Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The "Ins and Outs" Of Your Teen's Brain

Pixar's Inside Out is my new favorite movie. I was completely caught off guard by the intense emotions it brought up for me, and for everyone in the audience of mostly adults. Rarely I have seen so many grown men cry. There was a high sniffle factor, but in the most beautiful way. I think for parents watching this film, it gave so much insight about how our kids think and feel, and how our expectations of our kids play out in their emotional life.

Most parents hate to see their kids in emotional pain, and we do everything we can to cheer them up when they feel down, thinking that is the best thing we can do for them. But when we do that, we take away the opportunity for our kids to work through these uncomfortable feelings. When feelings are not acknowledged and experienced then they just get stuffed and often turn into anger and attitude. Nobody likes a moody teenager!

See this movie with or without your kids. Bring plenty of tissues, and let your own feelings wash over you.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We're Just Gonna Hang Out!

Now that it's summer, and going out with friends is now a 7 day and night affair,  there will be a lot of vague and unsettling answers you will get about what their day/evening plans include. You casually but warily ask "so what's your plan for the night?" You've been down this road way too many times before, and can predict the unsatisfying answer. They casually and warily reply, also having gone down this road many times: "Ah,  I think maybe, not really sure, but I dunno, maybe going over to X's house and then maybe walking into town to get ice cream, and well I'm not really sure, but yeah going to X's house, and gonna see what's up with everyone." This halting, vague recitation takes like five minutes to get out, and still you really have no idea what your teen will be doing except it definitely is not what you want them to be doing which is going to one house, staying there, locked in, with a bowl of popcorn and a movie, an alarm system and a GPS tracking system should they break out.

Your fears of packs of kids, roaming the streets, hanging in the woods or local parks, downing copious amounts of alcohol, smoking pot, and having hot, unprotected, hook-up sex, dance around in your head. And when you wake up from this horrific daydream, the battle begins. So you say with strident conviction: "Until I know specifically what your plan is, you are not leaving this house!" And so it goes....again. You put your evening plans on hold, afraid to leave the house without knowing the who,what and where of your teen's evening plans.

First let me say that most teens, even those who might actually end up staying at one house watching a movie with popcorn took four hours to get to that simple plan. Why? Because making decisions has become painfully difficult. This new brain of theirs is now allowing them to see all the possibilities of the night, and each of those possibilities has to be analyzed adnauseam. If we do this, then this, but what if we do this, and this happens, and what happens if X is there, and what should we wear if we go to X's and who else do you think will be there?, and so on and so on and so on. This kind of in-depth analysis takes many hours, and still at the end, they are not sure it was the right decision. I am sure you have experienced this yourself when you take your teen out to a restaurant with a huge menu. They are overwhelmed with the choices, and often rely on you to make their decision for them, "What do you think I should have?" As if this is the most important decision of their lives. Too bad they don't ask for your advice on their Saturday night plan.

Ok, so maybe you have heard this vague plan of theirs, but it does not make you happy. And the negotiations begin. First off, one way to help your teen along in the process is by saying late in the afternoon: Here is your "I Get It" moment: "Honey, I know you guys are trying to figure out a plan, and I get it takes awhile to do that, but here is our plan. We need to know by ( and say a time) so that we can plan our evening as well. We are happy to take you where you need to be, or we would be happy to have the kids here, we just need to know by.....Obviously if you have no plans for yourself that night, and you can be on-call then this is not a problem for you. But for those of you who do, it is important for your kids to know that there is a deadline for decision making, or you will make one for them. OK step 2 this is the hard one. When your kid comes to you with the vague plan, and/or you are uncomfortable with the walking around town thing, you can use the following system to help get some more information and accountability:
Question 1What do you think I am worried about with you guys walking around town or going to the park? This is important for them to tell you what they think. If you just lecture about all the ills of traveling in packs, it will just put them on the defensive and perhaps set them up to lie. And trust me they know what worries you and it makes a difference when they say it out loud not when you do.
Question 2Yes I am worried about those things, and I am also worried that XYZ could happen. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about these things? The ball is now in their court to come up with a plan to address these worries.  Not your plan which they will probably forget, manipulate etc, but their plan that they have to take responsibility for. So for example, maybe they will say, I'll text you whenever we change locations. You can say that makes me feel OK about the where you are, but how about what you are doing. I'm worried that kids are going to be drinking or whatever. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about that? Keep going back to that question.
Question 3What is the consequence going to be if you do not follow-through on your plan? This is important to make them come up with a consequence in advance of the night, that is their consequence. They will probably say something like, " well then I won't go out next weekend" Your job here is to restate : " Ok so if you don't stay in touch me with me in the way you said, and I suspect you have been drinking or doing drugs, then you won't go out next weekend. Is that right??"

