Who Owns Your Feelings

In therapy, we have an idea called the locus of control. 

Locus means “position, point, or place,” and your locus of control is basically the place where your emotional control comes from. Your locus of control can be internal or external, but everyone has one.

Having an external locus of control means that whatever is controlling your emotions is outside of your own self. An external locus of control makes statements like “You make me so angry!” or “I get sad when you don’t listen to me.” Do either of these sound familiar? An external locus of control relies on others to feel okay.

An internal locus of control means that you are the one in charge of your emotions no matter what happens around you. You are able to respond appropriately to events, but you are able to choose how you feel. If the two statements above were reworked to have an internal locus of control, they would acknowledge the same emotion with a different reaction.

The first statement “You make me so angry!” could turn into a direct request- “When you come home late, please text me so I know you’re okay,” or “Please clean your room the first time I ask. If you can’t clean it by lunch, we’ll donate the toys you can’t find a home for.” The statement “You make me so angry!” doesn’t tell the other person what needs to be different. It’s also inaccurate. You are the only one with control over yourself and your emotions. Nobody else has the power to make you angry, only you can do that. In addition, nothing gets solved. An internal locus of control acknowledges that you’re feeling anger in response to the situation, whether it’s because your partner is late or your child isn’t cleaning their room, but instead of reacting in anger you’re able to proactively ask for change that can resolve the situation.

The second statement is one I hear a lot from parents. They’re trying to emotionally manipulate their children or partners into behaving the way they want. The problem is, we can’t control others and most people resent being manipulated. “I get sad when you don’t listen to me” doesn’t teach your child or partner to listen to you, it only teaches them that they can easily control your emotions with their actions. An internal locus of control sees the sad feelings that come up when others seem not to hear you, but it doesn’t blame others for your sadness. Instead, an internal locus of control would say something like “This is really important to me and I’d like to talk to you without the TV on” or “When we need to leave the park, I’d appreciate it if you would come and help me pack up the toys when I ask you, especially when I’ve given you a five minute warning.”

During the process of therapy, I teach people how to move their locus of control from external to internal. This is especially important for people who are sensitive to the emotions of others or who tend to overreact to situations.

Say to yourself, “I am in charge of how I feel.” Try to notice when you make statements that give others control of your emotions. With your observations, pay attention to who has control of your feelings if it’s not you. Many times, we have a certain person we give control to. It’s usually a parent, partner, or child- someone close to us who knows how to push our buttons.

Carefully consider how you are going to take back control of your emotions. When you are feeling calm and separated from the situation, look back and try to figure out what you really want and come up with a way to ask for what you need without giving up control of your emotions. Whether you need better communication, firmer boundaries, or just some peace and quiet, you are the only one in charge of your emotions and you are the one responsible for making sure you get your needs met.

Just like you can’t control others, they can’t really control you- it just seems like they can sometimes. Others can’t read your mind to know what you want out of a situation, you need to ask for what you want in a way that doesn’t blame them for what you’re feeling.

Treating Refractory Schizophrenia

I’ve recently had a few new people come in for therapy with diagnoses on the schizophrenia spectrum. Not only that, but they’ve tried a few different medications with no significant reduction of symptoms. Refractory is just a fancy way of saying treatment resistant.

As a therapist, when I hear that my new clients have treatment resistant schizophrenia, my first thought is this- Can therapy help someone who isn’t helped by medications? After all, schizophrenia is a pretty major mental illness.

It’s not like depression or anxiety where the cause could be either biological or psychological, and the origin of the symptoms shapes treatment. Instead, schizophrenia is understood as a primarily biological disorder with clear ties to dysfunction in major brain systems.

With schizophrenia, medication works to relieve symptoms in approximately 70% of cases. That’s a much lower number than I expected. That means 30% of people who experience schizophrenia get little to no help from medications. There’s a lot we don’t know about schizophrenia though, so we could see that number decrease as we learn more about the brain and how it works in mental illness. In fact, I just read an article today about scientists searching for brain cues related to major mental illness. They discovered tons of tiny factors that all play into the etiology and course of major mental illness.

But that’s a bit of a tangent. My goal was to learn if there were any therapy interventions that were designed to work for people with refractory (treatment resistant) schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

I was actually surprised to find that this has been studied by a few different researchers. I found two different treatment protocols based on CBT that were demonstrated to be effective with refractory schizophrenia. They seemed similar, with slight differences. I figured it would be easy to combine these approaches and create a protocol of my own that will hopefully be effective in my three new clients.

