It’s OK to be Hurting

A few months back, I experienced one of my prouder moments as a therapist/mom when sitting in our living room, my then 6-month-old began to cry. My then 2 ½ year old immediately dropped what she was doing and went over to console him, or so I thought. As if the simple act of rushing to her brother’s aid wasn’t already sweet enough, she put her arms around him and said “it’s okay buddy…you can cry if you want.” My heart swelled.

As I thought about this experience later, what came up for me was a reminder as to what messages are truly important for us to be conveying to our children. As a parents, and people, most would attest to the idea that seeing your child or any child for that matter, cry is a difficult thing to witness. We feel helpless and responsible, sad and anxious, guilty and fearful all at once. Add in my therapist mindset, and I also often find myself wondering whether these moments are traumatic, harmful, helpful, or something entirely different that I have yet to identify. Given the answer may even be all of the above, the overwhelm we feel around supporting our children’s emotional health and safety can be weighty.

In these moments, I find myself stepping back and trying to remember the very thing I often share with those I work with. Hurt and pain is a natural part of life. Our job as a parent is not always to prevent these feelings, but to support our children through them in ways where they know they are loved, safe, cared for, and validated. After all, trauma is not necessarily the event itself, it’s what happens when a “bad thing” happens, and needs are not met. Knowing that, as the song goes, we “can cry if we want to” is a need; therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to make sure this message gets reinforced. Next time your child or someone close to you begins to cry, attempt to keep this in mind before jumping in to make their tears go away. Make clear to them that if they need, they can cry as long as they need, and you will be there with them through their process. Let them know their tears make sense and if the feeling comes up, don’t be afraid to cry with them, too. Ultimately, while we can and should take steps towards preventing the unnecessary shedding of tears, the overall goal is not to keep our children from crying all together, but to make sure they know that the choice to cry is theirs if they need it.

“Being There” for Others

There is currently much going on in my life, not more or less than others, but enough to preoccupy me and distract from this writing. This, along with friends who are struggling, led me to contemplate how I have shown up for and in turn how I have felt supported and nurtured by others. So, I am asking the question what are we really meaning when we say, “I support you, I will be thinking of you, I will be praying for you, I will send good energy your way,” etc.? I have said each of these things at some point to various people and heard them shared with me.

Mostly, when I hear these phrases I appreciate the sentiment, say thank you and we both move on. I must admit, however, there are other times, like now, when I have a longing for something more. As I reflect on what this “more” would include, I concluded: asking how I am doing when you have time to listen – asking if I would like a hug and holding on until the tension leaves and/or the tears come (this may take some time with my wife and male friends) – empathizing while challenging me to consider where growth is waiting for me – and the tangibles of “let’s take a walk,” “I would like to come over and bring dinner,” and at times “maybe we should do something different right now like play a game, go watch a movie,” etc.

My wife has always been good about putting her desire to support others into action. As I am writing this, she is writing notes to people in our lives. Even more profound are we willing to do this with those different from us whether the difference is reflected in homelessness, race, or non-normative sexuality or gender? This is my ongoing desire to work with what I would appreciate from others and take action to show up with the time to engage and ask what they need, with the intention of following through. How valued and inspired each of us would feel if we moved beyond loving intentions to loving actions. To all those who have taken time with me, thank you, I am a more fulfilled person for it.

How COVID-19 Continues to Impact Our Children

Over the past few years COVID-19 has had global impact. While many aspects of daily living have returned to their “new normal”, COVID continues to leave plenty of challenges outside of the actual virus. Working with children, adolescents and young adults has given me unique insight into the ongoing struggles of these populations. Here are a few of the most common challenges I see presenting in the therapy room and some ways parents and caregivers can help.

Social Struggles

From quarantines, to stay at home orders to social distancing, most young people experienced increased separation from their peers during key social development stages. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and difficulties establishing new relationships.

