Posts

,

Family Night At The Movies – Talking With Your Teen About Inside Out And The Purpose Of Sadness

In our series, Family Night at the Movies, we recommend movies for viewing and later discussion whose message may be helpful for teenagers and their parents.
In one of our previous articles, you can read more about movies as valuable tools in addressing the emotional and social needs of teens.

Our latest choice is Inside Out, the acclaimed Pixar animation movie of 2015 directed by Pete Docter, which deals with the emotions, specifically sadness:

The film is set inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, with the main characters actually being her primary emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, who argue and compete with one another. The conflict between Joy and Sadness forms the basis of the action.

Warning: spoilers!

When her father’s new job requires that the family moved to San Francisco, Riley’s emotions are thrown into turmoil. She has torn away from her familiar, harmonious Midwestern life and forced to adjust to a new environment. In this classically stressful situation, we watch the battle of her emotions as they try to navigate these new challenges in her life.

Taking into account that the complexity of psychological processes is impossible to fully explore in a movie, Inside Out nevertheless effectively illustrates how our emotions work and how they connect to happenings in the outside world and to our cognitive processes.

Various lessons can be taken from this movie, among them that all emotions are equally important and the danger of the imperative to stay positive all the time. We have addressed these in a previous article, Come to the dark side, we have emotions. Here, we address an important third lesson – the purpose of sadness.

Purpose of Sadness – Adaptation of Loss

Emotions are specific reactions to happenings that are important to us and the purpose of each is an adaptation to the change, reconnection with important others, and ultimately the ability to move on with our lives. We are sad when we anticipate or experience the loss of someone or something valuable to us, so the particular purpose of sadness is a psychological adjustment to loss.
At the beginning of the movie, Joy, Riley’s dominant emotion, introduces the other emotions. She explains why each of them is important to Riley and points out that they all work as a team. However, when she comes to Sadness, Joy just skips it, admitting that she doesn’t really understand its purpose. So, in the face of this stressful situation, Joy prevents Sadness from acting and does not allow Riley to be sad, although that is clearly her most natural emotional reaction. She is losing her old way of life and being forced to adjust to a new one. She misses her old house, her friends, her hockey team, and also her father, who is more frequently absent because of his new job. She is struggling to adapt.

When we allow ourselves to experience certain emotions, many processes in both our mind and body work in concert to prepare us for action. The work of sadness differs in that when we are sad we feel listless and to all appearances become passive. Yet our mind is working actively to try to process the loss and reorganize our inner world in order to adapt to the new reality.

Purpose of Sadness – Relief and Connection

Another important function of sadness is its specific bodily expression. When we experience sadness without repression and let it flow freely through our body, we manifest specific facial expressions and body posture and will cry or sob.

Crying is a natural healing process. When we cry we are relieving tension and pain from our body as if the tears were melting the pain and alleviating our sadness. The release is complete with deep crying that involves sobbing since our distress is expressed through our voice and a different pattern of breathing. After a while, breathing is deeper, the body is relieved of tension and we feel much better. Reassure your children of any age; give them permission, let them know it’s okay to cry.

The specific body language associated with sadness has its social dimension, too. It is obvious to others that we are sad and they may show compassion. This is what, in the end, Joy finally recognized and came to understood to be the purpose of Sadness.

When Joy allowed Sadness to act and Riley finally expressed her sadness, her parents hugged and comforted her. In her distress, Riley’s image of “family” had collapsed and almost caused her to run away. Now the family was once again a team, reunited and reconnected.

Danger of Repressing Sadness

Sadness or any other emotion can be repressed when it is perceived as less valuable. “Being sad is for weaklings. I must be strong.” Our system of values is mainly formed through family and wider cultural influences.
Today we are witnessing a global trend which values “positive thinking”; a sort of industry of happiness to keep us smiling, optimistic, shiny and happy, which is not in accordance with our psychological makeup. Under certain circumstances, it is natural to feel fear, sadness, or anger. Every repression, denial, or compulsion to feel differently than we actually feel, leads to imbalance.

This is exactly what we learn in the movie. Since Joy doesn’t understand the purpose of Sadness and is afraid Sadness will spoil Riley’s happy life and infect her joyful memories, she multitasks in order to keep each new experience positive or funny at all costs.

The pressure to stay positive is even stronger when her mother praises Riley for staying so cheerful despite everything, implying that if both of them just keep smiling it will ease the pressure Riley’s father is going through. We’ll see later in the movie the consequences of this attitude. It is a reminder also for us parents to be careful with the messages we’re sending to our kids. You never know what kind of battle is going on in their heads and how they will interpret our words.

“Don’t feel” or “Don’t feel (certain emotion)” are frequent injunctions that repeat in the back of the minds of depressive or anxious clients going to therapy. The authors of Redecision Therapy, Goulding and Goulding, observed that when sadness is repressed, repression of joy and other pleasant emotions follows. As a consequence, a person is unable to emotionally bond with others.

That is why it is important to reassure your child of any age that feeling sad is okay. How do you do that? By understanding, allowing, and encouraging your child to feel and express sadness (and all other emotions), so cleansing can take place and the child can move forward. It is especially important to discuss later what happened and what made her/him so sad.

With teenagers, you can engage in even deeper conversations and we hope that some of the information in this article will help.

Ask your teens what they’ve learned from the movie. Did they ever feel as Riley did? What is the purpose of sadness, in their opinion? Can they identify their dominant emotion and the one they’re tending to neglect? For more about particular questions and how to lead a conversation after the movie, read here.

by Milena Ćuk,
Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

,

THE SECRETS AND LEARNING CHALLENGES OF DYSLEXIA

If you have no idea what something looks like, you probably wouldn’t recognize it even if it was right there in front of you. You might not even notice it, right? But, if somehow it does attract your attention, you’d probably identify it as something you’re already familiar with, or try to explain it with what’s already known to you. We want an explanation for why things exist, even if that means inventing one!

Now, imagine – You see a “normal”, bright kid struggling with such a simple thing as reading.
How can that be?

If you have never heard of dyslexia, you might be tempted to call this kid “lazy”, “stubborn” or “not as bright as you thought they were”. You might think that the parents are being too soft and need to push the child to do better in school.

So, what is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. When you have dyslexia, your brain needs more time and energy for some of the processes many would say come “naturally” or “automatically”. Matching the letters on a page with the sounds that those letters and combinations of letters make is one of those things. People who have dyslexia experience difficulties with skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.

Who said reading was easy?

Nobody is born with the ability to read. (Obviously!) It is an activity that requires a lot from our brain, which needs to be able to focus on the letters, put them into words, then the words into sentences, and link the sentences into paragraphs so that we can read them –  and only then, understand the content of what we’re reading. So, when you see the letters D, O, G connected, your brain needs to pick up the letters, connect those letters to specific sounds and then read the word “dog” and also comprehend that the word on the paper is a symbol for a cheerful, four-legged animal that loves playing “fetch” with you.

So – reading is NOT easy, even though many think it is.

What causes dyslexia?

We’re still trying to figure out what’s actually going on in the brain. Anatomical and brain imaging studies show differences in the development and functioning of the brain in a person with dyslexia. What we know for sure is that most people with dyslexia have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word. Understanding how the letters represent speech sounds seems to be the key factor in reading difficulties. What’s important to know is that this learning disability has nothing to do with how intelligent you are.

What are the risk factors for dyslexia?

