MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 20th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 4, Marco Polo

The Adults Are “It”

The Framework
Tonight’s episode shares its name with a game in which someone is chosen to be “it” and, with eyes closed, tries to find and tag the other players using only call and response clues. It’s a kids’ game. But in all three households tonight it is the adults who are the clueless “it.”

Of course, it is Phil who literally gets into the game – in the pool, at the hotel where the Dunphys are staying while their house is being treated for mold. Claire too is “it” tonight – but in a less playful sense. She seems blind to the example she’s setting for her three kids.
Claire (to Haley and Luke): You know, when you don’t think about who’s in there before you, a hotel bath can be really quite relaxing. Do you know if Alex got my glass?
Alex (entering hotel room with glass): Your swipe-card wine.
Claire: Thank you … This magic juice is going to help mama turn that bathtub into a swim-up bar. And a bit later there’s this from a tipsy Claire: Oops. Butterfingers. I spilled my wine in the tub. Then pushing her swipe card toward Alex: Would you mind, Sweetie?

And over at the Pritchett’s, Jay and Gloria take turns being “it” – as neither seems to have a clue about how to parent a maturing Manny.
Manny: I know you were spying on me. Yes, I have a girlfriend. Let me save you some snooping. She’s smart. She’s a senior. She’s our high school’s “it” girl. And “it” dumped the captain of the basketball team for me.
Gloria (later to Jay as girlfriend arrives to pick-up Manny for the football game): That girl is too advanced for him … You go talk to her. Maybe you can put the fear of God in her.
Jay: What bust her windshield or break her pinky?
Gloria: I’ll go disconnect the security camera.

Later, when Manny returns home after the football game, there’s this.
Jay: Good game, champ. Then noting Manny’s downcast mood: You okay?
Manny: Yeah, just a little tired.
Jay: Hey, wait a second. Your team just won six straight. Let’s celebrate with a little scotch. You’re [15] old enough for your first sip.
Manny: She dumped me, Jay. She was just using me to make her old boyfriend jealous … My first girlfriend. She was perfect.
Jay: If you ask me, you’re lucky.
Manny: She dumped me by text while making out with her old boyfriend. I broke down crying. My charcoal ran like mascara. I had to be comforted by the other team’s mascot. Lucky?
Jay: Uhh, I’m not going to lie to you. It sucks. And sometimes it’s got to suck for a while. I just wish I could say some magic words or give you a hug and make it all go away.

As Manny goes, headfirst, in for a hug with Jay, Gloria appears in the background. Using his free hand, Jay signs to her about the breakup and that he’s got it all under control. Gloria silently mouths her appreciation to Jay and heads back up the stairs.
Manny: Can I still have a sip of that scotch like you said?
Gloria (suddenly reappears, emphatically signing to Jay): NO!
Jay (signs back to Gloria): Don’t be crazy. And then answers Manny: Okay. I just opened the bottle. Beautiful. Eighteen-year-old. Full bodied.
Manny (tearfully): Sam…

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Despite what Claire may have said in the past to her kids about drinking responsibly, tonight her message was that alcohol makes everything better. Just like magic. And even though Gloria was frantically mouthing “No!” behind the scenes tonight, it was Jay’s message that got through to Manny: Alcohol can help you feel good when you want to celebrate and help you feel better when you’re down.

Regardless of how mixed messages are sent, they send conflicting information to our kids and cause confusion about what we really mean. And when it has to do with our kids’ health or safety, our messages need to be as clear as we can possibly make them. This is especially true for our messaging about underage drinking and drug use. Because these substances have risks specific to teens.

Compared to adults:
Teens are highly vulnerable to social influences. Alcohol companies know this and target our kids with slick ads in magazines and on TV. Plus our kids are paying attention as marijuana (both medical and recreational) becomes legal in more and more places.

Teens have lower tolerance levels. This means that they have to use more of the substance sooner to achieve the same effect. Another words, what one drink or one hit did, will take two or three sooner for a teen than it does for an adult.

They become dependent at lower doses. Because their brains are still developing, kids are faster at learning than adults are. And getting addicted is learned just like becoming fluent in a foreign language is learned.

