Thursday, July 28, 2016

You Have A Lot To Look Forward To!

I recently returned from spending a week with my all grown up daughter in LA. It was such a special and wonderful week, that I wanted to let you know what is coming down the pike with your now teens. Though some days it might feel like you are stuck in the hamster wheel, repeating the same words and lectures over and over. Picking up the same pair of socks, sneaks, and sports equipment day after day no matter how many times you remind your teen to do it. Reminding your teen to do homework, get to bed on time, get up on time, it all gets to be too much sometime. So I thought I would tell you what you have to look forward to, help you see the forest through the trees.

Your teen will eventually:

  • Have a place of residence that they feel proud of and take care of.  A place that communicates who they are, and what is important to them. It may be a place that is full up of all the values that you are teaching them now but that you don't think they get. Oh they get it!

  • Incorporate into their lives what you practiced in your life, spirituality, love of music, books, friends, food, exercise, passion for work and play, and of course family.

  • Share their work life with you, share their friends with you, share their passions with you. Thank you for doing and giving all you did to help bring them to this time in their life.

  •  Make you so proud of the adult they have become, that you burst with love and anticipation for the many years you have now to share with your son and daughter.  

Here are the things that you can teach them now so that can get to this place later:

  • Self Awareness: What are the feelings that can push my buttons and the behaviors that can sabotage my success.
  • Taking responsibility: What can I do to take responsibility for my decisions and my actions.  
  • Be independent: Develop confidence in my ability to do for myself whether in thought or in action.   
Your job now is to give your teen the opportunities to practice. Doing for, and protecting them from, will not help them to become the self-aware, responsible and independent adults they all have the capacity to become.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tit For Tat!

Teens will never ever want to do chores. They will never be enthusiastic, they will never do it without badgering and cajoling, and they will rarely put your need for help ahead of their own need to do....well, whatever.

Don't let your feelings get hurt, it really is not personal. They just do not see the importance of trivial matters like eating off of clean dishes, taking out the trash even though in this 90 degree heat, there will be maggots!. These are matters that will be taken care of for them as they always have been. Like all good narcissists, albeit temporary ones, they think of themselves first. As long as you understand this and have a better strategy than telling them to get their lazy asses off the coach, you will be fine.

Here is the strategy. Decide how many times you will do the nag, I suggest twice, then don't say another word. If whatever the thing is driving you crazy or is time sensitive, do it yourself, or if not time sensitive, don't do it at all. Then, when your teen asks for something he needs for you to do, you calmly say, "you know honey, I would have, but since you chose to not help me with XYZ, I am not willing to help you out today. Or, "I'd love to help you out, let me know when you've done X."Be strong, because this may be something like getting to a rehearsal or practice that they depend on you for transportation. Guess what, they will just have to figure it out. Don't lecture, don't expound, don't say "you should have thought about that when I asked you to do X" Just a shoulder shrug, and a "I'm sure you'll figure it out. " As I have said many times before, actions speak way louder than words!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Yelling Is NOT A Parenting Strategy!

If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, yelling doesn't work. Here's an excerpt from a recent research project that explains why:

"The study followed 976 Pennsylvania 13- and 14-year-olds and their parents for the 7th and 8th grade years, and found that the depression or poor behavior increased in the children who were exposed to harsh verbal discipline. Instead of serving to remedy the issue, verbal discipline tactics seemed to provoke the unwanted behavior."
"Adolescence is a very sensitive period when [kids] are trying to develop their self-identities," study leader Ming-Te Wang told the Wall Street Journal. "When you yell, it hurts their self image. It makes them feel they are not capable, that they are worthless and are useless."
I get it, we all lose it sometimes, and yelling becomes the default reaction when our frustration button has been pressed one too many times. This research is not really talking about the "I can't take it anymore" moments. Some parents are control-freaks. There, I said it. And if you are a control freak than Adolescence will be a huge challenge for you. Because teens are biologically driven during this stage to also be major control-freaks. They are planting those feet firmly on the ground and letting you know that they want to take control over their own lives. Control can be shared, and should be shared. How else does one prepare a teen for the real world when they will be faced with multiple decisions on a daily basis. 
Yelling as a default parenting style may give you the illusion of control, but in fact it is the absence of control. Not only that, but it makes your teens feel bad. And when teens feel bad, they take those feelings out of your house and into their lives. The findings of this study are powerful explanations for some of the acting out and aggressive behavior, depression. anxiety seen in many teens.

When your teens were younger yelling may have worked. They were afraid of you, wanted to please you, and didn't know yet that it will be fun to do just the opposite of what their parents want.  It is the process of defining who they are and how they are different from you. This can sometimes feel disrespectful, and hurtful. Reframe it to normal, and it will feel alot better.

If you want your teen to stop being disrespectful and bratty, you have to blink first! Your teen has learned how to bait you, and being a well-trained seal, you jump for the bait. When you get that pit in your stomach after you have asked your teen to do something, get something and say something, and their response is surly, disrespectful or he/she completely ignores you, don't jump for the fish. Yelling here will not not not not not not not not........ get them to do whatever it is you want!!!!!! GET IT!! Look them straight in the eye, give them a head shake and a shoulder shrug and WALK....A....WAY. Done! When they come to you for a ride, money, help with homework, laundry for school the next day, you give them that same head shake, shoulder shrug, and walk away, with a "I would have, cause I love to do things for you, but we don't seem to be on the same page today about helping each other." And that is it. Do not say another word. Don't get sarcastic, don't have a "tone" in your voice. Stay neutral. Now this doesn't mean you don't speak to your teen for the rest of the day. It just means that the favor-doing, ride-giving, laundress is off-duty for the rest of the day. Just that day. Every day is a new day. And who knows, maybe tomorrow will be a better one.!

I am offering a new coaching service: A Quick Question. Sometimes you don't need a full hour of parent coaching, just a few minutes will do the trick. With A Quick Question you can bank 60 minutes worth of help and use it however and whenever you want. Contact me at for more information.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Can Anyone "Run Away And Join The Circus?"

Really, it's possible! Do you have a kid who is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Maybe you have that kid who is funny and quirky. You think his/her unique take on life is original and a breath of fresh air, but to the kids in the middle or high school where they spend most of their time, he/she is just plain weird. Last week I was watching a wonderful documentary on Circus Smirkus, a circus troupe whose members are all teens. During the summers, this group of quirky, funny teens travel all over New England performing traditional cirucusy acts as jugglers, clowns, acrobats, and aerialists. I actually remember taking my daughter, 25 years ago, to a perfomance they gave on the cape. They were amazing. The film really lets the audiance get to know these teens. They are honest and open about the challenges of being a teen who is a "little different." These kids have found their "family." A place where they are celebrated and welcomed for their unique passions and personalities. All teens deserve this kind of acceptance and love, but unfortunately it may not happen in their community.

Maybe you have that teen, that is uninvolved with sports, or plays, or music, or any of the activities that your school/community has to offer. Maybe they don't feel, that for reasons they don't even understand, that they just don't fit in with the kids who participate in those activities.  It just doesn't feel right. And frustrating to you, when you ask the million dollar question: "why don't you try out for the .......? You would be so good at it". You get a groan, a moan, and a  "leave me alone!" I talked with a parent recently who lives in a small town. She and her husband felt this would be a wonderful place to raise their children. The problem with small towns is for young children they are wonderfully, nurturing, safe places to grow. But as teenagers, that sweet smallness can become suffocating and limiting. Their daughter had outgrown the kids she had grown up with, and because the school is so small it just doesn't offer much in the way for teens searching for something to do that makes them feel good.

Cirkus Smirkus is not her thing, but her parents  need to help her to find "that thing" that lights her up from the inside out. She may need to leave home to find it, but that's OK. The world can be a safe and inviting place, sometimes more inviting than their own hometown. If you have a teen who seems lost and left out, help them to find their Cirkus Smirkus! Just ask the kids who did.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Teens And Money...Your Money!

