Monday, July 8th, 2013
No parent ever wants to have to wonder if someone is hurting their child. (Photo credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography)
No parent ever wants to have to wonder if someone is hurting their child. Unfortunately, statistics show that this kind of abuse is prevalent enough that every parent needs to know the warning signs and what to do if they suspect someone is abusing their child. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls in this country will be sexually abused before the age of 18, but even numbers as heartbreaking as those may not tell the whole story because sexual abuse of minors is frequently underreported. Because adolescents may be afraid or ashamed to speak up, parents, family members, and other adults in their lives have to be able to speak up for them.
In order to be their voice, you need to know what sexual abuse looks like in teenagers. Unfortunately, it is difficult to paint a clear picture because this kind of abuse can result in a range of symptoms and not all abuse survivors experience the same ones. There are a set of symptoms however that are commonly seen and that can provide clues that sexual abuse is or has occurred. These symptoms are often grouped into physical symptoms and behavioral symptoms.
Physical symptoms are not usually present and, with this kind of abuse, may not be noticeable by others. These symptoms can be diagnosed by medical professional in some cases but a lack of physical symptoms does not mean there is no abuse or has not been any abuse. Physical symptoms include:
- Genital and anal findings including torn/missing hymen, abrasions, injury, scarring, and the presence of bodily fluids like semen
- Pregnancy in a child or young teen
- Sexually transmitted disease in a child or young teen
These symptoms include a wide range of behaviors and psychosocial indicators which are grouped into two categories, sexual indicators and non-sexual indicators. Sexual indicators are more predictive, meaning that adolescents that display these indicators have a higher probability of being victims of abuse. It is important to note however that the reliability of these indicators changes at different ages. For example, a sexual indicator that shows up in young child might carry more weight than it would in a teen. Sexual indicators include:
- Adolescents with inappropriate levels of sexual knowledge for their age that is often displayed in unintentional statements, meaning, they are not trying to be shocking or to show that they have this knowledge.
- Sexually explicit drawings
- Acting in a sexual manner towards others in ways that are not age appropriate like sexual aggression towards younger children, inviting sexual interaction with older people, and sexual activity with animals or toys.
- Sexual indicators specific to teens include promiscuity, being sexually victimized by peers, and prostitution.
- Telling someone they have been sexually abused as research shows that most often, adolescents are telling the truth when they make this claim.
Non-sexual indicators are also important because they can indicate sexual abuse but they can also alert parents to other problems. For this reason, it is important to watch for these indicators but to understand that they may signify some kind of trauma and that the trauma may be sexual abuse rather than taken as acceptance that sexual abuse has occurred. Non-sexual indicators specific to teens include:
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Self-destructive behavior including cutting, self mutilation, suicidal gestures and attempts, and running away
- Criminal behavior
- Depression, anxiety, and social problems
- Difficulties in school
- Sudden changes in behavior
Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
As parents, we always think our children are beautiful. We can see them for the whole person they are and for the potential they have to do great things in the future. Because of this, we may struggle to understand how our teenage daughter, who wears a size 4, can look in the mirror and say that she is fat or that she needs to lose weight. We may feel frustrated that no matter what we say, we cannot seem to influence her opinion of herself. We may worry that her concern with her appearance is unhealthy or that she is at risk for an eating disorder. While we have reason to be worried, it isn’t because this attitude is abnormal.
In truth, the size 4 teen who is worried about being overweight is fairly typical. In our society, one of the ways we define attractiveness is size and there is no question that there are social advantages to being considered attractive. Attractive people tend to be more popular, get better grades, and are more likely to be hired for a job. The pressure to be attractive, especially during the teen years, can be overwhelming. This is likely why research indicates that only two out of every ten girls are happy with the way they look when they look in the mirror. However, even though this attitude might be normal, it doesn’t mean it is healthy.
Unfortunately, the definition of attractive has become so narrow in our culture that it has become virtually unattainable for most of us, especially when it comes to weight and body type. The images held up as examples of the ideal body represent only 5% of the female population. This means that the other 95% of women are striving to become something that is almost impossible to achieve. For teens, this is often where the trouble starts.
Research has shown that when people have a negative body image, it increases their risk factors for unhealthy behaviors like extreme calorie restriction, compulsive exercise, vomiting, and laxative abuse. Additionally, the more people think about their appearance, the more dissatisfied they become. Negative body image can become a vicious cycle that leads to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and other dysfunctional behavior. This is why the size 4 teenager’s attitude may be normal, but it isn’t healthy.