How it shows up in the therapy room

Reports of…

  • feeling lonely
  • not having friends
  • uncertainty of how to make friends

What parents and care givers can do to help

  • Spend meaningful time with your child
  • Consider opportunities to expose your child to other kids (sports, clubs, community events)
  • Talk to your child about how to make new friends, consider role playing or using toys to act out an interaction
  • Set up play dates
  • Check with your child’s school for resources they use to support social and emotional learning

Academic or Learning Difficulties

The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant challenges to schools and educators leaving them to figure out how to continue providing education to students who were no longer in a physical classroom. Many schools utilized remote learning and hybrid methods with little preparation. Educators did their best AND many students struggled with the inconsistent methods of teaching during these years.

How it shows up in the therapy room

Reports of…

  • feeling behind academically
  • difficulty adjusting to new routines
  • increased low mood
  • difficulty concentrating

What parents and care givers can do to help

  • Talk to your child’s school and teachers to get an idea of how your child is doing in the classroom
  • Help kids to create routines around schoolwork
  • Express interested and engage with the topics your kid is learning
  • Listen, validate, and express empathy when children report difficult feelings

Mood Difficulties

The pandemic brough about unprecedented times across the globe. Children often look to their surrounding environment (parents, caregivers, peers, school, etc.) for reassurance when big feelings arise. With the uncertainty that COVID-19 brought, many of the typical reassurances were not available. Fear of the unknown was a common experience of both adults and children alike.

How it shows up in the therapy room

Reports of…

  • feeling stress and overwhelm
  • difficulty dealing in uncertainty or ambiguity
  • anxiety or fears (ranging from social fears, health-related anxiety, fear of loss, and general unease)
  • sadness, low mood, depressed feeling

What parents and care givers can do to help

  • Listen to your child and validate their difficult feelings
  • Share your own feelings (in age-appropriate ways)
  • Practice naming emotions as a family
  • Identify ways to cope with big emotions and practice them with your child
  • Seek additional support (counseling, therapy) if needed

Missed social or life milestones

COVID-19 caused so many cancellations – weddings, graduations, prom, trick or treating, birthdays, first days of kindergarten, first days of college, etc. There is no doubt your child missed out of some sort of milestone due to the pandemic. Grief over missed experiences was a regular occurrence in the past few years and can be difficult to navigate for those in their formative years,

How it shows up in the therapy room

Reports of…

  • sadness or grief around lost opportunities
  • difficulties “launching” or moving to the next stage of life
  • regression into younger age or stage related behaviors

What parents and care givers can do to help

  • Ask your child if there is anything they feel they missed
  • Get creative with how to commemorate special milestones in a new way
  • Talk about what it means to transition from one stage to the next and find ways your child can practice their transition

I doubt we have seen the last impacts of COVID-19 and it is important to remember how this pandemic has uniquely impacted our children and their development. As a mother myself, I know how stressful it has been to navigate parenting throughout the pandemic. You are not alone. If you have concerns about your child or their development talk to your pediatrician, your child’s school, or counselor.

What is Epistemic Trust?

Epistemic trust is a term with which many may be unfamiliar. It began as a term used in sociology before being adopted into the vernacular of psychologists in more recent years. The most basic definition is “one’s trust in communicated knowledge.” However, it can be more specifically described as “the capacity of the individual to consider the knowledge that is conveyed by others as significant, relevant to the self, and generalizable to other contexts” (Campbell, 2021). This communication can be in many forms, such as spoken words, non-verbal communication cues like body language, or reinforced messages communicated across a lifetime. The development of epistemic trust begins early in life as we interact and learn from those around us and is continually refined throughout our lives to adapt to our social environments.

