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Why you need to talk to your kids about the Momo Challenge now
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C.
The Momo Challenge has been a hot topic of conversation in my office. Kids and parents a like are scared and are unsure of what to do. Whether or not you let your kids have social media, too many kids are finding out about this sick challenge from their peers in schools.
What is the Momo Challenge?
Real or not the Momo Challenge is popping up through social media apps and kids You Tube channels, and your kids are talking about it at school. Talking about it allows them to get correct information from you, their parents before they get incorrect information from their peers at school. Whether it’s real are not, kids are scared and kids are talking.
The Momo Challenge is an online challenge that targets teens, tweens and even younger children (via snippets in YouTube Kids videos). The challenge encourages kids to contact an unknown person called Momo (represented by a sculpture of a woman with a gaunt face, bulging eyes, and creepy smile) via WhatsApp or Facebook primarily.
The Momo account then sends them violent and graphic images and texts telling them to engage in various “challenges” that start out small and strange, then escalate to harming themselves and others, possibly culminating in the final challenge of committing suicide.
In order to prove they are completing the challenges, kids are supposed to send photographic or video evidence of them completing the tasks. If they ever try to stop, the Momo account threatens to expose them and/or harm them and their loved ones.
It is imperative to bring up the conversation even if your child doesn’t have social media accounts, they will learn or hear about it in school and you want them to feel safe with you to talk about scary things.
How to start the conversation:
1. Educate yourself on what it is.
Understanding how scary it is for an image to pop up on an app and ask a child to send photographs of them completing risky, self harming behaviors can help you empathize with your child’s fears.Validate their fear. Don’t expect that your child will think it’s ridiculous like adults do. Children do not have the same understanding of context and self regulation skills that adults do. Understand that this is scary for kids and that they need a safe place to talk about it. Know what it is, why it’s scary and validate the fact that it is even scarier for your child.
2. Don’t wait for your child to bring it up, talk to them now.
Children are not good at initiating conversations, much less, talking about something that is extremely scary. As parents, it’s our job to bring up the conversation. You can lead with something like, “There is a scary virus going around the internet and I have some facts to share with you.” Share facts about what it is, and what it asks kids to do. Make sure that you communicate to your child they are safe to talk to about it and will not be in trouble for telling you if they hear of it or see it. You and your child may need to even come up with a “safe word” if they see or hear about the Momo Challenge. This could be a word that you all agree on that when they say it, you know it was talked about in school or they saw it on the internet. This way your child doesn’t have to verbalize all the scary things they saw, but you can help them talk about their fears. Drawing or even playing it out with dolls could be another good medium for you and your child to talk about their fears. Children feel much safer using indirect ways of talking about their feelings such as drawing, playing it out with dolls or even using a safe word. When they are calm, you can lead them in the fact that they are safe.
3. Keep surprises not secrets.
Rumors surrounding Momo report that it tells kids not to tell their parents. Whether they have seen Momo or not, reinforce that you keep surprises, not secrets. If someone (no matter who or what it is) asks them to keep a secret from parents, that is a red flag that they need to talk to you. Let children know that you can keep surprises, i.e. birthday presents, and vacations, but secrets are never allowed. Keeping secrets teaches children that some information is not safe with you, and all information should be safe with you. Make sure that when they tell you information you are not dismissive or punishing. Children should feel safe to tell you any information without fear that they will get in trouble. If they are afraid they will get in trouble, chances are they won’t talk about it.
4. Set an intentional focused time to talk to your kids everyday.
Kids hear information all day at school, some of it can be scary and some of it they may not understand fully. Once you’ve established with your child that you are the safe place to talk about anything and everything, set a daily, intentional check in. You can lead this off with a question like “what was the most confusing thing you heard today?” When you answer this, you know they are getting the correct information from you and not bits and pieces of information from their peers. Let them know that some things are scary or hard to talk about but it’s only scary or hard until they have someone help them with the feelings about the information they are gathering all day. This also models how to process feelings at the end of every day.
Whether or not the Momo Challenge is a “real” threat to your child, there are many scary things in the world and kids need safe places to process their feelings. Kids won’t take the time to do this for themselves, they need you to slow down and guide them through processing feelings. Stay educated, be your Childs safe place to talk, and be intentional about bringing up hard and scary conversations.
The Work Required in Marriage
Lisa Owens, L.P.C., N.C.C., C.C.M.H.C.
When children are small, and we want them to do something that they find challenging, they often say, “but it is too hard.” The frequently used parental response is, “anything worth anything requires hard work.” That adult perspective may or may not change the child’s perspective. However, it is interesting that adults often fail to apply “anything worth anything requires hard work” to their marriage.
As we get older, we realize that many of the issues in our marriage that we at one time thought were extremely important, were not. Several decades later, we can more clearly see how insignificant they actually were. We wonder why we spent so much time and energy on those things, and allowed them to cause stress and needless problems in marriage.
But the other side of that reality is this: many things that didn’t seem important enough to invest time and energy into resolving, actually were. As a counselor and therapist, I frequently see current big problems that began with minor issues earlier in the relationship. With the passage of time, they have grown and festered into major conflicts within the marriage. I also see relationships in trouble because of earlier decisions that placed excessive time and energy into a skewed value system, to the neglect of that which was truly important.
In any relationship, there will be things that seem to trigger irritation, frustration, hurt feelings, or anger. Unspoken expectations can create tension. At the time, we may say nothing but feel much, or we may overreact with our words and actions. We may fail to realize that this destructive pattern needs to be identified and addressed. If we don’t do this, the pattern will repeat itself over and over again. Left unchecked, these irritations, hurts, and expressions of anger will usually strengthen with time.
It is normal to have certain expectations of behavior from your spouse. But we must remember that a healthy relationship is much more than certain rules of behavior. When a spouse is engaging in a behavior that is concerning to you, there are constructive and destructive ways to communicate your concern. Learning how to talk with each other without defensiveness or anger escalation is very important.
God designed marriage to be a deeply unifying and intimate gift. It is a picture of Christ and the church. Sadly, religion and spirituality can also cause problems in a marriage instead of unifying it. Religious extremes cause problems not only in society, but also in in marriages. Ideally a shared, common belief system should be in place before marriage. If that is not the case, it is never too late to start centering a marriage relationship around God’s purposes and priorities for our lives. However, it can save a lot of heartache and conflict to build a solid faith foundation before marriage. Then, in marriage, the agreed upon and settled foundation can be built upon.
In marriage, allow each other to be human, especially when thinking about the emotional feelings of your spouse. If we want our mate to accept our emotional expressions, then we must be willing to reciprocate the same to them. Even when we think our own responses emotionally are the right ones, and theirs are not, we need to be careful about coming across with self-righteousness or judgmentalism. If we condemn our spouses’ emotional needs rather than mercifully trying to understand what the underlying issues really are, great damage can be done to the marriage.
We don’t have to separate disappointment and joy, we can experience both. Christians are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
It is not easy to do, but we need to respect each other’s viewpoint, even if we don’t see it exactly the same way. We need to be willing to compromise and work things through. There will be some things that you have to agree to disagree on, and that is OK. A person who has to have everyone line up with their viewpoints is usually an insecure person.
In communication and in action, each person needs to feel like they are respected and appreciated. Failure to do so often leads to resentment and anger.
If there is something that seems to provoke your spouse and it causes them to lose it, you need to think about changing your approach. Failure to do so can cause psychological and emotional damage to your spouse. Failure to do so is also ignoring an important spiritual truth. If we say that we want to follow Biblical truth, then we must recognize that we are called to live in an understanding way with our spouse, or our prayers will be hindered.
Even though you cannot change the other person, you can create an environment for change by how you handle things and how you relate to the other person. We can’t give what we don’t have. We may need to work into our own life self-acceptance, kindness, and compassion.
There is hope for marriages in trouble. It is God’s heart to bring restoration and hope to troubled relationships. Having a good marriage is worth the hard work that is required to build trust, security, love, and fulfillment.
Tell Them "Thank You"
Lisa Owens, L.P.C., N.C.C., C.C.M.H.C.
In this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, we often use words like thankful, grateful, generous, giving and “in the spirit of the holidays.” In our minds, we paint mental pictures of what those words represent. At the same time, our past memories of this season may cause us to have a confusing mixture of emotions: anticipation or dread, hope or pain, peacefulness or uneasiness, happiness or sadness, celebration or loneliness.
Thanksgiving is a time in which we give thanks with our words and gather family and friends around the table. We find ourselves thinking and talking about our Christmas shopping and plans.
Closely associated with thankfulness is gratitude. Expressions of gratitude in our life can be a possible indicator of our emotional and mental health. Unfortunately, gratitude can quickly be replaced by anger, unforgiveness, anxiety, fatigue, stress or selfishness. Gratitude may be impacted by our circumstances, but it does not have to be defined by our circumstances.
In general, grateful people are more pleasant to be around and have healthier social interactions. Gratitude is rarely expressed in a person who feels entitled and is self-absorbed. We like it when people express gratitude to us for what we have done for them. If we like being on the receiving end of gratitude, are we also on the giving end? Are we purposefully expressing gratitude to others?
