Vaping… Is It Safe?

Posted on November 21st, 2017

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Over the past few years, I’ve been getting more questions about vaping and whether it’s safe to engage in. Some individuals look towards vaping as an alternative to other forms of smoking (cigarettes, cannabis, etc.), while others turn towards vaping as a form of recreation or relaxation. I’d like to take this opportunity to explain what vaping is and what we know about the potential risks and health effects.

What is vaping?

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol which can be produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. This aerosol is known as “vapor.” While e-cigarettes do not expose the user to some of the more harmful components of cigarette smoke (tar, oxidant gases, carbon monoxide), the vapor still contains matter than can cause lung irritation or have toxic effects. E-cigarettes were first introduced into the US in 2006 and were initially promoted as a method to help people quit smoking1. Nowadays, there are multiple types of devices in addition to e-cigarettes, including vape pens and personal vaporizers that can be utilized for vaping. There has been a growing popularity for recreational use, not just smoking cessation, and teenagers and young adults are among those utilizing such products.

What is e-juice or e-liquid?

Vaping involves heating up the contents of a liquid, sometimes referred to as “e-juice” or “e-liquid,” which then turns to aerosol and is inhaled. The ingredients of the liquids can vary widely and may include some of the following […]

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The Art Of Raising Organized Children

Posted on November 18th, 2017

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Organized children do not suddenly appear – they are raised. Training the brain to think orderly begins during infancy and continues in adolescence and into early adulthood. When children are young they learn where things go and when to do tasks, but as they grow older, the expectations of life become increasingly complicated. Planning and problem solving skills are needed to navigate school, work, and relationships. The following are five keys to raising organized children:

Be Consistent

Parents should be consistent. Babies learn about cause and effect, or that one action is paired to a response, when parents consistently meet their needs. So, when she cries her cry of discomfort her diaper gets changed, and when she does her hunger cry she is fed. As children become toddlers, they are introduced to rules, which parents must enforce with regularity (e.g. before taking out another toy, clean up the last activity; always wash hands and flush the toilet after using the bathroom). Teenagers need consistency more than ever to keep them safe and to teach them boundaries. These rules must be continually enforced, even if it takes years for the child to learn to consistently complete tasks on their own.

Introduce Order

Organized households tend to have set routines, and these routines should be present from the time a child is an infant. Common time dependent routines include regular sleep and wake times, and standard meal times each day. As children grow older, these consistent routines can teach children how to anticipate their next action. For instance, by reminding the pre-school student to use the bathroom before every car ride, they learn to initiate this act on their own. Likewise, establishing a set homework time trains the student to get to work before going out to play. Children should also be taught that all tasks have a beginning, middle, and end. For example, the child takes out a toy, plays with the toy, and puts away the toy, or we prepare the meal, eat the meal, and clean up the meal. Disorganized thinkers may not recognize the order inherent in tasks and will likely need consistent reinforcement by using schedules, lists, and routines.

Give Everything a Place

When children are still toddlers, it is good to have multiple play areas, each situated in a distinct part of the house. Instructing children to keep appropriate toys in their designated space introduces them to the concept of spatial awareness. As children get older, they should participate in cleaning to reinforce in their mind where everything goes. School-aged children should have regular backpack checks to make sure they understand spatial order. Tweens should put away folded laundry, unload the dishwasher, and clean up after themselves. These strategies will help them to become more responsible about managing their materials.

Practice Forward Thinking

Anticipating, estimating, and planning require a skill called forward thinking […]

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What Teens Wish Their Parents Knew

Posted on November 16th, 2017

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The relationship between parents and their teens is comprised of a delicate balance. Both want to have a good relationship, but they often go about it in different ways. I wanted to help bridge the gap and improve the relationships between parents and teens, so I talked to students to find out directly from them what they wished their parents knew.

Guidance

I asked students questions about the topics in which they wish their parents gave them more guidance. The overwhelming response I received was that teens want help learning to support themselves and live independently. This makes sense, because we sometimes unintentionally cater to our teens, especially here in the Silicon Valley.

Some 13 to 14-year-old students shared that they would like guidance on various jobs and careers. After deviating from the expectation of attending college, an 18-year-old stated that he would like to learn how to support himself out of the house. He had contemplated various career paths, each with the generous salaries and associated lifestyles that he had witnessed growing up in the Silicon Valley; however, he did not understand that these salaries would not be handed to him right out of the gate. He wished that he learned more about what things would be like in the early years of employment and how to handle rejection from his first-choice employers.

Things don’t always fall in line with the glamorous life that society portrays – this can be a rude awakening for someone growing up in Silicon Valley. These incidents can lead to embarrassment, disappointment, and lowered self-esteem. Are we doing a good job of pointing out examples of privileges that exist in our daily lives? Or what about the various definitions and often skewed concept of “success?” Let’s make sure we talk about these things with our teens.

