Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 10th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 2, The Day Alex Left for College

Plotline: Alex Gets Her First College Lesson
Alex comes downstairs with a single suitcase and a lone duffle bag.
Claire: Look at my conscientious little girl getting ready to leave for college a whole day early.
Alex: I’m leaving today.
Claire: What? No. No, no. I was gonna make your favorite meal for dinner, and then we were gonna fight because of separation anxiety, and then tomorrow morning, we would make up before you leave for good.
Alex: This is exactly why I didn’t tell you! … I have never felt better about a decision.

Alex gives her parents the wrong move-in date and gets Haley to drive her to school to avoid making it a big deal. And because she feels so ready. As she confides to Haley: Do you know how long I’ve been dreaming about this day? I’m just really ready for this. I’m finally surrounded by smart, curious people.

Then she meets her roommate.
Maisie: Hi! You must be Alex. I’m your roomie. I’m Maisie. My dad says it’s short for Amazing, but it’s not.
Alex: Wait, I picked a different…
Maisie: Roommate? I know. She got sick. She got a panic attack. Anyways, they denied her visa, and she’s still in Norway.
Alex: Uh, how old are you?
Maisie: Oh, I’m 15, but I’ve seen four R-rated movies already.

Things go downhill from there. And as soon as Maisie leaves the room, Alex begins punching numbers into her cell phone.
Alex: This ends now.
Haley: What are you doing?
Alex: What do you think I’m doing? I’m getting rid of her. I’m calling my advisor and getting a new roommate.

(Click here to see how Haley intervenes to teach Alex her first lesson about roommates.)

Freshman year of college may be the only time that our kids will spend a year living with a total stranger in a hundred-square-foot room. As much as we might hope that our student will get along perfectly with the other student who shares their close quarters, it doesn’t always turn out that way. As Alex found out, roommates won’t always be what was hoped for or expected. And even the most compatible roomies will have disagreements.

Until students are in the situation, it’s hard for them to know what it will take to get along. And many students won’t know how to fix things when there is a conflict. So don’t be surprised if your phone rings with your unglued college freshman on the other end, complaining about their roommate.

When that call comes, it’s easy to get caught up in your student’s frustration and pain. But if, instead, you strive to see this as an opportunity for them to learn some things about getting along with others, you’ll be better able to provide the warm, sturdy support they need.

To be most helpful, first ask what they’ve tried. Listen. And then, when the time is right, fill-in what’s missing. The following are some talking points for you to use when you fill them in.

Adjust expectations. It helps if students understand that issues are a normal part of good relationships. Knowing that there are bound to be conflicts can help your student take things in stride.

Address things when they’re small. Talk about what’s bothering you as soon as possible. But don’t confront your roommate when you’re upset or when your roommate is dashing off to class or when you’re in front of others.

Agree on a time to talk. You’ll have a better chance of getting your roommate’s attention if you start with a sentence or two like: There’s something important I’d like to talk about. Is this a good time for you? If not, ask to set a specific time later that day or week.

Try to approach the problem in the way you’d want to be approached. Be assertive without blaming or being angry. Don’t apologize for bringing up the issue. If you do, you may not be taken seriously. But don’t suggest that they’re a horrible person either. That’ll just make them defensive. Instead remind yourself of any good things your roommate brings to the relationship. And strive to come across as a nice, reasonable person talking to another nice, reasonable person.

For example, let’s say the problem is about cleaning (one of the biggest areas of roommate conflict). Don’t begin with: You’re such a slob. I can’t even find my desk because of all your junk. Instead try: I need to stay organized, and I can’t when your stuff is all over. Beginning with “I” instead of “you” will make it easier for your roommate to hear and will connect how your roommate’s actions (or inactions) are affecting you.

After stating your case, listen to your roommate’s side of the story without becoming defensive. Assume your roommate didn’t setout to make your life miserable. Respect their point of view. Try to stay curious about why a nice, reasonable person might act the way your roommate does. And be open to the idea that you may be doing some pretty irritating things too.

