Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting Even Rarely Works

 Watch this video first, and the we'll "talk".

I know WOW, right? I bet many of you have had a similar impulse. Frustrated beyond belief, thinking that you have an entitled, spoiled teen who doesn't appreciate what he/she has. Let's just take that laptop/IPhone/IPad/IPod/Xbox and blast it to smitherines! NOT!!!!

OK this dad is crazy. This is a family in deep trouble. Obviously!!! A healthy family does not air their dirty laundry in public, at least not the adults in the family

So what does a healthy family do, when one member of the family cannot contain their anger, and that family member happens to be a teenager who decides to share her "feelings" about her family publicly on her facebook page to 1000 of her closest friends.

The first thing I would do is see this as a cry for help. Maybe your teen has complained about you on their facebook page, what would you do? Would you punish them and take away their computer/IPhone etc? Or would you wonder to yourself, "wow, my teen is really angry. How can I help her with that. " In the video the dad mentioned that he grounded his daughter for 3 months because she didn't do her chores. Really, a 3 month grounding for that? How about just not driving her to a friend's or to the mall when she asks, if she hasn't emptied the dishwasher. Even if she hadn't made her bed for 3 months, grounding could not be a more ineffective consequence. So what you see here is a teen who clearly feels there is no chance for negotiation, no chance for conversation, and feeling completely helpless and also fearless, as she obviously feels she has nothing left to lose, publicly humiliates her parents.

If you have a teen who is terminally snarky, angry and full of attitude around you, punishing them will not change those behaviors. Taking ownership of half the problem will. I coached a couple recently whose daughter was always angry with them, was constantly lying to them about her whereabouts, and had almost completely isolated herself from the family. This couple had taken everything away from their daughter that they could possibly take away. Communication was at a stand still. Interaction from both parties limited to stoney silence or ferocious anger. So from the daughter's perspective, she had nothing left to lose and therefore no motivation to right things. It turns out these parents were extremely strict and rigid, and as a 16 year old this girl was chafing at the bit. If her parents would not give her any freedom, she would just take it, not unlike the daughter from the video. I asked the parents if they were willing to own some of the problem and try to talk to their daughter.

Here is what happened.
Parents said:" We know you are really angry with us. Clearly we are doing something wrong if you feel that you have to lie and sneak out of the house, and do things we know are not who you are? Please tell us what we can do differently."
Daughter's reaction: " The daughter was shocked by this admission and began to sob.(a shock to the parents who had not seen this side of her for many years) Immediately apologizing for her lying and sneaking out. When she was able to speak she said to them: " You guys always say no to anything I ask, even if it isn't even bad. You won't let me see my friends after school, you won't let me hang out where all my friends hang out, you won't let me see my boyfriend. It's not fair, I do good in school, I work, I do my sports, and you only see the bad stuff. I want to see my friends, I want to see my boyfriend, I just want to be a normal teenager. (these aren't exact words, but this is a true story and I am paraphrasing, but it's pretty close)
resolution: These parents and this daughter loved each other and were very motivated to work this out. The key is that these parents were willing to take some responsibility for this relationship disaster. (Unlike the dad in the video. PS the daughter discussed in the video ran away from home soon after the "shooting") Parents agreed to give their daughter more freedom, and asked in return that she keep them in the loop by checking in with them through texting.  She agreed.

The last time I heard from these parents, things were much better, not perfect but better. Sometimes she forget to check in (teens are like that) but rather than grounding her, or taking something away, they helped her to find a way to remember. Just getting mad at your teen when they screw up is NOT helpful. Look for what's getting in the way from their following through, and FIX IT. Learn from this dad. Getting even never works!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Scary Thing Happened On The Way To School Today

Just finished watching the evening news. Tonight's lead story was about a teenager from a suburb of Ohio who opened fire on the students in his high school, killing one student and injuring 3 others. Video at the school showed terrified students and terrified parents, holding on to each other for dear life, thankful that they could do that, and were not among those who had been shot.

