Insider’s Guide: Creating and Maintaining Boundaries

The small college I graduated from had a working farm in a beautiful valley with a river flowing through the middle. Students worked on the farm 15-20 hours per week planting corn, fixing tractors, and cleaning out the pig stalls. Our farm had a herd of cows that loved to poop, eat grass, drink from the streams and get into trouble. The college hired a farm manager who decided our primary focus should be keeping the cows out of trouble by fixing existing fences and building new ones with high-tensile wire (electric fencing) with solar chargers.

After months of slow progress, the cows were fenced-in and safe from their naughty excursions. But they continued trying to bust out of the new fancy fences so the farm manager said out next job was to create a ‘salad bar’ in each pasture. We removed massive thistles, dug up weeds, and filled in mysterious holes. We planted clover, fescues and other plants cows love. After a full season of work, the cows no longer tried to bust out.

They had a) strong fences and b) healthy pasture. The perfect combination of keeping cattle happy and in a good spot.

Image result for cows

Humans can be like those cows, especially young humans (teens and young adults). If we don’t build boundaries around them, they wonder-off into the world. We don’t want the boundaries too tight or they suffocate and don’t learn how to handle freedom. If the boundaries are inconsistent and full of gaps, they don’t have structure to lean on when the world gets hostile. Boundaries, like fences, require maintenance. Talking about your limits and the consequences if they are unmet is maintenance. Telling your son or daughter you are appreciative they came home by curphew last night is maintenance. Keep the fence maintained and it will be easier than looking for cows at 2:00am (I’ve done that before).

It’s also important to create that healthy pasture for kids. Create positive experiences at home, provide healthy food and love and attention. Give opportunities for engagement, ownership and rebounding from screw-ups. This is the healthy pasture for kids. Pastures also need maintenance. Checking in with kids and revisiting what you are providing as a homebase is essential. What sort of place is your home? Safe and welcoming or something to be avoided? Talk this out, don’t make assumptions.

Healthy fencing plus healthy pasture equals healthy cows. A simple experience I had which holds true today for families I work with.

 

Rewards, Consequences, Punishment…What’s the Best Way to Parent Teens and College Kids?

A simpler what to think of this post is “How to Change Behavior.” That’s really the primary function of a reward or consequence.

There are more books on how to change kids’ behavior than just about any other topic. Ironically (or sadly), they all say the same thing. Punishment does not work; rewards work consequences for choices work. How can this be? Let’s kick the tires on the history and research behind this. If you hate history and research, jump ahead a few pages to the ‘how-to’ portion.

Context: Let’s Look Back First

For thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, children were assets in an agrarian system (most humans up to that point farmed). We had lots and lots of kids since a) children were relatively cheap labor, b) most died during childbirth or as children and c) adult children became financial support systems for parents – the more children parents had, the more financial support and broader financial base.

In 1916, Congress passed the the first federal child labor law. However, pressure from big companies forced the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the law two years later. Following the Great Depression adults had become so desperate for jobs that they would work for the same wage as children.

In 1938, President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited most forms of child labor (but excluded agricultural work). This was the beginning of our modern view of children needing protection, love and nurturing. A pendulum was set in motion.

In 1946, another revolution took place. Dr. Benjamin Spock published his first book titled Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care (also titled The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care). Though a medical doctor by education and training, Dr. Spock’s books put children at the center of parenting rather than the adults. He encouraged responding to and engaging with babies and children rather than ignoring which was the advice up to then. The pendulum’s momentum builds.

Finally, we add in money and work. In the early 80’s, adults were working more, making more money and, as a result, needing to leave their children at home (the so-called ‘latch-key’ kids). Children would get dropped off from the bus and walk into an empty home. Cartoons and snacks were gorged upon till mom and dad came home. Guilt stricken parents with extra cash (…or more accurately extra room on their new credit cards) went and bought Ataris, Nintendos and the new wave of electronics and toys for kids. We were now descending into entitlement. About this time, school districts were changing punishment in schools (no more spankings).

How can old-school grandma and grandpa who raised 15 kids have been so wrong? All the kids turned out great, right? Well, let’s break this down a bit. First of all, it was a different time. No devices, internet and certainly little to no advertising directed towards children. All marketing was targeting stay at home mothers.

I also want to point out that most of these old school versions of parenting created some pretty nasty problems which is why the fastest growing demographics for substance abuse treatment are the Baby Boomers and the elderly. Old school punishment, drinking habits, and expectations led to a generation that was not well-equipped to handle stressors.

Now for the Goods

Here are the best ways to change behavior and encourage healthy choices. I’ve taught these, studied these and continue to stand by these effective strategies:

Commit to the Path

  1. Drawn into accidentally energizing and rewarding negativity leads to a battle – Be intentional about being positive
  2. Intentionally energize and nurture success
  3. Provide a true and deep consequence when a rule is broken – something that is proportional to the infraction
  4. Reward for what you want to see.
  5. Ignore behaviors you want see less of.