Come up with a solution that both of you can live with. Neither of you may leave 100% happy. But if both of you are trying to get along and you’re both being honest and open, chances are you’ll be able to come up with a fair compromise.

Know when it’s time to switch. You’re entitled to a reasonable roommate. So if you’ve tried compromising and tactful reminders, speak with your resident assistant (RA) who is trained and paid to help with problems like this. If that doesn’t fix the problem, it’s time to insist on a new roommate or a new room.

Tonight, Alex gets her first college lesson before classes even start. Chances are it won’t be her last lesson on the topic. But the lessons learned will have enduring value. After all, knowing how to bring up a problem and compromise with a roommate isn’t a skill that only new college students need. Sharing an apartment or a home can be just as complicated.

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.

Below are a few conversation starters for this episode:
Nobody likes to bring up a problem. But relationships are stronger if you talk things out when there’s an issue. So what would the conversation sound like if…
– Your friend borrowed your putter (or favorite pair of earrings) and hasn’t given it/them back.
– Your friend constantly leaves candy wrappers and empty pop cans in your car.

Sources and Resources: “Roommate Relationships” from BWell Health Promotion at Brown University, Picture from ABC

I'd love to have you become a regular reader. Join my mailing list to be notified by email of new blog posts here. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook below.

MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 4th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 21, Integrity

Alex has Something Important to Say

The Framework
The adults are in a fix-it mode tonight on Modern Family – with their efforts all focused on the kids. Jay and Phil haul, destroy, and then rebuild Lily’s giant, pink, princess castle for Baby Joe’s birthday party. Gloria looks to her Columbian roots for inspiration as she advocate for Haley with her abusive boss. But it’s Claire’s attempts to fix things that held my attention tonight.
Claire: [It’s] awards day at school – the one day of the year Alex has some real swagger. Ironically, the one thing she’s not good at.
Alex (standing on a chair, cheering): When I say “trophy,” you say “trophy”! Trophy! Trophy! Can I get a wha-wha?

Claire (to camera): I always worried that Alex winning all those awards would bother Luke, and looks like it finally did. Can’t be easy growing up in the shadow of a superstar sister. Look at Mitchell.

With that, Claire jumps into action, going straight to the principal’s office to fix things.
Claire: I … have a tiny favor to ask.
Principal: You know, I love your family … Haley, our Homecoming queen. And now Alex winning just about every academic award … It’s been an honor to teach the Dunphy children.
Claire: Well, today I’m here to talk about Luke.
Principal: Is that the science rabbit?
Claire: That’s my son.
Principal: Oh! Yes. Of course.
Claire: That’s sort of the point. I think he’s feeling a little bit overlooked. I was wondering if you could just, you know, toss him one of those awards today.
Principal: Well, I’m afraid all of the award winners have already been decided. But if it makes him feel any better, he was runner up for the integrity award.
Claire: Maybe there’s some sort of, um… I don’t know, like, a…a…a donation or something I could give to the auto shop to, um grease the wheels.
Principal: Okay, Mrs. Dunphy, I’m really doing everything I can to ignore the fact that you’re trying to bribe me for the Marlon Boniface Integrity award.
Claire: Oh! I’m so glad you can remember that name, but you can’t remember Luke.

Claire, not one to give up easily, finds an alternative way to intervene. It has to do with pushing another student’s car, and … well, anyway when her kids return home from school, it’s clear that things didn’t turn out quite as she’d hoped.
Alex: Call me the periodic table, ’cause I got all the “metals.”
Claire: Yeah! That’s nice, honey. Luke, how was your day?
Alex: Well, Luke won the Boniface Integrity Award, whereas I got all…
Claire: Are you kidding me? That is fantastic! I’m so proud of…
Luke: The bonerface! You win that award, everyone calls you “bonerface.” It’s the super nerd award. My underwear got pulled over my head by a girl. It always goes to Scott Wheeler, but someone pushed his car into a handicapped spot so I’d get the award.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
One of the things I love most about Claire is her propensity to do outrageous things. Similar things might occasionally run through our heads. But we’d never carry them out. At least not to such ludicrous extremes.

