Pulls Out Hair

Hair-pulling in children and adolescents may be perceived as a harmless habit. After all, if your child likes to pull, say 3-5 strands of hair a day, it shouldn’t make much difference to his or her scalp and hair health. The amount of hair that falls off naturally probably exceeds the couple of strands kids and teens pull for fun anyways. When should hair pulling become a concern?

Hair-pulling behavior can range in severity from mild to severe. There are those who ritualize hair-pulling for aesthetic purposes, e.g. getting rid daily of the strands that don’t fall obediently with the rest, or hair considered as “dead”. There are others who pull hair strands when they’re frustrated or upset. And then there are those who suffer from an impulse control disorder called trichotillomania – compulsive hair-pulling that can be so bad, sufferers end up with permanent patches of baldness.

What’s Behind Compulsive Hair-Pulling?
Like many impulse control disorders, compulsive hair-pulling is caused by a feeling of incredible tension and anxiety. For some reason, hair-pulling relieves the tension and anxiety. Once the hair-pulling is done, the child or teen with trichotillomania feels an immediate sense of release, gratification and even pleasure. This dynamic of “tension-behavior-relief” is what makes hair-pulling addictive, progressive and after a while, very difficult to resist.

Hair-pulling in trichotillomania is often concentrated on the hair on the head, although sufferers may also focus on eyelashes, eyebrows, moustache and beard, and hair from other places of the body. Hair-pulling can be of individual strands, although more serious versions of the illness have patients pulling clumps at a time.

Are There Serious Health Effects?
At first, hair-pulling may not cause any physical harm to hair follicles and the scalp. If compulsive hair-pulling can be stopped early, hair growth resumes normally. But in severe cases, repeated hair-pulling can irreversibly damage hair follicles, inhibiting the ability of hair to grow, resulting in permanent baldness.

How can Parents Help Kids and Teens with Hair-Pulling Problems?
There are many ways parents can assist their children with compulsive hair-pulling.

First, it helps to understand that compulsive hair-pulling behavior is an impulse control disorder. This means that it won’t go away by simply telling your child to stop. In fact, unless your child is too young to understand the impact of his or her condition, your child likely already wants to stop — except that he or she can’t seem to quit.

What parents can do is address the tension and anxiety that causes hair-pulling behavior. Hair-pulling is essentially a coping mechanism, a way to get relief from stress. This is not as irrational as it sounds, and may have a biological basis. When our bodies feel pain, such as after the hurt caused by hair-pulling, our brain releases natural pain relievers that makes us feel good. It’s this feeling that people with trichotillomania like and chase, not the act of pulling hair. Although reducing stress will help the child have less intense episodes of hair-pulling, it will not cure the condition. A cure generally requires therapy. However, parents can reduce stress by being careful not to yell at the child or use harsh discipline, help manage the child’s academic load by consulting with teachers as necessary, limit the amount of marital conflict they display in front of their child and so on. In addition, they can teach their child healthy ways to release stress such as through exercise, the use of natural remedies like Bach Flower Remedies (consult a practitioner for best results), use of aromatherapy (consult a book or a practitioner for ideas), use of yoga, breathing techniques, EFT (emotional freedom technique) and other self-help strategies.

It’s best if parents can see professional help for their child who is pulling hair. Professionals can set up a cognitive-behavioral therapy to help decrease hair-pulling.

At the end of the day, compulsive hair pulling is not really about hair, nor about beauty and appearance. It’s about internal regulation and emotional management. If symptoms persist or worsen despite the interventions listed above, then parents are recommended to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Habits and Nervous Behavior

Everyone has some bad habits. And everyone engages in their bad habits more often when they are feeling tense or nervous. For instance, a teenager or adult may have taken up the “bad habit” of smoking cigarettes. The smoker will almost always be smoking more often when feeling anxious. Younger children can have habits like picking their nose, biting their nails, or twirling their hair. (You can learn more about these bad habits and how to help them by reading articles under the category Nervous Habits on this site). Some kids crack their knuckles, chew their pencils, or nibble on their shirt cuffs. Some rock back and forth in their chairs. In fact, there is hardly a limit to the type of bad habit that a child can “invent!”

If your child has some bad habits or nervous behaviors, consider the following tips:

