Tag Archives: teens

Supporting Teens and Young Adults

Being quarantined with teenagers may not be as much a hands-on job as managing toddlers, but that doesn’t mean that the mental strain or engagement is any less. You’re probably seeing a lot more of each other than either of you are used to. These tips for parenting teenagers and young adults suddenly home from college can help smooth some of the edges and help you to enjoy your time together. 

Reiterate the importance of social distancing. Now that parts of the country are starting to open up, your already restless teen may be tempted to take a chance and hang with their friends. Teens lack the ability to understand the long term consequences of their actions. Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, also notes that teens tend to see themselves as invincible and they may think that COVID-19 isn’t problematic for their age range as it is for older people. “They want to see their friends, and don’t see why the social distancing should apply to them. Our answer is that exposure to this virus is an exponential thing, and that it’s not really about them. It’s not really about the fact that they feel fine. It’s the fact that they could be asymptomatic carriers and they could kill others, including their grandparents.” He suggests you remind your teens that, “You just can’t know that your friends are well. And while you may be comfortable taking that risk, you’re also bringing that back in your house.”

Encourage healthy habits. It may be easier to explain string theory to a toddler than get your teen to maintain healthy sleep habits, but it’s worth the try. Just like the rest of us, being well-rested coupled with healthy eating habits and regular exercise goes a long way to boosting mental as well as physical health. Model the behavior you want to see – if you’re on the sofa, powering through a family size bag of Cheetos at 2 am, don’t expect your teen to take you too seriously. 

Don’t over-parent. If you’re living with a college student that’s just moved home, remember you’re dealing with a young adult who has experienced life outside your home, out from under your authority, and has had autonomy over their own lift and decisions for some time. If you treat them the same way you’re treating your younger children, they’re likely to chafe against your rules. Be mindful of the fact that while you are still their parent, you’re speaking to an adult, not a child. Speaking to them respectfully while maintaining authority goes a lot further than making demands or doling out punishment.

Give them – and yourself a break. It’s all about balance. Yes, good sleep habits, a healthy diet, and exercise are important, but if sometimes they a second cookie, an extra episode of Adventure Time, or sleeping till noon translates to self-care, don’t sweat it. When the days seem endless and it sometimes feels like time no longer exists, be kind to them and indulge. 

Validate their feelings. Think back to when you were a teenager and how much you relied on peers over parents for everything from advice to emotional support. When things are getting heated or you’re getting push back on the boundaries you’ve set, acknowledge that their feelings of frustration and isolation are valid. Studies have shown that teens still prefer face to face connections over social media, so it’s no wonder they’re struggling. If you’ve set boundaries on screen time or social media, this is a good time to sit down and have a conversation about the possibility of shifting those boundaries and finding creative ways for them to connect while still social distancing. 

Look to the future. Don’t forget, many teens are missing out on milestones you enjoyed or may have taken for granted. Senior prom, graduation, bar mitzvahs, their quinceañera – these are once in a lifetime events. There’ll be other birthdays, other chances at a first-date, but be aware your child may be grieving the loss of what was supposed to be. Give them the grace they need and work together to find ways to make up or re-schedule the event if possible. By including them, you make them feel less helpless and take away some of the sting of the disappointment.  

Help them practice mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques are powerful tools that will carry them through the challenges they face inside and outside quarantine.  Mindfulness teaches us to stop, identify the feeling you’re experiencing, and free yourself of judgment. 

Dr. Joanna Stern, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute calls it “radical acceptance.”

“You tell yourself it’s okay to feel anxious right now. It’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to feel angry. You’re accepting the feelings you have and validating them because we’re all having those feelings. It’s really important that you accept them as they are rather than fighting them. We say to ourselves: ‘This sucks, and I’m going to be sad about it, and I’m going to be angry about it, and I’m going to feel anxious about it,’ or whatever it is. This then allows us to move on and say, ‘Okay, so now what needs to be done?’”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Help Your Teen Finish the School Year Strong

A friend of mine is a high school guidance counselor and though there’s never really a season her department isn’t busy, the race to the end of the school year seems to amplify everything from emotions to deadlines.

Whether it’s the high-achievers who’ve given their throughout the year and are running out of emotional energy and physical stamina or those who’ve been coasting and now realize that what they thought was the light at the end of the tunnel is the train coming straight at them, tensions can start to run high. For students with IEP’s, learning differences, attentional or behavioral issues, or social-emotional vulnerability, the end of the year can be a seemingly endless series of stressors.

As parents, there are few things more heartbreaking than watching your child struggle and knowing there are limits to how much you can help. Learning to manage schedules and stress is part of the maturing process, so it’s essential to walk beside your child, supporting them, rather than in front, snow-plow style, clearing the path for them.

If your child seems to be struggling, these strategies from family therapist, Roy Dowdy can help.

Start with a conversation. Talk to your child, his teachers, and his counselor to help identify specific triggers to stress and anxiety. “Once you’ve identified the stressor, you can implement solutions,” Dowdy says. “If it’s time management, help them create a schedule for their time outside of class. There are countless apps to help manage screen time – one of the biggest distractions – help with organization, and homework help. By incorporating your student in the process, you’re equipping them, not solving problems for them, which in turn boosts their confidence and gives them the tools necessary to face the next challenge.”

Make home a Judgement Free Zone. When you talk to your student, be careful not to pass judgment on them, even if the reasons for their distress seems insignificant to you. Anxiety distorts emotions, and that’s just as true for teens as adults. Suggesting their feelings are invalid will only exacerbate the problem and make them less likely to ask for help.

One bite at a time. There’s an old joke, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”  That’s how you’re going to attack this problem. Identify the stressor and come up with a short term solution. You’ve summer break and the next school year to implement long-term changes, but for now, work the problem in front of you,” Dowdy says. “Sure your son’s constant procrastination is what got him into this mess, and your daughter’s unwillingness to see that hours playing video games is why her room is a mess, and she can’t find her school uniform. But while a lecture on “If you had listened when I told you…” sure would feel good for you, it isn’t going to help your child at this moment. Put out the fire, then talk about implementing “fire drills” going forward.

Take the conversation to the school. Your child’s teachers and advisors are invested in their success too, so it’s essential to involve them in the discussion. By sharing your strategies with school staff, you’ve doubled your child’s cheerleaders and cut your burden in half.

Remember, you may not have the whole picture. Kids don’t often disclose everything that happens in any given situation. Remember, your teen is a former toddler, so the same child who was caught stealing his brother’s dessert and denying it is the one who’s telling you his teacher is out to get him and unfair. If school staff tell you something about your child’s actions, moods, or learning style – even, or especially if it surprises or upsets you — try to listen and hear them out. You tried to pull things over on your parents, and your child is capable of the same behavior.

Finally, if these strategies aren’t enough and your child still feels as though they’re drowning, it may be time to talk to a therapist. Dowdy’s practice is focused on families, and he has students in his office every week who are struggling to manage the demands of school, family, and their friends. “Think how overwhelmed you get trying to juggle that work/life balance. Now look at it from your teen’s perspective – someone who’s schedule and expectations are usually set by you, the parent, or by the school. That feeling of powerlessness can be incredibly stressful.”

To find a counselor, Dowdy suggests talking to the school guidance counselor, psychologist, or Dean of Students, your pediatrician, or other parents you know and trust for a referral to a counselor that specializes in adolescent mental health.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


Snapchat Tips for Parents

By Tracey Dowdy

Teens and Snapchat go together like peanut butter and jelly, chips and salsa, bacon and eggs, wine and cheese, mmmm, cheese…. wait, where was I going with this? Oh yes, teens and Snapchat.

With roughly 110 million daily users, Snapchat has surpassed even Twitter’s popularity, particularly with teens.

So what is it? Simply put, Snapchat is a free video and photo sharing app. Users can choose to send a private chat that disappears after one viewing or post a series of photos to create a Snapchat story. Teens love it because it gives them the ability to capture a moment in time, whether it’s silly, hilarious or awkward. Because snaps only last up to 10 seconds, there’s more freedom than with other forms of social media like Facebook and Instagram.

However, it’s not quite as user-friendly as Twitter or Facebook and the challenges inadvertently filter out the less tech savvy, like parents. Since adults are all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat is a place for our kids to virtually hang out without us and, just as with any other online activity, that is a plus or a minus depending on what your kids are up to.

Snapchat knows the risks involved and addresses them in their Terms of Use. They outline who can use Snapchat, what rights you have and what rights you grant them. There’s content and privacy guidelines mapped out as well as restrictions for copyrighted images, plus much more. There’s a fair amount of information and some is standard across social media platforms but it’s definitely worth the time to read through.

For example, users allow Snapchat access to their address book. It’s not uncommon for apps to request access to your private information but keep in mind that not everything you share is yours – you’re also sharing your friends’ information.

Snapchat also has the right to access your photos and videos. By agreeing to these “Terms of Use” users consent to “grant Snapchat and our business partners the unrestricted, worldwide, perpetual right and license to use your name, likeness, and voice solely in Live, Local, or other crowd-sourced content that you appear in, create, upload, post, or send.”

