Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

It's all pretty simple. It's about safety. Have a wonderful holiday. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Power Of Understanding and Forgiveness

This week I had two personal experiences that reiterated to me the power of understanding and forgiveness. One experience was for me to ask for forgiveness, and the other, looking from someone else to understand me.

I got an email recently from someone in my past. In it she expressed a need for closure on an incident that occurred between the two of us many years ago. Unfortunately, my own memory about the issue was very fuzzy, but really it didn't matter what I did or did not remember because her feelings were very much in the present. I was devastated that something I had done, even though unintentionally, had caused her such pain. I apologized, with respect for what she was feeling, and for my own need to make amends. It is so hard to accept sometimes our own culpability in bringing on pain in people we care about. In fact often we are unaware that something we have said or done has hurt someone. So, when confronted and surprised by someone we have hurt we get defensive, and combative, rather than apologetic and understanding. In my example, this person had her experience and her feelings, that is a simple truth that I had to acknowledge and respect. Her gift to me was accepting my apology, and thanking me for my lack of defensiveness, and understanding her need to get closure and move on.

People are not perfect. We screw up. We screw up with our friends, our partners, and yes, we screw up with our kids. When you own your mistakes, and apologize to your kids, you show them respect. They will be able to move on. When you get defensive and evasive even when you know it's on you to take responsibility for your actions, your kids become disrespectful, and then feel acutely a double standard of "do as I say, not as I do."

The second experience I had this week, illustrates this point. I felt a colleague had crossed a professional boundary. I agonized for a week about whether to share my feelings about this incident. But when I could see that it was interfering with our relationship,  and my desire to avoid her, I decided to talk with her about it. I was expecting a simple "Oh my god, I am so sorry, I didn't even realize, I'm glad you told me so I can do better the next time. "Instead, I got a "face". You know that face, kind of all scrunched up, and disdainful. No apology, no thanks for letting me know, just the feeling that I was the crazy one! Even if I was the crazy one (which by the way I wasn't) giving me that gift of understanding would have cleared it up in a second. Like I said nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes.  How can we change if we don't know what those mistakes are, take responsibility for them and move on.

The power of understanding, and all the "I get It" scripts I feed you in these blogs I hope pave the way to help you accept, respect and move on in your relationships. Truly, it's powerful stuff.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pay Attention To What Is Really Important

I have spent the past few days, like I am sure most of you have, glued to the television awaiting any new piece information that might help make sense of this most awful shooting in Newtown  CT.  Listening to the names of the children and the staff that were lost was heartbreaking, wondering what it must be like for all those families grieving for the loss of the present and the future lives of their children and wives and sisters and mothers who were taken from them. There is plenty of discussion now and rightly so about our country's need to address both gun control and mental illness, but what I want to discuss with you is something that parents can do for their children right now.

So often in families we pay attention to the things that are our "squeaky wheels." Maybe it's the dishwasher not emptied, or the room not cleaned, or the homework not done, or the disappointing report card, or need for your teen to have an attitude adjustment. These are important issues and not to be ignored, we do need to work with our teens to be accountable. Sometimes, in the chatter of all those things, and our own busy lives we forget to pay attention to the some of the subtle signs that signal that our teens are in pain. Maybe we misread an angry response to a request for our teens to do something as attitude when it is depression or anger that something is amiss in their lives that has nothing to do with us. Or maybe it does have something to do with us, but  we don't know what it is and don't know what to ask to find out.

When you see a change in your teen's behavior, maybe angrier, or sadder, or quieter, or more isolating from the family, instead of being reactive or asking alot of "why" questions that won't produce you any answers, how about trying this instead. " You know honey, you seem angrier than usual. I know when something is bothering me, sometimes it's easier to get mad, then figure out what's going on. I get we annoy you sometimes and ask too many questions, but it seems you have a lot on your mind these days, and I would like to help." Or, "honey you seem to be spending a lot more time in your room than you used to. I know you like your privacy and like your time away from us, I get it, but something feels different now. I know we annoy you sometimes and you like to get away from everybody, but I love you and am here to help in any way I can."

Reaching out to your teen in a non-confrontive but loving way lets them know that you pay attention to them, and understand that sometimes it is really hard to take the first step and ask for help.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let My Teenager Go

Joanna Weiss, a columnist from the Boston Globe wrote a column today entitled: For Parents-Where to draw the line on risk.  We are barraged daily with horrific news stories about child predators, school shootings, and facebook friends gone bad. These are crazy making for parents. It makes us want to hold tight to our kids and keep them as safe as we can. Sometimes that holding tight for safety has mixed messages. Often parents say no to giving their teens the independence to safely navigate the world that will soon become their life when they leave home for college. But they give them access to drugs and alcohol in the house and technology that can potentially create addiction, contact with questionable people and way way too much access to cell phones, media and distractions with no supervision. But when their teen asks to take public transportation to go into "the city" parents quake in their shoes and say no.

I am always so shocked when I ask teens to describe their "world" to me. It is a world of being chauffeured by parents to friends houses, activities and parties because many teens now show little interest in getting their license. It is a world of houses and hangouts that never change from week to week. Rarely do I hear teens talk about getting on the "T" to go to "the city." I have talked to a lot of college students who go to schools on suburban campuses who never leave their campus to investigate the wealth of culture and energy that a "city" can provide, even when colleges provide shuttles to the closest public transportation. Somewhere along the way we have scared our teens.

