Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Your Holiday List

Holidays are all about expectations, usually unrealistic ones. It is so easy to set oneself up for disappointment. Our teens deal with this all the time. Great expectations for the first date, the first kiss, the first dance etc, etc. Sometimes that first kiss is unforgettable, but mostly it's not. Usually it is misplaced, sloppy, maybe even painful if one party has a mouthful of metal. Holidays can be like that too for parents. Maybe it has been a tough fall, money stress, job stress, family stress and teen stress. All you want for this holiday time is a little respite from the fray, and here is how you are going to get it!

For all your list makers, this will be fun, if you are like me it will feel like work, but I thing the payoff will be enormous.

List 1: Write down all the fantasy expectations for this holiday. Even the ones that seem the most outrageous and ridiculous like "my 16 yr old will shut off his phone while we all cuddle in front of the fire watching a sweet movie.

List 2: Now rewrite each of your fantasy expectations with the more realistic, grounded, how this will really play out. For example, maybe the first will play out more like this. We will all watch the movie and my teen will be texting the whole time which will drive me crazy cause that is rude and he is still not participating in this family time.

OK so now is the Pollyanna time. Once you can put the fantasy to bed, you won't be disappointed when it doesn't happen.  Now you can look at what is happening, which is your teen is in the same room with the family. For now that is probably good enough. You can bring them to the table, but you can't make them eat. Believe it or not, though you might feel a little gypped, your teen may feel all cuddly and warm having two of his favorite things happening simultaneously, being with family and being with friends.

You see holidays as time for family, food and Kodak moments. Your teen sees holidays as time for friends, fun, and unlimited hours of sleep. There is a huge disconnect here between what you want and what your teen wants. You might have a conversation like this: " Yea vacation!!! So I get you just want time to veg, sleep and see your friends. Its been a busy fall and I know it will feel great not to have any schedule. I'd love to find a little time for us to hang as a family, maybe a dinner out or watch a movie together. Can we find a time to do that together? Acknowledging to your teen that this is a choice not a command show a respectful, "I know your time is important".

Fantasies are important. They get us through the tough times, and give us something to look forward to, even if they are unrealistic. But reality, often paling in light of what we really wanted, is good too, just different.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hanging With My 12 1/2 year Old Friend Jack

I was visiting a friend over the weekend whose son Jack is a friend of mine. Over these last 12 and 1/2 years, we have spent time together at the zoo, sitting at the computer, reading books, playing games, and just talking. He has grown from an adorable tow-headed cutie pie into a tall, half/boy half/man, with a mouth full of braces, and the awkwardness in his body that comes from newly acquired long limbs and big feet. He is still a cutie pie! We spent a little time this visit talking about his life, and what kinds of things he was doing and learning, as his mom sat nearby. Later she told me that he never shares that much information at any one time. I wanted to take credit for being such an amazing person that Jack would want to converse so openly with me, but really it was that I wasn't his parent. Plain and simple. But still there were a few lessons to be gained from my conversation with him, besides him teaching me what the binary system is, how and why he named the characters from the play he is writing, how to do a parry that he has learned in his school fencing class,  and what is it about "Call of Duty" that makes it such an exciting video game.

First, Jack has wonderful parents who have provided him with a wealth of opportunities from which to experience the richness of the world. This is a family that embraces and engages together in reading (their house is full of books from the 3rd floor all the way down to the basement, covering and piling in any available space), they go to movies, and plays and concerts and puppet shows, play tennis, ride bikes, watch sports,  play video games and yes watch The Simpsons. There has been no stone unturned, or value judgements made as to what is "good for you" and what is just plain fun. The message being, there really is value in everything we do as long as it stays in balance. This is not a family that has to tell Jack to go read a book because there are many nights cuddled up on the king sized bed when they are all reading their books. No one has been sent to Siberia to engage in an activity that for some kids can feel lonely and isolating. In this family, it is an activity that reeks of togetherness and love. Video games often  the bain of many parents, in this family become just another thing that Dad and Jack do together, not 8 hours spent alone in a room with the door closed.  It may be "Call of Duty" but it is balanced with other equally fun and shared activities. The message, video games are fun, but so is reading, and playing games and taking a bike ride.

I think the reason Jack and I enjoy each others company is that I truly enjoy talking to him. He is funny, intelligent, and I know he has interesting things to tell me, and teach me. All kids, especially teens as they become more adept at looking at their life more analytically and with purpose are interesting. I am not his parent, but I am an adult, not the cohort most kids would choose to hang with.  The key I think is that I enjoy my conversations with Jack as much as my conversations with fellow adults, and I think that Jack senses that. Most conversations between parents/adults and kids become more about a recitation than a real interest in who this kid is. How is school going? How did you do on your SAT's?, Congrats on getting on the honor roll, and what is your list of colleges? These are the kind of questions that kids expect from adults, and usually cringe at. But when you show a true interest, and an openness to learn and allow them to be your expert, this is when real communication begins.

