Tag Archives: depression

How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

We all worry about the amount of time our kids spend on social media, how much of their energy it consumes, and how it effects our their behavior and emotions. Typically, a parent’s go-to is to fear the worst. When fear gets in the way, we go into control mode. We are constantly chasing the answer to, How much is too much? When and how do I put a stop to this madness?

When your kids reach the teen years, you have much less say over how they spend their time, and you worry and fear more than ever. Yet at the same time, having a connected relationship with your teen is paramount.

Andy Earle (https://talkingtoteens.com/), a researcher into teen life, has written this piece for me on how to stay aware and in charge of your teen’s social media time while maintaining trust and that all-important connected relationship.

How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

Losing track of what your teen is into online? Here are three ways to (ethically) track what your teen is doing. Parents today need to get more sophisticated on social media because teens are getting very savvy. We have to go beyond basic tools like SafeSearch and iPhone parental controls.

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Opening up Communication so Sadness and Stress Doesn’t Turn to Depression


Q. I’m concerned about my almost 15 year-old boy. He is depressed and with good reason.  He is slightly on the spectrum and has A.D.D. (no hyperactivity). We’ve moved twice in 14 months and we’re currently renting. He is a creature of habit and our lives have been very unpredictable for almost three years. He lost his baby brother when he was 6 and had to deal with Mom and Dad’s grief. He is totally quiet and therefore doesn’t make friends. Being stuck at home doesn’t help. He has never really talked much, especially about emotions. How can I help him open up?

A. Everything you have described is life events that have been out of your or your son’s control. Very hard but this is life happening. These are situations that people have to deal with. Depression has all to do with how those events are perceived and dealt with. If your son’s emotions are swept under the carpet, ignored or criticized, then he will be left feeling unheard, alone, misunderstood, etc. – fertile ground for depression. But if his feelings are acknowledged, even if your son doesn’t do much talking, then he is left with the sadness, grief, or anger about the situations, but everything is out in the open and feelings usually do not fester to cause depression.

We want and often expect our kids to be open with us emotionally – mothers especially. But not all kids, especially boys, are open with their thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t mean they feel unheard. How we communicate with them has all to do with how they feel about themselves.

When you have a non-talker, you want to make sure you don’t use the excuse that he doesn’t open up or share to ignore the situation and not talk about it. You can use what I call connective communication (best communication with anyone actually), which does not ask questions. When you ask questions – What’s wrong? How do you feel about…? Why don’t you…? – you put him on the spot, and he feels forced to come up with something. He may lie, tell you what he thinks you want to hear or what he knows you don’t want to hear to get you off his back. Rarely do questions, unless and until you have a very open connective relationship, get you the information you want.

Making statements goes a lot further:

Moving as many times as we have done lately must be quite discombobulating for you. I know how difficult change can be, and we’ve forced you into a lot of it. Changing schools is tough. I’m actually amazed at how well you have taken it. But I imagine that it has taken its toll on you. It’s really hard, right now. Period.

I wonder sometimes about how you are with not having many friends. I’m curious to know if that’s hard on you or if that is your choice. Sometimes kids your age can be tough to be around. Period.

Sometimes I think about how hard it must have been for you when Dad and I were grieving the loss of your little brother. We weren’t there for you as much as I would have liked. I feel so sad about that time – for all of us. Period.

That must have been hard to hear. I bet if I were you, I would have felt angry and confused. Period.

It’s so hard not to ask questions when you are hoping to find out answers. When there are no questions, the other person feels more inclined to listen, doesn’t feel obligated to talk, and connection gets better. Ironically, talking is more likely – but don’t expect it.

Here is an article of mine explaining this further  –
Communication 101: How to get your child to listen

What your son needs is to know he can talk with you WHEN and IF he wants to. Especially kids on the spectrum have a harder time organizing their thoughts and making sense of them enough to formulate a conversation. Talking about emotions is hard for most people, males especially, and for an ADD kid on the spectrum, it’s especially tough.

Also, boys tend to talk more when they are active, which may be why he talks to your husband more. Shoot hoops, take a bike ride or a walk. In the car, at bedtime if you are around him then (maybe not at 15), and perhaps mealtimes may be times to share yourself and how you are feeling. Your job is to model for him what it looks like to talk about emotions and values and what you think about people and events. Don’t expect it from him. If you don’t talk to him because there’s not much coming back, you are not being honest with yourself; you’re actually fearful of him.

