Category Archives for "Teens 13 and Over"

Jun 08

“If It Bleeds, It Leads” – Talking to Children About Tragic News Headlines

By Kristyn Buchanan | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over , Trauma

Welcome back our guest blogger Marly Hinestroza, as she discusses about tragic media headlines, the effects on children, and how you as a parent can help!


On 01/13/18, at 8:00 am HST, I was trying to entertain eight 9 year old girls who had just woken up from a birthday-sleepover party for my daughter, when I received an alarm on my phone that read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Many people have shared what it was like to be in Hawaii during this “mistake” and I echo many of the sentiments of fear, anger, confusion and sadness so I won’t go into that (Coping with Hawaii’s Ballistic Missile False Alarm). Luckily, my fight or flight instinct kicked in and fight prevailed so I managed to get my daughter, her friends, my 18 month old and 2 year old lab into the laundry room with as many provisions as I had ready for hurricane season, because who prepares for incoming missiles? Right…

“If It Bleeds, It Leads”

Barely a month later, on 2/14/18 as I’m ordering lunch with a friend, the headline start to roll across the screen – “Mass shooting in Florida High School.” So my heart drops and I think “what must those kids be going through? Those parents? What if it was my kids? Why is this happening?!”

There is so much going on in the world and it is close to impossible to shut all the “noise” out and keep it away from our children. Whether they are on social media or not, news spread like wildfire and children are talking about it. News stories are coming up in sessions with school age children and teens who have “heard that” or “read this on Facebook.” News stories are also coming up in sessions with parents who are struggling with how to talk to their children about how bleak the world seems to be some days.

Shortly after the shooting my daughter’s elementary school sent out a letter in an attempt to reassure parents that they have drills to prepare for the unfortunate. I asked my nine year old if she’s done the drills, tried to gage if she understands why and tried to ensure she knows what to do even though just the thought of it makes me sick. Then she told me something that chilled me; she told me that a teacher asked her if her light up shoes (which she loves and wears almost daily) have an on/off button and that when they have a drill she has to turn them off because she won’t want the bad guy to see her… Later on I saw a viral post on FB about light up shoes and I cried the tears I didn’t allow myself to shed when talking to her.

How to Talk To Your Child About Tragedy

At this point I realized that I myself don’t quite feel prepared to talk to my children about the tragedies in the world, which some days seems to be daily occurrences. I don’t want to address any of it with my nine year old, and does my 18 month old even need anything from me in the days following a tragedy that is being covered on every media channel, social media app and seemingly everyone around me? The answer is YES. Yes, no matter the age our children have needs that we must meet during times of national and international tragedies. There are many articles on this topic and at times the sheer amount of information available can be overwhelming, however, there are some common themes when talking to children about tragedies in the world:

Listen, allow them to express themselves and reinforce that they are safe.

Start where the child is. From infants to adolescents our children speak to us both with their words and with their actions so no matter their age it is important that we listen to them.

-Infants and toddlers may be responding to you and how you are coping with the stress, listen to the cues they are giving you.

  •         Sleep regressions
  •         Change in appetite
  •         Excessive crying or screaming
  •         Increased irritability or sadness
  •         Shows anxiety/startles easily

If you notice these signs in the days following a national or international tragedy that is being broadcasted widely take a moment to assess how you are responding to it. Limit your exposure to it as much as possible, especially when interacting with your infant or toddler and take care of yourself. The NCTSN provides a comprehensive list of signs to look out for.

School age children are also looking at you and how you are responding to the events but they are likely to also be receiving information from other such as teachers, peers, older siblings or even TV and social media. Listen to what your child knows already and correct misinformation as well as provide facts in simple, clear and concise age appropriate terms. If they have an explanation that implies they understand something has happened, that it is over and those able to help have done so (police, EMTs etc.) and they are safe either because it happened in a place far away or because they have been reassured their school and caregivers will protect them then don’t take away their sense of safety. This is the explanation they need to feel safe and although we know that unfortunately tragedies can happen nearly anywhere and at any time, we don’t want to burden our children with that knowledge.

  •         Regressive behaviors (i.e. thumb sucking, bedwetting)
  •         Difficulty focusing
  •         Excessive temper, irritable, sadness, anxious
  •         Difficulty sleeping
  •         Frequent headaches or stomach aches

-Adolescents may be even more exposed to tragic news as it is more common for them to be on social media, however they probably still have many questions and misinformation about what has happened. An adolescent may not know how far away or close an event is to them, they may wonder why it has happened and what is being done about it and have misconceptions about what can actually be done. As with younger children, gently correct misinformation by offering facts in simple and clear language. Remember that they are getting information from many sources and whatever gaps they have are being filled in by their imagination and what they are piecing together. It is also important to listen to them in whatever way they choose to present the information, whether they tell you what they know and how they are feeling or using friends as examples. Don’t remove the mask by saying “I bet you’re feeling that way too.” Or “Sarah doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has a website called Healthy Children where you can find articles including phrases to say and what not to say for natural or man-made tragedies and loss.

  •         Difficulty focusing
  •         Increased irritability and anger outburst
  •         Withdrawing from others and activities they enjoyed
  •         Change in appetite
  •         Difficulty sleeping

No matter the age, be open to having the conversation – it is better that they get the information from you than from others. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in CT I listened to an interview with Dr. Benjamin Shain, MD and he was asked by the interviewer when to talk to children about these tragedies, are there times to avoid such as before bed? His response was no, if children are talking about it, it is best to address it then and provide clear and concise answers. Ultimately, no matter the age, they are looking at you for how to navigate these very overwhelming situations and they need to feel safe and reassured.

Give Love

When in doubt, my new internal mantra has been “I don’t got all the answers, so tell me who does. All I really know is that we really need love!” – Landon McNamara  (great song with Island vibes and a powerful message). Yes there are horrific things going on and somedays it feels very overwhelming but one thing we can do is GIVE LOVE. So no, it won’t be easy to have these conversations with our children and as much as we wish we didn’t have to, we need to. We need to listen to them, allow them to express themselves and help them feel safe.


Marly A. Hinestroza-Gaviria, LCSW

Ms. Hinestroza-Gaviria is a Resilience Trainer for FOCUS Hawaii working with military families and couples. Marly has worked as a certified Multidimensional Family Therapist with adolescents and their families dealing with adolescent high-risk behaviors and/or substance abuse. She has experience working with children from infancy to adolescence and their families providing assessments, individual and family therapeutic interventions, service coordination and crisis intervention. Marly earned her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.



Mar 16

Helping Your Child Navigate Difficult Emotions

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

Welcome Alyssa Caldbeck as our guest blogger this week as she explores navigating a child’s difficult emotions.

Parenting is the most challenging job you’ll ever have. Weathering the storms of your child’s vast and varied emotions can feel like tricky territory. Experts on the subject of emotional intelligence say that it is best taught at home within the family. Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Daniel Goleman have written extensively based on research about the relationship between children and parents with regard to emotional intelligence in their book Raising Emotional Child The Heart of Parenting.  They have found that when parents serve as an emotion coach for their children, those children adapt to difficult circumstances more readily.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

Unlike intellectual intelligence which can be measured and is pre-determined potential for absorbing, recalling and utilizing information, emotional intelligence is learned. Emotional Intelligence  is defined as the ability to recognize emotion, identify and name emotion, to manage those emotions in a way that is adaptive and to feel empathy for others. Emotional intelligence requires particular brain activity largely occurring in the front part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) which is headquarters for executive functioning skills. Young children are only beginning to develop the upper part of their brain.  They don’t have all the pathways created in their brain to control themselves yet. Children are more likely to develop better coping mechanisms if parents help children learn how to identify their emotions. Additional aspects of helping children learn to handle their emotions effectively include assisting children in healthy emotional expression and teaching them to have empathy for others.

