Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Art Of Deflection

If your teen walks in the door and immediately starts an argument for no reason, he/she may be using the art of deflection. Perhaps teachers have let their students know their grades for the term. So now your teen knows that the B you are expecting them to get in English is now a C, and report cards might be in today's mail. So to preempt the "discussion" about the disappointing grade, your teen might walk in the door with some non-sequitur argument to get the focus off the grade and onto something else less ego deflating.

This happened recently to a parent I talked to. Her daughter walked in the door, and mom innocently said:" Hi honey, how was your day?" Mom expected the usual grunt "it was fine," but instead was bombarded by an avalanche of anger about issues that had nothing to do with school, and that mom thought had been resolved weeks before. Not to mention, this all came out of nowhere! Mom, baffled, got completely hooked into an argument about.......nothing! They both went to bed angry, for no real reason, since the argument was about....nothing.

Next morning, the daughter acting sweet as pie, confesses to her mom that she found out her grades, and they are not as good as she thought they would be. ( the truth is, there is no way she should be surprised) Mom, appreciating her daughter's sweetness and her honesty, congratulates her on being so nice! What happened is that mom was not able to see the dots and couldn't help her daughter connect these two rather disparate emotional presentations.

So when your teen walks in the door and starts up with something, tries to push your buttons and you are left scratching your head. Keep scratching. This should be your clue that something else is going on. Rather than get hooked into an imaginary argument about nothing you might say: " I get you're angry about something, but I don't think it's this. If there is something you need to tell me about, and you're worried about how I will respond, I understand. I promise I will just listen, and not react. I'm here for you, but I won't be drawn into an argument because you are upset, or anxious about something else." At this point, an "I love you" and a "let's talk later," and I think you are done! Real arguments are hard enough, imaginary ones even harder!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Procrastination: How I Hate Thee

From Zits comic:

Mom holding her head in frustration:
"You have to write five months of daily reflections in one night???
"Relax mom. They're just daily reflections, its not like I have to put any thought into them."
Mom: Right,you blew off "daily", why sweat "reflections"?
Jeremy: What was I not really thinking about on September first?

Oh does this bring back memories. I admit it, I am the queen of procrastination. I avoid, I make deals with myself, I pay ridiculous consequences both figuratively and financially due to my procrastination, and you would think at age 60 I would have worked all this through. I have paid enough money to parking ticket offices in cities all over this country for late payments to have probably bought a new car! This is a tough one!

Perhaps this is something that you just don't understand. Maybe you are the responsible person I long to be, and you have a teen who makes you a crazy with the "waiting to the last minute" episodes that often become your problem. As an adult, I take full responsibility for my flaw, but with teens, no such luck. Somehow their procrastination whether on time management issues, or homework and project deadlines, they somehow become the victims. It's your fault for not waking them up, or not reminding them, or the teacher's fault for assigning them this "stupid project." They are just not willing to take any responsibility for finding themselves in this conundrum, and it can make you hold your head in frustration, just like "Jeremy's" mom!

I just got off the phone with a parent whose teen dug himself into a hole this school term. His missing homework and project assignments have cost him 3 letter grades. So though he could be an "A" student in this class, he is probably getting a "D"for the term. A new girlfriend, and the distraction of this "love connection" got him in this predicament. Too much texting and facebook messaging at night during homework time, and not enough work. "I'll do it!!!! Don't worry!!!" rang through the house on most nights. Getting the progress reports mid-term, the parents set up a carrot, if you don't bring the grade up to at least a "C" no drivers ed during February vacation. He was at that time getting an "F". This kid, desperate for his license, vowed to change. And he did. Parents saw him hunkering down to do his work, but unfortunately, it was too little, too late, and he could only get his grade up to a "D". The good news as I told this parent, is that the consequence is already in place, and you can put yourself on a lecturing break. No need for an "I told you so" or for an " If you only". Here is what you can say: " I get how disappointing this must be for you. I know for the last month you have really worked hard to get your grade up. But I'm guessing the hole was too deep to get out of it totally. Unfortunately you will have to put off taking drivers ed till April vacation, after third term grades come in. That was our deal. I know that you will do better next term, knowing now what you need to do to keep up. I am sorry it didn't work out for you this time around."

