What to do if Your Teenager’s Friends are a Bad Influence

What to do if Your Teenager’s Friends are a Bad Influence

As a psychotherapist who works with teenagers, I often hear parents express concerns about their teenagers friends. They are afraid their teenager’s friends may be a bad influence on their teenager. There are reasons for parents to be concerned. In the Alive and Free program, we refer to friendships and “fearships.” A friendship involves a true friend and a true friend will never lead another friend into trouble or dangerous situations. “Fearships” are more like gangs. They pressure some one to do something that may get the person into trouble or a dangerous situation. We use the term “fearship” because the threat to the teenager is if you don’t do what we are all doing or want you to do, we won’t be your friend anymore. This a tremendous fear for a teenager because most teens want to and need to belong to a group that they refer to as their friends.

I explain to parents that they need to understand that while your goal as a parent is to keep your child protected and safe, your child’s goal is to be with people who like him. Therefore, it makes it almost impossible to select your teenager’s friends. However, you can monitor who your teenager associated with and set appropriate limits so you can decrease the probability that your teenager will get into a “fearship.” James Leman, MSW address this issue too. I have listed below some steps based on my work with teenagers, and with Alive and Free and James Lehman’s research that parents can use to monitor who their teenagers are associating with as friends.

6 Ways to Deal with the “Wrong Crowd”

1. Try to Avoid Repeated Criticisms of Their Friends

I personally don’t think repeatedly criticizing your child’s friends or pointing out that they’re bad is going to be a successful strategy. Again, adolescents are developmentally at a place in their life where they will defend their friends. And so it’s very difficult for a parent to turn around and say, “Your friends are no good,” and expect to have a conversation. Your child’s natural urge is going to be to protect his or her friends, whether or not they know you’re right.

Realize that criticizing your child‘s friends is like criticizing an aspect of your child. It’s going to meet with the same resistance and hostility—even if what you’re saying is true. And all it will do is further alienate your child from you.

2. Make Clear Statements about Behavior

I think if you don’t like your kid’s friends, the most effective thing to do is state:

“I don’t like the way they behave. I don’t like you hanging out with kids who get in trouble, because you get in trouble with them.”

Can you say this every day? No. But you can say it once in a while. Be sure to simply state the facts. State what you don’t like about their friends’ behavior. You’re not judging them, just their behavior. As a parent, I think you want to be a little smooth about that. You could say:

“Look, I’m sure your friends are great to you. But they all smoke pot and they all get into trouble. If you hang out with them, you’re going to get into the same trouble.”

Remember, when we’re having conversations like this with our kids we want to keep our observations understandable for them. In other words, talk about things that are clear and recognizable:

“I don’t like that Jackie got arrested for shoplifting. I don’t want you to get arrested for it, too.


I don’t like that your buddies all use drugs because I don’t want you using drugs. I don’t think it’s good for you.”

Make those observations and keep it simple and direct and focused on the behaviors that you don’t like.

3. Use Structure

I think that structure can be very helpful when dealing with your child’s friends. If you don’t like the kids he’s hanging out with, then don’t let him go out on school nights. Try to have more control over where he goes and what he does.

If he says he’s going to the football game and then you catch him down at the mall with those friends, that’s his choice. He chose to go someplace which you didn’t know about and there should be consequences.

4. Set Limits

If you know your child’s friends are engaging in behavior that isn’t in line with your values, then I think you should set limits on how much time they spend with those kids—or whether or not your child can see them at all. If his friends are breaking the law or doing things that are unhealthy, you can say:

“Maybe they’re your friends, but I’m not going to let you hang out with them.”

With a lot of adolescents, defiance becomes a big problem. Many of the kids I dealt with would climb out their windows when told they couldn’t go out. But again, you set the standard as the parent. You set the expectation. If your child doesn’t meet it, at least he knew there were standards and expectations to begin with, and now he will have to face the consequences and be held accountable for his actions.

5. Going Out on Friday Night is Not a “Right”

All of a sudden, kids hit a certain age when they think they have the right to go out. Well, I don’t think so. I think kids have to behave responsibly in order to earn the right to go out. And you can say:

“I’ll let you go out if you show me that you’re trustworthy.”

Behaving responsibly does not include hanging out with kids who use drugs and drink—that’s all there is to it. I also think going out on Friday or Saturday night is not a right; it has to be something that is discussed every week.

Your son may come to you and say, “Listen, Saturday night we’re all going up to the lake. Is it okay if I go?” Saturday night was not his automatic night out. Instead, that was negotiated each week, and the answer wasn’t always “Sure.”