I’ll post the full protocol in a separate post. For now, here are the two studies I used to develop this method of treatment for refractory schizophrenia.

 

Cognitive–behavioural therapy for refractory psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia resistant to atypical antipsychotic medication. Lucia R. Valmaggia, Mark Van Der Gaag, Nicholas Tarrier, Marieke Pijnenborg, Cees J. Slooff. The British Journal of Psychiatry Apr 2005, 186 (4) 324-330; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.186.4.324
The omnipotence of voices. A cognitive approach to auditory hallucinations.. P Chadwick, M Birchwood. The British Journal of Psychiatry Feb 1994, 164 (2) 190-201; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.164.2.190

Protecting Your Children From Predators

This morning, I opened the news to see that yet another sexual predator was caught. This time it was a woman- a school administrator at a local private school. A few months ago, a male teacher was reported. Before that, a female teacher. Before that, a special education aide.

School is not necessarily a safe place, but your children are legally required to attend. And unless you pull them out of school and decide to homeschool your children, you have to trust the administration and staff to be decent, non-abusive people. As we have seen, both public and private schools have problems with sexual abuse.

So what can you do as a parent or caregiver to make sure your child is safe?

Talk to them about abuse. Sit down with your child and tell them that there are adults out there who hurt children and touch them on their private parts or ask the kids to touch the adult’s private parts. Make sure they know that they should tell you if it happens to them or someone they know and it’s never something to keep secret.

Tell them that those adults are wrong to do that to kids, that it’s never the kid’s fault, and we can’t catch the bad adults without kids telling someone when it happens.

Tell them that abuse can happen from strangers, but also from adults at school or other children or even from family members. It’s not okay no matter who is the abuser.

Tell them that the bad adults know what they’re doing is wrong and they lie to kids to make them too scared to tell. Bad adults tell kids that nobody will believe them if they tell, or that the adult will hurt their pet or friend or sibling if they tell. Make sure your child knows that those are lies- that when a child tells a good adult about abuse, the abuser is the one who gets in trouble and that the good adults will make sure the child’s pets and friends and siblings are safe too.

Tell your child it’s okay to talk to you if someone does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that you’ll believe them and mean it. Believe them even if they name someone you think wouldn’t be an abuser- abusers often groom the parents as much as the kids, making themselves into someone you’d absolutely trust with your children.

If your child does say that someone abused them or someone they know, call the police immediately. You don’t have to verify their claim, confront the abuser, or even be certain that it happened. The police will work with child protective services to conduct an interview of everyone involved. Their interviewers are trained in how to ask children about sexual abuse, and the police will make sure the kids are safe until the investigation can be completed.

Childhood Friendships and Fights

I get a lot of questions from parents of elementary aged children about what normal childhood friendships look like. Whether you see your child making bad friendships, getting bullied by friends, or consistently having fights with friends, it’s hard to know when and how to intervene as the parent.

Here are three strategies to avoid and three to employ:

Don’t:

  1. Tell your child to stop hanging out with a bully or bad friend. Why? If it was that easy, they’d do it already. There’s something about that particular person that keeps your child coming back. It is important to figure out why your child can’t get away from the bad relationship and address that as the core issue. Friends who bully are usually hot and cold- one day your child is this kid’s best friend and everything is great, then suddenly everything changes. It’s almost like gambling.
  2. Jump in immediately to fix the situation. Let your child come up with the ideas about what to do with a bad friend or a nasty fight. Use your judgment to help guide them toward effective, appropriate solutions, but the child should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the solution. Why? Because you’re not going to be there at school or on the playground with your child. If they come up with the solution, they’re more likely to try it out.
  3. Ask the teacher to monitor the situation. Teachers have a job to do aside from reporting on individual students’ behavior. If something big happens that you need to know about, the teacher will probably tell you.

