“Parenting Is Not Art”

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer.

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer.

By Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Parenting is not art. It’s not a roster of must learn skills. It’s not something to conquer or something you can completely ignore. It’s not a vocation or way of life, a movement, mission or religion. You don’t need training or schooling or even the best possible childhood to “parent.”
And when it happens, there is no turning back but there is turning away and turning towards or standing stock still. Parenting is a happening that permanently changes you – no matter which direction you choose – or don’t.

To parent is to choose, however cavalierly or intensely, or somewhere in between, to let your child belong to you and for you to belong to your child, to commit to the unfolding before you. And in you. It is the only relationship that never ends.

Any adult can attest to the challenges of being an adolescent. Because we’ve all been there. We might remember or choose to forget the intense highs and lows, the awesome curiosity and the constant state of high alert. We might remember the feeling of not knowing who we were, what we were about, or how to get where we thought we should be going.

Adolescence is chaotic but it is also the definition of creativity. “Creativity takes courage,” says Henri Matisse. It’s not a stretch to say, adolescence takes courage. There’s nothing more creative than giving form and meaning to the blank canvas of adolescence, that starting point of defining and shaping identity.

When children enter puberty, they begin leaving the protective cloak of their family identity to seek their own. They leave the sureness of childhood bodies and the security of imaginary play to ponder, explore and experiment with the greatest question of all – “Who am I?” This mighty question ignites the flame inspiring each of us to become artists of our own lives.

Each stage of development presents a crisis which demands resolution. Psychologist Erik Erikson identified the psychosocial work of the adolescent stage as Role Confusion and Identity Formation. The work of adolescence is to trial test new selves while negotiating a rapidly expanding inner world. If adolescents resolve the “crisis” of identity, they develop fidelity, the ability to attach themselves faithfully through intimacy and connection to ones self and to another. If unable to successfully do the work of adolescence, we might feel lost, confused, unmoored.

Adolescence is primarily social and emotional. And so, teens need social and emotional mentors and teachers. This is a challenge since our children spend most of their days in schools that are decidedly left brain and tend to throw their hands up when it comes to the inner lives of their students.
As a result, parents carry the weight of their child’s social and emotional education, the “heart” work of their development. And all that at a time when adolescents are trying to create their own identity separate from their parents.

Social and emotional development and learning is the conscious building of interpersonal (awareness of other’s feelings) and intrapersonal (self-awareness) intelligences necessary for living an connected, engaged life.

Parents can support their child’s social and emotional growth in many ways. Here are eight tips for parents to support their child’s social emotional development.

1. Active Listening – How a parent listens to an adolescent child can positively aid in the work of identity formation. Parents help their children explore the “who am I?” question of adolescence by listening without judgment or fear. Listening with an open heart helps adolescents make sense of their world and their changing selves as they begin the process of taking responsibility for who they are at that moment and who they want to be.
2. Self-Reflection – Where does self-reflection, the foundation of self-knowledge, fit into an adolescent’s busy schedule? Parents can promote this critical developmental need at home in creative ways – conversation around the dinner table or even watching a movie together. Self-reflection needs time to develop and practice to come naturally.

3. Model Authenticity – Adolescents are keen observers of human behavior, especially of their parent’s behavior. They constantly question truth and reality as they experiment with new ways of being. Parents support their child’s search for emotional courage and honesty by living it themselves – or at least by putting ones best effort forward. A good starting place for parents is to not pretend to have all the answers.

4. Promote Creativity – The adolescent work of creating an identity means stepping into the unknown. Like artists, adolescents enter an empty canvas and experiment with colors and materials as a way to accept or reject new ways of being. Creativity gives adolescents freedom to experiment and create themselves in safe and constructive ways. This can be achieved through art, writing, dance, sports, clothing, theatre and music. Parents validate their child’s creative endeavors when expressing their own curiosity with real questions and interest.