As a parent, I think you should be saying, “What are your plans this weekend?” Your child should know that they have to have their plans approved by you first and that they have to behave responsibly in order to earn the privilege of going out.

6. Talk to Them About Mean Friends

What if your child is hanging out with kids who treat him badly? Know that he’s hanging out with them for a reason. He’s probably afraid of them so he’s trying to become one of them. Again this is what I referred to as a “fearship.”

When kids are afraid of bullies and other kids, one of the options they have is to join the group and become a bully. Because even though these kids are mean to him, there is a sense of safety there. The deal they make is, “I’ll let you be mean to me and tease me, but you won’t abuse me or beat me up or take my lunch money anymore.”

But I think if your kid’s friends are mean to him, the kind of questions you want to ask are:

“What are you trying to accomplish by letting people treat you this way? What are you getting out of that?” Try to have an adult conversation with your child. You can say:

“Listen, you have choices. You don’t have to hang out with these kids. You don’t have to be a victim. I can get you help with this.”

When Your Child Hangs Out with Kids Who Use Drugs

As we’ve said, there are several reasons why people gravitate toward different groups. If you have a kid with behavior problems, you will often find that they are attracted to friends who also have behavior problems. If you have a child who doesn’t do his homework and fails in school and is resistant and mouthy, he’s going to gravitate toward friends who won’t hold him accountable for that kind of behavior.

Instead, his chosen peer group will reward and reinforce what he’s doing. In order to belong, he just has to do what the other kids are doing. That might be any number of things, including shoplifting, defacing property, using drugs, or drinking.

He’s Probably Using Drugs

It’s a simple fact that kids who use drugs hang out with other kids who use drugs. These kids are not likely to ask, “Did you get an A in science?” If your child’s friends use drugs, realize that he is almost certainly engaging in the same type of risky behavior—even if he says he’s not. Remember the “fearship” bond, your teenager will do a lot to feel accepted and can be intimidated to act a certain way so they can continue to belong.

Let me be clear: there is no other reason for your child to pal around with kids who do drugs. If he says, “Well, they do it, but they don’t do it around me,” that’s a lot of nonsense. It’s just something kids tell you to throw you off track, and sadly, it’s often a far cry from the truth.

Create a No Drugs Policy

Some parents say things to their kids like, “Well, you shouldn’t smoke pot, but everybody experiments with it.” Don’t give your child that cop-out line. Make it very clear to your child:

“No matter what you see your friends or other kids doing, there is no using drugs. That’s our expectation of you.”

I am really clear with the teenagers I treat, however parents at times are reluctant to be as clear because they want their teenager to like them. Parents you need to remember that cognitively your teenager is not equipped to make decisions about drugs. Drugs get you high, drugs take away stress, drugs take away feelings of panic or crisis, and that means something.

Once kids start using drugs, it’s easy for teens to become dependent on them because adolescents always feel stress. Drugs can become a dangerous way for them to get relief from all their fears and anxieties. Make no bones about it, drug rehabs today are filled with teenagers whose parents said, “They’re only experimenting” when their kids first started using.

There are important problem-solving tasks adolescents have to work through in order to prepare for adult living. Also, there is knowledge about the world that teenagers have to learn in order to make healthy choices and keep themselves safe. The use of drugs and alcohol in adolescence inhibits the possibility of these milestones being reached. Therefore, parents must set limits and your teenager may get mad. However, being a parent is not a popularity contest.

Many times, parents are afraid to feel powerless, so they’ll make the excuse that everyone experiments instead of just telling their child “no.” But you need to hold your child accountable and tell them right from wrong; that’s simply the way it has to be. You have to be very clear and take a stand:

“No drinking. No drugs.”

When Your Child’s Behavior Changes

If your child starts changing as a result of the kids he hangs out with, use a structured parenting routine: set limits and manage their time.

I also think you should expect that they’re going to change during adolescence. They’re going to find a group with whom they’re going to identify. When you see an adolescent, believe me, he’s probably rebelling against adult authority in a lot of little ways. And while your child may go to school and be fairly responsible, you’ll find that through music, through clothes, through a myriad of different things, it’s a rebellious time in his life.

I think it’s important for parents to understand that rebelliousness has a developmental function. Teenagers are individuating from their parents. What I mean by that is they’re becoming individuals and separating from their parents. This feels as natural to adolescents as water feels to a duck. Saying that, it’s often a very hard thing for parents to accept and manage.

