Who are your kids texting?

A fundamental question that parents must confront repeatedly throughout parenthood, “How do I balance protecting them from the world around them vs. prepare them for the world they will launch into?”  When it comes to technology parents often don’t know what dangers their kids face. 


Do you remember the sixteen-year-old Michigan girl who made headlines about ten years ago when she ran away, got on a plane and flew to the Middle East to meet a young man she ‘met’ on in 2005?   Her family was able to get her home with the help of the FBI because she was a minor.  The young man she was corresponding with online, texting and speaking to on the phone was able to convince her to come up with an elaborate scheme to deceive her family, leave her friends and go to a foreign county all without ever having met face-to-face. 


Her mother told the media she was taken completely by surprise, that she had not monitored whom her daughter was speaking to on the phone because her daughter had never gone over on her minutes.  I regularly hear parents remark that they do not monitor their kid’s phones or social media accounts and it always scares me. 


A recent article by Michelle Drouin, PhD at Indiana University about a fifth of the collage age students surveyed had been pressured or coerced into sending “sexts.”  This phenomenon is not unique to college kids as this is on the rise with middle and high school age kids.  Dr. Drouin reports that her findings suggest that being coerced into “sexting” is frequently more traumatic for adolescents and teens than being coerced into physical sex acts.  She has also suggested that her data is pointing to the possibility of a new form of relational abuse. 


The solution is not to remove your children from all social media and to set their phone on fire, but rather to have a balance between speaking, listening and monitoring.  Books like “iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know about Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing up” by Janell Hofmann help to provide a framework and a language for parents who may feel overwhelmed by the task of preparing their kids for the a connected world. 

What are boundaries?

Particularly with clients new to counseling, I find that the discussion of boundaries is a foreign concept and I can understand why.  Emotional boundaries can be confusing and change from situation to situation. Webster’s defines ‘boundary’ as: That which indicates or fixes a limit or extent, or marks a bound, as of a territory: a bounding or separating line; a real or imaginary limit. 

Around our homes, we build fences, a clear boundary between our home/property and the neighbors, cubicles in offices define workspaces, and countries build barriers and place checkpoints at their boarders.  Each of these is a clear boundary, emotional boundaries not nearly as clear-cut or easily defined. 

The unspoken behavioral expectations that we have culturally, as a family and as individuals, these are far more difficult to understand because they can change from person to person and situation to situation.  For example, if I were riding the city bus and all of the other seats on the bus were empty, it would be odd (perhaps even uncomfortable) for a stranger to come sit in the seat right next to me, even though there are no rules against it.  However, if the only available seat were right next to me, it would probably not be given a second thought.

 Emotional boundaries are the emotional rules of engagement that you take with you to each interaction with other people.  Both have roots in cultural norms but can be highly impacted by personal experiences.  A healthy approach to boundaries includes paying attention to both how you feel as well as how your behavior may impact another person.  It is important to remember that you cannot make a person feel a certain way nor can they make you feel a certain way.  Further you have the right to remove yourself from situations that feel emotionally unsafe or destructive. 


“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”  - Rumi


I have seen in my own life and in the lives countless people around me that pain is often how we learn.  What has your pain taught you?

Fake it until you become it!

For years I have said, ‘fake until you make it.’  Thanks to Dr. Amy Cuddy, I am now going to say, ‘fake it until you become it.’  It is a subtle but meaningful difference. 

The Ted Talk by Dr. Amy Cuddy is informative and eloquent.  In her talk, Dr. Cuddy discusses the impact of body language not only on how others perceive us but also about how we perceive ourselves.  I encourage you to watch her video and see what you can get from it.

10 warning signs that your teen is in an unhealthy relationship

1.  Sudden change in dress and appearance.  Adolescence is a time for experimentation and learning about one’s likes and dislikes but it's important to pay attention to any sudden and drastic changes in dress/appearance. 

2.  Sudden change in friends.  Teens can be fickle and harsh with one another so it is good to keep an eye on whom your teen is spending time with and check in with them about what the dynamics of the group are, especially when there is a sudden change.