What is an Emotion Coach?

The term emotion coach is used in reference to a parenting technique where the parent helps their child understand their (the child’s) emotions.  When parents engage in emotional coaching, their children learn how to react to emotions in healthy ways and more about how emotions work.

How Can You Be an Emotion Coach For Your Child?

Being an emotion coach with your child starts with you recognizing their emotions. Here are some steps you can take to be your child’s emotion coach and help your child handle their emotions.

1.Raise your own level of emotional awareness.

Practice noticing and naming your feelings rather than allowing your emotions to drive your actions.

  1. Become familiar with the continuum of parenting styles.

Aim to land in the middle of these parenting styles where you exercise authority when your child’s safety is at risk or healthy boundaries need to be set.

  1. Practice coping or calming strategies when you have overwhelming feelings of frustration, sadness or anger.

Take responsibility for your own feelings and actions.  Know when it’s time to take a break. Practice deep breathing or another method to help you return to calm. When a human being’s limbic brain (that’s the headquarters for emotions, reactions and memory) becomes “flooded” the pre-frontal cortex (where reasoning and executive functioning occurs) goes offline temporarily . It’s best to give yourself some time and allow your limbic part of the brain to cool off and settle down. This will give you a better chance of returning to rational and reasonable thinking when responding to your child.

  1. Be a model for your child when it comes to emotions.

Allow your child to observe you identifying whatever emotions you experience.  Give them chances to witness you making it a point to calm yourself before acting or speaking further. Once you are calm, return and explain how you are now ready to use your words and make decisions.

  1. When your child is beginning to experience an emotion, reflect with empathy.

An example would be “I can see you are beginning to feel frustrated that you can’t get the top of your PlayDough container. You really want to get it off.  It seems to be stuck.” When your child has an experience of feeling heard and seen it helps them to begin to formulate their own ability to identify what they are feeling and why. Young children do not have words or the ability for abstract thinking (understanding why they are having their feelings). They do have an ability to learn new words that they can associate with the emotional experiences they are having.  This helps the development of their executive functioning skills.

  1. Forego punishing and seek opportunities for teaching and learning.

It is understandable and common for you to have your own intense emotions when your child is experiencing big emotions.  This is often when parents get to the point of disciplining a child for having these types of feelings. Trying to diminish big feelings by issuing consequences or punishment can actually create more of an emotional response.  Your child may have emotions about the consequences issued and still be left with the emotion(s) they were feeling that got them in trouble. Teaching the child more appropriate ways of handling their feelings is missed when parents focus solely on punishments for emotional reactions.  

  1. Catch feelings in their early stages with your child.  

When you see feelings starting such as sadness or frustration speak to your child before their brain becomes fully flooded. Within that window you can wonder aloud about what might be going on..  An example would be, “I wonder how we could work together to get that lid off the PlayDough container.” You can join with your child to find possible solutions after you’ve reflected what you notice they are feeling.   “If we think about it together we can find a way to get it open.” Emphasizing the “we” lets your child know they are not alone in dealing with their feelings and you are there to help them. Meeting the emotion being expressed before shifting into problem solving  will help improve the outcome. Daniel Siegel’s video Connecting to Calm explains this more. He offers useful written information in this reference sheet.

  1. Find delight in your child often.

This is not the same thing as piling on the praise. Praise is when you as an extrinsic force decide your child  is “good” or worthy of your approval. Delight and encouragement are when you reflect the child’s intrinsic qualities. Purposeful delight is when you notice your child’s effort, creativity, persistence, patience, joy and reflect with your own felt sense of celebratory noticing aloud. An example might be to smile and with an excited voice say, “Wow! Look at all the work you have done on this puzzle! You’ve been trying to find all the pieces and it looks like you’re almost there. You’ve kept trying and you almost have the whole puzzle together!”

  1. Avoid adding to the intensity of the emotion your child is experiencing.

Be with your child and allow them to express themselves.  Let them get their feelings out while keeping them safe. Limit the talking you do with your child and avoid asking why they are acting this way.  Children, even young toddlers can often have their own process when adults don’t interfere with this ability. What can happen is as adults we get impatient or focused on moving on from this experience or want it to end.  

Despite a temper tantrum or intense emotional response feeling like it last forever this has shown to not be the case. When a person is emotionally triggered research has indicated it takes less than 90 seconds for the chemical surge to take hold and leave the bloodstream.  The intensity related to the initial flooding of the emotions can peak and dissipate within this timeframe. Any response after 90 seconds is related to the person not letting go of the emotion or continued input feeding the same emotional loop (external input such as an adult talking to child, other sensory input or stimuli).  

The key to keeping emotional responses within this timeframe is to feel the feelings, acknowledge them, and let them pass.  This can be explained to children when they are in a calm state. It can be taught as imagining the emotion as a wave coming in and out or on the emotion moving away by floating on a cloud.  Adults can practice the same strategies to not let their emotions linger.

  1. Accept all feelings and realize children will experience negative emotions.

A child’s emotions are not always logical and may seem to come out of nowhere.   However, a child’s feelings are very real to them.  Adults are not happy all the time. The truth is we don’t always handle our feelings the best.  Children are not little versions of adults.  It is not realistic to expect a child to always handle their emotions when we as adults struggle with this too.  Children need to be able to have an array of feelings (positive, negative, big feelings) and it be OK.  


Why Be an Emotion Coach For Your Child?

As a parent, you are the main influence in shaping your child’s abilities to work through the natural emotions of childhood.  By working to help them develop emotional intelligence you are empowering and supporting the development of an intrinsic sense of worth and value.   You set the tone and example for whether it is possible to experience emotions and get through these feelings without letting the feelings overtake and drive actions and responses.  Starting this process and teaching early gives children the ability to build on having the success of handling their emotions effectively.


Rather than feeling like this is one more feat you have to tackle as a parent simply find daily opportunities to label, model, and practice emotions.  This can be done by identifying emotions in everyday situations. Have an open discussion of what the emotion being displayed is and what could be done to handle the emotion in an appropriate way.  

Embarking on the journey of serving as your child’s emotion coach can be an important step you take for yourself, your family and your child’s development.


Alyssa Caldbeck, LISW, RPT


Alyssa Caldbeck is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and aRegistered Play Therapist. She specializes in attachment, trauma, and adoption concerns in children and adolescents of all ages.  Alyssa is an EMDR Certified Therapist and Consultant in Training with Ana Gomez. She has completed specific adoption mental health competency training (Training for Adoption Competency) with the Center for Adoption Support and Education.
Feb 26

Raising Bi-Cultural Children

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over , Uncategorized

Our next guest blogger is Marly Hinestroza-Gaviria! Let’s welcome her as she introduces us into the ways of keeping heritage while raising bi-cultural children.

Second Generation Parents Wanting To Raise Bi-Cultural Children

      Growing up, the soundtrack playing to my adolescent years was the very popular Colombian phrase, “¿si todas se tiran por un puente usted se va a tirar tambien pues?” (Translation: If they all throw themselves off a bridge you’re going to throw yourself off too then?) This seemed to be my mom’s response to everything I ever asked and I hated it. I felt like I couldn’t do what seemed like every American teen my age was doing because that’s not how it was done in Colombia… but we weren’t in Colombia anymore! Not long ago, I uttered the same words to my 9 year old when she asked if she could go to the nail salon with her friend and her friend’s mom. When I said no, she pleaded, “but why, all my friends get to paint their nails any color they want and some even get fake nails at the salon. It’s not fair!” My response was out before my brain caught up and I almost laughed knowing I sounded just like my mom. The urge to laugh didn’t last long once I realized that my 9 year old was not amused and I saw boil up in her the same feelings of unfairness and annoyance that I had felt towards my mom…except now it was directed at me.