As parents, of course you have to make sure you keep up with all the details of your teen's life; homework, activities, chores, whereabouts, friends, and the list go on. But it is also important to balance that detail-oriented part of your relationship with your teen, with just sheer interest in who they are, not what they produce. So have your teen be an expert for you. Just in 30 minutes with Jack, I learned to parry, understand (sort of) what  base 1 in the binary system is, and become a little more open-minded about Call Of Duty, a game I abhor. Imagine what you could do with a lifetime of 30 minutes. Your teen knows more about life than you can imagine. Forget about the grades, and the chores, and homework for a moment, and ask your teen to teach you about something you would get an F in.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When I screw up: Teens Speak For Themselves

The holiday break is just about here. This weekend will be a celebratory time because its the week before vacation, and then the next week will be celebratory because it is vacation, and then the week after that.....
I think the only angels in your house will be the ones on top of your trees if you have a tree. Other than that I would expect no angel sightings. In light of this time of year, and with the expectation that your teen will probably do many things to piss you off like sleeping too much, staying up too late, texting during holiday meals and festivities, lack of excitement for the spirit of giving, and much excitement for the spirit of getting, and only wanting to be with friends and not family. I  offer you these words from the 9th through 12 graders I surveyed about screwing up. These kids lay it on the table, and I think are important sentiments for parents to hear. The holidays can be wonderful and loving times for families, and also often don't live to the expectations we all have for them. Have fun when its fun, and try to let the other stuff not overshadow those lovely moments. In their own words...


·      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.
·      Worked together instead of having Dad do everything
·      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.
·      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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

SEX..Again....Some Final Words

I'm guessing after the last two posts describing the intimate details of a teen's sexual proclivities, that most of you are worn out, grossed out and checked out on this topic. But I feel a responsibility to end this whole subject in a more upbeat manner.

No parent is ever ready to see their adorable, cuddly child turn into a sexual animal. But there is no stopping it.  Embracing it and helping your teen to develop healthy, safe attitudes toward sexual behavior is as much a part of the parenting job as teaching kids to look both ways before they cross the street. It really can be as simple as saying to your teen, maybe after an incident you heard about involving sex or a found sext message: "Life is about to really change for both of us now that you are moving into having relationships that may include some fooling around. Clearly, this will be hard for me, so hard to think of you in this way, but I love you and I am excited for you to understand what it is like to be in a relationship in which you get to know each other in new ways. Here is what I will try to do, I do want you to be able to come to me when you need help. I'll try not to close my eyes and cover my ears yelling lalalalalalala can't hear you!"  I'll try not to judge you or criticize you  for having feelings that are totally normal, and I will hopefully help you to stay emotionally and physically safe. I know that you will be in situations you have never been in before where kids might be doing stuff that you are not ready for and that make you uncomfortable. I really can help you with that kind of stuff, at the least we can brainstorm some ways that make you feel more comfortable in those situations and some strategies for getting yourself out of them without feeling like you are making a fool of yourself. I love you and I am excited for you, and I want you to be safe."

And there you have it. You will have opened the door to understanding that sex is a part of growing up, and that you want them to feel that they can come to you for help and guidance, not criticism and punishment. Seeing your teen in this new body, and knowing all that entails can be scary, but letting them know you embrace it and accept these changes at least gives you an invitation to the party.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let's Talk About Sex...Again

After all you can never, ever talk too much about sex. Ok so in the last blog, I tried to paint the delightful picture of the sex-life of a teen today. The birds and the bees conversation I had with my Dad at age 12, so sweet and innocent compared to today's talk is like "Disney VS Girls gone wild". We are WAY past talking about menstruation/masturbation and "when a man loves a woman." Today's talk requires facility with language most would find on 1-800-who wants sex?

Step 1. Getting comfortable with the language of sex. For those of you who do not like saying the word blow-job out loud, run to your nearest closest, close the door and repeat a thousand times, blow job, blow job,  etc etc etc. Until you have desensitized yourself to the sound of the word in your head. This is a very necessary step because once your kid senses you are completely uncomfortable with the conversation they will run from you, as their discomfort is worse than yours and they will look for any excuse to escape your grasp. As long as they don't have to think or talk about sex, getting on with it feels OK. That is why these conversations are so important. They are also important because of the misinformation that kids have about sex in general. In a recent Boston Globe article: Students find more sex than education, teens cite these "factoids": "You can't get pregnant if you have sex in water, If you have oral sex you won't get an STD, and there is no point in wearing a condom because it will probably break."  So anyone who has a swimming pool, along with the "no running rule, perhaps a "no intercourse" rule might be safe as well!

Step 2. The actual talk. Timing is everything. Do not just walk into their room, and start in. I know I have created a ton of parent anxiety here and your impulse is to "just get it over with" but patience, patience, patience. Find an opportunity. Perhaps your teen is off to a party this weekend, or a camp reunion over the xmas break, or a community ski trip. Some day when you are driving them in a time proximate to the upcoming event, you might start a conversation like: You must be excited about going....... It will be so fun to hang with everyone, and celebrate." Or rent some teen movie, or watch Gossip Girl,  or some show on TV that will be sure to have sex in it (that shouldn't be hard). Then you might say: I was listening to a story on NPR, or talk radio, or Oprah, or The View, or a friend from work  just told me this story (use one of the stories from yesterday's blog) and they were talking about how the whole sex stuff with teens is so different." And with some humor here, you can say they were talking about all different ways to have "blow-job parties" And now please make a joke, because your kids will be so shocked that you have said this word publicly they may bolt at the next red light. And with a little sarcasm you might say: "I am sure you and your friends never do this stuff, but have you heard about stuff going on like this?" Perhaps they may have something to share here, if you have kept the conversation somewhat light. The danger is to get to serious, thus shutting your kid down. You know how dogs can smell fear, and take that as an invitation to  become aggressive, so will your kids. The goal here is to not frighten them but to entice them.