Gratitude communicates appreciation, and appreciation builds bridges of communication. If we have nothing to be grateful for, our worldview is very limited. Gratitude needs to be more than just an emotional feeling, because feelings come and go. Gratitude needs to be a mental choice that is cultivated through practice.
Parents, teachers and childcare providers enjoy a grateful child much more than a spoiled one. If we want to see gratitude in our children, gratitude must be modeled by the adults. We need to help our children learn how to be grateful.
Expressing gratitude gives us an opportunity to be creative in how we encourage others. It will help us to think about the feelings and needs of others.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges us with a different value system than that of the world. Many of His words require us to think about the attitude of our hearts and the perspective of His kingdom.
When we are offended by others and don’t forgive, we shut down an attitude of gratitude. So often we start with a statement like, “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but…” If we find ourselves saying something like that, we are probably on some level keeping score. It is dangerous to keep score instead of offering forgiveness. Jesus called us to forgive again and again. If we have trouble doing this, we may need to remind ourselves to be grateful for His forgiveness and daily mercy in our lives.
One last thought in this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Luke 17:11-19 is the story of Jesus healing 10 men with leprosy. This is not a passage that is normally associated with this time of year. Take time to read this passage and notice in verses 18 and 19 how gratitude, faith and healing came together.
May we have grateful hearts to the Lord!
When School Gets Hard
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C
The first nine weeks of the school year are swiftly coming to a close, and a lot of parents and kids are getting report cards. Some parents may be surprised by the grades they see on report cards. Working with anxiety, I find a lot of kids are surprisingly able to hide feelings of anxiety while they are in school. School can be really hard for some kids. As the nine weeks comes to a close, here are some of the reasons that grades may not be what you expected.
4. Technology. I know there is a lot of information about how technology is the root of all issues in the world. It gets a bad rap. Scientifically speaking technology causes a chemical reaction in the brain that is similar to the high of a drug addict. The influx of dopamine in a Childs brain from using technology is much, much more dopamine that their brain can handle. It’s simply not wired enough to handle the influx of that much dopamine. Not having healthy boundaries around use of computers, phones and T.Vs can cause not only a cranky child, but poor grades. Set boundaries around technology use at home.
School causes a lot of challenges that are specific to each child. School is the place where children spend most of their time, and where they are expected to be well behaved and perform. This can be exhausting, draining and cause a lot of feelings to be pushed down and never dealt with. When they come home they need a place to let some of these feelings out, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Give them time when they get home from school to be bored, to eat a snack and to have some fresh air. Don’t expect much from them in the car or immediately upon arriving home from school. Let them have some free time before their brains have to gear back up to study.
How Do I Trust God With My Hurt, Pain and Suffering?
Anna Mahaffey, M.A.
A wise pastor friend once told me, "Every morning when we wake up, we ask ourselves two questions: ‘Is God good?’ and ‘Can I trust him?’.” He explained to me that humans have been asking these questions since the garden of Eden. In the garden, when Adam and Eve were tempted, they answered “no” to both of those questions by taking and eating of the forbidden fruit. This momentary act of saying “no” to God’s goodness and trustworthiness also said “yes” to being their own god by determining what was good and trustworthy in their own sight.
As a counselor, I have sat in sessions with clients who struggle to know how to answer those two questions in certain seasons of their life. Some are walking through grief, the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. Some are wrestling with the Lord’s provision in their life to provide a spouse, a child or relief from pain. Some are overcome with physical, mental or emotional misery that paralyzes them and seeks to take away their joy. In reality, all humans struggle with disappointment, discouragement, discontentment and the like. We live in a broken world where the things we long for can easily transform into idols as we look to them to meet needs that only God can meet. Even our longings for “good" things can be a source of much pain and suffering when they remain unattained.
Personally, I have walked through my own seasons of grief, doubt and fear all the while asking myself those same two questions: “Is God good?” and “Can I trust him?” On the whole, I like to think I say “yes” to those questions more often than not. However, the reality is that even when I think I am believing in God’s goodness and trustworthiness with my whole life, I am often secretly saying “no” in the way I live my daily life. What I mean is that as believers, oftentimes it is easier to trust God with our soul than with our fears, pain or daily bread. When we say “no” to God’s goodness and trustworthiness in the little things it usually presents itself through symptoms such as:
-Avoidance or numbing of our emotions
-Bitterness towards God and others
-Anxiety about the future
-Anger produced from underlying hurt
-Complaining about our situation
-Envious comparison to our neighbor
The good news is that we do not have to try to transform our hearts on our own. We have a compassionate loving Savior who longs to comfort us when we are hurting. Hebrews 4:14-16 says:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
There are three pieces of hope for us in this passage to help us learn how to trust in the Lord daily in the midst of a broken, sinful world.
1. We have a sympathetic/empathetic God who meets us in our pain
While Jesus was on earth, he experienced every facet of the broken world we live in. He experienced mental, emotional and physical suffering as well as every type of temptation. Jesus now serves as our empathetic great high priest who goes before us to give us access to the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Jesus invites all who are weary and heavy laden to find rest in Him (Matt. 11:28-30). God made us in his image with emotions that matter to him. God even keeps track of all our sorrows by collecting our tears in a bottle and by recording each one in His book (Ps. 56:8). God promises that He will wipe away those same tears from our eyes in heaven where all death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more and all will be made new (Rev. 21:4). He also promises that none of our suffering is in vain and that all things are working together for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28).
2. We can confidently approach the throne of grace to confide in Him
Since Jesus has given us access to the Father, we can confidently pour out our hearts before him knowing that he hears us and that he loves us as his children. We have been freed from the spirit of fear and given the spirit of adoption where we can cry out “Abba! Father!” trusting that he will not forsake us (Rom. 8:15). The Psalmist calls us to trust in God always and to pour out our hearts before him because he is a refuge for us (Ps. 62:8). The Psalmist also says that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, saves the crushed in spirit and delivers the righteous from their affliction (Ps. 34:17-19). God desires that we not be anxious about anything, but through prayer and thanksgiving he invites us to bring our requests to him where he will give us his peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). It is clear in scripture that God longs for us to be honest with him in our pain and suffering even though he already knows our hearts. When we try to hide our pain from him or try to cope with our pain on our own we miss out on the blessings of his comfort and his peace.
3. We will receive mercy and grace exactly when we need it.
God is a good father to his children and knows our hearts and minds intimately because he made us (Ps. 139). He promises that he knows what gifts to give us because He knows exactly what we need (Matt. 7:11). Sometimes this is a hard concept to process for those who are experiencing a season of pain, grief or suffering. When we walk through hardship, our life situations are painful and heavy and often we want the Lord to answer our prayers by changing our circumstances. While sometimes in his goodness and mercy he does relieve our pain in this manner, oftentimes he gives us more of himself which is ultimately what our hearts need. When Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested, he asked the Father to change his circumstances. However, he also knew that God’s will must be accomplished even if it meant that he would endure an excruciating death. Jesus on the cross experienced the Father’s presence turning away from him on our behalf so that in our suffering we will never have to experience the absence of the Father’s presence. When God gives us his presence as the answer to our prayer instead of altering our circumstances, it is not a consolation prize. Rather, it is the ultimate gift.
Suffering and pain play a critical role in the life of a believer. It is the means by which we rely on God, recognize idols in our hearts, become more like Christ and long for the day when all things will be made new. God knows how hard it is for us to walk through pain and suffering in this broken world and he wants to draw near to us to give us his comfort. His Word, prayer and the church/community of believers are some of the ways he tangibly satisfies our longing souls as we experience his mercy and grace in times of need. He looks on us as his children and will never turn away from us even when our hearts turn away from Him. If we believe God is good and that we can trust him, we are freed to honestly say, “not my will but thy will be done,” knowing that he is sovereign he will be near to us through it all.
A hymn for further encouragement:
Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul
1. Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel
2. But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call Thee mine
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline
Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust
And still my soul would cleave to Thee
Though prostrate in the dust
3. Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face,
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace,
Be deaf when I complain?
No still the ear of sovereign grace,
Attends the mourner's prayer
Oh may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there
4. Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet,
Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet
Raising Children with a Moral Compass that will Go the Distance
Lisa Owens, L.P.C., N.C.C., C.C.M.H.C.
Good parents want their children to develop a moral compass that will help them to make wise decisions. We want to raise children with solid values that will carry into adult life. Our children need to learn how to navigate life as they are exposed to many enticing but potentially destructive opportunities. Good parenting seems harder today than in the past, but is it really? The simple answer is yes. But it is still possible to raise our children in a way that will help them to develop a good moral compass!
Why is it harder today than in the past? Several influences are sometimes blamed: mass media, social media, changing sexual and cultural values, the breakdown of the family unit, the extremes of popular culture trends, the attractiveness of celebrity lifestyles, the influence of peers, and the constant redefining of what the latest “new thing” is to do, see, or experience.
