What Can Eighth Grade Teach Parents?

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As a parent, what do you see when watching Eighth Grade?

As a parent, watching *that scene* in the movie 8th Grade (Spoiler Alert, for those who haven’t seen it, and want to), it’s terrifying to think that your child might find themselves in the same situation. For those who haven’t seen it, the scene I am referring to, shows 13-year-old Kayla being escorted home by an older teenage boy, who she just met earlier in the evening. He pulls the car over, proceeds to invite her into an uncomfortable game of Truth or Dare, and then shamelessly tries to pressure her into removing her shirt. Thankfully, for everyone participating and watching, Kayla denies his advances; but she is left feeling guilty, devalued, and embarrassed.

What makes this scene so shocking for parents?

The reason this moment is so frightening for parents, is two-fold. First of all, you would never want your child to find themselves in this situation as the female or the male participant. While the term “peer pressure” is a little cliche, it can play a harsh role in the life of a young teenager, especially if they aren’t able to trust their gut. In order to lessen the likelihood of a situation like the one described, teaching your child to be vigilant and outspoken about their discomfort is important.

The second unsettling piece of this scene, is the notion that your child might not tell you if they were assaulted, or someone attempted to assault them. Kayla comes home from her evening, and she is clearly distraught, but never tells her dad what happened to her. A bit of distance is fairly common between teens and parents, but having open communication is important, especially if a serious situation like sexual coercion occurs. Remind your children that they can speak freely with you.

How do you teach your child to push back against peer pressure?

There is a big difference between a situation that makes you feel a sense of thrill and one that makes you feel a sense of unease. It is that moment, when we realize the transition between excitement and fear, that is most important to recognize. Most teenagers allow peer pressure to get them much further into a situation before pulling the plug, ignoring their own instincts, just to keep from looking uncool. Kayla may have begun to feel a nagging sense of discomfort and low-level of fear as soon as the car started pulling over, but she was never able to vocalize this.

I realize the movie was mostly trying to tell the story from the perspective of a lost and awkward-feeling young woman. Because of this, there was no exposure to the forethought of her father. He clearly cared about her and was there giving her positive reinforcements throughout the film (as most parents do). What is lacking here is clear directives. Tell your child exactly what to do if they find themselves in over their heads --e.g., take a deep breath, say "no", and text or call immediately. To teach your child to trust their instincts, you must give them the resources to make in-the-moment decisions.

As far as keeping your child from being the pressurer, talk to your children at every opportunity about real life situations. Talk to them about boundaries, accepting ‘no’ and use examples that they can relate to. If you are comfortable with it, share about some of your own experiences (in an age-appropriate way) with friends and old romances.

Beyond sexual coercion, what else is scary about this, as a parent?

As mentioned earlier, feelings of guilt around rejecting someone can be very overwhelming and confusing.

“Why wasn’t I able to live up to this person’s expectations? After all, they were charming and attractive, not to mention they were doing something nice for me. Will they hate me, and possibly tell other people about what happened?”

Thoughts of self-harm and worthlessness can surface. In a worst case scenario, rumors in a school can circulate and be crippling for a young teenager, especially if an assault did occur.

A parent with whom they can trust can be invaluable in these situations. Sexual assault can occur at any age, so even if it feels too soon, talking about sexuality and consent openly, and with specificity, will encourage your child to approach you if they find themselves dealing with a situation like Kayla’s.

To schedule an appointment with Rebecca Neufeld, LMFT-Associate contact rebecca@thepracticeatx.com or 512-900-1590.

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Arrested Development: When Adult Children Depend on Their Parents

Gratisography/CC0

Gratisography/CC0

Differentiation is the process of becoming different.

In psychology, differentiation refers to the process of becoming different than our parents and independent of our family of origin (so far as independence is dictated in each specific culture). This process takes place from birth to young adulthood—often hitting some rocky moments in adolescence.

We’ve all seen or experienced a young girl wanting to do everything her mother does until that same young teenager suddenly decide she hates everything mom likes, only to have that young adult settle in with a distinct identity, one that is allowed to both identity and disagree with mom, unlike the earlier phases which could only do one or the other. This emotional differentiation allows us to become our own people—separate from our parents.

But emotional differentiation isn’t the only thing we need to be happy, healthy adults.

We must also grapple with the increasing freedom and responsibility that come with growing up. It means that, yes, while getting to drive your own car is an exhilarating milestone, so too is the less-enjoyable milestone of paying for your own car insurance. Parents and society alike generally participate in the differentiation process by balancing increasing privileges with increasing obligation and accountability as children grow up.

When this process occurs, the adult child becomes independent from his parents. He or she “launches” and becomes a responsible contributor to society, solving problems on their own, and often forming their own family units.

What happens when adult children don't differentiate?

When this process doesn't occur as it should, adult children depend on their parents physically, financially, or even emotionally. This dependence can take many forms. At times adult children may still live with their parents and be unable to hold down steady employment. They may live by themselves and rely on parents to pay their bills or arrange their affairs (such as doctor’s appointments, etc.).

When adult children become emotionally enmeshed, an adult child may be financially independent but continue to be overly dependent on the intervention or control of a parental figure. Think of a father’s demand that a son behave a certain way or lose his place in the family business, or a mother that demands through guilt trips to be the center of her adult child’s young family.

It's hard to know exactly why children struggle to differentiate, because each story is unique. But it's likely that one of two dynamics is at play:

(1) there is an emotional need in the parent that inadvertently drives them to keep their child dependent; or

(2) there is a disability, illness, or behavioral problem that prevents the child from scaling the normal ladder of titrating freedom and responsibility, leaving parents to perpetually care for them well into adulthood.