But the important thing to know is that traumatic life events only negatively affect us long-term when they are shoved down inside and not dealt with. His ability to talk about things will come from your openness and freedom to share how you feel and think. And just naming what happened in his life to cause upset is validating for him. Eventually he will be able to talk about it himself but maybe not with you.

I would hesitate to identify him as depressed. Once you feel connection through making statements, then you can ask questions. Then you might ask, “Do you think you’re depressed?” If he responds with a yes, then ask, “Don’t you think getting help would be a good thing? Once you have made connection, he may feel differently about getting help because you can freely talk about it and help him see that this is not about him being a problem. If he still doesn’t want to, don’t force it. Hopefully he will come to it on his own.

But then again, maybe he’s not depressed! Maybe he just looks it from your point of view. It is so easy for us to project our way of seeing things onto our kids. We have to consciously be aware that what is a problem for me might not be for my child.

Quietness can easily be interpreted as depression – unfairly. Introverts are looked on with concern or pity in our society – completely the opposite in other societies. Nothing wrong with being quiet and introverted. He is likely a deeply perceptive person who works things out internally long before he expresses himself. Extraverts are the opposite. They have to talk it through to know what they think!

Often deep thinkers are not drawn to the more popular high school kids. They have nothing in common with them. It often takes years before many kids find their tribe — others who share their interests and values.

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.

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July ’17 Q&A – Pacifiers / Shyness / Self-loathing

Pacifying an upset baby

Your Questions / My Answers

Should I use the pacifier for calming?

Q. My son is 2.5 years. My question relates to dummy use. He has always soothed through sucking! I breastfed until he was two. Then I fell pregnant just before his 2nd birthday so a drop in supply. I offered a dummy for nighttime comfort only. Lately he’s asking for it throughout the day. My calm, easy going little boy is experiencing lots of tantrums in response to minor incidents, like when we play and my assigned character does something he doesn’t like. After yelling what he thinks should happen, he often hits or kicks me and screams, ‘Where’s my dummy!? Get my dummy! Get it! Get it!!!!’. I’ll stop what I’m doing and find his dummy. He is instantly soothed. Tantrums are exhausting as I am nearing the end of pregnancy. I read your post saying that with a soothing calm presence, children will calm down, at which point we can say, ‘look what you were able to do, etc’ thus showing that they can get through and deal with difficult feelings. Is my son’s reliance on a dummy preventing him from learning he can calm himself? Could my pregnancy be related to his tantrums / need to soothe.

A.  I believe his tantrums have more to do with his developmental stage (he’s right on target) than you being pregnant, although that can enhance them. I do think it’s important to learn he can get beyond a tantrum without a pacifier. It’s much easier to give it to him now especially in your pregnancy, but in the long run it sets up his dependency on something outside him to calm. Let him know – not during a tantrum – that his pacifier will be used to help him go to sleep only. When he has a tantrum stay with him. When he screams for his dummy, tell him he has a right to be mad and he can get his mad out right here and right now. Don’t allow him to hit or kick you. Get away from him without leaving him or the room if you can. Tell him, “I won’t let you hit me but here is something you can hit (hold a pillow up in front of you).” His reaction to you doing something “wrong” in your character play is right on target. That type of play is his to dictate, and at two, his frustration can’t stand it not going how he sees it. And he can’t understand that you can’t see it that either! All good growing experiences. He will learn to manage frustration as development allows.

Things may or may not get better when the baby is born. Very soon, I recommend that you end his pacifier use. Wait until you get through this phase of tantrums without the pacifier. But it might be a good idea to end it before the baby is born—he will have enough taken away from him then (his mother’s undivided attention for one!) You also might want to wait until awhile after the baby but now is the best time to end it. You can send it to a friend who has a baby who needs one and then give him a growing up present.

Here is my short video on tantrums.

Shyness and It’s Repercussions

Q.  My 7 yo seems to be getting shyer. Her teacher is concerned about her socially. She has some regular friends, she’s articulate, active and bright. She can be awkward in interactions. She has an outgoing older sister who the 7 yo says is not like her because she makes friends. When she was younger she would wait for other children to come to her and invite her in and this seemed to work. She finds it hard to approach kids in cliques or make new friends. She doesn’t want to try new things because there will be people she doesn’t know. Invariably if I persist she enjoys it and gets to know the people over time. But this inhibits her experiencing, exploring and enjoying new activities. She doesn’t invite people over or get invited to play dates. From birth she would sit back and observe whereas her sister would move towards. What would you advise we do to best support her? She articulates it as a real problem for her.

