Archive of ‘Austin Family Counseling’ category

Talking With Your Teens and Tweens about Weed

Recently, I have noticed a sharp increase in weed use in my teen clients.  Why are teens so likely to smoke? Here are 3 reasons and how you can use these reasons to connect with them more closely about the dangers of weed. 

IMPORTANT NOTE to parents: These talking points are suggested for you to use from a place of curiosity.  Ask the questions in a gentle and open way when your teen wants to talk.  Don’t force them to talk about it and don’t use this time as a lecture opportunity or get them in trouble. 

Teens are Wired to Seek Novelty and Risk.

Daniel Siegel, M.D. has studied the teenage brain extensively, and reports that American adolescent brains start to “prune” around the age of 12 years old; adolescence is a period of “remodeling the brain.” It is nature’s way of preparing adolescents to leave the home by removing the stuff they no longer need (say the ability to play the piano proficiently) and strengthening the stuff they do need or want to retain.  Novelty or “new stuff” stimulates the release of dopamine (rewards circuitry) more strongly in adolescents and therefore increases the teen’s desire to seek risk and danger.  AND the adolescent brain is also focused more on the reward often than on the potential consequences, causing teens to experiment with high risk behaviors at a much higher rate than at any time in life.  (Check on this video to hear Dr. Siegel talk more about this phenomenon).

Talking points:

What types of activities do teens and teens do that are novelty and risk seeking in your world/school/community? Have you heard stories or do you know someone who engages in high risk activities? Are there any that you are curious to try or have tried? (You won’t get in trouble – we are having a discussion) What do you know about the brain during adolescents and the “pruning” process?

Weed is Everywhere and Easy to Get.

Marijuana is increasingly accessible to teenagers, and it is much easier to obtain than alcohol for most minors.  For many teens, it has become the go-to activity for hanging out with friends.  Simply Snap Chat a dealer and get a supply within minutes, paying with cash or Venmo so nothing is trackable. 

Talking points:

Have you been around weed? If you wanted to buy some, do you know how? Do you know about or have your experienced being “high”? What is it like? Do you ever feel or worry you might feel pressure to try weed? What are your plans for handling those situations? What do you think our expectations are of you in those situations?

Weed can Decrease Worry, Anxiety, and Stress in the Moment. 

Short-term benefits to smoking weed do exist.  Teens are more stressed in this day and age than ever before, with soaring rates of anxiety and depression.  The attraction to weed is often based on the short term relief they may feel when high – worry-free, relaxed, and chill.  The long-term risks of weed, including psychological dependency, long term memory loss, increased need, and exacerbation of symptoms are often not on their radar because they seek immediate relief from their symptoms.

Talking points:

Do you often feel stressed or overwhelmed? What are the sources of stress in your life? What strategies have you used that help you cope? What strategies do your friends use? Would you find it helpful to talk to a family friend, spiritual mentor, or a therapist for more support in coping?

At Austin Family Counseling, we have a team of therapists who specialize in counseling tweens and teens during this vulnerable and ever-changing time of development. Please call us or email us for more information about how you can get support for your child or yourself!

By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S, CPDT

Rethink Resolutions: Set a Theme for the New Year

As 2019 quickly comes to an end and a new year (and a new decade!) begins, people are quickly scrambling to think of New Year’s Resolutions to set for themselves to start a “New Year, New Me”.  The Cambridge Dictionary defines New Year’s Resolutions as “a promise you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year”. According to a quick Google search, the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions include:

  • Diet or eat healthier
  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Save more & spend less
  • Learn a new skills or hobby
  • Quit smoking
  • Read more
  • Find another job
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Spend more time with family & friends

While people who set up resolutions (either like the ones above or any other goal they set for themselves), it often sets them up to feel disappointed because if/when they don’t reach their goal, they feel like they’ve failed.  I am not anti-New Year’s Resolutions, by the way, I think they’re a good idea, in theory, but setting yourself up for failure, essentially, doesn’t seem like a good way to start anything.  So rather than setting a New Year’s Resolution for yourself, I want to encourage you to set a theme for the new year. 

What is a New Year Theme? 

The Oxford dictionary defines “theme” as:

  • The subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic.
  • An idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.
  • Give a particular setting or ambience. 

In simpler terms…a theme is the main idea or underlying meaning; when setting a theme for yourself for the new year, you are ultimately looking for the main idea (or ideas) in your life.  Life themes are generally made up of keywords that represent your highest values; each value gives you a starting point for defining the major themes of your life.  

