I am old enough to know when pretending it doesn’t exist really means I am letting my children be influenced by other people. Fifty Shades of Grey is a new exciting movie with a release date of Valentines Day this year. How you classify ‘exciting’ can have multiple meanings depending upon who sees it. For a teenage girl, the movie represents an example of a girl who feels powerful because she is wanted for her body. To frumpy worn out forty-something women, the movie represents an exciting possibility to combat boredom in the bedroom. Conservative movie watchers define it as smut with bondage, sadism and masochism. Regardless of adult personal opinions, the one that counts right now is your child’s. What do they think of the movie and how will it impact their opinion of sexuality? Admittedly, boys are more likely to look at porn on their cell phones than go to a chick flick like Fifty Shades of Grey. Regardless, we have a challenge on our hands.


Girls are learning they can get attention with sex. Boys feel powerful and begin shedding childish boyhood as they move into the position of a mature sexual peacock. The path both boys and girls take is directly related to what they learn about becoming a sexual being. Who will they learn it from? A peer might tell them you can get pregnant from a kiss or a three-way is common. If no one talks about it in the home then we, as parents, are letting peers and the media form their perceptions and satiate their curiosity.


Most parents find it difficult to talk about sex with their teens and teens find it difficult to hear from their parents. The challenge is to live out your values by overriding your icky feelings and talk to them anyway. In a nutshell, the key topics are boundaries, developing self-esteem and creating healthy relationships – with or without sex. There are plenty of conversation starters right in front of you. Song lyrics, adult sexual behavior in the family, TV shows and people in public are all sources of topical information. What does ‘bang bang on the front seat of the car’ mean in that song? Mom shows dad love by sitting next to him on the couch. Did you see those teenagers at the mall with their tongues touching?


Pleasure is not inherently evil. The lingering questions are:

What are you letting into your house (The Bachelorette, Wolf of Wallstreet, Fifty Shades of Grey)?

How is it influencing your curious adolescent?

What are you going to do about it?

We cannot complain about the influence of porn and media as it relates to young people’s sexual choices if we restrict them from getting honest, unembarrassed information from credible adult sources.


Julie Jones, MA, LMFT-S, LPC-S

Dean of Student Affairs


Chaperoning teenagers is a scary undertaking for most parents.  It’s even more daunting when you consider offering space for kids with social challenges.  Many parents in this situation will choose to simply bow out and let another parent host a social event.  I’m asking you to reconsider.

Our kids truly need social opportunities outside of school. Unfortunately, there is a unique challenge that we must address; our population is unbalanced with the guys significantly outnumbering the girls.  While girls are more likely to register for and attend organized activities such as camp and cooking classes, guys are mostly indifferent and happy to sleep and play Xbox.   How do we help this population of boys engage socially while they aren’t at school?  I think you might be helpful with the answer!

Considering you are already trained as a parent to handle the job, maybe you just need a few pointers on chaperoning teens.  The following ideas will give you a place to start.