Taking risks, safe ones mean doing something new and challenging. It means figuring out directions, destinations, and making decisions without knowing the outcome. When is the last time your teen came to you for permission to do something like that. When my daughter was a senior in high school her group of friends wanted to go on a vacation after graduation together. My daughter asked if she could go. My answer was if you have the money and the will, go for it. I remember many of the parents wanted and did take over the planning of the trip for these girls, suggesting destinations, getting them the best price, finding the best airline etc. There was even a "parent meeting" to discuss the trip. Always the rebel, I refused to go. What is the point of an adventure, or can you even call it an adventure, if mommy and daddy do all the planning.What lessons are learned?

I remember my own post-high school graduation vacation I took with my 8 best friends. The planning was actually more fun than the week we had in Hyannis. Looking for the cottage, doing comparative pricing, and deciding which cape destination had the potential for the most boys took months of planning. And when we opened the door that June day to our very own cottage rental we felt euphoric. We had planned and talked and argued for months, and now here we were.

Encourage your teen to take safe risks, to venture out of their comfort zone without your help. The confidence and competence they will feel and take away is worth it....for both of you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's College Deadline Time Again


JEREMY TO A  FRIEND: My parents laughed at my list of college choices


JEREMY: Because they were all party schools


JEREMY: What am I supposed to do...go to Harvard?

FRIEND: Maybe that could be your safety school

And so another year of college deadlines approaches. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a senior who is organized, motivated, and ahead of the game, having sent off common apps, contacted teachers and guidance counselor for recommendations, and forced you to sit down and do the FAFSA form for financial aid. But truly that is a minuscule percentage of the high school senior population. Most kids, maybe including yours, is waiting till the last minute of recorded time, that midnight deadline of whenever to press send. This is a most trying time for parents, and a most trying time for your seniors.

Your senior avoids because once the application is in, the potential for rejection is now on the table. Colleges are so competitive these days, and kids tend to apply to many of the same colleges as their friends, which leaves them open to the accepted ones or the rejection. This is painful stuff, that many of your kids do not give voice too. What you see is procrastination, avoidance and an absence of responsibility taking. What is underneath all these annoying behavior is fear!

So here is a little advice for you forlorn parents. Rather than threaten and yell, use a little of the "I get it" messages. "Hey honey, I get this is a tedious, sometimes boring process. I know it's hard to give voice to those essays, and lay yourself bare to some anonymous admission geek. And most importantly once your stuff is out of your hands, and into someone elses, it is totally out of your control. That is really scary stuff. I am confident in you, and I know that you will get in to a school that you are meant to go to. I'm proud of the work you have done. Is there anything I can do to help you move this process forward so we are not dealing with a last minute deadline."

The work is to help them break down the process into small manageable tasks. It is so hard to see the forest through the trees, and your senior might get overwhelmed with all the steps. So rather than looking at a few hours of college app work, break it done to 20-30 minute segments over a few weeks. This won't feel as scary.

But truthfully, this whole process sucks for all of you. You will feel annoyed, anxious, and frustrated, but then so will your teen. The good news is if they really do want to go to college, they really will get it done, regardless of all your hucking.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

You're So Annoying!

Often after my seminars, parents come up to give me a personal greeting. Sometimes I meet parents who have been repeat attenders of my seminar. ( I love that). They tell me that after their first seminar with me they left breathing a sigh of relief. Their kid may have only been 11 or 12, and most of what I said did not apply yet to their relationship with their teen. They report leaving the seminar thinking, oh good, I think we've dodged that teen bullet, our teen doesn't behave at all like Joani said. We must be doing one helluva job!!! Little did they know, that a year or two later, once again sitting in the audience of another of my seminars they would nod their head in agreement and wonder whether I lived in their house as my descriptions of the teen behaviors rang so very

I think one of the hardest changes that parents experience with their teen is the abrupt change in their teens behavior towards them. Their teen literally goes  from being open and loving one day, to cold and secretive literally the next day. Parents feel puzzled by this,  questioning what they might have done wrong to ellicit this change. Answer: nothing.

Apparently your teen got the new memo, if you are acting nice to your parents, then stop. It is unseemly for teens to be nice to the "enemy. " Maybe your teen was sitting in the cafeteria, or on the bus, and a bunch of kids were slamming their parents..."man I hate my parents, they never let me do anything." Or maybe, "my parents are so nosy, always looking over my shoulder when I'm on the computer, they are such a pain!" So there your teen is, listening, and wondering, "gee I get along good with my parents, is that bad? And BAM they come home and practice being a "teen." So that may be one explanation.

Here is another. One of the major tasks of adolescence is separation/individuation. The work of developing a personal identity means stepping back from the people who have been the closest and most influential in their lives. How am I like my parents? How am I different from my parents? Where am I in all this? Unfortunately these questions are not consciously being asked in that teen brain of theirs. Instead this new brain is giving them new thoughts they have never thought before. "God my parents are so annoying, I hate the way they dress, eat, talk, think, ask so many questions etc." The truth is, it isn't really about you, it is more the process by which they are trying to figure out what they think, and what they feel. And for all of his/her life they have kind of depended on you to figure that out for them. Now they know that they have to figure this stuff out for themselves. Adolescence is after all, the training period for adulthood.

