Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A "room for improvement" Parenting Story

Parents heed this blog. If you are going to have a group of 9th grade girls(or any age teens for that matter) at your house getting ready for a school dance...BE HOME!

A parent has a 9th grade daughter who was going to a dance at her high school. Part of the fun for girls going to dances is to head over to one of their friend's houses in a group to prepare and pre-party, where hilarity ensues. Having a daughter now grown, I actually have very sweet memories of these getting ready parties. Music and mayhem followed by the parade out the door of coiffed, made-up, and dressed to the nines, beautiful girls.  But I digress. This parent had called the mom whose house the girls were going to earlier in the week and was told that the parents would be home supervising this dressing event. There was an assumption that a ride would be provided to the dance by the parents hosting, and so this parent didn't really give it another thought. On the afternoon of the dance, the parent dropped her daughter off at the house thinking all was well in the world. Parents home, ride to dance, done! Unfortunately this mom didn't think she needed to call the parent again to check on the plan as the other parent sounded firm about being home. But I guess their plans changed, and now those parents would not be home. The host parents entrusted their 15 year daughter to relay that information to her friends, who were "supposed" to relay the information on to their parents. Oh yeah, the girls find out that the parents aren't going to be home, and they are going to run home and tell that to their parents. FAT CHANCE. Huge huge huge mistake in judgement on the host parents part. "F" for putting 15 year olds in charge. No 15 year old that I know would have been honest with their parents about this lack of supervision. They are in major party mode, and are only thinking how much more fun this is going to be now that they are "home alone". I'm sure you know what happens. Yes, girls brought alcohol to the house, pilfered from their own homes. Girls drink the alcohol, and one girl in particular drinks a lot of alcohol, so much so that she falls down drunk during the dance, vomits all over the floor and is brought to the ER for possible alcohol poisoning.  Perhaps if the person who drove the kids to the dance had noticed and interceded the girls might not have gone to the dance in a compromised and potentially dangerous state of being. However the person the host parents had entrusted to drive the girls to the dance was a 20 year old cousin, not exactly the picture of maturity himself. So there you have it."F" for leaving these kids to their own devices particularly before a big social event when kids are particularly hyped to party, and " F" for putting a older teen in charge of the transportation.  Luckily the other girls had only a small amount of alcohol, or so they said, and it was only this one girl who was in such sad shape.

 Here are the takeaways:
  1. Do not leave teens alone in a house especially before a major social event
  2. If your teen is going to "pre-party" at a friends house, make sure you communicate to that parent that if their plans should change, and they can't be home, that you want to be contacted by them personally.
  3. If you are hosting such an event at your home, you should call the other parents personally and let them know the plan, and that they should talk to their kids about the alcohol issue. If anyone is found with any, the parents will be called to pick up their kid. 
  4. Never ever depend on a teen to relay messages about plans like this. They are motivated to find a way to have a good time and if that means a lie of omission, so be it. They want to keep their parents in the dark. How else can they expect to have a good time!
  5. Lock up your alcohol. Your teens are getting their booze from your house.
This may sound like I am excusing the behavior of this group of girls. Of course there should be consequences, but this was a set-up for failure from the beginning. As parents, you have to get that all this party stuff is new and exciting. Your teens are curious and impulsive, a scary combination. Your job is to anticipate possible holes in "their plans" understand that all parents are not responsible and that the buck stops with you!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lies Of Omission: "Oh I didn't think I had to tell you that?

Sometimes people lie outright, and sometimes they just don't tell you the whole story. Teens do that too. Why do teens lie? Because from their point of view, they have to. How else can you do what you want to do? The problem is that teens get so used to giving parents half a story out of habit, that they don't give their parents a chance to even say yes, which in many situations they actually might have. But instead they tell the half a story, and because teens are impulsive and live in the moment, they often get caught, and now parents have to deal with a lying issue.

Here are a few cases in point: A thirteen year old girl lives near her town's small downtown area where kids often meet up for pizza or an ice cream. She had her parents drop her off at a school nearby where she told them she was going to a sports event. Apparently, she met up with a few friends there, and they left to walk into town to meet "the boys." (which by the way was the real plan) When the mom called the parent who was supposed to pick up the girls, he told her his daughter had never gone to the school, but he dropped her off in town and that's where he was picking the girls up at the appointed hour. What a silly lie. When confronted by the mom, the girl said she assumed her mom would have said no to letting her walk around town. And she said, I did go to the game (even though it was for 5 seconds) so I didn't lie, I just didn't tell you I was going into town.  Oy vey!!!

