Mental Health Services for Teenagers & Young Adults

This collection of articles provides advice and focuses on issues involving teenage and young adult mental health services at Malaty Therapy in Houston Texas. Contact us at 713 628-3966 for an appointment. Just one session can help!

Compulsive Disorders Malaty Therapy

Compulsive disorders involve uncontrollable behaviors that lead to habitual habits for teens and young adults. There are many compulsive disorders parents need to be aware of more than ever during COVID-19 restrictions. It’s important to both recognize and  help your loved ones should they be experiencing uncontrollable self destructive behavior. If they are in recovery for compulsive behaviors you will want to help them to prevent relapses. 

Boredom Plays A Big Part In Risk Taking And Can Lead To Compulsive Behaviors

Young adults have a much lower threshold for boredom than an adult does. Their brain is constantly seeking stimulation and they are naturally more predisposed to risk taking behaviors and impulsivity than an adult. Since we are cooped up inside together for longer periods of time, young people might experiment with self destructive activities to make an otherwise mundane day a little more stimulating. Consequently these activities lead to compulsive behaviors they can’t seem to quit. Surprisingly they find themselves in a habitual loop they can’t seem to get out of.

Encourage and Engage Your Teen

Most importantly, you’ll want to encourage them to get out of their room and engage with the family or go outside for an hour or so each day. They may drag their feet and complain that they don’t “feel like it” and they “don’t want to,” but stay firm in your request. Moreover insist that they come out of their room and leave the phone behind for an hour or two a day. They don’t have to be happy about it, they just need to do it. 

Furthermore you need to also engage with them. So go outdoors for an hour with them. Take a walk around the neighborhood or visit a park together. Above all ask them what they want to do and enthusiastically participate in their interests. Perhaps it’s preparing a healthy meal together or making a TikTok video. 

Drug and Alcohol Cravings are Real

Cravings Are Real With Compulsive Disorders

Likewise your son or daughter may be experience a huge change in their daily routine of school, work , social or sports gatherings. They may have lost access to friends that also encouraged and participated in the same risk taking behaviors as your child. With these types of sudden changes in their living routine, more intense cravings are likely to occur. 

Common Signs of Compulsive Behaviors in Teens & Young Adults

When someone experiences uncontrollable urges they can seem preoccupied, irritable, short tempered, moody or lethargic. And it’s possible they will engage in “shady” behavior trying to seek something to relieve them of their habitual cravings. They may stress eat and consume more sugar than usual, as sugar releases dopamine which gives them a feel-good feeling. 

How To Relieve Compulsive Behaviors

If someone is trying to change their risky behavior and curb self destructive habits, exercise, even just a brisk walk helps stimulate dopamine production. Watching something funny and laughing also helps stimulate dopamine production this can help them better deal with habitual thoughts and cravings. 

Keep Your Teen Occupied 

Most important to note is that cravings typically last about 10-20 minutes then subside. If a young person can occupy themselves for that duration of time until the craving passes then they can lower their chance of a relapse. Cravings can and will happen throughout the day especially early in their recovery. So if they need to drop what they are doing to occupy themselves in a productive way, please support them.

The one thing young people want their loved ones to know is that when they tell you they are experiencing a compulsion, this does not mean you should panic. When they acknowledge these thoughts and feeling, it’s a good thing. They’re aware that it’s happening and telling you informs their support system. Ask your child how you can support them. If it’s simply lending an ear and letting them take care of themselves, then that is all that is needed. 

Remove Temptations

During restricted living requirements due to COVID-19 state regulations your child may have lost access to outside friends that influence them to engage in risk taking activities. In this case, they may turn to things inside the home that allow them to continue in their habitual behavior. Remove whatever temptations you can from the home environment. Be it food, digital games, devices, the internet etc., it’s truly best to remove them from sight. 

Prevent Compulsive Disorders By Reducing Access

If you have a young person in the house that you suspect might be dealing with an uncontrollable compulsive disorder. Put away anything that may tempt them to prevent them from indulging in self destructive habits. Have a conversation with them about what is triggering their compulsions. If you are struggling to get through to them, give us a call to have a conversation about the problems they are experiencing. 

Signs of PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome)

Look Out for Signs of PAWS 

If your young person has recently stopped a habitual behavior they will experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS. PAWS is the second stage of a withdraw process sometimes following weeks or even months after a chronic compulsive behavior has stopped. This is the brain’s way of attempting to straighten itself out and return to normal functioning. 

Symptoms of PAWS include: 

  • Sleep disturbances (hypersomnia or insomnia, appetite disturbances 
  • Mood swings 
  • Irritability 
  • Anhedonia (lack of pleasure in things that used to bring enjoyment) 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Cravings  
  • Sensitivity to stress 
  • Lack of focus or initiative 
  • Trouble remembering things 

Don’t Jump To Conclusions When Your Loved One Is Recovering From A Compulsive Disorder

Unfortunately, a lot of these symptoms also look like regular teenage behavior at times. Be careful not to jump to conclusions. We always encourage parents to be sure and take their child the family doctor for a checkup during this time of change.

