Unless and Until


Unless and Until

Teens can be stubborn. Teens can be relentless. Teens can drive us crazy. They can outlast us, outsmart us and definitely out argue us.  It’s exhausting and pretty tempting to give in. We may say “no” but as they start to pressure, beg, plead, cry, and tell us their life will absolutely be over, we start to doubt ourselves. We start to wonder if we are being too harsh. We question what we just said the minute before. It’s hard to look up to our sweet baby and tell him “no” and stick with it. We start asking ourselves, “Shouldn’t we be giving him more freedom? Shouldn’t he start making his own choices right now? Is he ready for this? How can I know when to stay strong and when to let go”?

When you start to doubt yourself ask if this situation fits the:

Unless and Until Rule

Unless and Until he has done everything he needs to do

Unless and Until I feel respected and valued as a parent

Unless and Until he is willing to pay his own way

Unless and Until he is making good choices

Unless and Until he is safe and trusted

Unless and Until his homework is done

If you can find an “unless or until” to back up your “no” you will have a chance to hang on through the begging, crying and pleading of your teenager. And as a bonus you will be reminding him about what it takes to be an adult and make his own decision. You will be helping to point him in the right direction without arguing. The Unless and Until rule points the responsibility back to your teen and takes the blame off of you. If you can’t find an Unless or Until, maybe it is a situation where they are ready and it’s a chance to show your teen you are open to a respectful discussion about freedoms.

Can I extend my curfew to 2 am on this school night? Unless and Until you are driving your own car with your own insurance you will not be allowed to break the law of your probationary license.

Can I have $50 for the dance tonight? Unless and until you have earned the money through chores or your part-time job.

Can I sleepover at a friend’s house? Unless and until your chores are done, the parents confirm they will be home and you have _______________ done.

Unless and Until your teen acts like a responsible adult and follows through on his daily responsibilities, he is not ready for all of the freedoms that come with being an adult.

What’s your Unless and Until?


Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. 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




A Call For Less Rules!!!

untitledAre you tired of fighting about the rules and the details constantly? Do you feel like all you do is yell or enforce the rules? Is it time to give your teen the freedom he is begging for? Maybe it’s time to go with no rules at all!! Your teen is going love this! No rules. No curfew. No chores, No screen time limits. Nothing.

Free for All!

Well, not exactly a free for all. Sorry teens. Bear with me parents. What if everyone in your house thought of rules differently? What if instead of you setting rules, instead of you being the very unpopular rule maker and ruler enforcer, you change the way you and your teen communicate about the rules? Right now you make the decisions and they are left to follow them without understanding or appreciating the “why”. Or let’s be honest, sometimes it leaves them working really hard to get around the rules, bend the rules, or straight up ignore the rules. Teens are really good at finding any loop hole in the rules and taking full advantage.

How do you avoid a free for all? How do you keep from  turning into teens gone wild on daily basis? Change the idea of rules to the concept of building a foundation. A foundation of a newly built home has to be done well in order to support the home for many years. The type of soil, the terrain, the climate, the materials and the craftsmanship all are important factors that need to be in place to build a solid foundation. Without it, the home will have cracks in ceilings, walls or floors. A poorly laid foundation can cause doors and window to get stuck or not work smoothly. So think about your parenting during the teen years as investing in a solid, well built foundation. Your job can be to ensure your teen has a solid foundation on which to build their lives. Help your teen invest in his own foundation so that when he is ready to stand on it, lean on it, build it up and eventually add to the weight and size of his responsibilities, he will know his foundation was well built and can weather any storm, any stress.  Different types of homes in different areas need different types of foundations. Your teen’s foundation can be built from the materials your teen needs. Not everyone’s foundation needs to look the same. Feel free to substitute for concepts and ideas that are important to your family. Here is an example of a foundation plan.


Respect. This foundation uses respect as one of its main walls. It is a core value for this teenager. They will need to grow to have a strong sense of respect for their parents, their teachers, their neighbors, all human beings, animals, but most importantly themselves. This teenager will make the concept of respect as a pillar of who they are. They will draw from that and build from that as a solid wall of their foundation. This teenager can then be asked to make decisions for himself about whether a behavior or grade or decision he makes is consistent with the core value of respect. Respecting himself can be an expectation for this teen.

