Monday, January 31, 2011

Who am I? The real work of a teenager Part 1

Some jobs pay money, some jobs pay dividends, and some change your life. The work of a teen is to change their life. This is unsettling, exciting, and terrifying, and that's just what you as a parent are feeling. Gone is the predictability of life. Monday is Soccer, Tuesday is piano, Wednesday is dance/chess, Thursday is some sort of religious training. Its all on the calendar, the proper equipment is in place, and you know where and what your kids will be doing. And then, its over. The whining, the complaining, I hate piano, I don't believe in God, I hate sports. Your well-laid plan for a piano playing, soccer, dancer, rich in core beliefs is slipping away. Your teen wants to quit it all.

Here is why. Your teen has seen the light. He/she has stepped up the buffet of life, no longer satisfied with what you have picked for him/her to "eat". Perhaps you put your then 6 year old in kinderkick, and he/she showed an early aptitude for soccer. The coach said so!! So year after year soccer was played, travel teams, school teams, soccer camp in the summer, and it took on a life of its own. Now at 15, your teen is really good, and perhaps you see a college scholarship in your/their future, but they start to complain about practice, the coach, etc, and want to quit.  Just because your teen has an inborn talent for soccer, doesn't mean they actually like it.

As the brain develops in the teen years, one of the new abilities is to analyze and think more deeply about things. As a 10 year-old, your child basically went along with "the schedule" not really questioning much about it except, where are taking me now? As a teen, they are starting to question it all. Do I like soccer, do I believe in God, do I like piano?  This is a good thing...yes it is!!!! But it also means that everything is up for grabs. Perhaps you are really attached to their life as a soccer player, perhaps you were even the coach, or helped out with the team, or you love music, and you loved that your teen played the piano or violin. This all feels like a loss, and you might resist any change fearing that your teen is just turning into a quitter.

The bottom line is now your teen has to want to do these things because they want to, not because you want them to. This is the work of developing a personal identity. And the way teens do this is through trial and error. Sometimes it does look flaky. Are they just saying they don't want to play piano anymore because practicing takes away from valuable friend-time? maybe, and is that OK? Yes. Unless your teen is going to be a concert pianist and is heading off to Julliard,(if this is the case, they won't want to quit) maybe they have had enough, and want to put that energy into something else. I once worked with a parent whose daughter had been on a swim team since she was 8. Now at 16 she was sick to death of getting up at 5 in the morning to hit the pool for practice, then again at 6 in the evening for another round. She was the star of the team, and the coach relied heavily on her for the wins. The parents, also heavily involved had given up a lot for her to do the swimming, and were now enjoying the fruits of their labor, I mean her labor as she racked up the gold medals. But here is the thing, the daughter was miserable, she was sick of it all, the practice time, the pressure, and feeling like she had no time to be with friends, and wanted to try her hand at other things. Rather than listen to her, her coach and her parents worked hard to convince her that she was letting herself down, her coach down and her family down after all they had done for her. Well that was the kiss of death, because this girl felt she wasn't being heard, and began acting out; drinking, staying out late, being defiant, and becoming a really really angry person.

It is really important for your teens to find things in their lives that give them feelings of joy, self-confidence and competence. Teens also need to begin to find what these things are for themselves. The expectation of parents should be that this can be a time for exploration. The choice isn't whether to do something, but what the something is. Too much free unstructured time is lethal. If school is over at 1:40 or 2:30 that leaves whole afternoons needing to be filled. If your teen is ready to quit a sport or a musical instrument, and is making your life miserable here is your" I get it " moment: "I get you are tired of X. I know you have been doing this for a long time, and maybe you want to do something else, or do stuff that your friends are doing. Here is the thing. I just want you to really think about about what you don't like about it anymore, and what it is you would like to do instead." Sometimes, kids have been involved with something that no longer seems cool, and because of that all-mighty self-consciousness want to give up something they actually like but feel embarrassed about. Make sure you validate that for them rather than making them feel bad for thinking that way. It is totally normal. Maybe you can help them strategize how to keep doing that thing, but add in something that feels cooler. But always support the adventure of seeking out new things no matter what the motivation. Sometimes you find a new passion because you follow along with a friend. You just never know, it's all part of the journey.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Maybe George Washington never told a lie, but I know few people, adults or children who don't resort to some sort of fabricating, stretching of the truth or outright lying when faced with confrontation. Even from a young age, as early as 3, kids seem to intuitively avoid feelings of shame. For example, "did you do something to make the baby cry?" said in an accusing tone to your 3 year-old may follow with, "No, uh, uh not me. It was the dog who did it!" as the reply. As your children get older, the dog excuse again comes in handy when confronted by their teacher about the missing homework, as in "the dog ate it." Moving into the teenage years, the length and breadth of the lies seems to intensify, as does their creativity. This occurs to such extremes that teens start to believe their own "stories" and become indignant upon being discovered. 

As adults we often find ourselves in situations in which we use lying as a way to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to get ourselves out of uncomfortable situations. Kids observe us squirming our way through these situations and wonder why it's OK for us to "tell stories" but not OK for them. All right parents, you have to admit they do have us on that one. The job for parents is to figure out the difference between the harmless lies (the ones we tell) and the ones that mean your child is involving himself or herself in situations that you feel are inappropriate. In either case, you must create a climate in which there is a positive payoff for truth telling. 

Additionally, you need to do some self-analysis to determine whether your child is lying to you because your demands are usually non-negotiable and sometimes unrealistic. Remember that if parents say no too many times to too many things, your child will start to do them anyway. Kids cite this reason most often for lying to their parents, "they never let me do anything." Granted, some requests are off the wall. But instead of a carte-blanche "NO" - offer some alternatives that might make both parties happy and reduce the need for secrecy and lying.

Here are my three golden rules to encourage open honest communication.
  • Truth telling is encouraged through calm, loving, two-way conversation.
  • Leave room for negotiating and shared decision making.
  • Everybody makes mistakes.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sexy and the twelve year old girl

At one of my parenting parties the other night, a mother of a 12 year old girl asked me a question about the appropriate dress for a 12 year old girl. I asked her to be more specific and she went on to describe the cleavage action her daughter displays in her low-cut tee shirt. I heard a few murmurs of jealousy from my middle-aged group of moms, I think wishing they had a cleavage problem, but that's another discussion. I resisted an eyebrow raise, hearing my own mother's voice in my head, "you are not leaving the house in that shirt young lady. But this is not 1965, so instead of drawing from my own experience I will attempt to use my expert's hat. To finish the story, this mom went onto say that she didn't feel like there wasn't anything she could do or say. How could she possibly be able to compete with today's culture, blahblah magazines, TV etc. OK so parents, this kid is 12, you are still very much the bottom line.

