Teenage Angst or Mental Health Problem?


Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, OCD, ODD, ADHD, ADD, what does it all mean? And how can parents know what is typical teenage angst vs. a serious mental health problem?

As your sweet baby was growing and developing you probably took him for Well Baby checks and kept track of his weight and height and made sure you read all the books on developmental milestones. You would burst with pride if he talked a month earlier than average and lost sleep if he walked a few months later than you expected.

But what now? You have a teenager who seems moody, distant and changing every day. It’s not as simple anymore. It’s no longer about reaching a desirable percentile or a new skill you can cross off the list. Now it becomes about complex development that is hard to measure and even harder to talk about with your teens.

What’s normal behavior and what’s a problem?

The teen years are a great time to start asking yourself that question and getting him help if he is struggling. Half of all mental illness starts by age 14.

Here is a breakdown of several of the more common mental health disorders in teenagers:


Depression (8% of kids between 12-17 are diagnosed with depression)

There are four types of depression typical in teens:

  1. Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood (Trouble Adjusting to a phase of life)
  2. Dysthymia ( Low-grade depression lasting more than one year)
  3. Bipolar Disorder  (Characterized by very high highs and very low lows in mood)
  4. Major Depression (Persistent sadness and irritability, talk about suicide, a lack of interest in enjoyable activities and frequent reports of physical aches and pains)

Anxiety (8% of teens between 13-18 are diagnosed with Anxiety) 

There are Nine types of Anxiety Disorders:

  1. Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety (Trouble adjusting to a phase of life or a major change)
  2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Persistent worry about a variety of things that lasts for at least six months)
  3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Unwanted and intrusive thoughts that lead to compulsive or ritualistic behaviors)
  4. Panic Disorder (Out-of-the-blue panic attacks)
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Can occur when a teen experiences a life-threatening or severely traumatic situation)
  6. Separation Anxiety Disorder (Extreme anxiety when separated from a caregiver)
  7. Social Anxiety Disorder (Fear of social situations)
  8. Selective Mutism (Unable to speak in certain situations)
  9. Specific Phobias (Irrational fear of an object)

Attention Deficit Disorder (11% of children between the ages 14-17 are diagnosed)

  1. Hyperactive Type (Difficulty sitting still, can’t stop talking and struggle to complete a project)
  2. Inattentive Type (Lack focus and become easily distracted)
  3. Combo Type

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (1 to 16% of adolescents have oppositional defiant disorder)         Extreme defiance, verbal and physical aggression and spitefulness

Eating Disorders (2.7% of teens between 13-18 are diagnosed with an Eating Disorder)

  1.  Anorexia-extreme food restriction
  2.  Bulimia-binge eating and purging
  3.  Binge Eating-eating massive quantities of food without purging


When teens are coping with stress, hormonal changes, life events and circumstances, lack of sleep, and learning to deal environmental factors it can look and feel like sadness, worry, lack of focus, and changing eating patterns. Teens are notorious for being moody and having strange behavior. But if you are worried or you are watching your teen struggle, seek the help of a professional. You can consult with your teen’s doctor or make an appointment with a mental health professional to help you decide if your teen is going through normal teenage angst or there may be a more serious problem that is preventing your teen from living his best possible life.


Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

joy prof pic

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com

Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks



Sources Used:

SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill


Teens Have Needs (Wifi Is NOT One Of Them)

Teens have needs! And no, Wifi is not one of them!  Let’s go back to Psychology 101 and look at a theoretical approach to what a parent of a teenager is trying to do every day. Maslow developed a widely used theory of five basic human needs that each person must achieve and master in order to live a full and complete life.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is commonly depicted as a five-tier pyramid, with the bottom or first layer representing basic physiological needs. In this category are the requirements necessary for survival: food, water, air, warmth, and sleep. Once these needs have been addressed, human beings are able to move on to more complex needs and eventually move on to highly sophisticated needs.



Looking at this theory of development can help us break down the development of a teenager. It can help parents look at the maddening, annoying, frustrating aspects of teenagers with a different perspective.





In adolescence teens start to take these needs into their own hands. Adolescence is a time when teens learn to be responsible for eating breakfast before school, are expected to pack their own lunches, make dinner for the family, and make food and beverage choices independently from their parents. It is important to let them make choices. In order to master this first level, teens must be able to make good decisions, be healthy and master meeting their own basic needs. Teens can struggle with eating disorders, lack of sufficient sleep, choosing to stay out all night, not wear coats when it is 20 below zero, etc. Sometimes as parents we get so focused on the higher level needs with things like ACT scores and college acceptance that we forget that our teens need to master the lowest level of needs first before we can expect them to master the more complex needs of adulthood.

