Thursday, February 26, 2015

Remembering When Your Teen Was Two

I just feel a need for a little lightness. Watching this video makes me smile. There is just not that much difference between your teen and his/her two year old self. Remember your fiercely independent, demanding, and self-involved toddler!

Adolescence is truly a reenactment of the terrible twos. The developmental issues are almost exactly the same. Two and three year olds have figured out that they are literally separate human beings,with the ability to think for themselves, and move around their world on their own, all brand new ideas. And with this realization comes a new found feeling of power and control. See just like your teen.

So when your teen's bossiness and narcissism grates on your nerves, just picture them in their car seat, being all cute and bossy, and remember that it is just a stage!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hey, Can I Have A Sleepover.....With My Boyfriend...In My Bed?

I received the following question from a blog follower:

What is your take on teens who are dating and one parent allows the boyfriend to sleep over in the same bed as the girlfriend? They have been dating for about 6 months and the girl just turned 18 about one month ago and is on birth control. The teens already say they are going to end their relationship over the summer before they go off to college.

I know, some of you of saying it's fine, they're 18, they're having sex anyway. What's the big deal. And others of you might be saying, that's crazy, they are in high school, this is my house, this is not a permanent relationship, I have other children in the home, absolutely not!!!!

Every family has different ideas about right and wrong, and what standards they expect their children to follow, so I'm not going to come down on either side. But I will address issues that should be part of any discussion with your teens about couple sleepovers.

First, no parent has the right to make decisions for any child that is not theirs. I have met with many parents whose teen has a boy/girlfriend, and where rules are different about supervision at each teen's home. If your teen is in a relationship, you have a right to voice your concern if you feel another parent is not providing your teen with the kind of supervision and safety that is important to you. In this situation, who knows whether the boy's parents know that these kids are spending the night canoodling together. Maybe the boys' parents think he is sleeping in the guest room. It is every parents right to have their input about these kinds of decisions. So there's that.

These kids are already most definitely having sex. That's their business. However, they have already decided that come the fall, they are off to separate colleges and break-up is inevitable. Allowing them to forge a very strong attachment when a difficult separation is ahead of them seems unwise. Going off to college is hard enough. Leaving a hometown relationship makes it even harder. The intimacy and closeness that is developed through overnights will make it excruciating. But these teens don't know that yet. All they know is that they want to spend as much time as they can with each other before they go their separate ways. Being boyfriend and girlfriend, and having regular sex is very different than going to bed spooning with your beloved and waking up in your lovers arms. This is a whole other level of emotional closeness. There is a difference between sneaking a special weekend away without your parents knowledge once or twice, (it does happen..really) and being regular bed mates. As adults, it is our job sometimes to anticipate the consequences that our children who don't have the life experience we have, can't. Teens see things in black and white. They will say things like: " we're having sex anyway, what's the difference if we have sleep overs together." The difference is, it is reinforcing a deeper connection between these two kids at a time and stage in their life where permanence or "long-term" is not a part of the equation.

Next, if you have other children in your home, especially younger children, these overnights in high school should be a no no. Seeing their sibling in a sexual in your face way can be upsetting and disturbing to younger children who don't have an understanding yet of sex, intimacy, and relationships. This is not a model you want your younger kids to aspire too.

And finally, how about your feelings? If you have no ambivalence about this issue,  and it's a NO, You're good. You feel clear when and if your teen engages you in this conversation. For those of you who have some ambivalence, take into account your own feelings. Would it make you feel uncomfortable having your teenage son or daughter in bed together in the next room? If it does, than pay attention to that gut feeling and say no. For those of you who feel OK about this, please really give your decision deep thought, and ask the question whether there is any possible long term negative emotional consequence of allowing this couple to spend the night. Your teens may be impulsive and act with passion, they need you for a bit longer to do the thinking through with them.

Once your kids leave for college, the game changes! Get ready!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sports Illustrated: Cover up Cover Girl

Ok first I just want to say I am not a prude. I may not have run out to see 50 Shades Of Gray, but I'm totally Ok with sex and sexy and see myself as pretty liberal in this department. But when I saw the Sports Illustrated cover this month I blanched. Beautiful woman in sexy bikini on cover of magazine. Ho hum. Beautiful woman in sexy bikini who is actively pulling down her bikini bottom in the most tantalizing and provocative way to the lowest pre-pubic hair point, Oy Vey!

Teen girls have it hard enough with boys pressuring them to show their hot body in a snap chat photo, but now boys have new ammunition. "You're just as hot as the model of Sports Illustrated, I bet you could take a picture just like that....ooh I'd much rather have a picture of you doing that, than some strange girl I don't know!"And if you are a teen girl, who likes this kind of attention from a boy she thinks is cute, why not go for it???

If you haven't seen the cover, you can google it, or click on this link. This is a great website that tries to counter the sexualized messages the media shares in abundance.

For the men and boys in your home who have bought the magazine, it's time for a talk. And for your girls, show them this cover and have a talk. Your teens don't need a lecture, they need an opportunity for discussion. Just saying what you think, is not going to get them to do their own thinking about this. And that really is what THEY need to do. They just need you to get the conversation going. Because of course you know that when they are oogling over this picture with their friends they will absolutely not be talking about the message this picture is sending, they will be talking about how hot this picture is, and this will be both boys and girls. So rather than lecturing, try asking some questions to get them thinking.

  • Why is sexy good?
  • What makes girls sexy?
  • Can sexy be something more than a hot body in a bikini?
  • What other qualities are important to you in a person other than sexy?
  • I get these kinds of photos give girls lots of attention, why does that feel good?
  • Are there other things in your life that give you attention that feel as good or even better than looking sexy?
  • Can you see any ways that these kinds of sexy photos could have unintended and unsafe consequences if you either got a girl to send you one, or you sent one to a boy?
  • What would you really think about that girl who sent you a photo like this, or what do you think boys would really think about you if you sent a picture like this?
I'm guessing there will be some eye-rolling here. But honestly teens don't have much opportunity to really think through these kinds of issues unless someone takes the time to engage with them about it. That would be you!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Teen Tweeting Troubles

Read and then we'll talk

Ah the unexpected consequences of trying to be funny. Social networking has turned us all into aspiring stand-up comedians. And it's not just teens!!! One important lesson though is you gotta know your audience!

"Nearly 80% of employers research job applicants and 70% have rejected candidates because of their online profile." Let the parent lectures begin!!!

If your teen is starting to think about getting a job or internships they need to beware. Or how about looking to become a camp counselor? Perhaps that camp director is social media savvy, and goes on your teen's twitter, or instragram. (you know how selective they are about friending people)  If your teen has been posting obscenity laden quips, sarcastic rants or drunken exploits or sexy pics, you better tell them that might not look so good to that pizza store owner or to a camp director, who is looking for a wholesome camp counselor. Or, how about that highly competitive internship, looking for Mr or Ms responsible? I don't think they want to read that "man I got wasted and ....."

Perhaps your teen is waiting to hear from colleges. This is a tough college market. And sometimes that decision might come down to what admission officers have found during their social media sleuthing!

This is definitely not something that is on your teen's radar. Someone has to put it there, and it is you!!! As Crosby Stills Nash and Young sing...."Teach, your children well."

You might have them read this article, and say: You  know honey,I get that posting outrageous stuff on your facebook, inststagram, etc is fun, and reading all your friends crazy stuff is also fun, but the reality is that it makes your life an open book to college admissions people, potential jobs and internship employers. I wouldn't want something silly like the stuff you put out there in internet world to get in the way of doing what you want. I think it's time to do some "housecleaning." As you go through all your postings, think like a potential boss, or admission counselor, and ask the question: "What impression am I getting about this student, employee from their sites?" You wouldn't want them to say:"wow this kid seems to party a lot, that would probably affect their ability to work, or they use a lot of foul language and sexually explicit language, they don't show much respect for woman or men, I wouldn't want them interacting with my staff, or they seem kind of sarcastic and mean" Help your teens to ask the right questions and send them on their way with a Mr Clean power eraser!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Is A Bad Day Just A Bad Day?

