors. I wanted to know the practical do’s and don’ts, the big mistakes to avoid, what to do when you are at the end of your rope and ways to enjoy the challenge of raising teens.”

    Rittberg encourages parents to be open to the fact that they can learn to be a better parent.

    “When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a ton of books because I didn’t know how to parent,” Rittberg recalls. “We need to continue exposing ourselves to information that will help us be better parents. Parents also need to consider the values they want to impart to their children and how they will be intentional about doing it.”

    Here are a few of the 35 things Rittberg wants you to know:

    • You shouldn’t be your child’s best friend. We have a role as parents to be responsible and reliable. If you act like a teenager, your teen won’t respect you.
    • Your child needs meaningful work. Anything that encourages a healthy work ethic and sense of family duty is a good thing.
    • To know your teen’s friends is to know your teen. If you want to know what your teen is up to, get to know their friends. Make your house a welcoming place. You have to be there when they are there.
    • A parent should not buy a child a car. There are large consequences to buying your child a car, the largest is that the child who doesn't earn a significant portion of the car will likely total it soon after getting it. When they have worked for it they will take better care of it.
    • Know your child’s school. School officials should know your face, what you do and that you want to help.
    • Curfews are good. As the old saying goes, nothing good happens after midnight!

    “Parenting teens is challenging, but you can do it and be good at it,” Rittberg says.


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    Helping Teens Manage Money

    For a group of people who typically don’t have full-time jobs, teens certainly have a lot of money to spend. In 2014, MarketingVox/Rand Research Centers found that roughly 41 million kids ages 10-19 in the United States spend $258.7 billion annually. They spend it on everything from fashion to electronics, but where do they get their money? And, is it a good thing?

    It seems like more teens than ever before have part-time jobs that keep money in their pockets,” said Tracy Johnson, educational specialist with Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Chattanooga. “Either they are working or their parents give them money. Regardless, what we are seeing is many people spending huge amounts of money, yet they really don’t know how to manage what they have.”

    Parents should start teaching children about money early on.

    “Money is associated with power,” Johnson said. “If we don’t teach children how to handle that power appropriately by managing their money, they can end up being a slave to it. Giving your child an allowance is an easy way to help your child begin to grasp money management skills. As your child gets older and the amount of money increases, you can teach them new skills.”

    By the time your teen graduates from high school, he/she should know how to build a budget and live within it. Teens should also know how to balance a checkbook, put money in savings and have an idea about home maintenance costs.

    In order to teach these skills, Johnson recommends the following:

    • Don’t give your teen things like a car or a cell phone without teaching them about the costs associated with them: Insurance, gas, tires and 3,000 mile tune-ups all cost money. Most young people only think about getting the car and putting gas in it or getting a cell phone and using it. What happens when your teen goes over their limits on the phone or racks up a huge bill?

    • Teach your teen about credit cards. Teens often see parents use credit cards to buy everything from groceries to gas, but they never see them pay the bill. No wonder they think money grows on trees! Credit card companies target teens, especially when they are away at college. It's hard to walk away from a $2,000 credit limit when you don’t have to pay anything up front. If your teen maxes out the card at $2,000, doesn’t charge anything else on the card but starts paying back the $40 minimum monthly payment at 21% interest, it will take 10-12 years to pay it off. At that point, your teen has paid $5,060 – more than double the original charge. Teens need to understand how to use credit wisely.

    • Teach your teen to spend less than he/she makes. Expenses should never exceed income. Many people say, “If I just had a little bit more, I would be fine.” But if you can’t make ends meet on $25,000, you won’t be able to make ends meet at $30,000. The more you make, the more you spend.

    • Delayed gratification is a good thing. Teach your teen how to budget and save for the things he/she wants. It will mean more if they had to work for it.

    • If you don't have great money management skills yourself, consider attending a free budget counseling session for your family at Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Chattanooga.

    “There are many easy ways to teach teens about handling money,” Johnson said. “Instead of letting money burn a hole in their pocket, give them a good financial foundation before they leave the safety of your home.”

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    Survival Plan for Parents and Teens

    Parenting a teenager can be a mind-boggling experience. 

    One minute they are yelling things like:

    “I hate you!"

