MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 17th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 7, Queer Eyes, Full Hearts

Alex Keeps on Going and Going…

The Framework
There are queer eyes, wide eyes, and eyeballs that are too tired to move tonight on Modern Family. But more than anything, tonight’s show is about dogged persistence.

Andy (the manny now calling himself a bro pair) defines this type of persistence when selling Phil on giving him a job.
Andy: I will never, ever …. Uhhh … I’m blanking on the verb …
Phil: Quit?
Andy: I had to ask because I don’t know the meaning of the word.

But it’s Alex who truly epitomizes the term.
Phil (to Alex who’s walking while reading a textbook): Hey, honey.
Alex (not looking up from her book): Oh, hey.
Phil: Still studying for that test?
Alex: I can’t; I have to study.
Phil: What time did you get to bed?
Alex (bumping into a wall as she walks away): Sure thing.

Phil: Claire, I think something’s up with Alex.
Claire (lost in thought): I don’t know. Some kind of chicken.
Phil: Why is no one listening to me? Come here (taking Claire by the arm and leading her to the hallway where Alex continues to stare at the book in her hands and walk into the wall). I don’t think she’s getting enough sleep. Look at her. She’s like a human roomba.
Claire: Alex will be fine. This (pointing to Haley who’s sitting on the couch flipping through magazines) is our real problem.
Phil: She’s 20; she’s finding herself.
Claire: How hard can it be? She hasn’t moved.

Later there’s this.
Phil: Honey, I’m getting worried about Alex. I don’t think she slept again last night. It’s like the third night in a row.
Claire: I thought you were going to set your alarm and check on her.
Phil: Stupid thing never went off.

A flashback shows us why. As Phil’s alarm goes off, Alex (still carrying a textbook – now with a reading light attached) walks into her parents’ bedroom to turn it off.

Claire: I’m sure Alex slept.
Phil: I don’t know. She’s sitting at her desk too tired to move her eyeballs. She’s reading her book like this (mimes moving a book back-and-forth in front of his face).
Claire: Alex is going to be fine. [Haley] is the one I’m worried about.

And at the end of the episode there’s this.
Alex (still holding textbook, looking totally exhausted): Claire, the words on the page are vibrating. And I can’t make them stop. I forgot how to read.
Claire: Alex, oh my God!
Alex (handing Claire the opened book): Read it to me, Mommy.
Claire (closing the book): Baby, you’re exhausted. And you have to go to sleep right now. Come with me (putting her arms around Alex and leading her towards bed).

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Most of us remember being tired as teens. But not as tired as Alex. And not as tired as most of today’s teens.

Some teens, like Alex, get behind on sleep because of heavy homework loads and high stakes exams. But over scheduling of activities, after school jobs as well as screens and phones in their bedrooms are also culprits.

They can’t do it all. Something has to go. And often it’s sleep that gets cut.

Even when teens go to bed at a decent hour, they often have trouble falling asleep. They’re drowsy when they wake in the morning, and they’re exhausted in midafternoon. But they then perk up at night – even if they have not had a nap.

Not long ago, researchers examining young adolescents’ sleep patterns found out why. For centuries it was thought that the longer people are awake, the sleepier they become and the greater the pressure to fall asleep. But these researchers found that after 12 hours of being awake, the teens were less sleepy than they had been earlier in the same day. What’s more, after 14 hours, the teens were even less sleepy. This lead to the discovery of the “biological clock” – a clock that keeps people awake even when they are very tired at certain times of the day and at certain ages.

It turns out, that just before puberty begins (around age 10) kids’ biological clocks shift forward to help them stay alert at night about two hours longer than when they were younger. This resetting of their internal clocks creates a no-sleep zone around 9:00 to 11:00 PM – just when they should be getting sleepy. Unfortunately, our internal clocks have shifted back – making it tough for us to stay awake just when our teens are most alert.

Mitch: I wish I knew where your off-switch was.

