Thursday, August 28, 2014

To Do List: Back To School

Yes, the summer is over, and it is back to backpacks and schedules, carpools and homework. For some parents this day could not come fast enough, and for others it is dreaded almost as much as their kids dread it. The good and bad news is that in a few weeks, it will feel like summer never happened. Tans will fade, girls will finally have to put on some pants that cover their tushies, and everybody will be in some kind of routine.

I thought today I would give you my own version of a back to school sale, as I try to "sell" you on some strategies that you can start with from the get-go in hopes of a smooth beginning to the school year.


Do not allow your teen to take their cellphone to bed. How I wish teen drama happened between 8-10 pm, but the reality is, the real juicy stuff happens after 1 AM. Your teen has their phone on vibrate, and he/she never really hits the deep level of sleep that allows the brain to absorb the day's learning. Instead they lie in wait for their crush to text, or a best friend to text the days wrap up. This is why they are exhausted when they wake up. If you have been a good doobee parent who has not given your teen a smartphone, simply have your carrier shut it off when you and your teen agree on a time. Your conversation: "hey honey, I get how important it is to check in with your friends before bed, and I want you to have that time, but then we need to agree on a time that the phone will be shut off for the night. It is important for you to get a good night sleep. If you have already given your teen a smart phone, which you can't shut off through the carrier, you will say the same first part and then: " I will need to collect your phone at our agreed upon time. If you argue with me, and we get into a struggle about handing over your phone, I will need to switch out your smartphone for a regular phone, so that I can have it shut off and we won't need to argue. Your choice." And by the way, this goes for laptops, Itouches or any other device that can interfere with sleep. Shut your modem off if you have too. It is that important. Teens are already sleep deprived with the brain saying, "I'm not tired yet", and the school bus pick-up at a very early ungodly time. Your teen DOES NOT have the willpower to do this on their own, no matter what they tell you. Do not set them up to fail.


If you have had a teen that has fallen into the homework hole, do not wait for it to happen. Anticipate that this might happen again.Things don't change that much over the summer. If you have a younger teen, 6-10th grade, you might consider hiring what I call a homework coach. This is a cool college student with a car, who picks your teen up either after school or in the evening, takes them to a library, and sits with them while they do their homework, and then takes them out to shoot some hoops get an ice cream or a coffee when they are done. This basically gets your teen on a homework schedule, and pairs the dreaded homework with someone and something fun. Not that you aren't fun, well, actually you probably aren't when it comes to homework. Twice a week is usually enough.

Make sure you have a 2 hour period when there is no cellphone, and social networking sites are blocked. See cellphone strategy above. You can do the same thing, have it shut off for a couple of hours or agree for them to surrender. Again, and I will keep saying this, cellphones, and facebook, twitter et al, are TOO DISTRACTING. Your teen will argue till they are blue in the face that they can handle their homework while texting, facebooking, twittering etc. The research is unequivocal here, they can not. The brain will pay attention to the most interesting stimulus, and you can bet that geometry loses to texting every time. Even if your teen has no homework and says they did it at school you should follow through on the 2 hour rule. All this stuff is hugely addictive, you are not doing them any favors by feeding this addiction. Maybe they will actually spend time with you watching TV, a fate worse than death. Your teen will be mad at you. SO WHAT!


All teens should be involved in something. Too much time on their hands can be destructive. School is usually out by 2 and that leaves them with hours to whittle away doing who knows what, and who knows where. You should have an expectation that you teen either chooses a sport, club, drama or a job, but they must have something to do at least 3 days a week. No activity, no money! Some teens may be overwhelmed with the choices available at school, and might be too shy to join something. If you know your teen has a strength in some area, say art for example, you might want to go undercover and let the guidance counselor know about this. Perhaps they need artists to work on the newspaper or yearbook or drama production, and they might get the faculty involved to approach your teen, saying they heard that they were talented and could really use their help. Be creative. This is all about building self esteem and self confidence especially if academics is not your teen's area of strength.

Social life

Teen proof your home.
  •  Lock up the alcohol and prescription drugs
  • Make sure you supervise sleepovers (that means setting alarm clock to check on location and sobriety of your house guests.)
  • Help your teen to think in advance about handling themselves in risky situations
  • Supervise teens coming to your house to hang. Make sure your teen understands your no drinking or drug policy, and have a plan in place should your teen have friends who flaunt your rules. Remember it is unsafe and illegal. 

This is in caps and in bold because it is the most important. Do not let your relationship just be about checking up on your teen, as in "have you? did you? when will you? If this is the bulk of your conversation with your teen you absolutely need to build in some good relationship building time. This is what will get your teens to do what you want, not taking away their phone. Go to a movie during the week, take them out for a coffee, give them a day off when they feel stressed, and stay in your pajamas all day eating junk food. Let your teen know you get life can be hard sometimes, and that you don't always have to be the hard-ass!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Leave Me Alone...I'll Do It!"

