counseling

My Letter to College Admissions Officers

The recent college admissions scandal has generated lots of discussion. I chose to focus on the point that I know best as a mental health counselor- this process is taking a toll on students’ mental health.

Dear College Admissions Officers:

I write this letter from the perspective of someone who works with lots of high school students and sees how your acceptance process leaves students perplexed at best and suicidal at worst. I started undergrad 18 years ago and sure there were times when I felt frustrated during the process but I still got to be a teenager. In my downtime I’d listen to Jewel’s latest album, go to movies with my friends, and watch Dawson’s Creek. My admissions experience was quite a simple one because of the privilege I was afforded. So why am I concerned?

I am concerned for the mental health of our students. Do you know that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision making, planning, and judgement, starts developing at age twelve and isn’t fully formed until mid-late twenties? The excessive scheduling of sports, music lessons, and tutoring means either a still-functioning teenage brain has to manage that OR a parent steps in. When I was in high school, the “talk” was to find something you’re good at. I liked writing so I did that and I also liked helping people so I volunteered at the hospital after school. Now, it’s simply not good enough to have one thing you’re good at, you must have many. You must be popular but kind, athletic but well-rounded, make good grades but also volunteer and if you’ve already founded your own nonprofit or learned four languages then WOW! Is that picture that I just described really attainable? Where is there time in that picture for self-care? For the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep? For time to connect with friends and family that doesn’t involve a screen? 

I don’t know if you realize this but the competitive nature of college admissions means that students now associate asking for help with failure and struggling with a mental illness as a sign of weakness. When I missed school because I was sick, I’d call up my friend on her land line and asked her if I could I borrow the notes that I missed in class. During 11th grade, two of my closest friends tutored me in calculus because I was so confused. Do you think that same mentality happens now? Sometimes yes, but I think you would be shocked to hear that students don’t share their notes now because “tough luck that person was sick. They should’ve stuck it out like I did.” Can you imagine how it feels to be struggling with depression and feel totally alone because society tells you it’s a weakness? Don’t you think that everyone would benefit if there wasn’t this mentality of “taking away from me in order to give to someone else?” 

Not that you’ve asked but I’d love to offer you some possible essay topics for those applications of yours. 

·     What do you do for self-care?

·     What would you give up for someone else?

·     If a camera crew followed you around all day, would they see that you are the bully, the bullied, or a bystander? If you are a bystander, would they see you stand up for the kid who’s bullied or turn away and act as if nothing happened because it doesn’t affect you directly?

If you ever want to trade places for a day, give me a call. I think you’ll find the issues facing teens today very eye opening.

What does a healthy relationship look like?

Our teens learn about relationships from what they see around them which includes adults in their lives as well as through the media. Too often, movies and shows portray love in a way that is unhealthy. So what does a healthy relationship look like? To answer that question, I’ve turned to one of my favorite resources, One Love Foundation. Here are their 10 signs of a healthy relationship:

-Comfortable pace

-Trust

-Honesty

-Independence

-Respect

-Equality

-Compassion

-Taking Responsibility

-Loyalty

-Communication

For more information, check out the great resources listed on their website here: https://www.joinonelove.org/signs-healthy-relationship/

What we can learn from Children's Books

Some of you may not know this but I’m self-publishing my first children’s book this spring which celebrates different types of families. The world of children’s book authors, illustrators, and readers is a special one and I spent most of January checking out some great books. Below are some of my favorite children’s books that have special messages for all of us.

Moon by Alison Oliver- Moon is the story of a young girl who forgets what it’s like to be wild and free. She has a strict schedule of school, homework, music lessons, and tutoring. Her schedule resembles many students I work with. In this beautifully illustrated book, Moon meets Wolf who shows her how to be playful and spontaneous. This story reminds us all the simple pleasure of play and the amazing sense of freedom that can come from being present in the moment.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson- There are many reasons to feel different. This book reminds us that it’s hard to take that first (often vulnerable) step to let others get to know us.

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros- It can be hard for children to understand what happens to family members and other loved ones who are affected by dementia. This book helps to explain what happens to memories by using balloons as a metaphor.