Many of us obsessed about our kids’ sleep when they were babies. But as our kids get older, their sleep falls off our list of priorities. Like Claire, we focus on what they’re doing (or not doing) when they’re awake.

But it’s not just that sleep matters. It’s how and how much it matters. Inadequate sleep can have negative effects on just about every aspect of teens’ lives – their stress level, their grades, their health, their sports performance, their ability to get along with friends and family, their growth, their mood, their emotional stability, their concentration and memory, their energy level, their ability to think clearly, their risk of injury, their skin condition, their weight, and their use of drugs and alcohol.

And most teens aren’t getting nearly enough sleep. A recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that 59% of middle schoolers and 87% of high schoolers were getting about 1½ hours less than the recommended 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep on school nights.

Like Mitch, many of us find ourselves wishing for an off-switch. Because when it comes to our teens’ sleep habits, we’re not totally in charge. We can set a bedtime, take the TV out of their room, and confiscate their phone and computer. But we cannot make them sleep.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Rather than giving up on them, we need to monitor how much sleep they’re getting and look for ways to work with them to make sleep more of a priority. Here are some things you can do to try to help.

Provide them with a model. (Click here for more on how our sleep habits affect those of our kids.)

Offer a convincing argument for more sleep. Pick and choose among the list of researched negative effects of inadequate sleep listed above to fit your family’s values and what your teen values. For teens like Alex the research on how sleep affects learning and memory found here may be particularly convincing.

Keep things calm at bedtime. Help create a calm atmosphere in your home around bedtime, and encourage your teen to have a regular routine to help them unwind before sleep. Doing the same calming things every night before sleeping will signal their body that it’s time for sleep and help them fall asleep faster. So encourage taking a warm shower or bath, reading a book, listening to music, or other relaxing activities.

Urge them to plan naps right. If your teen is drowsy in the afternoon, a nap can be revitalizing, but it should be short (less than an hour) and not too close to bedtime – otherwise naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Help make their room a sanctuary for sleep. Cool, quiet, dark rooms are better for sleeping. Some teens may benefit from eyeshades or blackout curtains.

Adjust the lighting. Bright lights stop the body from producing melatonin – a hormone that responds to light and helps determine whether we feel sleepy or not. So to reduce the risk of sleep disruption, urge your teen to keep the lights dim near bedtime. This includes turning down the brightness of their phones, tablets, and computers. And in the morning, open curtains and blinds to let the bright light in and signal their body to wake-up.

Help them establish a bed and wake time that they can stick with. Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week – staying up later and getting up later on weekends. Encourage your teen to keep weekday and weekend bedtimes and wake times within a couple hours of each other. And if they need to sleep in to catch-up on missed sleep during the week, they shouldn’t sleep more than two hours later than they normally do on a weekday. Sleeping longer will disrupt their internal body clock – hurting the quality of their sleep, making it even harder for them to wake up on Monday.

Tonight Claire yells at Haley: Get off the couch! Do something with your life! Yet she says nothing as Alex keeps on going and going. It’s tempting to come down hard on Claire. But sometimes highly motivated teens keep up a daily brutal grind because they can. They think they should if they can, and it’s tough to convince them otherwise.

In truth, it can be more difficult to help a go-getter kid decide what is most important and what may need to be cut back than it is to motivate a less ambitious one. Yet when Alex was totally overwhelmed tonight, she came to Claire for help, reminding that even our most self-regulated teens are counting on us to be there to guide them.

Your Parenting Experiences
Different teens value different things. Which of the negative effects of too little sleep would be the most convincing to your teen? Would it be their stress level, their grades, their health, their sports performance, their ability to get along with friends and family, their growth, their mood, their emotional stability, their concentration and memory, their energy level, their ability to think clearly, their risk of injury, their skin condition, their weight, or the risk from drugs and alcohol?

Sources and Resources: “Teens and Sleep” by the National Sleep Foundation; Snooze… Or Lose by Helene Emsellem, MD & Carol Whitely; “Sleep and Teens” by UCLA Sleep Disorder Center; “What You Can Do to Promote Better Teen Sleep’ by Mayo Clinic; “Adolescents and Sleep” by Sarah Spinks

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 27th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 5, Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?

