PROM Pressures: 12 Tips for Parents

PromIt’s Prom season again and there are many things for parents to worry about surrounding this high school spring ritual. The “promposal”, the dress, the venue, the date, the after-party, the driving.

Prom is an important rite of passage for teens. Dreams of having the perfect date, dancing until all hours, and the after-party can be very potent. On the flip side, not being asked to Prom or being rejected in your “promposal” can also be a crushing experience and have lasting implications.

There’s no denying the pressures, anxieties, concerns about risky behaviors, drinking, driving, parties and other issues. Fortunately, many kids will sail through Prom season without encountering life-changing consequences. However, for others, problem behaviors during Prom festivities can be warning signs for parents. They can signal larger issues that may have already been in place and now come to light.

12 Tips and Tools for Parents to Help Prepare for Prom Night

1) SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) has some great educational resources to help facilitate conversations with your teen. One of their best known is the “Contract for Life” for parents and children to use, make a pledge and to sign together.
Find their Prom Toolkit here:

2) Call your school to find out if they are offering a post-prom party. These parties are typically chaperoned by adults, are alcohol free, and the attending students must agree to be “locked in” (unable to leave until the end).

3) Ask to be a chaperone at the Prom or Post-Prom Party.

4) At many schools, your teen doesn’t have to go with a “date”. There’s a healthy trend toward singles going alone or in groups. Have your teen seek out other friends who might be interested in going together.

5) Set a definitive policy about your expectations and limitations for your child’s behavior. Write them down if possible, and be sure you both sign it.

6) Get to know your teen’s date and his/her parents if possible.

7) Be on the lookout for signs that your teen is trying to lose weight fast-binging, fasting, searching Internet sites for weight loss advice, and other dangerous behaviors. These can be signs of eating disorders.

8) Be aware that teens who “cut” or cause other self-harm to their bodies, especially on their arms, may seek out dresses that cover those areas.

9) Have a “code word” for your teenage daughter to use to alert you she’s in trouble. This can help ease the worry that her date/friends will hear her speaking to you.

10) Know who your teen will be riding in a car with and who will be driving. Be sure to emphasize seatbelt use.

11) Remind your son that “no, means no!” and have an open talk about sex, dating and peer pressure.

12) Most importantly, assure your teen that you will come and pick them up, NO QUESTIONS ASKED and NO MATTER WHAT, if they get into a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Their safety should always be your number one priority!

Even with precautions, some families WILL be dealing with issues following Prom. Problems that teens may have been hiding such as drinking, substance abuse, self harm or cutting, promiscuity, and eating disorders, may come to the forefront for parents and families. If this happens to you, there are many resources to help you decide the best course of action. School counselors, administrators, and pediatricians can be good places to start. They can help get you help by referring you to therapists, and therapeutic consultants, like Forging Futures.

Late-Night Cell Phone Use in Teens Linked to Emotional Issues

A recent study out of Japan found that teens who stay up late on their cell phones are more likely to suffer from depression, have suicidal thoughts, or have a history of harming themselves, compared to those who didn’t have access to their phones late at night.

The study also linked late-night teen cell phone use with a reduced amount of sleep, and growing bodies of research link poor sleep with mental health problems.   Not only do teens lose sleep because they’re up late on their phones, but research also suggests that the bright light from cell phone screens may affect the body’s ability to produce melatonin,  a hormone that induces sleep.  Therefore, there could be several reasons why teens who use cell phones late at night are not getting a restful night’s sleep.

On the other hand, Dr. Michael Brody, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Silver Springs, Md., suggested that teens with mental health problems may be using their cell phones late at night to reach out to friends to discuss their problems, which could ultimately help them and prevent them from doing something harmful to themselves or others.

While there is a chance that teenagers are able to share their issues into the wee hours of the night, logically speaking, it seems that teens would be at their healthiest and best when they are well-rested.  It’s up to parents as to how adamant they are that their kids “unplug” at night, but here are a few options:

  1. Ask your child to turn off the phone, computer, television and video games an hour before bedtime to ensure restful sleep.
  2. If you think it’s too tempting for your child to keep his phone in his room, have him give you his phone every night before bed.
  3. Download an app that will shut off your teen’s cell phone at a certain time every night.