  1. Although our teens may have a biological age of 16, they often act younger.  In parenting, the key is to respect the actual age.  If an 18 year old messes up, pick an age appropriate consequence. A public apology for a mistake might be appropriate for an early adolescent attempting to decode social situations, however a seventeen year old will likely see this as an attempt to shame them.  Instead, ask them several questions:  What do you think happened?  What is the problem?  What do you think you need to do about it?  This is a stance of empowering them to solve their own problems instead of fixing it.  I will admit we are still asking them to recognize their misstep and make amends.  It feels like they are creating the solution, building ownership and increasing their learning and compliance. It’s a teachable moment instead of a ‘mom, fix it for me’ moment.
  2. Cell phones are pervasive.  Phones seem to be an extension of our kids’ arms.  It may be time to embrace it instead of squash it.  Kids will talk about a YouTube video and then bring it up on their phone.  Sports scores, wikipedia, memes…are all a few finger taps away. Its just part of their conversation.  If you have the opportunity to chaperone, consider your own boundaries.  Are you a parent who wants them to check their technology at the door, put it away at specific times (dinner table) or you simply don’t mind them having free use?  Consider this upfront before the kids arrive at your house and be ready to respond.  For example, if the kids are all on the couch texting each other, then you may state, “It’s time to actually talk to each other.”  Teens will test boundaries so if it’s an ongoing problem, ask them to place phones in a basket unless they absolutely need to call a parent.  The idea is to create a social opportunity and if technology is squashing it, you may need to help with direction.  Do yourself, and your teen, a favor by discussing your feelings and making the rules clear ahead of time.
  3. Touching.  Consider what is age appropriate.  What were you doing at this age?  Teens explore their personal boundaries with touch; they have to learn what types of touching they may appreciate as well as how to advocate against touching that makes them feel uncomfortable.  Sometimes, they have to actually experience touch in order to learn the lesson.  Often parents bring their teens to school and let us know their child has never liked hugs only to see the same child a few days later animatedly hugging kids after school.  In chaperoning, consider your boundaries along with your child’s need to explore.  I suggest closing off parts of your house in advance.  Teens will try anything, from putting their head in each other’s laps to kissing in front of parents.  Remember two things:                                                                                                                                             –       They need to learn to touch.  It’s not a bad thing.                                                                                                                                        –       It’s ok to set boundaries on touch.                                                                                                                                                                But remember: be prepared to address the situation if or, more likely, when it happens.  Your easiest, and most effective, response is simple, “Um, that makes me feel uncomfortable.”  This will help you think a minute about your next plan of action while making it clear to the child they need a new plan.  Some of our kids can’t read between the lines.  You may need to follow up with, “I don’t think kissing is appropriate in my house/this location.”  Less confrontational tactics to try might be bringing in food or sending dogs in the room. It serves to change the focus and allows the more observant to read between the lines that their behavior was not acceptable to you.
  4. Show up.  Do regular check-ins.  If teens think you will show up every few minutes, they are less likely to start risky or sexual behavior, or any other behaviors that might embarrass themselves or their friends.  If you leave the room for an hour, anything can happen.  If you are chaperoning, it means you should have your eyes on the kids at least every few minutes.  Also consider placing the kids in the most public room in the house instead of a closed bedroom.  An area with several entrances gives off a feeling of ‘we’re not alone’ whereas a closed bedroom screams, “we’re alone.”  One of the nonnegotiable rules in my house is kids of the opposite sex are not allowed upstairs (in bedrooms).
  5. Talk of sex and drugs.  Again, exploring smack topics is part of adolescence.  When you get uncomfortable, speak up and shut it down.  I simply state, “Let’s change the topic” and usually toss out a new topic.  For example, “tell me about that hair, bracelets, crazy shoes.” Comment about what’s already in front of you. Sometimes, however, just to keep my kids guessing, I am willing to talk about spicy topics…as long as we have a mature conversation.  Sometimes kids want to ask a question and they need a reliable answer. I have two personal rules on this:

I never give permission for sex or drugs                                                                                                                                                            I never give my personal history

 To wrap up, I think it’s worth the effort to provide social opportunities in your home.  Choose another parent helper if you need more coverage.  The main two things to do are to comment when you feel uncomfortable and to be present and visible.  Teens just want to hang out and be teens.  Be the “cool parent” who offers the space and provides the supervision that makes it fun and safe!



“I want to grow up to be a rock star!”

Magical thinking is cute on a five year old but it looks different on a nineteen year old.  When a senior in high school expects to be a race car driver upon high school graduation but hasn’t passed a regular driver’s license test, it’s a little odd. The fantastical story might even continue with Bill Gates backing their career financially even though they’ve never met Bill Gates and they have no connection to him.  As the public world shakes their head and thinks privately, ‘surely this almost grown man knows this isn’t even close to reality,’ the teenager continues to spin a magical story where free cars appear and people cheer for him as he wins the Indy 500.

Often high school students have high aspirations for their young adult future however sometimes they are completely off base in the real world.  How does this happen?

A parent will usually support a dreamy childhood aspiration through elementary school and then the conversation is expected to change with age.  In a concrete world where actions equal reality, the parents might start asking their future race car driver some questions:

Do you have any role models in this field?

What are the steps you could take to get there?

Why do you think you would be good at it?


And oh by the way – go rotate the tires and learn how to change oil in a car.  Show me how concrete actions of working on machines today link to a career in the future.

