Is Your Teenager Emotionally Ready for College?

Is Your Teenager Emotionally Ready for College?

Parents worry about their teenagers starting High School, however, they also worry a great deal about their teen going off to college. When a teen starts high school a parent can still watch what is going on and help out if they feel they need to. However, with college their teenager is on their own. Their child must learn how to handle their class schedule, make new friends and handle everyday routines such as laundry and getting food. A parent cannot just step in and help. Additionally, parents worry about their child entering the adult world with issues such as alcohol, drugs and sex and worrying about is their teenager mature enough to handle everything that goes along with college.

Kathryn O’keefe, of Teen Magazine, spoke to an emergency room physician and asked him about are teenagers emotionally mature enough to handle everything associated with college. Here is what the emergency room physician had to say about teenagers being mature enough to handle going away to college in today’s world.

As an emergency room physician, Dr. Louis M. Profeta has seen many college students over his career. Having spent over 25 years in the ER, he’s performed rape exams, pumped veins full of Narcan in response to drug overdoses, and worst of all, looked at the clock and pronounced time of death.

Taking His Message Straight to the Source

After too many days spent breaking horrible news to parents, Profeta decided to go to the source. He visits college campuses that are “brave enough to have him” and answers uncomfortable questions about drugs and alcohol, sexual assault, hazing, and a whole host of complex topics. He’s also written several widely-shared essays, including, “A Very Dangerous Place for a Child is College.”

When he speaks to college students he favors an open and honest approach. He tells them he’s there as a doctor and a father who almost lost a child to cancer. He tells them that he wants them to live a long life and experience the joy of holding their own child in their arms one day. In return, the students are candid with him.

It was the questions he got when adults were out of the room that made him feel many of these students have absolutely no business leaving home and going away to college. It’s not a big surprise that the questions changed because teenagers want to look mature to their parents. Therefore, most college students rarely ask their parents or other adults about these issues because they want to appear mature to everyone. I have seen this occur many times when I’m working with college or high school students.

Here’s a sampling of what Profeta has heard:

• “Can you really soak a tampon in alcohol and get drunk?”

• “Is cough syrup OK to mix with vodka?”

• “Can’t you just strap a backpack to them to keep them from rolling over so they don’t choke on their own vomit?”

• “What if you know your roommate is using heroin … should I tell their parents?”

• “How do I tell if the ‘bars’ I bought online are not fentanyl?”

Based on his experiences, this ER doctor has the following thoughts for parents as they contemplate their children’s futures.

Dr. Profeta’s Advice About College Readiness:

1. College is not a place for children — it’s for young adults.

Profeta is very clear about what college is and is not. First and foremost, he notes that college is for men and women, not children. It’s a place to explore career options, expose oneself to diversity of thought. It’s a place to hone social and life skills, and make contacts that might translate into future business opportunities, friendships, or life partnerships.

College is not summer camp, and it is NOT a surrogate parent. Profeta suggests the early discussions around college are all wrong. Instead of worrying about their child’s aptitude for college, parents should step back and consider, “Is my child emotionally and mentally ready to go away to college?” This is a fact that I have found many parents do not address or are afraid to address because of the answer they may need to face.

Remember the question from a college student about “bars” containing fentanyl? Profeta explained that “bars” are slang for bar-shaped Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat anxiety. When students attempt to purchase bars online or on the street, they may end up with drugs that contain fentanyl, a cheaper ingredient that also happens to be an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin. Ingesting such drugs can lead to convulsions, respiratory arrest, and fatal overdose—Profeta has seen it all. In fact, teenagers dying due to fentanyl increased by 23% in 2022 and in 9 out of 10 teenage deaths due to a drug overdose, fentanyl was involved (CDC). Fentanyl comes in many forms and many teenagers and college students are not aware how deadly it can be. Many teenagers die the first time they try fentanyl (CDC).

2. Maturity will serve college students more than a high SAT score.

Thankfully, not every emergency room visit ends with horrible news. But Profeta has another concern regarding his patients. He’s seen college-age patients who won’t look him in the eye and who defer to their parents to answer questions about their health. He’s concerned about some college students’ level of maturity and ability to be self-sufficient in a place that requires both.

“Give me one year of age over a hundred extra points on the SAT,” says Profeta, suggesting parents of teens ask themselves the following questions:

1. Does my child have the strength of character to say no?

2. Are they independent—really?

3. Would I feel comfortable leaving my house and letting them fend for themselves?

4. Could I go weeks without talking to them, secure in the knowledge they are fine?

If the answer to these questions is no, Profeta suggests postponing going away to college. And if a child does enroll and then reaches out to their parents admitting they weren’t ready, welcome them home.

Profeta also advises that parents talk to their children about good decision-making and the need for more self-sufficiency from a place of love. He tells college students the most devastating thing that could happen to their parents is the loss of a child. He should know—he’s had to deliver that heart-breaking news hundreds of times.

3. There is nothing wrong with taking a longer path to college.

For those students who aren’t ready for the traditional residential college experience right out of high school, Profeta advocates an arrays of alternatives. Get a job waiting tables or doing construction. Take classes locally. Engage in community service or environmental activism. The list goes on. I have had many teenagers start college at a junior college. After two years at the junior college, a majority of teenagers are more responsible, know what they want to study and are aware of the issues they will face at a four year college.