How to change from rule to foundation? Instead of setting an 11:00PM curfew, talk to your teen about what time would be most respectful for his own need for sleep? How can he best take care of himself? Encourage respect for the sleep of the parents who are still working and getting up at 6 am the next day? Or discuss the risk factors for being on the road or out after midnight (Read more about the risks for teens after midnight here: http://joyhartman.com/the-best-habit-you-can-teach-your-teen/ ). Have conversations and invest in the materials needed to make this a strong wall in your teen’s foundation. Discuss it each time. Talk about what the plan is and what would be his best respectful decision. Respect to himself, you and others around him. Ultimately, you can still tell him to be home by 11:00 PM, but important conversations have taken place. He is beginning to understand the “why” of a decision and he is a part of the decision.

Values. This concept is another pillar in this teen’s foundation. This family will lay out several important values as key ingredients to their teenager’s foundation that they want their teen to carry into their adult life and have as a part of their core. What are your core family values? What do you stand for? If you can’t answer that question it would be a good idea to narrow it down, verbalize it as often as possible so that your teen’s core foundation is filled with lots and lots of that material. Take some time now to make a list of values. What is important to you? What do you believe in? What really matters to you?  List every value you would want to share with your teen. Just jot them down and brainstorm.

Now narrow it down, combine, and fine tune those into 3 or 4 core values. Do you live those values now? Would your kids agree with these being core values for your family? If your first value is that family always come first, but you haven’t sat down and had a meal together in weeks, maybe it’s time to send that text and gather your teenagers for a pizza night?

Maybe you don’t think of values as related to rules at all, but start thinking in terms of how your teen’s thoughts, behaviors and actions relate to your family values. If one of your values was family first, does your teen value family time. Are they encouraged to participate in family activities? Think about ways to help your teen find a better balance. Give them permission to go out on Saturday night, but make one condition of going out, an opportunity to participate in family game night on Friday night.  If one of your core values was a solid work ethic, build more work into your teen’s life. Encourage a part time job by eliminating spending money being handed out. Encourage a large project for a family friend or relative where he is shown what work ethic means and ultimately he is shown a sense of pride and accomplishment after the hard work. Teach your teen what your values mean, give them real world opportunities to understand your values first hand.

Independence.  Not surprisingly, the rock solid, bottom on this blueprint is Independence. Your teen’s job is to grow up and grow independent. Make independence a part of your teen’s core. As early as possible show your teen that they are capable of anything they try. Teach them that they can take care of themselves and will need to take care of themselves and maybe even themselves and house full of kids in this amazing house that you have built the foundation for. They need to cook, clean, care for others, and make safe, appropriate decisions all on their own. Give them big jobs and have them figure it out; change a car tire, put oil in the lawn mower, bake a new recipe.  They will learn very quickly that they are capable of more than they think and more importantly they will learn they can find the answer or solution to any problem anytime, anywhere if they know where to look. Let them fail, but show them how to try again and again until they succeed.

How does this translate from rules to foundation in day to day life? Talk with them about earning independence. It is not a gift you are giving them. It is so critical to their future success; it is the most inspected element of the foundation you are laying. I really have no idea what goes into a literal foundation, but whatever the most important ingredient to my basement floor was, that’s the independence piece!! That’s the part that is going to provide your teen with a beautiful home and life that is solid and strong rather than a constant burden of cracks that cause his foundation to be wobbly and precarious. Talk to your teen about that. Let him know that chores and daily responsibilities are going be the difference in those two lives. Let him know that earning independence is going to be difficult and not always fun, but a critical piece to growing up. Give your teen clear connections between Freedoms and Responsibilities. If he completes his responsibilities, he earns freedoms. Draw the connections for him. That changes the rules into his own decision to earn the freedoms.

Freedoms – Responsibilities Chart

Freedoms Responsibilities
Drive the family car Fill the car with gas, take the car in for oil change as needed, pay own auto insurance (start with one and add as they get older or begin to drive more)
Have friends sleep over Clean the house and bathroom to family standard
Owning a smart phone rather than a lame flip phone Pay for the phone and data plan every month!
Keep room in whatever state of disarray they like Do own laundry. From start to finish.
Eat whenever, (whatever, wherever) Cook a family meal once a week regularly. At least one night a week plan, cook and clean up.
Stay out past curfew for special event Consistently prove that they meet all expectations they next day. i.e.: go to work on time next day, are awake and ready to do the above items as agreed
Fill in the item your teen thinks he’s ready for Ask yourself, “what are the adult responsibilities they would need to meet if they were living on their own”. Find a connection to the “boring” part of being an adult.