There are a number of factors that influence how we see ourselves. The images of the ideal presented by the media mentioned above are one factor. Another important factor is the messages we get from the other people in our lives like parents and peers specific to ourselves. In some ways, these messages carry more weight than those from the media because of their specificity. It is one thing to feel inadequate in comparison to a movie star or model; it is another to feel inadequate because someone who knows you tells you that you are. For this reason, the most important thing parents can do to boost their teens body image is to monitor the messages they are sending. If you have concerns about your teen’s body image or are concerned that their body image is contributing to other problems, talk to a mental health professional to determine the best course of action.
Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
Here is a list of some fun and entertaining things your teen can do this summer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the challenges of summer vacation is that teenagers often find themselves with more time on their hands than sense in their heads. While getting a job and volunteering their time are both great ways for teens to make use of their summer vacation, those options aren’t always available.
Parents who are concerned that teens will get into trouble or go off seeking thrills if they don’t have anything interesting to do should try to address the issue proactively. Rather than waiting until your teen is in trouble or until you notice undesirable changes in their behavior, take the first step and help them come up with fun, interesting, entertaining, and even educational ways for them to spend their summer.
To get you started and give you some ideas, here are 50 of our favorite fun ways for teens to spend their summer vacation.
- Make a movie.
- Make a music video.
- Grow a garden.
- Build a fort for someone smaller.
- Go swimming.
- Plan a picnic.
- Make your own ice cream sandwiches.
- Learn how to cook.
- Learn how to bake.
- Host an all night movie marathon.
- Setup a Frisbee golf league.
- Go for a long bike ride.
- Have a pool party.
- Have a water balloon fight.
- Hold a carwash with your friends and donate the money to charity.
- Go to a museum.
- Teach yourself to draw.
- Go to the library.
- Read one book for each year of your age.
- Volunteer to mentor younger kids.
- Play basketball.
- Babysit for extra spending money.
- Go fishing.
- Learn how to kayak.
- Teach someone else how to swim or ride a bike.
- Learn how to do your own laundry.
- Start your own business.
- Camp out in the backyard.
- Go to a planetarium.
- Go hiking.
- Get some friends to go geocaching with you.
- Host the backyard Olympics for other kids on your block.
- Read to younger children at the library.
- Make your driveway into a drive-in movie theatre for bikes.
- Host a backyard board game championship tournament.
- Have a scavenger hunt.
- Learn a new sport.
- Play baseball.
- Play mini-golf.
- Go on a college visit.
- Have a yard sale.
- Go see a concert.
- Put on your own concert.
- Play tennis.
- Start a band.
- Go bowling.
- Learn how to drive a boat.
- Ride every rollercoaster at the local amusement park.
- Learn how to cook on the grill.
- Make new friends.
Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
If there is one thing we as a society could do to decrease the incidence of bullying, combat domestic violence, and ensure today’s children will become upstanding compassionate adults, it would be to teach and foster empathy in our children and in each other.
Examples of what happens when empathy is absent are all around us. You need only tune into the news to hear about another senseless act of violence or about one teen doing something terrible to another. Parents, civil, leaders, and mental health practitioners alike are looking for answers to the near-epidemic level of bullying behavior that seems to touch every child’s life in one way or another. Experts struggle to understand why even the most popular, likable, well-adjusted adolescents seem open to participating in behavior previously seen primarily in those who struggled to adhere to social norms. Regardless of the other factors that cause and contribute to these challenges, at the root of each one is a lack of empathy.
What is Empathy?
When you feel empathy for another person, you understand the feelings they are having. By putting yourself in their place, by feeling what they are feeling, you are able to react and respond in ways that are comforting, helpful, and supportive.
For example, you are waiting in line at the grocery store with several other people. The cashier is currently helping a young mother with two small children who are acting out and behaving badly. The woman is struggling to finish her purchase while also keeping track of and trying to placate her two toddlers. How you respond to this situation will vary greatly on the amount of empathy you feel for the woman. If you can imagine what it is like to be her in that moment, to feel the things she is feeling, you are more likely to be patient, understanding, and possibly even offer to help. However, if you cannot empathize with her, you are more likely to be judgmental, more likely to assume she isn’t a good mother since she cannot control her children, and perhaps even tap your foot or make a rude comment aimed at letting her know how much she is inconveniencing you.
The difference in these two reactions shows why empathy and lack of empathy in our teens can be so problematic. If you know how to have empathy for others, you are less likely to participate in behaviors that hurt people because you understand how much that behavior hurts the other person and don’t want to subject them to that pain.
