Category Archives: Teen Behavior

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Confessions of a Shopaholic

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What is a shopaholic? While some of us may enjoy the thrill of an occasional splurge or spending more than we bargained for during a big sale–that doesn’t make you a shopaholic. But that rush or feeling you get when you make a good purchase is what some shopaholics describe as a retail high, which in turn will lead a compulsive shopper to want to buy more.  Shopaholics are individuals who can’t control spending and have extended periods of uncontrolled spending sprees and impulse buys.


Is being a shopaholic an addiction? It is actually considered an impulse control disorder.  One purchase leads to another and the thrill of buying often outweighs consideration of the consequences that follow. And it does lead to addictive like feeling. When a shopaholic makes the purchase, the brain gets flooded with dopamine, the same chemical that the brain releases during drug use. Then, after the shopping high, the buyer crashes and feels depressed /distressed. The cycle starts all over–again.

Signs you may be a Shopaholic?

Check your closet.  Do you have many unopened items?
I am not talking about the sweater your aunt gave you last holiday season, but about items you selected on your own that are unopened or still have their tags attached. You may have even forgotten about some of these possessions – that’s a problem.

You often purchase things you don’t need or didn’t plan to buy.
You are easily tempted by items that you can do without like that tenth iPod case.  Additionally, you may be particularly vulnerable to compulsive buying if you have a specific materialistic “obsession,” like shoes or designer handbags. Just because splurges tend to stick to one category doesn’t make them any more rational.

A bad mood sparks an urge to shop.
Compulsive shopping is an attempt to fill an emotional void, like loneliness, lack of control, or lack of self-confidence. Shopaholics also report feelings of being “out of sorts” if they haven’t had their shopping fix. So, if you tend to shop after a bad day or shop to pick up your mood, you may have a problem.

Tips to avoid being a Shopaholic!

Identify triggers.

Take note of what’s likely to send you off to the nearest department store . When these feelings overcome you, resist shopping at all costs and find a healthier way to work it out. 

Carry only enough cash to buy what you need.

Leave your debit and credit cards at home. Create a shopping list with estimated costs, and stick to it when you’re at the store. And stay out of your favorite store if you can’t resist the merchandise.

Ask for help. 

If you’re still struggling with compulsive spending, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can start with self-help books or by asking a friend or family member to help keep you in check, but it might also be wise to enlist professional help. Consider therapy, resources such as Debtors Anonymous and a therapist who specializes in OCD and addiction.

Shopaholics are all types. 

Compulsive shopping does not only affect women, but it is now believed to affect both genders almost equally. It is blind to income, race and age, and compulsive shopping negatively affects more than one out of every 20 Americans.


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Kids and Lying

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My kids have never lied to me – never! After all, I am a family therapist who knows how to raise truthful children. If I believe that, then my kids are not only telling tall tales, but also getting away with it. In fact, if your child has not fibbed, that may be more concerning than the lie itself. Telling falsities is an important part of one’s emotional growth, and it is not a bad thing, depending on the age of the child.

Fibbing for the toddler set is a sign of a fast-developing brain, an emerging quick wit, and a benchmark of future life success. In other words, children who tell ‘good’ lies typically are smart kids because lying takes a lot of brain power. In fact, creating untruths is a complex process requiring a young mind to not only merge multiple ideas but also manipulate that information to one’s own advantage. Parents should not be alarmed; rather, they should consider creative story-telling an opportunity to have a teachable moment.

Preschoolers have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. In most situations, it probably makes sense to let your child’s imagination run wild, but a ‘cover-up’ story to avoid trouble should be discussed. Respect your youngster’s creative abilities, but comment that lying is unacceptable. Don’t express anger; rather, encourage truth.

As children enter the elementary years, lying does not stop; it just changes. Kids begin to develop a moral compass and understand the concept of polite social lying. Most appreciate that it is better to tell grandma that they love the ugly holiday sweater than hurt her feelings. Children, however, still occasionally bend the truth mostly to avoid punishment or doing something unpleasant like emptying the trash. Now, however, it is time to have an age-appropriate consequence because your intelligent offspring knows they have done something wrong.

Teenagers typically lie to avoid consequences, protect their friends, or do something their parents forbid. In these situations, it is best to have a predetermined consequence that is short, immediate and painful, which will help to avoid an overblown parent/child argument. But also make sure to ask your teen what she was thinking as that question can provide needed insight into her adolescent mind.

No matter the age of your child, maintain your cool when dealing with mistruths, tall tales and blatant falsities. Parents should attempt to calmly discuss rather than interrogate. It also is important to appreciate your child’s honesty when they do finally admit to the lie. Avoid calling your child a liar, as this just leads to hurt feelings and more arguing. It is acceptable to express disappointment, but avoid criticizing. Your ultimate parental goal is to intrinsically motivate your child to make good decisions.

