Tuesday, November 30, 2010

He/She is not good enough for you: The boy/girlfriend dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Bully Pulpit

I hope everyones break from real life over the last 4 days was a good one. And if not, its over, its Monday and time for a new week. Its only the same old, same old if you let it be that way. Why not see every Monday as a way to start over, a virtual new beginning. Also, check out my new youtube video below just after this posting. My daughter, home for thanksgiving, sat with me and mused about her teenage years (she is now 27), and lessons she can share with you and your teen. Watch it together, I think it contains some good conversation starters!

This weekend the newspapers were full of stories about the trauma of bullying. I thought a little depressing for the Thanksgiving weekend, but never the less important information. The articles talked about the research that suggests that a child's brain actually changes as a result of this type of emotional trauma, and that it has lasting emotional effects well into adulthood. Clearly this debunks the myth, that kids will be kids, what's the big deal? As usual the articles call for school policies, anti-bullying measures and severe consequences for kids who bully. Of course these are all extremely important, but what is also important is preparing kids for situations like being bullied for which they have no experience. Policies are always important because they provide a framework for behavior and consequences, and hopefully the building of a respectful and safe school community.  But in the moment when a kid is being mercilessly teased and taunted, throwing out a "this isn't allowed" is not going to be helpful to that victim.

Bullying is all about power. It is only fun to bully someone as long as the victim stays in that one down position.  In the moment, and in the middle of a bully's taunt that puts a kid in that one down position, most kids are unprepared and their reaction is often fuel for the bully, like showing fear, embarrassment, or attempts to avoid the bully. Like all new experiences in life, most kids are not prepared for the possibility that someone might deliberately want to humiliate them. As adults we hope that that type of situation won't happen to our kids, or that our kids won't be the perpetrators of bullying, and so most often we don't get around to dealing with it until after it happens.

Giving our kids strategies for those moments in life when they are unprepared is paramount. Humor,and sarcasm are very effective tools to help counter some of the the bully's attempts at humiliation. If you have a teen who is overweight and has been teased about it, helping them to come up with some quick retorts like, "big is beautiful, thanks for the compliment", or a sarcastic retort after a fat comment: "Ya think" or "ooh you're so observant" or, " I'm looking for a trainer, want to help me get in shape?"said with strength and power.

Often teens are afraid to come to you with complaints about bullying because they worry that your first response will be to call the school and demand their attention to the matter. Which of course you will need to do. But helping your teen to feel strong and competent is equally important. Swift and appropriate  consequences for the bully is only half the intervention. When your teen has been made to feel powerless the task is to help them feel powerful. Giving them strategies, scripts, tools to feed their confidence in handling situations that make them feel out of control is essential to developing coping strategies for all the challenges that are ahead of them. Anticipating that at some point your teen may be the target of jealous girls, insecure boys, control freaks, and people who bully for the shear joy of it, is a realistic one. Giving them your confidence that they can handle what comes their way is a necessary one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving Day Love Fest

There is something about the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  Maybe its the embedded memory of a half day at school and the anticipation of four days of freedom. I know for me its also the anticipation of my favorite meal ever, looking forward to savoring every morsel of turkey and stuffing, and a new recipe for Caramel Apple Pie I saw in today's paper. But what I look forward to most is the minute my beloved daughter walks in the door on Thanksgiving day. There is nothing more special, more delicious, than that first hug with your child, no matter how grown up. Thanksgiving is a day to be treasured. All the worries of daily life, messy rooms, bad attitudes, disappointing grades, worries about money, job, family responsibility all put aside in order to cherish and preserve the present; family, food, and football. ( I personally hate football, but I get it's importance to some)

I know sometimes for parents this is no easy task. Maybe you have had a hard week with your teen, arguments, hurt feelings, parents feeling ignored and abandoned by their kids. I wanted to share especially for these parents a poem that a parent shared with me. She and her son had been at odds at what felt like forever. She was so saddened by the change in their relationship, and was working really hard to find some common ground with her son in this battlefield. One morning, going into her son's room to grab his laundry, she found this poem on the floor. This was not a school assignment, but an impulsive pouring out of thoughts. He did not hand his mom this poem as an olive branch, but instead, left it out for her to find. It is a tribute to the love a son has for his family. Know this, that what you often see on the outside, is not what is really going on the inside. Thanksgiving day is a day for you to share those feelings with your kids. Take the inside love and wear it on the outside, at least for the day, and maybe they will too. 

Where Am I From

I am from long nights lying on the grass
I am from days packed with sports
I am from burnt rice and undercooked hot dogs
I am from arguing about the stupidest things
I am from Love
I am from listening to my ipod late at night
I am from turning on my fan just for the noise
I am from letting facebook turn 1 hour of work into 3
I am from tiptoeing to the bathroom so my mom thinks I'm still asleep
I am from prayers said with the rest of my family over wine, even though I can’t drink
I am from Love
I am from Life

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why don't you ever learn? Lessons on keeping your teen safe

Another morning, another news story of  hazing  involving high school sports. (towel whipping this time) And a story from another town about football players showing up drunk at a school homecoming dance, and the subsequent cancellation of its annual thanksgiving football game. With five players suspended for drinking, there were too few players to play.

You would think that somehow, somewhere these kids would get the message. But honestly, to me it  is no surprise. I'm guessing that generally speaking most kids get the lecture, no hazing, no drinking, no drugs, no sex, no whatever, done! Unfortunately teens, like most middle aged people including me, have short-term memory loss. You can't tell them just once and expect it to have an impact. Most people learn through repetition, repetition, repetition. Remember how you learned your math facts!  Kids need to be reminded continuously about the important things you want them to remember, like rules for example. If I had been the coaches and parents of this team with the latest hazing incident, I would have reminded them about it every day at practice. Yes its annoying, but that's life. Reminders like: hey honey, I know this is hazing season, remember what happened to those kids in that other town, literally every time they go to practice. Or for the football players who drank before the dance, "hey guys, no drinking, you get caught and you're off the team, and you know you'll get caught." Literally kids need to hear the message over and over till your voice is living inside their head.

When my daughter was in High School ten years ago, the drug ecstasy was popular. There was a news story about the dangers of this drug in the paper everyday, kids going into comas, the kinds of stories that keep parents up at night. I knew that the drug was probably out there in her school community, and available to her should she be curious about it. I was relentless, reading her every article that appeared in the newspaper, and there were many, about kids who had almost died. I pleaded with her every weekend before she went out not to try this drug if someone had it. I used every ounce of Jewish mother's guilt I could muster. And guess what? It worked! When I turned 50, my daughter's contribution to my birthday roast was a reenactment of these weekend fueled guilt trips. But as she shared with me well after she had graduated, I had scared the crap out of her!

So you get the message. If there are things that you really, really, really don't want your kids to do for fear of their safety, or consequences (like missing the last football/soccer game of their high school career), give them the love. "I love you so much, I couldn't bear it if something happened to you, or if you ended up losing something I know is so important to you." If you give them the anger, " If I find out that you.... you're grounded, no car, no phone, no computer, no life", you have now challenged your teen to the game of  "if I find out". There is a term, the personal fable, coined by the psychologist, David Elkind. It refers to the unique way that teens think, and that ultimately drives their behavior.  " I am such a unique and special person, that I am invincible." This translates to " I CAN get away with anything and not get caught, or get hurt. This also is a result of teens NOT thinking of consequences. Remember teens live in the moment, not in the future. They need your help in this department, on a regular and frequent basis. So let love lead the way!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Texting and facebook and gaming oh my!

