Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Do You Think, Your Teen Thinks, Is The Most Important Thing To You?

Pop quiz!!!! If you asked your teen right now whether he/she thought you valued academic 
accomplishment over caring deeds as a parent, what do you think he/she would say. If you guessed caring deeds, you might be wrong. In a recent survey at Harvard, they sampled 10,000 teens from 33 schools across the country, asking them to rank order what they thought was most important in their life. Results were that 80% said academic achievement was #1, with personal happiness coming in second, and caring deeds a distant third! When asked why, here is what they answered: 

"Much of that pressure, teens reported, comes from their parents and teachers who praise them for educational successes and make it clear that school work needs to be a number one priority."

This is teen selective hearing at it's best. I am sure that most parents teach their kids that doing for others, and being kind and caring is the most important quality one can have as a person. But because that is not part of the daily conversation as kids get older, what your teen hears daily and hourly probably once they get home from school is: "How much homework do you have? How did you do on your test today? You better get that project started if you want to get a good grade! You better pick those grades up if you want to get into XYZ college. " When is the last time a "how was school" conversation started with a so what good deed did you do today to help someone out."

When our kids are young we spend a lot of time asking them to be kind and caring, probably because school is not yet taking up the emotional and cognitive space that learning how to be a good friend, how to be a good member of the family, etc is. Building the foundation for being a caring and good person starts in childhood. But in like a lion comes the stage of self-centered adolescence. Chores, community service, or calling a grandma that lives on the other side of the country become things they feel they have to do, and resent your asking. 

Some of these findings I do think represent the normal narcissism of the teenage years. BUT, I do think that teens perception that parents put academic accomplishment as a list topper. So what can you do. First how is caring modeled in your family? What do they see you doing to show this quality?  Besides being there for your immediate family, what ways do you communicate caring about others? When you are at a restaurant with your teens, or doing errands with them how do you treat those service workers. Are you easily annoyed or impatient with them, or do you regularly show your appreciation for their jobs. Are  you engaged with neighbors, and help out other families even when it might be inconvenient. Do you acknowledge when you are treated kindly by others, especially when you least expect it. These are all ways that kids get the message, this is important stuff. Living a good life is living a balanced life. There is nothing wrong with having high academic expectations, and wanting them to be successful. As you long as you balance that message!!

Just for fun do the pop quiz with your teen.  You might be surprised by their answer!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Your Teen Screws Up...Because Of Course They Will

Here are the 60 14-18 year olds  I surveyed, with some ideas to help you out when they screw up!


·      Talked to me about it and not acted like I was the worst thing in the world.
·      Just given me more time to prove myself, and over time show them I’m responsible.
·      Worked together instead of having Dad do everything
·      Talked to me in a calm tone instead of yelling at me.
·      Just said that they knew I could do better, and then let it be for me to fix myself.
·      Just asked instead of jumping to conclusion.
·      Heard me out, and thought of themselves when they were teenagers.
·      Not yelled at me so much.
·      Forgiven me sooner than later.
·      Just asked me what happened instead of just punishing me.
·      Understand that teen’s make mistakes like that.
·      Talked to me like I was 16 not like I was 9
·      Been more understanding and had taken the time to hear my side of the story.
·      Supported me a lot more than they did.
·      Actually talked to me, not yelled or hit me
·      Know how much I wish I didn’t do it.
·      little more control of themselves, and didn’t get so mad with me
·      Accept my point of view and accept my apology and don’t think of me wrong even though they still do.
·      Not yelled at me but talked to me about it, and not make me feel like a failure.
·      Seen where I was coming from and why I said what I said.
·      Not yell at me, but just talked with me and didn’t accuse me of something that’s not true.
·      Helped me a little more rather than punish me after every offense.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sexual Assault Is A Family Problem

This past Sunday, the New York Times published a story that has kept me awake at night.(see link below) A Freshman girl attending Hobart and William Smith College is sexually assaulted after going out to a series of college parties. Girl gets drunk. Boys get drunk. Boys see an opportunity. Boys seize an opportunity. Multiple boys sexually assault girl publicly over a pool table with a gaggle of people looking on. Girl goes to hospital, gets a rape kit done. Findings are that she has been sexually assaulted. Girl goes through humiliating college sexual assault hearing where she is emotionally re-victimized. Boys get their hands slapped, and return to play football for Hobart and William Smith where their team finishes #1 in their league. Hooray for them!

I have heard this story too often in the last year. Many from the newspaper and the media, just google sexual assault on college campuses and drunk high school parties. And some, I am sorry to say, first hand from parents who call me after their daughter has been the victim. Who is to blame? I won't play the blame game. But I will continue to teach parents how best to teach their sons and their daughters to be safe and respectful both to others and themselves.

Please read this article out loud at your dinner table. There are sections that will make it hard to finish your dinner. That is the point. Lecturing about self-respect, and respect for women in theory is great, and I'm sure it is something you have been doing since the birth of your children. But when they are in a situation like this girl or these boys, would they really know what to do?

Do your young boys have access to porn on their smartphones. Have you blocked adult sites from their phone, do you even know how to do it? Find out!!! The latest research is showing that when boys, even young boys have easy access to misogynistic porn, that their brain literally changes and makes connections about women and sex. If you have a steady diet of watching women being sexually humiliated and assaulted by men, you might begin to see that as sexually normal behavior instead of sexually deviant behavior. Lecturing about respect for women will fall on deaf ears when those sexual hormones are in play. Whatever part of the brain that lecture is buried, is not in activation when booze, testosterone, and images of anal sex are in play.

How is respect for women modeled in your home? I'll just leave that statement on the table for you to ponder. But remember that how relationships are modeled in your home, is the model your kids take out into the world as they experiment with relationships.

I once had a mom tell me that her daughter came to her when she was a sophomore in High School and asked for birth control. Why, the mom asked, you don't even have a boyfriend. The girl answered: "no, but I might get drunk one night, and hook up, wouldn't want to get pregnant" she said casually.

Your boys and your girls need your help. You need to educate, not lecture. Lecture is talking at someone, educate is to engage, to discuss, to share information. Find as much information as you can, real stories like this one. Discuss them, debate them, strategize, and problem solve around them. Talk about alcohol and how it changes them and affects behavior and judgement and the ability to stay safe. Teach them what consensual sex really means. It does not mean having sex with with someone so trashed they don't even know what is going on. The absence of consent is not consent. Teach them!!

And if your son is an athlete, teach them that having a skill set that includes aggressiveness and power on the ice or on the field, does not give them the right to use it in any other situation, and should be left on the field and on the ice.

Talk about alcohol and drugs, over and over again, consistently, every time they leave the house. Talk and teach them the danger of binge drinking.  Teens drink fast and furious, believing that "they don't feel anything yet."Teach them about blood alcohol levels, and how many drinks it takes to go over the legal limit when impairment occurs. Not many!! This is not about drinking and driving, this is about drinking and sexual assault. This is about boys deciding that a drunk girl dancing sexy means "she wants it" and then "giving it to her." Teach your boys that is not consent. That is someone compromised by booze. Teach your girls that getting trashed means they leave their power at the door. Help them to strategize with their friends to keep each other safe, even when it seems like their friend doesn't want help. That is when they need the most help!!!!! Teach them!!!!!!!!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Free to be me!!!

