Parenting Relationships

thoughtful med 300x200 Parenting RelationshipsMost of our Shelterwood parents are exemplary. They are, by and large, good, kind, compassionate and loving people. They have tried everything they can at home to deal with the behavioral and emotional issues of their teenager, and yet it hasn’t worked. They have most often also placed their child in counseling.   However, by the time they begin considering residential care, they are often exasperated, troubled and even fearful about the trajectory of their teen’s decisions and life, and they find themselves at a complete loss about what to do.

So, you might be asking, “What is happening?” Why are so many “good” families struggling with their teenagers today?” There is much discussion about this issue today.   However, in my personal opinion, I don’t see the answer as being any one thing, but as a combination of many factors.

Perhaps you remember the movie, The Perfect Storm. In this movie, several weather related phenomena converged together at the same time to create a monster storm. In a real sense, I believe this is a picture of what is happening with today’s teens.   There has been a convergence of several “storms” on this generation of teens that has created a monster storm.   These storms include the cultural impact that media, social media, and electronic media have had on our teens.

This storm includes the shift in cultural values to moral relativism over the past few decades.  No matter what the kids have heard at home, the culture has told our kids that there are no moral absolutes.   In fact, study after study reveals that most teens today think sex outside of marriage, cheating in school, lying, etc., are all acceptable under certain circumstances. We shouldn’t really be surprised, because these are the values that the culture has been promoting.

The storm also includes the impact of Freudian thought on parenting which really began to take hold in the 1960’s. This brought real confusion to parents on effective child rearing, and challenged time-honored beliefs concerning child rearing and family development.

And I believe this storm also includes the lowering of expectations we have for kids during their teen years.  The teen years have become, for many teens, an extended period of leisure, which has helped create a sense of misguided entitlement among them and also led many of them into depression and confusion.

These issues, along with others, has created a “perfect storm,” impacting the healthy development of teenagers, and the parents’ ability to help their children navigate the teen years effectively.

I cannot overstate the influence of the media, social media and the Internet on this generation.   The competing voices for the attention of our kids has never been louder and more divisive. As Moms and Dads, we are each selective regarding the folks that we will allow into our home. And we are even more selective regarding the people that we will allow to spend “one-on-one” time with our kids.   We want to protect our kids from those who don’t share our values and whose influence we believe would be damaging to our children.

Yet, through the electronic media, parents by the millions are daily allowing people into their homes to influence their children whom they would otherwise never allow to even darken the door of their homes. These destructive influences are entering our homes through the Internet, the television, and the phone. And even if we monitor the electronic media in our homes well, and keep these people out of our homes, our kids are still often exposed to them on their friends’ phones or computers.

It is not simply the “content” that is a concern (porn for example). It is the values behind the content that is equally insidious and yet often less apparent.

An interesting UCLA study done a number of years ago showed that the top five values emphasized in popular children’s television shows were fame, achievement, popularity, image and financial success. Our kids today have been brought up in a media culture that has told them that “being famous” is the most important value. Morality, godliness, self-respect and service for others have been replaced by the desire to be famous.

So, in this “Social Media Age” when kids want to be “known” more than ever, kids are actually lonelier than ever.   They live in a culture where wearing masks is the norm, and appearance and image is everything.

At Shelterwood, we begin to address this, and teens are disconnected from “the matrix” and electronic media for the first few months they are with us. Their phones, computers, iPads, etc. are all taken from them.   The only access they have to a computer is in their classroom at school.

%name Parenting RelationshipsOur teens then learn one another’s stories at Shelterwood. They learn to take off their masks, and to communicate. Very quickly, our teens learn that everyone at Shelterwood is dealing with something, so our teens learn to get very honest very quickly. They also have to learn to work through conflict with one another. Because they are living together, they can’t just avoid issues.

Kids that have been raised over the past twenty years are the first generation of kids to have been raised under this avalanche of electronic media. Their parents were raised with only a television in the home and a limited number of channels. However, our kids have been raised with a electronic media all around them: in their hands, their pockets, and by their bedsides 24/7. Studies are just now beginning to try to understand the influence of electronic media on brain development, and emotional and relational development.

