In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Posts Tagged ‘adolescents’

A Teachable Moment: Summer structure is essential for kids and teens

Posted by Dr. Susan on June 4, 2012

For parents and kids alike, summer is associated with freedom from the hectic school year schedule and with the chance to take a deep breath and relax for a few weeks. Bed times are later, house rules become more flexible, and playtime stretches out into the evening hours. This change, as well as the chance to slow down, are great for everyone’s psychological well-being. That being said, even in the summer, it is important for kids to maintain a routine. In fact, too much ‘relaxing’ isn’t healthy for kids or teens.

To begin, excess screen time (TV, computer, video games, phones), is no better for kids in the summer than it is during the school year. Your child may not have homework, but the opportunity to be active outside, spend time with friends, and take advantage of experiences that are unique to summer, will all be diminished by spending too much time engaged with a screen—whether at home or on the go. Therefore, the summertime rules for screen time should not be very different from the school-year rules. The maximum recommended total screen time should not be more than two hours a day for kids and teens, no matter what time of year it is!

Next, it can be easy to allow your child to have a later bedtime in the summer. The sun sets at a later time, and there is no school the next day (although some kids must get up for summer camp). While it is tempting to allow kids and teens to stay up as late as they choose and then sleep as late as they desire the next morning, this is not in their best interest.  In order to grow healthily, feel happy and behave well, kids and teens need a minimum of eight hours of sleep, and most need nine or ten hours. In addition, the eight hours of sleep that begin earlier in the night, are much better quality than when these hours begin later at night. Finally, when you allow kids—and especially teens—to create their own sleep schedule, they will often stay up well past midnight, and then sleep away a good part of the day. This is not a healthy way to spend the summer, and it becomes more difficult for them to adjust back to a school year routine. Therefore, while it is fine to allow some flexibility in your child or teen’s summer bedtime routine, it is important to enforce a reasonable bedtime, ensuring that your child gets enough, good quality sleep.

Finally, while it is important to slow down in the summer, kids and teens function much more healthily, and are less likely to get in trouble, when they have structured, supervised activity. For example, did you know that the rate of marijuana use amongst teens is much higher in the summer months than at any other time of the year? This is because in the summer so many more teens are allowed to spend every day, for weeks, with little to do and barely any supervision. Even younger kids with little structure are more likely to get into fights and become cranky and hard to manage because they are bored. So, while it may be summertime, parenting must still include organizing a regular schedule of activities for your child, and supervising older kids and teens to ensure that they are doing more than just hanging out and sleeping the summer away.

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Does your child have the mid-winter blues?

Posted by Dr. Susan on January 4, 2012

At this time of year kids and teens may be susceptible to the winter blues, which, in its more serious form, is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD usually occurs during the winter months, when it is colder and there is less sunlight, although, one does not have to live in a freezing, snowy climate to experience seasonal depression. Those living in milder climates may also experience the blues.

It is important to learn the symptoms of depression in children so you can recognize them, and if necessary, address them immediately. All types of depression are more common in older children and teens, but it is possible for a younger child to experience SAD, especially with a family history of depression. Therefore, if your child’s behavior seems to change with the season, it is time to take notice.

Childhood depression often looks different from the adult type. Even very sad kids will appear happy sometimes—during a funny movie, or playing with friends, but it doesn’t mean they are fine. Children typically have mood fluctuations, even if they are depressed.

The most common symptoms of SAD (and childhood depression) include:

  • Feeling sad, overly sensitive or      crying excessively
  • Anger, crankiness, moodiness
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping      more than usual
  • Eating much more or less than      usual (for an extended period of time, not just a day or two)
  • Low energy level, difficulty      concentrating
  • Reduced interest in normal activities      at home, in school and socially
  • Stomachaches, headaches or other      physical complaints that don’t respond to medical treatment
  • Thoughts of death or suicide      (not as common in young children)

 

Not every depressed or sad child will exhibit every symptom; some may have only two or three. If you think that your child has the winter blues, take these five steps:

  1. Continue to observe. Watch your child’s behavior for a week or so. Then,      if you still see symptoms and feel that he is emotionally under the weather,      move to step #2.
  2. Talk to your child. Ask how she is feeling. Inquire about possible      school and friend stressors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—you won’t “give      your child ideas”  that she doesn’t      already have. If there is no significant stressor, but she still seems      unhappy, move to step #3.
  3. Talk to the teacher. In most cases, when a child has the blues, his      behavior will change everywhere, not just at home, so the teacher is sure      to notice any mood change too. If the teacher (and other significant adults      in your child’s life), confirms your concerns, move to step #4
  4. Meet with your child’s doctor. It is important to rule out      medical factors that may cause a child’s mood to change. For example,      either mononucleosis or hypothyroidism can cause low energy level or      trouble concentrating. After ruling out medical factors, you and the      doctor can decide the next step. If the doctor recommends that you speak      with a mental health professional, do so right away. See step #5.
  5. Seek expert help. If treatment is necessary, it will vary depending on      the severity of your child’s symptoms and her age. No one child is the      same and there are several treatment options, including light therapy,      increased natural light exposure, talk therapy or medication.

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Manners count during the holiday season.

Posted by Dr. Susan on November 4, 2011

The excitement of the holiday season can bring out the best in kids, but it often brings out their worst. Nagging, whining and a lack of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are not uncommon during this festive but frenetic time of year.

It can be easy to let these behaviors slide because you want your child to enjoy the holidays without reprimand or punishment. You also may not want to embarrass them at holiday gatherings by pointing out behavior flaws.

However, in truth, this is an excellent opportunity to teach your child about manners. If you emphasize appropriate behavior during the holidays, he will begin to realize that it is important all the time. The key is to teach with patience rather than anger, and use strategies that help him achieve success rather than highlighting failure.

These four techniques will help your child develop manners of which you can be proud:

  1. Quit while you’re ahead. Tired, cranky kids are more likely to be rude and impolite. If you finish shopping or leave a party before reaching this point, you will be able to praise your child for great manners at the end of the activity. Praise reinforces good behavior and motivates your child to want to continue it in the future.
  2. 2.      Pre-teach manners. Before heading out to a gathering or holiday activity remind your child how you expect her to behave. Emphasize that you want to hear ‘please’, and ‘thank you’; that she should look at people when they talk to her and respond to questions; and generally behave in a way that will make you proud. Subtle reminders may be necessary. For example, before leaving a party you could whisper to your child to remind her to thank the host.
  3. 3.      Don’t plead or punish. When your child doesn’t behave politely, respond firmly but not in anger. You don’t want your child to remember this holiday as one when he was embarrassed or punished. Resist the urge to yell in public, threaten, or mete out serious consequences. On the other hand, imploring him to behave, but issuing no consequences—or empty ones—will not change his behavior. If necessary, take him aside and quietly remind him of your expectations. Explain that if he continues to be impolite, there will be a consequence. Explain the consequence and, if necessary, follow through with it. You may not be happy to take your child home from a party, hold a gift for a couple of days, or send him to bed early, but the long-term impact will be worth it. Your child will develop manners, self-control and respectful behavior. This will be your favorite holiday gift!
  4. 4.      Review and reward. After every holiday activity compliment your child for positive behaviors. For example:
  •  “I loved how you held the door open for people in the stores”
  • “You played so patiently with your baby cousin”
  • “Thank you for helping set the table tonight—it saved me time”
  • “You said thank you to grandma for the gift without being reminded”
  • I noticed that even though you didn’t love the gift, you made your uncle feel like you did”

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Is your child enjoying school this year? It’s not to early to assess.

Posted by Dr. Susan on October 4, 2011

It may seem early, but October is a perfect point in the school year to assess your child’s progress. He has had enough time to become accustomed to his schedule, routine, and new classmates and the teacher has informally assessed kids to determine progress compared to grade-level expectations. Since it can take weeks or months to fix academic or social issues, it is important to assess early and often. In addition, waiting can cause some problems to become more difficult to fix, which could negatively impact your child’s self-confidence.

There are three main areas to evaluate at this point in the school year.  By asking yourself the following questions, and answering them honestly, you will recognize areas of weakness and then address them successfully.

 

#1: School

  • Does your      child enjoy school, speak positively about her teacher, and feel good      about her successes?
  • Does your      child complete class work successfully most of the time? Is homework      relatively stress-free, not resulting in delays and tantrums (him) or excessive      nagging and yelling (you)?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, begin by making an immediate appointment with your child’s teacher (don’t wait for ‘parent/teacher conferences’).  At this meeting, ask pointed questions and share examples of concerning behaviors. Agree on a concrete strategy to work towards a solution. Schedule another meeting to review your child’s progress. If necessary request that the school psychologist or counselor be present at the next meeting.

 

#2: Social life

  • Does your      child report feeling content with her social life? Does she have healthy      friendships (respect for each other)? Does she spend time with friends      outside of school?
  • Are you      confident that your child is not being bullied or that he doesn’t bully      other children? Bullying can be very difficult to see as an adult. It can      physical or verbal; in person, online or by cell phone.

If you answered NO to any of these questions, your child needs support to learn strategies that will improve her social life. The right strategies will vary depending upon your child’s personality and needs. Even if your child is a bully, she still needs your help, rather than punishment. If she is a target of bullying, you may need to intervene directly. Ask your child about her social life. Also, speak to your child’s teacher and to the school counselor. If necessary, seek private counseling to help you and your child.

 

#3: Daily Routine

  • Does your      child manage his daily routine—dressing, eating, bathing, activities,      bedtime—with no more than age-appropriate assistance?
  • Does your      child enjoy her extracurricular activities? Is she able to balance school      with additional activities?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, it is time to assess your child’s routine and schedule. Perhaps he needs a more or less structured routine. The adults must create the structure and then reinforce it consistently. If you are concerned that your child is lagging behind others in the activities of daily living, consult the pediatrician to determine whether an evaluation is recommended. Maybe your child has too many extracurricular activities which has caused him to become overwhelmed. You have time before the second semester or next sports season begins, to reassess and adjust accordingly.

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It may be time to find your child’s special talent…or not.

Posted by Dr. Susan on September 4, 2011

The start of the school year brings enthusiasm. A new class, friends and experiences are all exciting. Many kids can’t wait to try every activity introduced by teachers and peers. So, should you let your child try it all or is it better to encourage him to stick with one or two areas he already enjoys, and in which he may already show signs of excelling?

It can be tempting to let your child try every new activity. After all childhood is the best time to explore and grow—and there’s no way for her to discover a passion without trying many things. On the other hand, too much diversification can make it difficult for a child to immerse herself fully in a new experience and it can become confusing and stressful for her.

So, is it possible to encourage exploration and find your child’s passion, without her becoming overwhelmed and distracted?  Yes! Here are four simple steps that will give your child opportunities to explore, yet still build upon current passions, talents and interests:

  1. Nurture passion and interest. If your child shows an interest in, or talent for any given activity, support this by enrolling him in a class, after-school activity or school club that nurtures the interest. Pick one area of passion on which to focus. If an activity is seasonal (like a sport or a school play), you can have a replacement activity once the season is over. The replacement need not be another ‘passion’, but can be a new area that your child wants to explore (see #3 below). Stick to one area of passion at a time, or your child will become overwhelmed and lose interest in everything.
  2. Balance is essential. Kids younger than ten don’t usually need more than two days a week to work at their area of interest. More than this can cause burnout and possibly an eventual rejection of the activity. In addition, make sure there is time for homework, play and exploration of other areas. Older children may become more intensely involved in an activity they love or that requires greater commitment to be competitive. This type of commitment is admirable and should be encouraged—but not at the cost of eating, sleeping, school work or a social life. As the parent, you must make sure your child is physically and emotionally healthy—even if she is an Olympic athlete or superstar in the making!
  3. Encourage participation in a new activity. This can be a sport or creative art that your child has never tried, or even a less structured activity like baking or magic. Ask him to commit at least two or three months to the activity. This is enough time to achieve an initial level of mastery, so that the activity feels more like fun than work. After this period, he can decide whether he wants to continue or move on to something new.
  4. Resist the urge to jump on everyone else’s ‘activity bandwagon’. Your child may come home each week with something new to try. Make a list of these activities and explain that she can try one at a time, giving each one at least a couple of months to see if she likes it. You’ll likely find that she’ll lose interest in many of the ideas on the list after her initial ‘nagging’. If you stick to these four tips, your child is sure to become well-rounded while still discovering her passions and talents.

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It’s almost school time, but be in the moment right now!

Posted by Dr. Susan on August 4, 2011

As the stores begin stocking back-to-school clothing and notebooks, it’s hard not to start thinking about the end of summer. Before we know it, school will be back in swing, and the barefoot, carefree, sunny days will be long gone…sigh!

Of course, it is important to plan ahead in order to get school supplies at a great sale price! In addition, it’s important to help your child get accustomed to the idea that school, routines, hectic schedules and cooler weather, will all be here soon.

But…before boxing up the bathing suits and taking out the sweaters, let’s not rush into the fall and winter. It’s very important to teach kids the value of living in the moment and appreciating the experience at hand, before rushing ahead to the next thing. So, please, take the time to really enjoy the last weeks of summer together with your child. There are many different ways to live in the moment, right now. and here are just a few tips to help you do it:

  • Resist the urge to unpack and try fall clothing on your child before the first day of school. It may be convenient for you to see if your child has grown a size over the summer, but for kids, it’s a sign to move on to the next thing. Rather, wait until a week or so before school starts. This will give you and your child a little time to plan without rushing the summer along.
  • Limit school supply shopping with your child to one or two specific outings—don’t make it the focus of every day until school starts. If there’s a lot to get done, do some of it without your child so that she can continue to be in the summer mode.
  • Spend even less time than usual watching TV, or watch recorded shows so that you can fast forward through the commercials. TV ads for back-to-school products become overwhelmingly prolific in August. This advertising pressure can be stressful for you and your child, pushing you out of summer mode before you are ready.
  • Encourage your child to stay focused on the summer fun at hand by limiting conversations about school to once a day—at bedtime or first thing in the morning.
  • Regularly ask your child to name activities or experiences that she or he has enjoyed, or is looking forward to enjoying this summer. Discussing these will help you and your child stay focused on the summer “moment” in which you are still living.
  • When your child is in earshot, spend as little time as possible talking about back-to-school with other adults (in person or on the phone). Your child will pick up on the conversation and it will make it more difficult for him to focus on enjoying the rest of the summer.  
  • As the end of summer truly arrives (and teacher assignments arrive in the mail) plan one or two really fun summer activities. Even as you are preparing for the transition into school, remind your child that there are still days left of summer to appreciate; time to run through the sprinkler barefoot and eat that last piece of watermelon.

