Welcome Parents of Teens (and Pre-Teens)!


Welcome to the PHFP Blog. We’re living in an ocean of information about parenting. We aim to help you navigate the waters. Here we’ll overlap some content with the PHFP newsletter and provide ongoing articles, references, musings, good resources, and links to must-read news about adolescents, adolescent development and parenting in the digital age!

Michael Y. Simon, LMFT, is the publisher of the PHFP Newsletter and Blog writer/editor. His specialty is in understanding and making accessible by translating into practical terms, the immensity of information around parenting teens and adolescent development in general. He is the former Director of Counseling & Student Support for Bentley School, an independent high school in Lafayette, California and a psychotherapist in private practice for close to 18 years.

After teaching philosophy and psychology at the university level for many years, he worked as the Director for several organizations, including the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group, the Marina Counseling Center and the Harm Reduction Therapy Center. He is now a highly sought-after local and national speaker on parenting teens, and is the author of The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager.

Enjoy the PHFP Blog and you’re always welcome to right in to suggest new topics to explore!

Glowing Review of The Approximate Parent appears in latest issue of The Therapist

Cover of The Approximate Parent

Review of The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work With Your Teenagers by Michael Y. Simon, LMFT

Reviewed by Patricia Canestro, LMFT in The Therapist (Sept./Oct. 2013 issue).

The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager by Michael Y. Simon, LMFT, is an excellent reference for therapists (and parents) because of its wealth of knowledge about the real life experiences of teens. Mr. Simon shares his 25 years of experience as a parent, family therapist, high school counselor, college educator, matched with a passion for “scientific research as a source for thinking about and understanding my world” (Simon, 2012, p. 11). This background makes him an expert in the field of adolescent development. He paints a world intimately colored by the emotional relationship with his father, a scientific researcher, and his own humbling experiences and mistakes as a father himself.

The entire book is informed by the most important advances in brain/body research over the last 20 years. The book excels at laying out where research and practice meet in real life—explaining how parents can learn to improve their own parenting choices. It is apparent that Mr. Simon wants and needs to be of service in helping parents assess just what kind of a teenager they have and how to help them strategize case specific interventions that increase closeness in the family. He does this by helping readers reflect on their particular teen’s biology, temperament, and developmental challenges. I have shared sections of the book with clients, colleagues, and teens who all found it moving, engaging, relevant, and helpful.

Mr. Simon believes that the most important task parents can help their sons and daughters accomplish is “…to experience, articulate, and manage his/her emotions… Affect regulation is so crucial because the leading causes of adolescent morbidity and mortality are all related to difficulties with affect management” (Simon, 2012, p. 175). Chapter 8 in particular is oriented towards helping ease the difficulties that inevitably arise during the transition into and throughout adolescence. In chapter 8, Family: How Parents Teach When They Aren’t Teaching, Simon explains why teens do some of the most challenging things they do. His application of Control-Mastery Theory—a relatively unknown cognitive-relational model based upon empirical studies over the last 50 years by Joe Weiss, Hal Sampson and members of the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group—is complex, but ultimately practical. Control-Mastery Theory offers clinicians a way of seeing that psychopathology stems from “pathogenic beliefs” or grim thoughts, behaviors and attitudes arising from children’s attempts at adaptation to their interpersonal worlds. These internalized, persistent “pathogenic beliefs” warn a child against pursuing normal development goals. While these beliefs and related affects, e.g., “If I ask anyone for help, I’ll be a burden to them,” may have been adaptive during childhood, they can prove restrictive as adolescence and young adulthood progresses. The list of common pathogenic beliefs of teenagers (p. 331) is invaluable, and in part explains so well why interventions that increase shame can be deeply detrimental to the adolescent’s developing autonomy. Mr. Simon applies the theory well to reinterpret difficult or inexplicable behaviors as types of “testing” that teenagers must, in fact, engage in to disprove the beliefs that might otherwise keep them from healthy development. The main payoff in this chapter is in supporting parents (and clinicians) to strategize around puzzling or disturbing behavior and to distinguish between normal, expectable behaviors and those more problematic ones.The “Practical Help Tips” and extensive bibliography at the end of this (and every) chapter are invaluable resources for parents who want to understand more about the world of their teen.