Another story. a 15 year old girl who lives 30 minutes by train outside of New York City tells her parents she is going to sleep over so and so's house. Parents drop her off there. Parents are home, all is well. She finds out from a friend who was riding the train back from the city at 10 PM that she saw her daughter on the train. Whaaaatttt! The mother exclaimed, her daughter knows that she is not allowed to go into the city without adult supervision. Apparently the sleepover house parent who drove the girls  to the train station and picked the girls up there at 10:30 PM never questioned this girl as to whether her parents had given her permission to go into the city at night on the train, and the girl never said anything about it and went on her merry way with her friend on their adventure. 

In both cases, the girls never gave their parents a chance to even discuss their desires, and now they have to deal with the consequences of lying... That's the teen "feeling" brain for you. The impulsive need to go and do is so strong that it belies rational thinking. And that is the point. Your teen needs to know that you won't always be the parent of NO. Sometimes as parents we do get into the knee jerk reaction NO's because your teen demands rather than asks, and that pisses you off, or catches you when you are busy, and just to shoo the issue away you say NO, or they have asked permission for a similar thing and you have said NO, so now they know not to ask but just do.

In both of those cases there was room for a non-no answer. It is true that in the past these parents had said no to similar requests, and the girls felt they had no other choice. Your job is to help you kids come up with a plan that could possible make it a yes. For the NYC girl a compromise might have been reached. " I get you really want to go into the city alone with your friends. I don't feel safe having you go in at night, but you could go late afternoon, and take a train home at 7:30 or 8 and still have time to get dinner and walk around in the early evening. I'm guessing that would have been an OK compromise.  In the walking into town case, the girl knew the mom was uncomfortable with the kids rambling around town. Mom and daughter could have come up together will a plan that would have made mom comfortable.

Your job is to say to your kids: "Give us a chance. Maybe we can find a way to make it happen for you that feels good to both of us. Don't give us that chance and you might get caught in your lie, and end up with a consequence that is unpleasant. I know we sometimes say no without thinking, and we will work on that so you don't need to lie."

Go back to my blog on the A+ parent for an example of how well this can work. Remember helping you kids to come up with a plan that works for both of you is so much better and more pleasant than sitting home with a grounded teen. Nobody wants to do that!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finding The Bliss With Your Teen

Just got back from Yoga class, feeling blissed out and thought I would pass on my "blissiness" to you. I know that this blog is often scary as I alert you to all the dangers lurking out there for your teens. And I think my blog probably mirrors your experience as a parent of a teen, spending a lot of your time and energy staying on top of your teen's academic life, social life, family life and responsibilities, etc. I think often we forget to take the time to "smell the roses". Your teen is in full bloom (to continue with the flower metaphor), and I know you take pleasure in this process of 'becoming". We just get caught up trying to keep the weeks out of the garden!

Whenever I do a coaching session with parents, obviously we are spending the time looking at the negative. My teen has an attitude, my teen is lazy, my teen won't do their homework, my teen lies, my teen...fill in the blank. At the end of every session I ask parents to tell me what they like, admire, and love about their teen. It is important to help them see those things that can often get lost in the muck.

One parent whose son was doing badly in school, putting in no effort, told me how proud she was of his ability to be independent. Taking the "T" back and forth into Boston daily from the burbs to pursue his passion and interest in sailing. That is motivation. OK school, having difficulty, but when he finds something he loves, his motivation and persistence is amazing. Another parent, discouraged with her daughter's sneakiness, and lack of effort in school, then told me of how funny her daughter is, how people are so drawn to her. This girl has a significant medical problem that as a teen is important to manage, and has some learning challenges, and is doing the best she can under some difficult circumstances. Another parent after spending an hour venting about all the things her son isn't doing, then told me about his love of music, and theater, and after moving to a new high school had found his place pursuing these interests and making new friends. This showed a promising resilience to change. And finally the parents who have very high expectation for their daughter academically, which the daughter reaches for, have goals for her to pursue her musical talent, which she reaches for, playing in an invitation only orchestra, have high expectations that she will do chores, keep her room clean, and be respectful to her parents. It is on those things she falls down, and it is on those things her parents focus on.

Are you getting the message. No kid is perfect, your kid isn't perfect, and perhaps he/she is engaging in risky behaviors that are scaring the hell out of you, or won't talk to you, or won't reach for their potential, or is generally unlikable. Its probably been hard to find the joy in the relationship, and your teen gets your disappointment in him/her. So try this to break the cycle. Maybe leave a card or send a text to your teen saying, "I know things have been hard for us lately. I just want to say I love you and I know we will figure it out. " Or maybe something that shows you do notice the small stuff. " You have so many wonderful friends in your life, You have such a wonderful way with people. Or "you are one funny guy". Your kids need to know that in spite of the hard stuff between you, you love and appreciate who they are, and who you know they will become. Don't we all need that?

