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 11th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 22, Patriot Games

Alex Decides That Number One Is a Lonely Number

The Framework
Tonight the three modern families explore the various rights and traditions of our country. Gloria is about to take her citizenship test – because as Jay says: This country is all about freedom and opportunity and I want you to be a part of that – not to mention that he also longs for shorter lines going through customs at the airport. Mitch and Cam act on their right to assemble, protest – and incessantly whine. But my attention is held by the Dunphys as they participate in the American tradition of naming a winner.

The Dunphy storyline begins with the parents talking to the camera.
Claire: We were called into Principal Brown’s office one week before Alex’s graduation.
Phil: That can mean only one of two things: Either she’s gonna be valedictorian or they’re giving an award for sexiest dad.
Claire: We’re very proud of Alex.

As they wait to see the principal, Alex is beside herself with expectation, whistling like a teakettle.
Claire (admonishing): Honey.
Alex: I’m sorry. I just feel like my whole life has been building up to this point.

Moments later, though, everything changes as Alex’s rival for the number one spot, Sanjay, enters the principal’s office – accompanied by his parents.
Principal Brown: Well, Alex and Sanjay, after four years of spirited competition, I am very pleased to tell you that you are the Pali High Class of 2015 Co-valedictorians!
Sanjay: What do you mean “co-valedictorians”?
Principal: Well, I thought there might be some aggressive questions that, uh, made me nervous, and so I wrote down my remarks. Uh (Clearing throat) No, I’m not trying to ruin your lives. It’s just that your GPAs are tied to the thousandth of a decimal point.
Alex: I didn’t work my whole life for a tie!
Sanjay (scoffing): No offense, Principal Brown, but you were a teaching major.
I’d like to check the GPAs myself.

Phil: What is it with these two?
Sanjay’s mom: I agree with them. Ties are un-American. Would you be happy if the Super Bowl ended in a tie? There must be some way to determine who the best student is.

It turns out there is.
Cam: Well, it looks like you both have the same gym grade, but I do see here that neither of you have completed this semester’s mile run.
Principal Brown: We will do a makeup race. And whoever wins gets to be valedictorian.
Phil: Guys, we should be celebrating … Are we all so obsessed with being number one that we can’t just celebrate this moment?

It appears that they are. That is until Sanjay stops by to see Alex.
Sanjay: Tomorrow, it’s all gonna be over, everything we’ve been working for since we started school. So, I-I wanted to come by and say thanks … You know how hard it’s been to keep up with you my whole life? I have my GPA because of you … I got into Stanford because of you.
Alex (giggling): I’ll admit I did spend about a few hundred extra hours trying to be better than you.
Sanjay: I’m gonna miss this when we go to college.
Alex: Yeah, I guess I’ll miss this, too.
Sanjay: I like you.
Alex: Okay.
Sanjay: I mean like-like, like how Pierre Curie liked Marie Curie.

And by the end it’s clear that Alex likes-likes him back.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
As farfetched as this storyline may seem, similar stories play out in schools across the country at this time each year during the valedictorian season. But not all have such a happy ending. Tales abound of aggressive, sometimes even bitter, rivalry between high achieving students to win the number one spot at a highly competitive high school

Some students – usually with the help of their high-pressure parents – strategize to win, coming up with ways to improve their standing in comparison with their classmates. To gain an advantage, these students often take on an extra-heavy load of AP courses, which are weighted when grade point averages are calculated. Some may avoid classes like dance, art, or music – because they might get a B in these classes where grading can be more subjective and because even an A in an unweighted class can hurt their shot at the top spot.

Because gaining the number one spot requires not just high achievement but beating out everyone else in the class, the quest for valedictorian has led to contested grade point averages. And a handful of parents have even brought lawsuits because they felt that their child had been somehow wronged in the selection process.

Alex: But my GPA is 4.645923.
Sanjay: My GPA is 4.645923.
Alex: This is a nightmare.
Sanjay: Worst day of my life.

