Reasons Why Boys Cut and Warning Signs of Cutting

Reasons Why Boys Cut and Warning Signs of Cutting

When I was guest co-hosting the Street Soldier radio show on 106.1 KMEL, the topic was how teenagers are impacted by social media. The topic of depression and cutting came up during the conversation. The adults were shocked to hear about cutting and the teens tended to feel the cutting was more of an issue for the girls. However, as a psychotherapist who works with teenagers, I have observed the increase in teenage cutting over the years. I have also observed that a behavior that once was believed to occur mainly in girls is also occurring in teenage boys too. From what I have seen it appears that just as many boys are cutting as girls. I mentioned when I was co-hosting and it was before the Coronavirus. Since the Coronavirus pandemic and quarantine and the significant increase in mass shootings the number of teenagers cutting has significantly increased (CDC).

The first question I often receive when I mention cutting is, what is it? Cutting is any behavior that a person engages in with the goal of self-mutilating. Teenagers cut with razors, knifes, paper clips, staples, using erasers or even scratching themselves. These are just a few ways teenagers have found to self-mutilate themselves. Since this is an activity associated with a great deal of guilt and shame, I am sure there are more ways that we have not learned about yet. Most teenagers are very reluctant to talk about cutting and usually have a great deal of shame about their cutting.

Also because cutting is associated with a great deal of guilt and shame our statistics on how many teenagers cut are not entirely accurate. Most recent studies indicate that approximately a third of all teenagers have tried cutting or actively cutting (CDC). If you noticed the research shows a third of all teenagers, which means boys too. I am seeing cutting become more popular with teenagers especially with boys who say they are cutting, have cut or are thinking about it. Therefore, cutting not only occurs in girls but it is occurring in boys too. We need to be aware of the fact that cutting is becoming more popular with teenagers. It is important because cutting can lead to accidental suicide attempts if an artery is cut or permanent damage if nerves in the arm or legs are severely cut. These are things that teenagers and parents don’t think about.

Why do teenagers cut? The reasons I commonly hear is it is easier to deal with the physical pain than the emotional pain they are feeling. Also it is away for them to feel alive. Many teenagers with severe depression often don’t feel connected to their bodies and the cutting helps them feel reconnected to life. Many teens who are severally depressed will tell me that cutting reminds them they are alive. They are so depressed that they feel nothing, but when they cut they feel. Also teenagers cut as a way to punish themselves because they are ashamed about something they did or they feel they have let their parents down. Cutting is a way for teenagers to deal with the guilt and shame they are experiencing. It is also a way that they can feel in control of life when their life feels or the world feels out of control or overwhelming. This is an important point to remember. Our world feels very overwhelming and confusing right now and teenagers are having a very difficult time dealing with all the chaos.

Many teenagers were feeling overwhelmed and afraid for their safety due to all the mass shootings and increase in hate crimes. Since the Coronavirus pandemic many teenagers are feeling even more overwhelmed and powerless. They also see very little hope for things to improve. As a result, many more teenagers have started cutting since the beginning of the pandemic. It is a way teenagers can try to cope with feeling overwhelmed and powerless due to the pandemic. I have had more teenagers reporting incidents of cutting and more friends who are cutting since the beginning of the pandemic and as the pandemic continues.

If we look at how boys are raised, cutting is a good fit for boys. Most boys grow up learning that boys can’t cry and if you express feelings of sadness or disappointment you are weak. Teenage boys are always supposed to look like life is perfect and they can handle anything without help. Cutting allows them to express sadness, fear or embarrassment in private. No one knows they are cutting or how they are feeling. Unfortunately, this leads to a vicious circle where emotions can get out of control and a boy may end up doing something he never indented to do. The number of boys cutting has increased due to the pandemic because they feel overwhelmed and out of control. There is nothing they can do about mass shootings or the Coronavirus and how their lives have changed due to mass shootings and the Coronavirus.

At this point, most people working with teenagers consider cutting an epidemic. In fact, the CDC does consider teenage cutting to be an epidemic. Additionally, the little research we have about this behavior supports this idea, but we are unable to determine how severe the epidemic is in teenagers. In the year 2000, when I asked about cutting some teenagers knew what I was talking about, but others had no idea. Today when I mention cutting to a teenager, they don’t look shocked. Instead they talk about it like we are talking about the weather. They often tell me about friends who are cutting too. Most teens who cut have friends that cut. Most teenage boys who have girlfriends tend to have girlfriends who cut too. It is something they will do together and talk to each other about. It becomes part of their relationship and they support each other regarding the feelings they have about cutting. As I stated above, the number of teenagers cutting has increased significantly since mass shootings and the Coronavirus pandemic because many teenagers are feeling helpless and overwhelmed by life. No other teenagers have had to deal with mass shootings and a pandemic so teenagers feel helpless and hopeless about life. This has been my experience.

Cutting can be a very dangerous behavior and does need to be treated with psychotherapy. If you feel your teen may be cutting, talk to them in an understanding manner. Do not give them any reason to feel guilty or ashamed if they say yes. As I stated above, the teen already feels a great deal of shame and if they feel they will be looked at in a shameful manner or that you will be shocked they will never open up to you. You need to reassure them you love them and you only care about their safety.

I said it needs to be treated with psychotherapy. Find a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and in treating self-mutilating behavior. If you have to go to someone who is doing teletherapy due to the pandemic that is fine. This is very important because if the therapist acts negatively or shocked, the teenager will shut down and therapy may not work with any other therapist because the teenager now assumes everyone is judging them. I have had teens test me in various ways because of what a previous therapist said about their behavior or what the therapist said to their parents. They need to feel safe and accepted by their therapist if therapy is going to work.

I have included some risk factors and warning signs for you to be aware of in case you think your teen might be cutting:

Risk Factors

Knowledge that friends or acquaintances are cutting

Difficulty expressing feelings

Extreme emotional reactions to minor occurrences (anger or sorrow)

Stressful family events (divorce, death, conflict)

Loss of a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, or social status

Negative body image

Lack of coping skills

Depression

Warning Signs

Wearing long sleeves during warm weather

Wearing thick wristbands that are never removed

Unexplained marks on body

Secretive or elusive behavior

Spending lengthy periods of time alone

Items that could be used for cutting (knives, scissors, safety pins, razors) are missing.

While this is a scary subject, I have worked with many teens who have overcome this issue. The important thing is as parents you are accepting and non judgmental. Also you need to be aware that this issue does exist. My last point is that boys cut too. Girls are not the only teenagers engaging in this behavior.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 25 years experience treating children, teenagers, trauma victims and first responders. He has treated many teenagers who cut and is considered an expert in this area. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino visit his websites www.rcs-ca.com , www.RubinoCounseling.com , or his Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts Understanding Today’s Teenagers on Spotify or Apple.