Step 3. You have introduced the topic, and now you can try to impart some information. Because that is what this is all about. It is not about a moral lesson. If you go for the moral lesson I guarantee your teen will walk away. They do not want to be told what they can and cannot do. Remember "you are not the boss of me" is very much in play here. And if you get negative and lecture-ly they will see this as a challenge rather than a consultation. One parent I know downloaded a picture of a mouth full of Chlamydia. Which by the way, according to the Globe article is "climbing to alarming rates". Saying something like, " you know if some girl or guy you are fooling around with wants you to go down on him, or wants to give you a blow job this could be your mouth/penis. If he/she has done this with other kids, which I am sure is pretty likely, we could be spending some time in your pediatrician's office."If you can't find a picture, perhaps you could let them know just how uncomfortable the symptoms of Chlamydia are. After you have them completely disgusted by the physical parts of this, then you can softly go to the I Get it moment. "I get that kids are doing stuff like this, and there must be a lot of pressure out there to be part of it, even if it isn't something you are comfortable with. For a daughter: "I get its nice to have attention from a guy, especially if its someone you have a crush on, but truly you could just be another notch on his tally of how many girls he can get. Most guys do not want a girlfriend who willingly gives guys head. They will wonder who else she does this with. Go bake him some brownies instead. For a son: " I get girls will probably be throwing themselves at you, but really honey, what they really want is a relationship, and a boyfriend. And if you ask or allow a girl to give you a blowjob you are setting yourself up for expectations from this girl that you like her and want to have a relationship with her. And if that is not the case, just say no!"

Step 4. It is also really important here to discuss the combination of alcohol and drug fueled sex. Most kids would never do any of this if they weren't high. I once had a parent call me and say that her daughter had asked to go to the doctors to get on birth control, just in case she got drunk one night and had unprotected sex. Now there is a conversation opener for you. But truly that is not an unlikely scenario. Saying to your daughter or son: "do you really want your first experience with making love to be on a cold bathroom floor, with your partner puking their guts out afterwards from motion sickness! Sex is a great thing, but timing and location and most importantly connection are what makes sex great.

I have gone on too long and there is much to say. This is tough stuff. Thinking of your kids in these positions, and I mean literally and figuratively here is traumatizing. I GET IT. But your job is to get your kids to want to have these conversations with you, and that takes finesse, and creativity. Parenting a teen is often about putting your impulsive needs to "get something through that thick head of theirs" on hold. Your kids need your help with this, especially because they won't feel comfortable coming to you first, thinking they are supposed to know what to do. The truth is they absolutely do not know what to do. Why should they? This new talking body is brand new, the way it looks, the way it feels, and what it does. It does not come with instructions, and believe it or not, you are probably the only people who will give them the straight up info they need. So go into the closet, get comfortable with the language, and come out of the closet, confident and comfortable with your new role as Dr. Ruth.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lets talk about sex: Part 1

It's amazing to me that this is my first hard core sex blog. So much to talk about. First it should come as no surprise that teens like sex. This is nothing new, nothing particular to this generation. When your body talks, you just gotta listen! If you were honest with yourselves, you would remember steamed up windows while parking at your town's "lovers lane", or make out sessions in the basement of your house or your friends'. But the big difference was it was private, between couples, and behind closed closet, bathroom, bedroom, and laundry room doors. And rarely did it include blow jobs at age 13.

What this generation brings to this stage is what I call performance sex. This is a generation that has grown up with reality shows galore that make public drunken sex almost a performance art.  The idea of a committed couple enjoying intimacy and pleasure in privacy is so "old-fashioned". Another disturbing new development for these millennium teens is that sex is often a one-way street, and less a reciprocal expression or exercise in mutual satisfaction. Girls willingly offer to give blow jobs and boys freely request them. I guess that is reciprocal, my mistake. An innocent game of spin-the-bottle has given way to inventive and creative ways to have group sex. Take for example the game of "stone face". In this game a group of boys sit around a table, while girls under the table give head. The boys who are on the receiving end are supposed to stay stone face and the game is to guess who is being serviced. Lovely. Another game is the lipstick game. Girls with different color lipsticks perform oral sex on the same guy, thereby leaving a rainbow effect on his penis. See, here is the art part!