I have had a number of calls recently from parents worried about their teen, trying to figure out whether their teen is just having growing pains, or is in a real depression. Teens love to dump on their parents, giving them their most angry, their most sad, their most anxious and fearful feelings. This is the good news. Think of it as colic. When the bad stuff gets expelled, then sleep and peace can come...until the next time.

Teens are feeling their feelings in ways they have never experienced them before. The intensity comes from an adolescent brain that is over activated in the area responsible for emotion, and literally from having some of these feelings for the first time. Without experience and a history that would have given them a game plan to deal with these feelings that are overwhelming, they are vulnerable to feeling like they might never go away. The first break-up, a humiliation on a soccer field, or a stage, the embarrassment of doing something or saying something impulsively stupid in front of your peers, the disappointment that someone you like doesn't like you back, the worry that they are disappointing you in some way, or any one of a million other things can feel like a catastrophe.

So your kid comes to you in a rage, in a tantrum, sobbing uncontrollably and you feel helpless. But they are coming to you. Like a sponge, you absorb every drop of emotion. You can't sleep, you can't eat, you live with a pit in your stomach that your kid is in pain. But here is the thing, now that they have dumped it all on you and you have so graciously sopped it all up, they are free to go out and enjoy life again. Rinse and repeat!

When is it time to worry? The dumping is a good sign. The emotion is a good sign. They are working it out.  It may be hard on you, but at least they have an outlet. The worry should start, if they are not talking, isolating themselves, and really seem to have lost the up and down nature of teen life. Up and down is good. Staying down is not.  If you see your teen spending increasing amounts of time alone, in their room, avoiding family and friends, you might say something like this: " I have noticed recently that you seem more down than usual. You seem to be spending a lot of alone time in your room away from us and your friends. I get life can be complicated and difficult and sometimes overwhelming, and you might like just getting away from it all. I used to do that to sometimes. But I worry that you are not giving yourself a chance to talk about it. If you don't want to talk to us, I understand, maybe it would be helpful to talk to a counselor. I don't want to bug you, but I love you, and want you to work out what seems to be bothering you. I'll check back in with you in a few days, and we can talk about a plan." You will probably get a "leave me alone!" but don't let that deter you. Keep checking in, and letting them know that you are concerned. Eventually, you may just have to make an appointment and make them get in the car.

Seeing your teen be in pain is the worst. Giving them a safe haven to express it is a gift.

PS : If you have read my book and thought it was helpful, I would be so grateful if you would write a review on Amazon. Word of mouth is the best publicity!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

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!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Its For Your Own Good"

When my brother was in high school, he was "invited" to join the "chub club." Trust me this was not some sort of exclusive, invitation only, you must be so cool, club. This was a "we think you're fat" and need some help kind of club. The problem is that being singled out so publicly by your school was beyond humiliating, and showed a complete lack of understanding about the heightened self-consciousness of Adolescence. I thought this was a thing of the past. But this story I read today, shows that evidently this is not the case. Read and then we'll talk.

We are a weight-conscious culture. The good news is that we are trying to focus on being healthy, rather than on being thin, and we know that being overweight can cause a myriad of health problems. Getting our kids to understand that difference is a good goal. Communicating that message, especially to teens is a complicated one. As you know, having gone through your own bout of puberty, a teen may feel that their body is growing in ways that are completely out of their control. They see friends who grow long and lean while their body seems to do the opposite. They see friends able to eat their weight in junk food, not gaining an ounce, while a single chip sends their  weight soaring. Then to top it all off they have parents who may say things like: "Do you think you should be eating that?" Or "Haven't you had enough?' Further illustrating that they must be fat losers!

Talking about weight with your teen is really hard. Unless they are a super-confident kid and their weight causes them no issues, your teen probably feels worse and more worried than you are about their weight. It might be especially hard for them if you are a healthy eater, fitness buff, and look amazing. Knowing that your mom is "hotter" than you, or your dad is "ripped" and more fit than you can be a competition they feel they can't win.

