Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 17th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 3, The Closet Case


Plotline: Dylan Moves Into the Basement with Haley

Here’s how it happened.
Haley (to Phil): umm, we have a favor to ask you. You know how Dylan has his own t-shirt business?
Phil: Oh, I should’ve seen this coming. Yes, I will model for you, but I’m gonna need to own the negatives.
Haley: Okay, great. Also, we were kind of hoping that Dylan could stay in the basement with me for a little while.
Phil: Oh.
Haley: He’s trying to save up to build inventory, and rent is killing him.
Dylan: It feels like they’re asking for money, like, every six weeks.
Phil: I don’t know, guys. Moving in together, that’s a big step.
Haley: It’s just for a little while. Please?
Phil (chuckling): I guess if your mom’s okay with it, I’m okay with it.
Haley: Oh, and could you ask her for us?
Phil: I’ll give it a shot, but it’ll be the second thing I’ve talked her into this morning, and it’ll be a lot trickier now that she’s fully awake.

Later there’s this exchange between the down-with-everything dad and Claire.
Phil: Listen, I was talking to Haley and Dylan.
Claire: Ugh.
Phil: They want to know if he can stay in the basement for a few weeks.
Claire: Oh, Phil, I think that’s a bad idea.
Phil: They’re adults, and Dylan really has been getting his act together.
Claire: This doesn’t bother you?
Phil: They’re doing what they’re doing. I say we be evolved about it.
Claire: Fine. If you’re really okay with our precious daughter shacking up with her ne’er-do-well boyfriend, so be it.
Phil: I just don’t want them sneaking around like we had to. The scariest moment of my life was that pants-less conversation I had with your dad through the Dutch door.

And still later there’s this when Phil – while looking for his missing phone charger – inadvertently walks in on Haley and Dylan.
Phil: Oh, you’re both in the bed together.
Haley: Dad, it’s fine.
Phil: Uh, anyway, just, uh, looking for my charger.
Haley: Oh. Sorry, Dad, it’s not here.
Phil: Guess I’ll just get used to not having any power.

First, let’s be clear about one thing: Phil does have power over what happens in his home. In fact, what takes place under our roof is one of the few areas we parents still have control over – even when our children are no longer little kids.

But should Phil and Claire allow Haley to sleep with Dylan in their home? Would you allow it if this were your kid? What if that kid was still a teen?

Take a look at the research on US teens’ sexual activity, and you’ll see that adolescence is a time of rapid change. Fewer than 2% of twelve-year-olds have had sex and only 16% have had sex by the time they reach 15. But by the time they reach their 17th birthday, nearly half have had sex and nearly 71% will have had sex by the time they’re 19.

So most of our kids (daughters and sons alike) will be sexually active by the time they are Haley’s age. Many will have been at it for quite a while. Still, being aware that your child is sexually active is very different than feeling comfortable knowing that at this very moment your child is having sex in the next room.

Truth be told, many parents would prefer that their kids (of any age) wait until they are in a deeply committed, adult relationship to have going-all-the-way kind of sex. And most parents feel that teen sex is something to be discouraged – if not forbidden. Many would never even consider letting their teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend sleepover. They reason that if they make it easy for their teen to have sex in the family home, they’re sending a message that they condone it – that they think it’s a good choice and a choice that the teen is ready to make. They believe that their “not-under-my roof” stance is the best way to make sure their teen adopts their values.

Other parents take a “don’t ask, don’t tell approach.” They aren’t comfortable being the hotelier to their children’s sex lives but, for various reasons, they allow their kids to bend the rules. These parents’ messages (usually sent indirectly) often sound a lot like the message Phil explicitly spells out by the end of tonight’s episode.
Phil: Haley, Dylan, this little living arrangement of yours, it’s not working out and it’s about to change.
Haley: Dad, why are you freaking out?
Phil: Because I’m your father and I can’t have the two of you sleeping together in the same room like it’s no big deal. So, from now on, you’re gonna show me the respect I deserve and sneak around behind my back.
Dylan: Do what, now? I don’t understand.
Phil: Starting tonight, you’re sleeping in Alex’s room, and if there’s any monkey business, it better happen after I’m asleep

Still other parents take a much more accepting attitude about sex and what’s allowed under the family roof. Some make this decision after thinking long and hard about questions like: What kind of message are we sending our kids if we know (or strongly suspect) they’re having sex but don’t want it to happen in our house? Are we telling them that sex is okay as long as they sneak around and lie about it? How is this different than knowing they’re having sex but not making sure they have the means for protection against STDs and unwanted pregnancy? Realizing that saying “no” is no guarantee that it won’t happen, these parents decide that a more accepting approach opens the way for more parental guidance.

