Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 13th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 8, Clean Out Your Junk Drawer

Alex & Haley S 7 E 8

Plotline: Two Sisters, Two Troubling Relationships

Gloria won a seminar on emotional intimacy in a raffle. So thanks to Gloria, all the adults are gathered in the Dunphy’s living room tonight, trying to get in touch with their emotional sides and make their marriages healthier.

Haley, having been kicked out of the house for the seminar, heads to Caltech to visit Alex. As soon as she arrives, the two sisters start talking about their troubles. It quickly becomes apparent that, like the adults, the girls too are in relationships that are short on emotional intimacy.

The sisters’ chat begins like this.
Haley: So, how’s school?
Alex: Well, in my Newtonian mechanics class we’re learning how to calculate the velocity of free falling objects in a… School’s hard.
Haley: So, anyways, umm… I sort of did something and I need your advice. But I don’t want a lot of judgment and criticism.
Alex: And you came to me?
Haley: Yeah, you’ve always had such a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. You always know what…
Alex: I have a high-school boy toy.
Haley: What?! Who?
Alex: It’s Luke’s dorky friend Reuben.
Haley: Ugh.
Alex: I feel so ashamed.
Haley: Oh, my god. You should be. Isn’t he, like 8?
Alex: No, he’s 16 and 3/4, and he has to shave almost every two weeks.
Haley: How did you let this happen? You go to Caltech. You’re surrounded by age-appropriate dorks.
Alex: I know, but I was home and still feeling sad about Sanjay breaking up with me, and it’s overwhelming here. There are so many brilliant people, and Reuben idolizes me. I guess I just kind of needed that, so I let him kiss me. Oh, and a little bit of this (indicating her chest). I’m so weak. I can’t imagine anything worse.

It turns out that Haley can.
Haley: I hooked up with Andy.
Alex: What?!
Haley (nodding her head): Mm-hmm.
Alex: Engaged Andy?
Haley (again, nodding her head): I know. [But] I I feel like if Andy weren’t engaged, we’d have a chance.
Alex: And if Reuben were just a little bit older and didn’t wear prescription shoes… It’d still be gross.

Most of us use the term “intimate relationship” to refer to being physically intimate in a romantic relationship. But, in fact, any individuals who are emotionally close and connected can be said to be in an intimate relationship. These could, for example, be friends, siblings, or coworkers. Emotionally intimate relationships are characterized by mutual respect, trust, caring, and commitment.

Healthy sexual relationships are always emotionally intimate. And if we hope (and expect) that our kids will wait to have sex until they’re in a deeply committed, caring relationship, then we need to communicate with them about how to tell if a romantic relationship is healthy or not. Because as we were reminded tonight, sexual relationships are not always emotionally intimate.

Sex is a difficult subject to discuss, but research shows that we parents can help steer our kids in the direction we want them to go by having meaningful discussions with them about sex-related topics including healthy dating relationships. In national surveys, most teens say that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex – more than their friends or the media. Most say they share their parents’ values about sex. And most teens say that talking openly and honestly with their parents would make it easier for them to make decisions about delaying sex.

Here are some ideas and approaches that can help you improve communication about healthy dating relationships with your teen.

It’s best to start talking about romantic relationships before kids begin dating.
Serious romantic relationships are most likely to develop during the later teen years, but kids typically begin pairing-off between the ages of 12 and 14. Although it’s never too late to start these conversations, it’s best to start talking about what makes romantic relationships healthy before the pairing-off begins. And as you talk, emphasize the many ways to express affection other than sex – such as intimate talks, long walks, listening to music together, dancing, holding hands, kissing, and hugging.

Be on the lookout for good opportunities to talk with your teen.
Frequent, short conversations make a bigger difference in kids’ behavior than a single conversation. Right after watching a relevant TV show (like this Modern Family episode) can provide a unique opportunity to discuss the behavior of the show’s characters – reinforcing positive behavior and underscoring the potential consequences of risky behavior.

Stay informed about the messages your teen is getting about romantic relationships and sex. Your teen is probably getting messages about sex and relationships from a variety of sources, including teachers, friends, TV, and the Internet. Don’t assume that all the information your teen is getting is accurate. And don’t assume that the school’s curriculum includes all the information you want your teen to know and consider.
– The following are a few websites for teens that you can trust to provide direct and accurate information about sex: (from Rutgers University) (from Goryeb Children’s Hospital), and (from Children’s Hospital Boston, for girls).

– Regularly taking your teen to preventative health care appointments and allowing them time alone with the doctor or nurse can also give your teen a chance to talk confidentially about any questions or concerns they may have.

Be sure that your talks with your teen include discussions about feelings, attitudes, and values. Our teens need accurate information about sex. But they also need to know what healthy romantic relationships look and feel like. Although we moms are more likely to talk with our girls about how to say “no” to sex and more likely to remind our boys to respect a girl’s feelings, boys also need to be taught how to say “no,” and girls need to be taught how to be respectful of a boy’s feelings.

