this year at our junior high pastors summit, we invited psychiatrist and adolescent brain specialist, todd clements, to join us. todd also brought a co-worker with him, dr. mike meier, who talked to us about parents, disorders and other clinical and therapy issues. this is part 2 of a 6-part series of the notes from that time. this particular section are notes from mike’s presentation to us. it was a bit of a departure from our intended discussions of adolescent brain development (which the notes get back to in the posts to come), but was still helpful. the notes are a bit cryptic at times, i admit. i’ve cleaned them up a bit from what was useful for those who attended, but it would take too long to fill in all the gaps — so i’m posting them somewhat as is, in hopes that they’ll still be stimulating to some.
“’Christian’ Family Dynamics” – there is so much going on under the waterline that we will never know about. Why?
– Divorce rate is higher than at any other time
– Pornography is rampant
– Isolation tools are more available (ipods, computers)
– Parents have unprecedented pressure – this pressure is causing a lot of kid problems and pressure
– Sexuality – oral sex is common in 8th grade
– Verbal communication skills has been replaced by short hand text messages
– Normalized divergent behaviors – homosexuality etc…
Family will always have a better opportunity to impact kids than youth workers – they spend more time with them. But don’t minimize your role as a counselor and clinician. What you are hearing is the tip of the iceberg. Magnify what they say – they will minimize, you will minimize. Don’t slip into this.
How can we maximize the family effort to help a kid?
U – understand the players and the history:
– Who has influence in the family and who are the players?
– What’s going on and don’t underestimate the history of the family
– They will not voluntarily give you information, dig for it
– Where are they spiritually?
R – recognize the bias
– Everyone you talk with will be good liars. Get the story from all sides and put the story together
– Don’t rush the judgment
– World class gossip and amateur psychology are the hallmark of Christian counseling
L – lead the family band
– Get them all playing the same song in the same key at the same time
– Unity is key
– Consequences are going to trump lecture
Content: What is being communicated?
Process: How that content is being communicated
Content: Where can you find agreement? Be the objective “crap” filter. Help parents major on the majors and minor on the minors.
Parents will focus on what they have control over (they are worried about the messy room and not about the drugs that can kill the kid). Help parents see the big picture and focus on the things that matter. Help them see reality.
Process: How can you help the parents communicate in a healthy way?
Moms often use too many words
Dads often get angry
Consequences are not followed through
1 in 5 teens has a diagnosable disorder
What are the trouble signs?
– Privacy – wanting to much
– Change in peer groups, attitudes
– Extreme mood swings – depression to elation
– Sleep patterns
– Grades and interests
Teen depression – significant in scope and dangerous in actions – know the
5% of kids are struggling with major depression
20% struggle with some disorder
20-40% have more than one episode of depression in a year. Many can last for more than 8 months
2% are suffering from disonia – a long term state of depression
SIGECAPS – a way to diagnose depression
S – Sadness and Sleep – sadness in kids could be more irritability
I – Interests have fallen off
G – Guilt
E – Energy – loss of
C – Concentration
A – Appetite
P – Psychomotor abnormality – monotone speech, depressive movements,
S – suicidal – active (I’m trying to kill myself), passive (I wish God would kill me – “I want to die, but I won’t do anything to kill myself), para (send you a message, they will go through an activity like take ten aspirin or cut wrists without doing that action to the level that will actually accomplish the goal).
DIFFERENT PATTERNS OF KIDS WE MAY DEAL WITH:
– Little Parent: when the parents are so dysfunctional that anyone in that environment would be driven crazy, these kids take over
– Family Hero: Kids will become heroes and fulfill the family values. Good students or spiritually active kids because they are trying to exemplify what the family values. They will excel at whatever the family things is important – good or bad. They will put aside their needs. They feel the family depends on them.
– Mascot: Fun guy – class clown – terrified of family conflict so they redirect the family arguments and conflicts with humor. They may be popular on the surface, but they can grow up with the inability to have intimate contact.
