Lessons Simone Biles Taught Us About Mental Health

Lessons Simone Biles Taught Us About Mental Health

Mental health is a topic we tend to avoid in our society. It’s the “dirty little secret” people whisper about and will talk about behind someone’s back. Many people are afraid that if other people know they are feeling down or anxious that people will think they are crazy. Especially if a teenager is going to psychotherapy. They assume many people will think of them like the person living in the streets and talking to themselves. This is not reality. This negative stigma makes it difficult for adults to seek help for mental health issues. This negative stigma also makes it very difficult for children and teenagers to ask for help when they feel depressed or anxious. They are afraid their friends won’t understand and won’t want to be friends with them. They are also afraid their parents will think they are crazy and be disappointed with them. These ideas are incorrect, but if mental health is overwhelming for an adult, imagine how it can be for a child.

It is very important that children and teenagers do ask for help when they are experiencing mental health issues. The CDC estimates 1in 5 children need psychotherapy for a mental health issue. Furthermore, the CDC has stated that Suicide is an epidemic for children between the ages of 10 and 18 years old and is the second leading cause of death for kids 10 to 18 years old. Cutting, self-harming behaviors, are also now at an epidemic rate in children. Furthermore, since the pandemic has started we have seen a significant increase in the number of teenagers seeking therapy for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, since the pandemic we have seen a significant increase in teenagers overdosing on drugs. Before the pandemic anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations and overdosing on drugs were at alarming rates in teenagers too (CDC). Teenagers have been dealing with mental health issues for years and the number of teenagers needing therapy has been increasing every year (CDC).

This year at the Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles, took a huge step forward in removing the stigma from mental health issues. Simone came into the Tokyo Olympics with everyone expecting her to win gold in every event. In addition to this pressure, during the pandemic she came forward to say she too had been sexually abused by the team doctor for years. This was a huge thing to do especially since the entire world would learn about it. She stated she did not retire and continued with the Tokyo Olympics to ensure that the Olympic committee takes steps to protect the younger girls in the program.

Simone was dealing with a lot and we do not know what else is occurring in her private life. She had posted some posts on social media stating she was feeling slightly overwhelmed but that was the extent of what she said publicly. To everyone’s surprise on the first night of the Women’s team competition, Simone suddenly drop out of the competition. She confirmed she was dealing with some emotional issues but that she was okay and would decide about the rest of the competition later. She finally decided to remove herself from competition completely.

After she removed herself from competition, she commented about the overwhelming support she received. It sounded like she was expecting criticism not support. Additionally, she commented it was the first time in her life that she realized there was more to her as a person than just gymnastics. Making this realization made her feel very good about herself in the statement she released.

Many parents are wondering what is the lesson to learn from what Simone did this week. As a psychotherapist, who works with teenagers and young adults, there are several lessons we can learn from Simone.

The first and in my opinion the most important lesson is that everyone deals with mental health issues daily and at times we may need to take a break or seek treatment. Simone handled her situation no differently than if she was having a medical issue such as tearing a ligament. She did not act ashamed not did people treat her like she was crazy. In fact, other competitors complimented her. They all have had struggles with mental health issues and they were happy and proud that Simone was taking care of herself and not acting embarrassed or ashamed that she had a mental health issue she needed help with. Therefore, the lesson is mental health is part of life and when you need help it’s okay to ask for help.

The next lesson is how people responded to her request. No one acted like she was crazy and the team coaches and her team mates were giving her the time and support she needed. Therefore, the second lesson is when a teenager asks for mental health help, we need to support them in getting the help they need without judging the person.

Another important lesson is that asking for help did not destroy how people reacted to her or her accomplishments. She is still a world class gymnastics star and she won a silver team medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Therefore, asking for help did not ruin her life. If you have a teenager who needs mental health help, reassure them that it will not ruin their life. Asking for mental health care is no different than asking for physical health care. Our mental health and physical health go hand in hand. This is another lesson Simone taught us. Mentally she needed help and therefore she was not physically capable of competing.

Providing support to someone is another lesson Simone taught us this week. Her teammates, coaches, family and friends offered support abs would check-in with her. No one walked away which many teenagers fear if they say they need mental health care. Her support system was there for her. They did not smother her, but if she needed their help they were there.

Also commentators had been wondering if something was wrong because she was not acting like herself. Therefore, if your teenager or friend is acting somewhat differently and you are concerned, don’t be afraid to ask if they are having a problem. Sometimes asking for help can be difficult especially when you are a teenager. Therefore, if your teenager or friend is acting differently, do not be afraid to ask if they need help.

Finally we often assume people who look like they have everything they want, cannot have problems in their lives. Simone Biles is one of the most decorated Olympians in gymnastics history and she is having problems. Kevin Love, a pro basketball player, suffered from panic attacks. Here are two athletes at the top of their games, but they still have mental health issues. Therefore, we all have mental health issues and need therapy at times and there is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. It is simply part of life.

