Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The First Report Card Of The Year

Just like the first frost that appears on our last surviving plants on the deck announcing the end of summer, so do the first fall report cards appear, announcing another kind of reckoning. Parents hoping that this year will be better, easier, their teen another year older and wiser, having learned from last years lessons, open the envelope with trepidation and anticipation. Some glance quickly, scanning for standout grades in either direction, others take their time, each grade at a time, each comment at a time. Until...THE comment, THAT comment, that when parents read make their veins pop, and their hearts pound. " Johnny is a good student, BUT he is missing 3 homework assignments and because of that his grade is a C instead of a B.

For some parents this might be the first time they have seen this kind of report card from their teen. Perhaps in previous years their kid led a quieter, less social life than other kids, and studying hard and striving for good grades was their true mission. But what is this, where are the A's and B+'s they have grown accustomed to seeing? And then for some parents, who had been hoping for a fresh beginning, a new year full of promise, feel disappointed that its same old same old.

Though your first impulse might be to barge into your kids room, or start in on dealing with this as soon as they step into your car or into the house, I encourage you to take a moment, and take a deep and cleansing breath. You are probably feeling somewhat duped by your teen, having asked over and over and over again: "Did you finish your homework?", and the answer was "YES". You probably asked over and over, "did you make up those missing homework assignments? " And the answer was "YES!"
But here, in living proof is the evidence of that lie. You are storming.

Your kids are expecting the storm. They are primed and ready with excuses, and explanations, and promises for change. Consider this an opportunity to approach this in a new way. Rather than starting the conversation with: "This is what happens when you spend too much time on your phone, and on your computer and with your video games. In this house, schoolwork comes first!  Instead try this: "Hey honey lets go over your report card together. Let him/her read it out loud. After each grade and comment is read, say "so what do you think about what your teacher said and how she graded you?" Refrain and I know that this is really hard, but just let them talk. You might hear some complaining, some "its not my fault the teacher is mean",  and some denial, "I didn't know that was missing." The goal here is to use this report card not as an indictment on bad study habits but as a road map for moving forward.

Using an 'I get it" moment, you might say: "I get first terms are always hard. Getting back into a routine is hard after the summer, and I know keeping up with friends, and sports and all the stuff you like is important to you lets figure out a way for you to do both. If you don't put your teen on the defensive and focus more on I want you to feel successful, you will find them more willing to have a conversation with you, and figure out a plan of action.  This is not about the grades!!! This is about your kids mastering material and developing a curiosity for learning. And this goes for the kids who come home with the straight A report cards. If you focus on the "A" rather than, "I am so proud for all your hard work, and how much you learned this term," you have a kid who is motivated to learn because of the external motivator of making you happy, rather than the power of the learning itself.

Fall is a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can see that your teen has a really hard time settling in and developing good study habits. For kids 6th-9th grade, sometimes hiring a college student as a homework buddy/mentor can be very helpful. This is not a tutor, this is someone who grabs your kid, takes him to your library, helps him get his homework done, and then goes out for an ice cream. It reframes homework from being a lonely, isolating boring experience, to something more to look forward to. Hanging with someone cool, who helps them, and understands them. This also gets you out of the power struggle of getting them to settle down and finish their work. If you are worried that this homework thing is a chronic problem, make sure you communicate regularly with the teacher. E-mailing at the end of the week to find out about missing homework, gives you a leg up on the "I did it" avoidance technique many kids use. (Read post on the homework avoider for more suggestions).  The most important message is not to label your kid as lazy, or unmotivated, this does not change behavior. Providing them with motivation, structure, and understanding does.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The 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 16 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 16 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 his phone. 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 16 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 16 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 16 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!

How about sharing my blog with some friends!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I Don't Like My Teen's Boy/Girlfriend!!

A mom wrote me recently with this question:


My daughter has dated the same young man on and off again for about 2 years.  While he is not abusive and seems to genuinely care for my daughter, he is not exactly who I would choose. (low grades, not going to college, past history of drinking)  How do I know if I should  put my foot down and end the relationship?  I've had well intended mothers ask me why I don't.  Does forcing a relationship to end ensure that they stop seeing each other or does it force them into hiding?


