Thursday, February 25, 2016

If You're Working Harder Than Your Teen

I was talking to a friend the other day who was telling me about a family she knew where the Dad basically wrote all his teen's papers. And he did quite well on them. Fast forward to his daughter as a college student. Thank the computer gods, because the dad was still in business. And yes, Grad School applications, yup, Dad again. And now as a Grad student she is finally on her own, and guess what, she is lost. What a surprise! Maybe the Dad's goal was to get her into a good college, check! Get her into a good grad school, check! But writing about her graduate practicum, research papers, and exams, he is of no use now, and the daughter is in a panic, completely unprepared for the hard work it takes to do something "all by yourself." This dad did his daughter no favors.

In the extremely competitive world we live in, its hard not to want to protect your kids from stress, and want to give them "the edge" over other smart and talented teens. But developing skills in frustration tolerance and sticking with something until you finish is a very important life lesson. These skills not only translate to academic pursuits, but friendships, careers, and even to marriage. When you teach them that someone else can and will 'fix it" when something is too hard or stressful, you communicate that quitting is good. What they take that philosophy into life with them it can go like this: I don't like this job, I'll just quit and get another one, and if  I don't like that one, I'll quit it too. Or, this relationship is too hard, I don't feel like working through the hard stuff, I think I'll just get a divorce and get another marriage, and so on. The buck will finally hit when they have kids of their own. Not so easy to quit your kids!

Be there for them, acknowledge their frustration, help them to develop a strategy, but don't do it for them. If you are looking for your kid to reflect your glory, go find another mirror!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How Do I Know If I Have A Spoiled Teenager?

Before I start writing my blog each night, I always check my stats to see how many people are reading my blog, and how they find it. Thankfully, I get pretty specific information, and as I checked tonight I saw that someone had googled "how to handle a demanding spoiled teen" and my blog came up. I love that! Anyway, I thought that might be a good topic to write about.

Teens are by definition demanding, narcissistic, and spoiled. Why? Because they do literally think about themselves almost exclusively all the time. Their newly developed brain can be held somewhat responsible for this. As the teen brain grows, it allows teens to think in ways they have never thought before. For the first time teen's are spending hours and hours thinking about themselves and the people in their lives. Being introspective is like a drug. There is no right answer, and there are endless possibilities to explain their behavior and the behavior of their friends. If I do or say this, than maybe this could happen, but if I do that, than that could happen. They have become the center of their own universe, which is a major shift from when you their parents, were the center of their universe. And like all good narcissists, they only see the world in terms of how it affects them. So if you are late picking them up from school, and they had to hang around by themselves, because all their friends had already left, than you have perpetrated a heinous crime, even if the cause was traffic beyond your control, a meeting that went late, or a flat tire. Honestly, they have no sympathy, no empathy, just anger at you making them feel like a loser somehow for leaving them standing alone for someone to see what a loser they are.

The good news, is that this is temporary insanity, unless, and this is a big UNLESS you fall victim to their accusations.!  DO NOT feel that you have in any way screwed up because guess what...shit happens, and you are not to blame, and you do not have to accept blame and then feel that for some reason you have to make up for all your supposed inadequacies by giving into the insatiable demands your teen, in a narcissistic haze put on you. On the other hand, and equally important, is you don't have to lecture your teen ad nauseam about their lack of empathy etc etc. And here is the best tip I can offer in these situations when your teen accuses you of something you absolutely know is not true, and is a function of this acute case of me me me me. You simply look at them, give a little smile, a head tilt, and shoulder shrug. No more no less. Nothing you are going to say will be heard anyway. They won't be this way forever unless you reinforce the behavior with feeling and acting guilty.

Free at least, free at last.. No worries, your kids will eventually shed their self-centered skin and become the loving, caring, kind person you know to be in there!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Parent-Teen Communication: Is There A Translator In The House

Are there some days you feel like you and your teen speak different languages? You say something simple and maybe even nice to your teen (at least you think it's nice) but the response you get is completely incomprehensible. Let me explain how that might happen.

The first disconnect is that adults live in a thinking brain, and teens live in a feeling brain. And I mean that literally. Brain research has shown that when teens and adults are shown the exact same photo of a human face expressing an emotion, their brains respond in very different ways. An adult brain uses the frontal cortex (the thinking brain) to interpret the emotion, and the the teen brain uses the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) to interpret emotion. This is a set-up for constant miscommunication between teens and parents. Teens literally see things in the human face that adults don't see, and hear things in human voices that adults don't hear. It's kind of like dogs that hear the high pitch sounds that no human can hear. Dogs...teens..

I am sure you have had the experience of saying something to your teen in a neutral voice and with a neutral expression. It may be something very inconsequential. But the reaction you get from your teen is crazy! Maybe something like "are you mad at me? They have heard something in your voice or saw something in your face that no one else apparently can see or hear...just like the dog.

