Five Feature Film Fathers and What They Can Teach Us About Parenting

As a child of the 90’s, I grew up with some of the best dads that sitcoms and movies had to offer (Full House had FOUR father figures!). In fact, it was often the father figures who served as single parents to children across popular media at the time. (Fun fact: some of Disney’s most prominent princesses—including Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas, and Jasmine—were raised by single dads). The importance of fathers and healthy relationships with children is demonstrated throughout a variety of TV shows and movies that our kiddos watch. In honor of Father’s Day this month, I will discuss five prominent papas within pop culture and how their relationships with their children can model the important roles that fathers play in the lives of kids.

But before I do that, you might be wondering what I mean when I say “the role of the father.” What are the important duties that a dad fulfills anyway? Well, according to the child development literature (Palkovitz, 2002), there are ten primary functions and responsibilities of an “involved father”:

  1. Communicating
  2. Teaching
  3. Monitoring
  4. Engaging in thought processes
  5. Providing
  6. Showing affection/supporting emotionally
  7. Protecting
  8. Caregiving
  9. Sharing interests/activities
  10. Being available

What do these responsibilities actually look like? Let’s take a deeper dive into five famous fathers from film to learn more…

Mufasa and the Importance of Teaching and Protecting

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You didn’t think I was going to talk about movie dads without mentioning Mufasa, did you? This lion is the prototype for a patient, authoritative, playful, and loving father – the Greatest of All Time or GOAT, if you will, of movie dads. Mufasa is from the acclaimed Disney animated feature The Lion King (1996), with a more recent CGI adaptation (2019). Mufasa demonstrates the importance of teaching children about the ways of the world. In The Lion King, Mufasa patiently and lovingly explains some very complex concepts to his son, Simba. Mufasa gently conveys to Simba both the magnitude of his future responsibilities and the importance of humility: “When we die, our bodies become the grass. And the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great circle of life.” He also gives Simba a pouncing lesson, demonstrating how teaching can also be silly and hands-on rather than philosophical.

Mufasa is also very protective of his young son when he wanders into a dangerous situation. Mufasa demonstrates strength, but not necessarily violence, which is important modeling for Simba. He explains to Simba that he is “only brave when [he has] to be,” which suggests that protectiveness is out of necessity, not brute force. Another key component of this protection is chastising Simba, who got in trouble because he “deliberately disobeyed” Mufasa’s orders to stay out of danger. Part of protecting children is calmly explaining why situations are dangerous, rather than relying on the “because I said so” method. Mufasa uses the secret weapon of dads everywhere by emphasizing that he is disappointed, rather than angry. He explains to Simba why Simba is wrong in a way that he can understand, then follows it up by confessing he was scared he might lose Simba. Mufasa demonstrates that protectiveness can be authoritative, rather than authoritarian.

Marlin and the Importance of Monitoring and Care-giving

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Keeping with the Disney/animated animal theme, let’s transition to Marlin, the lovable clown fish father from Finding Nemo (2012). This movie is unique because, while it is a “kid’s movie” by nature, it focuses on the parent’s perspective. Finding Nemo begins with (spoilers!) Marlin suffering the tragic and sudden loss of his wife and several of his children. As a result, he becomes overprotective of Nemo, the one son who managed to survive. Marlin monitors his son to the point of “over-monitoring” and becoming something of a “helicopter dad.” Finding Nemo—and Marlin’s character, specifically—emphasizes the rationality and anxiety of fathers who may worry about the safety of their young children, especially as they transition through important milestones (in Nemo’s case, starting school for the first time). The movie ultimately culminates with Marlin learning to trust Nemo’s ability to take care of himself. It demonstrates the important balance that fathers must walk between monitoring their children and giving a little independence as they grow older. (Honestly, I would argue the movie should be called “Finding Marlin,” because he has to learn how to form a healthier relationship with his son and the world around him).

It is important to note that Marlin’s concern and protectiveness from Nemo comes from his care-giving nature. From the moment Nemo hatched from his tiny fish egg, Marlin assures his little son, “I promise, I will never let anything happen to you, Nemo.” But it is impossible to protect a child from every single dangerous event that could occur. In fact, it is in these dangerous moments that parents and children learn crucial life lessons (e.g., “Just keep swimming” when you happen to be trapped in a giant fisherman’s net). Kiddos need to face hardships in order to grow, and part of caregiving is encouraging autonomy while also providing support. Marlin learns this the hard way, when his over-protectiveness breeds resentment from Nemo, which results in Nemo rebelling and getting captured by divers. Marlin slowly realizes that being a caregiver means not being so controlling and tough on his son. This is a key component of secure attachment—letting kids venture off to take risks, but being there and supportive for them when they return.

