Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Teen Violence: What You Should Know

Q. I am a school teacher and I have been watching the news coverage about the recent Ohio school shooting. It feels like it could happen anywhere. What should I do to stop this from happening? Are there any warning signs I can watch out for?

A. It is very scary to sit and watch the images of school shootings on your television. It makes us all hug our kids a little tighter, but also makes us wonder what could have been done to prevent something like that from happening. As a parent, teacher, minister, or caring adult, we want to know what to do to protect children that we care about.

If you are curious what warning signs to watch out for, the National Institute of Justice teamed up with the Secret Service to help prevent school shootings. In their report they found there is no common profile of a school shooter*. Therefore, it is more important to look at behaviors and what the teen is communicating through these behaviors rather than looking only at the personality or character traits of that teen. There is no typical personality trait list that fits all violent teenagers. You really want to watch for a major change in behavior that is out of character for that teen.

The National School Safety and School Services list the following issues for teens that adults should be respond to:

  • Detachment: A lack of bonding and "connectedness" to others
  • Withdrawal or perceptions of hopelessness
  • Threats --- and the efforts to establish the means and opportunity to carry out the threats
  • Disciplinary problems in school and/or delinquent, criminal activity in schools or communities
  • Unusual interest or preoccupation with weapons, bombs, and violent forms of "entertainment"
  • Abuse of animals, suicide threats or attempts, self-mutilation, etc.**
Being present in a child's life can also make all the difference in the world. Try having open, honest communication with children you feel might fit this criteria above. Most kids need to know that an adult cares about them and really cares about what stressors are present in their life. This could be the early intervention that prevents them from acting out. If you are concerned about a particular teen, talk to them openly and honestly about what you are thinking. If they are struggling, you can then help direct them to appropriate referral sources such as ministers, school counselors or a professional counselor.

For more information, you can also check out this handout about "Early Warning, Timely Response". It has many great resources and action plans available to you for free.

Parents can also play a crucial role in violence prevention. The National School Safety and Security Services list these idea that parents can employ to reduce the risk to their child:
  • Talk with children early and regularly about gangs, drugs, weapons, school and community safety, and related concerns.
  • When you talk with children, BE HONEST! Violence and related trauma issues are serious, but more damage can be done by minimizing or exaggerating points than by simply providing children with facts and telling the truth.
  • Do NOT assume that your child knows even the "basic" facts about safety and other risks. Kids absorb a lot of information and, unfortunately, much of it is inaccurate or from questionable sources. Let your child get all of the information - the correct information - from you as the parent. And give it to them in a non-threatening and non-embarrassing time, place, and manner. Perhaps then your child will be more willing to come to you with other questions and problems later on!
  • Eliminate access to weapons by youth.
  • Be aware of and do not permit gang identifiers.
  • Provide order, structure, and consistent discipline in the home.
  • Work cooperatively with police and school officials.
  • Seek professional assistance when needed and in a timely manner. Do NOT wait until a problem gets out of control and then look for professional help
  • Parents must provide order, structure and consistent discipline. Although you love your child, realize that he or she is still a kid and will test the limits. Ask probing questions: Where are you going? Who will be with you? And do some follow-up to verify the answers they give you!
  • Inspect your child's room from time to time. Parents have found gang graffiti on bedroom walls, drug paraphernalia on dresser tops, sexually explicit notes, weapons in book bags leaving the home, graffiti and revealing information on school notebooks, and much, much more once they get up the nerve to start snooping! Unfortunately, some parents falsely believe that they should not- or legally cannot - go into their child's room. It is your house and your child - check them both and check them regularly! It is not only your right, but your responsibility!!! ***
There is no one issue or no one thing that we can eliminate from teenage culture to stop these acts from happening, but we can be on the look out and we can be involved in kids lives. It might just be that involvement that helps a teenager realize there is another option other than violence.

* Information taken from:
** Information taken from:
*** Information taken from:

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Can I Rejuvinate My Marriage?

Q. My marriage feels stale. We don’t really do much together anymore and I don’t ever feel emotionally attached to my spouse. I really want to rejuvenate my marriage and to spice up our relationship more. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do differently?