He adds this important reassurance for parents who are convinced that their child needs more education to succeed. “College will still be there. It is not a race to adulthood.” He knows about the comparison game among parents but he suggests ignoring it, understanding there are many paths to success.

The one path he doesn’t recommend taking. Don’t toss an immature student into an environment with a thousand temptations you never knew existed. There’s just too much at stake.

The best path to success is allowing your teenager to be who they are and to follow the path that they are best suited for in life. If it means a four year college great, if it means a trade school that is great too. We need to help teenagers redefine “success.” People do not need a fancy title and to make a lot of money to be successful. They need to be able to contribute to society in a responsible manner and to be happy with their work and lives. This is true success. Working at a job you hate because you get paid a lot of money that you don’t have time to enjoy because you are working is not successful. It sounds more like a prison term. Help your child to be proud enough to live a life that will make them happy. After all, isn’t that your job as their parent?

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience working with children, teenagers, trauma victims including first responders. For more information about his work please visit his website site or his Facebook page

Divorce Issues Belong at Home not at Your Child’s High School Graduation

Divorce Issues Belong at Home not at Your Child’s High School Graduation

With the large number of divorces in our society, brings a lot of new situations in life, especially if you have children. Hopefully, when you and your spouse divorced, it was done in a civil manner and the children were not put in the middle of the divorce. This is the ideal situation, however, we do not always get the ideal situation.

Very often divorces are high conflict, and the two of you argue over everything and anything. Usually in these high-conflict divorces, the children are put in the middle and used as weapons. The children feel they have to choose -between their mother and their father. This is a very sad situation. Imagine a child who loves both parents feeling like they have to choose between their parents. It’s no surprise that many children feel like they caused their parent’s divorce.

This conflict usually interferes with visitations and holidays. Parents argue about pick-up and drop-off times, how long they have the children for holidays, and there is often arguments about can a child bring toys or clothes from Dad’s house to Mom’s house. In short, parents argue about everything and the children become sick and tired of the arguing.

The other factor that adds to this is grandparents saying negative things about the ex-wife or ex-husband. This only increases the pressure and stress on the children who are trying to deal with their parent’s divorce.

The final stressor is when one or both parents remarry or have a longterm boyfriend or girlfriend. Then the arguments are about, They are not my child’s mother, and I don’t want them involved in my child’s life.”

In short in a high-conflict divorce, children live in a war zone. They become use to arguing about everything and often feel they must choose sides. At times, some children do choose sides hoping to end the fighting or because they are so confused.

This type of divorce creates a great deal of issues for children, and I cannot cover all the issues in this article . I would need a book to cover all the issues. However, just to name a few, high conflict divorces create self-esteem issues for children, trust issues for children and often drug and alcohol issues so they can escape the stress of the divorce.

Most of the time, teens become sick and tired of the fighting and wish that their parents would stop fighting so they could at least not have to worry about what will cause the next argument and how the divorce is going to interfere with their lives again.

Graduation is one of those issues.

Parents will often start arguing about issues such as, “I paid for everything you needed for high school and now he wants to come.” Or, “If your mother shows up, after everything she has done, I won’t be in the same room as her.” And of course there is always the issue of “he better not bring her to my child’s graduation.”

What is a teen to do?

They have spent the last four years working very hard in high school and graduation is a day for them to celebrate their accomplishment. This generation of high school seniors have had to deal with mass shootings and shootings drills, plus they had to cope with the pandemic and remote learning. They have had several very difficult issues to cope with that other generations have not had to cope with and they have earned the right to be proud of graduating and wanting to celebrate the day without divorce issues. In addition to all they have had to overcome, they want the people who they love and care about to be there with them to celebrate their accomplishment. This main people are usually their mother and father except in rare occasions. However, how does this happen when Mom and Dad and grandparents are stating their terms about how graduation will be because of the divorce?

Your teenager did not get divorced. You and your spouse divorced, and even though you are no longer married, you are both still parents. This is a fact you need to remember. Also if you don’t want to ruin your teenager’s high school graduation, you need to act like parents. This means putting divorce issues aside, biting your tongues if necessary and acting civil with your ex-wife or ex-husband. It also means communicating this to grandparents about acting civil and not mentioning or being rude to the other side of the family.

So remember, this means putting aside all your feeling and issues so your teenager can truly celebrate their day, their graduation. Most parents have told their teens to stop being selfish and to think about someone else.

Well isn’t it time that you followed your own advice? Stop thinking about yourselves and your divorce and think about your teenager and how you can make your teen’s graduation a happy day for them.

What you need to do is you and your ex spouse sit down together, or email each other, and discuss how the two of you can put your issues on hold one day so your teen can have a happy graduation. The two of you need to talk with grandparents and other extended family and inform them what will be allowed and what will not.

This doesn’t mean you have to act like best friends. You simply need to be civil. If you don’t think you can sit next to each other at the graduation, then one of you sits on the left and one sits on the right. You don’t have to have a joint party either. You can decide to have separate parties.