I was researching this subject and the lessons Simone opened up this week and found a video by the Anna Freud Institute. It is called, “We all have mental health.” It is a short video directed at teenagers and middle school students. It discusses the issue in a very relaxed manner and provides teenagers with options for how they can talk about their own feelings. I encourage parents, teachers and anyone who deals with children to watch this video. You may want to watch it with your teen and begin a discussion about feelings. The link to the video is https://youtu.be/DxIDKZHW3-E.

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

Yes, You can Take Your IEP to College

Yes, You can Take Your IEP to College

Working with children and adolescents I have had many parents ask about 504 plans and Individual Educational Plans (IEP). Parents tend to focus on the assistance their child may need in elementary or high school due to a learning disability or mental health issues. Working over 20 years as a psychotherapist, what I have observed is that children who need assistance in elementary and high school typically need assistance in college. However, many students are not aware that they are entitled to assistance in College too. Now that schools and colleges are reopening many college students are planning on returning to campus and high school seniors who are graduating are preparing to leave for college. Parents are trying to anticipate what their child will need at college, such as laptops etc. However, do not forget their Individual Educational Plan (IEP) so they can arrange for accommodations at their college.

From my experience, most families assume there is no assistance in college. However, typically if a child has an IEP, they are also entitled to assistance in college. Most colleges in their Counseling departments have people and programs designated to help disabled students. A student with a physical or learning disability or mental health issue such as ADHD or depression would qualify for assistance by the Disabled Students Program at a college. I have recently been receiving many questions from Parents about what happens to their child’s IEP when the go to college and questions from parents who have college freshmen asking about their child’s IEP. Therefore, I thought it would be beneficial to provide information about how IEPs are handled by colleges. In addition to an IEP, any student with a learning disability or mental health issue is entitled to accommodations by their college because they are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991.

Additionally, if you live in California and you have a physical or learning disability or a mental health issue and if you had or did not have an IEP while in school, you may qualify to be a client of the California Department of Rehabilitation. This Department is responsible for assisting people in California, with a disability, find a job and get the education they may need to find a job. The Department may assist their clients by providing tuition assistance for community or state colleges and provide financial assistance to buy text books and school supplies. What they are able to do depends on the State budget.

This is another reason for parents to insist when their child does need an IEP that the school district places the child on an IEP. The lies schools tell parents that an IEP will prevent their child from getting into a college, the military or getting a job are not true. Another reason to insist on the IEP, if your child qualifies for an IEP, as a result of having an IEP, your child can be granted accommodations on the SAT or ACT. These are tests seniors typically need to take when they are applying to four year universities. The common accommodation most students require is additional time to complete the tests. I have had many teens with ADHD come to me seeking accommodations on the SAT or ACT. A common requirement that the testing boards require is that a student needs to have had an IEP if they are seeking accommodations on these tests.

Therefore, many students who have disabilities or mental health issues can receive assistance in college. While many people may be surprised, it is true. However, for many college students finding the assistance can be confusing and overwhelming. For a Freshman in college, dealing with heath or mental health issues, the confusion and embarrassment the feel at times because of society’s stereotypes can cause students to give up. The best place for a college freshman to start is the student counseling center. They can then direct them to the correct department and they can avoid some of the embarrassment and confusion.

Also I was contacted by bettercollege.com with a resource guide they developed for college students with mental health issues. While their guide was created for students with mental health issues, it can also be used as a guide for students with physical or learning disabilities. This guide can help a student not feel so overwhelmed or embarrassed too.

Since I feel this is a valuable guide to Freshman students and their families, I am including a link to this resource guide below:

Guide to College Planning for Psychiatrically Impaired Students – https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/college-planning-with-psychiatric-disabilities/

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience working with children, teenagers and college students. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work and private practice visit one of his web sites www.RubinoCounseling.com or www.rcs-ca.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Coping with Your Teenager during the Pandemic

Coping with Your Teenager during the Pandemic

Many parents worry because their teenager talks more to their friends than to them. Often many parents feel like a failure because their teenager is spending more time with friends than them. This is normal developmentally, but parents do want to be aware of who their teenager has as friends and what they do. However, with the Pandemic and the quarantine many teenagers have not been able to hang out with friends as usual. They have however maintained contact with friends by texting, FaceTime, Zoom and on line gaming where they can play and talk to each other. Some parents have seen the Pandemic as an opportunity to increase the amount of time they spend with their teenagers and as an opportunity to improve their relationship with their teenagers. This is an excellent idea. As a result some parents are trying to get their teen to spend more time with them than their friends. A parent may feel they are doing something positive during the Pandemic and their teenager may resent the parent for intruding into their private lives with their friends. Unfortunately, the idea the parent had of improving their relationship with their teenager during the Pandemic is ruined and instead of improving the relationship, they are ruining their relationship with their teenager.