So when your teen tells you that you are annoying and gives you 'the look", try not to take it personally. A shoulder shrug, and an I love you, should say it all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

If You Want To Get Your Teen To Do Something....

Most parents have goals for their kids. I don't mean the "I want you to be a doctor" kind of goals. But the goals that speak to the core values that you as a parent hold dear to your heart. Perhaps they have been passed down through your family, or maybe as you have grown into adulthood and have accumulated a good deal of life experience, you have learned a thing or two about life that you would like to pass on to your kids. Just telling your kids that you want them to be a certain way or believe in something you think important is not the most effective way to teach a life lesson. Showing them and living it yourself is way more effective.

So... If you want your kids to:
  • Love to read: show them by reading. Shut down your computer, your phone, your TV, and do some public reading.
  • Be kind: Show them by being kind. Help out an elderly neighbor on your street, shovel their walk in a snow storm, offer to buy them groceries when you are out,  and  then tell your teen how grateful these people were for your help, and how good that made you feel.
  • Value family: Show them how important family is to you. Have at least one night a week for a family meal, make sure you keep up regularly with your family of origin, and keep your kids in the loop about what everybody is up too. Make sure they make calls to grandparents, and aunts and uncles and cousins for birthdays and graduations.
  • Value friendship: Show them by staying in touch with your friends,  and having friends over for dinner and celebrations. Open your home to them.
  • Value Community Service: Show them by doing some kind of regular community service, and come home and talk about your experience and how meaningful it is to you.
  • Value Education: Show them by learning something new. Take a course, go to a lecture. Show them that learning is not over when schooling is over. It is a lifelong pursuit.
  • Value finding a passion: Find your passion and pursue it, and your teen will see how happy it makes you.
  • Get off their computers and phones: Show them by getting off your computer and phone
  • Be safe with drugs and alcohol and driving:  Show them by drinking responsibly. Always make sure there is a designated driver when you are with your kids where alcohol is present. Never talk or text on your phone when your kids are in the car.
  • Be spiritual and follow your chosen religious path: Show them by being consistent with your own practice.
  • Have confidence and take healthy risks: Show them by challenging yourself to do something you didn't think you could do. Show them your sense of pride at doing something new or hard.
Get the picture. Actions always speak louder than words!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Parent-Teen Miscomunication: Is There A Translator In The House

Zits comic:
Mom and Jeremy in a typical parent teen standoff. Each with arms crossed and sneering at each other. Dad looking on.



Dad: I think I hear a glass of wine calling my name.

Are there some days you feel like you and your teen speak different languages? You say something simple and maybe even nice to your teen (at least you think it's nice) but the response you get is completely incomprehensible. Let me explain how that might happen.

The first disconnect is that adults live in a thinking brain, and teens live in a feeling brain. And I mean that literally. Brain research has shown that when teens and adults are shown the exact same photo of a human face expressing an emotion, their brains respond in very different ways. An adult brain uses the frontal cortex (the thinking brain) to interpret the emotion, and the the teen brain uses the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) to interpret emotion. This is a set-up for constant miscommunication between teens and parents. Teens literally see things in the human face that adults don't see, and hear things in human voices that adults don't hear. It's kind of like dogs that hear the high pitch sounds that no human can hear. Dogs...teens..

I am sure you have had the experience of saying something to your teen in a neutral voice and with a neutral expression. It may be something very inconsequential. But the reaction you get from your teen is crazy! Maybe something like "are you mad at me? They have heard something in your voice or saw something in your face that no one else apparently can see or hear...just like the dog.

A compounding problem is that teens carry every teeny tiny emotional experience that has happened to them over the course of their day in that amygdala of theirs. Perhaps they said something embarrassing in class and their fellow students laughed at them. Park it! Maybe they tripped in the hallway at school and felt like everyone saw it. Park it! Maybe they saw their crush talk to another boy/girl and feel dejected. A thousand things may have happened that day, or in the morning between when they woke up and you pass each other in the kitchen before school. Basically their parking lot of a brain is always full. You know how frustrated you get when there is no place to park. Times that by a hundred, and that is your teen.

So when you get a response to a simple question or comment that seems crazy and completely incomprehensible, assume that their parking lot is full. Probably best to just walk away with a let's talk later. This is one of those times that it just isn't about you.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

College Students Share Their Teenage Angst

A writing assignment for my students who are in my Intro To Psychology class brought me an avalanche of touching stories. I asked them to describe their middle and high school experiences, the good and the bad. They shared stories of friendships gone wrong, forays into partying, and issues they had with their parents. Their honesty and insight was moving, and they agreed to let me share some of their memories with you.  I hope they will give you some understanding about your own teens, for the things maybe they don't share with you, but you wish you knew.

From a young woman:
" It all started when I was 13. I was bullied. Kids called me ugly, frizzy hair, gross, "emo" and made fun of what I wore. A boy I had a crush on found out I liked him, so during class one day he scrapped a chewed up pen cap across my wrist and asked me if I was used to that feeling for when I would cut myself at night. It gets me disgusted at the thought of all of this now, when I look back at it all because I wish I had stood up for myself instead of just standing hopeless. I am a confident, powerful young woman now and don't let anyone bring me down."

From a young man:
" My lightening rod (this is the part of puberty that is the hardest for a teen)  was definitely the time during puberty when I developed acne on my back. I became so self-conscious by my back acne that I would never take my shirt off in public. It became so bad that that I would come home and hurry to take off my shirt so that I wouldn't see my back myself. Pool parties were the hardest for me to go to during high school. Seeing all my friends with no acne on their backs made me very shy and I was most afraid of girls seeing my back. I never want to relive that time in my life."

