Recognizing the WHY behind passive actions

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One of the best accomplishments I can have with a client is helping them achieve their goals. However, the road to an achieved goal is often filled with struggle along the way. Many times a goal will be set in a session and not be achieved by the next few sessions. This is very common.

When a goal is not met, the next move is to help my client understand what actions they chose INSTEAD of working towards the goal. Often times with teenagers, the decision or indecision making process is a blur and not viewed as a choice. However, all of our actions whether ASSERTIVE or PASSIVE are choices that were made. 

For example

A client who has struggled all semester in Math is depressed and frustrated. His parents are also frustrated and have spoken to him about studying, paying attention and trying harder until they are blue in the face. In the session, the client and I will talk about his goals: taking notes, staying after school for extra help, and doing homework. Then at the next session the client's parents report that he only went to one after school session, missed his homework several times and don't believe he really studied for a test he almost failed. 

At this point, most parents will RAMP UP the punishments and let the emotions fly. This is a normal reaction and understandable, but often ineffective. 

Passive and active actions

Let's take a look at the actions of the teenage client instead of focusing on what he did not do. Instead of staying after school for extra help every day of the week, the teen chose to be with his friends. Instead of doing his difficult homework at home he played video games and spent time on his phone. Instead of putting in time preparing for the test he did not make it a priority and acted as if he had nothing important in the coming days. 

This could easily be viewed by parents in a single prism; "he disobeyed and chose not to do what we told him to do." This is not inaccurate but it's typically not going to answer the WHY behind the actions. If you asked your teen why he disobeyed, the answer isn't because he was trying to disobey you. The disobedience is a byproduct, not the motivator (typically). 

Now here's where we look at the WHY behind the passive actions. A) Trying very hard and failing feels much worse than putting in zero effort and failing. (Fear of failure) B) Video games, friends, and distractions help the teen FEEL better. (Ease the pain) C) The teen does not believe he really can do it no matter how hard he tries. (False beliefs) 

Once we isolate the WHY behind the passive actions we can typically help the teen come face to face with them; the fear of failure, the need to ease the pain and the false beliefs. 

Typically, your child does not know the why behind his passive actions or even recognize his passive actions at all. Start there and your child will begin putting together the pieces by himself. 
 

Writing down homework and staying organized

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For many parents of teens, August is a *wonderful* time that ends summer boredom and ushers in a new world. Parents on Facebook often post hilarious pictures of them drinking champagne at the bus stop or jumping for joy in front of their embarrassed children. 

For others, there is the worry that school will be an endless cycle of nagging, procrastination, near-failure, and fighting. I feel you. No one wants that. So here's my two part advice for basic organization: 

1.  Have a system for writing down homework/tests/projects. You and I BOTH have been trying to convince teenagers that if they don't write something down they will forget. 

And since they're attached to their phones anyway, why not use technology to our advantage? Here are 3 apps that are awesome and helpful for students to use to help stay organized. 

The Homework App

2. Work on homework immediately after getting home.

Once a student has a routine they can go back to every single day for every class I recommend they spend 60 to 90 minutes at home at the dining room table or some place that is NOT THEIR ROOM where they can work in public. I also recommend that homework gets done right away after getting home, otherwise the tasks or projects can feel daunting after dinner or late at night. 

If they WORK right away at home from say 4:30 to 6, then they will get rewarded with PLAY after. See what I did there? WORK first, then PLAY. That's the main lesson we're trying to sneak into their brains. 

Why do I recommend working at the dining room table? A) It lets Mom and Dad know that their child is actually working, which should lead to less nagging/worrying/accusations. B) It's much harder to fall asleep at the table than on a bed. Also, a person's sleep patterns are typically healthier when they only use their bed for sleeping and not for lounging or working. 

 

5 things to consider after residential treatment

Coming home after residential treatment is never an easy process. The return is often filled with excitement and nervousness for everyone involved. Here are a few things to think about as your loved one transitions home. 

  1. Outpatient treatment is a great way to help ease the transition. Many residential facilities have outpatient programs that include group therapy and bi-weekly appointments. 
     
  2. Coming home might be scary or strange. Often times families will experience a strong resistance from their loved ones because they don't want to go to a residential facility. However, the same may be true as they are ready to leave. Sometimes the idea of coming home and going back to work or school may be even more daunting. Most schools will allow for students to come back at their own pace. 
     
  3. Prepare your home accordingly. If your loved one is coming home from a recent suicide attempt, removing guns or any other weapons will be a must. It is likely that your treatment center has already spoken to you about a “safety plan” for their recovery. It is imperative that you follow the safety plan! 
     
  4. Recovery is an on-going process. It is very important for therapy to continue after being discharged from a residential facility. It has been well documented that there is a higher risk for suicide attempts following discharge from a mental hospital. 
     
