Ask Dr. Mike, June Edition
This month, the doctor responds to questions about teens, Facebook, baby showers and spending sprees.
Assessing a Teen’s Actions, Needs
Our 16-year-old son has become increasingly oppositional and defiant in the home this year. He is also smoking pot, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, although his tobacco use is probably the least of our concerns at this point. He has pretty bad academics this year as well. My husband and I are beginning to think he needs to go away given the stress he is causing his siblings and us. His attitude and outbursts have become unbearable for us all, and we tried everything with no change. My husband thinks our son just needs discipline and structure and has begun looking into military academy summer programs. I feel that our son’s problems are bigger than that and that he needs more of a therapeutic boarding school. The programs we’ve found online are so expensive, and we don’t want to make the wrong decision if we do decide to send him away. Your thoughts are appreciated.
A in Loudoun County
You did not mention whether or not your son has been assessed by a mental health professional or whether he has been or currently is in treatment. If your son has not been assessed, I recommend doing that immediately. Often parents in your situation complain that they have seen several therapists for their teenagers but that it was a waste of time and money; that nothing changed. There are a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists out there–good and bad–so please make sure you do your homework in selecting the right clinician for your son. Pediatricians are often a good place to start for a referral. You may also have a friend or two who have had struggling teens of their own. Perhaps you could confide in a good friend, and that person may be able to recommend a solid mental health clinician. I would advise against placement until your son is assessed, and his problems are understood thoroughly. With a good assessment and treatment, it may be the case that your son improves and does not need to leave his family to get better. Also, if it turns out that he does not suffer from any sort of significant mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or learning disabilities, it may be the case that the structure and discipline a good military academy could provide may be just the right thing for him at 16. Should your son’s mental health difficulties turn out to be more serious, a therapeutic boarding school may be the better placement if he is not able to remain at home. If you do decide to send your son away please consider using an educational advocate. Just because a school has a fancy web page, does not mean it is the right fit for your son given his needs. I have met with many parents over the years that have sent their teens many states away and for a lot of money, only to learn that the school they selected was a poor match. An educational advocate can assist you in finding the right school for your son without making costly mistakes. Also, if you do decide on sending your son away to either a military academy or therapeutic boarding school, make sure you relay your thoughts to your son positively. He is probably going to be hurt and angry regardless of what you say; however, he needs to hear that you are not sending him away or kicking him out. Rather, your son should hear that you love him very much and are concerned for his wellbeing and future; that he needs more structure and help than you can provide him as parents in order for him to succeed; that he is going away to succeed and you look forward to his safe return. Remember to also be good to yourselves as parents and to support your other children during this difficult time.
Are Second Baby Showers OK?
I am pregnant with my second child, and my mom was planning to host a baby shower for me. My best friend told me that having a second baby shower is considered bad etiquette and that I should forgo the gathering. My mom thinks that my friend is being absurd, and now I am in the middle of the two of them. I would like to have the shower but don’t want my friends judging me. Seems Google is also telling me that baby showers are for the first child only. What are your thoughts?
O in Loudoun County
The most conservative of folks will tell you that second baby showers are tacky and one should never do it. However, others posit that it is fine if the gap between the two children is significant. Still others would say that it is acceptable if the gender of your first and second child is different. And then there are those who are always up for a party to celebrate something special. I am in the latter group. A shower is celebration of you as mother; it is a gathering of close friends and family to share in your pregnancy and joy. If you do decide to have a shower, everyone in attendance already knows that your first child was a girl and that you are likely in need of male oriented things. Those who truly care about you will want to attend and will want to bring you and your baby-to-be a gift. As far as being in the middle goes, you write that you would like to have the shower but do not want to be judged. I think you should focus only on what you want to do, which is to have the shower, and not worry about being judged. Certainly, if you speak openly to your best friend about your wishes, it should not be too difficult for her to put aside her views on baby shower etiquette for your happiness. Congratulations!