No kid wants to do their chores. Honestly I really don't know anyone who gets kick-ass exited to mow the lawn, take out the trash, bring down their laundry. Hell, I don't even like to do those chores. It's only when there is that tipping point, when if I leave whatever for one more day that I begin to feel really really bad about myself. And I am an adult.

So your first weapon in combatting the chore blues is to anticipate the struggle it's going to take. Your second weapon is to have a plan in your head that outlines, the number of times you are willing to ask before you just do it yourself, and then the consequence for your teen for not doing it.

There are two variations that I think are effective:

Plan 1

Keep your "asks" to three. All Teens need to be reminded, that is normal. After the 3rd ask you stop asking. And when your teen comes to you next for a ride, money laundry, help with homework, a special snack, etc, you say:" Gee honey, I would love to, let me know when you have done X and I'll get right on it. 

Plan 2

Again keep your asks to three. Then just do it yourself. And when your teen comes asking for any of those favors, you say, You know honey, I would have, but I asked you three times to do X and you chose not to help me out. So sorry, now I choose not to help you out today. 

Nagging is no fun, and almost never works anyway.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting Your Teen To Stay In Touch

There's a new app in town, and it's definitely NOT an app that your teen wants on his/her phone. It's called Ignore No More. A mom of a teen was getting tired of texting her son to check in on his whereabouts, and having him ignore her texts and her calls. Out of sheer frustration she decided that she just had to do something about it. After a few years of design, she launched the app Ignore No More. The link below explains the technology of it, but in in short, this app links up your phone with your teen's phone. If you make attempts to contact your teen, and you are ignored by your teen, you can launch the app which automatically shuts off your teen's phone. It is disabled completely except for the ability to call 911, or call your phone. If he calls you then you give him a one-time only password that gets his phone back up in running. Imagine your teen, mid-text or tweet and has her phone shut off. Definitely would get their attention. And yes an immediate call home!

Here is how I feel about this app. I think it is a great tool to have in your pocket. But I don't think it should be your go-to response for getting your teen to be responsive to you. In some ways, it takes all the responsibility away from them. Teens get distracted, and engaged in the moment. Teaching them strategies to be responsible is always the goal. Teaching them to be mindful of time, of accountability, these are all life skills. Having this app on their phone in some ways, negates their responsibility. It takes it literally out of their hands and into yours. Strategies that teach responsibility might include for example, setting an alarm for when they are supposed to check in with you. Reminding them that they need to text when they change locations or every three hours. If you have a teen that is a serial "forgetter" than this app might be an alternative. Sometimes teens avoid their parents texts or calls because they are drunk or high or otherwise engaged (if you catch my drift) and just don't want to deal with you. This is not safe. What you can say to your teen is this: "I get when you're out, I am completely out of sight, out of mind, and truthfully that is fine with me. But I do need to know where you are and that you are OK, and what your plan is. Let's work on how we can do this together. If however, you don't stay in touch in a reasonable way, then I will have to use this app to help you do that. I would rather not do that, so let's work together."

Some parents have unreasonable expectations for how much their teens need to be in touch. If you are too smothering, expecting your teen to text you too regularly, you will be setting him/her up to fail and for you to feel angry and disappointed. Your teen likes their independence. And they need to have some. Reasonable expectations are a set up for successful communication.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Spicing" It Up: A Dangerous Alternative To Pot

K2, Spice, and Mary Joy,  and smokeable incense, are all varieties of herbal "marijuana" that can be purchased at head shops in the mall, tobacco shops and even convenient stores, legally.  "I'll have a big gulp and some spice please, a common request of teens." Poison control calls about these drugs have doubled in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and I'm sure in states across the country.  That is a significant and serious increase. These new drugs are incredibly appealing to teens because they are legal...for now. Never mind that they are incredibly dangerous. Some of the side effects are: uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations, hallucinations, intense head pressure just to name a few. This website was developed by a mom who lost her son to these drugs. After a night of smoking, he got into his car, driving at 100 MPH crashed into a house and died. She was absolutely clueless that he had been experimenting with this drug. In hopes of helping other parents, she started this foundation:

 Remember that teens are impulsive, don't think things through, and if a friend says, "hey man, you gotta try this spice, its legal, its cheap, I got it at the mall, it's gotta be OK right? I heard it's a great high, let's do it!" I'm guessing if you have a teen who has already smoked some pot, and they are presented with a legal, cheaper version...hello, I think they would get on board pretty quickly.

