Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Parent Consultant VS the Parent Director

In keeping with my current events theme this week, The Boston Globe had an interesting article on how toddlers learn. I know your kids are teens, but bear with me, there is a surprising connection here. A researcher from MIT conducted a study with 100 preschoolers. The experiment was as follows. Each toddler was presented with a toy that had multiple functions. One group of toddlers were shown one function of how this toy worked by a research assistant, then were left to their own devices to explore the toy. The other group of toddlers were given the toy with no instruction, and were left to their own devices to explore this toy.

The toddlers who were given some instruction, played with the toy in that one way, then got bored and stopped playing with it altogether. The group who was given no instruction, not only played with it longer, but through trial and error discovered the different ways this toy could be used. Simply put when direction was given,  there was no exploration. When no direction was given, there was much exploration. I don't know about you, but I think that developing problem solving skills is the main event of childhood and adolescence. It is what helps to develop confidence, and curiosity. Developing a personal identity requires it as does thriving in our new complicated world.

The term "helicopter parent" has been popularized of late, referring to parents who hover over their teens, involving themselves in all aspects of their teens life. Your choice as a parent is to either stand on the side lines and let your kids play the game of life, providing assistance when asked or needed versus getting in there with them and telling them how to play, what moves to make, and how to make those moves.

Like those toddlers who without instruction figured out how this somewhat complicated toy worked, your teens are driven to figure out their "toy" as well. If you figure it out for them, then they will grow to depend on you to always figure it out for them. This does not make for a healthy adult. I don't know about you, but hiring someone or marrying someone who hasn't learned how to problem solve might be a tough sell.

Some parents thrive on being the problem solver, the director of their kids lives. You are not being fired, just given a lateral move. Think of yourself as their consultant instead. The hours are way more flexible and now you have some time for yourself. Its all good.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

No Naked Pictures Please

If I've told you once, I've told you a million times, do not take naked pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror and send it off to a boy you think is your "boyfriend." This week is current events week. The newspapers seem to be filled with cautionary tales for parents of teens. Yesterday sleeping with a cell, today, taking naked pictures with a cell. This article should be a required family reading event. Perhaps at the dinner table, when you have their undivided attention. There is nothing like the real deal, reading a first hand account of a story that though your kids might deny they feel any connection with, has probably to some degree happened with someone they know.

Here is the link:

In short, a 14 year old girl decided to go into her bathroom, take off her clothes, aim the camera on her phone into the bathroom mirror where she could take a picture of her naked body. Feeling satisfied with the pic, she sent it off to her "boyfriend." I use this term loosely. Middle school relationships have the shortest shelf-life of any relationship known to mankind. Days later, the "boyfriend" decided to break up with this girl. After the deed was done, he showed the picture of his "ex" to an ex-friend of his ex-girlfriend. Are you following me here?  This girl, after feeling somehow slighted by this ex-friend, sent the following text which captioned the naked picture of her ex-friend. "Ho alert! If you think this girl is a whore, then text this picture to all of your friends."

As you can imagine this picture spread like wildfire, not only through this middle school but also to the other 3 middle schools in this suburb of Olympia, Washington. But the story gets worse, because everyone of those kids passed on the picture and text to all of their friends, it just keeps on going. Fortunately, somewhere along the line, a parent who had been monitoring their kid's texting saw the picture and the authorities were contacted. They traced the origin to the ex boyfriend and ex friend, who ended up being led out of school in handcuffs, and into juvenile detention. Their future is unclear. There have been many mediation sessions with all involved, but for the girl whose naked body was streamed out there and beyond, it will never be over. Deciding to switch schools to start fresh this girl was recognized as the naked picture girl, and it started all over again for her.

This is scary stuff. Three young teens lives have been forever changed. Teens do not think through consequences. They live in the moment, and if that moment is powerful and awesome, and no one has drummed it into their heads that sending naked pictures, receiving naked pictures and them sending them on to a cast of thousands is illegal, immoral, hurtful, and life-altering, and not in a good way, they will just keep on doing it.  Your kids need to hear this message over and over and over, using stories, newspaper articles, and most importantly monitoring. Forget the issue of trust. This is not about trust or privacy, it is about temptation and safety. Here is your 'I get it moment' using the story above: "I get why this girl sent the picture. I get why the ex boyfriend showed it around,and I get why the ex friend thought it would be funny to send it out worldwide. I get this could happen to you. I need to make sure that you do not unknowingly get yourself into a situation that could end up like any of these kids. Maybe you have a crush on someone, maybe you are mad at one of your friends, and you might do something without really thinking it through. My job is to help you with this stuff. So for now, every now and then I will ask to look at your texts and pictures. I get this will feel invasive, I really won't read them that carefully, I just want to make sure there is nothing that is sexual, threatening, or hurtful. Most kids leave their phones places where someone can read them, thats how kids get in trouble. I love you and I want to make sure you are safe.

Remember that they way kids learn is through repetition. You can not have "the talk" and expect that they will "get it" They have to be reminded constantly. Do not be deterred when your teen tells you that are boring, and stupid. Somewhere in that brain of theirs you are making a dent.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Texting.

If I've told you once, I've told you a million texting after bedtime!!!! I have been saying this for years, and yesterday The Boston Globe said it too.

Here are a few quotes from teens that were interviewed for this article:"When I'm texting someone I don't feel alone." "When you don't have your phone, you feel incomplete." "It's impolite not to respond if someone is coming to you with their problems." One teen interviewed said that she gets as many as 100 texts while she is in bed. "I just don't feel like myself if I don't have my phone near me or I'm not on it."

Read these and weep parents. We have created texting crazed monsters who no longer worry what's under their beds or hiding in their closet at bedtime, but instead we have created teens moving into adulthood who are terrified to be alone. This is not a healthy thing, either psychologically or physically. Adulthood requires us to have a confidence in our ability to deal with complex emotions: depression, anxiety, loneliness,  and stress All the things that challenge us as we deal with career, family, and transitions of life. Adolescence is a training ground for developing coping mechanisms for managing all of this. Of course reaching out to friends is an important strategy. Learning how to develop strong support systems is the main event of teen life. But it is equally important to know that we can also depend on ourselves in looking for a safe harbor. Look no further than a sleeping baby who sucks their thumb and hugs their teddy bear on their way to slumber.