Trust

I also talked to students about trust. All of them made clear how much it means to them to feel trusted. Most students felt that their parents believed in them and that they forgave them for their mistakes; however, many of the students felt that their parents did not really trust them […]

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What It PANS/PANDAS And How Might It Be Affecting Your Child?

Posted on November 14th, 2017

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Have you heard of PANDAS? No, not the cute black and white bamboo eaters… but Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, a potentially serious disorder caused by strep. Yes, the same strep as in strep throat, although officially known as group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus (GABHS), a bacteria that has been around forever, but has mutated constantly over the years.

In the 1990s, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that children who suddenly developed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) usually did so after an infection, commonly a strep infection. Fast-forward 20 years and now doctors have realized that strep and many other infections, and some autoimmune disorders, can cause severe neuropsychiatric disturbance – typically OCD, motor and verbal tics, eating restriction, depression, mania, aggression, hallucinations, urinary urgency, loss of handwriting and drawing skills, cognitive regression, inattention and hyperactivity.

If a strep infection clearly preceded the onset of symptoms, which would be known either by a throat swab or by a blood test for antibodies against strep, then the disorder is called PANDAS. If strep cannot be established, then the disorder is called “Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome” or PANS.

However, most people with these neuropsychiatric symptoms do not usually come about them in this way – “typical” OCD, Tourette’s, anxiety, depression, etc. comes on more gradually and there is no clear-cut underlying medical cause – just genetic risk plus environmental stress. So how can we tell the difference? The hallmark  of PANDAS is a sudden onset of OCD or tics. For PANS, it is a sudden onset of OCD or eating restriction. That means most parents remember the day that the symptoms started, and within 72 hours there should be at least two other accompanying symptoms from this list […]

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Encouraging Your Teen To Open Up

Posted on November 11th, 2017

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We can safely assume that teens are easily distracted – by their electronic devices or any number of other things. It may seem as though teens are great communicators with their friends, or when it comes to snap-chatting, or while playing video games live. So, why is it so hard for teens to communicate with their parents? It’s easy to place the blame on these distractions, but the truth lies with long-developed communication patterns.

There are some communication mistakes that parents make that lead their teen to shut down. For instance, teens may shut down and refuse to share due to fear of a parents’ reaction and/or a parent not being in agreement with what the teen has to say. Teens remember instances in the past where there was a “freak out” in response to their sharing or a criticism given. Those memories impact their willingness to continue opening up. Teens may even be holding back due to shame, guilt, or fear of disappointing their parents. Overall, teens will choose to completely avoid communicating due to their fear of what their parents’ reaction may be. Here are a few common communication tools that parents can practice to encourage their teen’s to open up:

Alter your thinking

Misunderstandings can to lead to miscommunication. Assuming the worst from your teen and having negative thoughts about what your teen is thinking, saying, or doing impacts the communication before it has even begun. Contention and mistrust can be a barrier to really hearing what your teen has to say. Changing how you think can lead to better conversations with your teen. Keeping a neutral stance and awareness of biases prior to expressing them can prevent a teen from shutting down.

Just Listen

“To listen well, you may have to restrain yourself from disagreeing or giving advice or talking about your own experience. Temporarily at least, listening is a one-sided relationship.” – Michael Nichols, The Lost Art of Listening

Active listening is focusing on what your teen is trying to say, staying present, and showing interest with eye contact, nodding, and tones demonstrating that you are following along – it does not include focusing on your response! Minimize any response such as reacting negatively, being defensive, and attacking – regardless of what your teen has to say. Although it may be difficult to hold your tongue, the conversation will last longer if the teen is given the space to share verses cutting the teen short with your reaction […]

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Let’s Talk About Sex

Posted on November 9th, 2017

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Sex. The word itself likely sends a shiver down the spine of every teen’s parent. When uttered in the home or portrayed in a film during a family movie night, a thick cloud of discomfort may settle over the room. Why is it that talking about sex makes people so uncomfortable, especially when parents talk about it with their teens? One reason is the previous lack of open communication around the topic. If sex is not already an open topic in your home, then the parents don’t know what their teens know about sex, if they’re interested in it, or if they’ve engaged in it. However, despite this perceived tension surrounding the topic, parents are the preferred source of information about sex.

Believe it or not, your teenagers want you to talk openly with them about sex. They are curious, confused, and sometimes a little frightened by the topic. What they want is a trusting, knowledgeable, and safe place where they can ask their questions. Many teens say that they would prefer to learn about sex from their parents rather than from friends, a health class, or online, but they are too afraid to start the conversation. Of course, this goes both ways. It’s safe to say that both parties hold back because of fear and supposition. Parents might fear that introducing the topic could encourage sexual behavior. However, it has long been established that sexual education in any form does not increase sexual activity.