Are your teens taking care of their own basic needs?




Parents have worked hard to keep their kids safe! From baby proofing the house, to holding their hand as they cross the street, to teaching the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse, parents are constantly aware of safety. The goal of this stage is for teens to master their own safety.  Teens need to feel safe and secure in their homes, schools and communities. Teens need to know they can not only walk the halls of high school and feel safe, but also know that they can handle whatever situation comes their way. Teens are wired to be impulsive and sometimes make less than ideal decisions. Feeling safe and secure is so important to this level. But for complete mastery and readiness to move on to the next level, teens must learn to keep themselves safe and secure. They must be able to advocate for their own security, ensure their own safety, and choose safety.




This is the stage many teens rush to achieve. They desperately want to feel connected, accepted, chosen, special, loved. When teens feel accepted, either in the “right” group of friends or the “cutest” boyfriend or girlfriend, they feel like they have mastered this stage. But when it falls apart teens often make desperate moves to keep the illusion going that they have mastered this stage. Human beings need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. Human beings need to love and be loved by others.

As parents, if you see your teens struggling and making scary, dangerous, wrong decisions step in. Help them go back to basic levels and feel a sense of mastery with basic needs and safety and security needs. By doing so, you are showing them exactly what this stage is about, belonging to a family, being loved by others, and being a part of a larger social group. They will still want to be a part of peer and intimate relationships but knowing that they are a part of something bigger, a part of a community, a family and you is a vital part of meeting these needs.




This level requires that a person feels good about themselves. In order to achieve mastery of this level, one must feel confident in their abilities, looks, talents and place in the world. Insecurity, lack of confidence and struggling esteem are rampant in middle schools and even high schools. Maslow believes if one does not achieve true mastery of the previous level of acceptance and belonging, they will not ever be able to master this level. If one’s acceptance and sense of belonging is not secure, positive self esteem cannot  be gained. Sadly, this is a stage that some adults never even achieve. It is a point in human development that can be staled or delayed.

You can help your teen lay important ground work by showing them positive esteem in yourself.




Maslow thought that only 2 out of every 100 people can and will reach this level. He believed that self actualization is highly complex and all needs below this level must be mastered. Because teens are still growing and maturing and figuring out what and who they want to be, it would be extraordinarily rare to have a self actualized teenager.

But isn’t this our hope as parents that our teens will grow into confident, competent, kind, generous adults? Think about ways you can support your teens in mastering his physiological needs and his safety needs so that he has a solid pyramid to start out his adult life!



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Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

joy prof pic

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com

Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks




Happiness and Gratitude Worksheet for Teens!

Smiley.svgBe Happy!

Happiness….is it a losing battle for teens? Do we need to just wait it out and hope that someday our teens grow out of their grumpy, crabby, irritable, short tempered stage?  Doesn’t it seem that they live their lives in a persistent state of unhappy?

We know that happier people love longer, remain disease free longer and generally enjoy life more completely. How can we share this wisdom with teens in our lives? How can we model happiness? How can we instill resiliency in our teens? How can we be sure they grow from their experiences and not get stuck or traumatized from their experiences?

Want more worksheets to give your teens? Be sure to subscribe to this weekly blog so you don’t miss any! We promise to keep your email confidential and not share with anyone!

Here are six ways to teach happiness to your teen along with the bonus of finding your own happiness along the way!

