Is All That Stress Necessary? It’s Time To Rethink Some Things…

For many teens, adulthood seems like an oasis compared to the life they are living as high school students right now. They put in the same number of hours, yet have many more hours of homework ahead of them when they get home. Getting home may vary by four additional hours if they are involved in a sport or other performing arts. The mental and physical exhaustion is real and it is relentless. Students are constantly reminded how important grades are, how getting into a “good” college will make or break their lives. Some of this pressure is self-imposed, but mostly it comes from home. Parents are keenly aware of the increasingly high-tech economy and how this will require their students to have superior skills if they expect to land a good job. So, if it seems like your student is under intense pressure, you’re right !!
Conversations with students who complain about feeling pressure from home say they are not able to enjoy their high school years due to the fear instilled in them from as early as 4th grade to “do good in school, grades matter, you’ll never get a good job/get accepted good college, or be someone”. This chronic pressure has an overwhelmingly negative affect on the mental health of students across the nation. While some of the concerns are justified, other times the focus is too far ahead and not keeping their student’s life in balance NOW. Watching for signs of stress is the first step in helping your student.
Are they: irritable, depressed, or exhausted? If so, schoolwork may suffer. If this is consistent it’s time to insist they give up one or more activities. To demand your C student to start pulling A’s junior year is not only unreasonable but may very well set them up for failure and discouragement. A better way to measure progress is in small steps. Understanding a concept 1st, then offer encouragement to get a B on a quiz and move up from there. If it falls short, reevaluate whether or not the bar was set too high and adjust. Never demand your student to produce a better grade, but encourage them to be lifelong learners for the sake of learning, not just the grade.
But first…Have a wonderfully relaxed and stress-free summer everyone!!

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How To Ask Your Kids How Their Day Was Without Asking… “How Was Your Day?”

Most teens when asked about their day will probably give you a one syllable answer like “fine” or worse, just a grunt. Well-meaning parents truly care about how their kids’ day went, but fail miserably in getting much out of them when asking them directly. Sooooo, what’s a parent to do? For starters, it’s best to not ask a general question, that to them, feels like the monumental task of rehashing their day—for better or worse. If you have a rough day chances are you don’t want to relive it by explaining because that usually risks those dreaded “follow-up” questions that kids are easily annoyed with. Instead, think in terms of smaller details. Also, the setting can make or break your efforts. I have always found driving in the car a good place to talk. No one is looking at them directly (at least I hope the driver is looking at the road) so it feels less threatening to open up. This also happens while you are working with them on things like making dinner, folding laundry, rearranging furniture, etc. You can casually talk and ask questions without making them feel like you are grilling them. Have a technology question? Ask your teen for help! They have a natural ability and have been brought up using technology.

Don’t forget to seize those windows of opportunities when they initiate the conversation. Those “windows” don’t always open as wide as they used to. And, by all means, when they do initiate, resist the urge to say “well, you didn’t want to talk when I asked you…” Nothing shuts a window faster or tighter than that.

Some ideas to initiate conversation:

• Where in the school do you hang out the most? (Like a particular hall, classroom, etc.) Where in the school do you never hang out?
• If you were a teacher what class would you teach? What class would be the worst to teach? Why?
• What was the coolest (saddest, funniest, scariest) thing that you saw today.
• Tell me one thing that you learned today.
• Who do you think you could be nicer to? Did you notice someone doing something truly kind today?
• What is your easiest class? What is your hardest class? OR What class are you learning the most in?
• What do you think you should do more of at school? What do you think you should do less of?
• What are the top 3 (or 5) things that you hear people say in the halls?
• What do you think the most important part of school is?
• Tell me one question that you had today…even if it wasn’t answered….actually, especially if it wasn’t answered…
• Who did you help today? Who helped you today?
• What part of the day do you look forward to? What part of the day do you dread?
• If you had to go to only one class every day which class would it be?

“Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change”

 

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Focusing On Strengths…

At any given moment, most adults and some kids would be able to list all the things that go wrong for them.  Everything from financial struggles, relationships, being in a bad mood, or just feeling overwhelmed.  Most of us are very aware of the problems we have.  We also spend a lot of time thinking about our problems. Being able to identify problems, weaknesses, or areas that need improvement is a skill we all should have.  However, have you ever thought about how much time you spend thinking about what went wrong versus what you are happy about?  If you’re like most people, the percentage of negative thoughts is much higher than the positive. What we choose to think about is in our control, and those thoughts have a major impact on how our day will go.  How we think leads to how we feel and how we feel is what we become…sad, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed.

Thinking about a problem is a necessary process that allows us to come up with an action plan.  The concern is when we focus too long on the problem and not enough on the strengths, abilities, acceptance, and the possibility of the usefulness of a problem.  So often we hear students say:  “the worst thing that happened to me turned into the best thing after all”.  What starts out as a devastating disappointment turns into an opportunity to pursue something even better in the long run. If we only think of the negatives, we prevent ourselves from looking at the possibilities.  Then, the problem becomes the problem.