See full article on Freedoms vs. Responsibilities here: http://joyhartman.com/my-teen-wants-more-and-more-freedom/


Drop the rules and build a more purposeful foundation for your teens! A solid, strong start to their adult life is the best gift you can give them!

What are you going to use for your teens foundation? What materials are going into your teen’s foundation?




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Take Care of You, So You Can Take Care of Them!

imagesMFATE5DOAlong with every stage of our kids’ development comes challenges and changes. As a new mom we needed to find time to sleep. We were told to nap when the baby naps.  Or teach our baby to sleep through the night. We struggled with cry it out, don’t cry it out.  And just when we were getting the hang of that and found a routine, our babies grew into toddlers. Then the challenge was find a second to use the bathroom alone, or to try to figure out how to serve a balanced meal using only goldfish crackers and bananas.  And once we got a handle on showering during an episode of Dora the Explorer those adorable little toddlers went off to school. With school came huge adjustments for everyone in the house with the influence of friends, homework, school events, play dates and birthday parties. Maybe as a mom of school age kids you had to develop chore charts and carpools and learn to say no to some of the opportunities to volunteer or participate in every event. Well done!

But now, those curious fun loving school age kids have morphed into surly, eye rolling, pretty sure they can conquer the world, teenagers who keep changing the game. They start to go places without you, coordinate their own social lives, and arrange sleepovers without even mentioning the whole idea to you until it is all planned. Then they start to drive or take off in cars belonging to other teenagers. They quickly begin to feel like a bottomless pit where you throw money, food and most of all worry. Along with the teen years your kids get more and more independent. They do more and more without you. Their own way. And you worry.

Taking care of you is more important now that ever! You desperately needed your sleep when you had a newborn so you could take care of a completely dependent creature. Their very existence rested in your tired, exhausted hands. You had to find a way to take good care of yourself. And now you need to find a way to take good care of yourself as they enter a completely independent existence, where very little is in your control anymore. This is a time for big changes and new challenges. You figured out babies, toddlers and school age kids. You can figure out a teenager too. But it will require all the energy and patience you have. Just like before.

So what is the equivalent to “nap when your baby naps” for teenagers?

Run alongside them!

If life was a 5K run:

The years that we cared for our babies we were walking the 5K with a baby in a snugly going at a slower, less predictable pace than we were used to as a carefree childless adult. It might have been giving up a pace or lifestyle we were used to, or accepting that our bodies had changed and might not ever work the same way again.imagesGO26XYDB

The toddler years would be likened to running that race while pushing a jog stroller at crazy erratic speeds. Sometimes going a mile a minute sometimes stopping for long periods of time to admire a frog or endlessly discussing the “why?” of so many things.



The school age years would be the whole family running with abandon and you trying to get everyone to stick together while navigating playgrounds full of obstacles along the race course.


The teen years is simply recognizing that our teenager can run the 5K on their own.  But we can still have influence and guidance if we run alongside them. We need to let them set the pace of the race.  If we run our own race, they will be long gone; way ahead or way behind. They are no longer in our arms, in our protective stroller or needing us to corral them to a certain finish line. Let them run, but stay close by. Let them set the pace or take the lead. But stick close by. Be a ready running partner. Ready to listen as they run along the race. Be ready to pass out snacks or drinks to nourish them along the way. Be ready to offer a direction change when needed, but keep by their side if they don’t take your route suggestion. Run along side them anyway. Help them make their own course corrections. Don’t try to run ahead or lead the way or even try to clear an easy path.  And resist the temptation to hold them back or caution them to pace themselves. Be there to pick up the pieces, offer a bag of ice after an injury, but let them learn. Let them miss an important cut off time or deadline. The next time they will set a different pace.



Let them choose their interest and find a way to love that same thing. You do not need to do that thing, but be interested. Find a way to be involved. Give them opportunities to do the things they love. Show them how to connect more with the thing that they love. Maybe you have no interest in field hockey and have in fact never even seen a game. You don’t have to play field hockey or even understand the rules. Ask your teen to explain it. Ask them what drills they need to practice and offer to catch or throw or support their development of field hockey in anyway. Go to their games.

