Thursday, June 26, 2014

Confession Of A Teenage Liar

Teen X is a 17 year old female who will remain anonymous to protect her identity. She is a liar. She lies to her parents on a regular basis about many things. She loves her parents, but they have many rules which she thinks are stupid. She is not "allowed" to drive over 55 MPH. She is not "allowed" to drink. She is not "allowed" to go on sleepovers. She is not "allowed" to have sex with her boyfriend. Because her parents have made these rules very clear, teen X feels it's a waste of time to talk with her parents about the rules or anything else for that matter. Teen X feels her hands are tied. She would like to talk to her mom about sex, about drinking, about her friends, but feels that if she does, they will think she has "broken" the rules and will pay a consequence for her honesty. So for help and support she goes only to her friends, who she trusts. Unfortunately, she only gets a teenagers view of life without any adult perspective.

Teen X has learned how to play the game. She had a choice. She could have tried to argue, negotiate and explain her point of view and risked the consequences of grounding, having her car or phone taken away. Living in a house where she is always fighting with her parents and that feels like a constant war zone, did not fel like an option.  Instead, teen X has chosen the alternate route of lying. She is a damn good liar too. Her parents are completely clueless, and actually brag to to other parents about how obedient their daughter is by saying "see if you just make the rules, and stick to them, your teen will follow them," her parents boast.

So teen X hangs with her boyfriend, and has sex with her boyfriend. Her parents don't even know she has a boyfriend. Her best friend's house has been deemed as the one "safe house" for a sleepover, so teen X tells her parents she is sleeping over HER house, but instead stays with her boyfriend or other homes not sanctioned by her parents where copious amounts of unsupervised alcohol and drug use take place. Teen X does not drive 55 MPH ever, except in places where you are supposed to driving 35 MPH. Teen X's parents think they have the "perfect daughter"

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Teens And The Big "P": Puberty Is A Bitch

If you haven't already seen this viral video, stop reading right now and watch it!!! And then watch it again, and watch it with your daughter again. Great for ages 10 and up! Girls get their periods early these days. Don't you be unprepared, and don't let your daughter be unprepared. Have a good laugh! And don't expect that the flood gates will open and your teen will be so thankful to you for understanding!!!! Probably she'll cover her eyes, turn beat red with embarrassment, and run for her room. And let her. It just might take some time and distance from it to be able to talk about it. But she will if you will. Who knows, maybe she will want to talk right then, but don't be offended, worried or otherwise anxious that you did the wrong thing if she doesn't. Sometime, maybe later in the day, in the car, on an errand, you might say: "oh my god, just had a visual of bobbing for ovaries!!! That was such a crazy video, what did you think was the funniest?" Get a good laugh going, and then maybe share your own puberty story. Oh yes, we all have a story. I hadn't thought of mine literally until I watched this video. And it happened, I am embarrassed to say....50 years ago. But honestly, it feels like it happened yesterday...seriously.

So I was at my first sleep over camp experience, I was going into 5th grade. I hated it! Towards the end of the torturous 8 weeks, the head counselor Rayna (and yes that is her real name,and though sometimes I can't remember my husband's name, her name was totally avail in my unconscious.) So Rayna takes me aside one day, and with her arm around me says: You know Joani, when you get home from camp I think you should talk to your mother about buying you a training bra. Your breasts are starting to develop and they are showing through your tee shirts!" I....WAS......MORTIFIED. Breasts! Don't talk to me about that! And maybe she said something to my mom, because as soon as I got home from camp, off to the bra department we went, for my little stretch training bra. Which of course I refused to wear because NO ONE ELSE had one.

And that right there is the theme of puberty. Whether you are a girl like me who got those cute little breast buds before anyone else, or like the girl in the video that was the last to get her period, or the boy who is called the "jolly green giant" in fifth grade because he towers over all his peers, all young teens have their "lightening rod." The change that is or is not happening and that they think everyone around them notices and cares about. That is the teen brain for you. That new sense of everybody is looking at me, and this stupid body of  mine. It is torture!

So use this video to acknowledge how hard this all is to have a body you can't control and you can't predict. Don't minimize with a "don't worry it will all turn out OK." cause honestly maybe it won't. MY boobs just continued to grow out of control. My tiny boob envy still haunts me today as I watch those with tiny boobs wear beautiful strapless dresses, or carefree tiny tee shirts. Not me, not ever! Be in their moment with them, and a "I get how hard this is to have your body do things you don't like." Some days will feel worst than others, and the good news is that some days you won't think about it at all!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why Is My Teen Such A Couch Potato?

Recently I have had a number of coaching sessions with parents concerned with what I call the "missing child syndrome." The teen isn't actually missing missing, but spends so much time closeted off in their bedroom cave watching movies, TV, playing video games or hanging out on any and all social networks sites,  that it begins to feel that it's time to put up a missing child poster.

This becomes the most problematic on the weekends and now that it is summer, when there is an excess of unstructured time, and fewer activities. For younger teens, the pre-drivers, weekends and summer vacation can be quite anxiety provoking. What will I do? Who will I do it with? What if no one wants to do anything with me? There is a transition that occurs for kids in 8th and 9th grade. At this point some of the kids they have been friendly with, may have moved on into having a more active social life that includes meeting up at malls, parks, town centers or basements in co-ed groups. Your teen may have been left behind, not feeling ready or interested in some of the experimentation and activities of these marauding groups of kids. (and amen to that!)  So if their usual posse of friends are now unavailable to them, it leaves them potentially feeling lonely, abandoned and loserish. The computer becomes their weekend date; familiar, comforting, always available, and will always do what they want to do. I get it!!!  Hanging out with the family during this weekend time, only reinforces what they are already feeling, so avoiding you at all cost helps them save face.

Here is how you can help. First of all teens do not do well with planning ahead. That's just the way it is. Mostly its because they really don't know what it is they should do. In elementary school having a "playdate" was a no-brainer. A friend came over, you played games or dolls, or legos or watched a movie. Done! Now there are fewer options, you actually have to talk to each other, and where are you going to go and what are you going to do? So when they do feel bored on a Saturday afternoon and want to do something, the insecurity of calling someone and potentially being rebuffed because the person they want to call probably already has plans becomes a deterrent to calling anyone, and the avoidance helps them save face by thinking, "I just want to veg out by myself anyway."

 Do not at this point lecture them about waiting till the last minute. This just confirms they are a loser.  What you can do is say to your teen, "I have to do X on Saturday, I can drop you and a friend at X while I do my thing, and then pick you up later. Why don't you ask X when you see him/her at camp, your game.... (fill in the blank) and see if they want to go with you?" This accomplishes two goals. The first is that it gives your teen a real plan that they can go to a friend with that isn't at the last minute. Most kids won't have their plans for Saturday yet, and asking them in person, takes away the worry about that potentially rejecting text or phone call. Secondly, you have understood that teens don't do planning well, and since it makes you nauseous to see your teen lying around for 18 hours watching a screen, helping them by offering up a plan takes them out of the bedroom, and out into the world.

This won't last forever. So even if they are home, the good news is at least you know where they are. Soon enough the fight will be, why aren't you ever at home?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

File under: Teens Do The Craziest Things

The story below is about a bunch of teens, celebrating their high school graduation, who go out to the desert (they live in Nevada) and have a bonfire. They roll over a huge 55 gallon drum of diesel fuel. perhaps for some extra fireside seating.  As you can imagine, that didn't go well, as the drum ignited from the heat of the fire.  Seven teens were sent to the hospital for burns, no one was seriously hurt....thank god

Summer is here, and the crazy, stupid, and darndest things teens do will surprise you every time! Your job is to anticipate what some of these crazy stupid things might be, especially when booze and pot is present. With warm weather come parties in the woods, or on a beach. Please make sure that every single time your teen leaves the house to party with friends this summer, that you say: What's your plan for safety tonight. Every single time!!! Make them use that thinking brain of this, that goes into hiding when the awesomeness of some great partying plan takes them over. If they can't think of anything, prompt them with some scenarios that you think are likely. Starting sentences with: "What will you do if______________________. How will you stay safe." They WILL roll their eyes. They WILL think that you are being smothering and overprotective, But one of those safety plans just might be able to keep them safe. What's a little eyerolling!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

File Under: Things Teens Do That Make Their Parents Crazy

Zits Cartoon for Jun/12/2014

Zits Cartoon for Jun/11/2014

What is it with these teens anyway? How can they be so self-absorbed, and selfish? How many times have you found yourself saying to your teen: "I ask so little of you, you can't even do this one thing, after all the things I do for you, even just this one thing you can't do?????"

You are right when you say that it doesn't make sense. Cause it doesn't. How hard is it to put the lightbulb in the socket, or put the pot roast in the oven? Obviously not hard. It may be that it is your delivery system of expectations that isn't working. Notes, too easy to ignore, in-person requests, to easy to dismiss..."I'll do it!!!!!!!" But of course they don't. Why? Cause there is really no real motivation to do it. They don't really care about the pot roast, until of course it's dinnertime and they are STAARVING, and they get pissed at you for not having dinner ready!! "Hello, am I crazy, did I not ask you to turn on the pot roast so dinner would be ready!! Crazy making.

Find a delivery system that will work. Is it a text? Is it an alarm on their phone? Is it a denial of a ride request, money for the weekend, new outfit. As in "gee honey, I'd love to do, take, buy X for you, let me know when you put that lightbulb in your bathroom. But I will tell you what doesn't work, and that is the yelling, and the lecturing that they only think of themselves. The truth, they do only think about themselves....for now. Your son or daughter does not have a character flaw, you have not spoiled them (unless you have), they are in this moment of time, and they do need your help, just not the yelling kind.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


It's almost summer and your teen's normal sleep/wake cycle is heading for a shake-up! Your teens will stay up and  out 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 11, 2014

Why It's OK If Your Teen Doesn't Make The Honor Roll

First off, let me say that  not all kids are "A" students, nor should they be. Academic achievement is getting a bad rep.  Making honor roll every term, does not assure success as an adult. There are many very successful people who were high school or college drop outs whose "A's" came from their passions in other areas, but did not show up on their report cards. People like Peter Jennings, Rachel Ray, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey Chocolates, Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark cards. And the list goes on.(Google successful people who didn't graduate and you will be amazed at the list) This is not to say, you should not have high expectations of your kids. But they should be realistic expectations. If you have a son or daughter who is engaged fully in their life, with a passion like sports, or theater, or computers, or cartooning, or film making or is a budding musician who wants to spend every waking moment making music, that is a good thing. That drive and passion will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a non-academic interest they have many friends and an active social life. That too is a good thing and will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a passion, and friends, they have a job, that will translate to the real world in a meaningful way, And if they do well enough in school, and are actually interested in what they are learning, how amazing that is and how important that will be as they head out into a very complex and complicated world. Getting on honor roll to make you happy should not be the goal. Getting on honor roll because it is a goal they have for themselves is the real work.

Some years back I was doing some work for a prestigious private school. One weekend party binge was particularly upsetting to the school community. A student whose parents were away for the weekend, had a party at her house. The party got out of control, and hundreds of kids showed up at this house. Not only did they party hearty with alcohol, but these "A" students completely trashed this house, leaving no lampshade unturned. The damage to this beautiful house was beyond belief. How could these well-educated, smart, goal-driven kids do this? When the kids who were caught were asked, here is what they answered: " Our parents expect us to the "best little boys and girls" in the world. They want us to get good grades, be the best athlete or singer or actor or artist, be active in the school, do community service, do it all!" And we do! But guess what, trashing this house was our way of saying "f##k you, we are not perfect!

