Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Teen The Night Owl

Your teens stay up late. You have to stay up later. If you are an early to bed, early to rise kind of person, having a teenager will be pure torture. It may be torture in other ways as well, but if you need your beauty sleep, fagettaboutit! Get used to looking old. Pretend your teen is an infant, and you are on call 24 hours a day. You have no life, and no sleep. I think that sounds about right. Especially in the summer.

If your teen is home this summer, they want to be out of the house and away from you as much as they can. If they aren't working full-time or otherwise engaged 40 hours a week, they have become completely nocturnal. They sleep all day, and are awake all night, free of your constant watch over them. All the more reason for you to figure out a way to check in on your teen to make sure they are snug as a bug in a rug. If you are one of the many parents I talk to who go to sleep by 10 PM, WAKE UP! If your teen knows that there won't be any kind of evening sniff test before bed, you are leaving the door wide open to regular intoxication. If your teen knows you are dead to the world, and they have made it home in time to kiss you goodnight and put you to bed, they may be ducking out after your bedtime. Neither of these scenarios are safe. If you have a partner, take turns. If you are a single parent, I am sorry you have no one to share this burden with, but for all of you. make sure that your teen always, without exception, checks in with you on arrival back home, even if it means waking you up. Also drink a lot of water before you go to bed, so you will have to pee several times a night, thereby having an excuse to do a bed check. And finally, if you have a teen who is sleeping out at friends, more nights than he/she is sleeping home, there is cause for worry. He/she has probably found a house with little supervision. Not good. You want your teen to have a wonderful summer, but you want it to be a safe one. You can catch up on your sleep when they are 18 and off to college!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

First Love

Finally a music video you can watch with your teen without blushing. My good friend directed this, and I think it's worth sharing with you and with your teen. No advice really. It's summer, school is out and this made me smile.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

To Buy Or Not To Buy A Smartphone

A Parent writes:

My soon to be freshman son is DYING for an iphone.  My issue is it will become too addictive for him...twitter, facebook and who knows what else. He uses his computer in the family room at home and often uses my iphone while we're driving. His tutor suggested to me that he have a smartphone for high school as teachers will text or email during the day which books to bring to class and coaches do the same thing with last minute instructions (really? sounds like lack of planning to me, and I have to accommodate that?) Also concerned with inappropriate content which I don't know whether you can sufficiently filter on an iphone. We were enjoying the beat to a new song last week,. I asked him if he had seen the new video. He googled it on my iphone while I drove, and the first link that came up was the unrated version. Basically same as clean version except  the girls are all naked! A good opportunity for conversation but really, I was a tad aghast and he seemed genuinely surprised as well, and his 19 year old brother was in the back seat cracking up hysterically. I don't have any filters on my phone though I see that I should. I'm considering rewarding him with the phone after first semester high school if academic goals are met, and usage hinges on academic goals.Of course he's the "only one" without a smartphone. Actually from what I see from his peers. he is one of the few holdouts.

First let me address the should I question. Schools are just not making it easy for parents to have much control these days when it comes to electronics. Teachers and coaches sending emails during the day to students? Don't even get me started. Talk about feeding into the addiction of checking emails a thousand times a day! But reality is reality. I think this parent has absolutely the right approach. If you are feeling like your teen is really at a disadvantage or fighting against the "everyone else has one" is getting harder and harder, than you're only saving grace is to enforce very strict usage, and try not to let the addictive nature get the best of your child.  The good news is that if it's abused, you can always take it away, and just give them back their basic phone. However, this means that you need to be a VERY consistent and on-top of it kind of parent.

I do think fancy phones should be tied to effort. I'm not so much a grade person, but effort means doing homework, studying for tests, and getting projects in on time. These things are easily monitored by asking teachers for regular reports. Don't wait for mid-semester warnings to come out. Check in with each of your teen's teachers monthly. Immediate consequences are the ones that work the best. Phones should be given/taken during a 2 hour non-usage time every single day!!!!! This is to give teens the experience of quiet time whether for homework, TV with you, reflection, or studying their navel.