Physically speaking, this is a no-brainer. Teens are just not getting enough sleep. Michael Rich, and expert at Children's Hospital says:"Children who text late into the night do not fall asleep as well and they don't enter the deep sleep of Stage 4 REM sleep, which is crucial to moving experiences and lessons of the day from short-term to long-term memory." So forget about academic tutors, SAT tutors, all a waste of money unless you can get your teen to sleep!

When I speak to parents about this issue, and simply state, no cellphones to bed, the floodgates open with comments from parents like:" but they use their phone as an alarm clock." or "I'll never be able to get their phone away from them." them an alarm clock, and who is in charge here?????

Getting your teen to accept that sleeping and cellphone use do not go together like two peas in a pod will be a challenge. Do a little homework first and look at your teen's phone bill. See if they are texting at night. If they are you have your ammunition, it they haven't been texting at night...yet, you are ahead of the game, cause it will happen.  If you go into battle about this, you will make a difficult situation worse. Do not approach your teen with a " I'm taking your phone away at bedtime, you're not sleeping, its my phone, get over it!!! This will not engender cooperation. Instead use this "I get it" moment. I get how important it is for you to have your phone with you in bed. I know you always like to be a thumb away from all your friends in case they need you, or if something is going on that is a "must know." but here is the thing, you need to sleep, you need to give your brain a rest, and you need learn and develop confidence in your ability to get yourself to sleep. I know this will be an adjustment, but I have complete confidence in you." Expect resistance, anger, and hostility. It will not be a pretty sight. No need to get defensive, just understand from their point of view, give a little shoulder shrug, and you're done.

Cell phone companies now have a service for a few extra bucks a month that will disable the outgoing and incoming calls/texts for a specific period of time, like 11 PM to 6 AM for example. I recommend this approach rather than physically taking the phone away so as to avoid a power struggle like: "Time to put the phone to bed." and then from your teen, "oh please just a few more minutes..." And we know how that will go. And for your teens who say this is their alarm clock, they get their alarm clock.

Stand firm on this one, it is matter of health!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Don't Boys Talk?: A Different Kind Of Silent Treatment

 I love doing my seminars because after I finish my presentation parents come up to me with such heartfelt questions. This parent, feeling at her wits end, just did not know how she could get her son to talk to her. She can see and sense that all is not well with him, he looks unhappy, seems lonely, and isolates himself in his room. This is not an intentional silent treatment as in the daughter who wouldn't talk to her parents for 2 months, but the story of a guy who probably just doesn't know what to say, cause he may not have a handle on what he is feeling, and is just full up to brim with emotion.

Boys and girls, men and women are different. Period. Our bodies are different, our driving hormones are different, and our culture raises us differently. I asked this mom what her son's father was like,wanting to find out what kind of model this boy had grown up with. Turns out the dad is not dissimilar to her son. A quiet guy, who keeps his feelings to himself. Mom also seemed somewhat introverted. I sensed she was in unfamiliar territory as she haltingly shared her story. This too was a woman who kept things to herself, but could see her son was in pain, and wanted so desperately to help him even if it meant going out of her own comfort zone. 

There are two things at play here. First this 14 year old boy is experiencing the world in a new way. He is probably uncomfortable with his new body, his new brain, and all the normal angst of adolescence. He may be in the middle of a transition time with old friends, some moving on to other people, leaving him with a void, and having no idea how to fill it. If he is a shy guy, then put his personality style into the mix, and you have a boy feeling all kinds of things he has never felt before, and no comfortable outlet to express it. If this is a family in which people mostly keep their feelings to themselves, this boy may not have the feeling language to communicate all that is going on with him. 

If your kid jumped out into the middle of the street and you saw a car coming, instinctively you would jump in to save him/her. In adolescence, your teen is jumping in the street on a regular basis, and you need to have a huge repertoire of life-saving techniques. A very important one may be looking at your own behavior, personality and attitudes and evaluate the model you have presented to your kids about how to handle life's ups and downs. In this family, this boy may not been given the tools to unravel his own feelings. Instead he is following the family legacy of shutting down and keeping those things locked up inside. How wonderful would it be for the dad to say to his son: "You know I'm not very good at this feeling thing. I know I don't talk much at all about what's going on with me, and like you, I didn't talk at all to my parents. But I can see that you have a lot on your mind. I know what that feels like. I remember when I was your age.........(share some stories, insights). I get talking to your mom and me might feel uncomfortable, cause I feel like that a lot even now as an adult. But I love you, and we can work on this together." Insert here any observations like: "I notice you don't seem to be hanging with so and so anymore, or you used to love playing soccer, it feels like something has changed for you..." Rather than asking questions, try to make observations of changes you have noticed, sometimes that can help open him up.

Raising a teen requires parents to take a good, hard look at their own life and how they live it. Your teen's level of awareness of who you are and how you handle the storms and stresses of life has never been more important. This can be a time for enormous new growth for you. A good therapist costs a ton of money, just ask me, let your teen do it for free.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Joani's Top Ten Parenting tips

In celebration of my 101st blog entry since I started this whole project (yay me) I decided to do a top ten list of what I think are the most important tips in raising a teen. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Encourage your teen to think for him/herself. Restrain yourself from being the chief problem solver of their life even if they ask you to be that for them. If you want them to make good choices when you are not around, you need to encourage them to try to problem solve when you are around. Practice makes perfect!

2. Try not to ask a zillion questions. You won't get the answers you want anyway, and they stopped listening at hello. Try starting with a discussion about your day, or some neutral subject, and engage them in a conversation before you start the interrogation.

3. Try to refrain from going on the "lecture circuit." I know you have a lot of wisdom and life lessons to impart, but when you see their eyes roll up into their head, you have probably lost the moment. A good speaker always reads their audience. If you are living a life filled with purpose, and model for them what it means to be a good person, then you won't need to tell them what it means to be a good person. They "get it."

