Emotions in Teens: “We have observed instances of self-harm”

“This is the school psychologist at your daughter’s school”, the voice mail said.  It went on: “I wanted to bring to your attention that your daughter’s coach and the athletic director has brought it to my attention that they observed instances of self-harm with your daughter.”

“Self-harm”, self-harm.  It rhymed with “arm” and I could visually see my daughter’s forearm, that I had noticed weeks ago, slashed with cut marks from the wrist all the way up to the elbow crease.

Yes, we had observed the same, and we had discussed it with her a few weeks back.  Such a tough subject to even raise, but so obviously important to address.  It’s not something you ignore; it’s not something you hope will just go away.  We had noticed it, as well as other clues and cues, which she admitted to leaving behind for us to see: bloodied tissues stuffed into a bag on her windowsill, a small box containing a few blades, and then – in the same bag – a bottle of ibuprofen.

Recently, I caught up with an old colleague, a widower and single dad to 3 teenage girls.  When I asked how the girls were, his second update was: “by now, they’ve all cut themselves.  Their teachers and coaches say they see it all the time in girls their ages.  They even did it before their mom passed.”
He seemed nonchalant about it, very matter-of-fact.  Really?  All the girls engage in this behavior?  It is more the norm than the anomaly?

Whether common or uncommon, it is serious.  My partner and I tried to talk to our daughter about this behavior immediately.  But, what do we ask?  “Dear, what’s wrong?”  And, what do we say?  “You know we are always here for you.”  And also: “Why?”

Our girl had a hard time putting words to her feelings.  There were more tears than complete sentences.  She seemed dark and a bit confused.  She seemed flustered and upset.  She seemed upset that we couldn’t easily translate her feelings into words for her.  We let her know we wanted to help: help her identify her feelings, help her untangle the feelings, help her pinpoint “what’s wrong” and maybe even help her find ways to maybe even fix what felt “wrong”.  “Could we help you do that?”  She agreed.  Yes, she wanted to feel better.  Yes, she wanted to lift this heavy load.  Yes, she wanted the dark to become light.

We offered to start by asking her doctor for resources.  She had her annual physical coming up, and she would have the chance to have one-on-one time with her doctor.  To be sure, pediatricians to teenagers would have suggestions for resources for young people who grapple with these feelings.  She sounded open to broaching the topic with her doctor.
She also had a school counselor/psychologist she could talk to.  We are lucky to be one of the few schools in our district with a full-time school psychologist on campus.  Being on the more shy side, we weren’t sure whether she would initiate reaching out to the school counselor/psychologist.  Should we insist that she did?

It turns out that she didn’t have to.  Soon after, this instance, our daughter brought home paperwork for us to sign, authorizing her to miss limited class time, as necessary, for her to meet the school psychologist.  Part of ones treatment is owning it for oneself.  And, so, in addition to her individual therapy, we also enlisted in family therapy at a local public agency offering services for up to 3 months on a sliding scale basis.  We had found that very few private practices were accepting new clients, and none within our insurance network could accommodate us, so we were so grateful for this agency that was suggested to us by the school.  Our time at family therapy elevated new ways to communicate and hear one another’s concerns, and we also came up with strategies to better connect moving forward.  It built great foundation for us as we worked our way through the teen years, together.

I wrote all of the above almost four years ago, to the day, when our first daughter was a freshman in high school.  We did not see it as a blessing then, but we do now.  I am ever grateful for the incident, that gave us time to pause, reflect, and work together.  As I re-read and finally post this, our second-born is now a freshman in high school.  Although these two are very different individuals, there are certain points in our life cycles that are common.  This reflection point seems to be one of them.  I have a feeling I’ll have more to share on this before too long.  

Thank you for reading.

A day without women: teens included?

My girl, a junior in high school, has been talking to us about how she can participate in tomorrow’s events for International Women’s Day.  Should I stay home from school?  Can I write senators?  Should I volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood?  Could I take a hike?

…… * screeeech!* …..

“Take a hike”?  Yes, this was one of the proposed activities she offered up as an act of resistance for tomorrow.  I’m not sure what the impetus is around this hike, for she surely refuses my many invitations to take a hike on any other day.

