Thursday, May 30, 2013

What To Expect From My Graduating Senior: The Summer Before College

NOTHING!!!! No really, I mean nothing! Here you are, feeling all warm and fuzzy after graduation last weekend. Nostalgic for your little girl or boy, all grown up and off on a new post-high school adventure. You pull out all the old photo albums and gaze longingly at the years that have whizzed by, and try to prepare yourself for life's next stage, having a child move away from home. You find yourself welling up with tears, as you do your son's/daughter's laundry, or pick up the dirty dishes they have left on the floor of their room or in the family room, knowing that in just a few months their room will no longer have that whiff of dirty laundry as you walk by. Everything annoying and maddening your graduate did before graduation, now seems sweeter and memorable.

OK, so maybe that only lasts a few days. Because, the expectation that your now high school graduate will suddenly become equally as nostalgic as you is blown to pieces by the seemingly instant sense of entitlement he/she seems to be exhibiting. Where is the thanks for the wonderful party and gift you gave to him/her?  Where are the thank you notes for the generous gifts given by the cast of thousands that came to your graduation party and includes their friend's parents, your friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else who has ever known them. Suddenly, your graduate is nowhere to be found. You are left in the dust, with "bye, won't be home for dinner, maybe sleeping out, don't know when I'll be home!"

You are dumbfounded, thinking that their last summer home will be filled with family dinners, cozy family movie nights, a family vacation,  and shopping trips to Bed Bath and Beyond. If only they would stay home long enough to make some plans. Well, kiss those plans goodbye, because all their nostalgic moments are being saved up for and with their friends. The friends they will be leaving in only a few short months, maybe never to be heard from again, or at least until Thanksgiving. Prepare yourself.  Your graduate will be glued to their friends this summer. They will take top priority over everyone and everything. And if you don't understand the importance of "the last summer before college," your feelings will be hurt over and over again. My advice, don't take it personally. The drama of and the process of saying goodbye to high school friends takes a good two months. Of course they will miss you too, but you never really go away, and truly, many of their friends will. How many of you still have close relationships with high school friends, that is before facebook brought everyone right back to you.

Your teen's absence this summer will feel like a betrayal. Don't let it become a source of anger between you and your teen. Use "I Get It" conversations to help them to understand what you are feeling by understanding what they are feeling. " I get saying goodbye to your friends is hard. I know how much you will miss them, and probably worry that you won't find anyone as wonderful as (fill in the blank with some real names) I get you want to spend as much time as you can with them this summer, and I want you to do just that. But honey, your old ma/pa is gonna miss you too. I hope that we can find some time together as well before you go. Let's figure out how best to do that"

Your teen is also hiding away a lot of anxiety and worry. Worry that they will not be happy, worry that they will be homesick (yes they really do worry about that even if they aren't saying it), worry about keeping up with all the school work without you around to keep them on task, worry they won't know how to deal with money issues, laundry issues, and all the other millions of things they know they can depend on you for. And you know how your graduate will deal with all this worry? By being a big pain in the ass! They will seem like they are irritated with you, bothered by you and will set up all sorts of fights with you. Don't bite! Rather than looking and feeling like a needy little child, they will behave "as if" they don't need you at all, and will set up all kinds of arguments to prove that point. It's easier to leave angry than sad.

Also your graduating teen may now feel that rules no longer apply to them. After all they are 18 and all grown up. In some ways, they are right. In only a few short months they really will be on their own. So rather than having a bunch of rules this summer that they will flaunt. Take it day by day. Let them know that you "get" that they want to be independent this summer, but you still need to know that they are safe. Set up a system (not rules) so that they can keep you posted and in the loop so that you won't need to be checking up on them. The rules they will resent, but a system seems less controlling. They are teaching you to let go. Let them!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Let Teens Drink At Your House And You Will Face The Music

Another day, another news story about a teen party gone wild with the parent home and joining the fun. I keep sharing these stories, because I want the message to be clear, allowing teens to drink in your home is not safe!

In this particular story, teens are partying loud, and the neighbors disturbed by the decibels call the local  police. A cruiser shows up to investigate.  Some kids run, some kids decide to throw glass beer bottles at the policeman, and 16 of these over 50 party goers are too drunk to move from the beer pong game they have been playing in the barn, and are arrested. The policeman calls for backup, and they begin rounding up the kids and transporting them to JAIL, never dreaming that the parent was home. And lo and behold, a drunk, dazed and confused dad is found calmly cleaning up the bottles in the yard. When the police confront him, he seemed unfazed. And off to jail you go.