They are at increased risk of problem use later. 1 in 4 people who begin smoking, drinking, or using any addictive substance before the age of 18 get addicted, compared to 1 in 25 who started using at age 21 or older.

Teens’ growing brains may be more vulnerable to longterm damaging effects. There is growing evidence that adolescent exposure to alcohol and drugs like marijuana may affect important connections in brain regions crucial for memory and learning.


Phil: It’s possible they misunderstood me…

Few parents still host “alcohol included” kid parties to celebrate big nights like homecoming and graduation. But plenty of us are sending mixed messages to our kids when it comes to alcohol – making it possible (even likely) for them to misunderstand us.

Some of us are on the fence. We acknowledge that drinking is illegal for teens and potentially dangerous. But we see it as a rite of passage and look the other way. Others of us (like Jay tonight) let our teens drink at home under our supervision. We hope that this will take away the illegal and rebellious lure of drinking and encourage sensible drinking behavior.

However, studies have shown that the more teens are allowed to drink at home, the more they drink outside of the home as well. What’s more, teens who drink on their own and those who drink under their parents’ watch all have an elevated risk of developing alcohol related problems. Plus additional studies have shown that parents’ messages regarding alcohol use while still at home affect their teens’ behavior when they go off to college: Kids whose parents disapprove completely of underage drinking, tend to engage in less drinking and less binge drinking once in college.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Most important are the examples we set in the decisions we make about what, when, and how much to use and the conversations we have before usage is even an issue.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when you’re crafting your messages for your teen.

Have a zero tolerance policy. Part of being a teen is testing rules and their boundary lines. It’s a way for them to assert their growing independence. When we push the lines back (by allowing some use in some circumstances), we are inadvertently creating a greater distance before they get to the line they need to test.

Be crystal clear about your position on alcohol and drug use. The more vague our messages, the easier they are for our teens to ignore.

Use everyday media to spark conversations with your teen. Don’t think about this as “having the talk.” Instead, look for opportunities to have an ongoing conversation with your teen. When you see messaging on TV, on a billboard, or in a movie, ask your teen what they thing about the message and then share your thoughts.

Pair your verbal messaging with matching actions. Make it easier for your teen to make the right decisions and harder for them to make the wrong ones: Be awake when your teen returns home, call friends’ parents to make sure there’s supervision, and ask your teen to call and check-in when they’re out.

Make a point of sometimes hosting family celebrations where alcohol is not included. This will send a message to your teen that you (and other adults) can have fun without drinking.

As you relay your messages to your kids, remember teens often send mixed messages to us. The most common message is that they don’t care what we think or think much about what we say. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Parents are one of the biggest influences on their teens’ personal behavior – even when it doesn’t seem that way.

Your Parenting Experiences
One health message that seems to resonate with many teens is that their brains develop until their mid-20s and that their growing brains are more vulnerable to alcohol and other drugs. When you talk with your teen about your expectations around drinking and using drugs, what messages seem to resonate and make the most sense to them?

Sources and other Resources: This is Your Teen’s Brain on Marijuana by Jack Stein, PhD; Kids Need Straight Talk to Stay Safe By Steven Wallace at SADD; With Drinking, Parents’ Rules Do Affect Teens’ Choices by Michelle Trudeau, NPR; Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem by CASA; Haley and the Champagne Flute from MomsOnMonday

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on September 29th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 1, Love is in the Air

Except Around Alex

The Framework
In tonight’s season-opener love is in the air. Just about everywhere.

It’s been three months since Cam and Mitchel got married, but Cam refuses to let the honeymoon end. Reminding Mitchel that it’s their third month-sary, he gifts him with another bouquet – in a house already so filled with flowers that Lily laments: I sure do miss when this house wasn’t full of bees.

Even Jay and Gloria stop sparring long enough to feel the love tonight. While over at the Dunphy’s it’s downright blissful. Complete with a butterfly fluttering around their breakfast table. There’s been no fighting. No issues. And no Alex. The family sums up their summer this way:
Phil: We are having…
Haley: the most perfect summer…
Luke: ever!

