MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 7th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 19, Grill Interrupted

Gloria Uses Blackmail

The Framework
It’s Jay’s birthday, and Phil is ecstatic about giving him a fancy, new grill. As Phil exclaims: If God wants a hamburger, this is what she cooks it on. But despite the title and Phil’s excitement, tonight’s episode is less about a grill and more about the power of expectations. To begin with, Jay pulls up in a brand new Thunderbird, making it obvious that the excitement about the grill is going to be all one-way.

Alex’s excitement about a college acceptance is also tempered by expectations as she worries about living up to her parents’ hopes and dreams.
Alex (looking up from her computer and smiling big): I got in to Caltech!
Claire: You did?!
Phil: That is incredible! We’re gonna have a famous scientist in the family!
Claire: Super-smart kid, super-smart school.

Later Claire piles on more.
Claire (raising her glass and looking a bit tipsy): Okay, everybody, I want to make a toast!
Mitch: Oh, any excuse.
Claire: To my brilliant daughter who worked for twelve years to get into Caltech, the most prestigious college in the nation.

Gloria too has expectations tonight.
Jay (watching as Gloria pours tequila into a decanter): Little early for tequila, isn’t it?
Gloria: It’s for Luke.
Jay: Not sure that’s better.
Gloria: The last time he was here, he was eyeing this bottle the same way you look at me when I wear that strappy sundress.
Jay: I do like that dress.
Gloria: I am going to catch him red-handed. I am going to teach him a lesson. But first I’m going to refill this with water in case he gets past me.

And after Manny swipes the bottle Gloria refilled, there’s yet more evidence of the power of expectations.
Luke (whispering): Did you get it?
Manny (flashing the bottle): Yep.
Luke: Sweet Mexican treasure.
Manny: I was born in Florida, but thank you … (Then looking at computer) If I’m reading this properly, I’m supposed to put a lime in your mouth, salt on your stomach, and drink it out of your bellybutton.
Luke (removing cork): You wish. (Then taking a swig and exhaling loudly) That’ll get you there.
Manny (coughing): Oh. Whoa, Nellie!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight’s episode underscores two of the biggest risk factors for underage drinking.

The biggest risk comes from having friends who drink. This has to do with peer pressure as well as the self-imposed pressure of wanting to fit-in. It also has to do with supply. After all, you have to be able to get alcohol if you’re going to drink it. And having friends who drink makes getting alcohol easier.

The second biggest risk factor to underage drinking is having a family member with high-risk drinking behavior. (Listen up, Claire!) This doesn’t just mean full-blown alcoholism – although there is a strong genetic component to alcoholism. This also means any unhealthy or risky drinking behavior – especially when your kids are around to witness it.

Manny (handing Luke bottle of tequila): Hey, pace yourself! This stuff is strong.
Luke: I’ll know when I’ve had enough.

Of course, Luke is wrong about this. You know that. But you might be surprised about why. It has to do with two major misconceptions that most of us have about the harms of underage drinking.

First of all, we tend to think that teens can’t handle the immediate physiological effects of alcohol as well as adults because teens’ young bodies and brains are not as mature as those of adults. However, it turns out that teens’ still developing brains are much better at handling the sedative effects of alcohol than adults’ brains are. Because of some differences in key brain structures, the drowsiness and impaired coordination associated with the immediate effects of drinking and even the hangover effects are less of a problem for teens than for adults. Unfortunately, this can prevent teens from knowing when they’ve had enough.

The second misconception has to do with the long-term effects of drinking. We tend to think that because they’re younger, teens will bounce back from the ill effects of drinking more fully than adults. But more and more studies are turning up evidence indicating that this is far from the truth. Attention deficit, memory problems, depression, and anxiety have all been linked to teen alcohol abuse. In addition, recent research indicates that alcohol impairs the brain’s ability to turn short-term memories into long-term memories (a process required for learning) much more easily in teens than adults.

What’s more, there is growing evidence that the effect of alcohol abuse on a teen’s still maturing prefrontal cortex increases the desire for more alcohol. In fact, kids who have their first drink (a whole drink, not just sips) before the age of fifteen are four times more likely to develop alcoholism compared to those who begin drinking at age 21.

What’s a Mom to Do
Even though teens often dis their parents, they do listen to us when it comes to drinking – particularly if our messages are consistent and relayed in a caring but firm way. In fact, studies have shown that while only 26% of teens think their parents should influence the clothes they wear and only 19% of teens think their parents should have a say when it comes to the music they listen to, almost 80% of teens think their parents should have a say when it comes to whether they drink alcohol.

Have your say. One of the most consistent risk factors for underage drinking is a teen’s perception that their parents don’t care if they drink. On the other hand, teens who don’t drink cite not wanting to disappoint their parents as one of the main reasons.

Your teen expects you to have a say. So make sure your message is consistent and that your kids are clear about your position. For example you might say, “We will not tolerate any underage drinking. It’s not healthy or safe, it’s illegal, and it’s against our family rules. Once you’re 21 it’s fine to enjoy a drink with friends. But it’s never okay to drink to solve problems.”

Say more than “Don’t drink.” But don’t make it a lecture either. Both are conversation stoppers. Instead aim for a give-and-take dialogue that includes listening to your teen’s concerns and feelings.

The fact that their growing brains are more vulnerable to alcohol is a health message that seems to resonate with teens. So share the latest research about alcohol’s effects on their brain. And make sure they know that your position on underage drinking is based on your love for them and your commitment to their health and safety – including protecting their brains.

Teach by example. Research shows that when it comes to drinking alcohol, kids are likely to model their parents’ behavior – both healthy and unhealthy. Drinking in excess around our kids increases the likelihood that they’ll develop an alcohol problem. So does letting our kids see us use alcohol as a way to cope with a rough day.

Our expectations matter. Our example does too. And teens are particularly good at picking up on the hypocritical “Do as I say, not as I do” messaging. Study after study confirms that when parents have consistent and clear rules against underage drinking and also drink responsibly themselves, teens have a much greater chance of making it through their teen years with only a few scrapes.

Your Parenting Experiences
At the end of tonight’s episode, Gloria snaps a picture of Manny and Luke hugging each other in an ice bath. She then warns them: If I ever catch you drinking again, your whole school is going to see this picture.

What do you think of Gloria’s technique? What would your teen say?

Sources and Resources: The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientists Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen, M.D.; “Parenting to Prevent Childhood Alcohol Use” an NIH Publication; “4 Ways Parents Can Prevent Underage Drinking” by Claire McCarthy, M.D. in Huff Post for Parents; “But You and Dad Drink” by Jodi Dworkin for the U of MN Extension Service

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 20th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 4, Marco Polo

The Adults Are “It”

The Framework
Tonight’s episode shares its name with a game in which someone is chosen to be “it” and, with eyes closed, tries to find and tag the other players using only call and response clues. It’s a kids’ game. But in all three households tonight it is the adults who are the clueless “it.”

Of course, it is Phil who literally gets into the game – in the pool, at the hotel where the Dunphys are staying while their house is being treated for mold. Claire too is “it” tonight – but in a less playful sense. She seems blind to the example she’s setting for her three kids.
Claire (to Haley and Luke): You know, when you don’t think about who’s in there before you, a hotel bath can be really quite relaxing. Do you know if Alex got my glass?
Alex (entering hotel room with glass): Your swipe-card wine.
Claire: Thank you … This magic juice is going to help mama turn that bathtub into a swim-up bar. And a bit later there’s this from a tipsy Claire: Oops. Butterfingers. I spilled my wine in the tub. Then pushing her swipe card toward Alex: Would you mind, Sweetie?

And over at the Pritchett’s, Jay and Gloria take turns being “it” – as neither seems to have a clue about how to parent a maturing Manny.
Manny: I know you were spying on me. Yes, I have a girlfriend. Let me save you some snooping. She’s smart. She’s a senior. She’s our high school’s “it” girl. And “it” dumped the captain of the basketball team for me.
Gloria (later to Jay as girlfriend arrives to pick-up Manny for the football game): That girl is too advanced for him … You go talk to her. Maybe you can put the fear of God in her.
Jay: What bust her windshield or break her pinky?
Gloria: I’ll go disconnect the security camera.

Later, when Manny returns home after the football game, there’s this.
Jay: Good game, champ. Then noting Manny’s downcast mood: You okay?
Manny: Yeah, just a little tired.
Jay: Hey, wait a second. Your team just won six straight. Let’s celebrate with a little scotch. You’re [15] old enough for your first sip.
Manny: She dumped me, Jay. She was just using me to make her old boyfriend jealous … My first girlfriend. She was perfect.
Jay: If you ask me, you’re lucky.
Manny: She dumped me by text while making out with her old boyfriend. I broke down crying. My charcoal ran like mascara. I had to be comforted by the other team’s mascot. Lucky?
Jay: Uhh, I’m not going to lie to you. It sucks. And sometimes it’s got to suck for a while. I just wish I could say some magic words or give you a hug and make it all go away.