I just finished reading a must read article for all parents in the New York Times. Here is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/technology/21brain.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage.       READ IT!(after you have read this blog of course) If you have a child, even a young one this is a cautionary tale. If you can get on this technology thing early in the game you have an opportunity to develop a balanced approach to enhancing ones life with technology rather than drowning in it.

I have asked my college students to reflect back to high school and middle school and ask themselves what might have helped them stay more focused on school work?  Amazingly they almost always say they wished their parents had been more strict about using computer and phones during homework time. Remember, this is a reflection, because they all did acknowledge that if their parents had been on them about it they would have been "pissed".

In this NY times article a senior in high school says that he "lacks the self-control to favor schoolwork over the computer."Another student interviewed says:"I'll be reading a book for homework, and I'll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize,'Oh, I forgot to do my homework'. And lastly this students says:" Facebook is amazing because it feels like you're doing something and you're not doing anything. Its the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway. My attention span is getting worse."Out of the mouths of babes, and the most honest advice you'll ever be given..heed it"

Your kids need your help. They do not have the discipline or motivation to stop drinking the kool-aid, and it will make them sick. The problem is that 3 or 4 years from now they may confront you with the question, when perhaps they aren't able to get into the college they really want, or they are disappointed with their SAT scores, and are looking for a scapegoat, watch out, cause it could very well be you. J'ACCUSE: "Why didn't you make me study more?" they will angrily assert. And you, stunned, open mouthed in complete astonishment wondered how they could have forgotten the last 4 years of fighting and arguing over doing homework.

First off, stop buying technology toys that they absolutely do not need. I was scouring parenting sites the other day looking for blog ideas and I found too many questions on these sites like: "My 11 year old wants an ITouch, should I get him that or an IPhone?" Are you on crack? I wondered. What the hell does and 11-year-old or for that matter a 16-year-old need an IPHONE for. Why would you knowingly give your kid a device that gives them unsupervised, unlimited access to the Internet. This NY times article states, "half of students form 8-18 are using Internet, watching TV, or using some other form of media either most or some of the time that they are doing homework. Remember when your parents used to say to you when you asked for a TV or phone in your room, "Just because you want something, doesn't mean your going to get it!"

I am begging you parents, don't buy them in the first place. I know black Friday is this week, and there are sales galore on IPHONES and IPADS and DROIDS and ITOUCH, and so on and so on. And I know you are imagining the glow of joy and that burst of affection from your teen when they open this gift of "I". And I know those bursts of affection might feel few and far between these days, but know that lasts only until the Monday that school starts and now you have one more thing you have to argue about for the next four years. I can hear the threats of " If you don't do your homework, if I get one more progress report with missing assignments I am taking that damn IPHONE away! (which of course we all know you won't).

If you have 5-8 graders, this is a piece of cake. Hopefully their cell phone acquisition is fairly new and you can say: "Here's the way its going to work, I get you want to stay in touch with your friends, and texting is fun, and you need to do homework, hang with the family, god forbid read a book, and there is time for it all. We need to come up with a 2 hour period when you do what you need to do, and I hold onto the phone for you. I get this will be hard for you, but if you fight me on this, and you choose to fight with me on this everyday, I will just shut the phone off until you feel ready to agree." Parents you are helping them to develop good study skills and discipline for delaying gratification. They are not born with this ability, they need to develop it over time, and if you wait till high school to do it, it will be alot harder.

For high school kids this is alot harder. But stay strong parents. Understand that your kids may already have developed some bad habits with phones, computers and gaming. Expect that the change in business as usual will cause anger, attitude and argument. For 9th 10th and 11th graders, you can use the technique stated above.When you can anticipate the anger you don't need to respond to it.  A shoulder shrug and an "I know this is hard" communicates it all. Remember, kids live in the present, helping them to anticipate the future, thats your job.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Get It: The Power of Understanding

Just Hanging Around

It's a Friday or a Saturday night, and your teen is getting ready for a night out. You casually but warily ask "so what's your plan for the night?" You've been down this road way too many times before, and can predict the unsatisfying answer. They casually and warily reply, also having gone down this road many times: "Ah,  I think maybe, not really sure, but I dunno, maybe going over to X's house and then maybe walking into town to get ice cream, and well I'm not really sure, but yeah going to X's house, and gonna see what's up with everyone." This halting, vague recitation takes like five minutes to get out, and still you really have no idea what your teen will be doing except it definitely is not what you want them to be doing which is going to one house, staying there, locked in, with a bowl of popcorn and a movie, an alarm system and a GPS tracking system should they break out.

Your fears of packs of kids, roaming the streets, hanging in the woods or local parks, downing copious amounts of alcohol, smoking pot, and having hot, unprotected, hook-up sex, dance around in your head. And when you wake up from this horrific daydream, the battle begins. So you say with strident conviction: "Until I know specifically what your plan is, you are not leaving this house!" And so it goes....again. You put your evening plans on hold, afraid to leave the house without knowing the who,what and where of your teen's evening plans.

First let me say that most teens, even those who might actually end up staying at one house watching a movie with popcorn took four hours to get to that simple plan. Why? Because making decisions has become painfully difficult. This new brain of theirs is now allowing them to see all the possibilities of the night, and each of those possibilities has to be analyzed adnauseam. If we do this, then this, but what if we do this, and this happens, and what happens if X is there, and what should we wear if we go to X's and who else do you think will be there?, and so on and so on and so on. This kind of in-depth analysis takes many hours, and still at the end, they are not sure it was the right decision. I am sure you have experienced this yourself when you take your teen out to a restaurant with a huge menu. They are overwhelmed with the choices, and often rely on you to make their decision for them, "What do you think I should have?" As if this is the most important decision of their lives. Too bad they don't ask for your advice on their Saturday night plan.

Ok, so maybe you have heard this vague plan of theirs, but it does not make you happy. And the negotiations begin. First off, one way to help your teen along in the process is by saying late in the afternoon: Here is your "I Get It" moment: "Honey, I know you guys are trying to figure out a plan, and I get it takes awhile to do that, but here is our plan. We need to know by ( and say a time) so that we can plan our evening as well. We are happy to take you where you need to be, or we would be happy to have the kids here, we just need to know by.....Obviously if you have no plans for yourself that night, and you can be on-call then this is not a problem for you. But for those of you who do, it is important for your kids to know that there is a deadline for decision making, or you will make one for them. OK step 2 this is the hard one. When your kid comes to you with the vague plan, and/or you are uncomfortable with the walking around town thing, you can use the following system to help get some more information and accountability:
Question 1: What do you think I am worried about with you guys walking around town or going to the park? This is important for them to tell you what they think. If you just lecture about all the ills of traveling in packs, it will just put them on the defensive and perhaps set them up to lie. And trust me they know what worries you and it makes a difference when they say it out loud not when you do.
Question 2: Yes I am worried about those things, and I am also worried that XYZ could happen. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about these things? The ball is now in their court to come up with a plan to address these worries.  Not your plan which they will probably forget, manipulate etc, but their plan that they have to take responsibility for. So for example, maybe they will say, I'll text you whenever we change locations. You can say that makes me feel OK about the where you are, but how about what you are doing. I'm worried that kids are going to be drinking or whatever. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about that? Keep going back to that question.
Question 3: What is the consequence going to be if you do not follow-through on your plan? This is important to make them come up with a consequence in advance of the night, that is their consequence. They will probably say something like, " well then I won't go out next weekend" Your job here is to restate : " Ok so if you don't stay in touch me with me in the way you said, and I suspect you have been drinking or doing drugs, then you won't go out next weekend. Is that right??"

Unless your kids have their licenses, I recommend that parents always pick up their own kids after an evening. This way you are in control of where and when, and I think it helps kids make better decisions about their safety. They are not going to get in your car, drunk or stoned, as they might in another parents car or definitely in a friends car.