Mr. Incredible and the Importance of Providing and Sharing Activities

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You’re probably starting to notice a pattern in the fathers I’ve chosen. Yes, I happen to be a Pixar aficionado, but I promise I’ll introduce a little variety after this last Disney-based example. For our next dad, let’s take a look at Mr. Incredible (aka Robert Parr) of Disney’s The Incredibles (2004). At the very beginning of the film, Mr. Incredible is one of many superheroes who must ultimately hang up his cape when citizens begin to object against “supers” and the potential dangers of their powers. He and his wife, Elastigirl (aka Helen Parr), eventually start a family of their own. In his “ordinary” life, Mr. Incredible financially provides for his family as an insurance salesman. The film picks up when he becomes frustrated with the drudgery of his job and takes up superhero work in secret—a secret he keeps even from his beloved family. Although Mr. Incredible continues to provide for his family, he does so at the behest of family time. He frequently travels to exotic places and pursues exciting superhero work, while growing more and more distant from his wife and children. He eventually realizes his drive to do superhero-type things almost cost him his family when he remarks, “You are my greatest adventure, and I almost missed it.” He learns how to be present with his loved ones and provide for them, while still being true to himself and his own needs. Mr. Incredible makes mistakes as a husband and a father, but he ultimately confronts them and addresses them.

The movie gets really fun when the Parr family becomes the Incredibles—a superhero team that fights together as a family unit. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, along with their two children Violet and Dash, are actually able to accomplish more when they work together. Mr. Incredible is ultimately supportive and even enthusiastic about each of his children and their unique skills. He excitedly remarks on Violet’s ability to generate force fields, and he encourages Dash’s super-speed from the beginning of the movie. This shows how important it is for dads to cheer their kids on and get involved in their interests and activities. Mr. Incredible reminds us that, while parenting certainly isn’t easy, it truly is a heroic act.

Officer Davis and the Importance of Engaging and Emotional Support

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Here is that brief sojourn from Disney movies that I promised! Our next dad is Officer Davis from Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), the Academy Award winning computer-animated film from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation. While the film focuses primarily on Miles Morales and his journey to becoming the new Spider-Man, his father (Officer Davis) plays a key role in this journey. The film starts out with Miles beginning his first day at a new school. Miles insists he can walk to school, but his father offers to drive him anyway. When his father drops him off in his police car, Officer Davis tells his son he loves him. At first, Miles gets out of the car without replying, but Officer Davis comes over the police car’s loudspeaker. “You have to say it back,” he playfully demands. After a lot of nudging, Miles begrudgingly says, “I love you too, dad.” While this exchange may seem silly and “dad joke-esque,” it demonstrates how Officer Davis is modeling engagement in his son’s life, as well as emotional expression.

There is an even more poignant demonstration of this engagement and emotional vulnerability just before the climax of the movie. Miles is struggling with his “spidey” powers, and he cannot tell any of his loved ones about them—least of all his father, who is a police officer and actively opposes Spider-Man’s vigilante tactics. At one point, Miles is alone, abandoned, and deeply afraid that he will never be able to master his superpowers. Officer Davis knocks on the door to his room, and Miles is unable to respond. Officer Davis, instead of feeling rejected by his son and leaving, leans against the door and opens up to him. He says, “Look, sometimes people drift apart. And I don’t want that to happen to us … I know I don’t always do what you need me to do, or say what you need me to say. I see this spark in you and it’s amazing. It’s why I push you. It’s yours. Whatever you choose to do with it you’ll be great. … I love you. You don’t have to say it back though.” This scene is important for so many reasons. It shows how fathers can model strength and vulnerability. It demonstrates how fathers can be engaged in their children’s lives while also stepping back and letting them make choices. It is ultimately these empathic words that empower Miles to believe in himself. He closes his eyes, and he is instantly in-sync with his superpowers. Through Officer Davis’ trust and emotional expression to his son, Miles is finally free.