Unless your kids have their licenses, I recommend that parents always pick up their own kids after an evening. This way you are in control of where and when, and I think it helps kids make better decisions about their safety. They are not going to get in your car, drunk or stoned, as they might in another parents car or definitely in a friends car.

This whole "just hanging around" plan is a really tough one  I know. Worrying about your kids safety is overwhelming and it makes parents feel out of control of the situation. The bottom line is this, you are out of control of this situation. When your kid leaves the house they are on their own to make decisions. Your job is always to say" I'm excited for you that you have so many friends to hang out with. Here's the thing, I love you and I want to make sure that I can help you make decisions that will keep you safe." Just lecturing to your kids does not make them safe, but giving them an opportunity to come up with their own plans, by anticipating the kinds of situations you know they will encounter, and by making sure they are accountable to themselves and to you will help.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saying What You Think Can Get You In Trouble


The last week of school you'd think would be home free for these two 7th grade girls. But their English teacher collected the journals they had been keeping for the term and actually read them. And in those journals the two girls had created a "kill list" of the kids they hated the most. These two girls were not going to "kill" the kids on this list, but in a cathartic moment of expressing and venting their frustration and anger at those they must have felt slighted from, they made this list, and then more surprising wrote it in the journal their teacher would be reading! There is that teen-age brain for you. Just did not think that one through.

That these girls hated other kids from their middle school is not a shocker. Middle school could be the absolute hardest years of adolescence. So many things are feeling out of control, bodies, brains, relationships, etc it's amazing anyone gets through it unscathed. OK these girls were pissed off and shared their anger. But in this day and age of Newtown, Columbine, and scores of other shootings and most recently of Charleston, you cannot vent publicly about your targeted anger. You WILL be taken seriously. And these two 7th grade girls were taken seriously, which came as a huge shock to the girls and to their families.

Because of the ease of sharing these days, and I would like to say just teens, but many adults find themselves vilified for some "I was just kidding" comments posted on facebook, twitter, instagram, and group texts. This is a teaching moment you must give over and over and over again to your teens. When they are angry and frustrated they are at their weakest moments for control. As a result, that emotional part of their brain is exploding, and they can write and say something that can be damaging to both someone else and as importantly to themselves. Please post the following social networking safety rules in their room where they can see it. They will roll their eyes, they will say it's my room and you can't put anything you want in here, they will bitch and moan till the cows come home, but posted it should be, in many places. It will serve as a reminder about what is safe for social networking posting. Think of it like the signs you see on the sides of buses. You don't actively read them, but somewhere they register in your unconscious and in the moment when you need that random information, you will be able to retrieve it. That's how this works.

Social Networking Safety Net

Can this post be misinterpreted by anyone?

Does this post intentionally hurt someone’s

Does this post give out too much information?

Can any photos or video’s posted of me come back and shoot me in the foot?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Getting Your Teen To Talk To You

School is almost out and there are sure to be days or nights when there are no plans. Maybe it's a cloudy, rainy, miserable day when no one wants to get out of their pjs, or the middle of a heat wave when venturing out of the house and leaving the air-conditioning is unlikely. These were my most favorite kind of days when my daughter was a teen; full of lazying around and junk food. A good day to veg with your teen. If you find yourself with just this kind of day here is a movie that I think both you and your teen will get into.

It is an amazing documentary, "American Teen" directed by Nanette Burstein.(available through netflix and at most public libraries) This doc follows 4 high school seniors for their entire senior year. You literally feel like a fly on the wall in the lives of these kids. For all those parents who regularly tell me that their kids never talk to them about anything, this film is for you. There are so many moments in this film that I know your teen will relate to, and if you can refrain from jumping on the interrogation train, and instead respond to the lives of these kids emotionally and hope that your teen follows suit, you could be in for a richness of conversation and insight into your own teen. The best scenario for watching this film would be to see it with your teen. It is a rare opportunity to see real kids, in real situations not concocted by a reality TV show looking for high ratings.  I know for some of you, just getting your teen to sit and watch a movie with you is in it of itself a challenge of olympic proportions. So lets start with some strategy for co-watching. A direct approach, "I heard about this great movie about teenagers, and I would like to watch it with you"probably won't work. Your teen will immediately sense that there is a bigger agenda here than just watching a movie together, like some sort of life lesson lecture instead, and will run in the opposite direction.   You might say, 'Have you heard about this movie American Teen? So and so watched it last week, and said it's this  amazing documentary about 4 kids during their senior year in high school. Kind of a no-holes- barred- show everything kind of movie. Will you watch with me? Dying to see if they really got it right? Let's get some take-out and watch it." If you can't convince your kid to watch it with you, then just watch it alone on a night they are home in a public viewing area, make the volume loud, and maybe they will just peek in and get intrigued. It is worth watching either way.