This whole "just hanging around" plan is a really tough one  I know. Worrying about your kids safety is overwhelming and it makes parents feel out of control of the situation. The bottom line is this, you are out of control of this situation. When your kid leaves the house they are on their own to make decisions. Your job is always to say" I'm excited for you that you have so many friends to hang with on the weekend,and I know how much you look forward to the weekend to hang with them. Here's the thing, I love you and I want to make sure that I can help you make decisions that will keep you safe." Just lecturing to your kids does not make them safe, but giving them an opportunity to come up with their own plans, by anticipating the kinds of situations you know they will encounter, and by making sure they are accountable to themselves and to you will help.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The kid's Got Attitude

Standing in front of a hundred parents I ask them to shout out adjectives that describe their teen. Surly, disrespectful, mean, sarcastic, argumentative, are a few that top the list. Where is that lovely 8-year-old who can't tell you enough how much he loves you, in fact loves you so much he wants to marry you when he grows up! So much for unrequited love.

Here is what's going on. Your teen has now figured out that they are not you! Plain and simple. And to drive that point home, they will find any way they can to communicate that message to you. If you are a reader, they will disdain books, if you hate television, they will find the most offensive show on and make sure to watch it instead of doing homework, If you are a republican, they will be a democrat, if you eat meat, they will become a vegetarian, if you are religious, they will be an atheist. Get the picture. Teens are practicing how to stand on their own two feet, just like they did as a two year old, using the word NO as a mainstay of their vocabulary. Adulthood is looming and they get somewhere in that developing brain of theirs that they will be expected to think for themselves.  You dear parents are their guinea pigs.

Now, having said that, this does not give your teen carte blanche to be disrespectful. I have spent many minutes standing behind pairs of parents and kids in check-out lines in clothing stores listening to teens talk trash to their parents. It is all I can do to stop myself from tearing those $200 jeans from that daughter's hands and telling the parent to just walk away from the register. Because truly that is what the parent should have done. Instead I hear the low grumble of that parent's voice" this is the last thing I buy for you, you don't talk to me that way, I've had it! Now excuse me while I take out my credit card."

When your kid is mean, or sarcastic and disrespectful, sticking your finger in their face, and telling them they can't talk to you that way....after they just did seems a little contradictory and is a pretty ineffectual strategy to change behavior. Sometimes parents up the ante by threats to take away their phone, their computer, their life if they continue to talk to them in "that tone of voice". Which of course enrages the kid even more, and requires the parent to think up more things to take away. Because after all, you can't let your kid get away with that level of disrespect.

Here are some effective strategies. First lighten up. Humor often can be the best anecdote to disrespect. Ask any bully. Its not fun to bully someone if it doesn't get them all riled up. So if it is the mild form of disrespect, when they are being more sarcastic than out right mean, grab them and give them a big smooch and say something like" You're so adorable when you are being a pain in the a**."This catches them off guard breaking the rhythm of discord. Often your kids aren't even that aware of how they are talking to you. Humor is a much more powerful tool to call attention to it than anger.

If you move into more moderate and severe disrespect, that unmistakable, whiny, yelling, demanding thing. Using an "I get It moment" may help. So instead of yelling, "Don't talk  to me that way, you're grounded." You might say. " I know you're frustrated, I know you think I am being unfair (fill in the blank with whatever he/she is accusing you of), I get it, and I would like to hear what you have to say, but not when you're screaming at me." And now you walk away. Seriously, walk away. There is nothing to be gained by continuing this drama, and disengaging sends a powerful message. Grab your dog and go for a walk, get in the car and go for coffee, go in your room and close the door. Whatever you do, DO NOT get hooked back into this screaming match. Sometime later, perhaps you go into their room and say, "I would like to hear what you have to say." The key here is to just listen, don't get all defensive and feel like you have to keep making your point. If after you have listened and you haven't heard anything new, feel free to say, "thank you for saying this in a way I can really hear you, I get that this is important to you, but it just can't happen, and I am sorry about that." Give a little shoulder shrug, and WALK AWAY!! You're teen is not going to say thank you for saying no. They will be frustrated, and angry, but if you disengage you are protecting them from letting their anger become  disrespect towards you. If you stay, nothing good will come of it.

Using the example of the mom in the store, when your kid starts to abuse you when you are actually doing something nice for him/her, there is only one thing to do, not yelling, not telling them how ungrateful they are being, JUST STOP DOING IT. If you are in the car, taking them someplace they want to go, a friend's, the mall, CVS and they start in with you on something, rather than going to the  "I've had it, why should I ever do anything for you when you treat me this way rant," say nothing. Turn the car around and go home, drop the $200 pair of jeans on the counter and vamoose out of the store. You are teaching your teen about the reciprocity of relationships. If you ground or take your teens phone away because they treated you badly, there is often no lasting effect because there is no relationship connection. When you withhold yourself from doing the things you usually love doing for your teen, there is a connection, a powerful connection. Actions ALWAYS speak louder than words.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

money, money money

I polled my college freshman yesterday asking what they wished their parents had done differently when they were in middle and high school. Of course "stayed out of my business" ranked #1,  but this one was a bit of a surprise. Many said "I wished they had taught me how to manage money". They find themselves now, as college students constantly in a state of monetary crisis. Because of the financial strain of putting a kid through college, many parents rightly let their kids know that if they want spending money they actually will have to earn it themselves. Most parents being totally tapped out with tuition and room and board, expect that their kid's summer job earnings will become first semester petty cash accounts. For many students this is the first time they have had a finite amount of money. They take out the old debit card expecting that the magic money will appear, just like their magic phones, their magic ipod downloads, and their magic college tuition. It can be a rude awakening the first time a card is rejected with a resounding....NO MORE MONEY! This may be for some kids, the first time they can't talk their way into or out of something. No money is no money. It is the ultimate, no manipulation consequence.  Unless a phone call to mommy and daddy succeeds with getting a wad a cash deposited in their account with the pro-offered, " I promise I'll never ask you again. Yeah right, until the next time.

Most middle and high school kids are on a pay-as-you-go plan. As in "going to the mall, can I have some money?", or "going to the movies, can I have some money?" or "going to hang in town, can I have some money?" or "need lunch money, bus money, pot and alcohol money."(only sorta kidding on this one). With so much going on in every ones life, the passing out of money becomes somewhat of a mindless activity. You ask a perfunctory," what do you need it for? " They retort with " a bunch of us... or I need more.......you say OK and open your wallets.

Just telling your now young adult that they are now responsible for their money, is truly a bit unfair, unless you have provided the training on how to do this. As parents we often expect our kids to do the right thing, even though this may be something for which they have no experience. Adolescence is ripe with these dilemmas. Many of the big decisions kids have to make, especially around safety issues, they have never had to make before. And because teens are impulsive, emotional and live in the moment, they often make the wrong decision, especially around money.

So here are some ways that you might take the time to prepare your kids now to manage their money to avoid those panic college calls. Perhaps over the course of the next month you and your kid keep a tally of all the money you give them, this includes, lunch and transportation money, clothes and incidentals, food, entertainment, and general running around money. Many of you have fancy phones that I'm sure "have an app for that". Caution: Do Not Expect Your Teen To Keep Track Of This. This would be an unrealistic expectation. As I have said in previous posts, teens are distracted, forgetful, and are probably not all that motivated to change the way things are. They are very happy with the pay-as-go model. Remember it is college students lamenting after the fact that they "wished" that they had been better prepared.

