Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Preparedness

As the holiday vacation looms I thought I would pass on some tips for the next two weeks. Some of your kids are in private school and their vacation starts today, some of you have college students returning home for a month, and others start vacation next week. It's all about your expectations, and keeping them grounded in reality.

Let's start with college students, especially those freshman. Your expectations may be that you will pick up where you left off, curfews, rules, etc. But it has been out of sight, out of mind, for you and your kids for the last four months, and your kids have changed. They will be rule averse. They are used to going, being and doing whatever they want, whenever they want, free of parental oversight. Expecting them to resume their place at home as same ole same ole will never work, and cause a great deal of unpleasantness, for all of you! I suggest the following conversation, and I Get It moment: " We are so excited to have you home. We get things will be different for you when you are home, you are used to being the master of your universe, and have not had to answer to anyone about what you do and where you go. We will try to respect that. Here's the thing, that is going to take some time for us to get used to, and this will be our first vacation with you as a non-teenager. We still worry about you. That will probably never change. We know that partying at college has been fun, but at least you or your friends weren't driving. We won't have a curfew, but it would be great if you would at least leave us a text as to your plan as it gets later, just so we know you are safe. If you choose to crash where you party, that's fine, but walking by an empty bedroom at 3 AM will scare the s**t out of me, but if I read a text that you are at someones house, I will be fine. We will be happy to pick you up anytime, anywhere. No questions asked. I don't care if it's 3 in the AM, I will put my coat on and come get you." ( I used to do this for my daughter when she was in college, and she actually took me up on it, wanting to sleep in her own bed. I was happy to do it, we had some good conversations on those late nights, and I knew she was safe)

You do not have to over indulge, give money away or bribe your kids to want to be at home. In fact just the opposite. If they need money, there should be some quid pro quo involved. You  don't get something for nothing. Many college students begin to get a real sense of entitlement during the college years, money thrown into a bank account when they need it, tuition paid, food available just by swiping a card at the student union, that of course you pay for. When they come home, and are in need of cash, please expect something in return. Maybe it is caring for a younger sibling, maybe its doing laundry, going food shopping, running errands, you name it. And if there is an avoidance of fulfilling your requests, you can say, you know honey, I'd love to give you some cash, but here are some things I need, so whenever you're ready!

Bottom line, you need to respect the change that has occurred while they have been away from home, but not exempt them from feeling thankful and responsible to their family.

OK, so that takes care of the college students. Lets deal with your middle and high schooler.
 There will be alot of lying around the house during the day, and then a flurry of activity to get out at night. They will not sit around the house and read the books you bought them for presents, but they will watch cartoons, Jersey Shore, and Teen mom for hours at a time. It will make you crazy. Just turn around and walk out of the room. If you have a teen who has been busy with school/sports and other extra curricula activities, they are craving veg time. Let them have it! When they want to hit the party circuit, this is where you need to intervene. Here is your I Get It moment: " I get you and your friends are in heavy duty party mode. I want you to be safe, so I will be your chauffeur service. This way, I won't be worried about you driving or your friends driving. Your friends can pick you up at the start of the evening, but I will be your car service at the end. I want you to have a fun vacation, and I want it to be a safe one!

It's all pretty simple. It's about safety. Have a wonderful holiday. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Power Of Understanding and Forgiveness

This week I had two personal experiences that reiterated to me the power of understanding and forgiveness. One experience was for me to ask for forgiveness, and the other, looking from someone else to understand me.

I got an email recently from someone in my past. In it she expressed a need for closure on an incident that occurred between the two of us many years ago. Unfortunately, my own memory about the issue was very fuzzy, but really it didn't matter what I did or did not remember because her feelings were very much in the present. I was devastated that something I had done, even though unintentionally, had caused her such pain. I apologized, with respect for what she was feeling, and for my own need to make amends. It is so hard to accept sometimes our own culpability in bringing on pain in people we care about. In fact often we are unaware that something we have said or done has hurt someone. So, when confronted and surprised by someone we have hurt we get defensive, and combative, rather than apologetic and understanding. In my example, this person had her experience and her feelings, that is a simple truth that I had to acknowledge and respect. Her gift to me was accepting my apology, and thanking me for my lack of defensiveness, and understanding her need to get closure and move on.

People are not perfect. We screw up. We screw up with our friends, our partners, and yes, we screw up with our kids. When you own your mistakes, and apologize to your kids, you show them respect. They will be able to move on. When you get defensive and evasive even when you know it's on you to take responsibility for your actions, your kids become disrespectful, and then feel acutely a double standard of "do as I say, not as I do."

The second experience I had this week, illustrates this point. I felt a colleague had crossed a professional boundary. I agonized for a week about whether to share my feelings about this incident. But when I could see that it was interfering with our relationship,  and my desire to avoid her, I decided to talk with her about it. I was expecting a simple "Oh my god, I am so sorry, I didn't even realize, I'm glad you told me so I can do better the next time. "Instead, I got a "face". You know that face, kind of all scrunched up, and disdainful. No apology, no thanks for letting me know, just the feeling that I was the crazy one! Even if I was the crazy one (which by the way I wasn't) giving me that gift of understanding would have cleared it up in a second. Like I said nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes.  How can we change if we don't know what those mistakes are, take responsibility for them and move on.

The power of understanding, and all the "I get It" scripts I feed you in these blogs I hope pave the way to help you accept, respect and move on in your relationships. Truly, it's powerful stuff.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pay Attention To What Is Really Important

I have spent the past few days, like I am sure most of you have, glued to the television awaiting any new piece information that might help make sense of this most awful shooting in Newtown  CT.  Listening to the names of the children and the staff that were lost was heartbreaking, wondering what it must be like for all those families grieving for the loss of the present and the future lives of their children and wives and sisters and mothers who were taken from them. There is plenty of discussion now and rightly so about our country's need to address both gun control and mental illness, but what I want to discuss with you is something that parents can do for their children right now.

So often in families we pay attention to the things that are our "squeaky wheels." Maybe it's the dishwasher not emptied, or the room not cleaned, or the homework not done, or the disappointing report card, or need for your teen to have an attitude adjustment. These are important issues and not to be ignored, we do need to work with our teens to be accountable. Sometimes, in the chatter of all those things, and our own busy lives we forget to pay attention to the some of the subtle signs that signal that our teens are in pain. Maybe we misread an angry response to a request for our teens to do something as attitude when it is depression or anger that something is amiss in their lives that has nothing to do with us. Or maybe it does have something to do with us, but  we don't know what it is and don't know what to ask to find out.

When you see a change in your teen's behavior, maybe angrier, or sadder, or quieter, or more isolating from the family, instead of being reactive or asking alot of "why" questions that won't produce you any answers, how about trying this instead. " You know honey, you seem angrier than usual. I know when something is bothering me, sometimes it's easier to get mad, then figure out what's going on. I get we annoy you sometimes and ask too many questions, but it seems you have a lot on your mind these days, and I would like to help." Or, "honey you seem to be spending a lot more time in your room than you used to. I know you like your privacy and like your time away from us, I get it, but something feels different now. I know we annoy you sometimes and you like to get away from everybody, but I love you and am here to help in any way I can."

Reaching out to your teen in a non-confrontive but loving way lets them know that you pay attention to them, and understand that sometimes it is really hard to take the first step and ask for help.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let My Teenager Go

Joanna Weiss, a columnist from the Boston Globe wrote a column today entitled: For Parents-Where to draw the line on risk.  We are barraged daily with horrific news stories about child predators, school shootings, and facebook friends gone bad. These are crazy making for parents. It makes us want to hold tight to our kids and keep them as safe as we can. Sometimes that holding tight for safety has mixed messages. Often parents say no to giving their teens the independence to safely navigate the world that will soon become their life when they leave home for college. But they give them access to drugs and alcohol in the house and technology that can potentially create addiction, contact with questionable people and way way too much access to cell phones, media and distractions with no supervision. But when their teen asks to take public transportation to go into "the city" parents quake in their shoes and say no.

I am always so shocked when I ask teens to describe their "world" to me. It is a world of being chauffeured by parents to friends houses, activities and parties because many teens now show little interest in getting their license. It is a world of houses and hangouts that never change from week to week. Rarely do I hear teens talk about getting on the "T" to go to "the city." I have talked to a lot of college students who go to schools on suburban campuses who never leave their campus to investigate the wealth of culture and energy that a "city" can provide, even when colleges provide shuttles to the closest public transportation. Somewhere along the way we have scared our teens.

Taking risks, safe ones mean doing something new and challenging. It means figuring out directions, destinations, and making decisions without knowing the outcome. When is the last time your teen came to you for permission to do something like that. When my daughter was a senior in high school her group of friends wanted to go on a vacation after graduation together. My daughter asked if she could go. My answer was if you have the money and the will, go for it. I remember many of the parents wanted and did take over the planning of the trip for these girls, suggesting destinations, getting them the best price, finding the best airline etc. There was even a "parent meeting" to discuss the trip. Always the rebel, I refused to go. What is the point of an adventure, or can you even call it an adventure, if mommy and daddy do all the planning.What lessons are learned?

I remember my own post-high school graduation vacation I took with my 8 best friends. The planning was actually more fun than the week we had in Hyannis. Looking for the cottage, doing comparative pricing, and deciding which cape destination had the potential for the most boys took months of planning. And when we opened the door that June day to our very own cottage rental we felt euphoric. We had planned and talked and argued for months, and now here we were.

Encourage your teen to take safe risks, to venture out of their comfort zone without your help. The confidence and competence they will feel and take away is worth it....for both of you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's College Deadline Time Again


JEREMY TO A  FRIEND: My parents laughed at my list of college choices


JEREMY: Because they were all party schools


JEREMY: What am I supposed to do...go to Harvard?

FRIEND: Maybe that could be your safety school

And so another year of college deadlines approaches. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a senior who is organized, motivated, and ahead of the game, having sent off common apps, contacted teachers and guidance counselor for recommendations, and forced you to sit down and do the FAFSA form for financial aid. But truly that is a minuscule percentage of the high school senior population. Most kids, maybe including yours, is waiting till the last minute of recorded time, that midnight deadline of whenever to press send. This is a most trying time for parents, and a most trying time for your seniors.

Your senior avoids because once the application is in, the potential for rejection is now on the table. Colleges are so competitive these days, and kids tend to apply to many of the same colleges as their friends, which leaves them open to the accepted ones or the rejection. This is painful stuff, that many of your kids do not give voice too. What you see is procrastination, avoidance and an absence of responsibility taking. What is underneath all these annoying behavior is fear!

So here is a little advice for you forlorn parents. Rather than threaten and yell, use a little of the "I get it" messages. "Hey honey, I get this is a tedious, sometimes boring process. I know it's hard to give voice to those essays, and lay yourself bare to some anonymous admission geek. And most importantly once your stuff is out of your hands, and into someone elses, it is totally out of your control. That is really scary stuff. I am confident in you, and I know that you will get in to a school that you are meant to go to. I'm proud of the work you have done. Is there anything I can do to help you move this process forward so we are not dealing with a last minute deadline."

The work is to help them break down the process into small manageable tasks. It is so hard to see the forest through the trees, and your senior might get overwhelmed with all the steps. So rather than looking at a few hours of college app work, break it done to 20-30 minute segments over a few weeks. This won't feel as scary.

But truthfully, this whole process sucks for all of you. You will feel annoyed, anxious, and frustrated, but then so will your teen. The good news is if they really do want to go to college, they really will get it done, regardless of all your hucking.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

You're So Annoying!

Often after my seminars, parents come up to give me a personal greeting. Sometimes I meet parents who have been repeat attenders of my seminar. ( I love that). They tell me that after their first seminar with me they left breathing a sigh of relief. Their kid may have only been 11 or 12, and most of what I said did not apply yet to their relationship with their teen. They report leaving the seminar thinking, oh good, I think we've dodged that teen bullet, our teen doesn't behave at all like Joani said. We must be doing one helluva job!!! Little did they know, that a year or two later, once again sitting in the audience of another of my seminars they would nod their head in agreement and wonder whether I lived in their house as my descriptions of the teen behaviors rang so very

I think one of the hardest changes that parents experience with their teen is the abrupt change in their teens behavior towards them. Their teen literally goes  from being open and loving one day, to cold and secretive literally the next day. Parents feel puzzled by this,  questioning what they might have done wrong to ellicit this change. Answer: nothing.

Apparently your teen got the new memo, if you are acting nice to your parents, then stop. It is unseemly for teens to be nice to the "enemy. " Maybe your teen was sitting in the cafeteria, or on the bus, and a bunch of kids were slamming their parents..."man I hate my parents, they never let me do anything." Or maybe, "my parents are so nosy, always looking over my shoulder when I'm on the computer, they are such a pain!" So there your teen is, listening, and wondering, "gee I get along good with my parents, is that bad? And BAM they come home and practice being a "teen." So that may be one explanation.

Here is another. One of the major tasks of adolescence is separation/individuation. The work of developing a personal identity means stepping back from the people who have been the closest and most influential in their lives. How am I like my parents? How am I different from my parents? Where am I in all this? Unfortunately these questions are not consciously being asked in that teen brain of theirs. Instead this new brain is giving them new thoughts they have never thought before. "God my parents are so annoying, I hate the way they dress, eat, talk, think, ask so many questions etc." The truth is, it isn't really about you, it is more the process by which they are trying to figure out what they think, and what they feel. And for all of his/her life they have kind of depended on you to figure that out for them. Now they know that they have to figure this stuff out for themselves. Adolescence is after all, the training period for adulthood.