In Chapter 4, “Parenting in the Digital Age,” Mr. Simon gives a brilliant analysis of the power of the internet and digital media making the argument that the entire socialization process for adolescents cannot be understood without relation to the mutually-influencing processes of digital media use. The internet is not just a “tool” that teens use; they are shaped by digital media use as they in turn shape digital media. For that reason, Mr. Simon is passionate about promoting digital media literacy for youth and everyone who works with adolescents and pre-adolescents daily. His discussion of how adolescents think (and don’t think) about privacy, examining the impact of their digital media practices is especially pertinent.

The book beautifully covers basic adolescent development, sex and relationships, identity development, school, drug and alcohol use, the “big problems” of the teen years, and offers an ethical view of parenting. It has been well reviewed by bestselling authors Deborah Roffman, PhD, and Lynn Ponton, MD. Informed by the axiom that “one size doesn’t fit all,” The Approximate Parent offers anyone who wants to understand how to support the particular adolescents in their lives the tools for a successful approach.

How Do Teens Think About Online Privacy?


by Michael Y. Simon, MFT

Round about 2010, I started hearing little rumblings.

“Facebook? Naww, it’s a time suck. I’m hardly ever on anymore.”

“It was stressing me out–reading what everyone was writing or just trying to keep up with it all or getting *@!# from my friends for not responding.”

“Too much drama. Plus, it’s for old people. I can’t get my mom off my page.”

By the time the data was in from the Pew Research Center, lead researcher Amanda Lenhart confirmed what teens had been saying in my practice for years: “They still have their Facebook profiles, but they spend less time on them and move to places like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.”

While a majority of teens still use Facebook, the numbers were flat from 2010-12, and then began to drop, whereas the number of Twitter users more than doubled in the same time period. And along with the migration towards Twitter comes two other trends: more pictures being posted online and more publicness to the interactions.

Around 70 percent of teens say they disclose the city or town in which they live and about 20 percent give our their cell phone number, up from 2 percent of teens who disclosed their numbers in 2006. Tweets fly quickly, and while they can be deleted, the impulsive disclosure of photos, sexual material, insults/abusive language, violent imagery and personal information can be very rapidly disseminated on Twitter via the “retweet” function.

If the thought of your teen sending out or receiving this kind of material, quickly, makes you nervous, you’ll love Snapchat. Snapchat is a photo messaging application designed by four Stanford students, but its use has gone global. The application can send your photos, videos, text or drawings to a specified list of recipients. You (or your 15 year-old) sets a time limit for how long the recipients can view the photos (up to 10 seconds) after which time the material is hidden from the recipients’ devices and supposedly deleted from the company’s servers. Good, right? Well, not if you’re thinking like a teen. Teens, in general, often overestimate the benefits of an impulsive, risky action when considering the potential downside. In other words: Why not send this naked picture I “snapped” of my friend? It will be hilarious…and then just disappear! While the software is designed to prevent the easy duplication of material sent out, there are plenty of ways around the rather simple prohibitions on duplication. And, remember, we’re talking about smart, motivated kids.

The recent 2013 Pew Study on Teens, Social Media and Privacy also revealed that teens were leaving Facebook because many felt it had become too much of an adult hangout. This seemed inevitable as adolescents need a “backstage” on which to forge different identities in the process of solidifying one consistent identity. In other words, privacy is important because it allows teens a way of exploring what they feel and think, free (at least momentarily) from the intense pressure of parental approval and disapproval. But, as teens begin to leave Facebook for some parent-related privacy reasons–for the fun of Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr–they seem unconcerned about how other adults are seeking and using their private information.

During their “heyday” on Facebook, teens in general have gotten more active and sophisticated about hiding certain personal information. They learned about privacy settings and used them, thinking of technical and non-technical ways to manage their private information. But as is typical of adolescents, generalizing from the specific is an executive functioning skill that develops over time. It’s also challenging for adolescents to hold a variety of meta-perspectives from situation to situation. Teens are concerned about what certain adults–like their parents and teachers–are doing vis-à-vis privacy, but not terribly concerned about what other “third parties” (like advertisers and digital marketers engaged in data mining) are doing in relation to their online activity. Less than 10 percent of teens surveyed in the Pew study said they were “very concerned” about what these third-party entities were doing with the private information they were likely to reveal online. The study noted that:

91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
71% post their school name, up from 49%.
71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
53% post their email address, up from 29%.
20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.
And in addition to the information that teens decide to reveal, there is the meta-information they don’t choose to reveal, but reveal by the very act of being on their cellphone or other digital device. What information are they “revealing” unwittingly and what are they doing online? A clue to the rather obvious answer is found in one of my recent Tweets:

3 things #teens constantly do with digital media: connect with other teens, watch videos, and buy things. Are you monitoring and guiding?

