How to interpret negative dreams, when using profanity turns to a stress relief, what Nomophobia really means, and helping your young adult "launch" off.
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“ Accepting divorce as one of the vagaries of life and not the fault of the children may enable the children to retain a more fulfilling hold on life.”
"My neighbor has just gone through a divorce. I can tell it is hard on her and her children. Is there anything I can do the help them?"
Signed concerned neighbor.
First of all, the good news: The vast number of children endure divorce well; it may take a while to adjust, even up to 2 years, but adjustment will happen. Only approximately 15% of children of divorce experience problems into adulthood. Although anything that happens to us leaves a mark, we will always be “children of
of divorce” and therefore aware relationships can be temporary, except of course for parental relationships which need to be maintained and reinforced-this is where you come in.
The initial time involving the divorce is the hardest on children. They need to be protected from the conflict and rancor happening around the actual divorce. They do not need to see their parent break down emotionally or blaming the other partner for being the one at fault. I was approached by a patient on the street I’d not seen for 15 years who thanked me for discouraging him from telling his teenaged children what he thought about their mother during the divorce. His children, now adults, thanked him as well.
If you can, make yourself available to your neighbor and her children welcoming them into your home as a place of comfort and security. This will be a very helpful alternative to the kids going to their rooms to escape altercations between the parents. Taking the children to the movies or for a picnic gives parents time and privacy to iron out problems. Accepting divorce as one of the vagaries of life and not the fault of the children may enable the children to retain a more fulfilling hold on life. That is, the parents are not divorcing their children, but each other.
"I was watching PBS the other day and it had a speaker talking about listening to your thoughts and that sometimes thoughts are negative and not always truthful. Do you think that the same for dreams? Should you always believe your dreams?"
I assume your PBS special referred to negative self-talk where you unconsciously convince yourself you can’t accomplish something or you are certain to fail. Listening to yourself repeat “you don’t deserve to succeed” has an uncanny way of influencing outcomes. But does that also hold true with dreams? I’ve never looked at dreams as foretellers of the future or even the truth, for that matter.
Think about dreams as a continuation of your day except much of it is symbolic and metaphorical. You might be able to gain new insight into a problem or its solution or why it’s a problem in the first place. I’ve heard of dreamers remembering where they lost something or realize that someone was lying to them, your brain noticing unconsciously then it appears in your dream.
Dreams are manifestations of thoughts we struggle to make sense of. We are the ones giving these manifestations meaning; therefore it can be helpful to examine them to learn more about our inner motivations and emotions. Everything in a dream is us—a reflection of who we are and what’s on our mind. If you have a dream about three different people, look at each person as a manifestation of those aspects of your personality—you are not only the dreamer—but the dream.
"Our high school’s sex education is now talking about gay relationships. I am concerned about the exposure to gay lifestyle at such a young and venerable age. Do you think this can damage my children in any way?"
Signed concerned parents.
Inherent in your question, I hear the fear your children may somehow be affected or infected with homosexuality if they learn about it at school. People are born homosexual and do not turn gay. The children of gay couples do not become gay because their parents are in a same-sex relationship. Knowledge about gay relationships makes a heterosexual child such as yours more informed, tolerant and compassionate. Knowledge is the antidote for fear.
As a society we have always been sexually conservative, preferring abstinence to education. By the age 19, 7 out of 10 teenagers have had sex. We must arm them with facts, not admonitions like “just say no.” They need practical facts on how to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease, but also why they find themselves attracted to members of the opposite sex or not (members of the same sex).
From ages 10 to 14 years, the greatest cause of death is suicide. 1 in 12 teenagers has attempted suicide. Attempted suicide among gay teenagers is at 30% around age 15. They are in your child’s sex education class and need to hear they are not pariahs, they are not alone, and there is reason to hope for happiness.
"I am wondering about an appropriate age to talk to my children about death. My sister’s family skirts the issue with their kids and even hid the fact when their pet hamster died. I want to bring my children up without fear about death but I don’t want to traumatize them either."
Signed mother of three.
When I was a child, the idea of death was a natural part of life. My pets died, the animals on our farm died and my grandparents died as well. I said a prayer every night, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” It sounds morbid now, but I don’t remember being traumatized. I’m sorry your friends missed the golden opportunity to bury their hamster in the backyard in a shoebox with appropriate ceremony. It’s a great way to introduce children to death.
I’ve noticed that if parents are uneasy around death they will often pass that on to their children. A child’s understanding of death will reflect their age and mental development, for example, a four-year-old may say that Grandpa is dead and still expect him to show up for supper. My sister-in-law’s granddaughter knew she no longer had to hide her shoes from the cat because “Molly’s dead” but then looked for her under the bed.