How to Identify Your Theme

There is not one right or wrong way to do this.  To get an idea of where to start, though, you need to create a space where you can intentionally think about your values–what do you most value, seek out, and love to experience?  Need some help?  No worries!  Below is a list of universal values (also–please feel free to add your own!)  Take time to look over the list and find the words that resonate with you the most.  One you pick (however many you choose), try to narrow it down to the top 3-5.  Once you determine these 3-5 values, this will be the foundation for the theme you want to set for yourself.  Your theme can be just the word or you can create a sentence with it. 

For example:

  • Wisdom. (This is a perfectly good theme for the new year!)
  • I want to impart wisdom to people around me who are curious and would love to spend time with people who are wiser than me so I can learn from those I value and respect.  (Again…perfectly good theme for the new year!)

I can’t say this enough…but there is no right/wrong way to do this.  This is totally for you. 

Once you find the right words for your life theme, you will start to see a connection between the way you look at and move through the world.  Use these connections to guide you and the way you look at life, challenges, obstacles, and opportunities that come your way. 

Things to Keep in Mind

First and foremost, there isn’t one right way to do this.  I know I’ve said that multiple times…but it’s because it’s ABSOLUTELY true.  Keep that in mind while you keep these other pointers in mind:

  • We likely need several themes. 
    • It is unlikely that you’ll have JUST one theme in your life (although it’s totally okay if you do!) 
  • Life themes do NOT happen overnight.
    • This process takes time!  It’s not something that you should rush or force.  As life happenings occur, some stories in your life end while others begin–momentum unfolds with each page in the story of your life.  So be patient and kind to yourself as you are evaluating what makes most sense for you. 
  • Understanding our theme keeps us engaged and intentionally living. 
    • A theme in your life is not intended to live a certain life and dictate what you can or cannot do.  Rather, it is intended to help you determine how to handle celebrations & challenges and everything in between.

Above all, be true to you and set a theme (or themes) for your life that will allow you to live your best, most authentic self.  After all, that’s what the ultimate goal is…right? 

List of Values:

  • Life
  • Peace
  • Wisdom
  • Creation
  • Sacred
  • Love
  • Energy
  • Potential
  • Connection
  • Justice
  • Perspective
  • Growth & Change
  • Balance
  • Renewal
  • Truth
  • Nature
  • Consciousness
  • Evolving
  • Harmony
  • Play
  • Understanding
  • Order & Chaos
  • Unity
  • Freedom
  • Happiness
  • Soul
  • Rejuvenation

Need some extra guidance with setting your theme for the new year?  Check out this blog by Katy Manganella on setting intentions for the new year.  It’s a great place to start! 

By: Julie Burke, LPC
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The Misbehaving Student…and How to Help Them

It is the most difficult children who often need us the most.  We hear from people working in schools that consequences and suspensions do not seem to change their behavior.  Core curriculum, testing and other requirements are putting an incredible burden on teachers. These challenging students are often the tipping point for a class.

What these misbehaving children are really looking for is to feel like they belong in the class, and that they are cared about.

Many of the misbehaving children have had things happen in their young lives that cause them to distrust others.  They may not have been fed or had their physical needs taken care of as babies, so they do not understand “if-then” thinking – if I cry, I get fed.  If I act out in class, then there are consequences. Some may be dealing with abuse or neglect of them or a parent, drugs or alcohol in the home, or violence.  They may feel they always have to be “on guard”, to protect themselves. 

All it takes is one adult to make a difference a child’s life.

So what can be done to help?  Here are some ways to build relationships with these most difficult children:

  • Get to where you can speak face to face with them.   Speak calmly and slowly. If you remain calm, it will help them to calm down.
  • Express an understanding of how they are feeling, saying “It seems like you are really angry.  Tell me more.” And then listen.
  • Ask them what you can do to help them.  They may need a break from being in the class, so asking if they would like to bring something to the office or another class may help.
  • Focus on building the relationship.  As trust is built, they may question it, as they may not have had a trusting relationship with an adult before. 

It is important to have patience and give it time.  These children likely have had years of bad relationships with adults.  As the relationship builds, the whole class benefits. There will be less disruptions, and more teachable time.  You can be that “one adult” for this child!

Written by: Carol Dores

Carol is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer. She has worked with educators and staff of preschoolers through high school, as well as hundreds of parents of all aged children (prenatal to adult). She co-founded Positive Discipline of Connecticut, and served as Co-Chair of the international Board of Directors of the Positive Discipline Association. Carol has worked with schools in bringing Positive Discipline to whole school settings. She has two adult sons and a husband of over 35 years. Their relationships continue to grow and benefit from Positive Discipline.


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