Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dear Mom and Dad

The other day I visited a photo exhibit at the MFA of work by the photographer Nicholas Nixon. The exhibit chronicles four sisters as they grow from 1988 to the present. Included in the exhibit is this letter that one of the girls wrote to her parents as an eight year old. How many of us have received letters like this from our eight year olds: "Dear Mom and Dad I am sorry that I mis be haved I will act better next time. If there is a next time. Love Clemmte"
All those sweet letters saved in a drawer, occasionally pulled out and savored like a big piece of chocolate. I have many. In fact my 27 year old daughter was with me at the exhibit, and as we examined and read this remnant of a childhood long gone, we clasped our hands together and smiled at each other  lost in the memory of her childhood transgressions and written apologies.

So that's the past...sigh. Jump five years, and that remorseful eight year old is now thirteen or sixteen and letters of apologies are a thing of the past. In fact you feel grateful to even get a reluctant "I'm sorry" after an incident in which an "I'm sorry" feels as inadequate as being offered a teaspoon of water in the middle of a desert. You are the same parents, they are the same children, where is the love? Where is that love? It is still there, but gets lost in raised voices, yelling, frustration, mistakes repeated over and over again, and parents worried that they are running out of time, worried if they can't make their teen learn from this mistake, they might unknowingly affect their future forever. 

Here in their own words are responses to this question I gave to a group of  sixty 14-18 year olds 

  • Talked to me about it and not acted like I was the worst thing in the world.
  • Just given me more time to prove myself, and over time show them I’m responsible.
  • Talked to me in a calm tone instead of yelling at me.
  • Just said that they knew I could do better, and then let it be for me to fix myself.
  • Just asked instead of jumping to conclusion.
  • Heard me out, and thought of themselves when they were teenagers.
  • Not yelled at me so much.
  • Forgiven me sooner than later.
  • Just asked me what happened instead of just punishing me.
  •  Understand that teen’s make mistakes like that.
  •  Talked to me like I was 16 not like I was 9.
  • Been more understanding and had taken the time to hear my side of the story.
  • Supported me a lot more than they did.
  • Actually talked to me, not yelled or hit me.
  • Know how much I wish I didn’t do it.
  • A little more control of themselves, and didn’t get so mad with me.
  •  Accept my point of view and accept my apology and don’t think of me wrong even though they still do. 
  • Not yelled at me but talked to me about it, and not make me feel like a failure.
  • Seen where I was coming from and why I said what I said.
  • Not yell at me, but just talked with me and didn’t accuse me of something that’s not true.
  • Helped me a little more rather than punish me after every offense.
 These may not be the sweet letters from the past, but I think they will give you a road to the future.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The plight of the parent of the "Homework Avoider"

I was at the gym the other day talking to a bunch of parents while waiting for our spin class to begin, and I asked them what was the hot button issue they were having with their teen. With resounding unanimity and gusto, they said 'HOMEWORK". Some things never change, and teens avoiding homework has been an issue between parents and kids since homework was invented. Truly, doing something that isn't fun.......isn't fun!

 For parents, this homework avoidance may be something new for their kid. In elementary school, homework is fun. It makes a kid feel a little grown-up, it is usually very project oriented and gives them a chance to tap into some creativity, and finally and most importantly, it pleases their parents when they do it. Elementary school kids are developmentally wired  to want to please their parents. As a teenager, not so much.

Here is what is behind homework avoidance:
1. It is usually quite boring, no more building dioramas.
2. It is hard, maybe not just in one subject, but all subjects. School work gets harder and more challenging, and it is a rude awakening to not feel smart all the time.
3. Perhaps a few assignments have been missed, and now they are in the deep, dark hole of being behind and feel like they can never catch up.
4. They are tired. Days get really long with activities/jobs/sports after school, and then homework.
5. It feels daunting that there might be several hours of sitting down and concentrating.
6. And most importantly, drum roll please, they want to be "hanging" with their friends, even if it is virtually.