3.  Isolating.  If your teen goes from social butterfly to wallflower, it is really important to take notice and ask questions.  This includes noticing a shift in the amount of info your teen has been willing to give you.  If he/she was once open about details that they are now keeping to themselves, it is important to take notice.

4.  Sudden changes in mood.  Teens are notoriously moody but if yours seems to be more cantankerous than is typical for him/her it may be time to take them on a walk or drive to find out what has been bothering them. 

5.  Sudden loss of interest in things previously enjoyed.  While it is normal for teens to shed many of their childhood hobbies, they generally do so over time.  If your kiddo appeared to suddenly shy from things they once enjoyed, it is important to learn more about what hobbies/tasks they are being replaced with. 

6.  Getting in trouble.  Everyone makes mistakes but it is important to take note when your teen makes his/hers.  Part of learning from our mistakes is thinking/talking about what choices we made that got us in that situation.  After getting into trouble, it is important to help your teen explore whether he/she felt pressured to make poor choices b/c of a relationship. 

7.  You see marks, bruises, and scratches.  Every bruise/scratch will not mean that your child is being abused, however it is important to take note especially if there seem to be more than are commonplace.

8.  Sudden drop in grades.  If your teen's grades take a sudden nosedive, it is time to have a conversation.  There is a difference between a poor grade on a test and a sudden drop in overall grades.  When your son/daughter's overall performance takes a sudden hit, there is likely more going on than meets the eye.  

9.  You see/overhear abusive behavior/language.  This one may seem more obvious, but some teens are gifted at hiding and covering up what is going on with them.  It is really important to both model and remind them that they deserve respect.  If your child is afraid to stand up for themselves, offer to help them; provide support, advice, protection and resources to remove them from an unhealthy situation. 

10.  Listen to your intuition.  You have been with your son/daughter their entire lives, you used to know what he/she needed based solely on the sound of their cry.  If your gut says something is awry, listen.  Your teen may not be ready to talk about it yet, but remind them that you are always there and that they have other trusted adults they can go to if needed.  


Each of the above is a warning sign.  It is important to make it a priority to have regular conversations with your teen about all of the things that are going on in their world.  When any of the above warning signs appear, it is important to remember to stay calm.  Panicking and getting upset will likely cause your teen to shut down and make it even more difficult for you to provide support.  Do your best to relate to them and try to have a conversation instead of an interrogation.  

When is the last time you were tested?

            In a culture were we talk about just about everything, we have stopped talking about HIV/AIDs and other STIs.  Sex is in ads for soda, sex is a topic for political debate, sex is on social media, tv, billboards, etc.  So why aren’t we talking about STIs?  Condom and lubricate ads are commonplace, promising more pleasure and stimulation but they were created for safety.  Condoms are meant to curb the chances of unwanted pregnancy and STIs and lube was originally meant to assist with an under-lubricated vagina.  We shop for the “right” condom but seem to forget to bring up what it is needed for.  Or worse, we neglect to use one all together because of discomfort about how we may make the other person feel when we ask to use one. 

            With advancements in the treatment of HIV/AIDs, people are not as afraid of contracting STIs including AIDs/HIV, which is a dangerous attitude.  I worked with multiple clients that are HIV positive and their symptoms are managed which is wonderful.  (But I promise you they would prefer not to have it.)  The idea that medicine has come a long way since the 1980’s and many of my positive clients will die old people is wonderful but that doesn’t mean that we should be any less vigilant in our efforts to prevent the spread. 

            Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting tested each year at your annual exam/physical.  You are there anyway, why not?  It is also a good idea to get tested 3-6 months after any “high-risk” behavior.  “High-risk” behaviors are IV drug use, unprotected sex (including oral sex), and exposure to someone else’s blood. 

            Getting diagnosed with an STI can be scary, painful and isolating.  There is nothing sexy about that.  In a culture were sex is mentioned, alluded to and implied regularly, we have done ourselves a disservice by not including the topic of safety.  The US has one of the highest rates of new cases of HIV/AIDs out of all of the industrialized countries, largely because we avoid talking about the need for protection and prevention.

