Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Hit List-Update

I know I said I was going on hiatus till after New Years, but I got the first call of the holiday party season today and my sense of responsibility got the better of me, and  I felt the need to tell this cautionary tale.

So this 15 year old boy, a little on the shy side, wanting to ingratiate himself to the "popular group," offered to have a party at his house. He and his parents agreed to keep the number of kids to 16, and of course there was the pledge of no drinking. Parents were home. Mom and dad were up and down the stairs to the basement all night, and didn't really see much amiss. But this was their first party as well and I think weren't really sure what to look for. By the end of the night, the group had grown from 16 to 60, pretty much without the parents really being aware until the neighbors called. It seems their house abuts woods, and large groups of kids were out in back of their house, in the woods, playing the game Mob Hit, which is basically hide and seek in the dark and drunk. Kids ran when they saw the cop cars, and when the parents went out in the morning, their yard was full of water bottles, that had been filled to the tippy top with vodka, in addition to all manor of booze bottles. (I'm guessing removed from homes where parents had done the holiday booze shop and wouldn't miss one bottle).When the parents confronted their son, what they realized was that he just plain lost control of the party. He didn't really know a lot of the kids, and because he wanted to be one of the "cool kids" he didn't do anything to stop the roller coaster. Which I totally get.

Here is how it got out of hand. There was a basement door that allowed access to the house and out to the yard. Kids were coming in and out unbeknownst to the parents. If you have a basement where kids hang out, you have to figure out a way to monitor, either with some sort of alarm or keep it locked when your teen has kids over. If they have to come through the front door, then you know how many and who they are. These parents felt betrayed not only by their son, but by his friends that they had know since elementary school. Once again I want to say, this is not about bad kids, but kids who are driven to have fun. You are not in their head AT ALL when they text and the inviting is going on. The call goes out that there is a party at X"s house and all are invited. If they aren't coming in the front door, it all can careen out of control really fast. The whole backyard woods issue is a horrible accident waiting to happen. Imagine a slew of drunk kids running around the woods in the dark playing hide and seek. Maybe someone trips and injures themselves, maybe someone trips,  the other kids are not paying attention and they get left outside, without help. No good scenario here.

So if your kids want to have friends over, keep it limited to a number you can supervise. If you have a basement access, and you don't feel comfortable locking it, get your coat on a walk around the house during the party to make sure all is well. This is all about safety. Teens can have fun and be safe, it is not mutually exclusive.

See you after New Years. Be happy, be safe!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Hit List

As the holiday vacation looms I thought I would pass on some tips for the next two weeks. Some of your kids are in private school and their vacation starts today, some of you have college students returning home for a month, and others start vacation next week. It's all about your expectations, and keeping them grounded in reality.

Let's start with college students, especially those freshman. Your expectations may be that you will pick up where you left off, curfews, rules, etc. But it has been out of sight, out of mind, for you and your kids for the last four months, and your kids have changed. They will be rule averse. They are used to going, being and doing whatever they want, whenever they want, free of parental oversight. Expecting them to resume their place at home as same ole same ole will never work, and cause a great deal of unpleasantness, for all of you! I suggest the following conversation, and I Get It moment: " We are so excited to have you home. We get things will be different for you when you are home, you are used to being the master of your universe, and have not had to answer to anyone about what you do and where you go. We will try to respect that. Here's the thing, that is going to take some time for us to get used to, and this will be our first vacation with you as a non-teenager. We still worry about you. That will probably never change. We know that partying at college has been fun, but at least you or your friends weren't driving. We won't have a curfew, but it would be great if you would at least leave us a text as to your plan as it gets later, just so we know you are safe. If you choose to crash where you party, that's fine, but walking by an empty bedroom at 3 AM will scare the s**t out of me, but if I read a text that you are at someones house, I will be fine. We will be happy to pick you up anytime, anywhere. No questions asked. I don't care if it's 3 in the AM, I will put my coat on and come get you." ( I used to do this for my daughter when she was in college, and she actually took me up on it, wanting to sleep in her own bed. I was happy to do it, we had some good conversations on those late nights, and I knew she was safe)

You do not have to over indulge, give money away or bribe your kids to want to be at home. In fact just the opposite. If they need money, there should be some quid pro quo involved. You  don't get something for nothing. Many college students begin to get a real sense of entitlement during the college years, money thrown into a bank account when they need it, tuition paid, food available just by swiping a card at the student union, that of course you pay for. When they come home, and are in need of cash, please expect something in return. Maybe it is caring for a younger sibling, maybe its doing laundry, going food shopping, running errands, you name it. And if there is an avoidance of fulfilling your requests, you can say, you know honey, I'd love to give you some cash, but here are some things I need, so whenever you're ready!

Bottom line, you need to respect the change that has occurred while they have been away from home, but not exempt them from feeling thankful and responsible to their family.

OK, so that takes care of the college students. Lets deal with your middle and high schooler.
 There will be alot of lying around the house during the day, and then a flurry of activity to get out at night. They will not sit around the house and read the books you bought them for presents, but they will watch cartoons, Jersey Shore, and Teen mom for hours at a time. It will make you crazy. Just turn around and walk out of the room. If you have a teen who has been busy with school/sports and other extra curricula activities, they are craving veg time. Let them have it! When they want to hit the party circuit, this is where you need to intervene. Here is your I Get It moment: " I get you and your friends are in heavy duty party mode. I want you to be safe, so I will be your chauffeur service. This way, I won't be worried about you driving or your friends driving. Your friends can pick you up at the start of the evening, but I will be your car service at the end. I want you to have a fun vacation, and I want it to be a safe one!

It's all pretty simple. It's about safety. Have a wonderful holiday. I will be on hiatus for the next two weeks but will return after the New Year. The archives are full of help, should you need it over the break. Enjoy the love of your family!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gifting Game

So, are you all out running around trying to buy everything on your teen's holiday gift list? There is nothing like fulfilling your kid's wish list, and readying yourself for that hug, and smile and real live thank you. Finally! But remember that hug and I love you lasts about a minute, and you will be left dealing with the consequences of this dream come true. If it's expensive clothes, sneakers, boots, coats, or other apparel, they will not have magically learned to "take care of their things." If you have given in to the smart phone movement, do not expect them to want to put it away to enjoy your holiday dinner, or shut it off so they can get to sleep before 3 AM  so as to take advantage of every amenity of their phone, or not get distracted by it when school resumes, or even lose it by the end of the vacation. If you caved and bought the newest Call Of Duty, or other addictive video game, expect that you will find them in their pajamas, unwashed over the next 7 days, eyes glazed over after a week of 12 hours a day of gaming. Catch my drift.

It's all about the expectations. Your teen may have promised anything just to get this beloved and treasured new whatever. But have you learned nothing after getting the family dog when they were 8 after you extracted "the promise," that "I will walk her every day and feed her, and clean up after her, so please please please can we have a dog? And now here you are 5 years later, up at 6 AM walking the damn dog that you never wanted, but has now become your most trusted pal.

So whatever you choose to buy your teen, think it through. Think it past the moment of opening euphoria and into the near future. Because once the deed is done, and you find yourself a month from now at one of my seminars apoplectic because your teen is so distracted, addicted or you are just pissed at their lack of appreciation for the money you blew on their gift, you will have no one to blame but yourself. Don't get me wrong, there is not one ounce of scrooge in me. I love giving gifts, and I love seeing the people I love happy, but gift giving to teens is more complicated, and requires a thinking through process.  And just like we say to them all the time: "What were you thinking" when they do something on the silly or stupid continuum, you maybe turning that around on yourself.  So choose with love, but choose carefully, The holiday only lasts a day, but it is the first day of the rest of your life!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Whose Genes Are These?

I met with a lovely parent today whose worry about her son stems from things that he has no control over and neither does she. Its all about the genes. In her son's case at 17 he has early male patterned baldness. His hairline is receding, he is beginning to get a bald spot on the back of his head, and time is not on his side. His grandfather was completely bald at 25. In addition he has an auditory processing problem (those genes again) that makes concentrating difficult. He is painfully self-conscious about both these issues.  So much so that there are days, he just doesn't want to go to school. I have met with parents where acne was the culprit, or height,  or big breasts or no breasts, or body shape, anything that makes their teen feel different and vulnerable.

