Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States. It is a dry, shredded green and brown mix of flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves derived from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. The main active chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; THC for short.

THC acts upon specific sites in the brain, called cannabinoid receptors, kicking off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the “high” that users experience when they use marijuana. The highest density of cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thoughts, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.

It is known that long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction. Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which make it difficult to quit. These withdrawal symptoms begin within about 1 day following abstinence, peak at 2–3 days, and subside within 1 or 2 weeks following drug cessation.

Marijuana intoxication can cause distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty in thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory.  Research has shown that marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level.

Many recreational marijuana users report that smoking marijuana decreases their anxiety.  However, one of the most reported side effects of smoking marijuana are intense anxiety and panic attacks (30 percent of recreational users reported this).  It is important to factor dose into this as lower doses of THC can be sedating while higher doses can increase anxiety.

Research on the long-term effects of marijuana abuse indicates some changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term abuse of other major drugs. For example, cannabinoid withdrawal in chronically exposed animals leads to an increase in the activation of the stress-response system and changes in the activity of nerve cells containing dopamine. Dopamine neurons are involved in the regulation of motivation and reward, and are directly or indirectly affected by all drugs of abuse.

Long-term marijuana abuse can lead to addiction; that is, compulsive drug seeking and abuse despite its known harmful effects upon social functioning in the context of family, school, work, and recreational activities. A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and schizophrenia. Researcher John McGrath of the University of Queensland, Australia, and colleagues studied 3,801 young-adult sibling pairs and concluded that those who used marijuana the longest (six or more years) were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia or delusional disorders. They also were four times more likely than non-users to score highly on a test measuring psychotic-like experiences.

Physically, marijuana increases heart rate by 20–100 percent shortly after smoking; this effect can last up to 3 hours. In one study, it was estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug. This may be due to the increased heart rate as well as effects of marijuana on heart rhythms, causing palpitations and arrhythmias. This risk may be greater in aging populations or those with cardiac vulnerabilities. Numerous studies have shown marijuana smoke to contain carcinogens and to be an irritant to the lungs. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 50–70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which further increase the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke. Marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems as tobacco smokers, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illness, and a heightened risk of lung infections. A study of 450 individuals found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers. Many of the extra sick days among the marijuana smokers in the study were for respiratory illnesses.

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Parent Tip – Letter to Initiate an Assessment

Reprinted from DREDF – The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund has collected country-based laws that protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.  DREDF is a national law and policy center dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities through legislation, litigation, advocacy, technical assistance, and education and training of attorneys, advocates, persons with disabilities, and parents of children with disabilities. DREDF is providing this collection of laws and summaries in order to foster sharing of information and encourage the international dialogue on disability anti-discrimination.

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
2212 Sixth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
510 644 2555 (TDD available)
800 348 4232
Fax: 510 841 8645

For more sample letters and important information please go to – DREDF Sample Letters

Sample Letter – Request for an Assessment


ATTN:  Name of Person
Director of Special Education
City, State, Zip Code



To Whom It May Concern:

We are the parents of CHILD’S NAME, who is AGE years old and is currently enrolled at SCHOOL in the ??? grade.  Our child has not been functioning well in school and we are concerned about his/her educational progress.  We are writing to make a referral for an assessment for special education services as allowed under the child find obligations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and California Education Code Secs. 56029, 56301, 56302, and 56321(a) and 5 California Code of Regulations (C.C.R.) Sec. 3021. We are requesting that CHILD’S NAME be given a comprehensive assessment by the school district in all areas of suspected disability, and that an IEP meeting be scheduled for him/her.  Some of our concerns are stated below.

As part of the assessment process, we also request that CHILD’S NAME be assessed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to determine whether she should be identified as handicapped pursuant to that law and to determine what, if any, accommodations might be required in her educational program in the event that she does not qualify for special education services, or in addition to special education services. This is also to request that the 504 Coordinator be present at the IEP meeting to discuss the results and recommendations of the Section 504 assessment.  However we do not agree to substitute a 504 Assessment for a special education assessment.  INSTRUCTIONAL NOTE: DO NOT agree to substitute a 504 Assessment for a special education assessment.