There are a lot of emotions flying around right now as so many people are experiencing uncertainty, stress, anxiety, depression, boredom, and disrupted schedules. Adolescents are predisposed to feeling their emotions intensely.  So we caution parents and guardians about labeling their young person’s moods and activities as habitual unless you have reasonable evidence that points you in that direction.  

Your teen has had their entire life turned upside down and now has no solid routine to fall back on. Teens with compulsive disorder issues may have more trouble than others with this. However, behaviors such as sleeping more than usual, or struggling to sleep, eating more than usual, or having appetite disruptions are normal reactions to this change in lifestyle. We are all coping with waves of emotions at different times as best we can. These behaviors alone do not point directly to your teen currently having a severe uncontrollable compulsive disorder. 

You’re Not Alone in the Battle Against Compulsive Disorders

If you think your young person might be experiencing PAWS, uncontrollable cravings or medical symptoms, please contact Malaty Therapy for a 20-minute phone consultation at 713-628-3966.

If you need more resources check out The Council on Recovery who can put you in contact with appropriate resources for you and your young person.

Blog Written By: Allie Haydon, LMFT, LPC, LCDC

This quarantine is rough, y’all. I know you already know that. It’s been a little over a month that I have been away from my career in family therapy and chosen to stay inside my home, isolated with just my dogs and my husband in Houston. (Let it be known, my husband is still alive.) This time inside has given me the wonderful opportunity to pour over all of my streaming devices’ libraries to find the best, most inspiring, and sometimes trashiest television and movies. While Netflix has typically been fairly good to me – I’m talkin to you “What’s New Scooby Doo?” and “Tiger King” – my daily go to streaming service is actually Disney+. I’ve watched all of my favorite Princess movies, all of the Marvel cinematic universe again, and peeked at the Mandalorian for a precious glimpse of Baby Yoda. I threw a party for the early release of Frozen 2 and Onward. It’s been a joy, honestly. As a family therapist, my time spent watching Disney + has opened my eyes to the opportunity we have for some truly valuable family time during this quarantine period. This unprecedented slow down from work, school, sports, and activities allows us to take a time out and focus on what’s important. We need to seize this opportunity to truly connect with our families. 

Movies Can Spark Important Conversations On Family Values 

Something hit me a little differently the other day when I was watching Coco. I’m not sure what it was because I was too blinded by my tears as Miguel sang to Mama Coco “Remember Me”, but I realized that if I had kids with me it would be such a great learning moment for them. I started to daydream about pausing the movie to sit and talk with them about the importance of family and how we can learn so much from our elders, even if it feels like they are a little distant. We could discuss the importance of family traditions, share family stories, and create these life long bonds together that would last even beyond this life. It made me hopeful for the end of this quarantine and the next chapter of my life as a mom one day. 

Into the Unknown: Movies Can Inspire Your Family 

Inspirational Words Written On White Stones

Cut to the next night when I was watching Frozen 2 with my dogs. I identify with Elsa feeling out of place and constantly wondering why. I get wanting to figure out where my place in this world is and constantly looking for external validation that I’m doing ok or I’m in the right spot. Her journey to Ahtohallan is so inspiring to me. She knows there’s something out there for her and she fights her way through the dangerous sea into the unknown (see what I did there?) to make it to this point where everything else is stripped away except for herself. She learns that she is the only person, the only thing, that can validate and encourage her to be all that she has the potential to be. She is the one she’s been waiting for. There I was again, crying, of course, imagining watching this with my own daughter someday telling her she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up. She doesn’t need to wait for someone to tell her she is enough. I pray my children will feel loved and confident in themselves to achieve whatever it is they feel called to do. 

Make Family Movie Time a Time to Connect

Family Watching Movie Together

And here’s my charge for you, quarantined friend. While watching movies seems pretty sloth-like and monotonous these days, I encourage you to take that family movie time and dig a little deeper. Maybe take some time to think of discussion questions for the movies you want to watch. Take time to pause and talk with your kids (or spouse) about what you could learn from Buzz and Woody, Moana, or Nemo. Use this precious free time away from the hustle and bustle of work to really dig into your core values as a family and build those connections we might have missed without this opportunity to slow down. It sounds cheesy, but honestly, most of the best things in life are! 

Watching movies together can be so therapeutic in a time like this. Being able to escape into a film can teach you how to express your fears, dreams, needs, and inspirations in ways you may not know otherwise. It lowers one’s defenses and allows new bonds to form. It can ease us into tough conversations and guide us towards a new appreciation of life. 

