Thursday, April 28, 2016

Doing The Right Thing

A parent wrote to me the other day, to tell me a story about her teen son, and asked if I would write about it. Here is what she wrote:

"My son is a sports kid gets along with his peers and stays out of trouble (so far). He takes it very personally when he sees someone doing something wrong especially when it comes to unsportsmanlike conduct. He seems to internalize it even if it isn't directed towards him  (directed to a friend or to someone who didn't do anything to deserve it). 
During a game a couple of kids on his team wanted to retaliate against the opposing team (who was winning) by playing dirty and making illegal plays. My son spoke up and said (what we've always told him) hit em harder during the play & play clean. Needless to say his teammates had a field day with that calling him a goody two shoes. He brushes it off when he's with other kids but he will come home and while explaining it he'll tear up a little so it's really bothering him and I'm not sure my explanations are still helping. What can I say to him? How can I keep his good morals in tact while not giving him advice that might interfere with the normal behavior of a kid his age? And not make him get picked on for standing his moral ground? What advice can I give him to deal with that in the future?"
God it's hard to be a teen. Clearly this guy has internalized all his parents have taught him about fair play, and standing up for the "right thing."  And instead of being rewarded by a slap on the back by his teammates, he is made to fell like a "goody two shoes."  A small percentage of teens might be able to shrug off this kind of attack from friends. But honestly, not many. Most teens are plagued with paralyzing bouts of ego-crushing self consciousness. This is a time-limited disease, cured by time-released confidence that grows with each year of adolescence. 
This teen took an emotional risk. When his teammates called him a goody-two shoes, it hurt, it hurt bad. Does this mean you should counsel your teen to keep their mouth shut in light of injustice. Absolutely not. The bad news, is that other teens don't want to deal with their own conflict of what is right or wrong, and will lash out at others who make them look in the mirror. The good news is that by the next day, everybody has moved on, except that teen who stood his ground. And that is the counsel parents can give this boy. " You know honey, what you did was amazing. And your teammates didn't want to look in the mirror you put in front of them, and lashed out at you. It sucks that they treated you that way, but truly by tomorrow they will have moved on, and forgotten the whole incident. Saying and doing the right thing is not easy, and I can guarantee you that this will happen again with these guys. I get it feels bad, but you are a strong kid, and I know you'll be fine in the long run. You always have a choice, you can say something, or not say something. Either way you know inside what is right. And that is the most important. Some days you'll feel strongly to set these guys straight, and some days you may feel you are not up to the harassment, and that is fine."
Parents are sponges for all the bad feelings they see their teen dealing with. You feel their hurt, the injustices done to them, as if they were done to you. Your teens are more resilient than you think. Unless they are in a situation where they are being bullied relentlessly, most teens will be fine. They will feel bad, real bad, but they will move on. This is how resilience is built that will last a lifetime. Resilience is a survival skill that everyone needs as they move into adulthood. You can't protect your teen from hurt, but you can be their shoulder to cry on, and the belief and confidence in their ability to handle pain.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Get Your Teens Out Of Their Rooms!!!!

I have a research study for you to conduct about your teen's hours spent in their bedroom. For the next two days just strictly observe bedroom time. This includes after school time, after dinner and before bedtime. Now compare that to time spent in common rooms. If you still remember fractions, make it into a fraction:  
                                         time spent in room
                                        time spent in family spaces

I bring this up because of a recent article in the New York Times. See link below. It seems the amount of time, girls especially spend in their room is proportional to the amount of anxiety they are experiencing. If only they were spending all this time doing their homework, but most likely they are obsessively on their phones, checking for likes, and reposts, and looking through a metaphorical magnifying glass at their selfies, their friends selfies, selfies that are friends of friends of friends....and judging how they measure up. Who's thinner, who's prettier, who has more friends, more likes, more reposts, and how do I measure up??? This does cause great stress and anxiety. And though girls may subject themselves to this kind of scrutiny more, boys can be just as bad. This is not emotionally healthy. It can be destructive to self-esteem, self concept, and the work of developing the all important task of identity. Read this article for great tips on how to counter this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Argument...What Argument?

I KNOW you have ALL experienced this phenomenon. It's 6:45 AM and you are fighting with your teen to GET UP! The argument takes a turn for the worse, and colorful language is shared among the two of you. Or perhaps the fight starts because your teen blames you for his/her lack of clean clothing (even though you washed and left clean clothes in their laundry basket which is now covered with dirty clothes, lots of them!!!!) Or, the night before sent you both to bed after a screaming match that revolved around homework, instagram, never doing chores, wasting money, texting for 18 hours a day...pick one. You go spend the day with your stomach in knots, worried how you will resolve this latest fight when your teen returns from school. You hold conversations in your head, with your partner, or your best friend, coming up with a strategy to work through this latest battle. And lo and behold your teen walks in the door with a cheery hello, and a hug and a kiss, completely throwing you off your game, and a retreat from starting anything. All, at least for them has been forgotten. How do they do that?