Our specific concerns related to CHILD’S NAME academic progress include:

INSTRUCTIONAL NOTE – OPTIONAL:  You may wish to give specific examples of difficulties and concerns you, teachers have noted.  If you have a specific diagnosis, reports or evaluations already, you may want to include them with your letter if you believe this will help your school district understand you’re your son difficulties/needs, or state that you have this documentation and can make it available to the school district. You may want to include CA Star test results, samples of written work, report cards, etc. that SUPPORT your reasons for concern. You may want to get the classroom teacher to give you concrete examples and work products in writing that support the need for further investigation of the your son problems. The U.S. Congress in IDEA law specifically chose to use the term “educational progress,” a broad term to encompass all kinds of progress a child is expected to make in school. Concern is not limited to academic progress alone. It can mean motor problems, social problems, behavior issues, academic performance concerns, sensory overwhelm, etc.  Below are some examples, but use your own examples:

  • Expressive language disorder
  • Attention difficulties
  • Inattentiveness
  • planning and the organization of information
  • monitor task-oriented activities and self-monitor
  • interpersonal behaviors shift from one task to another
  • initiate, or begin a task without being prompted
  • social skills

We look forward to receiving an Assessment Plan in 15 days for our review and consent so that the evaluations can proceed. We look forward to these evaluations being completed promptly and an IEP meeting within 60 days to discuss the results and plan for CHILD’S NAME supported education.

Also, please ensure that we get copies of the assessment reports at least 5 days before the IEP meeting so that we will have adequate time to review them and prepare any questions we may have for the team.


Mr. and Mrs.

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Autism Spectrum Disorders: Navigating through Diagnosis and Intervention

When a parent considers the possibility a child may have a spectrum disorder, coming to a diagnosis and treatment plan takes time and patience.  Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) share three core features: impaired social interactions, difficulty communicating with others, and repetitive or inflexible behavior.   The cause of ASD is not clear but one thing that is clear is the earlier the diagnosis, the better the possibility of taking advantage of the child’s developing brain at a time when it is most available to change.  This change happens in response to experience and early intervention.

The earliest signs of ASD are subtle, but many parents express concerns about atypical development as early as 12-18 months.  These signs often include problems making eye contact and inability to follow objects visually, turn in response to hearing their own name, smile, or imitate other people.  Screening for ASD is more than a one-time test: it is a process and one that involves both parents and clinicians.  Clinicians rely on standard assessments combined with parental response.  For example, the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddler’s (M-CHAT) relies on parent response to questions assessing components to social interaction seen in their toddler.  Once a diagnosis is made, there are a variety of intervention options.

Psychosocial interventions aim to help a child better interact and communicate with other people.  Most psychosocial interventions are delivered both in-home and at school.  These include:

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): This approach relies on positive reinforcement to encourage behavior change.  Pivotal behaviors such as play skills, communication ability, social skills, and language acquisition are taught and strengthened.  Research shows that children in ABA programs show an improvement in IQ scores, language skills, school performance and ability to adapt.

Developmental Models: Models such as the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) work to combine ABA techniques with other social skills tailored to the deficit or need of each child.

Other Interventions: Other interventions include working to change the child’s environment to fit around his or her specific needs.  Speech and language therapy may also be added to improve social skills by encouraging specific interactions with other children or focusing on language acquisition.  Occupational therapy is also used to teach self-care or other skills such as using utensils when eating.  It is often useful to consider medical management of symptoms such as irritability or sleep disturbances through the use of stimulants, antipsychotics, or selective-serotonin reuuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).

When considering the host of intervention options available, it is important to remember that every child is different.  It is imperative to look for the best mix of therapeutic options based on the child’s individual needs.  For many parents, this can seem an overwhelming task but once a treatment team is put together, it becomes clear that collaboration and communication work well to create the best intervention for each in

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Teen Driving

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group.  In 2009, eight teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash. The lack of driving experience along with the fact the teenage brain is still developing are the two main reasons for this.  The prefrontal cortex, which is involved in self control is one of the last parts of the brain to fully mature.  Because of this, teenagers are more prone to risk taking, impulsive behaviors, and sensation seeking behaviors.

