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Public Workshop: The Teenage Brain – a Practical How-to Guide for Parents

“How was school?”

“OK”

“What did you do today?”

“Nothing.”

“Who did you see at the party?”

“No one.”

Sound familiar? You probably have a tween or teen in your house.

The Teenage Brain sign upParents are often mystified by the apparently sudden changes in their kids’ moods and behaviour when they hit puberty. That chatty 11-year-old may suddenly clam up when they turn 12. Instead of the detailed accounting of every banal classroom detail you’ve been accustomed to for years, you suddenly get monosyllabic answers. Your 14-year-old may storm out the room, slamming doors, without any provocation. Your 15-year-old may withhold details about his friends and what they do when they go out.

There may be tears, fears, shouting or stony silence.

Eating habits change, sleeping patterns shift, likes become dislikes and vice versa. It can be all that much harder to broach difficult topics about social media use, sex, drugs, mental health issues and drinking.

As challenging as the teen years can be, they are also wonderful. Your child is growing up before your eyes, figuring out who they are, pursuing new interests and developing new talents. Instead of worrying and complaining about this new normal, it helps for parents to have a better understanding of what’s going on. The information we do get tends to be about physiological changes from the neck (and waist) down, but our kids’ brains are going through important changes as well.

Teen BrainUnderstanding what’s going on can make it all much clearer for mom and dad, and hopefully strengthen your relationship with the emerging adult in the family. The current research on adolescent brain biology has a lot to teach us about the teenagers we think we know.

Join me at Trafalgar School for Girls on Tuesday, Nov. 7th from 7:30-9 p.m. (3495 Simpson Ave., corner Docteur Penfield Ave. Montreal). I’ll be speaking to parents of elementary and high school parents about a few key changes that occur during the teen years, with practical strategies on how to help families navigate – and thrive – in turbulent times.

You will learn:

  • How changes in the brain impact the development of good judgment, problem-solving, decision-making and impulse control
  • How normal changes in sleep patterns change the way your teenager gets through his/her day and night and affects their schooling and family time
  • How the overdevelopment of the brain structures responsible for handling emotions affects the way your teen sees the world
  • How social media, alcohol, illegal drugs can impact the growing brain
  • Why we can’t blame hormones for everything.

This lecture is open to the public. Tickets are $10. Sign up online by clicking here.

Advice from a transgender kid, their parent & sibling

It’s been a long time since I’ve last posted. I’ve been busy with workshops in schools and community organizations for parents, teachers, and students. I still feel like I have so much to share and say in this space, but work and kids and life often get in the way.

Then I read this post on Facebook, from a mom halfway across the country whom I’ve never met in person, but whose path crossed with mine thanks to a mutual friend. I have much respect and admiration for her writing skills, but it was the following post about her child’s recent decision to come out as transgender (specifically, non-binary) that stopped me short. I wrote to ask permission to repost it here, and she readily agreed.

I have a transgender child who regularly experiences gender dysphoria. I suspect many, if not most of you, don’t know what that means. But as I am compelled by the devastating news that yet another mother has lost her transgender child this week to suicide, I am going to tell you, because everyone needs to understand this NOW: Gender dysphoria refers to the severe distress experienced when a person’s outsides (their body &/or clothing) do not match their insides (their gender identity: who they know themselves to be).

When we as a society refuse to accept someone’s gender identity — by intentionally using the wrong name &/or the wrong pronoun; by refusing them access to the bathroom that matches their gender identity; by pressuring or downright forcing them to conform to the gender binary when their identity is non-binary (in other words, there IS no bathroom for them); by insisting that they wear their hair and clothing to make us feel comfortable, rather than to help them BE WHO THEY ARE — we inflict a form of suffering that is life threatening.

It breaks my heart, reading the posts of fellow parents of transgender youth who are struggling to keep their children alive in the face of discrimination and ignorance from other family members, friends, teachers, churches, schools. These children cut themselves, overwhelmed by a compulsion to self harm. They are afraid to leave the house. They are bullied. They are shamed. They are physically and psychologically beaten up. There is no excuse for this. It is so simple, and does no one any harm, to let these children be who they are. People need to learn. People need to understand. People need to change.

My family is so blessed. My child receives unconditional love from their mother, father, and sister. My child is accepted and supported by our community of family, friends, teachers, and other caregivers. And still, it is not easy. We have waited a long time to receive medical support and treatment, but we are now receiving that. We have been fumbling along, pulling together our support team of allies, support groups, and counsellors. We are the lucky ones.

Please, share this far and wide. I don’t believe most people mean the harm they do. They don’t understand. They are afraid. But all of us, I believe, want the same thing: to be loved and accepted for who we are. And that’s what our children need from us.

Pride Parade familySo much love. So much courage. Such wise words.

I asked if I could share this post in this space because it moved me enough to pick up where I left off many months ago.