Opened my e-mail today with a call for help from a mom whose 17 yr old daughter had been in a car accident on the way to school just before vacation. Fault has yet to be determined and her daughter has a fuzzy recollection of the accident, but there seems to be some disagreement about who was at fault. Her daughter is a cautious driver, who takes her driving responsibilities very seriously, and is quite traumatized by this accident. She can't sleep, she is afraid to drive, and keeps replaying the event as best she can remember it, distracting her from school, SAT's and life. Mom has now found out that in fact she may have been at fault, at least according to the police officers, and is terrified to tell her daughter, worried that her guilt will send her over the edge. Not only was she injured, but the driver of the other car as well. I don't think seriously, but the guilt will be overwhelming for this girl.

Two very different stories, but trauma is trauma. And probably at some point in your teen's life they will be faced with some of their own. Something that feels out of their control, and that makes them feel out of control. Remember that the most highly activated part of the teen brain is the Amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. So whenever your teen experiences an event with high emotional content, the intensity can be almost unbearable. This does not mean you avoid, protect, or minimize hoping it will all get better. Best to meet the crisis head on.

 This mom writes: "How can we salvage her confidence and spare her from the shame and fear and humiliation knowing that it is possible that she did indeed run a red light? That she did unknowingly cause injury to another party whom she believes is the one who injured her? How can this possibly become a positive life lesson? All I can envision right now is total devastation happening on top of total devastation. All this happening at the WORST possible time. With her SATs around the corner, this is a distraction that could have long term consequences well beyond her driving psyche being damaged."

When something bad happens to our kids, we want to make it "all better." So instinctively, we tell them it's OK, your OK, it's only a car, it was just an accident. If we could just hold them on our lap and kiss their fear away we would. But honestly, it wouldn't help much. Better to play it all out by asking questions like: "Tell me what you are most afraid of now?" When the fears are on the table, it gets them out of their head, and in a place where they can begin to gain some control. Being part of the real world, and experiencing the consequences is not a bad thing. That is how we learn. Helping teens to develop an action plan to address their feelings and their behavior puts an out of control situation back in their hands.

First thing first. Honesty. Tell your teen the whole story, they can handle it. In this situation lay out the facts, not with fear in your voice but in a calm neutral tone. 'OK here is what we are dealing with, lets figure it out together. Invite them into the process of problem solving, do not do things behind closed doors, with private conversations with other adults. Your teen needs to know you continue to have confidence in him/her, and their ability to take care of business.

Understand their fear: " I get that you feel changed forever. I'm guessing you are worried you may never be able to drive safely again, is that right? I get that you keep replaying it over and over in your head, if only, and it is driving you crazy. Is that right?  It's normal to be thinking and feeling these things, it was a scary and terrifying thing. Let's come up with some strategies to help."

If they are having trouble sleeping, then come up with a sleep strategy, something to distract them from their thoughts. Maybe watching a movie on their laptop till they fall asleep. Have a time every day where you check in: On a scale of 1-10 how are you feeling today. Sometimes it helps for teens to see that in fact they are feeling better, but haven't noticed, this helps them do that.

If there is a legal issue, take them through the process step by step, so they know what to expect and what will be expected of them. Do not protect them from the reality of the situation. Teens are more resilient than you think, and when you include them from the get go, they feel your confidence in them.

Help them with strategies for managing their life. Perhaps doing homework in their room allows them to get too much into their head. Head out to a Starbucks or the local library for a study session, to help them focus, saying : 'I get you are thinking about this all the time, I think changing the scenery will help you focus on what you need to do.

Get them back in the car again, but start slowly. Maybe just have them drive to the corner store for milk, or to get gas in your car.  Go with them, if that feels better.

Share times in your life when you faced a crisis. Rather than telling them it will get better, share an experience when you too felt changed forever, and how over time you were OK. Teens truly believe that these traumas and crisis will never pass. Whether it is a break up with a boy/girlfriend, or a rejection from the team/school play/college they wanted to do/go to so badly. The feelings are profound because it is the first time in their life that they have felt such intense feelings, and they truly feel like they will never go away. Parents often get caught up in their teen's worry that they will be damaged/effected forever. But just look at your own life, you know it gets better, cause it did for you, and it will for them. It just takes time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Taking Time To Smell The Roses

Because of the school vacation week,and many of you are spending time with your kids and not on the computer reading my blog, YAY!!.  I will take this week to renew and refresh. Lots of great stuff in the archives if you need a little shot of Joani!