  1. Curiosity. In a time of stress, teach your teen to react with interest or curiosity instead of fear or anger. Teens learn pretty quickly that life hurts sometimes. The next step is often forgotten. Yes it hurts, but what will change this hurt? How can this be different? How can I take something away from this pain? We need to inspire our kids to find a solution, find a reason and find a curiosity to change. We need to go beyond,” it hurts and that stinks”. Supposedly time heals all wounds, but time and a conscience effort to find the motivation to use the hurt in a productive way is how we teach happiness. This is not to say teens will find happiness every day, and sadly there will be brutal, awful hurts that it will be hard for even the happiest of persons to see the silver lining. But it is a suggestion for handling the small crisis of being a teen along the way, so that happiness can set down some roots and gain strength for the big life events.
  2. Social connectedness predicts happiness. Teens generally seek social connectedness, but may need reminders of what a true connection is. Teens may have 500 friends on line, but still feel lonely. Teens may sort through 100’s of tweets a day, but still not feel like they really know someone. They may take unlimited texting to a whole new level, but still not have a meaningful conversation for days. Our job as parents is to keep teaching them about meaningful connections. Encourage them to have face to face time with friends. Encourage them to pick up the telephone and call their friend instead of covering the day’s events in short texts to one another. Encourage your teen to meet each other for coffee or ice cream and put their phones away for a whole hour. Do the same for yourself. Instead of posting an update on Facebook, call your friend and have a ten minute conversation, or plan a lunch with a colleague or a walk with a neighbor you enjoy. The quality of conversation and the intensity of that friendship will improve. And in turn, you will be more connected and feel happier. This generation of teens may not ever know the connections of a true friendship, if we do not teach them the importance of making that face to face, electronic free time together happen.
  3. Teach and believe in Gratitude. Talk with your teen about gratitude. Not in terms of “you should be happy with what you have”, or “you have no idea how easy you have it these days”. Ask questions instead. What friend do you trust the most? Who has your back at school? Who do you trust? Who do you admire?  Who has a life you would like to have someday? Perhaps instead of groundings or taking away cell phone or car privileges, why not a letter of gratitude to someone in their life? Have them write a sincere, honest, grateful letter, just because. It will build a connection between your teen and that person. It also forces them to stop and think about the relationships and people they do have in their lives. Why not ask your teen to jot down one thing they are grateful for each day on a bulletin board or wipe board in a common area of the house? And you do the same. Believing in gratitude and the power it has to influence your happiness will translate to your teens. They will learn by hearing, seeing, feeling and knowing gratitude as a daily occurrence.
  4. Volunteerism and Good Deeds. Many high schools are now requiring teens to participate in a set number of volunteer hours. What a great message to send to teens! It’s telling teens they matter, they have something to share and they have the capacity to influence other people in amazing ways! Build this idea into your family. Volunteer together, do good deeds, act kindly towards neighbors or others in your lives. Show your teens from early on that helping others feels good. Nothing is needed in return because your pride and satisfaction in helping others is more than any money can measure. Find ways to volunteer socially. Invite your teen’s friends to come too. Be involved in an organization that routinely volunteers and does good deeds. Your teens will be connected with others and the positive energy will be contagious. If you are having trouble convincing your teen that volunteerism is a good idea, feel free to link the number of hours they volunteer to the number of hours they can use the car, or dollar amount deducted from their cell phone bill. It’s not bribery, just encouragement to do what you know they need : )
  5. Religion and Spirituality mean two very different things. You can have one or the other, both or neither. Having religion or feeling spirituality are well documented factors to feeling a connection to the world, other people or a higher purpose. A connection can be to other people who believe what you believe, other people who gather in the same place, in the same way or for the same purpose. Or a connection can be to a higher power or energy. Either way, spirituality and religion help people make connections. A connection to meaning leads to greater happiness. Show your teens the many ways they can become connected through religion or spirituality. Show them a place (church, synagogue, mosque, a special tree, a yoga class, somewhere outdoors, Sunday morning at Starbucks enjoying a few moments of peace) where you feel at peace and show them the connections that are made. Help them see and feel the connections. Be a part of your spiritual and religious life. It is harder and harder to find time in our fast paced world, but show them what matters to you and help them find something that matters to them.
  6. Eat, Sleep, And Exercise! The very foundation of good mental health comes down to committing to three very basic human needs. Eat, sleep and exercise. The benefits of keeping these three needs in healthy, working order has shown time and time again to lead to reduced feelings of depression, lessened anxiety and greater happiness.
    1. Teens need to eat regularly. They do not need to worry about gaining muscle or losing weight. Just ask yourself if they are they eating regularly? Are they eating relatively healthfully? Are they getting their metabolism up and running in the morning by eating and are they maintaining throughout the day? Teens are growing and facing stressors every single day. They need adequate nutrition to keep up with their bodies needs. Are they drinking too much caffeine? Are they obsessed with energy drinks? Both will interfere with their body’s ability to regulate mood. Three meals a day or six small meals a day, is not the point. Find a healthy eating pattern that works for your teen and help him commit to that pattern because he knows he feels better when he is on track!
    2. Sleep, sleep and more sleep! Teens need more sleep than they are getting. Nine to ten hours a night! Click here to read more about sleep and teens: http://joyhartman.com/put-cell-phone-better-sleep/. Teach your teens the value of a good, quality sleep. Help them figure out what environment is most supportive for their sleep. A dark, quiet space, free of distractions is a great starting point. Get their cell phones out of their hands at bedtime. Have them leave the cell phone away from their sleep space so they are not tempted to be on their phones checking on last thing or responding to one last text. Lead by example and get yourself to sleep on time and without distractions. Sleep is an invaluable gift to give your kids. Healthy sleep habits as they head off to college or life can make the difference in your young adult’s happiness and satisfaction in life.
    3. Hmm. Couldn’t we all stand to do more of this? And who doesn’t feel better after a brisk walk or a peaceful run? Yet, it seems to be the first thing to go when life gets busy. Get your teen involved in regular daily exercise. Hopefully it’s a sport or club they love and this is the highlight of their day. If it is not, show them the value of walking the dog every day, or mastering yoga in the living room on Wii, or sign your whole family up for a festive 5K or take weekend hikes to new places. Find ways for everyone to be active. It will vastly improve the whole family’s happiness.