Claire’s attempts tonight to fix Luke’s unhappiness is a good case in point. All of us want our kids to be happy. And many of us have, at one time or another, tried to fix things for our kids – doing their work, apologizing for them, making excuses for them, advocating for them. We do this in an attempt to make things better, easier, less painful for our kids. And truth be told, we also may interfere because we can’t tolerate the way we feel when our kids struggle.

Claire (confessing): I did it! I did it! I got you the bonerface! Ugh, the bonifa– What’s it called? … I didn’t know it was a nerd award. I just knew it was an award, and I wanted you to have one. And you were second in line to get it, anyway, so I just, you know…
Luke: Rigged it. Because you think I’m a loser who could never win his own award?
Claire: No. No. I… I just… Alex has her awards and…
Luke: Thanks for believing in me.

The desire to protect our kids and want the best for them is important and essential. But if our anxiety causes us to step in and take over, our children lose out – even when our fixes work.

If we never give them room to be unhappy, they don’t learn how to cope with the normal stresses and frustrations of everyday life. If we spring into action whenever failure lurks, our kids don’t learn that fear and doubt are almost always part of doing something difficult– and that you have to work through the fear of failure to achieve success. And as Luke reminds tonight, if we try to solve their problems for them, our children may come to believe that we do this because we don’t think they are capable of working things out on their own.

What’s a Mom to Do
The next time your teen is unhappy and you feel the urge to fix things, remind yourself how things turned out for Claire. Remember that even if your intentions are good and your methods are honest, you often lack some of the information needed to fully understand the problem – much less fix it.

Below are a few suggestions to try instead:

Just be present. It’s difficult to not intervene when our kids are unhappy. But it’s often during these times that our kids most need us to remain quiet. Our silent presence relays that it’s a tough issue, that it’s okay to sometimes struggle and be unhappy, and that we don’t have an easy answer. The reassuring look on our face relays that we believe in them and that we won’t give up on them.

Help your teen focus on their feelings. While it might not be easy to fix one’s own feelings – especially for a teen – it’s more doable than a fix that requires changing other people. So the next time your teen is unhappy, you might encourage them to make a list of things that would help them feel better – active steps they could take to fix their feelings. The more you can remain emotionally neutral during this process, the more your teen will keep talking.

Help keep the focus on fixing their feelings rather than fixing other people. Not only will this give your teen a renewed sense of power in the short-term, it will also help them build a lifetime skill.

Encourage gratitude. Scientists think that about 50% of happiness is genetic. But the rest comes from how we choose to look at the world and feel about what we see. This means that kids (and adults) can learn to look at the brighter side.

Studies show that negative words – even negative self talk – darkens our moods. On the other hand, focusing on our blessings helps us ward off the natural tendency to dwell on problems and unfairness.

We can help our kids change their thought patterns by modeling gratitude for them and by encouraging them to focus on what they’re grateful for. To avoid sounding boastful, share how others have helped and give them credit.

In a voiceover at the end of tonight’s episode, Alex has this to say: No one wins anything without help from family and friends who steer you away from bad ideas and toward good ones. Because every time anyone accomplishes anything he or she achieves it with the help of a thousand silent heroes, the selfless team players who offer their support, not to be recognized, but because it’s the right thing to do.

We have to look beyond her swagger tonight to hear the message, but Alex has something important to say.

Your Parenting Experiences
Are your kids thankful for what they have? Do they feel and act grateful?

The answers to these questions may be more important than you think. Because it turns out that counting blessings is good for us – not just emotionally but physically as well. Over the last decade studies have shown that adults who are grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections, more happiness, and more resistance to viral infections. Now scientists are finding that gratitude brings benefits to young children and teens too. Kids who feel and act grateful tend to get better grades and set higher goals. They complain of fewer stomachaches and headaches. They are less materialistic. And they feel more satisfied with their families, friends and schools.

Still not convinced? Click here to watch Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk. It’s not only informative and fast, it’s funny to boot.

I'd love to have you become a regular reader. Join my mailing list to be notified by email of new blog posts here. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook below.

© 2024 Roxane Lehmann, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.