Most parents want to improve their relationship with their teenager so if their teenager is having a problem, such as drugs or alcohol, they are hoping their teenager will feel safe enough to talk to them and ask for help. Unfortunately many parents tell me they have decided they way they can resolve this issue is“I am going to be my teenager’s best friend.” Unfortunately, many of these parents do not understand that it is normal developmentally for teens to spend more time with their friends.

The solution that you are going to be your teen’s best friend is wrong!! You do not want to be your teen’s friend. You need to be your teen’s parent. Your teen has enough friends. Your teen doesn’t need another friend, they need a parent. They need someone to educate them about life and how to make decisions.

Remember, as a parent it is your responsibility to help guide your teen to be successful as an adult and in life as a productive member of society. This means at times you will have to set firm boundaries, educate them about life and sometimes tell your teen no. It is important to remember being a parent is not a popularity contest. You must set appropriate limits for your teen which means at times they will be mad at you. It is okay if they are mad at you. This is part of the process a teenager experiences as they are maturing into an adult.

Despite what they say, most teens want and like boundaries. At times they can be very helpful to your teen. They may be faced with a great deal of peer pressure to do something that they do not want to do and they can use you as the excuse why they cannot do it. Some may say this is immature because the teen is using their parent as an excuse, but we put our teens in a very, very difficult world so I think they are allowed some extra help now and then.

Another reason why should you not be your teen’s friend because your word and rules will mean nothing to your teen, if you are their friend. A friend is defined as a close associate. In other words, teenagers see their friends as equals. Now think about what this implies, if you are equals, you are on the same level as your teen. Therefore, they think they know as much as you do and since you are equals they can choose to follow your rules or ignore them as they see fit.

I run into this problem daily in my office. A parent will say “we have always been best friends, I talk to my teen and their friends about everything and we have good times together hanging out. I don’t understand why they disregard my authority as their parent.”

The answer is simple: you eliminated your authority as the parent and made yourself an equal as a friend. If you want your teen to respect your authority as the parent, you must remain the parent and not be the friend.

Consider the decisions these teens have to make every day. They are faced with issues regarding alcohol, drugs, sex, gangs and decisions about careers in their future. Teens live in a very difficult and complex world today. They need parents to help set appropriate boundaries and guide them so they make the best choices for themselves and avoid a great deal of trouble. You can only do this as a parent. Remember, as a parent you are not in a popularity contest. You have a responsibility to help guide your teen. If you want to help them survive high school then be the parent and make the tough, unpopular decisions that are in your child’s best interest. This will help your teen to respect you and the rules you made earlier you can enforce. If you set yourself as friend and equal, your teen loses respect for you, your advice and your rules. You find yourself powerless and you leave your teen on their own to decide what is appropriate behavior.

This is a difficult time for you and your teenager, but if you maintain your role as parent and your teen maintains their role as child you both will survive high school easier. Of course there will be difficult moments, but nowhere near as difficult if you blur the relationship boundaries.

Dr Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and their parents. He is well respected in the community. To learn more about his work or private practice, visit his website at www.rcs-ca.com or www.RubinoCounseling.com. You can also visit his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3. You can also listen to his podcasts on Spotify and Apple.

Super Bowl Parties and the Coronavirus

Super Bowl Parties and the Coronavirus

This week is the Super Bowl. Usually it is a weekend when family and friends gather together for Super Bowl parties. This has been a tradition for people for many years. However, this year is different because of the Coronavirus. Yes in California, the shelter in place order was lifted and the number of people in the hospital for the Coronavirus has decreased. However, we still need to take precautions. In addition to the Coronavirus, Super Bowl Sunday in is also the day when the most domestic violence occurs in the United States. This statistic is for adults and teenagers. So, how do you have a safe, fun Super Bowl Sunday? You need to develop a plan that reduces stress and too much drinking.

First, this year you need to be careful about who you invite and keep the party small. Everyone needs to be wearing a mask and you need to try to keep appropriate social distance. In addition it would help if you keep the windows open for appropriate ventilation. Some people may think that because some people are now receiving the vaccine that these steps are not necessary. However, only one percent of the population has been vaccinated (CDC). Additionally, the virus has mutated and the new stains are more contagious and deadly. Therefore, in order to have a safe and fun party, precautions are necessary.

Next, remember that it is just a day and just a football game. Therefore, if everything is not perfect such as you don’t have all the food you wanted or things are not arranged how you wanted, do not stress over it. You can still enjoy the game without a lot food or alcohol. Also if everything is not arranged perfectly, you can still enjoy the game. In other words, do not stress and argue over minor details.

If you are going to have small children around, set up a separate room with food and activities for them. Many children under 10 years old will lose interest in the game and if there is nothing else for them to do, they will want attention and distract people from the game. Therefore, set up another room where they can watch other television shows and have games to play. This way they are not bored and they can enjoy themselves.

People drinking too much is a common problem during Super Bowl parties. Therefore, when your friends arrive, tell them you care about them and their safety. Therefore, you want everyone to put their car keys in the basket as they enter. This way if someone accidentally has too much to drink, you can give them a ride home. This way if someone has too much to drink, you don’t have to argue about them driving if they are not safe to drive. This can help avoid an argument and a possible physical fight.

Also watch how much alcohol you are serving. If you are serving alcohol, serve food too. The food helps to absorb the alcohol and decreases the likelihood that someone will drink too much. Also towards the end of the game stop serving alcohol and switch to sodas. If someone has had too much to drink, this gives them a chance for their body to process the alcohol they consumed so they can lower their blood alcohol level.

Another good idea is to set rules for your party. Announce to your guests that you want everyone to have a good time and no arguing or fighting. Therefore, cheering for their team or favorite player is fine, but you do not want any name calling nor is there to be any insulting other people at the party. Also good nature teasing is fine but no swearing and if someone asks you to stop the joking, respect their request. Bottom line, state that regardless of who wins or loses, you expect everyone to act like adults and to treat each other respectfully so it is a fun day for everyone.

It would also be helpful to remember the acronym HALT:

H – hungry

A – angry

L – lonely

T – tired, too much alcohol

If you notice someone expressing these emotions or drinking too much, this is a situation which could result in an argument or violence. Therefore, if you notice a potential violent situation, try talking to the person to see what is bothering them. If you notice a couple arguing try having one person step outside with you for a time out so they can calm down. You may want to let them know that they seem slightly upset and you are just checking-in to see if there is a problem and if you can help. Instead of ignoring the situation try to offer some help so people can calm down. This can help a great deal.

At the end of your party, if someone is not sober enough to drive, offer to drive them home. Remember all the car keys are in a basket so you do not have to argue to get the car keys. Remind them that you are only offering to drive because you care about them. You do not want to see them arrested for driving under the influence, you do not want to see them get into a car accident and you definitely do not want to see them kill someone else or themselves in a car accident.

If you notice a couple who appear to be arguing, offer to allow one person to stay for a while and you will drive them home later. Giving them a chance to calm down could help avoid a domestic violent incident. If after a little while the person at your house or the person who went home tells you they do not feel safe around the other person right now – listen to them! Offer to let the person stay at your house for the night. You do not want to assign blame to anyone. Simply state that they seem to be having a stressful day and instead of them both staying in the same house that night and arguing all night and arguing in front of the children is not a good idea. It is okay if they need to take a break for the night and talk about it tomorrow. You are providing them and the children with a safe environment and hopefully avoiding a domestic violent incident. Many people are afraid to step in and offer help when they see a potential domestic violent situation. However, if more people offered to help and did not shame the family, the incidence of domestic violence could decrease and more people may be willing to seek help.

If you are a couple who are having incidents with domestic violence, discuss the issue before the day. Hopefully, the two of you are in psychotherapy and can discuss the issue in a therapy session. Discussing a potential problem with a therapist or even a friend prior to the event can be very helpful. If you are not in therapy and afraid to talk to a friend and do not feel safe call the following number for help: The National Domestic Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Someone will answer 24 hours a day, 356 days a year. Do not be embarrassed to call. If you need help, please reach out and ask for it before someone gets seriously injured or killed.

Hopefully these suggestions help and you can enjoy the game in a fun peaceful environment.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and he is certified to assess and treat domestic violence. If you want additional information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his websites www.rcs-ca.com, www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcast on Spotify or Apple.

Teenage Boys Need and Want Help Despite What They Say

Teenage Boys Need and Want Help Despite What They Say

Anyone who has a teenager knows that the teenager thinks that they know everything and they need no one’s help. Many parents have had major arguments with their teenagers because they tried to offer the teenager advice about how to handle a situation. I have had many teenagers sit in my office too, saying they need no help and they have all the answers and that they can handle any situation that occurs in their life. While they may be saying they do not need help or guidance, is this truth?

After seeing numerous teenagers for psychotherapy for over 20 years, I do not believe this is the truth. Furthermore, I believe many teenagers are feeling overwhelmed by life and do not know what to do, but they are afraid to admit it. I find this is especially true with male teenagers. In my opinion, these teenagers are trying to live up to the stereotype about “being a man.” The old outdated stereotype tells men and boys that they are weak if they need help and they are weak if the have feelings. As a result, we end up with tough guy teenagers who say they don’t need help from anyone. However, deep inside they know they need help and they are hoping someone will figure it out without the teen having to admit it.

As a result of feeling overwhelmed and alone, many teenage boys turn to drinking, drugs, violence and sexual activity. Anything that will numb the pain and make them look tough. Therefore, they may be flunking out of school, but because of their drinking and cutting classes, it looks like they don’t care and in their opinion they are handling the situation. However, they are not handling the situation and they are getting themselves further and further into a hole that they cannot find their own way out. They are drowning and their acting out behaviors are they way of calling for help. However, to most people their behavior doesn’t look like a cry for help. Instead it feels like the teenager is pushing people a way. After a while, people do stop trying to help.

As the adults, we need to remember that these teenagers’ brains are not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex which is responsible for reasoning and decision making is not fully developed. Their bodies make them look like adults, but in terms of emotional development, we are dealing with a fifth grader. We need to remember this fact so we can stay in there and find a way to help them even though they say they don’t need it.

Justin Bieber recently wrote and released a song called Lonely which does an excellent job of explaining the teenager’s need for help and how teenagers don’t know how to ask for help. Justin Bieber achieved money and fame as a teenager. In the song he talks about how he did stupid and irresponsible things as a teenager. He also discusses feeling very lonely because he felt there was no one to help him. Many of the adults around him said nothing because of all the money he was making. However, he states he had no idea what to do and he needed someone to step in. Because no one did, he felt very lonely and continued to act out. He did not want a yes man, he wanted someone to set boundaries for him and tell him to stop the irresponsible behavior. Additionally, he wanted someone to hold him accountable for his actions.

Granted, not every teenager is a superstar like Justin Bieber. However, the feelings and emotional needs that he expresses in his song Lonely do apply to many teenage boys. I would encourage every parent to listen to this song. I would also encourage every parent to set boundaries and provide guidance to their teenage boys. Yes they will argue and say they don’t need it. However, you are helping their pride because they can tell their friends they have no choice. They don’t have to be afraid of looking weak. Additionally, I would encourage parents to discuss with their sons how they do not have to live up to some old stereotype to be “a man.” Use this as an opportunity to discuss with them how you believe men should act. You may want to watch the documentary, The Mask You Live In, on YouTube. It discusses how the old outdated stereotype regarding men creates problems for teenage boys and how we can change this stereotype.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. He is also one of the founding members for the national advisory board for Street Soldiers. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Today’s Teenagers Need to feel Loved

Today’s Teenagers Need to feel Loved

I have many teenagers who see me for therapy believing that no one loves them and that they are worthless. They tell me their parents don’t love them, their siblings don’t care about them and no one at school cares about them. They feel they are unloveable and no one cares if they live or die. Because they have this belief, they don’t care about themselves. They don’t care how they are doing in school and they see no future for themselves. As a result they don’t care what happens to them either.

There are many reasons why children have this feeling about themselves. For some their parents were drug addicts, for some were sexually or physically abused, some have gone from foster home to foster home their entire lives. As a result, they see no hope and no future for themselves. The most important point is not why teenagers have developed this attitude about themselves, it’s that they have this attitude. We need to look at what this belief will do to these teenagers and their lives.

Many teenagers who feel unlovable turn to drugs or alcohol to numb these feelings. Some turn to self-mutilating behaviors, such as cutting, again as a way to numb these feelings or as a way of punishing themselves. Often teenagers become sexually active at an very early age. They equate sex with love. Also many of these teens become involved with gangs and bullying. The gangs serve as a psedufamily for the teenagers. In fact, gangs consider their members as family members. The play West Side Story is an excellent example of how a gang acts like a family for teenagers. Also the play and movie Grease shows how gangs are like families. Bullying is another way teens numb out their pain. They believe by making someone else look weak that it makes them look strong and people will respect them and love them. Also they can it is a way they feel they can hide from other that they feel worthless.

The above stated behaviors are a few ways that teenagers deal with feeling unlovable. However, the number of teenagers who feel this way are creating numerous problems for everyone. As a result of teens feeling unlovable, we have a severe drug problem in the teenage population. Teenagers are dying from accidental drug over dosages at an epidemic rate. According to the CDC the number of teens using drugs, such as heroin and meth, is at an epidemic rate. Cutting, suicide and being murdered are all at epidemic rates for teenagers (CDC). All because many of them don’t feel loved. These numbers from the CDC were before the Coronavirus. Since the Coronavirus, these numbers have significantly increased because many teenagers do not see a future for themselves. A family’s love can help them not get so depressed and to keep their hope a live.

We are receiving this message in many ways that teenagers need to feel loved. In Disney’s movie, Frozen, they mention that people make poor choices and do hurtful things because they feel unloved. The movie goes further to say that if people feel loved you would be amazed at how they can change. Oprah in her last show commented on one thing she had learned from her show was that everyone wants to know that they are important to someone and that someone sees them and cares about what they say and do. Challenge Day, a program designed to work with teenagers, believes all teens deserve to feel loved and cared for by people. I have worked with Challenge Day and I am amazed every time that this big, tough teenager ends up crying on the floor when he realizes that someone cares. Teenagers are trying very hard to let us know they need to be loved when they act out. I have teenagers telling me they are willing to take a chance of overdosing just so they can escape the pain of feeling abandoned and unloved. It is heartbreaking to hear a teen tell you this as they try to hide the fact that they are crying.

We know love makes a difference to many people so why not teenagers? The teenagers I work with don’t really want to be the tough guy. They want to know that they are loved. When I tell a teen I’m working with in therapy that they deserve to be loved, they think I’m crazy. They test me in numerous ways to get me to throw them out of my office. They are testing the point I made that they are lovable. They try everything they can think of to prove me wrong. However, in reality they are hoping to fail and prove that I am right that they are lovable. So, I hold strong and tell them I won’t change my mind and I will not give up. I will not throw them out of therapy. If they decide to walk out that is their choice and I can’t stop it, but I will not throw them out because I know they are worthy of being loved. I also let them know if they do walk out that my door will always be opened to them.

After testing me, many of these teens decide they are worth it and decide to make a future for themselves. It is amazing to see and it is very nice to see. However, there are those teenagers who walk out and that is very disappointing. It’s not disappointing because I lost it is disappointing because the teenager will continue to live in pain.

The main point is that Challenge Day, Alive and Free (another program for teens) and other therapists like myself cannot be the only ones trying to help teenagers. We need everyone to help. Parents, teachers, physicians, psychotherapists, the juvenile justice system and our communities. We need to let children know from the day that they are born that they deserve to be loved and that they are important members of our society. We cannot continue to wait until these children are teenagers to tell them they are lovable. Waiting until they are teenagers may be too late and the teen may not believe you. If we start when they are babies, they will grow up with a sense that they are important and deserved to be loved. This could help reduce how many teens turn to drugs or violence.

So, think about how you can show a teenager that they deserve to be loved and that they are important. If everyone starts with one teenager, you would be surprised the changes we can make in someone’s life and the world.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. He has over 20 years experience treating teenagers. If you want more information about Dr. Rubino visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/drrubino3.

Autism and The Holidays

Autism and The Holidays

Typically during the Holidays many people expect it to be a great family time and a great deal of fun for the kids. However, this year the Holidays are going to be significantly different due to the Coronavirus. In addition to the Coronavirus, the Holidays can be a very difficult time for a child who has Autism or is on the Autistic spectrum or have other types of Cognitive Disabilities. The noise and having a lot of people being around can be upsetting to them. However, due to the Coronavirus most families will not be having big gatherings, but they still will be having smaller gatherings. Also many children on the spectrum are use to a certain daily routine. The festivities of the Holidays can disrupt their routine and upset them. Additionally, changes that need to be made due to the Coronavirus can upset children and teenagers on the Spectrum.

The Holidays, as I said above, are supposed to be a happy time. Therefore, when parents, who have a child on the autistic spectrum, see their child getting upset or agitated, it is difficult for them. Additionally, many parents who have children on the spectrum worry about how other people will react or judge their child.

All of this worry for the parents and change for the kids can make the Holidays a stressful time for autistic children. Also as I stated above, we will have significant changes to our Holidays in terms of how many people will be there and having to change some long standing Holiday traditions, such as Midnight Mass. While researching this issue, I did read a very good article by Lori Lite which has good ideas for parents to use during the Holidays. These ideas can help make the Holidays a happy time for your child and for your family. I would suggest trying these ideas and not worrying how other people may or may not judge your child. Being Autistic is nothing to be ashamed about. I treat many autistic children and they are usually very caring, smart children. We need to change our views regarding autism. It is a medical condition like diabetes or being blind. We make accommodations for children with these issues so we can make accommodations for a child with Autism. Therefore, try some of these ideas to help you and your child enjoy the Holidays.

Get Ready: Social stories, books, and movies can be a big help in preparing your child emotionally for holidays. Comfortable clothing and small dose exposures to holiday sounds can help physically. Think ahead with an eye for anxiety causing issues. If wrapping paper too loud? Use easy open bags or just decorate with a bow. Are the electronic bears with bells at Grandma’s house going to cause sensory overload? Ask her to unplug them before you get there. Let friends and family know about triggers ahead of time. If your child doesn’t like to be hugged suggest a handshake or just a wave. Your friends, family, and special needs children will be glad you did.

