These August memes pretty much sum up what I have been feeling this past week. I can't believe summer vacation days are winding down and another school year is about to start. My husband is an 8th grade teacher, so he has had to already start back with teacher meetings and next week my kids will start back.
In many of my sessions with clients, we have been discussing the upcoming school year. The majority report similar feelings-nervousness and excitement. Students look forward to seeing many friends again, having activities start back up, and getting out of the house. They dread early mornings, lots of homework, pressure, and feeling judged. In looking back on my school days, I also felt similar emotions, but not to the extent many feel now.
I typically only work with ages ten and up, but, across the ages, the feeling of being judged is very high! Many schools state zero tolerance for bullying but the bullies are smart and it regularly happens. Also, students feel judged even when that is not there peers' intentions. Due to social media, we invite ourselves to be judged even more than in the past although if we don't have it, we are judged in a different way.
I want to challenge everyone this year to talk to their kids about if they feel judged and if they are judging others. What type of comments affect them? Do they pay attention to how their comments affect others? What are non verbal signs that their comments affected others negatively? Are we sharing positives and complimenting others when appropriate? The majority of people like to hear good things about themselves, so we should share those freely. If we do provide a negative comment, what purpose is it for? Constructive criticism to help someone grow and learn is good, calling out others to boost ourselves up is not. If you are reading this and thinking, surely my kid is not judging others, you may be surprised. We do it often as adults too. We need to give some extra attention to our actions/words and their impacts.
"Make sure you are being safe", a dad says to his teen son.
"What's your body count?" one teens asks another.
"He wanted to have sex but I didn't so I gave him a bj", a teen tells her best friend.
The first comment seems appropriate. It is good for a parent to talk to their teens about sex safe practices. But that should not be the only conversation parents should be having. We also need to talk to our teens about respect, consent, and values. I know there are many different views and values regarding sex but not having a conversation with our kids at all is hurting them. We need to be talking to our teens about the emotional effects of sex.
I recently learned that the second and third comments are happening and more often than we think. More and more teens are taking pride in their "body count." For those that may not feel ready for intercourse, they engage in other forms of sex thinking that they have to do something. Many teens do not feel oral sex (especially a female giving to a male) is a big deal. No one can become pregnant, so why not. I know that in high school health class, teens are informed of some of the dangers of oral sex but a class lecture one time is not enough.
I encourage parents to talk to their tweens and teens about all forms of sex. Talk to them about what they hope for them, how they feel sex impacts a relationship, and how to handle themselves if they are not ready or their partner is not ready.
I had this conversation with my sixth grader on a very basic level that was appropriate for her age. As she ages, I will have additional conversations with more detail and depth. She already knows, though, my values. I hope she waits until she is married but, at the least, until she is in love (and obviously that no form of sex is okay at her age). It is okay if those are not your values, I'm not trying to push my values on you. But you must take time to think about your values and what you want for your children. If we don't share this with our children, they seek guidance elsewhere.
I'm not foolish enough to believe that talking to our kids about our values will mean there will be no more talk of body count and no more hook-ups. I do think, though, that it will help many teens find a better path.
I recently watched the second season of 13 Reasons Why. There was a scene where one of the characters was talking to his mom telling her that he has felt suicidal at times. She not only dismissed those feelings, but told him that he would have no reason to feel that way. She told him he was a "good boy."
The scene really spoke to me because I know it happens frequently. Loving, caring parents dismiss their children's feelings because they (the parents) can not handle them or understand them. They think only "troubled" youth (whatever that means) could possibly feel that way. They are scared of what it might mean if their child really has suicidal thoughts.
I also have had many parents in the past tell me that the youth is just saying it for attention. Maybe, but then shouldn't we give the kid attention before it becomes worse. This attention does not have to be in the form of extra privileges, gifts, etc but a youth expressing suicidal ideation (SI) needs our attention.
There are other scenes in the TV show where a youth expresses their feelings and the parent in one way or another tells them they are being dramatic. Again, maybe, but telling them that does not change how the youth feels. It does, however, increases the chances that the kid will share less with them.