While it is never too late to help someone learn to feel empathy towards others, it is a skill that is best learned in small steps from toddlers to teens and beyond. Most people are born with the capacity to feel empathy, but it isn’t something that happens on its own; it must be taught, modeled, and reinforced throughout a child’s life. If your child seems to be lacking in empathy for others, start by examining your own family dynamics. Children, including teens, learn what they live. If we want them to be caring, understanding, empathetic members of society, we must model that behavior in our own lives.
If you have any questions about how best to foster empathy in your teen, or if we can address any other concerns you may have, please give one of our counselors at Doorways a call. We would love to talk with you and answer any questions you may have.
Monday, January 21st, 2013
Do you know the warning signs to look for if your teen is lonely or depressed? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Parents face many challenges as they guide and usher their teenagers through the final years of adolescence on their way to becoming young adults. One of the most common is knowing when their teen’s behavior is normal and a sign of healthy adaptation and when it is abnormal and requires attention. It is normal for teenagers to spend time away from their families, often secluded in their rooms. For many parents this change in behavior can feel like their child is pulling away, like there is some problem or tension within the family. This can lead to concern about whether or not this alone time is healthy or if it is a sign that their child needs help.
Like most parenting challenges, there is no easy answer or fail-safe guideline that can be used to know the difference. In part, it depends on your child. Some people are more introverted than others, which means that some teens will seek more solitary time than their peers. Other teens may find the demands of socializing and school draining and seek alone time as a way to re-energize and rejuvenate themselves. A teenagers desire to spend time alone is not a cause for concern. In fact, this kind of separation is an important part of their development. But in order to provide for and protect their children, parents need to be able to tell between solitude that signifies healthy development and solitude that signifies danger ahead.
To help understand if your teenager is lonely or just spending time alone, here are the most common healthy reasons teens seek solitude.
Even teenagers who were outgoing as children can experience periods of shyness as teenagers. The teen years bring changes to almost every aspect of life and it is perfectly normal for teens to become fearful of things like saying the wrong thing, looking silly or strange, being rejected by others, or not fitting in with their peers. These types of fears can result in periods of shyness when your teen withdraws and seeks the comfort and safety of solitude. While feeling and acting shy is not cause for parental concern, parents can help their teen through these phases by offering encouragement and support.
Spending Time Alone
Sometimes, we all just need to spend some time by ourselves. Being with other people requires a lot of energy no matter what age you are because you have to consider the other people’s needs, opinions, and feelings while moderating what you say and how you act. This can be draining even if you aren’t a teenager trying to navigate a constantly shifting and completely unforgiving social network while also building the skills to do so. Sometimes, your teenager just needs to not have to worry about anyone else for awhile so they can recharge their own batteries. This is healthy behavior and no cause for concern.
Being an Introvert
As mentioned above, some people, including teenagers, are simply more introverted than others. Introverted teens thrive when they get to spend enough time on their own. They benefit from honoring this side of themselves and the best thing parents can do is be understanding and supportive of their need for this solitary space. However, even introverted teens need social interaction. Creating relationships, connecting with others, and establishing solid communication skills are as essential for introverts as they are for extroverts and teens that isolate themselves in order to avoid these situations may need encouragement in these areas.
Regardless of what may be leading your teen or adolescent to spend time alone, be aware of any signs of depression that may be causing this behavior. Be on the lookout for any of the following signs of depression. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give one of our counselors at Doorways a call.
- Mood changes
- Loss of enjoyment in activities, socializing, and pastimes
- Lack of energy
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Problems with concentration
- Changes in eating habits that includes craving high sugar foods
Tuesday, January 8th, 2013
There is a lot of pressure on today’s teens to go on a diet. Some feel this pressure because they are overweight or struggling to maintain a healthy weight. Others are at a healthy weight but feel pressure to be thinner or to look a certain way. These pressures encourage teens to “go on a diet” and to try the latest “thing” for losing weight. According to the National Institute of Health, half of teenage girls and a quarter of teenage boys have used dieting in an attempt to change their body. Teens of all sizes believe that dieting will help them get the body they believe will make them beautiful, popular, and happy.
Unfortunately, this is simply untrue. In fact, research has shown that teens who diet have lower self esteem, feel less connected to their families and friends, and don’t feel like they have control of their lives. In some cases, dieting, especially when it is done over and over, can actually lead to weight gain and weight problems later in life. No matter how popular a diet is or what kind of claims are made about how successful it is, the simple fact is that dieting doesn’t work almost all the time.