Many parents believe that enrolling their teen in a driver’s education class will help reduce the risk of having an accident. Actually their is no proof that driver’s education reduces the rate of accidents for teenagers.  In fact, specialized driver’s training classes that teach emergency maneuvers may actually increase the risk of a crash, especially for teen males.  The reason for this is it may give the teen a false sense of security, which may lead to riskier driving.  What about increasing the number of hours of supervised driving? There is no correlation between more hours of parent supervised driving and decreased accidents.  Studies have found that teenagers whose parents spend a lot of time supervising their teens driving are no more likely than teenagers with less supervised driving to avoid car accidents once licensed.

One factor that has been show to decrease accidents was driving alone.  The research conclusively shows that only by driving alone do teens develop the complex skill they need to be safe on the road.  Additionally parents need to impose strict limits on risky driving conditions. Such limits include restricting night and bad whether driving and no cellular telephone use.  Parents also need to insist on seat belt use, monitor sleep, discuss drug and alcohol use, and make sure parental rules about driving are clarified and understood.

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Recess and your child’s brain

Recess is an important time of day when children can run around the playground with their friends, unconcerned with anything other than moving around and having fun. Current research shows that physical activity during recess and other parts of the day improves attention span, memory, learning, and reduces the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Phillip Tomporowski, Ph.D. professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia, says much of the research today seems to negate the old notion that recess sends kids back to class more hyper and rowdy. “It appears to be the other way around,” he says. “They go back to class less boisterous, more attentive, and better behaved compared with kids who have been sitting in chairs for hours on end.”  Charles H. Hillman, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tested that notion in a study published this year in which he found children had more accurate responses on standardized tests when they were tested after moderate exercise, as opposed to being tested after 20 minutes of sitting still. His results lend support to the idea that just being aerobic during recess helps boost kids’ learning skills and attention spans.  In experimental studies, Pellegrini and Davis (1993) and Pellegrini, Huberty, and Jones (1995) found that elementary school children became progressively inattentive when recess was delayed.  Olga Jarrett, Ph.D. a professor of child development at Georgia State University conducted a study on how recess affects academic performance and found that 4th graders were more on-task and less fidgety in the classroom on days when they had had recess, with hyperactive children among those who benefited the most.  According to a large study of third-graders conducted by  Romina M. Barros, MDat Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University school children who receive more recess behave better and are likely to learn more.  Dr. Barros found that, among 8- to 9-year-oldchildren, having 1 daily recess period of >15 minutes in length was associated with improved learning.

Memory retention and learning functions are all about brain cells actually changing, growing, and working better together. “Exercise creates the best environment for this process to occur,” says John Ratey, M.D. an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston.  Exercise stimulates our grey matter to produce what Ratey calls “Miracle-Gro” for the brain. Exercise builds up the body’s level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF, which causes the brain’s nerve cells to branch out, join together and communicate with each other in new ways. Hilman published a study in which he found a relationship between exercise and academic performance in elementary school children. “Exercise improves attention, memory, accuracy, and how quickly you process information, all of which helps you make smarter decisions,” says Hillman.  In a study published the same year in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, researchers found that children ages 7-11 who exercised for 40 minutes daily after school had greater academic improvement than same-aged kids who worked out for just 20 minutes.  The California Department of Education conducted a study that showed that children who are physically active score higher on the Stanford Achievement Test. Laura Chaddock, Ph.D. and her colleagues from the University of Illinois recently found an association between physical fitness and the brain in 9- and 10-year-old children. Those who are more fit tend to have a bigger hippocampus and perform better on a test of memory than their less-fit peers. The hippocampus is a brain area involved in memory and spacial navigation. In addition, the fit children performed better on tests of relational memory, or the ability to recall connections between things.

Researchers are realizing that the mental effects of exercise are far more profound and complex than they once thought.  So whether at school or at home, make sure your child is reaping the benefits of physical exercise.

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Teen Binge Drinking

According to studies from the U.S. Department of Justice, binge drinking accounts for 90 percent of all the alcohol consumed by teenagers. These underage drinkers don’t sip a drink slowly, they take it down quickly and the effects can be very dangerous.

