Category Archives: teenagers

Strengthening families living with a “Black Hole” Child

Strengthening families living with a “Black Hole” Child
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Many families living with the proverbial “black hole” child will cope in unhealthy ways. Every member alters their behavior to avoid stress, frustration, pain, or anger, but it actually makes things more chaotic. It’s unintentional, but parents, siblings, extended family and friends take on psychological roles, and the resulting dynamics emotionally harms everyone. This is the dysfunctional family, and these are common roles:

  • Protector is the emotional caregiver and defends the child regardless.
  • Rulemaker wants Protector to stop enabling the child and set boundaries.
  • Helper smooths over conflict, calms others, and sacrifices for others.
  • Loner stays under the radar for safety and manages alone.
  • Victim shows a brave face but hurts, disguising depression or addiction, running away (mentally or physically), or acting out in the community.
  • Fixer has all the answers and persists in telling others what to do.
  • Black Hole Child devours everyone’s energy, yet is also trapped in the drama. For complex psychological reasons, they learn to manipulate, split family members against each other, and blame their disorder for behaviors they can control. Due to extreme insecurity or instability, they act out repeatedly to test if those they depend on still care. It’s a horrible disability.

Forgive yourself.  If this is your family, it’s not your fault. Families living with an alcoholic or addict look similar. These families receive specialized treatment that may help your family too. But it is a difficult path that requires mutual support and cheerleading.

Helping a troubled child means helping their family first. Families need teamwork, not conflict

For a child to be well, each person around the child must be well. Focus on all the other family members first, without the “black hole” child present… now is not the time.  Schedule confidential family meetings to talk feelings through without blaming the child.

First:  A stress relief meeting.  With a family therapist or support group to keep things safe, each member vents their hidden feelings without attacking others personally. Brace yourself.  You may hear upsetting things, but once feelings are out in the open, people genuinely feel better.

Venting is healing.

It may only take one hour, but by clearing the air, people can start to move on. They can forgive, make personal changes, and join the team. Teams say things to each other like this: “We’ve got your back;” “We’ll chip in for you if you need a break;” “We’ve got this.”

Second:  A check-in meeting. A couple of weeks later, ask how everyone is doing? What is working better and what needs improvement? Brainstorm solutions together.

Consider future meetings as needed.  At some point, the troubled child will need to understand the new family rules.  Since this is really tricky, work with a family therapist.

Warning:  If family teamwork improves, prepare everyone for Black Hole Child’s backlash or blow-up. Backlash is actually a good sign, but it must be withstood repeatedly.  Expect to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to keep things safe while the child struggles.  Stick it out. They may blow-up multiple times, but then these will fall off over time.  This article explains the reasons for backlash, why increasing tantrums are ironically a good sign(!), and how to manage them.

Ultimate goal:  The child’s behavior improves! They are surrounded by a caring but firm team that locks arms and won’t be shaken by chaos. Surprisingly, this actually helps the child feel more secure and learn self-control.

How it might unfold:

  • Protector steps back; cares for themselves; and accepts Rulemaker’s straightforward rules and boundaries.
  • Rulemaker steps in when Protector can’t manage. Rulemaker sets up flexible structure and makes two to three simple rules that are fair and strictly enforced.
  • Helper gets a life of their own, accepts they are not responsible for everyone, and is directed to projects or hobbies they really like.
  • Loner and Victim need lots of support and comfort and help to meet their needs and interests. Victim may need mental health treatment.
  • Fixer: withhold judgement and lectures! There are no simple answers. Your education or experience does not necessarily apply to this family. Ask how you can help them instead. Be gracious and supportive.

Helping a troubled child means helping the family first, and family teams are the best way.  As each member strives for a healthier role, each gets support from other family members, “Atta girl!”, “You rock!”, “Go Mom!”. Teamwork creates therapeutic homes and strong families. Research proves that strong families lead to better lifetime outcomes for the child.

–Margaret

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Marijuana is uniquely dangerous for troubled teens

Marijuana is uniquely dangerous for troubled teens
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Marijuana’s effect on adolescents is much more serious than many realize, especially those with behavioral disorders.  This is no exaggeration; marijuana can lead to psychosis and long-term cognitive impairment for your troubled child.  Numerous recent research studies show that marijuana has a more damaging effect on the young brain than is generally understood. The THC in marijuana is psychoactive, which means it can affect your child’s unbalanced brain chemistry more than the general population. Serious depression, anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis can be triggered in children with latent psychiatric vulnerabilities. (additional marijuana research going back to 2004 are at the end of this post).