Here is why. The film follows 4 students. Each is representative of a particular stereotype, the jock, the popular mean girl, the band geek, and the square peg in the round hole disenfranchised kid. The artfulness of this movie is that it takes you past the stereotype into the inner lives of these kids, and what really drives them. And here is where you and your teen can find connection. There is the "Jock" Colin. On the outside he is the outgoing, talented athlete, who everybody loves. Seemingly carefree and happy. On the flip side what we find out is that he is literally following in his Dad's footsteps whose legacy is everywhere having gone to the same high school, was the star of his basketball team and got a sports scholarship to college, just as he expects his son to do. The pressure you get this dad is putting on Colin to "be him" is painful to watch. A great opening for a discussion with your teen: "Do you ever feel like we put this kind of pressure on you? Do you feel we have expectations of you, that are unfair? I really want to know so that I can change that."

Then we have Jake, the band geek. He is the socially awkward kid that literally makes you cover your eyes as he makes attempts to find a girlfriend. He loses himself in his video games, the one place he feels competent, victorious, and that allows him to fantasize a world where he literally "gets the girl". A great opening for discussion with your teen:" Now I get why video games can become so addictive, especially if your good at them. Thank god this kid has something in his life that makes him feel good." Or Maybe, "god I remember myself in high school, I really liked this guy/girl and I wanted to make an impression and did some really ridiculous thing but instead I came off like an idiot." Your teen might like to hear a story about you when you weren't at your best, giving him/her freedom to share that side of themselves.

Megan is the popular-mean girl. Some amazing incidents of cyber bullying, intense anger and rage from this girl.  We learn about the pressure she is feeling from her family of Notre Dame alums to become the next generation to go to Notre Dame, and if that isn't enough we find out that an older sister committed suicide in their basement and Megan was the one that found her. We realize that the anger and meanness is a cover for the rage she feels for herself. What you see isn't what you always get. So much richness for discussion here. The cyberbullying incident, the worry about disappointing family, the image of the tough girl as protection for what's going on inside. So much to discuss.

And then finally we have Hannah, my favorite. She is the artist/musician/filmmaker that is so done with high school and can't wait to leave and pursue her passions in a place that supports her creativity. She is a survivor, dealing with a manic-depressive mom too unhealthy to care for her, an absent father who works in another city leaving her to live with an elderly grandmother. Her friends are her family, and her boyfriend a source of the love and support she craves until he abandons her leaving her bereft and unable to function. Will she sabotage herself by missing too much school? So many openings here for discussions about family, loss, depression and anxiety, friendship, love and on and on.

So there you have it, I hope I have peeked your curiosity, plan ahead and rent this film, so when you and your teen have some down time together you will be prepared. Remember that the times that your kids will want to open up to you are when they feel there is meaning for them in the conversation. A reciprocal conversation, when you share yourself as much as you want them to share themselves is the time when real communication commences.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Kids Would Never Do That.....Or Would They???

Last night I watched a compelling show on NBC called "My Kid Would Never Do That." In four different segments, they showed the struggles teens face when presented with situations that challenge their ability to do or say the right thing. Teens were invited to a focus group where they would be tasting and rating energy drinks. Unbeknownst to them, some of the teens in the group were actors placed there to set up scenarios that made the non-actor teens be party to risky situations, and challenged to act..or not. In one segment a teen boy boasts that he is following one of the girls into the bathroom, and as she changes her clothes, will take a topless photo of her, When he returns he tells the non-actor teens his is posting it on Instagram. Will the teens try to stop him?? In the second scenario, The male actor comes on to one of the teen actresses who appears to have been drinking, and boasts he is "gonna do her in the bathroom" Will the teens follow her to make sure she is safe? In the third scene, the male actor pours some unknown powder (a roofie) in the drink of the female actor. Will the teens call him on it and will they take steps to protect the girl.

