Monday, December 03, 2018

Blending Holiday Traditions

The United States is referred to as the “melting pot” nation where all immigrants and their traditions have blended over the centuries.  Traditions that your family looks forward to each holiday are originally from different cultures around the world.  The Christmas carols we sing are from England.  The tradition of decorating the tree is from Germany and St. Nicholas originated in Scandinavia.  The Netherlands expanded on the myth to have St. Nicolas or Santa Claus fill the stockings hanging over the fireplace.  The United States extended the story adding the sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
Be open to change
Determining how to celebrate the holidays for divorced or blended families can become difficult with schedule conflicts and trying to combine the traditions that were important to their nuclear family.  There are many solutions to the problem if everyone is willing to compromise and experience new traditions.  Communicate with non-custodial parents to make sure the children are present for the festivities that are important to them.  Try to be flexible and alternate the schedules when possible.  Discuss how change can be a positive event when blending your favorite traditions. 
Blending family traditions can be a challenging but rewarding experience.  When all the changes become overwhelming, try to focus on the reason for the Christmas season.  You are not competing with each other but explaining the importance of how your family customs are celebrated.  Traditions are about building special memories so that one day your family rituals will be passed on to future generations.  Acceptance and acknowledging what is really important to the special people in your life will create the holiday you will all want to remember.  

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Discuss Sexting With Your Children

Many children and adolescents are asking their parents for a smartphone this holiday season. In their peer group it is a status of superiority to own the latest version. Children from elementary school to young adult learn how to download the apps they prefer and communicate to their friends and family up to sixteen times a minute each day. They create a virtual world with minimal human contact. This can become a parent’s nightmare as they try to monitor appropriate interaction with friends. Trends are mounting around sexually explicit selfies or videos. They also capture and forward screenshots from intimate Instagram photos or FaceTime video chats.

Be Proactive

When parents make the decision to purchase a phone for their child, they need to have a conversation about preserving their privacy online. More than one in four teens under 18 years of age have received sexts and nearly 15% have sent them. According to a 2018 review of 39 studies this is happening more with the increasing use of smartphones. The JAMA Pediatrics survey studies report that over the last decade 12% have forwarded sexually explicit images without the subject’s consent and 8.4% have been a victim of sexts.

Sexting has been termed as the “gateway to future sexual activity”. Teens who have sent a sext are 32% more likely to be sexually active within a year’s time. Many children and teens don’t have the developmental ability to control their impulses at this age or exercise sound judgment. Sending a photo to the love of your life when you are 13 years old appears to be a logical choice.

Monitor the Electronics

Coerced sexting by aggressors who pressure or manipulate their victims can be emotionally devastating, triggering guilt, shame and embarrassment. This can be a nightmare for the parents and children involved as the photo is circulated online. Parents should begin teaching children about the risks before they are given a smartphone.  Children should understand the importance of keeping their private parts private! Your child needs to be strong enough to decline any request received, no matter how much social pressure is involved to send a sext.

Raising children today is very different now that technology has become a tool used to connect us with the world. What a young person posts on the internet today can haunt them later in life when they apply for that scholarship, interview with a potential employer or a job in public service. The potential legal consequences for juvenile sexting offenders range from community service to child pornography charges in some states.

Parents should start the discussion about the risks of sexting and emphasize it is never appropriate to pressure someone into sending a sext. Remind your child that there could be legal consequences for a poor choice and that once that image is online there is little that you can do to protect them. It is important to discuss what a healthy relationship is and coach them on safe responses if they are approached. If your child has had this experience seek legal counsel for your options and find a therapist who can guide you through the process of healing.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Relationship Shopping

Before dating apps were created people would meet through friends, family, at school, church or work. Now it is an online experience with a new vocabulary that feels like a marketplace full of choices. Currently, the most popular dating apps are Tinder, Bumble and Grindr which are less than ten years old. According to Pew Research Center 27% of daters between the ages of 18 and 24 have used a dating app.


The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships interviewed online daters and discovered that half of them lied about their height, weight or bank balance. The individuals interviewed had the perception that a great relationship could be had by discovering the right profile instead of cultivated with personal connection.

Tinder reported more than 50 million users in 2014, which has created an endless supply of profiles. Many daters are “benched” before the relationship even begins. Others are given “breadcrumbs” but really have no intention of being in a committed relationship. The “catch and release” is a technique used by people who love the thrill of the chase. When you finally agree to date the person, they immediately lose interest and look for the next victim. To “ghost” is to cut a romantic partner out of one’s life, ignoring all attempts at contact and leaving the "ghosted" to figure out why they’ve been dumped.


