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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What parents can do to decrease the chance of teens hurting themselves

What parents can do to decrease the chance of teens hurting themselves

A sad and tragic fact of our world in 2017 is this:  the most common cause of death for young people is suicide (see Australian Bureau of Statistics Leading Causes of Death report, 2015).  While this data is somewhat misleading for the simple reason that young people don't die very often - (and it's also important to know death by suicide is more common in adults than in young people) - it is still distressing and worrying. This is especially true when we know that rates of deliberate self harm and attempted suicide is higher in young people than in any other age group.

So what can parents do to keep teenagers safe?

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ANGRY TEENS

ANGRY TEENS

Teenagers, like all of us, get angry.  Often, while they are angry, they do things that hurt, disappoint and frustrate us.  And so sometimes our response is to try to reduce and diminish their anger.  It is understandable that we do this – but mostly it doesn’t work.  Anger is in-built into our brains.  At a biological level, human beings are designed to get angry.  Trying to stop anger is like trying to stop breathing.

The clear message we need to send teens about anger is this:  it’s okay to be angry, it is normal to get angry, and we can’t stop ourselves getting angry.  Let’s live with that, and let’s accept it.  Now, what can we control?  One simple thing:  what we do while we are angry.  In other words, we accept the emotion, the thoughts and the feelings - but not necessarily the behaviour. 

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13 Reasons Why - The 2 minute summary for parents and teachers (plus questions to ask your teen)

13 Reasons Why - The 2 minute summary for parents and teachers (plus questions to ask your teen)

I've been asked by several people over the last few weeks about my views about the popular Netflix show - 13 Reasons Why.  If you haven't come across it yet, this show is a Netflix series about a girl (Hannah) who suicides by cutting her wrists in a bath-tub.  The show follows the audio tapes she has made prior to her death which explain her reasons for doing so (primarily related to bullying, conflict and rejection by her peers).  I read the book version of this show a year ago, and found it sad and confronting.  I haven't watched the full series, but have seen snippets of it, and read through the plot of each episode (which varies a little from the book).

There has been much written about these series.  

Some people (including, not surprisingly, the producers and psychologist consultant for the show itself) say that it is a valuable mental health awareness raising exercise.  Others are highly critical of the series and say it may increase suicidality in teens (clearly it's intended audience).  As with so many issues, I find myself in the middle of the road about it.  Here are my thoughts!

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Worried about Kids and You Tube?  Four questions parents should ask primary aged children about what they watch online

Worried about Kids and You Tube?  Four questions parents should ask primary aged children about what they watch online

UK based research group Child Wise conducted research last year showed that children are watching an average of 3 hours a day watching youtube videos.  Most commonly, they are watching music videos, gaming videos, “funny” real life content, videos showing pets and animals, “how to” videos and sport.    

This raises the question of how appropriate these videos are for children.  It's hard to tell.  None of this content is “rated” as G, PG, M etc in the same way that commercially produced television has been in the past.  And with more than 300 hours of video being uploaded to youtube every minute, my guess is that external ratings guides like this are going the way of the dinosaur.

This means that as a society and as parents we are going to have to find new ways of monitoring, discussing and - when appropriate - restricting video content for children.  Here are four questions for parents and carers to ask children to help start that process.

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Help! My child got in trouble at school today! Four mistakes parents make when they get bad news from school

Help!  My child got in trouble at school today!  Four mistakes parents make when they get bad news from school

John and Judy* came in to see me a few months ago now, directly after dropping their daughter Sally (9) off at school.  I could tell by their faces that the morning had not gone well.  Sure enough, as soon as they sat down they told me about how Sally had "got in trouble" the day before and they'd just spoken to the teacher about it that morning.  It wasn't a helpful conversation.  John was furious and believed the teacher had made many mistakes over the year, and this was "the last straw" for him.  Judy was devastated and in tears, feeling as though she personally was a failure - as well as being worried for her daughter.  