Nervous Behavior Means the Child is Nervous!
Whether it is pacing back and forth, pulling out hairs, or shaking one’s leg, the purpose of a habit is to release some nervous tension. If you can address the tension directly, the habit will most likely go away (or at least diminish) all by itself. Instead of telling your youngster to stop shaking his leg, offer him something for his “nerves.” Now this doesn’t mean that you should offer him a stiff drink! (That’s a bad habit that a lot of adults are into!). There are plenty of healthy, child-safe “stress busters” that you can offer your child. For instance, your child might be calmed by the right herbal tea. A herbalist or naturopath might be able to prescribe a herbal mixture that reduces your child’s overall level of tension or “nerves.” Herbs can be prepared as bedtime tea’s or they can be taken as syrups or even lollipops when they are made by a professional herbalist. Some herbs are available in tincture or tablet form from your local healthfood store. All herbs are medicinal so make sure that you consult a professional before giving your child herbal medicine. Less medicinal than herbs are essential oils. These, too, are available at healthfood stores. Aromatherapy – the use of essential oils to calm nervous tension – is less medicinal than herbal medicine, but still a little medicinal (for example, some oils need to be avoided in pregnancy or when someone has epilepsy). Therefore, it is adviseable to check with a professional aromatherapist before preparing oils for your child. However, once you learn which oils are safe and how you can prepare them for your child, you will find essential oils to be a delightful way to calm your child’s stress, help him sleep and reduce his nervous habits. A calming treatment that is not medicinal in any way is Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach Flower remedies are essentially water. They do not affect the body – rather, they affect the emotions. They help a child feel less upset, worried, angry or sad. They can help with excess nervous energy, anxious feelings or other “nervous” symptoms. You can read descriptions of the remedies on-line and choose the ones you think are most appropriate for your child or you can consult a professional Bach Flower Therapist. Always include Agrimony in your Bach Remedy mixture when you want to treat a nervous habit; Agrimony is the remedy that helps reduce nervous behaviors. In addition to natural therapies (and these are only a few of the treatments that are available), you may find that psychological counseling can help reduce your child’s anxiety and stress. Obviously this intervention is most important when your child is really stressed and nervous. However, your child who is just “the nervous type” (not very, very anxious), may benefit from psychological interventions as well. Most appropriate for the average child is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), mindfulness meditation for children, CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) self-help workbooks and other psychoeducational tools. Exercise is another great way to reduce nervous energy: enroll your child in active sports, gymnastics, yoga, swimming – make sure your child is physically active daily!

Refrain from Telling Your Child to Stop His Habit
Telling a child to stop doing whatever he’s doing not only DOESN’T help, but it also hurts. Your child isn’t trying to be “bad” when engaging in a nervous habit. It’s almost like it is happening outside of his conscious awareness. Rather than telling him to stop, simply re-direct him to another activity. Interrupting habits helps to break up the strong neural pathway that is beginning to develop. For instance, suppose your child is sitting in a chair wildly kicking one leg back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Don’t tell the child to stop! Instead, ask him to please fetch you something from another part of the house. This will interrupt his habit and anything you can do to interrupt the pattern will be quite helpful.

Never Humiliate or Mock Your Child for His Nervous Habit
Some people try to “shame” their child out of their nervous habit. Even if you manage to cure a child this way, the cost is way too great. Don’t do it. There are better ways to cure a habit. For instance, if your child has a habit of nose-picking, DO NOT tell him he is disgusting! Instead, follow the steps you’ll find in the “Nose-Picking” article on this site.

Get Your Doctor’s Advice if a Habit is Persistent
Pediatricians have seen it all. Ask your child’s pediatrician for advice on how to help your child with his nervous habit.

Try to Reduce Stressful Events in Your Child’s Life
This can be a hard one. You might really WANT that divorce, even if it causes your child to become unravelled. However, do what you can to limit the stress your child is exposed to on a daily basis and you’ll find that his nervous habits diminish. Refrain from yelling at anyone or engaging in any kind of conflict. In fact, try to stay in a good mood when your child is around.  Nurture your own mental health by taking good care of yourself. This will help you be happier and calmer and this will only be good for your child. Getting help for yourself or your marriage or even your divorce, can be an important step in calming your household and supporting your child’s mental health.

Stalking

Have you ever been so enamored of a celebrity that you wanted to know what they were doing every single minute of the day? Or did you ever have an ex in your life that you couldn’t let go of, and you hungered to know details of what he or she was doing in life after your relationship ended? Intense curiosity about others is a normal phenomenon experienced by millions of people every day. Usually, people don’t act on their feeling of “wanting to know,” but sometimes they do. When someone closely tracks another person’s activities it is called “stalking.”

Young people are just as capable of stalking as adults. What can you do if you discover that your own child is involved in this activity?

What is Stalking?
Stalking refers to tracking the behaviors of another person in such a way that the person feels harassed and violated.  Stalking, an invasion of another person’s privacy, can take many forms. For instance, stalking behaviors  include spying on someone’s private mail or phone conversations, following a person wherever they go, watching a person’s comings and goings, sending unwanted correspondence or gifts, forcing unwanted relationships, and even threatening and attacking the object of one’s obsession. Very recently a new brand of stalking has surfaced — cyberstalking — which is stalking behavior conducted over the internet.

Stalking is a criminal offense punishable by law.

How Do Kids and Teenagers Engage in Stalking Behavior?
Stalking behaviors can range from mild to severe. In some cases, kids and teens don’t even realize that what they are doing may be considered stalking. In other cases, they may be fully aware that their behavior is unacceptable, harmful,  and even illegal but they continue to do it nonetheless.

Obsessing about and following celebrities is the more common type of stalking behavior among young people. Teens can get so attached to a matinee idol or rock band, for example, that they devise creative means to find out where their favorite stars hang out, and sneak inside the hotel they are staying in or the restaurant where they’re eating. This kind of behavior in young people may or may not be considered a criminal offense; some celebrities do encourage these accidental “spottings” (even announcing it on their microblogging sites!) for the sake of publicity. But in any event, any excessive adoration is unhealthy, and can cause significant problems at home or at school.

But there is also the more serious type of stalking behavior happening among young people today, one that is more malicious and ill-intentioned. With the ease of modern  communication and networking, young people can easily find ways to attack someone that they have issues with, or force embarrassing public confrontations. Pervasive harassment through sms, emails, blogs and social networking sites, for example, are fairly common among young people. Worse, some kids and teens are unaware of how they are actually victimizing other people with their actions. They underestimate the destructive impact of their behavior.