    “Don’t speak to me.”

    “Nobody else’s parents do that.”

    The next minute you are holding their head while they are sick, they ask you to borrow the car or they want to snuggle up next to you on the couch. It’s enough to make your head spin and cause you to question, “Is this the same kid who said he never wanted to see me again minutes ago?”

    Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart. When parents who are currently raising teens compare notes with those who have lived to tell about it, you might think there really is a universal playbook teens use to make parents question their sanity. At any given moment, you may even wish you could ground your teenager for life. BUT, that would defeat the whole purpose of adolescence.

    Adolescence is when children learn the skills and strategies of adults and that takes time and patience. But honestly, the process can be painful for the whole family.

    Consider these things:

    • Parenting experts say that one of the reasons adolescence is so challenging is that parents often don’t recognize the strongest needs of their teen.

    • Parents look into their teen’s world through adult eyes and needs. They tend to miss all of the change and internal conflict their teen is experiencing in continuing to have their needs for belonging, freedom, power and fun met.

    • Parents need to feel in control whereas their adolescent is competing for his freedom. 

    • Both parent and teen have well-developed strategies for getting their needs met. These differing needs and strategies often intensify to the point that the relationship between parent and child becomes strained.

    During adolescence, kids needs you more than ever before. Adults should not assume that once teens begin to look like adults they will automatically start thinking like an adult, relating like mature adults and making responsible decisions.

    If you are leading an adolescent into mature adulthood, here are a few things to consider:

    • Remember your own teenage struggles.

    • Don’t panic. It is important not to let your fears control you.

    • Don’t overreact. Most teens say they do not open up to their parents because they tend to overreact.

    • Make sure to handle things in a way that builds your teen up versus tearing them down.

    • Take time to enter your teen’s world – spend time with them, listen to their music, get to know their friends.

    • Provide direction according to their needs… not yours.

    • Understand that teens don’t want you to fix it for them. They want you to listen to them. A teen’s self-confidence is built through learning to problem solve and come up with reasonable solutions.

    • Separate the behavior from the teen. Love your teen, but don’t be afraid to deal with unacceptable behavior.

    • Develop a support network of parents who have been there, done that.

    • Remember, you and your spouse are on the same team.

    Raising teenagers is a predictable challenge for most parents. Keep perspective and recognize you will survive. After all, your parents did.

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    9 Ways You Can Be Your Teen's Best Friend

    Lots of celebrity moms go out on the town and party with their famous kids. But while some teens might think it sounds really cool that a mom would party with them, most young people say they don’t want their parents acting like they do.

    According to Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Adolescence Isn’t Terminal, It Just Feels Like It, some parents believe they need to become their teen’s best friend in order to navigate the teen years.

    Many parents believe that teenagers know enough to make good decisions with little or no guidance from their parents. However, brain research has shown strong evidence that when it comes to maturity, control and organization, that's just not the case. In reality, all key parts of the brain related to emotions, judgment and thinking ahead don't finish forming until the mid-20s. This means teens definitely need their parents actively involved in their lives.

    “Sometimes as the parent you have to make decisions that will not be popular with your teen, but are in their best interest,” says Leman.

    Teens do not want their parents to act like them, talk like them or dress like them, either. Despite grunts, attitude and carrying on, young people do want you to act like their parent.

    “Kids who have parents who try to act, look and talk like teenagers tell me that they feel very self-conscious and embarrassed when their moms or dads attempt to be teenagers,” Leman says.

    If you really want to be your teen’s best friend, here's what Leman suggests:

    • Make your home the center of activity. Instead of your child always being somewhere else, make your home the place they want to be with their friends.

    • Listen to your teen when he or she is ready to talk. Being approachable is the key, even if it is 1 a.m. and you go to bed at 10 p.m. This gives you a chance to continue to build a close relationship in the midst of your child's growing independence.

    • Be an imperfect parent. It isn’t about you being perfect. Admit your mistakes and don’t be afraid to say, “I am sorry.” Share stories about when you were a teen. Be real.

    • Spend time with your teen. Make it a point to notice what they do well. Be approachable. Guard against becoming a critical parent who only notices mistakes and weaknesses. Be REAL with your teens: Real, Encouraging, Affirming, and Loving.