5. Celebrate Mistakes – Mistakes mean your child is taking risks and ultimately learning from their experiences. Mistakes are an essential part of growing. Physicist David Bohm writes: “From early childhood, one is taught to maintain the image of “self” or “ego” as essentially perfect. Each mistake seems to reveal that one is an inferior sort of being, who will therefore, in some way, not be fully accepted by others.” This is unfortunate because “all learning is trying something and seeing what happens.”

6. Parallel Process – Parallel process is learning and growing alongside your child. With each moment of your child’s growth, parents are reminded of their own experiences at that age. Simultaneously, perspective is necessary for parents even when they feel there is none. Adolescence joins parent and child in the human journey of self-discovery.

7. The Struggle is Important – Parents often want to pick their child up after they fall down. It is important to recognize that resilience is linked to learned self-reliance. Adolescents need to learn and accept difficulty as part of life and living. They learn what they are made of when they go through something on their own. Parents need to support the important work of struggle as a developmental imperative.

8. Integrating The Dark Side – It can be frightening to witness a once sunny, “problem-free” child transform overnight into a gloomy, irritable adolescent. Some parents find the emerging darker side (self-doubt, anger, fear, self-consciousness) difficult to accept and send the message that the harder stuff of growing up is not accepted. Parents need to integrate the highs and lows, the good and the bad, to support balance and self-acceptance.

Parenting is not art. It’s a relationship that is social and emotional in nature. It is is constant and changing, and demands that we grow alongside our children.

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer. She specializes in struggling adolescents and their families. She helps parents focus on relationship, attachment and connection and helps teens achieve greater developmental well-being.
She is writing a book that explores 21st century parenting. Kimberly is married with four kids and divides her time between her private practice in Arlington and Vermont.
Find out more and read her blog at KimberlyHackett.com. Kimberly can be reached at Hackett.kimberly@gmail.com.

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Relationship Parenting – A 21st Century Requirement

By Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

“She doesn’t need me. She tells me a thousand ways everyday.”

Don’t believe it. She does need you. Now more than ever.

The parent/child connection is our most precious and enduring relationship. Like Yin and Yang, the sun and moon, Laurel and Hardy, one cannot exist without the other. We belong together. We balance one another. When it works, it feeds our soul. When it doesn’t, it is demoralizing and destabilizing – for both parent and child.

Cultivating relational health in your parent/adolescent relationship, even when your teen is actively blocking you, takes reinvention, persistence and a willingness to look inward. It can be a difficult transition moving from parenting an adoring, pretty-perfect, pre-adolescent child to parenting a teen, whose developmental job is to differentiate from her parents.

Differentiation is that growing space between you and your adolescent, where too much space becomes disconnection and too little space hinders growth. The parent/child relationship from birth onward is all about negotiating that precious space.

One way of thinking about and measuring the health of your parent/adolescent relationship is to take a closer look at the quality of the space between you and your child. This can be measured by how reactive you are around your child. Space brings calm, the ability to see more clearly. It is where the relationship thrives.

The parent/adolescent relationship demands flexibility simply because a teen’s changing needs and sense of self is dynamic and in constant flux. Understanding your teen is much like reading a book where crucial plot points are redacted. Teens are literally hard to read. And because communication changes so drastically during adolescence, it’s critical that parents adjust their expectations and perceptions along the way – not only of their child but also of themselves.

This means, quite simply, that parents must grow alongside their teen. It is a parallel process of mutual growth. It is as much internal work as it is external.

Relying solely on grades, friends or other external factors to gauge the well-being of our adolescent children can be misleading. It takes the parent out of the relational space, making them judge and juror, someone who is watching their life, not part of their life. This leads to a power dynamic where both parent and adolescent struggle with who holds the power between them, creating a match of wills.

A relationship is not one of power, but of connection, that includes mutual respect and self-respect.

Because teens want to keep parents at bay, to insure their social-emotional freedom, kids become expert actors, transforming themselves into who their parents want them to be. When parents attune to the relationship, they see beyond the “act.” Because relational parents work at being curious and engaged, teens are less likely to hide in plain sight.

