Kids and Smartphones

In the November 6, 2017 edition of Time magazine, there is an article: We Need to Talk about Kids and Smartphones authored by Markham Heid.  I displayed this article in my waiting room. I’ve had so many parents comment on it, I decided to post the tips from the article.

  1. Keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms.

There is strong data linking bedroom screen time with a variety of risks-particularly sleep loss, says David Hill, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Even among adults, before-bed media use is associated with insomnia.  And kids need more sleep than grownups. Taking away a child’s phone at bedtime can be a battle, but it’s worth the fight.

  1. Set online firewalls and data cutoffs.

It’s unrealistic to expect teens to stay away from illicit content or to moderate their social-media use, says Frances Jensen, chair of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania.  A young person’s brain is wired for exploration and to some extent, thrill-seeking- not restraint.  Most devices and internet providers, as well as some apps, offer parenting tools that restrict access to problematic content and curt data use.  Take advantage of them.

  1. Create a device contract.

This is something you create with your child that details rules around their device use,” says Yaida Uhis, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA and the author of Media Moms and Digital Dads. These rules could include no smartphones at the dinner table or no more than an hour of social media use after school.  If a child violates the rules, he or she should lose the phone for a period of time.

  1. Model healthy device behaviors.

Just as kids struggle to stay off their phones, so do parents.  And if you’re a phone junkie yourself, you can’t expect your kids to be any different, says, Jensen. Apart from putting your own phone away while driving or mealtimes, it’s important to recognize that your kids see what you put online.  If you’re criticizing another parent on Facebook or slamming someone’s political beliefs on Twitter, your kids will follow suit.

  1. Consider old-school flip phones.

Or try a smartphone without a data plan.  This may seem like overkill for some parents-especially those of older teens.  But unconnected phones still allow teens to call or text, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of iGen. And kids can access social media or videos from home computers and tablets during their free time. But when they’re out in the world, they won’t be tempted with all-the-time access to screen-based distractions.

Marital Infidelity…another look.

In the November 6, 2017 edition of Time, there is a book review by Belinda Luscombe. The review is entitled, Affairs are only human, which is no excuse to have one.  Ms. Luscombe reviews the book, The State of Affairs by controversial couple’s therapist and TED Talk star, Esther Perel.

Be aware, I did not read this book.  This blog is about some of the comments Ms. Luscombe made in her review about marriage and affairs. Also, be aware, my comments today are not intended to minimize the pain anyone has felt by an affair or to justify having an affair. After I read the review, I found myself thinking about Ms. Luscombe’s comments, over and over. I decided to share my thoughts.

Ms. Luscombe quotes the author: “Sometimes, when we seek the gaze of another, it’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person WE have become.”

I find this comment to be so true from years in my office. The person who cheated commenting that their infidelity is not who they are, is not what they believe in. Yet, there they sit; “How could I have done this!” they say. I believe them. (Yes, I’m sure I’ve been duped at times.) The person’s comments speak to the unconscious ways we change as we age in marriage as we engage in our primary relationship, creating a life with another person, raising kids, responding to all the different challenges we face as we get older. Any married person will attest to the fact that when you say “I do!” you agree to a multitude of things you have no idea will occur. Likewise, most people say they know who they are and what they stand for.  Yet, a lot of people have affairs and I believe this is, in part, due to a loss of connect with who we TRULY are, what we are truly capable of (given the right circumstances). One of the reasons we lose this connection is because we WANT to live up to proper, mature behavior and we forget we are human and will fail at times. Our society only promotes being in control, in charge, perfect and socially appropriate. It DOESN’T promote acknowledging faults or failings, much less discussing or learning from them.

What can be done to address this?

1) Recognize you are not as invulnerable as you think!

2) Examine your life….on an ongoing basis. Think about how you act and how you SAY you’d act in such situations. Frequently, I will ask after someone admits to doing something childish or immature, “Is that the man/woman you want to be?” Often, the answer is no, and then the follow up is “What is the man/woman you want to be and how can you be that person the next time this situation occurs?”

3) Establish a support system, such as one or more confidential and mature individuals, you can talk to HONESTLY about your behavior, thoughts, impulses, etc. and get feedback from on your behavior. A therapist would also fit into this group. By using such, you can keep an eye on the person you are becoming and try, when necessary, to make changes to be the person you want to be.

