Helping Teenagers Cope with the End of the School Year

Helping Teenagers Cope with the End of the School Year

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, 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 have 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.

What do you do if you notice anything that is making you worry, you sit down and talk to them. 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. Good luck.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in working with teens and has over 20 years experience and his work is nationally recognized. To find out more about Dr. Michael Rubino visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at facebook.com/Drrubino3.

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We Often Expect Children to Act Older than They Are

We Often Expect Children to Act Older than They Are

We often expect children to be able to do things they are not emotionally ready for yet. One example I see quite often are teachers or parents expecting little kids to be able to control their emotions like an adult. They expect the child to be able to rationally analyze a problem. This also occurs with teenagers. Teenagers look like adults so we expect them to act like adults. The problem is they are not adults.

The common issue in both these situations is the brain development of the child or teenager. We see children and teens doing things that we expect from someone older so we assume they can do other things too such as control their emotions. However, typically a child’s brain is not totally developed until the age of 18. This is why if a child experiences a trauma to the brain or spinal cord their chances for a full recovery are better than a grown adults. A child’s brain and central nervous system is still developing and can over come the injury. However, this also means they do not have the analytical or reasoning skills that adults do. Therefore, they may have difficulties with their emotions at times.

This is an issue that comes up very often with the children I see for psychotherapy. At times teachers or parents are expecting to much from a child in the second grade. I have also written articles about this fact to. While reviewing recent research studies I came across an article by Dr. Mona Delahooke. I felt she explained the issue in a very easy way for parents and teachers to understand. I felt it was so well written that I am including her blog below for you to read.

Five-year-old Nathan was excited about a family outing to the zoo, but his mother worried he would not be able to control his behavior. So she explained her carefully devised plan. She had ten gummy bear candies with her. If Nathan behaved well, she would give him all ten at the end of the visit. Each time he misbehaved, though, he would lose one.

After just half an hour, Nathan was down to five gummy bears. Then he tossed French fries at his brother at lunchtime, and his mother told him he was down to three. Upset, Nathan leaned back in his chair so far it toppled over, much to his mother’s chagrin.

Unfortunately, her plan was doomed from the start. Why? It was based on a false assumption: that Nathan was capable of controlling his behavior. Amidst the popular focus on “self-regulation” among professionals, educators and parents, too often we miss a significant point: we cannot really teach a child to self-regulate. Self-regulation is a developmental process that we can nurture and encourage in one way: through the experience of emotional co-regulation with caring and attuned adults.

So how do children develop the capacity for self-regulation? Over time, as a child experiences what it feels like to have his or her emotional and physical needs met, she develops a robust brain-body connection, which, in turn enables the child to exercise “top-down” control of behaviors and emotions. Children start acquiring this capacity at age three or four, and continue to develop it throughout childhood.

But the ability to self-regulate requires the brain development that help kids carry it out. When we expect children to control their behaviors when they lack the foundation in their brain-body connection, we are asking for the impossible.  And unfortunately, we expect the impossible from too many children who don’t yet have the neurodevelopment in place to self-regulate.

Too often what we expect from children makes a false assumption: that children possess “top-down” control that allows them to think about their bodies and minds and control their behaviors. The truth is that may behaviorally challenged children don’t yet have this ability.

Parents tend to believe that if a child sometimes displays control, then the child always has the ability to do so. That mistaken belief reveals an expectation gap—a disparity between adults’ assumptions and a child’s abilities.

When children lack top-down control, we need to start with emotional co-regulation—when caring, attentive adults notice and attend to a child’s physical and emotional needs. We do this through relationships. In my subspecialty, infant mental health, we call this approach “the therapeutic use of self.”

In other words, we help build a child’s brain from the bottom-up. If a child has chronic difficulties controlling emotions or behaviors, it’s a sign that her top-down foundation is weak. She needs loving, attuned and non-judgmental adults who “see” her suffering. It’s these relationships that support a child’s ability to gain emotional and behavioral self-control.

Too many educational and social-service programs overlook the crucial importance of relationships, instead focusing on behavior management.  That’s why I spend so much of my time teaching providers and parents about social and emotional development. A basic grasp of neuroscience and social-emotional development can help us understand how to avoid asking too much, too soon of children. It also helps us avoid inadvertently causing shame or embarrassment to children who can’t understand why they can’t behave or meet adult expectations, even though they want to. We must be especially mindful of this need in our populations of children exposed to ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and toxic stress. Reward and punishment paradigms, in wide use today on these populations are not advised. I explain the reasons why in my new book on challenging behaviors.

