Archive for January, 2012

You start your weekday early, rush around in the morning to make sure everyone and everything is running on schedule.  Whether you work or are a stay at home parent or both…you run errands, complete a “to do” list that is probably bigger than it should be, you try to squeeze in a couple healthy meals and if you are lucky maybe even a little exercise and now your day is just beginning!  Your kids come home from school and they want this, need that, don’t want to do this, don’t care about that and on and on.  All the while, as they go through the house they leave their shoes in the living room, backpacks in the kitchen, an empty glass on the counter and they can’t understand why their favorite sweat shirt that they lived in all weekend is not washed and ready for them to wear to school tomorrow.  They want to know what is for dinner, when you can sign them up for drivers ed and if they can have a friend come over after school tomorrow all while you are trying to get through your own email which you have not gotten to in a few days.  Sound familiar?????  Any parent in their right mind should be on overload at this point…but my guess is that you just keep going.  You keep tending to others and put your own needs and relaxation on the back burner while your stress builds and builds.  That is what you ACTUALLY DO…but what you NEED TO DO is to HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON.

Pause…breath…take a moment for you – it’s OK.  Everyone else can wait for a little bit while you have some “you time”.  It is not healthy to continue to be on auto pilot – you lose focus, miss important things and lose your ability to appreciate the moments throughout the day that are worth appreciating. You are a better person, a better parent, a better partner, a better employee and you FEEL better when you have time just for you.  The reality is that nobody is going to build in this time for you.  Your teen is not going to say to you, “Hey you know what, I want to make sure that you relax and take time for yourself…why don’t you go in the other room, grab a cup of coffee or tea and read while I sit quietly out here and do my homework so that I get an “A” on my test tomorrow”.  If that happened you would likely think you had been zapped off into outer space and wonder where you kid went.  So…it’s on you to do AND it’s on you to do without feeling guilty (potentially your biggest challenge!).

What I would suggest is that each day you start with just 15 minutes and build upon it.  Take 15 minutes that are just for you to do something you want to do just for you.  Tell your family you are going into your room, office or any other quite place and reading emails, surfing the web, reading a book or calling a friend.  Or let people know that you are going to exercise and let them know you will not be available until you are done.  Do you have a favorite show you like? Let you family know that during that 1/2 hour or hour each week you cannot be interrupted.  Do you wish you could join a local sports league or start playing golf again?  Then do it!  Do you love to bake?  Let your family know that on Saturday afternoon you will be baking so you will not be available to be the family taxi driver or for other things during that block of time.  You have to change your behavior in order to change the behavior of others (this is a powerful and true statement so go back, read it again and really digest it).  If you start respecting your time…and making it clear to others that you are respecting your time…they will start to respect it to.  You deserve this!  What can you start with – what will you do with your 15 minutes of time that is just for you tomorrow? 

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Teenage sexual exploitation is a topic which is very difficult to read about but also one which is very important to understand and of which to be aware.  I have done extensive research on this topic and have been amazed at how many teenagers (mostly girls) are exploited through prostitution.  Learning a bit about this subject can be useful for parents since girls recruited into prostitution can come from anywhere and from any type of family.

Although exact numbers are not clear, it is estimated that there are more than 300,000 teenagers in the United States who are being exploited through prostitution.  Many believe these numbers are much higher.  The average age at which a girl enters prostitution is 14 years old – this age appears to be dropping and there have been reports of girls as young as age 6 being exploited through prostitution.  There is not one single factor which makes a teenage girl vulnerable to be recruited into the life of prostitution, however, there are certain factors which are believed to increase one’s risk.  These include:  coming from a broken home, a history of abuse, having a mother who is promiscuous, poor relationship with parents, truancy and a history of running away which is the biggest factor which can lead to one becoming involved in the life of prostitution.  Two thirds of girls who run away are exploited by prostitution and girls who run away are likely to be approached by a pimp within forty-eight hours of being on the run.  That is just plain scary to think about.