The key is communicating with each other before the graduation and decide how you can do it civilly. This will be the best graduation present that you can give your teenager. Allow them to have their graduation day to celebrate their accomplishment without having to worry about what fight will there be. You are also teaching them a lesson about love, being parents and relationships.

This means putting aside all your feeling and issues so your teenager can truly celebrate their day, their graduation. Most parents have told their teens to stop being selfish and to think about someone else.

Well isn’t it time that you followed your own advice? Stop thinking about yourselves and your divorce and think about your teenager and how you can make your teen’s graduation a happy day for them.

What you need to do is you and your ex spouse sit down together, or email each other, and discuss how the two of you can put your issues on hold one day so your teen can have a happy graduation. The two of you need to talk with grandparents and other extended family and inform them what will be allowed and what will not.

This doesn’t mean you have to act like best friends. You simply need to be civil. If you don’t think you can sit next to each other at the graduation, then one of you sits on the left and one sits on the right. You don’t have to have a joint party either. You can decide to have separate parties.

The key is communicating with each other before the graduation and decide how you can do it civilly. This will be the best graduation present that you can give your teenager. Allow them to have their graduation day to celebrate their accomplishment without having to worry about what fight will there be. You are also teaching them a lesson about love, communication, being parents and relationships.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children, teenagers, trauma victims including first responders. If you want to know more about Dr. Rubino’s work visit his website or his Facebook page or his podcasts on Apple and Spotify.

Helping Teens Cope with End of the School Year Stress

Helping Teens Cope with End of the School Year Stress

The end of the school year is around the corner and it is that time of year again – it’s Finals time.

Your teenagers are probably very stressed or getting stressed. There is a lot of things going on right now, Junior Prom, Senior Ball, acceptance letters for colleges are arriving so are letters of denial arriving too. There are also other end of the year activities. For some seniors, their acceptance into a university may be conditional on their final grades. Therefore, they will be very worried about finals.

As I stated besides finals, there are the Prom and Ball to worry about. Many of the teens are stressed about who to ask, will they get asked, or should they go alone or with friends and of course what to wear and how much will it cost? Also then there are the after parties. They worry about which one to go to and there is the issue of drinking that night, using drugs and having sex that night. Parents remember when you were in high school and all the issues associated with the Prom or Ball.

If that was not enough, there are final projects due, research papers and many high schools require community service hours too. In addition to this there is the normal homework and finding time to study for finals.

In many classes the final may be worth fifty percent of the students grade. The final grade in a class is very important. This grade will be part of their overall GPA which can affect what colleges Juniors can apply to and their ability to get scholarships. Also as I mentioned above for some Seniors, colleges have put a condition on their acceptance. The student must get a certain grade in a class or maintain a particular overall GPA in order to be accepted to the college.

As you can see there is a great deal of pressure on high school students during this time of year. Also since the competition to get into colleges has increased and the competition for scholarships has increased so has the stress on high school students.

Many students will do what ever they need to in order to survive this time of year. This includes using alcohol or weed to help them relax or sleep. They will also take friends ADHD medication, use cocaine, or start taking caffeine pills or start drinking a great deal of coffee or energy drinks so they can stay awake and study. They don’t realize how much caffeine those energized drinks contain. Also the combination of weed to sleep and caffeine to stay awake can cause mood changes, psychosis, heart rates to race and even death.

Most teens want to do things on there own so they will tell you everything is fine and they have it covered. They think it is fine because of the substances they are using and they think they have the substances under control. Remember a teenagers prefrontal lobes are not fully developed yet. Therefore, they only focus on the here and now and not on the future. Also they do not have the reasoning skills adults do. Therefore, teenagers have a tendency to be impulsive.

If your teenager is getting anger very easily or crying easily this is a sign that something is going on. If you notice a change in their eating habits such as going from eating a lot to eating nothing, this is another sign. Also if you notice a change in their sleep pattern such as awake all night and falling asleep at odd times this is also a sign. These are all signs indicating that you need to sit down with your teenager and explore what is going on in their life. When you have this conversation do so in a caring manner, not in a tone that sounds like you are accusing them of doing something wrong. If you come from a caring point of view, your teen is more likely to feel that they can open up and be honest with you.

Therefore, if you notice anything that is making you worry, sit down and talk to your teen. Explain you know there is a lot of stress right now and point out the changes you have noticed and what you are concerned about. Reinforce you are not having this conversation because you are mad or they are in trouble, you are having this conversation because you love them. If they are using things or doing things because they think it will help them study, let them know you are there to help. Explain some of the dangers associated with what they are doing. Remind them no grade is worth their life.

Hopefully they will listen to you and confide in you. If they continue to deny everything and you feel they are using some type of substance, then go to any local pharmacy and buy a drug testing kit. Explain you are only doing this for their safety and they are not in trouble. They may be afraid or embarrassed to tell you. They may feel like a failure in your eyes. As their parent they need your love and support right now not a lecture. Again remember when you were in high school and how difficult it was to tell your parents certain things. Doing a drug test might be extreme, but when you consider they may be using cocaine or fentanyl, which is deadly, the test is not so extreme. It is your responsibility as a parent to raise your teen to be a healthy, responsible adult. With the amount of pressure on teenagers right now, they may make some poor decisions. The drug test may help you save their life.