Darth Vader and the Importance of Communicating and Being Available

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I know what you’re thinking. So far, we’ve examined fathers who are pretty wholesome and involved in their children’s lives. How does a villain like Darth Vader constitute a good father? Just hear me out for a second. In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), viewers are treated to one of the biggest plot twists in cinematic history (“I am your father”). Up until this point, Darth Vader had no idea that his children (Luke and Leia) were alive, as they were secretly whisked away during one of the movie’s prequels. As soon as he knows his son’s whereabouts, Vader is commendably eager to be involved in his son’s life… perhaps even to a problematic extent. He’s so excited, in fact, that he wants to skip catching up on the last twenty-or-so years of his son’s life and go straight to “ruling the galaxy as father and son” together. (Never mind that he just cut his son’s hand off with his lightsaber, oops.) Vader’s enthusiasm is admirable, but it would probably be better for him to slow down and get to know Luke a little bit more first.

All jokes aside, Darth Vader shows that even the most detached and damaged relationships between fathers and children can be repaired. Despite not knowing each other very well, Luke and Vader are able to have some surprisingly vulnerable conversations during Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983). They talk openly and authentically, demonstrating an impressible level of communication for two people who only recently discovered they are related. In fact, as demonstrated in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Luke and Vader seem to be capable of communicating without even speaking to each other. But it isn’t just the Force that brings them together. As Luke beseeches Darth Vader to see the error of his ways, Vader laments, “It is too late for me, son.” We see this is ultimately not true when the movie’s main villain and Vader’s boss, Emperor Palpatine, strikes Luke down. Vader faces a difficult decision—follow his master’s orders, or save his son’s life. Darth Vader ultimately chooses the latter, which costs him his own life. In the end, Darth Vader is there for his son when it matters most. It is Darth Vader’s story that shows how father-child relationships can be healed—and the first steps are communicating and being present.

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Fathers play such an important role in children’s lives. They are communicators and caregivers, teachers and playmates, providers and protectors. These larger-than-life characters in some of our favorite movies show that having a good father allows children to transform and be the protagonists of their own stories. While being an involved father is incredible feat, you don’t need to be a superhero (or villain!) to be a good dad.

Reference:

Palkovitz, R. (2002). Involved fathering and child development: Advancing our understanding of good fathering. In C. S. Tamis-LeMonda, & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement (pp. 33–64). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Written by: Alana Fondren, M.A.

 

Break the Stigma

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Have you ever heard someone say something like, “only weak people go to counseling,” or “you aren’t a real man if you go to counseling,” or “first responders should be tough and going to counseling means they shouldn’t be doing their job,” or maybe even “only crazy people go to counseling”?

Are any of these true?

“Only weak people go to counseling.” On the contrary, it takes strength to decide you want better for yourself, bravery to accept that you have problems you can’t fix all on your own, courage to reach out for help and make that call, and mental fortitude to make the efforts, commitments, and life changes that counseling requires.  In fact, only strong people go to counseling.

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“You are not a real man if you go to counseling.” A real, well-adjusted man values self-improvement. A well-adjusted man understands that when there are skill sets or knowledge that he would like to acquire, it makes perfect sense to seek out knowledgeable, professional advisors who can teach him those skill sets.   A well-adjusted man takes control of his mental health and seeks out healthy ways to deal with his emotions.  Counseling equips men with new skills, strategies, and techniques to be the best men they can be.  What’s more manly than being the best possible version of yourself?

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“First responders are tough and if they seek counseling they must not be cut out for the job.” Particularly for first responders, having a counselor to talk to about things they’ve seen, experienced, and been involved in on the job can be vital. Packing up emotions in a little box can only last so long. Eventually that box gets full and everything spills, manifesting in anger, drinking, self-medicating, etc. Instead of hiding emotions, counseling can help first responders deal with their emotions in a healthy way, and become even better at their jobs by helping them prevent PTSD, Burnout, and Compassion Fatigue.

“Only crazy people go to counseling.” Being diagnosed with some sort of mental health issue does not make you crazy. Counseling can also help people who are not currently experiencing “problems” and desire to enrich their lives by working on healthy skills like communication and coping strategies for times when they may feel stressed or anxious.

breakThe negative stigma surrounding mental health probably started with the early days of bizarre and torturous treatments to “fix” people with mental health issues.  Thankfully, those days are long gone. Counseling can be hard work for the client. They will often be challenged by their counselor to grow and learn more healthy and positive ways to live.