Mitch and Cam Overdo It

The Framework
Tonight in all three households the adults let their longings and anxieties push them over appropriate boundary lines. But it’s what happened with Lily that caught and kept my attention.

It’s Friday night and Lily has just returned from a school carnival with Cam.
Lily: I’m going to go do homework. Don’t knock unless it’s an actual emergency – not a spider.
Mitch: Mrs. Plank gave her homework on a weekend?!
Cam: I know! The woman is insane. But listen. I heard something in the glitter tattoo line … There’s an opening in Ms. Sparrow’s class.
Mitch: Oh my God, Cam! We need to get her in.
Cam: I know. We’re going in first thing tomorrow.

The dads are worried that school is stressing Lily out. Here’s their case in point.
Mitch (to Lily who’s holding up her poster of a frog’s lifecycle): Let’s see, sweetie … Good job!
Lily: Oh NO! I spelled “tadpole” wrong!
Cam: Oh, well now, that’s just one mistake.
Lily (tearing up her poster): Mrs. Plank doesn’t tolerate mistakes!

And with that, Mitch and Cam go to see Mrs. Plank.
Mrs. Plank: Is there a problem?
Cam: Not so much a problem. No.
Mitch: More of an opportunity for you to lighten your workload.
Mrs. Plank: Let me guess; you’ve heard there’s an opening in young Ms. Sparrow’s class.
Cam: Uhhh, well … we just stopped by in the neighborhood to say hi…
Mitch: …to say hello, and also … umm … about this opening in Ms. Sparrow’s class that you suggested for Lily. Is that something that you…
Cam: …you think would be a good idea?
Mrs. Plank: Parents are not allowed to choose their children’s teacher.
Mitch: No, and, of course, I would never suggest special treatment for Lily – even if she is a former orphan, a minority, and a daughter of two gay men.
Cam: That’s a big load on those little shoulders.
Mrs. Plank (writing BUFFOON on whiteboard): Are you suggesting that your daughter is at a disadvantage because she’s being raised by gay parents?
Mitch: Is it working?

Mrs. Plank adds an “S” to BUFFOON, and the dads switch tactics.
Cam: Uhh… Look, we just don’t think Lily responds to your teaching methods. We think she’d be happier in Ms. Sparrow’s class.
Mrs. Plank: We would all be happier in that new-aged drum circle she calls a classroom.
Cam: Okay. Well, we didn’t mean to offend you. We’re not saying you’re any worse than her.
Mrs. Plank: Than “she.” That’s proper English. It’s too bad Lily won’t learn it.
Mitch: So she can go?

Mrs. Plank: As far as I’m concerned she’s already gone. One more child left behind.
Cam: Lily will be fine. She’s going to have a chance to thrive in a more supportive classroom. You don’t need to worry about she.

But later when the dads share their good news with Lily (who’s playing with a friend in Ms. Sparrow’s class), there’s this.
Lily: I want to stay with Mrs. Plank.
Mitch: But why? Ms. Sparrow is so fun and creative.
Lily: I want to read and learn math.
Playmate: We do math.
Lily: Really? What’s two plus seven?
Playmate: Twenty-seven.
Mitch: No. No. It’s “nine.” But that’s an honest mistake, sweetheart.
Lily (to playmate): What do blue and yellow make?
Playmate: Blellow.
Lily (turning to her dads): You need to fix this.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Last week we saw Mitch way underparent. He was so wrapped up in his own worries that he totally missed what Lily was telling him about an incident in gym class that sounded a lot like bullying. Tonight he and Cam overparent as they team up and go to bat for Lily at school – about something that Lily doesn’t see as a problem.

The dads want Lily to be happy. To like school. They see her stress as a risk to her success at school. And they are determined to do something about it.