I have heard this particular story repeated many times. Same story, different towns. Middle school kids are on a field trip. A bunch of boys are sitting in the back of the bus, while girls perform on the floor below. After all, riding on a bus is soooo boring. Teacher comes back to check on the kids, imagine his surprise! Last year I was giving a talk in a lovely town, and asked the sponsoring PTO if there was anything in particular they wanted me to address. I was told that the previous week a custodian was cleaning up the school auditorium after an assembly and happened upon a 7th grade girl giving a fellow 7th grade boy a blow job. Imagine his surprise!  And finally, in a meeting with a middle school head of a prestigious private school I was told the tale of 2 eighth grade students who after school decided to head for the empty faculty library for a little tete a penis. They found a friend to act as lookout, but as a teacher approached he got spooked and ran away leaving this couple for the teacher to find. Imagine her surprise!  And the list goes on. Just so you know these are good kids, from good families, and good communities. Get the message.

So what is going on here? Here is my take. Somehow as adults we have missed the boat. We have not provided our kids with a healthy alternative to what the culture and the media is heavily promoting. Because the whole idea of kids engaging in these kinds of sexual activities is so nauseating, I think we have avoided the conversation entirely, and left these teens with no adult perspective and guidance. The underlying issue here for girls is attention, and desire for a boyfriend.  Many kids I have talked to, and reading I have done speaks to this issue. In my day, baking a batch of brownies for a boy you had a crush on sufficed. Today offering sexual favors is de rigueur.  From the boys perspective, not much has changed in terms of motivation, testosterone, and good old fashioned competition, as in how many girls have you....(fill in the blank) is where its at. An especially provocative and eye-opening account of teen sexual behavior can be found in the book "Restless Virgins", a non-fiction account of teen sexual behavior at a private boarding school, a laboratory for learning.  This is not a book for the faint hearted, but it does open ones eyes to the issues, so that when you do decide to talk to your teen, you will have some factual information as a basis for discussion. This is a lot of information to digest, so in tomorrow's part 2 of this blog I will discuss a strategy for parents in helping their teen navigate this sexual minefield. Tune in!

Monday, December 13, 2010

College Students: The Comeback Kids

Today is finals day. I'm off to give my freshman students probably the first final of their college career. I am up against a lot. Last week's attendance in my classes was a sure sign of that. It wasn't pretty with many empty seats, and students sauntering in late not even sporting the usual embarrassed look of apology. They have thrown in the towel, anxious to alight to home towns everywhere where their moms and dads await them with fondness and food.

There is a nostalgia that both college students and parents bring to the table as they each anticipate the others return. For parents instead of the vision of sugarplum fairies dancing in their head, they see magically matured college students anxious to spend quality time with their parents, sitting around the dinner table discussing world events, joining them in the family room for popcorn filled movie nights, bedrooms where beds are made and laundry and clothes put away, and polite banter keeping parents in the loop of their plans and whereabouts. Ah, it almost sounds to good to be true. And it is!!!! Sorry to burst your bubble, but your kids are still your kids, and there has been no magical transformation.

For your kids their sugarplum replaced fantasies include a place where magically prepared delicious home-cooked foods appear instantaneously, and clean laundry is available on request.  They imagine a place where the family car is at their disposal day or night, and questions about where, when and with whom they are going are completely absent from their parents lips now that they are college students. Well they are in for a rude awakening as well.

Its all about realistic expectations. The noise, and the chaos of returning college students is at first so comforting. Your kids are so excited to be home, back in the bosom of the family, all cozy and warm. But they are still kids, and they have had a life where freedom is not "just another word," it is a way of life. This can be a huge adjustment for parents of homebound college students. Your student will chafe at that first glimmer of "So where are you going, and what time will you be home?" Or the "just because you have been away in college, when you are home there are rules, and we expect you to follow them." Ooh, let the games begin.

Its time for a new game plan. I am not suggesting a free for all, letting the cards fall where they may approach, but a recognition that life has changed, your kids have changed, and you can never go back. This is time for a great big "I get it" moment. You might say to your returning prodigal: "We are so excited to have you home, and we get that being away from home and then coming back is going to be an adjustment for all of us. I get you have been on your own for the last 4 months, and its probably felt amazing to be in control over your own life. We get that you will be out late, and want to do what you want to do, but here is what's going on with us. We too have gotten used to having our car to ourselves, not worrying about your whereabouts and your safety, (out of sight out of mind) not being responsible for laundry and clean-up and dirty dishes left where ever. We want this visit to be good for all of us, so lets try to come up with a plan that works for all of us."If you can anticipate with your now older and sorta maturish teen rather than waiting for all the annoying stuff to happen, you will be a little ahead of the game. It is important though to really understand that this is not about enforcing "rules" but looking for a partnership with this new emerging adult. Recognizing that the old rules have been outgrown, and that new "agreements" based on mutual respect need to be forged. The revolving door is now in place, as your kids come back and forth from real life and the joys of freedom, to the welcoming and sometimes smothering arms of their family. There will be times when someone gets caught in the door, it could be you, and it will for sure be your kids, but the door will keep moving cause it has to. It is the law of nature.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You Never Talk To Me