Another point in the review: “The simple question at the heart of committing to somebody till death is whether you can value that person’s needs ahead of your own.  The answer is often no…. because we’re only human. But to love is to make the attempt.” I truly believe that; that to love someone one, truly love them, one must let them make the decisions they feel is best and in doing so, recognizing that such a decision could mean that they could/might leave us….causing us untold pain.

This “love” is NOT being “in love”, that initial phase of a relationship when you believe the other person is perfect and wonderful and you simply can’t live without them. The love that is being referred to above occurs when you resume living life with your partner and they still have their own hopes and dreams, beyond the relationship. The challenge in truly loving them means surrendering any holds you have on your loved one and letting them decide what is best to do with those dreams. This is why most movies, in the US, are about falling in love versus life thereafter.

The review ends with a poignant statement: “Perhaps the greatest value of Perel’s book is as an invitation to resist judging other couple’s marital car crashes. A failure of fidelity can be less an opportunity for gawking and more a chance to applaud those who spin out but decide to keep aiming for the checkered flag.” Interesting!

“The Day the Earth Stood Still”….Contemplating Divorce

I recently (re-)watched this film.  I watched the remake with Keanu Reeves and John Cleese.

In the film, the alien (played by Reeves) has a conversation with a physicist (played by Cleese).  Reeves has just explained that he/his race will kill all the earth’s inhabitants because humans are killing the earth (in addition to each other).  Below is their dialog.

I ask that you read this with the idea of a couple contemplating divorce in mind.  Think of the Reeves character as a marital therapist or that part of a person who doesn’t want to divorce.  Think of the Cleese character as the couple, responding to Reeves.


Reeves:  “Your problem is not technology…it’s you.  You lack the will to change.”

Cleese:  “Then help us change.”

Reeves:  “I cannot change your nature.  You treat the world as you treat each other.”

Cleese:  “But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually.”

Reeves:  “Most of them do not make it.”

Cleese:  “Yours did. How?”

Reeves:  “Our sun was dying.  We had to evolve in order to survive.”

Cleese:  “So, it was only when your world was threatened with destructions that you

became what you are now.”

Reeves:  “Yes.”

Cleese:  “Well, that is where we are now.  You say we are on the brink of destruction

and you are right, but it is only on the brink that people find the will to

change.  Only at the precipice do we evolve.  This is our moment.  Don’t

take it from us.  We are close to an answer.”


Obviously, I don’t threaten couples I see with destruction and there are those couples that divorce is the best option.

The gold in this dialog is the fact that the people must be willing to change to avoid divorce…but further, that married life demands that each person change…evolve…become a different person if the marriage is to succeed.  People expect the therapist to change them.  We can’t do that.  We can only help them look at themselves, what they are considering doing and what the possible consequences of the decision to divorce, in an attempt to help them decide if divorce is the best move.

Another important point in this conversation is that the only place where one finds the motivation to avoid divorce is on the brink of divorce.  Not uncommon in life…to find life’s answers in the most inconvenient places.  It requires that we, each of us, have the maturity to not react to life but to think our way through it, even in its most painful of time

The Attitude of an Adolescent Boy

A few weeks ago, a mother brought her 14 year old son in to see me.  The presenting concern is the boy’s oppositional behavior, i.e., arguing over chores and not being as respectful, getting a couple “F’s” recently, staying in his room a lot and plays video-games “all the time”. He’d stopped inviting friends over and recently, when angry, he’ll hit a wall, putting a hole in it.  She did report, however, that he does keep his room clean, catches the school bus every morning and has been staying out of his room when asked without arguing.

The parents are divorced and both remarried. The son lives with mom primarily (and stepfather and 2 full siblings).  He visits dad (and stepmom and 1 step-sibling) once a week and every other weekend.

The son is the oldest of the children in both, his mother’s and father’s homes.

The father is described as impatient and easily angered. The step mother is also described as controlling; she is said to be “in-charge” of their household. The boy does not display the oppositional behavior at his father’s as much as at his mother’s.  The boy complains that at his dad’s, he is expected/made to do more chores than his step-sibling.