Once you have this amount, which I am sure will shock you both. Come up with a plan, and here you must include your teen in the process. Decide how you will mete out this cash, weekly or monthly. Perhaps you will decide that the money for them to manage will just be food/entertainment/weekend spending money, not big ticket items like clothes. Whatever it is, deposit into a debit account this agreed upon amount. Teach your kid how to check balances. Remember kids use alot of magical thinking, and they may take out a $20 here and a $20 there and not remember even taking the money out or what they spent it on. THIS IS THE POINT. We get that they are mindless, and this is the time now, in a protected environment to teach mindfulness about money. Maybe every Wednesday night you and your teen go on the website together and check the balance,  helping them to figure out what they will need for the weekend.  This helps kids to keep track. If you do this regularly then you won't get the " but I don't have any money left, and everyone is going to the movies, or I need new sneakers, or a new outfit for the dance."

The most important part of this plan is the consistency and follow through. It will probably take only one time of wanting to go out with friends, and realizing they have already spent their allotted money and you doing a little shoulder shrug, and saying " Oh I am sorry, that must be hard that you've already spent all your money. you're welcome to have your friends here." If you cave, or if you give advances on a regular basis, the message your kids will get is I really don't have to be responsible about this money, because I'll just be able to get more. And again this is the point. In order for any change to take place and become integrated it must be consistent and predictable.  This is where the hard work comes in. But the pay off will be enormous, because the pride your teen eventually feels for being "in charge" and 'in control" is priceless.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The report card: A call to action

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

Senioritis and Parentitis

If you have a senior in high school, I am sure that your kid is suffering from this condition and that as their parent you are suffering from the corresponding and complimentary, Parentitis.  Symptoms for Senioritis include, intense procrastination, increased surliness (if that's possible), increased avoidance of parents and home, and rejection of all suggestions of how to complete college applications.

Symptoms of Parentitis include high anxiety and sleepless nights, weakened eyesight from too many hours looking at college websites on the computer, fatigued fingers from keeping up with college application submission deadlines on the family calendar, and wistful looks at your sleeping senior knowing that those looks are numbered as they move away from home.

The whole college admission process is a lesson in letting go. You can huck, you can hound, but the bottom line is you cannot just "make" you teen get this work done. To combat Senioritis, parents must pay less attention to the symptoms, and more attention to the underlying issues. If you label the procrastination as laziness and avoidance, your teen gets defensive, angry, feels criticized and ends up avoiding and procrastinating even more. Not exactly the outcome you were hoping for.

Here are some of those underlying issues:

  • Feeling completely overwhelmed: Seniors feel they have fallen into the deep dark hole of first, choosing schools to apply to,  and then doing all those applications, essays, and finding teachers who know and like them enough to give them recommendations. This is in addition to improving or maintaining good grades, because god knows everyone keeps telling them how important those half year grades are, and by the way could you get the lead in the school play, or get a bunch of touchdowns, or do a great community service project, or, and this is only if you have time, could you cure cancer, it will look great on your college application. Not only are they feeling their own sense of impending doom about where they will end up, but they feel your expectations, their schools expectation, their friends expectations, maybe their grandparents, aunts and uncles who ask every time they see them, "so hows your college application thing going?" Imagine what it feels like to have everyone who has ever known you now so interested in the rest of your life.  This is expressed through anger and avoidance.
  • What if I don't get in anywhere, or if I don't get in where I want to go, or where my parents want me to go? Because your senior is so acutely aware of all that you want for him/her, and obviously of what their own fantasy/expectation is they are full of anxiety and dread for that day when the acceptances/rejections show up online or in the mail.  Ultimately they feel in some way that this whole college process is like getting the biggest grade of their life on who they are. You get an A when you get in where you want to go, and a big fat F when you get rejected. The worry they feel about disappointing you and disappointing themselves is palpable, but often comes across as anger and avoidance.  
  • My life will be changed forever. Though your senior is excited/nervous/scared for this next step, change is not easy. Leaving you guys is terrifying, even though they aren't showing it. But believe me the more angry they act towards you, the more scared they are feeling. We call that a defense mechanism. They are terrified of leaving their friends. Their friends are their life blood, their support, their source of acceptance. Worry about being replaced, and worry that they won't ever find friends like this again can feel paralyzing, but comes across as anger and avoidance. 
So you get the picture, the anger, the procrastination, the avoidance are all expressions of feeling overwhelmed, and anxious. Your teen is engaging in magical thinking. If I put this off long enough I don't have to deal with the consequences. First I want to say that all this is completely normal. This is the first and single most important decision they have had to make in their life. They have no previous experience on which to draw that it will all turn out OK. You know that it will, but they really aren't willing to take your word on that quite yet. So here is what can you do to engage them in this process without making this last year with them a complete nightmare.

Here is your 'I Get It" moment. Rather than starting every contact with them with a "Did you start your essay? Did you do your common app? Did you talk to your teachers for a recommendation? You know you're running out of time, ........"Try this instead. "I get how overwhelming this all feels. You have alot on your plate with school, and sports and college stuff, I know I would just want to get in bed and cover my head for the next 6 months.  How can I/we help. I/we are happy to do whatever you need, think of me as your administrative assistant, not your boss. I don't want to have to harp on you all the time, I know how annoying that is, can we come up together with a plan? Maybe the plan includes me bugging you, but at least we're agreed that I will bug/remind you every Sunday night at 6 to complete another application. Lets try to break this all down in small things so it won't feel so overwhelming, and if I do start to annoy you let me know and I will back off for the night. I love you, and I want you to have the kinds of choices you deserve." Then develop an action plan. Sit at the computer together and have them do the writing. Print out the plan, including dates he/she hopes to have things completed and put it up in their room, the refrigerator, in the bathroom if you need to. Maybe put  those Iphones, Itouches, and IPADs to good use, with text reminders for what they said they want to complete that week. Be creative, just telling them to "get it done" is not helpful, working with them to operationalize a plan is. But please, and I am begging you here, do not do it for them. Do not come up with your schedule, or your way of doing things. This is a setup for disaster, because they will not take ownership for your plan, and when you see them screwing up "your plan" the arguing commences. And by the way, no problem if you want to use some incentives, money, upgraded phones, clothes, trips to the Caribbean(only kidding on that one) hey whatever works. Businesses thrive on using incentives, if its OK in your job, why not in theirs.

This will be a challenging year, but a year full of growth for all of you. Be patient with the process, continue to "get" their struggle, and provide support and understanding. This to shall pass, and soon enough you will have the car packed ready for this next step. The arguments about applications and recommendations already forgotten. The bottom line is it will all get done, one way or another, and if it doesn't, take that as a sign that your senior is telling you that this might not be the year for college. Senior year is a right of passage for everyone. Just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Parenting advice Joani Geltman's sexting 101

I Love When My Parents.......

When I was thirteen years old, my father died suddenly. My mother, a stay at home mom at the time of his death, (this was 1964) was forced into a life she had not anticipated. My father, a chemist, had run his own medical laboratory, and rather than sell it, my mom stepped up to the plate. Having no experience running a business, and after having only the Shiva week (Jewish ritual of mourning) to grieve the loss of the love of her life, she entered the fray of working mother and business owner.

Needless to say, the family functioned in crisis mode. I was the youngest of four, the only girl, and I became the housekeeper, cook, laundress, answering service, and all around chirpy person. School became kind of an after thought, grades plummeted, homework seemed stupid, but thank god I had a wonderful group of friends who supported and loved me. My mom's plate was full to overflowing, and we all did what we needed to do to survive this emotional trauma.