If your teen loves video games. Find a way to love them too. Ask about the game details. Ask him what he loves about it. Ask him what his high score is. Find a way to connect your teen to the world through that game. Show your teen some courses that have video games along the way or a path that would lead to using video games to make a living. Embrace his pace and run by his side.

If your teen is super social and always on the go, find a way to keep up. Know who they are with and what they are doing. But not just in a check mark on a list kind of way. Really ask about the football game she just went to. Who does she sit with? Who is the biggest football fan in the school? What do you think of the coaching style? Or perhaps volunteer to work the snack stand. Be involved socially.

If your kid is a homebody and never goes out, find a way to engage him at home. Find out what he loves about being at home. Be sure his homebody style is who he is vs. a fear he is struggling with. And know that homebody is OK, as long as he is content. But it might mean you running the 5K in a very different way than is you were running it alone, or with younger kids. Remember, he gets to set the pace. Your job is to run alongside.


It’s not easy to run a 5K every day, especially carrying all the snacks and equipment a teenager might need along the way. It can be exhausting to keep up or worrisome to see how slow your teen is going. So you will need to take some steps to be ready.

  1. Get your rest. Sleep. Maybe not nap when they nap or you might be sleeping until noon every day : ) But sleep. Go to bed when you need to go to bed. And expect that your teen can be home and safe and off the race track so you can put worry aside and get some sleep.
  2. Do something for you. Workout, walk with a friend, lift weights, meditate, do yoga, read, do something for you. Take time every day to recharge your battery. Make it a priority.
  3. Eat healthier. Eat more often, eat less often. What do you need to change about your eating style and habits so that you are fueled and ready for the 5K? Take care of your body and give your body what it needs so that you do have the energy and stamina to run alongside your teenager.

The teenage years are full of challenge and change.

Take care of you so you can run alongside your teenager!




Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. 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!








Family Dinner…Worth the Hassle?

modern-family-tech-useWe have all heard it a million times. We know it is a good idea and we see the benefit on the rare occasion that it happens, but it is still hard; nearly impossible with busy schedules. And let’s not forget super annoying! The Family Meal. The actual act of sitting down…at the table…which has hopefully been cleared off….together…at the same time…and eating a meal. Overwhelming! But the statistics and research confirm the importance of this time and time again. Just in case you aren’t a believer here are a few:

Lower rates of substance abuse

Lower teen pregnancy rates

Higher grade point averages

Less depression

35% less likely to engage in an eating disorder

More likely to eat healthy foods

Have a better relationship with their parents

Hard to argue the benefits, but harder still to make it happen. This week’s challenge is to have one family dinner. You do not need to consult Pinterest for the perfect recipe and corresponding themed table decorations. You do not need to pull out grandma’s china. You do not need to even cook! Keep in mind the average meal lasts for seven minutes! A bowl of cereal is fine. But find every member of your family that lives in your house, text them the details and reserve a night and a time. Let everyone know that this Tuesday is family dinner night. Set a time and expect them to show up! That’s it! That is the hard part. You did it!

Now, serve that cereal with pride! It’s the act of being together and valuing each other that matters. Not the food. Each time that you do this, you can add to it. Maybe the next week you will serve a vegetable! Or you ask each person to talk about their day. Or maybe the whole idea becomes less overwhelming and you encourage your family to sit down two nights in a week!

Maybe you already eat as a family, but the conversation is a series of grunts or complaints (about that vegetable you dared to serve). Check out the Family Dinner Project for conversation ideas: http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/tag/ages-14-100.

Keep expecting your family to eat together as often as possible. Make it a routine for you and your teens. You will see that the benefits far outweigh the hassle of making it happen. Your teens could even be given the task to host family dinner one night a week (think super creative and helpful to you consequence). They can plan and cook the meal and then come up with the conversation or question of the night. They could have fun with this one and you might just learn that not only can they cook, but they have things to say too!

Or it might be miserable. They may not show up. They might complain through the whole thing. They may be texting friends right there at the table. They may even threaten to throw up because you food is so gross. Be prepared for the reality family dinner.  The benefits are achieved by having dinner. No one said it had to be perfect. Play a game of truth or dare. Challenge them to eat that green bean dipped in hot sauce. Sing an obnoxious song for your unwilling teen. Reminisce about a family dinner you remember being tortured through as a kid. Find a way to do dinner for the family average of seven minutes. And then try again tomorrow! Good Luck!