Just because marijuana is plant-based does not mean it is safe.  It has dangerous side-effects like any other psychoactive drug.

Marijuana legalization has deeply concerned pediatric psychiatrists and other providers specializing in child, adolescent, and young adult mental health treatment.  Up until the their early 20’s, young people’s brains undergo radical changes as part of normal development.  Neurons are “pruned” to reduce their number (yes indeed, one can have too much gray matter to function as an adult). Pruning occurs rapidly in teenagers–think about it, in addition to puberty, a lot of nonsensical teenage behavior can be explained by this.  The THC in marijuana, the part responsible for the high, interferes with the normal pruning process.

When marijuana is ‘medicinal,’ a doctor determines a safe dose.  And when it is ‘recreational,’ there is no such limit… teen users don’t realize there should be.

Let’s talk about “dose.”  Above a certain dose, which is different for each person, THC side effects can be intolerable to lethal (if it leads to unconsciousness or triggers suicidal thoughts).

“THC is known to relieve anxiety in smaller doses and increase it in larger; this is due to its bi-phasic effects, meaning it can have two opposite effects in high doses. Furthermore, some people are genetically predisposed to experience anxiety with cannabis as a result of brain chemistry.” —–What are the Side-Effects of High THC Cannabis. Bailey Rahn, 2016

Now let’s talk about long-term.  Our troubled children are already slipping behind their peers in important ways, which can include school; emotional maturity (certainly); and physical health (such as gut and digestive problems).   Marijuana will add to your teen’s problems by causing lethargy, impaired memory, and cognitive delays.

We can’t pretend or assume marijuana is safe anymore, regardless of its legality or medicinal uses.

I found this research result extraordinarily sad:

“Increasing levels of cannabis use at ages 14-21 resulted in lower levels of degree attainment by age 25, lower income at age 25, higher levels of welfare dependence, higher unemployment, lower levels of relationship satisfaction, and lower levels of life satisfaction.”
–Cannabis use and later life outcomes.  Fergusson DM, Boden JM, Addiction;  Pp: 969-76;  Vol: 103(6), June 2008

I worked with adolescents in residential care and in the juvenile justice system who regularly used marijuana when they could.  A young man on my caseload grew noticeably depressed after he started smoking regularly, and his anxiety, irritability, and paranoia increased.  He said that smoking helped him feel better, but he couldn’t observe what I and other social workers observed over time. Smoking marijuana, ironically, was temporarily relieving him of its own side-effects.

A clarification about the two substances in marijuana – The plant Cannabis sativa has two chemicals of interest:

  1. Cannabidiol (CBD) – the molecule is considered safe for a variety of treatments, such as relief of pain and nausea, and it is approved by the American Medical Association;
  2. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the molecule is responsible for the high, and is the one that can produce psychotic symptoms, paranoia, depression, anxiety, and memory loss.

Your child’s future is already at-risk, why worsen it with marijuana use?

Please share this information with other parents.   All children need the same warnings we give about alcohol and street drugs to include marijuana.  Whether you live in a jurisdiction where marijuana is legal or not, teens can and will find it.  It may not be possible to completely prevent your troubled child from using, but your caring persistence can reduce or end its use.

–Margaret

 

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What’s in your troubled child’s future?

What’s in your troubled child’s future?
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Are you scared for your child’s future? Is he or she is falling behind in everything that is important for their future?

Will they have a future worth living? Will they manage as adults? Will they fail?

This chart is a spectrum of long-term outcomes for people with mental health disorders.  Your child will fall somewhere in one of the five columns.  No matter how ill your child is, if a network of family and friends can sustain support over the long-term, you’ll likely keep them from the worst-case scenario in the far right column.  There is research evidence for this.

However you define it, your child’s wellbeing is your main mission as a parent.

Your child may be struggling in critical areas of development, and problems are adding up:

  • Friend problems:  they have inappropriate friends, or no friends, or they mistreat friends (and siblings).
  • Behavior problems:  they do or say disturbing things (swearing, hurting, breaking, manipulating, sinking in depression, attempting suicide…). Everyone is stressed.
  • School problems:  disruptive behavior; poor grades (or a sudden drop in good grades); bullying or being bullied.
  • Health problems:  physical health problems become mental health problems, and vice versa:
    • trouble with sleep
    • digestive system and gut problems
    • poor diet and lack of exercise
    • epilepsy or neurological disorders
    • hormones during puberty
    • substance abuse.

