Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on June 4th, 2016, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 22, Double Click

Plotline: Hey, guys. It’s Alex. I’m home.

Alex S7 E22

Alex returns tonight after her first year away at college, but nobody remembered that she was coming home.

Alex: Hey! Hey!
Phil: What are you doing home?
Alex: Are you serious?! School’s out. I’m home for the summer. You knew this.
Phil: Must have slipped my mind. I’m so glad you’re back.
Alex: That’s it? Sanjay’s parents are throwing him a three-day “Welcome Home” party. They even made him a suit out of marigolds.

Later there’s this.
Luke (thumping Alex on the back): Hey. This is a nice surprise, pumpkin.
Alex: Was I too subtle with the way I put it on the calendar?

And this.
Claire: Oh, hey. What are you doing home?
Alex (scoffing): Being crushed over and over by family members.

After nine months away, most college kids are now back at home for the summer. You probably didn’t forget about their return (like the Dunphys did). But it can still feel like the start of an awkward dance – especially if this is your college kid’s first summer back.

Most of us don’t really want to have to go back to those days of enforcing a curfew, telling them to get up, or nagging them to get off the couch. And it can be just as tough on our kids to be back dealing with our requirements and requests after they’ve grown used to planning their days and nights just the way they want them.

Almost all college kids come home for the summer more like adults than when they left. But many will quickly revert back to their high school selves because they know they can. After all, we’re there for back up – dishing out money if they run out of cash, saying “no” to some of their plans, and encouraging them to get out of bed or off the couch and do something worthwhile.

To help keep your college kid from reverting back to their younger self while their home for the summer, sit down together soon after they’ve returned and negotiate the expectations. Here are some topics to consider as you plan for that conversation.

Curfew? Instead of a curfew, you might ask to be kept updated on their plans. If they’re going to be out a lot later than originally planned or if they decide to sleep elsewhere for the night, most of us would want know. We sleep more soundly if we know everybody is safe. Having us calling frantically when we awaken in the wee hours of the morning and find that they’re not home is stressful for everybody. So ask that they text if their plans change. And make sure they have a key so that they’re not awakening you at 4 AM to let them in.

A summer job. Staying out late, sleeping in, and then lounging on the couch or laying out in the sun for the rest of the day might sound like the perfect way to spend a summer to many college kids. But they need to be taking on the responsibilities of a job. If they can’t find a paying job or if making money isn’t a top priority, than an unpaid internship or a volunteer job should count. You might agree that you won’t bug them about sleeping in or time spent lounging on the couch or lying in the sun as long as they’re working full time.

Chores. They should help with the household chores while they’re home for the summer – even if they have a full time job. So negotiate how they’ll help out. Driving around younger siblings, doing laundry (at least their own), helping keep shared spaces tidy, and helping make supper or clean up afterwards are all possibilities.

Substance use. It’s fair to insist that there be no drinking or other substance use or drunk or high people in your home. Regardless of the choices they’ve made while they were away at college, being clear about what happens in your home is one of the best ways to remind them about your values around substance use.

Sleepovers with boyfriend/girlfriend. Their room is still their room, and it’s still a part of your home. So you have a say about what happens there. Some parents are okay with college age kids sleeping together in their home as long as the two are in a long-term, committed relationship. Other parents aren’t comfortable with that arrangement. Just as with substance use, what you allow in your home when it comes to sleepovers sends a message about your values.

Connecting Lines:
While away at school kids have had a chance to learn a thing or two about the effect of their actions and inactions. They’ve developed more self-discipline in the process.

So don’t make this conversation a power play by laying down the law. Instead make it clear that you respect their new maturity and sense of independence and in turn you expect them to hold up their end of the bargain by honoring the agreements you’ve made for the summer.

Resisting the inclination to revert to being their back-up gives you your best chance of seeing your college kid’s new maturity. And don’t forget, before you know it, they’ll be packing up and moving back to school.

Resources: “Home (Bitter) Sweet Home: How to Deal with Returning Home for the Summer” by Caroline Finnegan in Flown & Grown

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Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 11th, 2016, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 18, The Party

Plotline: Luke and Manny Throw a Party

The Party

Tonight Luke and Manny secretly throw a party at the Dunphy house where they’re supposed to be babysitting Lily. When Claire’s phone sounds an alert that a fire alarm has gone off at home, she insists on returning from her spa getaway with Gloria to check on things.
Claire: They were very eager to get us out of the house. They’re up to something.
Gloria: You know what? I am gonna call for a Russian masseuse. Their hands are very strong from wringing laundry. You are too suspicious.
Claire: And you are too trusting! Luke’s already been arrested this year. A few weeks ago, we caught him with beer.
Gloria: I’m hearing a lot of Luke’s name and none of Manny.
Claire: You don’t think Manny’s up to the same things when you’re not paying attention?
Gloria: You’re crazy. Manny hates beer.

Claire: You can do whatever you want, I’m gonna go check on my kid.

Gloria drags her feet but returns with Claire. As the two enter the house, Claire immediately finds evidence that something is amiss.
Claire (picking up and sniffing a Styrofoam cup): Wait a minute! What the hell is going on here? Yep. I smell cheap beer. Someone’s been having a party.
Gloria: Claire, you’re just being crazy.