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Friending": Real life Update

How convenient it is  that this article( link at end of blog) and story came out just after I wrote my previous blog on what happens when teens "friend" someone they don't really know. Here is the story: Someone from overseas somehow through the friend of a friend of a friend networking that happens on facebook, contacted a student at BC High school here in the Boston area. Slowly but surely he develops a "relationship" with her, posing as a teen girl. I 'm guessing much of this took place off the wall and in private messages. The student begins to share confidences and secrets with this new "friend", some of which must be somewhat juicy. New "friend" then blackmails this young student and threatens her that if she doesn't give him money, he will make public the secrets she has told her. According to the story, the she  is actually a him who comes from abroad somewhere, and is a con man. Luckily, the girl told someone, and an alert went out to other students in the school who had also "friended" this person, to warn them of this scam.

My suggestion, especially if you choose not to scam your own teen as I suggested in yesterday's post, is to download this article and  read it with your teen, and suggest that they "unfriend" anyone with whom they do not have a first hand friendship. Again, you can't make them do this, you can only suggest, because of course, unless it actually happens to them, (that's why I still suggest you pursue my suggestion) they will never think it could/would/might happen to them.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Friending" Intervention For Your Teen

Do you think dictionaries have "friending" in their newest editions. The spell check on my computer keeps telling me that it is not a word. Oh it's a word alright!!! I have a paltry 147 "friends" on facebook and I am proud to say I know almost everyone but for a few who I've met through my talks and blogs. Your teen on the other hand, I'm guessing, has well over a 1000! 950 of whom they haven't a clue who they are. But the guys are probably "hot", and the girls "hotter" and therefore fit the criteria  for "friendship."

As adults we are well aware of the dangers of these anonymous friends. Just pick up any newspaper, any day of the week to read a story about a young girl who has either run away with or been lured away by some "friend" she has on facebook, but has never met. I watched a really disturbing, but excellent movie recently called Trust, that came out in 2010. The story revolves around a normal 14 year old girl, who feeling awkward and unattractive meets up with an older man who "friends" her through facebook.  She thinks he is 17. Playing on her insecurities, this guy builds a "relationship" with her online, over time, which culminates in a crisis. Though difficult to watch at times, it is a must see for parents to watch with their teen as a cautionary tale. The film also focuses on the parents, and how they missed the cues that might have saved this girl from all the trauma. Normal, loving parents with blinders on. Just like all of us who would never think our kids could......

After watching this film I was thinking of ways to communicate the danger to teens of making anonymous friends on facebook. Lecturing is an inferior tool for this topic. Teens who think they are smarter than all adults will either stop listening, or argue that this could never happen to them. That's teen magical thinking for you. Asking them to go through their "friends" and tell you who they are and how they know them will probably just get them angry and resistant to hearing anything you have to say, no matter how teen-friendly you make the conversation. You know the one: " You know honey, there are people out there that hope and pray that they can find young teens gullible enough to swallow any story they may give you about themselves. Additionally they prowl these sites for information that most teens post about really personal stuff, and who knows how they will use it." Cue teen eye rolling!

Here is an idea I came up with. I have absolutely no proof that it will seal the deal, but here it is. Create a new facebook page and profile under a new name and appropriate gender. If you have a daughter, be a guy, and if you have a son, be a girl. Go take a picture of a hot guy or girl as appropriate taking care to make sure your teen does not recognize this person. So don't use your next door neighbor, be creative! Upload that picture on the profile page of this new creation of yours. Then do a "friend request" to your son or daughter saying that they are friend of a friend of her/his friend X's( fill in the name with a good friend of your daughter/son).  You saw their picture on X's wall and thought you were hot. You can edit the profile page to say that only friends can see the profile, that way you only have to put up very thin info about "yourself".

Here is the learning piece. If your son or daughter does in fact "friend" you, you now can go back and have a real conversation, and by that I mean not telling them how stupid they were to "friend" a stranger. What you can say is : "Honey, I did this little experiment to show you how easy it is for you to "friend" people who can say anything to convince you that they are legit. I know it's flattering to get attention, but lets come up with a strategy for you to be able to really see who you know, who it's OK for you to know, and who is a potential sleazebag. I love you and just want you to be safe. Just so you know I have deleted this fictitious person, never to bother you again."

Though this starts off as sneaky,  it really does teach a valuable lesson. Actions always speak louder than words!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I Am Soooo Not A Morning Person Part 2

 Getting a teen to sleep, so that you can get them up in the morning is a challenge. The bottom line, you can not make your teen go to sleep, and more importantly you can not make them get up in the morning. They have to want to want you to get them up in the morning. Did you get that?