From young woman:
"Right off the bat my relationship with my parents changed. I became mad at them when they did nothing wrong, and I thought that they could do nothing but make my life miserable. I wanted nothing to do with my parents and I made that very clear to them. Looking back on it now it seems ridiculous because me and my parents are very close now."

From a young man:
When I started playing high school football I was not a good player by any means. After I started going to the gym and getting a girlfriend I found myself excelling. This is also the time when I started going to underage drinking parties. It was exciting to go and I was starting to be accepted by some of the older kids in the school. This wasn't easy on my parents however as I found myself getting in trouble with the police at these parties.  One time I was put in handcuffs because the cops thought I supplied the party with booze, I was 16. Never the less, this added to my ego, I thought of myself as a little "bad ass" with a good girlfriend and good skills on the football field."

From a young woman who immigrated from Vietnam as a child:
"When I became a teenager, I seemed to enter my own world and began only to notice myself. I started enjoying different things that were definitely not at the top of my priority before. All I wanted to do was satisfy my own personal pleasure. From balancing school to spending time with my family, it all became a difficult task as I started to devote most of my time in meaningless things. I began to become very judgmental about my own personal looks, and people's opinions toward me, especially at school. Every little unimportant thing became the majority of my worries. If people looked at me a certain way, I would quickly conclude that they were talking about me, then I would see this as an excuse to change the way I looked. I would only buy a certain kind of clothes, and I lost a lot of weight to fit into the social norm of the school. My mood swings were so heightened that I began to distance myself from my family.  It all seems exceptionally silly now. "

Pretty honest stuff. Self- consciousness is a powerful, overriding feeling during Adolescence as  you can see from these excerpts. But what I hope you can also see is that it is time limited. These now 20 year olds can see that it was a part of their growing up process, that they have outgrown. I hope this gives you some comfort.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shame On You

I love reading the AOL home page. It's kind of like reading The Enquirer while standing in line at the supermarket, but in private! This video/news posted on AOL story was about two parents.  Frustrated with their 15 year old daughter's complete and utter disregard for their rules, they decided to write this sign and make her stand beside it on a busy road in their community for all to see. It read: I sneak boys in at 3 AM and disrespect my parents and grandparents. One adult driver, passing by the girl, stopped his car and got out to talk to the girl. When interviewed by the reporter wondering what made him stop and talk to the girl, replied that he  "saw that this young girl looked so sad and upset and I was worried that this humiliation might make her do something to hurt herself."

Good for this guy, cause he has this exactly right. Shaming and humiliation is not a constructive disciplinary technique. It is abusive, and by the way rarely produces long term change. Clearly, sneaking a boy into her room at 3 AM is a HUGE concern, and I'm guessing not the first time. But I am also guessing that if this is how these parents are choosing to punish their daughter, their parenting style in general may be somewhat extreme and authoritarian. Probably not a lot of talking going on in this family.

At some point in your teen's life they will do something extreme that crosses your line. Every family is different, and the standard for crossing the line is different for every family.  Responding to this transgression with " How could you do this to me/us?" will get you nowhere. The fact is, your teen did not "do this to you." Your feelings, and wondering what the consequences would be do not even come into play with your teen. For that teen who snuck the boy into her room, what her parents or grandparents would do if she got caught was no where in her horny, impulsive teenage brain. And that is really the issue. Raising a teen means understanding that their egocentricity and narcissism is a part of their personality...for now.  It is not a character flaw, but a developmental hurdle that has to be planned for. Your teen acts on emotion and impulse, not thoughtful and careful consideration.
When parents use shame and humiliation as a consequence for this kind of behavior, they are shutting down communication, not opening it up at this very important juncture.

Clearly there need to be consequences for this girl. Both sets of parents need to sit down with the kids and talk not yell about what happened. Rather than banning this boy from the house which might send them out in secret, I would invite him into their house to hang with supervision. I would make sure there was no late night use of cellphones, which is how this  3 AM rendezvous must have been set up. I can imagine a late night sexting/texting communication that ended in a "I need to have sex with you right now" and up the wall into her bedroom he came!

Humiliation and shame can do long term harm to a person, and to their sense of self. Teens are extremely vulnerable as they are in the very beginning stages of assembling their identity. They are just getting the roots in place, and if those roots are stepped on rather than nurtured, there can be grave consequences.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Help Your Teens with Stranger Friends On Facebook

A parent emailed me recently asking me to write about this:

"We have a 14 yr old daughter who is not allowed to have facebook until next year. She has been in trouble previously for creating a twitter handle during computer class in 8th grade. Had to speak with principal as our punishment  because she broke school rules and then was grounded from us for breaking our rules.

Now as a freshman, she has created a facebook page and most of her  friends are boys and have been texting two boys from NY and chicago.  I am beside myself and also scared.

What do you suggest to get through to her and make this be okay.  Otherwise super kid, nice friends and very good grades."

Any suggestions or help?
Thanks a lot

I am guessing that this is not an unfamiliar scenario for those of you with teens in those transition years of 6-9th grade. What is a parent to do? First how I wish that facebook was the only social networking site a parent had to deal with. Having a teen these days is like playing that game "whack a mole." As soon as you feel like you have a handle on one site like facebook, another one crops up. Maybe it's google plus, or twitter, or tumbler, or skype, etc. It's all I can do to keep up with the new ones. 