Happiness can be learned. Give you teens the right tools for learning this lifelong skill of finding happiness as they move through life!

Teen Practice:

Be Happy!

Do your parents constantly say, “You should be happy, you have more than 90% of the world, what’s wrong with kids these days, you have no idea how good you have it”. Being grateful, being happy, being appreciative for what you have is not always easy. Life sometimes seems more complicated than just being happy. Easier said than done when you live in the world of middle school angst and high school drama, right?

That great news is that you are at the peek of your emotional development. You are super passionate. That means that when you are happy you are very happy. When you are sad, you are crazy sad. When you feel mad, it might come out of nowhere and take on a life of its own. One that even surprises you! It means your feelings are pretty intense. That gets better. You will get better and better at having feelings, processing those feelings and moving on. You will cry a little less often for a little less amount of time. You will be less crabby and less angry as your brain fine tunes those still developing neurons! But now is a really great time to train your brain to recognize and look for the happy emotions; joy, excitement, appreciation, ecstatic, proud, gleeful, etc. Now is a good time to focus on those emotions when you have them. Learn to express them. Use them. Find them. If your brain gets really good at making those connections, it stands to reason you will have those feelings more. And after feeling the tough stuff, like, mad, sad, guilt, shame, you can get back to those happy feelings more often.

How do you find your happy?

Here’s an exercise you can do today and anytime you want to reconnect with the happy emotions.

What is something you are really proud of? ______________________________________________________

What one person would you most want to sit at a coffee shop with for two hours? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What would you talk about? ______________________________________________________________________


Name three people who have had a positive impact on your life? ________________________________




What are you grateful for today? _________________________________________________________________



If you had one minute to fill a small cinch sack and that is all you get to keep from your childhood, what would go in it? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________



What are you looking forward to most? __________________________________________________________


Write a thank note to your favorite teacher.

Write a thank you note to your grandma (or another family member)  for a present or for the ride she gave you, or for all the babysitting she did for you when you were little. Find a reason to thank your grandma!


Want more worksheets to give your teens? Be sure to subscribe to this weekly blog so you don’t miss any! We promise to keep your email confidential and not share with anyone!


Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

joy prof pic

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com

Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks

Your Thoughts?

Hey! Do you have a moment to give me your thoughts on something? I’m planning out some new and fun things I can do for you over the coming year, and I have one simple question for you:

When it comes to teens, what’s your biggest frustration?

That’s it. Nothing more. Just shoot me a reply with your thoughts.

Thanks! Joy





Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

joy prof pic

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com

Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks

Do You Need One Of These Signs In Your House?

mood swing

Does your teen smile one minute and roll her eyes the next? Is she chatty and cheerful and then you blink or say the wrong thing and she’s done talking and barely utters a word the rest of the night?  Do you see her as delightful and energetic and a pretty cool person when she is with friends or in public, but as soon as she is home, she turns into some kind of beast that, quite honestly, you fear just a little bit?

You were promised mood swings when parents of older kids would talk about the teen years, but you never dreamed it could be this bad! Your adoring 8 year old somehow turned into an unpredictable, unstable, moody monster! Should you worry? Should you stop it? Should you seek help? Do you just let the mood swings go? Deal with them directly?

The good news is that mood swings are perfectly normal and to be expected. The bad news is that they are awful for your teen and everyone around them! There is science behind the mood swings.

Here’s a peek into the developing brain of your teenager.

Understanding your teen’s brain development will help you better understand her moods.  In teens, the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses is actually heightened. They are able to “feel” passionately; about music, politics, families, school, friends. But keeping this passionate ability to “feel” in check or manageable is process that comes later and it more complex.  Because teens feel so passionately but don’t have total brain development to manage those feelings, we see more unpredictable or extreme emotions and which can lead to more moody behaviors.   These feelings are so intense, much like when they were two years old and having a temper tantrum because they didn’t have the words or communication skills to tell us what was wrong.   They are working on advanced brain development and just don’t have the skills to regulate the extra intense emotions they are feeling. The moods really are a part of a teen’s brain development! The eye rolling, attitudes, snarky comments and general annoyance with you are all a bonus!