    • Expect the best from them. Keep your standards realistic. Expect them to make good choices. Research shows that daughters with affirming fathers are most likely to marry a guy with those qualities.

    • Don’t snowplow the roads of life for your teen. When they fail, let them experience the consequences. There is no better time for them to fail than when they are at home around people who love them. You can actually help them get back on their feet.

    • Love and respect your mate. Young people learn how to treat their future spouse by watching you. Model the behavior you want your children to practice when they are married and have children of their own.

    • Never beat or bully your child into submission. Take time to think about what you will say or do and the outcomes you are looking for. Shepherds use their rod to guide their sheep, not to beat them into submission. As parents, our role is to guide our children and teach them how to live as productive citizens.

    • Pray for them daily. The teenage years can be very challenging. Make sure your child knows you are on their team and you love them unconditionally.

    “Your goal as a parent is to help your children become all that they can be,” Leman says. “The best way to steer our kids through the stage of adolescence is to know ahead of time what type of children we want to raise.”

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    20 Warning Signs in Teens

    If you live with a teenager, one thing is certain: their emotions change as often as the weather or their clothes. They ascend to the heights of joy one day, the depths of teenage despair, the next.

    The teen years are a time to explore new ideas, new attitudes and new feelings. Since a certain amount of unpredictability is normal, how can you tell if your teenager’s emotional swings are beyond the normal ups and downs of adolescence?

    Although it's not always possible to know what goes too far, there are some things you can look for in the process.

    Here's a warning-sign checklist from the Minirth-Meier psychiatric organization that can help you:

    • Deterioration of grades;

    • Chronic truancy;

    • Chronic school failure;

    • Mood swings;

    • General Apathy;

    • Drug/alcohol use;

    • Blatant sexual behavior;

    • Verbal or physical displays;

    • Withdrawal or feeling of hopelessness;

    • Sleeplessness, fatigue;

    • Low self-esteem;

    • Sadness, crying;

    • Secretive;

    • Suicidal thoughts, unexplained accidents;

    • Death of significant person;

    • Interest in the occult;

    • Poor impulse control;

    • Family history of substance abuse or mental illness;

    • Extreme change in appearance or friends; and/or

    • Inability to cope with routine matters/relationships.

    Jay Strack suggests that a parent’s first response to these signs of trouble is crucial. He's the author of Good Kids Who Do Bad Things.

    “Overreacting parents often drive kids into an emotional shell from which they are reluctant to venture. Underreacting parents send a message to their kids that says, ‘I just don’t care.’ Either response can be devastating when the individual loses his emotional balance,” he writes.

    Strack says it is important to differentiate between the normal pressure of life and crisis situations.

    If your teen is demonstrating a number of the warning signs, here are several action steps you can use.

    • First, don’t panic. “This is no time to lose control of yourself,” Strack says. "A calm demeanor and a listening ear are crucial."

    • Next, act quickly. Strack writes that parents should not sit around “hoping the problem will solve itself or just go away. Timing is crucial in a crisis.”

    • Then, seek advice. Seek the advice of those who can really help, like counselors, pastors and teachers. You may need lawyers, police and other officials, depending on the situation.

    • Always stick to the main issues. “While your teenager may have several areas in which he needs improvement (e.g., self-acceptance, personal discipline, study habits, etc.), it's important to stick with the major issues of the crisis until they are resolved,” Strack says. “Only then will the teenager be clear-headed enough to focus on the other issues in his life.”

    • Finally, strike a balance. Strack’s fifth guideline is important. Teens need to know that you love and cherish them, despite their behavior.

    “At the same time,” Strack says, “you will need to balance love with discipline when necessary so that your teenager doesn’t just run over you.”

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    6 Tips for Parenting Adolescents

    Most parents have probably thought they couldn't wait until their kids got older so parenting would be easier. But those currently parenting tweens and teens might have a few words to say about it. You know, the idea of things being easier as the tribe gets older.

    “I have three sons, two of whom are teens. I would say our parenting efforts have ramped up substantially with our teen boys,” says Gena Ellis. “You think because they can feed and clothe themselves, shower without supervision and they seem more independent that you can back off. But really, the teen years almost require more parenting, just in a different way.”