For those of you with younger teens, the answer is short, supervision, supervision, supervision. For some reason, this has become some kind of a dirty word for parents. Supervision has become synonymous with nosy, budinsky, over protective, and disrespectful of your teen's privacy. It is none of these. It is smart! Your young teen especially, is approaching these new technologies with an immature brain, and inexperience. Expect them to do stupid things. Expect them to make bad decisions. And expect them to think you are crazy for making such a big deal. Like this parent above, she has an absolute right to be terrified when her 14 year old daughter is "friends" with boys she does not know. A recent local story about a 14 year old girl who was befriended on facebook by a 41 year old predator, thank god had a happy ending. But the girl did run away from home, got on a bus to NYC. They found her in New Jersey in the home of this man. 

Here are my safety rules: 

1. If I have said this once, I have said this a thousand time, no smartphones. This gives your teen complete and utter freedom from your prying eyes. You have absolutely no idea what sites they are going to, and the frequency and duration of their time on social networking sites. This goes for ITouch, and IPADs, and Just say NO!!!!!Grow some balls parents, and suck it up. Put these on the DO NOT BUY holiday shopping list.

2. Younger teens should only have access to the computer in common areas. Laptops should not be allowed in their bedrooms, where they are away from your prying eyes. I do not have a problem with kids on facebook. It's fun! If you forbid it, your teen will get on it in secret, at a friend's house. The devil you know, is better than the devil you don't, but install a program that limits time. Go over their friend list with them, ask them how each person is connected to them

2. Make sure your teen shares their password with you. If they refuse, than they only get to use the computer for homework, and block all social networking sites. 

3. Spend time with them researching what happens to kids who friend people they don't know, post pictures or text that has caused trouble. Make this a pre-requisite for using the computer for social networking. Just telling them that it can be dangerous is not educating them. Do it together. That's why they invented google. When kids read these stories out loud, it will be heard, unlike your words, which won't. Last night I watched a show called Catfish on MTV using on-demand. It is based on a documentary that came out last year about a filmmaker who had been carrying on a cyber relationship with a woman he thought was his age, mid-twenties, smart, funny, a soulmate. He documented his trip to finally meet her after months of texts and phone calls. It turned out to be a middle aged woman who was quite troubled. This same guy now has a show on MTV where he documents someone else's meet and greet with their cyber sweetie. This show is a GREAT way to start this discussion with your teen about meeting "friends" online. Last night's episode was about a 21 year old girl who had met her gorgeous soul mate on facebook. They had been having  "relationship" for 8 months. Short story, "the handsome male model" she was so in love with and had been talking marriage with, turned out to be an 18 year old bi-sexual girl with enormous issues, as you can imagine. Your teens love MTV, and having you suggest watching a show on it would definately be a good opening for conversation. If you can't stop yourself from being judgemental and critical of how stupid this girl was, than either don't watch or tape your mouth shut. This is about your teen talking not you!

4. Make sure you look at their wall, their tweets, their tumbler, whatever they do, to make sure that there is nothing on there of theirs that you don't like. This is a non negotiable. You want to make clear to your teen that this is a social networking training program, just like learning to drive. Sure it would be much more fun to just get in the car and drive, but your job is to make sure that they are safe.

4. If, like the parent above, you are concerned with strange friends that are posting things that scare the sh** out of you, have your teen unfriend them, or lose computer privilege. 

Education is your best amunition


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lessons For Thanksgiving

I think the fires in California, the election, and what feels like the fragile state of our world has given many of us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the power of something that is completely out of our control, and how it can affect the fabric of our lives. In my regular spot on the couch, I watch the nightly news, where they highlight the enormity of the after effects of the fires, coupled with the amazing community of neighbors and volunteers that have risen from the destruction. Though people have lost family members, pets,  their homes, and their possessions, they find strength in their love for each other and the community in which they live.  It does make me feel so thankful for the blessings of family, friends, satisfying work, and good health. Life isn't perfect, and there are many days I feel discouraged, or whiny about what now seem like such silly things in light of what those dealing with the after affects of these fires, that people are dealing with. So this Thanksgiving is a time for real thanks.

Your teen may need a little dose of that thanks this holiday. Maybe things haven't been so great. Maybe report cards have been disappointing, or their attitude towards you and the family has you pulling your hair out, or they seem ungrateful and entitled, or distant and uncommunicative. There is not much good to be found. And the more they disappoint, the more you pull away.  Sometimes we need an excuse to wipe the slate. Why not have Thanksgiving be that excuse. If you have found the last few months weighing in on the negative, maybe just for the next few days, you share some thankful moments with your teen. Maybe a text, or a card left on their bed with a " I get things have been hard between us over the last few months, but I am so grateful that you are my son/daughter. I cannot imagine my life without your (insert some of the good stuff here, here are some examples: humor; getting me to watch movies I never would have picked but loved; forced me to learn about..., you get the idea.) I know we will get past this other stuff. I love you."

Don't look for a response or a thank you. This is a selfless gift you are giving with no expectations. Teens need to know that with all the crap they hand out, you will always love them, plain and simple.