Along with all of that, huge hormonal changes take place during adolescence. We can see the impact of these crazy hormones on their pimply face, or their greasy hair, or disgusting smelly bodies, or their development of adult body features. But all of these outward symptoms of crazy hormonal imbalances have an equal or maybe even more powerful presence inwardly. The hormones are causing the brain to make changes in how it perceives and processes emotion differently, more complexly, more passionately. And that is sometimes hard to regulate. So they snap. So they cry. So they yell. So they laugh at inappropriate times. So they get mean.

What can you do about it as a parent? How can you help them navigate this phase? Three simple first steps.

Research has shown time and time again that the best strategy for managing our emotions, during the teenage years and throughout our life time is to find a healthy balance of EAT, SLEEP, EXERCISE. They sound too simplistic, but make some changes and watch the difference happen for your teen!

Tweaking any or all of these will help your teen better manage his mood!

Eat: Teens are eating healthier on whole than we ever did as teens, but take a look at when and how often he is eating. Is he eating breakfast? Is he fueling his body? What can he do better? Eating regular, consistent meals will help fuel his brain to make the emotional connections it is desperately working on. Just like he needs to fuel his body to play football or take a test, he needs fuel to develop his brain. He needs some fruits and veggies. He needs carbs and protein. Learn about what foods help him most. Make sure he is eating breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Sleep: Teens need an average of 9 hours of sleep a night!!! Regular, consistent sleep is the best tool for regulating mood. His brain is working overtime and needs to rest. We all know most teens do not come close to getting 9 hours of sleep a night. Maybe that feels completely unrealistic, but help your teen do better. Talk about sleep and how important it is. Tell them to go to bed at 9! Don’t allow them to have social media in their bedrooms so when they do go to bed they can actually sleep. A good night’s sleep doesn’t mean wing it all week and then sleep all weekend either. It means get more sleep every night! It means no sleepovers when they stay awake all night and take a week to recover. It means no playing video games until 2 am on weekends. It means go to bed at 9! Or even 8! However unmanageable this seems, help your teen get more sleep. You will see a difference in mood. And they will feel more in control of their mood and emotions which allows them to feel confident in growing up.

Exercise: If your kid is like many, they play an intense sport or are involved in physical activity every day. But maybe it’s the off season and they went from pro athlete level training to nothing for the last few weeks? That can have a disastrous impact on mood management. If they are not moving find something they can do. A walk outside for a half an hour can do wonders for helping your teen manage his moods. Make him walk the dog. Or run a can of soup to the neighbor a few streets over. Or challenge him to a game of basketball in the driveway. What kinds of movement can your teen do every day? Help him find a physical activity he really enjoys and you will have instilled a lifelong hobby too!

Your teen may not thank you for nagging him about breakfast, denying him another late night activity this week, or forcing a one on one game of basketball with his dad before he can go out with friends, but it is exactly what he needs!!! And if it helps the mood of your house go from unpredictable and scary to calm and manageable, it’s a win for everyone!

mood swing


Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com


Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks


joy prof pic








Help Your Teen Put Down The Phone…One Hour At A Time!

teens-textingIs your teen constantly on their phone? If they look up from their phone screen, is it only to watch TV or move to a computer? Ever wonder how many hours a teen spends looking at a screen of some kind?


(And that doesn’t count any of the time they are in school)

On any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment, according to the report by Common a nonprofit focused Sense Media.

That is more hours than the average teen spends sleeping and eating combined.

That is more hours than a teen is in school!

That is more hours in a day than a teen spends with their parents or in any school related activity or sport.

Read the full report and interesting statistics here:


images (2)

What can we as parents and educators do about it?

It would be fantastic to limit the time your teen spends on a device. No devices until a certain time or after a certain time. But you may be thinking that’s impossible, or you are not going to change that pattern now. Maybe it’s not a battle you are willing to fight.

Here are 6 simple ways to teach your teen to put it down one hour at a time!