Done!!!!! This is how kids learn. Lecturing does not make a difference. Consequences that have meaning and that your teen has a stake in can be life changing. Finally sick of paying extra late fines for my procrastination on those damn parking tickets, I am proud to say, I pay the tickets as soon  as I get them. Now if I could just put enough money in those meters!!!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

I"ll Give You My Password If You Give Me Yours

It's a good thing I read the newspapers cause honestly keeping up with what and how teens do things in this day and age is a full-time job. Here is what I learned yesterday in an article in the NY times: Young, In Love, And Sharing Everything, Including A Password.  Remember when you had your first steady boy/girlfriend? It's always been important to have a talisman that represents your commitment. But it was a ring, or an ID bracelet, or a necklace, something tangible you could hold to your heart and kiss goodnight thinking of your beloved. I guess that's now old fashioned. Today, teens share their facebook and e-mail passwords as a sign of trust and commitment. 17 year old Tiffany says:"I have nothing to hide from him and he has nothing to hide from me. I know he'd never do anything to hurt my reputation."  Ha ha ha! (that's my sarcasm not Tiffany's)

Oh the beautiful naivete of Adolescence. True love lasts forever, until forever is a week from Monday when there is a painful and emotional breakup because Tiffany or her beloved and trustworthy boyfriend flirts with someone else! Because Teens live in the present, and do not practice sequential thinking, i.e how might an ex-boy/girlfriend use my password into e-mail and facebook play out if/when we break-up, they are unprepared when the sh*t hits the fan. First loves are intoxicating, addictive, and all consuming. A teen in love will do ANYTHING to prove and show their love to the chosen one! And today, sharing passwords not saliva, is the ultimate test of true love.  Unfortunately these teens, thinking that love lasts forever, are shocked and surprised when this gift of intimacy gets turned against them after a break-up. Intimate facebook messages and emails that profess love in sexual language, baby talk, or conversations about other people they thought were confidential now become public knowledge and spread like wildfire through the friend community. Oh the humiliation! Not only that, but any messages/emails from other people including you have an unintended audience. Perhaps you have written a heartfelt private e-mail to your son/daughter sharing your worries about their current love interest. Unbeknownst to you, that person is now privy to your private conversations with your child. And also, that boy/girlfriend now can read e-mails and messages from friends who might be sharing intimacies that they don't want shared with anyone else. Or perhaps a new crush sends a message trying to gauge interest, and whoa, the jealousy that can get touched off. So many complications, so much heartache, just from a secret word.

Here is yet another new frontier that parents need to prepare their child for. Like all these new technology tools, there are many unintended consequences that we have not educated ourselves and our teens about. It's usually when a crisis hits we then pay attention. Preempt the crisis! Please have a conversation with your teen about password sharing. You will encounter eye-rolling. Perhaps you can start by printing this article out from the NY times and read it aloud at the dinner table. Rather than lecturing, start a conversation.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/18/us/teenagers-sharing-passwords-as-show-of-affection.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mid Year Exams and Grades...Yay or Nay

Just looked at a school calendar and saw that your teens are heading into the dreaded mid-year exams and grade time. At least when this all happens in June, the kids know that on the other side of it all is freedom!!! Now all they have to look forward to is five more months of school. Tough to find the motivation. I feel depressed just thinking about it and I don't need to study for anything. 

If you have a Freshman, this is their first go-round with the whole high school exam thing. It can feel daunting and terrifying. Perhaps they have dug a bit of a whole for themselves, and have no idea how to get out. They need your help to develop a strategy. Just telling them to go and study is not helpful. They may have no idea what that means. How do you review 5 months of work in 5 subjects??? Help them come up with a game plan. Maybe take them to the public library to study so they can get out of the house and away from some of the temptations that are there and that will distract them when they are feeling overwhelmed. Use this I get it moment: " I get this whole exam thing can be very overwhelming. Lets go to the library for a couple of hours. Pick one subject to focus on, and then we can get some coffee/ice cream/pizza on the way home. Staying in the house will be too distracting. This way when all your friends are looking to distract you by texting and posting on facebook, you won't be tempted to response, at least for a few hours." (hold on to their phone for them when you get to the library) If your teen prefers to stay home, make sure you schedule some phone free time. You can tell them that it isn't a choice whether they give it to you for an hour, but they can choose which hour to give it to you.

