Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Were They Thinking?!

I’m a mom of two boys… well large boys… actually “boys” recalls freckled-faced, kids with skinned knees and untied shoelaces… they’re a full head taller than me and closer to young men. And better yet, I’m hesitantly (wishfully?), thinking (praying?) that the trying teenaged years are almost over and my job as a parent is about to get much easier.
Is there a parent of teenagers who hasn’t at least once, shook his/her head and said, “What were they thinking?!” after their teen did something you never expected of him/her. Most of the time, we say this beaming with pride, because they’ve shown unexpected grace, altruism and maturity. Once every blue moon, our expression is disbelief and exasperation as our normally intelligent, rationale and responsible child has for some unknown reason done something uncharacteristically foolish, dangerous or reckless. Whether the issue is drug use, ignoring rules, or irresponsible risk-taking, we ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong?”  We tried to teach our child right and wrong, good decision-making. “Wasn’t he/she listening? Wasn’t I clear?”
Sometimes the answer is simply that yes, we taught good values and gave our child freedom incrementally when he/she demonstrated responsibility… but for some unfathomable reason, in the moment, all that was forgotten. So, “What were they thinking?!” The answer is that they weren’t thinking… at least not in the rational, logical way we’ve come to expect of them. And this is perfectly normal. The adolescent brain sometimes functions just like our adult brain does. But under certain conditions (like emotional arousal) adolescents make decisions using different areas of the brain that don’t operate in the same logical methodical way… so they weren’t thinking-- at least not how we expect them to.  And not only is this unavoidable, but it’s developmentally normal.

However, if we can understand what triggers this change in thinking we can look at the situation from a different perspective and achieve better solutions. It may also surprise you to know that while our kids may look not like adolescents, but rather young adults, their brain doesn’t achieve full adult maturity until well into their 20’s. So your 22 year old, 6'4" son may occasionally leave you shaking your head with wonder. Remember... this is normal, but if we can understand their decision process we can parent more effectively. Want to learn more?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What's in Your Medicine Cabinet? Teens and Rx Drug Abuse

Drug abuse. We all have a vision of the shady drug dealer doing a quick, furtive transaction in a darkened doorway, restroom or wooded park. Sometimes that’s how drugs are accessed… but not always. Did you ever picture Grandma as a source of drugs for your teen? Or his little brother? Or maybe you? Where’s one of the most likely places that your teenager gets drugs? Right in your home, while you’re there making dinner or watching TV together. Believe it or not, many ‘good homes’ provide a ready stockpile of the drugs that teens abuse… right in the medicine cabinet.  It’s in the family bathroom, centrally located.

So, what's sitting around in your medicine cabinet? Did someone in your family have dental surgery and there are a few leftover painkillers that weren't needed? Or does Grandma have some arthritis medicine stored there? How about Mom’s anti-anxiety medication or little Johnny’s medication for ADHD? Is someone taking antidepressants? According to the 2010 National Institute on Drug Abuse's Monitoring the Future survey, after marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders in the past year.

Medications have their advantages, that’s why we take them. While prescribed medications can prevent illness, relieve pain or control chronic health conditions, they are drugs. They shouldn’t be taken when not prescribed by a doctor for a specific condition, in excessive dosages, or in combination with alcohol or other drugs. Teens aren’t the only ones who misuse prescription drugs. An estimated 20% of people have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Many teens abuse prescription drugs because:
  • They elicit physical responses that may be desirable for achieving a high or numbing unpleasant feelings.
  • They’re legal.
  • Teens perceive that because they’re prescribed for medical conditions that they’re safe.
  • They’re easily accessible… and often can be obtained free.

One of the best ways to address prescription drug abuse is simply to limit access to these medications. That means keeping them locked up and accessible only to the person for whom they are prescribed, and properly disposing of unused medications (this also helps keeps the environment healthy). So maybe it’s time for a bit of Spring cleaning in the family medicine cabinet. Here's some help with the Spring cleaning...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month

I’m a member of the Saratoga County Partnership for Safe Children which is comprised of local agencies who meet in an effort to improve identification of child abuse cases and to provide coordinated services to children who have been abused.  The majority of child abuse cases stem from situations and conditions that can be prevented in an engaged and supportive community. Situations in which abusive behavior occur can be any of the following: poverty, divorce, addiction, stress, limited education, job loss, and social isolation, and lack of parenting skills.
Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. Volunteer your time for mentoring programs, provide respite care and be a voice in support of these efforts in your community; be a friend to parents you know – offer to babysit; reach out to neighbors who may be isolated and support and include them; Enroll in parenting classes; and call or write your elected officials and ask them to support funding for child abuse prevention.
If you know are concerned that a child is currently living with abuse, you may report this concern to the NYS Child Abuse Statewide Toll Free Telephone Number:
TDD/TTY: 1-800-638-5163
If you believe that a child is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police department.
Local support services: In Saratoga County  there is help for families that  need support and skills development. For those children who have been victims of abuse the Harriet M. West Child Advocacy Center is a central, child friendly location in which a comprehensive coordinated approach is take in response to allegations of child abuse. It is a place that puts the child’s need first and provides one location to interview, examine, and counsel abused children while preparing for prosecution of child abuse cases.
The Saratoga County Center for the Family offers a number of programs that help people deal with situations that may put them at risk of mentally, emotionally, or physically abusing their children. They offer a variety of parenting education classes that help parents learn to communicate, build strong relationships with their children and deal with difficult family situations.  They offer counseling to individuals who need guidance developing tools to get through everyday situations and family pressures as well as case management.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Friends and Family-The Unseen Victims of Domestic Abuse

