Category Archives: Teens

How to Protect Your Child from Online Predators

Meeting people on the Internet is not a very good plan.  You can never know for sure who you’re talking to, and there has been plenty of research to show the dangers of developing a relationship with someone online.

However, reality and facts don’t seem to matter when emotions are involved.  According to the journal Pediatrics, a third of teenagers reported having offline meetings with people they have met on the Internet.  Now, their parents probably didn’t neglect to tell them, “Don’t do that!” A lot of kids are thrill-seekers, or they desperately want to connect with someone, oftentimes someone older.  Not too many predators are even pretending to be kids anymore. Many flat-out admit that they’re adults.

Young girls who are abused (sexually or physically) or neglected (because their parents are either divorced or too busy with full-time careers) are the most likely to present themselves online in a sexual or provocative way.  They do it to fill the space that their parents aren’t filling and to get attention.  That’s the most vulnerable kind of kid.  If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen with whom to start an online sexual discourse, they will most likely target someone who presents themselves provocatively.  This also occurs with minor gay males, who are confused, scared, hiding, or being rejected by their parents.

So, how can you protect your kids from online predators?  You have to be there to parent. It’s as simple as that.  As research shows, installing Internet filtering software doesn’t really make that much of a difference – maltreated kids still find a way to intentionally seek the adult content and provocatively present themselves on social networking sites.

Like any other job, being a parent requires you to show up and put in effort.  For example, in order to be a surgeon, you have to be in the operating room.  As a parent, you need to be there when your child gets out of school to reduce the association between your adolescent’s risk factors and online behavior.  Paying attention to your kids is the best medicine and best method of control.  Kids who are loved and well taken care of, by and large, have more self-control and get into less trouble – online and elsewhere.

Helping Teens with Their Mental Health

Therapy doesn’t come without resistance, especially when you’re dealing with a teenager.  It can be very difficult to get a teen on board with therapy because there’s usually a lot of defensiveness.  I want to discuss a handful of reasons why teens resist treatment:

1. Social stigma.  Anything associated with therapy or mental health issues is a little bit of a taboo.  Kids worry about people pointing their fingers and saying they’re crazy. 

2. Rebelliousness.  No matter what you suggest, some kids will just go against you because you’re an authority figure to knock heads with. 

3. Poor insight.  Teenagers have a limited capacity to look at themselves honestly or realistically.  They often don’t understand how their behavior or problems are affecting them.

4. Fear.  They’re afraid of being “crazy,” that others will perceive them as such, or that they can’t get better.  They also may be scared to death of having to take a deeper look at themselves or their problems.

5. Embarrassment.  They’re embarrassed that they can’t straighten themselves out, and therefore, accepting help from others can be difficult.

6.    Facing their problems may be too painful or overwhelming. 

7. Misconceptions.  Most teens don’t know how psychotherapy works, and they’re worried about what will happen if they admit to things.  They don’t know that the therapist cannot give their parents the information (therapist-patient laws prohibit that, even with minors).

8. Concealment. They don’t want to admit that they’re hiding something – cutting, abusing drugs, etc.  

9. Holding on.  This is what my book, Bad Childhood – Good Life, is all about.  They’re holding on to the drugs or other habit.  They’ve become so dependent on a way of thinking and behaving that it has become their identity.  They’re scared to death of giving up their self-protective mechanism of hiding from reality because it means they will be stripped naked in their own mind, and that’s pretty scary. 

10. Unworthiness. Some kids get so beaten down and depressed that they don’t feel like they’re worth much or that anyone would care about them. 

So, those are some of the main reasons kids resist treatment.  But the question still remains: How do I get my child to attend therapy?

First off, don’t trap them.  For example, don’t say you’re going to the mall and then drop them off at a therapist’s office.  That doesn’t work well.  There are two really good techniques I have always suggested to parents:

1. Make it a team effort.  Say something like, “You know, you and I have been fighting a lot lately, and there’s just so little happiness in the house.  So, I’m thinking if you and I went into counseling together, maybe a therapist could help us sort all this stuff out and make things better.  You’ll be happier and you’ll be able to do all the things you used to enjoy and probably miss.  I’m not sure how to make things better myself, but a therapist could help us work it out.”  That way it’s not, “You wacked-out kid, I’m putting you in therapy because I can’t stand it anymore.”  Make it about how “we” – you and me – can’t figure it out and that you need to get somebody who can help. 
2. Make a definitive statement (e.g. “I’m going to schedule the appointment so we can sort it out together”) and then talk about it in the days before the appointment.  For example, say, “Are you a little nervous about the therapy?  Because I am.”  If you tell your kid that you’re having apprehension about the therapist saying you didn’t do everything right, they are going to look at you and think, “All right, this is more even-steven. It’s not only about me.”  The fact that you are both feeling discomfort will be comforting to them. 

When they start therapy, tell your child you want them to go to four sessions, and then after that, you, your child, and the therapist will discuss if there is more to do.  During the first session, your teen will usually be angry.  I remember I used to have so many kids come in to my office and just sit there and glare at me for an hour: “Is it over yet?!”…”Is it over yet?!”…  The second time they come in, there will typically be a little less anger and more movement toward talking about their pain.  At that point, a good therapist will say, “You know, last week you were pretty angry about having to be here, and I don’t blame you.”  The kid is immediately going to be surprised: “She doesn’t blame me?!”  Being forced to do something you really don’t want to do and open up to a stranger about very painful things (which you really don’t want to do), is hard.  However, a good therapist will make your teen feel like they’re not being forced to do any of that, and instead, simply help them be happier and figure out their parents better.  Slowly but surely, by the third and fourth sessions things will be less forced and more about reducing the pain. 

While your child is in therapy, the family has to be very supportive at home.  They should never ask what happened in therapy – that’s none of their darned business!  Instead, it should be all about subtle reinforcement (e.g. “You seem more creative and relaxed right now, and I think that’s wonderful”).  Remember: a hug and a kiss can go a long way.

When Your Teen Dresses Like a Slut

A couple months ago, I was in a clothing store looking for a pair of jeans when I saw a man shopping with his 12-year-old daughter.  I assumed he was divorced because he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.  His daughter went in to the dressing room and when she came out, she was wearing something that would have revealed her pubic hair if she had any.  I just looked at him and said, “You have got to be kidding.  Is this how you want boys to see your daughter?!”  He didn’t respond, and I walked away.
Another time, I was at the movies with my husband and I saw this really attractive, voluptuous 17-year-old girl who was the walking stereotype of a bombshell blonde.  She was wearing pants that barely stayed above her waist and a tight shirt that dipped down just over her nipples and exposed her midriff.  She was surrounded by about five boys who were chatting and laughing with her.  My husband – who knows me far too well – whispered to me, “Please don’t say anything,” but I just couldn’t resist.  As we walked by, I stopped, got her attention, and said, “They are all talking to you because they think you’re intelligent.”  Then I walked away.
There has been enough research to show that teenage girls who wear sexualized outfits are judged as less capable, competent, determined, and intelligent than girls who dress modestly.  Men in particular look down on them because they see them as sex objects.
Furthermore, girls who dress like sluts have lower self-esteem.  By objectifying their bodies and monitoring themselves in terms of how they look, these girls increase their risk of becoming depressed and/or developing eating disorders.
The reason why teen girls want to dress this way is two-fold.  First, kids face a great deal of pressure to fit in.  As a result, they take cues from pop culture on how to dress “cool.”  Secondly, there isn’t a whole lot of parenting going on these days.  A lot of parents are too busy with their love lives or work lives to give a damn about their kids.
Personally, I agree with the more religious notion that “modest is hottest.”  I also believe you should only send your kids to schools that have a dress code.  That way they are always wearing the same boring outfit, and it’s all about what’s on the inside that matters.
So, the next time you take your daughter shopping, tell her to go pick out three outfits, and then have her show them to you so you can give her the final “yes” or “no.”  By doing this, she’ll get something that both she likes and you approve.
And while you’re shopping, remember this: No guy is going to turn down a girl who’s presenting herself as a whore.

Video: My Teen is Shy

Although high school yearbooks have categories for “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Class Clown,” there is no superlative for “Most Shy.”  The teenage years can be a difficult transition period, especially if you’re not an outgoing person.  If your teen is shy, I’ve got some tips to help them break out of their comfort zone.

Read the transcript.

A Teenager in Love

I think my most heart-wrenching breakup happened in early high school.  The irony is that I have no memory of the guy’s name but, nonetheless, he was my boyfriend.  In those days, having a high school boyfriend didn’t mean what it does now.  Kisses were just quick pecks, and there might be some hand-holding or an arm put around you at the movies.  That was it.  There was no sex.   

The night before my 15th birthday, my best friend called me up and said, “There’s something I have to tell you.”  I figured she was going to divulge something about the gift she was getting me, but instead, she said that she and my boyfriend were going steady and that he had given her his ring.   “Ha ha. Very funny,” I thought, but then I realized she wasn’t kidding.  I was devastated and began crying my brains out.  There had been no hint from either one of them, and I had never even seen them together.  Of course, that was the end of our friendship. 

I told my parents about it, but you know how parents are.  “It’s just puppy love. It’s no big deal,” they said.  But it was totally devastating to me.  It was rejection, stealing, betrayal, and 15 other things I can’t even think to mention.  I didn’t want to go to school the next day – birthday or not – because I just did not want to face all that.  But my mother got out a very fancy outfit that I would normally not be permitted to wear to school because it was too dressy, and said, “Tomorrow you’re going to school.  You’re going to wear this nice outfit and your new shoes.  You’re going to fix yourself up and walk around with your shoulders back and head held high.  You’re going to give the impression that neither one of them matters to you.” 

I cogitated about this for the rest of the evening – “Can I do this?  Can I really walk around like it doesn’t matter and not cry?” – and the next morning, I got all spiffed up, put on a little pink lipstick, and went off to school.  Evidently by this time, the news had ricocheted around the class and everybody knew about what had gone down.  All sorts of people were coming over to me offering support and saying how terrible it was.  It went a long way in making me feel better.

When you’re a teenager, breaking up is especially hard to do.  High school dating is more about having an identity than simply being attracted to another person.  It’s really important at that age to have serious peer acceptance.  Your mother thinking that you’re the bees’ knees is just not enough anymore.  You get attached to somebody because it’s a status symbol. 

I want to discuss how teenage breakups should be handled on both ends – if you’re the dumper, and if you’re the dumpee.

Now, there are school programs that have been implemented to teach kids how to deal with breakups.  I think they are absurd.   I don’t believe there should be school programs about anything except science, math, English, history, computers, etc.  In my opinion, schools shouldn’t be dealing with emotional things like bullying and breakups.  It should be handled in the home like when I was a kid; the vice principal called your parents, you got your butt hauled off, and there were serious consequences if you misbehaved.  Period, end of sentence.  Public schools today care too much about social engineering, which is just another reason why I support homeschooling.

In addition to the school programs, there are forums like the Boston Public Health Commission’s Break-Up Summit for teens which are equally ridiculous.  According to a USA Today report, “Counselors at the forum urged teenagers to communicate with partners about relationship boundaries, together defining whether they were ‘just texting,’ casually ‘hooking up,’ ‘friends with benefits,’ or in a monogamous relationship.”  Is this really what we’re teaching teenagers?: “Sit there and think about whether you’re screwing with no meaning, screwing with no meaning, or screwing with no meaning.”  It’s insane.  We’ve escalated things to pseudo-adult behavior.

If you’re a teenager or a parent of a teenager, here are some better breakup rules:

  • Don’t tell your friends before you break up.  Don’t feed the gossip machine and embarrass the other person.
  • Don’t post it on Facebook.  Setting your Facebook status to “Single” is not the way to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you’re done.  Do not be cold and callous.  I don’t care if it was just puppy love – they are still a human being who deserves respect and compassion.  Remember, you once cared about them very much.
  • Don’t do it via text or email.  About one-third of teenagers said they’d either broken up with or been dumped by somebody via text.   Show some humanity and don’t text.

When breaking up with someone, the first thing you need to do is be clear about why you’re ending the relationship.  Maybe you’ve been arguing with them all the time, or you realize that this person is not as much fun as you thought and you don’t really enjoy spending time with them. Perhaps you’ve developed feelings for someone else, or you can’t be hindered by a serious relationship right now because you’ve got places to go, things to do, and people to see. 
You really need to think through why you’re doing this because you will be asked, and you have to give an answer without being mean and without beating yourself up.  Be honest with them, but don’t be cruel.  And just because the other person doesn’t accept it, that doesn’t mean you can’t like somebody else or want to spend your time doing something else. 

In addition, treat the other person with respect, and break up with them in person.  Yes, they’re going to feel hurt, disappointed, sad, rejected, and heartbroken, but don’t back down.  Stick to your guns and remember that it’s not a negotiation.  You’re going into the conversation to let the boyfriend or girlfriend know that you’re leaving the relationship.  Respectfully say what you have to say, and then politely listen to what they have to say.  If you’re getting out of a relationship because it’s abusive, you better have people around you, including someone with police experience or an Army Ranger.

Here’s how to start things off:

  • Make sure you’re in private. 
  • Tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you want to talk about something important.
  • Start by mentioning something you like or value about them. 
  • Say what’s not working (your reason for the breakup). Whatever it is, you can do it in one sentence: 
    - “I’m not ready to have a serious boyfriend right now.”
    - ”You cheated on me, and I can’t accept that.”
    - “We’re arguing more than we’re having fun.”
    - ”It just doesn’t feel right anymore.”
    - ”There’s someone else.”
  •  Follow it up with: 
    - “I want to break up.”
  • Saying, “I want to stay friendly,” is probably better than, “I want to stay friends.”   It’s very hard to be friends with someone who is still thinking about you day and night, and you’re already on to somebody else.
  • Tell them it pains you that it hurts them.  
    - “It’s not the way I wanted things to be.  I hoped things would work out, but it is the way it is.”
  • End by saying something positive.
    -  “I’m always going to have good memories about…”
    - ”I know you’re going to be OK.”
    - ”I’ll always be glad I got to know you.”
    - ”I know there’s somebody out there who will be happy to have a chance to go out with you.” 
  • The final part: spend some time listening to what they have to say.  Of course, if they start getting out of hand, you can excuse yourself and leave.