It has been my observation that most teenagers come to us with relationships that are an inch deep and a mile wide. Most teens have not learned how to really develop deep, healthy, and accountable friendships.   They have become experts at texting and Twitter, at promoting an “image,” but they are often stunted in their ability to really communicate, and build honest relationships of trust and depth. Yet this is one of their greatest desires, to be really known and loved.

Screen Shot 2015 03 19 at 12.57.23 PM 300x227 Parenting RelationshipsAnd at Shelterwood, we believe in the value of neurological development as well.   Clearly many kids today are struggling with neurological and developmental issues. While all the reasons for this are still being debated, including the potential negative influence of “screen time” on neurological development, what cannot be debated is that there is a growing problem. We have seen tremendous results from our neurological therapy, called Brain Balance. About half the teens in our program are also enrolled in this therapy. My own son, diagnosed with autism at the age of five, has made tremendous strides through this therapy.   He is now twenty-two years old, and we have had him in Brain Balance therapy for two years.

Clearly, each teen comes to us with his or her own unique set of behavioral, emotional, educational, relational, spiritual, physical, chemical and neurological challenges. No teens are exactly alike. Therefore our treatment strategy with each teen is unique as well.

%name Parenting RelationshipsNevertheless, perhaps the most important thing we do at Shelterwood is the tremendous emphasis we place on our young adult staff and their roles as mentors for our teen residents.   Teenagers are going to follow someone that they think is “cool.” So, as parents, one of our primary responsibilities is to expose our kids to young adult role models that share our values, who our teens will think are “cool.” You cannot put a price on the value of the positive influence that a healthy young adult can have on the development of a teenager.

When our teens stand up at graduation, they typically thank three groups of people. They thank bigs 300x245 Parenting Relationshipstheir parents for making the tough decision to send them to Shelterwood, and for staying the course. They thank the other residents in the program, for they have often developed some very deep friendships. And they thank the young adult staff for their love, service and sacrifice. There are some deep and lasting bonds that are often built between our young adult staff and our teens.  The counselors and teachers have a huge supportive role in the development of these teens as well; however, the value of the relationships between our young adult staff and these teens seems to be central in their minds. They do such a fantastic job!

Jim Subers
Shelterwood CEO

Parent with Purpose

Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 3.01.18 PM Parent with PurposeIt is that time of year again, March Madness. It is full of excitement and is often an emotional roller coaster for players and fans around the country. It also reminds me of my own experiences playing college basketball many years ago. As I think back, I always feel like I could have had greater success if I had not been so distracted and had approached the game with a little more purpose. It might seem silly to feel some remorse or disappointment in myself after all of these years, but as I watch my kids leave home and go off to college, l can’t help but feel that same regret on some level.

As I think back to my basketball days or of my days parenting, I am reminded of how important it is to have a purpose. In college, I was probably more focused on dating and having fun. My lack of purpose led to less fulfilling accomplishments on the court. As a parent, it is also easy to lose sight of the higher purpose of our leadership in the home. It might be the work life, the carpool thing, or maybe the cultural noise (music, drugs, boyfriends, etc.) that keeps us distracted and disconnected from living out our core values.

At times parenting has felt like the days on the basketball court when all I was focused on was playing defense. There was an imbalance; I was not being assertive with offense because I wasn’t shooting the ball well. Parenting might feel that way to you sometimes as well – a very defensive focus. What with dating, drugs, alcohol, pornography, movies, dress…I mean, it can really come at you! And we certainly need to protect our kids; after all, it is one of our primary roles. But it is also easy to begin to feel desperate, lacking confidence and unsure of what to do. Of course, you can’t win many basketball games if you only play defense.