Your kids feel the pressure of your expectations, and because they love you want to please you. But of course there is a cost.  Parents, this is time for a reality check. Ask your successful grade A student why they get the grades.  If they say, "because I know it will make you happy", then give them an F, cause that is the wrong answer. If they answer "cause I really love school, and I love what I am learning," give them an "A", cause they deserve it. When your friends ask you,'Hey how is Sally doing?" and you answer by giving them a rundown of Sally's honor roll report card and SAT scores, give yourself an "F". If you answer by saying: "you know she seems really happy, has great friends, loves soccer, and seems to be enjoying her classes," give yourself an "A". Of course we take pride in ourselves when our kids do well, and feel disappointed and maybe even embarrassed when our kids don't do well. But truly, I would rather have a kid who struggles, but has a lot of other good things in their life besides academics that build their confidence and self-esteem, than a kid who feels pressure to strive for the A  and diminishes the joys of working hard and achievement to just get the job done.

When the final report cards come in this week. Whether you are elated or if you are disappointed, the question should be the same. "How have our expectations of you impacted this report card?" In the long run, the kids who become successful adults are the ones who have something in their life that motivates them, interests them, and gives them joy. But that shouldn't be you!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Teens Online Behavior-Strategies

Ipads, Iphones, Itouches, Ipods, I-yi-yi ...what is a parent to do? Actually parents can and should do a lot. Giving teens these devices is like giving crack to a crack addict. If a little is good, more is euphoric!! Teen do not have the ability to be disciplined about their use with these very addictive tools. As soon as that chime goes off to signify a text, a tweet, or an instagram post, the adrenalin rush is released and their thumbs move into position! That emotional part of the brain, which is in much higher activation during the teen years is poised to explode with awesomeness. All rational thought abandoned for the quick fix and "quick hit" of a 'Wass-Up!"

Get ready for the reality:

  • 50% of teens post their email address
  • 30 % of teens post their phone #
  • 59% of teens engage with strangers online
Here's what this means; access, access, access to their life by potential strangers. These may be friends of friends of friends of friends that they have "met" on instagram using their KIK profile. (see tip 60 in my book A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens.) This may be someone that no one in their circle actually knows or knows anything about, and can become the "love of their life" without every meeting. 33% of teens feel more accepted online than in real life. If you are teen who has felt "under-appreciated" by your friends, and haven't yet had the coveted boy or girlfriend, these "relationships" can be intoxicating. 1 out of 12 of these teens actually meets this stranger in real life. 

Here's what you can do: Make regular dates with your teen to go over their twitter followers, instagram followers, and facebook friends. You don't really have control over their making these connections, but having regular conversations with them like: "so how do you know X?" What kind of connection do you have with this person. Tell me what you know about them?" Not so much in nosy way, but in getting them to articulate and think about who these people are, and what it means to them to have strangers in on their life. You need to work really really hard not to be judgemental, condescending and critical. You want to engage them in discussion regularly about privacy, friendship and connection. 

  • 46% of teens DO NOT give their parents the password to their devices!!!
  • 53% of teens minimize or close the windows on whatever device they are on when parents walk by them
  • 50% of teens clear their history
  • 45% of teens WOULD change their online behavior if their parents WERE aware of what they are doing.
Here's what this means: Teens don't want parents to know what they are doing, because they know that what they are doing would probably be frowned on by their parents. There is no surprise here. What teenager ever in the history of the world, wanted their parents to know their business. NO TEENAGER!!! So this part I totally get. The problem is that past generations were not dealing with sexting, naked photos being passed around like candy, and bullying that turns into serious harassment with lifelong consequences. These are serious safety issues in play here. And parents need to at least have the information so they can help their teens make informed decisions. 