So, how can we open the lines of communication around the topic of sex? The most difficult part of any undertaking is getting started. The same goes for having an open and honest relationship with your teen. It’s an ideal state to be in, but can be challenging to create. For the best chance of success, start talking about sex sooner rather than later. A parent can learn the most by showing interest in their teen’s life from an early age rather than demanding to know specifics about their social or sex life only when it becomes an issue later. Establish safety and openness around the subject in order to be proactive rather than reactive. It’s much easier to speak with a 10-12 year old about sex when it’s still a hypothetical than it is to speak with an older teen who might interpret a parent’s questions as an accusation or probing. Start the conversation early, perhaps by clarifying that you are a safe source to talk to about sex. Your teen may initially retreat at the idea of talking about sex with you, but you have established that you’re there when they’re ready.

How do you casually introduce sex into a conversation without launching into a formal lesson on “the birds and the bees?” It might be as simple as listening a little more closely and allowing your teen to do most of the talking. They may be dancing around the topic but not know how to come out and ask point blank. Follow their lead. If they subtly bring up the topic, go with it. It may help to ask indirect questions that allow them to feel comfortable doing so. For example, ask them if they’ve noticed people in their class having romantic interests in one another or dating. This is a way to generate discussion without putting them on the spot […]

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Nutrition And Teens

Posted on November 7th, 2017

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During the teen years, nutrition often takes a back seat. It can be difficult getting adequate food and proper nutrition due to busy schedules, social pressures to eat or not eat, as well as food preferences. However, with the tremendous growth and development during these years, nutrition is essential.

Brain Development and Function and Nutrition

Our brain and nerves are made of fat. Because teens’ brains and nerves are still developing, they need a fair amount of fat to support this process. Fat is also needed to successfully carry and deliver essential neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. The brain uses carbohydrates as its fuel source, so getting good sources of carbohydrates (grains, starchy veggies, fruits, and milk) daily is important too. Undernutrition can actually shrink the size of the brain, making it difficult to think, function, and process. It can also increase Depression, Anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms/characteristics. Getting good sources of fat and carbohydrates are always important, but during these years of development, it is essential to ensure the body is strong and healthy for decades to come.

Bone Health: It’s not just about Calcium

Adolescence is the time when your body deposits minerals into bone, building up bones and making them stronger. It is critical to have an adequate calcium intake, healthy vitamin D levels, and overall proper food/nutrition. Vitamin D is needed to help absorb calcium from your gut; without it, calcium cannot be absorbed. Fat is needed to absorb vitamin D. Adequate food/nutrition are also needed to make hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. When you don’t get adequate nutrition, hormone levels drop. This may not seem like a big deal, but when hormones levels are low, minerals cannot be deposited into bones. We lose the ability to put minerals into bones at about age 25, after that, what bone you have is what you will have for the rest of your life. When there is a drop in nutrition and a loss of hormonal production, this increases the risk of osteoporosis. Teens with the highest risk for low hormone levels and osteoporosis are athletes and those with eating disorders. Additionally, girls with low hormone levels will often lose their period or not start it. Sometimes birth control pills are used to regulate periods, but birth control has not been shown to help with improving bone health. The best recipe for healthy bones is good overall nutrition intake and ensuring adequate calcium and vitamin D.

Does Your Teen Ever Feel Tired and Cranky?

Let’s face it, teens can get tired and cranky… heck, most of us adults can too! Teens need more sleep than adults though and often don’t get enough […]

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Why Talk About The Past?

Posted on November 4th, 2017

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This is one of the most common questions I get as a psychiatrist. For good reason, many people balk at the thought of recounting painful past memories. Why dredge up the sadness and trauma of the past? The past is the past and you can’t change it. Even old aphorisms echo this sentiment, “There is no use crying over spilled milk.” Life is difficult enough, why not just focus on the present?

This was a difficult question for anyone in the field of psychology to answer on a scientific basis. However, recent advances in neuroscience have dramatically altered our understanding of how to respond to this question. In particular, the emerging concept of memory reconsolidation, the process of previously consolidated memories being recalled and modified, has galvanized the field. While we can’t change the events of the past, it increasingly appears that we can modify memory, which is how we interact with the past.

What is memory? Memory is our ability to encode, store, retain, and subsequently recall information and past experiences in the human brain. Experiences that make a strong enough impact are imprinted and then recalled. In humans, approximately 10,000 out of 100 billion nerve cells make up a single memory. A memory is formed when nerve cells produce proteins which are packaged and then laid out in axons and branching dendrites, which sprout to connect with other neurons (Figure 1).

The different parts of the memory are in different parts of the brain (Figure 2). Close your eyes and think back to your favorite birthday party. Images, sounds, feelings, and maybe even scents come to mind. These are all separate brain cells in the visual, auditory, limbic, and olfactory parts of the brain all working at the same time, connected centrally in the hippocampus. The positive feeling of joy evokes a belief of being cared about and loved within milliseconds. Neurons that fire together, wire together.

Previously, we believed that memories like these were formed and then consolidated, like a book written in ink. Remembering was like searching for this book in a dusty library. The book could be read intact, perhaps fading over time, but with the original story unchanged.