That is until Alex prematurely returns from her summer away building a college resume by building houses for the poor.
Alex: I got a ride home early. This has been the worst summer every! … Last night my tent ripped so I had to sleep under a plywood board leaning up against a van. Not that I could sleep with all the rats. And, by the way, if any of you start coughing-up blood, my bad. I think I brought back the plague.

And it’s almost like she did. Because everything changes. Right down to the butterfly – which is displaced by a dive-bombing bat. Of course, the household’s downward spiral is not lost on Alex who exclaims: You all are happier without me!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Why is Alex so darn moody? Many of us have asked the same thing about our kids once they hit adolescence.

For years teen moodiness was blamed on hormones. But thanks to brain imaging done since the 1990s, we now know that dramatic brain changes taking place during adolescence also play a role. Because these physical changes move in a long, slow wave from the rear to the front of the brain, the brain’s development is uneven – with the emotional regions of a teen’s brain maturing well before the other brain regions that are responsible for planning, judgment and self-control. The result is that teens are capable of very strong passions and emotions before they have the brakes to slow their reactions down.

Claire: You don’t think that Alex is the reason why we’re…
Phil: No. No, I don’t. We both knew that this charmed summer had to have a bump in it somewhere.
Claire(trying to reassure herself): Yeah. Yeah. It’s not like Alex coming home could suddenly throw off our whole happy mojo.

We’ve all been warned about teen mood swings. But that doesn’t prepare us for how it feels when the moodiness hits our own household. It can leave us questioning where we went wrong. And wondering how we possibly managed to raise this scowling, self-righteous, eye-rolling, door-slamming kid.

Truth be told, Claire was onto something when she wondered aloud whether Alex’s return had thrown off all their happy mojo. A moody teen can seem to suck the positive energy right out of a home.

What’s a Mom to Do?
It can help to remind ourselves that our teens’ mood swings are due more to nature than nurture. But this doesn’t let us totally off the hook. It’s still our job to help guide them through these rough patches of adolescence. Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with a moody teen.

Try to be patient – even when you’re not feeling particularly tolerant. Remember that the uneven development of their brains puts teens at the mercy of emotions that they cannot easily regulate and control. Teens may lash out at home because they’ve worked so hard to keep their emotions and feelings under control all day while they were at school.

Don’t give up or give in. While it’s true that there’s a biological limit to our teens’ ability to keep their emotions in check, it doesn’t mean that we should stop providing guidance. On the contrary, it’s our job to remind them that they can’t treat others badly even when they’re feeling crummy or cranky. But try to use a light touch as you go about it.

Keep a watchful eye out for warning signs of something more serious. Studies show that about 20% of teens have a serious mental health issue – with depression and anxiety among the most common. So we need to be vigilant.

It can be hard to tell typical teen angst from early signs of something more serious. So if you’re worried, try putting your teen’s behavior into perspective. Occasional outbursts of anger, grouchiness, and crying are normal. Some tension is typical too. However, moodiness that persists for two or more weeks should be taken seriously. So should falling grades, shunning friends, and refusing to participate in activities they once loved. Excessive anger and changes in eating or sleeping patterns are also things to watch out for. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s wise to take your concerns to your pediatrician or family doctor.

Stay connected and keep the conversations going. Make sure your teen knows that they can talk to you about anything and that you will listen and work hard to really hear them. This is by far the most important thing we moms can do. It gives us the best chance to see a problem coming.

And as you keep an eye out for warning signs, also watch for signs of your teen’s caring, better self. For, as we were reminded tonight, even Alex at her most annoying has some endearing qualities. Also coax a hug with your teen when you can. Because, like Alex, our teens need to be reminded that they belong and that they’re loved.

Your Parenting Experiences
Claire reflecting on her family’s blissful summer comments: The Dunphys have had some great days. We just have a little trouble stringing them together.

How about your family – when was the last time you had a whole string of great days? What do you think kept the negativity away?

Sources: Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs in National Geographic (10/2011) Worried About a Moody Teen? by Elizabeth Bernstein in Wall Street Journal (6/2010)

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