The concept of “age appropriate” for children is ever shifting downward. It is naive of parents to think otherwise. It is becoming harder and harder to shield and protect our children from the premature exposure to various issues that need to be processed by a more mature mind. Parents want to successfully teach their children how to approach and interpret our constantly changing culture. What parents see as the right thing to do or believe, our children may not. As our children hit middle school, high school, and college, we discover that our influence may be lessened or invalidated by the values of their peers. The desire of our children to “fit in” with their peers may seem to override the sacrificial efforts that we have made to instill into our children the “right values.”
As our children become tweens and teens, is important to remember that we still can make a difference in shaping their values. Even when it feels like we are not as important to our children as their peers, our children are watching us. Our children, especially teenagers, are constantly trying to figure out our boundaries for them, how our beliefs fit into their world, and which of our values still make sense to them.
Although there is no checklist to follow that will automatically guarantee the results that we want, there are principles that will help positively impact the development of a good moral compass.
Prayer: it is God’s desire that our children embrace His ways and walk in His light. We need to try to set a consistent example. In prayer, ask the Lord to draw our children to Him and His purposes. As we do this, we can have confidence that we are praying according to HIs will.
Our children will make mistakes and disappoint us. (We also make mistakes and disappoint them.) When it is needed, our parental correction needs to be reasonable and proportional to the situation.
Even as our parental boundaries and expectations need to be clearly communicated and understood, our unconditional love also needs to be clearly communicated.
Although our children may have trouble regulating their emotions, we should remember that we are the adults and need to take whatever steps we need to exercise our self-control.
It may not look like it at times, but our children find security in our self-control and consistency. In times of anger they may act like they do not respect our authority. However, when their emotions settle down, they usually find security in our adult self-control and consistency.
It is normal for tweens and teens to complain about the things that they are not allowed to do, especially when they see their peers with different rules and freedoms. Listen carefully to your child in this situation. As long as they can respectfully communicate with you, be willing to hear them out. It is important for our children to know that we do want to understand their desire to fit in with their peers. This will go a long way into facilitating a connection with them and validating their worth. Especially with teenagers, this can also be a good time to talk about “earning” extra privileges. One way to do this is by encouraging them to show good judgment in choices that they make. Then, acknowledge those good choices and reinforce those good choices by giving “earned” extra privileges.
It is important to take the long view with our children. There will be moments when we feel like we are not succeeding in our parenting. We must remember that there will be missteps and mistakes along the way, but our children will largely embrace and adopt what they have observed in us. As a general principle, children learn best by observing the behavior of adults. Many of the values that our children will embrace as adults are the values and patterns that they have observed in us. Be encouraged!
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C
“Why?” Is the question that I find increasingly filling my mind, recently. The past two weeks with the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the question I keep coming back to is “why?” They had seemingly good lives, if I’m being honest I have always felt a jealousy for Anthony Bourdain’s life, on the outside, it looked like the life I thought I wanted in my early 20’s; traveling, eating, experiencing different cultures and people, what else could a young millennial want? It begs the question, “why?” “how?” “What went wrong?”
Researchers have been studying the mind set of suicidal people for decades, and what they have found difficult is that there really is no way to study the mind of someone commits suicide. All that we can study are notes that are left behind. This limits what we know about the suicidal state of mind because the state of mind they are in when writing the note does not come close to describing the essence of their thoughts and feelings. As researchers, our need to explain behavior is so burdensome that we loose sight of the severity of feelings. Suicide is sad; and sadness feels overwhelming, it’s unpleasant, no one really likes to feel or sit with sadness. In an effort to alleviate sadness, we explain. We explain it away by analyzing the data and saying things like, “maybe Kate Spade wasn’t medicated, was Anthony Bourdain ever treated for depression.” These explanations alleviate the sadness that we feel and is a natural way for our brains to box in the unexplainable. Sadness can be scary, what if the feelings of sadness never leave or never get easier. How can anyone wrap their mind around the fact that someone could feel so overwhelmingly sad that they take their life? It’s hard to imagine someone being so anxious, so depressed, so hopeless, so sad, that the only answer that made the heaviness of those feelings better was death.
In human nature our brains need a reason, it needs a “why” to make the sadness feel better. There is a myriad of reasons, and disorders that contribute to suicide. We know anxiety and depression are present in everyone that successfully completes suicide. We know that living in a country where you’re best is never good enough, can leave you feeling empty and contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. We know that suicidal people feel like they never truly have a place to belong or be known, leaving them with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. We know that suicidal people have a sense of self loathing that runs so deep, it’s in their cells. Self-loathing is deeper than hating yourself, it is NOT “I hate that behavior or decision” it’s turning that hate inward so much so that it runs in your cells and self-hatred becomes who you are. This self- loathing feels of empty. It feels worthless, and it feels shameful. This is one of reasons adolescence are so vulnerable to suicide. They do not have strong brain connections to the frontal lobe to think rationally to love the core of who they are, even though the world and peers and standards are screaming at them “you’ll never be worthy of self-love.” Teen are already in a vulnerable state of mind because hormones are flooding the connection to the frontal lobe which inhibits the ability to rationalize and think objectively. This causes every behavior, thought and feeling to feel bigger and harder. High school isn’t helpful when you’re in this vulnerable state. Everything feels harder, every break up says something about your self-worth, every “joke” makes you feel like something is wrong with who you are at your core. If you have never been depressed or anxious all this comes across as over dramatic. But it’s not that simple. Because of the influx of hormones causing the wiring in your brain to make everything feel bigger, self-loathing is also bigger. This causes feelings of shame and guilt and never truly belonging and can ultimately lead to self-loathing.
Dr. Michael Miller assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University has spent his life studying suicide. Through his research he was able to name a feeling most people can’t put words to, this feeling is behind the thought patterns in those that complete suicide. This feeling may explain (for our human brains) the reasoning behind “why” suicidal people feel the way they feel. Dr. Miller named it cognitive deconstruction. This is the process where the brain breaks everything down to very low level, basic elements. For example, the concept of time; to someone who is not suicidal, time is fast, the moments pass quickly, and you can’t keep up with everything in your life because time is fleeting. For someone that is suicidal, they cognitively deconstruct time. Meaning that the present moment, this, right here, right now, feels like it lasts forever, it feels like this present moment will never end. Because suicidal people have an aversive awareness of the future, and an overwhelming sense of depression to the past, their narrow window of escape feels like it will never end. This concept has been linked to suicide notes where people say things like “feed the cat, don’t forget the electric bill.” The cognitive deconstruction process keeps the focus on concrete thoughts because that is their only escape from the anxiety of the future or overwhelming feelings from the past. This sounds like boredom. It looks like boredom. For someone who is suicidal, it’s more than being bored, this cognitive deconstructing concrete thoughts is their ONLY escape from overwhelming feelings. This is where death become appealing. If my only escape from unpleasant, substantial, feelings is right here, right now. There is a pervasive avoidance to feeling the past and future, then all there is to think about is feeding the cat or escaping the present. Cognitive deconstruction has been observed in almost every suicide note that Dr. Miller and his team analyzed. Cognitive deconstruction is where death becomes the most appealing answer. If someone who feels suicidal can’t process the past or feel anxiety about the future and the here and now will last forever, what other escape is there? There is no clarity of mind to look before or behind death. Suicide is not about wanting to die, but not knowing how to live. How do I live in the present when it will last forever? I can’t live in the past and I can’t feel my anxiety about the future because I don’t know how.
The presence of mind, and the love of the core of yourself is a journey that requires knowledge that who you are, on a cellular level will be ok to feel things. Nothing will happen to the core of you when you begin to have the presence of mind to feel. This is what counseling helps all of us do. Know that who we are will be ok to feel, our feelings don’t mean or say anything about who you are. Who God says you are. You are not you’re feelings. You are not your thoughts. You are you, and no thought, no feeling can change that. If you or someone you know feels anything that I have just talked about, pick up the phone and call us, call someone that does have the presence of mind to process your thoughts and feelings with you.
“The love of the self is the love of God” -Richard Roar
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kristen Jones, call 601)405-7440
National suicide hotline is available 24/7, you are never alone. Call 1800)273-8255 or text 741741
When Adults Act Like Children
Lisa Owens, L.P.C., N.C.C., C.C.M.H.C.
There are times when adults get tired of being adults. With nostalgia we began to look back at our childhood and youth and wish for that less complicated and seemingly less stressful time. We may be experiencing a little amnesia when it comes to our memories of the past.
Although adults sometimes act like children, we do realize that we are supposed to act like mature human beings. As an adult, we may feel that we are constantly having to suppress our feelings, bite our tongue, and mask who we really are.
Then, all of a sudden, we may embarrass ourselves by suddenly saying or doing something very childish. Even worse is when this impetuous behavior does damage to others. Where does this sudden juvenile behavior come from?
There are many formative experiences from our childhood that impact our adult thought patterns and behavior. Some are positive, others are not. We often do not realize the childhood origins of current behavior.