As I stated above some seniors will not get into the colleges they have been planning to go to. Additionally, some juniors and seniors may not be able to attend the prom or ball with the person they wanted because that person is going with someone else. Both of these situations can cause teenagers to become depressed. Again if you are noticing significant changes in their sleeping or eating habits this is a major red flag. Also if they are isolating themselves and seem like they don’t enjoy anything anymore. These are all symptoms of depression. If you are noticing symptoms of depression, schedule an appointment with an adolescent psychotherapist and have them assessed for depression. It’s important that it’s a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers because teenage depression often look different from adults who are depressed. Your primary care physician may miss it. Also if they are dealing with depression there is nothing to be ashamed about. When you consider all the stresses placed on teenagers today, it is no surprise that we are dealing with an epidemic of depressed teens in our country.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in working with children, teens, trauma victims including first responders. He has over 25 years experience and his work is nationally recognized. To find out more about Dr. Michael Rubino visit his website at or his Facebook page at

A Person doesn’t need to Give Birth to be a Mom

A Person doesn’t need to Give Birth to be a Mom

Mother’s Day is around the corner and many people will be celebrating it with the person who gave birth to them and raised them as a child. However, this is not the case for everyone. For some people their mother died during childbirth or due to cancer or she wasn’t around due to a drug or alcohol addiction. The point is the mother who gave birth to them may not have raised them. This is the same for situation for anyone who was adopted. This also may apply to people who grew up in foster care or for people who’s mother had a drug or alcohol addiction. This situation may apply to many children and teenagers right now.

The point I am trying to make is just because someone gave birth to a child it does not make them a mom. It does make them a mother, but a mom is the person who is their when you are sick, struggling with your homework or you are being teased at school. They teach you about the world and they let you know that they will always love you. They will love you their entire life no matter what happens in your life. This provides a child with a sense of safety and self-esteem.

However, Mother’s Day focuses on the person who gave birth to a child not the person who necessarily raised the child. For many children and teenagers this leaves them feel confused and like they are different from others. They feel this way because they don’t have a relationship with their birth mother. They have a relationship with the person who raised them and that is mom to them. Many feel strange wishing the person who raised them Happy Mother’s Day because that is not how we tend to think about Mother’s Day.

I have had many teenagers ask me what they should do about Mother’s Day because they were not raised by their biological mother. Maybe they were raised by their grandmother or a foster mother. What I explain to them is being a mom takes more than just giving birth to a child. I also explain that someone may give birth to a child but because of life circumstances they are not prepared or able to be a mom. This doesn’t mean they were not loved by their birth mother. It simply means their birth mother for what ever reason was not capable of being a mom. Therefore, instead of being selfish, they allowed someone who was ready to be a mom to raise them. It is very important to let the teenager know that just because their birth mother was not capable of being a mom does not mean they were not loved or wanted.

Additionally, some children grew up have more than one person who acted like a Mom to them. They may have an aunt, a teacher, a coach, an older sibling or cousin or someone else who was willing to provide them that maternal support. So besides Mom not being the person who gave birth to you, it may be two or three women who were there for a child and was able to provide the maternal support they needed at the time. Therefore, some people may have more than just one Mom and there is nothing wrong with that fact. Instead they were lucky to have those women in their lives who were able to provide the maternal love that every child needs in their lives as a child and as adults too. Yes even adults benefit from have a mom who loves them and can help guide them through difficult and celebrate good times.

Regarding Mother’s Day, I let children, teenagers and adults know there is no problem celebrating it and acknowledging the person who raised them or who was there for them at significant points in their lives. Again it might be an adoptive parent, a grandmother, a foster mother or a combination of people. The point is they have the right to celebrate and acknowledge whoever feels like mom to them, even if it’s more than one person. They do not need to worry about what other people may think. I also point out that whoever they choose to acknowledge and celebrate the day with will feel honored. Many children don’t get to choose who was a mom to them, but they do. Being a Mom is one of the most important jobs a woman can have in life. If you are deciding to honor someone as your Mom they will feel very lucky. They will feel happy that you think so much of them that you want to honor them on Mother’s Day. Therefore. don’t worry about what others may think, celebrate the day with the person you identify as Mom.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children, teenagers and trauma victims including first responders. If you would like more information about his work or private practice visit his website at or his Facebook page at or his podcasts on Spotify and Apple.

Are Teenagers Aware of the Meaning of Consent and Responsibility Regarding Sexual Activity?

Are Teenagers Aware of the Meaning of Consent and Responsibility Regarding Sexual Activity?

We have a tendency to look at teenagers as young adults due to their bodies. Most adolescent boys bodies and girls bodies tend to look like and function like grown adults. Most boys and girls by age 17 are fully grown and they are capable of having children. However, their brains do not function like a grown adult brain. The frontal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for reasoning, making decisions, are not fully developed until teenagers are 25 years old. Therefore, a 16 year old may look like an adult but the frontal lobe of the brain is functioning like a fifth grader’s brain. In other words, while they look like adults their brains cannot reason and understand abstract concepts like adults are able to do. This has a major impact on how teenagers act and what they understand.