It’s also important to note that users are legally responsible for what happens while they’re logged on. That means underage teens exchanging nude pics are risking charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies and potentially being registered as sex offenders. Twenty states have laws specifically related to sexting. Teens need to remember that those kind of photos might not be as temporary or as private as they think.

Back in 2015, 18-year-old high school student Brandon Berlin was arrested for uploading nude and semi-nude photos of underage girls to Dropbox and sharing the images with friends. Most of the photos had been sent via Snapchat by the victims to their boyfriends who then forwarded them to Berlin. “This has to be a teachable moment for us with our kids. They have to understand that once you share something, even with just one person, once you share something online, electronically, you can’t get it back and you lose complete control over where it goes.” – Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman

Berlin’s senior quote in the yearbook? “I prolly had your pics.”

I must reiterate sexting isn’t the only or even the primary use of Snapchat. The intimacy that allows some to sext is valued by others for the simple reason there’s a lot less pressure. In the words of teenager Andrew Watts, “Snapchat has a lot less social pressure attached to it… If I don’t get any likes on my Instagram photo or Facebook post within fifteen minutes you can sure bet I’ll delete it.”

Snapchat’s popularity with teens is easily linked to the cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s easy to misinterpret the meaning behind a text, but a picture and caption or a 10 second video makes your meaning clear.

For more insight and tips on helping your kids understand the risks, Verizon has a great article by Larry Magid, “What Parents Need to Know about Snapchat”.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Teen Cell Phone Use: Addiction or Integration?

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s no surprise when I say we’re a tech-addicted society. Things that we didn’t know existed 10 years ago are now a fundamental part of our daily lives. Case in point: our smartphones. According to a recent study, we check our smartphones an average of 110 times a day.

It’s also no surprise when I say the group most prone to this behavior is teens. This is the generation that really doesn’t remember a time before cell phones much the way my generation can’t imagine life without cable TV. (Yes, I had to go that far back for a technological innovation. Stop judging.)

How do you know if your teen’s attachment to his or her phone goes beyond the norm? At what point should you be concerned? Ira E. Hyman, Jr., Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University suggests applying the standard definition of addiction to cell phone use: “Tolerance (decreased value requiring more use to get the same effect); Withdrawal, (symptoms if you don’t have access to your addiction); Increased use; Inability to cut back on use; Reduction of competing behaviors; Engaging in the behavior despite risks and negative consequences.”

With this definition in mind, does your child:

Sleep with her phone?

Of those surveyed, 75% said their phone is never more than 5 feet from them at any given time. Fear Of Missing Out (or “FOMO”) is a big part of this. At an age when peer acceptance is at a premium, failure to respond to a text or phone call in the middle of the night can be a very big deal.

Experience anxiety if she is separated from her phone?

Let’s be honest, “Nomophobia” or the fear of “no mobile phone” affects more than just teens. Anyone would – or should – feel uncomfortable if their phone is lost, as we have so much personal information stored on our devices. But if being unable to check your phone for short periods of time leaves you feeling nervous or uneasy and leaves you unable to focus on the task at hand, there may be cause for concern.

Feel an overwhelming urge to respond to calls or texts immediately?

This is one is a little tricky. My husband is incapable of letting a phone ring or receiving a text without checking it. It goes against his personality and his nature as a therapist – “What if someone really needs me?” If your teen sees her phone as the priority at all times – regardless of circumstances – or her preoccupation with her phone keeps her from engaging with people or situations, it may be time for a conversation about boundaries.

It is important for us as parents to remember that what may seem over the top to us may be perfectly within reason to the next generation. While we struggle with a work/life balance and lament that work follows us home through our smartphones, our kids are growing up in a world where that will become a work/life integration. Technology seamlessly runs through their lives ostensibly without interruption.

This is not to say that there is no need for balance. Everyone needs to disconnect at some point. If your teen isn’t getting enough sleep or her grades are being affected, again, it’s time for a conversation. Any behavior that is having a negative effect needs to be addressed. Teaching our kids responsible cell phone use is part of teaching them self-care – it’s common sense parenting.

Remind them that no matter what is considered “normal,” there are times when using your phone is not okay – texting and driving for example. And as Hyman points out, a little more consideration for others when using a phone would be nice too. We’ve all been stuck near someone having a carefree conversation, oblivious to the fact the rest of us don’t want to hear about their bunion surgery, children’s potty training mishaps, or TPS reports.

Maybe that’s just me showing my age again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.