Nothing is harder than knowing that someone you care about is in an abusive relationship. You may want to help them to become safe, but feel powerless to do. That’s the situation that many family and friend of domestic violence victims find themselves in… and that’s why they’re considered secondary victims.
So what‘s a friend to do?
To begin, realize that the person may not even identify him/herself as an abuse victim. It’s OK to say, “I’m really concerned about you. Here’s why,” and then provide information about abuse and support resources. While occasionally the person may then disclose that they are experiencing abuse, probably more often they will not… but if you open the door with concern and let them know that you care and are there is they need support, you’ve taken the first step.
Victims sometimes fear that if they disclose to someone close to them, that person may try to control or take over for their own good. What may seem to you like a helpful offer, may feel overwhelming… the victim may feel like he/she is being controlled from every corner (first by the abuser, then by friends and family). Often a victim isn’t ready to make a change yet. Why not? While there are many answers to this, some common ones are: 1) he/she loves the partner and still has hope for a change in the relationship, 2) he/she is thoughtfully planning the right time and gathering resources to safely leave, or 3) there are other considerations that the victim is aware of. So while a loved one can feel frustration that he/she is “choosing to stay in an abusive relationship”, the victim may feel he/she is choosing what seems the best option right now in spite of the abuse.
This is actually a normal part of the process of leaving. Victims may sometimes need to think about leaving for a long time before taking action… and then may need to attempt leaving several times before making a permanent change. National statistics indicate that domestic violence victims average 7-8 attempts at leaving before finally doing so. This is a normal part of the process… and each time the victim leaves she/he may identify obstacles to address or become stronger in the commitment to leaving.

But… this process takes time… and it can be hard to watch the repeated episodes of leaving then going back. As a secondary victim, you may feel frustration, fear, impatience, anger, helplessness, or sadness; as much as you care about the victim you also have a right to your feelings. At DVRC we help secondary victims to talk about these feeling, to identify ways they can help, and ways that may be counterproductive. Our counselors understand the unique needs of secondary victims and can offer support. We are available 24 hours a day, not just for crisis intervention for victims, but to help secondary victims also.

What about the victim who is choosing to stay, who will never leave, despite repeated and escalating abuse? Friends and family may vacillate between concern and fear for their loved one and concerns for how their friend’s continuing abuse impacts their own life. Sometimes the abuse spills out of the primary relationship and brings safety concerns to the friend or family. Sometimes the repeated crises play out not only in the primary relationship, but generate crises for others also.  An advocate can assist secondary victims in deciding how much the abuse can impact their life and consider if there are ways to maintain the relationship while minimizing this impact.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or you are concerned for a loved one:
You Are Not Alone
there is help
Call our 24 hour hotline 518-584-8188
Previous posts related to domestic violence:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Leadership.... it's about ATTITUDE and ACTION

Last Thursday I had the honor of being invited to attend the Leadership Saratoga Alumni Dinner. This was a special year as it marked the 25th anniversary of Leadership Saratoga. If you’re not familiar with LS, it’s a training program dedicated to the development of leaders who will serve their communities today and in the future. The guiding force behind the program is Linda Toohey, who developed the program and has been nurturing effective, community leaders for each of those 25 years. I can attest to the program’s impact. Not only am I grateful for the dedication and expertise of many of my board members who are Leadership graduates, but when I walked in the room I was in awe as was surrounded by so many of our community’s most influential, dedicated and inspiring leaders. Sixty LS graduates have been elected to local Boards of Education, Town Boards, City Councils, the County Board of Supervisors, the County Planning Board, and various political committees. Ten have been appointed to local government positions. That’s just the start though; their impact on our community is unquantifiable.
Graduates serve on the Boards of Directors of 135 non-profit organizations from Corinth to Clifton Park. They provide vision, technical assistance and guidance that help non-profit organizations to fulfill their mission more effectively. Rich Ferguson, of Saratoga National Bank, summed up the program quite succinctly, “We know how to work together, because Linda Toohey taught us we need to work together… then taught us how to work together.”
I’ve lived my whole life in the Capital Region and before my employment at DVRC I worked in Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer Counties. When I came to Saratoga County I was so immensely impressed (and continue to be so everyday) by how much generosity, volunteerism and true commitment the residents of our community have. There is literally not a day that someone does not contact me to find out how he/she can make a difference in our community. I’m humbled by the level of community service in Saratoga County…that so many busy professionals I know somehow find time to prioritize volunteerism in their lives. Leadership Saratoga instills this ethic of service to community as it develops leaders … and that value ripples out to everyone they connect with.
My thanks to all those Leadership Saratoga graduates who shine their light so brightly throughout our community.
Leadership is practiced not so much in words
as in attitude and in actions.
Harold Geneen, Chairman, ITT Corp