The scariest part of this story is what happened to the 40-50 kids who ran off when they heard the cops were coming. Running to get into cars, or through hill and dale to escape being caught, these kids are literally having the "time of their lives." This will become for them, a story for the ages. "And then the cops came, and we all ran, and then....." It's the "and then" that scares the hell out of me. Impulsivity and adrenalin can be a lethal combination. Kids drunk + running= injury. Motor coordination is seriously affected by alcohol and drugs. The body is not meant for coordination when it has been fed alcohol, thanks to the cerebelum, the part of the brain that controls motor coordination. And driving both drunk and crazy with excitement after alluding the cops, terrifying! The safest kids are the ones that were arrested.

The warm season is upon us. Teens will be partying and most likely will be partying outside, and cops will be called. Once teens are trashed they are well past worrying that they are talking too loud, and neighbors angry about being disturbed, will call the police, and the rest will be history. In this case, a parent was home. So, if you had done your due diligence and called the host parent about supervision you would have gotten: "oh yes absolutely I will be there supervising." Oh he was there all right, just having his own party somewhere else in the house, or perhaps even with the kids.

Parents being home does not equal supervision. As you can see by this story. It is really important for you to prepare your teens for this situation: "I get that one of these nights you will be at a party that gets out of control, and there will be a good chance that the police will be called, and that you could face either potential arrest or potential injury if you get caught up running from the cops. Neither of these are good options. Let's talk about a plan to help you anticipate when a party is about to go sour, and what you can do."

Please let your kids know that you are always available to help them, but after they are arrested or hurt it is too late, and they will have to experience the consequences. If they get arrested, you will not "get them off" they will have to face whatever that music is.

Anticipating that warm weather means party season is on is smart!!!! Have a system in place that helps your teen stay safe.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It Is NOT A Crazy Idea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wanna know why your teen gets so mad at you after you say no to what seems like the most ridiculous idea ever? Because in their head, in the fantasy they have created, they are already doing it. Your saying no is a fantasy-interuptess!. Think about this metaphor: You are sitting in your cozy family room ready to watch the season finale of your most favorite TV show. You have been looking forward to this all week, having the "water cooler" conversations with your friends and colleagues who follow the show, dissecting potential plot lines. It has all been leading up to this moment, and then, BAM an unavoidable but must take phone call comes in and your are torn from your set. 

You are an adult and you get over it, but I have seen grown men and women weep and tantrum, when there is an interference with a world series game, or super bowl, or Stanley cup, whichever  is your pleasure. 

Now times that by a million and you get your teen whose fantasy has just been erased, no matter how ridiculous or unrealistic. In these situations it is completely unnecessary to get into a huge whoopla. Somewhere in your teen's brain, they know this is ridiculous too, but once you engage in an actual argument over how silly this is, than the engagement itself is reinforcement that maybe they can change your mind. 

 I have coached parents who end up getting into huge arguments with their teens over things that don't merit argument. Maybe your teen is in 9th or 10th grade and they make some grandiouse statement about not needing college; "I can get a job and make money right away"... I have heard this one alot. And the parents get hooked right away, and start to treat this statement as if it is fact. WHICH IT IS NOT! It is simply a musing by a young teen who is anxious about the future. But when taken seriously, goes haywire. Sometimes it is better in these situations to use humor; " that sounds fabululous, love that, no college tuition and you can pay us rent. We actually make money instead of spending it. Go for it!!!"

When you don't engage in these fantasies, they become just what they are fantasies. The same one you may have had last week when you bought a superball lottery ticket and had already thought of all the things you would do with the $545 million dollars you would win!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Texting While Driving Is not Just Dangerous: It Is Deadly

This story on the huffington post is an important reminder about teaching teens how to drive without the temptation of their phones. Here is a 16 year old girl who literally had just gotten her license and was out for her very first ride as an independent driver. A few words on her phone and she was dead. Here is a blog I wrote giving some tips on helping your teen drive safely. Remember, it is never enough to say: "You better not be texting while you're driving." This does not give them a plan. This blog does!

Here is a scary statistic from an article in yesterday's paper on Distracted Driving Among Young People:
63% of people under 30 years old acknowledge driving while using a hand-held phone while and 30% of under 30 text while driving. There were 5500 people killed last year from texting and driving. 