To add to the suspense, the parents of these teens are hiding away in a van across the street with Natalie Morales of NBC watching on hidden cameras and predicting whether their teens would do the right thing, and then observing and reacting to the outcome.

Most of the parents predicted that their teens would definitely stand up and do the right thing!!! I would say they were right 50% of the time. Watching the tormented looks on these teens faces was hell. You could see their brains working on overtime, knowing that what was happening right in front of them was serious, knowing they should intervene, but often feeling powerless and way to self-conscious to do anything about it.  Just like in the real world. I'm gonna say, and don't hate me for it, but the girls were way more forthright than the boys. In all three situations, in mixed company, it was a girl who spoke up and stood her ground. Not all the girls, and sadly not one boy. I think the male actor did a good job of being intimidating, and I could see these boys, some of  them having been described by their parents as shy, or more of a follower just could not intervene, even though you could see they absolutely wanted to. What most of the kids said, and I think is the most important learning for parents, is that "I just didn't know what to say!" The intent was there, but the language wasn't. And this is the absolute key. Just lecturing your teen about situations that are unsafe, or unseemly is not helpful. Asking them; "so what could you say if you saw a friend of yours coming onto a girl who was drunk and kind of out of it?" Play out these possible scenarios with them, brainstorm the literal language they could use. Let them know that there is safety in numbers. It is much much easier to challenge an intimidating teen with a few friends, than trying to do it on your own.

As I have said many times before, teens are suffering from a lingering developmental disease of embarrassment. It is time-limited, and as they grow into themselves and their identity, they will get much much better at matching what they are thinking with what they are doing. They need your help! They need the language, not the lecture!!!!!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Putting The Brakes On Back-Seat Parenting!

I was working out at my Gym today, huffing and puffing my way through some sit-ups while a small group training class was taking place around me. In this group of 5 was a dad and his teenage son. Oh, I thought, how lovely that the're sharing this time together doing something they both love to do. Well it turns out, I think it was just the dad who loves working out. I only surmised this after ogling his very ripped and toned body!!! Hey I'm only human! The son it turns out, not ripped and toned. Tall and skinny and clearly suffering through this workout at the behest of his dad. The trainer was a great guy; enthusiastic, supportive and doing his best to be this boy's cheerleader. The dad on the hand, grunting and groaning through his own lifts with some major wight poundage, still managed to yell out to his son going through his own workout; " use your abs!!!! and "lift don't swing those weights." As you can imagine, this boy/man now beat red in the face, rolled his eyes, and glared menacingly at his dad. The bubble over his head saying: "You know who I'd like to swing these weights at?????"

You are all good at something. And you hope, wish, and pray that maybe your kids will be good at the same things you're good at. Isn't that the circle of life? Maybe it all works out that way, but usually not, and especially not when your kids are teenagers. The last thing they want, is to be any which way at all like you!

Perhaps writing is your thing, and you are an editor extraordinaire; your teen's in-house managing editor. But believe me, your teen is shaking in his Adidas when you walk in the room asking to see his latest writing assignment. Feeling inadequate, measured against your experience and writing finesse, he has only written a few sentences, and you balk at his procrastination. Or perhaps you are a math wizard, and your teen's frustration tolerance for challenging math homework rivals a two year old's tantrums. And your frustration over their lack of understanding drives you mad.

Maybe you are a tennis(insert any sport you love) enthusiast, and have had your teen in tennis clinics since they were old enough to hold a racket. You have dreamed of these teenage years when you can get on the court together and play ball! You have so much to offer and teach, and believe me you do!! "take a full swing, throw the ball higher when you serve, run goddamn it, you could have gotten that volley!" Sounds like fun to me.

Get the point? The quickest way to squash enthusiasm in your teen is by offering your unsolicited "feedback."You have got to tread lightly in the coaching department. If they have actual coaches than let them do the work, and be the supportive cheerleader. Let their teachers do their job, and understand with your teen their frustration and their worry about being good enough, rather than adding to their worry about being good enough..for you. Adolescence is a time of life when defining themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses is a huge challenge. They are feeling enough of their own-self imposed pressure and expectations. Living up to yours should not be more important than living up to their own.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Lessons Of Failure

Watch first then we'll discuss:

When your teen was a little boy or girl maybe it was falling off the bike a million times, or falling on the ice, learning to tie their shoes, and or even more basic like potty training. Now it's friendships full of betrayal, disappointment at not making the team or the school play, or losing an election and perhaps disappointing you when their performance at school, on the field, or on a stage doesn't live up to your expectations.