By the way, having them give you their phone, and staying off the computer for an hour or more a day should be for all your middle and high school kids except for the seniors. If your seniors haven't figured out yet how to study, there is not much more you can do. It is totally on them to figure it out. You won't be around next year to hold their hand and bring them snacks.

So back to the phone and computer thing. You need to be clear with your kids that this is important. You get how hard it will be not to be in constant contact with your friends, but it is your job to help them develop good study habits, especially when it comes to exam times. If they choose not to willingly give you their phone, I would not get into a power struggle with them but I would give them this potential consequence. " If you choose not to give me your phone and/or computer for some good study time, and if your exam and mid-year grades are not your best effort, (meaning their grades suck)the consequence will be that will switch out your smartphone for a normal phone, (or for those old fashioned kids who still have a flip phone) we will start the new term by turning your phone off for study hours, so you can improve. If we see you putting a good effort in now,(giving me your phone and laptop) we won't need to do that.

As I have said many times, my college students have told me time and time again they wished their parents had helped them monitor their phone and facebook time during high school, because as college students they are completely out of control. You don't have to yell, you don't have to scream, you don't have to criticize, you don't have to judge, but you do have to parent.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Follow-up: What Kind Of Pretty

A parent who reads my blog shared yesterday's blog with a friend who had some very strong feelings about the type of advice I offer and in particular yesterday's blog. I really value feedback from my readers even when it's not easy to read. That is how I grow. Here is what she wrote:

"She totally seems like she's a pushover mom. Everything I've heard from her is just "accept, and walk away".  I get the underlying psyche of teen girls, and that it's important to identify what they are feeling. But I don't think she offers any constructive advice. Maybe the kid throwing $200 jeans around the room and blaming the mom for making her buy them, should've been driven to a homeless shelter to see how important "being pretty" means there.
Unfortunately, I think this generation of parents are raising entitled little diva's that need a reality check."

First let me address, the "accept and walk away" technique. When you have a teen who is in the middle of an emotional breakdown, and whose emotional epicenter of the brain, the amygdala is in high activation, the only thing you can do is walk away. Recent research on the teen brain has shown that while the adult brain is regularly activated in the frontal cortex region, the thinking brain, the teen brain is more regularly activated in the amygdala, the feeling center of the brain. This means that their emotions are often biologically "out of control." Trying to reason, lecture, or talk sanely to a teen during an explosion can do enormous damage to a relationship. Literally, teens cannot be responsible for what is coming out of their mouths. Think of an exorcism.

So yes, in those moments, a calm comment and walking away, is the healthiest solution. I have heard of too many of these out of control moments when terrible, horrible, very bad things are said, and done, that might have lasting consequences. Walking away, does not mean taking no action. It just means not right then. In the example above, a consequence might be the next time you take your daughter shopping, or she asks for an expensive article of clothing, you can say: "I don't feel comfortable spending money on things you want just because your friend has it, or you think will make you look prettier", or 'I don't feel comfortable spending money on things I know you might lose interest in or not take care of", or, 'I don't feel comfortable spending money on things that you can get for much less money. It feels excessive for something that shouldn't really matter that much. At least that's how I feel. Feel free to spend your own money if it feels that important to you. I need to follow through on what's important to me."

Teens do not response to lectures, unless they have come to you for your wisdom. My belief is that you get the biggest bang for your buck when you show through your actions what you believe to be true and of value. Adolescence is a stage of self-centeredness,(which they do outgrow!!!!) and trying to drum into their heads with words will most likely get a response of lalalalalalala. Your teens will learn from you. From the life you lead, from the example you set. When my daughter was in high school and college, she was surrounded by kids with a lot more money than we had, and who seemed to always have the latest and best of whatever. And even if we had the money, that would not have been how we would have chosen to spend it.  Her college boyfriend's family showered her with many expensive gifts, that she of course loved at the time,(who wouldn't) and that scared the crap out of me, worried that somewhere along the line the values we had modeled had been lost. I never lectured her about these kinds of values, but as family we lived them. And as she moved into young adulthood, so returned the values she was raised with, at least the ones that resonated with who she was becoming, and what felt right to her.