People with dyslexia have, in many cases, experienced difficulties with learning to speak, difficulties with differentiating the sounds in speech, difficulties in learning letters, organizing spoken language, memorizing words, etc.
Also, the parents of dyslexic students tend to report delays in reaching common milestones of childhood, such as learning to crawl or walk or ride a bike.

What are the typical signs of dyslexia?

Depending on the age, dyslexia can be spotted through a variety of signs.
We’ll outline some of the most common ones.

PRESCHOOL

  • Difficulty learning new words
  • Difficulty guessing a word based on its description
  • Difficulty recognizing whether two words rhyme
  • Difficulty in pronunciation of familiar words
  • Difficulty sounding out unfamiliar words
  • Difficulty remembering multi-step instructions
  • Difficulty remembering the order in which things appear in a story
  • Difficulty structuring the answer about how the day went or how something happened
  • A child does not use as many words as peers do
  • A child tends to mix up words that sound familiar
  • A child tends to struggle to organize a story chronologically

GRADE SCHOOL

  • Difficulty learning letters (and writing them)
  • Difficulty differentiating similar letters both in writing and reading (like b and d)
  • Difficulty recognizing which letters produce which sound
  • Stalling while reading; guessing a word based on the first two letters
  • Difficulty isolating the middle sound of a word
  • Difficulty recognizing the spelling of a word
  • The student quickly forgets how to spell the words he reads
  • Struggles with word problems in math
  • Difficulty remembering the key elements of a story
  • The student focuses so much on the reading itself that he fails to remember and comprehend what he has read

MIDDLE SCHOOL

  • Makes a lot of spelling errors
  • Avoids all assignments that require reading
  • Takes a lot of time to finish homework that requires reading
  • Gets nervous while reading
  • The student reads at a lower academic level than they speak
  • The student tends to re-read sentences to be able to comprehend them
  • The student tends to forget what he has read
  • When reading, the student often makes pauses with “um” or filler words

There’s more to dyslexia than you’d think

Not being able to read and write at the same level as your peers can significantly affect how you see yourself. The peer group tends to mock the student who isn’t able to do things they do with ease. That is why it is extremely important to pay attention to how the student is feeling and how he sees himself.

The students with dyslexia tend to think “out of the box”. They are creative and innovative.
These are the strengths that any person working with a student with dyslexia should capitalize on.

What to do if you suspect that your child has dyslexia

  1. Consult with the experts – speech therapists and psychologists. They will do all the necessary testing to see whether the student has dyslexia.
  2. If it turns out that your student does have dyslexia, do not despair. There are many successful people who have this diagnosis. With proper treatment, you can help your child succeed in school. Just make sure you contact professionals on time.

Coaches and Tutors at Nobel Coaching and Tutoring are trained to work with a student with these difficulties (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia). Together, we map all of the areas of improvement that we can work on and help your student succeed. Contact Us!

, ,

WHY DO THE ARTS MATTER?

Things children and parents alike can learn from art

Enjoying art for art’s sake is a noble goal we should all aim for, as it unquestionably enriches our lives. But in a world where time spent on art can be viewed as time better spent on something “more useful”, it can’t hurt to remind ourselves what art actually does for us. Most parents and children invest their every waking moment in learning more, on extracurricular activities, and improving their chances of getting into the school they want. Meanwhile, art pursuits often get left behind even though they, too, can promote the skills necessary for academic and life success. This article reminds us of the ways the Arts enhance our learning and enrich our lives.

The Arts make us more creative

It is impossible to overstate the benefits the Arts bring to our creativity and divergent thinking [8]. As we express ourselves through various art forms or observe the art of others, we come to understand that being creative isn’t exclusively confined to the world of art itself. Rather, it enables us to see the larger world through different eyes and teaches us how to be creative and innovative in many fields not necessarily having anything to do with the Arts themselves [3].

Enjoying the Arts “makes us smarter”

Art, like science, is a broad term with many interpretations, but most art can teach us something about aesthetic perception and taste [1]. This isn’t where the magic ends, though. How many times have you heard that you need to read a lot in order to be well spoken or be a good writer? Literature is art and enhances our vocabulary and language skills [4].

However, it is not only literature and reading that can improve our skills and widen our knowledge. When children draw, paint, or play with clay, they are not only creating their own art, but they’re learning about the world and at the same time developing their cognitive skills by going through the oh-so-hard decision process of which color to choose, planning how their drawing will look, tweaking and experimenting. In other words, art gives children a chance to make decisions and learn from them [6].

The Arts teach us how to be human

While nothing can really prepare us for a living except actually living and learning along the way, the Arts offer us an invaluable window into the human experience and can teach us how it is to live on this planet for different people from different places. It also shows us our similarities and differences and helps us empathize with others. For instance, Maya Angelou’s autobiographical “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, though written in 1969 and relates events that happened in the ‘30s and ‘40s, still manages to teach us a great deal about racism and how to overcome it, and gives us a different perspective on coming of age as an African-American girl in the United States back then. Similarly, paintings can show us a lot about how some people live and what is important to them, and also help us understand the way they perceive reality.

This insight into the lives of different people helps with our social skills, but there are other ways the Arts can nurture these skills. Many artistic endeavors, such as different types of dramatic performance or large-format paintings, can be created by groups or with one partner, thus teaching the participants how to be cooperative, helping, and caring and how to share with others [5].

The Arts help us master our emotions and feel better about ourselves.

Expressing and regulating our emotions is essential to our everyday life, but a lot of us experience difficulties with one or both of these. Art is there to help when things are too complicated to verbalize. This is often the case for children, so it is especially beneficial for them to have access to art and to feel free to draw things the way they
want. It can be instructive to give a child a piece of paper when they are upset or unusually quiet since many things can be revealed through their art. There is usually some meaning behind a child exaggerating something in a drawing, not paying attention to something else at all [3] or simply using dark colors.

Art is also used in therapy to help people with a wide range of problems and has been shown to have beneficial effects on emotion regulation [2] and attitude, and in improving self-image [7].

Additionally, specific activities like drama and dance can be great confidence builders [5] and help with stage fright. Just participating in the realm of art teaches us perseverance and focus, as art requires practice and a high level of concentration [9].

Nurturing your child in his/her artistic endeavors and also enjoying participating in the Arts yourself, mindful of their benefits or even just for their own sake, is definitely worth your time. Not only will they enrich your lives, but they will make your child and you better human beings in every way possible.

REFERENCES:

  1. Arslan, A. A. (2014). A Study into the Effects of Art Education on Children at the Socialisation Process. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4114-4118. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.900
  2. Brown, E. D., & Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 337-346. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.08.002
  3. Extension (August 31, 2015). Creative Art Helps Children Develop across Many Domains.
  4. Klein, O., Biedinger, N., & Becker, B. (2014). The effect of reading aloud daily—Differential effects of reading to native-born German and Turkish-origin immigrant children. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 38, 43-56. doi:10.1016/j.rssm.2014.06.001
  5. National Endowment for the Arts (2015). The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation.
  6. PennState Extension (February 6, 2014). Art – An opportunity to develop children’s skills.
  7. Schweizer, C., Knorth, E. J., & Spreen, M. (2014). Art therapy with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A review of clinical case descriptions on ‘what works’. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(5), 577-593. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2014.10.009
  8. Sowden, P. T., Clements, L., Redlich, C., & Lewis, C. (2015). Improvisation facilitates divergent thinking and creativity: Realizing a benefit of primary school arts education. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(2), 128-138. doi:10.1037/aca0000018
  9. Strauss, V. (January 22, 2013). Top 10 skills children can learn from the arts.

