Thursday, February 2, 2023

When You're Teen Feels Excluded

 When you're a parent of a teen, one of the hardest and most heartbreaking things is seeing your teen be left out or excluded from events with kids he/she is friends with or thought they were friends with. A parent called me the other day worried about her 13 year old daughter. Like most girls her age she had her posse of four "besties." After school it seems a delegate from this elite group was chosen to deliver the message. No mincing of words here, "we don't like you anymore." There is no more brutal assault. The daughter was bereft, sobbing and humiliated vowing never to return to school. The mom, feeling every bit as much pain as her daughter wanted to do something, to fix it. "Should I call the school, should I call the parents of the other girls, what should I do?" she asks feeling desperate to make it "all better."

There is a simple answer. Nothing. There is honestly nothing a parent can do to make this better. Best friends on Monday, enemies on Tuesday, best friends again by Friday. There is no rhyme or reason for this fickleness. Kids in middle school are especially susceptible to this jockeying for friends. They are in the midst of going to what I call the "buffet of friends." In elementary school, friends are often chosen by default. Perhaps your best friend has kids the same age, and by default your kids become "best friends." Or maybe your neighborhood is full of kids the same age, and since kindergarten they have been hanging at the bus stop together, taking the bus together, and getting off the bus together and by default end up at each others' house after school, so easy. Think of this like taking your kids to a Chinese buffet. When they are young and overwhelmed by the options, you make their plate up with those things they will eat, chicken wings, fried rice and spare ribs. Now as they get older, they go up to the buffet themselves and are astounded and excited about all the choices, and are anxious to give them a try. Choosing friends in middle school and again in 9th and 10th grade is like going to the buffet for the first time. Wow, look at all these options. I think I would like to try this friend, or that friend.

This means that some kids will do the leaving, and some kids will be left behind. Now that these teen brains are working on overtime, they are thinking more deeply about who these people are they call friends. Whereas in elementary school they only need a warm body for "playing", now they look for friends to talk to, and  to share common interests with. They are less interested in what you have to play with and more with what do you have to offer me? Do I like your personality? Are you too quiet, too loud, to bossy too pretty, not pretty enough? etc etc. Are you fun, do we like to do the same things together? Often in middle school and then again in 9th grade, some kids are ready to transition to more teenagery like behaviors, partying, experimentation with the opposite sex, drugs and alcohol, while some kids are happy with less riskyish behavior.

All this is a set up for feelings of betrayal and exclusion. It is painful, and the good news, is they will get over it. As for your role, there is not much more to do than understanding their pain, and providing tons of TLC. If you insinuate yourself into these friend dynamics you will regret it. Perhaps you have never liked the girl who has just defriended your daughter, and you tell her so. Thinking you are making it better, you wax on and on about what a bad friend this girl has been,  and good bye to bad rubbish! The only problem with this is that the next day, when the girls have made up, your daughter now knows you hate this kid, and will never talk to you again about her.

I talked to a mom recently about this at one of my "Ask The Expert" parties whose daughter was experiencing all these friend complications. She said that her daughter would come to her crying and in her effort to make her feel better would try to solve the problem for her, by giving her all kinds of strategies. The daughter, not looking for help, just a shoulder to cry on, then gets angry at mom for interfering. Thats' what I am saying. Stay out of it!!!!! Your kids need to learn to figure this all out for themselves. Obviously if it is more of a bullying situation, it may require a different strategy, but if it is old-fashioned cat-fighting, just let it be. Your kids will have a lifetime of friendships for which they are now in training. It's a bit like basic training. In the beginning, you never think you'll get through it, and then you get stronger and smarter, and you get better at figuring it all out. Just be patient, they'll have to sweat a little.

Now having just told you to mind your own business, I do have one caveat. A parent recently told me of this situation. Her daughter went to a friend's house with 7 other girls for a weekend night "girl party." It seems that this girl cherry picked 5 of the girls to sleep over and left the other two out of the sleepover. As you can imagine, those two girls felt like s**t.  It didn't seem like the host's mom had any idea this had happened. If your kid has a group of friends over, there should be a proportion rule. In the example above, the parents should have been aware of the situation from the beginning, knowing who was invited for the sleepover. In a large group of 7, I get that all the girls sleeping over might have been too much, but 5 out of 7 is just too exclusionary. Have a rule in your home about sleepovers that states, either everyone or just 1. It would make sense the host girl wanted someone with her to finish out her fun night with the girls. I think all the girls could have understood the one rule, but they didn't understand the 5 and not you two rule. Your teens might need some of this kind of help. You won't choose the sleepover friend, but you can teach them about inclusion!