A.  It’s so hard to watch children have a hard time socially and feel awkward about trying new things. But your daughter is shy and there is nothing wrong with that. Sitting back and observing long before engaging, means that she is an observer, not an anxious child. That’s what she feels most comfortable doing. To best support her, support that. Our job as parents is to give our children 100% unconditional acceptance for who they are and then take their lead. There is nothing wrong with being shy, quiet, an observer, introverted or active and aggressive for that matter. Unfortunately our society likes things big, and we worry about the quiet kids. The worst thing we can do as influencing adults is to show them our worry about who they are. That’s when real anxiety starts to build. You want your daughter to know that however she approaches anything is what is right for her at that moment. If you respond perfectly neutrally, she knows she’s fine.

Don’t force her into involvement if she doesn’t want it. It sounds like you are good at knowing when to gently nudge to get her into situations that you think she might enjoy. Stay gentle. Acknowledge how frustrating it can feel to have a sister who seems to take on things so easily. Let her know that you understand how hard it can be for her to watch as her sister, and lots of other kids, slide easily through life. You might point out something that she does easily that her sister may find difficult.

I bet she is very perceptive. Observers usually are. Let her know that when she wants friends, they will be there. It was true for my daughter. She didn’t make friends until high school when she was in a higher academic environment with other kids she could relate to better. Your daughter will find a nitch and in that nitch will be all the friends she needs – maybe it’s only one.

Your goal is for her to be confident. Then she won’t have to belong to any clique. Confidence will take her wherever she wants to go. Confidence comes from knowing she is just fine in your eyes. But she might not have a really good friend for a long time. That’s okay. She needs to know that’s okay so she doesn’t worry especially if others are worried about her. I recommend the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain.

Self-Loathing in the Pre-Teen Years

Q.  My 10.5 son suddenly told me he “doesn’t like anything about himself”. When I asked him what he doesn’t like, he said he can’t get his hairdo right – ever, doesn’t like his face because it’s weird – ok, those are unfortunately standard in our culture – But also that he has a “bad” family, that everyone in his family is mean and boring. I don’t know if that was a joke or an attempt to avoid answering my questions seriously, because it’s patently not the case. Then he said, “There is nothing I like about being me.” I said that there are lots of things I like about him. He asked me what. I said there was nothing bad. He said, “If there is nothing good about me, and there is nothing bad about me either, then I’m a nothing and what’s the point of being here.”I found it alarming because the statement was so totalising (not just a few things he didn’t like). I thought self-esteem was one thing going well for my son until now, and also because schools these days get kids to identify characteristics about themselves that they like to counterbalance the things they don’t. Are these statements that other young people make?

A.  I would wonder about two different possibilities. One is that he is simply down on himself as he compares himself to others – thru his own filter of course. It’s very hard for parents to meet a child where he is rather than where you want him to be. When you respond right away to “There’s nothing good about me” by saying there is nothing bad about him, you are denying his point of view. You are not being with him, understanding him, hearing him, so he is left with, nobody understands me. A better response is, “That’s got to feel awful and even hopeless to think that there is nothing good about you.” At least he hears you are listening and are connected. This gives him an opening if he wants to go further with his thoughts and feelings. You need to stay in that place with him until he gets through it. Then you might ask, “Would you like to hear what I think is good about you?” He knows you love him and will of course love everything about him so he might say no since it’s probably not important to him. If he says yes, be very specific about things he does. When you are truly empathic, seeing the situation through his eyes, you will respond as a neutral sounding board rather than a worried mother who is trying to cheer him up.

The other possibility is that he could be being bullied at school and is hearing nasty, critical things about himself. Don’t go right to the question, “Is someone bullying you?” but try instead something like, “Do you think other kids at school feel similar to the way you do?” or “I wonder if you get some of your ideas from things you hear at school.” Ask him general questions about his friends. If something is happening, you will be able to see it in his eyes or hear it in his tone of voice, even if he denies it.

If you suspect general depression ask him if he would like to talk to someone about it other than you. You also may want to give it a little time. If this happened suddenly, it might go away just as suddenly. read more