I watched an amazing documentary yesterday: "American Teen" directed by Nanette Burstein.(available through netflix and at most public libraries) This is not to be confused with The Secret Life of a teenager soap that is on TV. This doc follows 4 high school seniors for their entire senior year. You literally feel like a fly on the wall in the lives of these kids. For all those parents who regularly tell me that their kids never talk to them about anything, this film is for you. There are so many moments in this film that I know your teen will relate to, and if you can refrain from jumping on the interrogation train, and instead respond to the lives of these kids emotionally and hope that your teen follows suit, you could be in for a richness of conversation and insight into your own teen. The best scenario for watching this film would be to see it with your teen. It is a rare opportunity to see real kids, in real situations not concocted by a reality TV show looking for high ratings.  I know for some of you, just getting your teen to sit and watch a movie with you is in it of itself a challenge of olympic proportions. So lets start with some strategy for co-watching. A direct approach, "I heard about this great movie about teenagers, and I would like to watch it with you"probably won't work. Your teen will immediately sense that there is a bigger agenda here than just watching a movie together, like some sort of life lesson lecture instead, and will run in the opposite direction.   You might say, 'Have you heard about this movie American Teen? So and so watched it last week, and said it's this  amazing documentary about 4 kids during their senior year in high school. Kind of a no-holes- barred- show everything kind of movie. Will you watch with me. Dying to see if they really got it right? Let's get some take-out and watch it." If you can't convince your kid to watch it with you, then just watch it alone on a night they are home in a public viewing area, make the volume loud, and maybe they will just peek in and get intrigued. It is worth watching either way.

Here is why. The film follows 4 students. Each is representative of a particular stereotype, the jock, the popular mean girl, the band geek, and the square peg in the round hole disenfranchised kid. The artfulness of this movie is that it takes you past the stereotype into the inner lives of these kids, and what really drives them. And here is where you and your teen can find connection. There is the "Jock" Colin. On the outside he is the outgoing, talented athlete, who everybody loves. Seemingly carefree and happy. On the flip side what we find out is that he is literally following in his Dad's footsteps whose legacy is everywhere having gone to the same high school, was the star of his basketball team and got a sports scholarship to college, just as he expects his son to do. The pressure you get this dad is putting on Colin to "be him" is painful to watch. A great opening for a discussion with your teen: "Do you ever feel like we put this kind of pressure on you? Do you feel we have expectations of you, that are unfair? I really want to know so that I can change that."

Then we have Jake, the band geek. He is the socially awkward kid that literally makes you cover your eyes as he makes attempts to find a girlfriend. He loses himself in his video games, the one place he feels competent, victorious, and that allows him to fantasize a world where he literally "gets the girl". A great opening for discussion with your teen:" Now I get why video games can become so addictive, especially if your good at them. Thank god this kid has something in his life that makes him feel good." Or Maybe, "god I remember myself in high school, I really liked this guy/girl and I wanted to make an impression and did some really ridiculous thing but instead I came off like an idiot." Your teen might like to hear a story about you when you weren't at your best, giving him/her freedom to share that side of themselves.

Megan is the popular-mean girl. Some amazing incidents of cyber bullying, intense anger and rage from this girl.  We learn about the pressure she is feeling from her family of Notre Dame alums to become the next generation to go to Notre Dame, and if that isn't enough we find out that an older sister committed suicide in their basement and Megan was the one that found her. We realize that the anger and meanness is a cover for the rage she feels for herself. What you see isn't what you always get. So much richness for discussion here. The cyberbullying incident, the worry about disappointing family, the image of the tough girl as protection for what's going on inside. So much to discuss.

And then finally we have Hannah, my favorite. She is the artist/musician/filmmaker that is so done with high school and can't wait to leave and pursue her passions in a place that supports her creativity. She is a survivor, dealing with a manic-depressive mom too unhealthy to care for her, an absent father who works in another city leaving her to live with an elderly grandmother. Her friends are her family, and her boyfriend a source of the love and support she craves until he abandons her leaving her bereft and unable to function. Will she sabotage herself by missing too much school? So many openings here for discussions about family, loss, depression and anxiety, friendship, love and on and on.

So there you have it, I hope I have peeked your curiosity, and you will run out and rent this film. Remember that the times that your kids will want to open up to you are when they feel there is meaning for them in the conversation. A reciprocal conversation, when you share yourself as much as you want them to share themselves is the time when real communication commences.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Facebook And The Stolen Identity

I know this sounds like a Nancy Drew novel, and I wish it were. I am repeatedly stunned by the novel, creative and sociopathic behavior of kids as they navigate and discover new ways of using social networking. For a parent to keep their kids safe it means constant attention to every news story that has facebook or bullying in its title.  At the risk of being repetitive, I wanted to give you a link to a great article in this Sunday's NYtimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/us/05bully.html?_r=1&hp

I think at this point most parents are aware of the dangers of cyberbullying. But this article speaks to the issues of identity theft on facebook. I had heard a similar story first hand when a parent called me because her daughter was getting blamed for bad-mouthing kids on facebook. It turns out that their 12 year-old daughter had not signed up for facebook, but that someone( not their daughter) had created a page "in her name". The short story is that a "friend" of this girl thought it would be funny to set up a fake facebook page using her friend's name and bad mouth kids without having to take personal responsibility for it. Thank god mom and dad were great detectives, and doggedly pursued facebook and local authorities to help them figure out who had done this to their daughter. But the damage was already done, and this poor kid was getting blamed for saying hurtful things she had not said. Middle school is hard enough, and now having to contend with the school rumor mill was almost to much to bear.