In short, low self-esteem combined with a lack of guidance and support from adults makes girls vulnerable to being recruited into the life of prostitution.  Many people ask, “How does this happen?  Why would a girl do this?”  Through my research, I have come to understand how it happens and why it so easily happens for many teenage girls.  Pimps are well-trained at the process and can easily detect a teenage girl who may be vulnerable.  Some things they look for are girls alone at bus stations, at malls, at skating rinks or girls living in group home settings and of course – girls who have run away from home.  Pimps today are often young, hip and appear to have a lot of money which is appealing to young girls.  Initially pimps show an interest in a young girl, making her feel special.  Often times the girls approached have low self-esteem and are flattered that a “cool male” is paying attention to them and wants to take care of them.  Girls quickly become enamored and dependent on the pimp who may buy them food, gifts and provide them with a place to live along with promises of a loving and wonderful future.  Once the teenage girl falls in love with the pimp he may tell her he is having money trouble because of how much money he has been spending on her and that he needs her to do something for money – just one time – and then they will be able to live the happy life they want to live.  Reluctantly, teenage girls will do what the pimp says because they so desperately want to have the fairy tale life that has been promised to them and want to please him.  After “turning their first trick”, the pimp will tell the girl she is dirty, unwanted and that nobody will ever want to be with her because of what she did.  This causes the girl to become desperate and willing to do anything the pimp wants to regain his affection again which only brings her deeper into the life of sexual exploitation.  At this point, a pimp may introduce drugs to the teenage girl which makes her even further dependent on him and willing to do whatever he wants.  Many young girls hang onto the idea that they can get rich if they just sell themselves for a little while, however, the reality is that the pimps take ALL the money which makes the girls completely dependant on them for everything.  The other reality is that they are being sexually exploited as children by these pimps who often get away with this crime over and over because the girls they exploit are so ashamed and scared that they don’t want to speak up or don’t think they have a right to speak up.

What is so sad about this form of child abuse / exploitation is that there is so much shame attached that the teenage girls find it very difficult to leave the life of prostitution because they don’t want others to know what they have been doing.   Pimps brainwash girls into thinking they are not valuable to anyone outside the life of prostitution which further isolates them.  They don’t see themselves as victims but rather has worthless and dirty individuals who nobody will ever truly love.  They reality is that they are being exploited – it is child abuse, however, it is often not seen as such.

The best way to help young girls at risk is through education and prevention.  Parents should talk to their girls about what to do if someone approaches them and tries to befriend them through gifts and excessive compliments.  Parents should also notice if their daughter seems to be bringing home a lot of new clothes, gifts or jewelry.  Don’t ignore this – be persistent in finding out where the items are coming from.  Finally, if you have a daughter who is running away, she is at the most risk.  It is important to talk to her if you are able and if not, to find someone who can.  Girls who understand the grooming process are much more likely to avoid being sexually exploited because they will see the warning signs and will be less likely to believe that a pimp is truly interested in having a loving relationship with them. 

I have worked with some of the most at risk girls – many who have been approached by pimps and many who have engaged in prostitution because they did not understand what was happening until it was too late.  It is scary how good pimpsare at what they do and how trapped young girls feel once recruited into prostitution.  The damage is unimaginable as you may guess and nothing any young girl should have to endure.  As stated above, education is the best way of preventing this form of exploitation.

If you have a child who is running away and placing themselves at risk, it is important that you, as the parent, get support.  You may seek support through a coach, through a mental health professional or perhaps through a school support.  What is important is that you don’t have to deal with these difficult issues on your own and you deserve your own support so that you can be most helpful to your child.

For additional parenting support, tips and advice, go to How To Parent A Teen or Like us on our Facebook Fan Page to get your free report that outlines 3 strategies for getting teenagers to act more responsibly PLUS 3 strategies for managing your teenager’s unpredictable moods more effectively. 