One concept they do not fully understand is the concept of consent. It is very important that teenagers understand the meaning of and how consent works in the world. For example, a physician typically needs parental consent before examining a teenager. Furthermore, a medical doctor cannot treat anyone without their consent or parental consent. Teenagers may not be aware of how important consent is in life because they rely on their parents to provide consent for them. Since they are under 18 in most situations they need parental consent. They need parental consent because the law recognizes the fact that their brains are not capable of understanding and reasoning as adults yet. Therefore, it is not an issue they deal with and it is not something that they think about on a daily basis.

There are some situations where teenagers need to be aware of consent and think about consent. One major area of life where they need to be aware of consent is dating. Consent starts with both the boy and girl agreeing that they want to go on a date with each other. If a relationship begins to develop and one or both of them want to make the relationship a sexual relationship then both the girl and the boy must agree and consent to a sexual relationship. They both need to consent to the sexual activity they are going to engage in. This may seem fairly basic but many boys are not aware of consent in all these situations.

Another major issue related to sexual relationships that teenagers are not usually aware of is that no means stop. If a girl says no at anytime while they are having sex, the boy must stop immediately. If the boy doesn’t stop as soon as the girl says no, he has committed rape. This is a fact that many teenage boys are not aware of regarding sex and consent. It is a fact they have a difficult time understanding. In their minds, she said yes in the beginning so the yes applies the entire time in their minds. It is something we need to educate teenage boys about when they receive sexual education.

There is a new consent issue that teenage boys need to be educated about when they receive sex education. California has a new consent law referred to as “stealthing.” Governor Newsom signed a new law in 2022 making stealthing illegal without proper consent. You may be wondering what is stealthing? Stealthing is when a male opens a condom wrapper before the other person, female or male, has consented to sex. Therefore, if a teenage boy opens a condom anticipating that he is going to have sex, he can be charged with sexual assault if the girl has not consented to having sex yet.

Currently the law doesn’t state that the boy would go to juvenile hall, but the law states they can be sued in civil court. I would advise patients who have teenagers to look up this new law and review all of the details. How do we know if someone consented to having sex before or after the condom is opened. There are not going to be a lot of witnesses when the condom is opened (hopefully, not). Do teenage boys need to record their sexual experiences to prove they had consent?

I understand that the intent of the law is so no one is pressured into doing anything sexually that they don’t want to do, but I think this law is too difficult and confusing to determine when or if it was violated. In my professional opinion, we need to provide teenagers more education about sex and consent. They also need education about responsibility and sex too. Besides focusing on the fact that sex is physically enjoyable, we need to discuss when you have sex are you prepared to be parent? No contraception device is 100% effective. Therefore, every time you have sex you could become a parent.

Now that the Supreme Court has made abortion illegal in the United States, boys need to be more aware. The girl has to deal with the biological consequences and social consequences of being pregnant as a teenager. However, she did not get pregnant by herself. Therefore, boys need to be prepared to step forward and take their share of the responsibility for the pregnancy. We cannot allow boys to hide behind the fact that they can say the girl is lying and they are not the father. The law is holding teenage mothers responsible for their pregnancy and it needs to hold teenage boys responsible for their part in the pregnancy too. It is the only fair thing to do.

Something else we need to consider are teenagers prepared to handle their emotions and the other person’s emotions associated with having sex with each other and possibly a pregnancy? Finally, are they mature enough to tell their physicians that they are sexually active so if they contract a sexually transmitted disease, they can tell their partner or partners so they all can receive the appropriate treatment.

Consent is important. However, there is much more involved with sex than the physical act and getting proper consent. If this is all we focus on, we are not doing our teenagers any favors. There is much more involved regarding being sexually intimate with a person. We need to focus on these issues and educate teenagers about these issues too.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children, teenagers and trauma victims. For more information about his work visit his website at or his Facebook page at or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Should I Buy My Adolescent a Smartphone For Graduation?

Should I Buy My Adolescent a Smartphone For Graduation?

Graduations from middle school and high school are around the corner and one of the most popular gifts for graduation is a Smartphone. Many teens may have a cellphone but they feel a cellphone is not sufficient enough for their needs. They want an iPhone or its equivalent. If they have an IPhone already, they want to upgrade to the newest version. In today’s society many people including teenagers view cell phones as a necessity of life. I have seen teenagers argue with their parents how they could not function at school or in life without their cellphones. In fact, some teenagers become physically violent, if you take their cellphone away. Most teenagers also say they need Smatphones, and a regular cellphone will not work for them. However, in my opinion, cellphones, especially Smartphones, are a privilege not a necessity. We need to remember that fact. Yes for some parents it is a tool they use to keep in contact with their child and for their child to use if they feel they are in danger. With school shootings happening daily many parents do want a way to stay in contact with their child in case I an emergency. A regular cellphone will do this, it doesn’t have to be an IPhone 14. However, since we are dealing with what I call the IPhone generation, most teenagers will not be satisfied and will feel cheated unless they have the latest version of the Smartphone on the market.