Prepare Your Children For Gatherings: Eliminate unnecessary anxiety associated with getting together with family members you rarely see by looking through photos of relatives prior to your event. Play memory games matching names to faces. This will help your children feel more comfortable with people they may not have seen in a while. Aunt Mary won’t seem quite so scary when she bends down to greet your child.

Use Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate deep breathing or other coping strategies into your day. Let your children see you use techniques when you are feeling stressed. Encourage them to use relaxation techniques on a daily basis. Breathing, visualizing, and positive thinking are powerful tools.

Incorporate Positive Statements Into Your Dinner: This is empowering and reflective. Each person at the table can state an attribute of their own that they are thankful for. For example, “I am thankful that I am creative.” Feeling stressed? Try, “I am thankful that I am calm.” Your special needs child can prepare ahead with a drawing or sign language if they want to participate without speaking.

Don’t Rush: It’s simple; none of us are very good at rushing in a relaxed way. The two just do not go together. It is impossible for children or teens to rush without getting angry. Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the journey and avoid meltdowns. Children with special needs should be given notice of transitions.

Write Things Down: Getting the constant chatter and lists out of your head decreases stress and anxiety. Kids love making lists. Give them a clipboard or dry erase board. Help your child make a list of what they want to do for the holiday. It might be helping decorate or what to pack for self-care relaxation bag. This will help you relax and help your children feel involved. Encourage them to add happy words like laugh or draw a smile face on their list.

Schedule Downtime: Don’t overbook your children. It’s important to use holiday time for relaxation. Try staying in pajamas till noon. Pop your favorite popcorn and watch a movie when you wake up. You’ll be surprised how an hour or two of relaxation can rejuvenate your children’s bodies, minds, and spirits.

Shopping: Avoid taking your children shopping on the busiest shopping days of the year. The chaos, noise of large crowds, and long lines will definitely add stress to your life. If your child is absolutely known to meltdown during shopping you can select a few gifts and bring them home. Set up a shopping experience in your home for your child. The whole family can participate. Have a checkout counter and a gift-wrapping table.

Be Flexible: Relax your expectations and definitions of what a fun experience is for your children. Most of us do not need the full blown exhausting experience of holidays to reflect that we had a good time. A few positive minutes is worth a lifetime of memories!

Let The Children Participate: Let your children do one thing for the holiday that makes them feel proud. Kids can collect acorns or place a few jingle bells into a bowl for a beautiful stress free centerpiece.  Children can fold the napkins or put the forks out. Let them draw a special picture to place on your guest’s chair. Be prepared to accept their participation as perfect and wonderful. Restrain for correcting or straightening out the napkins and enjoy the holidays with your special needs child!

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. Many of these children and teens are on the Autistic Spectrum. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or Facebook www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Issues with Cellphones as Gifts for Teenagers and Children

Issues with Cellphones as Gifts for Teenagers and Children

It is the Holiday Season and many middle school students will be asking for their first Smartphone and many high school students will be asking for the newest smartphones available such as the IPhone 12. 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 phone. Most teenagers also say they need Smatphones, a regular cellphone will not work. However, cellphones 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. However a regular cellphone will do this it doesn’t have to be an IPhone 12. 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.

During the Holidays many elementary, middle school and high school students will be asking to upgrade their phones too. 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 12 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 cellphone.

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. This is a common argument I encounter between children and parents. Also it is common between for children and teenagers to use guilt with their parents in order to get what 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. Also how much you spend on gifts or giving 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 IPhone12? 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 middle school and high school students for over 20 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 www.rcs-ca.com or www.rubinocounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Looking at Autism Realistically

Looking at Autism Realistically

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many children and teenagers who happen to be autistic. Often their parents are very worried. They worry about their child’s future and how people will treat their child. They have this concern because society tends to treat autism like some terrible disease. Many people assume that someone with Autism will never have a future or decent life. Additionally, many parents have difficulties with schools because many public schools find working with students on the autism spectrum difficult. At times it may be difficult, but my experience has been if the schools try slightly harder students on the Spectrum do fine. No one should decide that because someone is on the Spectrum that they cannot do well in school.

Unfortunately, many of these children on the Spectrum are teased at school. It appears that boys seem to be teased more than girls. In my experience this is because boys on the Spectrum tend not to comply with the typical outdated male stereotype. They tend to express their feelings more and they tend to be more accepting of others who are different. As a result, the other boys see them as easy targets to tease. This tends to really hurt their feelings and confuse the boys. They don’t understand why the other boys are being mean to them because they would never treat them the way the boys are treating them. Therefore, my experience has been overall boys only the Spectrum are more sensitive and caring. However, many parents are children will see them as inappropriate and they worry how they might treat their children. All of this is due to a stereotype regarding Autism.