In an age where cyber friending passes as relationship currency, parents are called upon as an antidote to heightening social and emotional alienation.

Real time connection is fast becoming a 21st century parenting requirement. Our children need parents to ground them, to daily sit across from them, face to face, to talk, to listen, to work through the discomfitures of this most important relationship, and to not cave in to the scowl but insist upon what’s beneath.

Only seven percent of communication is verbal, the rest is vocal, facial, gesture and posture. Parents who zero in on their child’s non-verbal language tune into their teen in a more comprehensive way. Kids need to be seen. All the cyber visibility in the world will never replace what it feels like to be seen in real time.

The 21st century parent/adolescent relationship is much like turning the radio on. When there is static, you automatically adjust the dial for clearer reception. Static is important. Static lets parents know something is up, something needs attention. Static catches your attention. It’s the red blinking light. You know to slow down and focus in, to both yourself and your child.

In 1953, pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the term, “good enough mother.” The good enough parent is someone who works at it, but is not always successful, someone who doesn’t give up, someone who accepts the messiness and work of relationship.

The success of the parent/adolescent relationship must start with the parent. Many parents don’t like to hear this. Old school parenting thinking creeps in – “do as I say, not as I do.” “How dare she talk to me that way? She needs to change.” But the parent/adolescent relationship must remain an inherently unequal relationship. Parents must be in charge. They must set the relational standard. Your efforts now will be repaid hundredfold in your child’s future relationships, both personal and professional.

Our 21st century teens consider themselves relationship savvy and cooly cynical about connection, especially when it comes to their parents. Yet they are craving authentic connection. Teens today have instant access to escaping any relationship that hints at awkward or scary. This is where relational parenting comes in.

Our children are fast becoming the Disconnect Generation. Whenever they are the least bit relationally uncomfortable, they can block, delete, or un-friend anyone in an instant. Sitting in their room pondering life, sitting with “awkward” or “scary,” without screen escapism, is fast becoming ancient history. Parents are beginning to truly grasp the stark reality that we have no control over what worlds our children enter behind their bedroom door.

All the more reason then, that relational parenting is needed more than ever. Solid, firm and loving connection is the antidote to silence behind closed doors. Our 21st century children are in need of their parents’ presence in their everyday lives. Tenacity is at the top of the list of parenting traits we must all acquire. We must stick to our children with a different kind of glue, a glue that binds parent and child in real time connection.

Finally, parenting takes courage. A lot. It asks a lot of parents to stay connected to children who send strong messages they are no longer needed. But please don’t believe them. You are needed now more than ever.

Everyone benefits when parents commit to relational parenting, to insisting on connection with their child. Our children need us in a new kind of way. They need our presence, our conversation, our ability to be firm and loving and calm. They need us to keep trying, to not forget how important we are to them. They need us to insist on relationship and to remind them that life is all about cultivating those relationships, those real relationships.


Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer. She specializes in struggling adolescents and their families. She helps parents focus on relationship, attachment and connection and helps teens achieve greater developmental well-being.
She is writing a book that explores 21st century parenting.Kimberly is married with four kids and divides her time between her private practice in Arlington and Vermont.
Find out more and read her blog at KimberlyHackett.com. Kimberly can be reached at 617-475-0942, or email – Hackett.kimberly@gmail.com.


Parenting Matters is a collaboration between the Colonial Times Magazine and the Town of Lexington Human Services Department. This column is not intended as a substitute for therapy and the contents are do not necessarily reflect the views of CTM’s editorial staff. The information contained in Parenting Matters is for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional, diagnosis or treatment.

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Complex Sibling Relationships

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 c

Patti Grant, LICSW

Patti Grant, LICSW

an 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: www.Copernican.us  “We Help People Change”

Phone: (617) 606-7450



Parenting Matters is a collaboration between the Colonial Times Magazine and the Town of Lexington Human Services Department. This column is not intended as a substitute for therapy and the contents are do not necessarily reflect the views of CTM’s editorial staff. The information contained in Parenting Matters is for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional, diagnosis or treatment.