Mass media and corporations want your teenager’s money, and they’re going to try to get it by becoming the primary sources of identity development for your kids. This is what so-called “Big Data,” behavioral targeting and predictive analytics are all about…and it’s been going on for decades. Large and small businesses are busy watching what your teens are doing online–where they visit, how long they stay, which sites and activities lead one teen to want to connect with another teen and share information, which content areas draw longer attention, along with a host of other data points–and using that information to target advertising to your particular teen. And it works really well. When you put together the information gathered in the “background” as teens use their phones and other digital devices to connect with each other and share experiences online with the information that specific teens give out voluntarily, the process of behavioral targeting works obscenely well.

I’m not trying to downplay or invite us to forget other safety concerns online. Teens can bully and get bullied online or be tracked by sexual predators. But these events are actually still relatively rare. The continual tracking of “voluntarily disclosed” and “routinely, but non-voluntarily disclosed” private information for the purpose of selling identity to your adolescent happens every minute in a teen’s online world. It’s great for business, but it might be selling your teen short…forcing them into a very narrow way of seeing themselves and the world, based upon a market-driven view of what’s “good,” “right” or “cool.” If you want to continue to have a say in those things–and your teen no longer wants you hanging around Facebook with them–you’re going to have to have some ongoing conversations with them. About what? it’s time to talk about things like media literacy, digital marketing, the assault on privacy (against adults and children, alike) and a host of other subjects that are all about the conveyance of your values. It’s not easy to do this when your teen is plugged in 24/7 and doesn’t really want you in their digital world. But I’ll tell you a secret: your teen might protest (especially if you insist on “connecting” without consulting them as to the time, place or duration), but he or she is actually hungry to unplug and talk with you about all of these things.

Questions surrounding what teens (in general) and your teens (specifically) are doing online–and how they think about the issues around privacy–are extremely important. In the wake of recent concerns about the secret U.S. government surveillance program (PRISM) involving Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and other high-tech companies), issues of privacy are looming large. How are you feeling about what information and just what activities in your life should be private? While you might be disturbed about recent revelations about the accessibility of your private data, it provides a context for beginning a discussion with your child. You can also get more knowledgeable about what’s at stake by reading the Pew Report cited in the article (or several chapters on parenting in the digital age in my recent book, The Approximate Parent). The more you know about the subject, the easier it is to begin these difficult, but crucial conversations.

The College Decision: Is it the High-Stakes Choice You Think It Is?

by Michael Y. Simon, MFT

Sweating the college choice...

Sweating the college choice…

Today is graduation day for many Northern California high schools. College acceptance packets have been long-since been mailed out and most decisions have been made. Now the fun begins, right? Seniors get time to hang with their friends before going off to college, enjoying the glow and comforts of home prior to the real fun that begins once new levels of independence are reached on college campuses across the country beginning in late August. This idyllic picture is mostly a fantasy, aided by mass media portrayals of happy-go-lucky kids headed off to college and a popular press bent on selling the idea that getting into the right college will not only change, but will define your life. The reality is that you’d better get used to two phrases: “declining admission rates” and “soaring applicant pools.”

Every September the U.S. News & World Report releases its annual “Best Colleges” rankings, dominated each season by Harvard, Princeton and Williams College. Colleges and universities try to “crack” the top 10 list, jostling for position as if they’re fighting for bragging rights in the (equally problematic) BCS football rankings. For two decades—after the U.S. News & World Report released its first rankings—it was rare that students, parents or the popular press questioned the ranking system, generally, or it’s criteria, specifically. Since 2000, there have been increasing challenges to the criteria and the ranking system, but far too few parents and students wonder just whether the criteria actually measure what’s “best” for them. Equally under-explored is the issue of what happens to students once they get in to the ivy-covered buildings. The college and university ranking systems is a business enterprise oriented towards selling magazines and fattening institutional coiffeurs—not towards finding the right match for students.

Do Teens Really Know Why They Are Headed Off to College?