How to Help Kids and Parents Cope with the Mass shootings

How to Help Kids and Parents Cope with the Mass shootings

Unfortunately, with a mass shooting occurring every day in the United States (CDC), adults, teens and children are having to deal with grief on a regular basis. In addition to family members and friends, first responders such as EMTs and Emergency Room staff are dealing with grief due to these mass shootings. Adults may have an idea how to deal with grief, but teenagers and children do not. Our society does not deal with death in a healthy manner. Therefore, many people do not know what to do for or what to say to someone who is grieving. Many patients have asked me about what to do in these situations. While doing research regarding grief for patients, I found this information from the grief center.

This last week and this weekend have really shined a light on the problem of mass shootings. There was the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, another one at a church in California and the most shocking one the shooting at the elementary school in Texas killing 21 mostly 10 year old children. Additionally, we have already had another 3 mass shootings during the Memorial Day weekend. To add to the trauma, the NRA held their convention in Texas near the elementary school and had the nerve to tell people that we don’t have a gun problem and we are imagining it. This type of insane rhetoric only make the grief and trauma that people are experiencing worse.

Since all of these shootings have been being covered by the news, children are well aware of these shootings and are asking questions and having emotional reactions. These mass shootings are a very hard subject to explain to kids who are asking about these shootings and are they safe. As I researched this topic, I found information from the Grief Center and I think it is very good information and very easy to understand. Unfortunately, it is needed at this time as we grieve for victims of the current mass shootings especially the elementary school shooting. As a result, many children and adults are feeling overwhelmed and do not know what to do right now. Therefore, I will present the Grief Center information in three sections.

The 10 Best and 10 Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief

Sheryl Sandberg’s post on Facebook gave us much insight into how those in grief feel about the responses of others to loss. Many of us have said “The Best” and “The Worst.” We meant no harm, in fact the opposite. We were trying to comfort. A grieving person may say one of the worst ones about themselves and it’s OK. It may make sense for a member of the clergy to say, “He is in a better place” when someone comes to them for guidance. Where as an acquaintance saying it may not feel good.

You would also not want to say to someone, you are in the stages of grief. In our work, On Grief and Grieving, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and I share that the stages were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages. While some of these things to say have been helpful to some people, the way in which they are often said has the exact opposite effect than what was originally intended.

The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief

1. I am so sorry for your loss.

2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.

3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.

4. You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.

5. My favorite memory of your loved one is…

6. I am always just a phone call away

7. Give a hug instead of saying something

8. We all need help at times like this, I am here for you

9. I am usually up early or late, if you need anything

10. Saying nothing, just be with the person

The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief

1. At least she lived a long life, many people die young

2. He is in a better place

3. She brought this on herself

4. There is a reason for everything

5. Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now

6. You can have another child still

7. She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him

8. I know how you feel

9. She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go

10. Be strong

Best & Worst Traits of people just trying to help

When in the position of wanting to help a friend or loved one in grief, often times our first desire is to try to “fix” the situation, when in all actuality our good intentions can lead to nothing but more grief. Knowing the right thing to say is only half of the responsibility of being a supportive emotional caregiver. We have comprised two lists which examine both the GOOD and the NOT SO GOOD traits of people just trying to help.

The Best Traits

Supportive, but not trying to fix it

About feelings

Non active, not telling anyone what to do

Admitting can’t make it better

Not asking for something or someone to change feelings

Recognize loss

Not time limited

The Worst Traits

They want to fix the loss

They are about our discomfort

They are directive in nature

They rationalize or try to explain loss/li>

They may be judgmental

May minimize the loss

Put a timeline on loss

The above information is meant to be used as a guideline. Everyone goes through the grieving process in their own way. The main point of grieving is rebuilding your life without your loved one being physically present anymore. Also since these incidents have created trauma, we have to find away to continue to live our lives without letting the fear paralyze us. It is very important to understand these points. It is also important to remember while the above is a guideline, the most important thing is your intent. So if you say a worse thing but you said it out of love the person will understand. The guideline will hopefully make you more comfortable to offer support to your grieving loved one or friend. Because someone who is grieving needs people to talk to without people feeling awkward. Also everyone is around immediately after the death and through the funeral services. Most people then go back to their normal lives. However, those who were really close to the person are still grieving and trying to figure out how to proceed with life. So don’t forget the person who is grieving can use emotional support for the first year especially. Therefore, do not forget to call, send a card or stop by occasionally. Especially around the holidays and birthdays.

These mass shootings have destroyed the illusion that we are safe at home. Also since there were children killed, other children may experience a traumatic response. Children may start to have nightmares, be afraid to be left alone, be afraid of their parents going to work or they may become very quiet and just want to stay at home. The point is there are a number of reactions they can have to these events. If you are noticing a reaction, talk to them. Do not ignore their reactions. Ignoring the reactions only increases the anxiety. Remember, children have very vivid imaginations. Reassure them that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. If you are concerned about the reactions you are seeing, schedule an appointment with a child psychotherapist. Schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and trauma victims. Talking about their fears is very important. When you do not talk about their fears openly and calmly, children take this as a sign that you are too afraid to tell them how bad the situation is and their imaginations go wild. Therefore, as hard as it may be because you are worried too, talk to your children about the events.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 25 years experience as a psychotherapist treating adolescents, children, their families and trauma victims including first responders. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy

How Many Kids are Guns going to Kill?

How Many Kids are Guns going to Kill?

During the past several months there has been a significant increase in mass shootings and people being killed by guns. Already in 2022 we have an increase in the number of mass shootings compared to 2020. Currently 2020 has the most mass shootings on record for a year and currently for 2022 we are showing a 50% increase over 2020 (CDC, Brady Gunn Violence Campaign). We just had another mass shooting today in Uvlade, Texas and 18 elementary school children and 2 teachers were killed. Additionally, this past weekend 10 people were killed in Buffalo, New York and in Laguna, California one person was killed and over 8 people were injured. Moreover, over 250 people were killed by guns this past weekend in various cities such as Chicago (CDC). The weekend before there were more people killed in mass shootings by a gun. In fact, every weekend in 2022 there have been mass shootings and deaths (CDC).

