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THE MINDFUL STUDENT – BENEFITS OF THE MINDFULNESS PRACTICE

In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of hype around the term “mindfulness”. Everybody from yoga teachers to Silicon Valley engineers are talking about being mindful and practicing mindfulness. Of course, there are others who think all the hype is nonsense and that mindfulness is just another new-age fad. It’s easy to get lost in the many articles and videos discussing the term without actually realizing what it means, so let’s start with that: mindfulness is a form of meditation in which people learn how to be in the moment, or more precisely how to stay focused and acknowledge all their sensations and feelings without passing any judgment. This concept has roots in Buddhism [5] but nowadays is more frequently secular and, best of all, can be practiced by anyone, anywhere.

Why would we practice mindfulness?

In today’s world where we are all very busy all the time, it’s getting easier and easier to lose focus on the present and get caught up doing our daily tasks automatically, thinking only about what we should be doing next and thus missing out on valuable insights and experiences. Mindfulness can prevent this from happening and help us learn how to stay aware without getting too active or overwhelmed.

Lately, there has been a lot of research into the benefits of this practice and it is getting harder and harder for skeptics to dismiss it as yet another hoax. Aside from being available to everyone and not requiring anything other than some time and a lot of patience (since being in the moment without passing judgment is easier said than done), mindfulness has a positive impact on both our physical and mental health [7].

One of the most cited benefits of mindfulness is stress reduction, which has a positive effect on sleep patterns and the overall well-being of the practitioner. As we teach ourselves to stay present, we get to know ourselves better, our memory improves, we don’t have emotional outbursts, and we even get more satisfied with our relationships as we learn how to deal with stress effectively and to communicate our feelings to our partners [3].

Benefits of mindfulness to students

The case for mindful meditation is strong and it would be almost silly not to try it out after reading about all the benefits you can reap by practicing it. However, mindfulness can be specifically beneficial to students, and its practice has begun to be incorporated into schools to teach very young children how to stay mindful of their experience in the moment without judgment.

  • It is clear that learning how to stay focused is particularly useful for students as it can prevent daydreaming and procrastination, and helps students learn more effectively. Mindfulness has also be shown to be great for attention and is even used as a technique in the treatment of ADHD [1].
  • As it helps deal with stress, mindfulness is a great tool to relieve test anxiety many students experience and helps reduce stress levels related to school in general (http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/research/#reference-17).
  • The practice is also shown to be related to better grades, as it improves cognitive function and enhances our working memory [2]. It has even been shown that after a course of mindfulness practices, our prefrontal cortex thickens. This is the part of the brain responsible for high-order functions such as decision-making and awareness [6].
  • Last but not least, mindfulness has a great impact on students’ social skills. Through practice, students learn self-control and respect for others [5] and get better at solving interpersonal problems [4].

All in all, the potential benefits of mindfulness are far more persuasive than the opinions of a couple of skeptics and, as a practice that is relatively accessible and easy to introduce, it is a great tool of self-improvement for adults and their children alike. If you are interested in knowing more about it and going through mindfulness training as part of overcoming some learning difficulties, don’t hesitate to contact us.

by Anja Anđelković

References:

  1. Brancatisano, E. (October 24, 2016). The Benefits Of Bringing Mindfulness In To The Classroom.
  2. Chan, A. L. (August 4, 2013). Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health.
  3. Davis, D. M. & Hayes, J. A. (July/August 2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Monitor on Psychology, 43 (7), 64.
  4. Gouda, S., Luong, M. T., Schmidt, S., & Bauer, J. (2016). Students and Teachers Benefit from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in a School-Embedded Pilot Study.
  5. Holland, E. (Feb 16, 2015). Can ‘Mindfulness’ Help Students Do Better in School?
  6. Ireland, T. (June 12, 2014). What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?
  7. Research on Mindfulness. Mindful Schools.
  8. Weare, K. (April 2012). Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People.

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.
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6 Tips to Support Self-Awareness Development in Teens

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
― Lao Tzu

Research has shown that a high self-awareness score is a crucial predictor of overall success. Acclaimed psychologist Daniel Goleman points out that self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and that mastery of emotional self-awareness is a key attribute of successful leaders

Why is self-awareness important for teens?

Who am I? What makes me special, a unique human being, different from others? What do I want from my life? Why do I feel like this? What made me react like this? These are just some of the questions adolescents ask themselves.

Answers to such questions build the foundation of a teen’s self-awareness. Practically speaking, being self-aware means we are able to understand our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, traits, and motivations and perceive how they affect our performance.

This skill develops naturally over time through experience and maturity. However, since  it is crucial in taking ownership of our lives and the direction we choose, we all need to foster it in ourselves and in our children.

There are a variety of practices and exercises to help you enhance self-awareness as you guide your child’s development, and we describe these below. Your teen doesn’t have to choose only one as they begin to discover which of these practices resonates the most with his/her unique being. Each can become a habit of daily routine, which is the best-case scenario.  And remember, it’s  good for all of us to be open to applying them in our own lives. Let’s not forget that we thrive together with our kids!

