Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Posted by Sara Fleehart, MS, LMFTA.
On September 11, 2008, exactly seven years to the day after the United States experienced one of the greatest tragedies within our borders, Time magazine published an article outlining another possible home-front crisis. This one is not originating on foreign soil, does not involve flight plans and goals for ending American lives, and it is not a hard-hitting day that burns images of suffering and rubble into our minds and memories. It is slower, perhaps more invisible in the daily blur of life. It is a crisis hitting a targeted population: teen girls. In Time magazine’s article "The Truth About Teen Girls" about girls becoming “sex-wise,” younger than in years past, paints a picture of a culture of the OC and Gossip Girl where high-school girls are showing more skin and talking about engaging in more sexual activities than some people even knew existed. Belinda Luscombe, author of the article, states that “we idealize youth and sexiness but recoil if our young want to be sexy.” These mixed messages of “be sexy but, by gosh, don’t be sexy (and absolutely do not have sex or a sex drive)” set-up our teen girls for a lose-lose situation. One question is: how are our teens interpreting these messages?
As Luscombe relates, it may not be in the way that we think they are. After all, teen brains are not adult brains. Research shows this. While they are on their way to having adult brains, they’re not there yet. This can cause some problems when, as Luscombe points out, the media presents being hot and sexy as the only identity worth pursuing. Teenagehood is already a time of confusion about identity. It is, in fact, normal for teens to try out different identities and ask questions about who they really are and who they really want to be. It is not healthy when all other possible identities related to anything other than hotness are taken off the table. With arrests for child pornography on the rise, many parents are worried and wanting to put more effort into protecting their teenage girls. So what can you do on the home front to combat this?
In my experience, providing teen girls with a safe place to talk about sex, expectations, identity, and other related issues serves to re-open doors that may have been closed or at least mostly shut in the wake of the media focus on sexuality as the only acceptable measure of identity. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your teen about these things, as many parents do, try websites that are not aimed at selling things to teens and more about information such as http://www.girlsinc.org/ (recommended in Luscombe’s article). On the website there are links titled strong girls, smart girls, bold girls, etc., painting a much more holistic picture of real girls out there. Search the web for other sites like this one, and show your daughters what you found. Then they can visit the site whenever they have questions that you don’t know how to answer or are uncomfortable answering yourself.
So, the point is not to convince girls that sexuality is not a normal part of life, but to teach them that it has a place in life just like everything else, and that to be a well-rounded person it is important to develop in multiple areas. Focusing on other areas where identity can be formed and shaped (like sports, academics, music, dance, community service, art, etc.) as well as talking with teens about the messages they are seeing/getting from media regarding sex and “being hot” serves to help your teen girl broaden her definition of success and self-acceptance. Bottom line: this is not a crisis we have to submit to. We can help our teens understand the influences around them so that they can make and own healthy choices as often as possible.
Editor's Note: Sara Fleehart, MS, LMFTA is employed by Lifespan Psychological Services and provides therapy and tutoring services to adolescents with a variety of challenges. She completed her undergraduate training in psychology at Gonzaga University and her Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
My answer to this is that it depends on whom you and your children are. For me, I need down time. I need time to reflect and talk about things that are not all that important. I need to waste time here and there and wander around aimlessly with no sense of purpose. I need to sleep in from time to time and do nothing the entire day. The reason is that my job as a psychologist can be stressful and I need time to “just veg.” But, this is me and you are you. My children and wife need much the same down time as me and we can tell when we all need to stop and watch cartoons. But, people are all different. Some people need a rigid schedule with lots of stuff to do. If they do not have this, they do not know what to do with themselves. Others need fewer activities and more down time.
In my experience, there are children who do best with a schedule full of activities. These kids thrive on stuff to do and need little down time in which to reflect. These kids crave being in group settings and thrive on constant stimulation. When they do have some down time, they frequently get themselves in trouble because they are not sure how to “just be.” I do not have any judgment regarding whether these children are normal or not. They just are. Structure and stimulation is what they need. I suppose one could say they need to learn how to entertain themselves. But, I prefer to say that is the way they are and to give them what they need, a full plate of activities.
Other children prefer to be on their own with fewer activities. These children need lots of time alone and prefer not to have lots of scheduled activities. They often have to be pushed to do things. These children need some type of structure but not as much as the children described above. With no structure at all, they may be prone to developing a sedentary lifestyle that could become unhealthy. The goal here is to help these children engage in healthy activities and to give them the down time they deserve when it is needed.
With all this discussion, I am reminded of a book that was very influential in my early career. The book is titled, The Hurried Child by David Elkind. This books talks about how children are pushed to grow up too fast. This can create stress and premature completion of crucial developmental stages. When we push and make kids do things they are not yet ready to do, we can create intense anxiety with resulting poor self-esteem. We have to help children go through each stage at their own pace.