So, give it a go this week. Let everyone pick their own movie and think of some creative follow up, discussion questions. Good luck! Stay safe and enjoy the rest of your family time.  

During these days of isolation you don’t need to feel alone. Malaty Therapy can help you get through these strange times brought on by COVID19. If you’re worried, anxious, stressed we’re here for you! Call us now at (713) 628-3966 to set up a phone or video chat therapy session today!

Written By: Sarah Henry, MA, LPC, LMFT

I’m not a poet and I pretty much hate rhyming, but this poured out of me last week as I sat thinking about the young people I get the honor of meeting in sessions. I won’t say much about it, as I think it speaks for itself. My hope is that you know that you are seen and you are not alone.

I came across this post and it perfectly summed up an idea I have had about parenting in a way I could never quite put my finger on. Frankly, this quote makes me feel super powerless as a parent…but let’s explore it some more.

Think about it, thousands of years ago it made perfect sense to parent your offspring the same way you were parented, because not much had changed. There were stone tools that you needed to learn how to hunt and fight with, and generally the technology changed very little over the generations.

Today, technology changes at warp speed (pun intended) which means that the values our parents were raised with are applied in a drastically different way today. If we generally parent how we were parented, but in a very new world, then we are kind of always chasing our tail as it were. The world we were prepared for in our formative years looks very different today and I think it’s safe to say that the world we are preparing our children for may change just as rapidly.

Therefore, the most helpful way we can parent our children today is by helping them learn to adapt to change and think critically for themselves.


This is a much higher level of brain functioning than we have been used to handing down to our kiddos at such an early age, especially given that executive functioning skills are developed in the late teens to mid-twenties. If you think I’m full of it, I highly suggest listening to some podcasts or looking into some articles about the future of jobs and applying that information to what type of skills our young people will need to have in their generation. Below is a graphic that explains what executive functioning skills are:           


In the future, creativity will have a much higher place among the skills required in social situations and employment opportunities than in the past. I believe the reason for this is the rapidly changing technology and our fascination with discovering the newest, most efficient technology for the future. Our children will need to learn to think outside the box and “dream big” in order to bring to their employer the next “new thing.”

What got me thinking though is how can we really ever fully prepare our children for what is to come when it is changing all so fast? And the only answer I can seem to come up with is that our children often know what’s best for them better than we do at times. They have power and information in a way that we just simply do not. I’ve always been a fan of young people because honestly, their capacity for flexibility (in mind and body) greatly surpasses an adult’s. Their creativity and solution finding skills are at an all time high because their brain is still developing connections at a rapid pace, whereas ours has slowed dramatically by the time we reach our 30’s.

My suggestion is to formulate a partnership with your child as best you can while keeping an open mind and asking more questions rather than giving direction. This not only balances the power differential, but also encourages critical thinking and executive functioning.

For example, my teen comes home the other night complaining about an argument she and a friend got into. I let her spill and ask her “How can I support you right now?” This question is meant to get her to pause, check in with herself and her emotions, and think about what she might need from this interaction. She then says to me, “I just want you to tell me what I should do.” Now, this is a tempting trap. I mean, who doesn’t like having all the answers right? AND its been solicited by my young teen! What a grand moment for my ego! However, I do not know the whole situation, I only know what she has told me, and I am also not her…so what I would do that feels really natural, might be a stretch for her. So instead I ask, “Well, how would you like to handle the situation?” She says, “I just need a break from her right now, I can’t talk to her anymore about it tonight.” I say, “Ok so how do you tell her that? Or do you? What can you handle and what is considerate to your friend?” She answered, “I will text her and tell her that I’m going to bed and we can talk about it tomorrow.” I reply, “That sounds fair, and look, you figured this out all on your own!”

My point is, rather than “lazy parenting” and telling them what you think they should do, or lecturing them while their eyes glaze over, or getting burned out by repeating yourself over and over again…why not ask more questions? Make them do the work of THINKING about it! They will not only be using THEIR energy, rather than burning up YOURS, but they will also be finding a solution that is right for them (which they are more likely to do anyway).

This is certainly a practice. If you have not been in the habit of asking questions rather than directing orders then it will take some time to get your mind used to approaching your kid that way. You may also feel this overwhelming urge to fall back into old patterns and “just do it” for them because its “quicker,” “easier,” and it will release the urge. DON’T! THAT’S LAZY PARENTING! In the end, you will struggle with a clueless, helpless teen and young adult who has a hard time thinking things through. They will NOT do it right every time. They WILL mess up. It WILL be hard to watch. BUT LET THEM DO IT!

When parents lack the respect of their teen it is palpable. Parent’s experience frustration, anger, powerlessness, feeling out of control, offended, scared, and resentful towards their teen.

two woman faces

Respect is an interesting concept. It is not quite a feeling, but more of an idea. You know when you have it and you definitely know when you don’t. You don’t know how to put it into words, how to get it, or keep it. It’s an abstract idea to hold in your mind.