Do:

  1. Point out aspects of good and bad friendships whenever they come up. If your child shares a story about how Ron shared his sandwich with someone whose lunch fell in a puddle, make a big deal about how Ron was a good friend by showing kindness and sharing. And when your child tells you about how Sarah wouldn’t include Tiffany in tag at recess, it’s enough for you to comment that Sarah wasn’t being a good friend and how excluding people is unkind. You can also do this as you’re watching TV with your kids. It’s actually a bit easier with TV because the simple storylines almost always end with good outcomes for good behavior and negative consequences for bad behavior.
  2. Model good relationships. When you have a fight with your children, how do you repair the relationship? When Mom and Dad are mad, how do they treat each other? The way you act is what the child sees. If you have turbulent, dramatic relationships with your friends and spouse, your child is more likely to see that type of relationship as normal and even positive.
  3. Listen well. Without interrupting. Without offering your opinion. If your child feels truly heard, they’re more likely to talk to you. Playground drama doesn’t seem like critical information, but it opens the door for your child to express their thoughts and feelings. Listening without judgment shows your child that you can handle their difficult situations. And when you demonstrate that you can hear elementary problems without reacting, they’re more likely to confide in you as a teen.

Kids choose to stay with bad friends for a few reasons.

First is the helper personality. This child feels like it’s their duty to monitor and control the behavior of their classmates. If this is your child, work with them to understand boundaries. They need to know that there are things outside of their control and that they are not responsible for other kids’ behavior. They need to let go.

Second is the victim mentality. This child doesn’t think they deserve to have good friends, or perhaps they think that this is how real friends act. If this is your child, boost their sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy (no, this won’t spoil them). Some of these kids may not be able to find friends in their peer group because of their reputation as someone who can be easily bullied. It may help to get them involved in extracurricular activities with a different group of kids.

Third is the imitation factor. Even if you’re modeling healthy relationships, the media has a major influence on what kids (and adults) consider normal. If your child’s fights with friends seem like something out of daytime television, make sure you know what they’re watching, playing, and reading. You don’t have to get rid of the TV or the tablet, but make sure to have a conversation about how the characters in your favorite show are just characters. The things they do are funny and exaggerated, but they’re not real. Follow up with a discussion of how you (or another real person) would handle the situation.

Therapy 101: How to Find a Therapist

Finding a therapist can feel like online dating. It usually begins with a search- therapists near me, counselors near me, therapy for depression, best counseling group. You scroll through bright, happy websites full of professional photos of well-lit, smiling people. They all say pretty much the same thing. You’re stuck and I can help you. They have lots of buzzwords. Change. Transform. Holistic. Wellness. Some list a fee or insurance networks they accept. Many don’t. It can seem like there’s no real difference between them. But there is, and it’s not something you can see from a website. It’s their personality.

 

After all the effort you’ve put into finding a therapist, it’s tempting to pick the first one who calls you back. But it’s worth it to find someone who really gets you. Studies of the effectiveness of therapy show that it’s the relationship you have with your therapist that’s the biggest predictor of change in your life. It’s not the methods- results show that the therapy method doesn’t matter so much even though they seem so different.

Treat the first session like a date- it’ll probably be a bit awkward and you don’t really know each other but you’re trying to see if it’s a good fit and trying to make a positive first impression while being authentic about your experiences and struggles.

Many therapists offer a free initial consultation so you’re not dropping a hundred dollars on someone you don’t want to see again. But many don’t offer a free first session or do a free consultation on the phone only, so you may have to make a bit of an investment in finding the right person.

Here are nine signs you’ve found a good therapist:

*note: many of these signs reference California legal and ethical standards for therapists with a state license and may not apply in other states.

