Parenting teens

January 29, 2020
It was a regular well visit for a young girl. She was 14 and there was clearly some tension in the room between mother and daughter. It is nothing unusual. The teen years often come with a lot of eye-rolling and resistance as the battle for independence is in full gear. This young girl was a little over weight and had some acne on her face. The mother pointed out that she was concerned about her acne, her weight and said her hair was brittle and thin. We proceeded with the physical exam and then I was able to speak to the young girl alone. In the office, I have the opportunity to speak to both parents and teens separately which is always something I find insightful. Usually the parents and the child are worried about very different things. It is frustrating. It is normal.
If you have a teen, you have experienced the eye-rolls, the quick short answer responses to your questions and the seemingly aloof attitude. It is as if nothing that you say really means anything or matters. I suppose over time this frustration can lead to a sort of “giving up” on talking or giving advice. These feelings can leave a parent  worried about their teen and what he/she may not be telling them. Battles for even the silliest of things ensue and the distance grows larger.
The sad thing is that most teens feel alone as they navigate what can be a new and scary world. They are trying so hard to fit in and they are not sure of who they are and what they stand for. Some seem to cruise through the teen years without a bump and others struggle. It is a time of self-doubt and self-exploration. Who am I? Who are my real friends? What is life really about? Teens live in the now. The present consumes them and they think if a certain group of kids doesn’t like them or they are not cool their world is essentially over. Some become obsessed with how they look, their weight or their “persona” on social media.
Parents on the other hand are looking at the overall picture. They have experienced life and want so desperately to protect their teens from the evils in the world. It can become all-consuming. The internet has become a quick resource for teens and they have access to much more information (with videos and images) than most parents have ever had in their lifetime. It is hard to keep up. It is also hard for some parents to remember what it is really like to be a teen. They are so focused on their role as a parent that they do not really stop to put themselves in the place of their teen. This is exactly what was happening with my patient.
When I sat in the room with the young girl, the first thing she said to me was, “my mom hates me”. I paused. She continued and explained that her mother was always telling her that she needed to lose weight, that her skin looked horrible and that her hair looked awful and thin. She told me that her mother was always yelling at her and proceeded to cry.
In the next room the mother was waiting. When I went into the room she started to cry. She explained that she was a single mom and was trying her best to work and provide for her family. She felt alone and worried and didn’t know what to do. She went on to tell me that she was worried about her daughter who was often crying and refusing to leave her room.
This scenario is not uncommon. This the perfect time to bring up the possibility of therapy. Explaining to a family that sometimes what we really need is a neutral person to talk to. Someone that will not judge you and will provide a safe place to speak your mind. I try to explain to teens that there is nothing wrong with them if they see a therapist. There are times in life when we can all use a person to really talk to without the worry of being judged or yelled at. It is also a wonderful time to learn about coping skills and how to find productive and useful ways to manage stress and difficult situations. Often these therapy sessions can also involve the parents when the teen is ready and can prove very useful in helping communication. The earlier intervention begins the better. Studies show that the earlier we provide help the better the outcome.
Do not be afraid to ask for help and do not let your teens lack of attention to your advice stop you from giving it. This is when they need it the most. Even though it seems that they are not listening, they are. Be careful of the words you use and remind your teen that the best way to get through the teen years is to stay true to themselves. Encourage them to find friends that are like them (even if it is only one) and to focus their energy on what makes them truly happy and feels genuine to them.
However, more often than not the best approach is just listening. When you feel like you just can’t find the right words to say, say nothing. When you are considering giving advice but feel that the moment just is not right, say nothing. Many times in life what we all need is just to know that someone really cares. Be that one person for your child.
Have a wonderful week!
Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 

Need help around the house? Here is some clear age appropriate guidance on how to get kids to help!

May 22,2018

As a parent it’s easy to get caught up in the daily chores necessary to get through the day. You walk around the house doing everything that needs to be done and you sometimes don’t even stop the think about it. You are on auto-pilot. I am writing this to tell you to STOP! Stop trying to be superman/woman. Stop doing it all. Trying to do everything only leads to resentment and anger…and quite frankly exhaustion.

So I ask that you engage even your smallest of children in your day to day chores. Small children as young as 3 can help!

At 3 years old, kids can help with:

  1.  Sorting laundry
  2. Putting their dirty dishes in the sink
  3. Putting their dirty clothes in the hamper
  4. Making their beds (their way)
  5. Cleaning up after themselves when they finish playing

By 4-5 years old, children can begin:

  1. Setting the table
  2. Helping with cleaning up after eating
  3. Making their beds
  4. Cleaning up after play
  5. Putting away their clean clothes in drawers and closets
  6. Learning to crack an egg and help with basic cooking (with supervision of course!)

By 6-7 years old, kids can begin helping by:

  1. Organizing a play-room
  2. Putting their clothes away after being washed
  3. Washing the dishes, drying the dishes and putting them away
  4. Basic cooking skills like cracking an egg, baking, preparing a salad.
  5. Replacing toilet paper rolls in the bathroom
  6. Picking up the trash from around the house and throwing it in the garbage
  7. Helping to put away groceries

By 8-10 years old, children can be extremely helpful

This is the beginning of “independence” that children can truly do things for themselves with guidance. (and they love to learn!)

  1. Definitely helping with cooking!
  2. Planning and packing for trips
  3. Replacing toilet paper rolls
  4. Putting away groceries
  5. Making their beds – including putting clean sheets and pillow cases on their beds.
  6. Preparing their own lunch/snack for school
  7. Setting aside their clothes for the next day and anything else they need for school. Give them a voice. Let them have some say in what they want to wear, eat (with guidance of course!), etc.

In the tween years:

  1. Teaching kids some of the basics such as cooking some meals
  2. Learning to do laundry
  3. Making a bed
  4. Helping with dishes
  5. Folding clothes
  6. Sewing a button
  7. Taking out the garbage
  8. Basic Gardening

These are just some of the many things that tweens can do!

By the time your kids reach their teens, it is important to look ahead to the future and begin thinking about the skills your child will need that are NOT taught in the classroom.

The truth is that by 18 or 19 years old many kids are living on their own and sometimes find themselves lost because their parents have done everything for them!

  1. Money Management: Make sure you begin teaching your child about money management. Consider getting them a bank account so they can save some of the money they may earn from doing jobs here and there. Money management can be a fun way to engage your child and allow them to feel like a contributing member of the family.
  2. Time Management: Teach them about time management. Help them write down short and long term goals and create a plan for how to get there. This will serve them well in all aspects of their life and will help them resist being “bored” and wasting hours and hours playing video games or scrolling through social media.
  3. Basic Chores: Make sure that chores are a priority in your house. Most responsibilities do not take much time and it is really about time management and team work. For example,on the weekends you may designate one of your kids to cook or clean up after dinner. Once your children go off on their own they really should be able to:

Before kids leave for college they should know how to: 

    • Cook some meals
    • Do laundry
    • Self-hygiene (very important!)
    • Time management skills (writing down goals and weekly to-do lists)
    • Make a bed
    • Basic cleaning skills
    • Sew a button
    • Iron a shirt
    • How to shop for groceries with a budget

These lists are by no means comprehensive, but it is meant as a preliminary guide for parents to begin thinking about all of the skills needed beyond academics to live on your own.

As parents we often want to do everything for our children. What we don’t realize is that by doing everything for them, they end up feeling like they can’t do anything for themselves.

Many parents are afraid to teach some of these skills to their kids because they fear that their kids may get hurt in the process (ie ironing), but the truth is that children are more capable than we give them credit for and can do more than you think!

I have witnessed in my practice that many times affluent families outsource many of their household responsibilities and often there are not many (if any) chores for the kids to do. There is a housekeeper, someone to clean the pool, a landscaper, etc. While often when there are two working parents this outside help is sooooo necessary,  I just want parents in this situation to pause and consider that making the extra effort to teach kids some of these skills is worth it! Any skills that a child can learn will help them in the future!

The opposite is also true, with poverty comes need and I have seen how in families with less wealth the children are taught early on that they need to help in the home with basic chores and household duties.

Regardless of your background or means, kids are kids and kids will grow up to be adults. As parents our job is to raise them to be contributing members of society, that are self-sufficient, hard-working, and kind. Helping around the house can teach all of these skills and also bring you closer.

So parents, please stop trying to do it all! Ask for a hand and enjoy the extra time that you have to share a special experience with your child instead of spending all day cleaning up alone! Trust me!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

Does your child seem unmotivated? Here are some effective ways to teach them about motivation from early on.

May 15, 2018

My entire life I have tried to set high goals. My parents always made me feel as though I truly could do anything. I suppose I took for granted that everyone’s parents were the same. The truth is that sadly it is not this way at all. So many kids are going through life day by day thinking that they are destined to live the life their parents have created. It is sad really when you think about it. Who knows what talents and traits lay hidden inside of these children.

Goal Setting. Take the time to sit with your children, even as young as 5 years old, and set goals. Let your child lead in what they want those goals to be. Do not laugh or ridicule a goal even if it seems ridiculous or unreachable to you. It is important to instill in them the idea that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible.

I believe that short term goals are just us as important, or even more important,  than long term goals. The short term goals are what will bring you closer to the long term goals,  so choose them wisely. Help your children see the bigger picture but help them by coming up with a plan to get there. Write down the goals. Perhaps buy a “goal notebook” that they can keep and look at from time to time. It will keep them motivated.

  1. Explain to your child that anything that is worth attaining will not be easy. There will be setbacks and they will fail. When this happens, the focus must be on what you do after this happens. Do you chose to stop and give up on your dreams?… or do you stop and reflect on what happened and learn from it. Sometimes we need to make a mistake to learn a lesson or see something more clearly. Do not get discouraged from these setbacks. These moments are the ones that you learn from the most.
  2. Encourage your child to be proactive when they fail. If they failed a test and didn’t understand something, have them set up a meeting with the teacher to learn what they didn’t understand. It is not only about the grade. It is important to learn for the sake of learning  and to explore what you can do differently in the future. Otherwise, these mistakes and grades mean nothing.
  3. Do not allow the final grade to determine your child’s self worth or potential. Help your child go back and review how they studied and perhaps find new strategies to improve their grade on the next assessment.
    Always “talk” to your kids. Listen really….the truth is when you REALLY listen to your kids, you will learn so much about what they are thinking, what they are worrying about, etc. This pertains to small kids and teens.
  4. Listen. We all want to be heard.  When  you stop to really listen to your child, without judgement, you will see that relationship grow in ways that you could only dream of.

So, go out there and sit with your child, set goals, listen and enjoy their journey into adulthood. It is the best part of being a parent-helping your child find their true potential.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.