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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