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Navigating Independece

I work with many older teen girls and their families; many of the young adults I work with are college students. Navigating independence is difficult for families; it's difficult on the teen as well as the parents. Developmentally teens need to be gaining increased independence and responsibility. They need to be learning ways to manage their new liberties. Parents are learning how much freedom to hand over and how to ensure healthy accountability. This can lead to a power struggle, to a tug of war between teen and parents. Arguing often ensues and relationships get wounded in the fight. Many families end up getting quite torn apart during this lifestage. But it doesn't have to be such a difficult time. Family counseling can be a great way to help open a healthy dialogue about the desired independence and the necessary accountability. Compromises can be reached and healthy communication can be the open door to those compromises. Accountability is necessary for the new responsibilities teens are facing, yet it's important to establish trust in your teen so they feel they are capable of exercising their new liberties. This is a crucial time developmentally for teens; they way they learn to manage independence can set them up really well or really poorly for their futures and parents play a crucial role in that process. By parents consistently offering encouragement and healthy boundaries, teens can successfully navigate to a healthy independent place!

Longing to be Heard

Working with teenage girls in counseling takes up about a third of my practice. I have been working with teenage girls in a counseling setting since April of 2007. If you would have told me while I was in graduate school or in my first job as a counselor that I would be spending the next 5+ years of my career working with teenagers, I would have laughed out loud! The thought of working with teenagers was daunting to me, scary at best. But I had a great supervisor during the years I was working to become licensed who kept encouraging me to think about working with teens. I wanted to get back to NC after living in Georgia for 4 years and of course the job I found was working with teenagers! It was quite humorous to me at the time. Now that I have been working with teenage girls and their families for over 5 years, I cannot imagine anything different for my practice. I love counseling teen girls and love working with them in a family counseling setting too. OK, out of story mode now. What I hear consistently from the teenage girls I see in counseling is that they want to be heard, they want their voice to matter, and they long to be loved deeply after being heard. Once I realized this crucial piece of information, counseling with teenagers became a powerful process. When I took time to really get to know them, to hear their voice, and to know who they were (as much as they knew who they were at the time), something happened. When I kept working to hear them, I earned their respect and our therapeutic relationship grew. They allowed me to speak into their lives and call them on unhealthy behaviors, and sometimes they actually listened to me and changed their actions. Wow, that's the power of relationship! Knowing someone deeply, being allowed to speak deeply into their life, and then seeing them make deep changes as a result. I have truly been honored to walk alongside some amazing teen girls over the past 5 years. I encourage the families I work with to aim for these deep kind of relationships too. Aim to listen long and hard and deeply. And then don't just rush to correct or share your point, just wait, be, sit. Let the teen guide you; they are struggling to know who they are and where they are heading in life. They are grasping for independence they don't yet fully understand but more than fully desire. Listen to them, let them ask you into their world, and when they do let you in (and they will!), listen well and make sure they know you love them so deeply! They long to be heard, known and loved deeply. If communicating with your teenager is difficult at best, consider family counseling. It can be such a powerful experience to improve upon your communication and deepen your relationships within your family!

Great Teen Workbooks

I see a lot of teens and their families for individual and family counseling. The teenagers I see struggle with various issues; some face anxiety, depression, stress, family issues, self injury, self esteem issues, bullying, etc. Many of them are in some serious pain and are looking for an outlet for that pain but do not have healthy coping skills. Some of them have difficult family situations or struggle with being bullied at school. I have found some great resources that I use with many of my teen clients; several of them have had great success using these resources! These workbooks contain short exercises that are geared towards helping teens cope in healthy ways. Stopping the Pain is a workbook for teenagers who cut or self injure. Beyond the Blues is a workbook for teens who experience depression. The Anxiety Workbook for Teens helps teenagers cope with anxiety and worry. Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens teaches teens Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills that can help them manage mood swings, control emotional outbursts and get along with others better. The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens teaches teenagers mindfulness skills that helps them decrease stress. The Bipolar Workbook for Teens helps teens learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills for mood swings they may experience. Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens teaches teenagers Cognitive Therapy skills to increase their self image and improve their self esteem. These workbooks may not be helpful for every teenager but I find many teens respond well to the short lessons they contain!

Teens & Stress

I see quite a bit of teenagers and their families for counseling. One of the biggest issues I see is stress - now it may also be accompanied with anxiety and/or depression, but stress is what a lot of teenagers are experiencing. What I don't often see are teens who know how to effectively handle that stress. So instead they act out, engage in sexual activity, get into drugs or alcohol, cut themselves or harm their bodies in other ways or yell and argue with their parents. What a lot of teens are saying through these actions is "help me, I'm overwhelmed and I don't know what to do!" Now this isn't the case for every teenager, but many that I see are feeling overwhelmed, under immense pressure from parents or at school, have difficulties in their friendships or romantic relationships. Perhaps they are being picked on or bullied at school and they struggle with low self-esteem. Sometimes what helps is to decrease the amount of activities teens are involved in so there's less stress. Other times they need to hear their parents say they love them and that A's are not the goal but rather trying their best is the aim. Open communication between parents and teens will often times decrease stress in a teens life when done in a healthy, supportive and positive manner. Stress is all around us; we have to know how to manage our stress or how to eliminate stress that can be eliminated. A lot of stress we bring on ourselves; maybe we are over-involved or haven't resolved conflicts with loved ones that need to be resolved. Maybe we aren't engaging in enough positive activities that we enjoy. Increasing positive activities in our life can help decrease stress for some people. We also often engage in irrational thinking patterns and negative self-talk that increase our stress. I work with clients in counseling (teens and adults) to identify their thinking patterns and the way they are talking to themselves. We often uncover unhealthy, irrational thought patterns that lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression. Also, we find a stream of negative self-talk running through clients' minds that is not helping them in any positive way! One way to decrease stress is to examine these things - thought patterns and self-talk - to determine if they are healthy and rational. If not, the next step is to identify a healthy, rational and positive alternative to the negative, irrational thought. It takes some time but the more we speak the rational, positive thought to ourselves, the less stress, anxiety and depression we experience. If your teen is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression, I encourage you to open a dialogue about that. If they are resistant to that, enlisting the help of a counselor can be a great next step!

On Being a Family

It's hard being a family. Put together different personality styles and temperaments and you are bound to have conflict and clashes.Add to that people who have grown up in the same home and are reaching the teenage years, and things just get downright tough. I work with many teenagers and their families. We work on communication, relationship building and conflict resolution most often. What I hear most from the teens I counsel with is that they desire to be heard; some of them tell me that outright and with others I hear that more indirectly. But they all long to be known and loved at their core - even if they aren't sure who they are quite yet. That can be said for us adults as well; at our core we are desiring to be known and loved. Teens are seeking attention, affection and love - and often they seek this in the wrong places. It can be scary to seek this kind of love from our families. Maybe there has been pain or hurt in the family and they have been wounded in the family. Or maybe there hasn't been any major family trauma or tragedy but it is still hard for them to reach out; likely it's just a product of being a teen, searching for who they are and where they belong, needing connection yet desiring independence as well. I encourage parents to pursue their teens, pursue their kids' hearts. Chase after them even when they continue to run away or put up walls. Deep down teens do desire to be known and loved; they need their parents attention. It's just hard for them to ask for it, so instead they disobey, rebel or talk disrespectfully. It's hard to be a teen; there is so much pressure to perform - to make the grade. There's pressure to fit in, to look certain ways and act certain ways and if you don't you'll be an outcast or made fun of by your peers you so desperately want to love you. It's a tough world to grow up in these days. I admit though, I'm not a parent of a teen so I don't fully know what it's like to have your child rebel, disobey or disrespect. And I know I'm no longer a teen and that they live in a different world than what I experienced during my teens. Yet I think a lot of it comes down to pursuit of relationship- real, deep, consistent relationship. It's not going to always be easy or pretty, but that is life - messy and difficult. So parents...pursue your teens. And open to letting your parents in every now and then, even if it's hard. I encourage you to seek out Family Counseling if times are rough in your family; it can be a great tool to navigate the relational changes and challenges that happen during the teen years.