Establish Expectations and Boundaries

  1. Detailed rules/expectations and no grey area – kids are MASTER negotiators and litigators
  2. Chores and Expectations – daily schedule or list
  3. Bonus behaviors – Things you wish to increase
  4. Menu of privileges – Can include anything beyond basic needs
  5. Extend Structure – At school, friends house, soccer practice, etc.

Consequences

  1. Relentless pursuit of positives: Biased towards seeing your kid’s great choices.
  2. Strictness and Clarity: Be like a videogame – if a rule is broken, a consequence is administered no matter how you are feeling.
  3. No Leaking: Accidentally rewarding behavior with negative energy but they contribute to your kid behaving badly.
  4. Finite: Consequences do not expand and are tied to a specific behavior/event.

Rewards

  1. Catch them doing things right: When I run parent groups I ask parents to list the amount of things they caught their kids doing wrong in the last month. Easy list to make. Then I ask them to list three things they caught them doing right. Much harder. We are programmed to find faults in this attempt to modify kids behaviors towards compliance – making bad choices is the loud, obvious indication they are out of line. We we fail to see are the million little choices they make each day which are well-thought out and positive. Focus on those. Highlight those. “Hey Julian, I noticed you put the dishes away without anyone asking you to do it. Great job.” …And then move on. No need to get mushy and turn it into an Oprah interview about thoughts and feelings.
  2. Types of rewards: Your eye contact and facial expression are huge rewards for younger kids. Rather than giving kids an iPhone or XBox, I encourage parents to give time on each device or toy as a reward. Have you ever kept the car you rented at the airport? No, you paid them to borrow it for a specific amount of time and then returned it. There are few instances where I encourage parents to buy something to give to their kids as a reward. Time, praise, and access to cool things is often way better for everyone.
  3. Negotiating: If you find yourself constantly reminder, encouraging, begging, etc. for you kids to do A so they get access to B, you are violating your own rules. You are now negotiating.
  4. List of Rewards: In 2007, one parent I was working with could not understand why their teenage son was not motivated by the reward of time on their Blackberry (same year iPhone introduced). If they are not doing chores, getting good grades or engaging in the behavior you want to see, your rewards may be incongruent with their desires. Ask them to tell you what they’re into. Maybe its an allowance, money for iTunes or they want to borrow the car.

And Lastly…Own Your Home

This is a hard one for parents (… and most kids) but until responsibility for the mortgage, bills and everything that makes a home function is shared among all family members – parents rule. There is no such thing as the ‘kid’s’ room. Everything, every room, every toy, every piece of clothing is the parents’. Great parents allow their kids to use those things. Remember…privilges are not rights and kids get to own their choices, not their TV.

Good Luck.

5 Stupid Things My Teen is Doing

For this installment of Stupid Things, we start off nice and easy and then drop down into some weird crap. Kids are bored. I get it. We clearly need more devices since the iPhone 6 Plus, iPad, Mac, XBox, Playstation and all the other tech stuff just isn’t stimulating enough. We humbly present to you more stupid things teens are doing…

images (2)1. GoPro
GoPro is a small video device created for skateboarders, mountain bikers and surfers to self-film their adventures. GoPro went public this year. Why does this matter? Because their marketing budget exploded and with it, their target market which is now anyone who wants to film them self doing anything. Just let your imagination wander and you’ll soon realize why gopro-ing could be a problem for teens. They do some stupid prank at school, film it, post it on instagram and, voila! Instant evidence for the local DA to use against them.   

 

 

2. Vodka Eyeballingimages (1)
Pouring vodka in your eye sockets in order to get drunk faster and more efficiently is another dumb but real thing. It makes sense to the adolescent brain since the mouth is just soooo far away, best to use an eye. 

 

 

3. Beezin
Let’s continue our ‘eye’ theme. It’s called “Beezin,” (why do stupid teen things always leave off the last ‘g’?). Here’s the how-to – rub Burt’s Bees lip balm on the eyelids. It’s just that simple! No complicated steps like some of our other Stupid Things. The peppermint oil found in the balm creates a tingling sensation that some teens say enhances the feeling when they are already drunk or high. Others say its a way to keep them alert after a long night (…because that thing the brain and body do to restore itself each night is just soooo inconvenient, what’s that called? Oh, right! Sleep). If your kid is prone to stupid acts, look for pink-eye type irritation. Kids site the ‘natural’ ingredients as evidence of it’s safety but a Burt’s Bees rep argued “There are lots of natural things that probably shouldn’t go in eyes — dirt, twigs, leaves, food — and our lip balm.” 

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4. Purple Drank
Just when you thought the good ‘ole days (1990’s) were behind us, creative teens desperate to feel something other than a stable middle class existence have resurrected use of cough syrup. Here’s the recipe – cough syrup, Mountain Dew (or Red Bull, etc) and Jolly Ranchers. Not sure what they’ll die from first, the dextromethorphan, guaifenesin, pseudoephedrine or Type II Diabetes. Keep an eye out for pilfered medicine cabinets (and pantries). 

