Want to Help Your Teens? Make Their Lives Predictable

Establishing consistent routines at home for your teen may generate pushback, but it could also set him or her up for future success.

Researchers at the University of Georgia found teens with more family routines during adolescence had higher rates of college enrollment and were less likely to use alcohol in young adulthood, among other positive outcomes.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“If we’re going to make a difference in our lives and in our family members’ lives, we have to make a difference in the everyday,” said lead author Allen Barton, an assistant research scientist at the Center from the Family Research and the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Routines play an important role in making that happen.”

Researchers analyzed data collected from more than 500 rural African American teens beginning when they were 16 and continuing until they were 21.

The teens whose primary caregivers reported more family routines – such as regular meal times, consistent bedtimes and afterschool schedules – reported less alcohol use, greater self-control and emotional well-being and higher rates of college enrollment in young adulthood.

Researchers also analyzed biological samples from the teens and found that those with more family routines during adolescence showed lower levels of epinephrine, a stress hormone.

The benefits of family routines generally persisted even after the researchers took other factors into account such as levels of supportive parenting, household chaos and socioeconomic status.

Routine, consistency and predictability, the research suggested, are powerful influences on a teen’s life.

“We often lose sight of the mundane aspects of life, but if we can get control of the mundane or the everyday parts of life, then I think we can have a major impact on some bigger things,” Barton said. “These findings highlight how you structure your teen’s home environment really matters.”

The research has important implications for family-centered interventions, Barton said, including focusing more attention on increasing predictability and positive routines at home.

“The big takeaway is to help your child navigate the teen years, make their lives predictable,” Barton said. “There has been a lot of research about the importance of routines for healthy development with young kids. These results are some of the first to show that even with teens, it appears routines are similarly powerful.”

The paper, “The profundity of the everyday: Family routines in adolescence predict development in young adulthood,” is available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X18304130?via%3Dihub

Additional authors are Gene H. Brody, Tianyi Yu, Steven M. Kogan and Katherine B. Ehrlich from the University of Georgia and Edith Chen from Northwestern University.

The Long Pathway: Journey to Understanding Mental Health

Written by: Iman,  Introduction: Rosie, Billy, Anisah, and Fahim – Haverstock School Journalism Project

*Editor’s Note: UK Social Work Helper Staff Writer, Chey Heap, and myself worked with the Haverstock School Journalism Project to support budding young journalists in their pursuit to better understand mental health issues. The below work was written by an 11 year old student, and I am proud Social Work Helper was able to be apart of this effort. The article is a collection of interviews and collaboration with her classmates. They did an outstanding job of exploring and processing a complicated issue like mental health. – Deona Hooper MSW 

A recent survey stated that 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. In the Journalism project, we choose the subjects we want to write articles on and because I personally had an experience that traumatised me when my brothers had been separated from me. It really felt like I had been deprived of the things that gave me the most pleasure, and it put me into a deep depression. No one could understand the way I felt.

If we had physical problems, people would have noticed, but the inner ones are not noticed. If you break your arm everyone knows, but there is a stigma attached to mental health problems.

I wanted to know about how psychologists and other professionals work and understand how they can help us so that young people who are experiencing mental issues will know they are not alone and can get help.

The article is titled ‘The Long Pathway’ because it takes a long time to train to become a helping professional and to research and understand different conditions, but it is also a long pathway to healing.

So, I decided to ask my classmates who have experience with mental health issues including depression and bereavement to help me with this project.

One person, we shall call him Stephen told me: His Nan had a very rare disease that messed with her head. It made her see things. “When we went to visit her she saw everybody but me! It made me feel sad and left out but no one knew how I felt”.

Another a girl called Sarah told me: “My Mum and my Nan were fighting and they stopped talking to each other and when I wanted to go out with my Nan my Mum wouldn’t let me that made me very upset and angry”.

I then wanted to know what it was like to train, work and research in the field of mental health.

Journey Through a Psychologist and her Trainees Eyes

Dr Gursharam Lotey, a young person’s clinical psychologist and Jasmeet Thandi a trainee clinical psychologist agreed to an interview at Camden Open Mind – an organisation that reaches out to young people and helps them deal with life situations including bereavement, bullying or educational issues. It gave us a unique insight into their work.

Jasmeet: I am constantly thinking about feelings. You are talking to someone you have never met before and you are asking:

“How do you feel?”

And it is probably a bit much. So we get beautiful Russian dolls, name each doll that we have made: happy doll, sad doll Yesterday, one girl put a sad doll inside a happy doll. So, on the surface, she seemed happy but on the inside, she was feeling a bit sad.

Q: Do you use your own experiences to connect with patients?