My message in response to all of this is to play close attention to your child’s needs. Try and filter out the influence of the culture surrounding you (e.g., having to schedule sleepovers because everyone else is, having to look more mature because all the girls are, having to buy expensive computer games because all the boys have them). Make decisions for your child’s day depending on their unique needs. Keep them moving and learning, but in a moderate way. Ensure they do not stall and do nothing. But, also ensure they do not run around like caffeinated bunny rabbits ready to bite anyone who crosses them. Close monitoring of their current state of being will ensure they grow up with a smile. Thus, in response to over-scheduling being good for kids, it really depends.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The good thing about concentration is that it can be taught. Yes, some people may have a natural ability to attend more than others. But, we can all learn how to better concentrate, even our children. Mr Ansary recommends that children be taught how to concentrate beginning at an early age and I agree. What I see many parents and teachers do with today's children is to cram a large amount of activities into a small amount of time. Children are constantly transitioning and moving on to the next task before the previous task was completed. We all seem to be running around like crazy people, including myself. This is not to say that "crazy" is bad, it is just that we seem to be wearing ourselves out unnecessarily. And, our kids are not being taught how to just sit and focus on one task at a time. In fact, when a child is focusing well, I have noted that some may say that he or she is "hyperfocussing" and being abnormal in some way.
I recommend that parents of children with attention difficulties carefully read Mr. Ansary's article and try some of the recommended strategies for attention improvement. It would be very beneficial to take some regular time with your child to work on attending or sticking with a task for an extended period of time. If your child has difficulty sitting and attending, take it slowly. Take a small amount of time at first (e.g., 5 minutes) and focus on the task. If the child has difficulty provide encouragement. Help the child learn to take all other thoughts out of his or her mind. There are no magical interventions to recommend. Learning to attend primarily takes practice just like with any other skill. After a successful period of time, give a high five or some other type of natural reinforcement. With time, I guarantee you will see positive results.
Friday, April 17, 2009
- First, hang out with your child and just be. Don’t criticize and don’t control, just be. “Hanging” with children can be just as beneficial as anything else.
- Second, respect your child for whom he or she is. Try not to be disappointed because your child is not something you want them to be. We all have our traits, gifts, quirks, and issues. Your child will too. You may feel when a child is born that he or she is perfect with no flaws. This is a nice feeling, but you will soon realize that no one is perfect.
- Third, work hard to help your child understand and respect you. Your child looks to you for care, protection, and guidance. He/she needs you to be there in times of need. You are the anchor and without you, your child will wander in spirit and life. In order to be understood and be respected, tell things about yourself. Tell stories about your own childhood, experiences, likes, and dislikes. Spend time with him/her and really talk. Along with this, do your best to be a healthy role model. Be consistent with what you say and follow through on your word. Be positive in your attitude and demonstrate hope in your actions.
- Fourth, believe in your child and tell him/her that all will be okay. Having someone really accept you and believe in you is a powerful motivator and crucial to a positive self-esteem. If you have spent the time with your child, you will learn many things. If you have accepted your child for whom he/she is, then you will be that much closer to be able to believe and trust that he/she will be okay in life. Be a mentor and be as positive as you can in your child’s life’s passions and ambitions
By the way, I asked my two children what makes a good parent and they stated, “Ones that love us. Ones that are friendly and nice. Ones that hug you, kisses you, and is willing to snuggle with you.” If this does not point to a need for a close relationship, I don’t know what does.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
What I have seen over the course of my career is that parents do not use time out in an appropriate or effective way. What frequently happens is a parent-child battle and much drama occurs during the transition from direction to go to time out and the act of the child going to time out. Both the child and the parent frequently end up arguing and much heightened negative emotion occurs. This is not how time out should be used. This use of time out in this manner frequently creates more anger and animosity. Positive results are sometimes obtained, but many times the child keeps misbehaving. There must be a better way and there is.
The better way is to conceptualize time out as a “break in the action” similar to time out used by coaches in a basketball game. This is in direct contrast of viewing time out as a punishment. When a coach needs to give players feedback the coach calls a “time out” to talk with the group of players. Positive and negative feedback is given based upon what is being observed in the players’ game. If a coach only gave negative feedback during the time-outs, players would stop wanting to huddle up. A good coach gives both negative and positive feedback in order to help players learn from their mistakes, to help them recognize when they are doing things right, and to help maintain their inspiration to do well. The “break in the action” approach is very effective in spots and is also very effective intervention at home.
In your household, I recommend that you try this positive use of time out to help your child step back from the situation and reflect upon what he or she is doing. The steps to the appropriate use of this time out are as follows:
Early in my career in the 1980s, I learned to use this positive use of time out while working with out-of-control teenagers at Capistrano By The Sea Hospital in Dana Point, CA. Our time out was called “the bench.” When directed to the bench, the residents were taught to stop what they were doing, walk silently to the bench, and sit down. Staff then came over to them in order to give them feedback on their behavior. We learned that it was very effective to send the youth to the bench for both positive and negative behaviors. In fact, we tried to send youth to the bench or many more positive behaviors than negative. When a resident was doing something well, we would tell them to go the bench. We would then compliment them on their behavior and send them on their way. When we needed to give them more negative feedback, they were much more receptive to our instructions since we created such a positive environment. With this use of frequent positive feedback, we greatly increased compliance to instructions and appropriate behavior overall. We were able to effectively work with residents that previously had not responded to any teacher or parent intervention to date.
