Category Archives: Adolescence

Raising Teenagers

I have a joke I tell the parents I work with.  Your child does have a diagnosis.  It’s adolescence.  It is not called the “terrible 2’s / terrible teens”‘ for nothing.  This is a period where teens are working to learn who they are in their environment, if it is trustworthy and safe, or hurtful and demeaning.  They crave the safety of their parents while working to step away and determine their worth and value on their own.  This is a confusing time for both them and you.  There is fear and frustration for everyone involved as the teen steps further and further away testing both parent’s and societies limits and boundaries, at times stepping over the line.    Just look at yourself for proof.    Remember what you did, how you acted, and some of the bonehead things you did as a teen?  I have several “For the grace of god” stories of my own. This does not mean we do not protect, teach and consequence our beloved teens, but have less fear and more understanding for their behaviors.  We were there once ourselves.  The fears we feel as we watch out teen venture out in to the universe are natural.  At the age of two, we run over to keep the child from grabbing the handle of the pot of boiling water as she curiously explores her environment.  As a teen this is more difficult, and those pots get more serious with larger consequences.   With teens we also have less influence or control over their actions.  Their peers are now the primary influence.  But as you cringe while watching them make mistakes, test limits, and be general boneheads, remember this is natural and normal.  We cannot learn in a bubble and sometimes getting burned is the best way to learn not to do something again.

There are times when raising a teen that you are going to feel like you want to put them in a zoo.  You are going to feel like you want to check yourself in to a mental institution just for the vacation.  A sense of humor is paramount when raising a teenager.  Being able to see their outrageous behaviors and joke will save your sanity.  The fear will eat your soul away, you will watch their behavior and wonder how your parents didn’t kill you if you pulled the same crap you did.  You wonder how your kid doesn’t die pulling the crap they are.  Remember, you lived through your bonehead moves, and so will your teen.  

Adolescence is not a terminal diagnosis.  It does end, and you can get through it with your sanity.  Learning how to move through with grace and humor will save your relationship with your kid, help them learn, and save your sanity.  You have to trust in the basics that you taught them when they were a kid, and if they go to drop that metaphorical pot on their head sometimes you have to just watch and hope and trust. 

Rewards and Punishment part 2

Punishment is using a consequence of some sort to stop or decrease a behavior.  People who speed (and are caught) are initially punished with fines, defensive driving, a raise in insurance, etc.  Two incidents of this punishment was sufficient to keep me from speeding  (well, more than 5 mph over).  Had it not been ( and I had been caught again) I would be subject to loosing my license, loosing my insurance, and multiple other consequences all the way up to jail.  Punishment and fear of punishment for the crime of speeding is enough to make me careful about my speed, though I would prefer at times to go much faster.  We have several means to punish those that break laws in our society, and if our values and morals don’t keep us from breaking these laws, society hopes that a desire to avoid the punishment will.

 

The problem with punishment is that it often requires fear to be effective preventativly, and fear can be overcome with the right motivators. If we are angry enough, or hurt enough fear goes right out of the window, especially if the behavior that is going to be punished is rewarding enough.  There also has to be a belief that they will be caught in order for punishment to work, and if you are training a kid or a animal (or a spouse) the likelihood that you will be there when the behavior is committed is unlikely at times.

 

The punishment also has to have meaning.  As a kid my mom would ground me to my room for an evening.  Since I love to read and had oodles of books an evening in my room was of little to no consequence to me.  There was little to no fear of this punishment and it rarely changed my behavior.  Lucky for my mom I was a pretty good kid in general.  For several people in prison, prison has little to no meaning as a punishment.  For some it is seen as a badge of honor to be sent to prison, and for some it is seen as a means of survival.  For some it just isn’t a sufficient punishment to deter them from committing the crime.

Punishment must be enforceable.  This means that if you ground your kids, you’re grounded too.  If you ground your kids and you leave, your kids aren’t going to comply with being grounded.

