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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Teens Ask For Advice

Zits Cartoon for Sep/13/2014

When your teen asks you for advice, you think you have hit the holy grail of parenting! But the truth often is that they need you to say the wrong thing, (from their point of view)so they can disagree with you. The disagreeing is the teenage brain's way of saying, I can do it, I can stand on my own two feet.

How frustrating!! Of course you know you are right! How could you not be with so many years of life experience behind you, and an intimate understanding of this young person standing in front of you. And it feels hurtful to be discounted and ignored. But try not to take it personally. The advice you have given may in fact have parked itself away in your teen's brain and been spouted off to a friend sounding like it was his/her idea all along. Unfortunately you may not have had a ticket to the performance, limited seating only, reserved for friends, not parents!

And if you feel like they don't really want or need your advice when they come to you for it, maybe they just need a place to vent or talk out loud. A "Tell me what you think" rather than a "here's what I think you should do!" might get you more satisfaction from the conversation.

Here is a piece of advice: Here is an app that all teens should have on their phone called circle of 6. This is an app that can protect your teen in situations that are getting out of control. With a simple touch of the screen they can alert you and 5 other people when they need help and are in an unsafe situation. This is a must use and invaluable app to keep your teen safe.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Teens and Internet Addiction: I'm Not Done Yet!

Watch and then we'll talk

Full disclosure here, I have never been a gamer, except for pong( which I loved by the way, and could have played for hours). I have never played a modern day video game, so what I am about to say here is more psychological and theoretical than anything based on my own experience. But as is the case with most everything, too much of a good thing can be bad.

A Boston Globe article a few years back had a really interested op-ed about some some new research on kids who are gamers. The author of the article, a gamer himself in a previous life wrote this about his own experience with video games when he tried to go to sleep after marathon play: "I could still feel and see myself moving around the game’s corridors and rooms, especially when I closed my eyes. There was a strange buzz, too — it was as though some of the neurons that had been tasked with solving the game’s puzzles were continuing to try to do so well into the wee hours of the morning."

Could this describe your teen? I have had a number of parents describe to me the reaction of their teen when they take their kid's X-box away for a punishment. All hell breaks loose,  with tantrums, screaming, yelling, and even sometimes violence. Behavior that mirrors heroine addicts in withdrawal. Video games are addictive. They provide your teen with many carrots. Many kids who are attracted to video games are shy, have difficulty in making and keeping friends, and feel inadequate in their studies. Video games provide them with a community of people who not only accept them but probably seek them out. He (and I say he, because mostly we are talking about boys) feels an enormous sense of competence, in maybe the only thing in his life where he gets that boost in self-esteem.  Finally he develops a dependence on the stimulation that video games provide. That is a pretty powerful package.

The study cited in this article, which described research on boys 13-21 who were committed gamers found the following: The results show that video games could trigger “intrusive thoughts, sensations, impulses, reflexes, optical illusions, and dissociations.’’ None of this is good, growth producing stuff. Your teens need your help. They can not and will not reduce the amount of time they spend playing without direct intervention from you. This will not be fun. Just want to put that out there. Your kid will become a terror, throw fits like a crazy person, and may even become a crazy person as they adjust to more reasonable and normal time spent on their video games.

Here is what I recommend. Go the site: and investigate the various products they sell to help parents control video play. Most of these devices allow you to preset the times and length of availability to play. It works like a DVR, with the ability to turn on the game only at predetermined times, and shuts down the same way. This takes away the power struggle that occurs when parents attempt to stop a session and your teen is in the middle of something, (they are always in the middle of something, needing to get to the next level. Teens who become addicted to gaming lose interest in most everything else. School takes a very back seat, as does normal social interaction with peers and family. If your kid has a laptop, or Iphone you will need to address these as well. Shut off one source and they will find another. Limit the amount of play time, and let your teen decide how he wants to divide it up. If you decide on 3 hours a day, does he want it in one block or divided up over the day. This gives him some control over how he likes to play. In any case, they absolutely won't like this. Anticipate the worst so you aren't caught off guard. And use understanding and empathy. Here is your "I get it moment." " Honey, I get how hard this will be for you. I know you are really good at this and you don't understand why we are making such a big deal about this. But too much gaming really affects your brain. I know that may seem crazy to you, but that is the truth. It is our job to keep you healthy, and safe. We love you, and want you to be able to play but not make it your life."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Good Time For Reflection

