Thursday, January 31, 2013

Navigating The Minefield Of Middle School Friendships

Recently I met with a group of moms of 6th graders. The pain in the room was palpable. Why are these kids so mean to each other? And why aren't  parents on top of their kid's meanness? There is nothing more painful than comforting your young teen who has been excluded from some event that ALL her friends have been invited too, except for her or him. And often adding insult to injury is that the parent of the excluded can not understand why the parent of the excluder doesn't step in and tell her child that either everyone is invited or no one is invited.

Middle school reeks havoc with friendships. Kids in 6th grade come into middle school with their best friends from elementary school. But in the melting pot of new kids from the other schools in town, new kids who have moved into town and kids who have moved from private school to public school, the old friend relationships often takes a hit. Maybe a new kid sees in opening in a group, forms an alliance with a "new friend" and courts that group for membership. She may see someone in that group as a barrier to membership and seeks to oust that kid to make space for herself. There is nothing more important in middle school than having "your group."

One of the moms in this group told me of an incident where all her daughter's best friends and one new friend had been invited to a sleepover, but not her. She was devastated, and found out that the "new girl" had lobbied against her inclusion. As we dug a bit deeper, I found out that the new girl had not been invited to an after school outing that the excluded girl had hosted. Are you following me here? So I think that the new girl was doing a little "payback" for not being invited to the after school event. 'If she didn't invite me to her thing than I'll make sure she doesn't get invited to this other thing." Oy, yes it's petty, it's hurtful, and it's normal.

Now the question that came up with these moms, is should they intervene, and make sure that everyone is included? Here is what I think. In elementary school, it is all for one and one for all. Everyone is included as much as possible. But as kids move into adolescence, friendships take on a new dimension. When they were younger, any body would do, as kids get older, they do begin to look more closely at their friends. Do I even like this kid? Do we have anything in common? Maybe one of the friends is ready to move on to more teenagery behavior, and feels like they have outgrown an old friend. Is it the parent's job to keep these friendships, unfortunately no. Your teen does have a right to move on from people. But as a parent it is your job to help them do it with as much kindness and mindfulness as they can. Because as kids grow into teens, they do become more narcissistic, and are looking out mostly for themselves. They do need some help.

In that earlier example, I do think both of the moms might have said to their daughters:" Hey honey, I noticed you didn't invite X. She has always been one of your good friends. What's up with that? I think her feelings will be really hurt. I get that your friends might be changing, but maybe we can figure out a way for you to that without hurting her feelings." Your job as a parent during this difficult time of transitioning friendships is not to make them feel guilty for wanting to move on, but to help them with a strategy that will be the least hurtful. Middle school friendship transitions are probably the hardest it will ever be. These kids  are so vulnerable and so much is changing for them simultaneously that as parents we just want to protect them from all this hurt. Hurt is part of life, and teaching them coping and recovery skills can help.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Kind Of Parent Am I? Ask Your Teen

Have you ever noticed that your teen seems to be lacking an edit button when it comes to what comes out of their mouth? They are completely unfiltered. What they are thinking is what they are saying. That's why half of what they say is followed by an "I'm only kidding." This is why there are so many hurt feelings and drama during the teen years. Their developing frontal cortex is providing them with new opportunities for analyzing and deeper thinking. This is why their teachers expert more of them when reading texts and deciphering the subtext, because now they have a capacity for thinking deeper that they did not have before. But this deeper thinking is not just reserved for school work, it's for everyone and everything. David Elkind, a Child Development expert calls this "thinking in a new key."I love the image that conjures up. Think of a song that goes through a key change. It sounds the same...but different.

So of course, if your teen is looking at the world and the people in it through a newly developing brain, you become part of their musings. As children, they didn't much think about you as a separate person. They saw themselves as extensions of you. They might think you were unfair in a decision to not let them stay up late to watch a favorite TV show or finish a video game, but didn't think any deeper about that decision you made. Now that same decision passed down to your teen, might erupt into a treatise about the kind of parent you are and then the person you are. "You are smothering me, you never let me make my own decisions, you want to control everything I do, blah blah blah!"  See they are learning about subtext! Now they are analyzing your underlying motivations for the parenting decisions you make. Hello Freud!