Your heart bleeds for your teen because you absolutely feel their pain, and want more than anything to just make it go away.  So you may go into denial mode, and say to your teen at one of those times when they just wish they could close the blinds and get back into bed: "What are you talking about, nobody notices, it's just you!" And they look at you, not with love and thankfulness, but with anger and defiance because of course they know that you are lying. They live in our heads after all, and pretty much know exactly what we're thinking as we are thinking it. Your kids have amazing bullshit detectors. And what they imagine you are thinking is probably way worse than what you are actually thinking, so it's best to just be honest. " Oh honey, I get that you hate your (fill in the blank). It totally sucks, I know. What can I do to help?" You don't need to be brutally honest by saying, "you're right you have a pizza face, but you can acknowledge that for them it is a problem. Maybe you spring for something that might dull the pain, fabulous sneakers, or a cool hair color, or an outfit that other kids would kill for. Find something that might build their confidence in another way, and distract them, just for a minute from the pain of self-consciousness.  Yes it may seem superficial, buying their confidence, but when you have a teen who is losing the battle with their genes, and patching them just won't work anymore, its time to buy some new ones! As always, this too shall pass. The trick here is not letting these time-limited feelings of self-consciousness turn into a lifetime of self-loathing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Listen And You Shall Hear

A news story over the weekend really resonated with me. It wasn't about teens or parenting but it reinforced a message that is the primary focus of everything I teach to parents, and that is my "I get it"moments. Saying " I understand, I may not agree, but I see why this is important to you," can change entire outcomes of events from something negative to something positive. Here is the story.

As in many of our states, the Occupy Wall Street movement took hold in many major cities. Boston was no different. A Tent City took over the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a city within a city. Since the end of September this group of hundreds lived and breathed their commitment to their ideals. The city, including the mayor were supportive and patient, but this past weekend they felt it was time to end the occupation. Other cities had faced the same situation, and chose to go in with force, using billy clubs, mace and stun guns to get them to leave. People were hurt, lawsuits were filed, and a demonstration that had started quite peacefully ended in violence. Boston took a different tact. From the beginning, the police were told to get to know these dedicated demonstrators. Rather than being confrontative, and controlling, the officers chose to try to understand who these people were and their commitment to their cause. Over the course of the two month occupation, officers developed relationships with the occupiers. So when the day came this past weekend when the city had to set the final limit, and close down this occupation, they got cooperation not confrontation. This is not to say the occupiers went without some resistance, but the police understood that leaving this "city" was momentous for the demonstrators. They might not have agreed with them, but the police understood that the last 2 months had been a life changing event for many of the people who had chosen to participate, and that they needed to be respected for all they had sacrificed to be involved.There were no billy clubs or mace, only conversations, camaraderie and communication between the police and the occupiers. Some chose to be arrested, but went willingly, while most packed up their belongings and left feeling at the least they were given the respect for all they had done.

I tell this story because it mirrors many kinds of confrontations that you have with your teen. You want your teen to do something. They might not want to do "your something" and there is an impasse. Just like with these police and these demonstrators. You can either go in with your billy clubs and try to "make them" do what you want, by threatening punishment, or you can understand why they are resistant,  and acknowledge their point of view. You can "get "that doing X might not be fun, takes them away from something they would rather be doing, not allow them to do what they want, etc etc etc, but in this case they will just have to go along, and you know that will be hard for them. Most people, when not pushed, like those occupiers will see the light, feel heard, and go along with the plan. Those people who feel pushed, not heard or acknowledged will fight until the end. My way or the highway does not engender cooperation. Understanding does!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nobody Really Gets Me

My new favorite comic Zits:

Jeremy looking dejected and sad: " Nobody really gets me.
Mom, comforting arm around her son: "Oh honey, I get you!
Jeremy, looking even more dejected: "OK, that's even worse.

How many hundreds of times have you been in just this situation with your teen. Perhaps it's the Friday or Saturday night blues fest, when your teen is sitting at home, no plans in sight, no texts getting returned and feeling low, dejected and misunderstood. Or maybe, you notice that it is has been a fierce night of facebook and texting, and every time you walk by your teen's door they are flopped on the bed, staring off into space, and you just know that something has happened, some slight, some misunderstanding.

It is in these moments that the mama/papa bear or the lion/lioness comes out in you, and you get this powerful, primal urge to protect your baby cub from hurt. So you walk in with your sympathetic, loving, supportive arms and pronounce their friends are all a**holes (which was what I always did, and I admit was completely ineffective and backfired on me) and tell them when they get older they will find "real friends" who get them! Which may actually be true, but they do not want to hear that. The future is light years away, and has absolutely no meaning for them. And besides, it is these friends that they want and crave. No substitutions please. So when you go in and want to be that shoulder to cry on, and take pleasure in being that one person that gets them, it is in that moment for them that that is the kiss of death. The teen in them, the teen that is trying to be independent of you and that primal need of theirs to be love and accepted, will reject you. It is the acceptance of their peers that is the most important. Love and acceptance from mom and dad, not so much.

So when you see your teen with the "Jeremy" look, say a simple "bad night" huh, and leave it at that. If they look up to you with an invitation to talk, great, otherwise, as always, this too shall pass.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Sporting Game

For those of us who live in Massachusetts there has been a major news story about a hazing incident that involved a high school varsity basketball team who had attended a basketball camp this past summer. This story only came to light this past week. Apparently the incident in question involved forcing underclassman who were new recruits to the team, to eat cookies that had been dipped/spread in semen. I hope you are not reading this post with your morning coffee.

I know boys will be boys, but really. The details of the incident and how the semen was acquired are sketchy due to the disgustingness of the allegations, but it clearly involved coercion and humiliation.  The school system has suspended the upperclassman responsible for the hazing, and are moving to expel them permanently. Lawyers for the expelled seniors are fighting the expulsion saying:"They have been really good students and anticipated going on to college. All of that is up in the air right now."

I feel bad for everyone. I feel terrible for the victims who were underclassman, who must have been elated to make the varsity team,  and looked forward to playing for their high school team. Now that has all been tainted. I feel bad for the senior boys who were responsible for the hazing. I truly believe that they really didn't didn't think there was anything that wrong with what they were doing. After all, in their minds, they are probably thinking: "it's not like anyone got hurt! Their lives will be forever effected.

Who I feel no sympathy for are the coaches, and the staff at the basketball camp, and maybe even the parents whose kids are on the team. Somewhere along the line, these kids are just not getting the message that hazing is serious business. Hazing, in this case, was not physically damaging, but it sure as hell was psychologically damaging. When someone, especially a teenager, who is literally at the most psychologically vulnerable time of their life is humiliated in front of their peers, it can do real harm. I get that teenagers don't get this and don't understand this. But the adults do need to get it.

If you have a son or daughter who is on a sports team or a cheer leading squad it is your job to talk about this issue with them. You might tell them about this incident, and then say: " I get that upperclassmen/women feel sometimes that it is their right to "induct" new team member into the team through some traditional rights of passage. Unfortunately those "rights of passage" are illegal if they humiliate or put someone's safety at risk. Just recently a drum corp member of a college team died as a result of some "right of passage" that involved alcohol. This is serious stuff, and I know you might be in a situation someday where you will be the subject of or be asked to be the perpetrator of hazing. Lets figure out what you can do, should you ever find yourself in this situation."

Though all schools now have very strict rules and regulations about hazing, I don't think the communicating part to the kids is happening. This is where you come in. Never expect that someone else will take care of it. Take care of it yourself!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Navigating The 5th Grade Party Circuit... You Heard Me

A parent called me the other day with a question about 5th graders. Her son had been invited to a "boy-girl" party. Whaaaaaat!!!! It wasn't a birthday party or a holiday celebration, but a mom anxious to get the ball rolling on the popularity train, encouraged her daughter to party down. What do I think? Really? It's stupid, there I said it. There is no rush to put these tweens in a situation that I know they will feel completely awkward in. Which isn't to say, the kids aren't wetting their pants over the idea of it. Is that crude? Sorry, its just that the end of childhood keeps getting whittled down to a shorter and shorter time, and I feel protective. Unfortunately, it puts parents who feel like me in an awkward situation. Do they let their kids go, or do they say no, trying to explain to their child/tween that its just not quite time yet, and face having them not even understand what you are talking about. Not quite time for what, they will ask? You know what I think, I think you say: "gee honey, I'm sorry we have family plans that night, sorry you won't be able to make it," and just leave it at that. Sometimes saying less is more. Everything doesn't need to be explained. Distraction works just fine.

The only kind of "party" like this I would sanction, was if it was activity based. An ice skating or rollerskating or bowling party. Do I sound like I was raised in the 50's. Do kids even do these wholesome kinds of activities anymore? It's the house-party situation that is premature. A situation where there is not enough structure is asking for trouble. There will always be the more precocious kids who will be the ring leaders, trying to mimic more "teenagery" kinds of behavior that perhaps they have seen on TV or with older siblings.  Spin the bottle, truth or dare, games that most kids will feel uncomfortable with, or clueless about, but feel pressured to participate can spell trouble.