In addition, both our daughters and sons need to know how to tell whether a relationship is healthy or not. In a healthy relationship:
– Both people feel respected, supported, and valued; neither tries to change the other.
– Both people like themselves as individuals when they are together.
– Both have friends and interests outside the relationship.
– One person doesn’t make most or all of the decisions; instead the couple makes decisions together.
– The couple settles disagreements with open and honest conversations; neither of them shouts, threatens, hits, or throws things during arguments.
– There are more good times than bad ones.

Connecting Lines:
Talking with your teen about what they would look for in a romantic partner or relationship is a good way to show that you’re available to listen and a chance for you to get a window into their thinking about these topics. As you talk, try to remain open to your teen’s ideas and be ready to share yours.

Below are some ideas to help support a conversation with your teen based on tonight’s Modern Family episode:
How do you think Alex feels about herself after she’s been with Ruben? What advice would you give Alex if she were your good friend? How about if Ruben were your good friend, what would you tell him?

We learned tonight that both Haley and Andy feel guilty about being together – given that Andy is engaged and all. What do you think that their guilty feelings say about the health of their relationship?

How would you want to be treated in a relationship? How do you want to feel about yourself when you’re with that person?

Sources and Resources: Talking with Your Teen about Sex: Going Beyond “the Talk” from CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, Sex Education: Talking to Your Teen about Sex by Mayo Clinic Staff, Teen Dating: A Mom’s Guide by Barbara Whitaker from WebMD archive, Defining a Healthy Relationship for Teens by Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Facts on American Teens’ Sources of Information About Sex from Guttmacher Institute, Talk with Your Teen about Healthy Relationships from US Department of Health and Human Services

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 11th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 22, Patriot Games

Alex Decides That Number One Is a Lonely Number

The Framework
Tonight the three modern families explore the various rights and traditions of our country. Gloria is about to take her citizenship test – because as Jay says: This country is all about freedom and opportunity and I want you to be a part of that – not to mention that he also longs for shorter lines going through customs at the airport. Mitch and Cam act on their right to assemble, protest – and incessantly whine. But my attention is held by the Dunphys as they participate in the American tradition of naming a winner.

The Dunphy storyline begins with the parents talking to the camera.
Claire: We were called into Principal Brown’s office one week before Alex’s graduation.
Phil: That can mean only one of two things: Either she’s gonna be valedictorian or they’re giving an award for sexiest dad.
Claire: We’re very proud of Alex.

As they wait to see the principal, Alex is beside herself with expectation, whistling like a teakettle.
Claire (admonishing): Honey.
Alex: I’m sorry. I just feel like my whole life has been building up to this point.

Moments later, though, everything changes as Alex’s rival for the number one spot, Sanjay, enters the principal’s office – accompanied by his parents.
Principal Brown: Well, Alex and Sanjay, after four years of spirited competition, I am very pleased to tell you that you are the Pali High Class of 2015 Co-valedictorians!
Sanjay: What do you mean “co-valedictorians”?
Principal: Well, I thought there might be some aggressive questions that, uh, made me nervous, and so I wrote down my remarks. Uh (Clearing throat) No, I’m not trying to ruin your lives. It’s just that your GPAs are tied to the thousandth of a decimal point.
Alex: I didn’t work my whole life for a tie!
Sanjay (scoffing): No offense, Principal Brown, but you were a teaching major.
I’d like to check the GPAs myself.

Phil: What is it with these two?
Sanjay’s mom: I agree with them. Ties are un-American. Would you be happy if the Super Bowl ended in a tie? There must be some way to determine who the best student is.

It turns out there is.
Cam: Well, it looks like you both have the same gym grade, but I do see here that neither of you have completed this semester’s mile run.
Principal Brown: We will do a makeup race. And whoever wins gets to be valedictorian.
Phil: Guys, we should be celebrating … Are we all so obsessed with being number one that we can’t just celebrate this moment?

It appears that they are. That is until Sanjay stops by to see Alex.
Sanjay: Tomorrow, it’s all gonna be over, everything we’ve been working for since we started school. So, I-I wanted to come by and say thanks … You know how hard it’s been to keep up with you my whole life? I have my GPA because of you … I got into Stanford because of you.
Alex (giggling): I’ll admit I did spend about a few hundred extra hours trying to be better than you.
Sanjay: I’m gonna miss this when we go to college.
Alex: Yeah, I guess I’ll miss this, too.
Sanjay: I like you.
Alex: Okay.
Sanjay: I mean like-like, like how Pierre Curie liked Marie Curie.