  1. They’re above board from the start. Your therapist should go over things like fees, cancellation policies, confidentiality, mandated reported requirements, and other boilerplate details with you. If they don’t mention any of these things, that’s a sign they’re uncomfortable talking about difficult topics, but it also indicates that they either don’t know the law or are purposely ignoring it. Not a good trait in a therapist.
  2. They can explain the process of therapy to you. Every therapist does therapy a bit differently, but the time you spend in therapy generally has a beginning, middle, and end. If the professional therapist can’t tell you what to expect in therapy, watch out! They might not know what they are doing or they might want to bring you in with no defined end so you’re in therapy for years (and paying every week!).
  3. They listen to you. After the required details are taken care of, the therapist should ask you why you’re coming to therapy. Depending on the therapist’s methods and the nature of your problems, they might ask about your childhood, your relationships, your sleep habits, or even your current thoughts and feelings. No matter how they direct the conversation, you should expect to spend a good amount of time talking about yourself and your experience. Stay away from the therapist who hears “I’m depressed” and doesn’t ask more- it shows they don’t really care about your side or how your personal history has shaped the current issue.
  4. You feel heard. Some therapists listen but you’re not quite sure they’ve really understood what you were saying. It’s a good sign when your therapist reflects back what they heard you say and asks if they’ve got it right. That shows they’re actually trying to get your perspective accurately and are willing to ask for clarification.
  5. They ask about your end goals. There are a few ways they might ask about this. Phrases like “if the problem was gone, what would be different” and “how would you like things to be with your spouse” are indicators that your therapist is looking for specific, measurable goals so they know when you’re heading for the end phase of therapy.
  6. You feel comfortable in the room. Therapy takes a while. You should be comfortable on the furniture, feel safe parking your car or taking transit to the office. This may seem like a small thing, but if you don’t feel like you can relax in the room, it’ll be easier for you to skip sessions later when it’s hard to get out the door.
  7. You like the look of your therapist. It can seem shallow to judge someone by their appearance, but it’s actually pretty important. If you feel attracted to them, you might not be completely honest about the weird parts of your past. If they seem too young, too old, or too close to your own age, you might not feel able to trust their judgment. Some people need to see an older therapist who reminds them of their grandparent. Couples may prefer to see a married therapist. Teens often like therapists who are either younger adults or older adults- not someone parent aged. A person who has experienced sexual assault may want to see someone completely different in race and gender from their attacker.
  8. The therapy style seems like a match. If you’re more analytical, look for a therapist who can explain your anxiety in a more technical way. If you’re a creative type, steer clear of the technical therapist and look for someone who will do process art, dance therapy, or music therapy with you. A good therapist can be both- they’ll mirror the way you talk and match their style to your personality and way of thinking.
  9. You’re comfortable with the fee. Most people aren’t comfortable talking about money, especially when it comes to admitting that something is too expensive. If you really feel like this is someone you could work well with, ask about sliding scale fees or suggest a fee you feel comfortable with as long as it’s similar to the current fee structure. It’s no fun for anyone to have a mass of unpaid bills collecting.

If they’ve got all these factors, you’ve found a match! Just remember, first sessions are often like first dates, and if you can afford it, give a maybe therapist a few sessions to get to know you before making a final decision. Of course, a red flag therapist shouldn’t get a second session- get out of there right away if you feel uncomfortable or if they’re clearly doing illegal or unethical things.

When is Medicating Your Child a Good Idea?

Mental health is a delicate balance of the holy trinity- biological, psychological, and social factors. Medication acts primarily on the biological side.

If only it were that simple. Mental health medication is still highly stigmatized. I’m sure we’ve all heard horror stories of the kid who was put on something that turned him into a blank zombie. Sure, he wasn’t bouncing off the walls anymore, but he also lost his personality.

On the other side, maybe you’ve seen the kid whose parents chose to give her only natural medicine for her ADHD. She’s completely unable to focus in class and she’s falling farther and farther behind grade level each year.

Or maybe you know a kid whose medication is helping him get through seventh grade. For the first time, he’s able to be present and participate in class. Too bad it couldn’t have happened earlier. His parents have been trying different meds and combinations since kindergarten. Between the nasty side effects and ineffective dosages, he’s been held back already, and he’s missed a lot of school.

Here are some guidelines I use when suggesting that medication might be the next step in mental health care:

  1. You’ve tried therapy. Therapy can be great. As a therapist, it’s my go-to solution. But therapy should show progress after a few months of consistent sessions with a person your kid has a good relationship with. This is why it’s important to set concrete goals with tangible benchmarks- so you’ll know if there’s change.
  2. Your child is not able to perform normal tasks of daily life without assistance at a level compared to other children of the same age. They should be able to follow a string of logical instructions- for example, asking your child to finish their bath, brush their teeth, change into pajamas, and then come tell you they’re done so you can read a story. If you need to remind your child of their tasks every few minutes, there’s a problem.
  3. They’re falling behind in school. This is the most important reason I recommend medication. Being held back affects a child’s self-esteem, their peer group, their reputation, and their sense of self-efficacy. It’s one of the most damaging and devastating experiences at that age. Many of my adult clients who have been held back listed it as a pivotal event, even as young as kindergarten.
  4. They are isolated from friends. Kids who have dramatic outbursts from ADHD, bipolar, psychosis, and other disorders tend to attract labels, and not very nice ones. This keeps them from normal social activities with peers and may make them a target for bullying- or turn them into a bully if loneliness shifts to anger.
  5. They recognize there’s a problem and want a solution. Lots of kids I’ve talked to over the years have told me they want to be able to sit down and concentrate on their work but they just can’t. This is the big difference between the class clown’s acting out and the disruptions from a mental disorder. Most children don’t want to interrupt, do poorly, or fail classes. When there’s a problem, they know.

