Tween and Teen Danger Around Holiday Time

Anyone raising a child realizes how exhausting and difficult it can be to be a parent. At every stage of development there are problems: How to potty train?; separation anxiety starting school; nightmares; siblings fighting; poor eating habits; whining; loss of a pet; getting adjusted to a new school; bullying; friend drama; etc.

But perhaps nothing equals some of the anxiety, rage and panic a parent can have once her child reaches being a tween and then a teen. Looming in front of her are all the reports on drugs, drinking, overdoses, suicides, guns, constant social media, YIKES.

And now it is holiday time. Parties, presents, time off from school. How can we stay alert to tween and teen danger this time of year?

1. Never to late to sit down with your tween and teen and go over the rules of your home. That can include among your unique rules such as shoes off at the front door, more general rules such as curfew hours, chores, cell phone usage, keeping you up to date on where your child is, money constraints, etc.

2. Rules are great but you don’t have to stop with the formality of the do’s and don’ts. It is a perfect time to talk about values and issues. Tell your tween or teen what your values are around such things as alcohol, drugs, sex, vulgar language, etc. Don’t be afraid, they want to know what you think about serious matters. And make sure you are clear about what is legal in your state. If the drinking age is 21, or even 18, if she is 17 and invited to have a beer at someone’s home, there is only one clear answer. “No, thank you.”

3. Most important is to help your tween or teen understand that you are on their side. No matter what tight spot they may find themselves in, they can always call upon you for help and guidance. Yes, you may be angry and at times even have to ‘act like a parent’ and yell or insist on things going a certain way, but it all comes from love and having taken on the responsibility of helping your child grow up to be a wonderful adult.

Take a look at this film clip from ‘Help From Beyond, A Coming of Age, Selfie Film’. https://vimeo.com/247253509 I directed, wrote and am now creating the finished product. It spins off of my two books for girls, tweens and teens: The Truth, Diary of a Gutsy Tween and Secrets, Diary of a Gutsy Teen. In this scene the girl has gone to a party where there is drinking. Her mother is furious but also concerned. Can you relate to this scene? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Take This Pill, or You Won’t Have Any Friends!

Imagine this: Your teenage daughter is at a party. You thought the parents were home, but later find out they were out part of the evening. During their absence, a bully threatens your under age daughter who by this time is feeling sick from drinking too many beers and is in the bathroom, leaning over the toilet. The bully, a girl she has had intimidate her before, walks in and threatens that if she doesn’t take this pill she hands her, she will make sure that your daughter looses her friends. A terrible situation. Right? Unbelievable? No. In fact, teens endure various combinations of being bullied all the time. Nowadays bullies are more blatant, hurtful and dangerous that a generation or two ago.

Why you may ask. The answer is complicated. Certainly one reason is that social media makes it possible to bully someone 24/7. This means that there is no real down time for kids. Many often they feel watched and talked about even during the night.

In this film clip https://vimeo.com/269770320 you see the bathroom bully played by Rachel Gesner and the girl, thankfully not your daughter, played by Megan Brown. Let’s imagine ahead a bit. Even if the girl figures out a way not to swallow the pill, by morning she may find that many of her friends have taken sides, due to the bully reports on social media. Perhaps some side with the bully. The girl may wake up to find herself isolated socially. Once out there, reputations can be damaged no matter how far from the truth the supposed ‘truth’ is.

What do you think ‘the girl’ in the film clip does? Does she swallow the drug?

What happens later? Does the ‘bully’ do anything else to her or does she believe
‘the girl’ swallows the drug and lets her off the hook this time?

What can any of us do to help our kids, whether our child or grandchild is the bully or the good kid?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Help your child recognize that she is special. Praise talents and encourage real strengths. Help her appreciate their heritage, and share with her your history, mistakes, successes and positive values. Make little of her failings whenever possible.

2. Help her develop her talents, strengths and potential. Maybe no one in your family wanted to play the oboe, but she wishes to and hates sports. Listen to what works for her or her and help on that path. There are plenty of other kids who can do whatever your child would prefer not to.

3. Spend time with her everyday. Get to know her friends. If your home can be a place for kids to come and relax at it will give you a great window into your daughter’s reality.

