Bonding with Your Teenager

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 Written by Ivette Moutzouris

I have many parents complain to me that they just feel out of touch with their teenager. It seems that home life with a teenage son or daughter involves providing accommodation, food and transportation for them and sometimes little else!!!

Let me tell you that it is important to continue to bond with them even if you don’t particularly understand their world and believe it or not I have had many teenagers tell me (usually the more challenging ones) that they would like to have a better relationship with their parent(s), even if they express the exact opposite in their behavior!!!!

It’s never too late to start to work on your relationship and it begins with awareness and commitment.

The following is a list of points and challenges that will hopefully encourage you as a parent to be proactive in establishing a better bond.

  • Spend time with your son or daughter. I know it sounds simple but one of the major factors in relationship breakdown that I have seen as a Psychologist/ School Counsellor and as a parent has been the lack of time that we invest into the lives of our precious teenagers. By this I do not mean the occasional family holiday (which is of course great) or the involvement in out of school activities, I mean actually having regular time together where the sole purpose is to allow you to get to know them better and meet them where they are at in their lives. In other words…do you know them, what they feel, what they like, who they hang out with, what their dreams are etc….I think you get the picture. A lot of parents tell me that they just don’t know what to talk about and that’s ok because initially creating a bond will be more about spending time together with few spoken words but a clear message of …. I am putting aside other commitments because I want to spend time with you. Words will come later.
  • Show them that they are important to you. This can be expressed in various ways which include physical affection (e.g. hugs), verbal affection, increased listening and attentiveness, and of course as already mentioned setting aside time for them.
  • It is important to create an environment at home that allows conversation and attention to flow more easily. This means that there needs to be regular times at home when there aren’t any distractions from electronic and entertainment devices. In other words…no TV or phone usage during dinner times. By doing this you are creating the space for conversation to take place and for all family members to be more attentive towards each other.
  • Choose your battles wisely. It doesn’t help any relationship if there is always arguing and bickering. It is therefore important to think through what is not negotiable versus what you can let go or at least make less of a fuss about. Your teenager will be able to have a better relationship with you if they aren’t always expecting conversation to be negative and heated!
  • Notice the ‘exceptions’. If you have a particularly challenging teenager it is helpful for them and for you to notice and praise them when they are actually doing something good or acting in a mature way. Everyone loves to feel good about themselves and children/teenagers need to feel valued by their parents.
  • Use words that build up rather than words that tear down. By this I mean be encouraging and don’t call your teenage son or daughter any negative names. Unfortunately I have had a lot of teens tell me the names their parents call them…they include ‘stupid’,  ‘dumb’, ‘fat’, ‘bad’ and so on. I think that as adults we don’t like to be called any of these names so we shouldn’t do that to our impressionable young kids. They often have a sensitive self- esteem and need time to develop the maturity to feel good about themselves regardless of what others say. Also they get enough name calling from social networking posts….and we have seen how hurtful and damaging that can be.
  • Love their uniqueness. Sometimes this can be a challenge but it is important to value their differences as young people.

 

This is just a short list to get you started and hopefully encourage you to see the value in helping your young one to develop into a mature young adult. And hopefully an adult that has a relationship with mum and/or dad!!

 

By Ivette Moutzouris

Generalist Psychologist

Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre

*For additional information on understanding your teenager better look up www.andrewfuller.com.au

Some Points to Ponder

By Andrew Scott
Clinical Psychologist
Alpha Psychology & the Resilience Centre

One great benefits of the internet is so many entertaining ways to procrastinate! I talked about procrastination in my last blog post so I’ll leave that topic alone today. Instead I decided if we are going to procrastinate (and we all do a bit of that!) we may as well procrastinate doing something that will help us better understand ourselves or teach us how to better our selves in some way. So here are a few TED talks that I find particularly insightful, inspiring and thought-provoking.

http://new.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend
STRESS!!! How much does it seem to come up these days? Work can be stressful, school can be stressful, and people can be stressful, so we run and hide from it or try and beat it back as much as we can. Let me tell you that fighting against stress is one of the most stressful things you can do. If you ever feel stressed (and that’s all of us), then this video will be worth a watch.

http://new.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days
Here is a short video with a great challenge for anyone who is looking to get out of a rut or who feels stuck. I doubly recommend this video to anyone who is feeling depressed. Even a small 30-day challenge will have a positive effect on your sense of achievement and motivation, and have a positive flow-on effect for your mood.

http://new.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes
“Mindfulness” is a practice which has a growing presence in psychology in recent years. It looks at our mind’s predilection to wander, to worry about the future, to ruminate about the past, and to generally sit in ‘daydream mode’. The problem with this is that our wandering mind distracts us from enjoying the present, and tends to get a bit lost in worries and so forth. This video is a great introduction to the principles of being mindful, or you could say, being present.

http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success.html
Alain de Botton investigates some of our assumptions we hold around work and success to better understand why that little voice in the back of our head likes to call us a failure!

http://new.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce
I had to include this video because I cannot help but be mesmerized by Malcom Gladwell’s talk on choice and happiness which goes into surprising detail about the spaghetti sauce industry. The end truth is we are not adept at verbalizing what it is that actually makes us happy, usually because we don’t know! We are not necessarily the best judges of what will lead to happiness. Instead, think of pursuing those things in life which we value, those things that so often are bigger than ourselves.

I hope that you enjoyed some of my personal favourite TED talks.

 

Looking at managing our children from another perspective

At the beginning I would like to share this “Parable of the monkey and the fish” with you.  Once upon a time, a monkey and a fish were caught in a terrible flood and were being swept downstream amidst torrents of water and debris.  The monkey spied a branch from an overhanging tree and pulled himself from an overhanging tree and pulled himself to safety from the swirling water.  Then, wanting to help his friend the fish, he reached into the water and pulled the fish from the water onto the branch.  The moral of the story is clear: Good intentions are not enough.  If you wish to help the fish, you must understand its nature. If we want to work with our children, we need to be aware of what works and what does not work.

I have been running the Resourceful Adolescent Program for parents (RAP-P) for many years in a high school. Every time the parents will bring this up, and would like me to give them a solution.  I would like to take this opportunity to share my perspective with you in this blog.

I have observed and noticed that when I talk to parents at this meetings, they always complain about their children not doing any house chores or even cleaning their own room.  They say whenever I ask them to do, their children will either ignore them or end up having a fight with them.  They reported that at school their children would not argue with their teacher.  What’s wrong with it?

It is about setting up rules and forming a habit at the beginning.  Some parents never mention about rules or limits at home.  Even when they have rules, they never follow these up.  They seldom teach them at the beginning of their childhood, e.g. like taking some responsibility to look after their house or tidy up their own room.  When we look at the way we taught our children to brush their teeth, it was a bit difficult.  Overtime they develop a habit and without reminding them they do it, every day they will brush their teeth once or twice a day.  The research says it takes thirty days to form a habit.

I have parents reporting to me that they let their children play computer games whenever they like without imposing any restrictions or setting up rules.  When their children go to high school, they cannot discipline themselves by exercising control.  When parents realize the problem and stop them from sitting in front of the computer, their children fight back.  Teaching children to learn some simple rules require to commence at the very beginning.  Remember something easy was difficult first.

It appears now the lowest level of our basic needs in the Maslow’s hierarchy is the Wi-Fi, and not our basic needs like food, water, sleep, etc.  It sounds like Wi-Fi replaces our basic needs.  I remember that there were a few times that some adolescents came to visit me from overseas at my place.  The first question that they posed to me was if I had any Wi-Fi in my place.

Children in the family are very common using their gadgets to access the facebook, myspace, messages, etc and internet computer games. When parents do not have any restrictions on them, overtime some parents would realise that their children are being addicted to it.  When they try to gain control of the internet, their children become furious with them.  Consequently after the fight, communication will break down in the family.  Sometimes some children may refuse to go to school or they cannot get up in the morning as they go to bed very late.  Parents get stuck at this stage.

It sounds like there is no panacea for this. We have to understand that once a habit is formed, it takes time to replace it.  For other families if the situation has not gone that far, it would be better for you to consider the following suggestions.

First thing to do is to set up some limits or rules in the family.   This has to be implemented as earlier as possible.  Once the children have formed a habit, it takes time to eradicate it.  It would be better if we could start early and limit the time they spend on the computer.  One way of doing this is to help them replace the undesirable behaviour/task with a desirable behaviour/task.  We cannot just stop them from not playing games on the computer without a substitute for it.  Instead we might have to introduce some activities which they are also interested to participate.

If we want our children to develop a good bonding with us, we need to spend time with them.  Imagine that when we have extra money, we will save it in the bank.  When we need the money later, we can withdraw the money from the bank.  By the same token, if we can save our “relationship” in the bank.  When we have a fight with our children, we can “withdraw” the relationship from the bank and use it to help us “patch up” the “injury” of our relationship.

In 1906 Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in Italy.  The Pareto’s Law stated that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth in Italy. Many people have observed that similar phenomena also exist in other areas.  Basically it says that 20 percent of something always are responsible for 80 percent of the results.  If we are going to apply this in building our bonding with our children in our family, we will see 80% of our relationship with our children will attribute to 20% of the time we spend with them.  Playing sports with the children in the family is a good way to connect and build up the relationship.  Table tennis is a family sport that can connect the whole family together. Some people play TV games or doing other things together will still work as long as it serves the purpose.

Having stronger family bonds can prevent conflict.  But how do we prevent conflict with our children?  Here are some strategies other parents have found it useful:

  • Take time to listen to them
  • Not to jump to conclusion
  • Develop empathy
  • Negotiate with them when setting rules or limits
  • Be aware of your stress
  • Be respectful in the family
  • Validate and appreciate everything they do
  • Do some fun things together
  • Promote harmony
  • Understand their needs

(Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program)

Imagine there is an orange in the kitchen and two people in the kitchen both want the orange.  How are you going to resolve it? Cut it in half and each gets half.  This is probably what you are thinking now.

Let’s assume one person now goes to the juicer and starts squeezing himself a rather too small orange juice.  The other, with some difficulty, begins to grate the rind of the orange to flavour a cake.  If they had discussed the needs before, then they could have the equivalent of a whole orange.  Their needs are complimentary, in fact, not conflicting.  With the determination to use a win/win approach, two sets of needs can frequently dovetail together.  A win/win approach rests on strategies involving going back to underlying needs, recognition of individual differences, openness to adapting one’s position in the light of shared information and attitudes, and attacking the problem, not the person.

Make sure we move on after having a conflict with our children.  We may try to use humour to desensitise the situation, discuss the problem calmly, apologise for the part in the conflict, show to the children parent don’t hold grudge, have fun together, act normal and give hugs.

There is no recipe to fix every problem.  As long as we start building the bond with our children at the beginning, the family will prosper. In family therapy, the family is seen as a “whole” rather than just as the sum of its individual members.

Last but not the least, enjoy staying together with your children!

Sources:

Resourceful Adolescent Program for Parents

Gabriel Wong

Clinical Psychologist

Mental health treatment: 7 truths for the journey towards healing

I came across a pretty inspiring book the other day. The book, Beating Bipolar, by Blake Levine, was located during my search to help a client who seemed to be stuck processing her bipolar disorder diagnosis. Recalling his own story of his healing journey, Levine provides an impressive account of how he managed to turn his bipolar diagnosis into strength by guiding others with this illness as a professional life coach.

Bipolar disorder is a condition previously termed ‘manic depression’ because the person experiences periods of depression and periods of mania, with periods of normal mood in between. Mania can involve racing thoughts and speech, irritability and little need for sleep that is not just a fleeting experience. Sometimes the person loses touch with reality and has episodes of psychosis involving hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there) or delusions (for e.g. the person believing he or she has superpowers). The combination of mania and depression can feel like a dangerous and destructive emotional rollercoaster.

Bipolar disorder, and in fact any mental illness, is described by Levine as a disease of choices. You can choose to take one path or another, and there will be many crossroads along the way. Ultimately, you have to choose whether you will stay stuck inside your own world of pain, or whether you are prepared to work towards emotional stability. This is your choice to make and no one can make it for you. As Levine notes, you cannot pop a pill and declare yourself well. Proper healing is not that simple. True, genuine healing is about being selective of how to live your life and adhering to those values.

In the process of exploring, learning and eventually accepting what it means to have a mental health condition, the book asks an individual to answer 7 truths. They are:

1. Accept or reject your illness. Any doctor or psychologist can give a diagnosis and tell you all about it, but you have to be the one to acknowledge it. And that takes an incredible amount of courage. Not for the sake of accepting a ‘label’ but rather in order to seek the correct treatment. By not being invested enough to take on the meaning of the diagnosis, chances are you will become stuck.

2. Accept or reject the work that comes with bipolar disorder (or your diagnosis). Life with a mental health condition can be so challenging that it appears insurmountable and unfair. It is true that maneuvering through substandard mental health units is devastating (and at times traumatising) for most people. However, being able to overcome the setbacks and learn from them, in order to continue to work towards emotional stability (and avoid inpatient mental health units in the process) creates an inner strength that will be able to see you through the lowest points of your life.

3. Accept or reject that you will most likely need medication. For bipolar, medication to tame the mania and lift the depression (and therefore bring increased emotional stability) can be highly effective. However, only if it is used consistently by sticking to the regime over time. Medication must be maintained even when you start to feel better. Finding the right combination takes time, persistence and patience (and close monitoring by your psychiatrist or treating doctor). Weight gain, a common side effect of medication, can throw extra challenges your way, however until emotional stability is achieved, attaining other goals will be futile.

4. Accept or reject that you’ll need therapy and peer support. Levine writes “We share many trials as bipolar individuals, but isolation may be the most profound among them. Feeling alone is a universal experience for people with any mental illness, particularly this one. Not surprisingly, there are many reasons for it. Perhaps you’re too embarrassed about your mood swings and the past damage linked to your illness that you don’t reach out to others. Or maybe you have too many bottled up feelings stemming from other personal baggage to connect easily. Whatever the driving force, working with a mental health professional will help you sort out your issues and learn to connect with people”.

5. Accept or reject that your family’s participation and role in your life and illness might have to be modified to suit your healing. Emotionally stable people have a support network. We all need one, no exceptions. If you have nourishing, strong bonds with your family members, they will play a crucial role in your healing. However, there could also be some family dynamics causing considerable pain and stress and you will be the one to decide whether you can rely on the people in your current network for the long haul. If there are things getting in the way of your connection with them then you will need to find and create a different type of support system. This need is critical for living life in a connected way.

6. Accept or reject that you have to change aspects of your lifestyle. The reality of the situation is this: your mental health condition and any medications you are on do not mix well with drinking and substance abuse. These both cloud your thinking and impair your decision making. If your moods are not regulated yet, they can be lethal. Even having a drink now and then should be discussed with your doctor. Abstinence or moderation combined with a healthy diet, exercise and plenty of sleep are part of living healthy with a mental health condition.

7. Accept or reject that Bipolar (or your diagnosis) isn’t an end; it’s a beginning. The choice is yours. Levine states that the knee jerk reaction to mental illness is to run, particularly if you feel there is nothing to be gained by fighting. But he states that every time we experience pain, we have a chance to see that our struggles in our lives are put here in order to teach us lessons and help us grow. You are stronger than you think, and as long as you have courage, you will face whatever comes your way. The payoff, according to Levine, is to have a life filled with the affirming 4 H’s:
Hope
Health
Happiness
Healing
Whatever your individual journey and constraints, to work towards wellness will allow you to master your illness and your life, and that has to be worth the fight. Staying balanced takes time, patience and unwavering commitment, however hopefully if you are up for the task you too can start the healing journey right now, without wasting another minute, by listening to, exploring and accepting some of these truths. I wish you wellness and great success in your quest for what we are all searching for in life: Hope, Health, Happiness and Healing.

Sources:
Beating Bipolar by Blake Levine
Beyond Blue www.beyondblue.org.au

By: Alison Lenehan
Psychologist