Thursday, August 30, 2012

9th grade: The Best And The Worst

Over the last three days I have presented my Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Seminar at three different high schools as part of the parent orientation for their entering 9th graders. Every fall when I do this, I am reminded of how exciting and how terrifying this experience can be for the kids.

At the first school, the newbies were at a dance in the cafeteria while I held the parents captive in the auditorium. Upper class students were stationed at the door of the cafeteria in two long lines facing each other as the 9th graders walked between them. Think walking a gauntlet. For some of these 9th graders passing between these cool older students was exhilarating. Being cheered on, these teens walked through with great confidence, laughing, and smiling and hi-fiving their way into the caf. For some of the kids, this was pure hell. I watched as a group of four boys, definitely on the awkward side of 14 searched for an alternative means of entry. For them, the thought of being under the scrutiny of these older students, no matter how positive, was excruciating. They huddled, spoke in whispers, and when they realized it was now or never, they kept their heads down, making no eye contact with anyone, and shuffled as fast as they could done the line.

At another of the high schools where I presented, the kids and the parents came in together for an introduction of the guidance and advisory staff. Kids sat in the back of the auditorium, parents in the front. What struck me was that though these kids had known each other during their years at the one middle school in this town, it was as if the boys and girls were total strangers. Being 8th graders together was one thing, but now as high schoolers, it seemed as if their history together had been erased. The girls sat on one side, the boys sat on the complete other side, with an entire section of seats between them. They just could not create enough distance. They were starting from scratch, as if to say:" I don't know you, maybe I'll get to know you, maybe not, game on!

The transition to high school for some is the culmination of a dream they have had since they were little, fantasizing about all the high school fantasies kids have. " I am a big kid now.' It's not just the newness of the building that can cause their palms to sweat, but all those fantasies may or may not be realized, and that is terrifying. Will I get a boyfriend or a girlfriend? The clothes I bought are all wrong. Will my old friends still be my friends, or will they think other kids are cooler? I was the best (fill in the blank) in middle school, now there are million other kids who are better than me! When will I ever grow? School used to be so easy for me, not the work is too hard! I thought high school would be the answer to all my problems, but it is just harder.

For some it is better than they expected, especially for 9th grade girls. All of sudden they are getting tons of new attention from boys that are finally taller than they are. Their fantasies have been more than realized. Tweets, texts, invitations to party, it is all so perfect. Except that they are still only 14, and mom and dad don't think all this attention from these older boys is as good as she thinks it is.

So if your 9th graders come home from school, and gives you the silent treatment, I can assure you it has absolutely nothing to do with you. And don't make it about you. Try not to feel hurt and shut out. Just know that a million thoughts, feelings,and worries are coarsing through their body and their brain, and it is just too hard to sort it all. And when you ask the dreaded questions like: How was school? Do you like your teachers? How was practice? Do you like the kids in your classes? Who did you eat with for lunch?  You many not get more than a grunt and a groan, and that is fine. You might just say: 'I get starting high school can be pretty overwhelming, I don't want to bug you with a million questions, but I am here whenever you need me." Also if you must ask questions, rather than asking yes or no ones, which leaves room for a "its fine" said in a grunting tone, and no real information, say "tell me about....." You might actually get some information.

Having realistic expectations and understanding that 9th is a transitional year can help get you through this year. Grades might fluctuate, social life may falter, but it's all just a moment in time. There is always next year.

PS. And on a completely unrelated topic. You may or may not know that my daughter is an actress. She has a big movie opening this Friday-August 31st  in select cities than in wide release over the next two weekends, called: FOR A GOOD TIME CALL. It is a staring role for her and a project she and her co-star, writer and director have given their heart and soul to. The first two opening weekends are the most important, and like a good mom, I want everyone to go see this movie!!! It is a funny, heartwarming tale of two unlikely roommates, different as night and day, who grow to accept and respect their differences. And oh yeah, it's about phone sex. But only in the most comedic way. Don't let it stop you from seeing it. Check out the website and you can see for yourself. daughter is Ari Graynor. Follow her on twitter if you want to see what it is like to be an actress.@agraynor  ENJOY

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Joani's Back To School Sale

Yes, the summer is over, and it is back to backpacks and schedules, carpools and homework. For some parents this day could not come fast enough, and for others it is dreaded almost as much as their kids dread it. The good and bad news is that in a few weeks, it will feel like summer never happened. Tans will fade, girls will finally have to put on some pants that cover their tushies, and everybody will be in some kind of routine.