Breakups are rarely easy, but ghosting doesn’t give the individual an opportunity for closure. Someone that you thought cared about you disappears without an explanation. Research suggests that impersonal strategies are favored by those who fear commitment and avoid intimacy. Some surveys report up to 80% of young daters have experienced ghosting.

There are three main attachment styles utilized in relationships and vary person to person but are categorized as secure, anxious or avoidant. The University of Kansas researchers found 20% of adults have an avoidant attachment style and tend to suppress their feelings. Avoiders gravitate to ghosting to maintain the emotional distance especially when under stress. Another 15% of the population have an anxious attachment style who tend to worry and are easily distressed by conflict. The avoiders are more likely to ghost the anxious partner who is seen as high-maintenance.

While most people expect the courtesy of a face-to-face explanation when breaking up, the reality is you may never know the reason why you’ve been dumped. Your texts have been ignored and your calls are unanswered. Dating online is a risk most people are willing to take because it is more difficult to meet people in the digital age.

Monday, September 03, 2018

An Emotional Affair

Emotional intimacy is the most powerful bond in human relationships…..much stronger than sexual. A new type of infidelity has increased over the last decade and is one of the biggest threats to marriage….emotional affairs. You can have an affair without having sex. Sometimes the greatest betrayal happens without touching. Infidelity is considered to be any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust with your mate.

Sliding across boundaries

Affairs can happen in good marriages. They are less about love and more about sliding across professional boundaries into the personal area of your life. Today’s workplace has become the new danger zone of opportunities for emotional affairs which has only been surpassed by the internet. As these circumstances for intimate relationships increase, the boundaries between platonic and romantic feelings blur and become easier to cross.

When you discuss what your marriage lacks to a colleague of the opposite sex you are sending a loud message that you’re available for someone else to love and care for your needs. This behavior is also a breach of the trust that you share in your relationship. Discussing intimate concerns outside the marriage will create a false sense of intimacy that states your happiness is valued by this person.

Comparing another person against your partner will also create a dangerous negative thinking pattern. This can make you begin to daydream about this individual who seems to understand you. You will find yourself looking forward to seeing them, sharing personal news and imagining their excitement when you are together. This euphoric feeling will release dopamine in the reward centers of your brain which will also reinforce the illusion that this person relates to you like nobody else.

Not “just friends”

Individuals involved in an emotional affair will let their negative thinking patterns blame the mate for their unhappiness. A sense of entitlement evolves and resentment will build and push you from your spouse. As a result you will begin to pull away and make excuses to avoid joining activities with your partner.

Secrecy can then become another warning sign as it creates an unhealthy bond that gives a false sense of emotional safety. If your partner tries to interfere with the “friendship”, anger is directed at the invasion and your mood becomes more irritable or unhappy.

There will come a time in the alliance when one or both parties will fantasize about having a loving sexual relationship with each other. This discussion will add intensity to the desire. Not heeding the warning signs and finding time to spend alone together will push the bond from platonic to sexual. Healing your marriage after an affair is a very difficult process. It is best to be aware of the warning signs and understand that a friendship with the opposite gender can evolve to more.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Kindergarten Readiness

The concept of kindergarten derived in the 1830’s from a German teacher who believed the children needed a way to transition from home into the school environment. Kindergarten was established as a way to interact and socialize. Children today are socialized at daycare or in pre-school so kindergarten has been restructured to meet the demands of academic readiness in the cognitive and social areas of development.

Readiness to learn

School readiness means that the child has the ability to learn and cope in the school environment without experiencing undue stress. Children should be able to separate from their family and trust the adults in the school environment. They need to understand the concept of sharing and how to take turns when playing with other children. Children should also display some level of social skills in how to resolve problems and work cooperatively with their peers. They must be able to adapt to the structure of the school day and follow the instructions from their teacher.

A real assessment of readiness isn’t based on the chronological age alone. Many schools will do an assessment several weeks before school begins that involve cognitive, linguistic, motor skills and social skills. Children that enter kindergarten with limited baseline skills of reading and math are unlikely to catch up with their peers. Many will need support services that require remedial learning with the help of an aide or tutor.  Children that don’t test well will have a re-evaluation three to six months later to assess if a developmental specialist or neurologist should be consulted.