When we ask too much of children too soon, we can inadvertently provoke self-criticism and shame. Kristin Neff, the world’s primary researcher on self-compassion, offers a solution: we can show children early on how to have compassion for themselves and accept their own vulnerability. In other words, when behaviors are a problem, we can help children have compassion for themselves and look towards adults for help.

When we are present with children, and compassionately aware of our own emotions, we preserve the most precious factor in a child’s process of developing self-regulation: human connection.

I hope this helps you understand that we need to allow children’s brains time to develop and we can help them during this time to help avoid arguments and temper tantrums.

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 website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/drrubino3.

My Teenager’s Bedroom Looks Like A Disaster

My Teenager’s Bedroom Looks Like A Disaster

An issue that comes up daily with teenagers in psychotherapy is their bedroom. Many parents tell me that their teenager’s bedroom is like a junk yard. Parents are embarrassed by the bedroom and feel the teenager is being disrespectful. Many parents ask me should they demand that their teenager clean their bedroom. Also many parents ask about is it appropriate if they search their teenager’s bedroom. Let’s deal with this one issue at a time.

Parents it is very important to remember to pick and choose your battles. There are a lot of issues you will need to discuss with your teenager. Therefore, it is important to ask, is it worth an argument? Teenagers are at a point in their life where they do need their privacy. They are also at a point where they are trying to find their own identity. Their bedroom is a place they use for part of this process. Also you want your teenager to learn responsibility. Their room is something they can be responsible for.

My recommendation is not to make an issue of their bedroom. You have more important issues such as school, how late your teen wants to stay out, where they want to go and the common issues of alcohol, drugs and sexual activity. Therefore, their bedroom really is a minor issue. In my opinion it is not worth the fight. Arguing about their bedroom, which they view as their private space, can lead to bigger problems with some of the other issues I listed above. Also remember these are only some of the issues you will need to set guidelines and expectations about your teenager’s behavior. This is why I strongly recommend leaving the bedroom alone.

Many parents ask me, “then I should just let them live in a junk yard?” The answer is yes. However, there are some guidelines I do set with teenagers. I tell them that Mom and Dad are not going to clean their room as long as they comply with the following guidelines:

1. The bedroom door must be able to be closed so no one else has to look at the mess.

2. People can walk by the room without smelling anything such as rotting food.

3. There are no ants or bugs going into or coming out of the room.

4. They do not keep dishes in their room so Mom has dishes when she needs them.

5. They are responsible for getting their clothes out of the room and cleaned. They are also responsible for putting away their laundry.

If they do not follow these guidelines, then they are giving Mom and Dad permission to go in and clean the room as they see fit. I ask the teenager and parents to both agree to these guidelines. I also recommend writing down the guidelines. Therefore, two months from now if someone remembers the agreement differently, you have a document you can refer back to which states what everyone agreed to.

Therefore, I recommend to parents if their teenager can agree to these guidelines, let them live in a junkyard. If they forget to get their clothes to the washer then they will be the one wearing dirty clothes. This is helping them to learn responsibility. It also gives them a sense of independence which they need.

I remind teenagers, if you do not want Mom and Dad cleaning their room then they need to abide by the guidelines. I also remind them it is their responsibility to get their clothes to the washer. If they don’t then they will be wearing dirty clothes to school. I also remind them that they cannot stay home from school because they do not have any clean clothes. I am basically telling the teenager that their parents and I feel they are responsible enough to take care of their room. This again helps the teen feel more mature and understand that they have to start assuming more responsibility for theirselves.

Now for the next issue, searching your teenager’s room. I do not think it is something parents should do on a regular basis just because their child is a teenager. As parents you have a responsibility to make sure you are raising a responsible young adult and if they need help, you have an obligation to provide them with the help they need. Therefore, if you have valid reasons to believe your teenager is using drugs or alcohol on a regular basis, then yes search the room. A valid reason would be noticing the smell of marijuana on their clothes or coming from their room. Finding marijuana or alcohol bottles in their backpack or car that they use. Other signs could be changes in their behavior and grades that are associated with drug use. However, before searching the room, I would recommend when your child enters middle school that you discuss with your child about the conditions which would make you search their room. If you feel it is necessary, tell your teen that you will be searching their room. Obviously, you do not tell them a week a head of time so they can hide things. I suggest you calmly inform them when they are home that you will be starting to search their room in a few minutes. It is important you explain the reasons why you are searching their room.

