Thursday, October 16, 2014

Open The Door And Send Them Out To Play


I know the world can be a scary place. God knows we are bombarded with it these days by Ebola, ISIS, scary stories about teens.  These are crazy making for parents. It makes us want to hold tight to our kids and keep them as safe as we can. Sometimes that holding tight for safety has mixed messages. Often parents say no to giving their teens the independence to safely navigate the world that will soon become their life when they leave home for college. But they give them access to drugs and alcohol in the house and technology that can potentially create addiction, contact with questionable people and way way too much access to cell phones, media and distractions with no supervision. But when their teen asks to take public transportation to go into "the city" parents quake in their shoes and say no.

I am always so shocked when I ask teens to describe their "world" to me. It is a world of being chauffeured by parents to friends houses, activities and parties because many teens now show little interest in getting their license. It is a world of houses and hangouts that never change from week to week. Rarely do I hear teens talk about getting on the "T" to go to "the city." I have talked to a lot of college students who go to schools on suburban campuses who never leave their campus to investigate the wealth of culture and energy that a "city" can provide, even when colleges provide shuttles to the closest public transportation. Somewhere along the way we have scared our teens.

Taking risks, safe ones mean doing something new and challenging. It means figuring out directions, destinations, and making decisions without knowing the outcome. When is the last time your teen came to you for permission to do something like that. When my daughter was a senior in high school her group of friends wanted to go on a vacation after graduation together. My daughter asked if she could go. My answer was if you have the money and the will, go for it. I remember many of the parents wanted and did take over the planning of the trip for these girls, suggesting destinations, getting them the best price, finding the best airline etc. There was even a "parent meeting" to discuss the trip. Always the rebel, I refused to go. What is the point of an adventure, or can you even call it an adventure, if mommy and daddy do all the planning.What lessons are learned?

I remember my own post-high school graduation vacation I took with my 8 best friends. The planning was actually more fun than the week we had in Hyannis. Looking for the cottage, doing comparative pricing, and deciding which cape destination had the potential for the most boys took months of planning. And when we opened the door that June day to our very own cottage rental we felt euphoric. We had planned and talked and argued for months, and now here we were.

Encourage your teen to take safe risks, to venture out of their comfort zone without your help. The confidence and competence they will feel and take away is worth it....for both of you.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hazing Gone Seriously Wrong


This past weekend a story broke about a high school football team in New Jersey where a disturbing hazing incident took place. The alleged hazing involved wrestling a nude 9th grade player, fresh from the showers,  to the floor, while a fellow player digitally penetrated his anus. Sorry if you are reading this with your morning coffee. Disgusting, humiliating. This is not hazing, this is sexual assault.

I know boys will be boys, but really! The school superintendent has suspended the entire team from play and the football season is now over for this team. They are investigating not only this incident but the culture of athletic and activities of the entire system.

I feel bad for everyone. I feel terrible for the victims who were underclassman, who must have been elated to make the varsity team,  and looked forward to playing for their high school team. Now that has all been tainted. I feel bad for the senior boys who were responsible for the hazing. I truly believe that they really didn't didn't think there was anything that wrong with what they were doing. After all, in their minds, they are probably thinking: "it's not like anyone got hurt! Their lives will be forever effected."

Who I feel no sympathy for are the coaches, and the staff  and maybe even the parents whose kids are on the team. Somewhere along the line, these kids are just not getting the message that hazing is serious business. Hazing, in this case, was not only physically damaging, but it sure as hell is psychologically damaging. When someone, especially a teenager, who is literally at the most psychologically vulnerable time of their life is humiliated in front of their peers, it can do real harm. I get that teenagers don't get this and don't understand this. But the adults do need to get it.

If you have a son or daughter who is on a sports team or a cheer leading squad it is your job to talk about this issue with them. You might tell them about this incident, and then say: " I get that upperclassmen/women feel sometimes that it is their right to "induct" new team member into the team through some traditional rights of passage. Unfortunately those "rights of passage" are illegal if they humiliate or put someone's safety at risk.  This is serious stuff, and I know you might be in a situation someday where you will be the subject of or be asked to be the perpetrator of hazing. Lets figure out what you can do, should you ever find yourself in this situation."