A.The suggestions that emanate from this concern and question seem to lie within its own content. That is to say, one reason you may not feel emotionally attached to your spouse may be due in part to the fact that “we don’t really do much together anymore.” My initial suggestion would be to start doing things together. The old adage of “the family that plays together, stays together” might ring true here.

First, you might try making a list of the things you did together when the relationship and marriage was in its initial years. Did you worship together, travel together, go to the beach or mountains, take walks, have long talks, rent movies, go on dates, go out to eat, read together, play sports, do hobbies, etc.? The things that brought you together may have fallen by the wayside as life’s responsibilities increased. A word to the wise for those currently dating: don’t let your relationship rest primarily on the physical part of the relationship, for this generally does not sustain a relationship long term. Shared interests are important. Maybe try out a new hobby or interest together.

Second, share with your spouse that you don’t feel as close as you once were; that you desire to be closer to him or her. Use “I-statements,” stating what you do want, and avoid accusing statements of how your spouse may not be measuring up to your expectations. For example: “I would like for us to take walks together;” “I would really enjoy a back rub from you;” “It would be nice to go to the ballgame with you this weekend,” etc.

The story has been told of the wife who gently, yet assertively, told her husband “it’s nice to receive flowers and/or a card from you from time to time. And, please don’t give these to me tomorrow, but sometime soon would be nice.” Now, it wasn’t that the husband had never done this before; but evidently, it had been a while since he had made her feel special with such gifts. So, in a couple of weeks, guess what? He surprised her with a small bouquet of flowers, AND a card! She was excited, thrilled, and felt special! They talked about this later and she said she realized her husband was not a mind reader, and if she doesn’t occasionally let him know what she needs, her needs may go unmet. Of course, neither spouse should have to constantly remind the other what they need, but it’s okay to let the other know from time to time what you need to feel loved and special. And, the other spouse would do well to honor such honest requests. Also, make sure you share your hopes and dreams with your spouse; this helps to have a shared meaning and purpose in your marriage.

Third, be intentional about making time for each other. Most people are intentional about going to work, paying their bills, and even completing maintenance on their cars; but sometimes couples expect their marriages to be exciting and thrilling without doing the necessary maintenance to get out of them what they desire. Set aside at least a monthly date night. Make this a priority as if it were a doctor’s appointment. If you have children and finances are a challenge, barter with another couple for child-care services so you can go out. Picnics can be inexpensive, and quite romantic.

Research has shown that feelings and emotions are at their bases "neurological and physiological. People feel it in their bodies. Conscious articulation of feelings and thoughts comes only later” (Greenberg & Goldman). When couples are active together, things start happening in their minds and their bodies. The more couples are together, actively engaged in positive activities, the more emotionally attached they can feel towards one another. It takes a commitment to doing the work that will give the results for which you are looking. It’s often not a lot of work, but it does require consistent effort. It’s much like a financial investment; you have to put something in, in order to get something out. We do reap what we sow. So, be intentional in making your marriage a priority.

If, however, these suggestions are not making any headway, you may want to consult a professional counselor for the possibility of any unresolved issues between you and your spouse, or to see where you may be “stuck.” In the mean-time, John Gottman* has what he calls the “magic” 5 hours to improve a relationship. There is no actual “magic,” but putting in effort here and there can create an atmosphere and climate that can improve your marriage and help you feel closer to your spouse.

• Partings. Do not part in the morning without knowing one interesting thing that will happen in your spouse’s day. (2 minutes a day X 5 working days: total 10 minutes)

• Reunions. Take 10 minutes, each, to talk about your day (the stress-reducing conversation). Partners alternate in actively listening. Rule: Support and understanding must precede advice. (20 minutes a day X 5 days: total 1 hour 40 minutes)

• Admiration and appreciation. Find some way every day to genuinely communicate affection and appreciation toward your spouse. (5 minutes a day X 7 days: total 35 minutes)

• Affection. Kiss, hold, touch each other. Play is good. Make sure to kiss each other before going to sleep and follow the admonition in Ephesians 4:26, “Do not let the sun set on your wrath.” (5 minutes a day X 7 days: total 35 minutes)

• Take at least 2 hours a week for a marital date. During this date, couples do a number of things, such as updating their Love Maps (Gottman’s term for continuing to cognitively know your spouse: what’s happening in their life, what’s important to them, etc.), turning toward one another for support and comfort, and often just asking one another how each is. Some think of questions to ask their spouses and then actively listen (such as, “How are you thinking of changing the bedroom these days?” or “What would be your idea of a great getaway?” or “How are you thinking about your work these days?”).