By Anja Anđelković

DO CHORES HAVE TO BE A CHORE?

Children, and even adults, often consider chores a “burden” since they take away time we could spend on activities we enjoy doing and intrude into our “fun” time. However, while few people think ironing shirts is interesting and uplifting, it is something most of us will need to do at some point in our lives, even if only before those first job interviews because, let’s admit it – nobody really irons their clothes all the time.

The truth is chores don’t have to be all that horrible, especially if you start participating in them early on and without any negative associations. In fact, a good relationship towards them leads to developing skills useful in adult life and learning how to deal with responsibilities in constructive ways. This is what every parent would want for their child and the good news is there are ways to achieve it. It is possible to have your children help with chores without frustrating them or hearing the usual “Later” whenever you mention anything loosely associated with the household.

HOW TO MAKE CHORES NOT A CHORE

To help your child develop a good relationship to chores, the most important thing is to start young. A good way to begin having a functional household with all members participating in maintaining it is to have your toddler start caring for their basic hygiene. Teach them to brush their teeth and dress and let them have some independence while doing so. Yes, this means you don’t get to pick out that cute matching outfit, but let your child have a choice about what they wear, as long as it’s not a summer dress… in the middle of winter. When your child starts doing these as a part of their routine, you can gradually add other simple tasks: putting their toys away after playing, making their bed or helping set the table. As your child grows, feel free to add more chores that benefit the entire family, and always show your appreciation for your child’s engagement in them. This will help teach your child autonomy, and also that their needs are not the only ones and that all members of the household should participate in maintaining it.

As your child starts taking on more and more chores, you’ll start noticing that some tasks suit their personalities and interests better than others. Encourage them to develop their own methods. As their skills improve, they will feel proud of themselves and chores can actually become a way for them to develop self-esteem. If you have more than one child, it would be smart to delegate different responsibilities to each one. This will not only help you have your house in tip-top condition but will help avoid competition between your children and let them all have a place of their own in the family dynamic. It will also teach them that there is more to being a member of the family than just being born into it. When delegating tasks, try to stay away from social norms about what girls and boys should do. Consider only your child’s individuality and go with that as your main criterion.

Another key factor in keeping the drudgery factor out of chores is your own relationship to them. It is completely understandable that you find some tasks tedious or that it is hard for you to clean the grout and hum upbeat tunes while doing so, but at least try not to be extremely negative whenever it’s time to do housework. Think about all the good you will do for your child if you teach them how to accept chores as a part of their everyday lives. Demonstrate that chores are just like any other activity we do daily and that there is no need to complain about ordinary tasks. If you need to occasionally fake enthusiasm for a chore you particularly dislike, it’s probably better than displaying a negative attitude. Maybe it becomes easier and you actually help yourself on your journey to teaching your child important life skills.

The third thing to keep in mind while delegating chores is the number of tasks your child has to do. As with any other good thing, moderation is key. Having your child help with chores is all well and good and beneficial for everyone involved, but keep in mind that children need time to study and play, and that chores shouldn’t take up most of their time. If you don’t want your child to become resentful towards all household tasks, don’t make him/her participate in them in all their spare time and try not to use chores as a form of punishment. This often leads to resistance and can have negative effects even later in life.

In case you have a child who has already developed a not-so-great relationship with chores, fret not – there are ways to make it better! Of course, take into account everything said in the previous paragraphs, but also show appreciation for any contribution your child makes to the household no matter how minor. If the only thing your child does is occasionally making the bed, mention how great that is that they did that instead of criticizing them for not doing more. Also, keep in mind that we tend to show resistance to activities that are presented as something we must do, so try not to make chores one of those as it will only make the child dislike it even more. And, most importantly, be patient. It might take some time for your child to realize that chores are just a regular activity that, in the long run, make life easier for everyone in the household.

CHORES AS A MEANS TO A FULFILLED CHILD

The first thing that usually comes to parents’ mind when they think about how their children could be doing more around the house is that it would make running the household easier, but this is actually low on the list of reasons why chores are good for your child.

When participating in household activities, children see themselves as important contributors to the family’s well-being, especially if they start while young. Other than that, chores can be a great way to bond with your child and make them feel more connected to everything that is happening within the family. Running a household is a team project, and getting your child to help with chores will prepare them for working successfully with others throughout their lives.

Another benefit for your child in doing chores is that it helps them become more responsible, teaches them self-discipline and gives them a sense of pride and self-worth once they complete their tasks. It also is a great way for them to start managing their time, as they will have to learn how to fit chores into their daily schedules.

And if all of this isn’t enough, think about the many ways chores can be useful in bettering certain skills. They can be great exercise and help your child develop both fine and gross motor skills. For instance, doing almost any type of outdoor work not only works up a sweat but can improve physical well-being. Drying the dishes can help them learn how to handle delicate objects. Chores can also help with your child’s numerical and even verbal skills. Ask your child to help write a shopping list, measure and count some ingredients for a cake, or sort the laundry by color to help with their classification skills. The list never ends. You can actually get very creative and make it fun for both you and your child. The case for chores is strong. All you and your child have to do is start doing them. It is never too late.

Resources:

  1. Albernaz, A. (December 8, 2015). Sparing Chores Spoils Children And Their Future Selves, Study Says.
  2. Paton, G. (February 20, 2014). Parents told ‘use chores to teach children basic skills’.
  3. Responsibility And Chores: Part I – The Benefits of Chores. (December 16, 2012).
  4. 4. 6 Big Ways Your Children Benefit From Having Chores (September 10, 2014).

THE SECRETS OF THE TEENAGE BRAIN

by Anja Anđelković

It is no secret that adolescence is hard. We have all been through those years of being mad at the world, taking risks, experiencing intense emotions, and having strong opinions about almost anything. Those of us who have children have experienced this more than once, and it is probably even more frustrating if you are experiencing it from the sidelines, as a parent of someone who is constantly telling you to leave them alone. Usually, we think of the teenage years as an obligatory phase we just need to get through and of teenagers as lazy, opinionated know-it-alls whose main purpose in life is to annoy their parents. And while it is understandable to feel this way, it might be useful to know that adolescents aren’t necessarily choosing to be that way – their brains are just wired differently than the brains of adults.

If you caught yourself wishing to know what’s inside that head of your teenager, you’re in luck. Scientists are finding out more and more about the brain in general, and how it develops, and thus, about the teenage brain itself. This won’t help you find out if your teen thinks you are a cool parent, but it sure will help you deal with all of his/her reactions more appropriately as you will, finally, know why they are behaving the way they are.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAIN

Before we get into the consequences of the teenage brain being different than that of an adult, we have to learn how the brain develops and what happens to it during adolescence. Basically, we have to get through the science stuff.

Our brains grow significantly during early childhood and, as a matter of fact, most of our brain is already developed by the age of six. However, there is one more stage when the brain starts developing more noticeably and that is – you guessed it – during our teenage years [6]. In fact, the brain continues this process of maturation even past adolescence and some parts of it, like the prefrontal cortex, are not fully mature until our early to mid-twenties [1].

PREFRONTAL CORTEX: THE BRAIN’S CONDUCTOR

What exactly happens during the brain’s second period of rapid growth? First, it is important to note that most of the more significant changes are connected to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain situated just behind the forehead [3]. This part of the brain is thought to be in charge of planning, decision making, and emotion regulation. It is often compared to a “conductor”, as it orchestrates the activity of other parts of the human brain [7].