As a psychotherapist who treats children and teenagers, I hear many children and teens talking about their safety at school and around town while they are playing or hanging out. Many teenagers seem to believe if they have a gun that will keep them safe. While researching this issue of gun violence, I read an article by Cody Fenwick regarding children and gun violence. His article was very alarming. Since there has been a significant increase in mass shootings Therefore, it seems appropriate to address the issue of guns because they are a popular method of suicide. Many children who are bullied are choosing guns for suicide.

Many of us feel because we live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Lafayette or Orinda that our children and teenagers do not have to worry about gangs or gun violence. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. According to a research study in the Journal of Pediatrics, guns continue to be the third-leading cause of death for Americans younger than 18 years old, killing around 1,300 children and teenagers a year in the United States. In addition, almost 6,000 children and teenagers are injured per year by guns. Many teenagers are permanently disabled from these injuries. For teenagers who commit suicide, guns are the second-leading cause of death. The CDC has recently moved suicide as the third-leading cause of death for teenagers to the second-leading cause of death. This is a scary fact that the rate of teenage suicides are increasing not decreasing.

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

The study does indicate there has been a decrease in accidental deaths such as boys cleaning a gun. However, the rate as a method for suicide has increased. I have mentioned before that suicide is no longer the third leading cause of death for 10 year old boys. It is now the second leading cause of death for boys 10 to 18 years old. This study confirms that statistic and indicates the preferred method of suicide for boys and teenagers are guns. According to Katherine Fowler, one of the lead researchers at the CDC, “Firearm injuries are an important public health problem, contributing substantially to premature death and disability of children.” Understanding their nature [guns] and impact is a first step toward prevention.”

When we look at these numbers, can anyone argue against taking steps to protect our children? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy using a gun to kill himself? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy feeling that his life is so bad at the age of ten that death seems like a better option than living? At the age of 10, he has given up hope for a decent life. This is a sad fact. Can you imagine being the parent or sibling of a 10 year old suicide victim and finding your child’s brains all over the room? How did a 10 year old get a gun for suicide? How does a teenager get a gun to shot and kill people at their high school?

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

• 38 percent — suicides

• 6 percent — unintentional deaths

• 3 percent — law enforcement/undetermined cause

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

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

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

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

Finally, we are only in the month of May and the number of Americans killed to date is more than in 2019 (CDC). We are seeing mass shootings increase, violence against Asian Americans and Jewish Americans, Transgender teenagers and police killings. What is happening in the United States? We are the only Country in the world dealing with mass shootings? However, we claim to be the most advanced nation in the world. Maybe Congress needs to look at these numbers and think about their actions. Denying the attack on the US Capital was not violent is crazy. We have videos of people assaulting the Capital Police and demanding to hang the Vice President. The Republicans in the House of Representatives remove Represetative Cheney from her leadership post because she won’t lie and say that Biden did not win the Presidential Election. Finally, you have a Republican representative comparing the requirement to wear masks in the House Chambers because everyone in the House of Representatives are not vaccinated. Someone who speaks the truth is removed and someone who makes racist, homophobic and anti Semitic statements is praised. This may be one part of the issue. We need to support people who are treating other people appropriately and we need to speak out and refuse to allow people who are treating people like garbage to continue to be allowed to treat people like garbage. Bottom line, we can no longer the public health emergency created by guns and we must act an enact sane gun laws. People have to wear seatbelts in cars but you can still drive. You need to be 21 years old to drink or buy alcohol, but this law has not prevented adults from using alcohol. Therefore, sane gun laws will not take away guns from everyone! We are a nation of intelligent people please start using your common sense regarding guns.

Dr. Rubino has 25 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

My Teen is Extremely Anxious, What do I do?

My Teen is Extremely Anxious, What do I do?

Over the years children and teenagers have been exposed to stressful life events especially the last two years. The teens today have grown up with daily school shootings and mass shooting drills. Imagine being a second grader having to rehearse a man with a gun is on campus and you don’t know if you are going to live or die. Teenagers today have also grown up with terrorist alerts and having to be searched anytime they went to a concert or places such as Disneyland. Finally they have had to cope with COVID. Over 1,000,000 Americans have died from this virus (CDC). Many children and teenagers have lost grandparents, siblings and parents to this virus. We thought we had turned a corner regarding the Coronavirus and we find out we are back at the beginning. There are still people being diagnosed daily with the Coronavirus and a number of these people have been vaccinated. However, most are not fully vaccinated. Additionally, this time the virus is effecting teenagers and children. Since schools have resumed on site classes at least 1,000 children have died due to the Coronavirus virus (CDC).

This is a lot for a child or teenager to have to adjust to. Remember, their brains are not fully developed yet. Therefore they cannot understand things like adults do. Furthermore, they have very active imaginations which are fueled by misinformation on social media or from people such as Tucker Carlson on Fox. Having to cope with all of this together has resulted in a significant increase in depression, suicide, drug overdose and anxiety disorders. At my office we get at least 20 requests daily for teenagers seeking psychotherapy due to anxiety disorders.

The fact that we thought we were on the right track with the Coronavirus and now we have another spike which is similar to the numbers a year ago is confusing and irritating to teenagers. Just as somethings were opening up and returning somewhat to normal, we had another spike and needed to adjust our lives again. As a result, many things had to be closed down again, there were definite rules regarding wearing masks and teens were not able to freely socialize with their friends. Again we are not able to give children and teenagers any definite answers regarding when life will return to something normal. Now we have changed the rules again and masks are not required but recommended for events inside.

With everything teenagers have had to cope with growing up, terrorist attacks, war, the economy collapsing, mass shooting and now the Coronavirus, we failed to make plans for their mental health care. Yes hospitals were running out of beds and physicians have become exhausted, but we are also running out of psychotherapists. Also psychotherapists are exhausted because they are dealing with adults and teenagers daily who dealing with depression, suicide and anxiety. However, psychotherapist do need some breaks so they can keep going. Finally, more and more insurance companies are declining claims or raising copayments so high that families cannot afford their copayments.

This lack of mental health care is unacceptable in the United States. Parents call the Human Resource Department at your work. They negotiate your benefits with the insurance companies. Therefore, they can renegotiate your coverage so you receive the benefits your family needs. Also call your Senators and demand that insurance companies need to provide mental health care.

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. Additionally, parents are trying to find psychotherapist who can treat children and teenagers are parents are trying to figure out how they can afford therapy with the cost of living increasing and insurance companies restricting coverage.

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 25 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.