Most of the psychological research studies on epistemic trust focus on personality disorders, specifically borderline personality disorder (Fonagy et al., 2015). However, more recent studies are considering epistemic trust as it relates to other kinds of psychopathology, and its implications for belief in conspiracy theories has even been considered (Tanzer et al., 2021). Unfortunately, due to the novelty of this concept in psychological studies, there is a shortage of available research to explore this topic further, especially in trauma-related areas. However, the recent development and validation of a questionnaire to measure an individual’s level of epistemic trust, mistrust, and credulity can aid in this area. This questionnaire allows for a closer and more standardized look at individuals’ epistemic trust and can be incorporated easily into future research (Campbell et al., 2021).

Considering epistemic trust and how it pertains to clients can also be useful in the treatment planning process. For example, one study highlighted that individuals diagnosed with personality disorders who had an elevated level of epistemic mistrust had poorer outcomes from their therapy experiences (Knapen et al., 2020). This may be the case for many that enter therapy with complex trauma backgrounds or other conditions that have reinforced a distrust in communication from others. This opinion can be supported by the argument that “epistemic trust may be the final common pathway through which aversive relational experiences in the past result in interpersonal dysfunctioning, which in turn result in dysfunctional therapeutic relationships, rendering it difficult for patients to trust whatever is offered to learn in therapy” (Knapen et al., 2022).

Little research has been done on achieving the restoration of epistemic trust, but it is believed that therapeutic interventions may be the most beneficial (Kamphuis & Finn, 2019). To date, there has been no known study that aims to investigate the relationship between trauma-focused therapy and restoration of epistemic trust. Such a study may prove to be a critical piece to understanding how epistemic trust impacts this population of therapy clients and whether trauma-focused therapy is an effective tool in the restoration of epistemic trust. As this concept continues to gain interest, we can expect a wealth of exciting developments in this area that will ultimately lead to improved therapeutic outcomes for clients everywhere.


Campbell, C., Tanzer, M., Saunders, R., Booker, T., Allison, E., Li, E., O’Dowda, C., Luyten, P., & Fonagy, P. (2021). Development and validation of a self-report measure of epistemic trust. PLOS ONE, 16(4), e0250264.

Fonagy, P., Luyten, P., & Allison, E. (2015). Epistemic Petrification and the Restoration of Epistemic Trust: A New Conceptualization of Borderline Personality Disorder and Its Psychosocial Treatment. Journal of Personality Disorders, 29(5), 575–609.

Kamphuis, J. H., & Finn, S. E. (2019). Therapeutic Assessment in Personality Disorders: Toward the Restoration of Epistemic Trust. Journal of Personality Assessment, 101(6), 662–674.

Knapen, S., Hutsebaut, J., van Diemen, R., & Beekman, A. (2020). Epistemic Trust as a Psycho-marker for Outcome in Psychosocial Interventions. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 19(4), 417–426.

Knapen, S., van Diemen, R., Hutsebaut, J., Fonagy, P., & Beekman, A. (2022). Defining the Concept and Clinical Features of Epistemic Trust: A Delphi study. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 210(4), 312–314.

Tanzer, M., Campbell, C., Saunders, R., Luyten, P., Booker, T., & Fonagy, P. (2021). Acquiring knowledge: Epistemic trust in the age of fake news [Preprint]. PsyArXiv.

The Intense Side of Healing

I have been at Psychological Counseling Services (PCS) since 2012. One of the most difficult parts of being a therapist is meeting a client in their current crisis and as you join and get to know them better, you realize there is a treasure-trove of historical harms that desperately need attention and may even be exacerbating the issue at hand. In a weekly or bi-weekly therapy model, however, there may be little time to excavate and address the root of the matter.

I’ll give you an example: A client enters therapy for their significant other’s betrayal, and they struggle to find strength and obtain positive traction. Underneath this recent trauma lies the fact they lost a parent in a car accident when they were twelve and maybe they were also severely bullied in high school, or their parents fought constantly and eventually divorced.

