My Teenager Does Not Have a Phone and He Got Lost

I recently had an experience that spoke nicely to the decision to NOT provide our child with a cell phone.  
I dropped off my 14 year-old to meet family friends beach on the Fourth of July. 
Due to traffic and impossible parking, I couldn't actually get him to the specific location of our friends so I was forced to drop him off a couple blocks away (don’t panic, remember he’s 14 years old).  
After I dropped him off, my plan was to come home and do some chores and then re-join this group of people. But after a bit I became worried that perhaps he didn’t find our friends. So I called my girlfriend, who didn't pick up until my third try: "Susan, hey did my son find you guys?" "No. Sorry. I will look for him."  
So mild anxiousness set in, butterflies in the tummy, but I soothed myself with this, "this is a nice beach, lots of family families out there today, close to our home… "
A long 45 minutes went by, until my phone finally rings: "Hi mom, I can’t find anybody. Do you know exactly where they are?"
 My heart momentarily collapses because now I am aware that he’s been looking for them for 45 minutes on a very crowded holiday beach day. I directed him to the exact location of our waiting friends, then more importantly, I say to him, "Who’s phone are you using to call me?" 
Now, all Moms know that we train our children to find another looks-like-a-sweet-mommy with children (as society has deemed these are the safest people walking the planet and the least likely to steal a child).
Yet, after years of this specific indoctrination, who does he ask to borrow a phone to make a quick phone call? "I found a young guy. He was smiling and maybe with his girlfriend, so I thought he would let me use his phone." 
And of course, he did. 
That learning opportunity is absent, while not ideal from the Mom perspective, when a child doesn't have to fumble about, get a little lost, walk up to a total stranger, assert his needs, and then navigate to his destination, but instead grabs his own cell phone and calls mom, "Help!"
Those mini-moments towards adulthood are full of growing opportunities - for all of us


Suicide is the Result of Severe Brain Dis-ease: The Brain is Diseased, Dis-eased (repost from 4/25/15)

The last two weeks have brought 5 suicides to my attention. Not my personal loved ones, but people and families that are facing this new and horrible fact. Their loved one will not ever return and they are stuck with the WHY's and the "I should haves" - even distant friends and family, maybe those pushed away earlier by the deceased, will feel somewhat guilty for what they could not do - the phone call not returned, the slightest tiff or huge argument - prevent the brain disease.
It is a tremendous pain in the brain that cannot, for the moment, be alleviated with medicine, exercise, drinking, sleep, or logic.
The brain, in its dis-eased state, cannot be reasoned with or cooled down.
It is searing fire. In its fight or flight mandate to survive, it will attempt to problem-solve, and herein lies the very misdirected thinking that leads to suicide. “If I end my life, I will fix (stop) my problems. I’m not helping anyone and this sickness is more than I can bear. It will never go away. I am a burden to others.”
Suicide is the decimation or domination of clear thinking, overpowering coping skills and pushing out any feelings of being loved or needed.
And, like many diseases, we don't understand where it originated, where it took hold, why such a loved one got it when others did not.
Diseases do not favor one person over another: we cannot say, "he was so talented, why him?" or "she had so much to live for, how could she have given in to ---."
Many narrowly escape this terminal ending of brain disease.
After more than three decades, I have been "close" to suicide more than the average person. I have spoken in depth to loved ones who have lost a family member to suicide (child, parent, spouse) as well as folks that have tried and failed, and then, a few who tried and ultimately succeeded.
Have you ever tried to solve a complicated math problem? If it's beyond your abilities, you will probably give up, knowing it’s pointless, saying something like "I will never get this. I don’t have the brain power, patience, motivation - to work it out. I can't solve it!" The fact is, there are math problems that I simply will never be able to solve, and I know it. Life is sort of a math riddle; lots of rules that nobody can ever accurately relay to us, we just kind of "get it" at some point, if we're lucky (luck is defined as the cocktail of  DNA, family, health, temperament, spirit, opportunity).
"I can't get this thing called life. Other people can. I can't and I never will. It’s just out of my reach and I give up," is the exhaustion and frustration speaking.
Those who complete their suicide have almost always tried it before, maybe once, usually several times. Suicide is the end of a long road. It’s physically painful. Air hurts. Not for a day. Not for a week, or a month, but years. Feelings of hopelessness, combined with impulsivity - mix in chronic pain, job loss, a recent heartbreak. Problem-solving experiments show that the first thing to go is creativity when pressure is increased. Creativity is an outgrowth of time, patience, clear-thinking, freedom, respite. Once creative problem-solving is squashed, ideas run dry and hope for the future is greatly diminished. Thinking becomes like molasses.
Finally, suicide is not meant to punish other people. That’s far too devious for the person buried under a mountain of ash, unable to gasp a full breath, racing heart, feeling of dread, terror, panic, shame…these are the words and feelings I have heard about.
Please do not refer to someone's suicide as a selfish BIG FUCK YOU. See it from their pinhole shaft of light. Would I be angry at another disease that takes a loved one’s life? Would I feel shame if my child or parent is taken by cancer or pneumonia? No...I would reason that an illness took his life.