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Anger Outbursts: Common Myths About Anger Management and Thought Based Interventions that Actually Work

Dr. David Perna

If you are a parent who is struggling with your child’s anger outbursts stop blaming yourself. Instead, join the crowd. I work with a multitude of educators and mental health professionals who are equally stymied by kids who display anger outbursts. And they are professionals. They typically use outdated solutions that do not work like, “I just have them hit a pillow,” or “I tell them to count to ten.” These interventions typically don’t work. How do I know that these interventions do not work? I simply ask my patients. They have said, “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard-count to ten.” Or, “I am getting really good at hitting my pillow, and my brother.”

Research shows that if you want kids to punch someone when he/she is angry then simply have him/her practice punching something on a regular basis, such as a pillow. Remember, practice make perfect. I help teach kids that angry oubursts are a choice. These behavioral choices are influenced by the thoughts that precede them. By working to understand their unhealthy thoughts they can avoid poor choices. It might sound complicated but it is pretty simple. Here are three examples.

1. Poor Reality Testing: We commonly think that everyone shares a common sense of reality when an event occurs. However, kids who struggle with their anger have a difficult time with shared reality whether they are participating in a sporting event, a birthday party, or a board game. Younger children are more prone to these kinds of challenges given their age and limited ability to understand many cultural/societal/group rules. Kids with anger challenges commonly maintain a more regressed view of the world. In essence they are not tracking the same information that most kids are paying attention to. In the end they make behavioral decisions that cause tension and then lash-out when other people challenge their perspectives.

Example #1: An example of Poor Reality Testing would include a child who “throws a nutty” while hitting during a baseball game. In this situation he is likely to think that the umpire’s call was wrong, quickly feel embarrassed and humiliated, and then start to throw his bat and helmet to the ground. Reviewing with him over and over again, “Take a deep breath,” will not work. He believes he was wronged. A better foundational intervention would be to talk with him about how people see things differently. How umpires sometimes make mistakes. And how although he has a right to an opinion in the end the umpire has the final say. Reminding him before he steps up to hit that he should try his best, but abide by the umpire’s feedback is most critical. After he bats you can encourage him to tell you his opinion of the umpire’s calls whether or not he gets on base. This will allow him to anticipate a difference of opinion and provide him with an outlet for discussion. Increased language usage leads to increased reality testing.

2. Pseudo-Paranoia: Pseudo-paranoia is evidenced by the extent to which certain kids seem to always start off with a negative view of others. No one is trusted until they “prove” themselves, and the proof required is tremendous. These kids are not fully paranoid in the sense that they do not think that the government is planting transmitters in their teeth, however, they tend to focus on what is wrong with others rather than what is right about them. Pseudo-Paranoid thoughts commonly piggyback on top of poor reality testing and enhance it.

Example #2: Sometimes kids will think that their schoolteacher does not like them. Despite any practical proof they think that other children in their class are favored. Many times they will erupt in class and lash out yelling that the teacher is not fair, cares more about the boys than the girls, or specifically chose a writing activity since the teacher knew that she “hates writing.” In such circumstances it is important for the teacher to articulate to the student why certain activities are important.

I will frequently tell teachers that they need to catch my patients “doing things right.” By balancing out one situation where a limit is set with five situations where they offer praise I have found that my patients will typically settle down and feel at ease. Parents will commonly comment to me, “I don’t want my kid to feel indulged or to become spoiled.” I will typically respond by saying that without such balancing their child will be so overwhelmed each day in school that he/she will not make progress. The first step is always balance and calming. During this phase the emphasis is on providing firm examples that substantiate that the teacher is fair. The second step is to offer better reality testing.