Building on work by pioneers in psychology and neuroscience such as John Watson and Eric Kandel, Karim Nader’s experiments on memory refuted this theory […]

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The Adolescent Brain And Depression

Posted on November 2nd, 2017

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Moodiness, thrill-seeking, rebellion, and wanting to spend more time with friends than parents can often characterize adolescence. Many of these characteristics can confuse or frustrate parents. You may think, “Why didn’t you do the dishes after I asked?,” “Why did you tell me you were going to Jack’s house, but you went somewhere else instead?,” or “Why won’t you talk to me anymore?” These types of questions are common for parents of teens. Through the lens of an adult, choices and behaviors of teenagers often seem illogical. However, there are neurological explanations for why teens act the way they do.

The adolescent brain is under construction. It will continue to develop through the mid-20s. Watching your child grow up, you’ve noticed physical growth spurts. Your child also goes through neural growth spurts where significant changes happen in the brain. During adolescence, this period of neural growth creates more connections, neurons, and receptors. This growth improves the brain’s ability to communicate by sending more efficient signals throughout the body and brain. Following this spurt comes a period of pruning, when the brain becomes more selective about which pathways to preserve. Pruning is when some neural pathways are insulated, and those that are not being used are cut off. We see maturity begin to blossom in teens as their brains become closer to the wiring of an adult brain. The brain develops its instinctual areas first and the decision-making and reasoning areas last. When we wonder why teens don’t just make the logical choice, the answer is that their brain might not be at that stage of growth yet.

The limbic system is an area of the brain that is very active in teens. It allows us to find things pleasurable, stressful, scary, arousing, or saddening. The limbic system is often associated with our gut instinct – our innate emotional reactivity to stimulus. This area of the brain develops before the prefrontal cortex, which takes care of more complex processes such as rational thinking, problem-solving, planning, judgment, impulse control, and decision-making. Teenagers make use of the limbic system more than adults, and studies show the path of reasoning and decision-making in teen brains use different brain structures than an adult’s brain would. When we intake information from the world, it will first pass through the limbic system where we respond to the stimulus based on our gut reactions. This can be colored by past experiences or memories and our opinions. After the limbic system, information passes through the prefrontal cortex and is filtered through complex reasoning, impulse control, and measured analysis of information. As teenagers, they will be naturally more dependent on the limbic system to guide their decision making. As the brain continues to grow, studies have found that the neural connections between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex greatly improve, allowing for more adult-like thinking and decisions […]

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Neurofeedback And Reprogramming Your Brain

Posted on October 31st, 2017

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your teens would just sit down and do homework without you having to nag them? Or what must be happening inside their heads when they lash out at you over seemingly nothing? There may be hidden forces in your teen’s brain physiology that are guiding his/her behavior more than we know!

Sometimes, parts of their brain are not well organized, very much like a messy file cabinet. Remember that time they studied for two weeks, and then forgot everything on the test? That’s because information got filed in the wrong places in their brain, and they couldn’t find it when it came time for the test. Or how you have to call their name five times before they finally look up from their videogame (or Snapchat, texting, Facebook, or Netflix)? That’s because their brain did not filter information correctly in order to send important information (their name) to their conscious awareness.

The question is, can we help their brains to become better regulated and organized? The answer is yes! With neurofeedback, teens and adults alike can learn to regulate their brains by practicing, just like you can strengthen a weak muscle by doing daily exercises.

Neurofeedback starts with an EEG brain map, where we image the electrical activity of someone’s brain. Then, we can compare what their brain is doing to a database of their peers, and see where they may have brainwave activity that is contributing to their difficulties with learning and information processing, attention, or mood regulation. Once we have a map of someone’s brain, we look at three general areas of regulation […]

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The Depressed Teen and Suicide Risk: 6 Steps Caregivers Can Take

Posted on October 28th, 2017

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If you are a parent of a teen who is at risk of suicide, then this article is for you. Let me first say thank you for being there for your teen and providing support as best you can. Being a parent of an adolescent is a challenge to begin with, but effectively supporting a depressed teen who struggles with suicidal thoughts is often a confusing, exhausting, and frightening endeavor. Without a doubt, it is a time that parents need extra help and support for themselves.

Teen suicide is a major issue, as national statistics reveal that suicide has been the second leading cause of death for young people in recent years. Since 1999, suicide has been on the rise in the U.S. If you are concerned about your teen being at risk of suicide, be sure to first educate yourself by doing research and talking to a mental health professional. There are often numerous contributing factors that lead a person to thoughts of suicide and it can be complicated. Regardless of what is behind your teen’s suicidal thoughts, below are some effective action steps that parents can take to more fully support their teens:

1. Give extra empathy. Empathy happens when you really try to put yourself in your teen’s shoes and see the world through their* eyes, even if you don’t agree with their point of view. Empathy looks like asking questions and listening carefully to develop an accurate understanding of the other person’s thoughts and feelings. Empathy feels like having that accurate understanding reflected back in a caring way. When parents operate out of a place of compassion and concern for both their teen and themselves, the stage is set for empathy.