As we approach our teenage years, this “conductor” must ready itself to take on its role to the fullest and it is then that its activity starts to increase. We develop an overabundance of neural connections (synapses) that need to be “pruned” to be used effectively. Scientists used to believe this only occurs in infancy, but as it turns out, it also happens just before we hit puberty and it takes until our early twenties for our brains to reorganize this new brain matter and lose some of the extra connections [4].

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN: THE ADULT BRAIN VS. THE TEEN BRAIN

We have found out that the brain goes through a growth spurt during adolescence, just like children themselves. But what does this actually mean and how does it affect their behavior, emotions, and lives in general?

A POWERFUL COMPUTER WITH A SURGE OF EMOTIONS

Even though it is still under construction, the teenage brain is a mighty thing, especially in terms of its intellectual power. In fact, it is equal to the adult brain in this regard. Apart from that, there is no time in our lives when we can learn as much as we can during our teenage years [9]. This is especially true for taking in information and processing and retaining it. Just think about how you could recollect the slightest of details when you were a teen or how many times you’ve thought your teen had the memory of an elephant.

However, there is an important difference in how teens and adults carry out mental tasks and process information. Adults seem to engage different parts of the brain carrying out the same tasks as teenagers. As the frontal parts of their brains are still in development, teens tend to use the back of the brain (“their gut”) more and when they do engage their frontal lobes they tend to use much more of the brain’s power to get a task done than would an adult. This is due to the fact that adults have already pruned those synapses in the frontal lobes and can make communication between parts of the brain faster, as there are simply fewer roads information can take [8].

STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION, USE OLDER BRAIN PARTS!

Now let’s get back to that gut that we mentioned. You surely have noticed how teens often act impulsively or engage in risk-taking behavior even though they clearly can tell why the reaction was inappropriate. As the frontal lobes are the last piece of the brain development puzzle, teens rely on other, “older” parts of the brain when making split-second decisions. This does mean you were right all those times you told your teen to think before acting, but it also means there is not much they can do about it, as their decisions, especially split-second ones, are simply led more by their emotions than by their frontal lobes [2]

Based on your teen’s moodiness and the fact that they are led by emotion more than reason, you would think that teens are experts in recognizing emotional expression. The opposite is true: exactly because they use cruder parts of the brain more before the frontal ones develop fully, teens have difficulty differentiating subtle shades of expression and can’t, for example, tell a shocked face apart from a frightened one. Of course, as they grow older they start using the frontal lobes more and get better at this [5].

HOW TO LIVE WITH A TEENAGE BRAIN?

Synapses, cortex, lobes, executive functions – when you start listing all these things that factor into the development of our brains, it starts sounding like this fairly new knowledge we gained about the teenage brain is a strictly scholarly matter, useful only for those who understand the terminology very well and also know some greater implications of all these findings. However, all this information about the adolescent brain and its development is extremely useful for parents and teens alike. Firstly, it helps parents have a greater understanding of their teens. As Dr. Jensen, a neurologist, says: “Being armed with facts can help you be a more patient parent because you understand the neurobiology. [2]” So, the next time your teen is faced with a decision, you’ll know that it is better for him/her to have time to think about options than to decide fast and probably impulsively and not give themselves a chance to engage their frontal lobes. Also, you will have a greater understanding of the way they process emotions and the difficulties they encounter on the way.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR TEENS?

And how is it useful for teens to know their brains aren’t quite there yet in terms of development? Teens often can’t explain their moods, feelings, and reactions to themselves, so knowing that there is a neurobiological reason for this might help them learn to accept themselves as they are and teach them to be aware of the fact that their brain is often trying to take the fastest route. They can start to rationalize things consciously and try to engage their frontal lobes as much as they can by discussing the consequences of their actions with someone, as this will lead them to think before they act [10].

It is also important to remember that the teenage brain is extremely powerful and this can be a great encouragement for teenagers who are a bit overwhelmed by all the changes they are going through. Their brains are learning machines and they can memorize more now than they ever will. This is a great opportunity for improvement in areas they weren’t great at or just for exploring their interests and learning as much as possible about them. If you tell your teen that he/she has a power they will never have again, they will probably roll their eyes, but try repeating it to them a lot and ingraining it in their memories because they might end up listening to you just once and using their brain to its fullest potential.

References:

  1. Forster, K. (January 25, 2015). Secrets of the teenage brain.
  2. Gregoire, C. (June 14, 2015). Why Are Teens So Moody And Impulsive? This Neuroscientist Has The Answer.
  3. Mascarelli, A. L. (October 17, 2012). The teenage brain. Adolescence triggers brain – and behavioral – changes that few kids or adults understand.
  4. Nixon, R. & Britt, R. R. (March 31, 2016). 10 Facts Every Parent Should Know about Their Teen’s Brain.
  5. Packard, E. (2007). That Teenage Feeling. Monitor on Psychology, Vol 38 (4).
  6. Schaffer, A. (October 15, 2004). Head Case. Roper v. Simmons asks how adolescent and adult brains differ.
  7. Shimamura, A. P. (April 5, 2014). Surrealism, Creativity, and the Prefrontal Cortex.
  8. The Teenage Brain: Research Highlights. (June 8, 2013).
  9. The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction. (2011).
  10. Understanding The Teen Brain. University of Rochester Medical Centre.

The Case For Pomegranates: Embracing Different Cultures

by Anja Anđelković

Have you ever discovered you’ve been doing something wrong your whole life? For instance, you’d been picking the seeds out of a pomegranate one by one and swearing you’d never buy a pomegranate again, only to find yourself back in the grocery store getting another one because they’re just too tasty. And then one day you come across a YouTube video explaining how to peel a pomegranate and get the seeds out without the hassle and the usual red splatters everywhere. Who came up with such an ingenious idea? Well, most likely it was someone who grew up in a country where eating pomegranates is commonplace and who couldn’t imagine anyone peeling them any other way until they saw us making a mess. To put it simply, the person behind your “life-changing” video grew up in a different culture.

Now, imagine a world without such helpful videos, or far worse, a world where you would never come in contact with people from different cultures. Not only would you not know how to deseed a pomegranate properly (such a necessary skill!), but you’d miss out on all the wonders of diversity: you would know nothing about different peoples and their customs and much of the wealth of humanity’s artistic and literary endeavor would be denied you. And you and all your friends, confined to the same small cultural group, would live unaware of the enriching possibilities of the wider world.  Luckily, times have changed. The global world of today is a hodgepodge of people from many diverse cultures moving from country to country, interacting on many levels, and living side by side in the same places.

Living in such a world is a rewarding experience we should all cherish, but unfortunately, there are some people who aren’t prepared to embrace cultural differences and who discriminate against anyone whose traditions are unfamiliar to them. It would be simple to just dismiss such people as an uninformed minority, but the truth is that we all need to live in harmony, respecting each other and our differences. And in order to do so, we need to know a lot more about each other and also ourselves. Without a doubt, the key to living in this modern multicultural society is learning – learning as much as we can about the world we live in and its people throughout our lives… And the path to making life in a diverse society more harmonious for everyone starts with the individual, most effectively a child, ready to absorb a wealth of knowledge that will shape a new generation.

