Webster’s defines assertive as disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior. From my perspective, assertiveness is the blending of the ‘best’ qualities found in aggression and passivity, expressing your feelings but doing it in a way that does not degrade the other person or yourself.

It seems that being assertive in personal situations, when it often matters the most, is when we seem to find it so difficult. It seems ironic, that we would hide our needs and wants from the people closest to us, the people who probably care the most and often want for us the same things we want for ourselves.

In my experience, we often hide/mask our true selves to those closest to us out of fear. Fear that the other person can’t handle who we really are or fear that they won’t want to handle who we really are. Whether the fear is real or imagined, hiding who really are is not something most people can sustain forever. Eventually, what you really want comes to the surface.

Recently, both in my personal and professional life, I have run into people who don’t feel comfortable asking for simple things that everyone wants like connection, patience, someone to listen, quiet time, etc. Instead, each person stuffs their feels and hopes that the other person will just know what they need. That seems unfair.

What would it be like for you to challenge yourself to ask for what you need and want from the people around you?

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.se

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.

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.

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 MySpace.com 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.

1. My kid’s friends are smarter than me and probably know more about sex anyway.

2. I learned a lot from late night cable, they probably will too.

3. Miley Cryrus, the Kardashians, Justin Beiber and Kanye West are all normal, right?

4. My parents didn’t talk to me about sex and dating and I’m ok.

5. My kids live in a bubble that I keep under constant surveillance so there is no way that anyone could ever abuse/harm them.

6. My little angel will not even think about sex until after I’m dead, so there is no reason to bring it up.

7. Everything you read on the Internet is true.

8. Pornographic films are basically instructional videos.

9. They will be empowered if they learn on their own.

10. If I’m too engaged with my kids, what will they complain to their therapist about?

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