Again, it’s up to parents to decide if they even need to take these measures.  Some teens are so exhausted at night that they wouldn’t dream of texting or surfing the web past ten o’clock.  However, if your teen is a night-owl or suffers from mental health problems, limiting his late-night cell phone use could be one small step in the right direction.

Who is Molly and what does she have to do with young adult drug abuse?

Meet “Molly”

Molly, also known as legal E, legal X, or misty, is a pure form of 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)–the active ingredient in Ecstasy.  It is marketed to adolescents and young adults as a “safer” alternative to ecstasy, which is one reason so many young people try it without hesitation. This increasingly popular recreational drug is now a staple at most concerts, music festivals and colleges around the country.  It is a centerpiece of young adult drug abuse and poses serious risks to users.

The drug is most commonly seen in a white powder form and can be eaten, snorted, taken in capsules, or “parachuted” (swallowed inside a folded piece of toilet paper or tissue).  When taken, users initially feel euphoric, energetic, and able to connect easily with others, making it the new drug of choice at parties, “raves,” concerts, and electronic dance music festivals.

How Did Molly Become a Young Adult Drug Abuse Trend?

Pop culture tends to influence drug culture.  More specifically, music often influences which drugs become popular.  In the 60s, the Grateful Dead’s music went hand in hand with acid and today the ascent of electronic dance music (EDM) has brought molly along with it, leading to a new form of young adult drug abuse.

While Molly used to be seen mainly at nightclub raves in the 90s, popular hip-hop artists recently started making music with EDM artists, therefore bringing two music cultures together—molly has become EDM’s most noteworthy contribution to this new integrated music scene.

Countless pop musicians from Jay-Z to Madonna to Kanye West reference molly in their lyrics.  The melodies and beats of their songs are often designed to mimic the “rolling” feeling that molly produces.  Both of these factors encourage the abuse of molly.

The Dangers of Molly

One of New York City’s most popular electronic dance music festivals, Electric Zoo, was just cancelled after two people died and four were hospitalized, apparently from using molly—that’s how dangerous it is.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network reports that the number of emergency room visits related to molly have doubled since 2004. Young people are being led to believe that molly is safe because of its “purity” and absence of additive chemicals (a common issue with ecstasy).  However, the short 30-minute high can cause teens to suffer damage to their brains and other vital organs.  Also, because molly is in such high demand, cheap imitations are being produced from household chemicals, making it all the more dangerous.

Young adult drug abuse  carries with it a number of hazards including addiction, high risk behaviors (due to lowered inhibitions, impaired judgment, confusion, etc.), and physical problems.  Although molly isn’t considered addictive, its side effects can include anxiety, fever, dehydration, uncontrollable seizures, depression, and blood pressure spikes that can lead to coma.  The hangover some experience after being high on molly is so awful that one nickname is “suicide tuesdays.”

Molly users tend be between the ages of 16 and 24, and recent survey of 1,500 students at Virginia Commonwealth University reported that 15% of the student body admitted to using the drug within the last 30 days, which is in line with the national average.


Forging Futures Remembers Judge Robert C. Wyda

“In his more than 13 years on the bench, District Judge Robert C. Wyda developed a reputation for his calm demeanor, his concern for young adults with substance abuse problems and his practice of treating everyone who came before him with respect.”  ~Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

We at Forging Futures want to express our appreciation for the late Judge Wyda’s compassionate approach to young adults with emotional, behavioral, and substance abuse issues.  He understood that treatment was often a better solution than incarceration for these young people and, as a result, he was a proponent of alternative sentencing when appropriate.

I personally remember meeting with Judge Wyda.  He immediately put me at ease when he chose to come out from behind the bench and sit next to me.  I was there to discuss the issue of alternative sentencing for young people, but our conversation meandered to the topic of our own children.  When I mentioned that my son had attended Vanderbilt, I remember that Judge Wyda’s eyes lit up.  His daughter was hoping to go there too and we had a good conversation about the university.

I see that his daughter’s wish came true and I know that he must have been very proud of her.  I’m so sad to think that he won’t be able to move her into her dorm—something our brief interaction tells me he would have wanted to do.

Our condolences go out the Judge’s family and our thanks go to the Judge for modeling compassion and wisdom in his work with youth.