And truth be told, it is probably not your child’s fault he occasionally tells untruths. Kids learn from their environment, picking up both the best and worst traits of the adults around them. Most adults tell the occasional ‘white’ lie or omit the truth. Try to avoid this natural tendency when you are around your kids. While you may want to save money at the movies or while dining in a restaurant, misrepresenting your child’s age teaches that lying is acceptable.

If you notice your child habitually or compulsively lying, it may be time to seek professional assistance. Telling consistent untruths often is a defense mechanism young people use to avoid difficult problems. An infrequent isolated incident, however, is not a cause for parental alarm. In fact, it may be a sign that you gave birth to a highly creative, intelligent child; at least, that is what I tell myself on that rare occasion I catch my child stretching the truth.

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Staying Focused During the Holidays

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It is beginning to look a lot like the holidays: Streets are filled with decorations, Christmas specials are on TV, and kids fantasize about snowy days and new video games. This ‘most wonderful’ time of the year, however, also is a most distracting and stressful time of the year, especially if you are a kid.

School does not slow down during the holidays; rather, it speeds up. Final exams are taken, long-term projects are due, and essential last-minute tasks are assigned as the semester comes to an end. There also are big games and special events to attend. Combine an increased work load along with many distracting festivities, and it can be difficult for anyone to stay focused.

Parents should take advantage of the hectic holiday season to perpetuate a good habit or start a new family tradition: talking to your kids about school. It can be complicated coordinating multiple schedules for a serious discussion, but that is the point. When times get too busy, families need to focus on life, relationships and academics.

Learning to study is an evolutionary process that continually needs adjustment. Have a conversation with your student discussing what homework habits work best, as well as potential problem areas. Kids should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes, make changes as necessary and celebrate successes. Being a supportive parent is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child, but it may take many years before your offspring truly appreciates your parenting style.

In general, most students struggle to balance school and outside extracurriculars. The holidays, however, provide additional opportunities for students to go astray. A key to staying on task is to avoid being overwhelmed. With parental assistance, kids should set a schedule at the start of each week, designating times to study and times to enjoy the festivities.

Additionally, unforeseen activities often pop up during busy times, and kids may waste energy because they are not in the correct state of mind to attack their academics. Regular weekday check-ins can assist students with making appropriate adjustments and, at the same time, provide additional support. A gentle parental push to work efficiently encourages students to prioritize work and strike a better balance between school and holiday fun.

The proper ambiance also is particularly important during this season of distraction. The study area should be stocked with pens, pencils, paper and other essential aids such as healthy snacks and beverages. Sitting at a desk in a well-lit room also is more conducive to learning than lounging on a comfortable couch. Light background music can assist with focus, but upbeat holiday songs should be avoided until homework is complete.

Parents, too, can bolster academic productivity by joining the study-time fun. Sit at the desk alongside your student and bring your work to the table. This not only models good habits but also provides a unique bond as families unite to do work before engaging in play. Additionally, your student will also be less likely to text, Facebook or Skype with a parent in the room.

Finals are finished, school is over, and it is time to take a breather. An essential way to recharge and re-motivate is to enjoy the holidays and focus on the family. Shift away from the daily stresses of school and work to create a new family tradition. Get everyone together to bake holiday cookies, prepare a special breakfast, or take a trip to the ice rink. Special times create lifelong memories that outlast the temporary enjoyment provided by expensive or trendy gifts. Yes, kids want presents, but they also want to be part of a family.

Life is always hectic. The holidays can, however, allow families to temporarily leave behind the daily grind and spend time focusing on each other. The food is great, the atmosphere is special, and relaxation is encouraged—it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Happy holidays!

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Is TV Making Our Kids “Mean Girls”?

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A new study finds that social aggression is depicted on a vast majority of children’s TV programs, and could be playing into increases in psychological bullying. The Healthline Editorial Team recently featured Dr. Hyken in an article about how this trend is affecting our children.

Study Roundup: Is TV Making Our Kids “Mean Girls”?

By Megan McCrea

We’ve all heard the adage: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But is it true?

Over the years, considerable attention has been paid to combating the “sticks and stones”—namely, nose-bloodying schoolyard bullies. We’ve given less thought to hurtful words. However, mounting evidence suggests that our kids can’t ignore this psychological bullying.

In recent years, studies have shown that “social aggression”—mean-spirited behaviors like excluding peers, giving dirty looks, manipulating friends, and spreading rumors—can cause real damage. Victims of social aggression experience adjustment problems, suffer low self-esteem, and, in severe cases, commit suicide. The problem has become so severe that, in 2006, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services labeled “psychological bullying” a serious public health issue.

But where do children learn to behave this way? New research published today in the Journal of Communication provides keen insight on one possible cause: TV. In the study, researchers analyzed the content of the 50 most popular children’s television shows, from American Dad toZoey 101. They charted how often incidents of social aggression occurred, what kind of aggression occurred, and how that aggression was portrayed.