Medication isn’t all-or-nothing. It’s possible to give your child a dosage that will take them through the school day and wear off in the evening. Many kids take medication holidays when school isn’t in session. Some kids need the additional help so they are able to try therapy and are able to stop the medication once things are under control.

But advice from the internet can only be vague. I don’t know your child or your situation. The best way to find out how medication could work for your family is to talk to someone in person.

The first person I always suggest is your pediatrician because they know your child and they know about normal child development. Doctors aren’t as well trained in mental health as a therapist or psychologist, but they can diagnose and prescribe psychiatric medication. You can ask during your child’s routine appointments, and this is usually covered by insurance.

The next person to talk to is your school’s psychologist, if your child qualifies for services through a 504 or IEP. These services are usually free through the district. Although the school psychologist won’t prescribe medication, they can assess your child, describe the diagnosis, and discuss the possibility of medicating.

The last person I recommend is a psychiatrist. This is because most communities have very few psychiatrists, so it can take months to get an initial appointment, if you can get one at all and aren’t placed on a waiting list. When you get there, the psychiatrist likely doesn’t know you or your child, so you have to explain the history of the problem. And if there are any issues with the dosage or side effects, it can be a while before you can get in for a follow up appointment.

You can talk to your regular therapist about medication too. Therapists in California are trained in psychopharmacology- knowledge of medications for mental health issues. But therapists can’t prescribe medication or even suggest medication. They’re available for you to talk about your thoughts or feelings about medicating your child, and they can help you find local referrals for doctors, psychologists, or psychiatrists.

Christian Counseling: What’s the Difference?

We’re going to try to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about Christian counseling in this post. Have a question that wasn’t covered here? Leave a comment or send us a message over on the contact page!

What do you have to do to become a Christian counselor?

We categorize Apis and Ivy as a Christian counseling center because every counselor who works here has either a therapy degree from a seminary or a separate theological degree in addition to their therapy degree. Theological training is important because we want our counselors to have in-depth knowledge of Christian beliefs before we advertise as Christian counselors. We also want to make sure that we’re advertising accurately. Lots of therapists identify as Christians, but most don’t have any formal training in integrating theological beliefs into mental health practice.

Not all Christian counselors have this kind of training. In fact, many churches hire ‘counselors’ who are just kind, empathetic people with no counseling experience or even a degree in therapy. Practitioners in the state of California should have a MFT, PCC, or MSW designation to show they’ve completed a master’s level degree and have training in how to do therapy.

Why is Apis and Ivy a Christian group?

We do this because it’s easier to get on insurance panels with a specialization. Many insurance panels won’t accept new therapists who don’t specialize in something specific, and many areas don’t have any Christian counselors listed at all.

We also want to make it easy for people who want Christian counseling to find us. It can be hard to find a therapist who is trained in integrating theology and mental health unless they specifically advertise.

What about people who aren’t Christian?

Because all our therapists are either licensed professionals or post-graduate associates, everyone here is able to do appropriate therapy whether you’re Christian or not. We’ll ask you about your religious beliefs during the intake at your first session. If you indicate that you’re not Christian, we’ll use the best possible empirically proven methods to help you meet your mental health goals. If you say you are Christian, we’ll ask you if you want to integrate religious or theological discussion into your sessions using empirically proven methods. You can always change your mind later.

Your therapist should never evangelize to you in session or pressure you about your religious or spiritual beliefs. In fact, that’s against the law. You can file a consumer complaint to the Board of Behavioral Sciences if you think your therapist is doing something illegal or unethical in your sessions.

What is Mental Health?

It’s important to develop a working definition of mental health because that’s the language we use when we decide that what we’re experiencing has slipped from mental health to mental illness. Defining mental health also lets us set a benchmark to know when therapy is done.

Here at Apis and Ivy, we plan for the ending from the first session. To do that, we use the biopsychosocial model for mental health. Just like it sounds, the biopsychosocial model has three parts: your physical biology, your internal psychology, and your external social community. You need to have all three parts in balance to be mentally healthy. Let’s break it down.

Your biology is your physical health, the genes you got from your parents, any physical disabilities you have, the food you use to fuel your body, the drugs you choose to use or avoid, and details like your height and weight.