As this is the first day of the Jewish New Year, rather than write my usual blog I thought I would share this with you. Rosh Hashanah is "my" holiday. This is the one holiday that I host every year. I love the rituals, the food, and the people who share our table. Last year I wanted to mark this holiday in a new way so I searched for something that would be meaningful for everyone, no matter how old, and no matter where and what was going on in each of our complicated lives. Everyone at the table was moved and so I thought I would share it here. One thing I love about this holiday is that it emphasizes the importance of reflection, or taking stock of our own lives, who and what is really important. No matter what religion or belief each person has, taking the time to think about ourselves is a gift we give to ourselves and those whose lives we touch. So please, take a moment and think about your life.


As we stand at the threshold of a New Year, we pray:

May our dear ones be near to us,
And may our near ones be dear to us.

May our road of life be straight and smooth;
But may it also be marked by hills that challenge,
And by turns which add variety and interest to our journey.

May our ideas have wings, but may they always find anchor
in reality. May our lives be peaceful, but may our minds grapple with ideas, and our hearts wage war with cruelty and deceit.

May our storehouses be full, and our hearts fuller still.
May we learn to find joy in that which we have, rather than regret for that which we have lost.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's In Your Medicine Cabinet?

Watch and then we'll talk!

This is a pretty simple one. Have trouble sleeping and have some Ambian, Lunestra, Tylenol PM in your medicine cabinet, or maybe even next to your bed? How about those root canals? Have any tylenol with Codeine, or something stronger to take the edge off? Have you had back trouble, knee trouble, shoulder trouble? ( I know getting older sucks) Anway has your doc given you some heavy duty pain pills to help you get through the day. If you have answered yes to any one of these questions you need to lock up your drugs!! Maybe your teen isn't interested, or maybe he/she is, but their friends might be. Even though your bedroom and bathroom is off limits to your kids and their friends, that doesn't mean that when you're out, a reconnaissance trip may be in progress, by either or both of these parties. Kids are curious about what's hidden in your hideaway. I can't tell you how many teens used to regale me with stories about finding their parent's porn in the bedroom closet. When I asked why they would go into their parents bedroom at all, their answer was, plain old curiosity. There is nothing more fun for a teen than finding out their parents secrets. Don't we want to know theirs???

So get a lock box. Yes it's a pain, but after listening to these teens' stories, doesn't it make sense?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teens and Anxiety: I'm Not Perfect

Watch this video and then we'll talk.

The Today Show is doing this wonderful series on The Secret Lives Of Teens which I will discuss over the next 3 blogs

The teens featured in this video articulate beautifully what I think are pretty universal stressors of teens life.

  • Parental pressure and expectations
  • Worries about the future
  • Social Networking and the false self
I had a conversation recently with  a parent who has the "perfect daughter." Extremely smart and well spoken, lovely to her parents, loved by teachers, and has an active social life filled with equally smart and lovely kids. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Guess what? It is too good to be true. On a recent morning, mom went in to wake her teen up, and noticed that her room was trashed, not just messy but intentionally trashed. Turns out, that the pressure cooker that was sizzling inside this terrific kid, finally burst. She confessed that she had had a bad night, and feels depressed and anxious. This came as a complete and total shock to his parents. She had been playing her role as the perfect teen with perfection, until she couldn't.

You may have that teen who has breezed their way through school seemingly effortlessly. Good grades, great behavior, but unbeknownst to you there is a storm brewing. Some kids hit high school with a slam. Perhaps school has been pretty easy, but now the honors classes are piling up, and everyone's expectations are high, this is a star! College acceptances will be plentiful. Life is good. Only now, the work is actually hard, and it isn't coming so easy anymore, maybe they aren't really as smart as everyone thinks. And now there are more distractions. Maybe his/her social life has finally kicked in, and he/she realizes that being with friends is way more fun that reading gobs of books. And with this new social life comes stressors. Who do I like, do they like me, etc etc. Life is not so easy anymore.

