Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Scary Drinking Story

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Zits comic strip is awesome:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Art Of Being A Good Spectator Parent

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How To Become A Parent Whisperer

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ask less Get More

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

If They Knew Then What They Know Now

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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

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

I'm glad my parents:

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

60 College Freshman reflect on their parents parenting

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

From A High School Senior- In Her Own Words

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Parenting Quiz

A Parenting Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When is a bad day just a bad day?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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