Treasure these days. Enjoy this break from routine, and I will "see" you next Tuesday as I enjoy time with family and friends on Thursday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving love

There is something about the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  Maybe its the embedded memory of a half day at school and the anticipation of four days of freedom. I know for me its also the anticipation of my favorite meal ever, looking forward to savoring every morsel of turkey and stuffing, and a new recipe for Caramel Apple Pie I saw in today's paper. But what I look forward to most is the minute my beloved daughter walks in the door on Thanksgiving day. There is nothing more special, more delicious, than that first hug with your child, no matter how grown up. Thanksgiving is a day to be treasured. All the worries of daily life, messy rooms, bad attitudes, disappointing grades, worries about money, job, family responsibility all put aside in order to cherish and preserve the present; family, food, and football. ( I personally hate football, but I get it's importance to some)

I know sometimes for parents this is no easy task. Maybe you have had a hard week with your teen, arguments, hurt feelings, parents feeling ignored and abandoned by their kids. I wanted to share especially for these parents a poem that a parent shared with me. She and her son had been at odds at what felt like forever. She was so saddened by the change in their relationship, and was working really hard to find some common ground with her son in this battlefield. One morning, going into her son's room to grab his laundry, she found this poem on the floor. This was not a school assignment, but an impulsive pouring out of thoughts. He did not hand his mom this poem as an olive branch, but instead, left it out for her to find. It is a tribute to the love a son has for his family. Know this, that what you often see on the outside, is not what is really going on the inside. Thanksgiving day is a day for you to share those feelings with your kids. Take the inside love and wear it on the outside, at least for the day, and maybe they will too. 

Where Am I From

I am from long nights lying on the grass
I am from days packed with sports
I am from burnt rice and undercooked hot dogs
I am from arguing about the stupidest things
I am from Love
I am from listening to my ipod late at night
I am from turning on my fan just for the noise
I am from letting facebook turn 1 hour of work into 3
I am from tiptoeing to the bathroom so my mom thinks I'm still asleep
I am from prayers said with the rest of my family over wine, even though I can’t drink
I am from Love
I am from Life

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

3 Steps To Parent-Proofing Your Relationship With Your Teen

 Empathize and strategize, Don't criticize

Rather than criticizing your teen for spending too much time on texting and facebooking friends, as in: "If you didn't spend so much time texting your friends, you would get your homework done and be more prepared for your tests!" Instead use an "I get it" statement: " I get how important it is for you to stay in touch with your friends, lets figure out a way that you can do that and get your homework done." Your teen will not feel judged, but understood. Staying in touch with friends at night is important to them as is homework. Minimizing something that is important to them, just serves to drive a wedge of "you just don't understand!" Now you can get down to problem-solving rather than wasting time arguing about what is important to your teen!

2. Jump into your teen's life:

 Up until the point that your child becomes a teen you have been the conductor of your child's life, exposing them to and engaging them in activities that YOU want them to experience. As teens, they are now at the "buffet of life" trying out and on different persona's, interests, friends etc. Many of these things will feel shallow, wastes of time, and/or completely different from your own interests and passions. If you keep trying to make your teen want to do the things you want them to do, you will push them away. 

Example: You and your family are an athletic family. You expect everyone to participate, family outings, hikes, skiing, etc. Your teen went along with this as a younger child, but as a teen is voicing his/her strong objection. He/she just doesn't like this stuff. One client I worked with had a daughter who loved to bake and was an obsessive watcher of the TV show cupcake wars. Once the parents understood that their daughter had her own passions, they made her the family "baker,"a role she loved and felt respected for. It changed the whole dynamic between her and her parents. 

Maybe your teen loves watching some TV show you find revolting and disgusting. Teens often watch these shows, not because they emulate these people, but because they don't! When you swallow your pride, and sit down with your teen and watch their favorite show with them, you accomplish two things. First you stop making them feel less than, by joining in on the fun. Secondly you get an opportunity during commercials to understand what turns your teen on about these people. It is a great way to find out what your teen thinks about things without asking directly. Do not be judgemental or" lectury", as in "I don't understand why you watch such crap!" Instead you can talk about the characters as if they are real people:" Oh my god, do you believe what she just said!!!" React in real time as if these people were your friends. When your teen feels you aren't pretending interest and are just hanging with them doing something that interests them, you show them respect. 

3. Stop Yelling!!! 

A teen's brain is wired differently than the adult brain. The amygdala, or the emotional center of the brain is in much higher activation in teens than the thinking center or frontal cortex. When you raise your voice, your teen reacts automatically to the sound of your voice and not to what you are saying. The old adage: "it's not what you say, but how you say it" should be your guide. If you want your child to listen to you, stop yelling!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Beware..Your Teen May Be Smarter Than You

Zits Comic:
Jeremy is talking to a clerk at a cellphone store, parents hover nearby:

Jeremy: My parents need new cellphones

Clerk: I can handle that!

Jeremy:They don't really know what they want, and they're going to have some question.

Clerk: No sweat!

Parents looking around phone store looking terrified at all the choices.

Jeremy to clerk: That's them over there.

Clerk: Stay close

I laughed out loud when I read this, because even though my daughter lives long distance, I still call her with IPHONE questions. She has probably told me a million times how to put someone on hold when another call comes through, and I still drop the first person every time.