Let us know how your dinner went tonight!


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The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University

Fiese, B. & Hammons, A. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 127, 1565-1574.

10 Life Lessons Teenagers Will Need To Learn….The Hard Way

Hispanic mother helping daughter pack for college

Teenagers don’t seem to do anything the easy way. Unless of course you count their sloppy approach to chores, cleaning their room, or taking care of your things! They rarely take our advice. They rarely do things the way we would. They seem bound and determined to do it their way! Unfortunately, we know that they are going to have to learn some lessons the hard way. They are in for some major disappointments and hurts. Yet, there are some life lessons we cannot stop them from needing to learn the hard way. These life lessons are what makes them grow into adults and live their lives with purpose.

“There is no gain without struggle.”

~Martin Luther King Jr.

Here are 10 life lessons teens will need to learn their own way, in their own time and with their own conclusions. Their lives will be filled with experiences and choices! Here’s to hoping they learn as many of these as gently as possible.

  1. Happiness Does Matter. A Lot. Happy doesn’t mean feeling happy every moment. Happy means finding meaning in how you live your life.  As a teen, you live in the moment. You may not see beyond today or the near future. Your choices and decisions now will impact your ability to find and hold on to happiness as an adult. Choosing a career in which you feel satisfied vs. one that someone else thinks is a good idea or one that makes the most money or has the highest employment rate will impact your happiness. Forty plus years is a long time to work a job you have no passion for. Choosing friends and a mate will determine happiness. Forty plus years is also a long time to live with the wrong person! These are all really big decisions being made as very young adults with very little life experience. Finding happiness depends a ton on choices you are making right now! Choose a career, friends and spouse purposefully!
  2. Learn How To Communicate. In Person. Even When It’s Hard. Learning how to communicate your needs, your wants and your desires is an important life skill! Nothing will be handed to you. You will have to navigate relationships for your whole life. Learn how to express yourself effectively. Learn to listen. Learn to really hear what another person is saying. Ask questions so that you fully understand before you say what you want to say. Face relationships with confidence. Bosses, parents, spouses and someday your own teenagers will be difficult to deal with. Learn how to do it. Put down your cell phone and have a real conversation as often as possible.
  3. Learn How To Think For Yourself. Don’t let your friends or parents speak for you or change your own beliefs. There will come times when your beliefs matter, when your voice needs to be heard. Have strong beliefs and find ways to live those beliefs.
  4. You Cannot Please Everyone All Of The Time. Live what you know is right. Give what you can give. Love how you can love. Be who you are. If someone does not like you for it, that is their problem and their loss. If someone is trying to change you, question their motives and decide for yourself if the change is good and right, or meeting someone else’s needs. You will not please everybody. Not everybody will like you. That’s OK. Be you. You are good enough.
  5. Take Responsibility For Your Actions And Choices. You will make mistakes. Lots of them. Own them. Learn from them. Move on from them. They are your mistakes and your choices. Do not blame anyone else.
  6. Someday You Will Understand Grief And Loss. Someday you will lose someone. The loss will be profound and devastating. The loss will make it hard to breathe. The loss will change you forever. But so too will you grow from that loss. You will love more deeply, risk more freely, understand more compassionately. You will forever remember your loved one and your grief will forever shape your future, in good ways and bad.
  7. Find Your Beauty And Strength. You are young and beautiful and strong right now. You have a very limited number of years when beauty or strength will dictate or ensure your success. You will suffer injuries and changes to your body in ways you cannot even imagine. Enjoy your beauty and strength. Appreciate it, but never mourn the loss of it. Your strength and beauty grows and changes and become wise and powerful. Don’t give away strength and beauty, allow it to change and always have confidence in your own body. Treat it kindly.
  8. Life Will Give You What Life Gives You. Be Ready To Roll With It! Plan and make good choices, but be prepared for both of those to lead you down some paths that are not expected. Life doesn’t follow a set path and there are no guarantees. Be flexible in your dreams and plans. Life will have a few surprises for you!
  9. Forgive Freely. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Every single person has a story to tell and you can’t know their struggles. Be willing to forgive their lack of kindness or compassion because they may be going through a hard life lesson moment of their own. If you have kindness to share, share. If you have compassion to give, give. Don’t expect it to come back in that moment but know that it will be there when you need it!
  10. The Little Things In Life Really Are The Most Important. At the end of the day the things that matter most are the smallest things with no monetary value; a kind word, a shared laugh, a friendship, a loving family. The most important moments won’t be about popularity, about the major you choose in college, the trips taken or the money in the bank. The most important moments will be about relationships. See number #2 and do it well!