I sang in the children’s choir in our church and we were expected to sing the Requiem Mass for all the funerals. There was no attempt to shield us from the reality of death. We had our own problems around death though. We were of a stoic culture; country people who considered crying or any display of emotion showed a sign of weakness. It took a while for me to get past that belief. I’m always shocked when I meet an adult who’s never been to a funeral, much less attended a “wake”. It’s a parent’s responsibly to teach their children about all aspects of life, about money, about sex and about death. They are all loaded subjects that call upon us to examine our own feelings about these issues.
It was easier when everyone lived closer to grandparents and aunts and uncles and went to church every Sunday with neighbors and had backyards in which to bury hamsters. If you don’t have an answer to the question, “Where did Grandpa go when he died?”, it will be hard to explain it to your child.
"Is using profanity a stress reliever? I have a friend who loves to use cuss words and her excuse is that it keeps her sane and makes her more calm. Her whole family cusses a lot but they also seem to laugh a lot. Any thoughts on this?"
Signed verbally concerned.
It sounds like your friend is just fine with cussing and she’s made her own decision about expressing her emotions, both positive and negative, in that way. There is something to be said for not repressing one’s emotions and how we do it is a personal choice. Using vulgar language, drinking alcohol, going to a casino to gamble, driving too fast, eating too much, using drugs; are all used as stress reducers by some folks. But that does not keep these activities from causing harm to themselves and their friends and families.
Part of being a mentally healthy adult is finding safe ways of combating stress. Going for a walk, going to the gym, reading a good book, baking a cake, going dancing, being on social media, all of these things can reduce stress in a fun and productive way. No one is free from stress but how we choose to manage it says a lot about our ability to manage our lives.
"Our son who is grown up now lives up in Aspen. He has lung issues and Aspen is very high altitude. His health would be much better at a lower altitude. I can’t seem to get him to move and I am worried about him. I can’t understand why he is so resistant to doing something that would be so much better for his health."
Signed concerned parents.
Your last sentence is the real issue, isn’t it? “Why does he choose to do something that is not good for his health?” I think it may be part of the definition of what it means to be human. We can choose to do something that is not good for us. I think it started when we left the Garden of Eden. We call it original sin. We started early and we’ve kept it up. We do it in our individual lives and we do it as a society.
I’m sure your son has his reasons. Perhaps living in Aspen fulfills a lifelong dream and he feels he can push his way through this. He’s young after all and feeling omnipotent and indestructible is a luxury of youth. How many people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) live in Denver when it’s been shown that living at high altitude shortens the life span of the person? I suspect your son is aware of his options and that your pointing them out may have an adverse effect on his decision making, which is yet another foolish luxury of youth.
"I am getting ready to go into high school this year. I am interested in becoming a psychotherapist or maybe a psychiatrist. What classes do you think would be best for me to take in high school to prepare for college?"
Signed interested student.
I’m pleased that you're thinking about entering the field of mental health. It can be very rewarding as it is an occupation in which you can help other people in a very real way. As a profession; psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy enrich the lives of others as well as your own. When I was a very young nurse in training, I met a businessman with a terminal illness. He was sad that he’d done so little to help others. He made great motors for boats and provided jobs in his factory, but he always felt something was missing.
There are many ways to participate in the mental health professions. Most psychiatrists, because they are M.D.s, spend most of their time prescribing medications. This means that you would need a good science background in high school and college, as you would be preparing to go to medical school and later specializing in psychiatry. You could also become a Nurse Practitioner with a specialty in psychiatry and be able to practice psychotherapy as well as prescribe medications. Becoming a psychologist is a different track as you don’t go to medical school but you do have a lot of knowledge about human behavior and ways to help people alter their behavior in a scientific way. Also, you could become a social worker or a counselor and see patients for psychotherapy. All of these avenues are open to you depending on your interests. Your job now is to get the best well-rounded education that you can, with both sciences and humanities. If you choose to become a doctor you will need a heavier emphasis on science and math simply because of the prerequisites but please don’t ignore literature and history and political science. We need people in this society of ours who are well-educated and who have a foundation of critical thinking based on knowledge.
"I have heard there is a new condition with addictive behaviors with cell phones and internet devices. I think it is called Nomophobia. I am worried about my children being totally obsessed with texting and their phones. Is there anything I can do to help treat or prevent this?"
Signed worried mom.
Nomophobia means ”no mobile phone phobia” or becoming anxious when your phone is turned off or you’ve forgotten it at home or lost it or the battery is dead. It’s not really a phobia, more an anxiety reaction to being out of touch with friends and family. If you are unsure of yourself socially or afraid your friends might not understand your being out of cell phone contact and be angry with you, you’re more likely to be anxious when you don’t have cell phone contact. The phone seems to provide constant reassurance that you are loved and all is well.