Naming a valedictorian is a strong tradition in many communities. More than half of all high schools in the nation have done away with class ranking over concerns that small differences in grade point average could lead to large differences in class rank that could end up hurting students’ prospects for college admission. Yet schools continue to compare students’ grade point averages to determine the number one spot. Thus, each year at this time many principals are confronted with the same predicament we saw Mr. Brown face tonight. And as we saw tonight, sometimes the difference is as little as one millionth of a decimal point in students’ GPAs.

Some schools have addressed this issue by naming the top 10 ranked students in the graduating class. But this does nothing for the student who ends up in 11th place. Plus why name 10? Why not 12? Or 20? Or the top 10%?

Just as important are questions about whether the practices for selecting the class valedictorian foster the kind of traits we most value in students. Of course, an outstanding academic record as well as the hard work required for that kind of performance should be honored. But what about curiosity, cooperation, caring, and compassion? Plus even if a student wins the coveted number one spot, what might they lose in the process?

Many of us are required to consider similar questions – whether our kids are competing for the number one spot or not.

Some kids – like Sanjay and Alex – seem to mostly thrive under the pressure to keep up with their high-achieving classmates. With kids like this, we mainly need to stay out of their way and do nothing to add to the pressure they put on themselves. But what about capable teens who don’t want to work that hard? What should we do when they tell us they want to take a lighter load of classes than we’d like?

We want our kids to work hard, stretch, and reach their full potential. Plus we worry that colleges are not going to like the fact that they didn’t take enough hard classes. Yet hard work and perseverance are not the only valuable character traits. And we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that they need downtime – that they’re not achievement machines.

What’s a Mom to Do
When you’re faced with a teen who wants to lighten their load, you could insist that they take a tougher schedule, but you can’t make them excel in their classes or even pass. You could try to bribe them. But your best bet is to work on their internal motivation.

So if you find yourself confronted with a teen who wants to put forth less effort than you’d like, consider this strategy.
Say: I can see why you might like to take fewer tough classes so that you can enjoy life more. And it’s your life. But it’s my job as your parent to do what I can to ensure that you make an informed decision. I have a few questions that I’d like to discuss together before you make a final decision. After that, I’ll support you if you decide you want to lighten your load a bit.
1) What do you see as the advantages of taking easier classes?
2) If you took easier classes, what would you do with your extra time? (This is a good time to probe for other activities or interests your teen might want to pursue.)
3) Do you think if you worked with a tutor or a friend who is choosing to take the tougher classes, it would help enough to make a difference in your decision?
4) People who don’t stretch themselves are less likely to have an exciting career or do well enough to have the lifestyle you seem to crave. I’m not saying that this decision not to stretch yourself will become a pattern. But if it does, have you thought about where that will lead? Are you okay with that?

The more dispassionate and calm you stay during this discussion, the more likely your teen will be to keep talking. Question number 4 above is the most important. Their first response to this one is not as important as what they do with it later. You want your teen to take this question away and think about it – when they’re alone in their room and when they’re signing up for classes.

As you listen and watch your teen’s response to this conversation, try to stay curious and open to their ideas and beliefs. After all, the voiceover at the end of the episode begins: This is a land where people are brought together by their willingness to work hard and their desire to succeed. But it ends by reminding: This is a land made great by people standing up for what they believe.

Your Parenting Experiences
Do you sometimes find yourself getting upset – anxious, angry, or depressed – when your teen doesn’t meet your expectations in school or in a sport? If so, consider reclaiming your own favorite hobby or passion. Show your kids that you believe in hard work but you also believe in taking time for the things you love.

Sources and Resources: The All-in-One College Guide by Marty Nemko, Ph.D.; “Class Rank Weighs Down True Learning” by Thomas R. Guskey, Ph.D. in Phi Delta Kappan; “The Joy of Graduating” by Kate Stone Lombardi in the New York Times

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