Somehow there is a hiccup in this progression of early childhood fantastical thoughts moving towards mature reality when a student who has no license tells me he’s going to be a race car driver in six months.  What happened?  How does a teenager get the idea the world will serve me, give me endless free opportunities and support me financially – all without me lifting a finger?  Insert my finger pointing to the parent here.  Parents actually hinder adolescent growth and propagate fantasy living when they fail to offer reality-based opportunities to their child.  When a parent nods their head and agrees with the nineteen year olds race car fantasy while cleaning their child’s room and putting away their child’s dishes, well… I can see how the teen thinks.  ‘People serve me by cleaning up my mess and my fan club sure likes to listen to my magical thinking story of race car driving.’  At some point the parents provide a disservice when they help propagate a false sense of the future.

In high school this false sense of the future is often described by teens as attending major colleges, living in far off places and driving a hot car.  At Gateway we are challenged with the task of unraveling magical thinking.  We ask the students what is likely based on your abilities and opportunities and how will you get there?

Parents can help adolescents attach fantasies to the here and now.  The key idea here is realistic. What can a student do on this day to show they are ready for the next opportunity?  If you are not sure where to go with a conversation, come and talk to us.  We have some great resources and we know our students educational strengths and challenges.

Please be bold and question magical thinking.  Parents send out signs of approval if they fail to question fantasies.  Purposeful and realistic planning is extremely useful to instill hope for the future and to reduce anxiety.  When today’s actions create a stepwise path towards a realistic goal, the outcome is a ‘can do’ attitude and probable successful future.


Julie Nicodemus, M.A., LPC, LMFT
School Counselor
Gateway Academy
3721 Dacoma
Houston, Texas 77092
713-659-7900 ext. 25


Gateway – Doing good to feel better

September 7th, 2011 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Some people say things you never forget.  One day I listened to a keynote speaker share a client’s ‘success story’ which started with firing his psychologist and using his scheduled therapy time to volunteer.  As shocking as it was to hear a psychologist brag about this to his peers, it’s not shocking to see how the client could choose to make this change.  When he quit complaining and adopted a helper mentality, he started to feel valuable and had less time to focus on the ‘poor me’ mentality.

The entire faculty and student body of Gateway Academy is leaning into the book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Teens.  It’s format is a combination of comic book, storytelling, key phrase and checklists – in other words – easy reading for teenagers.  Like the idea of volunteering, it’s full of simple ideas you can apply to your life.  I can see myself reading a few pages to my own teens and then discussing how I have applied and functionally failed at many of the principles.  Usually my kids open up with their own current stories after hearing how their mother crashed and burned in adolescence.  Since their daily mission is to prove they are smarter than I am, I just help fuel the fire – which ironically plays right into my hand.

In the early chapters of the book, Sean Covey discusses the personal bank account.  One idea is to help others with small acts of kindness.  I personally like the part where Covey recommends cleaning up at home AND doing it with more effort than usual.  A realistic idea?  Maybe not.  What may be realistic is the application of helping others through a meaningful job.  I know what the keynote speaker said is true.  When people are in a funk in their lives, engaging in the act of helping others is a game changer.  We often see a teenager spend time at a summer internship or job and then come back to school a more mature and motivated person.  They feel like they have value.  They have impacted someone or something in a way they perceive makes a difference.

I wonder if someone in your family feels stuck or not valued.  What act of service can they provide to others which will in turn create a sense of intrinsic value?  For teens, motivation often comes through something they choose.  For example, if dad recommends cleaning equipment at the fitness club, your teen might prefer dog washing. If you want to consider job options and don’t know where to start, call Gateway and talk to the counselor about it. Volunteer opportunities are abundantly available in the Houston area as seen on   http://volunteerhouston.org/ and http://www.houstonservice.org/.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens Covey recommends doing small acts of kindness regularly.  Although this sounds reasonable, often teenagers are so ‘me’ focused they find it hard to activate being of service to others.  Sometimes they have to be placed in the position of a helper and then attach to the idea.  This means signing them up to work or to be of service and then waiting for them to reap the feeling of being a valuable helper.  Belief often follows behavior in this context–

Someone doesn’t feel valued

They help others

They feel valuable

I encourage you to read along with us as we dare to plant the seeds of successful actions into our Gateway teens.  Although it can be found as an audio book, it is visually stimulating in written form.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Habits-Highly-Effective-Teens/dp/0684856093/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315191177&sr=8-1.