The first step in helping your teen is awareness and education. If you have a teen who you suspect is smoking pot, even if it's recreationally, you need to give him/her this information. Don't go right to the question: "have you used this stuff?" They will hear a tone in your voice, and probably shut down immediately, and not hear this very important information. Better to say you heard this story on the TV, and it scared you, and you wanted to make sure that you gave him/her all this information. You might say: " I know some of your friends smoke pot, and maybe you have tried it too. And maybe one of your friends has heard about this stuff and has asked you try it. I want you to listen to this story and look at this website from the mom whose son died at 16 after smoking this stuff. I want to make sure that you are fully informed should you find yourself in a situation where this "fake pot" is being handed around. This stuff is really scary, and I need you to know what is out there."

I know this stuff is scary. But as I always say...KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! Watch this Today show clip with your teen...Please

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The "liking" epidemic: Popularity in 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 taking on the the latest craze "the ice bucket challenge. Yes, you did it for charity, but seriously wouldn't you have been disappointed if no one "liked" or commented on your adorable family. 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!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Preventing Sexual Assault: It's All About Your Friends

The article below is a must read for parents and teens. Read it together, talk about it together, strategize together!! For those of you whose kids are about to go off to college, this should be a mandatory read!!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Know Something You Don't Know

Here is an article I did on the website:  Empowering Parents. Do you know something about one of your teen's friends you think their parents would want to know. Here are some tips on handling this delicate situation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Resourcefulness and Resilience: Practice Makes Perfect

Parents, take this short quiz:
  1. T  F  When my kid has a paper to write, I love when I, I mean when he/she gets a good grade.
  2. T  F  When my teen is having a problem with a teacher, a friend, a coach or the other "parent" I love to provide the solution to make his/her life easier, and have them benefit from my experience.
  3. T  F  When my teen is looking for a job, a summer program, or community service, I do everything I can to help by calling everyone I know.
  4. T  F  Now that my teen is ready for the college process, I do all the research about the colleges, visits, and requirements, because I know how busy my teen is.
  5. T  F  When my teen doesn't know how to do something, I love telling him/her how to do it, because I know they appreciate and expect my help.
So, how did you do?? If you even had one "T" you might unknowingly be preventing your teen from developing resourcefulness and resilience, two personality traits that are present in very successful adults. Getting straight "A"s", graduating at the top of the class, or even going to an Ivy League college is not what guarantees success in life.

Most teens demand to be in charge of their social life, not wanting help from you at all. But when it comes to the parts of their life, they feel less confident in, they may demand your help. And what parents doesn't love it, when your teen asks for your help. It's like a drug. It may not happen often, but when it does, you are primed and ready for action. If feeds your need to feel like a competent and supportive parent, especially if your relationship with your teen has been going through a rocky spell. But what makes kids feel confident and competent is moving past frustration to success.

Think of it this way. Perhaps recently you bought a coffee table for your family room from IKEA. In the store the table looked pretty simple to put together; A few slabs of wood, some glass, a couple of screws and bolts...piece of cake!! Then you get the big brown box home, enthusiastically throw all the stuff on the floor, with the expectation you will have your beautiful table up and usable in an hour or so. 5 hours later, sweat pouring off your brow, swears emanating from your mouth, you kick the stupid wood, throw the screws against the wall, ready to "cry uncle". You get up, stomp around your house, curse IKEA and the directions that seem to be written for someone with a PHD in engineering, and then you get back down on the floor, and start again. And finally, because the only choice was to figure out how to put the damn table together, the table comes together, almost magically. And you stand up, puffed up with pride and look at your "baby". And every time a new person walks into your house, and they compliment you on your cool coffee table, you say proudly.. I put that table together. And honestly it feels as important to you as almost anything else you have accomplished in your life. And why is that? Is is because you persisted through your frustration, your feeling of incompetence and what felt like the impossible, to your ultimate success. It is a feeling you don't forget.

When you solve your teen's problems for them, even if they ask you too, when you give into their frustration because it feels unbearable to you, you take away the opportunity for them to have their IKEA moments. The ability to delay gratification, develop frustration tolerance, and figure it out,  is something that will follow them all the way through their life. Through relationships that go through hard times, to jobs that aren't working out the way they anticipated, money problems, housing issues, and their own ability to parent. An A in English will not be helpful in those situations. There is truly nothing more important to teach your teens than the ability to accept and deal with disappointment, that they can't have or do anything they want to have or do just because they want it, or that when something feels just too hard, that you will rescue them from their pain.