One of the meta-issues though is that regardless of whether the criteria and validity of the rankings are accepted or debated, their very presence supports the idea that making just the right decision about just which college to enter seems absolutely crucial. But in my nearly 18 years in private practice, working as a school counselor and studying and writing about adolescent development, I’ve yet to hear more than a small handful of teens express cogent, well-articulated arguments for why they just had to go to the college of their choice.

I work primarily in the world of independent (private) schools, where families often have means to pay for high school and college and the parents are relatively successful.  The global financial meltdown notwithstanding, these families are still doing well and have held on to their affluence. So, when they think about colleges, they’re thinking about the element of choice, just as any consumer would. But choice and certainty don’t often go together in the universe of attending college.

A 2012 New York Times piece noted, “…at Penn State, 80 percent of freshman…say they are uncertain about their major, and half will change their minds after they declare, sometimes more than once.”  Overall, upwards of 60 percent of students change their major by the end of their first year. Four in ten students actually receive a college degree within six years of starting school, according to a recent report of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.

According to that report, each year 3 million young adults head off to some form of higher education each fall. But this annual ritual isn’t what you might think.  We’re not talking about 3 million young adults heading off to full-time study, partying at fraternities and working a couple of hours a week to bring in some cash (just in case mommy and daddy aren’t super rich). Almost half of the students going to four-year schools have to work 20 hours a week or more. If you’re attending community college, you likely work a lot more than 20 hours a week. Only about 25 percent of students have that leisurely residential college life we imagined, and almost one-quarter of college students have dependent children. And almost half of them are going to drop out.  This isn’t your parent’s college experience.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that today’s college student is often unready for college—not in terms of academic achievement, but in terms of the life skills necessary to succeed at an endeavor that requires juggling multiple roles and the kind of life experience not necessarily taught at home or on elite private school campuses. I could fill my private practice each January with bright, creative students returning from their half-year at college having dropped out or in some way failed their first year (or having left once they were put on academic probation). Sometimes they went away to school with depression and anxiety, and the school experience triggered an increase in both. But just as often they come back suffering with significant depression and anxiety, where no prior history existed. When students are prone to depression and/or anxiety and need to work to attend school, it’s a perfect storm for dropping out. They find the stress too much to productively handle and, focused on the great prize of “getting in to college,” have not been adequately prepared for what they ended up facing.

Some of this isn’t our fault and it isn’t our children’s fault. College costs have skyrocketed over 400 percent in the last quarter century while median family income has slowed. It’s harder to get into school, harder to pay for school and there are few choices made available and attractive to young people other than college. It’s pretty simple: young people who don’t finish college are much less likely to have received financial aid or scholarships (7 in 10 who leave school), compared to their peers who do graduate (only 40 percent of those students leave with debt).

If it seems that financial “means” is a great guarantor of choosing the right college and graduating from that college, you’d be right. But that would mean that students in independent schools would be much better poised to choose their “best” school, get admitted and graduate from that school. It isn’t always the case. These “students of means” can appear to go through a high rigorous process of choosing just the right school from a dizzying set of choices.

For many independent school students, the long and often intensive process of college selection can and often does begin late in the sophomore year, or early in the junior year, involving things like:

  • Hiring private SAT and ACT tutors to increase the likelihood of obtaining a score that is well within, if not above the average standardized testing school for the college or university of choice;
  •  Hiring private college counselors that know the “ins and outs” of how increase the odds of getting into the chosen school (despite the presence of well-trained and well-connected college counselors at school);
  • Staying very, very connected to the school counselor, watching intently every college suggested to the student, vigorously objecting when desired colleges are left off the recommend list for application and intensely questioning the counselor’s “strategy” for getting the student in to the chosen school;
  • šHiring coaches to help “craft” just the write entrance essay or to pour over the student’s vita to suggest additional activities, competitions and awards that might be sought to increase the chances of admission to the chosen or best schools.

The now often-criticized pedagogical strategy of “teaching to the test,” has its correlate in “living towards the college admission.” Time spent doing things (or heaven forbid, time spent not doing anything) is evaluated by student and parent alike primarily in terms of how well it furthers the goal of entering college and moreover, entering just the right college.

What’s Just the Right College?

