Thursday, April 23, 2015

Teaching Your Teen To Live in The Real World

First I want to say, that all your kids will be fine in the end. There I said it! Unless there is severe mental illness or severe family trauma, by the time your teen hits their 20's they will adore being at home, desirous of your input and advice about their life, and unbelievably fun to hang out with. So take a deep breath, pleeese!

The way I see it, in my experience, after 30 years of working with families, and raising one of my own, there are only three real parenting mistakes that can change the outcome of your child's life.

First is the too strict or rigid parenting style. If you are the party of NO, my way or the highway, or you have a ton of rules way past the time that kids need rules for everything, and you have extremely high expectations for your teen's academic performance, you run some risks.

Risk #1: Adolescence is all about independence. If you continue to write the script for your teen's life they will react in one of two ways. If they feel over-controlled, over-managed, and have to answer to too many rules, some kids will be forced to act out to get the freedom their brain and their body are telling them they should have. By acting out I mean lying, hostility and anger, deliberate school failure, drug and alcohol use or abuse and avoiding you at every turn. This can feel like armed warfare. These teens need to learn how to make decisions on their own. These are the kids that often bail on college. As soon as they hit campus, and experience that first taste of freedom, all control and discipline, no matter how much you have drilled it in to them is gone. They have never actually learned how to be self-disciplined, or internalized the rules and structure that you imposed. As young children structure and control is good, as teens you need to share and encourage with supervision your teen's innate drive to be independent.

Risk #2: Some teens who are over controlled and over-managed become extremely passive. They have developed what is call learned-helplessness. What they integrate is a lack of complete confidence in their ability to make decisions, and look to you for direction in all parts of their life. This is not healthy. These teens are lovely to have in the home because they never fight with you, and come to you often for help. For a parent, there is nothing like it. However in life, you will not always be available.  When it comes to adult relationships whether romantically, with friends,  or with bosses or colleagues they will rarely speak up for themselves, and open themselves up  to be taken advantage of, thinking that they don't know better. These kids need to learn to have confidence in their own ability to make decisions, and that what they want matters.

Risk #3 is the too permissive parent. This parent maybe has an unspoken rule, do well in school, and I will ignore everything else. Or maybe, your philosophy is that your teens should be able to manage their own lives, or maybe the parent's life is in chaos with a divorce, or other family crisis, and takes their "eye of the ball" being too involved in their own life events. Rather than too many rules, there are no rules, no expectations, no supervision. These are the parents with the blind eye. A blind eye to what goes on in their own basements with their teens and their friends, a blind eye to where and what their teens are doing when they are out and about, and a blind eye to their teens safety. Teens are by nature risk-takers. Sometimes those risks can be life-threatening, either physically or psychologically. Teens need to know that someone is looking out for their welfare, even if they fight you tooth and nail when you do. When these kids move into adulthood, they are often entitled, irresponsible young adults, who look towards you to bail them out when they act badly, perhaps its is financially, or legally. These now grown up kids, can't or don't feel like managing the mundane of life, and will constantly look to you to do it for them, even well into adulthood.

So these are the three biggies. Everything else in between, usually works itself out. Parenting a teen is about setting enough limits to keep your teen safe, and give enough leeway for them to practice decision making, knowing that they will make mistakes, that they will hate you some days, and knowing that underlying it all is love. Your love for them, and their love for you. It really is as simple as that.

This is a very interesting article about the consequence of "over-parenting" when your kids hit the real world.
http://www.fresnostatenews.com/2014/07/university-profs-find-that-over-parenting-can-damage-future-job-prospects/

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The #1 Question Parents Ask Their Teens










I absolutely love love love this cartoon. I KNOW this must resonate with any parent who has a teen. The 'OUT" retort is probably not a total avoidance techniques. It is because most teens don't usually have a clue as to what they will be doing. As most of you know, the furious texting begins after school on Friday and post wake-up on Saturday morning. It is this teen generation's version of the song from Bye Bye Birdie, " What's the story, morning glory, what's the word hummingbird? The texting is their version of getting the word from the street about potential action for the day/night ahead. There are options...many options, an overwhelming amount of options, and wading through, analyzing each one adnauseam for the particular pros and cons and potential consequences for missing out on the best event ever, causes excessive stress and final decision avoidance!

So their first destination, is only the first hurdle in the plan making. Because while they are out, depending on who tweets out what to whom, plans can change on a dime. And the plan they gave you at 7 is not the plan that gets made at 8!