Allowing Teenagers to be Themselves not Stereotypes

Allowing Teenagers to be Themselves not Stereotypes

Being a teenager in today’s world is very difficult. Besides dealing with mass school shootings and now the uncertainty of life due to the Coronavirus, they face other daily challenges. Many teenagers believe they must grow up and have jobs with fancy titles, make a lot of money and drive fancy cars to be a success as an adult. They face stereotypes about how boys must act if they want to be men and girls face stereotypes about how they must act to be considered women. I hear teens tell me everyday how overwhelmed and confused they are trying to fit into all the necessary stereotypes. They feel overwhelmed because at times they are not sure how to act and confused because at times they don’t agree with the stereotype. If they don’t, they are not sure what to do. This is a lot of pressure for a 13 year old child to be trying to cope with on a daily basis. It’s no surprise that many teens turn to drugs as a way to cope. It is also not a surprise that Cutting is at epidemic rates for teens and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for teens (CDC)

Now what if you don’t fit into the stereotypes? What if you suffer from depression? If you have a learning disability? Or if you are homosexual or bisexual? What do these teenagers do? This is how they were born and they cannot change that fact. Many of these teens will struggle trying to fit the stereotypes and also try desperately to hide from friends and family that they do not fit the teenage stereotypes. Some are lucky and parents or a teacher intervene helping them to get the help they need. Many are not so lucky and often choose suicide. Teenagers who are homosexual or questioning their sexuality are five times more likely than the average teen to think about and attempt suicide (CDC). These are very scary and sad facts.

The CDC found one in five teenagers are dealing with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or stress. Many may think about psychotherapy but quickly block that option. Only “crazy people” need psychotherapy. If they had to go to therapy they are really a “loser.” For teenagers who are willing to try therapy, they often cannot find a therapist who treats teenagers or their family cannot afford it. Also for many cultures such as Latin or Asian, they believe that personal issues need to be resolved within the family and you would never share intimate family issues with strangers. Therefore, for these teens psychotherapy is not an option.

However, as a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers, I hear daily from teens that all they want is to be accepted for who they are and they don’t want to have to always hide. The teen with depression or the learning disabilities wants to be considered just as important as the star quarterback on the football team. They want this from their school, their friends, society and finally from their families. Is this too much to ask for?

These teenagers are not stealing or doing anything to be ashamed of, they are being themselves just the way they were born. Why can’t they be accepted and celebrated? The answer is they can! It is something I teach them in every session we have together. There are organizations such as Alive and Free in San Francisco and Challenge Day in the San Francisco Bay Area who work with teens and society so these teens can feel accepted being themselves.

Another organization addressing this issue is called Born This Way. It was started by Lady Gaga and her organization works with teens and society so all teens feel accepted for who they are just the way they were born. Lady Gaga explains the mission of her foundation this way, “Safety, skills, and opportunity. Number one, I want everyone to feel safe in their community: school, home, whatever city you live in. Two: developing the skills that are needed to be a loving, accepting, and tolerant person, and to also inject that sentiment into all the people around you, being a supportive human being. And the third is opportunity. I believe once you feel safe in your environment and you acquire the skills to be a loving and accepting person, the opportunities for you are endless to become a great functioning human in society.”

For people who do better by hearing something or seeing it, I have included a link to a YouTube video where Lady Gaga explains Born This Way, https://youtu.be/

The concept really is very simple. Why can’t we accept children and teenagers just the way they were born. Every person is unique and everyone has talents to contribute to the world. So why do we pressure boys into the stereotype the must have big muscles and play sports to be a man? Why do we tell girls that boys are smarter and if someone touches them in a way they do not like it is their fault because of the clothes they are wearing. This is insane!

If we do away with the stereotypes and focus on teenagers liking their own personalities and bodies, we would have less cutting, suicide and drug use. We would also have many more teenagers who are happy and successful at life. Being happy is a successful life not a big bank account. Therefore, let’s get started on helping teens. We need people to support more organizations like the ones I named above. If we do we can eliminate the stereotypes and stigma of not fitting a stereotype. We also need to make psychotherapy more accessible to all teenagers and remove the negative stigma associated with mental health care. Now some people may think what I am proposing is impossible and just a dream. However, you are seeing more groups like the ones I mentioned open every year. We are seeing teenagers and parents being attracted to them. It is possible to improve the lives of children and teenagers. It may need to start with a dream. Dreams do come true look at what Walt Disney created with his dream.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience working with children and teenagers. He is on the nations advisory board for Alive and Free. For more information about his work and private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Helping Kids Live in Today’s Scary World

Helping Kids Live in Today’s Scary World

Over the past few years children and teenagers have had to cope with a lot of emotions. The main emotions they have been facing are anxiety, fear and grief. If we look at their lives over the past few years, it is not surprising they have been dealing with these emotions.

To begin with, children have had to grow up with mass school shootings. In 2019, there was a mass shooting every day and a majority of these shootings occurred at schools (CDC). Students have been dealing with these shootings for 20 years and since 2010, the number of shootings have increased every year (CDC). As a result, students have grown up grieving for friends and teachers and have been afraid to go to school because they were afraid of being killed. In addition, they have been having mass shooter drills on a regular basis. These drills have increased children’s anxiety about going to school. They have more shooter drills than fire drills. Therefore, school does not seem like a safe place for kids.

Besides dealing with mass shootings, they have had to cope with the Coronavirus Pandemic and having to go to school remotely. Furthermore, they were not able to see their friends as usual so they felt isolated, lonely and have been lacking the emotional support of their friends. Finally with over 900,000 Americans dying from the Coronavirus, many children and teenagers have been grieving for the death of grandparents, parents and friends. This has also created a lot of anxiety for kids. Many do not want their parents to leave the house because they are afraid that their parents might catch the virus and die.

Now we are changing children’s world again. We are finally telling them it is safe to go back to school. However, the Coronavirus is not under control and mass shootings have started again. This exacerbates the fear, anxiety and grief that children and teenagers are still dealing with due to mass shootings and people becoming sick and dying from the Coronavirus. Honestly, can you blame them?

These two issues are overwhelming for children and now they have to deal with the war in the Ukraine. Because children and teenagers have access to their cellphones and Ipads, many kids have seen the pictures of dead adults and children. They are also hearing about how this may develop into World War III. The idea of a World War is making more children and teenagers worry about death and the possibility of a nuclear war. They are afraid the end of the world maybe around the corner.

I have had many parents ask me how they can help their children and teenagers through these difficult times. However, many parents are finding it difficult because they are experiencing some of the same feelings and they know they cannot completely protect their children from mass shootings, the Coronavirus and they are worried about another World War too. Parents are having to accept that they cannot eliminate the fear their children are living with currently. All they can do is be there for their families and be emotionally supportive.