4. As uncomfortable as you may be, you gotta talk about sex. Do it with honesty, candor, and understanding, not judgement. Talk about your own struggles, and experiences when you were a teen, especially those moments of which you are the least proud. If they know that you made some stupid decisions in your life when it came to sex, they will feel freer to share their questions and worries. Nobody likes a goody goody!

5. When it comes to alcohol and drugs, make your house safe. The first place kids look for forbidden fruit is in your garden. Again, you need to have honest discussions, sans judgement, understanding that they will be in situations they have never been in before, and will be "tempted by the fruit." Help them to anticipate these situations, and problem solve about ways to stay safe.

6. Do not rule with an iron fist. This may have worked when they were younger and liked rules and regulations. Your teen needs to be a part of the rule making if you don't want them to be a rule breaker. Teens will easily resort to lying when they feel you have left no room for negotiation and conversation. Most kids are actually pretty reasonable, and when given the opportunity to have some control will rise to the occasion, and conversely if they feel too over controlled will try to take it.

8. Absolutely set limits (with their input) with cell phones, computers and video games. Just like you let them eat only a few pieces of Halloween candy a night when they were younger so they wouldn't gorge themselves, you need to see these devices in the same way. No cell phones to bed, a set amount of time for no cell phone or  face book during homework time. And include them in looking at their phone bill on a regular basis. Mindfulness not mindlessness.

9. Find multiple moments to express your appreciation, and pride in them. This might be near to impossible sometimes, but there is nothing more important. I'm not talking about good test scores or term grades, but a moment of kindness caught, maybe a nice moment with a younger sibling, or a sweet conversation with a grandparent or maybe after a tough week of school, and sports or play rehearsals, appreciating them for taking on so much. Maybe its just an out of the blue" you're a good kid, and maybe I don't tell you that enough."

10. And finally, please find some fun with your teen. Hang out, watch TV, bring in some pizza or Chinese food, go to the driving range, play a video game, listen to music with them, go get manis and pedis, bake a cake, take the dog for a walk, go shopping, anything that may give you a moment, maybe just a moment, of sweetness with your kid.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When The Silent Treatment Is Deafening

I met a mom the other day who asked me with such pain in her eyes what to do about her 16 year old daughter who in anger had said to her " I will not speak to you again until I can move out at 18!" That was 2 months ago. The parents stood in front of me that night feeling so hurt and so powerless. The mom bought the silent treatment, hook, line and sinker, and also has not talked to her daughter in these 2 months. Talk about a stand-off. The dad feeling stuck in the middle of the two women he loves, chooses to do nothing rather than look like he is taking sides. 

This is an extreme case, but I too remember as a teen, when I felt my mother had misunderstood me so badly that to get back at her I would not talk to her.... forever. Forever turned out to be a few days. Not sure who flinched first, but I know I'm not really good at holding a grudge, but some kids AND some parents are good at grudge holding. Both parties are waiting for the other to apologize, and for two stubborn people this waiting can turn into months as in the mom and daughter above. That is two months too many of wasted time and energy. 

When a perceived injustice occurs, and your teen states emphatically that they hate you, and they can't wait to move out, and they will never speak to you again, and then they don't speak to you for days or weeks at a time, and you reciprocate with silence something has gone terribly wrong. Your teen is angry and hurt for whatever reason, as are you. Perhaps you are a stubborn person, who holds on to hurt and find yourself saying:"fine,  if she/he doesn't want to talk to me, that's her/his choice, but I can play the same game, and lets see how much they like it!" What kind of model is that? Teens are emotional. Their brain chemistry feeds that flame like air to a fire. Your job is to slowly and carefully find your way into the fire, and get everyone to safety. 

You need to keep the door open so that your teen might find their way back in, and save face doing it. They have laid down a gauntlet and now feel obliged to walk it whether they really want to or not. Every night before bed, every morning when they get up, you continue to express your love for them regardless and without expectations. Your teen needs to know that no matter how much they have hurt you, (and perhaps they feel you have hurt them) you always always love them. Texts sent to their phone, cards left on their bed, e-mails sent to their computer, whatever you need to do to let them know that you are ready whenever they are to figure this issue out. Some I get it moments: " I get how angry you are, or I get how hurt you are, or I get you need time, and I respect that. But I love you and I know we can figure out what went wrong here. I can't change if I don't know or understand what can make you so angry with me that you can't even talk to me. I love you, and there is nothing more important to me than figuring out what has gone wrong."This message has to be given without guilt and anger if you truly want to open the doors of communication. Anger breeds anger. Having a child who feels so negatively towards you is unbearable, so much so that many parents don't want to open Pandora's box. Your teen will be brutally honest when the flood gates open and you need to be prepared for that. If your relationship has deteriorated to this extreme, I'm guessing that blame lies with both parties. Modeling ownership of your own part in this allows your teen to do the same. Who flinches do!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trust Is A Tricky Thing

After my seminar last night a parent came up to ask me a question about her 15 year old daughter. She asked: "What do you do when your kid betrays your trust? Can and how do you rebuild it?" Such a great question, and one that is complicated to answer. Trust is a tricky issue with teens. The adult perspective is that someone earns your trust by basically showing through their behavior that they understand and respect your expectations, and that after a period of time you can successfully predict that they can perform the behavior that meets your expectations. I have no idea if that really makes any sense. But I just reread it and I'm going with it!! Because adults have more life experience, and more ability to think things through, it is realistic to expect that when an adult ( a friend, a spouse or family member) betrays your trust it is with full understanding of what they are doing. That a cognitive choice has been made, I know I am not supposed to be doing this, and I am doing it anyway.