 

 

5. Butt Chugging 
Yes, leave it only to bored American teens to come up with this one. It’s simple – take a tampon, soak it in alcohol, and insert into your butt. And yes, kids really do this.

That’s it folks. Join us next time for the sad but humorous exploration of how tomorrow’s leaders are spending their time today. 

5 Signs of Suicide Risk in College Students

FACT: 15% of graduate and 18% of undergrads have seriously considered attempting suicide

FACT: 15% of graduate and 18% of undergrads have seriously considered attempting suicide

There is nothing more exciting than dropping of your college freshman in late August as the cool nights of Autumn return. But not all students carry with them the same energy and positive outlook for the Fall. Some are carrying some heavy baggage from High School or even younger while others don’t start to develop any major issues until they first get to college (and their first taste of freedom from parents). What parents don’t know is that you likely know your college friends (or at least a side of them) better than their own parents do, and you may be able to tell that something is wrong way before anyone else. This quick list is as much for parents as it is for you students out there. 

The following signs might indicate a student is considering suicide:

  1. A good student who’s behavior suddenly changes – they start ignoring assignments and missing classes which are likely signs of depression or drug and alcohol abuse, which can affect their health and happiness and put them at risk of suicide. And yes, good students and good kids use drugs. Seriously. 
  2. Anyone who doesn’t have friends or who suddenly rejects their friends may be at risk. A friend who suddenly rejects you, claiming, “You just don’t get it,” may be having emotional problems.
  3. College students may be physically or emotionally abused by a member of their family or their girlfriend or boyfriend – or suffering from abuse that occurred long ago but triggered by the new college environment. Abusive relationships can make a college student feel like crap about themselves. Signs that a person may be in an abusive relationship include unexplained bruises or other injuries that he or she refuses to discuss. 
  4. This is a common one – Significant changes in a someone’s weight, eating or sleeping patterns, and/or social interaction style may indicate that something is wrong. Eating disorders are super common at college. Lot’s of perceived competition, anxiety and stress that translates into really unhealthy views of one’s self. 
  5. Coming Out? College students may suffer from depression or have thoughts of suicide if they have a difficult time adjusting to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students have higher suicide attempt rates than their heterosexual peers.

We understand regret and their could certainly be a real consequence of getting help for someone who seems to be really hurting. They might get pissed at you for not minding your own business. But think of it this way – is the regret of possibly losing a friend better or worse than the potential of knowing you could have saved your friend’s life but did nothing? Tough choice but that’s part of the burden of mental illness. 

Fonthill Founder Interview on StayHappilyMarried.com

Fonthill Counseling Founder and Clinical Director, Rob Danzman, was recently interviewed by the good folks at StayHappilyMarried.com.

The topic was how wealth impacts marriages and parenting. Rob talked about several key issues:

  • The different types of wealth and how they influence behavior, thoughts and feelings
  • How underserved the affluent generally are when it comes to counseling and couples work
  • How wealth impacts parenting
  • Three main problems – Lack of Boundaries, Lack of Trust, Lack of Consequences
  • What parents, clinicians and professionals can do to repair marriages and improve parenting

To read the transcript or listen to the whole interview, head over here.

How Teen Behavior Can Feel Like Derecho (and What to Do About It)

derecho is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms. Generally, derechos are convection-induced and take on a bow echo (backward “C”) form of squall line, forming in an area of wind divergence in the upper levels of the troposphere, within a region of low-level warm air advection and rich low-level moisture. They travel quickly in the direction of movement of their associated storms, similar to an outflow boundary (gust front), except that the wind is sustained and increases in strength behind the front, generally exceeding hurricane-force. A warm-weather phenomenon, derechos occur mostly in summer, especially during June and July in the Northern Hemisphere, within areas of moderately strong instability and moderately strong vertical wind shear. They may occur at any time of the year and occur as frequently at night as during the daylight hours.

1. Intense, focused storm

2. Fast moving

3. Mostly during the Summer

4. Follow other storms

5. Can sustain destructive winds for long periods of time

See any parallels yet? Ok, this may be a bit of a stretch but many teens during Summer months really start to melt down in behavior. They get bored and don’t have that regular pressure to get up and ready for school, participate in sports teams or do homework at night. No schedule = Big problems. We especially see this pop up like intense storms in June (ah, hum – just like derecho).

This is why Fonthill recommends setting up a schedule for your family for the Summer. Taking a few days to sleep in and savor the end of school is fine, but it should not be the default setting each morning till August.

1. Create a daily/weekly/monthly schedule

2. Set up times for chores, free-time, social time, family time and reading time

3. Be clear about curfews, car privileges, sleep-overs and consequences BEFORE too much Summer has gone on.

4. Eat meals together (We recommend this for all year long, actually)

5. Encourage exploration of activities, hobbies, and interests. Might even be a great time to check out some college campuses while things are calm. Many professors are still working and have way more time to hang out to talk about classes/programs.

Have a great Summer everyone!