Help! I Don’t Like My Teen’s Date

Your 16-year-old daughter’s new boyfriend is sullen and disagreeable. What do you do? And when should a parent really become concerned about their teens’ romantic relationships?

Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC who specializes in issues relating to adolescent development and treatment, says parents need to reflect before acting.

He recommends parents ask themselves some questions: What is it that I don’t like about this boy? Is this a case where no one is good enough for my daughter or I want her to have the “perfect” boyfriend? Or, is this something really worrisome like he’s a drug user?

“If it’s something that is really severe, and the parents conclude there is something wrong with that child, prepare your child first,” Dr. Min says. “Tell her, ‘This is what I see and I don’t like.’ Perhaps talk to your child about it and tell her that maybe it’s not the best time for this relationship. Try to discourage the relationship.”

Dr. Min offered the following tips for handling teens’ love lives:

  • Once you notice your teen is interested in romance, discuss –your family’s standards, beliefs, expectations and values with regard to dating and sexual activity.
  • Be honest with teens about their relationships and the people they are dating.
  • Seek help from mentors or other parents with older kids who have experienced these situations. Develop a support network of other parents for advice.
  • No one knows a child better than his or her parents, so trust your instincts about your child, especially if you notice a significant change of mood.
  • Give your teen the opportunity to share. Ask open-ended questions and listen. If they don’t want to talk when you approach them, give them some time and leave the door open for future discussions should your teen change his/her mind.
  • If you see signs of injury or abuse in your teen, or if he or she talks about hurting herself or taking his own life, seek immediate medical/psychiatric help at your closest emergency room or call 911.

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Anger management tips for parents

It’s perfectly normal for parents to get mad at their children sometimes, but anger can have a negative effect on a child’s development, a CHOC psychologist tells CHOC Radio.

In podcast No. 21, Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton offers practical advice for parents to manage their anger:

  • how to reduce stressful situations at home;
  • what to do if a parent gets close to snapping;
  • how to head off potential outbursts; and
  • when to seek professional help

CHOC Radio theme music by Pat Jacobs.


Creating Healthy Mental Food Perceptions in Kids

Not only can parents help instill good eating habits in children, but they also have significant influence over a child’s mental perceptions about food, a CHOC psychologist says.

“Food does more than just fulfill our basic needs for sustenance,” says Dr. Cindy Kim, a psychologist with expertise in pediatric feeding disorders. “Food also gets associated with a sense of comfort, fullness, safety and pleasure.”

Dr. Kim advises parents against linking food to rewards or consolation, as well as punishment. For example, consider a father taking a child for ice cream after a rough day. This activity might seem benign, but it can encourage children to turn to food in future tough times.healthy food perceptions

“It’s getting associated in our brains, memories and emotional states, and the food gets paired with the memory of my dad comforting me,” Dr. Kim explains. “That’s when those indirect meanings behind food can get formed.”

Avoid labeling, banning foods

Conversely, parents who label certain foods as bad, or outlaw specific foods, can set their children up for overeating and bingeing, Dr. Kim says.

“When you start banning a specific food, it can lead the child to have an unhealthy relationship with that food,” she says. “It’s human nature: If you tell someone they can’t have something, they usually want it even more.”

Children most definitely pick up on parents’ attitudes about food, and will notice if mom or dad obviously dislikes or avoids certain foods. This can be especially tricky for parents who are dieting or working to overcome food issues.

“When you’re teaching a child that you should eat all your food groups, but then you sit down and only have a smoothie, kids form an opinion and a concept about food that’s not mirroring the value that you’re intending to promote,” Dr. Kim says.

Strive for lifelong healthy eating

To reinforce positive mental associations with food for their children, the best thing parents can do is work to model good eating habits that a child should emulate.

Think beyond diets, and instead focus on good nutrition, Dr. Kim says. The former implies temporality, but the goal should be lifelong healthy choices, living and eating.

Further, parents should be mindful of their verbal and nonverbal cues about food: A child will notice if a parent grimaces when presented with a disliked food, and the child will assign a value to that food based on his parents’ reaction, she says.

Also, parents should try to speak neutrally about food, she adds.

“We encourage parents to frame things positively: ‘Your dad likes hamburgers, but I like them a little bit,’” Dr. Kim says. “Stay away from, ‘You’ll get fat if you eat that.’ Words can have a long lasting effect on children and how they see food and their bodies.”