One common childhood experience that can negatively impact us in the adult world is this: most of us have hurts from the past that we have suppressed or built protective defense mechanisms around. Whether we realize it or not, if we have not addressed these hurts, their effect will creep into our adult thoughts and behavior. Oftentimes they result in our hurting those closest to us. Those we should care about the most, we may hurt the most. We find it easier to defend our behavior rather than try to understand where it came from and deal with it.
It may require courage for us to acknowledge our need for outside perspective. God created us to have meaningful and peaceful relationships with other people. Even if we have been hurt and damaged by other people, we still need to learn how to have healthy and trusting relationships with others. Past, unresolved hurts can keep this from happening.
The good news is that the Lord can bring healing to past hurts and give us the strength and power to move beyond their impact. It can be helpful to have a trusted friend help in the process. If the past pains and hurts continue to hold on, it might be helpful to talk with a counselor. Therapists have been trained to help in the process of breaking long term patterns of thought and behavior, and to provide understanding of how to develop new, constructive, and positive patterns.
Be encouraged by the hope found in the words of Christ in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Building A Healthy Marriage
Lisa Owens, L.P.C., N.C.C., C.C.M.H.C.
Many words have been written to describe an exhilarating romance, a perfect wedding, and a marriage made in heaven. And yet, as a counselor, I listen to married couples who are finding it difficult to build a healthy marriage even though it started out with so much hope, anticipation, and excitement.
There are many challenges that a marriage can face. Beautiful heartfelt marriage vows of commitment seem to fade. Previously overlooked personality characteristics can begin to irritate. We begin to be troubled by the selfishness of our partner even as we seem to be blind to our own.
We wonder what happened to those feelings of love and the anticipated excitement of sharing our lives with each other. The wonderful and enjoyable surprises in a marriage may begin to be overshadowed by the unexpected conflicts that inevitably will come.
Marriage is wonderful gift given by God. What do we need to do to experience marriage as a wonderful gift instead of something that brings heartache, confusion, and anger?
Merging two lives requires a commitment to understanding, sharing, and supporting the desires and hopes of our partner, not just our own. We begin marriage wanting to believe that it is God’s gift and plan for our lives. We forget that in this world there will be attacks against God’s plan for our lives. We need to value our marriage partner as someone who is of primary importance, not someone we take for granted.
People make decisions based upon both current knowledge and past experiences. So many of our past experiences are defined by our family backgrounds. We don’t realize how true this is until in a moment of marital conflict, our spouse hurls a hurtful condemnation at us saying “you are just like your mother (or father.”) More than we might want to admit, we reflect our family of origin and so does our spouse. Even if someone has a very positive heritage, there will be some aspects of that heritage that will cause disagreement and conflict.
The current state of our marriage is not something that “just happened.” Instead, it is a reflection of our interactions and shared experiences, both positive and negative. In a marriage, past spoken words may have encouraged and strengthened the marriage, or they may have produced lingering hurt and discouragement.
If we look at divorce statistics, we might begin to believe that there is only a 50% chance that we can have a successful marriage and “live happily ever after.” Adopting that somewhat cynical viewpoint is missing one simple but profoundly important truth. Anything of value requires time and effort. The great news is this: strong, deeply meaningful marriages can be built to go the distance!
Building a strong marriage requires deliberate action, a commitment of time, and honest communication. In this blog, I would like to consider one issue that frequently is a common denominator in marriage conflict: expectations.
Before we get married, we have hopeful anticipation about how wonderful our marriage and future life together will be. When we get married, we have many unspoken expectations of what our marriage should be like, the emotional enjoyment that marriage should bring, and the overall sense of security and fulfillment we desire. One not so little problem is that a husband and wife both have expectations that may or may not be met. How we handle those unmet expectations can have long term impact on the health of our marriages.
There is a saying that goes, “Life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it.” In marriage, our reactions to the challenges and complexities of life reveal much about the character of our heart. At times we find ourselves reacting in a way that we later regret. Often times the negative reactions in marriage are fueled by unmet expectations.
When couples have premarital counseling, the anticipation of marital bliss makes it hard to think that their emotions of “being in love” won’t be enough to build a healthy, strong marriage.
What do we do when we find ourselves irritated, frustrated, and angry over unmet expectations?
Remember, God created marriage as a good gift. In other words, God’s plan for your marriage is to have a place of completion, oneness, and purpose.
We need to work towards having a marriage that reflects God’s purpose and will for our lives.
In our marriage, we need to learn how to communicate peaceably and constructively with each other. This is something that needs to be learned and developed. It is not a natural reaction to be peaceable and constructive when we are emotionally upset.
We need to develop a sense of what is truly important in a marriage, and not let insignificant differences grow into major mountains of conflict.
It is often helpful to share your marriage frustrations with a neutral mentor or counselor. A skilled mentor or counselor can help an individual understand the sources of unmet expectations. Sometimes the source of unmet expectations is from childhood or the single life.
Keep in mind that some unmet expectations may be unreasonable while other unmet expectations may be essential for a healthy marriage.
It is God’s will for your marriage to be one that honors Him. Ultimately, a healthy marriage will be one that reflects His presence and purpose in your life.
What Does God’s Word Say About Our Worth?
Anna Mahaffey, M.A.
“You are worthy of love and belonging.”
How hard is it to accept the above statement as truth? There are times when it feels more true to our human experience to believe we are intrinsically flawed so we believe if we were better/smarter/more attractive/more talented/etc. then we would be more worthy of love and belonging. Shame is often the loudest inner voice we hear. Sometimes, there are other voices in our lives who purposefully try to perpetuate our shame and affirm the belief that we are flawed beyond a hope of love and belonging.
When sin entered the world through the Fall of man, it brought shame into our relationships with others, our relationship with God and the relationship we have with ourselves. The effects of the Fall touch every area of life and we live in constant fear of our shame being exposed. We are always trying to hide, cover or numb our brokenness. We are afraid to be vulnerable because we believe no one could love us if they really knew us.
Brené Brown, renowned researcher and author, has spent most of her career gathering qualitative data on vulnerability and shame. In the midst of her research, she discovered a population of people whom she calls the “wholehearted.” These are individuals who are not afraid to embrace imperfection and vulnerability and as a result experience truly being known and loved. In her seminar series, The Power of Vulnerability, she shares:
“Men and women who have a deep sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging…Even though I wanted to find that the wholehearted were the people who’s lives turned out more beautifully that the rest of ours, I had a feeling that was not going to be the case and it was not. They did not have fewer divorces, incidents of addiction, fewer traumas, nothing. The only difference was in the midst of their struggle, their worthiness was not on the table.”
How often do we place our worthiness of love and belonging on the table? How often do we see our family, friends or neighbors do the same? How often does the world tell us that we must put our worthiness on the table to be assessed by its standards? I would venture to say it happens every single day.
So how do we, as broken and messy people, believe that we and others are worthy of love and belonging? Thankfully, God’s Word has a lot of encouragement to offer us. Here are three ways we can look to Scripture to affirm our worthiness:
1) All humans possess innate worth and value.
According to Scripture, all human life has innate worth and value because God set humans apart from all other earthly creation as his image bearers, beings with eternal souls created to be with him forever. In Genesis 1:26-27 we see the Trinity saying, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”. God then molds and shapes Adam out of dust from the earth and breathes into him the “breath of life” (Gen. 2:7) and charges him, alongside Eve, with the task of stewardship over the Earth. He designed humans so intricately and purposefully to display his character and glory. The psalmist in Psalm 139:13-14 talks about how God “knit” him together while he was in his mother’s womb and that his human body was “fearfully and wonderfully made”. The psalmist continues by saying that God valued his life when it was an “unformed substance” so much that he wrote his days and gave meaning to them before he was even born (Ps. 139:16). In Ephesians 2:10, Paul refers to us as God’s “workmanship” or “poiema” in the Greek—from which our English word “poem” originates. Paul says we are God’s creative poem, a beautiful masterpiece, made for carrying out good works that He has ordained for us to partake in through Christ Jesus.
2) We are made worthy before God through the life and death of Christ.
Although humankind remained image bearers of God, after the Fall, we became stained and condemned by sin. The shame of sin we feel before man, before God and within ourselves stays with us no matter how hard we try to hide it or compensate for it. The beauty of the gospel is that God the Father, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4), sent His Son and “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor. 5:21). We can live without the burden of shame because there is “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1) for us in Christ. We have been set free from the “law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2) and brought to new life. Jesus lived in perfect obedience to fulfill the law and placed his worthiness on the table in substitute for ours through his death on the cross. Jesus knows every single thing about us, even down into the dark sin filled corners of our hearts, and he loves us freely with an everlasting love. In John 17, Jesus prayed before he was arrested that those who believed in him would be made one with him and thus one with the Father. He wanted them to share in his glory, be with Him in heaven and experience the love from the Father that he had known since before “the foundation of the world.” Jesus has secured a shame free identity for us to embrace now and for all eternity!
3) Scripture and the Holy Spirit helps us fight the lies of unworthiness.