She agreed, then asked her child and their sibling if they had anything else they’d like to add. Together, they came up with some advice for anyone wanting to know how to be supportive allies to their transgender friends, family members, classmates, and colleagues:

  1. Read up on transgender identities and gender dysphoria to educate yourself on what it means and how it feels to be transgender. While respectful questions and conversations are generally welcome, it is a strain on transgender people to have their gender constantly at the forefront of every interaction and conversation and to carry the ongoing responsibility of educating others.
  2. Always accept another person’s chosen name and pronouns. Their identity is about them, not you. It is disrespectful and rude to complain about how hard it is for you to get their name and pronouns correct. Imagine how difficult it is to be transgender and have your dysphoria triggered by being misgendered and deadnamed!
  3. Always make an effort to use your friend/family member/classmate/colleague’s requested name and pronouns. It’s ok to make mistakes! If you do, simply correct yourself and move on. If you stop and make a big deal out of your mistake, you make it all about you, when that person’s name and pronouns are supposed to be all about them.
  4. Never ask about another person’s genitals!!! Someone else’s private parts are none of your business unless you are embarking on an intimate and consensual relationship with them.
  5. If you observe someone using the incorrect name and pronoun for your transgender friend/family member/classmate/colleague, kindly correct them. If you see someone harassing or bullying a transgender person (or anyone for that matter), stand up for them!
  6. Show your support for the LGBTQ community by wearing pride pins, participating in pride parades, posting a rainbow on your social media page, office door, etc.
  7. Start an LGBTQ-Straight Alliance in your school/organization. If you manage/over-see a public or communal space, pro-actively look for ways to make it inclusive and gender neutral. Provide gender-neutral bathrooms and if you are in a public/communal space that does not offer one, be a good ally and request that one be provided.
  8. Be mindful of the power of your words. Making jokes about depression, self-harm, and suicide, can be very triggering for anyone dealing with emotional pain. Ask yourself before you speak: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If the answer to any of these question is “No,” it is best to keep your mouth shut.
  9. Always affirm someone’s choice of gender expression, even if it seems unusual to you or makes you feel uncomfortable. Genuine compliments on hairstyle and clothing are welcome. Pressuring someone to wear/try on clothing or hairstyles they are not comfortable in is not cool.
  10. Advice from the little sister of a non-binary sibling: give one of your special stuffies a gender-neutral name and pronouns and introduce them to all of your friends and family members!

For more information and additional resources

Egale
 
National lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) human rights organization for advancing equality, diversity, education and justice. 
Website: www.egale.ca
 
Family Acceptance Project:
 
Research and Resources on family acceptance/family rejection and impacts on sexually and gender diverse youth. 
 
Gender Creative Kids (Canadian)
 
Canadian resource for supporting and affirming gender creative kids within their families, schools and communities
 
Gender Spectrum (American)
 
Information and resources regarding gender identity
 
Healthy Children.org (American)
 
Information regarding gender in children. Search under: Gender Non-Conforming & Transgender Children
 
The Gender Book
 
Youth-friendly book and online resource on gender identity
 
For Families: PDF’s available online:
 
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Recommended Fiction and Nonfiction Resources for K-12 Schools – 2nd edition
 
 
Welcoming Schools (LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books)
 
 
Flamingo Rampant (LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books)
 

Stranger danger online: What parents need to know

The recent spate of news stories about young girls going missing in the Montreal area has a lot of parents worried. The police have said they have evidence that the girls, who were living in a Laval group home, may have been lured away by gangs for sexual exploitation. The disappearances have been linked to the use of social media to target young, vulnerable teens. Five girls have gone missing over the last month, and four have been located. 17-year-old Vanessa Ticas still has not been found.

SextingNow I have always argued that most kids, most of the time, are far more at risk from the people they know than strangers on line. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that abductions by strangers account for only 1% of kidnappings. Far more common are kidnapping by parents in a custody dispute, or someone else related to the family. When it comes to sexual abuse, it is estimated that 8 out of 10 abused children know their abuser offline.

Kids are far more likely to be harmed online by their peers, whether its through bullying or the non-consensual sharing of sexual images. However, there are clearly many risks online for children and teens. When you mix kids and adults, anonymity, spontaneity and the incredible power of digital technology, people are likely to get hurt. So what can parents do to help keep their kids safe from strangers online?

Start young. The best strategy is to begin age-appropriate conversations about the power and challenges of online tools from the time kids are very young. It’s much harder to introduce supervision, rules and consequences with a 14-year-old. Children get online as soon as they can click or swipe, and many start with gaming accounts, progressing to email, messaging and social media. Your young children and preteens should ask permission before they open any accounts, and should share passwords with parents. Sit next to them to configure privacy settings. Don’t know how? Google is a user manual for everything – show them you are interested in learning about these tools.

Teach online “street smarts.” They need to be told over and over that nothing they do online should ever be considered private, whether it’s a text message to your best friend, an email to a classmate, or a picture sent to a boyfriend. They need to understand that even though their computer feels private , it’s actually very public and they should behave accordingly. Explain repeatedly how easy it is for someone to “pass” as someone else, whether it’s an older man passing as a teen boy, a student pretending to be a teacher, or a stranger pretending to be a friend.

Be frank about the risks. Parenting in 2016 means putting aside your embarrassment and addressing sex online. Kids today have access to the kinds of sexualized images adults couldn’t legally get their hands on 10 years ago. You are kidding yourself if you think your kid hasn’t seen porn online, accidentally in a pop-up, or through a search. They need to understand the meaning of sharing sexualized images of themselves or others. And both young girls and boys need to be told that others may try to “groom” them for exploitation by being charming or flattering, promising gifts or extra attention. This resource on sexual trafficking of kids by gangs has some great tips. This document from BC is also very useful.

Set rules. Establish consequences. Follow through. If you don’t want your teen using video chat in a room with a closed door, make that clear and follow through. If you want your child to notify you by text whenever they change locations (going to a movie, going to a friend’s house, etc.), make it a condition of owning a cellphone.

Freedom is a privilege to be earned through consistent, responsible behaviour. I’ve said it before, and I believe this is true online and off. Having access to wifi, smartphones, iPads and computers is an incredible privilege. If your child wants privacy from you online, they need to earn it in increments by showing good judgement.