Though all schools now have very strict rules and regulations about hazing, I don't think the communicating part to the kids is happening. This is where you come in. Never expect that someone else will take care of it. Take care of it yourself!

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Walking In Your Teen's Shoes


Do you ever wonder why your teen's eyes roll back in their head every time you offer an opinion or think you have the answers to all of their problems. Most assuredly you are probably right! But unless you figure out a more effective way to deliver your message than " well you know honey, here is what I would do, and then blah blah blah,"you will undoubtedly walk away from these encounters unhappy.

Before you offer up your opinion, your teen has to first feel that you really do understand what they are dealing with. So for example, if your teen comes back from a practice and rants on and on about the coach and how he/she is an asshole, and never gives them any play, and is so mean and they want to quit; You have several ways to respond. You can say" You are not quitting, you are part of the team, and this is the way it is, suck it up!" Or you could say, " you know what honey, that guy really is an asshole, want me to give him/her a call and see if I can get him/her to give you more playtime." Or you could say, " you know honey, I think you should go up to the coach after practice, and let him know that you feel that he is not giving you enough play, and if he/she is having a problem with you, just let you know so you can work on it." All three of these responses indicate that you know better, and that you have the solution to the problem. While any one of these might take care of the problem, the response from your teen will probably be more like, " NO that's stupid, you don't understand, that's ridiculous, see that's why I never tell you anything.!" And so now you are hurt and mad at them because they think you are stupid, so instead of a warm fuzzy moment, you both stomp away completely unsatisfied with each other. 

Here is an alternative that works literally in every situation. It is what I call an " I get it" moment.  Who doesn't want to be understood? We all do. There really is nothing more powerful then when someone "gets you". So in the above situation, rather than offering up an instant solution, you might start with an " I get how this feels really unfair. I get sitting on the bench sucks. What do you think is going on with the coach?"  This approach takes a lot longer, but your teen needs to learn how to process feelings and turn them into action him or herself.  If you give a solution they will tell you that you are stupid, I can almost guarantee it. But if you try to get them to solve the problem, you come out smelling like a rose.

These I get it moments work when your teen breaks curfew or doesn't do their homework, or gets disrespectful towards you, or doesn't take out the garbage, or screams at his/her younger siblings. Literally anywhere anyhow. " I get your brother can be a pain in the ass lets......" rather than "if you hit your brother one more time I'm taking away your phone, your computer..." " I get taking out the garbage is the absolutely last thing you want to be doing, lets figure out...." rather than" I am sick and tired of asking you to take out the garbage, you are lazy and ungrateful." I get you get caught up with your friends and lose track of the time, lets figure out a way...." rather than, you're grounded, I am sick of your excuses. "I get you are pissed off at me, and hate me sometimes, how can we do better?" rather than don't you ever talk to me that way again, I'm taking away your phone!

If you were a teenager which statement would encourage you to talk?

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tale Of Two Siblings


Those of you who grew up with siblings may have had the experience of being either the "perfect child" or the "black sheep" of your family. In either case you felt the pressure of having to maintain your role in the family. People expected you to behave a certain way, and you probably never failed to disappoint. Either by being provocative or by being just incredibly lovable.

I recently met with parents whose two teenage boys aged 12 and 17 fall into the good boy/bad boy trap. Their 12 year old son is the "perfect" son. Bright and successful in school, a talented athlete, sweet, even tempered, affectionate and a joy to be around. The 17 year old, not so much. He on the other hand, has some learning challenges, and therefore has found school to be a place that made him feel like a loser, and smartly enrolled in a vocational high school when he hit 9th grade, where he feels more successful. But still he is a mediocre student. He has no outside interests or passions and spends all of his non-school time playing video games or on face book. His anger and attitude are impossible to deal with. He isolates himself from the family, and it seems his only contact with them is when he needs or demands rides or money. And to top it off he can very mean and abusive to his younger brother. Dad coaches the younger son's sports team, and both parents spend weekends at his games, leaving the 17 year old feeling a bit out of the loop I am guessing.