Susan Weiner, CEO

Forging Futures


Alternative Sentencing: A Therapeutic Option for Teens and Young Adults with Legal Problems

As a parent, nothing is more heart-breaking than knowing that your child may face juvenile hall or jail and a possible criminal record.  Often a young adult’s behavior is a reflection of severe inner turmoil and psychological distress, however, meaning that his or her legal troubles are symptomatic of other issues that require treatment, not jail.  Fortunately, alternative sentencing may give your child or client an opportunity to heal without serving time in jail or juvenile detention and, in some cases, without generating a negative legal record.


What is Alternative Sentencing?

Alternative sentencing is not a “get out of jail free” card so much as it is an appropriate rehabilitative alternative to incarceration.   There are many different forms of alternative sentencing, most of which provide alternatives to incarceration.  This can include treatment programs, fines, probation, house arrest, restitution, community service, etc.  Judges determine whether or not to impose alternative sentences based on the severity of the crime, the age of the defendant, and the defendant’s criminal history.  In the case of young adults, especially those who have not acted violently, judges may determine that they would benefit from a treatment program instead of detention.  If a defendant can prove to the judge that they have successfully completed a treatment program, the court will often expunge their criminal record.  Forging Futures has experience working with parents, attorneys, mental health professionals, educators, and magistrates to provide the assessment and recommendations necessary to make a case for alternative sentencing where appropriate.  Having therapeutic options that are vetted by our experts as appropriate for a given teen or young adult can help tilt a judgment from punitive sentencing to therapeutic treatment.

Alternative Sentencing Gives Youth a Second Chance

In recent years, behavioral research has shown that adolescents are cognitively different from both children and adults.    Because their brains are in a state of rapid transformation, adolescents and young adults often lack the cognitive tools to appropriately assess risks, control impulses, or make proper judgments.  In fact, most childhood development researchers agree that adolescents who have committed crimes are more likely to reform their behavior than adults.  Therefore, giving certain young adults the chance to go through treatment can provide a critical second chance.  As mentioned above, successfully completing treatment may even result in the court nullifying the young person’s criminal record altogether.   This is often critical for future opportunities such as college admissions and employment.  At Forging Futures we have experienced great therapeutic success with teens and young adults who were on the cusp of legal interventions.

Is an Alternative Sentence Right for My Child?

If your child or client is facing juvenile or adult legal charges and you feel he would benefit from treatment instead of incarceration or probation, Forging Futures can become part of the conversation you have with the court.  Forging Futures will assess your child or client and, when appropriate, assure judges and magistrates that recommended treatment options are appropriate.  We offer the additional assurance that the treatment process will supported by our clinical experts in order to maximize success.

Our staff is equipped to work alongside your family, attorney and the court with the goal of restoring harmony in your family’s life.  We work closely with you to assess how your child reached this point and then determine the steps it will take to recover.  We want to be your partner during this difficult period and give your child the chance to heal.

The Price of Affluence

Research is showing that privileged teens may be suffering from depression more than ever before.  According to an article in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, adolescents who come from higher income homes are experiencing more depression, anxiety and substance abuse than teens in any other socioeconomic group in the country. 

Our family advisor Amanda Thomas has worked with privileged teens for years and wholeheartedly confirms that this is the trend that she has seen firsthand.  She believes that this group of young adults are often overlooked because they are star athletes, great students and often hide their behaviors from family and friends.  The adults in their lives, including teachers, coaches and therapists also tend to minimize their problems because they fear resistance from the young adults and their parents.  They fear lawsuits and often feel intimidated by the young adult and his family’s power and wealth, which keeps them from intervening when they see a problem arise.

Thomas observes that achievement pressure, parent isolation, materialism and lack of healthy self-development are just a few factors that create feelings of emptiness amongst young adults in this socioeconomic group.  Amanda’s goal when working with our clients is to help them develop positive and lasting relationships, resiliency traits, responsibility and internal motivation.

Ultimately, pain is present within all populations, but we are discovering that this particular population of privileged young adults greatly needs our help.

Click here to read the “The Price of Affluence.”


Amanda Thomas- Forging Futures Family Advisor

“The Price of Affluence” by Amy Novotney from American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology (January 2009, Vol 40, No. 1)


“The Medication Generation” in Wall Street Journal Worth Reading

We came across an article entitled “Medication Generation” in last weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal and couldn’t help but to share it with you, as it is so incredibly relevant not just to what we do at Forging Futures, but to all adolescents today.