As a parent, you should always be true to who you are. Driving to a homeless shelter after an outbreak of entitlement to me teaches no lesson. Regular volunteering as a family at a homeless shelter, or participating yourself in regular community service and sharing those experiences with your kids is much more powerful. Telling them they should appreciate what they have when so many have so much less won't carry much weight. Showing them will.

I agree with this parent that children are being raised with a sense of entitlement. Too much stuff, too soon. Too many phones, to many computers, video games, expensive clothes, etc with no expectations.  Remember you can always say no. You can understand their disappointment, or how badly they are feeling about themselves,  and then walk away...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What "Pretty" Does Your Daughter Think She Is?

I was having a drink with a friend the other night who has a 15 year old daughter. This mom was lamenting that with all the work our generation of women have done to give our young women opportunity and equality, it still boils down to whether they feel "pretty." This mom explained to me that this current crop of teen women have three categories of pretty. Get ready now and take notes, this was all new to me.

First we have "boy pretty." God do I totally get this one, cause I absolutely was not a "boy pretty" girl. This is the stunner, the hot girl, not necessarily classically beautiful, but has confidence in herself, her body and the way she puts it all out there. These are the girls that if they have it they flaunt it. I had a roommate in college who was definitely "boy pretty" She was tall, but not too tall, gorgeous smile, great posture, blond beautiful hair, knew how to put outfits together to her best advantage,and actually was very curvy, not skinny.  This woman walked into a room, and everyone, man, woman or child took notice.

Second we have "girl pretty." These are the girls who are really beautiful, but don't really know it. They aren't threatening because they still see themselves as just average. They downplay, may be  shy and completely unaware that they are beautiful. That's what makes them so alluring. Natural beauty, no confidence.

And finally we have "life pretty." This is most of us. These are the girls who, you know that when they get into their 20's will be in their prime, but as adolescents, it doesn't all fit together yet. The daughter of my friend, put herself in this category. So it sucks now, cause "life pretty" girls feel in a one down position. Maybe they are just too tall, or too short, or have not had the post puberty growth spurt and have the weight gain and wider hips that will all even out by the time they hit their 20's. They feel awkward and unattractive, and feel the lack of attention from the boys that the "girl and boy pretty" girls get without trying, whether they want it or not.

I was a "life pretty" girl. All my friends in middle and high school were boy/girl pretty. Hence I spent many Saturday nights alone, no prom dates, while my "pretty" friends all were with their boyfriends. It was tough, and I do remember feeling sad a lot of the time. But the good news is that when I hit my late teens, got away from my high school, developed an identity that was not governed by the fads and culture of the town I grew up in, I grew into a young woman with confidence, and maybe "OK pretty.

How we look as woman will always be important, that's just life. Your daughter has defined herself as some kind of pretty. Maybe she is confident and flaunts it, or maybe she is a bundle of self-consciousness, and constantly feels ugly; too fat, too thin, boobs too big, boobs too small, too tall, too short, kinky hair, hair that is too straight, mousy hair, too hairy, hates her nose, thinks her ears stick out too much, has bad skin. My daughter hated her knees! Go figure. There is not much you can do here except..accept. This is what she is feeling now, it won't be what she is feeling forever. Don't rebut everything she says about herself with a "but you are beautiful." She doesn't feel that way, and you're telling her that feels disingenuous to her.

She may show you how "unpretty" she feels by throwing her clothes around her room, especially those new $200 jeans you just bought her to "feel pretty", and now says she hates, and blames you for making her buy them. Don't pay attention to her actions, it's not about the clothes, it's how she is feeling inside. Don't argue with her, and tell her she is being ridiculous, or unappreciative, just go over to her, give her a hug, and say: " I get you're having a bad day, and feel like nothing looks good, I'm so sorry, how can I help?"  And then.... walk away from the room!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Tween Age Clone

Why does your assertive, unique, confident eleven year old suddenly turn into a clone of all the other eleven year olds in their class, in your town, in the world? After all, you have worked so hard lo these last eleven years to teach your child to think for themselves, not care what anyone else thinks, and  encourage them to wear/do/read/play/act ways that feel true. And guess what? They follow your advice....until they turned 11 or 12 or 13, then they don't! When they ask to buy an article of clothing, or go to a movie you don't approve of, or want to listen to music that you know is only because "all the other kids are listening to it, " you preach the "be yourself" sermon, which in the past has worked like a charm. But suddenly you get "you just don't understand." You feel rejected, and for the first time feel worried that all the values you have worked so hard to develop in your child have vanished in the blink of an IPHONE.