Struggle Of Second Generation Parents

     Since then I’ve been thinking about the struggle many second generation immigrant parents face (first generation and second generation are terms sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the children of those adults who emigrated from their country). We struggle with wanting our children to develop their own self-identity, fear of the isolating feelings we ourselves experienced as teens and not wanting our children to be labeled or discriminated against. This Youtube short documentary interviews four second generation immigrants now as young adults and they discuss the challenges they faced and how they constructed their identity from both cultures. Despite all the challenges, many of us still do have a deep desire to share our culture of origin with our children, instill pride and raise well-adjusted bi-cultural children.

     How then can second-generation immigrant parents raise well-adjusted, bi-cultural children? How can we walk the tight rope between fostering self-identity while instilling our cultural pride, which is a different culture than the one our children are living in? And how can we navigate the cultural clashes that we experienced?

    To begin with, take a deep breath…inhale…exhale! As with most parenting conundrums, there are options to be explored and as the expert of your own family you’ll find what works best for you. Keep in mind that our children, third generation, will more than likely not feel as conflicted between the two cultures as we did because they ultimately have a stronger American identity than we did or do. Our children were born here and so were their parents (or at least we have spent over half of our lives here at this point); a University of California study thoroughly explores protective and risk factors for us second generation immigrants and how this impacts us and therefore our children. One protective factor is community, and our children most likely have stronger community ties than we did growing up and will presumably feel comfortable being Americans while still paying homage to another culture. Additionally, we are living in the age of information and there is a great deal of material out there to help us tackle this challenge. One of my favorite sites is Hybrid Parenting, a site that provides resources and information to empower parents in providing “children with an accurate and meaningful understanding of our multicultural world.”

Here are three tips for second-generation immigrants raising bi-cultural children:


  1. Allow them to choose what parts of each culture to embrace:

Let your children become excited about the culture by choosing what things they find most exciting – whether it is the food, dress, religion or language! We know that children do best when they are excited about the topic or endeavor (as we adults do as well) so emphasize those areas and expose them to other areas without imposing them. If your children enjoy the foods of your culture look for food festivals, recipes you can make together or explore restaurants that sell your food. You can even make this a fun challenge when you and your family are away on vacation! One of my favorite things is finding Colombian restaurants in other states, I’ve even found one in Hawai’i, Coquito’s Latin Cuisine! Part of allowing your children to choose what parts of each culture to embrace is for you to also become excited about different aspects of the culture. As second generation immigrants, chances are that there are a great deal of things we still don’t know or fully understand about our culture, so have some fun researching and learning along with your child. Your enthusiasm, wonder and awe at learning new things will rub off on them. 

  1. Be flexible regarding what to enforce:

As with all things parenting, there will be some non-negotiables; determine what your family’s non-negotiables are and make sure these are clear and consistent. You may now be asking yourself, how do I let my children choose but then turn around have non-negotiables? I know, parenting sometimes makes no sense! We know that children do better when they have structure and limited choices and this applies to many things. This is part of being flexible and giving them some choices while still maintaining that structure and consistency that communicates safety. If your children know that you’re willing to be flexible with some areas, they’ll be more likely to accept your non-negotiables in the process. Also, remember what it was like growing up and being the odd one out because the “cool” things most of your American friends were doing was just not how “it’s done back in Colombia (insert country of origin)?” If you need to take a trip down memory lane, check out this Buzzfeed article that will surely remind you that the struggle was, and still is real. I remember being 13 and desperately wanting to wax my eyebrows and shave my legs because “all my friends are doing it!” My parents were adamant about not allowing this until I was 15 and so I suffered a hairy fate for another two years. I remember classmates poking fun about this and I’ve resolved that although my daughters will not wear make up until they are 15, if facial and body hair is a source of discomfort, I will exercise flexibility to save them from the embarrassment. (You’re welcome Melany and Sofia.)

  1. Expose them to your culture of origin… and others:

Ultimately parents want to raise well-rounded and well-adjusted children and one way to achieve this is to expose them to the world at large. Exposing your children to your culture of origin will allow them to broaden their worldviews and increase their ability of perspective taking. Exposing your children to your culture and others will allow them to be more tolerant, to celebrate differences and more importantly to embrace their own differences!


Marly A. Hinestroza-Gaviria, LCSW

Ms. Hinestroza-Gaviria is a Resilience Trainer for FOCUS Hawaii working with military families and couples. Marly has worked as a certified Multidimensional Family Therapist with adolescents and their families dealing with adolescent high-risk behaviors and/or substance abuse. She has experience working with children from infancy to adolescence and their families providing assessments, individual and family therapeutic interventions, service coordination and crisis intervention. Marly earned her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Feb 11

Working with Gifted Children in Play Therapy: Part 1

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Play Therapy , Professionals , Teens 13 and Over , Uncategorized

Our next guest blogger is Dr. Jessica Stone who dives into the world of working with gifted children.

     I have quite a few gifted clients.  I am unsure how they find me; is it word of mouth within the community? Is it my listing on the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, ?  May be the presentations I have given on gifted children? Is it the advocation I provide for gifted students in my school district?  I am really not certain.  What I do know is that I am immensely interested in helping gifted individuals and I have personal and professional experience in this arena.  

     There are a lot of different topics to cover when speaking about gifted people.  The wonderful thing about a blog is that information can be imparted in a quick, informal manner which will hopefully spark thought, share important information, and provide avenues to pursue further explorations.  A limitation is that a blog is short with around 1,000 words.  Apparently, I am quite verbose, because I could really go on, and on, and on…  What I will do to make sure we cover a few topics adequately is to break it up into a series.  If you have topics you would like to be covered, please leave a comment and I will work to include it in a future blog.  

A little about my belief system

     Fundamentally, philosophically, and theoretically I believe strongly in using a client’s language and interests in our therapeutic sessions.  This language can include the actual spoken language, vernacular, cadence, etc., but can also include their interests such as music, books, games, and toys.  Historically I have spoken with therapists about using songs and Pokémon cards/characters in therapeutic ways.  More currently, I speak with therapists about using board games and digital tool interests in therapeutic ways.  The language of children is somewhat fluid.  It is important that we as play therapists “go with the flow” of the fluidity.  When a client has particular types of needs, it is important for therapists to incorporate them into the therapy whether they are strengths or areas which need assistance.   

How did I become interested in working with and understanding gifted clients?

     Working with gifted clients fits for me in multiple ways.  I was designated as gifted as a child.  Even writing that makes me cringe a little bit.  What did I just divulge?  How will it be interpreted? What will people now expect of me? Do they think I am bragging? I went through stages as a child where I was proud of myself, where I was ashamed; stages where I didn’t want to be different, and where I was happy to be different… There are pros and cons associated with being gifted.  Ultimately, I have landed in a place where I both like and dislike some aspects of this thing called gifted, but it is who and how I am.  The bigger question now is, “how can I help children who might struggle with this gifted ‘thing’?”