Julie Nicodemus
Counselor, Gateway Academy


That Dirty Word:  ‘Routine’… The Back to School Push and Pull

If your house is anything like mine this summer, you have at least one teenager who stays up late, eats a lot and appears glued to anything glowing – a computer, phone, television, IPod, etc.  I realize this routine, or lack of it, must change in order for the school routine to begin.  The real question is how much is the teenager motivated to step back into the school pattern and how much do I have to do to force the pattern?  I know the basics on what should happen:

  1. Turn off the TV at least 1 hour prior to sleeping.  Visual images increase brain stimulation – the opposite of what you want before you go to sleep.
  2. Turn off fast-paced music.  Do not leave ear phones in with face-paced music while trying to go to sleep.
  3. Go to sleep much earlier.  By now, you might know how many hours of sleep your teen requires in order to maintain a positive attitude.  This usually varies between 8-10 hours.
  4. Avoid all caffeine 2 hours prior to bedtime.  If at all possible, avoid eating at least an hour before bedtime.
  5. Clean up the messy space.  People are generally less stressed in a clean and serene environment.

Here are some things you might try:

If your teen ‘needs’ some kind of noise stimulation at the time they go to sleep, you can use a free app that makes white noise.  You can simulate a rain storm or crashing waves on a beach.  You can download a free app to an IPod, computer or a phone.

Set a definite “turn off the TV” time.  Do not negotiate.  This should be at least an hour prior to bedtime.

Hold out a carrot.  If you go to bed at 10 and are awake by 8 the week prior to school starting, we will go get bagels, donuts, etc. for breakfast.

Exercising will usually wear out a teenager enough to help them want to fall asleep.  You can ask them to swim or play basketball in the evening the week prior to school.  They are more likely to choose to go to bed earlier instead of midnight or later.

Take a hot shower.  It relaxes almost everyone.

Try and turn on their motivation in all of this.  Ask them what time they think they should be going to sleep.  Negotiate even if you work into a reasonable schedule.  If they choose, they are more likely to do it.  Take them to the grocery store and ask them to pick out what they want to eat.  They are more likely to eat breakfast if they like it.  Ask them what they want to do in the hour prior to bedtime – read, take a shower, etc.  Let them design the hour.


By now you’ve heard the same advice annually in August.  The reason it’s repeated is because it still holds true.  The week before school starts, go to bed earlier and rise earlier.  Get into the routine of eating at standard times.  Read and do low stimulation activities the hour prior to bedtime.  Plan your morning prior to going to sleep – your clothes, your breakfast and your morning activities.

Lastly, remember to prepare for school.  Students feel more in control if they know what comes next.  Verify they have completed their summer reading and they have school supplies.  Make sure their tennis shoes still fit.  Check out their shorts.  These growing adolescents are predictable in at least one area – they grow right out of those expensive shoes and clothes.

It’s time to institute the school routine.  Success will follow if you engage and activate a plan.  See you soon…


Complicated Launchings: ADHD Kids Grow Up

What do we do now?


Sophia K. Havasy, Ph.D.

Tarnow Center for Self-Management



All teenagers need to be educated beyond high school. Educated parents tend to expect that their children will, at least, complete a Bachelors Degree. Often, this is taken for granted. What has not been common knowledge is that in the United States, we graduate only about 50% of the students who enroll in colleges and universities. Going to college is easy; getting a degree is the hard part.

For young adults with ADHD, LD, and other assorted letters, I tell parents to think in terms of a10-Year Plan. With hard work and consistent efforts, maybe it can be an 8-Year Plan, maybe 6. Young people with neurological differences are more likely to be slower to mature than neuro-typical young adults. They easily fall into the category of late bloomers. Helping families to plan for this maturational process and to identify the work that must occur at each step is what I do.

The need for this kind of planning and assistance is growing. In the Houston Chronicle this past weekend they interviewed a pediatric neurologist who reported, “. . . 70 percent of three-generation families—children, parents, grandparents—have at least one member affected by a neurological disorder. . .”(Houston Chronicle, Sunday Conversation, 7/10/11). You are not alone as a family.