– Chief Enabler: this person makes the dysfunctional parent’s life work. They absorb the consequences of the parent’s behavior. They live their lives in response to other people’s lives and they are unable to live out their own dreams. They will become bitter and hostile. They are mad at the world and justifiably so. This person will feel obligated to fix everyone and will hate it.
– Scapegoat: Everything is their fault. World hunger – their fault. Believes there is something wrong with them. They don’t have the capacity to sort out all this – it becomes you
– Lost Child: forgotten child. Involved in their own world – books, fantasy, computers, etc… This becomes their world. They are left by parents who are too busy for them. Their world is filled with activity that their family knows nothing about. Parents must limit their behavior. These kids will have a circle of influence the parents know nothing about.
How do we begin to diagnose this? It’s a combination of biographical input, psychological input, social input, and spiritual input.
*60% of clinically depressed individuals who exercised were the dramatically changed (this was due to endorphins that are released into your system through exercise). Only 65% of those who were given anti-depressant drugs we dramatically changed. 68% of those who did both were dramatically changed.
Q: Can we suggest exercise to parents over going to see a counselor?
This CAN be a good idea, but we need to find a Christian counselor in our area that we can trust to help in the process.
1-800-NEW-LIFE – referral to someone that might be a good resource
*Feelings: You have some control over your thoughts and your actions. You have very little if any control over your feelings. If jhigh students are so mean, teach students to question their thoughts. Run them through a truth filter – if they say something unrealistic, challenge it. If mom says “if she dresses so, she’ll grow up to be a prostitute” challenge this.
Seek to set up a safe community. A place where they can share their thoughts.
Two things to do with feelings:
– Identify them
– Seek the root – where is the feeling coming from?
Actions: Teens think they have very little control over their actions. We must be that safe voice of reason. Remind them they are becoming like those they are around. Our ministry is the island of safety that can be a significant help in their lives.
A Few Final Thoughts:
– We can’t help our kids without assessing the family situation. You don’t know without looking! Take the time to get to know what is going on in the family. When we see the bigger picture of what is going on in the home, we may be able to do a better job at helping the kids.
You may not be able to fix things, but you can help a student…
– See the dysfunction for what it is – redirect some of the kids thinking
– Help the kids see and own their part – but only their part
– Help them to set appropriate boundaries when needed. Help them to say “yes” and “no” and how to say this. Help them identify their moral compass.
– Help the parents see the truth. This is difficult! Their actions are impacting their kids. There has never been a generation where the office of parent has been so lightly held by those who are in that position. Parenting is a heavy responsibility; we must help parents see this.
Judy: How do we pick a good councilor?
Todd: He can help us in certain regions – refer to the 800 NEWLIFE number
Eric: How do we train adults to connect in a positive way – in more of a preventative way?
Todd: Be aware; you may find yourself spending 90% of your time with 10% of your kids – but this may be very helpful for the 10%. Train your staff in what they can look for and identify and investigate struggles. Everyone has a private and a public persona. WE must become masters of digging into the private side of kids.
Marko: Implication of all this in MS ministry. My understanding is “in the two years leading up to puberty, the brain creates millions of extra connections — way more than will be needed. In the two years after, the ones that are not used get winnowed down. The way the brain is utilized in the years of puberty will impact the lives of these kids for their entire lives.” Is this a fair statement?
Todd: Yes. We don’t know what all the implications of this pruning are, but this is a fair statement.
Marko: Any speculation as to why this is?
Todd: So the pathways that are used can function better.
April: Any counsel on the number of staff we have younger than 25 and what the risks/implications are of this?
Mike: They don’t have the cognitive ability to make good decisions, but they can relate to kids better. Be wise. Maximize their interaction with the kids, minimize their interaction with the family system because they are not ready for that.
Marko: This is another great reason why a small group can be best co-lead by a 20 year old and a 40 year old.