Teens do not come to the table with life experience, and an ability to think things through. So when the term "trust" gets thrown around with your teen, it might set everyone up for failure. I think that the issue between teens and their parents is not so much about trust, but about temptation. Teens do not live in a thinking brain. Which is to say, yes they can think, but they don't often think things through. They live in a feeling brain. It is their spontaneity and impulsivity that drives their behavior. The "awesomeness" of it all. So in the moment when an "awesomeness" comes around, it is in direct conflict with a behavior that if acted on would be a betrayal of your trust. So for example, if your teen promises you that they won't go to a party where there are no parents present, and then you find out that they lied and indeed went to that party with no parents present, you would define that as a betrayal of trust. Which indeed could be defined that way. But here is another way of looking at the incident. She and her friends drive up to the party. Your teen asks her friend, "do you think their parents are home?" "What are you kidding, NO" Now your teen has a dilemma. She knows on the one hand she is not supposed to go into this house with no parents, yet she watches as carfuls of kids walk into said home, carefree and seemingly feeling completely conflict free about their decision. She knows on the one hand she is not supposed to (trust issue) but wants to so bad cause everyone is, she'll look like a loser if she says no, the cute boy she has a crush on and her friends tell her has a crush on her is inside, she feels like she looks really cute (has on a good outfit), oh what's a girl to do....she goes in!!  I would see this as a temptation issue. Imagine how hard it is to walk away from all that "goodness".

So here is your "I get it" moment with trust. Using the above example, rather than going to the "you have betrayed my trust, you lied, you're grounded, place. Instead you might say something like this. "I found out that the parents were not home, and I thought we had an understanding that you are not to go into a house with no parents. On the other hand, I get how hard it must be when you are actually in the car, in front of the house and desperate to go it. I know you want to do the right thing, but when you see your friends all going in I get how hard it would be just to walk away. We need to figure out a plan so that when you are in this situation again, you might be able to do something different rather than lie. Maybe you call, and let me know the parents aren't home. Maybe I will say, that you go in and say hi, stay a few minutes and then I will pick you up around the corner. This way you get to save face, stay safe, see your cute boy, and then feign illness or an early morning family gathering, and slip out the door."

The issue here is to recognize the power of the moment, and how unrealistic it is for you to expect that when your teen is full of impulse and excitement that they will be able to do the right thing. If they feel they can call you with this dilemma and "trust" that you won't yell at them, but instead help them with it, then hopefully you can bypass the lying and the sneakiness.   Encourage honesty by offering help.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Goodbye Auntie Bea

Yesterday my beloved 88 year old Auntie Bea died. I have been taking care of her over the last year, and I will miss her dearly. Everyone should have an Auntie Bea. Never married and without children of her own, her 6 nieces and nephews and her 4 great nieces and nephews were the light of her life. The joy she took from hearing about all of our accomplishments, the understanding she gave when hearing about our low points, and the many many stories that she told that were the gateway to our family's history are all permanently living in all of us.

My Auntie Bea was the fun aunt. The person you looked forward to just "beaing" with from childhood to adulthood. Whether trips to the movies, or bowling, being taken out to lunch or dinner, or just talking and schmoozing you had her undivided attention. She lived with and took care of her own parents until they both died, and was loving and devoted to her three "big" sisters. Though the baby of  her family, she was the person everyone turned to for help and support. And she always always gave it, no matter what, without complaint or looking for anything in return. One of the truly selfless people I know.

Though not a parent herself, she instinctively knew what kids needed, and as we grew through the lifespan to adulthood, continued to give everyone of us unconditional love and support. Never judgement or even advice, just a loving presence, that was her "present" to all of us.

As parents often we forget the gift of just "beaing" with our kids, thinking that we can't miss a moment to instruct, teach, and prepare our kids for the future. Sometimes it's those non-moments of playing, joking, eating, and hanging that end up being the most instructive and long lasting, just like with   my Auntie Bea.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The rewards Of Ownership

Several days ago the NYtimes published an op-ed: Let Kids Rule The School, about a group of teens in a school in Western Mass who were given the task of creating a school within a school. They designed curriculum, the structure of the school day, and methods of evaluation. The teens involved were students who were on the verge of dropping out as well as honor students. To say that they rose to the occasion would be an understatement. Not only was I blown away by their creativity, but also more importantly by their understanding of the learning process. Instinctively they knew that the curriculum needed not only be meaningful and interesting, but also that the process of learning, how they were to learn the material was of equal importance. Total engagement and immersion into each subject allowed them to fully integrate and find meaning in what they were learning. There was no just reading a chapter in a textbook and regurgitating back the information in a quiz. What impressed me most was the issue here of ownership. When students set their own goals, developed the method of how to reach them, and then demonstrated their mastery in a way that felt meaningful, learning became not just a means to an end like being graded, but instead, wow, this stuff is interesting and meaningful in my life.  Here is the link:

This whole issue of ownership not only works in school, but easily translates to the family. Just telling your kids what to do works great when they are young, but as teens they are born to argue. They love to tell you something is stupid, your rules, school, cleaning their room, etc. As adolescents they are driven to make sense of their own life. This is why these students were so successful in their school. Ok, so school is stupid, go ahead and make it better. And guess what they did! You might try this with your teen, rather than just making the rules, and watching helplessly by as they flaunt them, manipulate their way out of them or avoid them, engage them in the process of making them. Unless your teens feel an ownership and stake in their lives, they will naturally try to take it from you anyway.

This taking ownership does in no way mean abdication. These students weren't given the choice to go to school or not, just how to do it. You aren't giving your kids a choice about doing their homework or not, or staying out all night without a curfew, or "you don't have to do anything you don't want to do, but instead: You will need to be home sometime, what do you think about what time?, or You need to get your homework done, how best do you think you can do it? or we are a family here and all have to pitch in, how do you think you can be helpful? You are giving your teens the opportunity to set goals, develop a plan to execute, and a method of evaluation just like these students did in their "school". Give your teens the opportunity to rise the occasion!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Too much love can be a bad thing!

