Archive of ‘Communication’ 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

Therapeutic Children’s Books

Books are one of my favorite ways to connect with kiddos. When we incorporate books into the therapy process, we refer to it as “bibliotherapy.” Sometimes, older clients are asked to read books on their own time outside of counseling. With my younger clients, we spend some of our time in session reading about ways we can better understand and cope with anxiety, impulsivity, trauma, or depression. In addition to keeping these books in the office, I also recommend them to parents as books to revisit at home. Below, I’ll share some of my most-utilized books in the counseling room! 

What To Do When You Worry Too MuchAge Range: 6 – 12 years

This is an interactive, workbook-style book for children experiencing symptoms of anxiety. This books explains that worries are completely normal, and that everyone experiences them. It talks about the somatic symptoms (headaches, stomachaches, sweaty palms, accelerated heartbeat etc.) that so many of us experience when feeling anxious. This book is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, and helps kids change the way they think about anxiety. It has lots of different interventions for children to try in session, and helps kids learn that they are in control. This is my go-to book for anxiety! 

My Mouth is a Volcano! Age Range: 5 – 8 years

This story book is perfect for kids who have challenges with speaking out of turn or blurting out answers at school without being called on. Impulsivity can be a big challenge for children and it often becomes more visible as they reach kindergarten and 1st grade- when expectations at school may increase. My Mouth is a Volcano tells us about a child who is constantly interrupting (or “erupting”) at school and at home. This picture book helps kids with perspective taking and empathy, too- always a plus!  

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine  — Age Range: 5 – 8 years 

This book tells the story of Wilma Jean, a student who is experiencing anxiety before and during school (sound familiar anyone?). Wilma, with the help of her mom and her teacher, goes from stomaches and headaches to actually enjoying school. It offers creative ways for parents, teachers, and other caregivers to help their child better cope with their anxious feelings.  

What To Do When Your Temper Flares  — Age Range: 6 – 12 years

Another workbook from the makers of What To Do When You Worry Too Much. It teaches readers that anger is not a “bad” emotion, and that everyone gets angry sometimes. It offers step-by-step guides on understanding why people get angry, what purpose the emotion may serve, and different ways of expressing that anger in a safe and controlled way. What To Do When Your Temper Flares has lots of analogies, examples, and coping skills for kids (and caregivers!) to practice in therapy and at home. 

A Terrible Thing Happened Age Range: 4 – 9 years

This book has proven its worth time and time again! A Terrible Thing Happened helps kiddos understand and cope with trauma. The book describes the trauma, or “terrible thing”, very vaguely. The book never explicitly names the trauma. This is helpful because the book can be used in many different instances, and the child can imagine the trauma however they need to. A Terrible Thing Happened introduced the reader to Sherman, who witnessed something terrible. Sherman experiences eating and sleeping disturbances, somatic symptoms like stomachaches, and behavioral changes at school. Sherman learns from the help of his caregivers and his therapist that talking about the terrible thing can be helpful. Sherman learns how to express himself with art (and his words!) in this book about healing after trauma. 

What are some of your favorite books to incorporate into your therapeutic or educational work with children?


Written by: Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern, supervised by Kirby Schroeder, LPS-S, LMFT-S
Follow Morgan & Rio on Instagram at @animalassistedtherapist
Check out the work Morgan & Rio are doing at http://AnimalAssistedTherapist.com



Household Chores and Why They Matter for Children and Teens

What characteristics and life skills do you hope your children develop?  These are some that I often hear from parents in our workshops and parenting sessions:

  • Responsibility                        
  • Self-discipline
  • Empathy/Caring
  • Adaptability
  • Accountability
  • Respect for self and others
  • Creativity

Believe it or not, one way that you can begin (or continue) to help these characteristics develop in your children is by involving them in household chores. It is never too early or too late.  Kids need to know they are important, useful, contributing members of your family. Helping with chores builds the skills above and many more.

Many families I work with feel like kids have “too much on their plate” or say that “school is their job” and they don’t want them to be overwhelmed with responsibilities at home.  So instead, parents carry the heavy load of household chores on their own, missing an amazing opportunity to instill contribution.

Another barrier is that parents don’t realize that it is normal and expected for children and teens to lose interest in chores and get distracted by other things, such as friends, their phone, and school (much like we do).  Children are born with the desire to help and contribute (see video below), but they are not born with the skills needed to do so perfectly.  Parents have to teach, model, and reinforce household chore expectations again and again in order for them to stick.

Get started today involving your kids in household chores:

  1. Brainstorm a list of daily and weekly chores that happen in the home with the whole family.
  2. Choose a few important chores to rotate – one per family member- and make a list or chart to post the chores on.  Here is an example of the one we have at my house.
  • Take time for training – spend the first week doing the chores together so that you can teach skills such as spraying the dust spray, how much to feed the dog, how long to water the grass in the front yard, and so on.  Be collaborative and have fun with it! 
  • Decide upon frequency and what time it should be done based on the chore.  If your child (or partner 🙂 ) forgets, gently remind them with a kind smile and friendly body language, and a point at the chore chart to job their memory.
  • Resistance is NORMAL!  Don’t expect your kids to cheer and thank you when you remind them of their chore, but no matter how much they grumble, be KIND and FIRM – “I know you would rather play your guitar, AND it’s time to do your chore.” 
  • Use the Chore Chart below, a resource adapted from Positive Discipline, to determine the chores that are age-appropriate for your child. 

Check out this video that shows very young children (and chimps) demonstrating a desire to help!

By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S, CPDT

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