Emotional Intelligence

success-eiEmotional Intelligence is our ability to identify our own emotions, read others’ emotions and navigate our social world. We spend  countless hours shuttling our kids to select sports, endless amounts of energy signing up for and finding the perfect activities for our teens and thousands of  dollars on our teens in general. But do we invest in their emotional intelligence? One can argue that social media is taking away our kids opportunities to practice emotional intelligence. They can text and email teachers instead of asking questions directly. They can drop friendships and make new ones all without leaving home. Kids take the SAT, the ACT and we know their GPA’s, but do you know your teens EI score? Here is a resource that has many different worksheets for your teen to complete. They don’t need to work through it page by page, but look for opportunities to use certain lessons. These can be used individually with your teen or modified to use as team building for a club or group.



Calling All Parents of Middle School Kids! Here Is Your Challenge!

womenFive Challenges For Every Parent Of A Middle School Student!

Middle School can be brutal. It is a time when kids are rapidly growing and exploring and finding their place in the middle school world. Parents of these kids work hard on instilling confidence in their kids, supporting them as they navigate academics, peer drama and an ever expanding world. But that’s not the only job parents have! They have another huge job to do during their kids’ middle school years. It’s not enough to have survived your own middle school years. And it’s not even enough to survive your kids’ middle school years. Now the task is to use your life experience and do middle school better! Do it with more confidence of your own. More wisdom. More guidance. And more personal growth.

1. Find the best in every single one of your kid’s friends. Not sometimes, but always. Even if a friend is starting to break away from the original gang or dress differently, find the best in that kid. Help your kid see the strengths of that friend. Even if that friend is pulling away or being pulled away. Go easy on the hurt and anger you are feeling. Middle school is hard enough; parents do not need to fuel the emotions. Help your tween express their feelings, but also how to use those feelings to fuel growth. Use that hurt they are feeling, to walk over to a new lunch table and make new connections. Help them use the feeling of loneliness when seeing friends’ hanging out without them, to start a conversation with friends, look at their own behavior or make conscience decisions about how to reach out to those friends or different friends. Help your child see the best in their friends, their acquaintances, and even the kids who might feel like an enemy.
2. Teach your tweens and teens to resolve conflict in healthy ways. Encourage them to talk with a friend who hurt their feelings. Encourage them to tell their friend how they feel. Encourage them to find a resolution so that each child can move forward. If one friend is pulling away from your child, help them understand how much it hurts now, vs. how little it matters down the road. Help them to repair friendships, support friendships, be tolerant in friendships and to let go of friendships in a healthy way when it is time. And please, resolve your own conflicts. Talk with other parents of other kids. Model how to resolve a conflict.
3. We want our kinds to be kind to everyone. Do the same. Be kind to all parents. They are hanging on for a wild ride through middle school too. They are raising their own insecure, terrified, overwhelmed teenager too. Be kind. Support one another. Tell another mom how kind her kid was, or how helpful or polite they were last time you saw them. It goes a long way. Build up other moms and they just might be able to do the same for you. It’s a hard, lonely job of raising teens. Be there for each other. See the best in their kid and them, even when it’s hard.
4. Challenge yourself to talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk with. You may have your group of friends or the parents you have been around through the grade school years, but why not expand your parenting support world too? Talk to other parents. Introduce yourself. Don’t worry about who their kid is or what your kid will think if you and that mom are talking. What better way to teach teens to include everyone and be confident in who you are, than to do just that!
5. Just like middle school kids are reinventing their style or beliefs, so are parents. Families change. Circumstances change. Divorce, death, disaster, financial stress, mental health concerns, legal problems, the possibilities are endless. You don’t know what your fellow middle school parent is experiencing. Adults grow and change too. Wisdom keeps coming. Be open to kids changing or trying out a new style and be open to parents changing and trying on a new lifestyle. Whatever that may be.

Middle school is a time to build confidence. A time to develop friendships. A time to explore a bigger world. A time to develop beliefs and attitudes. For kids and their parents!