I thought today I would give you my own version of a back to school sale, as I try to "sell" you on some strategies that you can start with from the get-go in hopes of a smooth beginning to the school year.


Do not allow your teen to take their cellphone to bed. How I wish teen drama happened between 8-10 pm, but the reality is, the real juicy stuff happens after 1 AM. Your teen has their phone on vibrate, and he/she never really hits the deep level of sleep that allows the brain to absorb the day's learning. Instead they lie in wait for their crush to text, or a best friend to text the days wrap up. This is why they are exhausted when they wake up. If you have been a good doobee parent who has not given your teen a smartphone, simply have your carrier shut it off when you and your teen agree on a time. Your conversation: "hey honey, I get how important it is to check in with your friends before bed, and I want you to have that time, but then we need to agree on a time that the phone will be shut off for the night. It is important for you to get a good night sleep. If you have already given your teen a smart phone, which you can't shut off through the carrier, you will say the same first part and then: " I will need to collect your phone at our agreed upon time. If you argue with me, and we get into a struggle about handing over your phone, I will need to switch out your smartphone for a regular phone, so that I can have it shut off and we won't need to argue. Your choice." And by the way, this goes for laptops, Itouches or any other device that can interfere with sleep. Shut your modem off if you have too. It is that important. Teens are already sleep deprived with the brain saying, "I'm not tired yet", and the school bus pick-up at a very early ungodly time. Your teen DOES NOT have the willpower to do this on their own, no matter what they tell you. Do not set them up to fail.


If you have had a teen that has fallen into the homework hole, do not wait for it to happen. Anticipate that this might happen again.Things don't change that much over the summer. If you have a younger teen, 6-10th grade, you might consider hiring what I call a homework coach. This is a cool college student with a car, who picks your teen up either after school or in the evening, takes them to a library, and sits with them while they do their homework, and then takes them out to shoot some hoops get an ice cream or a coffee when they are done. This basically gets your teen on a homework schedule, and pairs the dreaded homework with someone and something fun. Not that you aren't fun, well, actually you probably aren't when it comes to homework. Twice a week is usually enough.

Make sure you have a 2 hour period when there is no cellphone, and social networking sites are blocked. See cellphone strategy above. You can do the same thing, have it shut off for a couple of hours or agree for them to surrender. Again, and I will keep saying this, cellphones, and facebook, twitter et al, are TOO DISTRACTING. Your teen will argue till they are blue in the face that they can handle their homework while texting, facebooking, twittering etc. The research is unequivocal here, they can not. The brain will pay attention to the most interesting stimulus, and you can bet that geometry loses to texting every time. Even if your teen has no homework and says they did it at school you should follow through on the 2 hour rule. All this stuff is hugely addictive, you are not doing them any favors by feeding this addiction. Maybe they will actually spend time with you watching TV, a fate worse than death. Your teen will be mad at you. SO WHAT!


All teens should be involved in something. Too much time on their hands can be destructive. School is usually out by 2 and that leaves them with hours to whittle away doing who knows what, and who knows where. You should have an expectation that you teen either chooses a sport, club, drama or a job, but they must have something to do at least 3 days a week. No activity, no money! Some teens may be overwhelmed with the choices available at school, and might be too shy to join something. If you know your teen has a strength in some area, say art for example, you might want to go undercover and let the guidance counselor know about this. Perhaps they need artists to work on the newspaper or yearbook or drama production, and they might get the faculty involved to approach your teen, saying they heard that they were talented and could really use their help. Be creative. This is all about building self esteem and self confidence especially if academics is not your teen's area of strength.

Social life

Teen proof your home.
  •  Lock up the alcohol and prescription drugs
  • Make sure you supervise sleepovers (that means setting alarm clock to check on location and sobriety of your house guests.)
  • Help your teen to think in advance about handling themselves in risky situations
  • Supervise teens coming to your house to hang. Make sure your teen understands your no drinking or drug policy, and have a plan in place should your teen have friends who flaunt your rules. Remember it is unsafe and illegal. 