  1. Sign them up for a class. Anything! Check the recreation department, the local art studio, anything you can find that doesn’t have to do with technology! Flower arranging, cake decorating, ukulele lessons, bowling league are all possibilities. Find something they are remotely interested in doing and make that an expectation and requirement for even owning the device.
  2. Do nothing for an hour. Pick an hour one night that everyone has to shut off all devices. Including you! What are you going to do? No one knows. That’s the point. Wander around. Feel the longing to have your phone back in your hand, but don’t touch it for an hour that night. Maybe someone will come up with an idea. It is a great chance to think. Clear your minds and stop “doing” whatever it is you are all doing on your device. Do nothing. Maybe some conversation will be sparked. Maybe an interaction will be offered. Maybe a game will be initiated.
  3. Give them jobs to do. If they have an hour’s worth of work to do before they can sit and look at a device, that’s one less hour they are contributing to the statics of 9 HOURS a Day on a device! I can guarantee they won’t like this and will try to convince you that they have homework to do and they are way too busy. But the statistics say they are way to busy spending 9 HOURS a day on a device and that doesn’t even include homework time. They are not too busy to do an hour’s worth of chores. And I bet you could come up with an hour’s worth of jobs that would help you get a few minutes back in your day (hopefully to come up with a class these teenagers can take or to sit and think without touching your device)!
  4. Go outside. Easier said than done. The facts that support the benefits of time outdoors as a part of managing mental health, staying fit and active and even having a healthy family dynamic are staggering. Get outside. It’s good for you and your teenager! Sign up for a night hike in the state parks. Go to a local ski or sledding hill. Walk the dog around the block! Make them shovel the sidewalk for you and the neighbor! Every minute you get those teenagers outside is a minute they are off their device.
  5. Plan a party. What teenagers doesn’t love having a few friends over? Tell them they can have the sleepover or party or movie night or whatever it is, but give them a piece of paper and a pencil and tell them it all has to be planned the old fashioned way. No text invites. No Pinterest. No group chats. Write out the food list. Write out the names of people they want to invite. Write out or draw a picture of the layout of the room and where everyone will sleep. Allow them to plan. Allow them to think. Allow them to be creative.
  6. Plan a project you and your teen can do together. Cook something interesting and different, clean your closet or a drawer, read a book and talk about it when you are both done, write a letter to your mom and their grandma, dig out the old photo album and talk about a funny baby story. Find one small task and get your teen in the habit of putting down their phone for a short time and engage in something completely free of a device as often as you can!




Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com


Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks

joy prof pic

Cutting and Self Harm In Girls


Are you hearing more and more about girls cutting? Does it seem like everyone is talking about it? Or no one even cares who cuts because it is so common and understood that girls cut? Or worse yet, are you seeing cuts and scratches or bruises on your own daughter? What is this cutting thing and what can you do as a parent of a teen girl?

It’s very difficult to get statistics or accurate numbers on how many kids are cutting. Boys and girls cut. Even adults cut. It is believed to have existed for a very long time, but is becoming much more talked about and most professionals would agree it is more and more common. Teens see it on TV, they read about it on social media, there are even websites on how to do it and how to hide it from parents. Ask any teen girl if they know someone who cuts and the answers is probably, “yeah, of course”.

Cutting is not typically a suicidal gesture. It is sometimes a sign or symptom of a very serious mental health disorder, but it is most often a coping skill; a very dangerous and self destructive coping skill.  Teens who cut are not from any particular social group or even the girls you might think would be cutting. Girls who cut can be overachieving, successful, highly motivated girls. They are stressed, they have a lot of pressure and they need to find a way to cope with difficult feelings. The difficult feelings are a normal part of life and can get very intense during adolescence. When feelings get too intense(and they don’t have adequate coping skills)  girls have found that cutting provides relief.

The biggest hurdle for girls who cut is that cutting does offer teens the relief they are looking for. So when faced with stress they learn to cut to find the relief they are craving. Much like a drug high, they know it will work so they do it more and more often. If cutting is providing the relief a teen craves and it goes undetected or not talked about, a teen will may cut more often and cut for less and less of a reason. It just feels good. So they do it more and more and they are not learning or practicing any other healthy coping skill.

Teens need to learn that cutting will only work in the short term and they will need to develop, practice and rely on healthier coping skills as they grow up and face life. Underlying problems need to be addressed. Does this teen need treatment for anxiety or depression? Is there a family dynamic that causes this teen stress? Is there something going on at school? How can these stressors be resolved or new ways to cope get introduced?

It is very important that if your teen is cutting or you suspect she is cutting; seek help from a mental health provider. A professional can help you as a parent understand cutting so you can offer your teen the support and resources they need. A professional can also help your daughter learn new skills so that she can start using them and find a way to break an unhealthy pattern.

Unhealthy pattern:        overwhelming feelings + cutting = relief

Healthy pattern:

 Overwhelming feelings  +   (reading, drawing, journaling, talking, singing, crying, ???  =  COPING



Girls need time and creativity and support while they discover what the pattern needs to be for them.

The sooner the unhealthy pattern is broken, the more likely girls will be able rely on their healthy patterns as they grow older. And ultimately stop the unhealthy pattern.

Girls need to learn to say “No”.

Girls need to learn how to express feelings that are difficult; mad, sad, guilt, etc.