Here is the thing. Dieting, as we think of it in our culture, is something temporary. It may mean eating healthier foods, restricting calories, following strict rules, skipping certain meals, or only eating or not eating specific foods, but it is always a temporary change. This is the most important reason that dieting doesn’t work. Even if the changes being made lead to a healthier diet, the temporary nature of dieting means that once you achieve your goal, you will go back to your regular, potentially less healthy, eating habits. For many people, a return to their regular eating habits often means a return to their previous weight. This is how the rollercoaster of dieting begins.
The temporary nature of dieting is the foundation of this rollercoaster. Cutting calories drastically, skipping anything with carbs, and other dieting tactics can have unexpected effects. Dieting can decrease a person’s metabolism which can actually lead to gaining more weight than they lost once they stop following the diet. Restricting calories, cutting out certain types of foods, and being hungry can also make people moodier and make it harder to concentrate. In fact dieting, in the long-run, can actually result in an increase in overall body weight. This can mean lifelong issues with weight – even for those teens that were not overweight to start with!
So, what is the answer? Stop dieting. Maintaining a healthy weight should be a lifelong goal which means you need a long term solution. Rather than turning to dieting, try these healthy eating tips instead.
- Eat small meals such as 1/2 sandwich, some fruit, or some vegetables 4 or 5 times a day.
- Drink enough water. Teens need 64-80 ounces of water each day. Staying hydrated helps stabilize appetite and eliminate cravings.
- Eat a variety of foods and participate in fun physical activity on a regular basis.
- When eating out, assess how much you may want to eat ahead of time and then stop when you are full.
- If you find that you are eating when you are emotional, choose something besides food to help you cope.
If you have any questions about how your adolescent or teen can maintain a healthy body weight, a certified nutritionist at Doorways can help. Please give us a call and we would love to talk more with you.
Monday, December 31st, 2012
‘Tis the time of year when everyone is gearing up for gift giving, merry making, and resolution setting. One question we hear discussed a lot this time of year is whether or not it is a good idea to encourage teenagers to set New Year’s Resolutions. On one hand, parents are wary of putting pressure on their teens to lose weight or improve their grades because they don’t want to undermine their self confidence. On the other hand, New Year’s Resolutions are really nothing more than goals that happen to be set on a particular day and participating in goal setting may be exactly what some teenagers need.
So the answer is, it depends. It depends on the teenager, the goal, and other factors that are not always within our control. The process of goal setting is inherently good, regardless of whether or not the goals are achieved. According to a study from the University of Scranton, if you go through the process of setting resolutions or goals, you are twice as likely as someone who doesn’t to achieve what you are striving for. Those who don’t set goals, who don’t think about where they are going and how they want to get there, have only a 4% chance of getting what they want.
Here are some of our favorite tips for helping teens set goals, track their progress, and celebrate their successes.
1. All for One
Pick goals as a family and you will start out with a built in support system. It is always easier to make lasting life changes when the people around us are doing it with us. Things like getting more exercise, eating a healthier diet, or spending more time together are great goals you can pursue as a family.
2. Individual Goals, Family Support
You don’t all have to have the same goals to be supportive of each other. Let each family member set their own resolutions but then have a family meeting to discuss each person’s resolutions and how each person can be supportive and helpful to the other members of the family. If Mom wants more time to exercise, other family members might offer to take over some family chores to free up her time and support her goal. Have regular family meetings to talk about how each person’s goals are going.
3. Together and Apart
You can also combine the two approaches above and have some family goals like being more active in the community or doing volunteer work together each month as well as setting individual goals. This approach ensures you will have some family bonding but also addresses the needs and wants of the individuals in the family.
To help you kick start your goal setting for 2013, here are some ideas for individual and family goals.
- Commit to helping out around the house in one new way every week.
- Make a commitment to watch less TV.
- Decide to be nicer to other family members, especially if they look up to you.
- Resolve to ask for help when you need it and take help when it’s offered.
- Resolve to volunteer and give some of your time to someone else.
- Resolve to be a healthier family and to get more physical activity.
- Commit to eating dinner together at the table several nights a week.
- Decide to spend more quality time together.
- Choose a home improvement project or a vacation that the family can plan and undertake together.
- Commit to saying one sincere, positive thing about each member of your family every day.
Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
The American Cancer Society is sponsoring the 37th Annual Great American Smokeout to encourage teens to stop smoking (Photo credit: M Hooper)
There are many things that parents aspire to teach to their teens, but being a quitter isn’t usually one of them. However, when it comes to smoking and tobacco use, helping teens become quitters is the best thing parents can do. On November 15th, the American Cancer Society sponsored the 37th annual Great American Smokeout, when smokers across the country are encouraged not to smoke for an entire day. By encouraging people to think about quitting, make a plan to quit, or even commit to being smoke-free for an entire day, the American Cancer Society wants to help every smoker take a step towards choosing a healthier life.