The trick is to get your kid to do what you want without challenging them to go put that t-shirt on in the girl's bathroom when they get to school. Use your relationship, humor, and demonstrations to get them to see your point. To use your relationship, you might say that you totally understand how dressing like a slut, no only kidding, OK start over, you could say that you totally understand that she is proud of her body, that's a good thing, you are a beautiful girl, and I am so happy you like the way you look, but that is not something that she needs to present to the world quite yet. You might put on a revealing top yourself, and then ask her how it would feel to go visit her classroom to help out in such a revealing shirt.

I would say that you understand that attention definitely feels good, but that you would rather see her get some attention from achieving something rather than from showing her hot little body. Also remember parents you have the money, so when you go shopping exercise your veto power. This doesn't mean she has to dress like a puritan, but cleavage or butt cracks at 12 are definitely a no no. You can also explain that this is a safety issue, and that when she is older she will have more experience and ability to deal with the attention especially if it is unwanted by scummy old man or young man, for that matter, and your job as a parent is to keep her safe.

You might also go over the rules of the school, most school now have dress codes and so your work will be done for you. And by the way, if your young tween is already dressing like a 16 year old she is probably also behaving like one, overly flirtatious, and provocative. If she is that needy for attention you need to figure out why. Because at 12 she is spending more time imitating and fantasying about the future rather than being happy and excited about the present.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Too Much Too Soon

Today I feel like an old fuddy duddy. During coaching sessions with parents recently, and at my seminars, I am always asked about whether parents should buy their kids Iphones, or Ipads, or Itouchs?  As I answer I hear my mother's voice in my head, what does a 16 year old need with a fancy phone like that?  Whether that sounds like an old fart or not, so be it. Kids do not need fancy phones or the most updated technology. Here are two reasons. First, all these fancy phones provide your teens with unlimited access to the Internet, and downloads. No need to hang with the family, I can just download my favorite TV show or movie and watch it on my Iphone or Ipad. If your teen wasn't distracted enough with texting just think of all the ways he/she can while away the hours on their new toy. Here is the thing, for adults, having all this technology is useful in our workplace, ability to organize and optimize our busy lives, and yes have fun as well.  As adults we also hopefully have the experience to know when enough is enough, and can shut off and rejoin our families and friends and colleagues for that face to face time. Teens DO NOT have that experience, do not have that discipline and perspective and do not realize that spending hours upon hours on phones and computers can be detrimental to their life, as they are too distracted to give their full attention to the really important things like homework and family.  What starts out as a wonderful gift, and a moment of gratitude from your teen, ends up with arguments galore  like" if you don't put away that damn phone, and do your homework, I will take it away." You are now faced with the daily power struggle of pulling your teen away from their favorite toy. And the sad part is that it was totally avoidable.

Here is reason two why kids don't need the best: Vanishing Markers. Remember when you were little kids and you wanted to stay up later, or you wanted to get your ears pierced, or get a bigger, fancier bike, or wear certain kinds of clothes or see certain kinds of movies, your  parents would say: "When your older you will be able to ........"  As children we looked forward to those "markers" that would signify a move towards "being old enough". Rites of passage, and markers that suggest maturity are important to growth. These markers are becoming fewer and fewer. Just 10 years ago, buying your child their own computer was the high school graduation, going to college present. It was a gift that signified achievement and moving forward. It was an important psychological marker. When a teen got their license, it used to be that getting the first car was a symbol of this new move into independence. Just happy to be driving something of their own, the clunkier the better, Grandma's old car was perfect. Now I am still surprised as I drive around the college campus where I teach to see kids driving around in cars I still aspire too, the hottest, newest models on the market. See I am a fuddy duddy, maybe I'm just jealous. Will you be my mother??

We have left few things for our kids to aspire too. We used to have clothing markers, privilege markers, music markers, etc. Now sex and music, clothes and technology, alcohol and drugs all start with kids too young too appreciate and understand their significance. We are raising a generation of youth who expect and feel entitled to the newest and the best. There is value in understanding that we don't get everything we want when we want it. Somethings are worth waiting for and when they do come are more appreciated and valued. Remember teens live in the moment. It is the adults in their life that need to help them to look towards the future. That old-fashioned work ethic that our forefathers and foremothers taught our parents that nothing is just given to you, if you want something you have to work hard for it, seems to have gotten lost in translation. It is OK to say no to your kids. It is OK to say these things cost a lot of money, and that is not how we choose to spend it. It is OK to say, what you have is enough!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

To Drive Or Not To Drive, That Is the Question?

I had a request from a parent today to write about teens and driving. This is an issue for parents that is fraught with ambivalence. I want my teen to drive, he/she can do errands for me. I don't want my teen to drive it terrifies me. I want my teen to drive, it is a right of passage and teaches responsibility. I don't want my teen to drive he/she is too easily distracted, and it terrifies me. I want my teen to drive, then I can go to bed early on Friday and Saturday nights and I won't have to schlep him/her around. I don't want my teen to drive, I'll lose control of where he/she goes and it terrifies me. Does this two-sided conversation sound familiar?

First, teens have been learning to drive at age 16 forever, literally, so someone at some point must have thought it was the right age. If you are a nervous nelly by nature, perhaps you are not the person to teach your teen to drive, or at least not the person to teach them to merge onto a busy highway. It is important for you to know your own limitations when it comes to taking your teen out for a practice drive. Do what you feel comfortable doing. Your teen will feel nervous enough without having to deal with your nervous breakdown. If you are comfortable driving around the back streets of your neighborhood for a half hour, that is still useful drive time. Practice is practice.  Perhaps your partner, aunt/uncle, neighbor, person you hire off Craig's list can be the passenger for the practice you feel uncomfortable with. Your teen needs to feel your confidence in him/her, and constantly giving a play by play is not only annoying but potentially dangerous as well. The reality is that your teen needs a lot of practice time. If you are nervous, try going on short trips to the gas station, drug store and pizza parlor. Getting a license is a family affair and a commitment, and it is a right of passage that is meaningful. Getting a license is both a reality and a metaphor for the independence teens need to feel to be ready to take on life. It really is important to support that independence and show confidence in their ability to take on this new and important responsibility. This is training for life.