On my flight back from the west coast yesterday, I sat with a lovely couple, who thankfully kept me occupied with conversation for several hours, distracting me from my fear of flying. In the course of the conversation we covered all the usual stuff, who we were visiting, where we were from, and what we did for a living. On hearing I was a parenting expert, and with an encouraging nod from me, we settled into a coaching session about their 27 year old son. These clearly loving and lovely parents were distraught about the failings of this young man. It seems this guy was the golden child growing up, talented athlete, popular and adored by both adults and peers, and good student. Off he went to college, where I am guessing his golden boy status fell on deaf ears in a large university setting. No longer the big fish in a small pond, no "adoring fans" just fellow students, he entered the real world. I 'm guessing he started with smoking pot, and most recently was found to have an addiction to Oxycontin in addition to his abuse of pot. He has managed to hold a job, but his drug habit has put him into thousands of dollars of debt, totaled two cars and crashed a third, and is now financially dependent on his parents to continually bail him out. He is allowed to live rent free in their downstairs apartment of the 2-family house they own. His parents pay his phone bill, car insurance bill, buy his groceries, do his laundry, and rescue him from most of the trouble he finds himself in. Peter Pan couldn't have said it better: "I won't grow up."

There is no question that these parents are loving, attentive and supportive and have always been engaged and involved in their children's lives. But this is a case of too much involvement, and too much engagement, and a study in when too much is too much. It is a cautionary tale for all parents. This dad is the "fixer". He loves feeling needed, and jumps at the chance to problem solve for his kids. He is the car buyer, the job finder, and the bill payer.  The mom is the "nurturer."Nothing makes this mom happier than doing for her kids, whether it's their cooking, or cleaning, or their laundry. I have painted a beautiful picture. But here is the problem, this son now an adult feels entitled and dependent on all that his parents do for him rather than being appreciative and grateful. This young man has been so taken care of, that now as an adult has no motivation to do for himself, and frankly who can blame him. If he knows that no matter what, mom and dad will be there to rescue him from responsibility, why be responsible at all? But what is less obvious, is that this young man feels like a loser. Yes its all good that he has a nice car, state of the art phone, free digs, but all his money goes to his drug dealers, and his parents support his life style. This is not self-esteem building behavior. So though on the outside it may look like "he is in fat city"on the inside he knows that this is not where he should be at 27, with mom cooking and doing his laundry. Becoming successfully independent in young adulthood is normally what we hope for our kids and what they want for themselves.

Here are the takeaways from this tale for parents of teens. In the not so distant future your teens will be young adults. Your job is to help them develop the skills now that they will need as they enter the world on their own. So here are a few tip to help you help them get there.
 1. Do not "overhelp" with their school work. No one is entitled to a college education. If your high school student is not showing academic motivation, and you find yourself the orchestrator of homework and papers, you are not helping your teen to develop those skills they will need when they don't have you around. Be clear with your expectations: "I get you hate doing homework, but here is the thing, no work, no college.
2. Make your kids have to work for some things. Kids do not "need" state of the art  phones, computers, clothes, video games and all the other non-essentials of life.  Teens have begun to expect that they should have the "best of everything". What builds self-esteem, and self-confidence and resilience is not being given too, but working for!
3. Resist the temptation to be the problem-solver as in "here is what I think you should do". Better question is "well, what do YOU think you should do? Do not find them the summer job, the internship, write their college essays, make their college lists, etc. If you do everything for them, they never get to have that feeling of: "look what I did, I'm so proud of myself." Instead you get to feel" look what a great parent I am." More important for your teen to feel that sense of accomplishment than for you.

The bottom line is, becoming an independent adult takes training. Doing for them does not build independence. Adolescence is the time to teach. Giving your teen your blessing that you  have confidence in their ability to handle their life is your gift.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Time to catch up on your reading

Dear readers:
I will be taking some time off to renew and replenish, and will return to blogging on March 16th. Catch up with some of the over 90 posts. There is something for everyone. Enjoy!!

Texting and driving: Developing an action plan

Here is a scary statistic from an article in yesterday's paper on Distracted Driving Among Young People:
63% of people under 30 years old acknowledge driving while using a hand-held phone while and 30% of under 30 text while driving. There were 5500 people killed last year from texting and driving. 

Though I have talked about this issue before, I think it bears repeating.  I have seen a number of people way over 30 years old driving and texting,  but there is not much we can do about that. But I am not ready to give up with teens. They are still young enough and dependent enough on you and your vehicle that you  can hope to have some impact, if you can get them to listen. And that my friends is a big IF. 

For some reason, and I include myself here, when I hear the chime on my phone signifying a text, I get a little excited. Who is it, what do they want? Even though 99.99999% of the time, it is nothing, somewhere I must think that the information just relayed is somehow going to change my life and that I can't live without knowing it immediately!!!!! Come on admit it, you get that little surge of excitement too. Well that's what your teen is feeling times 1000. As an adult, I get that I am ridiculous so I have trained myself not to look at the text until I have parked the car. I do have some ability to delay gratification. Teens, not so much. They need a little help. 

After catching one too many students texting during one of my college classes, I stopped the class and asked everyone to take out their phones. Of course many only had to put their non-note taking hand with the phone in it from under the desk and put it on top of the desk. I then went around the room and asked my students to read the last text they had received. These important messages ranged from: "What-up", to a picture sent of a sandwich their friend was having for lunch. Literally out of 26 students there was not one text that was life-changing to say the least. We all had a great laugh listening to the ridiculousness of these silly messages. But there was a big impact. Reading out loud, and hearing that most of the stuff they get in texts is mindless chatter made them take a moment to acknowledge that they would be missing absolutely nothing by shutting off their phone. It gave them the motivation that some of them needed to delay that gratification.

Helping teens to stay safe while driving takes planning. This can not be just a " you better not be texting or talking on your phone while you're driving, and you will be punished if I find out" kind of a thing. The discussion I had with my students morphed into the driving while texting /talking discussion. This coincided with the new law at least here in Massachusetts that punishes texting while driving with a fine, and a law that prohibits people under the age of 18 years from driving and using a cell phone at all. I asked my students to close their eyes and think about walking to their car. I asked them where their phones were when they opened their car doors. ALL my students looked up at me puzzled, what do you mean? they asked. Where is your phone when you open the door of your car, I repeated. Here is where it got interesting. Their phones are now just another extension of their body that there is no awareness of it. They carry them in their hands at all times, they aren't even aware that they have them. When I said, they are in your hands, they laughed. To them their phones are their hands. When I asked where their phones are when they are driving, they all answered in their non-driving hand, ready to text, make or take a call. And there is the problem. The goal then was to get them to develop a plan and a place to put their phone so as not to be tempted. And that's what we did. The girls said they would shut their phones off, put them in their pocketbooks and put their pocketbook behind the seat. Out of sight out of mind. The guys said shutting the phone off and putting it in the glove compartment. Who knows if they ever followed through, but mine was just an exercise in a psychology class, your teen actually lives with you, and you have more time for practicing. So here is your action plan!

Sit down with your driving teen:
1. Have them read their last 5 text messages, either out loud(which of course they won't do, or to themselves) Ask them on a scale of 1-10 how life changing each text was. This can lead a discussion to the texting /driving issue.
2. Where is your phone when you go to your car?
3. Where is your phone while your driving? (Don't get critical here, when your teen tells you something you don't like hearing.  The work is to help them acknowledge what they do now and come up with something different)
4. Using an I get it moment: "I get that you like to keep your phone close cause you worry you're going to miss something if you don't, or your friends are changing plans and you worry you won't find them. I get this will be hard, cause its always hard to break a habit, but I love you and I want you to be safe."
5. Where can you put your phone when you get in the car so that you can resist the temptation to respond to texts/calls?
6. OK now lets practice.
7. Optional follow-up. You can tell your teen that you will be checking the phone bill on line to see when text messaging and calls are going out and coming in to see if they coincide with when you are driving. We will do this together once a week.

There will be TREMENDOUS resistance to going through this process. So having realistic expectations about how this will go is extremely important. Here is your I get it moment when you get the "this is stupid". "I get you find this whole exercise ridiculous, but just telling you not to use your phone in the car isn't helpful to you unless you have an alternative plan in place. Here is the thing, if you want to drive our car, I need to know that you are on top of this, and have a plan in place. If you choose not to do this, then you won't be able to use our car. Your decision."

And that is that. There is nothing more important than your teen's safety. And judging by the statistics I cited, they need your help. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I vant to be alone!

Sunday's Boston Globe had a wonderful article this week called The Power Of Lonely. Here is the link:

To summarize, it talked about the benefits of spending time alone. "When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what's called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflexively about our own thoughts." I know I crave this time alone, letting my mind wander to places it might not normally go. Our lives now make it almost impossible for some people to shut off all the distractions of Iphones, and e-mail, and facebook, and oh, also the face time we give to our jobs, and our families. This leaves little time for rumination. I know some of my most creative and deep thinking comes in the car with the radio and cell phone off, or in long walks with my dog.

The article specifically addresses teenagers and this issue of aloneness. "Teenagers, especially have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection and freedom from self-consciousness that strengthens their sense of identity." The problem is that though being alone is good for the soul, most teens are afraid of it. They have become so attuned to the buzz of ipods, cellphones, computers and video games, that silence feels alien and to some terrifying. So much so that many teens have developed in inability to go to sleep without some "noise". Just being alone with their own thoughts is scary. I have talked a lot with my college students about this, and in some classes I take the first five minutes to do a short meditation. My students have said how hard that five minutes is for them, and that it feels like forever to just be quiet. This is not a good thing.

Some teens like being alone. Even as children they were happy to play by themselves, and often refused the offer of a playdate, just to be with themselves happily in their worlds of make-believe. Some teens are terrified of being alone, desperately looking for companionship and connection. So there is the nature part of this equation.

You obviously can't make your teen take the time to "smell the roses." But you can model it, and you can call attention to it. Here is your I get it moment: 'You know honey I was thinking about how plugged in we all are, and how little time we give ourselves to just be quiet. I read this article recently that talked about how important it is for everyone to allow themselves time to just process. I get how much you have to do, and how important it is for you to stay tuned in to it all, just wish you would take some time to just be." They will probably look at you and think, what the hell is she/he talking about? But that's ok. Sometimes as parents we are just planters. We drop some seeds of wisdom, and hope that somewhere along the way, some sprouts appear.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bully Prevention

Last night NBC dateline did a show on teen bullying called: MY Kid Would Never. The focus was less on the teens who did the bullying, but on the bystanders. They had actors playing the bully and his/her victim, so "no teens were harmed in the making of this show." Groups of adolescent boys involved in a basketball team scenario and groups of adolescent girls involved in a shopping scenario were filmed by hidden cameras with the actors playing out a prescripted bullying incident. Unbeknowst to the kids, their moms (where were the dads I wondered) were watching on monitors in another room. As the bullying incident played out, moms were asked how they thought their kids would respond: Would they step in and protect the victim? Would they opt out of doing anything, and just ignore the situation? Or, would they join in with the popular, attractive and perceived more powerful bully?

Most parents predicted that their kids knew to do the "right" thing, and would protect the victim. They said things like " we've been talking about this stuff since they day they were born", or "I have always taught my kids how important it is to be kind and caring". As it all played out, without being exact, I would say 25% of the kids tried to intervene, and the other kids split between ignoring or joining in. So 75% of the parents were shocked, and disappointed in their kids, and said so. They wondered how all the work they had been doing was so ineffective in just those moments they were preparing their kids for.

