Monthly Archives: September 2016

Dealing with his anger- more than just words

He is starting to look and think more like a man – but the frustration with the reality of still being classed as a kid can take its toll on a teenage boy’s anger levels.

Some teen boys are described as ticking time bombs by their parents, any wrong move or word could set them off on a rant of screaming and shouting, slamming doors and destroying furniture. Anger is a volatile emotion these boys grapple with, but it is just that – an emotion, not a behaviour. So how can parents help their sons deal with this emotion which can turn their loving sons into abrasive, rude and at times downright dangerous family members?

Toddlers are renowned for terrific tantrums. They throw themselves on the floor, throw toys and any other objects within reach around them or at others, they shout and cry, kick their arms and legs, and cause a great fuss. Parental reactions range from complete disregard and apathy for the child’s behaviour, to screaming at the child or trying to reason with the upset child to stop. Teenage behaviour and egocentric tendencies can be likened to those of toddlers at times. Parents continue to use similar strategies they did when their boys were young to try to manage their angry outbursts – opting to ignore, fight or reason with him, with differing results.

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons author Dr Meg Meeker says a lot of anger in boys starts to appear around the same time as puberty hits, when they desire more independence from their parents but struggle with not being given the freedom of an adult. That frustration is voiced through angry outbursts and actions towards parents and other family members.

Dr Meeker offers parents tips to dealing with their son’s anger;

Help him deal with his anger like a broken leg. Don’t use an accusatory tone when responding to him, but rather a comforting one which shows him you want to help him with whatever he is struggling with.

Go back to basics – use timeout. Give him time to calm down before trying to listen/identify or help him with his problem.

Don’t be afraid of his anger, but set ground rules for it. Let him know he is free to express his anger, but he is not allowed to use obscene language, call people names, use physical violence or damage furniture in the process. Set out clear consequences for breaking these rules.

Don’t make excuses for his anger. Boys need to learn feelings are not behaviours – teaching him to separate feelings from behaviours is crucial to his healthy development.

He needs you. Many parents think their teenage sons need more time with peers and less time with parents, however, numerous studies have shown the opposite is true. Teens need parental time, showing your son you are there for him and part of his “growing up” journey will help to disperse some of his anger.

Keep your ears open. Teach yourself to listen to him, sometimes boys just need to be heard. It can be difficult to sit and just listen when you are busy or frustrated about the situation at hand – but listening without interruption will show him you support him and help him manage his anger in the future.


Screen time – where is the limit?

Boys are busting the limits recommended for screen time, sparking the continual debate about how much is too much? The Australian government has campaigned for a two-hour screen time limit for kids per day for many years, reasoning that anything more can have a negative impact on everything from sleep habits to concentration levels and fitness.

However, new research from the Australian Institute of Family studies out this week found kids are spending far more time at screens than the two-hour limit promoted by tech experts and researchers.

Boys aged 12-13 years are averaging three hours per weekday and four hours per weekend day at their screens, watching television, playing on computers and iPads, and on their phones.

Many parents would reason, and some rightly so, that with the increased use of technology in the classroom, children need to use their screens more at home to complete assignments, homework and reading activities.

But, researchers from the Institute found most of the screen time used by the 12-13 year old group was watching television after school and at night rather than on digital devices.

Child psychologists and experts, including Michael Carr-Gregg, Maggie Dent and Steve Biddulph, urge parents to keep televisions out of kids’ bedrooms – to reduce the temptation of the distraction, to allow them to get to sleep without the light/sound stimulation from the screen and to enable their bedroom to be a calming place appropriate for sleeping.

As with every digital device, moderation and balance is key for children. However, keeping televisions (along with other technology) in living areas rather than bedrooms teaches children that there does come a time when the television needs to be switched off and other activities, including bedtime, need to happen.

AIFS researchers also found a clear link between time spent with screens and a child’s perceived level of fitness.

Manager of the study Professor Ben Edwards said the study researched children’s enjoyment of physical activity and physical wellbeing and found a link to their screen use.

“Boys and girls aged 10-13 years who reported they were ‘fit’ were significantly less likely to spend more than two hours with screens on a weekday, compared to those who said they were ‘unfit’,” Prof. Edwards said.

“Our research suggests that if children are offered physical activities they enjoy, they will tend to reduce their screen time,” he said.

The debate will continue, as new research debunks and confirms the myths and truths surrounding how much is too much screen time for children. They are digital natives; they adopt, use and rely on technology in their daily lives – in school, at home and with family and friends. Finding a healthy balance of all activities, sports, hobbies, outdoor play and technology use, can only be a good thing – parents and children need to work together to get there.


Teen brain reactions to social media

Winning money, eating chocolate, and tallying lots of “likes” on social media all result in similar brain reactions in teens.

A recent UCLA study found teen brains sparked a wide range of reactions to high numbers of social media likes, activating reward, social and visual attention regions.

Despite not knowing any of the other participants in the university’s study, the teens were also found to conform to peer influence and “go with the flow” of likes on posts.

Choosing to like a post or photo was highly dependent on the post’s current number of likes – a high number usually resulted in the teen liking the post, whereas a low number made them hesitate to like.