Depressed teens need extra nurturance and kindness from their caregivers, since their depressed brains process everything through a negative filter. Try not to take their negativity too personally by keeping in mind that depression distorts their perception. When a parent is fearful of the possibility of their teen ending their own life, one typical automatic impulse is to approach their teen with urgency and anxiety out of concern for their teen’s safety. Unfortunately, this parenting approach tends to result in the youth feeling worse and even unconsciously pressured to hide their mental health issues from their parents. Although reactions such as this are natural, it is not helpful and does not provide what your teen is needing at the time: a safe and positive space to work on overcoming their mental health issues at their own pace.

As you likely already know, effectively parenting a depressed teen requires thoughtful reactions and good timing […]

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How To Stop Self-Sabotaging

Posted on October 26th, 2017

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No one starts the day planning to sabotage him/herself by procrastinating, inhaling food, or becoming uncontrollably angry. It is generally not a conscious decision, which makes it a problem. Less common forms of self-sabotage are self-injury / cutting to escape painful emotions, or overspending on shopping sprees.

Procrastination may be the most common form of self-sabotage. Many times a teen procrastinates because they care too much, not too little, about succeeding. If a person procrastinates and does not succeed, then they can say that they could have started earlier, thereby never having to confront the fact that they tried as hard as they could to succeed, yet failed. Procrastination is the gap between intention and action. Self-sabotaging lies in not closing the gap. When we know something is bad for us, but fail to take steps or action to remedy the issue, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Here are some reasons why a teen may (typically unconsciously) self-sabotage:

Perfectionistic tendencies: Some teens are perfectionists who are high achievers and will self-sabotage before they fail. Because they are so afraid of failing, they procrastinate to put it off. They are more comfortable ruining their own chances because then they can hold onto a sense of having control.

Control: Some teens enjoy feeling they have control of a situation whether the outcome is good or bad. If a person chooses to fail and they do, then they have still won! They may engineer a failure so as to maintain a sense of having control.

Low self-esteem: Feeling unworthy may cause a person to feel that they don’t deserve to be happy or have success. A person may have self-doubt in their ability to succeed.

Self-identity: Surprisingly, many teens are protective of their identity, even if it is negative. A teen does not know what it would look like to be different and they do not know who they would be without these familiar labels or perceptions. Success may impact a teen’s label of being “lazy” or “a loser,” so they may self-sabotage in order to not cause any disruption in this part of their identify. Many teens want to stay in their own comfort zone. A teen changing his or her identity may impact the teen’s friend group, or others’ opinions of the teen, which can be scary.

Tips for parents of teenagers […]

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The Magic Of Mindful Moments For Students Who Learn Differently

Posted on October 24th, 2017

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When a student’s amygdala (the primitive fight, flight, or freeze center of the brain) is activated, the prefrontal cortex(primarily responsible for higher function learning) and the hippocampus (responsible for storing and recalling memories) are less accessible. Many students who learn differently, especially those with ADHD or anxiety, live the majority of their lives in this ‘fight-or-flight’ state, making it difficult for them to successfully learn.

By pausing and replacing impulsive reactions with thoughtful responses, the amygdala is deactivated. This ultimately allows the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus to carry out their functions, giving a student the opportunity to achieve greater success.

Another name for this pause is MINDFULNESS.

A study conducted by Kaiser Permanente reported an 80% reversal in mental health diagnoses across adolescents through integrating moments of mindfulness. Another study conducted through UCLA found that 78% of participants who practiced mindful awareness reported reduction in their ADHD symptoms, such as:

* Better focus and concentration
* Increased sense of calm
* Decreased stress and anxiety
* Improved impulse control
* Increased self-awareness
* Skillful responses to difficult emotions
* Increased empathy and understanding of others
* Development of natural conflict resolution skills
* Stronger executive functioning

Doesn’t this sound magical?

How might a student who learns differently begin to experience the magic of these mindful moments? Here are FIVE exercises, varying in age/maturity, that your teen can use to increase his/her mindful awareness […]

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Tips On Teaching Healthy Boundaries And Staying Out Of Drama

Posted on October 21st, 2017

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Parents begin shaping their children to know the difference between right and wrong, identify their own value system, and combat peer pressure from the moment they are born. However, as children move through childhood into the teenage years, parents can’t always be there to help them make the right decisions. Additionally, teens begin to identify more with their friends than with their parents (the lovely “my parents know nothing” stage) and peer pressure and friend drama begins.

The question then is: do I let my teen get sucked into the pressure and problems of their friends? The short answer is, no. The long answer is a little more complicated. Here are some tips to help your teen form healthy boundaries and learn to support their friends without getting sucked into others’ drama.

