‘Tis the Season… for Holiday Stress

The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends but they can also be highly stressful.  Managing the increase in shopping, travel, children’s activities and other obligations this time of year can be very helpful in reducing stress and allowing you and your family to enjoy the holidays.

    1. Take control. You might not be able to control everything on your holiday to-do list but you can control how you react to them. For example, instead of getting worked up during holiday traffic, use the time in your car to listen to a book on tape.
    2. Unload and learn to say “no.” If there are holiday tasks that you just can’t or don’t want to do, let them go – if you can. Also, don’t commit to new things just because you feel you have to. Learning to say “no” may take some practice and might feel uncomfortable at first, but taking on too much can be more stressful than “passing” on a request in the first place.
    3. Choose holiday activities that you can do as a family and are fun for everyone. It’s okay to stop doing activities that members of your family no longer enjoy. If you start a new tradition and it doesn’t go well, do something different the next year.
    4. Maintain your children’s bedtime routine. Even during the holidays, keeping the daily bedtime routines will ensure you and your children are well-rested.
    5. Delegate. Let each family member be responsible for cleaning/decorating a room. Create a “job jar” with everyone taking a turn choosing what his or her job will be. Be sure to make your expectations clear to your children and consider lowering your standards a little bit. Your home doesn’t have to look perfect to be welcoming and your children will be proud of their contribution to the holiday celebration.
    6. Be realistic about relatives. Don’t try to solve past family issues over the holidays and use discretion instead of bringing up every little irritation. If going to a relative’s house every year causes a lot of stress, decide if you really need to do it. Maybe you can go every other year instead.
    7. Create a budget and stick to it. Managing your money during the holidays doesn’t have to add extra stress. Budget how much you want to spend on gifts, food and the household during the holidays and stick to that amount.
    8. Don’t give in to the “Gimmes.” The familiar phrase of, “I want, I want!” can wear parents down over the holidays, but giving in to your child’s every request can cause financial distress. It’s okay to tell your child that a gift is too expensive and that even Santa Claus has limited funds. Another way to fight the commercialism of the holidays is to start traditions that don’t cost any extra money. Bake cookies, go caroling, give to needy families or volunteer.
    9. Set limits for college kids. A college student home for the holidays can wreak havoc on family routines. Your teen has been on his or her own and doing things very differently for months, so you’ll need to set some ground rules in advance. Everyone’s going to have to compromise during the visit so it’s important that parents and kids be respectful of each other.
    10. Set aside time for yourself. One of the best things you can do for your family is to take care of yourself. Whether it is exercising, meditating, reading a book, enjoying coffee with a friend or simply going to bed at a reasonable time, it’s important to de-stress yourself during the holidays. Prioritizing obligations and setting limits and boundaries about how you spend your time will not only save you some unnecessary stress this holiday season, it will teach your children a valuable lesson about what is important to your family.

Here are some other posts you may find helpful (click on the title to go to the post):

Social Hosting and Safe Holiday Parties for Teens

Fun and Alcohol-Free Party Ideas

Helping Your Teenager Manage Stress

Drugs, Alcohol and Abusive Relationships in Teens

Signs of Depression in Teenagers

Helping Your Teen Through Depression

Encouraging Your Teen to Get Naturally High

Failing Safely: Helping Teens Succeed by Letting Them Fail

Parents, talk to your teens.  They will listen!
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Red Ribbon Week is October 21st – 27th

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. Red Ribbon Week is the nation’s oldest and largest drug prevention program reaching millions of Americans during the last week of October each year. By wearing red ribbons and participating in community anti-drug events, young people pledge to live a drug-free life and pay tribute to DEA Special Agent Enriqué “Kiki” Camarena.

Special Agent Camarena was an 11-year veteran of the DEA assigned to the Guadalajara, Mexico office where he was on the trail of the country’s biggest marijuana and cocaine traffickers. On February 7, 1985, he was kidnapped, brutally tortured, and murdered by Mexican drug traffickers. His tragic death opened the eyes of many Americans to the dangers of drugs and the international scope of the drug trade.