Girls need to learn to stand up for themselves with friends and family members.

Girls need to accept failure (a poor grade even though they studied diligently, a friendship that ends for no apparent reason, a boyfriend dumps them for someone new, etc) as a part of life.

Girls need to learn to express anger and disappointment verbally.

Girls need to recharge their batteries so they learn self care (shut off social media, taking a break from going out and socializing constantly, reading a book, doing something for themselves just because it is something they enjoy).

Girls need to use journaling, talking and drawing as ways to embrace the hard feelings, feel the feelings and cope with those feelings. Life will bring many hard, difficult feelings and we need to equip our young women to be ready to face and deal with those feelings. Teaching them not to feel, to ignore the tough stuff or pretend they don’t feel the painful feelings is not healthy.








Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com


Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks

joy prof pic

Find Christmas Magic…Even With Your Teens!

gty_teenager_gifts_kb_121213_wblogAre you feeling kind of blah this year? Having trouble finding the magic of Christmas’ past? Holidays are definitely different with teens.  They may not wake you at 6 am ready to unwrap presents. They may roll their eyes at the gingerbread house decorating. They may even act surly and indifferent this year.  A lot of time and money and effort has gone into this holiday. Here are some tips for making Christmas day special with teens.

  1. Pick and Choose your battles. What is your single most important tradition? Encourage them to participate pleasantly in that tradition but go ahead and do another one without them and you enjoy it! This is a good time to find out which traditions were for the kids in the first place and which ones really matter to you. Things are changing and maybe the teen years are a good transition to new traditions that will become equally important.
  2. Set a reasonable time to start the festivities. If your teen has younger siblings or cousins who are up and ready, they may just have to be coaxed out of bed. But if you have a house full of teens, what about having Santa come Christmas Eve and stay up late as a family enjoying gifts and time together? Your teens are sure to be impressed with your coolness if you tell them the fun begins at midnight!
  3.  Food. Lots of food. Find out your teens favorite food and serve it up! Sure maybe you are used to cookies and cheese and crackers, but if your teen is thrilled about sushi this year, why not have a wider variety of food? Have them make the menu and each family member add their own favorite or must have item.
  4.  Having guests? Nothing, besides cleaning, makes teens run to hide faster than guests. This year ask your teen to make the playlist for the party. Don’t even know what that is or how to get that hooked up and playing in your house? Don’t worry, your teen does. They will love choosing the music and might stick around a little longer with guests to talk about music or at least watch everyone’s shocked reactions to some of their songs!
  5. Does your teen like to cook? Bake? Craft? Wrap? Find your teens interests and give them the responsibility to do those things and highlight how important and appreciated it is. Your teen can bake a batch of cookies. They can be in charge of dessert. They can decorate place cards. They can wrap all of the family gifts. If your teen is none of those things, what is his “thing”? Does he like being right all the time? Have him make a trivia game to play later in the day. Does he sleep all day and play endless video games? Have him teach you to play one of his favorite games. Your teen has a thing. What is it and how can you use that to help them engage in the day? Be creative!
  6. Play games. You will probably struggle to get them to play the traditional games. How about something different or new? How about teach them to play poker and use candy canes as your chips? Or LCR (http://www.amazon.com/LCR-Center-Right-Random-Color/dp/B000F9YDKY/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1450881065&sr=8-4&keywords=left+center+right) and give everyone ten dollars in quarters to play. Winner keeps all! Minute To Win it games can be fun! Trivia games and strategy games challenge your teens to engage in a little healthy competition. Have fun! If you are having fun and laughing, they may have no choice but to jump on board and laugh a little too.

A smile, a laugh, a connection between you and your teen is what the magic of Christmas is about this year. It was pretty easy to surprise them, thrill them or “wow” them when they were little. That was fun. Now you will have to be more creative and more open to different in order to pull off that smile or wow factor. Good luck! Have fun! Find a way to connect with your teen today!




How Did You Do This Year?

As 2015 wraps up and we head into a new year, it is a great time as parents of teens to stop and refocus. It is too easy to get lost in the car pools, home work struggles, regular life duties as you get through days and weeks of chaotic schedules and busy family life.  But your teenagers are growing up quickly and each day is a valuable day for getting them ready to be independent adults. Today is a great day to stop and take stock in how you are parenting your teenager. Instead of being overcome with worry or guilt or exhaustion, use this great resource to see what you have done really well and find the areas where you can still improve.

The Search Institute has developed a list of 40 Assets that they believe make up the building blocks of healthy adolescent development and best predict your teen’s future ability to be a healthy, caring, responsible person.