Be your teen's app guru. Everything come through you. You should be the gatekeeper of downloads. Do not give your teen apple ID, or pass code to download...ever!  Teen must also give you password to unlock phone. No password, no phone, it is as simple as that. You will still need to be monitoring what and how they are using the phone.

And finally here is an article that provides the apps that give parental controls on your teens phones. Use them!!!,2817,2407509,00.asp

Thursday, June 20, 2013

" I'll Do It!!!! Just Leave Me Alone!"

Zits Cartoon for Jun/19/2013

No kid wants to do their chores. Honestly I really don't know anyone who gets kick-ass exited to mow the lawn, take out the trash, bring down their laundry. Hell, I don't even like to do those chores. It's only when there is that tipping point, when if I leave whatever for one more day that I begin to feel really really bad about myself. And I am an adult.

So your first weapon in combatting the chore blues is to anticipate the struggle it's going to take. Your second weapon is to have a plan in your head that outlines, the number of times you are willing to ask before you just do it yourself, and then the consequence for your teen for not doing it.

There are two variations that I think are effective:

Plan 1

Keep your "asks" to three. All Teens need to be reminded, that is normal. After the 3rd ask you stop asking. And when your teen comes to you next for a ride, money laundry, help with homework, a special snack, etc, you say:" Gee honey, I would love to, let me know when you have done X and I'll get right on it. 

Plan 2

Again keep your asks to three. Then just do it yourself. And when your teen comes asking for any of those favors, you say, You know honey, I would have, but I asked you three times to do X and you chose not to help me out. So sorry, now I choose not to help you out today. 

Nagging is no fun, and almost never works anyway.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Power Of Understanding

Do you ever wonder why your teen's eyes roll back in their head every time you offer an opinion or think you have the answers to all of their problems. Most assuredly you are probably right! But unless you figure out a more effective way to deliver your message than " well you know honey, here is what I would do, and then blah blah blah,"you will undoubtedly walk away from these encounters unhappy.

Before you offer up your opinion, your teen has to first feel that you really do understand what they are dealing with. So for example, if your teen comes back from a practice and rants on and on about the coach and how he/she is an asshole, and never gives them any play, and is so mean and they want to quit, you have several ways to respond. You can say" You are not quitting, you are part of the team, and this is the way it is, suck it up!" Or you could say, " you know what honey, that guy really is an asshole, want me to give him/her a call and see if I can get him/her to give you more playtime." Or you could say, " you know honey, I think you should go up to the coach after practice, and let him know that you feel that he is not giving you enough play, and if he/she is having a problem with you, just let you know so you can work on it." All three of these responses indicate that you know better, and that you have the solution to the problem. While any one of these might take care of the problem, the response from your teen will probably be more like, " NO that's stupid, you don't understand, that's ridiculous, see that's why I never tell you anything.!" And so now you are hurt and mad at them because they think you are stupid, so instead of a warm fuzzy moment, you both stomp away completely unsatisfied with each other. 

Here is an alternative that works literally in every situation. It is what I call an " I get it" moment. I believe in it so much that I actually wrote an entire book about it. (I Get It: Three Magic Words For Parents Of Teens available on my website) Who doesn't want to be understood? We all do. There really is nothing more powerful then when someone "gets you". So in the above situation, rather than offering up an instant solution, you might start with an " I get how this feels really unfair. I get sitting on the bench sucks. What do you think is going on with the coach?"  This approach takes a lot longer, but your teen needs to learn how to process feelings and turn them into action him or herself.  If you give a solution they will tell you that you are stupid, I can almost guarantee it. But if you try to get them to solve the problem, you come out smelling like a rose.

These I get it moments work when your teen breaks curfew or doesn't do their homework, or gets disrespectful towards you, or doesn't take out the garbage, or screams at his/her younger siblings. Literally anywhere anyhow. " I get your brother can be a pain in the ass lets......" rather than "if you hit your brother one more time I'm taking away your phone, your computer..." " I get taking out the garbage is the absolutely last thing you want to be doing, lets figure out...." rather than" I am sick and tired of asking you to take out the garbage, you are lazy and ungrateful." I get you get caught up with your friends and lose track of the time, lets figure out a way...." rather than, you're grounded, I am sick of your excuses. "I get you are pissed off at me, and hate me sometimes, how can we do better?" rather than don't you ever talk to me that way again, I'm taking away your phone!

If you were a teenager which statement would encourage you to talk?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Things Teens Do

  • Love their friends more than they love you, at least temporarily
  • Love their friends more than they like school, at least temporarily
  • Talk back
  • Not talk at all
  • Think they know everything
  • Think you know nothing
  • Think they are always right
  • Think you are never right
  • Have a messy room
  • "Forget" to do their chores
  • Go places and not tell you with whom, where or when they will be home
  • Get in car accidents
  • Run out of gas
  • Have friends drive with them even though they're not allowed to
  • Maybe drink
  • Maybe smoke some weed
  • Maybe have sex of some kind
  • Want to go to parties, especially at houses where the parents aren't home or are clueless
  • Sneak out at night
  • Lie
  • Appear lazy and unmotivated
  • Never want to spend time with the family
  • Is mean to their younger brothers and sisters
  • Argues and picks fights
  • Is sarcastic and can be mean
  • Are funny
  • Are sweet
  • Are loving 
  • Are kind
  • Are passionate
Sound familiar? These are all normal testing behaviors of teenagers. Having any or all of these behaviors does not make your teen a sociopath or a bad kid, just a kid who's learning about the world, what it has to offer, and what kinds of consequences there are when you act that way. 

Don't be too accepting and don't be too critical.  There is some nice space in the middle, understanding what's within the "normal" but still making kids accountable.

I was playing solitaire on my smartphone last night. Yes, I do have one! I thought the game was over. I couldn't find any more moves and was about to close it out. My eye caught that one move that changed the whole game, and I won!! Life with a teen is kinda like that. It might seem that you can't take anymore, and then something shifts, and you can finish and move on. You gotta have patience. I'm still learning that!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Is Your Teen A Good Problem Solver?

I read an article recently on how toddlers learn, doing research for the Child Development Course I teach.  I know your kids are teens, but bear with me, there is a surprising connection here. A researcher from MIT conducted a study with 100 preschoolers. The experiment was as follows. Each toddler was presented with a toy that had multiple functions. One group of toddlers were shown one function of how this toy worked by a research assistant, then were left to their own devices to explore the toy. The other group of toddlers were given the toy with no instruction, and were left to their own devices to explore this toy.

The toddlers who were given some instruction, played with the toy in that one way, then got bored and stopped playing with it altogether. The group who was given no instruction, not only played with it longer, but through trial and error discovered the different ways this toy could be used. Simply put when direction was given,  there was no exploration. When no direction was given, there was much exploration. I don't know about you, but I think that developing problem solving skills is the main event of childhood and adolescence. It is what helps to develop confidence, and curiosity. Developing a personal identity requires it as does thriving in our new complicated world.

The term "helicopter parent" has been popularized of late, referring to parents who hover over their teens, involving themselves in all aspects of their teens life. Your choice as a parent is to either stand on the side lines and let your kids play the game of life, providing assistance when asked or needed versus getting in there with them and telling them how to play, what moves to make, and how to make those moves.

Like those toddlers who without instruction figured out how this somewhat complicated toy worked, your teens are driven to figure out their "toy" as well. If you figure it out for them, then they will grow to depend on you to always figure it out for them. This does not make for a healthy adult. I don't know about you, but hiring someone or marrying someone who hasn't learned how to problem solve might be a tough sell.

Some parents thrive on being the problem solver, the director of their kids lives. You are not being fired, just given a lateral move. Think of yourself as their consultant instead. The hours are way more flexible and now you have some time for yourself. Its all good.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Teens And The HPV vaccine

Thank you Michael Douglas for putting front and center a public health issue everyone is too embarrassed to talk about. I was at an event last week right after this story came out, and everyone at the table was having fun with the freedom to now use the word cunnilingus in public! Even my spell check for my blog is too repressed to give me the correct spelling!

Ok, I know everyone is making faces, and wondering why I have to use that word and what does it have to do with your teenagers. Big reveal here: Teens have oral sex. A lot of it apparently, at least that's what teens talk about in their texts and tweets. Teens engage in oral sex because for some reason they don't think it's sex. Seems like a pretty intimate act to me.