4. Spend private conversational time with her where you can ask about bullying, how school is going, her concerns, etc.

5. If she is having a problem with another girl or several kids stay on top of the situation. Ask her if she wants you to intercede or not. If she can handle it great. But stay on top of the situation and make clear you will intercede if necessary. After all, you are the parent. You are her protector and that must be honored by both of you.

Falling in Love, Do’s and Don’ts

“I’m in love. I thought I would fall in love when I was much older, maybe 15. Not today. I was sitting in class, reading, when the door opened and this new kid walked in. As soon as I saw him I knew. I felt excited, like I suddenly had a secret. “Our eyes locked.” I read that in a book that my mom had by her bed. It was true. When I looked into his eyes, I felt we had known each other forever. Looking at him made me feel all fluttery inside. I wanted him to sit near me so badly I could have died. (film dialogue for ‘The Truth, a Short Film)’.

Falling in love can be sudden, as it was with the girl in my film, based on my book, The Truth, Diary of a Gutsy Tween or it can be slow and steady as many couples have reported who started their married lives with an arranged wedding.

The sudden burst of attraction and then the obsessional thinking that goes with it, is what I’m talking about in this article. Is there anyone who hasn’t been there? Certainly most of us can remember the first time we were overtaken by an uncontrollable attraction.

It may happen as young as five, at least that’s what several women have reported to me.

For me, I was thunderstruck by a boy at nine years of age. Of course I didn’t run off with him into the sunset. In fact, he probably was totally unaware of my passion. It lasted for three years, although by the third year, I had just about given up and stopped thinking about him. The fact that I had grown taller than he didn’t help either.

What advice to I have to the delicious dilemma of falling in love? Should I just say, enjoy it? That depends. If you are of age to date and the feelings are reciprocated then you can proceed. I would say, with caution.

Why with caution? Simply because our biological response that we call ‘falling in love’ comes along as a normal biological reaction to keep the race going. That said, the instruments used to arouse the feelings of being in love may not be the wisest parts of us. That aroused sensation that floats between our minds and our lower parts is lovely, but probably hasn’t much ability to do higher level cognitive thinking.

The truth is, we have to be smart about fall in love. Otherwise it can take us to all the wrong places. Here are some tips if your young daughter falls in love:

1. Don’t make fun of her. Listen, be sympathetic and share some of your own early feelings about love and even some of your early adventures. You being real will be very helpful to her.

2. Encourage her to stay involved with her school work, hobbies, sports, etc. This is the time of her life for her to develop talents and skills that lead to a successful career and the opportunity to be financially independent if she chooses.

3. If it is appropriate for her to spend time with the kid she is in love with, encourage her to invite him over to your house.

If on the other hand, it is you that suddenly finds yourself in love, here is my advice:

1. TRY to not rush into a full romance. Get to know him a bit, and his friends, his hobbies, his values, etc.

2. Do a variety of things together, some you choose, some he arranges, and see how each feels.

3. Watch for deception. You don’t have to be a detective, but just be alert. People are not always who they say they are.

4. If you keep feeling in love, move ahead, whatever that means to you. Just realize that the first waves of infatuation are biological and eventually simmer down. Then what you are left with can be a real attraction, a sharing of values, a sharing of interests, a sharing of goals and desires. If this is the case, move ahead with all the excitement, fun and planning that joining up with a partner demands.

5. If you find you are not sure and it just isn’t feeling right, then by all means get out of the relationship. Falling in love is just one stage of being with the right person.

Going back to me, I moved at age 11 and fell in love with someone else at age 13. Oh, and then I fell in love with someone else at age 14. Oh, and then…. at 23 which is when I felt all the right feelings and guess what? I got married.

Good luck. All of this biology has been with us for tons of years. It helps us meet raise children and have relationships, but it isn’t perfect. However, it is good enough!! Happy Loving!

