Parenting Matters

Parenting Matters: Complex Sibling Relationships


Patti Grant, LICSW

If sibling rivalry is an issue that affects your household, you may understand how stressful it can be for everyone in the house to bear. You may be at a loss to know how to stop the fighting, or question whether they shouldn’t just, “work things out.” Let’s first take a look at the basis for sibling rivalry.

Tension between siblings can run in a few different forms. One form that is most common is that siblings tend to look at each other as equal even if their age is not. This may come out as, “Why does she get to have a phone?” or, “Why can’t I stay out that late?” School-age kids especially may be very black and white in their thinking about fairness, such as when they see parents giving preferential treatment to a younger sibling (such as greater physical affection).

A second form of tension stems from individual temperaments. These temperaments, including mood, disposition and flexibility, as well as their unique personalities play a large role in how well siblings get along. For example, if one child’s disposition is to be okay with close proximity, but another child delineates their personal space, it can lead to conflict. “But that’s my side of the couch!” Does this sound familiar?

Another form of tension can stem from kids that have special needs, either emotionally or medically. The child who isn’t sick may resent the amount of the parent’s attention that this sibling needs. This child may also not be able to verbalize this feeling well, and it may come out in a way that makes it hard to address, such as, “Why does he always get everything he wants?” Maybe this is a phrase you tend to hear that leads to tension for everyone.

The final form of tension that can impact siblings is their role models. The way that parents-and other close family members-resolve problems and conflict sets a strong example for their kids. If family members tend to yell, call names and isolate themselves, siblings are likely to do the same. However, if family members can work through conflict in a way that’s healthy and respectful, it increases the chance that the children will adopt the same tactics.

So what do you do when the fighting starts? Whenever possible, don’t get involved. If the siblings can work things through in a productive way without your help, that will be the best for their self-esteem and problem solving development. You also risk been seen as taking sides whenever you step in, based on past experiences of the children or simply even the timing of when you step in. However, always intervene in a situation where you feel they might become violent with each other.

If and when you do decide to step in, try to resolve problems with your kids, not for them. Following are some suggestions to follow when stepping in.

Separate kids until they’re calm (as well as yourself). Unless everyone is calm, fighting can resume and the problem solving cannot.

Take the focus off blame, as focusing on who’s to blame only exacerbates fighting. This can be done by encouraging each child verbalize their concerns, one at a time.

Voice your own concerns for their fighting, such as how you feel like family life could improve, or how you’re concerned they’re going to hurt each other.

Ask them to come up with a mutually agreeable and feasible solution that addresses all the concerns. Be careful to throw out solutions that won’t be likely to have follow through, or ones that don’t consider all of the concerns.

Support solutions that children come up with, check their follow through and come back to the table to talk if the solution is attempted and it doesn’t help resolve the original concerns.

There are also some simple techniques that can be used every day to help kids get along. An important one to use is to explain to the child that, “equal is not always fair, and fair does not always mean equal,” in that each child gets what he or she needs, and sometimes one child may need more than another. Another important technique is to set ground rules for behavior. Tell the kids that if an argument starts, they must keep their hands to themselves, and yelling, cursing or name-calling, as well as abuse to objects (slamming doors or throwing things) are not allowed. Explain to kids that they are not responsible for getting angry, but they are responsible for their behavior.

You can also be proactive in getting involved in each of your children’s interests, and make sure you give each child some one-to-one time on a consistent basis. Make sure each child has their own space to do their own thing, either to take space quietly, go outside, or enjoy activities with peers without their sibling tagging along. Tell your kids that you love them both, without limits.

It’s also important to have fun as a family as well. It can be as simple as throwing a ball together or playing a board game, something that establishes a peaceful time that you can all relate as a time that everyone got along well. Also keep in mind that the fighting may be for attention, and if you leave the situation, it may remove the incentive for fighting.

If fighting is occurring daily, you can hold family meetings weekly or daily to review the ground rules and work on solutions to resolve conflicts, as outlined in the bullets above. If children frequently fight about the same issue, it’s a sign that a collaborative approach is needed, with parents modeling problem-solving behavior.