This is a cautionary tale for parents. This underscores the need for constant supervision when it comes to young teens and their use of facebook. I know most parents are upset by the swearing their kids are using. I say, language be damned! That's the least of your problems. If you forbid your teen to use facebook, they will probably just go on at a friends house unbeknownst to you. The devil you know kind of applies here. If your young teen is insistent, here is what you can say, and your " I get it" moment. First, if you have not allowed your teen to go on, you should get on facebook yourself so you can plug your teen's name in the search engine to make sure they aren't using it surreptitiously or that someone isn't on in your teen's name. If you have given your permission albeit reluctantly, you can say "I know your friends are on facebook and you want to as well. I think it can be fun too, but  I know sometimes that kids swear, say mean things about other kids, and post pictures that I wouldn't want you posting. So here is what we are going to do. For the first few months you are on facebook, I will go on at the end of every day/evening with you and make sure that everything you put on there is OK. No swearing, no sexual language, and no weird pictures. After a few months if it seems like you have the hang of it, then I will ask you a few times a week to go on with me. I want to respect your privacy, but I also want to make sure you are safe.

The good news here is that if you stay conversational about this rather than confrontative, you might actually be able to have some really interesting conversations about the kinds of things that your teen and his/her friends are doing on facebook. Rather than making a judgement, "that is so stupid, why would Jack put that up?" which only serves to enrage your kid and prompt him to defend his friends comment. You can ask a more open-ended question like "So what's up with what Jack wrote? Let your teen explain it to you, let them be your expert in teen speak. Think of this as an information gathering expedition rather than an interrogation. Your teen is playing around with developing a persona, and is very self-conscious of your attention as they play around with different identities. Its not so different from when your 3 and 4 year olds played dress up and acted like mommies and daddies and teachers and soldiers. Give them the space and the freedom to pretend, with the same watchful eye that you gave to your warrior ninjas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Birthday Blog

Today is my birthday. No need for cards or gifts, or even a Happy Birthday greeting. Just reading my blog today is truly your gift to me. Today's birthday got me thinking about how much has changed for me in a year. I live in a new house. Not a circumstance I would have chosen, but as fate would have it, a wonderful gift. I have a new blog. I never thought I would be writing everyday. I used to hate writing, got a "D " in English in High School. But yet here I am, a writer. I am a maker of you tube videos. I absolutely hate seeing myself in any form of print or video, double chin be damned! Yet here I am a videographer. I wrote a book, and I actually have sold it to real people, and have had to had several printings, never thinking anyone would buy it. Yet here I am an author. My wonderful 88 year old Aunt Bea for whom I am responsible had a very rough year of eight hospitalizations, rehabs, nursing homes, and is now home and stable. I love her and yet it has been a hard road for me as well making sure she is well cared by for me and her wonderful care-givers. And I have.

Just writing all that, I see how much I worked, grew, and adjusted to change this past year. I'm sure you know where I'm going here. As Parents of teens, I know you too will have a birthday list, as will your teen of all the changes, adjustments and growth you both have made over this year. Like birthdays, adolescence requires both parents and teens to grow whether they like it or not. You can't stop the momentum or you will lose control. The body will grow, your child will change, and your relationship takes on a new form. You ride the emotional lows of arguments and fights and insane worries about your teen's safety, and you ride the emotional highs of watching new passions be discovered, or having a single amazing conversation with your teen that signals a developing maturity, or watching them go to their first prom, leaving you breathless at how amazingly beautiful or handsome they are. Like a band aid that stings when you first pull it off, the pain of raising a teen and being a teen often lasts only a second compared to the healing and growth that lasts a lifetime.

So take a step back on those days that feel overwhelmingly negative. Make a birthday list even when there is no birthday, and look at ALL the changes that you and your teen have adapted to, grown from, and moved on from.  Look at that list, and remind yourself of all you and your teen have already accomplished this week, or this month or this year, and know that this too will pass.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Children will Listen

I was driving around on Saturday morning listening to my favorite Show Tunes radio station, (yes I am a musical theater geek) and heard Stephen Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" from his brilliant musical Into The Woods.( lyrics below)  It reminded me of one of the most important jobs of parenting which is modeling and living the life of values and behaviors you most want your children to learn. As I have said on numerous occasions, actions speak louder than words. If you want your kids to treat people kindly, make sure that they see you treating people kindly, that includes your spouse, partner, mother, sisters. brothers, neighbors, gas station attendant, police, teachers, and the list goes on. I was watching a bunch of grown men play basketball on Saturday at my gym while I was spinning away. Many of their sons were watching them act like 10 year olds. They yelled each other, swore at each other, stormed away, throwing the ball at the wall, and were generally pretty unsportsmanlike. I wondered what their sons were taking away from this display. 

When you talk on your cell while driving, or text away at your kids sports events, or scream at them to stop arguing with you, you are modeling. When you sit in the living room reading your favorite book you are modeling, when you make a meal for an elderly neighbor and walk it over, you are modeling. You don't always have to tell your kids to be kind, read more, or stop being disrespectful, you just have to do it yourself. I can't say it any clearer than Mr Sondheim. Remember, children will listen!