The problem is that most parents have never identified what is at the heart of their purpose in Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 3.08.50 PM 300x245 Parent with Purposeparenting. As a result, that core purpose doesn’t impact their normal day-to-day lives. It is like we don’t have an offensive game plan and aren’t running any plays. We are just throwing the ball at the hoop and quickly running back to defend.

The key to any core purpose is that it is authentic. Imagine asking our teens to run a certain play on the court while we run around doing something completely different. It will not make sense to our families and our kids might actually quit, throwing the ball up in the air out of frustration.

I once worked with a father that wanted me to help his son quit smoking marijuana, which seems like a reasonable goal. The problem was that his purpose was hypocritical. He wanted his son to quit because he kept stealing the pot from the father’s stash. Hypocrisy creates battles as teens have a real sense of justice and will almost always engage in a fight for their right to live the lives they see modeled.

Many of us struggle to see the hypocrisy in our own lives. We value faith and hope that our kids follow us in our beliefs. So we surround them with like-minded people. We enroll our kids in Sunday school, youth group, and seek out positive religious influences. And these activities are really good. But really they are intended to just be a net. It is not the core – the core is the family. The net around it is the supporting structures that help us build an environment around our family that helps us get where we want to be as healthy families.

Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 3.47.21 PM 150x150 Parent with PurposeStudies show that we do more harm than good when we go to church on a Sunday morning and live another way the rest of the week. Kids want authenticity. During adolescence, kids really step back from authority and evaluate the authenticity of the message. They want to see if our behavior matches our words and if it is really worth following these values into adulthood.

When you think about it really though, it’s not just that kids in this culture want authenticity. It’s God Himself that wants it. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to Him in honesty.

As parents we should stop and think about this. If somebody went to our kids, and asked, “What matters most to your mom and dad?” would our kids have to think? What would be on the list they’d come up with? What do you think they are seeing around the house?

Examine these answers and ask yourself what you might need to do differently. Am I just going to acknowledge it and feel ashamed, guilty, and like a failure as a parent? Or, am I going to examine my game plan, establish a fresh purpose with input from my spouse, and begin to practically work that out in my relationships with my children? This new game plan can be established around the values of my family, around my schedule, around how I order my life, and it can begin to reflect a heart that really does love God, and is passing that heart on to my children.

 

So watch March Madness, notice the focus and purpose with which they play and enjoy a few  bracket busting games.

You are not alone

When parents have teenagers that are struggling, many times we feel alone and very often contend with feelings of failure and shame.

First, let me assure you that you are not alone. We have 5,000 families that call us each year, looking for hope and help for their teenagers. And we have over 80,000 people who visit our website for the same reason.

DSC 9302 300x200 You are not alonePerhaps, never at any time in history, has parenting been more challenging than it is today. It used to be that a teen with serious behavioral and emotional problems came from an obviously troubled family with serious dysfunction and brokenness, or the teen themselves had suffered some significant trauma or abuse. However, this is not always the case any longer.   Many of the teens in our program come from stable, loving, two-parent homes. Teens in our program often come from great families, with parents who have been active in their lives, taken them to church on Sunday, and worked hard at being good parents.

In fact, I think that most of the parents that place their children in our program are exemplary. They don’t have their heads in the sand regarding their teens’ behavioral and emotional condition.   On the contrary, they have been actively trying to address their concerns for their teens’ issues for months.   And by the time they get to the place of considering residential treatment for their teen, they have typically already spent countless hours in prayer, discussion, worry, and counseling.

IMG 4242 300x200 You are not aloneParents consistently tell us that leaving their teen at a residential program is the most difficult thing they have ever done.   They often feel like they have failed as parents and that they have failed their child.   However, this decision is actually one of the most courageous things that parents can do for their child.   It takes deep humility for a mom or dad to acknowledge when they need help in dealing with the behavioral and emotional development of their teen.

I find it interesting that none of us has difficulty going to a medical doctor for help when we need treatment for the physical development of our child. If our teen has something wrong physically, there is no shame in taking them to the doctor. Yet, when there is something wrong in the emotional or behavioral development of our children, many of us find it very difficult to ask for help.