RAYSAC (Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition) and Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare are excited to once again sponsor Red Ribbon Week in the Roanoke Valley as a way to demonstrate our commitment to a safe and  drug-free Roanoke Valley.

All schools in the Roanoke Valley – Roanoke City, Salem City, Botetourt County, Craig County and Roanoke County public schools and all private schools in our area – are encouraged to participate in the week-long drug and alcohol awareness events to promote a drug-free lifestyle for our youth from October 21st – October 27th.  Elementary, Middle, and High Schools can compete for school awards which are given to the schools that best illustrate the spirit of Red Ribbon Week. Individual students in Elementary school participate in a poster contest; Middle and High school students participate in a media contest.

This year’s theme is “Life is Your Journey. Travel Drug Free.”™ The Candlelight Ceremony and awards presentation will take place a week after Red Ribbon Week on Sunday, November 11th at 3:30pm at the Hotel Roanoke.  For more information about the contests, the Candlelight Ceremony and RRW activities, please visit

Parents, talk to your children about Red Ribbon Week.  Ask them what their school is doing to raise awareness about alcohol and other drug abuse. Use your voice; they will listen!

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Juuling: A Teen’s Perspective

This month’s RAYSAC Radar is written by Zoe Farmer, a local high school student and member of RAYSAC Empowered Activist Leaders (R.E.AL. Team).

An alarming new trend known as Juuling has made its way into the hands and health of teens in the Roanoke Valley and across the nation. Concerned teachers and medical professionals are struggling to get the word out as new information regarding some of the dangerous side effects of e-cigarettes are being revealed just as the Juul has begun to make its way into the classroom.

A Juul is a type of vaporizer designed to be compact and discreet. Its long, slender black body strongly resembles a flash drive and can even be charged in a laptop’s USB port. This makes it an easy accessory for teens to hide from adults. As a Junior in high school, however, there’s no hiding the presence of this device in the lives of most of the students. It’s visible in the empty and cracked pods littering the parking lots, in the sickly strawberry-scented vapor lingering in the bathrooms, and in the constant stream of Juul-related posts on social media. There are signs of it everywhere, and yet, not much has been done to educate the public or prevent it from spreading.

I’ve done some investigating at my school in order to figure out what it is exactly that draws so many teens to the Juul. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the things I’ve noticed dedicated Juulers always talking about.

  • As I mentioned above, it’s small and easy to carry around everywhere.
  • They’re extremely easy to buy. Teens are constantly selling them online or passing them around among friends. At 17, if I wanted one, all I’d have to do is ask.
  • They’re simple to use. Juice refills come in packs like a carton of cigarettes and the Juul itself is charged just like a phone.
  • They’re popular. Teens are easily persuaded to follow what their peers are doing. Just as it used to be in style to smoke cigarettes without actually knowing the health risks involved, the same is happening today with young vapers.
  • They don’t think it’s bad for them. This is the most common and most dangerous excuse I hear. When asking friends at school why they choose to vape, nine times out of ten they’ll respond with something along the lines of, “Why does it matter, it’s just vapor.”

It’s important to go over what makes Juuls so dangerous and why they are often misconstrued as harmless alternatives to smoking. Vogue magazine recently published an article highlighting how the vape pen has made its way into the fashion world and the various risks associated with the rise of a new nicotine product into mainstream media. For one, e-cigarettes usually contain nicotine, just in smaller dosages than traditional cigarettes. This makes them a healthier alternative only for current smokers trying to wean themselves off cigarettes and escape the harmful smoke and tar associated with them.

  • For non-smokers such as young teens, e-cigarettes can have the opposite effect, hooking them on nicotine and pushing them to start smoking or experimenting with other drugs.
  • Another alarming feature is its lack of FDA regulation. The industry only just came under the FDA’s authority in 2016 and little is known about what chemicals are actually contained in the vapor.
  • Some have concerns about the solvents used to make the various flavors, such as propylene glycol and glycerin.
  • Others question what metals come off of the device’s heating coils.
  • In the end, when you choose to Juul, you have no way of knowing what kind of toxins might be entering your body.