Parents may be concerned about an argument. This may start an argument, but this argument is worth it. Remind your teen about the agreement the two of you had made about searching their room. If you feel your teenager is not mature enough to abide by the agreement and is likely to start a physical fight, then you do not tell them and search it when they are out of the house. Remember you are only searching the room if you feel your teen is having a serious problem and need professional help. As a parent, it is your responsibility to get them help when they need it. You will want to remember this fact because your teenager may be very angry with you. However, it is better to have an angry teenager than a dead teenager. Many of the drugs teens are using today can kill someone very quickly and teenagers are not usually aware of all the risks.

Therefore, in general respect the privacy of your teenager’s bedroom, however, if you notice signs that indicate your teen is having difficulties then search the room.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience as a psychotherapist who teats teenagers and children. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino 3.

Is My Child Suicidal?

Is My Child Suicidal?

Many parents ask me about what to do if their child is suicidal. The concern is worrying more parents with the recent suicides of survivors involved in mass shootings. The idea is very scary especially because we do not discuss mental health issues in our society. However, suicide rates are at an epidemic level for children ages 10 to 18 years old. In fact it is the third leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 18 years old.

A successful suicide attempt is definitely a tragedy for the entire family. However, an unsuccessful attempt can be a tragedy for the child and the family. Depending on the method used, a child who has an unsuccessful attempt may have to live the entire life with major medical complications. They can cause brain damage which may cause them to lose the ability to speak or the ability to breath on their own. Therefore, they may spend the rest of their life on a ventilator. Guns are one of the main three ways teenagers attempt suicide. However, teenagers forget that guns have a kick when they are fired. Many teens who use a gun do not kill themselves, but they do shoot off their face. The result is they have to have numerous surgeries to reconstruct their face, but their face and life are never the same.

I read this very good article describing what to do if you think your child is suicidal. It provides the steps you need to take in a non-threatening manner. It also addresses issues parents often may not think about, if they are concerned about their child being suicidal. The most important step is don’t be afraid to ask your child if they are feeling suicidal. It is a myth that if you ask someone if they are suicidal that you will cause them to become suicidal. In fact, you may save their life by asking them if they are suicidal. By asking you let them know it’s ok to talk about their feelings. Also by asking you reassure them there is nothing wrong with them and that you are emotionally strong enough to cope with the situation. Therefore, you may save their life by asking.

I have included the link to this article and I encourage parents to read it and to save it. What to Do if You’re Worried About Suicide |. https://childmind.org/article/youre-worried-suicide/#.W9PRyfwKel8.twitter.

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

Is My Child Suicidal?

Is My Child Suicidal?

Many parents ask me about what to do if their child is suicidal. The concern is worrying more parents with the recent suicides of survivors involved in mass shootings. The idea is very scary especially because we do not discuss mental health issues in our society. However, suicide rates are at an epidemic level for children ages 10 to 18 years old. In fact it is the third leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 18 years old.

A successful suicide attempt is definitely a tragedy for the entire family. However, an unsuccessful attempt can be a tragedy for the child and the family. Depending on the method used, a child who has an unsuccessful attempt may have to live the entire life with major medical complications. They can cause brain damage which may cause them to lose the ability to speak or the ability to breath on their own. Therefore, they may spend the rest of their life on a ventilator. Guns are one of the main three ways teenagers attempt suicide. However, teenagers forget that guns have a kick when they are fired. Many teens who use a gun do not kill themselves, but they do shoot off their face. The result is they have to have numerous surgeries to reconstruct their face, but their face and life are never the same.

I read this very good article describing what to do if you think your child is suicidal. It provides the steps you need to take in a non-threatening manner. It also addresses issues parents often may not think about, if they are concerned about their child being suicidal. The most important step is don’t be afraid to ask your child if they are feeling suicidal. It is a myth that if you ask someone if they are suicidal that you will cause them to become suicidal. In fact, you may save their life by asking them if they are suicidal. By asking you let them know it’s ok to talk about their feelings. Also by asking you reassure them there is nothing wrong with them and that you are emotionally strong enough to cope with the situation. Therefore, you may save their life by asking.

I have included the link to this article and I encourage parents to read it and to save it. What to Do if You’re Worried About Suicide |. https://childmind.org/article/youre-worried-suicide/#.W9PRyfwKel8.twitter.

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

Children and Families Need Help with Vicarious Trauma Due to Mass Shootings

Children and Families Need Help with Vicarious Trauma Due to Mass Shootings

Many people tend to assume only people who were directly exposed to a trauma will experience issues related to the trauma. However, this is not the truth. Many people may not have lived through the trauma, but they know someone who did or they were exposed to very explicit images of the trauma or have been hearing about the trauma a lot. This can cause vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma is when someone is traumatized by an event but they did not experience the event themselves. The knowledge of the event is traumatizing to them. This is happening to many children and families.