    When children are young the focus is on teaching them right from wrong, how to be polite and what it means to share along with learning to count, and know their colors. As children mature things get a bit more complicated as parents realize the decisions made during these formative years will impact them in the future.

    “In the early years, I think both my husband and I were under the impression that the younger years would be the most intensive for us as parents,” Ellis says. “Now that we have moved on, we realize that adolescence is no less intense and that our boys still need us actively involved in their lives. Not overly-involved, but involved enough that we can help them continue to grow and learn what it means to be an independent adult. We are very clear that adolescence is no time to take a back seat when it comes to the parenting journey.”

    When Ellis’ oldest son forgot to turn in a paper, her first reaction was to pick up the phone and call his teacher to explain that he had been at band rehearsals all week until late in the evening. As a result, he was running behind on his school work. Instead of doing that she asked her son about the situation. He told her he had already spoken with his teacher and explained the situation. They worked something out and mom never had to get involved.

    “I was very proud of my son,” Ellis says. “It made me know he has been paying attention to all we have been teaching and modeling for him when it comes to taking responsibility and being accountable. What he learned from this experience was far more powerful that if I had intervened in the situation.”

    Here are a few thoughts on parenting tweens and teens:

    • Make sure you are handling things in a way that builds up your teen versus tearing them down.

    • Provide direction according to their needs, not yours.

    • Understand your teen doesn’t want you to fix it for them. They want you to listen.

    • Learning to problem solve and coming up with reasonable solutions builds a teen's self-confidence. The more they can do this in a supportive home environment, the better off they'll be in the real world.

    • Keep your expectations realistic.

    • Spend time with your teen. They may act prickly like they don’t want you around. Don’t misinterpret their behavior.

    “When they are little, children need you in front leading,” Ellis says. “When they are older they need you behind them, encouraging them."If you think parenting gets easier as your kids get older, you might want to think again. Here are some helpful tips for the teen and preteen years.

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    What Teens Are Saying About Social Media and Their Parents

    Should your parent check your phone?

    When you sit down to a family meal, are people on their devices?

    Do your parents follow you on social media?

    These are just a few of the questions from an informal survey of more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers during March and April of 2018. The responses might surprise you.

    When students were asked if their parents ever checked their phones, 82 percent said their parents never checked or only checked it once or twice a year. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are not on their phones or watching television during family meals, and 22 percent said they don’t eat meals together as a family.

    When it comes to social media, 45 percent of the teens said their parents follow them on some apps while 28 percent said their parents do not follow them on any social media apps. Only 27 percent said their parents follow them on all their social media apps.

    Overwhelmingly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter were the most popular apps, used by 60 percent or more. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube were all above 80 percent.

    Here’s where things really get interesting. 

    When asked about negative experiences on social media:

    • 56 percent of respondents said they had been contacted or messaged by a complete stranger. 
    • Over 46 percent said they have been unfriended, unfollowed or deleted from someone’s account. 
    • More than 39 percent said someone had asked them for inappropriate/sexual pictures. 

    And when it comes to breaking up, 36 percent said someone had broken up with them by text or another form of social media.

    The final question, “Has social media ever made you feel stress, anxiety or depressed?” had some very interesting results. Overarchingly, 45 percent of respondents said social media never makes them feel stress, anxiety or depression. However, in unpacking the data, 62 percent of middle-schoolers said social media never makes them feel this way. Conversely, by 12th grade, 60 percent of teens say it has contributed to stress, anxiety and depression.

    Another aspect of this involves structure and parental engagement in the home. Teens who say their parents are actively involved in overseeing their social media engagement reported significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than teens who reported less parental involvement. Teens who reported the least amount of structure and parental engagement also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

    Before you convince yourself that technology is the problem, breathe. The truth is, technology will only continue to evolve and move faster as time goes by. Being tuned in to your child is their best hope for navigating those changes in a healthy manner. In a previous survey, teens were asked what helped them make good choices with social media and phone usage. The number one answer was “knowing that my parents check my phone.”

    It may be tiring and frustrating, but you are the best app for your child’s phone.


    Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!