So if you are anxious to move your tween towards more teen like behavior. Check your own needs at the door. If you are more interested in your tween's social life than your tween is, that's a problem. 5th and 6th grades are real transition years. Don't rush them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Friendship chain

I am on cloud 9. I gave myself a 60th birthday party this weekend, and I am reliving every wonderful moment of it. This memory in particular I think will stay with me forever. The loft I had rented in NYC, so my daughter could be part of the celebration was filled not only with my friends, some of whom have been in my life since I was 12 years old,  but also family, and so touchingly many of my daughter's friends, now in their late twenties and thirties. One group I have known since they were freshman in high school, another group her college buddies, and yet another group of friends she has made over the years and has shared with me. I felt so blessed. Because I love to sing, I had a DJ/Karaoke, and when it was time to welcome and thank this "loving family" for coming to this festivity, I chose to sing them "You've Got A Friend." As my voice faltered with emotion, the room filled with close to 100 voices sharing my song. I saw arms go around those close to them, singing and swaying to this beloved song of mine. I felt I was in the temple of friendship. As powerful emotion as I have ever felt.

These people in my daughter's life, who now as adults are truly my friends too, have been incredibly valuable in developing the strong connection I share with my daughter. When she was a teen, I loved being the driving parent. Nothing gave me more pleasure than carting around a bunch of girls, music blasting, and gossip flying. I loved when they came over. They would throw down their bags and their backpacks on the floor, covering every inch of our small hallway, smoosh into our tiny TV room, 4 on the couch, two on the love seat, 2 on the floor, and settle in for a good hang.  Nothing fancy in our house, not the latest technology, not a  big family room with a big TV or overstuffed furniture . Just a ton of Diet Coke on hand, maybe some chips or facsimile junk food, but mostly acceptance and love. Sometimes I was invited to join for a Sex In The City marathon, sometimes I was a room away. We were not the party house, cause there was no alcohol allowed, but we were a go-to house.

I learned than, that all teens really want is to be loved and accepted.  Since I wasn't their parent, I didn't care whether they had good grades, or were star athletes, or asked where their future was heading. I could just enjoy and get to know them, and in doing so, got to know my daughter as well. I wasn't their friend, I didn't want to be and more importantly, I didn't need to be. I am now, but we have grown into that relationship. Dr, Robert Brooks, a psychologist who specializes in developing self-esteem in children, calls us "charismatic adults." Getting to know your teen's friends, not in a nosy way, but in a genuine way, taking the time to really get to know what's on their minds shows them respect, and in turn earns respect from your own teen. It builds bridges, and connections that will last a lifetime. Just ask me. And by the way, 60 is the new 40!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Love is a many splendored thing-except for...

If you have a teen who has been in love, this story will both be familiar and terrifying. When a teen falls in love, and by in love I am not talking about the 2 day romances that most teenagers rotate through a million times during their middle and high school years. I am talking about that "first love" experience. The couple that is joined at the hip, waiting for each other before they walk into school kind of love, waiting for each other after classes to walk together to their next class kind of love, spending every waking minute, that is not otherwise scheduled, being together, wrapped around each other everywhere kind of love. You know it when you see it. This passion for each other knows no bounds, whether loving together or fighting together, it is over the top.

This particular couple is such a couple in love. The relationship is also chock full of drama....relentlessly so. The girl is 15, a sophomore in high school, and the boy 18 is now a freshman in college. They have been together for a year. They really really love each other, but as you can see by the age difference, they are currently living in two very different worlds, and will be for 3 more years. A set-up for disaster. Hence the current drama. Imagine yourself the parents of this young girl. Though they are concerned about the age difference, they really like the boy, and have been supportive of this relationship, while setting up limits around the whole college issue. The boy's school is about 45 minutes away.  Because these two are "worlds apart"they spend many hours fighting about who is doing what where and with whom, now that they are not living each other's life. The arguing is non-stop. The mom has spent hours consoling her crying daughter, and often wonders to her daughter, whether this relationship is worth all this trauma. I don't have to tell you the answer the girl gave to her! Anyway, one particular night, after a fight the girl had had over the phone with her boyfriend had gone on way to long, and seemed way out of control, the mom at her wits end, at the end of her rope, put her foot down, screamed at her daughter : "that's it! No More! This relationship is over!" Now this is a smart mom, and she knew that when they both calmed down she would recant that demand, but the girl fearing the worst, that her parents would forbid her to see her beloved hatched a plan. And here is where it gets scary. Parents go to bed, daughter goes to bed, done. Actually, parents go to bed, daughter, sneaks downstairs, takes mom's car keys that are hanging by the door, gets in the car, and drives to boyfriends college. Remember, this is a 15 year old, no learners permit, no driving experience, and it's 10 o"clock at night.

Mom wakes up with a headache, who wouldn't, goes into kitchen to take some aspirin and is mindlessly looking out the window, and noticed something doesn't quite fit. Her car is missing! Assuming her daughter is sleeping, door is closed to her room and locked (her door has one of those buttons you can push in to lock it) the parents call the police to report the car missing. An older son, up late studying, says he thinks maybe the daughter took the car. They check her room, and low and behold she is gone. The daughter won't pick up her mom's call but does pick up the brothers. Police are called, they cancel the stolen car report, and the mother and son head off to pick up this lovelorn girl.

There are a lot of "thank gods" here. Thank god, she didn't crash the car, thank god the police didn't stop her, .... I tell this story because teens in love lose all sense of rational thinking. Love at this age knows no boundaries. Because this may be the first time they have ever felt these kinds of feelings before, both sexual and emotional, they are on a perpetual high. Addicted to love. We have all been there, and it is amazing..at least to the kids, not so much for the parents. We see this relationship through an adult brain, and know that there is no way this kind of high can be sustained. What goes up, must come down. And crashing it does. A "see I told you so" though tempting should be avoided at all costs. See story above!!

The cold hard truth, is that you have little control over these relationships except to set the limits you need to for safety reasons. Curfews, sleepovers, too much time alone in the house, etc But other than that, your job will most be as a safety net when the crashes happen, and to mirror for them their feelings. When the crashes and burns happen, it is important not to be critical or set limits you can't control for, see story above. Your I Get It moment: "I get how important this relationship is to you, and I see how upset it makes you lately. What do you think needs to change for it to get better?" 

If they ask for you opinion, you can share it, just know that coming on to strong about the negatives in this relationship might come back to haunt you. Just like the forest fires in Texas this year, it takes a long time for these hot fires to burn out, and when something flammable gets in the way, it gets burned too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Daughter Myself

Over Thanksgiving I had a chance to spend some time with my beloved daughter. She was lovingly telling me how beautiful I looked. (I am turning 60 next week and I take in every compliment that is paid to me) Don't be jealous, she is 28 now, and a full on adult. Anyway, over the summer I had some "work" done, and that's all I will say about it, but it has definitely made me feel differently about the way I look, the way I carry myself, and the way I feel about myself. My daughter's comment was the beginning of a conversation about "getting" that. I was saying to her that I felt more confident and more attractive than at any other time of my life, even now at 60.  And here is what my daughter said to me:

"When I was a teen, and you and I would be together, people would always say, you look just like your mother. But then you would say: 'oh no, I'm fat, I'm not pretty, Ari looks like her dad.' But what I took away was,  if people say you look like your mother, and your mother says she is fat and ugly, therefore, if I look like my mom, I must be fat and ugly too."

This was a stunning revelation for both of us. I always felt that by saying that she didn't look like me, that that would make her feel better about herself, because I never felt that great about my "looks."  But that is not how she heard it. My daughter spent all of her teen years, and even now as a young adult who is absolutely stunning, thinking that she is still that chubby preteen, not pretty, who looks like and feels like how her mother feels. Talk about identification. If I had only known that my good intentions to make her feel better about herself had had the opposite affect.

Our daughters see themselves reflected in us. Good or bad, academically inclined or not, athletic or athletically challenged, social or shy, serious or fun, ambitious or not. As teens they want to be everything we are not, but when they move on to young adulthood, they see more clearly how connected they are to us.  What you say, and model about how you feel about yourself has tremendous impact on how your daughters than feel about themselves. So if you are always putting yourself down,  or have those moments of self-loathing probably better if you don't share those with your daughter. Learn from my experience. My daughter has modeled many of my positive qualities as well, and of course that makes me happy, and she is also very much her own person and nothing like me, but, she does carry with her a backpack full of self-doubt, and I am afraid that somewhere along the line, I put some of my own stuff in there.

