Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Driver's License: Is It an Entitlement?

I had a request from a parent today to write about teens and driving. This is an issue for parents that is fraught with ambivalence. I want my teen to drive, he/she can do errands for me. I don't want my teen to drive it terrifies me. I want my teen to drive, it is a right of passage and teaches responsibility. I don't want my teen to drive he/she is too easily distracted, and it terrifies me. I want my teen to drive, then I can go to bed early on Friday and Saturday nights and I won't have to schlep him/her around. I don't want my teen to drive, I'll lose control of where he/she goes and it terrifies me. Does this two-sided conversation sound familiar?

First, teens have been learning to drive at age 16 forever, literally, so someone at some point must have thought it was the right age. If you are a nervous nelly by nature, perhaps you are not the person to teach your teen to drive, or at least not the person to teach them to merge onto a busy highway. It is important for you to know your own limitations when it comes to taking your teen out for a practice drive. Do what you feel comfortable doing. Your teen will feel nervous enough without having to deal with your nervous breakdown. If you are comfortable driving around the back streets of your neighborhood for a half hour, that is still useful drive time. Practice is practice.  Perhaps your partner, aunt/uncle, neighbor, person you hire off Craig's list can be the passenger for the practice you feel uncomfortable with. Your teen needs to feel your confidence in him/her, and constantly giving a play by play is not only annoying but potentially dangerous as well. The reality is that your teen needs a lot of practice time. If you are nervous, try going on short trips to the gas station, drug store and pizza parlor. Getting a license is a family affair and a commitment, and it is a right of passage that is meaningful. Getting a license is both a reality and a metaphor for the independence teens need to feel to be ready to take on life. It really is important to support that independence and show confidence in their ability to take on this new and important responsibility. This is training for life.

Should all kids get their licenses? NO. If your teen has been avoiding taking responsibility in other areas of their life, than working towards their license seems counterproductive. A license is not an entitlement. It is a privilege granted to those that have shown in other areas of their life that they can be responsible. If you have a teen whose school performance leaves something to be desired, perhaps working on the drivers license becomes the incentive to be more responsible for school performance. If your teen regularly flaunts curfews and house rules,  and is suspected of fooling around with drugs and alcohol, than your I get it moment might be: 'I get that teens fool around with drugs and alcohol, or try to screw around with the rules,  but you have come in a number of times smelling of booze or pot, or you are constantly late for curfew, and aren't always truthful about what you are up to on the weekends and that makes me wary of supporting you getting your license. Until I feel that you are being more responsible, and show us that you can follow through on what you say you are going to do, than we won't sign off on the license or even learners permit."

It is normal to feel apoplectic, and most kids do great and rise to the challenge. But if there are other red flags waving in the wind, pay attention to your gut, and act accordingly. It is also your responsibility to make sure that your teen is educated and understands that cell phone use is verboten in the car. Yes there is a law now, but again, just saying don't do it, is not helpful. Help them to come up with strategies for where to put their phone as soon as they get in the car, so they don't feel tempted or have easy access to just make that "quick call". Perhaps get in the habit of as soon as they get in the car, they shut off their phone and put it in the glove compartment, or for girls, shut it off and put it in their pocketbook and in the back seat. They need your help with creating these rituals.(I have a great tip in my new book called "Driving Distracted" that give a number of strategies for safe driving).

The bottom line is you will always be nervous. My daughter is grown and when she visits and takes the car, I am a wreck, and she is a good driver. This is a parents' cross to bear. We love our kids so much we cannot bear the thought that something might happen to them. And we have to get over it. Eventually they will need to get out of the neighborhood and get on the highway just like in real life. Confidence comes from practice, and than a leap of faith. There is no prescription for how long it takes to master a car. I know a ton of adults I would never drive with, and they have been driving for 40 years.  Give your teen the practice they need to feel competent, the rituals they need to have to be safe, and the love and support to be responsible. and then just close your eyes and hope for the best.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UGH, Summer Reading

It's almost the middle of the summer and, and crumbled up summer reading lists are being found and resurrected by parents everywhere. Most kids have spent the summer avoiding your queries about the reading by saying, "I'll do it, I have the whole summer, just leave me alone!!!" Well the whole summer is now down to 4 weeks and the books have been bought, Kindled or Nooked depending on the summer bribe. "If I buy you a Kindle/Nook, will you do the reading?" Your kid, panting like a dog who sees a new treat coming his/her way has promised that yes yes yes I will do the reading if you buy me off, I mean buy me a Kindle/Nook. But listen, it doesn't matter what form the book is in, it is still reading and might/could be way less exciting than say sitting on the couch texting/facebooking/videogaming/tv or movie watching or studying one's navel.

So here are a few strategies to get the reading done before school starts before you have to resort to the threats of no phone, no computer no life until you finish your reading.
  • Sit with your kid and add up the number of pages that need to be read by the start of school. Get out the old calculator and number of pages from each book and add together. Divide that number by the number of days left before school and you now have a PPD (pages per day) your kid needs to complete. When you break it down this way, it is far less intimidating. Most kids avoid the summer reading because it seems daunting. Maybe they have 3 or 4 books to read, and the image they have is just hours and hours of reading to complete it, so pretending it doesn't exist is much easier. Having to read 20 pages a day may not seem as bad.
  •   Set aside a reading time. Not on your schedule but a time of day that your kid feels is do-able. Get your book, take your kid to Starbucks, get him/her a Mochachino and read together for 30 minutes or an hour. Pair the reading with something pleasurable.
    • If your kid continues to be resistant to follow-through, pair reading with favors. For example, if the PPD has not been completed and your kid asks for a ride, some money, clean laundry etc you can say: "I would love to help you out, but I noticed you haven't done your PPD today, and I don't really feel like complying with your request until you do. I get this reading stuff is hard for you, but it's just something you gotta do.
    • Get the reading list books on tape. Some kids might be more motivated if they were hearing them rather than reading them. Put them on in the car while you are driving. Put it on an old CD player and let them listen with earphones, bring it to the beach and they can tan and "read" at the same time.   

     Get creative.  Just hucking your kid to do the reading is not going to get the job done. You have to "understand" their resistance, rather than criticize it, and help them to develop a plan that makes the impossible seem possible. 

    PS. If you haven't bought my book yet, this tip is just one of 80 tips you will find in it!!! If you have bought it and liked it, please consider writing a review on Amazon and let other parents know. Thank you!

    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!