What can Parents Do?
Stalking behavior should be treated as a serious matter. Not only can stalking cause severe problems in relating and working, stalking is a criminal offense that can result in arrest and/or commitment to a juvenile facility. Children and teens must know when to draw a line between acceptable ways of relating and violation of other people’s rights. Remember, even if a fixation or obsession is manageable at the moment, it can easily turn unhealthy.

If you’re a parent whose child engages in stalking behavior, consider the following tips:

Evaluate the Gravity of the Situation
As mentioned, stalking behavior exists in a range; with some behaviors more understandable and acceptable than others. Find out where your child is in the stalking spectrum so that you may know if guidance and education is sufficient, or stronger interventions are necessary (such as assessment and treatment by a mental health professional). Signs of seriousness include the presence of delusions (e.g. the belief that the other person is in love with the stalker), lack of empathy for the other person’s feelings, severe anxiety if stalking behavior is not fulfilled, and intrusions of the obsessions into everyday living causing problems at home and/or school.

Explain to Your Child Why Stalking is Wrong
Perhaps your child is simply unaware that what they are doing is wrong. Educate your child about the impact of stalking behavior on not just the stalker, but also on the target. Psychologists have conceptualized stalking as a form of mental and emotional assault (sometimes even physical), that can be traumatic to its victim. But even if the target of the stalking is unaware that he or she is being followed or watched, common courtesy and ethics demand that stalking be stopped. Moreover, obsessing, even without stalking, is an unhealthy habit for a person and should be replaced with more wholesome activities. If your child seems fixated on someone to the extent that other activities are being neglected, try to arrange a consultation with a mental health professional to help address the problem.

Make Them Aware of the Risks of Stalking
Aside, from getting arrested, stalking can also put a person at risk for various negative consequences. Following celebrities around, for example, can result in being crushed in a throng of people, especially if the celebrity sighting is accompanied by fan hysteria. A person also does not know how a victim of stalking will react to finding out that they are being followed; stalking also puts person at risk for being victims of assault.

Give Them Sensitivity Training on Issues of Privacy and Boundaries
At the end of the day, what you want is to enhance your child’s sensitivity to the basic rights of other people. Take all opportunities to teach your child about the importance of boundaries and private spaces. Differentiate between information that should be kept to one’s self, and information that should be kept in private. Tell your children that in the same way they don’t want to have their secrets broadcast to strangers, they also don’t want to intrude on another person’s private correspondence and activities. Let them also understand the line between being friendly and being creepy. Training in social skills can help eliminate stalking behavior.

Deal with the Feelings Behind the Stalking Behavior
Obsessively following or communicating with another person can be a dysfunctional way of coping with unpleasant emotions. For example, the inability to let go of a lost relationship can cause a person to obsess on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. Boredom over one’s plain and unexciting life can cause teenagers to want to follow celebrities around. If you can teach your child to better manage their negative emotions, you can give them more functional coping strategies than stalking. Again, treatment by a mental health professional can be the most effective way to help your child if he or she is obsessing or stalking. Keep in mind, too, that stalking and obsessing may be symptoms of a mental health disorder. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help.

Takes Siblings Belongings

“Mom! Laurie stole my hairbrush!”

“I did not!”

“You did too! Who else would take it?”

“I just borrowed for a minute. Why are you so selfish?”

When it comes to personal property, boundaries between siblings can be hard to define. After all, in a family there is such a thing as communal property: what is mine is also yours. And sharing is a virtue all parents want to encourage in their children.

But no matter how close siblings are, respect of individuality (and hence, personal property) is important. Children must be allowed to set limitations that they are comfortable with — it’s part of their journey to selfhood.

So how are parents to handle situation of “stealing” between siblings? Consider the following tips:

Explain the Importance of Ownership
Many kids are simply unaware that siblings can feel proprietorial about their personal belonging. For instance, kids might wonder: “What’s the big deal about lending a CD anyway?” It’s important  for parents to explain that an object need not be valuable materially for it to be precious to a person. It may have a sentimental value to its owner, or the owner simply wants their possessions placed exactly where they left it. When kids understand how important property is to people, they can be more respectful of their sibling’s things.

Teach Skills in Being a Good Borrower
If a child really wants something from their sibling, the best thing they can do is ask for it! Teach your child good borrowing skills such as asking permission to borrow in a pleasant way, taking good care of borrowed property, not lending borrowed property without the owner’s permission and returning borrowed property promptly as promised. If a person has proven to be a good borrower, they’re easy to trust. Trustworthy borrowers get to borrow more often.

Clarify That a “No” is a “No.”
It is important for parents teach their children that taking property without permission is called stealing. Parents can convey the following information to their kids: “If you borrow something, and your sibling says “no,” you cannot just go and help yourself to it anyway. Perhaps the object just can’t be lent or given away and in any event, it’s the owner’s right to say no. The borrower simply has to accept the owner’s decision. If this is the case, then find other, more acceptable ways of getting what you want. Perhaps you can save money to buy what you need, or maybe you can borrow it from someone else. You may also just be creative and find ways to make do with what you don’t have. Stealing is a serious offense that violates people’s rights and it is simply not an option.”