Young adults and parents need to become realistic. If a longer launching period is indicated, then all involved must plan for the costs. The launching process needs to be based on demonstrated self-management skills and accomplishments, not on good intentions. No young adult sets out to fail, but without skills the good intentions become reduced in meaning and everyone feels like a failure.

Come out on Thursday, July 21st and we will discuss the process in more depth. Sponsored by ADDA-SR. Held at Gateway Academy, 3721 Dacoma, Houston, TX 77092.  For more information contact the ADDA-SR office at 281-897-0982 or addaoffice@sbcglobal.net.


Gateway Academy on the Radio!

June 28th, 2011 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Michelle and Scott were guests on The Community Spotlight on CBS’s 650 AM. With the help of Ron Klinger, the host of the show, we talked about our school’s history, achievements and challenges. Follow the link to listen on line or download the podcast.

The Gateway Academy on CBS 650 AM


Sleep, text, eat, repeat.  What are appropriate summertime activities for adolescents?  Consider sleep, exercise, social stimulation, responsibility and diet.

Although some parents believe their teens will become lazy if they sleep long hours, sleeping has restorative value.  Natural sleep patterns for adolescents are really different from most adults and small children.  Teen bodies naturally tire much later in the evening thus giving way to a late nighttime sleep pattern and of course that follows with sleeping later in the morning.  Something to consider beyond the rest factor is how sleep affects attention.  A teen risk for sleep deprivation is lower concentration when driving.  Consider allowing your teenager to fall into an appropriate sleep pattern for their body this summer.  Going to bed at 11 and sleeping until 9 might fit with their biorhythm and it meets the need for recommended longer sleep hours in adolescence.  Routine – regularly going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time – is significant in regulating those teen attitudes and alertness.  http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm

Are you looking for social experiences for your teenager?  Exercise with peers can involve shopping for new gym clothes, hanging out at the yogurt shop after a workout and listening to music in a spin class.  At the gym, guys take turns rotating through equipment and this is a social skill.  Regardless of the social component, teenagers thrive when they are allowed to expend their angst in an appropriate way.  Hitting that gym bag and pumping iron feels manly and exhilarating for teen boys.  Consider the long term payoffs of engaging in a regular exercise routine.  If your teen works out regularly now, they are far more likely to work out as an adult.  Check out the YMCA, you subdivision or apartment workout facilities, and local gyms.  Think about the social opportunity and have them invite friends when the work out.  If you don’t have the ability to go with your teen and you think they need some training, consider hiring a personal trainer or a teen partner.

As you proceed through the summer, reflect on your own experiences at your teen’s age. Some things never change: resisting responsibility seems to be a rite of passage in adolescence. When you look back, how do you remember feeling about the feedback you received form adults? There are some core competencies teens should master but there are some areas where parents should improve their communication. Try to make consequences predictable and natural. For example, if your teen needs to learn how to use a washing machine, they might not be motivated to act until there is an interruption in their supply of clean clothes.

What three simple responsibilities can you decide are important to master this summer? Here are three suggestions.

–          I get off the phone when I need to go to bed.

–          I call if I’m going to be late.

–          I dress appropriately.

See if they fit your situation, and if not, think of ones that do. Remember, natural and predictable consequences work best for any habit you want to eliminate or create! If you need more ideas on adolescent competencies, contact me.

Food can be a sport for some teenagers while others are so concerned about body image, they refuse to eat much at all.  A couple of key ideas to help manage your teens eating are keeping healthy foods in the house and making sure they eat at least one nutritious meal a day.  It is a good idea to shop with your teenager if you don’t already do so.  They learn from experience about the cost of food, its nutritional value, and even how to choose fruit.  Like picking out clothes, they are growing in their own personal preferences.  You may be surprised on why they choose a box of cereal…it may be the taste, the advertising, or even that “their friends like it!”  Teens generally love food so this is one area you may still have some influence.

Some final thoughts on summer activities with teens:

–          Give them more opportunities to control their life (sleep times, food choices)

–          Be rigid on a few important things (put your dishes away, don’t use inappropriate language around me)

–          Suggest and provide opportunities for fun (exercise, social avtivities)

Keep me posted on your successes!


