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How to Communicate With Your Teen

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Difficulty with Your Teenager? Here’s the Scoop!

Are you having a hard time connecting with and understanding your teenager? While research shows that adolescent turmoil is NOT a universal phenomenon, it does show that emotional stress and turmoil are more common during adolescence than at other ages. As you may already know, adolescents are prone to greater extremes in mood, as well as more frequent shifts in mood than younger or older people. Here are the 3 common errors that occur when we don’t fully understand adolescent development:

  1. Ignoring serious problems.

Misinterpreting problematic behavior as developmentally normal can cause parents to underestimate the severity of their teen’s problem. “If parents believe that it is typical for an adolescent to be moody, irritable, and sullen, they can aggravate the problem by ignoring it” (Micucci, 2009).

  1. Overreacting.

Parents might overreact by assuming that a specific behavior signals pathology. For example, a teen may show signs of being depressed when in fact; they may just be having a hard week. This causes the parent to prematurely diagnose and treat them as if they have depression. Sometimes this inaccurate perception of the adolescent can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy, which may push the adolescent to exhibit more of that behavior in an effort to assert independence.

  1. Preventing growth by restricting freedom.

Adolescent stereotypes such as rebellious, wild, and hatred of authority may lead parents to overreact when challenged by their teenager. Also, believing that teenagers aren’t interested in having a relationship with them can cause parents to back off too early, which deprives the teen of the guidance and nurturing they continue to need. “Adolescents need parents who allow them ample room to experience the consequences of their own decisions, but who also provide reasonable limits that mirror those the adolescent is likely to encounter in the adult world” (Micucci, 2009).

As you can see, parenting adolescents can be a difficult balancing act. It is important to understand that the human brain is not fully developed until the early 20’s. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is still undergoing considerable development during adolescence. These functions include decision-making, planning, and impulse control. As fully developed adults, we have the capacity to consider options before responding, reflect on our “gut” reactions, and put situations into context. This is not the case for adolescents, because the brain regions that assist emotional regulation and consequences of actions are not fully developed yet. This can be frustrating and annoying to adults, which can cause them to respond in ways that increase the intensity of the interaction and make it even more likely that the adolescent will respond in an impulsive way. “In contrast, adults who remain calm in their interactions with adolescents not only model appropriate behavior, but also keep the level of affect within range that the adolescent’s maturing brain can manage” (Micucci, 2009). If you are experiencing difficulty connecting with and understanding your teen, schedule an appointment with us as Wasatch Family Therapy today!

Micucci, J. A. (2009). The Adolescent in Family Therapy: Harnessing the Power of Relationships (2nd Ed). NY: Guilford Press.

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Five Questions to Ask Your Teen About ’13 Reasons Why?’

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By now many of us have become aware of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which is a series depicting the experience of a young teenager who commits suicide. Throughout the series the main character shares the various hurts and traumas she has gone through that leads to her decision to end her life. For many people this has been a troubling show to watch due to its graphic content, which includes a detailed depiction of sexual assault and the process of a completed suicide including the detailed depiction of the character dying through suicide.

Multiple media outlets have highlighted the creators intent to open dialogue surrounding suicide and not to glamorize the process of dying by way of suicide. However, for many the interpretation and impact of the visual content has had varying responses. For some it has been highly triggering and has increased suicidal ideation. For others it has created curiosity and the desire to open communication about suicide.

For all parents even those with the best filters or rules about viewing mature content, chances are your tween or teenager will be exposed to this show in some fashion. Whether viewing it themselves or through interactions with friends and social media, 13 Reasons Why isn’t going away and here are five questions to support you in starting this necessary conversation with your teen or tween.

What do you understand about the show?

Were there aspects of the show that you personally related to?

Is there anything I can do to help support you in understanding the realities of suicide?

Have you ever had thoughts like this yourself? Can you help me understand them?

Is there anything I can do for you?

If you discover your child has struggled with suicidal thoughts or is currently having them, it is important to not dismiss the seriousness of their experiences and these thoughts and to seek out help from licensed professional immediately. Below are resources for parents and children who may be in crisis.

If you feel your child could benefit from further professional help Wasatch Family Therapy is here to serve you.

National Suicide Prevention Life Line 1-800-273-TALK

The Utah Crisis Line 1-801-587-3000

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ Youth) 1-866-488-7386

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Ask A Therapist: I Feel Ashamed about Being Molested as a Child

I’ve started thinking of my past life and how naive I was. Then horrible memories have come back to me. When I was around 9 going to 10 I was molested by a teenager. It made me cry almost thinking how stupid I was by listening to the molester telling me what to do and threatening to tell my parents what he did. I thought I would get in trouble so I let him do what ever. It happened for almost 2 years and I kept it secret. I was even more frightened that he said he planned to bring his friends. Then when I was in middle school, we moved and I finally told. The officers didn’t do anything because there wasn’t enough evidence.. I felt stupid for not telling and to this day, knowing he’s still out there.. I wished I was strong. This really affected me making me more naive, confused, and depressed as the years went on. I have felt sexually attracted to older men wanting them to touch me. I was even willing to risk my life by walking around my neighborhood hoping I would get captured and raped. Then I met my ex boyfriend. He changed me in a way but wasn’t what I thought we would be. I believed in my ex boyfriend and allowed him to have sex with me whenever he asked and I fell in love. It didn’t end too well.. I changed after that situation and I hate my old self right now.. please give me words of advice..

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Ask A Therapist: How Do I Help My Suicidal Best Friend?

A few months ago me and my best friends ex boyfriend (who still cares a lot about her) went to our school guidance councilors and told them how my best friend was suicidal. they told her parents and she had to get an evaluation from a therapist. they cleared her and she was allowed back in school. however now school isn’t in session and she’s suicidal again. I know this because she told me that I’m the only thing keeping her alive. a few years ago she was raped by a close friend and then a few days after the rape walked in on him killing himself. she never dealt with this traumatic event and I think it’s one of the reasons she’s suicidal now. we talked a little about it and she told me she feels like she messes everything up and all she does is make things worse. I tried to show her how that’s not true and how a lot of people care about her but she doesn’t believe me. I don’t want to go to her parents again because I dont think they’d believe me a second time. I want her to get help and talk to someone but I don’t know how to do it. please help me.

A: Thank you for your email. I can feel your concern for your friend through this letter. Even though you might be putting your friendship at risk, I suggest you go talk to her parents. They need to know about the rape and that she walked in on the person who raped her committing suicide. Those are horrific traumas for a teenager to witness and she is in serious danger.  Please watch the video response for more tools to handle this painful situation.

Take good care of yourself
Julie Hanks, LCSW

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