With the number of teen cigarette smokers decreasing each year, I fear that the rise of vaping products, such as the Juul, filled with nicotine and other harmful chemicals, will bring about its rise once again. It’s extremely important to spread awareness about these growing trends in order to protect current high school and college students, as well as rising generations of pre-teens from the devastating grasp of addictive and harmful chemicals. I hope that by educating more adults on some of the reasons why kids my age have taken to e-cigarettes so quickly, they will be more equipped to know how to stop it, how to educate their children, and how to realize what’s happening if a child is to get involved.

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Effective Alternatives for Managing Pain

It may not always feel like it, but physical pain from an injury or surgery can actually be helpful.  Feeling pain keeps us from pushing too hard to use our bodies when it needs to rest. Pain keeps us from moving injured limbs as a way of protecting them from further damage. Opioid medications, which are very popular for treating pain, don’t take the pain away – they simply trick the brain into thinking the pain is not there.  As a result, people tend to overwork their bodies when they should be resting, which causes additional problems and can make recovery take longer than it should.  An extremely important thing to remember about opioid medications is that they can cause harmful side effects and place the patient at a high risk for dependence and addiction. The United States uses about 80% of the world’s opioid pain medication despite being 5% of the world’s population, and the number of opioid prescriptions nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.

If you are preparing for surgery or are already experiencing pain from an injury or medical problem, there are effective ways to treat pain without using opioid medication:

  • Injections or nerve blocks can be used to treat pain in a specific area. Doctors can inject medication that blocks or dampens pain over a series of injections or ongoing treatment.
  • Creams and ointments that reduce inflammation, increase blood flow and lessen pain to a specific area may be helpful. They are available over-the-counter and also by prescription.
  • Surgery may be necessary for correcting whatever is causing the pain.
  • Physical or Occupational Therapy exercise programs designed to improve mobility and function can decrease pain. Methods that may be used in physical and occupational therapy include whirlpools, ultrasound and deep-muscle massages.
  • Sending low-voltage electrical signals to the painful area through patches attached to the skin can provide short-term relief, especially to muscles. This is done in a doctor’s office but over-the-counter devices are available as well.
  • Mindfulness techniques including meditation soothe the brain patterns underlying pain and, over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself, so that patients no longer feel pain with the same intensity.
  • Psychological counseling, depending on the patient’s specific pain concerns and history, can be helpful. Daniel Berland, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Michigan Medicine says, “Many patients have had things happen to them in life that make their brains react excessively to the pain they have in their bodies. It’s not because they’re crazy or want disability, but instead their brain’s response to pain has been effectively altered by their lives.” Options for counseling-based treatment include biofeedback, hypnotic analgesia and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • Non-opioid medication options include Tylenol, anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDs (Ibuprofen) and others that can help with pain, mood and sleep. Some antidepressant and anticonvulsive medications have shown to help pain as well as mood and sleep.  Patients should talk to their doctors before starting these medications, though, because they can have dangerous side effects.
  • Massage causes relaxation and pain relief. In addition to relieving physical pain, massage can reduce stress and increase positive emotions.
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice in which fine needles are inserted into various “acupuncture points” on the body to treat pain. It sounds painful, but the needles are so tiny that it doesn’t hurt. This practice is known to provide significant pain relief when done regularly.
  • Tapping, otherwise known as EFT or Emotional Freedom Techniques, is a combination of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. EFT is free, can be learned fast and very effective.
  • Herbal remedies/supplements. Some popular supplements that can help decrease pain include fish oil, glucosamine, probiotics, melatonin and magnesium. You definitely want to research and ask your physician before using herbal remedies and or/supplements, as certain herbal remedies can interfere with prescription medications.
  • Watching what you eat can help reduce post-op inflammation and pain. Inflammation around the surgical site is a common cause of pain and discomfort after surgery. Foods that cause inflammation are refined carbohydrates including white bread, pastries and refined sugar, fried food, sodas and processed foods. Foods that help reduce inflammation include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish and fruits.

It’s important to do plenty of research, talk to your doctor and set realistic treatment goals for your pain management.  Trust yourself to know what is best for your body.

Parents, consider using alternative methods for managing pain in your home.  Your teens need you to set an example for them!

