Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Dreaded Deadlines: College Apps

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A High School Senior Tells It Like It Is

Last year I saved an article from the Boston Globe that I wanted to write about. It is by a young woman who was a senior in High School at the time, who wrote this piece to give her perspective of the college application process, especially addressing parents of seniors. I would like to share her article with you. You might want to read it to your High School senior at dinner one night, and ask him/her if they agree, and if there is anything you might do to make their journey through this process any easier. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog "College Bound." This is a perfect companion piece.

So in the words of Laura Detwiler.......

"It's not just the nagging pressure of getting everything done in time. People want to know about my "top choice." Sure, I know plenty of kids who know exactly where they want to go and have that dream school that they've been hoping for since birth. But I don't have one school that screams "YES" every time I hear its name. I'm just not ready to make that commitment. Plus, it opens up a flood of heartbreak. Setting out dreams and aspirations about my top choice is as good as pinning myself to a target. The second that letter comes and its one of those notorious thin envelopes, you have to face everyone you've spoken to and own up to the fact that you didn't get in. Bull's eye-right in the gut.

I don't have a top choice; I don't want to discuss my top choice; I just want to be left alone. We seniors are vulnerable and raw under all this apathetic attitude we front. Don't get me wrong, I am pumped about college.  But that doesn't mean I'm not absolutely terrified. I don't want to talk about where I'm going or how much work I've done on my apps because every time I see that submit button I freak out and go watch  reruns of "The Office." I can't bear to think of being apart from my friends. I don't want to acknowledge that I won't be eating dinner with my family every night.

I'm scared, and I don't know how to handle it.  We all are. But preparing ourselves for college is something each of us has to do alone.Because when we actually get to this school, we're only going to have ourselves to rely on. That's a pretty big deal,  if you ask me. If you really want to be encouraging, ice cream will do just fine."

Below is a story I heard today on NPR. It was with a  specialist on college admissions with advice about what to include in a college essay, and even more importantly, what not to include: The 4 D's Death, Divorce, Disability or Disease. His words not mine. Great information.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The First Report Card Of The Year

Just like the first frost that appears on our last surviving plants on the deck announcing the end of summer, so do the first fall report cards appear, announcing another kind of reckoning. Parents hoping that this year will be better, easier, their teen another year older and wiser, having learned from last years lessons, open the envelope with trepidation and anticipation. Some glance quickly, scanning for standout grades in either direction, others take their time, each grade at a time, each comment at a time. Until...THE comment, THAT comment, that when parents read make their veins pop, and their hearts pound. " Johnny is a good student, BUT he is missing 3 homework assignments and because of that his grade is a C instead of a B.

For some parents this might be the first time they have seen this kind of report card from their teen. Perhaps in previous years their kid led a quieter, less social life than other kids, and studying hard and striving for good grades was their true mission. But what is this, where are the A's and B+'s they have grown accustomed to seeing? And then for some parents, who had been hoping for a fresh beginning, a new year full of promise, feel disappointed that its same old same old.

Though your first impulse might be to barge into your kids room, or start in on dealing with this as soon as they step into your car or into the house, I encourage you to take a moment, and take a deep and cleansing breath. You are probably feeling somewhat duped by your teen, having asked over and over and over again: "Did you finish your homework?", and the answer was "YES". You probably asked over and over, "did you make up those missing homework assignments? " And the answer was "YES!"
But here, in living proof is the evidence of that lie. You are storming.

Your kids are expecting the storm. They are primed and ready with excuses, and explanations, and promises for change. Consider this an opportunity to approach this in a new way. Rather than starting the conversation with: "This is what happens when you spend too much time on your phone, and on your computer and with your video games. In this house, schoolwork comes first!  Instead try this: "Hey honey lets go over your report card together. Let him/her read it out loud. After each grade and comment is read, say "so what do you think about what your teacher said and how she graded you?" Refrain and I know that this is really hard, but just let them talk. You might hear some complaining, some "its not my fault the teacher is mean",  and some denial, "I didn't know that was missing." The goal here is to use this report card not as an indictment on bad study habits but as a road map for moving forward.