First let me say...STOP WORRYING!! All those values you have been promoting and modeling have not disappeared, just gone into hibernation for the next 5-7 years. I promise, they are all still there and when they get on the other side of adolescence, and they have had a chance to choose to make them part of who they are, you will be brimming with pride. Choose here is the operative word. Up until this point in their young life they have relied on you to orchestrate their life. You have been their #1, and they have counted on you to watch their back. Now they are literally biologically driven to watch their own back. Their new brain is showing them ALL the possibilities of life, not just the ones YOU choose to share with them. Part of raising a teen is trusting that you have already done a wonderful job, and now it's their time to experience the world as they see it. Think of it like a buffet table. In the past you chose their foods for them, knowing what you think they would like, and not wanting to waste any food. Now, they walk down the buffet line and maybe see the sushi and say: " hey, this looks cool, how come you never let me eat this."And off they go, trying new foods you never dreamed they would like.

So seeing all the possibilities of life is one part of what's driving this change in personality. The other part is the hyper sense of self-consciousness that is ever present especially in early adolescence. There is a constant worry that everyone is looking at them, and judging them. And if they don't wear the right clothes, have the same phone, listen to the same music, talk the same talk, then everyone, and I mean everyone will think they are completely and utterly uncool. This is where the clone-like behavior comes in. Its not about values, and I know it drives you crazy that they are making choices based on what other people think of them. But relax, it is only a moment in time. It is not a character flaw in your child, it is developmentally normal! This new brain of theirs is just realizing that other people think things about them, and feel that if they look/feel/ and think like their peers that all their flaws will be invisible. As they begin to develop a sense of their own identity (when they have traveled down the buffet enough times and tried it all before settling on some favorites), they will have renewed confidence.Come on, I know you drank the kool aid too when you were their age!

But beware, if you take the high road here, and continue to preach the sermon, your teen will feel judged/ criticized and never quite good enough for you. This doesn't mean that you don't have a say, it just means you have to take a circular route to get there, if you want to maintain the relationship you have taken the time to build. So when your tween comes to you with a request that you know is cause "all the other kids..." Here is what you can do. If it is unsafe, or truly inappropriate (like getting a smartphone..don't get me started on this one) you can use this "I get it moment": I get how important this is to you, and I know all your friends have it. And I know that not having it,  will make you feel different from your friends, and I am really sorry about that, I know how that feels, but it just isn't safe and I am willing to take the heat from you to make sure you are safe.

So relax, all is not lost cause they want to look like every other kid on the block. You know they're special and unique and that is all that matters.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Whose Job Is It?

It's Zits comic time again:

JEREMY: (at his computer, talking to his mom) "I'm supposed to edit this 15 minute power point presentation down to 5 minutes by tomorrow.
MOM: (kissing Jeremy's forehead) Poor Baby
JEREMY: That's it? You're not offering to do it for me???

OK, I admit it when my daughter was in first grade I got a "smiley face" on her Social Studies diorama. But as hard as it was, and even after listening to ear-splitting tantrums and swear laced language voicing hatred at the teacher that assigned some stupid project, I too gave her the kiss on the forehead and a "poor baby, " and left her alone to do her thing, be the outcome good or bad, it would be her outcome.

I was talking to a friend the other day who was telling me about a family she knew where the Dad basically wrote all his teen's papers. And he did quite well on them. Fast forward to his daughter as a college student. Thank the computer gods, because the dad was still in business. And yes, Grad School applications, yup, Dad again. And now as a Grad student she is finally on her own, and guess what, she is lost. What a surprise! Maybe the Dad's goal was to get her into a good college, check! Get her into a good grad school, check! But writing about her graduate practicum, research papers, and exams, he is of no use now, and the daughter is in a panic, completely unprepared for the hard work it takes to do something "all by yourself." This dad did his daughter no favors.