In John 8, Jesus calls Satan a “murderer” and “the father of lies.” Satan is at work in the world around us and in the sinful hearts and broken minds we still possess. Satan wants us to believe that we are worthless and that we have no purpose. He wants us to question God’s love for us just like he made Adam and Eve question God in the garden of Eden. He tempts us to view others not as image bearers but as objects, people with no significance or meaning. Sometimes he even tempts us to envy our neighbor and see them as being more loved by God than we are. Colossians 3 talks about setting our minds on “things that are above” because our life is “hidden with Christ in God.” The Holy Spirit, who is sent to us from the Father as our helper (John 14:26), is with us to help us remember our true identity in Christ and is present with us while we mediate on the life-giving truths of scripture. Satan’s voice doesn’t get the last word on our worthiness when we listen to the voice of God through his Holy Spirit and his Word.
Remembering that we are worthy of love and belonging is not an easy task. Every day we will be faced with temptation to view ourselves through our lens of shame or through whatever lens the world has convinced us to measure ourselves against. The good news is that we have done nothing to earn our worthiness of love and belonging so there is nothing we can do to have that taken from us. We will always be God’s image bearing creation that he loves and takes pleasure in. Through Christ, we have received our worthiness by grace and we have a glorious inheritance as children of the King. If the loudest voice in our lives is the voice of God instead of our shame maybe we can begin to live with more confidence and freedom resting in this truth:
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).
Let us always keep those words on the table.
I want to be a good parent, but how do I know what is best for my children?
Lisa Owens, N.C.C., L.P.C.
Oftentimes parents find themselves wondering what it means to be a good parent. In our culture, we are constantly confronted with many different opinions on what being a good parent should look like. These different opinions are often defined by the community we live in, the neighborhood that we live in, the schools our children attend, the beliefs that our churches embrace, and the financial realities of our family budget. Adding to the confusion, parenting style often reflects our own childhood experiences, both good and bad.
It is hard to step back and look at our own family objectively. We experience the emotions associated with our hopes, experiences, interactions, disappointments, and hurts. Adding to the complexity are the different and sometimes opposing ideas of spouses, ex-spouses, step-parents, in-laws, and grandparents.
When we look for help using a Google search, the results often produce even more confusion. We ask our friends for their thoughts. Their responses may or may not be helpful. When we see the social media posts of our friends, we begin to compare our family experiences with theirs, and we often feel that we are not giving our children the same opportunities and experiences. Comparing our parenting with other parents can put us on a comparison treadmill that will wear us out.
We want to make sure that our children “turn out” well. What does that even mean? We buy into the lie that our children will not be well-adjusted and successful adults if we fail to give them every opportunity that suburbia has to offer. In our busyness, we forget that children’s hearts are captured by the love that they feel from their parents, not the number of activities that they participate in. Deep in their hearts, children want us to spend time with them more than they want us to spend money on them. What lesson do we teach our children when we spend money on them in order to assuage our own neglect, guilt or insecurity? Adults think in terms of “quality time,” but our children think in terms of “quantity of time.”
What can we do to gain helpful perspective?
First, remember that your child is uniquely created by God for your care and nurturing. If you are the parent, God’s desire is for you to know how to purposefully meet your child’s needs. It is God’s will to have Christian families who reflect God’s purposes, Take it back one step. As a parent seeks to live out God’s purposes for their own life, they will have a greater sense of what is best for their child’s well-being.
Second, purposely chose to take yourself off the comparison treadmill. Although it is helpful to learn from other parents, it is important to remember that some of their approaches to parenting may be helpful and applicable, but others may simply create feelings of personal failure and inadequacy.
Third, our need is often to simply have someone to talk with. We need someone who is objective and who will genuinely have our best interests at heart. It may be helpful to have older adults in your life who can offer wise counsel and perspective. Choose someone with a proven track record. “Empty Nesters” who have successfully launched their children into the adult world can offer reassurance and hope.
Being a good parent is hard work, but very purposeful and fulfilling. We need to think of it as journey, not a make or break event. For those who seek to walk with the Lord, we know that the details of life will at times be confusing, but when we walk with the Lord, the big picture is good!
How to Get Comfortable Talking to Your Kids About Sex
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C
Research on sexual behaviors indicates that adolescents are doing what their friends are doing; 56% of adolescent’s report having intercourse once their friends have had intercourse. According to the CDC, 47% (4.6 million) adolescent females and 46% (4.7 million) adolescent males report having sexual intercourse. In 2015 41% of high schoolers reported having sexual intercourse, as well as 30% report being sexually active. If almost half of high schoolers are having sex because their friends are having sex, where do we as parents begin the conversation of sex?
In a study of parents with children in grades 7-12 Perrino et. al, found that out of 374 parents, only 9% felt comfortable communicating to their child about sex. This is a shocking statistic. The family is the most fundamental context that influences behavior. You set values for children at a young age to give them a foundation to dispute a moral obligation with what everyone else is doing. The family gives and reinforces moral compass that drives behavior and values. I have found that parents are extremely uncomfortable approaching the sex talk with their kids because parents have not explored their feelings regarding sex. My goal for the rest of this blog is to get you comfortable with the not-so-pleasant topic of sex and communicating about sex with your children. Research shows that most children are exposed to sexual information by 6th grade. This means the conversation of sex needs to happen early in the home, and needs to be a consistent topic. This cannot be a one and done conversation, so as parents, we need to get comfortable with sex.
How to be comfortable:
Be respectful. No, your teen is not the expert in the conversation, but they are a human with ideas, thoughts and perceptions. Treat them with respect for their perspective and they will treat your perspective with respect.
Get comfortable with sex… Do your own research. Check out an anatomy book from the library. Explore your views, what you were told by your parents, what you wish your parents told you, how you felt about sex when you were a teen, how you feel about sex now. Do some research, do some soul searching, do some praying. Talk to your spouse about it. The way to communicate about sex with your child is the way they will communicate about sex with their spouse. Make it a positive experience for them.
If you can’t get comfortable SAY SO. It’s ok to admit you are not comfortable, in fact it will probably ease tension. Tell your child this is not comfortable for you to talk about. You want them to have an open door with you. Being honest and vulnerable removes shame and helps your child feel at ease to ask you more questions in the future.
USE ANATOMICALLY CORRECT VOCABULARY. This one is huge. The more you call a penis a “wee wee” or a vagina a “hoo hoo” your child is associating shame with these body parts. Our bodies are beautiful and wonderfully made. Model appreciation for ALL body parts by using the anatomically correct vocabulary for them.
Be serious and casual. There’s always room for laughter and jokes, but making the conversation a comedy show, dismisses real feelings and teaches shame. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be a conversation where you never crack a smile. Be serious, but be able to laugh at yourself also. After all it is an awkward conversation for both of you.
Admit you don’t know all the answers. It’s ok to not be an expert at sex. You don’t have to have every answer for every question they may ask, but be open to finding answers together.
How to deliver content.
Take perspective, your teen is just as weirded out about the conversation as you are. Try to draw links between your teens perspective and your perspective at their age. Don’t pretend like you know how they feel, this shuts down and dismisses whatever emotions they may have. Be open to listen to their perspective without dismissing or judging. Be responsive, let them talk, you respond.
The tricky stuff
Research shows that teens who are having sex has gone down since 1995. However, they are engaging in other sexual behaviors like masturbation and porn. These are the topics parents report feeling the most uncomfortable discussing. As parents, these topics need to be addressed. Get comfortable and know where you, as the parent stand on these issues. Communicate this to your teen. Masturbation and porn are not just male behaviors, it’s important for females to be aware of and know your values also.
Teach assertiveness skills. Males and females need to learn assertiveness skills. Teach your child from a young age that their body is theirs and when it comes to their body they have every right to say no. Teach them that being assertive when it comes to their body, is absolutely appropriate in every situation. Respect their decisions and their body. If they don’t want to hug a relative because they feel uncomfortable give them permission to not hug. Respecting your child’s body will show them how to respect their body as they grow. Teach them to be assertive about their body.
Talk about your emotions. While this may be very uncomfortable for some parents (just say it’s uncomfortable). It’s important to talk about emotions of sex. Your teen needs to know that sex is an emotional connection and that the emotions they will feel before, during and after will vary. Give them a guide of what to expect so they do not feel alone and shamed. If they know you felt the same way, they are more likely to have a positive sexual experience with their spouse. After all you are setting them up to be able to communicate about uncomfortable things with their spouse. Show them it can be done in a positive way.
Connecting through Failure
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C.
Most people know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. What is not well publicized is that he failed 10,000 times to invent the light bulb. Society is good at only talking about success stories, the failures, the journeys to the success is not talked about as much. For example, most people don’t know that Michael Jordan was cut from his High School basketball team, Oprah was fired from her first job and was told she “wasn’t made for television,” Walt Disney was fired from his first job because he “lacked creativity.” We love to hear that JK Rowling was a broke single mother trying to make ends meet when she started on her first book Harry Potter. It’s inspiring to know that people that worked through their failures eventually found success. What is missed in all the rags to riches stories is the defeat, the self-criticism, the process of hard work, the process of feeling like you will never figure it out, the depression, the anxiety, the pressure; the VULNERABILITY of being a human that fails.