If your teen has a boy/girlfriend, you must have figured out by now that it is the kiss of death to actually say what you really think about this person.  It is never the right thing.  Either you can't stand the kid because he/she is not nice enough, not smart enough, not polite enough, dresses in a way that makes you crazy, is a suspected drug/alcohol/sex fiend, likes to party too much, gets bad grades, and has a family right out of the sopranos, or he/she is so nice, so polite, so smart, motivated and responsible, and has a family right out of the Cosby Show. Either way, your opinion of this person and your sharing of it is likely to push your teen in the opposite direction of your actual desire to either break them up or commit them to each other for the the rest of high school so you don't have to go through this parade of boy/girlfriends for the next 4 years.

This boy/girlfriend dilemma is a complicated one for parents. When you see your teen with someone you feel can be a bad influence on them, pulling them into situations you think will be unsafe, emotionally unhealthy, and that potentially could have a detrimental affect on their future, your mama/papa bear claws come out. You share your "insights" about this person with your teen, expecting they will listen, learn, respect your opinion and do the right thing....break up with this bum!  However because your teen is now biologically and emotionally driven to think just the opposite of you, in a show of "well I'm not you", are now more motivated than ever to dig their own claws in to their new love as a show of independence. One of the major tasks of adolescence is what we call "separation". This is literally developing the ability to stand on their own two feet, in preparation for their future life as an adult. There are some things they are willing to admit you know more about, albeit reluctantly, like academic issues, but their friends are completely off-limits to you and your opinions.  This is an area of their life they feel is their birthright and expertise. Be damned with what my parents think?

Here is what you can't and should never do. Never, ever say to your teen;" I don't want you to, you are not allowed to go out with that person! Remember Romeo and Juliet, this is a set up for lying and sneaking behavior. The bottom line is you have no control over who they see. Unless you lock them in their room and home school them (only kidding, don't run out and buy a teaching manual), you no longer have control over their play dates. They see this person at school, after school and on weekends. Again unless you have a nanny cam attached to their person, there is no way of knowing when and if they are hanging around with this object of your disaffection. Also directly giving your assessment of this person to your teen can only serve to shut off communication rather than keep it open. If they know you already can't stand this person, why would they come to you if they actually need your advice or consolation. "I told you so's " do not contribute to open communication.

Here is what you can do: You can use "I Get It" starters. Rather than directly expressing opinion start with something like this: "Honey, I can see why you like Romeo, he's a cutie, and funny, and a little bit wild. I get it, he's a fun guy. Tell me what you like about him. " Give her the opportunity to tell you about some of the things about this person you may not know. Maybe his standoffishness is shyness for example. When you ask open ended questions, you are showing real interest in the people that interest her, and also trying to find out what this relationship really means to her. Try not to be judgemental or critical, this will not serve you well. After she has shared something about Romeo, you can say " I am happy that you are hanging with someone that is making you happy, but what do you think I am worried about in your relationship with him?" Your daughter/son knows what you are worried about, but if they say it rather than you saying it, they will be less likely to get defensive and evasive. After they say all the things you would have said, you can say:"Yes I do worry about those things, what do you think you can do to make me feel OK about them, so that we don't need to fight so much about this? I love you, and I just want you to be safe, and do what you need to do to get on with your life."

Ultimately your kids want your approval. However if you push them into the corner by trying to control their natural impulses to stand on their own two feet they will let you know in a clear and direct manner to "stay out of my life". So the work here is to help them articulate what relationships mean to them. Relationships in adolescence are a training ground for relationships in adulthood, and experience in all kinds of relationships will serve them well in the future. They need your counsel not your control.
PS if you have a question you would like me to answer here on the blog please send it to joani@joanigeltman.com

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Teens And Money...Your Money!!