So the next time they come to you for help, start first with a "so what do YOU think you should do? The process will take a lot longer, but when you can say to your teen, I am really proud of you,I know that was really hard for you to do, but you stuck with it, and "just look at your table!"

parent/teen power struggles, teen conformity, the bad seed friend, rules, and more...

In lieu of writing about an issue today, you can hear me talk about many issues in a radio interview with Mr. Dad

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Keeping Your Teen Drug and Alcohol Safe

I just found this fantastic site and I want to share it with you. Start by watching the story of a couple who loss their son due do alcohol. Then take the 15 minute course that provides you with all the information on the latest in Neuroscience and the teenage brain and how it responds to alcohol and drugs. There are also a number of FAQ that you will find really useful. What should I do if... kinds of questions. Watch it with your teen!

PS. I will be doing a book event at Chevalier's Books on Aug 10th @ 2 PM in Los Angeles
126 N. Larchmont Blvd. Between Beverly and 1st street.
If you are in the LA area or know anyone, please let them know.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Is My Teen Spoiled?

Before I start writing my blog each night, I always check my stats to see how many people are reading my blog, and how they find it. Thankfully, I get pretty specific information, and as I checked tonight I saw that someone had googled "how to handle a demanding spoiled teen" and my blog came up. I love that! Anyway, I thought that might be a good topic to write about.

Teens are by definition demanding, narcissistic, and spoiled. Why? Because they do literally think about themselves almost exclusively all the time. Their newly developed brain can be held somewhat responsible for this. As the teen brain grows, it allows teens to think in ways they have never thought before. For the first time teen's are spending hours and hours thinking about themselves and the people in their lives. Being introspective is like a drug. There is no right answer, and there are endless possibilities to explain their behavior and the behavior of their friends. If I do or say this, than maybe this could happen, but if I do that, than that could happen. They have become the center of their own universe, which is a major shift from when you their parents, were the center of their universe. And like all good narcissists, they only see the world in terms of how it affects them. So if you are late picking them up from school, and they had to hang around by themselves, because all their friends had already left, than you have perpetrated a heinous crime, even if the cause was traffic beyond your control, a meeting that went late, or a flat tire. Honestly, they have no sympathy, no empathy, just anger at you making them feel like a loser somehow for leaving them standing alone for someone to see what a loser they are.

The good news, is that this is temporary insanity, unless, and this is a big UNLESS you fall victim to their accusations.!  DO NOT feel that you have in any way screwed up because guess what...shit happens, and you are not to blame, and you do not have to accept blame and then feel that for some reason you have to make up for all your supposed inadequacies by giving into the insatiable demands your teen, in a narcissistic haze put on you. On the other hand, and equally important, is you don't have to lecture your teen ad nauseam about their lack of empathy etc etc. And here is the best tip I can offer in these situations when your teen accuses you of something you absolutely know is not true, and is a function of this acute case of me me me me. You simply look at them, give a little smile, a head tilt, and shoulder shrug. No more no less. Nothing you are going to say will be heard anyway. They won't be this way forever unless you reinforce the behavior with feeling and acting guilty.

Free at least, free at last.. No worries, your kids will eventually shed their self-centered skin and become the loving, caring, kind person you know to be in there!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Obsession With Pretty

Just read this article today and feeling disturbed. It talks about girls who post pictures of themselves and then ask for feedback about whether people think they are pretty or ugly. UGH!!! This makes me so sad, I just feel that we are moving in the wrong direction here. First I hear about thigh gaps, and the need for teen girls to prove their skinniness with a gap between their thighs, and now this need to have either validation that yes you are hot, or no you look like sh**!! As you can imagine, these teens love being brutally honest. Well I wouldn't really even call it honest, since mean people are out there in cyberspace and like nothing more than to put people down, pretty or not.

Does your daughter constantly ask you: "Am I Pretty?" Rather than getting into a debate with her because of course you will because you will say:" of course you're pretty" And than she will say: " no I'm not, I'm fat, my knees are to fat, I don't like my nose, my hair, my anything!!" And basically she thinks you're lying because you can't be objective. But then, why did she ask you anyway!!!!

So next time when you're daughter asks you that very loaded "am I pretty?" question, try to take the conversation in another direction. You can use an I get it statement. " You know honey, I get that being pretty in other people's eyes is really important to you. And of course I think you're beautiful, and I know that won't really satisfy you. Tell me what you think being pretty means? Do you think if people think you're pretty they'll treat you differently than they treat you now. Do you think boys will treat you differently than they treat you now? Can you think of someone you don't think is pretty, but still has alot of confidence and people really like and respect her. Why do you think draws people to her if in fact you don't think she is pretty?"

Read this article with her, and see what she thinks. Try to help her see the big picture. I know it may be a losing battle, but give it a shot.