We all want out daughters to head out into the world confident and assertive women, proud of who they are, and what they have to offer. Show them how it's done!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Scary Drinking Story

A 15 year old girl is hanging out with her boyfriend. They are sitting in his car, parked in a lot somewhere, listening to some tunes and and having a few cocktails. By cocktails, I mean a water bottle full of vodka. The preferred mode of carrying and consuming alcohol by the current teen generation. Did you know that these water bottles filled with vodka are for sale by teens who swipe alcohol from their parents, fill water bottles up and sell them to their friends. Not sure how much they go for, but that might be where the 10 bucks you gave your teen on a Saturday night might be going. Anyway, these two love birds were supposed to be chasing the vodka with some cranberry juice cocktail, but in the mindless way teens do a lot things, they got distracted, and the girl downed her water bottle of vodka like a kid who had found water in a desert. The boyfriend reported that his girlfriend started acting really weird in the car and terrified something really bad was happening, he smartly drove to an emergency room for help. Unfortunately, in his haste, he forgot to call her parents, and they got the call from the ER physician. This 15 year old's blood alcohol level was through the roof. Luckily after a stomach pumping she was OK.

This is one of those great kids from great family stories. When I spoke with the mom, I asked all the therapy kind of questions: Had she been upset about something? Had she and her boyfriend been fighting? Had she and her parents been fighting? No, no and no the mom replied. From all accounts, the two kids were just enjoying each other and mindlessly getting drunk. That to me is scarier than drinking with a purpose. At least then, you can address the purpose, and hope that the drinking was somehow related, and thus something concrete you can work on. Mindlessly drinking is trickier.

When alcohol is in that amount in a water bottle, you drink to finish it, just like you drink to finish a drink in a glass. Except when it's in a glass we're talking about 2 ounces of boos not 12 or 18 ounces. Parents you need to do some serious educating. Measure out the water in water bottle with your teen, and show them that drinking that much alcohol can kill you. Pure and simple. They need to see, not just hear what you are talking about. Teens do not count drinks like adults do. When I am out with friends, or at a party, I am very conscious of how much I am drinking. "Oh I have had 3 glasses of wine, that's enough, time to stop." Your teen does not go through that process, they are not aware of how much they have had nor are they aware of how they are feeling. The tend to go from 0- I'm not feeling anything to 10- wow I'm smashed!

Educating your teen about alcohol does not mean you say "you better not drink." It is about educating yourself first about how kids drink, before you even sit down with your teen. For example I just went online and googled teens and alcohol+water bottles. I found two new ways I didn't know about that kids get alcohol into their system. One very dangerous and disgusting new method is to soak a tampon, yes I said a tampon in vodka, than insert in vagina for girls and in the rectum for the boys. Whoa, major ick factor here. But apparently it sends the alcohol immediately through the bloodstream for an instant high, no vomiting, which is what makes it so dangerous. Vomiting is the bodies natural safety valve. With this method, an overdose would go directly to passing out and coma. Other method of ingesting is to douse gummy bear, yes gummy bears with a ton a vodka. Let it soak in, and swallow whole. See how important it is to stay up on what new creative things teens do. OK, so after your research, you  can use this "I Get It" moment. " Honey see this water bottle, if you fill this with booze and drink even half of this, it could send you into an alcohol coma. I am scared that you and your friends drink very mindlessly, buying  the alcohol and then going somewhere to drink it as fast as you can. This terrifies me. You might pass out, and your friends might think you are just sleeping, and then it might be too late to get you help. We have got to figure out a way for you to stay safe. I love you, and I need to know you understand that there is a huge difference between a few beers and a water bottle full of vodka."

Yelling and lecturing, grounding and taking away their cell phone will not change their behavior. Understanding the situations they might find themselves in, and helping them to develop strategies to stay safe will.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Zits comic strip is awesome:

MOM: (Jeremy texting away) Jeremy, I found an empty milk carton in the fridge, an empty cereal box in the pantry, and an empty Doritos bag under the sofa cushion! I don't think a person could get any lazier than you!
JEREMY: (engrossed in his texting) Thanks for believing in me, mom.

When my daughter was a teen it was Popsicle sticks. On the arm of the couch, under the couch, in between the cushions of the couch, on her desk... It was an invasion that lasted for 6 years. I am happy to report that as a young adult she knows to throw her trash away, and takes pride in maintaining a lovely living space. And in fact, when I am staying with her, I am put on notice to keep it neat!

This is a universal plight of parents of teenagers. Teens subscribe to the eat, drink and leave principle. I don't see it so much as laziness, as I do distraction. I think the progression goes something like this: I'm hungry/thirsty, think I'll have a ___________. Then the consuming of said snack commences, followed by the putting down of the glass, plate or wrapping on the floor, window sill, or couch cushion while they continue to engage in the more interesting aspects of their life. i.e napping, texting, or  facebook. So you see in the moment it's just a putting down till later, and then when later comes the glass/plate/wrapper is pretty much invisible to them as they get on with whatever it is they get on with.

You have some options here. And as I think back to the Popsicle stick conundrum, I realize I never had a waste basket in the TV room. Maybe if I had put a basket literally right next to the couch on the side she always sat on, she probably would have used it. My bad! So the first option is to see if there is a solution other than yelling at them to clean up after themselves. Think like a design consultant, and engage your teen in the process with you. Your I Get It moment: "I get when you are finished with your soda/snack/juice you just put it down while you get on with something else and then forget about it. But it is making me crazy, and we are getting ants/flies and other indescribable insects as a result. Other than me yelling at you, lets come up with a solution.

Option 2: You give the reminder; "Hey honey don't forget to throw away your ........" When they don't, which of course we know will be the case, you leave it there, and the first time that day your teen asks you for something, a ride, laundry, help with homework, etc, you say calmly and without sarcasm and anger, I'd love to honey, let me know when you have thrown away your wrapper, or brought your dirty glass/plate into the kitchen and I will be glad to help you." Yelling and labeling them as lazy will not engender cooperation, just attitude. Helping them to understand that relationships are reciprocal is more meaningful.

Option 3: Just do it yourself, you have bigger fish to fry. Chalk it up to normal teen behavior. Know that as they get older and are living on their own, and the parent maid service no longer exists, they will figure it out. It is just a moment in time, they have a lot on their mind, and wrappers/plates and glasses just do not take up any space in their overloaded brain. This can take up a lot of negative energy for you, it takes two seconds to just do it yourself. And rather than bemoaning the laziness of your teen, re-frame it into, they have a lot on their mind, and this is your way of acknowledging that.
 Wait till you see their dorm room!!!!!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Art Of Being A Good Spectator Parent

I admit it, I am a Bostonian and I am not into baseball, there I said it, don't hold it against me. But for those of you who are into baseball, today will be my Red Sox reference day. My favorite part of reading the Boston Globe with my morning coffee, after reading depressing news stories, is the Names page, which is really just a mini-gossip rag at the end of the Metro section. There is nothing like a little bit of good ole fashioned gossip to start off your day. For instance today I read about Demi and Ashton breaking up. I think I'll get over it. Also on today's Names page is a front and center picture of Terry Francona (for those of you like me, who have no idea who that is, he is the newly former Red Sox manager). The caption under this picture is "Why so glum chum?" Newspaper writers are so clever. But there is Terry, (can I call you Terry?) standing at the back of a group of happy, cheering parents, who are all at their daughters state semi-final volleyball game. Terry's daughter was among the players. His stance and his facial expression remind me of someone who works for the Secret Service; arms folded across his chest, and face completely devoid of any emotion. I hope his daughter didn't glance up to the stands to get Dad's approval, cause he clearly had left the building. And according to one source, (after all this is a newspaper story) he was texting on his phone for most of the game.

Before I continue, I would both like to apologize to Terry for using him and his celebrity for this blog, but also I want to thank him for providing me with a concrete example of how not to to be a spectator at your teen's sporting event. Parents, shut off and put away your phones, and put your game face on when your job, for just one hour, is to give your teen your undivided attention. I know sometimes these games can get boring, and checking for e-mail or returning texts seems like it is more important...but it isn't. Even though your teen might have expressed an "I don't care attitude" about you even attending their game, they care! And if they choose that exact minute to look around for you in the stands when you are checking your phone for that all-important text message or e-mail, you're screwed! Though they may not ask for you to come, or may even have told you not to come, they want you there. They want you there to cheer for them when they do good, or be supportive and sympathetic when they don't. They don't need you to be one of those, screaming in your face cheering kind of parent, in fact they would probably be happier if you weren't that parent. But they do want you to be attentive and present! Remember the, WATCH ME, WATCH ME, of their childhood, they are still wanting that from you. There's nothing that says I'm not really that interested in what you are doing, like being on your phone, or being so engrossed in a conversation with a friend while they are playing their ass off. Every now and then, your teen wants to be your number 1. It doesn't really happen that often, because most of the time they basically want to be invisible to you so they can get on with the business of being a teen.