What is respect? When you think of someone your respect, you may think of someone you look up to, admire, and want to emulate. You may think of someone who regards the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others rather than trampling them or shutting them down.

Teenagers have a hard time understanding abstract ideas like respect because firstly, their frontal lobe development lacks ability to fully understand abstract thought and ideas. Teenagers are still more concrete thinkers, meaning, if they can see it and touch it, they know what it is and that it is there. Abstract thought happens in the frontal lobe of the brain which continues to develop until around the age of 25. The frontal lobe is what makes humans different from animals and gives us the ability to reflect on ourselves and understand abstract thought (an idea that is not seen or touched, but still understood). Secondly, research has shown that adolescents have a difficult time (as do some adults) with taking the perspective of another person (i.e. putting yourself in someone else’s shoes). This is a learned skill, not something you are born with. For more information on this research, enjoy the link to this TED Talk explaining adolescent brain development:

Respect might be an abstract concept, but we can teach our young people what respect looks like by showing them respect. Here are some helpful thoughts about how to cultivate respect with your young person:

  • Have a discussion about respect.
    Ask your teen what respect means to them. Ask them who they respect and get curious about what they see in that person that they respect. Ask them to describe how they know they respect someone and how they know they do not respect someone. Ask them what character traits they respect in a person and what character traits they do not respect in someone. Ask them how they know when they are respected by others and what others might respect in them. (Remember that fear is not respect, so if they give an answer like “They know I can kick their ass” that is not respect, that is fear, and probably some ego on the teen’s part.) Share your answers to those questions too. Don’t grill them, have a casual conversation where you share your thoughts and allow them to share their’s. Be careful not to scold, judge, or shut them down. They don’t have all these ideas fully formed and chances are, they might not have ever thought about it before. The point is that you are trying to understand how they understand respect and you are sharing your thoughts on it. This is not the time to preach or teach. If their eyes glaze over or they start giving you one-word answers, you’ve lost them. Shut up and start over another time. “I don’t know” is an answer, let them say it because they probably don’t know. Ask them to think about it and assure them there are no wrong answers, you are just curious what they think. If they still say “I don’t know” then that’s ok (frustrating, I know, but ok). The point is, you asked the question and whether or not you heard the answer, they probably started thinking about it.
  • Take the information you gained from that conversation and use it.
    Listen to the characteristics of people they respect and do a quick moral inventory of yourself (This is sometimes hard as it requires us to be rigorously honest with ourselves and is difficult to do when we cannot see our own blind spots). Ask a friend, spouse, therapist, or even your teen for help seeing your blind spots! Remember, try not to react offensively when given feedback, you asked for help! Take the feedback! You have room to grow! If they tell you something you disagree with, you do not have to respond, simply take note of it and see where they might be right. Sleep on it for a few days. Let it sink in. They shared their experience of you, so whether or not you can see it, there is some reason why they said it.
  • Make amends.
    Enough cannot be said about an adult’s ability to own their mistakes with their children. This is a powerful tool to use with your teens and is widely underrated and under-utilized. An amends is different than an apology. An apology is saying “I’m sorry” which loses it’s meaning after being said over and over again for the same behavior. An amends has got more “oomph” to it. An amends is stating that a behavior was wrong and owning that you were wrong for saying or acting a certain way. It is asking what you can do to make it right (that is reasonable, I definitely understand that a teen may take advantage of this). Then, it is stating how you would like to handle that type of situation in the future. What about this process facilitates respect? Some thoughts are: your ability to acknowledge your wrongs and handling it in a graceful, respectful way. It teaches them how they can make an amends when they mess up. Humility is a building block of respect (a whole blog post can be written about humility as well). To be humble means to accept that you have more to learn, that you are not so ridged as to think that you could not possibly be wrong. That characteristic commands respect and others will typically follow its example when given.
  • Respect is about trust.
    A wise 15 year old client taught me this when they discovered they had a very difficult time being respectful to their parent when they felt they could not trust them. Trust is another one of those tricky, abstract ideas that is difficult to explain, but yet you know when you have it and you know when you don’t. Ask your teen “Do you trust me?” This is a vulnerable question that you may not like the answer to. However, this will open a world of conversation that you have never had before. You might even ask them if they can trust you with some things but not others and get curious about what those things are that they trust/distrust you with. Trust is not simply about being able to “keep secrets,” it is about being able to be vulnerable and not fear they will be invalidated, scolded, or shut down when being vulnerable. (Again, a whole other blog can be written about trust alone). Make sure to share your thoughts with them as well, what you trust them with and what you do not. If they react defensively, try not to talk them out of their feelings. Simply state that you are sharing with them how you feel and acknowledge that you both probably have some work to do in this area with each other.
  • The 5 to 1 ratio.
    The Gottman Institute has been studying marriage for years and they have found a very important secret to happiness in marriage: for every one negative interaction, there should be five positive interactions. (Take a look at this post for more information ). This ratio applies to more than just happy marriages, it also applies to all relationships! So, take a look at the negative to positive interactions you have with your teen. If you are only fighting, discussing grades, doling out consequences, and scolding them for choices they have made, then there will be less trust and less respect. One of the top 5 suggestions I give to parents in sessions is to go do something fun and light-hearted with your teen at least once a week. Ask them what they want to go do, go see a movie, a concert, hiking, riding a bike, fishing, an art class, go to a museum, art exhibit, skate park, Pokemon Go! Just go do something! Before you start your activity, preface to your teen that you will both stay off your phones and be present with each other and you both will keep the conversation light! Parents, you will not talk about school, grades, friends, sports, or any other controversial topic during the activity. If they mention it, great, nod your head and LISTEN only! Sometimes I suggest for a family to come up with a “code word” to quickly shift gears if someone starts to wander into emotionally triggering territory. Make it something neutral like “waffles” or “red light” then quickly change the subject. When you spend time with your teen having fun and just being a person with them, you will be surprised by what you learn about them and you will have added trust into your relationship.
  • Act with integrity.
    As an unruly teen myself, this was my biggest disrespect trigger. When adults said things like “Do what I say, not what I do” respect was lost completely. If they told me “because I said so” with no explanation, I lost respect. Imagine a co-worker, boss, or spouse saying this to you…condescending right? Well, teenagers are adults in the making and should be treated as such. If we are telling them to get off their phones and go be outside, we should be doing the same thing. If we are telling them to eat vegetables and not an entire bag of chips, we should be doing that too! So, if we want our teens to respect us, we must act respectfully towards them. That means taking the time to explain a decision. (If they “don’t get it” no matter how many times you explain, then its usually because there is no good enough reason for them to not get their way. Don’t waste your breath, state something like “I told you the reason, its ok if you don’t like it.”) Follow through with your word. When you set a boundary and a consequence and do not follow through with it, you have just lied to them. If you have done this repeatedly, then there is not trust there. They either react as if you are threatening them, or they don’t respect the boundary because you’ve taught them that it is not real. It means following our own advice and practicing what we preach. People watch what we do, not what we say. We teach people how to treat us by treating them the way we would like to be treated.
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  • Give them space to have their feelings.
    I feel like this comes up in sessions repeatedly. Parents often are appalled by their child’s reaction to a consequence or boundary (obviously there are some extreme cases, in which case you may want to seek family therapy for assistance). The parent either expects them to have some kind of reaction like “Thank you mother and father for your amazing boundary and your infinite wisdom. I appreciate you doing for me what I cannot do for myself right now.” Laughable right!? Most teens just are not going to respond that way. They will be angry, sad, shut down, irritable, etc. Then some parents want to keep talking to their kid to try to make them feel better about the consequence or boundary. This is called “talking someone out of their feelings,” and it usually doesn’t work and ends up in an argument. If you set a boundary like “You must pass all your classes to attend a concert at the end of the month” and they have not met that boundary and therefore cannot go to the concert, they are allowed to have their feelings about it. Set the boundary and follow through with the consequence then walk away. They are allowed to be disappointed and upset. This is learning that you really mean it. The boundary was real and so was the consequence. They may not like you right then, but they will respect it and you because you are being straight forward with them and letting them process it.

