Achievement unlocked: relationship

With a lot of the teenage guys with whom I work, dating is a serious goal and a serious headache. Most of them have a lot of misperceptions about what it takes to—in their words–“get a girlfriend.” There are many misperceptions about this process—and it is a process…an ongoing one. My hope is that teenagers (and parents) walk away with a few tips on how to approach dating—whether it’s a boyfriend or girlfriend being sought.

It’s a process, not a destination

joystick-1216816_1280The most common misconception that I encounter seems to be the idea that a girlfriend/boyfriend is a prize awarded, as if one were playing a video game and finding this elusive, magical unicorn called “girlfriend” somehow gives one enough experience points to attain a new social level (this is a gamer thing—ask your kids).

You can hear this in how the guys with whom I work talk and strategize: “How do I get a girlfriend if I like Dungeons & Dragons?” or, “Do girls like guys who are smart or dumb?” and even, “Should I have six pack abs? Will that work?”

Additionally, we often talk about how much work it is to maintain a romantic relationship. This is difficult as teens often don’t think further than “Girlfriend Achievement: Unlocked,” and when they do talk about it, it’s often about what they can do to keep a girlfriend: “I can buy her gifts,” or, “I will need to take her on a lot of dates, right?”

The problem assumptions

There are a few problems with the above mentality:

  • It assumes that people are not independent, but machines where one may press certain buttons or pull certain levers to achieve a desired outcome.

  • It assumes there are universal answers to what people find attractive. Yes, there are certain things that people tend to find attractive (confidence and authenticity often being two biggies)—but it varies from person to person.

  • It assumes that the teen, as a pursuer, is somehow owed a relationship if they do all the right things.

These are problematic—especially when the last assumption is violated. The guys can become creepy or occasionally scary that their advances were denied. To make things more difficult, dating today has less overt rules (such as not using titles like “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “relationship”), which can be antithetical to the rigid way teens who need help with social skills think.

What can be done?

relationship-1261216_1280First, I teach my social skills clients that they need to change how they think, starting with the following rules:

  • A girlfriend is not an achievement. She is a person with the same independence, rights and feelings as you.

  • She doesn’t owe you anything—even if you’re being nice to her. (Additionally, if you’re being “nice” to only get something, that really isn’t very nice.)

  • Developing a relationship is not that different than making a normal, platonic friendship. You need to get to know the other person buy engaging in small talk and responding to their verbal and nonverbal cues. You need to learn about common interests so that the relationship can deepen.

  • Despite what some websites tell you, there is no one formula of behavior to “get a girlfriend” because every person is different.

  • You have to learn to fail and get rejected (and coping with rejection is a learned skill) in order to develop a socializing style that is authentic for you.

  • You need to learn to enjoy the process of getting to know people.

  • Be willing to walk away from the relationship if you don’t have things in common.

These rules add up to one thing: flexibly enjoying the process of getting to know someone.

Ideally, it should be like a good video game. Your focus should be about the person and the process, not just the end result or achievement. You should enjoy the journey of getting there—if the ending is good, that’s wonderful!

What else is out there?

If you are looking for other resources, or if you have concerns about your (or your child’s) dating skills or approach, I recommend the Aspiring Youth individual social skills coaches. This is a great topic to discuss with us, and one we enjoy helping our teenage and young adult clients with.

Other than that, I tend to recommend author Harris O’Malley, better known by his screen name Dr. NerdLove. Aside from his brilliant blog, he has books on dating, including:

What I definitely don’t recommend are any websites or books written by those in the “pickup artist” (PUA) community. Don’t even look at PUA websites (visiting gives them web traffic and, consequentially, income)—they tend to objectify and dehumanize women to a frightening degree, and that’s no way to learn about and enjoy the process of building relationships.


R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of TakeThis.org, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

Social media and teens

Social networking has become a big part of how we keep in contact with family and friends. It allows us to share ideas and connect with people. Given that the cyber world can also be daunting, parents tend to breathe a sigh of relief when their teen has little interest in creating a Facebook account.

technology-785742_1280My brother, who will be 14 years old soon, likes Minecraft and Legos and learning about planets. Facebook isn’t near the top of his interests list. What would someone who avoids social interactions and prefers to spend his time alone get out of creating a Facebook account? Actually, a lot.