Well, it’s a school with a great academic reputation, not only (virtually) guaranteeing a great job after graduation, but also affordable for my parents. What are the schools with the best reputations, job placement records and affordability? Well, as long as your parents are relatively wealthy (or you receive a significant scholarship) those are the schools you’re going to see at the top of the U.S. News & World Report list. But the reality is that Harvard’s admittance rank just sank to 5.8%, and according to a recent Boston Globe article, “…admission rates also hit record lows this year at Yale (6.72 percent); Columbia (6.89 percent); and Princeton (7.29).”

So if you’re not one of the amazing 2,000 students out of the over 35,000 that applied this year, good luck. What this means is that the odds of your child going to “just the right school” are incredibly low, if you don’t come up with a better definition of what constitutes “the right school” for your child.

But what are high school seniors saying matters to them about their college choices? The 2012 comprehensive study entitled “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012” listed 23 factors that high school seniors say significantly influenced their choice of schools. Those reasons are listed below:

  1. College has very good academic reputation (63.8 percent)
  2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (55.9 percent)
  3. I was offered financial assistance (45.6 percent)
  4. The cost of attending this college (43.3 percent)
  5. A visit to this campus (41.8 percent)
  6. College has a good reputation for its social activities (40.2 percent)
  7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.8 percent)
  8. College’s grads get into top grad/professional schools (32.8 percent)
  9. The percentage of students that graduate from this college (30.4 percent)
  10. I wanted to live near home (20.1 percent)
  11. Information from a website (18.7 percent)
  12. Rankings in national magazines (18.2 percent)
  13. Parents wanted me to go to this school (15.1 percent)
  14. Admitted early decision and/or early action (13.7 percent)
  15. Could not afford first choice (13.4 percent)
  16. High school counselor advised me (10.3 percent)
  17. Not offered aid by first choice (9.5 percent)
  18. Athletic department recruited me (8.9 percent)
  19. Attracted by the religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.4 percent)
  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6.8 percent)
  21. My teacher advised me (6.8 percent)
  22. Private college counselor advised me (3.8 percent)
  23. Ability to take online courses (3.2 percent)

Almost 70 percent of the students in the study believed that current economic conditions deeply impacted their school of choice, with almost 90 percent of those students surveyed in the large UCLA study noting concerns like “getting a better job” and “making more money” as primary factors in choosing a school or going to college in general.

The reasons above are what teens articulated they were taking into account-when someone asked them what factors were really important to them in picking a college. The articulated reasons for why they do what they do can be quite different than the background (or non-conscious) strategies and values by which they actually their choices. And the two don’t always mesh. For example, when teens are asked whether lying is wrong, they overwhelmingly say that it is, and that they think about this fact and take it into account often. However, close to 90% admit to lying frequently, on a number of different subjects.

We need to understand more about how students really choose a school, just what pressures they’re under and be questioning the exceedingly narrow definition of “success” involved in choosing and attending college. We need to look beyond “college” as being co-terminus with what it means to be successful, as traditional college attendance and graduation becomes more and more rare. We also need to remember our kids are still adolescents as they go through this process of deciding what to do after high school.

Adolescents are Still Young Adults: How They Decide is Different Than How Adults Decide

What I know about teens is that they often make decisions based upon the heavy weighting of unconscious factors or the overestimation of positive benefits they attribute to the factors they are conscious about. So while a teen might say he’s thinking a lot about the academic reputation of the school in making a decision, he’s feeling pretty sure that this “academic reputation” (whatever that means) is going to bestow upon him some pretty sweet benefits. He doesn’t necessarily picture the overcrowded, cavernous 500-seat lecture halls, difficulty reaching his professor rather than a teaching assistant, a large, difficult-to-navigate bureaucracy, intense competition among peers and stress of excelling academically and possibly holding down a job. He cares about the academic reputation and the promise of future cash, but he is picturing other, positive, more current benefits to getting to the right school that may or may not pan out when he actually arrives.

In my experience, seniors might appear to go through a rigorous selection process, but they are often overwhelmed by all the factors that go into the decision and make the choice based on other criteria such as:

  • What are the status implications about going to my chosen school?
  • Did I feel comfortable on campus and in the surrounding city/town? Do I feel intrigued and excited by what is offered there?
  • How much of a hassle is it going to this school? (i.e., how convenient is it, how easy to pay for and negotiate the bureaucracy)
  • Are my friends going to the school and do they like it?  Are they having fun?
  • Are none of the people I know going there—so that I can have the chance to get away from this pressure and start fresh?
  • If I visited the school, did I get to go to a party or hang out with friends there? Did I have a great time?
  • Does the school have a program of study in the area I’m roughly interested in?
  • Can my parents afford the school and/or how guilty do I feel taking the money?