I was at my gym this morning, sweating to the oldies, and listening into a conversation between two moms working out next to me. One of the moms' was expressing her frustration and anger at her son who was a freshman in college who calls them very frequently asking for more money to be deposited in his account. Of course it's never his fault. But when they look into his account they see a lot of money spent on food delivery and abundant ATM withdrawals. Apparently he could have, but chose not to work a lot of hours at his summer job, even though, the mom said, they told him it would be his responsibility to get a job at school if he ran out of money. (At this point I shut off my music so I could hear better. The moral of this story, don't work out next to me, I'm always looking for new stories for my blog!)

This story was a familiar one for me as every year I ask the college freshman I teach what they feel unprepared for and what has been a big adjustment for them in this home to college transition. 

Many students expressed gratitude to their parents for teaching them how to take responsibility for themselves, both financially and  emotionally. These students felt a sense of personal satisfaction that if they wanted something they had to work to get it. Though they knew their parent's support was always available to them, they liked feeling "in control" of their life, and liked that their parents had confidence in their ability to make good decisions whether around academics, curfews, partying, friends, college etc. 

Conversely. many students felt unprepared for life on their own, and wished their parents had made them get a job when they were in high school,  and had given them more opportunities to be responsible for themselves, while the parental safety net was there. Now on their own, they are overwhelmed with all the daily decisions that they must make on their own. These students are calling or texting their parents multiple times a day just to get advice on some of the mundane tasks of daily living. I am sure that those parents who get these texts are grateful. It's almost like they've never left home. "They love me, they really love me!"

But it won't feel so cute when they are 25 and still calling you to find out how to make a doctor's appointment, take care of a bounced check, expired car registration, or empty bank account.  The time is now! So if you are a problem solver, a person of action who loves to take care of business, beware. Taking care of your teen's business will come back to haunt you in the future. Here are some suggestion for way to encourage independence.

When your teen comes to you for help with a life skills problem, I know you feel flattered, but resist the temptation to solve it for them. Instead ask questions that put them in the drivers seat like: "What do you see as some of the options?" "OK lets look at option 1, pros and cons" Take them through the process of how a decision is made. Remember teens today are impatient, they look for a quick response. But there are some things in life you can't google. It just takes old fashioned time. You solving their problems just feeds their need for instant gratification.

If you find yourself becoming your teen's personal ATM this summer, it might mean that your teen has lost awareness for how much and how he/she spends your money. So much of a teens life is magical. Using cell phones, computers, mom and dad's generosity, everything they want is literally in their fingertips. How about saying to your teen; "I am willing to give up to $$$ a month and then it's up to you if you want or need anything over and above." Just because your teen wants to go shopping every weekend that doesn't mean you have to shell out 40 bucks so they have some spending money. They may buy another T-shirt or video game, but because it was just a meaningless buy, no skin off their teeth, it ends up in a pile of other impulsive boredom buys. Do not just mindlessly buy or give your teen money. Make them work for something.  Don't deprive them of that feeling of pride when earned money is what buys them something. Maybe it's a job, maybe it's money for chores, but teaching them that you don't get something for nothing is a valuable lesson.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Answering The Curfew Questions!

Here is a Q&A I did recently about curfews. Enjoy!!!

What are some behaviors a parent should look for before deciding their young teen is ready for a curfew?

As long as parents are in the driver seat, literally, there is no need for a curfew. When your teen has started to do the “walk and hangs” sans parental supervision, It’s time for a curfew.

Why do teens need curfews?

Teens live in the present. Wherever and whatever they’re doing in the moment causes them to lose track of time. They are not thinking: “oh I need to get home to do my homework, or my chores, or for dinner with the fam!” They need help in setting limits, and help in taking responsibility for their time. For some teens, this comes naturally, for most teens it does not. 

What are the benefits of a curfew -- for the teen and for the parent?

Curfews can keep teens safe. Too much time out with no time boundaries can put teens in riskier situations. Knowing that there is an end to an evening makes teens more aware of their behavior, and may help they to say no to situations that involve risky behaviors. For parents they are teaching their kids the concept of accountability. This is a life skill and one that will be important as they move into adulthood. 

What’s the best way for a parent to go about instituting or establishing a curfew?

This absolutely should be a joint venture between the parent and the teen. Curfews handed down from “parent on high” have the potential for “curfew abuse” This happens when a parents sets an unreasonably early curfew, which the teen is then driven to manipulate. For example if there is an 11 PM curfew which a teen feels is unfair, the parents will get a call at 10:59 PM with a fantastically wonderful excuse from their teen why they can’t be home at 11 PM. Parent gives in and says, fine be home by 11:45 PM. Teen has just learned a bad lesson; my parents can be manipulated, and I can get what I want. If instead the parent had said to the teen, “what time do you think will work for you tonight.” The teen would probably say 11:30 ish. Parents can than say “fine, and what will be the consequence if you are late?” Because the teen has had a say, they are much more likely to take ownership of the curfew and come in on time. 

How long should a child have a curfew before a parent considers making it later?

I am not a fan of a rigid set curfew time. I don’t see it as an age question. I think that curfews do depend on what the activity is. I think curfew setting should be a fluid process. If for example a teen is going to hang at a friends house or going to a party, maybe an earlier curfew. If going to a concert or a movie, it may be a later one. 

What’s the best way for a parent to handle it when their teen breaks curfew? See below

What’s a parent to do when their teen chooses to ignore/disregard the curfew?
If a parent has used the process I described above by including the teen in curfew and consequence setting it makes this issue very clear and easy. The teen would have already decided what his consequence would be if he was late. This way when this teen screws up all a parent has to say is “sorry this didn’t work out for you, I guess we’ll be hanging next Friday night together.”

When a teen does ignore or disregard, obviously there would be a consequence of not going out one night the next weekend or docking time. But more importantly parents should work with their teen on strategies to be “curfew successful” There should be a conversation on what would help them the next time. Maybe they did lose track of time, and just were having too much fun to leave. In this case, maybe suggesting to their teen they set some kind of alarm on their phone that gives them a heads-up on the time. Or another strategy is that parents can give teens an hour window to call them for a curfew change. Perhaps a teens curfew is at 11:30. Parents may say if you call me by 10:30 for an extension I will consider it. But anytime after that will always be a NO. Again this makes teens take responsibility for time management. 

PS: Contact me if you think your high school or middle school would like me to come to do one of my 2 hour seminars: Adolescent Psychology- The Parent Version; Sexting, Texting and Social Networking, What's A Parent To do?; Understanding Your teen's risk for Alcohol and Drug use. What's Your Teen's Personality Style?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

When Your Teen Asks The Question: Did You Ever?

I came across a really interesting article by Dr. Perri Klass, a well know Pediatrician and author on kids and families. The article: Q. Did you ever smoke pot? A. It's complicated,  addresses the anxiety and ambivalence most parents feel when their teens asks this question. Of course the major worry is, if I tell the truth, will my teen use that against me as in " Well you smoked pot or drank when you were my age, so don't be such a hypocrite and tell me I shouldn't."

A study done at the Hazelton Treatment Center in Minnosota actually found that parental honesty about their own history with drugs and alcohol was a positive influence. And that has been my experience with parents as well. When your kid finds out that you dabbled yourself as a teen, I think it makes them feel that they can be more open with you and feel less judged by you if you have experienced the draw of teen experimentation.

Lying never works. If you are trying to encourage your teen to be honest and open with you, you need to return the favor. Which isn't to say that you have to tell the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. You do not have to say that you got trashed every weekend. Dr Sharon Levy, the director of the adolescent substance abuse program at Children's Hospital in Boston advises: "You don't need to tell everything. But if you decide to answer don't lie. Tell them the truth without glorifying it, and if you think you made a mistake, tell them that too."

If your teen does decide to turn it against you, you do not need to bite. Clearly if they have been confronted about a episode of drug and alcohol use, they will use any and all means to deflect responsibility for their actions. You do not need to get defensive or argumentative, you can just say we are not talking about me here, we are talking about what happened with you. Hopefully this won't happen because when your teen asked you for full disclosure of your alcohol and drug use it went something like this; " You know honey, I get that you are interested in hearing how I dealt with this stuff when I was a teen. So here goes. I did try pot, but just didn't like the way it made me feel. I didn't like feeling like I wasn't in control,( or when I was stoned, I couldn't concentrate and it stated affecting my school work) With drinking, I hated the feeling of getting drunk and being sick, and seeing other kids do really stupid things. ( insert a story here of some kid you knew who got into trouble drinking) so mostly I would just have a beer or two. When I was a teen we didn't drink hard liquor like teens do now. No one did binge drinking like that. And also pot has really changed since I was a teen. It is much much stronger now. And now there is so much more information about the brain. They didn't know when I was a teen that the brain is still growing, and that drugs and alcohol can actually lead to permanent changes in the way the brain works. Thank god I just kind of dabbled, cause if I knew then what I know now, it would have really changed the way I thought about it. I wouldn't want you to touch a hot stove just to find out you could get burned. My parents didn't know anything about this stuff, or about what I did, thank god nothing bad happened to me. But now we know alot more about brains and the potency of the pot out there, and of course I love you and want to make sure you are making informed decisions. I know that you have a lot ahead of you,  and that you have goals, and want to be successful in life. I wouldn't want to see something that you can be in control of to get out of control and alter you life forever."

Whew!! That's a long paragraph. You can be honest, without being preachy. You want to always keep the conversation open ended. Check in with them often, every weekend, reminding them how much
you love them and want them to be safe.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Revisiting Your Past

I've been thinking about the the standards parents set for their children as they grow up. I was a very average student in high school, but I surely did not want my daughter to be like me in that regard during her high school years. I wanted her to be better, to have more options, to exceed what I felt was my own mediocrity at the time. PS, I think I am doing fine now!

In my parent coaching lately, I have been struck by the disappointment many parents feel about their teenagers lack of perceived motivation and achievement. Sometimes it's academic, sometimes it's the lack of passion their kids seem to feel for anything significant, and sometimes it's the resentment for the time and effort their teens put into their friends and not their family. When I ask these parents what they were like in high school, they often say, rebellious, angry, social, party animal, disrespectful to their parents... and then we smile at each other. One parent said, she didn't much like her teen these days, and started to cry.

Projection is a defense mechanism we can thank Freud for introducing us to. We often "project" on our children those qualities, memories and characteristics we hate most about ourselves. We sometimes see our children in a light that unconsciously reminds us of that part of ourselves we least like, and then wonder "how did they ever get this way?" Hmmmm

I urged the mom who was feeling so negatively about her teen to tell him she totally understood how he was feeling. She had never really shared honestly with him about her own teen years, which were full of rebelliousness and anger..just like her son. She could see how her own parenting style was mirroring her parents, smothering, and overbearing. She worried that being honest with him might encourage him to throw it back in her face. In fact, just the opposite was true.

Sometimes your teen feels your expectations so keenly and worries that they will fail. So rather than disappointing you and not living up to your expectations, they will just stop trying, and then you can be angry with them rather than disappointed. Anger is a much easier emotion to deal with than disappointment. This mom remembers well how she continued to disappoint her parents, and frankly continues to disappoint her family, not because she isn't successful enough, because she is,  but because she isn't doing what they had expected her to do. She made choices to do what she wanted to do. The message that you are OK being who you are, is so much more loving and accepting than, you need to be how I want you to be. And they will be just fine.