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Teen daughter Is An Exotic Dancer

Ok, so this girl is not working at a local strip club, but I think I have gotten your attention. I got the following letter from a parent: " We recently discovered our eighth grade daughter skyping and chatting with and dancing for the viewing pleasure of a 7th grade boy from her school. The dancing had a very sexualized aspect to it and the discussion on the chat was that the boy would masturbate while she danced." How about reading that letter before you have had your morning coffee. And before you roll your eyes, and thank god that you haven't found your daughter behaving in such an undignified manner, this is definitely not the first letter or request for help on this topic...hardly.

Everyone wants to be a star these days, and with the ability of a computer with a built in camera, everyone can be. Ask me, I have a bunch of video's up on youtube. ( I do not dance in any of them).
This particular 8th grader is a straight "A" student, star athlete, and all around great kid. Not exactly the profile of the kind of girl one would expect to be caught in this situation. But that is exactly the point. There really is no "that kind" of kid. Teens feel sexy, and look for opportunities to play out sexy scenarios. In my day, we mostly fantasized about them, but in this day there are a variety of tools that kids can use to act out these fantasies, and for the most part, nobody has said not to do it. Nobody has said not to do it, because few parents would even think that they had to. But guess what? YOU DO!

These are the kinds of videos that can get kids in trouble. First there is the shame aspect. Maybe not in that moment when the camera is filming, but maybe a few weeks later when that video has made the rounds of the boys in her school. As I have said many many times, teens live in the moment. When the boy asked or this girl offered to dance up a storm for him, she/he were not thinking of the consequences. Like for the boy, what if your parents see this video or read our chats, which thank god they did. How else would this young girl be able to have a conversation and discussion about dancing for boys in a sexual way. And that really is the point. Of course as the parent, when you "catch" your teen behaving in a way that makes you want to lock them in a convent or monastery, you have to have a consequence like limiting computer use to family common spaces, and in the presence of responsible adults. But more importantly is the conversation which absolutely should not start with a "how could you do such a thing?" This is not a conversation starter. This 'I Get It" is. You might start this way: " I get that you like getting attention from boys. We all like getting attention, that's totally normal. But when you make videos of yourself in a way that gives off the "I'm here to give you sexual pleasure vibe, that is very dangerous. Just because you think you are just having fun, doesn't mean that that boy, or other boys he will for sure show it to, think that. They probably are thinking, if this girl does this, I can get her to do whatever I want her to do to me. That is not safe, and I don't think that you really want to be sending that message. We love you, and we want you to be safe. Help us to understand what's going on here." Parents who have told me about these situations are surprised that their kids just don't get why you are making such a big deal about this. They say; "It was just fun" said with no embarrassment or shame. So don't be surprised if you get that response. Because that is the point. Getting caught is the best thing that could have happened to this girl, because it opens up the potential for conversation and learning.

But here is the thing, please don't wait until she gets "caught". Anticipate and understand that girls get themselves in these situations. Have a conversation about respect for oneself, and sexual safety before something happens.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What were you like at 15?

I read a lovely article in the Sunday Globe.  The author, Ellen Freeman Roth reflects on her own teenage years as she strives to understand her teenage daughter. It got me thinking on the standards parents set for their children as they grow up. I was a very average student in high school, but I surely did not want my daughter to be like me in that regard during her high school years. I wanted her to be better, to have more options, to exceed what I felt was my own mediocrity at the time. PS, I think I am doing fine now!

I have been doing a lot of parent coaching lately, and have been struck by the disappointment many parents feel about their teenagers lack of perceived motivation and achievement. Sometimes it's academic, sometimes it's the lack of passion their kids seem to feel for anything significant, and sometimes it's the resentment for the time and effort their teens put into their friends and not their family. When I ask these parents what they were like in high school, they often say, rebellious, angry, social, party animal, disrespectful to their parents... and then we smile at each other. One parent said, she didn't much like her teen these days, and started to cry.

Projection is a defense mechanism we can thank Freud for introducing us to. We often "project" on our children those qualities, memories and characteristics we hate most about ourselves. We sometimes see our children in a light that unconsciously reminds us of that part of ourselves we least like, and then wonder "how did they ever get this way?" Hmmmm

I urged the mom who was feeling so negatively about her teen to tell him she totally understood how he was feeling. She had never really shared honestly with him about her own teen years, which were full of rebelliousness and anger..just like her son. She could see how her own parenting style was mirroring her parents, smothering, and overbearing. She worried that being honest with him might encourage him to throw it back in her face. In fact, just the opposite was true.