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My Natural High: Soccer

Today’s guest post is written by Gemma B., a high school student here in the Roanoke Valley who wants to encourage other teens to find their natural high.


A natural high is finding joy in performing activities you feel passionately about without the use of drugs or alcohol.  When participating in an activity you enjoy, dopamine is released in your brain, a natural chemical which increases your happiness and benefits your overall mental health.  Personally, my natural high comes from playing soccer.  Playing soccer provides me with a way to forget about the stresses of school and focus on something that pushes me to become the best version of myself.  Through playing soccer I have not only gained physical strength, but mental strength too.  By working relentlessly to reach my goals I have learned that hard work pays off.  As a result, I have gained a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

However, not everyone’s natural high comes from playing a sport.  For example, you may find hobbies such as skateboarding or photography to be your natural high.  Additionally, do not be discouraged if at first it is difficult to find the activity that clicks for you.  Try stepping out of your comfort zone and experience something new; you may be surprised at the overwhelming benefits to follow.

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Social Media Causes Isolation in Teens

Social media was originally thought to be something that would expand our worldview and help us feel connected to people who don’t live in our neighborhood.  With only a few swipes on their smartphones, teens can now meet more people, develop relationships and have more opportunities for seeing beyond the world around them… or so it may seem.  What’s actually happening is that teens are becoming more sheltered and less independent than any generation before them.

According to social psychologist Jean Twenge:

  • Today’s 12th graders spend less time outside of the house without their parents than 8th graders did in 2009.
  • The number of teens who spend time daily with friends dropped by 40% between 2000 and 2015. (Smartphones became popular around 2012.)
  • Only 55% of high school seniors have jobs when school is in session, compared to 77% during the late 1970s.
  • Teens are also driving less and depending on parents more for rides.

This isolation has had a painful effect on our teenagers.  Jean Twenge states that rates of depression and suicide are so high that members of Generation Z are “on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades.” How did this happen? Listed below are some ways that social media harms teens.

  • Social media prevents teens from learning or practicing social skills. The teen years are when the social skills necessary for adulthood are learned, practiced and improved. Because of social media, teens don’t get the chance to put in the work of getting to know a person because everything about that person is already posted and on display.
  • Because of social media, being ignored is now intensified. With all the ways teens communicate instantly through their phones and can see if their messages have been read, teens know when they are being ignored. Because teens lack impulse control, they often reply immediately and they expect the same of their peers. When a teen sees that a friend is ignoring them, the teen feels anxious, ignored, frustrated and unimportant.
  • Social media makes it very easy for teens to know when they’re being left out. When today’s adults were teens, we didn’t know we were left out of a gathering unless someone told us or we overheard someone talking about it. Missing out hurts. These days, all a teen has to do is open their favorite app to see what their friends are doing without them – and others can see it, too. Knowing instantly that they have been left out and that others know about it – even while the event is still happening – can be devastating for a teen.
  • Social media makes it difficult for teens to consider other points-of-view. Social media platforms like Tumblr encourage people to only interact with people who think like they think. The  algorithms for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are constantly being changed, and the trend is moving toward the same kind of like-minded interaction.  If teens are only talking to other teens who also feel lonely and depressed, they won’t hear different points-of-view.  Because their brains are still developing, teens can’t see beyond the situation they are experiencing.  When they talk only to other teens who feel as they feel, they don’t realize that people actually care about and will listen to them.
  • Social media can harm a teen’s already-fragile self-image. People tend to post only the photos and details about their lives that they want others to see. Because teens don’t understand that what they see online isn’t real, they compare their own lives to the perfect, happy lives they see and feel they can’t measure up to others. This leads to feelings of insecurity, jealousy, loneliness and depression. The problem gets worse when a teen receives “likes” and praise on a fake life they show online because it supports their belief that their regular lives aren’t good enough. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Quality time and relationships suffer when social media is a priority. People tend to pay attention to others who are not present more than the people who are right in front of them. We’ve all ignored things in our lives because we were playing on our phones. Teens are no exception; when they are distracted by an app or texting with friends, they aren’t spending time strengthening relationships with the people who are physically around and care about them – their families and actual friends.