Students in middle school or high school will be asking to upgrade their phones. As I stated above, they feel they need the latest version otherwise they cannot function successfully in their lives. Therefore, many children will be asking for the IPhone 14 for example. Most children and teenagers who are asking for these expensive phones usually never consider the price. They believe they are entitled to have the latest Smartphone. In fact, many cellphone providers such as, Verizon, offer a plan where you make monthly payments so you can automatically upgrade to the newest Smartphone when it is released. However, the fact is middle and high school students do not need a powerful smartphone, they are not running a business. Additionally, Smartphones provide numerous ways for teenagers to get into trouble. Look at how many adults get into trouble with Smartphones and how they use them.

Many people have forgotten that cellphones are privileges not necessities especially for teens and children in fifth grade or in Middle School. They have grown up with everyone having a cellphone so they don’t see it as a privilege any more. This is a common argument I encounter between children and parents. Also it is common for children and teenagers to use guilt with their parents in order to get the phones they want. They tell their parents if they cared, they would buy them the smartphone they need and want. Remember being a parent is not a popularity contest. Additionally, if their parents are divorced, they often will play their parents against each other as away to get the cellphone they want. Furthermore, many teenagers do not consider how much these phones cost. Additionally, the amount of money you spend on gifts for your child or teenager has no correlation with your love for your children or teenagers. As a parent you need to do what you feel is best for your child.

Parents if you stop and think about it, why does an 11 year old child need an IPhone 14? They do not need to track mileage or expense accounts nor do they need to remember their own doctor appointments. There is really no reason they need a Smartphone. Also if you do get them one, they do not need it with them all the time. It is important to set limits where and when they use their phones. Why do they need their cellphone when they go to bed? Most teens who take their cellphones to bed will typically spend hours texting friends or watching YouTube. When morning comes, they are too tired to get up because they were awake until 3am playing with their phone.

Smartphones are an area where technology has moved faster than our ethics. If you think about it, IPhones and Smartphones were not around in the year 2000. Now everyone including a majority of children in fifth grade and teens have an IPhone or Smartphone. In my opinion an adolescent does not need a cellphone until they enter Middle School and at that point all they need is a basic cellphone. They need a basic phone so they can check-in with you if their plans change or if they feel they are in need of help.

As I stated above, there is no reason that a teenager really needs a Smartphone. They are not taking care of a family nor are they running a business. Therefore, a basic cellphone should be adequate for what they need it for. I understand that given the way our society has changed some parents may find that it is helpful to their family if a child in middle school has a cellphone. This is a decision that every parent needs to make based on their family’s situation.

The parent needs to make this decision, not let the child guilt them into buying them a cell phone. If you are divorced and have children, this may be extremely difficult, but the decision about if your child gets a cellphone or not, should be a joint decision by both parents and a decision you both agree on. One parent should not buy a cellphone without consulting the other parent and they should not use it as a weapon in the divorce.

If you decide that your middle school child is mature enough for a cellphone, you should discuss the rules and guidelines about using the phone prior to getting a phone. Some things to discuss are who they give their cell number to, not texting during class and not taking it into the bedroom at night so they can text most of the night. As I stated, many kids will text with their friends until 2 or 3 am and then be too tired for school the next day.

Also there should be a discussion about sharing photos. You never know what someone will do with a photo if they get mad with you. Also there needs to be a discussion about the law. It is not uncommon for teens to send their boyfriend/girlfriend nude photos of themselves. What they don’t understand is they are under the age of 18 years old. Therefore, if they have a nude picture of their 15 year old girlfriend, they can be charged with possession of child pornography. Many may say this won’t happen to me, but I have had a number of teens in psychotherapy because they were charged with having child pornography. Also you need to remember, once those pictures are out on the internet, they are out there forever. There also needs to be a discussion about on-line perpetrators too. There are many pedophiles on line trying to lure unsuspecting teens into their plans. Your children need to understand this is a real risk and what to watch for.

Finally, it should be made clear that the phone does not belong to the child — the phone belongs to you the parent. Yes you are giving them the phone to use, but it still belongs to you. If you ask for it back, then the child hands it over no questions asked. Also if you feel they are using their phone in an inappropriate manner, all you need to do is call your cellphone carrier and request that their phone line be suspended. It cost you nothing and it is an easy way to control the phone. When you feel that your child has earned the right to have the cellphone back all you do is call your carrier to reinstate that phone line.

It is very important that you and your teen have an agreement about conditions regarding their cellphone use. All of these conditions and agreements should be written down in an agreement that you sign and the child signs. You each get a copy of the agreement and one copy is posted on the refrigerator. If there are any disputes about a rule, you simply go back to the agreement and you follow what is written. A written agreement is very important because I have seen parents have conversations, make agreements and then 6 months later there is a disagreement and everyone’s memory is slightly different so you have a big fight.

Also given how many adults have gotten into trouble with their Smartphones, if you are going to allow your child to use any kind of cellphone you must discuss the pros and cons so the child or teen understands the responsibility they are assuming, if you allow them to use a smartphone.

Below I have included a sample contract that you can use with your child and modify as you need:

Cellphone Contract

I, child’s name, will not bring my cellphone to the family dinner table.

I will not go over our plan’s monthly minutes or text message limits. If I do, I understand that I may be responsible for paying any additional charges or that I may lose my cellphone privileges.

I understand that I am responsible for knowing where my phone is, and for keeping it in good condition.

