• Screaming for Structure! (What our kids really want, but won't tell you)

    Posted by Eric McCaslin on 5/22/2017 10:40:00 AM

    Screaming for Structure! (What our kids really want, but won't tell you)

    I saw a bumper sticker on a car this past weekend that said "If you follow all the rules, you miss out on all the fun".  This seems light and whimsical, but it saddened me a little.  The sad truth is that rules, structure, order actually provide a framework for fun and more importantly "healthy happiness".

    Anyone who has dealt with (or been) a teenager that is constantly involved in drama understands how scary, sad, frustrating, angering this can be.  It really feels like we are living in a world of chaos (a whirlwind) when we are experiencing this type of situation.  What we don't realize a lot of the time is that secretly people do not want to be miserable, angry, full of self-doubt or fear, even though they may assure you that they want to live their lives the way they are living them. 

    A lot of the time a person in the above situation is lost, and they are screaming for help getting control of the chaos.  Unfortunately, the person in the middle of the chaos often doesn't see it for themselves.  We all have a drive to feel like we are in control of our lives, and that we are "choosing" to make the choices we are making voluntarily, because "it's my life and I will do what I want".  We don't like to show vulnerability and admit that we don't have control and that we are afraid of so many things.

    Here is the biggest challenge for a parent:  "How do I reign-in out of control behavior by providing structure ... without making my child hate me?"  It is a difficult situation, especially if their has been a lack of structure or discipline for an extended period of time.  A lot of times we as parents feel as if we shouldn't be too hard on our kids (often because it is uncomfortable for both them and us).  Also, we love our children, so we don't want to punish them.  We would much rather have fun and laugh with them.  However, without structure, quite frequently we will actually lose the fun moments all together as decisions can become unchecked and behavior can slide further and further down the wrong path.  A distance is created between child and parent that becomes harder and harder to bridge.

    What all parents need to know is the following:

    - When you want the best for your child and you tell them NO because you don't want bad things to happen to them, they know you care about them.

    - When you make them go to bed on time, they know you care about them.

    - When you tell them to dress appropriately and with pride, they know you care about them.

    - When you limit their time on social media, they know you care about them.

    - When you monitor their communications on social media, texting and otherwise, they know you care about them.

    - When you demand to know their friends and anyone they hang out with, they know you care about them.

    - When you demand to know where they are going and what they are doing and when they will be home, they know you care about them.

     

    I could go on and on with the things you can do to provide structure in your child's life that show you care about them.  The simple fact is when we let our children do everything they want without questions, supervision or rules, we send the message that maybe we don't care about them. 

    Teenage years are a search for validation.  There are too many outside influences that tell our teens that they are not good enough, or encourage them to seek out drama in their lives.  If we let these influences shape their lives, we cannot control what is going to happen.  The more time you spend with your children and the more you attempt to influence their lives the better.  Shouldn't we all want to be the #1 influence in our child's life!

    We all make mistakes, and even when we do things the right way our kids will still make some mistakes as well.  Just remember that even though things don't always go the way you want them to, that doesn't mean you weren't doing the right thing.  Remember these tips in dealing with a struggling teen:

    1. Stay Calm!

    2. Be clear about your expectations and what the consequences of bad choices will be.

    3. Always start with a warning before punishment if possible.  Especially if it is the first time.

    4. Make your punishments reasonable (grounding your kids for life, or a year, or months is not usually very effective ... also, what is grounding?  No TV, no activities, no computer use, no phone.  Make sure you define your punishments)

    5. Always keep loving your child!!!  Never tell them that you can't stand them, you hate them, your gonna disown them, get rid of them.  Do tell them if needed that your scared for them or their actions are hurting you and because you love them you need them to make better choices.

    I know that I was crying out for discipline when I was a teen.  My parents were divorcing and I was the baby of 3 boys.  I internalized all that was going on and struggled to feel any acceptance from others and like my life was a cloud of depression.  Most of my internal issues were of my own making.  My life was pretty good overall, but once the spiral began I just kept sinking and my parents didn't know what to do.  I think they felt bad about the chaos in our lives due to the divorce and the multiple households and the fighting, and so they didn't want to be too strict.  I know they loved me (and do still love), but at that time I needed to be reigned in for my own good.

    Luckily for me, there was something/someone watching over me to help me get through to begin the long process of healing.  Still working on it, but I am headed in the right direction.

    As you know, parenting is not easy ... teenage years can be difficult ... and there is no instruction guide that comes with guarantees ... but we are lucky to have the opportunity to love and be loved.  Remember that without the negative (bad events, challenging struggles, times of chaos and confusion) we cannot appreciate the positive (great events, accomplishments, times of joy and fun).

    Good luck and know that you have support!

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  • Understanding our brains can go a long way to seeing why it makes sense to be drug free!

    Posted by Eric McCaslin on 10/24/2016

    As kids growing up and as parents of young kids we are always faced with the choice of drug use.  Often times we hear all of the scare tactics as to how drugs will ruin our lives, but sometimes the simple argument for why we should not use drugs may be more effective in helping us make good choices.

