I Don’t Know Why

The recent media coverage of Bobbi Kristian Brown and the unknown circustmances of her recovery warrants addressing depression in adolescents.  Often discussion of depression often leads to children and teenagers, even some adults, to describe feelings in the context of “I don’t know why I feel this way…” and the sad reality confirms this truth. Struggling with depression doesn’t warrant a cause or explanation, just understanding.  Here are some guidelines that will hopefully help you and/or your adolescent understand.

Low Mood.  Depression in children and adolescents often rears its sad head in the form of irritation that is not usual for your child.  In addition, the teen can be viewed as “copping an attitude,” reports of feeling sad, or quick to cry.  These expression of low mood can be reported by your child or witness by you, as a change in your child.

Losing Interest.  Children and adolescents, suffering from depression, often discontinue engaging in activities that are pleasurable, such as listening to music, an extra-curricular activity, hanging out with friends.  The child may react lethargically when presented with an activity (such as going to the movie) when normally he/she would be excited about it.

Appetite Change.  Loss of appetite can be an indication that your teen is struggling with depressed feelings, while an increase in appetite could warrant the same struggle.  Notice whether your teen is not eating or eating in excess more days than not, where his/her decrease/increase in appetite is not better explained by other medical conditions or concerns.

Trouble Sleeping.  Normal sleep patterns for teens are sometimes difficult to navigate in general, due to working, hanging with friends, or homework.  Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for nearly every day could be a warning sign.  Opposite of that would be observing your child sleeping too much, as if he/she can’t get enough to sleep.

Too Tired.  Is your teen reporting feelings of fatigue or loss of energy every day?  Are you seeing a change in his/her motivation?  This could be indication of depression.

Low Self-Esteem.  Witnessing or hearing your child report feeling worthless or guilty about something in particular nearly every day could be a symptom of depression.

Difficulty Focusing.  Watching your teen’s ability to concentrate, make decisions, or think straight can be a challenge for parents, especially when the teen feels he/she can’t explain the recent diminishment.

Death & Suicide.   Ongoing thoughts of death and dying are scary, and teens have difficulty explaining why he/she has those in the mind.  Suicidal thoughts, whether with or without intent, are immediate cause for alarm and should always be taken seriously.

Feeling sad and unmotivated one day isn’t reason to immediately consider depression. So how will you know if your adolescent is experiencing depression?  Consider what and how many of the symptoms your teen displays and reports.  How long do those symptoms last (an hour, days, weeks)?  Are they severe enough to cause a significant change in his/her personality?  While adults who feel depressed can confidentially go to a counselor, your teen doesn’t always have that option.  A child/adolescent relies on his/her parent, caregiver, teacher, school counselor to notice these changes and take action to address the symptoms, ask questions, and make him/her feel validated.  Ask and offer suggestions of help, including seeking out a mental health professional who can further inform you and the adolescent if his/her behavior should warrant a concern.

The Difficulty of Grief for Teens

Death is hard. Period. Being at teen is hard. Period. But going through grief as a teen is confounding.

The smalltown community I serve was recent devastated with not one, but three teens, who passed away entirely too young, in an auto accident. I was called on, with several other fabulous counselor I work with, to respond in crisis mode to assist with the mounting grief students would experience processing the realism of death.

Hours of being with students of my own and counseling those I’ve never met, until today, brought light to sharing some key elements of teen grief.

The first emotion nearly always seems to be shock; that look of disbelief and turmoil. Floodgates open and emotions flow out so strongly that crashes any amount of sense lingering in their mind: anger, regret, sadness, guilt, blame, confusion.

Normalize the feelings.
Allow that teen to experience that emotion and remind him/her that those emotions are normal. As adults, we’ve learned through many experiences that most of the feelings we have when processes grief are normal. I’m not certain if it is raging hormones, lack of experiences, or the idea of invincible, but teens do not seem to have the same coping skills as adults. Normalize those feelings and assure him/her it is ok to feel and express those feelings. Create a condition in which that is encouraged and welcomed.