In the extremely competitive world we live in, its hard not to want to protect your kids from stress, and want to give them "the edge" over other smart and talented teens. But developing skills in frustration tolerance and sticking with something until you finish is a very important life lesson. These skills not only translate to academic pursuits, but friendships, careers, and even to marriage. When you teach them that someone else can and will 'fix it" when something is too hard or stressful, you communicate that quitting is good. What they take that philosophy into life with them it can go like this: I don't like this job, I'll just quit and get another one, and if  I don't like that one, I'll quit it too. Or, this relationship is too hard, I don't feel like working through the hard stuff, I think I'll just get a divorce and get another marriage, and so on. The buck will finally hit when they have kids of their own. Not so easy to quit your kids!

Be there for them, acknowledge their frustration, help them to develop a strategy, but don't do it for them. If you are looking for your kid to reflect your glory, go find another mirror!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Breaking Up Is Really Really Hard To Do!

On Saturday I was at a birthday lunch for my oldest friend with 5 other women. I had known her the longest, since we were 13,  so I thought it would be fun to do a little of "this is your life". One of the areas I covered was her old boyfriends, and there were many, eight starting from her first boyfriend in 7th grade, JL. But it was her 9th grade boyfriend that caused the biggest stir for her as she recounted the "break-up". AB was her first serious, starry eyed, thought about him 24 hours a day kind of boyfriend. It was a "long-distance" relationship. He lived several towns away not easily reached by the T. Though only miles apart, it felt like cross-country. They spent hours talking, yes talking, on the phone each night, and had their parents drive them to visit and go out for a Saturday night date. It was love, pure and simple. but as teen romances go, she got "the dear M letter" in the mail. I remember getting the call from her, barely being able to understand her she was sobbing so hard.

As my friend reminisced about this time in her life, she recalled feeling like she wanted to die. The pain, she said was so acute she couldn't imagine it ever going away. As girls do, we spent hours, and I mean hours and hours rereading this letter, and every other letter he had ever written her, pulled apart conversations they had had, and tried to figure where it had all gone wrong. Of course, being adults with perspective and experience, we now know that nothing really went wrong, it was just inexplicably time for him to move on. But for a 15 year old girl, experiencing her first real feelings of love, there was no solace, just pain.

M's mom is a wonderful, caring and sensitive person. But with two other teens at the time, she just wanted M to get over it already and move on. Her mom was tired of the tears, the hours of phone time logged in with her friends giving her support, and longed for her chirpy, carefree daughter back. So my friend just stopped telling her anything. And that set the stage for the remainder of her adolescence. 

Fast forward to 2012. Break up letters now turn into break-up texts, and hurt and angry spurned boy/girlfriends turn to facebook for pay back. Imagine dealing with the torturous pain and loss of a break up and then add to that some very public, very humiliating facebook post about your ex-relationship. Today, breaking up for teens is a two tiered process. It's not just dealing with the emotional piece, it's the public piece as well. In the olden days, an ex could be dealt with by telling your brother/sister mom or dad to say you weren't home, or you couldn't come to the phone when the ex called, at least providing you with some protected time to try to get over it.  These days, you get broken up with or break up with someone, you can be getting or sending a barrage of text messages, or have to view terrible things being said about you on facebook by your ex to "get back" at you for breaking up.

This prolongs the ending of a relationship, and because teens love the drama, "getting in" on the break-up feels like living an episode of the Kardasians. When your teen is faced with this situation it can try a parents patience. Perhaps you are secretly glad since this was not the boy/girlfriend of your dreams. Thinking that you are providing comfort, you might make the mistake of bad-mouthing the ex and do a little "see I told you so." Please refrain. Your teen needs your support, your empathy, but not your opinion or advice. except when they ask for it. Remember that your teen may be experiencing this type of pain for the first time in their life. No life experience to draw on, no idea that indeed it will get better. Don't set yourself up to be shut-out! Romance is not like it was in the good ole days, it is wayyyyyy more complicated.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Is My Teen A Reflection Of Me?