 Now that you know the ways social media can hurt teens, here are some ways you can help reduce the damage:

  • Set a limit for your teen of 2 hours per day of phone/screen time. (Go ahead and assume that at least 30 minutes are used at school.)This boundary might be difficult to set and maintain, but you’ll be helping your teen immensely. This will work best if the entire family has to follow the limitation.
  • Encourage your teen to get naturally high. A natural high comes from participating in any activity they enjoy, even if they aren’t good at it. Support and encourage your teen in finding THEIR OWN natural high, not what you want for them. Doing so will be especially helpful for improving their self-esteem.
  • Unplug and spend time with your teen and your family when everyone is together. Sit down for a family dinner and have everyone put their devices in a separate place. Being present with your other family members will strengthen your relationships with each other and also set a positive example for your teen.
  • Tell your teen to get to work!  As long as it leaves plenty of time for completing schoolwork and spending time with family, a part-time job will provide opportunities to practice social skills, learn responsibility, impulse control and discipline and make their own money while being independent. A bonus is that they won’t be able to play on their phone!
  • Take an interest in your teen. Don’t just ask “How was your day?” and leave them alone. Ask open-ended questions about their daily lives and ask about the things THEY think are important, even if you don’t understand.  Listening to your teen will help you understand them better and will let them know you care. When you’re asking your questions, be sure BOTH of you are free from cell phones or other distractions.
  • Get them moving. Exercising regularly causes the brain to release feel-good chemicals that may help with depression. It also reduces fatigue, helps with concentration, helps increase self-esteem, serves as a healthy distraction and is a positive way to cope with difficult situations and feelings. Also, it’s an opportunity for them to look at the world around them. It doesn’t have to be intense or last a long period of time. What’s important is that your teen gets moving and does it often. Again, this will work best if you’re setting an example and doing it too.
  • Encourage your teen to spend time with friends, in person. Invite their friends over for pizza – and have them turn in their phones at the door. They may think it’s lame at first, but they will enjoy the face-to-face time and will actually communicate with each other, which will strengthen those relationships.

Strengthening your teen from the negative effects of social media may be difficult, as he or she will not see the benefit and you’ll be met with resistance, but you know what’s best for your child.  You can do it!

Parents, pay attention to your teen’s social media use.  They need your help to be safe!

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Emerging Adults – Supporting the Transition into Adulthood

There’s a newish term for the period between ages 18-29: emerging adulthood. During these years, emerging adults travel a path during which they want to pull away from the struggles of their teenage years and feel more responsible for themselves, but are also still closely tied to their parents and family.   According to the American Psychological Association, emerging adulthood is defined as an:

  • Age of identity exploration.Young people are deciding who they are and what they want out of work, school and love.
  • Age of instability.The post-high school years are marked by repeated residence changes, as young people either go to college or live with friends or a romantic partner.
  • Age of self-focus.Free of the parent- and society-directed routine of school, young people try to decide what they want to do, where they want to go and who they want to be with – before those choices get limited by the constraints of marriage, children and a career.
  • Age of feeling in between.Many emerging adults say they are taking responsibility for themselves but still do not completely feel like an adult.
  • Age of possibilities.Hopefulness is unlimited. Most emerging adults believe they have good chances of living “better than their parents did,” and even if their parents divorced, they believe they’ll find a lifelong soul mate.

Many emerging adults have more choices than ever before. They may find themselves continually searching for the absolute “perfect fit” when it comes to career, marriage, or parenthood. Parents, though, may feel frustrated or impatient with the slow progress of their emerging adult’s development. Peers may want to help but might not know how, as they are trying to figure out their own path. This leads us to the important question:

How can parents and peers best support emerging adults?