 

When used incorrectly punishments have little to no effect and can actually make behaviors worse.  Incorrectly used punishments confuse and frustrate both animals and people, and often create only bitterness and anger.  A good example of this is the incorrect usage of “Time Out “.  Time outs are used to remove a child (young children and toddlers) from a behavior that is incorrect, giving them time to pull their behavior in to check ultimately returning to the activity (not the negative behavior though).  It can also be used to give parents a moment to manage their anger before consequences (punishments) are put in to place. Time out’s are used instead as the punishment itself.  The time out should be used as a quick “whoops!” to redirect the behavior, not to eliminate the behavior.  Punishment is then implemented after the time out, such as losing the toy they were playing with, or saying they are sorry to the playmate.

 

It is also necessary to know the difference between a threat and a warning.  Threats often just breed resentment.  Warnings are very different than threats. A threat is a plan to use verbal or physical violence if a behavior is continued.  A threat is also a plan that isn’t carried out.  A warning is a marker of a behavior with a notice of a consequence that will follow if the behavior is continued.  For example a threat is “You keep that up you’re gonna get it!”.  A warning is “It isn’t OK to take your sister’s toys.  If you take another toy play time is over”.

Punishments need to fit the crime and need to have meaning to the one being punished.  Taking away a cell phone because your teen cursed at you is an example of the punishment not fitting the crime.  Charging kiddo a quarter every time he curses,  or refusing to comply with requests made while cursing is an appropriate punishment.  I once worked with a family that used a belt to consequence a child because she wouldn’t wear a jacket.  This is another case of the punishment not fitting the crime.

 

Don’t read this and assume I believe that negative behaviors don’t need consequences.  When consequences are used correctly they teach what is OK and what isn’t to children that are still learning.  With adults consequences can deter. We get in to trouble though when we want a behavior to increase (such as cleaning a room) and we use punishment only.  Remember, punishment is to decrease a behavior.  We have to supply positive reinforcement to get the behavior we want.

 

Try to avoid punishing in anger as then the meaning is lost, especially as it is harder to set a reasonable punishment.  Punishments should create an understanding that the behavior was wrong, not that the punisher is a jerk.  This can be difficult when you are directly in the situation.  You enter a room to find that your kid just colored the walls with crayon and you’re probably going to get a little steamed.  At this point you are the one that needs the time out, the time away from the situation to regroup and come back in a healthy way.  When you are calm you can set a realistic punishment such a losing the crayons for the rest of the day and helping to clean the walls.

 

Some of the best punishments are natural consequences of a behavior.  When I was 8 I broke a neighbor’s window playing with a ball.  I had to tell the neighbor what I did, and do work to earn money to help pay for the window.  I was more careful when playing with a ball the next time.  We ultimately want to teach kids that there are natural consequences for their actions.  I don’t need to punish my kid for not wearing a jacket on a cold day, I just look at her when she complains (well, and with my sense of humor tell her how warm and toasty I am in my jacket).  I don’t need to punish my kid for not bathing or brushing their teeth, their peers will make it clear that kiddo isn’t accepted if they stink.  I don’t have to yell or switch my kid for a broken window, I need to make them pay for it themselves.  If they actually get in trouble with the law, I sponsor them as they move through the system, but the court system will punish them sufficiently for me as long as I don’t rescue them.

 

Punishment is only effective when used as an adjunct to positive reinforcement.  Used alone you will set both yourself and your trainee up for failure.   When you find yourself resorting to punishment frequently you will find that you are angry a great deal of the time.  When this happens you should probably take a step back, take a deep breath, and re-evaluate what you are doing that isn’t working.  Notice I said What YOU are doing, not what your trainee is doing.  Rigidity, should’s and must’s are your downfall when doing behavior modification and only sets you up for frustration.  It is better to find a behavior that you want to increase and reward that as much as possible than to punish everything you don’t want.