To combat this noplanitis, you must somehow stay in the loop. A change of plan notification via text should be a requirement. I have known parents to do some weekend sleuthing, just to see how honest their teen is being as they location hop. They get in the car, and do a drive by to see if the second stop on their teen's weekend itinerary is indeed where they said they were going. This is not a totally bad thing. You want to encourage your teen to be honest with you. If they end up somewhere where they know you will disapprove, they will lie and say they are elsewhere. This can be unsafe. I'm not suggesting you become a weekend warrior of checking up on your teen. In fact I don't want you to do that at all. I want you to support truth telling and safety. Even if they are going to a party in the woods, I would rather you know that they are there, and perhaps put a time limit on how long they can stay, and plan a pick up time around the corner. They can put an appearance, save face, and know that there is structure and safety awaiting them down the street and around the block. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How Would Your Teens Rate You As A Parent?


So what do your think your teen would say about you as a parent. Would they say you are tough but fair? Would they say you are a pushover? Would they say you never listen, or judge them too harshly? Or would they say you are always supportive and understanding? There is never a time like the present to find out. Having a teen in the house is like having a really good therapist. Someone who will be brutally honest. Because teens have all these new analytical skills thanks to their growing brain, they have to put these new skills into practice. They literally see you and think about you in ways they have never thought about you before, and if they are asked and feel that there would be no repercussions for truth telling, they will will totally tell you the truth. Because one thing that is missing from this teen brain is an edit button. If they think it and they are asked, they will say it. That is why I really love talking to teens, no bullshit unless they are trying to bullshit you.

I started thinking about this recently because I got a letter from a parent whose relationship with their teen was completely down the toilet. The parent had written a letter to her teen since communication had literally hit the brick wall. There was none. The daughte, when asked why and how things had gotten so bad, told the parents in great detail, honestly and I think with great candor and openness. I think she felt she had nothing to lose since things were just so bad, and figured they couldn't get any worse if she just put it all out there.
 Here were a couple of things that really stood out for me:

"You hold things against me even if you said you wouldn't"
" I cannot come to you for advice."
"I don't tell you anything cause I will feel instantly judged."
"You never say you are proud"
"You always tell me that if I look bad, it makes you look bad, you only care how it looks to other people."

Do any of these resonate? Often times teens get caught in a bind, they need help with a situation maybe around friends, or boyfriends or girlfriends, or drugs or alcohol or sex, and worry that if they told you "everything" you might either be so shocked that you would get angry or express disappointment. Or maybe by being honest, you might crack down on them if they told you about situations you absolutely have no tolerance for.

Asking for honesty from your teens means you have to be ready to listen and problem solve not judge. I remember a couple I worked with whose daughter was literally lying about everything,where she was, what she was doing, who she was doing it with, etc. She even lied when she didn't need to. I asked the parents to say to her: "Honey, obviously we are doing something wrong, if you feel you need to lie to us about everything. Please tell us, we really want to work this out, we miss you, and love you." The daughter started to cry and said: " I lie, because you always said no, even to things that seemed silly, so I just decided that since there was never room for negotiation I would just lie and do what I wanted. But I really wasn't doing anything wrong. "

And honestly that was the truth. This girl was a good kid, but the parents did not like that she had a boyfriend. They didn't like her friends, and made a judgement about them without really even getting to know him or the friends. They feared everything and everyone would be a "bad influence." The truth was this kid was very goal oriented, and the parents forgot to trust who this girl was at her core. I am happy to say, the relationship did turn around, when the parents accepted that their daughter "was growing up" and pulling away from them. But pulling away doesn't have to mean cutting off!

So how about it?  Ask your kids to give you some feedback. Just listen. Don't get defensive, or angry. Could they be right? Might you need to change? We ask our kids to listen to our "feedback."You know they might even say some good stuff too!!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Summer's Coming...You Gotta Have A Plan

"Idle minds are the devils playground." No truer quote applies when thinking about teens and summer. If you haven't yet gotten into the summer mindset, here is your wake-up call! Everybody needs down time, but 10 weeks of down time for teens can spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e, especially if you are a working parent. If you anticipate leaving your house for work at 8 AM with your sleeping teen snug as a bug in a rug, thinking that all is well, get you head out of the sand. The devil will be over to visit.

Regardless of good intentions, too much time = too much potential for temptation. We're talking sex, drugs/alcohol and general mischief. Once boredom sets in, which it always does after the initial bliss of no structure, look out. The planning should start now. If you have a younger teen, 13-15, this is a bit harder. They are too old for day camp, too young for most jobs, and too inexperienced or  not motivated to find something on their own. Many older teens are unmotivated as well, or lack the confidence to find something on their own. So the first thing is to have realistic expectations of how much your teen will do independently to make something happen. Your job is to make your expectations clear, that is step #1. "I get you are looking forward to the summer, and having free time to hang with friends. We want you to have time for that too, but it's also important for you to have other things going on for you as well, either  a job, or a volunteer/educational/internship experience, or camp, something that gives you a feeling of accomplishment and purpose. How would you like to go about this? What kind of help do you need from us?. Here is the deal, the question isn't, do you want to do something or not? but what is it you would like to do?"

This can be a slow, painful process, as mostly you will get a lot of "I don't knows." If you have some extra money, there are many great programs that cater to particular interests of teens. If they want a job, expecting that they will have any idea of how to go about looking for one is unrealistic. Do this together, making a list of the kinds of places that are of interest to them, and then drive them around to pick up applications, and sit with them as they fill them out. If you just say to your teen, go get some applications, and have you filled our those applications probably not much will happen. I worked in a work/study program for 14 years with teens, and rarely did I find a teen who felt confident enough to follow through on expectations. What looks like laziness is actually low-self esteem.

It is important to let them know that if there don't seem to be any jobs, and volunteering or interning is the fallback, that you will provide them with some kind of stipend. But, and this is important, if they choose to be idle, and do neither, then you will choose  not to provide them with any summer spending money. Sitting around with both nothing to do and no money is not fun, and will get old really really fast. So provide incentive and reward for those idle minds, and keep that devil at bay.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Trials And Tribulations Of A Procrastinator!!





Oh does this bring back memories. I admit it, I am the queen of procrastination. I avoid, I make deals with myself, I pay ridiculous consequences both figuratively and financially due to my procrastination, and you would think at age 63 I would have worked all this through. I have paid enough money to parking ticket offices in cities all over this country for late payments to have probably bought a new car! This is a tough one!

Perhaps this is something that you just don't understand. Maybe you are the responsible person I long to be, and you have a teen who makes you a crazy with the "waiting to the last minute" episodes that often become your problem. As an adult, I take full responsibility for my flaw, but with teens, no such luck. Somehow their procrastination whether on time management issues, or homework and project deadlines, they somehow become the victims. It's your fault for not waking them up, or not reminding them, or the teacher's fault for assigning them this "stupid project." They are just not willing to take any responsibility for finding themselves in this conundrum, and it can make you hold your head in frustration, just like "Jeremy's" mom!

I just got off the phone with a parent whose teen dug himself into a hole this school term. His missing homework and project assignments have cost him 3 letter grades. So though he could be an "A" student in this class, he is probably getting a "D"for the term. A new girlfriend, and the distraction of this "love connection" got him in this predicament. Too much texting and facebook messaging at night during homework time, and not enough work. "I'll do it!!!! Don't worry!!!" rang through the house on most nights. Getting the progress reports mid-term, the parents set up a carrot, if you don't bring the grade up to at least a "C" no drivers ed during April vacation. He was at that time getting an "F". This kid, desperate for his license, vowed to change. And he did. Parents saw him hunkering down to do his work, but unfortunately, it was too little, too late, and he could only get his grade up to a "D". The good news as I told this parent, is that the consequence is already in place, and you can put yourself on a lecturing break. No need for an "I told you so" or for an " If you only". Here is what you can say: " I get how disappointing this must be for you. I know for the last month you have really worked hard to get your grade up. But I'm guessing the hole was too deep to get out of it totally. Unfortunately you will have to put off taking drivers ed till summer vacation, after fourth term grades come in. That was our deal. I know that you will do better next term, knowing now what you need to do to keep up. I am sorry it didn't work out for you this time around."

Done!!!!! This is how kids learn. Lecturing does not make a difference. Consequences that have meaning and that your teen has a stake in can be life changing. Finally sick of paying extra late fines for my procrastination on those damn parking tickets, I am proud to say, I pay the tickets as soon  as I get them. Now if I could just put enough money in those meters!!!!!


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Nobody Gets Me... I Have No Friends!!!!!


How many hundreds of times have you been in this situation with your teen? Perhaps it's the Friday or Saturday night blues fest, when your teen is sitting at home, no plans in sight, seemingly excluded from the latest group text, feeling low, dejected and misunderstood. Or maybe, you notice that it is has been a fierce night of texting or posting on twitter or instagram, and every time you walk by your teen's door they are flopped on the bed, staring off into space, and you just know that something has happened, some slight, some misunderstanding.