Facebook Obsession is Real
My husband tells me that I am “obsessed” with Facebook because I post frequently. Facebook is a social media site, and I have a lot of friends and am social … so what’s the problem? It’s true that I post throughout the day and more than most of my friends, but I don’t have a problem with it. He says that Facebook hasn’t just taken over the world, but it’s taken over my life. He also hates it when we go places with our kids because I take so many pictures and constantly post. My husband thinks I need Facebook therapy. We like your column, so he agreed for you to take a stab at our problem. Any advice?
P in Loudoun County
Well, I suppose you may be spending a lot of time on Facebook because you are simply a social person. However, you may be on as much as you are because you are unhappy with certain aspects of your life, or you may be attention seeking, or you may even be depressed. There is some research already out showing that people who spend an inordinate amount of time on social networking sites may actually be clinically depressed. That research makes sense to me since depressed folks tend to withdraw and isolate, and screens are an easy way to do that. An American psychologist has recently coined the term Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD) given the high numbers of folks allegedly addicted to the on-line networking site. Based on his work and research, he offers the following criteria for the condition. If you have two to three of the following criteria over a six- to eight-month period, he would argue that you are indeed addicted to Facebook.
- Tolerance: The need to spend an increasing amount of time on Facebook in order to feel gratified
- Withdrawal symptoms: Increased stress, anxiety, irritability or distress when unable to spend time on Facebook
- Reduction of normal social/recreational activities: Facebook is impinging on other areas of your life including activities you used to find pleasurable or enjoyable
- Virtual dates: When being with your partner online is more enjoyable than being out together on a date in person
- Fake friends: When the majority of your Facebook friends are complete strangers.
- Complete addiction: When you Facebook someone you just met or when your pet has his own Facebook accounts with photos and messaging.
Whether you feel you have a problem or not, the time you spend on Facebook is problematic for your husband–and maybe even your children. I recommend then that you start by challenging yourself to appreciate your husband’s perspective regarding your Facebook time. Hopefully, increased communication in this area will help you both in finding some common ground with the issue. If you do decide to see someone in therapy, I also recommend that your husband attend those sessions (or at least the initial ones) since the time you spend on Facebook very much appears to be a shared problem for you as a couple. Thank you for the kind words on the column and best wishes.
Spending Spree Raises Concerns
My husband and I have always been conservative financially, and we have always communicated well ... until now. He recently inherited a good deal of money from his deceased father’s estate, and it’s been concerning to watch him spend at the rate he is spending. First, it was the fancy gold watch he always wanted, and then it was the fancy sports car he always wanted, and most recently it’s an extravagant family trip to the Caribbean. I’ve tried to communicate my feelings on his spending spree, but he tells me I am “blowing things out of proportion.” I’d like some say in how the remaining money is saved or spent for our family, but I am having trouble finding a way to speak up. I also know that he is not handling the loss of his father well, but he doesn’t want to discuss that topic either. Your advice is greatly appreciated.
M in Loudoun County
It is possible that your husband simply feels that he hit the jackpot with his inheritance and is enjoying himself. However, his behavior and poor communication with you is inconsistent with your history as a couple. Certainly, the death of a parent can impact us greatly, and it is then also possible that your husband is acting out his grief through excessive spending. Think about it, he is not just spending money recklessly, but he is spending his deceased father’s money in that way. In this light, there may be an association for your husband with his father where his emotional spending is the next best thing to actually being with his father. If this dynamic is at play, it is likely occurring on an unconscious level for your husband, and attempts to reason with him may be met with defensiveness. Thus, rather than trying to reason with your husband, I would recommend addressing your concerns on a feeling level. Perhaps you can point out your discomfort with his spending and offer a few relevant examples that reflect your previously shared conservative position. Examples might include your children’s college tuitions, paying off the mortgage ahead of schedule or saving for retirement. By sharing your feelings in this way, you are reminding your husband about what should matter most–the security and wellbeing of his wife and children. With your loving support and patience, and with enough time, things should return back to normal. If things do not improve within a reasonable period of time, I recommend you seek the help of an experienced couple’s therapist.