Category: Teens

Teenagers, Freshmen and Finances

by Jennifer DeSarro

First of all, what do you know about money, specifically yours?  As a psychotherapist, I’m amazed by how little most people know about their own finances.  Yes, most people know about sales that stores have, it’s better to pay off your credit cards monthly rather than carry a balance, etc.  But, ask people about a budget, what percentage they save, spend, or put away for long term, and their eyes glaze over, or, worse, they say, “My wife/husband takes care of all that”. 

Recently I read an article from LearnVest, June, 2012, about managing money and budgeting, which was a quick and easy read, to the point, and just perfect for today’s teenagers who are short on patience since everything they do occurs sooo FAST!  They use a 50/20/30 rule of percentages to teach people how to manage their money which basically says 50% of your take home pay is used for what are termed Essential Expenses, 20% of your take home pay is used for Long Term Savings, and the last 30% of take home pay is for Lifestyle Choices.  And, wait, not so fast; begin amassing a 6 month emergency fund using 1% of the 30% Lifestyle Choices money.

It was the last part that some of my 30 something patients and couples in counseling thought was so helpful, and I’m sharing it with you, hoping it will help your new college freshman long before they reach the ripe old age of 30!  So, exactly what constitutes an emergency?  As one of my young male patients asked, “Finding out only 2 months before my friend’s bachelor party will be in Las Vegas and how can I say No?  We’ve been friends since camp!”  Or the wife of a couple asked, “Can I buy this fabulous lace dress for a wedding we’re invited to that I know his ex-girlfriend will be attending also?”

Unfortunately, neither of those two scenarios constitutes an emergency, albeit that it was obvious how important the causes were to the two people.  Emergencies, according to LearnVest are only any of these 5 occurrences:

1: job loss and you still have to support yourself; 2: especially if you live here in South Florida, major auto repair or purchase of at least 2 new tires; 3: a dental or medical emergency; 4: emergency home expense, like a flood or loss of A/C & you must get a hotel for a few nights; and lastly 5: emergency travel costs, for death or sickness.

Most Millenials take a dim view of what is being said here, saying things like, “Are you kidding?  I’ll never have a life if I don’t get to dip into my emergency savings every now and then!”  And ironically, both parents of teenagers or those with college aged kids and/or these same Millenials say things like, “Well, if any of those things happened, we’d pay for it” and/or “If any of those things happened my parents would take care of it”.

Does this sound like you or someone you know?  Don’t worry you aren’t alone.  Teaching our kids how to become self-sufficient is one of our most important jobs as parents, if not the most important one.  Allowing them the space and opportunity to struggle through and eventually conquer the issue (their finances) gives them a chance to feel the pride of overcoming an obstacle, finding a solution for a difficult problem, and is the stuff self-esteem is made of.   Plus, you as the parent will know you’ve successfully raised a person who can become a contributing member of society.

So Moms and Dads, as your kids are getting ready to go to college at the end of summer, have you sat down and discussed in detail their monthly budget?  Or, even better, do they have a summer job prior to leaving for college and have you discussed what to do with the money they’re going to earn?  Maybe utilizing this summer’s paychecks would be a good way to begin practicing the 50/20/30 rule. 

What do you think?  How do you feel about teaching your kids how to take care of themselves financially?  Can you do the same for yourself?  Do you do the same for yourself? 


Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

Boomerang Kids and Learning to Manage Money

by Jennifer DeSarro

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, finances are a frequent topic in counseling sessions.  I am usually surprised at how many young adults, middle aged and older adults have very little concept of how much money they earn, how much they’ve saved, what their credit scores are, how much debt they carry, and the effects those things have on their lives and relationships. 

If you follow my South Florida Family Counseling Blog and/or LifeMeisters, you know that last week I wrote about how Millenials lack the concept of money management.  That’s partly because their parents have bailed them out of any financial mishaps they’ve created.  I know that because as a psychotherapist, I’ve heard many, many of my patients tell me that if they were ever strapped for cash, they’d go to their parents, and I’ve heard many, many parents report proudly that they have and would comply.

This dynamic is further complicated since according to a New York Times, (Opinion, 6/8/14), 56% of 18-24y/o are living at home with their parents and of those that are college graduates, “landing a good job at rising pay is even more difficult as each new group of graduates joins a backlog of unemployed and underemployed college and high school graduates, dating back to the class of 2008”.

Actually, getting a college education is an expensive investment, and parents and students are looking for a return on their investment.  In counseling sessions I hear parents proclaim that once their kid(s) graduate from college, they can begin to enjoy the fruits of their own labors, take a vacation, even downsize the family home.  And then they find they can’t because their college educated kids move back home – what the Wall Street Journal termed Boomerang Children.

Parents come to counseling asking for directions, guidance, information and how to handle the inevitable struggles that take place as each person in the family attempts to adjust to new roles, living arrangements, and financial issues.  As a psychotherapist, I sit down with pencil and paper and help the parents establish a Plan for how they would like to manage the situation.  Their homework is to take the Plan home to their college educated children and explain it and implement it.  Usually the next appointment involves the parents and the offspring coming in to “work it out”.

And working it out is the operative term here.  There must be compromise on both ends.  Enabling adult children to live at home without time constraints is crippling, unfair, and leads to resentment and failure, no matter what the socioeconomic status is.  Parents, if you don’t or haven’t taught your kids how to manage their money, they will never be able to leave your payroll and take care of themselves because YOU have denied them that opportunity.  Being able to take care of ourselves, manage our lives on a day-to-day basis, make choices about how we would like our life to look and then successfully implement the necessary changes in order to achieve that look is what grows SELF-ESTEEM.

I am currently working with a 22y/o Hispanic female, and a 20 y/o white female, both living at home with their parents and both wanting desperately to move out, and because of the choices they’ve made and the economic environment of today, cannot.   The families are struggling with monetary issues as well as role confusion and living arrangements, like curfews, helping out in the house, personal and measurable space, and financial responsibilities.

Please follow along this summer as this is played out here as I’ll be posting about it regularly.  And parents, please log on with any ideas, comments, opinions or questions because we at LifeMeisters want to be a force for change.

Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

Prom Season 2014: How the Rules have Changed

by Jennifer DeSarro

It’s prom season!!!!  I can hear parents moaning and groaning as they’re reading this.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I was invited to speak to a group of parents (mostly mothers) at a local high school about what to do to keep our kids safe after prom, when we fully realize that many of our kids are already drinking and probably using or have used drugs?  They were referring to the dreaded: After Party, the party or parties after prom is over because they just don’t want it to ever end. 

The After Party happens like this: several kids split the costs of reserving a room or block of rooms at specific hotels where they’ve learned from previous participants that management is lenient.  These hotels have large rooms or suites with kitchens or kitchenettes, and students wander from room to room socializing, drinking, dancing, etc.  Usually, someone was responsible for snacks, although not a lot of food, someone else thought to download music, and the partying continues until morning when the kids either wake up and go to breakfast or stagger out of the hotel and come home to “sleep it off”.

And what wasn’t asked, but should also be a part of the question is sexual activity. In both family and private counseling sessions, I’ve heard many high school boys and girls declare that they plan to lose their virginity on prom night because they don’t want to go away to college as virgins, and, besides, it’s “prom”.

It used to be the culmination of the senior year, a first of its kind formal or semi-formal event for 17 & 18 year old adolescents, a time to “practice” social skills, adult manners, formal attire, etc.  Now the entirety has become a rite of passage and the anxiety on the part of many parents is overwhelming.

So, here are some suggestions:

1 (a) Plan with the school a 12 hour “after party”.  Some schools have private buses pick the kids up at midnight when the prom is over and chauffeur them back to school property where the entertainment begins.  In the gym, kids change their clothes into more comfortable attire, usually shorts and flip flops, and for the girls, hairdressers and makeup artists are on hand to touch up makeup and comb out or redo hair.  From there, the options are limited only by financial constraints and could include psychics, photo booths, a DJ, plenty of food and drinks, local radio hosts or professional athletes, movies, and prizes to win as well as competitions and other games.  Breakfast is served in the morning and the party is over at noon. 

 (b) Due to specific regulations, some of these after parties have become private affairs and moved from school grounds to off site areas, with kids being loaded on waiting buses and driven to top secret places for an all-night affair to remember, chaperoned by parents.  These are not hosted or sponsored by the school but are privately held parties and the costs are shared by kids attending as well as adults sponsoring.

(c) Still other parents agree to host a party at their home with the strict rule that all car keys must be handed over to the parents and are not surrendered until the morning.  These parties for obvious reasons are smaller gatherings and by invitation only, kids are invited to sleep over, teenager friendly informal food is served and breakfast in the morning.  Parents are present but at a discreet distance.

(2) Talk to your child several weeks in advance and ask them for their plan to keep themselves safe after prom.  Stress the term safe and safety as your primary issue because teenagers at this age want to grow up so badly and be treated as mature adults.  Having a plan and providing for one’s own safety is an adult responsibility, and now you are going to lay that responsibility in their laps.  Listen carefully and ask questions respectfully about what they’re saying with the understanding that the frontal lobe of the brain, (where higher executive thinking, problem solving and judgment) does not completely form until the age of about 25 y/o.

(3) Remember, in a very short time, this adolescent will be out of the house and doing this on their own without your guidance or input.  You will gain some insight into their thinking and perhaps this will serve to allay some of your fears when they are away from home. 

Something I tell parents in family counseling is that teenagers are learning; they aren’t supposed to be perfect, especially since no one is.  They’re supposed to make mistakes.  As parents, we hope that the mistakes they make won’t be irreparable.  Have a clear message that if they find themselves in trouble, in over their heads, or have made mistakes, they can call immediately, no questions asked.  It’s much easier to be called at 3AM to pick up your half-drunk teenager, than by the hospital ER Staff.  It is their safety that is most important to you as their parent.

Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

How’s it going w your TWEEN?

by Jennifer DeSarro

Recently I was invited to speak at a local middle school PTA meeting about the top 3 things your middle school child wished yo,u as their parents, knew but would never tell.  We talked about that, and then along the way, the main topic was how your children are supposed to be developing at this critical stage in their life.  I’m not using the term critical to suggest it’s any more critical a time period than any of the other time periods; simply, they’re all critical.

According to one of the renowned Developmental Psychologists, Erik Erickson, children pass through a variety of Developmental Stages which he called Psychosocial Stages.   As a Family Therapist, we loosely apply this framework in counseling mothers, fathers and children in order to help them accomplish their goals.  Parents cannot be expected to know this information, unless they’re also psychotherapists, and since I just spoke about this the other evening and summer is just around the corner, I decided it would effectively address both important subjects, all at once.

Simply, Erikson said from the age 6-11y/o, children need to work through and successfully integrate the developmental task of Industry vs Inferiority.  This time period is characterized by the onset of school, spending more time out of the home and away from parents and learning to adjust to less close supervision, self-regulate, and learn academic skills.  Their worlds become enormous almost overnight!  For these particular middle school parents, the vast majority of their children have made that transition and either have accomplished this task or are on their way toward it.

Coming on the heels of this developmental stage, is the one defined by the ages of 12-18y/o, and entitled Identity vs Role Confusion, in which adolescents begin to create themselves, as they’d like to be.  Most of the parents who attended have children moving out of the earlier Stage and moving into this Stage.

In order for us to become all that we can become, we have to be given the tools and the opportunity.  Remember the words “all that we can become”, because having only one or the other, or being restricted in various ways from them will not prevent us from growing into adults, it will merely stifle the growth of what our children could become.

How can we as parents augment and facilitate this process?  Because, after all, we all want our children to grow up to become the very best they can be, right?  The answer is easy; if you give your children a manageable amount of space, not the whole world, with secure and flexible boundaries, the majority will flourish. 

The reality is different because what happens is that we, as parents, get in the way and impede their process.  I’ve overheard parents, when their child is offered a new food, say things like, “Oh, he won’t like that” or when their child looks at them when offered a new food, the parent says, “You won’t like that”.  And it’s said in such a way as to allow no room for any other idea than that. And guess what, they don’t try it so they don’t know; at least not then.

Which brings me to the end of the post; what are your kids doing right now in school?  What are their plans for this summer?  Summer camp, whether it be for 14 days, 4 weeks or 8, is one of the best arenas for this development to occur.  There is enough balanced structure, a wide variety of activities to “taste”, appropriate monitoring and mentoring, and the kids are away from our scrutiny.

So parents and kids out there – what are your plans for this summer?  Can you give your kids a little bit of string and let them see how far they can make their kite soar?  Can you envision the look in their eyes as they recount everything they became this summer?  Please log on and let us hear from you, because we at LifeMeisters want to be a force for change.

Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

Boundaries vs Entitlements: Where do “I” end and “You” begin?

by Jennifer Desarro

In Family Therapy, one of the most often heard cries of parents of teenagers is, “My teenager is driving me crazy,” or “I don’t know what to do with them,” or “How come there’s no manual for how to deal with your teenager?”  By now, I’m sure everyone has heard or read about the 18y/o New Jersey teenager, Rachel Canning, who sued her parents for what she determined to be her “entitlements”.  Her parents, on the other hand, fought back saying they expected her to abide by their rules in their home.  Rachel moved out to live with a friend whose parent has bankrolled her legal counsel in order for her to sue her parents for child support as well as future college tuition and expenses.

As a Family Therapist, I am well acquainted with this scenario, of how and where to draw the line with teenagers.  In fact, when families of teenagers seek counseling this is one of the main issues; Boundaries.  And in the Developmental Process, this is an expected part of Adolescence, which Erik Erikson termed Identity vs Confusion.  It’s when a teenager begins to form their own personal identity and this involves experimentation with different clothing styles, music styles, friends and acquaintances, and social behaviors.  Sometimes, these “experiments” can be frightening and worrisome to parents (and their teenagers too!); many of them are necessary in order for teenagers to “Individuate”, to become adult human beings.  Many a parent in my office has “held their breath” while allowing their teenage son or daughter their own growth experience.  If parents clamp down and prevent any divergence from what they consider “acceptable”, teenagers will either wildly rebel or submissively comply which then prevents or interferes with their own identification developmental process. 

Adolescence in general is a tumultuous time for everyone, as any parent and teenager will tell you.  It is a hormonally charged period in the teenager’s development characterized by tremendous ambiguity, indecisiveness, and mood swings.  Simultaneously, they are literally being bombarded by influences which the typical parent is no match for, nor is their teenager.  Because of technology, the teenage population has access to so much input of all different kinds, from all over the world, and in so many different forms, it’s dizzying, which adds to and exacerbates the emotional unrest.  Plus, and not unimportant, for marriages, this is one of the times of the highest incidence of marital difficulties and divorce.  It’s not unusual in Marriage Counseling for couples to blame their children for the marital problems.

I heard someone this week refer to Rachel as the latest Teenzilla.  Someone else remarked it’s just the latest example of how today’s teen are so ENTITLED.   But, probably the smartest thing I heard said this week was from the Canning family’s attorney, Angelo Sarno, who said that this case should never have seen the inside of a courtroom; it should’ve been worked out inside a counselor’s office; aka, Family Therapy.

Bingo!  And, that probably should’ve begun when their daughter was 14 or 15 years old, because this situation didn’t get this way overnight; it was The Perfect Storm, brewing for a while, long before their daughter turned 18 & left home.   According to newspaper accounts, Rachel moved out of her parent’s home October 30, two days before her 18th birthday, rather than break up with her boyfriend, as her parents required.  Leading up to this time, Rachel had been suspended from school, was demoted as cheerleader captain, had been caught drinking, culminating in her parent’s requirement that she break up with her boyfriend because they believe he has an unhealthy influence on her.   Now, combine that with her parent’s recent separation and subsequent reconciliation; what do you imagine the environment was like in her home prior to her parent’s deciding to separate; warm and loving, or chaotic and tense?  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

So Moms and Dads out there – what do you think?  Does any of this ring true for you?  Please log on and share your ideas because we at LifeMeisters want to be a force for change.

Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

Parenting Teenagers…

by Jennifer Desarro

A single father of a 13y/o boy just called my psychotherapy office last week asking me for HELP!  This man originally sought marital counseling with his ex-wife (the mother of this 13y/o boy) many years ago, before and during the time his wife was pregnant.

The judge awarded the father primary and residential custody of their little boy who was probably 3 or 4 years old at the time of their separation and divorce.   “David” (a made up name) has an older half-brother (mother has an older child from a previous marriage) who has been in residential treatment for behavioral issues, and while incredibly bright and intelligent, has a history of poor academic performance as well as in school and legal difficulties.

The father reports that his son is performing at a mediocre level in school with the majority of his grades being C’s, and he is capable of doing much better and scoring 5’s on his FCAT testing.  He says,

“It’s the attitude; I don’t know where he gets that attitude, not from me, and not from around here.  He says mean and hurtful things to my fiancée who has been incredibly good to him.  I tried to tell him in a reasonable fashion that I really love this woman and want to marry her; his response was so hurtful to me that I grounded him because I believe he deliberately tried to hurt me.   I took his cell phone away as well as his computer when he got home from school so he wasn’t able to “socialize” with his friends after school and since he had no access to his computer he had to do all his homework at the dining room table the “old fashioned way”.  All week he nagged and nagged me about when could he get his phone and laptop back and/or was in a foul mood.  I felt like I was being punished!”

Sound familiar? 

I invited the Dad to come in to see me and his response was an incredulous, “Me?  Not him?” 

You don’t know how often I hear this from parents; they aren’t the ones with the problem it’s Junior!  Often parents come in for appointments and bring their son/daughter for me to “fix”.  They tell me that if it wasn’t for Junior, everything would be perfect, their marriage, their family life, their mood, you name it.  In Marriage or Couples Therapy we call that Scapegoating.  It’s very common for couples to unconsciously distract themselves from their own relationship issues by focusing on their kids behaviors.

Now, this is not a generalization nor meant to be a blanket statement.  It takes a skilled Marriage counselor to listen carefully for cues and clues, what is spoken as well as what is left unsaid, observe body language, and occasionally ask the “right” questions.

And that’s what I’ll be doing next week, when the father of this 13y/o boy comes in to see me. 

Additionally, I’m very, very glad he called; glad for him and his relationship as well as his son.  Everyone and everything stands the best chance at a good outcome because he is seeking help.

How about you?  Can you relate to any of this story, does it sound like anything that happens in your home or family?  Please let us hear from you with questions or comments, because we at LifeMeisters want to be a force for change.


Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

What do your teenagers know about S-E-X?

by Jennifer DeSarro

Last Saturday, in a family counseling session, the father of an 18y/o boy who was getting ready to leave for college was discussing his expectations regarding his son’s performance while away at college.  His son is hoping to be accepted into the business school at the university he’s attending at the beginning of his junior year and his overall GPA must be very good, like minimum 3.8.  Todd (not the son’s real name) is exceptionally gifted and graduated in the top of his high school class.  He’s one of the most confident teenagers I’ve ever met.  He waved his father’s concerns away with his hand and told him how he was going to have a 4.0!

I asked him if he was all packed and if he’d brought condoms.  He smiled, and as his parents gasped and turned all shades of red, he looked at them with delight in his eyes.

Moms and Dads, have you talked to your teenagers about SEX?  How do you feel about my question?  How do you feel about sex and teenagers, especially your own teenagers?

In family therapy, teenagers often ask to speak to me as individuals, privately, and usually it’s about sex.  As a licensed psychotherapist, I’m not allowed to break their confidentiality, unless they are in real or imminent danger and having sex is not necessarily dangerous.  They’re anxious to know when they can have sex, what is a good age, are they normal, what to do during the act of sex, are they weird to be scared, will they ever have sex, what if they’re in college and are still virgins. 

What I’ve found is that even today, 2013, most teenagers I meet whether in counseling or personally, receive very little information from their parents.  They get most of their education from their friends, just like we did “back in the day”, and online, which sometimes can be a good source.  However, what most teenagers don’t know is that sex is not only about the act of.  And I believe, that’s up to parents; so here are a few tips: 

According to Mayo Clinic, there’s no one way to approach the subject, but being open and honest, providing a platform and atmosphere that makes your teenager feel comfortable asking will go a long way.  So, whether you’re asking your teenager to decipher the words to the rap song he’s listening to on the car’s radio, or watching a TV show/documentary about teenage behavior, seize that opportunity as a launching moment; just be sure no younger siblings are around, and, it may be easier for your teenager if you’re the same sex as he/she is.

Being open and honest & providing a comfortable atmosphere means that if you are uncomfortable, say so, explain why, (unless it’s inappropriate for him/her to know at this time) and tell your teenager you’ll find the courage to forge ahead with them because it’s that important.  By saying that to your son/daughter, it lets them know that you, their parent, consider the subject and them important, not something to be taken lightly or degraded.

It also means listening to them in a thoughtful, serious and non-judgmental way.  Much, much more than you did, they are bombarded with sex, social media, TV shows, music, Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s; you get it.  How you handle this time with your teenager will have far reaching consequences to them about their feelings about themselves, their own sexuality, and their future.  So, while it’s important to impart your values to your children, it is equally important that if they differ from you, they know they will be accepted by you.

So, parents, what have you done in the past that has seemed to work?  Any suggestions you’d like to share, because we at LifeMeisters want to be a force for change.

Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

Teenagers Part 2

In Family Therapy, one of the most difficult challenges for most parents is what to do for and about their children, more specifically their teenager!  It is a time of tremendous upheaval within the family and therefore stressful.  In this post, I’ll give you some ideas as a psychotherapist to help you cope with this time period.

Let’s assume your teenager is 14y/o, boy or girl, sometimes it doesn’t matter, and they’re just starting high school. 

Try to remember back to when you were their age.  Remember the feeling of being BMOC (Big Man or Woman on Campus) as you left middle school?  You were the rock stars of middle school, big time eighth graders!  Remember looking at those little 6th graders, who’d just graduated from elementary school, shock and awe written all over their faces?

Now, your teenager is going to be one of those same kids, starting high school!  And the stories they’ve heard, the movies and TV shows they’ve watched, have all served to scare them, because it’s so-o-o-o not cool to show you’re scared, overwhelmed, and unsure of how you look/appear to older high school students.  The campus is larger; the environment is completely different than the semi-protected environment of middle school.  And, 17 and 18y/o teenagers are very, very different from 14 year olds; much more different than 13-14 year olds were/are to 11-12 year olds.

As a Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist, I counsel from a holistic perspective; meaning that I utilize the mind and the body with the environment in helping my patients address and resolve their issues.  So parents, combine the physiological changes occurring in your child’s body, (which are almost completely out of their control) with these real life events and many others, and we have the makings for real fireworks!

Now, please Mom and Dad, if you haven’t already, take a deep breath, maybe two or three, and I’ll try to put some perspective on this time period and help lighten its impact.

As little children, our jobs were to protect them because they could not protect themselves.  We held their hands as they crossed the street, teaching them to look both ways for cars before crossing.  We encouraged them to take risks, try new foods and a new sport, to learn to ride a bike without training wheels and ask another child what their name was or introduce themselves.  And there came a day when we took our child to school and left them there and came back and picked them back up.  They learned that they could trust us to come back and not abandon them; they survived it, and they will again. 

In the same way you expected your little one to come home from school with new information they’d learned, whether it was the names of the children who sat at their table and who would be their new best friend, or the names of all the capitols of the 50 United States, that’s why they were there.  And this time too is the same.  They didn’t always get all the names of the capitols correct, and they made many “best” friends; some for a day, a week or have lasted until now.  They made some mistakes, fell down and got back up, skinned their knees, hurt their feelings, and tried not to cry.  Adolescence is a time of making mistakes.  Let me say that again:  ADOLESCENCE IS A TIME FOR MAKING MISTAKES.

Now is the time when you must choose your battles.    

Sit back, hold onto the arms of your chair, give them some space, and keep your eyes and ears open. 

Walk the tightrope of paying attention without prying or controlling. 

Watch and listen.    

Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.


As a Family Therapist, I’m often confronted about how to handle teenagers; the kind that rolls their eyes, sullen, disrespectful, you know the kind.

To begin with, developmentally now, adolescents MUST begin to form their own unique identity.  Remember when they were first born and you noted that they had their father’s eyes and their mother’s nose, someone else’s feet, etc?  As they got older perhaps they showed an affinity for art or music or were athletically inclined, much like other members of your own families of origin.  And you accepted all of that because it was familiar.   That was part of their physical development.  They must now form an identity in this family which will be their very own.  This is a necessary part of their Psychosocial Development.   It’s the struggle for self-identity which Erik Erikson, a renowned child developmental psychologist termed Identity vs Role Confusion.  As they are doing this, it will not look pretty; like learning a new dance, they will be awkward, out of step, and sometimes fall.  And that too is normal. 

They are beginning the transition from childhood to adulthood (I know, I can hear you saying, “It can’t come soon enough”) and trying to discover, define, and decipher where they fit in.  They will try on different behaviors, clothing styles and friends  in order to accomplish this.  This struggle and it is a struggle, can be difficult for everyone, including parents, siblings, and especially, them, your teenager.  And what most parents struggle with in counseling is whether or not to “draw the line” and if so, where. 

So take a deep breath and understand that this is “normal”, and if they aren’t doing it, that’s another subject.    As a means of definition here, this article is not intended to include kids who have already become acquainted with the juvenile justice system.  That is also another subject. 

There are different ways teenagers can begin to exert their independence from us and all things authoritative, meaning that the way your friend’s kids do it compared to your kids could be very different.    

There are some kids who will become closed off, secretive, withdrawn.  They may lie in order to avoid allowing their parents into their world, fearing further loss of control.  They may look or sound sullen, almost angry; and they may very well be.   If the family is going out to dinner, this teenager may or may not come along.   At Thanksgiving dinner, they may remain in their room until dinner is served, eat dinner at the table quickly and then leave or, serve themselves and want to bring a plate of food into their room to eat alone.  If they have a TV or computer in their room, that’s where they’ll be rather than in the living/family room where everyone is watching TV. 

There are other kids who will become loud or louder, yelling, cursing, or argumentative.   Your son/daughter knows it’s their job to wash the dog every two weeks, and they promised to bathe Fido last weekend.  It’s now been 3 weeks since the dog was bathed last & it’s starting to smell.   If you bring up this subject, your teenage daughter becomes belligerent, complaining loudly, “Why can’t you just hire an f’ing groomer like everyone else does”, and grabs poor Fido to begin the bath.  Or, you’ve told your 14y/o teenager that if he wants to attend a party, you’ll need to know where it is and call the parents to be sure they’ll be at home, which sends him into a tailspin, bellowing that you are the WORST parents ever and you are ruining his life, as he slams his bedroom door..

Does any of this sound like your house?  Stay tuned for some suggestions to ease the (agony?) growing pains going on in your family and log on and let us hear from you, because we at LifeMeisters want to be a force for change.


Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

Giving Life Tools to our Teenagers

As a Marriage and Family counselor, I have a patient in my office; I’ll call her Sonia, who originally sought counseling because her 54 year old husband suffered full cardiac arrest one evening in their bedroom.  He was kept alive on mechanical ventilation until their two daughters could arrive, one from NY the other from out of the country.   It was a shock and heartbreaking and she reported that her younger daughter (studying in Manhattan) sat silently at her father’s bedside, holding his hand with tears streaming down her face.  Today, Sonia is concerned about her younger daughter, a 2012 graduate from a small, private university in NYC, who is 23 years old and just resigned from her job (after 3 months) at a PR firm in Manhattan because of being berated by her boss.

She is worried that her daughter does not know how to survive in life.   She describes her daughter as innately bright who didn’t have to study hard in school, as compared to her older sister who compulsively studied to eventually become her senior class’ Salutatorian.  Sonia, who describes herself as “controlling”, has always done everything, accepted everything, and questioned nothing when it came to her younger daughter.  When her daughter needed a science project in 8th grade, Sonia had the older daughter design it for her.   When the younger daughter’s grades weren’t as expected, Sonia and her husband did nothing.  Specifically because of those poor high school grades, she was not accepted to any universities, including state schools.  But, she dreamed of going to college in Manhattan, so Sonia and her husband paid for that to happen, rather than allowing their daughter to experience the consequences of her actions.  In her childhood, she paid for her daughter to actively participate in a very expensive, neighborhood voice and dance school which required large amounts of time, energy, and money.  Today she truthfully admitted that her daughter never tried hard so was always relegated to the back row of every performance.  

When her daughter called her 2 weeks ago, hysterically crying about being mistreated by her boss and wanting to quit her job, Sonia described the subsequent conversations as her daughter seeking her “permission”.  In fact, at times in their multiple conversations about her daughter’s job, her daughter remarked, “I don’t want to disappoint you.”  Sonia wasn’t sure that what her daughter interpreted as being mistreated wasn’t justified frustration by her boss of her daughter’s poor work ethic.  She remarked that her daughter’s work schedule was 9:30AM-6:00PM and by 6:02PM, her daughter would be calling her saying she was on her way home. 

When I asked Sonia why her daughter felt she “needed” her permission, because, after all, it was her daughter’s job, not hers, she was puzzled by the question and did not have an answer.  Now, her daughter is “living the life” in Manhattan, and her mother is supporting her.  Therein lies the answer to the puzzling question of permission; if her mother gives her permission to quit her job, she will then have to support her 100% in Manhattan!

What I’m wondering is, if anyone out there sees anything flawed in this scenario?   June is fast approaching, the traditional month of high school and college graduations; have we as parents conveyed to our children that they are supposed to take care of themselves and be productive, participatory members of society?

We at LifeMeisters want to be a force for change and welcome your questions, comments, input.

Stay tuned for more on this subject and many others.

Jennifer DeSarro is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. Her experience emphasizes Marriage and Family Therapy utilizing a Biopsychosocial approach, as well as Individual counseling and coaching, Elder care and Parenting training.

Decision-making Teens? How?

by Karen Meister

I know… It’s an oxymoron.  Teenagers don’t make decisions and when they do, the decisions are often times not quite what feels comfortable to the adults in the room.  But this is very normal and age appropriate.  It has been shown that the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later than the amygdala which is responsible for instinctual reactions including fear and aggressive behavior.

When it comes to summer planning, the inability for a teen to make a decision really throws a terrible monkey wrench into family planning.  I know how many of you have shared this frustration with me.   We want our teenager to be happy, because his or her happiness really does result in a much more calm and pleasant household.  The Catch-22 of course, is that, as adults we want to plan out everyone’s summers, get organized so everyone is coordinated and then continue on our lives throughout the winter and spring.  But alas… the delightful teenager has plans of sitting on the couch this summer, won’t do anything without a friend, is waiting for John to make up his mind, and Cathy gets to go to Europe and you don’t want your teen to go there.

So what is the magic to get a teen to make decisions?  And plan your summer out successfully for the whole family?  There really are three steps to help teach your teen to make sound decisions, but before you start them on this training course, you have to be prepared for the process.  So as the parent, you must:

  • set parameters within which you are comfortable,
  • be prepared to support the decision your teen ultimately makes, and
  • know that although it may make you a bit sad to let go of the control, you are really making the best investment you can ever make in your future adult.

The next steps are as follows:

  1. Identify the conflict that needs to be resolved.  So for example, you want your teenager to spend a portion of his summer doing something productive.   Verbally spell out the conflict and end with a question: “What do you think you could do?” or “What are your options?” Help your teen list a few that he may not think of, but don’t do this task for him/her.  When it comes to summer programming, you can contact Karen Meister at Camp Experts and Teen Summers and do a little pre-screening of programs that fit within your parameters and suggest the teen speak with the consultant.
  2. Encourage your teen to think through each option.  The best way to practice this skill development is to do it on paper.  So back to our summer example, there are many options including working, going to a summer program, taking a summer class, family vacation, etc.  Each of the different options have pros, cons and time constraints.  And as part of a family, supporting the “no man is an island” philosophy, the pros and cons also include interaction with family.  For example, if the family vacation is planned for July 4 – 14, this knowledge can be shared with the teen so they can make decisions around the parameters you have set.
  3. Allow your teen to make the decision.  Once the options are researched and pros and cons analyzed, allow your teen to make the decision.  Although you may have felt his best use of time would have been to do a pre-law program at a University for four weeks, a family vacation for two weeks, hanging around for two weeks and a sports program for two weeks, he/she may have very different ideas.  Within the parameters you have agreed to up front, he may choose to attend the family vacation, but work in the local ice cream shop and earn some money.  You may have some “cons” of having your teenager home for the whole summer with only 4 hours every other day occupied with a job, but as agreed up front, you must set the parameters and allow your teen to decide.

One thing I have learned, that truly is a successful teacher to teens, is there is no better way to learn what you don’t want than to be able to make the decision yourself and then live with the consequences.  And Mom and Dad, when your teen says — my summer is so boring, it is hot in South Florida, why didn’t I go away…. never ever ever say “I told you so!”  Simply smile and say, “Maybe next summer, when you get to choose again, you may make a different choice.  We are proud of you for making decisions.  We love you!”


Karen Meisterin partnership with Joanne Paltrowitz, works with the international consulting firm, Camp Experts and Teen Summers.  Feel free to contact Karen for complimentary assistance at or 305.931.KiDS or 305.931.5437.  Thousands of families have received confidential and complimentary guidance to select the best camp and teen programs from around the world.  Karen is also the Founder of the LifeMeisters.