Sometimes your teen feels your expectations so keenly and worries that they will fail. So rather than disappointing you and not living up to your expectations, they will just stop trying, and then you can be angry with them rather than disappointed. Anger is a much easier emotion to deal with than disappointment. This mom remembers well how she continued to disappoint her parents, and frankly continues to disappoint her family, not because she isn't successful enough, because she is,  but because she isn't doing what they had expected her to do. She made choices to do what she wanted to do. The message that you are OK being who you are, is so much more loving and accepting than, you need to be how I want you to be. And they will be just fine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Your Kid A Gamer?

 Full disclosure here, I have never been a gamer, except for pong( which I loved by the way, and could have played for hours). I have never played a modern day video game, so what I am about to say here is more psychological and theoretical than anything based on my own experience. But as is the case with most everything, too much of a good thing can be bad.

Saturday's Boston Globe had a really interested op-ed about some some new research on kids who are gamers. The author of the article, a gamer himself in a previous life wrote this about his own experience with video games when he tried to go to sleep after marathon play: "I could still feel and see myself moving around the game’s corridors and rooms, especially when I closed my eyes. There was a strange buzz, too — it was as though some of the neurons that had been tasked with solving the game’s puzzles were continuing to try to do so well into the wee hours of the morning."

Could this describe your teen? I have had a number of parents describe to me the reaction of their teen when they take their kid's X-box away for a punishment. All hell breaks loose,  with tantrums, screaming, yelling, and even sometimes violence. Behavior that mirrors heroine addicts in withdrawal. Video games are addictive. They provide your teen with many carrots. Many kids who are attracted to video games are shy, have difficulty in making and keeping friends, and feel inadequate in their studies. Video games provide them with a community of people who not only accept them but probably seek them out. He (and I say he, because mostly we are talking about boys) feels an enormous sense of competence, in maybe the only thing in his life where he gets that boost in self-esteem.  Finally he develops a dependence on the stimulation that video games provide. That is a pretty powerful package.

The study cited in this article, which described research on boys 13-21 who were committed gamers found the following: The results show that video games could trigger “intrusive thoughts, sensations, impulses, reflexes, optical illusions, and dissociations.’’ None of this is good, growth producing stuff. Your teens need your help. They can not and will not reduce the amount of time they spend playing without direct intervention from you. This will not be fun. Just want to put that out there. Your kid will become a terror, throw fits like a crazy person, and may even become a crazy person as they adjust to more reasonable and normal time spent on their video games.

With summer coming and oodles of free unstructured time ahead, your teen may be salivating at the thought that there will be no restrictions on his game time since there will be no competing interests like school. Please do not allow this to happen. Because come September when your teen has to get up and get out and attend to the more mundane life of school,  you will be up the creek without a paddle.

Here is what I recommend. Go the site: Familysafemedia.com and investigate the various products they sell to help parents control video play. Most of these devices allow you to preset the times and length of availability to play. It works like a DVR, with the ability to turn on the game only at predetermined times, and shuts down the same way. This takes away the power struggle that occurs when parents attempt to stop a session and your teen is in the middle of something, (they are always in the middle of something, needing to get to the next level. Teens who become addicted to gaming lose interest in most everything else. School takes a very back seat, as does normal social interaction with peers and family. If your kid has a laptop, or Iphone you will need to address these as well. Shut off one source and they will find another. Limit the amount of play time, and let your teen decide how he wants to divide it up. If you decide on 3 hours a day, does he want it in one block or divided up over the day. This gives him some control over how he likes to play. In any case, they absolutely won't like this. Anticipate the worst so you aren't caught off guard. And use understanding and empathy. Here is your "I get it moment." " Honey, I get how hard this will be for you. I know you are really good at this and you don't understand why we are making such a big deal about this. But too much gaming really affects your brain. I know that may seem crazy to you, but that is the truth. It is our job to keep you healthy, and safe. We love you, and want you to be able to play but not make it your life."

This is a hard, but necessary task, just ask these researchers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Kid's A Quitter

Many times after a seminar, parents will come up to me with questions about their teens. A common concern is about their teen, who signs up for a sport, or a musical instrument, or an after-school club, with much enthusiasm I might add, and then halfway or all the way into it they want to quit. Parents come to me with mixed emotions. On the one hand they are disappointed in their kid, saying things like,"they never finish anything, they have no passion for anything, I don't want them to learn that if you don't like something, you can just quit it, I hate that they are letting the team down..." and then on the other hand, think that if their teen has said they want to quit, there is really nothing they can do about it. Either way it feels like a pretty powerless place to be in.

Here are some explanations for why teens in particular are well known for being "quitters." First, the most important thing in a teen's life is their friends. If most of their friends are into sports or band or the school play they will want to be into it too, regardless of whether they like it, and have any talent or interest in it. The coaches on the other hand think that kids who join their team are interested in the sport and are motivated to do the best they can. If your teen joined because that's what their friends are doing, they probably are more interested in sitting on the bench and yammering away with their friends. This will definitely piss the coaches off, who may not be win-focused, but at least want their team members to put their fullest effort into the practices and games. Here is where the discontent begins. Teen joins team to hang with friends. Coach sees teen chatting and fooling around and not paying attention during practice and may start with a mild:" hey guys, pay attention," them when that doesn't seem to stop the stem of chatter, may disapprove more loudly with something stronger and perhaps meaner, and then at game time may further punish this distracting player by keeping them on the bench. For this teen, the fun factor of being with friends has diminished, and it is just a place to get hassled by an adult. Additionally their "friends" may actually be seriously into this sport and do not want to "chat and fool around." It is at this moment that your teen may say, "I quit". It has become a lose-lose activity. Friends not fun, coaches not fun, sport not fun, done!

Another cause for quitting, may be that your teen actually was interested in playing this sport, but is just not very good at it. Since self-consciousness is at an all-time high in adolescence, your teen may be feeling a heightened sense of humiliation. Perhaps when they get on the field, they lose the ball, miss the ball, send it to places where no one can field it, or is a slow runner.  Coaches give "feedback" to your teen, in front of their friends, and the result is that he/she ends up on the bench during games and leaves feeling humiliated and dejected. One parent told me: "the coaches have been very discouraging and they tell her to quit." Doesn't sound like fun to me.

 In either scenario, your teen is miserable. They had expectations when they joined up which have not be realized to say the least. I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Your teen is at the buffet of life, exploring all kinds of new "foods". Sometimes the ones they thought they would love turn out to be "yucky", and sometimes they become new favorites. Really no predicting here. There are so many variables at play here that motivate your teen to try new things. What do my friends like? What am I good at? What is fun and exciting? What do my parents expect of me? What is valued to be good at in my community? Sometime they are at odds with each other, and your teen doesn't have the experience or ability to think about it as rationally as you can,  and to play out the consequences of their decisions.

So, when your teen comes to you and says, I quit, here are some strategies. First if your child is a younger teen, I would put a call into the coach/teacher/director and say: "My son/daughter wants to quit X. I'm wondering if you can help me understand what might be going on, and if you have any suggestions. Finishing something they start is important to us, and if they quit I want to make sure they understand why and what the consequences are." I would then go back to your teen with the information you got from this person and discuss it. Sometimes kids just need a little prodding, and they will give it another shot after some strategizing. You might say: " I get you're unhappy with X, and its just not fun anymore. Tell me some of the things that you hate about it? Can you think of anything you could do to make it better? If you do choose to quit, you will need to call the coach/teacher/director and tell them yourself. You can't just stop going you need to take responsibility for your decision. Lets talk about what you will say to him/her." At the least your teen will learn that sometimes quitting something is just as hard as staying in something. Your teen may be right in their decision, sucking it up isn't always character building, especially if their self-esteem is taking a beating. The work is the next time your teen wants to "join up" make sure that you have a discussion that helps them think through their decision. Teens are impulsive, irrational,  and emotional which drive decisions that often backfire. Finding interests that we love and get pleasure from and can commit to is a life long pursuit. Be patient with the process.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Not Another Facebook Arrest!....A Conversation Starter

 I keep bringing these stories to you, because I need you to "get" that your teens need education and training about what will and will not get them in trouble, and what is respectful and disrespectful with regard to what they post on Facebook. This story concerns a high school boy who decided it would be fun to post a rank ordering of 50 girls in his high school. This boy "reportedly ranked the girls on a 10-point scale based on facial features, a 5-point ranking for various body parts and a ranking of whether their "stock" is up or down, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Girls were also given nicknames like "The Designated Drunk" and "The Amazing Bisexual." The list was circulated on Facebook, and in the halls on photocopied flyers."  For those girls who were the chosen, they had to walk into school everyday facing the taunts generated by these so-called "ratings". Some girls were furious, but amazingly some girls thought it was "boys being boys." If this is boys being boys, then lock up your daughters. I'm guessing that the girls who were unperturbed about the rating system, liked the attention it generated for them, especially if their ratings were favorable. Who doesn't want to get a 10 for boobs! "The list was full of misogynistic language and racial slurs." The outcome for this boy was his expulsion from High School and his arrest for misdemeanor and disorderly conduct. I'm guessing that this boy thought he was being one clever dude, as did the hundreds of kids who read, responded, and participated in this incident.

