Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 14th, 2016, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 15, I Don’t Know How She Does It

Plotline: Who is Minding Luke?

Tonight Claire and Phil work to hold down their parental responsibilities and their jobs. Phil notes that he’s been doing this for a long time: I’ve been juggling family and work for 22 years – just juggling for 30. And he wonders how Claire has managed to master it all so quickly.

In spite of her new position as boss of her dad’s company, Claire still manages to pack the kids’ lunches, pick up their clothes from the laundry, and buy presents for their friends. She even whips-up homemade ice cream for the family and cupcakes for a bake sale. By the end we see that she’s actually focusing on her new job at work while a guy from marketing is handling things at home.
Claire (lamenting): I’m so damn busy trying to be the perfect mom and the perfect boss, but I’m outsourcing the one job that means the most to me, and I really miss it.
I miss being a mom.

Meanwhile, Luke continues to go in the wrong direction. A few months back he got caught drinking with his buddies. Weeks later he took the family car without permission or a driver’s license. And tonight he takes a couple more wrong turns: skipping school and downloading a picture of a naked girl.

Claire and Phil are focused on doing things for their kids – tasks that, frankly, the kids should mostly be doing for themselves by now. And with both parents busy doing things that aren’t really their responsibility any more, they miss something important that is. They’re not paying enough attention to what Luke is up to.

Claire and Phil need to be doing more parental monitoring of Luke’s activities and behavior. This isn’t about prying and spying. Instead, it’s about 1) the rules parents have for their teen’s behavior, 2) the actions they take to keep track of their teen, and 3) and the way they respond when their teen breaks the agreed upon rules.

You are monitoring your teen when you…

Make and discuss your rules with your teen.
– Keep your rules simple. For example: Be safe. Be in contact. Be respectful. (Click here for more about these three simple rules.)
– Talk with your teen about your rules and winning their cooperation for following the rules by talking about what’s in it for them.

Keep track of your teen.
– Talk with your teen about their plans with their friends – where they’re going and what they’re going to do. If they’re going to a friend’s house, ask if a parent will be present.
– Set expectations that your teen is to keep you informed, calling you if their plans change or if they’re going to be late.
– Make sure your teen knows how to reach you at all times.
– Pay attention to how your teen spends money.
– Keep track of how your teen spends time online, and discuss Internet safety. (You can read more about that here.)
– Get to know your teen’s friends – especially their boyfriend or girlfriend. And get to know the parents of your teen’s friends.
– Pay attention to your teen’s behavior and mood at home; if you see anything that concerns you, discuss it.
– Talk with your teen’s teachers, aunts, uncles, and other adults who know your teen. Ask them to share what they’ve observed about your teen’s mood, their behavior, and their friends.

Respond when your teen breaks the rules.
– Give consequences that fit the infraction and make sense to your teen.
– Give your teen the support they need to learn from their mistakes.
– Define a way for your teen to re-earn your trust.
– Work to mend any frayed connections with your teen. You can still do fun things together while keeping the consequences in place.
(Click here for more about how to give consequences that work.)

Connecting Lines:
Your connectedness to your teen matters! In fact, a growing body of research indicates that all parental efforts to monitor teen behavior are much more effective and efficient when parents are connected to their teens.

Plus as our kids get older, they will be making more and more decisions when we’re not around to monitor them. This means that our power is increasingly in our influence. And if we let monitoring become the main focus of our relationships with our teens, we won’t have the influence we hope to have.

So try to spend as much time on your connection with your teen as you do on making and enforcing rules. The closeness and fun you share with your teen helps recharge your parenting batteries. And this in itself will help promote connection between the two of you.

Below are some ways to show your teen that they’re valued and cared about. Consider adding some of these to your routine.
– Make time to stop by your teen’s room just to chat and listen. Make it a habit to knock before going into their room.
– Note what they’re doing well and pay them a genuine compliment at least once a day.
– Text them to offer encouragement before tests and games or just out of the blue to let them know you’re thinking about them.
– Plan a menu and cook a favorite meal together.
– Notice when they enter the house or the room and greet them.
– Ask for their help on a project.
– Go to a movie together, and do dessert afterwards to talk about it.
– Do a physical activity together such as hiking, biking, or skating. Invite one of their friends and the friend’s parent to join you.
– Read the same book and then offer to take them to lunch to talk about it.
– Choose a weekly show as “your show” to watch together.
– Strive to have 5 positive interactions with your teen for every 1 negative interaction.

Resources: Monitoring Your Teen’s Activities: What Parents and Families Should Know from the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, “Consequences of Parenting on Adolescent Outcomes” in online journal Societies, Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Mike Riera

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Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 18th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 6, The More You Ignore Me

Plotline: Luke Gets Arrested

At the Dunphy household, the night begins with a call from the police.
Phil: Who’s calling at this hour? (Answering phone) Hello? Yes? (Then to Claire) Luke has been arrested!