Rather than waiting for your teen to "share" their opinions about you at a time that might be volatile due to an unwanted parenting decision, try heading them off at the pass. I actually think that what teens think and say about their parents is oftentimes right on. I credit my daughter for helping me develop better listening skills. "You are interrupting, let me finish" was an oft repeated phrase. And you know what, she was right! Also,"stop asking me so many questions." Again, guilty as charged. Hard as it was to hear, I needed to hear it. 

When you feel you are open to hearing some "feedback," how about asking them outright to share some of their thoughts about you as a parent?  We feel very free sharing our "feedback' with our teens. 'If you only....why can't you just do......I think you should.....I don't like that you.....!' How much of your daily communication with your teen starts off with phrases like this. How about on your next car ride you say:" you know honey, I know I am not a perfect parent, I'm wondering if there are things I could do differently. Are there things I do or say that really bug you. I really would like to know."

You're job at this point is to just listen. It is not to defend or explain your actions. If you need more clarity you can ask questions like: " Can you give me an example? Or, How could I do it differently? You are not agreeing to make any changes, you are just giving them the opportunity to share how what you say and do affects them. The gift is in the opportunity and respect you are giving them for their opinions and your openness to listening. You decide what to do with that information. 

PS Here is a link to my new promo reel. Feel free to share it with groups who might like me to give my seminar. or someone who might like some parent coaching.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Parent's Guide To Sexting And Texting

I have had a rash of calls over the last couple of weeks from parents who either accidentally (an opportunity presented itself) or deliberately (regular monitoring) found words and pictures on their teen's phone that sent them into parent hell. No parent, is ever prepared to see language on their teen's phone that sounds like it has been copied from the most disgusting porn movie ever. And by the way, the girls are equally as "colorful" as the boys.

Found these interesting statistics, share them with your teen.

The percent of teenagers who have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves:
  • 20% of teenagers overall
  • 22% of teen girls
  • 18% of teen boys
  • 11% of young teen girls ages 13-16
The percent of teenagers sending or posting sexually suggestive messages:
  • 39% of all teenagers
  • 37% of teen girls
  • 40% of teen boys
15 Percent of teenagers who have sent or posted nude or seminude images of themselves say they have done so to someone they only knew online.
48 Percent of teenagers say they have received such messages
71 Percent of teen girls and 67% of teen guys who have sent or posted sexually suggestive content say they have sent or posted this content to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
21 Percent of teenage girls and 39% of teen boys say they have sent such content to someone they wanted to date or hook up with.
44 Percent of both teen girls and teen boys say it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.
36 Percent of teen girls and 39 % of teen boys say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.
51 Percent of teen girls say pressure from a guy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images; only 18 % of teen boys cited pressure from female counterparts as a reason.
66 Percent of teen girls and 60% of teen boys say they did so to be “fun or flirtatious”; their most common reason for sending sexy content.
52 Percent of teenage girls used sexting as a “sexy present” for their boyfriend.
44 Percent of both teen girls and teen boys say they sent sexually suggestive messages or images in response to such content they received.
40 Percent of teenage girls said they sent sexually suggestive messages or images as “a joke.”
34 Percent of teen girls say they sent or posted sexually suggestive content to “feel sexy.”
12 Percent of teen girls felt “pressured” to send sexually suggestive messages or images.

So now what? Teens unfortunately do not think there is anything wrong, clearly if 40% think it is just a joke. What they need you to help them with is that the "joke" could be on them!

An outrageous text or sexy picture will for sure be shared amongst friends. I can hear the conversation now: "Hey guys look at the picture Sally sent of her tits!" Or Hey guys, Sally said she'd blow me" Now Sally is not only going to have to answer to the one guy she "flirted" with but 10 of his best friends who will probably now corner her at school, the mall, at a party and ask for her to make good on her offer to them as well. If it's good for one it's good for everyone.

Even if a teen shares a sext or sexy picture with a boyfriend or girlfriend, it is more than likely that this couple will split up before too long, and someone will be the injured party looking for revenge. Hello naked pictures. 