So when your teen tells you that you are annoying and gives you 'the look", try not to take it personally. A shoulder shrug, and an I love you, should say it all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

If You Want To Get Your Teen To Do Something....

Most parents have goals for their kids. I don't mean the "I want you to be a doctor" kind of goals. But the goals that speak to the core values that you as a parent hold dear to your heart. Perhaps they have been passed down through your family, or maybe as you have grown into adulthood and have accumulated a good deal of life experience, you have learned a thing or two about life that you would like to pass on to your kids. Just telling your kids that you want them to be a certain way or believe in something you think important is not the most effective way to teach a life lesson. Showing them and living it yourself is way more effective.

So... If you want your kids to:
  • Love to read: show them by reading. Shut down your computer, your phone, your TV, and do some public reading.
  • Be kind: Show them by being kind. Help out an elderly neighbor on your street, shovel their walk in a snow storm, offer to buy them groceries when you are out,  and  then tell your teen how grateful these people were for your help, and how good that made you feel.
  • Value family: Show them how important family is to you. Have at least one night a week for a family meal, make sure you keep up regularly with your family of origin, and keep your kids in the loop about what everybody is up too. Make sure they make calls to grandparents, and aunts and uncles and cousins for birthdays and graduations.
  • Value friendship: Show them by staying in touch with your friends,  and having friends over for dinner and celebrations. Open your home to them.
  • Value Community Service: Show them by doing some kind of regular community service, and come home and talk about your experience and how meaningful it is to you.
  • Value Education: Show them by learning something new. Take a course, go to a lecture. Show them that learning is not over when schooling is over. It is a lifelong pursuit.
  • Value finding a passion: Find your passion and pursue it, and your teen will see how happy it makes you.
  • Get off their computers and phones: Show them by getting off your computer and phone
  • Be safe with drugs and alcohol and driving:  Show them by drinking responsibly. Always make sure there is a designated driver when you are with your kids where alcohol is present. Never talk or text on your phone when your kids are in the car.
  • Be spiritual and follow your chosen religious path: Show them by being consistent with your own practice.
  • Have confidence and take healthy risks: Show them by challenging yourself to do something you didn't think you could do. Show them your sense of pride at doing something new or hard.
Get the picture. Actions always speak louder than words!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Parent-Teen Miscomunication: Is There A Translator In The House

Zits comic:
Mom and Jeremy in a typical parent teen standoff. Each with arms crossed and sneering at each other. Dad looking on.



Dad: I think I hear a glass of wine calling my name.

Are there some days you feel like you and your teen speak different languages? You say something simple and maybe even nice to your teen (at least you think it's nice) but the response you get is completely incomprehensible. Let me explain how that might happen.

The first disconnect is that adults live in a thinking brain, and teens live in a feeling brain. And I mean that literally. Brain research has shown that when teens and adults are shown the exact same photo of a human face expressing an emotion, their brains respond in very different ways. An adult brain uses the frontal cortex (the thinking brain) to interpret the emotion, and the the teen brain uses the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) to interpret emotion. This is a set-up for constant miscommunication between teens and parents. Teens literally see things in the human face that adults don't see, and hear things in human voices that adults don't hear. It's kind of like dogs that hear the high pitch sounds that no human can hear. Dogs...teens..

I am sure you have had the experience of saying something to your teen in a neutral voice and with a neutral expression. It may be something very inconsequential. But the reaction you get from your teen is crazy! Maybe something like "are you mad at me? They have heard something in your voice or saw something in your face that no one else apparently can see or hear...just like the dog.

A compounding problem is that teens carry every teeny tiny emotional experience that has happened to them over the course of their day in that amygdala of theirs. Perhaps they said something embarrassing in class and their fellow students laughed at them. Park it! Maybe they tripped in the hallway at school and felt like everyone saw it. Park it! Maybe they saw their crush talk to another boy/girl and feel dejected. A thousand things may have happened that day, or in the morning between when they woke up and you pass each other in the kitchen before school. Basically their parking lot of a brain is always full. You know how frustrated you get when there is no place to park. Times that by a hundred, and that is your teen.

So when you get a response to a simple question or comment that seems crazy and completely incomprehensible, assume that their parking lot is full. Probably best to just walk away with a let's talk later. This is one of those times that it just isn't about you.