Here's what you can do: My book has 3 full chapters so this so I won't go into major detail here, but firstly and most importantly you ABSOLUTELY, NO EXCEPTION MUST HAVE ALL PASSWORDS TO ALL DEVICES....PERIOD. Don't buy the, "well this is private, and you can't have it reasoning. A phone is a privilege, not an entitlement. And with privilege come responsibility and rules. If a teen chooses not to buy into these rules, than they are choosing not to have a smartphone, ipad etc. It is realistic to assume that teens, with impulsive brains, don't think things through, make bad decisions and find themselves in situations that have the potential to change their life forever. Understanding that this isn't about good kids or bad kids, takes the judgement away. It is a reality of this stage of development. The word development itself implies change. 

Absolutely monitor their tweets, instagram, texts and facebook posts for content that is sexual, overly mean-spirited, and gives out too much information. Use these monitoring times with teens for discussion, not lecturing about safety.

The good news is that your kids would change their behavior if they felt you were on top of it, at least 45% of them.  I think many many teens feel that their parents are completely clueless about their online life. Get smarter!

  • 52% of teens have gotten into a fight online
  • 49% of teens have regretted what they have said online
  • 24% would know what to do if they saw cyberbulling happening on the screen in front of them
What this means: In the old days, if you had an issue with someone, you talked behind their back, or told them to their face. Done. It would all pretty much go-away as some new drama took center stage. Technology today and the impulsivity of the teenage brain make talking trash an art form. If one person can start a fight online publicly with someone, and can than add their 300 followers into the room, the fight becomes so much more rewarding. Now 301 people can weigh in with their opinions. Apps and sites that allow for anonymity just add fuel to the fire, like askfm, and yik yak. The app Snap Chat allows teens to say horrible things to someone, with the confidence that in 5 seconds there will be no record of this abuse, except in the brain of the teen on the receiving end.

Here's what you can do:
Monitor, monitor, monitor. Not just for what your teen is posting. But it can be useful to talk about what other people are posting as examples of the kinds of things you don't want to see. Again the way in which you have these discussions is the key to success. If you pontificate and lecture, you will lose the moment. Instead talk conversationally like this: "Wow, Scott was really harsh don't you think. it must feel so embarrassing for Tom for Scott to call him a "pussy" on twitter for everyone to see. Does anyone ever call kids on this. " What you want to do is open conversations that help your teen to see the feeling sides of the meanness that goes on on these sites. Emotions are what are missing from equation. It is a no-accountability way of living. It is your job put the feelings piece back into the equation. Saying something terrible to someone's face and experiencing the consequences of their reaction is a teaching moment. Texting and tweeting protects one from taking responsibility for their actions. Out of sight, out of mind!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Joani's book Event

 If any of you live in the NYC area, please join me tonight at the Barnes and Nobles at Lexington and 86th at 7 Pm for my book event. I would love to meet you. And if you have my book and are finding it helpful I would be forever grateful if you would write a review on Amazon. The best way I know to get this book into the hands of parents is through word of mouth. Thank you

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

Here is a question a parent gave me at the end of one of my seminars: What do you do when your child tells you about some risky behaviors that a friend of his/her is now engaging in and you know the friends parents? Is it different when you don't know the child's parents?

I actually get this question a lot, because I think the underlying thought is:"I would want a parent/friend to tell me if my teen was engaging in risky behaviors. First, if your teen is sharing this information with you, you have hit the jackpot. This means that your teen finds you worthy of his/her trust and thinks that you can help in situations they may feel stymied by. Your first and most important allegiance is to your teen and his/her safety. This is something worth protecting, because it means that you may be able to impact not only the safety of your teen but perhaps someone else's teen as well. If for example your teen comes to you with a story about drinking or a party, it is because they felt uncomfortable, and lacked the experience and strategy to deal with it in a way that left them feeling OK. They don't need your judgement they need your help. If you go right into "the lecture":  "You are not allowed to ever go to that house again, if I ever find out you have been drinking or taking drugs, you will be grounded, and I don't want you hanging out with those kids again." You can be assured that your teen will NEVER come to you again for help. If you immediately call the parent of the kid(s) who he/she has told you about, you can also be assured that your teen will NEVER come to you again for help.