For some reason, maybe kids are now hardwired for technology since it is now introduced earlier than the ability to walk! They get how to do just about anything with their computers and phones, including how to expertly hide conversations, passwords,  and can hack back into their computer when you think you have blocked inappropriate sites, or social networking sites you want to limit usage on. But they outsmart you every time. This is not a good dynamic to foster. I love when kids can help their parents out for projects parents need help with like editing home movies, or photos. Putting your teen in the position of teacher can be nice. It makes them feel competent and useful. However, you do not want your teen to feel that they actually know more than you when it comes to their uses of technology and social networking. This is a system that becomes unbalanced in favor of your teen.

When your teens are on the younger side 11-16, they very much need your help (even though they don't want it) to stay safe and to avoid becoming completely addicted to their phones and computer in lieu of doing homework or experiencing actual human contact! I have worked with many parents who say that their kids have passwords to their phones that they are unwilling to share with their parents. Give me a break!!!! Who is in control here. If you have a teen between the ages of 11-16 who refuses to give you their password to their phone, than you refuse to allow them to have a smartphone. Hello basic boring phone! The phone is yours, and you are allowing them to "borrow it." It is not some sort of unalienable right of childhood to have a fancy phone. Kids do stupid things with their smartphones, take pictures or videos that could get them in trouble, write texts that might get them into trouble, visit unseemly websites, and spend way too much time with them in general. Teens do not have the discipline, foresight or motivation to edit themselves in any way. They need your help. You know not to offer them junk food for every meal, and if you found your kid hoarding food in their bedroom closet you would be right to think there was a problem. Same goes with the phones and computers. Do not allow your teen to be in control. Don't get mad when they are abusing the usage of these devices if you have not provided good training and supervision.

This is your job as a parent. Kids do not use technology the same way that we do. Educate yourself, and set limits to keep your kids safe. If you find out that your kids are sabotaging your efforts to help  keep them safe, then they lose the privilege, and I mean privilege, not right, to have them!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

When It Comes To HS Seniors..Show Them Some Respect

 The other day this young woman commented on one of my blogs about parents and college. Here is what she wrote.

"I'm 18 and a HS senior. I've made the decision not to go to college and instead enlist in the Navy. At least 10 times a week I get the "where are you going to college" question and i explain to them my future plan. I wish adults were forced to read your blogs!"

Are you and your friends guilty of this charge. Do you find yourself asking your teen's friends who are seniors, "so what's your list?" When your friends ask you about your high school senior, do you find yourself giving out his/her resume? "oh she/he got a blah blah blah on their SAT/ACT, has honor roll grades, and here is his/her list of colleges that he/she is applying to." I wonder how many parents have actually asked their teen's permission before they go out blab to their friends these very personal statistics. I 'm guessing if they did, most kids would blanch at the idea that their parents were offering up their report cards and test scores. So please, ask your teen's permission before you share their personnel file. When nosy parents ask you the dreaded question "so where is your teen applying?" You can say proud and out loud, "you know, (insert son/daughter's name) has asked me to not share the details of this process, and I respect that. So let's check in again with this in the spring" Done! The reality is that the reason everyone is so nosy about everyone else's kids is that want to see how their kid measures up. If your teen is doing well, you are proud and want to share your pride, and also maybe a little bit of "see what a good job I have done as a parent." And if your teen isn't at the top of his/her class, it might feel comforting to you to hear about other kids who are similar. But truly, it is nobody's business and out of respect for the difficult ordeal this is for your teen, you need to respect their privacy.

Feel free to share your feelings about the process. Maybe you are frustrated, or worried, or excited, whatever it is, feel free to share your experience of this process. The schlepping to colleges, the worry that your teen isn't working hard enough on all the essays and application and that they won't get in on time, your feelings about your teen leaving home and leaving you, all of this stuff is your experience and you totally need to get support.

And please respect the privacy of any seniors that you come in contact with. This young woman who commented above, is not in the minority. In fact, kids HATE when adults ask them these nosy questions. It feeds their anxiety. If they tell you their list, and then don't get in to those schools, it's downright humiliating. Understand that this college process is absolutely terrifying. I will close with a quote from a young woman who was a senior last year and wrote an article for the Boston Globe
"How's that college application? Don't Ask. Here is what she said:

"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!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Ethel And Bobby Kennedy Can Teach Us All About Raising Kids

This weekend, having completely overdosed on election coverage, I watched Ethel, a fantastic documentary on HBO about Ethel Kennedy, which was directed by her daughter Rory, a wonderful documentary filmmaker. ( I have seen other films she has done) Anyway, I had many takeaway's from this extraordinary family of 11 children. I hyperventilate just thinking of raising and having that many bodies and personalities all in one household.

First and foremost, Ethel and Bobby Kennedy loved, loved, loved children. I don't just mean that they loved their children, I assume most parents do. I mean they loved children, hanging with them, talking to them, playing with them, eating with them, going away with them, and seeming to prefer their company to anything else in their life. I'm not sure all kids would say that their parents love being with them. I am reminded of a dinner out a restaurant recently. We were with friends at a lovely, grown upish restaurant, on the early side for dinner. Next to us were two tables, one with 5 young children and two nannies, and at the other, the moms, enjoying a glass of wine while the nannies were hanging with the kids. And did I mention it was one of the kid's birthday?????? See this is what I mean about Ethel and Bobby, dinner with the kids was sacred, playing with the kids was a priority. As these now middle aged adults reminisced, they all individually talked about this as an important part of their lives. Though their dad was obviously engaged with important and serious work, and often away from home, he spoke with them regularly and lovingly even during a crisis moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those kids knew without question they were loved and the most important people in their parents lives. I have worked with many families where parents have long work hours or travels regularly for work, or parents are separated or divorced, and was surprised at how infrequently they talked to their children. Teens especially need to feel connection to their parents, even if it seems like they are not at all interested. If you are not the custodial parent, or you work late or travel often, make time every single day to connect with your kids.