When one of my children was about 16 months old I was cooking dinner at the stove and he was building with Duplo Legos behind me.  He had one of those buckets of the blocks so there were plenty to choose from.  We were chatting periodically while I cooked and he built.  Suddenly he said, “look mommy”.  When I turned around I almost fell over.  He had built a structure which reminded me of the Eiffel Tower and it was perfectly symmetrical in shape and in color.  I took pictures.  I was fascinated, proud, and frightened… very, very frightened.  I thought: “What on earth am I going to do with him?  How will I know what his needs will be and how will I assist him in getting them met?”  Since then I have had multiple children identified in my family, and each of them are quite different in personality, abilities, and needs.  

The older my children became, the more I began to understand the variability, stigmas, and challenges associated with being gifted.  I started to think that if I am struggling with this – a person who was classified as gifted, a psychologist, and a mom – then others must be also struggling.  How could I use my experience and knowledge to be helpful?  I began to research, observe, and listen to people of gifted families.  I began to work with gifted children therapeutically.  In some ways, it was the same process as with other children.  In some ways, it was different.  I believe those differences are important for the therapist to understand.  

What does it mean to be gifted?: A beginning

It is fascinating that the very word “gifted” sparks a flurry of emotions. Quite a few people in gifted families feel as though they will be negatively judged if the term is used in conjunction with a family member or themselves.  Using the term can seem like a person is bragging or that they feel their child is superior in some way.  Perhaps this is true in rare circumstances, but overall families are using it to indicate that their child has particular needs.  

It is my very strong belief that if we picture the normal bell curve (below) and look at the portions to the left of the -1 and to the right of the 1 standard deviation (SD) delineations, we can see that these are two very important ends of the spectrum.  The portion to the left of the -1 SD indicates the portion of the population who have special needs associated with a lower intelligence quotient. The further left you move, the more significantly the difficulties effects the person and support system.  I believe the 1SD portion to the 3SD portion to the right of the curve, the gifted population, also indicates those who have special needs and the further one moves to right, the more significantly the IQ level effects the person and the support system.  It is simply the other end of the spectrum.  The needs are significant and addressing them effects multiple aspects of their academic, emotional, and social development.

I will let you chew on all this for a bit while I write up the next installment… to be continued.



Dr. Jessica Stone

Dr. Stone is a Licensed Psychologist and RPT-S who works in a private practice in Fruita, CO. She has been providing psychological services to children, teens, adults, families, and prospective parents since 1994.  Dr. Stone has been involved with the Association for Play Therapy in numerous capacities since 1993, including serving as CALAPT Branch President. She has presented nationally and internationally, and has been published in the fields of psychology and play therapy. She is the co-founder of the Virtual Sandtray App and VR  

Feb 03

Dare To Dream

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

My next guest blogger is Kim Martinez. She shows us how giving our own princes and princesses rules and responsibilities can lead to a more harmonious life!

Ever feel like a Disney character? Sometimes I feel like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Why is it so hard to get 4 children and a spouse to wash up and put dishes in the sink? If you often feel like you are herding a bunch of kittens, welcome to the club.

“If you dream it, you can do it.” ~Walt Disney

Disney World is spotless because of organization- everyone knows their tasks, and they are empowered to get it done. How would your home look and feel if that were the case in your home?

There are many ways to get your personal Peter Pan to grow up without giving up their child-like wonder. All kids need rules and responsibility to thrive. They do better in school, at home, and out in the big wide world when we, as their parents (or cat herder’s), teach them how to be responsible, do chores, and get the work done before they play. They may all not sing, “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho. It’s off to work we go”, but not all of our days are filled with plucky tunes either.

Now here’s how to make your castle more harmonious and your princesses and princes willing to get the job done with a little help from their Jiminy Cricket conscious sitting on their shoulder, when they are playing on their phone instead of doing their homework or chores.  


First of all…. sit all of your little Huey, Duey, and Luey’s down for a family chat.

Discuss a plan for the chores that need doing and be aware of the responsibilities you are trying to teach your little ones and not so little ones. It is never too late to teach responsibility. If Kim Possible can save the world and still get her homework in on time, then so can your teen.

A huge wipe off board with a monthly calendar and a separate board with chores listed are ideal, but even a large piece of paper or poster board can do the trick. It’s important that it be where the family can all access it. Some prefer an online calendar and chore app. My family is visual so we use paper.

Know your Task

Next, create a chart with all of the chores needing to be completed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Have the children sign up for the ones they prefer to do that month. They can change chores monthly so they don’t get burnt out on the same chores.

Make sure to put the chores you do on the list, children need to know that even the parent has chores. Schedule in time for homework, after school activities, and monthly holidays.

Don’t Forget:

  •   Schedule in family and personal time for rest and relaxation.
  •   Calendars are helpful if you are a blended family with schedules for three different homes. Make sure to include this information as well.
  •   Teens and adults may know their work schedules only 2 weeks in advance and may need to update that more regularly.

Planning for Empowerment

In order to help this new process of organization and teaching responsibility to go more smoothly, Dr. Richard Horowitz in his book Family Centered Parenting states, “The first part of the process is being proactive. Proactive is the buzzword for prevention and basically refers to planning ahead or anticipating situations. The better we are as family members in preparing for what lies ahead the better we are able to avoid conflict and crises.” This means, when you are proactive by creating chore charts and planning ahead, you will be less likely to have conflict.

We want our children and spouses to have a buy in on the plan. This means making sure you stick to the plan and believe in it wholeheartedly. If you are always leaving the plan or are easily distracted from the plan, not much will change.


Be sure to have a plan for consequences if the chores and homework do not get completed so you are not making snap decisions on a punishment that will only confuse and frustrate yourself and your child.

In Family Centered Parenting, Dr. Horowitz discusses the need for buy-in from children and teens in making family rules as well as consequences for breaking them with the children, and then having a contract on what will happen if they don’t follow through. Instead of removing electronics as a consequence of not completing their chores, have your child do one of your regular chores as well. This teaches that your time is valuable and allows you to get back the time you lost dealing with that child.

Positive Reinforcement

Make sure to complement with honest feedback and thoughtful, clear statements about what you liked about them following through on chores and responsibilities. Children know when you are being insincere, so try to be more specific about the praise you give them. Praise goes so much further than put downs, name calling, or negativity.


Finally, support your children’s needs for independence while also making sure the larger family’s needs are met. Explain to your children that they are important and so are the other members of the family. Show them that all of the family’s needs and wishes will be taken into consideration when planning the family’s responsibilities, time, and preferences.

In Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay remind us, ”As parents, most of us have learned by now that we’re not always right. If we have a responsible teenager who is bent out of shape about something we’ve done or said, he or she probably has a legitimate grievance.”

Princess Anna was a responsible and behaved child (for the most part, like most children) but she still got into trouble. Remind yourself that your little princesses and princes all have their moments but they ultimately want to please you, be well behaved, and be praised by you.

Hopefully, this helps to keep your family more organized, get responsibilities completed with minimal grumpiness, discipline effectively, and empower children to follow family rules for the best interest of everyone.

Below are links to different sources that can be helpful on this journey. Good luck out there…and my apologies to Walt.

Helpful Resources

Link to chore charts for families on Pinterest


Link to Family Centered Parenting website:

Link to Parenting Teens with Love and Logic

Kim Martinez

Ms. Martinez is a child and family counselor in Tampa, Florida. She specializes in anxiety, ADHD and divorce/step family issues using art, play, sand tray and creativity in counseling. Kim believes in helping families, children and adults find their “True North”.


Jan 27

The Empathetic Child

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

Welcome guest blogger, Adrienne Jeffries! She brings to light the realities of nurturing the Empathetic Child!