Whatever your decision about sleepovers or who sleeps where when your teen or young adult brings a boyfriend or girlfriend home for the night, you’ll want to be clear about why you made the decision and be genuinely comfortable with it. To get there it might help to consider these criteria:
– Is my decision consistent with my values and priorities?
– Is it appropriate for my child’s age and maturity? (For example, your rules for your high school teen might be very different than those for your college-age kid coming home for a weekend with their steady boyfriend or girlfriend.)
– Is it based on sufficient discussion with my child? (While you and your parenting partner will make the final decision, considering your teen or young adult’s input will show respect for their ideas and help get their buy-in.)

Connecting Lines:
Tape Modern Family and use it to connect with your kids – whether they’re teens or young adults. You might be surprised how much you’ll laugh together while watching and learn from each other in the conversations that follow – particularly if you keep your sense of humor as you talk.

Below are a few conversation starters to use with your teen for this episode:
– If you had to describe Haley and Dylan’s relationship in 5 words, what would you say? (You might follow-up with: Do you think their relationship is meaningful? Caring? Freely chosen? Responsible?)
– Do you think Haley and Dylan are ready to sleep together? How would Haley know if she is ready? Are there different considerations for girls and guys?
– Do you think that Haley might have been hoping her parents would say “no” when she asked if Dylan could move in? Do you think that kids might sometimes feel pressure from friends (or a boyfriend or girlfriend) to do something and look to their parents to be the ones who say “no”?

Sources and Resources: Not Under My Roof by Amy Shalet, PhD; Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex by Deborah Roffman

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 18th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 23, Crying Out Loud

Gloria Gets a Word in Edgewise

The Framework
After almost six seasons, regular watchers of Modern Family understand the relationships among the various characters. Tonight’s episode takes these familiar family dynamics to a new extreme.

Jay has always been reserved about showing emotion when it comes to his kids. But tonight he uses Claire’s picture as a mirror to pluck his nose hairs. Of course, Claire sees this, mistakes it for something else, and dithers over an offer for another job because of it.

Gloria has always been manipulating – especially about Manny’s girlfriends. But tonight, after Manny has his wisdom teeth pulled, she tries to gaslight him into believing his girlfriend never showed up.

Cam has always been uber-emotional. About everything. As Mitch puts it: [Cam] gets so emotional he kind of handles the emotions for the entire house … possibly the entire block. Tonight the dads worry that this might be keeping Lily from developing a sense of empathy.

Phil has always been sentimental when it comes to his kids. Tonight he takes them to an old, abandoned theater he helped build years ago. When they find the kids’ tiny footprints in the cement floor, Phil uses a jackhammer to salvage them for a memento.

Haley and Alex have never gotten along. Tonight with Alex’s departure for college eminent, things between the two come to a head.

But it’s Claire’s attempts to figure out her job dilemma that captured my attention tonight.

First she tries to talk with Mitch.
Claire: So I walked into to Dad’s office, and he is holding a picture of me, looking at it with tears welling in his eyes.
Mitch: Oh, Dad was never that emotional when were growing up.
Claire: I know. That’s what makes this whole thing so hard!
Mitch: Maybe Lily hasn’t learned empathy because she hasn’t seen it from me, you know?
Claire: Could we maybe stay on my problem until the bread comes?
Mitch: I’m sorry. It sounded like you were done.

Then she tries to tell her story to Phil.
Claire: So I walk into his office. He’s looking at a picture of me and he’s crying.
Phil: Your dad?
Claire: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.
Phil: This is why I’m glad I show my emotions in front of the girls. I think that’s the reason they’re feeling…
Claire: Phil, could we at least stay on my story until the oven preheats?
Phil: Sorry. I thought you were finished.
Claire: No. Okay, so anyway, I went back later, and it turns out he wasn’t crying, he was plucking his nose hairs.
Phil: I didn’t expect that.
Claire: Yeah, me neither.
Phil: To walk into that theater and see their cute little heads together after they’d been fighting all afternoon.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
For most of the episode, none of the characters were really listening to each other. Mitch and Phil may have been the clearest culprits tonight, but they weren’t the only ones who were just waiting for a chance to talk.

Truth be told, that’s how most of us communicate most of the time. We listen until what we hear sets off an association in our mind – a question, a problem, or story of our own. We then wait for a pause in the conversation before asking our question or sharing our problem or story. This is how conversation normally flows back and forth.

Truly listening requires that we shift our focus off ourselves and pay full attention to someone else. We then have to process what they said and decide how to respond. This is harder and takes a lot more energy than simply waiting for a chance to talk.

Claire: Is it me? Is it the way that I tell stories? Am I so boring or is everyone in this family that self-involved?

Teens typically are not as reflective as Claire, but most of us have heard our teens complain, “You’re not even listening to me!” Sometimes our teens accuse us of not listening because we don’t agree with what they said or because we won’t change our minds based on what they said. And, of course, these accusations have nothing to do with listening.

But sometimes our teens have a valid complaint. In fact, even if we’re exceptional listeners with our friends, our spouse, our co-workers, and even our younger kids, we’re often not that good at listening to our teens.

Why? Because teens are harder to truly listen to. There are two main reasons for this.

The first reason has to do with timing. Teens tend to pick the most inconvenient times to talk – like when we’re under a deadline or when we’re exhausted and trying to get them (and us) headed toward bed.

The second reason has to do with topic. If the conversation involves a disagreement, we tend to listen with our minds made up. Once we’ve made up our mind, we focus on what we’re going to say next instead of on what our teen is saying now. And it’s even more difficult to listen when our teens are talking about things that make us anxious – a clash with a teacher or coach, a poor grade on a test, a concern about a close friend. We immediately see all the potential for trouble down the road and feel we must intervene – to tell them what to do or we scold them for getting into such a mess. In fact, we often jump-in without even making a conscious decision to interrupt at all.

But as hard as it sometimes is to give our teens a good listen, the quality of our relationships with them hinges on our ability to do just that.

– Listening is the most effective way to show your teen that you care about them and are committed to them.

– Listening affirms your teen. If you can open up your mind and listen without judgment – even when what you’re listening to sounds crazy – you’re showing respect for your teen’s right to have ideas of their own. And this helps your teen feel like they’re respected too.

– Listening is the best window into your teen’s external and internal life. The more you can encourage your teen to talk, the more you get to know about them.

– Listening can increase compliance. Sometimes giving your teen’s plans a full hearing and patiently listening to their objections will yield more cooperation. It tells your teen that you’re open to their input and that you can be convinced if they make a strong case that addresses all your concerns.

– Listening gives teens practice in speaking-up – to share their feelings, ask questions, and standing-up for what they believe.

– And perhaps most surprising, listening will help your teen listen to you. In fact only after teens have clarified their own thinking and believe that you’ve listened and understood their ideas, can they give your ideas a fair hearing.

What’s a Mom to Do
There’s a huge upside to listening to our teens. But it takes a lot of energy. Below are a couple suggestions to help you make the most of your limited supply of energy.

Be available when your teen needs to talk. Our teen’s readiness to talk rarely coincides with our readiness to listen. It’s tempting to say, “Let’s talk later.” But teens tend to share their most important self-disclosures spontaneously – when their mood and the moment feel right to them. When the mood passes, the momentary window into their lives closes. When a teen says, “I don’t feel like talking now,” it’s often not an excuse. More often it’s an emotionally genuine explanation. So parents who are the best listeners are the most available. They drop whatever they’re doing when their teen needs to talk.

End the conversation when it’s no longer constructive. At times discussions with our teens need to be long and even intense. But the conversation should not continue without end or at all cost.

Teens often have a lot invested in the outcome of their discussions with us. And if the discussion is about trying to convince us to say “yes,” they have a lot more energy to continue the discussion than we do. They know they can outlast us with persistence and repetition. Thus, we must be the one to decide when a conversation is getting out of hand and needs to end.

When the conversation begins to feel like it’s going around in circles or if the conversation is about to enter the combative stage, it’s time to end it. Let your blood pressure be your guide. If you feel a rush of anger beginning to build inside you, end the conversation as swiftly as you can.

It’s perfectly acceptable to leave the room to ensure the conversation ends if your teen refuses to stop pleading or arguing. And let them have the last word. It’s wiser to let them have this little victory, rather than spend the extra energy needed to continue a pointless or even hurtful conversation.

At the end of tonight’s episode, Gloria laments: Parents make so many mistakes with their children. But it’s only because we’re trying so hard to make them happy.

It’s hard to take anything Gloria has to say about parenting seriously. She didn’t listen well tonight. She didn’t even wait for her turn to talk; she got in what she had to say edgewise, in a voiceover. And she tried to gaslight her own kid tonight – for crying out loud! Still she might be on to something here.

Your Parenting Experiences
What do you think about Gloria’s lament in the voiceover tonight? When you think back to some of the parenting mistakes you’ve made, do many of them revolve around trying to keep your teen happy or trying to keep them close?

Sources and Resources: I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up by Anthony Wolf, PhD; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD; “Why Listen to Your Adolescent?” by Carl Pickhardt at Psychology Today

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