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The Importance of Sleep in Adolescence

Sleep is vital for everyone.  Many children and adolescents do not get enough sleep on a nightly basis.  Research has demonstrated that there are some major concerns with an adolescent’s social and academic behavior when he or she does not get enough sleep.

There have been several studies examining later school start days in which the adolescents are able to get more sleep due to later morning awakenings and the positive results with their academic and behavioral functioning (Beebe, 2011).

These studies indicated that these adolescents who are able to attain more sleep demonstrate the following:

  • Less subjective and physiological sleepiness
  • Improved high school enrollment stability
  • Better attendance among the least stable students
  • Less tardiness
  • Fewer automobile accidents
  • Fewer sick days

Anytime an adolescent exhibits concerns with academic, social, emotional, or behavioral functioning, it is always recommended to assess that individual’s amount and quality of sleep.  Click here to read more on how a lack of sleep affects children.

If you have concerns about your teen’s sleep, contact our neuropsychology department for more information.

Reference: Beebe, D. (2011).  A brief primer on sleep for pediatric and clinical neuropsychologists.  Child Neuropsychology.

Strategies to Help Your Teen Make Good Decisions

The teenage years are marked with new experiences.  Teenagers want to be independent and are drawn to exciting, new opportunities.  During this time period, chemical changes in the brain also motivate teens to seek out risky behavior.  What can parents do, then, to help their teens learn to exercise good judgment despite the internal and external motivators they have to make poor choices?

Strategies parents can use to help teenagers make good decisions:

  1. Help your teen to take positive risks.  For example, encourage your teen to try out for a new sport, visit a new place, or make new friends.  This will help instill confidence and self control in your teen.  It will also satisfy your teen’s quest for new or exciting things. Read more

3 Clues Your Child May Have an Eating Disorder

As a parent, there are countless matters in your child’s life that bring joy, happiness, and excitement. There are eating disordersalso a myriad of matters in your child’s life that can raise concern and cause alarm. In our youth and appearance based culture, one of these alarming matters is eating disorders.  Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia, along with more general disordered eating, are commonly thought of as a problem that affects teen girls.  Teen girls are historically most affected by these disorders, but boys and younger/older children can also develop these issues.  Read on for 3 clues that may indicate your child is on a path toward an eating disorder.

3 Clues Your Child May Have an Eating Disorder:

  1. Your child is constantly looking in the mirror. Do you notice that your child seems obsessed with the mirror? Does your child appear to be scrutinizing her face and body? Children with body image concerns will often spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, which may take away from homework, family time and other necessary or enjoyed activities.
  2. Your child is overly focused on glamorous images from the media. If your child appears to be fixated on certain celebrity icons, and more specifically, the appearance of these icons, she may also be struggling with her own body image.  Some children pull out magazine photos of a current celebrity obsession and create a shrine of the image. While celebrity crazes are common among children and adults alike, if your child seems to idolize the physical appearance rather than the talents of celebrities, it may be a sign that your child is unhappy with her own image. Read more

Concussions are More Common in Teens than Once Thought

A research letter was published in the Journal of American Medical Association on Tuesday, June 25 which concussionsummarized findings from a recent Canadian study examining concussions in teenagers.  The Canadian research team found that concussion rates in adolescents are much higher than previously thought.

What is the prevalence of concussions in teens?

1 out of every 5 teenagers completing the research project indicated that they had sustained a concussion.  These numbers are high, and there are some flaws with generalizing these numbers to the population as a whole.  This was a survey research project in which the examiners asked teenagers a series of questions about head injuries and academic performance.  Although the likelihood of 1 in 5 teenagers having sustained a concussion is probably not realistic, it is known that head injuries are quite common at rates that are greater than suspected in the past.

Why is it important to know the incident rates of concussions?

The importance of knowing about the incident rates of concussions is that there are numerous known behavioral and emotional variables associated with head injuries.  Adolescents who have sustained a head injury are at risk for learning problems, substance abuse, and emotional concerns.

What does this mean as a parent or teacher?  If you notice a teenager exhibiting a sudden change in academic performance, behavior, or emotional regulation, you want to have an evaluation immediately.  Speak to your child’s pediatrician about a possible neurological or neuropsychological evaluation in order to help determine the possible cause for the changes, as one possible reason might be a sustained head injury.

To read the full Chicago Tribune article on this study, click here.  To learn more about North Shore Pediatric Therapy’s Neuropsychology Diagnostic Program for children and teens, click below.