Friday, April 1, 2011

When is the Right Time To Pick Up The Phone?...Now

It’s hard starting the conversation that you are experiencing domestic violence. There are many reasons not to seek help and many obstacles to beginning that conversation (refer to Behind Closed Doors for more information).  Many victims connect telling someone they're in an abusive relationship with having the resources to leave the relationship (Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence study) . Indeed many clients who contact us do so because they are at the point of being ready to leave the situation and require support in doing so safely.  And we do help folks who are at this critical transition point, but there are many other good reasons to call us:
§  To know what abuse is… and what it isn’t
Sometimes people are in difficult relationships, sometimes destructive relationships, and sometimes mutually combative relationships. While frustrating, painful and heart wrenching, these relationships do not necessarily evidence the imbalance of power and control that characterizes domestic violence. Conversely, some people have become so accustomed to living with abuse that they begin to normalize actions against them that are in fact highly abusive behaviors. An advocate will help a caller to understand what constitutes domestic violence and to understand the dynamics of power and control.
§  Figuring out your options
By talking to an advocate, a caller is able to identify a full range of options. These options may include leaving the relationship, but may instead be strategies for remaining safer while staying in the relationship. We can work with the caller to identify reasons why she/he is choosing to remain in the relationship and develop plans to address these needs. Is the decision to stay based on fears about inability to support the family on one income? Or is the victim afraid that leaving will enrage the partner and increase the safety risk? Or is the victim choosing to stay because of love for the partner and a desire to work on the relationship? By exploring the underlying feelings, we can help the caller to develop a plan that increases her/his safety and supports their ability to choose.
§  Safety Planning
We work with callers to strategize how they can increase safety. Perhaps they are choosing to remain in the relationship, but want to decrease the risk of future abuse (through a refrain from order, a plan for exiting if they feel unsafe in the future, or other changes to decrease isolation, or otherwise increase safety.) Or perhaps they are permanently leaving the abuse and are aware that this is a time when the potential for violence increases… so they want to proactively strategize how to safely transition. We help callers to develop safety plans for their current situation as well as proactively planning for future situations. While there are guides available on-line to help with safety planning, each individual’s circumstances and concerns are different so a customized safety plan developed specifically with the caller is most effective.
§  Concerns for Children
Parents are often concerned about how their children are affected by exposure to domestic violence. Even when children are not directly abused, they can feel the tensions between their parents. It is also difficult when the parents separate. The child loves both Mom and Dad and may be uncomfortable telling either parent how they feel about the family not being together. Also sometimes because the relationship between the parents is so difficult, they can inadvertently or intentionally involve the children in their disputes. At DVRC we offer specialized children’s and youth counseling for children who have lived in homes with intimate partner violence or who are themselves victims of dating violence or sexual assault.
§  Changes in Laws
Sometimes laws change and these changes can affect accessibility of services to domestic violence victims. DVRC advocates keep abreast of changes that may affect victim’s rights. For example, in July 2008, New York State enacted the “Expanded Access to Family Court” law, which provided New Yorkers who are or have been in an intimate relationship with access to civil Orders of Protection granted through Family Court and Integrated Domestic Violence Court.  Furthermore, former intimate partners are now entitled to petition the court for protection orders even when they no longer reside together.  Because of this new law same sex partners and unwed parents can now seek the protection of Family Court without being forced to pursue criminal charges through police agencies.
§  Secondary Victims
There’s nothing more difficult than knowing that someone you love- a friend, a daughter or son, a parent- is in an abusive relationship. There’s often a 3-way struggle of 1) wanting to help the loved one 2) frustration with them because they won’t leave the abuse, and 3)fear for their safety.  Often these friends and family members of victims, called secondary victims, are distraught trying to figure out how to help without making the situation worse. An advocate can help them to understand the abuse and explore ways to be supportive, and also gives them an opportunity to express their own feelings   and how knowing their lived one is living with abuse impacts their life.

If you are a victim of domestic violence or you are concerned for a loved one:
You Are Not Alone
there is help
Call our 24 hour hotline 518-584-8188
Upcoming blogs about domestic violence this week:
How to offer support to a friend