These are scenarios it is important to talk about with your teen. Using and I get it statement: "I get that kids think sending sexy pictures and text messages is no big deal. But I do need you to understand that it is a big deal and that what you send to someone will for sure get passed around. If you wouldn't say in person what you write in your texts, it shouldn't be on your phone. Would you go up to a boy and say "I want to suck your dick", or a girl and say "suck my dick" I don't think so, unless I don't know you very well. Would you go to a party and start taking your clothes off, and parade around in your underwear, if not, it should not be on your phone. Just because you don't feel the embarrassment or humiliation because you aren't present when the viewing party happens, doesn't mean you should share your body with the world. This is a safety issue. People make assumptions about your willingness to participate in sexual situations based on what you put out there. I would never want anyone to take advantage of you, or put you in a situation you can't handle because they misunderstood your intentions. " I love you and want you to be safe" 

Parents, especially those with middle school kids, you must monitor their phones. It is not an invasion of privacy, it is a physical and mental health safety issue. Teens are impulsive, and conforming. If "everyone" is doing it they will want to do it too. You don't need to get angry with them about that, just understand with them, that it is hard to not do something if all their friends are doing it. You should surprise them every now and them with a phone check, done together. This is NOT about punishing them if you find this stuff, it is a time to help them strategise a solution with you about how not do it. Yelling and taking their phone away will NOT solve this problem, educating will!

 PS Here is a link to my new promo video, enjoy and feel free to share with any group that might like to have me come and speak!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What's The Matter With Sex?????

Nothing is the matter with sex, but I think most parents would rather think of their teen's first experiences with sex to be with someone they at least had some feelings for, rather than a friends with benefits "hook up" which seems to be the sex du jour. Many parents I talk to acknowledge that love and intimacy don't seem to be much of the equation any more in terms of who their teen may be fooling around with. The problem with this equation is not that kids are having sex, but that if it is sex without intimacy, girls are getting "the short end of the stick" so to speak.  Listen I came of sexual age in the 70's, you know free love and all that. But even if people were fooling around, the sex was about sensuality and mutual pleasure. Are you blushing yet.!! Todays teen sex is not that.!

Most girls I talk to, or parents who share conversations with me that they have had with their daughters, is that for girls, it is not so much about pleasure and getting close to someone, but power! It makes girls feel powerful to be able to do something for boys that boys clearly want so much for them to do. And down down down beneath that cocky exterior is a girl who just wants to be loved.

A contributing factor for this type of sexual behavior is the encouragement that teens give to each other for these types of hook-ups. "Oh come on, don't worry about it, it's no big's just sex!" Girls especially are vulnerable to this type of argument from their girlfriends. "If I am hooking up with guys, I want you to hook up with guys too, then I won't think what I am doing is wrong!" It is classic crowd inducing behavior. The problem is that teens aren't really getting an alternative narrative that challenges this "no big deal" attitude.

What makes me feel sad about all this random "hooking up" is that teens can get desensitized to the importance of love and intimacy in relationships, and that down the road this will contribute to an inability to develop long term intimate loving relationships. Obviously you cannot control your teen's sexual behavior, and calling your teen a slut won't help matters either. Teens are not reputation sensitive, that is not going to be a real selling point for them to reconsider the friends with benefits culture.  Like all parenting messages, this one has to be given with understanding, love and often.

A conversation might go like this: "I get you and your friends don't think sex is a big deal. And I'm guessing that your friends all think and believe this party line. Sex is fun.Totally get that, I just hope that you will give some thought to how much more fun it is when you actually have feelings for the person you are with."

If you have a son, you need to talk about girl's expectations, understanding that even if a girl is willing and says its no big deal, it really is. "A girl's hope is that you will want to be her boyfriend. So just know that, and if you choose to just take advantage of the situation and her willingness, you are being dishonest. Think about whether that is the kind of person you want to be. "

 If you have a daughter, you might say: "I get it feels good when a guy you like is wanting to be intimate with you, but keep in mind that no matter what he says, he probably is saying that to get what he wants. If he really likes you, let him show you that in a non-sexual way by talking and texting to you in a non-sexual way, and by wanting to spend time with you in a non-sexual way. A question you should always ask yourself is he doing this just so he can "get off" .What is really in this for me?"

These are not easy conversations to have with your teens. But if they don't hear the other side of the equation from you..who will they hear it from?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Finding The Time To Just Hang

A middle schooler writes to Ask Amy:" In my family, almost every night my mother and father watch adult oriented TV and movies. I am allowed to come into the room when they are watching, but I would really like to play a board game with them or even watch a family appropriate movie instead. My mother is very busy with her full time teaching job and I feel that barging into the room in the middle of a movie to play a game is rude, but how else could I ensure some family time without disturbing her? Am I being too pushy, and should I leave them to their leisure time because they are busy."