3. Rumination: Cognitive rumination is based upon the rather distasteful notion of actual “rumination” which is exemplified by a cow chewing and re-chewing its cud. Unlike most people who are impacted by an event, digest it, and let it go, kids with anger disorders are marked by an inability to let things go and cognitively move on. These issues keep coming back up again and again in their thoughts. When angry kids recirculate these “stuck thoughts” they display a limited ability to show restraint. Like a snowball that gathers energy and weight as it rolls down hill, ruminating thoughts generally gather steam and lead to an explosive release.

Example #3: Adolescents tend to struggle with ruminating thoughts. It is common for them to arrive home, go to their room and start to brew about an earlier conflict. When an unsuspecting parent knocks on their door to tell them it is time for dinner, he/she is typically bombarded with an emotional barrage that throws them for a whirl. Parents commonly start to scream in response, which in turn provokes a verbal trench war. And let’s be clear, trench warfare never really ends pleasantly. In contrast it would be better for parents to remain calm, note their surprise in not knowing that their child was upset, assume that their child has some legitimate reason to be upset and ask him/her to simply put his/her frustration into words. Be patient. Remember, verbal mediation is the “Holy Grail” of anger management. Good luck! Better yet, Good Skills!


Dr. David Perna

Dr. David Perna

Dr. Perna is a licensed psychologist who has an expertise in the treatment of child/adolescent anger management and its relationship to learning challenges. He is the owner of Copernican Clinical Services, a group practice with offices in Lexington and Newton, MA. He works with families, schools, and various professionals in addition to running specialized anger management groups. He maintains an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School and is a Clinical Associate at McLean Hospital, the medical school’s largest psychiatric teaching facility. He is the former Director of the Child/Adolescent Anger Management Program at McLean Hospital. Feel free to follow his newsletter/postings/ramblings about anger management, learning, adolescent psychology, and family therapy on the web: www.copernican.us, or visit his personal website: www.davidperna.com.

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Pop Quiz: Which Mouse has ADHD?

By Henry David Abraham MD

If you harbored any doubt that ADHD is real, take a look at the time-lapsed photo below. It comes from Duke University where they are trying to define ADHD on a molecular level. The mouse in the left test-tube is normal. The one in the middle is missing a certain gene. The one in the right tube is missing a pair of those genes. The blurred image tells the story. Hyperactivity is for real, at least in mice.

But if you or your child has suffered from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder you don’t need evidence from a lab. The classroom tells the story well enough. The ADHD child is the one who can’t keep his seat, who runs and climbs at the wrong times, who can’t wait his turn or keep from talking. A more subtle form is found in the kid who can’t pay attention, can’t organize, is forgetful, distractible, and forever losing things. This is the inattentive type of ADHD. Kids with poor attention have trouble reading. Kids with hyperactivity have trouble listening. Some kids have both types.

We even know where it comes from, sort of. Genes have been identified. Smoking in pregnancy increases the chances a baby will have ADHD. Even Tylenol in pregnancy increases the odds somewhat. The problem is that there is no simple test that clinches the diagnosis. It’s more a matter of a consensus between parents, teachers and doctors that seals the deal. Knock one of those out of the discussion, and you open the door to years of error.

Consider a short list of some of the other problems that can cause hyperactivity without ever being ADHD: learning disabilities, autism, mood disorders, drug abuse, caffeine, thyroid disease, asthma medication, to say nothing of a new sibling, new school, divorce, or death of a parent or grandparent. If there is one take home lesson, it’s that diagnosis should drive treatment, not the other way around.

When people agree on the diagnosis, treatment should follow two principles. The first is to create a state in the child of what AJ Martin calls “academic buoyancy.” That’s when a student develops the capacity to overcome setbacks that are typical of ordinary life at school. In severe cases medication is nearly always essential, since a strictly behavioral program is not likely to succeed alone. But behavioral steps in class and at home are essential. These children are not simply going to be cured by a pill. Needed as well are getting classroom accommodations, building classroom citizenship, making and keeping friends, and seeking schoolhouse victories in class and after school.

