Archive for the 'Parenting Help' Category

The Today Show had a segment on the age old topic of teen drinking. Menlo Park, California parents had a party with their son’s friends’; the local cops came by to follow up on an anonymous tip and of course they found booze. Father was arrested.
Teen drinking has been a serious problem for a very long time and with all of our high tech instruments and knowledge we somehow still are not treating this problem with the seriousness that it deserves. Nothing will change by arresting parents. The truth is that just because kids can talk and manipulate their way to find alcohol doesn’t mean that a teen knows the implications of what they are doing. And when we look at brain development, we now know that teens may very well be biologically incapable of having the proper judgment to make the right decision at the time. Therefore, group pressure wins out, and teens wind up doing things that they may not ordinarily do. In today’s culture, generally speaking, parents are more concerned with being friends with their kids. They give up their authority at a time when their kid needs them to be that authority. The result of this is obvious – No one is minding the store (read no one is taking responsibility.) In the end, teen drinking becomes a blame game and we hold parents responsible.
From where I sit, as a psychotherapist working with teens, I listen to stories of how this one “used a fake ID” or that one “downed 10 shots” of vodka. Parents are often physically in the house. The fact is that teenagers take advantage of exhausted parents (those people who gave them life) who are not communicating effectively with each other and have different parenting standards. If we want to begin to address this problem, we must address it on a local level. Parents need to make the time to attend teen parenting classes and apply what they learn through homework assignments. After applying interventions, these parent participants return to the group to report the results of their experience. A group of parents can offer support and bolster one another more than we realize. Parents also need to understand that the job of parenting requires a parent to be stricter and more on top of their game then they may want to be. There is no place for passive parenting during the teen years. By the way, why are parents leaving the job of parenting to local enforcement agents? If we decide to become parents then we need to see the job through to completion. Last checked, they don’t have what it takes to parent one’s kid.
It is time to tackle the problem of teenage drinking in a smarter, more sophisticated way! Do we dare to risk losing our children?

Why teens choose not to speak to their parents?

April 13, 2011
posted by Admin

Or to re-phrase the question why do parents always complain about their kids locking themselves in their bedroom for hours and sometimes days with the intention of avoiding them? The lack of contact between parent and teen seems to “kill” parents and make them feel out of control.
From the parent’s perspective, it seems really strange that one decides to conceive/bear a child and feed and care for that child through infancy, toddler years, and elementary school. Worry about that child every day! What they eat, when they sleep, when they become ill, the child’s proper development and ability to learn or not learn in school. Parents worry when they watch their kid hormonally morph into an adolescent, wondering where their “sweet child – nice kid” disappeared. They cannot believe that their once beloved child is indifferent, distant, alien, cold, abrupt, unanswerable, moody and most times downright rude to them.
From the child’s perspective, kids want to catapult themselves through their teen-age years. I often hear kids say: “I just want to skip high school and move onto college, where there is a lot more freedom.” When kids think or speak like this, they are telling us they want to avoid all of the complexities that adolescence has to offer them. For the teen, it is a tremendous amount of emotional work to “know thyself.” Many teens do not want to do this work. They prefer to hide out from their feelings and the demands of these years.
In addition, I have learned that teens have an Adult Code. This code refers to the way that adults (parents) talk down to them, as if adults have all of the answers. The second section to this code is that adults (parents) do not take seriously what their teen son or daughter has to say. Teens feel that their words have little credibility to adults. So, if you think about it, why should a kid speak up? Why take a chance at certain rejection. In short, kids feel boxed in by their parents.
From someone who has worked with kids and their parents for a long time, here are a few observations.
Parents tend to remain rigid in the way they view their growing, developing child. Kids change all of the time. They change from season to season and month to month and week to week. Parents seem to notice the outside changes more readily than changes on the inside of their child. A kid’s belief system and values are being challenged by society every single day. Parents tend not to see this nor do they see the degree to which this is occurring on a daily basis.
Parents forget what it feels like to be teenager. Teen’s feelings are fairly intense and without empathy a teen doesn’t feel understood. Kids stay in their room because they don’t want to be told what to think and how to feel. They are struggling to find their own voice and they don’t want any “tainting” of that process. Fearful parents “taint” in the form of lecture, correction, punishment and the like. Kids look to avoid this.
It comes down to this. Parents need to slowly release their grasp (begin to let go) on their child-teen. If they are too tightly absorbed in their kid’s world, their child teens will not be able to experience the freedom of making mistakes and hopefully learning from them. Without making mistakes, a teen cannot grow and realize who they are. Parents need to reinforce their values primarily through their behavior, not necessarily their words. Kids remember how a parent handles a certain situation and will tend to copy that in the future.
Parents need to acknowledge their own fear of the world and the expectations they place on their kid. This will only lead to confusion for your teen. Give your kid space to think for him/herself. Respect your teen for their maturing growth and developing their own opinion on topics, even if it is opposite to what you may believe. It doesn’t mean that they will think this way forever. View this as a way of your teen finding his/her own voice.

Wake up Parents! Follow-up!

October 15, 2010
posted by Admin

Wake up Parents! Follow-up!
As a follow-up to my last blog entry entitled “Wake up Parents!” I would like to offer a few suggestions on how we adults can support out children in a fairly direct way. All of us are very dependent on electronic communication. I love my cell phone and computer as much as any pre-teen or teenager, however when we use it as a complete substitute for real face-to-face communication we are not flexing the muscles that we need to flex. In addition, many children do not understand the importance of rules and their overall usefulness to society. So here are some suggestions to help your children begin to feel safer.
Have a dinner with candles and soft music. Make sure that everyone has a turn to speak.
Parents: Demonstrate respect for police, teachers and other authority figures. Explain how these individuals are town heroes!
Role-model kindness to your children. Say something kind to your child and ask them to copy you with an act of kindness of their own.
Have everyone in the family put their cell phones in a basket on a tall shelf….not to be touched for 24 hrs. Talk about the results!
Or turn off all computers for one day! Discuss.
Read a family story together that you can finish in three or four nights.
Write the words “I’m sorry” on a post-it, and put it on a family member’s pillow, that you have hurt.
Parents: Spend a full day, listening to your child carefully and not necessarily speaking in response.
WE all feel safer when we slow-down and respect one another.


October 7, 2010
posted by Admin

I would like to take a moment to talk to parents about what is happening to our children in this media crazy world of ours. Our children are actively being bombarded, psychologists call this over-stimulated with a lot of information that they don’t need to have at their disposal. When you overload a child, you mostly get back anxiety and worrying behavior in a child under the age of 13 and confusion and depression in a child over the age of thirteen. The most recent event of the suicide death of Tyler Clementi should be a wake- up call to all parents of any age kid.
Today’s kids are vulnerable in a unique way. They are growing up in families that do not communicate strong authority, leadership and values. Many teenagers today lack respect for authority and of course, this starts in the home. Without respect for authority, a kid will not feel safe in this world we live in. Authority and Wisdom speaks to the unconscious mind of a child. When a parent dispenses proper authority, he /she symbolically communicates to the child a sense of safety. Rules make children feel safe! This is why we have rules in schools and communities. The lack of strong rules at home makes a child feel unsafe! If there is little authority at home, the child will not feel safe. If a home is overly busy or chaotic, the child will also not feel safe.
Meanwhile, the way in which our children presently socialize has been radically altered! They text, chat, email, send pixs, download, upload, skype and a variety of other constantly changing communications that do not involve face-to-face contact. Children are not necessarily clear about who their friends are. Yet, once, they believe that they are in with a group of friends, their lives can be instantly changed for the worse, by some anonymous bully using a cell phone or computer.
If children of any age do not feel safe going to their peer group and do not feel safe contacting their parents, where will they turn? The tragedy of the death of Tyler Clementi is this: That Tyler had no one to trust and talk to in his time of deepest need. His death is a warning to all parents to wake up and pay attention to what is happening in your home.
~ Dr. Pat Saul, MSW, PH.D.

Surviving the College Application Process

September 16, 2010
posted by Admin

So, you have made it to the start of your kid’s senior year!  Kudos to you and your family!  Think of it!  You made it past the separation worries of Kindergarten,  past the cyber-bullying years of middle school, past private parties and driving permits and licenses (maybe…. hopefully) and you have dealt with your guilt or denial around putting a young driver on our commonly shared crazy roadways.  Just as you are about to pat yourself on the back and fully take in your success in this parenting adventure, you realize that you have to get on your kid’s back and have him/her fill out the application to the “safety school” of his/her choice.  Or do you?  The truth is that if you graduated from college, this happened 20 – 25 -30 years ago!  College admissions offices consider that time period to be the “dark ages.”  So, How am I supposed to help my kid?  Let’s discuss options from the parent’s point of view!

First option:  I could do nothing!  Don’t get involved!  Look, my kid goes to a very good school, some guidance couselor should be able to help him or her.    Don’t  they write their essays in their English classes anyway?  Once, his friends start bragging about their name colleges that they are going to then, my son/daughter will get his/her bum in gear!  Besides, let his mother, grandparent, coach get on his/her back….i just want to be the nice father, mother that my kid seeks out!

Second Option:  Let’s see, starting October 1, I have 76 days to pick schools, complete all the apps, schlepp to two or three schools for a quick visit, (mostly to let others know, that I know my stuff), and get a couple of essays started!  I am certain that Jan and Greg will let me start this for them.  Meanwhile, this leaves them free to still volunteer at the shelter, stay on the debate and track team, and get the grades they need to get (not to mention study for SAT’s and those crazy advanced college placement tests.)  Senior year is really what colleges look at, anyway.  It reveals the most recent objective test of their readiness to take on college courses.

Third Option:  How about we scrap both of these positions.  Let’s ask the question how can I support my kid through this grueling, yet highly productive year! 