How sweet and sad is that letter! The other day I was getting frozen yogurt (my favorite) and spied a mom sitting with her young teen son having some yogurt after school. The mom was busy texting away on her phone, while her son, hunched over the table, just kind of sat there looking lost. I know we are always talking about how rude our teens are can't be separated from their phones, but how about you? How attached are you to yours?

Believe it or not, many teens do want to spend time with you, they are just embarrassed to ask, lest it sound needy and immature. In a questionnaire I gave to 60 teens ages 14-18, this very issue was oft repeated when asked: I LOVE WHEN MY PARENT (S):

  • Ask me to go places with them because I really don't get to do that a lot.
  • Spend time just watching TV with me because I never get to spend time with them.
  • Ask me to do things with them cause that's the best.
  • Can just talk and hang out and have fun with me.

Our lives are all pretty crazy, especially if you are working, taking care of an elderly parent, and have kids. Getting laundry and food shopping done, returning emails, and god forbid take some time for yourself is a full day. But your teens are watching your every move,and if they see that it's alright to multitask then they will do it too. But another takeaway from them, is that you are just too busy for them. Are you constantly checking your phone when your kids are in the car, at a restaurant, before and after dinner, while you are watching one of their sports practices and games. Do you take your work home with you, and your kids get that you are unavailable?  Are you halfway in or all the way?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's Not What You Say......

I am sure that many of you could complete that sentence, hearing you parents or elderly aunt's voice in your head..."It's not what you say dear, but how you say it." When you heard it, it was probably because you had talked to your elders in a tone that was unacceptable.

I am sharing this saying with you not so you can teach it to your teens, but to teach to you.  Often as parents,  much of the "feedback" that we share with our teens is said either in a voice of authority as in " I know better than you squirt, so listen up," or in a voice full of exasperation as in "how many times do we have to go over this..," or in a voice full of judgement.."how could you have...." In all of these examples, most likely the response you get from your teen is to either ignore you, get defensive, or give you attitude. None of these pave the way for meaningful communication or closure.

As I have mentioned before, the emotional center of the teen brain is in overdrive most of the time, hence the roller-coaster of emotions you are likely to experience with them just in the course of a single day. Once that Amygdala is in activation and firing, it is pretty hard to shut it down. Think of a stove top burner that has been on high. Once you shut it off, it takes a good amount of time before you can touch it without being burned. Such is the Amygdala of the teenage brain. So one of the goals then, is to not get it activated, especially if you have an end goal in mind for a conversation you want to have with your teen.

If you blame your teen's over-reaction on biology, rather than on something they have much control over, it frees you up to not blame them, thereby avoiding the double whammy of the actual issue you are concerned over + the aforementioned over-reaction.  That is why arguing with your teen is so frustrating. Because you often never really get to discussing the core issue, too busy getting pissed at them for getting pissed at you.

So what to do. Listen to the sound of your own voice. Would this be THE voice that used to piss you off as a teen? If it is, can you work on saying it another way. Of course my suggestion is to use an "I get it" statement. Rather than starting with a lecture or accusation, think ahead of time of what might have motivated the particular behavior you are now needing to talk about with your teen.

For example:

FROM " Get off your damn phone and computer and finish your homework." TO; I get it's important for you to stay in touch with your friends, but we need to figure out a way for you to get work done, and stay in touch with your friends."

FROM: "If you talk to your brother again like that, I am taking away that damn video game. That kind of disrespect is unacceptable in our family." TO; I get how hard and annoying it is to have a younger brother who always wants to hang with you and use your stuff just when you want to use it. I know he pushes all your buttons, let's figure out a way for you to get your privacy."

FROM: "I am sick and tired of the absolute mess in your room, you are a slob and are disrespectful of the money we spend so that you can have all these nice clothes." TO: I get cleaning your room is absolutely the last thing on your mind. I know getting ready in the morning is stressful and finding the right outfit means trying on a bunch of stuff and just discarding what isn't right. We gotta figure out a better system."