It’s not that they cannot heal in weekly therapy, they can; it will just take much longer. Not only because there may be a complex history of trauma, but also because “real life” just has the advantage. We are all familiar with the scientific word “homeostasis”, or as my beloved colleague, Marilyn Murray (PCS Trauma Consultant and author of “The Murray Method”) would say, “the baseline for normal”. It means we have formed a certain muscle memory around how things tend to be, and we become comfortable in that space and often resist change or the unknown. Therefore, it is common for a client to grab important insights within the confines of the one to two hours a week in a therapy office, but then outside the office the pull towards the “old baseline” wins out. They want to make changes but need a space and time to build traction and momentum in a different direction. It is then that intensive therapy becomes an appealing suggestion and opportunity.

The PCS Intensive Program

The PCS Intensive is a weekly offering built around “The Murray Method,” developed by Marilyn Murray in the early 1980’s. Clients begin the process on a Saturday, with Marilyn’s workshop and explore “The Scindo (Latin for “split”) Syndrome,” looking at how adverse childhood events cause “survivor” parts to develop, who try to cope and manage their powerless and painful circumstances, the Circles of Intimacy, helping to organize a hierarchy of healthy intimate connections, and lastly, the Trauma Egg, a document the client creates that chronicles difficult traumatic life events, so the client can understand patterns in negative internalized messages and coping styles.

From there, the client begins the weekly process of over 30 individual therapy hours, which include Family Systems, CBT, DBT, Emotionally-Focused Therapy, Art Therapy, EMDR, and other experiential therapies. Additionally, there are 25 group hours, that includes Equine Therapy, Psychodrama, Anger and Forgiveness, Compulsivity, Codependency, Emotional Regulation, Communication, Mindfulness, Boundaries, Courageous Living, and the Power of Positivity and Play.

The days are roughly 7AM to 7:30PM with a few short breaks in the middle, and the individual work ends Friday at 5PM. The intensive then concludes with a follow-up to Marilyn’s Workshop on Saturday morning (9AM to 12PM).

The groups are mixed-gender and incorporate individual and couple’s clients who are dealing with a broad scope of issues, including substance and process addictions, complex trauma, relational trauma and issues, betrayal, divorce, blended family concerns, grief, career concerns, and severe life crises.

No matter what modality is used, all the therapists speak the same language in terms of helping clients grieve what they needed and deserved, but did not receive. Clients are helped to grow a wise-minded, healthy, balanced Adult Self who can “parent” the parts of self that get activated in grief/sadness, over-functioning or over-caretaking, defensiveness, anger, rebellion, or deception.

A PCS Intensive works for those who are:

  • Highly motivated and want to jump-start their therapeutic process and utilize a program where sessions build off one another, creating a greater possibility of transformational change.
  • “Stuck” and desire a safe place to face their fear of what change will mean in their life, fear of the unknown.

Making some progress in weekly or bi-weekly therapy, but not the broader changes they are looking for.

Busy with work and home and find it difficult to keep consistent weekly or bi-weekly appointments and would prefer a shorter, but more intensive span of time to create movement.

Experiencing an intense current crisis and struggle to manage daily living, needing a space to stabilize and strengthen in grounding and coping skills.

Making some gains in recovery, but still experience relapses due to their need to process the deeper causal roots to their problematic or addictive behaviors.

A PCS Intensive does NOT work for those who are:

  • Signing up because someone else in their life is making them do it, and they otherwise would stay home.
  • Pointing the finger in defensiveness and blame, struggling to face what makes them difficult to those around them.
  • Using the intensive as a checklist, and uninterested in making genuine changes.
  • Resist transparency and are not ready to tell the truth.
  • Experiencing severe mental illness, including auditory hallucinations, extreme paranoia or delusional thoughts.
  • Actively suicidal or homicidal.
  • Continuing to act out or use substances.

The Process

The work I get to do with intensive clients is a unique and fulfilling aspect to my job, because I typically get to help heal deep, difficult life experiences and I get to do that work as part of a therapeutic team. Each intensive has a Case Manager and a team of 4-5 additional therapist who are assigned different areas of focus, such as a genogram, a trauma egg, setting up targets and processing with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), somatic experiencing, experiential work, addiction and relapse prevention work, relational processing, understanding offensive behaviors and patterns, healthy intimacy, boundary-work, and health and wellness work.