So just like with my college students, If I am at that game, and I see you texting or e-mailing on your phone, I am going to take it away from you until the end of class.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How To Become A Parent Whisperer

I watched a documentary recently that inspired me. It's called "Buck." This man is a horse trainer/philosopher/life coach on whose work the movie "The Horse Whisperer" is based. I learned more from this man in one hour and twenty three minutes than from my graduate school training. So much for school. There are some people who have an amazing ability to read themselves, the people they work with, and yes horses! Buck is such a person. You watch him take a frisky, headstrong, "you aren't the boss of me" kind of horse (substitute teen for horse) and work with him to become a horse who becomes open to a relationship where there is a mutual respect for authority. There is much talk about "breaking a horse" which Buck rejects. In that relationship there is an absence of understanding and respect, and instead there is fear and control.

In the film, Buck often compares the process of training a horse to parenting a child. Both require an ability to stay calm in the face of  out of control emotion,  (at least your teen can't literally bite your head off) and an ability to understand the underlying issues that are driving behavior. Is the horse/teen bucking out of fear of what's to come, or because they like their freedom and don't want to be controlled. This is important to know. Though the end goal (getting the saddle on/getting your teen to follow-through on whatever) is the same, the process by which you get there will be different. There is nothing more important in a relationship than being understood, whether animal or human. Here are some lessons from Buck I learned about understanding from this film.
  • Don't be overly critical with the horse, they will just shut down.  Teens are the same way way. Maybe your teen comes home with a bad test result. How you respond to that information can make a huge difference in a future outcome. If you say: "Well, if you had studied harder, and not wasted so much time, you would have done better," feeling criticized they will deny, get angry and shut down. If you ask them how they might study differently the next time, you might open a discussion about study habits.
  • Respect isn't fear, respect is acceptance. You can punish, yell and metaphorically try to whip your horse/teen into shape, but that will not change behavior.
  •  Build on pride, make him feel good about himself. Watching Buck work with these enormous headstrong animals is amazing. Rather than expending his own energy being negative, he would look for even the small positive gains the horse was making and pet and talk sweetly and reinforce movement in the right direction. If only a horse could smile! 
  • I'm not mad at the horse when they don't do what I want. I have to control my emotions. Yelling does not help a situation. Save the emotion for the serious stuff. Keeping your own emotions in check during a heated situation is what commands respect.
  • Blessed are the flexible as they will not get bent out of shape. There are always more than one way to reach a goal. It's not a choice to do it, just how to do it. My way or the highway encourages rebellion.
  • There is a difference between a firm hand and a hard hand. This was one of the most amazing parts of this film to watch. When he wanted to get the horse to move in a particular way he didn't yank, he used a gentle, consistent pressure until the horse "got it". "Do it cause I said so" is a hard hand,  "I need or would like you to'" is a firm hand.
  • Whenever you're ready. I'll just wait. This guy had the patience of a saint. He had clear goals, he knew what he wanted from the horse, but never got into a power struggle. When the horse understood that he could come to it on his own time, he did. Power struggles delay, patience will pay.
There is no one that knows your kid better than you. Reading cues from their body language, their tone of voice, their energy levels, how they sleep, how they eat, these things are all clues as to what is going on with your teen. Become an expert on "reading" your teen. If you get a sense that something is going with them, "get" that this is probably not the time to get into an argument about cleaning their room or doing their homework. Most likely this will end up with someone slamming a door in someone's face.

This ability to "read" a horse is what makes Buck so successful at what he does. Be your own parent whisperer!. And watch this movie, it is life changing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ask less Get More

"You are so annoying!" "Stop asking me so many questions!" " Stop texting me every 5 minutes!" Any of these sound familiar?  I'm guessing that at least once a day, after another "interview" with your teen that has gone awry, you feel the door being metaphorically shut in your face. The college students who I surveyed last week, and countless teens I have counseled and talked to cite the "nosiness" of their parents as being their most irritating quality. The irony is that as your kids move into adolescence, and their lives become more complicated and complex, the more you need to know so you can keep them on track and safe, the less they want to talk to you. And it seems that the less they want to talk to you the more questions you ask? it is a vicious cycle in which no one wins. You don't get any information, and your teen gets bombarded with a million questions.

Sometimes you ask questions when you are worried. Maybe your teen walks in after school with their head and shoulders drooping, and you just know something is up. You ask how their day was and you get the grunt "it was fine". Your antenna goes up, hm mm doesn't sound fine. So you go a little further: "Did something happen?" " Did you get your project back?" Did you have a fight with one of your friends?" And you keep on going, hoping one of your questions will be the right one, and your teen will spill. Unfortunately it goes the other way, and your teen stays silent, or screams, "leave me alone," and bolts to the safety of his/her room. You are left with your anger at their attitude and silence, while simultaneously racked with fear that something is up and you don't know what it is and therefore can't fix it. In this scenario it may be that a million things are wrong, nothing major, but all together feel like crap. So when you ask the questions, they really don't have the answers because it may be an accumulation of things that started at 6:30 that morning with a bad hair day, followed by a an embarrassing gaffe answering a question in English, followed by..... Get the picture. In this situation, you are much better off asking no questions when you first get the 3 word answer. Leave them alone to recoup and sometime later make a statement or observation like: " You seem like you had a tough day today. Anything I can do to help?" Maybe there is nothing you can do to help, and you will just have to leave it alone, as hard as that is. Sometimes your teen just wants to figure it out for themselves, or just get over it on their own. That's how resilience is built.

Now for the information gathering questions. "What do you have for homework?" "Where are you going?" "Who are you going with?" "When were you planning on doing your homework, your chores, your SAT review?" Or you text them all these questions when they are out with their friends, and of course get no response which infuriates you. Or maybe your questions tend toward the: " So what's going on with your boyfriend/girlfriend?" "What's going on with your friends?" You see these questions as just being interested in their life, they see these questions as you being nosy. The trick with these kinds of questions is timing. You have to be attuned to your teen's mood. If they are giving you very obvious, don't talk to me, body language, this is not the time. You will only be disappointed and feel rejected, which eventually turns into anger. Don't barrage them with questions as soon as they walk in the door. Give them their space and in a more casual way after some time has passed, you might say "so what's up for tonight?'  For questions about weekend time spent out of the house, you might make a statement:" Before you leave I will need to know the usual information, or a casual, so what's up for tonight?". Most teens will want to share information with you, but will withhold when they feel your desperation. It is just another power struggle for them to win. The bottom line is you can't make them talk, you want them to want to talk with you, and that takes finesse, humor, and patience.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Lesson From Penn State: Sometimes Loyalty Can Be Harmful To Your Health

Recently a big sexual abuse scandal broke on the campus of Penn State. It wasn't bad enough that a long-time assistant football coach was caught in the act of raping a young boy of 9 in the football locker room showers, but adding insult to injury, a cloak of silence was wrapped around this coach to protect him and the Penn State football program from investigation. It seems it was more important to protect each other from scandal, than to protect this young boy, and any future victims from this pedophile. Of course the issues raised from this scandal are increasing exponentially, but the question of loyalty vs accountability, responsibility and safety are at it's core.

As in most public scandals there are many lessons to be learned, both by the people involved and the community at large. A lesson that stands out for me and that I think is an important issue to discuss with your teen is this: When does the job of being loyal to the people close to you no longer apply? Teens often find themselves in situations when this very dilemma is questioned. There is nothing, and I mean nothing that stands in the way of a teen and their friends. If you so much as criticize even the most obvious fault in one of their buddies, the gauntlet is thrown down. The cardinal rule of "don't talk bad about my boy/girl has been broken, and you will pay dearly for breaking it.

This lack of objectivity about their friends can often put them in situations that are scary, and unsafe. They become caught in the bind of doing what they know is right, vs protecting their relationship at all costs. Just like at Penn State. Perhaps your teen has a close friend that is depressed, perhaps even suicidal, is engaging in self-destructive behavior, has a serious eating disorder or is abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Maybe they have been with a friend who has been drinking or doing drugs, and though they won't get in the car with them, they won't grab the keys away from this compromised driver, leaving the fate of a possible drunk driving accident in the hands of their drunk friend. Loyalty, secrecy, and trust, these are powerful promises. The risk of losing this friend should they break this oath of loyalty is usually stronger than the reality of possibly literally losing their friend.

I asked my college students last week, after this story broke, what they would have done if they had walked in on their favorite and respected coach/teacher/pastor/uncle/neighbor abusing a child in some way, as happened in this Penn State case. Immediately and without pause they all yelled we would pull him off the kid and call the police. Then I painted a different picture.  This is a person who has mentored you, who has always had your back, and with whom you have shared difficult feelings.  Would you still do the same thing?  Though they still felt they would have called the police, and intervened, their responses were not so adamant.

This Penn State case can be a used as a valuable tool to help your teen talk about their own issues of loyalty vs safety. Here is your " I Get it" moment. " Hey honey have you heard about this story at Penn State. Pretty scary stuff isn't it. I get that this student who walked in on the coach had a strong sense of loyalty to this guy, and though I am sure he knew that this guy was doing wrong, he didn't really want to get him in trouble. This is really hard stuff for a young person. I'm guessing there must be times that you are in a position of questioning whether you should do something you know is right but worry that it might get your friend in trouble. Maybe you have a friend who you worry is depressed, or you know drinks or does too many drugs, or is in a scary relationship and they talk to you about it but make you promise not to tell anybody. That is a lot of responsibility to carry around. I am always here to help you with this stuff and I promise I won't call their parents or the school, but I am here to help you deal with it all. I would never want you to think that loyalty trumps safety. Making sure that your friend is safe, is way more important than whatever secret they have given you to hold."

This is such an important issue to address with your teen. There is too much at stake not to.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

If They Knew Then What They Know Now

If they knew then, what they know now, I think my college students would have been so much more open to all that their parents tried to do for them when they were younger. If this sounds like gibberish to you, read the previous two blogs where 60 college freshman shared what they wished their parents had done differently, and then what they were glad their parents had done to bring them to this point in their lives.

"I wished my parents had made me work harder in school." " I'm glad my parents made me do my homework." This comment showed up multiple times in both questions so we can assume that this is an important issue for these kids. Now as college students there are no mommies and daddies standing over them, making sure they study for a quiz, or complete a homework assignment, and for some this is now a daunting task. Make no mistake about it, your teens will not take kindly to your hammering away at them to "get it done!" But it is clear, at least from these 60 college students, that they needed/wanted or were glad that their parents instilled/taught them how to just "get it done." Developing discipline takes time and yes.....discipline. Just ask me! Learning how to make myself sit down every day to write has been a process, but now it is so integrated into my being, that I feel weird when I don't write. And that is the goal of teaching your teen to develop the "discipline" of studying.

This has got to be a team effort. Imposing your idea of the how and when to study will never work.The old "you are not the boss of me" mantra will interfere with your grand plan every time. Routine, ritual, and consistency is the only way to develop discipline. Same time, same place, few distractions, these are the kinds of strategies that will help your teen be successful in developing good study habits. The students in my class who thank their parents are the ones that do just that.

If you have a teen who seems to have a million excuses and avoidance techniques maybe this strategies will get things moving. I know that in the next few weeks, first term grades will be arriving. Always a good time to take stock. If you have a teen whose grades are less than stellar, try this approach before you go to a punishment place. You might start with the following conversation. "I'm wondering what you think about your grades? What do you think might have gotten in the way of being more successful? Here is what I would like to try. For the next week or two, I will leave you alone to do your homework as you see fit. That will be your job. My job will be to observe how you seem to spend your time, so then we can sit down together with some real data to see what and how you can do things differently."

And parents you then become the invisible observer. Keep track in a log, without being intrusive or chatty about it, how you see your teen spending their time when they get home from school. In order for this to work, your teens bedroom door must stay open so you can peek in from time to time. You are only to note, not comment on what they are doing, and keep track of it in a log of some sort. After a week, you can then show your teen the findings. Without lecturing about how much time they are wasting, you might be able to point out facts and figures rather than judgements and criticism, which never go over well anyway.  At this juncture you work as a team to come up with a plan using the data as a framework. If the phone and computer are turning 1 hour of homework into 3 hours, use that information to set up a plan for limiting phone and computer time to specific times. Agree on the times, and then as a parent take responsibility for turning off phones or wireless for that period. This is probably the moment your teen will hate you.Deal with it, don't run from it. But read them what these college students thanked their parents for, and maybe they will too....in a few years.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Part 2: I'm Glad My Parents..... College Freshmen Perspective

Perhaps you are feeling a bit discouraged after reading my students write about all the things they wish their parents had done differently to prepare them for the rest of their life. Here is the good news, there are many things their parents did right and that they are grateful for. Here they are!

I'm glad my parents:

  • Didn't punish me every time I made a mistake or got a bad grade.
  • Were honest, and didn't pretend that they were perfect teenagers.
  • Taught me to work for what I wanted instead of just expecting to get it.
  • Were always there for me.
  • Taught me about taking personal responsibility while still providing a support system.
  • Made me get a job.
  • Didn't embarrass me in public or with my friends.
  • Told me how proud they were of me.
  • Gave me space when necessary.
  • Have always been supportive and accepted my choices even if they disagreed.
  • Limited TV and computer use.
  • Made a home-cooked meal every night.
  • Made me work for my money.
  • Were on my ass about my grades.
  • Amazing listeners and gave extremely good advice.
  • Told me what I did wrong without hurting my self-esteem.
  • Made me do my homework.
  • Taught me self-respect.
  • Took time out to listen to my ideas and interests.
  • Pushed me to try new things.
  • Loved me and showed me they cared.
  • Taught me that nothing is handed to you in life.  
  • Told me to follow my dreams and be who I want to be.
  • Didn't necessarily punish me for the things I did wrong, but explained it was wrong and they were "disappointed."
  • Taught me to save money.
  • Were open about drinking, and weren't unrealistic about partying, and we could talk about it. 
  • Had a sense of humor.
  • Always ate dinner with me.
  • Spent time with me.
  • Let me learn on my own and made me independent.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

60 College Freshman reflect on their parents parenting

This semester I am teaching two Intro to Psychology classes. As we hit the Adolescent Development section last week, I asked my 60 mostly college freshman to complete these two statements: As a teenager, I'm glad my parents ......! and I wish my parents had......!  Their honesty and insight touched me and I thought I would share their statements with you. There is nothing more enlightening than hindsight and objectivity. Now more or less on their own in college, these students now responsible for themselves and their studies look back at their relationship with their parents and analyze what helped them in navigating this next stage, or what has hindered their success as independence beckons. I want to thank my college students for giving me an endless supply of ideas for future blogs. And now in their own words.

Part 1: I wish my parents:
  • Given me more trust when it came to my own decisions.
  • Given me more support when it came to my schoolwork before hand, instead of waiting until my teachers called or I got a bad report card.
  • Let me choose ANY of my choice colleges instead of the ones that were the most convenient for them.
  • Had tried harder to get me to study.
  • Hadn't texted me so much and asked so many questions.
  • Forced me to get a job earlier.
  • Checked that I actually had done my homework, not just believing I did.
  • Tried to provide solutions to my inadequacies rather than just criticized me for them.
  • Been more accepting of my lifestyle choices rather than tell me how to live, act, dress, etc.
  • Believed I was a good kid, because I am.
  • Been welcoming to anything I had to say instead of disagreeing and lecturing me.
  • Helped me more in high school.
  • Been less strict with me.
  • Had not asked SO MANY questions about everything.
  • Been more easy to talk too. 
  • Not been so overprotective.
  • Paid more attention to my achievements not just my mistakes.
  • Pushed me more in school.
  • Stopped my terrible procrastination.
  • Didn't always focus on that one bad grade.
  • Given me more independence so I was better at making decisions.
  • Understood that just because I was quiet sometimes didn't mean I wasn't happy.
  • Pushed me harder in sports and academics.
  • Let me come to them instead of them nagging me. 
  • Wished I could have disagreed with them without it turning into a fight.
  • Didn't shelter me so much and made me do more on my own.
  • Told me they were happy with me more often.
  • Helped me to be more emotionally independent.
  • Better prepared me for change.
  • Been less controlling.
  • Not been so confrontational and judgemental.
  • Not been so involved in my personal issues that I wanted to handle myself. 
  • Talked to me more often about sex.
  • Didn't write all my papers in high school. 
  • Not let me rely on them so much.
  • Shared with me about their own life, and didn't think I was a baby still.
Whew!!! Food for thought. Tomorrow-Part 2: The good stuff

Friday, November 4, 2011

From A High School Senior- In Her Own Words

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Parenting Quiz

A Parenting Quiz

  1. When your teen walks in the door after school, do you ask these three questions? How much homework do you have? How did you do on your quiz? Did you talk to your teacher about...?
  2. Do you spend your weeknights walking in and out of your teen's room asking? When are you going to put this laundry away? Have you finished your homework? Did you take the trash out?
  3. Do you spend your post school hours telling your teen multiple times to: Get off facebook and do your homework! Stop texting and do your homework! Get off that video game and do your homework!
  4. At least one time per week, do you find something that your teen has done that you can compliment?
How did you do? If you had 4 yes's congratulations!!! If you answered with 3 no's and a yes congratulations!!!! if you answered no to the last question, lets talk!

