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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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.

Guidelines
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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