The good news is that depending how the "failure" is framed it can be used as a learning moment, and not a failure moment. A what could I do differently moment, or I'll just have to keep at it moment. Either way, when the hard work pays off, with a new friend they can trust, or a passion that feels fulfilling, or getting past a difficult math problem or english paper, the feeling that peserverance pays off can literally be life altering.

When we protect our kids from pain, we take away the option of growth. The problem is that our kids pain becomes our pain, and it feels unbearable to us, so we want to fix it. It may make us feel better, but your teen may get the message that you don't think they can handle pain and suffering. Our kids are a lot stronger than you might think, maybe even stronger than we are. Give them the chance to fall, to lose, to get the C. From adversity comes strength. And I'm sure you know, adulthood is full of adversity. Prepare them now, so they won't depend on you later to be the fixer.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Resourcefulness and Resilience Way More Important Than The "Three R's"

Parents, take this short quiz:
  1. T  F  When my kid has a paper to write, I love when I, I mean when he/she gets a good grade.
  2. T  F  When my teen is having a problem with a teacher, a friend, a coach or the other "parent" I love to provide the solution to make his/her life easier, and have them benefit from my experience.
  3. T  F  When my teen is looking for a job, a summer program, or community service, I do everything I can to help by calling everyone I know.
  4. T  F  Now that my teen is ready for the college process, I do all the research about the colleges, visits, and requirements, because I know how busy my teen is.
  5. T  F  When my teen doesn't know how to do something, I love telling him/her how to do it, because I know they appreciate and expect my help.
So, how did you do?? If you even had one "T" you might unknowingly be preventing your teen from developing resourcefulness and resilience, two personality traits that are present in very successful adults. Getting straight "A"s", graduating at the top of the class, or even going to an Ivy League college is not what guarantees success in life.

Most teens demand to be in charge of their social life, not wanting help from you at all. But when it comes to the parts of their life, they feel less confident in, they may demand your help. And what parents doesn't love it, when your teen asks for your help. It's like a drug. It may not happen often, but when it does, you are primed and ready for action. If feeds your need to feel like a competent and supportive parent, especially if your relationship with your teen has been going through a rocky spell. But what makes kids feel confident and competent is moving past frustration to success.

Think of it this way. Perhaps recently you bought a coffee table for your family room from IKEA. In the store the table looked pretty simple to put together; A few slabs of wood, some glass, a couple of screws and bolts...piece of cake!! Then you get the big brown box home, enthusiastically throw all the stuff on the floor, with the expectation you will have your beautiful table up and usable in an hour or so. 5 hours later, sweat pouring off your brow, swears emanating from your mouth, you kick the stupid wood, throw the screws against the wall, ready to "cry uncle". You get up, stomp around your house, curse IKEA and the directions that seem to be written for someone with a PHD in engineering, and then you get back down on the floor, and start again. And finally, because the only choice was to figure out how to put the damn table together, the table comes together, almost magically. And you stand up, puffed up with pride and look at your "baby". And every time a new person walks into your house, and they compliment you on your cool coffee table, you say proudly.. I put that table together. And honestly it feels as important to you as almost anything else you have accomplished in your life. And why is that? Is is because you persisted through your frustration, your feeling of incompetence and what felt like the impossible, to your ultimate success. It is a feeling you don't forget.

When you solve your teen's problems for them, even if they ask you too, when you give into their frustration because it feels unbearable to you, you take away the opportunity for them to have their IKEA moments. The ability to delay gratification, develop frustration tolerance, and figure it out,  is something that will follow them all the way through their life. Through relationships that go through hard times, to jobs that aren't working out the way they anticipated, money problems, housing issues, and their own ability to parent. An A in English will not be helpful in those situations. There is truly nothing more important to teach your teens than the ability to accept and deal with disappointment, that they can't have or do anything they want to have or do just because they want it, or that when something feels just too hard, that you will rescue them from their pain.

So the next time they come to you for help, start first with a "so what do YOU think you should do? The process will take a lot longer, but when you can say to your teen, I am really proud of you,I know that was really hard for you to do, but you stuck with it, and "just look at your table!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

When Your Teen Is A Night Owl

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

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