If you would like more information, learn how to apply these tips to your personal relationships, or need some assistance clearing out the resentment to get to a place to utilize these tips, then please give us a call! We have plenty of therapists that specialize in individual, couple, parent and co-parenting, and family sessions with adults, young adults, teens, tweens, and children of all ages. 713-628-3966. To learn more about us please visit

I hope my daughter knows struggle.

I hope she knows what defeat feels like.

I hope that she experiences striving for something she wants.

This may sound harsh or contrary to what many parents hope for their children, but if my daughter does not experience difficulty and failure at something, then she may never know the glorious feeling of triumph! She may never fully grasp the pride of finally accomplishing a goal. Of finishing a task. Of crossing the finish line. Of taking a bow at her play.

If she did not experience struggle, she may never know how to handle failure. A closed door. A missed opportunity. Or a chance to show good sportsmanship.

I want my daughter to have all the happiness in the world, but even if I could bottle it up and hand it to her, I would not rob her of the experience of striving for it.

I want to model grace and dignity when faced with defeat. I want the opportunity to guide her through the process of facing a loss, a failure, and delayed satisfaction. I want to teach her what acceptance looks like. I want to guide her in the process of picking herself back up and trying again. I want her to know how to persevere when presented with a challenge. And I want her to know how to problem solve when obstacles show up.