My hope is, that together, we can break the stigma surrounding mental health. As a result, more people will feel comfortable suggesting counseling to friends and family, sharing that it is a good thing to go to counseling, and that more people will reach out and attend counseling for the betterment of their own mental health.

Written by Anne Wiggs, M.A., LPC-Intern (Supervised by Jennie Fincher, Ph.D., LPC-S)

Edited by Bailey & Mark Korzenewski

Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19

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With all the changes over the past couple of weeks and feelings of uncertainty related to COVID-19, we here at North Texas Counseling Associates thought it would be helpful to provide some resources to help stay connected, talk to your children about COVID-19, and tips to manage stress and anxiety.

Tips for Staying Social:

Although we are currently in the process of social distancing and shelter in place, physical distance does not mean we have to remain socially disconnected and isolated. We have many ways of maintaining social connection including:

  • Call/Skype/FaceTime/Zoom with family members
  • Write letters/create cards for relatives
  • Go outside and greet or talk to neighbors from a 6-foot restriction.
  • Host a virtual meal/playdate
  • Watch a movie as a group-Netflix has it where you can stream with friends!
  • Attend a virtual concert, church service, exercise class
  • Play online games together
  • Virtually visit more than 1,200 museums around the world via Google Arts & Culture
  • Practice Self-Care!
    • Read
    • Journal
    • Meditate
    • Take a bath
    • Find things that relax you!

Tips for Staying Active and Connected as a Family:

With cancellation of activities like birthday parties, sleepovers, sports, clubs, and even school, this is a great time to maintain and improve your connection as a family:

  • Play cards/board games
  • Do puzzles
  • Make arts and crafts
  • Cook/bake
  • Look at family pictures, maybe update family photos and reminisce.
  • Make puppets
  • Have a dance party
  • Play in the yard
  • Take walks (using a healthy distance)
  • Establish routines to help create a sense of structure at home

Tips for Talking with Children about COVID-19:

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss it! Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone.
  • Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, this can be overwhelming to a child. Instead, simply try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.
  • Take your cues from your child. Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. Reflect their feelings and help build their emotional language.
  • Deal with your own anxiety. If you feel anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions. This also models for the child how to deal with their own anxiety.
  • Be reassuring. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how you as a family are doing to take care of one another. Normalize their fears and anxiety. Even share you are nervous too! But also talk about how you are doing your part to stay safe.
  • Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Children feel more empowered when they know what to do to stay safe. We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means of staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom.
  • Stick to routine. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.
  • Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. Demonstrate and verbalize that the line of communication is still open, and this can be a regular discussion.

Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety:

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  • Reduce the pressures of parenting and be kind to yourself
    • You may feel like you have a lot more on your to-do list, especially with kids at home.
  • Feel good about what is going well and celebrate the small things! Pat yourself on the back for a decent meal, a funny joke, or just quiet moments.
  • Build a new routine at home. Remember to include breaks for everyone to take care of themselves with downtime, playtime, and exercise.
  • Speak up when you need help and offer support when you can.
  • Embrace flexibility. Have your children help you make and keep your daily schedule.
  • Take care of your body. Exercise, deep breathing, stretch. Try and eat well, get plenty of sleep, and make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Talk to a mental health professional if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
  • See the world through your child’s eyes. They are learning through you, try and see things from their perspective.
  • Stay informed. Find trusted sources and limit your exposure to the news and media. Social media can be a major source of social support, but can also create feelings of fear, panic, and, for some, feelings of inadequacy.

Additional Resources:

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Sometimes the pressure can be too much. Reaching out for help is important for you and your family. The following are 24-hour free help lines for different needs.

  • For confidential support when you need help with the stresses of parenting, call Child Help:
    • Call or text 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or live chat at childhelp.org
  • For help with teen specific concerns:
    • Call Texas Youth Helpline: 800-989-6884 or text 512-872-5777
  • For help with parenting tips, local resources and to learn about family fun:
  • For mental health support and crisis care, call iCARE:
    • Call or text iCARE at 817-335-3022
  • For access to services through a social service hotline:
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline:
    • 800-799-7233
  • The Family Place Crisis Hotline:
    • 214-941-1991
  • Genesis Women’s Shelter:
    • 214-946-4357
  • Hope’s Door:
    • 972-422-2911
  • Safe Haven of Fort Worth:
    • 877-701-7233

For all other questions/updates on COVID-19, visit cdc.gov.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, please contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services toll free at 1-800-252-5400, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You may also file a report using the secure TDFPS website. Reports made through this website take up to 24 hours to process.