Mom and Dad are successful professionals. Both graduated from college, went on to get masters degrees and both have successful careers. Their older son feels like an alien to them. They admitted that when his school difficulties started they thought he was just being lazy, just not putting in the "work" he needed to do for school. In middle school he was finally diagnosed with learning disabilities and was put on a program through the school system for support, but by then, I'm guessing he saw himself as lazy and stupid.

It is hard to be "that kid" in the family that doesn't fit the family script. And the more you don't fit it, the more you become the opposite of it. In this family, being smart, athletic and and having a sunny disposition (sounds like Mary Poppins) is the character description, all others need not apply.  There is no doubt that these are loving parents, but they are stymied as to how to connect with their son. And he makes himself so unlikable to boot, that who wants to spend time with him anyway.

These parents described to me the attempts they make to include him in family outings, but unfortunately those family outings are built around the younger sons sporting events. If you felt like the loser in the family would you want to go and watch your nemesis being the shining "star"? I think not. Dinners out with the family become a fighting match, with the older son antagonizing the younger one at the table or he just becomes such a pain in the a** that the parents just don't do that anymore.

The good news is that this 17 year old has some good attributes. He is not a party guy, doesn't drink, or do drugs. Not an easy feat for a teen these days. He is a steady girlfriend and some good friends, all really good signs. What is missing for him is connection with his mom and dad.

In families like this where there are obvious differences between the kids, it is so important to make each child feel important. With this family, it turns out the dad and the 17 year old share a love for movies, but the dad being so involved with the 12 year old's sporting life doesn't leave him much extra time to engage with his older son. How hard it must be to watch watch his dad go off every weekend with the younger brother. I encouraged the dad to make the time, maybe a Sunday night when together, just the two of them, go off for a night at the movies. Or the mom, when dad and 12 year go off to practice every Friday night, get some take out and a movie and just hang together and enjoy each others company. 

Some kids do not make themselves lovable. They push you away, and tell you to go away. Ignore that!!! It's all a ruse to protect themselves from rejection. Never stop trying, drive them crazy with messages of "I love you". Do not buy them off with money or clothes or phones, or cars or doing their laundry, they love the stuff, but they are not stupid, and know that stuff is the easy stuff, the hard part, is for you the parents to keep at, not allowing their attitude and anger to push you away. It takes time for them to believe that in spite of not being "the perfect" kid they will always be "my kid", and that is enough, thank you very much!
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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Money and Life Lessons


I was at my gym this morning, sweating to the oldies, and listening into a conversation between two moms working out next to me. One of the moms' was expressing her frustration and anger at her son who was a freshman in college who calls them very frequently asking for more money to be deposited in his account. Of course it's never his fault. But when they look into his account they see a lot of money spent on food delivery and abundant ATM withdrawals. Apparently he could have, but chose not to work a lot of hours at his summer job, even though, the mom said, they told him it would be his responsibility to get a job at school if he ran out of money. (At this point I shut off my music so I could hear better. The moral of this story, don't work out next to me, I'm always looking for new stories for my blog!)

This story was a familiar one for me as every year I ask the college freshman I teach what they feel unprepared for and what has been a big adjustment for them in this home to college transition. 

Many students expressed gratitude to their parents for teaching them how to take responsibility for themselves, both financially and  emotionally. These students felt a sense of personal satisfaction that if they wanted something they had to work to get it. Though they knew their parent's support was always available to them, they liked feeling "in control" of their life, and liked that their parents had confidence in their ability to make good decisions whether around academics, curfews, partying, friends, college etc. 

Conversely. many students felt unprepared for life on their own, and wished their parents had made them get a job when they were in high school,  and had given them more opportunities to be responsible for themselves, while the parental safety net was there. Now on their own, they are overwhelmed with all the daily decisions that they must make on their own. These students are calling or texting their parents multiple times a day just to get advice on some of the mundane tasks of daily living. I am sure that those parents who get these texts are grateful. It's almost like they've never left home. "They love me, they really love me!"