            It’s been my experience that people often expect other people to do things they have not or will not.  If you haven’t been tested, why haven’t you?  If you haven’t discussed it with your sexual partner, what is stopping you?  There is no time like the present. 

Family Reconciliations...

           As the holidays approach, it is difficult not to think about family, how you grew up and the state of your relationship(s) with your family. Estrangement from family is actually fairly common but it seems like it isn’t frequently discussed which often adds to the stigma and shame of not having a close and warm relationship(s) with your family of origin. 

            If you are among the unlucky group that is estranged from your family (or perhaps you have a very strained relationshiop), you may be thinking about what you could or should do to change things.  There are three factors to consider:

1.     Your part or responsibility in the current state of the relationship.

2.     Your ability to accept your family member’s flaws/shortcomings.

3.     Assessing the positive vs. negative impact of a continued relationship. 

For the first factor, do your best to consider that though you may not have intended to be hurtful or unkind, your behavior may have negatively impacted your family.  We have all made mistakes.  The best way to learn and grow from them is to acknowledge them, apologize for them and attempt to make amends when possible.  Plus, when we are able to recognize our faults and hurtful behavior, others are far more likely to take ownership of theirs. 

Another important factor in evaluating your behavior is considering how you engage you family member(s).  Do you call or show up and brace yourself for a confrontation or fight?  If so, you are likely looking for a negative interaction and will likely therefore find one.  But if you engage them looking for what they are doing right, you may be pleased with the results. 

Just as we have shortcomings, so do our family members.  If you want them to be kind and patient about your faults and shortcomings, it only seems fair to show them the same curtsey.  Perhaps you had a parent that you feel/felt was critical when you were growing up.  Consider that while it was not fun to be on the receiving end of that kind of criticism, perhaps your parent did not know a better way to approach the situation.  It may be useful to think about the challenges they were experiencing at the time of your conflict and attempt to see the situation from their perspective.

The sad truth is that for some, the strained relationship is largely do to with an unhealthy family member who is unwilling or unable to take an honest look at themselves.  Often things like mental illness, drug/alcohol addiction, fear of changing, etc. can sharply impact a family’s ability to communicate and cope with stress.  There are times when it can be useful to take a step back and reevaluate if a person is or can be a positive addition to your life.  For example, you may decide that a family member who has refused treatment for the substance dependence is welcome back into your life at the point at which he/she begins efforts towards sobriety. 

            Even if you are able to mend fences with your family, it may not look and feel like an episode of Leave It To Beaver.  Especially, if it has been a long time since the relationship has been good, it can be helpful to take things slowly and not to put too many expectations on yourself or on your family. 

            Good luck and happy holidays!


Do you procrastinate?  I do.  After recently putting something simple off for about a week and laughing to myself when I finally forced myself to deal with it, I started to think about why I did that to myself. 

I do not enjoy doing things that I think will be annoying.  It sounds simple but when I step back and think about it that is what I put off.  I don’t put off laundry, cleaning, etc.  But I will absolutely put off a call to an insurance company or a trip to a crowded grocery store.  I am typically annoyed with myself when the task that I put off is far simpler than I built it up to be. 

Why do you procrastinate?  Do you think that you will have more desire to complete the task later?  You know that’s unlikely.  Do you think that you work better under pressure?  Research suggests that is not true. 

Are you aware of the impact on others?  Your procrastination can lead to more work for someone else, anger and hurt feelings.

It may be worth spending some time with yourself and thinking about if you procrastinate, why and who is affected by your procrastination.

Are you an alcoholic? Or do you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?

           I have been working with addicts for several years and I have learned that as unique the disease of addiction is, it is also startlingly similar to other diseases.  As with other diseases and public health concerns, prevention is always easier and cheaper than treatment to eliminate the disease. 

            So if you are asking yourself if alcohol has become an issue for you, it probably a really good time for you to take a really hard look at what role alcohol plays in your life. 

            The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV-TR looks at several different factors when deciphering between dependence and abuse.  Factors like increased tolerance, withdrawals, drinking to avoid with drawls, inability to cutback/stop on your own, social consequences (including trouble at work and legal issues), etc. 

