MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 27th, 2013, 0 Comments

Grandma Gracie’s Theory About Rules

Season 4, Episode 24

The Framework

Tonight on Modern Family’s season finale the three households travel to a retirement village in Florida to mourn the death of Phil’s mother. The episode, though, is as much about rules and rule breaking as it is about saying goodbye to Gracie. In fact, it turns out Gracie had her own theory about rules.

Upon their arrival the family is greeted by a bossy security guard who warns, “We run a tight ship here at Leisure Park,” and rides around on a Segway enforcing pointless rules. She lights into Phil for having breadcrumbs in his pocket (how did she know?) because there’s no duck feeding allowed, and Haley and Alex get kicked out of an empty pool because it’s for residence only. The girls respond in character: Alex as a rule follower; Haley not so much.

Cam charms a bunch of mahjong-playing senior women and then calls one of them out for taking the winning tile out of her pocket and another for swiping a whole plate of cookies into her purse. He’s right; they’re wrong. But what’s the point of stirring things up among the players? Just stir the punch, Cam.

Meanwhile Alex is miffed to find that Grandma Gracie, who she felt so close to, left her only an old lighter. Later, though, after finding the note and learning the meaning behind the gift, she uses the lighter to set-off fireworks at the funeral. She’s sure her grandmother would approve – even if it does break with traditional memorial service protocol.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Almost all of us break rules sometimes. Teens are especially prone to doing so. In the past we blamed teen rule breaking on peer pressure and rebellion – wanting to do things their parents don’t do just because they don’t do them. We now know that rapid changes taking place inside the teen brain also play a big role.

One way to think about the brain is to think of it as a balance between two different systems: an emotional pleasure seeking system that pushes us to seek rewards and go for excitement and novelty and a rational system that plans ahead and puts the brakes on impulses. These two systems are changing during adolescence, and the changes are uneven. While the rational system (in charge of braking) takes its time to mature, the emotional system gets a kick-start in early adolescence and goes into overdrive. Researchers have likened this to having an unskilled, thrill seeking driver at the wheel of a car with a high-powered engine and brakes that barely work.

This means that one of the most protective things we can do for our teens is to help with the braking action. But because our teens are making more and more decisions without our supervision, we cannot be their protector as we were when they were younger. Instead we provide protection by clearly drawing lines between right and wrong so our teens will know where the boundaries are.

It’s up to our teens, though, to decide whether or not to stay on the right side of the line. So we need to win our teens’ cooperation if our rules are to offer any protection. And we have the best chance of selling our teens on the rules if we keep things simple.

We need a few simple rules about the things we’re most concerned about – each with a purpose that’s easy for us to explain and for our teens to understand. Here are three rules that fit the bill:

• Be safe. Most teens underestimate bad consequences. Their still developing brains are like a magnet for trouble. So Be safe is about helping our teens stay away from things that could hurt them – things like smoking, drinking, drugs, driving while under the influence or riding with someone who is, getting arrested, and unsafe sex.

• Be respectful. We often find ourselves arguing with our teens, and one of our biggest areas of disagreement is respect. So be respectful is about helping our teens act respectfully towards other people, other people’s property, and to themselves. This rule addresses concerns such as acting rude, avoiding schoolwork, breaking curfew, neglecting home chores, lying, arguing with siblings or us, cheating, and stealing.

Be in contact. There are now things our teens would rather we not know. Because they fear that we’ll interfere with their fun. And because they want to protect us from what they think is needless worry. So be in contact is about helping weed out our teens’ bad decisions and reinforce their good ones. This rule is about our teens keeping us informed about who they’re with, what they’re doing, where they are, and where they’re going – especially if their plans change. And it’s about our teens letting us know when something unexpected happens and how they plan to deal with it.

Any issue can be matched to one or more of these three ways to be. Plus these rules give us a ready reason when they ask why: Because you need to be safe. You need to be respectful. You need to be in contact. Over time, we’ll float more information about each of these rules by them – always keeping our messages simple and brief.

Resources: “7 Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You” by J. M. Lippincott & R. M. Deutsch

The BottomLine

Grandma Gracie (in note left for Alex): Alex, who I love so dearly, who’s probably too much like me for her own good, don’t be afraid to break the rules.

At the end of the day our teens must decide for themselves how to act. Whether we like it or not, it will always be our teen’s choice whether or not to abide by our rules. And, frankly, most teens are more like Haley than Alex; they’re not afraid to break the rules – particularly rules that don’t make sense.

So we should expect our teens to test our limits. But we can help tip the balance back in the right direction by making and enforcing rules that our teens can understand and respect. We can link our discussions and actions back to three simple rules: Be safe. Be respectful. Be in contact.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• What are your rules for your teen? Has your teen tested the limits you’ve set? What do the discussions with your teen about rules sound like?



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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 15th, 2013, 0 Comments

Haley and the Champagne Flute

Season 4, Episode 20

The Framework

Tonight on “Modern Family” a couple former storylines get picked up right where they left off. The house that Claire and Cam have been renovating gets put on the market and sold. While over at the Pritchett house Gloria gets mad when Manny’s father visits again, bringing Trish – another one of his girlfriends – with him. And Gloria gets even madder when it turns out that this one is not a bimbo but an art expert with a fancy degree and a job to match.

These storylines were full of laughs like these:

Haley: He went to college at a place called “mit.”
Alex: It’s MIT.
Haley: I know how to spell it.

Gloria: This is not even garbage. They wouldn’t take it. It’s too big for the can.

Trish (to Gloria): You know what I had for lunch?! I had half a granola bar. And I can’t even button my pants.

But as the families celebrate the completed renovation, there were a couple sobering lines as well:

Phil: I would like to propose a toast.
Haley (emptying her glass of bubbly and holding it out for more): Missed me. And before the second toast: Still empty.
Alex: You know you’re my ride.
Haley (pinging the champagne flute with her finger): They say it’s bad luck to toast with an empty glass.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Does Haley have a drinking problem? She did chug down that glass of champagne. And there was that night of bizarre behavior that got her kicked out of college – a night that began with drinking. But how would we know if she had a problem? Come to think of it, how would we know if one of our kids had a problem with alcohol?

Here are some warning signs:
• Mood changes – flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness
• School problems – poor attendance, low grades, or recent disciplinary action
• Rebelling against family rules
• Switching friends along with reluctance to have you get to know their friends
• A “nothing matters” attitude, sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy
• Finding alcohol in your child’s bedroom or backpack, or smelling alcohol on their breath
• Physical or mental problems – bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, slurred speech, memory lapses, poor concentration
(Source: NIAAA)

Some of the things on this list may be no more than normal teen growing pains. But if your teen shows several of the signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, and if they are more extreme, it’s probably time to get some help. A good place to start is to call your teen’s doctor – just as we would if our teens had any other serious medical need.

None of us want our teens to use alcohol – much less to develop a drinking problem. But no teen is immune. So we need to keep our radar up and quietly monitor for signs of use. Because no one will ever be more concerned than we are. And no one can be more watchful than we can be.

If your teen casually mentions that some of their friends are drinking or that some of their friends’ parents let their kids drink, it’s a signal that they may be doing some experimenting or at least considering it. Putting up these trial balloons lets teens test our response. And as the balloons float by, we get a natural chance to reinforce our rule that no use is acceptable and to remind them of the consequences for missing the mark.

If you suspect experimentation but only have your suspicions, voice your concerns as objectively (and unemotionally) as possible. Tell your teen what it is that you’ve noticed that has you worried. And tell them that you love them too much not to worry and care too much not to fight them over drinking or drug use. By saying this we let our teens know that we’re paying attention, and it lets us gradually build a case if their worrisome behavior continues. So say this, and then quietly monitor their behavior.

And if you find evidence of one occasion of use, try not to view it as the end of the world. Yes, it’s disappointing. And to send a message that you won’t tolerate drinking, you’ll have to take away some of their privileges (things like driving, sleepovers, and extended curfews) until they’ve re-earned your trust. But there is also reason to be grateful. Because when our teens make a mistake and we find out about it, we get one of our best opportunities to help them make better decisions down the road.

The BottomLine

Jay (to Trish): Now, I’m not an art expert like you, but I did acquire this piece in a gallery in one of those finer Vegas casinos. What do you think?
Trish: It does say something. … What is it Thoreau said: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Some parents will take a look at the teen scene and decide that teens will drink and that there is little they can do about it. And to be honest, the research indicates that parenting doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of effect on whether kids decide to try alcohol. But if you take a closer look at the data, you’ll see that parenting attitudes and actions can make a big difference in how much and how often teens drink – and this is where the greatest risks to their safety and their brains lie.

Researchers have found that the kids least likely to do heavy drinking have parents who are highly supportive and highly demanding. These parents are warm and caring. They know where their kids are and who they are with. They send a clear message that no drinking is acceptable. And they hold their kids accountable. On the other hand, having a permissive parent who is warm and caring but low on accountability (I’m talking to you, Phil) can triple the risk of a teen taking part in heavy drinking. And a controlling parent who is high on accountability but low on warmth (Claire, I’m talking to you now) can more than double their teen’s risk of heavy drinking.

So it’s true that as our teens get older, we have less influence and their peers have more. But it’s also true that our actions and attitudes can go a long way in minimizing the effect of peer encouragement to drink.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

A decade ago when my son was a teen, many parents viewed teen drinking as a rite of passage. Some parents today still may feel relieved that their teen is “only” drinking. But in truth, what we’ve learned over the last several years underscores the dangers of underage drinking:

• It’s a major cause of death from injuries among teens.
• It plays a role in risky sexual behavior and violent crime.
• And there is growing evidence that the teen brain, which is still forming, is more vulnerable than the adult brain to the damaging effects of alcohol.

Some adolescent experts used to advise letting teens do their experimenting before they left home for college so that parents could keep watch and monitor their use. Nobody is suggesting this any more. We now know that the best thing we parents can do is to delay the age at which our kids start drinking for as long as possible. Because the earlier teens start drinking, the more likely they are to become a heavy drinker and to have problems with school, jobs, and relationships.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• I’m pretty sure that Haley is not yet 21. Why do you think she got champagne for toasting while Alex and Luke got juice? She’s almost 21. And it’s just one glass. So does it matter?



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