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As was discussed in my previous blog post, arguing with your teenager can be extremely frustrating and draining for you, as the parent.  I have worked with so many parents who feel so much stress and even anger towards their teenager because they feel like their lives are consumed with fights, disagreements and with their teenager challenging them on an ongoing basis.  I remember working with a mother I will call Penny who was at the point where she was so angry and frustrated with her teenager that she entered most conversations with them defensive and ready to argue which was making for a very unpleasant household and was making her feel like she was not a very loving or nurturing parents.  Penny and I worked through what was going on for her and what may be going on for her teenager and she began to implement some of the strategies below with great results.  What Penny realized was that she was able to change her teenager’s behavior by changing her own behavior.   This makes complete sense – if you change the way you are interacting with someone, it will automatically change the way they are interacting with you AND you then begin to feel more in control of situations.  If you and your teenager are stuck in a pattern of behavior where you are arguing a lot – you are not alone.  This is fairly common and the good news is that it can change.  You are not doomed to be in this pattern of behavior until your teenager hits adulthood!  Read through the 15 tips listed below and choose a couple that you can start implementing today!  Be consistent and you will start to see some changes quicker than you think.  Also – if you have not already Liked us on  our Facebook Fan Page, please do so to get your free report that will give you strategies for getting your teenager to act more responsibly and also strategies for managing your teenager’s unpredictable moods.