A Porch Party Bully

A bully at a fun party for girls is no fun. Bullies have always been around. However, for today’s tweens and teens things are much worse. Not only does that bullied kid have to feel hurt, left out, made fun of, or worse in public, as in this footage, but she may go home to a sleepless night wondering what else is being said to about her on social media. As a psychologist and a filmmaker it is my mission to show you some of the challenges today’s kids face. My challenge to you is how will you deal with a bully if your daughter or son has one in his or her life? And maybe even a bigger challenge, what will you do if your child is the bully? Here are some suggestions if your child may be being bullied:

1. Monitor your child’s involvement with social media. Bullying that happens on-line may be kept from you. Create a clear stance that allows you to know what is happening on sites your child visits.

2. Share what happened to you. Any stories out of your past where you were threatened, or on the upside, put a bully in his place are great. They make you more human as a parent. Someone your child can open up to.

3.Watch your child’s behaviors. If sudden change, for example she will no longer eat at the table with the family, or his door is closed all the time don’t wait. Take time to chat. Punishing will not be as helpful as sharing your concerns, giving a hug and letting your child know you are there.

4. If she tells you about a bully or bullying at school stay alert. Ask her if she wishes you to come to school and intercede. She may not, but make clear that you will make the final judgment on the situation.

5. The best advice is listen to your child. Put your phone down, stop texting when your child is around. Stay involved in his or her life. Do activities together, from family picnics to telling jokes. Be available and take charge as necessary.

6. If you have a hunch your child is the bully, suggestion 5. is the best place to start. Once confirmed, you will need to find a moment to confront him or her, letting your child know that you know and you are there to help. You will often find out that your child has felt bullied or put down or ignored and is retaliating in some fashion.

7. Of course professional help from a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or a psychiatrist may be in order for either the bullied or the bully. We are talking about serious behaviors and possible personality disorders with lasting effects. You are the parent, do due diligence and take your child for an evaluation of you deem it necessary, whether she is the bullied or the bully.

For a look at a bully in action, please go to: https://vimeo.com/268785181

Kids Have Deep Thoughts and Feelings, Too!

Sometimes, maybe often, in the hustle and bustle of living and getting kids ready for school, driving them to after school activities, thinking about braces, homework, calling them out on minor offenses, worrying about how we will pay the bills, and sometimes much more serious dilemmas: someone is ill, dad lost his job, the marriage is falling apart, my kid is being bullied, there was another shooting in a public school, a cousin overdosed on drugs, etc. we have no time to process the inner life of our kids.

But the inner life exists and begs to be heard. Questions about how grown-ups handle serious issues such as school shootings bother kids on a daily basis. Kids are deeply affected by how other kids are treated, even a news item like kids being separated from parents at our borders can create feelings of despair, confusion and worries about how we handle children in our country. Also, kids wonder how and why people end up seriously addicted or dead. And don’t forget faith and religion, a topic older than that Bible. Kids wonder if there is an after life, why good people get hurt or killed, etc.

Let’s not be blind sighted. We may not have all the answers to ‘deep’ questions that have plagued sleepless nights of many for thousands of years, but we can be attentive to our children psychologically, spiritually and even politically. Here are a some suggestions:

Create a time for your family to share good news, good deeds, disappointments, concerns and questions. Creating a setting where people who love each other can sincerely listen and respond to anything from trivial good news to serious concerns will help your kids, whether they are 2 or 22 feel safer to share what is really on their minds. No put downs if possible and your job is to truly listen and create this space. That means no phones on, and maybe a treat, such as a favorite dessert. It also means you being honest and sharing your memories about ‘deep’ thoughts and concerns, and taking seriously what your kids bring up. Listening is only the first step. Action, where required is the next.

For example, in this film clip: https://vimeo.com/275643285 the girl was very unsatisfied listening to her minister as he wasn’t talking about the issues on her mind. Ideally if she could have shared these feelings with her parents, they would try to come to some helpful conclusions. What they would decide is as unique as each family, but solutions could be to not force the girl to go to services right now, find a different church, discuss some of the ‘deep’ issues of life at home, take some social actions as a family in town, etc.

Beyond this film clip, if news events, from school shootings, to overdoses, to separation of kids from parents at border crossings upset or concern your kids, set a good example. Maybe call or write your senators and congress people with your kids present. Talk about the importance of voting. Show them how a democracy works by you participating in the process.

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