In my office failure is a topic that is brought up a lot. Failure gives us a lot of uncomfortable feelings. To avoid feeling these uncomfortable feelings we engage in behaviors such as:
1. Numbing- we numb with a variety of things, alcohol, drugs, food, exercise, busy schedules. This creates a false sense of power over our feelings because we think we can select which feelings to numb, like sadness, or not good enough, but the reality is, when we numb one feeling we numb ALL feelings, joy, love, empathy is numbed just as much as sadness, anger, and not being enough.
2. We make everything that is uncertain-certain. This another way we exhibit a false sense of control over behaviors and emotions. “I’m certain the doctor will give me a good report” or “I’m certain my friends don’t like me.” This is a way we try to control our fear or uncertainty.
3. We perfect. We perfect ourselves, we perfect our children, we perfect our houses, our cars, our jobs, our busyness. Putting off an image of perfection is a way we control our failures because everything else around us is perfect, then maybe our failure won’t be noticed.
4. We pretend. We run away, avoid, bury our head, sweep it under the rug. “that didn’t really happen, you got it wrong.” Pretending is a way we calm our fear of not being worthy. If I pretend like I’m worthy, maybe someone will think I am worthy.
So how do we go about living with failure? How do we have our uncomfortable feelings when we’ve failed?
You become VULNERABLE. In Brene Brown’s book, The Power of Vulnerability, she talks about leveraging vulnerability, using it to connect to others. When you are vulnerable in your failures, other people connect to your vulnerability. Think about the person that seems like they have it all together. They have the perfect house, drive the perfect car, have perfect 2.5 children and show up to everything with a homemade, gluten free, sugar free, peanut free, peanut butter cookies in hand. This person is not someone you can connect with, much less want to spend time with. In the Soul of Shame by Mark Thompson he talks about how our brains are wired for connection. We are made to connect with others. God created us to crave connection. The one thing people connect with is VULNERABLITLY. People are drawn to rags to riches stories because we see the vulnerability in Michael Jordan being cut from his High School basketball team, and JK Rowling being a broke, single mother. These are thing we can relate to because if you are human, you feel vulnerable. Living with our failure is the best way to show vulnerability and connect with others. When we feel connection, our feelings are easier to feel because there is a sense of belonging through our vulnerability of failure. My last word of encouragement for you is to be real, be vulnerable, be you! You are enough!
Teens and friendships: The teen perspective.
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C.
August is the beginning of the year for many of us who have school age children, and with the start of a new school year means the start of new friendships. For teens, friendships are vitally important, but can be filled with “drama” and confusion. I want to shed some light on how the teen brain views friends and how parents can help their teens navigate friendships.
What is a friend?
Teens define friendship as a subjective experience of mutual relationship. It works like this; my experience of our relationship is judged by my PERCEPTION of your willingness to be in the relationship with me. If my perception is that you want to be in relationship with me, then I feel like we have a good friendship. If I perceive that you do not want to be in relationship with me, then we don’t have a friendship.
This definition is important because when we talk about perception, we are relying on the teens brain to process this perception accurately. In my first blog http://www.drkristenjones.net/the-teen-brain/, I talked about the teen brain and how the pathways to context are not fully developed. Teens perceive relationships based on subjective judgements about the other person’s willingness to be in the relationship. This causes problems because teens are engaging in inaccurate assumptions. They are not reading friendships from a full understanding of context. They are left to assume a lot more than their brains can process. This is why so many teens have trouble in friendships. When a teen says, “Jenny doesn’t want to be my friend anymore” or “my friends don’t like me” it’s because they perceive the other person as not willing to be in a relationship with them. Often, I find, without an understanding of context this perception is skewed so a friend not returning a “hello” in the hallway can ruin the day, and even a friendship.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories. The teen brain is wired to look for confirmation bias. Here’s an example of confirmation bias: If Jenny didn’t waive to me in the hallway, she must not want to be my friend, she also ignored me at lunch and didn’t answer the text I sent five minutes ago, she must not want to be my friend. Confirmation bias makes it harder for teens to get to context. Maybe Jenny didn’t see me waive “hello” maybe she was distracted. This is where the disconnect between teens and adults come in. Adult brains work in context immediately (because it was learned through the teen years). The first thing an adult would think is “Jenny probably didn’t see me wave.” Where the teen brain immediately says, “they no longer want to be my friend.”
How do you help your teen read context?
Validate. I talk about validation a lot because it’s so important for teens to feel like they are heard. Validation does not mean permission, it means “I can listen to you.” Validating experiences with friends tunes your teens brain into listening to what you have to say because you listen to what they have to say. When you think about validation just think summarize. Validation is simply summarizing what was just said so that the person feels heard and you understand their position. Example: “Jenny and I aren’t friends anymore, she didn’t waive back to me in the hallway and I know she saw me.” Validation: “You feel like you and Jenny aren’t friends because she didn’t waive back to you in the hall.”
Use every opportunity to teach context. The next time you’re out with our teen and say “hello” to someone and it’s not returned, use this as a context teaching moment. “They were looking at their phone, they probably didn’t see me.” The more you can teach and model context the quicker your teen will pick it up. You can even talk through what seems like simple situations, if you go to a busy restaurant and your server takes longer than expected you could say, “I wonder if our server feels stressed. They are pretty busy tonight, I bet our server is having a tough night.” This clues your teen in taking situations into context by you modeling thinking in contextual manor out loud.
Ask perspective questions. Your teen climbs into the car after a bad football practice and says, “Johnny missed a pass and we lost the scrimmage.” You can ask “How do you think Johnny feels?” Engaging opportunities to get your teen to take perspective helps train their brain to look for context and helps them to fight confirmation bias.
Next time your teen tells you about an issue with one of their friends, validate their feelings on the issue, and get their brains thinking in context by asking questions that get them to take perspective. Use this school year as a teaching opportunity to help your teens brain develop connections to context.
Lying and Trust
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C.
Has your teen every lied to you? If so, you know how disappointing it feels to have broken trust in a relationship with your child. I want to give you some research on lying behaviors (what makes teens decide to lie, what parents do to perpetuate the lying cycle and how to stop) and how to rebuild trust in your relationship.
All kids lie. Lying behaviors are developmental milestones and occasional lying such as that beginning in early childhood and through adolescents is a normal part of development. Young children define lies based on factual truth of the statement. If a person reveals information that he or she believes to be true but in fact is not, young children consider this a lie. For example, you tell your four-year-old, “Daddy will be home at 6pm”, Daddy comes home at 7pm, your four old interpret this as lie because your statement “daddy will be home at 6pm” was not factually true. They can’t comprehend the more complex, higher order thought process it takes to rule out an error in a statement. As they grow into adolescents, lying becomes a more complex concept. Lee and Ross, 1997, are two researchers that studied adolescents and lying behaviors. They found that adolescents defined lying based on three elements; 1. The statement is factually false 2. The speaker believes the statement is false 3. The speaker intends to deceive the hearer. An example of this may be your teen lying to her friend that she likes her purple hair, when in fact, she thinks it’s ugly. Excessive and constant lying goes beyond lying to obtain a reward or lying for altruistic reasons. Excessive and constant lying behaviors can be an indication of emotional problems, low self-esteem, depression, stress and loneliness.
Why adolescents lie more.
Lying becomes more frequent in adolescents because they spend more time away from parents, when there are disagreements on getting their way, when the parent is perceived as asking a lot of questions, or when the parent is perceived as having little knowledge about the teens day to day activities. Teenagers who voluntarily share information with their parents did so when they had a warm, responsive relationship with their parents that had behavioral control (providing clear expectations and firm standards) and less psychological control (intrusive parenting). Teens reported that parents who listen and observe instead of asking questions or talking and labeling behaviors feel more comfortable disclosing information to their parents. This is important in adolescents when they are faced with struggles such as teen pregnancy and teen sex. Research found that parents who were warm, responsive, supportive, authoritative, listening and observing with behavioral limits (not psychological limits) had teens that were more willing to disclose information. Teens also reported they felt like they could trust their parents by sharing information even if the situation was about a friend. How do I become a warm, supportive listener for my teen?
This looks like listening as your child talks, and asking questions related to your child’s emotional state instead of immediately going into problem solving mode. Help your child navigate the trickier, gray areas in life instead of giving them an answer or command. Help your child maintain psychological autonomy and set behavior limits. Psychological autonomy is giving your child the right to think and make decisions for themselves. You can do this by starting to give them choices from a young age, but setting behavioral limits. It looks like this “do you want to carry the bag or the box to the car?” “Do you want to wear the green shoes or red shoes to the store?” “Do you want to go to the movies or bowling for your birthday?” And as they get older, you can give psychological autonomy while setting behavioral limits. Get your child involved in the discipline process. Once they have lied, they still have consequences and choosing consequences makes them responsible for their behavior. This is a way to give psychological autonomy while still setting behavioral limits. You could say, “you are grounded for lying, you can choose your consequence, either no phone for a week, or no hanging out with friends.” Not choosing is choosing, in this instance, as the parent, you pick the consequence.