“I just wish I had (fill in the blank).”
I have heard this statement so many times. Teens who feel guilty for surviving when a classmate didn’t. Teens who regret not saying something to that person when alive. Survivor’s guilt comes in so many forms, and it can develop from those teens who barely associated with the one who passed. Again, normalize those feelings as a normal reaction in the form of grief. Challenge that teen to create a positive outcome from such devastation; empower him/her to serve using this feeling as a motivation. Suggestions: write a letter to that person, find a way to contribute to something, give blood, or volunteer in some aspect that would make the deceased proud. Be open to that teen sharing good memories of the deceased; validate the teens “I can’t stop thinking about him/her” and remind them it is OK to remember a loved one in a positive way.

Grief is a process.
Share with the teen that grief is an ongoing process, not an isolated event, where one wakes up all better tomorrow. Discuss triggers of emotions; a song, a class, an activity associated with the deceased. Encourage the teen to continue normal activities such as school and class, even if he/she doesn’t want to, even if it is going through the motions. Suggest eating healthy foods, and snacks, getting plenty of rest, and keeping a journal to write down feelings. Remind the teen to spend time with those he/she loves, even if it is difficult, spend time with family, friends, and pets. Laugh. It might sound completely out of the question, but recommend to the teen to laugh when he/she can.

Grief is hard. Your grieving, my grieving all looks and feels differently from someone else. Allow the teen to express feelings, and thoughts (in a safe way) during grief that may not necessarily make sense; because it probably doesn’t even make sense to the teen living it.  This photo reminds me not to put anyone or their feelings into boxes; each person’s owns his/her individual set of emotions.

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SnapChat : Trendy or Treacherous?

What teenager or adolescent doesn’t have a SnapChat account and can be seen at most any time posing for silly selfies to send to their friends? I admit, my 13 year old niece talked me into getting an account, to which I was flooded with duck faces, shocked looks, and cheesy grins labeled with messages that could have easily been sent via text messages.

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So, what’s the big deal? SnapChat is safe, right? The pictures are deleted, right? All evidence of those selfies, good and bad, are deleted after a maximum of 10 seconds…. Or are they?

I did my own research, after sending only five goofy selfies to my niece. SnapChat keeps ALL pictures. Yes, you heard correctly. Aside from the fact that there is software that can extract it from Android phones, SnapChat keeps a database of every photo sent, along with the sender/receiver’s personal information. (Who really thought those photos would be deleted permanently?)

Ok, so the pictures are not private… What about it?

Let’s talk about sexting. Seriously. SnapChat is one of the best venues for sexting. Do all SnapChat users sext? Of course not. But I’m not naive to the fact that behavior exists frequently among teenagers and adolescents. Aside from the string of humiliation, bullying, and rippling consequences, sexting can lead to dangerous legal consequences. Teenage and adolescent sexting is as known as child pornography, punishable by law. In many cases the offender that receives the picture is a teen him/herself, and STILL can be charged with possession of child pornography.

So what can you, the parent, do? (Aside from deleting SnapChat on your teen’s phone.)

Have a frank, honest discussion with your teen about the dangers of sexting, the biggest of which are legal repercussions. Ask your teenager to be honest with you about his/her behavior, both in sending and receiving SnapChats. Discuss the adolescents’ motives for participating in SnapChat and then affirm their reasons (if they are innocent) instead of telling him/her how stupid they are. An adolescent is already struggling with the idea that no on knows what he/she is going through, especially parents. Be careful with interjecting your opinion when you should be encouraging your teen to be honest with you. Try to understand a big part of his/her desire to engage in SnapChat stems from the longing to belong; and who hasn’t strived to belong? The best overall option is honesty about the dangers, and openness in discussion.

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iPad: Quiet Distraction or Toxic Consequence?