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The Teenage Brain and How It Processes Trauma

Front Cover.inddA recent article written by Vivian Giang, for Quartz, discusses the human brain and the idea that our brains are more susceptible to trauma at two distinct time periods. It is a fascinating read for parents of teens in particular. The complete article is attached here:


The adolescent years are widely believed to be one of the two most significant brain development phases.  Teenage brains are no longer growing in size, but are rapidly fine tuning its connections for full adult development.

Here is an article that explains what is happening in the teenage brain:


How do these two articles relate? What does this mean for parents of teens?

It means that the teen years are critical for limiting your teen’s excessive expose to traumatic events and to teach your teens how to deal with and process traumatic events.

According to the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice: “The word “trauma” is used to describe experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, and that overwhelm people’s ability to cope, leaving them powerless. Trauma has sometimes been defined in reference to circumstances that are outside the realm of normal human experience. Unfortunately, this definition doesn’t always hold true. For some groups of people, trauma can occur frequently and become part of the common human experience.”

Trauma does not have to be living in a war torn country or exposure to inner city violence. It does not have to be suffering abuse in their own home. Trauma can come in many unsuspecting places. Trauma and its ability to complicate or stifle a teen’s brain development can come in many shapes and sizes.

Consider some of the top trauma indicators. While the worst case of these categories may not be happening to your teen in her home, but what about the less obvious experiences? What about the many subtle influences going on in your teen’s life? Think about how much exposure your teen has to these types of events through social media?

Recurrent physical abuse

Are they being exposed to physical abuse by a boyfriend or girlfriend? Are they watching Physical abuse on TV or other social Media. Are they being desensitized to physical abuse?

Recurrent emotional abuse

Are they in an emotionally abusive dating relationship? Are they watching friends in an abusive relationships? Are they exposed to emotionally abusive relationships on TV or other social media? Bullying?

Contact sexual abuse

Are teens having sex before they are ready? Are they feeling pressured to participate in sexual activities of any kind before they feel ready? Are they pressured to feel ready because of years of desensitization through TV and movies?

An alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household

What about friends abusing alcohol or drugs? Or stories they are hearing at school or on social media?

A household member who is chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal

What about friends and peers who struggle with mental health issues? Are teens equipped to be the source of support to their friends’ mental health concerns?


Teens are exposed to many of these identified high risk situations. It may not be happening in your home. But if they are aware of these situations or experiencing them second hand through peers or social media it stands to reason that we need to help teens process these traumas  so that the impact on their lives is minimized.

Every teen will have a different reaction to trauma. One teen’s response vs. another’s response has a lot to do with brain chemistry, genetics, life experiences and their unique personality. Each teen will react differently. Many teens act very worldly and over confident. Many teens will roll their eyes if you ask if they are ok or have questions after a particularly violent movie or news story. But ask it anyway. Share your feelings on what you just saw. Let them know you felt scared. Show them that you are impacted by the traumas you experience. Share with them how you deal with those emotions. Talking about the emotions that go along with small traumas can help your teen’s brain make critical connections and complete their brain development with little impact.







What Is Most Important Skill Needed For Teens To Succeed?

The Pew Research Center conducts national surveys about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America. They recently conducted a survey about the one most important skill kids need to have to be successful. This question was asked, “Regardless of whether or not you think these skills are good to have, which ones do you think are most important for children to get ahead in the world today?”


The answer may surprise some. Communication came in a definite first!


Math and science came in the middle of the responses and sports, arts and music show up way in the bottom.  This is shocking in terms of where we as parents are pouring our time, energy, money and taxi services! We secure tutors for our kids that struggle with math. We make our kids practice their instrument daily and schlep them to and from lessons even when they didn’t practice. We enroll them in enriched science classes. And don’t even open the door to the debate about kids’ sports these days! Let’s be fair and just say countless hours are spent by our kids practicing their chosen sport. But who among us have enrolled our kid in a communication class? Who has provided a communication tutor? Why, if this is seen by a survey of Americans as the most important trait for our kids to have for success, are we not investing anything in teaching and developing communication skills?

Teens are constantly interacting with their world. They interact at home, at school and in the community. But they are using more and more social media to communicate. Where we used hang with friends for hours looking for something to do, today’s teen may be sitting in their room playing on online video game or texting many friends. Teens need to communicate with their world, but they seem to be getting less and less practice.

Communication is an advanced skill and one that needs to be taught, modeled and practiced.

What will you do to teach communication? How can they learn if they do so little of it?