For this reason, those parents who make the decision to place their child at Shelterwood are heroes in my estimation. They have been wise enough to know they need help. They have been humble enough to ask for help. And they have been courageous enough to take the steps necessary to get help.

Jim Subers
Shelterwood CEO

Are your Expectations too High?

Screen Shot 2015 03 03 at 3.35.12 PM 300x49 Are your Expectations too High?The theme of this week’s blog is Schechter’s Equation for Life: S=R-E, or Satisfaction equals Reality minus Expectations. It tells us that for you to be satisfied, reality has to exceed your expectations. Simply put…when expectations are high, reality has to be higher still for you to be satisfied.

This leads us to discuss therapy and the idea of getting help. When crisis hits, people look to others for help: a church, a friend, a school program, or even a counselor. Even though many participants attend unwillingly, parents are still hopeful that these experts can and will help. After all, it is hard not to hold out high levels of hope for our children. We so desperately want to see growth and change that we are often willing to make great sacrifices to ensure the best care that we can find.

With these high investments, it is almost impossible not to have high expectations and believe that change is inevitable. Subtract those very high expectations from the reality that unmotivated teens struggle to create change in their lives, and Schechter’s Equation for Life tells us that, barring big changes, the intervention will result in negative satisfaction. So what might change? How can a counseling experience produce positive satisfaction?

The key is recognizing that, in Schechter’s Equation, satisfaction is affected by both reality and expectations. In this case, the teen is struggling with something real and tangible. So let’s focus on properly aligning expectations with what has the potential to be a difficult reality.

How do we do this? Start by acknowledging that the problem is a long-term issue. Say up front, “Attendance in this program alone is not going to fix the problem.” Go on to say, “Instead, this program is going to kick off a strategic planning process by addressing a fundamental question: Where are we?

Screen Shot 2015 03 03 at 3.39.03 PM1 300x207 Are your Expectations too High?The core of any strategic plan explores three basic questions: Where am I? Where do I want to be? How will I get there? Sounds simple, but it’s often not. Too often the strategic planning process gets derailed when we skip ahead to questions two and three without first truly understanding where we are.

It sure is easy to get lost when you don’t know where you are to begin with. When you visit a mall and look at the display map that highlights all the stores, the first thing you look for is the little sticker that says, “You Are Here.” Even if you know your destination beforehand, it’s hard to move forward in any logical way until you make this determination. Sadly, many parents simply want a counselor to get their teen to the exit of adulthood on the other side of the building. Without understanding the reality of their teen, the expectation of growth and health are almost unreasonable. Making assumptions about their current location and the destination will always lead to a teen becoming more lost, which leads to unsatisfied parents.

Unfortunately, as much as we might talk about our kids and believe we know them, most teens are not very open and maintain many secrets. With a lack of knowledge we tend to rely on assumptions and predictions from our own past, but these memories rarely provide much insight. As weird as it sounds, we might not know that much about them. Their reality and our understanding of their reality might be completely different. Without first addressing these knowledge gaps, any plans we might make will be doomed to fail.

Screen Shot 2015 03 03 at 3.38.44 PM 300x119 Are your Expectations too High?So as a first step, the primary focus of this year with your teen should be considering what information you need to know about them and develop a plan to collect it on a regular basis. Do this, and reality and expectations will be aligned, thus creating satisfaction.

Is my teen ever going to change?

Screen Shot 2015 02 26 at 4.31.29 PM 247x300 Is my teen ever going to change?

A Difficult Winter – Is my teen ever going to change?

For the majority of the country, this has been a particularly difficult winter. Temperatures are plummeting and snow is accumulating at record rates. While our patience may be wearing thin, there are still some cool things we can learn from winter.

We may not see it on the surface, but winter offers a lot of growth. Above the ground the leaves have all fallen off the trees long ago, but below the ground, growth has only intensified.

So often we want growth to look exactly like we planned it. When we can’t see obvious progress, it’s easy to get frustrated. But, let’s look at what growth means to a tree. When the leaves die in autumn, the tree is able to devote its energy to the roots. When the frost comes, the roots must become resilient to the cold and push deeper into the earth.

It can be really difficult to wait for growth when it’s below the surface. It’s easy to become results-driven or to want proof that growth is happening. But, remember that growth often does not look the way we expect or want it to look. I can get so frustrated when I hear about my own son continuing in his anger. My immediate reaction is to jump in and fix things. I want him to grow and to show that he’s learning. It’s in these moments that I must remind myself that growth is continuing in his life as he processes through his difficult circumstances. Even when this growth is not easy for me to see and is happening below the surface, I remind myself that the deeper and stronger the roots, the more resilient and strong my son will become.Screen Shot 2015 02 26 at 4.27.29 PM Is my teen ever going to change?

Waiting for the spring takes patience, trust and hope that growth is happening below the surface. But, in these times, take heart. It is in the most difficult of situations that our roots are strengthened. Growth is still taking place, just below the surface.

I Hate Boundaries

Screen Shot 2014 12 11 at 11.15.36 AM 300x199 I Hate BoundariesAm I the only person that hates limits, expectations and boundaries? I know they are important, but if I was honest with myself, I hate it when others want to place limits on how I believe, think or behave. Sure, it sounds good when counselors tell you to apply boundaries to your kids. After all, you are the boss and applying boundaries to someone else seems appropriate and fair. I sure don’t mind telling those that work for me what I expect and I am quick to stand up for myself when I feel miss understood by my spouse. But it can be hard to embrace boundaries imposed by others. I hate it when bosses reprimand me for being late or highlight poorly done work, or if my spouse expects me to be home and clean when I would rather be out golfing with friends. Very few of us are thankful for these guardrails on our own behavior.

Boundaries are limits, borders or guardrails that are placed around our behaviors. We can place them ourselves or they can be placed by others. When they need to be placed by others, it is often a sign that we are living a risky lifestyle. As adults we often recognize our need to mitigate risk by putting up guardrails. Married guys try not to go out for drinks alone with single women. We try to watch what we eat to avoid future health issues. Boundaries are completely necessary and help us function in society in a healthy way. Teens, however, don’t have the necessary experience to put guardrails up for themselves. They believe that they are capable of handling complete freedom.

If we chafe against boundaries being placed on us as adults and look for ways to negotiate our way through them, we can’t expect our kids to react much differently. After all, we find ways to play golf or be late to work for appropriate reasons in exchange for working harder or staying later on other days. Well, our kids are no different and actually want to find ways to live with the boundaries that we set. Note that I didn’t say ‘within’ the boundaries. They want to live with, or survive, the boundaries that they are experiencing within the home, which means that teens don’t often want to give in too much and are usually only interested in expanding the boundary. But you’ve gotta love them for trying.

So Mom and Dad, recognize the completely normal battle that occurs over maintaining this line. Smile as your teens try to expand their freedoms. Try not to take it personally when they violate your boundaries, but also don’t ignore it and give way. Boundaries provide structure, support and safety in our lives. Evaluate the lines that you have established in the home. As your child gets older, some of these boundaries can and should be expanded while others need to be firmly maintained. Talk with your teen, negotiate, and remember boundaries are there to bump against. Guardrails keep us from careening over the cliff. Don’t remove them in your life or in the lives of your teens.

The Power of Words

Screen Shot 2015 02 19 at 11.03.39 AM 300x242 The Power of WordsHave you ever thought about the power that your words have? In one description, words are like seeds planted in the soil of one’s heart that have the potential to produce life or death. What we say to people has consequences that can affect them in the short- or the long-term. These effects can be detrimental to one’s development emotionally, physically and spiritually. Your words have power.

