Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's Not A Crazy Idea!

Wanna know why your teen gets so mad at you after you say no to what seems to you like the most ridiculous idea ever? Because in their head, in the fantasy they have created, they are already doing it. Your saying no is a fantasy-interuptess!. Think about this metaphor: You are sitting in your cozy family room ready to watch the season finale of your most favorite TV show. You have been looking forward to this all week, having the "water cooler" conversations with your friends and colleagues who follow the show, dissecting potential plot lines. It has all been leading up to this moment, and then, BAM an unavoidable but must take phone call comes in and your are torn from your set. 

You are an adult and you get over it, but I have seen grown men and women weep and tantrum when there is an interference with a world series game, or super bowl, season finale of The Voice, or Downton Abbey, whichever  is your pleasure. 

Now times that by a million and you get your teen whose fantasy has just been erased, no matter how ridiculous or unrealistic. In these situations it is completely unnecessary to get into a huge whoopla. Somewhere in your teen's brain, they know this is ridiculous too, but once you engage in an actual argument over how silly this is, than the engagement itself is reinforcement that maybe they can change your mind. 

 I have coached parents who end up getting into huge arguments with their teens over things that don't merit argument. Maybe your teen is in 9th or 10th grade and they make some grandiouse statement about not needing college; "I can get a job and make money right away"... I have heard this one alot. And the parents get hooked right away, and start to treat this statement as if it is fact. WHICH IT IS NOT! It is simply a musing by a young teen who is anxious about the future. But when taken seriously, goes haywire. Sometimes it is better in these situations to use humor; " that sounds fabululous, love that, no college tuition and you can pay us rent. We actually make money instead of spending it. Go for it!!!"

When you don't engage in these fantasies, they become just what they are fantasies. The same one you may have had last week when you bought a superball lottery ticket and had already thought of all the things you would do with the $545 million dollars you would win!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why Is My Teen Mean To Me?

There is a really good reason why teens are mean to their parents. Now with this new teenage brain growing by leaps and bounds, they are literally having thoughts they have never had before. Remember back when you were a teenager the moment when you realized " hey, my parents aren't perfect...awesome!!!!"

Teens have this new thinking ability that allows them to analyze and think more deeply about things. This is why teachers in middle school and high school expect their students to go from the concrete: who-what- where kinds of questions and answers, to the whys? They want them to read between the lines. School is not the only place teens are expected to do this kind of thinking. Their social life, their family life, all of it is now seen and understood under a whole new lens. What do you think gossip is?? It's a new way to think and analyze the people in their life. And you dear parents are part of their life. For the first time, they are seeing you without the rose-colored glasses of childhood, where parents are perfect, and their #1's. Now they see cracks in the armor. "Hey my parents don't practice what they preach, they can be hypocrites." Your teen can see right through the "do as I say, not as I do!"

Not only do they see you more realistically, but they absolutely love to tell you all their new perceptions that they are having about you. They are missing the edit button that will come with adulthood. For now though, if they have a thought about you, no matter how mean sounding, they share it. You may feel that no matter what you do or say, according to your teen it's the wrong thing!!!!

Never fear, this is only temporary. Remember it's a new way of thinking about you. It's a novelty, and it feels really powerful for a teen to be able to see their parents in a whole new way. Having a teen in your home is like having a live in therapist. There is no one who will be more honest with you. If you can hold off on getting defensive, and listen to what they have to say, you might learn something new about yourself that is useful.

The trick here is to not feed into your teen's feeling of power. Basically they are being bullies, and the best way to handle a bully is to take away their power of hurt. So the next time you feel that biting criticism from your teen, rather than expressing hurt or anger, go up to them, give them a great big hug and say: "You are so cute when you're being a brat, I love you!!!" That ought to do the trick!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Teens And Their Fear Of Being Alone

I ran across this article recently researching the issue of teens and the effects of over-connection. A recent statistic I read stated that teens spend 7 hours a day on cells and social networking. That is after-school hours. That is alarming. Literally the only leftover time is sleep! This article speaks to this issue. It's a good read.  http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/03/06/the_power_of_lonely/

To summarize, it talked about the benefits of spending time alone. "When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what's called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflexively about our own thoughts." I know I crave this time alone, letting my mind wander to places it might not normally go. Our lives now make it almost impossible for some people to shut off all the distractions of Iphones, and e-mail, and facebook, and oh, also the face time we give to our jobs, and our families. This leaves little time for rumination. I know some of my most creative and deep thinking comes in the car with the radio and cell phone off, or in long walks with my dog.

The article specifically addresses teenagers and this issue of aloneness. "Teenagers, especially have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection and freedom from self-consciousness that strengthens their sense of identity." The problem is that though being alone is good for the soul, most teens are afraid of it. They have become so attuned to the buzz of ipods, cellphones, computers and video games, that silence feels alien and to some terrifying. So much so that many teens have developed in inability to go to sleep without some "noise". Just being alone with their own thoughts is scary. I have talked a lot with my college students about this, and in some classes I take the first five minutes to do a short meditation. My students have said how hard that five minutes is for them, and that it feels like forever to just be quiet. This is not a good thing.