Though I have talked about this issue before, I think it bears repeating.  I have seen a number of people way over 30 years old driving and texting,  but there is not much we can do about that. But I am not ready to give up with teens. They are still young enough and dependent enough on you and your vehicle that you  can hope to have some impact, if you can get them to listen. And that my friends is a big IF. 

For some reason, and I include myself here, when I hear the chime on my phone signifying a text, I get a little excited. Who is it, what do they want? Even though 99.99999% of the time, it is nothing, somewhere I must think that the information just relayed is somehow going to change my life and that I can't live without knowing it immediately!!!!! Come on admit it, you get that little surge of excitement too. Well that's what your teen is feeling times 1000. As an adult, I get that I am ridiculous so I have trained myself not to look at the text until I have parked the car. I do have some ability to delay gratification. Teens, not so much. They need a little help. 

After catching one too many students texting during one of my college classes, I stopped the class and asked everyone to take out their phones. Of course many only had to put their non-note taking hand with the phone in it from under the desk and put it on top of the desk. I then went around the room and asked my students to read the last text they had received. These important messages ranged from: "What-up", to a picture sent of a sandwich their friend was having for lunch. Literally out of 26 students there was not one text that was life-changing to say the least. We all had a great laugh listening to the ridiculousness of these silly messages. But there was a big impact. Reading out loud, and hearing that most of the stuff they get in texts is mindless chatter made them take a moment to acknowledge that they would be missing absolutely nothing by shutting off their phone. It gave them the motivation that some of them needed to delay that gratification.

Helping teens to stay safe while driving takes planning. This can not be just a " you better not be texting or talking on your phone while you're driving, and you will be punished if I find out" kind of a thing. The discussion I had with my students morphed into the driving while texting /talking discussion. This coincided with the new law at least here in Massachusetts that punishes texting while driving with a fine, and a law that prohibits people under the age of 18 years from driving and using a cell phone at all. I asked my students to close their eyes and think about walking to their car. I asked them where their phones were when they opened their car doors. ALL my students looked up at me puzzled, what do you mean? they asked. Where is your phone when you open the door of your car, I repeated. Here is where it got interesting. Their phones are now just another extension of their body that there is no awareness of it. They carry them in their hands at all times, they aren't even aware that they have them. When I said, they are in your hands, they laughed. To them their phones are their hands. When I asked where their phones are when they are driving, they all answered in their non-driving hand, ready to text, make or take a call. And there is the problem. The goal then was to get them to develop a plan and a place to put their phone so as not to be tempted. And that's what we did. The girls said they would shut their phones off, put them in their pocketbooks and put their pocketbook behind the seat. Out of sight out of mind. The guys said shutting the phone off and putting it in the glove compartment. Who knows if they ever followed through, but mine was just an exercise in a psychology class, your teen actually lives with you, and you have more time for practicing. So here is your action plan!

Sit down with your driving teen:
1. Have them read their last 5 text messages, either out loud(which of course they won't do, or to themselves) Ask them on a scale of 1-10 how life changing each text was. This can lead a discussion to the texting /driving issue.
2. Where is your phone when you go to your car?
3. Where is your phone while your driving? (Don't get critical here, when your teen tells you something you don't like hearing.  The work is to help them acknowledge what they do now and come up with something different)
4. Using an I get it moment: "I get that you like to keep your phone close cause you worry you're going to miss something if you don't, or your friends are changing plans and you worry you won't find them. I get this will be hard, cause its always hard to break a habit, but I love you and I want you to be safe."
5. Where can you put your phone when you get in the car so that you can resist the temptation to respond to texts/calls?
6. OK now lets practice.
7. Optional follow-up. You can tell your teen that you will be checking the phone bill on line to see when text messaging and calls are going out and coming in to see if they coincide with when you are driving. We will do this together once a week.

There will be TREMENDOUS resistance to going through this process. So having realistic expectations about how this will go is extremely important. Here is your I get it moment when you get the "this is stupid". "I get you find this whole exercise ridiculous, but just telling you not to use your phone in the car isn't helpful to you unless you have an alternative plan in place. Here is the thing, if you want to drive our car, I need to know that you are on top of this, and have a plan in place. If you choose not to do this, then you won't be able to use our car. Your decision."

And that is that. There is nothing more important than your teen's safety. And judging by the statistics I cited, they need your help. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Joani's 10 Favorite Parenting Tips

Today I am celebrating my 400th blog! That is A LOT of advice. I wrote this blog for my 100th, three hundred blogs ago...whew, and I still love every one of these tips. I hope you do too. Thanks to all of you for supporting this venture. If you feel that these blogs have given you respite and help please share with your friends. I am passionate about the work I do, and hope that I can reach as many parents as I can. And now......

In no particular order, here is my top ten list of what I think are the most important tips in raising a teen:

1. Encourage your teen to think for him/herself. Restrain yourself from being the chief problem solver of their life even if they ask you to be that for them. If you want them to make good choices when you are not around, you need to encourage them to try to problem solve when you are around. Practice makes perfect!

2. Try not to ask a zillion questions. You won't get the answers you want anyway, and they stopped listening at hello. Try starting with a discussion about your day, or some neutral subject, and engage them in a conversation before you start the interrogation.

3. Try to refrain from going on the "lecture circuit." I know you have a lot of wisdom and life lessons to impart, but when you see their eyes roll up into their head, you have probably lost the moment. A good speaker always reads their audience. If you are living a life filled with purpose, and model for them what it means to be a good person, then you won't need to tell them what it means to be a good person. They "get it."

4. As uncomfortable as you may be, you gotta talk about sex. Do it with honesty, candor, and understanding, not judgement. Talk about your own struggles, and experiences when you were a teen, especially those moments of which you are the least proud. If they know that you made some stupid decisions in your life when it came to sex, they will feel freer to share their questions and worries. Nobody likes a goody goody!

5. When it comes to alcohol and drugs, make your house safe. The first place kids look for forbidden fruit is in your garden. Again, you need to have honest discussions, sans judgement, understanding that they will be in situations they have never been in before, and will be "tempted by the fruit." Help them to anticipate these situations, and problem solve about ways to stay safe.

6. Do not rule with an iron fist. This may have worked when they were younger and liked rules and regulations. Your teen needs to be a part of the rule making if you don't want them to be a rule breaker. Teens will easily resort to lying when they feel you have left no room for negotiation and conversation. Most kids are actually pretty reasonable, and when given the opportunity to have some control will rise to the occasion, and conversely if they feel too over controlled will try to take it.

8. Absolutely set limits (with their input) with cell phones, computers and video games. Just like you let them eat only a few pieces of Halloween candy a night when they were younger so they wouldn't gorge themselves, you need to see these devices in the same way. No cell phones to bed, a set amount of time for no cell phone or  face book during homework time. And include them in looking at their phone bill on a regular basis. Mindfulness not mindlessness.

9. Find multiple moments to express your appreciation, and pride in them. This might be near to impossible sometimes, but there is nothing more important. I'm not talking about good test scores or term grades, but a moment of kindness caught, maybe a nice moment with a younger sibling, or a sweet conversation with a grandparent or maybe after a tough week of school, and sports or play rehearsals, appreciating them for taking on so much. Maybe its just an out of the blue" you're a good kid, and maybe I don't tell you that enough."

10. And finally, please find some fun with your teen. Hang out, watch TV, bring in some pizza or Chinese food, go to the driving range, play a video game, listen to music with them, go get manis and pedis, bake a cake, take the dog for a walk, go shopping, anything that may give you a moment, maybe just a moment, of sweetness with your kid.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Summer Migration: Your College Student Returns To The Roost

Finals are over, the grades are in, and the college students have returned to their home towns,  where their moms and dads await them with fondness and food.

There is a nostalgia that both college students and parents bring to the table as they each anticipate the others return. For parents instead of the vision of sugarplum fairies dancing in their head, they see magically matured college students anxious to spend quality time with their parents, sitting around the dinner table discussing world events, joining them in the family room for popcorn filled movie nights, bedrooms where beds are made and laundry and clothes put away, and polite banter keeping parents in the loop of their plans and whereabouts. Ah, it almost sounds to good to be true. And it is!!!! Sorry to burst your bubble, but your kids are still your kids, and there has been no magical transformation.

For your kids their sugarplum replaced fantasies include a place where magically prepared delicious home-cooked foods appear instantaneously, and clean laundry is available on request.  They imagine a place where the family car is at their disposal day or night, and questions about where, when and with whom they are going are completely absent from their parents lips now that they are college students. Well they are in for a rude awakening as well.