So what do you do if you have a teen whose weight you can see is making them feel like sh*t? Maybe you see them hiding themselves in oversized clothes, or choosing to wear clothes their friends are wearing even if they are completely unflattering to their bodies. Maybe there is a tantrum every time they leave the house, with every bit of clothing on their bedroom floor, discarded because it makes them look "fat." You, standing on the other side of the door, knowing that if they just exercised more,  ate less, and ate healthier, could avoid this drama filled daily event.

Well, one thing you shouldn't do is to say those things out loud to your teen. Those kinds of lecturing comments tend to drive teens to do the opposite of what you are suggesting; eat more and eat bad!
What we can say is " I get how hard this weight thing is for you. It doesn't seem fair to see friends not have to deal with this issue at all, eating all they want, and still staying thin. It is so unfortunate that your genes don't work that way."

It's important to take the blame off your teen, you don't want to put them on the defensive. Give them an opportunity to give voice to their real feelings about this issue. Many kids who have a weight problem are uncomfortable doing exercise in public. They feel like people are looking at them and judging their weight, their ability. Maybe their face turns bright red when they exert themselves and they are embarrassed about that. (I sometimes love doing exercise programs on demand on my TV in the privacy of my own home!)Try asking them about that. "Tell me some things you don't like about exercising, and let's see what we can figure out would work for you" rather than, "if you just exercised more, you would feel better about yourself."

Trust me, no teen wants to have a weight issue. But it feels so hard for them to turn it around. Obviously, make sure you have healthy choices in your home. Having tubs of ice cream in the freezer, bottles of soda or fruit juice, chips and snacks, and cookies are just too tempting.

This is a tricky and emotionally laden issue for parents to navigate with their teens. They feel your judgement and disappointment, and their own self-consciousness with their peers. It's a double whammy. Help them to understand and appreciate their own uniqueness and help them to develop strategies that work for them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

So What?

These two words could be the most irritating words spoken by your teen. They refuse to do what you ask of them, or they flout some rule that you thought had been agreed upon, or the report card comes in the mail with less than stellar grades even though they had sworn up and down they had pulled their grades up.  You give then a consequence that you hope will mean something and teach them a lesson, so that the next time XYZ happens they will think first of the consequence that will be meted out, and not do the wrong thing. You hope and expect to hear anger and moans and groans. That at least means that you have "gotten" to them, and perhaps have taught them a lesson. But when you hear the "So what, who cares?" your well-laid plan goes off course. Your buttons get pushed, and off you go to the land of "argumentamia." Your teen has played the game well, and seemingly taken away all your power.

It may be that your teen responds in that way, because they know you, and know that the consequences you put into play are often forgotten about or reversed easily if a good argument can be made. Or perhaps they are just trying to goad you into a bigger argument, knowing how best to push your buttons. Or perhaps they really just don't care. I had a mom recently tell me of a situation with her 12 year old son whose attitude was out of control. At her wits end, she took away his X-box, expecting an instant apology and promises to change. It turns out he coulda cared less. "Fine, take it away...I don't care!" And I guess he didn't much care, cause he still hasn't asked for it back.

Remember that when you give a consequence, expecting that the consequence alone will change the behavior, is unrealistic. If it is a kid with an attitude, you have to show him what you need him to do differently. If you take away your teen's cellphone when he has an attitude towards you, and expect that he will not have an attitude with you again because he/she is worried they will lose their cellphone, you will be disappointed. Just saying..."change your attitude, and if you don't, I'll take your .....away!" will not change an attitude. When teens are in their emotional place, in the moment of frustration and anger, they can't and don't stop and think: "Oh I better tone it down if I don't want to lose my phone again." Perhaps you need to model the kind of behavior you are looking for. Maybe say: "Want to try saying that a different way, so I can hear it?' said calmly and in control! If your teen chooses the "I don't care, do what you want" thing, rather than get mad, throw out a coy smile, a shrug of the shoulders, and you are back in control.