So having said that, I think you can help your daughter in two ways. First of all is to help her to tolerate having the phone turned off during certain times every day. She should not have it turned on during school as most schools have rules about that. The emphasis should be on when she turns her phone ON and not when she turns it OFF.
Secondly, we need to look at the anxiety exacerbated by being out of cell phone contact with her friends and family. Social anxiety, fear of abandonment and peer pressure all work together to reinforce the need for constant contact. Our children don’t know what it was like to not have smart phones and computers, much less answering machines and faxes. (We had a party line when I was a kid.) They do their homework online and submit essays to their teachers. The world is changing and we can’t change it back. But we have to control it rather than having it control us and I hope I’m not just whistling in the dark when I say that. I look around me and see everyone with his or her face buried in their phones. Perhaps we need to learn to tolerate being alone with ourselves, disconnected from the matrix during a part of every day. This is a lesson for us as parents as well as for our children.
"My daughter is having a hard time launching. She seems to really not want to find a job or go to college, and stays in her room most of the time on her computer. She sees her friends from time to time but really doesn’t talk much about things and general seems too tired to do much. I managed to get her for a check-up and they say she is fine. Could this be depression or just a moody 18 year old?"
Signed frustrated mother.
I’m sorry that your doctor did not more fully address your daughter’s symptoms. The prevalence of teenage depression is increasing along with the frequency of teenage suicide. This is a particularly volatile and vulnerable age and teens are susceptible to despair and desperation on a grand scale. We have had two teen suicides in our area in the last month. The reasons are not relevant except that the boys felt that life was never going to improve, that they would always feel as they were feeling right then, sad and empty and that the demands of life were more than they could bear.
Another symptom to note is a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. They might retreat to their rooms or withdraw from their friends, not wanting to engage in conversation. There’s an internal dialogue going on that we are not part of, often a dialogue about the hopelessness of life and how helpless they feel in it.
Your daughter seems too tired to do much. I assume she’s sleeping a lot more and eating less. It can go the other way as well, insomnia and overeating. But if she’s complaining of fatigue with no actual physical problems, you can presume she may be depressed. Anytime a teen or young adult is depressed, suicidal thoughts may be present.
Suicide can be “triggered” by the recent suicide of a friend or a celebrity hero. It’s why they say that suicide is contagious. There are other triggers such as sexual abuse or bullying, or failure at school or in a love relationship.
You cannot afford to dismiss this situation as the actions of a moody 18 year old. Even if she’s not overtly suicidal, she needs to be in therapy and perhaps on antidepressants. Does she belong to a church? Encourage her to attend the church youth group AND help her find a job. Doing it all by herself may be beyond her emotional strength right now. Also, get her into a class at the community college in your area, something fun and interesting. But do involve yourself. I know you would like her to “launch” herself by herself, but she may need “training wheels” for a bit.
"My sister who is grown now, doesn’t seem to want to have much to do with the family. I have encouraged her to be more of a part of our family but she usually declines any offers to get together and we are getting more and more distant on our relationship. Everyone that knows her and our family just says to “Let it go.” Should I do anything about this or just let it go?"
Signed concerned brother.
How lucky you are to have a sister and how lucky she is to have you. Sibling relationships can be wonderful and supportive or very muddy and complicated, full of old wounds and misunderstandings. But they are definitely worth fighting for. Do not just “let it go”. My sister did not speak to me for over 10 years, and then one day after the death of our mother, she began to call. We have history and a shared past with our siblings that we have with no one else. We remember each other as children, learning to navigate the world.
Have you tried to see your sister by yourself, not with the family at a large gathering? It may be helpful to reestablish the primary relationship as sisters, without children or husbands or any other family members. Go for a walk together or can some peaches or go for a long drive. Start off small, maybe a cup of coffee and then see how the conversation develops. Don’t be intrusive or demand answers. Simply provide a situation where she can talk if she wants. Don’t do it just once, keep it up.
I have no clue why she is reluctant to be part of the family. Perhaps there was something of which you are unaware. She may be depressed or ashamed or resentful or perhaps she simply doesn’t know how precious a sister can be.
You could both go to couples counseling. Yes! You don’t have to be married to go to counseling together. It’s a safe place to talk to each other frankly.
Or, you could go to a pastoral counselor together if that would feel more appropriate. Pastoral counseling fills a real need for people who are more comfortable discussing private matters with someone with a shared belief system. Other therapists might not share their spiritual beliefs (or lack there of) with you. But no matter what, keep an open mind and heart toward your sister and remember, don’t take things personally.
-Romona Scholder, M.A., RNCS, Psychotherapist