Isle of You by David LaRochelle- Adults, teens, and children can all relate to needing a place that helps take your mind off of school, work, and other worries. This book combines creativity and guided imagery to take you to a special place when you are feeling sad, mad, or worried.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall- This book celebrates being true to yourself despite what others may think or say.

Support your local independent bookstore by checking out these great reads!

Using Winter as a Time for Self-Reflection

Do you hibernate in the winter? Is your goal each cold, rainy (or snowy) day to leave school/work as soon a possible and find comfort in your sweats and blankets? While it may be true, that we retreat indoors when the weather is blustery, it doesn’t mean that there’s not ways to reconnect. Use these dark days of winter as an opportunity to self-reflect and reconnect with yourself. Not sure how to do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Organize/re-organize your bookshelf. Chances are you’ll read a book or partly read a book then shove it on the shelf. What if you find a book that you’ve never read? Or perhaps a book that is your favorite and want to read again?

  • Start a puzzle. Adults often forget the power of puzzles. Not only can they be relaxing but they also involved spatial awareness and creativity. Puzzles can also be communal. Leave your puzzle out on a table in the middle of your house and watch as other family members pass by and complete a few pieces along their way to the kitchen.

  • Try a new recipe. Perhaps you love to cook and you’ve got all of these great food blogs or chefs you follow on Instagram. Find a new recipe to try. If you are not the cook, maybe now is the time to learn a simple meal or bake a simple treat.

  • Get crafty. Whether it’s with a hot glue gun or a needle and thread, ignite your creativity and create something new. Much like cooking there’s a sense of satisfaction in having a finished product. If you’re really handy, maybe now is the time to check off the to-do list of repairs.

Why is it important for adults to take time to self-reflect, to inspire creativity, to try something new? Because it’s good for your mental health AND for those of you that are parents, it’s an excellent way to model for your children that connecting can happen without a cell phone or WIFI.

Go on and give it a try!

Setting Intentions instead of Resolutions

As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve heard people buzzing about their New Year’s Resolutions- sleep more, take more vacation days, lose weight, use social media less, etc. I’m not against making resolutions or setting goals but I’d like to reframe the way we talk about resolutions. In my mind, resolutions are lofty, abstract goals that are often hard to follow through with and leave people feeling bad about themselves. What’s fun in that?

I once had a student who came back from winter break and said, “I’ve made a resolution not to gossip anymore.” My response went something like this, “Wow, it sounds like you have a desire to be more mindful of how you talk about others. I wonder what your ‘no gossip’ resolution looks like. What’s your first step towards that resolution?” This student just sat and stared at me. I think she was hoping I’d say, “Congrats, what a great resolution.”

Why setting an intention is different? An intention encompasses many different situations and I think doesn’t leave someone feeling “less than” if their goal is not achieved. For example, let’s say your intention for 2019 is to be more present. Some days you might focus your intention to be more present at work, other days it might be with your family or yourself. You can also notice when you forget about your intention. “Man, I really zoned out at that parent meeting today. Next time I need to jot down more notes to help keep my mind from wandering.” I also like using the word “intention” because it’s flexible and adaptable and I think that’s important. No one can predict what 2019 might hold so by setting an intention you allow yourself that flexibility to accept what you cannot control.

Here’s to wishing you a healthy and happy 2019 and may your intentions for the year guide you to take care of yourself and others.

The Pressure of Being a College Athlete

Recently I read the book What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan that recounts the life and suicide of college athlete, Madison Holleran. I found it fascinating and couldn’t put the book down. Many of the comments that Maddy made throughout the book were reminiscent of what I’ve heard as a high school counselor- the pressure to perform, the allure of a name brand school, feeling trapped and unable to quit something that you don’t love doing anymore, etc. Reading this prompted me to dig deeper into research done specifically on perfectionism and college athletes.