RIP: Kate Spade, June 5, 2018. Anthony Bourdain, June 8th, 2018


Helping Your Adult Kid

The topic of dysfunctional young adult behavior is brought up in my office every day by loving and attentive parents (exhausted too).
I have broken the overall topic into three concerning behavioral types:
Failing to launch
Mental Illness
In a simple format, understanding that I cannot and am not diagnosing someone that I have not personally met with, let me break down these three distinct challenges.

Failing to launch/Failing to Thrive: An under-earning, underachieving young adult. Perhaps a high school or college graduate that is working only part-time, being financially supported by parents or relatives, although he/she is intelligent, able-bodied, sound, and surrounded by nice people. What is going on? Why can't she/he get a job? Working in a pizza shop 25 hours a week at the age of 24, while mom and dad subsidize this lazy lifestyle is not thriving...
a) Who is paying for him/her? This includes their total cost of living, minus rent/shelter: car payment, health insurance, gas, money for fast food, phone bill. If this is you, the parent: STOP. If you must, get them a flip phone (no cell data!), remove your HULU and Netflix, stop bringing home delicious fast food and offering to rescue them. DO NOT provide an emergency credit card either. How emergent can it be while living at home with a well-running vehicle, AAA, unlimited cell data and all expenses paid? 
Do not do for your child what he can do for himself.
Make the nest very uncomfortable. Why else would anyone leave a cushy paid-for lifestyle? 

Mental Illness: This is serious work, navigating a psychiatric condition with a loved one. Usually the family of a loved one living with a metal illness has spent years trying to determine the underlying causes and conditions that are preventing someone from living life to the fullest. But, please remember that  psychiatric diagnosis (ADHD, PTSD, OCD, Depression, etc,) are never reasons to lash out, assault others verbally or physically, or blame others for one's predicament in life. 
It's often hard to know when to tolerate avoidant behavior ("He's too nervous to apply," "She has panic attacks when she drives,") - my rule of thumb is this: If you are refusing help, blaming others, and taking no positive action, there is very little familial compassion left for someone to continue to falter/stumble. At this point, the family/parents would benefit more from coaching and counseling than the young adult himself. Setting healthy boundaries and limits with professional guidance is the best beginning; job coaches can provide appropriate career goals and thankfully, support groups exist for every condition. There is something for everyone and we should encourage those with psychological instability to be as self-supporting as possible.

Addiction: This may be the hardest behavior to identify, as most addictions are kept secretive and the addict will lie to cover up his/her actions, after all, it's usually hard to prove! Furthermore, families are initially reluctant to admit that their loved one is engaging in such self-destructive behavior.  
Signs of addiction including: Lying, stealing, arrests, mysterious and unexplained behavior, long and dramatic hard-to-believe stories, job absence, extended illness, poor physical appearance, failure to complete anything, multiple failed relationships, and finally, blaming others. 
This family needs to attend an Alanon meeting (free!) to better understand the tenous nature of loving and caring for the addict. https://al-anon.org/

Blurred Lines: There are often overlaps between these three; we cannot accurately diagnose a severe mental health condition while someone is in active addiction, and we know that addicts will attempt to regulate their dysregulated mood with drugs (alcohol, weeds, pills). Life is a series of dominoes, right? If I feel badly about my future, I will work less efficiently, which leads to more stress and less success. How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.