As parents and caring adults, we need to listen and validate our kid's feelings. Validating does not mean we agree or even understand why they are feelings that way. It means we are showing our kids that we understand they are having strong emotions and can identify what those emotions are. For example, your sixteen year old son tells you he is really feeling depressed after a fight with his girlfriend and that life will always suck. Validate his feelings by saying something like "it sounds like you are really upset and sad over the fight. it is hard to fight with those we care about. Do you want to talk more about it?" If you don't have time in that moment to give your full attention, set up a time and make it a priority.
Just because something seems like a small deal to us, does not make it feel small to our children. Think about a time you were really upset and someone dismissed those feelings. How did that make you feel?
If your kid is having feelings that seem to much to handle or is expressing SI, seek out help. For SI, ask your child if they have a plan. If they say yes, seek help immediately by calling BHR (800-811-4760) or taking them to the hospital.
I feel like I read a lot about our youth that is bad. They are often labeled as entitled, disrespectful, and dumb (I'm thinking eating Tide pods). I see a different side.
I facilitate a group for youth in eighth through twelfth grades, typically every other Thursday. I always leave the group impressed. The insight the young people show is impressive. We've covered topics such as peer pressure, consent, stigma of mental illness, school support, and even processed feelings after the Florida school shooting. These "kids" express a wide range of emotions and display deep thoughts on the topics. They also support one another and wish others (think adults) would too.
Of course, they discuss some things youth do that is disrespectful or dumb, but who isn't that way at some point. The cool thing is they are able to recognize that behavior as negative (even if it is their own) and gain ideas on how to change it from each other.
I am privileged to be a part of their conversations and share my "old" perspective on things.
I encourage everyone to take some time to talk and listen (really listen) to our youth. You might be surprised with what you hear and learn.
It was one of those days. I was not feeling well-achy but no fever. I had a full day of work coming plus two of my kids had an activity that evening they needed to go to. In addition, one of my kids struggled to get out of bed that morning and we were running late. I do NOT like to be late-ever! All of this was running through my mind when getting in the car with two of my kids. My youngest then refused to move over so that my son could get in the car. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Sadly, I yelled at her to move (and maybe like five times). Of course, this did not make her move but instead she started crying. I jumped out of the car with the intention of moving her myself but seeing her cry made me stop. I then took a few deep breaths and hugged her. I then asked her to move again which she did. I apologized for yelling. My son told me I would need to have a consequence for my behavior-lol.
I share this story to remind everyone that no one is perfect. I frequently work with adults that appear to feel shame as opposed to guilt for some of their behaviors. We are not bad people if we slip up at times. I teach others anger management techniques and ways to cope when upset, and yet I do not always remember to utilize them. My initial reaction in that situation was responding in anger. I'm human and made a mistake. Luckily I was able to recognize my mistake, change my behavior, and apologize. I am not always able to do so so easily but I will continue to work on improving. That's all we can do, continue to strive to be better.
For kids near me, the school days are dwindling down. My own children only have two and a half days left. A neighboring district has been out for a few days already. No matter when your kids' school finishes for the year, you probably have been thinking what break will look like. We fear mindless activities (TV, video games, YouTube) taking over or the kids driving us nuts because they are "bored."
A few years ago my friend shared a chart similar to the one pictured here and I immediately loved it. I tweaked it a bit for my family and added pictures since my youngest at that time was not reading. My husband and I love having the kids complete the chart daily. We have found that it takes much longer most days then we anticipated because they kids really get into and enjoy the tasks. They also often help one another which was a pleasant bonus. Of course, some days they rush through the tasks in order to watch TV or play a video game but we are okay with that because we know they have used their brains in numerous ways.
This chart doesn't replace us asking for other things to be completed when needed (such as chores) but it does help us know that our kids are engaging in lots of different activities. It also allows my husband to have some relaxation time while they are completing the activities as he is home with them during break.
A family member with a mental illness can be hard on a family. It can cause a range of emotions for other family members. I feel this can be especially hard on children/adolscents who have a sibling with a mental illness. The child with the mental illness typically has a lot of appointments the parents have to take them to- doctors appointments, therapy appointments, school meetings, etc. This takes up a lot of time for the parents. Also, the parents tend to be under a lot of stress as they want their kids to be healthy and happy and seeing their kids struggle with mental illness goes against this.
I was talking to a client the other day about this. With so much attention on the child with mental illness, what are we doing for the other child? I have been guilty of this myself. A parent of a child that has any sort of illness needs to devote time and attention to that kid but we need to make sure that we're still giving other children their are much-needed attention. Sometimes this means we have to pull in friends and family to help us. And that's okay-we all need help sometimes. It's also could mean letting the other child go to a therapist to be able to explore their feelings about everything. It can be scary and confusing. They may not understand why their sibling acts the way they do at times.
Sometimes I've seen siblings that seem like they have it all together and never step out of line. This can be because the child has good support and is well adjusted but we need to make sure it's not because they feel unspoken pressure to not cause any problems. They still need to be having fun and be a kid.
Three days of out of school suspension (OSS). 😞
Recently our son received three days of OSS for aggressive behavior towards his teacher. I have mentioned before about my son's struggle with a mental illness. He feels things so much stronger than most people. From happiness to sadness to anger and everything in between. It is very difficult for him to regulate his emotions. This causes him to be incredibly caring and very emphatic, but also act out when angry.
The consequences of his behaviors effect our whole family. It is heart wrenching to see his struggle. He wants to be included, to be "normal." He is very sad and apologetic after he calms down and it hurts him to know how he acted.
Understandably, this effects his ability to have friends, be successful on a team, and make it through the school day without problems. This most recent behavior that lead to suspension was severe.
We do so much to help him. He has numerous community supports he works with (mental health and medical) and a team at school. We've participated in parent/child interaction therapy. We've tried behavioral charts, earning privileges, loss of privileges, and grounding. I believe some of it helps but we're not where we want to be. Not yet.
I cried today while in a conference meeting with my son's school team. I hate he acted the way he did and I hate that mental illness has such a strong grip on him right now. But. . .
We won't give up. We'll keep fighting. He will be successful!
I share this not to evoke sympathy but to give you a small slice to how mental illness can effect a person, a family.
I want to end with mentioning that aggression towards others is not common in those that have a mental illness. In fact, aggression towards oneself is much more likely in those suffering then aggression outward. But no matter how the symptoms manifest, we must keep fighting.
Stressed, overwhelmed, needing an objective opinion.
Awhile ago, I was feeling all of those things. I have numerous coping skills I use when feeling stressed. I have good support in my life. And yet, sometimes that is not enough. Sometimes, I need more. So I did what I recommend to others to do, I went to therapy. It is not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last. I met with someone a few times in order to have a safe place to vent my feelings to an objective person. And it helped. It was a non-judgmental environment where I could freely discuss my life and the therapist could just listen and help me make connections in my thinking. It was also nice to have someone validate my feelings. Someone who didn't know the people I was talking about and therefore was truly coming from an objective place.
I hope by putting this out there this lessens the stigma of mental illness that I have written about before. There should be no shame in needing to go to therapy.
Fight or flight. I heard a lot about this growing up. I was told that if in a dangerous situation, my natural instincts would kick in and I would either run (flight) or fight. I didn’t hear much though about a third option which is freeze. The reason for this is because freezing typically leaves one the most vulnerable.
Our body usually kicks in when we are presented with a dangerous situation and activates different systems in order to protect us. That’s why we usually have the fight or flight response. Sometimes, though, the brain goes into overload mode and freezes. This may be due to past trauma, a too intense fear, or hopelessness.
If freezing is our response, it could also mean that we felt that was our best option for the least damage. Some animals play dead in hopes that the predator will either not see them or lose interest. A person may freeze also in some hope that an attacker will move on. In addition, a freeze response may occur because the person felt running or fighting were not viable options.
So why am I writing about this? Earlier this year I wrote about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. *Spoiler alert*
In one of the episodes Hannah freezes in a dangerous situation and is then raped. There has been debate on whether or not she was raped because she didn’t try harder to get away or because she didn’t fight. I have worked with clients in similar situations. Hannah’s response was the freeze response. My guess is she felt it was a hopeless situation. That didn’t mean she consented (see my previous post on consent). It was clear by watching the scene that it was rape. Not everyone is able to fight or flight. Our body’s natural response is sometimes to freeze.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.