I think this show was especially effective in showing the power of  the "imaginary audience". This term coined by psychologist David Elkind, referring to the all-encompassing self-consciousness that plagues teens in adolescence. In this case the audience was not so invisible, but this term refers to the worry that teens have that other people, especially their peers, are always looking and judging them, just like an actor on stage. "What are people thinking about my performance?" Because for teens so much of their teen life is a performance piece for their peers. Am I cool enough, am I pretty enough, am I smart, athletic, funny, sexy, tough, anything enough!  This mega self-consciousness is a fairly new way of thinking.  This is what makes this so hard for parents who have worked so hard to teach their kids that it doesn't  matter what other people think of you. Parents have taught their kids from the get go that it  is only important what you think of yourself.  Do the right thing, or dress they way you want to, or act the way you want, don't let your friends define you. Unfortunately in adolescence the brain adds a new layer and ability to analyze situations and to be introspective. So teens live in their heads now as much as they live in the present. This explains why everything takes so much longer, getting dressed, making plans, working through relationships and also situations like bullying. They think and think about all the possibilities and scenarios, and taking action becomes overwhelming with all the choices now available to them through this new brain.

In this show about teen bullying, you could literally see those teen's brains working on overtime weighing out all their options. "If I step in then the bully won't think I am cool, or if I step in the bully will turn on me, etc etc. Just telling kids that bullying is bad, is not enough. Thinking that you're kids will "do the right thing" in situations that to us seem like no-brainers is unrealistic. In the moment, your teen is feeling anxious, uncomfortable, and extremely vulnerable, and like most of us will choose to avoid a response that could make them feel even more uncomfortable. Give your kids a strategy and a script, so in those situations that require immediate action, they will have a game plan ready to go.

Try to find a good segway for this discussion. Maybe you know of a friend whose kid is being tormented by a bully and his/her friends don't seem to be stepping in to help, or you go to NBC.COM and watch this show with your teen. Here is your  I get it moment: "You know honey, I get you could be in this situation, and I know it is hard to take a stand sometimes even though you know its the right thing to do. Kids can be pretty cruel, and I know I would be afraid that that kid would turn on me, so here are some things that might help. Maybe talk to your other friends and together make a pact than when this bully type kid starts in on someone, you all will help. That way no one person feels like they have to take this on alone. There is power in numbers. The bully is counting on the fact that they have the most power. But if you and your friends band together, you are the ones with the control. You can say things like: "You're an idiot, we're out of here.", or "hey man, take it down a notch". Give them a script and an action plan. In those moments of real stress it is hard to do the right thing, I get that!!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More sex

At a parent gathering, stories were flying about recent events that had parents reeling. Thought I would share them with you. File under "good kids, good families, and yet...."

Story 1: 7th grade girl comes home from school and tells her mom that at school that day her 12 year old boy...friend as opposed to boyfriend came up to her, and out of nowhere  snidely said: "so you hanging with your boyfriend this weekend, are you gonna have sex? I mean maybe you'll have your period so you know you won't get pregnant." The parent who told me this knows that her daughter who does have a "boyfriend" hasn't even had a first kiss yet, never mind sex. The girl was upset, angry and disgusted. During a break in the school day, she told another boy....friend of hers, who happens to be quite a large young man, about what this kid had said to her. He decided to go to the kid, took him into the stairwell and kicked him the groin saying, "you better not ever say anything like this again to any girl in this school."(PS these kids are from good families and are good kids) On the one hand, this girl took matters into her own hands, or should we say the foot of her "male bodyguard" and felt proud of herself for "taking care of business." Do we say good for her? She is showing a confident, take no prisoners approach to boys who cross the line. I'm guessing most girls would not have been this assertive, and instead would have been intimidated, and humiliated, and clueless as to what to do.

Story 2: Three 9th grade girls and three 9th grade boys hanging out together on a Friday night at one of their houses. The six kids are in the basement, and parents are home and upstairs watching TV. Kids decide to play spin the bottle, but instead of kisses, the boys convince the girls that when the bottle comes to them they have to take off their tops and then their pants. The boys don't have to take off anything. By the end of the game three girls are sitting in their underwear in front of the three 14 year old boys. The girls reported this to a friend, and basically said they didn't know what else to do. They didn't want to do it, but felt they had no other alternative. By the way, these are all straight A students, in honors Math and Science classes and not considered to be in the racy popular kids group.

Why do I tell these stories? I just want to illustrate that it is often the kids you least expect, and who are therefore probably the least prepared to deal with situations they have never been in. Parents of boys, please discuss with your boys that "talking dirty" to girls is disrespectful and unappealing to girls, and could get them in deep "guano" if someone tells on them. Not all girls will be scared, some will run to their parents, some like the girl in the story will get someone to beat the crap out of them, and some might go to an authority at the school. This could potentially be a real deal breaker for them. Getting girls to take their clothes off, oy vey!! Here is your 'I get it" moment. "hey honey, I just heard these two stories from my friend at work/gym/book group. I was so shocked. (tell then the two stories from above) I know that you are hanging out with girls a lot now. I know that you might potentially be in situations where there is pressure to get girls to do things to you or for you,and for you to treat them in a way that I know you know is not right. I also get that you might not know how to stop it and/or get yourself out of it. You can always go to the bathroom, or start looking at your phone, text us and then say to everyone, my stupid parents, I just got a  text from them and they have to come get me now, some emergency or something, I gotta go wait for them outside." Or if you feel confident enough you can say, "hey man, enough already, this isn't cool", which I get might be hard to do in front of your friends."Understand that just because parents are home, that all might not be well in the basement. Unless the parents are sitting in the room with them, kids will find a way to do whatever they want, and you need to get your head out of the sand and assume that there will be times that your teen will be present when the lights go out, and the pants come off. Prepare them!!

For your daughters, you need to get that boys are fearless and boundaryless these days. The good old days are over, and 12 year olds are definitely not immune to sex/drugs and rock and roll. You need to prepare your girls to take care of themselves. Here is your "I get it" moment. "hey honey, I just heard these two stories from (fill in the blank). I was shocked. Do you think you would know what to do if you were in a situation like this? I know I wouldn't have. I get that things like this could happen when you are hanging with your friends, and I want to make sure that you never have to do something you don't want to do just because you don't know what else to do. Lets come up with some contingencies so you are not caught off guard.