The article shares statistics about the number of adolescents and adults on antidepressants and makes the case that while this type of medication can be helpful, it’s being overprescribed and its lasting effects are yet to be determined.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 5% of 12 to 19-year-olds and 6% of 18-39-year-olds in America currently take antidepressants.  What’s more shocking, however, is that 62% of those 12 and older have been on this type of medication for at least two years and 14% have been on it for more than 10 years!  This means that people are becoming more and more reliant on antidepressants  and adolescents especially find themselves wondering after years on medication, “Who am I?”

The article points out that more and more young people are growing up on antidepressants and have a difficult time deciding whether or not to stop as they become adults.  One woman interviewed for the story mentions that she has been on Prozac for nearly 15 years since she was a teenager and desires to know what her life would be like had she never taken it or if she were to stop taking it now.

What hits home for us is the importance of development in children and adolescents, physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually.  Although antidepressants can help those who are, as the article states, “genuinely struggling,” they are being overprescribed and are interfering with young people’s ability to connect with their true feelings and cope with the challenges of life.

There has been a movement in our society to treat depression and anxiety as medical conditions caused by chemical imbalances, rather than normal human emotions that can be dealt with through means other than medication.

We all want the best for our children, but it’s important that we help teach them coping skills, rather than simply bandaging their bad feelings with medication.

Read the article online or watch a video.

12-Step Programs Modified for Teenagers

We came across this article about adapting 12-step programs for teenagers and want to share it with you.  Parents and mental health professionals are discovering that these programs, having been used effectively for adults for decades, are not always effective with teenagers because they aren’t designed for them.

Steven Jaffe, MD, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Emory University and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta has spent 25 years modifying these programs for teenagers in order to make them more appropriate and meaningful.

There are several aspects of traditional 12-step programs that may not resonate with adolescents, including becoming powerless over drugs and alcohol and surrendering.  Dr. Jaffe points out that teens are not looking to feel powerless, but rather want to feel strong and empowered, which is why shifts focus to show them that clean and sober equates to a strong and powerful mind and body.

Dr. Jaffe also sees the importance of teens completing a workbook throughout the program so that they are able to monitor their own progress.  See the full article by clicking here.

Gap Year Resources

Our family advisor, Amanda Thomas, gave a fabulous presentation on gap years two weeks ago at Sewickley Academy. We also enjoyed hearing from three gap year participants who told us all about their wonderful experiences.  Here are the resources we shared with attendees after the event.  These articles are extremely helpful and explain the benefits of taking a gap year, despite the fact that little research has been collected thus far.

The Gap Year Option: Should You Take a Time Out?
This article from Peterson’s College Search discusses students’ ability to defer college enrollment and the importance of making a definitive plan before choosing to take a gap year.

Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation by William Fitzsimmons discusses the pressures on today’s college applicants and their need to take a year off in order to prevent burnout.


Is Your Adult Child Failing to Launch or a Victim of the Recession?

Normally, it’s fairly easy to spot a typical “failure to launch” case.  It looks something like this: young adult moves home, sleeps incessantly, lounges at the country club and lives off of his parents’ dime. The general picture that describes these cases is that of pure laziness.

These days, however, it can be tricky to tell whether a college grad is failing to launch due to laziness or because he is unable, despite his efforts, to find work and get fairly compensated for it. The truth is, only you, the parent, really knows what your adult child is doing all day and can decipher whether she needs motivation or needs (and deserves) a job offer.

In October of 2011, just 74% of young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 were working.  Even a lot of employed young adults, however, are forced to live with their parents because they don’t make enough money to support themselves.

Others who are living at home and aren’t fortunate enough to find work may appear to outsiders as though they’re mooching off of their parents, but in reality, they could be having really tough luck in this job market.

A survey done by Twentysomething Inc. last May reported that 85% of college graduates are moving back in with their parents and that only 46% of people under the age of 25 are employed.

So think of it this way: if your adult child is living at home and is unemployed, despite the fact that she spends hours a day sending out her resume and interviewing, she is not failing to launch. If she is lazing on the couch eating Ho Hos and watching soap operas all day, she is failing to launch.

What is crucial for parents to keep in mind during difficult times with their young adult children is the root cause of the problem.  Is the cause apathy or is the cause the horrific job market?  If it’s the former, that’s what we’re here for.  If it’s the latter, well, your child is going to need your continued guidance and support.  You may not have ever imagined that your successful college graduate would be back in his twin bed, but believe us, he is most likely making every effort to get out.