Dealing with children and teenagers as a psychotherapist for the past 25 years, I have seen many children with these issues. Additionally, I have researched these issues in addition to becoming certified to treat children and first responders for the traumatic events we are facing as a society. Below is the best advice I have found for parents who are dealing with children who are anxious, afraid or grieving.

As a parent, you can’t protect you children from grief, but you can help them express their feelings, comfort them, help them feel safer, and teach them how to deal with fear. By allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future, and confidence that they can overcome adversity.

• Break the news. When something happens that will get wide coverage, my first and most important suggestion is that you don’t delay telling your children about what’s happened: It’s much better for the child if you’re the one who tells her. You don’t want her to hear from some other child, a television news report, or the headlines on the front page of the New York Post. You want to be able to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.

• Take your cues from your child. Invite her to tell you anything she may have heard about the tragedy, and how she feels. Give her ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions about upsetting details. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.

• Model calm. It’s okay to let your child know if you’re sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then he will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, he is likely to grasp what’s important: that tragic events can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.

• Be reassuring. Talking about death is always difficult, but a tragic accident or act of violence is especially tough because of how egocentric children are: they’re likely to focus on whether something like this could happen to them. So it’s important to reassure your child about how unusual this kind of event is, and the safety measures that have been taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them. You can also assure him that this kind of tragedy is investigated carefully, to identify causes and help prevent it from happening again. It’s confidence-building for kids to know that we learn from negative experiences.

• Help children express their feelings. In your conversation (and subsequent ones) you can suggest ways your child might remember those she’s lost: draw pictures or tell stories about things you did together. If you’re religious, going to church or synagogue could be valuable.

• Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren’t over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.

• Hopefully these suggestions will help parents who have children or teenagers who are dealing with fear, anxiety or grieving for a loved one. Remember there are no perfect parents, so just do your best. If your child knows you are coming from a place of love, they will know you are trying to help and you will help them. If however, you feel your child needs more help than you can provide, arrange for them to see a psychotherapist who specializes in children and teenagers and specializes in treating trauma.

Hopefully these suggestions will help parents and their children through this very scary time our world is currently experiencing.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children and teenagers. Additionally, he is certified to treat children, teenagers and first responders for traumatic events. 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.

A Generation of Kids Growing Up in Fear

A Generation of Kids Growing Up in Fear

The current generation of children and teenagers are once again being exposed to a situation most children have never experienced. With Russia starting a war, children and teenagers are experiencing the largest amount of military activity since World War II. They are hearing nightly, or via their cellphones, how Russia is invading Ukrainian and how Ukrainian is being attacked. Additionally, they are hearing how Russia may invade Poland and what the United States and NATO may or may not do.

Now if you take a step back, look at what these children and teenagers have seen over their lives. Most of these teenagers were very young on 9/11, or were not even born yet, when the United States was attacked. Since 9/11 they have also seen two wars and heard on the nightly news about numerous terrorist alerts or attacks around the world and here in the United States. They also hear how the TSA are putting tighter security on travelers and places such as Disneyland are increasing security due to concerns about terrorism.

When Trump was President, children and teenagers were hearing all day long how we were on the verge of having a nuclear war with North Korea, until Trump decided he liked the dictator of North Korea. Initially Trump was making threats towards North Korea that were terrifying everyone, including children. Furthermore, children and teenagers had to live through violent deadly attacks such as the one in North Carolina. As a result, children were afraid that the end of the world was around the corner.

In addition to terrorism, this is the first generation growing up with mass shootings. According to ABC News from 2000 to 2015 there have been 140 mass shootings and since January 1, 2016, there have been more mass shootings than the previous 15 years. According to the statistics on mass shootings every day 36 people are killed in the United States by a gun. This does not include suicides. For the group we are discussing, suicide is the third leading cause of death for children between 10 and 18 years old and using a gun is one of the most popular methods of suicide. Also because of school shootings, students have seen increased security on their school campuses. Many campuses have metal detectors that students have to pass through as the enter the campus and there are police officers assigned to school sites due to the fear of violence.

In addition to the violence, children and teenagers in this generation have had to live through a deadly pandemic. Our Country was on lock down for 2 years and kids couldn’t attend school, play sports, hang out with friends and had to wear masks to go out in public. While restrictions are being relaxed, we still are dealing with the Coronavirus. Furthermore, the virus has killed over 900,000 Americans with approximately 2,000 people still dying daily (CDC). Therefore, children and teenagers are having to learn how to live with a deadly virus and many are grieving the loss of loved ones and friends.

Now, in addition to these facts stated above, think about what these children see on the news nightly and the video games they play daily. Anytime there is a shootings incident in the United States, or any where in the world, there is pretty much 24 hour news coverage of the event for days. Also when there are bombing or shootings in Europe there is 24 hour news coverage for days too. And now we have moved on to covering funerals. When there were officers killed in Dallas the memorial was televised nationally. If we look at the video games these kids are playing most have to do with killing and death. And since computer graphics have significantly improved, many of these games look real..

Looking at all of this it begins to make sense why I am seeing more depressed and anxious teenagers who fear for their lives. These teenagers are being traumatized. They may not be experiencing the trauma personally but they are experiencing vicarious trauma. With all of the pictures on television and news reports and realistic video games these teenagers are playing, they are being traumatized vicariously. We have never had a generation of children grow up with the amount of trauma that these children are growing up with in the world. Even children growing up during World War II didn’t experience this amount of trauma. We didn’t have instant access to news nor did we have the graphic videos being shown by the news media.

The question now becomes, what do we do? Well we can not change the world unfortunately. However, we can monitor how much exposure to news our children are receiving regarding the coronavirus, mass shootings, wars, terrorism, such as January 6th and the fact that no one has any clear answers how to solve any of these issues. Parents can also monitor the video games their children and teenagers are playing and limit access to games that focus on violence and killing. We can demand that the Congress pass gun control laws that make sense. No one needs an assault weapon to hunt a deer. Also children do not need toy guns that look like real automatic weapons. We can also listen to what our children are saying and talk to them about their concerns. When a mass shooting occurs or there is a charge regarding the virus, we can ask them how they are feeling, ask if they have any concerns and reassure them that you are there as their parents to protect them..