A compounding problem is that teens carry every teeny tiny emotional experience that has happened to them over the course of their day in that amygdala of theirs. Perhaps they said something embarrassing in class and their fellow students laughed at them. Park it! Maybe they tripped in the hallway at school and felt like everyone saw it. Park it! Maybe they saw their crush talk to another boy/girl and feel dejected. A thousand things may have happened that day, or in the morning between when they woke up and you pass each other in the kitchen before school. Basically their parking lot of a brain is always full. You know how frustrated you get when there is no place to park. Times that by a hundred, and that is your teen.

So when you get a response to a simple question or comment that seems crazy and completely incomprehensible, assume that their parking lot is full. Probably best to just walk away with a let's talk later. This is one of those times that it just isn't about you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What All Parents Can Learn (and must) From Columbine

Here is an article that I wrote for the Boston Globe. Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Kelbold one of the Columbine shooters, gave a recent interview on 20/20 revealing what she has learned about herself as a parent, and what she wished she had done differently. She hopes other parents can learn from this. A very brave and honest account. Here is what I hope will be helpful to all parents.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Telling your Teen That He/She Is Smart Can't Be Hazardous To Their Health!

What the hell is this woman talking about? What do you mean, don't tell my kid that he/she isn't smart? If I don't say that, they will think I think that he/she isn't smart!

Well it turns out, that kids who are smart, and who are continually told that they are smart often don't do as well academically as kids who may not be as "smart"but are praised for their hard work and perseverance, and who end up with better all around grades. How interesting is that? Just read this article.

This is an amazing article, and one I wish all parents would read just before their child walks into their first day of Kindergarten. But obviously, since this is a blog for parents of teens, I will talk about it's relevance for your older "kids." The gist of this article is that kids who are consistently told that they are smart tend to not want to challenge themselves to do things that seem hard just in case they fail and then prove to everyone that maybe they really aren't smart. In terms of your teens, this is how this often plays out. Your teen breezes through elementary and middle school. Their brain is hardwired for this foundational material to integrate fairly easily. Work that might take other kids hours to understand, memorize and master, might take your kid a few minutes. Homework is done in a flash, it's done well and it's done right. In class, they may be the first to raise their hand, show understanding and mastery. Parents are happy, and teachers are happy. He/she is so smart, has great verbal skills, grasps new concepts easily.....are comments that teachers write year after year. And then it's on to high school and Harvard! The message to your child is there is something in me that makes it easy for me to please all the adults in my life. Except that once they hit high school the work is harder and requires more time, concentration and can often challenge this perception of themselves that academics are a piece of cake. Things don't come easily anymore. You actually have to put in tine and work to learn.

Read the article. It provides many examples of how a  lifetime of being told you are smart can affect a students perception of him or herself and their abilities. Attribution theory can explain this. If you are a teen who has been told all your life that you are smart, than means that there is something innately inside of them that magically makes them "get it". They attribute their success to the luck of the draw so to speak. "I was born with smarts" So when they do well on something, get an A on test that was easy, it doesn't register as I made this A happen.There is no real pride in the A, cause they didn't have to do much to get it.  Conversely, if you are a kid who has to work his/her ass off to get a B. This kid feels tremendous pride and accomplishment for working hard to achieve this grade despite some academic deficits.

In my experience, the "smart"  kids often give up in high school. ' Not working up to their potential" is a common report card comment. Here is this student's dilemma. "If I do study, and don't come up with the A that everyone expects of me because they always tell me I am smart, than me and everyone else will finally realize that in fact, I am not smart! So better just to not do it and not blow my cover. I will just say, I don't care, or I didn't study.

So this is why continually praising your kid for being smart has less value to him/her than " You really put a lot of time on that report, or studying for you test, I am really proud of you for working so hard." It is the effort and the challenge of doing something you didn't think you could do that builds self-esteem. Praising work effort has meaning. Praising smart is empty.

So as the second half of this school year continues, rather than focusing on the a quiz grade, whether an A or an F. Focus on how they got it. If they got an A, recognize the effort. 'I saw you really studying for that quiz, you shut off your phone and facebook, and really took the time you needed. I know that was hard and that grade reflects that. If an "F" is the grade of, rather focusing on the grade, and saying you are disappointed, talk more about what they could do differently the next time. "I get this is a tough subject for you, and I have confidence that if you can figure out how to study for this differently you would have a different outcome."

Attributing success or failure to effort and hard work, rather than to good or bad luck (the test was easy, the test was unfair) makes everyone feel that they have control over their outcomes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Your Teen's Love/Hate Relationship With You

Recently I was at one of my Ask the Expert Parties (think Tupperware for parenting) where I start by asking the small group of parents assembled what their biggest parenting challenge is in that moment. A dad sitting next to me, said that his biggest challenge with his 15 year old daughter was that one minute she was loving, sweet, conversant, and the second he had to set a limit about something or reprimand her for something she turns into "Atilla the hun"(my words not his) All ten parents nodded their heads in agreement, and as we went around the circle this issue emerged as the most prominent one. For some parents it makes setting limits so hard, because they know that the aftermath will be horrendous with yelling, screaming, slammed doors, and shouts of "you are the worst parent ever." And at that moment that is just how parents feel.

