The Connection between Bullying and Suicide in Children

The Connection between Bullying and Suicide in Children

Before the pandemic most kids and teenagers complained how they hated school and wanted to stay home. However, after a year of remote learning most kids and teenagers want to go back to the classroom and also see their friends again. However, as kids return to school a common issue is returning. The issue is kids being teased and bullied. In the 21st century bullying doesn’t just happen at school, it now occurs on line via texting and by kids posting things on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to name a few social media sites. Therefore bullying and teasing can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore, kids who are being bullied or teased never get a break from it.

Often when a child is being bullied they do not say anything to their parents until the bullying is really bad. They are afraid, especially boys, that you will see them as weak. They are also afraid that you will be disappointed in them for not defending themselves. Parents it’s important that you understand that you have not said anything or done anything to create this feeling in your child. Our society teaches children these messages, especially boys. Children receive these messages about being strong and solving their own problems from television, music, and video games. This is what the documentary “The Mask You Live In”, is trying to address. It is on YouTube and it might be helpful if you watch it.

It is very important to take bullying very seriously these days. It is no longer just one kid calling another kid names. The bullying today occurs at school and may include threats of being killed and it goes beyond school. As I noted above, today’s bullies can continue their bullying via text messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. So the bullying becomes non-stop. It can really make someone feel worthless and that they would be better off dead. One example of a child being overwhelmed by bullying is a 13 year old boy, on the east coast, who committed suicide because he could not tolerate the bullying any longer. The boy committed suicide to escape the bullying. He is not the first child to commit suicide due to bullying. One 15 year old girl committed suicide due to bullying and she left a note to be placed in her obituary. In the note she asked kids to be kind to each other. Some kids are turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and we are seeing a significant number of accidental overdosages resulting in teenagers’ deaths. We assume they were accidents, they could also be suicides staged to look like accidents. Also suicide has recently been moved from the third leading cause of death for kids 10 to 18 years old to the second leading cause of death for kids. Therefore, if kids have turned to suicide to escape bullying, the rate of bullying has most likely increased significantly.

Bullying is not just an elementary school issue. It occurs in High School and College too. A few years back a college student committed suicide because his roommate secretly filmed him in his dorm room with another guy having sex. When the tape was posted on the college’s email for others to see, the boy was so ashamed because he had not made it publicly known that he was gay. He was so upset and humiliated that he ended up committing suicide.

As the rates for bullying in middle schools increase, the number of suicides and drug use increase too. However, this issue also occurs in elementary school and elementary students are committing suicide or starting to use alcohol and marijuana. We know it is a very serious problem in Elementary schools because suicide it is no longer the third leading cause of death for 10 year old children. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for 10 year old kids according to the CDC statistics.

Additionally, I am seeing more and more elementary students in therapy because they are being bullied on line or at school as schools reopen. Many of these children are embarrassed because they feel they should be able to stop the bullying. They are also embarrassed and often don’t want me to tell their parents because they believe they must of done something to deserve being bullied. I explain to them they do not deserve it and they should not have to stop it on their own. I also explain that their parents would want to know so they can help them. I need to emphasize that Mom and Dad won’t blame them or be ashamed of them. It is amazing to see how relaxed these children become when I tell them this about their parents.

What should a parent do? One thing is parents should watch for the following warning signs that your child is a victim of a bully:

Avoiding activities they used to enjoy

Loss of friends or avoiding social situations

Problems sleeping

Complaining of stomachaches or headaches

Loss of appetite

Declining grades

Missing or damaged clothing or belongings

Self-destructive behaviors like running away from home

If you notice any of these or just have a sense something is wrong then talk to your child. However, when you talk to your child reassure them they did nothing wrong, there is nothing wrong with them and you are not upset or disappointed with them. Try to develop a game plan of how you are going to deal with it together and ask how you can be supportive. Also ask your child to promise you if they feel really sad like they want to hurt themselves that they will talk to you before they do anything. You may think this is ridiculous, but I use a no suicide contract with many children that I work with and they honor it. The contract lets them you know that you care about them and it is okay to talk about their feelings.

The other thing you can do as a parent is go to your child’s school and ask what is the school’s policy on bullying. You can also ask how the school watches for bullying, how is the policy enforced and what is being done to prevent bullying. You may ask the school to contact or you can volunteer to contact a group such as Challenge Day. This is an international organization that addresses bullying and they are located in Concord, California. I have seen their work and it is fantastic and kids love it.

Another thing you can do as a parent is start talking to your child about bullying on an occasional basis. This gives you a chance to let them know it’s not their fault and to develop a plan of action if it does occur. You should also discuss drugs and alcohol at the same time. I work with kids all day long and at times I am still shocked at how young kids are when they are starting to get involved with drugs and alcohol.

Keeping an open line of communication with your child is very important if you want them to come to you. Research still indicates that children are more likely to turn to their friends when they have a problem. This is good that they have this emotional support, but their friends don’t have the answers or solutions that they need. Remember it is best to speak to your child when you are in a calm environment and no one else, such as brothers or sisters, are around. Also remember the word HALT. It stands for:

Hungry

Angry

Lonely

Tired

If you sense your child is experiencing any of these feelings it is not a good time to talk. When you talk with your child you want it to be productive and for your child to feel like they are not being judged. Therefore, sometimes it is better to put off a conversation so you don’t end up in an argument. This is more likely to close the line of communication with your child.

I have mentioned several times that being bullied is not their fault. What I have seen from working with children who are bullies, abusive men and reviewing the research is that bullies really have very low self-esteem. In fact many times they lack a sense of themselves. The only way the feel important or alive is by putting someone else down. They do this because they are afraid the other kids might be able to figure out how lousy they feel about themselves. It is often said the best defense is a good offense. They hope that by acting like the big guy on campus that other people will see them as the big guy and they are able to keep their secret. Kids usually do this because it was done to them too.

Therefore, we need to remember the bully is usually a kid who has been abused too and is crying out for help. If we are going to stop the problem of bullying we need programs to help the bullies too. They are only repeating what they have been taught.

One last comment, I saw a school install a “buddy bench.” If anyone had been bullied, having a bad day, feeling lonely, all they had to do was sit on the buddy bench. Another student or teacher would then go over and ask how they could help. There was no shame associated if you sat on the buddy bench. It was presented as a brave choice. The school was using it as part of their program to stop bullying at school. This fantastic idea came from a 10 year old student. Children often have fantastic answers and we need to listen.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in working with children and teenagers. He has over 23 years experience working with children and teens especially those who are victims of trauma. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Is Your College Freshman Depressed?

Is Your College Freshman Depressed?

Transitioning from high school is difficult. Many freshmen deal with depression or anxiety or both. This year maybe more difficult due to the Coronavirus and the chaos we are experiencing in our Country. Therefore, it’s helpful if family and friends are aware that someone starting college are at risk for depression and check-in with them. If you think they are depressed do your best to be supportive and maybe recommend therapy.

The National Association of the Mental Illness examined this issue. Here are some of the facts that NAMI discovered that maybe helpful to some college freshmen.

In 2018, more than 63% of college students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety during their enrollment and nearly 42% reported feeling so depressed that they had trouble functioning at some point during the last 12 months. Some of these students may not have battled a mental health challenge before attending college and might not know how to deal with depression in this new environment.

Meanwhile, friends, roommates and classmates often have difficulty recognizing symptoms of depression in students. However, if these peers understand the warning signs to look for, they will be empowered to check in with the college students in their lives who may be struggling sooner and assist them in getting help. Better yet, a familiarity with the warning signs could help curb the thousands of preventable deaths by suicide each year.

So, if you want to be an attentive friend or support system for someone dealing with depression — and help your fellow students — keep an eye out for the following warning signs so you can begin a conversation with anyone you may be concerned about.

Negative Emotions

One of the first warning signs of depression is expressing or showing negative feelings or emotions. For instance, someone might reveal they’re feeling sad, anxious or numb, or perhaps they’ll share that they’re dealing with more stress than usual. Others may not express what they are feeling, but it may be obvious that they are feeling more anger, frustration or sadness than in the past. For example, they may have a short temper, exhibit less engagement in conversation and normal activities or experience sudden outbursts.

Often, people with depression can’t identify why they’re feeling sad or when they began to experience these emotions. It’s also possible that if you ask more questions about “why” or “when,” they may shut down and become avoidant or unresponsive.

What to say:

Let’s say you’re concerned about your roommate. It can be helpful to avoid asking too many questions, remind them they’re not alone, validate their feelings, and prepare to listen if they do open up.

  • You: “I noticed you’ve been quieter than usual lately. I’m not sure what you’re going through, but I’m here for you if you want to talk.”
  • Them: “Yeah. I’ve felt kind of numb these past few weeks and I’m not really sure why. But I don’t want to talk about it.”
  • You: “It’s okay to feel low sometimes. I’m your friend no matter what, and we can get through this together.”

Irregular Sleeping And Eating Habits

If you pay close attention, you might notice irregular eating habits in your friend or roommate. Do they skip meals regularly? Do they eat whenever they are stressed? Both undereating and overeating are warning signs of depression.

Depression also affects people’s sleep schedules. For instance, if your roommate is experiencing depressive symptoms, they may repeatedly sleep for more than 10 hours a night while someone else with depression might struggle with insomnia.

What to say:

It’s best not to comment on someone’s eating or sleeping habits, but rather inquire about the underlying reasons they might be engaging in that behavior.

  • You: “You look like you could use some caffeine. Have you been staying up late to catch up on your favorite show?”
  • Them: “Actually, I haven’t been able to fall asleep lately, so I turned on the TV hoping it’d knock me out.”
  • You: “Has anything been bothering you? I know I struggle to sleep when something’s on my mind. I hope you know I’m always here if you want to talk.”

Disinterest In Extracurricular Activities

Hobbies are a great way to explore your interests and relieve stress while you’re in college. However, students struggling with depression might not care to engage in activities they used to enjoy. They might also avoid social situations, including time with friends.

This general lack of interest is a telling sign of depression and can often perpetuate more feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness.

What to say:

If your roommate rarely leaves the dorm, offer to do something — or nothing — together.

  • You: “Hey, do you want to go get ice cream with me?”
  • Them: “No thanks. I don’t really feel like going anywhere or doing anything.”
  • You: “Okay, well, I don’t have anything going on. We can just chill here and do nothing together.”

Unexplainable Guilt

Depression doesn’t always come from specific circumstances, and people from all backgrounds and situations can experience it. Unfortunately, this can cause guilty feelings in students who have “had it good” and still struggle with depression.

As a result, these feelings can cause students to spiral because they perceive themselves as a burden or as “incomplete,” which can make symptoms even worse. Therefore, it’s essential to watch out for negative self-talk and twinges of guilt.

What to say:

Discourage negative self-talk, validate your roommate’s feelings and remind them of their worth.

  • Them: “I shouldn’t complain so much. So many people have it worse than I do. Maybe I should just suck it up and move on.”
  • You: “No. You have every right to feel that way. Your experiences are real, and you can take as much time as you need to work through your past trauma. You deserve to feel whole again, too.”

Persistent Pain

Depression can cause unexplainable pain, chronic illness, and discomfort independent of any injury. Muscle aches and joint pain in the chest, back, neck and shoulders are all potential warning signs.

Of course, these symptoms are easy to spot if they’re severe and cause great discomfort. However, if your roommate is avoiding you — or is just really good at hiding their true feelings — you might go weeks without noticing their aches and pains.

What to say:

Ask about potential injuries or underlying conditions before jumping to conclusions. Then, work together to find ways to alleviate discomfort.

  • Them: “Ugh. My lower back is killing me lately.”
  • You: “Did you sleep funny or hurt it playing basketball the other day?”
  • Them: “No. I think it might have something to do with my sleep schedule, but I’ve also felt off lately.”
  • You: “Well, I’m not sure why you feel bad either, but some movement might help. Maybe we can do some stretches later or take a yoga class together. If that doesn’t help, would you consider talking to a doctor?”

If you notice any of these warning signs of depression in college students, it’s crucial that you reach out and encourage them to seek help. Your empathy and concern could save someone’s life, so the sooner you speak up, the better.

Dr. Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 24 years experience treating children and teenagers and trauma victims. If you are interested in his work, please visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

Helping Teenage Boys Move from High School to College

Helping Teenage Boys Move from High School to College

Teenage boys face a lot of pressure to succeed. They feel they must have very high grade point averages, be the star on the football, basketball team, at least some sport team and have a girlfriend in order to be a success in High School.

Many teenage boys are able to conform to the outdated stereotype and feel like a success in high school. This is a tremendous boost to their self-esteems and they feel like they can handle anything in life. They start viewing themselves as grown men who no longer need their parents help, because they are now men. This feeling typically last through high school and through the summer after they graduate high school. However, as freshmen in college things start to change.

When Senior boys reach college they are confronted with the fact that they are no longer the High School Star and that they need to start all over again. This is frustrating, but the problem comes when they notice many of the other freshmen are just as smart, athletic and have no problems getting dates with girls either. They find themselves at an equal level with the other freshmen guys. Therefore, in order to be the star they will need to work harder to succeed.

Many will try and many will find out they are no longer the high school star and except that fact of life. However, others have a very difficult time accepting this fact. As a result, they start on a downward spiral. They start drinking too much and skipping classes. They are looking for ways to numb out their pain. They are so ashamed that they concentrate on numbing out the pain instead of asking for help. I have worked with freshmen like this and even when you offer them help they turn it down. They feel they have to deal with the issues themselves otherwise if they need help it proves that they are a failure. They are following a pattern regarding being a man that they have learned since they were little boys. Men do not need help. If a man needs help, he is weak and not a man.

As they continue on this downward spiral, they are drinking, using drugs, missing classes and using sex to numb out their feelings. They are taking serious risks with their health, legally and with their education. Freshmen are typically 18 years old so it’s illegal to drink alcohol or use many of the drugs they are using. Additionally, as their grades drop, the college may ask them to leave school. They can also get a girl pregnant or catch an STD.

I am not the only psychotherapist who has noticed this issue with Freshmen young men. While researching this topic to develop treatment plans, I read a very helpful article. It explains the issue too and offers some clear ways that parents and friends can try to help a loved one who is in this situation. It is a mental health issue, but as we witnessed at the Tokyo Olympics, everyone has mental health issues. They are a normal part of life and when someone is struggling with an issue we need to provide help not try to shame the person. Here is the link to the article https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/17/health/college-freshman-boys-smoking-drinking-wellness/index.html.

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

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.

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.

Looking at the Issue of Teenagers Cutting

Looking at the Issue of Teenagers Cutting

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.

Ten years ago if I asked a teenager 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. 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.

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. 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.

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.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 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.

The Pressure Teenagers Face to be Sexually Active

The Pressure Teenagers Face to be Sexually Active

It’s Valentine’s Weekend and a major issue for many teenagers is if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Having a girlfriend or boyfriend is very important to many teenagers. Often teenagers feel defective if they do not have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Many people are familiar with this line, “you complete me,” from the movie, Jerry McGuire, starring Tom Cruise. A deaf couple signs this message to each other in an elevator and Tom Cruise’s character assumes they must really be in love. However, this may not be the reality. In reality it may be an unhealthy relationship.

As a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating couples and teenagers, I have observed a common mistake that many people make regarding relationships and love. Many people tell me they feel an emptiness inside themselves and describe it as a “big empty hole.” They assume that a relationship will fill this emptiness. In other words, they are relying on their partner to eliminate the empty feeling they are experiencing.

This is a mistake. The only person that can fill that emptiness you feel is you. When I work with couples or an individual who is experiencing this emptiness, they usually are upset with their partner. They are upset because their partner is not filling the emptiness. Also the other partner is frustrated because they are tired of having to constantly reassure their partner. They report they are tired of always having to worry about meeting their partner needs and that their needs are constantly being pushed aside.

This type of pattern is very common in relationships where there is domestic violence or a substance abuse problem. Also jealousy is a major issue in these relationships. The person who is experiencing the emptiness is very sensitive to feeling rejected or abandoned. This is usually a result from childhood issues that have never been addressed. However, as an adult, if they sense these feelings in their relationship they tend to over react to them. The person may drink excessively to reduce their fears and men often result to verbal or physical abuse. Anything that will keep their partner in the relationship and continue to fill the empty space.

This tends to occur because as we grow up there is a great deal of pressure for people to be in relationships. You see this in children in first grade or kindergarten when adults jokingly ask children if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. If a child doesn’t they often feel there is something wrong with them.

I see this issue a lot with teenagers. I have teenagers who feel they are defective because they never had a girlfriend or boyfriend. This defective feeling increases significantly, if the teenager never has been on a date. They believe if they are going to be a “normal” teenager, they must at least be dating. Boys tend to believe they must be sexually active too in order to be normal. I have had teenagers tell me they felt suicidal or were using drugs because they did not have a girlfriend or boyfriend. They are willing to risk their lives using drugs or believe they are better off dead, if they don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend. They are so tied up trying to live the stereotype, they can’t believe that many teenagers do not have a girlfriend or boyfriend and do not date in High School.

This pattern continues into adulthood. Many women feel defective if they are 30 years old and not married. Men feel as if they are not men if they do not have a girlfriend. Both men and women often settle for anyone as long as they can say they are in a relationship.

As children, we never learn how to love and care for ourselves. Ask someone if they would go out to dinner by themselves and most people look terrified by the idea. They have no idea what they would do and they are afraid about what other people with think. This is a sad state that we cannot love ourselves. If we always need someone to reinforce we are lovable, we turn our power over to strangers. If someone says something nice about us we feel good, if they say something hurtful, we feel unworthy as a person. But, why should someone else determine our value? We should be the one who judges if we are lovable or not. A relationship should add to our life like a bottle of wine adds to a meal. A relationship should not define us as a person.

As a result of this problem, many couples end up divorcing because a partner is tired of having to reassure their spouse daily. I have seen these divorces become very nasty and costly. So both parties are hurt even more and so are the children. They only people benefiting are the attorneys.

We also have this same issue with teenagers. However, when they break up it tends to be more dramatic. A teenager may start to use drugs, develop an eating disorder, start cutting, become depressed and may attempt suicide. The behaviors are not uncommon after teenagers break up.

We see this acting out behavior more in teenagers and children. Teenagers and children are desperate to feel that they are loved by their parents especially. If they don’t feel they are loved, there is a tendency to act out. Disney’s movie, Frozen, has a segment where the trolls explain that if someone doesn’t feel loved they may act out in pain or make poor decisions in an attempt to find love. Oprah, during her last show, had a very good way of expressing this need. She stated, “everyone wants to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you.” The program Challenge Day, which Oprah recommends, states what teens are looking for this way: every teenager wants to feel safe, loved and celebrated. I see it every day, when teens don’t feel loved, they act out. Negative attention is better than no attention.

How do we handle this issue? We need to start to acknowledge as a society that a relationship doesn’t make you a complete person. Only you can make yourself feel complete as a person. Also we need to remove the stigma of seeking mental health care. We need to encourage adults who feel incomplete without a relationship to seek psychotherapy and deal with their issues. Parents, if you notice that your teenager is desperate to be in a relationship, help them get psychotherapy so they can deal with the pain they are feeling. Remember this emptiness feeling typically begins in childhood. Therefore, if we show children and teens that they are loved or get them help when they are acting out, we can prevent them from dealing with this emptiness for years.

Again, please remember a relationship should add to your life, it should not make you a person or define you as a person.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with families and teenagers. If you would like more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.rubinocounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or listen to his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.

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.