15 Tips For Parents To Reduce Arguing In Your Teen:

  1. Allow everyone to have a fair opportunity to say what they would like to say.  Don’t just keep talking and repeating the same thing over and over without giving your teenager an opportunity to express their thoughts or how they feel.  Even if you don’t agree or they are not making any rational sense to you, give them some air time to speak.
  2. Do your best not to interrupt when your teen is speaking their mind.  This will increase the chances that they will listen while you are speaking and is good role modeling.  When it is your turn to speak you can remind them that they have had their turn.
  3. Let your teenager know that you cannot speak to them when they are yelling and respond positively when they stop yelling.  If your teenager knows that you will listen when they speak but not when they yell, you will reinforce them really trying to remain in control if they want to be heard (and teenagers always want to be heard!)  Praise them during times when they are able to express themselves effectively and help them see that your conversations can feel for productive for them when they remain calm.  Of course, this also means that you need to do your best to refrain from yelling.  A great strategy is if your teenager starts yelling that you speak softer and let them know that you will be happy to finish the discussion when they are able to stop yelling.
  4. Do your best to stick to the point and not bring up the past, other situations or bring others into the conversation unless it directly relates to them.  Haven’t we all had those moments where we end a fight not even remembering what we starting the fight about in the first place?   It goes without saying that this is not productive.  Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and try not to dredge up the past which will likely only fuel the fire.
  5. During arguments, never “put down” or make fun of your teenager.  Even if they act otherwise, teenagers are very insecure and they WANT your approval and to know that you are there to support and protect them.  One of the worst things a parent can do is to belittle or make fun of their teenager.  This can be really damaging to their self-esteem and it will likely really escalate an argument.  This can be challenging for parents who are on the receiving end of their teenagers rude comments or who have been listening to their teenager tell them what an awful parent they are because of course, parents have emotions too!  However, it is better to walk away than to say things to your teenager that you will later regret.
  6. Offer choices whenever possible and allow compromises when possible.  And I want to stress the “when possible” part.  Of course there are situations where you will never offer a choice (it is not a choice whether to go to school this week or not, it is not a choice whether to not come home for 2 days or not, etc), however, when possible, this can be a great tool for parents in both teaching teens to be more responsible but also for improving your overall relationship with your teenager.  (get your free audio program on the How To Parent A Teen website to learn the Consult, Don’t Control skill for parents of teenagers.  If your teenager approaches you ready to argue about a situation, try to give them choices and help them weigh the pros and cons of their choices.
  7. Accept that your teenager is not going to talk to you about everything.  Pushing them to talk about topics which are uncomfortable or upsetting will often result in their lashing out at you.  Obviously if you are concerned about their safety you will need to push them, however, if your interest in a certain topic is more about your own curiosity, sometimes it is better to just leave the topic alone than to argue with them about it.
  8. Regardless of how loud your teen is yelling, keep your voice low.  Your teen will have to lower their own voice to hear you and in addition, just speaking softly can lower the tension in the room.
  9. Try to use “I” statements rather than blaming statements.  For example, you may say, “I get really worried about you when you don’t come home for your curfew” instead of “You keep messing up by coming in late for your      curfew”.  In both situations, you are letting them know it is unacceptable but it is harder for them to argue the “I” statement which is less blaming.  They can’t tell you that you are not worried but they can try to argue with you that they are not always messing up.  Really think about this tip – it can be very powerful and just changing how you phrase something can make a significant impact.
  10. If your teenager is getting really out of control, tell them that you are ending the conversation for 10 minutes.  Let them know that you will take a break until everyone calms down some and then you will be willing to revisit the conversation (this may mean you need to go into the bathroom and shut the door or go for a drive to allow for this break).  If you find this can be effective, try to put it in place during a time when you are not arguing.  Have an agreement with your teenager that if start to get into a disagreement and either one of you really starts yelling that you will take 5-10 minutes apart and then come back to the conversation and finish it.  Having already discussed this during a non emotional time will make it easier to implement when are argument arises.
  11. Remain sitting if at all possible when your teen is arguing with you.  This will help them feel less threatened and view you as being calmer which may work to help them calm down as well.
  12. Try not to take things personally.  Often teens will say hurtful and mean things to parents which is not acceptable or okay in my opinion.  Despite this, it is important that parents do not respond out of emotion.  It is more helpful for parents to let their teen know how their words impacted them and that it is not acceptable during a non-emotional time rather than to try to tackle this issue when your teen is already  upset and not listening to you.   Using Tip #10 can be effective at this point in an argument.
  13. Validate your teenager even if you don’t agree with everything they are saying.  Having your teen feel heard is often more important than having them feel like you agree with what they are saying.
  14. Do your best to communicate with your teenager during non-confrontational times.  Having regular communication (perhaps at family dinners or even in the car when driving them somewhere) will help them communicate effectively with you ongoing so that you are not only communicating during emotional times.
  15. Pick your battles.  Your teenager will test you with what they wear, their music and  with the subjects they bring up just to name a few.  Be thoughtful about the battles you want to fight and know that much of the time they are just testing the waters and trying to figure out who they are which will pass in a short period of time.  Is it worth a screaming match in the morning before school if your teenager wants to wear flip-flops on a snowy day?  Although this does not make sense and you know their feet will be freezing, is it better to advise them calmly that you are concerned they will be cold but then let them make their own decision and figure out for themselves that it does not feel so good being outside with no shoes in the winter.  By choosing not to engage in this battle with them, you and your teen have a much more pleasant morning and they learn on their own that it may not be the best idea to wear flip-flops in the winter.  Nobody is angry at anybody and your teenager is not resentful at you for trying to “control them”.

Figuring out teenagers and how to respond to them effectively is a challenge each and every day.  As the parent of a teenager it is important that you get support and have balance in your life so that you can respond to your teenager in a way which is effective and which does not increase your own stress and frustration.  Try implementing a couple of these strategies consistently and notice the moments where you are able to avoid or head off an argument that may have otherwise happen.