Other considerations for optimal growth

There are many different academic settings to consider when choosing a school for your children. There are public, private, religion based, and Montessori schools. Other determining factors are class size, use of aides in the classroom, and if kindergarten is a full or half-day program. Structural considerations would be the locations of the bathroom, playground and lunchroom where interaction with older students should be limited.

There are many different developmental levels and skills found in the classroom. Teachers are working to meet the diversity, developmental needs and abilities of all children. Children learn best by doing. It allows them to learn through exploration and observation. It can also help them to follow their interests while building cognitive and creative talents. As you determine the kindergarten readiness for your children also seek an environment where they can be engaged and interested in learning for their optimal growth and development.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Children Attempting Suicide at a Younger Age

Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans each year. Many of those individuals never seek the professional care that is available to them. The 80% that do seek medical support for their depression are successful in their treatment. Federal health officials report in a 2006 study that the suicide rate among preteen and teenage girls rose to its highest level in a decade.  This statistic affects girls from ages 10-14 years of age.  The preferred method of suicide was hanging or suffocation (71%) which surpassed guns.

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death.  Every 15 minutes someone tries to take their own life and there are over 800,000 attempts a year. One in every 65,000 children age 10 to 14 years old will be successful with their attempt.

Suicide awareness

A study completed by the University of Washington and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 883 youth ages 18 to 19 years old had attempted suicide. Researcher James Mazza said that 40% of the youth survey made their first attempt before entering high school. “The earliest age was nine, so that’s either third or fourth grade. There is a sharp increase at sixth grade, so that is age twelve. They continue to rise, with the peak being eighth to ninth grade.”

Mazza suggests parents and children need to have an open dialogue about their feelings and the pressures that they face daily. Parents and other caring adults should look for changes in youth such as talking about taking one’s life, feeling sad or hopeless about the future. Also look for changes in eating or sleeping habits and even losing the desire to take part in favorite activities.

Keep children safe

The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention is advising that health officials consider focusing on suicide prevention programs for girls 10-19 and boys between 15-19 years of age to reverse these startling statistics.  They also suggest that parents monitor or restrict children’s access to pills, weapons, or other lethal means of self-harm.

My experience has been that both genders are self-medicating with alcohol and drugs at a very young age to handle the pressure at home and school. Netflix has produced the series 13 Reasons Why that explores the suicide of a young woman and the events which led to her final decision. Parents should watch this show with their children to discuss the mental health perspective and the importance of asking for help when needed.

Another important intervention would be to stay emotionally connected to your child by being involved in their school activities, friends and academics.  You can also plan family time together or special outings together to keep your relationships strong.  Families that center their life on their faith and church have a strong foundation of love that also helps them endure the trials of life.  If you see that your child is struggling and drifting from your family system, you may want to seek professional help as an intervention.  Counseling could help your child cope with their anxiety and depression which can bring hope to the whole family. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Make Fun a Priority in Your Marriage

When a couple marries they envision a life together with their best friend.  Unfortunately there are many issues that can complicate the relationship such as sex, money, trust, and fidelity. An article published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy report that 45- 55% of women and 50-60% of men will become involved in extramarital sex at some time during their marriage. These individuals would intentionally engage in the affair with no intention of leaving their committed relationship.

Prioritize your marriage

Studies have found that the happiest married couples have learned how to prioritize having fun together. Having a busy work schedule, attending classes or keeping up with activities that your children are involved in can make this a difficult task. Make a list of activities that you would like to do together. Step out of your comfort zone and try new experiences like dance lessons, plays, concerts, or a cooking class where you can share your thoughts and ideas. Just spending time together isn’t enough to strengthen the relationship. Behavioral scientists report “New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine which are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love.” Couples that participated in “exciting” date nights reported a greater increase in marital satisfaction.
Protect your date nights from becoming a time to resolve conflicts. Agree to discuss your concerns at an alternative time like in the morning over breakfast or after completing evening chores. Dr. John Gottman’s research has found that “For every one disagreement, misunderstanding or hurt feeling, they need five positive, affectionate caring or fun interactions to counterbalance it.” Conflict is inevitable in long-term relationships but it can erode the relationship if concerns are used to control the partner or not resolved in a constructive manner.  Find the balance needed to actively listen to the concern presented without attacking each other in the process to finding a compromise.  Seek counseling when you feel stuck or unable to find a solution to the problem. Sometimes discussing the concern with a neutral party can help to get your relationship back on track and enjoying each other again