Is your child normal? How do you know?











In the wake of bullying, suicides and shootings, how do you determine what behavior is appropriate for your child, and what behavior requires investigation?

I had the opportunity to speak to Jamie Olken LCSW, a New York City therapist who specializes in adolescents, for some insight, answers and resources. She is also a mother of a seventeen-year-old son and twenty-one-year-old daughter, and deals with these issues daily.

“All adolescents experience different stages of awkwardness. These issues include exploring the child’s unique identity, dealing with time away from parents, using poor judgment in an unsupervised setting, and trying to gain acceptance from peers. These trials are to be expected in adolescence. However, if your child is trying to isolate themselves from friends and there is a significant change in behavior, as a parent, you need to pay attention. Changes like dropping their favorite sport and not replacing the activity with a new interest, or stopping their academic ambition …anything that is what we would call an ‘Obsessive Behavior’ is an alert. If your child displays anger, blames others, slams doors, curses or are simply dismissive, these are normal adolescent outbursts. It means your kids are engaged, even if these engagements are negative or hurtful, it still shows that the child is interactive. The child that isolates themselves from friends, represses these feelings, or stops having dinner with the family, is at high-risk for destructive behavior, that untreated, could lead to horrific consequences.” replied Jamie.

Children go through significant changes physically, emotionally and developmentally from the ages 12, 15, 18 and 20. Jamie suggested I do a little research on which dopamine plays an important role during adolescence. In adolescence, the prefrontal cortex is still developing–it’s the last part of the brain to develop and is crucial for understanding the minds of others, flexibility response, and self-awareness. The judgement part of the brain, that apparently tells a teen to stop and not do something stupid, is not developed. During the teenage years, they experience huge shifts in dopamine levels known as the “happiness chemical.” Dopamine is a neurochemical that is a pleasure chemical. The human brain is a pleasure-seeking organ but combine an immature prefrontal cortex with an increase in dopamine and you can see how it increases a teen’s susceptibility to drugs, fast driving, alcohol and other behavior that pump up their dopamine levels. A study by a National Longitudinal Study of Health suggested speaking to a teen about how their brain works, setting high expectations for school achievement and connectedness on both a school and parent-family level were important to keep a teen safe.

Jamie often asks the teens she works with, “Who is the kid you are most worried about?” and she finds that most patients can answer that question. So I asked how you do you deal with it if your child points out she/he knows someone whom they believe needs help. She recommends telling the child, “I’m concerned about you” followed by, “I’m not capable of helping you, but I can find you help.” Our children need to know they are caring community members, not fixers of the issue. However, they need to be encouraged that reporting bizarre behavior or instances of bullying is not ‘tattling’, but in fact is helpful for the friend. Jamie also reminds us, “In an instance of bullying, the focus should not be on the action and whether it is ‘genuine bullying’; rather, we should focus on helping the person who feels bullied and combating the issue that makes them feel unsafe or attacked.”

Having a daughter who has dealt with bullies, I asked what she recommended a child to say when being bullied. Jamie suggested, “Stop. You are bullying me, and if you continue, I will report you.” But what if your child replies that everyone will then hate them for “snitching” on the other child. Jamie replied, “It’s tough to be ostracized by your friends, but its even more damaging to be a victim of bullying. In these situations, kids need adult help to provide a safe environment.”

It’s the parent’s job to love, respect, guide, protect and discipline their child and the child’s job to love, respect, accept guidance and develop. Jamie’s parting words were, “We can’t fix our own childhood issues through our kids.” So in light of that, I asked for some recommended resources for parents.

• The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D

Why are women more verbal than men? Why do women remember details of fights that men can’t remember at all? Why do women tend to form deeper bonds with their female friends than men do with their male counterparts? These and other questions have stumped both sexes throughout the ages. Now, pioneering neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, M.D., brings together the latest findings to show how the unique structure of the female brain determines how women think, what they value, how they communicate, and who they love.

• Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward and Craig Buck

All parents fall short from time to time. But Susan Forward pulls no punches when it comes to those whose deficiencies cripple their children emotionally. Her brisk, unreserved guide to overcoming the stultifying agony of parental manipulation–from power trips to guilt trips and all other killers of self worth–will help deal with the pain of childhood and move beyond the frustrating relationship patterns learned at home.

• Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope and Optimism in Your Child by Ph.D. Robert Brooks, and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.

Two child psychologists draw on a vast body of scientific literature and real-life anecdotes from their own practices to explain why some children are able to overcome overwhelming obstacles while others easily become victims of experience and environment.

• Parenting With Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay

This parenting book shows you how to raise self-confident, motivated children who are ready for the real world. Learn how to parent effectively while teaching your children responsibility and growing their character and how to establish healthy control through easy-to-implement steps without anger, threats, nagging, or power struggles.

Saying No Is Not Enough by Robert Schewebel and Benjamin Spock

The winner of a Parents’ Choice Award, this acclaimed prevention and intervention guide for parents of children aged 3 through 19 presents a complete, step-by-step program, time-tested over the last 25 years.

• The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have by Laura Gauld, Malcolm Gauld and Marc Brown

In this groundbreaking book, Laura and Malcolm Gauld draw on their experience as parents and as educators at Hyde — an organization of award-winning schools and programs — to argue persuasively that true education springs not just from seeking good grades and achievements but from reestablishing a commitment to character, attitude, and purpose. Offering a new paradigm for reconnecting education with values, the Gaulds focus attention not on the child, but on the child’s primary teacher — the parent.

• Raising Boys Without Men by Dr. Peggy Drexler

Determined to find the truth, research psychologist Peggy Drexler embarked on a long-term study comparing boys raised in nontraditional families with those whose fathers were present throughout their childhood. The results were startling. Female-headed households can provide even better parenting for boys than households with men. Sons from female-headed families can grow up emotionally stronger and better rounded than boys from “traditional” mother-father families—more in touch with their feelings yet masculine.

• Reviving Ophelia, Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, Ph.D.

Adolescence in America has traditionally involved breaking away from parents, experimenting with the trappings of adult life, and searching for autonomy and independence. Today’s teenagers face serious pressures at an earlier age than that at which teenagers in the past did. Dr. Mary Pipher, a psychologist who has worked with teenagers for more than a decade finds that in spite of the women’s movement, which has empowered adult women in some ways, teenage girls today are having a harder time than ever.

• Get Out Of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.

He points out that while the basic issues of adolescence and the relationships between parents and their children remain much the same, today’s teenagers navigate a faster, less clearly anchored world. Wolf’s revisions include a new chapter on the Internet, a significantly modified section on drugs and drinking, and an added piece on gay teenagers. Although the rocky and ever-changing terrain of contemporary adolescence may bewilder parents, Get Out of My Life gives them a great road map.

All book descriptions are courtesy of Barnes and Noble booksellers.


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