You can use this survey in many ways. Have your teen take the survey, take it for yourself using your own life experiences, or take it as working to do list for yourself as a parent. Work through the list and ask yourself, “have I made this a priority? Have I exposed my teen to this? What can I do better”?

Click here to take the survey and then click on “Take Action” for suggestions on how to provide positive experiences to your teen within each asset.



What assets are you working on in 2016?





joy prof picJoy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com


Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks

Are You Making Memories?

I’m starting a movement to take over the acronym BFF from the tweens and claim it as a dorky mom-ism! From now on, BFF is officially… Best Family Friends. When raising kids, having another family to spend time with can make a huge difference in how much joy, laughter, love, and support you will feel. Your BFF can be your brother and sister-in law-and their kids, an unrelated family that  has been a part of your lives for a long time, a neighbor family that is a part of your everyday lives, or can even be a family that lives far away. This BFF is simply another family who not only knows your kids, but loves your kids. Your BFF is another family who can be called upon to share joys or sorrows. Your BFF  can help you survive all the phases of your life, including the teen years. The phrase It Takes a Village to Raise a Child comes to mind. Think of this BFF as a part of your village. These days it seems we have less and less village happening. Families are busy, involved in many different activities and sports and even if you work hard to keep your immediate family close and connected, it is sometimes hard to find another family or another group of people who have been and will be a part of your lives for the long haul. We could all use some support. Find another family and offer your support. You might be surprised how much you and your kids get in return!

As our children have grown through one seemingly hard phase after another our BFF has consistently kept me focused on recognizing what we all know; the days are long, but the years are incredibly short. These days, these difficult times, these exhausting times will pass and these kids will grow up. Our BFF and I even have a motto: “Making Memories”! We were able to look at one another when we had a fussy baby who refused to nap and all we wanted was ten minutes of silence and say, “Making Memories” with exhaustion in our voice. We were supporting each other in the idea that this moment in time is important and valuable and we are doing exactly what we need to be doing. We were acknowledging that we would look back on this exact, tiring moment and long for that sweet baby. Sometimes we wanted to strangle each other, but mostly we felt supported and understood.

overwhelmed-mom-holding-babiesAnd when our toddlers were throwing a colossal fit about the tiniest detail, we could say sarcastically, “Making Memories” and would again support each other with the idea that this too is a valuable moment in our lives that when we look back, our pictures and memories from that day will only include the highlights of our toddlers discovering a new adventure of catching frogs that day rather than the tantrum of the moment.3dd543829515427a_5025662409_484f9475d4_o.xxxlarge_2x

And when our school aged children came in from playing covered from head to toe in mud we could say, “Making Memories” and know that someday we will remember their spirit of adventure and their quest for conquering all things with energy and passion instead of the endless piles of laundry and mud in their ears!Annual+Mud+Day+Celebration+Lets+Kids+Get+Dirty+MflEF-CRwbKl And now that they are teenagers, we can support each other in so many new ways and remind ourselves that each of these hard parts of raising a teenager is contributing to our memory pile and will become treasured stories someday! Here are the ways our BFF has supported and helped raise our teenagers:

  1. Our two families have children of various genders and ages, but these kids are all friends. These kids are different aged siblings than the ones they have. They have learned how to talk to each other, care for each other, pick on each other, argue with each other, but also how to worry about and love each other. They are watching each other grow up and are feeling pride and wonder in seeing their friends learn and grow. These kids are a part of each other’s successes and will be there for each other in the failures.
  2. When I am terrified my kid is making bad decisions and not handling herself well I can call my BFF mom and run it by her. She can tell me it’s no big deal and I should trust my kid (because she knows my kid) or she can say, yeah, she messed up; here is how you can help her learn.
  3. If any of our combined six kids needs a little reassurance or is feeling down, I know beyond any doubt that we will all be there to pick them up. If any of the kids doubt that they are worthy in this world and their parents only think that because they have to, we have a whole other family that believes it too!
  4. I know that if my teens need to talk to someone neutral, they have two more adults in their life who I know I can trust and they know they can trust. Back up parents. How great is that?
  5. But most importantly during this stage with teenagers, we have fun as a family when our two families are together. We plan game nights and camping trips and gingerbread house decorating and all of a sudden an activity my teens would make miserable if it was just us, becomes hilarious and fun and I get to see my teens laugh and smile and sometimes even giggle again!


Who is your BFF? How are you helping to raise your BFF teenagers?

Plan an adventure and invite another family!

Invite another family to your house for a Minute to Win in Competition or challenge another family to Family Feud!

Have some fun!

Spend time with another family. They just may be in the market for a BFF too!




joy prof picJoy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com


Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks