Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 23rd, 2016, 0 Comments

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

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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.

Guidelines:
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 December 13th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 8, Clean Out Your Junk Drawer

Alex & Haley S 7 E 8

Plotline: Two Sisters, Two Troubling Relationships

Gloria won a seminar on emotional intimacy in a raffle. So thanks to Gloria, all the adults are gathered in the Dunphy’s living room tonight, trying to get in touch with their emotional sides and make their marriages healthier.

Haley, having been kicked out of the house for the seminar, heads to Caltech to visit Alex. As soon as she arrives, the two sisters start talking about their troubles. It quickly becomes apparent that, like the adults, the girls too are in relationships that are short on emotional intimacy.

The sisters’ chat begins like this.
Haley: So, how’s school?
Alex: Well, in my Newtonian mechanics class we’re learning how to calculate the velocity of free falling objects in a… School’s hard.
Haley: So, anyways, umm… I sort of did something and I need your advice. But I don’t want a lot of judgment and criticism.
Alex: And you came to me?
Haley: Yeah, you’ve always had such a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. You always know what…
Alex: I have a high-school boy toy.
Haley: What?! Who?
Alex: It’s Luke’s dorky friend Reuben.
Haley: Ugh.
Alex: I feel so ashamed.
Haley: Oh, my god. You should be. Isn’t he, like 8?
Alex: No, he’s 16 and 3/4, and he has to shave almost every two weeks.
Haley: How did you let this happen? You go to Caltech. You’re surrounded by age-appropriate dorks.
Alex: I know, but I was home and still feeling sad about Sanjay breaking up with me, and it’s overwhelming here. There are so many brilliant people, and Reuben idolizes me. I guess I just kind of needed that, so I let him kiss me. Oh, and a little bit of this (indicating her chest). I’m so weak. I can’t imagine anything worse.

It turns out that Haley can.
Haley: I hooked up with Andy.
Alex: What?!
Haley (nodding her head): Mm-hmm.
Alex: Engaged Andy?
Haley (again, nodding her head): I know. [But] I I feel like if Andy weren’t engaged, we’d have a chance.
Alex: And if Reuben were just a little bit older and didn’t wear prescription shoes… It’d still be gross.

Guidelines
Most of us use the term “intimate relationship” to refer to being physically intimate in a romantic relationship. But, in fact, any individuals who are emotionally close and connected can be said to be in an intimate relationship. These could, for example, be friends, siblings, or coworkers. Emotionally intimate relationships are characterized by mutual respect, trust, caring, and commitment.

Healthy sexual relationships are always emotionally intimate. And if we hope (and expect) that our kids will wait to have sex until they’re in a deeply committed, caring relationship, then we need to communicate with them about how to tell if a romantic relationship is healthy or not. Because as we were reminded tonight, sexual relationships are not always emotionally intimate.

Sex is a difficult subject to discuss, but research shows that we parents can help steer our kids in the direction we want them to go by having meaningful discussions with them about sex-related topics including healthy dating relationships. In national surveys, most teens say that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex – more than their friends or the media. Most say they share their parents’ values about sex. And most teens say that talking openly and honestly with their parents would make it easier for them to make decisions about delaying sex.

Here are some ideas and approaches that can help you improve communication about healthy dating relationships with your teen.

It’s best to start talking about romantic relationships before kids begin dating.
Serious romantic relationships are most likely to develop during the later teen years, but kids typically begin pairing-off between the ages of 12 and 14. Although it’s never too late to start these conversations, it’s best to start talking about what makes romantic relationships healthy before the pairing-off begins. And as you talk, emphasize the many ways to express affection other than sex – such as intimate talks, long walks, listening to music together, dancing, holding hands, kissing, and hugging.

Be on the lookout for good opportunities to talk with your teen.
Frequent, short conversations make a bigger difference in kids’ behavior than a single conversation. Right after watching a relevant TV show (like this Modern Family episode) can provide a unique opportunity to discuss the behavior of the show’s characters – reinforcing positive behavior and underscoring the potential consequences of risky behavior.

Stay informed about the messages your teen is getting about romantic relationships and sex. Your teen is probably getting messages about sex and relationships from a variety of sources, including teachers, friends, TV, and the Internet. Don’t assume that all the information your teen is getting is accurate. And don’t assume that the school’s curriculum includes all the information you want your teen to know and consider.
– The following are a few websites for teens that you can trust to provide direct and accurate information about sex: sexetc.org (from Rutgers University) teenhealthfx.com (from Goryeb Children’s Hospital), and youngwomenshealth.org (from Children’s Hospital Boston, for girls).

– Regularly taking your teen to preventative health care appointments and allowing them time alone with the doctor or nurse can also give your teen a chance to talk confidentially about any questions or concerns they may have.

Be sure that your talks with your teen include discussions about feelings, attitudes, and values. Our teens need accurate information about sex. But they also need to know what healthy romantic relationships look and feel like. Although we moms are more likely to talk with our girls about how to say “no” to sex and more likely to remind our boys to respect a girl’s feelings, boys also need to be taught how to say “no,” and girls need to be taught how to be respectful of a boy’s feelings.

In addition, both our daughters and sons need to know how to tell whether a relationship is healthy or not. In a healthy relationship:
– Both people feel respected, supported, and valued; neither tries to change the other.
– Both people like themselves as individuals when they are together.
– Both have friends and interests outside the relationship.
– One person doesn’t make most or all of the decisions; instead the couple makes decisions together.
– The couple settles disagreements with open and honest conversations; neither of them shouts, threatens, hits, or throws things during arguments.
– There are more good times than bad ones.

Connecting Lines:
Talking with your teen about what they would look for in a romantic partner or relationship is a good way to show that you’re available to listen and a chance for you to get a window into their thinking about these topics. As you talk, try to remain open to your teen’s ideas and be ready to share yours.

Below are some ideas to help support a conversation with your teen based on tonight’s Modern Family episode:
How do you think Alex feels about herself after she’s been with Ruben? What advice would you give Alex if she were your good friend? How about if Ruben were your good friend, what would you tell him?

We learned tonight that both Haley and Andy feel guilty about being together – given that Andy is engaged and all. What do you think that their guilty feelings say about the health of their relationship?

How would you want to be treated in a relationship? How do you want to feel about yourself when you’re with that person?

Sources and Resources: Talking with Your Teen about Sex: Going Beyond “the Talk” from CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, Sex Education: Talking to Your Teen about Sex by Mayo Clinic Staff, Teen Dating: A Mom’s Guide by Barbara Whitaker from WebMD archive, Defining a Healthy Relationship for Teens by Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Facts on American Teens’ Sources of Information About Sex from Guttmacher Institute, Talk with Your Teen about Healthy Relationships from US Department of Health and Human Services

Photo Courtesy of ABC



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