In other words, teens going off to college are mostly still being teens. That is to say, for teens that actually have a choice about college, their choices are often highly motivated by having fun, avoiding embarrassment and minimizing perceived hassle. Adolescents tend to prefer low-effort, high-reward activities. I’m not criticizing teens for this. It’s part of normal development. But its important to understand that these are overriding factors in their choices, despite what they tell us in surveys and what we want to hear as parents.

The choice of a college is something like the choice of having a child/becoming a parent. There is a ton of information out there about the process and it’s not hard to get information on what to expect, when you’re expecting. You’ve got your parents (and plenty of other parents) to tell you about being a parent and the entire culture reflecting back to you the various meanings of parenthood, childhood and the like. There are statistics on complications of childbirth and delivery. There are statistics on numbers of kids with learning disabilities and attentional difficulties. There is plenty of stuff out in the world about how great it is to have sex. But until you actually become a parent, you don’t know what it is going to mean for you or how it is all going to unfold. And if you told someone all about parenthood and told them to delay, because it might make it easier for them, would they listen to you? Most people I know would just smile, say thanks and offer something that says, “Well, that was your experience” and then they’d go off to have their experiences. That is true for college and the college choice, too. How can your child possibly know what college is going to be like for them until they get there and figure out things like what I call the “10 Little (Big) Truths About College:”

  1. This might be the wrong school for me.
  2. This might not be the right time to be in school.
  3. I might have chosen the wrong major.
  4. I might have chosen this school for the wrong reasons and don’t know yet what the right way of choosing a school might be.
  5. I might have done this all for you, instead of for me, even though you didn’t overtly pressure me to do anything at all.
  6. I’m prepared academically but not emotionally for college
  7. I want to belong and do what my peers are doing, but now that I’m doing that, I hate it or I feel lost or lonely.
  8. College isn’t the answer to my questions and I don’t know what the questions are.
  9. Where I go to college doesn’t really matter, in the end. It’s about where I graduate from…and the best place to graduate from, isn’t necessarily going to be known to me until I’ve had some significant experience in a college or outside of a college.
  10. I thought I was making a choice about college and everything hinged on that. I realize I was anxious about entering a different life, on my own…and all that got wrapped into “choosing the right college.”

Even if parents or guardians raise some of these possibilities in advance of the college decision, it still doesn’t prevent the student from “failing” or at least having to go through an experience that turns out quite differently than advertised.

Public and private conversations alike, as well as unquestioned efforts geared towards “getting in to the best college or university” are often really about status and anxiety over status. That is a subject we don’t talk enough about in the United States and when we do try to talk about it, it is quickly shut down as being about “class” or “class war.”  Another way of avoiding the issue of status is to boil it all down to “consumer choice” and question anyone who thinks it isn’t a normal, positive thing to have more information about the colleges and universities we’re going to be sending our money to this coming fall. And of course, we want our kids to be happy (and academically and financially successful), three things that are often conflated in our minds and in the minds of our kids. More on the issue of status in subsequent posts…or you can read more about it in The Approximate Parent.

The college experience and the experience of choosing a college is not the same for everyone in America. Barriers to entry and barriers to completion are drawn heavily along lines of affluence and preparation for the real challenges that happen between when the student arrives on campus and when they graduate.  Does your child really have to go to college after high school? Is she really ready? What constitutes readiness? Are there ways to try out a college experience without feeling that it all comes down to “going this year” or “getting into THAT particular school?”

There are many ways of being successful and happy in this world. It’s way past time to take “making the perfect choice about college” off the list of strategies for finding happiness.



Should cellphones, laptops and tablets be kept away from your body?

A former professor of mine at San Francisco State University has released some new information and research on the effects of significant use of digital media devices. Dr. Erik Peper is a Professor of Holistic Health at SFSU and has been interested in the physiological effects of digital media for several years.