Start talking to your teen early about healthy boundaries. Just talking with your teen about what a boundary is can be the first step to creating healthy ones. The definition of a boundary is “something that indicates a limit.” Therefore, know your limits, know what you are and are not able to do for others, and stick to them. When we know what our own boundaries are, we are able to articulate them with confidence to the people around us, and they are more likely to respect our boundaries.

Model how you hold your own boundaries with the people around you. Just talking to your teens about healthy boundaries isn’t enough. They need to see what it means in action. If we demonstrate rigid boundaries, we may come off as cold and uncaring. If our boundaries are too loose, we may be too passive and can be taken advantage of by others. Saying “no” can be easier if you give an alternative for something you are willing to do that may meet that person’s need. For example, “I’m so sorry I won’t be able to help you prepare for the party, I’d love to help clean up though!” When setting appropriate boundaries with people around you, let your teen in on your thought process and tell them how and why you are making a specific decision or why you hold that boundary. This will help them better learn how to do it themselves.

Help your child develop healthy self-esteem. In order to not take on the problems of others, we have to feel confident in saying “no” and believe that our own needs (as well as others) matter and should be respected. Part of this comes from our own sense of self, and how we feel about ourselves. Help your teen build strong self-esteem by complimenting their efforts versus labeling their actions. For example, instead of saying “great job getting an A!,” you might say “you worked really hard on that project.” You can also reflect the positive things you see them doing on a daily basis. Too often we talk about what is going wrong; make sure to take some time to talk about what your teen is doing right. Lastly, encourage positive self-talk. Instead of “I failed this test, I’m so dumb,” encourage them to say “while I didn’t do my best this time, I can try to do better on the next one” […]

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Insecurity And The “Why Factor”

Posted on October 19th, 2017

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Over the past decade, I’ve been observing, researching, and learning about people and their behavioral patterns. At the beginning of this journey, the primary focus was making me a better me. As I did this, every aspect of my life began to change: I became a better husband, father, boss, brother, son, and friend. I doubled my business in five years, which originally took me twenty years to build. The journey then took a turn in an effort to share this knowledge with other people. I began teaching business groups on how to create a balanced, yet thriving life. So, what did I learn? I learned that we have a lot of insecurities which keep us trapped in the very lives we want to break out of.

As my kids were growing into the adolescent stage of life, I began to teach groups of teens the knowledge that transformed my life. Watching their eyes light up when they achieved success, I felt the desire to target this age demographic. I got as energized as they did. But, I also saw the insecurities teens have, not just in those I was coaching, but also in my own daughter. Time and time again, I witnessed or heard stories of my daughter being betrayed by her friends. As parents, we can’t monitor our children 24/7 – nor should we – but, we can ask ourselves, “Why is this happening? Why would friends do this to other friends? Was it my daughters fault? Was she bringing this on herself? Was my daughter really the confident, honest, ethical teen I knew her to be?” I didn’t want to be “that parent” in thinking my child was perfect and it had to be everyone else’s fault.

Why is it teens tend to back stab their so-called BFFs? In my opinion, it boils down to one word: Insecurity. An insecure person wants what you have and as a way of positioning him/herself to a higher level of hierarchy, this person feels the need to sabotage your relationship. Rarely does it have anything to do with you as a person, yet many teens take it personally. However, it’s the culprit’s own insecurity which causes him/her to wreak such havoc. What’s amazing is how many times I’ve seen this in adults as well. One would think that everyone would grow out of this juvenile behavior, yet it exists in adult circles just as it does in teen circles. However, once you learn how to dissect the “why factor” of the person throwing the verbal mud, and you determine that it is caused by the culprit’s own insecurities, it allows you to feel bad for the culprit rather than feeling anger or hatred. You now get to decide how you’re going to handle the situation […]

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Identity Development: Finding Connection And Confidence

Posted on October 17th, 2017

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Adolescence is a time of transition, not just physically, but also in relationships with others. Building trust within positive relationships at school and in other social activities contributes to a positive adolescent identity during these formative years1. During this adolescent stage of development, teens are both trying to find a way to belong and to develop a sense of confidence. Understanding these critical parts of development gives parents a way to help promote positive identity development in their teens.

Belonging. The search for belonging is a primary function of adolescent development. It’s a time of exploring social bonds and networks through peer and adult relationships, including those with parents, school professionals, and family friends. During this time of new relationships and connection-building, there also seems to be a shift from face-to-face connection toward connecting through technology (social media, online gaming, etc.) which plays a large role both in one’s identity and in how one makes sense of their world. Belonging occurs in the context of shared peer interests, social activities (school clubs, athletics, dance, theater groups, etc.) and shared experiences.