Being a Social Worker and having at least one empathetic child, I am fascinated by the subject and others’ experience of this gift. Some call it Discernment, others go as far as calling it psychic abilities. Whatever you call it, it is special, you are special, and it is a gift you are blessed with, although sometimes it seems like a double edged sword. It is hard to feel others’ feeling as if they are your own all the time, everywhere you go.

Empathetic Adult VS. Empathetic Child

Like with any muscle or skill the more you utilize it and practice it the more skilled you are in utilizing it. It’s one thing to have it yourself as an adult. You have hopefully developed some coping skills and worked on your own mindfulness and abilities to regulate yourself and your feelings and emotions. It’s another thing to suspect that your child may be an empath. Children haven’t had a chance to learn to deal with the sudden onset of another’s feelings or walking into a crowded place and all of a sudden feeling waves of happiness, sadness, loneliness, anger within a couple of minutes time. They aren’t prepared with how to handle evil energies coming to them or any types of spirits visiting them, that is scary for a child. The gift of being an empath is rarely ever discussed, prepared for, accepted or understood by others’ unless, of course you share this gift are aware of it and are accepting of it in yourself. I am writing this post because I think those of us that are empaths, could do better by being empathic to our own children, whom we may have passed these abilities on to, and better prepare them for what they can, and will experience. The first step is identifying if your child might be an empath to know how to better prepare them. If we are able to help them be appreciative and accepting of all such a gift provides they are less likely to resent the gift and won’t want to give the gift back.

Signs That Your Child May Be An Empath

  1. Kids that are empaths are extremely tuned into others feelings and are very sensitive to their emotions as well as others emotions, thoughts (sometimes), and intentions (good or bad). They have even been known to experience physical pains because others are experiencing ailments in those parts of their own bodies. It is important with suspected or know empathic children to be open and honest with them in age appropriate ways as they will have an idea of what is going on anyway. They are very good at reading and getting subtle clues from body language, picking up on the energy in the room, and can get a vibe of the atmosphere.
  2. Someone may have been described as, or you may even describe your child as, needy, shy (I was often described as this), antisocial ( as I sit upstairs alone an type, while a group of family is currently downstairs), fussy, over-sensitive, emotional, bleeding heart, worrisome, compassionate, empathetic. Worse, these children may have been diagnosed with a social phobia, anxiety disorder, or even depression ( myself having been diagnosed as all three!). These children need extra help and support dealing with such intense emotions. It can be easy to make a child that is so sensitive feel worse if you, the adult, aren’t careful in how you handle help with all they are dealing with. It doesn’t help that these children often feel lonely and different than others.
  3. Empathic children will often complain of different physical symptoms such as aches and pains. These children often suffer from stomach aches, headaches, as well as other bodily symptoms. Often offering them a hug and reassurance is helpful. Their pains are very real for them, and  they may well be a result of someone else’s feelings around them . Children don’t always know how to express their feelings in clear ways and this may be a way that they experience negative energies.
  4. Empathic Children are often very responsible for their ages. You may say, ” Why is a kid that’s responsible a bad thing?!,”. Sometimes empathic kids take on responsibility and worries that are too much for their age. They are too young to deal with how the mortgage is going to get paid, or to take care of their parent who is depressed or passed out drunk on the couch.These kids often live their lives making others happy, doing all they can to help others, as well as trying to heal and fix situations and people. In this way it is often like a child that struggles with anxiety. It is important to help your child to learn to relax, let go of their worries ( and others’ worries), enjoy themselves, and to just be kids and have fun and laugh. It is also important to remind your little empath that it is not their job to make other people happy. This is a lesson we could all learn to accept!
  5. Your child may be an empath if there are certain people, places or situations they just don’t like or are uncomfortable in. This can be hard, especially if you or a family member don’t understand being an empath. Imagine going to a family party and your child just won’t hug a certain family member, not only that but they have a very strong reaction to that person in a negative way. While it may be uncomfortable for you, and maybe even embarrassing, know that your child is struggling and is uncomfortable as well. It is really important that despite maybe not understanding their desire not to be around certain people, they and their intuition should be trusted and not forced to be around the person, those feelings are coming up for your child for a reason. Your child may just withdraw or seem unhappy and may not verbalize what feelings are coming up for them about a certain person or situation, so as not to make you unhappy. Remember us empaths are always trying to make others happy! So while your child may not always give a voice to these feelings and emotions, there may be the above mentioned signs. It is important to listen to them and to validate their feelings.
  6. There seems to be a hypothesis that many with the gift of being an empath have been through some sort of trauma. This would make sense, given that those who have gone through trauma are often hyper-vigilant and are very adept at reading subtle cues that others give off.
  7. There are also many empaths that seem to think it be somewhat of a genetic trait, in that it can be    passed down or that multiple people in a lineage can and do experience this gift.
  8. Your child may be an empath if they seem to have a “knowing” or if they have predicted things were going to happen, and they did.
  9. These children are highly sensitive and may have strong reactions and feel overloaded to certain sights, smells, sounds, intuition and feeling emotions more strongly than others. Bright lights may be overwhelming, strong smelling perfumes and foods, or even certain sounds. They often prefer softer fabric and being out in nature has a calming effect, they also prefer having just a few close friends. They are often overstimulated by people, crowded places,noisy environments, and stress. These children may struggle at theme parks or fairs, playgrounds. I remember my daughter just stopping at the entrance to a playground and staring and taking the scenery in, rather than running and joining the fun like the other kids.
  10. These children are often considered kinder, gentler, and quieter than their same aged peers. They are often very good listeners, and are very compassionate individuals. They often will surprise you with intuitive and insightful comments about others or you or themselves, that seem beyond their years.
  11. Empathic children are sensitive to scary or sad scenes in books and movies.
  12. Children that are empaths have a strong connection to nature, plants, animals and even stuffed animals, they don’t handle animal violence well.

Most kids naturally have 1-3 of these traits. The more of these traits that you recognize in your child, the more empathic they are!

Closing thoughts

It is important to be open and honest with empathic children. They will know if you are lying to them and there is no point in trying to keep things from an empathic child, or adult for that matter. While this  doesn’t mean sharing all of your problems with them, but to acknowledge it, in an age appropriate way, explain, and reassure that you are the adult and that they are things you will handle, and that your child doesn’t need to worry about it.

Remember, empathic children are dealing with a constant barrage of excess emotions. They value being listened to and not being judged when it comes to expressing what they are dealing with and going through. They need reassurance and benefit from love, hugs, and compassion of what they are experiencing. Helping to teach them skills to cope with all their experiences is also vital to your little empath learning to use, accept, and even grow their skills with their gift.

Resources for the article:

Resources for more information:

The Empath’s Survival Guide-

The Highly Intuitive Child: A Guide to Understanding and Parenting Unusually Sensitive and Empathic Children-

Adrienne Jeffries, MSW, LCSW-A
Mrs. Jeffries has worked with adults and children, helping them navigate their mental health concerns, symptoms and traumas. She is finishing her licensure hours in Elizabeth City, NC to be fully licensed in September 2018. Adrienne is a military wife and mom to a toddler, preschooler, and 3 dogs, who just accepted a counseling position in a local school system. In her spare time she enjoys all forms of creativity, learning, reading, and spending time with her family.