Finally, if you start to notice a change of attitude or behavior in your child or teenager that you are concerned about have talk to your child or teen or have them assessed by a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. I have included a link to an article by the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry which describes what parents can do http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Talking-To-Children-About-Terrorism-And-War-087.aspx. There is nothing to be ashamed of if a child needs therapy. We are exposing children to situations that most adults have problems dealing with themselves. You may find it very upsetting to talk to your child about these issues. For these reasons and many more, if you feel your teenager has been traumatized vicariously make an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and victims of trauma. Our kids have had to deal with a lot. We can help make it easier for them growing up in this time by providing the help they need.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 25 years experience treating children and teenagers and is an expert treating victims of trauma and also performs Critical Incident Debriefing. Additionally, he is a certified psychotherapist for first responders. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.

Teenagers are Crying Out for Help

Teenagers are Crying Out for Help

Today’s teenagers are under a great deal pressure. In fact, according to the CDC, 1 out of every teenager has a diagnosable mental health issue. In addition, depression, anxiety, drug overdoses and suicide are currently at epidemic rates for teenagers. In fact, suicide was the third leading cause of death for teenagers and now it is the second leading cause of death (CDC). Furthermore, cutting or self-harming behaviors are also at epidemic rates for teenagers (CDC). Self-harming behaviors include teenagers cutting themselves with knives or scissors in addition to scratching themselves severely and sometimes teenagers may even use erasers to erase their skin and cause sores. These are only a few examples.

Let’s look at the pressure teenagers are facing today. One major stressor is social media. They look at the accounts of other teens who post everything is going great in their lives and they have a lot of friends. This is not the reality, but most teenagers are not aware of this fact and they start to wonder what is wrong with them. Why don’t they have the same wonderful lives full of friends and good grades?

Another stressor for teenagers is the Coronavirus. Over 700,000 Americans have died from Covid and 1200 Americans are still dying daily (CDC). Therefore, many teenagers are grieving the loss of family members and friends and the grief is especially difficult during the Holidays. Additionally, we do not have a firm grip on the Coronavirus and information is changing daily. Therefore, teenagers are still dealing with restrictions at school and are not able to see their friends on a regular basis. Furthermore, they don’t know if their lives are ever going to return to pre-pandemic routines or have their lives and childhood been permanently changed.

Finally, teenagers today are dealing with school shootings which continue on a regular basis. The school shootings impact more teenagers than we think are impacted by them. When there is a school shooting every student at that school, in that community and in our Country is effected. They are traumatized again and again begin to worry, will I be killed today at school. This is why the shooter in Oxford was charged with terrorism. Every student, teacher, parent and first responders were terrified about would they be killed, would someone they know be killed, how are they going to cope with what they find at the school and students, parents are teachers all over the Country worried about could this happen at our school? As a result, many teenagers do not want to go to school because they don’t feel safe and parents worry when their child leaves that day for school, could it be the last time they see their child alive. All of these factors are a lot to expect a 13 year old to cope with on a daily basis, year after year.

Ten years ago as part of my initial evaluation of a teenager I would ask, if they were cutting or had ever cut, once in a while I would get an answer of yes. Today when you ask teenagers about cutting most teenagers answer yes. They say they have used cutting to cope with the stress of life or they have thought about it. In fact, it’s no longer just teenagers. Children as young as 8 or 10 years old often respond yes to this question. This is alarming, but it is evidence of the amount of emotional pressure these kids have to deal with today. They apologize for trying it or thinking about it, but they explain life was so stressful they didn’t know how to cope with the emotions they were feeling. Again these teenagers are facing stress because they are admitting that life has become too stressful. They are afraid that I will be upset with them or that their parents may be upset that they cannot handle everything that is going on in their lives.

When you ask a teenager about cutting behavior, they usually respond it was easier to deal with the physical pain than the emotional turmoil they were dealing with inside. Others will say the cutting takes their mind off of the emotional situation and others even say it makes them feel human. So as you can see there are numerous reasons, but teenagers are also very embarrassed and ashamed about the cutting behavior, as I stated above. If I am treating a teen who is engaging in cutting I must be very sensitive and non-judgmental about the behavior if I’m going to help. In addition, the family needs to be non-judgmental as well. Teenagers do not cut for the attention and as I stated above they are embarrassed about their behavior. If they sense that someone is viewing them in a negative way, they will not talk about it. Additionally, teenagers who are engaged in cutting hide their cuts so no one will know about their behavior.

Therefore, when treating or dealing with a teenager who is cutting you need to be patient and non-judgmental. Remember they are resorting to this behavior because it is the only way they are able to deal with the emotions they are feeling and the situations they are facing. Life today can be very overwhelming and often teenagers are not prepared for what they have to face in life and they are embarrassed to ask for help too. Often they are embarrassed because our society looks down on people dealing with mental health issues. I recently had a 13 year old ask me, “why don’t we place more emphasis on mental health so people can get the help when they need it?” A very good question to ask. Our society has a very strong negative stereotype regarding mental health and therapy. As a result, it is very difficult for teenagers to ask for and receive the mental health care they need.

After being treated for cutting, many teenagers are still embarrassed and feel awkward about their past behavior. Many times teenagers are left with scars on their bodies from cutting. Most families cannot afford plastic surgery and insurance will not cover it, even though it is a mental health need and in my opinion should be covered. The point is many teenagers continue to feel embarrassed and ashamed of the scars years after they have stopped cutting. Below is a blog from a teenager who discusses how they feel about their scars and people’s reactions. It also may help give you some insight to what teenagers are going through these days and how many of them are feeling overwhelmed by life. Instead of ignoring their cries for help we need to figure out how we can help them without making them feel embarrassed or crazy.

A teenager’s blog about cutting. My self-harm scars are “hideous.” I’m covered in them. Head to toe. No amount of time, no amount of fading will make them unnoticeable. That doesn’t mean I hate them. It doesn’t mean I’m embarrassed by them. I am aware that they make other people uncomfortable and there are times, when out of respect for others, I will cover them. There are other times when I won’t cover them. Whether I choose to cover them or not, I don’t feel that I should have to explain my choice. If I choose to cover them, it doesn’t mean I’m ashamed or feel forced to cover them. If I choose not to cover them, it doesn’t mean I want attention.

I regularly see people comment on social media saying, “If you make a public post people have the right to say whatever they want.” Apparently this entitles people to be nasty and judgmental. It excuses them from filtering what they say and think. It exempts them from extending basic decency and courtesy to others.

I’ve heard the same said about people who walk around with self-harm scars exposed. No. Just because you can see my scars doesn’t give you a free pass to say what you want. You don’t get to say, “You’re too pretty for that.” You don’t get to say, “You’re too smart for that.” It doesn’t matter whether you know me or not. They are my scars from my battles. Even if you know me, I can guarantee you won’t know all about my battles. You won’t know my darkest moments or thoughts. If you’re a stranger? What could you possibly think you know about my life? You don’t get a say on what my scars look like. You don’t get a say on whether or not I’m too pretty, too smart or too strong for that. You don’t get a say on whether or not I cover them.