Time and space for self-reflection

We live in a busy world where speed and multitasking have become the norm. However, our brains haven’t evolved fast enough to catch up and process all the information and impressions inundating us daily. Sometimes (ideally each day) we need to slow down, pause,  be still, and be left quietly alone for self-reflection because this will ground us in reality.

This applies to your teen as well, especially after busy day or week. If your teen is more introverted, he prefers to spend time alone and you should respect his need. However, you might suggest that exploring and learning different ways to self-reflect could be beneficial for him. If your teen is more extroverted and doesn’t like being alone, you should teach him the advantages of slowing down and self-reflecting every now and then.

This could mean taking a walk outside or just sitting or lying down in your room and doing nothing. Though it may appear we’re doing nothing, we are consciously and subconsciously processing information and getting closer to our true selves.

You can simply offer a  gentle suggestion. For instance: “Honey, why don’t you go for a walk, write in your journal, or just spend some time processing this so you can figure out your true feelings and what you should do next.”

Keeping a journal

This is another form of self-reflection, but it is especially beneficial for teenagers.

Writing our thoughts down can help us explore what is going on in our minds – what we think, how we feel, what inspires or frightens us. Writing provides a sense of clarity especially for confusing and complex feelings we don’t yet understand.

For the emotionally loaded or conflicted experiences teens face as they grow, writing a journal is particularly useful since it provides a safe space for expressing their feelings, and there is a greater chance that creative solutions will emerge in the form of new decisions and actions.

If you had a diary of your own when you were young, you can share it to encourage your teen to start his own.  Journals can take many forms. Besides the classic diary, they can combine words with drawings or images if your teen is more visually inclined.

Mindfulness practices

Mindfulness practices develop full awareness in the here and now, promote non-judgmental observance and acceptance of our inner thoughts and feelings and help us release and overcome emotional pain. Watch this short movie to find out how mindfulness empowers us.

Inspired by the wisdom of the East, particularly the Buddhist tradition of meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn was one of the first to introduce and adapt mindfulness practices to the Western world.

Due to its proven clinical effects on stress reduction, enhancement of self-awareness, inner balance and general well-being, a variety of mindfulness techniques has been developed for application in daily life and school programs.

You can find available mindfulness programs in your area or even find some guided online sessions and practice it together with your teens.

Emotional learning

Emotional awareness, understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings is crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives.

Psychotherapist Claude Steiner defines this ability as “emotional literacy”. We learn how to manage our emotions, develop empathy for other people, repair emotional damage when we’ve done something wrong, and succeed in interacting with others effectively.

The importance of emotional awareness has brought emotional learning programs into schools and hopefully your children have already had the opportunity to develop this competency. If not, look for available lectures and workshops in your community that are oriented towards developing emotional awareness and literacy, either for youth or adults. Let’s not forget that as parents, we are pivots of our children’s emotional health and emotional learning, and personal development should always be a priority.

You can also check available online programs. Here you can find more about emotional literacy and even download a full book by Claude Steiner. In one of our previous articles, we wrote about how we can enhance teen’s emotional development through the use of movies.

Learning to have an accurate self-image

Self-image in teens can often be biased or fluid and they need to learn to evaluate their own strengths and limitations objectively. Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is essential in learning this ability, which is part of self-awareness and development in general.

Foster an atmosphere in your family where providing honest feedback is natural both for you and your children. Here you can check some of the principles to deliver effective feedback.

Try this interesting exercise along with your teens from time to time. Each of you should write down three positive and three negative aspects of yourself. These can be your personality traits, habits, abilities or physical appearance. Then share and discuss what you all wrote down, suggesting how strengths can be used and limitations overcome.

Pay attention to how realistic your teen has been in his/her estimation. Has she written positive or negative first? Did she have problems listing positive or negative qualities? These indicators, if any, will be the basis for your further interventions.

The mind-body connection

Long a tradition in Eastern cultures and advocated widely by current holistic practitioners, mind-body awareness or the ability to “listen” to your body through sensory experiences can enhance the development of full self-awareness.

Besides yoga, there are numerous practices that can help us integrate mind-body experiences.  Some are spiritual in nature while others are more physical. Free dance practices with elements of improvisation, such as 5Rhythms, Open Floor or Authentic Movement, also referred to as “moving meditation”, are good examples. All these can help us focus on our inner selves,  become rooted and more fully present.

So if your teen is more inclined to work through his thoughts and emotions  through body/movement, seek out those activities and practices that best match his channels of communication with himself.

“Know thyself” – it was inscribed at the Delphi temple. This virtue was as valued in ancient times as it is today. Let’s help our kids acquire this wisdom and prepare them to be able to lead fulfilling lives.

Need additional support in helping your teen develop self-awareness? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

References and useful links:

  1. Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  2. New Study Shows Nice Guys Finish First by Shari Lifland (American Management Foundation)
  3. How Mindfulness Empowers Us: An Animation Narrated by Sharon Salzberg
  4. Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with Heart by Claude Steiner (2003)
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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.
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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!