At the least, you haven't antagonized your teen to shut down. You are showing him/her that you understand what might be going on, rather than just criticizing them yet again for not doing..x y z. Give it a try, you might be surprised at how well it works!

The production company that produces "True Life" on MTV is developing a show that documents families who practice an unconventional parenting philosophy. They have asked if I can help get the word out to perspective parents. If you know anyone and/or if you could share this link that would be great. Here is their query:
Are you a parent who practices extended breastfeeding or practices attachment parenting? Do you refuse to allow your children to be vaccinated? Do you run your household like a military style bootcamp? If you are a parent and practice an ‘unconventional’ way of

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Paying For Your Kid To Go College...HMmmmm

On 1/3/13 I wrote a blog entitled: College Students Underwhelming Semester Grades. There is a very interesting article in the New York Times(link below) that wonderfully supports this blog. Thank you New York Times.  This article I am sure will leave many parents just scratching their heads. It seems there is a correlation between giving your college student a "free ride" to college versus students who are responsible for having to pay some or all of their own way. Mediocre grades for the free ride students.

Unless you are comfortably wealthy, most parents these days are using up their retirement portfolios, giving up restaurants, vacations, new cars and any other perk that one usually looks forward to in mid-life, to pay for their kids to go to college and have the freedom from debt as they start their young adult life. And most parents I know who do this, do it freely and with love.  It is only when the semester grades start coming in, or the epidemic of changing one's major multiple times, that requires students to take additional courses (read more money) for their interest of the year, that parents start to wonder about the return on their investment. Many students I know are now on the 5 year plan due to flunked classes, need to make up credits or change of heart in what they want to study or do with their life. And because they have not been a part of the financial planning for their college career, and because they live in a fantasy world when it comes to money, and because many parents are afraid to talk money with their kids, they are not taking much responsibility for these decisions. Kids seem to want more, fancy phones, expensive video games, unlimited supply of clothes, and parents work hard to give them more. We aren't doing them any favors. Before they go to college is when they need to learn the meaning of money.

How many of your kids have any idea what their phone bill is, or their computer or cable bill that allows them to order movies on demand without regard to the extra $6.99 that appears on your bill.
How will your teens ever develop an appreciation for what things cost unless you teach them. I am a big advocate whether you are a family of means or a family where you need to count every penny, that you have a monthly date to go over the bills. Let them see just how many movies they did order and what the cost was. How much their portion of their cell phone cost. Dollars and cents, they need the reality. So much of teens lives in this 21st century make it easy to live in lalaland. They can say things without consequence through impersonal devices, they can order things without using the old fashioned greenback, and so it is no surprise that when they go off to college with a car full of new clothes and comforters that it feels magical. They absolutely need to know that college can cost up to $50,000 a year, and that is a sh**load of money.

Start teaching them now. They may not have to pay the bills, but at least let them know that it all costs the real Maybe there is a limit on downloads and uploads, and scanning the bills together you develop some budget items. Let them know that mediocrity is not acceptable for college when everyone in the family sacrifices for their ability to go. A little guilt never hurt! And more importantly, obstacle and challenge make the journey to success so much more meaningful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Parenting Quiz- What Is Snap Chat?

A month ago I had no idea what snap chat or snap video was. But thanks to my college students who keep me up on the latest and greatest new IPHONE APPs, I can share my new found knowledge with you. Snap chat and snap video are two applications that can be downloaded though ITunes. It lets the user send a picture or video to one or more people. That's not news, I know, but the interesting feature is it automatically deletes after 5 seconds once it has been opened by the recipient(s).

The whole thing sounded silly to me, so I asked my college students, what was the point. In a rousing unison voice....much easier to sext. Oh of course, now you can send a sexy (read naked) picture or sexy video to your crush de jour and not be worried that he/she will share said sexiness with anyone else. Oh really, I say, except that technology savy kids can always take a picture of the screen from another phone. Also these applications give teens incredible license to say terrible horrible very bad things to people they don't like, are jealous of, or just cause they want to ruin someone's day free from worry that there will be a record of this chat for posterity. Just what our teens need, yet another way to bully, sext or use that impulsive nature of theirs for no good.  See, this is why I don't think teens should have smart phones...don't get me started. On the positive side, teens report that they love snap chat and video cause they can make a silly face, say something funny and share it with a friend as if they were right there with them. This may be true, but really, do they need yet another distraction?