Atitudes toward sex and sexuality

Have you ever examined the double standard we have toward sex and sexuality.  I saw something on the internet the other day.  “A key that can open a lot of locks is a master key.  A lock that opens to a lot of keys is a shitty lock”.  Think of the 17-year-old boy.  We’ll name him Tommy.  Tommy is in his senior year of high school, gets good grades and plays football.  He has had approximately 15 – 20 sexual partners throughout his high school career.  What is your perception of Tommy?  What label would you give him?

Now think of Lucy.  Same age, senior year of high school.  She gets similarly good grades, plays vollyball, and also has had 15 – 20 sexual partners.  What is your perception of Lucy?  What labels would you give her? 

Did the words “athlete”, “stud” and “virile” come to mind with Tommy?  How about “slut” and “whore” with Lucy?  In working with older teen offenders I have found a strong double standard in sexual attitudes.  I have worked with 17 / 18-year-olds charged with statutory rape (an adult charge in the state of Texas at age 17) who had consensual sex with a 14 year old, often without an ongoing relationship.  In other words they had sex with a girl they didn’t know, not knowing her age. Often the boy is seen as a victim of the system and the girl is seen as manipulative, a slut, etc.  Instead we should see her as a victim of society at large, thinking about the self esteem issues and concerns that lead to sexual promiscuity. 

 There is no social stigma for a boy who has sex with an unknown girl, or has many partners.  In fact in front of his peers he is seen as a “stud”.    The girl on the other hand is seen as a pariah.  A man entering on to college as a “virgin” is seen almost as abnormal.  Sex is seen as part of growing up for boys.  Think of the different visceral response to a 15 year old boy having a relationship with his teacher (which has happened, I believe they are planning to get married once she finishes her prison sentence), and a 15 year old girl having the same relationship.  The attitudes and believes about each incident, though they involve two 15 year olds, vastly differ. 

What double standard can do is create an inner sense of shame for girls as they struggle with their sexuality.  When they do start to experiment with sexual intimacy it creates a very strong ambivalence that can be detrimental to their emotional health.  It can create anger, depression, resentment, resulting in drug use, placing herself in potentially harmful situations, and in some cases suicide. 

It also creates a sense of entitlement with boys, believing that they have a right to expect sex from casual partners, and then self esteem issues if they are denied.  Because they can’t claim the title “stud”. 

What can you do? Start discussing healthy sexuality with your children. Think about your own beliefs about sex and sexuality, especially in relationship to your own gender bias.  Work to alter these stereo-types and confront them when they are on TV and in the media.  This happens more often than you think, and remember, children are sponges.  There are several books available that help discuss this topic with children, and it makes it easier to talk to teens about sex if you begin a pattern with children. 

Resources:

Everything
You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d
Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from
Birth to the Teens

by Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster


 

 

Kids today – What are we letting happen?

I work with people of all ages, but primarily I specialize in working with teens.  Recently I have started getting many referrals for children and teens being bullied.  The bullying itself is not a surprise, as bullying has become increasingly easy with newer technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc.  A growing concern I have is the sexual bullying that is growing increasingly abundant, and increasingly tolerated.

One of the kids I work with complained that he, along with many of the other larger kids in the school are being repeatedly harassed by other boys.  The other boys are coming up behind the kids, grabbing their “man-breasts”, shaking them and making humping gestures.  These same actions are being repeated to girls in the schools as well.  I have confirmed that this is occurring at several schools, and not just in the Austin area.

When I told a friend about this I was asked about the difference between deviant behavior and “kids being kids”.  Five years ago this would have been deviant behavior, but today there is a question.  I find this concerning. 

Several years ago in Colorado a 7 year old boy was required to register as a sex offender after peaking under a bathroom stall.  Now, admittedly, I only have collateral information, but this was the talk of the Sex Offender Therapist world for a while as the concept of required registration was going through legislation.    A couple of years ago a child, doing what children do, was required to register as an offender, name and picture on the internet.  The scuttle-butt was that the registration was for life, based on Colorado law.  That is completely unconfirmed. 