Its all about realistic expectations. The noise, and the chaos of returning college students is at first so comforting. Your kids are so excited to be home, back in the bosom of the family, all cozy and warm. But they are still kids, and they have had a life where freedom is not "just another word," it is a way of life. This can be a huge adjustment for parents of home bound college students. Your student will chafe at that first glimmer of "So where are you going, and what time will you be home?" Or the "just because you have been away in college, when you are home there are rules, and we expect you to follow them." Ooh, let the games begin.

It's time for a new game plan. I am not suggesting a free for all, letting the cards fall where they may approach, but a recognition that life has changed, your kids have changed, and you can never go back. This is time for a great big "I get it" moment. You might say to your returning prodigal: "We are so excited to have you home, and we get that being away from home and then coming back is going to be an adjustment for all of us. I get you have been on your own for the last 9 months, and it's probably felt amazing to be in control over your own life. We get that you will be out late, and want to do what you want to do, but here's what's going on with us. We too have gotten used to having our car to ourselves, not worrying about your whereabouts and your safety, (out of sight out of mind) not being responsible for laundry and clean-up and dirty dishes left where ever. We want this visit to be good for all of us, so lets try to come up with a plan that works for all of us."

If you can anticipate with your now older and sorta maturish teen rather than waiting for all the annoying stuff to happen, you will be a little ahead of the game. It is important though to really understand that this is not about enforcing "rules" but looking for a partnership with this new emerging adult. Recognizing that the old rules have been outgrown, and that new "agreements" based on mutual respect need to be forged. The revolving door is now in place, as your kids come back and forth from real life and the joys of freedom, to the welcoming and sometimes smothering arms of their family. There will be times when someone gets caught in the door, it could be you, and it will for sure be your kids, but the door will keep moving cause it has to. It is the law of nature.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Life Is Awesome!!!

Zits Cartoon for May/15/2013

When the "awesome" part of your teen's brain kicks in, there is just no stopping it. Trying to talk to it (your teen) logically when it has exploded with awesome, or anger, or sadness, or frustration is near to impossible.

In a study done a few years back, researchers wanted to look at the similarities and differences between the adult and the teen brain. Their hypothesis was that they would function the same when given an identical task to perform. While having their brains scanned, both groups were shown pictures of faces showing a variety of emotions. They were to name the emotion shown on the face. The brain scan identified the part of the brain that was in the highest activation while each subject was doing this task. The results: In the adults, the highest activation was in the frontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain. This was no surprise to the researchers, that is what they expected to find. In teens, the highest activation was in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. Literally, adults and teens live in different parts of the brain. How many adults would look at 4 nights on concrete waiting for concert tickets,  heaven! I rest my case.

Your teen will present ideas that are crazy, cockamamie, ridiculous and to them completely awesome. The logical part of their brain is often held hostage to the emotional amygdala. When you say with such incredulousness: "What were you thinking?????" after a particularly dumb incident, the truth is, they weren't thinking, they were feeling!

Your best strategy during one of these "feeling" episodes is to stay calm, avoid being judgemental or critical, saying instead: " I get this is so exciting for you, or upsetting, or frustrating." It may be that there is no need to intervene or "teach a lesson" if there is nothing unsafe or unreasonable going on. Lecturing during a "feeling" moment will literally fall on deaf ears. Perhaps this crazy idea will  elicit a "no" from you. Maybe it is unsafe or unreasonable. In that case, try really hard not to label this as crazy, and a "what are you thinking moment." Instead using the "I get it: statement above, understand with them their feelings, give a short (and I mean short) explanation of why it is a no, give an  "I"m sorry this can't happen, I know you are disappointed." Done!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It Is Time For The Porn Talk

I know this is not a fun topic. But it is a topic that must be discussed. In the olden days (when I was a teen) boys coveted their Playboys, and Penthouses, usually retrieved from their dad's trash. In today's world, those magazines seem so sweet; nude, beautiful, airbrushed, large breasted women..perfection personified. Ah, the days of yore.

Today's porn is live and in-person. As you will see on the video below, 25% of Internet searches are for porn, and I'm sure many of those searches are conducted by teenage boys. Unfortunately, the porn they are watching is not sweet. It is full of women being taunted by men,  and the sex is violent and disrespectful. These video images can shape a young boy into thinking that this is the way girls like sex, demeaning, humiliating and forceful. The number of calls I get from parents of girls who are being harassed sexually by boys is scary.

Because of teen's easy access to porn on smartphones, IPAD, and ITouchs, parents are very much out of the loop. It used to be,(a year ago) parents could check the history on their teen's laptop and see what they were up to, at least giving them the opportunity to have a discussion with their teen about the dangers of porn. Masturbation is not one of them. Thinking that women liked to be controlled is one of them. And in the link I have included, porn addiction is another.

Let's not leave girls out of this. A new favorite pass time at sleepovers is to go on sites like chatroullette to watch live, men masturbating. I know, icky!  This is a video social networking site in which you live chat with someone you do not know. Many men are on this site trolling for girls to have video sex with. I have had a number of calls from parents who go down to the basement to bring the girls some food, and lo and behold there is some guy on the computer screen moaning and groaning, and a gaggle of girls egging him on.

If there was ever a time for a sex talk, this is the time. Teens need to hear another side! It is not OK to be exploited, it is not OK to expect a girl to do whatever you want her to do, or for a girl to think she has to whatever a boy wants. College campus's are now awash in sexual harrassment cases and date rape. The research is showing that this onslaught of easily accessed porn, unsupervised by parents is behind some of this behavior.

Watch this video with your boys. Talk with them again and again and again.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Free To Be Me....Please

One of the major tasks of Adolescence is to develop a personal identity; what are my values, my interests, my passions, what are the qualities I look for in friends and lovers, what is my sexual identity, what are my goals? etc.  Part of this process is also to look closely at the people who raised them, and analyze how they are both different and the same from them. I always say that having a teen in the house is like having your own personal therapist. With this new brain of theirs, they are able to really look at you without the cloud of perfection that hovered over you in their childhood. Why the hell do these kids have to grow up?????? They are now free to share with you their thoughts and ideas about you! Unfortunately much of what they share is the stuff we already don't like about ourselves. Having them be so honest can be very uncomfortable. But if you can listen without hurt or defensiveness, you might learn something new and potentially useful about yourself. More importantly it is part of the process of figuring out who they are.

As teens start thinking for themselves, they might start to go down paths that parents aren't comfortable with. I'm not talking about unsafe or risky behavior, but life choices about what they like to do, where they might want to go to college, and ultimately what they want to do with their life. Most parents have dreams for their kids. In healthy families, parents keep those dreams to themselves waiting to see what path their children seem most interested in, even if it means parents giving up their own dreams for their kids. In some families, parent's dreams for their kids is more of a requirement than an option. We call that Identity foreclosure, when the option of choosing one's own identity is taken away from them. The following paragraphs are answers to a question on the final exam I gave last week, asking students to choose the identity type that most describes their experience with this process. These students have answered identity foreclosure.

Food for thought:

"My parents forced me to go to all elite catholic schools form kindergarten to college. I  was never allowed to get anything below a B or I would be in serious trouble. I am now not a catholic."

"My parents picked nursing school for me. they said they would only pay for college if I went for nursing. My mom graduated from a nursing program and really wanted me to go."

"My parents control most if not all decisions made in my life. If they think that this is the best decision for my future they will push me toward that path without acknowledging my concerns."

"Everyone in my family is in the medical field and my parents urged me to become a nurse. I was pushed to pursue this.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Helping Teens To Be Successful

I had a great day yesterday. First,  I started by teaching my final two classes of the semester. I loved my students in both of these classes, they laughed at all my jokes (A for laughing) and more importantly (but not by much) they allowed themselves to be taught. The listened, they shared stories, and they made connections between what they were learning and their own life and development, and as they left the room they all thanked me for all I had taught them. There is nothing more gratifying.

From there I went to a program called Resiliency For Life. This is a program within a high school that gives kids who have found high school to be both a burden and a challenge a chance for success. I do parent workshops for this program, and was invited to attend a luncheon at which 5 students had a chance to share with the guests their stories and their struggles. I was so touched by the honesty and candor of these teens. They openly shared their aversion to school, to homework, to following through on responsibilities and their attraction to "having fun" which seemed to be a much stronger draw than school. These are kids who carry a lot of extra baggage. Many have issues with drugs and alcohol, struggles within their families, and with the juvenile justice system. These are the kids you don't expect to succeed, and yet here they are,  the unlikeliest of success stories. The two seniors had been accepted to college, the first ever in their families. And the remaining 3 students had gone from failing grades, and school suspensions to achieving for the first time. There was strong improvement in their grades, and more importantly, motivation to succeed and go on to college.