Learning About Other Cultures

When we just say “learn about cultures” it might sound a bit boring and make you think about the time you spent reading about different types of ancient Greek columns or different countries around the world, but the truth is that learning about other peoples and their way of life can be extremely fun and engaging.

Clearly, the most immersive way to becoming familiar with a different culture is to learn to speak another language, which entails far more than simply becoming proficient in its vocabulary and grammar. Most importantly, it necessitates learning about the society where the language is spoken. So if you want your child to become more informed and understanding of other cultures, encourage them to take some language classes or maybe learn a foreign language together with them.

  • Another fun and extremely rewarding way of embracing differences is through travel and experiencing an unfamiliar culture first hand. Of course, this isn’t so easy to achieve but if you get an opportunity, travel somewhere outside your own experience and immerse yourself in the culture with your child. If circumstances don’t allow this, traveling from your living room has never been as easy as it is now: watch shows about different people and parts of the world previously unknown to you, or watch movies originating in different countries. Ease into it by starting with movies in English but featuring characters from different backgrounds..,
  • Pick a book with a character from a different culture. Read it with your child. Discuss how the characters are similar and different from the people who live in your community.
  • Going to festivals and the celebrations of people who don’t observe the same holidays as you do with your child is another great way to get to know different cultures and ways of life and broaden your horizons. Try to find out about other groups who live in your community and make a point of learning about the artistic or scientific achievements their society has accomplished.
  • And most importantly, encourage your child to interact with as many “different” people as they can and try to explain how the unfamiliar isn’t anything to be scared of and especially not something you should make fun of, but how differences are what makes our society interesting and how important it is to accept and respect everybody. Tell them how much easier your life would have been if only you’d known an Iranian who could have shown you how to deseed a pomegranate properly.

The Johannesburg Declaration (2002) says that “our rich diversity … is our collective strength”.  When you read about all the benefits that embracing our diverse world can bring and when you think about everything our society has already achieved and the limitless potential it has, especially if we can overcome prejudice and discrimination, this powerful statement doesn’t only resonate with hope, it can also serve as a call to action to truly celebrate our diversity.

,

USING MOVIES TO HELP ENHANCE YOUR TEEN’S EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies.

Movies are an important part of youth culture and as such are recommended to parents, teachers, and counselors as valuable tools in addressing the emotional and social needs of teens. Moreover, videos and movies have proven particularly effective in working with gifted children and adolescents.

If you’d like to use movies as a bridge to talking about important life and developmental issues your teen is facing, you’ll find in this article how the strategy works, how you can guide the process, what questions you can ask, etc.  We’ll also show you how you can use the Harry Potter stories to address the emotion of fear.

Called video-therapy or cinematherapy by some authors, this strategy is similar to the more widely recognized approach known as bibliotherapy and actually, relies on its rationale and process. While reading a book or watching a movie, we initially experience identification, where we recognize similarities between ourselves and the characters in the story (in this case, a movie). Then comes catharsis, where we are touched by specific happenings in the movie and we react emotionally. Insight dawns when we realize that we’ve reacted emotionally because of a particular issue from our own life that we connected with the character or situation in the movie.

Frequently, we’re not aware of why we are so moved, and that is where talking about it later can help us gain insight and integrate this new understanding into our life experience. Reflection on the movie and conversation about it afterward can also help us explore our needs, desires, fears, inner conflicts, patterns, values, aspirations, etc. Moreover, it can help us learn new coping mechanisms which we can then apply in solving our current life challenges.

This is especially important for teens since apart from any inspiration or life lessons they might glean, certain movies can help reassure them they aren’t isolated and alone with their needs and problems.

There are two ways you can use movies to boost teens’ social and emotional development. You can ask about a movie that had a significant impact on them and you can choose a movie to watch together – one you consider to be particularly beneficial for their development.

ASKING ABOUT A MOVIE

This approach is helpful in gaining a better understanding of teens’ inner world – their self-image, current dilemmas, and general aspirations in life. Here are some examples of questions for opening a dialogue:

What is it about this movie that inspired you so much? What did you learn from the movie? These may be basic questions but the experience of listening to your teen’s responses and opinions can be enjoyable as well as instructive. That’s how I found out from my teen niece (15), a valuable assistant in writing these articles, why she’s so inspired by the movies Whiplash (2014) and Cyberbully (2011). She aspires to achieve excellence in what she is good at – the movie cautioned that this drive may sometimes come at a cost. Her second choice showed her how our activity on social networks can affect the lives of others, the pitfalls of trying to satisfy our emotional needs through the virtual world, and the importance of true friends and family support. Besides, I found out about some applications popular these days among teens that I haven’t heard of before, so I think I’m now fairly well up to speed!

In one of our previous articles, we offered practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways (4 Ideas to Get Closer to Your Teen). Remember, don’t push and let the discussion take its natural course. However, if you notice that you’ve captured your teen’s attention, that he/she is thinking and is willing to continue and go deeper into the conversation, here are some aspects that you can explore:

Favorite character

Who is your favorite character? Why? Describe his/her personality and abilities. Do you find any similarities between this character and yourself? And differences? Does he/she have some traits or abilities that you would like to have, too? In which specific situations would you need these abilities? With these questions, you are opening a space to discuss your teen’s needs, troubles or aspirations and possibilities for development.

People/behaviors they don’t like

Are there some characters that you disliked? What was it about them that you didn’t like? Are there people in your circle who have similar characteristics? How do you feel when you interact with them?

Situations that provoke emotions

Was there some situation in the movie that provoked strong emotions? What was it about this situation that made you sad/angry/enlightened…? Strong emotions are always in play when we reflect on something truly important and valuable to us. If you’ve been able to get your teen to talk about it, your efforts have been successful. Use this experience wisely.

Follow-up activities

If your teen is open to role-playing, you can even use theater and improvisation techniques as follow-up activities. For instance, your teen needs more confidence in the classroom. Let him be a director and set up a scene that mirrors the real situation he wants to change. He can give roles to you, to other members of the family; even puppies, dolls, pillows, etc. Then, encourage him to imagine that he is like this chosen character, to take some of his abilities and to act, empowered, in the chosen scene. You can make variations together and have fun. Ask him how this acting made him feel and how he can apply it in a real situation. This tactic, especially when used with superheroes, has been extremely effective in the workshops for personal development that I run.

Of course, these are just examples of questions and follow-up activities for guiding a process of learning from a movie. You will use the ones appropriate for the given situation and your teen’s sensibility and readiness to participate.

CHOOSING A MOVIE: HARRY POTTER

The other way to use movies as a means of addressing the emotional needs of teens is for you yourself to select a movie which addresses particular themes or issues you consider significant for your teen’s development. Then, after watching the movie together, you can talk about it with each other, channeling the conversation to the themes most beneficial to your teen’s development.

Let’s take the example of the Harry Potter movies, as most of us are familiar with the story. With all due respect to those who value its original written form, the motion picture adaptations can serve this purpose effectively. There are plenty of themes important to teens elaborated in the story of Harry Potter: friendship, life challenges, loss, failure, danger (even encounters with evil), the school environment, relationship with authorities, competition, fighting for a greater cause, etc.

A particularly useful feature of the story lies in its exploration of the emotion of fear and more importantly, how one can handle it. This is always a timely topic, especially during adolescence with all its manifestations, such as low self-esteem, insecurity or anxiety.