The mother reports she tends to worry too much about her kids; “If they have a problem, then I have to help them fix it. I don’t want them to fail.” She acknowledges she tends to “nudge” him to do things too much.

The mother believes their divorce was/is hardest on her son, of all the children, because of his having to go back and forth between the two households, the different atmospheres in the two different homes, the fact that he just began high school and the fact that she (mom) is pregnant.

There were no signs of depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, etc.

After discussing the situation with both, mom and the son, I made a number of suggestions:


To the mother:


  1. Stop “nudging”. Ask him to do something once, maybe twice. If he does it, great! Thank him. If he doesn’t, give a (natural and logical) consequence, non-emotionally, and move on.


  1. His problems are not your problems. I understand your want for him to succeed but he can, will and needs to fail….at times. This is how we learn.   It is never easy to watch this?  It is never clear when to intervene in a situation when your child is struggling.  But if you know you “nudge” too much, back off!


  1. Speaking of “nudging….ask him if he wants a reminder to do things when you see he’s not done things that he is responsible for. This reflects you are trying to show him respect. Also, ask him how he wants to be reminded and try to remind him that way.


  1. Acknowledge/praise when he does things when asked and when he does things without being asked.


  1. Consider his developmental stage. His body is growing tremendously right now; sexually, physically, etc….and he feels this. He is not accustom to feeling the physical strength he feels right now and he doesn’t yet know how to channel it yet.  Further, our society/media tells him he should be “in control” of all situations at all time.  So, his body is telling him he’s a mess (when he hits a wall when he is angry) and society is telling him he’s a mess as well (because if he was really in control, he wouldn’t let his mom tell him what to do…..Yeah, Right!) .  So, grant him some leeway.  Punching a wall is never acceptable but an occasional verbal outburst can be overlooked if you feel he is trying.

He needs education on how his body is making him feel, how this feeling is effecting how he acts and on how to channel these actions.  For                      example, you let him cuss in his bedroom, nowhere else in the house but just his bedroom. While I have some reservations about this method, I              suggested you gently remind him of this when you see him getting mad, encourage him to go to his room and yell and cuss until he calms down.           Also, consider you and he sit down, brainstorm some other ways to help him express his emotional energy physically when he’s upset….like                     riding his bike, shooting hoops, running, working out, etc.  These are excellent ways to channel one’s anger/emotions.

  1. When you say “No”, you needs to be firm and rational with him. If you are emotional, indirect or wishy-washy, he will begin to learn that women, important women in his life, are like this and will not learn to respect their responses. Fast-forward 3 or 5 years, he’s on a date and suggests doing something sexually; it is my belief that if he has had a strong/firm woman in his life, he is more likely to respect that “No”.


To the son I suggested:


  1. If you are taking the anger you have for your dad out on your mom because she’s an easy target, stop it! That’s like beating up the class wimp because you got bullied by someone else at lunch. How do feel about yourself when you bully your mom, especially when you are mad at your dad or step mom.


  1. I will do role-plays with him in session….helping him to stand up for himself and present his point, reasonably, with his parents/stepparents. Learning to speak up for one’s self is a learned skill. Yet, part of this skill is accepting “No” when that’s the answer.


  1. I listen to him in session and have him re-word what he is saying to his mother in more adult language. This will help develop the skill I spoke of above and get him in touch with how selfish he can appear as he examines how he thinks and speaks presently.


  1. I told him punching a wall when he is mad is NOT ACCEPTABLE behavior for a young man. I’ll ask him how he feels about himself every time he looks at the hole and explain that our behavior can strongly effect how we view ourselves. If we are in a tough situation and we handle it well, we will feel good about ourselves even when we did not get our way.


More later……

What’s the matter?

I recently sat with a couple struggling with communication.

He said she gets mad when he asks her how she is doing. She said he’s always asking her “What is wrong?”

This is very common amongst couples and it speaks to critical differences between men and women.

For the women:

You need to understand most men are like puppies: We are scared to death of you and yet we want to please you.  He doesn’t understand you and is afraid that he did something wrong that made you mad. If you don’t know, men like to be in control. But he is not where you are concerned.  When he does something wrong, frequently, you will not say it directly (for fear of being seen as a bitch) but you let him know by your looks or actions.  This freaks him out because he doesn’t know what he did wrong and you won’t say so he is left guessing and out of control. Going back to the puppies comment….he wants to please you and is scared to death of you (If you don’t understand this, imagine what it might be like to live and sleep with an angry woman.).