Here are some things that you can do. If after you week of observation you find that your teen has been on their phone/computer much later than you had imagined, you will need to take some action. If they have a smart phone this will be  more difficult. The conversation will go like this: " Over the last week, I have noticed that you are up quite late on your phone/computer texting and facebooking with friends, or playing games on your computer or phone. I get how important that is to you. I have also noticed that staying up past 11 on the phone and computer makes it that much harder for you to get up in the morning, and that has become a problem for both of us. I would like you to come you to come up with a time that you would be ready to "shut down" for the night. We will be shutting off the wireless and your phone at that time, so we won't have to get in a fight about you giving it to me." (If they have a smartphone, then they will need to give it to you. If they don't agree to do that, you can let them know that the choice is to either agree to give it to you till the morning or you will be switching out their smart phone for a standard phone, so that you will be able to shut if off through your carrier.) And by the way, that is what you should do with their phone at the agreed time. Set up an evening shutoff time with your carrier.

Understand that this alone won't make them go to sleep. Maybe they need to listen to music, or read, but these are passive activities, which calm the brain, rather than phones/computers which stimulate the brain, and make it harder to fall asleep. This is what the research clearly states, not me!

Ok so that's the going to sleep part, now we get to the waking up. First you need to let your teen know what you are willing to do to help, what you are no longer willing to do. Set whatever limits on yourself that are right for you. Perhaps you are willing to do an initial wake up before you go downstairs, and then maybe come up ONCE for a second wake up call. What you are not willing to do is take abuse, or make it your life's work to get them out of bed in the morning and on time. This is something that is EXTREMELY important to impart to your teen. My college students cite this as THE HARDEST task as a freshman...getting up and getting to class on time. Those students whose parents took on the responsibility for getting them up and out are at a complete loss when they get to college. They have not developed their own strategies for taking on this responsibility. This is something you need to start now,

Perhaps some kind of incentive might help. Everyone needs motivation, and getting up and going to school is not motivating. Maybe for every morning they get up you will pay to download music on their IPODS or phones. Or maybe they start with a kitty of $25 for weekend spending money, and for every morning they don't get up on time you deduct $5. And if the weekend comes and they have no money, so be it! If you have a girl, maybe a Friday afternoon manicure or pedicure for a week of on time waking. Or maybe they have been wanting to get highlights, or an expensive haircut, something out of the norm, that can be an incentive for getting up on time.

You and your teen should come up with a strategy together, including wake up calls by you, alarm clocks, phone alarms, texting them from the kitchen, hiring a Mariachi band to play under their window (only kidding) but a real plan of action. If they miss the bus, or car pool, or you need to leave, there is no ride from you, nor an excuse for lateness for school, hello detention! They need to feel the consequences of their actions. They may have to walk, or call a cab, but do not rescue!!!!!

The conversation should always start with: "I get how hard it is getting up in the morning. School starts early and you are not a morning person. But we need to find something that works, cause I won't be fighting you on this every morning. Let's figure out some motivators, you tell me what you need me to do, but I will not be abused every morning trying to get you out of bed. Those days are over, so we need to work this out."

Remember, this will be a work in progress. The bottom line is if they don't take responsibility for this the ultimate consequence comes when they need you to do something for them. Relationships are reciprocal. If you have had a bad morning, and they have been particularly angry and abusive, you are then not available to them to do all the extra things you usually do for them, which include, rides, laundry, and money. A calm, " I would have, I love doing things for you, but your lack of effort this morning on getting up and out has made it impossible for me to do that for you today! Let's try again tomorrow. For tomorrow is another day!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Am Sooo Not A Morning Person- Part 1

This statement might categorize almost every teen I have ever come into contact with. Most parent's have fond memories of cuddling in bed with their then 4 year old, making goo goo eyes at each other and whispering sweet "I Love Yous" in each other ears. Yes, the good old days. Now, "I love you," becomes, "I hate you, leave me alone!" as you cajole, then nudge, then outright scream for your teen to get out of their damn bed!