Using an 'I get it" moment, you might say: "I get first terms are always hard. Getting back into a routine is hard after the summer, and I know keeping up with friends, and sports and all the stuff you like is important to you lets figure out a way for you to do both. If you don't put your teen on the defensive and focus more on I want you to feel successful, you will find them more willing to have a conversation with you, and figure out a plan of action.  This is not about the grades!!! This is about your kids mastering material and developing a curiosity for learning. And this goes for the kids who come home with the straight A report cards. If you focus on the "A" rather than, "I am so proud for all your hard work, and how much you learned this term," you have a kid who is motivated to learn because of the external motivator of making you happy, rather than the power of the learning itself.

Fall is a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can see that your teen has a really hard time settling in and developing good study habits. For kids 6th-9th grade, sometimes hiring a college student as a homework buddy/mentor can be very helpful. This is not a tutor, this is someone who grabs your kid, takes him to your library, helps him get his homework done, and then goes out for an ice cream. It reframes homework from being a lonely, isolating boring experience, to something more to look forward to. Hanging with someone cool, who helps them, and understands them. This also gets you out of the power struggle of getting them to settle down and finish their work. If you are worried that this homework thing is a chronic problem, make sure you communicate regularly with the teacher. E-mailing at the end of the week to find out about missing homework, gives you a leg up on the "I did it" avoidance technique many kids use. (Read post on the homework avoider for more suggestions).  The most important message is not to label your kid as lazy, or unmotivated, this does not change behavior. Providing them with motivation, structure, and understanding does.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Teen Party Out Of Control

This is a true story that a brave parent made public about her attempt to have a safe party for her teenage son. There are so so many lessons to be learned from this story.

I won't retell the story, this mom does a great job doing it for herself. So these lessons won't make much sense until you read the story.

Party Lessons

1. Just because you tell your teen no alcohol and drugs are allowed at the party, doesn't mean there won't BE any drugs and alcohol. And the only way you will know is if you are a presence.

2. Numbers are important. Never have more teens at your home than you can actively supervise. This mom is lucky no drunk teen fell into the pool. Your teen should have to provide you with a list, and entry to the party is always through the front door. Any other exits and entrances to the house should be closely monitored.

3. Teens will stash the booze earlier in the day in shrubs and bushes around the house, so they won't be seen carrying anything in.

4. Understand that teens are impulsive and incredibly motivated to party hearty. Respect for you and your home gets lost in the mayhem.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Its Only A Moment In Time

I was thinking about this the other day. Do you realize that the amount of time you have to enjoy your children is greater after age 18? Most of the years you will enjoy with your children are wayyyy after adolescence! This is important. So lets say that from ages 12-18 feel like the longest 6 years of your life. Your kid(s) challenge every fiber of your being and sanity. You fear for their life on a daily basis, you worry that a missed homework assignment, a bad quiz or test grade could change the outcome of their whole life because they won't get into the honor course or get into the college that you think will influence the rest of their life, or maybe for you it's your teen having friends that seem to have a bad influence on them, or that a boyfriend or girlfriend you dislike means that this will be who they marry. Or perhaps they are your wild child, and the term party hearty was invented just for them. Or maybe your teen is the shy one, and is home with you every weekend watching movies and sulking in their room. Whatever worries you have, they feel scary and huge and forever worries.

Here's the good news. Prior to adolescence you have instilled in your child all the good stuff. Your values, your models on how to treat people, and your love and confidence in them. This doesn't go away even if during Adolescence it looks and feels that way. It has just gone into their virtual hope chest, ready to be retrieved when their search for their own identity calms down.

Think of it this way. Life is like a  metaphorical buffet table. When your kids were young, you went up to the buffet and chose for them, having a sense of what you thought they might like. You chose your family favorites, and items that mimicked things they already liked. But one day, they decided it was time to go up to the buffet table by themselves, and were excited about all the items they had never seen or tasted before. Now, they want to try everything, even those "dishes" you thought they would NEVER like.

They have to try everything before they can settle on those things that they will hang onto for life. Believe me those old family favorites will be among them, as well as some things that are completely unique to their own tastes. And that's a good thing.

Once your kids hit their twenties, the hope chest opens, and their relationship with you changes yet again. All those "mistakes" of adolescence become the thanksgiving and holiday dinner table stories. "Remember that night when you and your friends ........" Let the laughter and reflection begin. Your teen will do some pretty stupid and scary things over the next few years, but trust me, it's only a moment in time!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

But I Wasn't Drinking!!!!