Binge drinking used to mean drinking heavily over several days. The current research definition of binge drinking is having five or more drinks in a row at least once in the previous 2 weeks. Heavy binge drinking includes three or more such episodes in 2 weeks. According to a study published in the January 2007 issue of Pediatrics magazine, almost half of 15,214 teenagers surveyed admitted to having had alcohol in the past month. And 64% of those who drank said they’d had five or more drinks in a row.

Risk factors include family environment, peer group attitudes, community attitudes, childhood trauma, genetic predisposition, social traditions, advertising, and the availability of alcohol to underage drinkers. With so many significant risk factors for binge-drinking behavior, this complex phenomenon cannot be fully explained by any one influence. Research indicates that binge-drinkers are more likely to have parents who drink or abuse substances and are more likely to have little parental supervision.

Unfortunately teens do not perceive themselves as alcoholics because they do not drink every day, so they feel occasional binge drinking is okay. They also tend to anticipate a greater number of positive effects and a smaller number of negative effects from drinking than their peers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinkers are five times more likely to have sex, 18 times more likely to smoke cigarettes, four times more likely to smoke marijuana, and four times more likely to get into physical fights with others. Binge drinkers are 21 times more likely to miss class, fall behind in schoolwork, damage property, injure themselves, engage in unplanned or unprotected sex, get in trouble with the police, and drink and drive. Research from Columbia University shows alcohol is the leading cause of accidents, murder and rape among teens. Experts say it’s the most dangerous drug of all. Teens who binge drink could be risking serious damage to their brains now and increasing memory loss later in adulthood. According to the results of the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (NSDUH), more than one-fifth (23.0 percent) of persons aged 12 or older participated in binge-drinking within the last 30 days.

Other statistics to consider:

  • The average girl takes her first sip of alcohol at age 13. The average boy takes his first sip of alcohol at age 11.
  • Underage drinking causes over $53 billion in criminal, social and health problems.
  • Seventy-seven percent of young drinkers get their liquor at home, with or without permission.
  • Students who are binge drinkers in high school are three times more likely to binge drink in college.
  • Nearly 25 percent of college students report frequent binge drinking, that is, they binged three or more times in a two-week period.
  • Autopsies show that patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse have smaller, less massive and more shrunken brains.
  • Alcohol abstinence can lead to functional and structural recovery of alcohol-damaged brains.

Unfortunately providing teens with a list of statistics does not go far in terms of preventing binge drinking. Teens tend to believe they are invincible and do not believe the statistics apply to them. Teens benefit more from hearing about real-life examples of teens who have suffered consequences of binge drinking. Meeting other teens who have suffered consequences from binge drinking is particularly effective.

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Teenage Narcissism

During their teenage years adolescents are naturally self-involved, putting their own needs before those of anyone close to them and passionately insisting that they are right.  However, are our teens more self-involved than we were?  Did we spend as much time looking in the mirror, fixing hair and obsessing about clothes?  According to recent research, narcissism is actually on the rise and this concept of self-importance is undermining the happiness of our children.

According to research conducted by psychology professor Jean M. Twenge at San Diego State University, one out of four students showed signs of narcissism as compared to one out of seven in 1985.  Back in the 1950s, when the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) was first given to teens, only 12 percent of them agreed with the statement, “I am an important person.”  In the 1980’s, though, around 80 percent of agreed with the statement.  Recent studies raise the self-importance factor even higher.

Social scientists Jean Twenge, W. Keith Campbell, and many others have studied various personality inventories and come to the stark conclusion that narcissism is on the rise.  They attribute the rise mainly to school programs and educational media that highlight “positive self-feelings and specialness.”  When a group of parents at one of our parent skills training course were asked why they think this change is occurring, parents came up with ideas that fit with current scientific hypothesis.  These included: new technologies that allow teens to self promote like Myspace, Youtube, and Facebook; reality television which promotes the idea of self-absorption; and television shows which value fame over talent.  No longer are personal characteristics like conscientiousness and diligence highlighted or rewarded.  Teens have the ability to capture and record the events of their day and week and have someone read and respond to it, fostering the belief that what happens to them on the way to school or dinner with the family might be meaningful to others, building the idea that their life is, indeed, something special, different, unique and worth sharing.