            *Important note.  If you are addicted to alcohol, withdrawals can be dangerous and may require medical attention to avoid/minimize symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens.  If you have been drinking daily for a long period of time, it is necessary to consult a physician before trying to just go “cold turkey.” *

            So how do you know if you are abusing alcohol or dependent?  Well, that is a simple question with a complicated answer.  Most people avoid looking at this question b/c they are worried about the stigma attached to addiction and I have lost count of how many times someone has said either in jest or seriously that they can’t imagine never drinking ever again.  So, maybe there is a midway point. 

            Most 12 step advocates (which I would include myself in) don’t know about or don’t talk about moderation programs.  And frankly, if you’re an addict, you will not be able to stick to a moderation plan for very long.  But if you fall into the ‘abuse’ category, you may find some relief and success with moderating your drinking instead of absolute abstinence. 

            Most moderation programs, like Moderation Management ( begin with a period of abstinence (usually 30-60 days), and then help you create a plan for moderating yourself.  They typically offer a community of support online and/or locally and help you track your success around moderation. 

            If you are unable to moderate your drinking, it may be time to consider the possibility that you have a problem with alcohol.  The good news is there are countless communities and resources to help you work through your addiction.  Alcoholics Anonymous is probably the most well known and has the most empirical data supporting it but there are other options as well, CBT counseling, SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, Rational Recovery, etc.  Like with most other things in life, I encourage your to try not only AA but at least one or two other programs to ensure the best fit.  

You have rights!!

           I recently met an individual who felt as though their therapist had taken advantage of them.  The person told me that they initially had a positive experience in counseling and that some of the work they did together was helpful but that later, the therapist became intrusive and did not maintain appropriate boundaries. 

            In addition to being disturbed by this individual’s story, it made me think about how few people have experience with therapy/counseling and that many people may not know where/how to start when finding a therapist. 

            First, you have rights.  Therapeutic services are covered under HIPPA and you have the same rights to privacy (with some notable exceptions that I will address) and care that you do when you go see your primary care physician or seek treatment in the hospital.  The list of rights afforded by HIPPA are available in a lot of places online, this is a link to Texas’ Substance about Client Rights: .

            It may sound silly/annoying/time consuming but I recommend that people ‘therapist shop’; see multiple counselors/therapists and try them out.  When dating, you don’t commit to the very first person you ever go on a date with.  This person is someone that you plan to share some really important things with, it is important that you feel safe, open and comfortable with them.  If you don’t, what’s the point?  If you aren’t going to be able to go in, be open and really work on the things that are bothering you why are you going?

            Don’t worry about the therapist’s/counselor’s feelings.  Trust me, all good therapists are aware that they are not everyone’s cup of tea and that they cannot help each and every person that walks through their door.  If you feel like the bond/connection is off, chances are the therapist notices it as well.  I’m not suggesting you be unkind about it, but being honest will save you some time and awkwardness down the road.  I have been able to offer referrals and resources when I haven’t been the best fit and I have been glad to do so. 

            Listen to your gut!  There are thousands of years of built-in intuition in your psyche that many of us ignore because we want to be polite.  If you think something is off, talk about it, bring it up!  If your therapist wants a hug and that makes you feel weird, say so.  If you feel attracted to your therapist, bring it up (trust me, you will not be the first person to tell your therapist that).  If you think that treatment or a thing that your therapist does/doesn’t do is hindering you in some way, say something.  It is YOUR time in there, use it.  Your therapist may not be able/willing to accommodate your every whim but at least you guys can talk about why/why not.  Think about it this way, if you say a hairdresser and they did not give you the hair cut you ask for/want, you wouldn’t keep going and letting them cut your hair in a style you did not like. 

            Every state in the Union has a state licensing board that you can complain to if you feel that you have been mistreated.  I may be unpopular for bringing it up, but it’s true.  You have the right to file a compliant if you feel that your counselor/therapist mistreated you in some way.

            In short, know your rights, shop around for the right fit, ask for what you need and want and get out if you feel like you aren’t getting what you need.  

 © Nicole Richardson