Typically, clients arrive guarded, unsure and at times, overwhelmed. Still, the process begins very quickly by excavating their history and significant life experiences, in order to understand patterns and themes that have impacted their lives. As clients gradually begin to open-up, they start to positively affect each other and instigate change. The bonding begins early with Equine Therapy on Sunday evening and intensifies as they experience their first Psychodrama Group process, where they help a volunteer from the group put a piece of their story in action with the goal of experiencing catharsis and resolution. By Tuesday morning, they typically are ready to share in a meaningful way in their first processing group. The more clients talk about what is uncomfortable to share, the more they inspire others in the group to do the same. The sharing is spiritually powerful and moving, because clients are allowing themselves to be vulnerable and experience real connection; a connection they are encouraged to replicate with the important and healthy people in their lives.

Many clients will express how much they “get it” in an intellectual way. However, what frustrates them is how much they do not feel it. The most satisfying aspect of my job typically happens closer to the end of the week when I witness a client fundamentally shift what was once intellectual, into a “felt” experience; they no longer know they are lovable, deserving, worthy, good-enough, empowered or trust-worthy, they feel it.

At the end of my first week at PCS, I saw a client from the East Coast who completed a 2-week process, smiling, whistling and practically skipping to his car. He jumped in and was headed to the airport – back home, back to his family. I don’t think his journey ended that day, in fact, he was really at the end of the beginning, but it was awesome to see how good he felt!

Transitioning from Partnership to Parenthood

Making the decision about who is going to be responsible for what within the context of your
family system can already be a tricky task to navigate. Throw a baby into the mix—this becomes
even more complicated. For most, having a baby means taking on a whole list of new
responsibilities while maintaining the responsibilities you’ve had all along. Whether you’re
talking about who is going to do the grocery shopping, to work outside the home, or to get up in
the middle of the night when your baby wakes up, it’s important to make at least some of these
decisions on the front end so as to ensure that both you and your partner feel a sense of
partnership and equality. If this is not done ahead of time, or at the very least discussed
intentionally once your baby arrives, you set yourselves up for what I like to call, defaulting.
Defaulting is a fairly common occurrence where one parent, we’ll call them “Parent B“
(generally the parent who IS NOT primarily responsible for feeding) tends to make the
assumption that the other parent, “Parent A” (generally the parent who IS primarily responsible
for feeding), has whatever the task is on hand covered. This is not done from a place of mal
intent but from a place of Parent B’s lack of awareness.

The reality is, parenting has a steep learning curve where most develop a system on the go.
Parent A completes tasks because they simply have to be done and Parent B often falls short in
stepping up to the plate because it seems as though Parent A has it under control. The result: a
big ball of resentment. While I am talking about the importance of delegating the big
responsibilities, I’m also talking here about the importance of discussing the seemingly smaller
ones. These are the ones that tend to be overlooked and as a result, add up over time.
Responsibilities like who is going to sit next to your baby at dinnertime, who is going to carry
your baby up the stairs when you get home, and who jumps out of bed to pop the pacifier back in
at night are just a few examples of such seemingly small tasks that when one parent finds
themselves having to perform each and every time, can lead that parent to wonder whether they
are in this alone. So moral of the story, sit down with your partner before your baby is born and
regularly thereafter. Discuss potential tasks and who will take primary responsibility for
performing them. Regularly check in after your baby is born to assess for new tasks that are
likely to pop up and your partner’s willingness to continue performing tasks they have previously
committed to. Most importantly, whether you are Parent A or B, please take note of all the big
and little things your counterpart does on a daily basis and ask if they could use a hand or a swap
out from time to time. Don’t just assume that your partner will do whatever needs to be done and
even if a particular task has been clearly designated your partner’s responsibility, regularly
express appreciation and gratitude to them for what they are doing. At the end of the day,
whether you are Parent A or B, doing these few simple things will likely result in your partner
feeling more appreciated and seen.