Part of Dr. Peper’s own concerns about digital media use were heightened by a thorough study of Dr. Devra Davis’ work, Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation , What the Industry is Doing to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family. More information about Dr. Davis’ work can be found online at Environmental Health Trust. Peper cites one particular disturbing section of Davis’ recent work:

Research studies report that adults who have used mobile phones intensively for at least ten years experience an increase in brain cancer (glioma and acoustic neuroma), salivary gland cancer, and even rare eye cancers on the side of the head where the cell phone was predominantly held (Davis, 2010). Some men diagnosed with testicular cancer had the cancer occur in the testicle that was closest to the pant pocket where they stashed their cell phone (Davis, 2013).

The full text of Dr. Peper’s article can be found here.

The Approximate Parent Selected as Finalist in Reader Views Annual Literary Awards

Austin, TX–Michael Simon’s innovative 2012 title, The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager (Fine Optics Press, 2012, ISBN 9780985227692) was announced today as a finalist in the Austin-based Reader Views Annual Literary awards. Simon’s popular parenting title was selected in the non-fiction parenting/family/relationships category.

Reader Views, founded in 2005 to support independent publishers and authors, announced all the finalists on March 15 for the 2012 Annual Literary Awards. The awards were established to honor writers of self- and subsidy-published titles, along with those titles published by small press, university press, or independent book publisher geared for the North American reading audience.

The Approximate Parent, reviewed by Reader Views earlier in 2013, was noted as a “5-star…must-read for all parents.” There are thousands of books on parenting teens, but few aim to make the parent the expert on their own teenager. The Approximate Parent offers smart, practical ways of understanding the contexts of adolescent development in America—beyond all the “teen” stereotypes—helping parents reach wise approximations of what to do in the hard situations with their particular teenagers. The Approximate Parent’s approach is groundbreaking and commonsensical: it understands that “one size doesn’t fit all.” This respectful approach allows parents to understand both the current American culture of adolescents alongside their own particular teen’s biology, temperament, and developmental challenges. This highly accessible and often witty book is informed by the latest research on adolescent brain development, effects of digital media on youth and identity formation, relationships, sexuality and trends in drug and alcohol use.

The entire collection of 2012 general and specialty literary awards will be announced on March 25, 2013.

Is Your Child a Worrier or a Warrior?

A Response to Bronson and Merryman’s New York Times Article by Michael Y. Simon

While the COMT gene may indeed prove to play a role in the way adolescents, in particular, respond to certain kinds of stress, it will never be the case that the COMT gene is entirely responsible for turning kids into “warriors” or “worriers.” Am I some sort of genius of genetic research? No, I just understand–as I think Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman actually do, too–that an individual person’s responses under stress (or any other responses to stimuli) are always overdetermined and the result of epigenetic factors (genes and environment in interaction). The warrior/worrier catchy dualism is a cute linguistic shorthand, but it isn’t good science. It may also be a dangerous way of describing large, complex neurobiological responses that can be influenced by both social and individual biological changes. My concern is that in making really interesting (albeit new) scientific research available to parents in this particular way, it further increases the worry, guilt and unnecessary pressure that parents already find themselves under in trying to figure out how to raise kids in “exactly the right way.”

The DNA your child has offers an amazing blueprint for construction, but construction rarely goes “as planned.” The list of environmental factors that influence how children and adolescents respond to “stress” (another complex set of phenomena) is a mile long. Be interested in the research in the article, but take the conclusions with a boulder-sized amount of salt.

In the wake of tragedy, please slow down

(CNN) — I don’t have the answers.

Under the weight of mystery, loss and grief, most of us long for healing and look for answers. After hearing of the mass killing in Newtown, Connecticut, I asked a friend, the principal of an elementary school, how the children and parents there were doing.
“There was a different feeling and a much longer line than usual to pick up the kids,” he said “Hugs held longer, smiles broader, more patience all around; these parents were mindful of the privilege of picking up their children today.”

Not including the tragic killings at Sandy Hook, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence lists over 170 school shootings in the United States since 1997, prompting many to describe the tragic shooting as part of an epidemic of gun violence in America.

Read the rest of Michael Y. Simon’s CNN Opinion piece here: To help kids with tragedy…

Teens, New Cars and Driving

Tommy Tucker discusses Teens, New Cars and Driving
November 1, 2012

This segment on teens, new cars and driving comes from an interview with Michael Y. Simon, LMFT on WWL AM/FM in New Orleans with host Tommy Tucker.

DOWNLOAD Entire Program (128Kbps MP3)