Your psychology is your self esteem, the way you think about the world, your social skills, your ability to cope with stress, the way you are in relationships with others, tendency toward optimism or pessimism, and your memories.

Your social community is your family, friends, and neighbors. It’s choosing to join a church, synagogue, or mosque. It’s the people you meet taking a painting or welding class for fun on the weekend. It’s any people you interact with in person or online.

Here’s how therapists use this information. When you first come to a session, your therapist will ask you about yourself, your family, maybe a bit about what you do, and your habits. It’s not just small talk- they’re trying to assess for how your biopsychosocial system is functioning.

Let’s say you come in to your first therapy session because you’ve been experiencing symptoms of anxiety and you’d like to go back to the way things were before the symptoms started. Here’s what your therapist would probably ask about:

  • What changed in your life around the time your anxiety symptoms started?
    • Did you start a new medication or start drinking more caffeine (biological)?
    • Did you have an experience that was more stressful than usual or did you go through something traumatic (psychological)?
    • Did you just begin or end a relationship, job, or hobby (social)?
  • What have you tried so far to deal with the anxiety and how has it worked?
    • Did you self-medicate with “downers” like alcohol or marijuana?
    • Have you tried pop-psychology methods like mindfulness, meditation, going gluten free, or tapping?
    • Have you tried therapy before? What methods did you like or not like?
  • Do you have other people in your life you feel comfortable talking to about what you’re experiencing?
    • Some people isolate themselves when they aren’t feeling well
    • It’s important to identify people in your life you can talk to, or to find those people if you don’t have anyone you can trust

I used anxiety as an example because it can come from any one of a number of causes. You could have a chemical imbalance (biological) from substance use, poor eating habits, or genetic predisposition. Or it could come from psychological factors such as a change in the way you think about yourself and others, experiencing a new trauma or being reminded of a past trauma. Anxiety can also stem from social changes like a major loss, an identity shift from job transitions, or a relational rejection.

This is important because where your anxiety comes from shapes how we’ll treat it in session. Anxiety following the death of your favorite grandmother is very different from anxiety that comes from stress or from an overactive brain.

Most people experience stress-related anxiety. That’s why anxiety disorders are more common in people who are going to school or who have high pressure jobs. Stress is a psychological symptom, so the treatment will focus on realigning your psychology through reframing your thoughts. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most popular methods because it has been empirically proven to work for most people, and if you’re using insurance to cover the cost of therapy, it’s one of the methods your insurance provider will pay for.

If you have a genetic predisposition toward anxiety, you likely have an imbalance in your brain chemistry. Medication can adjust the levels of neurotransmitters so you have normal brain functioning. People with biological anxiety can also experience anxiety from psychological stress and social factors, so you may need to combine meds with therapy for the best results.

The examples about anxiety are intended to illustrate how therapists use the biopsychosocial model of mental health to evaluate new clients. These examples are not intended to diagnose anxiety or any other mental disorder, and are not intended to suggest a course of treatment. See a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Parenting Online

There’s a whole lot of information out there about violence and video games. Some say that gaming is responsible for most of the youth violence out there. Others say that violence and video games are unrelated- plenty of people play video games and never hurt anyone else. And everyone seems to blame the parents for either allowing too much screen time or being overly restrictive.

As the parent, you need to set limits around all of your child’s activities. When it comes to video games and unsupervised screen time, it is especially important to create house rules that scale down as your child ages and matures. Having a decisive policy also helps your child by giving a reason for the rule. Children aren’t born with internal senses of moderation and control. External rules give them structure until they develop their own internal sense of what is appropriate. As they mature and show signs of taking on responsibility and modeling appropriate behavior, parents relax the external rules, trusting the internal locus of control to start taking over.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “more is caught than taught,” and this also applies to screen time. When a parent brings a child into the therapy room for gaming addiction or for spending an inappropriate amount of time online, I always ask the parent about their own habits first. If you are glued to your phone, a young child or teen who is trying to be more adult will likely model after you. If you are able to let your phone go, model reading books, and have real world hobbies, your child is more likely to have similar behavior.

Very Young Children

Infants and toddlers love screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics previously recommended no screens at all for children under two, but has recently relaxed the guidelines to say that 18 months is okay. Children at this age should have very limited, totally supervised screen time limited to video chat with parents or other relatives, educational television shows like Sesame Street, or videos of animated children’s songs. Parent interaction is important, so sing along and clap with the song, repeat key words or phrases for your child, and make screen time a two person activity.

Preschoolers

From three to five, children should have no more than one hour a day of screen time. Electronics should be limited to certain rooms of the house like the play room or the family room, and they should not be allowed to have devices at meals or in bed. Children in this age group are highly conscious of fairness, and parents can help model good habits by not bringing phones or devices to meal times.

Elementary Age

Most modern elementary schools involve children using laptops or tablets during the school day. They are learning how to use cloud drives to collaborate with others, programming simple games, typing with a keyboard, and playing topical games. Some elementary schools give students a tablet to take home to complete their homework.

This is the age where some of your child’s friends may have smartphones or a non-phone device like an iPod touch. If you haven’t given your child their own phone yet, expect them to start asking. Decide with your partner when you want your children to have phones. Before you give your child their own phone, make sure you have the phone password protected with an additional, separate password for parent controls and the phone’s wallet so your child can’t purchase new apps or in-app extras. Some phones have the ability to display a separate home screen for children. Know your phone and its child proofing capabilities. Set rules for appropriate use, consequences for not following the rules, and behaviors or grades the child needs to maintain in order to keep the phone. If you do not plan on allowing your child to have a phone until later, be able to explain your reasoning.

Video games for this age group are typically rated C (early childhood) or E (everyone 6 and over). Older elementary children may also find appropriate games under E10+ (for ages 10 and up). The ratings may also include content information that explains the reasoning behind the rating. These include “mild lyrics,” “fantasy violence,” “simulated gambling” and others. These content descriptions are more important than the rating. Decide with your partner what you will allow your child to see or hear. Some parents may be okay with mild profanity but not violence, or blood but not nudity. If either of the parents plays higher rated video games, keep them out of the child’s access and limit playing those games while the child is near.

Junior High

At this age, preteens and teens typically have a strong identity with their social group. Puberty leads to budding sexuality, and teens do not always consider how their social media use may have consequences for the future. Most children at this age have a phone or non-phone device. If you are planning to wait until high school or driving age to give your child a phone, be prepared to explain your reasoning firmly, but also be aware that your child will probably still use social media through school computers and friends’ phones. Some children have told me that when they were not given a phone from home or had a phone taken away, another friend would “lose” their phone, get a new phone, and give the “lost” phone away for use as a wifi-only device.

Parents need to adjust the elementary school aged rules to allow for developing individuality while still keeping an eye on use. Talk with your child about appropriate posts, cyber bullying, and nudity. It is critical to make sure your child knows that any distribution of nude photos is a criminal act, even among minors. Having or sending nude photos counts as child pornography possession and distribution, and can lead to charges, even for the one who took the picture.

Here are signs that your child is being bullied online:

  • withdrawing from family life or reluctance to participate in school activities
  • displaying unusual sadness after using the internet
  • secretive about online activity or unusually protective of the device
  • nervous about getting notifications
  • unwilling to use the device even for schoolwork
  • change in grades, mood, activity level

You can help by being aware of your child’s online activity, keeping the lines of communication open, and protecting your child by blocking the bully and reporting the bullying where appropriate. If you discover that your child is the bully, set limits on online activity and have a discussion of the real world effects of online harassment. Many children have a sense that the online world is somehow different or separate from the real world. It’s easier to say mean things online than in person.

Your child may want to participate in creating online content through a blog or a youtube channel. These can be great creative outlets for your teen as well as a way to interact with others. Know the content of the channel and ask to follow them. Offering to help by holding the camera or taking pictures is a great way to monitor the content without being too intrusive. Operating a blog or channel also invites severe criticism. People are not always kind on the internet. Following the blog allows you to look at negative comments together. There are several youtube videos from content creators that discuss dealing with harsh negative criticism from strangers.

Video games for this age group include the T (teen 13+) category in addition to the previous categories of E and E10+. T is a broad rating category for teens 13-17, so not all T games will be appropriate for a 13 year old. Again, use the content information guide to determine which T games are okay for younger teens and which will have to wait. Make sure your consoles and cloud accounts are password protected so teens are not able to purchase or download new games without your knowledge. Don’t share accounts with your teen if you play Mature or Adults Only games.

High School

As your older teen is preparing to go off to college and become a legal adult, your job as the parent is to give them increasing responsibility for their own choices and consequences. Overprotectiveness at this age does not help them develop an internal locus of control. They will make poor decisions at this age, but they need to be ready for adulthood where they will be making most or all of their decisions unsupervised.

From freshman year to senior year, older teens should be increasingly allowed to manage their own screen time, homework/play balance, online presence, and phone. You should be stepping in to manage them less and less. They should also be expected to take increasing responsibility for their consequences. This is another good time to remind your teen about the legal consequences of taking nude photos and sending them.

While your child should be able to manage their own phone and internet use at this age, here are three warning signs that you need to step in:

  1. They are unable to turn away from the internet to do any school work or get appropriate sleep
  2. They are identifying with bad groups online such as racist hate groups, suicide pact groups, or significantly older adults
  3. They are using their online presence to bully or harass others

Model good phone and internet behavior to your teen as well as a healthy balance of outdoor activity and screen time. Keep the lines of communication open as much as you can so your teen feels comfortable talking to you about issues they experience online or at school.

IEP 102: At the IEP

Disclaimer!

Every school does their IEP meetings differently, so this won’t exactly apply to every situation out there. You’ll have to modify this information to suit your unique needs. But if you’re already involved in the IEP process, you’re probably pretty good at dealing with modifications.

A quick note: Apis and Ivy is based in California. We’ve worked in schools in the Silicon Valley area and have experience with their systems. The information here will probably be most helpful to parents in the area, pretty helpful to parents in other parts of California, and only somewhat useful to parents in other states. Why? Because every state has their own ed code. Also, we are not lawyers, and our experience with California IEPs is not meant to replace legal advice. Our interpretations of the law should not be taken as absolute truth.

Okay, that’s the boilerplate out of the way. This text will appear at the top of every post in the IEP series, so on future posts, you can just scroll past because you’ve already read our disclaimer!

At the IEP

IEP meetings tend to be difficult for parents, teachers, and administration. It can be a difficult process to get the district to approve an IEP meeting in the first place, and that tension can carry over. For the teachers, having one student (or several) who need extra services that they are not receiving is similarly frustrating.

With emotions potentially running high and your child’s educational future at stake, here are seven tips to make sure the IEP meeting goes well.

  1. Keep copies of all documentation. The school will always keep copies for you in the child’s cum file, but they are not accessible to you during off hours and over school breaks. You should have your own copies of everything. Ideally, you should get all the information before the meeting so you can go over it yourself. Bring any outside documentation you have too- and a copy for the school.
  2. Avoid charged language. No matter how stressful things get in the room, don’t let anger or disappointment color your tone or words. Unfortunately, some parents get labeled by school staff as being overly emotional or difficult to work with. The teachers and staff go into those meetings already discounting those parents.
  3. Stick to facts. You have all the reports and assessments to back you up. Whatever you say will sound stronger if you reference the documentation. Printed emails, SST and 504 paperwork, and historical evidence from past years are also great ways to demonstrate need.
  4. Focus on the need. If your child needs a one-on-one aide, keep the conversation focused there. You can use the present level of educational performance report, the school psychologist’s assessment, communication with the teacher, or administrative reports to demonstrate that the accommodation will meet your child’s needs.
  5. Be willing to try. If there is disagreement on the best service for your child, suggest trying one service for a period of time and agree to meet again later to see how that service is working for your child. Make sure you’re getting updates regularly.
  6. Set tangible, measurable benchmarks to evaluate success. This is how you can demonstrate that the services are working (or not working). Use the assessments to guide the benchmarks. If scores are low, the accommodations should support a rise in scores. If disruptive outbursts are the problem, accommodations should help the number of outbursts per week decrease.
  7. Schedule a time to decompress after. Once you’re alone in your car, say what you really think of the teacher who “tried everything” but clearly didn’t try anything you suggested. Practice self care with a coffee and pastry before you go home. Go to a nice trail and have a hike. Whatever helps you process the meeting best.

Remember, you don’t have to be there alone. You have the right to bring a friend, translator, outside expert, or partner to the meeting. You also don’t have to accept the IEP right away. You can take it home to consider it first. You can also accept parts but not all of the IEP. You can also reject the IEP entirely. Make sure that your signature of attendance can’t be used as a signature of acceptance. You can write “proof of attendance only” across or immediately under your signature so it can’t be cropped out. If the meeting went particularly poorly, ask for another meeting. You can ask for a meeting as often as you’d like.