This is alot for parents to battle against, and most of it is not what you actually see when you walk into your teens room. What you do see is multiple screens on the computer, with facebook being the most prominent, the phone in their lap fingers tapping away in conversation, a downloaded TV show or movie playing away on their IPHONE, or ITOUCH, and yes there may be a textbook open somewhere in there. Those underlying feelings of frustration, anxiety and boredom are cloaked by all those copious amounts of avoidance behaviors

First of all, close your eyes and visualize yourself at this age. How many of you eagerly sat down to do homework? I have very visceral memories myself, of dragging the phone with its long cord (I'm old) into my room, and whispering away for what must have been hours to my 7 best friends. We had a lot of catching up to do since we had parted after school, and I had to speak to each and every one of them.  The first thing is to understand with them, rather than argue and criticize them for their lack of attention to what to you is the most important thing they should be doing.

Here is your "I Get it " moment. Rather then going into their room and in a raised, disgusted voice saying, "Get of that damn phone, and shut down that facebook or I am taking both away. Either you do your homework, and get your priorities straight or (fill in the blank her with your threat du jour)". You can go another way and say" I get how boring some of this stuff is, or I know this math, or this french, or this chemistry or biology is really tough stuff, or I know you have alot going on in your life these days, and it must be hard to focus on your homework. Or, (this is especially for the kids who may have ADD or ADHD) I  know how hard it is for you to have to sit and concentrate on all this stuff at one time. Let them know that you get that this is hard, frustrating, boring etc. AND that there is nothing wrong with them for feeling this way. Then you can get to the planning piece. You can say "lets figure this out so we don't have to be arguing about it every night. We can't change that you have homework, and that we expect you do it, but we can figure out a way that works for you." Parents maybe your kid can't sit for 2 hours at a time. Maybe work out a plan where they work in the kitchen for 30 minutes, without phone and computer, and then take  15 min breaks to "chat with friends". Many phone carriers and Internet companies  have parental control programs where you can program phones and computers like DVRs, scheduling when they are on or off. This is a great tool, because you and your kids can come up with a schedule together, and it takes away all the arguing of turn off your phone!, get off facebook! The bottom line is you want to avoid the power struggle of "Do your homework!" VS "You can't make me!"
Which by the way is actually true. If kids feel that you are trying to MAKE them do something, they will do everything in their power to show you just how powerless you are, by just not doing it.

Understanding with them and planning with them teaches them to look at what gets in their way to do what they need to do, and figure out strategies that can support them. This is a life skill they will need to take with them in the next phase of their lives. If you take control of how and when they do or don't their homework, they will never learn how to manage all the distractions of life that are coming their way.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More is not always better

This week in the Child Development class I teach I was showing my students a wonderful documentary by Psychiatrist Robert Coles on Developing a Moral Life in Children. One of the teens the movie followed, was a 13 yr old girl from a well-educated and financially comfortable family. She described herself as being pretty spoiled saying "whatever I want, I usually get". When Coles asked whether or not that made her happy her response was a surprise to all of us. She said:" If you already have everything, then there is nothing left to wish for." The wishing and the hoping, the anticipating, the working for, and finally the getting of anything can be a powerful process.  Just "ask and you shall receive", not so much.

It made me wonder about many of the families I work with who are so generous with their kids. Laptops, IPHONES, IPADS, ITOUCH, nice cars, expensive clothes, and the list goes on. I think it does start to create a culture of entitlement. Talking with the head of a middle school the other day, she told me about the negotiations they were engaging in with their students about cell phone use during the school day. It sounded like they needed to hire Hillary Rodham Clinton to mediate this agreement it was so complex.  Most of the students in this school have the best of the best in phone technology, and argued that they "had" to have access to their e-mails, texting and calendars during the school day. So what are these important messages that they must have access to....texts and e-mails from mom and dad about carpool pickup, dinner menus, dentist appointments, and chitchat like "Hows your day going."

I read an article recently that said kids and parents text an average of 6 times during the school day. So under the guise of I need to stay in touch with my kid, or it will make him/her a better student, we indulge them with the latest gadget. Here is the headline!!! KIDS DO NOT NEED THE LATEST GADGET to succeed in life. In fact less is more might be a healthier option. Giving kids more than they are developmentally ready for can be hazardous to their health. They don't have the experience and ability yet to set limits on themselves, and are prone to impulsive behavior and the need for instant gratification, like focusing on texts during class time, using facebook on their phone while looking like they are on the computer doing homework,  and staying up till all hours playing with their phones and laptop depriving them of sleep. When we feed them to much junk food, we know they will feel sick, if we feed them to many gadgets, we don't give them the opportunity to develop those skills of delaying gratification, and developing frustration tolerance that are essential in the adult world.