In a small percentage of families, the conflict between siblings is so severe that it disrupts daily functioning, such as the children’s ability to go to school on time or attend extra-curricular activities. Fighting can be so severe that it can affect kids emotionally or psychologically. In these cases, please do seek help from a mental health professional. If you have any questions about your children, you can also speak to their pediatrician, who can help you assess whether you and your family might benefit from seeking out professional help or refer you to local behavioral health specialists.


Patti Grant, LICSW

(617) 606-7450

Private Practice:

Newton: 44 Thornton Street, Newton,

Lexington: The Liberties, Suite #11, 33 Bedford Street, Lexington, MA 02420

Copernican Clinical Services:  “We Help People Change”

Phone: (617) 606-7450

Share this:

What Brings Happiness?

Shawn M. McGivern, LMHC


By Shawn M. McGivern, LMHC  |

As Father’s Day approaches, I invariably wrestle with the same question: what to get my daughter’s dad who, regardless of the occasion, insists there’s truly nothing he wants.

This year, stuck in commuter traffic, I rack my brain. Silk tie? He has enough to outfit a small corporation. Sports equipment? Covered. CD? Maybe, but he has an iPod. Wallet? How many wallets can a man panini in a one adulthood? Next come the ridiculously big ticket items: trip up the Amazon, cruise down the Nile, round trip ticket to India for his Peace Corps reunion. Just as the traffic begins to move, however it occurs to me to ask, what does (and doesn’t) bring authentic happiness?



According to Martin Seligman, former President of the American Psychological Association and founder of the relatively recent field of Positive Psychology, most of us would be walking on more sunshine if psychology itself were to focus less on what contributes to emotional and mental suffering and more on what contributes to well-being and improves the overall quality of life.

Therefore, while the following research on happiness factors such as money, age, fame, beauty, marital status, weather, and doing good works may not lead to the perfect gift for loved ones, it may offer some savory food for thought.

While people in their 20s and 70s report the highest level of happiness, folks over the age of 50 report lower levels of stress and anxiety. Whereas seniors have more health problems, they report fewer problems overall. In his long-term “successful living” study of Harvard graduates,, the renowned psychologist George Valliant found that those who enjoy “ the good life “ possess three things in common: good health, close relationships, and the ability to effectively manage their troubles. .

In the Romantic era, people believed enduring bliss would follow from love and intimacy. This, in turn, led to the belief that both were to be found in marriage.

Interestingly, while married folks in the U.S. report greater happiness than non-married people, the two groups reported equal happiness when the same study was conducted in Germany.

When it comes to having a family, parents apparently report decreased happiness while raising children than non-parents but when the two groups were studied at the empty-nester stage, parents reported greater happiness than those who had not had children.

This points less to incongruence than to psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s findings that “the remembered self” tends to recall only the most dramatic elements in any given phenomenon while drawing conclusions from the way things end.

While we may assume the beautiful, famous folks enjoy non-stop happiness,
research shows that we retain the feeling of happiness for only three to four months
after peak experiences and then return to our previous baseline happiness.

Most of us know that money doesn’t buy us love but does it bring happiness? Yes and no. In poor families where basics such as food, shelter, warmth and safety are at issue, there is a strong correlation between money and happiness. . Once people reach middle class status, however, and specifically when they achieve an annual income of $75,000, money has diminishing returns. Similarly, while lottery winners are understandably elated when they hit the jackpot, they too return to their baseline level of happiness.

In general, people get happier as they get older. This may, in part, be due to having a clearer sense of their preferences and adopting more realistic expectations of themselves and others. Whereas in youth death feels faraway, even abstract, knowledge of our finite time on earth can lead to pursuing our goals, realizing our creative potential, learning new things, a desire to help others, work on social skills and forgiveness.

Especially in the dead of winter, we tend to assume sunny skies and warm temps will ensure happiness – and this is sometimes true. In terms of a geographical cure, however, Midwesterners who slog through snow and ice are equally happy as Californians;- and, according to scientists, the silver bullet may lie in getting a minimum of 30 minutes of sunshine per day.

Evolutionary psychology is concerned with how biology impacts this complex state of being and becoming human. It states that the capacity for happiness is 50% genetic. Consistent with the principles that inform cognitive therapy, however, we have far more choice over how we feel than we may think. Studies suggest that a primary contribute to depression in the elderly is inactivity. It stands to reason, then, that any age, exercise including walking, dancing, and yoga will increase levels of a the body’s good mood neurotransmitter, dopamine.

As positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky points out in her 2008 book, The How of Happiness, t two key factors impact mood: how we think about our lives – specifically, whether we feel we are moving towards realization of our goals; and , how often we experience positive vs. negative emotions. She identifies 12 activities including practicing kindness and saying positive things that lead to increased bursts of happiness. In the long run, however, because people vary, her book includes an illuminating “Personal-Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic.”

At the end of the day, philosophers, neuroscientists, soft scientists, marketing gurus and others are likely to remain fascinated by what brings authentic happiness. Ultimately, however, it strikes me that most of us sense on an intuitive level, the ethical truth and beauty contained in the words of H.H. the Dalai Lama:

“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.”

Shawn M. McGivern LMHC is a clinical supervisor and psychotherapist in private practice in Cambridge, MA and an adjunct psychology professor at Lesley University. She is a former freelance writer for The Boston Globe and creator of a journal entitled, My Living Legacy: 44 Creative Cues for Unfolding Your Story in Words and/or Images. E-mail:


Share this:

Marijuana: What Parents Need to Know

Julie Fenn, LICSW

By Julie Fenn  |  The website recently reported that 90% of addictions start during teenage years. 9 out of 10 people, who meet the medical criteria for drug or alcohol abuse or dependence, start smoking, drinking or using other drugs before the age of 18 years. Recently, The Lexington Public Schools sponsored a forum on marijuana. Teenage marijuana use has steadily risen in correlation to the 2008 Massachusetts referendum decriminalizing possession of small amounts of Marijuana. The 2009 Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that Massachusetts’ youth marijuana rates are already nearly 30% higher than national rates. Lexington alone has seen a steady increase over the last 3 years. Those of us working with teens have seen an alarming increase in teens seeking treatment for marijuana use. With the current research on marijuana, it’s important to have an accurate understanding of why the teen brain is so vulnerable to marijuana, know the alarming effects marijuana has on learning, emotional development; it’s addictive nature and toxic effects on the other organs in the body. Teen Marijuana use not only impacts a student’s physical and emotional health but also lowers the ambition and potential of many bright and talented youth.


Some parts of the brain are not fully developed until the mid-20’s, including the brain’s center for judgement, self-control, planning, learning and decision-making (frontal lobe). This leaves teens especially vulnerable to making quick, often risky, impulsive choices.

The teen brain’s emotional center is functional but not well controlled, making teens more susceptible to unpredictable behavior and vulnerable to peer pressure. We know that the teen brain is tuned for making fast responses and for quickly acquiring new information. Drugs and Alcohol can “hijack” the brain’s development, increasing risk for brain rewiring and addiction. Drugs change the connections in the adolescent brain, sometimes permanently.

It’s important to note that teens feel more of a high than adults when they have pleasurable experiences, while at the same time not feeling impaired as quickly as adults. (teens don’t feel impaired even though they are). This leads to more risk of becoming hooked more quickly than the adult brain.

The longer a teen postpones their first use, the less likely they are to have a problem. The beauty of the adult brain is that if we keep a cool head, we can filter through all the facts and influences to help our children see the “big picture” and make safer choices. Most recent data shows that more 15-17 year olds are in treatment for marijuana dependence than all other illegal drugs combined. Risk of becoming dependent on marijuana is 4 times greater for first use at age 13 than for first use age 21 or older. Teens who smoke marijuana have a much higher risk of developing a mental illness than those who start as adults, doubling the risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

THC, the primary drug in marijuana impacts the memory center of the brain. This affects learning. Teens who use marijuana one or more times a week report difficulty concentrating and problems with memory. Marijuana has similar cancer causing chemicals as tobacco. Marijuana users are treated for the same chronic respiratory diseases as tobacco. Chronic marijuana exposure can affect the reproductive systems of both males and females, disrupting the regular production of hormones. Use can lower fertility of both males and females

Marijuana use is now linked to increased risk of an aggressive form of testicular cancer among adolescent and young adult males. (“Association of Marijuana Use and the Incidence of Testicular Germ Cell Tumors,” by Daling and Schwartz, The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) Current studies are looking at the effects on the female reproductive system and ovarian cancer for similar links.