Unless you are comfortably wealthy, most parents these days are using up their retirement portfolios, giving up restaurants, vacations, new cars and any other perk that one usually looks forward to in mid-life, to pay for their kids to go to college and have the freedom from debt as they start their young adult life. And most parents I know who do this, do it freely and with love.  It is only when the semester grades start coming in, or the epidemic of changing one's major multiple times, that requires students to take additional courses (read more money) for their interest of the year, that parents start to wonder about the return on their investment. Many students I know are now on the 5 year plan due to flunked classes, need to make up credits or change of heart in what they want to study or do with their life. And because they have not been a part of the financial planning for their college career, and because they live in a fantasy world when it comes to money, and because many parents are afraid to talk money with their kids, they are not taking much responsibility for these decisions. Kids seem to want more, fancy phones, expensive video games, unlimited supply of clothes, and parents work hard to give them more. We aren't doing them any favors. Before they go to college is when they need to learn the meaning of money.

How many of your kids have any idea what their phone bill is, or their computer or cable bill that allows them to order movies on demand without regard to the extra $6.99 that appears on your bill.
How will your teens ever develop an appreciation for what things cost unless you teach them. I am a big advocate whether you are a family of means or a family where you need to count every penny, that you have a monthly date to go over the bills. Let them see just how many movies they did order and what the cost was. How much their portion of their cell phone cost. Dollars and cents, they need the reality. So much of teens lives in this 21st century make it easy to live in lalaland. They can say things without consequence through impersonal devices, they can order things without using the old fashioned greenback, and so it is no surprise that when they go off to college with a car full of new clothes and comforters that it feels magical. They absolutely need to know that college can cost up to $50,000 a year, and that is a sh**load of money.

Start teaching them now. They may not have to pay the bills, but at least let them know that it all costs the real deal...money. Maybe there is a limit on downloads and uploads, and scanning the bills together you develop some budget items. And NO UBER use unless it's an emergency and you really can't get them. I know that uber has become an easy way to ditch the late night pick-ups, the I don't feel like picking you up at so and so's house. But I have seen kids use uber because they don't feel like walking the 1/2 mile home from school, or they want to move to another house on a Saturday night where there are no parents, and think this is a sneaky way of doing it.  This is enabling your teen to be, go, do whatever they feel like it, whenever they feel like it.  Parents be damned!! Because truly, how many of you really check your credit card for uber charges specifically from your teen. This is a 21st century issue for entitled teens who are impatient, sometimes lazy and a bit sneaky, and for parents who finally have a secure way of moving their kids around when they don't want to! Lots of great stuff happens in the car with your teens, observing them with their friends, spontaneous conversation or trips for coffee or ice cream, and TIME!! Time is a very precious commodity these days. Don't outsource your time with your teens.

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.

This recent article from the New York Times offer some really interesting new options for teaching teens about money using prepaid debit cards. Maybe this might be a solution for you, but whatever you do...do something!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Did You Know There Is a Parenting Award For Being A Good Mom!!!

I just returned from a quick trip to LA where I was honored to receive the Judy and Hilary Swank Award for Parenting given by the Actors Fund Looking Ahead Program, which serves young actors and their parents. When I was called and told I would be receiving this award, I thought every parent should receive this award in recognition of the hard but rewarding job of being a parent! So I share this award with all parents!!! The first thing of course I did was to cry! This award recognizes a parent who has raised a young actor who has gone on to become an exceptional adult actor and all around wonderful person, which my 35 year old daughter certainly is!! I wanted to share with you my acceptance speech. Though geared to raising a child heading towards a professional career as an actor, I think it applies to raising any child with a passion whether it be sports or music, or art or leadership or academics or community service or for being a great friend and all around wonderful kid!  I hope you enjoy!! Here goes...

When Ari was a little girl, we introduced her to an array of activities, but what captured her heart was her first grade play.  She had found her passion at age 6.  There was no question that we were in 100%.  Finding our role in all of this wasn’t always easy. We had no roadmap and we had to figure out how to manage and balance our own lives with the demands of Ari’s busy career. 