Today in most United States schools, the classroom doors are kept lock while class is in session and no one can enter a school campus without checking in with the main office and they must wear an identification badge while on campus. In fact, all school employees must wear official school identification badges while at work. Many elementary students have noticed these changes and have asked why the door must be locked? Students are told it is for their safety. The school is preventing any people who do not belong at the school from getting near the students. No one mentions someone with a gun, but children hear about all the mass shootings and they know why the door needs to be locked. I have many elementary students mention this to me during their therapy sessions.

Now when we were in school we had fire alarm drills in case there ever was a fire in the school. No one thought much about them. Some students felt the fire alarm was too loud but no one really worried about a fire happening at school. We never worried about it because we never heard about any school fires and people dying.

Today students face more than fire alarm drills. Schools routinely have active shooter drills. During these drills students are taught to shelter in place and to remain very quiet so the shooter will not enter their room. Therefore, besides hearing about mass school shootings, school students are practicing what to do in case there is a shooter at their school. Therefore, they hear about the shootings on the news, they are practicing what to do at school in case of a shooter, so they worry about could a shooting happen at their school and could they die. As a result of this fear, I am seeing anxiety disorders increase in children significantly and some even have trauma reactions such as nightmares. The CDC has documented that anxiety disorders have been significantly increasing in children since school shooting have been increasing.

In addition to these drills, if there is an incident, such as a bank robbery, involving someone with a gun near a school, the police put the school on lock down. The students must shelter in place and they don’t know if the person with the gun will come to their school or not. This creates a significant amount of anxiety for children and many are traumatized by the incident.

Another issue which adds to this trauma is gun control. Since the shooting last year in Florida many students have been actively campaigning for sane gun control. However, nothing has been done to enact sane gun control laws. High school students know nothing is being done and elementary children are hearing nothing is being done about guns. This makes them worry because they know guns are still out there that can be used to kill them. The recent shooting in New Zealand is very confusing to high school and elementary students. Our government has done nothing even though students and parents are demanding safe gun laws. While our government debates the issue, more students have been killed. However, New Zealand in a matter of 3 weeks after the shooting banned all assault weapons. This makes students wonder why we have not done anything when we have a bigger problem with mass shootings. Also it doesn’t make them feel safe at school because they do not feel like a priority.

As I have stated anxiety and trauma reactions have been significantly increasing for children who have not experienced a mass shooting, but because of what they know and are seeing they are afraid one may happen at their school. Many parents worry about what signs they need to be looking for in their children and what to do if they notice symptoms they are concerned about. The American Association of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry has put out the following guidelines. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in your child it explains how to start to talk to your child and how to find the appropriate psychotherapist for your child. It is important to get a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders and trauma issues http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Talking-To-Children-About-Terrorism-And-War-087.aspx.

One final aspect about vicarious trauma has emerged this week. The issue is suicide by family members and survivors of mass shootings. This week 3 people have committed suicide who either survived a mass shooting or their child died in one. This has been occurring for a long time. It has been occurring since Columbine. Family members feel they can no longer cope with the pain. Survivors can’t cope with the guilt of surviving. Family and friends of some one who was killed or injured in a mass school shooting have had their lives changed forever! They are dealing with depression, anxiety and trauma reactions on a daily basis. However, we do not have adequate mental health resources to help these people. Also people assume after a few months, most people may be grieving but can handle their situation. This is not true. They are experience anxiety and trauma that for many of them is very confusing. This only increases the anxiety and trauma. The children experiencing the shooter drills are also confused by their anxiety and traumatic reactions. They do not know what to do and this causes isolation and the feelings increase.

We must eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues. We also need to make sure that anyone who is even remotely exposed to a mass shooting (including first responders and emergency room physicians) have access to mental health care. Not just for a month or two but for as long as they need psychotherapy and they should be able to receive the therapy without worrying about the cost.

We have a generation of children growing up with anxiety and traumatic reactions. If we don’t help them now, they will only get worse as time goes on. May be we need to take a lesson from New Zealand and act. They banned assault weapons after one shooting. We have been having shootings for 20 years and have done nothing, why?

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

Suicide Epidemic

Suicide Epidemic

Another myth about suicide. Asking someone if they are suicidal won’t make them suicidal. We can’t eliminate myths without eliminating the stigma.

Also suicide impacts the entire family. Everyone is traumatized and impacted by the stigma. However, family members seldom receive the help they need die to the stigma.

We need access to mental health care. Suicide is at epidemic rates for teens. When do we act? https://onwordswings.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/suicide-cant-be-predicted-by-asking-about-suicidal-thoughts/