Aug 27

Adjusting to Change: A Lifelong Opportunity for Learning

By Jen Taylor | Professionals , Teens 13 and Over

Part of a therapist’s job is to help children with adjusting to change in a healthy and productive way.  Typically this involves changes that happened in a family PRIOR to the therapists involvement (like a divorce, move, new school, medical diagnosis, etc) or to a change that happened after they started therapy (like a new baby in the home, changing schools, or a traumatic event that happened after your initial contact).

The more difficult task for me, is to help kids adjust to change when the reason for the change is ME.

As in…I’m moving out of state next month and have to change my relationships with all of the amazing families that I have worked with in Memphis, TN.  The children who still require therapy will need to change to a new provider.  They will need to go to a new office and form a new relationship with someone else.

Now, the only two things that I can say for sure about change is:

1). People usually avoid it when possible.

2). Major growth often occurs when you go through change.

1 – Dealing with “Change Avoidance”

Change avoidance comes up for me with food.  I have these great plans to go to a restaurant and order something different this time.  And then I get there and low and behold…I end up ordering the same thing every single time.  (My husband could literally order for me at any restaurant we walked into because it is so predictable.)

It also comes up in shopping habits.  I literally shop at like 3 stores.  Not because they are necessarily the best but because I am familiar with the layout, the sizes, the pricing, the coupons, etc.  There might be better stuff out there but I go to the same few places over and over again because it makes my life simpler.

And anything related to gambling.  I love to play FREE poker games or at home with friends. But I am the one that went to Vegas and spent exactly ZERO dollars at the casinos.

How does change avoidance come up in therapy?

The same is true with service providers like me.  Most of the clients in my office this month have been resistant to changing to a new therapist because they know me.  They know what to expect. They know where things are.  They are comfortable.

One of my clients said,

“I met my new therapist and I don’t like her.  She’s not like you-she’s too nice.”

I chuckled because that was a  compliment.  This child was worried that her new therapist wouldn’t challenge her when she needed it. But she will. Or, she will do it nicely and they will find their groove together.

We avoid change because it can be scary.  It could lead to failure.

What if? becomes the thought that takes over every action.

What if I order something different and I don’t like it? What if I go somewhere else and it’s a waste of time? What if this new therapist doesn’t get me?

What if questions seem to always lead to anxious, worried, negative, worst-case scenario outcomes.

That leads me the second point.


2- Major growth often occurs when you go through change.

It is the PROCESS of going through major changes that leads to growth.  I did an interview with Joe Sanok of the Practice of the Practice podcast.  We talked about successes and failures and I said something like,

“Embrace the anxiety that comes with risk.”

Aside from my food related change avoidance, people who know me would probably describe me as pretty adventurous. I intentionally seek out new experiences on a regular basis.  That includes traveling (for our anniversary, we GO somewhere every year instead of buying presents).  I gently force my children to do things that they are afraid to do (amusement part rides, feeding wild animals, going to high places, talking to people in public).  And we move.  Literally.  As a military family, we pack up and move to a completely new place every three years.


I moved from my hometown, Pensacola, Florida to San Diego, California.  During that time, I was exposed to the best play therapy training I could ask for and became a Registered Play Therapist.  This was an opportunity that was not available in my town at that time (and is still difficult there, but we’re working on that).

We moved back to Pensacola and I joined a group practice at Psychological Associates.  I learned so much there about providing outpatient therapy to kids.  And, I started teaching play therapy to others.

Then, we came to Memphis, TN.  This time, I went out on my own and started a solo private practice.  This is something that I thought about in Pensacola, but didn’t do because I was happy and comfortable at my job there.  And I continued to teach about play therapy.

In the transition from Memphis to Oahu, Hawaii, the anxiety about the change (we might be in a hotel for 2 months, the waiting list for day care is a year long they said, what if…) started to take over.

But then, something magical happens.


I came up with an idea to host the first ever Play Therapy Virtual Summit right before we move.  The idea came from my love for play therapy and my need to adapt to the change coming in my life.

And thankfully, it has been quite popular. But frankly, the experience of completing this project is where the growth occurs. It is the process of taking something unknown and turning into something manageable that gives us that boost of confidence.

To my clients in Memphis, I want you to know these things:

I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve you for the past three years and for the privilege of being a part of your families life.

I take with me the lessons that I Iearned from working with you and and your children.

In change, we will all grow.

I suck at goodbye’s

In military communities, people don’t really say goodbye. There’s always a chance that we will live in the same town again in 3 years or so.  There’s a sense that if I don’t see you or talk to you in a few years, we can pick up right where we left off.  So we usually say, “see you later.

As a therapist, I am supposed to be good at “termination activities” but the truth is that is something I need to work on.  I had a great session with a child that decided to make a treasure box as our last session (child’s idea, not mine) and it turned into a great termination activity where I left a note for her about our time together.

And then, as this client walked out, you know what I said:

“See you later.” 

Final Thoughts:

It’s okay to avoid change sometimes. And it’s good to embrace the anxiety that comes with change sometimes too.  My email address is always good.  Let me know how your children are dealing with changes and the growth you see when they manage this new adventure and come out feeling more confident than before.

I leave you with my favorite quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.




Jul 30

Back to School Worries: What NOT To Say To Your Child

By Jen Taylor | Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

Back to school already? I really can’t believe that summer is almost over and that it is time to have this conversation. Here in Tennessee, many schools start back NEXT WEEK.  Where you are, you might have another few weeks, but it’s coming up and soon.

The main topic of conversation in my office over the past couple of weeks from kids of all ages is anxiety about going back to school.  Now, as a parent, you probably don’t think that your child is really having anxiety about going back to school.  In fact, research repeatedly shows that most parents underestimate how anxious their children are in general and overestimate how optimistic they are.

Top Back to School Worries

In my office, the most common topics that children talk about when it comes to back to school worries include:

  • Not liking their teacher (or not getting the teacher they want)
  • Not having friends in their class (or worse, having a kid that have bullied them before in their class)
  • Getting lost
  • Not being able to get from one class to another on time
  • Locker troubles of any kind
  • Fear about the amount of homework or the increased difficulty of homework
  • More random worries like throwing up in front of the whole class or having something embarrassing happen

Has your child talked about any of those worries when it comes to returning to school next month? I know you want to be helpful in your response.  Unfortunately, most of the typical responses I hear from parents are actually not helpful at all.


  • It doesn’t matter who your teacher is. Just be nice.
  • You go to school to learn, not to make friends.
  • How can you get lost? The school is not that big.
  • Just don’t spend too much time talking to your friends and you’ll have plenty of time to get to class.
  • Using a locker is easy.
  • You can handle the homework.  You’re really smart.
  • That’s not going to happen.
  • Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.

Recently, I saw this meme and I think it applies here:



The same is true for worry.  You will never get a child to stop worrying about something by telling them “Don’t Worry.”

What NOT to do About Back To School Worries:

What’s wrong with telling your child how smart they are? Or telling them not to worry? Well,  typical “bad” responses to children’s worries fall into one of at least 3  categories:

You response is DISMISSIVE:

When you tell a person that they should not have the feeling that they are having, it is not helpful.  Don’t worry, don’t be so mad, don’t cry about that are all examples of dismissive statements.  They don’t work. In fact, it will more than likely INCREASE the intensity of that feeling because now your child is going to try to PROVE TO YOU that the feeling is valid.

Sometimes what you are saying is UNTRUE:

It is simply untrue that “everything will be okay.”  Even very young children understand that this is a platitude designed to make people feel better, but it doesn’t work because it is not accurate.  One of the standard therapy questions is “Is it TRUE and is it HELPFUL?”   Be careful about over-promising or using these far-reaching words because they can easily backfire on you.

Parents rush to help with PROBLEM SOLVING:

The one that feels to parents like the most helpful is actually the worst of all.  By jumping in and solving the problem that your child is worried about,  a few messages are sent.  One is that your child is not capable of solving problems on their own which leads to even greater anxiety in the future.  The second is that your “solution” may fail.  And if it does, then now you become the target of any anger, frustration, or embarrassment.

What You CAN Say To Help with Back to School Worries

# 1 – Acknowledge the Feeling

Dr. Dan Siegel (author of The Whole Brain Child, No Drama Discipline and other great books about parenting) has an expression

Name it to tame it

What that means is that when you validate how your child is feeling by naming that emotion in the moment, it actually DECREASES the intensity of the feeling.  Simply saying, “you are really worried that you won’t like you teacher” helps build connection between you and your child and let’s them know that you can understand their point of view.

# 2 – Get curious

One of the most helpful phrases that you can totally steal from me is

I wonder…

You might say, “I wonder if anyone else has had this problem or I wonder how the school has handled locker problems in the past.

What usually happens  is that your child will start talking about information that they already have.  They will say that they have talked to a friend about it or that the teachers addressed it during orientation.  This helps activate their own capacity to talk through the worry and sometimes that is enough.

# 3 – Play the ‘What If’ Game

This one works especially well with the “I wonder” phrase.  You might say, “I wonder what a friend of yours would do if that happened.”   Taking it into a more hypothetical situation about someone else helps your child activate their own problem solving skills.

Usually, they can start coming up with examples of people that they could go to for help (a friend, a teacher, etc).  If they have trouble here, your job is to focus on the helpers.

Who might your friend ask for help if that happened? 

# 4 –  Concrete Coping Skills

Finally, you can highlight concrete coping skills that your child has OR teach them some new ones.

Some helpful coping skills include:

  • Taking 3 deep breaths (it really does work)
  • Grounding exercises (focus on something that you can see, then something you can hear, then something you can touch)
  • Mindfulness Activities: notice where in the body the feeling comes up and describe it.  Then talk about other more positive feelings and what happens to your body when you think about or focus on them.
  • Having a sensory item for their hands (if you are anti-fidget spinners, just know that they came from helpful therapuetic beginnings).  It might be a stone, a silky scarf, or a stretchy bracelet, but something to keep your hands busy in the moment does in fact reduce anxiety.  Here’s a quick article about how fidgets are helpful.  And for kids that do have a fidget spinner, a link to my You Tube Video about how to use fidget spinners in therapy.  
  • Reframing negative self-talk.  (back to “is it true and is it helpful?”)
  • Normalize and Validate.  “These are common worries.  It is okay to be worried. Most people going back to school are a little worried about something.”

Final Thoughts

There’s one final expression from my favorite play therapist, Garry Landreth that is paraphrased often

It’s not only what you do, but what you do after what you have done that is important.”

If you are reading this and thinking that you have said all of the wrong things and screwed your kid up for life, you haven’t.  It’s not what you do, but what you do after what you have done.  Go back and say, “You know when I told you not to worry about going to back to school…well, what I should have said was that it’s really normal to be worried about school.”

And then be quiet and just hold that space with your child.  If they want to talk more, they will.  If they don’t, that’s okay too.

May 07

The Parents’ Guide to Discussing ’13 Reasons Why’ With Your Child

By Jen Taylor | Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over

Netflix launched a new show at the end of March 2017 called ’13 Reasons Why” that has drawn a lot of buzz in therapy circles and parenting groups.

Like most popular culture, it succeeds at keeping you in suspense enough to watch multiple episodes in a row. In fact, your teens are probably staying up late watching it now (if they haven’t already).

Premise of ’13 Reasons Why’

According to Netflix, the premise of the show is

After a teenage girls perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.”

So, basically a girl (Hannah) commits suicide but instead of leaving a note, she leaves a series of tape recordings explaining how the other kids at her school contributed to her decision to take her life.

Each of them gets a piece of the responsibility or blame. The show combines snippets of Hannah’s life prior to the suicide with interactions of the remaining students afterwards told from the point of view of her “friend” Clay.

**Possible Spoiler Alert

Criticism of ’13 Reasons Why’

As you might guess, this show has elements that make some parents uncomfortable.  Like most high schools around the country, this school has issues that parents don’t always like seen displayed so graphically.

Among the concerns are:

  • Underage alcohol use & binge drinking
  • Marijuana Use
  • Profanity
  • Sexual Content and Language
  • Homosexuality
  • Sneaking/Lying
  • Violence
  • Bullying
  • Rape
  • AND the big one: the suicide scene


The show opens with a typical house party with kids drinking alcohol (one of many alcohol scenes). Later in the show, a girl is raped while passed out from drinking too much. Those who know about it do nothing.

One main character is frequently smoking weed from a bong and is often high at school.

Another group of kids come to the school costume contest dressed in scuba gear and call themselves “muff divers.”

In one scene, characters refer to Hannah has being “DTF” – which for my friends who have not had the guilty pleasure of watching MTV’s Jersey Shore shenanigans means “Down to F@ck”

And don’t forget, there is the rape and then it specifically shows Hannah’s suicide.

Cautions Against “13 Reasons Why’ From Experts

Despite the array of Tweets and the press that says that this show brings positive attention to the topic of suicide, experts are not convinced.  In fact, many of the agencies or foundations that focus on depression, mental health and suicide are concerned that this show sends the wrong message about suicide.

Not The Right Way To Handle Suicide Coverage

This article explains how the show violates nearly all of the recommendations about media coverage for suicide from  These recommendations include NOT sensationalizing the suicide, NOT talking about the suicide note, AND not describing (or showing in graphic detail) the suicide method.  ’13 Reasons Why’ gets it wrong on all counts.

Not An Accurate Depiction of Mental Health

Moreover, the show fails to address depression or mental health/illness in any significant way. Among the ’13 Reasons’ is not a history of mental health or depression (the most common risk factor in completed suicides). This is especially disappointing given that the executive producer, Selena Gomez, has been quite vocal about her own struggles with anxiety and depression.

Not Helpful For Perpetuating Survivor’s Guilt

Another big complaint is that it perpetuates the belief that the other students are to BLAME for Hannah’s suicide.  While, it does an “okay” job of discussing the concept of survivors guilt, the students involved are mostly more concerned about keeping the story a secret and avoiding any consequences or repercussions.

Can Be A Trigger For People With Mental Health or Trauma

Due to the content, the discussions and images have reportedly been a negative trigger for some people who watch the show.  This is not to say that people who watch ’13 Reasons Why’ will take their life; but more that it can trigger additional feelings of depression, loneliness and hopelessness.

Reasons Why You Might Want To Watch It

This show has prompted a lot of discussion among my therapist friends about the value of watching the show.  There’s really only two main reasons that are cited:

  1. It is helpful to be “in the know” about things that are popular with teens. (That’s the reason that I watched it)
  2. The show can be a prompt for deep and meaningful discussions between therapists and clients and between children and parents.  *Note: I said it CAN BE.  In the actual show, teens and parents failed to have any significant positive discussions about Hannah’s death or the aftermath. But in real life, there have been meaningful discussions about it.

’13 Reasons Why’ Discussion Questions

My recommendation is that if your child is remotely interested in this show, that you watch it with your child.

Really, together. On the same couch at the same time! Then spend some time talking about the key points in each episode.  Because this show is based on Jay Asher’s book of the same name, there are dozens of book club lists with discussion questions available if you look for them.

The Jed Foundation has also released this great list of talking points. 