Now, on the flip side, what if you’re the one being dumped?

When someone breaks up with you, it hurts.  It feels like your heart has sprung a leak.  It’s reasonable to feel sad, and it’s OK to cry.  Sometimes people don’t want to feel the pain, and they turn it into rage and get mean.  Don’t do that.  It doesn’t help you get better.  It only makes you look bad and it hurts other people.  There is simply no upside to getting enraged. 

You need to remember that you have a lot of other relationships in your life.  You have friends, family, teammates, and many others who care about you, and they can help you feel like yourself again.  When I went through my breakup in high school, I had some of the most random folks suddenly being very kind to me because they didn’t think my best friend did a nice thing. 

Another thing you can do is spend some time thinking about what you gained from the relationship, good or bad.  Did you become a better person?  Did you become nicer?  Did you become worse?  Did you become a doormat?  Did you become a bully?  Did you become a whiner?  Did you become a good support system?  Think about what you got out of that relationship.  Ask yourself questions like, “What did I do wrong?,”  “What could I do better in my next relationship?,” and “What had nothing to do with me?” 

Finally, if you’re the parent of a teenager, you have to remember that as much as you’d like to protect your kids from all pain, you can’t and you shouldn’t.  Most teenagers are going to experience a lot of breakups, but being consistent in your love and support for them will help.

U.S. Youth: Working Hard or Hardly Working?

As graduation season kicks off and summer approaches, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about kids being too busy for summer jobs. 

A recent Time magazine article reports,

“It was once common to see teenagers mowing lawns, waiting tables, digging ditches and bagging groceries for modest wages in the long summer months.  Summer employment was a social equalizer, allowing both affluent and financially strapped teenagers to gain a foothold on adulthood, learning the virtues of hard work, respect and teamwork in a relatively low-stakes atmosphere.  But youth employment has declined precipitously over the years, and young people are losing a chance to develop these important life skills in the process.”

The article goes on to say “more than 50 percent of the nation’s young workforce has never held a basic, paying job.  We may be postponing their entry into adulthood.”

As the article makes clear, our kids are not prepared for the real world.  They lack the necessary skills to move up the professional ladder: perseverance, flexibility, humility, and commitment. 

One reason they don’t know about commitment is that “shack-ups” have increased.  Our kids haven’t learned about humility because we live in an environment where parents sue their school if their kid doesn’t get an “A,” or wasn’t chosen to be on the football or basketball team.  How can children learn humility when their failures are elevated to jurisprudence concepts?          

It’s basically the elders who are responsible for our kids’ incompetence.  It’s grownups who don’t make their kids learn values or appropriate expectations.  They don’t teach them how to take advantage of opportunities.  We do a lousy job of getting our kids ready for the real world because we’re teaching them their esteem is more important than their effort.

In addition, a survey conducted by the Corporate Voices for Working Families found that

“nearly three-quarters of survey participants (70 percent) cite deficiencies among incoming high school graduates in ‘applied’ skills, such as professionalism and work ethic, defined as ‘demonstrating personal accountability, effective work habits, e.g. punctuality, working productively with others, time and workload management.’  More than 40 percent of surveyed employers say incoming high school graduates hired are deficiently prepared for the entry-level jobs they fill. The report finds that recent high school graduates lack the basic skills in reading comprehension, writing and math, which many respondents say were needed for successful job performance.”

I guess if you’ve spent your time sexting and playing video games, you’re not going to be good in reading comprehension, writing, and math.            

The study also found that nearly three-quarters of incoming high school graduates are viewed as not being able to use reasonable grammar and spelling.  Their written communication is horrible, and they can’t write memos, letters, or complex technical reports. 

Critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to express oneself are no longer being taught in school.  Do you know why?  Because we have women’s studies, Black studies, Hispanic studies, purple studies, green studies, etc.  We have all kinds of studies for advocacy groups which have no place in our basic education system.  These studies should all be extracurricular subjects and should have no relevance to graduating with a degree. If you haven’t read the classics and you haven’t thought through profound concepts and essays, then you’re not educated.  All these studies simply involve being angry about something and putting your fist in the air.  This is why our ranking in science and math is below a lot of third world countries.  We should be number one. 

These are just some of the many things bothering employers these days, but it mainly comes down to this: they’re dealing with snot-nosed upstarts with a sense of entitlement.    

For more on this topic, here is a link to some skills most sought after by employers.