Here is how. The argument they had with you is so yesterday....literally.  Your presence in their head has left the building. It happened when they walked out the door to head to school. Big and better things await them...wait is that a text chime? Your teen lives in the emotional center of their brain. We live in the thinking center. We reason, they emote. We process and wonder and strategize, they scream and yell and cathart. That is why yelling rarely works unless you are person who rarely yells. Your teen is desensitized to the arguing. In some ways, it is really a release for them. They can and do yell with such enthusiasm so that by the time they head off to school any angst they might have had, which may have had nothing to do with you by the way...has now been released. See you did them a service. You unfortunately now have an ulcer!

I suggest never starting a fight you literally can't finish!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Homework Conundrum!

You know that math problem set that has your teen throwing a crazy fut! That ridiculous math problem that even someone with a PHD from MIT couldn't figure out. That really happened by the way. When my daughter was in middle school the powers that be decided to try out a new math curriculum. Let me just say that not only did this curriculum bring the kids to tears, but all the parents as well. We would bump into each other at our local supermarket, and discuss the previous night's homework as if it were our own. "Do you believe last nights assignment, I want to kill the person who designed this damn curriculum," we would say to each other. And truly there was an MIT mathematician parent in the class, and even he reported throwing the textbook across the room. Let's just say we weren't the best role models for our kids.

Sometimes your teen's homework is frustrating, perplexing and just plain hard. If your teen has a low frustration tolerance, giving up seems like the smartest strategy. Or if you have a teen who has breezed through elementary and middle school, and now the work is finally challenging, they are caught off guard, "ooh, maybe I'm not as smart as I thought I was." Or maybe the assignment is just plain boring. Whatever the case, they might actually come to you for a solution, like just giving them the answer. In the above example, I think all of us parents agreed that this curriculum was completely turning the kids off to math, and setting them up for total math anxiety. We were powerless to change the curriculum, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we gave some very honest feedback to the math department head. But that didn't help in the short term when our kids were crying and saying they were stupid. What we could do though was acknowledge for the kids that this was tough stuff, and to do the best they could, and truly it wasn't that they weren't smart enough. A lot of kids got pretty mediocre math grades that year, but most of us just let it go. Really, what's the big deal, 7th grade grades are not figured in for college!

When your teen comes to you for help, your first job is to diagnose the problem. Try to refrain from jumping into problem solve, or conversely criticize them for giving up too soon. Start with this instead: " I get this assignment is really frustrating for you. Tell me where you're stuck?" Maybe they just need you to break down the assignment into smaller more manageable pieces. Teens often can't see the forest through the trees, and because they are inpatient and want to breeze through the subjects they really hate, they get overwhelmed from the beginning. You can help by having them break down the assignment into steps, and get them to spend 15 minutes on the first step and then take a break. When they have success with one step, it gives them motivation to begin the next one. They need a ton of encouragement and understanding. " I know this stuff doesn't come easy to you, but I know you can get it." If you jump in and do the work, they take away two things. One, Yay, I can get mom or dad to do my work, and I am off the hook, and two, maybe mom and dad don't think I can do it, and so they don't want me to screw up with the teacher, so they want to do it for me.
I know of a young woman, now a graduate student, whose dad wanted to get her into his Alma mater, so in high school he basically wrote all her papers, college essays etc. He continued in college to edit, and I use that term loosely her papers.  Now as a grad student in a program that is making her a carbon copy of him, she is unable to complete the work without him. This is an extreme example, but you can see the problem here.

Your teen needs your confidence that he/she can succeed, and is not lazy just frustrated. You are  available for support and consultation but the ownership of the work always belongs with him/her. Having realistic expectation is a must. Your teen will have areas of strength, areas of weakness, and areas that he/she is just not that interested in. And that is just fine! No kid is good at everything!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Training Your Teen To Drive UNDISTRACTED!

Last week the Massachusetts Police departments announced that there would be a major crackdown on texting while driving. Come on, fess up, do you text and drive even just a little? Well so do your teens! And just making teen texting offenders pay a big fine will do little to change behavior...unless you teach your teen how to drive without their phone. I wrote this article last week for the Boston Globe with strategies to do just that!

A few scary statistics to motivate:

More than 3000 teens die every year from texting and driving!
More than 50% of teens admit to texting and driving. Than is 1 our of very 2 teens. That is a lot!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

So What! Who Cares?

These four 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.