Parents often lament that they never see their kids anymore. Why not? because  they are holed up in their room as soon as they get home, ordering takeout from the on-site kitchen, and feeling snug as a bug in a rug watching a movie on their laptop or IPHONE, connecting with friends on facebook, listening to their music on their IPOD, oh yeah and doing their homework. The more gadgets you give them, the more time they spend with them and not you, the less influence you have in promoting the values and morals you want your kids to have. If your kids are talking to you about upgrades as in I need a newer, better phone and computer, instead of up grades as in I need to do better in school its time to downgrade!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You forgot (fill in the blank) AGAIN!!!

Lets set the stage here. You have reminded your son and daughter at least 10 times in the last 24 hours not to forget their (fill in the blank) You know whatever that thing is, books, sports equipment, permission slip, lunch, etc, etc, etc. This is now become almost a daily ritual, you say "don't forget", they say with increasing frustration: " I won't" as if they have never forgotten anything in their life, and then the phone call from school or from practice, "Hi, said in the sweetest and most loving voice you have ever heard from your teen, and then the dreaded words, I FORGOT MY ............ Of course it is at the most inopportune time. You are just about to walk out the door, or go into a meeting, or are dripping wet from the shower and you lose it. " How many times did I ask you if you had your......." That's it, I'm done, I've had it, no way, OK where do I bring it?" You cave!!! Why because even though your teen has not thought ahead of the consequences of forgetting whatever, you have. The teacher said he would give your kid a zero if he forgot his book again, the coach said, your kid would be benched if he forgot his equipment again, and so on and so on. So you leave whatever you're doing so that you're kid doesn't get penalized for forgetting. This is like watching a rerun of your least favorite show when there is nothing else on TV....torture. Here is the disconnect. When you yelled up the stairs the night before"don't forget" or in the morning before school, don't forget, your teen registers it for a second, and that's when you get the scream "I have it". But then a text comes in asking some really important question like "what are you wearing today", or they look in the mirror and are disgusted by what they see, or their favorite song just played on their IPOD, and whatever they were supposed to remember has been supplanted by something else. Teens are driven to distraction, their brain delivers so many new thoughts every moment that it is almost impossible for them to keep track. Just telling them to remember does not work. It does in the moment you scream, then it gets lost in the hurricane force wind that is their brain. The work here is to help them come up with a strategy for remembering. The key in designing this strategy is that it has to be something that works for who they are and how their brain works. Maybe you are a list maker, and if you could just get your kid to make that list the night before of what he/she has to do, and what they have to remember for the next day, your life would be so much easier. Maybe your kid buys into the list idea, and then two days later the dreaded call comes in again, I forgot! What happened to the list you ask? I'm guessing its on the floor under the bed, under the coke can, or fallen into the dirty laundry basket. It was never their idea in the first place, and so they never really took ownership for making it work. Your job is to help them come up with their own idea. Maybe your kid would read a text from you just before he comes downstairs, maybe putting post it notes on the door out to the garage of all the stuff he needs for school placed their the night before, so its the last thing they see before they leave the house. There are a million strategies, just make sure its your teens and not yours. Your job is to say, and here is your I Get It moment: "I get it, mornings are really hard for you, you have alot on our mind, its easy to forget these things, but we need to come up with a new strategy. I'm game for anything, and it might take a little trial and error before you find something that works, but I am happy to help you with that. Here is what I am not willing to do anymore, and that is interrupt what I am doing while you are at school to bring you whatever you need. Lets just get a good system in place." Remember parents, just saying "don't forget" is not helpful, figuring out a strategy for remembering is!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You posted what on facebook???????

A parent called me yesterday after reading a recent posting on her daughter's facebook page. This was one of those unauthorized," I wonder what kind of stuff my kid is posting these days." Her daughter is 13 and that kind of wondering is a good thing. Here's why. This most recent posting started with a "You'll never guess what my mom said the other day about my brother", and she went on to describe one of those family interactions that we all have in our family, that good natured teasing. The making a little fun of,  in a loving way of a characteristic behavior of a family member. For example, I have a really loud voice, and friends and family often make funny little comments like"hey Joani they can't hear you in Paris can you talk a little louder". I cringe a little but mostly smile, because it is something that feels OK to me in the loving arms of my friends and family. What this mom read on her daughter's face book wall was a recitation of a family teasing moment with her 11 year old son as the subject of said teasing, and something that definitely did not belong outside of the family lest it be misinterpreted. It was embarrassing to the boy, and mortifying to the mom. Needless to say, mom was furious." How could she be so stupid?  Doesn't she know how it will make her brother feel? Our family is private, how can I ever trust her again?? All reasonable and understandable questions. So here is the disconnect, when your teen is posting on their facebook wall what they are thinking is " How funny can I be? How outrageous can I be?" Your teen is creating a persona, sometimes an alter ego. "I can't be this funny in person, but I can on facebook" This 13 yr old girl was not going any further than "this is funny". She wasn't going through the process of sequential thinking that if she had, she probably wouldn't have posted in the first place. As adults, our thinking would have gone something like this: "If I post this and my friends read it, than they might think its alright to tease my brother like this when they come over my house, and make him feel bad, and this does make my mom look a little insensitive, I know she was only kidding, but other people might not. I think I won't post this on my face book wall. " This would be a beautiful thing if kids went through this kind of thinking before they did something that to adults is so obviously stupid. Teens are spontaneous and impulsive, not thoughtful and careful. So here is a  teaching moment rather
than a punishing moment. Using an I Get it moment, mom can say; "I get that its fun to post things on face book that seem a little outrageous. And you should feel free to do that, but it is not alright to post things about our family, especially without our permission. I know you weren't thinking this, but if one of your friends were to say something to your brother after reading this, he would be devastated, and I know how much you love your brother and would not unknowingly do something to hurt him. So new rule, no writing about family without permission, and you and I will check your wall together at the end of every day for a few weeks to make sure there is nothing on there that could potentially be hurtful." This is one of those situations when education rather than punishment bears more fruit. Expecting that these new emerging young people instinctively know how to navigate this Internet world is unrealistic. Helping them to understand consequences of their behavior and giving them options for new ways of behaving is when learning takes place.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Calling all dads

An article in yesterday's New York Times caught my eye;"Calling Mr. mom". I am paraphrasing and winnowing this down to the essential, but basically, though women now make up 50% of the work force, keeping the home fires burning is still essentially woman's work. Here's another interesting statistic. Even though many companies now offer family flex time, only 26% of men take advantage of it, 76% of woman do. OK so this is not really new news, but it still puzzles me. Several times a week I give my seminar: Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Version. Whether I have 300 people or 30 people in the audience, 95% of them are women. "I wish my husband had been here to hear this" is a mantra that I hear repeatedly from the moms in the room. Last week at one of my seminars, I notice a couple seated not far from where I was talking and pacing. Yea a dad!!!!!! Except that while the woman took copious notes, the man I assumed was her husband spent the entire 2 hours (no break) playing on his Iphone.  Maybe he too was taking notes, but the fact that he never once looked up  at the slides or seemed to be listening at all seemed pretty clear. Several rows away, another couple sat, again the woman/mom was  hanging on my every word, and the man seated next to her was sound asleep. So here is my message. Parenting teens is a challenge. It does take a new set up skills to maintain this changing relationship. The balance of power is shifting, and "because I said so" falls mostly on deaf ears with your teens. They are interested in challenging, analyzing, discussing, and arguing. Believe it or not this is a great thing. This means that you teen is "thinking for themselves", and as their world and decisions get more complex they will have the skills to make sense of it.  This is all normal and desirable behavior. But if it only gets interpreted as disrespectful, teens may feel that thinking things through with you is a waste of time, and instead, sneak, lie and generally avoid conversation and confrontation. Many dads I work with especially have alot of trouble with this new adjustment in power and control. They felt much more comfortable with the "I am the grown-up,  here are the rules" style that works so well with younger children. Men and woman do often parent differently, but both genders have to make adjustments as their kids get older. When I survey my college students on who they felt closer and talked to more during middle and high school, they almost unanimously say their moms. Dads, your kids want to talk to you, they just aren't sure that you want to talk to them. They love you and need your input. So take advantage of that flex time, pick them up early from school and take them for coffee, and a movie, invite them to come in and have dinner with you at the office, volunteer for a field trip, take them in the middle of the day to their orthodontist appointment. This time with them is as important as sitting with them and helping with their homework, probably more.  The conversations and relationship building that occurs during these incidental moments of life are priceless, don't miss out!!