It's mostly a one way street, girls performing oral sex on boys. Sometimes it's because she wants the boy to like her, and maybe become her boyfriend, so sh offers up the service. Sometimes she might  have been pressured by a boy to make good on a promise she made in a sext or tweet to him, and sometimes it's because she doesn't know how to say no and get herself out of an awkward situation, while saving face (literally and figuratively).

Regardless of the why, girls and boys are engaging in oral sex, and the HPV vaccine can protect these boys and girls from getting a the virus, and sharing it back and forth, or worse, throat cancer. Many years ago, when I still saw teens in therapy, I was shocked at how many of the teen girls I saw, who were engaging in sex, had cervical HPV. I spent hours listening to these girls worries and fears about their sexual and health futures after having to go for cervical procedures to treat the virus, and remove pre-cancerous cell. This was before the HPV vaccine had been developed. Oh how I wish these girls had that available to them.

Your teens will become sexually active at some point. Some earlier than later. Maybe your teen will be open and honest or maybe they won't, fearing your judgement and disappointment in them. Many of the parents I see for coaching are caught totally by surprise when they find out their teen is sexually active, usually by reading a facebook message left open on the computer, or texts read on their phone. It is shocking, no doubt about it, when you imagine that your teen is fooling around in ways that seem outrageous. Engaging in some sort of sexual activity with a boy/girlfriend may still be unwanted but not surprising. Finding out that your teen is just "hooking up" is something altogether different. Either way, it's gonna happen sometime, and better for your teen to be protected from a virus that could impact their future, seems smart.

The birds and the bees conversation has gotten WAY more complicated. Discussing intimate sexual acts with your teen is embarrassing and uncomfortable, but you gotta do it. No one, and certainly your kids expects that this will be an easy conversation to have. You can always start by saying: "I'm embarrassed and uncomfortable having this conversation with you, and I know you are too, but it's too important to avoid. I get at some point you are gonna be fooling around. It's hard for me to imagine, but that's my problem not yours. It's all supposed to happen, but I just want to make sure that you do it with safety."

If you haven't already agreed to get the vaccine for your teen, this would be a good time to explain what it is, why it's important that they get it. Just like they got a measles or mumps vaccine. It protects them from their present and their future. In no way are you saying, YAY go forth and fool around. You are acknowledging that at some point in their life they will be sexual active, and this will protect them for life.

The Boston Globe cited this statistic: only 2/3 of Massachusetts girls ages 13-17 have received one dose of the HPV virus and just 47% have received all three doses required to give full protection. For boys, the rates are lower.

As parents we are always wanting to protect and keep our kids safe. This is just another step in that direction.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

High School And The Future

I've been reading the actress/comedian/writer/producer Mindy Kaling's book called Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?   It's not only hilarious, but full of great life lessons, albeit funny ones, especially for teens. She captures so brilliantly the hyper-self-consciousness that is a such a presence in a teen's life, and also the drama that teens experience.  You know when your teen experiences a humiliation, betrayal, or exclusion, that it feels to them literally like the end of the world. Here's what Mindy says about that:

"Teenage girls, please don't worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school, or the best athlete. Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life. What I've noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also a big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it's so wonderfully fair. 
    I just want ambitious teenagers to know it is totally fine to be quiet, observant kids. Besides being a delight to your parents, you will find you have plenty of time later to catch up."

She talks about what it's like being a girl, well because she's a girl, but these life lessons are not gender specific. The high school experience is just a moment a time. It's not only a good lesson for your teens, but it's also a really good lesson for parents. The most important years of your teen's life are yet to come. High school is NOT the defining moment. Your teen might not know that, but you should!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

You Are Sooo Pretty: Messages We Send Our Girls

I read a blog this morning and it really resonated with me. Though it addresses very young girls, kindergartners, it is completely applicable to teen girls as well. Here is the gist. How often is the first thing we say when our daughters come down to go to school in the morning, or when we greet a teen (or for that matter adult women) girl, maybe a niece, or our best friends daughter: "Oh honey you look beautiful, or pretty, or thin, or hot etc. Why is the first thing we complement our girls on is how they look? It's no wonder we have an obsessed population of teen girls who over worry about their "hot factor" Reading this blog, I could weep for the years of focusing on girls beauty first, and brains second. I am so guilty of doing this, and I don't really know why. Why is our self-esteem so tied to our looks? Can we change? Can we offer our daughters something different? Food for thought.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What Teens Really Think About Facebook

Pew research did a study recently on teens and facebook. Big news, it's getting b-o-r-i-n-g!!!!! I could have told them that a long time ago. I just don't get the same buzz anymore.