Other tips for healthy food attitudes

Here are some other tips from Dr. Kim to help cultivate a child’s healthy mental food associations:

  • Eat family meals – Children are more likely to try new foods if they see parents enjoying them.
  • Work together – Encourage healthy eating choices by food shopping and preparing meals together. This presents an opportunity to talk about nutrition. Also, children are more likely to try a new food if they help prepare it.
  • Don’t clear plates – Emphasize that children should eat until they’re full – whether or not their plate is clear.
  • Eat with structure – Discourage sitting in front of television and eating mindlessly, as well as grazing throughout the day. This prevents children from noticing physiological cues of satiety/fullness.
  • Offer choices – Giving kids options between foods can help steer them toward new and healthful foods without infringing upon independence.

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Preventing Suicide in Children

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, which underscores the importance of recognizing depression and warning signs in youth, CHOC chief psychologist says.

Among others, irritability, sadness, social withdrawal, and changes in sleep and appetite are indicators of depression, says Dr. Heather Huszti. Follow are warning signs that a child may be considering suicide:

  • Gives away possessions
  • Makes out a will
  • Threatens or plans suicide
  • Jokes about committing suicide
  • Sends despairing texts or posts online
  • Expresses feelings of failure or shame
  • Shows signs of major depression
  • Avoids friends
  • Engages in risky behaviors

A nationwide survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which found that more than a quarter of teens in grades 9 through 12 felt sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks – a key sign of depression. Sixteen percent had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, about 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent said they had tried to take their own life within the previous year.

Dr. Huszti emphasizes that parents must teach children to speak up if they ever consider suicide – or if a friend expresses suicidal thoughts.

“Teach your kids that if someone tells your child they are considering killing themselves, that is serious and not something we keep a secret,” Dr. Huszti says. “You have to tell an adult immediately. Tell your parent or a teacher.”

Adults who become aware of another child’s suicidal thoughts should contact his or her parents. If this isn’t possible, inform the child’s school, Dr. Huszti advises.

Check out CHOC’s website for a comprehensive list of resources and hotlines. In addition, follows are other resources for children and families suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts:

Also, check out “KnowBullying,” a new and free mobile application created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in collaboration with

The application provides parents, caretakers, educators and others with information and communication support to help prevent bullying and build resilience in children and teens.

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Improving an Athlete’s Mental Game

With the school year and spring sports season winding down, now’s the time when young athletes mighImprove_Mental_Game_2t need an extra edge over their competition. Additional drills and practices can help, but so does increased mental motivation.

“Competition can cause some athletes to react both physically and mentally in a way that can affect their performance negatively,” says Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, a CHOC Children’s psychologist. “Certain techniques can help young athletes overcome these barriers and continue to improve.”

Check out six ways to increase motivation and enhance overall athletic performance:

Tolerate failure

To become a good athlete or improve at a favorite sport, children must tolerate failure and accept it as part of the process of succeeding. Without failure, no one learns, and without learning, no one improves.

Dig for motivation

An athlete must have an emotionally compelling reason to stick with an exercise program. For serious athletes who train for four to eight years at a time, the motivation might be an Olympic gold medal. Here’s a trick: On the days your child doesn’t feel like practicing or exercising, talk about how good he’ll feel afterward.

Compete against yourself

Another important component of motivation is not comparing oneself with others. For example, if a teen works out regularly at a gym, she should channel her competitiveness into the progress she’s making, not against the highly fit person on the next treadmill. The same is true when competing: A runner should tune out the other athletes in the race.

Hold mental rehearsals

An athlete trying to master a particular physical feat, such as diving off the high board or perfecting a tennis serve, should imagine himself doing it.

Stay in the present

In the midst of an activity, it’s easy to fall into the trap of concentrating on the uncontrollable factors, such as the weather, an opponent or past performance. Instead, stay in the present. While running a long race, for instance, an athlete should concentrate on his breathing rhythm or arm swing, not on the length of the race or the other runners.

Plunge through a plateau

Reaching a stagnant level of fitness or performance – a plateau – is a natural part of training. However, it can dampen enthusiasm and motivation. Talking to others who have achieved a similar goal will help an athlete improve exercise performance after reaching a plateau.

An athlete can stay positive by creating a daily victory log. It might read, “I ran five miles today, and at the four-mile mark, I pushed myself when I wanted to stop.”

Learn more about psychology at CHOC, and schedule an appointment by calling 714-509-8481.

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