Here is a straight from the headlines story that all parents should use to talk with their teens. Erin is a 17 year old senior in high school, honor roll student and captain of her Volleyball team. On a Saturday night, Erin got a call from a friend who was drunk at a party and knew that she couldn't drive home. She asked Erin to come and get her. Erin arrived at the party to pick up her friend, just as the police had come after getting a call about this out of control party. Erin was arrested along with the other party guests. Police confirmed that Erin was "alcohol free" but regardless she was stripped of her volleyball captainship and was suspended from play for 5 games. This was devastating for Erin. She had only been helping out a friend. Unfortunately, the town in which Erin lives has a very strict, zero tolerance alcohol and drug policy especially for athletes. Being in the presence of drugs and alcohol is equal to being in possession of illegal substances, hence the severe consequences for Erin. Erin and her parents are suing the town.

This blog is not about fairness and what the town should or shouldn't do. It is a cautionary tale for parents to share with their kids. Sometimes the world is not "fair." For Erin, she was helping out a friend, clearly a responsible act, and her friend, knew it wasn't safe to drive, clearly a responsible act. Both teens were acting responsively, that much is clear. But Erin was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and she is now paying dearly for her act of friendship. Fair or not fair, isn't really helpful right now. Talk about this story with your teen. Make sure you both understand your school policies about drugs and alcohol. Let them know that you are always always always a good starting point when a decision has to made. If a situation like this presents itself for your teen, tell them they should be your first call, whether your teen is the drunk friend in this story, or the responsible friend. Promise to validate their act of responsibility, not punish it, and help them to figure out a strategy that is safe for everyone!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pot Brownies: The New School Snack

This recent story caught my eye. Just shows the creativity of today's youth! Who wants to sell drugs the old fashioned way, not in a baggie apparently, but in brownies baked in mom/dad's kitchen, using mom/dad's favorite baking dish, maybe even with the brownie mix bought to make for the kids who hang out at the house!

Teens are creative, you have to give them that. Because teens are often caught between feeling like an adult yet wanting to act like a child they find all kinds of ways to disguise and sneak what they know they are not supposed to have. So now its pot in brownies, and booze in gummi bears and jello, iced tea bottles, water bottles and energy drinks! Maybe parents will have to start tasting anything that comes in or leaves your house. "Hey, honey I'm dying of thirst, can I have a sip of your___________. And ooh, brownies, I want one!!

I guess the best you can do, is let your teen know that you know that pot and booze now comes in all shapes and sizes. That all this stuff really scares you, because when it doesn't look like what it is, then teens think it's not so bad. But booze, whether in red bull or iced tea is still brain altering as is pot in brownies. "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker,"has a double meaning when the candy is liquor!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

But Everybody Else Is Doing It/Has one!!!

Zits Cartoon for Sep/29/2013

This is two kinds of media blog today. Both this comic and this excerpt from a Louis CK appearance on David Letterman pretty much address this same issue, when your kids want to have or want to do what everyone has or does!

Sometimes it is completely OK to cave. I once coached a parent who had a no TV during the week rule. This was back a few years when the show "Greys Anatomy" was a new show. It seems that all the girls in this particular middle school were completely hooked on this show. Friday lunch talk after the Thursday night episode was these girls "water cooler" moment when they obsessively talked about "Mcdreamy" and all the other characters and their lives. This mom's daughter was completely out of the loop, and began to dread going to school on Fridays. ( I know this seems ridiculous, but being part of the group is about as important as it gets for middle-schoolers) This mom was holding firm in the no TV rule, and her daughter was furious. "How come it's OK with all the other parents but not with you?" And then came the TV is a distraction, stupid shows lecture. Which completely fell on deaf ears. I asked the mom, truly, what would be the big deal if her daughter watched this one show a week. If she could show that her homework was done, couldn't they make this an experience they could enjoy together. Mom thought about it, and realized that the good out weighed the bad, and caved.

So sometimes the bigger picture (this girl could feel a part of this group, and mom and daughter had a special night during the week when they shared something that was important to the the daughter.) These are conditions for a good cave.

But a bad cave, that's a different story. Are you being asked to allow your teen to do something you know is unsafe or unreasonable, and cave just because you don't like conflict, or you don't want your teen to be mad at you. This is an unhealthy cave. It gives your teen power and precedent. Not setting limits on cellphones and computers because your teen doesn't want you to is a bad cave. Allowing your teen to go somewhere that is unsupervised and potentially dangerous and unsafe is a bad cave.