Harry Potter embodies all the characteristics of the hero, one of which is his ability to plumb the deeper and darker chambers of his being and squarely confront his fear. How to find strength in difficult times when we are vulnerable is an important lesson in preparation for adulthood.

You can discuss with teens how Harry Potter and other characters reacted when faced with serious obstacles or dangerous, even evil creatures. When faced with danger, is their usual reaction more similar to Harry’s, Hermione’s, Ron’s, another character’s behavior, or some combination? Ask them to recall how fictional characters managed to handle dangerous creatures. What helped?

Of course, you should always try to connect insights from the movie to the life of your teen and how he/she can incorporate those lessons into his/her life. What is particularly useful is that the Harry Potter story offers concrete strategies for handling fear. Yes, I’m referring to the Patronus and Riddikulus charms. As the story goes, these charms can protect you from dark creatures such as Dementors and Boggarts, who are nothing more than personifications of our fears.

It is well known that a strong positive emotion, such as love, is an antidote to fear. Also, the presence of a trusted, loving person can calm the fear response. Seeking help from the spiritual realm, whatever our belief system, is invaluable, too. In a way, all these elements are contained in the Patronus charm, which works by evoking the happiest memory from one’s life and concentrating on it. Done correctly, this will create a positive force in the form of a sacred animal (totem), a spirit guardian, which will protect us from the scary Dementors. You can practice Expecto Patronum! with your teen so that each of you, using your imagination, can find a source of strength and support to help you fight the dark creatures of your life.

Similarly, the Riddikulus spell is also a beautiful metaphor for a technique that is sometimes employed in a therapeutic session – the gift of humor. Humor is a powerful tool in fighting fear. When we are anxious and tense, there’s nothing better than a good laugh to immediately ease our distress. It’s good to be able to bring out the clown in ourselves to help us see a stressful situation from a funny, absurd angle. Practice Riddikulus with your kids when appropriate or let them teach you if you forget how to do it.

The real “magic” is the strength the characters muster from the inside. This can apply to parenting as well.  We are here to boost your real “ magic” of parenting. If you need any kind of advice related to the emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place!

Sources:

  1. Greenwood, D. & Long, C. R. (2015). When Movies Matter: Emerging Adults Recall Memorable Movies. Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 30(5) 625–650
  2. Milne, H. J. & Reis, S. M. (2000). Using Video Therapy To Address the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Children. Gifted Child Today, Vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 24 – 29
  3. Hébert, T. P. & Speirs Neumeister, K. L. (2001). Guided Viewing of Film: A Strategy for Counseling Gifted Teenagers. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. XII, No. 4, pp. 224–235.
,

PROCRASTINATION AND TEENS – HOW CAN WE HELP?

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.”

David Allen

Have you ever spent hours staring at a blank page trying to write a meaningful paper or e-mail, etc.?  Have you ever postponed a boring or unpleasant task until the last minute when you couldn’t put it off any longer? Have you ever caught yourself doing all sorts of unimportant activities such as washing dishes or rearranging the furniture instead of getting started on a pressing obligation? What was your favorite time zapper when you were a student yourself?

Let’s face it – we’ve all procrastinated. If you want to help your teen avoid becoming a chronic procrastinator, we suggest you start by admitting that you’ve dealt with this issue as well. We hope that gaining a better understanding of the underlying causes of procrastination and following some of the tips we suggest, will enable you to help your teen overcome the habit.

So, what is procrastination?

Authors Olpin & Hesson (2013) define procrastination as the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. While delaying tasks from time to time is nothing to worry about, it becomes a problem when transformed into a habit and starts to affect important aspects of our lives – academic, professional and personal. Or,  as Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby put it: “Procrastination is, hands down, our favorite form of self-sabotage.” Fortunately, each habit is learned so it can be unlearned as well.

In order to understand a teen’s mind and world better, I asked my 15-year-old niece about her experience with procrastination as it related to schoolwork. This is what she told me:

I used to have a lot of problems with this pro, pro… Now it’s much better, but back when I was routinely putting my school obligations off, it was always when I was up against more complex tasks; when I knew the work would be more difficult and that I’d need more time to complete it. Why was I acting like this? Because I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want the burden. It was easier to leave it to the last minute. I could force myself to study only when it was urgent and when I knew that I couldn’t postpone it any longer. Deadlines, actually, are a great help in this! And while I was waiting till that very last moment, I was usually hanging out, watching movies, a TV series on the Internet, or just lying down and doing nothing.

According to psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of the book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles, my niece fits the Crisis Makers style of procrastinators. Crisis Makers, addicted to the rush of high emotion, wait until pressure mounts to take action. Other styles are: Perfectionists (afraid of making mistakes, they waste tons of time unnecessarily focusing on details); Dreamers (lack initiative and fail to translate their big ideas into action); Worriers (afraid of change, they’re focused on worst-case scenario); Defiers (may be openly rebellious or passive-aggressive, defy authority or avoid making agreements and often don’t do what they promised); Pleasers (have problems setting priorities and saying “No”, so they make the job harder than it needs to be).

It is very important to first identify the root of the procrastination since this is the key element in pursuing the ongoing battle against it. For instance, if you realize that your teen’s perfectionism is the reason he’s putting off his school obligations, you should focus on helping him overcome his fear of making mistakes, as well as talking to him about time management and related coping skills.  Reassure him it’s okay to make mistakes; teach him that perfection is an illusion, the enemy of the good; advise him just to keep moving, not to get bogged down in details and lose focus on his main objective.

We should acknowledge that chronic procrastination is not a simple matter of time management or self-discipline but a complex psychological and/or neurocognitive issue (Burka and Yuen, 2008). These authors suggest that procrastination is a strategy people use to manage other issues, for instance: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling controlled, or fear of facing reality.

Also, in this high-tech, digitalized age we live in, the accessibility of gadgets and the virtual worlds we tend to inhabit (this applies especially to teens) are not helping us win the procrastination battle. On the contrary.

You can read about the advantages and disadvantages of technology in one of our previous articles: Education and Technology: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

So, what to do if you recognize that your teen has a problem with procrastination?

I asked my niece what has helped her. She said:

When I was younger, my parents would keep reminding me to study but it didn’t work. I would pretend to study in order to please them but in actual fact, it was waste of time and I’d end up cramming anyway. Now that I’m in high school, I realize that everything depends on me. My subjects are more complex and since I want good grades, I’d exhaust myself staying up at night with mountains of schoolwork. And I was tired during the day, both in class and during training (volleyball). I realized that procrastination makes me tired and leads nowhere. I now try to organize myself better and study more consistently. And it’s funny – it is not as hard as I used to think. I think that’s because I made the decision on my own, nobody forced me to. It wouldn’t have worked if anybody else tried to force me or to organize my time for me. I had to do it for myself.

We can learn a lot from our kids, don’t you agree? However, it is also useful to get empowered through reliable sources. There are comprehensive and detailed programs developed in order to overcome the habit of procrastination. For your information, you can check the references at the end of the article.