Phil and Mitchell also return to make sure everything is okay at home, leaving the screening of their favorite sci-fi movie. Right before Phil gets the fire alert, he and Mitchell have each downed a pot gummy.
Claire (to Phil and Mitchell as they come in the door): You guys go search the house. Find something suspicious.
And they do find something – just as the pot kicks in, leaving them as high as can be.
Mitchell (standing outside Luke’s bedroom door): I heard something.
Phil (reclosing the door on a bedroom crammed with kids): Okay, but if we tell Claire about those kids, we’re gonna have to stay here and punish Manny and the, uh — the other one.

By the time the parents locate the party and interrogate the boys, Jay and Cam have returned from their night out. Jay tries to reassure Claire.
Jay: Honey, don’t worry. They’re going to be fine. You’re better parents than Dede and I ever were, and you turned out all right.
Claire: Thanks, Dad. But are we just supposed to let these kids off the hook because we were as bad as they are?
Jay: No. We’ll be hypocrites – just like all parents. Luke and Manny get your asses down here.

We can only imagine what happens next. But it doesn’t take too much imagination for us to picture what came before. Many of us have dismissed clues that something is amiss because we trust our kids a bit too much (like Gloria). And many of us have looked the other way when they’ve misbehaved because holding them accountable is a lot of work and can interfere with our own plans (like Phil tonight).

Sometimes after we do all the investigating and discussing with our teen, we’re so relieved to have gotten that far that we make only a vague plan for holding them accountable. We rationalize that we did similar things as a teen and turned out okay (as Claire was tempted to do). We ground them for the next month, believing that in itself will teach them a lesson. Or we skip the penalty phase all together, convincing ourselves that consequences aren’t worth all the work because we haven’t seen much evidence that they change our kids’ behavior.

Most of us have been there and done at least some of that. Still, it’s a parent’s job to draw clear lines between what is safe and respectful and what is not.

Consequences help us keep the boundaries clear and make doing the right thing more of a priority for our teens. Even if they don’t always prevent wrong actions from recurring, consequences help teens feel accountable for their actions and help reinforce the slowly dawning realization that actions – both right and wrong – cause reactions.

Here are some things to keep in mind when crafting consequences:

Be timely. Generally, you’ll want to respond to your teen’s misbehavior within 24 hours. That way the behavior is still fresh in everybody’s mind and the details are still easily recalled. Being timely also means separating the passion of the fact finding from the objective consideration of the consequences.

Be somber. Don’t nag, pile-on, or gloat. Talk about what has to be done – not what you now get to do.

Make the consequences realistic and appropriate.
– Consequences are only effective if they can be enforced. So choose something you can enforce.
– Don’t overkill. If you make the consequence too light, you’ll not get your teen’s attention. But if you make it too harsh, your teen will become resentful, missing the opportunity for reflection and learning. To be effective, the consequence has to make sense to your teen.
– Be aware of overusing groundings. When used sparingly, grounding wields more power. Plus you’ve got to make sure they stay at home, so grounding can be more punishment for you than your teen.

Be clear. Surprises are not helpful, and miscommunicating the consequences only increases bad feelings. So be explicit. (For example, if you tell your teen that they’ve lost their driving privileges for the rest of the month, clarify whether they can still go out if they get a ride with a friend or whether driving with their friends is also part of the restriction.) In addition, teens need to know when the punishment will end and their lives can return to normal. So specify the exact time period you have in mind for the loss of privileges.

Stay the course. Once you’ve made the decision to give a penalty, don’t back off under pressure. Modifying a consequence, however, is not the same as backing off or failing to enforce it. It’s sometimes reasonable to substitute one consequence for another if you determine that doing so is in the teen’s or the family’s best interest.

Connecting Lines:
When the infraction is relatively minor, a consequence may have just one part – a material part. We parents are generally responsible for coming up with this part, and it’s usually pretty easy to come up with. Whatever was damaged, left undone, or done wrong is replaced or righted – often above or beyond the original requirement. (For example, a material consequence for a missed curfew might be docked time on their next evening out.)

When the infraction is serious (like tonight’s party) or part of a troubling pattern, the consequence should have two parts – a material part and an emotional payback part. The emotional payback part is harder. Most of the learning occurs with this part of the consequence which is intended to help heal both the teen and whoever else was inconvenienced or hurt by their behavior. It requires that your teen reflect about what they have done and how they can make amends by answering some tough questions. Questions such as:
What can you do to restore our trust in you?
How can you help those you’ve hurt stop hurting? How can you help them trust you again?

You’ll want to keep posing the questions until you hear your teen say something that demonstrates an awareness of the importance of this part of the consequence. You’re listening for something in teen lingo that shows insight and responsibility – something that will help them heal, rebound stronger, and begin to re-earn your trust.

You’ll probably have to provide some quiet space and some support for this type of thought and learning to come out of your teen. If you’re not hearing good responses, rein in your temptation to rage or scold. Instead keep posing the questions (calmly and dispassionately) until you hear what you’re listening for.

Once you hear words that show reflection and remorse, ask your teen what they need to do to make amends and re-earn your trust. And once you’ve agreed on a specific plan, express confidence in your teen’s ability to rebound and re-earn your trust. If you have a strong relationship with your teen, the more confidence you express in their capability of regaining your trust, the harder they’ll work to earn it.

Resources: Yes, Your Teen is Crazy by Michael Bradley

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