This is in caps and in bold because it is the most important. Do not let your relationship just be about checking up on your teen, as in "have you? did you? when will you? If this is the bulk of your conversation with your teen you absolutely need to build in some good relationship building time. This is what will get your teens to do what you want, not taking away their phone. Go to a movie during the week, take them out for a coffee, give them a day off when they feel stressed, and stay in your pajamas all day eating junk food. Let your teen know you get life can be hard sometimes, and that you don't always have to be the hard-ass!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Twittering Teens

First there was myspace, then there was facebook, then texting, then skyping, then google +, now it's twitter and tumblr. You got to keep up with this parents, everyday it's something new! There are some important things you need to understand about twitter and teens. At least on facebook, you get friend requests. I'm guessing that most of your teens accept just about anybody as friends, maybe even you, but at least they do have to think about it for a nanosecond.  With twitter, anybody in the world can follow you on twitter just by clicking on follow. This means that literally total strangers from anywhere in the world can follow your teen. Think 6 degrees of separation. Followers can build exponentially fast. All it take is one person saying to their 100 followers, hey guys, this girl is hot, you should follow her, and all of sudden your daughter has 100 new people in her life! I know alot about this, because I am getting on twitter to build my "following", but more about me later.

Honestly you cannot control this. There is no, not allowing this, cause I can't think of a way to control it. If your teen is on a computer or has a smart phone they have access. (which is another reason against smartphones for teens. At least with a computer you have some control...IT'S YOUR COMPUTER!!!!!!) I digress. there is no age limit for twitter, and signing up needs no parent permission. Why is twitter another headache for parents of teens.  Here is why.

A. Your teen has exposure to a wide network of unknown people. If your teen is naive or has poor boundaries, or judgement (and what teen doesn't)  they may be in touch with people who might be of ill repute.

B. Using twitter is an excellent way of notifying many people simultaneously of party locations, hang locations, secret rendezvous (which obviously are not that secret if 300 of your closest followers know about it. Texting is so yesterday. It takes SO MUCH TIME and effort to text all these people separately. A parent recently told me about her son and his friends who saw that a house with an in ground swimming pool seemed to be devoid of occupants. After some reconnaissance work the teens determined that the family was away for a vacation. In an instant tweet..well you know the rest! It was not a pretty sight. Texting could have had the same results, but not as many and not as fast.

Parents, just like with facebook, you need to teach your teen Twitter safety. I don't think they truly get how many people can be reading their tweets without their knowing. Talk about drama. This is a drama creator of the highest order. Get on twitter, and follow them!!! At least you will know where they are. They don't even know that you may be among their followers!!

On the up side, I am attaching a link to an article about a teen who decided that enough is enough with all the twitter bullying. He decided to use twitter for the good of all teenkind by posting positive tweets about teens in his community, complimenting kids about accomplishments, or just saying something nice about someone. This is a popular teen in the community, and his effort to be a positive role model is amazing. Have your teen read this article.

I will be away for the next couple of days attending my daughter's movie premier. For those of you who don't know, my daughter is a movie actress, and though she has been in many films, this is her first staring role and is also an executive producer. I could not be more proud and excited, and hope that everybody in the whole world supports this movie. It is called FOR A GOOD TIME CALL,  and is about two twenty something young women who start out as frenemies and end up celebrating their differences, and friendship with each other. It is a sweet, hilarious heartwarming movie, and oh yeah it's also about phone sex, but honestly it isn't dirty. Go the to learn about the movie. It opens on August 31, and don't worry, I will keep on reminding you. My daughter is Ari Graynor.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Get Out Of This House....Now!

Zits Comic:

Mom opens Jeremy's bedroom door after another day of sleeping in and screams at him: "Jeremy, it's a beautiful day! GET UP AND GET OUTSIDE!"

Jeremy stumbles out of bed, walks outside where is dad is sitting and says: "So this is what I've been missing. Sunlight. Big Whoop.

Dad replies: " I've had enough of your sarcasm. Go to your room!"

Jeremy back in bed, shades drawn, thinking to himself: "And that's the beauty of the two-parent system."

Sound familiar. Your teenager, perhaps recently returned home from a camp or summer experience, or done with their summer job, or summer program, spends all day in bed, and like a nocturnal owl, gets up in time to go out in the evening with friends.

The teen who sleeps all day is thinking, I haave 2 weeks left of summer vacation and I plan on taking advantage of every potential sleep opportunity. You on the other hand, like Jeremy's mother is feeling completely disgusted with the sloth like behavior of your teen. The lack of motivation to get up and DO SOMETHING is completely driving you crazy, especially if you are a type A person who makes every waking minute count! Here is the thing about teens, unless they too are a type A teen, (I've never met one, so if you have one, please introduce me!) at this point  their motivation after a summer of doing whatever, is at an all time low. They have seen their friends, shopped till they've dropped, perhaps they went to a sports camp and are burned out from whatever sport they enjoyed, or they spent the summer having to get up early to work as a camp CIT or store clerk, and they are ready to do absolutely nothing! Your perspective looks quite different. Good time for them to organize their room and get it ready for school, get their summer reading done(see blog on summer reading 7/17/12) help you clean the basement, the garage, the attic, time to do all those things there is never time to do. As you can see, two completely divergent perspectives.

You have several options here. You can just give it up, and give your teen this gift of time. But if you do this, make sure you say that this is what you are doing, rather than just saying nothing. A conversation might go like this: " Honey, I get school starts in a few weeks, and you have had a busy summer, and are just looking at the next few weeks as veg time. I am OK with that for the most part, but if there is something I need you to help me with, or I see there is something that needs to get done before school starts, we will have to figure out a way to make that stuff happens. I don't want to be nagging you, and want to give you this time, so lets figure out how and when we can get this stuff done."

Maybe your teen has had enough down time, like maybe the whole summer and you have had it. If this is the case, you are right to be a little worried. If a teen has had a very unstructured summer, getting back into the swing of school and activities will be a rude awakening. Perhaps you might need to start getting your teen back on some sort of schedule. No need to get up a the crack of dawn, but certainly up by 9:30 or 10:00. The issue here, is that unless your teen has a reason to get up, there will be absolutely no motivation to get up. Therein lies the issue. Teens do not know what to do with unstructured time. Remember, they live in the present. They are not thinking about schedules that start in two weeks, they just see the dark, comfy cave they inhabit. You will need to motivate them. Perhaps it's the ability to use the car, or get money from you to go out with their friends, or maybe it's back to school clothes shopping. You may need to tie some of those things to getting up by a certain time. This conversation might go like this: " I get you are loving not being on any kind of schedule, but school starts in two weeks, and I want to set you up to be successful. So here's the deal, what time do you think you should be up by, just to start getting you used to a routine again?" Include your teen in this decision, don't just set a time YOU think he/she should be up by. If you want them to take ownership you need to include them in the planning. Next find out what they think they need to do before school starts, ie summer reading, school shopping etc. Set up one goal a day for them to achieve. If they get up on time, and achieve that goal without you nagging, then they get to use the car in the evening, get some spending money for pizza, or a shopping trip the mall. This will not be easy. There will be alot of resistence. Understand that and work with it, rather than nagging and critisizing. You may be totally looking forward to being rid of them, I mean getting them back to school and routines, but they are not!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I Didn't Mean To Do It...I Was Peer Pressured!

This is a wonderful article about teens an peer pressure. It gives scientific evidence for the cause of peer pressure. I like science because it takes it from the personal : Why can't my teen think for him/herself?" to a place of objectivity. Parents need objectivity, because so much of parenting a teen becomes personal! Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions

 I love when articles confirm what I already know, but in a new way. It makes me feel so smart. This referenced a study that was done at Temple University looking at the effect on teens brains while they are making decisions when they are alone versus when they are with their friends. The experiment was so interesting. Ask a bunch of 14-18 year olds to do a simulated driving game for which they will be rewarded with cash if they finish in a certain time frame. Embedded in the game are choices to be made like running yellow lights to finish more quickly. However if you "crash" you get penalized and delayed.  Scores were compared with a group of college students and a group of young adults.  "Half of the time each person played alone, and half the time they were told that two same-sex friends who had accompanied them to the study were watching in the next room." The results, no change in game playing or risk-taking for college students and young adults when told about people watching their play, but for the teens they ran 40% more yellow lights and had 60% more crashes when they "believed" their friends were watching. Remember these "phantom friends" were not even in the room with them, they only believed that friends were watching. 

This is pretty powerful documentation of the effect of what we call "the imaginary audience", a term coined by Psychologist David Elkind that refers to the heightened sense of self-consciousness in teens. This occurs because of the newly developing and growing teenage brain that is working on overtime to make teens aware that not only do they have thoughts about themselves but that other people have thoughts about them. Think of this as opening night jitters that starts the second teens awaken and ends when they have posted their last facebook message of the day. What will I wear today, how will people see me? What will I say today, what will people think about what I am saying? and so on. The study supports the thinking that when your teen is on their own they are more likely to make responsible decisions (no imaginary audience) but give them a real or perceived audience and lets get on with the show! Because often times it is all for show, just like the teens in the study who took more risks when they thought their friends were watching. 

This would be a great article to read with your teen. Here is scientific documentation of all your worries. Let them know that you are not crazy, even the scientists can see that when you are with your friends you are more likely to put yourself in risky and potentially unsafe situations. Your job here is to use that power of understanding with your teen " I get how important it is to not embarrass yourself in front of your friends, but I know that sometimes you might make a different decision when you are alone than when you are hanging with your friends. Lets try to find some ways that you can both save face in front of your friends, but make sure that you are safe. This is the kind of conversation you might have every weekend just before your teen leaves the house. This is NOT something you can change about  your teen. It is literally chemistry, but you can make your teen aware of it and provide them with strategies, scripts and alternatives to keep them safe. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Take A Walk In Your Teen's Shoes

Do you ever wonder why your teen's eyes roll back in their head every time you offer an opinion or think you have the answers to all of their problems. Most assuredly you are probably right! But unless you figure out a more effective way to deliver your message than " well you know honey, here is what I would do, and then blah blah blah,"you will undoubtedly walk away from these encounters unhappy.

Before you offer up your opinion, your teen has to first feel that you really do understand what they are dealing with. So for example, if your teen comes back from a practice and rants on and on about the coach and how he/she is an asshole, and never gives them any play, and is so mean and they want to quit, you have several ways to respond. You can say" You are not quitting, you are part of the team, and this is the way it is, suck it up!" Or you could say, " you know what honey, that guy really is an asshole, want me to give him/her a call and see if I can get him/her to give you more playtime." Or you could say, " you know honey, I think you should go up to the coach after practice, and let him know that you feel that he is not giving you enough play, and if he/she is having a problem with you, just let you know so you can work on it." All three of these responses indicate that you know better, and that you have the solution to the problem. While any one of these might take care of the problem, the response from your teen will probably be more like, " NO that's stupid, you don't understand, that's ridiculous, see that's why I never tell you anything.!" And so now you are hurt and mad at them because they think you are stupid, so instead of a warm fuzzy moment, you both stomp away completely unsatisfied with each other. 

Here is an alternative that works literally in every situation. It is what I call an " I get it" moment. I believe in it so much that I actually wrote an entire book about it. (I Get It: Three Magic Words For Parents Of Teens available on my website) Who doesn't want to be understood? We all do. There really is nothing more powerful then when someone "gets you". So in the above situation, rather than offering up an instant solution, you might start with an " I get how this feels really unfair. I get sitting on the bench sucks. What do you think is going on with the coach?"  This approach takes a lot longer, but your teen needs to learn how to process feelings and turn them into action him or herself.  If you give a solution they will tell you that you are stupid, I can almost guarantee it. But if you try to get them to solve the problem, you come out smelling like a rose.

These I get it moments work when your teen breaks curfew or doesn't do their homework, or gets disrespectful towards you, or doesn't take out the garbage, or screams at his/her younger siblings. Literally anywhere anyhow. " I get your brother can be a pain in the ass lets......" rather than "if you hit your brother one more time I'm taking away your phone, your computer..." " I get taking out the garbage is the absolutely last thing you want to be doing, lets figure out...." rather than" I am sick and tired of asking you to take out the garbage, you are lazy and ungrateful." I get you get caught up with your friends and lose track of the time, lets figure out a way...." rather than, you're grounded, I am sick of your excuses. "I get you are pissed off at me, and hate me sometimes, how can we do better?" rather than don't you ever talk to me that way again, I'm taking away your phone!

If you were a teenager which statement would encourage you to talk?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Confessions Of A Teenage Liar

Teen X is a 17 year old female who will remain anonymous to protect her identity. She is a liar. She lies to her parents on a regular basis about many things. She loves her parents, but they have many rules which she thinks are stupid. She is not "allowed" to drive over 55 MPH. She is not "allowed" to drink. She is not "allowed" to go on sleepovers. She is not "allowed" to have sex with her boyfriend. Because her parents have made these rules very clear, teen X feels it's a waste of time to talk with her parents about the rules or anything else for that matter. Teen X feels her hands are tied. She would like to talk to her mom about sex, about drinking, about her friends, but feels that if she does, they will think she has "broken" the rules and will pay a consequence for her honesty. So for help and support she goes only to her friends, who she trusts. Unfortunately, she only gets a teenagers view of life without any adult perspective.

Teen X has learned how to play the game. She had a choice. She could have tried to argue, negotiate and explain her point of view and risked the consequences of grounding, having her car or phone taken away. Living in a house where she is always fighting with her parents and that feels like a constant war zone, did not fel like an option.  Instead, teen X has chosen the alternate route of lying. She is a damn good liar too. Her parents are completely clueless, and actually brag to to other parents about how obedient their daughter is by saying "see if you just make the rules, and stick to them, your teen will follow them," her parents boast.

So teen X hangs with her boyfriend, and has sex with her boyfriend. Her parents don't even know she has a boyfriend. Her best friend's house has been deemed as the one "safe house" for a sleepover, so teen X tells her parents she is sleeping over HER house, but instead stays with her boyfriend or other homes not sanctioned by her parents where copious amounts of unsupervised alcohol and drug use take place. Teen X does not drive 55 MPH ever, except in places where you are supposed to driving 35 MPH. Teen X's parents think they have the "perfect daughter"

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Teen Is A Pit Bull

A parent talked with me recently wondering how to deal with her teen who will not take no for an answer, not the first time, not the second time, or the hundredth time.  Somewhere along the line, maybe way before his teenage years,  this kid got an inkling that if he just kept at it, there would be a crack in the ice. Maybe it starts with a "NO", then moves to a "we'll see",  and then to a "if I see an improvement in your.... we'll talk about it". Even though in your head it is still a NO, you hope that by leaving the door a little open, your kid will leave you alone. Kind of like when you used to put your young child to bed, and you left the bedroom door open a crack. It made him/her feel less frightened of the dark and sleep, and gave them the illusion that you were still "open" and available to them.

 Teens are extremely motivated to push as hard as they can to get what they want. Perhaps you have that teen who as a younger child was precocious and verbal, "your little lawyer". You may have unknowingly reinforced this "spirited negotiator"because you were so impressed by their creative use of language and persuasion. This child learns early on to impress his parents with this prowess, believes in his/her power of persistence, and in the end is able to achieve the goal, whatever it might be. When they were younger, these negotiations may have been about TV or video game time, or desire for a new toy or game, or wanting to stay up later, fairly innocuous requests.  Unfortunately the request line now is for permission to go to parties/sleepovers at potentially unsupervised homes, or purchasing new technology toys whose benefits are only additional distraction from tasks they already avoid like the plague like homework and responsibilities, or wanting to go to a concert at a venue 50 miles from home that doesn't start until 9 PM, etc etc etc.  Your teens persistence in the present is predicated on what has worked for them in the past. Enter "pit bull".

Here are two options. First, if this is an unequivocal no, no its not safe, no its not practical, no... Then here is your "I get it" moment: simply state the reason, say the "no", and say "I get you are disappointed, I know you are angry with us, but this time our answer will not change. I know you will keep trying to convince us differently, and that will piss us off, but we are not changing our mind." Now here is the really hard part, you need to be extremely consistent with this message without re-engaging with the pit bull since this only energizes and enrages them. When your teen follows you around the house, or texts you multiple times within an hour after you have left the house, and continues to be a royal pain in the a##, you need to literally walk away, shrug your shoulders, put on your ipod earbuds, do whatever you need to do to not re-engage in the verbal volleyball that will absolutely commence. Your teen is going to see a new side of you, the you that won't be deterred from a decision that you feel absolute about. This takes time and practice! You will find this hard. Your teen will be mad at you, and that is hard, but like all things in life, this too shall pass as soon as a new request arises that you will be able to say yes to.

For those requests for which you feel ambivalent, and may initially give a knee jerk NO answer. This might help. Your teen is an expert in hearing your ambivalence, and knows that this NO doesn't necessarily mean NO. So rather than giving a knee jerk NO, take a moment and follow these steps:
Step 1: Say to your teen: "I feel ambivalent about this, what do you think worries me about this?" Give them the opportunity to think this through for you.
Step 2: Say to your teen: "Yes those things do concern/worry me, what can you do to make me feel OK about them?" Make them have to come up with a plan that might help you make a decision.
Step 3: Say to your teen: "What will the consequence be if you do not follow through?" Perhaps at this point you may be able to say yes with the plan in place, or maybe even after you have heard their plan it is a NO. (then follow previous plan above)  Hopefully your teen has done some good work here and you will support giving them a shot at showing you their ability to take responsibility for following through. After all, this is what you are preparing them for. All the life decisions where there are pros and cons. Helping them to figure out how to weigh out actions and consequences, so that when you are not around and need to ask themselves for permission, they will know what to do!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Kid Got Drunk And Called Me...Now What Do I do?

A parent called me recently for some help with this very good question. Like a good dooby, this parent followed all the advice given by parenting experts like me, "let your teen know that while you disapprove and don't want him/her to drink, you absolutely want them to call you when they are so you can pick them up, no questions asked, and get them home safely. Ok, so this is what this parent did, but now this teen has walked in the house seemingly with a free pass to drink, and have a "car service" pick him/her up to boot!  Isn't this a mixed message, you might ask?

It absolutely is. Drinking/drugs and adolescence is not a black and white issue. If you say, "you are not allowed to drink!" Your teen will go underground, drink early in the evening, sleep over friends houses, chew tons of gum, or master the art of acting normal, or maybe not drink. You can always hope. And by the way, not all kids drink, and some kids will actually follow that rule. But honestly, if your teen is not a drinker, you would know, and wouldn't have to put that rule into place anyway. Many teens, thankfully do not want to drink. But for the many that do, you want them to be safe. The devil you know is better than the one you don't.

So back to the question. Now you have proof that your teen drinks, cause they asked you to come get them. But they don't exactly get off scott free. You have promised that there would be no direct consequences, ie grounding type punishment, but you still have the freedom to deal with it. You might have the following conversation: " You made a good decision last night, and for that I am really grateful. Obviously I am unhappy and disappointed that you drank, especially that you drank and were so compromised. You need to help me understand how that happened. And how in the future you can guarentee your safety. I get that the kids you hang out with like to party. That scares the sh** out of us. The fact is that you were sober enough at least to know not to drive and called us, but some other time you might not be so together."

And here is the best you can do the next time and every time thereafter they go out by saying: "Unless you can agree to stay sober tonight, we don't feel comfortable with you taking the car, and we will be happy to pick you up wherever at whatever time we agree on. Having the car gives you freedom but freedom and alcohol just don't go together. We love you and want you to be safe."

That is really the bottom line. I wish I could give you a magic answer that doesn't sound like doubletalk. Forbidding something you have no control over does no good. Punishing them until the cows come home, rarely has the long term affect you are looking for. Taking away the car or making yourself be a chauffeur may provide them with enough discomfort to not make drinking the priority of the evening. You will have to be the judge of whether your teen is getting trashed every weekend, in which case there is much more going on than just partying with friends. This kid has a problem that needs to be addressed in a serious way. If your teen is more in the normal range of a few beers or drinks but seems to have control, finding strategies that keep them safe is the goal.

There are no easy answers. Just keep the communication going!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Party Rules

Zits comic:
Jeremy's parents to Jeremy: "Who have you invited to your party Jeremy?"
Jeremy: " Hmmm let's see, Sara, Pierce, Hector, Tim, D'jon, some guys from work, (turning his back) and everybody with a facebook account....
Mom writing a shopping list: "We'll need more coasters..
Dad: "And tasers!"

Perhaps your teen just arrived home from a month at camp or a teen trip, or a month spent with the grandparents, or maybe they have been home for the last month, but in any case, it's now their turn to have a party, having used up all the other partying venues. Your teen with aplomb and nonchalance says" hey, I'm thinking I'll have a few kids over this weekend." You, thrilled your teen actually wants kids over, enthusiastically give a thumbs up with images of pizzas and brownies dancing in your head. What you may not anticipate is that a "few kids" can turn into a cast of hundreds in moments if you don't help your teen with some planning and some rules. Heretofore are the rules:

1. Decide how many teens you feel comfortable having in your basement or hang space. Ask your teen how many kids he/she is expecting, and make sure your numbers match.

2. Let your teen know that if any mention of this get together shows up on facebook et al, it will be immediately canceled. That means he/she should notify his/her friends not to post this, text this, twitter this, tumblr this, google buzz this or use any other social networking tool that has been invented in the last 24 hours. He/she can tell friends that you have top-secret spyware to suss this kind of thing out.

3. All invitees MUST come through the front door, and must leave through the front door. Just like at Halloween stay close to the door so you can make sure no one comes in or leaves noticeably intoxicated. This is for safety sake.

4. Make sure that you are on backyard reconnaissance to guard against back door entry or exit, and booze delivery.

5. Let your teen know you will "visit" with food delivery several times during the evening. If they put up a fight about this, they can find another place to hang. It is as simple as that. Do not turn a blind eye, or be bamboozled by protests, be smart and be safe. And for heaven's sake do not give the rationale that " at least if they are drinking here they are safe." First it is illegal, and if the party gets quickly out of control, which it will, your neighbors will probably call the police, and you will be arrested for violating the Social Host Law. Also you do not know whether  the kids  coming to your house having pre-partied elsewhere and are already two sheets to the wind, and drinking at your house is just another stop on the party train. If they pass out, fall, vomit, etc it will be too late to say, "but I thought it would be safe." It isn't!!

6. Have really, have fun. These are good kids trying to get away with what they can. I totally get that. You don't have to be the gestapo!. Welcome the kids to your house graciously and with humor let them know that you "know all" so cut the shit and have a good time!!!!

My Teen Is A Narcissist; So What Else Is New!

Last night I met with a wonderful group of moms doing one of my "Ask The Expert" parties. (think Tupperware but instead of buying plastic, you buy parenting tips) These give me an opportunity to hear what is foremost on the minds of parents, and last night's gig left me thinking about a a few things.

One question that came up was: "Is it unrealistic to expect that my teen gets me? How about our hard day at work, and keeping up with the schedules and activities of our three children, and taking care of an aging parent?" How hard is it for them to understand that parents are also stressed to the max and can't always be available to "take me, show me, buy me? The short answer...very hard. Your teen is a narcissist plain and simple. But don't worry it is not a life time personality disorder, just a short-term one.

Your teen's brain is exploding with new connections. In fact the number of new connections that are made in the brain during adolescence is equal to the number of new connections made during the first 18 months of life. That is a lot of brain activity to process. And just like a computer that crashes when you try to keep too many applications open, so does the teenage brain. Your teen is too busy trying to process, file away or send to trash all the input from their day. Because they are literally seeing and feeling the world in a whole new way, they are often overwhelmed. This comes across as self-centered, disinterested, and dismissive. They are the center of their own world, and right now you are a bit player, lost in the chorus. Like all good narcissists they only see your woes in relation to the effect it has on their very important life. So rather than be sympathetic to your long work day and commute, they jump on you as soon as you walk in the door with a " where have you been, I need you to.....?" No hug, and "hi how was your day, you look tired, and hungry, sit down and let me rub your feet." In a recent coaching session, a mom told me how her husband had gotten laid off from his very lucrative job. They had a very large, comfortable home with all the amenities that the kids had grown up in, and because of the job loss, they had to sell that home, and move to a new community, and rent a much smaller house. The younger kids totally got it, and like all adorable wonderful 6, 8, and 10 year olds they jumped into action. Excited about this new adventure, they started packing up their old rooms, and planning for their new ones. The 13 year old, now he was another story. He saw this move as a personal vendetta to ruining his life. No more the beautiful game room his friends had hung out in every weekend, no more big beautiful bedroom he had to himself, and to boot, a move to a new school. He was very up front about the fact that he was embarrassed to have kids at he new house, and furious with his parents for making him come to this "loser town". The easy thing would be to label this kid as spoiled rotten or entitled. Much harder to "get" his self-centered perception of these new circumstances.

These are stressful times for parents. Financial and job crisis's abound. Parents are aging and require our help, and now to boot, that delicious love that your 8 year old showered on you to help buffet you from the storm, now as a 14 year old is now absent, or at the least sporadic. Instinctively, when kids act like brats, we tell them so with a " don't be so selfish" trying to teach them that selfishness is a quality you don't want to see in them. However, truly your teen is capable of great love and understanding, as long as you understand them first. It is important when you see them at their worst, that rather than criticizing you understand. For example in a family where parents are stretched to the limit, rather than going to the angry place of " Can't you see how hard we are working, how do you think we pay for that laptop you begged us for, or that fancy phone you demanded, or the $100 jeans your wearing, you think money grows on trees?"Maybe you could say this: I know its been crazy, with work, and taking care of grandma, I know we haven't been around much, and maybe it feels like we haven't been able to do what you need us to do. I am sorry. I love you and I wish things could be different, but for now we are kind of  on overload." When your kids hears that you understand his perspective, his/her most likely response will be a grunt of "I'm fine don't worry about it." It may not be the hug and kisses you want, but it is their  way of "getting" that you have a life too. When kids feel judged and criticized you get the worst of their narcissism, when you understand it, you get the best of it.