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If your kids already complain that you’re too bossy…

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 18, 2011

A CA bill, if passed by the senate,would give parents FULL access to their kid’s social networking account with the ability to request removal of any and all information/pictures etc, that they don’t like, whenever they want. In fact, this bill states that if Facebook–or any other social networking site–were to ignore a parent’s request, they could be fined thousands of dollars, per account.

So, what do you think of this?

My first response was YEAH! finally someone is advocating for kids’ safety online. But the more I think about it, the more I’m not sure. I think it’s a great idea for parents of kids under 18-years to have access to their kid’s Facebook. However, I’m not sure that this parents should be able to leverage such power over their child that the access is forced upon the child. This will ultimately cause such a breakdown of trust between parent and child that no good will come of it–kids will simply go underground with fake accounts. 

Your child needs to know that you are paying attention to their Facebook and that you are concerned about their ‘social media health’. If you are involved, paying attention and discussing your concerns with them, they are much likely to be more wary about what they post online. If you force it on them, you risk losing relationship with them all together, online and off!

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Parents are ok with underage Facebooking…what’s next

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 9, 2011

A study just out that finds that 17 percent of parents are just fine with their under-13 year old having a Facebook, even though Facebook says you need to be 13 to log on. Of course Facebook doesn’t really have a way to check the age of a user, so aside from those kids who have an undercover Facebook account, preteens have been given consent by their parents.

Most of the parents that I know who allow an underage Facebook  say that they are monitoring, getting their child’s password and otherwise checking for inappropriate online behavior.

They’re missing the point a bit…by allowing your child to lie about his or her age, you’re colluding with deceptive behavior to get around a system that has been set up to protect kids and make sure they behave appropriately given their developmental stage in life.

Let’s think about this a little more. Will you be okay when your child gets a fake ID to drink alcohol at fifteen?…not likely. Will you be okay when your child buys alcohol for a minor once he isn’t one anymore? Or when she cheats on a test in school because she didn’t get caught? Lying or cheating the system in order to do or get something you want right now, even though you should wait for it–or not have it at all–is the message you communicate when you allow your child to do get a Facebook younger than 13.  

Facebook has a reason for making it 13 and up. As a parent you should be supporting, not undermining this rule because it’s not only about Facebook, it’s about your child’s future.

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Online gaming is good for families…really?

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 9, 2011

This new study suggests that when families ‘game’ together, their relationships improve. Ok, I suppose that could be true. If you play online games with your kids, it’s definitely better than NOT playing online with them, and rather just leaving them to online game with total strangers.

But do you really think that parents are playing online games with their kids?? The answer is NO! Either the parents are gaming alone (I see this all the time) and the kids are nagging them to get off the computer to come and throw a ball outside, or the kids/teens are online and would be mortified if their mom or (more likely) dad joined in. And of course, this doesn’t even include all the time kids are online while parents are working, running the home or dealing with the other kids. So the chance that kids and parents are bonding online is…well…let’s just politely say…unlikely!

So, while this study is interesting in theory, it truly holds no really life application. So, instead of making it your goal to game online with your child, the better goal is found in the old and boring traditions…eat a meal together, chat while you’re driving somewhere, clean the car together (pay them if you have to!), or drag out a board game. You’d be surprised how many BIG kids love Apples to Apples!

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Child-Obesity ads gone wild

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 6, 2011

There is a furor about Georgia’s child-obesity campaign which portrays overweight kids, with seriously depressed facial expressions, talking about how bleak their present life is and how bad their future will be, unless they lose weight.

Now, I’m all for shock-value if it gets the job done, but this ad is a problem. To begin, it give ammunition to other kids who bully, or are considering bullying an overweight child. From a kid’s perspective: “If you’re talking about all the negatives that you experience, then why can’t I?” It’s not a taboo subject anymore.

Next, the parents and educators who are not already working on helping overweight children won’t really be impacted by this–they know that this is what the kids look like already–it’s live in front of them! What they really need to see is overweight adults in the ads talking about what it was like to be an overweight kid and still be overweight–and then remind the viewer of the ads to take responsibility for helping the kids.

Using vulnerable kids–those in the ads and the those who will inadvertently become associated with the ads–creates an unfair playing field. The adults need to take responsibility for the problem and of course, the solution.

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