Yes, you can see them. Yes, they are “hideous.” Look away. Walk away. Think about it by all means. Talk to someone else about it. If you’re game, educate yourself on it. Take responsibility for what you are doing. Take responsibility for what you are saying. Yes, you can see my scars but that doesn’t make me responsible for your reaction.

This is how one teenager tries to explain cutting to adults and how it makes them feel years after they have stopped cutting. Really read and think about what this teenager is saying. Should any teenager have to feel this way because they are feeling overwhelmed by life? Overwhelmed by circumstances which are not their fault and they cannot control? Is it fair they should suffer this way, when they are asking for help, but insurance companies deny to help them? What responsibility do we have to help these teenagers who are begging for help?

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 24 years experience treating children and teenagers. In addition, he specializes in treating victims of trauma and first responders. For more information about 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.

Starting High School During the Delta Variant Outbreak

Starting High School During the Delta Variant Outbreak

All over the Country teenagers will be starting their first year in high school or returning to high school. Typically I would recommend that parents think back to their first day of high school and how they felt and what they were expecting. I did this to help parents relate to some of the feelings their teenager maybe having as a way for parents to help their teenagers starting high school. This may help parents with some of the issues facing their teenagers, but teenagers starting high school or resuming high school in 2021 do so in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Therefore, high school students are facing additional issues besides the typical first day of school issues.

High school students, in fact all students, are starting school when there is a significant increase in the Coronavirus due to the Delta variant. As a result, many people including teenagers are contracting the virus and having to be hospitalized (CDC). The number of people contracting the virus is similar to the numbers we were seeing a year ago (CDC).

Therefore, high school students are starting high school not knowing if they will or will not contact the deadly virus. Yes there are vaccinations they can get and they can wear masks, all of which decreases their chances of getting the virus, but some governors, school boards and parents are refusing these options. People are objecting because they say the precautions are not necessary and do not work. However, teens are hearing that in Alabama the State has run out of ICU beds for teenagers and 99.7% of people contracting the virus and currently dying from the virus have not been vaccinated (CDC). Additionally, they have heard about schools not using masks and having to shut down because the Delta variant had already infected too many teachers and students (CDC).

Besides worrying about contracting the virus, students have missed an entire year of high school. Therefore, students who are sophomores never had a freshman year and have no idea what to expect. Teenagers who were enjoying their high school experience have missed out on an entire year. Therefore, students starting high school and returning to high school in 2021 are doing so facing many issues that students usually never face. For example, the main issue is adjusting from remote learning to being back in the class. Their school days are longer, they have more homework and they are around more people. This is not a simple adjustment. As a result of all the issues we have seen a significant increase in depression and anxiety in high school students (CDC).

Parents hopefully you can remember everything teenagers and you are facing as your teenagers start high school. You may need to contact your teenager’s school and ask for assistance from the school. You may need to seek out a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and have your teenager participate in psychotherapy. There is no shame in doing this because teenagers are facing tremendous mental health issues and many need help. Since the pandemic and school resuming, there has been a significant increase in the number of teenagers needing psychotherapy (CDC). In fact we are running out of psychotherapist who are able to treat these teenagers. No one planned on how to adequately handle the number of teenagers needing psychotherapy due to the pandemic.

Parents all you can do is to be patient and listen to your teenagers and seek the help you feel is appropriate. Also do not forget yourselves. Parents are under a great deal of stress too and you may need psychotherapy too. If you try to work together and are patient with each other, you should be able to handle the stress teenagers are facing due to the pandemic.

In addition to the pandemic, students starting high school still deal with common anxieties most teenagers have faced over the years. One common stressor for many teenagers are the stories they have heard about how seniors picking on and teasing the freshman students. Another common fear for freshman is that they are going to get lost on the campus and not be able to find their classrooms. Your teenagers are at a point in their life where they want to make a good impression on the other students. At their age image is very important. Therefore the idea of being teased by the seniors or getting lost on the campus can be very stressful and also create a great deal of anxiety for a student starting high school.

As parents, you can talk to your teenagers about your first days days at high school and reassure them that the stories they hear about Freshmen being targets for the seniors are greatly exaggerated. Also you can try to go with them over to the school before it starts and walk around the campus so they can get use to where everything is at their new school. Another thing you can do is remind them that everyone makes mistakes so if they do get lost the first day it is not a big deal. Remind them there will be a lot of other kids starting their first day of school too and there will be other kids getting lost. This is also another opportunity to continue to establish an open relationship with your teenager. The more you talk with each other, you increase the likelihood that they will feel comfortable coming and talking to you about issues they will have while in high school.

Another issue facing some students is starting all over. In middle school may be everyone knew them and they were in the “popular group.” Now no one knows them and they need to start all over. This may be frightening to them, but remind them there will be many times in life when they will need to start as the new person. Also remind them, if they were able to do it in middle school, they can do it in high school too. Be sure to encourage them to have faith in themselves because it won’t happen over night. Now for many students middle school was a nightmare. They may be looking forward to starting over. Again remind them if they have the desire to try they can do it. All the Freshmen are starting all over just like them, but also to be patient because it may not happen as quickly as they like.

Also before school actually starts is a very good time to establish what your expectations are regarding grades and after school activities and hanging out with friends. At this time is a good time to establish what your expectations are homework, after school jobs and weekend curfews. If you establish an understanding between yourself and your teenager before these situations arise you can save yourself a lot of time arguing with your teenager. However as you establish these guidelines you want to have a conversation with your teenager about these issues. Remember your teenager is starting to enter the adult world, if you simply just tell them these are the rules, they will feel that you are being unfair and they will try to find a way around your rules. If you have a discussion with them about the rules they will feel that their opinions were respected, they are more likely to feel that the rules are fair and are more likely to follow the rules. It is also a good idea to write a contract with all the things you agreed to. If you write the agreements down and there is a misunderstanding you simply need to refer back to the contract. Also this is another opportunity for you to establish a relationship with your teenager where they feel comfortable enough to come to you and discuss any problems they may be having. You are also role modeling to them how to have an adult discussion and how to negotiate fairly and respectfully with other their people.