First a biology lesson. Of course you're teen can't get up at 6 AM if they don't go to bed till 11 or 12. Anyone can do the math. Unfortunately as your teen enters puberty their biological or circadian clock sets itself back a few hours, preparing itself for the longer days of adulthood, and need for less sleep. So their body/mind may actually not be ready for sleep until 11 PM. (Most adults I know barely can stay awake till 9:30, but you know grown-up hours!) Here is the kicker. Though their mind/body says stay awake, that one foot still in childhood is saying you need 9 hours of sleep a night for the brain to do all it's work. Therein lies the contradiction. You see how exhausted and out of sorts they are in the AM and know if they would just go to bed earlier, this whole problem would be solved. Ah if it were just that easy.

Being a person who suffers from some sleep issues, I know that if I get into bed too early, no matter how tired I am, I could be lying there for hours while sleep alludes me. 11:11 PM is my magic hour. I have tried, 10, 10:15, 10:45, as I fall asleep downstairs and then have to drag myself up to bed. But 11:11 it is, almost every night, and 15 minutes later I am asleep. Mission accomplished. I have worked with many parents on this issue, and many tell their young teens to be in bed by 9:30, knowing that will get them the required 9 hours. But what happens is these kids start to develop real sleep issues. Their brain is not ready to shut down yet,  and sends them into pre-sleep anxiety about not being able to fall asleep. And because teens have so much on their minds, and are not used to quiet contemplation, (thank you cellphones, and computers) they kind of go out of their minds, and then start to dread bedtime. Then you have two struggles to deal with, going to bed and then getting up!

Your first job in diagnosing the "getting up" problem is to look at the going to sleep part of it. Your teen will either be a lark, an early morning person, or an owl, a late night person. Some of this is nature. You first have to accept who your teen is. Think about them from infancy to the present. Did they always fight you on bedtime, or were they that kid you could read one book and they were out like a light.  This is an important step. Making your teen go to bed when you think they should go to bed will become a power struggle. Understanding that they might not be tired will make them feel less crazy, and open a discussion, as in "you know honey, you have always had a tough time getting to sleep, maybe you are more of a night owl than I am, we just have to figure out how to make your need to stay up later work with having to get up so early."

So for one week, just kind of observe the evening habits of your teen. Stay up as late as they do, so you can see what it is they do when you are not awake to see. It may be that they are staying up late texting, facebooking and video gaming which is highly stimulating, and can get in the way of the body/brain shutting down ,and readying itself for sleep. During this week long observation period refrain from commenting, just take notes. Tomorrow, what to do with this information, and the strategies for getting them up in the morning.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Love Is In The Air

My weekly Zits: (and I'm not talking about pimples)

A cop is talking to Jeremy's dad in front of Jeremy:

Cop: I stopped him about a mile from here after observing him driving in and out of the same cul de sac 17 times.

Jeremy: My friend Viral lives there.

Dad: You took my car in the middle of the night so you could drive by a girl's house 17 times!!!!

Jeremy: It wasn't 17 times, it was 63!

Cop: Steady Walt (cop holding dad back)

Jeremy: And you are almost out of gas!

Ah young love. If your teen has yet to have his/her first experience with love, pay close attention. Like Jeremy, their first experience with love knows no boundaries. Because this is literally the first time in their entire life that they have experienced feelings so intensely, they might look as though they have gone a little crazy. They want to spend excessive amounts of time with this new object of their affection, are texting constantly with him/her, and are driven to distraction, reliving every tender moment.

With Valentine's day upon us, they may be running out to buy an extravagant gift to show their beloved the depth of their love. This might make you uncomfortable when you see the price on the gift they have chosen to give. If they are coming to you for cash, you certainly have the opportunity to put a limit on their generosity. If they are using their own money, beware of being critical as in "that's a ridiculous amount of money to spend on someone you have only been with a month, and will probably break up with before the year is over." I do think it is important to share some insight about this but I would do it a bit more gently as in: " I get how important he/she is to you, and I am so excited for you that you have someone in your life that you care so much about. Giving someone something so extravagant can make them feel uncomfortable, especially if they can't afford to reciprocate. It is more important to give them something that has sentimental value and that makes them feel special, rather than something that has a hefty price tag. The presents I love the most have been the ones that show that someone really understands what makes me happy, like when X gave me Y. It hardly cost anything, but showed how much X understood me. " Tell me a little about him/her and maybe I can help you come up with some ideas.

As in all things adolescence, teens have no experience with love. And the rush of having one person shower all their love and attention on you is ecstasy. They may need your help in staying focused on the other things in their life that require attention, just be gentle when you remind him/her, or you might find yourself out of the circle of love.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

So What? Who Cares?

These four words could be the most irritating words spoken by your teen. They refuse to do what you ask of them, or they flout some rule that you thought had been agreed upon, or the report card comes in the mail with less than stellar grades even though they had sworn up and down they had pulled their grades up.  You give then a consequence that you hope will mean something and teach them a lesson, so that the next time XYZ happens they will think first of the consequence that will be meted out, and not do the wrong thing. You hope and expect to hear anger and moans and groans. That at least means that you have "gotten" to them, and perhaps have taught them a lesson. But when you hear the "So what, who cares?" your well-laid plan goes off course. Your buttons get pushed, and off you go to the land of "argumentamia." Your teen has played the game well, and seemingly taken away all your power.

It may be that your teen responds in that way, because they know you, and know that the consequences you put into play are often forgotten about or reversed easily if a good argument can be made. Or perhaps they are just trying to goad you into a bigger argument, knowing how best to push your buttons. Or perhaps they really just don't care. I had a mom recently tell me of a situation with her 12 year old son whose attitude was out of control. At her wits end, she took away his X-box, expecting an instant apology and promises to change. It turns out he coulda cared less. "Fine, take it away...I don't care!" And I guess he didn't much care, cause he still hasn't asked for it back.

Remember that when you give a consequence, expecting that the consequence alone will change the behavior, is unrealistic. If it is a kid with an attitude, you have to show him what you need him to do differently. If you take away your teen's cellphone when he has an attitude towards you, and expect that he will not have an attitude with you again because he/she is worried they will lose their cellphone, you will be disappointed. Just saying..."change your attitude, and if you don't, I'll take your .....away!" will not change an attitude. When teens are in their emotional place, in the moment of frustration and anger, they can't and don't stop and think: "Oh I better tone it down if I don't want to lose my phone again." Perhaps you need to model the kind of behavior you are looking for. Maybe say: "Want to try saying that a different way, so I can hear it?' said calmly and in control! If your teen chooses the "I don't care, do what you want" thing, rather than get mad, throw out a coy smile, a shrug of the shoulders, and you are back in control.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Weekend Party Reminders for the Novice Weekend Partier

For those of you who have 9th graders, you might be noticing that some of the tentativeness of being a newbie is wearing off, and he/she is now ready for some  real-life high school action. The party train is leaving the station, and your teen wants to be on it, even if they don't quite know where it stops. The request comes to go to their first high school party.  You are both excited for them to leave the nest, but are terrified at the decisions they will have to make, as they look for worms on their own. (What can I say, I am in a metaphor state of mind today.) So you do your due diligence, call the parents of this 9th grader and find out that the parents will be home, and you cross your fingers, that all will be well. This is your first party too.

The evening of the party arrives, you drive your daughter/son to the party, introduce yourself to the parents who are sipping wine by the fireplace. You feel a twinge of "is this going to be alright?", but let it pass and walk out the door, secure in the knowledge that the parents are there, and it will all be fine.

At the appointed hour, you arrive to pick up your teen. Unable to text, with no service at this house, you ring the doorbell. Host parents, open the door, still drinking wine by the fireplace. You say you are there to pick-up your teen, hoping they will make the trek down to the basement to retrieve your son/daughter.  You assume they have been up and down the stairs all night checking on the party goers anyway, so what's one more visit.  Well, they don't. They show you the basement door and you descend into hell. Or at least your version of it. (By the way, this is all a true story, shared with me recently by a shell-shocked parent.)

As you descend into the darkness, you see not only the 20 9th graders who were supposed to be the only ones invited, but also at least 100 kids, many of whom are upper classers. Apparently an invitation had been posted on Facebook during the week. The host parents seemed unaware that this had been posted, and not requiring teens to come through the front door, and never having made even one trip down the basement, were completely clueless as to the scene in their basement. This parent saw booze being passed in through the basement door from back yard stashes, kids coming in and out, kids passed out on the couches, kids having some form of sex in the dark corners, and her daughter and 5 friends huddled in a corner freaked out at what they saw going on around them. Like a good horror movie, they were both repelled and couldn't take their eyes off it. Needless to say, seeing her mom come through the haze to pick her up was humiliating. But that's another story.!

What went wrong!!! Where shall I begin. If you allow your teen to have a party at your house, there should be a guest list, and the kids have to come in the front door. Either lock other entrances to the house, or make regular passes around your home to make sure that kids are not sneaking in, and are not sneaking in booze and drugs. You are responsible for making sure that the kids in your house are safe. Hear no evil, see no evil is not a defense when when of those passed out kids on the couch in your basement ends up in the emergency room for stomach pumping.

If you are a parent whose teen is attending the party, understand that just because parents are home, does not in any way guarantee that they will be paying any attention to what is going on downstairs. See above for proof of that. I would like to say this was an isolated situation, but it's not.  Perhaps you do a trial run, and agree that your teen can attend the party, but let them know that you will pick them up after a 2 hr stay, and will meet them out front at a certain time. Make sure they know that you would be glad to come earlier if they text you, and will meet them down the street if that feels more comfortable. Have a discussion that goes like this: ' "I get there will probably be drugs, alcohol and sex going on at this party,and I know these are situations you have never been in before, so lets play out some scenarios that might come up so you feel prepared." At this point, give them some strategies they can call on. They can always hide in a bathroom, and say they feel sick and then call you. They can take a drink and just hold it for the night. They can say " oh I can't drink I'm on medication, or I'm an athlete, or my parents smell my breath when I come home, and I don't want to be grounded. Give them some options. They might roll their eyes, but they will be grateful.  Trust me.

You can't keep your kids locked up in a castle. But you can do your best to prepare them for the dragons!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Demanding Teen

Your teen walks into the kitchen while you are preparing dinner and says; "I need to go to Staples, or all my jeans are dirty, I need my laundry washed, or I'm going to Dan's house and I need a ride, and so on and so on and so on. So from their point of view, their needs and wants take precedence over anything of importance that you are doing. God forbid you have something else to do and say: "Honey I can't, I have to......fill in the blank." Or maybe you hear one of these statements and get aggravated. How dare they think that you will just be at the beck and call, have they no respect? You say as much, and an argument follows, with your teen totally not getting why you are aggravated. After all, isn't this your job to be at their beck and call?

This interaction probably happens between you and your teen a million times a day. So often that perhaps you are so immune to it that it doesn't even register as a demand unless they catch you at a particularly bad time when you are overworked, overwhelmed and overtired and can't handle one more demand from anyone. Then the sh**t hits the fan, and your teen blames you for being a bitch!

Without being aware of it you may have reinforced your teens demandingness.  Because teens are by nature, and by this I mean biologically, self-centered, and truly only think about themselves. They are often completely unaware of someone else's perspective, as their brain is filled to the brim with all the new thoughts, feelings, and desires that adolescence delivers. This isn't really about a bratty kid or a spoiled teen, at least not the teen I am talking about. You may in fact have a spoiled, bratty, entitled teen, but that is a result of overindulgence, not biology. I am talking about your normal, everyday, developmentally caused demanding teen. They just need to be taught to ask a question, rather than make a statement of want. You don't need to criticize, you need to re-train. And here is how. Every time your teen comes to you with the "I need you to, or I want you to, or you have to...." You can calmly say: " Is there a question in there?" No giving answers until they put their demand in the form of a question, giving you the opportunity to agree, or not agree based on your availability, and your desire to do or not do what they need. Everybody deserves the respect of choice. That includes your teen. So what's right for your teen, should be right for you as well. Rather then demand they help you, or fulfill an obligation, as in " take out the trash! or Shut off the computer, and do your homework!" which they probably avoid or ignore you anyway, why not model with a "honey I could really use your help with trash, will you help me? " "Honey, can we come up with a time you'll get off the computer and do your homework." It still might not work, a power struggle is a power struggle, but at least when they demand something and you tell them you won't respond to demands, you won't get sucked down the black hole of "well you just demand things of me, you never ask me nicely, why should I have to ask you nicely." Which of course turns into the old, I am an adult, and I can tell you to do anything I want lecture. Which of course never goes well.

If you can just see this as a teaching moment, like teaching your toddler to say please and thank you, you'll be on easy street. It will make you like your teen a lot more. And remember practice makes perfect. This might take a while.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Signs That You Need To Get A Life, Outside Of Your Teen's Life

A Zits Home run:

Jeremy is busy writing a journal he was supposed to be keeping for the last 4 months, and is busy writing about what he thought he was doing 4 months ago. To his mom he says:
Jeremy: Mom what was I thinking about around October 13th?
Mom: That was when your van started idling funny and you were worried about that rash on your leg.
Jeremy: perfect, thanks. (Jeremy walks away, leaving mom thinking...)
Mom: Maybe I do need a job outside the home.

Does this feel familiar to you? Do you remember verbatim conversations you had with your teen months ago that seemed too important to forget, and when you remind your teen about that conversation they look at you like you are an alien from another planet,and say "Ma...Dad...Get A Life."  You might hang on every word, remember every detail from the quiz they took in French, what they got, right, what they got wrong, and then remind them of that when the next quiz comes up. Or maybe you remember a fight they had with their "so-called" best friend. You remember every horrible thing that friend said to your daughter, the sobbing on the bed, and the wailing that now she has no friends. You try to remind her of that conversation when yet another fight occurs, and yes, she looks at you like an alien saying, 'nooooo, that never happened before."

Here is the disconnect. Teens live in the moment, and what happens in the moment, stays in the moment. This is why they can let go so fast of events that to parents seem momentously important. Adults live in the future. We look at each present moment as a potential future moment, and therefore have a very hard time letting go.  And because your kids and their lives are the most important thing in your life, and you pay wayyyyy to much attention to every detail of it, you will likely feel very unfulfilled a good deal of the time. Because what's important to you about your teen and his/her life, has ceased to be important to your teen.

So if you find yourself, obsessing about every detail of your teen's life, find something else to do! Your relationship with your teen might depend on it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Let Your Teen Think Out Of The Box

Last week I was at the Sundance Film Festival. Yes I know I'm cool! Anyway, while I was there I had the opportunity to speak with many young adults who had films at the festival. Films that were made on a shoestring, but with passion and creativity galore. Their stories of how they came to be at this place and at this time in their lives were filled with anecdotes of supportive parents, indulging them as children to follow their dreams. Impractical as they may have seemed. They talked of how their parents never discouraged them from fulfilling their dreams as filmmakers, actors or directors. Rather than say, "well how can you make a living doing that?" Their parents helped them to find ways to work at, develop skills in and develop their passion. Though they all talked about living on no money, in small and cramped apartments, no one was complaining. it made their success that much sweeter. Sundance was a family affair, with beaming parents and grateful children.

Just after returning home, I was listening to a story on This American Life. A young man, now in his 30's told a story of an abandoned house he and his friends discovered at age 13 in a small town in New Hampshire.  It seemed whoever had lived in this house had left it completely in tack, the morning coffee cup still on the counter,  and the day's newspapers still on the dining room table, dated 1933. These boys had stumbled on a treasure trove of history. The storyteller spoke of his obsession with this house, returning to it during his family's summer vacations. Taking letters and artifacts after each visit, trying to figure out who this family was and why they might have left so abruptly. During one summer, his mother discovered her son's obsession. Worried that he was in danger she made him take her to the house. It was at this point the mother had a choice. She could have chastised her son's recklessness, messing around private property, and forbid him to ever go again. But Instead, she recognized that this was not just a nosy boy, looking for cheap thrills, but a boy who was really interested in this family,  in the times in which they lived and what had happened to them. Together, they went to cemeteries looking for family members dead and and buried, went to the town hall to look at real estate records, and researched the names they had found on letters and documents. This mom recognized a passion in her son for getting to the heart of a story, and gave him a pathway towards discovery. This young man is now a filmmaker/journalist. And this story was his way of going back to his 13 year boyhood and finishing what he had started.

What resonated in me with both Sundance and this journalist is that their parents recognized early on who their kids were, and what turned them on. And though their parents may have quietly worried how their kids would be able to support themselves as adults with these "cockamany" ideas, they kept those worries to themselves.  Rather than encourage their kids to do the status quo, they gave their kids the freedom to explore and follow their true passions.

Parents often tell me that they are worried that their kids don't seem interested in anything. But maybe the "anythings" they are looking for are only those "things" that all the other kids seem to be doing like sports or the school play. There are so may options that are out there, and if you look closely enough at your teen and see what gives them real joy in life, you can help them find a pathway to that joy!