Archive of ‘Teens’ category

When Self-Harm Hits Home

As parents, we never want the “scary” things to happen to our kids.   We want our kids to be happy, healthy, confident and caring. We spend so much of our time and energy trying to protect them from baby falls to bullying, but sometimes the “scary” things hit close to home. One such thing is finding out that your child is harming themself.

Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

These acts of harm against oneself is what we call self-injury or self-harm. Teens typically do this through cutting or burning their skin. You may notice cuts or burns on their forearms or thighs, which they may try to hide with long-sleeve shirts, pants, or bands or excessive jewelry around their wrists.

According to several studies, self-injury seems to be on the rise. School counselors, college professors, and parents are all noticing what some call a “psychic epidemic.”

So, what should you do if you discover that your child is engaging in self-harm?

Here are a few ideas both from my own work with individuals who self-harm and from several authors I have noted below.

    1. In the words of one adolescent, “Try not to totally freak out.” Your heightened emotional reactivity and/or anger only works to increase your adolescent’s anxiety. You want to show your adolescent that you are willing and able to tolerate their disconcerting emotions and are able to offer assistance.
    2. Avoid threats, yelling, breaches of privacy, and discouraging remarks.
    3. Try things that help calm your child such as making eye contact, letting your adolescent tell their story of what provoked the self-injury, respectfully listening, offering hugs, using an attitude of empathy, being nonjudgmental, and encouraging your child that you can all get through this together.
    4. Matthew Selekman, in his book noted below, suggests asking the following questions:
      1. “Now that I know that you are cutting yourself, can you help me understand what it means to you?”
      2. “How has it been helpful for you to do this?”
      3. “Is there anything really stressing you our in your life right now that I might be able to help you out with?”
      4. “If you don’t wish to talk about it right now, I understand. I just want you to know that I care and am here for you when you are ready to talk about it. Would you like me to check in with you or would you prefer to come to me when you are ready to talk?”
    5. Have the courage to ask your adolescent what you may be doing to contribute to the overwhelming feelings that lead an adolescent to self-harm.
    6. At the same time, recognize that your adolescent’s decision to harm themself is a choice they made and is not your fault.
    7. If school bullying or academic pressures are a leading cause of the self-harm, advocate for your child within their school.
    8. Ask your child if they would like to speak with a professional counselor.   Allow the adolescent to be part of the process of selecting who this professional may be.

mom-comforting-daughter

Sources:

Brumberg, J. (2006). Are we facing an epidemic of self-injury?. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53 (16), B6-B8

Plante, L. (2007). Bleeding to ease the pain: Cutting, self-injury, and the adolescent search for self. Plymouth, UK: Rowman and Littlefield

Selekman, M. (2006). Working with self-harming adolescents: A collaborative strengths-based therapy approach. New York: WW Norton & Company


Move, Eat, and Sleep Your Way to a Healthier Brain

A client in their early thirties told me recently that losing his mental faculties would be one of the scariest things he could imagine. I think most of us would agree that the thought of losing our memory or having decreased cognitive functioning is terrifying. New studies are showing that memory complaints are linked (across all age groups) to poor health and lifestyle factors. The bad news is that more young people are reporting memory problems. The good news is that exercise, learning, and making healthy lifestyle choices might improve your cognitive functioning.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

One study reported in Medical News Today suggested that thinking skills tend to be best in individuals who had better cardiovascular fitness when they were young. Another study, also from Medical News Today, said that research now shows a connection between narrowing arteries and memory issues. A new study by University of California, Los Angeles, published in PLOS ONE, found that risk factors like depression, diabetes, obesity, and smoking increased the probability of memory complaints across all age groups, including young adults (ages 18-39). And, regardless of age, the strongest risk factor found was depression for perceived memory issues.

Of course, there are genetic factors and diseases that may unfortunately negatively impact cognitive function in individuals who are making healthy lifestyle choices. However, here are tips from researchers and experts to best protect your brain:

  •  Get regular exercise
  •  Avoid smoking
  •  Further your education/learn/keep your brain stimulated
  •  Have your blood pressure checked regularly
  •  Seek help/treatment for depression/depressive symptoms
  •  Have an active social life
  •  Eat a healthy diet
  •  Get quality sleep (95% adults who get less than seven hours on a routine basis experience decreased physical and mental performance)
  •  Find ways to manage your stress

We urge parents who might be reading this to help your children start learning about living a healthy life now. Here are some ideas:

  •  Exercise as a family
  •  Go on family walks
  •  Play ball/chase/tag outside
  •  Go swimming
  •  Plan meals and snacks that are healthy (it’s a good idea to shop the perimeter of the grocery store where most of the whole foods are)
  •  Teach them fun ways to unwind (reading, playing, taking deep breaths, moving their bodies, dancing)
  •  Have consistent bedtime routines and schedules. See below to make sure everyone is getting enough sleep:
    • < 12 months old: 14-16 hours per day
    • 1-3 years old: 12-14 hours per day
    • 3-6 years old: 10-12 hours per day
    • 7-12 years old: 10-11 hours per day
    • 12-18 years old: 8-9 hours per day
    • Adults: varies but generally 7-9 hours to function optimally

Family Time in the School Year

girl swinging pic

It seems like the middle of summer but the next school year is right around the corner. As you stock up on pencils, paper and other supplies, it is a good time to set family goals and have important conversations about finding balance this year.

School often brings with it extracurricular activities, homework, endless laundry, and large to do lists. It is easy for family time to be replaced with children playing sports, studying, and attending birthday parties and other social events while parents hustle to run errands, keep up with housework and their career, and shuttle their kids from place to place.

Because there are only so many hours in a day, something has to give. And all too often, it is family time together. Uninterrupted, device-less, quality time is a precious commodity these days. But maybe this year, you and your family can be intentional about making it a necessity.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider it:

  • Children whose parents are involved are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and are more likely to do better in school.
  • Families are better able to adapt to challenging situations if they are emotionally close.
  • Children whose mother communicates frequently with them (listening, answering questions, and talking) are more likely to perform well academically.
  • Children whose father spends time with them doing activities tend to have better academic success, as well.
  • Adolescents whose parents are involved in their lives tend to exhibit fewer behavioral problems.
  • Youth who participate in activities with their parents and have close relationships with them are less likely to engage in violence.
  • Eating dinner together frequenting reduces the risk of substance abuse for teens.
  • Adolescents whose parents are home with them after school and during the evening hours are less likely to experience emotional distress.

Spending time together doesn’t have to be costly or elaborate. Often, it is more about the frequency of checking in, talking with one another, eating meals together, playing games or playing outside with one another, and other low-stress activities that help family members bond the most. Now is a good time, before it all begins again, to sit down and talk about setting up regular rituals and routines for connecting with one another and committing to make family time a priority this year.


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