A recent survey amongst high school students found that while the number of teens who are smoking has decreased in recent years, almost 20% of our teens smoke. When you consider the immediate and long term health consequences of smoking and the fact that the majority of smokers started smoking during their teen years, promoting non-smoking among teens is something we as a society needs to support.
For teachers, parents, mentors, and teens themselves, the Great American Smokeout offers another opportunity to talk about smoking, to help those that are smoking to get the help they need to quit, and to do what can be done to keep teens from taking up smoking in the first place.
For parents of teen smokers, there are some things you can do to help your child become a quitter.
1. Talk, Listen, but Don’t Yell
While your teen needs to hear, in no uncertain terms, that they need to quit smoking, that message needs to be delivered in a way that your teen can digest it. Yelling, shaming, berating, and giving your teen ultimatums is not the way to get this message across. Arguments and anger are more likely to make your teen defensive than receptive, which is what they need to be in order to hear the truth behind what you are saying. Be calm, curious, and clear in order to convey your message.
2. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
The best way to help your teen quit is to start by trying to understand what made them start smoking and why they continue to do so. For many teens, smoking signifies rebellion, adulthood, and independence. It can make them feel cool or help them fit in to a specific social set. It can increase their confidence or even make them feel glamorous. If you can have a calm conversation about why your teen is smoking, you can gain an understanding of why this dangerous behavior appeals to them and help them find other ways to get whatever it is they feel smoking is giving them.
3. Paint them a Picture
While the dangers of smoking are well-known, smoking can seem like something that may impact your health at some point which means that it isn’t always easy for teens to understand how those dangers actually affect them right now. Paint them a picture of what smoking is doing to them right now. Smoking gives you bad breath and can make people not want to date them. Smoking makes your hair, clothes, car, and belongings smell. Smoking turns your teeth yellow, can make your skin pale, and sucks out all your energy. Things like dancing and playing sports can be harder to do when you smoke and because you must go outside and away from others in order to do it, smoking can actually isolate you more than it helps you feel included.
Sharing these messages with teens, providing them with the tools and support they need to quit, and standing by them even if they struggle to quit are the best things parents can do to help their teens turn the tide and become non-smokers for life.
Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
As parents, there is nothing more frightening than watching our children suffer and struggle, and feeling powerless to help them. When teens are injuring themselves and struggling with suicidal thoughts and tendencies, that powerlessness can feel overwhelming. Too often, parents disregard the signs and ignore what is right in front of them because they don’t know how to help. This “ignore the problem in the hope that it will go away” approach can have serious consequences for their teenager. Other parents see what is going on but don’t know what to do or how to help. The first step in getting your teenager help is to acknowledge that there is a problem. The second step is to find a professional mental health practitioner that can help.
When most people think of getting mental health, they likely envision traditional talk therapy or individual cognitive behavioral therapy, both of which are standard therapeutic approaches used to treat teenagers who are participating in self injuring activities and those who have expressed suicidal thoughts. Both of these approaches can be very effective in dealing with these issues and any underlying issues like depression and anxiety. There is also an emerging approach called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that has is also proving to be very effective at helping teenagers overcome these challenges.
DBT was originally developed as a way to treat women with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It combines individual cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, mindfulness, reality testing, distress tolerance, and the concepts used in assertiveness training. One of the hallmarks of DBT is that the mental health practitioner strives to create a relationship with the teenager that is allied rather than adversarial. In effect, the therapist or counselor acts as an ally, validating feelings and offering acceptance while helping redirect feelings and behaviors that are destructive or harmful.
DBT also uses a combined approach which incorporates both individual therapy sessions and group sessions. The group sessions focus on building a skill set that helps teens in four key areas, regulating emotions, practicing mindfulness, increasing effectiveness, and tolerating distress. One of the reasons DBT can be so effective in helping teens is this two-pronged approach. While the group sessions give teens the skills they need to overcome these challenges and the opportunity to practice utilizing these skills with other teens, the individual sessions ensure emotional issues and suicidal thoughts and tendencies get the attention they need while the teenager is building the skills they need to self-manage.
DBT can help teenagers who are already engaging in self-harm and may also be helpful in preventing self-harm behavior from occurring. By giving teenagers the skills they need to regulate their own emotions, become more resilient in dealing with distressing situations, and embrace a mindfulness approach to their lives, DBT can help troubled teens before they seek relief from maladaptive behaviors. DBT can be effective method for helping those who are already cutting and struggling with suicidal tendencies overcome those challenges as well as a way to prevent these problems before they start.