Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 11th, 2016, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 18, The Party

Plotline: Luke and Manny Throw a Party

The Party

Tonight Luke and Manny secretly throw a party at the Dunphy house where they’re supposed to be babysitting Lily. When Claire’s phone sounds an alert that a fire alarm has gone off at home, she insists on returning from her spa getaway with Gloria to check on things.
Claire: They were very eager to get us out of the house. They’re up to something.
Gloria: You know what? I am gonna call for a Russian masseuse. Their hands are very strong from wringing laundry. You are too suspicious.
Claire: And you are too trusting! Luke’s already been arrested this year. A few weeks ago, we caught him with beer.
Gloria: I’m hearing a lot of Luke’s name and none of Manny.
Claire: You don’t think Manny’s up to the same things when you’re not paying attention?
Gloria: You’re crazy. Manny hates beer.

Claire: You can do whatever you want, I’m gonna go check on my kid.

Gloria drags her feet but returns with Claire. As the two enter the house, Claire immediately finds evidence that something is amiss.
Claire (picking up and sniffing a Styrofoam cup): Wait a minute! What the hell is going on here? Yep. I smell cheap beer. Someone’s been having a party.
Gloria: Claire, you’re just being crazy.

Phil and Mitchell also return to make sure everything is okay at home, leaving the screening of their favorite sci-fi movie. Right before Phil gets the fire alert, he and Mitchell have each downed a pot gummy.
Claire (to Phil and Mitchell as they come in the door): You guys go search the house. Find something suspicious.
And they do find something – just as the pot kicks in, leaving them as high as can be.
Mitchell (standing outside Luke’s bedroom door): I heard something.
Phil (reclosing the door on a bedroom crammed with kids): Okay, but if we tell Claire about those kids, we’re gonna have to stay here and punish Manny and the, uh — the other one.

By the time the parents locate the party and interrogate the boys, Jay and Cam have returned from their night out. Jay tries to reassure Claire.
Jay: Honey, don’t worry. They’re going to be fine. You’re better parents than Dede and I ever were, and you turned out all right.
Claire: Thanks, Dad. But are we just supposed to let these kids off the hook because we were as bad as they are?
Jay: No. We’ll be hypocrites – just like all parents. Luke and Manny get your asses down here.

We can only imagine what happens next. But it doesn’t take too much imagination for us to picture what came before. Many of us have dismissed clues that something is amiss because we trust our kids a bit too much (like Gloria). And many of us have looked the other way when they’ve misbehaved because holding them accountable is a lot of work and can interfere with our own plans (like Phil tonight).

Sometimes after we do all the investigating and discussing with our teen, we’re so relieved to have gotten that far that we make only a vague plan for holding them accountable. We rationalize that we did similar things as a teen and turned out okay (as Claire was tempted to do). We ground them for the next month, believing that in itself will teach them a lesson. Or we skip the penalty phase all together, convincing ourselves that consequences aren’t worth all the work because we haven’t seen much evidence that they change our kids’ behavior.

Most of us have been there and done at least some of that. Still, it’s a parent’s job to draw clear lines between what is safe and respectful and what is not.

Consequences help us keep the boundaries clear and make doing the right thing more of a priority for our teens. Even if they don’t always prevent wrong actions from recurring, consequences help teens feel accountable for their actions and help reinforce the slowly dawning realization that actions – both right and wrong – cause reactions.

Here are some things to keep in mind when crafting consequences:

Be timely. Generally, you’ll want to respond to your teen’s misbehavior within 24 hours. That way the behavior is still fresh in everybody’s mind and the details are still easily recalled. Being timely also means separating the passion of the fact finding from the objective consideration of the consequences.

Be somber. Don’t nag, pile-on, or gloat. Talk about what has to be done – not what you now get to do.

Make the consequences realistic and appropriate.
– Consequences are only effective if they can be enforced. So choose something you can enforce.
– Don’t overkill. If you make the consequence too light, you’ll not get your teen’s attention. But if you make it too harsh, your teen will become resentful, missing the opportunity for reflection and learning. To be effective, the consequence has to make sense to your teen.
– Be aware of overusing groundings. When used sparingly, grounding wields more power. Plus you’ve got to make sure they stay at home, so grounding can be more punishment for you than your teen.

Be clear. Surprises are not helpful, and miscommunicating the consequences only increases bad feelings. So be explicit. (For example, if you tell your teen that they’ve lost their driving privileges for the rest of the month, clarify whether they can still go out if they get a ride with a friend or whether driving with their friends is also part of the restriction.) In addition, teens need to know when the punishment will end and their lives can return to normal. So specify the exact time period you have in mind for the loss of privileges.

Stay the course. Once you’ve made the decision to give a penalty, don’t back off under pressure. Modifying a consequence, however, is not the same as backing off or failing to enforce it. It’s sometimes reasonable to substitute one consequence for another if you determine that doing so is in the teen’s or the family’s best interest.

Connecting Lines:
When the infraction is relatively minor, a consequence may have just one part – a material part. We parents are generally responsible for coming up with this part, and it’s usually pretty easy to come up with. Whatever was damaged, left undone, or done wrong is replaced or righted – often above or beyond the original requirement. (For example, a material consequence for a missed curfew might be docked time on their next evening out.)

When the infraction is serious (like tonight’s party) or part of a troubling pattern, the consequence should have two parts – a material part and an emotional payback part. The emotional payback part is harder. Most of the learning occurs with this part of the consequence which is intended to help heal both the teen and whoever else was inconvenienced or hurt by their behavior. It requires that your teen reflect about what they have done and how they can make amends by answering some tough questions. Questions such as:
What can you do to restore our trust in you?
How can you help those you’ve hurt stop hurting? How can you help them trust you again?

You’ll want to keep posing the questions until you hear your teen say something that demonstrates an awareness of the importance of this part of the consequence. You’re listening for something in teen lingo that shows insight and responsibility – something that will help them heal, rebound stronger, and begin to re-earn your trust.

You’ll probably have to provide some quiet space and some support for this type of thought and learning to come out of your teen. If you’re not hearing good responses, rein in your temptation to rage or scold. Instead keep posing the questions (calmly and dispassionately) until you hear what you’re listening for.

Once you hear words that show reflection and remorse, ask your teen what they need to do to make amends and re-earn your trust. And once you’ve agreed on a specific plan, express confidence in your teen’s ability to rebound and re-earn your trust. If you have a strong relationship with your teen, the more confidence you express in their capability of regaining your trust, the harder they’ll work to earn it.

Resources: Yes, Your Teen is Crazy by Michael Bradley

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.

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.

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.