This brings up a second principle. Treatment must protect the children from us- the swarm of well-meaning parents, teachers, counselors and doctors who all want to do something about this whirling dervish of a child. Too often an overly aggressive treatment plan labels the child as trouble, a poor learner, not normal. The result is stigma, social isolation, and the continual drumbeat of inadequacy that the child hears and comes to believe. It’s not that you should do nothing. But whatever is done has to be done carefully. Note that on the average, symptoms diminish by about 50% every 5 years between the ages of 10 and 25. It’s fair to ask if a child’s problems are likely to disappear by adulthood, why treat in the first place? Because they may not, and without treatment she is in for a childhood surrounded by handwringing adults. This is not good for anyone.

What about the child with mild or moderate ADHD? They look OK for the most part, like the mouse in test-tube 2, but they still stand out by being inattentive rather than hyperactive, girls rather than boys. They are also annoying, irritable, friendless, indifferent to school work, anxious, or depressed. They may be helped by classroom accommodations, tutoring in tough subjects, and a little more parental involvement. Medications may be an option if behavioral approaches don’t do the job.

Medication is a big stick, and there are risks as well as benefits. Medications for the most part are stimulants. They are abusable, addictive, and with unpleasant side effects like insomnia, anxiety, and weight loss. In large doses they cause paranoia and psychosis. On tests and papers they can result in blithering. Worse, in a Dutch study of heroin addicts, fully one quarter of them had ADHD. And among ADHD patients, the risk for drug abuse was increased seven times.

So why has the sales of stimulants for ADHD quintupled in the last ten years? The answer is vividly described by Alan Schwarz’s recent piece in the New York Times, “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.” The sale of stimulant drugs is big business. Shire, the world’s biggest producer of ADHD drugs, just recorded some of its highest profits, largely based on sales of its stimulant Vyvanse. Shire even supports an on-line six question self-quiz to tell you if you suffer from their favorite disease. Nearly half the people who took the quiz for the Times were classified as possible ADHD cases. (Trouble wrapping up a project? Sounds serious. Call your doctor!) Stimulants have a ready market among desperate parents, hurried doctors, and students willing to divert their drug supply to friends who want to pull an all-nighter. The medications also have a thriving after-market among addicts. Heroin may have killed Philip Seymour Hoffman, but stimulants helped. A reporter for Al Jazeera asked me recently if normal college kids should use stimulants to enhance their school performance. Brave new world, that has such questions in it.


Henry David Abraham, M.D.

Henry David Abraham, M.D.

Dr. Henry David Abraham is a psychiatrist in Lexington, MA. He is the author of several books on drug education, including What’s a Parent to Do: Straight Talk on Drugs and Alcohol, and the e-book for teens, The No Nonsense Book on Drugs and Alcohol, available on Amazon.com and BN.com.


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Child Centered Divorce – A Model for Cooperative Co-Parents

Shawn McGivern

Shawn McGivern

By Shawn McGivern

In September 2000, TIME Magazine invited renowned sociologists and mental health professions to weigh in on What Divorce Does to Kids.

While the issue presented a balance of perspectives, what took front and center stage for readers and experts alike were the late psychologist Judith Wallerstein’s doom and gloom predictions for adult children of divorce. Based on her 25- year study of 131 subjects, Wallerstein concluded that children of divorce “look for love in strange places” and “make terrible life partner choices.”

“Expecting disaster, they will create it,” she writes. “They will delay career choices, delay marriages and likely get divorced themselves.”


Both her book and the TIME exposé drew harsh criticism. Christy Buchanan, author of Adolescents After Divorce undercut Wallerstein’s findings stating that, “There’s some good research suggesting that many of the problems attributed to divorce are actually present prior to the divorce.” Penn State Sociology professor, Paul Amato effectively dismissed Wallerstein’s predictions, saying in Time, “What most of the large-scale scientific research shows is that although growing up in a divorced family elevates the risk for certain kinds of problems, it by no means dooms children to having a terrible life.”