Yes, we can be grateful and depressed at the same.
Yes, we can be angry, yet still grateful.
Yes, we can simultaneously hold both faith and fear.


When Children Lose Caregivers

I don’t know anything about border policies, however, I’ve been working with children separated from their parents, caregivers, and loved ones for 38 years. I know institutional settings well, working in social services and the local San Diego receiving center for children. 
When children are taken out of the home for a variety of reasons, let’s say, in the middle of the night for a domestic violence incident, or a parent is arrested driving under the influence, the child/children are placed in a local receiving center.
It’s very unusual for a child to remain in this unfamiliar place for any length of time (seven days would be on the outside, unless the child is becoming a ward of the state), as social workers and specially trained counselors and advocates, aka case management, will aggressively attempt to remediate placement and relocation as soon as possible - this child is now considered to be residing in institutional care and at this point, now costing the state (taxpayers) a substantial amount of money.
In other words, case workers will find someone who is willing to step up, even if it's a distant relative. In the least desirable situation, the child is placed with complete strangers, aka, a foster or group home: some place that has been vetted and trained for just this type of scenario - then the courts kick into action and decisions are made. 
We scientifically understand that the more caregivers a child experiences the worse it is for child development, which is why our social services work so very hard to provide families treatment, education, and tools to preserve the family unit, such as it is (aka family reunification).
Let’s take another example, a homeless parent/grandparent/caregiver with young children. Most homeless shelters, transitional housing, resource centers, crisis, and abuse shelters will separate boys at the age of 13 on up from sibs and girls, with the premise that a male adolescent coming out of a hostile environment is not a complementary fit for vulnerable women and small children; and many shelters will not accept boys over the age of 13 whatsoever. 
In this situation, we are typically talking about a 30-day safe structure with anywhere from six families topping out at 30 families. Again, on hand, are well-trained staff, front line counselors, social workers, psychologists, and seasoned administrators. 
None of the situations I’ve described above are designed for mass-casualty incoming, on par with say, earthquakes survivors abandoning a building. 
Let me reiterate: The cost of care for the above child is astronomical. A child raised "in the system" is often referred to as a million dollar baby. I spent two and a half years facilitating a women's therapy group at Las Colinas Maximum Detention Facility - many of these adult women came up inside an institutional setting: with their children now doing the same.
The best sociological example, and how most of the world learned about human development and the powerful connection to an attached caregiver, came in the form of worst-case-scenario, as it often does.

"Above all, the eastern European orphans have become Exhibit A in the emotional debate over the body of thought known as attachment theory."

Institutional rearing negatively impacts children’s biology, as consistently shown by studies from the Bucharest project. Children left in institutions have altered stress physiology, including abnormal stress-hormone responses during challenging tasks in a laboratory setting. Compared to children who were assigned to foster care, institutionalized children have more abnormalities in the white matter structure of the brain, which refers to the fiber pathways that facilitate communication between brain regions. They have blunted brain responses to pictures of faces. They exhibit atypical patterns of oscillatory activity in the electroencephalogram, the measurement of electrical activity in the brain.
Even chromosomes inside the cells of the body are affected by institutionalization. Telomeres are protective portions on the ends of strands of DNA, and they are known to diminish with normal aging. High levels of chronic stress have been associated with greater diminishment of telomeres, suggesting that stress speeds aging at the cellular level.  
Crammed Shelters 

Institutionalization is another example of an adverse early rearing environment that may negatively impact the development of face perception. Institutional care is characterized by psychosocial deprivation; sensory and cognitive stimulation are lacking, and high child‐to‐caregiver ratios (in some institutions, nearly 20:1) leave children with little social stimulation and almost no opportunity to form stable, emotional attachments to caregivers (Smyke et al., 2007; Zeanah et al., 2003). A wealth of previous research has documented poor physical, cognitive, social, and neurologic outcomes in previously institutionalized children (Fisher, Ames, Chisholm, &; Savoie, 1997; Gunnar, 2001; O’Connor, Bredenkamp, &; Rutter, 1999; O’Connor & Rutter, 2000; O’Connor, Rutter, Beckett, Keaveney, &; Kreppner, 2000), the persistence and severity of which are related to the timing and duration of the institutional experience (Beckett et al., 2006; Rutter et al., 2007).