Invest as much time, energy and money in teaching communication skills as you do in other activities your family values!

  1. Give your teens every opportunity to practice his communication skills. As soon as possible as your children are growing up, have them start communicating for themselves and coach from the sideline. Have them ask their teacher the question. Have them coordinate their own babysitting job in person or by phone, not texting. Encourage your teen to communicate as often as possible.
  2. Expose them to people and places that are unfamiliar to them. Have them call to make the family’s hotel reservation, lead the way through the subway, or send them to do a complicated store return. Have them work with small children. Have them lead a class of some kind. Have them work in a shelter or hospital with people who may look and act differently than they have ever seen. Expose them to as much communication challenges as you can find.
  3. Talk about it. Find out where they did great. Where they shined. Then find out where they need new skills. When did they feel frustrated, overwhelmed, annoyed or just tired? What else could they have tried? What other ways are there for accomplishing the task? Brainstorm with them. Show them tools like:

Learn communication styles to build awareness:



Explore the Feeling Wheel to increase their vocabulary and depth:

650_Feelings-Wheel-Color (1)


Expose them to books such as 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (http://www.amazon.com/The-Habits-Highly-Effective-Teens/dp/0684856093)



Teens are capable of learning to use these tools and are just beginning to develop a personal style. Now is the perfect time to give them every advantage.

Teach them communication skills as passionately as you are teaching them math and sports!

See the full Pew Research article here:



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Your Teenager is Actually Listening?!? But What Are They Hearing?

file0001724229506Your teenagers are listening to you! What you don’t believe me? They don’t do their chores? They seem to ignore you when you need something from them? They flat out tell you they have no idea what you just said? That may all be true to all, but that’s selective teenage listening! They are listening to what really matters. They are listening to your values, your morals, your way of treating other people. They are absorbing the essence of you every day. They may be fighting that, judging that and trying to figure out where they themselves stand, but they are very much listening. Whether you know it or not, you are shaping your teen every day.

Here are 4 behaviors they are ‘listening to”:

  1. How you give and take respect. Are you respectful of everyone? Are you judgmental of your boss or that annoying co worker? Or are you showing your teen how to understand that everyone has a story to tell and life experiences that shape them into potentially difficult people? Do you find yourself complaining every night at dinner or are you modeling how to deal with that annoying coworker? Do you share what you tried and what worked well? Your frustrations and struggles are great ways to model to your teen how to deal with a teacher or peer or future boss.
  2. How you manage your money. Money is not the key to happiness so I have been told. But no one can deny its importance at some level. Do you live within your means? Do you give your teens a budget to stick with, but are in debt yourself? Are you living pay check to pay check or have you made the hard decisions about what to cut and what to eliminate? Are you modeling good money management? They are listening. Their beliefs about finances will be shaped by yours. If you say, “we work hard, we should have this new car or vacation or item”, they will feel the same.
  3. Your character and integrity. What values are important to your family? Are you modeling those values? If helping others is important, are you showing that to your teen? Are you giving them opportunities to do that? If donating time and money is important, do you do that? If hard work is important, are you modeling that? Is family everything that matters to you? When was the last time you and your teen spent time with extended family? Your teen is listening. You can say we should be doing this or that, but they may be listening to the behavior and not the words. What do you stand for and are you still standing? What does your teen stand for? Ask her questions about how she handles situations. Ask her if that fits with who she feels she is? Is she treating people in a way that she feels proud or satisfied? Challenge her to use the words “character” and “integrity” and understand what that means in her daily life.
  4. Your motivation. What motivates you: Pride, satisfaction, money, praise, adoration, respect? There is no right or wrong answer. But remember that your teen is listening. Do you wish you were motivated by something else? Were you once motivated by something else? Did life get in the way? Why not use this as a perfect time to reconnect with what motivated you in the past? Why not explore together what motivates you. Ask your teen what motivates him? Challenge him to think about other motivators. Does he find satisfaction or pride in something he has done?

If raising a kind, decent human being is the ultimate goal of parenting. How do we get there? How do we make sure they learn from us? How do we make sure they make good choices in their life? How can we protect them from the hurts and wrongs in the world? We don’t. We teach them to stand up for themselves and others. We give them the skills to navigate whatever life brings their way. And we model the values and morals we want them to have. Not just sometimes. Not just when we know they are watching. Always. Because your teen is listening!


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