Are you able to make a list of your strengths or things you are grateful for that is twice as long as the list of problems or weaknesses?  If not, try reflecting on your positive aspects.  It might just change your perception…and you might just realize your “problems” are also sources of strength.

How to remain strengths-focused and not problem-focused:

  • Limit the amount of time you spend focusing on the problem–say, 10 minutes
  • Three times during the day identify something to be grateful about
  • Allow yourself to gain perspective on the problem–sometimes we find great meaning in our struggles vs a time when life is easy and we are happy
  • Engage in a meaningful activity such as helping others…connecting with other people is one of the healthiest activities we can do
  • Keep an open mind about the good that is around you and be willing and available to see it

When we focus too much on what’s “wrong” and not enough on the things that are “right” we affect our mood and the ability to problem-solve. Shifting our focus puts us in a better position to use our strengths and address and manage our problems.                                            ~Happy Spring !!

quote: Dr Wayne Dyer

 

If You Rescue Them Once, You Will Have To Rescue Them Again…

As parents, we develop a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to rescuing our child from danger.  But what if rescuing becomes a crutch for them and they fail to accept responsibility for their actions?  What then?  I recently came across an interesting article on parenting that talks about the importance of handing teenagers control and allowing them to face the consequences of their own decisions.  This does not mean allowing them to be in physically harmful situations and look the other way.  Rather, it is more about the everyday experiences they face at home and school.

Allowing your child to make good decisions takes patience and lots of practice. It is a learned process.  Give them responsibilities early.  Get an alarm clock and let them wake themselves up for school each morning. Have them keep a calendar and be responsible for letting you know in advance if they will need a ride to or from an activity. If they fail to communicate this with you in advance, they may not be able to go.  It will be the last time they forget!!  If they are given a gas allowance and they fail to budget their money and run out early, resist the urge to give them more.  Managing money is a skill that is never too early to learn.

The main idea here is to stop helping teens so much–the way you may have when they were younger.  This is not an easy task, especially when parenting is all about being a responsible parent who controls and protects their children.  Now is the time to allow your teenager to make mistakes.  Parents must make room for their maturing teen to make mistakes and then deal with the natural consequences of their decisions.  You will help them the best when you let them fall down a bit in the process, and then let them figure out how to get back up.  Remember, they are still under your watchful care.  What better time to learn from their mistakes?  Once they are out in the world people may not be so forgiving.

Avoid over-controlling: This happens when otherwise loving parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes, or by having too-strict rules and limits. Over-controlled teens are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship enmeshments, and difficulty setting and keeping boundaries.

According to Mark Gregston, author and parenting expert, the following are some ways you can avoid rescuing your child, thus, instilling accountability and responsibility.

Handing teenagers control and allowing them to face the consequences of their own decisions means:

  • They may get an “F” on their homework when they don’t turn in homework. When they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class. If they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school. If they don’t make it up in summer school, they won’t graduate. (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen just this way.)
  • They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus. If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well. Don’t write the excuse that gets them out of the consequences.
  • If they serve detention at school, then let them miss the football game on Friday night as well.
  • If they use the Internet to promote an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect it for a period of time.
  • Should they be arrested and it is obvious that they or the friends they were hanging around with are at fault, let them sit at the police station for a while. Don’t bail them out right away. Sitting in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If they are ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since they will not be driving your car.
  • Let them help pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving. Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree. If grades become unsatisfactory, then let them pay for the next semester. If you are paying for college, tell them the schools you are willing to pay for. If they wish to attend elsewhere, they can pay for it
  • If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need. Let them figure out how to pay for those things (like extra gas money). Doing without may teach them to stop spending foolishly.
  • If they are experimenting with drugs or alcohol, require them to pass periodic and unannounced drug and alcohol tests as a requirement to live in your house.
  • Let them decide how to pay for college next semester if this semester they spent more time partying than studying. And don’t finance an apartment or a car if they continue with that lifestyle. Let them decide how to finance that lifestyle themselves.
  • Turn off the TV, remove the TV, or cancel your cable if staying up late at night or viewing inappropriate content is a problem for them. Loss of the TV is an appropriate consequence.  This is also true for social media, cell phones, iPads, computer use.

What it doesn’t mean is that you are a being bad parent by allowing these consequences to happen. Letting them experience consequences for poor reasoning is the best thing you can do for a teenager.

Welcome to the New Trier Social Work Blog 2015

Our intention for this blog is to share interesting ideas and articles we find helpful for parents. It is not meant to be a replacement for therapy.  Feel free to leave your comments, but know we will not be responding back.  Let us know if there is a particular topic you’d like us to address. We hope you find this site informative and fun to read.  Check back often for new posts! Enjoy!!