Of course you also want to take this opportunity to discuss with your teenager the fact that they are going to be faced with making decisions about alcohol, drugs and sex. This is a good time to provide them with the education they will need in order to cope with these situations. It is even more important today because technology has changed a number of rules. For example, if a girl texts a nude photo to a boy, he is guilty of having child pornography. Yes it was mutually agreed to but they are still under 18 years old so it is a crime. Texting is another area where they can get into trouble. If someone takes a text as a threat they can get into trouble for bullying or assault. As I said, technology has changed the rules and many of us have not been able to keep it. Therefore, remind them that information they may receive from their friends may not always be accurate. Furthermore, encourage them that at any time if they have any questions or concerns regarding these matters or any other matters you are always there to listen and to talk with them.

One thing to remember is acronym HALT. I teach this often with anger management, but it helps with communication too.

H – hunger

A – anger

L – lonely

T – tired

If either one of you are having these feelings, it is generally not a good time to have a discussion. Also if either one of you is feeling like this and you may not be listening to each other. Therefore, if either one of you are having these feelings or don’t feel like talking, then it’s better to postpone the conversation until you are both ready to talk.

Lastly, remind them that they are starting a brand-new phase in their life and it is normal to feel anxious and stress. Also remind them that these feelings are normal in the beginning but they usually quickly disappear after they have started school.

Besides having to face the pandemic, high school students today also have to face the issue of school shootings. Sadly, this is another stressful subject you may want to discuss with your teenager. Develop a plan with your teenager about what they would do if there was a shooting at their school. Also discuss with them what to do if they hear rumors or have concerns about how another student is acting. Finally, discuss how you can help if they are feeling worried or not safe at school. It is sad, but this is the world we live in today. Talking to you teen can help decrease anxiety and help you to maintain open communication with your teenager.

A few things you can do on the first day of classes to help with any anxiety are you can get up in the morning with them and have breakfast with them before they go to school. You can also put a note of encouragement in their backpack that they will find when they are at school and this can help reassure them and remind them how much support they have at home. Finally, you can arrange to be at home when when they get home from their first day of high school so you can talk about it with them. Also plan to have a family dinner to discuss everyone’s first day of school and offer encouragement where needed. These are just a few ideas to help with the transition process.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. He has over 20 years experience working with teenagers. To learn more about his private practice in Pleasant or the work he has done over 20 years visit his web site at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Helping Teenagers Get Enough Sleep

Helping Teenagers Get Enough Sleep

It’s getting close to the end of summer and for many teenagers will be returning to school soon. For most students they will be returning to their school sites. This means no more remote learning and students will need to be getting school on time in the mornings. In order to do so they need to get a good nights sleep. However, many parents have been reporting that with the remote schooling students were able to sleep in because school was starting later. As a result, many teenagers have developed poor sleep habits such as staying up later at night and taking naps during the day. Many parents are concerned how they are going to get their children and teenagers back to a health sleep pattern so they can function at school and get up on time for school.

I have had many parents asking me and emailing me regarding getting children and teenagers back on a healthy sleep pattern for school. Many parents are looking at this as an opportunity to get their children and teenagers on a healthy sleep pattern because their teenagers were never on a healthy sleep pattern to begin with. As a result I researched teenage sleep patterns and found some very good information from James Maas, PhD., who specializes in sleep patterns, and he wrote the book, Power Sleep for Success. According to Dr. Maas many teenagers are sleep deprived because beginning at puberty up until the age of 25 around midnight teenagers brains begin producing human growth hormones and reduces the amount of melatonin the brain produces. As a result, teenagers are not ready to sleep until 2am and their brains are ready to wake up at 11am. Dr. Maas refers to this as Chronic Delayed Phase Syndrome and states that every teenager suffers from it.

Since the amount of natural melatonin being produced in teenagers brains is reduced, many parents try providing their teenagers with melatonin supplements. The parents hope that by increasing the amount of melatonin in their teenagers brains with melatonin supplements that teenagers will be able to sleep easier. However, this may not be the case.

Dr. Maas has this to say about melatonin supplements. He states they are not the best way to get your sleep. First, 3 mg of melatonin is the maximum amount that an adult needs, and many over-the-counter formulations start at 5 mg. Some even go to as high as 10 or 12 mg. You are peeing away a lot of melatonin that your body doesn’t need and can’t process. It does work, but there are other options on the market that work just as well as melatonin or better: (1) lavender, either in tea or in a spray; and (2) valerian root. These two over-the-counter supplements actually have been clinically proven to have a sleep-inducing effect.

Dr. Maas has outlined several steps that teenagers can go through before trying to go to sleep. He believes that if children and teenagers follow these steps on a regular basis that it will help a teenager fall asleep. He also believes these steps will help teenagers get enough sleep so they are not sleep deprived and are ready for school the following day. Here are the steps Dr. Maas recommends that children and teenagers follow before their bedtime:

1. Take a warm bath or shower an hour before bed to relax and to signal to the brain that it’s time to begin to unwind.

2. Avoid eating food late at night that is likely to disturb your sleep: heavy, greasy, spicy, or difficult-to-digest foods like pizza, garlic, or anything really fatty. Instead try fruit (bananas or grapes) or lean protein such as tuna.

3. Get your homework done earlier in the afternoon or evening while you are still awake and alert. This will also reduce your stress if you don’t have so much homework to do in the evening close to bedtime.

4. Watch how you are spending your waking hours. Teenagers don’t typically have great time management skills. They can get caught up on social media or on their phones, which are a huge distraction and eat up that part of the day when you should be in study mode. Catch up on your social things after your homework is over.

We know that the amount of sleep that a child or teenager gets is related to how well they do in school, but it is associated with many more aspects of a teenager’s life. Dr. Maas noted that sleep is really the one thing that underlies all of good health. Good health refers to both physical and mental health. When you are getting enough sleep, stress goes down and immunity goes up. It’s linked to greater longevity and reduced risk of car accidents, cancers, and heart attacks. If teenagers could add just one more hour of sleep to their daily routine, they would find that they have a higher GPA, that their athletic skills are better, and that their social life and ability to manage stress and anxiety improve. Everything hinges on getting enough sleep. If I could tell teenagers one thing, it’s this: If you want to do well in school and on the athletic field, getting more sleep is the single best thing you can do. I have seen this in many teenagers that I see for psychotherapy. Additionally, most teenagers who are having difficulties with anxiety or suicidal thoughts are sleep deprived.

Therefore, parents it is important to make sleep an important issue with your children and and teenagers. If you explain to your children and teenagers why it should be a priority, you increase the probability that your children and teenagers will understand why sleep is important and will work with you to help them increase their amount of sleep especially as they try to adjust their schedules and lives to a post pandemic world.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children, teenagers, trauma victims and first responders. For more information about his work visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.