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Are you tired of feeling like you do nothing but argue with your teenager?  Do you feel like you walk on eggshells or that you always have to be prepared for an argument no matter what you do?  Do you come in the door at the end of the day waiting for the next “attack”.  Do you sometimes hesitate to address things that you would like to address with your teenager in an effort to avoid an argument.  Well, you are not alone.  Many parents of teenagers with whom I have worked have this same experience.  I recently worked with a mother whom I will call Mary.  Mary felt that she had gotten into a pattern of trying to avoid her teenager and certainly avoided addressing issues which needed to be addressed because most conversations resulted in an argument and who wants to be arguing in their own home all the time?  In addition, the arguing consisted of Mary’s daughter blaming her for things and at the end of these arguments, Mary felt drained and questioned herself as a parent more and more.  Mary’s daughter had “trained” her to back off.  Remember, your teenager has been studying you their entire life so they know how to push your buttons, what buttons to push when and yes – they can “train” you so that you behave in a way that works best for them.  In this case, Mary’s daughter did not like Mary reprimanding her or holding her accountable to doing her chores or to coming in on time for her curfew, so she made it a very unpleasant experience for Mary anytime Mary did address these things.  And guess what…over time Mary addressed them less and less as a means of avoiding what she knew would be an unpleasant interaction with her daughter.  On one hand, you can’t blame Mary – who wants to spend their time arguing?  On the other hand, Mary’s daughter needed to be held accountable for her behaviors and needed to lean to be more responsible and respectful.  So – as a parent – what do you do?

What is interesting is that most teenagers don’t like to argue with their parents (or anyone for that matter), they are just so confused and emotional much of the time that arguing becomes the communication style they revert back to – especially with parents.  teenagers are still developing and they have not mastered the art of remaining calm when under stress and pressure (not that I think any of us will every truly master this art!).  Teenagers are uncomfortable when you address their behaviors or when they feel “pushed” to act responsibly or even when they are asked to do something they just plain do not want to do.  However, learning to tolerate these uncomfortable feelings and learning to appropriately manage strong emotions is something we all need to learn in order to function well as adults.  Therefore, these moments can actually become great teaching moments between you and your teenager.   Keeping the following points in mind when having interactions with your teenager, will help you remain calm when they are trying to push your buttons so that you are role modeling positive interactions with them while addressing the things you really need to address as a parent.

Things to keep in mind about teenagers:

Most teens have not mastered their communication skills so they may come across as rude, accusatory, as not making sense or as unreasonable.  A lot of times the problem is that they simply cannot express what they are feeling appropriately.  For example, “I hate you” may really mean “I don’t like this rule“.  With that said, being on the receiving end of “I hate you” is much more difficult to manage as a parent than a teen telling you they just don’t like a certain rule so when you hear words from your teenager that really sting, take a deep breath, pause and tell yourself they are trying to tell you they don’t like the situation, not that they hate you.

teenagers often behave as though they are the center of the world and have a hard time seeing the view of others.  This is not a product of poor upbringing or a sign that you missed something in your parenting along the way.  It is instead a product of the developmental stage of adolescence which includes self-centeredness and often an apparent disregard for how one’s behavior impacts others.  If your teenager says or does things that are hurtful or inappropriate, they may really not be able to see how they are impacting you or others in the moment.  They are so caught up in themselves that they can’t see past their own needs and feelings.  Again, in and of itself, this is not a sign that your teen is a monster or a sociopath!  It is part of their developmental process which they will outgrow with the right role modeling and support. As a parent, in these moments, it is helpful if you can remember this point because it will help you in not taking things your teenager may be doing or saying personally.

Teens like to show off in front of their friends.  Haven’t there been times when you have observed your teenager with a group of their friends and thought – is that really my kid acting like that?  Teenagers are trying to grow into themselves, gain their self-confidence and fit in which results in their often times behaving in ways they think their peers want them to behave or copying the behaviors of their peers.  Teens want to appear confident and cool in front of their friends to often times they will put their parents on the spot or will push limits in front of their friends in an effort to show their friends that they have control over their parents.  If your teenager does this, it is likely a sign that they are feeling insecure and trying to gain some form of respect from their friends and less about their wanting to give you a hard time or make you feel bad.  It is important that you do not let them “train” you into backing down or giving in when their friends are around because then they will continue to put you on the spot in front of others as a means of getting what they want.

 Teens want  to be independent but are often times not really ready for this which scares them.  As we all know, teenagers want to grow up quicker than they are ready for.  They think they have it all figured out, until they are really put in a position to have all the answers at which time they realize they do still need your support and advice.  teenagers will often resent the need for ongoing parental oversight and limits so they respond to this with anger or with defiance.  Teens sometimes do what they do just to rebel and to make a point that they are independent from their parents because they need to start to figure out who they are as a person separate from you.  When your teenager argues with you, their words may be telling you to back off and leave them alone, however by arguing and engaging with you, they are pulling you in closer indicating that they need your presence in their lives.

OK – so great – how does any of this help minimize the arguing you are having with your teenager?  What is written above are points that will help you frame what is happening with your teenager which will help you, as the parent, stay calm and understand better what is going on for them.  Having some insight into what is going on for your teenager can help you manage situations much more effectively.  In my next blog post, I will list 15 tips that will help you, as the parent of a teenager, minimize your arguing with your teenager.

For additional parenting tips, resources, advice and programs designed specifically for parents of teenagers, go to How To Parent A Teen.  Have you gotten your free audio program titled 3 Powerful Strategies For Parents of Teenagers from the How To Parent A Teen website?

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As was mentioned in the previous How To Parent A Teen blog post, bullying is a serious and widespread problem for teenagers today and can take on many forms.  Bullying can involve physical acts of violence, verbal threats and attacks, isolating or excluding someone and can be done in person or increasingly via cyber space, aka cyber-bullying.   All forms can be damaging and can have lasting effects.  The danger with cyber-bullying is that it can be difficult for adults to see unless they are looking at the teenager’s electronic devices and also that it allows those who bully to put their negative comments, rumors, or gossip out there for so many more people to see.
Warning signs:
Below are some potential warning signs that your teenager may be being bullied – while seeing these warning signs does not necessarily mean your teenager is being bullied, if you are seeing them you should investigate further.
  • Unexplained bruising, cuts or scratches, ripped clothing
  • Physical complaints – stomach aches, head aches, being tired all the time
  • Trying to avoid school or other social activities – making up a lot of excuses to try to get out of things
  • Sudden change in mood or behavior – this could be that they become more withdrawn or that they are presenting with increased sadness or even anger or aggression
  • Missing items they cannot account for when you question them
  • Increased nervousness or anxiety – particularly when going to school or other social situations
  • Signs of declining self-esteem (not taking care of themselves, making negative comments about themselves)
What to do as a parent:
1.  If your child comes to you and expresses concern about bullying:
Thank them for coming to you, reinforce that they did the right thing by telling you and validate their experience.  Be open, calm and really listen to them.  You want to be a good role model for them as you work to figure out how to address the problem so it is important that even though you may be really angry and may be feeling really protective of your teen that you stay calm and appropriate while discussing this situation with them.
 2.  If your teen does not tell you but you are noticing some of the warning signs above:
Talk to your teen about this.  In a gentle, supportive, non-judgmental way, share with them your concerns.  Let them know that you have seen some things that concern you and that you are worried about and that you want to make sure that they are OK, that they are safe and that they are happy.  Your teen may feel a great sense of relief that you have opened the door and may share what is happening with you if you take this type of approach.  Of course, they may continue to deny anything is wrong because they feel ashamed, depressed or scared.  Even if they deny any bullying, you should let them know you do have concerns, that you want to support them and you should go with your gut.  Try to get a sense of what is going on int their day.  Who are they around, what are their favorite classes, who do they like and dislike at school?  This may give you some additional insight.  You know your teen – if your gut is telling you something harmful is happening to your child, you are better to be overly cautious and explore this further rather than ignoring it.