One of the major tasks of Adolescence is to develop a personal identity; what are my values, my interests, my passions, what are the qualities I look for in friends and lovers, what is my sexual identity, what are my goals? etc.  Part of this process is also to look closely at the people who raised them, and analyze how they are both different and the same from them. I always say that having a teen in the house is like having your own personal therapist. With this new brain of theirs, they are able to really look at you without the cloud of perfection that hovered over you in their childhood. Why the hell do these kids have to grow up?????? They are now free to share with you their thoughts and ideas about you! Unfortunately much of what they share is the stuff we already don't like about ourselves. Having them be so honest can be very uncomfortable. But if you can listen without hurt or defensiveness, you might learn something new and potentially useful about yourself. More importantly it is part of the process of figuring out who they are.

As teens start thinking for themselves, they might start to go down paths that parents aren't comfortable with. I'm not talking about unsafe or risky behavior, but life choices about what they like to do, where they might want to go to college, and ultimately what they want to do with their life. Most parents have dreams for their kids. In healthy families, parents keep those dreams to themselves waiting to see what path their children seem most interested in, even if it means parents giving up their own dreams for their kids. In some families, parent's dreams for their kids is more of a requirement than an option. We call that Identity foreclosure, when the option of choosing one's own identity is taken away from them. The following paragraphs are answers to a question on the final exam I gave asking students to choose the identity type that most describes their experience with this process. These students have answered identity foreclosure.

Food for thought:

"My parents forced me to go to all elite catholic schools form kindergarten to college. I  was never allowed to get anything below a B or I would be in serious trouble. I am now not a catholic."

"My parents picked nursing school for me. they said they would only pay for college if I went for nursing. My mom graduated from a nursing program and really wanted me to go."

"My parents control most if not all decisions made in my life. If they think that this is the best decision for my future they will push me toward that path without acknowledging my concerns."

"Everyone in my family is in the medical field and my parents urged me to become a nurse. I was pushed to pursue this.

Here is a story about parents who literally supported their teen's decision to run away and join the circus!!! God job

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Kid Got Drunk And Called Me.....Now What?

A parent called me recently for some help with this very good question. Like a good dooby, this parent followed all the advice given by parenting experts like me, "let your teen know that while you disapprove and don't want him/her to drink, you absolutely want them to call you when they are so you can pick them up, no questions asked, and get them home safely. Ok, so this is what this parent did, but now this teen has walked in the house seemingly with a free pass to drink, and have a "car service" pick him/her up to boot!  Isn't this a mixed message, you might ask?

It absolutely is. Drinking/drugs and adolescence is not a black and white issue. If you say, "you are not allowed to drink!" Your teen will go underground, drink early in the evening, sleep over friends houses, chew tons of gum, or master the art of acting normal, or maybe not drink. You can always hope. And by the way, not all kids drink, and some kids will actually follow that rule. But honestly, if your teen is not a drinker, you would know, and wouldn't have to put that rule into place anyway. Many teens, thankfully do not want to drink. But for the many that do, you want them to be safe. The devil you know is better than the one you don't.

So back to the question. Now you have proof that your teen drinks, cause they asked you to come get them. But they don't exactly get off scott free. You have promised that there would be no direct consequences, ie grounding type punishment, but you still have the freedom to deal with it. You might have the following conversation: " You made a good decision last night, and for that I am really grateful. Obviously I am unhappy and disappointed that you drank, especially that you drank and were so compromised. You need to help me understand how that happened. And how in the future you can guarentee your safety. I get that the kids you hang out with like to party. That scares the sh** out of us. The fact is that you were sober enough at least to know not to drive and called us, but some other time you might not be so together."

And here is the best you can do the next time and every time thereafter they go out by saying: "Unless you can agree to stay sober tonight, we don't feel comfortable with you taking the car, or be driven by a friend. We will be happy to pick you up wherever at whatever time we agree on. Having the car or being in the car with friends gives you freedom, but freedom and alcohol and drugs just don't go together. We love you and want you to be safe." 

