Moms: It’s time to do LESS

Imagine your middle schooler had a tough day at school: His friends ditched him at lunch, your daughter got a bad grade on her report, a seagull pooped on his jacket, etc. After school, your child walks home with a friend, shooting the breeze, talking about nothing. By the time she gets home, she FEELS BETTER! Something about the slow pace, the exercise, the peer support, the nature time, the independence, makes those problems fade away. Now, at home, she feels relaxed.

It’s more normal in today’s overprotective and over-scheduled culture for kids to get picked up in cars, rushed to activities, asked about school/grades/friendships, etc. Moms are looking for problems to solve, wondering whether to intervene, wanting kids to be happy.

When today’s kids do walk home, they pop their earbuds in, stare at their screens, and disconnect from people around them. Rather than using this valuable time to process emotions and connect in compassionate ways, they avoid and suppress emotions, making them feel even worse.

When trying to understand why rates of anxiety & depression are skyrocketing in today’s teens, it comes down to many small things, having a great big impact.

As parents, we want to smooth the way for them, make it easier, protect them from negative emotions and experiences. But our attempts to make life easier for them, may be costing them their mental well being.

Kids need to feel they can handle life’s mishaps on their own. Having time, moving in nature with friends, to process these emotions is natural. Sheltering kids, for fear they will experience a negative emotion, can delay their growth. Don’t buy into the popular culture that says “A good Mom would do everything for and with her children.” Kids need uncomfortable experiences in order to build internal strength and resilience.

As you are making plans for this summer, try encouraging experiences that push your kids outside their comfort zone.

  1. Send them to summer camp (without YOU!)
  2. Make them earn money: get a job, start a business, organize a garage sale or lemonade stand.
  3. Have them walk or ride their bike, instead of being driven, to summer classes, camps, parks, pools, etc.
  4. Plan an “old fashioned” play date. Invite your friends over with their kids (different ages/genders preferred) and send them out into the street while you and the other Moms play cards and sip cocktails. (and invite me to this one!)
  5. Send them to the grocery store to buy groceries and make dinner for the family.
  6. Let them sleep in a tent in the backyard.
  7. Buy a season pass to an amusement park and drop them off.

This fear based parenting culture needs to stop. Our kids are physically safer than anytime in history but the mental/emotional stress of modern living is taking a toll. Do you have any other ideas?  I’d love to hear them.

The love we have for our kids created this overprotective, fear based culture. We can use the same love for our kids to relax, do less, and show our kids the world is a safe and trusting place.

Social media, depression, and pre-teen girls

One of the most shocking changes to occur since teens and pre-teens started using cell phones is the DRAMATIC increase in depression and anxiety. I mentioned this problem in my blog, “Smart Phones, Depressed Teens” but this is such an epidemic (and I have a 13 year old using social media right now!) that I really want parents to understand what is happening, why it’s happening, and how to prevent it.

Our brains are the most valuable asset we have. The quality of your thinking dictates your emotions, and your emotions dictate the quality of your life. So, if you want your kids to be happy, healthy and successful, we’ve got to take a look at their brain health because kids are facing more challenges than any generation before.

One of the big problems our kids face is the CONCENTRATED and unprecedented amount of dopamine they are consuming. From rapid paced TV, to sugar, to text alerts and video games. Taking in this much dopamine is way more than our brains are wired to consume. It’s like giving cocaine to a child and hoping they come out ok. Lots of “highs” give us really strong “lows”.

I am offering a webinar on March 22nd, please click here sign up

I believe another reason why social media seems to be hitting young girls especially hard is something called confirmation bias. Confirmation Bias is a psychology term that means the tendency to search for, interpret and recall information that confirms what we already believe. 

Do you remember what it was like to be 13 or 14? Insecurity abounds! Girls this age tend to feel insecure about what they wear, what they look like, whether they fit in, what their friends think of them, all that external stuff. In days past, it was beneficial to our survival to spend these years studying the people in our tribe and making sure we fit in. But now, when girls have beliefs like, “I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, creative enough, athletic enough” they head to social media for a little “compare and despair”.

Let’s say a girl has a belief like “I have no friends” or “My life is so boring”. With “confirmation bias”, all she has to do is go online and she’ll discover she is right. “Look how everyone else is having fun but me. My friends all got together and didn’t invite me. My life sucks. Everyone else is having fun except for me.”

In “the olden days” you might have the thought “Nobody likes me” but then you’d go to school, someone would talk to you, sit with you and be friendly and it was harder to continue to believe that. With search engines, you can easily find confirmation for whatever you currently believe.

This problem is growing. Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen says that 51% of Americans will have some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime. But it’s not all doom & gloom! On the webinar, I will be talking about what a great OPPORTUNITY this is to take responsibility for our own mental and emotional health. With the latest technology and brain research, we know there are many things we can do to improve our mental well being. We can use our kids cell phone dilemma as a catalyst to understand and improve the quality of our minds. There are many ways to encourage contentment, happiness, and motivation in the brain, while discouraging worry, fear, and stress. If we learn the steps to unleash our brain’s potential and claim mastery over things that aren’t working for us, then our kids will learn to do the same.

I hope you’ll join me for this important topic.

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR

Do you have to wake up a grumpy kid in the morning who doesn’t want to get out of bed?

Are you struggling to get your grumpy kid out to the door in the morning?

The first part of the day is stressful for many parents as they try to gently cajole their pre-teen out of bed. When gentle doesn’t work, they resort to pulling off bedsheets, yelling, threatening and other antics that make them feel resentful and annoyed that the day has now taken an ugly turn.

It seems like it’s your KID that is causing you to get frustrated in the morning. That if she was to wake up happy and on time, you could be happy, too. But it doesn’t work that way. Our feelings come from our thinking. There is always a thought that causes us to feel the way we do and it’s helpful to see what we are thinking, before we take action.

Have you gotten yourself into a power struggle without even knowing it? Beware of “right fighting”. If you and your kid are both fighting for to be right, no one will win. Perhaps you are thinking “A good Mom would start her day with a happier kid”. Blaming yourself or others leads to inconsistent parenting which doesn’t usually give us the happy house we are trying to create. Remind yourself that good moms have grumpy kids who don’t want to get up in the morning, too. This is not a reflection on YOU, or you kid, just a problem to solve.

Below is the problem solving strategy I love from “How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk” by Faber & Mazlish. Using this strategy will neutralize any power struggles or right fighting, while empowering you and your kid to solve the problem.

Do you struggle to understand your teenager?

Understanding your teen

Try this exercise to figure out what your teen (or child of any age) is thinking, feeling, yearning for and needing from you.

Sometimes teenagers act in ways that truly mystify us. We want to help them, ask something of them, or appeal to their sense of fairness or logic, but nothing seems to be working. If you’ve tried to put yourself in your kid’s shoes and still can’t understand them, this exercise is for you.

1. Pretend like your kid is a funny zoo animal. You are looking at them in their cage, totally curious and perplexed, but without emotion. You decide you’d like to study this animal like a Scientist would. (This won’t work if you are in worry, frustration, self-pity or any emotion other than neutral curiosity).

2. Ready?  Ok, Scientist, the next step is to EMBODY your teenager. Like an actor getting into character, you are going to BECOME your child. Think about his posture, his voice tone, volume and articulation. Think about the words he chooses. Imagine you are in his bedroom (or wherever he spends the most time.) Look around as though this is your room, your books, your backpack, your clothes, etc. Imagine looking at his phone as though it’s your phone, what’s on there? Who is contacting him? What does he look up when he’s bored? Think to yourself “I am (my teenagers name)”

3. BE your teenager and name 3 adjectives to describe YOU as your teen. For example, “I am tired, I am stressed, and I am lonely.” or “I am uncertain, I am nervous, and I am happy”

4. Then think to yourself this sentence, “What I yearn for the most is _______” and see what pops into your head. Then do, “I am _____ (teen) and the message I’m trying to send my Mom is………”.   (If you hear your own voice coming in or any of your negative emotions, go back to step one.) 