Ripped from the headlines. Boston Globe 1/6/12  B14 NAMES page:


"Is there nothing Chad Ochocinco won't tweet. Yesterday, the Pats receiver felt compelled to reveal that his daughter had been sent home from school for disciplinary reasons."My daughter was just suspended from school this morning for a day for a slick comment, I don't think is worthy of a suspension. You decide. Teacher:Why are you late? My daughter:Why does it matter? You still get paid right?" Ocho continues with tweet: "This is detention worthy not suspension." Ocho then tweets his daughter: "I've no idea where you got your sense of humor n slick remarks but you never undermine authority especially teachers dammit!" Her response? "Daddy, I get it from you so chill please!" Ocho responds: OK that comment just cost you, you're grounded until further notice."

Ocho has 3 million twitter followers, his daughter has over 10,250. Talk about airing your family's dirty laundry in public! Just to compare, Joani has 0 twitter followers. And if this isn't a cautionary tale about public discourse, I don't know what is.

Oh where to start. So much to discuss, but since the average family is not dealing with twitter family drama, I will only discuss a teaching moment that stands out for me as the moment of truth. When dad berates daughter's lack of respect for authority and can't imagine where she learned such a thing, her response is YOU!!

This is a look in the mirror moment. Is there some behavior that your child exhibits that is achingly familiar? Many times it's the good aspects of our personality that our kids mirror like kindness and generosity, a love for your sport, or your music or your passions that they share with you. But often it is the less stellar parts of our persona that stand-out. Are you argumentative, judgemental, have a temper, a control freak, or perhaps you are shut-down emotionally, or somewhat passive about change, or keep yourself removed from all family drama, and then wonder why your teen never leaves their room.

In the Intro to Psychology class I teach to college students, we discuss personality development through different theorist's eyes, one being Alfred Bandura's Role Modeling Theory. Basically he says that the influencers in our children's lives provide a model for behavior. See story above! All of my students cite their parents as their main influence for how they deal with emotion and relationships. If I were you, I would read this little tweet interaction to your teen, and then ask them what part of their personality do they think they got from you. What a fun family dinner that would be!

PS. I have no idea who this Ocho guy is!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pah-leeese.. no lecture!

A great Zits comic:
Jeremy: My history teacher is ridiculous. He expects us to remember all this random stuff from a long time ago! Why can't he just teach us history like he' supposed to?
Mom: But isn't-
Jeremy: Don't question my logic, mom. Just say "Poor baby!"

I love this "conversation"! I am sure this takes place in your household at least once a day. Your teen says something provocative, narcissistic, naive, unrealistic... and thinking that you need to "set them straight" you respond with a lecture about why what they have said is narcissistic, naive, unrealistic....I worked with a couple recently who were getting hooked into these conversations so regularly that their relationship with their son was going down the toilet. They were frustrated with his inability to be realistic, and he was frustrated with their inability to understand him. The son would regularly pronounce plans about what he would do "when her grew up", or taunt his parents political views or accuse them of being hypocrites about their lifestyle.  This teen is 15 year old. Honestly I don't remember exactly what it was he wanted to do, but it was of the following variety :
Teen: I want to be a rock star!
Parent:  How can you be a rock star if you don't play the guitar, can't sing, and hate to practice or put time into anything?
Teen: Details, details.

Adolescence is all about fantasy. It is about now seeing the possibilities of life. It is all about idealism, and unrealistic expectations. For the first time in their lives they are thinking with a new brain that literally floods them with endless thoughts, ideas, and plans, most of which will be naturally discarded as they experience life. They actually don't need your "realism" cause truly they will find out for themselves from living life, experiencing disappointment and disillusionment when real life does not imitate their fantasy life. In some ways teens are playing the "dress-up" games of early childhood. They are metaphorically trying on those cowboy or princess costumes. They eventually outgrow the "game", and get on with life. You don't need to be worried or feel the need to tell them how it really is. They will figure it out on their own. Your job is just to say; " Yeah, I get how much fun that would be", or "great goal, let me know how I can help," or I'm not sure I agree, but I understand why you would think that." Your kids are just thinking out loud.The edit button is not firmly in place yet.  Most of us have silly things in our head, or fantasies about winning the lottery or the publishers clearing house, but we keep those thoughts to ourselves otherwise people would think we are nuts! If you don't give them the room and the opportunity to speak up about it free of judgement and criticism, you run the risk of shutting them down completely. Eventually, they will ask for your help and your opinion, and will value it because you have allowed them first to give voice to their own thoughts.  Your teen is playing out all the options and choices he/she will have to make over the next 10 years. The operative word is play. You don't "show" them how to finish a puzzle, you just give them the pieces and let them figure it out!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Are you a serial yeller? Do your teens know how to push you past the point of no return? Have you noticed that the more out of control you get, the calmer you teen becomes? Yelling does not work! Neither does yelling in combination with taking everything away you just gave your teen for a holiday gift like the new smartphone, Ipad, Itouch, or laptop. If you find yourself yelling you have already lost the battle. It's time to put up the white flag and surrender.