The students attributed their success to the relationships they have developed with the very dedicated teachers in this program. One student recalled his first "Aha" moment. He had been remiss on handing in homework assignments in a number of classes, and as the program requires, he had to stay after school with the Resiliency staff to complete it. But in his usual avoidance of taking responsibility, he would skip this after school commitment.  On this afternoon, a Resiliency teacher waited outside the room of his last class to escort him to his after school homework session urging him on to follow through and be successful. This student shared with us his realization that if this teacher cared enough about him to track him down, and encourage him to do what he needed to do, that that really meant something. He meant something. It wasn't about punishment, you stay after school or else, but about caring and support. I know you can do this, lets do it together. This was his turning point, and that of his fellow students in the program. These students all attributed their success to the support and belief that staff have in all the students that success and achievement is within their reach. And the most wonderful part of all this was seeing the pride that each and every student felt. This pride they wore as a badge of honor, "look what I can do!" Powerful stuff.

So how does this translate to you, and your teen who may struggle with these issues of avoidance and school apathy. You can be that compassionate adult. The adult that gets how hard this school thing can be sometimes, and that its not about the grades it's about feeling that sense of pride and accomplishment, and "I can do it" that these kids feel. These teachers are all over these kids. The continue to not only remind them of what is expected of them, but they help them with strategies to meet these expectations. Just saying to a kid "have you done your homework" doesn't give them a road map for success. The teacher who met the kid at his classroom door understood that given the choice of walking out the door to hang with friends, or staying after school, of course it's out the door. So this teacher's strategy, don't let him get out the door in the first place. Give him some good snacks, sit with him at the table, give him help and make staying after school something he looks forward to rather than avoids. You can do that too. Figure out what is getting in the way. and find an alternative. And most importantly try not to get discouraged. Kids really want to be successful, just ask these five unlikely students, they just need some help and some understanding.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

More On the Art Of Conversation

In some conversations with your teen, less is more. I know it is so wonderful when your teen comes to you......finally, for some help. And in the rush to wanting to be the best parent ever, you say too much, with a "honey, you know what I think you should do...." Problem solving comes so easy to parents, it is a job we do with relish. When kids are young, they absolutely want to hear everything you have to say, and then even more reinforcing, they will actually do what you say. That is because in childhood, you are your child's #1!

When your teen hits adolescence, you have been dropped down the list a bit. Coming to mommy and daddy for help is "so babyish." Teens go to friends first, and you, only sometimes, or not at all. But there will be those times, that a shoulder to cry on is just the thing, and you will be called into action. Unless your teen specifically asks for your help in solving the problem, your best bet is to just listen. Cause if you happen to say the wrong thing, this wonderful moment can turn on a dime, and you will get a sneer and a "you just don't understand!"

So like Jeremy's mom, just a hug, and a: "honey that must have been so frustrating, disappointing, upsetting," take your pick, and then mums the word!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Getting Your Teen To Talk: The Art Of Pulling Teeth

Why oh why won't my teen talk to me? I think the answer is that you are mostly asking questions. Talking, or having conversation implies the reciprocality of communication. In most parent/teen conversations, you are asking questions, or giving lectures, neither of which are very appealing to your teen. If you honestly take stock of your most recent communications with your teen, I'm guessing they mostly start with: "How was your day? How much homework do you have? Did you meet with your teacher after school? How was practice? Did you empty the dishwasher, bring your clothes down to the basement, or conversly, did you bring your clean clothes up from the basement? etc etc etc

The lecture "conversation" is also pretty one-sided. "You know....if you only...fill in the blank for your most recent words of wisdom. 

Your teens are so programmed to expect one of those types of conversations, that they literally have shut down before they even enter the house. Add to those expectations are their emotional exhaustion at the end of their day. They have had to use an enormous amount of psychic energy all through the day to keep up whatever persona they are invested in presenting to the world. As teens develop a personal identity they are incredibly invested in presenting "a self" that will attract the kind of attention the will reinforce their very vulnerable self that they are OK. By the time they get home, they just want to shut off. Unfortunately, just when they want to shut off, is when you want to turn on. You have been planning your "agenda" all day on the topics to be "discussed" as soon as they walk in the door. Unfortunately your timing could not be worse. 