18 Years Ago

When my son was born 18 years ago, it seemed like the year 2022 would be an eternity away…how could my preemie baby boy, just 5 pounds 3 ounces, ever grow up to be 18?  Even though it was my hope that he would go off to college someday, how could it now really be happening? That he would be leaving.  Leaving us, leaving our family (leaving…me)?

Throughout the whole college application process for my son, I stayed logical and “in my head” (what therapists say when people are operating from the thinking part of their brain and are disconnected from their emotions and their heart).  I encouraged my son to apply to schools out-of-state as well as in-state, offering what I thought at the time was good advice that “It’s important to keep your options open.”

When April came and it was decision-making time, I was so relieved when my son said he was  “80% sure” that he would attend one of the two in-state universities—one that is 20 minutes away or one that is 90 minutes away.  The advantages were abundant:  if he got sick, he could come home to be nurtured back to health or we could go to him to help; if he was struggling emotionally or dealing with friend/dating/academic challenges, he could come home (to be nurtured back to emotional health); if he needed to do laundry, he could come home (his laundry he’d need to do himself but I’d make him a yummy meal!). 

You can imagine my surprise (shock) mid-April, after my son returned from an out-of-state college tour, encouraged by me (insert mimicking tone: “Keep your options open!”), when he declared that he made his decision to attend this out-of-state school that requires a whole air travel day one-way or 25 hours by car.  All those “advantages” of being so close logistically were now gone—poof!—replaced with a panic inside of, “If I can’t be there if he needs help, what will happen to him?”  My son, sensing my anxiety, responded wisely and compassionately, “Mom, I’ll figure it out!” and “Mom, you can still support me by phone!”  While I appreciated his words and intentions, it was hard to trust that this was the right decision.  In June, however, my husband and I attended this out-of-state university’s parent orientation.  Just like my son was won over by this school, I actually was as well (my husband, too); we were able to see different advantages of him going there.

At this point, excited for this opportunity for my son, I got back “in my head,” making lists of what he needs for his dorm and reviewing with my son the Ready for Adulthood Checklist (yes, that’s literally the name of it) to make sure I had done my job as a parent…haha, if only it were that easy!  (By the way, high school graduation gifts provided a nice opportunity for him to solidify his learning of the following Checklist item: “When and how to write thank you notes and how to address an envelope.” I also discovered that neither of us was really clear on “Steps to take if you’re in a car accident.” Yikes!).

It is now 2 weeks away from when my son will leave (me).  Earlier this week, I came across the song, “Last Days of Summer,” by Lucy Kaplansky.  I think it was actually a message from my Higher Power to encourage (force?) me to tune into my emotions about my son’s going away to college.  The artist, Kaplansky, sings of exactly what I am feeling…how 18 years ago her daughter was born and she is now moving to college:

KAPLANSKY: (Singing) But I’ll miss that girl in her room, safe and mine. Life is a circle strewn with goodbyes. After 18 years, how can it be just one week more till we carry those boxes to her new room on the seventh floor?

Music can be such a powerful way to connect with and process our emotions.  I am thankful for this song as it has provided the avenue for me to acknowledge my sadness, to somehow give me the message that it’s OK to cry, and to remember that within my grief there is gratitude for the circle of life and for what adventures lie ahead for my son.  It comforts me to know that I’m certainly not the only mother to feel this way.  Perhaps most importantly, it gives me hope:  If the songwriter was able to get through it, so can I!

As I vacillate between allowing myself to feel my emotions and getting back “in my head,” I am now making my list of things still needed to review with my son from the Ready for Adulthood Checklist (e.g., “How to tie a tie” and “How to fix a running toilet”) and talking about how to be a “good dorm roommate” as recommended from the parent orientation.

I will also be hugging him a bit more tightly each day before he leaves while I intentionally remind myself to trust that he is guided by his Higher Power on his life’s path.  I have room inside me for both the sadness of this closing chapter of him being “safe and mine” and the excitement of what lies ahead for both of us—but especially him—as we each turn the page of this new chapter in our lives.

Below is the beautiful song by Kaplansky…be sure to have a couple tissues ready!

Hear It First: Lucy Kaplansky, ‘Last Days of Summer’ – Folk Alley

Embrace the Mess

Recently, my family was together to celebrate my youngest daughter’s graduation. My two adult children, who flew in from out of state with my oldest son’s girlfriend, three teenagers, my wife and I, piled into the house for four days stuffed full of family fun. I had visions of laughter, silliness, tenderness, and meaningful conversations. The plan for four days was detailed, allowing for all of these expectations to be fulfilled. Day one: graduation and celebration. Day two: relax, order pizza, and go to a movie. Day three: paddle boarding down the river, and dinner with family and grandparents. Day four: relaxed morning with a big breakfast and then a family farewell to those returning home. Not too much. Not too little.

The plan crumbled. Sure, we accomplished the tasks, but not with the ease I had anticipated or wanted. On graduation day, much of the time was spent apart was we needed to separate in order to save seats. Pizza and movie night ended up rushed, with a few family members not interested in the chosen movie. Paddle boarding was crowded by hundreds of other people who also thought of joining us on the river, which led to being separated, and two of us exiting the river two miles too soon. There were sunburns, and lost water bottles, sun glasses, and ball caps. There was frustration, boredom, eye rolling, arguments, and hurt feelings. Coming home, we planned to watch a new television series to end the night, but some were so tired they decided to go to bed. The day ended with a fizzle.

Now, I sit reflecting on our few days together. I see piles of laundry, dishes, and bed linens. Those of us still at home are quiet, in our rooms, catching a breath after a tornado of activity and chaos. Not quite what I was hoping.

But, the messiness is it. The messiness is living. Messiness is the adventure. I make plans and hope for magic moments. I miss the magic of the mess. I want a photoshopped glamour reality and get a blurry, creased black and white photo.

Then I pause. I look passed failed plans and remember the moments of sharing memories, trying something new (even with some frustration), “I’m sorries,” and teasing that can only happen between siblings. I know everyone in my family a little bit better. We barely started those meaning conversations I had planned to have, but they are started, and we will look for opportunities to continue. We are figuring out life and it is not easy. We — every person on the planet — are trying to figure out life, in all its mess, just like people have done since the beginning.

Families are messy. There is conflict, sadness, failed plans, and frustrations. There are also the bigger struggles of depression, trauma, addiction, and divorce. There are nights when screaming at the moon seems like the best option. There are also accomplishments, small victories (like getting out of bed), and big victories (like graduating). You are not the only one whose life is messy — despite what social media suggests. Breathe. Look for the moments in the midst of the chaos. Sometimes they are hard to see, but those moments are there. And when you cannot see them, ask for help. I know there are times I need it. 

Navigating Social Media as a Parent

Social media has changed the way we communicate, socialize, obtain information, and shape our opinions about the world, others, and ourselves and while this is very much a profound influence on our lives, many of us haven’t figured out how to effectively parent our children in relationship to it. 

Here are some tips that may help: 

1.    Accept that social media is here to stay. It is understandable that many parents are fearful and therefore are not fully embracing of social media.  However, coming from a place of fear doesn’t promote understanding, and the reality is that similar to things like pornography or drugs and alcohol, wanting these things to go away or trying to altogether avoid conversations about these things does not work. At some point young people will be exposed to them and there is no magic social media, sex, or drug/alcohol fairy that shows up when kids need guidance. As parents, we need to show up in that role. 

2.    In order to effectively manage your child’s social media use, you have to expose yourself to it, engage with it, and understand it.  Have your child introduce their favorite app(s) and tell you what they like about it and teach you how to use it. Make it fun.  Try to avoid criticizing social media, as this will reinforce the attitude of, “My parents just don’t get it.” This does not mean as parents we have to agree with all of what our kids are doing, or posting, or sharing – it is more about wanting them to see us as willing to listen and learn and maybe to consider that as their “old, out of touch” parents we might actually know a little bit of what we’re talking about. Judgement will only get in the way of what you really want — to have a closer relationship with you kids.  

3.    Find ways to connect vs. reject. One way to do this is to make it fun! Send messages through snapchat, tell them to make their bed with a goofy face filter, or try not to embarrass yourself doing a TikTok dance. One added benefit, is that when children realize they cannot so easily get away with things online, they are more transparent. Also, this can promote kids thinking twice and editing before sending a message or posting something inappropriate. If not, you will be there to help them manage it.  Young people are uniquely sensitive to the judgment of parents, teachers, friends, and the digital community. It might be that social media heightens this sensitivity and drives impulsiveness or pre-occupation with popularity, acceptance, or body image, but it did not create these issues. Yes, it can make it harder and more pressure-filled for kids, but if we make it all about social media, we are missing the big picture.

4.    Set up a plan – talk to your kids about what they might be exposed to ahead of time. Let them know they might see things that confuse them, upset them, or even scare them. Work to establish yourself as a person who they can turn to without fear of losing the privilege. Losing access for a time may be a necessary outcome, but do your best to not threaten it and to first understand what happened without shaming.  One tip is to avoid taking phones or social media away as a punishment if the problematic behavior was not related to that social media use. Remember the long-term goal is for our kids to learn how to avoid the pitfalls of social media use for themselves. Lastly, make sure to talk to other parents, therapists, or attend meetings/webinars on the subject. Do your best to stay informed so you can meet the needs of your kids. 


Educating our Children about Pornography: An Important Piece of Sex Education

Please watch the following New Zealand public health advertising campaign targeting pornography and kids:

Porn ad designed to protect children

Early in my career I did research about sex education.  I learned that in the United States we are not doing a good job preparing our young people to make decisions regarding their bodies and their sexuality. In the US, we begin sex education at a much older age than European countries with the end result being US teens are less prepared to make healthy decisions regarding their sexuality.  When we teach kids math, we begin at an early age with counting and then proceed to adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc., before we present them with complex mathematical problems.  Without a basic understanding of human sexuality, kids lack the ability to talk about their body, their experience of their own body, and how to make healthy decisions around physical intimacy.  Because of the availability of information via the internet, it is more important than ever that parents take an active role in educating their children about sex and about sexual intimacy. 

Research suggests that the average age children first see pornography is between ten and thirteen years old.  Some children actively search for pornography, but often a simple search word will result in sexually explicit language and images.  Cell phones enable children who may be simply joking about “bad” words to search for the word and then be exposed to sexual content that they are not mature enough to understand.  Children need to be taught that there is misleading information out there—including pornography—and then provided accurate information regarding healthy sexual intimacy. 

When receiving information about sexual intimacy through pornography, kids don’t know that what they are watching is not real, but staged.  Pornography doesn’t model a real life intimate relationship of which sex is one part.  Pornography doesn’t model consent, how the person decided to engage in a particular sexual act, or what the person feels before, during, and after sex.  Moreover, pornography can be a dangerous fantasy or preoccupation leading to problems with sexual intimacy including pressure to perform in a certain manner. It can be shocking for parents to learn how much dysfunctional sexual information is taught to teenagers via pornography.

Making decisions regarding sexual intimacy is a complex process.  It is important for children to have good information, are comfortable with their body, and are clear about their needs, wants, emotions, and beliefs.  The best information your children can receive will come from you.  Please take time to educate yourself and find resources to help you talk to your children about healthy intimacy and the risks of pornography on their sexual health and well-being. I also encourage you to talk to other parents to support each other, to share resources, and most importantly so that your children are getting similar messages that they can share with one another.


© Psychological Counseling Services