Part of being a parent is minimizing risks for our children. And it’s worrisome to see our kids unhappy or struggling. But when we rush in too quickly to shield our kids from struggles, we deprive them of experiences that can help them develop the skills and resilience they’ll need to deal with the much bigger difficulties they’re bound to face as they get older. Plus when we interfere because of our own worries and anxieties, we’re getting in the way of our kids’ most crucial task: developing their own sense of self – one distinct from us.

Our job is to know our children well enough to be able to figure out when to step in and when it’s better to step back and be watchful and available, while giving our kids a chance to manage the situation. Yes, we’ll probably be anxious. But we must keep our anxiety in check so that our kids can do their job: to grow and gradually become more independent.

Mitch (to Mrs. Plank): It seems that we forgot to talk to Lily before coming in to see you.

Getting our child’s take is important. But even if you’re hearing repeated complaints from your child that you believe warrant action, addressing concerns about their classroom can be tricky. You don’t want to come across as an overanxious, interfering pain.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Checkout these suggestions before you go to that meeting with the teacher.

Get your child’s take. Remember you’re not the one in the classroom. Think of this as a parent-teacher-child partnership.

Approach the relationship with respect. Treat the relationship the same way you would any other very important partnership in your life. Instead of lecturing the teacher about what’s wrong, begin by bringing up your concern and your hope that working together you can come up with ways to make the situation better. Keep your bring-it-up statement brief – something you can say in 20 seconds or less. Then ask for the teacher’s point of view.

Provide tangible details. Instead of your judgments (Like Cam’s We don’t think Lily responds to your teaching methods or “He’s bored” or “She’s having a terrible year”), give concrete examples of what you’re seeing and hearing. Think of the process as creating a dot-to-dot picture. You give the details (the dots) and then give the teacher a chance to connect them. Teachers (like the rest of us) are more likely to act on conclusions they’ve drawn for themselves.

Talk about what matters most. We tend to pester their teachers about grades (“Why’d she get a B?”). But dissecting each grade won’t instill a life-long love of learning and willingness to work hard – the traits most important for long-term academic success. So as you talk with the teacher, spend more time on the process of learning – your child’s self-directedness and preference for challenge. Their persistence and resilience. Because it’s how our kids view effort that will largely determine how much they ultimately achieve.

Agree on who, what, and when. Come up with a plan of action. Everybody in the partnership (parent, teacher, and child) should have a role. So ask what you can do to help. And set a time to follow up and check on progress.

The final scene of this storyline gives us one more reason not to overparent.
Mrs. Plank: I will take Lily back if you are able to tell me the object of this sentence. “Lily’s parents were wrong about Mrs. Plank.”
Cam (confused to Mitch): Do you know?
Mitch: I think the object is to humiliate us.
Mrs. Plank: Correct. See? I can teach anybody.

While her dads’ interfering tonight probably didn’t hurt Lily, it took a toll on Mitch and Cam. Overparenting is stressful and exhausting. Yes, the dad’s overdoing was comically over the top. But many of us are tempted to interfere more than we should. We think that with a bit more of a parental push we could turn out kids with lots of talents and secured futures.

The thing is, our kids notice when we overdo it. A few years back, researcher Ellen Galinsky asked 1,000 kids what they’d like to change most about their parents’ schedules. The top wish was for their parents to be less tired and stressed. And one of the most important things we can do to motivate our kids to be all they can be is to show them a version of adult life that is appealing enough to strive for.

Your Parenting Experiences
There are lots of different styles of teaching, and we can relate to some of our children’s teachers better than others. Cam handled his uneasy relationship with Lily’s teacher like this.
Cam (to camera): I call Mrs. Plank “Mrs. Crank” hahaha … I have the courage to say what others won’t.
Mitch: Behind her back.

What do you tend to do when you don’t readily relate to a teacher?

Sources and Resources: “Talking with Teachers” from PBS Parents; “Raising Successful Children” by Madeline Levine in the New York Times; “Helicopter Parents: Relax, your kids will be fine” in the Economist.

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© 2020 Roxane Lehmann, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.