Its important to know the difference!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Does Your Teenage Girl Covet A "thigh Gap"

What will teen girls think of next? A thigh gap, for people like me who had no idea what this could be, is an opening between one's thighs when they are squished together!  I guess when you are wearing tight jeans, and one stands with one's legs together, this mysterious thigh gap appears. For some reason, teen girls see this as a sign of skinniness which of course must mean prettiness!!! What a tortured life a teen girl lives these days. Can't you just see teen girls, changing for a gym class, standing around showing each other their "gaps?" And then off course for those girls with genetically imperfect thighs, now measured by a lack of gap, hide behind bathroom stall doors to change their clothes away from thigh prying eyes. I know this sounds beyond ridiculous, but  I'm guessing that for some girls this may trigger bouts of very restrictive dieting and exercise overload at the least, and anorexia at the worst.

Did you know that teen girls have invented the three types of prettiness. I wonder which "pretty" thigh gaps would fit into?

First we have "boy pretty." God do I totally get this one, cause I absolutely was not a "boy pretty" girl. This is the stunner, the hot girl, not necessarily classically beautiful, but has confidence in herself, her body and the way she puts it all out there. These are the girls that if they have it they flaunt it. I had a roommate in college who was definitely "boy pretty" She was tall, but not too tall, gorgeous smile, great posture, blond beautiful hair, knew how to put outfits together to her best advantage,and actually was very curvy, not skinny.  This woman walked into a room, and everyone, man, woman or child took notice.

Second we have "girl pretty." These are the girls who are really beautiful, but don't really know it. They aren't threatening because they still see themselves as just average. They downplay, may be  shy and completely unaware that they are beautiful. That's what makes them so alluring. Natural beauty, no confidence.

And finally we have "life pretty." This is most of us. These are the girls who, you know that when they get into their 20's will be in their prime, but as adolescents, it doesn't all fit together yet. The daughter of my friend, put herself in this category. So it sucks now, cause "life pretty" girls feel in a one down position. Maybe they are just too tall, or too short, or have not had the post puberty growth spurt and have the weight gain and wider hips that will all even out by the time they hit their 20's. They feel awkward and unattractive, and feel the lack of attention from the boys that the "girl and boy pretty" girls get without trying, whether they want it or not.

I was a "life pretty" girl. All my friends in middle and high school were boy/girl pretty. Hence I spent many Saturday nights alone, no prom dates, while my "pretty" friends all were with their boyfriends. It was tough, and I do remember feeling sad a lot of the time. But the good news is that when I hit my late teens, got away from my high school, developed an identity that was not governed by the fads and culture of the town I grew up in, I grew into a young woman with confidence, and maybe "OK pretty.

How we look as woman will always be important, that's just life. Your daughter has defined herself as some kind of pretty. Maybe she is confident and flaunts it, or maybe she is a bundle of self-consciousness, and constantly feels ugly; too fat, too thin, boobs too big, boobs too small, too tall, too short, kinky hair, hair that is too straight, mousy hair, too hairy, hates her nose, thinks her ears stick out too much, has bad skin. My daughter hated her knees! Go figure. There is not much you can do here except..accept. This is what she is feeling now, it won't be what she is feeling forever. Don't rebut everything she says about herself with a "but you are beautiful." She doesn't feel that way, and you're telling her that feels disingenuous to her.

She may show you how "unpretty" she feels by throwing her clothes around her room, especially those new $200 jeans you just bought her to "feel pretty", and now says she hates, and blames you for making her buy them. Don't pay attention to her actions, it's not about the clothes, it's how she is feeling inside. Don't argue with her, and tell her she is being ridiculous, or unappreciative, just go over to her, give her a hug, and say: " I get you're having a bad day, and feel like nothing looks good, I'm so sorry, how can I help?"  And then.... walk away from the room!!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why Teens Lie?

A parent wrote me recently with this question. I'm guessing it will be a familiar quandary.