We discussed their options, how to manage their emotions and what to say and do with Sally and her teacher.  It was a difficult session, but they emailed me later to say the next day had been better for them, and they had made a plan for getting through the next week.

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Three good reasons parents don't set or monitor rules

Three good reasons parents don't set or monitor rules

Last week I ran a seminar for parents at a local primary school.  I had almost got to the end of the night and we were discussing rules for kids.

As parents, we know that part of our job is to set, monitor and enforce rules for our children.  We have to do this to help them manage life, stay safe, build relationships with others, cope with school and learn skills.

But doing this rule setting, monitoring and enforcing work as a parent is sometimes exhausting and difficult. 

At the end of this seminar last week, with just minutes to go, a parent put up their hand and said something like this:  "I've really tried to set rules, but I just can't seem to make them work.  Any ideas?".

My brain went into overdrive as I started trying to think about what I could say in 3 minutes which would be useful.  Which concepts, reassurance, advice could I give quickly to give her something to go away with? I decided to skip the theory and go straight to what I think is the heart of this stuff.

I started with reminding her that she was entirely normal.  We all feel the same.  It's a lonely job as parents, but it's a mistake to think that we are alone in our struggles.

Second - I asked her to take a minute to reflect on what was the hardest aspect for her personally in setting up, monitoring or enforcing rules with her kids.

I told her that in my experience there are three very good reasons as parents we fail to either set, monitor and enforce rules. Here they are.

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Preteens - Where has my happy child gone?

Preteens - Where has my happy child gone?

One of the shocks for parents of the 9 plus age group is how frequently their kids get irritable, sad, stressed and "moody".

Many of us as parents remember how our younger kids were happy-go-lucky much of the time.  Sure, they'd still get upset at times - if they didn't get what they wanted or had a fight with their siblings, or had to do chores - they might have a meltdown - but as parents we knew what was wrong and after the moment was over (and the chores done/fight resolved) they returned to being their cheerful/high spirited selves.  Plus, the promise of an ice-cream/extra story/trip to the beach would usually put a smile on their face.

But suddenly our children aren't like this any more.

  • They act irritably for no obvious reason.
  • They seem overly upset about things which didn't use to upset them
  • They might "sulk" or take a long time to get over things
  • Things/situations which used to provide them great pleasure no longer make them happy
  • We can't "fix" it with the promise of a treat/fun activity

These more frequent, seemingly irrational and "not easily fixed" bad moods and irritability are not easy for parents to watch (or to listen to!).  We often feel annoyed ourselves, resentful and concerned.  

The good news is that most of the time, these negative moods does not mean there is anything seriously wrong.  

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17 quick questions for gaming/online video “addicted” kids and teens this holidays

17 quick questions for gaming/online video “addicted” kids and teens this holidays

Do you have a child/teen who is *desperate* to be non stop gaming/watching online video this school holidays?  Have you lectured them about the need for a balance of activities until you’re exhausted and want to throw all i-devices/gaming consoles off the edge of the nearest roof? 

Thousands of kids and teens all over the country this school holidays are spending hours each day gaming.  It’s not surprising. As a society we’ve introduced a set of humans with partially formed brains (and willpower skills) - children - to a highly addictive, satisfying and fascinating activity.  Naturally enough they are having trouble turning it off.

Of course we know that it’s not healthy for young people to be on screens 24/7.  But if they can’t limit their own use - this means parents and carers have to take charge.  This is tough. Dealing with technology use for parents can be exhausting, worrying, constant and tiring.   You’re not alone. 

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Co-parenting "kids with big feelings": 19 questions to ask your partner

Co-parenting "kids with big feelings": 19 questions to ask your partner

"Kids with big feelings" is a phrase I sometimes use to describe children who have a tendency to get more frustrated, worried, embarrassed, hurt and sad than other children their age.  I use this phrase because it avoids negativity and reflects the fact that these kids are often also particularly creative, joyful and hilarious fun!