Obviously when parents come to me for coaching they are usually struggling with the first three questions. How can I get my teen to do what I want them to do? Why doesn't my teen listen to me? Why doesn't my teen tell me anything?  I have found that there is a direct correlation to the non-listening, non-action taking of teens to the amount of positive feedback they are given by their parents, there isn't much given.  Most parents are so worried that if they don't stay on top of everything their teen needs to do to be successful, then they will be at a disadvantage when  it come to the important thing, like getting into college for instance. This approach to parenting can be extremely time consuming, exhausting and mostly unrewarding. Putting yourself in the role of CEO of your child's life, automatically puts you in that secluded corner office worrying about the success of your "company" and out of touch with your "employees".

I was watching a news story recently about the online company Zappos. The CEO of that company
did not have a corner office, in fact, he didn't have an office at all. He "lived" in the same cubicle as the rest of his staff, right in the middle of the action. The work-life atmosphere at Zappo's is designed to promote hard-work while providing their employees with food, fun and lots and lots of kudo's for jobs well done. They have found that it is the food, fun and kudos that make their employees want to work their asses off for the company. Nobody minds the long hours and the cubicles because they feel understood and appreciated.

I think this is a model that can translate well to parenting. You probably aren't having much fun anymore with your teen, as they stay as far away from you as possible, worried that every time they see you it means you are on them about something. Kind of like that worry you feel when you see the "boss coming." Uh oh, now what did I do wrong, you might think. Gotta turn this around. Try making your nightly rounds without questions or comments. Maybe bring up an unexpected treat or snack you know is a favorite of your teen's and saying: "Thought you might like this treat..love u" and walk out the door.

I talked with a parent recently who is all over her teen, worried that he just wasn't "working" hard enough. His attitude towards her was becoming toxic as a result. The good news was this kid was a really good kid. But she had forgotten that in her worry that he wasn't on top of everything academically that he should have been, ie missing homework assignments that were resulting in lowering of his grades, avoidance of college essay and application writing, that she was not paying attention to the good stuff he was doing. He was not drinking or taking drugs, though most of his friends were. He was managing a part-time job. He was saving money, not squandering it away like most of his friends. Lots of good stuff.

I sent her home to put a little "fun, food and kudos" back into their life together. At a dinner out at his favorite fast food restaurant, rather than asking a million questions and lecturing him about his "future", the mom told him how proud she was of the decisions he made in his life that must be hard, like not drinking when he was with his friends, like how seriously he took his sport, like how conscientious he was about his job even though it meant getting up wicked early on a Saturday morning. She told him she was going to back off with all his college stuff as she had confidence in his ability to follow though if this was something HE really wanted for himself. I think this boy thought he had died and gone to heaven. As soon as she understood and appreciated what good stuff he was doing, he then accepted responsibility for what he wasn't doing, and they had one of the most honest, and fulfilling conversations they had ever had.

This Zappo's CEO is on to something. If you want to get the most out of your relationship with your teen you have to keep it balanced. Stay on and interested in those things you know are important but never ever forget the fun,  the food and  the kudos!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When is a bad day just a bad day?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why can't he/she just do better??

A parent called me the other day with worry about her son who is a junior in high school. She is worried about his lack of self-direction, and cannot imagine how he will ever be able to even think about the college application process and all it entails when he becomes a senior, when he can't even get himself out of bed in the morning, or work independently to get any of his homework completed, especially any kind of research or writing assignments.

I asked what role she and her husband play with regard to their son. What kind of strategies did they employ to keep him motivated and on task? And then the plot thickened. It seems the dad is heavily invested in his son's future. Dad has a strong relationship with his college Alma Mater and would be heartbroken if his son did not continue to carry the torch for his beloved college. His older daughter is currently a student there. In pursuit of this goal, the father has become CEO of his son's life.

Here are a few examples: His son is on the varsity football team of his high school. He is a good player, not a phenomenal player. Dad attends all his games armed with a video camera, as many parents do, so that 20 years hence they can show their grandkids how cute their dad was in a football uniform. Not this dad. He videos each game so that he and his son can engage in a play-by-play of all his plays to see what this kid did right or wrong. Imagine how this teen feels when he has had a bad game or fumbled the ball one too may times. Not only does he have to answer to his teammates, and his coach, but then he has to go home and face "the man".

Another example: This teen has ADHD and is on medication to help with concentration and attention. When this teen has a paper to do, or an assignment with some heft to it, the father is all over him. Requesting draft after draft, editing, and reediting his son's assignment, both often up till the wee hours of the morning when the paper is due. Needless to say this teen becomes overwrought and overwhelmed by his dad's expectations of him. But the mom reports that this teen is so afraid of his dad's disappointment in him, that he has yet to speak up for himself and tell his father to f**k off!!! Which would be my therapeutic intervention.  No wonder this kid has a hard time getting up in the morning. Facing another day of trying to measure up must be exhausting for him. No wonder it takes him so long to complete an assignment, it never feels good enough.

This is an important story. Many parents have a "grand plan" for their kids. How wonderful it would be if everything went according to plan. But your kids bring their own strengths and weaknesses, passions and personalities to the table. And they don't always match with what you see for their future. This dad's Alma Mater could not be a worse match for his son. Maybe the kid is good enough in football to get him in, but academically this kid would be lost at sea, feeling inadequate and never quite good enough. A professional football career is clearly not in the cards, so a failing academic experience could injure him much more profoundly psychologically in the long term than a full out tackle.

This mom is right, this teen is so over-managed that he is developing few skills in becoming an independently motivated and self-directed person. He doesn't need to because his dad is doing it for him.

Please parents, do not set your teen up for failure. Be realistic about who your child is. Help them to set realistic goals for themselves, and allow them to become the person they are meant to be. Adolescence is all about identity development. Who am I? How am I the same as or different from my parents, my friends,  or my favorite character on Gossip Girl? The term Identity Foreclosure is a term we in the healing arts use to describe situations like this boy and his dad described above. This dad has foreclosed on his son's ability to develop his own sense of who he is and who he wants to become. He is so busy becoming what  dad wants, that he may be losing his "real" self in the process. Refinance! Open up the possibility of true ownership!!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Did You Know......?

 A study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that "college students who displayed photos of themselves holding a beer or cocktail or who posted status updates of their drinking habits were four times more likely to be problem drinkers compared with those who didn't have any alcohol references in their Facebook profiles."  This might be an interesting way to start a discussion with your teen about drinking behavior. Many teens love to plaster their Facebook pages with their party adventures. As in "man I was so trashed this weekend that I......." You might say to your teen: "In the paper this morning there were results from a study (see above) What do you think about that? When you're on Facebook, are the kids who post the most about partying the kids who drink the most?" The reason this study is important is that it highlights what I know many teens feel, that you can't have any fun unless you are "high" in some fashion. That being "intoxicated" is the actual entertainment of the weekend rather than an accessory. In other words, the acquiring of and then the imbibing of the booze or pot is the actual activity of the night.

A few years back I was on a committee that was focused on dealing with the issue of teen drug and alcohol use. There was a major event coming up in the community that in the past had been a mecca for drunk teens. There had been one too many teens sent in ambulances to emergency rooms for stomach pumping due to excessive drinking and we were trying to come up with some strategies to keep the kids safe during this upcoming annual event. The members of this group were varied, including parents, teachers, therapists, police and the most important experts of all, teens. What the teens told us was alarming and depressing. They said that if the teens felt that there were too many roadblocks in place, so they couldn't come in high (breathalyzers), or couldn't sneak in boos (bags, coats etc not allowed in the dance space) then kids wouldn't come to the event. It wasn't the dancing or dressing up that was a fun, it was the being trashed. This made me sad.

It's not only important to address the safety issues of drugs and alcohol, but also the underlying motivators as well. Getting teens to think why they drink or smoke pot is equally as important as staying safe while they're doing it. Most kids don't think about this at all. They get caught up in the moment of partying, but don't really think about why they like being buzzed. Having a judgement free conversation about this can plant some important seeds of self-reflection. It might go like this: " I get when you are at parties, and out with friends, that kids are usually drinking and smoking pot. Have you ever thought about why it feels so fun to be high, and why teens are so driven to do it? Is it the being out of control that feels fun, or maybe it makes you feel less shy when you hang with the guys/girls? Does it kind of give kids permission to do and be outrageous and then can blame it on being trashed? I wonder if kids are just bored and drinking makes just hanging around less boring? What do you think"

Teens are impulsive and fun-loving. No surprise there. But as they move out into the world, away from your safety net, you want them to be able to set up their own safety net. Helping them to develop a mindfulness about how they live in the world will do that. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Scary Story

If any of you have been to one of my seminars you will have heard me get down on my (metaphorical) knees( I would actually go down on them if I didn't have bad knees) begging parents not to buy their kids SMARTPHONES. It fits into the too much too soon category. This should be a rite of passage gift at high school graduation for a job well done. There is absolutely nothing on that phone that a teen needs. They do not NEED to have unlimited access to the Internet 24 hours a day. They do not NEED to download their favorite TV show or movies to watch when they want to avoid homework, chores, cleaning their room, or boredom. They do not NEED to have access to their facebook accounts while they are in school, giving them opportunity to be even more distracted by wondering what next to post on their wall that will provoke and titillate their 1000 friends.