Here is what you can do. First, commend your teen for coming to you in the first place. "I really am glad you can tell me this stuff, I know you are worried about your friend, the situation, and now we can figure out together what might be a good plan of action." Now comes the strategy session. Do not try to solve this for your teen, work on it as a collaboration. Come up with alternatives and scripts so they are prepared when this situation happens again....and it will, despite your warnings, punishments and threats.    Just by the nature of teen's experimental, and thrill seeking drives, situations that are risky will always be present in their lives. You can't protect them from the situations, but you can give them the information and strategy that will help them when they are in the thick of it. If they are worried about a friend, then help them figure out how they might be able to help that friend before you get on the phone and call the parent.

Your job is to keep your lines of communication open with your teen. If the situation is life-threatening, or threatening to others then this does require a call either to the parent directly or perhaps calling the school's guidance counselor and sharing the information with them. This way, the guidance counselor can call the parents and say that some concerned parents have shared some information I think you ought to know about  your teen's safety. Using the school as your go-between allows you to keep your teen out of the loop and protect your trust with him/her while still looking out for the safety of this other child.

If you are friendly with your teen's friend's parent, then you might also use a more indirect approach when having coffee with your friend: " So what do you think our kids are into? Do you think Joey is drinking or fooling around with pot, I just wonder what I would do if I found out?" Now at least you can open up a conversation about your worries, and perhaps get this parent on the same worry page as you, again without divulging any particulars that your teen has shared with you. Your goal for this conversation is to gently nudge this parent into becoming aware of possibilities. You may be sick of me saying this, but your relationship with your teen is THE MOST IMPORTANT goal. Helping him/her to stay safe, may help his/her friends to be safe as well.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Peer Pressure Is No Joke

I read an interesting article in the New York Times. Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions I love when articles confirm what I already know, but in a new way. It makes me feel so smart. This referenced a study that was done at Temple University looking at the effect on teens brains while they are making decisions when they are alone versus when they are with their friends. The experiment was so interesting. Ask a bunch of 14-18 year olds to do a simulated driving game for which they will be rewarded with cash if they finish in a certain time frame. Embedded in the game are choices to be made like running yellow lights to finish more quickly. However if you "crash" you get penalized and delayed.  Scores were compared with a group of college students and a group of young adults.  "Half of the time each person played alone, and half the time they were told that two same-sex friends who had accompanied them to the study were watching in the next room." The results, no change in game playing or risk-taking for college students and young adults when told about people watching their play, but for the teens they ran 40% more yellow lights and had 60% more crashes when they "believed" their friends were watching. Remember these "phantom friends" were not even in the room with them, they only believed that friends were watching. 

This is pretty powerful documentation of the effect of what we call "the imaginary audience", a term coined by Psychologist David Elkind that refers to the heightened sense of self-consciousness in teens. This occurs because of the newly developing and growing teenage brain that is working on overtime to make teens aware that not only do they have thoughts about themselves but that other people have thoughts about them. Think of this as opening night jitters that starts the second teens awaken and ends when they have posted their last facebook message of the day. What will I wear today, how will people see me? What will I say today, what will people think about what I am saying? and so on. The study supports the thinking that when your teen is on their own they are more likely to make responsible decisions (no imaginary audience) but give them a real or perceived audience and lets get on with the show! Because often times it is all for show, just like the teens in the study who took more risks when they thought their friends were watching. 

This would be a great article to read with your teen. Here is scientific documentation of all your worries. Let them know that you are not crazy, even the scientists can see that when you are with your friends you are more likely to put yourself in risky and potentially unsafe situations. Your job here is to use that power of understanding with your teen " I get how important it is to not embarrass yourself in front of your friends, but I know that sometimes you might make a different decision when you are alone than when you are hanging with your friends. Lets try to find some ways that you can both save face in front of your friends, but make sure that you are safe. This is the kind of conversation you might have every weekend just before your teen leaves the house. This is NOT something you can change about  your teen. It is literally chemistry, but you can make your teen aware of it and provide them with strategies, scripts and alternatives to keep them safe.