  5. It’s an adjustment for everyone. Your son, daughter, husband or brother may be the one who stayed in a facility, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved in therapy. Family counseling, couples counseling, etc are all great for everyone and not just “the patient”. 

If you or a loved one is coming home from residential treatment and would like help with the transition please reach out to me and I would be happy help. 

Should I make my son go to therapy?

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Should I make my son go to therapy?

It’s never an easy decision to make. 

Honestly, I don’t have a clear answer for you on whether you should or should not make your son go to therapy. I think it very much depends on the situation. If you’re concerned about self harm or suicide, then the answer is pretty clear; yes. (1800-273-8255 is the suicide hotline)

How it happens

Often times the situation plays out like this: concerned parents see some red flags, discussions are had with the other parent, then they decide to wait and see what happens. Weeks later or sometimes years later the parents see more red flags and this time they’re a little more scary. Parents talk about the idea of therapy with each other and bring it up to their son, thinking that he might be interested. And in some cases they are met with overwhelming defiance and opposition. Then the new discussion becomes “SHOULD I make my son go to therapy if he doesn’t want to go?” instead of asking does he NEED to go to therapy?.

All reasonable questions and concerns. 

I get it. The non-therapist in me understands some of the tensions and questions that come with the idea of therapy. Questions like: What if he hates going and it’s a fight to make him go every time? What if therapy causes even more tension in the family? What if he tries to convince the therapist that we’re bad parents? Or what if it’s not really a big deal and we’re just overreacting? Can he even get better if we force him to go? What if he doesn’t say anything the whole time and we have to pay for the session?

I could answer each one of those scenarios for you, but that would make for a very long blog post. The reality is that what most often happens is that he comes in to see me for a session and usually realizes it’s not that bad, he actually enjoys it and we talk about the presenting issue or some combination of the three. 

Your son wants to be understood

In short, I think usually teenage boys usually need a little push. But eventually, if they really don’t like therapy or feel like it’s not helping, then they won’t continue coming. More often then not though, they’ll keep coming because they want to be understood, just like all people want to be understood. And often times, teens also want to understand themselves as well. 

If you are ready to make the next step, you can schedule a free 15 minute phone call by clicking here. 

Goal blockers for teens - Part 1

Most parents know there can be a MILLION reasons why a child thinks he was unable to reach a particular goal. However, these are typically the ones I see in my office and are often associated with the teen years. 

  1. "I can’t." (I’m not good enough, I'm not smart enough, etc.)
  2. Blaming others
  3. Chaotic family life
  4. "I don't care." (Apathy, depression)

“I can’t."

The first is simply a disbelief in self, which is extremely common with teens. And the reason is simple; teens have typically not conquered many battles as of yet, so their confidence can be low. That’s okay! It’s extremely normal for a 15 or 16 year old to feel as though they are unable to ask a girl on a date, get into the college they want, or even just voice their concern to an adult. However, please be aware that these are all opportunities for them to take on the challenge. Please do not rescue your kids from a chance to overcome the odds. (Especially if the odds seem daunting!)

This is their time to face the dragon (metaphorically of course). The cool thing about facing a metaphorical dragon (as opposed to a real dragon) is that even if they lose and fight bravely, you can still be proud of their bravery! Your child may have trouble being proud of a lost fight, but you can still be proud for them. 

“Blaming” 

Blaming is very common for teens (and everyone) but if it becomes ingrained in their behavior it can eventually become a dangerous cycle. Blaming is the easiest way to protect one’s self from failure and for teens is often directed towards: parents, teachers, siblings, society, or simply "life" as a whole. Don’t let the blame settle on someone else unless it truly is someone else’s fault. Eventually, teens will NEED to be able to distinguish whether they or someone else is to blame for a failed aspiration or project. And if they are convinced everything else is someone else’s fault then they won’t know when that’s true or not. 

Don't forget, it's easy for us parents to put the blame on others instead of our kids (or ourselves) too!

Setting Goals with your kids

As another school year begins, it’s important to help your child understand what they hope to accomplish through the form of goals. If your teen is anything like me when I was their age, I had zero interest in creating any kind of goals. The reason for not having goals was simple; no goals meant no failures! Obviously, this is not a great way to approach life. 

So how do you help your teen create goals? 

  1. Start with self awareness. You can’t figure out where you need to go if you don’t know where you are. 
  2. Their goals should be realistic. 
  3. Their goals should come from them or be collaborative. This isn’t a list of goals for what YOU want. This is their own goals for what they want. 
  4. Create a long term reward and then encourage along the way. Yes, you can reward your child with money for making all A’s. However, I’d encourage some more creative rewards. 

The main point to all of this is that you are helping your teen think about a particular timeframe and desired outcome. 

The reason thinking about a timeframe and desired outcome is important is because it helps the teen to realize their actions have a direct affect on the outcome. ACTIONS = CONSEQUENCES. This is a basic principle for us as adults whereby we take responsibility for our failures. Or at least I hope so!

I often will process with a teen what they wanted, what they expected, and what actions they took that either helped them or hurt their chances of achieving their goal. 

Do you have any creative rewards for your teen when they accomplish a goal?

Isolation and Boredom

What happened to boredom?

Okay I’m not all that old. I’m 32. I was born in 1985 which makes me still fairly young in terms of technology and the age of childhood boredom. When I was bored as a kid I had to either create, imagine, read, or go outside and do whatever it is we used to do outside. Which often times, was be bored outside. Or be bored with the neighborhood kids. 

Don’t get me wrong. I played a lot of video games growing up. I would usually play them with friends, switching off trying to get past a certain level. And legitimately, we could play them for a very, very, long time. But after a certain point I would always hit a wall and want something different. Or, often times Mom or Dad would make me quit playing. 

Boredom in the age of personal technology is very different; it doesn’t really exist. There are currently 819,417,600 hours of video on youtube. 819,417,600 hours equals 34,142,400 days. 34,142,400 days equals 93,540 years. On top of that, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. I’m not so good at Math, so I’m going to stop there and just assume that you get the picture. Lots of videos + bored teens isolating = zombie teens watching video game walkthroughs of other people playing video games at 2am. I will never understand watching someone else playing video games either. Maybe I actually am old. 

Anyway, my point is that boredom used to be difficult. It used to be BORING. It used to be an indication that you were lacking something. It meant that not having a plan, a goal, a project, or a person to hang out with was very unsatisfying and unstimulating. Which would then provoke some kind of action or at the very least, a feeling. I like to think that feelings, or emotions are like a compass which gives us an indication of how we are doing. 

What kind of feeling does boredom most closely resemble? Any guesses? Sadness. Boredom, for many is the precursor to sadness. Be bored long enough and you will feel sad. 

Alright, so if boredom is the precursor to sadness, then does that sadness get quenched by watching YouTube reviews of the Top Ten Plastic Chairs of all time? Well, yes and no, weirdly enough. Because the Top Ten Plastic Chairs of All Time is surprisingly entertaining, it does fulfill an immediate need to fill the temporary void of boredom. HOWEVA - “Temporary" is the key component in that sentence. And that temporary fill is without much actual human/relational/soul nutrition.  

Think of soul nutrition as akin to body nutrition. Technically, you could eat only crackers for days on end. You could eat them in the morning until you were full, you could eat them at night. You could eat Saltines when you feel sick and it would work out perfectly! Eventually though, you would probably get some kind of Oregon Trail-type disease we don’t get anymore.

To nourish your soul you'll need a whole range of emotional, spiritual, and relational stimulation. Such as joy, friendship, sadness, frustration, solitude, fear, overcoming fear, vulnerability, rejection, acceptance, challenge, friendship,  love, romance, boredom, just to name a few! 

 

Isolation - Part 1

One of the most common issues I see with teens and young adults is isolation. Sometimes isolation is simply the answer to how a person protects themselves from social rejection. For others, isolation is introversion without boundaries. People isolate to protect themselves from the rejection, pain, or trauma of others or to feel comfortable. No matter what the reason, the common thought is that isolation is never viewed as "isolation" by the person who is alone. 

Don't get me wrong; isolation is NOT needing to take a break from people, needing alone time, or having a desire for peace and relaxation. On the contrary, a balance of interaction and alone time is good for people. Isolation IS when there is a persistent pattern of withdrawal from human interaction and the building of relationships. 

For those who are consistently avoiding relationships and social interaction, they see their own isolation as just "who they are". And for introverts, this line can be blurry and take time to figure out. Most teenage guys who are isolating themselves are either A) playing video games or B) watching TV. Both of which aren't inherently "bad". The problem is that an activity like a video game is a distraction and also a great way to numb out any pain. The same goes for television, youtube, or most other media. In other words, they help the person detach from their own world. I won't tell you how much is too much or make a judgement call on that. I think the line is different for different people and different times of life. 

I'm not saying that the solution is to rid the world of video games or television. But for kids who struggle socially, the first step is for YOU (Mom or Dad) to help regulate media in a way that approaches a balance in their lives. 

"But maybe my kid is just an introvert. Shouldn't I accept him for who he is?" Yes, accept him for who he is. But if you're reading this then it likely means your kid is also unhappy in some capacity or struggling with self-esteem and isolation.

There's a very important concept in the world of dialectical therapy which is that you can accept yourself and love yourself for who you are AND also push yourself to change. It's not either/or. It's BOTH/AND. I accept myself, flaws and all AND will continue to push myself to change and be a better Husband, Father, Leader, Therapist, etc.

So, accept your child, flaws and all for who they are AND help them find ways to grow and change.