Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 23rd, 2016, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 11, Spread Your Wings


Plotline: Alex Spreads Her Wings

Tonight Phil goes to visit Alex at Caltech just before her first semester away at college wraps-up. He is beyond excited to have been invited.
Phil: I’m going to see Alex! I’m a little nervous because she’s been pulling away lately. Calls don’t get returned. I don’t get asked to visit as much.

But shortly after Phil arrives on campus, Alex opens up to him.
Alex: I want to move back home and commute to school next semester.
Phil: Wow. Really? Did something happen?
Alex: No, it’s just the people here are all so immature. They are always banging on your door with a beaker full of margaritas, and the nerd noise is deafening. Did you bring those noise-canceling headphones I asked mom for?

As Phil is promising to pick-up some headphones and drop them by her dorm room, a co-ed dressed in a ball gown comes up the street behind them.
Co-ed: (handing Alex a flier): Cannon Ball tonight. Don’t miss it!
Phil: What’s that about?
Alex: Oh, it’s just some stupid tradition where, at the end of the semester, all the freshmen jump off a high dive in cheesy prom dresses.
Phil: That could be fun.
Alex: It definitely won’t be.
Phil: Well, maybe if you give it a chance…
Alex: No. You know what, Dad? I did. I’ve already been to like 10 parties, and they’re all lame. Everyone just talks to their own dorm mate.
Phil: Sweetie, sometimes it takes a while to warm up to people.
Alex: What is this about? Do you not want me to come home? Is that what this is?! Because, fine, I’ll just go get an apartment off campus!
Phil: Alex, don’t get mad.
Alex: Well, I am mad! Because I’m actually smart enough to know what’s working for me and what isn’t! And this isn’t! I have to go to class.

It’s part of a teen’s agenda to separate from their parents – especially as they spread their wings and takeoff for college. And as Phil learns tonight, we parents have to honor our teen’s agenda to maintain our relationship with them.

Yet being a parent means that we’ve had enough experience to have some wisdom worth sharing with our teens. Phil is a good case in point. This father, who has spent most of his life trying to fit in, realizes that his daughter is feeling left out at college, that she longs to be a part of it all but doesn’t know how. And his years of experience have taught him that fitting in requires that you put yourself out there and give others a chance to let you in.

Phil’s first go at sharing his wisdom sounds a lot like a lecture. And Alex rejects his advice out of hand. That’s no big surprise. When kids are younger, lectures often work well for sharing our wisdom. Even if they’re in trouble for misbehaving, they listen to what we have to say. But lecturing doesn’t work as well for imparting advice to teens. To take our advice makes our teens feel dependent on us just when they’re trying to get us to see them as independent.

After Alex stomps off to class, Phil decides to change course. Later we see him go to Alex’s dorm room and tell her that if she is sure that she has given living on campus her best shot, he believes her. That she can move back home. Then as he leaves he hands her a gift bag, supposedly containing the noise-cancelling headphones she’d asked for. But when Alex looks inside the bag, she finds a cheesy prom dress and goggles – the two things she needs to participate in the Freshman Cannon Ball.

The point is that when his initial advice gets rejected out of hand, Phil doesn’t continue to lecture. He doesn’t try to control by refusing to let Alex move back home or threaten to cut off financial support if she doesn’t take his advice. Instead, he simply makes it easier for her to do what he wants her to do, what his own years of experience of trying to fit in convince him is the right thing for her to do: To give living on campus a little more time.

At the end of the show there are a couple heartwarming moments as Alex in prom dress and goggles jumps into the swimming pool and later as she makes a late-night call to Phil just to chat. This turnaround isn’t just a feel-good (but unrealistic) ending to a TV show. It’s quite plausible when viewed from a teen’s point of view. Because as illogical as it may seem, by allowing herself to be insulted by Phil’s attempts to control her life and by rejecting these attempts out of hand, it freed Alex up so that later she could discover the usefulness of his advice.

Connecting Lines:
Like Alex, our teens need to push for their independence and make some mistakes of their own. They’re biologically set to do this. But as they are extending away from us, they need our input more than ever. Because from our teen’s perspective, our silence on an issue can translate into implied approval.