Elison and Partridge (2012) published an article in the Journal of Sport Behavior that looked at the relationships of shame-coping, fear of failure, and perfectionism in college athletes. Their study found that female athletes tend to employ internalizing forms of shame coping (attacking self and withdrawal) more than males. One of the key highlights of this article for me was when the researchers said, “if shame is elicited by devaluation then shame and fear of failure can be lessened by reducing athletes’ perceptions that their shortcomings make them less worthy as a person” (2012). This got me to thinking how relatable that statement is to what I often see in terms of grades and personal value. Many students attach their self-worth to their grades. “If I get a B or a C, I am not a good person or unworthy” is often the negative self-talk going on inside their heads.

So how do we as parents and educators help? First, consider how you viewed your own success and failure? Did you tie your grades or success to your self-worth? If not, it’s important to share that with your child. You might say, “you know what I got lots of B’s or lots of C’s and while I might have wished they would’ve been A’s I also knew I tried my hardest.” You might also engage in a deeper discussion about personal values and how sometimes values aren’t measured by grades or trophies; they’re measured by how we treat people.

Know of a child or teen struggling with perfectionism or negative self-talk? I’d be happy to help!

Social Media as a Tool for Good

I first came across this article by Laura Clydesdale over the summer and then Girls Leadership posted it on their Facebook page recently and it reminded me that so much of the talk about social media to parents is that “it’s bad” and “something to be fearful of” and while the second statement may be true on some level, it can also be a powerful tool for good. I wanted to recap some of the points made from this article: https://girlsleadership.org/blog/help-girl-take-back-control-social-media/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=hq-fb&utm_campaign=0518-lc_rox-hq-tr&fbclid=IwAR1_vnM5DNLYBdsezPer9ZyJBhgHV2wED4NUF9gVG8ZXVgJSZed4CYXmnNE

A simple exercise that Dr. Lisa Hinkelman talks about involves asking your daughter 3 words to describe herself, 3 words a close friend might use to describe her, and then seeing how those words stack up to her image on social media. I might also encourage you as her mom or other loving adult to do this same exercise for yourself. What similarities do you notice? What are the differences?

So often, teenage girls (and adult women) want to portray what they think as the ideal. In real life, many teenage girls I’ve done this activity with have described themselves using these words: funny, kind, adventurous, athletic, creative, honest, etc. Those are all amazing qualities and yet with the exception of maybe adventurous and athletic, the social media profiles of those same girls don’t showcase their other attributes. Instead, with just the right filter and angle, their images highlight what’s on the outside, not the inside.

Need more help with some conversation starters about social media, check out: www.mediagirls.org for some great tips.

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman

An Attitude of Gratitude

Having “an attitude of gratitude” is a theme in the Girls on the Run curriculum. I have the wonderful opportunity to serve on the Board of the local Girls on the Run chapter. There are many themes throughout the Girls on the Run curriculum that I think can be applied to adults, children, and teens but certainly an attitude of gratitude is one of them.

A few years ago, I began a Gratitude Jar that I made myself using some ribbon, a mason jar, and cut-up pieces of card stock. Each day I wrote down one thing I was grateful for. One of the best aspects of this practice is seeing the jar filled with many things; some of them were repeated but after 6 months I opened the jar and went through everything I felt grateful for. Some of the tiny cards brought up memories that I had forgotten- a sunny day in February. I encourage you to try it out as a family; your children can even help in decorating the jar. It can become a bedtime ritual or a dinner conversation.

One of the many things that I’m grateful for is my work with children and adolescents. I’m grateful for the families who seek out my help and expertise and I’m grateful for the children and adolescents who trust me and open up to me. My work as a counselor is truly rewarding and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with so many families over the years and in the future too.

Let us express gratitude to each other in whatever way feels most authentic.

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman

What is Self-Compassion?

There’s this misconception that exists lumping self-esteem and self-compassion as one in the same. Self-esteem is often labeled as how we think about ourselves (often in comparison to others) and self-compassion is different; it’s how we treat ourselves. We might feel good about ourselves but what happens when you make a mistake? Think about a lofty goal you set for yourself recently. Did you reach it? If not, what was the language you used in your head? How did you treat yourself? For example, let’s say you’re a runner and your goal was to beat your time on an upcoming race. Race day comes and you don’t beat your time; in fact, it’s slower than you’ve ever run. In that moment, the wheel of negative thoughts might be circling in your head: “I failed,” “I knew I couldn’t do it,” “I’m too old/slow/fat, etc.”