Lying.  My daughter has been taking some expensive classes each weekend and my husband and I just discovered that she's skipped 2 of them. She said she really hates the classes but of course we're still dealing with the deceit and her whereabouts for the time she was supposed to be in class.  Since the classes were expensive we were thinking about having her pay for anything she wants for the rest of the year (Senior Prom dress, AP exams, dance competition fees, new track cleats, it really goes on and on) and/or moving the date she takes her driving test to the summer since she has betrayed our trust.  My husband wants to come down really hard here to illustrate how hurt we are by her lying and how unacceptable lying is to us.  Do you have any thoughts?

Kids are funny, aren't they? They are in constant request and promise mode. If you will buy me/pay for me to/take me... I promise I will do xyz, pleeeese!!! I dont' know what class exactly this daughter was taking, but I am sure the motivation came from another friend, or a fantasy she had about what class would be like. Unfortunately, teens base many of their decisions on fantasy and emotion. They imagine that if they join this team, take this modeling class or specialized training program all sorts of amazing things will happen for them. What they aren't imagining or anticipating is that there will be actual work involved and required seriousness by the instructor/coach. Maybe her best friend was doing it and she wanted to make sure that she wasn't missing out on something. Turns out, it wasn't fun, wasn't what she expected, got in the way of other opportunities, take your pick, and now what? She knows that if she tells her parents whe wants to quit, she will have to hear about "quitters" and money, and commitment and so on and so on. And her parents will be right, and that is the worst for any teen... a parent that is right. So what does any self-respecting teen do in this situation..LIE

Ah, if only they could get away with it. And this girl did for at least two of the classes. I know the parents are worried about what their daughter was doing instead, I'm guessing not much, hiding out at a friends' probably. So what to do, what to do. First I would want to know why the avoidance to talk to  parents beforehand. Lying is an avoidance technique, and if your teen is lying to avoid you than he/she is either worried about disappointing you or worried that you will just get mad and not listen. 

It is really important to understand what motivated the lying. Are you scary? Do you go right to the angry place? If so, your teen has little motivation to be honest. Unfortunately what they don't get is that lying makes everything that much worse; the disappointment, and the anger. In the above situation, I would actually calculate the amount of $$ of the missed classes and deduct that from future spending on non-essentials. That is an objective, non-emotional, right to the point, consequence. 

But as important is a calm conversation about what got in the way of her just coming to her parents and saying she didn't like the class. Parents this is an important time to share ownership of the lying. By literally saying, "what could we do differently to make it easier for you to come to us, so that you wouldn't feel you had to lie instead." Decision making is not a teens strong suit. They are impulsive, emotional and persuasive. It is really hard for a parent not to get drawn into their enthusiasm. I think one way to counter this unrealistic enthusism is to have your teen take shared ownership of a decision. For example, the next time this girl asks her parents to do something like this, with a possibility that down the line the teen might change her mind, is to have them share financial responsibility from the get go. If she doesn't have money saved, then an agreement to work it off doing projects of your choosing. This way if things go south, your teen has an investment in making it work. 

As for lying, I know how frustrating and disappointing this can be. But this doesn't change the essence of who your teen is. They care alot about what you think, and rather than feel your disappointment they will go to great lengths to avoid it. It doesn't make them bad, or ungrateful, just part of the normal trajectory of teen behavior. You won't like it, and you need to absolutely address it, but look at it as a problem to be solved rather than a characterization of who your teen is. 

There are different kinds of lies. Lies of avoidance like this story and lies for getting away with doing something you will say no to, and lies of shame. Teens are extremely motivated to do what they want to do, and go where they want to go, without parental interference. Even the "good" kids. Providing motivation for truth-telling is your greatest weapon!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Here's How Your Teen Uses Social Networking

Here's a survey that was done last year on teen's use of social networking and  their feelings about their parents snooping. 43% of teens said that they would change what they were doing online, if they thought their parents were monitoring!!! That is significant. I think the subtext of that is that your teens really do need your help with this stuff. Read through this survey, it's some interesting stuff!