If you are a parent of a child with "big feelings" kids you know that it can be really hard work.   And unlike most other "jobs", we get no training, time for reflection, formal planning processes or team building days...nope, we just do the best we can on the fly.

Sometimes this works out okay.  

However if we can squeeze in some time for reflection and planning - then the job can get easier. 

Here's a exercise to try - "Parenting Reflection Walk" - perhaps over the holidays.  Go for a walk with your parenting partner or a close friend.  And ask them the 19 questions below (change the wording slightly as indicated if it is a friend versus a co-parent) and have them ask you the same ones.  See if it leads to any practical ideas you'd like to implement for 2017.

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Upset/Angry Young People? Three Magic Words to Say to Ourselves

Upset/Angry Young People? Three Magic Words to Say to Ourselves

Some kids and teens get upset a lot - more than the average child/teen.

They get REALLY mad when things are unfair, outraged when their plans are thwarted, really stressed when they have small responsibilities, anxious about how other people think about them and sad about life.

There are many ways we can help young people deal with difficult emotions - depending on the situation, their age and how much time we have!  But often, an excellent first step is to say threemagic words to ourselves.

What are these magic words?  They are these:

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Fixes for Forgetful Kids!

Fixes for Forgetful Kids!

"Gemma, where's your homework book?"
"I can't find it!!"
"I've talked to you about this one hundred times, why isn't it in your bag like it's supposed to be?!"
"I I don't know!  And I need it tomorrow! 
*Cue parent scream"

"Mum, I can't find my football boots!"
"Where did you have them last?"
"I can't remember!"
*Parent and teen looking together, parent muttering, teen stomping until football boots are found somewhere obvious, like at the back of the fridge under the lettuce.

If you have a child/teen like this, just reading this will probably make blood pressure rise.  Forgetful children are often hard to take. They slow life down, they get into trouble completely unnecessarily and leave us feeling completely exasperated.

A lot of forgetful children and teens DO improve their attention, concentration and memory skills as they get older, in the meantime, here are some things we can do.

Think about the last time your child or teen lost something or didn't have something they needed and ask yourself these three questions

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Tests and Exams: 5 (unexpected?) sentences to say to kids/teens the night BEFORE they take them

Tests and Exams:  5 (unexpected?) sentences to say to kids/teens the night BEFORE they take them

1. Is there anything I can do to help you get enough sleep tonight?

Getting enough sleep prior to a big test or exam has been shown to be more effectively than staying up late and "cramming" - unless the student really doesn't know any of the material.   Doing what we can to help kids/teens sleep well - letting them know that sleep will help them think faster in the morning and remember more information, helping them make rooms dark, encouraging screen free time before bed, warm showers, cool rooms and relaxation before bed can all help them get the sleep they need.

2. Do you have any strategies for making sure you fully express all you do know/correctly answer the questions you know the answers for?

The night before a test or exam is not the time to learn new material.  

However, it can be useful to make sure young people have strategies to fully express the material they DO know.  It's usually important for example for students to do the problems they know first and ignore the ones they don't know until these are done.

In fact, some research has shown that students who use some of the "pre exam writing time" to write down the questions they don't know and that they will come back to later do better in exams because they are more effectively able to put them aside.

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5 things to say to/do with children who say "I'm bored....."

5 things to say to/do with children who say "I'm bored....."

Last week I asked *Justine how her day had been and she said "boring".  

Nothing at school had been interesting.  Nothing at home.  She would be happy if she could have ipad time, but that wasn't an option - so life was boring, boring, boring.

Some children get bored more than others.  As adults we often have little sympathy for children who report being bored.  In fact sometimes, it feels downright annoying.  Here's why:

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Kid's Violent Imaginary Games And Stories

Kid's Violent Imaginary Games And Stories

A parent asked me recently about her 8 year old boy’s tendency to create imaginary and very violent war games with his younger brother.  Here’s some of my thoughts.