So what is a parent to do. Today I have a really good answer to that, thanks to a very tech savy parent who gave me these instructions.  If your kid's smartphone is connected to your family phone service here is what you can do"

1. on your teen's phone go to settings
2. go to general
3. go to restrictions
4. you can shut off installing apps.
5. Then make sure that the main account person has the only ITUNE password(that you keep secret) and ability to download apps. Your teen probably has an itune password of their own, you will need to disable that.
6. Now your teen will have to come to you when they want to download an app or music or video and you can "just say no"
7. If your teen has already downloaded, snap chat, snap video, instagram (another app they don't need) you will need to delete apps(on same page when you shut off installing) and start from scratch.

Remember, this phone is yours!!! You have absolute veto power when it comes to what should or should not be on their phone. Allowing your teen to have access to every new app can be hazardous to their health. You have got to keep yourself informed, and I will do my best to keep you informed.

Having a lot of these apps is just asking for trouble. Between apps for facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, snap chat, snap video, they are so busy writing witty or sexy things, and taking pictures, that doing things like homework or having a face to face conversations with a real person has diminished to almost nothing.

If you don't know by now, let me just say that teens do not have good judgement. If a boy asks your daughter for a sexy photo, and she knows that if she sends it on snap chat it will disappear after the boy gets his peep, she will be more inclined to do it, especially if she thinks this kid is the "cutest ever." Because teens don't have to face the humiliation/embarrassment of doing or showing off sexually, they are desensitized to the intimacy of these kinds of interactions, and possible consequences, like the boy thinking that if this girl sends a quick naked picture, that must mean in person, she might do......
Your teens need your help desperately with all this. It is all just too much!

Your conversation with your teen can go like this: "I get how much fun all these apps are, but they are really addictive and take too much of your attention to keep up with. We are letting you have an IPHONE, but we will make sure that what goes on there is safe. If you fight us on this, we will shut off this phone and just get you a regular old fashioned phone with texting. Your choice."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Again With The Teen Parties?

I know this may be getting tiresome, but a recent story in the Boston Globe was a reminder to me that this story never goes away. It seems that this past New Years Eve the mother of a 17 year old gave her daughter permission to have a party. Apparently the mother was to be home during this party. Sometime after midnight, the local police department got an anonymous call from the party saying that there was an "unconscious male" at this party.

Police arrived at the house, rang the doorbell, pounded on the door, but to no avail. They peered in the window and saw the passed out teen and finally found an unlocked basement door, and proceeded to treat this boy. Teens were rushing out of the house, avoiding arrest for underage drinking, and police found a houseful of bongs, beer and booze bottles.

As the police were treating this boy, the mom who had amazingly been asleep upstairs, come down wanting to know what all the fuss was about. Turns out this mom is a high powered attorney who has got to know about the Massachusetts social host law, so she can't possibly claim that she didn't know.
What is scariest about this situation is that the mom claimed that she knew the kids would be drinking so she took away their car keys, assuming all would be fine! And off to sleep she went, after her own little nightcap. (police smelled alcohol on her breath)

So for all you parents who think that just taking the kids car keys away assures a safe night of partying...this is for you. As I have said many times before, if teens can get drunk...they will get drunk. They do not pay heed to the "everything in moderation" message that they may hear from adults in their life. Thank god, there was a teen at this party that was paying attention to something other than his/her own good time. Because it was clear that having a parent home did not take care of making sure the kids were safe, and this teen guest took it into her/his own hands to potentially save a kid's life. What a hero, be it an unsung one.

When you send your teen out on a weekend night, please teach them to be responsible for each other. Using an "I get it" statement, your conversation should go like this: "Honey, I just read this story about a recent teen party that got out of control. Thank god someone at the party saw a kid passed out and rather than just walking over him thinking he was just tired, they put an anonymous call into the police for help. This kid could have died, if someone hadn't paid attention. I hope that you would do the same. That is why it is so important not to be so out of it  that you or one of your friends might be the one needing that kind of help. I get that you will be at parties where parents are home. But as I just learned from this newspaper article, having a parent home during a teen party absolutely does not guarantee that they will be looking out for the safety of those kids at their house. Please, I am begging you, be aware of what's going on around you when you are out. You may save a life!"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Easy Stress Relieving Tip For You And Your Teen