Can you recall a word or a phrase that was said to you that left an imprint that has affected your actions, the way you think, or who you are today? Some of those words were empowering, while others were disabling. Some of those words were so hurtful that they robbed you of your potential for greatness in your life to where every opportunity of success seemed distant. You missed that interview on purpose or decided to turn down that opportunity because those negative words from the past are still being played in your head. The reality is that people from all walks of life have experienced words and their powerful effects. The power of words can be toxic and can produce hurts and hang-ups that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

As a pastor and licensed counselor, I have seen the power of words produce emotional hurt and total discord in families. There’s a popular saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The reality is that words DO hurt, and they can leave deep wounds that minimize peoples’ choices and devalue their self-worth. For example, I remember counseling a client who struggled with the hurt of being told by his ex-wife that he was a ‘loser’ and that he was ‘worthless.’ These words haunted him as he struggled with self-esteem and connection in other relationships. To diffuse his hurt, he turned to drinking alcohol. He finally lost his job and became very depressed. When he finally did get help, the affects of those words were set so deep that it took some time for him to expose the lies of those words. Words hurt, especially when someone you love speaks them, particularly when it comes to spouses or parents. Because you love them and value what they say, their words have more weight and can sink in deeper than words said by others that you don’t have an intimate relationship with.

Parents have a lot of power in how they influence their children. Children learn a lot through modeling and if we are modeling words of negativity, then we are teaching our children tools of destruction. When words are constantly spoken over our children, they learn to believe those words. Those words become ingrained in their minds, and then in their hearts, to where those words have set root and become automatic beliefs. For instance, a child can be called “stupid,” or “idiot,” or “incapable,” so many times that one day the belief is acted upon, and then parents act surprised when they see the power of their words acted out. I’m not placing blame, but pointing out a reality that happens in our homes. It is easy to create a culture that manifests a conditioning that can scar and trigger children to believe lies instead of the truth that everyone has potential for greatness. I know we as parents believe this and we want what’s best for our kids; yet, at times when we speak to them, we are not mindful enough of how our emotions, tone, and body language might communicate something that we don’t want our kids to internalize.

Screen Shot 2015 02 19 at 11.02.22 AM 266x300 The Power of WordsMany kids internalize words or ideas that have been said and will grow to believe them. Children from ages 1-5 years old are like sponges that soak up all that is modeled for them. If damaging behavior and speech towards them continues, those words can produce behavioral patterns that can later be devices leading to discord. I have seen this so many times in teenagers who devalue their parents thoughts and opinions because there were more words of destruction spoken in their homes than there were words of life. The outcome is that when these kids grow up, they can carry on the cycle to the next generation. How can we break this cycle? How can we use our words to bring life instead of destruction?

Consider this practice: speak LIFE. Speaking LIFE is a phrase to remember before speaking negatively. It takes some work because some us can be impulsive, but when rooted in love and a conscious effort to model success to your family and friends, the process becomes easier. Here are some practices to remember by using this acronym of L.O.V.E.:

L-ove – Speak out of Love, never out of hurt or negative emotions.

I-ll words – If you do speak hurtfully to someone, take ownership and commit to restore that relationship because you value that person.

F-orgive yourself – We make mistakes, but don’t stay there…break the cycle.

E-xemplify – Speak with control, love, and safety.

 

Watch — Students create their own video to express the change in their identity – watch the words change !!

 

Paul Po Ching,  MA
Admissions Counselor

School Distress Signals

images 8 School Distress SignalsWhat distress signal might your teen be sending?

You child’s school is a different world: relationships, victories, disappointments, troubles, tests, clubs, sports, bullies, and teachers. Sometimes it’s hard for adults to remember that the day-to-day world our kids face is a complex one.