Teen Internet Use
93% of teens ages 12-17 go online
69% of teens have their own computer
63% of teen internet users go online every day
27% of teens use their phone to get online
24% of teens with a game console use it to go online
Teen Social Networking Use
73% of teens are on a social network
The average teen has 201 Facebook friends
37% send messages to friends every day
8% of American teens use Twitter
What Teens do on Facebook
86% of social network-using teens comment on a friend's wall
83% comment on friends' pictures
66% send private messages to friends
58% send IM or text messages using the site
52% send group messages
What Else Happens on Facebook
55% of teens have given out personal info to someone they don’t know, including photos and physical descriptions
29% of teens have posted mean info, embarrassing photos or spread rumors about someone
29% have been stalked or contacted by a stranger or someone they don’t know
24% have had private or embarrassing info made public without their permission
22% have been cyberpranked
Parental Concerns and Controls
88% of parents know that their teens typically use the internet to communicate with people they don’t know in the offline world
61% of parents’ #1 concern with teen social networking is sharing personal information online
60% of adults think parents should have full control over everything a child does online
47% of parents admit that ensuring their teens are safe online can be overwhelming
40% of parents worry about their teen’s social network safety when online, even at home
34% of parents check their child’s social network sites
What Kids Think About Facebook Parental Controls
67% of teenagers say they know how to hide what they do online from parents
43% of teens say they would change their online behavior if they knew that their parents were watching them
39% think their online activity is private from everyone, including parents
38% would feel offended if they found out their parents were spying on them with Facebook parental controls
25% would be shocked and hurt if they found out about spying
20% of kids think their parents have no idea what they’re doing online
18% have created a private email address or separate social networking profile
10% have unlocked parental controls to disable filtering

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What To Do With A Messy Room

Zits Cartoon for Sep/20/2013

I think that the #1 complaint I hear from parents of teens is "My kid is such a slob!" Opening the door to your teen's room is like going down a black hole. Dirty laundry mixed with the clean, new (expensive) clothes stomped on, turned inside out, and looking unappreciated for the sacrifice you made in purchasing them. You thought it was too expensive, too short, too sexy, too much! You wonder how hard it could be to hang up their clothes, put their laundry away, bring the dirty glasses and plates into the kitchen, and generally live like the civilized human being you thought you have been raising.

 No matter what you suggest, no matter what you threaten (taking away the computer, the phone, their life) it all falls on deaf ears. You make deals, you cajole, you yell, and nothing seems to work. Every time you walk by that closed door, knowing what's inside, you get that pit in your stomach, and the veins in your neck stick out just a little more, and you feel helpless, and wonder how did it all come down to this. What happened to those days of yore, when all you had to do with your kid was ask, or threaten with no TV and the deed was done. Here is the disconnect: First, your kids could care less about their room. Their new developing brain is consumed with thoughts way more interesting, nerve-racking, anxiety producing, and exhilarating than the clothes on their floor. The idea may pop into their head, "Oh I'm supposed to clean my room", but it is fleeting, and a text, a face book post, or a great musical lyric that is pulsing through their IPOD distracts them.

First, take an honest look at their room. I visited a family recently where the room issue had become all consuming. When the dad opened the door to his son's room for an objective assessment, I was expecting the worst, but what I saw was a room that kinda looked like mine at home. Yes there were some clothes on various chairs and tables, and some shoes flung around, and the comforter was askew on the bed, but honestly, it wasn't that bad, and made me feel a little guilty about my own lack of neatness. (I ran home and cleaned my room) 

So first it is all about expectations. Are you a neat freak and want everyone to have the same standards you have for yourself? You may be setting yourself up for a fall. If though, the room really is over the top, crazy making chaos, then here are a few suggestions:  You can start a conversation with: "I get it, I know you are fine with the way your room is,  (try not to judge and be critical here) you and I have different standards, but it does make me crazy, can we figure something out so that we can both be ok? Maybe Sunday nights we do it together so at least the week can start out fresh." If your teen rejects that  approach,try this. " I get that keeping your room more organized is not that important to you, but it does make me crazy, so I just want to let you know that I will be coming in once a week to make sure that the ants, bedbugs, other crawling disgusting insects will be set free by ridding your room of trash, dirty laundry and food stuffs. 