PS: Booking now for spring: Let's Have A Kitchen Conversation. Come to my house for lunch and 2 hours of "Ask The Expert" Put your own group together, organizer comes for free!!! for more info  781-910-1770

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Perils Of Back Seat parenting

  I was working out at my Gym over the weekend, huffing and puffing my way through some sit-ups while a small group training class was taking place around me. In this group of 5 was a dad and his teenage son. Oh, I thought, how lovely that the're sharing this time together doing something they both love to do. Well it turns out, I think it was just the dad who loves working out. I only surmised this after ogling his very ripped and toned body!!! Hey I'm only human! The son it turns out, not ripped and toned. Tall and skinny and clearly suffering through this workout at the behest of his dad. The trainer was a great guy; enthusiastic, supportive and doing his best to be this boy's cheerleader. The dad on the hand, grunting and groaning through his own lifts with some major wight poundage, still managed to yell out to his son going through his own workout; " use your abs!!!! and "lift don't swing those weights." As you can imagine, this boy/man now beat red in the face, rolled his eyes, and glared menacingly at his dad. The bubble over his head saying: "You know who I'd like to swing these weights at?????"

You are all good at something. And you hope, wish, and pray that maybe your kids will be good at the same things you're good at. Isn't that the circle of life? Maybe it all works out that way, but usually not, and especially not when your kids are teenagers. The last thing they want, is to be any which way at all like you!

Perhaps writing is your thing, and you are an editor extraordinaire; your teen's in-house managing editor. But believe me, your teen is shaking in his Adidas when you walk in the room asking to see his latest writing assignment. Feeling inadequate, measured against your experience and writing finesse, he has only written a few sentences, and you balk at his procrastination. Or perhaps you are a math wizard, and your teen's frustration tolerance for challenging math homework rivals a two year old's tantrums. And your frustration over their lack of understanding drives you mad.

Maybe you are a tennis(insert any sport you love) enthusiast, and have had your teen in tennis clinics since they were old enough to hold a racket. You have dreamed of these teenage years when you can get on the court together and play ball! You have so much to offer and teach, and believe me you do!! "take a full swing, throw the ball higher when you serve, run goddamn it, you could have gotten that volley!" Sounds like fun to me.

Get the point? The quickest way to squash enthusiasm in your teen is by offering your unsolicited "feedback."You have got to tread lightly in the coaching department. If they have actual coaches than let them do the work, and be the supportive cheerleader. Let their teachers do their job, and understand with your teen their frustration and their worry about being good enough, rather than adding to their worry about being good enough..for you. Adolescence is a time of life when defining themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses is a huge challenge. They are feeling enough of their own-self imposed pressure and expectations. Living up to yours should not be more important than living up to their own.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Getting To Know The Person Your Teen Is Becoming

 I think what I have loved most about parenting, is what my daughter has taught me, rather than what I have taught her. She has challenged my thinking, helped me to get out of my comfort zone and venture into interests and passions I didn't know I had. I am 71 (I'm old) but I still am in the process of "becoming." Your teen is heavy into their development of identity. Their world is getting bigger, they are having many new experiences and relationships that may challenge how they previously saw the world. I'm jealous, oh what I would have told my 17 yer old self in 1969!!! The world truly is their oyster, and they may or may not be moving in a direction that you had anticipated or feel comfortable with. As a parent that may feel disappointing, frustrating, and cause you worry. But if you can stay open to the process, and live in a state of some discomfort, your emerging adult may surprise you with their journey and with your support, have you share in it. Push too hard for them to follow the expectations you have for them, and you will be shut out of an exciting and rewarding part of being a parent. 

Last night I watched a movie on Netflix call Dog Gone! I'll put it right out there it is a sappy, tear jerker of a movie. Actually not the genre I'm really into, but I love a good dog movie, and gave myself a streaming vacation from deep, dark, and depressing!! Anyway, young man, adorable dog, parents who at first don't get it, lost dog, found dog, father and son journey, mother reliving her own past losses, it covers all the bases! Keep a tissue box close by, I was a sobbing mess. There is a happy ending, and it is based on a true story, which is how I rationalized watching it in the first place. 

Ok, I think for parents of teens and college students this is a must watch. And if your kids will watch it with you, even better! This young man, just graduated from college is not living up to his parents expectations, and there is a growing riff between this young man and his family. I see this kind of disconnection a lot with the parents I work with. The process of understanding who their son is, and how he chooses to live his life and live the values and passions that are uniquely his, is a good roadmap for all families.

So grab a box of tissues, and enjoy your ugly cry!!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

A High School Senior Wants You To Know How Hard The College Process Is!

  I saved an article from the Boston Globe that I wanted to write about. It is by a young woman who was a senior in High School at the time, who wrote this piece to give her perspective of the college application process, especially addressing parents of seniors. I would like to share her article with you. You might want to read it to your High School senior at dinner one night, and ask him/her if they agree, and if there is anything you might do to make their journey through this process any easier.

So in the words of Laura Detwiler.......

"It's not just the nagging pressure of getting everything done in time. People want to know about my "top choice." Sure, I know plenty of kids who know exactly where they want to go and have that dream school that they've been hoping for since birth. But I don't have one school that screams "YES" every time I hear its name. I'm just not ready to make that commitment. Plus, it opens up a flood of heartbreak. Setting out dreams and aspirations about my top choice is as good as pinning myself to a target. The second that letter comes and its one of those notorious thin envelopes, you have to face everyone you've spoken to and own up to the fact that you didn't get in. Bull's eye-right in the gut.

I don't have a top choice; I don't want to discuss my top choice; I just want to be left alone. We seniors are vulnerable and raw under all this apathetic attitude we front. Don't get me wrong, I am pumped about college.  But that doesn't mean I'm not absolutely terrified. I don't want to talk about where I'm going or how much work I've done on my apps because every time I see that submit button I freak out and go watch  reruns of "The Office." I can't bear to think of being apart from my friends. I don't want to acknowledge that I won't be eating dinner with my family every night.

I'm scared, and I don't know how to handle it.  We all are. But preparing ourselves for college is something each of us has to do alone.Because when we actually get to this school, we're only going to have ourselves to rely on. That's a pretty big deal,  if you ask me. If you really want to be encouraging, ice cream will do just fine."

PS Taking reservation for Let's Have A Kitchen Conversation!  2 hours of food, fun and parenting advice at my home!! call or email for more info. Put your group together and let's eat!   781-910-1779

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Is It A Bad Day, or Is It Depression? With Teens it's Hard To Tell

 I have had a number of calls recently from parents worried about their teen, trying to figure out whether their teen is just having growing pains, or is in a real depression. Teens love to dump on their parents, giving them their most angry, their most sad, their most anxious and fearful feelings. This is the good news. Think of it as colic. When the bad stuff gets expelled, then sleep and peace can come...until the next time.

Teens are feeling their feelings in ways they have never experienced them before. The intensity comes from an adolescent brain that is over activated in the area responsible for emotion, and literally from having some of these feelings for the first time. Without experience and a history that would have given them a game plan to deal with these feelings that are overwhelming, they are vulnerable to feeling like they might never go away. The first break-up, a humiliation on a soccer field, or a stage, the embarrassment of doing something or saying something impulsively stupid in front of your peers, the disappointment that someone you like doesn't like you back, the worry that they are disappointing you in some way, or any one of a million other things can feel like a catastrophe.

So your kid comes to you in a rage, in a tantrum, sobbing uncontrollably and you feel helpless. But they are coming to you. Like a sponge, you absorb every drop of emotion. You can't sleep, you can't eat, you live with a pit in your stomach that your kid is in pain. But here is the thing, now that they have dumped it all on you and you have so graciously sopped it all up, they are free to go out and enjoy life again. Rinse and repeat!

When is it time to worry? The dumping is a good sign. The emotion is a good sign. They are working it out.  It may be hard on you, but at least they have an outlet. The worry should start, if they are not talking, isolating themselves, and really seem to have lost the up and down nature of teen life. Up and down is good. Staying down is not.  If you see your teen spending increasing amounts of time alone, in their room, avoiding family and friends, you might say something like this: " I have noticed recently that you seem more down than usual. You seem to be spending a lot of alone time in your room away from us and your friends. I get life can be complicated and difficult and sometimes overwhelming, and you might like just getting away from it all. I used to do that to sometimes. But I worry that you are not giving yourself a chance to talk about it. If you don't want to talk to us, I understand, maybe it would be helpful to talk to a counselor. I don't want to bug you, but I love you, and want you to work out what seems to be bothering you. I'll check back in with you in a few days, and we can talk about a plan." You will probably get a "leave me alone!" but don't let that deter you. Keep checking in, and letting them know that you are concerned. Eventually, you may just have to make an appointment and make them get in the car.

Seeing your teen be in pain is the worst. Giving them a safe haven to express it is a gift.

PS: Get a group of your friends together and come to my house for lunch!!!! Let's Have A Kitchen Conversation is my new baby! I love to cook and I love meeting with parents to give them expert advice. email or call for more info: or 781-910-1770

Monday, December 26, 2022

The 12 Days Of School Vacation

Enjoy this time together!!! Happy Holidays ! Hopefully you'll have some laughs with this ditty, and thank yourself for all that you do for your kids!!

On the first day of vacation my kids gave to me: mornings free of "get up you're going to be late.

On the second day of vacation my kids gave to me: 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the third day of vacation my kids gave to me:the back to school of 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the fourth day of vacation my kids gave to me: 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the fifth day of vacation my kids gave to me: 5 minutes of peace, 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the sixth day of vacation my kids gave to me: 6 kids sleeping in the basement, 5 minutes of peace, 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the seventh day of vacation my kids gave to me: 7 hours of playing video games, 6 kids sleeping in the basement, 5 minutes of peace, 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the eighth day of vacation my kids gave to me: 8 different plans for New Years Eve, 7 hours of playing video games, 6 kids sleeping in the basement, 5 minutes of peace, 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the ninth day of vacation my kids gave to me: 9 texts of "can I stay out a little longer,"8 different plans for New Years Eve, 7 hours of playing video games, 6 kids sleeping in the basement, 5 minutes of peace, 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

On the tenth day of vacation my teens gave to me: 10 straight hours of sleeping, 9 texts of "can I stay out a little longer,"8 different plans for New Years Eve, 7 hours of playing video games, 6 kids sleeping in the basement, 5 minutes of peace, 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up, you're going to be late"

On the eleventh day of vacation my kids gave to me: 11 moans of vacation is too short, 10 straight hours of sleeping, 9 texts of "can I stay out a little longer,"8 different plans for New Years Eve, 7 hours of playing video games, 6 kids sleeping in the basement, 5 minutes of peace, 4 hugs and thank you's for great gifts and dinners, 3 ride requests, 2 loads of laundry and mornings free of "get up you're going to be late"

And at the end of vacation, my kids gave to me: LEAVE ME ALONE, I'M GETTING UP!!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Getting past the grunt: Tips on having a "real" conversation with your teen

 This may be your version of conversations with your teen:


              YOU                              YOUR TEEN


"How was your day?"                              Fine


"What did you do?"                                 Nothing


"Do you have homework?"                      Yes                             


"How did you do on your quiz?                Fine


What are doing today/tonight?                 Don't know


Is Everything OK?                                    It's fine!!!!!!!!



These are such unsatisfying interactions for parents. What you are craving for, dying for, down on your knees begging for, is some small nugget, some essence of what your teen's life is really like. Asking yes/no questions won't get you there. I guarantee it! You have a checklist and you systematically go through it question by question with your teen, hoping and praying you’ll find out something about his day, and his life. But unfortunately, you get NADA! But does that deter you to stop the interrogation? No! You just keep asking more and more questions. Why is that? Because parents are desperate for information. You have become complete information junkies about your kids. Starting in preschool, your kids’ teachers sent home cute little notes in the lunchbox, describing the quality and quantity of their poops, the lunch remains so you could keep tabs on the day’s calorie count, how many minutes the nap lasted and the progress of their social networking (i.e. who they played with and the frequency of hitting and biting.) Then in elementary school, your kids fed your addiction by providing you with every tiny morsel of information about every minute of their lives, to the point where you had information overdose and wished they would just shut up! Now that your kids are teens, your position has changed. You have lost some of your executive privileges, such as information and access on demand. They no longer want to tell you everything, and they resent your constant badgering. 


Here are some conversation openers. But timing is everything. If your teen has just woken up, just walked in the door or gotten into the car with you, beware! Teens need time to make transitions between sleep time and wake time, friends and home or school and home. Remember when they were babies, and they had just woken from a nap and were cranky, or you took them to a family party, and they clung to your legs until they got acclimated...well it's kinda the same thing now. Give them some time to acclimate to the change in scenery before you try to engage them in conversation. And when you do.....



·      Don't ask a yes/no question unless that is the kind of answer you are looking for.


·      Using starters like How was.... are too easy to be answered with a one word grunt. (see above)


·      Try starting with a "tell me about.." but with something more specific than general. For example: "So tell me, what was the hardest part of your quiz today? I know I used to hate those fill in the blank questions..... “VS “how was your quiz?" Give them an example of the kind of information you are looking for. Honestly, many teens have a hard time distilling all the input from their day and putting it into words. That's usually why they give you the one-word answers like "fine"


·      Start with a statement rather than a question. For example: God, you are taking so many different classes this year, so much work, which homework is easiest to get started with? VS How much homework do you have?


·      Use humor, and friendly sarcasm. When you are too serious, your teen senses your neediness for answers and will do anything and everything to fend you off?


·      Instead of a face-to-face questioning session. Go out for ice cream, bring up a snack to their room, watch a TV show, play a video game with them, and in a nonchalant way, at the commercial, or while you’re driving or during the game say:  “So, What’s up? You seem a little down today, or angry or overwhelmed.” Telling them what you see, rather than asking directly what’s wrong, can open things up. 


As you know from watching two many bad interviews on television getting someone to open up is an art form. Just ask Oprah!