In a nutshell, these are our suggestions:

  • Talk openly and without criticism about the issue of putting obligations off. Show empathy. Through talk and through time it is more likely that a teen will gain insight about how procrastination is affecting him and whether and what he wants to change.
  • Remember your own experience with procrastination and how it made you feel. Share that with your teen. What tasks nowadays do you hate to do and tend to put off? You can talk about it as a common problem and search for solutions together.
  • Share what worked for you when you struggled with procrastination. It doesn’t mean it will work for your teen, but it’s a good start. Praise his efforts to beat the habit.
  • You should figure out what is at the root of his/her procrastination. Underlying reasons need to be addressed, such as any kind of fear, resistance, perfectionism, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a coach or therapist if you estimate that it is needed.
  • Help him/her learn how to study and how to plan his/her time.
  • Help him recognize his favorite time zappers – how he usually deflects when he procrastinates (social networks, TV, video games, surfing the Internet, oversleeping, panicking, etc.) and make a deal that he try to overcome these impulses during study time. That is where time management skills are important.
  • Encourage him to ask for help if he doesn’t understand the subject matter or doesn’t know how to do his homework.

One of the first authors of self-help books, Robert Collier, has suggested:

“If you procrastinate when faced with a big difficult problem… break the problem into parts, and handle one part at a time.”

This strategy is well-known and is recommended in all manuals for overcoming procrastination: to break a bigger task into smaller, measurable actions with a realistic deadline for each of these smaller actions.

The other one well-known tip for more demanding tasks is to hit the most difficult (or the most unpleasant) part first, if at all possible. As the pioneer in the personal development field, Dale Carnegie observed: “Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”

Help your teen recognize what motivates him and what gives him energy. Teach him to use these as rewards for maintaining self-discipline and progress in the adoption of a new habit. It is easier to go through unpleasant tasks if we know that we will be rewarded afterward.

Teach your teen to deal with details at the end. For instance, if he is writing a paper, teach him to write the main parts first, to keep moving and to leave dealing with details last.

While these are general tips to deal with procrastination, keep in mind that each person is unique and tailor your approach to what works best for your teen.

Need additional support in helping your teen overcome procrastination? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

References and useful links:

  1. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It Now, by Burka, J. B. & Yuen, L. M. (2008)
  2. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, by Olpin, M. & Hesson, M. (2013)
  3. Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age, by Dr. Linda Sapadin http://beatprocrastinationcoach.com/
  4. Procrastination and Science, including quotes related to procrastination https://procrastinus.com/
  5. Award winning video by John Kelly about examination of procrastination https://vimeo.com/9553205
  6. TED Talks: Tim Urban – Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator#t-831583

4 IDEAS TO HELP YOU GET CLOSER TO YOUR TEEN

by Milena Ćuk,
Life coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

This article is about finding acceptable common ground between teens and their parents and offers practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways.

If you have a teenager at home, you’re witnessing a unique process your child is going through – the transition from childhood to adulthood, which manifests itself psychologically, emotionally, physically, and behaviorally. Nowadays you may find it difficult to get close to your son or daughter. Activities you used to enjoy together no longer interest them. And when your teenager seems distant, you aren’t sure why. Are they in love? Worried about schoolwork? Fighting with a friend? Could it be something even more serious? Or perhaps they’re simply off in their own world.

Problems adolescents are facing may seem trivial to us but insurmountable to them. And that is why talking things over with a caring, supportive adult may help alleviate their stress. Also, they may get stuck in very serious problems because they were ashamed to ask for help in the first place before the situation got out of hand. That’s why it is important to create an atmosphere of trust in your family, to have an understanding with your children from their earliest childhood that they will come first to you for help if they are confronted with a situation they cannot handle, or if they experience any form of intimidation such as bullying, etc.  True, we should acknowledge that some teens need space to work through their private issues alone and are reluctant to share their thoughts when we might want them to. Be patient, and reassure them you are always there for them. They will open up when they are ready.

If you are reading this article we’re sure you’re doing your best as a parent. So rather than simply addressing strategies here to help teens solve their problems we will focus on that moment when you sense that your teen has become withdrawn, when you find it more difficult to get close, to talk, be more included in their lives and to understand better what is going on in their inner world.

Each of the suggested ideas is just an example. First, ask your teen if he/she is willing to participate, to modify or to suggest something else.

1. Let’s talk about role models!

Role model, idol or hero – definitions don’t matter here. The idea is to talk about people who inspire us, whom we admire and are drawn to emulate. So, to open up a dialogue with your teen we suggest you talk about people who inspired you when you were growing up, the traits and abilities you admired in them and why you sought to follow their example.  This could be a family member, a fictional character, a celebrity – anyone at all. Now, invite them to name someone who inspires them. In opening up about how you thought when you were their age, you open space for connection and further sharing with your teenager. This could be done anywhere – at the dinner table, in the car, or waiting in line somewhere.

If you want this activity to be meaningful, you have to show genuine interest! Listen carefully. Don’t judge your teen’s choices even if you don’t like them. Talk about it! You can learn a lot about their needs and aspirations through this conversation, and perhaps find out more about the social media pressure kids are exposed to nowadays, the pressure to be popular, pretty, successful, rich, and so on. You can use this opportunity to talk about different ways to fulfill the need to be accepted and loved; how to restore positive self-esteem, or about the value of things money can’t buy.

2. Volunteering together in the community

Being involved in working for the same cause brings people closer. Talk with your teen about causes they care about and suggest you do something about it together. You could join a local organization or initiative that works with kids, homeless people, animal shelters, the environment, etc.

Even better – why not come up with a project of your own? Maybe there is a poor family in your neighborhood you can help with food or clothing; a local lake you could help clear of plastic bottles; or a local community center that needs painting and renovation.

Just look around – there are so many worthy projects you can take part in with your teen and the sense of accomplishment which follows is priceless.

Then again, encourage teens if they want to organize a volunteer effort with their peers. Offer your support – a place to meet, food, transportation, t-shirts, etc. This shows them you want to support their individual efforts, too.

It’s best to let teens take the lead in this while you act as an assistant. While you’re working alongside them, you’ll have the chance to talk about all sorts of things including private issues that are on their minds.

Besides strengthening bonds with your teen, community engagement has multiple benefits for young people. It nurtures their ethical and social values, expands connections with other people, enhances their self-confidence and fosters a proactive approach to life.

3. Movie Night

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies. Although children and teens are spending too much time parked in front of the screen and certainly should be encouraged to go outside and take part in other activities, the benefits of high-tech can and should be used for educational and yes, for family bonding purposes.

So why not organize a movie night with your teen every now and then? Sit down with them and agree on a movie or movies you could watch. Perhaps you could include your teen’s best friend every now and again. A friend nearby is comforting.

Encourage discussion about the movie when it’s over. Why it was chosen, what you learned from it, who your favorite character was, etc. Don’t push – let the discussion take its natural course.

Let’s use our love of stories and the abundance of available movies to our advantage to connect us with our teenage children. And of course, provide food you all like. Food brings us together, too!

4. Sharing your passions

Were you a passionate collector of tapes, of rock magazines? Maybe you kept a notebook with inspiring quotes, drawings, and your own thoughts. Or you had a special box of memorabilia; movie tickets, photos, postcards. Maybe you had a special hobby. If you’ve kept treasures like these over the years, now is the time to dust them off and show them to your teen, if you haven’t already done so. This can be a precious, intimate moment. A collection you created with passion carries the essence of your spirit. It is a reminder of who you really are, and when you share it with your teen it invites them to share a passion of theirs or to discover a new one.

There’s a story behind each passion. Stories connect people, so use them. You could broaden this activity to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. This could make for a great extended family bonding experience.

Help teens nurture and develop their passion. They may want to build bird houses or shoot a movie. Great! Engagement in activities that fulfill them benefits their mental health and could be crucial for their career. And you will be there as their supporters. Remember to keep these collections and passing passions to share with your teenagers after they have reached adulthood. We all love to revisit those times gone by and we appreciate our parents saving these memories for us.

