Sexting: Guide for Parents and Carers

Sexting: Guide for Parents and Carers

The data suggests that 20-30% of teens have sent or received a sexually explicit photo in the last 12 months.  This means the average secondary school will contain 150 -200 students who have recently sent or received a naked or semi naked picture of themselves.
Given the prevalence of this issue, we can’t bury our head in the sand.  Teenagers everywhere are doing this.

There are a couple of big problems with sexting.  First, Australian laws as they exist today allow teens to be charged with distributing child pornography if they send or receive a sexually explicit text – even if this photo is of themselves.  Being charged with distributing child pornography can lead to being labelled as a sex offender and the consequences of this are very serious.  This is clearly a ridiculous situation and the laws must be changed.  Nevertheless, it is a very real risk for young people, and the police visit hundreds of teens each week.

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Five Ways to Help the Perfectionistic Student

Five Ways to Help the Perfectionistic Student

A frustrated Mum sad in my office this week,  describing her 10 year old daughter: “Jess has always been very capable at school but she is constantly anxious about getting things wrong.  If she can’t do it perfectly, she won’t do it at all.  She digs in her heels and it doesn’t seem to matter what I say to her.  Getting homework done in a reasonable time is a daily battle.”

I very often see students who struggle with perfectionism.  Here are some typical behaviours of perfectionistic young people:

  • Unwilling to put up their hand to answer questions in case they get them get wrong
  • Reluctant to start tasks until they are 110% sure they know what to do
  • Unwilling to start homework tasks because they feel they are not going to do it “right”
  • Being dissatisfied with a standard of work which others see as acceptable
  • Get very upset if they get work wrong/receive low grades/make mistakes
  • Work very slowly in order to be excessively neat or to not make mistakes
  • Starting over repeatedly in order to make work perfect
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Six ideas for when your teen seems sad or depressed

Six ideas for when your teen seems sad or depressed

Teens get down just like adults do.  They feel sad, miserable and depressed.  For some teens these times pass fairly quickly.  For others, they last a long time.   In either case, parents are crucial in helping sad teens cope.  Here are six ideas to consider.

1. Sympathise and don’t try to “talk them out of” being sad

It is hard to see teens feeling sad.  We feel upset to see them suffering.  And because they often act irritably when they are feeling sad, we get frustrated.  For both of these reasons, we often try to “jolly them out of feeling bad” or minimise their sadness.  We say things like “you'll be okay” or “don’t be upset”, “it's not that bad” or similar.  

Unfortunately while meant well, these kind of statements can make teens feel worse.  It can suggest to the teen that it's not okay that they are upset, which makes teens feel like no-one understands or cares.

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My friend is really depressed and I don’t know what to do

My friend is really depressed and I don’t know what to do

Teenagers are often worried about their friends being depressed, in fact in some surveys teenagers rate “teenage depression” as one of their top 3 concerns.  This doesn’t surprise me:  Teenagers quite frequently talk with me about not just about their own depression, but about the struggles of their friends.

Sarah, 16, had been working with me for a while on coping with her Mum being really sick and the stress of Year 12.  One session she wanted to talk about her friend, Eva.  She said that Eva broke up with her boyfriend a few weeks ago and since then had been acting really depressed.  Eva had told Sarah that she had been cutting herself and she didn’t want to talk to anyone at recess or lunch.  She was often crying and wrote things on Facebook like “I hate my life”.  Sarah was worried about her, and said she was thinking about her all the time.  She said that sometimes she felt frustrated with Eva, and sometimes she felt hopeless.  She really wanted to know what to do to help her. 

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Helping Kids when They are Very Angry

Helping Kids when They are Very Angry

1. Empathise

See the anger as distress.  Be present with them for a minute and care about them, without immediately trying to "fix it" and without trying to insist they calm down.  You might say things like: 

  • I’m really sorry you are feeling ………..
  • Oh, I really wish we could change it so that you COULD have/do/be……
  • It really sucks that ………..
  • I think I would probably feel …………. too in that situation
  • Oh no, how disappointing and frustrating….
  • This is obviously easier to do if the child is angry at something/someone other than yourself.  It is harder when they are angry at you: but still possible.  Sentences which might work include:
  • I wish I could decide differently about that…
  • It would be great if I could just let you….
  • I’m so sorry you are feeling like this…
  • I can see how upset you are, I wish it was different…

In the heat of a full on tantrum….

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Tips for what to do if you suspect your child is being bullied

Tips for what to do if you suspect your child is being bullied

Try to stay calm when talking with your child about their situation.

Watch what you say in front of them about the bullying.  If your child sees or hears you being particularly anxious or angry about the bullying, they will often feel more anxious themselves.  Some children also feel guilty about worrying adults, if they think we are overly upset or angry about the situation.

Be caring and understanding.  

There are many different ways of helping a child who is being bullied, but the most important one is this: Your child needs your kindness, support and compassion.  Resist the temptation to “jump in” with all the answers.  Wait until you have as much information as possible before offering advice.

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Helping Kids When they are Scared

Helping Kids When they are Scared

Getting scared is a normal and important part of child development.  When children get scared they learn to understand risk, evaluate threat and manage emotions.  They learn these skills regardless of what they are scared about.  In other words: Children being scared about the dark are in training for managing fear as an adult.  Here are 8 ideas to keep in mind about fear in children.

1. We should explain (many times) to children that fear is a normal part of being a person.  From time to time, tell children that all adults (including their mum and dad) get scared sometimes.  In a matter of fact way, talk about what happens when people get scared – their hearts beat fast and they breathe quickly and sometimes their hands shake a little bit.   

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13 Ideas for When Siblings Fight

13 Ideas for When Siblings Fight

Parents report that fights amongst brothers and sisters are one of the most painful parts of parenting. Some research has found that, depending on their age, on average, kids fight for about 10 minutes of every hour they play together.   There are no quick and easy solutions to sibling conflict, but I've listed a few key ideas to keep in mind.

1.  It's normal

All siblings fight. Actually, all animals fight. We have a built in instinct to fight to get what we want and to try to be dominant in some way. Adults have similar feelings of annoyance and displeasure with people, it is just that we have learnt to hide it! So if your children argue, bicker and fight with each other, you are not alone.   And your kids are normal. 

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The three important principles in helping worried and sad Children

The three important principles in helping worried and sad Children

Research shows that adults often underestimate how often kids get worried and sad – most children experience anxiety and sadness on a regular basis, some more than others.  This is not all bad - getting worried and sad helps kids develop important skills.  However adults need to coach them to develop these coping skills. 

Here are some of these strategies.

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Helping Children through Separation

Helping Children through Separation

Separating parents almost always feel worried about how their children will cope with their separation.  Our instincts as parents are to want to protect our children and it makes sense that we feel anxious about anything that might hurt them.  Whilst some worry is normal, it is important to try to remind ourselves of two things:

  1. Many children experience their parents separating. It is something that thousands of children can, and do deal with, very frequently in our society.  
  2. While most children do experience some (often mild) sadness, anxiety and adjustment difficulties when their parents separate, they can survive it, learn from it and some aspects of the separation can become positive elements in their life.

Five ideas to help minimise children's distress are below:

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How to Help Your Teenager Get Enough Sleep

How to Help Your Teenager Get Enough Sleep

In the last 100 years there has been over 32 national sets of guidelines as to how much sleep we need. The scientific evidence about exactly how much sleep need is still being debated, and it certainly varies quite a bit between people.  However, almost all sleep experts recommend that teenagers need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep each night.

How do you know if your teenager is getting enough sleep?  The best guide is sleepiness.  If teens are sleepy in the morning and have trouble waking up and feel sleepy during the day, this is a good indication that they are sleep deprived.  To be honest, most teenagers I meet are sleep deprived - and they know it and feel it on a daily basis.

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Helping Grieving Teens

Helping Grieving Teens

Some ideas to consider for teachers, parents and other professionals working with young people who have experienced a loss.

There is no “correct” way to grieve

Some teens cry lots. Some cry infrequently. Some teens feel angry. Some don’t. Some teens feel guilty, others don’t. Some teenagers want life to be “back to normal” ASAP, some don’t want life to go on as usual. All of these coping mechanisms are usually okay.
 
Sometimes teenagers don’t want to talk

This doesn’t necessarily mean a teenager “is not coping”. Teenagers are less prone to analysis and self-introspection and often don’t want to have lots of conversations about how they are feeling, thinking and acting.   This is generally okay.

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Tips to Help Teens use Social Networking Safely

Tips to Help Teens use Social Networking Safely

The advent of email, instant messaging, mobile phone calls and text messages has generally resulted in more efficient and broad based communication for our society.  Teenagers have taken up these new methods of communication with great enthusiasm. 83% of Australian teens have a mobile phone (most prefer to text than to make calls), nearly half don’t turn their phone off at night and nearly a quarter will answer a text message during the night regardless of the time it was received (one New Zealand study found that 10% of teens are woken every night by a text message). 86% of Australian teens are regular users of net based communication (eg via email, MSN, Facebook and MySpace) and one quarter communicate via the net at least once daily.

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My child just doesn't want to talk about it! 3 things to know and 5 tricks to try 

My child just doesn't want to talk about it! 3 things to know and 5 tricks to try 

I ran a seminar for parents of anxious kids last week and at the end one parent asked me this question:

"My daughter is having problems with the girls in her class.  I know we should talk about it - but every time I bring it up, she shuts it down.  She just doesn't want to talk with me about it.  What should I do?

Does this sound familiar?  Are you working on helping your own children talk about things they don't really want to talk about? 

If so, welcome to my world! :) :)

As a child psychologist, I know full well that helping children communicate about tricky topics is very difficult at times.   It's something I work on with kids constantly.  Here's a few things to know and a few things to try.

3 things to know about kids "not talking" 

1. It's quite normal for some children to not be interested in discussing difficult topics. 

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How To Help Teens Revise Effectively

How To Help Teens Revise Effectively

In the last semester of the year, I speak to thousands of Year 11 and 12 students in Australia about effective revision technique. Here is some of the material I present.

Students should start revising for five minutes every day from now on. This might happen at the start of homework or study time, during the ‘ads’ on TV or while waiting at the bus stop. Spending five minutes per day going over something learnt last week will save hours of revision time overall because when tests and exams arrive most of the information will already be familiar. I also suggest to students the following key points:

When you revise, you need to WAKE YOUR BRAIN UP. No more limply reading over notes so that you can’t remember what you read at the end of the page. Revision should take a fair bit of mental effort. If you are zoning out while you revise, it’s not working. Here are some ways to revise effectively:

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Teens Not Talking

Teens Not Talking

any teens are not especially communicative.  However some teenagers are particularly unlikely to share information or respond questions about their day or their interests.  Some tips for talking to these teens are below.

1. Talk while doing something else at the same time

For example, try conversations in the car, while taking the dog for a walk, while doing the ironing and so on.  If possible create spots in your house that a teenager can sit and eat or look at magazines etc while you are also doing something (cleaning up etc).

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QUESTIONS TO ASK TEENS ABOUT FACEBOOK

QUESTIONS TO ASK TEENS ABOUT FACEBOOK

I've included below the most frequently “asked for” powerpoint slide in my parent seminars about teens and Facebook.  As you'll see it is one which outlines example questions parents can ask teens about their Facebook use.  I think parents like it because it provides specific words and phrases which can be used in a conversation with young people.   It is all well and good for us as professionals to say “talk to your teenager about cyberstalking, cyber bullying, dangers of predators and so on” but that doesn’t help a parent who frankly, isn’t quite sure about what to say or how to say it.  Specific words and phrases, on the other hand, give a starting off point for parents.

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Left Out

Left Out

Many teenagers I work with feel hurt or sad about being excluded from friendship groups.  Usually one or more of their “friends” has done or said something to leave them feeling left out or not accepted.  This could be someone avoiding eye contact, ignoring them in conversation, not asking them to an event/gathering or not responding to invitations/communication.  This kind of exclusion can be mild (e.g. over the short term by one person only) or severe (long term and done by many).   

There are some tricky issues about exclusion.  First, many teens find it hard to admit it that it has happened.

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Teens lie. Yes, even yours

Teens lie. Yes, even yours

Most parents of teens I talk to say:  “most of all, I just want him/her to be honest with me”.  A study of parents desires for teens found that honesty is up the very top of the list of characteristics we wish for our young people.

It is unfortunate therefore, that almost every single teenager lies, and lies frequently.  Some recent research by Dr. Nancy Darling in the US, found that out of several hundred teenagers, 98% of them had lied to their parents in the last few months.  Teens lie to their parents about many areas of life, including what they spent money on, who they were with, what they wore after leaving the house, about whether parties were supervised, what they did after school and who they were in the car with and what was happening at school.

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Useful Questions to ask sad/worried/mad kids and teens:

Useful Questions to ask sad/worried/mad kids and teens:

Many people assume that psychologists spend all day telling people how to feel better and cope with life.  In fact, junior psychologists themselves sometimes make this assumption. They think they are supposed to be spending most of the time in session talking, giving advice, providing and information.

Which means they completely freak out when they can't think of what to say.  I remember this feeling very well!  
While giving good advice, helping with strategies and providing good psycho-education IS part of therapy, it's not the most important thing psychologists do.  

The most important thing psychologists do is to ask good questions.  

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