What Therapists Discuss

If you want discussion questions specifically used by child counselors, you can borrow some of the ones that came up in our discussion board.  Included are:

  1. What impact does Hannah’s suicide have on her parents, the school and her classmates?
  2. Why do you think none of the students discussed the tapes with their parents?
  3. What is the difference between shame and guilt? Which characters feel guilty for their actions and which are ashamed?
  4. What might have happened if Hannah had responded differently to Tyler in the very beginning-could there have been a different butterfly effect?
  5. What could Courtney have done differently or how could she have handled the situation differently rather than throw Hannah under the bus?
  6. Does Hannah’s use of the tapes create risks for additional suicides? How do her actions affect the lives of the people on the tapes?
  7. How does keeping a secret affect people? How do the characters change when they start to talk about or reveal their secrets?
  8. How does the school counselor let the students down? What can you do if an adult doesn’t do their job well or isn’t helpful?
  9. Who can you go to for support when you are stressed? What it is about that person/people that is the most helpful?
  10. Have you ever thought about hurting yourself or taking your life?

AND BONUS – My Favorite Discussion Question of All Time

’13 Reasons Why’ is basically an updated version of one of my most memorable group activities from my Bachelor’s program at the University of West Florida.  I vividly remember being asked to complete “The Drawbridge Exercise” and subsequently being labeled as “oppositional” due to my response.

’13 Reasons Why’ & The Drawbridge Exercise

The Drawbridge exercise tells a story about a woman who is told by her jealous husband not to leave the gates of a castle or she will be “severely punished.’ Shockingly, she leaves.  And, of all places, goes to visit a lover.  On her way back, a gateman is waiting and says if she attempts to cross the bridge, she will be killed. She then returns to the lover for help and he refuses.  She asks several other characters for help and all refuse.  Receiving no help, she returns to the bridge and is killed by the gateman.

The Question is “Who Is To Blame? “

In class, our group was then instructed to assign levels of responsibility for her murder to all of the people in the story that refused to help her, the husband that ordered the murder and the gateman himself.  You are to rank them from 1-6 in order of “most responsible” to “least responsible.”

And that is  a great discussion question for the cast members of  ’13 Reasons Why.’

Who is the most responsible or least responsible for Hannah’s death? Can you rank the characters in order of blame? Are any of them at fault? 

Now, obviously, there is a HUGE difference between homicide and suicide.  I think we can all find it easier to assign blame in a murder.

Nevertheless, the concept that there is someone to BLAME is an ethical question brought up in the show.  In ’13 Reasons Why’ the characters struggle with feeling like  ‘we are all responsible for Hannah’s death” and that “Hannah made the decision to take her life and she is the one to blame.”

It is basically a new age version of “The Drawbridge Exercise.”  And it is an interesting discussion about assigning blame or responsibility for tragedy.

But, back to the drawbridge…

Wondering What I Said?

Remember…I was 19 years old and thought the world was simple.

I said, “The only person responsible for the woman’s death is the gateman.  He is number 1 through 6. Everyone else is zero.”  

My instructor did not like that.  He thought I wasn’t taking the discussion seriously. I was labeled oppositional.

Mental health experts will also disagree with a discussion question that assigns blame to survivors for a suicide.  But, I think it is a good way to bring about a discussion about regrets.   In this YOLO / NO REGRETS world that high schoolers are in, it might be nice to talk about how your actions have consequences, even if you didn’t have bad intentions.

Final Thoughts

Now that I am not 19 (thankfully), I see more gray areas than I did in my college Social Justice class. In therapy there are these things called “duty to warn” and “duty to protect” that hold me responsible for failure to act in cases of potential suicide or homicide or abuse/neglect.

But more than that, I see both sides.  Our actions do have consequences.  Too often we fail to see how we influence others (in both positive and negative ways).  We are ultimately responsible for our own choices, but know this….

HOPELESSNESS is the biggest predictor of suicide.  Without assigning blame, make an effort to do what you can to prevent hopelessness in those around you.

*Not sure when take a suicide threat seriously-read more here. 

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Apr 23

Is Safe For Teens?

By Jen Taylor | Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over (pronounced as if there were not a period), is a video social media platform based around (you guessed it) music and marketed by the company as a way to “live with passion, live”

It has been one of the most popular topics among teens in my office. And…one of the most concerning sites among their parents. My standard for anything teen related is to test it out myself.  So, today I created a  account and started playing around with it. 101

Signing Up Is Easy

  • Download the app
  • Create a login by using your phone number, email, or Facebook account
  • Choose a user name (mine is playtherapymom) and password
  • Upload a selfie (or skip it)
  • Search for your contacts that are already on the app
  • Start following “popular” people as suggested by the app
  • Set your privacy settings (the default is public access to everything).

What Do You Do On


You can watch videos that other people made.  They are videos of people lip syncing and dancing to different songs.

Some of them are pretty funny. Some of them are frankly, just silly. Some of these kids are amazingly talented dancers and super creative people. Assuming you have friends on here, you would be interested in watching the videos that they made.


You might be wondering why people would watch other strangers lip sync music videos.  The only answer I can give you is that it seems to be entertaining.

I have to admit that I got caught up for more than a few minutes just browsing the popular videos.  It gave me flashbacks to my childhood when we actually watched music videos on MTV.


Next up, create your first video.  Start by choosing a song.  Then, there are different “special effects” that you can choose to enhance your video. Hold the record button on your phone and sing and dance away.


Again, there is an entertainment factor is creating these videos.  It’s fun and silly and the effects make it even more fun and silly.  Honestly, it is harder than it looks to make it look good. The featured videos make it look so easy.  My videos were not impressive.

I can see why it is fun for all ages.  In fact, I think my toddlers will have a blast watching themselves sing “Let It Go.”  Follow me on and you might get to see that!

The Potential Dangers of

So, at first glance, this social media platform seems harmless enough. But is it safe?

Common sense media lists 50 reviews where people talk about potential dangers of this site and give a cautious approval for those 14 and up. Among their concerns:

Your videos AND LOCATION are not automatically set to private.

The default setting is for anyone, anywhere to fan you and see your videos. This allows complete strangers to watch your videos and direct message you.

(Go to settings to set privacy settings for only friends can contact, hide location and set account as private). 

Quickly links to inappropriate content.

Using the hashtags, you can easily go from a harmless video to a mildly inappropriate video and some parents say, even to explicit adult content. (I will say I searched for inappropriate content and it didn’t come up as fast as I expected.  But, based on reviews, this seems to be a huge problem).

Music lyrics have suggestive sexual content.

The problem most parents seem to have is with young children lip syncing to music that has suggestive sexual content (that they may or may not understand) and often includes dancing that is also mildly to overtly sexual in nature as well.

(You can report inappropriate content directly in the app or by emailing 

Difficult to Monitor.  

With private settings and other restrictions in place, parents reported that it was still too difficult to monitor.  Many parents reported that children were messaged by “weirdos” or accidentally got linked to content that they were not looking for.

Time Consuming Distraction. 

As with most social media, this is a time consuming distraction.  A hunt for likes, a way to avoid homework, or something that keeps kids from going to sleep.  I can see where kids would watch and make these videos until sunrise.

Final Thoughts

I would not allow any elementary school ages children (or younger)  to use this app without DIRECT supervision.  Meaning, you are standing next to them while they are filming and are closely monitoring all content.

For children in middle school and older, I would proceed with strong caution.  Know your child and their level of trustworthy-ness. Do some research and set reasonable limits based on your child’s age, maturity, and current behaviors.


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