The Texas Abuse Hotline is 1-800-252-5400.

Runaway Brain: Making Sense of My Emotions

By: Dr. Jennie Fincher, PH.D., LPC-S

The brain is an amazing and complicated organ. We absolutely need it live and more importantly, we need it to function well to live well. There are three main types of emotion regulation systems: threat system, drive system, and soothing system. All mental health problems are related to an overuse of the threat and drive systems. We can hold onto the pain of the past, we can get triggered by unwanted anxieties about the future, and we can attack ourselves with our inner-critic.

Read to the end to learn ways to soothe your threat and drive systems and generate a sense of calm and resilience, so that you can be more free to choose how you respond to difficult thoughts (e.g., painful memories, negative predictions, and self-criticism), challenging emotions (such as fear, anger, pain, sadness, and loneliness) or any other situation that you may find personally challenging.

Threat System

The threat system operates on a ‘better safe than sorry’ principle, aimed at keeping us alive by scanning for and identifying threats. It is a very powerful system. It can activate powerful bursts of feelings that alert us to threats and this can motivate us to take action. It does this by creating feelings of anxiety or fear in response to potentially threatening stimuli. The behavioral ramifications include fight-flight response, submission, or self-attacking and self-criticism. The threat system involves stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Research shows that negative information captures our attention much more powerfully than positive information, this is called a negativity bias. Because it is one of the brain’s most powerful systems, it is easy for this system to take up more than its fair share of mental and physical energy. Due to our brain’s ability to imagine and ruminate, it is possible to keep this system running even in the absence of any actual external threat.

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Drive System

The drive system is a motivational system that also has roots in our evolution. It drives us toward the things we want or need in order to succeed. It alerts us to opportunities for pursuing goals and securing resources and helps us focus on these pursuits. The drive system can be powerfully motivating and can narrow our focus on whatever we are pursuing, to the detriment of ourselves and others. This drive system is highly influenced by the neurochemical, dopamine. Dopamine serves to acts as our built-in reward system. We experience a flood of dopamine whenever we achieve something that we set out to achieve. When in balance with the other two systems, the drive system can help keep us motivated to pursue important life goals. However, it can also lead to addictive and compulsive behavior (e.g., the high associated with illicit drug use or compulsive behaviors to avoid anxiety). The drive system, when unbalanced, can lead people to pursue achievement in unrelenting ways, leading to stress, perfectionism, and depression.

System Imbalance

When the threat and drive systems are in overdrive, they can lead to mental health problems. For example, the threat system can be overused to rely on the inner critic to motivate to take action, but instead, it can inadvertently increase distress which makes failure more likely. This can lead to agitation, depression, and self-loathing.

Similarly, anxiety also can result from an imbalance in the drive and threat systems. The use of the drive system to avoid the unpleasant experience of anxiety may lead to short-term relief, but ultimately creates an increase in anxiety. Since avoidance cannot be maintained, the threat continues to ruminate in the mind, which results in triggering the threat system…again and again.

The imbalance of the threat and drive systems can really make us feel stuck if it is not regulated with the third system, the soothing system.

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Soothing System

Unlike the threat and drive systems that activate us, the soothing system is associated with tranquil states, feelings of safety, contentment, and peace. This system utilizes neurochemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins. Similar to the other two systems discussed, we enter this world hard-wired with the soothing system. It is connected to experiences of affection, care-giving/receiving, acceptance, support, and affiliation. Research suggests that the above-mentioned behaviors interfere with the negative effects of the threat and drive systems. Unfortunately, the soothing system can be affected by developmental history, especially histories that include painful interpersonal or emotional experiences (e.g., childhood trauma, rejection, lack of parental support). Fortunately, utilizing the soothing system more effectively can be a learned skill.