The best conversations you will have with your teen are the ones that are unplanned and catch them by surprise. Don't hit them up as soon as they walk in the door, or like Jeremy's mom you will be literally pulling the words out of their mouth. And the more resistent they become, the angrier you get, and usually some kind of argument ensues.

Instead of expecting them to be the answer bank, how about starting off a conversation about your day. Maybe it was a hard, or frustrating one, and sharing your experience and honesty might make it easier for them to reciprocate. Instead of starting a question or answer period as soon as they walk in the door, give them a hello and leave it at that. Perhaps at dinner or on a laundry run into their room, you flop down on their bed, and say: "god I had such a frustrating day, my boss was driving me crazy, how bout you? How was your day? If you start by sharing something about yourself first, you might 
find an opening.

And finally, the best piece of advice I can give you is the following: "It is not what you say, but how you say it!"  Your teen's hearing is especially atuned to the sound of your voice. If they hear even a smidgen of judgement, or criticism in your voice, you can count on an acute case of deafness! Saying in a neutral, friendly voice: hey buddy, how was your day, like you would ask a friend has a way better chance of getting answered. Asking that same question in a serious parenty voice will get you silence. 

Practice your voice, it will make all the difference....I promise!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Teens And Loyalty: Friendship Always Comes First

 There are now 3 more arrests connected to the Marathon Day bombing. The younger brother, Dzhokhor Tsarnaev, currently in custody was a student at U of Mass Dartmouth. Like most college students, he had his "posse" of friends. It was Dzhokhor's friends that were arrested for providing false information when questioned by the police after their friend's arrest and for obstructing justice. On Dzhokhor's return to his dorm room after the bombing, and three days before his arrest,  he told his friends to take whatever they wanted from his dorm room, as he might not be coming back to school.  It is unlikely that these roommates had any idea that their roommate and friend was the bomber at that time. But when they did realize that was the case, rather than going to the police and offering up any and all evidence, they lied, and destroyed belongings of their friend they thought would implicate him.

Here is the thing about teens and their friends. They will go to extreme measures to protect them, even if it means lying. That emotional center of the brain, that is hard-wired in Adolescence to always be in the "on"position is full to the brim with love for friends. And when a friend needs you, there is no stopping them. Loyalty often gets in the way of good sense.

When does the job of being loyal to the people close to you no longer apply? Teens often find themselves in situations when this very dilemma is questioned, like with Dzhokhor and his roommates. There is nothing, and I mean nothing that stands in the way of a teen and their friends. If you so much as criticize even the most obvious fault in one of their buddies, the gauntlet is thrown down. The cardinal rule of "don't talk bad about my boy/girl has been broken, and you will pay dearly for breaking it.

This lack of objectivity about their friends can often put them in situations that are scary, and unsafe. They become caught in the bind of doing what they know is right, vs protecting their relationship at all costs.  Perhaps your teen has a close friend that is depressed, perhaps even suicidal, is engaging in self-destructive behavior, has a serious eating disorder or is abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Maybe they have been with a friend who has been drinking or doing drugs, and though they won't get in the car with them, they won't grab the keys away from this compromised driver, leaving the fate of a possible drunk driving accident in the hands of their drunk friend. Loyalty, secrecy, and trust, these are powerful promises. The risk of losing this friend should they break this oath of loyalty is usually stronger than the reality of possibly literally losing their friend.

This case can be a used as a valuable tool to help your teen talk about their own issues of loyalty vs safety. Here is your " I Get it" moment. " Hey honey have you heard about this story with the Marathon Bomber and his college roommates. Pretty scary stuff isn't it. I get that these roommates felt protective of their friend and didn't want him to get in any trouble, and probably didn't even know what they were protecting him from since he had not yet been identified as the bomber. This is really hard stuff for a young person. I'm guessing there must be times that you are in a position of questioning whether you should do something you know is right but worry that it might get your friend in trouble. Maybe you have a friend who you worry is depressed, or you know drinks or does too many drugs, or is in a scary relationship and they talk to you about it but make you promise not to tell anybody. That is a lot of responsibility to carry around. I am always here to help you with this stuff and I promise I won't call their parents or the school, but I am here to help you deal with it all. I would never want you to think that loyalty trumps safety. Making sure that your friend is safe, is way more important than whatever secret they have given you to hold."

This is such an important issue to address with your teen. There is too much at stake not to.