Some teens like being alone. Even as children they were happy to play by themselves, and often refused the offer of a playdate, just to be with themselves happily in their worlds of make-believe. Some teens are terrified of being alone, desperately looking for companionship and connection. So there is the nature part of this equation.

You obviously can't make your teen take the time to "smell the roses." But you can model it, and you can call attention to it. Here is your I get it moment: 'You know honey I was thinking about how plugged in we all are, and how little time we give ourselves to just be quiet. I read this article recently that talked about how important it is for everyone to allow themselves time to just process. I get how much you have to do, and how important it is for you to stay tuned in to it all, just wish you would take some time to just be." They will probably look at you and think, what the hell is she/he talking about? But that's ok. Sometimes as parents we are just planters. We drop some seeds of wisdom, and hope that somewhere along the way, some sprouts appear.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Deal With Peer Pressure

I read an interesting article Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/03/teenagers-friends-and-bad-decisions/.

 I love when articles confirm what I already know, but in a new way. It makes me feel so smart. This referenced a study that was done at Temple University looking at the effect on teens brains while they are making decisions when they are alone versus when they are with their friends. The experiment was so interesting. Ask a bunch of 14-18 year olds to do a simulated driving game for which they will be rewarded with cash if they finish in a certain time frame. Embedded in the game are choices to be made like running yellow lights to finish more quickly. However if you "crash" you get penalized and delayed.  Scores were compared with a group of college students and a group of young adults.  "Half of the time each person played alone, and half the time they were told that two same-sex friends who had accompanied them to the study were watching in the next room." The results, no change in game playing or risk-taking for college students and young adults when told about people watching their play, but for the teens they ran 40% more yellow lights and had 60% more crashes when they "believed" their friends were watching. Remember these "phantom friends" were not even in the room with them, they only believed that friends were watching. 

This is pretty powerful documentation of the effect of what we call "the imaginary audience", a term coined by Psychologist David Elkind that refers to the heightened sense of self-consciousness in teens. This occurs because of the newly developing and growing teenage brain that is working on overtime to make teens aware that not only do they have thoughts about themselves but that other people have thoughts about them. Think of this as opening night jitters that starts the second teens awaken and ends when they have posted their last instagram post of the day. What will I wear today, how will people see me? What will I say today, what will people think about what I am saying? and so on. The study supports the thinking that when your teen is on their own they are more likely to make responsible decisions (no imaginary audience) but give them a real or perceived audience and lets get on with the show! Because often times it is all for show, just like the teens in the study who took more risks when they thought their friends were watching. 

This would be a great article to read with your teen. Here is scientific documentation of all your worries. Let them know that you are not crazy, even the scientists can see that when you are with your friends you are more likely to put yourself in risky and potentially unsafe situations. Your job here is to use that power of understanding with your teen " I get how important it is to not embarrass yourself in front of your friends, but I know that sometimes you might make a different decision when you are alone than when you are hanging with your friends. Lets try to find some ways that you can both save face in front of your friends, but make sure that you are safe. This is the kind of conversation you might have every weekend just before your teen leaves the house. This is NOT something you can change about  your teen. It is literally chemistry, but you can make your teen aware of it and provide them with strategies, scripts and alternatives to keep them safe. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Teens Love Their Pot

Teens and pot, not good, Adults and pot, whatever turns you on. I have had a number of letters from parents recently worried about their teens use of pot. It seems that their teens have defended their use with a variety of rationalizations. Some of my favorites include; " I can think better, I can drive better, even the cops don't care, it relaxes me so I can concentrate better on my homework, you should be happy, at least I'm not drinking alcohol!" Unfortunately this is the drug talking. And thats the point, pot is all about distortion. That's what the 60's were all about, and why the lava lamp was invented!

Adolescence is all about new experiences and experimentation. It is a cruel law of nature that tempts teens to try all sorts of new things just at a time in their lives when their brain is engaging in a major growth spurt. Teens live in a world of what you see is what you get. With alcohol you see the fruits of your labor literally in the toilet bowl if you're lucky, otherwise in someone's car or basement. You worship the porcelain temple and then you pass out. With pot the effects are less obvious and more hidden. Pot gives you the illusion of feeling in control but what you're teen is missing is what is going on in the depths of their brain. As with all experimentation, some kids might try pot and see it as a treat every now and then, and others will begin to use more regularly. In either case it is important to talk with them about it.

A little science lesson here. There are receptors in the brain that just love THC, the chemical in pot. These receptors are connected to two very important parts of the brain. The Hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, and the Cerebellum that controls balance and coordination. In short, regular use of pot can cause problems with thinking and problem solving (the hippocampus) and distorted perception of sight, sound and loss of motor coordination. (the cerebellum) So much for the driving rationale. Responding to lights, sound and reaction time are all distorted.

Pot is especially attractive to teens because it relaxes them, mellows out their stress, and if they are someone who struggles with anxiety, pot can be a wonderful new best friend. There is nothing more uncomfortable than feeling anxious, and once a teen who suffers with anxiety tries pot, a love affair begins.