But it won't feel so cute when they are 25 and still calling you to find out how to make a doctor's appointment, take care of a bounced check, expired car registration, or empty bank account.  The time is now! So if you are a problem solver, a person of action who loves to take care of business, beware. Taking care of your teen's business will come back to haunt you in the future. Here are some suggestion for way to encourage independence.

When your teen comes to you for help with a life skills problem, I know you feel flattered, but resist the temptation to solve it for them. Instead ask questions that put them in the drivers seat like: "What do you see as some of the options?" "OK lets look at option 1, pros and cons" Take them through the process of how a decision is made. Remember teens today are impatient, they look for a quick response. But there are some things in life you can't google. It just takes old fashioned time. You solving their problems just feeds their need for instant gratification.

If you find yourself becoming your teen's personal ATM, it might mean that your teen has lost awareness for how much and how he/she spends your money. So much of a teens life is magical. Using cell phones, computers, mom and dad's generosity, everything they want is literally in their fingertips. How about saying to your teen; "I am willing to give up to $$$ a month and then it's up to you if you want or need anything over and above." Just because your teen wants to go shopping every weekend that doesn't mean you have to shell out 40 bucks so they have some spending money. They may buy another T-shirt or video game, but because it was just a meaningless buy, no skin off their teeth, it ends up in a pile of other impulsive boredom buys. Do not just mindlessly buy or give your teen money. Make them work for something.  Don't deprive them of that feeling of pride when earned money is what buys them something. Maybe it's a job, maybe it's money for chores, but teaching them that you don't get something for nothing is a valuable lesson.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

When Kids Need their Parents To Change


Recently I read a sweet article called Dad, Can You Put Away The Laptop.  Its seems that our younguns, and I mean the 4-10 year old set do not like this new fangled technology. Why? Because it seems mom and dad spend more time on their "stupid" phones and laptops, and not enough time playing with them. Now if I was one of those parents, I would feel such guilt and sadness that my kids felt ignored by me that I would immediately shut off my phone, close my laptop and give them my undivided attention. What was so interesting about the parents interviewed was that was absolutely not their response. Their responses were loaded with a good dose of rationalization. Hello defense mechanisms!!!!  Here's is what one of them said: " If I didn't have a smart phone I wouldn't be able to do both. My kids can't really appreciate that if I spend 15 seconds (oh come on, you know its more than 15 seconds) to respond to an e-mail, than no ones' waiting for anything from me and I can be at the school play or concert." OK so what if someone is waiting for you. Unless you are on a suicide hotline, or a doctor saving a life, I honestly can't see how waiting till your kids are asleep to answer your e-mails will make much difference. But that's just me. Life is about setting limits. Modeling for your kids on how to set limits on yourself is an important life skill. Certainly work is important, but we work at home now, because we can. One 10 year old,who was sick and tired of having dinners with her family constantly being interrupted by parents who would "take a few bites of food and then open their phones finally told them: " You shouldn't always be on your phones because we barely get to see other. I only really see them in the morning when we're rushing to get to school and at dinner I felt kind of ignored!" Good for her!

Parents, you reap what you sow. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot constantly be on your phones and laptops, and then get mad at your teens for taking too long to get their homework done. Monkey see. monkey do! You are the most important model in your child's life. Whether its driving and talking on your phone, or being on your phone while at their games and concerts, or at a family dinner; or having a glass of wine at a family party, or at a restaurant out with your kids, and then getting behind the wheel of a car to drive, your kids are watching every little thing you do. And when it comes time for them to make these decisions for themselves that will ultimately affect their safety, you will be the model they look towards for common practice. "Why should I disconnect when you don't, they will argue, or "you drink and drive," or you talk/text and drive. And honestly, there is no retort that isn't completely hypocritical.

 Showing your family that they are priority #1 is the most meaningful gift you could ever give them. Much cheaper than giving them IPhones. Have a technology free family time, that everyone commits to. Even though it feels like forever, you don't have your kids with you for that long. Make that time count!

PS If you have read my book A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens, Talking To Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out and feel like posting a review on Amazon, I would be very grateful.https://www.amazon.com/review/create-review?ie=UTF8&asin=0814433669&channel=reviews-product&nodeID=&ref_=cm_cr_pr_wr_but_top