MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 8th, 2013, 0 Comments

How to Deal with Your Teen’s “Bad News” Friends

With one quick snip of the electric clippers Claire made Alex’s friend Skylar disappear. And by that same afternoon Alex’s initial fury at her mom had morphed into gratitude. If only real life were so straightforward.

But, it’s not. In fact, the clearest finding from last week’s polling suggests that our real life teens are totally unpredictable when it comes to how they might respond if we interfere with their friendships. Yet “their friends” are often at the top of the list of things we moms worry about. If we’re not worrying that they’re being harmed by undesirable friends, than we’re worrying that they’re being left out and don’t have friends.

We worry for a reason: Our teens’ friends are important. In truth, friends are important to kids of all ages. But teens see being accepted and liked by their peers as a matter of survival. Their sense that they’re okay, hinges on how well they feel that they fit in with other kids their own age. So when we can’t imagine why our teens might choose to hang out with certain kids, it can help to remind ourselves of the benefits those kids may be providing our teens.

Still when our teens have friends that we don’t like, it’s tempting to tell them plainly that we don’t like these friends (like Claire did) and even forbid them from being together. But such controlling tactics often backfire with teens. In fact, prohibiting a friendship is more likely to push our teens into a closer friendship than it is to end it.

Saying nothing about our worries and observations, though, can make us feel like we’re abandoning our responsibility as a parent. And even if we’re careful to say nothing, our teens take in our body language and are bound to know how we feel about their friends.

Thus, we’re at our best when we take a collaborative approach – reassuring our teens that they have a right to choose their own friends while finding a way to keep the conversations going and to reinforce our family values.

Make time to be available and just listen. Listening conveys your interest in your teen and their perspective while giving you a chance to learn more about them and their social lives. By quietly listening, you’re also giving your teen a chance to use you as a sounding board – so that they can learn more about their own feelings.

Do some careful probing. Ask questions that show your interest in learning more about your teen’s friends without being judgmental or trying to control their relationships. For example, you might ask what kind of activities the friend enjoys doing or what your teen enjoys doing with the friend. This type of questioning can help you get a clearer picture of your teen’s perspective and how they see things.

Make your points. When it’s your turn to talk, share observations about things you’ve noticed – especially the things you’ve noticed that are different about your teen since they’ve been hanging out with a new friend or group of friends. For example, if your teen doesn’t seem as happy or respectful or as interested in former activities or to care as much about school, mention that. And remind your teen of your family’s values and the rules based on those values. (Click here to read more about rules.)

Hold-off on giving uninvited suggestions. We have only a small window into their social lives and our teens know that. So they’re likely to see our unsolicited advice as unhelpful and any response is likely to be of the “Just forget it, Mom,” variety. Instead it’s wiser to make your points – your observations about them and your reminders about your family values. Then be patient, and let your teen connect the points for themselves – like they’d connect the dots of a dot-to-dot puzzle. This can sometimes take weeks even months. But if you let your teen connect the dots for themselves, they’re more likely to take your input into account and to stay connected with you.

And while you give your teen time to connect the dots, consider opening your home (or better yet a small space in it) to their friends. Yes, this will mean more work for you, but it will give you a chance to get to know their friends and see the effect of their influence on your teen first hand. Plus you’ll get the peace of mind that comes from knowing where your teen is and what they’re doing.

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 20th, 2013, 0 Comments

Right. Wrong. They Just Can’t Stop It.

Season 4, Episode 23

The Framework

The title of tonight’s episode – “The Games People Play” – is the same as that of a song by the Spinners from years ago. Actually the full title of this classic is “They Just Can’t Stop It The Games People Play.” And this mouthful of a title is what tied tonight’s “Modern Family” storylines together.

The adults in each of the three families were interacting with their kids and with each other in ways that they’d picked-up from their parents. Right or wrong, they just couldn’t stop it.

When Jay and Gloria discover that the family had held a game night without them, they first blame it on each other’s competitive and cheating ways. But then quickly pin the blame on their parents:
Jay: I get this damn competitive streak from my dad. It’s a wonder I didn’t pass it on to Mitchell.
Gloria: I love that we can blame our parents. … My mother used to cheat on everything we ever did.

Of course, Jay was wrong in assuming that he hadn’t passed his competitive ways on to his kids. Because as Mitch watched Lily compete in a gymnastic tournament, he morphed into an out-of-control little league dad:
Mitch (to confessional): I have to admit, seeing Lily do so well brought out something in me: the pride of being the parent of a child who wasn’t just participating but thriving. … This [competitive thing] is the thing I always hated in my dad. … This ends today. I’m not passing it on to Lily.

Claire too picked-up her dad’s competitive streak:
Claire (to her kids): I goaded you guys into a fight to prove a point. Why do I always have to win? How did I get this way?

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

How we were parented matters. Even when we are consciously trying to do things differently, we can find ourselves acting just like the parent we vowed to never be.

Like Mitch, we don’t want to pass on to our children what our parents got wrong. But our memory of how we were parented can get in the way – not only in the specific behaviors we model but also in our overall approach to parenting.

Several decades of research have defined four basic parenting approaches or styles:

Micromanaging Bosses (authoritarian) use control with lots of lectures, warnings, and restrictions.

Likable Friends (permissive) place few demands and give more freedom than the teen is ready for.

Proactive Consultants (authoritative) strike the right balance between restrictiveness and autonomy.

Indifferent Bystanders (uninvolved) minimize the time and energy needed to interact with the teen.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not an indifferent bystander. But most of us have some of each of the other three approaches in our parenting repertoire. Most of us also have a dominant style – a style that is often influenced by the approach our parents used.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our parenting style helps form the stance we take when we interact with our teens. Our stance, in turn, affects how our teens think, the tactics they use to get what they want, and what they learn as they interact with us:

A teen parented by a micromanaging boss…
Might think if I ask, they’ll say no without even listening. So I need to figure out a way to outsmart them and then be really careful not to get caught.
Tends to learn that you get what you want by sneaking and even lying. And if something bad did happen, they’d be reluctant to seek help or advice from their parents and would probably try to figure it out alone or with their friends. So they’re also learning that there are limited ways to solve a problem.

A teen parented by a likable friend…
Might think I can talk them into this – especially if I pester and badger them long enough. And if something does go wrong, they’ll have to get me out of trouble. That’s there job. So I have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Tends to learn that they can take risks without considering the consequences because their parents will do all the worrying that is needed. These teens tend to get the impression that they’re entitled to whatever they want – not because they’ve earned it but just because they want it. And they fail to learn that past behavior matters.

A teen parented by a proactive consultant…
Might think I’ve earned this by following the rules and being responsible. I had to do some negotiating last time, but they trusted me and let me do what I wanted to do. So I just need to assure them that I can handle this and then not mess up. But I’d better figure out what they’ll be concerned about and how I can handle those things before I ask.
Tends to learn how to negotiate and think ahead about possible holes in their plans. And since their parents had pre-approved the plan, they’d likely seek their parents’ advice if something went wrong. So they’re also getting guidance in problem solving.

The catchy lines of the Spinner’s song keep playing in my head – right, wrong, I just can’t stop it. It’s hard to unlearn what our parents modeled. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves acting just like they did, even though we vowed not to. At other times, we’ll over compensate and go too far in the other direction. So chances are we’ll sometimes act more like a boss – micromanaging and controlling. And chances are there will be times when we’re at the other end of the spectrum – leaving our teens too much on their own.

Just as our parents weren’t perfect, neither are we. But the more time we spend at the middle of the control continuum, guiding our teens like a proactive consultant, the better our relationship with them will be and the more influence we’ll have on their decisions and actions.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Where were your parents on the control spectrum – were they more controlling, guiding, or hands-off? What did you argue most about with your parents when you were a teen – grades, curfew, clothes, friends, attitude, chores? How do you think your teen would answer these questions about you?

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