Friday, October 22, 2010


 As  I was teaching my Intro to Psych class yesterday at Curry College, I shared a personal story with my students that seemed both pertinent and entertaining. At the end of class, one of my students (there are 30 in this class) came up to excitedly share his own personal connection to my story.  Honestly, I had never heard this student speak before. He sits in the back of class, hunched over, avoiding eye contact, more out of shyness I think than disinterest. We chatted after class for 15 minutes, sharing more connections and having a delightful time. He seemed like a different guy, animated, and engaged because we were on common ground. It got me thinking about so many parent/teen relationships that get described to me by parents who are feeling disconnected from their teen. "We don't seem to have anything to talk about except homework, chores, laundry, room, and schedules." I don't know about you, but if that's all you are talking about, I'm guessing everybody is feeling a bit bored with each other. My student reminded me how important those personal connections can be, and how easily they can get lost. When your teen was a youngun, they couldn't wait to come in from school and tell you every teeny tiny morsel of minutia about their day. Of course now as teens, few details about their day emerge, and interrogations of gargantuan proportions are required to even eke out the smallest clue about their life. Here is the disconnect. Your teen is completely uninterested in that minutia, and doesn't understand why is it so important to you.With one word grunts, he/she hopes they can discourage you from asking any more questions. Like my student, most teens are turned on to talk by something that feels meaningful and connects with some part of who they are. So rather than spending the precious little time you get with your teen asking a litany of questions you might never get answered, try connecting with them on something of interest to them. If your kid is into reading sci-fi or comic books, or watching South Park, or Gossip girl, or plays video games or computer games, here is where you should be..without judgement (as in this is the stupidest show I've ever seen). This is your homework! Read the book, watch the show, play a video game, and then connect with them on common ground. If you are totally not into clothes, but your son/daughter is, rather than judging them for being superficial, ask them to help you with a makeover. Engage with them in something that excites them. This is where connection comes from so that when you need to get to the other stuff, the daily grind stuff, your teen feels that your interest in him/her is not just about what they have accomplished, but who they are becoming.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Last week, after finishing up my seminar: Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Version at a middle school, a parent approached me. She slyly asked," So, do you think its bad that out of total frustration with my 13 year old daughter and her inability to be separated from that stupid computer and facebook that I grabbed it out of her hand screaming, "Give me that f???cking computer!!" Well, I said, who hasn't dropped the F bomb once in a while out of total frustration. But now you gotta go and fix it. I needed more details, and she explained that said daughter, a younger son and she were sitting on the couch together (that sounded nice) watching TV together. (again that sounded nice) Her daughter was also typing away on her laptop IMing and facebooking friends in addition to the TV watching. The mom, sick of seeing her daughter constantly attached to either her phone or computer asked her to stop using it, feeling like it was tainting an otherwise nice family moment. I'm guessing the look the daughter gave the mother was not a friendly one, and before you knew it the f bomb was on the table. Here is what I think was going on. The daughter likes her family's company and still enjoys watching some TV and hanging together. This is a good thing!!! She could have been holed up in her cave with the door closed and the stay-out sign posted. She had found a way to be able to stay connected to her friends, and enjoy her family's company. Mom on the other hand felt her daughter was being rude, and I think was tired of playing second fiddle to a machine. Listen, second fiddle is better than no fiddle, I told her. If you were at a restaurant, a family dinner or other event that is people related, that behavior is indeed rude, and there should be a no phone/no computer rule to protect that time. But the fact is no one was talking. The son and the mom were glued to the tube, and the daughter was glued to both. Mindless TV, mindless computer, pretty much the same thing. I say be happy for her company, and maybe between commercials a few words might be exchanged. Here is the conversation I recommended post F bomb. Mom to daughter: "hey honey, I'm sorry I lost control the other night, I went a little crazy, its just that I love spending time with you, but feel like either the phone or the computer are your regular companions. I get how important your friends are to you, and I am happy that at the least we were in the same room. What do you think makes me get so crazy about your computer and your phone? After she gives you her lecture which I'm guessing will sound pretty much like the lecture you would have given her, ask her what she can do to make you feel OK and less crazy about the computer and the phone? Your lecturing her will just put her in shut down mode, her lecturing you at least gets her talking, and you might just hear something you like. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't be rude

Driving in my car yesterday listening to NPR, I listened to their story on the teens and texting issue that I wrote about yesterday. One of the researchers talked about the reason kids text so much. Her research showed that teens think that calling people the old-fashioned way, using our actual voices is considered to be rude. How dare someone presume that it would be convenient to talk. And furthermore, it takes way too much time to retrieve messages from their voicemail (38 seconds) to be exact. The burden of having to dial a voice mail number, punch in a code, and actually have to listen to the droning voice of a human being is just to much to bear. I admit, I was dumbfounded. Not actually believing that this could be true, I asked the 60 college students I taught yesterday to weigh in on this research. To my shock and surprise they concurred. So its not only that they are addicted to texting, they are just doing it to be polite. Wow! Anyway this got me thinking about another story I read on Sunday in the Boston Globe about the current teen and young adult generation titled "Empathy is so yesterday". It  cited a recent study "that found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline in the last 10 years."Now I'm depressed. When we talk on the phone or god forbid face to face with someone, we can read the sadness, elation, anxiety, fear, anger etc we hear in their voice or see in their face, or read from the way they are carrying their body. A text erases all that. Can it be that our kids are losing the ability to be empathetic because they are literally out of practice? If they don't see a face or hear a voice, but read only short made up words on a screen, how can one detect those subtleties of human emotion. So parents here is your challenge. The capacity to be empathetic is inborn, but especially true in teens. The part of their brain that is the most highly activated during the teen years is the amygdala, the feeling center of the brain. It is an untapped resource ready to be mined. Often it just explodes, or implodes in reaction to something you have said to them, or not said to them, or a look that they think you gave them,  or a question you need an answer to. But it can also be tapped to give understanding and comfort. The best advice I have ever received was from my mother, when I was old enough to appreciate it, late in my 20's, and from my daughter when she was a teenager. She had an uncanny ability to read me, and when I gave her the chance, she gave me invaluable support and guidance for whatever was troubling me.  Given the opportunity she had tremendous capacity for showing me empathy. Many parents feel that they need to be in charge, and the focus of their relationship with their teen is what is going on with their teen. There is very little reciprocity. Teens actually hate that all the attention is focused on them all of the time. We often see their behavior as selfish and self-centered because we don't usually invite them into our lives. Empathy has to be modeled and practiced.  So today when your teen walks in the door and asks: "What's up? Tell them, be honest, whatever it is, let them know if you had a frustrating day, a great day, a sad day. Practice makes perfect!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The sky's the limit

One of the stories on last nights NBC news with that cutie Brian Williams was the new Nielson report on teen texting habits. It seems the youth of today are getting better and faster in their ability to text at warp speed. Good for them!!!! What an accomplishment. So last year the average number of texts a teen sent a month was 2280, this year it has risen to an average of 3339/month. Broken down by gender, girls text 4050/month, while boys are at 2539/month. Mind you this an average. Most parents tell me that every now and again they go to their carrier's website just to take a peek at their kids texting numbers and are shocked with the pages and pages and pages tallying up to 10,000-15,000 a month. That's a lot of "What's up?"
Texting for me and many adults I know is a total pain in the ass, can't see the letters, hate to misspell words, but get to frustrated to correct them, would rather speed dial a number and say a few words, to me the texting thing is just to much work. But clearly to the kids, writing is easier..go figure, wouldn't that be nice if it translated to being able write term papers at warp speed. I'm thinking in the year 2025 term papers will be 1 page long full of :'I thk hstry s fn.  But here is the thing, growing up with texting as their first line of communication has made them become completely mindless about when and where they are texting. My college students, lovely, and sweet kids sitting in the front row of my classes texting away right in front of me. When I tap on their shoulder with a "really right in front of me" the student blushes and stammers and truly is unaware of what they are doing. That is the point. It has become mindless! Miss manner hasn't written her book on texting code of manners yet, and for some reason, parents aren't enforcing any either. so first, help your kid develop an awareness of how much they are texting. Make part of the responsibility of having this expensive phone to go with you onto the carrier website at least once a month, just to go over their texting use. I'm not saying to change anything, just have them develop an awareness. Your teen uses alot magical thinking when it comes to this, help dispel this magic. Its OK, its not like when you told them there is no Santa Claus or tooth fairy. They may roll their eyes, or give you attitude and think the whole thing is stupid. That's OK. You can say: " I get it, I know you think this is stupid, but I need you to see in print, how you are using your phone. If you were mindlessly eating bags and bags of chips and wondering why you were gaining weight I would hold up the empty bags of chips to show you. Its kind of the same thing."Remember you are paying for the phone, and that does give you some rights. This should be a non-negotiable. Its texting use now, but it could be a credit card in a few years. This is about teaching responsibility and mindfulness.   I have seen parents be obsessively concerned with making sure their kids don''t eat junk food, or watch junk TV etc, but seem to let kids binge on their texting. And while you're at it make sure that your own texting/phone habits are in sync with what you are trying to teach your kids. If you are constantly on your Iphone, Droid, or Blackberry, answering work e-mails at the table, in front of the TV, in the car, at the restaurant, don't be surprised if your kids do it do. After all they all want to grow up to be just like their moms and dads!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The messy room

I think that the #1 complaint I hear from parents of teens is "My kid is such a slob!" Opening the door to your teen's room is like going down a black hole. Dirty laundry mixed with the clean, new (expensive) clothes stomped on, turned inside out, and looking unappreciated for the sacrifice you made in purchasing them. You thought it was too expensive, too short, too sexy, too much! You wonder how hard it could be to hang up their clothes, put their laundry away, bring the dirty glasses and plates into the kitchen, and generally live like the civilized human being you thought you have been raising. No matter what you suggest, no matter what you threaten (taking away the computer, the phone, their life) it all falls on deaf ears. You make deals, you cajole, you yell, and nothing seems to work. Every time you walk by that closed door, knowing what's inside, you get that pit in your stomach, and the veins in your neck stick out just a little more, and you feel helpless, and wonder how did it all come down to this. What happened to those days of yore, when all you had to do with your kid was ask, or threaten with no TV and the deed was done. Here is the disconnect: First, your kids could care less about their room. Their new developing brain is consumed with thoughts way more interesting, nerve-racking, anxiety producing, and exhilarating than the clothes on their floor. The idea may pop into their head, "Oh I'm supposed to clean my room", but it is fleeting, and a text, a face book post, or a great musical lyric that is pulsing through their IPOD distracts them.
    First, take an honest look at their room. I visited a family recently where the room issue had become all consuming. When the dad opened the door to his son's room for an objective assessment, I was expecting the worst, but what I saw was a room that kinda looked like mine at home. Yes there were some clothes on various chairs and tables, and some shoes flung around, and the comforter was askew on the bed, but honestly, it wasn't that bad, and made me feel a little guilty about my own lack of neatness. (I ran home and cleaned my room) So first it is all about expectations. Are you a neat freak and want everyone to have the same standards you have for yourself? You may be setting yourself up for a fall. If though, the room really is over the top, crazy making chaos, then here are a few suggestions:  You can start a conversation with: "I get it, I know you are fine with the way your room is,  (try not to judge and be critical here) you and I have different standards, but it does make me crazy, can we figure something out so that we can both be ok? Maybe sunday nights we do it together so at least the week can start out fresh." If your teen rejects that approach,try this. " I get that keeping your room more organized is not that important to you, but it does make me crazy, so I just want to let you know that I will be coming in once a week to make sure that the ants, bedbugs, other crawling disgusting insects will be set free by ridding your room of trash, dirty laundry and food stuffs. (parents heres the thing about room cleaning, if it really bothers you, do it yourself!! This also makes you look good in your kids eyes since you won't be yelling at them anymore about it. You can now focus on other things to yell about, but the bigger payoff is that it gives you access to your kid's room. Just think that if the parents of the Columbine killers had spent a little more time in their kid's room they might have had a sense that something really bad was happening. Your kid's room holds a lot of clues to their mental health. Its not really just about being messy, but do you get a sense of depression, anxiety, chaos? That is way more important stuff than  the underwear on the floor. I worked with a parent once who made the leap to clean her son's room, and lying on the floor, out in full view was a poem he had written about his family. She sat down and cried. In this poem was a declaration and recognition of the love he had for his parents. In fact the poem was titled "I am from love I am from life" This mom and son had been at it for weeks over his room, his attitude, his everything, and here she found this nugget of gold, that gave her new perspective on their relationship. Find a way to make the messy room work for you. Try to get them to take responsibility, but if you see that their busy schedule, (up at 6 am, school till 3, practice till 6, shower, dinner, homework, face book, texting, bed at 11)  truly doesn't allow much free time, especially to clean their room, than the gift of "I get it, you have a crazy schedule, you have a lot on your plate, I'll take care of this piece for you,"at least makes this power struggle go away. You are not giving in or giving up, but giving to!