Parents here is the thing about room cleaning, if it really bothers you, do it yourself!! This also makes you look good in your kids eyes since you won't be yelling at them anymore about it. You can now focus on other things to yell about, but the bigger payoff is that it gives you access to your kid's room. Just think that if the parents of the Columbine killers had spent a little more time in their kid's room they might have had a sense that something really bad was happening. Your kid's room holds a lot of clues to their mental health. Its not really just about being messy, but do you get a sense of depression, anxiety, chaos? That is way more important stuff than  the underwear on the floor. I worked with a parent once who made the leap to clean her son's room, and lying on the floor, out in full view was a poem he had written about his family. She sat down and cried. In this poem was a declaration and recognition of the love he had for his parents. In fact the poem was titled "I am from love I am from life" This mom and son had been at it for weeks over his room, his attitude, his everything, and here she  found this nugget of gold, that gave her new perspective on their relationship. Find a way to make the messy room work for you. Try to get them to take responsibility. If you are your teen's banker and chauffeur, you can always use these as bargaining tools. "I would love to give you a ride, as soon as you bring down your laundry or bring down the dishes caked with food" or "I would love to give you twenty bucks for going out with your friends as soon as you do X Y Z.  But if you see that their busy schedule, up at 6 am, work till 3, nap, shower, dinner, and out with friends bed truly doesn't allow much free time, especially to clean their room, than the gift of "I get it, you have a crazy schedule, you have a lot on your plate, I'll take care of this piece for you,"at least makes this power struggle go away. You are not giving in or giving up, but giving to!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Way Teens Learn: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Zits Cartoon for Sep/30/2013
  Parents of teen lecture series:

  • Don't drink and drive
  • Don't text and drive
  • Don't drink
  • Don't do drugs
  • Have safe sex
  • Don't have sex at all
  • If you don't do your homework, you will not be successful in life
  • Part of being part of a family is sharing responsibility: Empty the dishwasher
Here's what I love about this comic, and that I hope you take away from it. All those lectures really do make a difference, just not when your teen is in your presence. People learn through repetition. When your child was young and you were teaching them about manners, think about how many times you said after you gave them something, or someone else did: " Honey what do you say to Mrs Mcgillcuddy?"And your little cutie pie would say: "Thank you Mrs Mcgillicuddy!" You might have gone through this 10 times a day, 365 days of the year for two or three years, until this response become automatic for your child when it was called upon.

Teaching your teen to be safe or responsible or motivated, is absolutely no different. You can't just give a drinking and driving lecture, or safe sex lecture once, and think you've done your job. Every time your teen leaves to be with friends, it should be with a "so what's your plan to stay safe tonight, or a reminder to not drink and drive, or text and drive. They need to hear those messages over and over and over again, so that your voice literally lives in their head, just like Jeremy's parents do in the above comic. 

Besides the reminders, you still need to help them come up for a strategy for safety. Just saying don't do something is not a strategy. You need to have both, the reminder, AND the strategy. 

What parent lectures do you still carry in your head from your parents??

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Puberty Is Not Fun

Zits Cartoon for Sep/24/2013

Puberty can be devastatingly awful. It is a cruel twist of fate that just as a person is at the height of self-consciousness, their body turns on them. Perhaps your teen also has bad acne, or maybe your daughter is completely flat-chested or maybe buxom. Maybe your son is the shortest in his class, or maybe as a 5th grader he is the tallest and has facial hair to boot. Whatever it is, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you, it is a hugely big deal to them.

 David Elkind, the author of All Grown Up And No Place To Go  calls this "the lightening rod." I'm sure you had your own cross to bear when you think about yourself and your body during puberty. The problem for parents is that the way this plays out for your teen isn't always that obvious. They may not be walking around the house saying " I hate this or I hate that about my body." But what you get instead is the 2 minutes before they leave for school meltdown. " I have nothing to wear, you never buy me any clothes, I told you those jeans make me look fat, why did you let me buy them blues!

And because their ride is sitting in front of the house, or the bus is at the bus stop, you have your own meltdown, screaming at them that "they are ungrateful spoiled brats, having just spent $200 on clothes, or the dermatologist or you just did their laundry, if you would just put it all away" blues of your own! The truth of it is, it isn't about the jeans. It's that for some reason that morning they looked in the mirror and someone looked back that made them feel ill. It is really that simple. If you pay attention to their tantrum you will miss the real story.

So the next morning your teen throws a tantrum before school, or before a school dance or before they leave the house on a Friday night to hang out with friends, and you become the scapegoat for all that is wrong with their bodies, rather than getting sucked down the dark hole, just give them a hug, and say: 'I get your not feeling good about how you look tonight, is there anything I can do to help. " It won't make the acne go away, or the boobs shrink, or make them 6 feet tall, but at least someone "gets" that life just sucks sometime!