Many of us grew up with the Marlboro Man and positive images for smoking/chewing tobacco. For years many adults chose not to heed the warnings regarding the dangers of teen tobacco use. It is clear from the research that we cannot be complacent about teen marijuana use and it’s availability to younger and younger children. Marijuana is more harmful than people think. Changes in attitude lead to changes in use. (The Monitoring the Future study, The University of Michigan study.)

Parents and the Lexington community need to send a strong and clear message that marijuana use is not only dangerous but is a growing public health problem.



  • Educate yourselves about the harmful effects and the laws.
  • Talk often to your teens about the dangerous consequences.
  • Teach them problem-solving skills and how to resist peer pressure.
  • Know your child’s friends, where they live and who their parents are. Supervise and monitor your teens.
  • Teach healthy coping strategies/skills and make sure they have trusting adults in their lives that they could go to.



  • NIDA-the national institute on drug abuse

 Sources used in preparation of this article include: SAMHSA Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2008; Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research, Children’s Hospital Boston.

Julie Fenn is an LICSW, as well LPS Prevention Specialist/Health Educator. She has worked with Children, Adolescents and Families for 30 years and is the parent of 3 daughters.

Share this:

Party Schools

Henry David Abraham, M.D.

By Henry David Abraham, M.D. | If your son or daughter is among the lucky 43% of high school seniors choosing a college this spring, your teen is on the edge of one of life’s more important decisions. There are the usual suspects to consider: location, size, faculty, strengths of various departments. But for some kids it’s which school has the best parties. This may sound wacky, but the quality of social life offered by a college can make or break the deal. Some kids a hot party school over a great education. But any parent who is willing to shell out $50,000 a year for a party school is either clueless, or must want to get that kid out of the house really badly.

Google “party school” and you will get 13.7 million hits. This degree of Internet interest in party schools rivals the number of hits for motherhood (14.6 million), ahead of apple pie (6 million) and chocolate chip cookies (5.6 million), though roughly equal to alcohol abuse (12 million hits). The esteemed Princeton Review publishes a list of party schools. So does Playboy magazine. Party schools tend to be big universities with great football teams, lots of fraternities, and locations near ski slopes or beaches.

Beer companies, which market heavily to the college crowd, like party schools. The campaign of linking spectator sports to beer is a marketing coup d’état. Campuses are not excluded. A number of college sites are proud to say, “Win or lose, we booze.” Ironically, some kids may actually need to go to one, the athlete in financial need, for example, or the kid who needs the security blanket of a fraternity or sorority. A regular octane school may also be right for the kid who is not ready for a place where the main school sport is high octane academics.

There can be an unexpected cost to the party school. Playboy advises that you can tell you’ve gone to one when you tell someone you went there, and the first thing they ask is, “Did you graduate?” Dropping out is one risk. There are more. The Imperial Wizards of research on college alcohol use are Henry Wechsler at the Harvard School of Public Health and Ralph Hingson at Boston University. Over the last two decades their teams have mounted a breathtaking series of studies of college drinking spanning 50,000 students and 120 colleges. Here is what they found.

Two million students a year are likely to drive under the influence. About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. More than 150,000 students a year develop an alcohol-related health problem, while about one in a hundred say they tried to kill themselves while drinking or drugging. A half million kids will be injured due to alcohol, and 600,000 will be assaulted by a college drinker. More than 97,000 will be victims of sexual assault. 1,700 will die from alcohol related accidents.

Too much of a downer? Let’s get the party animals’ take on college drinking. One of my favorites is a site on the ‘net that tells you how to throw a keg party ( There is advice on trying to hide the party from the police, preventing theft and damage using padlocks, keeping a Taser handy for the rowdy, and not allowing any celebrants onto the roof, since , falling is “the #1 cause of alcohol related party deaths.” Sounds like fun to me. Pro or con, it may be handy to know a party school when you see one. Here’s what you can do.

No. 1: Visit the place. If your student guide winks and tells you he drove a beer truck for a job that summer, be grateful. He’s telling you something important. This guy is considered representative of the student body by the college administration. Friday is a good day to visit. If the college parties on Thursday nights, it means that partying has spread from the usual Friday-Saturday bashes and invaded prime time. Look around campus for telltale signs of the prior night’s activities- bottles, cans, kegs, puke, and that lingering beery smell of unbridled youth whose campus administration holds its nose and looks the other way.

No. 2: Do a fraternity count. Include sororities and ones off campus. Then calculate a fraternity to student ratio for each of the schools you’re looking at. A highly ranked party school, according to the Princeton Review, is the University of Florida in Gainesville. It has 46,000 students and 62 fraternities. Then there’s Haverford College in Pennsylvania, with 1,168 students and no fraternities. Haverford is not a party school. (It is also not easy to get into, as I can attest from personal experience.)

No. 3: Look for a national collegiate champion of Something Big. This means Div. 1 schools. Football is the biggie, but basketball counts. Any school that has more graduates playing in the NFL than it has Nobel laureates or great novelists on its faculty should raise a blip on your radar. Also, any school that gives its players cars, pays its coaches a multiple of what it pays its professors, or has a stadium that seats more than 75,000 people is in the entertainment business, not the business of education.

If you toss the Princeton Review of party schools, what‘s left? I asked Robert Putnam, who spent his career teaching at Harvard, how he’d choose a college. Not everyone goes to Harvard, or to college, for that matter. His idea is a shoe that fits a lot of feet taking the next step after high school. If it’s college, forget making a choice based on location, size, endowment and the like. What matter the most are the personal qualities that each kid brings to the campus. The best education comes from swimming in a sea of curious, creative students who are tickled to death to be there. The passions of roommates, brothers, sisters, and team mates are infectious. They teach lessons for a lifetime. It makes sense to choose wisely.


Dr. Henry David Abraham is a psychiatrist in Lexington MA. He has held teaching positions at Brown, Harvard and Tufts Universities, and has treated patients and their families since 1974. In 1985 he shared in the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He is the author of “What’s a Parent to Do? Straight Talk on Drugs and Alcohol,” New Horizon Press. Dr. Abraham is writing a book for teens, “The No BS Book on Drugs and Alcohol.”




Share this:

Not My Kids~Teen Dating Violence

It seems that every time we turn on the news or read the paper, another community is dealing with the difficult reality of teen dating violence and bullying. There is hazing on sports teams, a domestic violence homicide, a suicide attributed to bullying. But at least this isn’t happening in our community, in our schools, in our teens’ lives.
For many years, we’ve safely hidden behind this rhetoric, which has led many of us to believe a scary myth: It’s not my issue – these are not my kids. But they are our kids. In fact, Massachusetts youth are witnessing and being victimized by bullying and dating violence at scary rates. According the latest Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior survey, 1 in 5 high school students reported being the victim of bullying, and 1 in 10 reported being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Worse, approximately 2 in 3 teens report knowing friends or peers who have been physically, sexually or verbally abused by their dating partners but only 3% of teens in abusive relationships report the abuse to authority figures and 6% tell family members.

What does it look like?

While statistics focus on physical and sexual violence in relationships, dating abuse is not always physical. Abuse is a pattern of power and control, and in teen relationships emotional abuse is often prevalent. Teens experiencing abuse are usually silent about their experience. Often, teens blame themselves or normalize abusive behaviors as typical. The controlling behaviors, such as demanding passwords to email accounts, constant texting and phone calls can initially be viewed as signs that their partner is taking an interest in their lives and showing how much they care. However, these behaviors are warning signs that a relationship is controlling and could ultimately become physically dangerous.
Dating abuse takes its toll on teens. Victims are at increased risk for depression and suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, and self-injury. As teen victims become isolated from family and friends, they may begin to lose their trust in others and have lowered self-esteem.
Most teens experiencing dating violence remain silent about the issue. According to the Liz Claiborne Institute, over 60% of parents reported that dating violence is not an issue in their teen’s life. However, 90% of teens that experience physical and sexual violence in their relationships reported that their parents were unaware of it. Over 80% of teens who were abused by their partners through technology reported that their parents remained unaware.
If you suspect you’re a victim of dating abuse…
If you think that you may be in an abusive dating relationship, tell someone you trust. If you are hurt, seek medical attention, and reach out to a friend, family member, or trusted adult for support. Keep a written record of abusive incidents in a place where your partner will not have access to it. It is often difficult to remember events in detail or in chronological order when you are explaining your situation to a third party. Contact your local domestic violence agency for more information and resources in your area. Domestic violence advocates may be able to help you create a safety plan and understand your legal rights. Look up information online: Peers Against ViolencE ( and Love is Respect ( are great resources for teens with questions. Most importantly, realize you are not alone in this, and that the abuse is not your fault.

What can we do?
Know your resources

Know you can access local domestic violence agencies for support in working with the teens in your life. REACH (an acronym for Refuge Education Advocacy and CHange) offers education and advocacy services through their youth program Peers Against ViolencE (PAVE). While providing individual support to teens experiencing abuse through counseling and psycho-educational groups, REACH also offers concerned parents avenues to talk about their teens.
Encourage your teen’s school to include these issues in their health curriculum. When teens are exposed to this information at school, over two thirds report that it has helped them recognize what is acceptable behavior in a dating relationship and 75% percent report confidence in identifying whether or not a relationship is abusive. However, a mere 25% percent of teens receive these important lessons.

Talk with the teens in your life

The first step is to realize that this will not be a onetime conversation with your teen. Multiple conversations around healthy relationships are required. Over 70% of boys and 65% of girls say that their parents have not had a conversation about healthy relationships with them in the last year. Know that this conversation may be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is necessary.
For parents with teens, it is important to continue conversations about dating relationships. Be candid and honest with your teens, drawing upon personal experience to illustrate healthy/unhealthy dating scenarios. If you suspect your teen is experiencing abuse, it is important to remain nonjudgmental and supportive. Let your teen know you are concerned for their safety and identify specific unhealthy behaviors you have noticed in the relationship. Note any changes in your teen’s behavior and lifestyle. Ultimately, tell your teen that you love them and that they can come to you to talk if and when they want to.
If your teen discloses dating abuse to you, it is important to remain calm. Parents may experience a continuum of emotions when they realize their child is experiencing violence; however, it is important that the focus remain on your teen’s disclosure and feelings, not your reactions. Give teens time to talk about their experience. Reinforce that you are concerned about their safety and reassure your teen that you believe them. In the meantime, encourage your teen to record abusive events and offer to connect them with local domestic violence resources for support.
REACH Beyond Domestic Violence (781.891.0724 or is building healthy communities by ending domestic violence. REACH is committed to advancing the safety, healing and empowerment of those who experience domestic or relationship violence through direct services and education while promoting social justice for individuals and families of all backgrounds. REACH also operates a 24/7 hotline 800.899.4000. Colleen Armstrong is REACH Beyond Domestic Violence’s Youth Education Specialist and can be reached at or 781.891.0724 x119

Share this:

Parenting Matters – Taking a Test to Stress Less

By Beth Baldwin, LMHC  |Yes, we have stress. Most every parent in Lexington would agree that stress is a problem for their kids. Parents also tell me they are stressed about how to provide the best foundation for their kids in what seems to them to be an increasingly competitive environment. Taking an SAT Prep course appears to be the norm now. Where does this stress come from?

Some of it is a function of the competitiveness of global economics, manufacturing and service jobs going overseas, the recession, daily reports of unemployment rates not improving, zero net new jobs created in August of this year, and scare mongering about graduating college seniors not being able to find jobs.

—Fact: Recent unemployment rates for high school graduates under age 25 who were not enrolled in school was 22.5%, compared with 9.3% for college graduates of the same age. The comparable figure at the time for the overall unemployment rate was

—Fact: Every kid I know who graduated from LHS in 2005, with or without college has a job.

We have some of the best stress available

One of the rallying cries for how destructive the competitiveness and resultant stress is for kids and teens was the recent documentary “Race to Nowhere” that was screened in Lexington last April at Cary Hall. The movie explores the many ways we create some of the stress ourselves.

According to the 2009 Lexington High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

—89% report their stress has increased since starting high school

—77% report atmosphere at LHS encourages academic competition

—74% report the atmosphere in the town of Lexington encourages academic competition

We have some of the best stress busting, too

LHS is working hard to counteract student stress. There is a terrific website called “Reducing Stress and Developing Resiliency” ( There students and parents will find great advice: recommended skills to practice, as well as information about how stress reduction and resiliency (being able to deal with stress) are being worked into the school curriculum. One of the very good pieces of resiliency advice offered as a “stress buster” on the website is “be true to yourself”.

It is hard to be true to yourself when, as an adolescent, you are in the process of formulating your identity. Erik Erikson called the psychosocial crisis “Identity vs. Role Confusion” with the main question being “Who am I and where am I going?”

How taking a test can bust stress

As a therapist, I am finding it is this “Who am I and where am I going?” that seems to have taken on a new competitiveness, making it more important than ever for kids to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to go for it. I am finding success in using a test to help clients find out some highly personal and highly relevant answers to this question.

The tool is called the Strong Interest Inventory, and this test and some versions of it are sometimes used at LHS with students. About 70% of colleges use the SII to help students with career planning.

The reason that the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) is useful in adolescence and in Lexington is because it can help with identity formation, self-confidence, and direction for activity areas to build upon interests and strengths. This is because:

—Inherent in the outcomes is the legitimacy of diverse work roles and work styles.

—The different types of people are all successful types, whether they are Accountant, Corporate Trainer, Forester, introvert, extrovert, team player, individual contributor.

—Therefore, an adolescent can see reflected in their SII results their own legitimacy of interests and the potential for their success in roles that interest them.

As one of my high school clients said after reading through her SII profile, “There is hope for me after all!”

One high school student identified that a good first step towards law might be to become a paralegal- since she could envision getting an Associates Degree but not doing 6 years of college and law school. Being a paralegal would get her working sooner, which is what she wants, and would get her a degree which is what her parents want. It is also a job that offers an advantage in terms of getting a BA in law enforcement or social work- other areas of interest. This information will help streamline the college search process. The student is reporting less stress already, because she feels more in control of her life.

The case of the missing major

The college version helps students with selecting courses, selecting a major and minors, and identifying job categories after graduation. Here is a recent story about that.

A client of mine had just completed his freshman year at St Michael’s College and came to discuss the fracture that had developed between his mother and himself over what he should be studying in college, and subsequently, what sort of work would he do.

The mom, who has an MBA from the University of Chicago, was quite certain that business was the only way to go in this new global economy. The son was quite sure that teaching was what he wanted. The mom told me, “He only wants teaching, because he doesn’t know anything else. He’s been in school for 13 years, and all he has been exposed to is teachers.” She told her son she would no longer pay for his college if he pursued a career in teaching. The two of them agreed to the son taking the SII and looking at the results together.

The son’s SII results showed his interests were not in the area of entrepreneurship, i.e. what his mother’s SII results would look like if she took the test. According to the young man, “No wonder she doesn’t get it.” In addition to showing his genuine interest in teaching, the results also surfaced a keen interest in graphic arts. Interestingly the son had been compiling videos and constructing presentations for his mom’s business during his high school years. Mom proudly said, “His work is excellent, completely professional. He could earn a living from that.” The son said, “I have been thinking about taking some more classes in that area, because there is so much more I could do and it comes pretty easy to me.”

What the son and the mom agreed on was that the son would pursue a graphic arts major with the intent of getting into this field after college. Somewhere down the line, the son thinks he may want to become a college professor and teach graphic arts. The son’s classes for sophomore year reflect his new direction in graphic arts with a nod to some psychology courses which are of interest. And yes, mom is still paying the tuition


Beth Baldwin, LMHC, is a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Lexington at Lexington Counseling, 18 Muzzey Street. Beth grew up in Lexington, attended Maria Hastings, Diamond, and LHS. Beth has a diverse career history included teaching middle school and high school science in the US, UK, and Greece, business school, advertising and marketing positions in London and NYC, her own marketing research consultancy, a second master’s degree, community mental health, and private practice. Beth is married with three children who attend or have graduated from Lexington schools. The family resides in Lexington in the house built by Beth’s grandparents in 1931.

Beth Baldwin, LMHC /Lexington Counseling /18 Muzzey St /Lexington, MA 02421 /Tel: 781-862-8621

Share this: