Teen Depression and Glee

Photo by: Glee on Fox

Yippee! Yahoo! Hooray! Glee is back for Season 3! And now that I have done my “research” for this post by watching the episode several times, I am ready to write something about the season premiere.

While I enjoyed the song selection, the number featuring Blaine, and the look of the purple pianos in last week’s episode, what really got me was the transformation of Quinn’s character.  It’s not just that I have a fondness for pink hair (I really do!), but I was both relieved and energized to see the writers doing something different with her character.  In case you don’t remember, Quinn has been through a lot in 2 years: she got pregnant, was kicked out of her house, gave her baby up for adoption, and had her heart broken by longtime boyfriend, Finn.  It was also revealed that she had a childhood history of weight problems and had plastic surgery as a youngster.  Finally, in this episode Quinn is appearing to deal with these events as many of us would: with psychological and emotional turmoil.

We have yet to learn if Quinn is actually depressed (dying one’s hair isn’t necessarily a sign of depression), but here are some things we can look out for as the season progresses to help us know for sure.  These are also good warning signs for the real teens in your life:

Change in interests.  Kids that used to love glee club, soccer, or chess may no longer be interested/find pleasure in these things.  It’s normal for kids’ interests to change over time, it’s concerning when the change is drastic and sudden.

Isolation.  Is your child spending more and more time alone in their room?  Is he turning down invitations from friends, or have the invitations stopped altogether? It’s time to step in.

Poor confidence.  Unfortunately, adolescence does a number on most kids’ confidence levels.  However, if your child seems to be suffering from particularly low self esteem, such that it makes it tough for them to do things (socialize, complete school work, try new things), it might be a warning sign.

Substance use. Many of us equate experimentation with alcohol and tobacco with the teen years.  However, if your child is using substances regularly (like once a week), it could be a sign that they are struggling with their mood and looking for ways to cope.

Changes in eating or sleeping.  Eating and sleeping too much or too little can be a warning sign that something has changed in your child’s psychological health.  Sleeping late one morning isn’t a big deal, not being able to get out of bed for 2 or 3 days is.

Irritability.  None of us are pleasant all the time, and it is a teen’s job to question adults’ decisions and figure out boundaries.  However, if your teen has recently become unusually irritable or angry, lashes out verbally or physically, or is unable to enjoy people and activities she used to because of the irritability, this could be a warning sign of depression.

Thoughts of harm.  If your teen even hints at a thought of wanting to harm themselves, or if you find any blogs/posts/tweets/updates suggesting a desire to die, stop living, or “end things” it is time to take action immediately.  It is better to be safe in these situations, so if you suspect your child is having suicidal thoughts of any kind, take them to the emergency room right away.


Glee Wins at The Voice Awards

Peter Krause was the host of the 2011 Voice Awards Photo by: SAMHSA

Have you heard of the Voice Awards?  Here’s a description:

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Center for Mental Health Services, the Voice Awards honor consumer/peer leaders who have played a vital role in raising both awareness and understanding of behavioral health (mental health and/or addiction issues) and promoted the social inclusion of individuals with behavioral health problems. Through their exemplary leadership and advocacy, they demonstrate that recovery is real and that individuals with behavioral health problems are valuable, contributing members of their schools, workplaces, and communities.

This year the focus of the awards program was recovery from trauma, and the ceremony was held last night.  While just a teeny bit disappointed that I didn’t get to go and cover the red carpet (dang it!), I am thrilled that Glee won an award for its portrayal of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  As a gleek, I couldn’t be happier for the show.  Check out my post on Glee’s portrayal of Ms. Pillsbury’s OCD.

Check out more of the winners at last night’s Voice AwardsMad Men, another favorite of mine, is among the honored.  Sally’s treatment with a psychologist may just be in my blogging future.

In honor of Glee’s award, here’s the trailer from their new season starting next month:

Kids and TV – What to Watch?

On a recent family vacation I was forced had the opportunity to watch TV with my kids more than usual.  I was appalled at what I saw.

My ideas about TV might be a little different than others.  I’ve written before that I let my kids (ages 5 and 7) watch Glee with supervision.  The sex, drinking, homosexuality and other mature topics don’t bother me.  Why?  Because my kids come across these issues in their everyday lives, why not be sitting right next to them when the topics arise?  Of course I have my limits.  For example, I recently thought it would be fun to watch Grease with my oldest.  Luckily I pre-screened the movie.  Though I have seen the movie literally hundreds of times, I never watched it through my “mom eyes.”  I’m so glad I did!  The constant sexual innuendos and smoking were just too much for a 7 year old brain to understand.  Maybe in a few years.

The TV programs on my Do Not Watch list are the ones dripping with disrespect and sarcasm.  Before my trip I thought I had screened all the kids’ shows which portray ungrateful, entitled youth.  Namely, the shows on the Disney Channel (i.e., Hannah Montana).  These and similar shows literally make my stomach turn.  The way the kids talk to their parents, siblings, and each other is shocking.  Sarcasm is such a nasty form of humor – do we really need to teach it to our kids before they are out of grade school?

During my trip I noticed sarcasm and disrespect in other shows, too.  Sponge Bob Square Pants and Johnny Test to name a couple of my kids’ favorites.  I started to wonder, what could they watch that would be consistent with the values of our family?  What would be entertaining for them (they have moved past Dora and Bob the Builder) but consistent with what we are trying to teach them at home?  I am open to suggestions!  In the meantime I have settled on the following programs:

The Smurfs - One of my old faves made relevant by the new movie. Photo by: Coolspotters.com

19 Kids and Counting: My kids love this show, luckily it is all about the importance of family. Photo by TLC

Any show about making cakes, like TLC's Cake Boss Photo by TLC

What great shows am I missing?  I know there are other families out there struggling with the same questions.  What do you encourage your kids to watch?

The Glee Project

Have you been watching The Glee Project this summer on Oxygen?  If not, you are missing out!  The premise of the show is that they are looking for a new character for the real Glee.  The format is sort of like American Idol, except the contestants have to sing, dance, and act.  It’s a great fill-in for those of us who are missing new Glee episodes over the summer, and it is also fun to get a peek behind the scenes of how Glee works.

Photo by: The Glee Project on Oxygen

Photo by: The Glee Project on Oxygen

I was particularly impressed with last week’s episode of The Glee Project.  The contestants were challenged to show their vulnerable side.  The directors didn’t just settle for the kids making sad faces, either.  They had the contestants name, then wear in public (in the form of a painted sign on their chest), their biggest vulnerability.  What could have been hokey was actually pretty moving.  But the thing I liked most was painted on the back of their signs: “U R Not Alone.”

Photo by: The Glee Project on Oxygen

Glee is a pretty darn entertaining show, but the good they have done in helping kids and young adults understand that they are not alone in their struggles is inspiring.  I’m so glad that the show is continuing its good work over the summer.  Goodness knows there are kids who need it.

Know someone who needs help now? Check out the Boys Town National Hotline.  Parents and teens (both boys and girls!) can call 1-800-448-3000 to be connected with counselors and other resources.

Glee and OCD

Did you see last night’s Glee? As you know I am a huge Gleek, so I think all episodes are awesome, but this one was particularly good. I especially liked the way they addressed Emma Pillsbury’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

OCD is an easy disorder to make fun of. Furious hand washing, repeated checking of light switches, constant organizing of canned goods – the possibilities for showing the disorder in a “humorous” light are endless. Thankfully, Glee has chosen not to take the easy path of humor, but has instead chosen to seriously discuss the disorder.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder (which was nicely pointed out on the show) that can affect people in many ways. Obsessive, constant thoughts and worries; Compulsions to engage in certain behaviors over and over; A combination of both; OCD is expressed in many ways. However one’s OCD is expressed, a common point is that it is disruptive to life in some way. OCD can make performing one’s job difficult, maintaining relationships a struggle (as in the case of Ms. Pillsbury), or simply enjoying things you used to impossible.

Luckily, there is treatment for OCD. As the psychiatrist on Glee pointed out: a combination of medication therapy and psychotherapy are typically the best bet for effective treatment. It takes work and time to enjoy a relief in symptoms, but it is possible – and in fact likely – that with consistent treatment the disorder will become less severe.

Some resources:

International OCD Foundation

American Psychological Association

Tips for Talking with Teens

I have teenagers on the brain this week.  I’ve seen a lot at work, talked to a few in my neighborhood, read a new book on cliques, and watched some singing on Glee.  When the authors of Talking Teenage sent me this blog on misconceptions teens have about their parents, that sealed the deal – I just had to write a post on teenagers.

I have to admit, I am a little bit afraid of teenagers.  They can be so dismissive.  Maybe it brings back insecurities of years past (or years present?); regardless, they have an uncanny way of making some of us adults feel simultaneously uncool and inadequate.  But when I read the article about the misconceptions teens have about their parents (and maybe other adults as well), it made me wonder if we unwittingly make the teens in our lives feel the exact same way?

What can we do to ensure that we all feel relevant, connected, and cool?

Use a cheat sheet. Use talking points written by others.  Try the blog post about teens, parents, and misconceptions.  Or try a list of conversation starters like this.  If those don’t go anywhere, try playing a game like Apples to Apples where words are part of the game.

Meet them where they are. Social media, X-box, Wii, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, Glee, University of Texas Football – get into what they’re into.  Not only will it give you something to talk about with your teen, but you might enjoy it as well.  Are you a Twihard? A Belieber? You’ll never know until you give it a try.

Talk a lot; listen more. I’ve heard folks say that we should say one word for every 10 our kids say to us.  That might not be a reality in some families, but it is a goal to shoot for.  Start the conversation, then let your teen take over.

Don’t freak out. Once your teen starts talking, he/she may say things that surprise or upset you.  Resist the urge to tell them why what they are  saying is wrong.  Play it cool and let them say what they want.  If you must freak out, do it later with another adult.  If the situation warrants more conversation with your teen, do it later when you’ve calmed down.

Good luck and have fun!  Teens are a full of interesting stories, insights, and emotions.  Relax and enjoy the ride.

Why I Let My Kids Watch Glee

As you may already know, I love the TV show Glee.  I have written several posts on it previously, including a post about why everybody should be tuning in on Tuesday nights.  But when I wrote that post, I was thinking more about adults than kids.  As this season has gone on, I have become more convinced that it is an excellent family show as well.  It is a hotly debated topic – whether or not to let children watch the show – but I have reached my own verdict: It is just too good to let my kids pass up.

Last week’s episode was a great example of why the subject matter in Glee is so important for kids.  The characters tackled the tough issue of bullying.  In the story Kurt, a young, gay, male character struggles with constant and prolonged bullying from a classmate.  He tries several strategies to deal with the bully (ignoring him, confronting him, talking sensibly to him) with confusing, and not terribly effective results.  As painful and frustrating as it was to watch this storyline unfold, I found it reflective of real life.  When I talk to boys and girls in my practice about coping with bullying, their efforts frequently end the same way.  Sometimes they work for a bit, sometimes they make the bullying worse, but the suffering of the bullied remains a constant.

I also love to watch Glee with my kids because they are exposed to different lifestyles (gay, straight, questioning), different religious beliefs (Christian, Jewish, atheist), different styles of dress and demeanor (nerd, jock, butch, cheerleader), and different levels of ability (wheelchair-bound, able-bodied, intellectually disabled).  And the best part is that these differences are not always the main focus of the show.  The various characters and their unique attributes are simply part of the greater storyline, song, or dance.  It makes McKinley High School a place we all might aspire to be.

School Counselors – Stars On and Off TV

There was so much I could have written after this week’s airing of Glee: the controversy about its appropriateness for young viewers, the sexualization of girls and women, the psychology of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the list goes on and on.  But instead, I’m going to keep it simple.

Ms. Pillsbury from Glee (Fox TV)

I love Emma Pillsbury, the school counselor on Glee. There are lots of reasons I like her: she loves cardigans as I do, she’s a redhead, she’s a quirky character.  But perhaps what I like best is that she is the school counselor – and I LOVE school counselors.

In my work with children and families, one of the first things I recommend is that parents make contact with the counselor at their children’s schools.  It has been my experience that these professionals offer some things that I – as a private psychologist –  never could.  Below are some of the things that make school counselors stars – and an awesome resource for families:

  • They see your child in a different light. School counselors get the opportunity to be flies on the wall at school and observe children in their natural state.  They are able to see who really started the fight, if your child is really the bully you think she might be, and what is really behind all those tardies in math.
  • Their services are included. At least in my area, school counselors’ services are free to students.  This can be a super opportunity for families who are pinching pennies and can’t afford outside services.
  • The hours are great. Since counselors’ offices are right there in the school, their schedules match beautifully with the kids’.  Often kids can zip into the counselor’s office for a quick chat between classes, during lunch, or at recess.  No need to miss parts of the school day, cut into family time, or rush through homework in order to make an appointment with an outside practitioner.
  • The kids are in charge. In many of the schools with which I work, the kids themselves are in charge (to a large degree) of deciding when they see their school counselor.  I love the degree of responsibility and independence this affords them.  It helps teach kids at an early age to find appropriate help and resources when needed.

While your school counselor might not sing and dance like Ms. Pillsbury, she/he is still worth checking out!

Photo: Glee on Fox TV

Is Sexier Always Better?

I’m glad I waited until today to write my weekly post about Glee.  If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on the opportunity to put in my two cents about the pictures of Lea Michelle and Dianna Agron in GQ that were just released.

So, here’s my two cents: I’m sick of it.  I’m sick of the skin, the bras, and the in-your-face sexuality.  Why wasn’t it enough to watch these kids sing and dance in appropriate clothing – all while tackling some important and difficult issues?  Is it the entertainment industry that pushes for the sexier-is-better mindset – or is it us, the viewers?  Or both?

And what can we do in our homes to manage the onslaught of sexualized media images we see everyday?  I have written about this topic on the Your Mind. Your Body. blog, but for today, I think the lesson is: talk about it.  Rather than passively accepting these sexualized images, talk to your kids about them.  And while you’re at it, talk to your spouse, your friends, your sister, and mom.  How do they help their kids navigate the sexualized world in which we live – and how do they cope themselves?  Because our kids’ body images aren’t the only ones susceptible to the images we see around us – ours are too.

Theology and Glee

Last night’s Glee was one of my all-time favorites.  Not only were the songs (by The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand, REM, and Billy Joel among others) fantastic – so was the storyline.  Last night the characters tackled spirituality and religion; and so by default many aspects of human psychology.

Specifically, the cast (led by Kurt Hummel) grappled with some of the most difficult and confusing questions in theology:

  • Why does God let bad things happen?
  • Since we can’t prove the existence of God, how do we know he exists?
  • How do you pray? What should you pray for?  Who should you pray to?
  • How do we have relationships with people who believe differently from us?
  • If our prayers are answered, does that prove (or disprove) God’s existence?

It’s rare to see these topics discussed in pop culture in serious, thoughtful ways.  And it’s refreshing to see them discussed outside of politics, religious institutions, and talk shows.  Seeing life’s tough questions through the eyes of our favorite TV characters makes the questions more accessible to the rest of us.  And invites us to actually participate in the discussion – rather than just take sides.