Talk to your boys about respect for women, and talk to your girls about respect for themselves. 


an A+ parenting story

I wanted to share a story with you about how two parents handled a sticky situation. First I want to say that their 17 year old junior in high school son is a great kid. Several months ago he got caught in a lie about a party he had been forbidden to go to. He went to said party anyway, telling his parents he was somewhere else. Sound familiar? At 3:30 AM their son called, the party had taken a scary turn and he wanted out. Knowing there would be consequences, he still called his parents for help. First A+ moment for these parents. Somewhere in this kid's head he knew that even though he had screwed up, his parents would be there for him, since the message had always been safety first.

Fast forward to last weekend. Spring is here as is party time. These parents were approached by their son to talk about his weekend plans. There was a party he wanted to go to. Parents asked all the right questions: Will there be parents home? No, their son said. Will there be alcohol? Probably their son said. Clearly this kid had learned a lesson from the incident a few months before. Lie, you might get stuck in a scary situation. Take a risk, be honest, and trust that your parents will at least have a conversation with you about it. The parents took some time to think amongst themselves. Their thinking went somewhere along these lines. He is almost a senior in high school, turning 18 in a few months. In a previous attempt to set a limit, a very motivated kid, lied and did it anyway, ending up in a situation that became unsafe, and stayed in longer that he should have. This time around he is being honest about the supervision and the presence of alcohol. If they said no, he would "say" he was doing something else and show up at this party anyway, and maybe or maybe not get caught in a lie, or worse, end up in an unsafe situation. They decided that their primary goal was to help him stay safe. So here is what they agreed on, and how they presented together their decision. " We get how much you want to go this party. We know a lot of your friends are seniors, and this is a time to hang with them all before they finish school next week. We are uncomfortable that parents aren't around and that there is alcohol. So here is what we would like to do. We will drive you and pick you up, so at least we know that there will be safety in transportation, and maybe knowing that you will have to get in the car with us at midnight, being trashed will feel less like an option. That's the offer." Their son accepted. When they picked their son up at midnight, the father who is a good alcohol detector, said that his son was not intoxicated, maybe he had had a beer or two, but clearly was not bombed, and had his wits about him. Both parents and son felt the evening had been a successful lesson in honesty is the best policy.

Does this story make you feel uncomfortable? Of course it does. What parent wants to actually give their teen permission to go to a party where there is knowingly no supervision and drugs and alcohol? But as the newspapers have reiterated over and over lately, having parents in the house during a party does not equal or guarantee supervision and safety. What does give parents a better shot at safety is honesty with their teen. In my experience, when there is less sneakiness and more honesty, kids keep better control over themselves and stay safer. Somewhere in that brain of theirs, they accept and respect their parents belief that they have the capacity to be responsible for their behavior. These parents got the party was important, but put some boundaries around it to make it as safe as they could for their son, and in kind he stayed safe. You can't ask for more than that. A+ to all of them.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Just Don't Fit In This family Anymore

Sometimes I get coaching requests from parents who just don't "get" their teen. Its not just the normal teenage angst stuff these parents are struggling with, but a deeper sense of not understanding or connecting with the real "who" this teen is. When you first become a parent, and start a family there are fantasies and expectations of what your family will be like. You have visions of family ski trips, or trips to museums, or Monday night football dancing in your head. And while your kids are growing up those fantasies may become your family's realities. But now your previously appreciative, enthusiastic 9 year old is 14, and expresses deep resentment at having to participate in family activities that they have absolutely no interest in and to be blunt...hate.

Recently a parent told me about her 14 year old daughter who likes nothing better than to watch cooking shows and bake, her favorite TV show being "Cupcake Wars." This family however is athletic personified. They have a vacation house in the mountains and in the winter the family skis and in the non-winter months they love to hike. Everyone in this family is thin and fit, this 14 year old is not. She is not fat, but she is not trim and athletic...like everyone else in the family. The parents came to me because they were feeling completely disconnected from their daughter. She wasn't doing anything wrong, but she continually separated herself from the family perpetuating her sense of non-belonging.  Their other children were active, participated in sports, and these parents were busy coaching and attending and engaging in their other children's lives. Not so much with their 14 year old daughter. Not surprisingly, this 14 year old was surly, argumentative, and angry most of the time.

Adolescence is all about figuring out "who you are". This 14 year old was doing that, and realizing that who she was, was nothing like anyone else in her family. What was problematic in this family was that in order to fit in and be be accepted you had to buy into the family script....love being physical! This 14 year old literally had a different body type,  a different style of physical energy and completely different interests. As she became a teen, this became glaringly obvious to everyone. The parents, loving their daughter, were doing everything they could to make her feel included...in their activities. They cajoled her to come hiking with them, offered her a gym membership to get in shape, maybe take a dance class, a yoga class, a personal trainer, anything to get her interested in taking care of her body. All to no avail, it only seemed to incite the daughter even more.