1. It’s common and not usually a sign of mental health problems

For many generations, children have played imaginary violent games.  They make guns out of sticks, imagine shooting, blowing up, capturing and attacking the “bad guys”.  Imaginary limbs get chopped off, imaginary bombs are set and there is often much yelling in pain and loud deaths.   This violent fantasy also is expressed in story writing – for some children every story, joke and example involves some horrible death. 

Most of the time, children who play and write in this way are happy and enjoying their violent play and stories.  If children seem happy and have no other symptoms that worry us - but just play violent games happily - normally this means they are NOT traumatised, mentally ill or on the road to becoming violent criminals. 

Instead violent play and imagery is an instinctive form of play which probably has its origins in our need as a species to win wars and tribal battles.  This kind of violent play peaks between the ages of 4 and 10.  Not all kids will do it of course, but a lot of them will.  And yes, there is a gender imbalance – boys are more likely to do this than girls on average.

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My top 10 tips for helping teens though secondary school

My top 10 tips for helping teens though secondary school

I'm working with DECD and Parents SA during "Parents in Education" week in SA in a couple of weeks time - talking on a panel with the Minister and presenting at a couple of workshops around Adelaide.  One of the journalists doing a story on this week asked me for my top 10 tips for parents on helping them through secondary school.

 

I really wanted to write about 50 ...and include an essay on each one...but in the interests of space I had to prioritise.  

I've copied them here for your interest.  What would be yours?

1. Ask questions

Asking questions (gently, kindly and casually) about teenagers' subjects, assignments and teachers is important for helping them trouble shooting problems and be successful at school

2. Frequently thank, affirm, praise and express care

Find opportunities every day to say "I admire you for...", "I'm sorry you are dealing with....", "I love how you...." and "Thanks so much for....".  Being positive and caring helps teenagers and also helps us stop to notice the positives - and feel better.

3. Friendships matter

Teenagers who have good relationships with their peers are happier and this in turn has an effect on results at school.  Help teens find ways to make and build friendships, allow lots of socialising time, help them resolve conflict and put in place opportunities for them to find new connections.

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Facebook - when it makes your teenager feel worse, and when it makes them feel better

Facebook - when it makes your teenager feel worse, and when it makes them feel better

I'm not a statistician but I can say with confidence that roughly 100% of teenagers use social networking sites :)

By social networking sites I'm talking about those apps and programs which teens use to share videos, memes, thoughts and photos - and to communicate with others.

Most typically this is facebook and instagram, but there are many others.

As parents and carers, it's easy to see these sites as either "all good" (everyone uses it, our teens are fine) or "all bad" (these are terrible sites and they make our teens feel terrible, and expose them to conflict and undesirable adult content).

The truth is more complicated and it takes more time to tease out.

There are quite a few disadvantages of social networking for teens, but also some advantages. In this blog, I'm just going to look at the advantages and disadvantages for teens in terms of how social networking affects their mood.

What the research is starting to tell us is that social networking can make teenagers feel good - reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and make them feel more positive about life - AND it can also make them feel bad - increase stress, anxiety and depression.

Let's look at this in a little more detail.

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Setting chores for "tricky" kids and teens - the ONE important detail that gets forgotten

Setting chores for "tricky" kids and teens - the ONE important detail that gets forgotten

One of the ongoing challenging tasks for parents is to help children and young people to get their jobs done.  Trying to help children and teens follow through on mundane tasks like cleaning rooms, unpacking bags, putting their toys and doing assigned chores.

This is hard enough for parents with kids who have easy going personalities and few life demands - but when you are trying to help a child who struggles with worry/frustration management, attention problems and other life challenges - getting them to do their chores is extremely hard work.

Parents in our clinics talk about the immense frustration that comes with reminding, nagging, yelling at young people in order to get them to do these simple things - and how they end up just doing it themselves.

There's no easy solution for helping young people get things done, but in my experience there is ONE detail that can potentially make a big difference.  If we get this detail right, then it is significantly more likely that children/young people will do their jobs, and if we don't - it's much less likely this will happen.

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