That is really the bottom line. I wish I could give you a magic answer that doesn't sound like doubletalk. Forbidding something you have no control over does no good. Punishing them until the cows come home, rarely has the long term affect you are looking for. Taking away the car or making yourself be a chauffeur may provide them with enough discomfort to not make drinking the priority of the evening. You will have to be the judge of whether your teen is getting trashed every weekend, in which case there is much more going on than just partying with friends. This kid has a problem that needs to be addressed in a serious way. If your teen is more in the normal range of a few beers or drinks but seems to have control, finding strategies that keep them safe is the goal.

There are no easy answers. Just keep the communication going!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

You Are Not Allowed To Talk To My Friends!

Zits Cartoon for Jun/25/2014

When my daughter was a freshman in college she had her first real boyfriend. My husband and I were apoplectic to meet him. So on a sunny Saturday we drove up to campus to take them to dinner. Because my husband and I have big mouths, my daughter was beyond terrified of what might come out of them.  So prior to the actual meeting we were given very strict guidelines of what we were allowed and not allowed to ask. In our own defense we continued to comfort and placate her with a "honey we would never embarrass you. Secretly though, my hubby and I thought the whole issue hilarious and the night before our trip for the big "meeting" we developed our list of questions. None of which we were ever going to ask, but just as a fun thing to show our daughter and all have a good laugh over! Which by the way we did, especially when our daughter chose to read them out loud at dinner!

Questions included: How much money do you parents make? What are your intentions with our daughter? What is your future profession?  There were many more but since this occurred many years ago and as an "older person" the memory is not so good!!

This is a universal plight of teens. Please Don't Embarrass me. So I say to you parents, rather than asking to many specific questions of your teens friends, just saying things like, Hey what's up? Or love the outfit? Please avoid questions like: So what's your college list? or How is school going? or anything that sounds too personal. When teens don't feel your desperation to be included in the conversation, they will talk, and over time may look forward to sharing parts of themselves that maybe they don't share with their own parents. But remember, these are your teens' friendships and relationships and they don't won't you butting in unless you're invited.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

sleepy time texting and other things that go click in the night

It's summer, and your teens will fight you every step of the way when you politely ask them to hand over their phones at bedtime. And hand them over they must. I just learned a new term (see article below) vamping. This is the teen term for texting post-bedtime; hiding under the covers and taking selfies to document their nocturnal: "I can stay up as late as I want, my parents will never find out, and let's see who will have the last and latest text. I will, I will!!!!" as the clock chimes 3 A.M.

If you haven't learned how to shut off your teen's phone through your carrier, make that a priority, than you won't have to get into the power struggle that most assuredly will happen. "Give me your phone!"NO! "Give me your phone now! NO! If you don't give me your phone.....(fill in your threat du jour) This is no fun, but just in case you need some convincing about how important it is to do this, here are consequences of late night texting:

1. Texting is highly addictive, it will never be enough and as they go through life never being separated from their technological Binky their ability to be successful in school, and in life will be hampered. Just ask my college students who  either flunked or got D's because their texting during class seemed more important than listening, interacting or taking notes in my class.

True story: After a particularly frustrating class with students texting away during their classmates presentations, I stopped the class, and asked them to share what they were texting, since obviously it seemed more important than listening, and participating. One of the guilty students, with not one bit of irony, said" I was engaged in a very important group text." Further probing revealed the group was arguing about a recent topless photo of Rhianna! And this student said with all seriousness, "I needed to have my voice heard." I rest my case.

2. Late night texting can lead to a late night plan to sneak out. No phone, no plan!

3. Nighttime is drama time, and teens love the drama. Fights with parents, fights with boy or girlfriends, or best friends, feelings of betrayal, exclusion, all scary things that go boo in the night. Cue furious texting!

4. We are raising a generation of kids with sleep disorders. Teens are losing the feelings of safety and security that come with the state of aloneness. With no time for reflection, mind wandering, they are not learning the self calming methods that often happen at bedtime. (think of all that time you spent sleep training your babies) This generation of teens often fear sleep and hate the feeling of being alone. This is an important life and coping skill.

Good night moon!