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Sitting in church, pushing the buggy at the grocery store, flipping through the magazines in the doctor’s office, family reunions…. The list goes on. Increasingly I see children, as young as two operating (effectively) handheld devices (cellphone, ipad, notebook and the like). I have to be honest; my first impression aligns with relief I do not have to hear a screaming or misbehaving child. Now, as I have (future) stepsons, who often engage in iPads, iPhones, DS, Wii, and other various media technology, I find my opinion molding into more educational and psychological standpoint. Then, I ran across an article that founded, supported, and further guided the direction my opinion was molded.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cris-rowan/10-reasons-why-handheld-devices-should-be-banned_b_4899218.html

While the article lists 10 (YES TEN) reasons why handheld devices should be banned, I will only touch on four.

Brain Growth. No denying that iPads appear to stimulate the child who is directly interacting with the device. However, overexposure to that iPad can actually decrease your child’s ability to pay attention, focus solely on a topic, and increase impulsivity, which leads to aggressiveness later in years. Because a child’s brain is rapidly growing at a substantial rate, technology limits and delays the growth instead of fostering healthy development.

Delayed Development. How does a child utilize, use and engage with an iPad? Sitting on a church pew, sitting on the floor, sitting in the car, sitting, sitting, sitting. Immobility produces children who have delayed development, which negatively impacts literacy and educational learning in school. Allowing a child to engage in “educational apps” has the potential to set that child back, instead of giving him/her an advantage.

Sleep Deprivation. Who functions well on less than normal amount of sleep? Study after study, and my own experience, proves that children require even more sleep than adults. Because most parents do not supervise the use of technology, and allow that same technology in the their child’s bedroom, sleep deprivation is inevitable. Which leads to the unrealistic expectation that the child should still maintain good grades when he/she is lacking the demanded rest.

Mental Illness. Aside from fostering aggression and impulse control behaviors, handheld devices has been determined to be a casual factor in many other mental illnesses among children. Some of which, from a counselor’s standpoint, are predictable: depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, and attention deficits. Other mental illnesses stemming from technology use are more disturbing and appalling: autism, bipolar disorder, and psychosis.

Our world runs on technology; I myself have several devices I use to function personally and professionally every day. Children should not be subjected to technology at the risk of causing more harm. This article, as well as, many other professionals have agreed upon a standard of allowance for children with handheld devices (because we all realize that we cannot completely eliminate technology).

0-2 years old = no exposure / 3-5 years old = one hour per day / 6-18 years old = two hours per day

I believe as a parent, a counselor, and as an advocate for the well-being of all children, we, as a society, are paving the road for our future leaders to have a laundry list of potential stumbling blocks in an otherwise successful and productive life. As part of my belief, I am now deleting all children-related apps off my devices now. I want to be instrumental in fostering a healthy lifestyle physically and emotionally for all children.

 

“I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine..” Dealing with Bullying

Finding Nemo is a one of my favorite Disney movies, for many reasons.  Among the most endearing characters are the three sharks that are desperately attempting to stay on a “vegetarian path.”  Who doesn’t remember the sharks reciting: “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.  If I am to change this image, I must first change myself.  Fish are friends, not food”?  A smile spreads across my face as I type those words.  

 However, that smile quickly disappears when I think of how applicable those same words can be for today’s young teens.  Bullying and mean girls are a prevalent topic, not only among my teenage clients, but also for my adult clients who’ve been tormented with memories of their childhood.  Certainly with the surfacing of mainstream social media, more avenues for bullying are presented.  