How can we know that all is OK in their world? Our kids depend on us to support and protect them, even when we can’t be with them. Here are some school distress signals our kids might be sending to alert us when things are not alright:

  1. Evasion: Is your child evasive when asked about homework, grades or relationships? They could be hiding problems. Breaking eye contact, changing the subject and defensiveness are all evasive tactics kids can use to pull the spotlight off of trouble areas. Our job as parents is to compassionately press in during these times and seek to help. Lock in empathy, ask a lot of questions, and plan for follow up (letting them know you’ll be following up with teachers, etc.).
  1. Change in daily homework rhythms: Does it seem like your student is spending less time on homework? Does he give a consistent “no” when asked if he has any studying to do? This could be an indication that he is behind in a class. A quick check of online grade books, and/or an email to teachers can be easy ways to get to the bottom of things.
  1. Frequent “sick” days, or late to school: This could be an indication of social/peer issues. Navigating the complex social structure of school is difficult enough for students when there aren’t problems, but if a child is faced with bullying or hurtful gossip, it can overwhelm them. Don’t accept frequent sick days at face value. School attendance is important, and missing school will cause issues to compound (such as missing assignments, tests, coursework). Once again, engage in conversation, speak with teachers, and communicate with school counselors.
  1. Poor attitude at home: Kids tend to bring their problems home with them. If your child seems to have developed a terrible attitude, there might be something behind it. Conflicts at school often manifest themselves through talking back, using language that isn’t normal for your household, or sarcasm. This problem can be tough, as parents will many times address the symptom instead of the problem. Next time your child displays a poor attitude, try to respond by asking questions. “Is everything alright?” can open the door to a great conversation with your child. It may take work to get through the initial behavior, but keep at it!

Open and frequent communication is the common ingredient to not only picking up on school distress, but also to help your child in his or her time of need.

Chad Smith
ELA Teacher/Academic Dean

Compassion Fatigue

iStock 000013332733Medium 300x200 Compassion FatigueRecently, I spent a few days at the NATSAP conference on behalf of Shelterwood. I was fortunate enough to hear John Townsend speak on boundaries. He shared about the cost of not keeping healthy boundaries for parents and care workers (compassion fatigue). Here are a few of the thoughts that I felt were particularly helpful.

Teens Need Boundaries

Adolescence is an important stage for kids to push against parents in an effort to build autonomy. Without boundaries, teens are more likely to become depressed, anxious, angry and detached. Of course, it is not easy to put boundaries in place and maintain them. Boundaries can feel like battle lines as teens love to say, ‘no,’ but often struggle hearing the word ‘no’ themselves. Yet we all know, as successful adults, that hearing the word no is a part of life. It is critical to be able to deal with our emotions when someone says no to us.

Boundaries will feel harsh if they are not built with love and empathy. But make no mistake; there still needs to be a line. Without boundaries, teens can become aggressive, believing that the world is their ‘property.’ Other teens that have experienced boundary violations may become depressed and allow others to trample on their boundaries sexually, emotionally, or physically because they have come to believe that they have no ‘property.’

If not creating boundaries leaves our kids or clients struggling into adulthood, then why is it so hard for us to maintain clear boundaries? Why might we so quickly give in to the demands of our teens, friends, co-workers or spouses?

  1. Afraid of losing the relationship

Relationships are critical to each of our lives and they are often what keep us going. It is easy for us as parents or counselors to build entitlement within our kids or clients because we are safe for them and we feel special when they seek us out. So we might give them extra time, money, or praise when what would actually be better for them is to hear the word ‘no.’ They need to hear no even when giving them a longer counseling session might seem useful, or when giving them their full allowance even though chores are undone in order for them to buy that special pair of pants that will generate a hug and a smile. Teens become entitled so quickly when boundaries are not kept. It is so easy to drift from compassion into co-dependency. When we are afraid of losing a relationship with a distant teen, friend, or spouse, he or she quickly has leverage on us and this is a dangerous power for anyone to have, especially teens. In order to combat the need for your teen’s approval, try to create a ‘life team,’ a group of adults that can support and encourage you outside of the home. Don’t rely on your kids to nurture you, lest you give them too much power.