UCLA psychiatry and biobehavioural Professor Mirella Dapretto said the teens involved in the study conformed to peer influence despite not knowing the other participants.

“Their willingness to conform manifested itself both at brain level and in what they chose to like. We should expect the effect would be magnified in real life, when teens are looking at likes by people who are important to them,” Prof. Dapretto said.

The study highlights the addictive nature of social media for teens, the seeming connectedness it provides to them 24/7 beyond the realm of their face-to-face friends.

The Guardian newspaper recently asked a group of teens to switch off and see what happened in their daily lives as a result. The teens, both male and female, made the decision to switch off for different periods of time – dependent on how long they could operate without technology.

“My phone is always with me,” said Henry (16).

Henry was spending about four hours per day online but managed to switch off from his phone and computer for just over one week.

“Going without was far harder than I thought. On day one, waking up was OK – I don’t usually have much time to do social media in the mornings, but when I got home from school, I realised I didn’t have anything to do. I spent about 10 minutes lying on my bed going, “Aaaargh.” Then I thought, OK, let’s look at some notes for school. I ended up going to bed about an hour earlier than I would normally, and I think I woke up later, too, because I didn’t feel like I needed to clock in.”

With the rest of his family heavily reliant on technology for work and leisure, Henry was finding himself a bit lost and left out while his family members connected online.

“I wouldn’t turn it off again. Even though I was more productive, I felt a lot more isolated. I’ve always seen myself as someone who can hold a good conversation, but I didn’t realise how much I relied on Messenger, and that shocked me. Without it, I just couldn’t connect with people.”






R U OK? Day urges families to reconnect

Three little words that were texted, posted and at times even said across Australia last Thursday helped to start conversations for boys who are struggling with mental health issues.

R U OK? Day aimed to get families and friends to start conversations with those they felt may need help.

And with research from the suicide prevention charity which runs the annual campaign revealing face-to-face quality time is lacking among large numbers of families, the campaign focused on urging families to make an effort to get it back.

The charity’s national survey in the lead up to event found Australians spend an average of 46 hours of weekly downtime looking at screens, compared to an average of six hours engaging with family and friends – just two of which are spent connecting with “people who matter”.

The research highlighted families were becoming more intimately acquainted with devices than the highs and lows of family and friends, according to R U OK? campaign director Rebecca Lewis.

“It’s a big wakeup call that we’re spending almost eight times the amount of hours looking at our screens compared to the time we spend engaging with the people who matter to us,” Ms Lewis said.

“We all need to shift that balance and invest some of our screen time into our relationships and the people around us,” she added.


She said setting aside quality time for those we care about makes it easier to start a conversation if you sense they’re not doing so well.

“It takes trust and understanding for someone to open up about what they’re going through. Being there for one another, in both the good and bad times, is the key for building that trust.”

Black Dog Institute executive director Professor Helen Christensen said finding time for relationships amongst busy schedules was critical.

“Connecting with people we care about is so important for maintaining good mental health. We know that strong and caring connections with friends and family provide a vital safety net to help people cope with the challenging moments in life,” Prof. Christensen said.

“Conversely, withdrawing from social engagement is often a sign of poor mental health and this is the time when loved ones need to stay connected, no matter how difficult it may be.”

For support at any time of day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more info, visit 



Dads can help boys talk about mental health

The relationship between father and son is undefinable. There is love, there is mateship; there is competition and pure awe.  There is banter and chat about life… but sometimes that chat is not enough. As boys get older and dad’s strong influence seems to drift from their everyday lives, some fathers struggle to keep the lines of communication open with their boys. The grunting and one-word responses to questions can make parents reluctant to push for more – or push too hard and get a fighting response.

Headspace, Australia’s leading youth mental health organisation, launched its Fathers campaign this year, highlighting the importance of the father son relationship and how dads can play a key role in helping their sons communicate about mental health issues.

“A lot of things go unsaid between young men and their dads. Especially when it comes to mental health issues. The headspace Fathers campaign aims to open up the conversation between fathers and sons and raise awareness about the support services available,” the website reads.

Headspace offers dads tips to recognising signs of mental health issues in their sons, including when he is;

  • Resisting involvement in activities he would normally enjoy
  • Being easily irritated or angry for no reason
  • Finding their performance at school is not as good as it should be or as it once was
  • Involving themselves in risky behaviour they would usually avoid
  • Seeming unusually stressed/worried or feeling down or crying for no apparent reason

Fathers can help their sons to open up about their mental health problems in a number of ways, the most important – trying to keep them talking. Getting boys to talk about life, about their problems, their fears and their hopes can be a struggle but is vital to keeping communication open and honest. Dads need to show their boys empathy and take their words seriously – don’t ridicule their emotions and feelings, and listen to what he has to say. Headspace also recommends trying to spend more time with sons, participating in activities he is interested in – to build on your relationship and encourage him to share his stories with you. Encouraging exercise, healthy eating and regular sleep also has great benefits for mental and physical well-being.

Letting your son know you love him and will be there for him is important no matter what his age – you may get a gag response or uncomfortable silence, but it is usually very important to him to hear.