Here’s the bottom line: kids are going to make mistakes and they’re going to make bad choices. The best we can do is guide them, set limits, project our view of what’s right and wrong in the world, and hold them accountable.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience as a psychotherapist treating teenagers. He is also a founding member of the National Alive and Free Advisory Board. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3


What Is The Least Restrictive Environment ?

What Is The Least Restrictive Environment ?

Parents this video explains that least restrictive environment at school refers to the best environment for your child based on their needs. Therefore, some times being placed in a general education classroom may not be the least restrictive. The Court has decided that the lease restrictive environment is the environment where your child will benefit the most from their education. This is an important concept for parents. It is also very important that parents understand this definition when they attend their child’s IEP meeting. I have included a link which defines this term further. IDEA Basics: (LRE) Least Restrictive Environment https://youtu.be/sc5pgXhyLoQ via @YouTube

Does My Child have ADHD?

Does My Child have ADHD?

School has been in session for several weeks and many teachers may be telling parents that their children are having problems concentrating. Also some parents have been struggling with getting their child to do homework. The school or family members may be suggesting to parents that the child has ADHD and needs medication. Many parents are not sure about the diagnosis and they are concerned about their child taking ADHD medication. I hear this very often from parents and do many assessments on children to determine if a child has ADHD. Yes ADHD is a really disorder, but too many teachers and schools rush to the conclusion that a child has ADHD and needs medication.

According to statistics by the American Psychological Association, five percent of children in the United States have ADHD. It is also more common in males and it does tend to run in families. However, not every child who has ADHD requires medication. Many children can be treated with psychotherapy and behavior modification. Therefore, if your child is diagnosed with ADHD do not rush to medicate your child. There are different subtypes of ADHD and different severities of the diagnosis.

If you child does have ADHD, they are entitled to accommodations such as extra time taking a test. This would be covered by a 504 plan. However, if your child has severe ADHD and needs resource assistance too, they are entitled to an Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Many schools may tell parents ADHD does not qualify for an IEP. This is not true. The severity of the ADHD determines if a child needs an IEP. They would qualify under the categories of Emotional Disturbance or Other Health Impairments.

If you feel your child may have ADHD or their school suggests the idea, make sure you have your child appropriately assessed by a professional who specializes in ADHD. In the past schools would often diagnosis children with ADHD. Schools are no longer supposed to make this diagnosis. If they feel a child might have ADHD, they are supposed to have your child evaluated. Many parents take their child to their pediatrician, however, many pediatricians are not trained in diagnosing ADHD. I would suggest having your child evaluated by a mental health clinician trained in working with children and in assessing for ADHD.

As I stated above, if you are going to have your child evaluated for ADHD, make sure you take your child to a mental health clinician who specializes in children and in doing assessments. The assessment for ADHD is not very difficult and an appropriate evaluation by an appropriate mental health clinician should cost around $250 depending on where you live. I have seen some parents who have spent thousands of dollars getting CT scans, MRIs and PET scans. You do not need an expensive scan of your child’s brian to diagnosis ADHD.

The DSM V, the diagnostic manual that mental health clinicians use, list the criteria needed for the diagnosis. I am including a link to the Center for Disease Control which list the criteria for the diagnosis and other information about ADHD, http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html. Typically the diagnosis can be made by a clinician interviewing the parents, having a play session or two with the child and observing the child at school or consulting with the teachers. However, remember if you are going to have your child evaluated for ADHD, you want a mental health clinician who specializes in treating children and assessing children for ADHD. Your child’s pedestrian should be able to refer you to someone or if you call your insurance they will probably have referrals.

Before you rush to have your child assessed, remember some basic facts. Most children between the ages of two to five are very active. They also have very short attention spans. Sometimes you need to give a child some time to mature especially if you have a boy. Remember boys mature slower than girls and tend to be more active than girls. It is important to keep these facts in mind when you are wondering if your child has ADHD.

Now if you child is more hyperactive than other kids his age or his attention span is shorter than most kids his age, there might be an issue. Also if there is a strong family history of ADHD in the family such as his father had ADHD as a child and paternal and maternal uncles all had ADHD as children, there might be an issue. Also if your child was born premature or there were complications during the pregnancy or child birth, there might be an issue. Premature babies or babies with a difficult pregnancy or birth are more likely to have ADHD and learning disabilities.