The problem which was brought to light in a parent skill building class is that a lot of parents just as easily fall into the same trap as their child, and end up feeding narcissism.  Parents talked about how they: tended to over highlight their child’s performance in group activities, even going so far as to put down other participants; stressed academic achievement over personal characteristics; encouraged their children to take on activities for the sake of a resume rather than for satisfaction; and taught their children to criticize others to feed a sense of self-importance.

Parents walk a fine line between fostering self-esteem and indulging narcissism.  So what can parents do to help their teens combat narcissism?  Experts state that responsibilities at home (chores), community service, exposure to different cultures, upholding religious beliefs and traditions, and exposure to art and talent are all paramount in helping children and teens look outside themselves.  Creating an open forum for a dialog with ourselves and our children can help communicate the values that lead to a happy, well-adjusted adulthood.

It is important to note that narcissism is not high self-esteem.  Self-esteem involves emotional, evaluative, and cognitive components.  It entails certain action dispositions:  to move toward life rather than away from it; to move toward consciousness rather than away from it; to treat facts with respect rather than denial; to operate self-responsibly rather than the opposite.  Healthy self-esteem is subjective and realistic self-approval and self-respect.  Narcissism is an unwarranted fascination with oneself.  The healthy self-esteem of young children is based on the love and acceptance of significant others.  An individual with healthy self-esteem has a high level of respect for others as well as him or herself.

Building healthy self-esteem involves providing your child with attention, providing encouraging comments and giving positive and accurate feedback.  Discussing your child’s inaccurate beliefs, being a positive role model, being affectionate, being attentive to your child’s social circle, teaching responsibility and providing opportunities to demonstrate responsibility and experience success, and providing a safe and loving home environment will all help foster your child’s self-esteem and limit their developing narcissism.

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Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind refers to a person’s ability to infer mental state in others. It is the ability to explain observable events based on desires or emotions, knowing that other people think differently from you, being able to take another person’s emotional perspective, being able to put other people’s feelings before your own, and thinking about the consequences of your actions before engaging in them.  No one actually teaches us to make attributions we just do it automatically.  For the most part, people are able to make good guesses at someone’s intentions.  From these inferences, we determine how to react to the person.

Theory of mind development begins early in life. Antecedents to theory of mind development are evident in infancy. At 5 months of age, typical children can recognize different facial expressions, but understanding the meaning occurs a few months later. Once young children are able to reliably interpret the facial expressions of others, they begin to use this nonverbal information to guide their behavior. For example, a toddler may look at his mother’s face for cues about whether it is safe to approach an unfamiliar person.

During an intake of a young adult the doctor was asking questions about the patient’s history.  When he came to the question on the patient’s past hobbies the patient answered “trains.”  For the next hour the patient excitedly treated the doctor to a one way discussion on every aspect of every train past to present.  The patient had no concept of what of what the doctor needed to know for the intake.  The patient’s ability to form a model in his own mind about what the doctor was thinking and needing information wise was not existent.  Additionally when the patient began to talk about the trains he was unable to stop his verbal output once it started.

In another example of theory of mind a young boy with Asperger Syndrome was shown a Lego’s Star Wars X Winged Fighter box and asked to guess what was inside.  He guessed Legos to make an X Winged Fighter.  The box was opened and revealed that, instead of Lego’s, there were stickers inside.  Next, he was told that his mother was going to be invited into the room and asked what he thought that she would say was in the box.  Unable to separate what was in his mind (based on his experience) the boy said that his mother would think there were stickers in the box.

The development of theory of mind is critical since success in life is not just based on ability; more so it is a factor of one’s social functioning and reasoning. When we can “mind-read” other people, we can become significantly more effective in our interactions with everyone we encounter. Theory of Mind can have a significant negative impact on social interaction and relationships of children and teens with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. By not understanding that other people think differently than themselves, many individuals with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder may have problems relating socially and communicating to other people. That is, they may not be able to anticipate what others will say or do in various situations. In addition, they may have difficulty understanding that their peers or classmates even have thoughts and emotions, and may thus appear to be self-centered, rude, disrespectful, eccentric, or uncaring

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Teen Anxiety

Anxiety and stress levels in teenagers have drastically increased over the last few decades. As the pressures of the world around adolescents have increased, more and more teens are facing health problems both on the physical and on the emotional sides.