    THE SCIENCE OF IT ALL

    The simple answer comes down to brain chemistry. 

    Every brain and every person has their own unique brain chemistry that impacts their overall happiness.  Some of us are naturally happy, some naturally sad, some irritable, some full of energy and some calm and relaxed.  Many of us are right in the middle.  Everything that happens to us in life and all the choices that we make have an impact on our brain producing different chemicals and thus further affecting how we feel.

    In addiction counseling we call this the Pain-Pleasure Continuum (see below):

    Pain-Pleasure Continuum

    Most of us on a daily basis feel somewhere in the middle and periodically go up the scale a little towards the pleasure end as well as sliding back down a bit towards the pain end.

    That can be impacted simply by normal physiological things such as:

    How much sleep we get

    What we eat

    Exercise

    Inury or Illness

    This can also be affected by environmental events in our life like:

    Getting yelled at

    Doing poorly at something (bad grade, losing a game, forgetting to do something important)

    Overload, worry and stressing too much

    Any number of things can cause our brain to produce chemicals that can also affect how we feel.  One of those chemicals is called dopamine, and it is a chemical that brings a positive feeling to our minds and bodies and helps us feel overall pretty good.  When we exercise regularly, eat right, get plenty of sleep and do well at the things that are important to us we generally feel pretty good.  When we get a 100 on a test, score the winning goal/basket, have someone us pay us a huge compliment, or do some kind of activity that is super exciting our brain produces an extra amount of this chemical dopamine.  Some may say it is like walking on air, having a bounce in our step, smiling from ear to ear ... you just feel extra good and it is naturally produced.

    Alcohol and other drugs can have a similar affect on the brain, except they produce the chemical reaction without the use of dopamine.  Prolonged use of an artificial substance to create positive feelings tricks the brain and so the brain stops producing as much dopamine naturally.  Over time with drug use, we start to spend more time on the pain side of the Pain-Pleasure Continuum because of this lack of dopamine production and because of the consequences that often come along with drug use (i.e. bad grades, getting in trouble, hangovers, forgetting to do important things more frequently, etc.).  

    Because we have an internal desire to feel good/happy, the brain starts to develop a physiological/psychological addiction to do some thing to feel good.  Often times for someone using drugs this becomes an urge to use more drugs (or to party more).  Unfortunately, as this type of activity increases our dopamine production decreases and we continue to feel worse and worse.  To add to it, we often stop doing the normal, natural activities that brought us joy to begin with because we have replaced those activities with hanging out with friends and partying (or using drugs alone) and because we often don't feel up to doing the old activities we used to enjoy.

    Our brain continues to fight to convince us we have it all under control and so we then try to rationalize (or make sense of) our choice to not do the old things and why we want to do the new activity of using.  This is when we really start to fight the battle of addiction.

    MY PERSONAL CHALLENGE

    I share with many a lifelong battle with a brain chemistry that is a little more mellow than others, and sometimes easily depressed.  The upside to the way my brain works is I am pretty cool and calm in a stressful situation because I don't typically get fired up too easily and don't have much anxiety about things.  However, I also have a hard time getting going sometimes (just don't seem to have the energy or motivation to DO anything at times).  This can lead to not getting the things done that I want to get done and the frustration that comes with that.  Those little failures get internalized and affect my feelings of self worth.  I don't have it as bad as some people do for sure, but I have had to struggle for years since I was a kid with staying motivated (avoiding procrastination), saying positive things to myself and making positive decisions for myself that help me to be happy. 

    On a small scale one of these battles is eating vs. exercise.  I LOVE TO EAT!  I love foods that are yummy and not always healthy.  Unfortunately, this also leads to me feeling uncomfortable (from over-eating, or feeling unhappy with my body image) and this makes it hard to motivate myself when it comes to exercising.  However, when I do exercise there is a noticeable positive side effect. 

    My personal challenges have been much bigger than foods, and it has certainly been a long journey to where I am today.  Now through positive self-talk, exercising and eating healthier, I am more able to battle the challenge of depression.  I am finding that the more positive challenges I take on, the easier it is to live a happy life and find new thrills and things to look forward to.  Life can be challenging, but the reward that comes with fighting through our difficulties and overcoming obstacles is far more rewarding than any temporary fixes that leave us a little empty.  In addition to feeling better personally, making positive life choices also improves our relationships with others and provides us with more rewarding interactions with the world around us.  With every right choice we make our potential for happiness grows exponentially.

    I hope that you will accept the challenge to seek natural highs from life!  I am happy to discuss this further with you so we can look at our stories and see what we can do to overcome the world around us and begin to find way to get the most out of it.

    Best wishes for being the AWESOME person that you are (especially on the inside)!  If you are hiding that person lets work on letting the world see your AWESOMENESS!

    For more details from the experts, check out the drugabuse.gov website and look for "Understanding Drug Use Addiction":  Understanding Drug Use Addiction

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  • I like vegetables ... the importance of a positive attitude and mirroring it for your children!

    Posted by Eric McCaslin on 10/3/2016

    I like vegetables ...

    Actually, I never did like vegetables growing up.  I fought with my parents, sat at the dinner table for hours sometimes 'until I finished my veggies', and had some what I thought were 'near death' experiences when being forced to eat certain vegetables.  I know that some of what we like and what we don't when it comes to eating is based on our genetics, but most of us know that it is also based on what we grow up with and what else we are allowed to eat.

    Determined to be more successful with my children, than in my own personal eating history, I had plans to be a good example and stay positive on the subject of vegetables in the house.  I have had many failures in raising children, but this is one area that has been a success. 

    My kids (12 and 15 years old at the time of this posting) both like lots of vegetables.  They don't love every vegetable, but they have always been willing to try new things, and have ended up with willing and diverse taste buds.  During this journey, my wife and I were always positive about vegetables.  We were excited about them (even if we were pretending).  We celebrated vegetables and undersold sweets.  We limited sweets and extra sugars and praised how good different things taste when we keep a balanced diet.  We also ate our veggies (my wife loves them anyways, but I have had to develop my appreciation for them over the years).

    We have tried our best to have this attitude with many other things and for the most part when we do, it translates over to our children.  School is another example of this.  By celebrating learning, the opportunity to be challenged, the times when we struggle and overcome, and by supporting our children's schools and teachers, we have helped them to have a positive mindset towards school.  Obviously it helps when both parents work in schools, but for the most part I think we have been able to instill in them a desire to learn new things (even when it is hard to do so).

    We haven't celebrated cleaning the house, and I can't begin to tell you how much of a struggle that one is :) 

    So, I hope this helps you to either feel supported in what you are already doing or give you some inspiration to work on changing mindsets in your house.  Do your best to model positivity, resilience (the ability to respond favorably when things go wrong ... to rebound), and a willingness to try new things happily (we like to call that 'alacrity' in my house).  In that spirit, here is one of my favorite youtube videos:

    I Like Vegetables by Parry Gripp

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  • Why have a page called 'Be Awesome!"?

    Posted by Eric McCaslin on 8/25/2016

    BE AWESOME!

    Awesome!  I use this word frequently because it has really made an impact on me as I have grown over time.  I became a counselor because for many different reasons I struggled emotionally growing up and made a bunch of mistakes on my way to a future.  The story is super-long, but essentially I was very lucky to have enough positive influences in my life to be in a pretty good place today.

    Essentially, the Me who I am today has evolved greatly from the Me who I was in the past.  I have learned a lot about what it is like to struggle with - confidence, love for oneself, and fear of failure.  I have seen in my own life and in the lives of people that I have worked with how strong the forces are that can pull us down.  I have also seen that most of the time the strongest force that affects one's life is that which exists in one's own mind.

    What we believe and how we approach our daily lives, for most of us is the greatest predictor of how our lives are going to go. I believe that when we seek to do our very best in all that we try, that when we seek to find a passion for life and a purpose for living, and that when we face our fears, that we are able to experience a level of happiness that is immeasurable.

    But ... the above can be scary, exhausting, uncomfortable and demanding. 

    It takes huge amounts of courage and bravery (as well as a leap of faith) to make the choice to give all you have to the above, when it is likely possible that their may be many failures along the way.  So, why do it?  Why does the marathon runner do it?  He/she most likely does not like the pain of training for a marathon, or the time spent away from friends and family, or not being able to eat a bunch of junk food ... but they do love being able to say that they have run 26.2 miles. 

    There is accomplishment that comes from setting high expectations and then reaching your goals, that feeds your soul.  I think the fine print in everything is learning to see the mini-accomplishments along the way (to recognize the learning and the process involved in striving for a goal).  We must be able to be demanding of ourselves and supportive of ourselves at the same time.  Just as we would want others to treat a loved one, we must do the same for ourselves.  Take pride in a job well done, acknowledge mistakes and promise to learn from them, be accountable to others and apologize when we don't handle something the way we should, fall down ... get back up.

    Get rid of the need to be comfortable and you will find growth and learning.  This is a very tough thing to do.

    In the end for me Being Awesome!, makes the world a better place.  Beautiful, Great, Awesome things should enhance the lives of all around us.  Our diversity adds to the wonder of the world.  Each person has a story and if we seek it we can find Awesomeness in one another.  Be Awesome with humility, encourage others Awesomeness and believe that they have it in them.

    Singing, playing an instrument, high level mathematical calculations, speaking Spanish are currently not on my list of things that I am Awesome at, but I appreciate it very much in people who have a passion for those things.  I believe I could learn how to do those things, but currently I am working at being Awesome at loving others, leading youth and showing people how to love and respect one another.  Being kind and keeping other people's viewpoints in mind at all times is not as easy to be Awesome at as some might think.  I hope that I can inspire students to be passionate about life and to allow that passion to fuel all that they do (career searches, family planning, academic goal setting).  Why not have an Awesome life by doing what you are passionate about doing?

    Thank you by the way to Kid President for inspiring me with his Awesome campaign, and helping me to define my life plan a little bit clearer.

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