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

* Gottman, John M. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, p. 304.

**Greenberg, L.S. & Goldman, R.N. (2008). Emotion-Focused Couples Therapy: The Dynamics of Emotion, Love, and Power, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, p. 19.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Valentines or Anytime Date Ideas

Update: Check out this great idea!  Make a year's worth of date's in a box for your spouse!  What a great Valentine's Day gift and a great way to show your spouse you love them.  Click here for instructions! 

We asked you, our readers, and staff at the Alabama Baptist Children's Homes (ABCH) and Pathways Professional Counseling to submit some ideal dates for Valentine's Day or Anytime. Here is what you had to say: (originally ran February 2010)

1. One Spouse Plans Everything - From childcare to where or what you are going to do, one spouse takes charge, allowing the other one to relax and enjoy the date. It might be a great idea to ask grandparents/friends to keep the kids overnight.

2. Romantic Spa Night - Before your spouse gets home, fill the bath tub with a warm bubble bath, light candles, turn on their favorite music and set aside their favorite book. Sometimes having that time to unwind and be by yourself will set the perfect mood for later.

3. A Local Car Race Track - Might be out of your comfort zone, but be willing to try something different. Grab a blanket and snuggle up together to watch those cars go 'round and 'round. Or head to the drag strip to watch them go head-to-head.

4. Indoor Picnic - Spread out a blanket, grab dinner from a local restaurant, turn out the lights and have a wonderful picnic indoors.

5. Surprise Weekend Getaway - For those that can afford a little more this holiday, surprise your spouse to a wonderful weekend getaway. Have their bags already packed, all the details planned and for an added bonus, have flowers at your destination ready for your spouse.

6. Unplugged night - Turn off those cell phones, blackberries, and iPhones. No TV, computers or game systems. Simply enjoy one another and connect through conversation. Not sure what to talk about? Click here for some conversation starters.

7. Scavenger Hunt - This can be as simple as looking through your home for the gift you are giving or a more elaborate walk with your spouse through some of your favorite memories in your home or town. This is a great way to remind you both why you love each other and why you married in the first place.

8. Favorite Things Night - Each spouse could plan to bring home the other's favorite things. This can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be - candy bars, drinks, food, game, movie, etc. Having a night where you honor one another with your favorite things could be a very memorable experience.

9. Do Something Your Spouse Enjoys - Get out of your comfort zone for the sake of connection. Go hunting, fishing, shopping, camping, watch a chick-flick or a macho movie. Whatever you choose, don't grumble or continuously remind your spouse you are doing this for them, but rather embrace the experience. It will mean a lot to your spouse.

10. Pursue a Hobby - You could take this holiday to start a new hobby together - art classes, cooking classes, concert going, or a craft. No matter what you choose, this will give you something as a couple to pursue for years to come.

11. Romantic Coffee Date - There is nothing like sitting at a local coffee shop and letting conversation happen. Good things can happen over a simple cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Don't just get it to go though. Sit, relax and enjoy one another's company.

12. Serve Together - The Lord has called us to serve the least of these. What a great opportunity as a couple to fulfill HIS commands together. Find a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter, after school program or church and serve the community. You could even shop for a local non-profit, like Pathways or ABCH. Click here for our needs lists.

13. Take a Romantic Walk - Bundle up and find a lake, walk around your neighborhood, or simply enjoy the park. Get outside and get moving together.

14. Recreate Your First Date - Take the opportunity this Valentine's Day to reminisce with one another about your first date. Go to the same restaurant or same type of restaurant, do the same thing or watch the first movie you ever watched together. Start a conversation, too, about what first attracted you to one another. This can really spark a romantic mood.

15. Read 52 Ways to Have Fun Fantastic Sex - Written by a Christian therapist, this is a great book to spice up the bedroom and explore some fun new ways to be intimate with one another.

Whatever you choose to do this Valentine's Day, we hope you take time to enjoy your significant other and rejuvenate your relationship. Remember to make this Valentine's Day about more than flowers and chocolates, let it be a time that you check up on your relationship and check in with your spouse. Read here for more information on how to give your relationship a check up.