A Mother’s Role in Raising a Confident Daughter

As girls grow and develop, their overall sense of self-worth and confidence grows and changes.  Sadly, in confident daughteradolescence, a girl’s confidence and sense of self-worth often plummets.  This is due to the fact that beginning in the preteen years, body image becomes the barometer by which many girls measure their self-worth.  Confidence becomes one with how a young girl looks, and as a result, how she feel about herself.  The message our young girls receive is this: Women in our society are valued based on their physical attractiveness.  A mother is the main role model in her young daughter’s life.  Her daughter subconsciously takes in how her mother carries herself, regards herself, and thinks about herself. For this reason, mothers play a pivotal role in how a young girl navigates this challenging time. Read more

“I Don’t know!”: How to Communicate with your Teen

What do you do when you ask your child a question and they respond with “I don’t know”? This 3-word phrase can be used in a varietymother and teen daughter talking of situations to evade sharing information or avoid diving in deeper into a topic. So, the real question at hand is how to get your teen to open up the lines of communication in a non-threatening and informative way. School-aged children are familiar with plug-and-chug in terms of math equations and the same can be transformed into a mode for communication. “I Feel” statements are explicit, concrete and allow the teen to filter out what is going on, why it is going on, how it makes them feel and how they can work towards resolution.

The equation is as follows:

  • I feel:
  • When you:
  • Because:
  • In the future:

Instead of acting out or keeping their emotions inside due to confusion or perceived lack of support for their self-expression, the “I feel” statement helps them to understand the situation that is triggering their emotion, how they interpret the event and allows them to provide a solution so that they can avoid the same problem in the future.

For example, your teen explodes when you ask them to do their homework. Upon completion of an “I feel” statement, you might come to find out the following:

  • I feel: frustrated
  • When you: nag me to do my homework
  • Because: it makes me feel as though you don’t trust me to do it on my own
  • In the future: can you trust that I will do my homework when you ask me one time

Whether or not you are aware of the stimulating event, “I feel” statements can be used in times to activate emotions or as a tool to help your teen unload during non-threatening times.

Help Instill Balanced Thinking in Your Child

Our goal is to help train your child’s brain when they make assessments about specific situations.  We need to make them aware that it girl thinkingis not the event or person that makes them feel a certain way; it is their thinking behind it. The more we are able to help children challenge their thoughts in an empathic manner,  the more often they will challenge their own thoughts automatically.

STEP ONE:   Gently challenge extreme or dramatic language:

  • If your child says something like, “Everyone at school hates me.  Respond with, “Hmmm.  That doesn’t sound realistic.  How can we make that a more realistic (balanced) statement?”
  • Help them replace extreme words with balanced words and refer to the specifics. Instead, they could say, “Sometimes I feel like kids like me at school  when we work on group projects, but they don’t talk to me on the playground.”
  • Help your child focus on actions they can take in order to remedy the situation and avoid feeling like a helpless victim:  “And I bet if we practice joining kids in talking to them about what they like, you’ll get better at making new friends.”
  • Provide opportunities to empower your child through practice: “How about you try introducing yourself to kids at the park?  If they are mean and reject you, we won’t take it personally and just try again until you get it.”

STEP TWO: Use and teach coping statements to your kids, such as:

  • This is hard, and that’s OK.
  • I have done what I can; now it is out of my hands.
  • One day at a time.
  • It’s a pain in the neck but it’s not a disaster.
  • Could be worse.
  • It’s not life-threatening; it’s not important.
  • If it’s beyond my control, let it go.
  • I’m not going to let this unhappy person spoil my day.
  • I only need to compare myself with myself.
  • S/he is not perfect and neither am I.
  • It takes two to tango; there must have been something I did to encourage this situation. What can I change?
  • People aren’t born evil; what is going on that makes this person treat me this way?
  • Justice is in the eye of the beholder.
  • I can learn life lessons (good or bad) from this situation.
  • In 5 years, will this even matter?

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Organization, Social Skills, Puberty, oh my, Junior High! Get your teen ready!

The jump into middle school is a big one for many children and families!  So many unknowns! Higher demands from teachers for time management and organization, more pressure from kids socially, and puberty hitting, all at the same time!Girl in Junior High

Here are some Junior High tips!

Executive Functioning/ Organization

  • Make a daily written schedule and include wake up time, workout time, screen time and leave the house time.  Be very specific.
  • Buy an organization file binder versus the 8 separate folders your child may have had or been asked to bring.  This keeps them much more organized.
  • Ask the school for a locker in a preplanned place so your child does not have to run from one end of school to another if he has a tendency to be late.
  •  Think hard now if your child is struggling and ask for an IEP or 504 plan to get additional time or support.  This will be so helpful and his plan also follow him when he may need it on standardized exams.
  • Use a timer.

Social Skills

  • Get your child into youth groups or sports.  They can be through school clubs, park district, or religious organizations.  Youth groups are wonderful ways to find friends that are similar to your child.
  • Make plans with children that will be in his grade all summer.   He should not walk into school not knowing too many people, especially if he is timid or has any trouble socially.
  • Find a social group for teens at a local clinic or school so that he can practice his social skills with a trained professional.
  • Have your child read over the summer.  This makes them smarter and more confident.  An extra tip: they can also read about all kinds of junior high experiences.

Puberty

  • Read this great book mom and dad: “But I’m Almost 13!” by Kenneth Ginsburg.  It will help you understand and avoid so many struggles!
  • Don’t forget to talk with your child, give eye contact, and hold his hand when you are walking.   Just because he is growing up, does not mean he isn’t still your baby!
  • Kids who go out and start over-prioritizing their peers socially, physically, emotionally, may be looking for attention! Give your teens attention!  (See bullet above) and also, laugh with them, watch tv with them, take them out for an ice cream, don’t disengage!

Good luck!

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How to Talk to Your Teen About Dating

According to the Illinois Attorney General, 89% of teens aged 13-18 in the U.S. report that they are in a dating relationship. While the subject of dating may feel daunting for parents, educating your teens about the expectations that come with dating, discussing family values and rules, and providing a space for teens to ask questions can help keep them safe, aware, and responsible.

Below are 5 tips on how to talk to your teens about dating:

1. BEGIN THE CONVERSATION EARLY

The beginning of middle school is a great time to start talking about dating. Middle school is a huge transition that brings about multiple changes in peer relationships and social groups, and talking about dating in the context of these changes is a natural way to open the conversation.teens dating in school

Whether you think your teens are interested in dating or not, they are likely surrounded by new dating relationships and discussions about dating within their peer groups. They may feel uncomfortable and hesitant to bring up the topic, and witnessing their parents open the conversation in a calm, natural way can help ease their uncertainties.

2. LISTEN WITH EMPATHY, NORMALIZATION, AND VALIDATION

Emphasize to your teens that you want to be a safe, supportive person they can talk to about their experiences and questions. Ask open ended questions (ex. “I’ve heard that a lot of kids in your class are talking about dating. What is that like for you?” or “What have you heard about dating from teachers, friends, and classmates?”). Help your teens feel comfortable by normalizing any feelings, questions, concerns, anxieties, and emotional/physical changes.

Listen to what your teens already think and have heard about dating. This can help you to determine how you can educate them to think critically and make responsible decisions.

Encourage and normalize questions, and answer them in an open, nonjudgmental way. Some questions require clear answers (ex. “When am I allowed to start dating?”). Other questions create opportunities for discussion, critical thinking, and joint brainstorming (ex. “Who is the best person to date?” or “What am I supposed to do on a date?”)

3. SET GUIDELINES

Setting guidelines is vital for teens when they begin dating. Answer the five W-questions, and have clear expectations before talking to your teens (Who are your children allowed to date? What does “dating” entail?/What can your children do and not do on a date? When are your children allowed to begin dating?/When can your children spend time with dates? Where can your children go on dates? Why are your children allowed to date-responsibilities and expectations).

Explain to your teens that dating is a privilege that comes with responsibilities, and discuss the various expectations. Creating a contract with the outlined rules is a great way to help your teens keep themselves accountable. Click here for an excellent example of a dating contract for teens.

Emphasize to your teens that the reason for these guidelines is to keep them and the people they date safe and comfortable.

4. EDUCATE AND DISCUSS FAMILY VALUES

Discussions about dating provide great opportunities to educate your teens about sex. Talk to your teens about your family values and expectations regarding sex and physical contact in a dating relationship. People have varying opinions on sex education-regardless of what your beliefs are, sharing them with your teens and having an open, honest, clear discussion is necessary to keep them informed and debunk possible myths they hear from classmates or see in the media. The more educated your teens are, the more likely they will be to make responsible decisions.

Another important discussion is one regarding consent. Have a conversation with your teens about what is safe and appropriate in a dating relationship and what is not. Emphasize the importance of respecting and asserting personal boundaries and engaging in activities that both people enjoy. Help your teens problem solve and role play certain situations to help them learn how to speak up for themselves and listen to others. (ex. “What if your date wants to see a movie you know you’re not allowed to see? What can you do and say?” or “What if you want to hold hands but you don’t know if your date wants to? What can you do or say that is respectful?”)

5. CONTINUE OPEN COMMUNICATION

Continue to talk to your teens about dating throughout the years. Your teens’ values, views, and thoughts may change over time, and setting the pattern of having open discussions is helpful. Your openness and willingness to talk about potentially awkward topics can send the message to your teens that they can confide in you!

What are some strategies you have tried when talking to your teen about dating? What has worked well for you and your family? We’d love to hear from you! Please share with us :

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Five Tips to Help Your Child Use the Internet Safely

With recent advances in internet technology, we are able to communicate readily and quickly with long-distance friends and relatives; find information through search engines that connect us to multiple sources; and even have access to engaging, child-friendly websites that assist in teaching! The internet also presents possible dangers, however, and parents may find themselves wondering how to balance supporting their child’s access to the benefits internet provides, while ensuring her internet safety.

Below are five tips to help maintain this balance.

1. Set clear guidelines about internet use privileges

  • Explain to your child that internet use is a privilege that can be taken away if used in unsafe ways. Ask your child what websites she wants to use to confirm their appropriateness. Be sure to emphasize that this is tgirl on computer with parentso keep your child safe.
  • Decide on rules for internet use (ex. Time limit, purpose, days of the week, which sites are acceptable/not acceptable, etc.) and post them in a place where everyone in the family can see. You can have both common and separate rules for parents and children to show your child that internet safety is important for everyone.
  • Review the rules as a family and sign them as an agreement to commit to fun, appropriate, safe internet use.

2. Talk to your child about the potential dangers and benefits of the internet

  • Warn your child about the dangers of giving out personal information (name, age, birthdate, school, address, phone number, etc) on the internet and give her safe options for when she faces situations that ask for personal information. For example, “We cannot give out personal information to people we do not know because we do not know if they are safe. If a website asks for personal information, do not give it and tell mom or dad. If any person you do not know emails/Facebook messages/IMs/etc you, the first thing I want you to do is tell mom or dad so we can figure out a plan to be safe.”
  • Keep explanations age-appropriate and give enough information to be clear, but not too much information to provoke anxiety or fear. For example, “There are people or websites on the internet that can try to trick or hurt people. So when we are on a website or hear from someone we do not know, we have to be careful.”
  • Discuss cyber-bullying with your child. Ask if your child knows anyone who makes mean comments to other children on the internet or if it has ever happened to her. Let her know that if someone chooses to bully her online, it is not her fault and that she should report it to you so you can keep her safe. For more information about cyber-bullying, click here.
  • Talk about the fact that statements and information your child puts on the internet cannot be revoked. Although the internet seems more anonymous, teach your child not to write anything online to someone that she would be embarrassed to say in real life.
  • Talk also about the benefits of the internet to teach the difference between fun, appropriate internet use and dangerous internet use. Together, you can come up with a list of safe and non-safe uses and post them by the computer to remind your child of your conversation. You can also introduce your child to new, fun, interactive child-friendly websites that she can use.

3. Monitor internet use

  • Contact your internet provider for safeguard features so that you can protect your child from graphic, inappropriate material.
  • Put your computer in the family room or some public place in your home so that you can easily check in with your child about her internet use.

4. Join with your child in her internet use

  • Support and praise safe internet use by learning about your child’s favorite websites. Visit these websites together to learn about what your child enjoys. Visiting these websites can also help you to determine possible dangers to discuss with your child.

5. Create an open, safe space for your child to talk about any issues or concerns she faces during internet use

  • Emphasize to your child that your goal is to make sure she is safe and that if anything happens that makes her feel scared, confused, or upset online, she can talk to you.
  • Let your child know that you can problem solve together when something potentially unsafe happens on the internet.
  • Talk with your child in an open way by listening to her opinions and encouraging questions so that she feels comfortable and understood.

What are some of your family’s internet rules that have helped keep everyone safe? Please share with us!