As we saw tonight, lecturing isn’t usually the best way to impart advice to our teens. At least not on an everyday basis. Instead we can follow Phil’s example. We can look for ways to make it easier for our teens to do the right thing.
– We do this when we have a few simple, clear rules and then pay attention.
– We do this when we regularly stay up to make sure they get home safe, sound, and on time.
– We do this when we make a point of calling before they go to a party to ensure that a parent will be present and that alcohol and drugs will not be allowed.

What other things do you do to make it easier for your teen to make good decisions and more difficult for them to make poor choices?

Sources and Resources: Photo courtesy of ABC, Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD

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Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 27th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 5, The Verdict

Plotline: Luke Volunteers Because It’s Mandatory
From the get-go tonight, Luke drags his feet over the required volunteering. He’d even join Claire for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” to get out of it.
Luke: I’ll go to work with you, Mom.
Phil: Stop trying to get out of community service. You need those hours to graduate.
Claire: And you’re not a daughter.
Luke: Mom, Dad, sit down. There’s something I need to talk to you about.
Phil: You’re going.

Luke does go – along with Phil and a group of boys, including Manny – but his heart is not in it.
Phil: Okay, men. Gather ’round. Teachable moment. Don’t think of community service as a requirement. Think of cleaning up this park as an opportunity.
Luke: To get hepatitis?
Phil: To make the world a better place.
Manny: That’s why I’m here. I already did my required hours.
Luke: That’s a fancy way of saying you’re a virgin.
Manny: Joke all you want, but this looks good on an application to NYU or UCLA.
Luke: Or KFC.
Phil: Okay, stop trash-talking and start trash picking-up.

Things then go from bad to worse. And it’s not just trash-talk. A car gets trashed – right after Phil gathers everyone around for one last teachable moment.
Phil: I guess the answer is nothing. Nothing separates us from animals. Grow up, Manny. Human beings are basically terrible.

Many high schools – like the one Luke and Manny attend – have made volunteering a graduation requirement since the 1990s when federal laws and funds began supporting it. Yet, when surveyed, most young people say they’re opposed to required community service. And there’s the rub.

Our kids will reap nothing from volunteering if their hearts aren’t in it.

But there are lots of benefits to be had.

It’s good for them. Volunteering can help teens…

– Grow in responsibility because people depend on them.

– See what life is like for others and build a heart for helping others – elderly people, people with disabilities, sick kids, people in financial distress.

– Explore their interests. They may even develop a passion that helps shape their ideas about a career they might not otherwise have considered.

– Build new relationships. When working on long-term projects, these connections often develop into close friendships.

It looks good too. A long-term commitment to a cause or an organization can give teens an edge when it comes to college admissions by helping them…

– Demonstrate a meaningful use of their free time. A passionate involvement in a few activities can show dedication and responsibility. Although challenging high school classes, grades that show strong effort, and solid scores on ACT or SAT are at the top of the college checklist, extracurricular activities including volunteering and community service are also high on the list.

– Write a college essay. Writing about work done based on a cause that matters deeply to them can help students show colleges what they believe in and highlight their character, values, and goals.

– Earn an extra letter of recommendation. A recommendation from a community leader or a supervisor who knows a student well can put a spotlight on a student’s passion, special skills, and positive character traits.

Years ago Ralph Waldo Emerson said: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. This is certainly true when it comes to service learning. If our kids resent having to put in the time or just go through the motions, they’re likely to get less than nothing out of the volunteer experience.

Most teens could probably care less about Emerson’s words from long ago. But we moms might want to keep them in the back of our minds.

Connecting Lines:
If you have a kid who is dragging their feet about a required service learning project, it might help to remind them that unlike other parts of school, with volunteering they get to pick what really interests them and who they do it with. Your conversation might start something like this: You gotta do it and there are lots of ways to volunteer. So…
What is something you really care about?
What would make it fun? Who would be fun to do it with?
What would make it interesting?
What would make it meaningful?
What would make it count the most on a college application?

For additional help with the picking process, checkout the teen website (click here).

Sources and Resources: The Ten Most Important Factors in College Admissions by Judi Robinoviz; Teen Volunteering at

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