Model Respect of Property
If you want to teach your children to respect their sibling’s property, you have to respect their property too. It’s not easy to think of young children as having property (since you bought them everything they have!) but many things are their personal belongings that might have personal value to them. So don’t just take (or worse, throw!) their things without permission, or re-arrange their belongings even if you are in the process of cleaning their rooms. Doing so may convey to kids that private property is not really important. Put questionable items in a pile and ask the kids about them, involving them in the sorting and discarding process.  When kids feel that respect of property is a family value, they are more likely to follow suit.

Use Discipline When Necessary
If a child repeatedly takes things without permission, use your normal process of discipline (i.e. the 2X-Rule, as explained in detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). When you decide to use this rule, you always start with Step One, even though you’ve already told your child many times that he must not take property without permission. Wait until the child takes something one more time and then apply Step One. It might sound like this, “You are not allowed to take someone’s property without their permission because everyone has the right to decide whether or not to share their private belongings. If you don’t have permission, do not touch what doesn’t belong to you.” Wait until a child takes something again, and then apply Step Two. Step Two involves saying the exact same thing you said at step one and adding a warning that future stealing will result in a punishment (name the exact punishment you have in mind, taking care to make it severe enough that it will motivate the child to refrain from stealing in the future). If the child ever steals again, apply the punishment.

Consider a Cry for Attention
Is stealing from siblings a recurring behavior that persists despite your interventions? Then perhaps it’s time to consider a cry for help. Your child can be stealing to get negative attention; he may be feeling insecure and has resorted to misbehaving to get help. Or he may be suffering from a condition called kleptomania – a compulsive desire to steal in order to relieve anxiety. The best help will come from a child psychologist or another mental health professional.

Child Gambles

If you think that gambling is still a “strictly for adults only” enterprise, you are sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, gambling is fast becoming an epidemic among children and adolescents, with kids as young as 9 years old getting hooked. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that around 4% of American children are already addicted to gambling, with an anti-compulsive gambling advocate calling the situation a “hidden epidemic.”

Gambling and Kids
Gambling refers to the betting of money or anything of value on a game with uncertain result. Traditional gambling mediums include card games, casino machines, and betting on the outcome of sporting activities like soccer, boxing or horse racing. Gambling used to be a highly regulated (albeit multi-billion dollar) adult industry. But because of the advent of the internet, the relaxation of some state’s gambling laws to accommodate children, and the proliferation of lotteries and gaming arcades open to the general public, gambling has reached the younger population. Loss of parental control and financial difficulty in the family also add to the phenomenon. The situation is so bad that some kids end up owing bookies hundreds of thousands of dollars long before they even step into high school!

Gambling in itself is not bad; many people enjoy social gambling as a past time, a way to relax and unwind. But children are particularly vulnerable to becoming pathological gamblers – gamblers who are unable to resist the urge to gamble despite the serious consequences of their behavior. This is because young children and teens have yet to develop skills in managing impulses, assessing risks and chances, and appreciating the financial value of money surrendered to gambling hosts. Most of the time, children (like adults with gambling disorders) are stuck in the excitement of risk-taking and the thrill of a winning streak, with no awareness of the long-term negative consequences.

What can Parents Do?
As a parent, it’s important that you are aware of the signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling in children. Remember, in this age of technology, gambling behavior can be easy to hide (there are even betting agencies that collect simply by cellphone texts!). But like any addiction, the more serious it becomes, the more difficult it is to conceal.

What should parents look out for? Be mindful of secretive internet or newspaper browsing; your child may be following the results of an event he has a stake on. Watch out as well for unexplained loss or gain of money and material possessions. Check for sudden or gradual drop in grades, absences in school or loss of interest in tasks and activities that used to interest them before. Monitor their language; see if they are more prone to using gambling terms during conversations. Be aware of the people they interact with everyday — they might already be setting regular appointments with bookies.

If you’ve discovered that your child has a gambling problem, it’s best to confront him or her about it right away. Impulse control disorders rarely go away on their own, as kids have lost the ability to regulate their own behavior. Parental control and intervention is necessary. If the problem is only recent and mild, parents may be able to handle it on their own. However, when gambling is already more entrenched, professional intervention will be necessary. In some cases, parents may directly contact the casinos or the bookies to ensure that a child will not be allowed to gamble anymore. Implements can also be confiscated, such as credit cards, computers and cellphones. A child may also be grounded for awhile, allowing the compulsion to “cool off.” For serious young gamblers, mandatory visits to a mental health professional must be included along with these types of restrictions and guidelines. It is also very helpful for parents to attend twelve-step programs for family members of addicts while the child him or herself, attends similar regular meetings for addicts. Often, family therapy will be a useful adjunct to other interventions. Doing everything possible as soon as possible can help young gamblers heal their compulsion. On the other hand, ignoring the behavior or simply telling a child to “stop it” may lead to a lifetime of debilitating, destructive gambling activities.

Substance Abuse

One of the strongest fears among parents today is that their child will develop an addiction to a drug or illegal substance. This fear is understandable; addiction is a progressive, life-threatening disorder that affects both physical health and mental functioning. All parents want to see their children live the life that they deserve; addiction is a one way path to destruction.

Addiction, also called substance dependency, typically begins with substance use followed by substance abuse.