Twelve years later, what seems logical is that the subjects whom Wallerstein began tracking in 1971 reflected the loss that can stem from children being raised in an unhappy intact home and then being subjected to “adversarial ” divorce.

The fact is, divorce, like death, is a profound loss of possibility for the child. To him or her, it is as if a once-whole beautiful egg has been shattered into two jagged pieces.

Divorce will likely interrupt the child’s social, emotional and cognitive development. Studies show, however, that children can adjust and do better in the long-run when parents put their differences aside, work as a team, and model for the child the respect and collaborative spirit that informs a successful business partnership.

With 40-50% of marriages ending in divorce, it’s no surprise to find a plethora of literature on the how-to of divorce. For parents whose chief concern is their child’s well-being, however, some of the best thinking from judges, divorce mediators, attorneys and mental health professionals comes from The American Bar Association publications. My Parent are Getting Divorced: A Handbook for Kids and Co-Parenting During and After DIvorce: A Handbook for Parents offers concepts and codes of conduct between co-parents that aim to minimize conflict while optimizing the trust, autonomy, initiative, social interest, cognitive development, and capacity for friendship and intimacy needed in adulthood.

Tips for Cooperative Co-Parents

Kids’ fears and questions run rampant when parents separate. They may not have the language to voice their fears, but a typical interior diaglogue includes: What is divorce? Will I still see both of you? Where will I live? Will we still have enough money to do fun things? ? Am I going to have to leave my school, my teachers, my friends? This is embarrasing; what will other kids think? How will I buy Mom/Dad gifts for holidays or birthdays? If I’m with Dad on weekends, when can I see my friends?

Kids need assurance that it’s okay to be loyal to both parents. They hear criticism of Mom/Dad as descriptive of themselves. Often, when kids are exposed to parents fighting or negative comments about the other, they feel forced into the role of referree or caretaker. For this reasons, competent co-parents have disagreements in private. They discuss adult matters behind closed doors or with other adults. If and when they introduce a significant other to the kids, it’s understood that the child has input on where and when. Resilient kids are most often the product of two homes where warmth, acceptance, and open communications abide.

Language creates experience. Kids know “friends” are people who get together to have fun, enjoy the same things, laugh, and in times of difficulty turn to each other for emotional support. If you are true friends, kids already feel it . If what you mean by we’re friends is closer to “we’re not enemies,” however, try: “Divorce means that we will be living in separate houses. When it comes to major holidays, your birthday, things at school and other important events, though, we’ll get together as a family. There are going to be some changes for all of us, but one thing will stay the same forever:, your dad and I will always share our joy in watching you grown into the terrific person we knew you were the day we brought you home from the hospital.”

Family Advocate and many other child-centered divorce materials emphasize kids’ need for structure. Cooperative co-parents will ideally offer consistency in both homes with respect to times for dinner, homework, TV, internet,and bedtime.

In its Handbook for Clients, Family Advocate encourages single parents to exercise self care. When the kids are gone, make plans with friends. Join a support group. Let the housework go. Go to the gym. Take a class. Pamper Yourself . Relax.

Divorce marks the end of marriage. As Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Travelled, however, “where there is love, there is healing.” And, with child-centered divorce, the healing can begin.


 Shawn M. McGivern LMHC

 Conflict resolution/divorce mediation


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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: shawnmcgivern@yahoo.com.


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Marijuana: What Parents Need to Know

Julie Fenn, LICSW

By Julie Fenn  |  The website Drugfree.org 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.



  •  http://www.mapreventionalliance.org
  • www.teen-safe.org
  • Freevibe.com
  • NIDA-the national institute on drug abuse
  • Thecoolspot.gov

 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.

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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 (www.reachma.org/pavenet) and Love is Respect (loveisrespect.org) 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 reachma.org) 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 colleen@reachma.org or 781.891.0724 x119

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