Gursharan: It is really important to be aware of your past to be able to connect with a young person

Jasmeet: A patient will tell you something and I think:

 ‘Ah I have experienced that…’

Q: How do you deal with the unexpected?

Gursharan: The best thing to do is to not panic and to just think why that person might be sharing something with you that might be a bit out of the ordinary; and to be able to hold this inside, even if you are thinking: Wow! This is not what I expected!

Q: Do you ever get scared of your patients?

Gursharan: Not scared as such… I worry about them but our aim is for them to go home and be safe.

Jasmeet: Not scared I worked on a unit where adolescents had committed crimes. Once you get to know someone you can really understand the context and why things have happened. Understanding them is really important.

Q: What challenges do you face in your work?

Gurshuram: If something really complex and serious is happening within a young person’s family and you have several families like that all on the same day it can be quite challenging to not think about it when you go home.

Gursharam and Jasmeet explained training to be a clinical psychologist was like embarking on a long pathway and it felt like we were given a fascinating peek into what that entails.

Thank you, Gursharan and Jasmeet. We think Camden Open Mind gives an invaluable service.

Journey Through a Psychology Lecturer’s Eyes

Tony Cline is a now a psychology lecturer and trains child psychologists. When Tony was twenty-one, he found himself in a room with a new computer, but this computer was gigantic. It took up a WHOLE room!  He punched information into cards and it would take three weeks to process. Unfortunately, when Tony made a mistake, it would take another three weeks to process. Since then, technology is the biggest change he has seen.

Tony specialises in research as well as teaching and over the years has worked on subjects like dyslexia and has organised dyslexia conferences. Elective mutism was another subject in which he took an interest. This is where a young person can talk but only with some people. People thirty years ago often thought the child was just being naughty, but Tony’s analysis showed they weren’t, they genuinely had problems.

An example would be a pupil refusing to communicate with their teacher. The review of research highlighted a treatment called ‘Fading In’ where the child talks to the people they are comfortable with. For example, while the child is talking to their parents about something very interesting, the teacher appears at the door but does not enter. The second time, the teacher might come in but not stay, and on the third time the teacher stays and joins in the conversation. There is now a new name for the condition is called Selective Mutism.

I asked about the difficulties his students face to become trained professionals:

Tony: One of the things students do is they carefully train and prepare for an interview and then despite what they have been told about the child before they meet them, there is sometimes much more than is said.

I wondered whether there are difficult situations whilst he was teaching.

Tony: Yes. You can sometimes see that it is making someone in the group think about their own lives and they have had a bad time; for example noticing when a student is being hit by a subject like bereavement because they have experienced it.

Although Tony has years of experience, he still says to his new students: “I am going to learn something from you.”

I learnt lots from everyone I met on this fascinating journey and hope this article will be the first of many that shed light on an area that is difficult for people to understand.

Thank you. Gurasharam, Jasmeet, Tony, and classmates.

Brief description of the project:

The Haverstock School Journalism  Project exists to give underprivileged young people a very high standard of journalism training and proper assignments.

The students have interviewed all sorts of people from a lady firefighter to Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, recently they contribute to the University College London, Amnesty Journal, and provide regular articles for On the Hill Magazine. The project is funded by the John Lyon’s Charity.

The Project Co-ordinator

Danielle Corgan worked in broadcast documentaries for over a decade, mainly with the award-winning documentary company Goldhawk Media Ltd. She helps the students research their subjects, prepare interview questions, organises the interviews, and write and structure print quality articles. She strongly believes every child can write well and encourages them to develop their own voice. She has worked with youngsters with Special Education Needs and Looked After children on the project with very good results.

Into the Woods: On the Path to Recovery

Addiction is devastating at any age, but for parents with a teenager substance abusers, it can all but tear the family apart. Adolescence is a period prone to experimentation, but unfortunately, the desire to try new things can lead teens down a dark path that stops being fun and becomes life-threatening.

Studies demonstrate that many teenagers hold a blase attitude regarding drug use; dosomething.org — a global youth outreach program — reports that 50 percent of American high schoolers in 2013 did not find it harmful to try crack/cocaine once or twice; 40 percent reported that they believe trying heroin is not a bad or dangerous thing. In the same study, it was found that a total of 6.5 percent of American high schoolers smoke pot daily and that 54 percent of them do not see a problem with regular steroid use.

Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Drug Abuse

Teenagers who are using drugs actively usually exhibit telltale symptoms. Some of the most common include a change in friends, a careless attitude toward work and school, lower grades, changed eating and sleeping habits and strained relationships with people they were once close to.

Teenagers who struggle with drug addiction may be scared to admit their problem due to the consequences they’ll receive from their parents, but getting help as soon as possible is critical. Teens who do not seek help with their drug addiction during adolescence face psychological and developmental damage that will only hinder them the older they become. They are also more likely to engage in criminal activity that could further disrupt their life and tarnish their future; a 2012 TEDS report by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality revealed that the primary reason for drug treatment referral was the criminal justice system; 51.2 percent of older adolescent (15–17 years old) rehab patients were admitted under court orders.

An Alternative to Rehab

While a teen substance abuser can seek help from a psychologist or traditional drug rehab, there are other options that have proven themselves to be incredibly effective in more ways than one. Wilderness therapy for drug addiction is one such option.

Wilderness rehab presents addicted teens with a new, challenging environment over a 6 to 9-week recovery program. There are many advantages to teen wilderness drug therapy that can elicit profound and life-changing results.

Control & Self-Discipline

Although the wilderness rehab programs for drug-addicted teens are incredibly regimented, the fact teenagers take such an active role in their treatment and survival outdoors leaves them with a sense of control and empowerment.

For teenagers who have problems with authority and struggle to thrive in a structured environment, wilderness camps are difficult. However, the structure that is provided throughout the duration of the course demonstrates to teens that they are capable of succeeding under a set of rules and that they don’t need drugs to tame their insecurities or fears.

Useful Life Skills

There are a lot of skills that a teenager picks up in wilderness rehab that they will continue to employ throughout their recovery and well into adulthood. Anger management, healthy emotional coping mechanisms, goal-setting, perseverance, conflict resolution, and enhanced communication skills are just several of the aspects teens explore and develop during treatment.

Don’t Wait for a Sign

If you suspect your teenager is addicted to drugs or you are a teen struggling with drug abuse, don’t avoid seeking outside help. Because of all the doubt and fear involved in sending a teen off to rehab, it’s not uncommon for people to try and figure things out at home instead of seeking professional treatment.

Consider wilderness rehab programs and other types of drug therapy now. Doing so in the midst of addiction can help stop it from spiraling even further out of control and put teens back on the path toward a productive, healthy life.

Report Provides Rates of Major Depressive Episodes Among Adolescents Across the US

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A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides state-by-state results on adolescents (ages 12-17) who experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Based on combined 2013 and 2014 data, the report shows the prevalence of major depressive episodes among adolescents residing in various states – from a high of 14.6 percent (annual average) in Oregon to a low of 8.7 percent (annual average) in the District of Columbia. Differences over time are also reported.

A major depressive episode occurs when a person experiences a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities and has at least some other symptoms such as problems with sleeping, eating or concentrating for a period of two or more weeks.

Nationally, 2.7 million adolescents (11 percent) experienced a major depressive episode in the past year – roughly one out of every nine adolescents.

Among the 10 states with the highest rates of adolescents experiencing a major depressive episode four were in the West (listed in order of highest prevalence – Oregon, Arizona, Utah and Washington), three were in the Northeast (Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire), two were in the Midwest (Wisconsin and Indiana) and one was in the South (Virginia).

Among the 10 states with the lowest rates, four were in South (Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and the District of Columbia), three were in the West (Alaska, New Mexico and Hawaii), two in the Midwest (North Dakota and South Dakota) and one in the Northeast (Connecticut).

The overall rate of major depressive episodes among adolescents rose from 9.9 percent in 2012-2013 to 11 percent in 2013-2014 Thirteen states experienced a statistically significant increase during this period, with the remaining 37 states and the District of Columbia experiencing no real change in the level of adolescents experiencing a past year major depressive episode.

“Adolescence is a critical time in a person’s development, and battling with depression can be devastating for teens unless they receive effective treatment,” said Paolo del Vecchio, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “Effective treatment is available, but parents, teachers and all concerned members of the community must work to assure that adolescents in need get help.”

SAMHSA is helping states, tribes, and communities address this issue through a number of grant programs:

  • The Safe Schools/Healthy Students State Grant Program supports states and communities in their efforts to build early identification and referral systems, to improve access to care, and to implement policy and programming to help children succeed.
  • Project AWARE: Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education grant programs support widespread mental health literacy training of adults who interact with youth to help them understand the signs and symptoms of adolescents who may be experiencing a mental health problem, and how to connect them to help.
  • The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program supports states, tribes and communities to create, expand, and sustain community-based, collaborative, individualized services for children and youth with a serious emotional disturbance that are family-driven, youth-guided, strength-based, and culturally and linguistically competent.

The report entitled, State Estimates of Major Depressive Episodes among Adolescents: 2013 and 2014, is available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2385/ShortReport-2385.html. It is based on data from SAMHSA’s 2012 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports.

For more information about SAMHSA and NSDUH please visit: .

For more information, contact the SAMHSA Press Office at 240-276-2130.

Giving Feedback to Teens

Woman and daughter standing together in their home

Research has consistently shown that the therapeutic relationship is one of the most significant factors when it comes to creating real and lasting change in our clients. Helping professionals who work with teens have a unique challenge in relating to and engaging authentically with adolescents. They aren’t kids anymore, and they’re not quite adults yet either. Because we cannot fully know what it feels like to be a teenager in today’s world, communication is paramount to building a productive working relationship.

One way to foster strong communication with teens is to offer constructive feedback in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the relationship. This can be a tricky task, but when done effectively, feedback is a relationship enhancer that leads to positive outcomes.

Here are some strategies that I’ve found helpful for facilitating feedback while maintaining a focus on an authentic relationship.

Anchor your feedback around a positive personal trait or characteristic. 

This may sound counter to much of what you may have heard in the past about providing feedback about performance in a way that is objective and decidedly not personal. But consider this: When we address a trait like determination, sensitivity, or sense of humor, we express interest in and acknowledge the teen in a deeper way. This approach can reinforce something that’s working well, or focus on redirecting something that’s getting in the way of the teen achieving her goals.

It may help to describe the idea that traits and characteristics are a two-sided coin. There’s always an upside and a downside. For example, productive persistence is another version of disruptive stubbornness; and intense emotions resulting in warmth and empathy for others can also result in emotional pain. Helping teens to understand how particular characteristics drive their behavior can also help them see how such behaviors may serve them well in some situations and not so well in others. Encouraging young people to accept themselves and pointing out their qualities and how they allows them to hear the feedback without defensiveness and can offset feedback’s sting so it is more useful and likely to result in a change in behavior.

Link feedback to the goals of the young person.

As helping adults, we should always think about the purpose and function of the feedback we’re giving, rather than responding with irritation or impatience. This means both being clear within ourselves before we open our mouths, and also stating clearly to the teen what the purpose of the feedback is in relation to what matters to them.

Help teens see which of their behaviors advance them toward their goals and which ones stand in the way makes feedback useful and effective. Consider starting with a statement or question acknowledging what’s important to the teen before helping her explore whether her approach has moved her close to what is important or further away.

Remember that feedback often takes time to integrate. 

Feedback should be a collaborative process. Ideally, the process of giving and receiving feedback is a dialogue that encourages a spirit of self-exploration and personal inquiry into what’s important to the teens you work with. If possible, it should be a prompt to help her come to conclusions about how she might think about adjusting her behavior to move closer to what matters. This approach may take more time than simply telling an adolescent what needs to change, but it will be time well spent.

If at all possible, instead of telling a teen what needs to change, try instead asking questions that lead her to her own conclusions. As her what she notices about the way people respond to certain behaviors and if this is what she is seeking. Consider asking her to pay attention to the less direct natural feedback all around her. This will encourage her to take ownership of her behavior with greater understanding of her goals, her boundaries, and herself as a whole.

When it comes to potentially embarrassing or awkward subjects, be short and sweet. 

Particularly for teens, whose bodies are going through rapid changes, there are plenty of subjects that can be downright embarrassing to address. There are times when it is really none of our business, but there are also times when these issues affect our work with the teen or when we see that these issues may be affecting them negatively in other realms of their lives. In the latter case, it’s our responsibility to say something.

One way to give feedback on potentially embarrassing topics is to frame your comments in terms of the natural growth and maturation that occurs with adolescents. Don’t forget to communicate that your intentions come from a place of caring, while taking a straight-to-the-point, nonjudgmental, problem-solving approach. Normalize the potentially awkward subject (i.e. a teen’s increasingly noticeable body odor after gym class, or the revealing nature of a young person’s clothing), propose a solution, and move on. Teens appreciate when adults are open and direct, and this will go a long way in establishing and maintaining a relationship characterized by honesty and authenticity.

Put behaviors in a social context. 

Socially successful teens are aware of how their behaviors are impacting others, and feedback is a great way to help them build this awareness. Egocentrism is developmentally inherent in teens, but understanding the effects they have on those around them helps maintain perspective. It also helps build motivation for behavior change.

Frame feedback by expressing good intentions. 

One approach that teens respond to is to say, “If I didn’t know you so well, I’d be reluctant to tell you this directly; may I give you some feedback?” This allows you to frame the feedback within caring intentions, and most young people’s ears perk up at the information to follow.

It can be awkward at times to be direct and honest with the teens we work with. Even when we’re able to engage authentically, feedback can be difficult to accept for all people, regardless of age or stage of life. If we make a commitment to deliver feedback with compassion and kindness whenever possible, we can at least ensure that teens will pick up on our intentions to communicate caring and respect, which will ultimately lead to a stronger and more authentic relationship in the long run.

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