Another striking element of this family was how important Ethel and Bobby felt it was to make sure that their kids knew that the privileged life they led was NOT how most families lived. When Bobby Kennedy was doing work on the  Civil Rights Act, the kids went with him(all 11) to the South, so he could show them make them understand what it meant to be discriminated against. When Bobby Kennedy was fighting with Joseph McCarthy in court about blacklisting, Ethel took the kids to sit in that courtroom, day after day, even the young ones, so they could learn and understand discrimination. These parents did not protect their kids from the evils of the world, they exposed them, and taught them what the world had in store for them.

Dinner time was a protected time, and a time for conversation. The kids were expected to read the newspaper and to be up on current events, and be ready to share their opinions at the table. What an exciting dinner table that must have been, 11 children, 2 parents all fighting for the floor! I am always surprised by how little most teens know about the world. Granted they are not much interested, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't help them to stay informed. Watch the national news together, on a real TV not online, read interesting news stories at the dinner table and generate discussion. Stimulate them, excite them about the world they will be joining!

Ethel and Bobby obviously had a unique life, and were part of a legacy passed down from both their families. But the lessons they teach about family are for everyone. Love being with your kids, stay connected even when it's hard, show them that the world is a much bigger place than your community, and teach them that all people should have rights and dignity. You'll be doing a good thing!

PS: For those of you who enjoy this blog, please pass it on to 5 friends. Also I take my show on the road and speak at schools, and for community groups, businesses, churches, temples, and on street corners. If yo would like me to come to your community please contact me @

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Homework: Whose Job Is It?

Zits Comic:
Jeremy looking overwhelmed, talking to his mom:

Jeremy: Mom, my literature homework is impossible again.
Mom: How can I help?
Jeremy: Do it for me?
Mom: Not a chance!
Mom: But I will email your teacher and tell him that you're having difficulty with his assignments.
Jeremy: WHAT??????? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jeremy: If you're going to meddle, at least meddle my way!

I know this must sound familiar! That ridiculous math problem that even someone with a PHD from MIT couldn't figure out. That really happened by the way. When my daughter was in middle school the powers that be decided to try out a new math curriculum. Let me just say that not only did this curriculum bring the kids to tears, but all the parents as well. We would bump into each other at our local supermarket, and discuss the previous night's homework as if it were our own. "Do you believe last nights assignment, I want to kill the person who designed this damn curriculum," we would say to each other. And truly there was an MIT mathematician parent in the class, and even he reported throwing the textbook across the room. Let's just say we weren't the best role models for our kids.

Sometimes your teen's homework is frustrating, perplexing and just plain hard. If your teen has a low frustration tolerance, giving up seems like the smartest strategy. Or if you have a teen who has breezed through elementary and middle school, and now the work is finally challenging, they are caught off guard, "ooh, maybe I'm not as smart as I thought I was." Or maybe the assignment is just plain boring. Whatever the case, they might actually come to you for a solution, like just giving them the answer. In the above example, I think all of us parents agreed that this curriculum was completely turning the kids off to math, and setting them up for total math anxiety. We were powerless to change the curriculum, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we gave some very honest feedback to the math department head. But that didn't help in the short term when our kids were crying and saying they were stupid. What we could do though was acknowledge for the kids that this was tough stuff, and to do the best they could, and truly it wasn't that they weren't smart enough. A lot of kids got pretty mediocre math grades that year, but most of us just let it go. Really, what's the big deal, 7th grade grades are not figured in for college!

When your teen comes to you for help, your first job is to diagnose the problem. Try to refrain from jumping into problem solve, or conversely criticize them for giving up too soon. Start with this instead: " I get this assignment is really frustrating for you. Tell me where you're stuck?" Maybe they just need you to break down the assignment into smaller more manageable pieces. Teens often can't see the forest through the trees, and because they are inpatient and want to breeze through the subjects they really hate, they get overwhelmed from the beginning. You can help by having them break down the assignment into steps, and get them to spend 15 minutes on the first step and then take a break. When they have success with one step, it gives them motivation to begin the next one. They need a ton of encouragement and understanding. " I know this stuff doesn't come easy to you, but I know you can get it." If you jump in and do the work, they take away two things. One, Yay, I can get mom or dad to do my work, and I am off the hook, and two, maybe mom and dad don't think I can do it, and so they don't want me to screw up with the teacher, so they want to do it for me.
I know of a young woman, now a graduate student, whose dad wanted to get her into his Alma mater, so in high school he basically wrote all her papers, college essays etc. He continued in college to edit, and I use that term loosely her papers.  Now as a grad student in a program that is making her a carbon copy of him, she is unable to complete the work without him. This is an extreme example, but you can see the problem here.

Your teen needs your confidence that he/she can succeed, and is not lazy just frustrated. You are  available for support and consultation but the ownership of the work always belongs with him/her. Having realistic expectation is a must. Your teen will have areas of strength, areas of weakness, and areas that he/she is just not that interested in. And that is just fine! No kid is good at everything!