I will not shield her from these valuable experiences, for life is full of them. I will not cushion the blow, but allow her space to process and move forward. I will not find fault or blame, but ask what could be done next time if anything? I will encourage rather than do FOR her.

I TRUST in her ability to figure it out. I BELIEVE that she will overcome and grow from whatever experience she faces. I have FAITH in her ability to stand back up when she falls. Because I LOVE her.

I received such a nice call from a parent this morning calling me “The Teen Whisperer” and this is not the first time I’ve been given this honorable title! So firstly, I would like to say thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart for those kind words. Secondly, I want to say that I am nothing but honored and privileged to get to spend time hearing your teen’s and young adult’s stories!

With that said, here are some of the “prefaces” that I use with young people to establish a trusting relationship and give them room to open up. Hopefully, you can employ some of these in your own conversations with your young person:

  1. Let them know that you have no agenda other than your own personal wish for them to be happy and healthy, in whatever form that takes for them. When we show young people that we are letting go of expectations and we do not have “something we are getting at” then we can set them at ease. Most adults in teen’s lives are attempting to steer them a certain way and the teens know this! So they show up already armored and looking for “the angle.” We have to back those words up with action and make sure we are checking ourselves when we want to fall into “steering.” We can acknowledge falling into this by saying something like, “I find myself really wanting to tell you that I think that behavior is dangerous and it scares me” or “I must acknowledge the fact that when you talk about this relationship I can’t help but feel like you deserve more.” When we can openly tell them that we find our brain getting into “mom-mode” then we can still be honest with them while also acknowledging that we have an agenda peeking through. Image result for suspicious
  2. Go ahead an address some “unknowns.” Usually teens/young people are unsure what may come back later to “bite them in the ass” and will withhold information because they don’t want it to be used against them. When the adults in young people’s lives can go ahead and take the guess work out of future situations, they are much more comfortable (usually) with  proceeding honestly. Teens are still just kids in a lot of ways and they fear “getting into trouble.” When we can dispel HOW information is used and what will happen if/when something big does need to be discussed, then they have some clarity about the future of the relationship and can proceed in a more informed way. grayscale photo of man standing in front of stairs
  3. Do NOT ask questions you want a certain answer to. Ugh, even as an adult I find this so condescending when people do this! Let young people know right off the bat, when you ask a question it is SINCERELY because you are curious about THEIR answer. We need to let our young people know that we are not trying to trap them into a specific answer. This is where we get a whole bunch of “I don’t know’s” because they know they can’t give you the real answer because you’re poised ready to strike with a “HA! I told you so!” Or, they sit there terrified, searching their brain for the answer they think you want, but are so unsure of what it is and that you will be there ready and waiting with an eye roll and a condescending comment about how they should know the answer to this! Are you a mind reader? Well, they aren’t either. 
  4. We need to allow “I don’t know” to be the real answer. They simply may not know! They might not have ever thought about it before. Or, more than likely if it is a question about a bad judgement call “I don’t know” is code for, “I know that was dumb, I feel ashamed or guilty, I should have known better.” In the first case, we can help explore with them some thoughts by offering, “Ok well, let’s think about it. What are some possible thoughts about that?” THEN SHUT UP! Let them THINK! Don’t immediately offer them a multiple choice answer (i.e. “Well, was it because of ______, ________, or _______?) In the second circumstance, we can help them process through that “face palm” moment and talk about how they might have done it differently if given the chance. (If I am sitting with a young person whose response is “I don’t know” to everything, I jokingly tell them that they have three “I don’t knows” they can use for the session and the rest of the answers they have to think about and come up with something! We usually have a good laugh and they get the picture.)Image result for I don't know

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but perhaps “prefacing” your intentions can work both to help set you up for sticking to a new way to approach your young person, and open the door to a more honest conversation.

If you would like help with this, practice, or some mediated conversations, please contact me to schedule a session at I would love to help! There is no greater joy than watching a family finally be able to communicate in an open, honest, loving way 🙂

This is a little piece of advice a dear friend gave me when I first started on my journey in recovery. She noticed that I would begin to “should” all over myself, “I should have a better job” “I should be living on my own” “I should know better” “ I should be making more money.” SHEESH! What a mess I just made!


Should means “ought to” or something that is expected. Should implies judgement. Y’all, we are all in the same race, but we have different starting points, different paths, different strengths, different abilities, and different obstacles and they come at different times. If you put a sprinter in a marathon race with mud and natural obstacles to climb over, chances are the sprinter won’t fair as well as the marathoner. However, if you put that same marathoner in a race with a sprinter, the sprinter is sure to whip past them! If someone is naturally inclined towards studying and school they will probably make decent grades. However, if you put that same person in a situation where they need to think on their feet and improvise, you might not get the same results. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it is stupid. Albert Einstein

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be saying “Yeah, yeah, but what about those people who just seem to be good at everything?” Surely you don’t know everything about their life and have no idea what struggles they may have already been through or are to come in their future. Everyone has a struggle. For some, it comes during childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, or for others middle age or later in life. If I am “should’ing” on myself because my obstacle came up quicker than your’s or perhaps I just can’t see your obstacle because you’re on a different path than me, then I am not honoring my own journey.