I met with a couple recently, engaged in a battle with their teen daughter that seems likely to last forever unless someone blinks. The daughter has basically learned that she doesn't have much to lose, since everything that gets taken away just gets given back in time, and she can yell as loud as and as mean as her parents, particularly her mom. The more unlikable this teen becomes, the more frequent and louder these arguments are. And by unlikeable, I mean entitled, full of attitude and disrespect beyond all reasonable boundaries.  Because of this, few nice words are shared between them. The daughter has had some challenges this year, starting a new school and being separated from all her friends, yet she has continued to make good grades, and has become involved in activities in this new arena. No small task for a 15 year old. But because she is such a brat at home, the good stuff is getting lost in the scuffle. So what's happening here. Mom and daughter share a common personality trait. They are strong, assertive women. See how well we can re-frame something negative to something positive!

If you are a person who likes to be in control, the teen years will be a huge challenge for you. If you have a teen who has a strong personality, just like mom and/or dad, double that challenge, and if your teen has watched and learned over the years how you get people to do what you want, than watch out, you have hit the triple crown whammy! They are paying you the highest compliment: imitation being the highest form of flattery!

If you want your teen to stop be disrespectful and bratty, you have to blink first! Your teen has learned how to bait you, and being a well-trained seal, you jump for the bait. When you get that pit in your stomach after you have asked your teen to do something, get something and say something, and their response is surly, disrespectful or he/she completely ignores you, don't jump for the fish. Yelling here will not not not not not not not not........ get them to do whatever it is you want!!!!!! GET IT!! Look them straight in the eye, give them a head shake and a shoulder shrug and WALK....A....WAY. Done! When they come to you for a ride, money, help with homework, laundry for school the next day, you give them that same head shake, shoulder shrug, and walk away, with a "I would have, cause I love to do things for you, but we don't seem to be on the same page today about helping each other." And that is it. Do not say another word. Don't get sarcastic, don't have a "tone" in your voice. Stay neutral. Now this doesn't mean you don't speak to your teen for the rest of the day. It just means that the favor-doing, ride-giving, laundress is off-duty for the rest of the day. Just that day. Every day is a new day. And who knows, maybe tomorrow will be a better one.!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The First Day Back

Happy New Year. Yesterday was a busy day, a record number of calls from parents anticipating troubles in the new year. Perhaps there was "trouble in River City" over the holiday week. Maybe some incidents of drinking or drugs threw you for a loop, or realizing that the last 3 weeks of the term are closing in and there are assignments still unfinished, or maybe you are smack in the middle of the final weeks of college apps, and you and your senior are feeling the anxiety of deadlines. Take a deep breath. Getting all crazy, and starting back on the nagging train will not help. Best to just ease into it slowly, that's what your teen will need to do.

Rather than starting right in with the "did you finish/start/do your__________________? How about using this "I Get It" moment. "Hey honey, what are you dreading most about going back to school?" Just a simple question like that let's your teen know that you get how hard it is to transition back to the daily grind. A little empathy goes a long way.  And when they walk in the door after school today, rather than getting right back into the multitude of questions that have plagued you all day about homework, projects and meetings with guidance counselors, give them some space. The first day back pretty much sucks. How many of you were dreading the rush today of alarm clocks, lunches, carpools and that's just the kids stuff, then add to that your work, and your deadlines. See, you and your kids are not all that different. Misery LOVES company!