  1. Conflict Avoidance

Each of us learned how to deal with conflict when we were nine years old. Take a moment to think back to those young years in your childhood home. Maybe you learned how to explode with anger, change the subject, or laugh. Each of these techniques does not really deal with the conflict. The inability to manage conflict leaves you weak in the face of opposition and trying to defend yourself when you actually do say ‘no’ in order to create a boundary around a behavior. Townsend encourages people to role-play in an effort to change the neurology in the brain. It is critical that we as parents and care givers learn to confront conflict and become able to embrace the emotions that come along with saying ‘no’ in order to win the long- term battle of autonomy.

  1. Fear of Failure

We create a fragile teen when we don’t think they can handle boundaries. They become more insecure when we fail to provide the security of rules and follow through. Teens need to learn how to adapt to the difficulties of the world and that failure is part of life. As parents and counselors, we often perceive struggling teens as weak and incapable of dealing with failure. We might unconsciously believe that their drug addiction, depression or anger is the result of difficulty in their lives, and that if we can just remove the difficulty, then they won’t need to self medicate by cutting their arms, getting high, or acting out sexually. When we see them as fragile, we tend to compensate for their weaknesses and enable them to maintain these behaviors. Trying to keep your teen happy and safe will wear you out and fail to teach them how to survive on their own. So often we tiptoe around our teens when they struggle with depression, anger, anxiety, and/or learning difficulties that we actually build greater insecurity in them and continue to perpetuate a dependence on us. While this might make us feel needed and important in the relationship, we are actually just enabling co-dependence.

If you struggle to create boundaries with your teen, ask yourself these four questions when they make a request for your help:

  1. Is this something that they can do for themselves?
  2. Do you have the resources to help?
  3. Will you feel cheerful or resentful after helping them?
  4. Is the outcome going to build autonomy or dependence?

Self-Advocating

One of THE Most Important Ingredients for Academic Success

student computer 300x205 Self AdvocatingOne of the most significant foundations for academic success, and becoming a successful adult, is self-advocating.

What does it mean for a student to advocate for himself in the classroom? Simply put, advocating is sticking up for something or someone. When a student advocates for himself, he is simply speaking up for his interests in the classroom or in any other setting.

Practically speaking, self-advocating looks like this:

  1. A student doesn’t understand the course material, and takes action as a result. He can ask questions, speak with the teacher outside of class, do extra work, and/or seek peer assistance, all of which would help him understand the content better.
  1. A student misses an assignment, and desires to make it up. This student can speak directly with the teacher, find out her options, and then do the work without missing a beat.
  1. A student struggles with peers in class. A self-advocating student will seek to repair relationships on her own, but if issues continue (bullying, gossip, etc), she will speak with the teacher, a school counselor or principal.
  1. A student has a learning difficulty or disability. This student can speak up for academic accommodation or adaptations in their educational program. When a student himself drives his academic services, he will receive more help.

No matter if a child is outgoing or shy, everyone can learn to speak up for themselves more effectively at school.

But what might happen if the students in the four examples above don’t advocate for themselves?

  1. A student who doesn’t advocate for himself will stay quiet when he doesn’t understand material. The problem compounds when he fails to master key building concepts and subsequent material becomes progressively more difficult. This may lead to a student believing he is “stupid” or incapable of learning.
  1. A student who is uncomfortable with speaking to teachers might let missing assignments go undone, simply so he doesn’t have to speak with the instructor. This may lend to failing grades and deeper level of anxiety in this student.
  1. Teenagers are notorious for remaining silent when they are experiencing peer trouble. The ones that don’t seek help may begin to skip school, do poorly academically, or (even worse) experience physical harm. They may fear being labeled as a “tattletale,” but they need to know that there are caring people who would love to help them if they would simply ask.
  1. Growth for a student with learning a learning disability begins with her becoming comfortable speaking with staff about her issues. If this student understands and utilizes the help that is offered, she stands a much better chance of success. If she can be actively involved in her accommodations, this will lead to improved confidence. She can then ask for help more readily and remind staff of the adaptations that are in place (such as extra time for homework or tests).

If your student is experiencing difficulties in school, encourage him or her to stick up for him/herself! It is a crucial first step on the road to success in school and in life.

Chad Smith
ELA Teacher/Academic Dean