Should all kids get their licenses. NO. If your teen has been avoiding taking responsibility in other areas of their life, than working towards their license seems counterproductive. A license is not an entitlement. It is a privilege granted to those that have shown in other areas of their life that they can be responsible. If you have a teen whose school performance leaves something to be desired, perhaps working on the drivers license becomes the incentive to be more responsible for school performance. If your teen regularly flaunts curfews and house rules,  and is suspected of fooling around with drugs and alcohol, than your I get it moment might be: 'I get that teens fool around with drugs and alcohol, or try to screw around with the rules,  but you have come in a number of times smelling of booze or pot, or you are constantly late for curfew, and aren't always truthful about what you are up to on the weekends and that makes me wary of supporting you getting your license. Until I feel that you are being more responsible, and show us that you can follow through on what you say you are going to do, than we won't sign off on the license or even learners permit."

It is normal to feel apoplectic, and most kids do great and rise to the challenge. But if there are other red flags waving in the wind, pay attention to your gut, and act accordingly. It is also your responsibility to make sure that your teen is educated and understands that cell phone use is verboten in the car. Yes there is a law now, but again, just saying don't do it, is not helpful. Help them to come up with strategies for where to put their phone as soon as they get in the car, so they don't feel tempted or have easy access to just make that "quick call". Perhaps get in the habit of as soon as they get in the car, they shut off their phone and put it in the glove compartment, or for girls, shut it off and put it in their pocketbook and in the back seat. They need your help with creating these rituals.

The bottom line is you will always be nervous. My daughter is 27 and when she visits and takes the car, I am a wreck, and she is a good driver. This is a parents' cross to bear. We love our kids so much we cannot bear the thought that something might happen to them. And we have to get over it. Eventually they will need to get out of the neighborhood and get on the highway just like in real life. Confidence comes from practice, and than a leap of faith. There is no prescription for how long it takes to master a car. I know a ton of adults I would never drive with, and they have been driving for 40 years.  Give your teen the practice they need to feel competent, the rituals they need to have to be safe, and the love and support to be responsible. and then just close your eyes and hope for the best.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Skins: MTV's must see TV for teens

MTV has done it again. First it was The Real World, the first reality show allowing us to be flies on the wall as groups of twenty-somethings lived in cool cities, and had a lot of sex and drank a lot of booze. Now they have come up with a very original show (I'm being facetious) about teens having a lot of sex and drinking a lot of booze. Full disclosure here, I have not seen the show yet, but I have seen a number of clips and I feel pretty confident that I get the drift.

Parent groups are up in arms, as are advertisers feeling that the graphic portrayal of these kids is not only over the top, but that they are using actual 14 and 15 year old teens as the actors. Usually these kinds of shows depicting the "secret life of teens" (again I am being facetious, how secret can their lives be when they are all over the TV) use "kids" who are well into their twenties and know the difference between acting and real life. Using "real teens"  does cross the line. These kids don't have the experience, and ability yet to separate fiction from real life, and putting 14 and 15 year olds in very provocative sexual situations, and pretending to be extremely trashed on a regular basis seems extremely irresponsible.

Ok, enough pontificating, the point here is that judging by the numbers of kids who watched SKINS last week, your teen might be among them. And the prediction is that the number of kids watching this show will grow exponentially as the buzz spreads. The show airs at 10 PM so even if you have forbid the watching of this show, it is likely that your teen either stays up later than you and will watch it anyway, or will watch it at a friends house who has DVR'd it.  Though I am disgusted with this show, the devil you know, I think applies her. Asking to watch this show with your teen is alway preferable, but your request may be denied. Plan B, watch it at another time or in another room. In the car, having coffee, at the dinner table, these are all good times to talk about the show with your teen. Try being less judgmental about the awfulness of the show, and instead try to focus more on the characters and the behaviors of the teens. How must it feel to have to be at that party? How hard it must be for that boy or that girl dealing with the pressure of that sexual situation? These are good times to use your I Get It moments as in: "I get that you might be in situations similar to these kids, maybe not this extreme, but kids getting so drunk they pass out, and kids getting into sexual situations because they are so drunk they don't know what they are doing and end up feeling so ashamed the next day. I'm guessing if kids felt like they had an out to some of these situations, they might not get into them. You know if you are ever in situation like this, you can always walk out the door, text me, and I will meet you around the corner so no one will see you, or you can just walk around a party with a beer or glass but not drink it, or tell kids you are on allergy meds and can't drink, or your parents have noses like blood hounds. I can help you. I just want you to be safe. I love you."

Helping your kids to stay safe, and to make good decisions is your job. At the risk of being repetitive, your kids do not have experience in dealing with most of these situations and get themselves into trouble because they don't know what to do. That's why they need your help. Just threatening to punish them, ground them, take away their phone and computer does not help them in the moment when they are faced with some tough decisions. Giving them game plans do. If watching SKINS with your teens opens up opportunities for problem solving, so be it. Make some popcorn, curl up on the couch, and away you go!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


for those of you who enjoy hearing and seeing me talk, in addition to yesterdays video "Fighting Four Ways" there are four more videos that can be found in my blog archives:

Sexting and Texting 101: advice on how to handle these difficult situations

The Power Of Understanding: Tips on creating more meaningful communication with your teen

Ari and Me : A reminiscence with my daughter Ari of her teen years.

Holiday High: Tips and stories about teen drug and alcohol use

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sneaky Is As Sneaky Does

Is your teen sneaky? I'm guessing yes. Not all the time, but definitely sometimes, like when he/she says they're doing their homework at the computer, but really facebook is up and running. Or maybe when you have asked whether they have any homework, and he/she says:" I did it in study. Or when you tell them to stop texting and get to work, and he/she says "I AM!"

Here is the thing, expecting that your teen will have the willpower to shut down, and shut off on their own accord is unrealistic. It is way more fun than doing their homework. And basically you have set them up to lie. And then rather than being mad at them for being on facebook and texting when they are supposed to be doing their homework, it turns into a much bigger fight about lying.