Regulating ourselves plays an instrumental role in promoting a sense of wellbeing throughout our life. Self-regulation can be defined as managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions. Self-regulation becomes critical particularly during adolescents and young adulthood. Research has shown that major changes occur during early and mid-adolescence (i.e., 11-15 years). During this period of time, the systems that seek reward and process emotions are more developed than systems involved in decision-making and future planning. This means that self-regulation is developmentally challenging during this age range. Self-regulation skills that can be developed during adolescence include persisting on long-term projects, problem-solving to achieve goals, self-monitoring, making decisions with compassion for others, managing frustration, and seeking help when stress is unmanageable.

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How to develop self-regulation

Self-regulation develops and is learned through interaction with caregivers and the environment over the lifespan. Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral regulation skills can be learned. Effective interventions can strengthen and improve skills. Caregivers (including parents, teachers, and mentors) can teach self-regulation skills thought modeling, providing opportunities to practice skills, and reinforcing skill development. This can include coaching them on how, why, and when to use the regulation skills in complex situations.  Providing a warm responsive relationship where youth feel safe to make mistakes and learn to help them to navigate more challenging situations on their own. Structuring the environment to make self-regulation more manageable is also very helpful. This can involve limiting opportunities for risk-taking behaviors and allowing natural consequences for poor decisions. This supportive process between adults and youth is what is called co-regulation. Through warm and responsive interactions, co-regulation provides assistance and support for optimal self-regulation.

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Mind-body interventions can also assist in developing self-regulation. These interventions can include yoga, meditation, and martial arts. Mindfulness is also a technique that intentionally focuses attention on one’s emotions and thoughts in the present moment. Mindfulness utilizes acceptance of thoughts and feelings without judgment.

No matter what the avenue of self-regulation, the work toward balancing our systems is worth it.

Parent’s Navigation Guide to Healthy Teen Relationships

By: Bailey McAdams, M.Ed., LPC

As we approach Valentine’s Day, we generally think of our loved ones and begin our annual stress fest of what to buy them to “show our love.”  We often neglect to think of the health and well-being of the relationships themselves.  As a therapist that works with all ages, I am reminded of the benefits of learning healthy relationship boundaries and when to identify the unhealthy ones at the earliest ages.  As soon as we begin to develop romantic relationships and attachments with others, we should also be developing our awareness of healthy boundaries.  As teens, we are often so caught up in the butterflies and fireworks that we can easily overlook some unhealthy red flags.  I write this particular blog more for you parents of teens in hopes that you may educate them on healthy boundaries and have early interventions for the more concerning red flags the healthy steps to take.

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Healthy boundaries to talk to your teens about:

  • Highlight the role of respect. For this particular generation respect should occur in the way that we speak to one another, the way we respond to physical interaction, how we speak ABOUT one another, and probably most importantly how we interact on social media or via text.  For example, someone who requests inappropriate pictures is not demonstrating healthy respect for the other individual.  Parents:  It is important to talk through with your teen appropriate ways to handle when respect has not been shown.  Be a good listener and supporter, but ultimately help them to work through.
  • Teach your teen to label their feelings. Growing up talking about your feelings at home promotes the same behavior outside of the home.  Learning that it is okay to have feelings and that they will be supported and heard is vital to the health of any relationship.

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  • Encourage your teen to pay attention to their instincts. If you feel that something isn’t quite right, odds are it isn’t. As adults, we may call these “red flags.”  Too often we ignore red flags in an effort to “make it work” often to our detriment.
  • Encourage your teen to own their own “stuff.” All too often we may get sucked into the drama and lives of others and make our decisions solely based upon the impact of the other person.  While this is thoughtful, we are forgetting to think of one person… ourselves!  This is not selfish; this is setting a healthy boundary.  Sometimes we may do something that feels like too much for us to handle in an effort to take care of someone else.  When we take care of others in place of ourselves, it may leave us feeling resentful or as though our feelings are not important.
  • Remember we train others how to treat us. I probably say this daily in my counseling sessions with people of all ages.  This means if you have boundaries, people will learn that you do and are not as likely to take advantage of us.  Also, it reminds us to listen to the boundaries of others.  How can we ask for something we are not also willing to provide?
  • Parents: You are their example! Try to practice these tips yourself and they will learn from you.

Resources to check out: www.loveisrespect.org and https://www.breakthecycle.org/blog/setting-boundaries-relationship