The truth of the matter is, your kids are not you! Maybe as your kids move into Adolescence they continue to enjoy and participate in the same family activities as they always have. Just the luck of the draw. Some teens, now at the "buffet of life" start to see options that are more appealing to them, like this 14 year old. But in her family, not being like them was seen as a rejection instead of a possibility. And it was no wonder she seemed angry and resentful, she felt like she had no place in this family.

My suggestion was to accept and embrace the interests and perspective this daughter brought to the family. Instead of resenting her for not wanting to join the family hike, why not take her shopping for baking supplies and leave her to bake goodies for the family for when they return, starving and craving a snack.  Make her the dessert chef, send her to cooking school, find ways of supporting her interests but also her contribution to the family. How wonderful is it when members of the family are different from each other. Variety is the spice of the life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Having A Sex Talk

There has been a lot of controversy here in Massachusetts about a sex-ed informational website for teens called Mariatalks.com, providing teens with information on SEX. OOHHH.This is a website designed by the AIDS action committee. It seems some of their funding comes from the state, and the Citizen's For Life group are up in arms and want the site taken down. It seems that the site actually talks about sex. It provides information on men's and women's anatomy(with pictures), different choices men and women can make regarding sexual activity, information on birth control, abortion and abstinence, STDS, AIDS, and masturbation.  From my perspective it pretty much covers all the bases. One of the opposers of the site has said:"There are words I would find difficult to speak." as a reason the site is inappropriate. Yes they do use words like "vagina" and "penis". Shocking! I think the site is extremely well-done and informative without being preachy or too cool.

These sites are important, because it seems that many parents are extremely uncomfortable about taking to their teens about sex. I just finished grading 30 papers from one of my college courses called Psychology of Family Life. The final paper assignment was to write an autobiography on their own family's influence on their life. One of the questions they had to include in this paper was: How did you acquire your sex-education, how has it influenced you in your decisions around your own sexual activity? I got some really interesting answers: "In my household, sex was something that was never talked about, in 5th grade I pulled an encyclopedia out after school with my friends and looked up sex." Another student writes: "Growing up, sex was never really brought up to me.I was embarrassed to ask questions about sex, and then I was embarrassed to admit when I became sexually active, so I was to afraid to ask to go on the pill. I ended up getting much of my sex-ed from my peers."And from a 19 year old mother of a four year old:" My education about sex was slim to none when I was growing up. I knew what it was, but not the consequences of it. Sex was something the older kids were doing, and I wanted to do it too. I knew absolutely nothing about birth control, or how to get it, and that's how I became pregnant."

The research shows that kids really do want to talk with their parents about sex. But like a dog who senses fear, a teen can sense their parents discomfort and realize its better to go elsewhere for the information. Sometimes that elsewhere place is misinformed friends, pornographic websites, or aggressive partners who can convince them that sex is good, lets just do it, without thinking of consequences, both emotional and physical.  Sites like mariatalks.com are good. At the least if you feel uncomfortable talking about sex with your teen, you can say: " I know you are at an age when you are going to be having to make decisions about sex. This makes me uncomfortable, I still think of you as my little boy/girl but I know how important it is for you to get the right kind of information. Here is a great website, I have bookmarked it on the computer so you can go to it when you want. " Obviously the best case, is that you get over your own discomfort, and start talking with your teens about sex. Watch a movie or a tv show that has teens dealing with issues about sex, (that shouldn't be hard, since its everywhere) and use the show as a jumping off point for discussion. Find some common ground to start with. Maybe you had a high school boyfriend/girlfriend, and you can use your own experience, and struggles with decisions about sex as a catalyst for discussion. Its good for your teens to see you as a person who, like them, didn't quite know what to do. It makes you human. Sex is good, sex is a natural part of development, but you are not born with information and the ability to make the "right decision". Your teens need your help not your hesitancy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Want To Let Teens Drink In Your Home..Read This

 If Time Magazine says something, it must be true. This is for all you parents out there who subscribe to the theory that if you let your teen and their friends drink in your home, then you can keep them safe and teach them how to drink responsibly. I have always thought that this was "horse puckies". Turns out I was right. My take on parents who let their teen and their teen's friends drink at their house are just avoiding responsibility and a fight. They may even be hoping to throw back a few and be one of the gang. It turns out that parents who let kids drink at home are giving a different message. Instead of  being safer,  teens are getting the message that alcohol is no biggie. Adults get that all things in moderation are fine. Moderation is not part of a teen's vocabulary. If a little is good, more must be better. That is the motto teens live by. Teens interpret permission for drinking as permission to get trashed. Maybe not at that house, on that night, but if the grown-ups say drinking is cool, then drinking IS cool.