To this last point I want to share a story. Though it makes me terribly unhappy, it seems many high school students sport the latest IPHONE or comparable smartphone. It has become derigueur apparently for the well-connected teen. A high school student was sitting in a class in which the teacher was apparently new and a bit green, and often lost control of her class. Because of this, the inmates were running the prison, if you know what I mean. It was a little like the movie One flew over the Cookoo's nest.  I know that feeling having worked in a High School for 14 years. Running many groups with teens I often found myself being that teacher on Ferris Beuller, yelling "class!, class!" to no avail. There is no worse feeling. One of the students in this class, decided to secretly tape using an IPHONE, this teacher's inability to get her students to pay attention. The video was "shared" with other students. From there it appeared on facebook where it became available basically to the entire high school. You can imagine the humiliation this teacher must have felt. Committing to the teaching profession is not an easy decision these days with lowish pay and little job security. Young people who go into teaching do it for the love of the profession and the desire to do good. How upsetting for this teacher to be so betrayed and disrespected by her students.

Having said that, I think I understand the motivation of this student. First of all, availability and temptation. Clearly there had been discussion amongst the students about this teacher. In the old days they would have just talked behind her back, maybe told their parents, and maybe the parents would have voiced their concern with the principal who then might have voiced those concerns to the teacher,  and maybe provided the teacher with more supervision, and mentoring. Problem addressed, check! Now that kids have phones in the classroom, that have video cameras on them, it is way more fun to actually have a permanent record of this teachers performance.  It becomes more about the video piece than about the teacher. It is fun, it feels powerful, other kids will think its funny and outrageous that this teacher didn't "catch" this student filming her. It is an exaggerated version of the "class clown.  Needless to say, if the IPHONE was not in this student's possession this whole incident would never have happened. This is not a story about a bad group of kids, it is a story about teenagers, who in general lack impulse control, get caught up in the possibility of "awesomeness" and who are given too much technology without the training and understanding of the "awesome" responsibility that goes with us. That is on us, the adults.
So when the video got posted on facebook and was seen by the school community, it was brought to the attention of the principal. It turns out that in many states, it is against the law to video or tape someone without their permission. I know you have heard this a zillion times: "this call may be recorded for training purposes." This law is why they let you know that. Because of the facebook posting, the authorities were able to deduce the origin of the video. We're talking police here now. This fun prank has now become a criminal offense!!!! Who knew???? The student who took the video and the student who posted the video were both read their rights and arrested!!! This is serious stuff, that of course the kids are completely unaware of. To them, it was just a fun prank.

 Kids do stupid things without thinking. As adults we shouldn't set them up to screw up by giving them things that they are not yet ready to handle, ie technology, empty houses ready for a party, alcohol available at home, no limits around computer and cellphone use, etc etc. We have to get that our teen's decision making capacity is not at its best...yet. It is not about trust, but about temptation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stepfamilies, Stepchildren, Step Wisely

I met a woman recently with a big beautiful pregnant belly. We started talking about the birth of her baby, and in the course of conversation she shared that though this was her first baby, she was the stepmother to a 15 year old girl. She described her relationship with this girl as "in the deep freeze". This woman seemed so nice, and sweet and warm, definitely not the "wicked stepmother" type, and yet, there the two of them were, sharing a father and a husband, feeling little connection. I have worked with many families in transition over the years, divorcing, remarrying, blending families, and building new families with new babies. Add Adolescence to this mix, and all hell breaks loose.

 Changing families mid-adolescence is not easy. As teens step away from the parental unit to forge their own path, they like to know that though they don't want much to do with their parents, they do like to feel that that is the stable part of their life, as everything around their own life is in constant upheaval. Changing bodies, changing friends, changing passions, interests, and activities, and the looming future always hanging over their heads is quite enough, thank you very much.  Please just keep my family the same, they think. But unfortunately, families change too.

If you are more of an every other weekend, one night a week parent, it is easy to lose touch and connection with your teen. You become an extra obligation that takes away time from the most important part of their lives...their friends.  Feelings can get hurt, defenses go up, and distance is created. If you have also found a new partner with children, and may perhaps be having children together, the going gets tougher. Perhaps those kids really appreciate you, and the excitement over a new baby becomes intoxicating, a chance to "do-over'. Your teen may feel your excitement for your new life, feeling threatened might start fights and argue about anything as they go into self-protection mode.

Add to the mix that they have to get to know a new person, maybe new "step siblings", maybe share their home, their bedroom, their parents with kids and stepparents not of their choosing. The Brady Bunch it isn't. Your job is to make your teen your priority. Though you might want everyone to be one big happy family, you first have to make your kids feel safe and secure. This can only be done, one on one. There is no shortcut here. I once had a dad call me wondering why his teen daughter was being such a pain. It seemed whenever his daughter came over to stay with his "new family," he wanted the family to all hang together.  What she really wanted was her dad all to herself. Just because you may have some new kids in your life, doesn't mean your kids have to buy the farm.  So here are some tips I hope will help get you through these sometimes awkward and difficult times.

1. Call or text your kids every single day. Do not ever miss one day. This is the way your teens feel your commitment to them and your presence. Even if its only to say I LOVE YOU. Even if they don't text you or call you back, you are making a very important statement. There is no one more important in my life than you!

2. Use this I Get It moment with great regularity. " I get this whole divorce, remarrying thing is unbelievably hard. Is there anything I could be doing differently to make it easier for you. I really want to know. I know I am probably making mistakes along the way, but I love you, and it matters to me what would make a difficult situation better."

3. Be respectful and understanding about the adjustment your teen may have to make to share a room with a stranger, or be in a strange new house. Invite them to create a space for themselves that feels like home. You do not want them to feel like a visitor in your home.

4. When you do have time with them, give them your undivided attention. Perhaps they might want to have a friend come along if there has been awkwardness between the two of you. It might help break the ice.

5. Never ever ever bad mouth your ex no matter how much you want to. Even if that person is evil incarnate. If your teen bad mouths another parent, do not agree or disagree, just listen. Believe me on this one. No good can ever come of alienating a child from a parent. Your teen will have to make that decision for him or herself as they move into adulthood. Don't do if for them now!

6. Know that as long as you stay consistent with your love and attention, in the end it will all be fine. Getting through the teen years might feel long, but the rest of their life is even longer.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If You Have A Daughter.....

 If you have a daughter, there is a show I want you to watch on Oprah's channel OWN. It is premiering on October 20th at 9 PM but I am sure it will repeat. I think this is a must watch for our young women. It is a Sundance, award winning documentary  called Miss-representation. It is about the sexualizing of woman in our society, and how it affects our girls. If you have been looking for a opening to talk with your daughters about how boys see girls and men see women here is your chance. There are many teens that are interviewed, who share quite honestly the pressure they feel to act and look sexy. I am sure there will be many segues to talk about sexting, putting out sexy photos on facebook and on other social networking sites, and how it feels to be a girl in today's world. These kinds of shows don't come around often, so take advantage of this opportunity.

For some of you just convincing your daughter to sit and watch with you might be a challenge. Bribe them, pay them, do what you have to do to entice them to watch this show with you. " You might say: " I heard about this documentary on tonight that is about teen girls and expectations about sex, and their bodies, and how boys see them. I think it is a really important show and I would love to watch it with you. I think I don't get sometimes, how hard it can be to be a girl in today's world, with all the pressures that are out there for you. I know it will help me, and I think you might like it too." Be prepared for resistance, and have a game plan to deal with that. Do not go negative. If she doesn't want to watch it, fine, just put it on yourself and watch. At the least you will find out some things that will help you.

As you watch with your daughter, try to refrain from asking questions. Share your thoughts, and either they will share too, or they won't. Don't go into lecture mode, whatever you do. Better to say nothing than something preachy. Most importantly it will give them a framework for understanding what the culture seems to set women up for these days. Here is the website with a preview trailer. This might help set the stage. Girl Power!!!!