He’s missing out on being a part of our family Facebook page and messaging with our grandma. He doesn’t get the opportunity to connect with peers from his school, which is one way adolescents form connections with one another. Social networking has become a critical component of teen and young adult social life.

Yes: it can be scary thinking that our teen is going to be joining the online social world. Especially those who already have a difficult time navigating social environments. So how can we be sure that our teen knows how to safely and effectively interact online?

Teaching the hidden rules of social networking, from The Hidden Curriculum (Myles, Trautman, & Schelvan, 2013).

Social networking comes with a whole set of hidden rules. They may seem obvious to us, but keep in mind that our teens may need them explicitly taught them – just like we teach appropriate social skills in situations like school and in public Have your teen develop a list of safe behaviors online to understand his or her knowledge.

Safetyblogging-15968_1280

  • Only connect with friends you know and trust

  • Keep personal information private or do no include it

  • Never agree to meet up with someone from the Internet without talking to your parents about it first

  • Do not talk to people online whom you do not know

Social interactions

  • Your social media connections can see eveyrthing you post

  • Don’t post anything if you are feeling angry, upset, sad or overwhelmed. Wait until you’ve calmed down to post something, think carefully and have a parent or trusted adult read it beforehand

  • A Facebook friend is not necessarily a real friend

  • Online posts can never be taken back – even if you delete it, it can be saved by others.

Social media is just one aspect of social interactions that can be important. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of social media with your teen and encourage him or her to safely connect with others online if you think its right for your teen.


Breea. M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Dungeons & Dragons & Social skills

What is Dungeons & Dragons? Why does Aspiring Youth use it in one of our social skills groups? And why is it one of our most popular groups?

While some of our students’ parents have played it themselves, many don’t really know what it’s all about. Read on if you’re either unfamiliar with the game or how we use it.

rpg-468917_1280The game

Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) is the best-known table top role playing game in the world. It has been around since the early 1970s, though it has changed and evolved over time. The basic concept is fairly simple. Each player has information about a customized character, and the leader (or Dungeon Master) is essentially a combination of narrator and referee. She or he tells an imaginary story while the players decide how their characters interact within that story – and act it out.

The game evolves each week and takes on the personality of the group as players progress and encounter consequences. Some games are serious or cartoonish. Some are filled with diplomacy and intrigue, or with epic battles that the characters race to stop. All require collaboration and symbiosis between the players and the leader.

Why use it for social skills?

Role playing has been used by mental health clinicians for decades to help people rehearse interpersonal interactions and coping strategies. When moderated by professionals, D&D can serve the same function.

Aspiring Youth social skills groups (the first in Washington to use D&D in an organized way) accomplishes these same goals:

  • Players think about how someone else would act through coaching and creating a (generally prosocial) character whose motivations and personality are different.

  • They have to mimic the behavior and words of that type of person.WP_20160328_003

  • The game provides a safe, flexible framework in which a person can practice those social skills.

  • What’s more, the players are rewarded with in-game prizes for successfully doing so.

In addition to that, we often co-facilitate the game to track player’s behaviors. With a white board, we visibly tally various behaviors such as raising one’s hand and waiting to speak versus disruptively talking out of turn. We also track whether a player is ready on his or her turn or there is a delay in the game due to the player being distracted. The target behaviors are collectively rewarded with in-game points and the opposite behaviors are penalized. The peer pressure to exhibit target behaviors for rewards (and avoiding penalties) leads to significant improvement.

How parents can help

How can you support your student’s efforts? Here are five tips to practice in your home:

  1. Basics: Learn about his or her character and the motivations that drive the character. Ask about personality, class/job, race, physical skills – learn all you can.

  1. 14543462957_c0a257e3ef_zMotivations: While you may not understand at first (What is a lawful good, dwarf knight who wants to bring justice to the world?), all of these details such as morality and background impact how a character would act in a given situation. Coach your student on how that type of person might act. That’s what we want the players to think about.

  1. Reviewing the rules: If your student doesn’t have answers about his or her character, it’s probably time to read the rule book a little better, which you can do together.

  1. What’s new: Ask about new developments each week. Players love to talk about their experiences. Maybe the character succeeded at a seemingly impossible feat and saved the day! Or perhaps, the character is trapped and in need of rescuing by the party.

  1. Check in with us! Stop inside when picking up your student and chat with us, the facilitators. While teens might groan a bit, this is a great way to catch up on behavior goals among parents, students and facilitators.

