Identity Development: Finding Connection And Confidence

Posted on October 17th, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


“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


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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