Bottom line, if someone suggests that your child has ADHD don’t rush to the pedestrian seeking medication. Compare your child’s behavior to other children and consider the risk factors. If your child doesn’t have many risk factors for ADHD maybe wait six months and reassess the situation. The most important thing to remember is if you decide to have your child assessed for ADHD, make sure you go to a mental health clinician who specializes in children and ADHD. You want a mental health clinician who specializes in treating children with ADHD and assessing children for ADHD. Also remember you do not need any expensive scans like a CT scan. There are other treatment options besides medication, so do not rush to medicate your child either. Consider all the treatment options.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in treating children and assessing children. He has over 20 years experience treating and assessing children and teenagers. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work visit his website at http://www.rcs-ca.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3

The Reality about Guns and Teenagers

The Reality about Guns and Teenagers

I hear many children and teens talking about their safety at school and around town while they are playing. Many teenagers seem to believe if they have a gun that will keep them safe. While research this issue I read an article by Cody Fenwick regarding children and gun violence. His article was very alarming. September was dedicated to suicide prevention and October is dedicated to the issue of bullying so this month and last month were dedicated to safety issues involving teenagers and children. Therefore, it seems appropriate to address the issue of guns because they are a popular method of suicide and they can be used to bully kids too.

Many of us feel because we live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek or Lafayette that our children and teenagers do not have to worry about gangs or gun violence. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. According to a new research study in the Journal of Pediatrics, guns continue to be the third-leading cause of death for Americans younger than 18 years old, killing around 1,300 children and teenagers a year in the United States. In addition, almost 6,000 children and teenagers are injured per year. Many teenagers are permanently disabled from these injuries.

The study examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2002 and 2014. The study found that boys, especially older boys such as teenagers and minorities, were much more likely to be the victims of gun violence. The study did not say anything about where the boys lived. The facts are children who are male and teenagers, are at a higher risk for becoming a victim of gun violence. Therefore, teenagers in our area are at risk of becoming a victim of gun violence.

The study does indicate there has been a decrease in accidental deaths such as boys cleaning a gun. However, the rate as a method for suicide has increased. I have mentioned before that suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10 year old boys. This study confirms that statistic and indicates the preferred method of suicide for boys and teenagers are guns. According to Katherine Fowler, one of the lead researchers at the CDC, “Firearm injuries are an important public health problem, contributing substantially to premature death and disability of children.” Understanding their nature [guns] and impact is a first step toward prevention.”

When we look at these numbers, can anyone argue against taking steps to protect our children? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy using a gun to kill himself? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy feeling that his life is so bad at the age of ten that death seems like a better option than living?

The study indicates that in recent years guns were responsible for a large number of adolescent, males who were murdered. The study documented that deaths in the category of murder for boys under the age of 18 years old decreased to 53 percent. This is a decrease yet the rate is still 53%. The other causes of gun-related deaths include:

• 38 percent — suicides

• 6 percent — unintentional deaths

• 3 percent — law enforcement/undetermined cause

The study found 82% of deaths by guns were boys. This means 82% of gun deaths were boys who were children or teenagers. Putting it another way, this means these boys were not even 18 years old yet at the time of their deaths. The study also found that white and American Indian children have the highest rate of suicide using a gun.

We also like to think that the United States in one of the most advanced nations in the world. However, the statistics show that the United States has the highest rate in the world for children under 14 years old committing suicide. Again, the United States has the highest rate of children under 14 years old using a gun to commit suicide. That number scares me and is appalling to me. However, as an adolescent and child psychotherapist, I do not doubt it. I have heard 6 year old boys seriously discussing suicide.

Furthermore, I hear teenagers routinely talking about needing to carry a knife or gun with them for protection. They tell me you never know when you will be jumped and you need to be able to protect yourself. In fact, a few years ago a teenager was shot on his front door step in Danville over a marijuana deal. When I mention to teens the risks they are taking, they tell me there is no guarantee they will live until 30 years old. They would rather die protecting themselves than doing nothing.

As a society, we need to look at these numbers and ask ourselves some questions. What are we going to do in order to improve gun safety? Most importantly, why are children as young as 6 years old thinking about suicide? Also what are we going to do so that children who are suicidal have access to mental health care? This is our problem because it does happen in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek and Lafayette.

Dr. Rubino has 20 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.

Research Indicates Parents Often Deny Teenage Depression

Research Indicates Parents Often Deny Teenage Depression

A recent research study by Yahoo finds that despite the fact that parents may be concerned about their teen being depressed, they don’t seek treatment due to the negative stereotype associated with mental health.

This stigma associated with mental health is resulting in many teenage deaths. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for children 10 to 18 years old (CDC). In fact, suicide is considered a teenage epidemic (CDC). Research studies have confirmed that teenagers who report symptoms of depression are more likely to attempt and succeed at suicide (CDC).