You might be surprised to know that according to the theory of the worst offenders in the stress category, it is the "daily hassles" rather than a major life crisis that causes one to feel the most stressed on any given day. Traffic, being late, pop quizzes, demanding bosses, irritating teens, irritating parents, lines at the supermarket, no parking spaces, speeding tickets, parking tickets, dirty laundry, over scheduled, being rushed, etc, etc, etc. I am sure that you and your teens can build on this list forever. It's not that the big things like report cards, college stuff, financial difficulties, family illness or crisis, marriage and partner issues don't cause us stress, that would be a ridiculous thing to say, but it is the smaller stuff that happens on a daily basis that makes us the most crazy.

The good news is that there is an anecdote to these daily hassles. It is called "uplifts." An uplift is an unexpected pleasant surprise (for me, after a crummy day of hassles, it is stopping by my favorite frozen yogurt store for my fix and finding out that Black Raspberry is the flavor of the day. Honestly that changes everything for me.) Or, an uplift can be something that you know will change the course of your day, and availing yourself of it.

Uplifts can be powerful stuff in the stress relieving department. It can be especially effective to lift your teen out of a particularly bad mood. Two reasons this is important. First, if your teen is in a crummy mood, they will make your life miserable. Just being the supportive, "hey honey, what's wrong" parent usually backfires with a "just leave me alone!" Secondly, it is a good way to teach your teen about managing stress.

So here is how it might work. When you "get" that your teen has had a crappy day, for whatever reason they don't feel like sharing, think about what might be an "uplift" for them and surprise them with it. Maybe it is stepping out to Starbucks at 8:00 PM and bringing them a mochachino latte that you know might put a smile on that face. Or maybe their room is a disaster area, and you surprise them when they get home from an evening practice with a nice cleaned up space. Maybe after a particularly stressful day, you gift them a stay home fake sick day to mellow out and veg. Don't ask what they want, and don't expect anything in return. Those are the rules. The whole point of an uplift, is to give an unexpected "gift" that breaks the negative mood, and then lets them move on.

PS: Do it for yourself too!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Family Life Lessons

I bet you think I am gonna give some high falutin, feelly touchy advice on the lessons family share with each other. Nope, not this time. I'm going to give you a family life, lesson, not a family life lesson. OK so this morning my hubby and I are enjoying our coffee and newspaper when out of the blue I hear a rush of water in the kitchen that sounded like we lived at Niagara Falls. I run into the kitchen and see cascades of water coming from multiple areas of the ceiling, and ceiling tiling falling at my feet. HONEYYYYY, I scream, not having any idea what this is, and what is happening. My knight in shining armor peeks in the kitchen and bolts for the basement door. Seconds later, silence, the water shut off at it's source...whereever that is.

Apparently in this cold weather, the water pipes over the kitchen had burst. As we waited for the plumber to come, we both listed all our thank gods. Thank god we were home, or otherwise, that water would have completely flooded our house with no one to witness it's ferocity. Thank god my husband is a contractor, and knew exactly what had happened, and knew exactly where the water shut off was. I on the hand, was the hysterical woman with no idea what to do. It got me thinking about how ignorant I am of how things work in my house. Had I been alone, well Noah's Arc here I come.

How about you? How about your teenagers who are often home alone? Do you, do they know where the fuse box is should the lights go out due to a blown fuse? Would you or teens know where to shut off water should something like a burst pipe happen at your house? When my plumber came, I asked him, what one would do if this happened and you didn't have a contractor husband to save you. His the fire department. Honestly, I don't think I ever would have thought of that.

So here is my family life, lesson. Take a tour of your house with your teens, with a tour guide if you need one. My husband just took me on one. I now know where the water shut off is, the fuse box and other electrical points of interest. Someday you or your kids might be home when something happens that you and they are completely unprepared for. Give yourself and your teens that feeling of confidence that you can handle a crisis like this. It can happen to anyone...just ask me. Remember, knowledge is power!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

College Student's Underwhelming Semester Grades

A blog reader asked me to address the issue of college student grade expectations. As a college professor of 25 years, I am excited and happy to address this issue, both for parents with current college students, and for parents whose teens will eventually be college bound. It is never too early to let your pre and present college students know your expectations.