Today though, it is accepted for boys to walk up behind other boys, and girls, grab their chest, wiggle it up and down and make lewd gestures and jokes.  Protesting or complaining leads to comments such as “awww…can’t take a joke!” along with other demeaning and degrading comments, as well as rejection from the social group. On other words, social suicide. 

Either the adults in the school are completely un-aware or ignoring the behavior.  Can you imagine if one of your co-workers came up behind you and grabbed your breasts, jiggling them and making lewd comments?  This would be grounds for termination, legal charges, etc.  If you are an overweight man, think about having a friend do this to you regularly.  Would they stay friends for long?   Would they stay standing for long? 

What is the difference between boys being boys, and the progression of sexual harassment to concerning levels?  I know that I sound alarmist, but what  happens when line after line is crossed?  When violation of personal space and boundaries become common-place and the repercussions for stopping them can be severe.  What happens when the boundaries are pushed even further and it is considered “kids being kids”?

The rules for addressing this are the same as the rules for addressing bullies:

  • Be assertive.  Remember to teach the difference between
    assertive and aggressive, but teach the need to stand up for one’s self.
  • Talk with others.  Talk with parents, teachers, counselors
    etc.  Remember that adults are supposed to help, and if one person
    doesn’t help keep asking others.
  • Don’t walk alone.  Bullies don’t often want to confront a group, that makes it more difficult to dis-empower.
  • Agree
    with the bully.  This often confuses the bully long enough to make a
    graceful get-away. “Yup, I sure am a dork!   Guess I’ll just have to
    deal”
  • Don’t react.  Bullies want a reaction. That is the entire
    reason to bully, is to make the other person feel powerless.  If the
    desired reaction is not given, eventually the bully will move on to
    easier meat.
  • Walk away.  It isn’t running away, it is hard to bully someone’s back.
  • Use
    humor.  Having humorous comments (humorous, not challenging or
    sarcastic,  We are looking to disarm, not create a fight or power –
    play!) ready is often easier than coming up with something when stressed
    and in the moment. 
  • And remembering that the power is in you. 
    We create our own reality, and I don’t have to listen to the reality of
    the bully. If the bully teases me because I get poor grades, I don’t
    have to let what they say hit me inside.  I can allow myself to stay
    strong even with their comments. 

Encourage your children to tell the other kids to stop it.  Then the rest of the advice applies to stopping the bullying.  If the other child does not stop after the first request, make very sure that the administration at the school is aware of the problem, and be willing to bring in legal charges if necessary.  Do we ever want a time when stop doesn’t mean stop?

This is not a case of “boys being boys”.  This is bullying, straight and simple, and this is having serious effect on kids self esteem.  Encourage your kids to talk about this, and make sure you are helping.  

Talking with teens, remember: KISS

For those of you who don’t know the acronym, K.I.S.S. stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid!  Communicating with teens is often frustrating and difficult.  We have years of experience making mistakes and learning that we want to impart so our kids don’t make the same mistakes.  Unfortunately our good advice often falls on deaf ears.  Familyeducation.com gives some good simple techniques for communicating with your teen. 

Sexting

Texting in and of itself is harmless, even beneficial.  I know personally I use texting to communicate with multiple friends at the same time, send quick information, and at times communicate at times that a phone call is not appropriate.   With new technology though new ways to abuse or mis-use it are also immediately though of, usually by the most creative of us, teens and criminals. 

For those of you not in the know, “sexting” is sending sexually based pictures through text message or “MMS”.  For a husband and wife, or even two consenting adults this can be a relatively harmless bit of playfulness (though what if your child gets a hold of your phone, or your partner has a tendency toward the bitter and vindictive?).  For a teen though what seems like a harmless bit of fun in the moment can turn wildly horrendous quickly. 