Substance Use and Intoxication
Substance use is simply choosing to partake of a substance, whether it’s something found in everyday meals (e.g. caffeine, sugar) or something more threatening such as lifestyle drugs (e.g. alcohol, nicotine from cigarettes), regulated medicines (e.g. cough syrup, pain killers, ADHD drugs), or illegal drugs (e.g. cocaine, marijuana in some states, hallucinogens). In the case of non-illegal substances, substance use means eating or drinking within acceptable limits or within the amount prescribed by a medical practitioner. In the case of illegal drugs and some regulated chemicals, substance use refers to the “experimentation stage”, when kids decide to try “just once” a prohibited substance.

Substance use can lead to a condition called intoxication, or the experience of the natural effects of substance use in the body. Alcohol intoxication, for example, results in poor vision, impaired judgment, blurry speech, loss of memory and poor sense of balance. Stronger psychoactive drugs, like hallucinogens, can cause temporary feelings of euphoria and loss of reality. Not all feelings produced by intoxication are pleasant ones. Intoxication can also cause overwhelming anxiety or even psychotic episodes. Intoxication is a usually a temporary state that goes away after the substance is flushed out of the body.

Substance Abuse and Dependency
Substance use has progressed to substance abuse when the dosage of the chemical taken is no longer within reasonable limits (for instance, drinking 5 cups of coffee with every meal every day), or when a person continues to use an illegal substance to get some positive effect, such as a feeling of euphoria or relief. Abuse is the choice to use a substance despite experiencing negative effects of the behavior, such as poor grades, interpersonal problems or loss of money. The key word in this definition of abuse is “choice”; the person is not yet dependent on the substance. Dependency occurs once tolerance sets in (see below), and withdrawal symptoms (see below) result from abstinence from the drug or chemical.

Tolerance and Withdrawal
Tolerance and withdrawal are the two hallmarks of an addiction.

Tolerance refers to the body’s natural adaptation to a drug or substance. When a person becomes tolerant to a drug, a dosage that used to produce a specific effect will fail to deliver the results it used to. For example, if 5 mg of a drug used to be enough to grant a feeling of high, now a higher dosage is required to achieve the same effect.  Similarly, if one pain reliever used to work sufficiently well to relieve a headache, tolerance can result in needing double or triple the dose to get the same amount of relief.

Withdrawal symptoms are the negative effects of not using a substance that one is already dependent on. Many people have experienced minor withdrawal effects from going off of coffee or sugar. When dependent on alcohol and drugs, however, withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe. They may include physical effects (headaches, insomnia, shaking, increased heart rate, vomiting, sweating), emotional (depression, irritability, panic, hallucinations) or mental (obsession, difficulty in concentrating). The un-ease that comes during withdrawal is what promotes the addiction; the user now feels compelled to take a drug or substance, not for its positive effect, but because he or she can’t live without it.

What can Parents Do?
Bring home drug-education books from your local children’s library. Books for children use lots of pictures and simple explanations about the effects of alcohol and drugs on the body and mind as well as the effects on a young person’s life. Such materials are designed to “speak” to kids in a way that they can really understand and relate to and they are often far superior to any “lecture” or education delivered by parents. Leaving these kinds of materials in the bathroom and around the house without comment is probably the best approach. Alternatively, read them to children (ages 9 – 12) along with other bedtime material. For teens, just leave the books out and perhaps discuss the material with them at the dinner table. Open communication helps. Also, maintaining a positive, healthy relationship with teens is protective to a certain extent.

If parents want to protect their children from substance abuse disorders, it’s important that they are present and alert as early as the “use” stage. Regulated drugs like pain killers must be carefully watched and monitored, so that they will not get abused. More importantly, children should be made aware than in case of many illegal drugs, there is no such thing as “just experimenting.” Because illegal drugs are addictive by nature, just one try may be enough to get a person hooked. This is especially true for children and teenagers who have a family history of substance dependency.

Once substance use has already progressed to substance dependency, a purely psychological intervention may not be enough to get a user to stop. Because the body’s chemistry is already altered by repeated abuse of medication, detoxification at a rehabilitation facility may be needed before any psychological intervention can be carried out.  If this is the case, it’s best to consult a physician and/or a mental health practitioner specializing in substance abuse disorders.

Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol at some point in their lives. When limited to “soft” substances and short-term experimentation, the experience can be considered “normal” within the North American teen culture. However, drugs and alcohol become serious issues for teens when they find that they cannot control their cravings. Once it has reached this point their behavior falls under the category of drug or substance abuse.

Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Parents should become concerned if they notice the following symptoms in their youngster:

  • Frequent red eyes
  • Frequently using eye drops
  • Frequently feeling unwell
  • Drop in academic performance
  • Unusual behaviors
  • Increase in irritability or irrationality
  • Having new friends who have little to do with the child’s normal social activities
  • Finding rags or papers soaked with chemicals
  • Finding paint or other stains on clothing, hands, or face (which may mean your teen is inhaling vapors)

Types of Substances Most Commonly Abused

Illicit drugs:

  • Marijuana- most common
  • Crystal meth
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine

Prescription drugs:

  • Painkillers such as Codeine, Oxycontin, and Demerol- most common amongst younger teens
  • Stimulants such as Ritalin or Dexedrine- most common amongst older teens and college students
  • Depressants such a Nembutal, Valium and Xanax
  • Cough suppressants such as Nyquil

Household products (effects of which are accessed through inhaling – “huffing”):

  • Paint thinner
  • Gasoline
  • Nail polish remover
  • Deodorizers
  • Glues
  • Spray paint
  • Cleaning fluids

Alcohol and tobacco are also very commonly abused drugs.