5. Finish this next sentence with whatever shows up in your mind, “What I need most right now from my Mom is ………” Try it again with Dad, siblings, etc. If this is working and you are learning from it, try adding on “When I look ahead to my future I feel ……”

This is exercise is easy for me because as a life coach, my empathy dial is always turned up very high. Not all of us practice tuning into others on a regular basis so be patient with yourself if you find your own thoughts and feelings don’t go away that easily.

Remember that the primary need for all of us, including our funny, teenage zoo animals, is to be SEEN, HEARD and FELT. When all else fails, stop talking, look them in the eye and just listen. There’s a lot of information coming through those howls and growls. 🙂

Where are your kids getting their dopamine?

Our bodies and brains are wired to release a “feel good chemical” called dopamine when we eat, have sex, or exercise. We also get a dopamine release from creating something, accomplishing something or being in the flow state of learning.

Our culture has introduced many more dopamine producing activities to younger and younger children: Sugar, caffeine, TV, movies, porn, youtube, video games, social media, are all designed to flood massive amounts of dopamine into our systems. Our current culture seems to promote fun, excitement, productivity and keeping busy.

The problem is that our brains and bodies aren’t designed for this much dopamine. Some experts theorize this is one of the reasons we are seeing such a huge increase in ADHD, depression, anxiety, addictions and other brain centered differences.

Not everybody reacts the same way. I can’t get out of shopping malls and casinos fast enough but I have family members who come to life and love the dopamine release of shopping and gambling. When my kids were little, my daughter could be in a room with the TV on and barely notice, but the TV had a hypnotizing effect on my son that turned him into a zombie. We tend to gravitate towards things that give us these delicious hits of dopamine. When we get rewarded with dopamine, it motivates us to come back for more….and more….and more.

Can your kid sit in a room with her favorite sugary treat and not be tempted? If you take away the cookie or the ipad, does your son hyperfocus on the object until he gets his dopamine hit? Can your teenager sit with her phone nearby and not be tempted to check it? Every text alert or social media “like” is designed to release dopamine and create addiction.

When we don’t reward our brains with dopamine (by checking our phone or eating sugar, etc.) we can create anxiety and insomnia. But overtime, the flooding of dopamine in our systems creates addiction and increased feelings of depression.

So basically, the world our kids are growing up is a challenge to their mental health.

What can we do?

  1. We need to become really deliberate about where we get our dopamine and not just follow a “If it feels good, do it” mantra.
  2. Observe ourselves and our children closely to see where we might be flooding our systems with too much dopamine.
  3. Re-wire the brain BEFORE we become addicted and show signs of depression and anxiety.

I have a lot to say on this topic and invite you to join me for a FREE Webinar called,

“How Much is Too Much?” Screen time, Dopamine and Mental Well Being.

In the meantime, here are a few life hacks below to help you and your kids conquer this challenging culture.

  1. Establish a Streak – Middle School kids have discovered a dopamine hit from “maintaining streaks”, or seeing how many days in a row they can text friends about silly things. Instead, establish a streak of how many days in a row you made your bed, walked your dog, ate a vegetable. Mark it off on a calendar and celebrate your victory. Check out the app Calm and start a meditation streak.
  2. Create Something – When we can get immersed in a project, creative or not, it can give us a healthy dose of dopamine. Many of us think of art or music but for me, creating webinars, class content and writing blogs count. Encourage your kids to create a Rube Goldberg, a fort, or cooking project.
  3. Seek balance. Don’t let your kid play a video game WHILE also watching TV (choose one!). Turn off ALL alerts on their phones so they don’t hear “So & so posted a new video!” No cell phones while studying, or in the bedroom while sleeping. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock. Try allowing movies and video games only if interspersed with exercise. Save sugar for special occasions.
  4. Music! Turn music OFF on video games but turn it ON while your child is doing an activity you’d like to reward. Playing music shoot hoops outside or while they set or clear the table, might help them linger and want to do it more often.