Watching you…

As much as teenagers want to escape their parents, they are watching us like a hawk.  Yesterday it was pointed out to me I was texting while driving (at a stoplight) and I pumped gas while talking on the phone.  Perfect, I am not.

A recent study said kids are more likely to be happy at home if their parents embraced upon meeting every evening.  Although I am queen of being a skeptic of research, this does seem to make sense.  Role modeling happiness does count even after a child passes through middle school.

What are you doing to set the stage for your teen to pick up on your values?  Daily rituals of cleaning up (pride of ownership of clothes on the floor of their room – UGH!), hugging at bedtime and saying, “Have a nice day!” all count in the sum total of life.  You may strive to have dinner together twice a week instead of aiming for the almost unattainable daily 6pm dinner of the 1950’s.  You can add one simple, quick and free ritual which your teenager may carry on to the next generation.

Research shows strong correlations for the use of alcohol and drugs.  If you model drinking 1-2 alcoholic beverages on a regular basis, teens are more likely to grow up and use alcohol in a responsible way.  If you never drink or drink in large quantities in front of them, an adolescent is more likely to experience alcohol in the extremes – as in binge drinking.

It is not a big leap to make the correlation about parents who use tobacco having kids who use tobacco.  This link to the American Cancer Society has some interesting ideas on how you can help yourself and talk to your kid about it:


Sometimes I read an article on a subject before I talk to my own kids because it helps me formulate the main ideas I want to drive home.  Even if you don’t use tobacco, your opinions on the use of tobacco and other drugs do impact their thinking and behaviors.

Rodney Atkins wrote about a son watching his father.  From the song Watching You:

“‘Cause I’ve been watching you, dad ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I want to be like you.
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are.
By then I’ll be strong as superman
We’ll be just alike, hey, won’t we dad
When I can do everything you do.
‘cause I’ve been watchin’ you.”

At the beginning of the song the son says a cussword and the dad asked where he learned it.  Of course the son said, “Watching you dad.”

What one thing can you role model which will make a difference in your adolescent’s life?



Julie Nicodemus, M.A., LPC, LMFT
School Counselor
Gateway Academy



As the speech language pathologist at Gateway my role is to support teachers with strategies to enhance their lessons through the use of visual aids, graphic organizers, and class discussions that allow the students to practice their oral and written language skills.  In addition to providing classroom support, I am also working with students to develop improved social cognition skills.  Social cognition, or social thinking, is required prior to the development of social skills.  According to Michelle Garcia Winner, one of the pioneers of Social Thinking, “successful social thinkers consider the points of view, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, prior knowledge and intentions of others. For most of us this is an intuitive process. We determine the meanings behind the messages communicated by others and how to respond to them within seconds! Social thinking occurs everywhere, when we talk, share space, walk down the street, even when we read a novel and relate to our pets. It is an intelligence that integrates information across home, work and community settings – something we usually take for granted!” Dr. Winter has a website that offers a wealth of information on the subject and serves as an excellent resource for parents.

Many students have difficulty on some level with social cognition and metacognition.  Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of one’s own thinking and cognitive processes.  Basically, metacognition helps a person plan ahead, decide which steps to take and how to take them, carry out the plan, and self-check along the way.  Think about the steps a person would take to plan for a week long family vacation, and actually leave on time with everything needed. That is metacognition at work!

As parents and educators, trying to incorporate a piece of social cognition and metacognition into a child’s daily routine might seem overwhelming, but it can actually be broken down into two simple questions: “What’s your plan?” and “What’s (name) thinking?”

Whether it’s getting dressed, feeding the dog, doing a research project, or making a presentation to a boss, our lives are full of multiple plans which we carry out throughout the day.  The “What’s your plan?” question helps a child figure out the best course of action for a successful day.  Improving social thinking is focused through the intentional question, “What’s (name) thinking?” Another way to present that question is “What are the words (name) is saying in his/her head?” Once the child is able to respond with a thought about another’s thoughts, then the student will need to decide what he will do with that information.

Caroline Serrett, M.S., CCC-SLP


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