It is in these moments that the mama/papa bear or the lion/lioness comes out in you, and you get this powerful, primal urge to protect your baby cub from hurt. So you walk in with your sympathetic, loving, supportive arms and pronounce their friends are all a**holes (which was what I always did, and I admit was completely ineffective and it always backfired on me) and tell them when they get older they will find "real friends" who get them! Which may actually be true, but they do not want to hear that. The future is light years away, and has absolutely no meaning for them. And besides, it is these friends that they want and crave. No substitutions please. So when you go in and want to be that shoulder to cry on, and take pleasure in being that one person that gets them, it is in that moment for them that that is the kiss of death. The teen in them, the teen that is trying to be independent of you and that primal need of theirs to be love and accepted, will reject you. It is the acceptance of their peers that is the most important. Love and acceptance from mom and dad, not so much.

So when you see your teen with that  "look,"say a simple "bad night" huh, and leave it at that. If they look up to you with an invitation to talk, great, otherwise, as always, this too shall pass.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Telling Your Kids They're Smart Can Be Harmful To Their "Smart"

What the hell is this woman talking about? What do you mean, don't tell my kid that he/she isn't smart? If I don't say that, they will think I think that he/she isn't smart!

Well it turns out, that kids who are smart, and who are continually told that they are smart often don't do as well academically as kids who may not be as "smart"but are praised for their hard work and perseverance, and who end up with better all around grades. How interesting is that? Just read this article.
http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/index4.html

This is an amazing article, and one I wish all parents would read just before their child walks into their first day of Kindergarten. But obviously, since this is a blog for parents of teens, I will talk about it's relevance for your older "kids." The gist of this article is that kids who are consistently told that they are smart tend to not want to challenge themselves to do things that seem hard just in case they fail and then prove to everyone that maybe they really aren't smart. In terms of your teens, this is how this often plays out. Your teen breezes through elementary and middle school. Their brain is hardwired for this foundational material to integrate fairly easily. Work that might take other kids hours to understand, memorize and master, might take your kid a few minutes. Homework is done in a flash, it's done well and it's done right. In class, they may be the first to raise their hand, show understanding and mastery. Parents are happy, and teachers are happy. He/she is so smart, has great verbal skills, grasps new concepts easily.....are comments that teachers write year after year. And then it's on to high school and Harvard! The message to your child is there is something in me that makes it easy for me to please all the adults in my life. Except that once they hit high school the work is harder and requires more time, concentration and can often challenge this perception of themselves that academics are a piece of cake. Things don't come easily anymore. You actually have to put in tine and work to learn.

Read the article. It provides many examples of how a  lifetime of being told you are smart can affect a students perception of him or herself and their abilities. Attribution theory can explain this. If you are a teen who has been told all your life that you are smart, than means that there is something innately inside of them that magically makes them "get it". They attribute their success to the luck of the draw so to speak. "I was born with smarts" So when they do well on something, get an A on test that was easy, it doesn't register as I made this A happen.There is no real pride in the A, cause they didn't have to do much to get it.  Conversely, if you are a kid who has to work his/her ass off to get a B. This kid feels tremendous pride and accomplishment for working hard to achieve this grade despite some academic deficits.

In my experience, the "smart"  kids often give up in high school. ' Not working up to their potential" is a common report card comment. Here is this student's dilemma. "If I do study, and don't come up with the A that everyone expects of me because they always tell me I am smart, than me and everyone else will finally realize that in fact, I am not smart! So better just to not do it and not blow my cover. I will just say, I don't care, or I didn't study.

So this is why continually praising your kid for being smart has less value to him/her than " You really put a lot of time on that report, or studying for you test, I am really proud of you for working so hard." It is the effort and the challenge of doing something you didn't think you could do that builds self-esteem. Praising work effort has meaning. Praising smart is empty.

So as this school year begins, rather than focusing on the first quiz grade, whether an A or an F. Focus on how they got it. If they got an A, recognize the effort. 'I saw you really studying for that quiz, you shut off your phone and facebook, and really took the time you needed. I know that was hard and that grade reflects that. If an "F" is the first grade of the year. Rather focusing on the grade, and saying you are disappointed, talk more about what they could do differently the next time. "I get this is a tough subject for you, and I have confidence that if you can figure out how to study for this differently you would have a different outcome."

Attributing success or failure to effort and hard work, rather than to good or bad luck (the test was easy, the test was unfair) makes everyone feel that they have control over their outcomes.