OK give yourselves a break here. To expect that after you have said NO to one of your teen's impulsive, emotional, can I's, that your teen will look with love in their eyes and say: thanks mom and dad, that was a really smart parenting call, thank you so much for keeping me safe is completely and utterly ridiculous. And I know you know that. But in that moment when you said your No means NO, you would just like once for your teen not to explode in your face. And unfortunately, most parents when put on the defensive for their parenting decision will fall back on the : Well if you don't like it, go live with another family defense.

Here is something you can do instead. Next time you say NO to something because it is unsafe or unreasonable, instead of getting defensive when your teen strikes back you can use an "I get it" statement. In a calm and supportive voice you can say: " Hey honey, I get that wasn't the answer you were looking for, and I know you're disappointed, and are really pissed at me. I know it's hard to watch your friends be able to do something that we don't think is safe, and it feels really unfair. But you know we love you, and though it feels smothering sometime our first priority is to keep you safe."

And then, that's it. Don't go on and on like a broken record, don't try to re-explain for the billionth time why you said no. Honestly they don't care, they stopped listening at NO. At least using the above strategy you don't make a hard situation harder, with the potential of all parties getting way out of control. You are not in any way apologizing for your decision, but your are understanding how this decision affects them. Understanding is so much better than being right or being angry.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's Not A Crazy Idea!

Wanna know why your teen gets so mad at you after you say no to what seems to you like the most ridiculous idea ever? Because in their head, in the fantasy they have created, they are already doing it. Your saying no is a fantasy-interuptess!. Think about this metaphor: You are sitting in your cozy family room ready to watch the season finale of your most favorite TV show. You have been looking forward to this all week, having the "water cooler" conversations with your friends and colleagues who follow the show, dissecting potential plot lines. It has all been leading up to this moment, and then, BAM an unavoidable but must take phone call comes in and your are torn from your set. 

You are an adult and you get over it, but I have seen grown men and women weep and tantrum when there is an interference with a world series game, or super bowl, season finale of The Voice, or Downton Abbey, whichever  is your pleasure. 

Now times that by a million and you get your teen whose fantasy has just been erased, no matter how ridiculous or unrealistic. In these situations it is completely unnecessary to get into a huge whoopla. Somewhere in your teen's brain, they know this is ridiculous too, but once you engage in an actual argument over how silly this is, than the engagement itself is reinforcement that maybe they can change your mind. 

 I have coached parents who end up getting into huge arguments with their teens over things that don't merit argument. Maybe your teen is in 9th or 10th grade and they make some grandiouse statement about not needing college; "I can get a job and make money right away"... I have heard this one alot. And the parents get hooked right away, and start to treat this statement as if it is fact. WHICH IT IS NOT! It is simply a musing by a young teen who is anxious about the future. But when taken seriously, goes haywire. Sometimes it is better in these situations to use humor; " that sounds fabululous, love that, no college tuition and you can pay us rent. We actually make money instead of spending it. Go for it!!!"

When you don't engage in these fantasies, they become just what they are fantasies. The same one you may have had last week when you bought a superball lottery ticket and had already thought of all the things you would do with the $545 million dollars you would win!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why Is My Teen Mean To Me?

There is a really good reason why teens are mean to their parents. Now with this new teenage brain growing by leaps and bounds, they are literally having thoughts they have never had before. Remember back when you were a teenager the moment when you realized " hey, my parents aren't perfect...awesome!!!!"

Teens have this new thinking ability that allows them to analyze and think more deeply about things. This is why teachers in middle school and high school expect their students to go from the concrete: who-what- where kinds of questions and answers, to the whys? They want them to read between the lines. School is not the only place teens are expected to do this kind of thinking. Their social life, their family life, all of it is now seen and understood under a whole new lens. What do you think gossip is?? It's a new way to think and analyze the people in their life. And you dear parents are part of their life. For the first time, they are seeing you without the rose-colored glasses of childhood, where parents are perfect, and their #1's. Now they see cracks in the armor. "Hey my parents don't practice what they preach, they can be hypocrites." Your teen can see right through the "do as I say, not as I do!"

Not only do they see you more realistically, but they absolutely love to tell you all their new perceptions that they are having about you. They are missing the edit button that will come with adulthood. For now though, if they have a thought about you, no matter how mean sounding, they share it. You may feel that no matter what you do or say, according to your teen it's the wrong thing!!!!

Never fear, this is only temporary. Remember it's a new way of thinking about you. It's a novelty, and it feels really powerful for a teen to be able to see their parents in a whole new way. Having a teen in your home is like having a live in therapist. There is no one who will be more honest with you. If you can hold off on getting defensive, and listen to what they have to say, you might learn something new about yourself that is useful.

The trick here is to not feed into your teen's feeling of power. Basically they are being bullies, and the best way to handle a bully is to take away their power of hurt. So the next time you feel that biting criticism from your teen, rather than expressing hurt or anger, go up to them, give them a great big hug and say: "You are so cute when you're being a brat, I love you!!!" That ought to do the trick!