I understand that my cellphone may be taken away if I talk back to my parents, I fail to do my chores, or I fail to keep my grades up.

I will obey rules of etiquette regarding cellphones in public places. I will make sure my phone is turned off when I am in church, in restaurants, or quiet settings.

I will obey any rules my school has regarding cellphones, such as turning them off during class, or keeping them on vibrate while riding the school bus.

I promise I will alert my parents when I receive suspicious or alarming phone calls or text messages from people I don’t know. I will also alert my parents if I am being harassed by someone via my cellphone.

I will not use my cellphone to bully another person.

I will send no more than _____ texts per day I understand that having a cellphone can be helpful in a emergency, but I know that I must still practice good judgment and make good choices that will keep me out of trouble or out of danger.

I will not send embarrassing photos of my family or friends to others. In addition, I will not use my phone’s camera to take embarrassing photos of others. I understand that having a cell phone is a privilege, and that if I fail to adhere to this contract, my cell phone privilege may be revoked.

Parent Responsibilities I understand that I will make myself available to answer any questions my tween might have about owning a cellphone and using it responsibly.

I will support my child when he or she alerts me to an alarming message or text message that he or she has received. I will alert my child if our cellphone plan changes and impacts the plan’s minutes.

I will give my child _______ warning(s) before I take his or her cellphone away

Signed ______________________________ (Tween) Signed ______________________________ (Parents). Date ______________________________

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who has been working with children, middle school and high school students for over 25 years. He is considered an expert in this field. Dr. Rubino is one of the founding members of the National Alive & Free Program, a program designed to work with teens. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work and private practice visit his website at or or his Facebook page or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Why Are We Ignoring that Children Are Being Killed by Guns?

Why Are We Ignoring that Children Are Being Killed by Guns?

Parents, teachers and students have been worried about mass shootings and school shootings. Many children are afraid to go to school because they are afraid of being killed at school. Many children are frightened by the mass shooter drills. It makes sense why students, teachers and parents would worry about these issues and situations. However, now we have turned a very scary corner regarding school shootings. Over the past few weeks we had a six year old in Virginia who had a disagreement with his teacher take a gun out of his backpack and shot his teacher (CNN, ABC, CBS news). Thank God, the teacher survived and is recovering in the hospital. We also had another school shooting at Michigan State University and finally a school shooting and funerals this week at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Three teachers were killed and 3 nine year old students were killed. Those six families will be grieving and recovering from funerals this Easter not celebrating because of a gun.

This brings up a whole new set of questions and concerns. How did a six year old boy manage to get a hold of a gun? How did he get it into his school? How did he know how to use a gun? Are teachers now going to need to be concerned that if a student is upset with them that the student might shoot them? Do they need to wear bulletproof vests while working? Do we need metal detectors in elementary schools? These are a lot of questions and unfortunately we don’t have any firm answers yet.

If we look at the history of school and mass shootings maybe we should have seen this incident coming. In 2022 we had an increase of 50% in the number of mass shootings compared to 2020 (Gun Violence Archive). The year 2022 had the most mass shootings on record for a year and the year held that record before 2022 was even over (CDC, Brady Gunn Violence Campaign). As I stated many children are afraid of attending school due to school shootings such as in Uvlade, Texas where 18 elementary school children and 2 teachers were killed. However, the police and school failed to give parents direct answers about what occurred that day even after several months had passed since the shooting. Can we blame children for being afraid when every weekend there are numerous mass shootings across the country with numerous people being killed. Also the shootings are usually done with an automatic gun. The most common is the AR15. This gun was designed to be used in wars and it’s sole purpose is to kill. It is not a hunting rifle, it is a weapon of war.

I understand that many people start to say we need to address mental health issues to prevent these shootings. However, the evidence shows that people dealing with a mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves than others and people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes because they are more likely to be living on the streets (CDC). Yes mental health is an important issue in the United States. Currently, many people are having to wait months to get into a therapist because there are not enough therapists to serve all the people who need therapy (CDC, NAMI). While this is true, addressing mental health will not stop the mass shootings. Also the AR15 can kill many, many people at one time. In fact, the Nashville Police stated until we eliminate the AR15, the police will always be playing catch up. No matter how fast they respond there will always be a significant number of deaths because the AR15 shoots a large number of bullets at one time killing a large number of people at one time. As a result, many parents and children are afraid to go to school or go to public places because they are afraid of being killed.

As a psychotherapist who treats children and teenagers, I hear many children and teens talking about their safety at school and around town while they are playing or hanging out. I have had many children state they are afraid to go to school because they are afraid of being killed. Yes anxiety disorders and depression have increased significantly since the pandemic, however, anxiety and depression in children and teenagers were increasing prior to the pandemic. Anxiety and depression disorders started increasing as school mass shootings increased (CDC). I have seen this in public too. I was attending the play Oklahoma and when they shot the stage gun, the 12 year old behind me started having a panic attack and had to leave because they were afraid of being killed. It did not matter what the parents said or did. They automatically had a link between the sound of a gun and people dying. No child should have to be that afraid.