Have you found these ideas useful? Share your thoughts and experiences!

Need additional ideas or support in making that parent-teen connection? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

,

A FAMILY BOOK CLUB: 5 BOOKS TO READ WITH YOUR TEEN

by Anja Andjelkovic

Reading to children at an early age has copious benefits, such as: develop the brain, prepare for school, improve language skills and social interactions, and more. In fact, the scope of these benefits is so vast, that some parents start reading to their children as early as when they are still in the belly, or even just the size of a poppy seed.

What if you didn’t read to your child when he/she was little or, you did but they have lost interest in reading now? As with almost anything in life, it is never too late to start again! Although, teens may view reading as “uncool” or irrelevant, never underestimate the power of a good story.

So, how can you encourage your teen to read more? You could try suggesting some of the novels listed below and then discuss them together. A great option would be to read the novels out loud so the entire family can become a little book club. It might seem counterintuitive to read out loud to older children (especially teens) but it is a fun activity that comes with several benefits. Reading aloud can help your child improve their pronunciation as they will actually hear the words they would typically read silently. It is also a great common activity that becomes a bonding experience between parents and children. Naturally, there might be some resistance at first, but try it a few times. After the initial awkwardness has passed, you might just discover what a rewarding experience it can be. If you decide you’d rather read on your own and then discuss the books together, that’s great too, as long as the reading leads to an open discussion.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird

 

Classics are classics for a reason and this is one of them. To Kill a Mockingbird is a necessary read for everyone, as it deals with issues that are as current now as they were in 1960 when the novel was first published. The story is told from the perspective of a six-year-old girl, Scout, who lives with her father, a lawyer, and her older brother. Scout’s father, Atticus, is appointed to defend a black man accused of having raped a white woman. As you can expect, the novel goes on to discuss controversial topics of race, rape, inequality and prejudice.

After reading the book with your teen, it would be interesting to discuss a current event that is affecting the world, such as racial inequality, gender roles, or class divide. Discussing important topics such as these is a great way to get your teen interested in news, current events, and politics. This is an opportunity to learn more about your child on an intellectual level and engage in meaningful discussion. Tying these topics into the story by reviewing how the characters dealt with them can allow you to deliver a few life lessons (without the eye roll). Make sure that all parties have a chance to talk and listen.  This is an excellent opportunity for your teen to explore how he/she feels.

Note: The novel contains some violence and one of the main characters is being tried for rape. It also contains inappropriate language and deals with sensitive topics.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Perks of Being Wallflower

Choosing the right book may be one of the biggest challenges you face when encouraging your teen to read. The key is to find something relatable, whether it be in the age of the characters or the story within. The Perks of Being a Wallflower involves teenage characters with typically average teenage problems; making it a great book to start your family book club.

The story follows a shy, struggling, fifteen-year-old boy named Charlie. As he is coping with the suicide of his best friend alongside his own mental health issues, he finds himself among a new group of friends.  While Charlie’s situation is very specific and sometimes pretty dark, the things he experiences are things most teenagers will endure at some point. Being able to talk about these experiences while sharing your own may encourage your child to open up. With a book that encompasses love, friendship, heartbreak, and self-esteem issues, you’re bound to be able to throw in a life lesson or two somewhere.

It is important to note that it is best to be understanding and patient with your child if they do not want to open up or are struggling to discuss something. Reading together is supposed to be a fun, expressive, bonding activity for everyone involved. There is a lot that can be learned from this book, but it is best to keep an open mind and really dive into the message and its characters to get the most out of it.

Note: The novel contains violence and it deals with sensitive topics such as suicide and child abuse. It also involves sexual content, the characters drink, smoke and do drugs, and there is a use of inappropriate language.

Coraline, Neil Gaiman

Coraline

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a somewhat dark, twisted story relative to that of Alice in Wonderland. Although Coraline is also considered a children’s book, adults love it because they can revisit their own childhood memories and gain different perspectives on them. Since this book is extraordinarily unique, there is a large opportunity for length discussions.

The main character of this story is a girl who is not quite a teen yet named Coraline. Her family moves to a home that has left her feeling neglected, yet adventurous. As she beings to explore she finds herself in a parallel universe where everything seems very much the same, but her parents have buttons for eyes. Her parents are the perfect, caring and permissive parents she wants them to be, but it is slowly revealed that “The Other Mother” is not as nice as she seems.

This story attracts readers of all ages because it touches on things we’ve all experienced as children. We’ve all been dissatisfied with our parents and their rules, or even felt like we didn’t matter that much; especially in our teen years. This would have led to us creating our own “dream world” of some sort. This is something that can be discussed with your teen: what their dream world would be like, how would the characters in it act, why he/she is choosing that as their dream world. You can also share your dream world with your teen and try to remember what you wished for when you were younger; you will surely find some similarities to Coraline and to your child as well. While talking about these worlds, focus on the relationship between parents and their children and discuss it with your child. You might learn what bugs your teen about the relationship with you and try to explore it and you will surely have an interesting discussion from which everyone can learn something.

Note: The book contains some violence.

The Diary of A Young Girl, Anne Frank

Diary of Anne Frank

Written by a young Jewish girl in the throes of World War II; this book clearly demonstrates the horrors of war and the consequences of conflict. It is also important because it shows the war through an eye of a child who writes about things any child would write about: the relationship with her parents and sister, friends and a boy named Peter.

Reading Anne Frank’s diary calls for a lesson about the war and the Jewish persecution, The discussion of this book can actually start with you and your teen reading up on this horrible period of human history. While learning about the war, you will surely find plenty of topics to talk about.: “What brings a man to hurt another human being?”, “Why have people agreed to this?”, “Where was all this hatred coming from?” are a few topical questions that are bound to lead to lengthy debates. You will read in Anne’s diary that despite everything, she still believed that people are really good at heart. This can easily lead to a lesson on judgment and respect for others.

The topics that this book brings up are all serious topics that should be discussed when your child is ready. This story is essential to the history of the world and gives a great deal of insight into the life of a Jewish child during that time.  his book is here to remind us of what happened and, that teaching the future generations about the horrors of it may prevent history from repeating itself.

Note: As it deals with the topics of war, the book contains violence, sexual content, smoking, and drinking.

1984, George Orwell

1984

Orwell’s 1984 is a pivotal book, and essential to read during a time like this when surveillance and technology are at their most evasive. There is a lot to learn from this book that also evokes a lot of emotion. When reading at the right age, this book is bound to spark a lengthy debate.

1984 is set in a dystopian world of surveillance led by “Big Brother”: where there is constant war, manipulation, and dictation by the political system. In this world, independent thinking is a crime, and so is pretty much anything that doesn’t abide by the rules of the dictatorship. This book is popular amongst teens due to their strong feelings on surveillance, government, and human rights.

The main points of discussion about this novel concentrate around critical thinking and what can happen when there is a severe lack of it. This is a good way to encourage your child to voice his/her opinion and not to be afraid to disagree with everyone else. Another way to deepen the discussion is to talk about free will and the importance of it in a modern society. Also, compare Orwell’s dystopia to our society and see what your teen thinks about where we stand. Adults will enjoy this book because it is one of those good ones that changes together with you and the more experiences you gain in life.

Note: The book contains sexual content, violence, and scenes of smoking and drinking alcohol.

Happy reading! Enjoy!