The Expert Take

The head of the study, Dr. Nicole Martins, said the study highlighted the antisocial messages prevalent on TV. The study found that 92 percent of the shows studied depicted instances of social aggression.

In an interview with Healthline, Dr. Martins explained the idea behind the study. “[We looked for] any behavior intended to damage the self-esteem or social standing of a target. This could include something as simple as calling someone a mean name…[or engaging in] more nuanced behaviors like cruel gossip.”

Dr. Martins and her research partner Dr. Barbara J. Wilson found that, on average, incidents of social aggression occurred 14 times per hour. That’s one rolled eye, cutting comment, or sarcastic laugh every four minutes.

They also considered context—whether the show depicted social aggression in an appealing way. The result? “Socially aggressive acts were significantly more likely to be committed by an attractive perpetrator,” writes Dr. Martins. In addition, the characters that perpetrated these actions were rarely punished.

Dr. Russell Hyken, a psychotherapist and bullying expert, says that this trend is troubling. “If kids see [socially aggressive behavior] on TV…it becomes commonplace and ultimately accepted,” Dr. Hyken says. “It can also spawn copycat behavior.”

Dr. Hyken notes that, based on his own personal observation as a psychotherapist and former school administrator, this sort of social bullying is on the rise. “The bully behavior used to be physical—bloody noses, bruises. You could spot it a lot easier.”

Today, he says, “the bullying has become more sophisticated”—i.e., socially aggressive—and harder to see. However, it still leaves profound emotional scars.

What’s more, the lessons kids learn today stay with them for life. “It’s important to keep in mind that young bullies grow into adult bullies,” says Dr. Hyken.

So what does this mean to parents? Should you throw away your TV?

“These findings should help parents and educators recognize that there are socially aggressive behaviors on programs children watch,” writes Dr. Martins. “Parents should not assume that a program is okay for their child to watch simply because it does not contain any physical violence.”

She suggests that parents “use these shows as a teaching tool. When parents see a socially aggressive portrayal in a program that their child is watching, [they should] remind the child that these behaviors are not okay and can cause real harm.”

Source and Method

Researchers from Indiana University Bloomington and University of Illinois analyzed 150 programs—three episodes each of the 50 most popular American children’s TV programs according to Nielsen Media Research. In order to measure social aggression, they noted each instance in which a perpetrator committed a socially aggressive act directed toward a target.

The study found that a vast majority of the children’s TV programs sampled featured instances of social aggression. These acts occurred frequently, and they were often perpetrated by attractive characters. These characters’ actions almost always went unpunished.

Other Research

While social scientists have done a great deal of research about the link between television-watching and physical aggression, the link between TV-watching and social aggression has not been widely studied. Only two previous studies examined social aggression on television.

A 2004 study published in Aggressive Behavior found that 92 percent of the programs sampled—a group of shows popular with British adolescents—showed instances of social aggression.

Another study, published in 2005, focused on TV programs popular with teens and young adults. That study found that 93 percent of female characters in comedies engaged in indirect aggression, a close cousin of social aggression.

Dr. Martins and Dr. Wilson performed another study, published in Human Communication Research, which examined the psychological effects of watching social aggression on TV. They found that children who spent more time watching shows depicting social aggression were more likely to perpetrate these behaviors at school.

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Preparing for Your Second Child

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All parents leave the hospital with their first baby feeling excited and proud. Most also have many anxious moments as they appropriately worry about everything. Is the baby seat correctly installed? How do we bathe the baby? Is he going to have a happy childhood? Where will he go to college? When the second child arrives, the list of questions grows even larger: Will the older embrace the younger? How will they get along?

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Dealing With Sensitive Teens

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Some teens are most sensitive than others and present a special challenge for parents. Dr. Russell Hyken addresses the issue on KTVI-TV, Fox 2 in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Kids & Lying

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Kids do lie to their parents and others from an early age. However, the fact that it is happening may not be all bad or be a symptom of other issues. Dr. Hyken discusses this topic on KTVI-TV Fox 2 in St. Louis, MO.

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Preparing Your Freshman For College

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Parents are now preparing to send their teens away from home to begin freshman year at college. Dr. Russell Hyken provides some tips on that process on KTVI-TV, Fox 2 in St. Louis, MO.

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Kids and Cursing

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Parents are often surprised when their teens use curse words and wonder where they, “learned that kind of language.” Dr. Hyken addresses that issue on KTVI-TV Fox 2 in St. Louis, MO.

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Giving Teens a Safe, Sane, Productive Summer

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As I reflect upon my youth and those lazy days of summer, I have fond memories of staying out late, spending hours by the pool, and making many phone calls to determine the when and the where of my next nightly activity. Yes, those were simpler times without worries of curfew laws, skin cancer and Wi-Fi access.

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