 That doesn't mean that your teen will spend any less time on it, it just doesn't feed the "new is better" addiction. According to the study: "Teens are migrating to Twitter and Instagram, which teens say offer a parent-free place where they can better express themselves. Eleven percent of teens surveyed had Instagram accounts, while the number of teen Twitter users climbed from 16 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2012."

Hmmm, what does: "better express themselves" really mean? Just giving you a heads up. Facebook might be their "safe for parent viewing" to get you off the trail. Maybe they are not posting much these days, just keeping up with their post-ers, and putting their more "creative communication onto twitter!

Just FYI

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Survival Tips

Yay...summer is almost here. Some of your teens may be shipped out to various camps, programs, far-away islands, and you will all be enjoying a little break from the trials and tribulations of daily teen life. However, many of you are looking at 8 weeks of "what are you going to do all day?" conversations. If you do not have a teen who has found a job, internship or volunteer gig, here are some ideas on how to keep your teen from turning into a video gaming, jersey shore watching, shopaholic, comatose during the day, but strangely energized come sundown person.

1. All teens need money to survive during the summer. Those nightly jaunts into town, to the mall, or out to dinner with friends all cost money. Pair money to gym workouts, book reading. As in, "I get you need money when you go out with your friends. Here is the deal, you can earn money for your hangs by getting off the couch. Every time you hit the gym, you earn some cash. When I see you reading for an hour, you get some cash. When you actually do some stuff around the house, ie laundry, cleaning your room, making your bed etc, you get some cash. Should you choose to just sit around the house all  day, no cash. Of course you can always find a job, internship, volunteer something,which I would love to help you with, but I cannot support you being on the computer, facebooking, playing video games and watching tv all day. That's the deal."

2. For those of you who have video game addicts. These guys are looking at the summer as an orgy of game playing. If they are not involved in any activities, jobs, etc you are looking at the potential of your son playing for 12 hours a day. NOT GOOD!!! Get a device for your device that can be programmed for finite amount of use. Your teen can earn video game play by exchanging other activity participation. Like above, book reading, exercise, internship, lawn work, be creative. But DO NOT let your teen play video games all day and night. Come September, you will have a full-fledged addict!

3. Summertime does mean more free time with friends. Weather is warm, outdoor partying is the preferred option. Make sure you continue to talk about safety with drug and alcohol use, and sex. There is just more opportunity to participate in all of it. And now that weekday nights are free and clear from homework obligations, there is that much more to fill the days and nights. Use this system to help set expectations that are mutually agreeable. It will make for a much nicer summer for all.

A four question example:

Teen asks: "What time do I have to be home tonight?
Parent asks: What time do you think you should be home?

Kid states a time. Lets say 11:00 PM
Parent asks: What do you think I will be worried about if I say yes to 11. This is your teen's opportunity to say out loud any of the dangers that in fact you do worry about.

Parent asks: Yes those issues do worry me, what is your plan to make me feel OK, that you will stay safe?
Teen needs to offer up a plan for safety around drugs and alcohol and other safety issues curfew times, keeping you in the loop throughout the night etc.  that hopefully he/she stated in the worry question.

Parent asks: What will the consequence be if you don't follow through on your plan?
Teen needs to put a consequence in place so that if he/she fails to follow though on the plan, a consequence is ready to go.

Engaging your teen in this process of taking responsibility for behavior makes for a calmer summer. They want more freedom, and you are giving them the opportunity to take ownership. This does not in anyway give them carte blanche to go and do whatever they want. Sometimes the plan is just not good enough, perhaps it is too unsafe, or just not practical. No will still mean no when you need it to.