I support our girl taking a stand, using her voice, engaging in acts of resistance.  To be sure, I was brought to tears when texted me, two days post-election 2016, when she and her peers walked out of their school, joining many other high schoolers around protesting.  Our words to her on that day: use your voice, follow the instructions, please don’t destroy property.  Also: “we are proud of you.”

Sometimes I wonder: are these teenagers rising up to make a statment or are they joining forces to hang out for the day?  Does that matter?  Should it matter?  Should we audit the activities of the day, if they are staying home from school tomorrow, and expect only to see acts of resistance?  Should we stand by and also watch them hang out, goof off on snapchat, or take a hike?

So: are your teens thinking of participating tomorrow?  In what way?

Does your family dine together? How often?

It's dinnertime!  We are a few weeks into the new school year, and the schedules are getting a bit hectic.  What I realize: we only have one evening during the Monday-to-Friday stretch when we can all sit down and have dinner as a family, a calm time when we can catch up over our days, check in on school, friends, new developments.  Only one evening?  I feel it is not enough.

It's said that sitting down to a family dinner eases family stress, makes for happier children, even results in teens who are less likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs.

I believe it.  I want to have it.  How many evenings during the week do you manage to sit down to a dinner with the kids?

Mama & Me: staying relevant in my Tween’s life

My daughter & her girlfriends were hanging out (at this age, they don't "play".  they "hang out".) upstairs when they rowdily came downstairs to the kitchen, where I was in the midst of a little craftiness (which came in a surprising spurt last weekend).  I was making shortbread cookies, frosting them with orange and decorating into basketballs, for my son's birthday celebration.

The girlfriends squealed: "See?  Your mom *is* cool!"  

I felt smug.  I felt affirmed.  I felt welcomed.

It was almost like I myself was back in middle school, wanting somehow to fit in, wanting to be wanted.  Wanting to fit in with my daughter and her friends, wanting to be wanted by my daughter and her friends.

I feel like my tweenagehood and teenagehood was so recent.  I remember it vividly.  I remember feeling increasingly estranged from my mom, from my parents.  I remember feeling the angst and wallowing in it, feeling lonely with only one or two people I would really regard as confidantes.  

This is new territory for me, parenting a tween daughter.  Have you been through it?  Do you remember feeling like you wanted to be wanted, feeling encouraged when labeled "cool" by her friends?

Helmet Usage & Kids: would you play cop to a stranger’s child?

Riding in town yesterday, I noticed a pair of youth riding up ahead in the bike lane.  There was a boy, younger, maybe under age 10, based on his size and the size of his bike.  He wore his helmet and pedaled pretty hard to keep up with his companion.

The other child was probably in middle school, based on the size of her bike.  Maybe they were siblings?  Maybe she was tasked with picking him up after school and riding home with him?  I don't know.  I was heading someplace and didn't stop to converse.

As I approached, I noticed that the elder child, certainly not older than 16 years old, had a shiny Nutcase in her front basket as she pedaled along in the bike lane.  I was surprised, and I was sad.

While there is no federal law that requires children to wear helmets on bikes (or scooters, skateboards or inline skates), 22 states and hundreds of localities have laws and ordinances mostly requiring all children under the age of 16 to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle or even as a passenger on a bicycle.

This info from the University of Michigan says that:

  • wearing a helmet while riding a bike reduces risk of death by over 50 percent
  • every 3 days, a child is killed in the US while riding a bike
  • about half of children riding a bike where no helmet laws exist never wear a helmet
  • helmet usage would prevent 40,000 head injuries and 50,000 scalp injuries in children, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Much of children's helmet usage might have to do with observing their own parents.  Some of these parents cannot afford a helmet (one of every two children of polled families earning less than $30,000 never wear a helmet).  Even though 78% of polled parents ride a bike, 27% of them never wear helmets.

Beyond parents, there is also the fashion statement.  My own daughter said that three of her friends, all of whom ride their bikes to school every day, asked their parents to drive them to school on picture day, to avoid "helmet hair".  As children get older, like this middle school-aged girl I saw pedaling ahead of me, they might become more and more conscious about wearing a helmet.  They aren't cool and they don't make for the best 'dos.