When you are implementing this process, make sure that you send your child to time out for many more positive behaviors than negative. This will greatly enhance your child’s willingness to be positive. Of course, sometimes you do have to take control and send your child to time out for negative behavior. You are doing this because your child needs to learn proper behavior. When you do have to send the child to time out for misbehavior, do not get caught up in the drama of it all. What is meant by this is, if your child begins to argue, stick to your procedures. Verbal battles will not help. Calmly restate your expectations and begin your counting. If you have to carry your child to time out, minimize any talking and remain calm. If you have to scream, go behind closed doors and scream to yourself. Be aware that changing behavior takes time. Be very gentle with any holding you may have to do. If your child is too big to carry, you may need to withdraw any of your attention until your child is willing to comply. Always, treat your child with dignity.
When you follow this process as directed, your household will become much more positive. I have seen these procedures work time and time again in inpatient, outpatient, school, and home settings. In my own home, the procedures have worked amazingly well. As I have found, you will also find that you will not have to do hardly any time outs for negative behavior as time passes. I rarely have to use time out for any misbehavior in my own household. I still try to constantly tell my own children that I am proud of them, that I like what they are doing, and that I love them.
Some people may say that all this praise and positive attention will hurt the child’s intrinsic motivation to do well. I personally think that way of thinking is nonsense. We all like to be recognized for what we do and children are no different. Most children want to please those around them. Giving you children genuine praise and positive feedback for what they do will not damage their intrinsic motivation. Instead, they will become more motivated. I encourage you to do your best to recognize positive efforts no matter how small they may be. By taking this positive, but firm, approach to parenting, you will find that your children will respond in a very satisfying way.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The guide is titled, The 2e Reading Guide: Essential Books for Understanding the Twice-exceptional Child and can be found on the web at http://www.2enewsletter.com/. I recommend this guide and website for any parent with a bright child who demonstrates some type of behavioral, learning, or social challenge.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
However, in all of my readings of today's economic crisis, there has been little discussion on the positive effects of this recession. Since we are saving more and spending less, we are being forced to be content with what we have. Many of us are becoming even more conscious about not being wasteful and less focused on "stuff." When the economic boom of the 1990s was occurring, I personally became disgusted with our wastefulness, our acceptance of so many cheap products, and our evaluation of an individual based on the individual's personal financial portfolio. Today's economic crisis is helping me readjust my values and to me, that is a good thing.
I personally disagree that we should begin spending freely as we have in the past. I have doubts that the current stimulus plan being put forth by Congress is the way to go since its purpose is to get us to spend more. My overall gut opinion is that we need to let our economy shrink to a sustainable level. Shrinking of the economy could result in more people putting their priorities in sharing experiences with their loved ones and friends as opposed to becoming obsessed with the almighty dollar.
Our family certainly is not escaping the effects of the economic crisis. We have a small business and many times we do not even know if we can pay the bills. We have to pay for our own health care and we are getting taxed to death. Our heat pump broke this winter and we are heating our house with wood since we cannot afford a new heat pump at this time. This is all very stressful. However, I have noticed that we as a family are beginning to appreciate the small things in life such as being with one another in idle time or worrying together about the raccoons knocking over our garbage. I have noticed that focusing on the more mundane aspects of life can actually be quite fun.
I encourage our families to continue the pattern of saving despite what all the economists say to do. Any hint of us going back to the reckless spending of our hard-earned cash on junk should be met with a big resounding "no!" Save and get yourselves free from greedy fingers of credit card companies and banks. Force our businesses to focus on quality again so our lives can once again be more wholesome as of those in the past.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I personally was fixated one night on the doom and gloom that we all have been facing in the economy. I went with my family to see Bedtime Stories with the idea that this movie would be "so so" since the reviews were not that terrific. I left the movie feeling energized and full of hope. Bedtime stories is directed by Adam Shankman with Adam Sandler as the primary star. The movie is a family comedy about a hotel handyman whose life changes dramatically when the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to magically come true. The main theme of the story is that with imagination, great things can happen. This movie inspired me because so many of us adults get caught in the daily minutia of life. We forget to dream and imagine the impossible. Children on the other hand love to dream and fantasize. I realized after the movie that imagination is a great activity in which to engage in these times of economic stress.
If you are experiencing family stress, go see this movie with your children. Then have your own children write the end of the story about how yours and their lives will turn out over time. Let me know what you think! Happy New Year!