There is a great deal of press regarding this trend, including a very good post on the ChildLaw Blog regarding the legal dangers of sexting, and FamilyInsights looking at the multiple dangers of sexting.  Not only do adolescents not think of the short term consequences of sending child pornography to someone with whom they hope and pray won’t send it on to someone else, but the long term consequences of sending naked or half naked pictures of themselves in a world where nothing is ever really gone even when deleted.  The consequences of this when now adult sexters go to look for jobs, especially high profile jobs, we have yet to discover.  But teens are discovering that the law hasn’t caught up to the technology and they can receive up to a 5 years felony prison sentence for each conviction of taking, sending and receiving child pornography, as well as being required to register as a sex offender for life and possibly being required to attend sex offender treatment. A Federal Judge has ruled against the prosecutors and refused to try the case in Pennsylvania  but all Judges may not be as understanding, especially in cases of malicious intent, forwarding pictures vindictively to friends and classmates, which has lead to suicides in several cases. 

Teens are going to be teens, and lecturing them on the dangers of their behavior is rarely effective.  I remember knowing everything and believing my parents were being extremist in their attitudes and rules toward me, and learning only through age and the social consequences of my actions how wrong I was.  It is important to begin teaching children early about the technology we have now, even knowing that it will soon outgrow us.  It is also important when speaking to your teens of this and similar issues to work to not be derogatory toward them or imply that they are not informed or worldly.  They often have information even we don’t have, and if they don’t they will be resentful at the implication of ignorance.

It will be important to educate our children on appropriate usage of technology, especially as the applications grow.   Potential employers now look at Facebook and MySpace profiles, or just pictures if available, and information and pictures are readily available through Google (Google your name and hit the link for images to see what comes up).   While our teens often have difficulty thinking of the long term, we need to work to protect them from the available technology and their own impulsivity.

Diagnosis: Adolescence

I have a joke I tell the parents I work with.  Your child does have a diagnosis.  It’s adolescence.  It is not called the “terrible 2’s / terrible teens”‘ for nothing.  This is a period where teens are working to learn who they are in their environment, if it is trustworthy and safe, or hurtful and demeaning.  They crave the safety of their parents while working to step away and determine their worth and value on their own.  This is a confusing time for both them and you.  There is fear and frustration for everyone involved as the teen steps further and further away testing both parent’s and societies limits and boundaries, at times stepping over the line.    Just look at yourself for proof.    Remember what you did, how you acted, and some of the bonehead things you did as a teen?  I have several “For the grace of god” stories of my own. This does not mean we do not protect, teach and consequence our beloved teens, but have less fear and more understanding for their behaviors.  We were there once ourselves.  The fears we feel as we watch out teen venture out in to the universe are natural.  At the age of two, we run over to keep the child from grabbing the handle of the pot of boiling water as she curiously explores her environment.  As a teen this is more difficult, and those pots get more serious with larger consequences.   With teens we also have less influence or control over their actions.  Their peers are now the primary influence.  But as you cringe while watching them make mistakes, test limits, and be general boneheads, remember this is natural and normal.  We cannot learn in a bubble and sometimes getting burned is the best way to learn not to do something again.

There are times when raising a teen that you are going to feel like you want to put them in a zoo.  You are going to feel like you want to check yourself in to a mental institution just for the vacation.  A sense of humor is paramount when raising a teenager.  Being able to see their outrageous behaviors and joke will save your sanity.  The fear will eat your soul away, you will watch their behavior and wonder how your parents didn’t kill you if you pulled the same crap you did.  You wonder how your kid doesn’t die pulling the crap they are.  Remember, you lived through your bonehead moves, and so will your teen.  

Adolescence is not a terminal diagnosis.  It does end, and you can get through it with your sanity.  Learning how to move through with grace and humor will save your relationship with your kid, help them learn, and save your sanity.  You have to trust in the basics that you taught them when they were a kid, and if they go to drop that metaphorical pot on their head sometimes you have to just watch and hope and trust.