As Manny goes, headfirst, in for a hug with Jay, Gloria appears in the background. Using his free hand, Jay signs to her about the breakup and that he’s got it all under control. Gloria silently mouths her appreciation to Jay and heads back up the stairs.
Manny: Can I still have a sip of that scotch like you said?
Gloria (suddenly reappears, emphatically signing to Jay): NO!
Jay (signs back to Gloria): Don’t be crazy. And then answers Manny: Okay. I just opened the bottle. Beautiful. Eighteen-year-old. Full bodied.
Manny (tearfully): Sam…

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Despite what Claire may have said in the past to her kids about drinking responsibly, tonight her message was that alcohol makes everything better. Just like magic. And even though Gloria was frantically mouthing “No!” behind the scenes tonight, it was Jay’s message that got through to Manny: Alcohol can help you feel good when you want to celebrate and help you feel better when you’re down.

Regardless of how mixed messages are sent, they send conflicting information to our kids and cause confusion about what we really mean. And when it has to do with our kids’ health or safety, our messages need to be as clear as we can possibly make them. This is especially true for our messaging about underage drinking and drug use. Because these substances have risks specific to teens.

Compared to adults:
Teens are highly vulnerable to social influences. Alcohol companies know this and target our kids with slick ads in magazines and on TV. Plus our kids are paying attention as marijuana (both medical and recreational) becomes legal in more and more places.

Teens have lower tolerance levels. This means that they have to use more of the substance sooner to achieve the same effect. Another words, what one drink or one hit did, will take two or three sooner for a teen than it does for an adult.

They become dependent at lower doses. Because their brains are still developing, kids are faster at learning than adults are. And getting addicted is learned just like becoming fluent in a foreign language is learned.

They are at increased risk of problem use later. 1 in 4 people who begin smoking, drinking, or using any addictive substance before the age of 18 get addicted, compared to 1 in 25 who started using at age 21 or older.

Teens’ growing brains may be more vulnerable to longterm damaging effects. There is growing evidence that adolescent exposure to alcohol and drugs like marijuana may affect important connections in brain regions crucial for memory and learning.


Phil: It’s possible they misunderstood me…

Few parents still host “alcohol included” kid parties to celebrate big nights like homecoming and graduation. But plenty of us are sending mixed messages to our kids when it comes to alcohol – making it possible (even likely) for them to misunderstand us.

Some of us are on the fence. We acknowledge that drinking is illegal for teens and potentially dangerous. But we see it as a rite of passage and look the other way. Others of us (like Jay tonight) let our teens drink at home under our supervision. We hope that this will take away the illegal and rebellious lure of drinking and encourage sensible drinking behavior.

However, studies have shown that the more teens are allowed to drink at home, the more they drink outside of the home as well. What’s more, teens who drink on their own and those who drink under their parents’ watch all have an elevated risk of developing alcohol related problems. Plus additional studies have shown that parents’ messages regarding alcohol use while still at home affect their teens’ behavior when they go off to college: Kids whose parents disapprove completely of underage drinking, tend to engage in less drinking and less binge drinking once in college.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Most important are the examples we set in the decisions we make about what, when, and how much to use and the conversations we have before usage is even an issue.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when you’re crafting your messages for your teen.

Have a zero tolerance policy. Part of being a teen is testing rules and their boundary lines. It’s a way for them to assert their growing independence. When we push the lines back (by allowing some use in some circumstances), we are inadvertently creating a greater distance before they get to the line they need to test.

Be crystal clear about your position on alcohol and drug use. The more vague our messages, the easier they are for our teens to ignore.

Use everyday media to spark conversations with your teen. Don’t think about this as “having the talk.” Instead, look for opportunities to have an ongoing conversation with your teen. When you see messaging on TV, on a billboard, or in a movie, ask your teen what they thing about the message and then share your thoughts.

Pair your verbal messaging with matching actions. Make it easier for your teen to make the right decisions and harder for them to make the wrong ones: Be awake when your teen returns home, call friends’ parents to make sure there’s supervision, and ask your teen to call and check-in when they’re out.

Make a point of sometimes hosting family celebrations where alcohol is not included. This will send a message to your teen that you (and other adults) can have fun without drinking.

As you relay your messages to your kids, remember teens often send mixed messages to us. The most common message is that they don’t care what we think or think much about what we say. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Parents are one of the biggest influences on their teens’ personal behavior – even when it doesn’t seem that way.

Your Parenting Experiences
One health message that seems to resonate with many teens is that their brains develop until their mid-20s and that their growing brains are more vulnerable to alcohol and other drugs. When you talk with your teen about your expectations around drinking and using drugs, what messages seem to resonate and make the most sense to them?

Sources and other Resources: This is Your Teen’s Brain on Marijuana by Jack Stein, PhD; Kids Need Straight Talk to Stay Safe By Steven Wallace at SADD; With Drinking, Parents’ Rules Do Affect Teens’ Choices by Michelle Trudeau, NPR; Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem by CASA; Haley and the Champagne Flute from MomsOnMonday

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