Where do you begin rebuilding trust once it’s broken?
Restoring relationship takes A LOT of grace and A LOT of patience and some self-sacrifice. Broken trust hurts, but you will do long term damage to your relationship with your teen if you constantly live from that place of hurt. Realize that they are just a teen and need as much grace and patience as you would give to your spouse. Your teen needs to be held responsible for the lie and will have consequences for lying. Here are some steps parents can take to begin rebuilding trust:
Do not set your teen up. They lied to you. They should be responsible and have consequences for that lie. This does not mean that they or you should have to live waiting to catch them in the next lie. If you find out they have lied again, immediately confront the lie. Do not set them up just so you can say “aha I caught you again.” That is a self-serving motivation. Confront the lie immediately from a perspective of concern and love.
Prioritize your battles. Just like with toddlers, make your confrontations and consequences count. If you confront and give consequences for everything your teen does, they will be much less likely to open up and improve communication with you. Your goal is not to get them for every little thing they do, but to make sure you teach and correct them.
Keep the focus on lessons learned. Lying is a shameful behavior. You have probably shamed your kids for lying because you were shamed for lying. Lying is not a behavior you can scare or punish your kids out of. You want to focus on what they learned by lying, maybe loss of friends, or loss of rewards, and hurt feelings. Ultimately you want them to learn from the mistake, not constantly live from a place of reaction because of their lie. Talk about lessons learned and move on. It creates shame and embarrassment to continually bring it up with your teen.
Make a point to praise and prioritize effort over outcome. Just like you don’t want to label every behavior for your teen, you don’t want to only focus on outcome. Focus on the effort. I.E. “It took guts to tell Jan the truth about her boyfriend. You did a tough thing today.” Instead of “Way to go for telling Jan her boyfriend was going to the dance with someone else.” Praising the effort instead of the outcome teaches your child that the process to get to the outcome is more important than the result.
It’s not personal. Research shows there are many reasons children and adolescents lie. This may seem like a personal attack against parents, it’s not. Their brains do not have the connections to understand what it feels like for parents to be lied to. Most of the time teens lie to avoid a punishment or adverse consequence. They are not personally attacking you. Knowing that your teens behavior is not a personal attack, makes it easier to repair the relationship. Make sure that you don’t let your hurt feelings about your child’s behavior impede your relationship with your child.
Take steps to repair ruptures in the relationship. Parents can pull away from the child, alienate the child or even talk less or ignore the child because they do not feel like the child can be trusted. You are the parent. It is your responsibility to see past the behavior and make necessary repairs to the relationship. Remember your child is a learning being, and sometimes they have to learn through mistakes.
5 Healthy Ways to Fight When You Have Children
Kristen Jones, D.P.C., L.P.C., N.C.C.
If you’ve been married for any length of time, you know fighting with your spouse is a part of life. Fighting, in a constructive way, is healthy for your marriage and for your kids because it teaches children how handle conflict. Kids learn by watching you. Modeling conflict for your children can give them necessary tools to handle conflict on their own. Fighting, in a non-constructive way, is damaging for marriages, and children, even if your child is a teen. Remember in my first blog where I talked about teenage brain development and how their brains haven’t made the connections to take situations into context? Children and teens do not have the capacity to separate your conflict from their feelings. They internalize this conflict and they feel like you are mad at them instead of each other. It’s scary to see parents get angry. This creates an automatic fight or flight response which activates the same brain response as trauma. I have counseled kids frhigh conflict homes and their response to parents fighting is the same; they are scared, they carry shame, (because they feel like parents are mad at them), and they don’t know how to tune out what they hear. Below I’m going to give some tips on how to fight constructively, and how to communicate the conflict to your children in a healthy way so that they learn how to confront and resolve conflict in their lives, even when you fight.
Constructive Fighting tips: Parents think that some of the list below is so obvious that they are not actually DOING the obvious. These are the things your teen needs to hear from you.
Model constructive ways to handle anger and disagreements. Even if you and your spouse yelled and threw things, you can tell your child, that was not the best way to handle a disagreement and that you will do better next time. This helps your child learn that conflict is a part of life just like emotions such as anger and disappointment. Showing your child that you can work through these feelings will give them confidence to do it in the future. Even if you messed up, it’s wonderful for your children to let them know you are not perfect.
Find coping skills for your child When you and your spouse fight, your child feels upset, and may cry or get a stomach ache. They may feel guilty for the fight even if they haven’t caused it. Talk to your child about what they can do if they hear you and your spouses’ conversations getting heated. Talk through activities such as coloring, listening to music, or playing with toys. Tell your child you will come talk to when the argument is over, so they will know they won’t be left alone for a long period of time, but that mom and dad will come get them when things have calmed down.
Tell them you are not mad at them. Always, always, no matter how old your child is, even if they are 18, re-iterate that you are not mad at them. This is often missed because parents think it’s so obvious, however your child FEELS like you are mad at them, so skipping this step can contribute to their confusion between your fighting and their feelings. You can say something like “Mom and Dad are mad at each other, we are not mad at you. I know sometimes it’s scary to see or hear us fighting, but we are disagreeing with each other, not with you.”
TALK through the fight. Talk to your child after you and your spouse have calmed down. You do not need to tell them what you are fighting about. Being open about fighting in the home helps your child unload guilt or shame that may be associated with fighting. Let them know that everyone disagrees, showing your child you can be open by talking about the fight models conflict resolution skills. You can say something like “Mom and Dad disagree right now, we don’t have to agree with everyone, and that’s ok. Sometimes our emotions get high and we are learning how to handle our emotions when they are high. Even grownups need help with feelings sometimes.”
Reassure them that you and your spouse are a team. Just because you get mad at each other doesn’t mean that you don’t love each other. Again, this one seems obvious, but your child needs to be re-assured that you can work through conflict. This models healthy conflict resolution for your child.
May Blog - The Missing Link in 13 Reasons Why..Depression
Kristen Jones, DPC, LPC, NCC
By now, many of you have heard of or have seen the popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll briefly summarize, Hannah Baker is a High School student who deals with complex situations that range from fights with friends to sexual assault. She feels hopeless and isolated and records 13 tapes detailing the people and situations that contributed to her decision to commit suicide. Many professionals haven written blogs and articles about the dangers of this show. As a professional I agree that Netflix is targeting an audience that is too young to process the show by themselves. Parents, please, please, please watch this show with your teen. Do not let them watch it alone. Teenage suicide is contagious. Research shows that the publicity surrounding a suicide can influence a vulnerable teens decision to take their life. 90% of teens that commit suicide have a diagnosable psychological disorder. Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 attempts by young people grades 7-12 to commit suicide. Parent’s do not let your kids process this show alone.
I must be honest here, when I first began watching I thought, “Hannah is making everyone else responsible for her feelings.” I felt bad for Clay as he was grappling with feelings of responsibility for Hannah’s decision. That made me mad. As the show progressed I realized how often teenager’s feelings are dismissed as “drama” or being “too sensitive.” Then it hit me, the missing link and underlying reason Hannah appears dramatic and sensitive, is because she’s DEPRESSED. And I realized I was watching what my clients tell me about being depressed. What I like about this show is that it painfully depicts the experience of a teenager’s depression. This experience is so hard for teenagers to put into words. Remember my first blog post where I talked about the teenage brain and how it’s not fully wired? This is beautifully shown when Hannah goes to the school counselor to get help, and literally cannot tell him what is wrong. She doesn’t have the wiring to verbalize her feelings. Most of the time for teens that are depressed, everything feels too heavy to talk about. (Therefore, you should seek help from a professional. We have training and experience to talk about the heavy things.)
Depression is different for teenagers than adults. Depression FEELS different for teenagers.The teen brain is simply not developed enough to take situations into context and discern meaning. Hormone surges can cause MORE connections to the emotion regulation center of the brain, so every event, conversation or situation FEELS heavier, FEELS more embarrassing, FEELS more humiliating. Too often parents, teachers, adults dismiss these feelings as “teenage angst” or “drama” or that “teens are so sensitive.” Yes, they are all of these things, because their brains are not developed and dismissing these feelings invalidates their experience, which makes them internalize feelings and the more they internalize the more depressed they feel. Parents, listen to your teen, do not dismiss their feelings, validate their feelings, validate their experiences, they so desperately need this to feel like they are not alone, not isolated, not the ONLY one who over feels. When I ask my teens to describe what depression feels like to them this is what they say;
“I feel heavy, I feel like there’s a 50-pound weight on my chest that never leaves and everyone else can see it. All my friends at school see this weight and think I’m crazy. The heaviness makes me so tired, that I don’t even want to hang out with my friends. I can’t focus in class because all I can think about is this weight that’s so embarrassing and makes me so tired. I don’t want to do my homework because I’ll fail anyway. What’s the point in trying?” -15-year-old with depression
“Everything feels like nothing and nothing feels like everything. I can’t focus, I don’t want to focus, it’s all just so confusing and frustrating and I don’t want to have this anymore. I want relief from my mind.” -13-year-old with depression
“It’s just a fog, I feel foggy, nothing I say makes sense, nothing anyone tells me makes sense, I’m confused 90% of the time and that makes me feel stupid. So now on top of being frustrated that nothing makes sense, feeling weird and out of place all the time, I also feel stupid.” -14-year-old with depression
“It’s like everyone else can see this thing hanging around my neck. And it makes me odd, I feel odd, I never feel comfortable, not even in my own skin. Depression makes me over think everything I say or do and that is exhausting. I know I’m odd, and I think everyone else knows it too” – 15-year-old with depression
Depression is real, and it’s scary, and confusing. Most of the time your teen is not consciously aware they are depressed, all they know is that they feel too much, too often, and it’s too heavy to even try to put words to. Therefore, seeking help from a professional who is trained to work with teens is so important. Parent’s, you don’t always have to have the answer for your teen, in fact they don’t want you to, they want to know that you are there, to simply listen (not talk) and that you can get them the help they need. Below I will talk about warning signs of depression, effects of untreated depression, and how parents can help.
What does depression look like? (If you watched 13 Reasons Why look at how Hannah’s behavior matches this list)
Irritable or angry mood – For adults, the first sign is sadness, in teens, irritability is most common a warning sign of depression. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts.
Unexplained aches and pains – Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. Teens don’t have the connections in their brain to understand abstract ideas, they most often present emotions and physical manifestations, because they can understand physical manifestations, where emotions are more ambiguous.
Extreme sensitivity to criticism – Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure. This is a problem for perfectionistic personalities because they put a lot of pressure on themselves, adding emotional heaviness of depression makes any criticism seem bigger.
Withdrawing from some, but not all people – While adults tend to isolate themselves from everyone when depressed, teenagers usually maintain some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.
Effects of Teen Depression
Problems at school
Low self esteem
Internet/phone addiction (withdrawing into technology)
Irritability or angry moods that occur more often than not
Consistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
Withdraw from peers and loved ones
Increased sensitivity to perceived rejection
Changes in appetite, increased or decreased
Changes in sleep, increased or decreased
Fatigue/ low energy
Physical complaints (stomach aches or headaches that do not respond to treatment)
Reduced ability to function at events, home, or school
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Impaired thinking or concentration
Thoughts of suicide
What parents can do:
If you suspect your teen is depressed, first validate their feelings and understand that you don’t understand. Know that it is ok not to “get it” and that you don’t have all the answers. Verbalize this to your teen. Be available to simply listen to your teen, listen without talking. Telling them your experiences with depression or your experiences in high school dismisses what they are experiencing. Research shows that counseling is effective in treating depression in teens, and in some cases, counseling in conjunction with medication is effective. Let your teen know they are not alone, do some research with your teen on depression, educate them on their brain and how it works. Remove the shame. There is no shame in depression, sometimes it is brought on by a situation, sometimes it’s chemical, sometimes its hormonal, and sometimes it’s a combination of all the above. You don’t have to have all the answers for your teens, but letting them know you will be there to help them through is enough.
April Blog - Anxiety in the Teenage Context
Have you ever felt anxious? Maybe you’re like me and most things make you feel some anxiety. In an effort to self-help, I have read a lot of books and blogs on anxiety that talk about “10 things to do when you feel anxious, 5 minutes to anxiety free living” while some tips are great, what they all miss is that it’s a very normal part of existing. For teenagers, anxiety is a different experience than it is for adults because they don’t have the connections in their brain to regulate emotions, to them they are the ONLY person in the world who experiences THIS MUCH anxiety. The reality is that for teenagers and most adults, having anxiety is as normal as stopping at a stop light on your way to work, it happens all the time, every day. So, normal in fact that the National Institute for Mental Health estimates somewhere around 25% of 13-18-year old’s have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, with 5% of 13-18-year old’s having anxiety so severe it interferes with daily life. Anxiety occurs so often that most of the time we don’t realize we are holding our breath, or that our heart is beating out of our chest. As adults, we have learned this to be a part of normal occurrences in life. Because teens don’t have fully connected “wires” to the amygdala (emotion regulation center) this feeling of anxiety is so big and consuming that they can’t get past the first step of naming WHAT it is that they are feeling. As parents, we have to teach our kids how to have feelings and part of teaching someone how to have feelings is to name it. Naming the feeling gives some control and a position of power over that feeling. Naming is like the floatation device to a teen drowning in a sea of emotions that doesn’t make sense. This is a little dramatic analogy but to the teens I work with, it’s how they feel.
A lot of times it turns out like this; Kid enters the car;
mom says “how was your day honey?” Kid: “It was awful, Jenny didn’t waive to me when I clearly said “Hello” to her, I forgot my entire presentation in history class and got a zero, Bobby didn’t ask me to the dance, I’m getting fatter every day and my face is breaking out.”
Mom: “you’re so negative, don’t be so dramatic. I’m sure your teacher will understand about your presentation. Do you want me to talk to your teacher? Bobby will ask you to the dance, maybe he chickened out today, and you are not fat, you are the thinnest person I know, thinner than all your friends, and everyone breaks out at your age. Drink some more water and eat better and you’ll feel better.”
Let’s break this down from a therapeutic perspective, what just happened was this kid had a bad day and unloaded on mom in the car, and mom probably being excited that her kid talked this much decides to dismiss the concerns as “drama” and tells her she’s being negative. Remember the teenage brain? How hormones prune the connections to the emotion regulation center? This is happening here, they don’t have the words to make sense of their day, they don’t have the connections to process emotions. That kid is riddled with anxiety, they had a bad day and now they are processing with anxiety all over their emotions. The best thing for Mom to do in this situation is teach her teen how to name emotions, “you had a bad day and are feeling anxious?” Teaching the teen that it’s ok for her to feel anxious, it’s ok to have a bad day and it’s not the end of the world does two things; the teen learns how to name that feeling and normalize that feeling for themselves, and feels a little closer to mom because she’s not fixing, blaming or controlling, she is understanding. Start tuning in to the emotion behind the “drama” your teen is giving you. Try doing this for yourself. You may notice a calm about you and your teen when you normalize and teach them how to process feelings. Try to keep the big picture in mind, the emotion BEHIND what is being presented.
Next month, I will talk about depression, signs and symptoms to look for and what it feels like for your teen to struggle with depression. If you or your teen struggle with anxiety or depression, seek the help of a professional therapist.
As a counselor, I see a lot of teens (“teen” is used to refer to people age 10-24) and parents that struggle with their relationship. The change from elementary school to middle/high school is the hardest adjustment for parents. In fact, it is so hard for parents to adjust to their children going into middle/high school that rates of depression in mothers of children ages 10-16 are at an all-time high. Part of my job is to help teens and parents bridge the generational gap by mediating common ground, taking perspective and teaching empathy.
I decided to start a blog series- The High School Diaries to give teens and parents basic information on issues and topics teens face every day. After having many conversations with concerned parents, I realized that there is a disconnect between what research says about teens and the reality of every day teen life. I have met with youth pastors and school counselors in the Jackson metro area and have talked through some of the hard issues they see teens facing like, depression, anxiety, identity, sex, drugs and alcohol, stress, technology use, boundaries, bullying, trust and body image. These issues have become the content of this blog. I will take one issue a month and give some research and perspective with the goal of strengthening the bond with your teen.
Before my next blog, I want to leave you with some basic information about teens and the brain.
Research shows that teens (persons age 10-24) develop at different rates, physically and mentally. Sometimes the physical part and the mental part don’t always develop in conjunction. You may know a teen like this, physically maturing, but their behavior may be less than mature. The physical development is slowing the process of mental development, or executive decision making. The main hormones produced through puberty are testosterone and estrogen. What we know about puberty hormones is that testosterone reduces (prunes) connections to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that oversees decision making and judgement) and estrogen speeds the connection to the amygdala which oversees emotions and emotion regulation. Keep in mind that both male and females produce both testosterone and estrogen. In layman’s terms, the hormones produced by the onset of puberty are working against your teens ability to use complex, nuanced, and deeper thinking processes. These hormones can also impact the way your teen plans, retains memories, exhibits patience, and control over emotions. Obviously, testosterone and estrogen are not the only hormones at play, but they are the “big” hormones that mark the onset of puberty, and play a role in the physical and mental changes you see in your teen. Because of the hormonal changes in the brain teens do not think like adults, they do not have the ability (yet) to put situations or information into context, to think abstractly or to think “outside the box.” Because of biology, they are limited to extremely literal thinking, which impacts judgement and decision making, with very little control over emotions. Some of these emotions are too much, too big, too scary and that is where every day teen problems turn into something more clinical. Stay tuned next month, I will begin to dive into anxiety, what it looks like to parents and what it feels like for teens.