If you are “should’ing” on yourself, I wonder, what (and perhaps who) is behind those judgements? Where are they coming from? Are they coming from your family of origin? Your culture? The media? Yourself? Probably a mixture of all of those things.


I ask you to take a minute to locate where those “shoulds” are coming from and what do they say exactly? Then ask yourself, do those really apply to you? Do they apply to you right now? Would it be rational (not to mention fair) to apply them to you right now? Do you even agree with them? The tendency that happens when one wallows in “should” is that they get stuck in this negative pattern and have a harder time seeing their way out.


Enter, positive and creative solutions along with some compassion for yourself (and others)!


Have you considered the thought that maybe you’re not doing (fill in the blank) because it’s just not right for you? Have you thought about perhaps the reason (fill in the blank) isn’t working out is because it’s not supposed to? Is there another option you’re having trouble seeing? The door shut…now where’s that open window!?


We fall back on “should’s” because it’s easier than self discovery. It’s funny, so many times we want to stand out and be different, yet when we do for any reason we immediately compare ourselves to whatever is going on around us and shrink back. Not “should’ing” ourselves takes being brave, bold, and standing our ground when those around us want to push us into their “should.”


That reminds me, don’t “should” on other people either! Life is a process and a journey. One that unfolds lessons at different times for everyone. While one person learned a deep rooted lesson about selflessness, someone else might not get that lesson until later on. While that person really understands patience, you might still need some work in that arena.


Being kind and compassionate to yourself and others is way underrated. Honor your journey and the journey of others. The next time you’re standing in a pile of your own “should,” ask yourself where it came from and if you even care? Then notice the things you are doing well.

Peace be with you friend.

One of the most common statements I hear from parents is, “I don’t know what is “normal” teenage behavior and what I should be concerned about.”


There is a lot going on in the world right now around the word “normal” if you haven’t noticed. I would argue that humanity itself is in its adolescence and we are all trying very hard to work some big issues out with each other! Let’s maybe start with a super simple look at the term “normal”


“Normal” is what a culture deems as status quo. Something expected. In The United States of America we have “norms.” Within the great state of Texas we have “norms.” The Greater Houston Area has “norms” and then our various subdivisions have “norms.”

This article explains how perception can influence the way you see the world. Your perspective verses another's perspective on the world can be completely different.

If we dig even deeper, each family has “norms.” For instance, in some families, it is perfectly “normal” to leave the bathroom door open while your partner, sibling, etc is walking around the house. In other families, the norm is to ALWAYS close the bathroom door and KNOCK before entering a shared space.


Neither norm is right, wrong or “unnormal.” It is just simply what is commonly practiced and accepted within that family structure.


Humans naturally categorize and label in order to help us assimilate new and different information. Teens have an inherently strong biological pension for labelling (i.e. jocks, goth, preppy, hipster, etc…I’m probably way behind on current lingo here) because their brains are growing at such an alarming rate they HAVE to categorize in order to make sense of so much new information! They are typically asking themselves hundreds of times each day “what is normal?”

A man in a pink-and-blue striped shirt and Africa necklace stands before a graffitied wall

There is NO SHAME in parents being curious about this question! It is a tumultuous time in which the same mood swings, irritability, odd appetite and sleep patterns in a regular growing adolescent, can also look eerily similar to drug use, depression, and anxiety.


Teens see the word “normal” as some mythical measuring stick they can’t ever seem to figure out. They don’t feel normal (because their bodies and brains are going bonkers on them and the world is getting bigger by the second!) When parents throw the term around it can further aggravate a frustrating matter.


A useful exercise I have used in family sessions has been to have a honest talk about that specific word and what comes up for everyone in the family around it. What are each person’s initial thoughts when that word is used? What assumptions is everyone making when different members of the family throw it around? Can anyone be more specific about what they mean when they say “normal?”


“Normal” is a pretty general description to put it mildly. A solution is to get more specific. The only way to do that is to ask questions and be curious about what the other person is picturing. Then, DON’T JUDGE THEM! Sit with their answer, continue being curious about it. Talk about what you picture, but don’t proclaim your version of “normal” is the “right” version.

"Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly." - Morticia

A lot of family communication can be cleared up by acknowledging the assumptions we are making when we use general terms like the one expressed above. Spend some time thinking about the “norms” you had when you were growing up. Which ones have you carried over into your family now? Which ones did you decide to change or toss out? What caused you to make that decision or change? Could your teen be further evolving the norms in your family? Could they just be experimenting with identity and exploring the vast possibilities of what “normal” means to them? Go ask them!


