Dear Dr. Ponton:
It is again time for kids to go back to school, but not for my three “almost adult” children. My twenty-year-old daughter is taking a semester off from college and my two sons who have recently graduated are searching for, but have not been able to find jobs. One of them is smoking a lot of weed with his girlfriend and seems depressed. My three kids spend a lot of time “hanging out” at home and my wife and I often feel like we’re the only ones working. When I see them lying around it makes me want towork harder and I find myself getting angry and unable to relax. I realize this is not easy for them but I had hoped that they would be “launched” by now. How do I help them and myself?
-Disappointed Father Read more…
Dr. Ponton discusses the benefits of therapy and what to expect with Heather Corinna of Scarleteen, the website for young adults.
If you’re reading this page, it’s probably because someone suggested you might be able to use some counseling, or you’re thinking about getting some yourself. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a loss, healing from abuse, suffering from depression or anxiety or just could really use someone to talk with who you can trust and feel will listen to you.
Dr. Lynn Ponton (MD) is someone I respect a lot and who I feel really works to understand young people and to care very deeply about them. Her books The Sex Lives of Teenagers and The Romance of Risk show teen realities without demonizing or chastising, and do so with a really inspiring amount of compassion and understanding. She also has great ways of thinking about and approaching problems young people are having that are earnestly about helping, not about seeking adult control or conformity. As a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with adolescents for many years, she’s a great expert on knowing what young people can get out of counseling and therapy and what therapists and counselors can give back. She’s currently working on a new book of fiction, Métis: Mixed Blood Stories, which portrays the lives of four adolescent members of a single family who are descents of the Métis, a mixed-blood group of Native and French originating in Canada.
I rang her up to talk with her about therapy and young people. I first asked how she thinks therapy can help young people, and she said that “therapy can provide many benefits: symptom relief, so that depression gets better or anxiety becomes less, for one. Therapy can help decrease what can feel like weird or uncomfortable thoughts or ideas, and help patients feel more normal and balanced. Therapy also usually increases self-confidence and assertiveness. Many of my patients have problems with parents and other family members, so therapy is also a good place to work out family problems.”
A couple of weeks ago I was sent a book about adolescent dating entitled Frog or Prince?: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends, by a Canadian author, Kaycee Jane. I postponed reading it, thinking that there are too many dating books already, although not enough for teenagers. This and the book’s engaging cover and fairytale title, Frog or Prince, finally encouraged my reading.
This book reads quickly. The vignettes and stories sound like the lives of the teenagers and young adults that I work with. Even more than the reality-based nature of the stories is the smart advice that Kaycee Jane offers. She uses the metaphor of the frog or prince for dating partners for girls. She shows girls how to set standards for dating partners using the metaphor of a bar that girls set which defines minimum standards and basic needs. This is an important process for young women to engage in, encouraging them to think about what they desire and need.
Kaycee Jane also does an excellent and highly humorous job of characterizing frogs and princes. You know you are dating a frog when “you have a boyfriend who is not listening to you” and “you start liking yourself less.” Princes, on the other hand, are respectful, meet important needs of the girls they are dating, and are able to engage in “heart to heart conversations.” Good ideas!
Many girls and women that I work with have trouble ending relationships. They hang onto boys and men that are unavailable active players and even emotionally or physically abusive for too long. Some are never able to leave. If this happens, therapy and far-sighted friends and family are needed, but a book like this is an excellent companion.
Kaycee also thinks carefully about why so many girls stay in relationships that are unhealthy for them, accurately reflecting cultural values that encourage girls to value relationships more than themselves.
This book also does not have scheming strategies or hurtful perceptions of men. Kaycee’s princes and frogs fit all descriptions of boys and men and portray them realistically. Although this book has a fairytale title, a fairy tale it is not. I strongly encourage girls, women, and yes, boys and men, to take a look.
Several reviews have focused on Harry Potter and his friends Ron and Hermione’s “coming of age,” in the recently released film “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” This film, which reveals some of the risks that young teens take on as they mature, has raised questions and some condemnation about the inclusion of certain risk-taking behaviors in a film so popular with children. For example, is the butter beer that Ron, Hermione and Harry drink alcoholic? Is drinking this unknown concoction what causes Hermione to act differently and spontaneously put her arms around Harry and Ron? Is this too much to show on screen in a “children’s” movie? And what about the budding romantic and sexual relationships of the threesome? Again, are their stories too dangerous for children to view? Read more…
- Initiate important conversations early with your child, beginning by listening carefully to what is important to them…bullies in the lunchroom, a commercial on television, a scary story that they heard.
- Speak directly using simple language to describe your knowledge, feelings and activities with your child or teen.
- Parental self-disclosure can increase communication with young people but it is important to be aware of your relationship role and their developmental age. For example, unhealthy parental risk-taking often slips out in conversation but has negative consequences.
- Adults can share what we have learned about risk-taking. A nonjudgmental and non-bragging manner is critical. It is often most important to share feelings and mistakes. Read more…
Dr. Ponton’s editorial, “Not the Right Prescription,” appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec.31, 2009.
- All teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up. Risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity, and healthy risk-taking is a valuable experience.
- Most adolescents try marijuana with their friends. Over forty percent* of teenagers report that they have tried it. They are often unaware of the dangers that this drug poses for them.
- Brain growth and development continues throughout life but there is a period of rapid growth in adolescence Read more…
At the end of last year, a study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies was published which reported that 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys said that they had sent nude photos of themselves online. The study also reported that one third of teen boys and one quarter of teen girls admitted to receiving nude photos electronically. I read this study with interest and concern, already aware that most teenagers are avatars of the internet far more knowledgeable than the adults they live with, and simultaneously searching for ways to reveal their developing sexuality to the world.
Not long after this article was published, I began to receive phone calls from parents. Three calls came in rapid succession, all from parents who had recently discovered nude photos or videos of their daughter online. These calls were followed by a series from parents of sons who had been caught sending nude photos of girls. Read more…