We designate legal adulthood stages at the ages 18 and 21.  That’s young.  Many normal healthy young people at this age are immature and irresponsible, but your son or daughter may lag well behind them.  Your child may need support and rescuing well into the 20’s or early 30’s–this is not unusual.

You’ll survive the marathon of tough years by pacing yourself, finding support for yourself, and setting a few boundaries.

There is reason for hope.  Your child may take many horrible directions in their teens and 20’s, and you may feel hopeless or helpless as you witness their life nosedive.  If you can hang on and marshal support for yourself, your child will find a circuitous path to recovery.  It will have sharp turns and back steps and falls, but they’ll find it… and enter stable adulthood.

Some parents and families have seen the worst.  They’ve endured violence due to their child’s addiction; sat in court when their son or daughter was convicted of a crime; or they waited in the Emergency Room when their son or daughter was admitted for psychiatric care.  They also lived to see their child achieve the sanity to finish their education, support themselves, develop good relationships, and get that future you always wanted for them.

How two parents handled a worst case scenario (yours may never get this bad):

These are true stories of mothers who stuck by their very ill adult children and provided what little they could to bring a bit of wellbeing.  These mothers found some peace by simply doing what they could.

One had a grown son with schizophrenia and a heroin addiction who lived in squalor in supported housing.  He spent all of his disability assistance money on heroin and nothing else.  Her efforts to help him met with verbal abuse and threats of violence, and she feared for her safety.  What could she do, witness his slow suicide by starvation or overdose?  She arranged to visit him once a week in the parking lot, and brought 2 sacks of groceries in the trunk of her car.  He was to come out and get the groceries while she stood at a safe distance.  This worked.  He was still verbally abusive when he got the groceries, but he got food and she stayed safe.

One had a son addicted to methamphetamine who was lost to the streets. One day, she discovered a nest of old clothes and rags in an overgrown area behind her garage, and instinctively knew it was from her son.  “Good,” she thought, “He’s alive; I can keep him safe.”  She rarely saw him come and go, but she replaced the rags with clean blankets and a sleeping bag, and put out food for him, and provided a tarp for cover.  She couldn’t free her son from addiction, but she could keep him safe from the streets and its desperate people, and fed and sheltered in a way he accepted.

–Margaret

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4 Easy Ways to Deal With A Troubled Teenager

4 Easy Ways to Deal With A Troubled Teenager
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The adolescent and teenage years are a time of intense emotion, hormonal outbursts, and inner growth. The intensity of the energy and passion flowing through the mind and body of a teenager during this time can lead to discomforts, anxieties, and damaging behaviors and emotions.

Learning how to effectively accompany adolescents and teenagers as they journey through this time of growth, passion, and new discoveries about their selves is something that every parent needs to learn. With the right amount of accompaniment, support, and an appropriate balance between encouraging their independence and putting needed limitations on that independence, the teenage years can become a time of incredible growth, development and learning the path towards a healthy adulthood.

Many negative attitudes and behaviors are normal for teenagers.

For parents of teenagers, it is incredibly common to see your child happy in the morning and depressed at night. He or she might be very communicative one day, and closed off and silent the next day. This roller coaster of emotions, attitudes, and behaviors can be frustrating at times for a parent because teenagers might feel as if the end of the world is near, but is an entirely normal aspect of the late adolescent and teenage period.

According to an article written by Preston Ni for the review “Psychology Today”, teenagers regularly oscillate between seemingly polar opposites. They staunchly defend their individuality while also longing for acceptance of their peers. They may act like they know everything there is to know, but at the same time willingly show their ignorance.

Teens may feel invincible and unconquerable one moment, and
then insecure, timid, and vulnerable the next moment.

While we might wish that our child could be a little more stable, it is important to understand and accept that the hormonal changes raging through the bodies of our teenager are completely normal. To help guide your child through this sometimes-difficult period, the following four methods offer some helpful advice and suggestions.

Watch for Evidence of Deeper Behavioral Problems

Interests, hobbies, and pursuits will inevitably change over time. As your teenager grows up into adulthood, he or she will most likely leave behind certain aspects of their childhood that used to define them. However, one common sign of serious emotional and behavioral problems is when your adolescent or teenager suddenly quits or withdraws from several activities they previously enjoyed.

For example, if your teenager used to enjoy organized sports but suddenly shows no interest in going to practice, that might very well be a sign of a deeper issue. As a parent, learning to watch for these sudden changes in interest and learning to differentiate them from the normal process of “growing up” is essential to help your teenager navigate successfully through the changes he or she is experiencing.  You might clarity here: Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled? 