At the start of every fall semester, I ask my freshman what their goals are for this, their very first semester at college. Almost all have the same goal: make dean's list! I used to be so excited by the enthusiasm of my students, but unfortunately I have become a bit more jaded. Why, because I think when my students make this pronouncement, they somehow think that just because they say it, that it will somehow magically come to be. Oh you mean you have to buy the book!!!! Oh, I have to bring a pen to class and take notes!!!!Oh I have to do the reading!!!!! Oh, I have to study for the exams and write my papers.!!!! Somehow this all seems so surprising and unexpected. I know, they did just finish high school and had to do all that, why now does it all seem like such a mystery.

Here is why. You are not around to remind, request, and roar about getting their homework done. After I ask my students for their first semester goals, I than ask what might get in the way of achieving those goals, and then one more step. What will your strategies be to overcome that obstacle? The most common obstacles students cite are: Facebook, twitter, tumblr, snap chat and snap video, video games, naps, friends, and ta da....GENERAL ISSUES OF PROCRASTINATION.  I am sure none of these are a surprise to you. I 'm guessing that you have struggled with your teen about just these things for years. Only now, you are out of sight, out of mind, and unless they understand that you have some specific bottom line grade expectations that are a pre-requisite for  paying their tuition, you might be dealing with what I am sorry to say a number of my student's parents are dealing with right now as grades have been sent home. Unfortunately out of the sixty students I had this semester I gave out 9 D's and F's and 17 C's or C-'s. And not one of these students said that that's what they were aiming for. I know when they started school, they were pumped, but real life got in the way, and they were unprepared and unmotivated to fight through it.

Here is what you can do to help. Think of your student as your scholarship student. Most scholarships are revoked if the student does not maintain a particular grade point average. As your student's "lender" you can set a standard that you expect your student to maintain, and if he/she chooses to give less effort then is required to do that, you revoke your "loan/scholarship." Your conversation can go something like this: "We get that starting college is a new experience, and that you will need to find your way and your own motivation to get your work done. We get that having fun in college is part of the deal, but tuition is way to expensive for you to party and sleep the year away. So hear is the deal, in order for us to pay your tuition we expect that there will be no grades below a C, unless there are extenuating circumstances that you have discussed with us during the semester. If your grades fall into the no=pay zone,you will need to take the following semester off, and take classes near home with C or better results, in order to return to school. We know you can do the work, otherwise they would not have accepted you, you just need to work out how to get it done.

This is a really hard consequence for everyone, but some students need an incentive to do what they need to do, and if they love being away from home, and love the whole college experience, and know they could lose it if they don't find their mojo, it motivates them.

We all need incentives and motivators. Being away at college is an amazing experience. It is easy to get caught up in living the life. I totally get it!!!!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Day After.. A Reboot

Happy New Year, the day after. Typically this week brings a record number of calls from parents anticipating troubles in the new year. Perhaps there was "trouble in River City" over the holiday week. Maybe some incidents of drinking or drugs threw you for a loop, or realizing that the last 3 weeks of the term are closing in and there are assignments still unfinished, or maybe you are smack in the middle of the final weeks of college apps, and you and your senior are feeling the anxiety of deadlines. Take a deep breath. Getting all crazy, and starting back on the nagging train will not help. Best to just ease into it slowly, that's what your teen will need to do.

Rather than starting right in with the "did you finish/start/do your__________________? How about using this "I Get It" moment. "Hey honey, what are you dreading most about going back to school?" Just a simple question like that let's your teen know that you get how hard it is to transition back to the daily grind. A little empathy goes a long way.  And when they walk in the door after school today, rather than getting right back into the multitude of questions that have plagued you all day about homework, projects and meetings with guidance counselors, give them some space. The first day back pretty much sucks. How many of you were dreading the rush today of alarm clocks, lunches, carpools and that's just the kids stuff, then add to that your work, and your deadlines. See, you and your kids are not all that different. Misery LOVES company!

As this new year begins, please feel free to send me questions/concerns that you would like me to address in this blog.  

Also getting my speaking engagements in gear for the spring, if you think your parent organization or principal of your teen's middle or high school might find my seminar: Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Version a good fit, please contact me through my website. I love to travel!