So why are our teens so anxious? First, anxiety conditions can be hereditary. Anxiety tends to run in families, so if a person’s mom, dad, or other close relative has anxiety, they have a higher chance of developing anxiety themselves. Second are environmental factors and life experiences. Growing up in a family where fear and anxiety are constantly shown to children by parents or role models can “teach” children to be anxious. High expectations of a child in academic or other performances can contribute to anxiety. If a child grows up in an abusive home, he or she may learn to always expect the worst.

Examples of stressors teens may be faced with are things like divorce of their parents, homework, grades in school, concern about how they look, and how they measure up to their peers, and peer pressures. Most parents are not even aware that their teens are under a great deal of pressure in many areas of their lives. Many times it is easy to chalk up teenage stress and anxiety a child is facing as just normal teen problems. Yet, serious conditions are often present and should be addressed as quickly as possible by a professional.

Anxiety can affect many aspects of a teenager’s life. It can affect a teen’s ability to make friends, perform well in school, and try new things. This will make enjoying life very difficult. Some teens who suffer from anxiety will attempt to treat themselves with alcohol, illicit drugs, or illegally obtained prescriptions drugs. One of the common reasons teens use drugs like marijuana, according to teens we have talked with at Meridian Youth Treatment Center, is that it helps to decrease anxiety. Teens with anxiety disorders are more likely to use alcohol or drugs. Paradoxically, alcohol and drug abuse behaviors may make conditions worse such as increasing anxiety, mood swings, depression, and decreasing memory and cognitive functioning.

For teens dealing with anxiety disorders, symptoms can feel strange and confusing at first. Constant worries can make a person feel overwhelmed by every little thing. All this can affect confidence, concentration, sleep, appetite, and outlook. Teens with anxiety disorders might avoid talking about their worries, thinking that others might not understand. They may fear being unfairly judged, or considered weak or scared or may feel misunderstood or alone. Stressed teens may show signs of emotional disabilities, aggressive behavior, shyness, social phobia and often lack interest in otherwise enjoyable activities. If the anxiety is mild, parents can help by first understanding the illness, then listening to their teen’s feelings, keeping calm when their teen becomes anxious, reassuring their teen when appropriate, teaching their teen relaxation techniques, praising their teen’s efforts, providing structure, setting a good example by modeling healthy reactions to various situations, and planning for transitions, as transitions can cause anxiety.

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Temperament is what?

Temperament is an inherent part of a child’s character and can be shaped but not changed. Understanding and learning about different temperaments is important because it affects you as a parent, your child, and the relationship between you.  Temperament shapes responses and reactions – “how” a child does something, not what they do.  It is a child’s behavioral style.  Temperament is not personality, as personality addresses more of the “why” of behavior.  Many researchers feel that children are born with their natural style of interacting with or reacting to people, places, and things – their temperament.  There is a difference of opinion among leading researchers over whether temperaments are inborn or develop early in life through an interaction of genetic and environmental factors.

Temperament influences how a child behaves toward individuals and objects around them and how the environment affects them.  This concept also indicates that many behavioral tendencies are inborn – not the result of faulty parenting.  At a recent parenting class at Meridian Youth Treatment Center, parents were asked how understanding temperament would be helpful for them.  For one couple, understanding their child’s temperament helped reduce their anxieties, especially when their child acted out in a non pro-social manner.  Another parent exclaimed in what seemed to be his insightful moment – “Then it can’t be all our fault!”  He felt relieved to know that his child’s difficulties where not due to faulty parenting.  This parent went on to say that if he had understood this concept years ago he could have started taking preventative steps to help his son then.  Parents who take the time to understand their child’s temperament can work with their child rather than trying to change his or her inborn traits.  Knowledge of temperament can help parents adjust their parenting style and arrange their environment to help meet the temperament needs of their child, promoting harmony and well-being in the family.

In the late 1950s, researchers found nine traits that were present at birth and continued to influence development in important ways throughout life.  Since then, research has continued to show that children’s health and development are influenced by temperament. To examine a child’s temperament health professionals use a series of interviews, observations, and questionnaires that measure nine temperament traits.