Don’t Settle for Only Get-Tough Methods

If your teenager has been actively rebelling against authority and showing some serious behavioral problems, one of the main parental responses is to get “tough” on your child and sternly discipline the child. While discipline and correction strategies certainly do have a place in dealing with problematic teenagers, relying solely on these strict strategies can backfire and cause more harm than good.

One recent study by Scientific American even finds that get-tough tactics can lead to further youth delinquency and even worse behavioral problems. Though you may feel that the best way to deal with your difficult teenager is through tough discipline, make it a priority to always combine any sort of discipline with other tactics that we further explore below.

Set Clear Boundaries

This is the tricky one for most parents. Trying to find a balance between allowing your teenager to explore the full range of emotions and passions flowing through him or her while also imposing strict limitations on what type of behavior is acceptable is never easy. It is important to set clear boundaries that are evident and understood by both you and your teenager.

Testing authority and pushing against limits is a normal part of the development of a teenager’s independence. However, it is necessary for both parties to willingly accept that some things are essentially off-limits. Instead of simply unilaterally imposing these limitations and boundaries on your teenager, try to have a conversation and discuss what is acceptable and what is not. Explain why you, as a parent, will not accept certain behaviors but also be willing to listen to his or her point of view as well.

Limit Your Advice in Mild Situations

From the perspective of a teenager, there is nothing worse than an annoying parent who is continually pressing them on every issue from how they dress, to their grades, to their posture, and everything in between.

Your child is more likely not to listen to serious advice
if all he or she hears is constant nagging from you.

Learn to choose your battles and offer important advice and guidance when it is most needed. If you don’t constantly badger your child, he or she will understand the seriousness of a moment when you do sit down for the infamous “parent-to-child” chat.

Enjoy Your Child’s Teenage Years

Most importantly, as a parent you need to learn to appreciate and value the teenage years of your child. Not only is the teenage period the last years you will have your child in your home before he or she sets out into the wider world, but it is also an incredibly exciting time when you can help to shape the future for the one you love.

by Aron James

Bio
Aron James is the founder of StubblePatrol.com. Stubble Patrol is a site on male grooming. He loves to write about his personal experiences.

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Use the “S” word: talk with your child about suicide

Use the “S” word: talk with your child about suicide
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Don’t be silent on the subject of suicide, even if there’s no evidence your child has considered it.  Bring it in the open, especially if you have a hunch something is wrong.  This article addresses:

  1. Why you should talk about suicide with your child
  2. How to respond if there’s been a threat
  3. How to respond if there’s been an attempt

Parents talk about many uncomfortable subjects with their child;
and suicide must be one of them.

Suicide is one of many sensitive subjects.  Like other frightening subjects (sexual abuse and “stranger danger”), your child should feel safe talking with you about them.  It can be very difficult for a child to bring these up to parents.

Won’t this give my child ideas and encourage suicidal thoughts?

No.  Children usually know what suicide is and will have wondered about it—even young children. Ask what your child thinks. Children as young as 7 and 8 have asked about suicide or threatened it.  Children as young as 10 and 11 have attempted or completed suicide.  The ages of highest suicide risk are between 10 to 24.

Talk with your child. Don’t leave him or her alone with thoughts or questions about suicide.

An 11-year-old boy died of suicide a couple of weeks before this article was written. There had been no prior signs.  He killed himself after receiving a prank text saying his girlfriend had committed suicide. He told no one beforehand..

Why might my child consider suicide?

Mental health professionals assess risk by using the Biopsychosocial Model.  The more negatives in the biological, social, and psychological aspects of one’s life, the higher the risk of suicide or other mental health problems.

This diagram can help assess your child’s risk.

From Pinterest and the blog, Social Workers Scrapbook

What things in this diagram can you control and change at home?
What mental and physical health treatment do the child and other family members need (especially you)?
For things you cannot change, have family team meetings, work together to get through tough times safely.

What can trigger thoughts of suicide?  Two examples:

Oregon: Survey results provided these reasons behind an exceptionally high suicide rate among 10-24 year olds, 180 individuals in one year (“Suicide circumstances by life stage, 2013-2014”).

  • 62% – Current depressed mood
  • 53% – Relationship problems
  • 47% – Current mental health problems
  • 43% – Current/past mental health treatment
  • 42% – History of suicidal thoughts/plans
  • 31% – Recent/imminent crisis
  • 22% – Family relationship problems
  • 21% – Non-alcohol substance abuse problems
  • 8% – School problem

New York State: Life situations of children completing suicide, 88 individuals; (“Suicide Prevention, Children Ages 10 to 19 Years”, 2016)

  • Feeling hopeless and worthless (often because of bullying at school, home, or online)
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Physical illness
  • Feeling detached and isolated from friends, peers, and family
  • Family history of suicide, mental illness, or depression
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Access to a weapon in the home
  • Knowing someone with suicidal behavior or who committed suicide, such as a family member, friend, or celebrity
  • Coping with homosexuality in an unsupported family, community, or hostile school environmental
  • Incarceration (time in juvenile detention or youth prison)

What if my child has threatened suicide?

A threat opens a door for a discussion.  A good approach is to interview your child about their feelings, plans, needs, and reasons.  Listen earnestly without input.*  You might be surprised to find their problem is solvable, but their depressed mood paints it as hopeless.  Listening helps them get clarity and feel heard and respected.  Once you understand their problems, you assist them in identifying options and provide emotional support.

* I have a friend who worked for a suicide hotline, and he said the job wasn’t difficult at all.  He said, “All I did was listen and show understanding of their feelings and just let them talk. “

After a frustrating discussion about my teenage daughter’s suicide threats, I gave up and said “No.  I’m telling you not to commit suicide.”  She was incredulous; “You can’t tell me what to do!  You can’t stop me!”  I responded, “Don’t commit suicide. You’re important to us.  You have important things to do in life.”  She made a few attempts in the following years (my hunch is that they were intended to fail), but she always reached out to her family afterwards for support.  Did my words make a difference?

What if a threat is just for attention?

It’s hard to tell. It could be real in some situations, but manipulative in others.  Some children use threats to prevent parents from asserting rules.  Angry children, especially teens, use threats to blame and hurt parents emotionally.  If you think a threat is not genuine, open up the suicide discussion.  “Talk to me about this”, “It seems like an extreme response; is there a better one?” “What needs to change?”  “How can I help?”  Focusing on the threat will either expose the ruse or draw out important information for addressing an underlying problem.

What else can I do if my child threatens suicide?

  1. Observe and investigate.
  • Do they have access to unsafe objects or substances?  You can legally search their room.
  • Do they frequent unsafe places or spend time with people who encourage drug use?
  • Do they have extreme mood swings (up or down), or a chronic dark mood?
  • Do they take dangerous risks and seek dangerous activities?
  • Are there any other danger signs?
  1. Build a network of eyes–choose people who will observe your child and keep you advised of risk, e.g. a mature sibling, a teacher, your child’s friend or the friend’s parents, your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend, a relative, or a trusted person who knows your child.
  1. Make changes you have control over, and solidly commit to these changes. Bring the whole family along on the plan.  FOLLOW THROUGH.
  • In family life – reduce chaos, fighting, blaming, or bullying; ensure everyone gets healthy sleep; express love and appreciation; neglect no one including yourself; create 2 – 3  house rules that are easy to enforce and everyone follows, even you.
  • In social and online life – learn as much as you can about the nature of your child’s relationships, whether romantic or social.  Suggest ideas if they stress your child. Can they remove themselves from a toxic relationship? or cope effectively with anxiety? Can you help them address bullying at school or online?
  • Biological health – Sleep, Exercise, Diet.  Limit screen time at night because blue light inhibits sleep.  Pay attention to digestive health, which affects mental health. These are some natural approaches.
  • Psychological health – Ask a school counselor about your child.  Seek a working diagnosis and mental health treatment. Then help your child find outlets for personal self-expression:  journaling, music, art, poetry, or a website such as this one, where teens help teens.  Mind Your Mind is an excellent example.

What if my child already attempted suicide?

He or she is still very fragile, even if in treatment!  They have taken the action, they’ve been there, and have the option for taking it again—a high percentage try againSuicide attempts are long-term emergencies. You need to be on alert in the following days, weeks, months, and possibly years.  In addition to intensive mental and physical health treatment, ensure your child gets regular deep sleep, exercise, and a good diet.  Ask them if they’ve had suicidal thoughts if you sense something is wrong.

Pay attention to events that trigger suicide (see the lists above).

Check-in with your child when something traumatic happens or might happen, especially if someone he or she knows attempted or committed suicide, or a suicide was in a TV drama or covered in the news.  Triggers are an emergency, act immediately.

You have the power to prevent a child’s suicide.
Be strong. You can do this. 

Take care of yourself.

–Margaret

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