Most of high school is a blur for me. But since my grades where nothing to be proud of, I was overweight,  and besides being lost in the chorus of our high school musical, I do remember feeling like a loser and pretty invisible. This was a different time in our culture, and parenting was not something blogged about, read about or analyzed. I do remember feeling under appreciated, and undervalued. High grades, staring roles in school musicals, touchdowns and high scores on the basketball teams are tangible accomplishments to be praised, but clean clothes and tuna casserole, not so much. I definitely was not working up to my potential. 

What might have helped was the kind of praise all kids crave. Remember your kids when they were eight or nine, and "Watch me mom, watch me dad, look what I can do" came out of their mouths so often that without even looking up you would reply to your praise addict:"Great job honey, or that's fantastic." As kids move into the teen years, they  don't run to you anymore to show you the sticker the teacher gave them for excellent homework. Maybe they aren't such great students, or great athletes,and their room is always a disaster area, and they aren't doing their house chores, and to boot they treat you with attitude. Not alot to give praise for. But maybe the things that are successes to them have gone unrecognized, maybe being a good friend, or hanging with their younger sibling when they would rather be on facebook, or calling and having a loving conversation with a grandparent, or just hanging with you when they would rather be with their friends is cause for celebration, and a "hey that was really nice of you to hang with your brother, I know what a pain he can be, or "thanks honey for just hanging with us tonight, I love being with you, and I know you'd rather be with your friends." These small shows of appreciation, especially for those kids that aren't "the stars" can be especially meaningful.  

As part of a survey I did with 60, 9th -12th graders, I asked them to fill in this blank: I love when my parents..  Here is what they said. I will let them speak for themselves:

  • Ask me to go places with them because I really don’t get to do that a lot.
  •  Make me the center of attention because it makes me feel loved.
  • Tell me I’m doing good, because it makes me feel good about myself.    
  • Praise me and say they are proud, and I love when they listen,  actually listen, because it makes me feel like they are interested and proud of me.
  • Spend time just watching TV with me, because I never get to spend time with them.
  • Tell me when they are proud of me because it makes me feel good.
  • Say good job, we knew you could do it, because it gives me confidence to succeed in life.
  • Say they are proud of me to others because it shows that they notice the good things, instead of just punishing me for the bad.
  • Are wicked nice to me because it makes me feel like my parents actually care.
  • Say they are proud of me, it makes me feel self fulfilled.
  •  Aren’t rushing into conclusions about things because it makes me feel like for one second they aren’t judging me.
  • Take what I say seriously and believe me because it lets me know they trust me as much as I trust them.
  • Hear me out and listen to something I say, because it’s frustrating when they only listen to themselves.
  • Ask me to do things with them because it’s the best.
  • Talk to me, because it shows they care.
  • Tell me that they trust me and that they are proud of me because I like to feel like my parents are happy with me and I don’t want to disappoint them.
  • Tell me they are proud of me, because it makes me feel like I actually did some good for them.
  • Can just talk and hang out and have fun with me because it makes me feel more connected and more equal.
Check out my first youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FesTQ8c8iAY

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let your fingers do the talking, just not when you're driving

You don't need a law to tell you that texting while driving is hazardous to your health. But some people need a little push, and knowing that Big Brother is watching ready to hand out a ticket and a fine may be the motivation they need to stow away the phone.

Unfortunately since teens lead with their heart and not their brain, their worry about missing some really really really important tidbit of news overrides any worry about Big Brother or more importantly deadly car accidents. To counter this, most parents lead with parental lecture #92:  Why texting and talking on your phone while driving is verboten, and if caught will be met with severe consequences."

Though well thought out and well intentioned this lecture is rarely effective. Because in the heat of the moment, when a kid gets into that car, lecture #92 is nowhere present in their immediate consciousness. It has literally gone in one ear and out the other, unless it has been paired with a concrete action plan. And this parents is the key. Because your teens cellphone is literally an extension of their body, and they are so used to feeling the weight of it in the palm of their hand, they have learned to navigate their world almost single-handedly. I am using that word in a literal sense here. Your job is not just to lecture about the dangers of driving and cellphone use, but help them to develop a game plan for what they will do with their phone to eliminate temptation when they get into the car.

Last week I asked my 60 college freshman how many of them text while driving. A depressingly large majority raised their hands. Then I asked them to visualize where their phones were when they stepped into the drivers seat, and here was the astounding response, they didn't know. They didn't know because they do not think of their phones as being a separate part of their body. It would be to them like asking where is your hand when you walk to the car. When I said, how about in your hand? They laughed at the joke, but got the message. Then I asked them to visualize where the phone was while they were driving. The two most popular answers were in their right hand or in their lap. Then we started to work on a plan. Clearly they all got that the phone needed to be in place not accessible to them while driving. The girls figured that if they put them in their bags, making sure the phone was on silent, and put the bags in the back seat, that would solve the problem, out of sight out of mind. The boys thought, putting them on silent and putting in the glove compartment, would do the trick. The learning is not someone telling them the obvious, but in helping them to develop a mindfulness about their phone, and then a plan to change the behavior.

If you have teens on the verge of becoming drivers, here is a suggestion that a parent gave me, which I thought was great. Anytime your teen is a passenger in the front seat, there is no phone use at all. In this practice you are helping your teen to associate no phone use in the front seat, which will hopefully translate to no use in the driver seat. To help enforce this, because of course you will get tremendous resistance to this, here is your " I get it" moment and what you can say to your teen:" I get how important staying in touch with your friends is, but soon you will be driving and I need to know that you are able to put away your phone and sit it out without talking or texting while driving. Having you do that with us while we are driving is a way of practicing and developing the ability to give your full attention to the road. This is obviously your choice, I am not going to make you put your phone away, though I will be happy to remind you, but when it comes time for you to get your license, it will be unlikely that I would let you drive my car unless I have complete confidence that you can be in the car without being on your phone, and I will only know that because you will have shown me. I love you and your safety is always going to be the most important thing in the world to me!"

And finally parents, and most importantly is what you do in the car with your phone. The model that you show your kids is the most powerful, more powerful than the lecture, and more powerful than the plan. Your teens are watching your every move, and if you talk or god forbid text on your phone while you are driving with them, just know that will come back to bite you on the a##. You are likely to hear: "You talk on the phone while you're driving, what's the difference? And truly there really is no answer to that. There is no correlation between driving experience and accidents with cell phone use. Twenty years as a driver, twenty days as a driver, distraction is a distraction, and your kids will see the hypocrisy if that is your argument. So when your kids, and this includes young kids or teens, are in the car while you are driving, make sure you say out loud: "shut my phone off for me, I don't want to be talking and driving. I want your kids to hear the words, so they get parked away up in that brain of theirs, so that when they get in that driver seat, they have a tape playing in their head from the most important people in their life.
Practice makes perfect!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hazing with a chance of fallout

I opened the Boston Globe this morning to a front page story headline, "Girls accused of hazing suspended from soccer game."The story describes this suburban town's high school girls varsity soccer team tradition of initiating and welcoming the freshman girls by having the senior girls lead them around the soccer field blindfolded on a dog leash, and ending with some sort of whipped pie in the face. The uproar in the town seems to be less about the hazing and more that the team lost the regional championship because of these senior girls suspension from playing in this championship game.  Whew, did you get all that?

The high school apparently has an iron-clad no-hazing rule, but the parents of the suspended girls felt the rule had not been fully articulated to the girls, and thus the girls shouldn't be held accountable with such a severe punishment of disallowing them to play in this important game. The litigation gloves came out, and one of the dad/lawyers filed a restraining order against the high school principal, and the athletic director of the town. Really, a restraining order, talk about blaming the victim here. So it's not the blindfolded girls who were made to roll around a muddy cold field on a leash, and then have pie thrown in their faces who are the victims, it is the senior girls, on their way to college soccer scholarships who need this game to impress the college coaches and now can't play because they broke a rule they sorta kinda didn't really know about.

Oy, what a mess. What is a parent to do in this situation? The parents of the hazed girls I'm guessing are furious. Who is watching out for their girls, where was the coach when this was going on, is there an adult in charge?? All questions I'm sure the principal of the school was  hammered with by these parents. Then the parents of the suspended girls; their girls made a mistake, no one was hurt (of course hurt by humiliation is usually carried around on the inside not the outside, so how would they know?), they didn't know they weren't supposed to do this, and missing the most important game of their soccer career in high school, is just too too much, I am sure they opined.

True, the adults should have made absolutely clear all the students understood this no-hazing rule. If it is just in a handbook, my guess is most kids and parents never open that book and perhaps a signed pledge of no-hazing should be signed by all students prior to playing any sports. But what I am thinking is that these senior girls did kinda sorta know about this rule, and that some of their parents had kinda sorta heard their girls talking and planning for this hazing event.  I'm guessing this whole event occurred under cover of darkness, which in itself implies guilt, because otherwise they would have done it in the light of day, after school, people milling around to cheer them on.

We all love a good right of passage. I love birthdays, bat mitzvah, confirmations, the first day of school, etc. School life is full of them, award ceremonies, graduations, and I guess in the past, hazing and initiation rituals. Being a senior in high school is a year full of long awaited, "its finally my turn". Maybe you finally get that speaking role in the school play that you have been in for 4 years usually lost in the crowd scenes while seniors got all the good parts, or maybe its the school council, you finally get to be president, or yes maybe that sports team, and the memory of your own freshman year being the leashed dog. But this year, this is my year, and I kinda sorta know we shouldn't do this, but its not fair, I deserve to have my chance, and besides its fun!

I get that these girls were creating their last set of soccer memories, and the powerful drive to "finish the job" Often that drive to "do it anyway" regardless of consequences is what gets our teens into trouble. That emotional surge of excitement and awesomeness completely overrides reason and sanity. And in this climate of  bullying  these girls should have know better, and probably did, but just couldn't give up their own idea of creating memory.

 Lessons in life are hard and painful, but from them come growth. If we rescue our kids from these lessons, even if as parents we do not agree with outcomes, we don't give our kids the opportunity to grow. In this case, there was a rule, it was in a book given to students and parents. If kids and parents CHOOSE not to read the book and talk about it then that's their choice.  But when the kids CHOOSE to participate in an activity and it doesn't have the outcome they expected, there is a consequence. As lawyers tell us....always read the fine print.

Now can we focus on the girls who really need our attention?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

the sleepover streaker

I love the parent who told me this story. She and her husband are involved and engaged parents of three children, all teens. The moral of this particular story is that good kids of good parents from good communities do stupid things. So for parents who think, not my kid, not my kid's friends, this is for you.

These parents host a sleepover for five 12-year-old boys. Already she is a saint in my book. She and her husband stay up as long as humanly possible given how exhausted they are, go off to bed, hoping and praying the boys at the worst will be looking up porn on the Internet. While the parents were snug and asleep a few floors away a different scenario was brewing. This story was relayed to the parent the next day by a gutsy college student they have living with them. Apparently a dare was put on the table that someone strip down naked and streak down a very main drag of this suburban community.  It was 1:30 AM. The reward for the volunteer streaker would be a pay day of $5 per boy, yielding a grand total of $20! I guess a good thing is that kids still see value in $20 these days. The boy who stepped up to the plate was the sleepover host. So all the boys sneak out of the house, which actually is not that hard since all you need to do is open the door and walk out. They meander over to the main road, and let the streaker loose. And that was that. No sirens, no drama, no front page story about a scandalous episode of teenage streaking, just a bunch of kids walking the streets late at night four of them clothed, one naked.

So what's the problem? No one was hurt, nothing bad happened, and a story that will live on through many high school reunions was born. Exactly, that night nothing happened. Whew!!! Hear the parental sigh of relief, because of course as adults we are thinking about everything that could have happened. At the least a potential arrest by the local police and subsequent embarrassing notice in the local newspaper's weekly police beat;  or at the worst a crazy driver, or a group of kids out driving late, or a child predator just happens along at the streaking hour and grabs the kid. Or and this is an important one, if these kids had not gotten caught, they would have learned an important lesson. Its easy to get away with stuff during sleepovers! Today it was streaking, but once the "wow, that was easy" sets in, the sky is the limit.  Because we know that teens are impulsive, risk-seeking, and fun-loving, as they get older and the drive for fun gets stronger, the ante goes up to sneaking and drinking, sneaking and sex, sneaking and leaving to party, and so on, and the danger and safety factor also increases.

Of course, when mom and dad uncovered this sleepover streaker caper, they were furious, and incredulous, screaming the parent mantra of "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?" And here in lies the problem, THEY WERE NOT THINKING! What we call sequential thinking , the ability to think in steps and consequences does not come naturally to teens. That frontal cortex that is responsible for that work is not fully built. So in the war between the emotional center of the brain (which is in very high activation in the teen years and is screaming "this will be awesome") and the thinking center of the brain (maybe something bad will happen) ...awesome wins out.

Here is the takeaway from this story. First and most obvious is supervision during sleepovers.  Staying up till midnight, and thinking the worst is over, is just naive. Go to bed when you need to, but make sure you set your alarm for  90 minute intervals, and step into the fray that is the sleepover. You tell the kids in advance:"Hey guys, I just want to let you know that I am an insomniac, can't sleep, up and down the stairs all night long, trying to tire myself out, I hope I won't disturb you. Believe me they will get the message. And that gives your kid an out when another kid(of course not your kid)  starts to hatch a plan. He/she can simply say, we can't my mom or my dad are up all the time and they'll catch us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lessons from a funeral

I went to a funeral on Saturday. This might sound weird, but I actually like funerals. This particular man who's life was being celebrated and memorialized was an amazing person. As I listened and cried hearing all the special stories that made this guy who he was, I left with a number of lessons about life that I know was his legacy to us all.

I knew Joe as the father of one of my daughter's childhood friends, though I hadn't seen him for almost 14 years. Because my daughter had spent a good deal of time with this family I had visceral memories of this guy. He was funny, so sweet to his kids friends, coached his children's sports teams, was an inspirational physician, researcher, and medical school professor. I remember being struck at how he kept up with it all, no kvetching, no martyrdom, just had such a zest for life. Everyone loved him.

At the funeral, his 3 children, now all twenty-somethings, all spoke about the model he had provided to them about how to live life. Now 23, 27 and 30 these adults shared stories and anecdotes about who their dad was, and how the experience of having him as their dad had impacted and influenced who they are today. And may I say, all three kids are spectacular.

One of the most moving stories was shared by Joe's nephew, now a thirty-something with a child of his own. Apparently this nephew had lost his own dad as a young child, and Joe stepped up to the plate and became more than just his uncle, but a father figure. At the service this young man told two stories about how his uncle literally changed his life. Here is the first. As a 17 year old, this nephew and his mom lived in a house next to an investment property owned by Joe. Joe decided it was time to sell this property, and decided to entrust this teenager, this senior in high school, with the job of getting it sold. Together they did whatever work the house needed to get it ready for market, and then Joe turned it over to this young whippersnapper, promising that he would give him the same commission he would have given a realtor. This was no insignificant amount of money. Can you imagine, a 17 year old handling the sale of a house? Handle it he did, and the money he earned from that commission paid for a good deal of his college tuition for the next 4 years. Can you imagine how the unconditional belief that "I know you can handle this" played to a 17 year about to embark on the next stage of life? Risk is scary, but from risk there is growth.  I am a competent, responsible and motivated person, and I will get it done.

Story 2: This competent young man graduates from college, ready to tackle the investment world as a career. Uncle Joe, wanting to give him some experience says, here is one of my stock portfolios, I would like you to manage this for me. Imagine, this is a 22 year old kid, right out of college, with theoretical investment experience gained from textbook case studies, but any experience with real money...nope.
Apparently this was no small amount of cash, and the word Joe's nephew used to describe this amount was "consequential." Again this young man rose to the occasion, and managed this money with aplomb. Amazing!

Through halting speech, and quiet tears, this young man spoke of the all the gifts his uncle Joe had given him. Like Joe's kids, being shown the model of how to lead a meaningful, exciting and loving life was priceless, but more importantly, his uncle allowed him to take on the kinds of responsibilities that promote true growth and maturity. The kinds of things we don't think we can do, but when someone who cares about us says " you can do this and you will do this" can change who we think we are and who we think we can become forever.

As parents of teenagers, we often want to protect our kids from stress, and offer to "help" them out in order to reduce their loads. We want them to clean their rooms, take their dishes to the sink, do their laundry all in the name of teaching responsibility. But when it comes to the big stuff, we edit their papers, contact everyone we know to find them internships or summer jobs, download all the stuff they need to apply to colleges, and keep track on spread sheets of all the data and deadlines needed to complete their applications on a timely basis. I say forget teaching the responsibility of cleanliness and dish-washing, believe me they will figure that out on their own when there is no one else to do it, and instead give them the gift of "I believe in your competence " that Joe gave his nephew, and make it their job to rise to the occasion. " I can and I will find a summer job or an internship, or finish my college applications, or edit my papers, etc etc etc.

The second big lesson I think we all walked away with on Saturday is the power of modeling. Joe didn't lecture about taking on responsibility or taking on challenges and risks or finding new passions, he showed them not told them. The most important gift we give our children is the gift of our own life. If we spend to much time worrying about their life, and how they live it, than we forget about living our own life and the power of example. Our kids don't remember the lectures, they remember the memories of watching mom and dad work hard at a job or volunteering at the school fair, or helping out a family or friend or neighbor in need, or deciding to run a race for the first time and cheering mom on at the finish line. It is what we do not what we say that matters.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Real World

Yesterday I showed a documentary to my Child Development class called "I Am Promise" about an urban elementary school in Philadelphia. It was not one of those uplifting, inspirational, lifting oneself out of poverty kind of films. It was a peek through your fingers, is the world really like this, thank god I don't live there kind of movie. It was full of graffiti splashed abandoned buildings, crack heads on the corners, indifferent and abusive parents, and overwhelmed and overworked teachers on the verge of giving up. I wanted my students to see how poverty and indifference affect children's lives.

My students (mostly college freshman, and middle and upper class) are good kids, but not always the most attentive and active students, sometimes dozing off, doodling and staring into blank space after a hard night of partying. Needless to say, I had low expectations for a spirited discussion following the film. But surprisingly as I looked around the room in the semi-darkness, expecting drool on the desk and drooping heads, I saw instead rapt attention. And when I started the discussion by going around to each of my 30 students asking for an adjective to describe their feelings about this community and these kids, I was startled by their sensitivity, and emotional responses. They were hooked by real life, not the movie version of poverty, but what poverty really feels and sounds like, and it startled them, and shocked them, and caused them to pause and actually think about the world outside their protected universe. As the students walked out of class, somber and thoughtful, many stopped by my desk to thank me for showing this film, and for opening their eyes to the "real world". It was a good day.

I was reminded again of the potential our teens have for reflection, and thoughtfulness. It is so easy to label our teens as superficial, mindless, and insensitive to others, because so often that is what they give us. But underneath those designer clothes and ear buds are multi-layered human beings full of new feelings, new thoughts and new ideas not yet expressed either to themselves or others. I think my students surprised themselves yesterday with their own reactions and deep thoughts.

So the work here is to find something that taps into this developing teen that helps them to articulate this new ability to think deeply and thoughtfully. Just asking "so what do you think about...." usually elicits an "I dunno" kind of answer. In my students case, it was realizing that what they were seeing was real not a Hollywood version. These were real kids, real crack heads, real parents. Now you can understand the appeal of reality shows like Jersey Shore. Here's a suggestion, there is a wonderful documentary called "An American Teen" not to be confused with the TV show The Secret Life of Teens.( I know netflix and most libraries have this film) This documentary is a year in the life of 5 students from a large midwestern high school. Each of these students has their public persona, what their parents see, what their friends see, and then the movie allows us to also see their private side, their agony and their ecstasy. The things that happen to these kids are the things that happen to your kids, but maybe they can't tell you about. Watching this movie together about these real kids might give you an opening to find out what your kids are really thinking and feeling, without asking directly. Here is an opportunity. The key here is to share your thoughts and feelings as well, in a truthful non-lecturing way. Let this film move you, as it will move your kids, and share a feeling not a lesson.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Candy is dandy....but liquor is quicker!

The post Halloween party blues and reviews are starting to trickle in, and candy is not all that's getting served up at teen Halloween parties this year. What is a parent to do?  Brave parents step up to the plate, offer their home for a party hoping to keep their teen and 40 of their closest friends away from TPeeing the local park(toilet papering for those who have never indulged), or egging passing cars. They follow all the expert's advice by inviting other parents over to share the supervision, greet every teen at the door with a rudimentary screening (getting close enough to smell their breath), provide lots of food, climb up and down the stairs to deliver it, doing a little reconnaissance on the way. But still, as the evening wears on, a hysterical daughter climbs the stairs, two girls are puking their brains out on the floor, call an ambulance!!! These are 13 yr olds. At another party, a few responsible kids climb another set of stairs to let parents know some kids were high when they came in and brought more booze to share for the party. Parents can't find the booze, or the kids who brought it, but let all parents know whose kids attended the party that alcohol was sneaked in. So here is the moral of this tale of two parties, even with the best laid plans, and good parent supervision, kids will find a way!!!!

Think of your teen in the same way as you thought about him/her as a toddler. The world is now a  wondrous and exciting place for your toddler to explore now that they can move on their own and explore every nook and cranny of your home. Loving this curiosity, you do everything you can do to encourage them, but also to keep them safe. Out come the electric outlet covers, the brackets to keep bookshelves from toppling, poisons out of reach from inviting cabinet doors. You anticipate, prepare, and predict what might happen and do your best to keep them safe.

Your teen too sees his/her world as a new and exciting place, curious about all the taboos that heretofore were uninteresting and uninviting. But now all that has changed. What does it taste like? How does it make you feel? Everybody else is doing it, should I?  Will it make me more fun, more popular, more sexy, less nervous, more confident????  These are the questions that flood your teen at that moment of should I or shouldn't I? Not the ones you wished they were asking like: Should I being doing this, it is unsafe, not good for my developing brain, my parents trust me, and won't this betray their trust? No, for the most part they are not thinking or asking those questions. For younger teens they may be in a situation they have never been in before, and have no idea what to do.

Just saying to your teen, "you better not, and if I find out you did, you will be grounded"will probably not encourage them to be honest with you. Kids lie because they have to. If instead you say: "I know you are going to be in situations you have not been in before, or situations that can get out of hand, lets figure out some ways to keep you safe."You will more likely open a conversation rather than end it before it gets started. There is a mixed message inherent in all of this, which is totally troubling. I'm with you. Should kids be drinking, and taking drugs?...absolutely not!!! Will they, even if we say you better not and there will be severe consequences if you do?  Probably. The consequences don't seen that bad to them in the excitement of the moment, and the ultimate goal here is to keep your kid safe. And if acknowledging I don't want you to drink or take drugs, but I know you might, keeps the communication going with your kid and ultimately keeps them safe, then so be it.

Your kids need your help. They need you to help them anticipate and plan. This is not something that comes naturally to teens. Teens live in the moment, adults live in the future. So next time your kid leaves to go to a party or a get together, or a football game, or a sleepover, even if there are going to be parents present, rather than just saying "you better not", try instead" I'm guessing there might be some alcohol, or drugs around, tonight, what's your plan to stay safe". It is unrealistic to expect your teen to always do the right thing, temptation is a strong motivator, just ask Adam and Eve.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Agony Of A 9th Grade Boy

I have had a rash of calls over the last week from parents of 9th grade boys. It seems there is an epidemic of weekend lethargy, which includes social isolation, empty friend syndrome, and video game overdose. Here is my diagnosis. Being a 9th grade boy is the lowest of the low in low high school land. The loss of social status is huge. While 9th girls enjoy being the youngest, newest, and therefore "easiest" girls to conquest for the older guys, the 9th grade boys have become obsolete in the social hierarchy that is High School. They often are the shortest, not having experienced the eagerly awaited puberty fueled growth spurt. It can  feel like they are living in the land of the giants. Their acne may be in full bloom, further eroding  their confidence in the daily pageant of "who's cute", that all high schoolers experience, male or female. Furthermore, they have left a middle school where they were top dogs; perhaps they were the better athletes in their school/town sports team, or the lead in their school musical, or president of their school's student council.

So here they are in High School, a place they have dreamed and fantasized about for years, and SLAM, reality hits. Maybe they make one of the schools athletic teams, but being the youngest gets little play and they end up spending most of their time on the bench. Or if they are lucky enough to be a good athlete, they get play, and the upperclassmen are resentful because this young punk gets more play then they do, and these older guys feel free to show their resentment. It's a no-win situation.

And to add insult to injury, they may be losing all their best buddies. Ninth grade year is a year of so many changes and transitions, including friends. Some kids are more ready, interested and confident enough to jump into the water, no matter how cold it is. They are ready to party, find girls, and hang with the big guys, leaving their old friends in their wake. The guys that were their steady Saturday night dates, video games at some one's house, are nowhere to be found.

The bad news is that this year will feel like the longest year for you as the parent. You are at the same time feeling heartbroken for your son, seeing him mope about aimlessly, at odds with himself, and also beyond frustrated wondering "what the hell is wrong with you, get off that damn couch and do something!"

So here it is in a nutshell. They don't know what to do!. The rules have changed and they don't have the rulebook. So when your son walks in from school everyday, and gives you a sneer and a grunt, asking him what's wrong at that point will probably garner a scream of "NOTHING". Don't be offended, just park away that a million things are wrong, things that got stuffed down all day at school, things he may not even be consciously aware of, a stare from an older student, a fumble on the field, an embarrassing wrong answer in math and the list goes on. And when the weekend comes, cozying up in his room and his safe haven of home feels like about as much as he can muster. Saying things like" why don't you call a friend? or why don't you invite someone over? only reinforces for him that he is a loser, because maybe  that "friend" he would have called is now off with a bunch of new friends, partying in the park, and this is something he is not ready for or interested in doing...thank god.

The good news is, this too shall pass. This is a moment in time, and as he gains confidence, height and clear skin he will begin to join the human race again. He will find new things he feels excited about, and new people to hang with. And for the time being, cause it won't last long, just enjoy his company. My prescription: Make a big bowl of popcorn, settle onto the couch and watch a movie!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Porn And The Cell Phone

Story 1:This past Sunday, The Boston Globe's front page story was titled "An Epidemic Of Anxiety". It recounted the tale of a high school girl egged on by a boy she had a crush on to send him a topless picture of herself using her cell phone. Because she thought this might seal the deal and possibly help bring the two of them together, she complied and sent him the topless photo. Needless to say, the boy was not interested in her boobs really, but this ploy had been orchestrated by a group of bitchy girls who thought this would be a hysterical prank to set this girl up, get her to take the boob photo and then send the picture to schoolmates using cellphones. And history, both literally and figuratively was made. The girl now completely humiliated had to face her classmates taunting glares and comments on her return to school.

Story 2: The dean of a private school told me this story last May at the conclusion of their 9th grade admission process. What is so striking about this particular story is that two girls from two different communities had exactly the same story that culminated in their leaving their respective high schools and come to this school. Here is what happened to each girl. Boy approaches girl saying; " I want you to send me a naked picture of yourself" Girl says no way! Boy continues to tease and cajole girl to send the naked picture. Girl says no way!!! So far so good. Boy says:" If you don't send me the naked picture I will start a rumor that you slept with me and all my friends and that you are a slut/whore." Nice guy. Girl now has decision to make, is it better to just send him the damn picture, or be faced with slut/whore comments? I personally would have gone with the slut/whore choice, but that's just me. Anyway, girls decided to go with the naked picture. And of course this picture went viral for both these girls, humiliation ensued, and both girls chose to leave their friends and their community for a private school to start fresh. Two different girls, two different communities, same outcome. Do you see the trend?

Here is  the question that I know you readers are asking yourselves: Why didn't she talk to her parents? Here's why. Wouldn't your first instinct be to call the school immediately, make your daughter tell you who the boy was, and then threaten legal charges against the school, the boy, the boy's family, the group of girls, and anyone else you could think of to protect your daughter?  I would have. So here is the dilemma of all these girls, If I go to my parents, they will go crazy, and then I will become a pariah in my school, way worse than if I just do this. And the sad thing here is, they are probably right.

So how do we protect our kids from situations like this or prevent them from happening in the first place. Here is the first and most important way: BLOCK THE PICTURE TAKING CAPACITIES FROM YOUR KID'S CELLPHONES!! You can go to your phone carrier and they can block outgoing and incoming data. If your kids can't take or send pictures through their phones, they won't take or send pictures through their phones.  That's if they can't just say f%#ck off to the boys. Which would have been my best advice.

But the best protection is prevention. Here is how that can happen. A conversation with your daughter might go like this: Read The Globe article with your daughter and your son by the way. We'll get to him in a second. Don't get into lecture mode, about self-respect, blah blah blah, instead go to a place of understanding and an "I get it" moment. You might say: "these poor girls, what an awful situation to be put in. I get it must be hard to know what to do, these guys can be pretty persistent, and I'm guessing these girls wouldn't go to their parents, cause who's knows what they might have done. Honey, just in case this should ever happen to you, I want you to know, I won't go crazy, call the police or school because if I can help you get out of this situation before it happens then nothing will have happened for me to go to the school with. Once the deed is done, it really is out of our hands, and we lose total control. So I promise, we will figure out a way together for you to save your reputation, and embarrassment, just talk to us.

If you have a son. Also read him this story. The "I get it" moment here is: I get that you guys might be offered a naked picture of a girl who likes you, or that some guys are pressuring girls to send naked pictures. I just want  you to know that once that happens and you are part of it, you are now open to charges of disseminating child pornography and can be arrested. If someone leaves their phone on the kitchen table, or in the school cafeteria, or on the sink when they go in the shower, and someone picks it up and looks at pictures and texts and your name or contact is anywhere in that mix, you are implicated. And besides the obvious legal ramifications, IT IS JUST WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who knew that cellphones would become mobile Penthouses and Playboys, using our sons and daughters as their models?  Prevention is the best protection. Your job is to educate and prepare your kids for situations for which they have absolutely no experience. Encouraging your kids to come to you before a situation gets out of control is the ultimate goal. Let your kids know that you will promise to stay calm in the face of chaos.