If this sounds like your teen, don't wait for an explosion. Give your teen the permission not to be perfect.  Pre-emptively, before a crisis, ask your teen whether he/she feels pressured by you in any way. Let them know that you get how hard it must feel sometimes to please all the people in his/her life who expect great things from them, ie parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches. Ask them if there is anything you could do differently to take some of the pressure off. Remember it is not your teen's job to meet your expectations and goals for for them. 

I especially was touched by the young woman who talked about social networking and the false self she put online. There is soooooooooo much pressure for teens to use twitter and instagram, and tumblr and facebook, snapchat etc to present a particular persona, which may be completely out of sync with what is really going on inside of them. Giving your teen a social networking nightly sabbatical may at first make them furious with you, but later on will provide them with a much needed break from the superficial chatter. It may take a few days, but parents have told me that their teens eventually felt such relief from the 24/7 relentless need to post. 

Just because your teen doesn't appear to be stressed, don't assume that they aren't. They have become pretty good at giving you what they think you want. And maybe their fear of disappointing you gets in the way of letting them see their messy self. Which by the way, we all have! By the way, watch this video with your teen. Great conversation starter!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

No One Likes Homework!!!

Zits Cartoon for Sep/17/2014

I know this must sound familiar! That ridiculous math problem that even someone with a PHD from MIT couldn't figure out. That really happened by the way. When my daughter was in middle school the powers that be decided to try out a new math curriculum. Let me just say that not only did this curriculum bring the kids to tears, but all the parents as well. We would bump into each other at our local supermarket, and discuss the previous night's homework as if it were our own. "Do you believe last nights assignment, I want to kill the person who designed this damn curriculum," we would say to each other. And truly there was an MIT mathematician parent in the class, and even he reported throwing the textbook across the room. Let's just say we weren't the best role models for our kids.

Sometimes your teen's homework is frustrating, perplexing and just plain hard. If your teen has a low frustration tolerance, giving up seems like the smartest strategy. Or if you have a teen who has breezed through elementary and middle school, and now the work is finally challenging, they are caught off guard, "ooh, maybe I'm not as smart as I thought I was." Or maybe the assignment is just plain boring. Whatever the case, they might actually come to you for a solution, like just giving them the answer. In the above example, I think all of us parents agreed that this curriculum was completely turning the kids off to math, and setting them up for total math anxiety. We were powerless to change the curriculum, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we gave some very honest feedback to the math department head. But that didn't help in the short term when our kids were crying and saying they were stupid. What we could do though was acknowledge for the kids that this was tough stuff, and to do the best they could, and truly it wasn't that they weren't smart enough. A lot of kids got pretty mediocre math grades that year, but most of us just let it go. Really, what's the big deal, 7th grade grades are not figured in for college!

When your teen comes to you for help, your first job is to diagnose the problem. Try to refrain from jumping into problem solve, or conversely criticize them for giving up too soon. Start with this instead: " I get this assignment is really frustrating for you. Tell me where you're stuck?" Maybe they just need you to break down the assignment into smaller more manageable pieces. Teens often can't see the forest through the trees, and because they are inpatient and want to breeze through the subjects they really hate, they get overwhelmed from the beginning. You can help by having them break down the assignment into steps, and get them to spend 15 minutes on the first step and then take a break. When they have success with one step, it gives them motivation to begin the next one. They need a ton of encouragement and understanding. " I know this stuff doesn't come easy to you, but I know you can get it." If you jump in and do the work, they take away two things. One, Yay, I can get mom or dad to do my work, and I am off the hook, and two, maybe mom and dad don't think I can do it, and so they don't want me to screw up with the teacher, so they want to do it for me.
I know of a young woman, now a graduate student, whose dad wanted to get her into his Alma mater, so in high school he basically wrote all her papers, college essays etc. He continued in college to edit, and I use that term loosely her papers.  Now as a grad student in a program that is making her a carbon copy of him, she is unable to complete the work without him. This is an extreme example, but you can see the problem here.

Your teen needs your confidence that he/she can succeed, and is not lazy just frustrated. You are  available for support and consultation but the ownership of the work always belongs with him/her. Having realistic expectation is a must. Your teen will have areas of strength, areas of weakness, and areas that he/she is just not that interested in. And that is just fine! No kid is good at everything!

PS Why not share this blog with five friends!!