Talking with your teen about pot requires finesse, and the power of understanding. Here is your I Get It moment. You can say to your teen" I get how pot would be attractive to you. I know you are stressed out, and it makes you feel relaxed and mellow. But here is what you don't know." At this point instead of sermonizing and lecturing, either read this to them or have them read it in your presence. https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/marijuanaThis is link to a very straight forward Q&A about pot. If you choose to lecture, your teen will think this is your opinion and probably just stop listening, thinking that they know more than you about this particular subject. So real science is always good in this situation. Now I am sure that you will get resistence here. And here is how you might handle this. " I am worried that you don't feel that pot affects your judgement, driving etc. You need to read this article and talk with me/us about it before we will allow you to drive our car. It is important to us that you have the facts here. If we see a change in your grades, or your ability to concentrate on getting your work done, we will have to drug test you every now and then. We love you and want to make sure that you don't unknowingly jeopardize your health and your future.

Talking with your teen who you already suspect is using pot is not easy. Expect them to be resistent, defensive, and in a lot of denial about this. Try really hard to not get mad, this will not serve you well in helping them to understand why this worries you so much. Information is power!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Cure For Eye-Rolling

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. I believe in it so much that I actually wrote my first book about it. I Get It: Three Magic Words For Parents Of Teens. 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?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Quick Parenting Quiz

A Parenting Quiz

  1. When your teen walks in the door after school, do you ask these three questions? How much homework do you have? How did you do on your quiz? Did you talk to your teacher about...?
  2. Do you spend your weeknights walking in and out of your teen's room asking? When are you going to put this laundry away? Have you finished your homework? Did you take the trash out?
  3. Do you spend your post school hours telling your teen multiple times to: Get off facebook and do your homework! Stop texting and do your homework! Get off that video game and do your homework!
  4. At least one time per week, do you find something that your teen has done that you can compliment?
How did you do? If you had 4 yes's congratulations!!! If you answered with 3 no's and a yes congratulations!!!! if you answered no to the last question, lets talk!

Obviously when parents come to me for coaching they are usually struggling with the first three questions. How can I get my teen to do what I want them to do? Why doesn't my teen listen to me? Why doesn't my teen tell me anything?  I have found that there is a direct correlation to the non-listening, non-action taking of teens to the amount of positive feedback they are given by their parents, there isn't much given.  Most parents are so worried that if they don't stay on top of everything their teen needs to do to be successful, then they will be at a disadvantage when  it come to the important thing, like getting into college for instance. This approach to parenting can be extremely time consuming, exhausting and mostly unrewarding. Putting yourself in the role of CEO of your child's life, automatically puts you in that secluded corner office worrying about the success of your "company" and out of touch with your "employees".

I was watching a news story recently about the online company Zappos. The CEO of that company
did not have a corner office, in fact, he didn't have an office at all. He "lived" in the same cubicle as the rest of his staff, right in the middle of the action. The work-life atmosphere at Zappo's is designed to promote hard-work while providing their employees with food, fun and lots and lots of kudo's for jobs well done. They have found that it is the food, fun and kudos that make their employees want to work their asses off for the company. Nobody minds the long hours and the cubicles because they feel understood and appreciated.

I think this is a model that can translate well to parenting. You probably aren't having much fun anymore with your teen, as they stay as far away from you as possible, worried that every time they see you it means you are on them about something. Kind of like that worry you feel when you see the "boss coming." Uh oh, now what did I do wrong, you might think. Gotta turn this around. Try making your nightly rounds without questions or comments. Maybe bring up an unexpected treat or snack you know is a favorite of your teen's and saying: "Thought you might like this treat..love u" and walk out the door.

I talked with a parent recently who is all over her teen, worried that he just wasn't "working" hard enough. His attitude towards her was becoming toxic as a result. The good news was this kid was a really good kid. But she had forgotten that in her worry that he wasn't on top of everything academically that he should have been, ie missing homework assignments that were resulting in lowering of his grades, avoidance of college essay and application writing, that she was not paying attention to the good stuff he was doing. He was not drinking or taking drugs, though most of his friends were. He was managing a part-time job. He was saving money, not squandering it away like most of his friends. Lots of good stuff.

I sent her home to put a little "fun, food and kudos" back into their life together. At a dinner out at his favorite fast food restaurant, rather than asking a million questions and lecturing him about his "future", the mom told him how proud she was of the decisions he made in his life that must be hard, like not drinking when he was with his friends, like how seriously he took his sport, like how conscientious he was about his job even though it meant getting up wicked early on a Saturday morning. She told him she was going to back off with all his college stuff as she had confidence in his ability to follow though if this was something HE really wanted for himself. I think this boy thought he had died and gone to heaven. As soon as she understood and appreciated what good stuff he was doing, he then accepted responsibility for what he wasn't doing, and they had one of the most honest, and fulfilling conversations they had ever had.

This Zappo's CEO is on to something. If you want to get the most out of your relationship with your teen you have to keep it balanced. Stay on and interested in those things you know are important but never ever forget the fun,  the food and  the kudos!