A common metaphor associated with the need to belong to a peer group is a wolf pack. A wolf pack travels and experiences life together – providing for one another, hunting, and protecting each other. In nature, if one wolf stays behind or becomes separated, the remaining wolf pack will leave the wolf to die. The lone wolf must fend for themselves, often succumbing to the perils of their natural surroundings, perhaps falling prey to other wildlife or harsh weather conditions. While the human experience is far less dangerous, teenagers who experience outward, obvious rejection from their peers may still see this rejection as the ultimate act of betrayal, exacerbating mental health symptoms such as anxiety, fear, and sadness. When you witness this in your teen, support and guide your teen through this rough terrain to find resolution and the will to move through the harsh realities of peer rejection. This exploration through the trial and error of belonging is a natural part of human development.

Confidence.  Social connections during the adolescent years are paramount in positive identity formation. Teens begin to develop confidence and self-esteem in an attempt to navigate through these formative years and beyond. Confidence may be affected negatively or positively during this time of development, especially when related to a teen’s connection, or lack thereof, within an identified peer group. During this time of identity development, peer influences shape and mold new connections and thoughts about oneself, affording your teen with the new task of making choices – some that put their personal safety at risk, as well as some that will test their confidence levels. As parents, your role has been to instill values and morals throughout your teen’s latency years, ideally as modeled by your family system […]

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Helping Your Teen Overcome Anxiety

Posted on October 14th, 2017

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What to know about a teen with anxiety

When anxiety occurs, it can impact essential parts of one’s functioning including: concentration, motivation, sleep, mood, ability to socialize, and problem-solving skills. Anxiety causes negative thinking which becomes difficult to control. Often this negative thinking is irrational and unhelpful. The negative thinking occupies the person’s mind so much that concentrating on other tasks, such as homework, becomes very difficult.

Negative and anxious thinking also takes up a lot of mental and physical energy which reduces motivation and presents another obstacle to completing tasks. Insomnia is a common outcome of anxiety, because at bedtime there is nothing left to distract the person from the anxious thoughts which, of course, further reduces energy and motivation.

When someone with anxiety is often engaged in negative thinking, their mood suffers too. It can be hard for teens to maintain a positive mindset when they are constantly bombarded with negative or pessimistic thinking.

Sometimes anxiety is centered around specific situations, like social situations. Many teens with anxiety worry about what others might be thinking about them and get nervous in certain social settings. Even when anxiety is more generalized, there can be specific worries about peers and socializing with others which can lead teens to isolate themselves.

It is important to keep in mind that a teen’s ability to solve problems is already limited due to their developmental stage […]

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Protecting Teens In The Digital Age

Posted on October 12th, 2017

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I have worked as a police officer for the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department for the last twenty years, and I have served as the School Resource Officer for the last three. I regularly provide digital safety awareness education to youth in the Los Gatos community and give presentations that cover topics such as digital reputation, online safety, cyberbullying, and sexting. I interact with students of all ages on a daily basis, and understand the significant influence and impact technology and social media often has on them. Teens can get wrapped up in this “alternate reality” that can dictate what they like and dislike, the choices they make, and even how they feel about themselves. As a parent, you want your teen to be savvy with technology in order to be successful in today’s society, but where do you draw the line? How much is too much? When does it go from a positive tool to an addiction with negative impacts? Here are some key points that I cover when educating adolescents about technology:

The phone is a privilege, not a right

A person under the age of 18 cannot sign a cell phone contract; therefore, phone service cannot legally belong to a minor. Even if they work part-time and pay the bill, the phone is owned by the parents or other financially-responsible guardian. We give cell phones to teens as a sign of trust and as a safety precaution. As the owner, you have the right to take back the phone if you feel it is warranted. If something bad happens – like a car accident, an overdose, or a crime – and the phone is involved in the outcome, you will be civilly liable for it. Cell phones contain physical and virtual records of conversations and interactions. It is in your family’s best interest to make sure that your teens use cell phones responsibly. Consider implementing a technology contract with your teen. You can add in clauses about having the password to your teen’s cell phone and/or social media accounts, turning off the phone at a specific time each night, and on the consequences when those rules are broken. Be sure to include your teen in these discussions and explain your reasoning behind your guidelines to ensure they feel heard and protected, not punished and misunderstood […]

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Overcoming The Fear Of Needles

Posted on October 10th, 2017

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Many teens who experience anxiety may also have a co-occurring diagnosis, such as specific phobia. Specific phobia is common among females and younger children, and studies identify approximately 5% of those under 18 years old suffer from a specific phobia1. Common phobias include fear of injections and going to the doctor/dentist. Phobias are often connected to feeling a lack of control and fear of uncertainty or the unknown. Specific phobias can come on abruptly, and many times connect to a negative experience. A teen experiencing specific phobia will often feel paralyzed in that moment, and it can be incredibly debilitating in basic activities, such as a medical check-up. While it is often important to work with a therapist around these fears, there are also steps that can be taken at home to support and prepare your teen.

Validate and Support—Have a conversation exploring this fear with your teen. Normalize that many people have similar fears, and validate that it must be so scary to feel out of control. Because these fears are so common, it is easy to brush them off or push your teen to work through it. Understand that a true specific phobia is not easily worked through, and it’s not as simple as, “just do it” or “get over it.” Your validation and taking the time to hear your teen’s fear is invaluable. And, sometimes, the support may look like you simply sitting with your teen and physically being there, not trying to help him/her understand why this procedure needs to occur.

Worst-Case Scenario—Help your teen to identify what the worst-case scenario might be, and support your teen in creating a plan for that happening. For example, the worst-case scenario for drawing blood might be that it hurts badly, and it takes a few attempts to get it. Work with your teen to plan how he/she can work through that situation, and ask what you can do to help in that moment. We are often so fearful of the worst-case scenario that we avoid the situation altogether. By identifying the worst-case scenario and helping your teen plan for it, you will empower your teen. This in itself will naturally begin to decrease the anxiety. It is also worth mentioning to your teen that most often the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen, so the plan exists as a back-up, but he/she likely won’t need it […]

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Managing Anxiety During The College Application Process

Posted on October 7th, 2017

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It’s that time of year – college application season! Some teens meet this right of passage with a smile, while others cringe. Living in the Silicon Valley, many students put pressure on themselves to apply to highly selective universities and attach their self-worth or level of success to the acceptances they receive. In addition, the application process itself can be a daunting experience with pages and pages of questions, essays, letters of recommendation and varying deadlines. All of this can create high levels of stress for both teens and their parents.

Here are some tips for helping your teen (and yourself!) reduce anxiety, lessen stress, and stay positive while managing the college application process:

Get organized.

Encourage your teen to break down his/her college applications into manageable tasks that can be done over time. Doing it all at once or scrambling at the last minute could leave your teen second-guessing the quality of his/her application or submitting an incomplete one, which will only lead to more anxiety. While many people mark their calendars with deadlines, another strategy to help avoid last-minute chaos is to mark calendars with dates to start tasks or make requests. For more tips on how to get organized, take a look at the College Planning Checklists from IvyWise.

Know the facts.

Not having all the facts, or even worse – having the wrong facts about colleges can result in skyrocketing anxiety for teens, and unintentionally set them up for failure. It’s important for your teens to have a holistic and realistic understanding of each college’s individual admittance requirements, programs, trends, and statistics. These can change from year to year, and what was true last year (or when an older sibling applied) is not necessarily true this year […]

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The Art Of Validation

Posted on October 5th, 2017

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“Why won’t my kid talk to me?”

One of the most common complaints parents voice while in treatment is that their teens won’t communicate with them. Parents want nothing more than to know what’s going on in their teen’s head; however, probing questions are met with silence or resistance. This is to be expected, considering teens are in a developmental stage in which they are trying to develop autonomy by pushing away from parents. However, teens have their own perspectives on why they don’t feel comfortable confiding in their parents: “they don’t listen,” “they won’t get it,” “they’ll just yell at me.” These are things we hear teens say time and time again, despite parents’ best efforts to genuinely engage their child.

Perhaps the hardest part for parents is watching their teens express intense distress, because it is scary and upsetting for parents to see their teens in pain. Parents commonly respond to intense displays of emotion by trying to problem-solve the emotion away, prompting the teen to stop feeling the emotion by “calming down” or ignoring the emotion completely. These responses are done with the best intent: to stop their child from feeling pain. However, the result is that teens do not feel heard and they assume that others around them can’t handle what they have to say. So what is a parent to do? Validate!

Validation: Is it really that simple?

Validation is the acknowledgement of another person’s thoughts or feelings. It is the communication that what someone is thinking or feeling makes sense given the circumstances. This may sound so simple, yet it is one of the most challenging skills for most parents to master […]

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Making The Most Of Our Blog Series

Posted on October 3rd, 2017

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Teen Therapy Center is a private mental health clinic dedicated to providing help and support to teens and their families in Silicon Valley. We know that parenting teens can be challenging! This is our fourth annual Fall blog series on “How To Build A Better Life With Your Teen.” We have enlisted over 20 teen and family experts to participate by writing unique blog articles. Our hope is that their expertise will help guide you through these tumultuous adolescent years.

This year’s blog series will provide valuable information, tips, and strategies on a multitude of topics including:

* Identity development and confidence
* Depression and the brain
* Encouraging teens to open up
* Teens and nutrition
* And many more!

By subscribing to this blog series, you have taken a monumental step in improving your relationship with your teen. You will be receiving a blog post via email three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. If you haven’t yet subscribed, it’s not too late! You can sign up here.

Because this blog series will provide a wealth of knowledge and expertise over the next couple of months, you might feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to start. To best apply this knowledge, try focusing on one tip at a time. Make a note of what interests you so you can go back and further explore the topic when you have more time. For example, you might want your immediate focus to be on anxiety, but you might make a note to later focus on helping your teen cultivate body positivity.

The majority of the articles included in the blog series are primarily intended for you as the parent; however, some articles are designed to be shared with your teen to “break the ice” and foster open communication and discussions. Here are a few suggestions to help you make the most of these conversations with your teen […]

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