Teenagers are taking somewhat of a different response to the mass shootings. Many teenagers are also suffering from anxiety and depression disorders such as elementary children (CDC). However, many teenagers also seem to believe if they have a gun that will keep them safe. While researching this issue of gun violence, I read an article by Cody Fenwick regarding children and gun violence. His article was very alarming. Since there has been a significant increase in mass shootings, more teenagers have been trying to find ways to have access to guns. As I stated for some teenagers they say they feel safer if they can access a gun. However, the major issue is that suicide has been significantly increasing for teenagers over the years (CDC). Suicide is now an epidemic in teenagers and guns are one of the most popular methods of suicide for teenagers. Many children who are bullied are choosing guns for suicide too. Therefore, as we examine how mass shootings are impacting our society, it’s important to look at how easy access to guns is resulting in an increasing number of teenagers committing suicide.

Many of us feel because we live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Lafayette or Orinda that our children and teenagers do not have to worry about gangs or gun violence. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. According to a 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 by guns. Many teenagers are permanently disabled from these injuries. For teenagers who commit suicide, guns are the second-leading cause of death. The CDC has recently moved suicide from the third-leading cause of death for teenagers to the second-leading cause of death. This is a scary fact that the rate of teenage suicides are increasing not decreasing.

The study in the Journal of Pediatrics 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 regardless of where they live. 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 no longer the third leading cause of death for 10 year old boys. It is now the second leading cause of death for boys 10 to 18 years old. 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? At the age of 10, he has given up hope for a decent life. This is a sad fact. Can you imagine being the parent or sibling of a 10 year old suicide victim and finding your child’s brains all over the room? How did a 10 year old get a gun for suicide? How does a teenager get a gun to shot and kill people at their high school?

We now need to answer how does a six year old get a gun and take it to school? If teenagers are feeling the need to carry guns and 10 year old boys are using guns for suicide, is it really a surprise that a six year old boy has a gun at school? If we examine the research as the number of school shootings have increased so have the number of students feeling that they need to have guns to be safe. Furthermore, as we follow the research the age of students feeling they need a gun is getting younger and younger. Ten year old boys were selecting guns for suicide so why wouldn’t they and younger boys start to feel that they needed guns to be safe?

If we are getting to this point with mass and school shootings, we must figure out why they are so common in the United States and start to implement remedies to stop them. Additionally, we need to examine and implement sane gun laws so that 6 and 10 year old boys cannot get access to and use guns for suicide or to kill someone else. We have laws preventing children from driving cars, drinking alcohol and even voting. These laws do not interfere with any adults from driving, drinking alcohol or voting. Therefore, safe, sane gun laws designed to protect children will not interfere with any adult’s second amendment rights. We must realize that the arguments the Gun lobby makes that laws protecting children are ridiculous and need to be ignored. Or do we want to have schools where a first grader can kill his teacher because he was upset with her? Think about that type of school.

While you are considering those facts here are some additional findings from the research study. The study also 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. How did they get access to the guns?

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 or there will be a mass shooting 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 which went bad. When I mention to teens the risks they are taking carrying a gun, they tell me there is no guarantee they will live until 30 years old anyway. 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? How are adolescent boys getting access to guns? 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, Lafayette, Orinda and Danville.

What is happening in the United States? We are seeing mass shootings increase, violence against Asian Americans and Jewish Americans, Transgender teenagers and police killings. What is happening in the United States? We are the only Country in the world dealing with mass shootings? When New Zealand had a mass shooting a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister eliminated all automatic weapons from the country in 2 weeks. The people of New Zealand still live happy lives and own guns too. They just don’t own AR15s which were designed for the military and wars.

The United States claims to be the most advanced nation in the world. Maybe Congress needs to look at these numbers and think about their actions. For example, Republicans stating the attack on the US Capital was not violent is crazy. It was violent. Several police officers were killed and they wanted to hang the Vice President. I think that qualifies as violent. We have videos of people assaulting the Capital Police and demanding to hang the Vice President. The Republicans in the House of Representatives remove Represetative Cheney from her leadership post because she won’t lie and say that Biden did not win the Presidential Election. Finally, you have a Republican representative comparing the requirement to wear masks in the House Chambers because everyone in the House of Representatives were not vaccinated at the time. Someone who speaks the truth is removed and someone who makes racist, homophobic and anti Semitic statements is praised. This may be one part of the issue. We need to support people who are treating other people appropriately and we need to speak out and refuse to allow people who are treating people like garbage to continue to be allowed to treat people like garbage. Bottom line, we can no longer ignore the public health emergency created by guns and we must act an enact sane gun laws. People have to wear seatbelts in cars but you can still drive. As I stated above, you need to be 21 years old to drink or buy alcohol, but this law has not prevented adults from using alcohol. Therefore, sane gun laws will not take away guns from everyone! We are a nation of intelligent people please start using your common sense regarding guns.

If we don’t start to address this public health issue, we are going to continue to have children and teenagers who have severe anxiety and depression disorders and suicide rates for children and teenagers will continue to increase. By not controlling guns, mass shootings and the other violence, such as hate crimes, we are expecting children to grow up in a very scary, unpredictable world. Anxiety and depression are the sane responses. Are we going to allow mass shootings to continue or are we going to enact sane gun laws and provide children with a safe place where they can grow up? We owe it to the children.

Dr. Rubino has 25 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at or his Facebook page