I suggest calling your phone carrier and have the phone shut off for a few hours every evening while they do their homework. This way you do not have to get into a power struggle as in : "give me your phone! No! Give me your phone! No, I will do my homework, just leave me alone!" And so on and so on and so on. If the cell phone gods just magically shut it off for a few hours, which cell phone carriers will let you schedule now, then the power struggle will never take place. Its like in a prison when the lights go off automatically, you don't need the guards to go around and say lights out.

Addiction is a tough issue to tackle, and if your teen is getting all bent out of shape when the phone gets shut off for just a few hours, you have an addicted teen. All joking aside. This really is getting to be a serious problem, and your teen cannot deal with this on their own. The I get it moment is to say to your teen; " I get how important it is for you to stay in touch with your friends, and I get that even a few hours feels like forever, but it just has to happen. It is my job to help you get done what needs to get done in the best way possible. The phone will be turned back on at (whatever time gives them a two hour break), and that is that." Let them vent, they will be angry, no need to defend your decision, just a,  "I know this feels hard," give them the shoulder shrug, and you are done! The same technique can be employed with social networking sites. Call the geek squad and have them help you set it up.

As for the homework dilemma wondering in fact whether they really did do it in study,  here is what you can do. You only need to do this if in fact there is a problem. I know mid year report cards come out in a week or two and you will know if their grade has been affected by missing homework assignments. Please read the blog on the "homework avoider" for a more detailed explanation of this issue, but if grades are being effected by missing assignments try this. Meet with your teen's guidance counselor or e-mail those teachers directly in whose classes your teen is missing assignments on a regular basis. Ask them to e-mail you on Fridays about any missing assignments. Let your teen know that if you get a "clean bill of health" from the teacher you will pay for 5 music downloads or whatever feels right. Kids seem to love their music, and unless you have given them a credit card, you are completely in control of  their ability to download music or videos. If there are missing assignments, no music downloads, and the cell phone will be turned off for one whole evening (perhaps that following Monday) until the assignment is handed in. If two assignments are missing, then the cellphone stays turned off for two nights and so on. Some kids really need incentives. Nothing wrong with that, most of us do. The real goal is to get your kids to hopefully see that they can get a lot more done and much more quickly when they are not distracted by the phone and the computer. These are skills they will need to take with them to college and beyond. So get crackin!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The best friend break-up: I love her, I hate her

A parent called me the other day worried about her 13 year old daughter. Like most girls her age she had her posse of four "besties." After school it seems a delegate from this elite group was chosen to deliver the message. No mincing of words here, "we don't like you anymore." There is no more brutal assault. The daughter was bereft, sobbing and humiliated vowing never to return to school. The mom, feeling every bit as much pain as her daughter wanted to do something, to fix it. "Should I call the school, should I call the parents of the other girls, what should I do?" she asks feeling desperate to make it "all better."

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pleeese can I, pleeese, everybody is?

When your kids were little, as bedtime approached, your kids would whine, "just 5 more minutes pleeeese!!  Now fast-forward ten years and the whine is still there, but now it's about computer/video/phone time and curfew. A parent related the following story to me yesterday. As Monday was a school holiday, her 16 year old daughter was off to a party on Sunday night. The agreed upon curfew was 11:15 PM. The ride home was prearranged, a call to the home of the party to confirm that parents would be supervising the party had been made, and all was well in the land.  Mom and Dad confident that the plan for the night was in place awaited their daughter's return. At precisely 11:15 the phone rings. " Hi guys, can I sleep over, every one's sleeping over, pleeese!!! M&D are not pleased. The "everybody else's parents says its alright" defense never plays well with them, and how come she waited till the exact minute she was to be home to call with the request. There was a resounding "NO" from the parenting unit. The posturing went on for some time, the arguing, and the you better get your "a## home capped off the multiple phone calls, and that was that. The daughter returned home an hour later than the agreed upon curfew. Parents, too tired to deal with consequences took their daughters cellphone away and were prepared to ground her for a TBD which they would hand down the following morning. For now..bed.

OK, yes this whole incident is annoying. Why is it that kids can't seem to be on top of this time thing and wait till the last minute to inform/request changes? Sometime it's because they are completely unaware of time living wholly in the moment.  Sometimes it's because they know that when they wait till the last minute, they have a better chance to get what they want, leaving you fewer options. Either you cave to the "everybody else's parents say its OK" or you tell then to get their a##es home, but either way they have stayed out later than the agreed upon time and you have been played.

Here is a simple solution. Let your kids know that if they wait to call you for curfew/plan adjustments until the time they were supposed to be home, they answer will always be NO. This makes life very simple. If they call you within an hour of the previously agreed upon time, you will at least listen to the request. Here is your 'I get it" moment. You say to your teen: I get that plans change, and that you may need some adjustment in when you need to get home. But if you wait till the time you are supposed to be home to call and ask, I will always say no. You need to give me some notice, what works for you, 30 minutes before curfew, 1 hour you decide. But here is the thing, if you call me at curfew time, the answer will be no, and however late you are for curfew, you will be docked next time out."

Curfew times should be fluid in general to avoid this kind of interaction altogether. Deciding together using the "4 questions" discussed in What Kind Of Parent Are You-part 4 will help. But as in the example above, if the system had been in place, the daughter would have had to call by 10:45 or 10:15 for the request to have even been considered. The work here is teaching kids to be responsible for their behavior. This is not just for when they are teenagers but also as they move into adulthood. Consideration and responsibility are qualities you hope your teen develops in abundance. How many adults do you know who are always late for your dinners or change plans with you at the last minute?  I'm guessing that as teens they were not held accountable for their time, and now feel free to make and keep their own timetables. This is not about taking control as a parent, but it is about teaching consideration.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Drama Of Mid-Year Exams: A Hopeful Strategy

For many high schools, Monday begins the dreaded mid-year exam period. This exam period is dreaded by parents and teens alike. For many teens, this weekend will be a time for cramming. Oh I remember when I was in high school, that weekend before exams when I would sit on my bed and start to read chapter after chapter in some boring United States History textbook,  attempt to memorize random french vocabulary, buy and read every available cliff notes on the books I was supposed to have read for English, memorize that table in Chemistry of all the elements, and then basically thrown the towel in on Geometry theorems, knowing that was just a lost cause. It makes me anxious just writing all that down, and makes me supremely grateful to be a grown-up, and free from memorizing anything.

For parents, the dread of mid-years comes from knowing what this weekend will be like for you. You are gearing up to play multiple roles as a motivational speaker, prison guard, therapist, and tutor. You go from saying:" You can do it, you're a bright kid," to "shut off that damn phone, get off facebook, how do you expect to get anything accomplished, you have a lot to do," to "honey, I know your anxious, exams can be scary," to   lets go over this together, I'll quiz you.  Your teen both needs you and hates you. So be prepared for a Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde experience.

Just as I am overwhelmed thinking back to those years, your teen is overwhelmed just thinking of all that has to be studied. Of course, knowing what we know now as adults, that if they had only kept up all along with their work, this mid-year exam thing would just be a matter of reviewing not learning material for the first time. But we only know that because we have had 30 or 40 years to reflect on it. So first of all, lecturing on what they should have done has no place in this weekend's festivities. Lets start from where they are. Your teen will need some help in finding the forest through the trees. Everything he/she has to study begins to look like one huge amount of material, a mountain to big to even climb, their own personal Mount Everest. So, first things first. Help them to divide and conquer. Help them to come up with a structure and time frame for each subject, working in breaks for food, facebook and texting time. I implore you to bribe them in any way you can to give you their phones for short bursts of time to concentrate fully. The research on teens and multi-tasking is conclusive, though they can manage physically to text, facebook and read simultaneously, their brain cannot. I would recommend 45 minute work segments, with a 15 minute break.

Use your 'I get it" moments to get this process started. 'I get this will be a tough weekend for you. I know  how overwhelming it must feel to prepare for all these different subjects, lets come up with a kind of schedule to break it down so it won't feel so overwhelming."The research shows that it is better to study a subject for a shorter period, let it sit, and then come back to it, rather than giving each subject several hours, and then moving on. So the schedule of study should reflect this. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and repeat.

For kids in 9th and 10th grade, this whole idea of mid-years is new and scary. They feel anxious about their own expectations,  they are anxious about your expectations, and they are anxious about how they will measure up as compared to their friends. Thats a lot of worry. In today's Boston Globe there was an interesting article that your kids might find helpful. The headline reads:"Writing exercise said to prevent test anxiety." The article describes a recent study in the journal of science where prior to an exam they had high school and college students write for 10 minutes prior to the test "about their thoughts feelings and worries" respective to the aforementioned test. The premise being that "test anxiety can lead to poorer grades and lower scores." Their findings are pretty powerful, they found that kids who were prone to test anxiety improved nearly one full grade if they were given 10 minutes before an exam to write down their feelings." The researchers believe that "worrying competes for computing power in the brain's working memory" Simply put, if the brain is working on the worrying, than it can't also work on retrieving information needed for the test. The writing exercise literally empties the brain so it can give its full power to the test. it sounds good to me!

You are all in survival mode. You are the helicopter that brings in life saving food and water. Keep it positive, and keep it calm. The bottom line, there isn't that much you can do. You can lead your teen to water, but you can't make em drink!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remember when....musings of a snow day

Yesterday my husband and I were shoveling out from our second snow storm in 2 weeks. As the sweat was dripping and freezing off my brow, the tendinitis in my elbow, and the pain in my lower back screaming, and the town plow going by undoing the last hour of shoveling, I wondered, "where the hell are all the kids?"  Back in the days of my childhood( god I sound like my 88 year old aunt telling me one of her stories of yore) just as the snow started falling, the neighborhood would be filled with kids, mostly boys, going from house to house with their shovels looking to make some cash by shoveling walks and driveways. Ah...the 50's. My brother, 16 years old, would get up at the crack of dawn, put his snow blower in the back of the car, and head off to his customers for a day of snow clean-up. Very entrepreneurial he had smartly bought a snow blower, knowing that he would be able to pay it off from a few storms. He did and then went on to make extremely good money in the winters. Spring, Summer and Fall, he turned away from the snow blower, and bought a lawn-mower, and off he would go all over town mowing lawns. The rest of our family headed out to shovel in winter and rake in the fall. I have some very visceral memories of the family all out there together working towards a common purpose. I'm sure I was complaining the whole time, and whining about the cold, but the idea of a family working together really resonates.

It got me a-thinkin about how much has changed. How few opportunities there are now for families to work together like this, side by side as equals toward a common purpose. Most families are busy, and look to hire companies to do the work that families used to do together. We have the landscapers for the lawn and leaves, the snow-plow company for the driveway,  and the house cleaners for the house. Then kids looked for opportunities to make money, not afraid of working hard,  boys would go off with their rakes and shovels to earn some money, and girls would line up babysitting jobs.

Mary Pipher, the author of  The Shelter of Each Other talks about the most important ingredients for what she calls "sheltering families": time, rituals, celebrations, stories and connections. You'll notice that most of these require active, face to face activities, far from the glare of the computer or the IPhone screen. These are the kinds of things that we remember fondly from our childhood and then try to recreate in our families. It just seems like its a lot harder now, so many gadgets, distractions and busy schedules.  This becomes especially hard as children who clamor for these opportunities when young, now as teens shun them. Even family vacations become somewhat splintered affairs, teens texting away, maybe a parent off on the golf course,  while another is off at the pool. Not much family time really.

The challenge here is to find those moments of connection. Maybe it isn't shoveling out together after the next storm, who likes shoveling anyway, nothing romantic about that. But figuring out together a time for everyone to hang and be equals, pursuing a common goal. Maybe its eating, or walking or watching a movie, or cooking together, or maybe cleaning out the garage together, or a basement or attic. The goal is not to "make" your teen want to do something with you, as in "you are part of this family, and you WILL spend time with this family", but try to find something that everyone can and will want to buy into.

Family can be a heavenly shelter from all kinds of storms. These are the moments that your kids do remember and cherish, and that you can call on when things get tough. Remembering those moments of connections helps to transcend those moments of crisis.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook

Facebook, my old friend, its time for another lecture.  How many time have I told you not to post things that mock, threaten, or humiliate. Last week there were two, yes two articles in the paper about posts that did just that. The first headline read: "Nevada girls arrested in teacher threat case." Facebook, really, you let 6 middle school kids invite their fellow students to take part in a "Attack a teacher day." I know they said they were only fooling around, but really, I'm guessing that the teachers that were mentioned didn't think it was funny.

 And then what about the two students from the town cited in this article from my local paper:"Students held in alleged threats." Thank god an attentive parent found this conversation on his son's facebook wall. " let's commit a mass homicide and use gallons of gasoline and use thousands of syringes full of bear tranquilizers, and hey how about shooting some guns at children," these two high school students bantered. The kids through their lawyer said they were only kidding: "Can't you tell, where would they get bear tranquilizers?" I guess they aren't laughing now facebook, since they were arrested and slapped with a $10,000 bail and expulsion from school.

I know, kids will be kids, hahahaha, but seriously, between Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now this latest shooting in Tucson, how do you know when someone is "just kidding".  Please, please, please facebook, can you tell parents to keep up with what their kids are posting on their wall. Truly, "kids know not what they do." They probably are kidding and fooling around, and just trying to out-outrageous their friends, and look hip and cool. But what they aren't getting is that other people read those posts and maybe don't know for sure if they are kidding. And maybe readers will notify someone just to make sure, which is really the right thing to do.

I know facebook is fun, I think its fun. I'm glad we have facebook, or where else would I be able to post this blog, but I am aware of the consequences. Unfortunately most teens are so swept up in their moment of "fun" that they don't take the time to answer these few simple questions. Maybe we can work together to help parents remind their kids to monitor their posts as they write them. Maybe put a big poster tacked to a wall with these four question. It could help.

Will this post hurt someone's feelings?
Will this post feel threatening to anyone?
Does this post give too much information about myself?
Is there anything in this post that another person could read and misinterpret?

Kids aren't by nature "meanies", but they feel the power of "the word". And it is fun to shock. The problem is teens don't have enough life experience to know that sometimes shock creates fear, and fear creates action. Please parents continue to educate not punish your teens about facebook and its power, the good, the bad and the ugly!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What Kind Of Parent Am I? Part 4 of 4

Congratulations, the quiz is now over, and you have probably found yourself somewhere between all three parenting styles. The good news here is that all three have something to offer, and there will be times when you'll need to be the too hard parent, the too soft parent, and the parent who is "just right". But the time has definitely come when you have to share some of the control for how your teen lives their life. Paradoxically, that actually gives you more control that just being in control. Does that make sense?? Ok, so to do this, it means giving your teen more responsibility for making their own decisions, and acting more like a coach than a commandant. The issue here is that your teen isn't very good at this decision making thing yet, and here is why.

The frontal cortex of your teen's brain is still in the formative stage. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making. It is not that your teen can't make decisions (though it is a painful process) it just doesn't come naturally. The impulsivity we know and love in our teens is an example of where they live. Teens live in a feeling brain, hence the doing without thinking, and adults live in a thinking brain. How many times have you said or screamed at your teen after a particularly challenging incident: "What were you thinking?" This is what I mean, they were not thinking... they were feeling. This is why it is so so important to give your teen every opportunity to make and be responsible for decisions. We need to get them to start exercising that thinking part of the brain. This is how brain connections are made.

Here is how. I have developed a system that will give you a road map for helping your teen make decisions and take ownership for their actions. Think of this as the GPS of parenting. 
I call it "the four questions". Like a portable GPS that can be moved from car to car, these four questions can be plugged into most situations with your teen that require expectations and consequences, ie homework, curfews, going out with friends, etc etc. Take for example the issue of curfew, always a sensitive topic. Here is how a conversation usually goes: "What time do I have to be home?" your teen asks. " You, thinking you are being generous say 10:30. And the argument begins. Your teen whines, and finally explodes with a "nobody else has to be in by 10:30", and you being the responsible parent retort with a " Its either 10:30" or nothing and you can stay in for the night..period." So the door slams with your teen behind it. At 10:00 the phone rings with a lovely, loving voice on the other end: "Hi, the movie just got out, and everyone wants to get food, can I go, I don't think I can get home before 11:00?" You are so impressed by their politeness and that they called, you acquiesce, with an "OK honey, see you at 11. And there you have it, your kid has played you. They knew all along that they would end up staying out later, and have now learned that all they need to do is call and sweet-talk you and the deed is done. If you use "the four questions", you can avoid this pitfall.

Teen asks: "What time do I have to be home?" (Insert any issue of your choosing here)
Question 1: "What time do you think you should be home" (put your teen in the position of saying something first) Chances are they will answer with something not as outrageous as you would have thought)
Teen answers: 11:30
Question 2: "What do you think I am worried about if I say yes to 11:30?" (Here is where your teen has to do some thinking. They know you very well, and will probably say something like;" you think if I say 11:30 I'll end up coming in later.")
Question 3: "Yes that does worry me, how are you going to make me feel OK about this?"( Here is where they now become responsible for making a plan)
Teen answers: I promise I will call you a half hour before I come home, just to let you know that I will be there at 11:30.
Question 4: "What is the consequence going to be if you don't follow through on your plan of calling and/or coming in on-time? ( Here is the most important question, because now your teen has to come up with his/her own consequence. So that when the time comes when he doesn't follow through on one of these plans it is his/her own consequence.

The benefit of going through all this is that the plan has been thought through and executed by your teen. So when your teen follows through on this plan you can congratulate them, and if they don't there really isn't much you have to do. The consequence is already in place, and all you have to say is "sorry it didn't work out for you tonight, I guess we'll be hanging together next Friday night since that was what you said you would do if you didn't follow through.

The most important thing to remember is that just because you are sharing the control here, doesn't mean that your kid will come through 100% of the time. Because of course they won't. In the meantime they are learning how to come up with their own plan, and their own consequence. As a result, they will be much more likely to take ownership and responsibility for making it happen.  You get that in order to teach them how to make decisions and be responsible that you have to put them in the position to practice this. Remember, practice makes perfect!

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Kind Of Parent Am I? Part 3 of 4

Today's installment  is the "just right" parent. Just like in Goldilocks And The Three Bears, we have the parent who is too "hot", the authoritarian parent, the too "cold" parent, the permissive one, and now we have the "just right" parent the authoritative one. This parent gets that their teen is becoming their own person. This parent understands that the goal of parenting a teen is to gradually, over the 6 years of teendom( ages 12-18), first to share control and then finally to cede control over the lives of the teen as they leave the nest. The teen years are a training ground for adulthood. Learning to make safe and healthy decisions about relationships, life's temptations, education and career take practice. Practice makes perfect.  An authoritative parent understands that part of practice includes making mistakes. An authoritative parent understands that their kids are not supposed to be mirror images of themselves. They get that their teen has a unique personality and temperament that needs to be respected, supported and nurtured, even if that means adjusting their own expectations of who they hoped this growing child would become.

An authoritative parent understands that a teen still needs structure in their life to be successful, but rather than imposing one, works with their teen to develop one together. Understanding that getting a teen to "buy in" and take ownership of rules and expectations means you have to include them in the planning and implementation of them. This takes time, and I know, it is so much easier to just say nothing as with the permissive parent, or just do it for them, as with the authoritarian parent.  Keeping the ultimate goal in mind really helps. All parents want their kids to be successful adults. If we overprotect or under protect  our kids, they will be dependent on us for life. And by the way, you are going to want them to be able to take care of you someday, so you better get crackin!

Tomorrow: Tips and strategies on sharing control

Friday, January 7, 2011

What Kind Of Parent Am I? Part 2 of 4

In today's episode of What Kind Of Parent Am I, we look at the permissive parent. In this style of parenting we might hear things like: "no problem, okay, see you whenever, sure, have fun, love you."This all sounds so nice, so loving, so calm, where's the problem in that?  Here is the problem, the teen in this situation is not required to think, to assess, to plan, to be responsible to anyone but him/herself. Adolescence by nature and definition is all about self-centeredness. We know that a certain amount of this self-centeredness is natural and normal, but if we add to it, by not presenting alternative perspectives we create narcissistic adults, as in "I want what I want when I want it!"  More importantly these teens are often engaged in dangerous and risky behavior because they live in a world with no boundaries. Expectations from parents may be inconsistent or non-existent. For example I often work with parents when their teen's behavior has become out of control. In many of these families there are high expectations when it comes to academic performance by no expectations around behavior. So kids "get" that if they do well in school, the rest of their life will be free from restraint.  It is an unspoken quid pro quo.

Here is what I think contributes to parent permissiveness. Many of us hate hate hate conflict. We will go to any extreme to avoid argument and disagreement. So rather than say "no" or "we need to discuss this" or "I need to hear your plan before I make a decision" this parent goes right to the sure, love you place. Parenting an adolescence requires conflict, welcomes conflict, and invites conflict. This is how we make our teens use their new developing brain to learn how to make decisions. We disagree, we argue, we force them to think, to weigh options, to plan and to decide.  So if you are uncomfortable with conflict, learn to wallow in. The worst that can happen is that your teen might momentarily hate you. But they' will get over it, and when they become young adults will thank you for helping them to become thoughtful and responsible people.

Additionally the conflict-avoiders also to to be the kinds of parents who want their teens and their teens friends to think of them as the cool parents. They want their kids to want to hang out with them, and to use their house as "the house". This often means turning a blind eye to situations that other parents aren't comfortable with like "sex, drugs and rock and roll." The permissive parent's house tends to become the "safe house" for their kids and kid's friends. Let me just say that you can still have a great relationship with your kid and kid's friends without being an enabler. Your primary job is to be the bouncer not the party host, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.

Another contributing factor in permissive parenting is allowing our own needs and wants to take priority.  I have a very vivid memory of being out to a lovely restaurant with my husband. We were seated next to a group that consisted of two couples and their collective four children. The couples were enjoying their cocktails and conversation with each other leaving their young kids to fend for themselves. The kids, bored at this fancy restaurant entertained themselves by kicking our booth, and throwing over napkins and food. The parents were oblivious to it all until management changed our table, and my wonderful husband gave them "a little feedback on parenting." Though this story is about younger children, fast-forward to this family 5 years later. Parents still have a busy work and social life, and are excited now that their kids are teens they can leave them to their own devices, no babysitters needed. These teens are often left unsupervised for evenings, maybe even weekends while parents attend to whatever it is they want or need to do. Without sounding preachy here, OK I am preaching here, parenting does require sacrifice. So many parents I know spend most weekend nights babysitting their home, not their kids. They "get" that though their kids don't need babysitters anymore, their house does. Leaving an empty house is a public invitation to party. Also when you are available to your kids, it makes them feel secure that if they need you, they can have you. Teens need to feel that they are still your first priority, and that you are always looking out for their safety and well-being.

Stay tuned for part 3: The authoritative parent.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What Kind Of Parent am I? Part 1 of 4

I thought for the next three blogs, I would do a primer on the three major parenting styles, kind of like those quizzes you can take in magazines. Rate your marriage or your sex life, or are you a half -full or half-empty kind of person?  You know the ones where you get a "1" for the answers that make you sound the most sane, and a "5" for the ones that make you sound crazy. I don't know why but I love those quizzes. I think because I am always looking for ways to evaluate how I am doing in life. Am I OK? yes! phew!! Or, oh god, is it really that bad, oy vey!

Understanding your parenting style might help you to understand your relationship with your teen. Parenting a teen is not the same as parenting a younger child. It requires a different set of skills: an ability to be flexible, but not too flexible; understanding, but not a push-over; willing to take a stand and set limits, but not like a marine sergeant.  Let's see how you roll.

Lets start with the "authoritarian" parenting style. You might hear things from this parent like the old favorite: "it's my way or the highway", or "my house, my rules", and lets not forget, "if you don't like it, then get out." Clearly this is a parent who likes to be in control. When you are this type of parent and you have young children it works well. Young children love rules and structure. They love to please mommy and daddy, and are all around lovely little beings to have around. The problem occurs in adolescence when your teen is not so motivated to please and follow your rules. Since they are biologically driven to start to fend for themselves, being told the what, when and how to do things goes against the natural order of the developing teen.

 If you have parented this way in the past, you will have a rude awakening. Things can go badly in two possible ways. First, if your teen is somewhat passive, quiet in nature, or has a really good understanding that you need to be control, they will tend to yes you to death, looking like the pleasing child they have always been, and fly under your radar by excessively lying. Rather then incurring your wrath they will try to avoid it. They learn some valuable lessons here in manipulation. They learn just how to play you so that you feel the illusion of being in control, but basically have figured out to do exactly what they want to do, just behind your back. The worry here is that your teen never comes to you for help because they anticipate that you won't really want to listen. The danger is that they could be in an unsafe situation and rather than come to you will risk themselves rather than risk getting in trouble with you. Not a great gamble.