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
Children learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen

Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

How can you say to a child who's in flight
"Don't slip away and i won't hold so tight"
What can you say that no matter how slight Won't be misunderstood
What do you leave to your child when you're dead?
Only whatever you put in it's head
Things that you're mother and father had said
Which were left to them too
Careful what you say
Children will listen
Careful you do it too
Children will see
And learn, oh guide them that step away
Children will glisten
Tample with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
"Listen to me"

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Nag hag

Remember how easy it used to be when you could just tell your kids to do something and they did it. "Pick up your toys...I said now!" and with an aw mom, off they went to pick up their toys, brush their teeth, and get ready for bed. It all seemed so effortless. Now, now so much. A request seemingly simple and benign can turn into all out warfare. " Honey, can you bring up your laundry that I just washed and folded for you up to your room? It starts off nice: " In a minute." 30 minutes later, said a little more strongly: "honey will you take your laundry upstairs...NOW!"  A reply with attitude "I...SAID....I...WOULD". And the battle of the wills has begun.

I wish I had some very astute reasoning and explanation about why your teen won't listen to you. But mostly its just cause they don't want to, don't feel like, and don't care about it. You however, care alot about it. You see your teen as being disrespectful, selfish, and dare I say lazy. All qualities you find particularly unattractive. You have given this great thought, and have spent much drive-time trying to figure out how exactly to get your teen to take responsibility for themselves. They on the other hand have given it no thought! Again they don't really care if the laundry basket stays downstairs forever. They will accommodate by throwing dirty clothes on their bedroom floor instead, and pulling the clean clothes from the basket downstairs on their way upstairs. See how adaptable they are.

The only real solution is not to engage in this power struggle from the get go. Relationships are reciprocal, and if your teen is not pulling his/her weight in the relationship, then you too can "accommodate." You make your initial request for whatever you need your teen to do, understanding that it is unlikely that he/she will do it on the first try. Perhaps the second round may go a little differently, maybe using an "I get It'' moment like: Honey I get this is a pain the a** and not important to you, but I need you to do this before you go to bed. OK? How can I help you to remember to do it?" At this point you will probably get a "just leave me alone" I'll do it.! If this is the case, leave them alone. And if they don't do it, then the next morning when they need you to do something for them, or that afternoon when they ask for a ride home from school cause its raining, or that weekend when they ask for a ride to their friends or 20 bucks to go to a movie with friends, you can sweetly say: "you know honey, I would have loved to do that for you, but since you chose not to take your laundry up the other night, or not to empty the dishwasher, I guess I am choosing not to pick you up. That's how relationships work. I love to do things for you and I hope that you like to help me in return." PERIOD!!! Do not engage in a back and forth on this. As I have said before, actions speak louder than words. The next time you need your teen to do something, and you put in the request and you get the avoidance again, which of course you will, because learning takes time. You might say, remember when you were so pissed at me last weekend because I wouldn't give you a ride, just saying, I need you to empty the dishwasher..your choice." You may have do this a number of times. Repetition, and consistency are the only way that anyone, not just teens learn. I have a friend who has been married for 35 years and her husband STILL does not remember to put down the toilet seat. There have been many late night pee visits sitting down on that cold porcelain throne for this woman. Get my drift!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My teen the narcissist

Last night I met with a wonderful group of moms doing one of my "Ask The Expert" parties. (think Tupperware but instead of buying plastic, you buy parenting tips) These give me an opportunity to hear what is foremost on the minds of parents, and last night's gig left me thinking about a a few things.

One question that came up was: "Is it unrealistic to expect that my teen gets me? How about our hard day at work, and keeping up with the schedules and activities of our three children, and taking care of an aging parent?" How hard is it for them to understand that parents are also stressed to the max and can't always be available to "take me, show me, buy me? The short answer...very hard. Your teen is a narcissist plain and simple. But don't worry it is not a life time personality disorder, just a short-term one.

Your teen's brain is exploding with new connections. In fact the number of new connections that are made in the brain during adolescence is equal to the number of new connections made during the first 18 months of life. That is a lot of brain activity to process. And just like a computer that crashes when you try to keep too many applications open, so does the teenage brain. Your teen is too busy trying to process, file away or send to trash all the input from their day. Because they are literally seeing and feeling the world in a whole new way, they are often overwhelmed. This comes across as self-centered, disinterested, and dismissive. They are the center of their own world, and right now you are a bit player, lost in the chorus. Like all good narcissists they only see your woes in relation to the effect it has on their very important life. So rather than be sympathetic to your long work day and commute, they jump on you as soon as you walk in the door with a " where have you been, I need you to.....?" No hug, and "hi how was your day, you look tired, and hungry, sit down and let me rub your feet." In a recent coaching session, a mom told me how her husband had gotten laid off from his very lucrative job. They had a very large, comfortable home with all the amenities that the kids had grown up in, and because of the job loss, they had to sell that home, and move to a new community, and rent a much smaller house. The younger kids totally got it, and like all adorable wonderful 6, 8, and 10 year olds they jumped into action. Excited about this new adventure, they started packing up their old rooms, and planning for their new ones. The 13 year old, now he was another story. He saw this move as a personal vendetta to ruining his life. No more the beautiful game room his friends had hung out in every weekend, no more big beautiful bedroom he had to himself, and to boot, a move to a new school. He was very up front about the fact that he was embarrassed to have kids at he new house, and furious with his parents for making him come to this "loser town". The easy thing would be to label this kid as spoiled rotten or entitled. Much harder to "get" his self-centered perception of these new circumstances.

These are stressful times for parents. Financial and job crisis's abound. Parents are aging and require our help, and now to boot, that delicious love that your 8 year old showered on you to help buffet you from the storm, now as a 14 year old is now absent, or at the least sporadic. Instinctively, when kids act like brats, we tell them so with a " don't be so selfish" trying to teach them that selfishness is a quality you don't want to see in them. However, truly your teen is capable of great love and understanding, as long as you understand them first. It is important when you see them at their worst, that rather than criticizing you understand. For example in a family where parents are stretched to the limit, rather than going to the angry place of " Can't you see how hard we are working, how do you think we pay for that laptop you begged us for, or that fancy phone you demanded, or the $100 jeans your wearing, you think money grows on trees?"Maybe you could say this: I know its been crazy, with work, and taking care of grandma, I know we haven't been around much, and maybe it feels like we haven't been able to do what you need us to do. I am sorry. I love you and I wish things could be different, but for now we are kind of  on overload." When your kids hears that you understand his perspective, his/her most likely response will be a grunt of "I'm fine don't worry about it." It may not be the hug and kisses you want, but it is their  way of "getting" that you have a life too. When kids feel judged and criticized you get the worst of their narcissism, when you understand it, you get the best of it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Teen Temperament: Who Are You?

Teens are: unpredictable, aliens, explosive, risk-taking, and temperamental. So say hundreds of parents when I ask them to throw out adjectives that describe their teen at my seminar: Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Version. You ask yourself, who is this person? I don't know what's going to come out of his/her mouth next. This is unsettling to say the least because what has worked in the past to calm your kid down so you can have a civilized conversation seems to have flown out the window. Not to mention, the way he wants to spend his time, the kinds of kids she likes to hang with, and what about how school used to be the most important part of his life. This isn't my kid, who is this kid?

Well actually deep down inside those tiny tank tops or baggy jeans and untied sneakers is the kid you raised, and all those characteristics you thought sweet or funny as a toddler, now in a taller, more filled out body...not so funny and sweet. For example, maybe you had that 3 year old who had fantastic verbal skills, and you thought it was so cute when they were able to talk you into reading just one more book at bedtime, or just one more cookie for dessert, or just one more episode of Sesame Street. After talking baby talk for 3 years, how refreshing to have these adult like conversations with your "little man". Well your "little man" has grown up and his verbal skills have grown with him, and he wants to share them with you! Now he understands that these verbal/negotiating skills can wear you down to the point that he is able to get exactly what he wants. And how about that adorable little 4 year old girl who had the energy of a rabbit, bouncing from one activity to the next. Running instead of walking, climbing the highest slide or jungle gym with you standing below, screaming, "honey be careful!!! Now at 14 she wants to run out of the house, hang with her friends, doing what and with whom..."Honey be careful"
Or maybe you had that shy 5 year old, who clung to your leg and didn't want to go into the school, or to the play date or the birthday party, and now as a 13 year old seems overwhelmed with the expectations of the 8th grade social strata.

See, they aren't really so different. What your teen brings to the table in terms of temperament and personality is biological, sorry,you can't change that. But you can be aware of it, and help your teen to see what their natural inclinations might be to keep them safe during this time in their life when their world is so inviting and exciting.  So if you have that risk-taking 4 year old all grown up now, it's important to have this kind of conversation; "You know honey, when you were little, you used to make me crazy with worry because you were always the kid who wanted to climb the highest tree, or ride your bike down the steepest hill, you were an excitement junkie. I loved how confident and fearless you were about things, always wanting to try something new. And I love that about you now, but because this is the essence of you, now as a teenager, you will also want to drive the fastest, party the hardest, take the biggest risks, and that worries me. We just need to make sure that you are safe, knowing that won't come naturally to you." Or if you have that verbal kid who has the skills of the slickest lawyer on TV, your job is to avoid getting into a verbal volleyball match. You won't win! Or maybe  you have that shy teen who has friends he wants to party with, and ends up going because he want to fit it. This shy 5 yr old grown up may be especially vulnerable to drinking or drugs because after the first experience with a few beers they feel the confidence and comfort in a group that they never felt before. That is a seductive feeling. So you need to say to this teen, "I know being in groups has always been hard for you, and now you have friends, which makes me so happy, and they want you to hang and go to parties where I know there is going to be alcohol and drugs. I worry that because those situations initially are hard for you, your friends might encourage you to drink to "loosen up" and that you might become dependent on alcohol or drugs to have fun in these situations.

Embrace the person your teen is and is becoming. Recognize the strengths in their personality and temperament, and give them the tools to manage them. Your legs won't be there to hold on to, and you won't always be waiting at the bottom of the slide.  They need the confidence and know-how to do it
"all by myself".