Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Day To Be Grateful

Just finished watching the news, and after seeing the destruction that nature can bring, I am humbled. My daughter is living in NYC with no power, and no phone, unreachable, and I am crazy. It seems no matter how old your children are, and mine is 29, the parenting instinct for your child's safety is as primal as when they are babies.  Life really is so simple, I think we just make it so complicated. Family is about love, and safety. Those are the basics from which all life flows.

For all those families in New Jersey who lost their homes to flood, and all those families in Queens who lost their homes to fire, and for that mother who delivered her baby on a stretcher being carried down 8 flights of stairs in a NYC hospital with no power to be moved to a hospital with power, I bow to your strength and resilience.

I read the other day about accessible happiness. These are the things that you are always in control of and that always make you happy. These are the small things, the often forgotten things that always  make you smile. Hearing my daughter's voice on the phone, always a #1, but fresh flowers on my living room coffee table, and a delicious treat at the end of the day. Simple pleasures, simple happiness. What are yours? What are your children's?, your partner's?, and your friends? Perhaps if we paid more attention to the simple pleasures, ours and those important to the one's we love, I don't know, I just think we would be happier, and when the unexpected comes like Hurricane Sandy..we can be fortified with love for self and love for others.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Teen Trap Of Doing The Right Thing

A parent wrote to me the other day, to tell me a story about her teen son, and asked if I would write about it. Here is what she wrote:

"My son is a sports kid gets along with his peers and stays out of trouble (so far). He takes it very personally when he sees someone doing something wrong especially when it comes to unsportsmanlike conduct. He seems to internalize it even if it isn't directed towards him  (directed to a friend or to someone who didn't do anything to deserve it).
During a football game a couple of kids on his team wanted to retaliate against the opposing team (who was winning) by playing dirty and making illegal plays. My son spoke up and said (what we've always told him) hit em harder during the play & play clean. Needless to say his teammates had a field day with that calling him a goody two shoes. He brushes it off when he's with other kids but he will come home and while explaining it he'll tear up a little so it's really bothering him and I'm not sure my explanations are still helping. What can I say to him? How can I keep his good morals in tact while not giving him advice that might interfere with the normal behavior of a kid his age? And not make him get picked on for standing his moral ground? What advice can I give him to deal with that in the future?"
God it's hard to be a teen. Clearly this guy has internalized all his parents have taught him about fair play, and standing up for the "right thing."  And instead of being rewarded by a slap on the back by his teammates, he is made to fell like a "goody two shoes."  A small percentage of teens might be able to shrug off this kind of attack from friends. But honestly, not many. Most teens are plagued with paralyzing bouts of ego-crushing self consciousness. This is a time-limited disease, cured by time-released confidence that grows with each year of adolescence. 
This teen took an emotional risk. When his teammates called him a goody-two shoes, it hurt, it hurt bad. Does this mean you should counsel your teen to keep their mouth shut in light of injustice. Absolutely not. The bad news, is that other teens don't want to deal with their own conflict of what is right or wrong, and will lash out at others who make them look in the mirror. The good news is that by the next day, everybody has moved on, except that teen who stood his ground. And that is the counsel parents can give this boy. " You know honey, what you did was amazing. And your teammates didn't want to look in the mirror you put in front of them, and lashed out at you. It sucks that they treated you that way, but truly by tomorrow they will have moved on, and forgotten the whole incident. Saying and doing the right thing is not easy, and I can guarantee you that this will happen again with these guys. I get it feels bad, but you are a strong kid, and I know you'll be fine in the long run. You always have a choice, you can say something, or not say something. Either way you know inside what is right. And that is the most important. Some days you'll feel strongly to set these guys straight, and some days you may feel you are not up to the harassment, and that is fine."
Parents are sponges for all the bad feelings they see their teen dealing with. You feel their hurt, the injustices done to them, as if they were done to you. Your teens are more resilient than you think. Unless they are in a situation where they are being bullied relentlessly, most teens will be fine. They will feel bad, real bad, but they will move on. This is how resilience is built that will last a lifetime. Resilience is a survival skill that everyone needs as they move into adulthood. You can't protect your teen from hurt, but you can be their shoulder to cry on, and the belief and confidence in their ability to handle pain.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You........

Zits Comic: Jeremy walks into the kitchen where a huge calendar is on the wall

Jeremy: What's this?

Mom: It's a family schedule board. This will be a place you can come to for reminders, appointments, lists and general information of any kind.

Jeremy: I thought that's what you were for!

Like Jeremy, your teens are probably mom dependent! Somehow you become that person of blame when a practice or rehearsal is missed, or a music lesson, or haircut even though you have a very distinct memory of reminding your teen just that morning of said practice, lesson or appointment. And now somehow, it has become your fault that they forgot it. Isn't it always that way? You never get credit for the good stuff you are responsible for, but get sh** for the stuff that is really their responsibility.

Family calendars in theory are a great idea, especially if you have several children. But their effectiveness is more about keeping your head straight about who is going where and when than for your kids. They can open and close the refrigerator door a thousand time, and never once glance at the schedule. After all, their head is filled with way more important things as they mindlessly survey the contents of the fridge. That big board is just filled with alot of useless letters and words.

So you have a choice. Let the calendar speak for itself, and declare yourself off duty as the schedule master. If you stick to your guns, your teens will learn by default that the responsibility of keeping track of their lives will fall to them. Natural consequences like angry coaches or piano teachers might yield a change in behavior. Or, you can keep the schedule in play for youself, and find better strategies to remind your kids about what is coming up. Just saying "don't forget...." is not a strategy. In the moment they hear you, but in the chaos of their brain, as soon as a thought with more importance pings, your reminder is long gone. Develop a system together, a text message, a note on their steering wheel if they drive, an alarm set on their phone. Be creative, like dogs who salivate when they hear the can opener, and know that food is on the way, so can your teens be trained. Just get creative!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Your Teen Giving You The Silent Treatment

I was giving a seminar the other night, and one of the parent asked me what to do if your teen literally does not talk to you? She described her situation this way: "he walks in the house, goes to the refrigerator or cabinet, takes his food, brings it up to his room, shuts his door...gone for the night. He seems to be doing OK at school, since his grades seem fine when the report card comes in. Where he goes, what he does when he is not home or at sports seems to be a mystery. What can I do?"

OK if you have a teen who has completely shut down, there is a reason, and I am afraid the reason is not just that he/she is an uncommunicative teenager. Many teens don't sit down with their parents in the family room for long chats about life, but there are meals together, or an occasional meet ups in the kitchen. If your teen literally has cut you out of his/her life there is a more serious problem.

My first suggestion is to take stock of your side of the relationship between you and your teen. Last night I was giving a seminar on stress and teens and asked parents to go home, sit down with their teen and say: "I get your life can get pretty stressful, with school stuff, and sports or drama or your job, and I know your friends are important to you and that takes up a lot of room in your life. Is there anything we are doing that is contributing to your stress. What can we do differently to make your life less stressful?"

This can be a go-to discussion for your alienated teen as well. Something has gotten in the way of your relationship, and it is possible that unknowingly you have said or done something that has turned your teen off to you. You must find our what that is, before you can close the chasm. This is a chance for your teen to "give you a report card." It might be hard to hear, but hear it you must. The hardest part of this conversation is not the hearing but the not responding. Your job is to listen.....period. It is not to defend yourself, or over-explain why you parent him/her the way you do. Your gift is your opening yourself up to feedback. As parents we give "feedback" to our teens all the time. "if you would just .....", or "you never...." or "why can't you......?" Now it is their turn. Sometimes as parents we operate on automatic, using our go-to lectures to get our kids to do what we want them to. But guess what, those lectures go in one ear and out the other, and your teens aren't listening anyway.

So if you have a teen who has shut you out. Let him/her know that you miss them, you love them and that you want to figure out what you might be doing that has changed the way they feel about you. You might hear something that hurts, but honesty in a relationship is good. Honesty can sometimes be painful but it can also be a healer.

Maybe your relationship with your teen is good, but this is still a good conversation to have with your teen, cause it can only get better!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cleaning Up Your Teen's Room Can Be A Good Thing

I got a call from a parent the other night saying that while she was cleaning up her teen's room she found a suspicious substance. Hanging up her daughter's discarded clothing choices that lay abandoned on the floor, she noticed a large baggie full of water in the closet. Inside that baggie was another baggie with what looked like melted jello. The mom was wondering what this substance could be. She couldn't bring herself to taste test not knowing how long said substance had been sitting in the closet, and not wanting to send the substance to a drug lab (only kidding) she called me.

My first thought is that it was a melted jello shot (favorite method for kids to ingest alcohol.) Mix copious amounts of vodka into jello, refrigerate, cut into cubes and jiggle away! It may have been that at the end of a party there were leftovers, and the teens decided that rather than throw away this delicious treat, they would divvy up the spoils, pack them in ice to prevent melting and go on their way. I'm guessing this teen hid it in her closet to save for a rainy day, and then completely forgot about it.

Obviously the first step here is to show the teen what you have found, and ask her/him to identify the substance. I can predict that most teens, even when there is some evidence presented will go directly into denial mode, as in "wow, I don't know what that is, I don't know where it came from." Claiming ignorance is a much safer strategy. In this case, the parent needs to put out her suspicion without sarcasm and judgement. " You know honey, I think this is a melted jello shot" The teen will probably be shocked that you even know what that is! Teen will probably say "it belonged to a friend, someone left it in her room, yadayadayada."

Honestly, at this point, the good news is that the parent found it, and this can lead to discussion on the danger of jello shots, which is really the point!!! Many teens don't see this form of alcohol ingestion as dangerous, after all its jello! but each one of those jello treats can hold 1 ounce of booze, and if you pop a bunch of those sweet treats quickly, you can have dangerous levels of alcohol in your system before you know it.

Cleaning your teen's room  can sometimes provide wonderful opportunities for discussion. You don't even need to snoop, just doing a cursory clean is a window into your teen's life. Is your teen's room full of discarded clean clothes? Rather than getting angry and yelling at them about a lack of respect for their clothing, you might start a discussion like this: " When I was straightening up this morning I noticed how many clothing options you rejected. It must be really hard sometimes to feel like you look OK." What a great conversation you might have about self-image. Because that is what is really going on, teens are trying on options, which is another way of saying they are trying on personas. Who am I today??

Or maybe you find discarded homework papers, or alot of disorganization with school stuff. Rather than being critical and saying "no wonder you can't get any homework done, your desk is a mess! You might say: " When I was straightening up this morning, I noticed alot of school stuff laying around. I know it's hard sometimes to keep everything organized, your days are really full, how can I help?"

Or perhaps you find some scary stuff, drugs, pipes, booze. Now at least you know and you can address the problem.

Cleaning your teen's room is window into their world. If you treat their room as their private domain, you may be missing some really important clues into their life. Sometimes your teen is going through things they can't articulate or are afraid to tell you about. Initiating conversation, and I emphasize conversation and NOT INTERROGATION lets your teen know that you care about them and are looking out for them.

When my daughter was a teen, her life was extremely busy, often not getting home from school until 5 or 6. Dinner, homework, outfit decisions for the next day, and staying in touch with friends pretty much took up her whole night. Usually once a week I would tackle her room, hanging up clothes, pile up books etc. When she went up to her room after a long day, saw her comfy bed made, a floor with no clothes,and a desk she could work, she was always grateful. When you do something for your teen that shows understanding for their life and how hard it can be sometimes, you are giving them the best gift ever!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When Your Punishment Goes To Far

A recent story garnered my attention regarding the effectiveness of "laying down the law." Parenting a teen is particularly challenging when it comes to finding consequences that both communicate to your teen that certain choices they make come with consequences, and at the same time giving consequences that don't destroy the relationship that you have with your teen. Because truly, in the long run, it is the relationship that you have with your teen that will ultimately motivate their behavior. If a teen feels that everything they really care about has already been taken away, there is no motivation for them to change their behavior.

For example, one parent recently told me that in order for their kids to get cellphones, they must bring home all "A" report cards. Their younger children (not teens) for whom pleasing their parents was still an underlying motivator, rose to the occasion. The older teen, 14, not so much. Getting all "A's in middle school or high school is an unrealistic goal for most teens. Their lives are generally full of many things, friends, activities, and the need to just veg to take care of their overloaded brain full of too many thoughts, too many feelings and too many worries. For this teen, knowing that getting all "A's" was not a goal he had for himself, and knowing that the all-important cellphone was completely out of reach, just gave up with his academics. After all, what was the point? His anger at his parents, and his need now for a "fine, don't give me a phone, I'll just do no work, and get crappy grades. and show you! Which he did! And the kicker here is that this kid is extremely bright. So here we see that a motivator for one kid, is a complete disincentive for another, and a backfire for the parent.

I want to give you a few tips on setting consequences that have a chance of working.

  1. Any consequence should be time-limited and short. Teens make mistakes, millions of them, it is a truth of this stage. If you choose to use grounding, or taking away computer/phone. Keep the time short. One weekend, or one week, and let your teen know, we get you made a mistake, there was a consequence, now lets start fresh. Part of the conversation needs to include, lets figure out what you can do differently so you don't find yourself having to stay in or not have access to your phone/computer. This problem solving phase is actually wayyyyyyyy more important than the consequence. Punishment alone never, and I mean this, never is what changes behavior. Otherwise why do we have such a high recidivisim rate in our prisons.
  2. Do not set your teen up to fail. Make sure that your expectations are realistic, remembering that teens are impulsive, emotional, risk-taking, and inexperienced, do not think things through, and do not like to be told what to do. 
  3. Most importantly include your teen in decision making, rather than you being the rule-maker. When your teen can take ownership of the process, they are more likely to follow through. Let's take curfew for an example, if you set the rule, "you have to be home at 10:30, and literally all their friends really do stay out till 11, you may be setting you and your teen up for coming in late. Rather have this converstion: 
Teen: What time do I have to be home?
Parent: What time do you think is fair ? (trust me your teen will not say some ridiculous time, it might be a little later than you initially would have given)
Teen: 11:30
Parent: What do you think I will be worried about if I say yes to 11:30
Teen: Will probably say something like, "you're worried, I will be late, or out doing something you don't won't me to do.
Parent: Yes those things do worry me. What are YOU going to do to make me feel OK about those things? (This is where your teen has do some thinking. and that is a good thing. He/she is motivated to think, because they see some room for compromise here.
Teen: How about if I call you 1/2 hour before at 11 to let you know I will be home by 11:30 (if they don't say that, you can help them come up with this or another plan)
Parent: That sounds good, so what will the consequence be if you don't call me at 11
Teen: They will probably say, I can be grounded for the next night or one night the next weekend. (the consequence is in place, and it is now the teens responsibility to follow through)

This whole process is designed to help teens take responsibility and ownership of their decisions. Now you just have to sit back,and if they are successful, you can praise them with  a job well done, and if they don't follow through, you don't have to say anything, no lecture needed, just a "sorry it didn't work out for you tonight, I look forward to spending the night with you tomorrow or whenever the next weekend night is. That's it, no fighting , just a little shrug of the shoulders, over and out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Teens Are Thinking About

Again thanks to @maudeapatow for her genius. Below are 3 tweets by 15 year old Maude Apatow:

"Sometimes when I really like a person I act like I don't like them because I don't know how to express my feelings properly."

"I'm sitting by myself at a party and I'm scared to get up because I don't have anywhere to go and I don't want to wander around alone. "

"It's hard to support your friends who aren't supportive or even pretend to be supportive of you."

Don't you just love this kid? I do. I think she is the honest voice of a generation of teens. From what I can gather about her, she is adorable, smart, has tons of friends, and seems ridiculously confident. But what you see is very often not necessarily reflective of what is going inside a person. And that goes for your teens as well. When they come home from school, or a night out with friends, or a dance or rehearsal or practice, there is a good chance that they are dealing with the kinds of feelings Maude is expressing; insecurity, embarrassment,  and disillusionment. Teens encounter these feelings many times daily. And because the relationships they are now experiencing as teens are new to them, they are obsessed with thinking about them. Learning to deal with intimacy based relationships rather than activity based relationships is a whole new ballgame. The worry is not whether they have someone to "play with," but instead, does this person(s) I'm hanging with like me? What do they think about me?

So when your teen walks in the door with a sour puss expression, it may be that something felt bad in the friend department, and unless they ask, it's probably something they don't want help with. They may need to be a sour puss for the night, and saying "whats wrong with you?" in an accusatory voice, after they have been unresponsive and grumpy towards you, probably won't help.

Read these tweets to them from Maude if you feel like it. Maybe it will generate some interesting discussion. Or not!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Remarkable Teen

My thinking has been consumed over the last two days with Malala Yousafzai, the 14 year old girl from Pakistan who was shot by the talaban and is in critical condition for flaunting her very controversial belief that, are you ready for this....girls should be educated!!

Malala was raised by a family that not only believed that girls should have the same rights as boys, but modeled this in the most powerful way. Malala's father was the director of a school for girls, but with the talaban running his region, his school was forced to close. Malala was spurned by the injustice of this to speak out. But in a country where freedom of speech is not rewarded, Malala was considered a threat to the talaban's need for control of everything and everybody. Imagine the power they thought this young girl wielded. So in retaliation the talaban sought her out and attempted to silence her by death.

This is a powerful story. A story you should share with your children, and especially your teenagers. Not in the "see how lucky you are, you better not complain anymore when we won't let you have an IPAD"kind of way, but showing them the power of education, and what it must feel like for a child to have to fight for something that we do take for granted. As I have said many times, teens are naturally self-centered, and sometimes it is important to give them a window into the suffering of others, especially teens like themselves. Teens are a caring lot, just look at the relationships they have with their friends. Their world is often very small, and it is the adults in their lives responsibility to broaden it.

 I have attached a New York Times article about Malala. How wonderful it would be if you printed it out and read it at the dinner table one night, and let your teen's ponder what it would be like to have to fight for something that for them often seems more like a pain in the neck. Also an amazing documentary on PBS, Half The Sky is another must see. Not always easy to watch it follows 6 celebrity woman who visit countries where girls are sold into sexual slavery as young as 10, and where women and girls have few rights. There are inspiring stories about woman who also risk their own lives for the protection and emancipation of others. I am a firm believer that teens minds are open and waiting for inspiration. Be part of that inspiring process by exposing them to stories that challenge their own belief system. This is how people grow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Homework 101

I was at the gym the other day talking to a bunch of parents while waiting for our spin class to begin, and I asked them what was the hot button issue they were having with their teen. With resounding unanimity and gusto, they said 'HOMEWORK". Some things never change, and teens avoiding homework has been an issue between parents and kids since homework was invented. Truly, doing something that isn't fun.......isn't fun!

Now that school is in full swing, the homework machine is full up and running. But I'm guessing that the machine goes off-line more often than a parent wants. Here is why.

 For parents, this homework avoidance may be something new for their kid. In elementary school, homework is fun. It makes a kid feel a little grown-up, it is usually very project oriented and gives them a chance to tap into some creativity, and finally and most importantly, it pleases their parents when they do it. Elementary school kids are developmentally wired  to want to please their parents. As a teenager, not so much.

Here is what is behind homework avoidance:
1. It is usually quite boring, no more building dioramas.
2. It is hard, maybe not just in one subject, but all subjects. School work gets harder and more challenging, and it is a rude awakening to not feel smart all the time.
3. Perhaps a few assignments have been missed, and now they are in the deep, dark hole of being behind and feel like they can never catch up.
4. They are tired. Days get really long with activities/jobs/sports after school, and then homework.
5. It feels daunting that there might be several hours of sitting down and concentrating.
6. And most importantly, drum roll please, they want to be "hanging" with their friends, even if it is virtually.

This is alot for parents to battle against, and most of it is not what you actually see when you walk into your teens room. What you do see is multiple screens on the computer, with facebook being the most prominent, the phone in their lap fingers tapping away in conversation, a downloaded TV show or movie playing away on their IPHONE, or ITOUCH, and yes there may be a textbook open somewhere in there. Those underlying feelings of frustration, anxiety and boredom are cloaked by all those copious amounts of avoidance behaviors

First of all, close your eyes and visualize yourself at this age. How many of you eagerly sat down to do homework? I have very visceral memories myself, of dragging the phone with its long cord (I'm old) into my room, and whispering away for what must have been hours to my 7 best friends. We had a lot of catching up to do since we had parted after school, and I had to speak to each and every one of them.  The first thing is to understand with them, rather than argue and criticize them for their lack of attention to what to you is the most important thing they should be doing.

Here is your "I Get it " moment. Rather then going into their room and in a raised, disgusted voice saying, "Get of that damn phone, and shut down that facebook or I am taking both away. Either you do your homework, and get your priorities straight or (fill in the blank her with your threat du jour)". You can go another way and say" I get how boring some of this stuff is, or I know this math, or this french, or this chemistry or biology is really tough stuff, or I know you have alot going on in your life these days, and it must be hard to focus on your homework. Or, (this is especially for the kids who may have ADD or ADHD) I  know how hard it is for you to have to sit and concentrate on all this stuff at one time. Let them know that you get that this is hard, frustrating, boring etc. AND that there is nothing wrong with them for feeling this way. Then you can get to the planning piece. You can say "lets figure this out so we don't have to be arguing about it every night. We can't change that you have homework, and that we expect you do it, but we can figure out a way that works for you." Parents maybe your kid can't sit for 2 hours at a time. Maybe work out a plan where they work in the kitchen for 30 minutes, without phone and computer, and then take  15 min breaks to "chat with friends". Many phone carriers and Internet companies  have parental control programs where you can program phones and computers like DVRs, scheduling when they are on or off. This is a great tool, because you and your kids can come up with a schedule together, and it takes away all the arguing of turn off your phone!, get off facebook! The bottom line is you want to avoid the power struggle of "Do your homework!" VS "You can't make me!"
Which by the way is actually true. If kids feel that you are trying to MAKE them do something, they will do everything in their power to show you just how powerless you are, by just not doing it.

Understanding with them and planning with them teaches them to look at what gets in their way to do what they need to do, and figure out strategies that can support them. This is a life skill they will need to take with them in the next phase of their lives. If you take control of how and when they do or don't their homework, they will never learn how to manage all the distractions of life that are coming their way.

PS IF you find these blogs helpful, why not pass them on to five friends.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The only two parenting mistakes

First I want to say, that all your kids will be fine in the end. There I said it! Unless there is severe mental illness or severe family trauma, by the time your teen hits their 20's they will adore being at home, desirous of your input and advice about their life, and unbelievably fun to hang out with. So take a deep breath, pleeese!

The way I see it, in my experience, after 30 years of working with families, and raising one of my own, there are only two real parenting mistakes that can change the outcome of your child's life.

First is the too strict or rigid parenting style. If you are the party of NO, my way or the highway, or you have a ton of rules way past the time that kids need rules for everything, and you have extremely high expectations for your teen's academic performance, you run some risks.

Risk #1: Adolescence is all about independence. If you continue to write the script for your teen's life they will react in one of two ways. If they feel over-controlled, over-managed, and have to answer to too many rules, some kids will be forced to act out to get the freedom their brain and their body are telling them they should have. By acting out I mean lying, hostility and anger, deliberate school failure, drug and alcohol use or abuse and avoiding you at every turn. This can feel like armed warfare. These teens need to learn how to make decisions on their own. These are the kids that often bail on college. As soon as they hit campus, and experience that first taste of freedom, all control and discipline, no matter how much you have drilled it in to them is gone. They have never actually learned how to be self-disciplined, or internalized the rules and structure that you imposed. As young children structure and control is good, as teens you need to share and encourage with supervision your teen's innate drive to be independent.

Risk #2: Some teens who are over controlled and over-managed become extremely passive. They have developed what is call learned-helplessness. What they integrate is a lack of complete confidence in their ability to make decisions, and look to you for direction in all parts of their life. This is not healthy. These teens are lovely to have in the home because they never fight with you, and come to you often for help. For a parent, there is nothing like it. However in life, you will not always be available.  When it comes to adult relationships whether romantically, with friends,  or with bosses or colleagues they will rarely speak up for themselves, and open themselves up  to be taken advantage of, thinking that they don't know better. These kids need to learn to have confidence in their own ability to make decisions, and that what they want matters.

Second parenting mistake is the too permissive parent. This parent maybe has an unspoken rule, do well in school, and I will ignore everything else. Or maybe, your philosophy is that your teens should be able to manage their own lives, or maybe the parent's life is in chaos with a divorce, or other family crisis, and takes their "eye of the ball" being too involved in their own life events. Rather than too many rules, there are no rules, no expectations, no supervision. These are the parents with the blind eye. A blind eye to what goes on in their own basements with their teens and their friends, a blind eye to where and what their teens are doing when they are out and about, and a blind eye to their teens safety. Teens are by nature risk-takers. Sometimes those risks can be life-threatening, either physically or psychologically. Teens need to know that someone is looking out for their welfare, even if they fight you tooth and nail when you do. When these kids move into adulthood, they are often entitled, irresponsible young adults, who look towards you to bail them out when they act badly, perhaps its is financially, or legally. These now grown up kids, can't or don't feel like managing the mundane of life, and will constantly look to you to do it for them, even well into adulthood.

So these are the two extremes. Everything else in between, usually works itself out. Parenting a teen is about setting enough limits to keep your teen safe, and give enough leeway for them to practice decision making, knowing that they will make mistakes, that they will hate you some days, and knowing that underlying it all is love. Your love for them, and their love you. It really is as simple as that.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why Does A Teenager Have To Act Like A Teenager?

I am on twitter now @joanigeltman, but don't rush and follow me, I don't seem to have very much to say yet. It is really hard to be interesting, topical, funny, charming, and not boring. So for now I have just been posting my blogs till I figure out exactly what I want to say. But just because I find Twitter painful, doesn't mean there aren't some amazingly entertaining and informative people out there writing. One of the best that I have found is actually a 14 yr old girl @maudeapatow. She is smart, articulate, and the teenager I always wanted to be. Every now and than I will share her tweets with you.

Here is one I particularly love: "Dad keeps saying that I am acting like a cliche of a teenager and I don't understand why that's surprising."How brilliant is she? How many times have you thought that same thing about your teen. When the stereotype behavior of eye-rolling, snide comments, laziness, messy room, distracted by technology to the max, etc etc etc just get to you, and you think those exact words, why are the so much like a teenager? Why can't they act more like an adult?  Because....they ARE teenagers. Everyone of those behaviors is completely normal. They roll their eyes, and speak with a snarky tone, because you are probably unbelievably predictable. Your kids know exactly what you are going to say to them, how you are going to say it, and what you want their answers to be. The eye-rolling is the, "here we go again" short-cut. If you look at yourself honestly, you probably do repeat yourself a million times a day, because, they just don't seem to be listening, cause if they were..THEY WOULD JUST DO WHAT YOU ASK!!!! Right?  The laziness, and technology is a teenagers way of showing you what is the most important thing in their life right now, and it isn't a neat room. It is doing everything they can to stay in contact with their beloved friends, or the friends they are hoping to have, or dissing the friends they don't like anymore. Anything to do with friends is definitely their number one priority. You have got to accept that, and understand that, but you still have to set limits around it, but I'm just saying, they will never wrap their arms around you and thank you for saving themselves from their friends.

So how to survive all the annoying traits of a teenager. First it is just a stage. They truly will not be like this for the rest of their lives, Really I mean that most sincerely. Just remember how your terrible two year old turned into the sweetest human being on the earth around 7, and couldn't show you enough love, so will this terrible teenager. This too shall pass. Try not to judge, set the limits you need to and when the eye rolling and sarcasm gets the better of them, just give them a smile, a hug, and know that in just a few years they will turn into the sweetest human beings on earth.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Two R's: Resourcefulness and Resilience More Important Than The Three R's

Parents, take this short quiz:
  1. T  F  When my kid has a paper to write, I love when I, I mean when he/she gets a good grade.
  2. T  F  When my teen is having a problem with a teacher, a friend, a coach or the other "parent" I love to provide the solution to make his/her life easier, and have them benefit from my experience.
  3. T  F  When my teen is looking for a job, a summer program, or community service, I do everything I can to help by calling everyone I know.
  4. T  F  Now that my teen is ready for the college process, I do all the research about the colleges, visits, and requirements, because I know how busy my teen is.
  5. T  F  When my teen doesn't know how to do something, I love telling him/her how to do it, because I know they appreciate and expect my help.
So, how did you do?? If you even had one "T" you might unknowingly be preventing your teen from developing resourcefulness and resilience, two personality traits that are present in very successful adults. Getting straight "A"s", graduating at the top of the class, or even going to an Ivy League college is not what guarantees success in life.

Most teens demand to be in charge of their social life, not wanting help from you at all. But when it comes to the parts of their life, they feel less confident in, they may demand your help. And what parents doesn't love it, when your teen asks for your help. It's like a drug. It may not happen often, but when it does, you are primed and ready for action. If feeds your need to feel like a competent and supportive parent, especially if your relationship with your teen has been going through a rocky spell. But what makes kids feel confident and competent is moving past frustration to success.

Think of it this way. Perhaps recently you bought a coffee table for your family room from IKEA. In the store the table looked pretty simple to put together; A few slabs of wood, some glass, a couple of screws and bolts...piece of cake!! Then you get the big brown box home, enthusiastically throw all the stuff on the floor, with the expectation you will have your beautiful table up and usable in an hour or so. 5 hours later, sweat pouring off your brow, swears emanating from your mouth, you kick the stupid wood, throw the screws against the wall, ready to "cry uncle". You get up, stomp around your house, curse IKEA and the directions that seem to be written for someone with a PHD in engineering, and then you get back down on the floor, and start again. And finally, because the only choice was to figure out how to put the damn table together, the table comes together, almost magically. And you stand up, puffed up with pride and look at your "baby". And every time a new person walks into your house, and they compliment you on your cool coffee table, you say proudly.. I put that table together. And honestly it feels as important to you as almost anything else you have accomplished in your life. And why is that? Is is because you persisted through your frustration, your feeling of incompetence and what felt like the impossible, to your ultimate success. It is a feeling you don't forget.

When you solve your teen's problems for them, even if they ask you too, when you give into their frustration because it feels unbearable to you, you take away the opportunity for them to have their IKEA moments. The ability to delay gratification, develop frustration tolerance, and figure it out,  is something that will follow them all the way through their life. Through relationships that go through hard times, to jobs that aren't working out the way they anticipated, money problems, housing issues, and their own ability to parent. An A in English will not be helpful in those situations. There is truly nothing more important to teach your teens than the ability to accept and deal with disappointment, that they can't have or do anything they want to have or do just because they want it, or that when something feels just too hard, that you will rescue them from their pain.

So the next time they come to you for help, start first with a "so what do YOU think you should do? The process will take a lot longer, but when you can say to your teen, I am really proud of you,I know that was really hard for you to do, but you stuck with it, and "just look at your table!"

Give Your Teens The Gift Of Ownership

 Check out my first New York television appearance.