When parents have an emotional need for enmeshment, we often see a parent that “needs to be needed” and afraid or ill equipped to face what will be destroyed or left should the adult child stop needing them.

For some parents, they are afraid to be alone; for others, they have developed such a strong identity of being a caregiver, teacher, and manager for their children they have long forgotten how to be anyone else. Therefore, when their adult children no longer need their care or guidance, they feel lost and empty. In extreme cases, a parent may have a disturbing need for power and control that would be lost if their children were independent of them, or a parent may suffer from a mental health issue that demands a constant need for extreme closeness or involvement with their adult children.

What about illness or trauma?

When a child experiences an illness, disability, or behavioral problem that necessitates care, the easiest example would be a mentally or physically disabled child who cannot physically care for themselves. This places the parent in the eternal caregiver role. This is neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. In some cases, these adult children will always need care, and as long as the parent is maintaining their own life and health there is nothing inherently unhealthy about their child’s continued dependence.

Even in the case of a disability, a parent may depend more than they need to. Such is the case I encountered once of a mother who was still caring for her daughter who was on the spectrum. The daughter was relatively high functioning but still at the age of 26 lived at home, did not work, and accompanied her mother everywhere. It seemed to me that she believed her child to be less capable of independent life (or at least some aspects of it) than she truly was.

Finally, when behavioral health challenges stunt a child’s normal ascent into responsible adulthood, the entire family (but especially the parents) can become trapped in a vicious cycle. This cycle is one in which their fear of the now-adult child’s inability to act responsibly prompts them to take care of all of the adult child’s responsibilities for them. This, unfortunately, has the effect of preventing the adult child from the normal balance of freedom and accountability that actually teaches the responsibility he or she lacks. Simply put, we learn to pay our car payment when our car gets repossessed; we learn that bills are serious when our lights are turned off; and we learn to stop being an asshole when we discover that no one wants to be around an asshole. 

So what do I do?

If you are a parent struggling with allowing your children to become independent, the best thing you can do is seek out quality counseling for yourself. Identifying what may be driving your participation in the arrested adolescence of your adult child is the first step to ending the cycle—and truly helping your child. If your child suffers from addiction there are a multitude of programs, many of them free, that can help you establish healthy boundaries and learn tools to help your adult child become independent.

Resources for families:

·      Free documentary on how families deal with addiction.

·      Support groups for families dealing with addiction via Families Anonymous.

·      Confidential individual and family counseling.

This article was written as a guest post by KC Davis, LPC-Intern. Contact KC at 972-900-9001.

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5 Tips to Parent Well Through a Divorce.

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Life of Pix/CC0

Going through a divorce can be emotionally, physically, and financially exhausting.  You and your ex may have decided to go separate ways, but you're still partners in raising your children.

Some parents worry a lot about their children through the divorce process.  Other’s think that their children are too young to be impacted.  The bottom line: most children go through a grief and adjustment period for about a year following their parents’ divorce.  Of course, how they manage and how they cope has a lot to do with how their parents handle the process.  Here are some ways to think it through:

1. There are no winners and losers in divorce.

Children still have the same parents after a divorce.  While their story of a single household is changing, the story of their childhood is still unfolding.  And divorce or not, the story has many more chapters that have yet to be told.  Rest assured, the possibilities are endless.

2. Your children can have great relationships with both of you.

Just because you and your ex are going your separate ways, your children can still enjoy time with both of you.  Asking or wanting your children to deny their parent is like asking them to deny half of who they are.  When you support your children’s relationship with their other parent, you are in truth accepting your children unconditionally.

3. Avoid venting to your children about their other parent.

Ok, so there may be times when you don’t agree with your ex—after all there are reasons you two chose to divorce. It can be tempting to vent to your children about their other parent.  In the short term, it may feel like a good emotional release and a way to create a bond of loyalty with your children.  However, in the long run, it will hurt them and could ultimately undermine your relationship with them. If you need to talk, do it.  Talk to friends, adult family, a therapist.  Just make sure your children are out of earshot.

In fact, it's even good practice to avoid asking your kids about what goes on at your ex's home. Sometimes, we think good parenting means knowing everything that happens, but the collateral consequences can be that your kids feel stuck in the middle.

4. Be careful not to rely on your kids for emotional support though divorce.

It’s okay to be vulnerable, but be careful about relying on your children to address it and disclosing too much to them.  Your children need to be children.  Putting them in a position to be an emotional caretaker is a huge burden on them, forces them to choose sides and think in adult terms.  Let your children be children.  Don’t take them off that merry go round too early. We all only have one childhood.  

5. Be kind to yourself.

Parenting is not about perfection.  As parents’ part of our job is to model self-acceptance for our kids.   Having a bad day?  Worrying? Just plain old tired?  It is a gift to let your children know that you are human too.  We all have good days and bad days.  You too make mistakes and can acknowledge them.

Children whose parents stay in a bad relationship suffer.  Not only are they more likely to have mental health concerns, but they are less likely to have healthy relationships.  Your child’s life is not defined by your divorce, unless you say it is. 

Your divorce can be a turning point for your children, your ex, and you.  Try not to get caught up with the label, focus more on how you move forward.  At the end of the day, all our children want the same things: to know they are loved and that their parents will be there for them. 

It’s also pretty great when they can see their parents move through tough times, recover, and write their next chapter.

To schedule an appointment with Robyn Strelitz, LMFT, call 512-434-0868.

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