However, this has not been my experience. The children and teens I have had the pleasure to work with who have autism are caring, smart, decent people. When they are given a chance, they can achieve a great deal. Many teenagers on the autistic spectrum are able to go to college, get a job, have a family and be productive members of society. However, for this to occur we need to eliminate the negative stigma associated with autism and mental health. We also need to provide them with the mental health services so they can succeed. They should be able to access these services without being judged. However, many children with Autism are teased at school and many insurance companies refuse to pay for psychotherapy. Autism is not a disease and you cannot catch it. Also people with Autism having feelings and being teased at school does a great deal of damage to their self-esteem. Children and teenagers need to be treated with respect meaning schools need to eliminate the teasing they endure at school. Insurance companies need to pay for psychotherapy so they can develop their abilities to express their emotions and so they can interpret social cues. If we do this, a child with Autism can achieve a lot in their life. The show the Good Doctor, shows an autistic young man who became a doctor. This is not a fantasy. There are several physicians with Autism who are perfectly capable of working as doctors and do.

I saw a video of a teenager talking to a judge. This teen with autism shows why we need to eliminate the negative stigma associated with mental health and provide access to services without judgement. Also he shows why we should not judge people or label people. Watch how impressed the judge is by this young man. He is very mature, acts appropriately, has a plan for himself and not ashamed about being autistic. People can surprise you when you don’t judge them https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:ugcPost:6507566653688160256.

If we provide other teens who are on the autistic spectrum or are depressed with the appropriate services, you would be amazed at what they can do. I have never met and worked with a child or teen on the autistic spectrum who has not impressed me with what they can do once they are given a chance.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers many have been on the autistic spectrum. For more information regarding his work or private practice practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com, his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple or Audible.

Helping Children Cope with Coronavirus Stress

Helping Children Cope with Coronavirus Stress

Since the beginning of the pandemic children have experienced an increase in depression and anxiety. It’s understandable because they have been isolated from friends and family. In addition no one can tell them what to expect and many have lost family members to COVID.

Furthermore, just as somethings were opening up and returning somewhat to normal, we have another significant increase in the number of COVID cases. As a result, many things have to be closed down again, there are definite rules regarding wearing masks and they may not be able to see their families for Thanksgiving. Again we are not able to give children any definite answers regarding when life will return to something normal.

As a result, many parents have asked me how to determine if their child is coping with anxiety and what to do if they are coping with anxiety. I can understand why parents are concerned especially because many children tend to try to hide their anxiety because they don’t want to worry their parents.

Therefore, the APA (American Psychological Association) developed guidelines that parents can use to determine if their child is dealing with anxiety and what to do if they are dealing with anxiety. You can also use the guidelines for depression too. I have provided an outline to the APA guidelines below:

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers the following tips to recognize if children may be experiencing stress or anxiety:

• Withdrawal from things the child usually enjoys

• Trouble falling or staying asleep

• Unexpected abdominal pain or headaches

• Extreme mood swings

• Development of a nervous habit, such as nail-biting

Parents can actively help kids and adolescents manage stress by:

Being available

• Start the conversation to let kids know you care about what’s happening in their lives.

• Notice times when kids are most likely to talk – for example, in the car or before bed.

Listening actively

• Stop what you’re doing and listen carefully when a child begins to open up about their feelings or thoughts.

• Let kids complete their point before you respond.

• Listen to their point of view even if it’s difficult to hear.

Responding thoughtfully

• Resist arguing about who is right. Instead say “I know you disagree with me, but this is what I think.”

• Express your opinion without minimizing theirs – acknowledge that it’s healthy to disagree sometimes.

• Focus on kids’ feelings rather than your own during conversation.

• Soften strong reactions, as kids will tune you out if you appear angry, defensive or judgmental.

• Word swap.

o   Say ‘and’ instead of ‘but’

o   Say ‘could’ instead of ‘should’

o   Say ‘aren’t going to’ instead of ‘can’t’

o   Say ‘sometimes’ instead of ‘never’ or ‘always’

Consider

• Model the behavior you want children to follow in how they manage anger, solve problems and work through difficult feelings. Kids learn by watching their parents.

• Don’t feel you have to step in each time kids make what you may consider a bad decision, unless the consequences may be dangerous. Kids learn from making their own choices.

• Pay attention to how children play, the words they use or the activities they engage in. Young children may express their feelings of stress during play time when they feel free to be themselves.

• It is important to explain difficult topics in sentences and even individual words kids will understand. For little kids it might mean saying simple things like, “We love you and we are here to keep you safe.” For adolescents, it’s important to be honest and up front about difficult topics and then give them a little space to process the information and ask questions when they’re ready.

Call your child’s or adolescent’s health care provider or a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers, if stress begins to interfere with his or her daily activities for several days in a row.

You can find additional helpful information about kids and stress by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Helping Children Cope webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/for-parents.html.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple or on Audible.