  •  Try not to offer advice about higher education, career directions or love interests. Let your emerging adult come to you when he or she is ready for advice. Allowing time and space for young adults to sort out their choices will be best for everyone involved.
  • Be curious about your emerging adult, but avoid interfering. When they share details about their upcoming choices and plans, help them to discover their wants and needs, not yours. It helps to ask open-ended questions (which can’t be answered with “Yes” or “No”). The goal is to open up space for them to explore their ideas and become more confident in their decisions.
  • Support them in finding organizational systems that work for them. This age brings bills, budgeting, increased responsibilities, a busier social calendar and additional belongings to keep straight. Good organizational systems will help your emerging adult feel more in control and capable of meeting the demands of this new life.  Remember, what works for you may not work for them.
  • Help them learn how to talk to those in authority. Navigating the world as an adult can be difficult and anxiety-causing for emerging adults if they don’t know how speak to adults as peers/colleagues or respectfully advocate for themselves. Brainstorm and role play situations when this skill might be necessary.
  • Don’t rescue your emerging adult. Watching your emerging adult make mistakes is tough. He or she will make decisions you don’t agree with, but they legally have the right to do so and must be allowed to have the responsibility of accepting the consequences of their actions. Experience is often the best teacher.
  • Don’t belittle them when they make mistakes. No one responds well to criticism. Look for what your emerging adult loves, what they do well and what they aspire to do, and focus on that. Remind them that you believe in them and that they have the ability to accomplish their goals.

It is important to trust your emerging adult to create their own life.  After all your hard work of building a solid foundation for them, it’s time to sit back and watch them fly.  It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. It’s not giving up, it’s giving them control.

Parents, be there for your emerging adults.  They still need you!

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Becoming More Positive in the New Year

The following information was adapted from 7 Ways to Get Rid of Negative Energy and Become Positive by Chris Talambas.1

Negativity affects ourselves and everyone around us. It limits our potential to become something great and live a fulfilling, purposeful life. Research has shown that people who develop negative energy experience more stress, more sickness, and less opportunity over the course of their lives than those who choose to live positively.  Negativity affects ourselves and everyone around us. It limits our potential to become something great and live a fulfilling, purposeful life. Negativity has a tangible effect on our health, too. Research has shown that people who cultivate negative energy experience more stress, more sickness, and less opportunity over the course of their lives than those who choose to live positively.Although negative and positive thoughts will always exist, the key to becoming positive is to limit the amount of negativity we experience by filling ourselves up with more positivity. Here are some ways to get rid of negativity and become more positive.

Become grateful – for everything.  When we begin to be grateful and appreciate everything in our lives – from the small struggles that make us better, to the car that gets us from A to B every day – we shift our attitude from one of selfishness to one of appreciation. This will make your life more fulfilling and more positive.

Laugh more – especially at yourself.  Becoming positive means taking life less seriously and letting yourself off the hook.  Are you sensitive to light sarcasm?  Do you have trouble laughing at jokes?  Usually, people who are stressed out and overly serious get most offended by sarcasm because their life is all work and no play. If we can learn to laugh at ourselves and our mistakes, life will become more of an experiment in finding out what makes us happy. And finding happiness means finding positivity.

Help others.  The most basic way to create purpose and positivity in your life is to begin doing things for others. Start small; open the door for the person in front of you at Starbucks or ask someone how their day was before telling them about yours. Helping others will give you a sense of value that will transform into positivity.

Change your thinking.  We can either be our best coach or our best enemy. Change starts from within. If you want to become more positive, change the wording of your thoughts. We are the hardest on ourselves, and a stream of negative self-talk is damaging to a positive life.  The next time you have a negative thought, rephrase it with a positive spin. For example, change a thought like, “I can’t believe I did so horribly on this task” to “I didn’t do as well as I hoped to on this task. But I know I’m capable and I’ll do better next time.”

Surround yourself with positive people.  We become most like the people around us. If our friend group is full of negative people who love drama, we will act like them and also become negative. It is very difficult to become more positive when the people around us don’t show positive behavior.

Get into action.  Turn negative stress into positive action. The next time you’re in one of these situations, walk away and take a break. With your eyes closed, take a few deep breaths. Once you’re calm, approach the situation or problem with a pen and pad of paper and write out four or five actions to begin solving the problem. Taking yourself out of the emotionally-charged negative by moving into the action-oriented positive will help you solve more problems rationally and live in positivity.

Take full responsibility; stop being the victim. You are responsible for your thoughts. People who consistently believe that things happen to them handicap themselves to a victim mentality. Blaming circumstances and blaming others only handicaps our decision to change something negative into something positive.

    Parents, you are your teen’s most important role model.

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