These nine temperament traits are:

  1. Activity Level:  How active is the child generally?  Is the child always moving and doing something or does he or she have a more relaxed style?
  2. Regularity:  Refers to the predictability of biological functions like appetite and sleep.  Is the child regular in his or her eating and sleeping habits or somewhat haphazard?
  3. Approach/Withdrawal:  Refers to a child’s characteristic response to a new situation or strangers.  Does he or she “never meet a stranger” or tend to shy away from new people or things?
  4. Adaptability:  How easily does the child adapt to transitions and changes, like switching to a new activity?  Can the child adjust to changes in routines or plans easily or does he or she resist transitions?
  5. Persistence:  This is the length of time a child continues in activities in the face of obstacles.  Does the child give up as soon as a problem arises with a task or does he or she keep on trying?  Can he or she stick with an activity a long time or does his or her mind tend to wander?
  6. Intensity:  Relates to the energy level of a response, whether positive or negative.  Does he or she react strongly to situations, either positively or negatively, or does he or she react calmly and quietly?
  7. Distractibility:  Refers to the degree of concentration and attention displayed when a child is not particularly interested in an activity.  Is the child easily distracted from what he or she is doing or can he or she shut out external distractions and stay with the current activity?
  8. Sensory Threshold:  How sensitive is a child to physical stimuli?  Is he or she bothered by external stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, or food textures or does he or she tend to ignore them?
  9. Mood:  This is the tendency to react to the world primarily in a positive or negative way.  Does the child often express a negative outlook or is he or she generally a positive person?  Does his or her mood shift frequently or is he or she usually even-tempered?

According to Chess & Thomas, these traits combine to form three basic types of temperaments.  Approximately 65 percent of all children fit one of three patterns.

  • Forty percent of children are generally regarded as “easy or flexible.”  The child has a positive mood generally; quickly establishes regular routines and adapts easily to new experiences and calms self effectively.
  • Ten percent are regarded as “difficult, active, or feisty.”  The child tends to react negatively; cries frequently; has irregular routines; is slow to accept new experiences and cannot calm self.
  • Fifteen percent are regarded as “slow to warm up or cautious.”  The child is somewhat negative; has a low activity level; low adaptability; low intensity of mood and flat affect.

The other 35 percent of children are a combination of these patterns.

Knowing whether your child is inherently more active, more easily distracted, exhibits a higher intensity of emotional expression, and so forth is a good first step to understanding his or her nature.  By understanding these patterns, parents can tailor their parenting approach in such areas as expectations, encouragement, and discipline to suit the child’s unique needs.  For example, with the “Easy child” parents need to set aside special times to talk about the child’s frustrations and hurts because their child will most likely not ask for it.  Parents of a “Difficult child” will benefit from providing their child with opportunities for energetic play to release stored up energy and frustrations with some freedom of choice in order to allow these children to be successful.  These children will also benefit from advanced preparation of activity changes, which will help transitions from one place to another or one activity to another to go more smoothly.  Parents of a “Slow to warm up or cautious child” will benefit from structured routines and parenting in which you stick to your word.  Children with this temperament also benefit from being allowed ample time to establish relationships in new situations.

Parents also have temperaments.  A parent’s temperament influences how the parent experiences and reacts to his or her child’s behavior.  For example, if you are high in intensity you may react more strongly to your child’s refusal to try a new experience.  Parenting is also affected by your child’s temperament.  For instance, parents of children with more challenging temperament styles may find themselves being too firm if they have difficulty handling their child’s behavior or too permissive if they are worn out from dealing with the challenges.  Learning strategies tailored to your child’s temperament will help parents be more effective.

Parents can positively influence their child’s temperament by teaching their child that they will meet him half-way.  That is, parents will meet their child’s temperament needs, but also set certain expectations for their child’s behavior.  Parents can also teach their child to manage their temperament through acceptable outlets.  For example, research shows that highly inhibited children can become less inhibited if parents teach and give their child time to warm up when they are introduced to new people, places and things, rather than protect them from new experiences.

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs around.  Understanding temperament may make it a bit easier and more meaningful.  Parents who are tuned into their child’s temperament and who can recognize their child’s strengths will find life more enjoyable for themselves and for their children.

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