Consequences of Substance Abuse
The effects of substance abuse can be severe. Both direct and indirect consequences are possible. For instance, intoxication can lead indirectly to death through motor vehicle accidents that occur while under the influence and intoxication can lead directly to death by causing cardiac arrest. Here is a list of some of the frequent consequences of substance abuse:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse is a main cause of teen death or serious injury associated to car accidents
  • Violent behavior
  • Brain damage
  • Unplanned pregnancy and STD’s including HIV’s because of unprotected sex
  • Suicide
  • Becoming outcast from family, friends and society
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Financial and relationship issues

Assessment and Treatment Options
Once you suspect that your teen may be abusing substances, you should have him or her professionally assessed. Most localities have a substance abuse hotline that can help you find a substance abuse treatment center and other facilities and resources that can help you. You can also ask your doctor for such a referral. Try to find a professional and/or a facility that specializes in abuse in order to obtain the most accurate assessment and treatment plan. If your teen is found to have a substance abuse disorder, you will probably want to arrange for individual psychological counseling as well as a specific substance abuse treatment plan. Psychological counseling can help your youngster uncover specific stresses that have lead to addiction and can also help him or her learn to manage such stresses in a more healthy way in the future. The substance abuse treatment plan will help him or her to become free of the addiction and maintain sobriety. Here are some common types of substance abuse interventions:

  • Outpatient Treatment – There are several different treatments that fall under this category. Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatments are treatment programs that are usually two to four hours every evening for four or five days a week. Another is partial hospitalization and day treatment which involves the addict going to a treatment facility during the day and be a part of the rules of the treatment and then go home at night.
  • 12-step programs-  Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are popular self help programs which involve 12 steps to overcoming addictions
  • Non 12-step programs– There are other self help programs that do not involve 12 steps such as Rational Recovery  or S.M.A.R.T
  • Residential treatment– Residential treatment centers are therapeutic and structured environments that first starts with withdrawal and helps the patient deal with the withdrawal symptoms. This approach usually has both individual and group counseling. It also consists of exercise and other activities that reduce stress such as yoga, and acupuncture

Helping Your Teen
Parents may think that their kids will get the best anti-drug education from programs and school. However, this is not true and recent studies have shown that the most effective type of drug education comes from parents who talk to their kids openly about this issue. The biggest favor a parent can do for their teen is be a good role model.

Other Tips and Important Information for Parents

  • Although there is a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and drug abuse, environmental factors (stresses) are what initially trigger these issues.
  • Kids who are supervised more often are less likely to do drugs.
  • Since teens who feel like they don’t fit in “with the crowd” are more at risk, parents can try to help their isolated teen join structured productive activities to reduce isolation (such as sports, drama clubs, speaking clubs, part-time jobs, creative activities and so on).
  • Kids who grow up around heavy drinkers are at risk.
  • Family activities can also be preventative (i.e family trips, projects, visiting relatives, home-based activities and so on).
  • The public library often contains many colorful, teen-friendly books on every aspect of alcohol and drug abuse – bring such books home sporadically throughout the teen years (just leave them lying around) in order to provide information and to remind your kids of the dangers in substance abuse (without you personally having to lecture them).

Education, a healthy model and effective stress management skills can go a long way toward preventing teen substance abuse. However, parents are not the only factor in this syndrome. Even the best parents cannot necessarily prevent their kids from falling into substance abuse patterns. However, being informed and open-eyed can allow parents to take EARLY steps to help their addicted child. Early intervention will often be faster and more successful than treatment that occurs when addiction is well entrenched. However, even when the child has a more severe case of substance abuse, parents should not despair. Being supportive and part of the recovery process is one way that they can really help set their teen on a healthier, substance-free road for life. Parents whose children are involved in 12 step programs can be supportive by joining the 12 step programs that are specifically designed for family members. Parents whose kids are in therapy can also access therapy for themselves to help reduce any potentially harmful familb-based stress patterns. In other words, the more involvement in the recovery process, the better. Teens can recover from severe substance abuse disorders and go on to live successful, addiction-free lives.

Helping Teens Who Hurt Themselves

Self-injurious behavior is any action that is intended hurt one’s own body. Teens engage in all sorts of self-injurious behavior, vialis 40mg including cutting their body, vcialis 40mg hitting themselves, dosage burning themselves, pulling out their hair, picking at their skin, poking at themselves and so on.

Why Do Kids Do It?
A teenager may use self-injury after a devastating or stressful event. The young person doesn’t always know how to deal with deeply troubling feelings in a healthy way.  Physical injury acts as a visible representation of emotional (internal and invisible) pain. It can also show others, without the use of words, that nurturing and solace is needed. Unfortunately, the act of self injuring only provides temporary relief, and once the physical wound heals the emotional pain returns full force.

More Reasons for Self Injury
Self-injury is often used to end the painful sensation of emotional apathy or numbness. It “wakes” a person up and allows some sort of feelings to flow again. Emotional numbing is an automatic defense process that occurs to people who have been badly emotionally wounded. For instance, many victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse experience periods of numbing (sometimes alternating with periods of emotional flooding).

Moreover, the guilt and confusion that can occur from childhood abuse is often overwhelming. Sometimes adolescents “punish” themselves for being “bad” assuming that they must have deserved the abusive treatment they received. Self injury is then a form of self-abuse that is consistent with the youngster’s self-concept.

In addition, causing oneself pain can be a way of “taking control” of one’s situation. Sometimes a teenager feels very out of control, either due to abuse or due to other stresses. By initiating a physical injury, he or she has stopped being a helpless victim of circumstances. Instead of waiting for lightning to strike and burn them, these children strike the match themselves. In a superstitious sort of way, they might also think that the injury can prevent something worse from happening in their lives.

Teens also quickly discover that their behavior can control those around them. People react. Parents may stand up and take notice, seek therapy, feel guily. Friends may give extra attention or they may back off. The teen creates a tumult. It is a minor victory over helplessness.

Who Hurts Themselves?
Today, many kids hurt themselves. It is a social phenomenon. Once a teenager discovers a friend who engages in self-injury, she is more likely to try this form of communication herself. The most likely candidates for self injury include those whose expression of emotion (particularly anger) was discouraged during childhood, those who have a limited social support system, and those who have other mental health diagnoses such as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), eating disorders, substance abuse and depression.

What are the Most Common Ways that Teens Hurt Themselves?

  • Cutting – When one makes cuts or scratches on their body with sharp objects such as knives, needles, razor blades or fingernails. The most frequent parts of the body that are harmed are the arms, legs, and the front of the torso because they are easy to reach and can be concealed under clothing.
  • Branding – When one burns themselves with a hot object or, Friction burn which is rubbing a pencil eraser on one’s skin.
  • Picking at skin or reopening wounds (Dermatillomania) – This is an impulse control disorder which is recognized by the constant impulse for one to pick at their own skin. It is usually done to the point that injury is caused which acts as a source of gratification or stress reliever.
  • Hair Pulling (trichotillomania) – An impulsive control disorder which appears to be a habit, addiction, or an obsessive compulsive disorder. It involves pulling hair out from any part of the body. When hair is pulled from the scalp the results are patchy bald spots on their head. Usually they wear hats or scarves to cover up their baldness. Irregular levels of serotonin or dopamine play a possible role in hair pulling.
  • Bone breaking, punching, or head banging – Usually seen with autism or severe mental retardation.
  • Numerous piercings or tattoos – Can be a self injurious activity if it involves pain and/or stress relief.

Is Self-Injury a Suicide Attempt?
When a person causes injury upon themselves it is usually done without suicidal intentions, yet there have been cases where accidental deaths have happened. When a person self injures they do it as a means to reduce stress. People who self injure themselves usually possess a faulty sense of self value and these harsh feelings can whirlwind into a suicidal attempt. Often the intentions of self harm can go too far and it is at that point where professional intervention is necessary.

How to Help a Self Injurer:

  • Understand that self injurious behavior is a need to have control over oneself and it is a self comforting act
  • Show the person that you care about them and that you want to listen to them
  • Encourage them to express their emotions, especially anger
  • Spend quality time doing activities that are pleasurable
  • Help them seek out a therapist or support group
  • Avoid judgmental remarks

How Can Teens Help Themselves?

  • Realize that it is a problem and that there are probably issues that are hurting on the inside that need professional guidance
  • Realize that self harm is not about being a bad person, rather understanding that this behavior which is seemingly helping is becoming a significant issue
  • Seek out a mentor that can help. This could be a friend, Rabbi, minister, counselor, or relative or any other person you feel comfortable talking to about this issue
  • Seek help to understand what triggers these behaviors
  • Understand that self inuring behaviors are a way to self calm and learn better ways to calm yourself

Treatments for Self Injury
Psychotherapy is recommended for kids who hurt themselves. Sometimes medication will also be helpful. A psychological assessment by a qualified mental health practitioner can determine the most appropriate course of action in each case. Here are some of the common treatments for teens who self injure:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This helps a person understand why they hurt themselves in healthier ways.
  • Therapies that deal with post traumatic stress disorder such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
  • Hypnosis or self-relaxation
  • Group therapy which helps minimize shame, and helps express emotion in a healthy way
  • Family therapy which can trace back to history of family stress and helps families deal with their family member who self injures in a non judgmental way. It also teaches them how to communicate more effectively with each other and reduces parent-child conflicts and relationship difficulties.
  • Antidepressants or anti anxiety medications to reduce the impulsivity of the of the action while the self injurer is going for therapy
  • In critical situations, a self injurer needs to be hospitalized with various approaches along with a team of professionals

Do Teens Recover From Self-Injury?
Yes! With proper treatment, the prognosis is excellent. Self-injury can be the crisis that brings a family to therapy. This is often a turning point in the family’s life, helping not only the self-injuring teen, but also other members of the family to reach higher levels of emotional well-being than ever before.

When Your Child Steals

Although parents are horrified to find that their teen has stolen, they should understand that this behavior does not always mark the beginning of a lifelong career in thievery. Rather, teen “thieves” are very often youngsters who are and will be very normal and responsible grown-up citizens.

Some teens steal from stores. “Shoplifting” is sometimes done on a dare. Immaturity and social pressure can result in this sort of stealing. Usually being caught puts a quick end to the short career of this kind of thief.