So to resolve all this, he asks, “What is wrong?” This question, by the way, has “man” written all over it: It is direct; It is focused on the problem; It is action oriented (Let’s figure out what the problem is to solve it.), etc.

For the men:

The problem with this comment, however, is that it implies there is a problem and that the woman has it. Women don’t like this….they don’t want their man, or anyone, assuming they have a problem. Further, if there is a problem, most women assume that you should know what the problem is because we talked about it… at some point in the past.

What to do:

Men: STOP asking “What is wrong”! Engage her in another way, “What are you thinking?”, “How are you feeling?”, and “What is your mood?” Further, accept the fact that she may be mad but she may not be mad at you and even if she is, she has been mad at you in the past and you didn’t die.  Talk with her about it. If you forgot to do something, admit it and go on.  That won’t make you less of a man and you are not the first man who has forgotten for do something and this won’t be the first time you forget something in your life with her. Further, if you did what you thought was right, say that. You have a right to stand up for yourself and your decisions. If you tend to forget too much, you need to take responsibility for this.  Many men have to write things down about agreements with their spouse about important things, i.e., how to do the laundry, etc.

Women: Tell him directly what is bothering you and/or what he did wrong. Be aware that the aforementioned puppy analogy exists. We are concerned if you are mad and we don’t want you to be mad at us.  Be aware that men can’t always tell the difference between your angry face and that face you have when you are concentrating.

A Therapist’s Guide to Arguments with your Spouse

Recently, I had a couple come in. They’d been arguing….a lot. We discussed a number of aspects about the dynamics of communications between couples that I think were part of their problem.

In most couples, there is usually one person who wants to discuss an issue to its completion, win or lose. They are the “Approach” person. Their partner however, usually prefers to avoid a fight. They are the “Avoidance” person.

Approach people have been known to follow the Avoidance person throughout the house, trying to continue the discussion/fight.  They have also been known to provoke the Avoidance person to get them to engage in the fight, so they can finish it. They may also bring the topic/issue up again and again, in hopes the fight will be finished.  The Avoidance person is known for walking away from the Approach person; literally, in the middle of the discussion/fight. And they continually walk away from the Approach person if the Approach person follows them around the house.

What to do:

First. This is a common dynamic in couples. This is NOT an indication that they two people are fundamentally incompatible as a couple. In fact, some therapists suggest the “one approaches/one avoids” dynamic is more stable than both being avoiders or approachers.

Second. I suggest they agree to take a break when one or both feel they are getting too upset in the fight to listen to what their partner is saying. This usually is toughest for the approach person. Either person can suggest this…taking a break.  If the avoider is always the one to suggest it, the approacher may feel the avoider is just using a break to avoid the fight. So, I suggest both take on the responsibility to suggest taking a break.

Third. There is a right way to take a break; most reports doing it the wrong way when they first come into my office. The proper way is (something like): “I need to take a break.  I am going to go outside for about 30 minutes. When I come in, I will find you and we will decide if we are both at a point where we can continue this or if we need more time to calm down before talking.” Don’t just walk off. Most couples need to practice this when they are not fighting to be able to do it when they are fighting.  Yes, you will feel silly practicing this; but who said you would not feel silly doing a lot of the things we have to do in life?!!!

Fourth. Guys generally are physically bigger, stronger, have a deeper voice than women.  Women, on the other hand, generally, can think faster, talk faster and talk longer than men. Consider these aspects (how they play out) in your relationship. If you are the man and the Avoider, do you use your size to intimidate her to back off?  Does she then need to scream at you to get your attention?   If you are the woman and the approacher, do you overwhelm him with how much you say, how fast you talk, etc. Does he withdraw because of how overwhelming you are?

Fifth. Consider your partner’s background. If your partner has told you their mother/father used to yell a lot or if they have told you that they don’t like yelling, if you really want to communicate with them, you must not yell or raise your voice. Conversely, if your partner tells you your father/mother never stood up for themselves or if they have told you they want you to be honest with you and speak up, walking away from them during a fight or discussion because you are uncomfortable is not going to help the relationship.

