MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 27th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 20, Knock ‘Em Down

Claire and Phil Succumb to Peer Pressure

The Framework
The kids are mostly invisible tonight on Modern Family. However, the adults fill-in for their missing kids by sliding back into adolescence.

Like a teen, Jay is consumed with self-conscious worries about how he looks after seeing his picture on his new Costco card. Meanwhile, Mitch and Gloria try to keep up with Haley to prove that they’re still young enough to party the way they used to. But the storyline that held my attention tonight has Claire and Phil bonding with the “trashy” neighbors they’ve battled with all season.

The couples come together over a shared disdain for a tasteless statue in the neighborhood. This leads to a dinner out together where the Dunphys discover their neighbors have better taste than they realized – an upscale restaurant reservation, expensive wine, and a kid who’s going to Juilliard all help change their mind. That is, until the conversation takes a turn.
Amber: Isn’t this fun?
Claire: To think it just took us hating the same statue to bring us together.
Phil (laughing): What a world it could be if people would just hate more.
Ronnie: Yeah, what are we gonna do about that thing, huh?
Claire: Well, we could start a petition.
Phil: Yeah, or we could talk to our city councilman.
Claire: Yep.
Ronnie: Or, how about this? We take a rope, we tie it around the statue, attach it to the back of my truck, and drag it to the nearest dump.
Phil: Uh, we can’t do that.
Claire: No.
Ronnie: Why not? We got tons of rope.
Claire: Availability of rope isn’t really the issue here. It’s… it’s destruction of property.
Phil: It’s against the law.
Claire: Yeah.
Ronnie: So?
Claire: Ronnie, we live in a civilized society. We’re not those kinds of people, you know?

On the ride home, though, it turns out that Claire can be one of “those people.”
Ronnie: Oh, great. They put lights on it.
Claire (scoffing): Stop the car. We have to tear that thing down. They’re right; it’s the only way.
Phil: No! No! No! This is crazy!
Claire: How many months do you want to spend trying to fight through some bureaucratic red tape to get that thing taken down – only to be told there’s nothing we can do?

With that, Claire, Ronnie, and Amber jump out of the truck and begin tying the statue with rope. Phil holds out a bit longer, staying in the truck and locking the doors.
Phil: I can’t allow this to happen! I’m a respected member of the community! I’m on bus benches!
Ronnie: You’re such a Boy Scout! Open the door.

One thing leads to another, and before you know it Phil has inadvertently backed the truck into the statue. And by the end, even Phil succumbs, using his Boy Scout status to get away with a lie that gets the foursome out of trouble with the cops.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
When we think of peer pressure, we typically conjure up a group of teens hanging out together. In reality, peer pressure does tend to peak around age 15 – and then decline. But as we saw tonight, peer pressure is something everyone has to deal with – even adults like Claire and Phil.

Kids influence each other just by spending time together. If you have parented a middle schooler, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that these kids tend to flit around together like a flock of starlings – all moving in-sync. New research on peer pressure indicates that the teen tendency to congregate and act alike may be explained by the fact that their brains get more pleasure from social acceptance than adult brains do. In addition, scientists say that teens are more vulnerable to peer pressure than adults are because teens get greater pleasure from behavior they experience as rewarding – and teens tend to find it very rewarding to be liked by their peers.

Peers can be positive and supportive of each other. But they can also have a negative influence on each other. In truth, teens do tend to take more risks when they’re with peers. Researchers say that it’s not that teens don’t understand the risks involved. Instead, teens’ tendency to take risks when their peers are around has to do with the fact that the connections between their frontal lobes and other parts of the brain are not fully formed in teens. This means that teens’ ability to make decisions when emotional (and peer pressure often provokes powerful emotions) isn’t yet at full adult-strength.

Amber: Hey, we’re just about to grab dinner. You guys want to join us?
Phil: What’s that?
Amber: I said, you guys want to go to dinner?
Claire: How’s that?
Ronnie: If you guys don’t want to, that’s fine.
Phil: No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no.
Claire: Oh, no, no, no.
Ronnie: Uh… are you saying “no”?
Phil: You know what? … Mm … Sure, why not?
Claire: Of course.
Ronnie: All right! Meet you out front in 15. I’ll drive.

Claire and Phil’s response is not unlike the thoughts that run through a teen’s head when they’re faced with pressure to do something they’re not sure they really want to do.

As kids get older and spend more time away from home, they’ll be faced with more and more decisions. Some of the decisions will involve questions of little consequence. But some decisions will be about values – like whether to cheat on a test or shoplift. And some will also involve their health and safety – like whether to drink at a party, try marijuana, or ride in a car driven by a friend who has been drinking.

Making these decisions on their own is a hard enough for a teen. But when you add peer pressure to the mix, things can get even harder. Some kids give into peer pressure to fit in and to be liked or because they worry that they’ll be made fun of if they don’t go along with the group. Others may join in because they’re curious to try the new thing others are doing.

Although peer pressure affects all kids, risky behaviors tend to be linked with being popular. So kids who are less popular or less self-assured tend to succumb to peer influence for these behaviors rather than for something like doing well in school.

In a series of recent studies, researchers set up Internet chat rooms and led kids to think that they were interacting with three peers who were considered either popular or unpopular. The kids were then asked questions like, “Imagine you’re at a party and someone offers you alcohol. Would you drink?” Researchers noted that if the supposed peers in the room said “yes,” kids would dramatically change their response. What’s more, when the supposed peers were popular, socially anxious kids would agree with whatever the other kids decided. However, low anxiety kids were more choosey. And the kids most likely to be swayed were the least popular – not necessarily because of low self-esteem but because they wanted to fit-in.

What’s a Mom to Do
Soon or later, most of us will feel outmatched by the power our kids’ peers seem to have on them. But rather than giving up, we must ratchet up our efforts to stay connected to our kids.

Below is some advice for dealing with your teen if you become worried that their friends are a bad influence:

Get to know your teen’s friends. Refrain from making hasty judgments about your teen’s friends – especially the ones you don’t like. These judgments almost always backfire because criticizing your teen’s friends feels like a personal attack to your teen. After all, your teen chose these friends. So instead of instantly judging your teen’s friends, work to determine whether your concerns about their friends are real and important. Learn their names, invite them into your home so that you can talk with them and listen to them. And introduce yourself to their parents.

Find out why these friends are important to your teen. Kids tend to seek out long-term peer groups who are like they already are or already have the potential to become. So if your teen’s long-term friends have serious problems, you might consider the possibility that your teen is more troubled than you wanted to think.

If you believe your fears are valid and serious, rather than condemning the friends, talk with your teen about behavior. Share your concerns and feelings about risky choices. And encourage your teen’s independence by supporting decision-making based on principles and values rather than on other people.

Keep two-way conversations going with your teen. Warm parenting coupled with firm boundaries based on family values is linked to kids who are more independent thinkers. Lots of two-way conversations are a crucial part of this type of parenting. Because if our kids are going to be able to stand-up to peer pressure, we have to let them stand up and have their say with us too. We don’t have to agree with or support their ideas, but we do have to acknowledge and respect their right to have a position that is different than our own. After all, if we raise our kids with a “do it just because I said so” approach, we’re making them more susceptible to letting others tell them what to do.

Help your teen anticipate situations of peer pressure. Help your teen think through choices in advance – like being offered alcohol at a party. Discuss immediate and long-term consequences of risky behavior, and practice role playing strategies that could help your teen save face while still avoiding a risk. Having a prepared response can help a teen get off a run-away train.

Remember valuable lessons are often learned from mistakes. Peers may encourage a teen to test forbidden behaviors. But facing the influence of friends and learning to resist it are important steps to self-reliance.

During childhood, we parents provide a set of rules about what is right and what is wrong. By the time our kids reach adolescence, they have incorporated our values and morals. Then during the teen years, it’s their job to look to others for alternative opinions about values and moral – just as they look to others for ideas about clothes, hairstyles, and music. This is normal. This is what teens are supposed to do. It is through this trial and error that our kids become their own person.

Although peers may have more influence on a teen’s day-to-day attitude and behavior, research shows that, in the long run, parents have a much greater influence than peers on kids’ ultimate character and value development. When parents maintain caring, respect-based relationships – especially when there are problems – peer pressure hardly stands a chance.

Your Parenting Experiences
When was the last time you felt peer pressure to do something you didn’t really want to do? How did you resolve the situation? Might this make a good story to share with your teen?

Sources and Resources: “Peer Pressure for Teens Paves the Path to Adulthood” by Shirley Wang in the Wall Street Journal; “Dealing with Peer Pressure” on website; “Adolescents and Peer Pressure” on University of Michigan’s SiteMaker website; Trust Me Mom, Everyone Else is Going! By Roni Cohen-Sandler, PhD; Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! by Michael Bradley, EdD

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