Shoplifting can also be committed by youths who are acting out stress or emotional problems. These kids subconsciously want to be caught in order to be able to bring their pain to the surface where it can be helped at last. Psychotherapy for shoplifting will often reveal a myriad of teen problems and angst. When all is addressed, the stealing stops.

Some kids steal from their parents. They help themselves to cash or cards, taken on the sly without permission. They spend it, naively hoping not to be discovered. This kind of thief is often a child who wants more than her parents are giving. Peer pressure, feelings of insecurity and deprivation may motivate this kind of stealing. Kids often don’t know how bank statements work and don’t realize that they will be discovered in short order. They may deny their role in unexplained purchases, thinking that their parents can be fooled. They may blame cash theft on household help. They may explain their new possessions as “gifts” from friends or prizes won. Sometimes family counseling can help such “thieves.” Sometimes parents really are too withholding, failing to understand the needs of their youngsters. Sometimes kids just need to get a job and more financial freedom coupled with less parental control. Family counseling can often straighten out what is crooked in such stealing.

Healing Teenage Theft
Counseling is always helpful in the case of youthful stealing. Compassionate parents who truly want to understand are the most help. They can help get to the underlying issues and address them. Stealing is, for most teenagers, a symptom of some other issue that needs attention. For instance, some kids who are going through family divorce become temporary thieves. They really need a chance to do therapy and work out their pain. Sometimes, kids with academic problems get involved with the wrong crowd and end up engaging in bad behavior of all kinds, including stealing. Sometimes troubled kids steal in order to pay for drugs they are using to numb their psychic pain.

However, whether the cause is social, interpersonal, intrapersonal, trauma or stress, the thief always needs help and healing. Harsh treatment tends to make the problem worse, as does drama and scare tactics. Yelling at a teenage thief does nothing positive towards the problem and may even worsen it.

Nonetheless, all stealing must also be met with negative consequences of some kind, whether that involves paying back the loss, community work, some sort of loss of privileges or whatever. The negative consequence teaches the youngster that there is a cost for anti-social behavior. The cost can be jail, of course, if the youngster has stolen outside of his home. However, there needs to be “introductory” consequences on the homefront, even if parents understand their troubled child and engage in family counseling or other healing strategies.

When teens see that their families really love them and want to help, they have the best chance of recovering from their stealing behaviors. If your teen is stealing, seek professional guidance in order to develop a plan of real healing and recovery.

Internet Porn

Teens are a curious bunch. They want to learn about everything – particularly everything sexual. In today’s world, information about sexuality is available everywhere. And nowhere is it more available than on the Internet.

Kids spend a lot of time on the internet – often in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Even if they are innocently doing their homework on the computer, ads will pop up, inviting them to explore intriguing sites. At some point, even though their parents may have cautioned them, they are likely to follow the ads into the dark world of pornography.

Distorted Sex Education
Sex is a powerful biological drive. When kids start to experience sexual pleasure from the visual stimulation on the internet, they can become quickly addicted to it. Even if they feel guilty or even if they feel disgusted by what they are seeing, they can be overpowered by the chemicals releasing into their bloodstream as they form an association between physical pleasure and the images they are viewing.

Of course, the first images a teen may watch may be comparatively mild. Perhaps younger teenage boys will start by wanting to see pretty girls in scanty outfits. This may lead to sites of girls and boys being together in various ways. Eventually, more detail will be wanted, more variety and eventually more perversity. Visual sex is not like actual love-making between caring adults. It affects the brain differently. More like a cocaine habit than a human relationship, visual sex needs more and more to give the same amount of pleasure: escalating images are required to maintain the sense of pleasure. It is no longer sufficient to see a pretty girl; in the end, gross and de-humanizing sexual images will be required to satisfy the viewer.

Future Problems
A young person who gets into the habit of seeking sexual satisfaction on-line can form a chemical addiction to the activity. Hooked in the developmental years, the person will find it extremely difficult to stop later on. When there are the inevitable marriage problems in adulthood, he will turn to his self-soothing computer habit. When money is tight, the in-laws are coming, the children are overwhelming – the computer can offer escape and stress relief.

Spouses do not always support the computer habit. In fact, many marriages fail because of a partner’s “love” of the computer. Computer sex can destroy real intimacy and real relationships.

Guiding and Protecting Teen
Yes it’s a jungle out there, but it needn’t be in your home. Parents can still create the kind of home environment they want – it is still their home. Frank discussions with teens about computer porn and its enduring consequences can help teens take responsibility for their own health and happiness. Parents can share their thoughts, their values and their wishes for their youngsters. By opening discussion they can show that sexuality is a family value, not a perverse activity. They can show that they are committed to those values by letting the kids know that they will create “clean computers” – by putting porn-proofing filtering programs on the computers in the home. The kids need to know that the parents have a log of every site they’ve visited. Parents need to be parents still, supervising, caring for and guiding their kids right into their late teens. Having computers in the common living spaces such as living rooms and kitchens is also a protective measure that parents may be able to take.

Parents need to show leadership in this vital area of a child’s well-being. Although the kids can still do what they want to at their friends’ homes and elsewhere, the parents are sending a clear message that can have a powerful effect. Moreover, by keeping a clean environment at home, parents are helping to break the addiction cycle if only by slowing down access to the computer “drug.” Ultimately, teens will grow up and decide for themselves how to use their free time, but till they leave home, parents must do their best to expose them to the values that promote long term health and happiness.