Sixth. When I was in my twenties and thirties (and married), I was not mature enough to make myself stop/take a break during fights. What helped me learn to stop/take a break was years of seeing the consequences of my persistence of making my point in a fight…. my ex-wife withdrawing from me for hours and days. After a while, it began to dawn on me that that was not what I wanted (….but by then, I had done considerable damage to our relationship).

If you are having difficulty taking breaks during fights, perhaps you don’t see the damage you are doing to your partner and your relationship. Or perhaps you don’t care if you hurt your partner or damage your relationship.


More later…

My Therapist is a Bartender!

I read Men’s Health magazine periodically.  In the October 2017 edition, on page 32, is the “Jimmy the Bartender” column.  It is an advice column; guys write in with common questions and Jimmy responds.  Sometimes, there is really good advice in this column; like this month.  Two questions; one from Stuart, one from Alan…..and good advice from Jimmy.


“Whenever I do the laundry, my wife says I do it wrong.  When I don’t do the laundry, she says I don’t help out.  What the hell?Stuart, Huntington Beach, CA

This is one of these smoldering-ash deals that can rage out of control and burn you alive.  Do you and the wife speak the same language?  Then ask her for laundry advice.  Yes, you’re still the man.  If an argument ensues, whatever you do, do not win it.  Because if you win that battle, you also win a lifetime of dirty laundry.


Is a text to Mom as good as a call to Mom?  It’s better than nothing, right?Alan, Portland OR

No, actually it’s not.  It’s worse than nothing.  Just pick up the phone, dial the number, and ask about her flight to Kalamazoo or her best friend’s niece’s baby shower.  Make “I’m listening” noises.  That 10 minutes of you taking an interest costs you 10 measly minutes.  And that’s a damn small price to pay for having such a cool mom.

A Therapist’s Guide to Dating

As I have mentioned before, my internet homepage is MSN.  Recently, they posted an article, “10 Questions a Woman over 40 should ask a Guy on the First Date”.  It is a great article; so much so, I decided to repost it.  I re-named it because I believe these questions need not be just for men or women.


  1. What are your short and long term goals in life? Basically, the question is looking into whether or not this person is a planner or “flies by the seat of their pants”.  Further, it gives insight into whether they are a spender or saver.


  1. What are your political viewpoints? What do you believe in?  Here, one is looking for similarities in your (in-part political) viewpoints.


  1. Do you have any religious or spiritual practices? The strength of this person’s convictions is as important as the nature of said beliefs.  Is this person extreme in their beliefs?  Are they accepting of your beliefs?  Are they going to insist you convert to their beliefs?


  1. What qualities do you value in a partner? What are you looking for?  This is a good questions to identify what motivates this person; are they looking for honesty, physical health, physical beauty, emotional security or comfort, etc.  Similarity in motivations is an essential in a successful relationship.


  1. What is this person’s views of family and relationships? The quality and/or lack of relationship is key here.  Does he have friends?  Does she have regular contact with family?  Does he/she spend too much time with either?


  1. What does he/she expect from a partner? Are they looking for a maid?  What are their reactions to your description of your expectations of a partner?


  1. How do they show affection? In private?  In public?  Does the style match your preferences?


  1. Do you have any health issues? As we get older, one’s health becomes a major issue.  Imagine traveling with this person; would their health preclude that?  Could they take a walk with you?  Down the road, how might their health effect retirement; will you become their primary care giver?


  1. What do you do in your free time? This points to how active they are, the variability of their interests and how their interest would fit with your interests.


  1. How have your previous relationship ended? Listen carefully for what is said and/or not said. Did they own any of the circumstances that lead to these relationships ending?  Do they avoid this question?


Dating, as an adult, post-divorce, is not easy and frequently not (as much) fun as we hope.  There is so much more to consider when considering a mate than when we were 16 or 17.

I think this is a good set of questions when considering a person as your future partner but I would not recommend you ask all of these questions on the very first date!  They would feel exhausted and interrogated by the end of the night.  But the answers to some of these questions bleed over into answers to other questions so you may not need to hit every one to get a good sense of who you are considering.

Good Luck

Life after a Narcissist

Recently, a woman asked about how to let go of memories of her painful relationship with a narcissist.  The relationship had ended 6 months ago but she reported haunting memories that caused her to lose sleep, interfere with her concentration, appetite, and social interactions.  She asked for suggestions.

Aside from initiating counseling and addressing such directly, I also suggested the following:

Identify some items you have that symbolically represent these memories/aspects and perform and exercise.  Collect these items and decide on a way to destroy them, i.e. burning them.  Then prepare them to be burned as you burn them, notice ANY hesitation you have before you burn them.  If you do, stop the process and spend time right then thinking and writing about why you hesitated.  This hesitation reflects that there is a part of you that wants to hold on to these (painful/haunting) memories or aspects of the relationship.  You then need to ask yourself WHY?  Why do you want to hold on to this thing(s) that are painful to you?  What are you getting from it?  This is then something you need to discuss with your therapist.

The narcissist is sick/unhealthy.  Yes, we know this but we all have unhealthy parts.  And, our unhealthy parts and the narcissist’s sick parts can, at times, fit together.  The fact that they fit together is not a sign that we are pathological.  What we do with the fact that our parts fit into the pattern of the narcissist’s part is to learn about them (through discussion with a therapist) so that, in the future, you are more aware of these parts and can safe guard them the next time you are contemplating starting a relationship.  A classic example of this is the young woman who is intrigued by the “bad boy”.  After a number of broken hearts, she learns that she has to watch out for that type of guy and avoid them.

Things to consider…

“Discuss Ex-Etiquette before the Wedding”

The following article was recently in the Quincy Herald-Whig, (August 13, 2017).  In my therapy practice, the interactions with ex’s is a constant pressing concern.  This article presents this topic with very good principles and examples.  Worth a read, if you have an ex and children with that ex.

“Discuss Ex-Etiquette before the Wedding”

By: Jann Blackstone

Tribune News Service

Question:  My husband recently took his son on a backpacking trip.  It’s a family tradition that I thought was going to stop now that we are married.  When they returned, I found out that my husband’s ex-wife’s father and brother also went along.  I feel uncomfortable with my husband continuing to associate with his ex’s family.  I feel like they are always comparing me to my husband’s ex and what they really want is for them to reconcile.  This infuriates me!  I want my husband to stop! What’s good ex-etiquette?

Answer:  OK, there are a ton of red flags here.  To begin, although intellectually, most understand the parameters of co-parenting, when it comes to their own new relationship, all reason goes right out the window, and they revert to high school – “You can’t talk to her, she’s your ex.”

That mentality is completely impractical when your new partner has a shared custody plan.  The kids go back and forth between parents and extended family play a huge part in the child’s life.  Good ex-etiquette is based on the needs of the child, not the needs of the new partner.  Reframe these relationships – the child has a tradition of going backpacking each year with his dad, his grandpa, and his uncle.  Your husband broke up with his child’s mother – that’s the relationship changes.  New partners should not expect their partners or their partner’s children to cut off ties to the former extended family because of their personal insecurities.  This should have been discussed before marriage and clear boundaries established from the beginning.  In other words, you should have known what you were getting into before you signed the marriage license.  Your husband has a child.

Granted, it was awful ex-etiquette to keep the backpacking trip a secret – you should have been in on the planning, the more transparent, the better.  (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8, “Be honest and straight forward.”)  But it was apparently keep a secret because you’re openly having a problem with your husband continuing these relationships.  If he’s lying to you it’s because he felt like he had to make a choice – ask him to choose, and you will lose.  Your husband has a child.

In regards to feeling that you’re being compared to the ex and “I feel like the extended family wants a reconciliation…”  Any time you start a sentence with “I feel like…” make sure it has something positive following those words.  Otherwise, you’re reaffirming a negative expectation and undermining your own impact on this relationship.  Dad married you for a reason.  Reinforce that.  Don’t get wound up in a battle for position.  Work toward no preconceived notions – a clean slate for each meeting, holding no grudges, no spiteful behavior.  (Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 5, “don’t be spiteful” and No. 6, “Don’t hold grudges”), and giving that little boy the best life you can.  That’s what, “Put the children first” means.  (Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 1)  He didn’t ask for the divorce, and since you joined the club, your responsibility is to help, not hinder.  That’s good ex-etiquette.