The second scenario with the authoritarian style of parenting occurs if you have a teen who is feisty in nature. Now that they are bigger, and they think smarter than you, they will fight you every step of the way, which often becomes all out warfare. "You can't make me, and you aren't the boss of me" are daily mantras. In this situation, you have run out of ideas. You have taken away everything you can, phone, computer, car. You have grounded them for months at a time, but rather than taming the beast that has become your teen, it has enraged him/her, like King Kong being assaulted by all those airplanes. The danger here is that your teen now has nothing left to lose, the relationship is damaged. In this situation, the teen is feeling their power. Their ability to challenge your authority, and drive you completely insane is intoxicating. The balance of power in your relationship has shifted, and they are loving it.

Give yourself a 5 if this is your style of parenting. Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2: The Permissive Parent.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You Can't Make Me!

 On last night's local news there was a story about a local high school that has scheduled a mandatory meeting for parents of kids who participate in school sports. The agenda for this meeting is a new drug/alcohol policy for the school. The school stated that parents must attend the meeting in order for their child to be eligible to participate in his/her chosen sport.  Apparently during the fall there had been a number of serious drug/alcohol incidents with this town's high school students. The principal, looking out for her student's safety decided one way to get parents attention to this matter was to make a meeting about this issue mandatory, knowing that usually when meetings like this are scheduled only a handful of parents attend. And the parents that do attend, make it feel like you are "preaching to the choir".

By the reaction of the parents in this town, you would have thought that the Principal was mandating them to attend a full day event, no food, no bathroom privileges, strapped down to a chair! Hello, it was an hour! Comments like the adult version of "you can't make me" were bountiful. Even the kids, who will also have to attend their own mandatory meeting understand the importance of this meeting. One student commented that it would help parents to see what the issues are and be able to help the kids better. But the parents, not so much. The biggest objection seemed not to be the subject, but that they were being told what to do, and they didn't like that. Hmmm, sound familiar?

 First of all, it would seem to me that the most important issue here is the safety of our teens. Getting information to parents is not an easy task. Parents are busy people, working, and taking care of families, and it is often very difficult to motivate parents to come out at night for a meeting. I think sometimes we all need a kick in the pants to do something when really what we want to do is get in our jammies and lie on the couch. The school thought this topic was important enough to do the kicking. Second of all, and I think more importantly, parents are models. Your teen is watching you very very closely on just this kind of issue. When a request like this comes up, whether by a school, an athletic or arts group, a religious organization, and you bash the request as being stupid, you send a message to your kid that you shouldn't have to do something you don't want to do. You model dismissiveness. And the next time your kid is required to do something he/she doesn't want to do, watch out for backlash. " Why should I have to, you didn't when the school said you had to!!

Thirdly, when a school says, we have some safety issues with our kids around drugs and alcohol and we think it is so important that we are "making" you come. Take heed. If you dismiss this, the message your kid gets from you is that drugs/alcohol is no biggie. How much more meaningful it would be to say, "I get there is a lot of drugs/drinking at your school, I need to get as much information as I can to make sure we can help you stay safe." When you take this issue seriously, so will your kids.

When my daughter was in high school, some years back, they also had a mandatory meeting for all parents on drug and alcohol safety. As a parent rep I had a list of parents to call to remind them of the importance of coming to this meeting. One of the parents I called, was quite clear on her intent not to attend, saying" I don't need to come to this thing, my kid doesn't do any of that stuff". Talk about the head in the sand approach, as it turns out her son was one of the bigger druggies in the school. All the kids knew it , and so did the parents.

Some things in life are stupid, many things for that matter. But as a parent, one of your jobs is to prepare your kids to have to "suck it up" sometimes. And the way you do that is not just by making them do things they don't want to do, but by showing them through your own actions. Doing things you don't want to do, not with resignation and negativity, but with an openness to potentially learning something new.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Years Resolutions

Happy New Year! On your way to the gym, and after you have only eaten healthy food in order to lose 10 pounds, and when you have cleaned out your closets and gotten rid of all your non-essentials, and when you have finished your salad, no dressing for lunch, and then walked for 30 minutes instead of having a hostess cupcake(does anyone eat hostess cupcakes anymore), and then did everything on your "to-do" list at work or at home before your kids come home, and made sure that you accomplished everything on your new years resolution list, then take a deep breath and say thank god this day is over.

The problem with New Years resolutions is that we make too many of them, and then never really follow through on any of them. The same thing also happens with parenting. I might meet with parents for an hour, and in that time we come up with a game plan that includes a number of strategies to improve whatever situation brought them in to see me. I always caution them to pick one issue, and one strategy, stick with making that one change, integrating it into their parenting bag of tricks before they take on something else. Imagine trying to teach you dog how to sit, come, and roll over all in the same training session. Eventually they just look at you, with that adorable cocked head, and know you are absolutely crazy. Teens are the same way. If a new regime takes over, and you start changing all the rules at the same time, your teen will look at you with that adorable cocked head, and say,"What are you crazy?"

Perhaps over this vacation, you have had time to reflect on your relationship with your teen, or thought about some areas you think you need to help your teen with. Maybe you want to be less negative and focus less on what they don't do and more on what they can do. Maybe you are worried about homework focus and cell-phone use, or their organization and time-management issues, or their attitude and how they talk to you. I am sure there are a million things that could go on this list. Pick one and only one, and then think of a simple strategy to address it, and then follow through on it, consistently!

Teens hate change. They resist it, and will fight you every step of the way. This is not really their fault. So much of adolescence is about change; changing bodies, changing moods, changing relationships, changing expectations. They are so overwhelmed by all these changes, which for the most part are out of their control, that they tend to hang on to those things that have become almost ritualistic whether they are good for them or not. So before you institute any changes in rules, or expectations first make sure you acknowledge with them that change is hard. You can say: "I've been thinking about ________________, and it seems like we need to work on this. I know you are used to ________________, and doing it a different way will be an adjustment, I get it. Lets figure out a way together to make it work.  Including them in the strategy building helps them to take ownership of it. Nobody likes to be told what to do, especially teens. The key here is not the choosing of whether or not there will be some change but how it will make it easier for them to be successful at adjusting to it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Twelve Days Of Vacation

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