Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 23rd, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 6, The More You Ignore Me

Plotline: Luke Gets Arrested: Take 2
The first take on this episode dealt with why teens make risky choices and the ways we parents can help our kids make better, safer decisions. But regardless of how well we’ve parented them, kids sometimes do dangerous or foolish things.

As we saw with Luke tonight, occasionally the reckless things kids do end-up in a call from the police.
Phil: Who’s calling at this hour? (Answering phone) Hello? Yes? (Then to Claire) Luke has been arrested!

The next day we learn what Luke did.
Phil: Well, good morning, Leonard.
Luke: Leonard?
Phil: I know it’s not my well-behaved son, Luke, who’d never take our car out without a license and get arrested.

There’s nothing that can make a parent more anxious than a phone call from the police, letting them know that their kid has been arrested. Changing police tactics and more school-based police have made the possibility more likely. In fact, nearly one in three young people will be arrested by the time they turn 23 according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Hopefully, you’ll never get such a phone call, but knowing how to respond is the best way to minimize a crisis. So here are a few things you need to know – just in case:

Even good kids sometimes do reckless things. Teens’ desire to try new things and fit-in, their lack of experience, daring friends, and too much free time can nudge even good kids over the line and get them arrested.

The police are not on your side. The job of the police is to enforce the law, so they shouldn’t be on anyone’s side. They respond to what they see and to complaints they receive. They may try to arrest only those who have committed a crime, but that isn’t always how it works out. And the fact is, many kids did the things they are arrested for doing.

Stay curious about what happened. If you get a call from the police, informing you that your teen has been arrested, it’s bound to be traumatic. You’ll likely be shocked, worried, and angry. After all, this is your kid who has messed-up. But don’t jump to conclusions or rush to judgment about your child or the arresting police officer. Instead try to stay curious about what happened. This will help you remain calm so that you can deal with the situation as effectively as possible.

If your child is in custody, you need to quickly go to where your child is being held. But know that your rights as a parent may be limited. Your child has a federal right to have a lawyer (but not a parent) present. Some states require conferring with parents before questioning. And many departments will allow parents to be present, but that is up to the investigating officer or their supervisor to decide.

If the police intend to charge your child with a crime, hire a lawyer who specializes in juvenile law. If your child was questioned, you need to find out if they are under investigation for a crime. Sometimes police will tell parents this, but often they won’t. Instead of asking about this yourself, have a lawyer contact the investigating officer to ask.

Whatever the case, don’t act as a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with teens will help you work towards a solution that is in the best interest of your child. This is important because criminal law tends to focus more on punishment. And any criminal record that remains can have a big impact on your child’s future.

It’s almost always best if you say nothing to the police until a lawyer is present. Well-intentioned parents often inadvertently hurt their child’s case. For example, parents are likely to persuade their child to tell the truth – which could cause the teen to say something incriminating. Or parents may allow an unrequired search of their home to please the police. None of this helps your child, regardless of whether or not your child did what the police suspect.

The best way to find a lawyer is by referral. Ask trusted friends and colleagues as well as your state’s bar association for names of attorneys who specialize in juvenile law. Consider calling-up a few lawyers now, before you need one, so you ‘ll have one at the ready. You’ll want to ask them about their philosophy on teens’ rights and the law, about who would handle the work, and what the cost would be.

Connecting Lines:
Good kids can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. A party they’re at could get big and go bad. They might bring something to school that they shouldn’t have. Or they might do something because they don’t understand the rules the same way we adults do. (For instance, a teen who thinks driving in the parking lot with their friends doesn’t count as driving.) Any of these could get a teen arrested.

So it’s important that teens know how to handle an arrest. And the best time to talk with your teen about this is now, when you think (and hope and pray) they’ll never need this know-how. Below are some talking points to support that conversation.

Start by relaying how much you hope your teen will never be arrested. But also assure them that you won’t desert them if they do. Tell them that you will be upset, disappointed, and angry if they mess-up. Tell them it will probably take them a long time to earn your trust again. But also make sure that they know that you will still love them and that you will support them in putting things right and learning from the experience.

And then cover these basics with your teen:

– Be polite and courteous. Above all, your teen needs to know that respect goes a long way when interacting with the police. They should not mouth-off or insult the police. Luke’s response to his arrest: We could fight it – say the cop was racist. Even if we lose, it’ll start a conversation, is exactly the kind of attitude your teen needs to avoid.

– Stay calm. Being arrested is a difficult experience. Your teen needs to know that it’s normal to feel scared and uncertain. But it won’t help for your teen to jump to conclusions, trying to convince themselves that their situation is worse than it actually is.

– Answer only the following questions:
· If they’re asked for identification – their name, their address, or their parents’ phone numbers – they should provide it. They don’t have a right to remain anonymous. Plus you’ll want the police to know how to contact you.

· If they’re driving and are asked for a description of the vehicle, they should provide it. They don’t have any right to keep this information from the police.

· If they’re a bystander to an accident – not involved in any way – and are asked for information about something, they should describe what they saw. But they should not add what they think about what they saw.

Before talking with the police about anything else, ask to speak to a lawyer. Anything the teen says can be used against them. And teens need to know that in situations like this police can be intimidating. They may try to convince a teen to talk by saying that they just want to help or that the teen has nothing to be afraid of. Or they may try to get a teen to open-up by saying that refusing to talk makes the teen look like they’re guilty. Sometimes the police think all of this is true. But many times it isn’t. So if the conversation takes a turn and questions start to be about your teen’s involvement, your teen should end the conversation.

Here’s how Stephen Sheppard, Dean of St. Mary’s University School of Law, suggests that teens end the conversation: The teen can politely ask the officer if they’re free to go. If the answer is “Yes,” then your teen should leave. The officer may ask to make a copy of their license or other identification before letting them leave. But if your teen is asked for any other information, they should respectfully say, “I’m very sorry, but my parents have told me if I am questioned by the police, I am to say nothing but my name. I want to get a lawyer. I will not answer any more questions. Please call my parents.” Your teen should then say nothing more.

Consider role-playing this interaction with your teen. Because the lines above will likely be very hard for your teen to say and respectfully saying those lines is the most important thing your teen can do.

Sources and Resources: 8 Handholding Tips If Your Child Gets In trouble with the Law by Stephen Sheppard; Parenting Advice: When Your Child Gets Arrested by Merle Huerta; Why Parents of Teens Should Have a Criminal Lawyer on Speed Dial by Kelly Wallace

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Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 18th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 6, The More You Ignore Me

Plotline: Luke Gets Arrested

At the Dunphy household, the night begins with a call from the police.
Phil: Who’s calling at this hour? (Answering phone) Hello? Yes? (Then to Claire) Luke has been arrested!

The next day starts-off like this.
Phil: Well, good morning, Leonard.
Luke: Leonard?
Phil: I know it’s not my well-behaved son, Luke, who’d never take our car out without a license and get arrested.
Luke: I took the car for a good reason. Sarah Fisher’s cat died, and she was devastated, so I thought she might make out with me. I got caught two blocks away from her house. Everyone is having great luck with girls except for me. And I mean everyone.
Claire: You know, we’re gonna have to ground you, and I was thinking that…
Phil: Oh, we’re doing way more than that. Landon has a $300 fine to work off.
Luke: We could fight that – say the cop was racist. Even if we lose, it’ll start a conversation.
Phil: You made a mistake; you pay the consequences, Levon. Your first job is cleaning out the awesome village I built for my ducks.

Later, Phil follows-up – well, sort of.
Phil (leaving a voicemail for Luke): Just reminding you the duck village needs to be clean enough to eat off of. You hear me? You better not have. You’re not allowed to use your phone. Yep, I’m everywhere.

Like Phil, none of us want to think that our teens will break our rules and our trust in them. But teens are hard-wired to take risks. So regardless of how smart or well-adjusted kids are or how effectively they’re parented, at some time during adolescence they are bound to make some mistakes.

Sometimes teens’ worrisome behavior is due to impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision making. At other times teens actively seek out risks. For years we’ve believed that teens make these deliberate but reckless choices because they think that nothing bad is going to happen to them. We now know that teens are well aware of their vulnerability. In fact, teens tend to overestimate their risks for many negative outcomes.

A growing body of scientific data suggests that teens take these risks not because they think that they’re invulnerable, but because they engage in too much rational calculation when making these decisions. Consider Luke’s decision tonight to drive the family car without permission or a license. To his rational adolescent mind, deliberating on the odds, it must have seemed like a good bet. He likely reasoned that there was only a moderate chance of getting caught or having an accident, and the potential of the immediate reward – particularly in the heat of the moment – seemed to out-weigh the risks.

In contrast, most adults faced with the temptation of driving someone else’s car – without permission or a license – would likely skip the deliberation and go right to the main point: The risks of an accident or an arrest are not worth quantifying, and it doesn’t make sense to weigh these risks against the reward of brief pleasure. Instead of doing mental calculations, adults go with their gut. They immediately generate a visual image of a potential accident or arrest, experience a physical aversion to that image, and evoke a quick “bad idea” response.

Bottom Line
The dangers are real, but they are not unknown to our teens. So bombarding them with frightening facts won’t help them make better decisions. But getting them to see benefits differently – not just risks – can.

Taking risks will have less appeal for teens if they see greater benefit from alternative, safer, more respectful courses of action. And you want to especially highlight the short-term consequences and benefits as these are the most significant to teens.

Previous posts have discussed the advantages of having a few, simple rules: be safe, be respectful, be in contact. (You can read more about these rules here.) Below are some suggestions for winning your teen’s cooperation for following these rules:

Consistently enforce the rules with consequences that fit the infraction and make sense to your teen. Kids need consequences to get them to reflect on what they have done. But don’t overkill. If you make the consequence too severe, your teen will become resentful and miss the opportunity for learning and growth. Especially beware of grounding for special events – like prom or an important game they’re supposed to play in. And be sure to provide light at the end of the tunnel by letting your teen know when the consequences will end.

Give your teen the support needed to learn from their mistake and a way to re-earn your trust. When your teen disappoints you by breaking a rule, it’s important to enforce a consequence to make room for learning to take place. But consequences almost never do the teaching. Your support is needed for that.

Your support will enable your teen to understand why they did what they did and to realize that there were other choices that they could have and should have made. And your support will enable your teen to regain your trust (and with it their privileges). It works best if you explain precisely how they can go about re-earning your trust. “When you show me that …” If you have a strong relationship with your teen, the more you express confidence in their capability of regaining your trust, the harder they’ll work to re-earn it and keep it.

Gradually let go. This means granting your teen more privileges and freedoms as they earn them by behaving responsibly – choice by choice, decision by decision, action by action.

Connecting Lines:
Our peace of mind is largely based on being able to trust our teens. Because despite Phil’s claim tonight that he’s everywhere, he can’t be. And, of course, neither can we. So we need to do all that we can to encourage our teens to follow our rules.

Appealing to your teen’s self-interest is another way to encourage rule adherence.
Below is a script to give you an idea of what that conversation might sound like.

You: There are only three rules that describe my expectations for your behavior: Be safe, be respectful, and be in contact. I expect you to follow these. Their purpose is to allow me (your parent) to sleep at night.
Them: What do the rules have to do with your sleep?
You: They help keep me from worrying. Parents worry. That’s part of what we do.
Them (rolling their eyes): That’s ridiculous. But if you want to stay up worrying about me, that’s your problem. Not mine.
You: Actually not. When I worry about you, it does affect you. Because when I worry, I don’t sleep as well. And when I’m tired, I’m cranky and more likely to say “No.” So it’s in your own best interest to minimize the things I worry about. That way I’ll sleep better, and you’ll have a better chance of getting to do what you want.

Sources and Resources: Adolescents and Risk: Helping Young People Make Better Choices by Eric Wargo (citing research by Valerie Renya, Ph.D.); Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You by J. Lippincott and Robin Deutsch, Ph.D.; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, Ph.D.

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