Here is an excerpt of the study I read about in Time Magazine, comparing the US, where it is ILLEGAL for adults to allow drinking in their homes, to Australia, where it is permissible to have adult supervised drinking parties.  "Barbara McMorris, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, compared seventh graders from the U.S., which prohibits underage drinking, and Australia, where adult-supervised drinking for teens is allowed. By the ninth grade, 36% of the Australian teens had problems with binge drinking or other alcohol-related issues such as getting in fights and having blackouts, while only 21% of the American adolescents did. In fact, regardless of where they lived, youngsters who drank in front of adults were more likely to have drinking problems several years later than those who abstained."
Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/04/29/does-drinking-with-parents-help-teens-drink-more-responsibly-not-really/#ixzz1LF5B6sBv

Heads out of the sand on this one. Drinking a glass of wine at a holiday celebration is not the problem. Being considered the party house is. Taking the keys out of teens hands and then allowing them to drink, only deals with a small, teeny tiny part of the problem. That night. What is more important is the message that is getting sent about the next weekend's drinking, and the one the weekend after. Its all, all right,in the eyes of those teens. If you want to let your teens drink in your home, move to Australia.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Driving Dumb

I read a story last week about two 14 year old boys who were picked up at 2:20 AM joy riding in one of their parent's cars. The police of this sleepy seaside town were driving on patrol during the early morning hours, expecting I'm sure a relaxing cruise around town, when they noticed a car driving erratically. As they gave chase, they could see it was two young boys, who were losing control of the car.  These boys were inexperienced drivers, and probably scared sh**less that what started as a "Oh it will be so much fun to take my dad's car and drive around town" idea was now becoming a scary nightmare. As the car skidded to a stop, barely missing a tree, one of the boys ran while the other was caught by the police. Both boys were eventually caught, and the parents called. I can hear the phone ringing now at 3 AM, "Hello Mr and Mrs X , we have your son down here at the police station, seems they took your car for a ride!"

Now come all the "thank gods." Thank god they weren't hurt, thank god no one else was hurt, thank god I don't have to get a new car, thank god these are nice local cops who took good care of the boys .... and so on. Lets analyze this event. Two boys on a sleepover. Parents have probably known their son's friend for years, and he's slept over a million times. Parents go to bed knowing that the boys are snug as a bug in rug down in the basement playing video games and eating junk food, just like all the other sleepovers they have had together. Boys, on the other hand, are looking for more excitement. Video games, ho hum, stealing the dad's car and riding to the beach, now that's a good time. And because teenagers think they are invincible, and because they don't think things through, they only go as far as "lets get the car and go, the keys are just sitting there on the counter...piece a cake.! No one will ever know."Famous last words! What they didn't think through was "we live in small town, and the streets are pretty empty at 2:30 AM, we will stick out like a sore thumb. Also I don't know how to drive, and I might make a driving mistake and hurt us or the car...Nope they didn't think of those things. Just "this will be awesome." And awesome it was.

This is a good cautionary tale about sleepovers. As kids move into adolescence, sleepovers become fertile ground for late night, story making, grand escapades. Impulsivity takes over, and rational thought is left behind. This doesn't mean you have to scrap the sleepover, it just means you have to readjust your expectations. First, just because you know the kids that are sleeping over, and maybe you know their parents,and they come from good families, and they are good kids, that doesn't mean you can close your door and go to bed. This isn't about good kids and good families, this is about kids looking for fun. Period. Now before you go off to bed, you might say:" Hey guys, just want to let you know, I am up and down the stairs all night these days, don't sleep so good anymore, old age I guess, anyway, hope I won't disturb you, (wink wink). And truly, up and down the stairs you should be. Set your alarm for hour and half intervals, and be intentional about going up and down those stairs. Let those kids know that there really is no predictable window of opportunity to sneak out, drink booze, etc without getting caught. Your job is to keep those kids sleeping at your house safe. Parents often get annoyed at me when I suggest this approach to sleepovers stating how exhausted they are, and need their sleep. And I say, when your teen was a baby and you had to get up every few hours to feed them, you never said, too bad, no food for you you, I'm too tired. No you lovingly did everything you needed to do to nurture this life. You are doing the same thing here. If you think of adolescence like you thought of life with a new baby, you are right on target. No rest for the weary, but anxiously awaiting to see who this person will be become.