Hopefully, this gives you some tips and a better idea of how Aspiring Youth brings growth to students’ social skills in a dynamic, captivating and unique way. If you have any questions, please visit our website or call 206.517.0241.

Our Spring 2016 Dungeons & Dragons social skills group meets Tuesdays in Seattle and Fridays in Bellevue.

If you liked this article, please check out our how board games can also become a valuable way to teach or reinforce skills.


R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of TakeThis.org, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

Photo credit: D&D characters

So, they play video games. But what does that mean?

Video games have grown up – as have those who play them (average gamer age is 35). Some classics like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers are at least 30 years old, so it’s safe to say that video games are part of our culture.

joystick-1216816_1280Despite this, I routinely encounter clinicians and parents who use the term “video games” as if the media are homogeneous. They’re unaware of the differences among games, as well as what people gain from playing them. In other words, they are missing the “why” someone plays the games they do.

Someone who plays Minecraft does so for different reasons than someone who plays role playing games such as Skyrim or Dragon Age: Inquisition. A teen who plays stealth action games like Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain does so for different reasons than those who play massively multiplayer online (MMO) games like League of Legends.

These differences are clinically important. When clinicians wants to help someone eliminate a behavior (perhaps like an adolescent playing video games too much), we cannot just tell them: “Stop it.”

Why? Finding a substitute behavior that fulfills the initial need of the other behavior is absolutely vital. Here are some examples:

  • Social connection: If you gain a sense of social connection by playing a MMO game, then simply stopping cuts yourself off from social inclusion (plus the fun!).

  • minecraft-1106252_1280Creativity: If you enjoy the accomplishment from building creative worlds in Minecraft, then stopping has the potential to leave you unfulfilled.

Success lies in offering a similarly fun, in-person social activity that you can do instead of the MMO – or a creative building activity instead of Minecraft.

Have a child who plays an excessive amount of video games? Take some time and ask in a nonjudgmental way about the games they’re playing. Go at it with the mindset of just learning for the purpose of learning. Maybe even play the games. Don’t pretend to be an expert on them. Just let your child teach you. Over time, the info helps you…

  • Monitor the appropriateness of the games your child is playing.

  • Bond with your child or teen

  • Understand their motivations and the rewards they experience playing their games of choice.

If you believe their playing is excessive, this will help you brainstorm alternative activities. Remember, video games are a diverse and rich form of media—with motivations for playing as diverse as the games we play. In the process of learning your child’s preferences, maybe you’ll discover one you like.


R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of TakeThis.org, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

 

Like this post? You may like “Why games? Why not?”

Can my teen attend college?

woman-690216_640Thinking about college can be an intimidating challenge for teens on the autism spectrum, but maybe even more so for their parents.

How will children manage without their special education case managers? How will they do without their social-emotional or behavioral supports in place? Might they flounder in the seas of large lecture classrooms? And of course those executive functioning skills: attention, organization, planning…

You may be thinking: “Is this even an option for my child?”

College is challenging for all, but more so for adolescents who have difficulty with changing environments, new social dynamics and handling responsibility. Thankfully, there are some programs in place to make the high school to college transition a little bit easier. Aspiring Youth offers adult transition programs and individual coaching that can help. Some colleges are now offering support or transition programs to young adults on the autism spectrum. Specifically, there are two options in Washington state:

  • Seattle Central College offers a program called SAILS (Supported Academics and Independent Life Skills). In College 101, students tour the campus, explore interests and develop organizational, time management and independent living skills. Building a relationship with staff helps throughout the year. Once school starts, students in the SAILS program benefit from small class sizes and continued individualized assistance. Your student could even get a job through the Mainstay program which offers employment for students of varying abilities.

  • Bellevue College offers a support program: Autism Spectrum Navigators (ASN) Program. The program focuses on supporting the development of executive functioning, social interaction, self-advocacy and self-regulation skills. ASN provides regular meetings with a trained peer mentor, quarterly career preparation classes, quarterly parent meetings, facilitated communication with instructors and campus awareness and training.

If your child is leaning toward an out-of-state college experience, there are also options for support programs. Post-secondary programs range from community colleges to universities, such as a Rutgers University, University of Alabama and Virginia TECH. For a list and brief overview of schools, visit this website.


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.