And by the end it’s clear that Alex likes-likes him back.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
As farfetched as this storyline may seem, similar stories play out in schools across the country at this time each year during the valedictorian season. But not all have such a happy ending. Tales abound of aggressive, sometimes even bitter, rivalry between high achieving students to win the number one spot at a highly competitive high school

Some students – usually with the help of their high-pressure parents – strategize to win, coming up with ways to improve their standing in comparison with their classmates. To gain an advantage, these students often take on an extra-heavy load of AP courses, which are weighted when grade point averages are calculated. Some may avoid classes like dance, art, or music – because they might get a B in these classes where grading can be more subjective and because even an A in an unweighted class can hurt their shot at the top spot.

Because gaining the number one spot requires not just high achievement but beating out everyone else in the class, the quest for valedictorian has led to contested grade point averages. And a handful of parents have even brought lawsuits because they felt that their child had been somehow wronged in the selection process.

Alex: But my GPA is 4.645923.
Sanjay: My GPA is 4.645923.
Alex: This is a nightmare.
Sanjay: Worst day of my life.

Naming a valedictorian is a strong tradition in many communities. More than half of all high schools in the nation have done away with class ranking over concerns that small differences in grade point average could lead to large differences in class rank that could end up hurting students’ prospects for college admission. Yet schools continue to compare students’ grade point averages to determine the number one spot. Thus, each year at this time many principals are confronted with the same predicament we saw Mr. Brown face tonight. And as we saw tonight, sometimes the difference is as little as one millionth of a decimal point in students’ GPAs.

Some schools have addressed this issue by naming the top 10 ranked students in the graduating class. But this does nothing for the student who ends up in 11th place. Plus why name 10? Why not 12? Or 20? Or the top 10%?

Just as important are questions about whether the practices for selecting the class valedictorian foster the kind of traits we most value in students. Of course, an outstanding academic record as well as the hard work required for that kind of performance should be honored. But what about curiosity, cooperation, caring, and compassion? Plus even if a student wins the coveted number one spot, what might they lose in the process?

Many of us are required to consider similar questions – whether our kids are competing for the number one spot or not.

Some kids – like Sanjay and Alex – seem to mostly thrive under the pressure to keep up with their high-achieving classmates. With kids like this, we mainly need to stay out of their way and do nothing to add to the pressure they put on themselves. But what about capable teens who don’t want to work that hard? What should we do when they tell us they want to take a lighter load of classes than we’d like?

We want our kids to work hard, stretch, and reach their full potential. Plus we worry that colleges are not going to like the fact that they didn’t take enough hard classes. Yet hard work and perseverance are not the only valuable character traits. And we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that they need downtime – that they’re not achievement machines.

What’s a Mom to Do
When you’re faced with a teen who wants to lighten their load, you could insist that they take a tougher schedule, but you can’t make them excel in their classes or even pass. You could try to bribe them. But your best bet is to work on their internal motivation.

So if you find yourself confronted with a teen who wants to put forth less effort than you’d like, consider this strategy.
Say: I can see why you might like to take fewer tough classes so that you can enjoy life more. And it’s your life. But it’s my job as your parent to do what I can to ensure that you make an informed decision. I have a few questions that I’d like to discuss together before you make a final decision. After that, I’ll support you if you decide you want to lighten your load a bit.
1) What do you see as the advantages of taking easier classes?
2) If you took easier classes, what would you do with your extra time? (This is a good time to probe for other activities or interests your teen might want to pursue.)
3) Do you think if you worked with a tutor or a friend who is choosing to take the tougher classes, it would help enough to make a difference in your decision?
4) People who don’t stretch themselves are less likely to have an exciting career or do well enough to have the lifestyle you seem to crave. I’m not saying that this decision not to stretch yourself will become a pattern. But if it does, have you thought about where that will lead? Are you okay with that?

The more dispassionate and calm you stay during this discussion, the more likely your teen will be to keep talking. Question number 4 above is the most important. Their first response to this one is not as important as what they do with it later. You want your teen to take this question away and think about it – when they’re alone in their room and when they’re signing up for classes.

As you listen and watch your teen’s response to this conversation, try to stay curious and open to their ideas and beliefs. After all, the voiceover at the end of the episode begins: This is a land where people are brought together by their willingness to work hard and their desire to succeed. But it ends by reminding: This is a land made great by people standing up for what they believe.

Your Parenting Experiences
Do you sometimes find yourself getting upset – anxious, angry, or depressed – when your teen doesn’t meet your expectations in school or in a sport? If so, consider reclaiming your own favorite hobby or passion. Show your kids that you believe in hard work but you also believe in taking time for the things you love.

Sources and Resources: The All-in-One College Guide by Marty Nemko, Ph.D.; “Class Rank Weighs Down True Learning” by Thomas R. Guskey, Ph.D. in Phi Delta Kappan; “The Joy of Graduating” by Kate Stone Lombardi in the New York Times

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