  • Encourage your child!  Let him/her know that you believe in /his/her ability!
  • Acknowledge when he/she does something right!  Don’t wait until the entire app is completed.  Praise them along the way in the little steps!
  • If they ask for help, then help them where they think they need help.  Not where you think they need help.
  • Get them with a college  specialist who will help them to sit down and develop a timetable to complete the necessary paperwork.
  • College application time for your Senior kid is a process.  This is a year when a kid matures a great deal.  I have found when one works in cooperation with this maturation process, everyone benefits.  And you might still have a relationship with your kid by them time he/she goes to college.
  • Consider that your child needs an extra year to work or go to a special school to mature.  This may take a great deal of pressure off of him/her, you and your entire family.   
  • Last but definitely not least,  send your kid to me or someone like me who will get him to look at the mistakes he/she is making by delaying or skipping the process. 
  • Parent’s:  Good Luck and by the way, letting go of your kid when you send him off to college isn’t easy either!   Best of Luck, Dr.Pat            

Investing in the Long-term for your child!

September 10, 2010
posted by Admin

One of my least favorite jobs as a therapist is making decisions that are forced upon me to make.   So this type of conversation almost always happens over the phone and it goes something like this…

“Hello, Dr. Pat, my kid, Peter Pan or Wendy has an opportunity to see a ball game or concert and it conflicts with school, dentist appointment, or even your appointment.  What should I do?  I know that he/she is too young, the evening too late, the event too mature for my kid….but I just can’t deprive them of this opportunity.”

Okay, what would you say to this parent?  So would you focus on the event, would you focus on the child’s needs or would you focus on the parent’s need?  I cannot tell you how many times, I have been tempted to tell the parent to just give me the tickets, reschedule the kid’s appointment and go have a good time at the too late, too mature event!  (Only kidding!) So if you are following this closely and have courage, the obvious answer is always NO!

 “NO!  Wendy or Peter Pan, you cannot go to the concert, ball game, simply because I am the parent and I said so!” 

The word “NO!” is not a word that any of us want to hear.  “NO!” means that there must be a delay of gratification, which means we must wait for the re-occurrence of the next great non-conflictual event.  We do not want to wait!  We want it now and in addition, we want perfect gratification!

I fully realize that this is not a satisfactory answer to a parent who is hoping that he/she will not have to disappoint their child. 

The truth is:   “Mom, Dad you are not your child.  YOU had your fun as a child, now it is your child’s turn.  Go have your own fun!”

The second truth is:  Most children, and your child is not the exception, most children need to be told “No!” so that they can remain on their normal, predictable schedule that allows them predictable times to eat and sleep!  Without a schedule a child is LOST!  If you do NOT want your child to be LOST!  or cranky from exhaustion, or thrown off their schedule for days on end, good for you, you value long term character traits over short term pleasures that come and go with the change of weather.  You will be an excellent parent because you are more concerned about your child 15-20 years from now and not their impending possible temper tantrum now!

AGH! My kid doesn’t want to go to school!

August 29, 2010
posted by Admin

The most common problem for parents in raising the school-aged child is anxiety.  These children worry and fret over the temporary absence of either parent.  Children can work themselves up into headaches, stomach-aches and even fainting, all over worry about a parent’s eventual return.  Parents want to know how to drop their child off to school without the whole “drama” of tears and worry. 

     Let’s talk about 5 year old Charlie, who is soon to start his first day at kindergarten.  Mom notices that when she mentions the word “school” Charlie looks down at his feet and appears forlorn.  Eventually, he will look up and slowly produce a smile to temporarily get mom off his back.  But let’s face it; Charlie is feeling allergic to “school” and is not interested in thinking about it. If your child is anything like Charlie then you have a child that is suffering from what we call “separation anxiety.” There are 6 things that a parent can do to relieve this type of stress for his/her child.

       * Mom and Dad must learn that they cannot talk a child like Charlie out of his feelings.  This is how he/she really feels.

      ** Contact the principal or social worker at the school and ask for help.  Schools are fairly experienced with these issues.

      *** A week before do three practice runs with the same someone in the school to receive your child at the school.  Don’t wait until the first day of school to make this delicate transition.

      **** Give Charlie a transitional object.  This could be a key chain or locket with your picture in it.  Or something pocket-small that he/she can hold onto during scary times.

      ***** Teach and practice breathing techniques with your child. Turn it into a game where your child can learn to control his feelings of worry by slowing down his breathing.

      ****** On the weekend, put aside an hour of special time to spend solo with your Charlie!  Be consistent!  Do an activity that your child is interested in.

       Last but not least, prepare for the week on Sunday night.  Leave time to hang out with your child in a relaxed way before bedtime Sunday night.  After the family has been together all weekend, it is difficult for a young child to let go of that experience.  So, proceed slowly and deliberately, ensuring that your Charlie will get a good night’s sleep to start his/her school week.