Stay curious my friend.


Feel free to read my bio on the website to get the “professional” introduction of myself, but in case I need a little more credibility, here’s the reason I love working with teens, young adults, and their families:


I had a professor tell the class once that people in the helping profession typically choose a population they like to work with based on where their psychic energy stopped. Now, if this is a little too “whoowhoo” for you, I understand, keep an open mind, ride with me on this train of thought.


By psychic energy, I don’t mean that people in the helping profession can read minds (although really good therapists and counselors typically have a higher degree of intuition than most). What I mean is, their spirit is drawn towards a certain population or age group. Perhaps they had a psychic wound (non-whoowhoo people will call this a “trauma”), some part of their life their minds continually return to.


For me, that is between the ages of 14 and 23, with a sweet spot right around 17. I was a super rebellious teen (and my rebel spirit still pokes her head out to give a fist pump in the air). I had some major issues with authority. It wasn’t enough that you were older than me or you were in a position that wielded more power than me. I needed proof that you were right or that it served me well to listen to you (even proof wasn’t always enough…blasted stubborn teen!).  


Part of this came from having a very authoritative dad who was particularly militant. I just flat out didn’t respect him, he was a bully. Shoving his finger into my chest and yelling at me just made me laugh. He looked so ridiculous! That always made it worse.


I want to be clear, I was not abused, I was just bullied. What I know now is mean people are hurt people. My parents were good, imperfect people and they did a great job. I was not an easy teenager and many of our problems were not one sided. I played a huge part in creating the relationship we had with each other for many years. In no way am I putting blame on anyone other than me for my choices. No one EVER made me do anything. I chose.


“Question authority” was my anthem and I had a lot of fun doing it. Yes that’s right, I was “that kid.” I would do contrary things just to be contrary. It was a riot watching these authority figures literally not know what to do with me. They were so used to other kids just going along. I felt powerful pushing them to really work hard and “figure this darn kid out!”

I’m sure at this point many parents are reading this and begging the question, “But why!? Why would she act that way? Why do kids do that?” If you’re asking those questions, you might not have been that kind of young person, or maybe you were, but had enough motivation (external or internal) that told you to keep your mouth shut and just go along.


The drive to “push the envelope” was just too tempting. I just wanted to see where the line was exactly. The whole time wondering, “Who made the line? Why is this the line and not that? Is the line the same for everyone? Is the line the same everywhere? Is the line only the line because this person standing in front of me says its the line?” These were the types of questions I pursued answers to. I don’t begin to give myself enough credit for thinking that this was always my line of thought. I put plenty of stock in the fact that I was also just a dumb, difficult teenager who enjoyed getting a rise out of people or who acted impulsively and honestly didn’t know why I chose to make some of the choices I did.

Needless to say, I got in a lot of trouble at school and at home. But, I was also a pretty smart kid and made decent grades in AP classes, had a job where I worked about 30 hours per week, and an extra-curricular activity that kept me busy too. So I didn’t get too out of hand until I was on my own in college and no longer had my extra-curricular activity to keep me motivated. That’s a whole other story.


My hope is by now I have a little bit of “cred” at why I identify so strongly with teens and young adults that just don’t seem to fit the mold of what a young person “should” be or “should” be doing. (I will write another blog on on its own about not “should’ing on yourself”)


Due to grace and mercy, my choices did not kill me or land me in prison. I feel as if I have some purpose to fulfill and some good to give during the rest of my time on Earth. I have also been blessed with repairing my relationship with my mother, bless her heart, who has shared with me many of her trials and tribulations of dealing with her unruly young person. The blessings have continued during all my years of working closely with parents and their young people in non-profit agencies. They have shared countless stories of what worked and what didn’t for them, how they thought, and what they felt during their time raising a wandering young person.

As the saying goes, “Not all who wander are lost,” so it is with your young person. The victory is not in getting your kiddo to do something or behave a certain way, but it is to create deeper levels of understanding between you both. (Note: when I say “understanding” I do not mean “agreeance.”) To help them formulate a deeper understanding of themselves and create identity. This is a big, huge world we live in and they are on the precipice of discovering it. It is daunting, scary, exciting! Who am I? Who am I in relation to all this? What am I doing here? What do I want? Face it, a lot of adults can’t answer those questions. Can you? Can you help your young person without judgement and coercion be who their insides are telling them they are?


If you’re wavering, it’s really ok. Those are some pretty freakin’ deep existential questions. I hope that this continuing blog will help give you some insight into the young person’s mind as well as some creative and positive solutions on how to meet them where they are at, give them some scaffolding to build themselves up around, and protect your sanity in the meantime.