The next day starts-off like this.
Phil: Well, good morning, Leonard.
Luke: Leonard?
Phil: I know it’s not my well-behaved son, Luke, who’d never take our car out without a license and get arrested.
Luke: I took the car for a good reason. Sarah Fisher’s cat died, and she was devastated, so I thought she might make out with me. I got caught two blocks away from her house. Everyone is having great luck with girls except for me. And I mean everyone.
Claire: You know, we’re gonna have to ground you, and I was thinking that…
Phil: Oh, we’re doing way more than that. Landon has a $300 fine to work off.
Luke: We could fight that – say the cop was racist. Even if we lose, it’ll start a conversation.
Phil: You made a mistake; you pay the consequences, Levon. Your first job is cleaning out the awesome village I built for my ducks.

Later, Phil follows-up – well, sort of.
Phil (leaving a voicemail for Luke): Just reminding you the duck village needs to be clean enough to eat off of. You hear me? You better not have. You’re not allowed to use your phone. Yep, I’m everywhere.

Like Phil, none of us want to think that our teens will break our rules and our trust in them. But teens are hard-wired to take risks. So regardless of how smart or well-adjusted kids are or how effectively they’re parented, at some time during adolescence they are bound to make some mistakes.

Sometimes teens’ worrisome behavior is due to impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision making. At other times teens actively seek out risks. For years we’ve believed that teens make these deliberate but reckless choices because they think that nothing bad is going to happen to them. We now know that teens are well aware of their vulnerability. In fact, teens tend to overestimate their risks for many negative outcomes.

A growing body of scientific data suggests that teens take these risks not because they think that they’re invulnerable, but because they engage in too much rational calculation when making these decisions. Consider Luke’s decision tonight to drive the family car without permission or a license. To his rational adolescent mind, deliberating on the odds, it must have seemed like a good bet. He likely reasoned that there was only a moderate chance of getting caught or having an accident, and the potential of the immediate reward – particularly in the heat of the moment – seemed to out-weigh the risks.

In contrast, most adults faced with the temptation of driving someone else’s car – without permission or a license – would likely skip the deliberation and go right to the main point: The risks of an accident or an arrest are not worth quantifying, and it doesn’t make sense to weigh these risks against the reward of brief pleasure. Instead of doing mental calculations, adults go with their gut. They immediately generate a visual image of a potential accident or arrest, experience a physical aversion to that image, and evoke a quick “bad idea” response.

Bottom Line
The dangers are real, but they are not unknown to our teens. So bombarding them with frightening facts won’t help them make better decisions. But getting them to see benefits differently – not just risks – can.

Taking risks will have less appeal for teens if they see greater benefit from alternative, safer, more respectful courses of action. And you want to especially highlight the short-term consequences and benefits as these are the most significant to teens.

Previous posts have discussed the advantages of having a few, simple rules: be safe, be respectful, be in contact. (You can read more about these rules here.) Below are some suggestions for winning your teen’s cooperation for following these rules:

Consistently enforce the rules with consequences that fit the infraction and make sense to your teen. Kids need consequences to get them to reflect on what they have done. But don’t overkill. If you make the consequence too severe, your teen will become resentful and miss the opportunity for learning and growth. Especially beware of grounding for special events – like prom or an important game they’re supposed to play in. And be sure to provide light at the end of the tunnel by letting your teen know when the consequences will end.

Give your teen the support needed to learn from their mistake and a way to re-earn your trust. When your teen disappoints you by breaking a rule, it’s important to enforce a consequence to make room for learning to take place. But consequences almost never do the teaching. Your support is needed for that.

Your support will enable your teen to understand why they did what they did and to realize that there were other choices that they could have and should have made. And your support will enable your teen to regain your trust (and with it their privileges). It works best if you explain precisely how they can go about re-earning your trust. “When you show me that …” If you have a strong relationship with your teen, the more you express confidence in their capability of regaining your trust, the harder they’ll work to re-earn it and keep it.

Gradually let go. This means granting your teen more privileges and freedoms as they earn them by behaving responsibly – choice by choice, decision by decision, action by action.

Connecting Lines:
Our peace of mind is largely based on being able to trust our teens. Because despite Phil’s claim tonight that he’s everywhere, he can’t be. And, of course, neither can we. So we need to do all that we can to encourage our teens to follow our rules.

Appealing to your teen’s self-interest is another way to encourage rule adherence.
Below is a script to give you an idea of what that conversation might sound like.

You: There are only three rules that describe my expectations for your behavior: Be safe, be respectful, and be in contact. I expect you to follow these. Their purpose is to allow me (your parent) to sleep at night.
Them: What do the rules have to do with your sleep?
You: They help keep me from worrying. Parents worry. That’s part of what we do.
Them (rolling their eyes): That’s ridiculous. But if you want to stay up worrying about me, that’s your problem. Not mine.
You: Actually not. When I worry about you, it does affect you. Because when I worry, I don’t sleep as well. And when I’m tired, I’m cranky and more likely to say “No.” So it’s in your own best interest to minimize the things I worry about. That way I’ll sleep better, and you’ll have a better chance of getting to do what you want.

Sources and Resources: Adolescents and Risk: Helping Young People Make Better Choices by Eric Wargo (citing research by Valerie Renya, Ph.D.); Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You by J. Lippincott and Robin Deutsch, Ph.D.; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, Ph.D.

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