I don't why I am still shocked when I hear these stories. I guess cause I am old fashioned and long for the good old days when 12 year olds still had some time to grow up before they had to deal with all this sex stuff. But this is the reality of the world we live in, and as parents you are just gonna have to bite the bullet and have the kinds of conversations you were hoping to at least not have to have until your kid is in high school. Ah the good old days.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My teen the pit bull

A parent talked with me recently wondering how to deal with her teen who will not take no for an answer, not the first time, not the second time, or the hundredth time.  Somewhere along the line, maybe way before his teenage years,  this kid got an inkling that if he just kept at it, there would be a crack in the ice. Maybe it starts with a "NO", then moves to a "we'll see",  and then to a "if I see an improvement in your.... we'll talk about it". Even though in your head it is still a NO, you hope that by leaving the door a little open, your kid will leave you alone. Kind of like when you used to put your young child to bed, and you left the bedroom door open a crack. It made him/her feel less frightened of the dark and sleep, and gave them the illusion that you were still "open" and available to them.

 Teens are extremely motivated to push as hard as they can to get what they want. Perhaps you have that teen who as a younger child was precocious and verbal, "your little lawyer". You may have unknowingly reinforced this "spirited negotiator"because you were so impressed by their creative use of language and persuasion. This child learns early on to impress his parents with this prowess, believes in his/her power of persistence, and in the end is able to achieve the goal, whatever it might be. When they were younger, these negotiations may have been about TV or video game time, or desire for a new toy or game, or wanting to stay up later, fairly innocuous requests.  Unfortunately the request line now is for permission to go to parties/sleepovers at potentially unsupervised homes, or purchasing new technology toys whose benefits are only additional distraction from tasks they already avoid like the plague like homework and responsibilities, or wanting to go to a concert at a venue 50 miles from home that doesn't start until 9 PM, etc etc etc.  Your teens persistence in the present is predicated on what has worked for them in the past. Enter "pit bull".

Here are two options. First, if this is an unequivocal no, no its not safe, no its not practical, no... Then here is your "I get it" moment: simply state the reason, say the "no", and say "I get you are disappointed, I know you are angry with us, but this time our answer will not change. I know you will keep trying to convince us differently, and that will piss us off, but we are not changing our mind." Now here is the really hard part, you need to be extremely consistent with this message without re-engaging with the pit bull since this only energizes and enrages them. When your teen follows you around the house, or texts you multiple times within an hour after you have left the house, and continues to be a royal pain in the a##, you need to literally walk away, shrug your shoulders, put on your ipod earbuds, do whatever you need to do to not re-engage in the verbal volleyball that will absolutely commence. Your teen is going to see a new side of you, the you that won't be deterred from a decision that you feel absolute about. This takes time and practice! You will find this hard. Your teen will be mad at you, and that is hard, but like all things in life, this too shall pass as soon as a new request arises that you will be able to say yes to.

For those requests for which you feel ambivalent, and may initially give a knee jerk NO answer. This might help. Your teen is an expert in hearing your ambivalence, and knows that this NO doesn't necessarily mean NO. So rather than giving a knee jerk NO, take a moment and follow these steps:
Step 1: Say to your teen: "I feel ambivalent about this, what do you think worries me about this?" Give them the opportunity to think this through for you.
Step 2: Say to your teen: "Yes those things do concern/worry me, what can you do to make me feel OK about them?" Make them have to come up with a plan that might help you make a decision.
Step 3: Say to your teen: "What will the consequence be if you do not follow through?" Perhaps at this point you may be able to say yes with the plan in place, or maybe even after you have heard their plan it is a NO. (then follow previous plan above)  Hopefully your teen has done some good work here and you will support giving them a shot at showing you their ability to take responsibility for following through. After all, this is what you are preparing them for. All the life decisions where there are pros and cons. Helping them to figure out how to weigh out actions and consequences, so that when you are not around and need to ask themselves for permission, they will know what to do!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Call of Duty : A parents guide to their duty

Everywhere I speak, and whenever I meet with a group of parents who have boys, a question always comes up about violent video games with a particular worry about Call Of Duty. Should we or shouldn't we? I do not have a specific answer, but I will try to present two sides of this thorny situation and let you and your son decide. Knowledge is power.

This is a violent and amoral game its true. And for those of you who feel that your moral center just does not allow for this kind of game in your home, and that the values so deeply ingrained in you find this game so repellent than this is for you. Here is your 'I get It" moment, and the conversation you can have with your son: "We get that you love this game, and that all your friends have it. I know you think we are taking the violence too seriously, and that you will not turn into a cold blooded killer just because you play this game, but the killing in this game is particularly gruesome and inhumane. We understand that you will play this game at someone else's house, we get that, but having it at home just goes against so much about what we believe in about violence and human life. I know that this feels unfair, and unjust, and maybe just stupid, but we feel its important for us to stand up for what we value at least in our own home."

Here is the more complex solution. If you don't allow your teen to have Call Of Duty in your house, they will for sure go to their friends house to play if they are so motivated. What this means is that much of your teen's free time hanging with friends will now be done at someone else's house. This means you will have even less face time with your teen than you might have if the game was at your house. That is a huge loss. This game is part of the teen boy community. You might not like that, but it is what it is. You can't change it and you really can't forbid it, unless you keep your teen locked in your house and never allow him to visit his friend's home. What you can do is set limits. You can limit the amount of time spent on the game. 8 hours a day is obviously not good. 1 hour a day during the week and a few hours a day on the weekends is fine. Here is your 'I Get It " moment: "We get how important this game is to you, and that all your friends are playing it. Just to put it out there, we find the violence really over the top in this game, but so be it. You can have the game, but together we will come up with some expectations about how much is enough time to play this a day and on the weekends. We will come up with this plan together. However if you fight with us when its time to get off for the day, and become argumentative about it, then we will take the game away or the computer. We are making a real compromise here on our values, and we hope you appreciate that. We are different people and we understand that for you, this game is just a fun game to play, and that it is something that you and your friends do together, and we get how important that is to you."

So there are your two options. You have to do what feels right for you and your family. The work here is not to criticize your teen for liking something you find disgusting. Showing your understanding of your differences is essential, and is more likely to get your teen on board with the rules. Remember its not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.