Parents are reluctant to seek treatment because they are afraid if the diagnosis of depression is on their medical records their teenager may denied medical insurance and possibly job opportunities in the future. We need to change this stereotype. Parents need to feel safe to seek treatment for their children are depressed. They should not have to worry about insurance coverage or how people will judge them or their child. Parents are also reluctant to seek treatment because people may judge their child as weird or label them as bad parents.

If we want to decrease the number of Teenage Suicides and the number of teens dealing with depression or anxiety, we must change how we view mental health. I have included a link to the article so you can read more about this issue. Parents ‘In Denial’ About Teens’ Depression and Anxiety https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/parents-in-denial-about-teens-depression-and-117195820377.html?soc_src=community&soc_trk=tw via @YahooNews.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3

Talking to Teenagers about Mental Health Issues

Talking to Teenagers about Mental Health Issues

While researching some mental health topics, I stumbled across this great video for teenagers. Many teenagers that I work with are well aware of their mental health issues. Many times that have other mental issues that their parents may not be aware of. For example, a parent may bring their teen in for depression and the teen confides in me they are cutting too and their parents do not know.

Often when this occurs the teenager tells me that they want to tell their parents. However, they are afraid of their parents’ reactions. Will they think they are weird, crazy or will they scare their parents? The fear of scaring their parents is a big fear. They are concerned if they tell their parents the truth, their parents may feel overwhelmed and want to place them into an in-patient program. This idea makes the teenager feel ashamed of themselves and terribly afraid they will be abandoned just when they really need their parents’ support. This is very overwhelming for a teenager. It takes a great deal of courage and emotional strength to ask for help because they have a mental health issue.

Our society places a huge negative stigma on mental health. Therefore, for a teenager who is still trying to figure out school and social issues in addition to their own identity, the last thing they want is to feel like people will reject them especially their parents.

This video does a great job first of normalizing mental health. It approaches mental health just like other issues teenagers are dealing with in high school. It also names the feelings they may be having such as anxiety or fear of rejection. This helps the teenager because there is someone else they can relate to and they can see that their feelings are normal and that they are normal. They are not a helpless, crazy person, they are a normal person who has a mental health issues just like many other teenagers. Finally, the tips it provides are very helpful for a teenager. It gives them an idea how to start the conversation and how to have it. This video can also help parents with starting a conversation with their teenager, if they are concerned about their teen’s mental health. It helps you talk with your teen without making them feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty. This is very important when you are talking to your teen about mental health or other sensitive issues. Therefore, I strongly encourage parents to watch this video and for parents to ask their teenagers to watch it too. Tips on Talking to Your Parents About Your Mental Health https://youtu.be/CxrDC_D4BQU via @YouTube.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his websites http://www.RubinoCounseling.com, http://www.rcs-ca.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Boys will Be Boys

Boys will Be Boys

Due to the Kavanaugh hearings and the Me Too movement, the President is claiming that boys are at risk. He is claiming a girl can accuse a boy of sexual assault and ruin his life.

The facts are wrong. Girls are not putting boys at risk. Society puts boys at risk with the attitude “Boys will be boys.” Boys are taught they need to drink and have sex to be men. I have teenage boys in my office all the time that are afraid that people will find out they are a virgin. They claim the other guys will look at them as weak if they find out they are a virgin at 16 years old.

I also hear many boys say they were drinking or using marijuana with their friends because they were afraid that if they refused to drink or smoke they other guys would think they are weak.

Our society tells adolescent boys that to be considered men they must have sex and drink. If they don’t engage in these behaviors, they are weak and pathetic.

Think back to when you were in high school. The cool guys had girlfriends, having sex and partying on the weekends. They were considered men and normal. The guy who didn’t have a girlfriend and was not having sex or partying was considered weak and a nerd.

This attitudes also impacted girls too. The girls who were having sex were considered easy and no one had respect for them. These were the girls guys would ask out if they wanted to have sex. Why would it be acceptable for a teenage boy to be sexually active but not a teenage girl? But this is what we were taught growing up and teenagers are still taught today.

We need to change the stereotype society has about how men act and women act. Watch the trailer to “The Mask you Live IN” and see what society teaches boys about being a man. We need to change the belief “Boys will be boys” and teach boys to respect others and themselves. The part about respecting themselves is very important. Many teenage boys turn to drugs or try to commit suicide because they cannot live with the pressure of conforming to this old, outdated stereotype.

Please watch this trailer and think about a teenage boy who is 15 years old and still trying to figure life out, should we subject him to this type of social pressure? https://youtu.be/hc45-ptHMxo

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers. He is a founding member of the National Advisory Board for the Alive and Free Program which participated in The Mask You Live In. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work and private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.