3.  Talk to the school (or other adults responsible for supervising your teenager):
Even if your teen asks you not to, if the bullying is happening at school, you need to get the school involved.  Bullying is on the radar for school administrators and there is a lot of pressure on them to address any concerns of bullying swiftly and effectively.  Many school systems have required training for all staff on this issue so sharing your concerns and getting the support of the school is important in helping to make sure your child is able to receive an education in a place that feels safe for them.  You should also talk to any coaches, parents of friends, or other adult leaders who are involved in your teen’s life who may be able to offer insight and additional supervision to get the bullying to stop.  Make sure you are keeping the lines of communication open and that you are following up with these other adults so that you are all working collaboratively in the best interest of your teenager ongoing.
4.  Support the development of positive self-esteem in your teenager: 
When teenagers are bullied, it can do a real number on their self-esteem.   They may be internalizing the negative messages others are telling them, they may feel worthless, weak or shameful, they may feel like they don’t matter or that others will never respect them.  Even once the bullying has stopped, you want to make sure that your teenager has opportunities in their life to build upon their strengths, receive praise for their strengths and have positive social interactions.  This may involve getting them involved in a sport or a club, getting them involved in a cooking class or a church group or just making sure that you are supporting opportunities for them to have positive social interactions and that they are spending time with other teens and/or adults who support and praise them ongoing.
5.  Educate your teenager about bullying:  
As adults, we know that the bullying behavior is typically more about the person doing the bullying than about the person being bullied and that the individual doing the bullying is probably trying to cover up or hide their own insecurities.  It is helpful to talk to your teenager a little bit about this keeping in mind and let them know that any bullying is more about a bully trying to control them or to control a situation than it is about them as a person.   Just remember that even if they hear this intellectually, they may still have a hard time internalizing this and the bullying may continue to be just as painful for them.
6.  Supervise their internet / phone use:
It is absolutely reasonable and appropriate that you, as the parent, have access to what your teenager is doing online.  I am guessing that you are paying for the phone and computer anyway, right?  Even if you are not, it is absolutely reasonable that you want to be able to periodically check your teenager’s electronic devices.  You should have access to all their passwords and know what sites they are using.  What is most helpful is if you set  clear expectations with them upfront about what you will be monitoring and if you have not done that yet, that you do it now and tell them that this is what they should expect moving forward.  Let them know that you will be monitoring what they are doing, what sites they are going on and who they are texting and to what level you will be monitoring this.  This is not to say that teens are not savvy and cannot delete text messages or emails but it is a good starting point to help you be more aware of what is going on in their lives and to make sure that they are safe (not only physically but emotionally as well).
7.  Never encourage physical retaliation:
You never want to encourage your teenager to use violence as a means of solving a problem.  That is not a life lesson you want them to learn.  Instead, help coaching them on other things they can do (walk away, continue to talk to you or other adults, avoid certain situations, try to remain around safe friends, and ways that they can use their words to address the bully in a non confrontational way) will be more helpful to them and serve them well into adulthood.
Teenage bullying can be scary and upsetting so you should not hesitate to get support for yourself and your teenager as is needed.  For further parenting tips and advice, go to How To Parent A Teen.

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As any parent of a teenager is aware of, teenage bullying has been a very important topic over the last several years and one that has been in the forefront of the news, political conversations and school administration agendas.   Is the concept of kids making fun of one another a new one?  Of course not – teasing, school yard bullies and kids making fun of one another has always been present.  However, what has changed, I believe is twofold.

First is society’s improved understanding of the serious and potentially long-term consequences of bullying.  From front page media headlines to talk shows, we have been able to hear first hand how damaging bullying can be to a child’s self-esteem.  We have heard grown women talk about how they still feel shame and cry when thinking about the mean things that were said and done to them.  We have heard stories of teenagers trying to avoid attending school, going into deep depressions or in extreme cases becoming suicidal as a means of avoiding being further bullied.  As a society, we are much more in tune with how problematic bullying behavior is and so there are many more people talking about it (which is a good thing because with awareness comes solutions).

Second is Social Networking.  Prior to cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and text messaging, when teens were being bullied at school, they were able to at least go home and get some relief.  Unless the school bully was willing to call their victim’s home, the bullying stopped after school was out.  Now…teens do not get any relief..the bullying follows them into their home, which is supposed to be their safe space.  I spoke with a parent just this week who talked about how she and her daughter were out running errands and ran into the girls who were bullying her daughter at school, but the girls did not say anything at that time.  What happened instead was that these girls began tweeting negative things about this woman’s daughter for hours after this encounter causing so much sadness and pain for this woman’s daughter.  It is easier to say hurtful and hateful things through social media than having to look someone in the eye and say them.  And while it is easy to say to a teenager that if this is happening to them, they should just stay off Facebook, Twitter, etc., the reality is that this also means cutting off something that is really important these days in the life of a teenager.

So – we know the problem is out there, we know it has serious potential consequences – as a parent what do you do?  Stay tuned for my next blog post which will have both warning signs of bullying and tips for you, as the parent, about what to do if you believe your teenager is being bullied.

For additional parenting support and resources, check out How To Parent A Teen.

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Having a teenager who is self-injuring can be very, very scary for a parent.  Teen self-injury is an issue that has come out more in the news and media so it is being talked about more than in the past.  It is important to note that many teens get piercings and / or tattoos.  While this is concerning for a lot of parents, it is generally done because teens want to look cool and fit in and is not the same as teens who cut or burn themselves.  If you are the parent of a teen who is excessively tattooing themselves or piercing themselves you may want to explore what is driving this behavior (especially if the tattooing or piercing is not being done professionally), however, generally this is about teens looking to create their own identity, trying to fit in or being rebellious.

Self-injury, on the other hand, involves teens cutting, scratching or burning themselves in order to feel better.  It sounds contradictory at first…why would someone hurt themselves in order to feel better?  What usually happens is that these teens are hurting inside and feel that they cannot control their internal pain, therefore they create pain that they can control as a way of releasing the internal pain.  Generally when teens are self-injuring they do not want to die, they are just looking for some relief from their internal pain in the moment.  What is scary, however, is that sometimes teens cut too deep and cause very permanent damage or even death even though this was not their intention.

Teens who self-injure by cutting can cut with just about any item, however, they frequently use the following items:  razor, thumbtacks, forks, knives, broken glass, paper clips, broken CD’s needles, staples, fingernails, earrings and scissors.  Teens who self-injure by burning themselves may use the following items:  lighters, matches, cigarettes and erasers that they rub on their skin to create friction.  Other forms of self-injuring can include biting, head banging, interfering with the healing of wounds, punching things excessively and hair pulling.  While it is believed that self-injury rates are higher in teenage girls, we do know that teenage boys also engage in this behavior.

If you suspect or know that your teen is self-injuring you should ask them about it.  I have worked with many parents who have had suspicions but were afraid to ask their teen about it because they did not understand it or know what to say.  The reality is, they may feel a sense of relief and be very honest with you or they may continue to deny what they are doing.  It is helpful for parents who are concerned about self-injury and who are addressing this with their teenager to remain calm during the conversation.  By remaining calm, you are more likely to have your teen speak with you openly about what is going on for them – they are likely already feeling shameful so having you be willing to listen and not judge them may be what helps them tell you the truth.  You can ask questions and let them know if you do not fully understand – generally teens appreciate honesty and may take the opportunity to better explain things to you which will give you insight into what is going on for them.

 As a parent, you should not blame yourself for your teen’s self-injury.  I have worked with so many parents who question if there is something different they should have said or done or not said or not done.  You are likely not at all responsible and focusing on this will not be helpful to either you or your teenager.  If your teen is self-injuring, it is important that you get them professional help.  It is important for you, as the parent, to be involved in the treatment process with them and to help them learn to express what they are feeling inside and manage it in a healthier manner though the use of coping skills.  You never want to bribe your teen to stop self-injuring or try to spoil them after they self injure to get them to feel better.  While I have seen parents do this for all the right reasons, what happens is that the teens see this as another benefit of self-injuring and they lose any motivation they may have had to change their current behavior.  Consulting with a professional can be very helpful for parents of teens who are self-injuring.  As is the case with anything, it you are concerned that your teen is suicidal or at serious risk, you should seek emergency services immediately.

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