As I came closer, I said, "What about your helmet?"  I slowed a little bit to see what reaction I would get.  She looked sheepish as she pulled over and stopped.  I think she might have put her helmet on, but I couldn't stop to see.  

Maybe I shouldn't have said anything.  Or, maybe, since I did decide to do something, I should have pulled over and given the whole story on why helmet usage is important.  Like wearing our seatbelts, it's a no-brainer: it saves lives.  I don't know.  What would you have done?  Pedaled on? Stopped to chat?  Do you see youth, especially teens and pre-teens, not wearing helmets while they bike?

Seeking ‘tween/teen female cyclist to share her story

PhillyIt's no secret that the mamas behind this site love biking. We bike for utility and health, and most recently, we (maybe one of us) bike for competition (Shetha is our resident cyclocross enthusiast). So it was a no brainer for us to pair up with a number of local groups who support women riders - Women on Bikes, Women on Wheels, Portland Society, Sorella Forte, and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance – to help bring the first CycloFemme Ride to Portland on May 13th (Mother's Day!) in conjunction with Sunday Parkways. Meet at 11 am at Woodlawn Park and join on us for a short bike parade. At the end, listen to a handful of women from different generations and backgrounds talk about their biking experience. While you've heard enough from us rant and rave about our biking experiences, we want to hear from a 'tween/teen-aged girl cyclist share her story at the ride. Do you have a daughter, or know of someone with a compelling story to share? Email us at urbanmamas@gmail.com.

This ride is intended to "HONOR THE PAST and the emancipation of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, for the freedom to choose and the chance to wear pants. CELEBRATE THE PRESENT and the riders who keep it rolling, bringing women's racing to the forefront, pushing the limits, breaking down barriers and sharing the love of the bike with everyone along the way. EMPOWER THE FUTURE of women in cycling and the opportunity for positive social change. Teach women to ride and they will change the world!" We hope to see you there.

What do they want? A mantra for parenting and my own fool self

I spent yesterday immersed in all the loneliness and fervent belief and highly embarrassing prayers of my high school years. I had a screening for Mortified PDXMortified, in case you’ve never heard of it, is a series of live readings of poetry, journals and other horrifying writing from one’s own teen years — and I’d spent a half-hour with the producers talking about what, exactly, I wanted as a teen? All afternoon, I sat in the basement and, later, at my dining room table, poring over journals and papers (with perforated edges thanks to our old dot-matrix printer!) and binders full of my deep thoughts and doodlings.

What did I want? I actually had an answer when they asked me at the beginning: I wanted to be popular. See, I knew I seemed popular from the outside — I was a cheerleader, I ended up as student body president, I was involved in nearly every school organization to some capacity, I was even voted ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ — but I didn’t get invited to parties and I rarely had much in the way of boyfriends. I had lots of crushes and crushees and dates to the prom two years running — but it wasn’t ever because of my yearbook-worthy couplehood.

Now, I have what I want, even speaking strictly within my high school peer group (and I’m married to one of the guys I crushed on in high school); after our 20th reunion I had lots of old friends come up to me and say how much my soul-baring on my blog, on Facebook, and/or here had resonated with them; I’d become popular by, paradoxically, telling all the embarrassing, true-self-opening stuff I kept to myself in high school. Weird, but true. I’ll just go ahead and quote myself from October 23, 1987, 7:51 p.m.: “There is an abundance of things that boggle my mind, including mostly eternity and the universe.”

Which brings me to parenting.

Continue reading “What do they want? A mantra for parenting and my own fool self”

More about relationships with teens: Sleepovers?

I clicked on the link to a post about whether or not you should let your teen child's boyfriend or girlfriend sleep over expecting a point of view that was very much permissive agnostic (think: the parents caricatured by the media when most of us were teens) vs. strict values-based (think: Rick Santorum). But what I got was a very reasonable post I couldn't agree with more — basically, that sexual activity is not caused or curtailed by letting two young people of the opposite sex in a room together. And we should spend a heck of a lot more time on our relationship with our child than on putting our foot down over proprieties handed down from our parents and their parents before them. (Peggy Sue Got Married was very much top-of-mind as I read.)

I think a point of view that wasn't very much present in conversations of 20 years ago was this one: well, what about the same-gender teens? Why can they sleep over? They could be having sex, too! And while it certainly doesn't have me rubbing my hands together planning how I'll cook breakfast together with my boys' girlfriends in seven or eight or 10 years, it does have me rethinking previously-held views about such things.

For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on something that came up in the comments on that post: the time-honored "no closing your door," or, depending on the house design, "no going into the bedroom together" with a member of the opposite sex. In general, commenters agreed that it made for bad situations; those who were having sex were doing so in cars or other semi-public places, those who weren't still didn't feel welcome to hang out in a house with "surveillance." Is this a rule you've considered imposing on your children once they hit a certain age? Or is it already in place? I've made a sort of rule like this about a neighbor kid who comes over sometimes — I need him where I can see him. It all comes down to trust, and I trust my oldest to tell me the truth about what's going on; I don't trust the neighbor kid (a certain experience with certain Google searches performed on my computer when I was washing the dishes…).

As Rebecca said when she posted the link, the part of the relationship you develop long before sex is an issue is what will, hopefully, be a much better deterrent from bad choices made behind closed doors or up on Mt. Tabor after the sun goes down on a hot August night (not that I'd know where a good spot might be) (no way not me). And that's more of this kind of thing. I hope, anyway!

About arguments (this time, we’re doing good!)

I know my oldest has years to go before he hits the teen years, but I've felt for a while now that his behavioral struggles give me a window into who he will be as a teen — he's got all the talking-back chops and punky authority questioning that any self-respecting teen boy would. Lucky me: I get to practice conversing with a teenager years before my time!

Sometimes I agonize over this (mostly when someone else is overhearing me and Everett in a tense debate over privileges and responsibilities, speckled tightly with the occasional bit of bad language). But thanks to some new research from the University of Virginia, I could just go ahead and embrace it. These debates with me now and in his teens will help him resist peer pressure among his friends and stand up to problems on the job. In other words, our arguments are lessons. According to NPR:

"[In the] study, 157 13-year-olds were videotaped describing their biggest disagreement with their parents. The most common arguments were over grades, chores, money and friends. The tape was then played for both parent and teen…

"[The researcher, Joseph P.] Allen interviewed the teens again at ages 15 and 16. "The teens who learned to be calm and confident and persuasive with their parents acted the same way when they were with their peers," he says. They were able to confidently disagree, saying 'no' when offered alcohol or drugs. In fact, they were 40 percent more likely to say 'no' than kids who didn't argue with their parents.

"For other kids, it was an entirely different story. "They would back down right away," says Allen, saying they felt it pointless to argue with their parents. This kind of passivity was taken directly into peer groups, where these teens were more likely to acquiesce when offered drugs or alcohol."

How you argue is important. If you "reward" children who develop a persuasive argument, bargaining thoughtfully instead of using begging, whining, threats or insults, you will teach them how to not just get along with other teens (and to stay clear of dangerous problems like drugs and binge drinking), but how to successfully manage relationships as an adult — even and eventually, marriage.

I was, for once, proud of my parenting skills — something I tell the boys every (sometimes many times a) day is to use their problem solving abilities to come up with a solution that doesn't involve physical aggression or anger. Now, this doesn't work very well between the boys many days, but I often see the persuasive kid show up for a really great and — often — even courteous! — debate with me or another adult. And that's something to be proud of.

Teens smoking pot in the park

On an afternoon run through a park, I passed a cluster of teens, all of them happened to be female.  They were standing in a circle, maybe 5 or 6 of them.  Maybe more?  There were puffs of smoke rising from the center of the circle.  From a distance, it seemed that they were hanging out smoking cigarettes.  And, recalling my own teen years, I thought: "who doesn't hang out with a gaggle of friends and smoke at that age?"

As I came closer, I realized that they were actually passing a small pipe.  And, I realized that they weren't smoking cigarettes, they were smoking marjuiana.  I ran past them, not stopping.  I thought to myself, though: "should I stop?"  If I did, what would I do?  What would I say?  What would you do?