Recently I listened to this TedTalk by Kristin Neff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4 where she talks about the three core components to self-compassion. Those components are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. When I think about self-compassion for myself and for the adolescents I work with this idea of common humanity really stands out. Common humanity is essentially the principle of knowing you are not alone. You are not the only one with anxiety, depression, frustration, hurt, disappointment.

In stark contrast, self-criticism does two things (among others). First, self-criticism releases high levels of cortisol to make you feel stressed and second, self-criticism leads to isolation. Self-criticism makes you believe that you don’t deserve to be around others and thus does the opposite of what is most needed in that moment. Self-criticism fuels one of the most vulnerable human emotions which is shame.

So what can be done to help our children and ourselves? I think the first step is to think about self-kindness being the words you would use to talk to a close friend. If your friend didn’t beat her goal time in the race, would you say to her “I knew you couldn’t do it.” No you wouldn’t. You’d probably sense her feelings of disappointment and might say something along these lines, “It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed about your time but think about all the ways you prioritized your training runs and what an accomplishment that was.”

Particularly for adolescents who developmentally are so focused on peer relations, teaching self-kindness through the mindset of “what would you tell a friend” can have a huge impact in shifting their negative thoughts away from self-criticism and more towards self-compassion. Rachel Simmons offers some valuable insights about how teaching self-compassion can help stressed out teens in her article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/well/family/self-compassion-stressed-out-teens.html

Know of a teen struggling with self-criticism? I’d be happy to help!

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman



Combatting Perfectionism

Let’s talk for a moment about perfectionism and the rise of perfectionism in our society today. What exactly is perfectionism? The simplest definition is the fear of making mistakes or the belief that making mistakes is unacceptable. Perfectionists also tend to be procrastinators- why is that you ask? Well if you have to make sure it’s perfect, then you might avoid the task altogether.

Having spent ten years in a school, I heard over and over again students who would re-write essays two, three times before turning it in because they had to make sure it was perfect. These students turned assignments in late because their first one or two attempts weren’t good enough. This example also demonstrates how perfectionists internalize feedback and how a grade less than an A signals a value judgement made about them. More often than not, if a perfectionist receives a “C” on an assignment, she’ll say “I’m not smart” or “I’ll never succeed” whereas a healthy response to receiving a “C” would say “I should ask my teacher where I could improve for the next time.”

What I’ve noticed over the years is that anxiety and perfectionism go hand in hand. A perfectionist has “what if” statements that control his mind. “What if I fail this class?” “What if I fail all my classes?” “What if I don’t graduate?” “What if I don’t get into college?” These thought processes create a spiraling effect where a student goes from fearing failing a test to that one test suddenly affecting the rest of his life.

So how can we as educators and parents help?

  • First, take a moment to notice in yourself if you are okay with making mistakes. When you make a mistake at home or at work, how do you handle it? Do you internalize it and allow it to make a value judgement? Model for yourself and for your children that making mistakes is okay. This is HARD work especially in a society that celebrates curated social media profiles and says, “Look everyone else is doing it so much better/easier/faster.”

  • Second, poke holes in the “all or nothing” thinking. If your child says, “if I fail this test I’ll never get into college,” poke holes in those fear statements. “I’m hearing you say that you are afraid this one test will affect your future and I’m wondering about the other assessments in your class that provide opportunities for you to show your knowledge in other ways.” You might also offer a moment of perspective taking and ask, “can you think of a time when you were afraid to take a risk? how did that work out for you?”

  • Third, adopt a growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s work talks about fixed versus growth mindset. What is a fixed mindset? Perfectionism is a fixed mindset. A growth mindset says, “this feedback will help me improve in the future” rather than “mistakes are to be feared.” Growth mindset encourages us to take feedback and apply it to what was presented/turned in versus internalizing feedback as a judgement on ourselves.

Interested in learning more about how changing thought patterns can affect perfectionism? I’d be happy to help!

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman