Thursday, September 27, 2012

Teens and religion

I went to Temple for Yom Kippur.  This is remarkable because though I was raised in an extremely observant home, and though I think of myself as a cultural Jew who loves the ritual of the religion, I have steered away from temple services for many years. This morning I was hit with a feeling, a needing to go and observe and celebrate this very important holiday with other Jews.

I was surprised by how engaged and involved I felt, and how all the prayers and  songs I had learned in my youth were completely available to me even in my middle aged memory haze. I even found my self moved to tears as the congregation of 400 hundred sang in unison. I felt the memory of my parents, now both gone, my dear Aunt, who was like a mother, now gone, and now here I was, the elder generation. Very emotional.

I remember like it was yesterday when I was a teenager and my mom "made" us go to all the holiday services. One of my brother's just out and out refused to go, and I went with eyes rolled, dressed inappropriately in my long hippie indian dresses, dangly earrings,  and stringy hair hanging down my back. I'll show her, I thought. Then as a young adult, I would go out of duty, but still didn't feel the meaning. Then as a mother, I signed my daughter up for sunday school, and practiced the Jewish Holiday rituals in our home, but still Temple was not for me. And then today, I felt something I really had never felt before, I felt meaning in the words, in the songs, and in the community. At 60 years old, I didn't need to rebel anymore, I didn't go for my mother or my daughter, I just went for myself.

As teenagers, your kids are opening themselves up to questioning everything about themselves and about you. That is their job. Developing an identity, one of the major tasks of adolescence can feel alienating to parents. Your teens seem to be rejecting your very core values, but really they are now looking for the meaning for themselves. It's not really about you at all, it is their time to figure out what and how they want to practice a belief system. I love my mom, but I wish she hadn't pushed so hard and let me find my way. I probably would have found my way back a lot earlier. It had to be for me, for it to have meaning.

This reading was part of the service and it really moved me. I wanted to share it with you:

A Dialogue

We are your parents. We brought you to life.
We are your children. We fill you with life.

We are your parents. We show you where you're going.
We are your your children. We show you where you've been.

You should learn from our experience in life.
We must experience life in order to learn.

You should understand our desire to protect you.
You should understand our need to be independent.

You should not rebel against our ideas simply because they are established.
You should not restrain our ideas simply because they are new.

We are the heritage.We hold the link to the past.
We are the hope. We must look to the future.

Someday you'll be a parent; then you'll understand.
One day you were a child; then did you understand?

You are our children. Without you we would be forgotten.
You are our parents. Without you there would be little worth remembering.

One day we were children. Perhaps we have learned.
One day we'll be parents. Perhaps we can teach.

We are your parents.
We are your children.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Parents, If Your Teen Isn't A HS Senior...Chill Out With The College Stuff

I met with a group of parents over the weekend whose teens are HS juniors. All of them had attended a recent parent meeting at their kid's respective high schools to give them a heads up on the college journey that lies ahead; Sat's, Achievement Tests,  and the college choice and application process. They were all a complete bundle of nerves. They were telling me that many of the parents in attendance had teens that were only in the 9th grade!!!! OK, parents stop making yourselves and your kids crazy!!!! That is an order!

If your teen is a senior, crazy. The whole college business would make even the sanest parent turn into a raving craving maniac. For immediate help, check out the archives of my blog on 11/4/11 and 10/6/11 where I have addressed some of the issues that may be plaguing you now.

For the rest of you...listen up. especially you parents of juniors. Junior year is an important year, I am not gonna lie to you. It is a year where hopefully all of the academic foundations your teens have been building over their school tenure start to come together. Their thinking becomes more sophisticated,  and they are challenged more in their classes to really put some pieces together. This can be scary and hard for those students where academics has not ever been a breeze. What they need to focus on the most during this year is the present!!!! Your teen needs to put all their emotional and cognitive energy into the challenges that are presented to them Monday through Friday. They are focused not only on mastery in their academics, but if they have played a sport, or an instrument, or like to act in plays or do photography, or build computers or cars or whatever, this is their time to actually reap the benefits of hanging in until it is now their time as upperclassmen and upperclasswomen.

What they don't need right now is to focus on college anything. I know the PSAT's are coming up, and many parents jump onto the "let's get the kid some prep classes." Get off that bandwagon. The whole point of the PSAT is to see what your teen needs to work on. If you get them tutoring before hand, you are not getting a good reading on their strengths or what they need some help with. I know it is really hard to put these brakes on when the conversation parents engage in at school events, in the car pick up line, or when you bump into someone at the grocery store revolve around what everyone else is doing about this college thing.  So when you hear that a parent of a 10th grader has hired an SAT tutor, you get your panties all in a jam cause you think you are supposed to be doing this too. So now instead of your teen feeling pressured enough with all they have to do to keep up with school etc, now they have to worry about something that is still a year or two away. And if you don't think that taking on your worry about their future won't distract them from what they need to do NOW, you are completely wrong. Your teen feels everything you are feeling. And if you worry about their future prematurely, they will worry about your worry, and then worry some more about their own worries. Get the picture.

So here is what I think.

1. Do not hire an SAT tutor until they have actually taken the PSAT. This is a DIAGNOSTIC test. Let the test do what it is meant to do. Give your teen practice taking this kind of test, and see what they need help with.

2. Do not worry about coming up with the "list" until the spring. So much change happens between the fall and the spring. Your kid's anxiety level is already so high, don't add to it. If YOUR TEEN expresses a burning interest in going on some college visits, then by all means go. But please, let it be kid-driven. I have seem so many parents and kids get frustrated and angry at each other. Parents because they don't think their kid is "interested" enough in their future, and kids because they think their parents are putting too much pressure on them. You are not losing ANY ground by waiting until the spring. And, you will have more fun with the process when your teens are really ready to take it on.

3. Achievement Tests: These tests are for kids who have real mastery in a particular area. They are not for everyone, and unless your kid is going to be applying to the top tier schools, you probably won't need to worry about them. If your kid is strong in a particular area, or is done with a foreign language requirement, then they should take that subject area as soon as they are done, while the information is fresh. But honestly, don't set your kids up to fail here. If they show a strong interest or have excelled than they are a candidate for these subject area tests, if they are more of a main stream student, I wouldn't worry to much about it. And of course you can always check with their guidance counselor.

So in summary, what I most want you to hear is that there is no one size fits all here. Just because your best friend already has an excel spread sheet on their kids college progress doesn't mean it is the right thing to do, or the right thing for you to do. Try not to engage in the oneupmanship conversations that permeate the high school parent networks. Take a deep breath, truly it will play out the way it is meant to play out. Accept your teen for where they are, and support them in the way that meets their needs, not yours.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is Your Teen Spoiled?

Before I start writing my blog each night, I always check my stats to see how many people are reading my blog, and how they find it. Thankfully, I get pretty specific information, and as I checked tonight I saw that someone had googled "how to handle a demanding spoiled teen" and my blog came up. I love that! Anyway, I thought that might be a good topic to write about.

Teens are by definition demanding, narcissistic, and spoiled. Why? Because they do literally think about themselves almost exclusively all the time. Their newly developed brain can be held somewhat responsible for this. As the teen brain grows, it allows teens to think in ways they have never thought before. For the first time teen's are spending hours and hours thinking about themselves and the people in their lives. Being introspective is like a drug. There is no right answer, and there are endless possibilities to explain their behavior and the behavior of their friends. If I do or say this, than maybe this could happen, but if I do that, than that could happen. They have become the center of their own universe, which is a major shift from when you their parents, were the center of their universe. And like all good narcissists, they only see the world in terms of how it affects them. So if you are late picking them up from school, and they had to hang around by themselves, because all their friends had already left, than you have perpetrated a heinous crime, even if the cause was traffic beyond your control, a meeting that went late, or a flat tire. Honestly, they have no sympathy, no empathy, just anger at you making them feel like a loser somehow for leaving them standing alone for someone to see what a loser they are.

The good news, is that this is temporary insanity, unless, and this is a big UNLESS you fall victim to their accusations.!  DO NOT feel that you have in any way screwed up because guess what...shit happens, and you are not to blame, and you do not have to accept blame and then feel that for some reason you have to make up for all your supposed inadequacies by giving into the insatiable demands your teen, in a narcissistic haze put on you. On the other hand, and equally important, is you don't have to lecture your teen ad nauseam about their lack of empathy etc etc. And here is the best tip I can offer in these situations when your teen accuses you of something you absolutely know is not true, and is a function of this acute case of me me me me. You simply look at them, give a little smile, a head tilt, and shoulder shrug. No more no less. Nothing you are going to say will be heard anyway. They won't be this way forever unless you reinforce the behavior with feeling and acting guilty.

Free at least, free at last.. No worries, your kids will eventually shed their self-centered skin and become the loving, caring, kind person you know to be in there!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

They Love You, They Hate You

Recently I was at one of my Ask the Expert Parties (think Tupperware for parenting) where I start by asking the small group of parents assembled what their biggest parenting challenge is in that moment. A dad sitting next to me, said that his biggest challenge with his 15 year old daughter was that one minute she was loving, sweet, conversant, and the second he had to set a limit about something or reprimand her for something she turns into "Atilla the hun"(my words not his) All ten parents nodded their heads in agreement, and as we went around the circle this issue emerged as the most prominent one. For some parents it makes setting limits so hard, because they know that the aftermath will be horrendous with yelling, screaming, slammed doors, and shouts of "you are the worst parent ever." And at that moment that is just how parents feel.

OK give yourselves a break here. To expect that after you have said NO to one of your teen's impulsive, emotional, can I's, that your teen will look with love in their eyes and say: thanks mom and dad, that was a really smart parenting call, thank you so much for keeping me safe is completely and utterly ridiculous. And I know you know that. But in that moment when you said your No means NO, you would just like once for your teen not to explode in your face. And unfortunately, most parents when put on the defensive for their parenting decision will fall back on the : Well if you don't like it, go live with another family defense.

Here is something you can do instead. Next time you say NO to something because it is unsafe or unreasonable, instead of getting defensive when your teen strikes back you can use an "I get it" statement. In a calm and supportive voice you can say: " Hey honey, I get that wasn't the answer you were looking for, and I know you're disappointed, and are really pissed at me. I know it's hard to watch your friends be able to do something that we don't think is safe, and it feels really unfair. But you know we love you, and though it feels smothering sometime our first priority is to keep you safe."

And then, that's it. Don't go on and on like a broken record, don't try to re-explain for the billionth time why you said no. Honestly they don't care, they stopped listening at NO. At least using the above strategy you don't make a hard situation harder, with the potential of all parties getting way out of control. You are not in any way apologizing for your decision, but your are understanding how this decision affects them. Understanding is so much better than being right or being angry.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Unleashing The Passion In Your Kids

 I did an appearance on Mass Appeal today, a TV magazine show on the NBC affiliate in Springfield on: Unleashing your child's passion. I've learned a thing or two raising my daughter the actress, and thought I would share them with you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How Do Your Teens Rate You As A Parent

So what do your think your teen would say about you as a parent. Would they say you are tough but fair? Would they say you are a pushover? Would they say you never listen, or judge them too harshly? Or would they say you are always supportive and understanding? There is never a time like the present to find out. Having a teen in the house is like having a really good therapist. Someone who will be brutally honest. Because teens have all these new analytical skills thanks to their growing brain, they have to put these new skills into practice. They literally see you and think about you in ways they have never thought about you before, and if they are asked and feel that there would be no repercussions for truth telling, they will will totally tell you the truth. Because one thing that is missing from this teen brain is an edit button. If they think it and they are asked, they will say it. That is why I really love talking to teens, no bullshit unless they are trying to bullshit you.

I started thinking about this recently because I got a letter from a parent whose relationship with their teen was completely down the toilet. The parent had written a letter to her teen since communication had literally hit the brick wall. There was none. The daughte, when asked why and how things had gotten so bad, told the parents in great detail, honestly and I think with great candor and openness. I think she felt she had nothing to lose since things were just so bad, and figured they couldn't get any worse if she just put it all out there.
 Here were a couple of things that really stood out for me:

"You hold things against me even if you said you wouldn't"
" I cannot come to you for advice."
"I don't tell you anything cause I will feel instantly judged."
"You never say you are proud"
"You always tell me that if I look bad, it makes you look bad, you only care how it looks to other people."

Do any of these resonate? Often times teens get caught in a bind, they need help with a situation maybe around friends, or boyfriends or girlfriends, or drugs or alcohol or sex, and worry that if they told you "everything" you might either be so shocked that you would get angry or express disappointment. Or maybe by being honest, you might crack down on them if they told you about situations you absolutely have no tolerance for.

Asking for honesty from your teens means you have to be ready to listen and problem solve not judge. I remember a couple I worked with whose daughter was literally lying about everything,where she was, what she was doing, who she was doing it with, etc. She even lied when she didn't need to. I asked the parents to say to her: "Honey, obviously we are doing something wrong, if you feel you need to lie to us about everything. Please tell us, we really want to work this out, we miss you, and love you." The daughter started to cry and said: " I lie, because you always said no, even to things that seemed silly, so I just decided that since there was never room for negotiation I would just lie and do what I wanted. But I really wasn't doing anything wrong. "

And honestly that was the truth. This girl was a good kid, but the parents did not like that she had a boyfriend. They didn't like her friends, and made a judgement about them without really even getting to know him or the friends. They feared everything and everyone would be a "bad influence." The truth was this kid was very goal oriented, and the parents forgot to trust who this girl was at her core. I am happy to say, the relationship did turn around, when the parents accepted that their daughter "was growing up" and pulling away from them. But pulling away doesn't have to mean cutting off!

So how about as this new school year starts, you ask your kids to give you some feedback. Just listen. Don't get defensive, or angry. Could they be right? Might you need to change? We ask our kids to listen to our "feedback" your label 'Judgement" their label. You know they might even say some good stuff too!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Post-Summer.. School Blues

Zits Comic:

Jeremy sitting in class at his school desk, constantly changing his position. Words over his head: Groan! Grumble! Grunt! Twist Fidget Shuffle Sigh!
Jeremy to his friend in the seat in front: "Is it just me or is it academic in here?"
Friend: "Summer stays with you longer that it does most people, doesn't it?

I completely empathize with you Jeremy. I thought I was all energized and ready to start my teaching again, blog, get myself on twitter, work on new business ideas, and now all my fizz seems to have gone flat. I am procrastinating and low energy. Even when I should have been lecturing to my Freshman on Thursday, I searched youtube(thank you Mr. youtube inventor) for a movie to show instead. As it turned out, it was way better than my lecture would have been, and my students actually learned something, but for me it really was an avoidance technique.

It always seems to take me a few weeks in the fall to get my mojo back. I don't worry so much about it anymore, because somehow magically by about the 3rd week in September I am raring to go, right about the time all my flower boxes on my deck are begging to be thrown out. Kind of my symbolic gesture to own this new season.

Your kids too may be lacking some mojo. Try not to worry too much about it or go to the "you had all summer to lay around and do nothing, now it's time to get off your lazy ass and get up, go to school, do your chores and your homework and stop complaining about. This is life kiddo!"place.  A little empathy goes a long way. If your teen is exhibiting some sluggish, mopey, and lack of motivation kind of behavior, rather than going to the criticizing place, try a little: "I get it honey, it is really hard to get back into it, I know it might take a few weeks. I just want to make sure you don't dig yourself a hole while you get back up and running. What do you think might help?"

Sometimes just a little understanding is all your teen needs, and some time to complain. Have fun with it, use a little humor, start the ball rolling by asking them to list all the s**t they don't feel like dealing with. You might start off by saying: "I bet I am at the top of your list. You don't want to hear my voice with all the nagging I do, right. OK that's number 1, what's number 2?"

Having permission to kvetch can clear your head. Just ask my husband, he just got an earful!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Teen Parties....Again

Clearly the summer is over. Coaching calls are coming in fast and furious. The teenagers are coming, the teenagers are coming wail the parents. Perhaps you were one of the lucky ones whose teens were off at summer camp, or a summer program and you didn't have to deal with the whole party scene all summer. What a relief. But now parties are back with a vengeance, and you are a little out of practice.
Let me help you.

This week alone I met with 4 different couples all with basically the same story. Either their teens were off to parties at friend's homes with parents in attendance and where drinking was not only allowed but encouraged. Or, parents allowed their teens to have a party at their house. Though the party started off small, it quickly spread like a  wild fire, with upwards of 40-50 kids in the basement and in the yard drinking and smoking pot. These parents said that they were present, and were up and down, in and out and aware of what was happening. A good start. And then I asked what they did when they saw the kids drinking and smoking? Unfortunately, nothing. They assumed their job was just to make sure everyone was OK. They didn't think their job was to be the drug and alcohol police. I get it. I get that when your teen has a party at your house, you don't want to look like the gestapo. You don't want to embarrass your teen, and mostly you are glad that your teen wants their friends to hang at your house, and that their friends like you. Trust me, the kids love you!!!!! And the consequence of that love is that your house will become the designated party house.

But here is the thing, it is unsafe and illegal! Please, if you are going to allow your teen to have a party at your house, you are going to have to grow some b**ls! Let your teen know that maybe in the past you turned a blind eye, but the new regime has come into town, and anyone who is caught drinking or taking drugs in your home, will have their parents called to be picked up. Absolutely no exceptions. If one of those kids who likes you so much, leaves your house high, and goes home wasted to parents who want to know where the hell they have been, and to save him or herself from grounding rats you out, being liked won't help when you face a judge. Or even worse, if a kid who has partied at your house, gets into a car and perhaps into an accident, do you really want to be responsible for that? Because you see, in the eyes of the law, you are responsible. You can't let your denial of the situation mirror your teen's denial of "no big deal." It is a big deal. So if you feel uncomfortable with grabbing the booze or the joint out of some kids hand and calling their parents, don't have a party at your house, it is just that simple.

Let your teen know that these are the rules. That if you allow kids to drink or do drugs in your home than you are liable for their safety, and that is a responsibility you are not willing to take on. Also it is illegal. Ask them what it would feel like to visit their parents in the slammer? So here again are the party rules:

1. Teens enter through the front door
2.. Your teen must provide you with an approximate number of kids coming over, not to exceed 20, unless you feel you honestly can handle more and keep them safe.
3. Any kid found with alcohol or pot will have the parents called for pick up
4. If pervasive drinking is occuring, party is terminated and parents are called
5. If the party is in the basement, make timely walks around the house to make sure kids aren't drinking in the yard or bringing booze into the basement.
6. Once a teen leaves the party, they do not return. (note: many kids take "walks" get high and then return to the house.

I know this is hard, but the safety of teens in your care depend on it!! Even if they don't get it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Telling Your Teen That They Are Smart Can Be The Kiss Of Death

What the hell is this woman talking about? What do you mean, don't tell my kid that he/she isn't smart? If I don't say that, they will think I think that he/she isn't smart!

Well it turns out, that kids who are smart, and who are continually told that they are smart often don't do as well academically as kids who may not be as "smart"but are praised for their hard work and perseverance, and who end up with better all around grades. How interesting is that? Just read this article.

This is an amazing article, and one I wish all parents would read just before their child walks into their first day of Kindergarten. But obviously, since this is a blog for parents of teens, I will talk about it's relevance for your older "kids." The gist of this article is that kids who are consistently told that they are smart tend to not want to challenge themselves to do things that seem hard just in case they fail and then prove to everyone that maybe they really aren't smart. In terms of your teens, this is how this often plays out. Your teen breezes through elementary and middle school. Their brain is hardwired for this foundational material to integrate fairly easily. Work that might take other kids hours to understand, memorize and master, might take your kid a few minutes. Homework is done in a flash, it's done well and it's done right. In class, they may be the first to raise their hand, show understanding and mastery. Parents are happy, and teachers are happy. He/she is so smart, has great verbal skills, grasps new concepts easily.....are comments that teachers write year after year. And then it's on to high school and Harvard! The message to your child is there is something in me that makes it easy for me to please all the adults in my life. Except that once they hit high school the work is harder and requires more time, concentration and can often challenge this perception of themselves that academics are a piece of cake. Things don't come easily anymore. You actually have to put in tine and work to learn.

Read the article. It provides many examples of how a  lifetime of being told you are smart can affect a students perception of him or herself and their abilities. Attribution theory can explain this. If you are a teen who has been told all your life that you are smart, than means that there is something innately inside of them that magically makes them "get it". They attribute their success to the luck of the draw so to speak. "I was born with smarts" So when they do well on something, get an A on test that was easy, it doesn't register as I made this A happen.There is no real pride in the A, cause they didn't have to do much to get it.  Conversely, if you are a kid who has to work his/her ass off to get a B. This kid feels tremendous pride and accomplishment for working hard to achieve this grade despite some academic deficits.

In my experience, the "smart"  kids often give up in high school. ' Not working up to their potential" is a common report card comment. Here is this student's dilemma. "If I do study, and don't come up with the A that everyone expects of me because they always tell me I am smart, than me and everyone else will finally realize that in fact, I am not smart! So better just to not do it and not blow my cover. I will just say, I don't care, or I didn't study.

So this is why continually praising your kid for being smart has less value to him/her than " You really put a lot of time on that report, or studying for you test, I am really proud of you for working so hard." It is the effort and the challenge of doing something you didn't think you could do that builds self-esteem. Praising work effort has meaning. Praising smart is empty.

So as this school year begins, rather than focusing on the first quiz grade, whether an A or an F. Focus on how they got it. If they got an A, recognize the effort. 'I saw you really studying for that quiz, you shut off your phone and facebook, and really took the time you needed. I know that was hard and that grade reflects that. If an "F" is the first grade of the year. Rather focusing on the grade, and saying you are disappointed, talk more about what they could do differently the next time. "I get this is a tough subject for you, and I have confidence that if you can figure out how to study for this differently you would have a different outcome."

Attributing success or failure to effort and hard work, rather than to good or bad luck (the test was easy, the test was unfair) makes everyone feel that they have control over their outcomes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teens, Pot, and IQ

Finally, some research that can help parents give a good reason to their kids that might actually make them understand why smoking weed in Adolescence can truly be harmful to their brains. I think intuitively we all knew this, but having actual statistics and numbers can be a much more persuasive argument than just lecturing to your teen. So this article, should be required reading for all teens and their parents.
The research consists of more than 1000 people who were pretested for mental functioning at age 13 than again at age 38. This is one of the first longitudinal studies of teens who smoked pot and teens who didn't and the effect on IQ, which tests for the brains capacity to learn. Findings were stunning. Those who smoked pot from ages 13 to 18 had a long term mental decline in their IQ versus those who didn't start their marijuana use after age 18.

Here are the facts. The number of new brain connections that are made during Adolescence is equal to the number of new brain connections that occur in the first 18 months of life. Just remind yourself of your teeny tiny newborn, completely relying on you for survival, and by 18 months, they have morphed into a walking, personality driven, ability driven little person who has intentional interests,  emotions, and desires. Your teen's brain is morphing in the same way. New thoughts, new feelings, new abilities, new intentions. Interfering with that natural process with a strong chemical can cause permanent damage in that development. All parents want to see each and everyone of their kids live up to THEIR potential, not what YOU want them to be but what THEY want to become. You wouldn't want them to unknowingly put themselves at a disadvantage. And this is how you approach this topic.

So when your teen says as a rational for smoking: "Well you smoked when you were younger, and you are OK" Now you can say, well I didn't try it until I was in college, or after high school, and (fill in the blank with the rest of your experience). Or maybe you did smoke alot when you were a teen, and now you realize that it really changed the person you wanted to become. Maybe you don't feel you have reached your potential, and if you look back, smoking and drinking really interfered with the goals you had for yourself, but didn't follow through on.

Use some of your teens current interests and talents, and ask them what kinds of goals they have for themselves. Make a connection with the need to keep the brain at it's optimal production as they develop the foundations for their future goals. Whether it's music, or business, or science, it doesn't matter, the foundation of learning for all these areas need a strong base of knowledge from which to build.

Like with alcohol, you cannot be with your teen when they light up, but you can damn well continue to make a case for wanting them to be the best they can be. This is not about punishment and control, this is about love and education. 

Remember teens love their pot. It doesn't make them vomit, it can mellow out their anxiety, give them the illusion of feeling in control, and it makes them feel really good. That is alot to fight against. So please, don't just go into punishment and lecture mode. Give them the tools to educate themselves, which gives them the power to make safer choices. Understand with them, why it might be something they are attracted to, and that you get that they think it is safe. Here is the proof that it isn't!