We took our cues from Ari.  There were boundaries, unspoken but abided by. We were NOT her managers, her directors, or her agents; We were her parents. We were her uber drivers, chaperones, food service workers, appointment secretaries, and her most ardent supporters. We did not coach her on scripts, give feedback on her performances, or tell her what project she should do; that was not what she needed from us. She had her own mind, and eventually, “her people” for that. What we could do, as her parents, was to give her the freedom, opportunity and commitment to follow her dream.

Sometimes we were faced with decisions and dilemmas that challenged our roles as parents. Like when Ari was 13, she was lucky enough to be cast as the fool in an all women’s Shakespeare company production of King Lear. Ari was the only child and non-equity performer. They were to be in residence at Smith College for the summer and then go on the road for several weeks with the show. Because Ari was not equity, there was no place for me, both literally and figuratively.  But we figured it out. I slept on the floor of her tiny room and stayed out of the way until and unless Ari needed me. As the cast became a family and Ari felt ready to take on some independence, I took my leave. All that she learned that summer as a 13 year old is still very important to her. Just 2 years ago the company reunited in Scotland to perform together. Relationships and the work families she has become a part of had their beginnings in these early experiences, and I am so glad I didn’t let my own anxiety get the best of me. 

When Ari was 15 she was in a production at the Huntington Theater in Boston, where we live.  As often was the case, Ari was again the youngest in the cast by many years. Again she became part of her stage family. Her stage brother then 25 most especially. After the production ended, Michael invited Ari to New York City to stay with him and his then boyfriend. So I put her on the train, and off she went. My friends were aghast. "You’re letting her travel alone on the train?" "You’re letting her stay with two 25-year-old men, what are you thinking?" Here’s what I was thinking,. My only child now has a brother, an amazing man who loves and cares about her enough to invite her into his life. And now here we are 20 years later, Michael, here in the audience, is one of my most cherished friends, and is still, and will be forever, Ari’s family. Now she is Auntie Ari as Michael and Brian’s family has grown by two beautiful babies. The Power of relationship!!

In the summer before Ari’s senior year in high school we were in LA auditioning, and she landed a test for a pilot to shoot immediately. I really didn’t understand and was clueless that this meant she would need to sign a contract in 24 hours that might determine her life for the next 5 years. I felt strongly that you only get one senior year of high school. Ari was engaged in and loved her school, had amazing friends, and wanted some college experience. This opportunity could potentially erase this year of that life. Ultimately I had to make the call, Ari WOULD be going back for her senior year- no pilot! I felt no ambivalence about my decision.  But I understood completely and my heart broke for the pain and disappointment Ari was feeling.  I think in the end the lesson Ari took away from this experience was to really understand what is most important in life, and sometimes that means making really hard decisions. 

I have been so inspired by those kinds of hard decisions Ari now makes about her career and her life. She has stayed really true to herself about the work and the art she wants to put out into the world, even when it is not the most popular decision. If even a little bit of this came from that hard day almost 20 years ago in LA, I will be grateful.  

This is a tough business, so much of what an actor has to cope with are decisions made about them beyond their control. As a parent this can feel absolutely excruciating, unfair and yes, sometimes even cruel. Our instinct is to want to protect our children and fix it!  Over the years I have learned from Ari that what she needs from me in these moments is not advice, but instead a safe and loving space to be understood, with the freedom to experience and express her feelings. This lesson has probably been the hardest (still working on it) but honestly it is the most valuable and powerful one for me as both a mother and a professional.

As a parenting expert and writer, I am as passionate about my work as Ari is about hers, and I know that my experience raising my dedicated, and extraordinary daughter informs much of who I am and what I teach parents today. I have learned so much from her. She continually challenges herself to live a life full of integrity, purpose, passion, and authenticity. To learn, to experience, to take risks, to love and most importantly to find the power within herself to live a fulfilling life as both an artist and a woman.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The "Liking" Epidemic Of the 21st Century

Below is a link to a PBS Frontline show that I found both illuminating and disturbing. There is a new kind of "popularity" in town, and you don't have to have the coolest clothes, be the cutest, or hang with the right people. You can become popular in the comfort and privacy of your own home, or in the back seat of your parents car, at the dinner table, doing your homework, anywhere, as long as you have your trusty smartphone, ipad, or laptop.

The new popularity can happen in a click. Put up a photo, click you're liked. Write something silly, click, you're liked. Say something sexy or provocative, click you're liked. Make a youtube video in your room and talk about yourself or other people, click, you're liked. Get enough likes and you are not only popular but the newest sensation.

Is your teen caught up in the endless cycle of "liking and being liked." Maybe you are caught up in it too. You just posted a video of your family on your recent vacation or family outing, or, your dog just did the cutest thing, and you posted it on instagram or twitter and facebook, and waited patiently for the likes and comments to come pouring in. Face it, it feels really good. I get it, I love it too! It's addictive, and it makes us feel acknowledged and yes "liked."

As adults, we have perspective. We get it's all a little self-serving, but it brings joy and fun into our lives, and who doesn't need a little of that from time to time. But hopefully, we can set limits on ourselves and the time we give to this public pursuit of "likeness." We have had years to develop competence and confidence in who we are and what we have accomplished in life, and that is the real stuff that feeds our self-esteem. Teens, on the other hand are in a time in their life when they may not be feeling confident or competent in much of anything. And getting 50 likes for saying something or posting something a little outrageous can provide them with a much needed boost in their confidence, even if it is given for no real accomplishment. And that is the real issue. Confidence and self-esteem that lasts is built on a foundation of real accomplishments. Confidence and self-esteem that is built on accumulation of "likes" and "followers" and "friends" has no real lasting effect, and can actually hinder the development of an identity.

This is why I feel so passionate about parents needing to be really on top of how much time their teens give in the pursuit of "likeness" Life is about balance. Take a good long honest look at your kids. How much time do they spend in the endless cycle of posting and re posting and commenting, and "liking. " Like some of the kids in the Frontline story, sometimes this pursuit of popularity takes the place of actually living a life full of real living. If your teen's life seems out of balance, they will need help from you to create some. They will not "like" it. So be it, you can get your "likes" somewhere else for now. Watch this video with your kids, and talk to them about it. It is a discussion worth having! If you "like" this post, and want more parents to understand this phenomenon so that your teen can't say to you, "nobody else's parent is worried about this" than please share this post with  five friends who have teens!
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

What Is Really On Your Teen's Mind!

Tweets from a 15-year-old

"Sometimes when I really like a person I act like I don't like them because I don't know how to express my feelings properly."

"I'm sitting by myself at a party and I'm scared to get up because I don't have anywhere to go and I don't want to wander around alone. "

"It's hard to support your friends who aren't supportive or even pretend to be supportive of you."

Don't you just love this kid? I do. I know this teen and I think she is the honest voice of a generation of teens. From what I can gather about her, she is adorable, smart, has tons of friends, and seems ridiculously confident. But what you see is very often not necessarily reflective of what is going inside a person. And that goes for your teens as well. When they come home from school, or a night out with friends, or a dance or rehearsal or practice, there is a good chance that they are dealing with the kinds of feelings Maude is expressing; insecurity, embarrassment,  and disillusionment. Teens encounter these feelings many times daily. And because the relationships they are now experiencing as teens are new to them, they are obsessed with thinking about them. Learning to deal with intimacy based relationships rather than activity based relationships is a whole new ballgame. The worry is not whether they have someone to "play with," but instead, does this person(s) I'm hanging with like me? What do they think about me?

So when your teen walks in the door with a sour puss expression, it may be that something felt bad in the friend department, and unless they ask, it's probably something they don't want help with. They may need to be a sour puss for the night, and saying "whats wrong with you?" in an accusatory voice, after they have been unresponsive and grumpy towards you, probably won't help.

Read these tweets to your teen.  Maybe it will generate some interesting discussion. Or not!