 What if your teenager is (embarrassingly) that mean girl or bully in his/her school?  (Yikes!!)  When questioning your child about bullying behavior, don’t be surprised when you hear “just kidding.”  While a defense mechanism, the child is really trying to deflect accountability and make it appear as if you are overreacting.  (You aren’t.)  Listen and ask, genuinely, what is going on in the child’s life that is presenting a situation where he/she feels the need to be mean.  Then, LISTEN; listen and voice understanding your teen’s his/her behavior, when applicable.  Here comes the part where he/she might shut down and focus on a far off land because what do parents know.  Question your child about whether he/she has been made fun of, bullied, or had feelings hurt.  Discuss the emotions your teenager felt, and try to parallel that the effects of his/her actions as a bully.  Empower your teen to do the right thing, even when it goes against his/her “group” of friends.  Encourage and role play with your teen about how to be different, say different, and act different.  Be supportive at all attempts even sarcastic ones.  Acknowledge and praise any interaction towards your teen trying.  Voice the positive qualities you observe in your teen.  Point out the label of bully or mean girl is not popular or respected and will eventually lead to loneliness.  

 How do parents comfort a child who is the victim of mean girls or bullying?  First, LISTEN.  While this seems obvious, most parents don’t really engage in conversation, they dominate it.  Listen to your teen and affirm his/her emotions, despite how silly they may sound.  Feel free to share you experience, but only AFTER you’ve listened to his/hers.  Next, use the opportunity to show the importance of building relationships in a positive light, instead of using someone for entertainment benefit at the expense of someone else’s emotions.  Allow and encourage your teen to role play scenarios, giving him/her guidance with how to deal face-to-face with the bully.  This allows for your child to explore boundaries he/she is comfortable expressing.  Discuss the important fact that not every hurtful word deserves a comeback and sometimes the best option is to walk away without saying anything in return.   

 Remember the sharks in Finding Nemo?  Developing and maintaining healthy, gossip-free relationships with those around us can be an example to our children.  If you find that you are not setting an that right example, use that as a foundation to change, for yourself and your child(ren).  “If I am to change this image, I must first change myself.” 

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Man Up

Society is reeking with teen violence; racial, bullying, school shootings.  Why now?  What has changed?  This topic hit me full force when I watched the video below on the way we are raising our children.  Little boys are taught from a young age to “Man up,” “Don’t be a wimp,” “Toughen up,” “Don’t be a girl,” which translates to don’t express anger, don’t talk about feeling depressed, boys aren’t allowed to be sad, emotions are forbidden.  Respect is often attributed to violence among peers who are usually taught from a father, or a father-type figure. 

Can a boy still become a man when he has tears rolling down his eyes?  YES.  He becomes a man who is capable of expressing emotions and allowing his anger to be released.  Anger that is held in and oppressed can bring about a foundation of bitterness and unfortunately an explosion of emotions that deems that child to having a conduct disorder instead of just feeling misunderstood. 

Moms, Dads, Educators and individuals who directly care for little boys…. give the same amount of emotional confidence to those little boys as you do little girls.  Stop pretending these tiny creatures should show no emotion.  Affirm his anger, let him talk about it; tell him it’s ok to cry, comfort  him.  Be comfortable in your own emotions to share the anger, the pain, the hurt. 

Maybe, the violence can be curtailed one little child at a time.

Reflection of Who You Are

The New Year is here!! And with comes the usual New Year’s Resolutions and promises to eat healthy, get fit, lose weight, get a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.. you know the drill.  

What would you like to see difference in yourself, as a parent, or in your child(ren)?  Sure!  Would you like an easy start? Simple.  

Change your attitude.  Having a positive and motivated outlook on where you are going with your life can drastically change the outcome of where your journey to “A New You” ends.  Not only does it help your relationship with your child(ren), but it could also rub off on them.  Who doesn’t like a happy kid?  I found a story to better explain..

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Sometimes what you get from others (your significant other, your friends, your children) is directly correlated with what you give.  Try smiling more, seeking out the positive inuncontrollable situations, being nice to everyone, (as cliche` as it sounds) don’t sweat the small stuff, and hold on to that positive attitude.  Who you are and what you choose to see outside of your mind can quite possibly change the way you see the world, and more importantly the way you see your child.  

-Ashley